Книга: The Secret Keeper
Назад: Seventeen
Дальше: Nineteen


London, January 1941

DOLLY WAS QUITE SURE she’d never been so humiliated in all her life as she had been the other afternoon at number 25. If she lived to be a hundred years old, she knew she wouldn’t forget the way Henry and Vivien Jenkins had stared at her as she went, those bemused mocking expressions distorting their horrid lovely faces. They’d almost succeeded in making Dolly feel as if she were nothing more than a neighbour’s maid, come calling in an old dress borrowed from her mistress’s wardrobe. Almost. Dolly was made of sterner stuff than that, though; as Dr Rufus was always telling her: ‘You’re one in a million, Dorothy, you really are.’

At their most recent lunch, two days after what had happened, he’d leaned back in his seat at the Savoy and eyed her over his cigar. ‘Tell me, Dorothy,’ he’d said, ‘why do you think this woman, this Vivien Jenkins, was so dismissive of you?’ Dolly had shaken her head thoughtfully, before telling him what she now believed. ‘I think when she came across the two of us, Mr Jenkins and I, together like that in the sitting room …’ Dolly glanced away, slightly embarrassed as she remembered the way Henry Jenkins had looked at her, ‘ … well, I’d taken rather special care with my appearance that day, you see, and I suspect it was just more than Vivien could stand.’ He’d nodded appreciatively and then his eyes had narrowed as he stroked his chin: ‘And how did you feel, Dorothy, when she slighted you that way?’ Dolly had thought she might cry when Dr Rufus asked that. She didn’t, though; she smiled bravely, driving her fingernails into her palms and priding herself on the way she managed to keep her self-control as she said, ‘I felt mortified, Dr Rufus, and very, very hurt. I don’t think I’ve ever been treated so shabbily, and by someone I used to call a friend. I really felt—’

‘Stop it—stop it now!’ In the bright sunlit room at 7 Campden Grove, Dolly started as Lady Gwendolyn kicked a small foot free and shouted, ‘You’ll take my toe off if you’re not careful, silly girl.’

Dolly noticed with contrition the tiny, white triangle where the old woman’s pinky toenail had been. It was thoughts of Vivien that had done it. Dolly had gone much harder and faster with the file than she ought to have. ‘I’m so sorry, Lady Gwendolyn,’ she said. ‘I’ll be more gentle—’

‘I’ve had enough of that. Fetch me my sweets, Dorothy. I passed a bilious night—wretched ration recipes—veal knuckle with stewed red cabbage for dinner; little wonder I tossed and turned and dreamed of ghastly things.’

Dolly did what she was told, waiting patiently as the old woman sorted through the bag to find the largest bull’s eye.

Mortification had passed quickly through indignity and shame to arrive at full-blown anger. Why, Vivien and Henry Jenkins had all but called her a thief and a liar, when all she’d wanted was to return Vivien’s precious necklace. The irony was almost too great to bear, that Vivien—she who was sneaking about behind her husband’s back, telling lies to everyone who cared about her, entreating those who didn’t not to give away her secrets—should be the one to cast her cold darkeyed judgement on Dolly; the very person who’d leapt to her defence time and again when others spoke ill of her.

Well—Dolly frowned determinedly as she sheathed the nail file and tidied up the dressing-table top—not any more. Dolly had made a plan. She hadn’t spoken to Lady Gwendolyn, not yet, but when the old woman learned what had happened—that her young friend had been betrayed, just as she had—Dolly was sure she’d give her blessing. They were going to throw a huge party when the war ended, a stupendous affair, a grand masquerade with costumes and lanterns and fire-eaters. All the most fabulous people would come, and there’d be photographs in The Lady, and it would be talked about for years to come. Dolly could just picture the guests arriving in Campden Grove, dressed to the nines and parading right past number 25 where Vivien Jenkins sat watching from the window, uninvited.

