‘So this is what we’re landed with, eh?’ Arms akimbo, the children were faced with the keeper’s wife, a thoroughly stout dragon of a woman, with a blotchy red face, who had the appearance of always looking completely flustered This evening was no exception to the rule. he turned to her husband. ‘Have they finished?’ The man snorted. ‘Why’re y’askin’ me, woman? Look at their plates. They’re empty, aren’t they?’ She bridled at this. ‘Why, you cheeky good for nothing! How dare you speak to me in that way!’, and this exchange was merely the opening salvo in a heated harangue between the two which continued for several minutes while the children sat there nonplussed and apparently unnoticed by the warring couple. At last, however, their respective rages subsided, and the couple turned to the children with the apparent intention of doing something with them.
‘Ain’t it their bedtime?’, the woman snapped. ‘If yer wants’, he grumbled, glaring at the clock above the mantelpiece as though it had done him a grave injustice. ‘Oh, I do what I wants!’ she shrieked, determined to perpetuate this solecism. ‘Come aarn, or oi’ll tan yer backsides!’ With this, she gripped Sarah’s collar and half-dragged, half-carried her up the single flight of carpeted stone steps, while the game keeper followed suit with Giles. They were thrown into adjacent rooms, and locked in. As they sat on their single beds, the footsteps receded in tandem and in conjunction with the argument, until the couple were heard to shut separate doors, and silence to fall on the cottage, with the distant hooting of a lone owl their only company.
It would be a satisfactory end to this section of the story to tell of Giles and Sarah’s reflections on their first night in their new world: however, both were so mentally and physically exhausted by the day’s events, and unable even to see their surroundings due to their having been deprived of night-light or candle, that both, as if of one mind, draped the counterpanes from their beds around them, and fell swiftly into a dreamless sleep.
The new day gripped the two with a cold embrace. Sarah was surprised to see a steaming bowl of water and a fresh towel on the dressing table at the foot of her bed, and Giles was similarly astonished. Both wasted no time in washing, and, opening their now unlocked doors at virtually the same moment, came face to face: washed, but with the stale, unpleasantly warm feeling one gets from sleeping in one’s clothes. Instinctively they hugged each other, and Sarah was touched to see warm tears in Giles’ eyes. ‘Are you alright?’ she asked him. He nodded. ‘Solly’, he said, ‘what on earth is going on in here?’ She shook her head. ‘I hope these odd people are going to tell us something this morning. Can you smell something?’ Giles sniffed the air. ‘Porridge! And toast!’ ‘Let’s go downstairs then.’ She beckoned, but he hesitated. ‘Shouldn’t we ask that growling man and his awful wife first?’
Sarah was still giggling at Giles’ expression when the old woman’s head appeared at the bottom of the stairs and yelled up, ‘Breakfast, you pair! Come in foive minutes and it’ll be cold: come in ten, it’ll be in the bin. Move yourselves!’ Who could resist such an appeal? Who, more to the point, would dare? The children were in the kitchen of one accord within a minute, and hungrily dispatched the food Giles had perceived. This done, they sat at the table, waiting to find out what was happening, or what they were to be told to do. Suddenly, Sarah got that weird feeling, which made her shiver. Someone else was in the room with them!
‘What’s the matter?’ Giles was staring at his sister, because her face had changed to register an otherworldly expression. She did not answer him: instead, she got up slowly from the kitchen table and walked with a measured pace to the window seat, and sat there in a kind of rapture. Giles was worried by her distraction, especially as he could hear the double canon of footsteps and argument approaching up the passageway, but it was of no use. Sarah was sitting bolt upright on the window seat. She stared into the fire, and felt she could see faces forming in it. Or maybe just one?