Yes, it was a cliff-hanger. Quite literally. If you haven’t read part one yet I suggest you do so here, now.
The ha-ha stops me. I saw it just in time. That’s the thing about a ha-ha: you are not meant to see it. You see a green vista extending all the way to the multiplicity of tree species in the arboretum. A ten foot drop hides a gravel path and a weed encrusted lake. I pull up, bend down, my hands on my knees, breath rasping as I gulp air into my lungs. There is no sign or sound of pursuit. What I saw, the thing that sent my legs and lungs racing, did I imagine it? Was it, is it, like the view past the ha-ha, an illusion?
I straighten and turn towards the house. The turrets and domes, patinated with verdigris like the escutcheon plate on the door, catch the last rays of the sun as it sinks below the castellated parapet that hides the roof ridge. More illusions. The hidden ridge, the hint of gold on the copper domes.
This is the rear of the house but its facade is a copy of the front. Not quite a copy. The front has steps leading up to a front entrance whose ornateness is real, not illusory like that of the door I thrust open. This door is at the end of a flight of stairs that descend. It provides access to the basement. It is the door used in the house’s heyday by tradesmen.
As I approach I begin to think again about the accessibility of this entrance. Concealed at the rear of the house, barely visible behind a clump of over-grown shrubs that mask the top of the stair well, it would be easy for someone to come and go unseen, to gain access to parts of the house never visited by its lordly owners. Now I wonder about my supposition that the reason for subterfuge was to do with romantic assignations. Perhaps it was for some more sinister purpose. This is, after all, a country that, less than a century ago, was at war with itself and, before that, at war with its rulers. People like the house’s occupants.
Is it possible that revolutionaries met here, under the noses, or, at least, beneath the feet, of the men and women against whom they were plotting? Did they store weapons in this basement room? Stash explosives among the cobweb coated wine bottles of the cellar? If so, what treachery, on the part of their allies, prevented them from completing their project?
I descend the steps a second time. The door is still as I left it, partially ajar. I smile inwardly at the memory of a childhood joke gleaned from a Christmas cracker or The Beano. When is a door not a door? I force down the hysterical giggles that threaten to overtake me. The room beyond is dark. The odors, now they have had time to dissipate, are less over-powering. If there ever was anything to cast terror into an intruder it has gone. Vanished, with the odors, into the shrubbery and the air above the weed infested former lawn.
I feel foolish now. There was something. I think back, replaying the moment when I stopped pushing the door and turned to stumble up the steps and run headlong away from the terror I felt. A flapping? Something dark and dangerous? Dark, yes. Flapping, yes. Dangerous? No. Just a pair of tiny pipistrel bats. I can see now that the sudden appearance of light and noise would have filled them with a terror as great as that their rapidly fulfilled urge to escape had engendered in me.
I take my torch from the pocket of my coat.
To be continued.