Wednesday, 1 August 2018

The Grand House: A Story

This is the story I wrote incorporating the words for the July writing challenge (which are shown in italics). 
Hope you enjoy reading it!

She sits in the drawing room staring up at the chandelier. The oranges and pinks of the setting sun are streaming in from the tops of the tall leaded windows and should be dancing in the crystal droplets. But there’s no sparkling. She presses a button and notes how long it takes for Charlie to reach her. It should take one minute precisely, but Charlie often takes two. She can feel her blood pressure rise as the large, dark grandfather clock ticks past one minute and past two.
            “You called, your Ladyship.”
            “I did indeed. Quite some time ago.”
            “Yes, your Ladyship.”
            “This chandelier. When was the last time you cleaned it?”
            “I think it was last week, your Ladyship.”
            “You think. That isn’t good enough. It must be cleaned every Friday so that it’s at its best brilliance for each and every week-end.”
            “Yes, your Ladyship.”
            “When is the car coming?”
            “I’ll check, your Ladyship.”
They both turn towards the French doors as the patter of little claws approaches. Charlie’s face reddens as she turns back to face the woman.
“What is Samuel Junior doing out of his crate?” Lady Devon demands. “I asked you to put him to bed an hour ago. I don’t want spaniel hair on my black dress. What are you thinking? Not much, evidently.”
“No, your Ladyship. I’ll put him to bed right away.”
“Pick him up, then. Before he comes in.”
“Yes, your Ladyship. The car must be here. Mr. Swan’s at the door.” Charlie lifts the dog up and pets him.
“About time too.”
“Lady Devon, I trust you’ll be comfortable in this vintage Rolls Royce,” the chauffeur says.
“No need for chit-chat. Just get me to the theatre in one piece and two minutes late.”
“Just as you say, your Ladyship.” He opens the door.
“I can’t be seen arriving in this!”
“What do you mean, your Ladyship?”
“There’s a hubcap missing, you fool.”
“Must have come off when I went down one of them there pot holes, your Ladyship.”
“I don’t care how it happened. You’ll have to call for another car. I’ll be waiting inside.” She brushes past the butler, leaving a trail of heavenly scent, apparently ignoring his existence. 
She anticipates a twenty-minute wait but a replacement car shows up in ten. That puts her in a better mood, much to the relief of Charlie who’s been summoned to clean the dust off the gilded picture frame hanging above the stone fireplace.

Lady Devon sinks into the leather seat and watches the sun sinking into oblivion as it lengthens the shadows of the grand oaks lining the one-mile drive.
The driver turns away from the city. She presses the communication button.
“You’re to drive me to the theatre. Where are you going?”
“Short cut, your Ladyship.”
“Is this car bullet-proof, as Mr. Swan ordered?”
“I wouldn’t know, your Ladyship. I’m just the driver.”
The speaker crackles, but she can detect something familiar about the man’s voice. She can’t see his face in the mirror in the semi-darkness and realizes she didn’t give him so much as a glance as she got into the car. She remembers that Mr. Swan opened the door for her. The driver didn’t even bother to get out and acknowledge her.
Something isn’t right.
She can make out the slope of the man’s shoulders and the squareness of his head. His hands are partly visible. A tremor of recognition quivers down her spine.
“Bartholomew, stop the car.”
“I don’t think you want to stop here, mother. This is the disreputable end of town.” There’s a hint of disdain.
“What’s going on?” This is why the dusting wasn’t done and why Samuel Junior wasn’t in his bed. No-one expects her to return. She’s going to be shot and her body hidden so that Bartholomew can inherit her fortune. He’s been blatant about his quest but she’s refused to bend to his demands. He wants to turn Dorset House into a rehabilitation centre for drug addicts and alcoholics. What a disgrace for the beauty of the old mansion to be destroyed so that people, who brought misery on themselves, can writhe in their vomit and scratch at the walls.  
“Let’s just hope the car is bullet-proof,” Bartholomew says. She can’t see the faint smile on his lips.
“Can we talk?”
“What do you want to talk about? We’re nearly there.”
“Where?” She looks around but can’t distinguish anything out of the shadows.
“Where we’re going.”
“You want to turn that beautiful house, my home, into a lunatic asylum.”
“That’s not exactly correct.”
“Because your grandson died of an overdose and I think it’s because we all failed him.”
“Johnny died of an overdose?”
“We hid the truth because of you - fearing your judgement, knowing you’d feel angry and ashamed. We shouldn’t have. We should have done something. We should do something. I’ve tried everything I can think of to get you to listen – threats and more threats. But you only hear what you want to hear. You haven’t wanted to know.”
“Johnny was only sixteen when he died.”
“He was your only son.”
“We should have done something.”
“Where are we?”
“We’re back at the house. The lights are out. This is my last threat. I’m so desperate to do something so that my son, your grandson, didn’t die in vain, that I’m going to burn this place down and collect the insurance money. Yes, I fixed it so that I’m the beneficiary and I’ve a plan so that arson won’t be suspected. Then I can make the rehabilitation centre happen. Or, you’re going to help make this rehabilitation centre a reality in Dorset House. Your choice.”
“Why didn’t you tell me before?”
“Because you don’t listen and you have contempt for people who are poor, sick or addicted to anything.”
She believes he’s bluffing. It would be almost impossible to burn such a large place down without it appearing suspicious. But he’s planned it well: the missing hubcap, the dust, the dog; and he’s got her attention. She pulls her head out of the sand, and her grief stings like a wasp in her heart.
“I don’t believe you can burn the house down, but,” she pulls out a lace-trimmed handkerchief to dab at the strange drops which dampen her powdered cheeks, “I’ll help for Johnny’s sake. But they’ll be conditions. I’ll run the business affairs and I’ll have the east wing for my living quarters.”
“Done. I have the documents drawn up. Mr. Swan is waiting in the drawing room.”
“I’ll read them carefully before signing.”
“I wouldn’t expect anything less.”
Vicky Earle Copyright 2018