Zoe watched Mr. McEwan’s lapis-blue eyes light up the moment he saw the key she was holding. “I don’t imagine you’d remember how to get to the garden?”
“Not remember! No lass, if there’s one thing this old man can nae forget, it’s that garden. That wee key has been in your family for three generations.”
“So nana told me, but I never had the chance to hear the stories. Dementia stole her away from those she loved.”
Mr. McEwen set his teacup down and stood. “Well then, if you would allow me, it would be an honour to lead you to your family’s most valuable treasure.
Before Zoe could reply, her visitor left the room at a brisk pace, and she rushed to catch up with him. Thankfully, she’d grabbed the front door key as well while she was in her office. Zoe quickly locked the red door and ran down the front steps in time to see him disappear around the corner of the house. She ran and caught up with him in the middle of the rose garden.
“You’re a wee bit winded, young Zoe. Times have certainly changed since I was your age.” Mr. McEwen said as he followed the path through the roses and across the perfectly manicured back lawns toward the farthest hedge.
“That’s easy for you to say. I never dreamed you’d be able to move like that.”
“You’ve not heard of muscle memory then.”
“Of course I have, but that’s today’s terminology. I thought…”
“That I’d be toddling along at a bairn’s pace, smacking me gums!”
“No!” The image that suddenly filled her mind caused her to laugh. Her cheeks burned as the blush rushed to the very roots of her hair.
Mr. McEwen turned to look at her with his bushy grey eyebrows raised. He couldn’t maintain the facade for more than a few seconds before his deep baritone laughter joined hers.
“I have grandchildren, you know… they make sure I stay ‘relevant’ as my darling Deirdre told me with all the wisdom that an eight-year-old can muster.”
“Sounds like you’ve been blessed with a ‘mini-me.’”
“And what might that be?” He asked as he wound his way through the maze of hedges at the back of the property.
“A miniature version of yourself, Mr. McEwen.”
“I’ll have to remember that phrase.” He mumbled, as he exited the hedges and headed straight for a wall of vines. “Deirdre is definitely a chip off the old block, though she has her mother’s looks, which is a good thing. Can you imagine the wee gal with eyebrows like these?”
Zoe’s laughter seemed to bounce off the vines as she shook her head. “No, I’d say your granddaughter has the best parts of you in her personality.”
“Och, that’s kind of you, but she’s got my temper too. My daughter’s not amused.”
“Most mothers don’t find the traits their children inherit amusing. I personally think God has a massive sense of humour and likes to muddle things a bit.”
They’d come to a stop a little farther along the hanging vines that seemed to go on forever. The former employee backed up eight feet and began looking left and then right. Finally, he nodded, glanced up at the sky, and began counting his steps as he moved forward. Zoe watched in silence as he came to a stop in front of some older, thicker vines. He motioned for her, and she joined him, unsure of what he was looking at.
With one smooth movement, Mr. McEwan swept the vines to the left side, revealing an irregular stone wall. Inset was a weathered grey oak door, with a small cast-iron keyhole and large cast-iron hinges. He held out his hand and motioned for Zoe to take the key.
Once she held it in her palm, he pointed toward the keyhole. “Go on, lass, you’re the mistress of the manor now.”
“I don’t even know what that means, Mr. McEwen.”
“Your grandmother should have been the one to tell you. Life has thrown you a few boomerangs, Zoe. I’m grateful you’re allowing me to fill in for her.”
“You may have a few wrinkles on the outside, but inside I’d wager there hides a five-year-old boy still.” Zoe teased. “No, Mr. McEwen, you were my nana’s friend, and that’s who’s helping me discover the things she couldn’t tell me about or show me. I’m extremely thankful you came today.”
“What do you know about this wall and door, Zoe?” Mr. McEwan asked as he quickly wiped away a tear. “Oh, and let’s forgo the formalities. You may call me by my first name. I am called Adam.”
“If you’re sure… my parents taught me to address my elders by their last names, so I may need you to remind me.”
