The ad read, simply:
Domestic Help Wanted.
Room and board provided.
Wage commensurate with experience.
What caught her eye was the address which was somewhere in England. She sighed, scanned the rest of the ads which were nothing but pure dreck, paused to sip at the tea she didn’t want but had to purchase for the privilege of sitting in the coffee shop, and flipped back to the only ad that appealed.
England. Dream on! She had six years of experience as a chambermaid, having worked in a cheap motel, but well knew such training to be very limited. She harboured no illusions about being qualified to work someplace fancy. Besides, she couldn’t afford the air fare. For that matter, she couldn’t even afford to pay her rent. Twelve more days and she and her few mean belongings would be out on the street.
Unwillingly, she found her eyes drawn back to the phone number. Would it hurt to call? Would it matter? She smiled, humourlessly. Hardly. Soon she wouldn’t have a phone. Besides, who was she kidding? She well knew her interest was borne of a desire to escape, to flee to some place that sounded romantic and exotic only because it was far away. She had seen pictures of English cities on television. They looked every bit as dull and hopeless as downtown anytown, anywhere else.
Turning to look outside to see if the rain was still coming down in slanting torrents, she was caught at once by the reflection of a complete stranger. Was that really herself? that pale, tired-looking girl whose despair-bruised features stared back at her with large, brown, desperate eyes? Who would hire that thing? Confidence was what got hired . . . confidence and strength, two commodities she didn’t possess. And that unruly tangle of tight, dark curls! She turned away, feeling an habitual bitterness towards the jest of God that was her life. ‘Even my name,’ she mused. ‘Pamela Dee. It sounds like I’ve got an initial for a last name. That’s what happens when your parents never wanted you. You’re left with no identity, no future . . . ’
That was unjust, but had the appearance of truth from where she stood. Her parents had split up when she was very small. A few years later, when she was going on four, her mother had taken her to a shopping mall and abandoned her, and like her father had never been heard from again.
What followed was a nightmare succession of orphanages, foster homes, group homes, and finally, living on the streets. But it could have been worse. Odd jobs had saved her from total despair, from drugs and alcohol, from having to sell her body as many girls in her situation resorted to. By the time she was twelve she got a job doing laundry in a cheap motel, the Skylark Motor Inn, and there she had stayed for six years until the owner suddenly died.
That was last month, almost to the day. She sighed, thinking of the crusty old lady she had worked for. In the six years they had known each other, they had hardly exchanged more than a dozen words. Yet for all her cantankerousness, the woman had fed her and given her a job, and for the first while a place to live. That was the closest thing to kindness Pamela had ever experienced.
And now, like her parents, the old lady, too, was no more than a memory.
Pamela tossed back the last of her cold tea, folded the paper, stuffed it into her coat pocket and steeled herself to make the twelve block journey back to her flat through the driving, numbing, November downpour.
The cold wind was merciless, sending its chilling, invasive fingers probing through her threadbare, inadequate clothing. Within the space of a block she was soaked to the skin and shivering miserably. Few would have tolerated such discomfort, but comfort was as much a stranger to her as kindness. From long habit she plunged ahead doggedly, thinking only of the relative warmth of her tiny apartment and the few days left ahead of her when she would still have a warm bed to sleep in.
And after that?
But Pamela’s mind didn’t work that way. To preserve herself she lived in the moment, with the future a dull guess that would be dealt with some other day when it arrived. If it arrived.
A number of times she passed by groups of street people standing around rusted steel barrels with yellow flames licking at their interiors, illuminating sallow faces and needy eyes, lending warmth to outstretched hands. Glittering ominously in the firelight, their eyes followed her incuriously, drawn by movement. Instinctively she avoided them, picking up her pace, knowing that they were more unpredictable on evenings like this, that shared misery often sought a common outlet, sometimes kindling without warning into sudden violence; most often venting itself upon an innocent bystander, someone unsuspecting who had strayed into their midst entirely by chance; someone who normally was and felt safe in their company.
She tried to tell herself that the rain was good for at least one thing, that it washed away that stale, sour smell of old garbage and urine; but right now, bad smells were preferable to mind-numbing discomfort and the feeling that she was not safe.
By the time she reached the small brownstone apartment building she was giddy with cold and past the point of shivering. Her thighs were soon aching dully as she mounted the three steep, narrow flights of stairs, which she navigated more by feel and from memory than by sight; the stairwell was very dim, lighted only from high above the top landing by the grimy remnant of an ancient chandelier. From the moment she entered the building, her senses were assaulted with the musty, damp smell and the closeness of the place, things which, though offensive to most, to her meant home, safety, security. Things no one else wanted always felt safe to her, be they a place to live, a few mean belongings, even the odd stray cat she’d fed.
She mused for a moment on stray cats to divert her attention from her aching legs. You could never make a pet out of a stray: you fed them, cared for them, but in a way that was both guilty and one-sided. The animals couldn’t be approached, let alone petted. They came only because they were hungry and left the moment they’d eaten. Once you’d fed one, you had to keep on feeding it to avoid the guilty thought of the poor unloved creature going hungry, perhaps and very probably starving to death. But it was more than that. She knew, without examining such a thought too closely that she empathised with their plight. And somewhere, in her heart of hearts, she knew that their fate, their lot in life, was her own.
The air in her flat was uncomfortably cool, damp and stuffy, but her attention was soon diverted to other matters of more pressing importance. There was no mail on the floor. Her pleas for employment had gone unanswered. The lack of such paper litter on the floor made her feel momentarily empty inside, a feeling like that of all the Christmases she had spent as a child, alone, unloved and forgotten. For a long moment it felt as though she were staring at some yawning gulf rather than the floor. Taking off her coat and shoes did nothing to improve her mood. One of the sleeves of her jacket badly needed mending and the soles of her shoes were beginning to separate. Even if she managed to land a job, what was she going to do about clothes and an apartment? It was highly unlikely that anyone would give her the sizable advance she would need just to get started. No, they would take someone with new clothes, with a look of confidence, someone self-reliant and bright like a brand-new penny, who would ask for nothing, who would need nothing.
‘Shut up!’ Trying to block out her own thoughts, she put her hand over her ears, feeling as though she were about to begin screaming uncontrollably. ‘Shut up, shut up!’ Forcing herself into motion, she began peeling off her wet things. Shivering in the cool air, she went into the bathroom and started the bath.
There was no hot water.
Cursing, almost weeping in frustration, she went to her kitchenette, got out four battered aluminum pots, and began heating water.
An hour and a half later, she lay in the lap of warmth, and therefore, to her mind at least, luxury, letting the heat soak into her body, rebuild her flagging reserves of confidence and hope. By degrees her thoughts turned back to the ad she had read. ‘It’s probably long gone already,’ she told herself, reasoning that by the time the ad appeared in the paper, some local back in England would already have heard or read about it and snapped it up. But thoughts of it kept niggling at her, teasing her with unrealistic thoughts of hope and escape, adventure and romance, of . . .
And there she stopped. She suddenly remembered a dream she used to have, a recurring fantasy, a sort of wish-fulfilment, where she lived in some far-off place, with a man she didn’t know. His features were unknown to her, but she knew certain things about him. He was tall, solidly built, very wide across the shoulders, taper-waisted and strong. He was dark, confident, and . . . frightening. Daunting. Sometimes terrifying. He was a fair bit older than herself, worldly, towering over her in every way. And she feared him. Yet the fear itself attracted her; it was desirable, in a way that eluded her-
Stop! That’s enough! Stop torturing me!
Suddenly, she found that her mind was made up. She was going to call the number, if only to stop her own mind from tormenting her with unrealistic nonsense. She was in no position to waste time in idle daydreaming or fantasizing. And she was so bloody sick of life’s uncertainty! She would put the matter to rest, now, once and for all. She got out of the bath and began drying herself.
Staring at the phone number for a moment, she suddenly blinked. No area code? It seemed to be a local number. No wonder the first three digits appeared familiar. Hesitantly, her heart pounding for no discernable reason, she began dialling . . .
With an angry moan she slammed the receiver back into its cradle. Why was she so nervous? You’d think she was about to walk a tightrope between two skyscrapers or something! Swallowing, taking a deep breath, she picked up the receiver and began dialling once more . . .
It was a woman’s voice. Amazingly, that one word conveyed a great deal. Class. Status. Education. Refinement. It was unmistakably British, and not the sort of voice belonging to an employee. Pamela swore to herself mentally as all confidence deserted her. It was obviously someone’s home and not an agency of some sort. Business people she had learned to talk to but family people made her feel very uncomfortable, like a lowly, unwelcome, uninvited intruder. ‘Sorry, I seem to have got a wrong number.’ She was about to replace the receiver when the woman spoke again.
‘Are you calling about the ad in the paper?’
‘The one about the job in England, yes.’ There was now no doubt whatever in her mind but that she would be asked for qualifications she didn’t have, so she quickly added, to get it over with, ‘I haven’t worked any place really nice . . . just . . . just the cheap motel I’ve been working at for the last six years.’
‘That long?’ There was an unmistakeable smile in the voice. ‘You sound very young. How old are you, if you don’t mind my asking? And what is your current situation?’
‘I . . . I’m eighteen, and my situation is that I’m unemployed.’
Again that unmistakable smile in the voice. ‘I gathered that, in light of the fact that you are calling, seeking employment. But what I meant was, are you married? living at home? have you any children? That sort of thing.’
Pamela was silent a moment. She had none of these things. The woman would think she was worthless when she told her. Worthless, poor, of no consequence. Wanting a quick end to this conversation, she blurted out the truth in a flat monotone.
‘I live alone. I have no family. I don’t have anyone. I . . . I’m sorry . . . this is just wasting your time-’
‘Wait! Don’t hang up! Now listen, young lady, that is exactly what I wanted to hear. I’m looking for someone with no ties, who can pick up and move at a moment’s notice. Someone who isn’t going to become suicidally homesick after a single fortnight has passed-’
‘But I don’t know anything about fancy houses, or how I’m supposed to act, or anything,’ Pamela said, wondering what a “fortnight” was.
‘Well,’ the woman said, and chuckled, a good-natured, throaty sound, ‘if it happens that you end up working for me, we’ll soon put that to rights. And by the way, our little abode is in Yorkshire, as in Yorkshire pudding.’
‘Where is Yorkshire?’ Pamela asked, never having heard of Yorkshire pudding, either. ‘Is that in Europe or something?’
Again that throaty chuckle. ‘My dear, you are a delight! You North Americans are so brave about admitting ignorance. My late husband would have died rather than admit to the fact that he didn’t know everything and anything. Now, when and where can I meet you? Is tomorrow evening convenient? I’ve other interviews before then, but . . . don’t be discouraged, my dear. I find I like the sound of your voice.’
Pamela fidgeted a moment, reluctant yet timidly hopeful. ‘Tomorrow’s fine . . . but . . . there’s no place around here to meet, exactly, except for a doughnut-shop near where I live.’
‘I take it you haven’t transportation, then?’ The woman made it more a statement than a question.
‘I don’t have a car or anything, no,’ Pamela muttered, feeling ashamed.
‘Well, give me your address, and I’ll meet you at . . . say . . . eight-thirty? You live where? Oh, my! Well . . . but never mind! Just be ready and watch for me. Goodbye.’
Pamela hung up the phone feeling bewildered. ‘Huh. She didn’t even tell me her name, or ask for mine.’ With a shrug and an indefinable emptiness dogging her steps as she listlessly went to the closet, she began picking through her things as if something half-decent, forgotten and unnoticed, was waiting there to be found.
There was no mistaking the woman’s car when it arrived. Pamela didn’t know what kind it was, except that it had a distinctive-looking hood-ornament which looked sort of like a swimmer crouched on the edge of a pool with arms extended backwards, ready to dive in. The car was big and high and old-fashioned-looking, and bore the unmistakeable patina of wealth. She didn’t realize she was standing immobile, gaping, until the woman leaned across and opened the door for her.
‘It’s all right. You can get in. I don’t bite.’
Swallowing, Pamela approached the car, and for a moment was reluctant to touch the seat with her clothes. She felt that at any moment the woman would fully register Pamela’s appearance, slam the door on her in disgust and drive off.
‘My dear, is something the matter?’
‘No! No. It’s just . . . ’ she got in and closed the door, feeling as out of place, awkward and shabby as a street person at a grand ball.
‘Well, then,’ the woman said as she started driving, ‘I think introductions are in order, don’t you? I’m Mrs. Amanda Hill Dewhurst. Or at least I was until my husband died. And how are you called?’
Pamela couldn’t help but like the woman, instantly. ‘I’m just plain, old Pamela Dee,’ she said, feeling shy rather than ashamed. ‘I haven’t even got a middle name.’
‘Plain is best,’ the woman said with a dismissing gesture and a grimace. ‘Believe you me, when I was your age, flowery superfluous names were all the rage and most of the girls who bore those names were pretentious, inconsequential ninnies-’
‘Wha- where are you taking me?’
Mrs. Dewhurst was driving towards a very expensive, very exclusive part of town. Pamela had been humiliated a couple of times when living on the streets simply by coming into contact with people that had nice clothes and nice things. She felt as though she didn’t belong, as though she had no right to be here, to breathe the same air these people breathed.
‘To my flat, if you must know,’ Mrs. Dewhurst said, feigning indignance. ‘Well, it’s not my flat, really (or apartment as you North Americans call them). It’s just a rental, while I’m here.’ In a conspiratorial sotto voce, she added, ‘I’m here on business.’
‘What . . . what sort of business?’ Pamela ventured, just to make conversation, hoping she wasn’t being rude by asking.
Amanda Dewhurst flashed her a broad smile. ‘Why, your sort of business, not to put too fine a point on it. I came all the way here from Yorkshire just for the pleasure of finding you, Miss Pamela Dee.’
Though the apartment was small and conservative-looking, there was nevertheless a man at the front entrance wearing a smart uniform who came and opened the door for Mrs. Dewhurst. He was about to approach the passenger door but Pamela, without thinking, had got out already, and now stood under the awning feeling like a fool. The man didn’t blink an eye at her faux pas, however, and merely got into the car after being handed the keys and drove away.
The look on Pamela’s face prompted a smile from Mrs. Dewhurst as she made her way brusquely towards the entrance. ‘He’s merely parking it, my dear, not stealing it. Come along, come along.’
Pamela followed, feeling both a little breathless at the woman’s vigour, and as though she were a little bit of flotsam or jetsam that had been caught in the woman’s wake. The building was very plain and unadorned, but she could tell by the smell alone that it was very expensive. Everything had a patina of age, but of immaculate age, carefully preserved, perfectly maintained, and there was something extra, something indefinable, that spoke of an habitual control. No one would let this place go to rack and ruin.
She had rarely ridden on lifts. Those few she was familiar with lurched and bounced alarmingly. This one was smooth and unbelievably fast, shooting so quickly up to the fifth floor that for a moment she felt an alarming tingle in her vitals and the press of gravity. She almost commented on this as they stepped off the lift but bit her tongue, not wanting to appear foolish or ignorant. Mrs. Dewhurst was watching her with a small smile that was disturbingly knowing, however, that didn’t leave her face as she led Pamela to her flat. Once inside Mrs. Dewhurst removed her coat, took Pamela’s as well, and hung them in the closet. ‘Now, my dear, just have a seat in the . . . oh, dear, I’ve forgotten what it’s called. Not the parlour. That was Victorian. We call it the sitting room-’
‘You mean, the living room?’ Pamela ventured.
‘That’s it. The living room. Just sit yourself down, and I’ll bring you some refreshment. Would you like a drink?’
‘Um . . . tea, if you’ve got it.’
‘Tea? Wouldn’t you prefer a glass of wine, or sherry-?
‘No! I . . .’ Pamela instantly regretting blurting out her protest before she could think. How could she explain? For people like Mrs. Dewhurst, drinking was a casual, social thing. For people like herself it was drunkenness, escape, a way of life.
‘It’s all right if you’d prefer tea or something else,’ Mrs. Dewhurst said with that same small smile as she made her way to the small kitchen. ‘But tell me,’ she said through the portal between the kitchen and sitting room, ‘do you drink at all?’
Pamela reddened, looked down and shook her head.
Within a few minutes the woman brought a tray of small triangular sandwiches, a pot of tea and a plate of cookies. Her look became serious, however, when she saw Pamela’s expression.
‘Help yourself, dear. Don’t mind me. I’ll just help myself to one or two. You’re still a young, growing girl.’
Pamela couldn’t stop her hands from trembling slightly from hunger. There were so many sandwiches that she could eat a fair number without looking like a complete pig, weren’t there?
‘My dear, we shall have to do something about your clothing. Have you anything more . . . formal?’ At the look on Pamela’s face, she shook her head and said, ‘Of course you don’t. Not to worry, though. We’ll get you fixed up when we arrive at your new home.’
‘What’s it like?’ Pamela asked her suddenly. ‘I mean, the place you live? I mean, well, what’s the house like? And the area?’
‘The house,’ Mrs. Dewhurst said with an irony that was lost on Pamela, her smile returning. ‘Well, it’s a fairly big house, as houses go, and there are lots of people living in it, and there are lots of domestic workers . . . servants is too archaic a word. Real servants, back in the bad old days, used to work long hours for their room and board only. A modern domestic is paid a wage, and is often supplied with room and board as well, as in our case, when the location of the . . . house . . . is fairly remote.
‘There is a small town about six miles away, where we buy anything we need, and where we all go to church on Sunday. By the way, church is a household event, which we all attend. Do you attend church?’
Pamela’s eyes fell. ‘Sort of. There’s a Catholic Mission I work at on the weekends. We have a service, which Father Mugford gives-’
Pamela swallowed, feeling at once false and shabby once more. ‘No,’ she muttered in a small voice, ‘I’m not anything. I work there mostly because . . . well . . . it’s a few dollars… and a meal-’ She couldn’t speak any more. To her own surprise and utter humiliation, she found she was crying.
Mrs. Dewhurst didn’t seem the least bit embarrassed or put out, however. She left her chair and sat beside the girl. ‘That’s all right. A few tears are good for the soul.’ She sighed, and to Pamela’s surprise, put her arm around the girl, let her cry her heart out on the woman’s shoulder. ‘Cry all you like, dear. It strikes me that, so far, you don’t have much to thank the good Lord for. But maybe we can change that. Hm?’
After she had regained her composure, wiping her eyes, Pamela ventured a question.
‘How come you’re being so nice to me? How could you possibly want someone like me to . . . to work for you? To live at your house?’
Mrs. Dewhurst gave her a humorously evasive look as she resumed her seat. ‘Ah, that would be telling. You know, I don’t believe I’m going to tell you. I’ll leave you to figure that one out for yourself. My reasons for not telling you, and the reasons I want you, and you specifically, will become clear to you in time. If I were to make my thoughts plain to you . . . well! That would rather spoil things. And, yes, you heard me correctly. There’s no need to look so shocked! The job is yours if you want it. Now come, you’ve hardly made a dent in those wonderful sandwiches I made, and there’s a plateful of cookies that need to be eaten lest they go to waste. You stay here and fill yourself up, and I’ll call my son and tell him we’ll be catching the first plane in the morning.’
Mrs. Dewhurst rolled her eyes in what may have been mock exasperation. ‘Yes, my son, Theo, short for “Theodore.” Some of his friends used to call him “Ted.” He’s partly the reason I came here looking for someone like you. Only I did one better. Instead of getting someone like you, I got you. Never mind my rather oblique sense of humour, my dear. Indulge me. Now, Theo is an active man; too active for my ageing domestic staff, most of whom have been with us forever, so that the place more resembles a retirement home full of doddering old fuddy-duddies. But Theo . . . he manages my estates and my business affairs . . . I’m sure I don’t know what I’d do without him. But he needs some . . . assistance, and some distraction as well. By the by, do you type?’
‘Just a little,’ Pamela admitted, able for the first time to manage some confidence. ‘I helped out a lot with the Mission’s correspondence. But I can only do about forty-five words a minute. Mrs. Gilroy- she showed me how to type. She’s a real secretary. I’ve been told she can type about seventy-two words a minute.’
‘Well, it seems you have some genuine talent after all!’ Mrs. Dewhurst smiled. ‘Forty-five words is about twice as fast as Theo can manage. He uses the “hunt-and-peck” method. That clinches it! You’re coming with me, and that’s all there is to it. I’ll have someone collect your things-’
‘I . . . I’d better go along,’ Pamela muttered, uncomfortable with the thought of someone going through her belongings, most of which weren’t worth keeping. ‘But- didn’t you say something about leaving in the morning? If I get my things, where will I stay?’
Mrs. Dewhurst made a face. ‘Why, here, of course. As though you’d be staying any place else!’
And so it was settled. Mrs. Dewhurst sent her back home in a cab. It took less than fifteen minutes to sort through the few clothes and articles she would bring while the cab driver sat in the kitchenette drinking the last of her instant coffee. She finished by writing a note for the landlady. She then put this in an envelope, along with her keys, and slipped it under the landlady’s door.
‘Where you off to, Miss?’ the cab driver asked her when they were under way.
‘Back to Mrs. Dewhurst’s-’
‘No, I mean I heard the two of you talking. I thought I heard something about your going overseas.’
‘Yes,’ she said, feeling suddenly lightheaded about the prospect, ‘I’m going to a place called Yorkshire in the morning.’
‘Oh, yeah. That’s in England, up north on the east side, just below Scotland.’
‘Oh,’ Pamela muttered. ‘I didn’t realise that Yorkshire wasn’t . . . like, a country or something.’
The cab driver, an older fellow, chuckled. ‘It is to most of the people who live there. Never travelled before? Well, take it from me, I’m just a broken down old cab driver, without much ejumucation, but I’ve travelled a bit, and if I’ve learned anything from the experience, it’s that you’re never the same afterwards. Broadens your view of the world and your place in it. Besides, it’s not a good thing to be stuck in one place your whole life, especially at your age. No, you mark my words: when you get back, you’ll be a whole new person.’
‘I don’t plan on coming back,’ she replied defensively, feeling threatened by the notion.
‘Oh, you’ll come back all right,’ the cab driver said with a knowing smile. ‘They always do. No one ever really leaves this place.’
That thought struck a chill down her spine, and she didn’t answer. But she pretended to agree with the man, and smiled politely when he helped her with her dilapidated suitcase. But for the rest of the evening, the background of her thoughts was dogged by the man’s words, distracting her from what Mrs. Dewhurst was saying.
At last, the woman said apologetically, ‘My dear, I am sorry! Here I am, prattling along like a giddy old matron at a social tea, and you’re obviously too tired to pay attention. Run along now- have a nice long bath and go to bed. I’ll wake you in the morning, and we’ll begin what it is hoped will be a long and happy adventure together.’
Pamela luxuriated in the tub for almost an hour. Bath salts! Bubble bath! Hot water that was really hot, not lukewarm because the owner was too cheap to turn the boiler up. It turned out that she and Mrs. Dewhurst were sharing the same bed but the woman was busy at the desk, staying up late. Pamela went to bed and lay awake for a long time, enjoying the silence, the lack of traffic noise, of public disturbances, of smashing beer bottles tossed carelessly from car windows. The bed was so big, and soft . . .
Her thoughts turned again to Mrs. Dewhurst. Who was this woman? Why was she being so kind? What could she possibly see in a girl like Pamela, someone with no money, no class, no real education or experience . . . with no family or friends, with no one of quality in her life whom she could present as an equal, or even as a friend? How was the woman able to make up her mind so quickly? Was it that she, Pamela, was that unsophisticated and therefore transparent?
And what of this business with Mrs. Dewhurst’s son . . . what was his name . . . Leo? No, it was . . . Theo, that was it. Theo, short for Theodore. What sort of man was he? How old was he? And what did Mrs. Dewhurst mean by distraction? Assistance she well understood, but distraction? What was that supposed to mean? Was she supposed to keep him entertained, or-
A sudden thought gave her a stab of anxiety. Surely they didn’t expect her to . . . to be his mistress or something?
She shook her head. ‘I’m being stupid. It’s just the way Mrs. Dewhurst talks. She uses words differently than we do. She probably just wants me around to give him the opportunity of having someone in the house he can talk to. After all, she told me that everyone else in the house is really old. But why would a rich guy talk to a servant, or a domicile, or whatever it is that Mrs. Dewhurst calls it?
She tried to form an image in her mind of what Mrs. Dewhurst’s house must look like. Was it a big house with lots of yard? Did it have balconies? Were there neighbours close by? Or was it secluded, out somewhere, in some remote place, all by itself? ‘It must be big if it has servants,’ she reasoned. And the nearby town, what was it like? Was it just a gas station with a convenience store and a few other businesses, a small place where outsiders weren’t welcome, except for the money they spent, or- but no, she couldn’t imagine anything other than that she had experienced.
Once again, unbidden, came the memory of her old recurring dream, that of herself living in a strange house in a strange place and with a strange, dangerous man. Dangerous and desirable. She sighed, feeling at once empty and very sad. Dream on! No one had ever wanted her, except to use her, which so far hadn’t happened, touch wood!
No, that wasn’t fair. The cantankerous old lady she had worked for for six years had been good to her, in her gruff way. Old Father Mugford had been kind to her, had got her off the streets and helped her find a job, and later a place of her very own to live. But . . . no one had ever loved her. Not really. And not in the way she dreamed about, when she dared to dream at all. She sighed. ‘What am I complaining about? Us strays are impossible to love, that’s all. Pity is the best we can hope for. I should just shut up and be thankful that someone is going to feed me.’
With such thoughts, like so many phantom mice being chased about in her head, she fell asleep.
Pamela started awake when someone sat on the bed beside her.
‘Sorry to disturb you, my dear, but it’s time to get up and go. I let you sleep in as long as I dared. There’s no need to worry about breakfast; we shall have it on the plane.’
Pamela opened one bleary eye, ventured a peek at the digital clock on the nightstand, and gaped. ‘Why didn’t you wake me? I’ve never slept that long in my life! I’m sorry-’
‘Don’t be absurd! You were exhausted, overwrought, and, if I may say so without bruising your feelings, half-starved. You slept like the dead because you were badly in need of sleep, that’s all. There’s no reason to apologise for that. Now, by the time you’re dressed, there will be a car waiting to take us to the airport, so vit! vit!’
Once in the cab, Pamela yawned all the way to the airport. Mrs. Dewhurst was right about one thing: that comfortable bed, added to the older woman’s presence, had caused her to entirely leave her guard down, so that everything caught up with her at once. She had slept deeply for the first time since she could remember simply because every fibre of her being told her that it was safe to do so.
Pamela had never been to an airport in her life. Nor had she ever flown before, or seen an aeroplane close up. The sheer size of the British Airways 747 was beyond anything she could have imagined. Once inside, however, she stayed awake long enough to enjoy her first takeoff, a fairly good breakfast, and that was all. She was only vaguely aware that Mrs. Dewhurst reached across to trip the reclining mechanism, of the light blanket that was carefully spread over her, the pillow that was gently tucked beneath her head. In her sleep Pamela seemed to struggle a moment, her features suffused as though she were unable to come to terms with whatever she saw there, at last mumbling a single word that clutched at Mrs. Amanda Dewhurst’s throat like a vice.
‘Well, my dear,’ Mrs. Dewhurst said with a sad, fond smile, ‘it’s a lucky thing for you that there is a world of difference between stray cats and stray kittens.’
Pamela woke midway over the Atlantic feeling as though she had crossed over into a waking dream. Nothing felt quite real: riding and sleeping on an aeroplane, the woman sitting beside her who seemed more fairy godmother than human, seemingly poised in stasis at the top of the world, the dark blue expanse of ocean far below; it seemed she was surrounded by and passing through whole worlds.
‘Your timing is impeccable,’ Mrs. Dewhurst told her. ‘You’re just in time for lunch.’
Embarrassed, flustered, Pamela blurted, ‘I’m sorry! I don’t know why I fell asleep like that. I feel all . . . kind of funny now . . . like I’m still asleep.’
‘Well, let me assure you, you are quite awake. Ah, here comes the trolley. I trust your little nap hasn’t spoiled your appetite?’
They talked for some time, Mrs. Dewhurst all-too-obviously avoiding referring directly to her Yorkshire home, except when she let something slip. This invariably involved her son, Theo, and when Pamela became curious enough to ask questions, the woman’s replies were somewhat cryptic.
‘Oh, my Theo is strong-willed and rather willful, the truth be known,’ she allowed at one point. ‘He can also be rather pigheaded when his mind is made up about something, and he can sometimes be . . . forceful . . . when it comes to getting what he wants. But you mustn’t let that worry you! He is a perfect gentleman, or rather, he can be, when the right person comes along to put him in his place, which unfortunately doesn’t happen very often.’ She sighed and shook her head. ‘I’m afraid that trying to fill his father’s shoes has left its mark. You see, when you’re very young the impression you have of your parents is that they’re larger than life. Then, as you grow up, your impressions change to suit the reality. Except-’ she said, pointedly, ‘when that parent becomes lost to you, or misplaced. When that happens, a person ends up becoming an adult that still holds to that larger than life image, with the consequence that one either breaks trying to measure up or becomes driven to fill a larger than life mould. Either way, the consequences almost always lead to strain and unhappiness . . .’
As Mrs. Dewhurst spoke of her son in such terms, Pamela couldn’t quite tell at times whether the woman was speaking of her son Theo or of Pamela herself. But one thing became abundantly clear: that Theo Dewhurst was a force to be reckoned with, and probably avoided!
They arrived at London’s Heathrow Airport at midnight London time. A chauffeured limousine was waiting for them. The chauffeur, who was dressed in a smart blue-grey uniform trimmed with maroon, tipped his hat at them, got the two women settled, and put their luggage in the boot. As he got behind the wheel and closed the door, he said, ‘Hotel or home, Mrs. D.?’
