Read Kiss Kiss Online

Authors: Roald Dahl

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Kiss Kiss

BOOK: Kiss Kiss
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Kiss Kiss
Dahl, Roald
Produced by calibre 0.6.31
Kiss Kiss
by
Roald Dahl
Contents
The Landlady
William and Mary
The Way Up to Heaven
Parson’s Pleasure
Mrs Bixby and the Colonel’s Coat
Royal Jelly
Georgy Porgy
Genesis and Catastrophe
Edward the Conqueror
Pig
The Champion of the World
The Landlady

Billy Weaver had travelled down from London on the slow
afternoon train, with a change at Swindon on the way, and
by the time he got to Bath it was about nine o’clock in the
evening and the moon was coming up out of a clear starry
sky over the houses opposite the station entrance. But the air
was deadly cold and the wind was like a flat blade of ice on
his cheeks.
      
“Excuse me,” he said, “but is there a fairly cheap hotel not
too far away from here?”
      
“Try The Bell and Dragon,” the porter answered, pointing
down the road. “They might take you in. It’s about a quarter
of a mile along on the other side.”
      
Billy thanked him and picked up his suitcase and set out
to walk the quarter-mile to The Bell and Dragon. He had
never been to Bath before. He didn’t know anyone who lived
there. But Mr Greenslade at the Head Office in London had
told him it was a splendid city. “Find your own lodgings,” he
had said, “and then go along and report to the Branch Manager
as soon as you’ve got yourself settled.”
      
Billy was seventeen years old. He was wearing a new navy-blue
overcoat, a new brown trilby hat, and a new brown suit,
and he was feeling fine. He walked briskly down the street.
He was trying to do everything briskly these days. Briskness,
he had decided, was the
one
common characteristic of all
successful businessmen. The big shots up at Head Office were
absolutely fantastically brisk all the time. They were amazing.
      
There were no shops on this wide street that he was walking
along, only a line of tall houses on each side, all of them
identical. They had porches and pillars and four or five steps
going up to their front doors, and it was obvious that once
upon a time they had been very swanky residences. But now,
even in the darkness, he could see that the paint was peeling
from the woodwork on their doors and windows, and that the
handsome white façades were cracked and blotchy from
neglect.
      
Suddenly, in a downstairs window that was brilliantly
illuminated by a street-lamp not six yards away, Billy caught
sight of a printed notice propped up against the glass in one of the
upper panes. It said
BED AND BREAKFAST
. There was a
vase of pussy-willows, tall and beautiful, standing just
underneath the notice.
      
He stopped walking. He moved a bit closer. Green curtains
(some sort of velvety material) were hanging down on either
side of the window. The pussy-willows looked wonderful
beside them. He went right up and peered through the glass
into the room, and the first thing he saw was a bright fire
burning in the hearth. On the carpet in front of the fire, a
pretty little dachshund was curled up asleep with its nose
tucked into its belly. The room itself, so far as he could see
in the half-darkness, was filled with pleasant furniture. There
was a baby-grand piano and a big sofa and several plump
armchairs; and in one corner he spotted a large parrot in a
cage. Animals were usually a good sign in a place like this,
Billy told himself; and all in all, it looked to him as though it
would be a pretty decent house to stay in. Certainly it would
be more comfortable than The Bell and Dragon.
      
On the other hand, a pub would be more congenial than
a boarding-house. There would be beer and darts in the
evenings, and lots of people to talk to, and it would probably
be a good bit cheaper, too. He had stayed a couple of nights
in a pub once before and he had liked it. He had never stayed
in any boarding-houses, and, to be perfectly honest, he was
a tiny bit frightened of them. The name itself conjured up
images of watery cabbage, rapacious landladies, and a powerful
smell of kippers in the living-room.
      
After dithering about like this in the cold for two or three
minutes, Billy decided that he would walk on and take a look
at The Bell and Dragon before making up his mind. He turned
to go.
      
And now a queer thing happened to him. He was in the
act of stepping back and turning away from the window
when all at once his eye was caught and held in the most
peculiar manner by the small notice that was there.
BED
AND BREAKFAST
, it said.
BED AND BREAKFAST, BED AND
BREAKFAST, BED AND BREAKFAST
. Each word was like a large black eye
staring at him through the glass, holding him, compelling him,
forcing him to stay where he was and not to walk away from
that house, and the next thing he knew, he was actually
moving across from the window to the front door of the
house, climbing the steps that led up to it, and reaching for
the bell.
      
He pressed the bell. Far away in a back room he heard it
ringing, and then
at once
—it must have been at once because
he hadn’t even had time to take his finger from the bell-button—the
door swung open and a woman was standing there.
      
