'Trust me, you won't regret it.' These were the last words my mate Paul had said to me when we parted company on Thursday evening after we'd had a few beers at our local. What I wouldn't regret was taking his advice to buy, sight unseen, a small farm. It was now Saturday morning and I was standing looking at the farmhouse and I couldn't make up my mind whether I was going to regret this or not.
Thursday evening he'd been rather quiet to start with, and then he asked me if I could lay my hands on a largish sum of money at short notice. I was naturally a bit cagey and enquired why.
"I have these clients," he said. "They are sort of circus, show people, you know?"
Well, not really, but Paul's a solicitor with some strange clients.
"They're having a bit of trouble with HMRC, well, honestly, quite a lot of trouble and they need some legitimate cash in a hurry."
Her Maj's Revenue and Customs eh? Well you don't mess with those buggers or you'll be staying at one of the Windsor Hotels for a spell. At Her Majesty's pleasure, not yours. And they'll still want their money when you get out.
"How much of a hurry?" I asked.
"And you want me to lend them some money, in fact all the money I have? You need to go and see a trick-cyclist mate."
Yes, yes, psychiatrist, but I thought that was very appropriate with his clients being circus people.
"No, no. They've got this farm that they need to sell, and since you need somewhere to live I thought it would be a good idea. Golden opportunity, I know you've got some money stashed where your ex didn't know about it."
Well, that was true, and just as well too, she'd had everything else including the kids. I hadn't seen them for a while, she'd pulled the old 'he's a paedophile' trick on me. I really don't know how these women get away with it, but the social workers always seem to go along with them, probably because most of them are women, and as soon as the ex-wife screams 'paedo' that's it, no visiting. I'm not, I like their mums not the children, not like that anyway. Of course she'd had the support of her new partner, although at the time we didn't know that's what she was, we just knew she was a social worker.
"Why don't you buy it?"
"Several reasons. First, it wouldn't be ethically acceptable. Second, if they found out I'd done that they wouldn't be very happy, and they are very good clients."
I wasn't going to ask how good.
"And third, I owe you big time and this is one way I can repay you by helping you get a leg up."
Owed me? Well possibly, but I didn't think so. Paul and I had been mates since before we started school, our families had always been close and we'd always looked after one another through school, only separating when he went to university to study law and me to study architecture. Even then we'd spent a lot of time together, having similar interests, besides women and beer that is, and a couple of years back we'd been out on our mountain bikes off road when Paul had had an accident, misjudged a jump and had done himself quite a lot of damage, enough that he wouldn't be riding a bike again; at his wife's insistence if nothing else. I'd kept him going until an air ambulance had arrived. But he'd have done the same for me so I never really thought much of it. He's my mate, right?
"You don't owe me anything, you know that." I told him.
"No, I appreciate what you say, but I still want to help you, and my clients too, of course. So it's a win win situation."
It is also true that Paul didn't really need to wheel and deal for extra money, he'd married well, a lovely girl with whom he was deeply in love, which was quite evidently reciprocated, and her father just so happened to be the boss of his own law firm. Talk about falling on your feet! Not only did he not need the money, but if he did get a whiff of scandal about him then his father in law would be rather less than amused. And then he would need more money than we were talking about here.
I, on the other hand, had managed to marry rather badly; well okay, it didn't seem like it at the time, and her penchant for girls had seemed rather fun until it reached the point where she'd rather have them than me. Quite how the court had decided that I was at fault and that she should get pretty well everything, children included, I do not know. Paul was more than a bit shocked too. But there we are, they are courts of law, not justice.
I had a sneaking suspicion that there was something he wasn't telling me, I mean, there's always a catch isn't there? But does anyone trying to get you to buy something ever tell you all possible drawbacks? It's a bit like comedy, you have to have the sad bits to make the funny bits funnier, but there you are. If Paul said it was a good deal then I was prepared to believe him.
"Can you get the money to my office by midday Friday?"
