Read Island-in-Waiting Online

Authors: Anthea Fraser

Island-in-Waiting (17 page)

BOOK: Island-in-Waiting
10.47Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Amy had been transferred to my stall from the overstaffed stationery section. “Did you make all these yourself?” she asked, round-eyed. “They look just like bought cakes!” Which comment I assumed was meant as a compliment. As Vivian had told me, several people arrived with contributions of buns and pastries and when everything was laid out the counter looked most attractive.

I was hardly aware of the actual opening of the bazaar but it gradually became apparent that people were wandering about in the body of the hall. A few children, presumably from the village school, enthusiastically partook of the Lucky Dip and the Hoop-La. They also cleared our stall of flapjacks. The vicar wandered over and Amy introduced him to me. He was obviously passionately interested in his tiny church and enquired whether I had seen the cross in the churchyard. I assured him that I had.

“Others continue the legend, you know,” he told me, “in Andreas and Jurby, notably, and of course there's a large collection of crosses at Maughold. Fascinating, fascinating!” And he wandered happily off.

Business on the cake stall became brisker and I realized suddenly that it was five o'clock. The boys from St Olaf's had arrived and in their wake the masters and those wives not actively engaged in running the bazaar. I tried to keep an eye open for Neil, but the hall was now crowded and it was impossible to see who was there. In any event he didn't come near our stall. With the last scone sold and the money duly counted, Amy and I were free to move round to see what was left. Not much was; the bare tables were proof of a profitable afternoon. My legs were aching from standing for so long and probably as a result of my trauma that morning, my head had started to throb with dull persistency.

“Chloe!” Martha was at my side. “Your cakes were a wow! Everyone's talking about them.

“How soon can we get away?”

“The raffle will be drawn at six – in about ten minutes – and after that we can go. We just hand the money and price tickets to Vivian and hope they tally! The men dismantle the stalls so we don't have to see to that.”

“Is Hugo here?”

“No, he suggested it would be more sensible if he went straight home and had dinner waiting for us.”

The raffle was duly drawn and the prizes distributed. None of my tickets was of any use. With the empty cake tins under my arm I followed Martha thankfully into the cold darkness. It had started to rain. I should be glad when today was over.

Hugo had banked up the fire and the sitting-room was cosy and welcoming. He came to the kitchen door to greet us, one of Martha's aprons round his waist.

“How did it go? You look tired, both of you. Go and sit down and I'll pour you a drink.”

Gratefully I eased myself into one of the large comfortable chairs and kicked off my shoes.

“Chops for dinner,” Hugo said rallyingly, putting a glass into my hand. “I vote we have it on trays round the fire this evening.” He glanced at me. “All right, Chloe? There were one or two odd comments buzzing about today which I couldn't quite follow.”

“She phoned Ray during break this morning,” Martha said quietly.

Hugo raised an eyebrow. “Hardly wise, surely? And I thought you'd had a row?”

Resignedly, because I could no longer postpone it, I embarked at last on the full story of my involvement with Ray, incorporating entirely without embellishment my forays into other time-bands. Hugo and Martha listened in growing incredulity, while behind the drawn curtains the rain lashed against the windows and occasionally fell down the chimney to land hissing on the burning logs.

When at last I stopped speaking silence flooded over us in a suffocating wave. Finally Hugo cleared his throat.

“I don't know what to say. I thought there was more to it all than you'd told us, but this! It's mind-bending! I'd say there's no doubt, though, that it all stems from the hypnotism. I remember reading that some parapsychologists use it to develop extra-sensory perception. But how on earth you've kept it all to yourself-”

“I told Neil,” I said quietly.

“What was his reaction?”

“That I should go home straight away.”

“Good advice. I don't like this at all, Chloe. There's no saying where it will end.”

“It won't go on much longer, I know that.”

He looked at me sharply. “What do you mean?”

“I'm not sure, except –” That Ray's days were numbered. I couldn't say it, couldn't put into words the threat of that black cloud in case by so doing I made its approach inevitable. I shook my head helplessly.

“Lord, what an appalling mess! What the hell are we going to do? I suppose we could always try to find that man again, get him to release you.”