In the meantime, she was doing her best to shun the pair of them. There were some people, Dolly was learning, whom it was better not to know. Henry Jenkins wasn’t difficult to avoid—Dolly didn’t see much of him at the best of times; and she’d managed to keep clear of Vivien by withdrawing from the WVS. It had been a relief, actually—in one fell swoop she’d freed herself from Mrs Waddingham’s jurisdiction and gained the time to devote herself more fully to keeping Lady Gwendolyn happy. Just as well, too, as things turned out. The other morning, at an hour when ordinarily she’d have been off working at the canteen, Dolly had been massaging Lady Gwendolyn’s cramping legs when the doorbell rang downstairs. The old woman had rolled her wrist towards the window and told Dolly to take a peek and see who’d come to bother them this time.

Dolly had been worried at first it would be Jimmy—he’d called a few times now, during the day thank God when no one else was home and she’d been able to avoid a scene—but it hadn’t been him. As Dolly peered through Lady Gwendolyn’s window, the glass pane crisscrossed with tape against bomb blasts, she’d seen Vivien Jenkins below, glancing over her shoulder as though it was beneath her to be calling at number 7 and she was embarrassed even to be seen on the doorstep. Dolly’s skin had flushed hot because she knew, instantly, why Vivien had come—it was just the sort of petty unkindness Dolly was coming to expect from her—she planned to report to Lady Gwendolyn the thieving habits of her ‘servant’. Dolly could just picture Vivien, posed sleekly on the dusty chintz armchair by the old woman’s bedside, crossing her long slender legs, and leaning forward in a conspiratorial way to deplore the quality of servants these days, ‘It’s so difficult to find somebody trustworthy, isn’t it Lady Gwendolyn? Why, we’ve had our own spot of bother lately …’

As Dolly had watched Vivien on the doorstep, still checking the street behind her, the grande dame had barked from her bed: ‘Well, Dorothy—I’m not going to live forever. Who is it?’ Dolly had suppressed the tremor of panic and reported, as blithely as she could, that it was just a mean-looking woman collecting clothes for charity. When Lady Gwendolyn gave a snort and said, ‘Don’t let her in! She’s not getting her grubby fingers on my dressing room,’ Dolly had been only too happy to comply.

Thwump. Dolly jumped. Quite without realising it, she’d gravitated to the window and had been gazing down blankly at number 25. Thwump, thwump. She turned to see Lady Gwendolyn staring at her. The old woman’s cheeks were puffed out full to accommodate the enormous bull’s eye and she was dashing her cane across the mattress to gain attention.

‘Yes, Lady Gwendolyn?’

The old lady wrapped her arms across her body and mimed freezing.

‘You’re a little cold?’

Nod, nod.

Dolly disguised her sigh with an acquiescent smile—she’d only just removed the covers after complaints of over-heating—and went to the bedside. ‘Let’s see if we can’t fix you up then, shall we?’

Lady Gwendolyn closed her eyes and Dolly started drawing up the blankets, but the task was easier said than done. The old woman’s twisting and turning with the cane had made a mess of the bedclothes and the blanket was caught, pinned beneath her other leg. Dolly scooted round to the far side of the bed and tugged as hard as she could to bring it loose.

Later, she would look back and blame the dust for what happened next. At the time, though, she was far too busy heaving and hauling to notice. Finally, the blanket came free and Dolly shook it, dragging it as high as she could to tuck the top beneath the old woman’s chin. It was while she was folding over the hemmed edge that Dolly sneezed with unusually dramatic force. Ahh-choooooo!

The shock gave Lady Gwendolyn a jolt and her eyes flew wide open. Dolly excused herself, rubbing her tickling nose. She blinked to clear her eyes and through the glaze noticed that the grande dame had started flailing her arms; her hands were flapping like a pair of frightened birds.

‘Lady Gwendolyn?’ she said, leaning closer. The old woman’s face had turned beetroot red. ‘Dear Lady Gwendolyn, what is it?’

A rasping sound came from Lady Gwendolyn’s throat and her skin darkened to aubergine. She was gesturing wildly now towards her throat. Something was stopping her from speaking—

The bull’s eye, Dolly realised with a gasp; it was stuck like a plug in the old woman’s throat. Dolly didn’t know what to do. She was frantic. Without thinking, she thrust her fingers into Lady Gwendolyn’s mouth, trying to fish the sweet out.

She couldn’t reach.

Dolly panicked. Perhaps if she pounded the old lady’s back, or squeezed her round the middle?

