Saturday, 29 September 2012

Chapter 2, part 1

Lucy didn't see her new neighbour again till the next weekend.  She was in the garden undertaking some necessary gardening chores.  She loved gardening and she always felt that it connected her with her mother who had also loved gardens and had created the pretty little area around the cottage.  It was a beautiful old-fashioned garden full of roses, with wisteria covering a pergola and huge European trees that made it a cool haven on the hot days of midsummer.  She heard someone calling from the front of the cottage, and getting up from the flowerbed where she had been kneeling, she stretched her back and made her way round the side of the house to see who it was.

Yackandandah High Street
He was leaning against the door, wearing clothes that looked much more Australian than he had worn before – khaki shorts, a crumpled white open-necked shirt and Blundstone boots.  Even dressed like this, he looked absolutely stunning.  In fact, he looked even more handsome than he had in his more formal clothes, if that were possible.  Lucy found herself once again breathless and tongue-tied.  She flicked her eyes involuntarily over the powerful sinews in his brown forearms, the muscles in his thighs and calves.
“I just came to apologise,” he said, “For leaving you so abruptly last time.”
“Not at all,” she stammered.  She noticed, however, that he offered no explanation for his sudden departure.  After he had taken his leave so abruptly on the previous occasion, she had gone over to the piano to look at the photo of her mother, puzzled, to see what it was that had made him behave as he had.  She took down the frame and examined it carefully, and suddenly the full force of the fact that she was all alone in the world had hit her and she had had a bit of a cry, but she was no closer to understanding why he had departed in such an unfriendly way.  There had been a few other things on the piano, one or two magazines, a vase of flowers and a small box in which she kept precious mementoes from her childhood.  She had racked her brains, trying to work out what it was that had affected him so, yet she still had no idea.  She was tempted, now, to ask him, but felt shy, and was afraid of driving him away again.
“How are the renovations going?” she asked.
“A complete mess,” he replied, “Everything's higgledy-piggledy, the builders are complaining, the council is complaining, and it looks as though nothing has happened even though it's been a week since we began.  But I haven't given up hope.  Many of the timbers of the upstairs floors are sound, the staircase, apart from a squeak or two, seems to be fine.  In fact, it's rather a beautiful staircase, a very elegant curve.  I would say it's from the Art Deco period, but it can't be because it was built before that.”  He turned to her, “Why don't you come up and have a look?”
“I'd love to,” she said, her heart quickening, “But first let me change – I won't be a moment.”  She was wearing a battered straw hat, torn jeans and an old flannel shirt.  She couldn't know that it set her off to perfection, that her lovely slimness and ripe curves were made all the more attractive by being displayed in these informal clothes.
“If you must,” he smiled, “But really, it's rather dusty up there – I wouldn't wear your glad rags!”  He indicated his own dusty shorts in a self-deprecating way.  She loved his accent.  The way he clipped his words neatly and cleanly made her shiver with pleasure.
They started off up the hill.  It was one of those hot, still days you get in country Victoria in summer, where the leaves of the gums hang motionless, and the air shimmers blue with heat.  As they toiled up the slope to the mansion, Lucy began to feel that this might not have been a good idea.  She was convinced that she would start to sweat like a pig and put him off.  Then she reminded herself that she stood no chance anyway, that the fact of the matter was, Lucy Grady was never going to get married – not now, not in the future.  When they reached the great house, she saw that the front door was propped open with bricks, there were builders' trucks all around and the sound of banging and demolition was audible from within the building.  She turned round to take in the view.  The site for the house had been carefully chosen.  The ground swept down to her little cottage in the valley and about a kilometre beyond the cottage the town was visible, with its river winding through, an inviting blue.  There was a huge raised terrace in front of the house, shaded by a roof of rusty tin sheets.  On the edge of this verandah, there was a railing made of stone, elegant and old-fashioned, like pictures she had seen of the grand houses in Europe and England.
At intervals along the edge of the verandah there were stone urns and she was astonished to see petunias flowering richly in them.
“Surely,” she asked, “These petunias cannot have survived all these years by themselves?”
“Oh no,” he said, “I planted them.  The urns looked so forlorn without flowers in them.”  He added quietly, “I so love gardens.  With all my businesses, I have very little time for gardening, so really,” he said ruefully, “It's a gesture rather than anything.”

“Oh really?” she exclaimed, “I love gardens too!  You must come and see the garden at the cottage because my mother spent a lot of time planting it and I think it's very beautiful.  You'd love it!”  Immediately she was embarrassed, hearing the childish enthusiasm in her voice. 

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Friday, 21 September 2012

Chapter 1, part 2

Struggling to keep her wits about her, she said,
“I didn't think it was even habitable,”
“Oh, it isn't,” he replied, “I'm living in the town for now.  At the Royal Hotel.”

