“Nearly there,” said Adam, as we came upon a sign for Whetstone. The vapour thinned enough to reveal a collection of slate houses, a church, a graveyard of tomb-stones tumbling in different directions, a tiny village school. At the edge of the village the war memorial loomed out of the fog. As we began to climb the wooded hill, the fog thickened again. The road bent back on itself sharply through conifers and bare deciduous trees. The car’s beams picked out small details: roots grasping the side of the hill; mosses and the remnants of bracken, fighting for space on the black rock. Rivulets of water ran onto the wet road. Adam slowed almost to a halt, as the headlamps lit up an entrance, marked by two pillars, covered in lichen. We drove up a steep path that zigzagged through the closely packed fir trees. Water dripped off the branches. We emerged from the wood onto a gravel driveway, beside a wide lawn, stopping in front of a large square house.
“Wow.” I said. Nothing Adam had told me had prepared me for this. The high front door was framed by two rows of tall windows, their panes, black and vacant against the grey stone walls. Above them a smaller row of gabled windows ran under the roof. They must have been the servants' quarters once, though Adam had said there was only two left now: Mrs Davies, the live-in housekeeper and her son, Tommy, the grounds man who lived in the coach house at the back.
“Here, we are then,” said Adam, helping me out of the car.
Here we were indeed. I had hardly time to take stock before a small woman with curly white hair came out to greet us.
“Mr Adam,” she beamed.
“Hello, Mrs Davies.”
“You must be the new Mrs Flint.”
“I like the sound of Mrs Flint, better, my lovie. It’s been too long since we’ve had a Mrs Flint in the house… And so lovely to have a baby on the way too. Come in out of the damp air.”
She bustled us in. Adam strode after, completely at ease in our new surroundings. I followed behind, over-awed by the dark oak panels on the walls, the large staircase on the right side of the lobby, the grandfather clock in the corner.
“You’re gawping,” said Adam.
“It’s a bit...”
“You’ll get used to it.”
Mrs Davies ushered us in through a door on the left, into a room that was panelled like the hall. Red velvet curtains were drawn over the window. The long, dark table was laid for two. Even though there was a roaring fire, it had a desolate air.
Mrs Davies shepherded us to our seats.
“Your Granddad is asleep, Mr Adam.” she said, pouring red wine for him and water for me. “He’s not so good today. The doctor’s been. He said, with a bit of rest, Mr Flint should be right as rain in the morning.”
“Thank you,” said Adam.
“You must be starving. I’ll get your dinner.”
Adam sat back in his seat, and raised his glass, with a broad grin, "Welcome home, Mrs Flint.” I raised my glass, and smiled back. I knew how much Adam loved this place, how keen he was that we should move here. For weeks I'd been letting his enthusiasm convince me; but now we were here, I’d never felt so far from home in my life.
After dinner, Adam insisted on letting me rest as he unloaded the car. I sat in the sitting room on the west side of the house, watching the news of Mandela's release with delight. I switched over when Adam entered; even a dull Poirot story was preferable to an argument on our first night. Though the plot was ludicrous and the solution, obvious, it passed the time until the fire began to die down, and we were ready for bed. Adam killed the remaining flames, spreading the white ash across the hearth to make sure no spark remained to reignite the flames. Immediately the room temperature plummeted. The hallway outside was even colder, our breath steaming the air as we made our way up to bed. After years of living in small well heated houses and flats, this was going to take some getting used to. I was glad to fall into bed, thankful for the familiar warmth of Adam's body. I was asleep in minutes.
It was pitch black when I woke again. I waited for my eyes to get used to it, but the room remained absolutely dark. So dark, it felt physical, as if the night itself was pressing down on my chest, crushing the life out of me. I could barely breathe. I didn’t want to disturb Adam, but I couldn’t sleep like this. I had to let some light in. I climbed out of bed. The air was icy. I felt my way along the side of the mattress and the furniture till I reached the window. Grey light entered the room as I drew the curtains and I began to breathe more easily. The fog had lifted, and though the night was cloudy, shafts of moonlight lit up the driveway. In the distance I could make out the shapes of the fir trees we’d driven through earlier, standing eighty feet tall, like guards on the edge of a prison. I shivered and turned back to bed, but the light from the window didn’t reach very far. The room was still dark. I needed to open the door too.
As I was doing so, I heard a sound. At first I thought it was just the wind. Then I heard it again: a voice speaking in the hall. There was a pause and another voice replied. I wondered whether Adam’s grandfather had got up and was talking to Mrs Davies. It was none of my business, I knew, but something drew me to them. I crept to the top of the stairs. The first voice was a man’s - clear and cold.
“She is dead then?” A mumbled assent.
“And the child?”
The voice sighed, “So be it – it is God’s will.”
Hesitantly, I moved down a stair or two. The hall below was black, except for a single beam of moonlight that danced off the face of the grandfather clock. I moved forward, to see who was talking. No-one. I went further down. Still no-one. I reached the bottom of the staircase. The hallway was empty.
I stood there for a moment, not sure what to do. Then in some panic, I went back to Adam as fast as I could. I switched the lamp on and shook him.
“Adam.” My heart was beating fast. He groaned and rolled over. It took me several shakes before I was able to wake him.
“What’s the matter?” he asked, peering at me with alarm “Is it the baby?”
“No, no, nothing like that.”
“What then?” As I explained, I realised how ridiculous it sounded.
“You dreamt it,” said Adam.
“It was real,” I said. “I mean, I don’t believe in ghosts, but it was real.”
“You’re pregnant, you’re in an unfamiliar place, it was a bad dream that’s all. “
“It was real.”
“I’m sure it felt real, but it wasn’t." He yawned. “Things are always weird in the middle of the night. Come here.” He turned off the lamp and pulled me towards him, but gradually, as my shivers reduced, he relaxed, his body slackening into sleep. Soon he was snoring, leaving me alone with my thoughts. It was just a dream, I kept telling myself. It was natural enough to be anxious about birth at this stage of my pregnancy. It was just a dream. But the disturbing voice stayed in my head, repeating the words over and over again.
I lay awake for a very long time.