13th June 1952
Well, we’ve all arrived safely and the chateau is lovely! Stephan drove us from Surrey in his motor car. We took the ferry from Portsmouth and the crossing was quite choppy. I’m afraid yours truly spent much of it leaning over the handrail! Anyway, after a couple of hours’ drive from Le Havre, we found the place, with some trouble actually. You see, it was dark, and the chateau, although most impressive from the front, is actually only one room deep, and is sideways on from the road, so not what we were looking out for at all! Anyway, we sought directions in Ville de Courdermaire, and the fellows there had a laugh at our expense. Apparently, we weren’t the first to drive past Chateau Courdermaire without noticing it!
It has a sweeping gravel driveway and Stephan’s motor car looks grand parked on it. I am taking lots of photographs!
Well, there are ten bedrooms on each of the two floors. We selected rooms on the first floor as they are better appointed. I have a lovely four-poster bed and an en suite bathroom, and I look out over sweeping lawns in front of the chateau. Imagine! Oh, I wish you could be with us mama, such a shame that your legs are bad.
Earlier, Jane came to me. ‘Come and see what I’ve found, Mother!’ She was so excited. Well, down in the cellars there is a billiards table. You can imagine how Percy and Stephan took to that! They are down there now, as I write, showing Jane and Alexander the ropes!
The sun is sinking now, and I must start preparing supper. I am steaming a huge salmon and serving it with roasted vegetables from the village shop.
I will write again soon.
25th June 1952
Dear Mrs Henderson,
I write as caretaker of Chateau Courdermaire to bring you news of a most awful incident, for which you have my deepest sympathy, madam. I hope the authorities will soon be in touch with you, but I wanted to let you know myself, as soon as I could. There is no telephone hereabouts and the only thing is to write, although the post can sometimes be quite unreliable, especially to England, but I know I will have done my duty in informing you to the best of my ability.
Well, I am so sorry to say that your daughter, Mary, was found in a disused ice house this morning. This lies at the edge of the front lawn and is ten feet deep, and mostly full of water. It appears she may have wandered at night, tripped and fallen in. It is low and the entrance is open. We believe she may have been sleepwalking.
A messenger was sent to the local gendarmerie. They attended post-haste and announced that your dear daughter had drowned through circumstances unknown.
Again, madam, you have my deepest sympathies.
23rd June 1952
I write again. Things here are a little odd. I have encountered the owner, a grand old gentleman by the name of Comte Ducard. He called one evening to ask if we were happy with the facilities here – we are! He resides with his brother locally when guests are staying at the chateau.
Anyway, Stephan has been behaving strangely. He seems enervated and pale and has been taking to his bed in the daytime. He also complained about some insect bites on his neck and is now accustomed to wearing a cravat. I have urged him to see the local medic. But you know Stephan, ‘No point in bothering the local quack, I’ll see a proper doctor when I get back if needs be!’
The chateau has a series of dilapidated attics and also a strange ‘floor between floors,’ only about two-thirds of the normal height. It has just one door at either end of the landing, both locked and nothing to see through the keyholes.
At night I have awoken to footsteps both above and below my room. I’ve called out, but no one answers and the footsteps stop. Most probably this isolated French chateau is stirring my fancies!
This morning the fellows at the boulangerie seemed quite agitated. They told me to lock my door at night and to hang garlic over it, even giving me some and refusing payment! Can you imagine?! It seems superstition is still rife in the French campagne!
Well, today we were planning on driving to the coast, but once again, Stephan has taken to his bed, so we can’t go. He does look very pale. I do think he should see a doctor.
Well, I hope you are well mama, and your legs aren’t troubling you too badly.
I will write again soon.
Your loving daughter,
P.S. I saw in the mirror just now that I have insect bites on my neck too. I cannot believe it is contagious. Perhaps it is the bedding? I will speak to the caretaker, Madame Lemaire, about it.
Featured in the book and audiobook, To Cut a Short Story Short, vol. II: 88 Little Stories
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