Authors: Susie Martyn
But it hadn’t been a chat up line, she knew that. It didn’t
occur to Lizzie for one second that he wasn’t telling the truth.
By the time
Katie had departed for London on Sunday, Darius had already called round to see Lizzie, desperate for her to start work. He’d found them eating breakfast and been most concerned as he looked around the Star.
‘Really, sweetie, you could have stayed with us if we’d known… It’s so awfully, well,
don’t you think?’
arranged to pick Lizzie up the following morning first thing.
You’d never find it on your own, sweetie! It’s out in the boondocks! The back of beyond, darling!’
he’d added, seeing her look of bewilderment.
It would be a good experiment, Lizzie had decided. To see if garden design and her were a match. It was only one garden after all. She’d cut the grass and weed the flower beds – it would take two days, three at the most. And if it were a total disaster, well. She was leaving anyway, wasn’t she…
With nothing better to do with the rest of the afternoon, she decided to do some more exploring. As she passed Antonia’s, she paused to watch a dumpy woman bumping around the sand school on a rather stocky horse. The woman’s face was red with exertion and the horse looked as though it was about to collapse. Antonia herself was standing in the middle, screeching like a sergeant major, as the horse broke into a rather lumpy trot.
HUP, two, HUP, two – heels DOWN, hands STILL – no, no, NO – shoulders back, stick your boobs OUT…Like THIS…YES…’
Lizzie couldn’t understand it. Why subject yourself and the poor horse to something that looked so uncomfortable. Then she glimpsed Cassie cantering a large
white horse in the field next door, effortlessly clearing every huge fence she rode it at. Gripped, Lizzie watched. This was better. Incredible, yes and absolutely terrifying.
Antonia’s wave, she continued up the road past the church. A cat yowled and Lizzie briefly glimpsed a ghostly figure flitting among the trees, but by the time she’d blinked and rubbed her eyes it had vanished, leaving her convinced she’d imagined it. Further on were a couple more cottages with neat flowerbeds and trim hedges, and then, what on earth was this?
It had to be
the ‘danged ramblers’ that William had been so incensed about. A motley crew wielding ski-poles with plastic bags hanging round their necks, were marching purposefully down the lane towards her. Then, just before they got to her, they turned off the lane and started to climb a padlocked gate.
Ignoring the sign that clearly stated ‘private-keep out –
’ with a skull and crossbones someone had added underneath, they waited until the last member of their group was over, then continued marching right across the middle of the field. Lizzie was astounded at such blatant disrespect for the landowner. No wonder William had been so irate - she was quite annoyed with them herself. The cheek of it! It just wasn’t on doing that sort of thing, even a townie like her knew that.
wandered on up the lane, peering in at every garden she passed, until she almost reached the end of the village. And then she saw it, on the opposite side of the lane, in all its dishevelled, rose-covered glory. An involuntary ‘oh’ escaped her. Facing her was a small, dilapidated cottage. With broken tiles and peeling paintwork, but she didn’t see them, instead gazing unblinking at weathered stone walls festooned with the most glorious colour. A week or two earlier or later, she’d have missed it. As it was, she’d timed it to perfection.
crossed the road and just stood, hoping no-one was at home to notice the stranger snooping over their gate. But then something else caught her eye. The ‘To Let’ board in the drive. The house was empty. Lizzie’s heart started pounding.
s if of their own accord, her fingers programmed the letting agent’s number into her mobile.
And before she knew it, Monday had arrived. Darius had come to fetch her in his smart black Freelander which ponged of Eternity for Men, and he chattered excitedly as he drove haphazardly along the lanes, slamming his brakes on and swerving every now and then to avoid flattening an overweight pigeon or panic stricken rabbit that dashed out of the hedge on a suicide mission. Weaving along a maze of windy lanes, Darius slowed when they came to a small hamlet.
‘Darling, I can’t believe we’re finally here! Do look! Welcome to our humble abode!’
He turned off between two ancient oak trees and
Lizzie gasped. The cosy little love-nest she’d pictured hadn’t remotely resembled this. Sweeping up a rather smart gravel drive with neat lawn laid either side, they parked outside the impressively glassed front of a fabulous, no-expense-spared barn conversion. Tall spiralling topiaries framed the door like sentries.
