‘Ah. She was the proper kind. Come here as a bride, she did. Brought up her children and married them, buried her husband, had her grandchildren down in the summers, and took off in the end when she was nigh on eighty.’
Foster’s tone held warm approval.
Gwenda went back into the house smiling a little.
She interviewed the workmen, and then returned to the drawing-room where she sat down at the desk and wrote some letters. Amongst the correspondence that remained to be answered was a letter from some cousins of Giles who lived in London. Any time she wanted to come to London they begged her to come and stay with them at their house in Chelsea.
Raymond West was a well-known (rather than popular) novelist and his wife Joan, Gwenda knew, was a painter. It would be fun to go and stay with them, though probably they would think she was a most terrible Philistine. Neither Giles nor I are a bit highbrow, reflected Gwenda.
A sonorous gong boomed pontifically from the hall. Surrounded by a great deal of carved and tortured black wood, the gong had been one of Giles’s aunt’s prized possessions. Mrs Cocker herself appeared to derive distinct pleasure from sounding it and always gave full measure. Gwenda put her hands to her ears and got up.
She walked quickly across the drawing-room to the wall by the far window and then brought herself up short with an exclamation of annoyance. It was the third time she’d done that. She always seemed to expect to be able to walk through solid wall into the dining-room next door.
She went back across the room and out into the front hall and then round the angle of the drawing-room wall and so along to the dining-room. It was a long way round, and it would be annoying in winter, for the front hall was draughty and the only central heating was in the drawing-room and dining-room and two bedrooms upstairs.
I don’t see, thought Gwenda to herself as she sat down at the charming Sheraton dining table which she had just bought at vast expanse in lieu of Aunt Lavender’s massive square mahogany one, I don’t see why I shouldn’t have a doorway made through from the drawing-room to the dining-room. I’ll talk to Mr Sims about it when he comes this afternoon.
Mr Sims was the builder and decorator, a persuasive middle-aged man with a husky voice and a little notebook which he always held at the ready, to jot down any expensive idea that might occur to his patrons.
Mr Sims, when consulted, was keenly appreciative.
‘Simplest thing in the world, Mrs Reed—and a great improvement, if I may say so.’
‘Would it be very expensive?’ Gwenda was by now a little doubtful of Mr Sims’s assents and enthusiasms. There had been a little unpleasantness over various extras not included in Mr Sims’s original estimate.
‘A mere trifle,’ said Mr Sims, his husky voice indulgent and reassuring. Gwenda looked more doubtful than ever. It was Mr Sims’s trifles that she had learnt to distrust. His straightforward estimates were studiously moderate.
‘I’ll tell you what, Mrs Reed,’ said Mr Sims coaxingly, ‘I’ll get Taylor to have a look when he’s finished with the dressing-room this afternoon, and then I can give you an exact idea. Depends what the wall’s like.’
Gwenda assented. She wrote to Joan West thanking her for her invitation, but saying that she would not be leaving Dillmouth at present since she wanted to keep an eye on the workmen. Then she went out for a walk along the front and enjoyed the sea breeze. She came back into the drawing-room, and Taylor, Mr Sims’s leading workman, straightened up from the corner and greeted her with a grin.
‘Won’t be no difficulty about this, Mrs Reed,’ he said. ‘Been a door here before, there has. Somebody as didn’t want it has just had it plastered over.’
Gwenda was agreeably surprised. How extraordinary, she thought, that I’ve always seemed to feel there was a door there. She remembered the confident way she had walked to it at lunch-time. And remembering it, quite suddenly, she felt a tiny shiver of uneasiness. When you came to think of it, it was really rather odd … Why should she have felt so sure that there was a door there? There was no sign of it on the outside wall. How had she guessed—known—that there was a door just there? Of course it would be convenient to have a door through to the dining-room, but why had she always gone so unerringly to that one particular spot? Anywhere on the dividing wall would have done equally well, but she had always gone automatically, thinking of other things, to the one place where a door had actually been.
I hope, thought Gwenda uneasily, that I’m not clairvoyant or anything …
There had never been anything in the least psychic about her. She wasn’t that kind of person. Or was she? That path outside from the terrace down through the shrubbery to the lawn. Had she in some way known it was there when she was so insistent on having it made in that particular place?
