Maria, Clyde and Luke were going through the cupboards and drawers in Sarah Jane’s spare bedroom next door to where Luke slept. she had given them permission to look through the old clothes for something to make Halloween costumes with for the school party.
“This will do me,” Maria said as she pulled out a pink and white candy striped overall. “I can go as Andy Pandy.”
Clyde and Luke laughed but agreed that it would be a very original costume. They wondered why something like that was among Sarah Jane’s clothes. None of them could imagine such a well dressed woman as they knew wearing something that didn’t seem to belong to any known fashion period.
“What’s this, then?” Clyde asked as he pulled out something wrapped in a dry cleaner’s plastic cover. He unwrapped it and both boys looked at it admiringly. “Oh, that is… wow…”
Sarah Jane just happened to look into the room as that moment.
“Oh, no!” she exclaimed as the boys held up the carefully pressed Royal Navy officer’s uniform, complete with cap. “Oh, no, you can’t use that. It’s….”
“Who does it belong to?” Maria asked. “It’s a man’s uniform. How come….”
“Harry,” Luke said. “It’s his, isn’t it?” He remembered seeing pictures from the 1980s of Sarah Jane and a man in naval uniform and knew his name was Captain Harry Sullivan. But she had always been reluctant to talk about him.
Luke knew why. He was dead. And his mum felt bad about that, still.
“Yes, it was Harry’s,” Sarah Jane admitted. She took the uniform from the boys and stroked the fabric lovingly. “Oh, I remember the last time he wore this uniform. We were at the old Brigadier’s reunion party, ten years after he retired. Harry looked so handsome in his uniform. We had such a nice time. I wish I had known then… how unwell he was. I would have…” She paused and sighed and her fingers touched the cap badge identifying the wearer as a captain in the Royal Navy Medical Service. “Well, I don’t suppose I could have done anything different. Except, perhaps, valued the time we did have more.”
She looked around at the youngsters who were listening to her. Did they understand what she meant? They were all bright and smart thinking, mature for their age, but were they just a bit too young to really understand what she was trying to say here?”
“Mum,” Luke said. “It’s all right. You can talk about him. Really, you can. And we’d all love to hear.”
“Well….” Sarah Jane hesitated. She had often told the three of them stories about her time with The Doctor. And Harry had sometimes been mentioned in passing, but she had always avoided the adventures in which he featured significantly. When she thought about it, she didn’t really know why. Was it because it was still painful to her, or was it that she felt awkward talking about an old boyfriend in front of Luke?
Not that Harry was just a boyfriend. He was far more than that to her. He always had been.
She sat down on an old, squashy armchair that had been left in the spare room. The youngsters all recognised the signs and found seats on the piles of suitcases and an old fashioned wooden trunk.
“Well,” she said. “It’s Halloween. I suppose there’s a story I can tell you that’s appropriate. About Harry and me and a vampire.”
“Really?” Clyde exclaimed. “An actual vampire?”
“An actual, actual vampire?”
“Actually a vampire.”
“Where?” Maria asked. “Transylvania?”
“Portsmouth,” Sarah Jane answered.
“It’s a navy town,” she reminded them, hugging the uniform closer to her. “Harry had a forty-eight hour pass. He had rented a house, just outside the town. He invited me down to visit.”
The three youngsters exchanged knowing glances that raised a blush from Sarah Jane herself.
“If I’d had those sort of thoughts when I was your age…” she said. “No, it wasn’t like that at all. Harry was an officer and a gentleman. Also a very good friend. And I knew I could trust him.”
“We believe you, mum,” Luke told her. “So… what happened, then? With Harry and the Vampire?”
“Patience,” she replied. “Let me tell this my way. It’s my memory, after all.”
Harry had picked her up from the railway station in a hired car. She enjoyed the drive from the centre of Portsmouth out along the coast. Harry chatted amiably to her.
“I think you’ll like the house. It’s just your cup of tea. An old, rambling place that the owner had converted into two smaller houses Lots of history to it. The house was built in the 18th century from the ruins of a small abbey, you know, closed down by Henry VIII and all that. The old 14th century church tower is actually incorporated into the house. I’ve got the key to go up it. The view from the top is fabulous.”
“You saw an old, rambling house and thought of me?” Sarah Jane smiled wryly. “Harry, you know how to say the sweetest, most romantic things.”
“I don’t mean that you’re old and rambling,” he said, backpedalling frantically. “I mean… you like old and rambling things. Your Aunt Lavinia’s old house in Moreton Harwood for instance…”
“I’m not that keen on that house, actually,” she replied. “Not after Christmas last year and the witches coven.”
“Witches coven?” Harry’s eyes opened wide. “And I thought I had an exciting and varied life at sea?”
“I might try going to sea, some time. For a quiet life. When it comes to old and rambling, there’s only the one thing that comes to mind. Or one person.”
Harry grinned and agreed that was a pretty good description of their mutual friend.
“Have you seen him at all, since he left you off in Aberdeen?”
“No,” she answered with a sigh before making the effort to brighten up. “But that’s all right. You know, time to put all that madness behind us and live a normal life.”
“Witches covens aside,” Harry pointed out.
“Here we are,” Harry said after they had carried on in silence for a little while. He slowed the car to a stop and got out to open a big, wrought iron gate between high stone walls overhung with ivy. He got back into the car and drove up the narrow avenue that was almost a tunnel under the branches of the trees that lined it on either side. Even now, in late October, with no leaves on them, they were still so very dense that hardly any daylight came through. Sarah Jane wondered what sort of house was at the end of it all.