‘The hotel, Mr. Pascoe. I’m simply exhausted.’
He nodded. ‘Theo’s there, so I assume he means to join us in the morning.’
‘Did you speak with him?’
The chauffeur shook his head. ‘Not a word. He saw me and nodded, though.’
Feeling guilty, Pamela said to Mrs. Dewhurst, ‘Why didn’t you sleep on the plane?’
The older woman smiled benevolently. ‘My dear, I have been awake since early yesterday, except for a brief catnap. It’s the best way I know of to deal with jet-lag. And stop looking as though every little thing you do is somehow reprehensible! If you actually do do something wrong, I won’t hesitate to let you know it.’ She smiled to offset the threat.
Pamela found that she very much wanted to please Mrs. Dewhurst, that she didn’t want to do anything which might jeopardise the woman’s kindness towards her.
The hotel turned out to be of a similar type to that they’d left. Mrs. Dewhurst left most of her luggage in the limousine. Pamela noted that it was a larger but similar version of the car that the woman had been driving when they first met, with the same hood-ornament which resembled a swimmer standing at the edge of a pool, poised to take the plunge; except that the limousine’s steering wheel was on the ‘wrong’ side, and it was as long as a city block.
To her surprise, after sharing a late snack with her fairy godmother, Pamela found that she could easily sleep once more, and did. As she drifted off, something of the reversed cars and roads she had seen haunted the background of her thoughts, causing her to feel as though she had strayed through a mirror, like Alice in Wonderland. ‘Just as long as there are no talking giant white rabbits,’ she mused as sleep overcame her.
Pamela woke the next morning to find that Mrs. Dewhurst was already up and busy at work. The woman looked up when Pamela stumbled into the sitting room in search of the bathroom.
‘Did you meet any giant white rabbits while you were asleep?’ Mrs. Dewhurst asked her with a smile.
Aghast, Pamela put her hands over her mouth, causing Mrs. Dewhurst to regard her with frank amusement.
‘Not to worry, you didn’t say anything else; at least, nothing that was incriminating! But come along, you’ll find the bath through that door over there. You’ll find that towels and soap- What am I saying? You already know all about that sort of thing! Never mind me. As soon as you’re ready, we’ll go on downstairs and breakfast.’
Pamela was very uncomfortable as she followed Mrs. Dewhurst into the hotel’s restaurant, conscious of her own appearance in contrast to the well-to-do clientele who, to her, gave off an aura of exclusivity, which of course meant that it was she herself who was excluded. She couldn’t help but imagine that everyone was surreptitiously staring at her and commenting behind her back. She unconsciously followed closely behind Mrs. Dewhurst, hoping that by doing so the woman’s presence would deflect any unwanted attention.
They sat down at a table for four by a window. Mrs. Dewhurst sat cater cornered to Pamela, opting for an aisle seat while Pamela chose the window. Mrs. Dewhurst then picked up a menu and handed it to her, sensed her obvious discomfort, and took the menu back.
‘I’ll order,’ she said, smiling to put Pamela at ease. ‘You look as though you could manage the Full British Breakfast.’
Pamela tried to relax and smile in turn, but found her eyes drawn to the other people in the restaurant, most of whom were women. They looked worlds apart from the type of people she could relate to, self-involved and interested in matters that were incomprehensible to an ignorant girl like Pamela who had lived on the streets.
As her eyes strayed around the restaurant, a sudden presence to her left tore her attention to itself, leaving her feeling as though the very earth had tilted, or that her heart had stopped beating. Her entire being seemed to scream It’s him! She didn’t know who he was, but it was definitely him, the man from her old dream. But no, that was ridiculous! She didn’t even know what the man in her dream looked like. All she had to go on were vague generalities. There was nothing vague or general about the man before her, who now leaned over and talking very quietly with Mrs. Dewhurst. He was dressed in a dove-grey suit, immaculately tailored, and something of the way he leaned over emphasised the broadness of his shoulders and depth of his chest, the hard muscles of his upper body and arms. His hair was short and wavy, and oh, so black, a true blue-black, such as Pamela had rarely seen before. She had caught the briefest glimpse of his eyes. They were grey eyes, strong, demanding, unyielding . . . a tremor of fear stirred in her vitals . . . they were eyes to be feared if kindled to anger. At one point he looked up and Pamela felt a lance of fear pass right through her as his gaze took her in, seemingly at a glance. Raising an eyebrow, in what she would find would for him be a characteristic gesture, his gaze and expression neutral, he extended his hand, which was very large, warm, strong and . . . when she reached out and placed her own small hand in his, she almost snatched it back in sudden fear and confusion.
‘Miss Dee. How do you do?’ His voice was low-pitched, self-assured, altogether a man’s voice, the sort of man who was master of his own affairs.
‘I . . . hi,’ she stammered.
‘Now Theo,’ his mother chided, ‘stop intimidating the poor girl! Come, sit down, and join us.’
Releasing her hand, he regarded Pamela directly for the first time, and she found his manner somewhat threatening.
‘You are going to find that my mother has a penchant for acting out of impulse,’ he said, seating himself in front of her beside his mother, ‘and that the rest of us usually end up dealing with the consequences,’ he added, his manner polite but stern. He was all-too-obviously more than an equal to his mother. ‘She should never have brought you all the way here, to a strange country with rather quaint, idiosyncratic ways. Yorkshire people, I’m afraid you’re going to find, do not take quickly to newcomers. One can live generations in Yorkshire and still be considered a latecomer. However, you’re here now, and Mother seems to have her mind set on your staying, so I guess we’ll just have to make the best of it. Mother tells me you can type.’
‘Better than forty words a minute,’ Mrs. Dewhurst answered for her, but in a way that showed she wasn’t the least bit intimidated by her own son.
Theo sighed. ‘Mother, please, I’m sure the girl has a tongue of her own. Fine, so you can type. Have you ever taken dictation?’
‘A little,’ she blurted, ‘for Father Mugford-’
‘Splendid.’ He said this as though it were the least splendid thing he’d ever heard. ‘Do you have any knowledge of accounting? of keeping ledgers? of bookkeeping?-’
‘Theo,’ Mrs. Dewhurst interrupted in a warning tone, ‘if you don’t start being civil, I am going to disown you.’
To Pamela’s surprise, he burst out laughing, and for a brief moment there was honest laughter in his eyes. But only briefly. ‘My dear Mother, I always thought that you’d will your estates to the stray cats of this world. She would, too,’ he said to Pamela. She thought she detected something in his eyes, as though he thought of her as a stray cat. And she wasn’t sure, but she thought she detected veiled anger; perhaps even hatred.
Little was said in the ensuing twenty minutes or so as they ate breakfast. Pamela herself said not a word, and found that she had entirely lost her appetite. She kept her gaze lowered to the vicinity of her plate and tried not to notice the imposing figure seated before her.
Later, they went out to the car and got in, Pamela on the left, Mrs. Dewhurst in the middle, and Theo on the right. Within moments they were on the motorway heading north on the three-hour drive to the Dewhurst’s place in Yorkshire.
Pamela spent most of the time looking out the window, watching the countryside go by. The weather was dark and dismal, mixed rain and snow falling incessantly, and Pamela found that her mood was beginning to reflect this condition until Mrs. Dewhurst finally noticed and put an arm around her.
‘My dear, I am sorry! What was I thinking? You must be terminally bored. I don’t know whether you noticed it or not, what with this infernal weather and all, but we crossed the border into Yorkshire almost ten minutes ago. You know you’re in Yorkshire when you see all these low, rolling hills and flocks of sheep. There are moors in Yorkshire as well. If you ever want to see something truly bleak, take a good, long look at our gorse-infested moors in the dead of winter!’ She noticed that Pamela was watching a passing village with frank wonder.
‘It looks so old-fashioned! Are they all like that?’
Mrs. Dewhurst smiled broadly. ‘Most assuredly! You are in a very old-fashioned corner of the world, Pamela Dee! Some of those cottages were built when your colonial ancestors in North America were still traipsing about the bush, forging a new life for themselves while trying their utmost to avoid being scalped!’
This remark had the unintended effect of making Pamela feel even more isolated. She had no knowledge whatever of her family’s past, and knew almost nothing about the country, area and city she had lived in all her life. Her past was as blank as though he had no memory. Even her name, she mused. It sounded for all the world like an initial that should have stood for something but didn’t, as though some careless ancestor had lost her identity for her before she was born.
‘And here were are!’ Mrs. Dewhurst said suddenly and unexpectedly, dispelling the girl’s bleak mood like a burst bubble. ‘Dewhurst Manor, the ancestral home of the Dewhurst family. Hasn’t moved an inch in over three hundred years, and looks it.’
Pamela could only gape. ‘I . . . I thought you said we were going to a house!’
Even Theo couldn’t suppress a chuckle.
‘My dear Pamela,’ Mrs. Dewhurst said, ‘that is a house. Don’t look so overwhelmed! There’s nothing in it that you haven’t seen before. The bedrooms have beds and dressing tables, the dining room has a table and chairs, the kitchen looks much like kitchens everywhere, the floors are made of wood and covered with carpet in places; there’s just more of everything, that’s all. Don’t worry. You’ll get used to it soon enough. Too soon, if you ask me. But come, here we are. Come and get your first look at your new home.’
As they coasted down the long drive, Pamela’s eyes were filled with a vision of close-fitting grey stone, black slate roofs and bevelled, leaded glass. Beyond the house was what appeared to be a tiny village, but was in fact a number of farm buildings with thatched roofs. In the distance were rolling pastures dotted with sheep, some sort of shaggy cattle and a few horses. The various fields were separated by unmortared stone walls, and she could see as they approached the house that a pond or small lake lay behind it.
They were met at the door by a middle-aged woman dressed in what was obviously an old-fashioned maid’s attire. She turned a baffled gaze upon Pamela until Mrs. Dewhurst spoke up.
‘Susan, I would like you to meet your new workmate.’ The woman smiled and, to Pamela’s amused astonishment, curtsied. ‘You may as well get her settled in, first. She has had a long journey, and will no doubt find our ways somewhat incomprehensible, unless they are explained to her, which I am sure you will do at great length. When you have shown her where she is to sleep, take her to the kitchens, and by all means feed her. While you are doing so, you might provide her with an outline as to household routine, and where she is to fit in in the overall scheme of things.’ Turning to Pamela, she said, ‘Well, my dear, I leave you in Mrs. Pascoe’s competent hands. Come, Theo, tell me all about your foray to Londinium.’
‘That’s the old Roman name for London,’ Susan said with a smile as Pamela picked up her suitcase and they began walking towards a sweeping marble staircase. ‘Mrs. D. is forever showing off her useless university degree. So you’re Pamela Dee! Fancy that! Now we have old Mrs. D. and young Miss Dee. Have you been to England before?’
‘I’ve never travelled before,’ Pamela said, glad for Susan’s direct, straightforward nature. ‘This was the first time I’d ever been in a plane. Or a place like this. I still don’t understand why Mrs. Dewhurst decided to take a chance on me.’
‘We all of us have to start somewhere,’ Susan said matter-of-factly. Once at the top of the stairs they turned to the left and went down to the end of the hall to the last door. Opening it, Mrs. Pascoe said, ‘Here we are. This used to be . . . but never mind! This will be your room now. Old Mrs. Hamberly had this room for a very long time, but she’s been gone for ages. She was Theo’s nanny, and his father’s before.’
But Pamela scarcely heard a word she said. She had stopped just inside the threshold, and stood gaping.
‘Is something wrong, Miss? You look like you’ve seen a ghost.’
A ghost, no, but what she beheld was so much like her old recurring dream that for a moment she felt she had forgotten to breathe. On the far wall was a leaded-glass door which opened onto a balcony that faced northeast. To her left, just past the overstuffed bed was a walk-in closet. To the right was a door which led to a shared bathroom. The furniture stood as she remembered it- beyond her overpowering sense of déjà vu, it occurred to her that she could only have dreamt that she would ever have the use of anything like the dark mahogany dressing table, the cherry wood cedar chest, the matching mahogany dresser, the magnificent roll-top oak desk and Tiffany lamps and-
‘Perhaps you’d better lie down for a moment,’ Susan said, taking her arm. ‘You look like you’re about to faint.’
‘No,’ Pamela muttered, thinking of the sinister silhouette of a man at the door of the balcony, who had come to her, had come for her. ‘Thanks, but I’ll be okay. It’s just that the trip, and the change, have taken a lot out of me. It’ll pass.’
‘If you say so,’ Mrs. Pascoe said, looking anything but convinced. ‘Well, if you’re sure you’re up to it, take off your coat and follow me.’
They stopped at a closet before reaching the kitchen. In it were uniforms, linen and other items used by the mansion’s staff. Mrs. Pascoe selected a couple of uniforms for Pamela to try on and took her to the kitchen. At the sight of it Pamela sighed with relief. Unlike the rest of the mansion, which looked as though it were made to be seen rather than touched, the kitchen was as battered and utilitarian as that in the Catholic Mission she had worked in.
‘And through here,’ said Mrs. Pascoe, leading her through the kitchen to the back door, ‘is the staff dining room.’ The long, narrow room was an obvious add-on built of heavy, crude wooden planks; it was a drafty, pleasantly musty and cool room, heated by a wood-stove. The room was dominated by an appropriately crude but sturdy-looking wooden table which looked as though it could seat at least twenty, or at need serve as a heavy workbench. Around the perimeter of the room were wooden benches, and at various points, between windows and to either side of the back door, were mounted sturdy clothes’ hooks from which an assortment of outdoor clothing hung. Through the tiny panes of each window Pamela could see the fields and farm buildings beyond. She found that she instinctively liked this room, and it must have shown because Mrs. Pascoe said, ‘It’s not much, but we like it just the way it is. Young Mr. Dewhurst- Theo, that is- wanted to tear it down and build something more modern. You should have seen the look on his face when we started squawking!’ Her laughter prompted Pamela to smile, and to feel good about herself for no apparent reason. ‘All right, then,’ she told Pamela, ‘hurry upstairs and change into one your new uniforms. It’s about time we set ourselves to making supper. An extra pair of hands is always welcome. There’ll be company coming tonight, six or seven guests, with the seventh an open question. Which, as it turns out, works out perfectly because you’ll be able to meet all the household staff in one go. That includes the outdoor staff who mind the animals. I hope you’re not offended by the smell of sweat and muddy boots- I’m afraid we’re rather a rustic lot around here.’
Pamela found as she went upstairs to change that she was very much looking forward to meeting the household staff, and to being part of . . . the thought made her smile . . . part of her new life!
The second uniform she tried on fit very well in all the right places. But the hat, the bonnet, as Mrs. Pascoe called it, didn’t want to sit right on her tight, dark curls. When she came downstairs and showed Mrs. Pascoe the difficulty she was having, the woman burst out laughing.
‘For one thing, you’ve got it backwards,’ she said, straightening it out. ‘For another, you’ve got to put your hair up. That’s going to be a bit difficult, I can see. Your hair’s just a little too short- come! I’ve got just the thing.’ She took Pamela upstairs to her own room and with the use of a liberal number of hairpins got the girl’s unruly hair under control enough to fit the hat snugly on her head. ‘There! Come see what you think.’
For a long moment, Pamela stared at her own reflection as though she had just met a stranger. Once again she had an uncomfortable feeling of déjà vu . She had seen this vision before as well- in the same dream. Yet she had never known that it was herself she was looking at.
‘Better be careful, luv,’ Mrs. Pascoe said with a teasing smile. ‘Young Mr. Theo might take a great liking to what he sees.’
Pamela paled, a pang of fear momentarily taking her voice away. ‘I hope not. Servants aren’t supposed to get too friendly with their employers, are they?’
‘Servants!’ Mrs. Pascoe said, raising an eyebrow in mock-irritation, giving Pamela a playful swat, drawing an unwilling smile from the girl. ‘You’re not a servant, dearie! You’re an em-ploy-ee. You can quit and walk away any time you like. This isn’t the Middle Ages, you know.’
As they made their way back to the kitchen, Pamela found herself daydreaming that she was living in the Middle Ages, that she was a servant, that Theo could simply decide to take her, his passions getting the better of him. That he would . . . she suddenly found herself flushed with embarrassment. Her mind would not allow her to consider what he might do with her, should his passions become aroused. Her imagination wouldn’t go there simply because it couldn’t. She had no experience with men. In the past, she viewed such entanglements as leading to a life of poverty with children. She was not about to suffer that fate.
She tried to tear her thoughts away from what she wanted but couldn’t have. ‘I’m just lucky to have a nice job with food and a roof over my head,’ she thought to herself. ‘I’m living in a palace, so what more could I want?’ But she found her thoughts unwillingly drawn ever and again to Theo, the man who had so intimidated her, the man her unreasoning instincts were so certain was the same as in her old dream.
As Mrs. Dewhurst had said, the other household staff were either getting on in years or were already rather ancient. Two of the male members, old Mr. Smith and old Mr. Pritchard, merely sat conversing together in the kitchen on wooden chairs and watched the women work. Pamela gathered that their presence was more a social ritual than having any practical value. But she found herself enjoying their company. They were funny and irreverent, exchanging quips with the women in what was obviously a timeworn and comfortable routine.
Besides Mrs. Pascoe and her husband Brian, there were three middle-aged women who Pamela had only seen in passing before. There were the two Moor sisters, tall thin women with sharp faces, named Ellie and Doris, and there was plump, forgetful Mrs. Noreen Smith, Mr. Smith’s wife, or Norrie as she was called. She was easily a decade and a half younger than her husband, and wore a permanently baffled expression, as though she couldn’t quite make out what life was about.
‘I’m sure one of us should bring Mr. Dewhurst his apéritif,’ she said as though the matter bore some urgence.
‘Mr. Dewhurst has been dead these past eighteen years,’ said Ellie in a fruity, bombastic, matronly sort of voice which was most incongruous with her appearance. She was grating Parmesan, and didn’t blink an eye.
‘Oh, dear,’ said Norrie. ‘I’m afraid it will go to waste, then.’
‘It would if you’d poured it,’ put in Doris. ‘Now Norrie, do be a lamb and go fill this with water.’ She handed the vacant Norrie a large, battered, aluminium pot. ‘Now,’ she said to Pamela, ‘if you’ll be so kind as to julienne those vegetables by the cutting board. You do know how to julienne, do you not?’
When Pamela nodded, she was mystified by the broad smile the two sisters exchanged. But only momentarily.
‘Mrs. D. was quite right, you know. She is a breath of fresh air. She’s so young.’
‘She’ll have to watch out for young Mr. Theo, though,’ Ellie said, in a voice obviously pitched for Pamela to overhear.
Pamela couldn’t help but notice the ironic stress in her voice. ‘What do you mean?’
The two sisters exchanged a humorous look. ‘What we mean,’ said Doris, ‘is that you’d have to club Mr. Theo over the head just to get his mind off his work! Even then, I’m not sure you’d have his full attention. But we do hope that you’ll help him regain his sense of humour. He seems to have misplaced it- you’re not done already? By Heaven, so you are! Well, see if you can find out what’s happened to Norrie. She’s probably forgotten that we have indoor plumbing and made her way to the stream, poor thing!’
Suppertime, when it came, was organized chaos. The staff dining room filled up with hungry men dressed in rain gear and muddy Wellingtons. They varied in age from a boy of twelve to a pair of men in their late fifties. They were a rustic, rugged-looking bunch, quiet and soft-spoken for the most part. Despite what Theo had told her, they greeted Pamela with friendly interest when Mrs. Pascoe introduced her. One fellow, huge, hulking and blonde who appeared in his late twenties, ran his eyes appreciatively over her form in a way that made her withdraw quickly, her face scarlet, making the older men chuckle and rib the fellow.
Moments later Pamela was struggling with a heavy tureen into the dining room, doing her best to appear to make light of the burden. As she set it on the table her eyes were caught by Theo, who watched her with an odd expression. Mrs. Dewhurst, who was sitting beside him, gave her a surreptitious wink. Tearing her eyes away with what seemed to take great physical effort, she fled to the safety of the kitchen, her feelings a confused turmoil.
The rest of the meal passed without incident. Almost two hours later, the kitchen staff, after having removed the dishes from the dining room, sat down to eat in the staff dining room after the outdoor workers had left.
‘Well, Pamela,’ said Mrs. Pascoe, ‘you did very well.’ There were mutterings of assent and approval from around the table that made Pamela flush with . . . it took her a moment to realise that she was accepted. This fact gave her a warm feeling inside, a feeling she had never dared to experience-
It wasn’t until Mrs. Pascoe put an arm around her shoulders that she realized she was crying. To her relief, no one said anything or plied her with unwanted attention. When she finally regained her composure, the looks she got from the others were kind, understanding, and unaffectedly warm.
It was only her first day, yet already the place was beginning to feel like home.
When the washing and cleaning up were finished, Pamela was dismissed for the day. Instead of going to her room, however, she began the task of tackling the kitchen’s grimy shelves and discoloured pots and pans. It didn’t take her long to discover that places either very low or very high were badly neglected: something she had experienced before when working with ageing volunteers and hotel staff. She began to suspect, as well, despite her first impression, that the rest of the mansion was likewise hiding a patina of neglect. She was just cleaning out the contents at the back of one of the cupboards when a voice caused her to react with alarm, to withdraw too quickly, bumping her head.
‘Determined to become useful, are you?’
She stared at Theo whitely, her heart pounding.
With a disapproving quirk of his lips, he said, ‘Come, I have a job for you, seeing as how you seem bent upon proving your worth.’
She followed him upstairs to his study, which unlike the rest of the house was very modern.
‘Have you ever used a word processor?’
‘Excellent! Perhaps you could make a dent in my correspondence. It’s there, in that wire basket. If you need to ask me any questions, I’ll be downstairs.’
There was a fair bit, but not all that much. It was all pretty well straightforward: letters with suggested replies attached. She went to work. The word processing program was of a type she hadn’t used before, but was so similar to those she knew that common sense soon smoothed things out. Within two hours she was done. She was about to print out the replies when she noticed how Theo had organized his files.
‘What a mess! Nothing’s categorized! Nothing’s . . . well, I might as well fix it now.’
An hour later and she ran off copies and duplicates of Theo’s correspondence. Once this was accomplished she took a look in his filing cabinet. ‘Brand-new and completely unused!’ she said to herself in annoyance. She made a mental note that should she be required to do such work for him in future, she would make hard-copy of all the files on his hard drive-
‘Still at it- what the devil are you up to?’
She retreated from his naked rage, afraid he was going to hit her. ‘I . . . you’ve made no hard copies, so I was-’
‘You’re going to have to learn to do just what you’re told,’ he said, his voice menacing. ‘That is, if you wish to stay here under this roof. What . . . what have you done to my files?’
Her hands shaking, she showed him. Then, unable to help herself, she burst into tears and fled to her room.
Still angry, he took the mouse and began examining the small handful of boxes she’d replaced his voluminous menu with.
Pamela got undressed and lay on her bed for some time, trying to regain her composure. Why couldn’t she do anything right where Theo was concerned? She should have asked before meddling with his business files. He had a perfect right to be angry. He was probably still trying to put things back into his own sense of order, cursing the day his mother had brought this foolish, interfering girl into his home without so much as consulting him. No doubt, in the morning she would find herself on the first plane back to North America.
‘I want to stay,’ Pamela said as she cried herself to sleep. ‘I promise I’ll never want anything else as long as I live. I just want to stay.’
To Pamela’s surprise, Theo said nothing more about what she’d done to his word processor. In fact, after breakfast the following morning, he led her to his study and opened the closet. Sitting on the floor was a large cardboard box.
‘Do you have any idea how to set up a fax machine? I bought the infernal thing almost a year ago now; it’s hardly been out of the case.’
Pamela took a cursory look at the writing on the box. ‘I can’t promise anything,’ she said carefully. ‘All I can do is give it a try.’
He nodded. ‘Well, do the best you can.’ He left her to manage on her own.
After twenty minutes or so she came downstairs and found him speaking with his mother and three of their business associates. She was about to leave them to it, to choose a better time, but he noticed her presence.
‘No luck?’ he said brusquely, as though certain her efforts hadn’t met with success.
She swallowed, intimidated by his abruptness and by the subtle but intimidating way he communicated to her that he was quickly dismissing her presence because she was a distraction to the meeting. ‘I think it’s working,’ she said quickly, hoping he wouldn’t require an explanation, ‘but I won’t know until someone tries to send you a fax or an e-mail.’
He quirked an eyebrow, unable to conceal his surprise. ‘E-mail?’
She shrugged. ‘You’re set up for it now. At least, the line was already hooked up. I tried it just to be sure. And the computer says everything checks out . . . ’
She thought he looked annoyed as he said to his guests, ‘Would you excuse me a moment, please?’ Then, taking Pamela firmly by the arm, he said, ‘Now, suppose you show me what it is that you’ve done.’
After she had shown him how to operate both fax and e-mail, he said, ‘Would you kindly stop hovering and sit down! I don’t make you that nervous, do I?’ Taking in her visage, he sighed. ‘No doubt, now that you’ve seen fit to display your hidden talents, you’ll be wanting to make use of these. So we’d better set some rules so that there are no more unfortunate misunderstandings.’
She looked a question at him.
‘When you contact your family-’
‘I haven’t got any family!’ She hadn’t meant to blurt it out so bitterly, and found herself at once embarrassed and angry for letting her unruly emotions get the better of her.
‘Oh, for pity’s sake! Would you stop crying? What do you mean, you haven’t any family? Surely there must be someone!’
She wanted to get up off her chair and flee, to run away from him, but he was kneeling in front of her, blocking her in.
‘But I thought . . . ’ He stopped himself, considering her carefully. At last, apparently angry, he got up and turned away from her. ‘Bloody hell!’
‘What? What on earth are you on about? Why do you feel it necessary to keep apologizing? Now look . . .’ he reached into a pocket, withdrew an envelope and handed it to her, ‘you’re to go to Haworth today with Mrs. Pascoe to purchase some suitable clothing. Consider this a gift from my mother. You’ll need something to wear to church, and winter, the really inhospitable part, is just around the corner. And do get some proper footwear. I want you to retire those shoes the moment you get yourself a new pair.’
When she got to her feet, something totally unexpected happened. He approached her, put his arm around her slim waist, drew her to him. At once, she gasped in fear, her heart began hammering uncontrollably. She knew that she would be able to sense the sheer size and strength of him even if she were to close her eyes. She thought for a moment that he was going to kiss her.
Instead, his brow furrowed, and he said doubtfully, ‘You’re trembling like a leaf! What are you so afraid of?’
Then, she fled, tripping over her skirt a couple of times in her haste to be away from him. She almost ran into Mrs. Pascoe as she rounded the corner into the hallway.
‘Whoa, Pamela! What’s your rush? Unless you’re in a hurry to get changed. Well, come along! We haven’t got all day.’
‘Haworth is where we go to do our shopping,’ Mrs. Pascoe said as soon as the two got into her faded blue Volvo. ‘We sometimes go to Bradford, but it’s a little further out of the way. Besides, I’m not partial to Bradford. You’ll like Haworth. That’s where the Brontë family was from.’
Mrs. Pascoe gave her a not-quite-mock scandalized look. ‘Surely you’ve heard of the Brontë sisters, Anne, Emily and Charlotte, and their ne’er-do-well brother Branwell? No? Well, if you’re going to live in this part of the world, you had better learn! A knowledge of the Brontës is essential if you want to be accepted by certain circles. When we get back, ask Mr. Theo if he will allow you access to the library. But don’t tell him what you want to read! He has no patience with what he calls fluff.’
‘What did the Brontës do?’ Pamela asked, innocently.
‘They wrote Gothic love stories,’ Mrs. Pascoe told her, ‘in the early part of the 19th century. They didn’t live for very long, poor things. Something about the proximity of the graveyard to their water supply, from what I understand. Anne was a bit of a feminist, if that sort of thing interests you. She was many years ahead of her time . . .’
All the way to Haworth, Pamela’s thoughts ran in counterpoint to Mrs. Pascoe’s pleasant and interesting ramblings. It turned out that she had heard of stories like Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre. They were so famous as to be common household words, like salt and pepper. But she had never read either story, or seen cinematic renditions.
Once at Haworth they didn’t make their way to the top of the steep main street where the church and museum, formerly the Haworth Parsonage, were situated. Instead they went directly to a clothing store where Mrs. Pascoe closely supervised Pamela’s purchases, warning her about the coming winter weather. Afterwards, Mrs. Pascoe allowed Pamela to go to Deluxe Junk, a secondhand clothing store, where she got a number of utilitarian items: some heavy, warm outdoor clothes, a good pair of wellies with a lot of wear left in them, two pairs of walking shoes that appeared almost new, a tall, wooden plant stand she herself wouldn’t have minded owning. After leaving, they put Pamela’s parcels in the boot of Mrs. Pascoe’s car and made their way to the Black Bull. On the way, Pamela took in the names of other businesses for future reference- The Stable Door, The Copper Kettle, Spook Books . . .
‘It’s relatively quiet, for a change,’ Mrs. Pascoe said with obvious relief, appraising the interior of the Black Bull as she removed her outer garments and hung them up. When Pamela had followed suit and they had seated themselves, she added, ‘Suits me just fine, without all those obnoxious tourists cluttering up the place. Now, d’you know what you’d like?’
Pamela gazed at the menu, feeling blank. ‘I don’t know. What are “game pies?” And what are “pasties?”’
‘Oh, dear,’ said Mrs. Pascoe with mock exasperation, ‘you do need educating. I’ll order, how will that be?’ She ordered two “best” and some “pasties,” which turned out to be a couple of pints of beer or ale (Pamela didn’t know the difference) and meat and vegetable filled pastries. Pamela balked when she saw the beer but decided to drink it out of politeness. ‘Now, then,’ Mrs. Pascoe said, ‘let’s get down to brass tacks. What’s going on between you and young Mr. Dewhurst? And don’t you try to deny it! I saw you standing there in his arms- ’
‘It wasn’t anything!’ Pamela retorted in a desperate whisper, thoroughly flustered. ‘I don’t know why he did that.’
