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The Landlady

Based on a story by Roald Dahl

 

O

nce upon a time there was a young man called Billy Weaver. His job was not very interesting but he enjoyed it. He was a travelling salesman. At the start of this story he was only seventeen years old and had not been in his job for very long. He was keen to be successful at his job and to save enough money to buy himself a nice car. On this particular day, he was dressed in his suit (his only suit) and had just arrived in a small town on the south coast of England when our story begins.

It was a really cold day and Billy was shivering .His first job when he got to the town of Seaport was to find himself a place to stay for the night. He had enough money to stay at a local hotel and he knew that there he would be able to chat to a few people, have a few laughs and maybe play a game of darts. However he was also quite keen to go to bed early so that he could make a good impression the next day. He spotted a man selling newspapers.                       

“Excuse me’ he said ‘is there a fairly cheap hotel not too far away from here?”

“Try the Bell and Dragon,” the man answered, pointing down the road. “They might have room for you. It’s about twenty minutes walk, on the left after the petrol station.”

Billy thanked him, picked up his suitcase and went on his way. He had never been in this town before and didn’t know anyone who lived there. His boss Mr. Greenslade had told him “Find a place to stay, have a good night’s sleep and then make your way to report to Head Office as soon as you can the next morning.”

Billy made his way along the street. There were no shops at all, just a row of houses that looked identical. They had porches and pillars and four or five steps going up to the front doors. It was clear that once they had been very smart houses, but now some of them needed a coat of paint and some of the windows needed fixing. Suddenly, in a window that was brightly lit, Billy caught sight of a sign. It was propped up near the top of a small window. It said  ‘BED AND BREAKFAST’ Just under the sign there was a vase of pretty flowers. It looked very cosy.

He stopped walking. He moved a bit closer. Green curtains of some soft material were hanging down at each side of the window. The flowers looked lovely against them. He went right up to the window and pressed his face against the glass. He could see inside. The furniture was pleasant, there was a bright warm fire burning and just in front of it a small dog was sleeping.

 There was a large sofa, two big armchairs and in a corner next to the piano he could see a parrot on a perch. 

 It looked like a very nice house to stay in, but maybe it would be very expensive. He thought he’d move on to the hotel he’d heard about. He couldn’t decide what to do. In the meantime he was getting colder and colder. He decided to walk on and look at the Hotel. If it looked too noisy he would come back later. He turned to go. Now a strange thing happened to him. He was on the point of stepping back and turning away when all at once his eye was caught again by the sign in the window. It said ‘BED AND BREAFAST’, but he words seemed to be pulling him towards them in a very strange way. They were like a large black eye staring at him and forcing him to stay where he was. Before he knew what was happening he found himself climbing up the steps and pressing the doorbell.

He heard the echo of the bell ringing in a room far away at the back of the house. Yet even before he had taken his finger off he button the door opened. Normally when you ring a bell you have at least half a minute to wait before the door opens, but this woman appeared so quickly that it made him jump! She was about 45 or 50 years old and as soon as she saw him, she gave him a warm welcoming smile. 

‘Please come in” she said pleasantly “ The room is all ready for you”

“I saw the notice in the window,” he said, holding himself back. I was wondering about the room. I was on my way to ‘The Bell and Dragon’ the notice on your window just caught my eye.”

‘My dear boy’ she said ‘Why don’t you just come in out of the cold?’

‘How much do you charge?’

‘Ten dirhams a night’

It was fantastically cheap. It was almost nothing. He could hardly believe his ears.

‘If that is too much, then perhaps I can reduce it a tiny bit. Harees is very expensive at the moment, maybe if you don’t want harees I can charge you eight dirhams.’

‘Ten dirhams is fine. I should very much like to stay here.”

“I knew you would. Please come in”

She looked so nice, exactly like the mother of your best friend at school. The one who made the lovely biscuits and didn’t mind if you made a mess on the kitchen floor. Billy went inside. He took off his hat and his coat.

“Let me help you” she said.

There were no other hats or coats in the hallway. There were no umbrellas, no walking sticks in fact no sign of anyone else at all. 

