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Meeting Humphrey

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Gillian Culver tossed and turned restlessly because it was a very warm night. Suddenly her bed covers slipped off the bed, and their abrupt disappearance awoke her. She sat up in bed with a smile, realising that, once again, the impossible had happened. She was no longer Gillian Culver, secretary at St Mildred's; she had become, temporarily at least, Arminel Chudleigh. She lay down as quickly as she had sat up because the headache and feelings of nausea that accompanied this strange transformation gripped her.

Taking a deep breath, she rolled out of bed and felt her way across the dark room, relieved that Arminel was currently at Culver's Hold, or Chudleigh Hold as it was called in Arminel’s world. Arminel and Gillian both used the same bedroom, so it was easy enough for Gill to cross the room and creep out into the darkened passageway. She found her way to the kitchen without difficulty, and once there she made herself a cup of tea and some toast. She had long ago discovered that these two simple things invariably made her feel better.

Sitting at the table, Gill wondered what was going on in Arminel’s life at that particular moment. Gill herself was twenty-two years old, but from her previous experiences, Arminel could be anything between two years older or two years younger than Gill. There was no way of knowing, though, until she met up with some of the people in Arminel’s life. She would need to question them carefully, as it was difficult to ask about things that Arminel ought to know, and then, hopefully, she would be able to enjoy her time in Arminel’s world.

After her tea and toast, Gill discovered that it was six o'clock, so it was hardly worth going back to bed. She went up to Arminel’s room, and looked through the wardrobe for something to wear. The weather seemed autumnal, so she picked out a pair of slacks and a jumper, then she did her hair in Arminel’s usual hairstyle - two long plaits wrapped around her head. She put on stout shoes, deciding to go for a walk through the garden before breakfast, and then she set off downstairs again.

Outside there was a nip in the air, but it was a fine morning, so Gillian walked briskly through the shrubbery and along the path to the old stables. That had been a favourite hidie-hole of hers when she was much younger, so she was always pleased to discover that this ancient building had not been pulled down. Many a happy hour had she passed there, reading and eating apples and thinking. She might not want to clamber up there any more, but it was good to know that it was still there should she wish to ascend. She walked up the driveway and then cut across the large lawn, enjoying the familiar views and the fresh air.

By breakfast time, Gill’s cheeks were unusually pink and she was hungry, so she hurried into the dining room, eager both for some of Cook’s delicious kippers and to see which of her siblings would be at home.

“Good morning.” She greeted the young man at the breakfast table warmly. Charles Chudleigh lived at Chudleigh Hold, helping Godfrey with the management of the estate and running things whenever Godfrey was away on business.

“Good morning,” said Charles, looking up from the letter he was reading. “Are you excited?”

“Just a little,” replied Gill cautiously, helping herself to coffee.

“Oh? I thought you were looking forward to your little excursion.”

“I am,” Gill said, inwardly wondering what he was referring to.

“I expect Humphrey will be here soon,” Charles assured her.

Fortunately, Godfrey and Hawk appeared as she spoke, effectively distracting Charles from the surprised look on Gill’s face.

Godfrey helped himself to kedgeree and coffee and sat in his accustomed place at the head of the table. He smiled at his siblings before disappearing behind the newspaper which was already next to his plate. Hawk, barely more loquacious at that time of day, or indeed at any time of day, had some kippers and took his place next to Gill.

Humphrey was Humphrey Anthony, a friend of Hawk’s. Once when Gill had been thrust into Arminel’s shoes, Humphrey had gone to Brazil with Hawk to rescue Godfrey from the natives who had kidnapped him. On their return, Humphrey and his pal Tom Vinton had come to lunch at Chudleigh Hold, and that was when Gill had met them. Now it seemed that there was to be an excursion, and Humphrey Anthony would be involved.

“Is Tom Vinton coming as well?” asked Gill.

Charles looked as surprised as Gill herself had a moment before. “I hardly think so,” he said, grinning. “I thought you were going to Bath with him.”

Gill looked intently at her kippers to hide the sudden colour that flooded her cheeks. So Arminel was going to go out with Humphrey on her own. Gill wondered what on earth she would do, spending several hours in the company of a man she had hardly met while masquerading as someone he presumably knew quite well. Although she was twenty-two years old, Gill remained somewhat younger in outlook, happy to leave all thoughts of men and marriage far in the future. She had never considered that Arminel might be romantically interested in a man. Mind you, Humphrey was very nice, so perhaps it would not be as difficult as she feared. Maybe it would be like going off for the day with Hawk, which she could easily do and enjoy very much.