‘Did what? Did he try to kiss you?’
‘No!’ Pamela almost shouted, and then, quietly, ‘No. He didn’t do anything. I think he was just trying to be nice to me because I was so upset, but I got scared and ran-’
‘Hello, hello, and what have we here?’ It was the big blonde fellow from the farm, who stood over the two women, leering at Pamela. He was obviously a bit drunk.
‘Get lost, Albert,’ Mrs. Pascoe said. ‘We’re busy talking, and you’re obviously busy getting stewed to the gills, so go back to it.’
‘I jus’ want to have a word with Miss Prissy Pants,’ he said, sitting down beside Pamela, leaning over her and trying to put his arm around her. When she flinched away he only laughed and put his arm around her. ‘We’ll have none of that!’ he said, drunkenly. ‘Come on, lass, how abou- ow, OW!’
Pamela had taken two of his fingers and bent them backwards. She then scooted away from him, put her back to the wall, and used her legs to push the loutish Albert unceremoniously off the seat onto the floor, prompting a couple of staff members to investigate.
‘He bothering you women?’
‘He is!’ the two women said together.
‘Come on, you,’ the barkeep said, ‘sit down! And not with the women! Go back to where you were, with your friends. Once more and you’ll be out of here for good.’
As Albert was led away, Mrs. Pascoe said to him, ‘Little kittens got claws sometimes, Albert,’ prompting him to make an obscene gesture. ‘Don’t worry about him,’ she told Pamela. ‘He’s not a bad fellow, really. He’s just a wee bit . . . coarse. I liked the way you handled him, though,’ she added with a wide grin. ‘You should have hauled off and nutted him a good one. I’d’uv paid good money to see that!’
‘That bitch, Miss Prissy Pants, she’s the one as broke my fingers . . . ’
The two women shared a look and, along with Albert’s companions, burst into laughter.
‘Well, so much for a quiet time,’ Pamela said.
‘[_ She did! She broke my hand- no, my fingers. Right here, see?’ _]
This was received with more unsympathetic laughter.
‘Poor Albert doesn’t seem to have a very receptive audience, does he?’ Mrs. Pascoe said. ‘I do wish he’d shut up! How’s your pastie?’
‘Hot!’ Pamela said, only having managed a nibble or two so far. ‘By the way, I don’t quite get this exchange thing. How much is a British pound worth, exactly?’
‘As compared to what?’ Mrs. Pascoe said, dryly. Then, she told her.
‘I spent how much? Oh, no! Mrs. Dewhurst’s going to be so mad at me-’
‘Don’t be daft! You were supposed to spend all of it! Mrs. Dewhurst, indeed.’
This last remark was utterly lost on Pamela, who looked in her purse and estimated how much she had left.
‘What in Heaven’s name is wrong now?’
‘This can’t be right,’ Pamela said, her face pale. ‘This is more money than I’ve ever made in-’
‘As I said before, “Don’t be daft!” “Mrs. Dewhurst” gave you that money to spend because he- she, rather, cares about you. Spend it. It’ll make her feel good, as well as yourself. For God’s sake, luv,’ she said, reaching across and sorting out some of the girl’s unruly curls, said, ‘you’ve got to understand that you’re living with people who care about you, who’ll do more than just talk about it. Besides,’ she added with a wicked grin, ‘if some of what you got doesn’t catch Mr. Theo’s eye, nothing will.’
‘He doesn’t even like me,’ Pamela said quietly. ‘He always makes me feel like an intruder . . . which I am, sort of-’
‘Stop talking nonsense! You don’t know what’s going through that head of his. Theo just isn’t very good at showing how he feels.’
‘Yes, well he doesn’t seem to have any difficulty showing how he feels when he’s angry with me.’
‘Anger, that’s easy,’ Mrs. Pascoe said with a wry smile. ‘Love, on the other hand- that can be very hard.’
‘Love?’ Pamela said. ‘He doesn’t seem to have any trouble expressing his feelings to his mother.’
Mrs. Pascoe gave her a wry look. ‘This isn’t exactly his mother we’re talking about, now, is it?’
‘But . . . what are we talking about?’
‘Pamela! Come on, finish your lunch. It’s time we were getting back. If you need me to tell you something like that, well! You’re just going to have to muddle through this one on your own.’
That Sunday they went to church, and Pamela discovered that, as Mrs. Dewhurst had said, church was a household affair. To her surprise, she found the experience enjoyable. As well, it brought her one step closer to feeling as though she truly belonged to something. The only other time she had experienced anything similar was during Christmas at the Mission. But this experience was wholly different: it was more far-reaching, in ways she couldn’t put into words. It wasn’t a sentiment that began and ended with the holiday season; it was an ongoing tradition that permeated the lives of the people she lived amongst, and she found herself wanting very much to be a part of things.
When it came time to sing hymns, however, she found that the choir-director had actually turned and was looking right at her. Thinking that she was singing too loud, or off-key, or something, she flushed with embarrassment, dropped her gaze to the vicinity of the floor and mouthed the rest of the words.
At the end of the service, as the congregation was breaking up, she watched with her heart in her mouth as the choir-director approached her. Flustered, she said, ‘I didn’t mean . . . I’m sorry . . . ’
‘Mr. Howard, meet the newest addition to our staff, Miss Pamela Dee,’ Mrs. Dewhurst said. ‘And don’t mind her. She’s always apologizing for something, whether she needs to or not!’
‘You have a North American accent,’ he said to Pamela. ‘Where are you from?’
Pamela told him.
‘And how long do you intend on staying . . . ?’ His eyes strayed to Mrs. Dewhurst as he said this.
‘Why, she is living with us more or less permanently, Mr. Howard.’
‘Indeed? Then perhaps Miss Dee would be so kind as to lend our little choir the use of her beautiful soprano voice?’
‘Wha- I can’t sing!’ Pamela blurted, turning crimson.
To her surprise, Mr. Howard and the people standing near to her chuckled in response.
‘My dear,’ Mr. Howard told her, ‘if you truly cannot sing, then I hope to enjoy endless hours of your alleged inability in the weeks, months and years to come.’
‘She’ll be at choir practice on Wednesday,’ said Mrs. Dewhurst, without waiting for an affirmation or refusal from Pamela.
‘Splendid! I’ll arrange transportation for her . . . ’
The conversation became desultory after that, during which Pamela noticed Theo watching her with an odd expression- she couldn’t tell whether he was angry with her or what. He had given her a similar look when he had first seen her wearing one of her new outfits, an autumn-rust-coloured sweater, heavy thigh-length forest-green wool skirt, comfortable black hose, the first she had ever worn in her life, sensible leather shoes, a fashionable-looking beret and warm quilted jacket. His eyes, then as now, strayed almost unwillingly to her legs, her bust, her overall form, as though he was satisfied with what he saw- if “satisfied” was the right word. She found herself squirming under his scrutiny, but not as though she didn’t like his attention, but rather because she found herself wishing . . . what? That he would come to her and- do what? Once again, her gaze caught by his, she found something disturbing in his gaze that took her breath away, made her heart pound uncontrollably. But she didn’t look away, afraid that if she did so, he would too, would lose interest in whatever it was he saw in her.
‘Pamela! Are you coming?’
‘What? Oh, sorry . . . I’m coming, Mrs. Pascoe.’
‘Pamela Dee, if I hear you apologise to me once more, I’m going to wash your mouth out with soap!’
Things took on a comfortable routine over the next several weeks, broken only by choir practice, church, and the odd foray into Haworth. As Christmas drew near, however, Pamela felt her spirits falling. It seemed that everyone was going away for the holidays. Everyone, that is, except herself. Soon it appeared as though she would be alone in the house over the holidays.
The week before Christmas, as she and the others exchanged idle chitchat while they prepared supper, Ellie said suddenly, ‘Perhaps you’d like to come with Doris and me to Scarborough for the holidays? You’ll probably be bored to tears, sharing Christmas with a pair of dried-up old maids like us, but it’ud be much better than sitting here all by your lonesome.’
‘Besides,’ put in Doris, ‘we have a number of nieces your age, some of whom will be dropping by Christmas day, and some of whom will be staying over for the holidays.’
‘Well,’ Pamela said doubtfully, ‘if I’m not too much bother-’
‘Nonsense!’ Ellie said firmly. ‘We’ll put you to work making cookies and treats and Christmas pudding and rum cake. You’ll be no bother at all, and you’ll soon forget all about whatever it is that’s making you so quiet these days.’
Ellie was as good as her word. Pamela had such a good time that when the holidays were finally over and they boarded the train to go home, she found she was genuinely going to miss the east coast and all the people she had met there; especially Tessa, Ellie and Doris’s youngest niece, who was almost exactly Pamela’s age. The two had promised to write to one another just as soon as they arrived at their respective homes.
A few days later, as Mrs. Dewhurst and Theo were leaving with their driver, Mr. Pascoe, Pamela approached them awkwardly. Unfortunately it was Theo who was the last to leave the house, so she was forced to confront him with her request.
‘A letter? Well . . . of course, but . . . why didn’t you simply send it by e-mail?’
Red-faced, Pamela stammered something unintelligible. She didn’t want to admit to him that she had never sent or received a real letter to a personal friend before. To her incomprehension, he checked outside to see if Mr. Pascoe and his mother were in the car, closed the door, took a quick glance about to make sure no one was watching, took her by the waist, drew her to him, and kissed her. Maddeningly, for the longest moment her body responded of its own accord, until she wrenched herself free from his grasp and stood before him, gasping for breath.
She struck him before she realized she’d done it. He stood there for a moment, his features a mixture of frank astonishment, surprise at what he’d done and outright anger. Without another word or backward glance he spun on his heel and was out the door. She watched the car pull out of the drive from behind the drapes but couldn’t get a look at his face.
‘Except for the slap at the end, that was all very nice.’
It was Ellie, who was making her way towards the kitchen. She had remarked in such a way as though what she had witnessed was no more remarkable than the weather. Behind her stood Mrs. Pascoe, who managed despite herself to look a little worried.
‘Oh, dear, I’m afraid you’ll have to be on your best behaviour for a while. It’s not often that young Mr. Theo gets his face slapped.’ With alacrity she followed Ellie into the kitchen.
Pamela wasn’t sure, but she thought the two women were actually laughing. She, however, was in mortal agony. Why had she done that? He was only trying to be nice to her. Wasn’t he? She was tempted to go to her room and pack her things. Theo would no doubt want to send her packing after this! Instead, feeling awkward, she made her way to the kitchen to lend Ellie and Mrs. Pascoe a hand. Both women looked a little red-faced and red-eyed.
‘Oh, my dear,’ said Ellie, her laughter threatening to bubble over once more, ‘it’s a good thing you didn’t take the nearest blunt object and nut him.’
‘Yes,’ agreed Mrs. Pascoe. ‘When in doubt, do use some discretion. Did you see the look on his face?’
At once, both women collapsed into helpless fits of laughter.
‘It isn’t funny!’ Pamela protested weakly, unable not to smile. ‘You two are going to get me into more trouble than I’m already in.’
‘We could do with a bit more of that sort of trouble around here,’ said Ellie. ‘Ah, me, that’s enough of that! I haven’t laughed so hard in such a long time . . . Pamela, do be a dear and roll out those pie crusts.’
When Theo and Mrs. Dewhurst arrived home later that afternoon, to Pamela’s lasting surprise nothing was mentioned about the incident. She surmised that Mrs. Dewhurst knew nothing about it but Theo acted as if nothing had happened between them, though come suppertime he regarded her once or twice with what appeared to be anger or amusement, though about either she couldn’t be sure.
That evening, however, something happened that drove all thought of her misadventure with Theo from her mind. A man from a nearby farm came to the back door and asked for Mrs. Dewhurst.
Standing in the trampled snow, shifting nervously from foot to foot, cap in hand, he said, ‘Sorry to bother you, Mrs. Dewhurst, but it’s my daughter. She’s with child, and she’s in a bad way.’ It was snowing heavily, making the roads dangerous, if not impassable. The man had walked almost three miles through rough country, wearing clothing that looked hopelessly inadequate. For the first time since Pamela had known her, Mrs. Dewhurst appeared very upset.
‘How bad, Glen? Is it the weather, or has she fallen-?’
‘I don’t know,’ he said helplessly. ‘The way she’s going, we’re going to lose both her and the baby.’
Mrs. Dewhurst sat down, looking shaken. To Pamela’s astonishment, there was helplessness in those eyes she had come to think of as dauntless. Mrs. Dewhurst looked to her son, who had just entered the room, and said, as though astonished and outraged at her own uselessness, ‘Bloody hell, Theo, I don’t know what to do! I can’t wade through that snow all the way to the Cross cottage!’
‘I’ll go.’ It wasn’t until all eyes were upon her that Pamela realized she had spoken. Finding her voice once more, she said, ‘I’ll do it. I’ve looked after people that were- I’ve helped deliver babies a couple of times before.’
There was a long moment’s silence. Finally, it was broken by Theo.
‘That’s it, then. I’m coming with you.’
It was a brutal three miles, wading through the snow and dense bush. It may as well have been thirty for all the headway they were making, stumbling blindly into the stinging bite of the wind. Theo caught her when she stumbled, which was often, but her mind was focused on what had to be done.
‘How far gone is she?’ Pamela asked as they pulled themselves over a fallen tree.
‘How far into her pregnancy is your daughter, Mr. Cross?’
‘Oh,’ he replied uncomfortably. ‘Well, I’m not sure. If you mean, “How long has it been since she got herself pregnant,” then I can’t tell you, because I wasn’t there. You’ll have to ask her yourself.’
Wonderful! Pamela ran over and over in her mind what little she had learned about birthing babies from the midwives and paramedics she had watched. They had all been difficult births, and by assisting she had learned far more than she wanted to know. Yet it seemed that now, when she needed to know, it wasn’t enough!
Thankfully, when she fell and Theo caught her, he seemed as preoccupied as she, doing only what was necessary, his attention on getting them safely to the Cross cottage without mishap.
Struggling into the howling wind was pure torture. Pamela’s forehead felt like beaten lead and her head ached interminably, despite the thick woolen scarf and warm hat she wore. And her mittens, though warm, were made for more casual use, not for wading about through snowstorms. They came only to her wrists, leaving her wrists red and raw and aching. Her thighs, too, ached from the exertion of having to lift her legs out of the deep snow. Just when Pamela thought the exposed skin of her face was going to freeze, they came to the bottom of a hill. At the top, upon the ridge, stood a cottage lighted from within by the yellow glow of oil lamps. They soon stumbled their way up the hill to the cottage, pulled open the door, went in, and shut the wind and snow outside.
Mr. Cross wasted no time leading Pamela to the loft where the pregnant girl lay. Pamela soon noticed, however, the moment she pulled off mitts, scarf, hat and coat, that the air within the cottage was scarcely warmer than without.
‘For God’s sake, Mr. Cross, build up the fire . . . it’s freezing in here! And fill that large preserving kettle with water and boil it. No, that one, the big one by that pile of firewood. The tap’s frozen? Then use snow! Don’t you have any clean linen? Well . . . take what you’ve got, boil it on the stove and then hang it and dry it.’
‘Now, Emma,’ Pamela said, trying her best to sound brave and competent, ‘you’re obviously in labour, aren’t you?’
The girl, who appeared about Pamela’s age, was brown-haired, her complexion pale and puffy-looking. She was weeping and looked terrified. ‘I’m going to die, aren’t I?’
‘What? Don’t be ridiculous! Now, tell me, Emma, are you in labour? And how far into your pregnancy are you? And don’t fib to me about it! Your dad’s outside with Theo filling pots and kettles with snow; neither of them can hear. Emma, this is very important: how many months along are you?’
‘Uh! It’s nine! It’s nine months! But don’t tell my father! Please! He’ll kill me!’
‘If he tries anything of the sort, then I’ll beat him within an inch of his life,’ Pamela said, trying to sound as though she meant it. After checking the girl’s belly, what she discovered almost made her balk. Pausing to take a deep breath, carefully schooling her features to conceal her own anxiety, she said, ‘Okay, Emma, your baby’s not in the right position to be born. That means I’m going to have to reach inside you and turn the baby so that it can come out. This is going to hurt like hell, but I want you to be very brave, and bite down on this.’ She rolled up a facecloth and stuck it in the girl’s mouth. ‘Now, you can scream all you like, but don’t worry about it too much. You’re not going to die. It’s only pain. In a few hours the pain will be nothing more than a memory, and you’ll have a brand-new life to look after.’
After some time, it occurred to Pamela that Mr. Cross hadn’t come near the loft, except to stand at the foot of the stair and shout about clean linen and hot water. Theo did ask whether or not she wanted help but Pamela declined, going down once, taking Theo aside and asking him to keep a rein on Mr. Cross, who sat at the kitchen table cursing his daughter’s indiscretion, seeming not to care who heard. After a few more minutes of this, Pamela heard Theo raise his voice only once, and nothing further was heard from Mr. Cross.
About three in the morning, a red-faced, healthy baby boy screamed his protest over being brought into this world of uncertainty. Soon after, Pamela came down the stairs of the loft, white-faced and unsteady. Theo quickly got to his feet and led her to the table. Mr. Cross sat on a small stool by the stove with his arms crossed, trying to look defiant. But he said, ‘It’s over, then, isn’t it? My Emma, she’s dead, isn’t she?’
‘No, Mr. Cross,’ Pamela said, taking the tea Theo handed to her. ‘She and the baby are just fine. You have a grandson.’
‘Yes, Mr. Cross. Why don’t you go up and see him?’
It seemed he wasn’t going to reply at first. Yet when Pamela least expected it, he abruptly lost his composure, his gruff exterior and bravado falling away like a broken curtain. ‘Oh, my poor little Emma! I’ve been such an unconscionable bastard!’ He put his head in his hands and wept. ‘She’ll never forgive me.’
Setting down her tea, going to Mr. Cross and kneeling before him, Pamela said, ‘I think everything will be fine from now on, Mr. Cross. An unwanted pregnancy is a hard thing to deal with, but this is your grandson. Emma will want you to see him.’
Mr. Cross took her hands, tears spilling unashamedly from his eyes. ‘God bless you, lass! You’re a saint, that’s what you are!’ He got to his feet, took a deep breath as though considering how to face whatever was waiting for him atop the loft, and began the ascent.
‘Is Her Saintship ready to go home?’ Theo said. His smile, for once, though slightly mocking, couldn’t conceal the kindness that lay behind it.
‘Her Saintship isn’t looking forward to making that journey twice,’ Pamela said, and took a sip of her tea. ‘But we’d better get on with it before I fall asleep.’
It was nearly seven when Pamela stumbled back to the Dewhurst mansion, leaning on Theo’s arm for support, unaware that she was doing so, and all but prostrate from exhaustion. Without saying a word to anyone she made her way upstairs, threw herself prone upon her bed without first removing her clothing, and was instantly asleep.
Pamela slept remarkably few hours (for her), waking up at one o’clock in the afternoon. Getting out of bed she noted belatedly that she was dressed in warm bedclothes, a realisation that caused her to flush with embarrassment. ‘Someone undressed me completely and put me to bed!’ Yet at the same time this discovery brought out feelings she hadn’t experienced since she was a little girl. That someone, probably Ellie and Doris, had taken care of her, had dressed her in a heavy flannel nightgown and put her to bed. She found that it was a good feeling, like being picked up and held in someone’s arms.
She wanted to thank Theo for lending her his strength and support the night before, but found she didn’t know how. She was spared having to try, however, because upon going downstairs she discovered that Theo had left for London at eight that morning, obviously without sleep; she was told he would be gone for two weeks. Feeling strangely disappointed, she threw herself with renewed vigour into the housework she had begun, spending whole days cleaning the kitchen before moving on to other parts of the mansion.
A few days later, while Pamela was standing on top of the dining-room table polishing the cut-glass prisms of the chandelier, Doris answered the front door when the bell rang. She returned a few moments later, sorting through several envelopes. ‘There’s something in the mail here for you, Pamela,’ she said, her voice belying nothing. ‘I’ll leave it here on the table for you.’
Too engrossed in what she was doing to stop, Pamela finished cleaning the last of the grime from the chandelier and tossed her rag in the bucket, its sloshing contents a murky yellow-brown, attesting to years of accumulated cooking grease and smoke stain. Only belatedly she remembered the letter and picked it up. To her delight, she discovered that it was from Tessa. She tore it open, and read:
Would you mind very much if I called you Pam? Everyone calls me Tess, except for my aunts and uncles. There’s no need for formality between friends, now is there?
I got your letter only today. Sorry I didn’t write sooner but we only got back from Danby last night so I didn’t have much of a chance.
How are aunt Ellie and aunt Doris getting along? They are special, aren’t they? I can’t imagine why they never married, except that they’ve always been perfectly satisfied with their own company, at least, that what I’ve been told. No place for a man in their lives, it seems, unless it’s a visit from the gardener.
Mum wants to know if you can come visit us this summer, with aunties Ellie and Doris when they come to visit. She liked you very much, Mum did, as did the whole family. As you can tell from my address, I live in Hornsea, which is about 25 km south of Bridlington. I believe I told you over Christmas that I lived in Hornsea, but neglected to tell you where Hornsea was. Like Scarborough, it’s right on the Sea (the Ocean, Mum is telling me over my shoulder). We have a place in Cornwall, too, that my parents let to friends of theirs. Its right on the ocean, and there’s a tiny summer cottage on the property which we can have all to ourselves. By late fall it’s usually empty, so I’m hoping that we can go there sometime in September or October, just you and I, without a bunch of older people bothering us.
Please say you’ll come. And write soon!
Your friend, Tess
Pamela smiled to herself and read the letter over several times before giving it to Ellie and Doris to read, but waited until they finished reading to take it back, as though afraid to let it out of her sight.
‘You and Tessa enjoyed each other’s company very much, didn’t you,’ Ellie said thoughtfully as she handed Pamela what she knew to be the girl’s most prized possession of the moment, and went back to kneading bread dough.
‘I’ve never had a friend like her before,’ Pamela was able to say without bitterness.
‘Nor she, you,’ Ellie told her. ‘I’ve never seen her look so happy.’
‘Tessa? I can’t imagine her being unhappy,’ Pamela said.
Ellie smiled a small, enigmatic smile. ‘Around you, my girl, it’s hard not to find something to smile about. Especially not since you threw out Norrie’s preserves! The poor woman was positively scandalized.’
Pamela couldn’t help but make a face. ‘But Ellie, they were growing. I was afraid she might actually try to feed them to someone.’
‘Yes, well, they had been sitting in the cupboard for a good long time. Fifteen years at least would be my guess. They were rather a fixture in this household, but perhaps you’ve inadvertently saved us all from a fate worse than death.’ She managed to say this without cracking the least hint of a smile, or pausing in her kneading. ‘Regardless, you will help Norrie make some more in the near future, won’t you? At least, let her feel that she’s participating in some small way. It doesn’t take much to make the poor soul happy. All it takes is a little kindness.’
Pamela cringed, despite Ellie’s attempt to lighten her unintended slight against Norrie’s incompetence. ‘I didn’t realize that I’d hurt her feelings. We’ve got some extra fruit that needs to be used up. How be I fetch her and we make preserves out of that?’
‘That sounds splendid,’ Ellie said, her enigmatic half-smile returning. ‘I’m sure that with your help Norrie will be quite herself again.’
In fact, Norrie did quite well, for Norrie. She was having one of her good days and didn’t forget a thing or become sidetracked. She quite forgave Pamela and seemed happier than she had been since Christmas.
As they were processing the bottled preserves, Norrie said, quite unexpectedly, ‘I don’t understand why Mr. Theo hasn’t asked you to marry him. There’s no one in his life, and you would be so good for him. I wonder why he hasn’t seen that for himself yet?’
‘I don’t know what you mean! Mr. Theo would never want someone like me.’ Pamela said brusquely. ‘I just work in his house. He needs somebody like himself, someone who was born into wealth, who grew up with it, who knows how to deal with it.’
‘Piffle! My dear, after the few short months you’ve been here, you practically run this establishment. You think I don’t notice, or that old Norrie’s wits are somewhat addled. But I do know this much! Theo relies on you. He depends on you. And the sooner he comes to realize this for himself, the better!’
‘I do only what he tells me,’ Pamela rejoined. ‘I don’t know the first thing about business.’
‘Have you told him yet that you’re in love with him?’
Pamela could only gape.
Norrie gave her a look that was all too knowing. ‘Come, girl, everyone under this roof knows how you feel about him, with the possible exception of you and Mr. Theo himself. You’ve never been intimate with a man, have you.’ It was a statement.
‘What-?’ Pamela, who had gone a deep shade of red, could only manage a squeak.
‘You’re still a virgin, aren’t you? That’s why you’re so terrified to get too close to Mr. Theo. God knows, in this day and age, that’s a rare commodity. Unless you want to end up a nun you’d better hurry up and tell him how you feel. He won’t hold out hope forever, you know.’
‘Norrie! Theo . . . he doesn’t want me. He’s not the least bit interested-’
‘Then why’d he buy you all those new clothes, eh? I know, he told you that the money came from Mrs. D. Well, it didn’t. If you must know, I overheard Mrs. D. saying that it was about time he was nice to the girl, meaning you. So there.’
‘Norrie . . . I-’ she stopped herself and, purely on impulse, went over to Norrie and hugged her. ‘I’m sorry I threw out your preserves.’
‘Oh, bosh! At least these will be edible. I was having a rather bad time of it when the old batch got made. The others kept them far too long, just to humour me, thinking I didn’t know they’d gone bad. Brr! I hope you had sense enough not to open them before you threw them out. But never mind. A clean slate! That’s what we all need. And you know, my dear, there are times when I can’t help but think of you in those terms. Now come, that’s fifteen minutes. Let’s seal these and get the next batch in before both of us lose track entirely.’
Theo returned four days later during an horrific snowstorm. There had been a number of problems: icy road conditions, impassable roads, collisions involving several cars. Theo and Mr. Pascoe had just finished changing a tyre only a few miles from the Dewhurst place, and they were both thoroughly chilled and miserable. Without thinking, Pamela brought Theo a large mug of coffee laced with rum as he sat in the sitting room by the fire, glaring at the inclement weather from the safety of his armchair. He accepted the mug from her, smelled it in surprise, and drank deeply. Pamela had turned away and was just about to leave when unexpectedly he said, ‘Wait, please. Sit down a moment. I wish to have a word with you.’
She did as he asked, but sat on the edge of the chair across from him, stung with misgiving, hands clutched in the hem of her apron. As before, taking in her demeanor, he seemed angry or unsatisfied with what he saw. What he said, however, caught her entirely off-guard.
‘I’ve managed to track down your parents.’
Ashen-faced, Pamela could only stare, waiting for him to continue.
‘They’re both alive, living in different parts of North America. Neither of them expressed the slightest curiosity over how you are, or what you look like now that you’ve grown.’
Looking away from him, Pamela wiped at tears that came unbidden, yet found herself experiencing a sudden detached feeling of desolation that was somehow akin to fate, as though she had known all along that this would moment would come. Her parents were not the kind of people that Theo and his family would ever associate with. It was over.
‘When are you sending me back?’
He was silent for several long moments. At last, he said very quietly, ‘Is that what you want?’ For the first time, his voice sounded gentle, if that was possible.
‘What I want?’ she said, bitterly. ‘What I want doesn’t matter, does it? I suppose I should be used to that by now-’
He took a deep breath, let it out slowly. ‘I’m not sending you back unless that’s what you want. I would rather you stayed-’
Wryly considering her wide-eyed look of surprise, he said, ‘Look, it must be clear by now, even to you, that you’ve made yourself something of an asset around here, not just in our home, but in this community.’ It was clear that this wasn’t what he intended to say, but he plunged ahead. ‘That Cross child would have died if you hadn’t known what to do. The church choir sounds better than it ever has. From what I understand, you have a big solo coming up at Easter. You’ve rattled the cobwebs out of all the dark corners of this house and organised my files. Of course I want you to stay.’ He considered her for a long moment, until she coloured under his scrutiny. ‘All right, Miss Pamela Dee, as Mother says! You may now run away if you wish. I suppose you’re still a little young to understand what I really meant to say to you.’
Taking his empty coffee mug, she left for the kitchen, trying not to smile. Of course she understood. He wasn’t sending her away after all! She could stay if she wanted to! What could be more obvious?
She was so elated that for the rest of that day, and for the rest of that week, the little worm of melancholy which had been eating away at her heart was quiescent.
Inevitably, Pamela’s thoughts turned often to Theo and the time he had kissed her. She didn’t like to think that he’d done so merely because he was a typical male in his prime who merely wanted to satisfy his carnal appetite without any sort of regard for her as a person, that he thought of her only as an object, a toy, a possible outlet. Such thoughts evoked feelings of hurt, anger, betrayal. But who was she kidding! Her own body had betrayed her. If Theo hadn’t allowed her to break free of his grasp, he could easily have taken her. And what was worse, Pamela had no illusions about his physical strength, which was easily more than a dominating force where a mere slip of a girl like herself was concerned, or that when he held her, that she wanted him in ways that made her flush to think of. That feeling in itself made her writhe, with embarrassment, with anticipated pleasure, with outright humiliation, with a strange sort of tingling in her vitals which she instinctively knew was the beginning of carnal desire.
So much for simply being content to live under the same roof with the man!
As the weeks went by, a curious thing began happening to her. She was becoming emotionally stronger, bolstered by the people she had come to love, to think of as her very own family, yet weaker at the same time, unable to control her moods, especially where Theo was concerned.
