فصل 15

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فصل 15

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Chapter fifteen

The Rose Garden Hotel

1956

I have finally arrived at Little Compton, in Cornwall. I have recently finished lunch and am now sitting in the dining hall of the Rose Garden Hotel. Outside, the rain is falling steadily.

I have spent much of the past hour watching the rain falling on the village square. I have considered leaving now to meet Miss Kenton, but in my letter I informed her that I would see her at three o’clock. I do not want to surprise her by arriving too early. If the rain does not stop, I shall probably remain here and drink tea until the proper time for me to go.

I am surprised that it is raining, because the sun was shining brightly this morning when I got up. Mrs Taylor cooked me a fine breakfast of farm eggs and toast, and Doctor Carlisle called for me at seven thirty, as he had promised.

‘I found a can of petrol for you,’ he announced as soon as I had said goodbye to the Taylors. I thanked him and offered to pay, but he refused to accept my money.

‘Nonsense,’ he said. ‘It’s just enough for you to reach the next village. They have a proper garage there.’

I sat in the passenger seat of Doctor Carlisle’s car as he drove out of the village and up a narrow road between tall trees. After asking me how I had slept at the Taylors, he said quite suddenly: ‘I hope you don’t think I’m being rude. But you aren’t a manservant by any chance, are you?’

I must confess, I felt some relief when I heard this question.

‘I am indeed, sir. In fact, I am the butler of Darlington Hall, near Oxford.’

‘I thought so. When I heard that you had met Winston Churchill, I thought that you were either lying or that you must be a kind of servant.’

He turned to me with a friendly smile, and I said:

‘It was not my intention to deceive anyone, sir. However…’

‘Oh, there’s no need to explain. I can see how it happened. I mean, the people around here are sure to think you’re at least a lord.’ The doctor laughed loudly. ‘It’s probably good to be mistaken for a lord from time to time.’

We travelled in silence for a few moments, then Doctor Carlisle said to me:

‘Well, I hope you enjoyed your little stay with us here.’

‘I did very much, thank you, sir.’

‘I wish you wouldn’t call me “sir” all the time, Mr Stevens. Now this road should be familiar to you. Probably looks rather different in the daylight. Is that the car there? What a handsome vehicle!’

Doctor Carlisle stopped just behind the Ford, got out and said again:

‘What a handsome vehicle.’ Then he quickly produced the can of petrol and kindly filled the tank of the Ford for me. When I sat once again in the driving seat and turned the key, the engine came to life. I thanked Doctor Carlisle and we said goodbye to each other. I followed his car along the twisting hill road for two or three kilometres, and then he turned off towards Stanbury and I was alone again.

I crossed the border into Cornwall at about nine o’clock. This was three hours before the rain began, and the clouds were still a brilliant white. In fact, the scenery was some of the most beautiful I had ever seen. Unfortunately, I did not pay it the attention it deserved, because I was thinking for most of the time about Miss Kenton. Before the end of the day, I kept thinking, I would be meeting her again for the first time in twenty years.

And now, as I sit here in Little Compton, watching the rain as it splashes on the pavements of the village square outside, my mind keeps returning to the past. I have been thinking about one thing in particular all morning.

I remember standing alone in the corridor outside Miss Kenton’s room. I was standing half turned towards her door, wondering whether or not I should knock. For some reason I was sure that behind that door, just a few metres away from me, Miss Kenton was crying. As I stood there, a very strange feeling rose inside me. I can’t remember exactly why I was standing there. I suggested earlier that this might have been just after Miss Kenton received news of her aunt’s death. But now, having thought more about it, I believe I may have been a little confused about this matter. I think it is more likely that this incident took place one evening a few months later. It was the evening when the young Mr Cardinal arrived at Darlington Hall rather unexpectedly.

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