The George Sweet Doorway Mysteries - "THE WRONG DOOR BELL"....

... Elspeth Gramondely was cross. Yes, the snow had stopped falling, but she could smell that more was coming, perhaps within the hour, and a heavy one at that! Her grandmother always told all the family that Elspeth had the "gift"... like all the seafaring men in their extensive ancestry. "Elspeth has the nose", her grandmother would cackle when people quarreled about the predictions of rain, or cold, or fog... anything! Elspeth always seemed to know. Like her ancestors; the whalers and battleship captains. The family had an illustrious past on the open sea, although they had fallen on harder times by the 1920s. But here was Elspeth going door to door, collecting small donations for the Seafarers' Home in Carrington-on-Harrow, and pinning the sweet little blue paper cornflower on the donor's shirt or jacket with a curtsy and a "thank-you", delivered cheerfully, but a tad hurried. Row after row of houses, up one street, and down the next, and always glancing resentfully at the sky between stops and curtsies, and "thank-yous"...She looked at the list of names and addresses which she had been checking off...carefully noting which ones didn't answer their doors and would have to be followed up on. And she would be expected to do that too... but then she had always been reliable. The oldest child of five...and a daughter too. Even at 6, she had been mature for her age, and oddly somber. Elspeth took everything seriously, especially her chores and responsibilities...and her promises. She helped her mother and grandmother, her aunts, and the nice ladies in the neighborhood with everything. Watching children, doing errands, helping when someone was ill and needed an extra pair of hands for cleaning, laundry, meal time.... Elspeth was thinking of all those years of helping and doing and being responsible when she suddenly stumbled on the walk and fell flat on her donation box and parcels. Her palms had scraped along the frigid cobbles, and the stones had torn the tender flesh sending flashes of bright pain up her arms and blinding her! Had she screamed? Her usual reserve made her bite her lip in shame, hoping that no one had heard or seen her fall...or cry. Her composure and bravery were all-important to her, even at 12 years of age..... and she quickly gathered all the coins and the few pound notes that were scattered in the snow and threatening to blow away as an icy breeze began to stir. Thank goodness she hadn't broken the inlaid wooden box with its hinged lid and the handsome brass anchor nailed to its center. Captain Harkovy had entrusted her with it from his own collection... "For Good Luck", he'd winked at her! She brushed herself off carefully, making sure that she didn't get any of the slowly oozing blood onto her woolen coat or school pinafore. She glanced around quickly to make sure no one saw her lick the small cuts here and there on her tender hands, wincing at the sting ...and her clumsiness, and began walking again to the next house.... but... which house? She reached for her paper sheafs to check the addresses...but...oh... where were her papers?... Where! Wait..they must be right here..or behind her?... on the pavement… no… not there.. had they blown somewhere.. no, the breeze hadn't picked up THAT much.. "now wait!", she told herself! I must stay calm.. there's a perfect explanation.. I... I.... must have put them down! Yes..that's it. I put them down at one of the houses to put the money in the box and arrange the coins in the right pockets and the bills... maybe on a front stoop..or a landing near a front door... yes! That's where the list is. I just have to retrace my steps.... I don't want to bother anyone especially near dinner time...and it IS getting dark, but people will understand..even if I have to ring a bell...or two... or... but ..... And then Elspeth realized she didn't recognize the stoops or the doorways or even the bell knobs that she saw as she walked back down the street... or was it the other way that she had come?. It was all a blur... and she began to ...panic, because that's what happens to very, very organized people who, on those very, very rare occasions lose something..or lose their way... or lose all the composure that they have spent their lives ...composing. Elspeth looked down at her shoes, now wet and chilly from all the snow, and took a breath. I can fix this. The sweet, quiet, little voice that she trusted on those rare occasions when she worried about being good enough came to her. I can fix this. I always do. And she looked at the closest doorway and the snow beginning to dust its stoop. Three steps up past the pair of dark pink granite columns and the iron railings...I don't remember those!... and the door! So dark, the wood almost black and shiny..like ebony...with a sneering face, maybe of a goat or Pan... or both? And the doorbell knob!.. I've never seen that before. It's a hand, a brass hand! Little and polished... and held out towards the visitor... as if greeting you and offered in a handshake. But icy cold...and hard. So cold...and hard...and shiny bright. But Elspeth thought only of the snow beginning to fall...and then swirl, and the streetlights just coming on... and her list... and her responsibilities... and she took the hand, the shiny cold hand and...she held it in hers in an icy handshake…. And she pulled it to her…..she shivered.. She shivered as the tinkling bell announced her to.... anyone....

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