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Authors: Alanna Knight

Ghost Walk

BOOK: Ghost Walk
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Ghost Walk

A Rose McQuinn Mystery

ALANNA KNIGHT

For Camilla and Lorn, with love

‘No living man I’ll love again

Syne that my bonnie man is slain;

Wi’ ane lock o’ his black hair

I’ll chain my heart for evermair.’

(‘The Widow’s Lament’ – Old Border Ballad)

June 21, 1897:

The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee should have been my wedding day, a momentous event, but with little impact on my future as a Lady Investigator, Discretion Guaranteed.

Jubilee fever was sweeping over the country. A rare
opportunity
for celebration and inebriation. That was in my future
husband
Jack Macmerry’s words how the citizens of Edinburgh viewed it.

And who was to blame them, he added, frowning over the extra work for the police in keeping order, dealing with
drunkenness
, loose morals and more sinister issues.

Jack’s parents, however, were very patriotic and determined that this remarkable coincidence was to herald a day to go down in the annals of the Macmerry family. I could imagine his mother was already picturing the smiling faces of her unborn
grandchildren
on the mantelpiece. I shuddered…

His parents’ delighted reactions that this would be a
memorable
occasion were reported to me by Jack who looked suddenly anxious.

And with good reason.

Ten years ago, the 1887 Golden Jubilee had been
accompanied
by Fenian assassination attempts discreetly kept from public knowledge.

I said: ‘Now that the Queen is so old, perhaps they won’t
consider
it worthwhile and will let nature take its course.’

But Jack wasn’t so sure about that. It seemed that not only the Fenians wanted rid of her.

There were those much nearer home, if I got his meaning.

My eyes widened at that. But truth to tell the old queen wasn’t all that popular with her English Parliament, keener on ruling from her Scottish retreat at Balmoral Castle. According to her
son, the Prince of Wales, she was heavily under the influence of some questionable servants with peculiar interests, such as
spiritualism
. Bertie didn’t care for them at all and was most eager to rule the country and Empire while he still had some life left in him.

Which was questionable considering his present life-style.

The excuse was that as youth veered into middle age and an increasing corpulence, so did his despair at ever becoming king. Most days he felt sure that his tiresome indomitable old mother was going to live for ever – and possibly outlive him. Faced with this gloomy prospect he had nothing more worthwhile to pass away the time of his unkingly days, months and years than to relax in the arms of a succession of mistresses, his long-suffering Princess of Wales having learned to close her mind to such
humiliation
and even to manage a bleak smile when encountering these royal playthings at social events.

‘Bertie would never… his own mother!’ I exclaimed.

Jack shook his head and smiled. Whatever happened, Edinburgh City Police would have to do without him.

He didn’t need to spell that out either. He’d be on
honeymoon
. Even a detective inspector, newly appointed, had his weak moments. And Jack had had plenty of them since we met two years ago, any excuse to lead me up the aisle and slip a wedding ring on my finger.

He little knew how near he was to that now. I had not yet shared with him my suspicion that I may be carrying his child. After all, we would be wed within weeks, and there would be time enough to tell him then. And I did not want to suffer the extra pressure that he would certainly impose on me to move the wedding date forward.

Let me make it clear. It wasn’t that I didn’t love Jack.

Friends nudged me and whispered that any girl would jump at the chance, sighing over his good looks, the fair hair and high cheekbones of the Lowland Scot, very different indeed to the
black-haired, blue eyed Celtic warrior, my first husband – Danny McQuinn.

I was afraid. Afraid still of that dream in which a door opened and Danny, whose death I firmly refused to acknowledge, walked in with a perfectly simple and completely logical
explanation
of where he had been for the past three years since the day he walked out of our home in Tucson, Arizona, never to return.

I told myself that I could never ever love any man as much as I had loved Danny. The dream persisted and became an obsession, as well as providing an excellent excuse for not getting married a second time.

A more truthful reason was that I enjoyed my new life
following
in the footsteps of my illustrious father, Chief Inspector Jeremy Faro, and ignoring the occasional grim look in Jack’s eye which clearly indicated that once we were married he would soon put an end to that nonsense.

Not because he feared rivalry of a wife in the same profession – unofficially – but because he loved me and feared for my life.

On two memorable occasions he had saved me from death at the hands of a killer who I had unmasked. Perhaps he felt that twice was more than enough and wasn’t prepared to let my lucky escapes go to my head, feeling with good reason that he could not always guarantee to be around at the crucial moment.

 

And so, the wedding plans began with a long promised visit to Jack’s parents who farmed just over the Border, a visit I had
evaded
for two reasons.

The village had remote associations with Danny. He used to visit one of his relatives, a priest, who had brought him over from Ireland as a child in the late ‘40s. Good sense told me that was a mere excuse and that there was little chance of Father McQuinn still being alive.

The real reason was that any visit to Jack’s parents meant that they would hear wedding bells for their one and only bairn. Two
years without a formal engagement, neither fiancée nor wife and the revelation that we were lovers would be extremely
embarrassing
for devoted parents.

