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Jacob's Journey by Julie Ann Hathway



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Book details

Title: Jacob's Journey
Genre: Fantasy
Format: Paperback
ISBN: 978-1904976-02-8
Price: £8.99 plus postage
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Synopsis

Julie Ann Hathway

The old manor house at Maebury has lain empty for almost half a century, its secrets hidden from the world. Within the ruins, the library, largely undisturbed by the passage of time, holds the key to exciting adventures across time and spatial borders; secrets that can only be unlocked if the house is once again inhabited by a family with a young child who has the courage and determination to take up the challenge.

Until then, Percy, the elderly gardener who knows all the manor’s secrets, waits patiently, hoping that someone will inherit his powers before he dies.

Then a prospective buyer arrives with his wife and their son - a twelve-year-old called Jacob. Will he be the boy who can fulfil old Percy’s hopes?

Extract

Jacob's JourneyFor the first time in many years the sparkle was returning to Percy’s pale blue eyes: eyes that in childhood had always reflected happiness and excitement. And then, before his childhood years had drawn to a close, those same eyes had reflected loss, grief and despair. Someone special had been snatched from his life and his world had fallen apart.

But Maebury Manor remained as a constant reminder of the tragedy.

Once it had been a place of great beauty; a dwelling filled with happy laughter and the joyous sound of children’s voices. One of those voices had been Percy’s when he played there as a young boy. Then disaster struck. Not just for him but for the family who lived in the manor. They never recovered from the shock and eventually moved away leaving their possessions and bad memories behind. But Percy could not escape and, as time healed the wounds, he realised escape was never possible. There were still things he had to do.

For most of his life he watched as the manor house decayed. Its former splendour gradually dimmed as it was left to fall, stone by stone, battered by the cruel winds and harsh rain; left alone, year upon year, to crumble until it was little more than a ruin.

Only the gardens and one particular room in the house survived the decimating effects of neglect. Shortly after the owners left, Percy and his father took it upon themselves to tend the grounds of the Manor, enhancing its beauty with splashes of colour whenever the flowers erupted in bloom. And the room – a room that had special meaning for Percy - survived the ravages of decay because they had sealed and boarded the window and door to protect the contents from the elements.

And that’s how they stayed for almost half a century until a man came to look around the old manor house with a view to buying and restoring the property.

On his first visit, he was accompanied by his wife and a man dressed in dirty jeans, a torn - and equally dirty - crew-necked pullover, and boots encrusted in cement. Percy, half-hidden behind a garden wall, leaned upon his hoe and peered from under his wrinkled brow, watching intently as they walked round the grounds. He picked up snatches of their conversation and moved closer; close enough to hear more without actually showing himself. When they reached what remained of the buildings, he could tell the woman was clearly unimpressed.

“Do you honestly think, Matthew, that we can turn this into a home?” she said, glaring scornfully at the house.

“My dear,” her husband replied, “you have to look past what you see now and imagine what it will be like when it is rebuilt. Picture it as it was in its heyday.”

“You must have a better bloody imagination than me then. For God’s sake, Matt, look at it … it’s a ruin!”

Ashton put his arm round her shoulders and pulled her close to him. “Look, darling, the grounds are massive and the whole place is going for a song. When it’s all done up we’ll have a place we can stay for the rest of our lives.”

Looking at her, he knew she wasn’t convinced. Her words confirmed it. “It’s going to cost a small fortune. And what if the builders hit major snags? We could end up owning the biggest white elephant in this part of the country.”

Ashton smiled at her. “That’s precisely why I brought Ted along. He’s the restoration expert. If he says it’s no go, then it’s no go. Okay?”

“Well I hope you can trust him,” she said reticently.

“Trust Ted?” Ashton replied. “Of course I do. He’s got more building knowledge in his little finger than the County Council have in the whole of their planning department.”

Ted, meanwhile, had walked away from them and was now studying the building at close quarters, occasionally tapping the stonework with a small trowel. When he wasn’t tapping, he was scratching his head, showering more cement dust, or dandruff, onto the ground.

“I dunno, Mr Ashton,” he said as they approached. “It’s not good.”

“What did I tell you?” Mrs Ashton rebuked quietly in her husband’s ear.

“Shush, darling. Let’s wait until he’s checked everything.” Then to Ted, “What’s not good, Ted?”