"Just about. But I don't have time to get out to look at it before the weekend, if I don't get the job I'm doing done I may lose out on a lot of follow up stuff and I can't afford that."
"Don't worry about it, you'll love it, it's perfect for you. Okay, I'll get Mary to get the searches done," Paul is my solicitor as you'd probably guessed, "it would be better if one of the other partners acted for you on this occasion, better to use a different practice, but we haven't time. You just make sure the money is ready and you'll be the proud owner of Crabs Blunchay Farm."
"That's its name. Oh, and by the way, you also get whatever is left there, they've moved the stuff they want."
And that was it. What I'd let myself in for I really had little idea, but I trusted Paul, yes I know, he's a lawyer, but we'd been mates for ever and I did trust him. Honestly.
Which brings me to a bright sunny Saturday morning, standing looking at my new, um ... home with somewhat mixed feelings. It was a couple of miles outside the small town in which I lived, but on the outskirts of the village where Paul and his wife and their two children lived. It was screened from the main road by a patch of woodland which was part of the property, and even in winter you couldn't see anything until you got quite close. One hundred and seventy acres I was told, and approached by a drive which was in less than perfect condition. In fact even my old Landcruiser had asked me to take it steady. There was the last of the blossom on the somewhat overgrown hawthorn hedges, and a blush of green leaves showed on the willow trees that were either side of a small stream running through the wood.
The house before me would be described by an estate agent as substantial, red brick with a clay plain tiled roof. They would more correctly be called peg tiles, those little ones that are held on the roof with little wooden pegs. That should give some idea of its age, although it had clearly not all been built at the same time, the rambling structure having been extended several times during its life, but none of the extensions were recent. In fact none of the maintenance was recent either. The brickwork required repointing, particularly where it was exposed to the prevailing south westerly winds, and the roof had a number of slipped and missing tiles. The building, having been constructed at different times, although using the same sources for materials, had roofs at different levels and different pitches, hipped ends, gables and cropped gables, many rickety looking chimneys and clearly floors at different levels though it was mainly two storey. Think Lutyens, then tear the drawing into strips and Sellotape them back together in the wrong order. The woodwork had too little paint left on it to be able to determine what colour it had been, and no one had done anything to the garden within living memory and it certainly wasn't one of Getrude Jekyll's designs.
To one side of the drive in there was an extensive range of barns and stabling, of indeterminate age and beyond that were a number of old caravans gently mouldering to return their constituent materials to the environment. Oh, not the sort of caravans you'd take a holiday in, not unless you had a big horse or a traction engine to pull them. Those sort of caravans, four big rubber tyred wheels and panelled sides with clerestory roofs. What I could see of the land didn't appear to have had any maintenance or use within living memory either.
And I wouldn't regret this? The only thing I could rack up on the positive side of the ledger so far is that I'd got an awful lot for my money. What was the old tailor's joke, never mind the quality, feel the width?
I sighed and made my way to the front door brandishing a key of ridiculous proportions. I inserted the key in the lock and tried to turn it. It refused to budge. I tried the door handle which did turn, and the door creaked open, clearly the last person out hadn't bothered to lock it. It opened wider accompanied by a loud groan from the hinges. Was I entering the Hammer House of Horrors?
In fact the interior turned out to be quite different. A light coating of dust, but in relatively good condition. The décor dated from the turn of the century, the one before that is, from nineteenth to twentieth, with all the woodwork in dark stain and faded wallpapers in shades of mid-brown and light-brown on the walls. There were a few odd pieces of furniture and carpets, not fitted of course, but large rugs surrounded by polished, or what had been polished, floor boards. I would think that Noah's wife, whatever her name was, would have recognised the kitchen, it even had a coal fired range! It was completed with a large stoneware sink and an enormous scrubbed pine kitchen table complete with a dozen chairs. I turned on the tap, there was only one, and I heard a pump start somewhere in one of the outer rooms; interesting, there was no mains water supply, something I would have to investigate. There was one electricity point, and that had round pins, a fifteen amp system, which I'd heard about but never seen before. Apparently, all the sockets, what few there were, and the lights, would be wired back to separate fuses on a board that would undoubtedly be situated in the least convenient position. Noah would have recognised that too, I reckon. A short hunt, and a bit of intuition located the meters and fuse boxes in the large cupboard under the stairs. What a bizarre system, a bit like the French use, and if you've ever owned a French car then you'll know that the electrics rarely work! Rewiring was going to be a priority.
