The taxi turned round in the turning circle and sped off in a cloud of dust- there as clearly some urgent sitting next to the station to be done. I admired the main facade, cleanly elegant and Classical inspiration, apart from the bow window, which lent a suburban air to the whole. Off to the left was a stable block, now a car park and junk yard. I looked back at the facade to determine which entrance to approach: the large, multi-paned door with a portico in the centre, or the small door off to the side. The main door looked unused, so I went to the other. I tried the doorbell, with no audible effect, and then knocked on the door. I heard the sound of barking approach, interspersed with shouts, and befre long there were a pair of dogs swirling around in the doorway, leaping and barking in excitement. "Oh shut up, Bugger! Shut up, Rugger!", the approaching woman scolded, pausing for breath after every few steps. She was middle-aged, dressed in a faded brown housecoat and Wellington boots. She peered out at me and then started to unlock and unlatch the door.
"Hallo there! You're the archive chap?"
I said I was, and asked if the Shelons were home. She snorted and shrugged.
"Sorry, forgot to say- I'm Margaret Sheldon. Follow me through- we're just having tea".
I stepped in, pushing the door to behind me, and fended the dogs away from my legs with my bags. We shuffled down a stone-flagged passage and into a high-ceilinged room at the back of the house. An electric fire singed the air. Margaret called out.
"Charles- here's that fellow- move the dogs".
Charles, sat in a decrepit winged chair, turned and rose, kicked a dog from his feet. "Ah, Mr Williams, Derek, is it?". We shook hands and he looked around for a chair. "Good to see you. The Trust grant came through, then?"
"Yes, Mr Sheldon- I believe they wrote to you?"
Charles' vague denial was countermanded by Margaret, who told him clearly that the letter had arrived, and that indeed it was a result of it that I was expected.
"Sorry about the mess- in the winter, we more or less live in here. The other rooms get too cold. You would have thought it might have crossed someone's mind that translating a building style from southern Italy to England might have had some serious disadvantages!"
Margaret sorted out the tea things on a tray, much interrupted by the need to toss snacks to the digs.
"There's just us here today- the children are out and about- you'll meet them soon enough. But I suppose you'll want to get on with looking at the papers?"
I said I did, but ended up listening anyway to a long and disjointed discussion of forthcoming social events, not helped by the participants' use of nicknames and poor grasp of dates and places. But eventually Margaret broke off to show me up to the bedroom they'd sorted out for me, at the top of the house.