The woman in black by susan hill (full)

For Pat and Charles Gardner

The Woman In Black.

Christmas Eve.

It was nine-thirty on Christmas Eve. As I crossed the long
Entrance hall of Monk’s Piece on my way from the dining
Room, where we had just enjoyed the first of the happy,
Festive meals, towards the drawing room and the fire around
Which my family were now assembled, I paused and then,
As I often do in the course of an evening, went to the front
Door, opened it and stepped outside.

I have always liked to take a breath of the evening, to
Smell the air, whether it is sweetly scented and balmy with
The flowers of midsummer, pungent with the bonfires and
Leaf-mould of autumn, or crackling cold from frost and
Snow. I like to look about me at the sky above my head,
Whether there are moon and stars or utter blackness, and
Into the darkness ahead of me; I like to listen for the cries
Of nocturnal creatures and the moaning rise and fall of the
Wind, or the pattering of rain in the orchard trees, I enjoy
The rush of air towards me up the hill from the flat pastures
Of the river valley.

Tonight, I smelted at once, and with a lightening heart,
That there had been a change in the weather. All the
Previous week, we had had rain, chilling rain and a mist
That lay low about the house and over the countryside.
From the windows, the view stretched no farther than a
Yard or two down the garden. It was wretched weather,
Never seeming to come fully light, and raw, too. There had
Been no pleasure in walking, the visibility was too poor for
Any shooting and the dogs were permanently morose and
Muddy. Inside the house, the lamps were lit throughout the
Day and the walls of larder, outhouse and cellar oozed damp
And smelled sour, the fires sputtered and smoked, burning
Dismally low.

My spirits have for many years now

been excessively
Affected by the ways of the weather, and I confess that, had
It not been for the air of cheerfulness and bustle that
Prevailed in the rest of the house, I should have been quite
Cast down in gloom and lethargy, unable to enjoy the
Flavour of life as I should like and irritated by my own
Susceptibility. But Esme is merely stung by inclement
Weather into a spirited defiance, and so the preparations for
Our Christmas holiday had this year been more than usually
Extensive and vigorous.

I took a step or two out from under the shadow of the
House so that I could see around me in the moonlight.
Monk’s Piece stands at the summit of land that rises gently
Up for some four hundred feet from where the little River
Nee traces its winding way in a north to south direction
Across this fertile, and sheltered, part of the country. Below
Us are pastures, interspersed with small clumps of mixed,
Broadleaf woodland. But at our backs for several square
Miles it is a quite different area of rough scrub and
Heathland, a patch of wildness in the midst of well-farmed
Country. We are but two miles from a good-sized village,
Seven from the principal market town, yet there is an air of
Remoteness and isolation which makes us feel ourselves to
Be much further from civilization.

I first saw Monk’s Piece one afternoon in high summer,
When out driving in the trap with Mr Bentley. Mr Bentley
Was formerly my employer, but I had lately risen to become
A full partner in the firm of lawyers to which I had been
Articled as a young man (and with whom, indeed, I
Remained for my entire working life). He was at this time
Nearing the age when he had begun to feel inclined to let

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The woman in black by susan hill (full)