This is the sixty-eighth chapter of an ongoing series. I've appreciated all the comments, questions and encouragement I've received from readers and hope to continue hearing from you. I try to answer all messages promptly. If I'm slow at times it is only because of the pressures of work.
Andrew continues to give much needed proofing and editorial help, for which I am sincerely grateful. I could not post chapters as quickly as I've been doing without his invaluable assistance.
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The rest of our stay in England was devoted primarily to business. Not that Roger and I didn't have time to do some more sight-seeing after hours and for some hot sex together each night.
On Monday morning it was as if I was having breakfast with a different man. Roger was all business and I was amazed by the discipline he brought to bear on the meetings and conversations we had, both between him and me and with the others with whom we met.
This was the Dr. Roger Bardwell I'd known for four years as a generous but demanding professor. He asked if I had everything we'd be needing and I assured him all the papers and documents were neatly packed in the briefcase I'd brought along.
Soon after breakfast the NSB car arrived at the hotel. We were again driven by Olive, who'd driven us from Heathrow to the hotel on Saturday morning. This time, however, he was not accompanied by Valerie Jones.
"The drive will take over an hour, sir," Olive told Roger as we got into the back of the huge car.
An hour and twenty minutes later we'd driven through parts of the vast city I'd not yet seen, then onto a modern motor way and then, finally, along a series of increasingly narrow country roads and lanes. The last mile or so of the journey was along a single track lane bordered by high hedges, leading finally to a cottage which looked very little like a picture from Country Life. It had hard brick walls with deepest windows. There was no thatched roof here but, instead, very practical dark gray tiles. The cottage had a harsh, almost industrial look. The day was cool and whiffs of blue smoke curled from a large central chimney.
Roger was out of the door before Olive could circle the car but the driver insisted on standing there at stiff attention as I emerged.
"I'll turn the car around, sir," Olive said, "and wait for you just over there." He pointed to a place a dozen yards from the gate where the narrow lane widened a bit, allowing other cars to pass if necessary.
Roger and I walked though a practical, iron gate, along a wide gravel path between neatly tended flower beds, and up to the dark front door.
The woman who responded to our knock looked like a small, gray mouse. Despite her diminutive size, Bell Corley had a fierceness about her which made it clear that she expected to have her own way.
"Miss Corley," Roger said, extending his hand, "I'm Roger Bardwell and this is Rob Ballinger."
"I know perfectly well who you are, Dr. Bardwell." she snapped, then moved aside and added, "please come in."
We were ushered through a small entry way which seemed to circle the huge chimney. Then we came to a single step which went down into a long sitting room. A well banked coal fire was burning in the grate and the room smelled of stale smoke and cinnamon.
"I made biscuits and fresh coffee," she said, leading us to a sofa and two upholstered chairs grouped around a low table. Apart from the plate of cookies and the coffee tray, it was stacked with books and magazines.
"That was very kind of you," Roger spoke for both of us.
"I understand why you're here, Dr. Bardwell. Let's get on with it." As she spoke she poured coffee into three heavy pottery mugs and placed one in front of each of us. "Help yourself," she said, nodding toward the tray which contained a milk pitcher and bowl of dark sugar.
"Then you understand that we want to discuss some changes," Roger said as he stirred sugar into his coffee and turned the serving tray toward me.
"Yes, and you understand that my agreement states that no changes will be made."
"The agreement states," Roger said, his voice low and business like, "that no changes will be made without your consent." He sipped his coffee and then went on. "I suppose one could argue that simply reworking your novel as a film script constitutes a change of considerable significance."
"I've had two or three telephone conversations with Peg Saloons, Dr. Bardwell. I understand the difficulties and I understand the approach you intend to take . . . the approach you wish me to approve."
"It won't be me who's taking it, Miss Corley, but Rob here who is on Martin Basingstoke's team."
"So I understood," she said, taking as sip of her black coffee. "I gather this was all your idea," she said to me.
"I'm sure if I'd not thought if it someone else would have gotten the same idea," I said.
"Did you bring me a sample of your working script, young man?"
"Yes, Ma'am," I said, fumbling in the brief case I'd brought. I pulled about ten pages of the draft out and handed it to her. As I did so I noticed my hand was shaking, causing the pages to rustle slightly.
When she took them and I turned to look at Roger I saw he was smiling at my nervousness. I knew he'd be teasing me later.
We sat in silence for several minutes as she read slowly and deliberately through the typed pages.
"Interesting," she finally said, laying the pages down and taking off her glasses. "You don't seem to have changed much."
"No, Ma'am. We just put your narrative descriptions into dialog form, dialog between the two women."
She lapsed into silence again, her gaze fixed on some point beyond Roger and me.
"I'm going to tell you something," she eventually said. "I don't want this repeated. Is that understood?"
"Yes, Ma'am," I said hastily.
Roger sat down his mug and said, "certainly."
"You both seem to be quite perceptive so I'm sure what I'm going to say has occurred to you already." She paused again, fiddled with her glasses, and then went on. "Call the Dark Waters is a great deal more autobiographical than I've ever publicly admitted."
She was silent and seemed to expect a reply. Roger said nothing so in a very soft voice, I said, "yes, we'd thought that was the case, Miss Corley."
"Then you've probably guessed that there was something very special between me and the woman I called Brook."
"Yes," I responded, realizing that Roger had no intention of speaking and was, in effect, forcing me to take the lead in the conversation.
"Brook's name was actually Sarah and what you've done is uncanny, Mr. Bardwell. I could say it is positively unnerving."
"I hope the idea hasn't distressed you."
"It has done, but that's beside the point. What I must tell you is that in my first draft of the book I did exactly what you've done. The narrative passages were in the form of dialog between Sarah and me, dialog reconstructed from my memories of actual conversations we had over a period of two or three years prior to her death."
"You've done a remarkable job of putting those passages back into the form of my original draft."
"I had no idea," I stammered.
"Well, your idea makes sense. I knew, of course, that the narrative passages would have to go. No one wants to sit through a film showing misty views of English meadows and lakes while a woman's voice recites endlessly off camera."
"Yes, that is the problem," I agreed.
"So," she said, getting up from the sofa, "you can tell Martin and Peg that you have my approval to go in the direction you are going. To make the task somewhat easier, I'm going to give you a copy of my original draft. Then at least you should manage to have Sarah saying the things she said and me saying the things I said. And, by the way, I think I'd just as soon you use her real name in the film. Years have gone by and there's no one still living who'd care."
She left us for a moment, went into some back room which must have served as her office, and quickly returned with a stack of papers tied neatly in an unbound bundle.
"Now, gentlemen, do you have some sort of document for me to sign? I understood Peg was sending something."
I reached into a file in the side pocket of the briefcase and withdrew a single page. It was a simple agreement stating that Bell Corley agreed to changes in the original novel to make it more adaptable to the screen, but that she reserved the right to final approval of the script. She looked it over briefly and when I handed her my pen, she actually gave me a slight smile as she took it and signed the agreement.
"We did have one more question, Miss Corley," I said as I closed the pen and put the paper back in the briefcase."
"We will use Sarah for the name of woman who died," I said, "but what name should we use for the narrator?"
"Bell," she said without hesitation.
"Call her Bell."
To be continued.