Saturday, March 14, 2009


continued from

Hugh tied his last hurdle and directed Stephen down the path along the left hand side of the house.

"You'll see," he said. "There's a terrace and a table and I'll join you as soon as I've got the sheep in here."

The path was narrow, with laurels crowding it so densely Stephen doubted if the sun ever touched the ground. Indeed, the few small patches of earth not shrouded by branches were black and sterile. It was the kind of alley where people in town would put dustbins.

. . . Except, at the end, it opened onto a breathtakingly vast paved space, edged with a stone balustrade. A flight of shallow steps lead down to a gravelled circle where carriages would once have arrived; and beyond that - a wide and winding drive (much grander than the one on the other side of the house) crossed acres of savannah-like parkland. The steps were untended, cracked and spattered with lichen; and winter dandelions had tucked themselves into their corners - but they would have been magnificent once. Impressed visitors would have walked up from their carriages, admired the flowers in the urns at the top and crossed to be welcomed by footmen or butlers or whoever's job it would have been to stand and wait by the large front door. Except there wasn't a front door. There wasn't a door at all. Just a blank wall with a row of square windows high up in it - the kitchen . . . and no way in.

But there was a table - a white iron table and three chairs.

Hugh and Camellia weren't long. Camellia arrived carrying a tray with a flask, a jug and some cups. Hugh followed a few steps after with an unopened packet of biscuits (no cat hairs!) and sugar in a bag.

For a while, they sat companionably in the sun saying little. Then Hugh suddenly remembered he was the host.

“Of course,” he said. “This used to be the main entrance to the house. But nothing is as it was. The place is an architectural mess. Every generation has wanted to make its mark and (unsurprisingly) most of those marks have turned out to be blunders. The house been twisted and turned for centuries. Poor old thing!” Stephen took a biscuit and declined sugar. "In the old days it was nothing but a farm. Well, I say ‘nothing’ - but it was a big one - prosperous. Not everyone has a barn like ours."

Stephen said he had been admiring it.

"Mediaeval. But the world got smaller and fashion arrived. Even in Thorncombe everyone wanted to look idle all of a sudden - those who could afford it, you know. Jane Austinish. That kind of thing.” Stephen gazed across the parkland. “Until then, people had come in by the way we do now but in the late eighteenth century, round then, they stopped liking their visitors to arrive through a farmyard, however well run it was, so they landscaped this,” he motioned with his eyes. “And built a new drive and built the terrace and moved the front door to where this wall is now. All very Georgian and grand.”

He paused.

“Then Camellia’s grandfather came along, 'Engineering' was his thing. And fashion had changed. Suddenly, it took another direction, and everything had to look 'natural' again, even if it wasn't. And he wanted to make things look ‘natural’ in an un-natural way, to make sure everyone could see how 'natural' he'd made them and congratulate him and say 'well done for making this un-natural thing look so 'natural’.' Camellia smiled conspiratorially at Stephen. It was almost a wink. "So he turned the house round again. It's unbelievable! Just think of all the work that had gone into this!"

It was true. Not only was there the terrace itself . . . and the columnated facade. Someone had planned the view and the drive had been designed to make the most of it - to take a tour through the trees on its way to the now non-existent front door. And it was also clear that the Victorians, perhaps pre-Grandfather Harry, had added to them - for Stephen recognised a Sequoia and some other trees he didn't think would have been part of the original scene . . . were they Scot's Pines? Douglas Firs? He didn't know. But Hugh was right. Camellia's Grandfather must have been . . . very enthusiastic? about his new ravine in order to have abandoned this side of the house.

"He put the drive back at what's now the front." Hugh went on with his explanation. "And blasted out the cutting and had all those ferns planted so everyone could say how much it was like Italy or somewhere.” Hugh stirred his coffee for a second time, while he paused for breath.
For the post before this - Seventeen