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Chapter Six

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« on: September 08, 2023, 05:33:52 am »

JUDY was a long time getting to sleep that night. There were all sorts of things in her mind, walking up and down there, talking in whispers, talking aloud, arguing with each other, and coming to no conclusion at all. She became so much provoked by them that she arrived at the point of wishing with all her heart that she had taken Frank Abbott’s advice. She found this so humiliating that it produced a reaction upon whose tide she presently drifted into sleep.

It seemed like only a moment, but actually it must have been nearly two hours later when she waked up to a dreadful clamour of sound. She had never heard a man’s scream before, but she heard it now as she tumbled out of bed and ran to the door. The corridor was in darkness. The scream had died on the shaken air, but there was a dreadful groaning broken by sharp cries.

She ran as she was, in her night-gown, to the switch that controlled the passage light, feeling her way along the wall. As the light came on, a door opened behind her and Miss Silver emerged in a crimson flannel dressing-gown adorned with hand-made crochet and tied about her waist with a woolly cord, her hair neat and unruffled, her expression interested but calm. Judy was so glad to see her that she could have cried. She said,

“What is it? What’s happening?”

And with that Jerome Pilgrim’s door was flung violently open, and in the same moment the dreadful groaning stopped. Jerome stood on the threshold, his pyjama coat torn open, his hands groping until they caught the door-posts. As he stood there, breathing like a man who has run up hill and staring at the light with wild unseeing eyes, Miss Silver put a hand on Judy’s arm.

“Go back and put on your dressing-gown, my dear, and stay with Penny. I will come back.”

For the life of her Judy could get no farther than the door of her room. Penny hadn’t moved---thank God for that. She stood there and watched Jerome Pilgrim and Miss Silver’s brisk advance. But before she could reach him Lona Day came out of the room opposite. She was in a dressing-gown too, her auburn hair loose about her neck, but she was very much the nurse as she laid a hand upon his arm and said, “Why, you’ve been dreaming again, Captain Pilgrim. Come along back to bed, and I’ll give you something to settle you down. Look---you’ve disturbed Miss Silver!”

The staring eyes turned as if with an effort, a shaking voice said, “So---sorry.” Shaking hands dragged at the open jacket. With Lona’s hand on his arm he went stumbling back into his room and the door was shut.

Miss Silver stood where she was for a minute, and then came slowly back. Passing her own door, she came to Judy’s and shook a reproving head.

“My dear, your dressing-gown---pray put it on. Shall we wake Penny if I come in?”

“Oh, no---nothing wakes her. I’ll put on the bedside light. It’s screened on her side.”

She was shivering as she slipped into her dressing-gown.

“Most imprudent,” said Miss Silver. “You should have put it on at once. I am afraid you have been a good deal startled. I think Miss Day will probably look in as soon as she can leave her patient. I imagine this is one of the attacks of which we have heard. Most distressing. But I do not think there is any real cause for alarm. Captain Pilgrim has had a bad nightmare. When we first saw him he was not fully awake, but when Miss Day told him he had disturbed me he made a very pathetic attempt to apologise. He also became aware that his clothing was disordered and tried to set it to rights. The ability to recover self-control in this manner is evidence of sanity. I think you should not allow yourself to feel alarmed.”

It was no good. Everything in Judy shook, and went on shaking. She said things to herself like “Despicable worm!” but they didn’t seem to produce any result. Aloud she said, “It was horrible. I shan’t be able to stay---I can’t keep Penny here. Miss Freyne offered to have her---I’ll take her round tomorrow. Suppose she had waked up, or suppose I’d been downstairs----”

Miss Silver laid a hand upon her knee.

“Since she did not wake, and you were not downstairs, it is very foolish to suppose anything of the sort. Ah---that I think is Miss Day!” She got up and went to the door. “Ah, yes---pray come in. I hope that all is well. Rather a startling experience, but quickly over. So kind of you to come and reassure us.”

Lona Day came floating in. No greater contrast to Miss Silver could have been imagined. Leaf-green draperies flattered the white skin and red-brown hair. She had the warm pallor which goes with that touch of red hair and eyes. Seen like this, she was younger, softer, and, to every sense, in deep concern.

“Judy, I’m so sorry. I’m afraid it was very startling. Perhaps I ought to have warned you---and Miss Silver---but that seems like expecting him to have an attack, and we always hope each one will be the last. He hasn’t had one---oh, for weeks---let me see---oh----”

She broke off in so much dismay that Miss Silver enquired, “You were going to say something about the last attack?”

She had a distressed look.

“Only that it was just after the last time Miss Freyne was here.” There were tears in her eyes. “There---I suppose I oughtn’t to have said it. But what am I to do? They are all so fond of her---she’s such a great friend, and he likes seeing her. But it’s no good pretending. There’s something about her that upsets him. Not at the time, but afterwards---like this. It happens nearly every time she comes. And look at the position it puts me in. It really isn’t fair.”

Miss Silver gazed at her with mild enquiry.

“May I ask you a professional question? Is there any danger in these attacks---not to Captain Pilgrim himself, but to others?”

Lona stopped on her way to the door and said vehemently, “Oh, no, no, no! How can you think such a thing?”

+++

No one referred to the incident next day, yet it was obvious that it was on everybody’s mind. Miss Columba looked glum beyond words, and when Judy told her that she was letting Penny go on a visit to Lesley Freyne she came out with “Quite a good plan,” and had no more to say.