She attempted both, her heart racing, her pulse hammering in her ears. She tried to lift Lady Gwendolyn, but she was so heavy, her silk coverall so slippery—‘It’s all right,’ Dolly heard herself saying as she fought to keep her grip. ‘It’s going to be all right.’

Over and over she said it, heaving with all her might as Lady Gwendolyn struggled and flailed in her arms: ‘It’s all right, it’s going to be all right, everything’s all right.’

Until finally Dolly ran out of breath and stopped speaking and when she did, realised that her companion had grown heavier, that she was no longer writhing or gasping for air, that everything was unnaturally still.

Then all was quiet in the stately bedroom but for Dolly’s breaths, and the eerie creaking of the bed as she eased herself from beneath her dead mistress and let the still-warm body sink back into its familiar position.


The doctor, when he arrived, stood at the end of the bed and decreed it ‘a clear case of natural extinguishment’. He looked to Dolly, who was holding Lady Gwendolyn’s cold hand, wiping her eyes with a handkerchief, and added, ‘She’d always had a weakness of the heart. Scarlet fever as a girl.’

Dolly contemplated Lady Gwendolyn’s face, especially stern in death, and nodded. She hadn’t mentioned either the bull’s eye or the sneeze; there hadn’t seemed any point. It didn’t change things, not now, and she would’ve sounded a fool jabbering on about sweets and dust. The bull’s eye had dissolved, anyway, in the time it took the doctor to make his way through streets ripped up by last night’s raids.

‘There, there, dear girl,’ the doctor said, patting Dolly’s hand. ‘I know you were fond of her. And she of you, too, might I add.’ And then he returned his hat to his head, collected his bag, and said he’d leave the name of the Caldicott family’s preferred funeral people on the table downstairs.

Lady Gwendolyn’s last will and testament was read in the library at number 7 Campden Grove on the twenty-ninth day of January 1941. Strictly speaking, it needn’t have been read at all, not publicly; a discreet letter to each person named therein was the solicitor Mr Pember- ly’s preference (he suffered terribly with stage fright) but Lady Gwendolyn, with an instinct for drama, had insisted. It didn’t surprise Dolly, who, as one of the beneficiaries, was invited to attend the reading. The old woman’s hatred for her only nephew was no secret, and what better way to punish him from beyond the grave than to withhold his expected inheritance and have him sit through the public shame of seeing the whole lot pass to someone else.

Dolly dressed carefully, just as Lady Gwendolyn would have wanted her to, eager to look the part of the worthy heiress, without seeming to be trying too hard.

She was nervous as she waited for Mr Pemberly to get on with it. The poor man was stuttering and stammering his way through the preliminary articles, his birthmark reddening as he reminded those assembled (Dolly and Lord Wolsey) that his client’s wishes, having been ratified by himself, an impartial and qualified solicitor at law, were final and binding. Lady Gwendolyn’s nephew was a great bulldog of a man, and Dolly hoped he was listening carefully to the stilted disclaimers. She couldn’t imagine he was going to be too happy when he realised what his aunt had done.

Dolly was right. Lord Peregrine Wolsey was incensed to the point of apoplexy when the will was finally read. He was an impatient gentleman at the best of times and had started steaming from the ears long before Mr Pemberly even finished his pre-amble. Dolly could hear him huffing and puffing at each new sentence that didn’t begin, ‘I give and bequeath to my nephew, Peregrine Wolsey …’ At length though, the solicitor drew breath, took out a handkerchief to mop his damp brow, and moved on to the business of dispensing his client’s largesse. ‘I, Gwendolyn Caldicott, revoking all other wills and testaments by me heretofore made, give and bequeath to the wife of my nephew, Peregrine Wolsey, the bulk of my wardrobe, and to my nephew himself, the contents of my late father’s dressing room.’

‘What?’ the fellow roared so suddenly he spat out his cigar stub, ‘What the bloody hell is the meaning of this?’

‘Please, Lord Wolsey,’ Mr Pemberly jabbered, his birthmark darkening further to an angry shade of purple, ‘I’d ask you to p-p-please sit quietly a m-m-moment longer while I f-f-f-finish.’

‘Why, I’ll sue you, you grubby worm. I know it was you, get-ting in my aunt’s ear—’

‘Lord Wolsey, p-p-please, I beg you.’

