Outside it was already getting dark and there was an autumnal nip in the air. They walked slowly back up the hill towards the cottage, a few cars speeding past on their way home from the coast.
Just outside the farmhouse Mr Beamish was talking to the elderly lady from the shop.
‘Hello,’ he called across. ‘Been for a walk? Mrs Leavenham said she saw you earlier.’
‘We needed milk, and some fresh air so we abandoned everything and retreated to the pub,’ said Kitty smiling at the pair.
Mrs Leavenham said comfortably ‘Well it takes a few days to get sorted and settle in.’
Mr Beamish smiled, his pale blue eyes disappearing into the wrinkles around his eyes. ‘It’s a lovely evening for a stroll, and this weather is supposed to last a few more days.’
It was difficult to tell how old he was, his face was quite careworn and rugged and he had the peculiarity of farmers his age that while the lower part of his face was ruddy and weathered the forehead was soft white and unlined from spending the most part of his life wearing a cap.
He ran his hand through his thinning hair. ‘It’s nice to have you moved in at last, though I have enjoyed watching the house go up. It’s amazing how quickly they can build a house these days.’
‘All this activity going on in William’s orchard has kept him entertained for weeks you know,’ Mrs Leavenham looked at the old man sympathetically. ‘He’s going to miss talking to those builders of yours.’
Mr Beamish started laughing. ‘If it hadn’t been for me I’m sure your house would have been built in half the time.’
‘Well you must come in and have a coffee when you’re passing and have a look around now it’s finished.’
‘I’ll take you up on that.’
‘Did that cat come through here?’ asked Kitty hurrying into the kitchen.
‘The one I saw earlier, from the farm.’
Gordon looked up from his newspaper and stared at her over his glasses, he finished a mouthful of sandwich and shook his head. ‘I didn’t see a cat.
‘I was coming down the stairs and it was there, sat in the hall.’
‘Well, look in the front room then.’
‘It couldn’t have gone in there, the door’s shut.”’ She peered around the kitchen and under the table. ‘Are you sure it didn’t come in here?’
‘You must have been seeing things Kitty.’
‘Oh for goodness sake that’s your answer for everything isn’t it?’ she said sarcastically. ‘Kitty’s seeing things!’
‘Okay, calm down,’ he answered irritably. ‘If there is a cat in here somewhere it will pop out soon enough. Open a tin of Tuna or something, the smell will bring it out from where ever it’s hiding.’
Kitty snorted and went back into the hall; she stared around the small space wondering how she could have missed it.
‘What’s all this on the doormat?’
‘Not cat poo I hope,’ he said drily.
‘No... It’s dried up twigs or something,’ Kitty bent and picked up a piece. ‘It’s lavender, how strange, where did that come from?’
She stared down at the fragrant stalks in her hand and shook her head.
‘You must have tracked it in from the garden, you or the dog.’
‘There isn’t any lavender in the garden. There was nothing left alive out there apart from the two apple trees, the diggers saw to that.’
‘I expect there is some out there somewhere,’ said Gordon, turning back to his newspaper.
Kitty straightened and sighed rubbing her head, she looked at the scattered seeds and twigs on the mat.
‘Oh, I can’t be bothered to clean this up now; I have had enough for today. I’ll do it in the morning.’
Gordon yawned and pushed his plate away from him.
‘Yeah it can wait, let’s have an early night and we’ll finish unpacking in the morning.
Kitty pulled back the duvet and climbed thankfully into bed, she lay back against the soft pillows and closed her eyes hoping the nagging headache she’d had all evening would go.
The sound of Gordon rattling about in the bathroom receded. As she began to doze soft footsteps approached across the bedroom carpet. Her side of the bed dipped slightly and a soft hand began to gently stroke the hair away from her forehead.
‘Night,’ Kitty mumbled not even bothering to open her eyes, her bedside light clicked off leaving that side of the room in darkness and Kitty was just aware of a figure walking slowly across the room and out onto the landing.
‘I thought you had cleaned this up?’
‘What?’ Kitty called from the utility room.
‘All this mess on the front door mat.’
‘I did it earlier with the vacuum cleaner.’
