“Yes,” Anna’s eyes widened when she looked at the short stubby man standing in the doorway looking her way. Who was that?
“Patrick has been delayed, but my pony cart is outside. Can give you a ride to your uncles.” He took his corncob pipe out of his mouth and tapped it in an ashtray. “My name is Mr. Smyth.”
“Thank you. I would appreciate the lift,” Anna shifted her heavy suitcase to the other hand before she followed Mr. Smyth towards the front door.
“Mrs. Sullivan sent baking, so she doesn’t have to go hike up the mountain side in the morning. So come along.”
The front door creaked behind Anna as she followed him out. A stocky black pony stood patiently waiting with the reins loose on the cart. There were a few old trucks and cars parked along the narrow empty street. They passed white cottages with window boxes containing Geraniums, Ivy and Baby’s breath that trailed over the sides. There were white picket fences in front of each cottage with neat veggie gardens close to the front doors. A few faces peered out windows as they drove past. They rode along in silence listening to the creaking wheels and the tap-tap of the pony’s hoofs on the cobbled road. In a few minutes, they started to climb the narrow winding road past velvety green pastures dotted with goats and sheep. The sky was a mixture of blue, mauve and pink as they climbed higher. Even though Anna had been a child the last time, she came here, nothing had changed. Everything was as Anna remembered. Anna’s thoughts were interrupted by Mr. Smyth’s voice. “There is a sharp turn in the road ahead so best hang on.”
Anna gripped the side of the cart as the pony abruptly pranced around a sharp turn past a thick row of willows. There in front of them was her great Uncles’s cottage half submerged in the hillside. The thatched roof almost disappeared into the green hillside. Mr. Smyth guided the pony through the archway covered in red roses, filling the air with fragrance. The sturdy little cottage built out of hay bales covered with thick layers of plaster blended into the hillside. Anna’s thoughts wandered back to the last time she had been here helping prune the roses which were Great Uncle Henry’s pride and joy. They formed a dense hedge covered with red blossoms filling the air with a sweet fragrance. The sound of a dog barking brought Anna out of her daydream. Great Uncle Henry sat on the step with a black and white border collie by his side. It hadn’t changed since she last saw it and felt like like time stood still. What a contrast between the modern bustling city Anna left two days ago, and this quaint little cottage tucked into the side of the hillside. It was what a lot of people called living off the grid. As they turned the last corner, Anna noticed the solar panels on the roof surrounded by wildflowers and grass. So he had gone modern after all.
“Well, Lass here you are at long last.” Great Uncle Henry stood up leaning heavily on his cane. “You must be hungry. I made mutton stew.”
“There is a large basket of bread and pastries from Mrs. Sullivan,” Anna leaped down from the cart and retrieved her luggage and basket.
“Good, good. Bring your things inside.” Great Uncle Henry motioned towards the open doorway. “Set everything inside and sort it later. I was waiting for your arrival and haven’t eaten yet.”
Anna stacked her suitcases and overnight bag in the small entryway that lead into the kitchen and a small sitting room. She followed Great Uncle Henry into the cozy sparsely furnished kitchen.
The white wood-burning stove stood against one wall with open shelves above for dishes, and a variety of pots and pans hung from the exposed wooden beams above the stove within arms reach. Clusters of herbs, garlic and onion hung nearby. Anna hadn’t realized how hungry she was until she smelled the stew that made her mouth water. The small oak table in the middle of the room was set for two. The white bowls were placed on green plates with wooden salad bowls in front. A pitcher of lemonade was in the middle of the table alongside a cream pitcher, sugar bowl, salt and pepper shakers and cutlery in a glass jar. A bowl of salad was in the middle of the table beside a basket of sliced homemade bread. Anna’s mind drifted as she glanced around the room for a few minutes. Anna glanced at the loft ladder in the little alcove. Floor to ceiling bookcases were crammed with books. She had loved cuddling in the overstuffed burgundy chair, on rainy days, in front of the bookcases. The sound of Great Uncle Henry’s voice disrupted Anna’s daydream.
“What happened to Patrick?” Great Uncle Henry asked.
“He had to help his father. By the looks of that pile of luggage, it was my cart that was needed after all. The lad didn’t forget. He fetched me, though,” Mr. Smyth turned towards the door as he prepared to leave. “The Mrs. will have supper on the table, so best be going. See you all later.”
“Come, come, my dear. Supper will get cold,” Great Uncle Henry took the white soup taurine, full of stew, off the warming shelf above the stove.
“It smells delicious,” Anna pulled off her blue jean jacket before slipping onto the bench behind the table.
“So, young girls wear pants these days, do they?” Great Uncle Henry ladled stew into the white bowls.
“Not at work but for traveling and every day,” Anna buttered a piece of bread.
They ate in silence the only sound was the clicking of silverware on bowls. Great Uncle Henry’s dog wagged his tail creating a slight breeze.
They were nearly finished their meal when Great Uncle Henry commented. “Well, guess I can agree to that.” He mopped up the gravy with a piece of bread before he lit his pipe. “Hope you don’t mind. It’s one of my few pleasures. Doc doesn’t agree though and thinks I should quit. At my age, I figure I might as well enjoy what I can.”
He puffed on his pipe for a few minutes while they visited. He knocked his pipe on the ashtray as the conversation continued while they cleared the table. They did dishes in silence the only noise was the clattering of dishes and cutlery. When they were finished it was impossible to see anything outside because it was a black as tar out there. When the dishes were put away Great Uncle Henry settled down in the living room with his paper. Anna started to take her luggage into the loft. After several trips, Anna stacked everything near the built in dresser under the eaves. She looked around the cozy room that had a window looking out over the yard and mountain beyond. The back of the cottage was like a cave with thick plaster covering hay bales. The room was cool in summer and warm in winter.