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?”
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