‘Well it’s still here Kitty,’ he said impatiently, shaking his head.
He hefted the pile of books to one arm and bent down to pick up the mat, meaning to shake it outside. The books started to slip from his grasp as he did so and spilled onto the floor.
‘What’s the matter?’ asked Kitty coming into the hall.
‘I’m trying to do two things at once and failing miserably,’ he snapped. ‘Look at this mess.’
Kitty looked at the lavender scattered over the floor.
‘I’m sure I did that,’ she said puzzled.
‘Well you couldn’t have, you probably meant to and went on and did something else and forgot about it. I know what you’re like.’
Gordon took a firm grip on the pile of books and walked off into the sitting room leaving Kitty staring blankly at the mat.
I’m sure I did it, didn’t I? she thought to herself.
Shaking her head she headed back into the kitchen to fetch a broom. Nero’s tail was gently thumping on the side of his bed and he was staring intently at the back door.
Kitty opened the back door for him.
‘Did you want to go out Nero?’
He clambered out of his bed and stared out into the garden wagging his tail, Kitty followed his gaze.
Sat just outside on the path was the grey cat.
‘Hello puss,’ Kitty said softly.
She looked down and held out her hand, as she did so she saw their new neighbour Mr Beamish standing at the end of the garden and staring intently over the wall at her. Kitty raised her hand and waved at the old man before looking down at the cat again.
The cat didn’t move, it just fixed her with a calm gaze from its strange pale eyes then stood up, stretched and sauntered past her into the kitchen.
‘Oh come in, please,’ she said smiling in amusement. ‘And Nero behave yourself,’ she told him firmly.
The cat rubbed itself against Kitty’s legs purring gently.
‘Oh you are friendly aren’t you?’ she said bending down and gently tickling the cat behind its ear. ‘Would you like something to eat? How about some Tuna? That’s all I’ve got I’m afraid.’
The cat followed Kitty around the kitchen purring gently while she found a saucer and a tin of fish in the cupboard.
‘Talking to yourself again?’ inquired Gordon from the hall. He came to the door and peered into the kitchen holding a box in his arms.
‘The cat is here again, so I’m going to feed it.’ said Kitty opening the tin of Tuna.
‘It has obviously taken a fancy to you Kitty, or it knows you’re a soft touch.’
‘Who me?’ she grinned.
Kitty turned back to the cat, saucer in hand but it had disappeared from the kitchen.
She glanced out into the garden but there was no sign of it outside the house either.
‘My! That cat moves fast, it’s disappeared again.’She looked at the saucer full of fish she had prepared for it.
‘Oh well never mind, I’ll put it outside the door and hopefully the cat will find it.’
‘Hmm, if Nero doesn’t find it first.’
‘He’s not going to touch it and anyway I’ll shut the door so he can’t get it.’
‘We’re not adopting a cat, you know I don’t like cats,’ he said firmly.
‘Ah, that’s why it ran off then,’ she said, pointing an accusing finger at him and smiling.
‘Yeah, my fault again.’
Kitty looked at the box he was holding. ‘What’s in there?’
‘Photographs, I think some of them are framed so you’ll have to sort through them and decide which ones you want up. We haven’t got room for all of them on the walls.’ Gordon walked back into the hall. ‘I’ll put the box in the sitting room for now,’ he called over his shoulder.
‘Okay, I’m just coming.’ Kitty placed the saucer of food outside and looked towards the end of the garden where the apple trees were. Mr Beamish was still leaning on the wall staring across at the house, she waved uncertainly at him and quickly shooed Nero back into the kitchen. ‘Go on in Nero,’ she said quietly. ‘And no, you’re not having it,’ she said shutting the door firmly.
Nero sighed and followed her sulkily into the sitting room.
‘Where’s the box?’ she inquired.
‘Over there,’ he gestured to the oak bookshelf behind the sofa; the box was sitting on the top shelf.
She started sorting through the box pulling out different photographs of the children in various poses.
‘Look at this one of Eve and Roger at the zoo, that’s a nice photo and there’s this one of all of us on holiday in Scotland. That’s a nice one as well.’
Kitty put the two pictures to one side and continued pulling out different framed prints.