There had been several steps between different areas of the ground floor, and after negotiating the wide and surprisingly shallow staircase, I found many of these were reflected on the first floor. I lost count of the number of bedrooms, but it would have been difficult to lose count of the number of bathrooms. Just one. It was something out of the Victorian era, the fittings had clearly been in use for over one hundred years and it showed. They weren't dirty, just old and of course stained. I couldn't work out how the water for the bath was heated, but give me time.
The first thing to do would be to get a proper electricity supply to at least one room so that I could get on line. Sorry, I should have said, I work for myself, which in itself is a bit of a joke because it means I'll take on anything that earns me money, so it is essential that I have a working computer and broad band, I rarely use a drawing board. Other than that it had to be better than the grotty little flat I was renting at present. The rest of the property would have to keep for another day.
Whilst I was trying to figure out the bathroom a voice hailed me from downstairs.
I went to the head of the stairs and saw Paul and his wife Felicity with their two children.
"Hi guys," I called as I ran down the stairs. "Hi Thomas. Hi Helen," I greeted the kids and received 'hello Uncle Williams' in return.
"Fantastic place," said Flick.
"Ye-es," I agreed. "More nightmare than fantasy I think. Paul, did you have any idea of the state of this place?"
"Well, not in detail, but the price you got it for should compensate for that. You could always knock it down and build something new. No, on second thoughts that might be difficult, it is listed."
"Bugger! Yes, I should have realised it would be."
Which meant, of course, that being listed as having historical interest, only grade two admittedly, would make doing alterations a problem. Not renovating it though, general maintenance stuff would be little problem provided it was done properly.
"Well, I don't have any money left for much of that. I'll have to work like a non-European to get the money to do anything."
"You could get a mortgage. It would be simple enough to get sufficient money to do it up. Cut back on your alcohol consumption and it'll be no problem," he joked.
We wandered through to the kitchen where Flick was surveying the scene.
"Wonderful kitchen," she exclaimed. "And all those pantries, larders and sculleries out there. You won't know yourself."
"I'm not sure I know anybody at the moment," I quipped. "The wiring came out of the ark. Have you seen the only power point in the kitchen?"
"Oh, you'll soon get that sorted," she said, waving her arms about.
After a full inspection of the house and a cursory glance at the outbuildings, though I noticed Flick seemed most interested in the stables, I was invited to lunch with them. As we left I discovered that the key in the front door did turn; to lock the door. By the time Paul and I had taken the kids out on bikes – well, he is allowed to do that – it was time for me to go back to my dingy little flat and have a think about what was to be done and have an initial think about costings.
Sunday morning saw me at the door of the local DIY emporium, which I usually refer to as Bert and Queenie's because I know that the initials it goes by stand for two people's names, but I have no idea what they are. My purchases consisted mainly of electrical equipment, a consumer unit and a number of thirteen amp sockets, some cable, insulating tapes and some connectors of different types which I thought would come in handy. My intention was to install the consumer unit – it's the big box with the circuit breakers in it – after the main switch and then run a cable into the dining room which would give me a reliable supply for work. After that I would remove the existing sockets and replace them with new ones so that I could use modern equipment. I know that any electricians, building inspectors or other professionals will throw their hands up in horror at that, but the main safety factor, or lack of same, lay in the wiring, what you plug into on the end of it doesn't much matter. And indeed that turned out to be the case, because most of the wiring was in wooden conduit, and was rubber insulated, and the rest in lead sheathed cable, again with rubber insulation. The problem with this is that where the rubber is exposed it perishes leaving the conductor wires bare. The whole place would be rewired anyway, and after a few fuses had needed rewiring because of short circuits I had everything working.