‘Darius, this is stunning!’
Lizzie was awestruck.
‘Oh darling, come and see the inside
. It’s simply to die for!’ Clearly pleased, he flounced theatrically up the wide steps, and flung the doors open.
Inside was just as awe-inspiring.
Lizzie’s eye was immediately drawn to the enormous fireplace which towered into the rafters, logs piled high either side. Huge soft sofas and a heavy coffee table were arranged facing it, and though there were priceless antiques throughout, it wasn’t precious, simply hugging you from the moment you entered. To one end was a state of the art kitchen from which clattering and hissing noises were coming, and straight across was another set of huge glass doors. Lizzie’s heart sank – surely this wasn’t it...
‘I’ve got the coffee on. Or tea, darling, if you’d prefer… So lovely of you to do this Lizzie…’ Angel appeared
and embraced her.
took in the look on Lizzie’s face. ‘We did warn you, didn’t we petal?’ they said anxiously. ‘Oh deary - are you
each of her hands in theirs, they led her through the doors to stand outside, where together they surveyed the chaos. At the far end amongst a bed of nettles were fruit trees, but the rest was a complete muddle, with not too much else identifiable among the brambles, rubbish and overgrown grass.
has potential.’ Lizzie tried her best to sound positive but her heart was in her boots. ‘But boys, do you have any idea how long this will take? There’s weeks of work here… Or what it’s likely to cost?’
rling,’ said Angel. ‘We
want you to do this. We just
, both of us,’ he caught Darius’s eye, ‘that you are just
for us. We
suddenly realised as she looked around the garden, just what she could do with this. How much she would love to be the one to tame it into shape. She looked at the faces gazing back at her.
‘Putty in your hands,’ added Darius with a sideway glance at An
gel. ‘Just name your price, flower…’
Cornwall would still be there and i
t would beat hanging around the Star. Feeling a flutter of excitement, Lizzie gave up fighting the inevitable.
Back inside, Angel brought out a tray of coffee and fondant fancies in garish colours, which he presented to Lizzie with a flourish.
‘I’m experimenting, sweetie! Absolutely nothing artificial! You must tell me what you think of them! Be honest now…’
lavoured with almond and elderflower, they were sublime and as they ate, the three of them hatched a plan. As the boys wanted to entertain outside, the focus was to be a paved dining area under an enormous cotton awning, and there were already piles of flagstones dotted about which the boys had sourced from a salvage yard. Business was clearly booming and money, Lizzie was discovering, simply wasn’t an object. The focus was to be a massive table which they proudly showed her, which they’d snapped up at some sale. They also had grand plans for an elaborate system of raised beds.
to grow his own veggies, darling…’
And it just
‘And we’ll make our own compost, you see…oh, and what sort of worms should we order
, flower…Dendroebaena or Tiger worms?’
‘B-both?’ Lizzie didn’t have a clue.
he whole place cried out for colour against the stone and dark timbers of the barn. She’d divide up the garden and plant flowers in every corner, and against the old walls which were just made for some roses to tumble over them. So much for a couple of days - there was weeks of work here if Lizzie wanted it.
‘Contemporary cottage garden!’ announced Darius
flamboyantly. Then anxiously, ‘oh goodness flower, would that work?’
‘I think it would be perfect,’ said Lizzie,
getting into the swing, imagining spiky phormiums and grasses with splashes of zingy orange and acid green.
‘And when you’ve finished, we’ll throw a Lizzie party to celebrate!’
he beamed. Seeing her look of alarm he patted her hand, adding, ‘don’t worry, flower! It’s just a little thing we do! We had a Harry party for the architect… Huge fun it was – all those Harry Potters and Harry Hills! Ooh, do you remember Dirty Harry, Angel? Sex on legs,’ he whispered girlishly to Lizzie.
parties, darling. We’ll just have to have one,’ gushed Angel. ‘And we just thought that in the summer, what better place?’ He stood there proudly, surveying the bedlam.
Caving in to the invisible forces at work,
Lizzie arranged to view the empty cottage. Just out of curiosity. There was no harm in looking, was there? She’d quizzed Antonia about it that evening, as they shared yet another bottle of wine.