Gill ate her kippers with enjoyment, and drank some more coffee, and then Alice came in to announce Humphrey’s arrival. She showed him in, and Hawk greeted him warmly. Even though he greeted the male members of the Chudleigh family, Humphrey had eyes only for Gillian.

“Hello,” she said, hoping that she sounded natural. “Sit down and have some coffee.”

“Thank you,” said Humphrey, doing as she suggested. Soon he was drawn into a conversation with Godfrey about the bulls being offered for sale in Argentina by both Godfrey himself and by Humphrey‘s uncle, the owner of Fardingales.

Gill finished her breakfast and excused herself so that she could go and get ready. She went slowly up to Arminel’s room and found a jacket to wear. She selected a handbag from Arminel’s closet and checked to see that her hair looked neat. Almost reluctantly she went back to the dining room, where Humphrey was on his feet, evidently eager to be on his way.

“Are you ready?” he asked her with a smile.

“Yes, I am,” she replied with an answering smile.

“Then let's go,” said Humphrey. He bade farewell to Arminel’s brothers, took Gill’s arm, and led her out to his car. He opened the car door for her and very soon they were driving away from Chudleigh Hold. “You look very nice today,” he told her.

“Thank you,” she said, looking out of the side window to hide her discomfort. “So do you,” she added, for want of something better to say.

They headed out onto the road to Bath, and Gill reminded herself that Arminel had only lived in England. She would need to be very careful not to talk about anything to do with Switzerland and her job there. If Arminel liked Humphrey, Gill must do nothing to damage the relationship. She would have to concentrate and mind what she said, so that Humphrey would continue to like Arminel.

They drove up through Somerset, discussing trivialities like the view from the car and the weather as they went. Although she had heard a lot about the Georgian city of Bath, Gill had never been there before, and she hoped that the same was true for Arminel. As they spoke, however, Gill realised that was why Humphrey had arranged to take Arminel to Bath - so that she could visit the beautiful city for the first time.

When they got to Bath, Humphrey found somewhere to park, and then he and Gill set off to visit the Roman Baths. It was a little out of season, so they did not have very long to wait to purchase their tickets. They went on a guided tour, and Gill found it fascinating to hear how the Romans enjoyed not only bathing in but also drinking the restorative waters. Once they had finished their tour, they headed to a delightful little restaurant for lunch, over which they discussed the baths, and then they decided to visit the Abbey afterwards. They would also walk across Pultney Bridge and perhaps even take a boat ride along the river.

As they ate, Gill found herself discreetly studying Humphrey. He was a handsome young man, just four years older than Arminel. He had been described by Hawk as a silent man, but Gill was discovering that this was not always true. He had chatted easily with her both in the car and as they ate their lunch, and she warmed to him. She found herself talking to him with equal ease, and he seemed to listen to what she said and take her seriously.

Once they had looked around the cathedral, they walked towards Pultney Bridge together, and Humphrey drew Gill’s arm through his. Although it felt strange to walk along arm in arm with a man, Gill discovered that it was a pleasant thing to do. They continued to talk easily, looking in the shop windows as they passed, and admiring some of the rather quirky merchandise on offer in the little shops on the bridge.

As the weather continued to be lovely, they headed down to the river and found that they could join a boat trip almost immediately. Humphrey purchased their tickets and very soon he was helping her onto the specially converted longboat. They sat in the bow of the boat, and Humphrey told Gill a little about his own boat, the Susannah. As Gill had read both Fardingales and The Susannah Adventure, she already knew about Humphrey’s adventures with his cousin Anstace Roseveare. She presumed that Arminel would know about them, too, so this was a safe topic of conversation.

When the longboat moved away from the dock, they enjoyed splendid views of the beautiful city’s handsome Georgian buildings and then a short glimpse of the surrounding countryside before it was time to sail back to Bath once more. By the time a decidedly cool breeze sprang up, making Gill shiver and pull her jacket more closely around her, she was enough at ease with Humphrey to merely smile at him as he slid an arm around her shoulders.