Normally you ring the bell and you have at least a half-minute’s
wait before the door opens. But this dame was like
a jack-in-the-box. He pressed the bell—and out she popped!
It made him jump.
      
She was about forty-five or fifty years old, and the moment
she saw him, she gave him a warm welcoming smile.
      

Please
come in,” she said pleasantly. She stepped aside,
holding the door wide open, and Billy found himself automatically
starting forward into the house. The compulsion or,
more accurately, the desire to follow after her into that house
was extraordinarily strong.
      
“I saw the notice in the window,” he said, holding himself back.
      
“Yes, I know.”
      
“I was wondering about a room.”
      
“It’s
all
ready for you, my dear,” she said. She had a round
pink face and very gentle blue eyes.
      
“I was on my way to The Bell and Dragon,” Billy told her.
“But the notice in your window just happened to catch my
eye.”
      
“My dear boy,” she said, “why don’t you come in out of the
cold?”
      
“How much do you charge?”
      
“Five and sixpence a night, including breakfast.”
      
It was fantastically cheap. It was less than half of what he
had been willing to pay.
      
“If that is too much,” she added, “then perhaps I can reduce it
just a tiny bit. Do you desire an egg for breakfast? Eggs are
expensive at the moment. It would be sixpence less without
the egg.”
      
“Five and sixpence is fine,” he answered. “I should like very
much to stay here.”
      
“I knew you would. Do come in.”
      
She seemed terribly nice. She looked exactly like the mother
of one’s best school-friend welcoming one into the house to
stay for the Christmas holidays. Billy took off his hat, and
stepped over the threshold.
      
“Just hang it there,” she said, “and let me help you with your
coat.”
      
There were no other hats or coats in the hall. There were
no umbrellas, no walking-sticks—nothing.
      
“We have it
all
to ourselves,” she said, smiling at him over
her shoulder as she led the way upstairs. “You see, it isn’t very
often I have the pleasure of taking a visitor into my little nest.”
      
The old girl is slightly dotty, Billy told himself. But at
five and sixpence a night, who gives a damn about that? “I
should’ve thought you’d be simply swamped with applicants,”
he said politely.
      
“Oh, I am, my dear, I am, of course I am. But the trouble is
that I’m inclined to be just a teeny weeny bit choosy and
particular—if you see what I mean.”
      
“Ah, yes.”
      
“But I’m always ready. Everything is always ready day and
night in this house just on the off-chance that an acceptable
young gentleman will come along. And it is such a pleasure,
my dear, such a very great pleasure when now and again I
open the door and I see someone standing there who is just
exactly
right.” She was halfway up the stairs, and she paused
with one hand on the stair-rail, turning her head and smiling
down at him with pale lips. “Like you,” she added, and her blue
eyes travelled slowly all the way down the length of Billy’s
body, to his feet, and then up again.
      
On the first-floor landing she said to him, “This floor is
mine.”
      
They climbed up a second flight. “And this one is all yours,”
she said. “Here’s your room. I do hope you’ll like it.” She took
him into a small but charming front bedroom, switching on
the light as she went in.
      
“The morning sun comes right in the window, Mr Perkins.
It is Mr Perkins, isn’t it?”
      
“No,” he said. “It’s Weaver.”
      
“Mr Weaver. How nice. I’ve put a water-bottle between the
sheets to air them out, Mr Weaver. It’s such a comfort to have
a hot water-bottle in a strange bed with clean sheets, don’t you
agree? And you may light the gas fire at any time if you feel
chilly.”
      
“Thank you,” Billy said. “Thank you ever so much.” He
noticed that the bedspread had been taken off the bed, and
that the bedclothes had been neatly turned back on one side,
all ready for someone to get in.
      
“I’m so glad you appeared,” she said, looking earnestly into
his face. “I was beginning to get worried.”
      
“That’s all right,” Billy answered brightly. “You mustn’t
worry about me.” He put his suitcase on the chair and started
to open it.
      
“And what about supper, my dear? Did you manage to get
anything to eat before you came here?”
      
“I’m not a bit hungry, thank you,” he said. “I think I’ll just
go to bed as soon as possible because tomorrow I’ve got to get
up rather early and report to the office.”
      
“Very well, then. I’ll leave you now so that you can unpack.
But before you go to bed, would you be kind enough to pop
into the sitting-room on the ground floor and sign the book?
Everyone has to do that because it’s the law of the land,
and we don’t want to go breaking any laws at
this
stage
in the proceedings, do we?” She gave him a little wave of
the hand and went quickly out of the room and closed the
door.
      
