‘Well, I hardly know about that …’ Mr Penderley was dubious. ‘He had a stroke last year. His faculties are sadly impaired. He’s over eighty, you know.’
‘Does he live in Dillmouth?’
‘Oh yes. At Calcutta Lodge. A very nice little property on the Seaton road. But I really don’t think—’
‘It’s rather a forlorn hope,’ said Giles to Gwenda. ‘But you never know. I don’t think we’ll write. We’ll go there together and exert our personality.’
Calcutta Lodge was surrounded by a neat trim garden, and the sitting-room into which they were shown was also neat if slightly overcrowded. It smelt of beeswax and Ronuk. Its brasses shone. Its windows were heavily festooned.
A thin middle-aged woman with suspicious eyes came into the room.
Giles explained himself quickly, and the expression of one who expects to have a vacuum cleaner pushed at her left Miss Galbraith’s face.
‘I’m sorry, but I really don’t think I can help you,’ she said. ‘It’s so long ago, isn’t it?’
‘One does sometimes remember things,’ said Gwenda.
‘Of course I shouldn’t know anything myself. I never had any connection with the business. A Major Halliday, you said? No, I never remember coming across anyone in Dillmouth of that name.’
‘Your father might remember, perhaps,’ said Gwenda.
‘Father?’ Miss Galbraith shook her head. ‘He doesn’t take much notice nowadays, and his memory’s very shaky.’
Gwenda’s eyes were resting thoughtfully on a Benares brass table and they shifted to a procession of ebony elephants marching along the mantelpiece.
‘I thought he might remember, perhaps,’ she said, ‘because my father had just come from India. Your house is called Calcutta Lodge?’
She paused interrogatively.
‘Yes,’ said Miss Galbraith. ‘Father was out in Calcutta for a time. In business there. Then the war came and in 1920 he came into the firm here, but would have liked to go back, he always says. But my mother didn’t fancy foreign parts—and of course you can’t say the climate’s really healthy. Well, I don’t know—perhaps you’d like to see my father. I don’t know that it’s one of his good days—’
She led them into a small black study. Here, propped up in a big shabby leather chair sat an old gentleman with a white walrus moustache. His face was pulled slightly sideways. He eyed Gwenda with distinct approval as his daughter made the introductions.
‘Memory’s not what it used to be,’ he said in a rather indistinct voice. ‘Halliday, you say? No, I don’t remember the name. Knew a boy at school in Yorkshire—but that’s seventy-odd years ago.’
‘He rented Hillside, we think,’ said Giles.
‘Hillside? Was it called Hillside then?’ Mr Galbraith’s one movable eyelid snapped shut and open. ‘Findeyson lived there. Fine woman.’
‘My father might have rented it furnished … He’d just come from India.’
‘India? India, d’you say? Remember a fellow—Army man. Knew that old rascal Mohammed Hassan who cheated me over some carpets. Had a young wife—and a baby—little girl.’
‘That was me,’ said Gwenda firmly.
‘In—deed—you don’t say so! Well, well, time flies. Now what was his name? Wanted a place furnished—yes—Mrs Findeyson had been ordered to Egypt or some such place for the winter—all tomfoolery. Now what was his name?’
‘Halliday,’ said Gwenda.
‘That’s right, my dear—Halliday. Major Halliday. Nice fellow. Very pretty wife—quite young—fair-haired, wanted to be near her people or something like that. Yes, very pretty.’
‘Who were her people?’
‘No idea at all. No idea. You don’t look like her.’
Gwenda nearly said, ‘She was only my stepmother,’ but refrained from complicating the issue. She said, ‘What did she look like?’
Unexpectedly Mr Galbraith replied: ‘Looked worried. That’s what she looked, worried. Yes, very nice fellow, that Major chap. Interested to hear I’d been out in Calcutta. Not like these chaps that have never been out of England. Narrow—that’s what they are. Now I’ve seen the world. What was his name, that Army chap—wanted a furnished house?’
He was like a very old gramophone, repeating a worn record.
‘St Catherine’s. That’s it. Took St Catherine’s—six guineas a week—while Mrs Findeyson was in Egypt. Died there, poor soul. House was put up for auction—who bought it now? Elworthys—that’s it—pack of women—sisters. Changed the name—said St Catherine’s was Popish. Very down on anything Popish—Used to send out tracts. Plain women, all of ’em—Took an interest in natives—Sent ’em out trousers and bibles. Very strong on converting the heathen.’