As he smiled back, Gill found herself hoping that he and Arminel would fall in love with one another and get married. He was a strong, sensible, reliable man, and he would be able to take good care of nervy Arminel. He certainly seemed to like Arminel, for he had been more than just friendly and courteous towards her. He had looked fondly at her and been very considerate.

Once the tour guide had tied up the longboat, Humphrey climbed ashore and turned back to offer Gill a hand to get off of the boat. She took the large step required to reach solid ground and her look of relief made Humphrey chuckle.

“What?” she demanded, looking up at him and trying not to think about the way he was still holding her hand.

“For someone who grew up around boats, you look very pleased to come ashore,” he told her. “Let's walk the other way along the river,” he added, leading her along the river bank in the opposite direction to that taken by the longboat.

“I was relieved not to trip or fall into the water,” explained Gill as they walked. “In addition to being extremely embarrassing, we are a long way from home and it would be most uncomfortable to sit for so long in wet clothes.”

“That's true,” agreed Humphrey with another laugh. “You're not cold, are you?”

“No, not now,” she assured him.

“This has been so much fun,” Humphrey told her. “Would you like to come out with me again?”

“That would be nice,” said Gill demurely,hoping that Arminel would be happy to spend more time with Humphrey.

“I heard that they are doing Romeo and Juliet at the Theatre Royal in Exeter,” Humphrey said. “If I can get tickets, would you like to go on Saturday evening?”

“I would like that very much,” said Gill, wondering just how she could inform Arminel about everything. Perhaps she could leave a note in Arminel’s diary with the details of the date, so that Arminel would be prepared for Humphrey when he arrived.

“I will call you tomorrow and let you know how I get on,” said Humphrey, sounding pleased. He stopped walking and turned to face Gill. “Perhaps we could have dinner together afterwards,” he suggested, looking down at her.

Gill felt herself blush as he looked at her. It was all very well to enjoy touring historical sites and indulging in easy conversation with a man, but it was quite different to stand so close to him and be looked at in the way Humphrey was looking at her. She wondered just how much time Arminel had spent with Humphrey and whether he had ever kissed her. “That sounds lovely,” she said at length, realising that an answer was required.

Humphrey smiled at her, affection in his eyes. “It does, doesn't it,” he agreed. He kept her hand in his, and they walked on, enjoying the autumnal appearance of the trees and the beautiful stone buildings of the city.

By the time they returned to Humphrey's car, Gill was feeling more at ease with him again. He had talked about his young brother Rodney, who had just returned from Switzerland, where he had had a major operation on his back. Gill managed just in time to stop herself from telling Humphrey that she loved living in the Oberland and working at Welsen, settling instead for hoping that the surgery would prove to be completely successful.

On their way back to Chudleigh Hold, they stopped at a quiet restaurant in Exeter for dinner. Humphrey had booked a table for them, and they were seated near an alcove in which a middle aged man was playing a piano. He played very well, and the gentle music combined with the candlelight made for a delightfully romantic atmosphere. Once they had ordered a delicious sounding fish dish, Humphrey turned the conversation to Gill.

“You said that you have started taking a secretarial course,” he said, evidently referring to a previous conversation with Arminel. “What do you think you will do when you finish?”

Relieved that she would be able to talk sensibly about that sort of career, Gill said, “I'm not sure yet, although I think I would enjoy working in a school. I can imagine that being a lot more interesting than just being one of a crowd of typists in some massive office.”

“I hadn't thought of secretaries working in schools,” said Humphrey. “That does sound more fun.”

“I'll just have to wait and see, though,” said Gill. “I have to finish the course first, and then see what sort of job I can find.”

Humphrey nodded. “I hope you will find something suitable,” he said. “This looks like our dinner,” he added, as the waiter approached their table.

They discovered that the food was excellent, and as they ate, they discussed Humphrey’s job as his uncle’s estate manager. Humphrey had taken a degree in agriculture, and he enjoyed working at Fardingales with his uncle. They also talked about the difficulties of keeping up with a large estate, something which Gill understood owing to Sir Godfrey Culver’s concerns about Culver’s Hold. Finally, Humphrey made a very oblique reference to the amount of paperwork that he had to do, and how it stopped him from working outside as much as he needed to.

