“You’re telling me that the cottage is cursed?” I said in amazement.
“Well, of course not. All I can tell you is that I’ve been an estate agent in this village for twenty years and we’ve sold Honey Cottage fifteen times. Nobody wants to live there.”
“But what do you mean, it’s cursed?”
He sighed. “It has to be coincidence, and it sounds crazy, but it seems that everyone who moves in there seems to become ill or lose their job, or have some personal catastrophe. You’d not believe the stories I’ve heard about the place. Rumour has it that it was originally built by a witch, so I understand, and who knows, maybe her presence lives on in some way? Estate agents are cynical types as a rule, but once or twice in our careers we all come across the kind of places that are just, frankly, unlucky.”
The Quiet Times Tea Rooms in Bevington village was living up to its name at this time of the afternoon, and Mr Tucker had invited me here to discuss the offer I had made to buy Honey Cottage. Noticing I was seven-months’ pregnant, the waitress had been especially helpful, checking that my chair was comfortable, offering me more milk, sugar, biscuits, any ‘special craving’ for food I might have, and had told me of her past four pregnancies, and that “my children are the light of my life, they’re hard work, but they’re a blessing, love.”
“Mr Tucker, I can’t understand this,” I told the handsome middle-aged man. “Your business is to sell houses, yet you’re warning me off.”
“Yes, I’m going out on a limb, and frankly, I could lose my job for talking to you like this,” he told me, staring into my eyes, his expression that of a kindly uncle. “But I’ve got a daughter of about your age. You’re a pleasant likeable young woman whose relationship has unexpectedly broken up, and you’re on your own with a baby on the way. I couldn’t sleep if I thought I’d played my part in bringing more trouble into your life. Look. . .” He leaned closer. “. . .I know you need somewhere fast now that the place you shared with your partner has been sold. You’re in a difficult position and I want to help you. We haven’t got any suitable flats in your price range on our books right now, but you give me a few days, and I’ll phone round all my friends in estate agencies around the area and I promise we’ll find you somewhere nice.”
“Well, it’s a big disappointment,” I told him, thinking of all the soulless purpose-built tiny flats I’d seen so far, that didn’t have a smidgeon of the character or personality of Honey Cottage, nor did they have Honey Cottage’s lovely front room with a view out onto fields, where I’d envisaged doing my freelance translation work. “But the last thing I need right now is more bad luck, so, as you suggest, I’ll withdraw my offer. Thank you very much. There’s just one thing. Mrs Clark was so sweet to me, and she was so delighted I was buying her cottage, she’ll be very disappointed. How am I going to face her?”
“Oh don’t worry about that, I’ll see to it.” He smiled, his face below the silver hair so kind and attractive. He reminded me a lot of my own father, who had died a few years ago: calm, kind, resourceful, and protective of his family. “Just leave her to me. I’ll explain that you changed your mind, you don’t have to deal with her again or even see her. Anyway, as you say, she’s a sweet old lady, she’ll understand. . .”
So I left the café that afternoon with a heavy heart. Finding Honey Cottage had seemed like fate. I had been driving along the road, and suddenly took a left turn because I liked the look of the trees in the distance. Then I saw the ‘For Sale’ sign outside the beautiful chocolate-box cottage at the end of a lane. I had knocked on the door, and had spent a delightful hour chatting to Mrs Clark, a tiny bird-like old lady who had chattered away as she showed me round, her lovely Dalmatian dog Bruno following around behind us and nuzzling my hand.
“I know it needs a lot of work,” she apologised as we passed the mould-covered wall in the scullery, and tiptoed round the woodworm damaged floor in the hallway. “But that’s why the price is so low. I’ve let things slip I’m afraid.” She had even told me about ‘the witch’ who was supposed to have owned it a hundred years ago. “But I don’t believe in any of that nonsense, witchcraft, spells, it’s all just a lot of fanciful talk.”
