I felt like I was in my youth once more, being led by my sweetheart, hand in hand, descending the magnificent staircase down to the lobby. It was as if we were at a ball once more, ready to join the others for a splendid dance.
We departed the bullnose and immediately turned to our left, approaching the door to the lower east wing, most probably the living room.
Once more our suspicions were confirmed, as the room behind the doors stretched as far as the chamber directly above it – our master bedroom. The fireplace was in the exact same place, though a little more extravagant than its counterpart above.
Cabinets and tables were against the east wall, holding encyclopedias and compendia, anthologies and compilations, and an upright piano sat in place of the bed that was above it.
There also sat an elegant three-piece-suite fronting the fireplace, of regalia exhibiting the very best of the Georgian furniture the house had to offer.
The mirror above the mantle was under a white sheet, as was another stack of wooden fittings that hung around in the far left corner, almost suspiciously like the room above.
“Where the hell has all this furniture come from?” Elly asked as we walked towards the other end of the room, nearing the heap of whiteness, and pulled the greying drape up to get a better look “Theres heaps of it!” She exclaimed.
More tables and chairs…that was all. Old davenport tabletops and basic wooden seats were amassed on one another, though not very well, and shoved to the wall, maybe waiting for another time to be used once more.
“Probably from the tied-cottages.” I responded, racking my brain for an answer, or at least a best guess. “Either that or this house used to be some sort of school.”
“It’s a bit spooky, don’t you think?” She let the sheet drop from her hand, thrusting grime and dust around the room, causing me to instantly cough.
“It’s all just part of history.” I shrugged. I enjoyed rifling through the old pieces of history throughout the house, “It’s just a shame that the house is in such a state…” My voice trailed off as I gazed at the cracks forming on the ceiling.
“I hope the girls sleep well tonight.” She yawned, “I’ll probably sleep like a bloody log.” She chuckled.
“They’ll be fine.” Once more, I embraced Elly with all my might, “It’ll take getting used to, that’s all.”
“I suppose…” She trailed her thoughts off for a moment, before coming back, “I’d better check if the kitchen works, see if they’ve left us anything to eat.”
“Alright.” I replied, “I’ll check the opposite room.”
“Sounds good.” She smiled, “I’ll come see what you’ve found afterwards.” She let go of my hands, and walked out of the room, blowing me a kiss beforehand. Once more, it was as if we were teenagers, but nevertheless this was no time to frolic about together just yet.
I crossed the foyer, looking to the stairs as both Gem and Harry hurtled down, their tails wagging ferociously as they played with their favorite toys, running past me and into the newly opened living room.
Chuckling to myself over the happiness exerted by the duo, I noticed the piece of paper that lay on the desk. Something I hadn’t noticed before – but did just then – was that there were words written on it.
They were the form of a letter, from my friend Edward:
“My dearest friend Robert,
I am awfully sorry that I was unable to meet you at the train station today. I can only hope that you enjoyed the walk to the house.
I and Katherine will be stopping by tomorrow to see how your coming along.
There is a hamper of food placed in the kitchen for you – some wine for you and Elly – and the beds have been made awaiting your stay.
There are a few locked rooms – we’ve never been able to enter them anyway – and some are labeled “Do not enter”. This is not because there is sworn secrecy behind the doors, but because the floors are very dangerous, and as your friend I care for your safety very much indeed.
Electricity is supplied through one of the barns to the east of the house. Some of the old fuses might need replacing, but there is a box of them spare.
The red lever should be pulled down, and everything should be wired up. If the power should fail – I hear there’s a storm on its way – there are candles situated in every room, and the chandeliers can be lit as well. The box of matches should last you a while, should you need them.
I don’t want to bore you, and so I’ll just say how delighted I will be to see you again, as will we both.
It was a delightful letter, one I was hoping for as a warm welcome. I scanned the table once more but just the candles and the matches were the only other items on the desk, along with the paper once I placed it down.
The two of us used to live in the same village, and pretty much grew up together. So in turn, when joined the army in ’41, so did he.
At first, we were placed into different regiments. I was sorted into the Royal Sussex Regiment, but due to the origins of his family, he was shipped to enlist with those of our neighboring country, the Essex Regiment.
We never saw each other for three years through the Africa and Italy campaigns – apart from the occasional visits to each other on leave – until we found we were commanding forces in Operation Dragoon, invading the coastline of southern France weeks after its “Big Brother”, Operation Overlord had taken place.
Unfortunately, due to injuries I had sustained in combat, I was deemed unfit to fight any longer, and on 23rd August 1944, I was flown home along with other men from the regiment.
Ted however, was told to remain in France, and to at least make it to Paris before being able to be taken home again.
But while we were fighting, things back home took a turn for the worse, and news struck hard and fast. Katherine had lost her father, and in turn had a large sum of money and a house up in the Yorkshire Dales had been passed down to her.
Elly had also lost her mother, but as they had never really got along in the first place, the burden upon her everyday life was not as great.
When Ted returned, they sold their house in Crawley and informed us they were moving up to Yorkshire, and told us that we were welcome to visit anytime.
Eventually, with the threat of London and the surrounding areas becoming wastelands, we were ordered to find suitable accommodation quickly, or face a Temporary Eviction, as the folks at the Civil Defense Service liked to call it.
With my friend now living in safe haven of the Dales, I enquired about staying for at least a few weeks.
He replied quickly enough, saying that, although he could not offer accommodation within his own house, there was certainly somewhere we could stay.
