Authors: Graham Masterton
‘“Bill Leppard brought the wardrobe around at ten to four. I must say it was quite a fine piece of furniture, burr walnut veneer, made around 1880. I asked Jack Lewis what he wanted for it but he said that I should just keep it in store for the time being and he would pay me whatever it cost. There were two ropes tied around it so that the doors couldn’t be opened but Jack Lewis said he wanted those to stay fastened at all costs. I asked him why but he wouldn’t tell me.”’
Aunt Selina said, ‘That’s all he wrote. The rest of the pages are all blank. Oh, except for this Jack Lewis’s address and telephone number.’
She paused, and then she said, ‘My God! Do you know who he was, this Jack Lewis?’
Dawn shook her head. ‘I have absolutely no idea.’
‘It’s his address, it’s famous. The Kilns, Headington Quarry. That’s the house where C.S. Lewis used to live. You know, the writer. Narnia, and all that.
The Lion, the
‘The wardrobe,’ Dawn finished, and although she didn’t really understand why, she felt flooded by a deep sense of dread, as if they had come across a secret that nobody had ever been supposed to find out.
They all went to a large noisy pub called the Britannia Inn for a drink and cheese sandwiches.
After they had found a table in a corner of the bar, Aunt Selina said, ‘You must tell me more about this black-faced ghost of yours, Dawny. I’m fascinated!’
Dawn said, ‘I’m sorry. I don’t really want to talk about it. It was horrible.’
‘But supposing yours was the actual wardrobe that inspired C.S. Lewis to write all of those stories!’
‘That’s what scares me even more. I mean – it makes it all the more believable, doesn’t it? Why was he so desperate to have the wardrobe taken out of his house before it got dark? And why did he tie its door shut with ropes?’
saw your ghost, too,’ said Aunt Selina. She laid her ring-encrusted hand on top of Dawn’s and gave her an affectionate squeeze. ‘I really don’t blame you for wanting to get rid of the wardrobe. If you like, I’ll ask Ron Hackett to take it back.’
‘But then he’ll sell it again, won’t he, and I don’t want the same thing to happen to some other poor girl.’
‘In that case, you really need to find out more about it. Where it originally came from, and who this black-faced man is, and why he was burnt. Now you’re up here in Oxford, why don’t you go to The Kilns and see if you can find somebody who knows a bit more about it? It’s a kind of study centre now for the life and work of C.S. Lewis. It’s only in Risinghurst, so it’s not very far.’
After they had taken Aunt Selina back to her antiques shop, they drove to the C.S. Lewis house in Risinghurst. The rain had eased off now, and the wet streets were blinding with reflected sunshine.
They turned into Lewis Close, a small estate of detached 1960s houses which had been built on the eight-acre garden that used to surround C.S. Lewis’s house. Once grandly isolated, the rambling red-tiled country house now stood close to the road. Jerry parked and they walked up the pathway and knocked at the front door.
They waited. The roses on either side of the pathway were sparkling with raindrops and somewhere a pigeon was monotonously cooing for its mate. Although it wasn’t particularly cold, Dawn found herself shivering.
‘Maybe there’s nobody in,’ said Jerry, but at that moment the front door suddenly opened and they were confronted by a bald, bespectacled man in a bright yellow sweater and brown corduroy trousers.
?’ he asked them in a pained voice, as if that was the last thing he wanted to do.
‘I’m sorry,’ said Dawn. ‘I hope we’re not disturbing you, but we were wondering if there was anybody here who knew something about C.S. Lewis when he first moved in here.’
The man took off his spectacles and blinked at her. ‘I’m not at all sure what you mean by that. This is a Christian study centre now, where we discuss the Christian inspiration in C.S. Lewis’s novels and essays.’
‘But we’ve discovered that something might have happened to him – something that really scared him, but which changed his whole life.’
him? I still don’t see what you’re getting at.’
‘Did he keep a diary, at that time? Maybe he wrote about it but nobody understood what he meant.’
‘Of course, yes, he kept diaries – and, yes, some of what he wrote was a little obscure. But, with respect – unless you yourself are a C.S. Lewis scholar, madam – I doubt if you will be able to interpret what he wrote with any greater clarity than anybody else has been able to do so far. Now, unless there’s anything else—’
‘I have his wardrobe,’ said Dawn.
