underneath it than in it!
Must try to sleep. So difficult, there’s no air.
And after that, maddeningly, Aunt Beth’s diary simply peters out, apart from a scrawled entry in October on the subject of Belgian refugees. There are no more letters either from P. E. Gilles. The year 1914 draws to its close without further comment. I looked at my watch. Christ! It was nearly two a.m.; I’d got a finance meeting at nine thirty. Sophia had left around eleven p.m. ‘It’s such miles from you to Hampstead, Guy, and I want to be at the office by eight thirty. Promise you won’t read any more till we meet again on Thursday.’ I’d promised, but after she’d gone I couldn’t sleep, so made myself a hot drink and went on reading. In a way I preferred to do it on my own. Somehow I was beginning to feel the contents of the green trunk were a sort of private message from Char to me: as though she were trying in some way to explain something about herself. Perhaps this was fanciful, I don’t know, but it was what I believed. Under these circumstances anyone, even Sophia, would inevitably constitute an intrusion.
Next day Sophia rang postponing our date. A business dinner she couldn’t get out of and after that she was away for a week. ‘You’ll have to carry on without me,’ she said, ‘but somehow I don’t think you’ll mind.’
I felt guilty then; a woman as perceptive as Sophia can be rather unnerving. ‘Don’t be silly,’ I said, feeling my voice lacked conviction, ‘but when you come back, can we go and see your Aunty Phyll? You said she’s on the ball and she might be able to fill in some gaps.’
‘ Good thinking,’ she said. ‘I owe her a visit and she’d love to see a man for a change. I’ll be in touch, then. And Guy...’
‘ Take care...’
P. E. Gilles did turn up again; in quite another context: he had to, I suppose, he was one of those sorts of people.
The incident occurred a month or so after Sophia’s and my visit to Aunty Phyll when we were staying with, of all people, George and his new wife, Bronwen. We had both been asked independently of each other and both, with a string of flimsy excuses, managed to postpone a visit which neither of us wished to make. Then George began to get miffed; to fob him off again might create a complete rift and I didn’t wish for this, not yet at any rate. Sophia, even more loth to go than I was, suggested we brave it together and this proving acceptable to George, we did.
It was on the Saturday afternoon, rain cascading against the sitting-room windows, George sleeping the sleep of the just and overfed before his enormous television set and Bronwen doing something in the kitchen — she was always ‘doing something’ in the kitchen — that for want of anything better to do I picked up the local rag and glanced idly through it. I turned a page and a name jumped out at me. ‘Mons Veteran’s ninety-third Birthday. Mr Peter Edgar Gilles celebrates his birthday with his usual pint of bitter in the bar of the Crown and Anchor public house.’ The accompanying photograph showed a small, gnome-like individual, pint mug in hand, smiling toothily into the camera, backed by a sea of smiling faces. ‘Mr Gilles, a twinkling nonagenarian, seen here with his great-grandson Kevin and friends, says...
‘ Sophia,’ I whispered, ‘Sophia, look.’
She looked. ‘It couldn’t be,’ she said, ‘could it?’
‘ The right age,’ I said. ‘And it says he ran a garage until he retired in 1960. P. E. Gilles was into cars.’
‘ Let’s ring,’ said Sophia. ‘It gives his address.’ George snored gustily as we crept away to the telephone. Somehow neither of us wished to involve him; Char’s name had not been mentioned over the weekend.
‘ Pop in for a cup of tea tomorrow then. Grandad loves a bit of company,’ said P. E. Gilles’ granddaughter.
A smart bungalow, two cars in the garage, a boat on the lawn and a general air of