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Chapter Thirty-Eight

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Author Topic: Chapter Thirty-Eight  (Read 31 times)
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« on: July 17, 2023, 06:46:24 am »

JOANNA straightened up. Her mind was terribly confused, the impression of evil very strong. She had to get away---now, quickly, before the door could open. She caught up her long velvet skirt and went, hurrying but careful to make no sound. Up the stair and back to her room---that was her first thought. And then when she had reached it and the door was shut she sat down on the edge of the bed and tried to think. The lamplight was yellow and soothing. There was something steady about it. She tried to steady her thought. Morgan was dead---a long time ago---two years. Two years was a long time. He was dead, and Wickham was dead---poor Wickham. And Sarah was not dead yet, but they wanted her to die. That was the wickedness that she had felt in this house. They wanted Sarah to die, so they had taken away her clothes and put her out in the yard to freeze.

She found herself on her feet, and she heard her own voice saying in a shocked, frightened tone, “Oh, no, they mustn’t---I won’t let them!”

For once in her life she knew what she must do. She must find Sarah, and she must take her her clothes and help her to get away. She was not confused any more. She saw these three things quite clearly. They were like three steps in a stair which she had to climb. Get Sarah’s clothes. Find Sarah. Help her to get away.

One step at a time, and the first step first. It was the easiest one. She took the candle into Sarah’s room again and fetched the warm brown suit and the fur coat. When she was out on the landing with them, the second step had to be taken---she had to find Sarah. Mr. Brown had said she was in the yard. There was a yard between the two wings of the house. She knew that, because Mr. Brown had talked about it that very evening when Sarah was out of the room. There was this part of the house, and the haunted wing which was older, and they made up three sides of a square, with a wall to close the fourth side in. Mr. Brown had told them tales about this courtyard. One man had kept bloodhounds there, and when his daughter ran away from him with her lover he had loosed the hounds and hunted them to their death. Another had a poor mad wife. She had been used to walk in the courtyard, with the walls and a barred gate to shut her in. It was an evil house, full of old sorrow and sin.

She thought, “They have put Sarah in the courtyard and shut her in to freeze and die.”

She held the brown suit and the fur coat over her left arm, and the candle in the other hand. The coat was heavy, but she hardly noticed the weight. Her mind was quite taken up with how to get into the courtyard and let Sarah out.

She came down the stair again and into the hall, but this time she turned to the left. She pushed her way through the baize door and left it to swing to behind her. She found herself at one end of a narrow flagged passage. In front of her on the left there was a stair that went up between walls. She could only see the bottom step, the rest was shadow. A little farther on on the right was the open kitchen door, and, facing her at the end of the passage, what she had counted on finding there---the door into the yard. She had not thought about it consciously, but she had been quite sure that it would be there. There always was a door leading into a yard from kitchen premises. In a small house you would have to go through the kitchen and scullery to get to it, but not in a house like this.

She went past the stair and past the kitchen door. The kitchen was dark and warm. There was a little glow from the sunk fire. When she came to the door into the yard she set her candle down on the floor and unlocked it. It was only locked, not bolted, and the key turned easily. When she had opened the door she picked up the candle again and stood on the threshold looking out.

Sarah did not know how long she had been in the yard. Just for a little while the hot tea had warmed her, and Mrs. Grimsby’s kindness. Then the glow faded and an icy, bitter cold pressed in upon her. It was not just the cold of frost and wind. It was the cold of separation and betrayal. She seemed to have come to an end. Presently Mrs. Grimsby would come and draw back the bolts and let her out into a desolate wilderness. What was she going to do there? Walk until weakness betrayed her and she fell in the snow to freeze. That she could reach Hedgeley seven miles away did not seem possible. She could find in herself no strength, no determination of the will, no passionate desire to live. Any one of these things might have taken her there, but she had none of them. Her strength was sapped, her will quiescent, and her desire to live had drained away. She was very cold. The blanket kept slipping. If she hung it over her shoulders, the frost struck upwards from the ground and numbed her. If she folded it under her, the cold struck at her very heart. In the end she stood and clutched it round her. Every now and then she walked a little, moving along in the shelter of the wall with her feet on the snow.

