The Holiday Tour
A Story in Two Chapters for the Last Week of October
Margaret Traylor lived alone in a large Tudor house on Simpson Street, the same house in which she’d grown up and the only one in which she’d ever lived. Her eight year old dachshund, Emmett, shared her quarters and was the reason Margaret never considered herself alone in the slightest, having always preferred dogs to humans, a fact she chose to keep to herself, but one that gave her great comfort nonetheless. Her house sat close to the street in the center of a quartet of maple trees that burned red as flame in October and rang out with birdsong in May. On this icy December morning however, they stood still as silver, their bony-knuckled branches reaching out over the stone wall that bordered the garden in the all too often successful attempt to snare the coat collar of a distracted passerby. It was dull work for them today, though, as the weather was keeping most of the neighbourhood well behind their painted doors and curtained windows. The wind was up. Great gusts of it raced between the old houses like handfuls of quilting needles in search of the ungloved hand or unmufflered cheek.
In the warmth of her kitchen, Margaret and Emmett sat sharing their breakfast of scrambled eggs and toast, the lights of the sitting room Christmas tree dancing red and green on the paneled wall behind them. Emmett, having only just returned from his necessary morning tour of the back garden, had no intention whatsoever of subjecting his shorthaired coat to any more of this dreadful weather, but Margaret was, even now, planning her day with great excitement, the sort of excitement that could only result from six months of delighted anticipation.
It had started the moment the brochure sailed through the letter box of her forest green front door. There it had lain in a beam of sunlight, its pages aglow with the colours of Christmas, red lettering announcing the 21st Annual Grove Hill Holiday Home Tour. Margaret had snatched it up like a gold piece and tore it open at once. Would Buckden House possibly be included this year at last? Margaret had taken a deep breath, opened the brochure and gasped. There it was! Stop Number Four on a tour of seven holiday decorated homes.
Buckden House sat on a hill at the end of Simpson Street, near enough to Grove Lake to be colder in the winter than any other house in town. A damp wind whipped round it in any season; the stone lions that stood sentry by the wrought iron gate wore a constant coat of green moss. For all of her forty-seven years, Margaret had longed to see inside, slowing her stride every time she strolled past in the hopes of catching but a glimpse inside one of the rooms that had captured her imagination since childhood. No one she knew had ever been acquainted with the owners of Buckden. Its occupants had remained mysterious to everyone for as long as Margaret could remember. But she’d always loved the house with its stained glass conservatory and its cobblestoned drive. She remembered a Halloween party there when she was nine. She’d climbed out her window to sit on the roof, listening and watching. She could recall the long black cars snaking down Simpson Street on that long ago late October evening, the bell-like laughter of unseen women drifting across the lake, the orange chinese lanterns hanging from the maple trees like ripe and foreign fruit.
Though she’d kept a close eye on Buckden for all these many years, she’d never seen anyone coming and going, never seen a package delivered, never heard voices from the other side of the mullioned windows. The garden, though lavish with roses and stock, was never seen to be tended by anyone. Margaret could well remember the mystery of Buckden crackling through many adult conversations when she was a child, but without a shred of informative kindling to fan its searching flame, it had died down to ash for the people of Grove Hill. No one gave the old house much thought anymore. No one, that is, except Margaret.
When the For Sale sign had appeared by the gates of Buckden last September, speculative whispers had started up once again. Littleton and Marks, the realtors in charge of the sale, had nothing particularly pertinent to contribute by way of explanation as to the owners of the house. They said they’d been contracted, via email, to handle the sale by a group of investors known only as Daphne, Crabtree and Styles. Margaret supposed putting Buckden on the Holiday Home Tour constituted an effort on the part of Freddy Marks to show the house to as many people as possible in one fell swoop. Not a bad idea at all, for the Home Tour was always well-attended and the subject of discussion at many a ladies luncheon throughout the year. The women of Grove Hill longed to see inside one another’s houses with a curiousity that nudged uncomfortably close to nosiness, even occasionally veering off into jealously, but their motives could be elevated to a nobler plane since the proceeds for the tour always went to a worthy charity.
Margaret took one last sip of tea and sat her china cup back into its saucer with a rattle that caused Emmett, now curled up by the stove, to slowly open one eyelid.
“Don’t worry, “ Margaret said, smiling down at the comfortably situated dog. “You don’t have to come along, Emmett. I know it’s too cold for you today.”
The little dachshund’s tail thumped vigorously on his red tartan bed. She bent to scratch him behind one floppy brown ear, straightening up to pull on a pair of red fair isle gloves. Buttoning her coat up at her throat, she pulled its hood carefully up over her hair and headed for the door, pausing once on the front porch to breathe in a lungful of frigid morning air before making her way gingerly down the stone stairs to the front garden pathway. Opening the front gate, she turned to see if Emmett was in his usual spot at the window, then laughed to herself at his absence. Too cold for a formal goodbye, I suppose.
Lined as it was with the town’s grandest houses, Simpson Street was a favourite route, its pavements often full of joggers, dog walkers and baby strollers. She supposed it was due to the early hour as well as to the icy nature of the morning that Margaret found the street uncharacteristically deserted. Several of Simpson’s oldest homes were scheduled to be on today’s home tour, but as Margaret had been inside most of those many times over the years, only Buckden held any fascination for her today and she passed these others by with only a cursory glance at the extravagant wreaths adorning each door. The Stonefield boys had been by delivering their handmade wreaths, she thought. Always a treat this time of year. By the time she’d passed the third house scheduled to be on the tour, it began to occur to her that the usual crowds waiting outside each location were noticeably absent. In fact, if she hadn’t known they were only moments away from having their doors flung open to the throngs of Grove Park debutantes and dowagers, she’d have thought no one was home at any of them. The windows were dark at Dower House, stop Number Two, and the curtains were drawn at The Peterson’s, an annual favourite due to Mandy Peterson’s magnificent gingerbread house that always adorned her dining room table. Margaret knew she’d had an early start but found herself worrying that tour patrons were ignoring these normally crowded stops and, even now, were forming a long line of velvet blazers and tweed skirts at the front door of Buckden. Her pace quickened in spite of the slippery pavement. She’d so wanted to be the first inside.
As she neared the gates of Buckden, Margaret felt the temperature of the air plummet even further as the wind blowing up from Grove Lake reached her. She stood where she’d so often stood, in front of the house’s tall black gates, looking up the drive to the great house beyond. But this time was different. This time the gates were wide open. This time Margaret had a ticket to enter. This time she was invited in.
To be continued on Halloween.....
To be continued on Halloween.....
This just in!
A very special thank you to the marvelous Joni Webb of the wildly, and deservedly, popular blog, Cote de Texas, for her generous post about the book!
Go say hello to Joni and read for yourself, HERE!