‘Our wedding, that will have to go up and this one of your parents...’
‘Not too many Kitty, I don’t want you cluttering up the place like the last house.’
‘It wasn’t cluttered,’ she said indignantly. ‘It was homely.’
‘Well let’s try being homely without so much clutter.’
‘You’re such a grump Gordon. We’ve got some lovely pictures of the children and I want to display them,’ she said firmly.
‘Just choose the more recent ones then,’ he suggested.
‘Well I’ll leave out your parents’ picture then,’ she replied tartly.
Kitty turned her back on him and rummaged further into the box. Right at the bottom was an old album full of faded sepia photographs.
I’d forgotten I had this, she thought to herself turning the thick brown pages. ‘I’ve found mother’s old photo album.’ she said to Gordon.
She looked closely at the groups posing stiffly in their best clothes.
‘I’m not sure who all these people are,’ she said slowly turning to the last page.
‘Oh I recognise this group,’ Kitty said pleased to able to recognise the faces. ‘This is great-granny’s family,’ she looked closely at the group. ‘It must have been a wedding, they all look very grand and some of the men are wearing buttonholes. I wonder whose wedding it was? It doesn’t say...’
‘Ask your mum, she’s bound to know,’ Gordon said absently untangling some wires that he had found in the box. ‘I was so careful to coil these up neatly and now look at them. Right, now this is the one I wanted, and I’m sure I put it in the box with the television,’ he grumbled.
‘Do you need a hand with that?’
‘Nope, I’ll have all these wires plugged in next to no time now I have found everything. I could do with a cup of tea though.’
She closed the album and placed it back in the box, picked up the framed prints she had chosen and placed them on the coffee table.
‘Here’s some I’d like up Gordon.’
He glanced at the pile. ‘How many have you got there?’
‘It’s only a few, there are some more in another box upstairs. There’s that lovely picture of Emily somewhere.’
‘Oh yes, that will have to go up.’
‘Right, now I’ll go and make some tea.’ Kitty walked out into the hall, Nero following closely at her heels. ‘I suppose you’re waiting for your tea as well,’ she said looking down at the dog but he had stopped and was staring up at the top of the stairs. He started to whine gently, and Kitty quickly looked up to the landing almost expecting to see the cat but there was nothing there.
‘What are you looking at you silly dog?’ but Nero continued to stare his ears pricked, his tail was gently wagging and banging against Kitty’s leg. She looked again at the empty space at the top of the stairs and then at the dog. ‘What is it?’
Nero looked at her then at the stairs, still wagging his tail.
‘You’re a silly dog, come on.’ she coaxed him into the kitchen and picked his food bowl up off of the floor. He followed Kitty reluctantly, still staring towards the hall then soon lost interest when he heard the dog biscuits being poured into the bowl.
Kitty made the tea and leant against the worktop thoughtfully watching as he finished off the last few biscuits. He pushed the bowl around the kitchen floor hopefully searching for any that he had missed, and then climbed into his bed. Nero wagged his tail at Kitty and settled down with his head between his paws.
‘The dog’s seeing things,’ she said walking back in to the sitting room with the tray of tea.
‘I don’t know, something in the hall.’
‘That dog is as daft as you are dear.’
Gordon was kneeling in front of the television trying to sort out the wires for the DVD player.
‘You are such a charmer Gordon, and here’s your tea.’
Kitty put the tray down on the coffee table and leant against the old oak mantelpiece watching as he pulled the television out from the corner of the room.
‘This has worm,’ she said looking closely at the fireplace. Kitty ran her hand along the pitted wood and yawned. ‘And there are holes all along the top,’ she rested her head against it and yawned again.
‘It’s okay, it was treated at the reclamation yard before it was delivered,’ He stood up and came over to stand next to Kitty. He ran his hand lovingly over the old wood. ‘It’s beautiful isn’t it? Look at these marks, years of wear. I wonder what this fireplace has seen, eh?’
Kitty looked at it doubtfully. ‘It is nice but don’t you think it’s a bit big? It dominates the room. I think something smaller would have been better.’
‘No, no, it’s perfect, it’s just what I wanted for this room, it gives it character,’ Gordon said firmly.
