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Death be Not Proud

BOOK: Death be Not Proud
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DEATH BE NOT PROUD
BY THE SAME AUTHOR

Mortal Fire

Text copyright © 2013 C. F. Dunn
This edition copyright © 2013 Lion Hudson

The right of C. F. Dunn to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted by her in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopy, recording, or any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher.

Published by Lion Fiction
an imprint of
Lion Hudson plc
Wilkinson House, Jordan Hill Road,
Oxford OX2 8DR, England
www.lionhudson.com/fiction

ISBN 978 1 78264 034 9
e-ISBN 978 1 78264 054 7

First edition 2013

Background image acknowledgments
iStockphoto: pp. 10–11 Alexey Popov; pp. 12–13 JVT; p. 79 Kim Sohee

Cover image acknowledgments
Corbis: Patrick Strattner/fstop;
iStock: peter zelei, Diane Diederich

A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library.

For my mother and father,
who made all things possible.

Acknowledgments

My gratitude, as ever, to Tony Collins and a great team at Lion Fiction – especially Kirsten, Jude, Jessica, and Simon – who have guided me with infinite patience through the labyrinthine process of publishing, and to Noelle Pederson, in the USA, and her team at Kregel Publishing for their fantastic support. To authors Fay Sampson and Colin Dexter I owe thanks for their generous endorsement.

Thank you to Wendy Rowden, whose power of persuasion is second to none. My mother, Mary, whose unstinting encouragement is matched only by my father, Bill Turnill, whose sterling work makes him a one-man promotion team to be reckoned with.

To Dee Prewer, who once again cast her velvet eye over the manuscript, and to Lisa Lewin, who had the fortitude to read the first draft.

To Mark Nardi-Dei, whose knowledge of the aircraft industry helped to join up the dots, and Kate Nardi-Dei, who understood the flight plan. Thanks for the lift to Bridgton, Maine, and the chowder, guys. Oh, and Mark… told you so.

My thanks to the staff at Stamford Museum (alas a victim of the cuts), and for the enthusiastic advice given to me by staff at the Rutland County Museum (Oakham); also to the gentleman at Gunthorpe, for giving me access to Martinsthorpe, where I could step back in time.

My enduring love to Richard, Kate, and Sophie, who keep my feet on the ground, and our corgi – Stig – for the walks that keep me moving.

Last and foremost, my thanks to the many readers, whose feedback and support make writing worthwhile: this book is for you.

Characters

ACADEMIC & RESEARCH STAFF AT HOWARD'S LAKE COLLEGE, MAINE

Emma D'Eresby, Department of History (Medieval and Early Modern)

Elena Smalova, Department of History (Post-Revolutionary Soviet Society)

Matias Lidström, Faculty of Bio-medicine (Genetics)

Matthew Lynes, surgeon, Faculty of Bio-medicine (Mutagenesis)

Sam Wiesner, Department of Mathematics (Metamathematics)

Kort Staahl, Department of English (Early Modern Literature)

MA STUDENTS

Holly Stanhope; Josh Feitel; Hannah Graham; Aydin Yilmaz; Leo Hamell

IN CAMBRIDGE

Guy Hilliard, Emma's former tutor

EMMA'S FAMILY

Hugh D'Eresby, her father

Penny D'Eresby, her mother

Beth Marshall, her sister

Rob Marshall, her brother-in-law

Alex & Flora, her twin nephew and niece

Nanna, her grandmother

 

Mike Taylor, friend of the family

Joan Seaton, friend of the family

MATTHEW'S FAMILY

Ellen

 

Henry

Pat (Henry's wife)

 

Margaret (Maggie – Henry's daughter)

 

Daniel (Dan – Henry's son)

Jeannette (Jeannie – Daniel's wife)

Harry

Ellie

Joel

The Story So Far

Mortal Fire
introduced the 29-year-old, independent, and self-assured Cambridge history lecturer Emma D'Eresby, who has one obsession in life: the curious journal of a seventeenth-century Englishman, a portion of which was left to her by her late grandfather.

Leaving her Cambridge college for a professorship in an exclusive university in Maine, USA, where the complete journal is housed, Emma meets the enigmatic 33-year-old surgeon Matthew Lynes, a quiet and thoughtful widower. Haunted by an illicit relationship with a senior tutor at Cambridge, she is confused by her feelings for Matthew; but she senses that he is not all he appears, and the ghost of his dead wife seems ever present. Encouraged by her vivacious Russian friend and colleague Elena Smalova, Emma begins to contemplate a possible future with Matthew, despite the unwanted but persistent attentions of the seductive Sam Wiesner. Meanwhile, a series of attacks on women leaves Emma fearful that the sinister Professor Kort Staahl is somehow involved, and she begins to suspect he is stalking her.