‘Good God Lizzie.
You’re full of surprises! You can help at the horse show if you’re staying – I need another pair of hands. With all those super competitive mothers and their ghastly brats, it’ll be chaos… Talking of which, William had his sheep out earlier. Bloody brilliant it was! When he eventually got the last one into the field and shut the gate, you should have heard those drivers! William stood there glaring at them and didn’t say a single rude word, which was bloody astonishing for him. Think he rather enjoyed himself. Next lots due to move at 8am precisely! Awfully good sport, don’t you think?’
And at 8am
the next morning all hell was indeed let loose, as it wasn’t only William who dutifully moved his flock three hundred yards back up the lane to the field they’d come from the previous evening, but at the other end of the village, his wristwatch perfectly synchronised, Mr Woodleigh’s cows meandered unhurriedly in the opposite direction. Clearly this morning the traffic had built up both ways, with furious drivers yelling and hooting and it just so happened to culminate in the mother of all pile ups outside the Star.
hid in her room and watched with amusement as the Hooray Henry’s and Yummy Mummy’s waved fists and yelled in plummy voices about this being an absolute bloody disgrace before accelerating sharply up the lane and splattering their immaculate vehicles with cow pats. Ten minutes later all was quiet again, and Lizzie walked up the road to look at the cottage.
Like most cottages in the village, Rose Cottage was part of the Littleton estate, but had been empty for quite a while, so old Bert, the estate manager told her when he showed her round. Bin in the Woodleigh family for generations, or so he told Lizzie.
You prob’ly seen him earlier out with them cows. Nice family,’ he said. ‘But all them houses are the same. A bit basic, like. Not to everyone’s liking.’ He’d chuckled. ‘But bit of a clean up and a lick of paint, it’ll look alright’
ere was a whiff of damp as Lizzie stepped into the kitchen. She wanted to throw open the windows and let the sunshine in so this poor, neglected little house could breathe. Then wash down the woodwork down and paint its walls… turn it into a home again.
‘Still, it keeps the rents down,’ he added. ‘You want it, you can move in whenever you like. Think you’d
be right at home.’
Don’t you want references? Credit checks?’ she asked. ‘What do you need?’
The old man shrugged. ‘Always gone on gut feeling meself. Never worked against me in the past. No, don’t you worry about that Miss, you’ll be fine.’
All her objections were floating away. As she walked through the small rooms, the thick walls felt as inpenetrable as the towering oaks outside. And as the cottage drew her gently to its heart, it propelled up the stairs, waiting with bated breath for her to discover the view that lay in store. As she gazed at the fields that stretched for miles, an image of a beach flashed into her head.
‘Can I just think about it
? Only for a day or two, but it’s just, well, I want to be sure…’
He chuckled. ‘You take your time. I won’t let anyone else round till I hear from you, you have my word on that.
You know, I’ve a feeling it would be right perfect for you...’
really was that simple. If she decided she did want it, he added, all he needed was a small deposit and a month’s rent in advance, which astounded Lizzie, who remembered in the past supplying lists of references, embarrassing bank statements and a deposit worthy of a small mortgage itself, all for some soulless flat in deepest suburbia.
Undeterred by the strong aroma
which remained in the air from the moving of Mr Woodleigh’s cows, the quiet and space had crept up on Lizzie. The garden too, another neglected tangle, but hers to do what she wanted with...
A wave of
sorrow engulfed her. Her mother would have loved this place… A single tear escaped and rolled unnoticed down her cheek. She’d have donned her gardening gloves and pitched right in there beside Lizzie and for a moment she imagined the familiar voice beside her.
Lizzie, isn’t it just lovely? It would be perfect for you…Quite extraordinary how you came across it wasn’t it? Perhaps it’s meant to be…’
looked around. She could have sworn her mother was standing next to her. Would have put money on it, even.
And the very next morning, just an hour after she signed the lease in the estate office, the most surprising thing yet happened when she had a call from Mick, who had come up with the jeep earlier than expected. It was clean as a whistle like he’d said, and a very pretty turquoise colour. How Jamie would detest it, Lizzie found herself thinking, which is probably what clinched the deal.