The Macmerry farm was in Eildon and constructed, like most of the village, from stones from the ruined Abbey, a beauty spot popular with lovers and families on summer picnics.

Eildon’s days of glory had ended some six hundred years ago when King Henry the Eighth, who was as enthusiastic about
matrimony
as I was to avoid it, decided how he would deal with the Pope’s refusal to permit him the luxury of bigamy. He had
responded
to excommunication by chopping off a few heads and rewriting the rules. These included destroying the abbeys and transferring their wealth, which was considerable, into the Royal purse.

 

May blossom had become the buds of June and I sat in the
garden
with Thane, my deerhound, who had temporarily
abandoned
the yellow gorse to pretend to be a domestic pet.

He spent a lot more time with Jack and me of late and, stroking his head, I wondered if it was only trust or because he was getting old.

Where did he live on Arthur’s Seat? I had long since given up trying to solve the mystery of his origins, how he existed and looked so well cared-for. And why there was a deep bond, a strange telepathy between us where he often seemed to read my mind or understand when I was in danger.

I was happy that morning, weddings were still far off and the sun was warm on my arms. To a blackbird’s serenade above our heads, I opened the newspaper Jack had left with me that
morning
.

It promised to be dull reading. The main item as usual was Jubilee fever, its spread infecting Edinburgh and its environs with a daily outcrop of summer fetes and fairs.

There was one just a short distance away, within walking
distance
or a bicycle ride from where I lived in Solomon’s Tower, at
the base of Arthur’s Seat.

The Sisters at St Anthony’s Convent were today having a ‘Modest Charity Fair in aid of their Orphans.’

My interest was immediate. The Sisters were a teaching order of nuns. And Danny McQuinn had been one of their orphans.

When his parents died in Ireland during the Famine, the priestly relative heading for Eildon, at his wits end about what to do with a little lad, had deposited him en route at the Catholic orphanage in St Leonard’s.

Danny was clever and had grown up a credit to the Sisters who educated him. At seventeen he joined the ranks of the Edinburgh City Police as constable and worked his way up to become the trusted sergeant of my father, Chief Inspector Faro.

When I was twelve years old, Danny had rescued me and my younger sister Emily from kidnappers during one of Pappa’s most sinister cases. Suffering thereafter from a case of terminal
hero-worship
, I was determined to marry Danny when I grew up. And that is exactly what I did, completely oblivious of the existence of any eligible young men of my own age. It was always Danny – although I have to confess that marriage was never really his idea.

Not his strong point, he said as he tried to talk me out of it, bringing sadly to mind the old adage: ‘There are those who kiss and those who are kissed and there are those who love and those who are loved.’

I had long realised sadly that where Danny was concerned I was in the latter category, but I was nothing if not tenacious, my mind firmly resolved to follow him out to America and share his life in the still untamed state of Arizona.

Danny wasn’t strong enough to send me back home again. And so we were married. We had ten years together until the day in August 1894 when he walked out of the house never to return.

I was not unaware of the daily hazards of his life with Pinkerton’s Detective Agency and the Bureau of Indian Affairs. He had enemies on both sides, he said, a timely warning to
prepare me for the possibility of his disappearance. I had been left with careful instructions.

Wait six months only and then, acknowledging that he was missing, presumed dead in some unmarked grave in Arizona, I was to return to Edinburgh where I would be safe.

What he did not know was that I was carrying his child.

I had not known for certain either, somewhat cautious after several miscarriages in our ten years of marriage. But the baby son Danny had longed for was born strong and healthy, only to die of a fever on a Navajo reservation where we had taken refuge from an attack on settlers by renegade Apaches.

 

Thoughts of Danny and that baby in its unmarked grave were still a bitter agony. I had a sudden wild idea that a visit to the orphanage and acquaintance with any of the now elderly nuns who might have known him might also offer healing or even exorcism, especially when I was on the threshold of a second
marriage
.

Not quite a new idea. In the two years of my life just half a mile away I sometimes felt guilty at not visiting the convent and asking the nuns to say a Requiem Mass for Danny McQuinn. A devout Catholic, he would have wanted that, but I also knew that it would be like drawing a line across twelve years of my life. And so, always ready with excuses, telling myself next week, next month, I had pushed it aside, perhaps with the feeling that a Mass for Danny’s soul would pull down the curtain of finality.

None of this, of course, did I confide in Jack. I doubted whether his strict Presbyterian upbringing could cope with such superstitious Popery. As it was his lips would tighten perceptibly and his eyes turn cold, his manner suddenly remote, at the least hint or mention of Danny.

With good cause, I recognised the signs and had learned to avoid any mention of my late husband whom Jack
understandably
regarded as a rival he could do nothing about, untouchable
and deified by death.

Telling Thane where I was going and pretending that he could read my mind and the newspaper, he watched me take out my bicycle and saying no, he could not come with me, I left him looking quite dejected as I set off alone for the convent at St Leonards.

BOOK: Ghost Walk
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