Primrose Hill Revisited – the complete book online - chapter thirty-two

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chapter thirty-two

The silver top hat always lost. It lost to the silver boot. It lost to the little silver car. And thought it wasn’t really fair, when she played it against a plain, ordinary button, it lost then, too. Mummy didn’t have time to play anymore and Russell always made her win and so the only fair game was if she played both pieces herself. The silver top hat was always somebody good, like Jake or Mummy and the other piece was somebody bad like Stephen or Belinda or the mean children at school and yet the silver top hat always lost.

She knew every letter that came into the house, because she had long ago appointed herself postmistress. Twice each day except on Saturday when there was only one delivery and Sunday when the postman went to church, she went to the door when she heard the letter slot clack and the post was all higgledy-piggledy on the floor. It was her job to collect it and put it all in order. Sometimes there was a package or a special delivery and then the doorbell rang and she got to open it and say hello to the postman but Mummy or Russell had to come and sign for it. She always arranged the letters and the cards and the magazines in her own special way on the sideboard in the hall. Now she waited on the sofa because she wanted to see what Mummy would do when she came back from shopping and saw the letter she had put all by itself in the centre. It was from Jake because he had shown her how to make the dot over the ‘i’ so that it looked like a little round face.

She rolled the die and moved Jake four spaces and he landed on a snake and slid all the way down to the bottom row. This is what happened and there was nothing she could do about it. Jake had disappeared down a big snake. He never came around anymore and Mummy did not want to talk about him. She rolled a die and moved Stephen three spaces and he came to a ladder and she was so angry she wanted to cheat but you couldn’t do that but she did count out three spaces again just to be sure and that was better because although he didn’t hit a snake this time he landed on the square just after the ladder. But he was still at the top row but one and Jake was down at the bottom.

She did not know why Stephen had come back all of a sudden. For a long time he was gone and Mummy did not want to talk about him. Now Stephen was back and Jake was gone and Mummy did not want to talk about him. Stephen was bad and she did not know why Mummy wanted to have him back in the game. He never played with her and they didn’t even go for walks on the hill anymore. Instead Stephen took them to places in his big car, to the Festering Hall that looked like a fort to listen to music and to his theatres to watch the pantomimes. That was great fun and they all laughed but it still didn’t make Stephen a good person because he didn’t talk to her and play games the way Jake did but only took her along because of Mummy. And they never walked anywhere anymore. Even when they went to Marine Ices to get ice-cream the man in the uniform drove them in the big car even though you could easily walk there and back and up and over the hill, too.

But if Stephen could come back all of a sudden then so could Jake. If she kept on playing the game maybe he would come back. Stephen had been gone for a long time so it might be a long, long time before Jake came back. It could be years and years. Or it could be tomorrow. You never knew what was going to happen. That is why she liked to wake up every day, because you never knew what was going to happen that day. Maybe something good.

She did not know why good people slid down snakes and bad people went up ladders, just as in the game. When she grew up and became a Mummy she would put it all in order the way it should be.

Mummy had just gone out and she was supposed to stay on the sofa because Russell was in the basement working, so when the key turned in the lock she knew it must be Stephen. Why did Stephen have a key while Jake and the postman had to ring the bell? There were so many things that she would not understand until she grew up. Stephen said ‘Hello’ with all his teeth showing and she said ‘Hello’ but pulling back as she always did because he frightened her. He hung up his hat and coat and then he went to the sideboard and straightaway picked up the envelope that was addressed in Jake’s bold, black handwriting.

“That’s Mummy’s letter.”

“Can you keep a secret?” She didn’t know what to say. She liked secrets and of course you were supposed to keep them, but she didn’t trust him when he smiled and showed all his teeth. So she didn’t say anything but just looked at him. He put a finger on the printed heading on the envelope, but she couldn’t read words she didn’t already know. “It’s from me,” he said. “A surprise for her wedding day. Okay?”

Without wanting to, she nodded. It wasn’t okay, because the letter was from Jake, but he was an adult and Mummy let him do anything he wanted. He put the letter into his jacket pocket.

“Is Mummy going to marry Jake?”

Stephen brought all his teeth down to her level. “You’re coming to the wedding, aren’t you?” She nodded, this time because she wanted to. “Well, suppose we wait and see who turns up.”

He had some wine bottles and he went straight into the kitchen with them. Hope went and hid in her safe place behind the sofa to wait for Mummy to come home. She was just in time because just then Stephen came out again and went to the cabinet and poured himself a drink. He took the letter out of his jacket pocket and opened it. There was a card inside. He just took one quick look at it and then threw the whole lot into the waste-bin. And then he reached down into the waste-bin and she thought he was going to see her, but he didn’t. His hand lifted the newspaper that was in the bin and put it down again so that the letter was buried down inside.

He was a thoroughly bad hat. You were not supposed to open other peoples’ mail. It was just about the worst thing you could do. She should rescue Jake’s card and the envelope with the little face for a dot over the ‘i’ from the wastebin and give it to Mummy. She should tell Mummy what Stephen had done. But Mummy never wanted to talk to her about Stephen. And she had promised him to keep it a secret. Telling secrets when you had promised not to was almost as bad as reading other people’s mail.

 

Jake sat in the warmth of the Westminster Library in Charing Cross Road leafing through the latest issue of The Stage. A photograph of Stephen leapt to his eye from beneath the headline: ‘Gurney Wedding Show— A Revival.’ He scanned the short news item and marched straight to the theatre.

Roy poured out two paper cups, not champagne this time, but lukewarm tea from a thermos. ‘Stephen’s getting married,” he said.

“I know.”

“Same woman.”

“I know.”

“It’s no fun gossiping with people who already know everything.”

“I just don’t know why.”

“Security. Women always marry for security.”

“But why does Stephen want to get married?”

“It’s as plain as your face. You know he’s supposed to be up for a knighthood?”

“So? They give knighthoods to a lot of villains.”

“Villains, yes. But queers? I mean, Queenie can’t be embarrassed by giving a gong to another Queen. But of course, if you’re married . . . People never believe married men can be queer.”

“How could she?”

“On April Fool’s Day. More fool he. I don’t suppose you’ve been invited?”

“No.”

Roy winked. “I just thought, maybe that’s why you turned down the tour.”

“I suppose it’s too late to change my mind?”

Roy pulled out the top drawer of his desk and held out a BOAC ticket folder. “My dear, I knew you’d change your mind.”