A House in the Country
" I wouldn't touch it with a bargepole!"
Heather's mother had cast her critical eye all over the property and that was her verdict.
Her daughter had other ideas. She had spotted the place's potential and knew exactly what could be done to restore it to a habitable house.
Considering all the hassle they had to contend with before they brought the purchase to a satisfactory conclusion, the obvious deficiencies of the structure were the least of their problems.
Securing the mortgage had been the stumbling block. No bank or building society wanted to consider such an old and decrepit building. The local council had a policy of assisting first-time buyers but that hope disappeared when it was revealed that their whole budget for the year had been spent.
It was with deep regret that Heather went back to Mrs.Gutenhart, the vendor's wife, to inform her that she had to withdraw the offer as she could not get a mortgage,
The old lady was touched by the young girl's plight and acted true to her name.
"Young lady, I think I have the right solution", she said and went on to elaborate.
"I am a rich woman and not in urgent need of funds. I am prepared to advance you the loan myself at a fixed rate of interest of 3 and 5/8ths to be amortized over. say, fifteen years. Would that be acceptable to you?"
Anyone else but Heather would have said, 'Where is the catch?' but the thought never entered her head. She wasn't a financial expert but could sense that it was a good deal. Even she knew that the current bank rate was 4% and rising.
Heather relied on her husband Sidney to sort out the legal aspects of the agreement. He explained to her that the deeds of the house would be released once the IOU was extinguished.
They were both pleased with the outcome, she having realised the dream of owning a house in the country and he because, now that they didn't have to pay the deposit, he could use his saving to buy those gas shares they kept advertising with the slogan 'If you see Sid, tell him.' He did need to be told that they were a good investment.
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Now that they had the key to the property, restoration could commence.
Sidney who had not visited the place before was dismayed at what he discovered.
Instead of replacing the wood that had rotted, the floors had simply been concreted.
"Let's hope there are no bodies buried underneath", he said.
Heather shivered and wished that her husband wasn't so flippant.
The disturbing thought stuck in her mind.
She changed the subject and pointed out a pair of brass gas fittings, that had once been the source of lighting, still affixed to the wall.
"Aren't they quaint? I wonder if we can keep them."
Sidney, who worked for the gas board, put her right.
"Not a chance. Even though they were put there by the old Gas and Coke Company, they are now the property of the current utility providers and most probably they'll end up in the science museum."
"More importantly", he continued, "the house needs to be completely rewired."
On a wooden board screwed to the wall, various sockets and electric plugs hang loose and constituted a real fire hazard.
The kitchen was medium-sized and could be described as 'four walls and a tap'. The only item of note was a butler's sink.
One thing that he could do right away, he decided, was to lay some Marley tiles he had bought at the local DIY shop, in the kitchen.
They were self-adhesive and could be done fairly quickly.
He underestimated the time and hadn't quite finished when it got dark. As there was no electricity there, he had to finish the job by candlelight.
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Heather and Sidney's property was the last in a row of ten terraced cottages that originated as almshouses.
Most of the residents of the adjacent dwellings were retired. Their next-door neighbour was Mrs. Cash, an old lady who kindly provided no end of teas and cakes, and local gossip, every time they came round.
She was an interesting character. At the age of twenty-five, she had been diagnosed with cancer and given six months to live. Now in her late eighties, she was still alive and kicking, her survival, according to her, due to a daily pint of an Irish stout of which she was fond.
It was from her that the young couple learned about the notoriety of the cottage.
The wife of the last occupier had, by all accounts, deserted her husband and flown with her lover, the son of the local squire, to Australia or New Zealand.
Their disappearance gave rise to the suspicion of foul play by the cuckolded man, especially when he employed a builder to pour cement onto the cottage's floors instead of replacing the wooden parquet, which he claimed had been destroyed by woodworms.
No trace could be found by Interpol of the vanished pair and the police felt they had to investigate.
The suspicion that the husband had killed his wife intensified when, unexpectedly, the squire's son returned and was able to prove that far from eloping with the woman, he had been in the United States on business.
GPRs, ground penetrating radars, were used to scan the place for hidden bodies and his garden was excavated to look for evidence of crime.
"Did they find anything?", Heather, eager for a bit of juicy gossip, asked.
"No", said Mrs. Cash who added, "Call me Kay".
"The poor man was devastated, kept grumbling that his garden, on which he relied to grow vegetables, had been ruined."
"We all felt sorry for him and i offered him the use of my untended plot until he was restored. He was very grateful and kept it in good order for many years until the day he died."
"Because of my advanced age and deteriorating health", she continued, "I could no longer attend to my vegetable plot and I employed a landscaping company to dig it all up and pave it."
After a brief pause, she said, "If only the police had possessed a crystal ball they would have excavated my garden instead of his because that's where he had hidden his wife's body."
© Luigi Pagano 2021