“That's what Neil said; that if I actively tried to free myself it might work this time. On the other hand, though –” I broke off.

“What?”

“It could go the other way. I could sink so far into his mind that I disappeared without trace, mentally speaking. For good.”

Into the charged silence which greeted my words the telephone jangled discordantly. With a glance at Hugo, Martha went to answer it. She turned to me, her hand over the mouthpiece.

“Talk of the devil – it's Ray. He sounds a bit odd.”

I took the receiver from her. “Hello?”

“Chloe?” His voice was wrongly pitched.

“Yes?”

“We've just received a phone call from the mainland. Uncle Tom was killed this morning. A Belgian pantechnicon knocked him down just after ten o'clock.”

Fourteen

Tom Kelly was dead. It had been his anguish and not Ray's that had subconsciously flashed me that urgent S.O.S. and now his help was beyond my reach. His death may, of course, have fused the currents running between Ray and myself, but it seemed more likely that it would simply remove the obstruction he'd imposed, leaving me still more vulnerable to Ray's influence.

The meeting with the St Cyrs was arranged for Hugo's free period that morning and there could hardly have been a less appropriate time to discuss my future. Hugo and Martha had been as shaken as I by the dramatic fulfilment of my premonition.

“I really think we should postpone this meeting,” Hugo began worriedly. “Instead of committing yourself to an indefinite stay it would be more sensible to go home while you still can.”

I shook my head. “Running away won't solve anything. It never has, though it's taken me a long time to realize it.”

“But I keep thinking of the dreams you told us about. Suppose they really were precognitive?”

“I wonder,” I said musingly, “how much the future can be changed by foreknowledge.”

“Not being a quantum physicist, I have no idea.”

“I know I can't escape it altogether but I might be able to divert the danger like I did for John.” It was little comfort, but it was all I had.

So we kept our appointment at the Viking, the details of the partnership were agreed and it was decided I should start work in a week's time. Hugo dropped me at the cottage on his way back to college and Martha was waiting for me at the door.

“Ray's here,” she said briefly. “He insists on seeing you.”

He was standing at the sitting-room window and turned as I entered. I was shocked at the drawn look on his face. Perhaps, despite their estrangement, he had still cared for Tom Kelly.

“I'm sorry about your uncle.” I looked across at him warily, trying to test the atmosphere between us, but he brushed my condolences aside.

“You thought that lorry was meant for me, didn't you? Why? It could as easily have been yourself, surely?”

“Yes, except that the shock waves it created were there, in the atmosphere, so I assumed it had already happened.”

“And when I came to the phone?”

“It seemed I'd been wrong. I never even thought of Tom Kelly.”

He lit a cigarette, not meeting my eyes. “In your place I doubt if I'd have bothered with the warning, after the way I behaved the other day.”

“And you didn't believe me, anyway. Martha said you proclaimed to all and sundry it was just an excuse to contact you.”

“Yes, well I'm sorry about that, but it was such a smack in the eye for Neil Sheppard. Didn't I tell you it was not for his benefit I brought you here?”

With an effort I unflexed my fingers. “And why are you here now?”

He smiled sourly. “To offer the olive branch, why else? There's nothing to be gained by fighting each other and I want you with me this evening. I'm tired of the role of lone wolf.”

But this evening I had to make my peace with Neil.

“And tomorrow,” he added deliberately, “we have another sitting, remember.”

“Which,” I said heavily, “is the real reason you came. You knew you'd gone too far and you were afraid I'd refuse to sit for you.”

“Ah, come on now, would I be as devious as that?” But he was smiling.

“You would, and I can't imagine why I let you get away with it. Except, perhaps, that I had no choice?”

“Don't be hard on me, Chloe. You're the only friend I have.”

“You've only yourself to blame for that. Why do you have to keep antagonizing people? It's so unnecessary.”
And so dangerous.
Even though the lorry had not, after all, been meant for him, there was still a threat somewhere, something more deliberate and personal than a random traffic accident. I added urgently, “Ray, please make an effort to be nicer to people. I'm sure they'd meet you halfway.”

