June 8, 2021

Remains of the day

by Kazuo Ishiguro

Chapter ten - A Lonely Hill

September 1956

I have, it seems, become rather lost in these old memories. This was never my intention. But thinking about the past has at least helped me to forget the events of this evening. For, I have to admit, these last few hours have been extremely difficult for me.

I am now staying in an upstairs room of a small cottage in the tiny village of Moscombe in Devon. It belongs to a retired couple called Mr and Mrs Taylor. It is very kind of the Taylors to allow me to stay in this room. Mrs Taylor has not only made the bed for me, she has tidied and cleaned the room, too. Although I have repeatedly offered to pay for the room, they have refused to accept a penny.

I am staying in this cottage because I made one foolish, annoyingly simple, mistake. I had forgotten to check the petrol. It is true, I had been thinking about other things just before the car stopped. I had planned to stay in the town of Tavistock, but I could not find a room anywhere because of an agricultural fair. After I had tried several inns and guest houses, one landlady suggested that I should drive to a roadside inn which belonged to a relative of hers.

She gave me thorough directions, which had seemed clear enough at the time, but I was unable to find this roadside inn. Instead, after about fifteen minutes, I was driving along a misty road that curved across wild, open land. To my left, I could see the last red light of the sunset. Through the mist, I could see the distant shape of an occasional farm building. Apart from these, there was no sign of civilization.

I turned the Ford round and drove back, trying to find a road I had passed earlier. After some time I managed to find it, but I was still lost. This new road was even more isolated than the one I had just left. I drove in near-darkness between high hedges, then the road began to climb steeply. By now, I had given up hope of finding the roadside inn. I decided to drive on until I reached the next town or village. Halfway up the hill, however, the engine made a strange noise, and I noticed for the first time that the petrol tank was empty.

The Ford continued to climb for several more metres, then stopped. When I got out of the car, it was almost completely dark. I was standing on a steep road bordered by trees and hedges. Further up the hill I could see, through a break in the hedges, the shape of a wooden gate against the sky. I made my way up towards this gate, hoping to find a farmhouse or something. I was disappointed to find, however, that instead of a farmhouse there was just open land.

I stopped at the gate and stared across the fields. The land sloped downwards about twenty metres from the gate and disappeared into shadow. About two kilometres further ahead, the land rose into sight again, and I could see the distant shape of a church. Around the church there were small clouds of white smoke rising from chimneys.

I admit that I felt, at that moment, a little discouraged, but I tried to be positive. The situation was not absolutely desperate, I told myself. The Ford was not damaged, simply out of fuel. It would take me about half an hour to walk across the fields to the village. When I was there, I was sure to find accommodation and a can of petrol from somewhere. Nevertheless, despite these positive thoughts, I did not feel happy up there on that lonely hill, looking over the gate through the mist and darkness at the lights of a distant village.

After returning to the Ford to collect my case and a bicycle lamp, I searched for a footpath that might take me to the village. I was, however, unable to find one, so I had to climb over the gate and walk across the fields. The journey was not as bad as I had imagined. It consisted of a series of fields, each one muddier than the last. The worst thing was when I tore the shoulder of my jacket while squeezing through a small gap in one of the hedges.

Eventually I discovered a path which led down into the village. On my way along this path I met Mr Taylor. He touched his cap when he saw me with my torn clothes, muddy shoes, bicycle lamp and case. He then asked if I needed any help. When I explained my situation to him, Mr Taylor shook his head thoughtfully and said:
'I'm afraid there's no inn in our village, sir. But if you don't mind something less comfortable, my wife and I could offer you a room and a bed for the night. It's nothing special. It used to be our son's room before he went to live in Exeter.'

I protested that I did not wish to cause him and his wife so much inconvenience, but he paid no attention and said:
'It would be an honour to have you, sir. We don't get gentlemen like you passing through Moscombe very often. Besides, sir, I don't know what else you could do at this hour.'