[The featured pic is of New Berry Hall (not Newberry Hall) in Solihull, the haunted house Reggie passes going to Ravenshaw Ford. This photo was shot ca. 1980, and the place was not yet as dilapidated in Reggie’s day (1962). The main house had been abandoned, but likely had a caretaker who may have resided in one of the nearby lodges. There were plans to restore the main house, but they were never realized, and the place was demolished as a safety hazard in the 1990s. The other photo is of Silhill lodge (and St. Alphege’s church in the background) on the earliest streets of Solihull]
“Ravenshaw Ford? Off t’visit her again, aren ye?”
My ability to even imagine I could somehow pull the wool over Grammer’s eyes was rapidly evaporating. After lunch, the adults had settled into adult-type conversation and, though I wasn’t specifically excluded, it really wasn’t the usual sort of thing in which a normal 10-year-old wants to participate. Rather, I’d donned my overcoat, grabbed my guitar and said I’d be out for a while.
Dad chuckled, shaking his head indulgently. Mum knew better.
“The Ghost Lady? It’s been a tad dry, lately.”
“She’s 16, Mum, not a grown lady. She’s at the Ford a bit more often than y’think, too, not just during floods. And she’s me friend.”
“See that you’re home before twilight.”
I nodded and left, but paused at the threshold, about to close the door when I heard Dad’s voice, trying to be too soft for me to hear, but not succeeding particularly well.
“How long has this been going on, Ria?”
“What?” Mum asked, a bit disingenuously.
“Reggie: Bit old for imaginary friends, isn’t he? With two perfectly good flesh and blood ones, why does he need a little bogus buddy anyway?”
“She’s real, Clive,” Mum replied. “I’ve seen her.”
“So,” Grammer said, “when Reginald and I go to Ravenshaw Ford, searching for Bethany, he’s not playing a game?”
“He’s serious about looking for her, Mum.…”
“You’re telling me our son – our 10-year-old son –is keeping company with a 16-year-old girl, and you don’t find that odd?” I could hear the agitation in Dad’s voice.
“‘Keeping company’?” Mum shrieked, laughing. “What attic did you find that in? Next thing you’ll grow mutton chops and a handlebar moustache, and expect me to dress and wear my hair like a Gibson Girl.”
“Perhaps a bit of sherry.…” Grammer was trying her best to be peacemaker.
“I think something a bit stronger’s in order, Mum,” I heard Mum tell Grammer, her gentle, refined voice getting more serious. “This could take some explaining.…”
I shut the door as silently as I could and left.
Not that the conversation wasn’t getting good, but a big part of the art of parental eavesdropping is knowing when to quit, before you blow it by drawing attention to yourself.
The cold spurred me on through the streets of Solihull,
Before I knew it, I’d passed St. Alphege’s church, and was standing before the haunted Victorian mansion en route to the Ford. Once again, it seemed that there was a light on inside, but I couldn’t be sure — let alone whether or not any such light I did see was of this world. An uneasiness came over me, and I bolted, speeding on toward Ravenshaw Ford.
© 2017, 2016, 2015, 2014 G. H. McCallum and Duvanian Press, all rights reserved.
The Bluebottle Boys (Volume One) and Walking Backward for Christmas: A Tale of Woe from Soggyhall are each now available from Amazon Books. The Bluebottle Boys (Volume Two) is expected to be available late this year. Gilbertine & the Exhange (Volume Two) will be available in early 2020.