Authors: Rhys Bowen
This book is dedicated to Maxine and Bill Everest, with thanks for their friendship, their terrific hospitality, and the fun we’ve had at their lovely condo in Kona.
And also a special dedication to Catherine Swan Gallinger, who has kindly lent her name to one of the characters.
Toora loora loora,
Toora loora li
Toora loora loora,
Hush now, don’t you cry.
Toora loora loora,
Toora loora li
Toora loora loora.
It’s an Irish lullaby.
October 8, 1903
“We should not have come here!” I shouted over the howl of the wind. Rain swept in great squalls off the ocean, snatching the words from my mouth. It was not a night to be standing on a clifftop in complete darkness. Our umbrella had given up the unequal struggle with the storm on the way from the station and now lay in a rubbish bin, its ribs sticking out like a large dead spider. Daniel had deposited it there despite my protests, stating that it was past all hope of repair.
It was a long walk from the station and not one that should have been attempted on a stormy night. But we had little choice. The directions we had been given were for a delightful afternoon stroll along a cliff path, with blue ocean below us. We had not anticipated that Daniel would be delayed with a last minute problem at headquarters and that what the locals called a nor’easter would arrive at the same time as ourselves.
After changing trains in Providence, then again to a branch line in Kingston, we finally pulled into Newport station, at almost ten o’clock. There was not a hansom cab or any kind of conveyance to be found. The town appeared to be battened down in anticipation of the coming storm. We’d set off bravely enough under Daniel’s big umbrella but once out of the town center, heading toward the clifftop footpath the full force of the wind had turned the umbrella inside out and ripped it to shreds in minutes.
“Damn and blast it,” Daniel had muttered, no longer apologizing if he swore in my presence now that I was married to him. “We should have waited for the morning. I should not have listened to you.”
“What, and missed a whole day of our honeymoon?” I demanded as I struggled to take off my new hat. It was a jaunty little concoction piled high with ribbons and lace and I certainly didn’t want to lose it over the cliff. I stuffed it into my carpetbag, probably not doing it much good in the process but at least preventing it from sailing off into the ocean. “Cheer up. I’m sure it can’t be far. Newport is only a small seaside town, isn’t it? Just a few cottages, I was told.”
Daniel had to chuckle at this and put an arm around my shoulders. “You wait until daylight and then you’ll see the extent of the cottages.”
In my mind’s eye I pictured a long road like the one leading into Westport in Ireland, with simple whitewashed cottages stretching along the side of the road facing the sea. It would be nice to be spending my honeymoon in a place that reminded me of home, I had thought when Daniel told me of this opportunity.
The walk turned from an annoyance into a frightening experience. We tried to follow a dark little street called Cliff Avenue, but it ended in a pair of high, locked gates, forcing us back to our original route along the cliff—not what we would have chosen on a dark night. No lights shone out through the storm and we could hear the pounding waves crashing onto rocks below us. That cliff path seemed to go on forever and even I began to doubt the sense of wanting to reach our cottage tonight. Luckily the wind was blowing in from the ocean or I should have worried about being swept over that unseen cliff edge to our deaths.
“Are you sure this is the right way?” I shouted, grabbing on to Daniel’s arm. “Are there no roads in this place? Is this cottage not on a proper street?”
“Obviously,” Daniel said tersely. “But it never occurred to me to ask for foul weather directions. I assumed there would be a cab if we needed one.”
I peered into the blackness. “There are no lights. We can’t be near any cottages. Surely the whole population of Newport doesn’t go to bed by nine o’clock?”
“It’s October. None of the cottages are likely to be inhabited at this time of year,” Daniel shouted back. “They are only used in the summer.”
The thought of being the only people in a remote seaside village had seemed desirable when Daniel had presented it to me, our original honeymoon plans having fallen through when Daniel was summoned back to work two days after our wedding. I had borne this with remarkable patience for once, understanding that this was to be the lot of a policeman’s wife. I think Daniel had been impressed by my stoicism and had promised me that we would escape from the city as soon as his work permitted. So when the offer of a seaside cottage had come up, he’d jumped at it. Of course October was a little late in the year for beaches and bathing, but we had other activities in mind anyway. And this part of the country often experienced what they called an Indian summer, with glorious sunny days and glowing fall colors. Just not this year, it appeared.
“Nearly there, I think.” Daniel propelled me forward, his arm still around my waist. “Then a bath and a hot drink will soon bring us to rights. Ah, this way. I believe we follow this wall and it will lead us to the gate.”
As Daniel took my hand and guided me away from the cliff path, there was an ominous rumble of thunder overhead. A few moments later a flash of lightning lit up towering wrought-iron gates. Daniel felt for a latch but the gates refused to open.
