Home for WinterBy: Rebecca Boxall
And the Lord said unto Cain, where is Abel thy brother?
And he said, I know not: am I my brother’s keeper?
It was the thick of winter when Serena and Will moved into the Vicarage. A cold, damp day in February. The electricity wasn’t working and as they moved carefully around the enormous old house, trying to locate the trip switch, Serena thought she’d never felt as cold in her life.
They’d viewed the house when it was full of the warmth and clutter of a large family, but now the Vicarage seemed chill and stark. Even once the electricity had been turned on, the ceiling lights did little to brighten the house.
‘Lamps will transform the place,’ Serena said bravely and Will put an arm around her.
‘We’ll get it sorted in no time,’ he said. ‘A fresh start,’ he added, and Serena smiled, although the smile, like her laughter nowadays, no longer seemed to rise from deep within her. Both were, while not false, more habitual than anything else.
It had been almost six months now and Will was keen for them to move on with their lives. Serena was too, although she was relying on Will’s energy and enthusiasm to drive their fresh start forward. He was the one who’d spotted the advert for the post as vicar of Cattlebridge in East Sussex, thinking it might be time to flee London and enjoy the benefits of rural life.
Their new village was only half an hour’s drive from where Serena had grown up, close to the coastal town of Rye, and was quintessentially English. The Vicarage faced onto a street lined with beautiful, historic houses and was situated next door to the Norman church, its back garden leading through to the graveyard.
Next to the church stood the Black Horse pub, and a little further along the lane was the high street, where a number of ancient cottages and a selection of useful shops could be found – a grocer’s, newsagent’s, chemist’s, butcher’s and hairdresser’s, as well as a florist’s, bakery and gift shop. Past all of these was a quaint bookshop, and beside this was a store Serena was eager to explore, resembling an Aladdin’s Cave full of antiques, pine and other treasures.
That first morning, Serena had nipped to the newsagent’s to buy a pint of milk and a paper while they waited for the removal vans to arrive and she’d been intrigued to hear the proprietor and a couple of locals discussing some kind of local mystery.
‘Do you think they’ve heard about the place being cursed?’ the woman behind the till had asked. But as they all clocked Serena, the chatter had stopped abruptly, making her wonder if they’d been talking about the Vicarage. She sincerely hoped not.
‘Colonel Feltham-Jones!’ one of the customers bellowed at Serena immediately, introducing himself. He was lanky, with only one arm and rather battered-looking spectacles. He seemed kindly though, despite his brisk military diction.
‘Serena Meadows,’ she smiled, offering her hand. Fortunately, it was the left arm the Colonel was missing, so their handshake wasn’t too awkward. Serena introduced herself to the rest of the group and everyone seemed friendly enough, though she knew they’d instantly begin to analyse her as soon as she stepped foot over the threshold.
Village life. Serena was no stranger to the countryside and she’d been quite content to go along with Will’s plans to move to Cattlebridge. It was just that she hadn’t been able – not yet, anyway – to throw herself into them.
But a move required some energy at least, and Serena was interested enough to explore the house. She could barely remember visiting the month before, so while Will directed the removal men as to where their carefully labelled boxes should be deposited, Serena gave herself a guided tour of her new home – a gothic Victorian pile that really couldn’t have been more of a contrast to the modern bungalow they’d lived in last.
She began by retracing her steps to the grand entrance hall, which housed a huge fireplace and, currently, little else. A staircase swept up from the hall, but for now Serena remained on the ground floor. To the right of the front door was a room that Mrs Pipe, the housekeeper they’d somehow acquired with the Vicarage, called the library, though Will had decided to use it as a study. Mrs Pipe was actually employed as full-time housekeeper for the occupants of an ostentatious house nearby – the Smythes – but had always spent a couple of hours a week at the Vicarage, assisting the incumbent vicar with the upkeep of the place. She was a real character, with a charming Sussex accent and a vocabulary full of provincialisms, although she wasn’t quite the cosy housekeeper Serena might have hoped for, with an unsmiling face, steely grey hair and hooded eyes. She was more than a little unnerving.
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