Perhaps I am a bit psychic, thought Gwenda uneasily. Or is it something to do with the house?
Why had she asked Mrs Hengrave that day if the house was haunted?
It wasn’t haunted! It was a darling house! There couldn’t be anything wrong with the house. Why, Mrs Hengrave had seemed quite surprised by the idea.
Or had there been a trace of reserve, of wariness, in her manner?
Good Heavens, I’m beginning to imagine things, thought Gwenda.
She brought her mind back with an effort to her discussion with Taylor.
‘There’s one other thing,’ she added. ‘One of the cupboards in my room upstairs is stuck. I want to get it opened.’
The man came up with her and examined the door.
‘It’s been painted over more than once,’ he said. ‘I’ll get the men to get it open for you tomorrow if that will do.’
Gwenda acquiesced and Taylor went away.
That evening Gwenda felt jumpy and nervous. Sitting in the drawing-room and trying to read, she was aware of every creak of the furniture. Once or twice she looked over her shoulder and shivered. She told herself repeatedly that there was nothing in the incident of the door and the path. They were just coincidences. In any case they were the result of plain common sense.
Without admitting it to herself, she felt nervous of going up to bed. When she finally got up and turned off the lights and opened the door into the hall, she found herself dreading to go up the stairs. She almost ran up them in her haste, hurried along the passage and opened the door of her room. Once inside she at once felt her fears calmed and appeased. She looked round the room affectionately. She felt safe in here, safe and happy. Yes, now she was here, she was safe. (Safe from what, you idiot? she asked herself.) She looked at her pyjamas spread out on the bed and her bedroom slippers below them.
Really, Gwenda, you might be six years old! You ought to have bunny shoes, with rabbits on them.
She got into bed with a sense of relief and was soon asleep.
The next morning she had various matters to see to in the town. When she came back it was lunch-time.
‘The men have got the cupboard open in your bedroom, madam,’ said Mrs Cocker as she brought in the delicately fried sole, the mashed potatoes and the creamed carrots.
‘Oh good,’ said Gwenda.
She was hungry and enjoyed her lunch. After having coffee in the drawing-room, she went upstairs to her bedroom. Crossing the room she pulled open the door of the corner cupboard.
Then she uttered a sudden frightened little cry and stood staring.
The inside of the cupboard revealed the original papering of the wall, which elsewhere had been done over in the yellowish wall paint. The room had once been gaily papered in a floral design, a design of little bunches of scarlet poppies alternating with bunches of blue cornflowers …
Gwenda stood there staring a long time, then she went shakily over to the bed and sat down on it.
Here she was in a house she had never been in before, in a country she had never visited—and only two days ago she had lain in bed imagining a paper for this very room—and the paper she had imagined corresponded exactly with the paper that had once hung on the walls.
Wild fragments of explanation whirled round in her head. Dunne, Experiment with Time—seeing forward instead of back …
She could explain the garden path and the connecting door as coincidence—but there couldn’t be coincidence about this. You couldn’t conceivably imagine a wallpaper of such a distinctive design and then find one exactly as you had imagined it … No, there was some explanation that eluded her and that—yes, frightened her. Every now and then she was seeing, not forward, but back—back to some former state of the house. Any moment she might see something more—something she didn’t want to see … The house frightened her … But was it the house or herself? She didn’t want to be one of those people who saw things …
She drew a long breath, put on her hat and coat and slipped quickly out of the house. At the post office she sent the following telegram:
West, 19 Addway Square Chelsea London. May I change my mind and come to you tomorrow Gwenda.
She sent it reply paid.
CHAPTER 3 (#ulink_4afc9839-88a3-5347-8a14-982a5dcc60cd)
‘Cover Her Face …’ (#ulink_4afc9839-88a3-5347-8a14-982a5dcc60cd)
Raymond West and his wife did all they could to make young Giles’s wife feel welcome. It was not their fault that Gwenda found them secretly rather alarming. Raymond, with his odd appearance, rather like a pouncing raven, his sweep of hair and his sudden crescendos of quite incomprehensible conversation, left Gwenda round-eyed and nervous. Both he and Joan seemed to talk a language of their own. Gwenda had never been plunged in a highbrow atmosphere before and practically all its terms were strange.