Now, the fact that his landlady appeared to be slightly off
her rocker didn’t worry Billy in the least. After all, she was
not only harmless—there was no question about that—but she
was also quite obviously a kind and generous soul. He guessed
that she had probably lost a son in the war, or something like
that, and had never got over it.
      
So a few minutes later, after unpacking his suitcase and
washing his hands, he trotted downstairs to the ground floor
and entered the living-room. His landlady wasn’t there, but
the fire was glowing in the hearth, and the little dachshund
was still sleeping in front of it. The room was wonderfully
warm and cosy. I’m a lucky fellow, he thought, rubbing his
hands. This is a bit of all right.
      
He found the guest-book lying open on the piano, so he
took out his pen and wrote down his name and address. There
were only two other entries above his on the page, and, as one
always does with guest-books, he started to read them. One
was a Christopher Mulholland from Cardiff. The other was
Gregory W. Temple from Bristol.
      
That’s funny, he thought suddenly. Christopher Mulholland.
It rings a bell.
      
Now where on earth had he heard that rather unusual name
before?
      
Was he a boy at school? No. Was it one of his sister’s
numerous young men, perhaps, or a friend of his father’s? No,
no, it wasn’t any of those. He glanced down again at the book.

Christopher Mulholland
      
231 Cathedral Road, Cardiff
Gregory W. Temple
27 Sycamore Drive, Bristol

      
As a matter of fact, now he came to think of it, he wasn’t
at all sure that the second name didn’t have almost as much of
a familiar ring about it as the first.
      
“Gregory Temple?” he said aloud, searching his memory.
“Christopher Mulholland? . . .”
      
“Such charming boys,” a voice behind him answered, and he
turned and saw his landlady sailing into the room with a large
silver tea-tray in her hands. She was holding it well out in
front of her, and rather high up, as though the tray were a
pair of reins on a frisky horse.
      
“They sound somehow familiar,” he said.
      
“They do? How interesting.”
      
“I’m almost positive I’ve heard those names before
somewhere. Isn’t that queer? Maybe it was in the newspapers.
They weren’t famous in any way, were they? I mean famous
cricketers or footballers or something like that?”
      
“Famous,” she said, setting the tea-tray down on the low
table in front of the sofa. “Oh no, I don’t think they were
famous. But they were extraordinarily handsome, both of
them, I can promise you that. They were tall and young and
handsome, my dear, just exactly like you.”
      
Once more, Billy glanced down at the book. “Look here,”
he said, noticing the dates. “This last entry is over two years
old.”
      
“It is?”
      
“Yes, indeed. And Christopher Mulholland’s is nearly a year
before that—more than
three years
ago.”
      
“Dear me,” she said, shaking her head and heaving a dainty
little sigh. “I would never have thought it. How time does fly
away from us all, doesn’t it, Mr Wilkins?”
      
“It’s Weaver,” Billy said. “W-e-a-v-e-r.”
      
“Oh, of course it is!” she cried, sitting down on the sofa.
“How silly of me. I do apologise. In one ear and out the other,
that’s me, Mr Weaver.”
      
“You know something?” Billy said. “Something that’s really
quite extraordinary about all this?”
      
“No, dear, I don’t.”
      
“Well, you see—both of these names, Mulholland and
Temple, I not only seem to remember each one of them
separately, so to speak, but somehow or other, in some peculiar
way, they both appear to be sort of connected together as
well. As though they were both famous for the same sort of
thing, if you see what I mean—like . . . well . . . like Dempsey
and Tunney, for example, or Churchill and Roosevelt.”
      
“How amusing,” she said. “But come over here now, dear,
and sit down beside me on the sofa and I’ll give you a nice
cup of tea and a ginger biscuit before you go to bed.”
      
“You really shouldn’t bother,” Billy said. “I didn’t mean you
to do anything like that.” He stood by the piano, watching her
as she fussed about with the cups and saucers. He noticed that
she had small, white, quickly moving hands, and red fingernails.
      
“I’m almost positive it was in the newspapers I saw them,”
Billy said. “I’ll think of it in a second. I’m sure I will.”
      
There is nothing more tantalising than a thing like this
which lingers just outside the borders of one’s memory. He
hated to give up.
      
“Now wait a minute,” he said. “Wait just a minute. Mulholland . . .
Christopher Mulholland . . . wasn’t that the name
of the Eton schoolboy who was on a walking-tour through
the West Country, and then all of a sudden . . .”
      
“Milk?” she said. “And sugar?”
      
“Yes, please. And then all of a sudden . . .”
      