’ said the man.
‘I have his wardrobe. His original wardrobe. The one he got rid of.’
The man quickly looked right and left, as if he were frightened that somebody might be overhearing them. ‘How do you know it’s
‘Because my aunt bought it from a storage company in Headington and
got it from the storage company in Risinghurst that C.S. Lewis originally asked to take it away.’
‘You’re sure about this?’
‘Absolutely sure. Not only that, I know what’s inside it.’
‘Listen,’ said the man, and he was clearly very agitated. ‘You’d better come in.’
He led them into the long, narrow hallway, and then into a study. It was a gloomy, old-fashioned room, with a view of the garden. Its walls were lined with bookshelves and a faded blue Persian rug covered the floor. ‘Here, sit down,’ said the man, and she and Jerry sat side by side on a worn-out velvet sofa while he pulled up an armchair and sat close to them.
The study was airless and smelled of floor polish and the man’s breath smelled of coffee, and Dawn would have done anything to have a window open.
‘You know what’s inside it?’ the man repeated.
Dawn nodded. ‘Do you want me to tell you?’ she asked him. ‘It seems to me that you already know.’
The man said, ‘I’d better introduce myself. Geoffrey Walmsley – Professor Geoffrey Walmsley. I’m a scholar-in-residence here at the moment. C.S. Lewis has been my life’s work. His life, his conversion to Christianity, his novels. I probably know more about C.S. Lewis than he did himself.’
‘So you know about the wardrobe?’
about the wardrobe,’ said Professor Walmsley. ‘It was here in the house already when Jack Lewis and his brother and Mrs Janie Moore moved into the property in 1930. His family and friends always called him Jack, by the way. He recorded what happened next in his diary, but that
diary contains specific instructions that it is not to be published and not to be made available to any critics or biographers.’
He paused, and then he said, ‘When he moved in, Jack Lewis was puzzled to find that the wardrobe in the guest bedroom was facing the wall, with its back toward the room. Because of this, of course, its door couldn’t be opened. He and his brother Warnie turned it around so that Jack could hang some of his clothes in it. The wardrobe was quite empty, he said, but he did detect a lingering smell of burning.
‘That night, he heard a noise on the landing, and when he went to see what it was, he saw a strange man just about to open the door to Mrs Moore’s bedroom.’
‘The man’s face was black, and his clothes looked as if he had been burnt,’ Dawn put in.
Professor Walmsley looked at her sagely. ‘You
seen him, then?’
‘He came out of the wardrobe and attacked me. I’ve never been so frightened in my life.’
‘Jack shouted out, and the man rushed back into the spare bedroom and Jack heard the wardrobe door slam shut. He took a poker from the fireplace and went to open the door, but when he did so he found that it was locked, which could only have been done from the outside. All the same, he opened the door, only to discover that the wardrobe appeared to be empty.’
‘So what did he do?’
‘At that time of night, there wasn’t much that he could do. But he woke his brother and told him what had happened, and between them they shifted the wardrobe around again so that its door was up against the wall.
‘The next day, he got up early and went to the village as it then was and made some enquiries. In the end, he was directed to a man called Briggs who had lived in the village all his life. Briggs told him that The Kilns had been built in 1922 on the site of an old Victorian brickworks, which is why it was called The Kilns.
‘The story went that the owner of the brickworks, a man called Stephenson, had a very pretty young daughter called Sophie. Sophie fell in love with one of the young workers at the kiln, whose identity we don’t know, but she became pregnant. When her father demanded to know who was responsible, she blamed an older man called Henry Bell – claimed that he had raped her. Obviously she wanted to protect her young lover from her father’s retribution, and Henry Bell was apparently a bad-tempered man, and much disliked.
‘Although there was never any proof of this, Stephenson was said to have paid two of his workers to throw Henry Bell into the brick kiln, when it was all fired up. Bell was hideously burned but managed to escape. A local woman later claimed that a man “all black and smouldering” had entered her house in the middle of the night. She had called her husband, who slept in a separate room, but when he came to her assistance the man had disappeared – even though the window was closed and there was no other means of escape.
