There were no clocks at Greyrocks. Gwendolyn discovered this not long after waking and found it strangely pleasing. From the light outside she figured it must have been around ten am when she finally woke. Grateful the fire had already been laid, she struck a match and set it blazing, then went about making her acquaintance with Greyrocks.
The dark grey facade of the house coupled with its setting to create an imposing face to the world, but in truth it was rather modest in size. The room she was in was cosy and obviously the heart of the place. A marvelously curated collection of books stood side by side on the shelves. Wonderful old classics, mostly first editions, and valuable art books, all well-thumbed and beloved by someone at some time. As promised, Albert had filled the house with flowers; this room overflowed with pink peonies. Where he had gotten these at this time of year, Gwendolyn couldn’t imagine. An Aubusson rug lay on the wide wooden floors and the tall clear windows were dressed in floral linen, lined in silk. The fat-cushioned sofas were covered in emerald green velvet and seemed to beg for long evenings spent reading, knitting, or maybe even writing. Gwendolyn laughed a little to herself. She knew that was her task, writing, but she intended to take this first day off.
The sweet fragrance of gardenias drew her across the entry hall into the dining room, stone-flagged and imposing in its grand proportions. The tropical flowers, so strange in this landscape, filled several cut glass vases on a glossy mahogany table that ran the length of the room and three diamond-paned windows threw geometric figures over the polished wood, competition for the highly patterned, autumnal coloured rug below. But it was a painting that dominated the atmosphere here. Hung on the wall facing the door, it was a painting of a young girl in a lovely pink dress, her face the very definition of the unique beauty bestowed on the very young and very innocent. She sat in a tapestry chair as green as a forest and behind her was a curtain in swirls of navy blue. The girl wore a enigmatic smile that could have been rueful or secretive, one couldn’t tell. She was utterly beautiful and certain to be a valuable but try as she might, Gwendolyn could find no artist’s signature in any corner.
A door beside the sideboard led to a large, airy kitchen presided over by the kingly presence of a humming Aga that erased the chill from the cold stone floors. It seemed to beg for a pot of soup to be simmering atop one of its round eyes and Gwendolyn realized with a quickening pang how long it had been since she’d eaten. A wide refrigerator stood across from the Aga and she opened it hopefully. Albert had been true to his word; everything she could possibly have needed, or wanted, was here. Pulling out vegetables and chicken, she set about making a large pot of soup, taking pleasure in each step of chopping and seasoning, and delighting in the aroma that soon began to fill the room.
Once the soup was simmering, she grabbed a fresh apple from a bowl on the counter and turned back to explore the upstairs. She secured the apple in her mouth and picked up her cases. The stairs were steep and heavily carpeted. On the landing she paused to look out the window. The glass was bordered with twelve squares of stained glass, three on each side, depicting what appeared to be the apostles, each face beatific and serene. Through the center glass she could see the sea, oddly calm after such a rollicking performance just last night. The hallway upstairs was brighter than she’d expected, long rectangles of light fell into it from four well-appointed bedrooms and she set about choosing her favourite - a thoroughly delicious task.
In the end it was the view that made up her mind. She’d loved the dawn- colored walls of the first room, the massive sleigh bed of the second. The third bedroom was the largest, by far, but the fourth had a window seat as perfectly placed for sea viewing as a rook’s nest in one of the windswept trees outside. The sunlight bounced off the water and right into the room, the walls perpetually moving with the waves as though the two were one. The colours of the room - pale blue, pink gold, soft grey - had obviously been chosen to marry it seamlessly to the sea; the effect was dramatic and soothing at once. Gwendolyn sat her bags down decisively. This was perfect.
Indeed, as she lay nestled in the four-poster later that night with a small glass of whisky on her bedside table and a fat book in her lap, sated by chicken soup and a freshly baked apple pie that she’d discovered in the larder, Gwendolyn, if she’d been asked, would have said this entire day had been perfect. She fell asleep confident in her ability to write come morning, something she’d not done for over six months, and with a renewed appreciation for the irascible, yet reliable, Albert.
There is that certain hour of the twenty-four when certainty is at its most tenuous. Not quite night yet not quite day, time itself seems to slip its grasp and become unaware of its duties and form. It’s never the same time each night, but changes with the breath of the others, those ever-present yet unseen. Later, Gwendolyn would never be able to recall the hour, but she would never forget the sound. It woke her gradually, as snow wakes one, not with its sound of its falling, but with a subtle changing of the light. She felt as though she were rising up from softness and peace to the awareness of a profound grief once forgotten. Crying. The sound of crying. Faint, impossible to locate, but everywhere, yet nowhere, at once. She sat up, her heart attempting an escape from her chest.
Switching on the light beside her bed - and wondering briefly at the false security light seems to provide - she sat rigidly upright, too afraid to venture out into the hall. And still the sound continued. A weeping so raw, so vivid, she clapped her hands over her ears in a futile attempt to silence it. It would stop for a minute during which she would think perhaps she’d been dreaming, only to begin anew, and with accelerated fervour, a moment later. Gwendolyn dove beneath her coverlet and placed two fat down pillows over her head.
Painting by Atkinson Grimshaw