She had been as far as the gate, and was coming back, when she saw Joanna’s candle and stood to stare at it. Of all living things Joanna Cattermole was the last she could have looked to see, standing there in the open mouth of the passage with the candle in her hand. The flame of the candle moved in the wind. The wild, light halo of Joanna’s hair moved like blown thistledown. Joanna’s eyes peered vaguely into the snowy dusk.

All at once Sarah began to run. She stumbled on the blanket and caught it up. She came slipping and stumbling and running into the circle of candle-light and held by the jamb of the door to keep herself up.

Miss Cattermole let Sarah’s clothes slip down upon the passage floor. She put a finger to her lips and said, “Hush---hush---we mustn’t make any noise. I’ve brought your clothes.” Then, with a sudden note of curiosity in her voice, “My dear, what have you got on?”

Sarah came past her and shut the door. It shut out some of the cold. She looked fearfully at the kitchen door and saw that it was open, and the room dark behind it.

Miss Cattermole held up the candle and looked at her with astonishment. She did not know quite what she had expected to see, but the sight of Mrs. Grimsby’s second-best coat, black, voluminous, and almost trailing on the ground, surprised her very much. Above its ragged fur collar Sarah’s face quite white, her little pill-box hat slipped into something more than the fashionable tilt, and the veil dragged down over a falling strand of hair.

Sarah let the blanket drop and began to unbutton the coat.

“I’ve brought your clothes.” Joanna spoke in a breathless whisper. “Oh, my dear, you must get away quickly. We ought never to have come here. I told you there was evil in this house. You must get away quickly. They are very wicked men.”

Sarah nodded. She let the coat fall on the top of the blanket and began to pull on her own skirt and jumper over Mrs. Grimsby’s grey knickers and thick woollen vest. Then she picked up her coat and slipped into the soft, warm fur. A long shudder went over her. All this time she had not spoken, and still she did not speak.

Joanna Cattermole put up a thin, shaky hand and tried to straighten the little crooked hat.

“I don’t know what to do,” she said in a whispering voice. “They were in Mr. Brown’s room talking---downstairs, in his den---but he called him Paul---he did it twice. It seems strange when his name is Peter, but Wilson called him Paul. If we go through the hall, perhaps they will hear us. They were talking, you know, and they said you were in the yard. You know the door doesn’t shut, and I listened, and they said you would freeze, and they said---oh, my dear, they said that Morgan was dead!”

Sarah spoke for the first time. She said, “But he was here. I heard his voice this afternoon.” Joanna fell back a step and shook her head.

“They said he had been dead for two years. It couldn’t be true---could it? But they said it. They said Wilson had dressed up and pretended to be Morgan. It was for some bad purpose, my dear---to get some papers out of your room. He told me to say I had had a dream, and to keep you with me as long as I could, but I thought it was one of Morgan’s practical jokes---he was always so fond of joking. I wouldn’t have done it if I had thought there was any harm in it. I wouldn’t have done it for Wilson---but I thought it was Morgan.”

Sarah said, “Stop!” She put a hand to her head, felt the loose strand of hair, and pinned it up. Then she said slowly, “Mr. Cattermole spoke to me on the telephone whilst you were in the drawing-room with Mr. Morgan.”

Joanna shook her head.

“It was a gramophone record---they talked about it. They didn’t know I was listening. They said Morgan was dead. Oh, what are we going to do?”

Sarah was being forced back to life and thought. Joanna’s effort had spent itself. She stood confused and helpless with the tears running down her face. Sarah took her by the arm.

“Will you do just what I say? You will---won’t you?”

Joanna nodded.

“I want you to go back to your room. You needn’t go into the hall at all---this stair comes out in the passage. Take Mrs. Grimsby’s coat and blanket with you. They’ll kill her if they know she helped me. You must find a way of giving them back to her tomorrow, and tell her if there’s anything I can ever do for her, I’ll do it. Now go quickly! And thank you a million times!”

“What will you do?” said Joanna with a sob.

Sarah kissed her.

“Get out of the dining-room window,” she said.

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