‘She had opened her wardrobe to see if he was hiding in it, and her wardrobe had been filled with smoke, but that was all. No black and smouldering man.’
‘So where did C.S. Lewis think the man had gone?’ asked Dawn. ‘Or was he just totally baffled, like I am?’
‘He wrote pages and pages about it. He conjectured that this particular wardrobe must somehow have acted as a way through to another plane of existence – a way that was open only to those in extreme distress, or in need of succour.
‘He became convinced that there was another world there, beyond the wardrobe, but it could be found only under very special circumstances. He did strongly suspect, though, that Henry Bell had been allowed to find a retreat there because he had been the victim of a terrible injustice.
‘The world beyond the wardrobe, he theorized, was a world where Christian justice and Christian mercy had at last prevailed, and all our trespasses forgiven, as we forgive those who trespass against us. However, he thought that Henry Bell was not yet ready to forgive the lie told by Sophie Stephenson, which is why he had reappeared in search of revenge.’
‘And what do
think?’ asked Dawn.
‘Up until you came here, I had no way of knowing if this story was true or not. But there is one thing I do know. Briggs told Jack that the only way to prevent Henry Bell from coming back through the wardrobe was to destroy it – by burning, preferably, since that would finish the job that Stephenson’s men had started.’
‘So why didn’t Jack just take it out in his garden and set fire to it?’
‘Because he was such a committed Christian,’ said Professor Walmsley. ‘Henry Bell was an innocent man, after all, and Jack couldn’t accept the responsibility for taking what was left of his life. “Whatever my failings, I can never act an executioner.” That was what he wrote.’
Jerry took hold of Dawn’s hand. Neither of them spoke but then they didn’t need to. They both knew what they were going to have to do next.
Jerry’s friend Mick had a Transit van which he used for his mobile car-cleaning business. He came around to Jerry’s house the following day and picked them both up, and they all drove around to Dawn’s flat. On the way they stopped at the Esso service station on Chiswick High Road and filled up a red plastic petrol container.
‘What are you two up to, then?’ asked Mick. He had a gingery buzz cut and a gap in his teeth he could whistle through, and he always splashed himself in too much Lynx aftershave, in the hope of attracting a girlfriend. ‘Spot of arson, is it? Never quite know with you two.’
‘We’re having a bonfire,’ said Dawn. ‘Kind of an early fireworks night.’
When she opened the door of her flat and stepped inside, Dawn sniffed. She could smell jasmine, from her Yankee Candle, but she could also smell that sour burnt odour of the black-faced man. She went into the bedroom with Jerry close behind her, and there it was, the wardrobe, with its door still locked. But she knew now that this wasn’t just any wardrobe. This was the wardrobe that had terrified C.S. Lewis, but also inspired him to invent a world where purity battled against evil, and the innocent were sacrificed for the greater good.
She pressed her hand flat against its polished walnut door, and said, ‘
,’ and thought of all those bedtime stories that her mother used to read to her when she was young, with the White Witch and Mr Tumnus the faun and Aslan the lion. It gave her the strangest of feelings, both frightening and sad.
With Mick’s help, they dragged and heaved the wardrobe out of the bedroom, along the hallway, out of the front door and bumped it down the steps. They paused to rest for a moment or two and then they lifted it, grunting, into the back of Mick’s van.
Mick knew just the place. A developer was demolishing a block of 1920s flats on the Sheen Road. The site was screened off from the road with a green-painted hoarding, almost ten-feet high, and there were fires burning there constantly, so one more shouldn’t attract any attention.
While Dawn and Jerry kept watch, Mick unfastened one of the wire security fences at the end of the hoarding. Cars and buses roared past, cyclists cycled past, but nobody took any notice of them. They lifted the wardrobe out of the van and carried it through the gap. The sun was going down now, and the hoarding blocked it out almost completely, so that the demolition site was chilly and filled with shadows. The ground was strewn with rubble and broken bricks, and so they had to carry the wardrobe almost to the far end of the site before they found somewhere level enough to put it down.