(The horror story continues.)
“Yeah,” Colin said, “it is. That’s all part of the charm, of course.”
“Are there any neighbours close by?”
Colin pressed his memory. The family did not really mix much with friends or neighbours in the area. That sort of thing only started after the move to New York. The closest thing he could recall was an older, farming couple that were a short drive away; and, even then, he was under the impression that their property had since been added to the Hardwick estate.
“Not close by, for sure,” he said. “The house itself is huge, and the property extends a few miles or so around it. It is an old estate. Not many like it, anymore.”
“You figure it was built about two hundred years ago?” Macy asked, enjoying the start of their chat.
“The original part of the house was built right before the Revolution,” he said, remembering what his grandparents had explained to him a million times as a boy. “The exact date is not known because they added the rest of the house about ten years later, when the British were gone and things had calmed down. So, technically, the building is about two hundred years old.”
“The Hardwick’s must have made good money,” she said, suddenly into new territory with the history of the mansion. “What did they do?”
“Well, the official, family line is has it as a combination of old money from Europe and a mix of local business interests. We know they owned sawmills, forges and several general stores, but it gets murky beyond that.”
“Ah,” she laughed, “finally some juicy stuff. Do tell.”
Colin smiled. The conversation was actually enjoyable to him, as well. “There is a ton of rumour that they smuggled just about anything and everything you can imagine. It is said this brought the Hardwick’s to the colonies, in the first place. During the revolution, their smuggling operations went into overdrive. The expansion to Hardwick House was a result.”
“So they smuggled goods past the British,” Macy laughed, her knowledge of history quite limited. Her understanding of the American Revolution was that the British had high taxes, the Americans revolted and won. George Washington and Thomas Edison were mixed into it, somehow, too. “You come from patriotic roots,” Macy added.
“Not likely,” Colin said, half smiling. “Rumour has it that the Hardwicks smuggled for both sides, until it was clear the British were finished. Then, they sided exclusively with the American cause. Business probably trumped politics.”
“Scandalous,” Macy said, looking at their surroundings. She noticed, rather suddenly, that there were no power lines flanking the road side. She glanced at her phone, noticing the reception was at zero bars. A glance at the GPS showed it was searching for satellites. She waited a few minutes before bringing her growing angst to her fiancé, who seemed oblivious to it all.
“You do know where you are going, right?” she asked.
“Absolutely,” Colin said, suddenly noting the state of the GPS. “Don’t worry about that, I looked the map over before we left. The area has always lagged behind with technology. Your phone probably doesn’t have much reception out here, either.”
“Are you from a Quaker family or something?” Macy asked, suddenly unsure of what was coming. “This place does have electricity, right?”
Colin laughed, almost choking from it. “Not Quakers, no,” he said, trying to calm down, “but suspicious of new things, yes. The land is in a bit of a valley and there are no cell towers on or near it. I am not even sure if Uncle Cyril owned a cell phone; and if he did, he was the first in the family to live at the house with one.”
“And the electricity?” she asked with growing suspicion of her own.
“They have a private line running off the grid,” Colin explained. “My grandparents were very suspicious of outsider access to the property, so they cut some deals to make sure the lines were off limits to government people. It was only installed after I was born, in fact.”
“And it is working now?”
“I am told so,” Colin said, “but the power was never reliable, even after it was installed. A rural reality.”
“The charm of the weekend is sure rubbing off quickly,” she muttered.
“It will all be over before you know it, dear,” he said, lacing in his best charm.
They did not drive much further when they reached the turn to the property. It was a private road, complete with a gate and no trespassing sign. Colin pulled up to the gate, got out and unlocked the padlock with one of the keys that had been mailed to him. After driving through, he locked the gate behind them.
“Why bother?” Macy asked when he returned to the car.
“A minor precaution against trespassers,” Colin said, “and it helps with any insurance issues that might come up. Stupid, I know.”
The private road to the house was not much different than the last few miles of dirt road. It was rutted and worn, probably one of the first things needing repair. The trees were a little closer and the light seemed a bit dimmer, especially for noon. Macy’s sense of distance was worse than her history, but it was quite a distance from the gate before they reached Hardwick House.
The building was vaguely Victorian, though it had almost gothic elements on the exterior. Built on a small rise, just clear of the forest line, the house stood three stories and seemed to sprawl out like a monster on a rock. The final approach was covered with paving stones, lined with cherry trees. It was almost beautiful.
“Wow,” Macy said, taking in the building and grounds. There were statues and a small fountain in front of the building, now a touch mossy and entangled with vines. The building exterior showed signs of both weathering and recent repair. Colin was growing distracted as they came to a stop in front of the main door. When they stepped out of the car, the world was silent; no sound, wild or otherwise, was to be heard. The sudden change was almost palpable, and Colin filled the gap awkwardly, despite being awash in his own thoughts.
“Welcome to Hardwick House!” he exclaimed in a mock showy tone.
If it had not been for the newest concerns of electricity, cell service, and complete isolation, Macy might have found the place quaint. The charm was there, yet her mood was off; and she was not confident she would shake it.