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he Three Mariners Inn, a timber frame building on Seathorpe’s ancient seafront, had been built in the year 1131, according to the signboard. The old tavern, now an antique emporium, must surely, mused Dr Who, as he stood on the sun-baked pavement before it in the summer of 1963, be one of England’s oldest buildings. Above the doorway stood a rather formidable-looking ship’s figurehead, her flowing brown tresses and bright blue drapery curiously at odds with the gimlet stare of her hard black eyes.

Glancing idly at a seagull perched on a litter bin, Dr Who pushed open the ancient, creaking door and found himself in the subdued light of a musty-smelling room, originally the bar, still fitted with its oak settles but now stuffed to bursting with a diverse hoard of memorabilia. There were brass bedsteads, papier-mâché cabinets, gutta percha chairs, trays of delicate crockery, paintings, postcards, a Victorian dress of black bombazine beaded with jet, porcelain-faced dolls in clothes of finely-worked lace, elaborately-wrought clocks, each one frozen at a different point in time. On a rough wooden shelf stood a long row of variously-sized Toby jugs – and what extremely hideous objects they were, thought Dr Who.

The place was soaked in atmosphere.

A little old man with wispy, snow-white hair was hunched over a large, leather-bound, ancient-looking tome, open before him on a desk that had pennies stuck all over its surface. Was he, Dr Who wondered ridiculously, consulting his book of spells?

The shrivelled little gnome registered his presence and peered across at him with large, startled eyes, like a squirrel disturbed in the act of laying down the winter’s supply of nuts.

‘A very old volume,’ the Doctor commented, nodding towards it and fixing his monocle in place. ‘Centuries old, in fact, hmm?’

The crinkled parchment face of the superannuated old fellow brightened in a trice. ‘Oh yes, indeed. An eleventh century spell book.’

Dr Who, remembering his first thought on seeing the little proprietor, was taken aback. ‘Ah…indeed?’

‘My last look at it, sadly. It’s going to a wealthy collector in Cambridge.’ The old man sighed. ‘Ah, well, I did get a good price, I suppose…’

‘It’ll keep the wolf from the door,’ a new voice croaked. ‘Can’t eat books, can you?’

An old woman seated on a rickety chair by the counter, whom Dr Who hadn’t even noticed until she spoke, was sipping tea from a delicate china cup decorated with a ringleted lady in a lemon-coloured crinoline.

The old man looked miserably at the hefty volume. ‘There’s something in that, of course,’ he conceded, reluctantly.

‘Granny Crumble, they call me round here.’

Dr Who summoned up a polite smile. ‘Delighted, Madam.’

Granny Crumble stared at him wonderingly, as if fascinated by his words. She was a worn-looking old thing, he noted absently. The long black coat she was buttoned tightly into was in a similar condition. Her slightly untidy grey hair, gathered into a very loose bun at the back, was topped with a battered black hat, on the brim of which a few artificial flowers struggled against the odds to keep up appearances.

‘Chitty.’ The proprietor offered Dr Who his hand. ‘Edwin Chitty.’

‘Funny, really,’ said Granny Crumble.

Both men stared at her blankly.

‘Funny that everybody calls me Granny. I’ve never had no children, you know, even though my poor Harry and me was married for more than a few years before he copped it.’

‘In the last war,’ Mr Chitty explained to Dr Who, making an effort.

‘A V1 on “The Spread Eagle”. I lived in London then. Houndsditch. I’d stayed at home with my old trouble, you see.’ She paused, remembering. ‘I saw my Harry just before they screwed him down. Looked real put out, he did. Mind you, there’d still been half an hour to go till closing time when it happened.’

Dr Who and Edwin Chitty nodded gravely.

‘I’ve been on my own these twenty odd years.’ Granny drained her teacup. ‘A hard life, it’s been, but I never grumble, though I can only afford to have one bar of the gas fire on when it’s the really cold weather. I can’t even scrape up enough for a nice port and lemon now and then to ward off the palps.’

Mr Chitty sighed. ‘There’s tea left in my flask, Granny, if you’d care for another,’ he offered, reluctantly.

‘Oh, no. I don’t want to impose,’ Granny Crumble insisted unconvincingly, already proffering her cup and saucer for the refill.

‘Have you heard from your old friend in Houndsditch lately?’ the old man enquired, making a determined attempt to display polite interest as he sadly watched his beverage supply diminish further. ‘A charwoman, isn’t she?’

‘Ada Drewcock? She wrote in April. Or was it May? Rambled on about some strange goings-on during that big freeze, she did. I couldn’t make head nor tail of it.’

There was a momentary flicker in Dr Who’s eyes. He changed the subject with, ‘The ship’s figurehead above the door outside looks rather formidable, does she not, hmm?’

Old Chitty’s eyes swivelled towards Dr Who. ‘Eva? Yes, I suppose she does look rather unnerving. I suppose I’m so used to her that I don’t even notice anymore.’

The irrepressible Granny Crumble piped up again. ‘They say she comes down from there and wanders the streets. Knocks on fishermen’s doors to warn them of approaching storms, she does.’ Granny stared into her cup, already empty again. She placed it on the counter and rose unsteadily to her feet. ‘I suppose I’d better take myself off. I’m not one to wear out my welcome. Never have been.’

‘She comes every day now,’ Edwin Chitty told Dr Who, when the door had closed behind her. He sighed. ‘I suppose I should be grateful for the company, but Granny can drink an ocean of tea. She lives in the old people’s flats on Sycamore Crescent. Came to Seathorpe just after the war, as I remember…’

 

artwork by ANDY LAMBERT
used with permission
 
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