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Our Library => Patricia Wentworth - Unlawful Occasions (1941) => Topic started by: Admin on July 16, 2023, 11:58:48 am

Title: Chapter Thirty
Post by: Admin on July 16, 2023, 11:58:48 am
AT first nothing but the sense of darkness and fear. A mist of faintness, and as this receded, the fear rising in her, flooding upwards to the panic line. She sat there and fought to hold it back. Because once that line was reached, her control would go and anything might happen. Perhaps even what had happened to Olivia Perrott. She pressed her hands hard against her eyes, and then with a sudden desperate courage snatched them away and made herself look into the darkness. It was so deep, so dense, so complete, that the dropping of her hands and the lifting of her lids made no difference. Two lines which she had read somewhere came into her mind in a very uncomforting manner.

   Thy hand, great Anarch, lets the curtain fall
   And universal darkness covers all.

The sort of lines that would come into your head when you have just been locked into a haunted room. No, not locked, bolted---“Be accurate, Sarah. Don’t go on thinking about Olivia Perrott and how dark it is, or about whispering voices, or Emily Case.” Tricks---tricks---the whole lot of them---a bag of tricks to frighten Sarah Marlowe into giving up the oiled-silk packet. “Don’t think about the packet---don’t think about Emily Case. Don’t think about Sarah Marlowe, or you’ll begin to feel sorry for her, and the minute you begin to feel sorry for yourself you’re done. Say the multiplication table. Say the Kings of England with their dates---William the Conqueror 1066 and all that. Say the names of the Underwood family out of The Pillars of the House----”

Felix Chester Underwood. Felix because his parents were so happy when he was born and they didn’t know they were going to have thirteen children on a curate’s pay, and two lots of twins. And Chester after his godfather, Admiral Chester, who sent him a five-pound note for his birthday, and they spent a pound of it going for a picnic in a wagonette with a bottle of invalid port and a pie.

Wilmet Ursula and Alda Mary, the first lot of twins----

Something moved in the dark corner by the chimney-breast where it had moved before.

The thirteen Underwoods ignobly deserted Sarah, thinned away into the darkness, and left her alone with the thing that had moved. She stood up. It is an old, old instinct which gets you to your feet and sets your back against a wall and your face towards the enemy.

Sarah went up the two steps behind her and set her back against the bolted door. She was afraid, but she had herself in hand. She wouldn’t run, or scream. She said in quite a loud, firm voice, “Is there anyone there?”

She had braced herself to hear the whispering voice again, but it did not come---only that faint dry rustle as if a leaf was moving upon the boards---or the hem of a silk dress. As the sound of her own voice ceased and the rustle died and went out into the silence, she got a startling answer to her question. It came from behind her, right at her back. There was a rusty creak of the bolt. The door flung in and pushed her with it, so that she came down the steps at a run which took her half across the room. After the door the energetic entrance of John Wickham, calling her name.

“Sarah---are you there? Sarah! Where are you?”

“In the middle of next week,” said Sarah.

And then she wasn’t. She was in his arms, and thankful to be there. He might be a bank-robber and a traitor, but he was most solidly and convincingly human. He held her hard, and he kissed her harder still. And Sarah held on to him with both hands and kissed him back. It was a thoroughly demoralizing and humiliating performance. She was to blush for it afterwards, but at the time those human arms and those human kisses were heaven. She shook from head to foot and pressed against him in the dark.

“Take me away!”

When she had said it once she couldn’t stop. It kept on saying itself.

“Take me away---take me away---take me away!”

He left off kissing her and dropped his hands on her shoulders.

“I’m going to---that’s what I’m here for. Sarah, stop it! Do you hear---stop it at once! Someone will hear you. Stop it, I say!”

She stopped, but the words went on in her head.

He said, “That’s better. We’ll go right away. You ought to have come when I told you. You just played into their hands. Come along! Have you got the papers?”

The words froze her where she stood. The papers---oh, yes, the papers---that was what he had come for. That was the plan. They were to frighten her, and he was to come in and pretend to help her. Why, she had heard him boast of how easily he could take her in. Her mouth still felt his kisses. There was a pain that went through her like a sword. She stood quiet under his hands. She said quietly, “I must go to my room.”

“You can’t---it’s not safe, unless---are the papers there?”

It wouldn’t matter how unsafe it was if the papers were there. He meant to have them. Well, there were two people playing this game. She said, still in that quiet voice, “Yes, they are there. I’ll get them.”

For a moment he stayed like that, still holding her, and then he let go.

“All right, we’ll chance it. Come along!”

And with that he had her by the arm and was hurrying her out under the arched doorway into the passage---and on. . . .

They were in his room with the door ajar, listening. Her mind was in confusion. How much of this was according to plan? That was the worst of only hearing a part of it. “An actor in his time plays many parts.” Was he playing one now, when he listened for sounds from the house, or now, when they had crept to the end of the passage and seen the landing empty before them? She didn’t know. She only knew that she couldn’t and wouldn’t stay another hour in this house, and that at the very worst, with a choice of being murdered by Grimsby and Mr. Brown or by John Wickham, she would rather Wickham did it. And anyhow she didn’t much care. Only she meant to save the papers if she could, because if she did she might come to feel that she had got back whatever it is you lose when you kiss someone whom you despise.

She got across the landing to her room and lighted a candle there. She must leave her suit-case---it didn’t matter. She stood in front of the glass and put on the little pillbox hat with its stiffened veil. Her face was as white as paper and her eyes were burning bright. She put up a hand to her lips and felt them tremble. She thought, “I kissed him because I was frightened.” Something laughed scornfully inside her and said, “What a liar you are! You kissed him because you wanted to. You have wanted to for a long time, and now you’ll go on wanting.”

She stamped her foot and said, “I won’t!” and ran out of the room and across the landing without caring whether anyone saw her. She had blown out the candle and picked up her handbag. She came running down the passage to the door of Wickham’s room.

He pulled her in and said quick and sharp.

“Clever girl---have you got them?”

Sarah said, “Yes.”