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Which Way to the Manor?

Chapter 1

As England is full of customs and traditions, it is also full of history and lore. Now that I find myself living in the United States, rarely do I get a chance to talk of my native country, except of course when someone notices my accent and asks me where I'm from and I tell them that I'm from England and then they ask me what it's like. Good question.

It's rather hard to explain. I mean, I've lived in the United States now for two years and I wouldn't really know how to describe my adopted country--noisy? friendly? violent? full of crazy drivers? Full of crazy drivers who don't know the correct side of the road to drive on? All of the above is true of the States of course, but the trick to living here is that you really should keep those kind of views to yourself. I made the mistake of sharing my views with a rather boisterous New Yorker and needless to say, some serious words were passed around that day. Last thing I remember I was some sort of Irish commie with a thing for female Dalmatians.

Please, don't get me wrong. The fact is I love living in the States, but every once in a while I miss my homeland. And I love talking about it, thought how to describe it is something entirely different. You see, the England where I grew up, will, more to the point, the family I grew up with was never a "typical" English family. I define typical as father, mother, sister, brother, and maybe a dog. Well, in that respect, my family was very typical. Except when I was around fifteen my parents were defected to a country called, Sirian-Cooter, or was it a planet?

Anyway, after my fifteenth birthday my sister and I were raised by our Uncle Horace in a less fashionable part of London. This didn't stop my sister from climbing the social ladder and marry a well-to-do son in a farming industry family. I have always been somewhat dramatic myself and came to well, sort of proprietor, sort of manager of a small theater company in London. However, this is all background information to the story I'm going to tell. It's a story about how I met my future wife and the mysterious circumstances that surrounded her when we met.

First, I should introduce the Bradstreets. No, it is not my family by birth, but it is my family by marriage (my sister's, to be precise). They're actually quite extraordinary, and as my American wife says, extremely eccentric (but then, so is my wife). Of course, I'm the protagonist in the story. I hope you don't mind, but then, well, I guess you really don't have any choice. My name is Ralph Hampton.

It all started back in England on the Bradstreet estate, Hatchett.

Hatchett is located in the southern part of England in Hampshire. It is a pretty place with a beautiful climate. Hatchett had been in the Bradstreet family for at least seven generations. It was won in a beer drinking contest by Severson "Salty" Bradstreet, a buccaneer and part-time barrister. He won it off of Henry Smith, who became lord and was neither a buccaneer nor a barrister, but a hated member of the aristocracy. He wasn't hated by commoners or anything like that, but was hated by the other landowners in the area simply because they didn't like him. Apparently, he didn't wash too often and smelled bad, so no one wanted to go near him. Anyway, Severson "Salty" Bradstreet won the estate from Lord Henry, much to the relief of the other land owners. Of course, Severson didn't bathe much more than Lord Henry, but since he was a sailor and stayed on his ship most of the time, he was less likely to smell up the place.

Not that there was much to the Hatchett estate at the time. There was a lot of land to it, but there was no house, no buildings, or structures, just a lot of land with trees. Salty's son, Cleveland Bradstreet, put up a shack on the land, only to have it burn down. It was his own fault. He lit a fire in the middle of the shack and the walls caught on fire. If he had a chimney, it probably wouldn't have burnt down, but there you have it. He repeatedly rebuilt the structure, only to have it burn down. He kept forgetting to put in a fireplace. It is folklore in the area that if mysterious smoke is scene over Hatchett, it is known as Cleveland's Fire. His son was Gerald Bradstreet, a tinker. He lived in a much sturdier structure at Hatchett--a barrel. Of course, it wasn't very big, and he did get a back cramp from it quite often, but that was the beginning of the lofty estate called Hatchett.

Gerald had seven sons who managed to build a seven room farmhouse on the site. It fell down soon after. Finally, one of the sons who went into masonry put up the front part of what is now Hatchet manor. His son and grandson added the east and west wings along with the stables and any other structures found on the estate today.

My younger sister, Hillary Hampton, married a Bradstreet, William H. Bradstreet. I have no idea what the H. stands for, but my guess is half-wit. But I have to admit, my sister is no gem either. Don't get me wrong, she is not mean or spiteful; well, maybe she is a little spiteful, but she is usually very generous, except when she's thinking about herself.

For example, she always has to match her outfits with her car. She always asks Bradstreet ahead of time what car they will be taking for a picnic, or a banquet, etc.

I remember when I once asked her why she had to match the car, she said to make sure she matched the car in case they run into photographers. The minute she stepped out of the car they started shooting. I have never seen Hillary ever being photographed by a photographer, so I'm not sure when or where this would happen. She said she would simply hate to be caught clashing with the car. I told her to take the black Rolls, that way, she could wear almost anything. She said it wasn't as simple as that and gave me some sort of trigonometric equation to prove it. Though women are still a mystery to most men, they broke the mold when they made my sister.

As for Bradstreet, though he could seem to be bizarre in his taste, he really is an okay chap. He is the kind of man you would invite to a pub, and everyone would be rolling on the floor within an hour listening to some of his yarns. I remember one about his Uncle Otis, who used to own a cheese/dairy factory.

The story goes something like this:

One day, a new employee was having trouble milking one of the cows. Uncle Otis wasn't much of a farm-hand himself, and when he went to look at the cow, he put on an act as if he knew exactly what he was doing. So he sat down on the stool alongside the cow, and tried to milk it. He couldn't get anything out of it either. So he went ahead and put an "out of order" sign around the cow's neck, only to find out later that it was a bull he was trying to milk. His employees never looked the same at him again, neither did the bull.

Though Bradstreet may seem like an ordinary guy, he does have one fault, well, actually two. The first is that he is extremely dim-witted. The second is that he is extremely dim-witted. I know I sound redundant, but I want to get my point across that my brother-in-law is no brain surgeon. His only universe is himself and rarely does he venture out of it.

Because I was a poor struggling director around the time of my sister's marriage to Bradstreet, they allowed me to stay with them until I could get back on my feet. This could be taken literally because I had just broken my leg and was walking with the aid of crutches.

(Believe it or not, I broke my leg by falling out of a car. It wasn't moving or anything like. I had just parked it and was getting out, when apparently my leg was in a funny position and I fell out of the car, twisting my leg around the steering wheel. The doctor said that if the steering wheel hadn't been in my way, my leg would have been fine.)

The only other dweller in the house was Bradstreet's Uncle, Robert Bradstreet. As his memory was going, he often told us tales of other people's lives, however, he told us they had happened to him. So, not surprisingly, he led the exploration to the new world, got caught up in the crusades, met Rasputin, was king of England twice, led the invasion of Normandy, helped to bring about the end of the French Revolution, and yet, had time to do some beekeeping on the side. He truly led an amazing life. So, you can see, we are not dealing with ordinary people.