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Authors: Josephine Bell

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BOOK: The House Above the River
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Turning to her, he saw her eyes fill with tears.

“Darling,” he said, under his breath.

Before Susan could recover from the surprise of this address, they were both roused by a voice calling to them from the opposite side of the clearing. They turned their heads quickly, and saw Henry, standing among the trees.

“We've been down to look at
,” Giles shouted, cheerfully, while Susan started to walk, almost to run, across the grass.

It happened without any kind of warning. Giles saw the girl hurry on to a rough patch of ground, covered with broken branches. He saw her stumble, beginning to fall forward. He heard her terrified shout as the ground gave way under her feet. And then, even while she was disappearing from view, he leaped forward.

From where he had been standing he could not now have seen her, but he covered the space between them in a few seconds, and saw her mackintoshed arm, thrown across one log stouter than the rest, which had its ends firmly fixed on either side of a great hole in the ground.

He flung himself down beside the gap, wondering if his added weight would take them both into whatever depths lay beneath. He reached for her arm, and took it in a firm grip at the wrist. Down the hole he saw her white face lose its look of mad terror.

“I've got you,” he said. “But I don't know how firm it is where I am. Can you bring your other hand up?”

Without speaking, she did so, and he grasped that wrist, too, in his free hand. Then he began to wriggle slowly backwards, drawing her to the edge of the hole.

“You'll have to let go the log,” he ordered, when progress stopped.

“No. Half a minute.” Her voice was faint, but resolute. “I think I can get my foot on the rock.”


“Yes. It's rock all round me. There's hardly any earth. Can you give me a pull? A hard one?”

“No. I'm the wrong way round. I daren't try to get up.”

“All right. Just hold on, and I'll do the pulling. Let me have my right hand.”

Unwillingly he began to shift his grip, but he felt her fingers close on his arm with a firm clasp. A second later she came up out of the hole. He let go her other wrist to grasp at her shoulder, and she fell forward on top of him.

For a few moments they lay still, panting. Then Giles freed himself, got up and lifted her to her feet. She did not faint or cry, only stood, leaning against him, shivering.

“We must get back to the house,” he said, gently, but did not take away his supporting arms.

“Henry. What happened to Henry?” was all she managed to say. And then, “My teeth won't stop chattering.”

Henry. Giles had forgotten him. What had the blighter been doing, not to help them? He had been standing there, on the other side of the clearing. He must have seen Susan fall. But he had vanished. He had not helped. He had just gone away.

And then Giles saw him, in company with another man, running from the direction of the château. They carried a long coil of rope between them.

“Don't hurry!” Giles called to him. The sharp sarcasm in his voice brought Henry to a dead stop. He came on again slowly. As he drew close, Susan lifted her head, but she did not move, and Giles still held her close.

“I didn't go right down, Henry,” she said. “Giles got me out.”

There was a dull note in her voice that Giles did not like. She must have suffered more shock than she was showing at present.

“You seem to have had a landslide or something,” he said to Henry. “The rain, perhaps.”

“No.” Henry seemed to have some difficulty in speaking. The other man, in a blue labourer's blouse, said nothing.

“What d'you mean?”

“It should be covered. There is a cover.”

“It was covered with branches, unsecured at the ends, and a thin covering of earth and grass. Luckily one of the branches neither broke nor slipped, and Susan got her arm over it as she fell. Otherwise …”

Henry was staring into the hole.

“It goes down sheer for fifty feet,” he said. “Then on in a rough tunnel, not so steep, for a quarter of a mile. It comes out at the entrance to our little creek, at low tide. At high, the last bit is under water.”

this place?”

“Of course. It has always been here.” He turned to his companion and spoke to him in the Breton dialect. The man grunted and began to move in and out of the trees beside the clearing.