Winter had lost its harsh sting and was just beginning to show signs of abating when one morning, as the women were serving breakfast to the field workers, they ran short of eggs. It was a strange sort of morning; more like a sepia photograph or an old memory than waking reality. Things moved in a fluid, slow-motion sort of way, like the cloying, wraithlike mists that floated grudgingly across the moors, clinging to the sweeps of gorse as though possessing tendrils.
‘Pamela,’ Ellie said as the girl took a fresh loaf of bread out of the oven and set it on the counter to cool, ‘would you mind very much fetching some eggs, please? We’re all out, and I’ve got my hands full at the moment.’
Pamela, Ellie and the other women members of the staff were wearing brand-new uniforms which they themselves had made only days before. The material was still crisp and new-smelling, and they were dove grey and white, trimmed with a deep burgundy. Of course, all of the women were loath to allow anything to stain, tear, snag or otherwise mar their new and illustrious attire, so they were more than a little stiff and careful in their movements, where before they had been far more loose and casual. This fact stood out in Pamela’s mind, momentarily, as though nothing else mattered in the world. It was as though she were laying on her bed, her vision filled by nothing except a vision of a crisp, new uniform.
But that was nonsense. Where was she? Oh, yes, she was putting on her wellies, which waited for her on a rubber mat by the back door. Pamela then hitched up her dress on one side with one hand and, carrying the wire egg basket in the other, made her way to the chicken coop. She didn’t mind this chore in the slightest. To get free-range eggs in their freshest possible form caused a childlike wonder to stir within her, and she went about the task dutifully, talking at the chickens as though they were all familiar old friends-
‘Well, if it isn’t Miss Prissy Pants.’
Startled, Pamela almost dropped the basket. ‘Albert! What are you doing, lurking in the dark back there! You almost gave me a heart-attack.’ Though she had been startled, the moment seemed somehow rehearsed, as though she had gone over and over it in her mind, until she had got it just right.
‘I saw you coming,’ he said. ‘I came through the back way from the barn.’
‘Oh,’ Pamela said, her attention on making her collection. ‘Well, don’t do that. At least make some noise so I know you’re there.’ She was suddenly uncomfortably aware that he was standing very close behind her. Without warning, he put his hands on her waist. Was that what happened? Yes, that’s how it was.
‘Come on, Miss Prissy Pants. Let’s go into the barn for a bit.’
Afraid now, she pulled free of him, continuing with her task, hoping he would simply give up and leave. ‘Don’t touch me like that, Albert! I mean it! Go and do . . . whatever it is that you do. The men are all sitting down having breakfast. Why don’t you go join them?’
‘I’ll join them all right,’ he said, and picked her up by the waist, making her cry out in alarm. ‘I’ll join them after we have a little romp in the hay.’
Unceremoniously, he hoisted her onto his shoulder, causing her to drop the eggs- she watched them, one by one, as they fell- perfect, pristine ovoids one instant, scattered spilth and ruin the next. Terrified now, her mouth dry, she realized that he was going to rape her unless she did something. But he was horribly strong; there was nothing she could do to break his grasp. And for some reason found that she couldn’t scream for help; somewhere in the back of her mind, she felt as though she somehow deserved what was happening to her.
He carried her into the barn and flung her onto her back on a fresh pile of straw, his gloating, totally self-involved mien chilling; it was all she could do not to throw up from fear.
‘You’ve no idea how I’ve been waiting for this, you uppity little slut. Think you’re too good for the likes of me, eh? Don’t want to get a little dirt on all that starched linen?’ He was on her now, having undone his belt and pulled his pants to his knees, before forcing his hands up her dress, grabbing her undergarments. At that moment, sheer terror accomplished what no amount of calm reason or calculated thought could. She pulled away from him just enough to begin kicking. Somehow she found herself away from him, her hand touching something smooth and hard. It was the handle of a long, three-tined pitchfork. She picked it up, got to her feet, and squared off with him.
Laughing as he pulled up his pants, still approaching, he said, ‘What you going to do with that Miss Prissy Pants? Poke me with it? Think a little city bitch like you can take me?’
Call it blind instinct and desperation, call it what you will; she knew in that instant that her continued existence depended on fighting, lashing out at him with every ounce of strength she possessed. Viciously, she jabbed the tines into Albert’s shins, making him back up in surprise. Every time he turned away and exposed some unprotected part of himself, she lunged, utterly without mercy.
‘Ow. OW! Stop, damn you! Agh! You little- Get off, or I’ll-’
‘Or you’ll what?’ Pamela shouted at him, her features suffused with terror, and with unfamiliar emotions that she could never have imagined before: the desire to lash out and hurt someone, to kill something that was monstrous and evil. She was shaking like a leaf, but managed to keep herself under control. ‘Get moving! Go! Into the chicken coop! You’re going to start by cleaning that basket. Then you’re going to fill it, and if you try anything and you don’t do exactly what I tell you then I’m going to skewer you like a pig. DO YOU UNDERSTAND ME!!!’ Surely that wasn’t her screaming?
As they came back to the house, there was a crowd standing at the back door, wondering what all the commotion was about. Some of the men were laughing, until the two got close enough to see. All present became utterly silent when Pamela said to Albert in a low voice, as he handed the eggs to Ellie, ‘If you ever try to force yourself on me again, Albert Askrigg, I’ll-’
‘You’ll what?’ he said belligerently, feeling bolstered by the presence of the others. ‘What’ll you do? Fire me?’
‘She won’t, but I will.’ It was a quiet voice that made everyone turn around in surprise. It was Theo, who was standing at the back door, his features unreadable, but there was something unmistakably dangerous about the way he was standing. ‘Ellie, would you be so kind as to take Pamela to her room? And as for you, Albert, I think that you and I had better have a little man-to-man . . . discussion.’
White-faced, Pamela stood as though dazed. Didn’t she have a pitchfork in her hand a moment ago? Albert turned to look at her once, giving her a look of pure, murderous hate.
‘I’ll be back for you,’ he said, pointing at her as though he were a demon invoking a curse upon her life. ‘You won’t get off so easy next time.’
At once Pamela felt physically ill. She fled upstairs to the bathroom and heaved the contents of her stomach. It took a long while for the aftereffects of Albert’s intended abuse to surface, and she was sick to her stomach and weeping for some time before she heard running water. At last , Ellie or Doris, or perhaps Mrs. Pascoe, had come to comfort her. She heard the sound of water being wrung from a cloth and felt its damp warmth pressed to her lip- and a searing stab of pain!
At her sudden reaction, Ellie said, ‘I’m sorry . . . , did that hurt? What am I saying? Of course it does. Here, come lie on the bed and I’ll take your shoes off. Mrs. Pascoe is coming up in a few minutes to sit with you. Dr. Morris is on his way.’
Pamela lay in a daze as Ellie tended to her lip, wiped the perspiration from the girl’s brow. Why was she feeling so strange, as though she was watching and listening to everything from the bottom of a well? And- ‘Ellie, what happened to my lip? Why do I hurt so much? Wh-?’
‘Shush, now. Don’t try to talk. You’re in shock. He beat you up pretty badly- that . . . that animal!’
‘Wha- ow! What are you talking about? He just pulled me into the barn, and I . . . I-’
‘Oh, my dear! If that’s how you remember things,’ Ellie said very quietly, as though on the verge of weeping, ‘then perhaps that’s how you should remember them. Now lay quiet. Don’t try to talk. Just lie still and we’ll take care of you.’
Pamela began feeling very strange: things and people moved about her, but she couldn’t make sense of them. She could only stare stupidly at the front of Ellie’s new uniform and wonder what had happened. Who were these people who kept intruding on her thoughts like phantom visitations, to stand or sit by her bed, who ignored her feeble protestations and took off her clothes and began prying and touching her in places they had no business to, inspecting her as though her body was no longer her own? One was a doctor- he told her so several times, as though that mere fact was supposed to be meaningful to her, but the rest looked like police men and women. She was sure she was dreaming, even when she slipped altogether from wakeful somnolence into an even deeper state of unreality. But still she heard voices, that of Theo and someone she didn’t know.
THEO-- ‘Have your people from CID tracked down Albert yet?’
?-- ‘No. He escaped into the moor. We’ve got trackers out looking for him.’
THEO-- ‘Damn it to hell! I should have got the others to help me restrain him.’
?-- ‘Don’t be a fool! The man’s a ruthless killer- one or more of you might have got seriously hurt or worse. You heard what my detectives said.’
THEO-- (sighs) ‘I can’t believe it. He had all of us completely fooled.’
?-- ‘Yes, well, he’s very good at that. The last girl he murdered was in Sheffield, two
years ago. They were living together for almost a year before he killed her-’
THEO-- ‘Good God, that was him? How many others has he-’
?-- ‘We’re not sure. There’s the six that we know of, but we suspect there are more. As
to the other matter: are you sure keeping her here is wise? He may try again-’
THEO-- ‘I’m sure. He’s slipped through CID’s fingers once too often for my comfort. Not that
I’m blaming CID, mind you. It’s just that . . . ’
?-- (kindly) ‘There’s no need to explain. Well, with any luck the moor will take care of
Mr. Albert Askrigg, and that will be the end of it. Pity, though. I’d rather we had him. I’d think nothing of roasting him alive over hot coals just to find out what he knows, so that the families of those poor girls he killed can get some sense of closure.’
Pamela woke to a sunny day, and Mrs. Dewhurst, who was sitting in a chair by the window. Hearing the girl stir, she left her chair, came and sat on the edge of the bed, felt the girl’s forehead with her wrist, then took her hands. Her manner was grave, concern erasing all the habitual humour from her mien.
‘That’s quite a shiner you’ve got. Does your lip still hurt? Doctor Morris put a stitch in it last night. Do you remember?’
Pamela shook her head, reluctant to speak for fear of tearing her lip, but grateful for Mrs. Dewhurst’s presence.
Looking at once more serious than Pamela could ever remember seeing her, Mrs. Dewhurst said gently, ‘Do you remember anything beyond getting away from that animal?’
At once there was a small flood of memory, of new uniforms and broken eggs, of herself laying on the bed being tended by Ellie, but no more. She shook her head.
‘Well,’ Mrs. Dewhurst said quietly, ‘it’s just as well, I guess.’ At last she smiled, though it did nothing to conceal her sadness. ‘Your timing’s not as good as it used to be. Look, your breakfast is still sitting here, and . . . what do you know! It’s still warm. D’you think you could manage a bite? It’s poached eggs on toast- the perfect food for an invalid.’
Pamela smiled, and winced at the pain in her lip. And then-
Her own eyes wet, Mrs. Dewhurst said, ‘Oh, my dear . . . isn’t there anything that doesn’t make you cry?’ She caressed the girl’s face fondly, and for a long moment the two shared a look as intimate as that of mother and daughter, saying nothing: no words were needed. ‘All right, now,’ Mrs. Dewhurst said at last, ‘sit up and eat your breakfast before it gets any colder.’
As soon as Pamela had eaten as much as her stomach would allow, Mrs. Dewhurst said firmly, ‘Here, you lay back down on your tummy and let me rub your back for a bit. You look like you’re ready to drop off again.’
As Pamela drifted downwards into slumber once more, her guts began churning with anxiety, her thoughts tormented by half-remembered memories or impressions of violence and pain, and incongruously- water. But Mrs. Dewhurst’s quiet voice and gentle touch smoothed out her pain until at last it became transformed from red agony and the terror of nightmares to the warm, calming, irrhythmic sparkles of tropical sunlight on a languid sea.
As she slept, a new dream came unbidden: she was walking on a beach, wearing a pale yellow summer dress, feeling the warm wind blowing, driving white breakers upon the beach. She was laughing, holding the hand of a little girl who was tugging at her to move faster, to catch up with . . .
Ahead of them, dressed in khaki-coloured shorts and faded blue T-shirt was Theo. He was deeply tanned and smiling, half-turned towards them with his hand open, waiting for Pamela and the little girl to catch up.
The child broke away from her, caught up with Theo and took his hand. The two then stood, watching her, waiting expectantly. But for some reason she couldn’t move, as though she were rooted to the spot.
Theo and the little girl began moving away, slowly, giving her plenty of time to catch up. But still she couldn’t move, and every instant they were farther and farther away. She tried her voice, but nothing would come. If she didn’t move soon, they would be out of sight altogether. Though they moved slowly, somehow, inexplicably, they were already nearing the horizon. She knew that if they passed beyond that point, both of them would be lost to her forever.
In desperation, she tried to force her unwilling feet to move, but it was as though she were mired in quicksand. Theo and the little girl were now little more than two indistinct specks shimmering in the heat haze, a mirage that was beginning to flicker and break up.
‘No . . . Theo . . . please, wait for me . . . don’t go. Theo!’
Somehow, impossibly, he was right there beside her. He had taken her hand. She looked around but couldn’t see him anywhere.
‘I can’t . . . where are you?’
She felt his other hand on her brow, large, warm, calming. ‘Shush now. I’m right here. I’m not going anywhere.’
Strange . . . he was here, right beside her, where he had been all along. But the little girl was off in the distance yet-
‘I’ll come one day,’ the little girl said. ‘But not yet. You will wait for me?’
Pamela stood watching her and wondered if the waiting would never end.
‘Come along, Pamela, you can ill-afford to be late. The concert can’t begin without its star soloist.’
Pamela smiled at Mrs. Pascoe’s exaggeration as she tied back her hair, which though still a mass of dark curls was much easier to manage since she’d let it grow out. After her recovery she’d had to make up for lost time as Easter and the concert approached. The choir-director, Mr. Howard, had intensified her vocal training as soon as she was well enough, on the pretense that Pamela and her voice were somehow an indispensable part of this year’s performance. Pamela, however, wasn’t fooled for a moment. There were four other sopranos with much more training, experience and natural ability than she could ever hope to have. She well knew the true reason to be that everyone seemed bent on finding some small way to make her forget her experience at the hands of Albert Askrigg. Yet despite their efforts not a moment went by that she wasn’t aware that Albert Askrigg still roamed free, a monster in man’s form prowling the moors of Yorkshire, dangerous, pitiless, lethal, utterly without remorse. With a little shiver she remembered that he had vowed to return one day to Dewhurst mansion and finish what he’d begun. No, it was not yet over: the demon still lived. But then, demons were supernatural beings, and therefore were unkillable: and so Albert Askrigg was free to try again, and possibly succeed where before he had failed.
She took a deep breath . . . let it out slowly . . . did her best to push such thoughts aside as being so much melodramatic nonsense, and hurried to join Mrs. Pascoe. When she got downstairs, her unpleasant musings were dispelled altogether when Pamela saw that she was indeed holding things up, that their little motorcade was lined up in the drive and ready to go.
The concert went off very well, so well in fact that she was able to sing her solo, ‘Let the Bright Seraphim,’ with something approaching confidence, though in truth she had been scared witless at having to stand up in front of everyone. But standing with her was an older gentleman, a semi-retired musician who had played all his life in the London Symphony named Benjamin Whitely who played the trumpet with sublime virtuosity, while Mrs. Dalziel, an unflappable, matronly woman accompanied them on the ancient and illustrious pipe-organ.
When the concert was over with and the crowd dispersing, Mr. Howard took Pamela by the arm and led her to a tall, distinguished-looking gentleman who was standing talking with a number of men Pamela had never met before. She noted at once that their suits were different in some manner- it was the shoulders; they had raglan sleeves and looked very expensive, and somehow foreign.
‘My dear, I want you to meet an admirer of yours. This is Mr. Carl Ruher and these people are his associates. Mr. Ruher is the former musical director of the Berlin Philharmonic, and now works for the prestigious recording company Deutsche Gramophone.’
‘Please, call me Carl, Miss Dee,’ he said in near-flawless English. ‘I was just asking my old friend Herr Howard here if you were currently under contract to do any recording. He has said “No,” so I am asking, before someone else discovers you.’
Pamela could only stare, feeling blank. ‘Recording? Recording what? I’m not sure what you’re telling me.’
To her bafflement, the men before her smiled.
‘Pamela Dee,’ Mr. Howard told her, ‘you are sometimes too unworldly and innocent to be believed! Have you never heard of Carmina Burana, by Carl Orff? I thought not. Well, my dear, you had better locate a recording and listen to it soon, because in two months’ time, you will be singing in it.’
Pamela wanted to protest that they were making a serious mistake while wondering vaguely if they were having it on at her expense, but these men were very no-nonsense, professional types and made her feel as though any protest or objection she might make would make her appear childish and frivolous. Feeling trapped, Pamela sensed a presence at her elbow, turned around and caught her breath. It was Theo.
‘When will you be wanting her for rehearsals?’
‘A week before the recording date will suffice,’ Carl Ruher said with a smile. ‘I’ll be in touch with you through Mr. Howard to arrange flights and accommodation. Good day to you. Come, Howie, where’s this village of Haworth with its famous Black Bull? I believe you owe my colleagues and I a pint or two.’
‘Flights?’ Pamela asked Theo as the others wandered off, ‘Where is this recording supposed to be done?’
‘Why, Berlin, of course,’ Theo replied as though stating something obvious.
‘What? But what about . . . Theo . . . Mr. Dewhurst, I have work to do! The paperwork for that contract in Bradford comes up in the beginning of May.’ She didn’t mean to sound desperate, but the prospect of having to do something she knew absolutely nothing about made her experience the same sort of panic as though someone had casually asked her to walk a high-wire strung between two tall buildings.
‘Not to worry,’ he said with maddening calm. ‘That’s what laptop computers are for. You’ll have plenty of time left over to get your work for me out of the way.’
‘But I need you to help me get set up,’ she said, which wasn’t true. What was true was that she didn’t want to leave her comfortable new home and be so far away from him.
‘Relax,’ he said with an unreadable smile. ‘I’ll be coming with you.’
The recording got done, but it was very nearly a complete disaster. Pamela found that she was simply not equipped to handle the pressure and demands of performing with a full choir and orchestra. The sectional singing was not a problem but a bad case of nerves early on very nearly finished her big solo. The director, a kind, patient, worldly old gentleman, who had seen and dealt with all manner of temperaments and mishaps, was able to coax her through it, but in the end she knew with certainty that her short career as a professional soloist was finished.
During the return flight she felt absolutely mortified, having let Theo down after all the trouble he had gone to. She spent the time pretending to look out the window. In truth she averted her gaze because she didn’t dare face him. And how was she going to be able to face everyone at home? She had let them down too. At the moment, all she wanted was to cry and die at the same time, which she knew sounded silly, but it was exactly how she felt.
She rode the rest of the way home with Theo in miserable silence.
That evening, sharing a late supper in the staff dining-room with Mrs. Pascoe, who had waited up for her, Pamela was thoughtful for a long time, her thoughts mainly concerned with Theo. He had shown no disappointment over her poor performance but he had offered her no encouragement either. That was so like his treatment of her, if you could call it that. He was always there, solid, strong, reliable, daunting and unshakable, but it seemed also that he was never there, at least for her. It often made her wonder, as it did now, why he bothered to be there at all. And he was always watching her, somewhat speculatively, with a half-amused quirk to his lips. When he did that, she found herself writhing, yet part of her wanted to fling herself at him in the vain hope that he would take her in his arms. That he would hold her, that he would do something to remove the niggling worm of doubt and angst that ate at her, that he would kiss her, that he would-
‘A penny. Pamela Dee, you’re blushing like a schoolgirl!’
‘What? Oh . . .’
‘Come now, you’ve hardly said two words since you got home. If I didn’t know better, I’d say you sent your body home and left your mind in Berlin by mistake. How was Berlin, by the way?’
‘I don’t know. We didn’t see much of anything except a bunch of ugly, depressing-looking old buildings. The hotel was nice enough I suppose but I was too busy to pay any attention to what was going on around me to absorb any real details.’
‘Theo said he thought you did very well.’
‘He would! It was a complete mess. I was so scared at first that all I could get out was this shaky sort of squawk. Mr. Müller was absolutely incredible, though, and so were the people in the choir and the orchestra. I can’t believe how patient they were- did Theo tell you I threw up? Well I did. It was so humiliating! I ran to the back stage and barfed. Theo and Mr. Müller had to come get me because I was afraid to go back out and face all those people. Mr. Müller told me that he’d seen it all before, that some of the world’s greatest performers went through what I was going through every time they had to go out on stage. He said not to worry, that Deutsche Gramophone had done its fair share of recordings that were an absolute disaster. He played one for me later- it was a trumpet player named Hans . . . something like Schermer; he’s one of those who play really high all the time; they play these cute little trumpets that look more like toys than the real thing. Well, this recording was done ‘way back in the 1970’s and it really was awful. The poor man! But he was already legendary and did lots of other recordings that were absolutely incredible, so I guess that kind of made up for it. The long and short of it is, he was able to take it all in stride because it happened late in his career. In my case, however, I’m afraid I’m done because it happened to me right at the beginning, and I don’t have any sort of reputation to fall back on.’ She sighed, toying idly with her food. ‘Several people there told me that quite a number of the first chair musicians are people who had the same sort of experience I did, who gave up their dream of becoming a world-class soloist and settled for security instead. They said that a lot of people were left traumatised for life by the experience, and spent the rest of their lives wishing that they could somehow find it in themselves to “overcome their personal failure.”’
‘Why is it that I’m left with the impression that you’re relieved by this experience?’ Mrs. Pascoe asked shrewdly as she put the kettle on the stove, cleared the plates, and served the two of them dessert. ‘It wouldn’t be because you’re afraid to try your wings, would it? Or is there another reason? One I’m sure I could put a name to, without having to think too long and hard about it.’
‘Well,’ Pamela said reluctantly, ‘it’s true that I was terrified just going to Berlin. I’m glad Theo was there . . . but-’
‘But,’ said Mrs. Pascoe, sitting down once more and pouring the tea, ‘you were afraid to fail because Theo was there, and you were afraid to succeed because you thought that you’d be in danger of losing him altogether.’
‘It wasn’t like that!’ Pamela told her. ‘To tell the truth, my heart just wasn’t in it. I enjoy singing in the church choir, but I like it because it feels like . . . like family to me; it feels as though I’m singing in the living-room. But being in a strange city in a huge auditorium, surrounded by all these professional people who have built their lives around something that I just stumbled into by accident . . . I just don’t feel that it’s the right sort of life for me. I wish-’ she reddened at making this admission, and said in a lower voice, ‘I wish I’d done better, of course, not for myself but to please Theo, to make him . . . like me.’
Mrs. Pascoe gave her a wry smile that was all-too-knowing. ‘Like, eh?’ She wisely left it at that.
By late Spring the weather was absolutely glorious, the flowers and flowering trees and shrubs on the estate in full-bloom, the air filled with the smell of rebirth and new life. The entire household made the trip to Haworth to spend a day enjoying a family picnic and the sight of the newly-transformed moor, which had gone from a dead dull brown to every hue of purple: mauve, lilac, maroon, magenta, and myriad other hues and colours that may have had no name. They studiously avoided the town proper, which, now that the weather had warmed up was inundated with tourists, but the surrounding countryside at this time of year was truly glorious.
Some younger relatives of the household staff had come as well: there were several children between the ages of twelve down to an adorable little sweetmeat named Jennie who stole everyone’s heart. To Pamela’s lasting delight, the child caught her eye, and after a shy moment filled with curious peeks and smiles with one finger in her mouth, came up to Pamela, extended her arms and queried, ‘Upeego?’ Pamela looked to the child’s mother, Anne, a young woman married to a nephew of the Pascoes, who shrugged and said with a smile, ‘It’s your funeral.’
Pamela was a little awkward at first, but only at first. Guided by an inner-something that could only have been instinct, she was soon making silly noises and coaxing delighted squeals from the little tyrant. Abruptly, her own laughter froze when she chanced to look up and catch Theo watching her. He was smiling! The instant he registered her gaze, however, it was as though a blind had been pulled down over his feelings. He turned away and was himself again, speaking with the other men.
At that moment, the little girl, as though guided by fate, struggled down from Pamela’s lap and stumped over to Theo, who smiled wryly at her entreaty. Pamela couldn’t hear a word he said, but the child acted completely differently with him, sitting quietly in his lap and staring up at him, her angelic features utterly rapt. He glanced in Pamela’s direction a couple of times, not to look right at her, but she felt that he was surreptitiously ascertaining whether or not she was watching him. He couldn’t disguise his very real affection for the child, however, and Pamela found herself wishing that she was sitting next to him, that-
Oh, no! He had got to his feet and was walking straight towards her!
‘I see you’ve met little Jennie,’ he said, passing her the child and sitting down, speaking with the familiar ironic drawl in his voice that so intimidated and intrigued her. ‘I didn’t realise you liked children so much.’
For some reason, Pamela practically choked on a sudden, inexplicable attack of nerves and shyness. ‘I’m not- I mean, I’ve never even h- held one before- I mmp . . . ’
Without warning, he reached across, put his arm around her, leaned over her so that she had no choice but to cling to him, and kissed her. She didn’t dare pull away, or do anything that might endanger the safety of the child. After a moment she discovered that she didn’t want to pull away, and couldn’t have cared less that everyone was probably watching. And yet . . . and yet . . .
They parted, and he watched her, frowning. ‘What’s wrong? What is it you’re so afraid of?’
She took a shuddering breath. ‘I’m afraid of you. I’m sorry, Theo, but you scare me.’ She got up and took the child back to its mother, who watched her speculatively. Her ears burning, feeling utterly conspicuous now, as though anybody and everybody was staring at her, Pamela began walking away from the gathering in search of a little privacy. At the same time some inner little voice began shouting at her.
You idiot, what are you doing? Go back right now and pick up where you left off, or he’s going to get the wrong idea!
‘Shut up!’ she muttered to herself, putting her hands over her ears, ‘Shut up! Shut . . . oh God! Theo! THEO!!’ In an instant he was at her side, as were several of the other picnic-goers.
‘What is it? What happened? Are you all right?’
‘I saw– Oh, God! Oh my God! . . .’
‘What did you see? There’s nothing out there but open moor.’
‘It was Albert! He was- I saw him- what he did! He was standing there, looking right at me.’
Theo’s look was unreadable, but he said to the other women, ‘Stay with her, please. The rest of you stay right here. I’m going to go have a look.’
‘I’d better come with.’ It was Fred Pascoe, the father of little Jennie. He was a strapping fellow of even temperament but not one to be mucked about or argued with once his mind was set on something. ‘I know these moors. If he’s anywhere about I’ll know it.’
Theo nodded curtly and they moved off.
The two were gone for so long that, though still in full view and looking at the ground, Pamela began to wonder it she’d have to suffer the humilation of discovering that she’d imagined it all, that what she’d seen was no more than a figment of her own overactive imagination. But the two returned, brusquely, something chilling and curt about their movements. Going straight to his wife, Fred said, ‘Give us the mobile, luv, and go sit in the car and lock the doors.’ Raising his voice so that all could hear, he said, ‘I suggest the rest of you do the same, whilst Theo and I wait for the police and get things sorted out here.’
As dusk settled on the moor, the tranquil evening was shattered by a chaos of sirens and flashing lights. The commotion grew to a crescendo as a coroner’s van parted the knot of parked vehicles and a body was carried towards it on a folded gurney, revealed in a stroboscopic nightmare sequence of flashing cameras.
After an interminable time Theo came to Pamela’s window and gestured. ‘Come, CID wants to speak with you.’ Through the open window, he said, ‘Lock the doors and roll up the windows, please, Mr. Pascoe. You may as well head on home with the others. We may be here a while, so don’t wait up for us. In fact, would you mind taking Mrs. Dewhurst with you, and Anne and little Jennie? Fred and Pamela and I are going to have to answer a lot of questions, and there’s no telling how long this is going to take.’
‘Is that wise, Theo?’ Mrs. Pascoe said. ‘You know how good your mother is with Pamela.’
Leaning on the edge of the open window, speaking quietly to the Pascoes, he said, ‘Look, there’s just been another murder of a young woman. Fred hasn’t said anything, but he’s sick with worry over his wife and little girl because of . . . something that we just saw, that Pamela may have been a witness to as it occurred. Your nephew and his wife and child will be staying with us until this matter is resolved, for reasons I won’t go into right now. As for Mrs. Dewhurst, I don’t want her so much as hearing about what happened here. It’s bad enough that Pamela saw what she did, but- let’s face facts, my mother isn’t a young woman, and what happened here is the sort of thing that even strong men have trouble dealing with. So, please, do as I ask, and I’ll look after Pamela as best I can.’
Pamela felt that she was caught in a netherworld between that of waking dreams and the murky depths of a subconscious that she was aware of, like an unwilling spectator, but which was not entirely her own. Albert had risen up out of the moor like a demon apparition with something in his arms, something that she couldn’t quite make out. It had a pale oval face, wide, white staring eyes and dark hair, she knew that much, and its supplicating look was one of pure abject terror. Then, it had fallen like a puppet with its strings cut. All the while, Albert had fixed her with his gaze, with eyes that nailed her to his will, a will that took away her voice, her volition, her sense of herself. When she began calling out for help, it seemed as though it were someone else who began screaming, that she still stood rooted to that spot, mesmerized, waiting for Albert to come for her . . .
‘That’s enough, gentlemen.’ Theo’s voice was at once hard and uncompromising. ‘I’ll be taking Pamela home now.’
‘We’re not done yet,’ the inspector from CID said impatiently.
‘That’s where you’re wrong,’ Theo told him. ‘She’s in shock. She needs to be away from here. You’re not blind; you can see what this is doing to her.’
The inspector sighed, pushed his glasses up on his forehead and massaged his tired eyes a moment. ‘We’ve been after Mr. Askrigg for six years now. Six. The man is like a ghost or a demon, manifesting itself long enough to do something horrific and then it’s gone again. But he’s never gone this far. Now, he’s taunting us- or rather, he’s taunting Miss Dee, here, supposedly because she’s the only one of his victims who has escaped from him with her life.’ Changing the subject, he said, ‘So, tell me, Mr. Dewhurst, how did Albert Askrigg happen to know where you were going and when?’
