|Product dimensions:||6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.39(d)|
Read an Excerpt
Doorway Through Time
By Lin Harbertson
AuthorHouseCopyright © 2012 Lin Harbertson
All right reserved.
Chapter OneIt was as she was leaving the brightly lit off-license, with its polished wooden countertop, wrinkling her nose at the sour scent of wine and beer, that Alison overheard the tail end of a whispered conversation between the proprietor and his wife.
"Two bottles of the best bubbly this week! Is he out of town again?"
"I'm sure he is—that dreadful husband of hers. Always leaving her all by herself. Poor woman. I hope she's going to be all right. Do you know what their neighbor Mrs. Allan says?"
Are they talking about me? she wondered. Is that what people are thinking?
But as Alison made her way through the northern England town of Roystone that bright autumn morning, she couldn't know that something was about to happen that would change her quiet life forever. She walked briskly, hurrying to find out if her favorite shop, the art gallery, was open. It always seemed to be closed for a half-day holiday that changed unexpectedly each week. She suspected that Mr. Grimes, the owner, spent most of his time at the Roystone races.
As she approached the art gallery—breathing a sigh of relief when she saw it was open—an oil painting in the window caught her eye. She crossed the street with a sense of anticipation. Such an oil painting; it depicted a hunting scene in which a woman was jumping a chestnut horse, sidesaddle, across a fence. Waiting for her on the far side of the fence was a man dressed in a red hunting jacket. He was riding a large black horse, and in the background were the rest of the hunt, galloping after the hounds. It was called Gone Away. As she stood gazing at the painting, she noticed her reflection in the glass. The face that had looked so serious was now smiling back at her. Why not? she thought. Why not?
Alison opened the door, listening to the tinkling sound of the bell as she inhaled the fragrances of oils and dust. The little shop was silent and a little dark, its uneven walls covered with artwork of all different sizes, shapes, and colors. Mr. Grimes was sitting under a bright light in the farthest corner, studying a watercolor.
"Mr. Grimes," she began, "how much is it? The picture in the window?" She held her breath.
"Oils are always more expensive, Mrs. Simons," said Mr. Grimes, peering over his glasses. The painting was on consignment and had sat in his shop for three or four years—the owners were asking such an exorbitant price. He sighed before telling Alison the price, wondering how high she was willing to go. He decided to raise it slightly to give himself room to negotiate with her and then felt guilty when she immediately accepted it without question.
Alison closed her mind to the amount she was writing on the check. What am I thinking? I can't afford this kind of expenditure. Her broker had delivered the bad news to her the previous week. She had lost half of her capital in the latest stock market crash. Still, she was undeterred.
"I'm glad you bought it," Mr. Grimes said. "I've always liked this painting. I expect it will think it's going home. Would delivery tomorrow morning be all right?"
Alison nodded and then looked questioningly at him. "Going home?"
"Oh yes, this painting has quite a history. It's somehow connected with your house, although I've forgotten the details," he said as he gave her a receipt. "But then, anything old is bound to have a history, isn't it?"
"How old?" she asked.
"Probably painted about 1850 or so."
Alison looked at her watch. She was torn. She longed to ask him for more details, but she was out of time that morning. "I'll come back tomorrow," she said. "Perhaps you'll have remembered something by then. Thank you, Mr. Grimes."
As she was leaving, he opened the door for her and inquired, "How's the new book?"
"I think now it will do very well," she replied, looking at the painting once again and smiling.
He smiled back at her and had a sudden thought. "Are you going to the races next Saturday?"
"Of course," she replied.
As Alison drove home, her thoughts were on the painting—on the woman riding sidesaddle and the man waiting for her. Were they lovers? Was their love the kind that lasted forever, something she wrote about in her novels? She sighed heavily and gripped the steering wheel a little tighter. She and her husband, Jack, had become silent strangers. Was it because of her success? Was he jealous? At first, it had seemed so exciting—the home in the north of Yorkshire, a home that she remembered so well from her childhood. She had been able to purchase it with the royalties from her first successful novel, Murder by Moonlight, but now she wasn't sure the move from London had been such a good idea.
Inexplicably, Jack had been furious when the book had proved to be very popular. "You didn't tell me it was a sordid romance!" he'd stormed at her.
"It's not sordid; it's romance!" she had shouted back at him. "And I asked you to read it many times!"
"I don't like the way people look at me in this town. It's because of your books. I know it is. Where do you get your ideas?"