After dinner, Humphrey ordered coffee, and they sipped it while listening to the pianist. Finally, it was time to leave, so Humphrey paid the bill and then took Gill’s hand as they went out to the car park to find his car.

The drive from Exeter to Chudleigh Hold took very little time because the roads were so quiet at that time of the evening, and very soon Humphrey was parking outside Arminel’s home. He stopped the car and got out, walking around to help Gill out of the passenger's seat. He held onto her hand even though she was standing at his side, and he smiled down at her.

“Thank you for coming with me today,” he said, his voice soft. “I've had a wonderful time.”

“I should be thanking you,” she told him. “It's been lovely. I really enjoyed seeing the Roman Baths.”

“They were interesting, weren't they,” he agreed. “I'll call you when I have found out about Saturday,” he promised.

“Okay,” agreed Gill, hoping that she didn't sound too off-hand. Before she could say anything more, though, Humphrey had taken her in his arms and was looking down at her, his face suddenly serious.

“I really enjoy your company,” he told her. “I hope we can spend a lot more time together. ”

“That would be nice,” she managed to respond.

Humphrey leant closer; then his mouth came down on Gill’s, and he kissed her very gently. Her cheeks scarlet, Gill kissed him back, wondering whether she had stolen Arminel’s first kiss from her, or whether she and Humphrey had done this before. If they had, would Humphrey realise that he was now kissing a different girl? Beside this concern, her own feelings about being kissed faded into the background, although she knew that they would require examination later.
When Humphrey finally stopped kissing her, he released her and said, “You'd better go in. I'll speak to you soon, Arminel.”

“Goodnight, Humphrey, and thank you,” said Gill, smiling up at him.

“Goodnight,” he responded, and he stood and watched as she opened the door and went inside. He waved to her before getting into his car and driving away, leaving Gill to shut the door and creep past the lighted living room in the hope that her siblings would not see her until she had had a chance to think about the events of the evening.

“How was your date?” called Charles as she tried to slip past the door unnoticed.

Gill stopped and faced him, relieved to see that he was alone. Being a sensitive person, Charles would not tease her as the others might. “Humphrey is very nice,” she told him. “We had a lovely time. Bath is a beautiful city.”

“Did you enjoy the Baths?” asked Charles, waving her to the seat opposite his. “I remember finding them fascinating, especially the way that the Romans used to use central heating.”

Gill sat down, kicking off her shoes and tucking her legs up under her. “The whole thing is incredible, when you think about how long ago they built it all,” she said. “The water tastes horrible, though,” she added with a laugh.

“It does,” Charles agreed. “What else did you do?”

“We looked around the Abbey, and went on a longboat,” Gill told him. “Then we had dinner in Exeter on our way back.”

“Will you see him again?”

“He asked me to go to the theatre with him if he can get tickets for Saturday,” replied Gill. “He's going to phone and tell me if he can.”

“I'm pleased that you are getting on so well with him,” Charles said, smiling at her. “He's a decent chap, Arminel, and both Godfrey and Merle like him.”

“I think it's a bit soon for you all to be discussing this,” said Gill with a frown.

“Cherry was only twenty-one when she got married,” Charles pointed out.

Gill stood up. “Cherry is Cherry,” she told him. “Goodnight, Charles.”

“Don't go off the deep end,” said Charles, getting up as well. “We only want you to be happy, Arminel.”

“I know you do,” Gill assured him. “But there is no rush. I'm going to bed now. It's been a long day.”

“Goodnight,” said Charles, smiling fondly at his young sister. “Sleep well.”

“You too,” said Gill, reaching up to kiss his cheek as a sign that she was not really angry with him. She ran lightly upstairs and was soon clad in pyjamas and sitting up in bed. She knew there was a chance that she would be back in her own bed at Welsen the next morning, but she wanted to have time to think about Arminel before she left Chudleigh Hold.

From what Charles had said, it was clear that Arminel had seen Humphrey several times, so she would not be surprised to discover that he wanted to take her to the theatre. The problem was that she would not know what they had done in Bath, and so any conversation with Humphrey would be a potential minefield for Arminel. The last thing Gill wanted was to spoil the relationship that was developing between Arminel and Humphrey, so Gill would need to let Arminel know what had happened. Once before, Gill had written a note to Arminel, just to see whether she would receive it. Fed up with the pink pyjamas that Arminel seemed to favour, she had left a slip of paper in Arminel’s dressing gown pocket suggesting that green or blue was a more appropriate hue for girls of their colouring to wear. The next time she became Arminel, she discovered that her suggestion had been acted upon in part - Arminel still owned pink pyjamas, but she also possessed a dainty pale blue pair and a rather lovely dark green pair.

