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THE COLLECTOR by John Fowles

 

 

flyleaf:

 

 

Rarely does a publisher introduce a novel of such devastating power.

 

We invite you to open the first page of _The Collector_.

 

We believe you will be compelled to read on.

 

 

He tells the story first -- Frederick Clegg, an obscure little clerk and a collector of butterflies who one day goes on to net his finest specimen, Miss Miranda Grey, a soft, lovely twenty-year-old.

In his colorless yet curiously expressive words, he tells of the months in which he stood by the office window and watched for the beautiful Miranda whenever she was home from art school. Then Frederick Clegg suddenly wins a fortune in a football pool and devises an ingenious way to make his dream come true:

 

_I thought, I can't get to know her in the ordinary way, but if she's with me, she'll see my good points, she'll understand. There was always the idea she would understand. I only wanted to do the best for her, make her happy and love me a bit._

 

He buys a secluded country house and, when all preparations have been made, kidnaps Miranda from outside her apartment in London.

 

The body of the novel concerns the two months during which Miranda is held prisoner in the cellar of the house. The story is revealed first as he tells it, then as she secretly records it in a diary which begins:

 

_It's the seventh night._

 

_Deep down I get more and more frightened. It's only surface calm._

 

_Waking up is the worse thing. I wake and for a moment I think I'm home or at Caroline's. Then it hits me._

 

_I don't care what he does. So long as I live._

 

_It's all the vile unspeakable things he _could_ do._

 

_Power. It's so _real_._

 

_Try try try to escape._

 

_It's all I can think of._

 

A remarkable feat of imagination, THE COLLECTOR is a novel of disquieting perception whose cumulative effect is all too memorable.

 

 

Copyright (c) 1963 BY JOHN FOWLES

 

ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. NO PART OF THIS BOOK MAY BE REPRODUCED IN ANY FORM WITHOUT PERMISSION IN WRITING FROM THE PUBLISHER, EXCEPT BY A REVIEWER WHO MAY QUOTE BRIEF PASSAGES IN A REVIEW TO BE PRINTED IN A MAGAZINE OR NEWSPAPER.

 

LIBRARY OF CONGRESS CATALOG CARD NO. 63-13451

 

FIRST AMERICAN EDITION

 

PRINTED IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA

 

_que fors aus ne le sot riens nee_

 

 

 

 

WHEN she was home from her boarding-school I used to see her almost every day sometimes, because their house was right opposite the Town Hall Annexe. She and her younger sister used to go in and out a lot, often with young men, which of course I didn't like. When I had a free moment from the files and ledgers I stood by the window and used to look down over the road over the frosting and sometimes I'd see her. In the evening I marked it in my observations diary, at first with X, and then when I knew her name with M. I saw her several times outside too. I stood right behind her once in a queue at the public library down Crossfield Street. She didn't look once at me, but I watched the back of her head and her hair in a long pigtail. It was very pale, silky, like Burnet cocoons. All in one pigtail coming down almost to her waist, sometimes in front, sometimes at the back. Sometimes she wore it up. Only once, before she came to be my guest here, did I have the privilege to see her with it loose, and it took my breath away it was so beautiful, like a mermaid.



Another time one Saturday off when I went up to the Natural History Museum I came back on the same train. She sat three seats down and sideways to me, and read a book, so I could watch her for thirty-five minutes. Seeing her always made me feel like I was catching a rarity, going up to it very careful, heart-in-mouth as they say. A Pale Clouded Yellow, for instance. I always thought of her like that, I mean words like elusive and sporadic, and very refined -- not like the other ones, even the pretty ones. More for the real connoisseur.

The year she was still at school I didn't know who she was, only how her father was Doctor Grey and some talk I overheard once at a Bug Section meeting about how her mother drank. I heard her mother speak once in a shop, she had a la-di-da voice and you could see she was the type to drink, too much make-up, etcetera.

Well, then there was the bit in the local paper about the scholarship she'd won and how clever she was, and her name as beautiful as herself, Miranda. So I knew she was up in London studying art. It really made a difference, that newspaper article. It seemed like we became more intimate, although of course we still did not know each other in the ordinary way.

I can't say what it was, the very first time I saw her, I knew she was the only one. Of course I am not mad, I knew it was just a dream and it always would have been if it hadn't been for the money. I used to have daydreams about her, I used to think of stories where I met her, did things she admired, married her and all that. Nothing nasty, that was never until what I'll explain later.

She drew pictures and I looked after my collection (in my dreams). It was always she loving me and my collection, drawing and colouring them; working together in a beautiful modern house in a big room with one of those huge glass windows; meetings there of the Bug Section, where instead of saying almost nothing in case I made mistakes we were the popular host and hostess. She all pretty with her pale blonde hair and grey eyes and of course the other men all green round the gills.

The only times I didn't have nice dreams about her being when I saw her with a certain young man, a loud noisy public-school type who had a sports car. I stood beside him once in Barclays waiting to pay in and I heard him say, I'll have it in fivers; the joke being it was only a cheque for ten pounds. They all behave like that. Well, I saw her climb in his car sometimes, or them out together in the town in it, and those days I was very short with the others in the office, and I didn't use to mark the X in my entomological observations diary (all this was before she went to London, she dropped him then). Those were days I let myself have the bad dreams. She cried or usually knelt. Once I let myself dream I hit her across the face as I saw it done once by a chap in a telly play. Perhaps that was when it all started.

 

 

My father was killed driving. I was two. That was in 1937. He was drunk, but Aunt Annie always said it was my mother that drove him to drink. They never told me what really happened, but she went off soon after and left me with Aunt Annie, she only wanted an easy time. My cousin Mabel once told me (when we were kids, in a quarrel) she was a woman of the streets who went off with a foreigner. I was stupid, I went straight and asked Aunt Annie and if there was any covering-up to do, of course she did it. I don't care now, if she is still alive, I don't want to meet her, I've got no interest. Aunt Annie's always said good riddance in so many words, and I agree.

So I was brought up by Aunt Annie and Uncle Dick with their daughter Mabel. Aunt Annie was my father's elder sister.

Uncle Dick died when I was fifteen. That was 1950. We went up to Tring Reservoir to fish, as usual I went off with my net and stuff. When I got hungry and came back to where I left him, there were a knot of people. I thought he'd caught a whopper. But he'd had a stroke. They got him home, but he never said another word or properly recognized any of us again.

