The day had been brilliant, though exhausting. Following the coast was hard; there were interminable lifts over headlands and asides down to caves and fishing hamlets, one road down, the same road climbing back again. Always a headwind too, besides the strong light of the sunny sea which tired one’s eyes. Yet all that only became obvious toward the end of the day. Behind lay long miles of sheer beauty, tall cliffs and sandy bays, huddled villages by peaceful shores, the strong tang of the sea, romantically perched castles where now the only clamour was that of protesting seagulls rudely disturbed.
Toward evening, Margaret sighted yet another headland of white-footed cliffs and humpy moorland stretching far into the shining sea. She was becoming tired – too tired to follow all those tortuous miles of indented coastline. It was easy to sit down on the short turf and rest awhile, to shield her eyes and stare out beyond the coast, to the indigo horizon where sky and sea are fused together. It would be better to follow the inland road to some place which might offer accommodation for the night and tomorrow could be dedicated to an exploration of the new headland.
The inland road meandered pleasantly on, Margaret pottering along unhurried, for the evening was still young. The country was quite bleak, apparently uninhabited, even by the ubiquitous sheep. In a few miles, at the crown of a hill stood a large, conspicuous house, a long mellowed building of stone. Round it was a carefully tended garden, which seemed to bloom all the brighter for the drab surround. A single patch of intake carrying the vegetable needs of the household no doubt, had the same appearance of careful husbandry.
Margaret stopped to admire the garden, and over the low wall caught the fragrance. “Isn’t it a lovely evening?” The owner of the voice, a gaunt, sad faced, elderly lady, appeared from behind an arbour of ramblers.
Margaret responded to the courteous greeting, and very soon became engaged in casual conversation. An invitation to enjoy the garden at the rear of the house was readily accepted, and finally Margaret was prevailed upon to stay the night. After all, it was hard to conceive a pleasanter oasis in this desolate wilderness, nor a more solicitous and charming hostess.
Inside the house the raftered ceilings and panelled walls were matched with dark oak furnishings of great antiquity. Old, polished brass gleamed in the dim, cool rooms. A soft-footed maid who may have grown old in the service of the house, laid a simple meal; she was the only person Margaret saw beside her sad-faced hostess, who drank only a small cup of tea for courtesy’s sake.
“I am sure you are very tired. Allow me to show you to your room.” The elderly lady broke upon a short reverie. She led the way up a black, polished staircase of uneven treads to a long corridor which ran along the rear of the house, and was lighted by a row of windows. The corridor creaked slightly, was stepped in places, and led to the furthest wing. As they passed door after door, Margaret wondered if the rooms were all furnished or in use. At last they came to the end, the hostess opened a door and stepped into a large room well appointed, and containing a double bed, spotlessly clean, faultlessly made. There was also a bay window. “You will be very comfortable here. Good night.” Abruptly the good lady went out, closing the door behind her.
The evening light flooded the room. Margaret moved to the window and gazed with rapture. The front of the house looked down the last heathy spur of moorland to a great expanse of sea still sparkling in the afterglow of sunset. This then, was the opposite side of the headland. For some time she watched the play of the restless waters, planning the morrow’s travelling, and then, at last, turned to prepare for sleep. There was someone in the bed!
Margaret stared in shocked surprise. Upon entering the room her appraising eyes had taken in the well-made bed, the coverlet turned back, the two white pillows smooth and inviting. Now a bulky shape moved under the clothes. She distinctly saw it…… move. Swathed, the near pillow deeply creased with a head she could not see, a body outlined, but not discernable……
Drawn as if by magnetic force which could not be resisted, Margaret approached the bed, eyes staring in terror, every nerve painfully taught, a cold sweat on her brow. She reached the side of the bed. There was nobody there!
For a moment she stood, her senses in a swoon of incoherence, yet without uttering a sound. The whole room seemed to have become dusky, charged with some dreadful, unnamed evil. Even the memory of the hostess assumed a malevolent significance. The momentary pause seemed an age of agonising silence.
Suddenly, the spell broke. Margaret found herself pummelling the bed, hysterically crying out “Where are you?” “Are you there?” “Are…you…there?” Louder and louder, as harder and harder her clenched fists drove into the sheets.
Startled, wide awake, she sat bolt upright on the smooth sloping turf, a brilliant sea shimmering below, a headland of white-footed cliffs stretching outwards. With a gasp of relief she realised that she had been dreaming. To make quite sure she looked round, and there was the grey friendly road and her bicycle propped by the bank. Abstractly, the vividness of the dream still close in her thoughts, she mounted her bicycle. The day was wearing, and it would be well to seek a lodge for the night.
The road turned inland to cross the moorland, which seemed to fill the whole land, denying even the barren living of a shepherd. As she meandered contentedly on, the dream gradually fading into the background of her mind, Margaret began to notice a familiarity in the scene. The idea persisted. In course of time, as she climbed a hill, she saw a house on the horizon, large, lonely, built of mellowed stone. Around it was a carefully tended garden blooming gaily in the drab wilderness. The same careful attention had been given to the single patch of intake in which grew a variety of vegetables. The fragrance of the garden borne over the low wall, and, though still harbouring a strong, uneasy sense of familiarity, Margaret stopped a moment to catch the exquisite scent.
“Isn’t it a lovely evening?” The owner of the house, a gaunt, sad-faced, elderly lady, appeared from behind an arbour of ramblers.
Margaret looked up with a startled cry, mounted her bicycle and fled…. fled for her very life.