The train reached Emshot at half-past eight. That is to say, it reached the station commonly known as Emshot, but whose proper name is Emshot and Twing. It is actually two and a half miles from Twing and a mile and a half from Emshot church, though the village straggles towards it, and Mr Pumphrey the postman can reach the platform in six minutes from his house, which is the last in Emshot.
Shirley set off along a pitch-black lane, encouraged by the assurance of the porter who took her ticket that she couldnât possibly miss her way. And just about the time that she got out of the train Mrs Ward, who was Mr Pumphreyâs widowed sister, was shutting the door of Acacia Cottage behind her and putting the key under the mat.
âFor if she does come by the eight-thirtyâand thereâs no saying she willâI donât see staying any longer, and thatâs a fact.â
Her daughter, Lucy Hill, agreed in her slow, determined voice.
âNo call to go at all that I could see. And just like her sending a telegram like that on a Saturday afternoon! âGet everything ready. Coming down to-night or to-morrow morning.â Slave-driving, I call it, and youâd no call to do it for her! And come eight oâclock when you werenât back, Bert said to me real angry, âYou go and fetch your mother home, Lu, and tell her the old cat can do her own clearing up.ââ
Mrs Ward straightened herself up with a hastily repressed groan. âWell, Iâm coming, arenât I? Of course by rights I ought to wait for the trainââ
Lucy took her by the arm and propelled her towards the gate.
âWell, youâll do nothing of the sort, Mother! Youâll take and come along home and have your supper and go to your bed! Bertâs real angry at your going at all.â
Mrs Ward sighed and acquiesced.
âWell, the waterâs hot, and Iâve left a bit of a fire, and the kettle on the side, and thereâs tea and butter and eggs, and a half pint of milk in the larder same as she always has, and Iâve boiled a bit of bacon along of to-morrow being Sunday and no meat in the house, so whether she comes to-night or donât come till to-morrow, thereâll be something for her to eat. And the keyâs under the mat, same as usual.â
âYou come along home, Mother!â said Lucy Ward.
Shirley walked along the lane until she came to Mr Pumphreyâs house. It had red curtains in the sitting-room window, and the light shone through them. After that there were houses all the way, which was rather tantalizing, because you kept hoping you had got there and finding you hadnât. The houses were a long way apart at first, but by the time she had been walking for twenty minutes they were getting more sociable.
The young man at the station had told Shirley that she couldnât miss Acacia Cottage. She didnât feel as sure about this as he did, but she hoped for the best. The reason she couldnât miss it was that it was right opposite the Green Man. Having lived in a village herself, Shirley appreciated this. In the country you steer by churches and pubs. At half-past eight on a Saturday evening the church would certainly be dark and deserted, but the Green Man would be going all out with lights, and drinks, and a full flow of village talk.
The young man at the station proved to be quite right. You come round a bend, and the Green Man more or less hits you in the eye. Well, then the house lurking in the darkness across the road must be Acacia Cottage.
Shirley lifted the latch of the gate. It swung in, creaking a little, and she found herself in the dense shadow of an over-arching yew. At the time she did not know where the shadow came from, only that it was there, and very black. She stood in the blackness and looked towards the house, but she could see nothing except shadow melting into shadow, all dark, and vague, and formless. Suppose there