"You know there's ghosts there."
"Um," Tanda said with polite disinterest. The old man had stopped clipping his hedge took out a pouch of tobacco, forming a rollup with expert speed and efficiency. He licked the paper and stuck it in his mouth, patting his pockets for a light. She searched for something to say, some way to escape, but she was tired and her brain refused to yield up a good lie.
"Oh yes," he said with deep satisfaction. "You don't know the story of course, not being from round here. It was in the papers." He found matches and lit up, blowing the smoke up over the hedge, where it was lost on the breeze.
"Was it? Look I've..."
"Front page," the old man said. "Twenty years ago. Course, maybe you weren't born? Or toddling maybe. You wouldn't know."
"Guess not. Nice meeting..."
"A young girl it was. Same as yourself. Shame. Want to hear what she did?"
Tanda, who'd been preparing for a story about a girl her age being killed, found she was actually vaguely interested. The girl did something. She wasn't done to - she'd done. The old man's voice was nice too, soft. She liked the way he spoke, his funny accent, up and down like poetry. The old man carried on regardless.
"She killed her babby. Threw it down the stairs," the old man said. Tanda found she was more shocked by the way his eyes lit up when he said this, like the spark glowing at the end of his rollup. He was enjoying himself.
"Seriously?" she said.
"Oh yes, not a word of a lie. Course, she..."
"She was from a home. Brought up without parents. How's she supposed to know how to take care of a babby? I hear it crying sometimes."
"You do?" Tanda repressed a shiver. It was all nonsense, of course, but the old man's glittering eyes caught her and held her in place. The wind blew in the branches above her head and a gull took off, calling out in its harsh bark, sounding as if it was laughing at her.
"Everyone does. There's not a person who's walked past here late at night who hasn't." Tanda doubted that, or she would have heard the story before now. It struck her that the old man could be making the whole thing up. Maybe he was the town loony, and everyone else knew to keep away. He caught the scepticism in her expression and ground out his rollup in the muddy grass, turning away.
"Old houses have old stories. Everyone knows that," he said.
"But that story's not that old," Tanda objected.
"No, but there's another," he smiled to have caught her out. "That's why it happened. Why that young girl killed her babby. Because of the other."
"Well, this is going back a long while. Back in the seventeenth century. Still, water under the bridge. You should go have a look at that bridge sometime. Very pretty spot, lovely view."
"Bridge?" Tanda asked. This was more like it.
"At the end of the property. There's a footpath there that'll take you down to the river. You got a dog?"
"Nice walk, for a dog," he said vaguely. His eyes had lost their spark and he picked up his clippers again. He was moving slower, seemed older and frailer now. Mad, or dementia, Tanda decided, and felt pity.
"Well, I have to go," she said. "Nice meeting you."
"Bye," he said, not even looking her way.