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Authors: Anthea Fraser

Island-in-Waiting

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ISLAND
-IN-
WAITING

Anthea Fraser

British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data available

This eBook published by AudioGO Ltd, Bath, 2012.

Published by arrangement with the Author

Epub ISBN 9781471310263

Copyright © Antonia Fraser 1979

The Author asserts the moral right to be identified as the author of this work

All rights reserved

This novel is entirely a work of fiction. The names, characters and incidents portrayed in it are the work of the author's imagination. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events or localities is entirely coincidental

Jacket illustration © iStockphoto.com

Contents

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

One

Sometimes I wonder how different my life would have been if I had not gone to the theatre that evening five years ago; whether, without the legacy of summoning voice and abnormally vivid dreams, I should still have visited Hugo in the Isle of Man and, once there, become so involved in the fabric of its past. Or were the dreams themselves the gateway to all that lay ahead?

As I waited in the departure lounge at Heathrow, however, I had no suspicion that those dreams would overlap into my waking life and dominate it. I knew only that once again, after barely two weeks at home, I was running away from my parents' exasperation, and wondered dejectedly why I alone of the family should have been denied a share in its brilliance.

For brilliant the rest of them undoubtedly were. My father was Professor of History at one of the Oxford colleges, my mother head of an exclusive girls' school, while brother Hugo, after an outstanding university career, had recently been appointed to the staff of the famous St Olaf's College in the Isle of Man. It was to Hugo I was running now.

“We regret to announce a delay of fifteen minutes in the Isle of Man flight.”

The disembodied voice broke into my musings and I turned my head. It was then that I saw him through the crowd, tall and fair, infinitely reassuring and familiar. I started to my feet with a smile and began to make my way towards him. Then, between one heartbeat and the next, a startling fact slammed into me, bringing me to an abrupt halt.
I hadn't the slightest idea who he was
!

I stood immobile, a rock in the moving sea of people, struggling to tie down my undeniable recognition, and, drawn by the force of my gaze, he turned towards me. His eyes met mine briefly and moved on. Clearly he didn't share my awareness.

Hoping no-one had noticed my discomfiture I returned to my seat and opened the magazine I had bought for the flight while my chaotic thoughts continued to crash into each other.

The recognition had been so instantaneous, so natural and instinctive, that it was impossible to dismiss simply as a mistake. He didn't resemble anyone I knew, nor, I felt sure, was he an actor or politician whose face was known to everyone. It had been a deep, personal familiarity I had felt and started to act on, as though the most natural thing would have been to hurry to him and receive his kiss. I could only thank Providence that reason had reasserted itself before I'd made even more of a fool of myself.

The flight was called and I moved with the crowd into the windy October night and across the tarmac to the waiting plane. He was already seated as I walked down the aisle to my place and as our eyes met the feeling of intimacy again washed over me. It was obviously one-sided. His own glance held only the guarded appreciation of any man face to face with any reasonably attractive girl.

The incident had disturbed me considerably and as I fumbled with the seat-belt I was trying to regain some measure of calm. After all, no harm was done; he was quite unaware of my narrowly averted
faux pas.

“Just relax, dear,” advised a motherly voice on my right. “No need to feel nervous.”

I turned to meet the kindly smile of a middle-aged woman who had taken the seat next to me.

“Thanks, but I'm not worried about the flight.”

“Sorry if I spoke out of turn, I thought you seemed a bit flustered. You're used to all this, are you?”

“Fairly. I flew home from France two weeks ago.”

“Lucky you! Have a nice holiday?”

“Not exactly, it was hard work! I was in Paris for eighteen months on a cookery course and then spent the summer working at a hotel in Provence.”

“Well now, fancy that! Not that I like all that foreign stuff myself, mind. Give me plain English cooking any day. And what are you going to do with yourself now?”

What indeed? It was partly to postpone making such a decision that I had come to visit Hugo. My parents, slightly mollified by my diplomas, had expected me to rush out immediately in search of suitable employment, and their quite genuine pleasure in welcoming me home had worn noticeably thin as we continued to fall over each other in the tiny Oxford flat.

“Have you been to the island before?” my new friend enquired when I had parried her last question.

I hesitated. “Apparently not.”

She raised her eyebrows with a laugh. “Apparently?”

“My family tell me I haven't, but when my brother's appointment came through – he's a master at St Olaf's – I was sure I knew the island. Perhaps I saw a documentary on it once.”

I was looking forward to seeing Hugo again, even though I must now share him with a wife. He had married during my stay in Paris and the only time I'd met Martha was when I'd flown over for the wedding. It had not taken me long to realize that my new sister-in-law was as brilliant as the rest of my family. I could only hope that her presence wouldn't lesssen the rapport which, despite the six-year age gap, had always existed between Hugo and me.

The long descent had already begun and I turned to look out of the window, eager not to miss my first glimpse of the island.

“That's Douglas down there,” my companion informed me. “Doesn't it look grand with the lights all round the bay?”

The rushing landscape beneath us was coming closer and closer and minutes later we touched down at Ronaldsway Airport. People were already on their feet and further up the aisle the man I had thought I knew was taking his briefcase from the rack.

“Have a nice holiday, dear!”

I said good-bye to my travelling companion and when I looked back he had gone. With a small sigh I freed myself from the seat-belt and collected my things.