The days we spent together, not together exactly, because I always went off collecting and he'd sit by his rods, though we always had dinner together and the journey there and home, those days (after the ones I'm going to say about) are definitely the best I have ever had. Aunt Annie and Mabel used to despise my butterflies when I was a boy, but Uncle Dick would always stick up for me. He always admired a good bit of setting. He felt the same as I did about a new imago and would sit and watch the wings stretch and dry out and the gentle way they try them, and he also let me have room in his shed for my caterpillar jars. When I won a hobby prize for a case of Fritillaries he gave me a pound on condition I didn't tell Aunt Annie. Well, I won't go on, he was as good as a father to me. When I held the pools cheque in my hands, he was the person, besides Miranda of course, I thought of. I would have given him the best rods and tackle and anything else he wanted. But it was not to be.

 

 

I did the pools from the week I was twenty-one. Every week I did the same five-bob perm. Old Tom and Crutchley, who were in Rates with me, and some of the girls clubbed together and did a big one and they were always going at me to join in, but I stayed the lone wolf. I never liked old Tom or Crutchley. Old Tom is slimy, always going on about local government and buttering up to Mr. Williams, the Borough Treasurer. Crutchley's got a dirty mind and he is a sadist, he never let an opportunity go of making fun of my interest, especially if there were girls around. "Fred's looking tired -- he's been having a dirty week-end with a Cabbage White," he used to say, and, "Who was that Painted Lady I saw you with last night?" Old Tom would snigger, and Jane, Crutch-ley's girl from Sanitation, she was always in our office, would giggle. She was all Miranda wasn't. I always hated vulgar women, especially girls. So I did my own entry, like I said.

The cheque was for £73,091 and some odd shillings and pence. I rang up Mr. Williams as soon as the pools people confirmed the Tuesday that all was well. I could tell he was angry that I left like that, although he said at first he was pleased, he was sure they were all pleased, which of course I know they weren't. He even suggested I might invest in the Council 5% Loan! Some of them at Town Hall lose all sense of proportion.

I did what the pools people suggested, moved straight up to London with Aunt Annie and Mabel till the fuss died down. I sent old Tom a cheque for £500 and asked him to share with Crutchley and the others. I didn't answer their thank-you letters. You could see they thought I was mean.

The only fly in the ointment was Miranda. She was at home at the time of winning, on holidays from her art school, and I saw her only the Saturday morning of the great day. All the time we were up in London spending and spending I was thinking I wasn't going to see her any more; then that I was rich, a good spec as a husband now; then again I knew it was ridiculous, people only married for love, especially girls like Miranda. There were even times I thought I would forget her. But forgetting's not something you do, it happens to you. Only it didn't happen to me.

 

 

If you are on the grab and immoral like most nowadays, I suppose you can have a good time with a lot of money when it comes to you. But I may say I have never been like that, I was never once punished at school. Aunt Annie is a Noncon-formist, she never forced me to go to chapel or such like, but I was brought up in the atmosphere, though Uncle Dick used to go to the pub on the q.t. sometimes. Aunt Annie let me smoke cigarettes after a lot of rows when I came out of the army, but she never liked it. Even with all that money, she had to keep on saying spending it was against her principles. But Mabel went at her behind the scenes, I heard her doing it one day, and anyway I said it was my money and my conscience, she was welcome to all she wanted and none if she didn't, and there was nothing about accepting gifts in Nonconformism.

What this is all leading to is I got a bit drunk once or twice when I was in the Pay Corps, especially in Germany, but I never had anything to do with women. I never thought about women much before Miranda. I know I don't have what it is girls look for; I know chaps like Crutchley who just seem plain coarse to me get on well with them. Some of the girls in the Annexe, it was really disgusting, the looks they'd give him. It's some crude animal thing I was born without. (And I'm glad I was, if more people were like me, in my opinion, the world would be better.)

When you don't have money, you always think things will be very different after. I didn't want more than my due, nothing excessive, but we could see straight away at the hotel that of course they were respectful on the surface, but that was all, they really despised us for having all that money and not knowing what to do with it. They still treated me behind the scenes for what I was -- a clerk. It was no good throwing money around. As soon as we spoke or did something we gave the game away. You could see them saying, don't kid us, we know what you are, why don't you go back where you came from.

I remember a night we went out and had supper at a posh restaurant. It was on a list the pools people gave us. It was good food, we ate it but I didn't hardly taste it because of the way people looked at us and the way the slimy foreign waiters and everybody treated us, and how everything in the room seemed to look down at us because we weren't brought up their way. I read the other day an article about class going -- I could tell them things about that. If you ask me, London's all arranged for the people who can act like public schoolboys, and you don't get anywhere if you don't have the manner born and the right la-di-da voice -- I mean rich people's London, the West End, of course.

 

 

One evening -- it was after the posh restaurant, I was feeling depressed -- I told Aunt Annie I felt like a walk, which I did. I walked and I suddenly felt I'd like to have a woman, I mean to be able to know I'd had a woman, so I rang up a telephone number a chap at the cheque-giving ceremony gave me. If you want a bit of you-know-what, he said.

A woman said, "I'm engaged." I asked if she knew any other number, and she gave me two. Well, I took a taxi round to the second one's address. I won't say what happened, except that I was no good. I was too nervous, I tried to be as if I knew all about it and of course she saw, she was old and she was horrible, horrible. I mean, both the filthy way she behaved and in looks. She was worn, common. Like a specimen you'd turn away from, out collecting. I thought of Miranda seeing me there like that. As I said, I tried to do it but it was no good and I didn't try hardly.

I'm not the crude pushing sort, I never have been, I always had higher aspirations, as they say. Crutchley used to say you had to push nowadays to get anywhere, and he used to say, look at old Tom, look where being slimy's got him. Crutchley used to be very familiar, much too so in yours truly's opinion, as I said. Though he knew when to be slimy when it paid; to Mr. Williams, for instance. A bit more life, Clegg, Mr. Williams once said to me, when I was on Inquiries. The public like a smile or a small joke once in a while, he said, we aren't all born with a gift for it, like Crutchley, but we can try, you know. That really riled me. I can say I was sick to death with the Annexe, and I was going to leave anyhow.