I had decided that I would get three rooms habitable upstairs because, you never know, the bitch might relent and allow me to see the children. Some hopes, but I'm an optimistic sort of cove. By the end of the week I had sorted out how the water was heated - there was a large cylinder with an immersion heater when I found the airing cupboard – purchased sufficient furniture, which consisted mainly of beds, and desks, got the telephone line checked and my number transferred, and discovered that the internet connection was much too slow. This meant additional cost installing a satellite connection, but needs must and it would do the TV as well.
I fitted all this in between work so when I moved in the following Saturday I was well and truly knackered.
I'm not one to lie in bed so I was up at a reasonable hour on Sunday and after I had had breakfast I decided that I wasn't going to do any work today and that a closer look at the farm buildings would be in order, and perhaps a wander around the perimeter of the property to see what I owned.
I sauntered over and looked in the first of the outbuildings. It was a large structure built of brick but with one end closed in with concrete blocks. It had originally had a tiled roof, probably matching the house, but it had been covered in wriggly tin for long enough for it to become quite rusty. Along one side was a series of smaller store rooms. There was a fair amount of rubbish lying about, nothing as far as I could see of any value except an elderly tractor which appeared to be complete and would probably start given fuel and a battery. It was whilst I was looking at this that I heard a noise behind me. They do say that you are never more than twenty feet from a rat and as I turned I fully expected that that was what I would see; I certainly didn't expect to see a small girl standing still and looking at me. I thought she might be quite pretty if she was cleaned up, large china doll blue eyes set in a round face surrounded by greasy brown hair, her face dirty and the dress she was wearing filthy. She had a scruffy denim jacket over the dress which was little better. About six or seven years old, I thought.
I looked at her. "Hello. Where do you come from?" I asked.
I squatted down so that I was on her eye level.
"My name is William," I said. "What's your name?"
I detected a slight Welsh lilt.
"And where do you come from, Cara?"
"Do you live near here?"
"Where's your Mummy?"
I was about to query where 'here' was, when I saw a movement in one of the store rooms and a woman emerged. I say woman, but I wasn't immediately certain that it wasn't another girl because she was very small.
"Is this your big sister?"
Cara shook her head.
"Oh, I'm sorry," I said, looking at the woman as I stood up. "I thought..."
"'Sokay. Come on Cara, we've got to go."
The Welsh lilt was slightly stronger.
"Where are you going? You don't look like you've anywhere to go."
And indeed they didn't, mother appeared to be in little better shape than the daughter. She wasn't much over five feet tall, if anything, with lank shoulder length hair about the colour of the old straw lying on the floor of the building, Nothing could be seen of her figure swathed as it was in a heavy coat. But what struck me particularly was the livid bruise down one side of her face.
"We'll find somewhere. I thought this place was empty."
Cara rushed to her mother.
"Do we have to go Mummy? William seems nice, I'm sure he'd let us stay here."
"William? You shouldn't call grownups by their first names."
"That's how I introduced myself and I'm quite happy about it. Would you like a hot drink before you go?"
I could see the indecision on her face; could I be trusted? Why would I want to help her and, worse still probably, how would she protect her daughter?
"Look, I don't bite. I moved in here yesterday, there's absolutely no reason for you to rush away. You're not doing any harm and Cara could certainly do with a drink and probably something to eat."
I saw the first smile. On Cara's face anyway. Mummy nodded.
"Have you got some stuff to bring?"
She went back into the store room and came out with a couple of large bags. I took one from her, noting that she didn't smell too fresh and lead the way back to the house and into the kitchen.