And that place was here.
It was so beautiful, even if one could spend the day getting lost in all of the nooks and crannies this place had to offer.
I stared in admiration at the magnificent ceiling of the foyer as I continued my traversing of the room.
It was something of antiquity in itself. A grandiose ceiling, it was somewhat reminiscent of the Stuart period, but unlike many of the stately homes I had visited, it had no dome.
This in turn gave it a slightly chilled feeling, where light only entered through the two windows, but the main floor remained a little dark for my tastes, but it didn’t bother me too much.
The door to the west wing was slightly stiff, and took a few pushes to fully open, scuffing the floorboards as I pushed it to its full extent.
The room was everything and more I had dreamed it to be: A library.
There were books on the floor, books on the shelves which encircled the room, and even books piled upon the various chairs which laid scattered around the floor.
And there was dust…everywhere, peeling and ripping plaster from the walls and floor, and a mahogany desk stood directly in the center.
It was a classic Dickens desk. The raised back had a central shelf with a spindle gallery. Either side of this were banks of four drawers with a raised gallery to the top.
The hinged central writing slope enclosed a well with two birds’ eye maple drawers and pigeon holes. The writing slope and the tops of the pedestals to either side had been fitted with black hide writing surfaces with gilt and blind tooling.
Below the writing surfaces were three drawers, the central faux drawer seemed to be fitted with a Bramah lock with key so that the desk could be securely locked. This was part of a system that locked and released all the drawers in one action. When the central drawer was unlocked and opened a few inches all the drawers were released and when it was closed they all became locked.
It too was piled with books, crowded around every space apart from the main writing area, which was occupied with a pile of paper, an old lamp, and various writing equipment.
The bookshelves and cabinets seemed to continue endlessly around the room, halting only for the occasional windows and the fireplace, where even the inglenooks were crammed with all sorts of compendia.
The curtains certainly looked like they hadn’t been opened for at least a good decade, as mold had started to form at the bottoms of each, and most had started to fray in the fabric itself.
With quick movements, I pulled each curtain to its extent, as I didn’t want to grasp onto it for too long, for fears of what lurked on the opposite side.
It was after drawing the south side curtains, that I noticed, in amongst the books on the desk, sat an old box.
Upon further inspection of this case without picking it up, my heart seemed to beat gracefully, for this was not any ordinary chest, but what was known to many medieval royals as a strongbox.
From the design that I could see on the woodwork, it seemed certainly to be of the renaissance period, and had a somewhat intricate locking mechanism.
To many a thief, this was the focal point of its defenses, because there was no way that a man – regardless of his skills – could possibly break into the cashbox. Its reinforced layering of wood and steel was to thank for that.
But this box, as amazing as it was, had one fatal flaw…
…The key was still in its lock.
The curious and delving person I always was, I had to open it. The curiosity of what was in it was too much to bare.
They could be pieces o’ eight, ransacked from the bounty of a pirate’s ship in the far west, or the Skeleton Coast of South Africa.
Or they could be bills, drawn up by the scribe of whatever Lord or Baron who owned the house back in the day.
Whatever it was, I had to find out, for it would plague me forever, otherwise.
The key twisted stiffly in the lock, clicking to give that ring of veracity throughout the woodwork, before I began to pry the lid open.
What fell before my eyes, were not in fact silver coins, nor were they paper bills, but were in fact gold Florins.
Handfuls of them, all piled into the neat box, with no care taken to stack them – or even tidy them up a tad.
Guilders, they were referred to by anyone foreign, and each one bore the emblem of their sacred homeland: the fleur-de-lis of Florence’s most humble republic and city.
The reverse, further continuing the Florentine theme, contained an image of Saint John the Baptist, holding a staff and dressed in a hair shirt, while the words S.Johan were embossed around him, and the word Florentia around the fleur.
It was obvious that this was some sort of plunder, and the thought of it tumbled in my mind for a moment, before I caught sight of movement from the doorway.
“What are you doing?” Elly happily asked, seeing me with the lid open, my face still showing signs of bewilderment from its contents.
“Come here.” I beckoned her to myself, and held her hand as she peered into the wooden container.
“What are they?” She was as shocked as I first was, not quite knowing how to respond to what was inside.
“Guilders.” I replied quickly, taking one out and placing it in her free hand, “Old Italian coins, probably Middle Ages.”
“Wow…” She gasped, holding it against the light to examine every aspect of it, “Don’t show Scarlett, whatever you do.” She joked.
Scarlett had a love for anything with history, as aforementioned, but coins, they were a favorite. Old, foreign or forgotten, it didn’t matter, she collected them. It didn’t bother her the slightest whether they were Guineas, Groats or even Thalers, she knew that these coins had been more places that she could even think of, and that was something worth keeping.
“Actually,” I thumbled another coin in my hand, “I was thinking of taking a few up to show her.”
“That’s actually quite a good idea.” Elly looked at me with gracious intent, “Them and her books should keep her interested for the time being.”
She placed the coin into my trouser pocket, and I did the same with my own, before taking a couple more for good measure.
Even though the thought crossed my mind, this certainly wasn’t theft, as I was merely borrowing them, and I had no intention of taking them from the house.
“I’ll just go and take these up now.” I gave Elly a quick kiss, before letting go of her hand, and approaching the doorway, “Then we’ll think about making some supper.”
“Okay.” She softly spoke, “I’ll take a look around the room for a while.”