Susan stood away from Giles. She had stopped shivering, but she was still very pale. Her arm, the one that had taken her weight as she fell, was beginning to ache at the shoulder. She wondered if she had injured the joint, for when she tried to lift her hand to her hair, she found she could not do so. With an effort she said to Henry, “Is this the place where smugglers used to come up in the old days? And where they took kidnapped Germans down to the sea in the war? Francine tells ghastly stories about that.”

“Yes. This is the place.”

The man came back presently. Henry appeared to give him some detailed orders, for presently he lifted his beret in acknowledgement and. went off towards the house. Henry shouldered the coil of rope.

“You have hurt your arm, Susan,” he said. “Can you walk back?”

Giles pulled off the scarf he was wearing round his neck.

“Let me make you a sling,” he offered. But Susan had turned away.

“Of course I can walk,” she said, shortly, moving ahead of the two men. They fell in behind her, Giles last, and soon reached the house.

“I would prefer you not to tell Miriam what has happened,” Henry said, in the hall.

“I wouldn't dream of it,” Susan answered. “I have some sense.”

“You'll have to account for that arm,” said Giles. “Do let me fix it in a sling.”

“I'll use one of my own scarves,” said Susan, quietly, but with meaning. He understood, and admired her quick wits as much as he enjoyed their mild conspiracy.

“Thank you,” Henry said, aware again of Susan's injury. “Is there anything … I mean, do you want anything …”

“Give the girl a good stiff drink!” Giles burst out, harshly, “and stop nattering about your wife.”

He checked at once, furious with himself for having spoken in this way. “I beg your pardon,” he said, stiffly, and moved off towards the stairs. Susan looked at him as he passed her. Her eyes were clouded and she did not speak. He went upstairs to find his friends.

Tony and Phillipa heard his story with some dismay and great astonishment.

“How could the cover get off the entrance hole?” Tony asked.

“Did Henry actually say it had a cover?”

“He did. And he certainly ordered the gardener chap or whatever he was, who came along with the rope, to look for something. He went about with his nose to the ground, obviously searching.”

“Then it must have been taken off deliberately?”

“Quite deliberately.”

“Why are you so sure?”

“I'll tell you. That seat was not in its proper place.”

“Come again.”

“The seat, the memorial seat, was in a postion where it did
command the view through the gap. I thought this was peculiar at the time. It ought to have been over the top of the hole.”

“Can you be sure?”

“Quite sure. When I was clinging on to Susan, moving back slowly, and sticking my toes into the ground as I moved, I struck up against something solid, and hooked my instep round it. I had a look at it just before we left the clearing. It was a short iron rod, fixed upright in the ground, with a screw thread at the top. There was another on the other side of the hole. The seat has rings at the side of the base. I don't mind betting they fit over those rods with a nut to screw down over them. I'll have a look tomorrow. But I expect the seat will be back over the hole by then.”

Phillipa was horrified.

“A deliberate trap?” she said, incredulous. “Someone laid a trap for … someone?” she ended, lamely.

“Fun, isn't it?” Giles said. “There was a fifty foot drop, as Henry so kindly told us.”

have been meant for Susan,” said Tony.

“I hope not. Or for me. No one knew we would use that path. But Henry appeared very smartly at the precise moment it was about to happen. I don't remember him calling out any warning. But that could mean several things. Perhaps he was there because he thought I was with Miriam. Perhaps he thought she was with me, coming up the path. Susan was wearing her mackintosh.”

“And hat?” asked Phillipa.

“No hat.”

“Then he couldn't have mistaken her for his wife.”

“The hair, you mean? All the same, the clearing is a favourite spot of Miriam's.”

“It doesn't look too good for Henry,” agreed Tony.

Chapter Six

The sun shone the next day, though the wind still drove as hard as before. Thin white clouds raced across the blue overhead; above the horizon the sky was white with a yellow tinge.

“It will blow out today,” Henry told his guests at breakfast time. “But the sea will not begin to go down until tomorrow. You must be patient for another day.”

“We really can't impose on you any longer,” Giles said. “It's been marvellous, sitting out the gale in comfort. But I do feel we ought to get back on board, and leave you in peace.”

