Continued from here: https://anonymole.com/2022/02/20/beggars-road/
The fellow from the States, Keith Stoughton, hitches his rucksack, pinches the brim of his hat and nods. “Not sure how much exploring I’m up for after my trip.”
“Oh, I do apologize,” I say. “It’s just our way of instilling a bit of mystery into our outings.” I tug at my friend, Dohlan’s jacket. “Come along Dohl. You’re the historian in these parts. Give our Mr. Stoughton a taste of what he’s in for.”
The American interrupts. “Keith’ll do, um…” He gives me a glance as he makes room for the three of us on our trek down the slope of Beggar’s Road.
“Oh, dear me.” I hold out my hand and introduce myself. I’ve got a pompous name that I rarely get to speak. I watch a brow lift. “You can call me Chik.”
Dohlan is mumbling. “Stoughton, Stoughton. Ah, now I recall. But that would mean…”
Keith’s shoulders stiffen. “I claim none o’ that business as my own. Not my legacy, no sir.” His long strides have already gotten the two of us out of breath.
Business? What business? I wrack my brain to recall how the fellow’s name fits into the local history.
Dohlan is panting hard as he tries to keep up. “But,” he begins, “I thought that estate had been sealed off. Some sort of national incident, a royal incident if I remember correctly.” His bag of tools clangs against his hip. “It’s called the Lancaster Estate now, I believe.”
I’m in better shape than my friend so I wave for him to hand me his heavy sack. I recognize the name Lancaster. In fact, the patchwork green-space that I’d identified from the satellite image represents this very estate; imagery that had been named but deliberately blurred. The pixel-clear nook at the edge of the estate was the reason for this excursion. An odd looking outbuilding had been missed in the obfuscation. What it held…
Dohlan barges through my day dreaming. “Stoughton was the Queen’s Exchequer. Of course this was generations ago, but the scandal…”
“It’s Dohlan, ain’t it?” Keith turns and blocks the way. “Listen here Dohlan and…”
The fellow’s menacing stance turns my legs to jelly. His whole presence, his dark, water-stained duster, his tall hat pulled down to just above his eyes, even the hunch from his pack adds to this vision that consumes the whole roadway. He hulks there, solid as a menhir stone. When he speaks my name I can’t help but jump.
“…Chester, you two gotta understand. What my great granddaddy did or didn’t do, ain’t my concern. There’s other reasons for this here ‘explore’.” He smiles. The light lifts around him. The clouds that had dimmed our path drift away. “I don’t mean no disrespect, but, well, you go on and tell the story, Dohlan. Just remember, that’s all it is to me—a story—savvy?”
I remember to breathe.
Dohlan seems less threatened by this American apparition. “Good god, my dear chap. What theater. I love it.” He rakishly slaps the fellow on the shoulder. “Of course it’s just a story. But, at our age,” Dohlan tilts my way as if I’m the fuddy-one, “scandal and intrigue are what we live for.”
“Speak for yourself, Dohl. I live for a frothy pint and a toad-in-the-hole swimming in brown gravy.”
Keith, his hat now pushed back on his head, appears puzzled. We pick up the pace, and begin expounding on the few British culinary gifts the world has failed to embrace. Beggar’s Road levels out and oak and beech trees begin to line the widening track. The greenery dazzles us all when the sun finally breaks through. Beyond the road the trees spread out and fields full of bluebells and white daisies cover glade after glade.
Dohlan’s droll humor has been aching to lurch from his throat. “It’s not much to look at, but we make do.”
“I was about to admit,” Keith doffs his hat and runs his fingers through sandy locks, “I ain’t seen too many more shades o’ green, didn’t think they came in such variety.”
I point past a wall of conifers that mark the boundary to what I’m sure is the inner estate. “I think I see the house.”
“Capital ‘H’ house, you might say. More commonly known as a manor. Hmm,” Dohlan squinches his nose, “not in the best of repairs.”
“Looks like shit is what it looks like.” Keith stands at where the drive splits to encircle a weed choked acre-sized pond, joining up with itself in front of the pillared entrance of Lancaster House.
I grimace. “Seems the maintenance has fallen off in recent years.”
“Christ, I’ve seen some rundown places in my day: ghost towns, abandoned resorts and halls and such. But, damn. If there ain’t paranormal shit going on in that place…”
Dohlan takes a deep breath. “Well, Keith, now that you mention it…”
At the thought I remember. “Tomorrow. It’s Beltane, isn’t it?”
My friend explains. “May First. Rites of spring. A time ripe with mythical potential. Just the night when the spirit world skims close to ours.”