Who was the man who lived next door? Rumour had it that it was a sour old man who wanted to keep to himself.

Fred had moved in with his parents to a new house in Willows Lane. It was a pretty little house. There was a tiny garden out in the front, in which grew a tall apple tree. Fred was happy with the house. He had a room all to himself and a nice clean road where he could ride his bicycle. during the holidays.

There was a large red house by the side of Fred’s house. It had huge windows that were always shut. Nobody seemed to live there. Fred had never seen anyone go in or out, not even a housemaid.

Mysterious stranger

“Who lives in that house?” Fred asked his mother one day.

“An old man lives there by himself,” said Mother. “The maid told me that he is a sour old man who keeps to himself. Now, don’t meddle with him.”

One day, Fred’s mate Damson came over to play ball. As Damson threw the ball up, it sailed high over the wall and fell into the old man’s garden.

“You had better go and get it,” said Fred.

“I will not,” said Damson. “It is your neighbour’s house. You go and ask them for the ball.”

Fred was thoughtful as he walked towards the old man’s house. “Maybe Damson is right. We should know our neighbours well. But why don’t we?” he thought to himself.

Rather timidly, Fred walked up to the front door and rang the bell. Nobody answered. He rang the bell again and waited. There was a rather dusty window near the door. Fred wiped the dust away and peeped in. Nobody seemed to be around.

“Guess I will have to pick up the ball and leave quietly,” he thought.

A few days later, Fred was riding his cycle past the red house when he heard a voice from one of the windows upstairs. He looked up and saw an old man. The old man beckoned to him. Fred remembered his mother’s warning.

He parked his bicycle near the gate and walked up to the front door. The old man threw something from his window. It appeared like a bunch of keys.

“What do you want?” asked Fred looking up.

The old man signalled to him to use the keys and open the front door and to come upstairs.

Fred picked up the keys and opened the front door. The door opened with a creaking sound. Quietly, Fred stepped into the house. The house smelt musty and damp. Fred found a staircase that would take him upstairs. With his heart beating fast, he climbed the stairs.

On the top of the stairs was a room. He saw the old man in a wheelchair by the window.

“I live next door,” said Fred. “I am sorry I picked up the ball without your permission. I…”

“I know you,” said the old man. “I often watch you play when I sit by the window. Your name is Fred and your friend’s name is Damson, is it not? I have heard you shout each other’s names.”

“How amazing!” said Fred. “But do you live by yourself? Where are your children?”

“I have no children,” said the old man. “I lost my wife a few years ago. When I fought in the war. I lost my leg and have been sitting in a wheelchair since then.”

“You are so friendly,” said Fred. “I heard people say you are a sour…oops, sorry. I didn’t mean to…”

“That is quite all right,” smiled the old man. “People tell tales all the time. I do not mind.”

“Why is the house so dirty?” asked Fred. “A maid can clean up for you.”

“I don’t have the money to employ a maid,” said the old man. “I have money just to buy food and milk for myself.”

“Fred! Fred!”

“That is my mother calling. She must be wondering where I am.” said Fred. “I shall come back another day.”

That night, during supper Fred told his parents everything.

“I feel very sorry for him, Daddy,” said Fred. “He is so pathetic sitting there all by himself. Can you believe it; he does not have enough money to buy food!”

“We shall do something about it,” said Father.

The next morning Fred, and his parents went around to the old man’s house. The old man threw the key down when he saw Fred. Father and Mother had a look at the house and a long talk with the old man.

“You have done a great service for our country,” finished Father. “We countrymen should do something in return. So we are going to take you to our own house. You shall live with us as Fred’s grandpa.”

The old man was happy to hear this suggestion. He agreed.

“What about this house?” asked Mother. “It cannot remain shut.”

“I will give it to our country,” said the old man. “That will be my service to my country, would it not, Fred?”

“Yes, Grandpa,” said Fred.