Two Houses (Preview)
By Judith Cullen
Mark Murphy glanced at the tourist map one more time, but it might as well have been written in Greek for all the sense it made to him. “I know, we both saw it.” He paused, lowering his voice, “I should have asked for directions, I’ll admit it.”
Cate turned to him indulgently, “I’ll take that admission, and I won’t abuse you with it. Not much, anyhow.” Then she laughed and threw her head back in that way he loved.
This was part of why he had married her – life was just that much brighter, that much “more” when Cate was around. Like now, when they were lost in
on their honeymoon, looking for a hilltop they had both seen clearly from the
front lawn Rathmore House. It had seemed
like such a natural thing to spend their honeymoon exploring their mutual Irish
heritage. They were inexperienced as world travelers, at best, and they really
should have done more homework than they had.
Still and all adversity can lead to adventure, and so far they had
shared that in abundance.
“Look here! This lane seems to go up. This could be promising. Let’s try it and see where it goes.” She was pointing towards a disheveled gate and a scraggly lane of trees leading uphill. What waited at the end of the lane was not clearly in view.
“You call this ‘promising’?” He eyed the gate and the road that left the main track and disappeared to God only knew where. It was a single metal gate between two square stone pillars. They might have been nicely finished once, with an outer coating of sandstone or something to dress them. The metal had a few vestiges of ornamentation left – tiny metal swirls and flourishes. But one of the pillars was almost entirely crumbled away, and the gate hung from the remaining pillar by a single hinge. Squinting his eyes, Mark wasn’t even sure of that. He had the feeling that the gate was held there by habit alone, not by any actual constructive attachment.
Cate was already clambering through the space on the crumbled pillar side of the gate, and she paused half way over and turned to look back at him. The clear light of the March sun reflected off the highlights in her hair and played across her amused face. She looked like a pixie, off to some mischief. “Come along now! Let’s see where this goes. It’ll be fun!”
Mark looked at the respectable road, and at Cate poised atop the stones and laughed despite himself, “All right Catherine Fitzgerald, but if we end up behind bars for trespassing I will not hesitate to remind you whose idea this was.”
“That’s Catherine Fitzgerald Murphy, if you please. Surely I don’t need to remind you of that!” She gave him an intimate, knowing wink that crinkled her nose and she jumped from her stony perch to the other side.
He followed and, as he landed, bumped right into her. She had stopped and was looking around with a frown. “It’s really not very well kept, is it?”
The presence of the gate did more to define it as a road than the actual road itself. The trees lining each side of the track must have once formed a stately avenue. Now they were unkempt. Great limbs had fallen, littering the ground, and hanging in the air as loose snags everywhere. Some thin, disreputable looking sheep were wandering in the field beyond. There was bracken and tall grass growing with abandon. If the gate had not been there, breaking up the barrier of the stone wall, they might not have even noticed the track at all. Cate grabbed Mark’s hand and stepped forward along the path.
Cate had always been "spontaneous," and she knew it. It had gotten her into trouble since she was a little girl: Cate stuck in a tree and can’t get down; Cate bawling with two skinned knees because she had strapped on her brother's skates and had fallen; Cate calling her Dad from a phone booth in a convenience store parking lot, begging him to come and bring her home because the handsome boy who seemed so gallant when he’d asked her out had turned out not to be. Cate had tried to change, but she just couldn’t manage it. Somehow her curious, spontaneous nature always asserted itself and before she could say “hold on there, girl!” there she was again, in some sort of mess.
That’s what she loved about Mark. He always made her feel safe. He was so steady and grounded. He let her drag him into one thing or another with only the mildest of objections. Somehow, there was no mischief she could get them into that he couldn’t get them out of. She squeezed his hand tighter for just a moment. She loved the look of their two hands entwined. She smiled brightly at him as she pulled him along the path.
They saw nothing but decay, disuse, and neglect all around them. “Do you think anyone owns this land?” she asked.
“If they do, they don’t care much about it,” he replied, remembering that he had read that some people bought estate property just for the acreage, letting the buildings and other features go to ruin.
“Good God! What’s that?” Cate rushed ahead, up the path.“What’s what? Cate! Wait a minute!” He ran after her . . .
"Two Houses" will be published as a part of A TRIO OF IRISH TALES II, Coming to Amazon for Kindle and in Paperback in less than a week.