Authors: Valerie Sherrard
“Well, then,” she said brightly, in a way that told me she was forcing herself to be enthusiastic, “first we'll shower, change, and get some breakfast. That will leave us the whole day to go exploring and see what we can accomplish.”
I felt a bit better once my hair was washed and I had clean clothes on. When Mom was ready too, we went for a walk and found a restaurant called the Goodie Shop.
A friendly waitress served us bacon and eggs. Mom asked her about the street we needed to find.
“Wellington Street? That's over in Chatham.”
“I understood it was in Miramichi,” Mom said, confused.
“It is, only most folks still call it Chatham. You're not from around here, huh? Chatham, Newcastle, Douglastown, and all the small places around here became Miramichi a few years back.”
That explained things! We hadn't moved to a city at all, just a bunch of towns that had been joined together.
“Where are we now?” Mom inquired.
“This here's Newcastle. To get to Chatham, you have to cross the river and take a left at the lights. Or you can use the new highway if you want, but the Morrisey Bridge is closer from here.” She pointed in the general direction.
“We don't have a car,” Mom sighed. “I was hoping we could walk there.”
The waitress startled us by turning and yelling to a man seated alone at a table across the room. “Hey, Stan, you going to Chatham?”
“Yep.” He smiled and nodded vigorously.
“Give these folks a lift over, would you? They're going to Wellington Street.”
“No problem.” He turned his nodding, smiling face toward us. “Let me know when you're ready. No hurry.”
Mom looked like she wanted to protest but couldn't think of anything to say. I knew she felt dumb to be bumming a ride from a stranger. Still, we couldn't be throwing around the little money we had left on taxis. As it was, we'd need to hire a cab to get back to our hotel.
About ten minutes later, Stan led us to his car and we were on our way. As we drove, he asked a bunch of questions about where we were from. Mom seemed a bit put out by his inquisitive nature but she answered politely.
“So, you've moved here. That's great, then.” He nodded approvingly, as if we'd done something wonderful. “And you're staying in Newcastle for now, are you?”
Mom allowed that we were.
“What time will you be heading back, then?”
“I, we, I really don't know. We were going to take a look around for a bit.”
“Right.” He smiled and his head bobbed up and down again. “Well, I'll be going back to Newcastle this afternoon. Be glad to meet you somewhere and give you a lift if you're ready around three.”
“I'm not sureâ¦” Mom's voice trailed off.
“Tell you what. See this here corner store?” He motioned at a Petro Canada station. “I'll swing by at three and if you're here I'll take you back to Newcastle. Now, whereabouts were you needing to go on Wellington?”
Mom recited the address.
“Just up the road a bit.” For a few seconds there was silence as Stan looked at house numbers. Then he pulled the car over, announcing, “Here we are.”
“Thank you so very much.”
“Don't mention it.” He was squinting at the house we were in front of. “Say, that's old Sarah Wentworth's house, isn't it?”
“Yes, it is.” Mom stepped out of the car quickly, clearly wanting to avoid any more questions. “Thank you again.”
“No trouble.” Stan smiled and waved as he drove away. It was only after he'd gone that we turned to really look at the house.
A moment passed, then another. Both of our mouths had fallen open, but neither of us spoke right off. The place was enormous! Pillars stood on either side of the cement steps leading up to the door. The entrance was set back in the centre between two sections, each graced by a large bay window. Four more windows looked out from the upstairs and beyond that two smaller ones peeked out from what must have been a third floor or an attic.
I found my voice first.
“Are you sure this is the right place?”
“It has to be.” Mom sounded as unconvinced as I felt. “The address is right and the man who drove us here even knew it had belonged to Aunt Sarah.”
When I could move, I walked to the side, where a driveway led to another door on the right of the house. Beyond that entrance, there was what appeared to be another small house attached to the main one. It too had its own door.
