MISS BRACEGIRDLE'S NIGHT OF FEAR
This was Miss Bracegirdle's first visit to France. She did not usually take holidays away from home.
Luckily she spoke a little French. 'It is not so difficult to live in France,' she thought. 'The thing to understand is that it is quite different from Easingstoke.'
She took her things one by one out of her bag and put them away carefully. She thought about her home in Easingstoke, with flowers in all the rooms and photographs of the family. She thought about her poor brother, working so hard. She felt a little sad, but only for a minute.
Her time in France was to be quite short. She was going to be home again soon. Now she must get a good night's sleep. But first that hot bath...
She took off her day things and put on her nightdress. Then she picked up her washing things and went to the bathroom, closing her bedroom door quietly. She lay in the hot water and thought about the nice young girl in the hotel getting her bath ready. People in this hotel were very friendly – always ready to help. There was so much she wanted to tell her brother when she got home.
She got out of the bath and put on her nightdress again. She cleaned the bath very carefully. She did not want French people to think that the English were dirty. Then she left the bathroom and went back to her bedroom. She went in quickly, put on the light and shut the door.
Then, one of those unlucky things happened: the door-handle came off in her hand. She tried to put the handle back on the door but she could not. 'How do I do it?' she thought. 'It is going to be very difficult to open the door now. Do I ask that nice girl to come and help me? Perhaps by now she is in bed.'
She turned away from the door, and suddenly, she saw something much, much worse than the door-handle. There was a man in her bed! She took one look at his thick black hair and his big black moustache and immediately felt quite ill with fear. For a minute or two, she could not think. Then her first thought was: 'I must not scream!' She stood there but she could not move. She just looked at the man's dark head and the big line of his back under the bedthings. She began to think very quickly.
Her next thought was: 'I am in the wrong room. It is the man's room.' She could see his jacket and trousers lying on a chair and his big black shoes on the floor. She must get out quickly. But how? She tried again to open the door with her fingers but she could not.
Here she was, shut in a hotel room with an unknown man – a Frenchman! She must think, she must think! She turned off the light.
'Perhaps with the light off, he is not going to wake up,' she thought.
'That gives me more time to do something. But if he does wake up, what do I do? He is not going to believe my story. Nobody is going to believe me.
In England perhaps but not here. How can they understand? So, I must get out of this room. By waking him? By screaming? By calling the young girl?
No, it is no good. If I scream or call out, people are going to come running immediately. And what do they find? Miss Bracegirdle from Easingstoke in a man's bedroom after twelve o'clock at night. Just think of all the talk back home when my friends hear about that!
And if I climb out of the window?' She thought of the big hairy man pulling her back by the legs as she tried to get out. He could wake up at any minute. She thought that she heard somebody going past outside the door. But it was too late to scream now.
Suddenly, she had an idea. It was now nearly one o'clock in the morning. Perhaps the sleeping man was not dangerous. At seven or eight o'clock, he must get up and go out to work. 'I can get under the bed and wait there until he goes. Men never look under the bed. When he sees the door-handle on the floor, he is going to open the door with something or call the girl to come. Later, I can come out from under the bed and go quietly back to my room. Nobody is going to know.'
She lay down on the floor and got under the bed. No sound came from the man above her, but from down here it was difficult to hear anything. She tried to think of her nice little bedroom in Easingstoke with its nice white bed but the floor was getting harder every minute. She tried to think what her room number was. One hundred and fifteen? Or was it one hundred and sixteen? She was always bad at remembering numbers.
She began to think of her schooldays and the interesting things she learned then. Suddenly, she felt that she was going to sneeze. She could not stop it. The sneeze came – a long, hard one. 'This is the end of me,' Miss Bracegirdle thought. 'Now this Frenchman is going to jump out of bed and turn on the light. Then he is going to look under the bed and pull me out.
And then...And then? What can I do then? I can scream if he puts his hands on me. Perhaps it is better to scream first, before that happens. If not, he can put his hand over my mouth and stop me from screaming.'
But no shout came out of her mouth. Her fear was much too strong. She stayed very quiet and listened. Was he going to hit her – with one of those heavy shoes, perhaps? But nothing happened. Miss Bracegirdle suddenly knew that she could not stay under that bed a minute longer. It was better to come out, wake up the man and tell him everything. With difficulty she got out from under the bed and stood up. She went over to the door and put on on the light. She turned to the bed and said, as strongly as she could, 'Monsieur!'