 

 

I was not different, I can prove it, one reason I got fed up with Aunt Annie was I started to get interested with some of the books you can buy at shops in Soho, books of stark women and all that. I could hide the magazines, but there were books I wanted to buy and I couldn't in case she tumbled. I always wanted to do photography, I got a camera at once of course, a Leica, the best, telephoto lens, the lot; the main idea was to take butterflies living like the famous Mr. S. Beaufoy; but also often before I used to come on things out collecting, you'd be surprised the things couples get up to in places you think they would know better than to do it in, so I had that too.

Of course the business with the woman upset me though, on top of all the other things. For instance, Aunt Annie had set her heart on going on a sea-cruise to Australia to see her son Bob and Uncle Steve her other younger brother and his family, and she wanted me to go too, but like I say I didn't want to be any more with Aunt Annie and Mabel. It was not that I hated them, but you could see what they were at once, even more than me. What they were was obvious; I mean small people who'd never left home. For instance, they always expected me to do everything with them and tell them what I'd done if by any chance I had an hour off on my own. The day after the above-mentioned I told them flat I wasn't going to Australia. They took it not too bad, I suppose they had time to reckon it was my money after all.

 

 

The first time I went to look for Miranda it was a few days after I went down to Southampton to see off Aunt Annie; May loth, to be exact. I was back in London. I hadn't got any real plan, and I told Aunt Annie and Mabel I might go abroad, but I didn't truly know. Aunt Annie was scared, really, the night before they went she had a solemn talk with me about how I wasn't to marry, she hoped -- that is, without her meeting the bride. She said a lot about it being my money and my life and how generous I was and all that, but I could see she was really scared I might marry some girl and they'd lose all the money they were so ashamed of, anyway. I don't blame her, it was natural, especially with a daughter who's a cripple. I think people like Mabel should be put out painlessly, but that's beside the point.

What I thought I would do (I already, in preparation, bought the best equipment in London) was to go to some of the localities where there were rare species and aberrations and get proper series. I mean turn up and stay somewhere for as long as I liked, and go out and collect and photograph. I had driving lessons before they went and I got a special van. There were a lot of species I wanted -- the Swallowtail for instance, the Black Hairstreak and the Large Blue, rare Fritil-laries like the Heath and the Glanville. Things most collectors only get a go at once a lifetime. There were moths too. I thought I might take them up.

What I'm trying to say is that having her as my guest happened suddenly, it wasn't something I planned the moment the money came.

Well, of course with Aunt Annie and Mabel out of the way I bought all the books I wanted, some of them I didn't know such things existed, as a matter of fact I was disgusted, I thought here I am stuck in a hotel room with this stuff and it's a lot different from what I used to dream of about Miranda and me. Suddenly I saw I'd thought myself into thinking her completely gone out of my life, as if we didn't live within a few miles of each other (I was moved into the hotel in Paddington then) and I hadn't anyhow got all the time in the world to find out where she lived. It was easy, I looked up the Slade School of Art in the telephone directory, and I waited outside one morning in the van. The van was the one really big luxury I gave myself. It had a special fitting in the back compartment, a camp bed you could let down and sleep in; I bought it to carry all my equipment for when I moved round the country, and also I thought if I got a van I wouldn't always have to be taking Aunt Annie and Mabel around when they came back. I didn't buy it for the reason I did use it for. The whole idea was sudden, like a stroke of genius almost.

The first morning I didn't see her, but the next day at last I did. She came out with a lot of other students, mostly young men. My heart beat very fast and I felt sick. I had the camera all ready, but I couldn't dare use it. She was just the same; she had a light way of walking and she always wore flat heels so she didn't have that mince like most girls. She didn't think at all about the men when she moved. Like a bird. All the time she was talking to a young man with black hair, cut very short with a little fringe, very artistic-looking. There were six of them, but then she and the young man crossed the street. I got out of the van and followed them. They didn't go far, into a coffee-bar.

I went into that coffee-bar, suddenly, I don't know why, like I was drawn in by something else, against my will almost. It was full of people, students and artists and such-like; they mostly had that beatnik look. I remember there were weird faces and things on the walls. It was supposed to be African, I think.

There were so many people and the noise and I felt so nervous I didn't see her at first. She was sitting in a second loom at the back. I sat on a stool at the counter where I could watch. I didn't dare look very often and the light in the other room wasn't very good.

Then she was standing right next me. I was pretending to read a newspaper so I didn't see her get up. I felt my face was red, I stared at the words but I couldn't read, I daren't look the smallest look -- she was there almost touching me. She was in a check dress, dark blue and white it was, her arms brown and bare, her hair all loose down her back.

She said, "Jenny, we're absolutely broke, be an angel and let us have two cigarettes." The girl behind the counter said, "Not again," or something, and she said, "Tomorrow, I swear," and then, "Bless you," when the girl gave her two. It was all over in five seconds, she was back with the young man, but hearing her voice turned her from a sort of dream person to a real one. I can't say what was special in her voice. Of course it was very educated, but it wasn't la-di-da, it wasn't slimy, she didn't beg the cigarettes or like demand them, she just asked for them in an easy way and you didn't have any class feeling. She spoke like she walked, as you might say.

I paid as quick as possible and went back to the van and the Cremorne and my room. I was really upset. It was partly that she had to borrow cigarettes because she had no money and I had sixty thousand pounds (I gave Aunt Annie ten) ready to lay at her feet -- because that is how I felt. I felt I would do anything to know her, to please her, to be her friend, to be able to watch her openly, not spy on her. To show how I was, I put five five-pound notes I had on me in an envelope and addressed it to Miss Miranda Grey, the Slade School of Art . . . only of course I didn't post it. I would have if I could have seen her face when she opened it.

That was the day I first gave myself the dream that came true. It began where she was being attacked by a man and I ran up and rescued her. Then somehow I was the man that attacked her, only I didn't hurt her; I captured her and drove her off in the van to a remote house and there I kept her captive in a nice way. Gradually she came to know me and like me and the dream grew into the one about our living in a nice modern house, married, with kids and everything.

It haunted me. It kept me awake at nights, it made me forget what I was doing during the day. I stayed on and on at the Cremorne. It stopped being a dream, it began to be what I pretended was really going to happen (of course, I thought it was only pretending) so I thought of ways and means -- all the things I would have to arrange and think about and how I'd do it and all. I thought, I can't ever get to know her in the ordinary way, but if she's with me, she'll see my good points, she'll understand. There was always the idea she would understand.

