“I’ll leave you to it then, Mrs.” Mrs Scratch lingered at the back door. “You will look after them flowers, won’t you, Mrs?”
She nodded at the kitchen table. Tabitha smiled. “Yes, I will. It was such a lovely touch. To brighten up my first day in the new home.”
“Are you sure, Mrs?” Mrs Scratch looked troubled. “Are you sure you don’t want to come back into the village with me? I hear the Red Lion’s got some lovely rooms.”
Tabitha laughed. “Now, why would I want to stay in a country pub – no matter how lovely it may be – when I’ve got this entire manor house to myself? You’ve been brilliant, truly. But I’d like to be left to get on with it, if you don’t mind. Get settled in, get my bearings, you know how it is.”
Mrs Scratch chewed her lower lip. “I’ll be back in the morning, Mrs. I’ll bring milk and bread from the village.”
“There’s no need, honestly.”
“We looks out for each other in these parts. It’s only neighbourly.”
“I didn’t mean to offend but –” Tabitha was cut off by the sound of a thump overhead. Both women looked at the kitchen ceiling.
“Oh, Mrs, I’m begging you! Come back with me! You can have my sofa if the pub ain’t to your liking.”
“Nonsense! It was probably just a box falling over. The removal men weren’t exactly fastidious.”
Tabitha marched across the room and held the back door. “Goodnight, Mrs Scratch.”
Mrs Scratch shook her head, her lips pursed like a cat’s backside. But she left, limping down the path. Tabitha shut and bolted the door. Daft old boot – well-meaning, she supposed, but Tabitha had no time, for superstitious claptrap. She had heard the stories connected with the old building, stories of brutal murders, people kicked to death, the killer uncaught – the stories had worked in her favour; the house was surely worth much more than she had paid for it. There had been other potential buyers but they had all pulled out after seeing the place. More fool them, thought Tabitha, sipping the tea Mrs Scratch had made. They had missed out on the bargain of a lifetime. And now the place was all hers, to get down to finally writing that novel she’d been thinking of for years.
Tabitha spent a couple of hours, straightening things out in the master bedroom. It was not long before she was ready to turn in. In the morning, she would stroll down to the village, have a look around, fetch her own milk and bread. Perhaps a spot of lunch in the ‘lovely’ Red Lion…
The door opened with a creak. Startled, Tabitha sat up in bed, holding her breath. She felt foolish. These old places, they all had their quirks, their strange noises; she just needed to get used to them. She lay down, amused by her jumpiness.
Something was there! In the room with her! Tabitha froze.
It was getting closer. It was approaching the bed!
Thump! Thump! Thump! It was slowly advancing.
Tabitha sat up, clutching the bedclothes to her chin. She thought about reaching for the bedside lamp but remembered she had yet to unpack it.
Thump! Thump-thump! Thump-thump-thump!
The next morning, Mrs Scratch let herself in via the front door. “Cooee!” she called up the main staircase. “It’s only me, Mrs.”
She listened. There was no answer. Smiling to herself, Mrs Scratch moved through to the kitchen and placed her wicker basket on the table. She lowered herself onto a stool, feeling the familiar twinge of her prosthetic leg.
Before long, there was a thump-thump-thump down the stairs.
“In you come, my darling,” Mrs Scratch cooed, as a disembodied foot hopped into the room. “There ain’t nobody going to take over this place while there’s still breath in my body.”
She used a tea towel to clean the blood from its toes, before kissing the foot and placing it lovingly in the basket.
“This place will be ours again, afore long,” she vowed with a chuckle. “Ain’t that the kicker!”