Admittedly, the Old Webster Place wasn’t much to look at as yet. And nothing drove that point home more than the exterior of the house, which was painted red, but not the right red, rather an unseemly red that hinted unpleasantly of black.
“Never mind that for now,” said Ms. Smith-Jones.
The house was long and narrow with everything attached in the New England tradition known as “big house, little house, back house, barn,” allowing the old farming families to tend the livestock in the barn without having to go outdoors during the winter storms that blew regularly down from Canada, often unexpectedly, and with a ferocity that could hardly be imagined on this mild June afternoon. A farmer or his wife could lose his or her way just going out to milk the cows—and not be found until Spring! A lot had changed in the two centuries since the first Webster’s established their home there. The climate was warmer, for one. But the traditional architecture still held and appeal.
“I think the barn will make a wonderful attached studio,” mused Ms. Smith-Jones, who loved painting and convenience in equal amounts.
Mr. Smith-Jones was relieved to hear this as he had all along coveted the wide but narrow room at the front of the house for his study.
The Smith-Joneses had come to this northern New England village from the Midwest to take teaching jobs at a university not twenty minutes’ drive south. They had rented a sabbatical house on a six months’ lease. And since first arriving in June they had walked through every house for sale in the county. But the Old Webster Place kept drawing them back, even when it became obvious that everything from the cellar to the roof needed leveling, resetting, and resurfacing—but what old house did not?
The Smith-Joneses choose to overlook the crumbling foundation on the south east corner, the large stain on the ceiling in the back bedroom, even the shower of mouse droppings that rained down on their estate agent’s head when she pulled open the attic hatch, a nineteen fifties addition with a fold-down stair. Oh, the house had been changed over and over again! But it spoke to the family in a language that only they seemed to understand. The house had been sitting on the market without a single nibble ever since old Mr. Ernest Webster, aged ninety nine, died in his sleep over five years back. Even the estate agent had asked “Are you sure?” as they’d trudged up the rotting cellar stairs after having just poked at the charred evidence of past fire damage on an ancient trunk of oak that seemed to be the sole structural element holding up the northern corner of the house.
But the family was sure—surer than sure—and so a reasonable “as is” offer was made and accepted without counter by the current owner who was the only surviving relative of old Mr. Ernest Webster, a great nephew who lived in another state. The nephew was a young man who just wanted to realize his inheritance into cash, and with as little bother to himself as possible. He had gladly agreed to the Smith-Joneses terms, which asked for conveyance of what was left of the contents of house, the furniture, books, yellowed photographs and the like. The house itself was two stories high but Ms. Smith-Jones guessed that it came with countless more stories of the historical, tall-tale, and perhaps even true variety, all of which she hoped to tease out from the bric-a-brac left behind by centuries of Websters.
It might even have a ghost.