Driven to learn more about the elusive Matthew, Emma takes the unique journal, in which she believes there are clues to his family's past, from the college library. Although she means to return the journal, fate intervenes as Staahl mounts a vicious psychotic attack on her. Matthew's intervention saves her, but in the days that follow, as he nurses Emma back to health, his unusual attributes raise questions that he is unwilling to answer, and the possibility of a darker side becomes apparent.

Emma's parents fly to Maine and it becomes clear that she has a strained relationship with her domineering father. Although they pressurize her to return to England, she defies them, but on a day out in the mountains, Matthew's ability to survive a bear attack and his refusal to disclose the truth ends in an emotionally charged encounter. Emma decides that things cannot remain as they are. Bewildered, and still suffering from the effects of the attack, she flees back to England with her parents, taking the journal with her in the hope that, given time to think, she will discover what Matthew conceals.

CHAPTER
1
Abyss

Death waits for us all; it is only a matter of time
and the when and the where and the how
are the only variations to the song we must all sing.

I had good days and I had bad days.

It wasn't as if I could blame anyone else for the condition I found myself in, so I didn't look for any sympathy. I knew that my near-vegetative state caused my parents hours of anxiety, but I couldn't face the questions that queued in my own mind, let alone answer any of theirs.

I stayed in my room. Where I lay at an angle on my bed, I could watch the winter sun cast canyons of light as it moved across the eaved ceiling. Sometimes the light was the barest remnant from a clouded sky; at others, so bright that the laths were ribs under the aged plaster, regular undulations under the chalk-white skin.

I hadn't spent so long at home for many years. Here at the top of the house, the cars droned tunelessly as they laboured up the hill beyond the sheltering walls of St Mary's Church. Below, the voices of the street were mere echoes as they rose up the stone walls, entering illicitly through the thin frame of
the window. I listened to the random sounds of life; I watched it in the arc of the day. And the sounds and the light were immaterial – the days irrelevant – time did not touch me.

Sometime – days after fleeing Maine – my mother knocked softly on my door, her disembodied head appearing round it when I did not answer.

“Emma, you have twenty minutes to get yourself ready for your hospital appointment; your father's getting the car now.”

Her voice hovered in the air above my bed, and I heard every word she said, but they didn't register. I didn't move. She came into the room and stood at the end of my bed, her hands on her hips, her no-nonsense look in place. The lines creasing her forehead were deeper than I remembered, or maybe it was the way the light from the window fell across her brow.

“I know you heard me; I want you to get up and get dressed
now
. I won't keep the hospital waiting.”

She hadn't used that tone with me for nearly twenty years and I found it comforting in its severity.


Emma!

My eyes focused and saw her shaking, her hands clutching white-knuckled at the old iron-and-brass bedstead.

“Emma, I am asking you,
please
…”

My poor mother; with my Nanna in hospital and her youngest daughter tottering towards the edge of reality, she was strung out just as far as she could go, eking out her emotional reserves like food in a famine. I blinked once as I surfaced from the dark pool of my refuge, my mouth dry; I half-rolled, half-sat up. Wordlessly, I climbed off the bed and went stiffly to the bathroom down the landing, my mother a few steps behind me. I shut the door quietly on her, and turned to look in the mirror above the basin. Sunken eyes stared back from my skull-like head, skin brittle over high
cheekbones. Even my freckles seemed pale under the dim, grim light from the east window. Mechanically I brushed my teeth and washed, not caring as the cast on my arm became sodden. The bruises above my breasts and below my throat stood out against my fair skin. I pressed my fingertips into them, hands spanning the space between each smoky mark. I closed my eyes at the subdued pain and remembered why they were there.

Mum waited for me outside the door, and I aimlessly wondered if she thought I might try and escape – or something worse. I understood the effect of my behaviour on my family; I understood and cared with a remorse that should have torn the very heart from me, had I one. But my head and my heart were divorced, and I witnessed my distress in their pinched, tight faces and harried, exchanged looks as no more than a disinterested observer.