Mr Pemberly continued his reading, encouraged by a kindly head bob from Dolly. ‘I give and bequeath the residue and remainder of my property and estate, real, personal and mixed, including my dwelling at number 7 Campden Grove, London, with the exception of the few items named hereafter, to the Kensington Animal Shelter, a representative of which was unable to attend today …’ Which is about the point that Dolly stopped hearing anything but the deafening ring of betrayal’s bells in her ears.


Lady Gwendolyn had, of course, left a provision for ‘my young companion, Dorothy Smitham’, but Dolly was in too much shocked distress to listen when it was read. Only later that night in the privacy of her own bedroom, as she pored over the letter Mr Pemberly had put into her shaking hands while he dodged threats from Lord Wolsey, did she realise her inheritance comprised a small selection of coats from the dressing room upstairs. Dolly recognised the listed items at once. With the exception of a rather tatty white fur, she’d given all of them away already, in the hat-box loads she’d donated so joyously to the WVS clothes drive organised by Vivien Jenkins.

Dolly was livid. She seethed and burned and spat. After all she’d done for the old woman, the numerous indignities she’d had to bear— those toenails and the ear-cleaning sessions, the regular sprays of venom she’d endured. She hadn’t suffered them gladly, Dolly never would have tried to argue that, but she’d suffered them nonetheless, and not for nothing. She’d given up everything for Lady Gwendolyn; she’d thought they were like family; she’d been led to believe a great inheritance awaited her, by Mr Pemberly most recently, but also by Lady Gwendolyn herself. Dolly couldn’t understand what could possibly have happened to make her change her mind.

Unless—. The answer came like the fall of an axe, swift and absolute. Dolly drew breath. Her hands began to tremble and the solicitor’s letter dropped to the floor. But of course, it all made perfect sense. Vivien Jenkins, that spiteful woman, had come to visit Lady Gwendolyn after all; it was the only explanation. She must have sat by her window, biding her time and watching for an opportunity, one of the rare instances over the past fortnight when Dolly had been left no choice but to leave the house on an errand. Vivien had waited, and then she’d pounced; sat with Lady Gwendolyn, filling the old woman’s head with wicked lies about Dolly, she who’d never had anything but the grande dame’s best interests at heart.


The Kensington Animal Shelter’s first act as owner of 7 Camp-den Grove was to contact the War Office and insist that alternative arrangements be made for the office girls who were currently being lodged in the house. The dwelling was to be converted immediately for use as an animal hospital and rescue centre. The decree didn’t worry Kitty and Louisa, both of whom were married to respective RAF pilots within days of one another in early February; the other two girls remained as indistinguishable in death as they had been in life, hit by a bomb as they skipped together arm in arm on their way to a dance in Lambeth on January 30th.

Which just left Dolly. It wasn’t easy to find a room in London, not for someone who’d become accustomed to the finer things in life, and Dolly looked at three squalid arrangements before returning to the Notting Hill boarding house she’d lived in years before, back in her shop-girl days when Campden Grove was just a name on a map, and not the repository for her life’s great dreams and disappointments. Mrs White, the widowed owner of 24 Rillington Place, was delighted to see Dolly again (though ‘see’ was rather too optimistic a description, the old biddy was blind as a bat without her glasses), and further delighted to report that Dolly’s old room was still available—just as soon as she handed over her bond and ration book, of course.

Little wonder the room was still free. There were few people, Dolly was sure, even in wartime London, who were desperate enough for somewhere to live that they’d hand over good money to sleep within its walls. It was more an afterthought, really, rather than a room: what was left when a bedroom in the original house had been subdivided into two unequal halves. The window had gone with the other portion, leaving a very small, very dark, closet-like area on Dolly’s side of the plaster wall. There was space for a narrow bed, a side table, a tiny sink, and not much besides. Still, lack of light and ventilation kept the price low and Dolly didn’t have a lot to accommodate—everything she owned was in the suitcase she’d carried with her when she danced out of her parents’ house, three years before.