Theo was silent a long moment.‘I’ve been asking myself that same question. The only answer I can come up with is one I don’t even want to contemplate: that he has always been close at hand, waiting for the perfect opportunity to strike; that he has been near enough to overhear conversation. Devil take the man! He may very well have been in the house!’
‘My thoughts exactly,’ the inspector said and sat back in his chair, tiredly. ‘My men will escort you to your home, and we will set a twenty-four-hour watch. I honestly don’t know what else to do.’
Theo shrugged. ‘Do what you must. But I tell you this: Albert Askrigg is not inhuman. Don’t allow yourself to be in awe of him, or he really will defeat you. He is a man like any other. It’s just that he knows the moors, unlike any other. He has made them his home. Have you ever flown over the moors, inspector?’
Caught off-guard, the inspector said, ‘No, can’t say as I have.’
‘Well I have. They are not as vast as the Brontë sister’s overactive and inbred imaginations believed. But they are just large enough for one lone man, who knows them like the back of his hand, to evade a bunch of people who are stumbling blindly about looking for him. That is all there is to Albert Askrigg. So don’t try frightening me with tales of ghosts and demons and vast expanses of wild, gorse-strewn moor when we both know the truth to be something a trifle more mundane.’
All the way back to Dewhurst Mansion, Pamela sat in the back seat with Theo, while Fred drove. Theo had wrapped Pamela in his warm overcoat and she now snuggled against him, half-asleep, head on his chest, he with his arm around her. How she had longed for such intimate contact with him, and how it was spoilt by not being real! He was here to comfort her because she had been traumatized, not because he loved her and wanted to take her in his strong arms and hold her to him, to protect her from life’s dangers and unpredictability and uncertainty.
Ah, well, at least she could pretend for the time being. She could pretend that they were on their way home from an uneventful trip in the country, with just the two of them. Or- the thought made her smile- she could pretend that they had a little girl like Jennie, who was perhaps asleep on the seat beside them, curled up beneath a coat, features rendered angelic by slumber. If only she could simply lift her head and see love in Theo’s eyes; if only he would kiss her now and take her to bed, where she would surrender to him, and he would promise to love and protect her, for ever and always.
With such thoughts creating a membrane-like wall, protecting and insulating her essential being, she found that she was able to plunge into a deep, untroubled slumber, unsullied and untouched by any demons.
Pamela awoke to the realization that she was totally, unreservedly in love with Theo. She had known this before but her feelings had taken on a more mature timbre. She found that she was able to read him better, to see past his exterior.
But still his careful neutrality baffled her. What did it mean? That he didn’t care for her? He had never said anything to make her believe that he loved her or that he shared her feelings in any way. And yet from the beginning he had been there for her, at least physically.
What did this mean? What did this say about their relationship, if you could call it that? True, he had kissed her in front of everyone, but he certainly hadn’t declared his love for her or asked her to marry him. Would he ever ask to her marry him? Could he?
At one time her reply would have been an unequivocal “No,” but now she wasn’t quite so sure. He seemed always to be watching her and waiting for something to happen. But what? For her to grow up? To become a “real” woman? What did he see in her? What did he want her to be?
Part of her reasoned that a rich man would never even think of marrying one of his maids, though he might toy with the idea from time to time, but something, some instinct, told her that perhaps this might not be true of Theo.
She went downstairs to find the house in an uproar. Fred was there with his wife and child, and there were policemen; what had Theo called them? Oh, yes, CID, whatever that stood for. Several pairs of eyes looked at her guardedly, some speculative, some doubtful, some hopeful, some concealing inner-anxiety and impatience. Theo, too, watched her, but his look was wholly different from all the others. On the surface of it there was his habitual neutrality, but underneath Pamela could tell, could feel that he was somehow willing her to be strong.
As she reached the landing, the Chief Inspector, a red-haired giant of a man with a walrus moustache named Chief Inspector Robert Matthews, whom she had spoken to the previous evening, rose from his chair and approached her.
‘Miss Dee,’ he said deferentially, ‘how are you feeling this morning?’
Pamela noticed at once that the man appeared very tired: there were creases around his eyes that she knew were caused by lack of sleep, that he had been awake all night. While she had slept, long and well. This revelation made her feel as though she had let him and everyone else down in some way. She resolved in that moment to meet her fears head-on.
‘I’m sorry to have kept you waiting. You’ve been up all night, haven’t you?’
‘Quite,’ he answered quietly, letting his fatigue show, and for the first time, smiled at her. ‘Do you feel up to answering any questions, now?’
Pamela nodded, and she followed him and two of his officers into the library.
They no sooner sat down than Ellie stuck her head in the door.
‘Would you like some tea, Chief Inspector? Pamela hasn’t so much as eaten breakfast yet, so I’m sure she’d love some.’
‘That’ud be lovely,’ the Chief Inspector replied with a forgiving smile.
‘Now, young lady,’ he said, turning his attention to Pamela when Ellie had left, ‘let’s get down to business. What exactly did you see? Tell me everything. And leave nothing out, no matter how inconsequential or trivial it might seem.’
The interrogation went on for almost three hours and in that time Pamela wondered if the police were learning anything useful or if they were just going to go on like this forever. They recorded every word she said, went over and over certain parts of her story, sometimes asking her things that made little sense, at least to her, but which seemed to possess a great deal of significance to them. In the end, however, they actually seemed satisfied.
‘Well,’ chief inspector Matthews said, pushing back his chair, rising to his feet, and taking her hand, which practically disappeared into his own, ‘I think that should do it. Thank you, Miss Dee, you’ve been of great service.’
Feeling a bit baffled, she said, ‘I don’t see how.’
Smiling benevolently, like a great bear, he said, ‘Let’s just say that you’ve told us a great deal without meaning to. That there are certain . . . things . . . that we’re looking for; things that you yourself have just verified for us.’
As she went with them back to the living room her thoughts were dragged back to a realisation she had being trying to force from her mind for good, that Albert Askrigg was still at large, possibly somewhere nearby, and that he was still intent on killing her. Inextricably bound to this revelation were her newly awakened feelings towards Theo, her love for him and the damnable indifference of the man. Accompanying this was the almost mad wish that Theo would pay her half the attention that Albert Askrigg did, but in a good way. ‘Theo is a good man,’ she tried telling herself. And in the same breath discovered that she wasn’t sure of anything.
Pamela got her wish in one sense: Theo began spending a good deal of time with her, taking her out frequently and showing her the incredibly varied countryside of Yorkshire. But they were never actually alone together: he would always take her to popular public places and once there he would say little, leaving her to fend for herself as he sat nearby and watched over her like a concerned parent. She tried not to think of the reason for this but the tense set of his shoulders, his watchfulness, his protective possessiveness, served as constant reminder of the threat of Albert Askrigg. Sometimes, when they stopped for a meal at some quiet pub or restaurant she would study him for there was little else to do. He would say very little, and though vigilant in an unsettling manner, he seemed always a million miles away, his thoughts preoccupied with matters he never hinted at, never shared with her.
She found she liked Theo best, appearance-wise, when he wore his ivory-coloured cable-knit sweater. It made his chest appear deeper and broader than it already was, his arms bigger and stronger. In fact it fit him like a glove, not at all loosely, attesting to his well-proportioned and well-defined masculine physique. As well, it made him appear somehow more conjugal, if that was the right word (it was, of course, one she had borrowed from Mrs. Dewhurst’s vocabulary). It was the kind of thing she could imagine him wearing if they were married and had children, or even if they were together as a real couple, spending a day at the beach or going for a picnic or a walk in the country.
If he desired any of these things, he never gave the least sign, never alluded to them, never followed a line of thought Pamela introduced which might lead to discussing them. Yet at this same time, he initiated a sort of ritual: late each evening, after everyone else had gone to bed, he would go to the study and pour the two of them a small glass of sherry, would lead her to the upstairs sitting room and throw a few logs on the fire. He would then sit in one of the big armchairs and draw her onto his lap.
The first time this happened she was very tense, wondering where this was going to lead, or what he was going to do to her. But nothing ever happened. He would gently coax her into relaxing, to lay against him, her head against his chest like a little girl. Then they would sit in silence watching the fire, he smoking a single long cheroot, both of them sipping occasionally at their sherry. In the end, he would flick the stub of his cheroot into the fire as signal that it was time to go to bed, and that was that.
Nothing happened? No, she mused. It wasn’t quite as simple as that. While sitting on his lap her mind would become strangely bifurcated: one part of it would be acutely aware of his physical presence, while another would spend the time fantasizing, daydreaming, as though by force of his physical presence alone he seemed able to set her mind free in some indefinable way.
Nor did she simply lay passively against him like a rag doll. As she became comfortable with being in such close physical contact with him she would press her face against his chest and listen to the reassuring thump of his heart, or put her arms around his neck and her head on his shoulder.
On infrequent occasions Mrs. Dewhurst or someone else would get up out of bed for one reason or another and see the two together. The first time Pamela saw Mrs. Dewhurst pass by the door the woman had given the two of them a look of such undisguised relief as left Pamela feeling completely baffled, as Theo’s behaviour often did.
Each night after going to bed, Pamela would lay awake and find part of herself wishing that Theo had taken her to bed with him. Each night it got a little harder to be parted from him. But never once did he give the slightest indication that he felt any such inclination himself.
Afraid of jeopardizing their quiet time together by speaking of it, a time she cherished and looked forward to, all day and every day, she held her peace. And she waited.
As the day grew closer for Pamela to go with Ellie and Doris to Hornsea, Pamela felt as though she were walking on air, despite the pall that seemed to have fallen over much of the household. The only bright notes in the whole mansion these days seemed to be little Jennie, Fred and Anne Pascoe’s little girl, and old Misters Smith and Pritchard, who at the moment were seated, as was normal for them, at a small table in front of a window at the back of the kitchen, utterly absorbed in their game of chess. The two of them were surrounded by a veritable cloud of smoke from Mr. Pritchard’s pipe and Mr. Smith’s Player’s, using an ancient tobacco-can lid as an ashtray, until Pamela flounced by, opened the window, and brought them some fresh coffee.
‘Thanks, lass,’ said Mr. Pritchard appreciatively without looking up.
‘Mm,’ Mr. Smith agreed. ‘Here, no kibitzing, young lady!’
With a broad smile, Pamela flounced away, whiling away the lazy afternoon. She set to watering the plants, passing Mr. Pascoe in the upstairs hallway, heading towards the end where a pair of ancient asparagus ferns had stood to either side of the window in their ornately carved wooden stands, literally for generations.
‘You’re certainly irrepressible,’ Mr. Pascoe commented with a smile. ‘It’s a good thing too. If it wasn’t for you and little Jen right now, this place would have all the appeal of a mausoleum.’
Pamela shrugged, her sunny mood clouding over for a brief moment. ‘Theo doesn’t seem to like the way I’m acting these days. He practically bit my head off yesterday. And the day before.’
‘Oh, that! Pay him no heed, girl, he’s just very strung up right now. You have to keep in mind that he’s responsible for the safety of everyone on this estate, which is something that he feels most keenly right now.’
‘Yes, well, he needs to get out more,’ Pamela said, thinking again of her coming trip to Hornsea, her mood improving at once.
When she wheeled the trolley into the front sitting-room at less that her usual dignified gait, Mrs. Dewhurst looked up at her and smiled. ‘I never though the day would come when I would actually welcome the sound of the trolley clattering along! But do be careful my dear! Don’t you dare chip my fine china.’
Pamela smiled as she served Mrs. Dewhurst and Theo, Chief Inspector Matthews, Fred and Anne Pascoe, and two young constables, a man and a fairly pretty woman who appeared to be in her mid-twenties, who looked up and smiled.
‘I heard your concert at Easter. Wish I had a voice like yours.’
Pamela made a face. ‘You can have it! I’m afraid that I was born with more voice than talent.’
Mrs. Dewhurst gave her a mock-stern look. ‘Pamela’s voice is so bad, in fact, that it’s being issued on a brand-new CD next month.’
‘Ugh,’ Pamela said with a shudder, ‘I don’t even want to hear it. I mean, the recording will probably be okay, but it’s what happened during the recording that I’d rather forget.’
‘Pamela,’ Anne said with an entreating smile, ‘would you mind very much taking Jennie off my hands for a bit?’ The reason for this was obvious: that they were trying to have an adult conversation, and while the little girl couldn’t understand much of what was being said, she was nevertheless affected by the demeanor of the adults surrounding her.
Anne well knew that Pamela didn’t need to be asked, that she would jump at the chance to play with Jennie for a while. But Theo said, without looking up from something that he was reading, ‘Don’t take her outside. Stay indoors, where I- where we know where you are.’
‘I really don’t think that’ll be necessary right at the moment,’ said Inspector Matthews. ‘Constables Morris and Whitehead are at loose ends right now; they will accompany Pamela and the child into the back garden. Won’t they?’ he added, giving the two a look that sent them scurrying to their feet.
‘Yes, Chief Inspector,’ said the young woman.
Flashing the female constable a surreptitious smile, Pamela led the way.
They went to a place by the tarn where there were shade trees, picnic tables and benches. Along the way, the young woman introduced herself.
‘I’m Heather Morris. This here is Paul Whitehead.’ After a long moment, she confided, ‘I think the Chief was glad to be rid of me. Bloody misogynist wouldn’t even let me go with you without an escort.’
Paul, a shy, introverted young man, managed a guilty look at this, but it was apparent that he watched Heather, herself a healthy-looking attractive girl, with an interest that had absolutely nothing to do with escorting or police work. He was painfully obvious, which made the two girls share a smirk. Then, when they had seated themselves, purely on impulse, and just for the devil of it, Pamela handed Jennie over to Heather, ignoring the young woman’s feeble protests, and well knowing the effect this would have on Paul Whitehead. When Jennie took an instant liking to her, Heather shot Pamela a glance that said eloquently, “One day, when you least suspect it, I am going to repay the favour.”
‘So, why do you say that Mr. Matthews is a misogynist?’ Pamela said. ‘He’s always nice enough to me.’
‘Why?’ Heather said. ‘Because I just happen to be a woman, and we just happen to be in the area where that Askrigg fruitcake is supposedly lurking about, and because of that, the Chief Inspector no longer sees me as a cop!’
Sizing the young woman up at a glance, Pamela said with utter conviction, ‘You only say that because you’ve never laid eyes on him. You’re not much bigger than me, and he picked me up like I weighed nothing. He’s like . . . have you ever read Beowulf?’ Pamela hadn’t actually read it, but Mrs. Pascoe had read it to her one afternoon. She read to the girl often, thinking she needed culture. Pamela thoroughly enjoyed the experience and felt at moments like this that it was actually paying off. To her surprise, Heather’s eyes dilated with barely concealed fear.
As though fearing to be overheard, she replied in a low voice, ‘That’s about the tenth time I’ve heard Albert Askrigg referred to as Grendel! You’re not really saying that he’s-’
‘Yes,’ Pamela cut her off, and with fatal certainty added, ‘he really is like that.’
‘And you somehow managed to get away from him,’ the young constable said in wonder. ‘So that’s what all the fuss is about.’
‘You’re not actually scared, are you?’ Paul interjected, feeling brave for the moment.
‘Paul,’ Heather rejoined, ‘we’re talking about the man who beat off six officers, two of whom were pensioned off afterwards because of the extremity of the injuries they suffered. One of the officers present was Chief Inspector Matthews. Now, in light of that, show me someone who’s not afraid of Albert Askrigg and I’ll show you a complete fool.’
Paul paled as her words sank in. Robert Matthews was legendary for his sheer size and strength alone. It was evident in the extremity of his frown that Paul was trying to imagine what sort of a man could actually beat up Robert Matthews, and five others in the bargain-
‘But . . . that’s bloody inhuman!’
‘Well, well,’ Heather said to Pamela as she handed Jennie to her, ‘I think he’s finally got the picture.’
‘Why isn’t Theo intimidated by Albert?’ Pamela wondered rhetorically, not expecting an answer.
Heather huffed. ‘Shows how much you know about the man! I’d pay good money to see the two of them duke it out- the untamable force vs. the immovable object. Mr. Dewhurst once caught a burglar who had broken into Dewhurst Mansion. Theo threw the fellow out. Only thing was, the front door was closed at the time. The man needed reconstructive surgery to rebuild his face.’
Pamela swallowed, not able to believe the woman’s words. ‘Theo’s not that kind of man!’ she said defensively.
‘He is if someone pulls a gun on his mother,’ Heather said.
‘The robber told Mrs. Dewhurst to open the safe. She refused. He pulled a gun. Theo took it off him, snapped in two as though it were a toy, and gave the fellow the bum’s rush.’
‘Nobody ever told me about that,’ Pamela said, feeling left out.
‘Theo was a wild one before his father died,’ Heather said. ‘He and my oldest brother went to school together, so I’ve heard all the stories. According to my brother, when Theo’s father died and he had to come home and look after the family’s estates and businesses, all the wildness, all the life, seemed to go out of him. Apparently it was partly on account of this girl he was seeing. She was a hoity-toity type who never lifted a finger to earn her keep and was only good at spending her daddy’s money. Well, she and Theo were like two peas in a pod until Theo’s father snuffed it. Then, Theo had no choice but to get serious, but the girl had no intention of changing her ways. He ended up dumping her, and that, as they say, was the end of that. Except that he did the right thing: she’s nothing but a drunk and a tramp who’s been married four or five times, with no children, no real life and no stability.’
Pamela was thoughtful for a long moment. Much became clear to her from Heather’s story, but what was becoming clearer to her were the man’s ambiguities. Which was the real Theo? The young, impulsive, headstrong reveller and capricious, selfish, sometimes dangerous free spirit or the conservative, reserved, gentle man who kept to his business and to himself, expressing himself in infrequent acts of kindness; even tenderness?
The four started involuntarily as a flock of ducks exploded from a thick copse at the North end of the tarn.
Taking a cautious look around, Heather said, ‘If you don’t mind, Pamela, I’d feel better if you went back inside. Paul, will you go with her and tell the Chief Inspector to come out here and join me?’
Within moments the place was like a hornet’s nest. Armed police wearing helmets and bullet proof vests came seemingly from nowhere and began combing the spot where the ducks had been disturbed. Pamela discovered that for the first time she was looking forward to getting away from the Dewhurst estate, that her life and her new home were becoming blighted by Albert Askrigg. She found herself wishing fervently that Theo would do something, that he would somehow take charge of the situation, that he would flush Albert out of hiding and deal with him and put an end to the instability and uncertainty that were eroding life at Dewhurst Manor.
That evening, as she was clearing the supper dishes from the dining room table, Theo approached her, his look guarded.
‘I understand you were to have gone to Hornsea on Saturday,’ he said quietly. ‘There has been a change of plan. You’ll be staying home.’
Pamela gaped at him, devastated. ‘What? But I’ve been waiting to go since Christmas! It’s all I’ve been looking forward to.’ She began crying. ‘I’ve got to get out of here for a while. It’s only for a week. Please.’
‘I’m sorry, but it’s completely out of the question,’ Theo told her, an unfamiliar hard edge to his voice.
He looked away from her, as if unwilling to speak. But he said, ‘Do you want your friend, Tessa, to be put at risk as well?’
‘What? Of course not!’
‘Then you will remain here.’
Pamela went to her room where she cried her heart out. It wasn’t fair! She had been looking forward to this trip, at first to see her friend, Tessa. Then, as the spectre of Albert Askrigg raised its pall over her life, she began to experience a growing need to escape. Day by day, it seemed, the threat of Albert Askrigg was growing, menacing her at every turn. She was becoming afraid to sleep, and would lay awake nights wondering if there were hidden passages in the mansion by which he might steal upon her, unseen and unheard, in the middle of the night, a nightmare shadow that was not a shadow.
That evening, as she made her way downstairs to finish up in the kitchen, she chanced to overhear Chief Inspector Matthews and Theo speaking together in the sitting room. The Chief Inspector was saying, ‘-has to be connected in some way. All of the victims appear to have had consensual sex just prior to being killed. That your Pamela managed to fight him off tells us something, but what? By all appearances, none of the others even tried.’
‘What are you saying?’ Theo said, his voice sounding uncharacteristically sharp, strained. ‘That they wanted what happened to them?’
Seeming to choose his words carefully, Mr. Matthews said, ‘I think, and keep in mind that this is pure supposition on my part; I think that he meant to leave us with the impression that the young women had consensual sex with him, just to make us believe that he had total power over them.’
‘Only a sick, diseased mind could conceive of doing such a despicable thing,’ Theo said.
‘Or an evil mind,’ the Inspector said, quietly. ‘A truly evil mind.’
‘Please, Inspector,’ Theo said. ‘Next, you’ll be back to that business about ghosts and demons.’
‘There are many of my most experienced and unimaginative officers who have taken to calling this fellow Grendel. Did you know that?’
‘I’m familiar with both stories, past and present,’ Theo told him. ‘As I told you before, the myth is just a myth, and Albert Askrigg is just a man, not an inhuman, supernatural monster. And what is more, a man who will one day be caught and brought to justice, like any other.’
‘I’m beginning to wonder,’ the Chief Inspector said. ‘You forget that I fought the man, along with five other officers. Ed Townsley, you remember him? He got the side of his skull crushed by a blow from Askrigg’s fist. Brian Cleese suffered massive internal injuries when Askrigg picked up the officer over his head and flung him against an iron railing. He slapped me down like a rag doll after I’d thrown myself against him. It was like diving onto a spur of rock!’
In an ominous, menacing tone, Theo said quietly, ‘Chief Inspector, it’s getting late. If I am forced to deal with Albert Askrigg myself, I will. And if I do, what’s left will be fit only for-’
Her heart pounding uncontrollably, Pamela hurried away from the door, not wishing to hear any more. When was this nightmare going to end? This business with Albert Askrigg had begun like a blight and had gradually spread to the point where every aspect of her home life had become tainted. She couldn’t even sleep without her thoughts turning to the lurking, menacing danger that waited for her like the eyes of some unknown night animal in the wood.
It was time for Theo to take her upstairs and she waited with dread, wondering whether this one comfortable and comforting routine would be stolen from her as well.
He acknowledged her tacitly with his eyes as he stopped by the kitchen door and she hurried upstairs after him, but some inner impulse caused her to change into her bedclothes before joining him in the upstairs sitting room, and she clung to him as she had never done before.
There was an unaccustomed tension in his frame that sent needles of panic throughout her being. At last he flicked the stub of his cheroot into the fire and drained the last of his sherry. But when he led her to her room she balked, began pleading with him.
‘Don’t leave me alone. Please! I can’t sleep. I’m afraid of waking up and finding him in my room.’
‘We can’t stay up all night,’ he said reasonably. ‘You’ll have to go to sleep sometime.’
‘No!’ she pleaded, wincing at her own tone, which to her ears sounded like a petulant little girl. ‘I don’t want to be alone.’
Looking indecisive, he said, ‘Well, why don’t you go and crawl in beside my mother? I’m sure she wouldn’t mind.’
‘But I want to be with you-’ she put her hands over her mouth. The words were out before she’d had a chance to think about what she said.
‘You must realise,’ he said carefully, ‘that we can’t . . . do anything.’
‘I don’t care,’ she blurted. ‘I mean, I do care. I mean, I don’t want to do anything. I just want-’ something inside her, though awakened, vigilant and expectant, had gone very still. ‘I just want to be with you.’
He took a deep breath, studied her face carefully.
‘All right,’ he said at last. ‘Give me a few minutes to get changed and into bed.’
As he left her and went into his room her heart began hammering uncontrollably, and she began to wonder what a discreet amount of time was. After what seemed like several minutes she went to his door and listened intently. Was that the sound of sheets being disturbed as he got into bed or was he dressing or undressing? Would his bed creak as he got into it, or would it make any sound at all? Would-
‘When you’re done waiting, you may come in.’
She had never really seen the inside of his room before; only occasional chance glances. It was in near darkness as she opened the door, moved inside, and closed it silently behind her. He was laying on his bed, propped up against several pillows, watching her. Like the rest of the house it was done in rich wooden panelling, which in the dark appeared somehow sinister. His furniture was very masculine; he had a bureau made from reddish, dark wood, with matching dresser and night-stands at both sides of the bedstead. The bed itself was canopied, the cover supported by four thick wooden posts. Timidly, she crossed the floor until she was standing beside his bed. He was wearing a comfortable-looking pair of pajamas which in the dim light appeared a pale wine-colour.
‘Well, you’re here now. Are you getting in so I can turn off the light, or am I going to have to turn over and try to sleep all night with the light on?’
She drew back the covers, which felt very heavy, and crawled in beside him. Without thinking, as though it were the most natural thing in the world, she went straight to him, put her head on his shoulder, draped an arm and leg across his body.
‘I want you to know that this is entirely against my better judgement,’ he said, but in such a way as contradicted his own words.
She worried that he might change his mind and ask her to leave. But he put his arm comfortably around her and left it there, his hand resting on the round of her hip as though it were meant to be there. Her heart settled down altogether when his breathing assumed the deep rhythm of sleep, and she felt herself becoming deliciously drowsy, in a way that she had never experienced before. That calm, bifurcated state of mind that stole upon her when they sat together in the upstairs sitting room came upon her now, only more deeply, with much more vivid, poignant and real imaginings. She snuggled closer, and felt a warm sort of glow begin inside her, spreading until it reached the tips of her toes. She loved him. And she was with him. That was all that mattered. This business with Albert Askrigg would all be over one day, and she would be able to visit her friend Tessa whenever she pleased.
And yet . . . and yet . . .
What did Theo feel towards her? If only he would just tell her. He felt something, that much was obvious. But what? If he loved her then it was a type of love she didn’t understand. True, he had initiated their comfortable routine, nights, in the upstairs sitting room. And, true, he had allowed her into his bed, a place where only married people were supposed to sleep together. But certain things didn’t add up. Why had he kissed her, only to leave her wondering why he had done so? It was obvious, even to her, that he could have her whenever he wanted. But he neither led her on nor used her. Nor had he proposed or given any indication that he ever would. Yet he had made it obvious that he wouldn’t have sex with her because they weren’t married. Which raised the obvious question: What did it mean that he was allowing a young girl to sleep in his bed, when in the morning the entire staff, his mother and everyone else, would know?
At last an answer occurred to her but it was not one that made her happy or feel good about herself or give her any hope of having some sort of life with him. He was allowing her to sleep with him because he thought of her as a child. Why else? That meant that everyone else thought of her as a child as well, so that it was safe for her to sleep with him.
At once she felt a deep sense of disappointment and a slight urge to get up and go to her own room. But she was very tired, the bed was warm, his body was warm and comforting against the soft, yielding length of her own. What would it feel like, she wondered, if this hard, uncompromising man beside her were to be kindled into passion, if he were to decide to make her his own for life, if he was to put his child into her?
The thought sent a delightful thrill through her, making her loins tingle with an anticipation of shared pleasure. It was both an exhilarating and frightening thought, wondering what it would be like to be his, and at the same time what it would mean to be taken by him.
Sighing, tumbling downwards towards slumber, she reasoned that if he had let her get this far into his life, there was always the hope, always the possibility that he would let her the rest of the way in. Clinging to that hope as though it were all that was making life bearable, she released her hold on wakefulness and clung to his side as though he were the only solid object in the sweeping tide of her life, aware all the while that somewhere, out in the wood and the night, Albert Askrigg too, watched and waited.
When Pamela awoke, Theo was already up and dressed, sitting on a chair by the window, elbow on the wide sill, chin on his fist, ostensibly staring outside. It was apparent from the disfocus of his gaze, however, that his attention was turned wholly inwards. But when Pamela stirred he turned to her abruptly.
‘Come, get dressed. We’re going out for a bit. There are some matters I feel we should discuss.’
She bit her lip apprehensively, wondering at the resolve in his demeanor. What could it mean? That last night had been a serious mistake? That he was going to fire her? Sealing herself off from such thoughts for the present she quickly left his room, went into her own and dressed herself to match him as closely as possible. He was wearing the cableknit sweater she so liked on him, and she had purchased one as similar as possible, acting on an unconscious desire to somehow make herself belong to him.
They received several speculative glances as they made their way through the house to the front door. Instead of going to where the vehicles were parked in the drive, Theo led her to a garage to the right of the house that until now Pamela had never seen opened. When he unlocked the door closest to the house, grasped the handle and heaved, the counterbalanced door groaned on its hinges as though it hadn’t been opened in years, and she followed him inside. Once her eyes adjusted to the comparative darkness she gasped in surprise. There were two cars, an MG convertible and a beautifully restored Morgan. Besides these were a number of motorbikes, most of them in various stages of restoration. To her relief he bypassed the motorbikes and made his way straight to the MG. Putting down the top, noting her hesitation, he jerked his head towards the passenger seat.
The car started with a little difficulty, as though it had been sitting for some time. But once started it seemed to settle in, and he eased the clutch out gently, allowing the car to roll forward, gingerly letting it get used to being run once more. Once on the open road he accelerated slowly, then drove at a comfortable speed, not too fast for comfort but quick enough to demonstrate his easy mastery of the vehicle and the road.
‘I’m not going to say that last night was a complete mistake,’ he said without preamble, causing a worm of anxiety to bore into her heart. ‘But sleeping with a woman I’m not married to, in my mother’s home, is simply not in the book. Therefore, to keep things on the up-and-up, I’m going to ask that you marry me. We’re going right now to Bradford to buy you a wedding and engagement band, if that’s all right with you. So, what do you say? Will you marry me?’