 

 

Another thing I began to do was read the classy newspapers, for the same reason I went to the National Gallery and the Tate Gallery. I didn't enjoy them much, it was like the cabinets of foreign species in the Entomology Room at the Natural History Museum, you could see they were beautiful but you didn't know them, I mean I didn't know them like I knew the British. But I went so as I could talk to her, so I wouldn't seem ignorant.

In one of the Sunday papers I saw an advert in capitals in a page of houses for sale. I wasn't looking for them, this just seemed to catch my eye as I was turning the page. "FAR FROM THE MADDING CROWD?" it said. Just like that. Then it went on:

 

Old cottage, charming secluded situation, large garden, 1 hr. by car London, two miles from nearest village . . .

 

-- and so on. The next morning I was driving down to see it. I phoned the estate agent in Lewes and arranged to meet someone at the cottage. I bought a map of Sussex. That's the thing about money. There are no obstacles.

I expected something broken-down. It looked old all right, black beams and white outside and old stone tiles. It stood right on its own. The estate agent came out when I drove up. I thought he would be older, he was my age, but the public schoolboy type, full of silly remarks that are meant to be funny, as if it was below him to sell anything and there was some difference between selling houses and something in a shop. He put me off straight away because he was inquisitive. Still, I thought I better look round, having come all that way. The rooms were not much, but it was well fitted out with all mod cons, electricity, telephone and all. Some retired navy admiral or somebody had had it and died, and then the next buyer died unexpectedly as well and so it was on the market.

I still say I didn't go down there with the intention of seeing whether there was anywhere to have a secret guest. I can't really say what intention I had.

I just don't know. What you do blurs over what you did before.

The chap wanted to know if it was just for myself. I said it was for an aunt. I told the truth, I said I wanted it to be a surprise for her, when she came back from Australia and so on.

How about their figure, he wanted to know.

I've just come into a lot of money, I said, to squash him. We were just coming downstairs when he said that, having seen everything, I thought. I was even going on to say it wasn't what I wanted, not big enough, to squash him more, when he said, well, that's the lot, bar the cellars.

You had to go out through the back where there was a door beside the back door. He took the key from under a flowerpot. Of course the electricity was off, but he had a torch. It was cold out of the sun, damp, nasty. There were stone steps down. At the bottom he shone his torch round. Someone had whitewashed the walls, but it was a long time ago, and pieces had come off so that the walls looked mottled.

Runs the whole length, he said, and there's this too. He shone the torch and I saw a doorway in the corner of the wall facing us as we came down the stairs. It was another large cellar, four big steps down from the first one, but this time with a lower roof and a bit arched, like the rooms you see underneath churches sometimes. The steps came down diagonally in one corner so the room ran away, so to speak.

Just the thing for orgies, he said.

What was it for? I asked, ignoring his silly facetiousness.

He said they thought it might be because the cottage was so on its own. They'd have to store a lot of food. Or it might have been a secret Roman Catholic chapel. One of the electricians later said it was a smugglers' place when they used to be going to London from Newhaven.

Well, we went back upstairs and out. When he locked the door and put the key back under a flowerpot, it was like down there didn't exist. It was two worlds. It's always been like that. Some days I've woken up and it's all been like a dream, till I went down again.

He looked at his watch.

I'm interested, I said. Very interested. I was so nervous he looked at me surprised and I said, I think I'll have it. Just like that. I really surprised myself. Because before I always wanted something up to date, what they call contemporary. Not an old place stuck away.

He stood there looking all gormless, surprised that I was so interested, surprised I had money, I suppose, like most of them.

He went away back to Lewes then. He had to fetch someone else interested, so I said I would stay in the garden and think things over before a final decision.

It was a nice garden, it runs back to a field which had lucerne then, lovely stuff for butterflies. The field goes up to a hill (that is north). East there are woods on both sides of the road running up from the valley towards Lewes. West there are fields. There is a farmhouse about three-quarters of a mile away down the hill, the nearest house. South you have a fine view, except it was blocked by the front hedge and some trees. Also a good garage.

I went back to the house and got the key out and went down into the cellars again. The inner one must have been five or six feet under the earth. It was damp, the walls like wet wood in winter, I couldn't see very well because I only had my lighter. It was a bit frightening, but I am not the superstitious type.

 

 

Some might say I was lucky to find the place first go, however I would have found somewhere else sooner or later. I had the money. I had the will. Funny, what Crutchley called "push." I didn't push at the Annexe, it didn't suit me. But I would like to see Crutchley organize what I organized last 5 summer and carry it through. I am not going to blow my own | trumpet, but it was no small thing.

I read in the paper the other day (Saying of the Day) -- "What Water is to the Body, Purpose is to the Mind." That is very true, in my humble opinion. When Miranda became the purpose of my life I should say I was at least as good as the next man, as it turned out.

 

 

I had to give five hundred more than they asked in the advert, others were after it, everyone fleeced me. The surveyor, the builder, the decorators, the furniture people in Lewes I got to furnish it. I didn't care, why should I, money was no object. I got long letters from Aunt Annie, which I wrote back to, giving her figures half what I really paid.

I got the electricians to run a power cable down to the cellar, and the plumbers water and a sink. I made out I wanted to do carpentry and photography and that would be my workroom. It wasn't a lie, there was carpentry to do all right. And I was already taking some photographs I couldn't have developed in a shop. Nothing nasty. Just couples.

At the end of August, the men moved out and I moved in. To begin with, I felt like in a dream. But that soon wore off. I wasn't left alone as much as I expected. A man came and wanted to do the garden, he'd always done it, and he got very nasty when I sent him away. Then the vicar from the village came and I had to be rude with him. I said I wanted to be left alone, I was Nonconformist, I wanted nothing to do with the village, and he went off la-di-da in a huff. Then there were several people with van-shops and I had to put them off. I said I bought all my goods in Lewes.

I had the telephone disconnected, too.

I soon got in the habit of locking the front gate, it was only a grille, but had a lock. Once or twice I saw tradesmen look-ing through, but people soon seemed to get the point. I was left alone, and could get on with my work.

 

 

I worked for a month or more getting my plans ready. I was alone all the time; not having any real friends was lucky. (You couldn't call the Annexe people friends, I didn't miss them, they didn't miss me.)