Nothing happened. She looked at the man and said again, 'Monsieur! Monsieur!'
But again there was no answer. She went closer to the bed. His hair and moustache were very black but his face had no colour in it. His mouth was open but his eyes were shut.
Then for the third time that night, Miss Bracegirdle nearly died of fear. Suddenly, her legs felt as weak as water. She nearly fell down. Because the man in the bed was dead! It was the first time that she stood face to face with a dead person, but there was no mistake. The man was dead. Miss Bracegirdle could only say, 'He's dead! He's dead!'
Her difficulties now were not important. She began to feel sorry for him, lying here dead in a hotel room. But a sudden sound broke into her thoughts. Somebody outside the door put down some shoes: the shoe-cleaning boy. She heard the sound of his feet die away and remembered where she was.
To be in an unknown man's bedroom was bad, but to be in a room with a dead man was much, much worse! If they found her here, people were going to think she killed him! A picture came into her head: the police taking her off to the police station, asking her questions, shutting her away... And her sister arriving in just a few hours' time too! She must get out of the room immediately. 'I cannot call for help now,' she thought, fighting back her fear. 'Do something, Millicent. It is now or never!'
But what? She went round the room, looking for something to open the door with. She could find nothing. Finally, she picked up the man's jacket. Inside it she found a small knife. She took the knife and put it in the side of the door. Very slowly she turned the knife and the door opened. She wanted to run out of the room immediately but she stopped first and listened. Nobody was there. Feeling very afraid, Miss Bracegirdle shut the door quickly behind her and ran as fast as she could to her bedroom.
She lay down on the bed and the fear slowly began to leave her. All was well!
But then she had another unhappy thought. The living fear came back.
Her washing things were in there. They were lying there in the dead man's room! And her name was on them. To go back again now was far worse than the first time but she had no choice. She could not leave her things lying there. 'If they find them, they are going to ask me how they got there,' she thought. She had to go back.
She went. She did not look at the bed. She quickly took her washing things and ran back again to her bedroom. Now that the danger was over, she suddenly felt very, very tired. She got into bed and put out the light. She lay in the dark, trying to forget her fears. Finally, she went to sleep.
It was eleven o'clock when she woke up. The sun was high in the sky and the fears of the night were far away. In the light of the day, it was all very difficult to believe. Miss Bracegirdle tried to think about other things.
Finally, the young girl arrived to wake her up. Her eyes showed that she was excited. 'Oh madame!' she said, 'a very bad thing happened here last night. The man in room one hundred and seventeen – he is dead!
Please do not say that I told you but the police were here, the doctor, everybody.'
Miss Bracegirdle said nothing. There was nothing to say. But the young woman was too excited to stop. 'And do you know who this dead man was, madame? They say that he was Boldhu, the famous killer, wanted by the police. Last year, he killed a woman and cut her up and threw her into the river. And last night, he died here in our hotel – in the room next door! We do not know how. Did you say coffee, madame?'
'No thank you, just a cup of tea – strong tea, please.'
'Very well, madame.'
Source: Simply Suspense (Penguin Readers)
THE FOLLOWING DAY, MISS BRACEGIRDLE WROTE A LETTER TO HIS BROTHER TELLING HIM ABOUT HER TERRIBLE NIGHT IN FRANCE. CHOOSE THE BEST ALTERNATIVES IN ORDER TO COMPLETE HER LETTER.
Dead, Believe, Under, Scream, Sneezed, Tension, Wake up, Bath, Handle, Escape, Scream, People, Thinking, Wrong, Behave, Immediately.
My dear brother,
I am going to tell you a story that you will not ______________________. Are you sitting
down? I spent yesterday night ______________________________ a Frenchman's bed!
I came back to my room after a ______________. But when I saw a _______________
man in the bed, I knew I was in the ______________ room. I ____________________
tried to leave the room, but then the door ____________________ came off in my hand!
There was no ________________. ‘What can I do? What will ________________ think
of me? What will the man do to me? I mustn’t _________________________,’ I thought.
I didn't know how to ________________________ in a situation like this, so I lay quietly
under the bed ________________, when suddenly I ___________________. The man
did not ________________________. I couldn't stand the _________________. Finally,
I jumped up and put the light on, only to find that the man was _____________________.
Oh God, it was really a terrible experience, wasn't it?
A big kiss
MISS BRACEGIRDLE'S NIGHT OF FEAR