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Authors: Marjorie Eccles

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Echoes of Silence

BOOK: Echoes of Silence
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It had always been a favourite walk of theirs. Approaching the top of the world must be something like this, Richmond used to feel, not being accustomed to hills as Isobel was, who'd been born and bred here.
The view from the top was more than worth the hard pull, especially on clear, sunny days, and exhilarating, with the wind that always blew across Clough Edge, though it was bitter today, enough to cut your face in two. He left his Volvo by the side of the reservoir and steadily began to climb the stony track between the coarse moorland grass, hunching his shoulders into his jacket, bracing himself to walk into the wind. Early, transient snow powdered the higher hills, unexpected for the last days of October. Premature even here, where winter came early.
His long strides took him to the top in minutes and, directly below him, there it was: Low Rigg. The old Hall and its cluster of cottages.
And below that, where the moors ended, was Steynton, situated at the beginning of the urban sprawl of what he still liked to think of as the West Riding: a small, grey industrial town with roads climbing from the valley bottom at forty-five degree angles, a town built of weathered northern gritstone. Its lifeblood had once been wool and its accompanying trades – washing, combing, dyeing, spinning and weaving – until its
raison d'être
had declined with the advent of man-made textiles and cheap imports. Now, other enterprises and initiatives had brought it back to life. The once-predominant smell of greasy wool had been blown away, soot-spreading mill chimneys had been felled, and the many-storeyed mills which had created a dark tunnel of the main road were slowly being demolished, revealing views of the Pennine slopes not seen for a century and a half.
He'd hoped and intended never to return. This town had always made too many demands on him.
Yet he'd always felt it to be a basically good place, a compact,
workaday town with a sense of permanence and solidity. Stone viaducts spanning the deep valleys, foursquare mills, old stone houses set with their backs to the hillsides, growing from them like a natural outcropping, part of the landscape – unlike the new estate of red-brick bungalows, visible for miles, like a rash on the far side of the valley. Even Rumsden was better than that, the suburb where rigid rows of Victorian back-to-backs were overshadowed by the bulk of Brackenroyd's Carpets, still the town's biggest employer.
Rumsden. That small area cut off from the rest of the town, not by distance but intangibly by tradition and perhaps by superstition as well, and physically by a park of serpentine shape, its form ordained by the beck tumbling through it. Less of a park than a mere recreation ground, really, it was called East Park and its name just about summed it up – nondescript, with scrubby grass and melancholy shrubberies, the odd municipal flowerbed that was planted up in summer serving only to underly its inherent dreariness. The respectable residents on its western side avoided it, even choosing to exercise their dogs elsewhere. It was known as a place where Rumsden youth hung around, away from questions about their activities. Or as somewhere to get rid of the kids for a few hours by shunting them off to amuse themselves on the slide and the swings. An empty space for amateur soccer teams to kick a football around. There wasn't anything else to recommend it.
Against himself, Richmond's gaze was drawn to seek the old bandstand, unused for its original purpose in decades, but he saw with relief that it had gone, vandalised or dropped to pieces; it scarcely mattered which, now. A raised octagonal wooden structure it had been, decorated with curlicued Victorian wrought iron and with a space underneath to store deck chairs for hire on hot summer days by those without gardens, when even a park like this seemed appealing.
Deck chairs … and once, something infinitely more sinister.
He went on looking for several more expressionless moments, then turned abruptly away from bitter memories of an investigation that had never been brought to a satisfactory conclusion, one that he'd lived with ever since. The murder of a child – any child – was something in which every police officer dreaded being involved, the ultimate in evil, in this case made worse by
failure to find the perpetrator. He'd been glad enough to leave the town after it, for that and other reasons.
The day was rapidly closing in and lights were springing up in the valley as he drove circumspectly down into Steynton, along the road that wrapped a protective elbow around the hill. Built on an ancient track trodden out centuries ago by plodding packhorses carrying wool between outlying farms and weavers' cottages, it was steep and dangerous in bad weather. There was an escape road to the left and a nasty hairpin bend at the bottom, but it was less used now that the M62 strode the landscape a few miles away. He drove right past the turning to Low Rigg, straight down to the town's main hotel, where he'd booked in. Tomorrow he'd get himself back down to Bristol and make his arrangements for leaving. It wouldn't take him long. He'd learned to travel light, and there was nothing, and nobody, that he'd regret leaving behind. The mess he'd once made of his life had redounded on to other people; since then, he'd steered clear of involvement.
The final interview that afternoon had gone well, better than he'd anticipated. In some perverse way, he almost wished it hadn't, so that the decision would be out of his hands. In another it was encouraging that they were prepared to have him back, even pleased. He'd always felt they regarded him as a cold bastard, a stuck-up foreigner from down south. The warm handshakes today had been a surprise. Money, he thought with wry amusement, wasn't the only thing Yorkshiremen didn't give away easily. They kept their feelings pretty close, too.
 
