Colin fussed with the keys before finding one that worked, commenting on how they were all using skeleton keys when he left. The door opened to a fairly modest entrance, strangely small for the size of the house. It smelled old and a bit damp.
“Seems a bit small for such a big place,” she commented.
“This is part of the original house, before they expanded it,” he said, trying to ignore a familiar, awkward presence. “Some of the old house was changed around, just not the entrance or halls. When I was growing up, the decor was very much a rustic, old style. Most of the furniture and wood is original.”
“It looks in decent shape,” Macy commented, looking over the walls and windows as they passed through the halls. “Are these paintings all originals?”
“Yeah,” he said leading the way down the hall, “and only a few have needed restoration work.”
“And these are family portraits, then?” she asked, slightly awed by the stern folk, depicted in rigid, firm stances. They were like something out of an early Victorian museum.
“Pretty much,” he said, hardly looking at them. “The odd one is some family friend or something. They were a tight knit clan from all the history I was ever told. And here is the staircase.”
The oak stairs were in perfect shape, other than a bit of dust, and curved up to meet a landing that branched off into the upper floors. The wood was not ornate or decorative. It was a simple, sturdy construction meant to last; similar to the rest of the house.
“So far, it doesn’t look like Cyril took anything from the place,” Colin said, finding it better to talk than address the growing presence stirring around him.
“I can’t wait for a proper tour,” Macy said, starting to forget her earlier concerns and enjoy the moment.
“Cyril probably lived in the master suite while he was here, so that is where we are headed,” Colin explained as they moved through another dusty hall. “It should be set up for modern living, or close.”
The master suite was large without being expansive. It had a full bathroom, sitting room and study. It was all right out of a history book. Of all the things in the room, only the bed struck Macy as being over the top. It was high and deep, with immense oak posts supporting a velvet canopy.
Colin pulled gently on a cord that hung down from the high ceiling and the lights came on. Macy gave him a looked of awe and surprise. “That is so weird,” she said, “and cool at the same time. What the heck?”
Colin laughed at that. He had taken the strange light switches for granted as a kid; in fact, normal wall switches took him a while to get used to. “They used to have these connected to a bell downstairs for the servants. They never got rid of them, so now they turn the lights on and off.”
Macy gave the cord a short tug and the lights went off. She laughed, too. It was all so strange and wonderful; and it helped her connect with Colin’s unusual past. She felt closer to him than ever.
The room had fresh bedding and was otherwise set to live in. Colin took Macy on a tour of the building, checking the state of things as they went. The house had changed very little since he left so many years ago. The odds and ends repairs that Cyril had made really took care of the worst issues; the rest was all a matter of details. The rooms were in order, drop cloths protected anything worth protecting, and the worst cleaning needed was some dusting. The returning memories helped Colin manage the increasing pressure from the presence in the building. It took them nearly two hours to see everything except the cellars, by which time he had a headache from focussing on the tour and denying the presence.
“We don’t have to see the cellar,” Macy said, noticing his changed temperament, assuming fatigue or emotional strain. “We can just rest a bit, if you want.”
“Actually,” Colin said, “how about I show you the old stable house?” They had seen the building from the windows facing the back of the property. Macy agreed, thinking the fresh air would be a good change.
The presence in the house had less strength when Colin was out. He found a bit of clarity and release as they crossed the yard to the stables. He found the key for that lock and opened it up. There wasn’t much to see. The family only kept a couple of horses when he was kid, and they were older animals kept mostly for the nostalgia of it. Faint traces of manure and damp wood lingered. The wall was littered with traps, chains, tackle and harness, tools and supplies. Most hung on nails or hooks. Not much to see, but the distance from the house was a relaxing change for Colin.
“How about a walk around the grounds?” he asked her. The weather was pleasant enough and they toured the remnants of the garden. It had completely grown over and gone wild. Some failing fruit trees had suffered greatly from strangling ivy. They walked through the path into the forest beyond the garden. The stones were covered in moss and forest litter, but the path remained clear enough to pass comfortably. The pair of stone bridges over the creek stood strong as ever, adding a pinch of civilization to the forest. They walked in silence; Macy trying to give Colin some space to deal with whatever was ailing him.
For Colin, the ground past the last foot bridge was safe ground from the nagging pressure within the house. His mind was completely clear after they crossed it. He recalled, as a youth, that it was so. He was not sure if the presence had become stronger, somehow, or he was simply not used to it after the long absence. The respite would be short lived, he knew, though it was welcome.
He looked at Macy like he had not seen her before. She was not an ugly girl, to be sure, though modelling would never be an option. She was slim and kept good care of herself. Her personality was generally pleasant, though she was a bit needy and tended to nag. She was from a working class family with no major red flags for him. In all, not a bad girl; but not one he really cared to marry. He regretted her part in the events to come.