I used to do odd jobs for Aunt Annie, Uncle Dick taught me. I wasn't bad at carpentering and so on, and I fitted out the room very nicely, though I say it myself. After I got it dried out I put several layers of insulating felt and then a nice bright orange carpet (cheerful) fitting the walls (which were whitewashed.) I got in a bed and a chest of drawers. Table, armchair, etcetera. I fixed up a screen in one corner and behind it a wash-table and a camper's lavatory and all the etceteras -- it was like a separate little room almost. I got other things, cases and a lot of art books and some novels to make it look homely, which it finally did. I didn't risk pictures, I knew she might have advanced taste.

One problem of course was doors and noise. There was a good old oak frame in the door through to her room but no door, so I had to make one to fit, and that was my hardest job. The first one I made didn't work, but the second one was better. Even a man couldn't have bust it down, let alone a little thing like her. It was two-inch seasoned wood with sheet metal on the inside so she couldn't get at the wood. It weighed a ton and it was no joke getting it hung, but I did it. I fixed ten-inch bolts outside. Then I did something very clever. I made what looked like a bookcase, only for tools and things, out of some old wood and fitted it with wooden latches in the doorway, so that if you gave a casual look it just seemed that it was just an old recess fitted up with shelves. You lifted it out and there was the door through. It also stopped any noise getting out. I also fitted a bolt on the inner side of the door which had a lock too down to the cellar so I couldn't be disturbed. Also a burglar alarm. Only a simple one, for the night.

What I did in the first cellar was I put in a small cooker and all the other facilities. I didn't know there wouldn't be snoopers and it would look funny if I was always carrying trays of food up and down. But being at the back of the house I didn't worry much, seeing there was only fields and woods. Two sides of the garden there is a wall, anyhow, and the rest is hedge you can't see through. It was nearly ideal. I did think of having a stair run down from inside, but the expense was high and I didn't want risk of suspicions. You can't trust workmen now, they want to know everything.

All this time I never thought it was serious. I know that must sound very strange, but it was so. I used to say, of course, I'll never do it, this is only pretending. And I wouldn't have pretended even like that if I hadn't had all the time and money I wanted. In my opinion a lot of people who may seem happy now would do what I did or similar things if they had the money and the time. I mean, to give way to what they pretend now they shouldn't. Power corrupts, a teacher I had always said. And Money is Power.

Another thing I did, I bought a lot of clothes for her at a store in London. What I did was, in one I saw an assistant just her size and I gave the colours I always saw Miranda wear and I got everything there they said a girl would need. I told a story about a girl-friend from the North who'd had all her juggage stolen and I wanted it to be a surprise, etcetera. I don't think she believed me in the store, but it was a good sale -- I paid out nearly ninety pounds that morning.

 

 

I could go on all night about the precautions. I used to go and sit in her room and work out what she could do to escape. I thought she might know about electricity, you never know with girls these days, so I always wore rubber heels, I never touched a switch without a good look first. I got a special incinerator to burn all her rubbish. I knew nothing of hers must ever leave the house. No laundry. There could always be something.

 

 

Well, at last I went back up to London to the Cremorne Hotel. For several days I watched for her but I didn't see her. It was a very anxious time, but I kept on. I didn't take the camera, I knew it was too risky, I was after bigger game than just a street shot. I went twice to the coffee-bar. One day I spent nearly two hours there pretending to read a book, but she didn't come. I began to get wild ideas, perhaps she'd died, perhaps she wasn't doing art there any more. Then one day (I didn't want the van to get too familiar) as I was getting off the Underground at Warren Street, I saw her. She was getting off a train coming from the north on the other platform. It was easy. I followed her out of the station, and saw her go off towards the College. The next days I watched the tube station. Perhaps she didn't always use the tube to go home, I didn't see her for two days, but then the third day I saw her cross the road and go into the station. That's how I found out where she came from. It was Hampstead. I did the same thing there. I waited for her to come out the next day and she did and I followed her about ten minutes through a lot of little streets to where she lived. I walked on past the house she went into and found out the number and then at the end of the road the name of it.

It was a good day's work.

I booked out of the Cremorne three days before, and every night I moved into a new hotel and booked out the next morning so that I couldn't be traced. In the van I had the bed ready and the straps and scarves. I was going to use chloroform, I used it once in the killing-bottle. A chap in Public Analysis let me have it. It doesn't go weak but just to make sure I decided to mix in a bit of carbon tetrachloride, what they call CTC and you can buy anywhere.

I drove round the Hampstead district and learnt the A to Z for that part off and how to get quickly away down to Fosters. Everything was ready. So now I could watch and when I saw the chance, do it. I was really peculiar those days, I thought of everything, just like I'd been doing it all my life. Like I'd been a secret agent or a detective.

 

 

It finally ten days later happened as it sometimes does with butterflies. I mean you go to a place where you know you may see something rare and you don't, but the next time not looking for it you see it on a flower right in front of you, handed to you on a plate, as they say.

This night I was outside the tube as usual with the van up a side street. It had been a fine day but close; and it came on to thunder and rain. I was standing in the doorway of a shop opposite the exit, and I saw her come up the steps just as it was teeming. I saw she had no raincoat, only a jumper. Soon she ran round the corner into the main part of the station. I crossed, there were a mass of people milling about. She was in a telephone box. Then she came out and instead of going up the hill like she usually did she went along another street. I followed her, I thought it was no good, I couldn't understand what she was doing. Then she suddenly shot up a side road and there was a cinema and she went in. I saw what it was, she had rung up where she lived to say it was raining hard and she was going in the cinema to wait for it to clear up. I knew it was my chance, unless someone came to meet her. When she had gone in, I went and saw how long the programme lasted. It was two hours. I took a risk, perhaps I wanted to give fate a chance to stop me. I went into a cafe and had my supper. Then I went to my van and parked where I could see the cinema. I didn't know what to expect, perhaps she was meeting a friend. I mean I felt I was swept on, like down rapids, I might hit something, I might get through.

She came out alone, exactly two hours later, it had stopped raining more or less and it was almost dark, the sky overcast. I watched her go back the usual way up the hill. Then I drove off past her to a place I knew she must pass. It was where the road she lived in curved up away from another one. There was trees and bushes on one side, on the other a whopping big house in big grounds. I think it was empty. Higher up there were the other houses, all big. The first part of her walk was in bright-lit streets.

