The grave lay close to a Weeping Willow, the leaves of which had
fallen and were scattered over the surrounding area like autumnal
confetti. The late afternoon air was burdened with a grey ice-tinged fog
that left only a few pockets of visibility as it whispered its way from
the moors and towards town. Elizabeth brushed away a number of wet
leaves clinging to the black marble headstone, then, pulling her coat
tight, set off across the rain-swollen lawns.
As she walked, her
boots crunched along the gravelled pathway and in the distance, the
upper windows of the house where her mother had lived as a child watched
her silently. She stopped still and stared back at them.
A solitary tear trickled slowly down her cheek as she left the cobblestone rake leading down from the cemetery and entered the main street of Whituth. As a town it was nothing special. None could deny its glorious location though, nestled as it was in a valley between moorland and a breathtaking dell.
As a child, Elizabeth had delighted in learning the history of the area; bloody battles involving Danes, Vikings and Celts, and legends full of sorcery and mythological creatures. Her mood darkened when she remembered other less documented invaders. Not all struggles that had taken place here had or would appear in the history books.
The wind gusted and Elizabeth’s pace quickened to match it. Each hurried step was punctuated by the echo of her soles scraping against the fine layer of grit smothering the damp stone pavement. She scanned the hills and moorland above the industrial landscape searching for some colour. Between clouds of fog, church spires and mills she glimpsed only the occasional bolt of green. Today was a dark day indeed.
Elizabeth returned her gaze to the turreted grey building ahead and the chink of light radiating from it.
Concentrating hard, she pushed herself onward towards the beckoning light only to be startled by a rasping cough from a cobbled alleyway to her right. A raggedly dressed young woman sat on the ground, her back against the wall of one of the buildings. A rake-thin baby beneath a grey woollen shawl was suckling at her emaciated breast.
Elizabeth refused to meet the eyes of the ones searching her out and rushed onwards as a dirt-encrusted hand thrust its way down the alleyway towards her.
A child’s buggy nearly collided with Elizabeth’s black leather boot; she just managed to step out of its way. A rain-soaked infant stared at her with blank eyes. Elizabeth gave him a warm smile and his eyes lit up with surprise. The mother remained fixed, huddled over the buggy handles and hurried past without any recognition.
Not far now
A soldier wearing a World War II uniform appeared at one of the windows of the Heyleigh Arms public house. He made no effort to acknowledge her presence and a relieved Elizabeth pushed on towards the welcoming doorway ahead.
A single, time-worn stone step led up to an imposing arched doorway. In the granite beside the weathered wooden door was carved “RoYds”.
The door was held open halfway by an elderly gentleman wearing a full morning suit. Opening the door fully so that Elizabeth could easily step inside, the man gently closed the door behind her.
“Morning, Wilfred. How are you today?”
The little man blinked back at her, same blank expression as always. He answered with the usual monotonous tone in his voice.
“Present as usual, Miss,” he replied. “Mr Birch is waiting for you in the red reception room, Miss. Very dark out today isn’t it?”
Elizabeth suspected that Wilfred had always been around to supervise the doorway at RoYds, altering only his clothing, hairstyle and manner of speech to suit the conventions dictated by the modern world.
“Certainly is,” remarked Elizabeth with an involuntary shudder.
Elizabeth entered the red reception room through an open doorway. The rather grand room was furnished with deep sofas, armchairs and various pieces of antique mahogany furniture. Facing her was a large, highly polished black marble fireplace and a roaring coal fire.
Sitting in one of two oxblood leather armchairs by the side of the fireplace was Stanley Thomas Birch, an eccentric gentleman whose demeanour, despite his civilian attire, gave away the fact that he was, or had been, in the military. He was quietly sipping an amber liquid from a cut crystal tumbler and when he caught sight of her, he stood up and smiled.
“Ah, Elizabeth! Please do come in and take a seat." He pointed to the armchair facing the one he had just left.
Elizabeth shivered slightly; someone else was in the room with them. Turning to her left she caught a glimpse of Wilfred placing a small silver tray with a large mug of tea and some chocolate biscuits upon a nearby table.
“Took the liberty, Miss,” remarked Wilfred. “I thought you might be in need. Can I take your coat, Miss?” He held out his hand.
“Thank you. That’s very kind of you,” she replied removing her long red winter coat and passing it to him.
“Please do take a seat and enjoy your tea,” said Stanley fussing after her lightly.
Elizabeth reached for the tea that Wilfred had made for her. She was delighted to discover it was as delicious as ever.
“Welcome back,” said Stanley with a broad grin.
Labels: Elizabeth, Fiction, Present Day, Refuge of Delayed Souls