Branscombe Hall: Part Nine

This is the ninth part of a fiction serial, in 777 words.
My thanks to Sue Judd for the use of her photo.

Lord Julian Branscombe hung around just long enough to get bored of asking me out and getting turned down, as well as being bored with his supposed project of photographing every detail of his inheritance. His departure to London coincided with the news that the Paras were in action at Goose Green, outnumbered by the Argentinian troops. I knew Gregg would be there, so tried not to look at the news.

But I couldn’t help myself.

I felt sick. Eighteen killed, and sixty-four wounded. Naturally, I feared the worst. But there was no call from the military, and nobody turned up at my door with a woman or priest accompanying them. I thought they should change the rules, and also tell the wives if their husbands had survived. My dad was still upbeat, if annoying.

“You would have heard if one of them was Gregg, so don’t worry. And look on the bright side, the Argies can’t cut it, and we won the battle!” I wanted to shout at him for ignoring the deaths and injuries suffered, but I knew I should really have been shouting at Maggie Thatcher.

As usual, the Hall took my mind of the war.

In a dusty attic on the west side of the house, I found three paintings by Joshua Reynolds under an old tarpaulin. They were portraits, all dating from the seventeen-seventies, and not any I had seen catalogued previously. Lord Branscombe at the time, also called Julian, must have commissioned them as they showed him, his wife, and an older woman who might have been his mother in law. Now we were talking serious money, with the work of one of England’s most revered artists. When I told my dad, he was excited enough to drive over to look at them.

That same attic revealed one of my personal favourite finds at the hall. A religious theme on a large canvas that looked like something from the Flemish School. I could feel a tingle, as I was sure it was a Van Dyck, probably painted around the time of his famous portrait of Charles the first, in the sixteen-thirties. If authenticity could be established, it might be worth a small fortune. I was amazed that they were not hanging on the walls, and suspected the Victorian Branscombes hadn’t liked them that much. Dad shared my excitement, and immediately made a phone call to have them collected for cleaning.

One mistake I had made had been giving Julian my phone number. He started to call me at home, sometimes late at night. He was usually drunk, but sometimes sounded high, off his head on something. He would talk nonsense at me for as long as I could tolerate it before hanging up. The main reason for his calls was to invite me to London, to stay at his flat. “Alicia, my dear, London is the place for someone with your talents. You are wasting away in that rural backwater. I could introduce you to some amazing people on the art scene in the city, I really could. And Irma would look after you, maintain the proprieties, and all that”.

Reluctant to lose the job for our company, I kept making excuses that sounded plausible enough to calm him down. But the calls became so tiresome that I often resorted to leaving the phone off the hook when I went up to bed.

Dad was spending a fair bit of company money having the paintings, clocks, furniture, and porcelain checked for authenticity, and cleaned or restored where appropriate. Norma was noting down all our costs, which would be dedcuted from the eventual sale price, on top of our fifteen percent commission. I had expected Julian to haggle when he was staying at the Hall, but he never even mentioned it.

Now he was back in London, I was able to proceed without interruption, and by the end of June I had cleared out, photographed and catalogued everything from the west wing attic. I had a system in place, and was ahead of the game.

Then I had a phone call from the army.

“Mrs White, this is just to inform you that your husband Corporal White has been listed as wounded in action. He is currently receiving excellent medical care on a hospital ship and I will update you when we know more”. I must have asked him a lot of questions, but can’t remember what I said now, just what he said. As always, Dad brushed it off.

“Don’t worry darling, the army looks after its own”.

39 thoughts on “Branscombe Hall: Part Nine

  1. Hopefully Alicia can keep Julian at bay, and have Gregg return home. But, I have a feeling Gregg and Alicia’s father won’t get along and Alicia will be in the middle. I’m getting ahead of myself. This is a great serial, Pete.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. (1) Riddle:
    Q. Why did Soldier Brown paint the Goose Green?
    A. So it would lay Golden Hand Grenades.
    (2) Nobody turned up at Alicia’s door with a woman or priest accompanying them. However, a dark figure wearing a black cloak and wielding a bloody scythe tapped at the living room window. Alicia found that odd. “Has Halloween come early this year?”
    (3) By day, Thatcher insisted that she be called Margaret. But at night, as she walked through the streets of London, she dropped all formality and sang these words by Michel Berger in her best France Gall voice.
    🎵Quand le soleil se retire
    🎵Comme la mer pour une coquillage
    🎵Je m’éveille et je me tire
    🎵Et je sors de mon nuage
    🎵Appelez-moi Maggie, appelez-moi Maggie
    🎵Mon domaine c’est la nuit
    (4) Meanwhile, at the retirement home: “Now we were talking serious money. Polly Moppet had just put hotels on Boardwalk and Park Place after acquiring all the Railroads.” (Polly had a system in place, and was ahead of the game.)
    (5) Had Alicia raided Lord Branscombe’s tomb, she would have found a portrait of Lara Croft, a single woman from West Harling, Norfolk.
    (6) Alicia could feel a tingle. She was sure it was Van Dyck, as he liked to chase after married women in dark attics.
    (7) “The army looks after its own.” (General Mandible, reassuring the fighting antz)
    (8) Alicia asked the caller a lot of questions. One of them was: “Is he in the pink..? White as a ghost..?”

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Difficult to do that in England, Dorothy. They were lucky not to have to haggle over the 15% commission. (But they do have a legally-binding contract)
      Best wishes, Pete.


        1. It is normal for auction houses in England, as buyers and sellers also have to pay a government tax which is currently 20%. So the seller only gets 65% of the auction price. The buyers have to pay the auction price plus 20% tax.

          Liked by 1 person

  3. She seems quite anxious about Gregg, so she must like him more than it seemed. Seriously injured. Must be if he’s on a hospital ship. Some money would be handy. Uncatalogued paintings, Lord Branscombe already loaded….possibilities?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. She does like Gregg a great deal. She finds him very attractive, kind, and manly. But she just needs to sort out their different expectations in life. In my experience, most women think they can change men once they marry them.
      Sometimes, they succeed. 🙂
      Best wishes, Pete.


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