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200 pages, Paperback
First published January 1, 1962
We were allowed a night-light, because several times during the night I had disturbed the house by screaming fits caused by nightmares. They may have been caused by the shock of Father's death, for I had never suffered from them before. One night I dreamt that Mother's head had been severed and made into a pork pie. Although it was a pork pie, I could still see it was a dead head. There was another fearful dream that Father was floating down the canal, all enlarged with water, and that eels were living in him. Now that there was a night-light, I did not cry for long when I woke up after one of these frightful dreams, but I dared not go to sleep again in case another came. To keep myself awake and calm myself I would go through each room at home so that it almost seemed as if I was there. I tried to recall everything they contained: the yellow rug in the drawing room, which we used to cut pieces from to make dolls' wigs; the faded morning-room curtains with monkeys climbing up them – it was always a sign that summer was coming when they were hung; the enormous brass bedstead in the spare room, all draped in chintz curtains, with its feather mattress – sometimes we slept there when we were ill, because it was on the sunny side of the house, and Father used to thump the mattress to make a hollow for us to lie in.
A door which had been closed before was now partly open, and it was definitely from there that the breathing came. We stood still, not daring to pass it, then we moved forward very slowly and quietly and, although we were so afraid, we couldn't help looking through the open door as we passed. There was something very red and white inside – most likely a hassock, I thought, or even a huge cherry pie. Then we saw it was the General's head lying there by the door, and one eye was open and the other shut. The open eye saw us and he sort of gurgled and slightly moved one freckled old hand. We thought he was lying on the floor like that to frighten us; perhaps he was suddenly going to grab one of our legs.
'Do you think he's having a fit, or is it just a frightening game?' I asked Esme, but she thought he was drunk and might at any moment attack us, so we left him there and ran out into the rain.
I walked in the night with my lantern, and disturbed owls cried as they hunted for field-mice. I did not mind them; it was the bats I was scared of as they swooped and flickered around me, squeaking in the dark. The earth was still hard with frost and sometimes long brambles entwined themselves in my skirt and I had to put the lantern down while I freed myself. Once I stumbled and the lamp went out and I couldn't manage the matches with my gloved hands. The complete darkness made me afraid and I remembered the lepers and imagined they were peering through the hedges at me. When at last I got the lamp burning again, I warmed my hand against the glass and, to steady myself, read the joke on the back of the matchbox and tried to laugh.