Gill sighed and did what she had always vowed never to do. She took Arminel’s diary from the drawer beside the bed and opened it. Wrinkling her brow in concentration, she worked out when she had last visited Arminel’s life, and then she found that date in the diary. Arminel seemed to write something each day, but the two days that Gill had been living Arminel’s life were blank. Drawing a deep breath, Gill looked at the entry for the next day and began to read.

This time I was only gone for two days, Arminel had written, her handwriting looking unbelievably similar to Gill’s own writing. While I was gone, Godfrey and Hawk came back. Thank goodness they are safe. If only I hadn't flung myself at Hawk this morning. Of course I should have known that he was back, so I seemed completely insane again.

If you are reading this, please tell me what happens while you are here. I write here for you because I think you try to help me. It must be so difficult for you, turning up after so much time has passed and trying to fit in.

Gill took a deep breath. Why on earth had she never considered that Arminel would keep a diary so that they could let each other know what was happening? It made so much sense. She could discover all the details from Arminel, and then she would be able to slip seamlessly into Arminel’s shoes. She could let Arminel know exactly what happened while she was there, and this would help Arminel on her return. Privately, Gill had always thought of herself as the sensible one, while Arminel was nervy and highly-strung. Now it seemed that Arminel had a good dose of common sense, and Gill realised that she had underestimated her alter ego.

Where do you come from? How do you feel, suddenly becoming me? And where do you go when I come back? It's strange that you often turn up just when life is getting difficult. You come when I feel that I can't cope, and that I need to get away. When I come back, you have always tried to make things better. Thank you.

Gill took a pen from the drawer and turned quickly to the page for that day. I'm sorry I never read your diary, she wrote. I felt that I would be intruding on your life even more than I do already. You are right, though. It will be very helpful to know what you are doing.

Gill paused, wondering what she should tell Arminel about herself. I'm very much like you. My family is exactly like yours, except my name is Gillian Culver. I'm a secretary working in a school in Switzerland. When I come here, I just come for one night. Although, as you know, I can stay for several days, it is only ever a single night for me. Where do you go? What do you do when you go?

Today I went to Bath with Humphrey. He is really nice. We visited the Roman Baths and the Abbey. He laughed at the puppets in the window of one of the shops - they were rather ugly! We took a boat down the river, and then stopped for dinner in Exeter on our way back. He wants to take you to the theatre on Saturday.

Gill squeezed in the last couple of words and sat back with a sigh. Perhaps Arminel would get a diary with more space per day for the next year, and then they could find out more about each other. Putting aside the pen, Gill turned back to the entry Arminel had written after their last exchange, and reread it before reading on.

She discovered that Arminel had been out with Humphrey several times and that he had kissed her for the first time two weeks previously. Arminel seemed happy with Humphrey, which left Gill wondering just how happy she would be to discover that Gill had been kissing Humphrey. Hopefully, Arminel would realise that Gill had no choice in the matter; she had needed to kiss Humphrey in order to keep Arminel’s relationship with Humphrey on track.

This thought led Gill on to considering what it had been like to kiss Humphrey. She had liked him when she met him, although she had never thought that she would find herself spending time with him. He was a friend of Hawk’s, so it had seemed unlikely that they would meet again. Now she had spent a whole day with him, and she had kissed him. Presumably there was a greater likelihood of encountering him now, as he was keen to see more of Arminel. Then Gill realised that if Arminel married Humphrey, she would have to live as his wife when she became Arminel. Blushing furiously, Gill slid the diary back into the drawer and turned out the light. She lay down and buried her hot face in the pillow, hoping that Arminel would marry Humphrey and then be so happy that she no longer needed time away from her life.

When she awoke the next morning, Gill was still in Arminel’s room at Chudleigh Hold. As it was early, she snuggled down in bed and tried to go back to sleep, but she just could not. Reluctantly, she threw back the bedclothes and got up, wondering what the day had in store for her. She knew from reading the notes Arminel had left her - reading Arminel’s notes sounded so much better than reading her diary - that she attended classes at the secretarial college four days a week, so that would be one thing to do. She would also have to wait for Humphrey to call her, so she would know about their proposed theatre trip.