A sudden movement in one of the windows startled me. I jumped, thinking someone was inside and that they'd wonder what we were doing, gawking at the place. A nervous giggle escaped when I saw a furry face peering out.
“Just a dumb old cat,” I said aloud. Then I realized that this was
cat now and I felt a bit guilty for calling it dumb. Mom wandered off around the back of the place as I stood watching the cat lick its paw and rub the side of its face.
“Hey!” shouted a voice, tearing my attention away from the cat. “What are you doing here?”
When I turned, I saw a boy who looked to be a few years older than me. He was staring at me in a way that suggested he thought I was some kind of criminal planning to rob the place. His tone had been so harsh that I couldn't find my voice right away. Before I could answer, he spoke again.
“You can't hang around here.”
“Says me.” He took a step forward. “I'm taking care of the place.”
“Yeah? Well, my mother and I are the new owners,” I announced haughtily.
“No kidding? Why didn't you say so in the first place?” He smiled then. “I guess I sort of scared you, huh?”
“You did not,” I denied, even though it was true he'd frightened me for a moment.
“Anyway, I'm David Murray. We live a couple of houses down.” His head jerked to the left. I assumed that meant he lived in that direction.
“I'm Sarah Gilmore.” Seeing Mom coming back, I added, “And this is my mother.”
Mom put her hand out and he shook it awkwardly, introducing himself again.
“I've been taking care of Sarah's animals and checking on the place and stuff. I just came over to put out food and walk the dogs. Have you been inside yet?”
We told him we hadn't. He produced a key.
“I guess you'd like to have a look around, then.” We followed him eagerly, totally unprepared for what we were about to see!
As soon as the door swung closed behind us and David flicked on the light, three cats and a small dog appeared at his side, jumping, rubbing against his legs, and starting up a chorus of mews and barks. David went immediately into a room off the large kitchen we'd entered and started getting out cans and boxes of food.
“Four animals,” I observed, watching as he leaned down to fill bowls that were out of my view. “No, five,” I added as a larger dog hurried by.
“More,” Mom's voice was barely a whisper. Her mouth was hanging open.
She was right. Another cat ran past, then a pair of dogs followed by a final cat.
“There can't be
pets,” I said finally.
“Nine pets,” Mom echoed hollowly.
“There are eleven, actually,” David called from the next room. “There's a parrot â an African grey that talks named Stoolie. And, uh, there's Rosie. She's a skunk.”
“A skunk,” Mom said faintly. She looked as though she might have gone into shock.
“Yeah, Rosie is pretty much nocturnal so you don't see her around much in the daytime. There are special instructions for her diet and stuff in a notebook here.” He opened a drawer near the sink and drew out a small coil book with a picture of a skunk pasted on the cover.
“A skunk,” Mom said. “Eleven animals!” She repeated both things several times and then sank onto a nearby chair and stared straight ahead. I couldn't help wondering what she thought of her great-aunt at that moment.
“A few of them are pretty old,” David said helpfully.
I walked to the doorway to see if, as I suspected, he was smiling. He was.
“They're all personalized,” he said, waving his hand toward the gobbling creatures in the room.
“What, the cats and dogs?” I was confused.
“No, their dishes. They each have two. One for food and one for water.” He leaned down and picked up a bowl to show me. On the side of it the word “Inky” appeared between black paw prints.
“Don't worry about trying to make them eat from their own dishes, though.” His smile was growing. “I just let them go to the nearest bowl.”
I frowned. His amusement was not contagious.
“Wait till you see downstairs.” He was actually laughing by this time. “The cats' litter boxes are personalized too. And the skunk's. And I might as well tell you right now that hers has to be in the same place all the time. Skunks pick out a favourite place to âgo' and that's that. Hard to believe, huh?”
He was wrong. I'd have believed just about anything right then. But for Mom, the mention of six litter boxes was too much. A gasp, followed by a short, strangled cry came out of her. It seemed to restore her, though, because she got up then and joined us.
