The weather was glorious. He’d been told to expect rain.’ It always rains in England. Even in the summer. Why do you think the English talk about the weather all the time?’ Well his informant was misinformed. The sun was at full mid-day strength; the sky was pure azure blue with one or two little puffs of cloud, and he hadn’t heard anyone comment on the weather yet.
But then they were all busy admiring the plants. After all this was what they’d come to see. Well the flowers and the castle. Perhaps one or two of them hoped they’d see the owners. He wouldn’t mind a glimpse himself. Now that would be something to tell folks back in Boston.
Hank slowed his pace to take in a vista which had suddenly opened up. Breathtaking! He took a few snaps, glad he’d invested in a digital camera before he travelled. It was good to know he could keep snapping almost forever, and even if he got it wrong, (which was probably most of the time) so long as he realised, he could snap it again. Now, how about something artistic? If he stood partially behind this bush (a rhododendron) he could get a shot of the castle with a flower in the top corner. Ah ha…that looks…
‘Hello’! Hank jumped and his finger closed down prematurely on the shutter release.
‘Oh Hello’. He checked the errant snap, and sighed.
‘I’m sorry. I made you jump. Is it bad?’
The young woman leaned over his shoulder to look.
‘Not good, though that sky effect is great…here let me. You’re not good with cameras are you?’
Taking the camera from him, she adjusted the settings and aligned herself perfectly, clicked and then checked the result.
‘There. What do you think?’
‘Amazing, it’s just what I was after, and I might have achieved it if you hadn’t made me jump so violently.
She grinned. ‘Not with those settings. Don’t look so surprised. I could see what you were trying to do as I approached. You American?’
‘Yes. Hank, from Boston. You?’ He held out his hand and looked at her properly for the first time. Small with a smiley face, although her eyes were masked by shades, and beautiful long red hair sort of crunched up under one of those peaked caps. Weren’t they fashionable in the sixties? He instantly thought of Cathy McGowan. This girl was every bit as pretty.
‘Liz. I’m not American, she chuckled. I’m English through and through.’
‘Ah. What are you doing here? Not the sort of place I’d expect to see someone like you.’
‘Why ever not?’ she laughed. ‘I live here. My father owns the castle. It’s my home’.
She grinned as she saw the flicker of realisation light his face.
‘Oh my’, he stuttered. ‘I’m so sorry. I didn’t realise’.
‘Nothing to be sorry about. Now I have to go, as Daddy asked me to be back by half one. Some sort of meeting. Have a nice day’, she said, rather pointedly, he thought.
Hank watched her walk away, thrilled that briefly, he had met and spoken to one of the English nobility. Though come to think of it, her accent was not what he’d have expected. He thought she was missing the plum, and didn’t sound very refined. Maybe she played the accent down when conversing with the riff-raff.
Liz looked at her watch and increased her speed almost to a jog, and then quite suddenly, she fell. She lay on the ground clutching her head. Running towards her, Hank wondered how she could have tripped; much less hurt her head, as there was nothing but grass.
‘Are you ok?’ he asked, although it was plain to see that she was not.
‘I’ve hurt my head’
She tried to raise herself.
‘No, hang on. Let me help’. He leaned down and gently lifted her. There was no weight to her. She was still rubbing the side of her head, which was now exposed, the cap having fallen off. He bent down to retrieve it. It was strange, he mused, that her shades had not fallen too with the sudden jolt of the fall.
‘What did you bang you head on?’ he queried.
‘A stone, I think. That’s what it felt like’. Hank had a look whilst picking up the cap, but as far as he could tell, there wasn’t a stone to be seen anywhere close.
‘Can you help me back to the house. Sorry. I know it’s a lot to ask, but I feel a bit faint. I’d rather have someone with me’.
They started to walk towards the house. She ruefully, he a little confused. As they approached the castle entrance, busy with tourists, Liz suddenly gripped his arm.
‘I feel faint’, and she slithered to the ground, eyes closed, limp and lifeless.
‘Oh no! Help, someone. It’s the duke’s daughter. She’s fainted’.
Within seconds everyone was grouped around, and several people started to help the girl. She appeared to come round, and looking up at the people around her, asked if they could carry her inside. Hank, aided by another, younger man, picked her up and took her into the castle.
‘ Please, just put me in that room. It’s the office. I’ll contact my father’.
They sat her down in the room, which was nothing like an office, as far as the Hank could see …not even a desk, and then thanking them both profusely, she asked to be left alone.
Out in the bright light of the sunny park, Hank decided to head back to where he’d been taking his photographs, although he might as well take a minute and photograph the front of the castle, if he could get it all in. This might be difficult. He might have to walk back a bit to get the whole building in, and a bit more, maybe a tad more… at this rate he’d be at the end of the drive. Now, that should do it.
Suddenly there was a loud crunching of tyres on gravel, and a large 4×4 appeared from behind the house.
‘Hello again! You’re too close. Want a lift to the gate? Better photo from there!’
Hank recognised the sound of the familiar voice, and saw the girl Liz, seated in the front of the vehicle, with two men in balaclavas, one of whom was standing up through the open roof, and pointing a gun at the castle entrance and everyone who was standing in front of it, including Hank. The girl laughed, and he heard her say something that sounded like ‘sorry sucker’, and then with a roar they were gone.
A crowd of onlookers assembled around him, all as shocked as he was, except that they had only witnessed a getaway. He had aided and abetted, albeit not knowingly. Now that was something to tell them back home!