The room Mrs Bendicks showed them to was at the back of the building, overlooking some very pleasant gardens and a railway.
“We’re proud of our gardens,” said Mrs Bendicks. “They’re surprisingly large because we have access to several. Some of our gentlemen like to stand on the bridge and watch trains going through the cutting. And it’s our very own bridge - a private one - with Safehaven gardens continuing on the other side!”
"Well, well," said Camellia. “Noisy, though.”
“You’ll not notice,” said Mrs Bendicks. "It's a commuter line. There are no trains after eight o'clock. Here’s the wardrobe.” Camellia looked into the wardrobe. “And a fire for the evenings.” Camellia looked at the fire. It was the kind where gas hums and pops over white pottery shapes. “Maria will light it for you if you need it. And here’s a chest of drawers.”
“And a table,” said Camellia.
“Yes,” said Mrs Bendicks. “A table and an easy chair.”
“And a lampshade,” said Hugh.
“A lampshade, Mrs Bendicks! Don’t forget to introduce us to the lampshade!” Mrs Bendicks, looked up. “And a very pleasant view,” Hugh went on. “Nice sturdy garden tables. Solid looking benches. Wrong room.”
Mrs Bendicks' eyes darted from the window to Hugh.
“It’s only a single bed,” he said, pointing at it irritably. “We’ll need something bigger than that.”
Mrs Bendicks frowned.
“I’ll show you to your room now, shall I Mr Thorncombe?" she said, quietly. "I’m sure your wife will be perfectly comfortable.” Then she went to the door and stood by it, clearly waiting for Hugh to walk ahead of her. He didn’t. “We’ll leave you to unpack, shall we, Mrs Thorncombe?”
Camellia felt 'pointedness' creeping into her heart. It was like a wasp searching for a place to lay its eggs or for something delicate to sting.
“No, Mrs Bendicks,” said Hugh. “Not this room. A double room.”
Mrs Bendicks drew herself up proudly. “There are no double rooms here,” she said. “Residents are not expected to sleep together!”
“And you? Mrs Bendicks. Do you not sleep with your husband?”
“I am not a resident, Mr Thorncombe!”
“But when you go home you . . . ?”
“Ah! I'm glad you mentioned that. We have a flat at the top of the building, Mr Thorncombe. This is important, if you need anything, either of you, in the night, or in the day . . . "
“Then - you are a resident! And you sleep in separate rooms.” Mrs Bendicks drew her shoulders back regimentally - which made the clematis flowers slide up her chest. Camellia wondered what would happen if she asked Mrs Bendicks to do it a few times on purpose. Up. Down. No. “Or separate beds?" suggested Hugh. Silence. "Then we’ll have a double room please, Mrs Bendicks.”
“There are no double rooms, Mr Thorncombe.”
Camellia felt her heart shake free of the wasp.
"And my wife is . . . "
"Lady Hamilton," said Camellia, surprised at herself. She had no idea where the idea came from. It just jolted out. But Hugh smiled encouragingly so she ploughed on. "I used to be married to Nelson," she said. (Was this right? She hadn't read any history recently. Perhaps she should cover herself better? Introduce a little flexibility.) "Then I married Napoleon. Afterwards . . . " (What next? If she wasn't careful, she'd panic.) "Then I married Hugh," she ended, triumphantly.
Mrs Bendicks suddenly relaxed. It was as if she had reached somewhere she knew; a safe place, something she had come across before and understood perfectly.
"Lady Hamilton! Ah yes. Well, I very much hope you enjoy your stay. Shall I show you to your room, Lord Thorncombe?" and she stepped briskly onto the landing where she waited for Hugh to follow. After a moment, he did. But first, he kissed Camellia.
"Well done," he whispered. "I'll be back."
For the Next Post - Thirty-Seven
For the Post Before This - Thirty-Five