The front door is on the latch; a voice calls us in.
Mr Woodruff is sitting in an ornately carved chair ready to go, a little travel bag of things by his sandaled feet, his walking stick propped up between his legs, hands draped over the top.
Mrs Woodruff shuffles in from the kitchen wiping her hands on a dishcloth.
‘Lovely! You were quick. Caught me on the hop, actually. Just a minute whilst I get my face on.’
She disappears out back again.
Mr Woodruff smiles at us.
‘Yep. Always, these days.’
‘Sorry to call you out like this, but I’ve become so weak these past few days, I didn’t think I’d make it into a taxi, let alone out of it the other end. And the wife doesn’t drive...’
‘Not to worry.’
He hands us a letter from the GP; I read all about his condition, whilst Rae goes off to get the carry chair.
It’s all pretty straightforward. I fold the letter back up and put it in my pocket.
‘Don’t lose it, will you?’ he says.
I pat the pocket.
I feel his pulse and give him the once over.
‘How are you feeling now, Mr Woodruff?’
‘I’ve been better.’
Rae comes back with the chair.
‘Here comes the cavalry,’ says Mr Woodruff.
‘I like your paintings,’ says Rae, opening the chair next to him and laying out the blanket.
A group of three in heavy gilt frames. Through a muted fog of smoke damage and craquelure, you can just make out the subjects: hunting scenes, for the most part. Strange, elongated horses stretching out in mid-air, muscular sight-hounds bounding along with flaring eyes and teeth; a stag crashing through ferns.
‘I found them,’ says Mr Woodruff. ‘When we moved in.’
‘What do you mean, found them?’
‘We’d just bought the place – I’m talking fifty years ago, now. Course, the first thing you do when you move in is change it all round to suit yourself. It was all a bit of a wreck when we took it on, but I didn’t mind, I’ve always been quite handy. So I stripped it right back to the nubbins. It was all pretty good and sound, but I like to start with a blank canvas, you know? Anyway, I was just marking out some plaster board for the ceiling when I dropped my pencil and saw it roll along and drop through a gap in the floorboards. When I looked a bit closer, I found out it wasn’t so much of a gap as the edge of a little trapdoor – why I hadn’t noticed it before I’ve no idea. I suppose if you’re not expecting something you don’t often see it. Anyway, it was all nailed shut, but I forced it open and at the bottom of a little run of steps was this secret room under the floor – not so much an attic as a little hidey-hole, if you follow. And in this hidey-hole was a whole load of stuff. Those paintings and a few more, a box of porcelain and silverware, this chair I’m sitting on now, a real Aladdin’s cave. Some of it I sold over the years, but some I couldn’t part with. Strange, isn’t it?’
Mrs Woodruff comes back into the room.‘Ready?’ she says.