Door in the Wall - An Original Story Set In Wotton
Copyright 2016. Elizabeth Kirwan. All Rights Reserved.
Door in the Wall
It all began because the door was open, which Pip had never seen before.
The man in the next-door shop had already told Pip and her mother that the door was 400 years old, and it certainly looked it. It was massive and covered with huge nails. The latch was old-fashioned and the key hole was very large.
“Who has the key?” Pip had asked one day. But the shopkeeper, Mr Thomas, didn’t know.
“I don’t believe that door has been opened in all the time I’ve been running this shop, and that’s 40 years now,” he had said.
And Pip’s mum confirmed that, though she had lived in the town all her life, she had never seen it open.
And then one November evening Pip was walking home from school as she usually did. She had said goodbye to a friend who lived further down the road, and was now walking up the long main street of the little town where she lived. Her mum had asked her to get some apples on the way home, and had given her the extra money for this, which Pip had tied inside a cotton handkerchief, so that she wouldn’t lose it. She had brought her rucksack to school so that she could put the apples in it instead of asking for another carrier bag. The street, which was called Long Street because it was, was also a hill. Pip’s school was at the bottom but she lived at the top. It was a cold day, and Pip was looking forward to getting home into the warm.
She had bought the apples, stowed them away and was on her way home, about to pass the door when she thought she saw that it was open – only crack but definitely open. She paused; she knew that her mum would not be home for another half hour so there was no urgency in taking home the apples. She was cold but she was also very curious.
She stood next to the door and looked up the street and down again. There was no-one around. The evening was closing in already and street lights were on; without them it would already be dark, but it was very still and quiet.
“I must have a look,” she thought to herself. “If Mr Thomas has never seen it open in 40 years there must be something secret in there. But perhaps there is nothing.”
She took a careful look at the door – yes, definitely open, though it was only a small gap. She checked up and down the street again, pushed the door a little and slipped in.
It was extremely cold suddenly and very, very dark, and as she stood there the door swung quietly shut behind her. She had only had a moment to see what was ahead of her. It had looked like a paved yard, much like many of the yards which opened off the ancient Long Street. But after the door shut behind her she realised she couldn’t see anything at all. She decided this was not a good adventure and turned round to open the door and leave, but it was very heavy and she seemed unable to pull it hard enough to open it up.
Turning back to face the yard, she found that her eyes were becoming slightly used to the gloom which seemed not so dark as a few minutes ago, and ahead of her there was a faint light. It seemed to come from a window in a wall a short distance away. She put out her hand and felt the wall, and using this to guide herself she moved towards the light. Somehow she felt she should walk very quietly.
“If someone has a light they will be able to let me out into the street again,” she thought.
When she reached the light to her surprise she found it was simply a candle sitting inside a tiny window, which was so covered with cobwebs that she couldn’t see what lay inside beyond the candle’s light. But now she could tell that there was another door, much smaller than the one into the street, which seemed to be open and a little of the candle light was showing through it.
“There must be someone there,” thought Pip, though she was rather scared by now. Everything was so intensely silent around her, as though the place was deserted. She crept towards the doorway, and said very softly:
“Is anyone there?”
There was no sound.
“Is anyone there…. please,” she said again – she really wanted someone’s help.
There was a small noise and a girl’s voice said, “Who are you?” from inside the room.
Pip stood very still. It sounded like someone about her own age. No point in being scared – but it was very dark apart from the small flickering candle.
“I’m Pip,” she said. “I just came through your door from the high street and now I can’t get out again. Can you open the big door for me please?”
There was a long silence, then a gentle rustling noise and someone picked up the candle from the window sill and came to the door with it. Pip couldn’t really see who was holding the candle, but she moved a little towards the doorway.
“Can you help me?” she asked again.
There was another pause – not a sound from anywhere.
“I’m sorry,” said the voice, softly. “I’m not allowed to open that door.”
Pip thought she might cry; she was feeling really scared now.
“What can I do then? I was just on my way home when I saw it open, and only came through for a moment but it shut behind me,” she said.
“I think you had better come in here,” said the voice. “I will be able to tell you better when I have seen you.”
The candle moved back into the room and as the girl turned away Pip could see that she was about the same height as Pip. She followed into the room as the girl set the candle on a table and turned round to look at Pip. They stood looking at one another. The girl had long hair but it was mostly tucked into a scarf tied round behind her head; little wisps were trying to escape. She had a thin face, but bright intelligent eyes. She seemed to be wearing a long skirt and a shawl across her shoulders.
She looked at Pip.
“I thought you were a girl, but I see now that you are a boy. What is your name?”
Pip almost laughed. “I am a girl,” she said.
“But you are wearing trousers, aren’t you?” said the girl.
“Yes, its cold today and we are allowed to wear trousers on very cold days,” said Pip. And added without thinking: “It’s very cold in here.”
The girl stood in silence; then she said: “We cannot afford to light a fire these days.”
Pip felt bad – she wished she hadn’t said anything about being cold, so she quickly said: “Not to worry. I don’t mind really.”
The girl said again: “What is your name?”
“I am Philippa” said Pip. “What is your name?”
“My name is Lucy,” said the girl. “I don’t know anyone called Philippa, but my father is called Philip. Would you like me to light the fire? Father will be home soon, and I will need to light it then so that I can cook his supper.”
Pip wondered why she had to cook the supper on a fire but thought she had better not ask. But she was shivering with the cold and thought a fire was a wonderful idea.
“I could help you if you like,” she said. She was beginning to be able to see better in the feeble light of the one candle.