She should have been elated, but the distant manner in which he imparted this information, making questions sound more like statements in the bargain, made her feel keenly let down. Surely it wasn’t supposed to be like this? She ventured a surreptitious look at him but he seemed a million miles away, as though a reply from her was of little or no consequence.
When she didn’t answer, he frowned. ‘You must realize that we cannot continue simply sleeping together. I need an answer.’
She felt as though she were foundering as a voice that seemed as though it belonged to someone else said hesitantly, ‘Yes.’
‘Good,’ he said, as though satisfied. ‘That’s settled then.’
Upon reaching Bradford they stopped at a restaurant for breakfast. After placing their order Theo stared out the window in silence for some time. Belatedly noticing her mood, he muttered, ‘Sorry, I’m not being very good company, am I? Is something wrong?’
There was, of course, but she was afraid to say anything that might jeopardize their being together. As she was wont to do, she said words that were out of her mouth before she even knew what she was saying.
‘What were they like?’
‘My parents. You told me you met them.’
He took a deep breath, his expression belying mistaken comprehension of her mood.
‘I told you I spoke with them.’ Watching her carefully, he said, ‘Are you sure you want to hear this? I’m afraid that what I learned is far from pleasant.’
Though a foreboding feeling touched her heart, a feeling that promised to leave her feeling riven and desolate, she nodded.
‘Very well. But I warn you, it might be better for you not to know.’
‘I have to know,’ she said very quietly.
He paused, reluctant to speak, and was then spared for the moment where their food arrived. It was apparent to Pamela that he used this time to organize his thoughts, to carefully consider and weigh what he was about to tell her. When he began speaking, however, she felt as though she had been physically struck. His tone of voice, too, was brutal, and the words he spoke left her feeling as bleak and empty as a wilderland.
‘To begin with, to give you some idea of what kind of people your parents are, you are not your father’s daughter. The two of them told me that your mother deliberately got herself pregnant with you by a man she used to meet in a bar, just to get back at your father because he was sleeping around. Neither of them wanted you. From the start your mother thought of you as an interloper and a burden, and your father hated you because you weren’t his . . . ’
Only half listening, Pamela felt as though her life was cursed, that her soul was turning to cold ashes. Some perverse inner voice told her that the moment Theo was done, he would get up and walk out of her life forever, abandoning her to her fate. When he finished, however, he said very quietly, ‘You shouldn’t have asked me . . . What am I saying? I shouldn’t have told you. Come, finish your tea. We have better things to do than dwell upon what can’t be changed.’
She responded to the unmistakable note of kindness in his voice, however small, and let him take her to a jeweller where he bought her a wedding and engagement set, and a plain, white gold band for himself. She chose a set that was relatively inexpensive, but told him that she had chosen it because the diamonds were small and deeply recessed into white gold bands that seemed a close match to his own. She told him that the other women were forever having to remove their rings and put them in a glass over the sinks when doing housework, largely because the stones were sharp, stuck out, and caught and snagged on everything. With a shrug he accepted this as being practical, but added, ‘Once we’re married, don’t expect to be wearing a maid’s uniform.’
This had the unintended effect of making her feel both guilty and useless: guilty because it would very probably affect her relationship with the staff she thought of as her own family, and useless because she would no longer be earning her keep.
As they left the jeweller, he removed the engagement ring from its box, took her hand, and placed it on her finger. ‘There,’ he said, ‘doesn’t that strike you as being a trifle more respectable? We are now engaged. But not officially. I’ll make the announcement when we return.’
As they walked back to the car, Pamela wondered at her own thoughts. ‘This doesn’t feel like being engaged. It doesn’t feel like anything.’ To her surprise, however, before she could get in the car, he seemed to make a point of opening the door for her. She wondered what this signified as they got underway and began the journey home.
They no sooner entered the house when Theo called everyone together and made the announcement. Pamela found herself not wanting the attention, wishing she was away from Dewhurst Manor long enough to collect her wits. Because Theo had made no promise of love to her, because it had seemed more like a business transaction than a proposal, she felt false, that she was misrepresenting herself as the people she now thought of as her family wished her well, congratulated the pair, and expressed their hope for the couple’s future happiness. Mrs. Dewhurst wasn’t as blind to Pamela’s apprehension, however, and soon found an excuse to draw the girl aside for some “motherly advice.”
‘My dear, what is the matter? You look as though you’d been caught committing an indecent act. Has Theo . . . was he . . . ? Oh, my, this is so hard a thing to ask about my own son! Was he gentle with you? Did he force you in any way?’
‘What? No!’ Pamela blurted as Mrs. Dewhurst’s meaning became clear to her. ‘He hasn’t touched me.’
Mrs. Dewhurst frowned. ‘You did sleep together, did you not?’
‘We did, but we didn’t do anything,’ Pamela said, defensively.
Mrs. Dewhurst gave Pamela what she thought at first was a sceptical look, until the woman said, ‘Pamela Dee! Between the two of you . . . ’ She shook her head in disbelief. ‘I’m sure I don’t know what to think! Considering how Theo used to be, he’s become a veritable . . . vestal virgin.’ Taking Pamela by the arm and leading her towards the kitchen, she said in a confiding whisper, ‘He’s changed so much since he stopped going around with that little tramp- Tracy or whatever her name was.’ She shuddered. ‘That girl was a mother’s worst nightmare! At least this time I can look forward to having the sort of daughter-in-law I can feel good about. I always wanted a little girl, you know,’ she said, giving Pamela a little squeeze, making the girl smile with embarrassed affection, ‘to offset the very naughty little boy Theo’s father and I brought into the world.’ As she filled the kettle and placed it on the stove, Pamela ventured a question.
‘What sort of little boy was Theo. I mean . . . I saw all his stuff out in the garage earlier this morning.’
‘Yes, I noticed he took you for a little spin in the MG. I don’t mind telling you, I was fully expecting to hear the squeal of tyres the moment I heard its engine start up. I used to get calls all the time about his driving, usually in the wee hours when my husband and I were trying to sleep-’ Looking genuinely worried, she queried, ‘I do hope he didn’t drive like that with you in the car. If he did, just tell me and I’ll have a word with him.’
For the first time, Pamela detected a chink in Theo’s relationship with his mother. Mrs. Dewhurst’s reference to his driving, especially where Pamela was concerned, carried an unspoken but implicit threat. But Pamela replied, ‘He was perfect. I mean, he did exactly the speed-limit whenever it was posted. He didn’t even get angry when we got cut off a couple of times when we were in Bradford.’
Mrs. Dewhurst quirked a disbelieving eyebrow. ‘I’m not sure how to take that. At one time, if you were to look up the definition of “road-rage” in the encyclopædia you’d be sure to find Theo’s picture underneath. Come, let me show you something.’ Leading Pamela to the library, she went to a locked bookcase that was filled with pictures and old family albums. After producing a key she opened it, rummaged through, selected one, handed it to Pamela and waited for the girl’s reaction.
‘Who is this?’
‘That,’ said Mrs. Dewhurst, ‘is your future husband, when he was nineteen.’
Pamela gaped in disbelief at the portrait of a man who appeared to be at least twenty-eight. He had long dishevelled hair, a thick moustache and sideburns, was wearing leathers, as was the insolent and slatternly-looking blonde who clung possessively to his arm, mugging for the camera. In the background was a gang of similarly dressed bikers with their sinister-looking machines arrayed behind them. She could tell without being told that Theo was the leader.
There was the man she truly feared, the man behind the cold eyes, at least when they infrequently were kindled to life. He was an imposing, uncompromising, rock-hard figure, about whom there was an unmistakable licence of casual violence.
‘I don’t get it . . . what could possibly have happened to change him so much?’
‘You have to understand,’ his mother said, taking the picture and replacing it, ‘that he became that way because of his relationship with his father.’ She handed Pamela another portrait, that of a good-looking middle-aged man who looked every bit as robust and daunting as Theo. No . . . Pamela took a closer look . . . there was something different about his father . . . something refined . . . and those eyes! They appeared at once unfeeling, cold, dangerous.
‘Henry Dewhurst was not a good father,’ Mrs. Dewhurst admitted, looking at once tired and obviously feeling something akin to remorse. ‘In the end he wasn’t a good husband, either, though he tried very hard in the beginning.
‘When Theo was a little boy, he was in every way my son, due to the fact that Henry spent so much time away from home, on business. Unlike me, however, Theo could never seem to learn the right way to circumvent his father’s will where Henry’s emotions were concerned. To get his father’s attention Theo would . . . and this is just between you and me . . . he would get into trouble, and he tried his level best to become everything his father hated, out of a misguided notion that any attention was good attention. Oh, it’s an old story, and a mistake that is repeated ad nauseam by children vying for the attention of parents who either withhold their affection, don’t have it, or can’t show it if they do.’
‘His eyes look very cold,’ Pamela said, staring at the portrait.
‘To you, perhaps,’ Mrs. Dewhurst said with a small smile touching her lips, taking the portrait from her. ‘But I know better. Henry was a deep-feeling man, and very demonstrative when Theo was small, both to the boy and to myself.’ She sighed. ‘But he lacked a certain . . . maturity when it came to dealing with his adolescent son. Instead of ignoring Theo’s raging hormones and awkward attempts to grow into an independent adult, he bought into the boy’s feelings instead, and began competing with him on the same level. If Theo threw a tantrum, which Henry should have wisely ignored, Henry got angry. If Theo wanted independence, Henry grounded him. If Theo got into trouble, his father, rather than take responsibility and talk to the boy himself, would call the police and have him arrested.
‘But you have to remember that things were very different when Henry and I were young. There was no such thing as a teenager, really. You were either a child or an adult in those days. I can’t tell you how many times Henry would yell at the boy, saying, “You’re either a kiddie living at home or an adult living on your own.” But the world changed, and for some ungodly reason Henry either couldn’t or wouldn’t.
‘In the old days, you see, children were very much the property of their parents, and were very much controlled and moulded by their parents when Henry was growing up. A father ruled the roost in those days and didn’t suffer contradiction gladly. I should add that Henry was fourteen years older than myself, to give you a better idea of which generation I’m referring to.
‘Anyway, the worst fault of men of Henry’s generation was that they almost never listened to anyone but themselves. It was a man’s world, and being a man of his time, he had very narrow beliefs and lived in a totally egocentric world. But there came a day, of course, when men like Henry no longer had everything their own way. They were forced to acknowledge that other members of their household besides themselves were people too, with feelings and needs and minds. That was very possibly the worst of it . . . that men of his generation, in the face of all reason and common sense, denied that anyone in the family besides themselves could have minds.’
‘How did he die?’ Pamela asked without thinking, but feeling now that she had the right to ask.
‘It certainly wasn’t shortness of breath!’ Mrs. Dewhurst said disparagingly. ‘Sorry, I’m being flippant. No, he took his own life, if you must know. Oh, don’t look so stricken! To tell the truth, when it happened I almost expected it. And,’ she said meaningly, ‘if you haven’t guessed as much already, Theo blamed himself. He changed almost overnight, from that,’ she indicated the old picture, ‘to the man you now know as your fiancé.’ Closing up the bookcase once more and locking it, she added, ‘There’s just one thing I want you to remember, however. Despite appearances, a man of such extremes is also a man of extreme passions. In Theo’s case, somewhere beneath that veneer of control is a man who very much loves and cares about you. Don’t doubt it for a minute. It’s getting him to show his true feelings, without provoking him to anger or driving him away, that’s going to be your great challenge in life; a challenge, I might add, that is well worth any heartache you might have to endure. Believe me, I know, for Henry was such a man, and despite appearances, and for all his faults, the twenty-four years we had together were the best years of my life. I could have remarried several times over the years, but when you’ve had the best, everything else is doomed to be second-rate.’
‘But why did he kill himself?’ Pamela asked, concerned because if Theo now walked in his father’s footsteps . . .
Perhaps sensing the cause of the girl’s apprehensive concern, Mrs. Dewhurst said, ‘You needn’t worry. Theo is a stronger man than his father ever was where his own self-image is concerned. What killed Henry Dewhurst was a changing world that had become intolerant of the sort of mind-set he was comfortable with. He felt like an outsider in his own country: where once he was very much in control, the government stepped in and made him relinquish that control. He was rather a taskmaster where his employees were concerned, and as long as he was able to terrorize them, things ran smoothly.
‘But labour standards put a stop to that, which all but crippled his businesses. In the end, ironically no one was better off. Employees got lazy and took full advantage, forcing costs to go up, which in turn caused prices to go up, which in turn caused the employees to grumble bitterly about the cost of everything, though the cycle was partly their own fault . . . ’
Only half-listening to Mrs. Dewhurst’s theoretical assertions, Pamela was still left feeling as though she were foundering where her relationship with Theo was concerned. Mind-painting fell far short of the actual experience of the man, and when in his presence there was the overriding instinct to rely solely upon the immediate impression he made, regardless what she had been told. He was and remained closed to her. She wondered, too, which Theo would surface should his attention and focus be rekindled. Would it be the dangerous young rebel or a mature and caring man who would be all but a complete stranger to her? Once more she felt as though her life was on hold. And once more she found that she was prepared to wait.
That evening, when the two were spending their quiet-time together in the upstairs sitting room, Theo broke his silence for the first time.
‘As I said earlier, we shouldn’t be sleeping together at all, but as we’ll soon be married, and as I foresee no difficulty in maintaining our respective restraint, I’m not going to discourage it.
‘That said, as of tomorrow, you are no longer a maid-’
‘But I like being a maid! I want to continue earning my keep,’ Pamela protested. In truth, she was still concerned about how this would affect her relationships with the household staff. Would they still treat her the same way, or would this create an unbroachable gulf between them?
‘As my wife,’ he said in an unreadable tone, ‘and helpmate, you would be far more valuable an asset to this household and to myself if you were to learn something of the family businesses. Your secretarial and organizational skills have not only cut my workload in half but have left me with more free time than I could have imagined possible. I am going to hire a young girl for you to train as your secretary, as well, so that you can turn your attention to actually doing business. Oh, and by the way, I already have a girl in mind. One whom I think you might be acquainted with.’
He paused to let her consider his words.
Pamela frowned in concentration. Who could it be? Someone from church? The daughter of one of Theo’s business associates?
‘I was sure you’d know right off without any help from me,’ he said, causing her to raise her head and stare up at him. His expression, though deadpan, couldn’t conceal the smile in his eyes.
Finally, she said, ‘You must be mistaken. I can’t think of anyone.’
‘No?’ he said, watching her reaction carefully. ‘Not even Tessa?’
Pamela’s reaction was immediate and overjoyed. Like an excited child she blurted, ‘What? Tessa? Tessa’s coming here? For how long? What about Albert Askrigg? You said I couldn’t go visit her because of him-’
‘This place is literally crawling with CID,’ he assured her. ‘She’ll be safe; I’ll make sure of that. Besides, you will want her here for our wedding, won’t you?’
Pamela could only nod, feeling elated.
‘As to the reason she’s coming here,’ Theo continued, ‘Ellie let me know that Tessa was looking for just such a job. There were other . . . considerations,’ he added thoughtfully, but didn’t elaborate. ‘The long and short of it is, she’s coming here to live with us.’
Later that evening, as she lay with the man who would soon be her husband, she found herself thinking, ‘How like him. I can’t think of a kinder thing that he could possibly have done, yet without any mention being made of friendship or making up for not allowing me to go to Hornsea, or doing something to make me happy. It’s as though he thinks of both Tessa and me as assets, and nothing more.’
She fell asleep unable to believe what her own thoughts were still telling her, yet not yet daring to believe that she had seen past his exterior.
Pamela’s choice of “new” car, an ancient Austin that was in surprisingly good condition, had caught Theo entirely off-guard. In fact it was the only car on the lot that wasn’t brand-new, its presence the result of a trade-in. Both Theo and the salesman tried talking her out of it, the salesman because Theo could obviously afford a brand-new and infinitely more expensive car and obviously wanted to spend the money, some of which would end up in the salesman’s own pocket, and Theo because he thought Pamela wanted the car because it was only a few hundred pounds. But Pamela had fallen in love with the car on first sight, having spotted it when the two men were talking and looking over what the dealer had to offer. She had wandered off, and as though guided by fate or instinct, discovered the car where it lay deliberately concealed behind a dustbin.
Theo carefully checked the car over himself, taking the salesman’s advice that the car was on its last legs with a grain of salt. ‘Compression’s good as new . . . engine runs like a top . . . someone obviously kept this car in perfect running order! What on earth did they trade it against?’
‘It were a young fellow,’ the salesman said. ‘Car belonged to his old dad who just snuffed it. Lad brought it in and traded it against one of them new Japanese sports cars.’ He barked a short laugh and shook his head. ‘Banged it up same day. Can’t thole them young buggers, them as never had to work a day in their lives! If you ask me, it served him right, spending his dad’s hard-earned cash that way. The lad done nowt to earn it-’
He stopped when he noticed that Theo had turned very pale.
‘Sorry, didn’t mean owt by it.’ Watching Pamela who was looking over the old car, oblivious to the two men, he said contritely, ‘Look, tell you what- I’ll sell you that car for exactly what I paid for it- fifty quid. Any road, it were just a token sum. I hadn’t planned to do owt with it but sell it to the scrap merchant, which was a pity ‘cos I knew the old man as owned it. He used to look at that car with the same expression as yon lass.’
Learning to drive was a dream come true for Pamela. She had never dared hope that she would ever sit behind the wheel of a car, or that she would ever have one of her very own. But from the outset Theo laid down the condition that as long as Albert Askrigg was at large she wasn’t to go anywhere without Fred or Theo himself accompanying her.
‘Turn right, here,’ Theo told her as she drove in the heart of downtown Bradford. ‘There it is, behind that brick building. Turn right, there . . . see where it says “Staff Parking?” Pull into that stall on the far left- the one that says “Dewhurst.”’
They got out and walked into the back entrance of The Crown Tavern, a rustic-looking pub that claimed to have been established in the year 1818. Pamela could tell at once that business was not good. The place was all but empty, except for a few old regulars who sat on barstools, talking with the barkeep. She found the place dim, depressing and stuffy. It had potential, though. The place was constructed of oak beams and stone, its tables and chairs likewise solid-looking and heavy. There was a huge fireplace, but its functionality had obviously been long ago supplanted by central-heating. The walls were strewn with old relics, most of which meant little or nothing to her.
‘Well? What do you think?’
She ventured a timid look at him. ‘You want my honest opinion?’
Frowning, he said, ‘Of course.’
Swallowing, mustering her courage, she said, ‘It looks more like a museum than a pub. It’s far too cluttered. Everything’s badly in need of cleaning but everything in here, including the building, isn’t made of the sort of thing that shows dirt. I mean, can’t you smell it? And those windows over there, the ones that have been bricked in? They need to be opened up again to let some light in here. And there should be some sort of counter running along the entire wall, so people can see in and out-’
‘Those windows were bricked in because to do so was far cheaper than making the needed structural repairs to that wall.’
Surprised at her own audacity, she said, ‘Did business drop off when you did that?’
Giving her a gauging look, he said, ‘As a matter of fact it did. Ever since then I’ve been trying to find ways to turn things around.’
Speaking with certainty, while wondering where that certainty was coming from, she said, ‘Then you should get the work done, otherwise you’re just going to keep losing money.’
Theo glanced past her shoulder, causing her to notice that the barkeep and patrons were listening very closely to every word, their expressions somehow . . . hopeful?
He took a deep breath, let it out slowly. ‘All right. You may begin by getting estimates for all the work you want done and all the changes you’d like to make. When you’re ready I’ll take a look at what you’ve done and we’ll take it from there.’
She felt panic set in as he spoke. ‘But . . . but Theo, I don’t know the first thing about . . . any of that stuff!’
‘For some reason,’ he said, leading her back to the car, ‘I think that you will have the hang of it in fairly short order.’
She was so nervous when she started the old Austin that she kept clashing gears until she managed to force herself to calm down. What did she, Pamela, know about running a business, or for that matter turning one around that was failing? Why was Theo giving her responsibility for something that she could easily wreak disaster upon? She didn’t want that sort of responsibility! It simply wasn’t in her nature to blithely meet the world on its own terms with the necessary confidence that went along with it. She would much rather he let her stay a maid. As a maid she was happy in her work; happy and safely inconspicuous. All she had to do was work hard and trust that the world would keep at a safe distance, that her comfortable routine would go on forever.
As she gripped the steering wheel, she became conscious of her engagement ring which suddenly felt strange and awkward on her finger, as though it were a large and cumbersome thing that shackled her to commitments and pressures she wasn’t up to dealing with. The thought of adding a second and more binding band made her feel increasingly claustrophobic.
And what if Theo soon wanted children? she thought to herself, feeling an ugly thrill of panic in the pit of her belly-
‘Careful! Mind your driving; you’re wandering too near the shoulder.’
Theo’s voice brought her back into the moment, which was the last place she wanted to be, for there lay her fears, her anxieties.
‘Here, pull over onto the layby,’ he said gently. ‘I’d better drive for a while.’
Once again feeling as though she had let him down, as though she were a failure who deserved to fail, she did as he told her, and spent the remainder of the trip staring out the window, wishing she could please him, and that for once in her life she could do something right.
Tessa’s train was late by almost an hour, which caused Pamela some considerable anxiety. Ellie seemed unperturbed, however, so she tried to take her cue from Ellie’s calm patience. Fred Pascoe had left them for the time being but sat nearby on a bench within easy watching distance.
At last the train arrived, and there was Tessa, struggling with her carry-on luggage. The moment the two girls spotted one another, they ran to each other’s arms and embraced.
‘Is this all the luggage you’ve brought?’
‘Yes, for now. Not to worry, I’ve got pretty much everything I need.’
‘Then let’s get going,’ Pam said smugly. ‘I’ve got something to show you.’
When they reached the old Austin, Tessa burst out, ‘Where did you get that beautiful old car? Is it yours? Where on earth did you find it?’
‘Here, let’s get your stuff into the boot. Isn’t it great? Theo bought it for me. The dealer was just going to give it to the wreckers but I went and rescued it. We got it for next to nothing!’
For the moment unnoticed and forgotten, Ellie and Fred exchanged a meaning look. To them the car looked old-fashioned and ugly and was probably suspect, though it performed in a manner that was unmistakably sound and reliable.
As the two girls chattered incessantly all the way to Dewhurst Mansion, Pamela found that she was elated not only by Tessa’s presence but by the way the two were so easily able to mesh once more, as they had when they had first met. Pamela had never in her entire life had a friend like Tessa, someone her own age who was apparently unscarred by the sort of marginalizing forces that had shaped Pamela’s own life. For Pamela, being in Tessa’s presence was like being reborn to a new and hopeful world, a world where she was accepted, where she belonged, a world filled with people she cared about and who cared about her.
They were just getting Tessa settled into Pamela’s old room when Pamela suddenly burst into tears and sat down on the side of the bed.
‘Pamela? What’s wrong? Why are you crying?’ Tessa said in sudden concern.
‘Oh, it’s nothing bad,’ Pamela said, wiping at her eyes and laughing at the same time. ‘It’s just that I’ve never been so happy in all my life. I never knew that it was possible to feel like this. I’m sorry- it’s just a bit much for me, that’s all.’
‘Well,’ Tessa said, smiling crookedly and sitting beside her, ‘if that’s all, then I sha’n’t waste any time feeling sorry for you.’ She said this with mock-disdain, which had its intended effect.
‘You don’t find me abjectly pitiable, then?’
‘Not in the least.’
‘Not even if I made big puppy eyes?’
Rolling her own, Tessa said, ‘That may well work on Theo, but the female of the species is not so easily taken in. Speaking of Theo, you never did tell me how he got down to proposing to you.’
Her mood fading somewhat, Pamela told her friend the entire story, leaving nothing out.
‘What are you looking so depressed about? He’s a wonderful man, and it’s obvious, whatever you may think, that he’s very much in love with you.’
Pamela gave her a baffled look. ‘Why does everyone keep saying that, when I’m the one who’s getting married to him and I can’t see it?’
‘Oh, dear,’ Tessa said, her expression sympathetic, ‘It seems that you’ve just added an entirely new dimension to the old saying, “Love is blind.” Not only is your love blind, but it seems that you’re blind to love, all at the same time.’
Pamela gave her such a comically disparaging look as sent the two into peals of uncontrollable laughter.
‘Do that again! No please, don’t! No, not again! Ow, I can’t laugh any more . . . my face hurts. My sides hurt . . . If I pee myself, I’m going to slug you . . . ’
‘Don’t either of you dare wet my nice clean linen!’ Doris interrupted, her expression carefully neutral. ‘Supper will be served in about five minutes, so you’ve just nice time to wash up. And do stop blushing,’ she added with a smile, ‘or you’ll have me going. And we can’t have that, now can we?’
When they sat down to eat, Pamela found herself feeling eternally grateful that between Ellie, Doris and Norrie she had been trained in “proper” table manners and was now accustomed to them. This was her first experience sitting at the table in the dining room, being served instead of serving, and she knew this would be the moment of truth where her relationship with the household staff, of whom she was no longer a member, was concerned. But to her relief, when she looked up apprehensively and apologetically at Ellie, the woman gave Pamela a surreptitious wink just to put her at ease.
Yet sitting next to Theo made her feel tense and awkward all the same. She didn’t know whether to continue gabbing with Tessa who was sitting on her right, or pay attention to Theo who was sitting quietly on her left. To her complete surprise, however, Theo suddenly pushed back his chair, got to his feet, leaned over and kissed Pamela- neither a lingering kiss nor a chaste peck, but a proper and affectionate one, straightened up once more and said to all and sundry, ‘I’ll be back in a moment. In the meantime, I suggest that you leave your wine glasses empty.’ He returned from the cellar a few minutes later with a pair of dusty old bottles, uncorked them, and served everyone himself. As supper resumed, he said to Pamela with a small, kind, sardonic smile, ‘If this doesn’t relax you, nothing will.’ Pamela stared at him for some time, trying to fathom this apparent change in him. She was still feeling giddy from his kiss, and was blissfully unaware of the covert smiles and meaning looks the others exchanged with one another.
Chief Inspector Robert Matthews, who had become something of a fixture in recent weeks, sat at one end of the table opposite Mrs. Dewhurst. Across from Pamela sat Fred Pascoe to her left, Jennie in a highchair and Anne. Jennie stole the show, of course, and would eventually have succeeded in breaking the ice were they trapped in the high Arctic in mid-winter. The Inspector was a calm, sociable man, and entertained them with stories of life at CID. His stories were rivetting, having an almost philosophical aspect that was at once humane, understanding and humorous in a unique, quirky sort of way.
‘Robert, why don’t you write some of your stories down, just as you tell them, in your own voice,’ Mrs. Dewhurst said amidst a chorus of assent. Her familiar usage of his first name didn’t go unnoticed, either.
He gave a self-deprecating shrug. ‘You’d think that’s all there was to it, wouldn’t you. But it doesn’t seem to work that way. The moment I make a conscious effort to capture something on paper it just seems to melt away, right through my fingers. Unless,’ he added with a menacing leer, ‘the paperwork involves trying to nick someone. Then it’s a different sort of story altogether.’ This, of course, got the intended laugh.
But at these words Pamela felt suddenly separate, apart, as though she were turned into something almost supernatural, watching the room they were sitting in and the house from the outside, as though oak beams and stone walls were as insubstantial as vapour. Albert Askrigg, she had come to believe, was not a man at all, but was rather a force of nature- evil, dark and dangerous. You couldn’t capture or subdue a force of nature. One never truly overcame nature’s fury- one merely lived through it any way one could. She spent the rest of the meal wrestling with the intangibles she would need to overcome if she wished to survive.
The final wall, as Pamela soon discovered, that lay between herself and Theo seemed to remain standing, as solid and unbreachable as ever. No sooner was supper over than he turned back into his old unreachable self. Miffed, she was all the more glad for Tessa’s presence. When they were ostensibly alone together, sitting in the back garden where Fred Pascoe and his wife and child also were, she confided, ‘Why does he always do that? For a moment there I thought everything was going to be just fine . . . then, he just shut it off again: it’s like he’s able to simply flick a switch, and poof! no more Theo. At least, not the Theo I want in my life.’
‘Don’t be silly!’ Tessa told her. ‘He’s just waiting until you’re married. You watch, he’ll turn into Mr. Casanova Hot-Lips the moment he carries you over the threshold.’
This depiction of Theo evoked a scandalized laugh from Pamela.
‘Casanova Hot-Lips? Where on earth do you get such ideas from?’
‘From watching you at the supper-table,’ she replied, watching Pamela’s blush with unrepentant gratification. ‘It took almost half an hour for that pucker to leave your face-’
‘You-!’ Pamela, beet red, gave her a swat. ‘I wasn’t puckering-’
‘Were too, were too.’
The two were silent for a while after that, looking out upon the tarn, the stone-wall-latticed rolling green hills dotted with sheep, cattle and a few horses, and the wood beyond which surrounded the estate.
‘It’s so beautiful here,’ Tessa breathed at last. ‘To think that you get to spend your whole entire life here, having children and raising them, having all this space for them to play and grow up in. You’ve got to be the luckiest person I know.’
There was an underlying sadness to what she was saying that caught Pamela’s attention, and she remembered little hints dropped by Ellie, Doris and Theo, that Tessa wasn’t happy with her own life.
‘What?’ Pamela said quietly, nudging shoulders to get her attention. ‘Out with it. By the way, aren’t we supposed to be calling each other Tess and Pam?’
Tessa smiled, but there was little humour in it. Keeping her gaze fixed into the distance, she said, ‘I’d rather we kept things just as they are between us- I feel as though we have something special, you know? No one else besides you and Auntie Ellie and Auntie Doris calls me Tessa.’ She sighed, seemed to come to some sort of decision, and began speaking.
‘All right. You’re going to notice something sooner or later anyway, so I might as well tell you now. I got sent here by my parents because I’m pregnant.’