“We have it all to ourselves’ she said, smiling at him over her shoulder as they went upstairs. ‘You see it isn’t very often that I have the pleasure of sharing my little nest with a visitor.’

Billy told himself that the old lady was slightly mad. But at ten dirhams a night he couldn’t see anything wrong.

“I’m sure you must have a lot of people who want to stay here’ he said politely.

“Yes, that is true. But I am very, very choosy, in fact very particular indeed about my visitors”

“Ah yes.”

“But everything is always ready, just in case the right young man comes along. It is such a pleasure when I open the door and see someone who is exactly right” She was half way up the stairs in front of Billy. She paused and turned, half turning her head to see him better “Just like you” she added and her blue eyes travelled right along his body from his head to his toes and back again.

On the first floor, she said ‘this floor is mine’

They climbed up a second flight of stairs “This one is yours. Here is your room. I do hope you will like it. The morning sun comes in through the window”

Billy looked at the room. It was very comfortable and yet strangely he noticed that the cover had already been turned down on the bed, as though he was expected. She saw him looking a bit confused      

“I’ve put a hot water bottle in your bed. It’s such a comfort to have a hot water bottle, don’t you think Mr. Perkins? You can light the gas fire if you get a bit chilly.”

“It’s Mr. Weaver actually” said Billy. “ You are very kind. Thank you very much. Don’t worry about me I’ll be fine.”

He put his suitcase on a chair so that he could get his clothes out.

“I’m so glad you appeared” she said, looking right into his face with a serious expression “I was beginning to get worried. What about supper my dear? You must be hungry. Did you manage to get anything to eat before you came here?”

“I’m not at all hungry” he replied. I’ll just get into bed as soon as possible, because I have a very important day ahead of me tomorrow and I have to get up very early.”

“That’s fine with me, but before you sleep could I ask you to drop down to sign the visitors book? Legally I have to make sure that all visitors sign it. I’m sure it isn’t a problem for you”

As she went downstairs Billy thought to himself that she was probably a little dotty, but harmless enough and he was grateful for the cheapness of the room. Maybe she just liked the company? Maybe she had lost a son in the war? Maybe the son had looked like him? Who knew? Did it really matter?

So a few minutes later, after unpacking his suitcase and washing his hands, he went downstairs to the living room on the ground floor. His landlady wasn’t there, but the fire was glowing and the little dog was still sleeping in front of the fire. The room was very warm and cosy

“What a lucky guy I am “ he thought to himself. This is a wonderful place and I will have money to spare when I get back home.”

He found the guest book lying on the piano so he took out his pen and wrote his name and address. The book was leather and bound in red with gold edges. He wrote his name carefully in his best writing. As he wrote he noticed the names written before his

 

Christopher Mulholland            231 Cathedral Close, Cardiff

 

Gregory W. Temple       27 Sycamore Road, Bristol 

 

 

“That’s funny,” he thought suddenly. Where had he heard the name ‘Mulholland’ before? Maybe it had been the name of an old school friend? As a matter of fact, when he looked again it seemed as though both names rang a bell somewhere. Maybe they had been boyfriends of his sister? Maybe he had known them at primary school? Somehow he doubted that this was true. “Gregory Temple…Christopher Mulholland?” he found himself saying aloud. “Where have I heard those names before?”

“Such charming boys” said a voice behind him. He turned and saw his landlady, holding a large silver tray in her hands.

“Their names sound familiar, as though I’ve read about them in the newspapers

“They do? How interesting.”

Billy looked at the entries in the visitors’ book again. “Look” he said Christopher Mulholland was here more than three years ago and Gregory Temple was two years before that.”
”My word, how time flies. Yet they were both such handsome young men I remember them so clearly. They were both sent to me you know.”

Billy was thinking hard “It’s strange you know. I have the impression that they were both names I read in a newspaper and that something mysterious happened to both of them. Somehow the names are both connected in my memory”

“ How amusing my dear, but come over here and sit beside me on the sofa. I’ll give you a nice cup of tea and a biscuit before you go to bed.”

