“I say Charles,” began Albert, pausing to shift gears as the bright red Citroen began it’s ascent up a steep hill, “we should have reached Griffenhall a good half-hour ago. Are you sure you’re reading the map correctly?”
Charles glanced over at Albert and gave a slight shrug of his shoulders. “I admit my navigation skills are limited Albert, but there is only one road from King’s Lynne to Griffenhall and we’re on it. But just to put your mind at ease, lets have James’s opinion.”
Charles passed the map back to James, who was sitting comfortably in the back seat, legs stretched out and chewing on the end of a cheroot he had not bothered to light since the start of their journey.
James pretended to study the map carefully for a minute (adding an occasional “Hmmm” for good effect) then handed it back to Charles. “I’m sorry to disappoint you Albert, but our navigator is correct – we are on the one and only road leading to Griffenhall. You’ll definitely need to pick-up the pace if we stand any chance of getting there by supper.”
This had the desired effect of making his two companions chuckle. Albert had been speeding for most of their journey, hitting 60 mph on several occasions, the automobile’s “impressive cruising speed”, a phrase Albert used, if not once, then at least a half-dozen times.
The three young men were on a short “sabbatical from Oxford” (as James put it), travelling around the countryside for a few days before the start of exams. Their car, the newly released 1937 Sports Citroen, was the most recent addition to Albert’s father’s collection, a prominent businessman who made his fortune in the booming chemical industry, producing fertilizer for the ever-growing number of farms in England.
“Quite decent of your father to lend us the new auto,” remarked Charles, thinking of how painful the trip would have been in James’ cramped and somewhat dilapidated Morris Minor, affectionately know as the “spinal compressor” among his friends.
“Yes, the old man has a kind heart, despite his reputation as a ruthless businessman,” replied Albert. “In fact, he once—” Albert stopped suddenly in mid-sentence, adding instead “What’s this? I thought father had the engine checked before lending us the auto!”
The reason for this sudden outburst soon became apparent to both Charles and James – steam was escaping from the hood of the car. Fortunately, they had just come to the top of the hill, allowing Albert to switch off the engine and coast to a stop.
“What a spot of bad luck,” remarked James. “And we were making such good time as well.”
Albert gave a slight sigh as he shot an amused look back at James through the rear-view mirror. “I’m going to be a gentleman and ignore that comment James. Now come along you two, we’ll need to move this vehicle off the road.”
A clearing at the side of the road, next to a tall English oak, lay some twenty feet ahead, and the three men steered the vehicle to this spot without too much effort. Once there, both men stood aside as Albert released the latches at the base of the hood and yanked it open, all the while keeping his face turned away from the overheated engine. The two engine panels folded neatly together and came to rest in an upright position above the engine.
“How bad is it?” inquired Charles.
“Engine overheated, that’s all,” replied Albert. “We’ll need to let it cool for a bit and top off the radiator with water as well. In the meantime, be a good sport and lend me your jacket, I need to wrap it around my hand so I can twist the radiator cap open. I promise it will be none the worse for wear because of it.”
This proved not to be the case, however. Charles noticed a slight circular stain, the size of the radiator cap, on the right lapel of the jacket just as he was ready to slip it on again. He did not bring this to the attention of Albert, instead folding his jacket over his arm and commenting on how warm the afternoon was becoming.
“There’s a house up on that hill to the right of us.” James said, pointing. “Looks inhabited…though it could do with some repairs. May as well head up and see if the occupants will provide us with water for the radiator.”
“I could do with a glass myself,” added Albert.
The house, a narrow Edwardian construction unusually devoid of any ornate decorative features, had a gray, moss-stained door that was slightly ajar. Charles reached out and gave the copper door bell a few turns. No bell sounded, but a few moments later an elderly man appeared at the door. He was of small build, pale in complexion, and wore dark trousers and a Tweed jacket that would have been considered fashionable twenty years ago.
“Good afternoon,” began Charles. “My apologies for the intrusion, but we ran into a spot of trouble with our vehicle. Is there someone in the household we can speak with that may be able to assist us?”
“I am the keeper of this place.” Replied the elderly man in a shallow but even voice.
“Wonderful,” continued Charles. “My name is Charles Black, and these are my companions, Albert and James.” Both men nodded their heads towards the elderly keeper, who ignored their gesture and continued to keep his eyes fixed on Charles. After murmuring a few words to himself, he said at last “How can I be of help?”
“Our car overheated. We were hoping you could provide us with a pitcher of water,” replied Charles.
“I can accommodate that request. Please follow me into the kitchen. I will have to ask that your two companions wait here for you.” The elderly keeper turned and motioned for Charles to follow. Both Albert and James feigned a hurt look at Charles. “Children,” murmured Charles as he stepped into the house.
Charles had walked out a few minutes later carrying a white ceramic pitcher half filled with water, which Albert was now carefully pouring into the radiator. “Awfully queer chap, wasn’t he?”
“I’d say,” replied Charles. “Didn’t say a word the entire time we were in the house. Didn’t even acknowledge my repeated thanks for his help.” Charles seemed to hesitate for a moment, then continued “Also, when he was at the door, staring at me, he murmured something to himself. The more I think about it, the more certain I am that he said Ita vero, satis erit.”
“Ita vero, satis erit,” repeated Albert slowly. “What does it mean?”
“It’s Latin for Yes, he will do.”
Albert stop pouring the water into the radiator. He looked at Charles for a moment, then handed him the pitcher and secured the hood in place.
“I don’t know about you Charles, but the faster I get away from this place, the better I’ll feel. Just leave the pitcher at the base of the laneway where the old man can fetch it himself and let us be on our way.”
They were just a few minutes into their journey when, quite unexpectedly, they found themselves driving up another steep hill.
“The terrain looked fairly flat when we drove off,” said Albert in a perplexed voice. “Certainly I would have spotted a hill of this size.”
The three men glanced at one another. An air of uneasiness had fallen over them. The car had just come over the crest of the hill when Albert slowed to a stop. He was looking to his left, where a narrow laneway wound its way up to an old house on a hill.
“It can’t be.” James said in a low voice.
After a brief moment of silence, Charles turned to Albert, ready to remark that, as unusual at it was, there could certainly be two similar houses in the area. But he stopped himself when he noticed that Albert’s gaze had shifted, he was now looking at the base of the hill, next to the laneway. Charles leaned over to the right so he could peer over Albert’s shoulder. There, just as he had left it only a short while ago, stood the white ceramic pitcher.