One of the first things she’d done upon arriving was to arrange her two books, The Reluctant Muse and Dorothy Smitham’s Book of Ideas, on the single shelf above the sink. There was part of her that never wanted to see the Jenkins book again, but she’d so few possessions left, and Dolly so loved special things, that she couldn’t bear to be rid of it. Not yet. She turned the book around instead so the spine was against the wall. The display was still rather sad, so Dolly added the Leica camera Jimmy had given her one birthday. Photography hadn’t been her caper—it required too much stillness and waiting for Dolly—but the room was so stark and empty she’d have proudly flaunted the commode if she’d owned one. At last, she took the fur coat she’d inherited, put it on a hanger and slipped it over the hook on the back of the door: all the better to see it no matter where she happened to be standing in the tiny room. That old white coat had become an emblem, of sorts, for every one of Dolly’s dreams that had been reduced to tatters. She stared at it, and she seethed, and she directed all the fury she felt for Vivien Jenkins deep into the coat’s matted fur.

Dolly took a job in a nearby munitions factory because Mrs White wouldn’t have hesitated to throw her out if she didn’t make her weekly payments, and because it was the sort of work that could be done without devoting more than a single per cent of one’s attention. Which left the rest of Dolly’s mind free to dwell on the ills done to her. She would come home at night, force down some of Mrs White’s corned- beef hash, and then leave the other girls to laugh together about their boyfriends and shout at Lord Haw-Haw on the wireless, while she took to her narrow bed, smoking her way through her last packets of cigarettes and thinking about everything she’d lost: her family and Lady Gwendolyn and Jimmy … She thought, too, about the way Vivien had said, ‘I don’t know this woman’—her mind kept coming back to that; and she saw Henry Jenkins pointing her to the door; and she felt again the hot and cold waves of shame and anger coursing through her body.

So it went, day after day the same, until one night in the middle of February, things happened differently. Most of the day had been like any other; Dolly had worked a double shift at the factory and then stopped to buy dinner at the nearby British Restaurant because she simply couldn’t stomach another night of Mrs White’s foul cooking.

She sat there at her seat in the corner until the place closed, watching all the other diners from behind her cigarette, especially the couples as they stole kisses across the tabletops and laughed together as if the world were a good place; Dolly could vaguely remember feeling that way herself, being full of laughter and happiness and hope.

On the way home, taking a short cut down a narrow lane as bombers sounded in the distance, Dolly tripped in the black-out—she’d left her torch at Campden Grove when she’d had to leave (Vivien’s fault)— and she fell down deep inside a bomb crater. Dolly’s ankle was twisted and her knee bled through the new ladder in her best stockings, but it was her pride that took the greatest battering. She had to limp the whole way back to Mrs White’s boarding house (Dolly refused to call it ‘home’—it wasn’t her home, that had been stolen from her—Vivi- en’s fault) in the cold and the dark, and by the time she arrived the door had already been locked and bolted. Curfew was something Mrs White took very seriously: not to keep Hitler out (though she held grave fears that 24 Rillington Place was top of his invasion force’s list), rather to make an example of the dirty stop-outs among her tenants. Dolly clenched her fists and limped down the side alley. Her knee was stinging by now, and she winced as she scaled the wall, using the old iron bolt as a foothold. The blackout made it darker than normal and there was no moon to speak of, but somehow she managed to clamber through the mess of the back garden to reach the storeroom window with the weak latch. As carefully as she could, Dolly jimmied it with her shoulder until the lock budged and she could tap it upwards and clamber through.

The hallway smelled of stale grease and old cheap meats and Dolly held her breath as she climbed the grubby stairs. When she reached the first floor, she noticed a thin strip of light beneath the door to Mrs White’s rooms. No one was quite sure what went on behind that door, only that it was a rare night Mrs White’s light was out before the last of the girls turned in. She could be communing with the dead or sending covert radio messages to the Germans for all Dolly knew, and frankly she didn’t care. So long as it kept the landlady occupied while her truant tenants sneaked home to roost, everyone got along fine. Dolly continued along the corridor, taking extra care to avoid the squeaky floorboards, opened her bedroom door and sealed herself safely inside.