“You don’t need to do all this for me” said Billy, still deep in thought. He stood by the piano, watching her tiny hands moving backwards and forwards around the teacups and the biscuits. The hands were small and white, but the nails were deep red.

“I’m almost positive I saw those names in the newspapers” Billy said “I’ll think of it in a minute, I know I will”

It is so annoying when you can half remember something, but can’t put the finishing touches to it.

“Wait a minute” he suddenly cried “Christopher Mulholland. Wasn’t he the famous Cambridge scholar who disappeared while he was on a walking holiday?”
No, he was from Oxford, not Cambridge. Such a lovely young man. Why don’t you sit down and enjoy your tea? It’s all ready for you.”
He could feel her eyes resting on him and she patted the empty place next to her on the sofa in a way he couldn’t refuse. He picked dup the teacup and began to sip his tea.

“Mr. Mulholland loved his tea” she said after a long pause “ I never knew anyone drink as much tea as he did!”

“I suppose it is a long time since he left” said Billy, trying to think of something sensible to say.

“Left…oh he never left. He’s still here and Mr. Temple is also still here. They’re both on the third floor, both of them together.”

Billy stared at his landlady; he put down his cup and moved to one side of the sofa. She leant across and patted his knee.

“How old are you my dear?”  

“Seventeen”

“Oh it’s the perfect age Mr. Mulholland was seventeen. I think he was a bit shorter than you, but his teeth were not so white. You have the most perfect teeth”
”They’re not as good as they look” said Billy “They have a lot of fillings at the back”
”Mr. Temple of course was a bit older” she said, ignoring him “ He was actually twenty eight, though he looked a lot younger. I never would have guessed his age. There wasn’t a single mark of age on his body”

“A what?” said Billy

“There wasn’t a mark on his body. His skin was just like a baby’s”

There was a pause, by now Billy was beginning to feel very uncomfortable. He picked up his cup and took another sip of tea. He waited for he to say something else, but she seemed to want to be silent. He waited for her to speak. There was silence.

 

 

 
“The parrot” he said at last “You know, it had me completely fooled the first time I saw it through the window. I really thought it was alive”
”Alas no longer”
”It’s very clever the way it has been done. It doesn’t look as though it is dead at all. Who did it?”

“I did”

“YOU did?”

Of course” she said. “And have you met my little Basil as well?” She nodded towards the small dog curled up by the fire. Billy looked at it and suddenly realized it wasn’t sleeping at all. He put out a hand and touched the top of its back. The back was as hard as iron. What looked like fur was as stiff as a brush. When he pushed the hair to one side he could see the skin, grey and dry and perfectly preserved. 

“Goodness me” he said “How fascinating. It must be very difficult to do a thing like that.”

“Not at all” she said “I stuff all my little pets myself when they pass away. Will you have another cup of tea?”

“No thank you” said Billy. He didn’t care too much for the taste of the tea. It was bitter, rather like the taste of almonds.

“You did sign the book, didn’t you?”

“Oh..Yes”

“That’s good, because I check regularly. If I can come down here and remember your name, it is a good thing. I so often forget names like Mr. Mulholland. I have to remind myself every day. So Mr.. Mr.…Mr.….”

“Mr. Temple” said Billy “Excuse me asking, but haven’t there been any other guests in the last three years?”

She held her teacup up high against her cheek, looked at him from the corner of her eyes, smiled sweetly and replied

“No, my dear, only you.”     

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

VOCABULARY SHEET

 

Cosy

Warm and comfortable

Fantastically

Amazingly, unbelievably

Mess

Messy is the opposite of tidy

Nest

A bird’s home!

Choosy

A choosy person has very high standards and is careful when they choose something.

Confused

The way you feel when you don’t understand what is happening.

Hot water bottle

A rubber bottle full of hot water that English people put in their beds so they don’t get cold feet!

Supper

Light meal some people eat before they go to bed.

Guest book

Book kept in some hotels and private houses for visitors to sign.

Annoying

Something that makes you a bit angry.

Fillings

What the dentist puts in your teeth to fill up a cavity (hole).

To stuff

A way of preserving animals so that they still look real.