It was a dark and stormy night. Really. The pouring rain had subsided, but a steady drizzle fell and the old trees swayed in the wind as I pulled my car around the circular driveway and parked in front of the mansion.
I left Ace in the car and walked up to the front door. As soon I knocked — as if the scene was being scripted by a horror movie director — a crack of thunder rattled the night sky.
Slowly, the door creaked open.
The lady of the manor greeted me warmly, invited me in and introduced me to the lord.
“This,” she said, “is Lord Barkley.”
Lord Barkley is short in stature, with stubby legs and a proud stance. He eyed me warily, keeping his distance — standing still but ever so slightly pushing his nose in my direction, as if to get a tiny whiff of me, but not my total essence.
Clearly, he was the cautious type. Ever so slowly he approached me, his thick and fluffy, well-groomed hair – black, white and brown – flouncing with his gingerly steps. I held out my hand, and he gave me a fuller sniffing, seeming particularly interested in my left shoe.
He opted to stay upstairs as his lady showed me to what will be home base for Ace and me for a few months during this latest leg of our travels: the basement — or as the homeowner calls it, the wine cellar — of a stately old mansion in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.
It’s a large room, with kitchen and living area, the centerpiece of which is big wood-burning stove, with a bedroom and bathroom and wine cellar off to the side. A fire was burning in the stove and a plate of brownies sat atop the extra-wide kitchen counter, which was built with wood salvaged from a burned-down house.
The TV doesn’t work, or the refrigerator, but those are minor details which, I’m assured, will be rectified in due time.
Details about our host, for now, shall remain vague – at least until I set up some ground rules with her. Just because I’m exposing my life, and Ace’s, as I recount our continuing travels doesn’t give me the right to, without some permissions, expose hers. This ain’t no Motel 6, and etiquette – we are in the south now – demands I show some restraint. One needs manners in the manor. I’m sure ya’ll understand.
Back upstairs – no, please, after you — the lady of the manor gave me a quick tour, showing me some of her most prized possessions. Then she encouraged me to bring Ace inside to meet Lord Barkley, something I had hoped to put off until the next day given the possibility of him tracking mud onto carpets, especially after learning at least one of them was a gift from Middle Eastern royalty.
Ace was eager to enter, and I attempted to keep him on a short leash. Lord Barkley looked at him long and hard, a slightly surprised look on his face. He cautiously approached and, as he had done with me, gave him a slight sniff at first – as if at a wine tasting — followed by deeper sniffing.
His lordship — and 8-year-old Sheltie — remained totally calm about it all, his tail wagging rhythmically. He seemed unbothered by a strange dog entering a domain in which he has been the sole canine inhabitant, and where he, on the days the maid comes, enjoys breakfast in bed with his master.
Ace, who is used to smaller dogs excitedly jumping all over him, seemed to appreciate Lord Barkley’s sedate nature, and while I think he was eager to explore every nook and cranny of the mansion, Ace sat mostly still and behaved well.
In the weeks ahead we’ll be telling you more about Lord Barkley, his owner, and our cellar-dwelling lifestyle. For now though, the first thing we need to shine a light on is our living space, which, being underground, stays fairly dim. As a result, Ace and I – both normally early risers – are finding ourselves sleeping in. An alarm clock might be a good investment.
Still, those are minor details. As for the most major one – whether Ace and Lord Barkley would hit it off – I think they have. Both being calm and gentle types, I think they’re destined to become good friends during our days in the mansion.
My only worry is that Ace might start expecting breakfast in bed, too