I glimpse a pair of tiny bright red dots gleaming in the torch’s white light before their owner scuttles off into the dark. I hear the scrunch of feet on gravel and someone calls my name. At first I stiffen with shock. Then laugh inwardly at my stupidity. In the heightened state of my emotions I have forgotten the purpose for my visit to the old house. With a friend, I had planned to spend an afternoon of plein-air painting. The neglected garden seemed like the perfect setting for botanical studies in water color.
I had arrived early, having left sufficient time for my journey to cater for heavy traffic, only to find none. I sat in the car for a few minutes then got out and took a stroll around the periphery of the house, in search of a suitable site to set up my easel. My discovery of the door concealed behind the shrubbery had aroused my curiosity.
Now my friend has arrived. The presence of my car, the trunk still open from when I retrieved the toolbox, will have told him I’m here. I have been so distracted by my interest in the concealed door, and the room beyond, that his sudden appearance has taken me by surprise.
I switch off the torch and duck my head round the door. “Down here,” I shout.
I can see his head, wisps of sandy colored hair lifted by a gentle breeze as he stands beyond the shrubbery. I watch, amused, as he turns, head swiveling, unable to see me. “Behind the shrubbery.” I climb to the second step from the bottom. Now he looks down and I observe puzzlement change to recognition and relief on his thin features. He walks towards the top of the stairway.
“Come and look,” I say. “There’s a cellar. But you must look at the door first. It’s quite ornate.”
I stand aside and, as he brushes my cheek with his lips, I catch the scent of his cologne. He bends to examine the elaborate carving on the pull-ring.
“Unusual for a tradesman’s entrance, don’t you think?” He says nothing.
“Celtic?” I suggest when he looks up.
“I don’t think so. I can’t say I’ve ever seen anything like it before.” I can see he has already lost interest. “What have you found inside?”
“A couple of bats and a rat so far. I’d barely shone my light into the space when I heard your call.”
Together we turn and enter the room.
To be continued.