Emily received some strange looks and frowns from the people she passed as she walked across the graveled drive towards the front entrance of Westbury Hall. She could appreciate their confusion. It was closing time for the stately home and the last of the visitors were being politely ushered out of the building, yet she was heading inside. What’s more, she’d been invited. She had a job to do.
An elderly lady stood in the porch smiling and nodding as she held the door open for those departing the property. Most of them seemed in no hurry to leave, stopping to make comments to the woman, thanking her for a lovely visit and so on. Emily waited patiently, allowing the patrons to leave before attempting to get in. When the staff member—most likely a volunteer, Emily thought—caught sight of her, she gave her a polite nod of acknowledgment.
Finally, the last of Westbury Hall’s visitors moved out, leaving Emily free to enter. Climbing the single stone step to the threshold of the front porch, she took the hand that had already been offered to her.
Shaking Emily’s hand with a surprising firmness, the woman said, “You must be Miss Stone.” Her smart appearance and the intelligence in her eyes indicated that despite her advancing age, she was far from past it, “I’m Mrs. Thompson, house supervisor.”
“I am,” replied Emily, dropping her hand back to her side, “but please, call me Emily. It’s lovely to meet you. So, house supervisor? Do you live on site?” Not a volunteer, then, but a paid member of staff.
Indicating Emily should step inside the entrance hall, Mrs. Thompson proceeded to close and lock the porch and front doors of the house, securing them in.
“I do,” the older woman said, turning back to face Emily, “I have rooms in a separate building just off the back of this one. So you needn’t worry about me disturbing you.”
“Oh no,” said Emily, worried she’d inadvertently rubbed Mrs. Thompson up the wrong way, “I didn’t mean that. I was just curious, that’s all. You’re more than welcome to see me at work, Mrs. Thompson, although I’m afraid you won’t see anything terribly exciting.”
Mrs. Thompson smiled now, the warmth reaching her eyes. Emily almost sagged with relief. She’d yet to see the extent of the work she had to do, but she’d been told it was no easy task, so she could be here for some time. The last thing she needed was to upset any of the staff.
“Oh, you’d be surprised, my dear. This is a fascinating old place. Of course, all these old houses have history, but Westbury Hall’s is particularly rich.”
Emily smiled. The woman’s enthusiasm was infectious. “Well then,” she replied, “I can’t wait to learn more about it. I hope you’ll feed me some historical tidbits throughout the time I’m here?”
Mrs. Thompson gave an enigmatic smile. Then, startling Emily somewhat, she turned smartly on her heel and walked deeper into the house. “Come, my dear, I won’t hold you up any longer. I’ll show you to the library, where you’ll soon start uncovering Westbury’s illustrious history for yourself.”