Headmistress Gloria Pettigrew paces the Persian carpet in front of the night windows. A fire is banked up in the drawing-room. She’s called Barry Plumb’s number in Dampford, but the phone just rings. She’s left the curtains open in the hope of seeing his headlights on the hill. But there’s been no traffic for hours.
She stops pacing and stares into the blackness.
It’s now 10:14 p.m. Famished Claire and Gloria can wait no longer. They go into the dining room. Cook is not pleased as her soufflé has collapsed. Claire is Gloria’s old school chum all the way from Warmsley some forty-five miles distant, so she’s staying a week. She’s keen to do some striding around the wild country with the dogs.
“Buck up, old girl. He’s probably just gone off,” says Claire.
“But he said he would be here for dinner.”
“Don’t worry, darling, he’s a man. Men just go off.”
“No, they don’t,” says Gloria.
“Nancy Frump is always losing her man. Last week, she took him shopping in Dingle. She left him outside the wool shop, and when she came out, he’d gone.”
“It happens all the time. He came back two days later.”
“Where had he been?”
“Oh! It’s no good asking questions like that! Men mumble incoherent nonsense about meeting a fellow and going off fishing, or they had to fill in for a cricket team, or some such rubbish.”
“Well, I’m worried about Barry Plumb. I warned him about the conditions around Great Sodden.”
“You don’t believe that nonsense about…”
“No, I warned him about the weather conditions. Not the…”
“It’s superstition, plain and simple. But it is odd that no one around here likes to spend the night alone on Howlet’s Eve. They say many a little one is conceived on Howlet’s Eve.”
“Yes, I have heard as much.”
“And Peregrine Ashenden has a party for overnight guests. Well, he has enough bedrooms.”
“Why aren’t we invited to Sodden House, Gloria?”
“I’d rather not talk about it.”
“So why is Barry Plumb coming all this way from Dampford.”
“I know. It’s so far that I had to offer him accommodation for a few days. I want to know if he can be trusted. I’ve only told him that I need a sofa valued, but not why.”
“The Zaftig Sofa.”
“Is it genuine?”
“That, my dear, is the big question. I need an expert’s opinion. The Dampford Sofa Guild recommended him. But I’m worried about Mr. Plumb.
“Men usually find their way, eventually,” says Claire.
“Let’s hope so. I hope he is not hurt.”
They go off to bed. But Gloria Pettigrew’s mind is racing. Where can Mr. Plumb be? She thinks of Brandon Manley in his riding jacket to distract herself. Eventually, she sleeps, and dreams.