"Good heavens! This looks like it came out of the ark."
"It probably did."
"How do you cook?"
"I've got a camping stove and I was going to have a go at the range later. See if I could get it to light."
I put the kettle on.
"What would you like Cara? I've got some Frosties, or you can have toast."
"Please," said Mummy.
"Please," repeated Cara.
"Yes, please." With some enthusiasm.
"Coffee, Mum? And what would you like to eat? By the way I can't keep calling you Mum."
"Sara. Coffee would be great, and toast."
"Please," I said, grinning.
There was a ghost of a smile.
Whilst I busied myself with the orders Cara whispered something to her mother.
"If you go through the next room into the hall, go up the stairs and turn right and the bathroom is the second door on the left," I told them.
"How did you know what she asked?"
It was a good ten minutes before they arrived back in the kitchen by which time I had everything set up.
They set about the food as though they hadn't seen any for some time. Whilst they were eating I sat and drank a cup of coffee and watched them. I've already described Cara and I was now able to look more closely at Sara. She had a slightly long face with large grey eyes, perhaps a tad too close together either side of a just slightly pointed nose, attractive full lips, nice teeth, and I could see her ears stuck out through her hair, hardly surprising as it hung lank and lifeless. Now that she had removed her coat I could see that, well, there wasn't a lot to see, small, but definitely a female figure.
"May I ask how you got the bruise?"
"Not Cara's dad?"
"You're running away?"
"Would you like something to put on the bruise?"
"What have you got?"
I went up to the bathroom and returned with a pot of cream.
"Try some of this."
She rubbed some cream onto the bruise.
"Could I interest you in a bath and use of the washing machine before you go?"
"Could we Mummy?"
"Why are you being nice to us? What do you want?"
"I don't want anything. I guess I've always been a sucker for lost kittens. Cats too," I looked at her, and then at the back door as, right on cue, a large ginger cat pushed the back door open.
Cara was off her seat and moving towards the cat when I caught her.
"Hold on! I've never seen him before. I don't know how he'll be with children, and you don't want to get scratched."
I needn't have worried as the big fella wrapped himself around our legs and started purring.
Sara burst into tears.
"I'll take that as a yes. I'll go and find some towels and something for you to put on while you clothes are drying. I don't think I've got anything that would fit either of you but at least it won't be too small." I'm not a big guy but even one of my tee shirts would fit both of them at the same time.
Before I went I put down a saucer of milk for the cat, I mean, you have to keep in character don't you?
The first thing we did was sort out the washing in their bags and got that going. Getting the washing machine at least jury rigged had been one of my priorities. Then I took them upstairs and started the bath and put some of my stuff in one of the other bedrooms for them.
"Righto," I said, "I'm going off to the shop for some more food, you'll want lunch before you go. Oh, and something for the cat, I suppose he lives here. Is there anything you need?"
Sara looked at me and the undamaged side of her face took on a similar hue to the bruised side.
"Ah, ladies things! Leave it to me."
As I drove up the lane about an hour later I could see smoke coming out of one of the chimneys. It didn't look too bad so I supposed they hadn't set the house on fire. I suddenly realised that I knew nothing about them, sometimes I am too trusting. But so far all I had done was play the 'Good Samaritan', because that's the way I'd been brought up, always try and help someone. When I arrived back in the kitchen Cara was sitting at the table with some paper and a pencil swaddled in one of my tee shirts and a jumper, and Sara was standing by the range which was obviously warm wearing something similar plus a pair of my cords with the legs rolled up and waist cinched in. Quite a lot. I put the shopping on the table.
"I found some stuff to light the fire, it'll help the washing dry."
"Might even cook lunch," I said. "I bought some oven chips without thinking how I was going to cook them."
The ginger cat was curled up on a chair in front of the fire.