Ted stood back and gazed up at the higher levels, again scratching and showering more grey dust. “This stonework’s poor, Mr Ashton. I’d be afeared o’ that lot coming down.”

“But surely it can be made good,” Ashton asserted, pitifully demonstrating his total lack of building knowledge.

“Dunno ’bout that,” Ted said. Then he crouched and poked in the ground at the foot of the wall. “An’ look at this.”

Ashton had no idea what he was looking at but commented appropriately, “Ah, yes. I see. Jolly good.”

Ted looked at him dubiously. “I don’t know what you’s seen, Mr Ashton. What worries me is what you can’t see.”

“Can’t see …?”

“Yep! Can’t see. Foundations … that’s what you can’t see. Dunno how the planners will view that. Them’s miserable barrrrstards at the best of times.” He rolled his tongue round the silent R as venomous thoughts passed through his mind. Then he stood and quickly walked round the corner.

The Ashtons hurried after him.

“That’s queer,” he was muttering when they caught up.

“It is?” Ashton said. “What?”

“I spect this must be a window,” Ted replied as though he hadn’t heard Ashton’s question. Then he produced a large screwdriver from somewhere in the depths of his overalls and started to prize away the boarding that was nailed over the suspected window. Minutes later, the board crashed to the ground revealing a leaded window with small glass panes that had not passed light for many years. Ted rubbed away the dirt on one pane with the cuff of his jumper and peered inside.

“What can you see?” Ashton asked.

Ted ignored him for some seconds but eventually turned to pronounce, “Nothing! It’s pitch black in there.”

“So what made you say it was queer?” Ashton asked curiously. “What’s so queer about it?”

Ted looked at him impatiently. “T’other window frames have either gone completely or they’re almost rotted away. But this was the only one that was boarded over. Why? That’s what I want to know.”

“Why, indeed,” Ashton mused.

“Only one way to find out,” Ted said as he scurried round to the front of the house.

The heavy oak entrance door was barely hanging from one of its hinges but the wood was still solid, though grey from years of non-treatment. Ted pushed, but it did not yield until he applied his shoulder and a considerable amount of laboured muscle. Eventually he opened it wide enough to pass and they went inside.

Mrs Ashton shuddered as she surveyed the rotted furniture in the entrance hall and screamed when a rat scurried across the floor, simultaneously grabbing her husband’s arm in panic. “I’ve seen enough, Matthew, ” she said angrily, “I’m out of here.”

“No, wait,” Ashton said, holding her back. “Let’s see what Ted has found.”

Ted was again putting the screwdriver to good use on another section of boarding, this time door-sized. The board soon clattered to the stone-tiled floor and revealed a dark mahogany door; one that appeared to have withstood the passage of time better than any of the furniture in the deserted house. The hinges creaked as Ted levered it open and, producing a small torch, he stepped inside.

“Good God!” they heard him mutter.

“What is it?” Ashton enquired.

“Come an’ see fer yerself,” came the answer.

Mrs Ashton resisted at first but her husband coaxed her through the doorway and they followed the beam of Ted’s torch as it played around a very large room stacked floor to ceiling with shelves of ancient books. About fifteen feet above the floor a balcony ran round all four walls accessed by a tall set of steps mounted on a wheeled trolley. At one end, they could just make out a small spiral staircase that wound its way up to an even higher level.

Ashton walked to the first rack and picked a book off the shelf, blowing it to move dust and cobwebs collected over many years. He studied the gold-embossed leather-bound cover and then picked up another, again blowing it free of its dusty crust. “M-y G-o-d,” he muttered slowly.

In the dim light, Mrs Ashton missed the gleam in his eyes so she didn’t share his excitement. “Come on, Matthew. Let’s get out of here,” she said irritably.

Ashton ignored her and turned to Ted. “Why do you think someone would go to so much trouble to hide this room?” he asked.

“Beyond me,” was Ted’s cursory and unhelpful reply.

With that, Ashton replaced the books and guided his wife back to the hall. “That does it for me,” he said.

She smiled and her eyes said ‘thank goodness’ but his next words left her stunned.

“I’m buying the place,” he announced.

“But what about Ted’s doubts,” she protested.