“This is a pantry,” she said indignantly. “Or, at least, it was
to be one.”
David shrugged. “You can move their dishes somewhere else if you want, I guess. I don't think they're particular about where they eat.”
Mom stared at him blankly, but a sudden highpitched cry of “
Knock it off!
” from down the hallway startled her back to awareness.
“That's Stoolie,” David explained. “He's
telling someone to knock it off â and saying other bossy things. Anyway, did you want to have a look through the house now? I have to get back home to watch my kid brother when my dad goes to work.”
We did a quick tour, trying to push aside the thought
that our inheritance included this unbelievable menagerie of pets.
Stoolie told us to knock it off again as we passed him. He also commanded us to feed the pretty bird, though his dish was brimming.
I have to say that the house was beautiful. There were two rooms off the kitchen, the pantry we'd already seen, and what David referred to as the back kitchen. Who ever heard of a house having two kitchens?
Most of the floors were hardwood and a lot of the furniture was fancy-looking wood stuff too. A fireplace stood in what David called the sitting room downstairs. I'd never heard the names he used for some of the rooms before, being used to a kitchen, living room, bedrooms, and a bathroom, though of course I'd heard of dining rooms, too. But our house contained rooms that David referred to as a parlour and a den. Upstairs there were four enormous bedrooms and two smaller rooms that David identified as a sewing room and a quiet room. Two of the bedrooms also had fireplaces.
“You can check out the attic another time,” he told us, gesturing toward a square set into the ceiling of the upstairs hallway. “This is the entry to it. A ladder comes down when you open it.”
“What's the other building attached at the back of the house?” I asked when we'd gone through the place.
“Used to be servants' quarters,” he said, “but Sarah used it for storing things. There are two entrances to it, one outside and one from the back kitchen, but both are kept locked. The lawyer will have the keys for those doors.”
I'd never heard of servants' quarters. Mom explained that years ago very rich people had wings built on their homes for the hired help to live in.
“You seem to have known my great-aunt quite well,” Mom remarked to David.
“I helped her out when she needed something done. She was a nice old lady.” He looked away then and I could see that he felt sad about her dying. It was weird that we were her family and we didn't even know her or feel particularly bad that she'd died, but this person who was no relation to her did.
Before we left the house, David gave Mom a slip of paper with his phone number on it. “You'll probably need a hand when you move in,” he explained, not realizing that all we had was four suitcases with our clothes.
“I guess we'll have to find out the pets' names,” Mom sighed, tucking the paper into her purse. “All eleven of them.”
“Where are we going now?” I asked as we stepped back out onto the sidewalk.
“The lawyer's office is apparently nearby,” Mom said. “She told me when I spoke to her that it was only
a few minutes' walk from Sarah's house. We have an appointment with her right after lunch.”
We found the place, which was in a house that had been converted to lawyers' offices. Five names appeared on a sign hanging above the door, and our lawyer, Nicole Standing, was listed among them.
Neither of us was hungry after a late breakfast, so to kill time until our appointment we just walked around for a while. Not too far from Aunt Sarah's house there was a nice little park and we sat on a bench there for a bit. In one corner of the park was a low, red brick building, which we discovered was the library. I thought it was a bonus that the library was so close. I like to read but we've never been able to afford books. Or, at least, we couldn't before.
A young woman ushered us right into the lawyer's office when we returned there for our appointment. Ms. Standing stood to greet us, shook our hands, and told us she was sorry about our loss. That confused me for a second until I realized she was talking about Aunt Sarah's death. Mom thanked her solemnly.
“It took a little while to locate you,” Ms. Standing told us, “which gave me time to get everything pretty well in order. We'll just get this paperwork out of the way and then you can go ahead and take possession of your home.”
“Today?” Mom asked.
“Well, not quite that fast, but I'd say by Monday. Where are you staying in the meantime, in case I need to contact you?”