Hugo was waiting in the airport buildings, huge and welcoming and more bear-like than ever with the addition of a new beard.

“Chloe!
Comment ça va
? Good to see you!”

I returned his hug with enthusiasm. “Good to see you, too! It's been a long time.”

“I left Martha at home struggling with dinner. I'd better warn you that cookery just isn't her scene. Poor lamb, she's terrified at the prospect of entertaining a Cordon Bleu professional!”

“She's frightened of me? I don't believe it! I'm the one with the inferiority complex! You know how I retreat into my shell at the first hint of intellectual conversation!”

He laughed. “I can see I'm going to have a great time running from one of you to the other with words of encouragement! Here's the luggage coming now.. Which is yours?”

I pointed out my case, Hugo retrieved it and I followed him out through the windy darkness to the parked car.

“I'm afraid you won't see much tonight.”

“It's strange, but I still have this feeling I've been here before. There's a clear picture in my mind of glens and round-topped hills.”

“Which description, though accurate, doubtless fits quite a few places! By the way, you realize you're no longer in the United Kingdom?”

“Really? How's that?”

“I'll leave Martha to explain. She's become quite absorbed in the island's history – even thinking of doing a paper on it.”

“I thought art was her subject?”

“She read history as well. That's how we met.”

“Clever girl! Didn't you say in a letter that she teaches at St Olaf's too?”

“Part-time, yes. She takes art classes three afternoons a week. We're only ten minutes' drive from college so it's quite convenient. We could have lived in Staff House, of course, but we'd had enough of communal life at varsity. There's something very satisfactory about being able to retreat behind your own front door at the end of the day.”

“Do the rest of the staff live in?”

“Some. Quite a few of the married members have flats in Mona Lodge, just outside Ballacarrick.”

“And your cottage is actually in the village?”

“Yes, but Manx villages aren't like English ones. No neat little village green with a duck pond and general stores. Most of them simply consist of a straggle of houses with a church and school alongside. This is St John's we're skirting now, where Tynwald is held every summer. You've heard of it, I suppose, the island's independent parliament?”

I rubbed a circle in the steam on the car window, but the rain sluicing down outside proved an impenetrable barrier. “I think so. Does the world Tynwald mean ‘parliament'?”

“Yes, and it's also used for the actual ceremony held once a year. It comes from ‘thing' – assembly, and ‘vollr' field. The legislative system is Scandinavian, of course, and the whole place is steeped in history. Perhaps that's why it appeals to us so much!”

Something in his words touched a chord inside me and set it vibrating. Everyone was so sure I had never been here, and yet –

“I hope the weather holds for you,” Hugo was continuing. “This rain should have cleared by morning but if the mist comes down you won't be able to do much.”

Mist. Again, more strongly, some inner memory stirred. The word seemed to materialize, cloaking itself in its own trailing shroud and wrapping round me with a deep, penetrating chill. Mist, the forlorn cry of seabirds – and a feeling of sudden, unexplained terror. I shivered involuntarily.

“Cold? This heater's on the blink, I'm afraid. Not much further, though.”

The car sped on under writhing, wind-torn trees, between thickly wooded plantations, past isolated cottages crouching in the shadows. My heart began to flutter uncomfortably at the base of my throat. Steeped in history, Hugo had said. And folklore too, I felt certain. No race could have lived here all these centuries without becoming aware of other, unseen inhabitants, timeless as the hills themselves.

“Home stretch!” Hugo's voice made me jump. “That was Ballaugh we've just come through. We'll be there in a couple of minutes now. Here's the turning.” We left the main road and a moment later swung into a driveway and the car came to a halt, its wheels churning gravel. To our left a porch light shone in welcome. Hugo took my arm and ran with me through the driving rain to the shelter of the cottage where Martha was waiting to greet us. She was a tall girl, only an inch or so shorter than Hugo, with long dark hair and helpless-looking eyes behind enormous horn-rimmed spectacles.

“Hello, Chloe. Welcome to the Isle of Man!”

She turned to Hugo who kissed her soundly and for a brief moment I felt an outsider. Then his other arm came round my shoulders. “Chloe's a bit chilly. Is there a good fire going?”

I followed Martha through the door on the right into a fair-sized room dominated by a stone fireplace where an open fire crackled cheerfully. Thick woven curtains in warm orange shut out the wind-filled night. There were deep, patently comfortable armchairs, a sofa, shelves and shelves of books, and Hugo's old desk in one corner. Immediately at home, I moved to the hearth and held out my hands.

“How lovely to see an open fire after years of central heating and smokeless zones!”

Hugo selected a log from the side of the hearth and threw it on the fire. “Sit down and warm yourself. I'll put the case in your room.”

Left alone, Martha and I smiled at each other a little nervously and both started to speak at the same time. I said: “I hear you teach at St Olaf's.” And she: “I hope Hugo warned you to bring indigestion tablets!”

We laughed and the ice was broken.

“How was France?” she asked eagerly. “I'm longing to hear about it.”

“Hard work most of the time. We didn't get much chance to socialize.”

“What a waste! Didn't you meet any devastating Frenchmen?”

“There was one, at the hotel where I worked during the summer. I've had a couple of letters since I came back.” Fleetingly I thought of Jean-Claude and the warm, Mediterranean nights. It seemed – it was – another world from this dark, wet little island in the middle of the Irish Sea.

BOOK: Island-in-Waiting
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