The follows from The Colonel (part 4).


‘I really must be off,’ said Diana in a low voice rather hoping that she would not be heard. She shuffled her feet nervously, her shoes making patterns in the gravel drawing with precision.

‘Please don’t Diana. Wait a minute,’ the Colonel said and there was a crack of dry wood on metal as the housekeeper opened the front door. She was smaller than he expected wearing an apron. Her hair was grey and in a bun. A reddish face was lit by the glow of a dim light from inside the hall though she had a tired look in her eyes and on extending her hand said ‘Good evening Sir, Miss. Simms is my name, we have been expecting you. Welcome to Hestercombe Hall.’

Facing the housekeeper, who looked rather surprised at the three of them, the Colonel in tweeds, Diana in a smart coat and Aga Jhan in what she might call native cloths, Henry put out his hand too. Her fingers felt rough and damp as though straight from the scullery.

‘Miss Simms, good evening and thank you for letting us in, and please don’t trouble yourself, my man will do for the cases.’

There was a pause and then silence and as Henry rested his palm on Diana’s shoulder, he could see Simms’ eyes dart back and forth.

‘Oh forgive me Miss Simms, I should introduce Diana and Aga Jhan. Diana drove me here and is a friend, you know a family friend,’ he said, which sounded awkward. Diana looked at him taken aback at the forwardness of this statement.

Miss Simms gave a small bob and they all followed her. The hall was lit with a few bulbs and it smelt of books, dust and abandonment. A piano covered in red baize was in the corner and an attempt at placing flowers in a vase had been made. The rug looked worn and threadbare but there would be time for that he thought, he could send for some from India. Like school children, they trooped around the house, gasping at yet more rooms, glancing at gloomy portraits and some doors were locked but at least several bedrooms had been prepared. Miss Simms said she would see to those doors in the morning.

A small fire in the drawing room sputtered on damp logs and after a while Henry sank into a sagging chair. He was surrounded by bookcases and the windows were covered with thick and heavy chintz curtains that had seen better days. He stretched his feet out and waited for Diana who had disappeared with Aga Jhan. Soon her footsteps echoed from the hall and she informed Henry that Aga Jhan was settled and even had his prayer mat out. She made her farewells and said that she would be back in the week to see how he was getting on.

The drawing room was over fussed with furniture and Henry sat motionless. He had found a glass which was rather dusty so polished it with his handkerchief. He loosened his tie and from his pocket took a hip-flask. His great Aunt certainly would have had no alcohol in the house.

He thought about the last hours. The house was quiet. Miss Simms had left a pale bread sandwich and seemed to have gone, to where he was not sure, Aga Jhan was upstairs, no doubt dozing and as for Diana, well he was pleased to feel that he missed her already, she had an enterprising spirit.

His eyes grew heavy and he slipped into a slumber, now master of his own house with all the adventures that it would bring. His dreams came easily of trains, shrieks and whistles as the start of his journey began.

Hestercombe Hall had a new owner.

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