Together they built a small fire in the grate, and the girl put a pan of water on top to boil.
“Why don’t we eat an apple while we wait,” said Pip.
“Oh, we haven’t any apples,” said the girl.
“But I have,” said Pip, and gave the girl an apple out of her bag.
“Have you always lived her?” asked Pip as they sat watching the flames. “I’ve often wondered who lived behind the great door but I’ve never seen anyone coming in and out.”
“Yes, our family has always lived here as long as I can remember, but….”
“But what?” asked Pip, holding out her hands to the small flames.
“Well, my mother died and then my sister Mary got married and my brother went away to the war, and so it is only me and father now.”
There was a long silence; the flames licked round the pot with a crackling noise. Pip didn’t know what to say. She didn’t know anyone whose mother had died.
Finally she said: “I’m sorry.”
“It was a few years ago now,” said the girl.
“Don’t you go to school?”
“No, father cannot afford to send me to school.”
“Well, I’m sure my father doesn’t pay for me to go to school. Everyone just goes.”
The girl looked at her.
“I wish I could go to school. I would like to see some other children. Sometimes I am here for days and days alone. And I’d like to read some new books. I only have three books and I’ve read them all from end to end.”
Pip felt suddenly very sorry for the girl. Then she had a good idea.
“I could bring you some books.”
The girl almost smiled; she had a sad face and she didn’t look as though she smiled often.
“How wonderful that would be!” she said. But then she looked sad again: “But how would you get them to me. The door is never open except when father is coming in or out and he doesn’t like meeting people.”
“I could leave them by the door on Long Street and you could just run out and get them.”
“If you do that, I could give you one of mine in return,” said Lucy.
They were quiet for a bit. The pot on the fire started to bubble, and some good smells were coming out of it.
Pip had a thought:
“Tell me your surname and then I will put a note n the books to make sure they get to you and aren’t taken away by someone else,” she said.
“We are called Thompson; I am Lucy Thompson.”
At that moment there was a heavy creaking noise from outside - the sound of the great door into Long Street being pushed open.
“When father comes, you must hide. He would be very angry if he though I had let someone in.” Lucy whispered.
“But you didn’t,” whispered Pip. “I let myself in.”
“I know, but father would not believe that. And anyway he doesn’t like strangers. It would be better if you stayed hidden.”
“But if I’m hidden how will I ever get out into the street again.” Suddenly Pip longed to be back in familiar Long Street.
The two girls stood up, as heavy footsteps sounded on the flags outside. Lucy pushed Pip into the corner behind the door.
“Just hide in this corner,” whispered Lucy. “When father comes in creep out into the yard and I will find an excuse to follow you, and I’m sure we can open the big door together.”
A man came into the small room.
“Is that supper that I smell,” he said. “You are a good girl, Lucy.”
He didn’t sound angry; he sounded very tired.
“Did you have a good day on the farm, father?” asked Lucy. She went to help her father pull off his cape, and at the same time waved to Pip behind the door. Pip crept out into the yard, and minute later Lucy appeared at her side. They ran quietly to the great door, and with some difficulty dragged it a little open. Pip slipped through.
“I will leave the books tomorrow,” she said softly.
And then she was standing in Long Street again. The street lights almost dazzled her after the darkness of the yard and the dim light of the candle.
“I’m going to be horribly late,” thought Pip as she ran up the street. But to her surprise she reached home before her mother, and when she looked at the clock she wondered why it was still so early. She was sure she had spent at least an hour with Lucy.
Later that evening she started to sort through her books - choosing ones that she thought Lucy would like. She asked her mother for a carrier bag.
“What do you need that for?” asked her mother.
“Well, there’s a girl I met,” said Pip slowly. “And she likes reading but she only has three books which she’s read far too often. So she’s given me one of her books and I’m going to take her some of mine.”
“What has she given you?” asked hr mother, not very interested in what the answer might be.
“I haven’t really looked at it yet. It’s still in my rucksack.”
When she got it out she thought it certainly looked very battered and old, but perhaps that was just because it had been read so often. She gave it to her mother.
Suddenly there was a strange silence in the room. Her mother had opened the book and was reading the name on the inside page.
“Where did you get this, did you say?” she asked quietly.
“From this girl, Lucy. She lives in the yard behind the great door on Long Street.”
Her mother looked at her.
“The name inside here is not Lucy, though; it is Mary Thompson. Do you know who that is?”
“Well, Lucy told me it was her sister, but she wasn’t there. She has left to get married.”
Her mother sat very still.
“Do you know who Mary Thompson was? Have you forgotten my name used to be Thompson, before I married your Dad. She was your great grandmother. This book belonged to your great grandmother.”
“Well, how can that be? Lucy gave it to me.”
“I don’t know what has happened, but your great grandmother had a sister called Lucy. She is buried in the churchyard like all my family. All the Thompsons are buried there. Lucy died when she was only about your age I seem to remember – perhaps she was about 12.”
They sat looking at one another.
“Was she a ghost, Mum?” asked Pip.
“I don’t know, but it is certainly very strange. And I think you will find that if you put the books out for Lucy they won’t be taken in. She is long dead, Pip.”
The next day was Saturday. Pip and her mother usually went shopping together, but today they went down to the churchyard outside the huge parish church. Her mother went straight to a group tombstones in one corner – handsomely carved with names and dates.
“I think that is your Lucy,” said Pip's mum.
And there it was: Lucy Thompson, 1884 to 1896.
Elizabeth Kirwan. ©2016. All Rights Reserved.