When I got back into the car I noticed the text from my building society, ironically giving me the green light on my mortgage application, meaning I could go ahead with my offer for the cottage. Typical, I had supposed after the survey they would turn it down, and now the cost of the survey had been wasted and I was back to square one.
As I drove back to the flat that Jeff and I had shared, I couldn’t escape my guilty feeling. Although Mr Tucker had told me that he would explain the situation to Mrs Clark, it seemed too cowardly to just not see her one last time. She had chatted to me for ages last week, and I at least owed her an explanation, however embarrassing it might be.
So I parked outside Honey Cottage and knocked on the door again, feeling even more guilty when she pressed me into having a cup of tea with her. As I was sitting at the kitchen table while she fussed about with the kettle my phone light blinked and I saw the text from the publisher I do a lot of work for. Ellen, my friend there, had told me that she had a massive translation job for me if I was free to take it on. ‘thanks, you bet I’d love it! xxx’ I texted back immediately, feeling that surge of delight at getting a nice big chunk of work that only the insecure self-employed can understand.
How odd, I thought. I’d set foot inside this ‘unlucky cottage’ and immediately got some terrific news.
When I explained why I was withdrawing my offer for the cottage, Mrs Clark looked mystified.
“Cursed? He’s sold this place fifteen times? Good gracious, I’ve lived here twenty years, and I can tell you, they’ve been extremely happy ones. My husband had just died, I was feeling suicidal, and something about the atmosphere of this old place cheered me up. I soon made friends, got a dog, made a life for myself. I’m only moving now because my daughter’s getting a big house with a granny flat for me. And the elderly couple I bought it from had been here forty years and brought up a happy family here. They told me that this witch you talk about was a ‘white witch’ , who was famous for curing illnesses and helping people, and only ever used her powers to combat evil people. Everybody loved her, apparently.”
“But why would he tell me the place was cursed?” I asked her as Brutus did his best to lick my face as I fondled his ears.
That’s when she asked me if I could show her how to use the ‘new fangled’ CCTV surveillance security camera with sound recording too, something her grandson had installed a couple of weeks ago.
“It’s supposed to record anyone who’s inside the house – automatically comes on and off. The only people who’ve been here when I’m out have been the estate agents, showing people round.”
I managed to work out how to play the footage on her grandson’s laptop. On the screen was Mr Tucker and another man, who was in jeans and a white tee shirt and had a tape measure fixed to his belt. The latter was bending at the knees as he examined the walls and woodwork, squinting as he screwed his mouth around and frowned.
“So if I can push this your way, how much do I get?” Mr Tucker said to the other man, who was staring ahead, lost in concentration.
“Five K if you can knock the old girl down another ten,” said the other man. “The place ain’t worth saving, but I can demolish it, and use the planning permission to put up a lovely little bungalow, and I reckon I can make a right killing.”
“Okay, mate. There’s a young girl who’s put in an offer, but I can knock her back, and then I’ll tell the old dear she’s best off taking your offer cos it’s the only one she’ll get.” He smiled. “She’s a daft old bint, trust me, she’s putty in my hands.”
When I got back to the estate agents’ office they were just closing. Mr Tucker wasn’t there, but his assistant, a nice girl called Carol, couldn’t have been more helpful.
“That’s odd we must have got our wires crossed,” explained Carol, who had chatted about my pregnancy and told me about her own children. “I’m what’s called ‘the chaser’. It’s my job to follow up all the sales and to liaise with the solicitors and mortgage people and the buyers and sellers. Mr Tucker told me you’d changed your mind, but I’m so glad he misunderstood, and it’s even better news that your building society has approved the finance. With any luck we can push this through so you’re inside that lovely cottage when your baby is born. I’ve seen Honey Cottage, it needs modernising, but there’s nothing too bad structurally.”
Another girl came over to Carol’s desk. She looked stunned.
“Oh Carol, I don’t know how to tell you. The police have just phoned. Mr Tucker was looking around the new building site in Gerrard Lane with his builder friend. The building collapsed on top of them. . .They’re both dead. . .”
(image by Gerhard Janson from Pixabay)