We stood inside the entrance hall of Brierwell Manor, water dripping off us and pooling at our feet. We were both shivering with cold and shock.
It was hard to make much out in the gloom but the hall seemed vast. I could heard the wind driving the rain against the windows and plants moving wildly outside. In the close distance the sea was mounting an attack on the island. Large, powerful waves were hitting against the rocky sides and splashing up into the gardens.
I slide off King’s back and took him to the first open door along the right wall. He followed me slowly, perhaps limping a little. It was too dark for me to see if he was hurt or if he was just tried.
‘We need to get warm and dry,’ I said quietly but still my voice echoed in the abandoned manor, ‘let’s try in here and hope we can find some blankets. Or something…’
I went through the large door and King squeezed himself in behind me. I let go of the reins and felt across the walls either side of the door frame. I guess this was more of an automatic response on entering a dark room.
My fingers came across the switch and I flicked it up. Surprisingly, light flicked on above. It was a dim glow as if the bulb was going but at least we were no longer in darkness. The room was large parlour, suitable for greeting a big family of guests. The windows were mucky glass and boarded from the outside so I couldn’t see through them. The walls were bare dirty plaster and there was a scattering of dust covered rugs on the floor.
A number of armchairs and tables were placed before a fireplace in the wall to my left opposite the windows. Rubbish was piled about; some of it from the builders, others from people who had been staying here. There were food and drink containers and other items that people had abandoned here.
Squatters were unlikely to have been camping here because it was too far out so it must have been local teenagers or adults. Maybe, they had become homeless or they had just used this place as a break from normal life?
‘We can make a fire,’ I pointed out to King.
I dropped his reins and hurried to the fireplace. Taking off the riding helmet and protective vest, I got busy stacking wood on top of the ash pile all ready there. The wood looked like it was broken from furniture and there was paper torn out of books to help start the flames.
‘We need matches or….’
An orange lighter was on the rug before me as if someone had tossed it to me from the shadowy corner. I scooped it up, pulled open the lid then flicked my thumb over the little metal wheels. Praying a spark and flame would appear, I kept at it.
‘No, it wouldn’t work,’ I cried and threw the lighter away.
I heard King stamp his foot and moved around the room as the sound of the lighter bouncing off the wall spooked him a little.
Scrambling around, I searched for anything else that would help me. There was a lot of rubbish, butts of cigarettes and half burnt things. I found another lighter but it was metal and mostly rusted.
My breath misted before me, I was shaking like crazy and I could feel the cold in my bones. I took off my wet clothes, stripping to just my vest and underwear. I hung my clothes, boots and socks across two armchairs, in the hopes they would dry out a bit. It would help I released on many levels not to having anything on.
I recalled my mobile phone out of the blue and swearing, scrambled for the inside pocket of my fleece. Pulling out the small phone, I saw it was off and and tried to turn it on.
‘I guess it got too wet. I need to dry it out,’ I uttered, trying to hold back tears.
Putting the phone of the seat of the chair with my clothes on, I stared at it as I tried to think what to do. Maybe, there’d be no signal here anyway? Perhaps, a rescue team was all ready on the way? My parents must have seen the time and the arriving storm. When they released I hadn’t come back they must have gone and do something to help me.
A blast of wind sent a chill through me and I needed to move again.
I went over to King and took his saddle off. The rug underneath was dripping wet and like me, I knew he’d be more comfortable not to have any of the tack on. I placed the saddle and rug on the back of another chair and then took his reins off. The leather was all wet and dark.
Once free, King seemed lighter. He stood for a few moments then moved around the room, brushing against everything as if he was looking for something.
‘We need some towels or blankets or curtains….anything dry we can cover up in.’
I didn’t want to tug my boot back on, so I went barefooted out of the room. The sense that it was dangerous to do so filled me. What if I stepped on something sharp or cut my foot open on broken glass?
With shuffling steps, I searched the entrance walls for a light switch and found a panel full. I flipped up all the switches and some of the lights came on. The space was has large as I had first thought with a grand staircase before me. It was all made of wood with tall pillars topped with pine cone statues or something very close to it.
I could see many doors leading away and as I moved over to them, I almost stumbled over a pair of worn and plaster covered workmen’s boots.
‘That’s lucky!’ I cried and easy put them on.
I was a size seven and these must have been tens or elevens. They were like clown shoes on my feet and I had to be careful not to trip but at least my feet were safe now.
I explored the rooms and found that like the parlour, some of them had been lived in. Others though were totally blank and waiting like an artist’s canvas to be decorated upon. It was hard to know what each room’s intention had been but I had little time to think about such things.
I found some sleeping bags and took the ones that looked clearer and less damp. I dumped them back in the parlour, unzipped two of them and used the first to dry down King.
He was too quiet for my liking but I could see no blood, cuts or bruises. It was properly cold and shock. I talked softly to him, words tripping out of my mouth till I didn’t know what I saying. King calmed under my hands and voice and the gentle padded sleeping bag towel. I made sure he was as dry as possible before putting the second sleeping bag on top of him as I would his own quilted horse coat.
Unzipping a third sleeping bag, I wrapped it around me and sat on the edge of an armchair until I felt warm again and no longer numb.
‘At lest we have shelter and are getting warmer,’ I said aloud, ‘I’m hungry though….’
I hugged my stomach and listened to it growling. I doubted there was anything edible here but I wanted to look anyway.
Keeping wrapped in the open sleeping bag, I searched the room. I cleared all the rubbish into a corner, giving King a safe place to be in. The last thing we need was him to step on anything sharp.
Next, I carried on explore the manor. In the kitchen which had been turned into something like a 1940’s farmhouse style set up, I found a wicker basket which would be good for carrying things in. There were some rust tins that I didn’t like the look of but maybe the food would still be okay? I put them, a bakelite tin opener and a metal fork and spoon into the basket.
I searched around the fireplace which had been used to burn what looked like a table. There was a box of matches with three left inside on the floor next to a poker. I picked both of this up and went back to the room I had claimed.
Striking one of the matches, I carefully held it against a crumbled book page and once it took, placed that against some smaller bits of wood. It took the longest few minutes ever but then a steady fire appeared. I warmed myself close to the flames, feeling the tingle of coldness leaving my fingers.
I added some more wood in the fireplace then calculated I’d need to find more. I went back to the kitchen took the remains of the table out of that fireplace and brought it to my one. Then taking the wicker basket once more, I searched for more wood and paper or anything else to burn.
I found some books but didn’t have the heart to burn them. Perhaps, they’d help to pass the time? I found a pan to either cook food in or collect water. As that thought came to me I realised how thirsty I was.
Turning on the kitchen tap I listened to the gargling and pumping of pipes. There was a splutter and brown water dropped out. I turned the tap fuller, hoping it would clear. The water came from a natural spring and hopefully it was still safe to drink.
Leaving the tap and trying not to think about how thirsty I now was, I searched the rest of the kitchen and found a few rusty knifes and a broken chair which I could add to my firewood pile. Then I turned back to the water and saw it was clear. Crying out in happiness, I rushed over and put my face under the small waterfall.
I scooped handfuls into my mouth and felt so much better. The ting of sea salt lingered against the insides of my cheeks and my throat. A small cut on my bottom lip stung. The cold, fresh water cleaned the salt and dryness way. I washed my face and hands then used the edge of the sleeping bag to dry off on.
In any large containers I could find, I collected water for King and myself then went back to the parlour.
To Be Continued…