I regarded the domestic scene. Now that her hair was clean it formed a cloud of golden waves to her shoulders which, together with the smile she now had, made her look, despite my earlier description, very attractive. Cara looked much prettier too, as she concentrated on a drawing of the cat.
"I hope you don't mind. She wanted to draw and I found some paper on your desk. I put another load of washing in too."
Lunch was actually pretty successful, the oven was well hot enough to do the chips and I did burgers in a frying pan and some frozen peas. Okay, not haute cuisine, but with some tomato ketchup it was quite acceptable, especially to Cara. I'd got some ice-cream for pudding and I'd bought some Coke for Cara. I opened a bottle of wine from my 'cellar' which Sara and I consumed. Sara told me more about herself and I explained my situation, including the problem with the children and the fact that my ex had accused me of being a paedophile. Sara stiffened when she heard that and I quickly reassured her that it wasn't true. Not that I don't like children, I said, but not like that, my main reaction to them is protection.
"Yes," she commented. "I noticed your reaction with the cat. I have heard of women doing that sort of thing though. The funny thing is that women are almost as likely to abuse children as men. It's an odd world."
"It's getting a bit late if you're leaving and need to get somewhere," I said.
Sara looked panic stricken.
"Oh ... I'd forgotten. Right," she said, getting up. "We'd better get going."
"Haven't you forgotten something?"
"Your washing isn't dry. Wouldn't it be easier if you stayed overnight? I haven't got proper bedding but I've got a couple of sleeping bags so you will be okay. Then tomorrow we can sort you out."
"Are you sure? You don't know us, and I don't want to be a bother."
"You don't know me either, so that makes us quits. The only problem is there isn't a lock on the bathroom door so I always work on the principle that if the door is closed someone is in there, and if it isn't there isn't. Clear?"
"Yes. What about the bedroom door? D'you think I'll need a lock?"
"Heavens no! I operate on invitation only. But if you're worried there's a chair in the bedroom, wedge it under the handle."
It was a while later that Sara put Cara to bed, Meanwhile I had stoked up the fire and was sitting in the kitchen with another glass of wine when she returned.
"Have another glass," I said, pouring some in her glass.
"Are you trying to get me drunk?"
"Heavens no, but being a bit tipsy will help you sleep, and I rather think you could do with a good night's sleep."
She smiled that smile.
"Y'know between ensuring that bedroom door can be locked, or at least wedged, and not trying to get her drunk you don't do much for a girl's ego."
We chatted whilst we drank and she told me about her childhood and how happy it had been until her father died when she was thirteen. Her mother had fallen apart, got God, and then married a bible thumper. She hated her step father, who gave her a really great sixteenth birthday present by raping and impregnating her. When she complained to her mother she had responded by calling her a slut and a liar and throwing her out. She'd been on the street and then in a squat, where she realised she was pregnant, lived in different places until in the last place, one of the neighbours, who was often drunk, had started to show an unhealthy interest in Cara, and when she objected he'd hit her, hence the bruise. Fortunately he'd passed out before doing any other damage, but she decided to get out of there. That had been about ten days ago, and they'd been living rough ever since.
"You've had a rough time. But you've managed to look after Cara, and she seems to be a nice kid."
"She can have her moments."
I grinned. "Yeah, I'll bet!"
Shortly after she went to bed. I sat thinking for a while and then went up myself
The next morning I was up and working early. I'd been at it for an hour or so when my guests came down.
We exchanged good mornings.
"It was a bit cold so we ended up cuddled together, but that's not too different to normal."
"If it's not..."
"It's no trouble."
I went into the kitchen and they followed. I'd already stoked up the range and the room was quite warm. Cara didn't seem too happy but settled to the same breakfast menu as the day before, as did her mother.
"I've got a proposition for you," I began.
"I've been propositioned by lots of men. The answer is no," said Sara sharply.