Pamela could tell at once that Tessa was anything but happy about it, so she said nothing, waiting for her friend to continue when she was ready.
‘David- David Priestly, that’s the father’s name- he wanted me to go straight out and get an abortion. He accused me of trying to trap him, and he hit me-’ she wiped at her angry tears which betrayed the depth of her hurt even if her voice didn’t. ‘We were so careful- I mean, we were using almost every form of birth-control known to Man and I still got pregnant. But he and I had talked about it before, like what would I do if I got caught. He knew before we started going out together how I felt about abortion, but that never stopped him. Then when I finally told him, he called me an opportunist and a slut. We were out for a drive when I told him, and he just stopped the car and told me to get out. I was so stunned that I just sat there. That’s when he hit me. Not a slap, not with the flat of his hand, but with his fist. Then, he leaned across, opened the car door, and shoved me out with his foot.’ She took a deep breath that was all but a sob. ‘God, I was such a mess! I was staggering around, half out of it with shock, covered with blood, and I was alone in the middle of nowhere . . . and nobody would stop and pick me up except the police.’ She huffed. ‘The only reason they did was because at first they thought I was drunk or something, and they were going to arrest me.
‘I never saw David again after that, but Daddy did, after I told Mum what happened, and she called Daddy at work and told him. Daddy wouldn’t believe my account until he talked with David himself.’ She gave a little laugh through her tears. ‘When Daddy finally got the full picture, he nutted David a good one. Pow!’ She screwed up her face and slammed her fist into her hand. ‘Ow.’ She shook her hand, wincing before continuing. ‘David’s Dad came over to talk to my parents after that. When Dad was done talking to him, he left, telling Dad, “You should have told me, first. I’d have broken his head, not his nose.”
‘So that’s what’s going on in the wonderful life of Tessa,’ she concluded, shrugging, unable to look in Pamela’s direction. ‘So, what do you think now? Am I a tramp who doesn’t deserve to be given the time of day?’
‘I think you’re being very brave,’ Pamela told her truthfully. ‘As for your David . . . ’ She paused to consider her words, carefully. At last, she said slowly, ‘People don’t always say or do what they mean. It could be he was just scared-’
‘David?’ Tessa said, raising an eyebrow in tired contemplation. ‘He used me, right from the start. I knew it too. But I loved him so much . . . I couldn’t seem to help myself. I knew he was bad news, but I talked myself into believing that he’d change one day. Would you believe that even his parents tried to warn me off him? Well, they did. I’m such an idiot! What more warning could I possibly have wanted, if his own parents thought he was a bad gamble?’
Instead of talking further, Pamela instinctively put her arm around her friend. The dam burst then, and Tessa put her head on Pamela’s shoulder and began weeping uncontrollably.
‘Will you . . . are you still going to be my friend?’ Tessa sobbed.
Putting her arms around her best friend, Pamela said with a confidence that was entirely new to her, ‘Always. Always and forever. If any man ever tries to hurt you again, he’ll have to go through me, first.’ Her gaze straying to the wood beyond, Pamela thought to herself, ‘No matter who he is.’
It was a perfect day, with a light breeze and white billowing clouds in a crystalline pure blue sky. Pamela was far from the mansion, sitting cross-legged in the tall grass, watching over little Jennie who chased anything that hopped, crawled or flew, thankfully without any success. Pamela glanced once or twice towards the mansion to see Theo on his balcony, sitting in his chair and keeping an eye on the pair. She gave him a wave and he waved back. Even at this distance she knew he smiled.
Something, a sound or movement from the direction of the forest, got her attention and her wave faltered. But there was nothing. Breathing a sigh of relief, she turned her attention back to the little girl. ‘I sure wish you were mine,’ she told the child, because she was secure in the knowledge that Jennie was too young to understand. ‘One day I’m going to have a little girl of my own. Or a little boy. Then you can have someone to play with. And then there will be Tessa’s little . . . something. Before me, of course. Doesn’t that sound nice?’
Jennie smiled and said, ‘Ba-ba.’ Abruptly, the child’s smile faltered and she turned her head to look apprehensively towards the forest.
With a worm of fear gnawing in her chest, Pamela got to her feet and picked up the child. ‘That’s twice now. Twice too many. Let’s go back in, just to be on the safe side.’
The moment she began moving toward the mansion, however, another sound, this time unmistakable and clear, caused her to turn-
-and make an incoherent noise that was pure terror. Albert Askrigg had come bursting out of the wood and was running straight towards her, his eyes filled with naked, savage murder, a long knife flashing in his hand.
‘Run! Run!’ For a moment she had to coax her unwilling feet to move. And then, all at once, she was flying, running for all she was worth. But she could feel Albert Askrigg’s heavy footfalls growing closer with each thud of her hammering heart.
Where were the police? Where was Theo? He was no longer on the balcony watching her. The day which had been clear, sunny and bright, was suddenly overcast- she felt a drop of moisture strike her face, causing her to flinch involuntarily. But no . . . the water hadn’t come from the sky . . . For some reason she found that she had stopped running, and now stood beside the tarn. Jennie was no longer in her arms, or anywhere to be seen. And Albert Askrigg?
There was no sign of him. But still her chest felt constricted with terror. She was standing at the edge of the tarn looking into the water. Strange . . . something seemed to be moving down there. She knelt at the edge for a closer look, extended her hand towards its own mirrored image-
At once her wrist was seized by a hand that shot from the water, enclosing it in an unbreakable grip of iron! She tried to break free . . .
. . . but the hand that clutched her was not Albert Askrigg’s. It was a young woman’s hand, pale and deathly cold. At once, the young woman’s face became visible, her eyes dead and staring. Pamela began screaming in horror-
‘Pamela! Pamela! Wake up! Please, stop screaming! You’ll soon have the whole house in an uproar!’
The light had been turned on, and she was in Theo’s arms. He was holding her close, stroking her gently. ‘Shush, shush. It’s all right, my love. Everything’s fine.’ She felt him nod towards whoever had opened the door.
‘They’re dead!’ she sobbed unconsolably. ‘Oh, God, Theo! I saw them! They were all dead in the water, where he buried them!’
‘What? What on earth are you talking about?’
‘The missing women,’ she told him. ‘He tied rocks to their bodies and threw them into the water.’
‘What? How do you know this? Did you actually see something, or are you just talking about your dream?’
‘It was something he said, just before I got away from him,’ she said. ‘He told me that when he was done, he’d toss me in with all the rest of them-’ She began sobbing hysterically. ‘Oh God! Oh God! He hurt me! He-’
Theo took a shuddering breath and buried his cheek against the nape of her neck. ‘I’ll protect you from that monster. He’ll never hurt you again- on that you have my solemn promise.’
To someone she couldn’t see, he added, ‘For this, he’d better pray that I don’t get to him first. He’ll get no mercy from me.’
‘I’ll call the station,’ came the Chief Inspector’s voice. ‘If there really are any bodies in the tarn, I want them out of there during the night, if at all possible. The less everyone here sees, the better.’
They found the first body in the exact spot Pamela had dreamt about. By the time morning had come, however, the police were still dragging the tarn for bodies.
In the kitchen, Theo, with his arm protectively around Pamela, said quietly, ‘How many, Robert?’
The Chief Inspector had just come in the back door and was removing his wellies. Heaving a sigh, he said, ‘Five so far. Possibly six. Maybe more. They’ve been in there for some time, so there’s not much left, I’m afraid.’
Mrs. Dewhurst, who looked dishevelled and tired, as though she had been up all night wrestling demons, said, ‘Come in and have something to eat, man! You look nearly as bad as I do this morning. You’re not as young as you used to be.’
Giving her a private sort of smile, he said, ‘Nay, lass. But we’re both a lot wiser, eh?’
As they went to breakfast, Pamela noted with relief that Tessa had been taken under Ellie’s and Doris’ protective wings, and seemed to find a semblance of order and comfort by helping out in the kitchen.
And Theo- he hadn’t once left her side since this business began. He was at once concerned and solicitous, if that was the right word. She sighed, inwardly. But he was still treating her like a child.
She kicked herself mentally for thinking that. At least now she had his undivided attention. Why couldn’t she be satisfied and just leave it at that? Unfortunately, she had the answer for that one ready at hand. She couldn’t be satisfied because it wasn’t the sort of attention she wanted from him. At the same time she began to suspect that perhaps Tessa might be right; that once she and Theo were married, he would be able to let his guard down. Perhaps he needed to distance himself in order to keep his passions at bay. But was that possible? Was he waiting for the day when they would share themselves as man and wife?
She ventured a glance at him and found that he was watching her speculatively, and for a moment she had the uncomfortable feeling that she had spoken out loud, or- even worse!- that he could read her thoughts! He gave her one of the small, enigmatic smiles he had taken to giving her lately. Then, he kissed her.
Her arms quickly encircled his neck, as though possessed of a volition all their own. All too soon, however, they parted, she breathless, he with an unmistakable smile lurking in his eyes.
‘Theo, sit down and stop tormenting the poor girl!’ his mother said, buttering a piece of toast. ‘And you, young lady! If you don’t stop looking like that, you’re going to hurt yourself.’
‘It takes a one to know a one, Mother,’ Theo drawled, causing Mrs. Dewhurst to look up at him in perplexity.
‘If you don’t mind your manners, Theo, I’m going to . . . well, when I think of something, you’ll definitely be the first to know.’
To Pamela’s incomprehension, Mrs. Dewhurst was blushing. Catching Pamela’s eye, she mouthed, ‘Don’t even ask.’ Pamela began eating her breakfast, thoughtfully, wondering what was going on. Until she noticed the look that passed between Inspector Matthews and Mrs. Dewhurst. She didn’t realize she was staring until Theo gave her hand a little squeeze. To her lasting surprise, when she looked up, he was grinning broadly, but he erased his smile as quickly, putting a finger to his lips.
You utter fraud! she thought, having finally gotten a look behind his mask.
And yet, for some reason, she still wasn’t entirely sure of what she’d seen, or what she’d learned about him.
The following day, she, Tessa and Fred went to the Crown Tavern to check on how the work was progressing. Theo had been right: the entire wall was less than stable. The masons had to literally take it apart, stone by stone, and reassemble it. But the work was nearing completion and already business was brisk, despite the renovations that were taking place.
The transformation was miraculous, though she had only made subtle structural changes and removed a fair bit of bric-a-brac. But allowing the light of day in, while making the place seem accessible to passers by, had altered the atmosphere of the place so dramatically that it seemed wholly different.
The number of staff had tripled as well, and she had been careful to hire a mixture of people, blending youth with experience, crustiness with humour, acid wit with kindness.
‘The menu’s got me kind of flummoxed,’ she candidly admitted to the barkeep. ‘I’d like to make a few changes but I get the impression that it’s not the food that’s the problem. Like, it’s the preparation, or something. I just wish I knew more about it.’
An older woman with a voice like brass, who had once been a regular and had recently been attracted back, cut in and said, ‘I’ll tell you exactly what the problem is, young lady. It’s Gladys, the cook. I know, because she’s my sister. She was a good waitress but when Daphne quit she was called upon to run the kitchen, and there she has remained ever since. Gladys has never been able to cook to save her life.’
‘I see,’ Pamela said tactfully. ‘Well, thank you. I’ll certainly talk to Gladys about it.’
The story she got from Gladys, however, so matched the one she had got from her sister at the bar that Pamela was prompted to ask, ‘Would you like to go back to waitressing?’
‘No need to even ask,’ Gladys said without hesitation. ‘I hate being cooped up in that kitchen all day.’
Pamela took a deep breath, expelled it slowly, puffing her cheeks out.
‘I guess that means I’m going to have to start looking for a new cook.’
‘Don’t be daft!’ Gladys said good-naturedly. ‘Just give Daphne a call and ask her to have a look at the way you’ve improved the place. She’ll be back here in a heartbeat. And she’ll bring all her regulars here to boot.’
Afterwards, Pamela, Tessa and Fred sat down to lunch. Pamela dictated to Tessa for a few minutes, then went over the notes with her to make sure nothing had been forgotten. In the middle of this Pamela noticed a fairly tall woman enter the bar. She was blonde and striking, though dressed just a little ostentatiously, wearing Italian sunglasses, spiked heels, leopard-patterned fake-fur jacket, emerald-green blouse and leather skirt. But that wasn’t what had Pamela’s attention. She recognised the woman immediately as Theo’s ex-girlfriend. And she had Pamela pointed out to her by the barkeep and was walking straight towards her.
Extending her hand, the woman said, ‘I understand you’re the girl who’s marrying Theo.’
Pamela shook the proffered hand, wondering if she should expect trouble. The woman, giving no indication of her intent, smiled, removed her sunglasses, and sat down without being invited.
‘Not to worry, luv. I can’t stay for more than a moment or two, but. You know who I am, don’t you?’
‘I’ve seen your picture,’ Pamela told her.
‘I hope it were one where I had something on,’ the woman said. ‘Any road, I’m glad Theo finally found someone else to make his life miserable. When I heard he was getting hitched, I finally felt like a big weight had been taken off. But I still felt I had to come by, just to take the measure of you. I didn’t realize that Theo was marrying a kiddie, though! How old are you? Seventeen? Eighteen? You’re nowt but a babbie. Never took Theo for a perv, but. Oh well, I can tell you’re just like him- upper-crust, sharp in business, good with the hoi polloi, hardworking . . . no dirt under your fingernails-’
Biting back on sudden anger, thin-lipped and pale, Pamela said, ‘I grew up on the streets, for your information. Doing business of any sort is entirely new to me. I have always worked hard, and I am no stranger to having dirt under my fingernails. If you’ve come here hoping to ease your conscience or to damage Theo in my eyes, you can forget it. The only thing Theo ever saw in you was a chance to get back at his father. Well, you’re a little late. Henry Dewhurst is long out of the frame. And so are you.’
Oblivious to the two pairs of eyes that witnessed this exchange with frank admiration, Pamela watched as the woman’s colour drained from her face, saw her haughtiness evaporate.
‘Well, well,’ she muttered, rising to her feet, an unmistakable and unwilling note of respect in her voice, ‘Theo’s got himself a real tiger.’ She left, slowly at first, but with growing alacrity, a stifled petulance in the set of her shoulders.
Fred whistled the moment the woman had left. ‘Remind me to stay on your good side.’
‘Ditto,’ Tessa echoed. ‘You were awesome!’
‘I’ve never been so rude to anyone before in my life,’ Pamela said, trying unsuccessfully to muster some sense of remorse, however small. ‘I wanted to scratch her eyes out.’
‘You may as well have,’ Fred told her. ‘It’s a certainty that she’ll never try to muck with you again . . . unless she’s daft.’
When their food arrived, it was served by Gladys, who stood watching the three expectantly as they began. Pamela stopped immediately after the first bite of her pastie.
‘Gladys! This is fabulous!’
‘Don’t thank me,’ she rejoined with a smile. ‘I just spoke to Daphne on the phone. At her insistence she whipped up your order and sent it right over, just to be sure you don’t go ahead and change your mind. She wants to start tomorrow- and she wants to speak with you about making some changes.’
Pamela looked a question.
‘She wants you to expand the kitchen, knock out the wall on the right there to take in that old storage room that’s too small to use.’
Pamela winced, thinking of the cost. The wall would be expensive to remove- it was structurally necessary to the building. But, doing some quick mental arithmetic, she quickly grasped how little time it would take for the pub to recoup the loss.
‘Tell Daphne she’s got it,’ Pamela said. ‘And tell her for me that if she has any other suggestions to just leave them with me, and they’ll be put into action just as soon as I can get to them.’
Gladys beamed a smile at her and went back to the kitchen with a spring in her step, secure in the knowledge that it would be her last time.
‘You’re acting like a Mrs. Dewhurst already,’ Tessa told her. ‘Shall I start making some calls about the wall?’
Tessa’s comment reacted on Pamela like cold water. ‘Sure,’ she replied, feeling a mixture of anticipation and fear. In only one more week, she and Theo would be husband and wife.
But her mind still refused to think that far ahead.
Pamela sat at her desk going over the latest figures from the Crown Tavern. The news was unanimously good- there were lineups every noon hour and every evening from seven to ten o’clock. She had added a breakfast menu after having moved opening time from eleven in the morning to six AM- no booze in the early morning, just good food- and the move had paid off, drawing a whole new clientele.
Theo responded to this news by moving Tessa up to the position of manager-trainee and hiring Pamela a new secretary, a young man named Thomas Woolley, or Tom, as he preferred to be called. He was a good-looking, competent young man who loved his work and was easy to get along with. He was also experienced and knowledgeable, especially when it came to high-tech modern gadgetry and finding innovative ways to cross-reference inter-company business to eliminate redundancies, share costs, and produce items within the overall structure, in turn selling its own products to itself- at cost. This information he had gleaned while working at a large firm. He had learned well, and should have moved up the corporate ladder, but for the incompetence of his superiors who laid him off to save their own skins. Pamela expected from the beginning that he would pass her fairly quickly and end up contributing far more than she ever could, but in the meantime she was determined to learn everything and anything she could from him and apply it to the workings of the Dewhurst businesses and estates.
Pamela herself was moved on to the management of one of the Dewhurst estates and was currently looking over the options. To subdivide or to preserve? To renovate or to demolish? To turn into yet another quaint bed-and-breakfast or hope for an elusive bolt from the blue that would inspire her to turn it into something that would preserve the character of the old estate and its buildings without Disneyfying local history?
It would be easier if she could just keep her mind on things. But with the wedding only days away now she was becoming perpetually jumpy. It was the uncertainty that had her stomach turning over in knots. Did Theo love her? He had certainly shown flashes of caring, he had now kissed her a number of times, and she very much enjoyed their quiet time together late at night in the upstairs sitting room. But what if things didn’t improve after they were married? What if he was being nicer than he would after they were married? What if he really did see her as more of an asset than a potential lover? And as to that-
Pamela found the very prospect of their wedding night to be the most frightening aspect of all. All the holding and cuddling would be gone right along with their bedclothes! The very thought of lying in bed with Theo, both of them naked, caused her heart to pound uncontrollably with fear. True, she was curious. True, there were carnal feelings lurking traitorously in her nether regions, often tormenting her with the anticipation of shared mutual pleasure and desire. And true, she was helplessly, hopelessly in love with Theo, and wanted to please him in every way.
But doubt lurked like a shadow behind every hope and promise of love and warmth. Doubt dogged her feelings and clouded her mind in areas where she had every reason to be utterly certain. And doubt smiled its chilling smile from the background of her thoughts, haunting her subconscious and her dreams, watched her every movement from its vantage in the forest, and waited with inhuman patience and vigilance for the opportunity to strike.
Such thoughts were pushed aside for the moment when Tessa entered the office- formerly Theo’s exclusive domain. Pamela and Tessa had set up a little office in Tessa’s room as well, and she worked there now most of the time when she wasn’t overseeing things at the Crown Tavern.
‘Okay, so I got most of the payroll done,’ Tessa was saying, ‘but it’s this tax thing with the overtime that’s giving me a headache.’
‘Yuck! Tom?’ Pamela called, sweetly, ‘I believe this is your department.’
Which wasn’t altogether true. Taxation was something Pamela had learned all about while working for Father Mugford at the Catholic Mission. The truth be known, she thought there might be something developing between Tom and Tessa, and so she discreetly nudged things along. Tom was just the sort of man, she thought, who would take proper care of her best friend. What settled things for her was the way he had dealt with David Priestly, Tessa’s former boyfriend and father of her unborn baby, a few days before. David had demanded to see Tessa, telling her that all was forgiven. He would pay for the abortion himself, he had said.
Tessa had gone white at that.
‘I think you’d better leave, Davie. I’ve done nothing that needs forgiving. And I’ll not murder my unborn child just to appease you.’
‘You’ll do what I tell you, you little cow!’ he said, moving menacingly towards her.
Tom, who had made it his business to be near at hand, closed the gap and headed off David Priestly before he could lay a hand on Tessa.
‘Oh, and who’s this? You been getting shagged by every buck that comes along, haven’t you, you cheap little tart!’ He tried pushing his way past Tom who was as unmovable as a menhir.
‘Sod off, ya prick! That’s my old lady-’
‘You gave up any right to so much as speak to Tessa when you turned your back on her,’ Tom told him in a quiet but dangerous voice. ‘And you gave up any right to be treated like a man when you beat her up, kicked her out of your car in the middle of nowhere, and abandoned her to her fate. Now, I’m just going to give you one more chance to leave this house with dignity. If you don’t take it, then I’ll take you apart.’
David struck Tom with all the force he could muster, causing his head to snap to one side. But watching Tom’s head turn back to face David was as fearful a motion as watching the gun of a tank-turret swivel and come to bear on its target.
‘Since there are women present, I am going to afford you the luxury of counting to three. If you’re stupid enough to still be here when I’m done, I’ll snap your head off like a chicken and impale it on a stake as a warning to anyone else like you who’s stupid enough to get up my nose.’
At that point David proved that he hadn’t the least bit of sense. He drew back his fist once more- but just as a quiet voice from behind caused him to snatch it back to his side.
‘Hello, Davie. Haven’t nicked you for a while. ‘Til today, that is.’
‘I done nowt!’ David protested as Chief Inspector Matthews clamped a massive hand on his shoulder.
‘Story of your life, isn’t it Davie,’ the Inspector said, propelling David from the room, then from the house.
Pamela had wisely beat a hasty retreat, ostensibly to let Tessa tend to the tiny cut on Tom’s lip. She sighed, now, replaying the incident in her mind. If only things between herself and Theo could be as straightforward! But instead she found that as the day of their wedding drew closer, so did her level of frustration.
An old habit saved her then, but she found herself forced to take a good long look at her old habit of not looking any further ahead than the moment. In the past she had relied on that habit as a substitute for hope. Now, however, it seemed out of place, an anachronism from her former life. Instead of preserving her, she saw that it could very well be leading her into a trap.
She found herself for the first time in her life willing herself to look ahead, daring to blindly trust in the hope that everything would turn out. And in that moment, she discovered something she thought she had known all along, though looking back she could see that she had never known it at all.
It was faith. Not a churchy faith or the born-again variety, or the kind of capital “F” faith that wild-eyed fanatics liked to beat people over the heads with as though desperate to convince others of their own piety, but something simple, innocent, down-to-earth, without a lot of dreck being read into it.
Gone were the days when all the church meant to her was a meal and security- this had been replaced by a solid sense of family and tradition. And in the same breath, gone, too, was the awkward, lonely young woman who had survived despite impossible odds and come out of life’s worst trials and nightmares miraculously unscathed. At that moment she knew that there was a reason she had been spared, that she had endured, and though she was still groping around in the dark, blindly learning to live out the promise of her life, in that moment she knew that she had kept that promise as pure and unsullied as the day on which she was born.
To her own inner turmoil, she said, ‘Go ahead and doubt. Go ahead and fear. Go ahead and try to confuse me with the words of demons like Albert Askrigg and the smoke and mirrors of my own timid imaginings. But I am going to marry Theo Dewhurst, and be his wife, and bear his children, and as God is my witness, love and nothing else is going to rule my life.’
The old mansion was in a constant state of uproar as the day of the wedding drew near. Guests began to arrive, relatives of the Dewhursts and the household staff. Soon its sixteen rooms were full, as they hadn’t been for many a year. Even the old guest house, which for the past two decades had been used for storage, was cleared out, cleaned, refurbished and painted.
Though overwhelmed by all the attention, Pamela found herself able to manage somehow, due in part, no doubt, to her experience gained in managing the Crown Tavern. Theo, as yet, gave no sign of the change she hoped to see in him, yet there were unmistakable hints that change was in the air, or at least she believed so.
The police presence was stepped up so that constables patrolled the surrounding wood incessantly. Pamela was struck by an odd impression which she found herself unable to dismiss. The police seemed to be waiting- no, they were expecting something to happen. She realized that certain matters were being kept from her, that the police were planning something big.
The day before the wedding, she said to Theo, ‘What are they getting set for? Are they expecting Albert Askrigg to come out of the woods leading an army and lay siege?’
In that instant, she finally saw Theo’s mask for what it was. At the mention of Albert Askrigg’s name his features seemed to harden into stone, belying nothing, unbroachable as the cliffs of Gibraltar. With a feeling like joy, despite Theo’s reaction, she realized that the perceived problem in their relationship, the distance between them, was not what it appeared to be. Theo was worried about her! Worried sick. And he was trying not to let his feelings affect her, to spoil what should be the happiest day of her life.
New understanding opened her eyes and gave her the confidence to do something she had never done before. She went to him, put her arms around him and pressed herself to his chest.
‘I love you, Theo.’
She stepped back from him when she felt him stiffen. But only for a moment, for his eyes were filled with surprise, and with the love she so desperately wanted to believe had been there all along. Swallowing hard, staring at her as though uncertain she were real, he said, touching her cheek, ‘I loved you from the moment mother threatened to disown me. She meant it, too, you know,’ he added with a small smile. ‘But we’re not out of the woods yet. You know, then, that the police are getting ready for whatever it is that Albert Askrigg has got planned.’
She nodded. ‘I guessed as much.’
He frowned. ‘You don’t seem very much afraid.’
‘I’m afraid,’ she told him. ‘But I have learned that there are some things stronger than fear.’
‘Life isn’t one of them,’ he said meaningly, bringing home to her once again the implicit threat of violence that Albert Askrigg embodied.
‘Pamela! Pamela Dee! You’re needed!’ It was Tessa calling and waving to her excitedly from her balcony.
‘My maid of honour beckons, Sir,’ she said demurely. ‘Methinks it concerns my wedding gown.’
He shook his head ruefully and smiled. ‘I still can’t believe you went ahead and called that rental company! Your frugal nature shouldn’t include your marriage.’
She made a face. ‘Theo Dewhurst, if you think I’m going to waste good money on something I’m going to wear only once in my life, then think again!’
He put up his hands in defeat. ‘Lord help me, but I’m marrying a miser.’ Then, to show he wasn’t serious, he took her in his arms and kissed her, long and thoroughly.
‘Pamela, wipe that smile off your face and pay attention,’ Tessa commanded as she took over sorting through the various dresses. ‘Here, stand up and hold this. No, like this, silly! I’ve got to get some idea of how long it is . . . oh, barf! It’s ‘way too short. Come on, pay attention! You’re six million miles away. I’m going to take my lipstick and do you up like a clown if you don’t come back down to earth!’
‘Can’t I just stand here and be vacantly happy?’ Pamela protested.
‘Only if you put a sign up on your forehead that says “To Let,”’ Tessa said, rummaging through the pile of dresses.
Pamela, feeling very mature at the moment, responded by sticking out her tongue. ‘You just wait until you’re getting married to Tom; then I’ll “accidentally” stick you full of pins while we get your dress right!’
‘What makes you think that Tom and I have anything going,’ Tessa said evasively.
Pamela gave her a pained look.
‘Okay, forget I said anything. Look, this one’s . . . no, I don’t like this bow.’
Pamela smiled, watching Tessa pick out things that all-too-obviously suited her.
‘Oh!’ Just like that, they exclaimed together, having found the perfect one.
‘I get to wear this when you’re done with it!’ Tessa breathed, too awed by the dress to realise what she’d just said.
Pamela also was too caught up to pay any mind to Tessa’s admission. ‘How did they sew all those tiny little white beads into it? Look, this is all embroidery work . . . done by hand . . . ’
‘Can you reserve them?’ Tessa asked, hopefully.
Pamela huffed. ‘I’m going to buy it so I can give it to you. These are all well used, so they won’t cost much. You know, it’s a good thing we’re not getting married on the same day, else we’d have to resort to duking it out. And it’s a darned good thing you’re hardly showing yet, or you’d never get it on over your head.’
Tessa was silent a moment, at once looking very sad. ‘Who am I kidding? I should have waited. White is for virgins. Maybe I should look for something off-white, or red.’
‘A little membrane of skin is not what separates a good woman from a bad,’ Pamela told her, angry at her self-recrimination. ‘You’ve already been victimized. Don’t let David keep on hurting you, or he really will have won. You like the dress? Wear it!’
‘Please, you’re starting to sound like the Pep-Talk-Queen,’ Tessa said, allowing herself a small smile. ‘How’d you know about Tom and me?’
‘Because you really moan loud when the two of you are necking,’ Pamela said, keeping a straight face, picking up the dress and holding it up.
‘It’s true, or else you wouldn’t be so defensive. Besides, Theo and I heard him pop the question a few nights ago when the two of you were standing at the top of the stairs, just as he was leaving the office to head home. I’ve never heard you squeak quite like that before.’
‘I did not squeak!’
‘You did, too. You went like this-’ Her flawless rendition left no doubt whatsoever in Tessa’s mind.
Tessa let out an excited sigh. ‘Well, so what if I did? Besides coming here and being with you, it’s the only thing in my life that’s ever gone right. Tom is everything I hoped would come out in David but never did. He doesn’t even mind about the baby. In fact, he’s even looking forward to it- what are you looking so odd about?’
‘What? Oh, nothing really. Well . . . it’s just that, this is the last day of my life when I’ll be plain old Miss Pamela Dee. I’ll have an initial for a last name that will actually stand for something. Sorry, I’m babbling. Everything’s sort of catching up with me today. I keep getting flooded with all these memories from my past. It’s like I can see it all laid out, not in any sort of order, but more like a big mirror that’s been smashed, with shards of image scattered all over the place . . .
‘There’s little bits and pieces from my childhood, from the orphanages, from foster care and group homes and living on the streets . . . there’s old Father Mugford and the Catholic Mission, and the old lady I used to work for at the Skylark Motor Inn, my old apartment . . .
‘Before I came here, that was my life. Now it doesn’t seem real anymore. You know, when I first got here, I was afraid that this was all a dream, that one day I was going to wake up and find myself back in my old apartment, about to be evicted. But just this last while, it feels like it’s exactly the other way around, as though my life before was the dream, and this is the reality. I don’t know. Am I making any sense?’
