these houses, got out, opened the door and reached for Horace, and by the time he had done this the front door had been opened by a cosy-looking woman of middle age, dressed very neatly in black. She smiled at Suzannah as she mounted the few steps to the door.
âGood morning, miss. Iâm Mrs Cobb, housekeeper to the professor. Iâm to see that you have a cup of coffee before you leave, and Iâll show you where your cat will live. Glad to have him, too; the professorâs got a dog, but my old cat, Flossie, died a while ago and I do miss her.â
She had led the way into the house as she spoke, into a small hall, very elegant with its striped walls and polished floor. âIf you wouldnât mind coming to the kitchen, missâ¦â
There was a baize door beside the curving staircase at the back of the hall; they went through it, down some steps and through another door into the kitchen. The house, Suzannah realised, was a good deal larger than it appeared from the street, for the kitchen was large with a glimpse of smaller rooms leading from it and, through the window at the end, quite a long garden.
âHeâll live here with me,â explained Mrs Cobb, âbut of course heâll have the run of the house, and through this doorâ¦â she opened another door and went down a short passage which in turn opened into a garden-room, âthereâs all this for him to roam in. And be sure Iâll take the greatest deal of care of him, miss. If you let him out so that he can look aroundâ¦?â
The sun warmed the garden-room, and it was comfortably furnished with lounge chairs and little tables. âYou just have your coffee here,â advised Mrs Cobb, âand let the little man roam.â
She bustled off and Horace, freed from his basket, sauntered around, sniffing at the greenery and finally settling in one of the chairs. Mrs Cobb, coming back with the coffee-tray, looked pleased. âThere! I knew heâd settle. Handsome, isnât he?â
Suzannah sat and drank her coffee and then, warned by Mrs Cobb that Cobb would be driving her to her employer in ten minutesâ time, went away to tidy herself in the luxurious little cloakroom tucked away behind the staircase. From the glimpse she had of the house, the professor lived in the greatest comfortâmore luxury. She would have liked to have seen more of the house. There were several doors leading from the hall, but they were all shut, and she resisted the temptation to open them and went back to the garden-room to say goodbye to Horace, who, curled up half asleep, did no more than open an eye.
âIâll be back,â she assured him, and followed Mr Cobb back into the hall once more and then out to the car. She felt terrible: like someone who had jumped into the deep end of a swimming pool and remembered at the last moment that she couldnât swim.
T HEY HADNâT FAR to go, but during the short drive Cobb, seeing her downcast face, talked cheerfully. âThe missus will love Horace,â he told her. âDotes on cats, she does. I dare say sheâll drop you a line to let you know how he is.â
Suzannah said gratefully, âOh, do you suppose she would? Iâd be very grateful; you see, Iâm not quite sure how long Iâll be away.â She added doubtfully, âI hope Iâll do.â
âDonât you fret, miss. The professor doesnât make mistakes; if he thought you were right for the job, then youâll be OK.â
He turned the car into a Belgravia square. âHere we are.â He drew in his breath with a satisfied hiss. âJust on time, too.â
The Bentley was gliding to a halt before one of the massive houses in the square, and Cobb drew up just behind it, got out, opened Suzannahâs door and with a cheerful, âGoodbye, miss,â left her with the professor, who had got out of his car too.