The Royal Hotel 

Lucy felt an absurd urge to invite him to stay with her  – after all, the cottage had once been part of the great house's grounds, and anyway, it would be much more convenient for him to oversee the work from here – but then felt foolish and ashamed.  Had she learnt nothing?  What was the point  of fancying somebody so far beyond her, so clearly unattainable?  Get over it, she told herself, and face the facts:  you'll always be alone.
All the same, “Would you like to come in and have some tea?” she asked, obedient as always to her mother's lessons in good manners.
“Oh, you live here?” he said, surprised.
“Yes,” she said, “It used to be the gatehouse for the old mansion, but years ago it was sold and I inherited it when my mother died last year.”
He frowned.  “I'm so sorry,” he said, looking as if he meant it. 
“Thank you,” replied Lucy.  She couldn't help herself looking at his left hand for a wedding ring.  There wasn't one.  But this meant nothing.  She was embarrassed at her behaviour.  Just because there was a new man in town, she didn't have to assume that he was available.  Just because she was so alone and lonely didn't mean he'd be interested in her in the slightest.  Maybe he had a girlfriend.  Of course he had a girlfriend!  After all, he was apparently wealthy and well known, and possessed the sort of looks usually found in the pages of one of the better men's fashion magazines.
“By the way, I'm Lucy Grady,” she said, as much to take her mind off his chin, now almost imperceptibly darkened by five-o'-clock shadow, which she had a sudden, wild urge to caress.
“Pleased to meet you,” he smiled politely. “I should be delighted to have some tea.”
Because he seemed to her like a squire or lord of the manor, and because she wanted to impress (she admitted to herself with some self-disgust), she made him tea using her mother's flowered Spode teapot and matching cups.  If it had been anyone else, they would have been given tea in a mug, with a teabag, but he seemed so grand … so upper class … so different.  She felt she had to bring out the Sunday best.  While the kettle was boiling, she took the chance to race up the narrow wooden stairs to her bedroom, and leaning towards the mottled old mirror, ran her hands through her dark auburn hair which would insist on tangling itself about her shoulders no matter how she attempted to tame it with clips and barrettes.  Her pale cheeks were flushed enough, she decided ruefully, flushing all the more at her utter foolishness.  She slid some peach lip gloss over the curve of her wide mouth – too wide, she always thought – and then hastily rubbed it off and tried the colourless lip gloss instead.  Her hazel eyes gazed back hopefully at her and seeing the forlorn hope, she snorted in derision.  Lucy Grady, she chastised herself, pull yourself together!  Remember your place, you are a silly school teacher in a one-horse town with no hope of attracting this gorgeous man's attention, so stop making a fool of yourself!  And taking a tissue, she savagely rubbed off the lip gloss, shook her head, sighed deeply and went down the narrow stairs.  He was standing at the piano, the photo of her mother in his hand.  He glanced up at her.
“Do forgive me,” and her carefully replaced the photo.  “Was this your mother?”
“Yes,” Lucy replied softly.  She didn't realise how sad she sounded.  Adam raised his eyes to hers and his look was so gentle and puzzled, the deep blue of his look unfathomable, yet revealing an unexpected compassion, that she found herself near to tears.  She quickly poured the tea, bending to hide her expression from him – for once glad of the mass of dark auburn curls that swept forward to hide her face as she handed him the cup and saucer.  She felt if she met his gaze once more, the intensity would scorch her.  Her hand trembled.  He steadied the cup with his own long brown fingers and his hand touched hers for a moment.  His touch was warm, vibrant, his skin felt as though it had an electric life to it and she could feel the sinews and muscles tense and alive beneath.  She put the cup down and pulled her hand back, feeling that her face was naked, and that everything she felt was written there in capital letters. 
“So tell me,” she said, a little breathless, desperate to get the atmosphere back to normality, “What exactly are you going to have to do to get the house livable again?”
He turned away and looked through the small-paned window at her small garden and beyond that, to the rolling parklands that led up to the mansion.
“Well,” he said, his voice now cool and businesslike, “Rather more than I had thought initially.  Already the builders are shaking their heads.  It looks as if the floorboards will have to be pulled up and replaced, some of the roof timbers, too.  And of course all the electrics are old fashioned.  But the structure is sound.  It is a stone house.  It was built to last.”
It struck her that someone who could afford to do this work must be immensely rich.  She envied him a little because she had to survive on a modest income which didn't extend to luxuries.  She suddenly noticed that he was staring at her mother's photo again.  Without warning he put the cup down and stood up.  His face was grim.  “I need to go.”  His voice was cold, distant.  He strode towards the door.  “Thank you for the tea.”  And with that he was gone.

Sunday, 16 September 2012

Chapter 1, part 1

Chapter 1

The Greyfallows mansion had dominated the town of Beauville for over a century.  Built with gold money by a prospector who struck it rich in the 1860s gold rush, Greyfallows had been the grandest house in town ever since then, the seat of a dynastic family, and in the 1920s, 30s and 40s, home to scandalous parties for the rich and famous, who would turn up in vast Packards, DeSotos, Bentleys or Rolls Royces to dance the night away, the men in tuxedos and snow white shirts, the women in expensive glittering dresses of peacock colours, gloved and tiaraed, glamorous, fashionable, beautiful.