From my imagination, she thought. Oh yes, she'd always had a brilliant imagination but had taken it for granted ... until lately. Now, it was silent; no ideas flooded her mind with vivid pictures. There was just emptiness. No matter how hard she tried to open it, the doorway to her imagination was closed, almost as if it were locked. Her publisher was calling her weekly, reminding her of her contract, beseeching her for "just a rough draft of something new," but her mind stubbornly refused to cooperate.
Her imagination had lain quiet until this morning, when she glimpsed that painting in the shop window. Already, whispers were beginning, curling at the edges of her consciousness. She hoped that by the afternoon, some of them would have coalesced into something with which to pique the curiosity of the newspaper reporters from the Roystone Herald. They were to interview her that afternoon, and she already was late from making a quick run to town to buy champagne. "Now, Alison," her publisher had encouraged her. "Tell them something—tell them anything—and if you can't think of anything, open a bottle of something expensive. The article will remind the public of your last book. Sales are down. It's been three years you know."
How well she knew! But now, maybe she would be able to write again. Alison threaded her way through the narrow streets of Roystone, carefully avoiding the throngs of shoppers enjoying the unexpected warm weather. How lucky she was to have found such a magnificent painting. She knew it was going to look perfect in her living room. Her heart sang, thinking about it.
The road meandered through the town, following the course of the river, before it turned to cross the bridge and continue toward her home at the top of the hill. The two-story house, made of cut stone, stood well back from the road, and the entire property, twenty-five acres, was surrounded by a stone wall.
The wrought-iron gate to the property was open, lying on its side and unattended. I really must get it fixed, Alison thought as she parked her car. Her neighbors had installed electric gates with security codes ("You can't be too careful, my dear"), but then she forgot about the open gate, admiring the sycamore trees that lined both sides of the driveway. She loved this house. As a child, she had spent her summers here with her grandparents, riding horses, enjoying her freedom, and forgetting all about her dreaded boarding school.
All was quiet; the reporters had not yet arrived. Alison opened the front door and stepped inside. The front door once had opened directly into the kitchen, but now it opened onto an elegant entryway, with doors leading to the kitchen, the living room, a bathroom, and her study. She walked into the large kitchen, poured herself a glass of milk, and gulped half of it down. Mrs. Crocket had left a plate of scones for her on the table, and now Alison sliced a couple of them and spread strawberry jam on top before checking her answering machine. Several messages were from people who either wanted to buy her books or sell her their horses, and there was yet another from her publisher, a dynamic gentleman whose nickname was Beaky. "My dad owns the firm, B and K Publishing," he had informed her, "and he has always been known as BK, hence my name. When he retires, I shall be BK." They had met once, and she had been most impressed with him and dazzled by his turn of speech but hadn't realized until she signed the contract with what tenacity he would expect her to stick to its terms. "How's the new book coming along?" the recorded voice asked. "Not well," she muttered in reply. "Not well"—but now there was hope.
Munching on the scones, Alison put the champagne in the refrigerator and set out plenty of crackers and cheese, glasses, and paper plates. Then she hid the rest of the scones—they were her favorites. She checked her watch—the reporters were late—and then, while she was waiting, she sat down at the table with her laptop computer and swiftly tapped out a description of the painting. What did Mr. Grimes mean that the painting was going home? she wrote.
Alison shivered. The house felt cold; it always did at this time of the year. She turned on the central heat and lit the gas fire in the living room to take the edge off the damp. Then she stepped outside the front door to wait for the reporters. The early morning sunshine was fading, and dark clouds were gathering behind the sycamores. What a shame. Too bright too early, she thought.
As it turned out, only one reporter, Jennifer Standing, arrived. Jennifer was a big fan of Alison's books, and she had a horse that she was having a problem with.
"Before we get started, can you help me? Everyone says you are so good at helping difficult horses, Mrs. Simons. I just don't know what to do," Jennifer said. "I have a new horse, and he's gaited. I always wanted one, but he doesn't seem to know how to keep the running walk steady. He goes faster and faster until he's unbalanced, and then he throws his head in the air and almost falls down."
They spent several hours drinking tea instead of champagne, eating the cheese and crackers, and talking over horse remedies. Alison felt so comfortable with Jennifer that she brought out the scones and strawberry jam to share. Then Alison posed for photographs, and by the time the subject of the new book came up, she had a suitable answer.
"It's a historical, romantic thriller," she said, "with a beautiful heroine, an old house"—and then a new idea struck her—"and of course, a murder."
Jennifer nodded as she took notes. Her next question took Alison by surprise. "Mrs. Simons, what made you start writing books?"
Alison poured herself another cup of tea and slowly sat back in her chair. "Why did I start writing? I don't know, really. A degree in journalism and an overactive imagination, perhaps." The truth, which she didn't care to share, was that as Jack spent less and less time at home, she had created imaginary worlds for herself—and she had discovered that other people enjoyed reading about them.