"Will you hear me out? Proposition is probably the wrong word. The thing is, you need somewhere to live, Cara needs that and to go to school, and I need someone to look after this house while I work. The proposition, if I can put it like that without having you leap down my throat, is that you and Cara get bed and board and you do, say, twenty hours work at minimum wage cooking and general housekeeping, hours agreed between ourselves. We can sort out your accommodation and I will get another bathroom put in. I was going to anyway."
Cara looked up, suddenly she looked much more cheerful, and I guessed that her unhappiness had been caused by mother telling her that they'd be moving on.
"Cara wants you to," I said, looking at her. "And it really would be a big help to me, I can concentrate on work. How about we try it for a couple of weeks and see if you can put up with it."
"There'd be a lock on the door of this new bathroom?"
"Oh yes. Two if you like."
"Well, it's the best proposition I've had this week. Okay, we'll give it a try," she smiled. "I wondered if I dared ask you if we could stay with me working for nothing."
The first thing we had to do was to get Cara into the village school, and then I had to take Sara shopping for all sorts of things from bedding to food and even a wardrobe and chest of drawers for their bedroom. Sara being unable to drive was going to be a bit of a problem, but something we could sort out. In the end it took her six weeks, but a lot happened before that. We quickly settled into a routine and I was able to get things done workwise and also organise things for the house. I still hadn't had a thorough look at the rest of the property, or even the farm buildings; could be that I was afraid of finding another waif and stray!
Sara wasn't used to using a computer, obviously she had at school, but that was nearly eight years ago, Cara was seven, and things had changed a lot, but once I got one set up and on line she was able to order shopping from the supermarkets, although she liked to take the bus into town at least once a week. Once it had been cleaned and given a coat of paint by a couple of lads I know, I moved my office from the dining room to a large room at the back of the house. I got an electrician to start on the rewiring, and started to get prices for things like roof repairs which could be done during the summer.
I got home from a site visit one afternoon about a week later to see my mother's car in the driveway. She was sitting in the kitchen with a cup of tea chatting to Sara. Cara was sitting alongside her at the table drawing and joining in the conversation, which means interrupting the flow of course.
"Hello Mother," I said, leaning down and kissing her offered cheek.
"Hello William. Sara and I have been having a chat, I took her down to meet Cara from school. I thought I'd better come and see your new establishment. No point in waiting for you to think of inviting your poor old mother."
"That was kind of you, although you're neither poor nor old. Have you had the full tour yet?"
"No. Have your tea first."
Sara had got up and poured me a cup.
We chatted for a few minutes and then I took her off for the grand tour. Mother was, of course, interested in the house, but she was clearly also very interested in my housekeeper and her daughter.
"She's a lovely girl, but do you know what you are taking on William?" she asked.
"Mother, I'm not taking anything on. Sara is employed and they are free to leave whenever they decide."
"Oh dear! Just William; you are so naïve. Look at your marriage to the bitch." Mother had never liked my ex-wife who, you will note, is never dignified by the use of her name. "You thought it was rather cute that she liked girls too." She sighed.
She said goodbye to Sara and Cara and I escorted her to her car.
"She's a very nice girl, I do like her, but please, do take care William, don't rush in to anything you'll regret. And don't hurt her either."
"Mother, you worry too much. I have no intentions in her direction, honestly."
She gave me her best 'old fashioned' look. "If you say so dear." And she left.
I went back into the kitchen.
"Your mother warning you about stray women?" Sara grinned.
"Sort of. I did explain that you're my housekeeper. But ... she doesn't seem to think that I'm an adult."
"Not to worry, she's a nice lady and she does care about you. I did assure her that I'm just the housekeeper but I'm not entirely sure she believed me either. She wasn't keen on your ex though, was she?"
A few days later I had an hour or two on my hands and decided that I'd see if I could get the tractor to go. So armed with diesel and a spare battery I went out into the barn and started to clean it up and check things like oil and water levels, and filling the tank. I was just about to hit the starter when a car drew up. I didn't recognise the car, but when the driver got out I did recognise her. Trouble, I thought, and with a capital T. I walked across before she could approach the house.