I also realized that, from a clinical point of view, I probably suffered from delayed shock – the result of two near-fatal attacks in a very short period of time with which I struggled to come to terms. But neither Staahl nor the bear seemed even remotely important when compared with what had passed between Matthew and me that precipitated my leaving the only man I had ever really loved.

I dressed in what Mum put out for me, substituting the cardigan for my sage jacket, and all the while I ached, but I couldn't tell whether the pain came from my broken body or from my heart.

 

The hospital wasn't far from where we lived and my father parked in a lined disabled bay, ignoring the disapproving stares of the people sitting on a nearby bench. They stopped staring and averted their heads when he helped me out of
the car, all the justification he needed in my fragile frame as I leaned against him for support. The strapping still loose, my ribcage felt as if the semi-knitted bones grated with every step I took, but I welcomed the pain as relief from the indescribable emptiness that filled every waking moment.

The double doors to the reception hissed back into their recesses, releasing a gust of warm, sanitized air. Feeling suddenly sick as it hit my face, I retched pointlessly, my hollow stomach reacting to the acrid smell of disinfectant, each spasm pulling at my chest, and I felt my legs give way beneath me. A flurry of activity and hands and voices alerted me to the fact that, although I was drifting, blissful unconsciousness eluded me.

“When did she last eat?” a pleasant-voiced man asked from beside my head. He lifted my eyelid and a beam of directed light hit me; I twisted my head to escape it. He lifted the skin in the crease of my elbow and it sagged back into place like broken elastic.

“She's dehydrated as well; how long's this been going on?”

Mum sounded tense. “Five days. She refuses to eat, she barely drinks a thing and she was already too thin. We don't know what to do with her; she just won't talk to us.”

Five days? Had it been so long? I counted only three. Five whole days without him.

“I'll have to admit her – get her rehydrated. These injuries need seeing to and I'll contact someone in the mental health team at the same time.”

My eyes flicked open.

“No,” I muttered weakly.

Humorous hazel eyes met mine. “Ah, she speaks; you're back with us, are you? Did you have something to say?”

“No – I won't be admitted,” I said, strength returning along with my stubborn streak.

“Well, you haven't left yourself with much of a say in the matter – you're a right mess. However…” he continued, “if you promise to eat and drink starting from now, I could be persuaded to reconsider.”

“If I must.”

I wasn't far off being churlish but he didn't seem to mind, and I wondered why everyone was being so kind to me because I didn't deserve it, not after the way I treated them, not after what I had done.

 

The dry biscuit scraped my throat and the tea from the little cafe next to reception tasted stewed by the time I drank it, but it helped.

“Sorry about the biscuit.” The young doctor eyed it, pulling a face. “The nurses ate all the decent ones; there's not a Jammy Dodger left in sight. Hey ho – at least that's better than nothing, and I suppose we must be grateful for the little we are given.” He smiled cheerfully, his harmless chatter scattering brightly into the bland room. I stared at the ceiling, impassive and beyond caring.

I finished the tea under his watchful eye, his excuse being that business was a bit slow and he had nothing better to do than to sit there and watch me. He took the empty cup, chucked it in a bin and rolled up the wide sleeves of my jacket, revealing both arms.

“So, what happened here, then?”

He started to unwind the bandage on my left arm. My throat clenched uncomfortably, remembering the last time it had been dressed by Matthew as he stood so close to me – his hand on my arm, my skin running with the connectivity between us.

He misunderstood my reaction. “That hurt?”

“No.”

“OK, so what did you do here…
heck
, whew!” he whistled. “That's quite something; not a case of self-harm, I'm guessing. Accident?”

The long scar had lost its livid appearance, and the edges of the bruising were beginning to fade.

“No.”

“This is healing well; nice job – very impressive stitching, almost a shame when they have to come out.” He admired the fine stitches, turning my arm to catch a better look under the glare of the overhead lamp.

“Our daughter was
attacked
.” Dad sounded none too impressed by the young man's obvious enthusiasm about my injury. The doctor's tone moderated.

“Ah, I didn't know – not good. This as well?” He indicated the cast on my arm, looking only at me for an answer.

“Yes.”

“And two of her ribs,” my mother interjected. “I think Emma's in a lot of pain but she won't tell me.”

He stood up straight, pulling at one earlobe as he contemplated his course of action, his hand barely visible beneath thick, brown hair that curled up a little over his collar.

He checked his watch. “This cast is sopping wet – you're not supposed to swim the Channel in it – it needs changing. I could send you to the main hospital in Peterborough, or you could let me have a bash at it – your choice.”