“Blast and damnation!” he shouted. “These infernal gates must open somehow.” He shook them in frustration but they refused to budge.
“They knew we were expected today, didn’t they?” I asked. “I don’t see any lights.” I was soaked to the skin, my teeth chattering now, my hair plastered to my face, and my clothes clinging to me. All I wanted was to get indoors to a fire and a cup of tea.
“I don’t understand it. I know the family is not usually here at this time of year, but there has to be a caretaker on the property,” Daniel snapped out the words. “But we have no way of alerting anyone, unless we walk back into town and see if we can reach the place by telephone.”
This suggestion didn’t seem too appealing. “Everything seemed to be closed for the night in town. Besides we can’t walk all the way back,” I said. “We’re already soaked to the skin. I don’t suppose it’s any good shouting.”
“No one would hear us with this infernal racket going on.”
Thunder growled again and once again the scene was illuminated with a lighting flash. It revealed a long driveway behind those gates and in the distance the great black shape of what seemed to be an enormous castle. I stared in amazement.
“I thought you said it was a cottage.”
“I wanted to surprise you,” Daniel replied in an annoyed voice. “The wealthy who own summer homes in Newport call them cottages but they are actually mansions. This one is called Connemara.”
“Holy mother of God,” I muttered. “We’re not getting a whole mansion to ourselves are we?”
“No, we’ve been offered the guest cottage on the property. If only we can find a way in.” He rattled the gates again angrily.
I had been experiencing a growing sense of anxiety. It wasn’t just the howl of the storm and the flashes of lightning. God knows I’d seen enough storms on the West Coast of Ireland. It was something more. “Daniel, don’t let’s stay here,” I blurted out suddenly. “Perhaps we should go back into town after all. There is bound to be a hotel or inn of some sort where we can spend the night. The house clearly doesn’t want us.”
Daniel gave me a quizzical smile. “The house doesn’t want us?”
“I’m getting this overwhelming feeling that we shouldn’t be here, that we’re not wanted.”
“You and your sixth sense,” Daniel said. He was still prowling, staring up at the gates and the high stone wall. “You’ll feel differently when we’re safely inside. I am determined to find a way in, even if I have to scale that wall.”
A great clap of thunder right overhead drowned out his last words and simultaneously the world was bathed in electric blue light. I was staring up at the house and I saw a face quite clearly framed in an upstairs window. It was a child’s face and it was laughing with maniacal glee.
I let go of the bars of the gate as if burned. “Come away!” I shouted. “We shouldn’t be here.”
“Easy now.” Daniel grabbed me as if he sensed I was about to bolt like a spooked horse. “I didn’t think a wild Irish girl like you would be frightened of a little storm.”
“Didn’t you see it?” I asked.
“I can’t see a blasted thing,” Daniel said. “It’s pitch dark.”
“The face at the window. I saw a face at that window in the turret, Daniel.”
“Then at least the place is occupied,” Daniel said. “Let’s hope the person saw us and is sending down someone to unlock the gates.”
“It was a child and it was laughing. A rather alarming face, actually.”
We waited. No lights shone out. The storm raged on, the wind howling through the trees and making them dance crazily. I kept staring up at that turret, waiting to see the face again.
“I’m damned well going to scale that wall if I have to.” Daniel eyed the solid eight-foot stone speculatively.
“And what good would that do? If the gates are locked, you won’t be able to let me in and I certainly can’t scale a wall like that.”
“I thought lady detectives could do anything a man could do. Didn’t you tell me that once?”
I was in no mood to be teased. “I’m going back to town,” I said. “If we stay out in this much longer we’ll catch our death of cold.”
“Give me a boost up,” Daniel said, ignoring me. “I think I could climb it right here.”
“And if you can’t open the gate or get back over? You propose to spend the night on one side of the wall with me on the other?”
“Don’t worry. I’ll rouse someone in the main house.”
He started to climb the rough stone of the wall.
“Come on, give me a push.”
“Don’t tempt me,” I snapped. He laughed. I relented and pushed. It seemed strange to have my hands on a gentleman’s person, even if we were alone in the darkness. He heaved himself higher with a grunt then swung a leg over the top of the wall. A moment later he disappeared and I heard a yell.
“What happened? Are you all right?”
“Holly bush,” came the faint words. Then he appeared on the other side of the gate.
“Ah, I see!” he shouted. He bent to raise some kind of pin from the ground and miraculously the gate swung open with a loud groaning sound.
“Let’s just hope they don’t have watchdogs patrolling the grounds,” I said as Daniel retrieved our bags and helped me through.
“They’d have shown up by now. Besides, we are expected. They would have locked up the watchdogs.”
“Not exactly what I’d call putting out the welcome mat,” I said. “Who exactly was it who said we could stay here? One of the servants?”