"Can I help you?" I asked.
"I'm looking for Mrs Sara Tyler, I understand she lives here."
Visually she was, beyond a shadow of a doubt, one of the most attractive women I have ever seen with short almost black hair layered to fit her head, green eyes and neat features. She was wearing a pale grey form fitting trouser suit that just screamed 'social worker'. Because that's what I knew she was. It didn't scream lesbian, but it might just as well have because I knew she was that too. This was the woman that my ex-wife had gone to live with. Susan Melson, social worker and family wrecker. However, I clearly had one advantage because she didn't recognise me.
I smiled. "My housekeeper, yes, I'll take you to her, I expect she's in the kitchen."
Sara was indeed, in the kitchen making something for supper. Cara was not long home and was sitting at the table drawing. Susan introduced herself, ascertained that Sara was Cara's mother and then turned to me.
"You are the owner of Crabbs Blunchay now Mr..."
"Brown, William Brown," I said, never taking my eyes off her.
She paused for just a moment, assimilating what I had said, and adding it to the fact that she had found my face familiar. And then she went about as white as I have ever seen anyone who was still alive and not in clown's makeup. I thought for a moment that she might pass out. Sara clearly had no idea what was going on and rushed to get her a glass of water.
After Susan had taken a several sips of water she spoke.
"I don't think I'm going to get very far here," she started.
"I'm prepared to listen to what you have to say," I said.
"Look, I'm sorry about..."
"Just tell us why you are here," I said.
"Well, we've had problems with children from this address in the past and when the school informed us about Cara's arrival, well, we had to come and have a look. Just to check, you understand."
"Yes, I understand that. And does what you have found give cause for any concerns?"
Susan looked uncomfortable.
"What is going on here?" asked Sara. "Because I am lost. There is clearly something between you two and I've a feeling that I'm getting caught in the crossfire. Me, I don't mind, Cara I do."
Cara looked up.
"Cara, can you pop outside and see if you can find Ginger?" I asked her. Ginger was the name we'd given the cat which seemed intent on living with us.
"Okay," she replied. "I know, grownup's talk." And she wandered outside calling the cat.
I filled Sara in in one sentence.
"This," I told her, "is the woman my ex-wife left me for and with whom she now lives; the one who supported her accusation that I touched the children 'inappropriately'."
Sara looked at her. "I would be perfectly happy to leave my daughter or any child with him. He is perfectly safe and cares only for their well being."
"I know," said Susan. "I shouldn't have done that. I'm sorry." She was almost in tears. "Look, I have to make a report, can we just discuss the situation here, and then I can go."
Sara explained that she was an employed housekeeper and that she and Cara had their own rooms, and I clarified the situation where necessary. In the finish, at a professional level Susan was perfectly happy. Sara had made tea whilst all this was going on and partway through Cara came back in carrying the cat. Susan broke off to enthuse about him to Cara.
Tea consumed and explanations explained I escorted Susan to her car.
"I can't see any problems, but you won't mind if I visit again?"
"Not at all, we've nothing to hide."
She hesitated. "I meant what I said. About being sorry I mean. I now know what you had to put up with. Promiscuity doesn't begin to describe it. She's got a man that she's infatuated with at the moment, I'm at my wits end, and I worry about the children."
"A pity you didn't think about that a couple of years ago. You know I love the kids and if there is anything I can do..."
"I deserved that. I am very fond of Matthew and Madeline, but I'm worried about their mother's influence too. I bear your offer in mind." She sniffed. "I'd better go."
I went back inside, deep in thought.
"Will there be a problem?" were Sara's first words.
"No, I'm sure there won't be," I replied and went on to recount the conversation I'd had outside.
"I feel rather sorry for her," said Sara, thoughtfully.
"Don't be. She made her bed without checking the state of the linen first'. I'm going to see if the tractor will start."