I’ve included a couple of posts about “Leefdale” by Michael Murray on my blog.
Following a well established nineteenth century tradition, I’m planning to serialise some of the novel.
Here’s the first instalment.
LEEFDALE by Michael Murray
How shall we find the concord of this discord?
Tuesday 10th April 2001 to Monday 16th July 2001
Whenever Major Howard Roberts was depressed, which was quite often, he would go up to his study and stand at the window looking out. His gaze would take in his extensive front garden and the road beyond it, and finally fix on the house opposite which directly faced his own. This was The Old Rectory. At times of great remorse, of which he’d known many, Major Roberts would stare intently at this Georgian residence until its sublime symmetry, its soothing expanse of Virginia Creeper and the perfection of its front lawn had emptied his mind of all destructive thoughts and self-recriminations. Only then, comforted by The Old Rectory’s soothing presence, could he obtain some temporary relief from his despair.
Today, Howard was once again at his study window, staring out. Yet, he was far from depressed and for once the exquisite building opposite wasn’t being used to exorcise his demons. He was in an unusually buoyant mood because on his word processor lay the fruits of his morning’s labours: the gardening column for April’s edition of The Leeflet. The column had taken him more than three hours to complete and had involved several re-writes. Now, after a sustained period of intense concentration he was taking a well-earned break.
The Leeflet was a monthly newsletter produced for the four hundred or so inhabitants of Leefdale, the exquisite East Yorkshire village in which Howard lived and was chairman of the parish council. He’d established The Leeflet shortly after he’d been elected chairman and its purpose was to disseminate information and improve communications between the parish council and the villagers. However, some unkind people who frequented Leefdale’s only pub, The Woldsman, had been heard to remark that The Leeflet was the means by which “that bloody Major” could tell everybody in Leefdale what to do and what to think.
These days, Howard’s pleasure in his contemplation of The Old Rectory was greatly enhanced by the knowledge that his own labours were helping to maintain its splendid appearance. When Bruce and Ruby Corbridge had put the house on the market before leaving for Capri, they’d entrusted him with the maintenance of its gardens until a purchaser could be found. This had been a shrewd move on their part for no-one was more suited to the task than Howard. The Corbridges knew that as chairman of Leefdale’s Magnificent Britain Sub-Committee he had a vested interest in ensuring that the gardens of The Old Rectory remained consistently at their best. The rectory was the most prestigious house in Leefdale, and, as everyone agreed, was the main reason the village had won the gold medal in the Magnificent Britain Gardening Competition for four consecutive years. Thus, with Howard’s assistance, two birds could be killed with one stone: the village’s next gold medal would almost certainly be assured and the Corbridges, despite their absence abroad, could look forward to having their gardens maintained to the highest standard whilst they sought the best market price for their property.
As Howard stood relishing the substantial dwelling opposite, enjoying the mellowing effect of the spring sunshine playing on its ancient bricks, only the estate agent’s vulgar For Sale sign intruded on his rare happiness and prevented it from being total. The ugly wooden object had violated the rectory’s front lawn for several weeks now, reminding Howard of life’s latent uncertainties. He stared at the sign with a familiar sense of regret. Bruce and Ruby Corbridge had been perfect neighbours whose consuming passion, like his own, had been for gardening. Too bad they’d decided to sell up. It was unlikely that the new owners would be anything like as congenial. But whoever they were, it was absolutely essential they were committed to maintaining the perfection of the rectory’s gardens.
As always, the thought of the rectory’s new owners filled him with dread. The house was large enough for a good-sized family but he so hoped there wouldn’t be a lot of teenagers, with all their noise, disturbing his peace and quiet. His greatest wish was that the purchasers should be a retired couple: people of prominence with a great interest in horticulture. People who would be an asset to the village and participate enthusiastically in the Magnificent Britain Gardening Competition. People, in short, like him.
He suddenly frowned as, with some concern, he noted that several blades of grass in the rectory’s front lawn were getting slightly overlong and required immediate attention. Few people would even have noticed; but Howard wasn’t only a lawn expert, he was also a perfectionist. He glanced at his watch. Yes, there was still time to give it a quick mow before he and Isobel drove to York.