There was just this one place.

I had a special plastic bag sewn in my mac pocket, in which I put some of the chloroform and CTC and the pad so it was soaked and fresh. I kept the flap down, so the smell kept in, then in a second I could get it out when needed.

Two old women with umbrellas (it began to spot with rain again) appeared and came up the road towards me. It was just what I didn't want, I knew she was due, and I nearly gave up then and there. But I bent right down, they passed talking nineteen to the dozen, I don't think they even saw me or the van. There were cars parked everywhere in that district. A minute passed. I got out and opened the back. It was all planned. And then she was near. She'd come up and round without me seeing, only twenty yards away, walking quickly. If it had been a clear night I don't know what I'd have done. But there was this wind in the trees. Gusty. I could see there was no one behind her. Then she was right beside me, coming up the pavement. Funny, singing to herself.

I said, excuse me, do you know anything about dogs?

She stopped, surprised. "Why?" she said.

It's awful, I've just run one over, I said. It dashed out. I don't know what to do with it. It's not dead. I looked into the back, very worried.

"Oh the poor thing," she said.

She came towards me, to look in. Just as I hoped.

There's no blood, I said, but it can't move.

Then she came round the end of the open back door, and I stood back as if to let her see. She bent forward to peer in, I flashed a look down the road, no one, and then I got her. She didn't make a sound, she seemed so surprised, I got the pad I'd been holding in my pocket right across her mouth and nose, I caught her to me, I could smell the fumes, she struggled like the dickens, but she wasn't strong, smaller even than I'd thought. She made a sort of gurgling. I looked down the road again, I was thinking this is it, she'll fight and I shall have to hurt her or run away. I was ready to bolt for it. And then suddenly she went limp, I was holding her up instead of holding her quiet. I got her half into the van, then I jerked open the other door, got in and pulled her after me, then shut the doors quietly to. I rolled and lifted her on to the bed. She was mine, I felt suddenly very excited, I knew I'd done it. I put the gag on first, then I strapped her down, no hurry, no panic, like I planned. Then I scrambled into the driving seat. It all took not a minute. I drove up the road, not fast, slow and quiet, and turned to a place I'd noticed on Hampstead Heath. There I got into the back again, and did the tying up properly, with the scarves and everything, so that she wouldn't be hurt, and so she couldn't scream or bang the sides or anything. She was still unconscious, but she was breathing, I could hear her, as if she had catarrh, so I knew she was all right.

 

 

Near Redhill I drove off the main road as planned and up a lonely side road and then got in the back to look at her. I laid a torch where it gave a bit of light and I could see. She was awake. Her eyes seemed very big, they didn't seem frightened, they seemed proud almost, as if she'd decided not to be frightened, not at any price.

I said, don't be alarmed, I'm not going to hurt you. She remained staring at me.

It was embarrassing, I didn't know what to say. I said, are you all right, do you want anything, but it sounded silly. I really meant did she want to go outside.

She began to shake her head. I could see she meant the gag was hurting.

I said, we're miles in the country, it's no good screaming, if you do, I'll put the gag straight back, do you understand?

She nodded, so I undid the scarf. Before I could do anything she reached up as high as she could and sideways and she was sick. It was horrible. I could smell the chloroform and the sick. She didn't say anything. She just groaned. I lost my head, I didn't know what to do. I suddenly felt we had to get home as quick as possible, so I put the gag on again. She struggled, I heard her say under the cloth, no, no, it was horrible, but I made myself do it because I knew it was for the best in the end. Then I got into the driving-seat and on we went.

We got here just after half past ten. I drove into the garage, went and looked about to make sure nothing had happened in my absence, not that I expected anything. But I didn't want to spoil the ship for the little bit of tar. I went down to her room, everything was all right, not too stuffy because I'd left the door open. I slept in it one night before to see if there was enough air and there was. There were all the doings to make tea with and so on. It looked very snug and cosy.

Well, at last the great moment was come. I went up to the garage and opened the back of the van. Like the rest of the operation it went according to plan. I got the straps off her, made her sit up, her legs and feet still bound of course. She kicked about for a moment, I was obliged to say that if she did not keep quiet I would have to resort to more of the chloro and CTC (which I showed), but that if she kept still I wouldn't hurt her. That did the trick. I lifted her, she was not so heavy as I thought; I got her down quite easily; we did have a bit of a struggle at the door of her room, but there wasn't much she could do then. I put her on the bed. It was done.

Her face was white, some of the sick had gone on her navy jumper, she was a real sight; but her eyes weren't afraid. It 'twas funny. She just stared at me, waiting.

I said, this is your room. If you do what I say, you won't be hurt. It's no good shouting. You can't be heard outside and anyway there's never anyone to hear. I'm going to leave you now, there's some biscuits and sandwiches (I bought some in Hampstead) and if you want to make tea or cocoa. I'll come back tomorrow morning, I said.

I could see she wanted me to take the gag off, but I wouldn't do it. What I did was I undid her arms and then immediately went back out; she struggled to get the gag off, but I got the door closed first and the bolts in. I heard her cry, come back! Then again but not loud. Then she tried the door, but not very hard. Then she began to bang on the door with something hard. I think it was the hairbrush. It didn't sound much, anyhow I put the false shelf in and knew you wouldn't hear anything outside. I stayed an hour in the outer cellar, just in case. It wasn't necessary, there was nothing in her room she could have broken the door down with even if she had the strength, I bought all plastic cups and saucers and aluminium teapot and cutlery, etcetera.

Eventually I went up and went to bed. She was my guest at last and that was all I cared about. I lay awake a long time, thinking about things. I felt a bit unsure the van would be traced, but there were hundreds of vans like that, and the only people I really worried about were those two women who passed.

Well, I lay there thinking of her below, lying awake too. I had nice dreams, dreams where I went down and comforted her; I was excited, perhaps I went a bit far in what I gave myself to dream, but I wasn't really worried, I knew my love was worthy of her. Then I went to sleep.

 

 

After, she was telling me what a bad thing I did and how I ought to try and realize it more. I can only say that evening I was very happy, as I said, and it was more like I had done something very daring, like climbing Everest or doing something in enemy territory. My feelings were very happy because my intentions were of the best. It was what she never understood.

