The Flames of Stalbridge Manor

The Flames of Stalbridge Manor

I had met Mrs Crowley on three occasions and expected our next encounter to run upon similar lines; but this was not to be. On entering the room, all swish from the multitude of silk and other fabrics beneath her riding coat, I could tell she had no wish to dwell upon trivial matters.

She approached holding the hem of her skirt and briskly made her comfort on the seat beside me.

“Good evening to you Alice, shall we start with tea before I reveal all?”

I was now familiar with her informality and playful tone though not entirely comfortable with it.

“It’s lovely to see you again Mrs Crowley. The children, are they well?”

“Yes, yes, all happy. But it’s you that concerns me.”

I had little clue to what she was referring to and shifted nervously in my chair.

She paused and released her grip on the teapot.

“A holiday! That’s what you need.”

The comment took me by surprise as I had not expected the conversation to turn in this direction. I searched for a suitable response but neither facial expression nor words came to mind, though I was certain at least one was expected.

Mrs. Crowley paused, her brow furrowing momentarily at my immediate vacancy, then she proceeded to elaborate.

“I recall you mentioned that you and the children had not had a holiday since you lost your husband. This somewhat resonated with me — I myself have not had a break in a considerable time; and only a handful of times to my London residence since Albert passed these ten years gone.”

As she spoke, her fingers nervously twisted the beads of her necklace tugging them in quick succession along the thread.

“It occurred to me that this might be a fortunate coincidence: two people in much need of new surrounds. As you are well aware, this is a large house and one that requires constant tending and management. If I am to be elsewhere then I leave in confidence that the tending part is more than adequately covered by the servants and the management by Mrs Ingram our housekeeper. Nevertheless, it is a concern to me that most of the house is absent of life; I should like to leave knowing that it is not just the staff who will be lifting the shutters at the light of day and closing them when it darkens.”

Unconsciously, I had edged my chair a little closer to hers. The candles clustering around our corner of the room cast the face of my companion in varying degrees of light and shade. Stabs of white brilliance came from the silver rings on her upraised hands that caught the flickering light. I looked upon her and considered her ageing beauty: her dark hair unbound, falling upon and caressing the shoulders of a velvet dress trimmed with Mechlin lace. Continue reading