Jennifer thanked Alison profusely for her time and all her advice. After she left, Alison breathed a sigh of relief and then rushed up the winding staircase to her bedroom, taking the stairs two at a time. The house originally had five bedrooms, but the fifth bedroom had been converted into a bathroom and a walk-in linen cupboard by the previous owner, Mrs. Brown. When it still was a bedroom, it had been kept locked. "You stay out of there," her grandfather had said, frightening her with the severity of his voice.
It was not a fancy house but very comfortable, with its wooden floors and wood-beamed ceilings. All the rooms had large windows and grand views, either of the stable that lay behind the house or the sycamores and the valley in the front.
Alison changed into her riding clothes and ran down the stairs to the scullery, on the far side of the kitchen. The two parts of the house were connected by an old wooden door. The scullery had a stone floor and a sink, and she found it most useful for storing her shoes, boots, heavy winter coats, and assorted riding equipment. No matter when she opened the door, she always could detect the scent of the apples that had once been stored there, long ago. She pulled on her riding boots before walking quickly out to the stable to visit Captain, an old brown thoroughbred that had been with her for many years. She thought of Captain as a trusted friend.
He whinnied a greeting to her. "I know you're lonesome," Alison said. "It's a lovely day. Let's go for a ride." She had permission to ride on the neighboring properties as long as she closed the gates and didn't disturb the crops or the livestock, and she cherished this privilege. They cantered happily along the edges of fields full of sheep, through small copses of oak trees, and stopped at the top of a hill to admire the view. Below were more fields and more sheep, and far away they could just make out the end of the land and the beginning of the sea.
It was almost dark by the time they reached the gate and home. Alison fed Captain before she went down to the house, giving him grain as well as a flake of hay. "It was a perfect afternoon," she said to him giving him a hug. "You are my favorite horse of all time."
She had already eaten her dinner when she heard the front door slam. She knew it was Jack. He was home late from work as usual. His office was a large brick two-story building on the outskirts of the town. It had been used years ago as a workhouse, and with its few, small, heavily barred windows and narrow chimneys rising out of the steep roof, it always reminded Alison of something out of a gloomy Victorian novel.
She stood watching him, almost apprehensively, as he entered the kitchen. She could never tell what kind of mood he would be in and searched his face for clues. She noticed that his dark hair now was streaked with more gray than she remembered, and the lines on his face were more deeply etched than ever. For a moment, she had the oddest feeling—it was as if she were looking at the face of a complete stranger. He was older than her by ten years, and since moving to Roystone, his silences made him seem more remote than ever.
"Busy day?" she asked him tentatively.
"Of course. I ate already," he replied and then sat down at the kitchen table to work on a schematic for a security system he was designing. "The security system I'm working on is for this house," he announced suddenly. "If I have to live way out in the middle of nowhere, I want to be safe."
Alison sighed; Jack was obsessed with security. She wished they could talk together the way they used to. She found his presence to be even more depressing than usual and decided she didn't want to tell him about the painting. She put his dinner in the refrigerator, cleaned up the kitchen, and said, "I'm off to bed, Jack. There are plenty of snacks in the refrigerator if you want anything." He ignored her. As usual, she thought.
She sighed as she climbed into bed, trying to think about a plot for her new novel. Sometimes those ideas she had before she fell asleep were her best. But this night, her last thoughts before she fell asleep were of the painting. She tried to picture it on the wall of the living room. She remembered to put her mobile phone on the charger before she turned out the light, and she fell asleep long before Jack came to bed.
When she awoke, the sunlight was streaming in through the window, and she was alone. What time did Jack get up? she wondered. Is he was deliberately avoiding me? Why can't he spend more time at home? Then she realized that even if he did, they would have nothing to talk about. Certainly not her horses, or her books, or anything else. Is this to be my life now? she thought sadly.
After quickly dressing, Alison went out to the stable to feed Captain. He was pacing restlessly. "I'm sorry I sold your friend," she said. "We'll just have to find you another, won't we?" She sang him a nonsense song as she fed him a flake of hay and cleaned out his stall. Just being around her horse gave her a feeling of peace and contentment. She leaned on the pitchfork she was using to clean the stall as she stood looking out over the familiar view of the valley. She remembered her distress at the sudden death all those years ago of her much loved grandmother and the property being put up for sale.
"Please can we buy it?" she had begged her mother. "Please?"
"Who wants to live way out there?" her mother had replied. "In that old house? It would cost a fortune to make it livable."
Excerpted from Doorway Through Time by Lin Harbertson Copyright © 2012 by Lin Harbertson. Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.