To sum up, that night was the best thing I ever did in my life (bar winning the pools in the first place). It was like catching the Mazarine Blue again or a Queen of Spain Fritil-lary. I mean it was like something you only do once in a lifetime and even then often not; something you dream about more than you ever expect to see come true, in fact.

 

 

I didn't need the alarm, I was up before. I went down, locking the cellar door behind me. I'd planned everything, I knocked on her door and shouted please get up, and waited ten minutes and then drew the bolts and went in. I had her bag with me which I had searched, of course. There was nothing she could use except a nail-file and a razor-blade cutter which I removed.

The light was on, she was standing by the armchair. She'd got all her clothes on and she stared at me again, no sign of fear, bold as brass she was. It's funny, she didn't look quite like I'd always remembered her. Of course I'd never seen her so close before.

I said, I hope you slept well.

"Where is this, who are you, why have you brought me here?" She said it very coldly, not at all violent.

I can't tell you.

She said, "I demand to be released at once. This is monstrous."

We just stood staring at each other.

"Get out of the way. I'm going to leave." And she came straight towards me, towards the door. But I didn't budge. I thought for a minute she was going to attack me, but she must have seen it was silly. I was determined, she couldn't have won. She stopped right up close to me and said, "Get out of the way."

I said, you can't go yet. Please don't oblige me to use force again.

She gave me a fierce cold look, then she turned away. "I don't know who you think I am. If you think I'm somebody rich's daughter and you're going to get a huge ransom, you've got a shock coming."

I know who you are, I said. It's not money.

I didn't know what to say, I was so excited, her there at last in the flesh. So nervous. I wanted to look at her face, at her lovely hair, all of her all small and pretty, but I couldn't, she stared so at me. There was a funny pause.

Suddenly she said accusing like, "And don't I know who you are?"

I began to go red, I couldn't help it, I never planned for that, I never thought she would know me.

She said slowly, "Town Hall Annexe."

I said, I don't know what you mean.

"You've got a moustache," she said.

I still don't know how she knew. She saw me a few times in the town, I suppose, perhaps she saw me out of the windows of their house sometimes, I hadn't thought of that, my mind was all in a whirl.

She said, "Your photo was in the paper."

I've always hated to be found out, I don't know why, I've always tried to explain, I mean invent stories to explain. Suddenly I saw a way out.

I said, I'm only obeying orders.

"Orders," she said. "Whose orders?"

I can't tell you.

She would keep staring at me. Keeping her distance, too. I suppose she thought I would attack her.

"Whose orders?" she said again.

I tried to think of someone. I don't know why, the only name I could think of she might know was Mr. Singleton. He was the manager of the Barclays. I knew her father banked there. I saw him several times in there when I was, and talking with Mr. Singleton.

Mr. Singleton's orders, I said.

She looked really amazed, so I went on quick. I'm not meant to tell you, I said, he'd kill me if he knew.

"Mr. Singleton?" she said, as if she wasn't hearing properly.

He's not what you think, I said.

Suddenly she sat down on the arm of the armchair, like it was all too much for her. "You mean Mr. Singleton ordered you to kidnap me?"

I nodded.

"But I know his daughter. He's . . . oh, it's mad," she said.

Do you remember the girl in Penhurst Road?

"What girl in Penhurst Road?"

The one that disappeared three years ago.

It was something I invented. My mind was really quick that morning. So I thought.

"I was probably away at school. What happened to her?"

I don't know. Except he did it.

"Did what?"

I don't know. I don't know what happened to her. But he did it, whatever it was. She's never been heard of since.

Suddenly she said, "Have you got a cigarette?"

I was all awkward, I got a packet out of my pocket and my lighter and went and passed them to her. I didn't know if I ought to light her cigarette, but it seemed silly.

I said, you haven't eaten anything.

She held the cigarette, very ladylike, between her fingers. She'd cleaned the jumper up. The air was stuffy.

She took no notice. It was funny. I knew she knew I was lying.

"You're telling me that Mr. Singleton is a sex maniac and he kidnaps girls and you help him?"

I said, I have to. I stole some money from the bank, I'd go to prison if they found out, he holds it over me, you see.

All the time she was staring at me. She had great big clear eyes, very curious, always wanting to find out. (Not snoopy, of course.)

"You won a lot of money, didn't you?"

I knew what I said was confused. I felt all hot and bothered.

"Why didn't you pay back the money then? What was it -- seventy thousand pounds? You didn't steal all that? Or perhaps you just help him for the fun of it?"

There's other things I can't tell you. I'm in his power.

She stood up with her hands in her skirt pockets. She stared at herself in the mirror (metal, of course, not glass) for a change.

"What's he going to do to me?"

I don't know.

"Where is he now?"

He'll be coming. I expect.

She said nothing for a minute. Then she suddenly looked as if she'd thought of something nasty, what I said might be true sort of thing.

"Of course. This must be his house in Suffolk."

Yes, I said, thinking I was clever.

"He hasn't got a house in Suffolk," she said, all cold.

You don't know, I said. But it sounded feeble.

She was going to speak but I felt I had to stop her questions, I didn't know she was so sharp. Not like normal people.

I came to ask you what you'd like for breakfast, there's cereal, eggs, etcetera.

"I don't want any breakfast," she said. "This horrid little room. And that anaesthetic. What was it?"

I didn't know it would make you sick. Really.

"Mr. Singleton should have told you." You could see she didn't believe it about him. She was being sarcastic.

I said in a hurry, would you like tea or coffee and she said coffee, if you drink some first, so with that I left her and went out to the outer cellar. Just before I shut the door she said, "You've forgotten your lighter."

I've got another. (I hadn't.)

"Thank you," she said. It was funny, she almost smiled.

 

 

I made the Nescafe and I took it in and she watched me drink some and then she drank some. All the time she asked questions, no, all the time I felt she might ask a question, she'd come out quickly with a question to try and catch me. About how long she had to stay, why I was being so kind to her. I made up answers, but I knew they sounded feeble, it wasn't easy to invent quickly with her. In the end I said I was going into the shops and she was to tell me what she wanted. I said I'd buy anything she wanted.

"Anything?" she said.

In reason, I said.

"Mr. Singleton told you to?"

No. This is from me.

"I just want to be set free," she said. I couldn't get her to say anything more. It was horrible, she suddenly wouldn't speak, so I had to leave her.