Once she was dressed, Gill looked through the diary and read several entries about college. She made a mental note of the important details - the names of Arminel’s friends and teachers, and the courses she was taking - and then she hunted out Arminel’s bag of books and stationery ready to take with her. After that, she went to have breakfast with her family.

Fortunately, a letter from their sister Cherry, who lived in Australia, had arrived, and Charles, Cherry’s twin, was reading highlights of her news to the others. Godfrey was immersed in his newspaper, and Hawk was reading a letter that he had received, so no one did more than greet Gill perfunctorily. Relieved that she did not need to discuss her date with them, Gill tucked in to a bowl of porridge.

After breakfast, she got into the little car that Arminel used, and drove off to college in Exeter. Having finished her own course so recently, Gill found it very easy to slip back into college life. She met up with Arminel’s friend Matilda, with whom she chatted easily until Matilda reminded her that their exam began in just an hour’s time. At once, Gill realised that it was probably the exam that had left Arminel feeling anxious, and not her relationship with Humphrey. Arminel’s marks seemed to be pretty good for her class and coursework, but lower for exams, and shorthand, the exam for that morning, was Arminel’s weakest subject.

As Arminel knew nothing about Gill, she had clearly hatched no plot of getting Gill to pass her exam for her, which made Gill resolve to do her best for Arminel. She assured Matilda that she had revised for the exam and admitted that she was nervous about it, and then it was time for them to go to the exam room.

Seated at her desk, Gill was filled with confidence. She regularly used shorthand when Miss Wilson dictated letters to her, and she knew that she was both quick and accurate. The exam went well, and when she had finished, Gill checked what she had written and decided that she had done Arminel proud. She had a sandwich in the cafeteria with Matilda at lunchtime, and then they attended their bookkeeping class together. Finally, after a pleasant day, Gill drove back to Chudleigh Hold.

When she returned, Merle, Arminel’s eldest sister, was there. She lived in Exeter with her husband, Frank, and their two children, Robert and Jemima. From the death of Arminel’s mother, when she was just five years old, Merle, then fourteen, had taken over the running of the family. Both Arminel and Gill herself had been mothered by their eldest sister; however, while Merle Culver appreciated the woman Gill had become and respected her right to make her own way in the world, Merle Chudleigh worried about Arminel and still fussed over her when she got the chance.

“How did you get on with the exam?” demanded Merle once greetings had been exchanged.

“I think it was all right,” said Gill with a smile.

Merle put her arm around her young sister's shoulders. “That sounds encouraging,” she said warmly. “You are usually so negative after an exam.”

“We will see,” Gill told her. “Where are the kids?”

“Gonzalo has taken them for a walk,” said Merle, referring to Godfrey’s lackey whom he had brought to Chudleigh Hold from South America. “He said he'd show them the sheep. They were thrilled by the idea.”

Recalling how her nephew and niece were always delighted to see the animals Godfrey kept in the park, Gill grinned. “At least it should keep them out of mischief,” she said. “I'll just go up and change, Merle. Then we can have some tea and a nice chat.”

She went up to Arminel’s room, where she quickly changed her clothes and tidied her hair. She put away Arminel’s college bag, before making a quick note in Arminel’s diary of the task assigned by the bookkeeping teacher. That done, she ran lightly back downstairs and met Merle in the morning room. Merle had tea and bread and butter waiting for her, so she dropped into her favourite armchair with a contented sigh. Working in Switzerland meant that she would see very little of Merle and the rest of her family, so spending time with them, albeit as Arminel Chudleigh, was very welcome.

“How's Frank?” she inquired as Merle poured the tea.

“He's very well,” answered Merle. “He's away again at the moment, but he is meant to be back at the weekend.” Frank Pullen, Merle’s husband, worked for BOAC and was often away from home. “How's Humphrey?”

Gill felt herself blush. “He is well,” she answered, busying herself spreading jam on a piece of bread.

“Arminel,” said Merle reproachfully. “I thought you had got beyond blushing every time Humphrey’s name is mentioned.”

“We went to Bath yesterday,” said Gill, now studying her teacup with apparent fascination. “We visited the baths and the Abbey. It was nice.”

