This is the fourth instalment of the serialisation of Leefdale by Michael Murray.
If you missed the earlier posts click here for links.
Now read on ….
‘You’ll have to wait here until I’ve switched off the security device,’ said Sharon. She unlocked the front door of the rectory and pushed it open. At once the alarming sound of a siren reverberated around the hall. Sharon darted inside. A few moments later the din stopped and she called out, ‘It’s all right. You can come in now.’
Dylan entered and found himself standing in a spacious hallway.
‘Sorry about that,’ said Sharon. ‘Once the alarm goes off you only have fifteen seconds to stop it before it alerts the Luffield police.’
‘How do you de-activate it?’
She regarded him suspiciously. ‘With a number code. That’s why I had to ask you to stay outside. Mr Corbridge is paranoid about anyone finding out what it is.’
Sharon indicated the interior with a turn of her head. ‘Well, this is the hall. The staircase is original by the way.’
Dylan approached the staircase for a closer inspection. It rose up the wall to his left and was thickly carpeted. He noted the mahogany handrail which terminated at the bottom in a spiral of balusters.
‘No sign of woodworm yet,’ he said, lightly.
Sharon frowned. ‘I should hope not. The property’s received extensive anti-woodworm treatment. Certificates are available, if you require them.’
Hmm. No sense of humour, thought Dylan. He observed the five white doors which led off the hall and the numerous examples of eighteenth century portraiture which adorned its walls. He admired the high ceiling and its elaborate plasterwork. He noted the oak parquet floor showing in the spaces between the opulent oriental rugs. He was amused by the eighteenth century carriage clock and the tastefully positioned spinet. All this, and they’d only got as far as the hall. Someone had obviously gone to great lengths to create a definite period “look”. He felt as though he’d stepped into a play by Sheridan.
‘Very Georgian, don’t you think?’ said Sharon.
Dylan could do little else but agree.
‘Mr Corbridge was so thrilled to own an eighteenth century house. He was determined to recreate the Georgian style.’
‘Oh. Which one?’
‘There are examples here of early, middle and late.’
Sharon wondered if he was a bull shitter. Bruce Corbridge had assured her that the house had been authentically restored.
‘Shall we go on?’ she said.
She opened a door to her left and showed Dylan into the first reception room, which she referred to as the drawing room. It was at the front of the house and overlooked the lawn. The room struck Dylan as ideal for his purposes: it was high ceilinged, spacious and brilliantly lit by the natural light pouring in through two huge sash windows that seemed to rise almost from floor to ceiling. But the furnishings! They were so oppressively vulgar: heavy, red, silk wall coverings finished with a gold fillet; sumptuous, red curtains held back by gilt acanthus leaf embrasses and topped by a pagoda style pelmet; obtrusive, coarse mouldings on the cornice and fireplace; ugly, squat bronzes adorning the mantelshelf; even the chandelier chain disguised with red silk and fringing. The furniture was mainly eighteenth century repro with a couple of genuine antiques, and, incongruously, two enormous, contemporary sofas that were so padded and comfortable they were obviously the property of affluent couch potatoes. There were far too many pictures in hideously elaborate frames, and the original wooden floor was all but obscured by modern oriental rugs.
‘All the furniture is going to be removed and shipped out to Capri in a few days,’ said Sharon, who’d observed Dylan’s disapproval. ‘Mr Corbridge and his wife are retiring there.’
Thank God the furniture’s not included in the sale, Dylan thought. He was beginning to suspect that the whole house had been designed to create some loose, contemporary notion of a holistic Georgian “style”, which had resulted in a travesty of anything Georgian or stylish. It was a bourgeois shrine to self-indulgence, ostentation and the comfort of excess.
‘Is Mr Corbridge an American?’ Dylan asked.
‘No. He’s Australian. A film producer.’
‘Of course!’ exclaimed Dylan. ‘It’s a film set!’
‘Mr Corbridge and his wife are both very nice,’ said Sharon. Her tone had become chilly.
‘Is there anything that you do like about the room?’
‘Oh yes. The light. It’s magnificent. It would make a wonderful studio.’ He regarded her for a moment. ‘You didn’t say you lived in Leefdale.’
‘I didn’t think it was relevant.’
‘Well, it could be a recommendation. If you’re personally happy here.’ Something in her expression made him feel reckless. ‘Are you happy here?’
She seemed surprised. ‘Of course.’
‘Do you live alone?’
‘No.’ Sharon moved towards the door. ‘I’ll show you the other reception rooms. But I warn you, they’re all in the same style.’
‘That’s all right,’ said Dylan. ‘I can’t say that I admire Mr Corbridge’s furniture or his fittings but his taste in houses is perfect.’
Sharon moved through the doorway and back into the hall.
‘All the carpets are included in the sale but not the curtains or rugs.’
‘Has anybody ever painted you?’ Dylan asked, following her.
She stopped, surprised. ‘No. Why?’
‘Because I think you’d make a wonderful subject.’
She took an involuntary step away from him. ‘Oh, come on!’
She turned back, wary, sceptical. ‘Not that corny old pitch!’
‘I’m serious. I’d like to paint you.’
‘You said you only do abstracts.’
Dylan started to feel foolish. ‘I started off doing conventional portraits. Seeing you has given me the urge to do one again.’
You’ve got the urge all right but it’s got nothing to do with painting, Sharon thought. She said, ‘Well, I’m terribly flattered, of course. Let me see, how does the next bit go? I ask you if I’d have to pose nude. That’s right, isn’t it? And you say, “Only if you want to” and then I say “but I’d be embarrassed” and you say, “Don’t worry, I won’t get aroused by your naked body, as far as I’m concerned it’ll just be an object.” That’s about it, isn’t it?’
Dylan smiled. ‘I thought you said you didn’t know any artists?’
‘I don’t. But I’ve met plenty of piss artists!’ She opened another door leading off the hall.
‘This is the dining room!’
She entered the room and Dylan followed closely behind her. He immediately saw that she was right: the Corbridges’ execrable taste was as much in evidence in this room as the previous one.
Sharon stopped and turned to face him. She’d obviously made up her mind about something. ‘Look,’ she said, ‘why don’t you wander round the rest of the house by yourself? You can take your time and have a think about it.’
The strength of her hostility disconcerted him. ‘It’s all right. I’m quite happy to have you show me around.’
Sharon was adamant. ‘No. I’d rather you went round on your own.’
‘What I said about wanting to paint you. It’s disturbed you, hasn’t it?’
‘Frankly, yes. We’re on our own here and I’ve had some very unpleasant experiences with male clients.’
‘I assure you I’ve no intention of coming on to you.’
Sharon went silent. She stared at Dylan grimly. ‘Take as long as you want. I’ll wait for you down here.’
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