Ashton stormed out of the main entrance then stopped on the drive and faced his wife. “Ted’s doubts? What does that idiot know about building? I’m buying the place, and that’s final.”

*

Weeks after those words introduced, for Mrs Ashton, grave doubts about her husband’s sanity and their future together, a number of trucks converged on the ruins of Maebury Manor. Scaffolding was soon erected and men of various trades set about their business.

Percy continued to tend the gardens as the work progressed, watching as a long-faded memory emerged slowly from the skeletal remains. As his hoe toiled the earth, distant recollections flooded back: the sounds of excitement, the taste of adventure, and the magic. And he wondered if any of it would be given a chance to return. Would the new owners have children of their own? Children who could take over where he had left off.

After many months of slow, meticulous work the Manor finally stood proud again. Its grandeur shone through, as it had all those years before, and Percy’s eyes lit up in hope and expectation.

*

One hazy spring morning, Percy looked up from his planting and watched as a large car crawled slowly up the drive, its tyres crunching on the gravel. It drew up outside the front entrance and a man and woman got out. Percy recognised them instantly but was a little disappointed to see they were alone.

The man saw Percy and beckoned him over. “Hello there, I’m Matthew Ashton, the new owner,” he said proudly. “I understand you’ve been looking after the grounds for quite a few years.”

Percy nodded.

“Then I would like you to carry on doing just that,” Ashton continued. He steered Percy around the garden. It was abundantly clear how much work the old man had put in and he didn’t want to lose his services. “I’ll pay you a good wage to stay on,” he said. “Agreed?”

In Percy’s mind, there was no question of how much he would be paid. He had worked for many years without pay because of his love and affinity for Maebury Manor so any payment was a bonus. “Agreed,” he answered without hesitation.

“Splendid,” Ashton said, stretching his right hand towards the frail old man. “What do I call you, by the way?”

“My name’s Veering, sir … Percy Veering.”

Ashton gave him a questioning glare, for a moment unsure that he had heard correctly.

Percy smiled, not for the first time in his life. “My parents had a wicked sense of humour,” he explained simply.

Ashton quickly recovered his composure and laughed. “Brilliant. Brilliant. Just two things. I will call you Percy and you call me Mr Ashton. None of this ‘sir’ nonsense. Agreed?”

Again Percy nodded.

“Fine. Now come and meet my family.”

They strolled back to the car where Mrs Ashton was leaning against the bonnet admiring the magnificent house she had never previously been able to envisage. She turned and smiled as they approached.

“Darling,” Ashton said, “this is Percy who has agreed to stay on as our gardener. Percy, this is Mrs Ashton … the new lady of the manor, so to speak.”

Mrs Ashton smiled sweetly and held out a delicate hand. Percy took it in his own and shook it tenderly. “Pleased to meet you, Ma’am,” he muttered.

Ashton interrupted the greeting. “Where is that boy?” he questioned irritably, then he raised his voice and shouted, “Jacob!”

At that instant, the rear door of the car opened and a boy of about twelve stepped out. “I’m here, father. What did you want?”

Ashton did not answer his son’s question, preferring instead to excuse his behaviour. “His whole damned life revolves around his bloody PlayStation.” He glared at Mrs Ashton. “God knows what possessed me to be persuaded we should have a games console fitted in the back of the car.” Then he smiled ingratiatingly. “A multimedia system, I believe they call it.”

Percy leaned forward and shook the boy’s hand. He had bright eyes that implied a sense of adventure. This was good. Perhaps he would be the one, Percy thought to himself. “Pleased to meet you, Jacob,” he said, still shaking the boy’s hand vigorously; remembering the past and hoping against hope that his prayers might be answered.

Ashton senior jolted him back to the present. “Percy, will you join us in the kitchen for a cup of tea?” he asked. Then he had second thoughts. “No, damn it. We can do better than tea. We will christen our new abode with champagne.”

He ushered Percy and Jacob towards the front door and he and his wife followed, hand in hand. As they walked, she whispered in his ear, “He seems like a nice old boy. And servile too. I like that.”

Matthew Ashton turned his head sideways and glared at her. Sometimes she rose above her station, he thought. No, not just sometimes. Far too often!


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Rowland McKenzie
Ellie Bowdery
Julie Hathway
Mike Carver
Karen Boliver