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on a story by Roald Dahl
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.
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
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.
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.
was a large sofa, two big armchairs and in a corner next to the piano he could
see a parrot on a perch.
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.
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.”
boy’ she said ‘Why don’t you just come in out of the cold?’
‘How much do
‘Ten dirhams a
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
“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.’
himself that the old lady was slightly mad. But at ten dirhams a night he
couldn’t see anything wrong.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
”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.”
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.”
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.
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
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.
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.
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?”
“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”
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.
”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?”
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.
me” he said “How fascinating. It must be very difficult to do a thing like
“Not at all”
she said “I stuff all my little pets myself
when they pass away. Will you have another cup of tea?”
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.
did sign the book, didn’t you?”
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.….”
Temple” said Billy “Excuse me asking, but haven’t there been any other
guests in the last three years?”
held her teacup up high against her cheek, looked at him from the corner of her
eyes, smiled sweetly and replied
my dear, only you.”
is the opposite of tidy
choosy person has very high standards and is careful when they choose
way you feel when you don’t understand what is happening.
rubber bottle full of hot water that English people put in their beds so
they don’t get cold feet!
meal some people eat before they go to bed.
kept in some hotels and private houses for visitors to sign.
that makes you a bit angry.
the dentist puts in your teeth to fill up a cavity (hole).
way of preserving animals so that they still look real.