“Whichever, I don't mind.”

He came to a decision.

“Right then, we'd better get on with it – I need the practice anyway. Footie's on tonight and I want to get home for the kick-off.” He winked at me. “Off you go, I'll manage without you,” he said, ushering my surprised parents out and
beckoning to a nurse at the same time. “So this happened… when? Three, four weeks ago?”

“No.”

He waited and I realized that he wanted an answer with more information than that.

“Two weeks – just over two weeks.”

“You're sure? This is healing well – looks nearer four weeks old, and you wouldn't believe the number of lacerations I've seen over the last few years, 'specially on a Saturday night in A and E, though none as clinical as this, I grant you. Just over two weeks; hmm, well, if you say so…”

For all his cavalier chatter, he was surprisingly gentle as he re-dressed my arm, and then started to remove the cast Matthew had so carefully applied all those dark nights ago. I felt a pang of regret as it fell to the floor, as if he were slipping away from me along with the cast. A stifled sob came out of nowhere, catching me off-guard.

The young doctor didn't look up. “Want to tell me about it?” He must have thought I remembered the attack.

“No.”

“Can sometimes help to talk,” he encouraged, still focusing on the messy process in front of him, a fixed grimace on his face as he tried to get the gauze under the cast on straight.

I wiped my eyes on the back of my sleeve. “No, thanks.”

He made a pretty good job of it, although the new cast felt heavier than the last one, and my arm objected to carrying the additional weight.

“Two down, one to go,” he said, nodding in the direction of my chest. The nurse started to unbutton my jacket and, instinctively, I drew my arms in front of me to stop her. She looked to the doctor for back-up, and he smiled apologetically.

“The top has to come off, sorry.”

Reluctantly, I let my arms drop and she continued. I felt exposed under the harsh light as he interrogated my body, and I kept my eyes fixed on the shadows of people moving across the floor, just visible in the crack at the bottom of the door where light peered under. He became suddenly businesslike and professional as he unwound the strapping and probed my ribs. I caught my breath and craned my head to look. “That sore?”

“Yes.”

I tried not to react but, from what I could see, at least the intense bruising from my collision with the edge of the shelves in the porters' lodge was definitely fading and, although my ribs ached, I could tell they were on the mend.

“They're OK – just need strapping again.”

He completed the task and thanked the nurse and she left. The doctor stood with one hand on his hip.

“Like to tell me how you got those?” he said, looking at the small, regular-shaped bruises across my breastbone and around my neck. “And don't tell me they were done at the same time as the rest of the damage – these are more recent.”

“They don't bother me.”

“That wasn't what I asked; has someone been hurting you?”

I laughed hoarsely, the irony not lost on me. “Not in the way you think; this is
entirely
self-inflicted.”

He lifted an eyebrow, obviously not happy with my reply. I dragged my soft jacket back on and, although my hands were more free, my stiff fingers struggled to do up the buttons again. He leaned forward to help.

“So, there's nothing more you want to say; I can't contact anyone for you?”

His brown-green eyes were kind and concerned; he had a sweet face.

“No – thanks.”

“OK, you've got your reasons, no doubt, but if you were a dog, I'd be calling the RSPCA right now. You're all done. I'll call your parents, but remember, I don't want to see you in here again in your emaciated state. Drink plenty, eat lots and I won't report you.”

He chucked the remains of my old cast in the pedal-bin, the lid clanging shut long before I took my eyes off it.

“Report me? For what?” I asked dully.

“Oh, I don't know, causing unnecessary suffering to the NHS budget, or some such; doctors like me don't come cheap, you know.”

No, I knew that.

He left the room, taking my notes with him, and took longer than I expected to return. Minutes later, when I joined my parents in the seating area, the expressions on their faces were ambiguous. He must have said something. I sighed internally, dreading what conclusions they might have drawn between them, and deciding I needed to make a bigger effort to appear more normal to prevent a repeat of the earlier farce. When we reached the reception area I did something I had longed to do for the last month or so.

 

My grandmother resided in a side ward in a part of the hospital to which I had never been. Single-storey and purpose-built, its windows overlooked a paved courtyard with raised stone beds filled with semi-naked plants, now shivering under the overcast sky. Although made as pleasant as possible, even the brightly coloured curtains and cheerful prints that decorated the windows and walls of the assessment unit could not
disguise the sense of imminent death that accompanied the living corpses inhabiting the beds.

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