 
‘She can't be serious!'
‘How can you say that? Your mother's never anything but, when it concerns her,' Sonia retorted with unusual acidity, but with such self-evident truth that Ginny didn't bother to refute it. She went on rustling through the wrappers in the box on the table beside her while she thought about the news her sister-in-law had just imparted, looking doubtfully at the chocolate that emerged between her manicured fingertips before popping it into her mouth and then grimacing. Another cracknel! She never learned, they were always the ones that were left.
‘How much is this woman going to charge?'
‘Money wasn't mentioned.'
Ginny raised an eyebrow. ‘No, I don't suppose it would be.'
Freya had always been close about money matters, even in the days when there wasn't much to be close about – or when her children had thought there wasn't. They'd grown up used to believing themselves poor. If you were told often enough there was nothing to spare for pocket money, sweets or outings, you came to believe it. Became resigned to hand-me-down clothes, and food that was invariably of the mince and stodge variety, though as they grew older they realised this last was not solely for reasons of economy but because Freya's early preoccupation with keeping her figure had resulted in a long-term lack of interest in food and she really didn't care what they were given to eat. As children, it had never occurred to them that ‘poor' was a relative term. That the unpolished, neglected furniture with which Low Rigg, the chaotic old house on the edge of the moors, overflowed, might be antique, and valuable. Or that money must come from somewhere to run the primitive, wickedly expensive heating system that made the draughty old place marginally bearable to live in – not to mention the possession of the venerable Daimler and Nagle who drove it. At least not until the girls began to want records and make-up and new clothes like their friends, until Peter needed drawing materials and art books. Only then had they begun to take exception to their mother's regular visits to the hairdresser, her exquisite clothes – so unsuitable for life as a Yorkshire schoolmaster's wife – her theatre and shopping binges in London, when she stayed heedlessly at the best hotels. All these had to be paid for – sometimes by having to send Nagle over to Leeds to pawn or sell some of her remaining jewellery.
If anyone ever dared question her, they would be given the Look, that famous, limpid stare from her beautiful eyes that meant:
What? Am I to be accountable for my every action?
before she swept from the room. But nobody took any notice of this. In her younger days Freya had been a model, who showed off beautiful clothes to rich women or was photographed for top magazines - a fashion model, not an artists', although just as outlandish in many Steynton eyes. She had come to accept that this entitled her to do as she pleased – which was to drift about in a vague and indecisive manner, until she unexpectedly dug in her heels
over something she considered important. None of her children resembled her much: Ginny, a pretty, plump child with sleepy eyes who nevertheless missed nothing, and Peter, dark and secretive and clever, like his father. And Polly.
Of the three, only Polly had ever openly rebelled against Freya's subtle but inflexible dominance. She had a sturdy determination that matched her mother's velvet-clothed iron will and, needless to say, they often clashed. Sonia wondered what she'd have to say about this latest development. But Polly wasn't here, yet. One part of Sonia wished that she was, another was glad enough to shrug off the moment when she would arrive and start dealing with the situation.
Like a large and very elegant blonde cat, a lioness perhaps, good-natured Ginny, in her caramel sweater and soft wool trousers, lay supine along the sofa cushions, guzzling chocolates, stretching out a languid hand to pick through them, disregarding the inevitable day of reckoning. If there was nothing else in her of her mother, she had, inbuilt, Freya's love of luxury. She, the eldest of the three children, nursed a long-term remembrance of the lack of amenities in her childhood and had married Leon Katz partly because lack of anything could never be associated with him.
Solidity was a word that came to mind when one thought about Leon, especially here in Garth House, this large, roomy house which his father had had built just before the war. Square and confident, without fripperies, it stood alone on a corner, high above the junction of two roads: built of dark dressed stone, with a sloping garden and a central flight of steps to the front door. Inside, despite two super-active children, this room of Ginny's was filled with well-kept luxury: silk and velvet; cushions and thick Chinese rugs; gleams of gold and the sparkle of cut glass. The stifling heat brought out the scent of patchouli from the bowls of pot-pourri scattered around, adding it to the heavy perfume of hothouse white lilac in the huge black jasper vase on the marble-topped table. Sonia fought back the urge to scratch the patch of psoriasis on her neck and felt rather sick, especially when she remembered the charmless vicarage she must go back to.
‘Well, honestly, an advert! Or that's what it amounts to,' Ginny said at last, in the tone of voice that probably meant she
wouldn't rouse herself to do anything about it – though you could never be quite sure with Ginny. She was amiable, easygoing and languid, but not lazy; self-indulgent, but not selfish. Though her marriage to Leon meant she had no need to lift a finger had she been so inclined, she nevertheless ran a small, efficient business, with premises in a converted woollen mill which had been gutted and made into four storeys of well-designed flats, its ground floor given over to shops where handmade jewellery, hand-blown glass, speciality breads and wine proliferated. Ginny sold made-to-measure knitwear and employed a couple of women to design the garments and an army of outworkers to knit them up. She sold reasonably and people came from miles around to buy. She was never less than beautifully dressed, never seen without make-up. Thick, creamy skin which Sonia, sallow and mousy, envied passionately. Well, anyway, I'm slimmer than she is, she comforted herself, breastless as a boy.
‘Anyone who has to tout for business to get a book published can't be much good,' the object of her envy added.
‘Oh, Ginny, you're missing the point!' (Or deliberately misunderstanding, which Ginny was extremely good at.) ‘She's not the one whose name will be on the book – and after all, I don't suppose we need worry. It won't be for public consumption.'
‘You know what I mean, though.'
Sonia did, in a way. But the woman to whom Ginny was referring hadn't been advertising her own wares – only her expertise. She had, it appeared, written to Freya out of the blue. It was a standard letter, personalised, offering her skills as an experienced writer to anyone who wished to see their memoirs, or their family history, in print, but didn't feel capable of undertaking the task of writing it themselves. She buttered up the recipient by saying she had learned what an interesting and varied life they had led, what a well-known and respected family they were part of, and what a pity it would be not to record this for posterity. If her offer was taken up, the book would be privately published and quality-printed in as many handsome, leather-bound volumes as required, all for an extremely modest outlay.
How
modest Freya hadn't been prepared to divulge. She had pounced on the opportunity with delight and promptly engaged the woman.
‘Interesting and varied,' Ginny repeated. ‘You could say that. Once upon a time.'
‘Oh, but she
was
famous, Ginny, for quite a long time, you can't deny that.'
BOOK: Echoes of Silence
12.28Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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