“Eton schoolboy?” she said. “Oh no, my dear, that can’t
possibly be right because
my
Mr Mulholland was certainly
not an Eton schoolboy when he came to me. He was a
Cambridge undergraduate. Come over here now and sit next
to me and warm yourself in front of this lovely fire. Come on.
Your tea’s all ready for you.” She patted the empty place
beside her on the sofa, and she sat there smiling at Billy and
waiting for him to come over.
      
He crossed the room, slowly, and sat down on the edge of
the sofa. She placed his teacup on the table in front of him.
      

There
we are,” she said. “How nice and cosy this is,
isn’t it?”
      
Billy started sipping his tea. She did the same. For half a
minute or so, neither of them spoke. But Billy knew that she
was looking at him. Her body was half turned towards him,
and he could feel her eyes resting on his face, watching him
over the rim of her teacup. Now and again, he caught a whiff
of a peculiar smell that seemed to emanate directly from her
person. It was not in the least unpleasant, and it reminded him—well,
he wasn’t quite sure what it reminded him of. Pickled
walnuts? New leather? Or was it the corridors of a hospital?
      
“Mr Mulholland was a great one for his tea,” she said at
length. “Never in my life have I seen anyone drink as much
tea as dear, sweet Mr Mulholland.”
      
“I suppose he left fairly recently,” Billy said. He was still
puzzling his head about the two names. He was positive now
that he had seen them in the newspapers—in the headlines.
      
“Left?” she said, arching her brows. “But my dear boy, he
never left. He’s still here. Mr Temple is also here. They’re on
the third floor, both of them together.”
      
Billy set down his cup slowly on the table, and stared at his
landlady. She smiled back at him, and then she put out one
of her white hands and patted him comfortingly on the knee.
“How old are you, my dear?” she asked.
      
“Seventeen.”
      
“Seventeen!” she cried. “Oh, it’s the perfect age! Mr Mulholland
was also seventeen. But I think he was a trifle shorter
than you are, in fact I’m sure he was, and his teeth weren’t
quite
so white. You have the most beautiful teeth, Mr Weaver,
did you know that?”
      
“They’re not as good as they look,” Billy said. “They’ve got
simply masses of fillings in them at the back.”
      
“Mr Temple, of course, was a little older,” she said, ignoring
his remark. “He was actually twenty-eight. And yet I never
would have guessed it if he hadn’t told me, never in my whole
life. There wasn’t a
blemish
on his body.”
      
“A what?” Billy said.
      
“His skin was
just
like a baby’s.”
      
There was a pause. Billy picked up his teacup and took
another sip of his tea, then he set it down again gently in its
saucer. He waited for her to say something else, but she
seemed to have lapsed into another of her silences. He sat
there staring straight ahead of him into the far corner of the
room, biting his lower lip.
      
“That parrot,” he said at last. “You know something? It had
me completely fooled when I first saw it through the window
from the street. I could have sworn it was alive.”
      
“Alas, no longer.”
      
“It’s most terribly clever the way it’s been done,” he said.
“It doesn’t look in the least bit dead. Who did it?”
      
“I did.”
      

You
did?”
      
“Of course,” she said. “And have you met my little Basil as
well?” She nodded towards the dachshund curled up so comfortably
in front of the fire. Billy looked at it. And suddenly,
he realised that this animal had all the time been just as silent
and motionless as the parrot. He put out a hand and touched
it gently on the top of its back. The back was hard and cold,
and when he pushed the hair to one side with his fingers, he
could see the skin underneath, greyish-black and dry and
perfectly preserved.
      
“Good gracious me,” he said. “How absolutely fascinating.”
He turned away from the dog and stared with deep admiration
at the little woman beside him on the sofa. “It must be most
awfully difficult to do a thing like that.”
      
“Not in the least,” she said. “I stuff
all
my little pets myself
when they pass away. Will you have another cup of tea?”
      
“No, thank you,” Billy said. The tea tasted faintly of bitter
almonds, and he didn’t much care for it.
      
“You did sign the book, didn’t you?”
      
“Oh, yes.”
      
“That’s good. Because later on, if I happen to forget what
you were called, then I can always come down here and look
it up. I still do that almost every day with Mr Mulholland and
Mr . . . Mr . . .”
      
“Temple,” Billy said. “Gregory Temple. Excuse my asking,
but haven’t there been
any
other guests here except them in
the last two or three years?”
      
Holding her teacup high in one hand, inclining her head
slightly to the left, she looked up at him out of the corners of
her eyes and gave him another gentle little smile.
      
“No, my dear,” she said. “Only you.”

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