“In peace,” repeated Henry, wrapping up the phrase in his accustomed gloom. The others, feeling embarrassed, looked down at their plates. Susan broke the silence with artificial gaiety.

“We ought to bathe,” she proposed. Phillipa shuddered. “In this wind?”

“The creek is beautifully sheltered. The sun's hot enough.”

“All right,” said Giles, who welcomed any prolonged escape from the house. “We'll bathe. Good for my crew. They didn't take a stroke of exercise yesterday.”

“We did.” Tony was indignant. “We walked round the whole of Tréguier at least twice. And there's nothing more exhausting than trailing round a foreign town, trying to find the shops you want, which never seem to be where you'd expect them.”

“A good swim is what you want,” Giles insisted.

“You'll have to be careful not to go out too far,” Henry warned them. “We usually bathe in the last hour of the flood. There's plenty of water then, with the mud and the rocks and the seaweed covered. It's perfectly safe at slack water, but don't stay in too long. It whistles out on the ebb and there are some nasty rocks at the entrance on our side.”

“Where your tunnel comes out?” asked Giles.

Henry gave him a cold, hard stare, and nodded.

“But I thought you said the entrance rocks were covered when the tide was up?” Giles persisted.

“I was warning you of the ebb. The entrance
covered at high tide. But the outcrop of rock goes right out from the entrance of the tunnel to the beginning of the creek. There is a dangerous eddy round that corner when the water begins to go down.”

“We'll remember,” promised Tony.

The three friends went upstairs towards their rooms, taking Susan with them.

“I must write some letters,” Phillipa said.

“You're always writing letters,” Giles grumbled.

“That's all right,” said Susan. “We can't bathe for hours. Anyway, I expect I'll have jobs to do for Miriam. I haven't seen her yet.”

“According to Henry we ought not to go in before about one o'clock. High water is around two. But I should think we might go down at twelve.”

“Will Henry be coming?” Tony asked.

“I shouldn't think so.” Susan seemed doubtful. “He hardly ever does swim. And his back has been worse lately.”

“What about Miriam?”

Phillipa's question was answered by gloomy looks from the men, but Susan laughed.

“Poor Miriam! But it's all right. She sunbathes a lot. I expect she'll come down in one of her lovely play suits and lie on the sand at her favourite spot. But she won't go in.”

“Is there sand? I thought it was all mud.”

“There's mostly a mixture. But there's a piece of sand not far from the rocks, just this side of the danger point.”

They thought she was describing the same hazard that Henry had warned them of earlier, so they asked no more questions. Susan went away, and the Marshalls settled to writing postcards to their children. Giles wandered back downstairs and out into the garden. But the long grass was still wet from the storm, and the hot sun, sucking up the drops, was turning the whole enclosed space into a steam oven. He went back into the house, uneasy and restless, and filled with a great desire to leave the place. Something was going on there that he did not understand, and had no wish to take part in. Something dangerous; some evil, beginning to show itself, suddenly, startlingly, as in the averted accident to Susan the day before. No one spoke of it today. It might never have happened. It was not discussed, but it had not yet been explained. And there was a certainty, at least, of something planned, an organised wickedness. It had come to the surface in a seething moment of horror, and sunk back, leaving only a question, an uneasy dread. Giles was sure the lid would come off again, but when and where and how and against whom directed, he had no idea at all.

He went up to his room, intending to read for a while, but met Tony and Phillipa on the landing, about to take their mail to the post. He changed his mind, and went with them, taking his camera.

The village looked charming in the sun. As they reached the first cottages, they came to a stone trough of water, behind a low wall. Several women were kneeling round it, with baskets of laundry beside them. They flung the dirty clothes into the water, drew them out on to the stone slab round the trough, and scrubbed and pounded them there, before rinsing them again in the water. One old woman, in a wide white starched cap, looked up at them as they drew close. Giles stopped to take a photograph of her.

BOOK: The House Above the River
10.84Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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