Howard went downstairs to the shed in the rear garden where he kept his old gardening clothes. It took him but a few minutes to change into them. He hastened back into the house and was collecting a set of keys from a drawer in the kitchen table when his wife entered from the front sitting room, where she’d been working at her cross-stitch.
‘What are you doing?’ she demanded.
‘The lawn needs a quick cut.’
‘You did it yesterday.’
‘Not ours, the rectory.’
‘The rectory.’ She pursed her lips. ‘It can wait until tomorrow, surely.’
‘No, it can’t.’
‘But we have to set off at twelve-thirty.’
Isobel had been looking forward to the matinee of “The Picture of Dorian Grey” for weeks. She’d a horror of arriving at the theatre after the performance had started and of there being a “fuss”.
‘Don’t worry. There’s plenty of time.’
‘If we’re late I’ll never forgive you!’ she screamed, stomping out of the kitchen.
Parker and Lund, the estate agents responsible for erecting the For Sale sign which was the source of so much of Howard’s angst, had a branch in the main street of Luffield, a reassuringly old-fashioned market town some ten miles to the south of Leefdale. The Luffield branch was staffed by three estate agents: Sharon, Tracey and Karen. The desks of these three young women were permanently turned to face the double fronted windows of the estate agency’s premises, and so, when seated, they always had a direct view of Luffield’s main street.
At about the same time that Major Roberts had taken it into his head to mow the rectory’s lawn, estate agent Sharon Makepiece was entering into her computer details of the small mid-terrace cottage she’d valued in Luffield the previous evening. (Two bedrooms – one reception – dining-kitchen – bathroom – separate w/c – small garden to rear). A photograph of this modest dwelling would shortly appear in the “New on the Market” section of Parker and Lund’s window, accompanied by the information that the property would suit first-time buyers.
No matter how busily absorbed they might be, Sharon, Tracey and Karen were always alert to those punters who stopped and took an interest in the properties advertised in the estate agency’s windows. Like fish nosing up to the sides of an aquarium they came: staring at the photographs of the available dwellings with a touching, fish-like vulnerability; for whether they were serious buyers or merely indulging in a spot of wishful thinking, this was where their dreams interfaced with the means of making them come true.
Sharon was aware of the motorcyclist before he’d even approached the window. She saw him pull up at the kerb, watched him remove his crash helmet and took pleasure in the leisurely swing of his long legs as he dismounted from his machine.
He came up to the window and began to scrutinise the advertised properties. Sharon watched him intently. His position indicated that he was interested in their most expensive houses. But he was wearing black motorcycle leathers. No-one in motorcycle leathers had ever asked for the details of a property valued at £500,000 plus.
All three women were now staring at him.
‘He looks fit,’ said Karen, the youngest.
‘It’s David Beckham,’ said Tracey.
They all laughed.
There was certainly a strong resemblance to the footballer. He had the same fine, leonine features and he was tall, six feet two at least.
‘Hang on,’ said Karen, ‘he’s coming in!’
He strode into the shop, stopped, and contemplated each of the three estate agents in turn. He hesitated, unsure which one to approach, and then moved towards Sharon. She had an impression of black, knee high boots, tight fitting motorcycle leathers and a blonde fringe lolling over brilliant blue eyes. She could hear the other girls mentally sighing.
Her hand pulled at the hem of her skirt. It was a reflex action she was hardly aware of, but it didn’t escape the notice of the motorcyclist who was sensitive to such nuances.
‘Can I help you?’
‘The Old Rectory, Leefdale. I’d like the details, please.’
His southern voice was slightly posh and its deep notes continued to resonate long after he’d finished speaking.
Sharon moved away from her desk and quickly crossed to the wall where the A4 sheets of property details were filed. Dylan observed her unexpected height, admired the length of her black-tighted legs and the tangle of dark brown hair tumbling to her shoulders.
She picked up three sheets of stapled A4 and brought them over to him, her knees lifting high, each step a kick to his heart.
She watched as he scanned the property details quickly.
‘The Old Rectory’s empty at the moment. The owners have moved out,’ she said.
His eyes locked with hers.
‘Would you like to see it?’ she said, blinking.
Continue reading Leefdale here by clicking the Look Inside feature.