Chapter two The Key.
The following day was a Saturday, as the Havillands clients arrived for lessons or to ride their horses that were kept at livery, they were treated to the bizarre sight of Gareth trying to go about business normally wearing stripy pyjamas. All the rest of his clothes had been lost in the fire so he owned what he stood up in.
His horse Meredith didn’t begrudge him wearing his Whitney rug as an overcoat. Once everyone had heard the story, had a good gawp at the remains of the caravan, sorted out their horses and for the main part gone out on a long two hour hack with Jenny; Gareth set about trying to organise himself.
He rang the bell on the front door of Havillands house and waited for the owner to answer. There was a rising crescendo of barking as the owner’s dog rushed to guard the door. The owner was a lady author, a Mrs Mc Kinsey who made her money from writing historical romances. She had bought Havillands house in the late 70s when the Havillands family finally sold the ancestral home and moved away. Her dog was a bad tempered West Highland terrier known as Ezekiel but often shortened to Ez!
Mrs McKinsey was very surprised to see a pyjama clad stablehand standing on her doorstep but, as Ez barked and yapped at the newcomer, Gareth explained his unfortunate situation and asked if he could rent a room in the house until he found another caravan and also if she had any clothes he could borrow for the time being. Mrs. McKinsey was most understanding,she invited Gareth into the hall. As she already rented a room out to Jenny and she said that Gareth could have any of the other rooms in the servant’s quarters. As to clothes, Mrs McKinsey said that her son had left some of his clothes in one of the bedrooms last time he visited, and Gareth was welcome to have those. Gareth was duly grateful and offered to tidy the flower beds at the front of the house on his day off as a thank you. At that point the phone rang,
“I must answer that” said Mrs McKinsey, “I’m waiting to hear from my publisher, the room with the clothes in it is on the second floor on the right, the key is in the china bowl on the hall table’ and with that she dashed off back to her study. Ez decided to stick with Gareth and keep an eye on him.
Gareth looked at the hall table, there was a bowl on it all right, but it was full of keys.
“Which one is it?” he thought. He decided to find the room first and look at the lock on the door, it might give him a clue to the size and shape of key he needed so he picked up the bowl and trooped upstairs followed by a suspicious Westie.
Havillands house was an old old building with beams and carvings everywhere. Successive generations of the Havillands family had added to it and extended the building in assorted different styles that were fashionable in one century or another. To sum it up, it was a bit eccentric looking. Gareth didn’t mind, he quite enjoyed looking at the paintings of racehorses and old hunt scenes on the wall as he climbed the staircase.
Gareth reached the second floor and turned right. Three doors met his gaze.
“Mrs Mc Kinsey didn’t say which room it was” said Gareth to Ez, He looked at the locks, two were yale locks and one was a big old iron keyhole. He was just about to start trying the keys when Gubbins the stable cat appeared on the scene.
Technically, Gubbins wasn’t supposed to set foot inside the house (being employed solely to exterminate vermin in the stables) but on cold days Jenny often let him in to her rooms in the servants’ quarters. From there Gubbins had discovered a whole network of back staircases that would allow him access to most parts of the house.
Gubbins sauntered round the corner and looked a bit surprised to see Gareth standing there. He was even more surprised to see Ez, who immediately puffed himself up and began growling. Ez made a dash for Gubbins, Gubbins leapt vertically and landed on Gareth. Gareth dropped the bowl of keys and caught the cat. The dog made a lunge for the cat knocking Gareth over in the process. Both dog and cat careered off down the stairs barking and yowling, leaving Gareth winded, lying in a jumble of broken china bowl and scattered keys.
He picked himself up, there were no broken bones. Gareth looked at the remains of the china bowl which had smashed into a hundred pieces, he hoped it hadn’t been some kind of antique. Gareth began to gather the scattered keys, they had skidded a long way on the polished floorboards. Some had gone under an old glass fronted bookcase that stood on the landing filled with elderly bound copies of “The Strand” magazine. He got down on his hands and knees and reached under the bookcase. He retrieved three keys, an old marble, a Matchbox car, a rubber bone that must have belonged to a dog and a shrivelled and wizened conker on a string.
Gareth looked at the keys he had just retrieved, one was a big old iron thing, He tried it on the door with the older style lock. He heard the lock click as he turned the key. Gareth gave the door a good shove and it opened.