“Och, I can do that. You’ll be jogging my memory more than I’ll be jogging yours.” Adam’s eyes twinkled. “Now, your great-grandfather, Ethan Meir, built this wall with his own two hands. No one knows how long it took him to finish it, but the fact it’s still standing today pays tribute to his skills. Ethan was a bricklayer who knew how to make mortar the old way, without electricity or machines. He and your grandfather, Joseph Meir, worked on this door for a long time. He taught himself and the lad how to work with iron, and they forged these three hinges and the lock themselves.”
“I knew papa was good with his hands. I didn’t realize his father was before him. They spoke very little about their childhood or their parents. I didn’t think to ask. Kids have a tendency to be self-focused, and I was no exception. Nana tried to pass on her gardening skills to me.”
“Of course she did, Zoe. The women in your family line maintain the garden. Do you remember what she taught you?”
“I only remember bits and pieces. Why did Jacob and Joseph Meir build this wall and make the door? Who were they trying to keep out?”
Adam put his hand on her arm. As she turned to make eye contact, he answered. “Nay, lass, it’s not about keeping a specific person or group out. It’s about guarding what God entrusted them with and has now entrusted you with.”
“I don’t understand.”
“Open the door and find out.”
Zoe placed the tiny key inside the keyhole and turned it to the right. A slight click let her know the door had unlocked. She removed the key and handed it back to Adam for safekeeping. As she took a deep breath, Zoe noticed there was no handle on the door. Without a word, she reached out and put the palm of her right hand against the rough wood and pushed.
The old iron hinges creaked and groaned as the door swung inwards until it came to rest against an old stone flowerbed wall made of the same stones as the walls around the garden. There was a cobblestone pathway leading into the garden and winding to the left, past her field of vision. She took one step forward and then another. The little hairs stood up on the back of her neck again and the same flash of light Zoe saw on her arrival appeared ahead of her.
The sound of the door closing snapped her back to reality. She walked down the path towards the twinkle, it moved ahead and waited.
“Do you see the little twinkling light ahead of us, Adam?”
“Is it the sun playing tricks on my eyes, or does it want me to follow it?”
“Either way, we have to follow the path. There’s nothing in this garden that will ever harm you. I give you my word.”
Zoe found a measure of comfort in those words, though they were cryptic. The cobblestone path turned to the left, and as Zoe followed the curve, she felt as though she were stepping back in time and space. Every cell in her body started vibrating, and all Zoe could do was stop and stare in wonder.
She’d arrived at a fork. Ethan had placed both right and left paths in proximity to the stone walls that ran along both sides of the garden. She strained to see the far wall, but it was not visible from her current position. A middle path led the way into the heart of the garden.
“It’s as beautiful as I remember,” Adam said as he stood beside her. The path was just wide enough for the two of them.
“How is this possible? The house and outside gardens were in such a horrible state of disrepair. This garden’s obviously being carefully tended. I don’t understand.”
Adam’s rich baritone laughter ricocheted off the stone walls. “Och, this is no ordinary garden. There are many mysteries here for you to discover, and I am not at liberty to share what I know. Each generation must go through the same journey of discovery. I’ve completed my task.”
Zoe turned to face Adam. “What do you mean?”
“Here, take your key and keep it secure at all times. You are its guardian now,” he replied as he handed the small cast-iron key back to her. “My task was to show you the way to the garden, how to open the door, and lead you to this point in the path. That is all that I may do. I will take my leave and pop in at the house for a visit from time to time if that’s okay with you.”
“Of course, you’re welcome anytime, but I wanted you to show me the garden.”
“I don’t have permission to do that, lass. As you make your way through the garden, you will understand. Take good care of yourself, the manor, the property, and this place. I’ll be praying for you.” Adam leaned forward and gave her a quick peck on her right cheek before he turned and walked back to the door.
She heard the door shut and found herself alone in one of the most beautiful gardens she had ever seen. While Zoe pondered what Adam had said, she felt as though she was literally standing at a crossroads. The only option she could see was to move forward down the centre path. Zoe glanced up at the sun, which shone down in dappled dancing rays. By its position in the sky, she knew it was not yet noon. There was still plenty of time to explore.
A sense of anticipation sent tingles down her spine, and an intense wave of joy washed over her. This was unlike anything she’d experienced before. Her heart thumped loudly in her chest as she took one step and then another.