'See you in the morning,’ she told him. He nodded, and his eyes went back to Evie. He wanted to hear the end of the story. Alison left them and went downstairs. She picked up Henry's evening paper and took it into the sitting room to see what was on television that evening. As she did this, she heard a car come up the lane from the main road. It turned in at their gate. Headlights flashed beyond the drawn curtains. Alison lowered the paper. Gravel crunched as the car stopped outside their front door. Then the bell rang. She dropped the newspaper onto the sofa and went to open the door.
Outside, parked on the gravel, was a large black Daimler. And on the doorstep, looking both expectant and festive, stood Mr and Mrs Fairhurst.
Her first instinct was to slam the door in their faces, scream, count to ten, and then open the door and find them gone.
But they were, undoubtedly, there. Mrs Fairhurst was smiling. Alison smiled, too. She could feel the smile, creasing her cheeks, like something that had been slapped on her face.
'I'm afraid,’ said Mrs Fairhurst, 'that we're a little bit early. We were so afraid of losing the way.’
'No. Not a bit.’ Alison's voice came out at least two octaves higher than it usually did. She'd got the date wrong. She'd told Mrs Fairhurst the wrong day. She'd made the most appalling, most ghastly mistake. 'Not a bit early.’ She stood back, opening the door. 'Do come in.'
They did so, and Alison closed the door behind them. They began to shed their coats.
I can't tell them. Henry will have to tell them. He'll have to give them a drink and tell them that there isn't anything to eat because I thought they were coming tomorrow night.
Automatically, she went to help Mrs Fairhurst with her fur.
'Did . . . did you have a good drive?'
'Yes, very good,’ said Mr Fairhurst. He wore a dark suit and a splendid tie. 'Henry gave me excellent instructions.’
'And of course there wasn't too much traffic.’ Mrs Fairhurst smelt of Channel No. 5. She adjusted the chiffon collar of her dress and touched her hair which had, like Alison's, been freshly done. It was silvery and elegant, and she wore diamond earrings and a beautiful brooch at the neck of her dress.
'What a charming house. How clever of you and Henry to find it.’
'Yes, we love it.’ They were ready. They stood smiling at her. 'Do come in by the fire.’
She led the way, into her warm, firelit, but flowerless sitting room, swiftly gathered up the newspaper from the sofa and pushed it beneath a pile of magazines. She moved an armchair closer to the fire. 'Do sit down, Mrs Fairhurst. I'm afraid Henry was a little late back from the office. He'll be down in just a moment.’
She should offer them a drink, but the drinks were in the kitchen cupboard and it would seem both strange and rude to go out and leave them on their own. And supposing they asked for dry martinis? Henry always did the drinks, and Alison didn't know how to make a dry martini.
Mrs Fairhurst lowered herself comfortably into the chair. She said, 'Jock had to go to Birmingham this morning, so I don't suppose he's seen Henry today -have you, dear?'
'No, I didn't get into the office.’ He stood in front of the fire and looked about him appreciatively. 'What a pleasant room this is.’
'Oh, yes. Thank you.’
'Do you have a garden?'
'Yes. About an acre. It's really too big.’ She looked about her frantically, and her eyes lighted upon the cigarette box. She picked it up and opened it. There were four cigarettes inside. 'Would you like a cigarette?'
But Mrs Fairhurst did not smoke, and Mr Fairhurst said that if Alison did not mind, he would smoke one of his own cigars. Alison said that she did not mind at all, and put the box back on the table. A number of panic-stricken images flew through her mind. Henry, still lolling in his bath; the tiny salad which was all that she had made for supper; the dining room, icy cold and inhospitable.
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