The Bridewell mansion, in its day, had been a very beautiful home. It was the type of home they made paintings of for Christmas cards – grand yet homey at the same time. It was the kind of place where every American wanted to live. And it was surprisingly modest as mansions go which was part of its charm. It was large enough to leave a visitor with a feeling of awe yet small enough to be furnished. And Oh My! was it furnished well, back in its day.
But events within families get complicated when grandparents pass on and there is real estate to dispense. In these situations, there arise the inevitable disagreements, slights, insults, snubs, retributions, and what have you, which all impede the smooth transition of a mansion like the Bridewell from one set of hands to the next. The winners in such contests never come out feeling as if they have won, however. They come out feeling put upon, mainly because of the enormous debts and financial obligations which accompany winning.
Therefore, the winners almost always want to sell the ball-and-chain prizes as soon as they get them which was the case with the Bridewell. But during the time that the Bridewell was up for sale the country had entered another recession and speculation on big old mansions which needed substantial repairs and updating and which sat out in the middle of nowhere did not seem like a wise investment to its would-be buyers. So the Bridewell sat empty, unloved, and dying for way too many years. And, in time, it did die, after which the crows moved in.
The lady whose driver had stopped at Elsie’s Cafe so she could ask directions on how to find the Bridewell mansion now sat glumly in the very depths of her large black limousine. Now and then the driver would glance nervously at his employer through the rearview mirror. Her expression had not changed. It was the same scowl she had worn the entire trip. It was unsettling for the driver because it was the very scowl the judge always wore when she was about to explode into one of her famous fits of rage.
Not that her fits of rage were unusual or that the driver did not manage to deal with them, somehow, when they happened. No, that was not it. The driver was very skilled at handling the judge and knowing how best to appease her when she flew off the handle. But no matter how many times he had done it, it was still extremely stressful and uncomfortable when the judge would let go on everyone around her during one of her violent tirades. What made it especially difficult was the fact that the driver, by nature, was a sensitive and introspective man who sometimes took things to heart that he shouldn’t.
The driver was beginning to feel antsy. It had been farther around Fish Lake than he expected given waitress Doris’s directions, and Fish Lake Road was broken and rough. The judge hated getting jostled when riding anywhere. In the opinion of the judge, all cars and roads were a curse on civilization. If it was up to her she would travel nowhere that could not be reached by private jet, yacht, or helicopter which added to the mystery of why in heaven’s name “Her Honor” had insisted on visiting a dilapidated mansion at such a remote location as Jeap’s Holler. The other mystery regarding this particular trip was the fact that the judge had left her personal assistant at home—something she never did—and had traveled to this isolated place alone, except, of course, for her driver and personal security man. At about that time, Her Honor picked up the phone and pushed the intercom button to beep the driver.
“Dewey, what’s our ETA?” (Estimated Time of Arrival)
The driver ventured three seconds to calculate his answer.
“Ah, one or two minutes, Your Honor.”
“Is it one or two?”
“Be precise,” she commanded then hung up. The driver exhaled, exasperated.
The bodyguard, who also sat up front, turned to the driver with a smirk.
“Maybe you should step on it, Poindexter. You know she’s back there counting the seconds.”
“But it’s not even noon, yet,” said the driver.
“No, but you told her two minutes, Dumbass.”
Fortunately for the driver, at the next turn, as they wound around the side of a wooded hill, they came upon a split-rail fence with an apple orchard behind it. This was the driver’s clue that they had reached the edge of the Bridewell estate. Two-hundred yards further and they came to the main gate and a paved road which led around a fishing pond then bent up a wooded parkway to the house. The gate was open.
The paved road leading to the house was a wide, double-lane street, built of smooth stone cobbles and was tree lined. The street even had a painted dividing line which, by then, had faded. Still, the road was much better than Fish Lake Road from which the limo had just turned.
The limo motored slowly up the lane. Finally, it topped a rise where the road flattened and broke free of the trees onto a broad pavement from which those inside the limo had a full view of the house standing before them. There it was.
The driver whistled in wonder as he drove slowly across the pavement.
Indeed, it was still a mansion and not nearly as broken down as one might have expected given Doris’s description of it, back at the cafe.
It was three stories of graceful Georgian Architecture with dressed stone quoins, stucco, and paired windows. In front, it had an expansive oval portico supported by six doric columns, and under the portico, a wide porch stretched itself. It gave the impression of a small White House, but more elegant. The porch was bounded by a sturdy but graceful rail that floated atop an arch of supports which looked like a line of white pawns from a giant chess board. It was but two steps from the pavement to the top of the porch, and the front doors at the mansion’s entrance were carved-wood, inlayed with elegant, oval, leaded glasswork. The mansion was impressive still. But, yes, the years of neglect had taken a toll.