The mansion had been empty now for thirty years.  As far as the town knew, old Mister Greyfallow had years ago disappeared into a retirement home and died, and (so rumour had it) since then the estate had been tied up in lawsuits between the heirs.  Now the great mansion was derelict, and the glamorous parties were just memories.  But sometimes, on a warm summer evening when the cockatoos twittered overhead as they flew to their night-time roosts, and the magpies argued in liquid  temple-bell calls, Lucinda Grady fancied she could hear the faint echoes of a wailing saxophone, of the jazzy rhythms of the foxtrot and the waltz, and the muted chatter and laughter of happy party-goers.
She lived in the old gatekeeper's lodge of the mansion, called (what else?) Gate Cottage.  She was a school teacher in Beauville's local high school yet she longed with all her heart to do something completely different, to be somewhere else.   Beauville was the town she had grown up in, yet she felt trapped and yearned for escape.  She longed for freedom from small-town gossip and narrowness, from small-town fuss about mundane things, from the tedium of a place where nothing ever happened.  Sometimes she felt she hated her home town.
Out of town visitors admired it. They thought it a charming Australian country town, with its tree-lined streets, pleasing wooden houses with roses trailing over their picket fences; a town centre filled with historic wooden buildings; a stone police station, court house and town hall; as well as a  pretty park next to the river filled with giant oaks and elms planted by the first settlers long ago.  Yet to her, it seemed horribly dull and provincial.  She longed for the bright lights, for Paris and New York and London.  That wasn't going to happen now.  Things had taken place in her life that had made her lose her confidence, the get-up-and-go she'd once had.  She had resigned herself to being a single woman, stuck in the dullness of an Australian country town, far from anywhere exciting.
She had had a chance to leave, once, when she had met a man, a tourist from New York. He'd been travelling round the country in a rented car, and had visited Beauville.  He'd fallen in love with her and begged her to return with him to New York.  She had wanted to go, how much she had yearned to leave.  She had always regretted not following her instinct – an instinct which had told her to go with him.  Instead, she stayed.  She had her own secret reason, a reason which seemed more and more foolish as the years passed by.
One Monday morning just as she was getting ready to drive to work at the school she saw some builders' vans and trucks go past Gate Cottage up towards the old Greyfallows house.  She didn't have time to wonder what it was about, but that morning in the staffroom at school, her best friend Jennifer Williams, asked,
“Have you heard the news about the old Greyfallows place?”
“What news?” asked Lucy, only half listening, trying not to spill tea from the dreadful staff-room tea-pot which always dribbled on the table.
“The new owner of Greyfallows, of course!”
Lucy froze, the teapot in mid-air.  “I saw some trucks headed up that way,” she said, concealing her excitement, “What have you heard?”
“Well it seems,” said Jennifer, “There's a new owner.  The grandson or great nephew of old man Elijah Greyfallow or something like that.  He has plans to move in, I hear.”
“Good luck to him,” said Lucy, adding offhandedly, “The place is a ruin,” as she added a spoonful of sugar to her tea and stirring vigorously.
“Well,” said Jennifer, “The talk is that he's enormously rich and that he has businesses overseas, something like that.  I think he's from London, or maybe New York.  Can't remember.  Oops, I must go, I'm late for class!” And Jennifer had to race off before she could say any more.  Lucy felt somehow disturbed and excited at the same time by the thought of something happening, of a new neighbour, of life once again filling the old house.
She met her new neighbour after school.  As she drove up to her cottage she saw a man peering through one of her front windows.  He straightened as he heard her car and said, in an impeccable upper-class English accent,
“Hello, there.  Do excuse my rudeness.  I'm Adam Greyfallow.”
“Oh!” She exclaimed stupidly, trying to still her beating heart, “Are you going to live in that old wreck up on the hill?”
“Well, eventually,” he replied, smiling.  Lucy was finding it hard to concentrate on what he said.  She had never seen anyone so extraordinarily handsome before.  His hair was so dark it held electric-blue lights like a raven's wing, and his eyes were pools of the deepest blue, fringed with lashes sooty and shadowed.  As he straightened, she was startled by his height, and the breadth of his shoulders, although the impeccably tailored navy blazer hung a little loosely on him, suggesting that he might have lost weight recently, and there were deep hollows beneath the angular cheekbones, the elegant curve of his jaw too prominent. She couldn't help her eyes flicking down to the flat board of his belly beneath the perfectly creased fawn pants, his waist as slim as a dancer's.  

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The Music of Love

This is a love story my lady and I are writing together.  We're aiming to publish half a chapter a week.  It's the story of Lucinda Grady from Beauville, a country town in Victoria, and how (to her surprise) she finds love.