“Still bent on reforming me, are you? Sure, it's too late for that.”

“You could try. Remember what Granny Clegg said, about evil coming home to roost.”

“Ah, she's just a superstitious old woman. Why should I worry my head about her? But if you're going to start preaching I'm off. I've skipped one class as it is, but I needed to see you. Till this evening, then.”

Only when he had gone did I realize the full extent of my foolishness in agreeing to be with him that evening but at the same time I was aware of a sense of the inevitable. Try as I might I could not desert Ray, and any chance to speak privately to Neil must be seized as and when it offered itself. I was not looking forward to the sherry party.

Having parked the car in the usual place, Hugo led Martha and myself across the brilliantly floodlit quadrangle to the Stanley Room where the gathering was being held. Just inside the door the headmaster and his wife awaited their guests. Harold Leadbetter B.Sc., Eton and Cambridge, was a rotund and jovial-looking man.

“Delighted, delighted!” he murmured over my hand as Hugo introduced me. His wife smiled vaguely at his side and at a discreet distance Frank Harrison and his wife carried out their duties of deputy headship. This was the man who, according to Vivian, had usurped Nicholas's rightful place. Tall and bland-faced, with carefully smoothed hair and horn-rimmed spectacles, he appeared far better suited to the position than poor Nicholas. In all probability the headmaster was not as foolish as Vivian imagined.

One of the prefects approached with a tray of sherry glasses. “Sweet or dry, Miss Winter?” I looked at him in surprise and he added shyly, “You will come and sit for us again, won't you?” It was one of my youthful portrait painters. My presence on the island was certainly being well documented, I thought with a touch of grim humour.

“Chloe, may I introduce you to Mrs Hibbard?” Carol Fenton was claiming my attention and as I smiled and exchanged pleasantries I caught sight of Neil across the room and my mouth went dry. With a murmured excuse I started to make my way towards him, but almost immediately Sally Davidson caught my arm and drew me into her group.

“Will you show me sometime how to make some of those gorgeous things you produced yesterday? Philip's been glassy-eyed with admiration ever since!”

Her husband laughed. “Never mind the fancy things, just wean her away from macaroni cheese and you'll be my friend for life! Do you know everyone, by the way? I don't think you've met David?”

He was good-looking; tall and broad-shouldered, with thick black hair and regular features. More brawn than brain, Ray had said, and like a materialization of the memory he came up and took my arm.

“Meeting David, my sweet? As I told you, he's an expert in all branches of sport, indoors and out. The rest of us are continually amazed by his – stamina!”

At my side Sheila Shoesmith started nervously and David's handsome, rather solid face suffused with dark colour. I held my breath as his fist clenched into a ball but he regained control of himself and, turning on his heel, shouldered his way through the crowd leaving everyone avoiding each other's eyes.

“Was it something I said?” Ray asked in mock dismay.

Philip said tightly, “Be thankful he didn't close your mouth for you. It's time someone did. I warn you, Ray, we've had just about as much as we can take.”

“Well, that was quite a speech! I hope such loyalty's appreciated. It seems an underrated commodity these days.” His bantering gaze moved idly in Sheila's direction, but as Philip took a menacing step forward he put up his hand with a laugh. “All right, just going! Dear me, how touchy everyone is this evening!”

With his arm firmly through mine he drew me perforce away with him. I looked over my shoulder with a helpless glance of apology, but the faces that met me were no longer friendly.

I said in a rush, “If that's how you're going to behave, I'm washing my hands of you here and now.”

“You may want to, my love, but you can't. We're stuck with each other, you and I, for better, for worse as the Good Book says – and it'll probably be worse! Now, look who we have here!”

We had come face to face with Neil and Pam Beecham. Ray's arm tightened fractionally on mine. Pam's eyes were sullen and hostile and as I turned to Neil I saw at once how much ground had been lost. His face was politely formal.

BOOK: Island-in-Waiting
10.47Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Other books

Out of The Box Awakening by Theriot, Jennifer
The Guardian by Elizabeth Lane
Stuffed by Brian M. Wiprud
BloodSworn by Stacey Brutger
Chapman's Odyssey by Paul Bailey