Only then, with her back pressed hard against the door, did Dolly finally surrender herself to the throbbing pain that had built inside her chest all night. Without even dropping her handbag to the floor, she began to cry as freely as a child; hot spurting tears of shame and pain and anger. She looked down at her filthy clothing, her messed-up knee, the blood that had mixed with dirt and spread across everything; she blinked through her scalding tears to take in the ghastly, bare little room, the bedspread with holes in it, the sink stained brown around the plughole; and she realised with crashing certainty the absence of anything in her life that was good or precious or true. She knew, too, that it was all Vivien Jenkins’s fault—all of it: the loss of Jimmy, Dolly’s destitution, her tedious job in the factory. Even the mishap to- night—her torn-up knee and damaged stockings, being locked out of the boarding house, having to suffer the insult of breaking in to a place where she paid good money to stay—would never have happened if Dolly hadn’t laid eyes on Vivien, if she hadn’t volunteered to take that necklace back, if she hadn’t tried to be such a good friend to so unworthy a woman.

Dolly’s tearful gaze alit then on the shelf containing her Book of Ideas. She saw the book’s spine and grief swelled inside her to the point of exploding. Dolly pounced on the book. She sat cross-legged on the floor with it, fingers stumbling through the pages to arrive at the segment, a third of the way in, where she’d so lovingly collected and glued the Society photographs of Vivien Jenkins. They were pictures she’d once pored over, memorising and aspiring to every detail. She couldn’t believe how stupid she’d been, how badly misled.

With all the might she could find, Dolly tore those pages from the book. Ripping like a wild cat, she turned that woman’s image into the smallest shreds possible; every drop of rage was funnelled into the task. That stiff secretive way Vivien Jenkins regarded the camera—rip—nev- er smiling as broadly as she might—rip—see how she felt being treated like a piece of rubbish—rip.

Dolly was poised to shred further—she’d have gladly gone on all night—when something caught her eye. She froze, peering closer at the scrap in her hands, breathing heavily—yes, there it was.

In one of the photographs, the locket had slipped from beneath Vivien’s blouse and was clearly visible, sitting crookedly atop her silk ruffle. Dolly touched the spot with her fingertip and gasped as she felt the scald of the day she’d returned the locket.

Dropping the photograph fragment on the ground beside her, Dolly leaned her head back against the mattress and closed her eyes.

Her head was spinning. Her knee ached. She was spent.

Eyes still closed, she dug out her packet of cigarettes and lit one, smoking quietly.

It was still so fresh. Dolly saw the whole thing in her mind—the unexpectedness of being admitted by Henry Jenkins, the questions he’d asked her, his obvious suspicions about his wife’s whereabouts.

What might have happened, she wondered, if they’d been given a little longer together? It had been on the tip of her tongue to correct him that day, to explain about the shifts at the canteen. What if she had? What if she’d been allowed the chance to say, ‘Why no, Mr Jenkins, I’m afraid that’s not possible. I’m not sure what she tells you, but Vivien doesn’t report for duty at the canteen more than, oh, once a week.’

But Dolly hadn’t said it, had she, none of it. She’d wasted the one opportunity she’d had to let Henry Jenkins know he wasn’t imagining things; that his wife was indeed rather more engaged in other affairs than he’d have liked. She’d thrown away her only chance to put Vivien Jenkins right in the middle of a splendid mess of her own making. For she couldn’t very well tell him now, could she? Henry Jenkins wasn’t likely to give Dolly the time of day, not now that—thanks to Vivien— he thought her a thieving servant, not now that her circumstances were so reduced, and certainly not without any proof.

It was hopeless—Dolly let out a long deflating stream of smoke. Unless she happened to glimpse Vivien in a clinch with a man who wasn’t her husband, unless she then happened to procure a photograph of the pair of them together, an image that confirmed all of Henry’s fears, it was useless. And Dolly didn’t have time to hide in dark alleyways, talk her way into strange hospitals, and somehow be watching at the very right moment in the very right place. Perhaps if she knew where and when Vivien would be with her doctor, but what were the chances of— Dolly gasped and sat bolt upright. It was so simple she could have laughed. She did laugh. All this time she’d been stewing over how unfair it all was, wishing there were some way to put things right, and the perfect opportunity had been staring her in the face. Vivien Jenkins would get just what she deserved and, if everything played out, Dolly might just get a fresh start with Jimmy too.

Назад: Seventeen
Дальше: Nineteen