When they emerged into the late October sunlight, she had to admit it was an impressive looking house. It was in a sort of L shape, one wing being smaller than the other. Harry explained that there was a modest two bedroom apartment with all mod cons that he had rented, and the larger house, incorporating the old ballroom and a big dining room and original kitchen, which was used for private parties and functions.
The church tower he had mentioned rose up from where the two arms of the ‘L’ met. Given that its base was hidden by the walls and roof of the house, there was a surprisingly tall piece of it rising up. Near the top was a clock that obviously hadn’t worked for a long time, permanently set at twelve o’clock, and some long, thin windows. It had crenulations around the top like a lot of church towers had.
“There’s a trapdoor that brings you out up there,” Harry said. “We can have a look, later, after lunch, if you like.”
“Yes, why not,” Sarah Jane agreed. “As long as we do it in daytime. It’s… you know…in daylight it’s rather charming. But at night, it could be a bit creepy. And, you know, it IS Halloween tonight.”
“Don’t worry, old girl,” Harry replied as he gallantly carried all of her bags to the door and struggled with the key because he was so loaded up. “My plans for Halloween involve nothing more sinister than some nicely braised lamb cutlets and fresh vegetables, a bottle of fine wine, and a Crème brûlée.”
“Lovely,” Sarah Jane said as she stepped into the house. She was impressed by how it looked inside. It really did have all mod-cons as Harry had put it. The drawing room was beautifully decorated and furnished. It’s only let down was a lack of a view. It faced out onto the paved courtyard in the middle of the ‘L’ with those dense trees beyond. She could see the entrance to the other part of the house to the left and if she looked up, the top of the old church tower.
Still, she thought. She wasn’t really here for the view. She would be happy to draw the curtains and enjoy the big open fire that Harry had obviously lit before coming to pick her up. She took off her coat and sat down in an armchair near the fireplace and enjoyed the warmth. Harry took her bags upstairs to the second bedroom and then went to the kitchen to fix a light lunch. Sarah Jane wondered exactly when he had learnt to cook, considering he spent so much of his time at sea, but she enjoyed the meal he made, anyway, and afterwards she was happy to join him in what was the nearest thing to an adventure to be had, here, going up the tower.
The door to it was from the kitchen. That was completely modernised apart from the old fashioned wooden doorway set into one wall. Harry found a big, chunky key and inserted it into the lock. The door swung inwards. He flicked a switch inside and modern electric lights illuminated a 14th century spiral staircase. The walls had been lime-washed at some time, but it was all flaky and dry now. The steps were slightly terrifying. From the back of her mind, Sarah Jane had the idea that they were called ‘keys’ with the rounded end forming the pillar that rose up in the middle, with the fan shaped steps revolving around it.
“There are sixty-nine of them,” Harry told her. “Take your time. You need quite a bit of puff. But really, it is worth it.”
Harry went first with the keys. There was a locked door at the top, he said. Sarah Jane followed behind, holding onto the central column as they wound around and up. She forgot to count the steps. She was too busy not getting dizzy and avoiding putting her hands into spider webs and particularly flaky bits of the wall. Finally, she saw the big old door that blocked the way and Harry jangling keys again. He pushed open the door and stepped up into the room at the top. Sarah Jane followed him.
She expected it to be dismal. It wasn’t. It had a bare wooden floor, of course. But it had a table and chairs in it, the sort of green painted wrought iron type of table that some people would have in a garden with an umbrella over. The chairs had cushions. There were wooden seats, painted green to match the table, by the long thin windows on all four sides.
“In summer, I suppose it is nice and cool for afternoon tea with a view,” Harry surmised. “Bit nippy this time of year with no glass in the windows.”
Sarah Jane nodded. She could see how that would work. Funny that the stairs up were so primitive, but here it was actually quite nice.
“Want to see up the top?” Harry asked as he reached up and pulled down a folding ladder up to the trapdoor in the ceiling. Again, Sarah Jane let him go first, and he reached to give her a helping hand as she climbed up onto the roof of the tower.
The view was definitely worth it, she agreed. The sky was clear and the view across the Solent was perfect. The Isle of Wight looked almost close enough to touch.
“You should have brought a telescope from the ship,” Sarah Jane told Harry. “What views you would get up here.”
“It would be great for an observatory, watching the stars,” Harry added.
“Mmm. I think we’ve seen enough of them close up,” Sarah Jane replied. “I’m happy to leave them alone.”
“I’m a sailor,” Harry answered her. “The stars are our friends. ‘And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by’….”
Sarah Jane laughed.
“A bit corny, isn’t it?”
“Not at all. It’s one of my favourite poems,” Harry answered. Sarah Jane felt a bit mean for laughing when he said that. But Harry didn’t seem to mind. As she stood looking out over Portsmouth harbour, where the ship he had been serving on was at anchor, he stood behind her and put his arms around her shoulders. She closed her own arms around his and sighed contentedly. Perfect moments like that just didn’t happen often enough in her life.
Maria sighed softly. Sarah Jane looked at her and smiled. Maria was only fifteen, but she did understand, at some fundamental level, at least, why that was such a special moment, one she remembered with such absolute clarity even after so many years.
The boys looked a bit less enchanted.
“That’s all very well,” Clyde said. “But where does the vampire come into it?”
“Well, not until later, surely,” Luke said with perfect logic. “It’ll be asleep until nightfall.”
“I’m getting to that,” Sarah Jane told them. “But, tell you what, let’s go and get some tea and sandwiches and sit on the sofas in the attic where it’s more comfortable.”
To Be Continued...