Property of a Lady
Author:Sarah Rayne

Nell had not been in Marston Lacy very long, but most people knew her quite well already because her shop was in the main street and she tried to have really striking displays in the bow window.

 

In the main, life was still bleak without Brad, but occasionally something pleasant or amusing happened and at those times Nell felt as if she had stepped out of the darkness into an unexpected splash of sunlight. And there were a number of things to be grateful for – it was important to remember that. Beth seemed to be getting over the loss of her father; she liked her school and had made friends there. This was a huge relief, because after his death Beth had woken sobbing each morning, because her daddy had been in her dream, alive again and smiling. Nell did not say Brad was in her own dreams as well.

 

On a purely practical level, she was surviving. There was enough money to live on – not a massive amount, but enough – and she was even starting to have a modest social life in Marston Lacy. Last month the Chamber of Commerce had issued a rather stately invitation for her to join their ranks. That was the kind of thing that would have made Brad smile in the way he always smiled if she achieved something new. She wondered if she would ever get over the knowledge that she would never see him smile again, and whether she would ever be able to stop thinking about his car skidding out of control on the icy road that night. But I’m coping, thought Nell, determinedly. It’s over a year now – it’s one year and nine months to be exact. And I’m all right.

 

The Harpers had emailed to say a friend of theirs, Michael Flint, was driving into Shropshire to take photos of the house – they were really keen to see what it looked like. Their daughter had drawn a bunch of pictures of how she thought it would be, but she had a crazy idea that all English houses had either thatched roofs, Elizabethan beams, or ghosts. They were not mad about thatched roofs, which might harbour rats, said Liz, or about old beams that might harbour infestation, and they certainly did not take kindly to the possibility of a resident ghost.

 

Nell was looking forward to meeting the Harpers. Liz Harper’s last email said they would love to know a bit about the house’s past and its occupants; if Ms West had time to do a little local research, they would happily cover her expenses. This was an intriguing idea – Nell had not seen the house yet, but she would love to find out more about it. She had already asked Cranston & Maltravers about the clock’s history, but they had only been able to tell her that Brooke Crutchley had been the last of a locally famous clockmaking family whose work had been considerably sought after in the county. You came across Crutchley clocks in any number of local National Trust or English Heritage houses in this part of the world, and this particular one was believed to have been made for William Lee in or around 1888. They did not know anything about William Lee, they said firmly, and Nell gave up on them and looked at land registers and transfers of title in the archives department of the local council. She wasted a lot of time trying to find Charect House until she found it had been known as Mallow House until 1890.

 

There was not very much to discover about William Lee or any of its owners, but early in 1940 it had been requisitioned by a rather obscure Ministry of Defence department. Nell glanced rather perfunctorily through a sheaf of letters clipped inside the file, thinking they would relate to the requisitioning of the house.

 

But they did not. The letters had apparently insinuated themselves under a paper clip on one of the MOD memos and been misfiled. They bore dates from the early nineteen sixties. Nell skimmed them, then began to read with more concentration.

 

 

 

 

 

THREE

 

 

 

 

Letter from: Joseph Lloyd, Planning Department, Council Offices.

 

To: Dr Alice Wilson, Special Investigator for Psychic Research.

 

Dear Dr Wilson,

 

I am in receipt of your letter dated 10th ult. and will try to answer your questions to the best of my ability.

 

Charect House was built around 1780–1800, but its ownership is complicated and the Council is in a difficult situation. The last known owner vanished in 1939. However, in February 1940 the Ministry of Defence requisitioned the place, and it was not decommissioned until 1950. Those ten years ensured the fabric was kept in good condition, but since then the house has fallen into considerable disrepair. There are no funds to maintain it – National Trust and English Heritage were approached, but both declined, primarily because of the absence of a legal owner.

 

The title deeds cannot be traced – it’s believed they may have been destroyed in WWII bombings – but since the place cannot be allowed to deteriorate further, the County Council have appointed my committee to act in a caretaker capacity. We have passed a resolution that Charect House be leased to small business concerns on short-term tenancies until the legal owner can be found. The income can be utilized for repairs, and any monies remaining can be placed on deposit.

 

However, because of its reputation as the local ‘haunted house’, currently no suitable tenants can be found. We feel it is therefore necessary to quench the persistent and damaging rumours that surround the house, and for that reason I have (most reluctantly) agreed to an investigation by your organization.

 

I must tell you that I believe a normal explanation will be found for the reports of so-called ‘supernatural’ activity. The evidence all indicates that the problems are caused by one of the following:

 

 

 

Settlement in the foundations.

 

A fault in the plumbing, which admittedly dates to around the time of WWII.

 

A fault in the electrical wiring, which dates to the Abdication of Edward VIII.

 

 

 

No doubt you will bear these points in mind when conducting your investigations.

 

Yours sincerely,

 

J. Lloyd

 

 

From: Dr Alice Wilson to J. Lloyd

 

Dear Mr Lloyd,