Before Merle could say anything else, the ringing of the telephone interrupted their conversation. They heard Charles, who had just been leaving the library to come in for tea, pick up the receiver, and then he was calling for Arminel. Gill went into the hall and Charles said, “It's Humphrey,” so she went on through to the library and lifted the receiver.

“Hello,” she said shyly.

“Hello Arminel.” Humphrey’s voice was warm. “How are you? How was your exam?”

“I'm fine, thank you,” she replied. “And I think the exam went well.”

“I'm glad to hear it,” said Humphrey. “I've booked tickets for Saturday,” he went on. “The performance is at seven, but I wondered if you would like to meet earlier. We could have tea in the Devon first.”

“That would be lovely,” she assured him. “Thank you, Humphrey. I'm looking forward to it already.”

“So am I,” Humphrey assured her. “I'll pick you up at three.”

Gill racked her brain for something else to say. Finally, she came up with, “How was your day?”

Despite feeling that her words were trite, it seemed to be a good question, for Humphrey immediately told her how their prize bull had escaped its field and chased the postman down the drive that morning. Giggling, Gill wished she had seen the poor man pedaling frantically to escape from the huge creature, little knowing that that particular bull was actually very gentle. Humphrey laughed, too, and assured her that both postman and bull had come through their ordeal unscathed.

“I only hope he doesn't refuse to come to Fardingales in future,” Humphrey wound up. “It would be a nuisance to have to go each day to collect the mail.”

“Perhaps he will come in a van instead of by bike,” suggested Gill. “That might make him feel safer.”

“It might indeed,” agreed Humphrey. “I should go back to work for a while longer, Arminel. Have a nice evening.”

“You, too,” said Gill. “See you on Saturday.”


Gill replaced the receiver and went back to join Merle and Charles. The children had returned from their visit to the animals, and Robert was chattering happily about the sheep. Gill sat back down and drew Jemima onto her knee, giving the little girl a hug and a kiss.

“She's grown so much, Merle!” she exclaimed, brushing the dark curls off of Jemima’s face.

“I’se a big girl,” Jemima calmly informed her aunt. “Wewy big.”

“You certainly are,” agreed Gill with a smile. “Tell me about the sheep.”

Jemima happily made sheep noises while Robert strode across to repeat the finer details of his visit to the pasture, and Gill was kept happily busy listening to his chatter. Once tea was over, Merle and Gill took the children upstairs to bath them, and Gill offered to read them their bedtime story. Although she was thrilled by her job at St. Mildred's, she realised just how much she would miss watching Robert and Jemima growing up, so she determined not to waste any precious time she got to spend with them. While Merle settled Jemima into the old cot that had been used by several generations of Chudleighs, Gill tucked Robert into bed. Having kissed them both warmly, the sisters headed back downstairs, joining Charles and Godfrey in the morning room.

Hawk put in an appearance a little later, and Gill thoroughly enjoyed the evening they spent together. Jokes were told and reminiscences shared, and Gill felt almost overwhelmed by the nostalgia of it all. When Merle finally suggested bed, she hugged her siblings warmly and went upstairs with Merle. Outside Arminel’s room, they parted company, and if Merle was surprised by the warmth of her youngest sister’s kiss, she made no comment. She wished Gill a good night and disappeared to the little room off the nursery where she slept when Frank did not accompany her to Chudleigh Hold.

Left to herself, Gill went into Arminel’s room and changed for bed. Once she had washed and brushed out her hair, she sat up in bed and reached for Arminel’s diary. She briefly outlined her day at college and explained that she had done her best in the shorthand exam. Then she told Arminel about her telephone conversation with Humphrey and how they would be going out on Saturday. Finally, the diary filled, she lay down and sighed contentedly. There might be awkward moments when she lived the life of Arminel Chudleigh, but really, Gill felt that she was very lucky. She had a job that she loved, in a beautiful part of Switzerland, yet she was still able to spend time with her beloved family. Although she lived abroad for most of the year, she still saw her brothers and sisters, and she had plenty of memories of her nephew and niece as they were growing up. She was happy living her own life, but she also enjoyed her excursions into the life of Arminel Chudleigh. Wondering just where she would awaken, Gill fell into a deep and dreamless sleep. Who needed dreams when they already lived such an exciting life?