Since you’re unlikely to consult a map, nor to find it if you did, I’ll waste a bit of ink placing Milford House properly.
While not precisely in the village, it had long been given resident status due to the enormous donations by its builder to the church. Tradition being what it is ’round here, it’s hardly surprising that, more than two centuries later, privileged status persists, despite the fact that the original benefactor died within a decade of building his grotesquerie, and the church long ago sold off the organ, expensive paneling, and gilt whatchamacallits. Since it no longer functioned as a place of spiritual enlightenment (though some in the village argued that it never had) the trappings seemed irrelevant, except financially.
That’s not especially helpful, geographically, is it? Perhaps this will help: head south from the village square, such as it is (apparently the founding fathers felt inadequate for a full square and opted for the three-sided version known elsewhere as a triangle) until you pass the last house on the left, and the last pub on the right. (Just watch for traffic from the former to the latter. It can be sudden and inconsiderate of the casual passerby.)
Now, passing the copse of birch, you’ll come to an enormous iron gate. An enormous ugly iron gate. Unless you’re better traveled than I, you will never have seen wrought iron so horrifically misshapen. Its designer had clearly asked its builder for something expressive of the modern era, which 250 years ago wasn’t a pleasant sight when translated to wrought iron. I could draw you a sketch, but I’ll save us both the weeping and ask you to trust my eyes: it is ugliness, captured for all eternity.
Not just ugly, but useless. The gate is the only portion of the fence ever completed. My guess is that the iron-worker had a reputation to think of and packed his things off to a job which wouldn’t sully his artistic vision further.
There it sits, a gate, partly ajar, where it stuck so long ago no one alive recalls ever seeing it fully open, or fully closed.
The worn dirt path around the near gate post eloquently describes how locals have dealt with the gate from time immemorial. Or at least since the gate stuck, which might be the same thing.
Having done all these things; that is, started at the square, walked past the last house and pub, eyes sharp to avoid a trampling, and skirted the hapless gate, I thought I’d finish the journey, being only a dozen yards from the front door.
It seemed the perfect opportunity to finally test the head of my brass walking stick on the dense brass plate installed beside the door. I’d often thought of it, walking past the old pile, but felt one shade too silly at the thought of knocking on what I knew to be an empty home.
The solid rap and slight rebound were satisfying. Worth the wait, that was. Ah, life’s simple pleasures.
When you’ve lived in Iddington a while you’ll see what I mean.
The door opened in what I can only call a perfectly reasonable manner. No lurching. No timid peek-and-open. No fumbling with locks or latches. It just opened, as so few people seem to be able to arrange with their own front doors.
“Yes?” He proved himself as capable of standing as of door-opening. Just standing, without intent, subterfuge, or agenda.
I looked for an expression and felt as if I were looking at myself. It the ping-pong of conversation it was clearly my shot, and I took it.
“Yesterday in the post, I thought I saw a glimmer of sanity in your actions.”
“And you’ve come to stamp it out?”
Apparently my explosive laugh startled him. He stepped back, then regained his position at the door.
“No, not at all. I’ve come with a bellows to inflame the village with the stuff. There’s been precious little sanity here for decades.”
He eyed me. I can’t say how, precisely, he eyed me. It took me years to read the tiny signs even his face couldn’t hide.
“Best come in, then. Obviously no point standing on ceremony in these parts.”
“Excellent. No point standing, period, if you can sit.”
He stiffened slightly. Not that his face changed, but the swing of his hand to open the door hitched ust a little; the twist of one foot to step away paused ever so slightly before continuing.
“Yes. Well. Perhaps. This way.”
He stepped back from the door, and I stepped into a room full of packing crates, boxes, and the natural detritus of movers and moving.
“Go straight on through.”
Straight on through meant, as far as I could tell, toward the bright light coming from an open door between uncurtained windows, two rooms away.
I could feel him behind me and didn’t pause to look at the labels and scribbles on the boxes. Head down, I marched straight on through like an obedient school child.
Outside the door, it took a moment for my eyes to readjust from crossing the darkened rooms. A table was obvious. Chairs were not.
He stepped around me and walked toward the steps leading down to the garden from the stone porch we stood on. Spinning as he’d done at the post, he stuck out a hand in what I can only describe as a childishly nervous manner.
“Pearce. Kenyon. That is to say, family name Pearce pee ee aye arr cee ee, given name Kenyon, which I shan’t spell.”
Taking his hand I opened my mouth but he cut me off. “No need, no need. I asked around after your performance in the post. My acquaintences in the city were quite clear who you are.”
“Ah. And yet you invite me into your home. How gracious.”
And for the first time, he actually smiled.
“Stuffing. Nonsensical. Writers aren’t all fools. You may yet prove to be in the minority.” And, after the briefest pause, “Perhaps.”
His handshake switched from tentative to firm, resolved.
Without letting go of my hand, he stood for a moment, face wrinkling around the eyes and nose, and then he laughed, a bright, hearty, right from the boots laugh.
Releasing his hand, it was my turn to step back, startled. Laughs are infectious things, though, and I couldn’t help myself but to laugh as well, even without yet knowing the punch line of the joke.
Despite the lifetimes of water under bridges, I can clearly pinpoint that as the moment the greatest friendship of my life began.
And just in time, I might add. Iddington was about to drive me nuts until Kenny dropped in.