‘Oh well I’m sure I’ll get used to it, as long as the wood worm doesn’t spread.’
She rested her head against the wood again and yawned. ‘Oh boy, I’m tired.’
Kitty stood watching her husband as he pushed the television back into the corner. She closed her eyes for what just seemed a second, the noises in the room slowly receded and her mind began to drift.
‘Mmm,’ she murmured, her eyes flickering open. ‘What?’
‘What?’ asked Gordon vaguely.
‘Did you say something to me? ‘
He didn’t answer; Gordon was staring in frustration at the instruction manual. ‘These inscrutable Japanese, I can’t understand a word of this!’
Kitty straightened and rubbed the small of her back. ‘I’m dozing off here, I had better move before I fall asleep altogether. I’ll go and find some cake, would you like a piece to go with your tea?’
Gordon didn’t answer, but she knew from experience that he never turned down cake so she walked slowly out into the hall and glanced through the window as she went past.
‘Oh there’s Mr Beamish,’ she called through to him. ‘I wonder if he’s going to come in, he’s been hanging around outside all afternoon. I expect he could do with a cup of tea.’
He stood at the end of the drive leaning on a stick and staring intently at the house, his cap pulled low over his eyes.
Gordon followed her out into the hall, wires in one hand and instruction manual in the other. He peered over his wife’s shoulder. ‘He’s admiring the house I expect,’ and tucked the manual under his arm, leant forward, tapped on the window and waved.
Mr Beamish turned and walked slowly away down the lane to the farmhouse.
‘Oh! I thought he was going to come in, he looked a bit grim don’t you think?’ Kitty looked at Gordon in surprise.
‘Perhaps he’s having a bad day.’
Kitty suddenly felt worried. ‘You don’t think he’s regretting selling us the orchard do you?’
‘Kitty, for goodness sake why should he? You heard him yesterday he’s been enjoying watching the house go up. And anyway we gave him a good price for the land; he’s laughing all the way to the bank.’
‘He didn’t look as though he was laughing,’ Kitty for some strange reason shivered.
Gordon looked at her. ‘Some cake would be nice.’
‘Okay, okay, I’m going!’
She opened the cupboard to get a couple of plates and as she shut the door a slight scent of lavender wafted around her head. Slightly puzzled she stepped back looking around the kitchen.
There was a yelp from behind her. ‘Oh Nero! You made me jump,’ Kitty patted the dog’s head and picked up the cake tin.
She heard footsteps approaching along the tiled hall floor and out of the corner of her eye caught a flicker of movement in the doorway.
‘I’m just coming,’ Kitty said turning around.
The doorway was empty.
‘What did you say?’ Gordon called through from the sitting room.
Kitty blinked in surprise, she was just going to answer him when she heard the same footsteps run lightly up the stairs.
Kitty hurried out into the hall and stared up the stairs. ‘Gordon, was that you?’ she called.
‘Was what me?’
Kitty spun around in surprise, Gordon was still kneeling in front of the television, tuning in the channels.
‘I heard somebody run upstairs, I thought it was you.’
He looked up from the control box and peered over his spectacles.
‘Perhaps it was the dog.’
‘No,’ she said impatiently. ‘He was in the kitchen with me.’ Kitty looked nervously up the stairs and then glanced into the front room at her husband. ‘Do you think you ought to go and look?’
‘Kitty, there isn’t anybody in the house except us and I would have seen if anybody had come in the front door.’ He continued flicking through the different channels and then looked up as Kitty remained hovering nervously in the doorway.‘Kitty,’ he said impatiently. ‘You just heard a few creaks and groans that’s all, perhaps it was the wind outside or something. Are you going to stand there all afternoon?’
She looked uncertainly up the stairs. ‘But I heard somebody go up there, I’m sure it was footsteps Gordon.’
Kitty walked to the bottom of the staircase and peered up, the light was fading and the area above was in shadow.
‘Kitty, there is nobody in the house except us,’ he repeated his attention back on the television; he glanced towards her still stood in the hall and said impatiently ‘Well go and check then if it will make you feel better.’
She stepped back hesitantly and moved into the front room. ‘Well I don’t suppose it was anything, like you said it was probably the wind.’