‘Did you know the end of your nose twitches when you talk? No wonder Theo fell in love with you. You’re his little bunny rabbit.
‘Of course I know exactly what you’re talking about! How do you think it is for me now that I’m here?’
‘Tom must love the way your nostrils flare,’ Pamela jibed.
‘They do not!’
‘You want me to get a mirror and show you?’
‘I’ve got one right here.’
‘Get lost! I’ll take your word for it. Here, hurry up and try this dress on before I decide to steal it.’
That evening, as the household and guests sat down to supper in the seldom-used banquet room, Pamela felt as though her belly was fully of butterflies. Theo and she would not be sleeping together tonight. She would instead be sleeping with Tessa, safe from temptation. ‘We made it this far,’ Theo had told her. ‘Let’s not fall down at the last moment.’
He was right, of course. The temptation had almost become too much to bear. But she knew she wasn’t going to get a wink of sleep- Tessa was almost as keyed up as she was. Oh, tomorrow looked like it was going to be a long day. She was probably going to fall asleep on her wedding night!
‘What’s the big rush?’ she told herself. ‘We’ll have out entire lives ahead of us.’
The banquet room, Pamela realized, was actually the main dining room, judging by the way the kitchen opened into it. She had wondered for a long time what lay in this part of the house- when facing the mansion from the rear, the kitchen lay on the far right, the banquet room extending to the left to a point just past the middle. Beyond were more rooms she had never explored, that had been under lock and key (so she had been told) for almost two decades. But the present occupants of the house weren’t exactly wealthy leisure-class who spent all their time pursuing various diversions. At one time, Mrs. Dewhurst had told her, there had been a gun room full of weapons and trophies (a euphemism for endangered species that had been shot dead to appease some ancient relative’s blood-lust), a room full of priceless art objects that had been pillaged from various “primitive” cultures, and other rooms which were filled with relics of the old colonial days.
Now, the rooms lay empty, and Pamela had the growing feeling that they were somehow expectant, awaiting the day when fresh life would be breathed into them, when the laughter of children would displace the self-righteous ghosts of another era, when the light of a new day would chase the dark shadows of corrupt brooding away for good- corrupt because such brooding was the remorse of a former slave-owner for the “good-old-days.” And like the old mansion, Pamela felt at last that her time of waiting was almost over.
It was a fun evening, the best she could ever remember. After supper, a huge, old upright piano, very much out of tune but still possessed of a good tone, was prevailed upon by a succession of would-be entertainers who, accompanied by a fairly good violinist, led them in song after song, and had them dancing to old-fashioned polkas, waltzes, two-steps and a dozen other kinds of dance that Pamela soon lost track of.
To her surprise and pleased awe, Theo turned out to be an excellent dancer. She herself knew little about polkas or the fast-paced Viennese waltz, but with Theo leading it seemed she was soon flying effortlessly, flushed with pleasure and exertion.
She wanted more than anything to remain at his side, having his company all to herself, but this was not to be. A host of relatives and introductions got in the way, though pleasantly, and many of the women wanted a chance to dance with Theo. Pamela had equal opportunity to meet with his male relatives, of course, and there wasn’t a one of them who didn’t seem a decent, fun-loving sort.
Mrs. Dewhurst, she noticed, spent the entire evening dancing and speaking with the Chief Inspector and a few of their mutual friends, who sat off to one corner. Tessa sat out most of the time, she and Tom consumed with one another, a fact that made Pamela feel as good as anything else that happened that magical night.
Sometime during the festivities there was a brilliant flash of light from outside, followed by a deafening peal of thunder. Soon it began to rain, and what began with the patter of hail became a succession of cloudbursts, which eventually evened out into an unremitting downpour. Soon after, a succession of CID people began coming in through the staff dining room door to get out of the rain.
That seemed to signal the end of the festivities, and so the party began to disperse. Pamela looked around for Theo, but he was nowhere to be found. She noticed that the Chief Inspector seemed concerned about something, and was leaving. Wanting to know what was going on, she caught up with him.
‘What is it?’
‘Oh . . . don’t like this weather much,’ he said evasively. ‘Can’t see a damned thing. Our agents keep losing each other in this muck.’
‘Have you seen Theo?’ she asked him.
‘He’s about,’ he rejoined in his “You’re just a woman, and a young one to boot, so don’t ask me” tone of voice.
‘Pamela,’ came Mrs. Dewhurst’s voice, in her “Leave the men alone to do their job” tone of voice, ‘isn’t it time you and Tessa thought about going to bed? Tom left a few minutes ago, as did a good many of the guests, and it’s getting late.’
‘Yes, Mum,’ she replied, trying to sound contrite, and kissed her on the cheek. ‘I’ll go to bed now like a good little girl.’
‘Oh, stop that! You know I can’t stand obsequious behaviour. Besides, it doesn’t suit you in the least! Now go, run along. We can’t have the bride trying to face the day yawning, with dark circles under her eyes. Or the groom either. Robert, where has my son got himself to?’
When Mrs. Dewhurst received the same non-answer Pamela had got, she and Pamela shared a look. ‘I suppose I shall have to take my own advice,’ she said to Pamela. ‘Men!’ She rolled her eyes in mock-exasperation.
‘All the same,’ Pamela told her, ‘it worries me that they’re worried about something. I don’t know why, but I find that’s worse than their male chauvinism,’ she finished loudly, evoking a laugh from Mrs. Dewhurst.
‘Shush, my dear, you mustn’t let them know we’re on to them, or it will spoil all the fun! Come, have a glass of wine or two with me. You’re too tensed up to sleep, I can tell. Lord knows I could use a nightcap myself. I haven’t had this much excitement since . . . since . . . oh, my, it has been far too long!’
They went to the downstairs sitting-room. Pamela moved to get the wine but Mrs. Dewhurst headed her off.
‘Don’t you dare deprive me of the pleasure of serving my future daughter-in-law!’ She took a long, fond look at Pamela before pouring them both a very generous glass of wine. ‘You’ve changed so much since you first came here,’ she said when they were seated. ‘I never dared hope that you would one day fulfill my wildest dream.’
‘What, that I would marry Theo?’ Pamela asked, thinking she knew what Mrs. Dewhurst meant.
Smiling wryly, slowly shaking her head, her eyes full of the knowledge of some unspoken mystery, Mrs. Dewhurst said, ‘I didn’t plan that.’
‘What? But I thought . . . ? Why did you bring me here, then?’
‘If you must know . . . ’ Mrs. Dewhurst stopped herself briefly, watching Pamela’s reaction very carefully, as though she had waited a long time to make this admission, but still wasn’t entirely sure about how or whether she should make it.
Pamela swallowed, wondering what was coming.
‘I had planned to adopt you,’ she said into Pamela’s chagrined silence. ‘That was my original intent. It’s a good thing I didn’t, or things would have ended up a real mess all round.’
It had been weeks since Pamela had had reason to cry, but she wept now as she never had before, kneeling before Mrs. Dewhurst and burying her face in the woman’s lap. ‘Oh, Pamela, my dear, sweet little girl,’ she said quietly through her own tears, ‘I loved you from the first moment I saw you, standing on the kerb like an abandoned little waif, afraid to soil the upholstery of my car. I had been so lonely myself, and I was long past daring to hope that anything could ever break up the ice that sealed Theo’s heart from the rest of the world. For years we had been living in this house like a pair of strangers- believe it or not, Dewhurst Mansion was not a happy home; not until you came along, with your innocence and your magic, and the half-starved love in you that was so desperate to get out . . .’
So that’s what Theo had meant when Mrs. Dewhurst had threatened to disown him. She had really meant it, and he very probably really had hated the little usurper who threatened his complacency, if not his inheritance.
‘Only a miracle,’ she thought to herself over and over, ‘only a miracle could have brought the two of us together.’
After composing herself and sharing some wine, Pamela suddenly felt as though she could sleep after all. She said her goodnights and went upstairs to join Tessa. When she got to the bedroom door, she noticed that Tessa had gone to bed, that the light was off. Opening the door as silently as possible, shutting it and moving towards the bed, she got undressed in the dark to avoid waking her friend. The air was cold and damp- someone, probably Tessa, had left a window open. Outside, the sound of the incessant downpour was very loud, like a dirge.
Pamela sighed to herself, feeling more relaxed and content than ever. Oh, she would sleep well tonight! Her mind was as tired as her body, and it still reeled as though she were still dancing in Theo’s arms, and a hundred images of the day’s activities flickered in the background of her thoughts, right alongside myriad images of what was to come tomorrow.
Pamela crawled into bed, disturbing Tessa only briefly. Her friend made a few sleep noises and was soon silent once more. Pamela got comfortable, the hiss of the rain causing her to begin that delicious, tired fall into blessed sleep.
But for some reason sleep eluded her. She felt as though she had forgotten something. But what? ‘To close the window, silly,’ she told herself, too comfortable to get out of bed and do anything about it. Once again she tried to plunge herself into a deep, untroubled sleep.
She succeeded this time, but it wasn’t the sort of sleep she was expecting. It felt as though she had wakened during a dream to a room that felt the same as the one she was already in. There was something unmistakable and familiar about the dream, but it had never before been like this- never so real, so immediate.
And then, she remembered. It was the dream she used to have before she had ever come to Yorkshire, the dream in which-
She awoke with a start, even as a brilliant flash of lightning illuminated the terrifying figure standing silhouetted in the doorway of the balcony, illuminated through the curtains like a magic-lantern show. She gave an incoherent cry of terror, pulling Tessa with her, away from the menace of the man she had mistakenly assumed in her dream was Theo.
Muzzy-headed with sleep, Tessa began to come to life in her arms. And as another brilliant flash illuminated the black shadow that stepped through the curtain, the two girls screamed and shrank away from the demon in man’s form named Albert Askrigg.
Thrusting Tessa behind her, Pamela reached back blindly with her hand until she found the light switch and opened it. The sudden glare seemed to diminish Albert’s presence, as though removal of the dark subdued part of the essential nature of his being. Regardless, he still dwarfed the two girls in stature. He held a long knife in his left hand and his mien was at once every bit as unreasoning and malevolent as Pamela remembered.
‘Go,’ Pamela hissed to Tessa, ‘get out of here. It’s me he wants. Don’t argue with me! Just do it!’
There was an unnatural stillness in Albert’s stance as he appraised Pamela speculatively and allowed her friend to leave. There was no longer any sign of the slow-witted, uneducated Albert whom everyone thought of as a simple but likable lout. Everything about him was different, his dialect, his bearing, the cold intent in his eyes . . . even the timbre of his voice.
‘You’re a fool, Pamela,’ he told her, speaking slowly, as though giving full emphasis to his every word. ‘Theo’s not the man you want. I am. And what’s more, we both know it.’ He approached her until she was backed up against the wall. He reached over and bolted the door, which Pamela knew to be built of solid oak two inches thick.
‘The truth is,’ he continued, ‘Theo doesn’t give you what you want. You want to be dominated . . . controlled. You remember how it was between us.’
‘I remember that you tried to force me. And then, when I wouldn’t give in, you tried to kill me,’ Pamela said, biting down on the fearful quaver in her voice. ‘I remember you telling me where you put those girls’ bodies.’
‘Ah, so you’re responsible for CID dragging the tarn.’ He shrugged. ‘It makes no difference, really. They were just experiments.’ He caressed her cheek with his knife, causing her to gasp with fear and flinch away from him. ‘But you, you’re no longer just an experiment, Pamela. You’re exactly what I’ve been looking for.’
Though trembling all over now, she fought down the useless urge to flee and forced herself to look into his mad eyes for the first time. ‘What do you mean?’
‘I mean,’ he said, trying to brush his lips against her own, ‘that for all these years I have been looking for the perfect woman, someone who is a match for me, who will stand up to me. Someone whom I wouldn’t kill.’
‘No?’ She tried to keep the full attention of his eyes on her own while her hand strayed behind her, seeking . . .
‘No,’ he said in a husky voice that chilled her, made her feel as though she were going to be physically ill. ‘Why would I kill the perfect woman, Pamela? How could I? The others, they were just dreck, not worthy of the air they breathed. But you, Pamela, you’re different.’
Her hand found the door jamb and moved upwards.
‘H- how am I different,’ she said as he leaned over her, touched the smooth skin of her cheek with his coarse, unshaven jowl.
‘You smell different,’ he breathed, putting a hand on her waist, causing her to jump involuntarily. ‘You brought your air with you into this house. It was magic, Pamela . . . pure magic. You breathed new life into this miserable old cavern, into a community of small-minded, mean-spirited people. Did you know that? You changed everyone, as though you’d waved a magic wand. What do you call that but magic.’
‘You exaggerate,’ Pamela said, trying to evade his searching lips, her hand finding the lock. ‘There were plenty of nice people here, in this house and everywhere. It’s just people like you that can’t see things for what they are.’
‘Ah, well, that just ties in with what I said,’ he murmured, getting too close this time. She was forced to quickly sidle away from him lest he touch her inappropriately. She moved into the centre of the room and began backing away once more, moving towards the balcony.
‘Like I said, Pamela, you’re pure magic.’
‘What, no more Miss Prissy Pants,’ she jibed, trying to control her voice enough to sound sarcastic.
Something, a memory of a conversation she’d overheard, came back to her then . . .
“It makes no sense. There wasn’t a single sign of resistance from any of his victims. But how can that be?”
[_ “It was probably just fear- they were terrified ] not [_to sate the sick demands he made of them.”]
“I don’t know . . . for some reason I’m not convinced of that. There has to be something else . . . something we’ve so far overlooked . . .”
‘Look, Pamela,’ Albert said, trying to appear appealing to her, ‘Theo doesn’t love you. He never has and he never will. He only wants to marry you so that he won’t be disowned-’
‘That isn’t true!’ she cried, as though the words were torn from her. She began to feel her sense of certainty falter. ‘Theo does love me. More than you can know.’
He turned a horrible parody of a pitying expression on her that almost made her scream. ‘No, Pamela, he doesn’t. Remember what he said? “I loved you from the moment mother threatened to disown me.” He doesn’t love you. He’s just afraid of losing his inheritance.’
‘No!’ She began sobbing, shaking her head, as if to dispel the hold he had on her. ‘That isn’t true. You don’t know what you’re talking about.’ But his words so closely resembled her own doubts that she was no longer sure. Saying words, only to try and fend off his invasive insinuations, she blurted, ‘You’re just trying to twist his words.’
‘Am I?’ Albert approached her once more with growing certainty in every dangerous line of his giant frame. ‘You know yourself what an unfeeling man he is. How many times have I seen the truth of him reflected in your eyes? Ask yourself: Why do you doubt him? Why? Because the man has no feelings, Pamela, especially not for you. The only reason he’s being nice to you now is so that he can become married to you, and being married to you means protecting his inheritance. That’s all you are to him. As long as you’re tied to his coattails, working for him, he’s no longer in danger of losing out on his mum’s cash.’ He moved closer to her, until she neared the balcony door. ‘But I’m different, Pamela. I just want you for yourself. Trust me, you’ll see. Now, do be a good girl and take your clothes off. I’m not going to hurt you if you do what I say . . . but if you disobey . . . ’ His face was expressionless, unreadable, but he made a cutting gesture with the knife that caused her to begin weeping in terror. She made a move to disrobe, her heart pounding- but then she stopped, faced him once more.
‘This isn’t how it normally goes for you, is it?’ Pamela asked him bitterly, feeling a timid surge of anger. ‘They’re usually on their backs by now, doing whatever it is you want them to do. That’s really what this is all about, isn’t it? This isn’t about Theo, or me, or all those girls you killed. It’s really all about you, about this sick little game you play, about the way you manipulate terrified, helpless young women into desperately trying to please you, but all the while they’re really hoping, praying, trying to believe that in the end, you’re not going to kill them.’
‘But I’m not going to kill you,’ he said, doubt and anger flickering momentarily behind the veil of compassion he tried to draw over his features.
‘Oh, but that’s your usual line, isn’t it,’ she rejoined. ‘I’m supposed to want to believe you enough to save my own life.’
‘Don’t you?’ he said, and there was something unspeakably evil in his eyes that almost had her gibbering with terror. ‘Don’t you believe in me, Pamela? Don’t you want to come out of this alive?’
‘So, tell me Albert . . . ’ the words sprang from her as though spoken by someone else, which was just as well, since they were at once more calm than she herself could have willed, ‘how did you get in here? You can’t have climbed up. It’s too high, and I didn’t see any sign of a ladder. And how did you manage to overhear what Theo and I were saying? You could only have done that if you were inside the house.’
‘All right,’ he said, straightening up and appraising her speculatively, ‘we’ll play it your way for the moment.
‘I’ve always been here, Pamela, right close at hand. I’ve watched you eat. I’ve watched you sleep. I was right there at your elbow as you sat upstairs with Theo each and every night. I even know what you were thinking, especially when you were alone.’
‘That’s it, isn’t it,’ Pamela said quietly. ‘There are secret passages in this house. You somehow found them and managed to make use of them.’
He shook his head. ‘Haven’t you guessed the truth yet? There are no secret passages in this house. There aren’t and there never were.’ He smiled suddenly, but it was a smile that almost stopped her heart from beating. ‘Haven’t you wondered how it is that all those professional trackers were unable to find me, when I’ve never been more than a few hundred yards from this place? I let them know it, too, leaving them signs all over the place, so that they knew that I knew that they knew I was near to them . . . so near they could almost feel me breathing down their necks. So tell me, Pamela, how did I manage that?’
She waited, dreading what he would tell her.
‘I was right in front of them all along. Haven’t you heard the old saying? “A wise man always hides something in plain sight.”’
Pamela shook her head. ‘No. That isn’t possible.’
‘Isn’t it?’ he taunted. ‘You know what the people in CID call me, don’t you? Grendel. The elusive and indestructible monster who drinks blood and feeds on human flesh.’
‘I suggest you tell that to Beowulf,’ she rejoined meaningly.
He wheeled around to face Theo, who watched him with eyes that were at once as dangerous and cold as his own.
Pamela scarcely recognised him. Theo? There was not a trace of the compassion she had seen in him, no caring in his eyes, no warmth in his soul, no . . . the thought sent shivers of terror through her . . . no soul at all.
‘You conniving little bitch,’ Albert said for Pamela’s benefit. ‘You unlatched the door.’
Pamela looked wildly past Theo’s shoulder, hoping for a sign of the Chief Inspector and some other men. But there was no one. Albert, too, noticed this, but warily.
‘What, no reinforcements then, Theo?’
Something hard, like a smile that was not a smile, touched Theo’s stony features.
‘No witnesses,’ he pronounced.
Pamela almost fainted. Were Albert’s words true after all? Were both of these men brutal, uncaring, ruthless monsters?
Albert acknowledged what Theo had said with an inclination of his head. ‘No witnesses, then. But I’ve got the knife.’ He waved it menacingly, not taking his eyes from Theo’s.
‘Doesn’t matter,’ Theo told him. ‘With or without it, I’m still going to rip your arm from its socket, and you’re going to go running home to your mam and bleed to death, just like you always do.’
For the first time, Pamela saw real fear in Albert’s eyes. ‘You’re insane.’
As if to verify this as fact, Theo nodded. ‘It takes a one to know a one.’ Then, he began to advance, as though his opponent was of no consequence at all.
Albert held the knife up, defensively, and started backing up. Suddenly, Pamela gasped as he lunged, tried to plunge it in Theo’s abdomen. Theo responded with a movement that was almost too quick to comprehend. He evaded the thrusting sliver of metal and struck Albert a blow that sent him reeling.
Pamela had never once in her life been in such close proximity to such naked violence. She felt a sympathetic concussion from the blow Theo inflicted on Albert, attesting to the power of both men. Such a blow, she knew with certainty, would have sent her flying across the room like a rag doll, bones crushed, internal organs ruptured and bleeding. She backed away further, towards the open door of the balcony. She felt something warm and wet on her cheek. Putting her hand to her face reflexively, glancing down, she saw the slash of blood that had sprayed her- the hand that touched her cheek encountered a warm, sticky substance . . .
‘That hurt,’Albert pronounced distinctly, smiling through the blood on his mouth.
Without warning it was though a dam had burst, allowing the violence incarnate it had contained to burst out with unfettered savagery. Pamela sidled away until she was back by the door as the two men cudgelled each other like titans, Albert swinging his heavy maul-like fists while looking for any small opening to slash or stab, Theo dodging, ducking, raining blows like a frenetic sledgehammer when Albert invariably missed.
But chance, or fate, suddenly seemed to deal Theo a foul blow- as the two fought on the balcony he slipped on the rain-soaked deck, losing his balance, almost falling backwards over the railing. Albert seized the opportunity instantly, falling on Theo like a bird of prey, bending him back, knife upraised for the final, triumphant killing blow.
Without volition, without thought for herself or what she was doing, Pamela broke out of her paralysis of fear and began running, throwing herself at Albert-
At once, things seemed to move in slow-motion. She crashed into Albert, not daring to believe that she would have any effect on his apparently immovable mass. Yet somehow, catching him off-guard or propelled by fate, she managed to topple him-
She knew at once, the instant their bodies made contact, that this wasn’t enough. So she kept going-
There was a brief instant as they both went over the railing when they seemed to hang suspended in midair for an eternity, as though time itself had become a paradoxical membrane that was stretched to the limit, of frantic motion and long, ponderous seconds that seemed to last centuries-
And then . . . she was staring up at the evening sky as though aware for the first time how beautiful it really was . . . the rain appeared as a million glittering motes of light that fell to earth like tears shed by an anguished and bereaved God over His ruined and belovèd Creation . . .
Her reverie was broken by a babel of voices, the approach of running feet, and suddenly her vision was filled with Theo’s aghast features.
‘Oh God! She’s still alive! Someone call 999! Pamela? Look at me. No, Pamela, don’t do this!’
As though looking straight through him, she could see a bright light. It was as if everything around her was losing substance, as though the light itself were in truth the only thing that was real. She began to feel herself rising towards it-
‘I’ve called one. There’s an ambulance on it’s way, Theo . . . oh, God! No! Don’t try to move her-’
‘Pamela, listen to me. Listen to me, please! Look at me! I can’t lose you now. Oh, dear God, you can’t die!’
Pamela saw Theo’s tears as though they were echoes of falling stars, reflecting the piercing rays of light that emanated from the unbearably bright object before her.
‘I love you. Do you hear me? We’re going to get you to a hospital, and they’re going to fix you up, and we’re going to spend the rest of our lives together . . . please . . . Oh, God, No! . . . I’m begging you . . . don’t do this! NO!’
The last thing she was aware of as the light took her was echoes of that cry that felt as though it were torn from Theo’s very soul, a cry as lorn and bereaved as a lone kestrel on the open sea.
‘What happened then, gran?’ The fifteen-year-old girl was laying on the rug in front of the fire, her eyes wide. ‘She didn’t actually die, did she?’
Her grandmother stopped rocking in her chair a moment and gave the girl a humorously disparaging look over her glasses. ‘If my grandmother had died, then a long line of Dewhurst women, including yourself, would never have been born, and you wouldn’t be here to listen to this tale, nor I to tell it.’
‘So what did happen?’
‘If I am to be allowed to continue without any further interruption, then perhaps I’ll tell you.
‘Now, then, where were we? Oh, yes, Pamela has fallen off the balcony. Well, everyone thought she was going to die, and she was rushed to hospital. Everyone went. In fact, they left in such a hurry that the doors either were left standing open or unlocked. But nobody cared about that. All they cared about was whether poor Pamela was going to make it or not.
‘There were tears aplenty, let me tell you, and prayers from lips that hadn’t prayed in years, and from people who really didn’t believe in such things, but prayed all the same because there was nothing else they could have done.
‘The news wasn’t good, of course. The doctors didn’t hold out any hope, and told them she wouldn’t last till morning. But by daybreak she was still clinging to life, and all her friends gathered together and kept vigil.
‘Theo was a gaunt wreck, let me tell you. He was a strong man in every sense, stronger than most. But he stayed by Pamela’s side every minute of every day, eschewing sleep and food, believing that his will alone was all that was keeping her alive from one moment to the next. He believed that if he faltered even once that she would quietly slip away.
‘Even then, the doctors told him that she was clinically dead, that it was only a matter of time before her heart finally stopped beating of its own accord, like an old clock that winds down for the very last time until it finally stops, for ever.
‘But Pamela’s life was a succession of minor miracles, and against all odds, she began to rally. After three days, the doctors finally got it through their heads that she wasn’t going down without a good fight. And fight she did. Her back and neck were broken. They mended. She suffered massive internal injuries. But the bleeding slowed to a trickle, and then stopped altogether. And the swelling of her brain finally eased off, and she was not left a vegetable, as they believed she already was. They thought at the least that she was going to be paralysed. But she wasn’t.
‘She and Theo were married the following year, of course. Her best friend Tessa had married Thomas eleven months before because Pamela was in hospital for such a long time. And within a few years Dewhurst Manor was once again full of life and children and hope.’
‘But whatever happened to Albert Askrigg?’ her granddaughter said. ‘Nobody ever talks about what became of him.’
‘No? Well, that doesn’t surprise me. He was a very evil man who did unspeakable things, the sort of things nice people don’t talk about and prefer to forget.
‘But since you asked me, I’ll tell you what little there is to know.
‘Albert Askrigg fell off the balcony even as Pamela did. But when everyone went outside, he was gone. He had got up and run off-’
‘What? Anybody who fell that far and landed on the cobbles should have died, or at least have been seriously injured like great-great grandma!’
‘Oh, he was injured all right,’ her grandmother said. ‘We know that because he was seen limping towards the moor, leaving a trail of blood all the way, one arm twisted at a macabre angle. The police were hot on his trail soon after, and not just with a few constables crashing through the woods, but with the help of more than five-hundred volunteers, all of whom were keen on getting their hands on Mr. Albert Askrigg.
‘But they never found hide nor hair of him. Whether he crawled into some secret hiding-place and died, whether he managed to get away and flee to foreign parts, or whether the moor itself swallowed him up . . . we will never know, I’m afraid.
‘But Pamela, my grandmother . . . ’ The old lady chuckled to herself. ‘A good many people thought she had gone a bit dotty where Albert Askrigg was concerned. She believed, with all her heart and soul to her dying day, that Albert Askrigg was some kind of demon that had sprung up out of the moor, that he was the moor, in a sense. She believed, too, that Theo himself was a similar spirit.’
She sighed, sadly. ‘After granddad Theo died, she used to take me out to the moor near Haworth, and say, “This is where your grandfather truly lies. And here, too, lies Albert Askrigg, two aspects of the wild moor, forever at odds with each other, yet forever in balance. Oh, it may not seem that way in the middle of winter, when the moor becomes an empty, bleak, inhospitable and dangerous gallows-feld, or in the middle of summer when it is full of life, beauty and colour. But the two taken as a whole are both as necessary to life as sun, water and air.”
‘Of course, I well knew that my grandfather was no ghost or spirit, for I had known him all my life until he died as a very old man. It was, I suppose, grandmother’s way of dealing with the trauma she suffered at Albert Askrigg’s hands. However . . . believe what you will. No one has ever answered the question of how Albert Askrigg knew what was going on in this house. As Pamela was to find out for herself, once she’d fully recovered, there are no secret passageways or rooms or anything else in this old house, and never have been.’
The old lady took a long look around the sitting-room and sighed once more. ‘I well remember my grandmother and grandfather sitting in this very room, reminiscing about days gone by and the full and happy life they’d had together.
‘But these things go in cycles, as they say. Their children, my parents, almost managed to squander the entire Dewhurst fortune. They hadn’t had to work for it, and they became a spoiled leisure-class, who thought life consisted of spending money, and frivolous entertainment. There was almost nothing left of the family fortune by the time I came into the picture. But my grandmother was a shrewd woman, and took me under her wing. And by the time I was nineteen, like her, two generations before me, I was practically running the show.
‘Then, I grew up and got married, and along came another generation of spoiled leisure-class kids; your parents, not to put too fine a point on it. Just like my parents, they gave you a hard world to grow up in, what with their divorce and fighting over you kids and sending you away to those dreadful boarding schools. I have a very good idea how unhappy you were, and what happened there. It’s a good thing for all of us that your parents will be left with nothing more than an allowance.
‘But now, my dear, it’s all up to you to save the Dewhurst legacy one more.’ She smiled, a wise, thoughtful smile, full of memory.
‘In fact, I want you to have something. It has been in my possession for many years, now, and I think it’s about time it finally changed hands.’
She handed the girl the diary she had been reading from, a small book bound in red leather that was at once very much worn and carefully preserved.
Awed, the girl took it. ‘Gran, I can’t accept this from you! Not ever! I’m never going to be the sort of person who can take on that kind of responsibility. Besides, this book has always been your greatest treasure.’
Her grandmother’s knowing smile put the lie to her uncertainty, and caused her to feel the first stirrings of the woman she knew she would one day become. ‘You can take it, my dear. You will and you must, for you are the sort of person who can take on that sort of responsibility. Us Dewhurst women have been doing so for generations. Besides, let’s face facts, my girl, I’m not going to be around for very much longer.
‘But not to worry about that just yet. No, the Dewhurst legacy will last just as long as we can keep producing women like Pamela. My grandmother is still here somewhere, you know . . . in this little book and in your spirit and in mine.
‘It’s true, this little book has meant a lot to me over the years. But you’re my greatest treasure; you always have been. And as for what the future may bring . . .
‘You’re young yet, child. You have all the time in the world.’
Here ends The Diary of Pamela D.
An impoverished North American girl lands a job as a maid in an old Yorkshire mansion. She soon comes to the attention of a local serial killer who will stop at nothing to get his hands on her.