 

 

She wouldn't speak again at lunch. I cooked the lunch in the outer cellar and took it in. But hardly any of it was eaten. She tried to bluff her way out again, cold as ice she was, but I wasn't having any.

That evening after her supper, which she likewise didn't eat much, I went and sat by the door. For some time she sat smoking, with her eyes shut, as if the sight of me tired her eyes.

"I've been thinking. All you've told me about Mr. Singleton is a story. I don't believe it. He's just not that sort of man, for one thing. And if he was, he wouldn't have you working for him. He wouldn't have made all these fantastic preparations."

I didn't say anything, I couldn't look at her.

"You've gone to a lot of trouble. All those clothes in there, all these art books. I added up their cost this afternoon. Forty-three pounds." It was like she was talking to herself. "I'm your prisoner, but you want me to be a happy prisoner. So there are two possibilities: you're holding me to ransom, you're in a gang or something."

I'm not. I told you.

"You know who I am. You must know my father's not rich or anything. So it can't be ransom."

It was uncanny, hearing her think it out.

"The only other thing is sex. You want to do something to me." She was watching me.

It was a question. It shocked me.

It's not that at all. I shall have all proper respect. I'm not that sort. I sounded quite curt.

"Then you must be mad," she said. "In a nice kind way, of course."

"You admit that the Mr. Singleton story is not true?"

I wanted to break it gently, I said.

"Break what?" she asked. "Rape? Murder?"

I never said that, I answered. She always seemed to get me on the defensive. In my dreams it was always the other way round.

"Why am I here?"

I want you to be my guest.

"Your guest!"

She stood up and walked round the armchair and leant against the back, eyes on me all the time. She'd taken her blue jumper off, she stood there in a dark green tartan dress, like a schoolgirl tunic, with a white blouse open at the throat. Her hair swept back into the pigtail. Her lovely face. She looked brave. I don't know why, I thought of her sitting on my knees, very still, with me stroking her soft blonde hair, all out loose as I saw it after.

Suddenly I said, I love you. It's driven me mad.

She said, "I see," in a queer grave voice.

She didn't look at me any more then.

I know it's old-fashioned to say you love a woman, I never meant to do it then. In my dreams it was always we looked into each other's eyes one day and then we kissed and nothing was said until after. A chap called Nobby in R.A.P.C. who knew all about women, always said you shouldn't ever tell a woman you loved her. Even if you did. If you had to say "I love you," you said it joking -- he said that way it kept them after you. You had to play hard to get. The silly thing was I told myself a dozen times before I mustn't tell her I loved her, but let it come naturally on both sides. But when I had her there my head went round and I often said things I didn't mean to.

I don't mean I told her everything. I told her about working in the Annexe and seeing her and thinking about her and the way she behaved and walked and all she'd meant to me and then having money and knowing she'd never look at me in spite of it and being lonely. When I stopped she was sitting on the bed looking at the carpet. We didn't speak for what seemed a long time. There was just the whir of the fan in the outer cellar.

I felt ashamed. All red.

"Do you think you'll make me love you by keeping me prisoner?"

I want you to get to know me.

"As long as I'm here you'll just be a kidnapper to me. You know that?"

I got up. I didn't want to be with her any more.

"Wait," she said, coming towards me, "I'll make a promise. I understand. Really. Let me go. I'll tell no one, and nothing will happen."

It was the first time she'd given me a kind look. She was saying, trust me, plain as words. A little smile round her eyes, looking up at me. All eager.

"You could. We could be friends. I could help you."

Looking up at me there.

"It's not too late."

I couldn't say what I felt, I just had to leave her; she was really hurting me. So I closed the door and left her. I didn't even say good night.

No one will understand, they will think I was just after her for the obvious. Sometimes when I looked at the books before she came, it was what I thought, or I didn't know. Only when she came it was all different, I didn't think about the books or about her posing, things like that disgusted me, it was because I knew they would disgust her too. There was something so nice about her you had to be nice too, you could see she sort of expected it. I mean having her real made other things seem nasty. She was not like some woman you don't respect so you don't care what you do, you respected her and you had to be very careful.

 

 

I didn't sleep much that night, because I was shocked the way things had gone, my telling her so much the very first day and how she made me seem a fool. There were moments when I thought I'd have to go down and drive her back to London like she wanted. I could go abroad. But then I thought of her face and the way her pigtail hung down a bit sideways and twisted and how she stood and walked and her lovely clear eyes. I knew I couldn't do it.

After breakfast -- that morning she ate a bit of cereal and had some coffee, when we didn't speak at all -- she was up and dressed, but the bed had been made differently from at first so she must have slept in it. Anyhow she stopped me when I was going out.

"I'd like to talk with you." I stopped.

"Sit down," she said. I sat down on the chair by the steps down.

"Look, this is mad. If you love me in any real sense of the word love you can't want to keep me here. You can see I'm miserable. The air, I can't breathe at nights, I've woken up with a headache. I should die if you kept me here long." She looked really concerned.

It won't be very long. I promise.

She got up and stood by the chest of drawers, and stared at me.

"What's your name?" she said.

Clegg, I answered.

"Your first name?"

Ferdinand.

She gave me a quick sharp look.

"That's not true," she said. I remembered I had my wallet in my coat with my initials in gold I'd bought and I showed it. She wasn't to know F stood for Frederick. I've always liked Ferdinand, it's funny, even before I knew her. There's something foreign and distinguished about it. Uncle Dick used to call me it sometimes, joking. Lord Ferdinand Clegg, Marquis of Bugs, he used to say.

It's just a coincidence, I said.

"I suppose people call you Ferdie. Or Ferd."

Always Ferdinand.

"Look, Ferdinand, I don't know what you see in me. I don't know why you're in love with me. Perhaps I could fall in love with you somewhere else. I . . ." she didn't seem to know what to say, which was unusual ". . . I _do_ like gentle, kind men. But I couldn't possibly fall in love with you in this room, I couldn't fall in love with anyone here. Ever."

I answered, I just want to get to know you.

All the time she was sitting on the chest of drawers, watching me to see what effect the things she said had. So I was suspicious. I knew it was a test.

"But you can't kidnap people just to get to know them!"

I want to know you very much. I wouldn't have a chance in London. I'm not clever


Date: 2015-02-03; view: 152


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THE SEVENTH DAY | APPOINTMENT IN SAMARRA JOHN O'HARA
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