Penny was enchanted. She packed an imaginary suit-case with blankets and a pillow for her latest “pretend,” a baby bear called Bruno---“Only he’s not ’xactly a baby, because he can talk. You can hear how nice he talks, can’t you, Judy? He says we’ll come every day and play with J’rome and Judy. He loves J’rome because he gifted him to me---and he gifted me his ’tacha case, and his blanket and his pillow. Wasn’t it kind of him? Bruno and me think it was very kind.”

Judy came back with a light step. Penny, joyfully absorbed by the evacuees, had not even turned her head to see her go. She would be perfectly happy and perfectly, perfectly safe. Nothing else mattered. It restored her self-respect quite a lot to realize that, now Penny was out of it, she wasn’t afraid any more. She was quite ready to go in and do Jerome Pilgrim’s room, but it appeared that she wasn’t going to be allowed to. Lona Day took the things out of her hands and practically shut the door in her face. Quite unreasonably, Judy’s temper flamed. She shut her mouth on the words she wanted to say, but her eyes were much too bright.

Lona was very nice about it afterwards.

“I can’t let anyone in today. He must be kept absolutely quiet. Please don’t feel it’s anything to do with you. I’m just afraid of his talking about it---wanting to apologise for having disturbed you---that kind of thing. You do understand, don’t you, Judy?”

Judy felt that she had made a fool of herself.

There was an uncomfortable, prickly sort of feeling in the house. Mrs. Robbins looked as if she had been crying. Gloria, chattering in the bathroom which Judy shared with Miss Silver, supplied the reason.

“It’s her daughter’s birthday. Turned out a real bad girl, Mabel Robbins did. Got too big for her boots, my mum says, getting scholarships, and passing examinations, and thinking herself somebody. I tell you what---she had lovely hair---nearest thing to black you ever saw. Curled natural, with a lovely wave across the front---never had to have it permed nor nothing. And ever such big dark blue eyes. But she was a bad girl, and she come to a bad end. Only nobody never knew who the fellow was. Must have been someone she met in Ledlington, my mum says. Mrs. Robbins was all broke up about it. And look here, I’ll tell you something---she and Mr. Robbins, they’ve been having words. I was a bit early and I heard them. ‘It’s her birthday,’ she says, and of course I knew who she meant. ‘Anyone’s got to cry sometimes,’ she says. And Mr. Robbins says, ‘Crying won’t bring her back,’ and she says, ‘Don’t talk so cruel!’ And he says, ‘It’s nothing to what I’d do if I was to get the chance!’ What do you think of that?”

Judy said, “I think you’d better get on with those taps---they’re a disgrace,” and felt that she should have said it before.

As she went out of the door she almost ran into Miss Silver, who was standing there with a packet of soap-flakes in one hand and half a dozen handkerchiefs in the other. Judy wondered how long she had been there.

It was at lunch that the general discomfort came to a head. Miss Janetta was fretful to a degree, complained that she could not eat sausages, enquired whether cabbage was the only vegetable which the garden produced, and complained that there was a draught somewhere.

“Are you sure there is nothing open, Robbins? The least crack affects me. Please see if all the fastenings are firm.”

Miss Columba kept her eyes on her plate. Miss Silver enquired innocently whether fish was obtainable from Ledlington, but it appeared that she could have introduced no more unfortunate subject. With a high laugh Miss Janetta replied, “Oh, yes, we can get it---we do get it. But how often is it bad? That, I think, is the point.”

“We had some very nice fish last week,” said Lona Day, in a voice that was meant to be soothing.

It did not, unfortunately, soothe Miss Janetta, who tossed her head until the piled-up curls were quivering.

“My dear Lona! Well, of course it all depends on what you call nice. Tastes differ of course, but I was brought up to consider that fish should be fresh. That may be all a mistake, but I was brought up that way, and I am afraid I can’t change now. I would be glad to, but I don’t see my way to it.”

Roger Pilgrim had been eating in silence. Now, as Robbins came back from the farther windows, Roger straightened, and said with a note of nervous anger in his voice, “If it’s a change you want, Aunt Netta, we’ll all be having one quite soon, and I can’t say I’m sorry. There’s been quite enough dilly-dallying over selling the place---I’ve had too much of it. I’m taking Champion’s offer, and I’m going to have the sale pushed through as quickly as it can be done. And if you want my opinion, I should say it would be the best thing for all of us.”

Everyone appeared to be struck silent and motionless. Miss Columba had not looked up. Lona Day leaned forward, her lips parted, her eyes on Roger Pilgrim’s face. Robbins, halfway down the room, had halted there, his dark face set, his hands and arms quite stiff, like artificial limbs. Miss Janetta’s face worked. She cried out, “No, no---you don’t mean it! Oh, Roger, you can’t!” and with that caught her breath and began a low hysterical sobbing very painful to watch.

Roger Pilgrim did not stay to watch it. He said a little too loudly, “I meant every word I said!” and with that pushed back his chair and went out of the room and out of the house. They heard the front door bang.

Miss Janetta was crying into her table-napkin and dabbing her tears. Lona Day got up to go to her. Miss Columba lifted her eyes for the first time and looked at her sister.

“Don’t be a fool, Netta!” she said.

That evening between six and seven o’clock Roger Pilgrim fell from one of the attic windows to the paved garden below and was taken up dead.

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