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Authors: Anthea Fraser

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BOOK: Island-in-Waiting
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She opened a small brass-studded door and showed me into a pleasant room seemingly full of people. In the centre was a long refectory table, at one end of which a young woman with a tight blonde bun was dispensing tea. Martha slipped an arm encouragingly through mine and led me towards her.

“This is Phyllis Lathom, who teaches chemistry. There are only four women on the staff, so we're very exclusive! Phyl, meet Hugo's sister, Chloe.”

My lightning coverage of the room had informed me that neither Hugo, Neil nor Ray was present, but as we turned from the tea-urn someone called to us from a group near the window. It was Martin Shoesmith, whom I'd met at the King Orry.

“Hello, Chloe! Martha hasn't wasted much time in dragging you here!”

“She wanted a new model for Six B,” I said ruefully.

“I'm sure they appreciated it! You met John and Simon last night, didn't you? May I introduce Philip Davidson?” A tall, dark man smilingly took my hand. “And this is Richard Lester, who teaches biology, and Duncan Carnforth, the physics wizard.”

I stood sipping my tea and listening to a lot of small talk which meant nothing to me while my eyes scanned the groups of boys continually crossing and recrossing the quad until at last my vigilance was rewarded. Neil came striding purposefully in the direction of the staff-room, a black gown hanging from his shoulders, and the brass-studded door swung open to admit him.

I watched as he collected his tea and exchanged a laughing comment with Miss Lathom. Then he turned from the table and our eyes met. At the same moment, from higher up the room, Pam Beecham's voice called with an undercurrent of command, “Over here, Neil!”

He hesitated a moment, then, lifting a hand in acknowledgement in her direction, came across to me. “This is a pleasant surprise. I didn't expect to see you again so soon.”

I smiled and made some conventional reply but I was thinking: ‘Yes, I recognized you, but you didn't seem to know me. Or was that part of the plan, to keep me guessing?' His eyes were on my face but whether there was anything in them other than mild interest I could not tell.

He started to say, “Perhaps one evening –” and broke off as Pam Beecham came across.

“Apparently the mountain must come to Mahomet!” she said tightly.

“I was just having a word with Chloe.”

“So I see.” Her glance in my direction was not friendly. “What about the concert tomorrow? I'll have to let Leslie know if we need the extra ticket.”

“I'm sorry, Pam, I didn't realize it was tomorrow. I shan't be able to make it.”

“Why not?”

He raised an eyebrow slightly. “I have a dinner engagement.”

“But Neil, I asked you over a week ago. Surely –”

“From nagging women and all forms of pestilence, Good Lord deliver us!” I knew without turning my head that Ray had joined us. An indefinable ripple swept through the group as though suddenly everyone was on his guard. Pam Beecham's face flamed.

“When I want any comment from you I shall ask for it!” she said furiously.

Ray turned to me, slipping an arm round my shoulders, and I was uncomfortably aware of Neil's surprise. “Hello, my lovely! What are you doing here?”

Pam, forgetting her anger, said quickly, “You've already met?” and her eyes went to Neil with a flicker of malice.

Ray ignored her. “Well, Chloe?” His eyes, only inches away from mine, blazed into them and beneath the banter the current I'd been aware of before pulsated between us. “I suppose it's too much to hope that you came to see me?”

“Much too much!” Martha cut in crisply. “She came because I persuaded her to sit for my class.”

“Well done, Martha! An unexpected stroke of genius! I'd thought of that too, but not in a studio. Out on the hills somewhere, with the wind in her hair.”

“Chloe!” Hugo this time, his voice sharply disapproving. I saw Martha bite her lip and avoid his accusing gaze. Firmly he disengaged me from Ray and led me away from the group to where a thin man with receding fair hair and a bony forehead was standing by himself.

“This is Nicholas Quayle, Chloe. He and his wife have kindly invited us for dinner tomorrow evening.”

“How do you do?” The hand he held out was cold and dry and trembled slightly. I looked up into pale eyes protected by thick glasses, saw the tension repeated there, and wondered at it.

“Nicholas is my fellow history master,” enlarged Hugo.

“And a Manxman to boot!” added Ray, strolling up to join us again. “There aren't all that many of us on the staff so we stick together, don't we, old boy?”

Any less likely pair would have been hard to imagine and to underline my doubt a muscle tightened spasmodically in the hollow-cheeked face above me. In a brief uneasy silence the sudden rasp of Ray's match as he lit a cigarette came unnaturally loud and Nicholas Quayle started violently. Intuitively I recognized the small deliberate cruelty for what it was, though Ray merely said pleasantly, “Davis Minor tells me he has another detention this evening. How many does that make this term?”

The expression that flickered in Nicholas's light eyes was gone too quickly for me to define, but it sent a prickle of apprehension up my spine. Before I could fumble after an analysis a bell sounded out in the corridor. With a mumbled excuse Nicholas promptly fled.

“I'll see you and Martha to the car,” Hugo said firmly, and as he shepherded me away I heard Ray's light laugh behind us. Out in the quad Hugo turned to his wife. “Martha, I expressly warned you –”

“I'm sorry, I'd asked her to sit before I remembered. Anyway, it was you who started it by inviting him into the house yesterday.”

“What else could I do, for heaven's sake? He'd brought something for you, and I could hardly have anticipated his latching on to Chloe the way he did.”

“Will you both stop talking about me as though I wasn't here!” I said shrilly. “Surprisingly enough, I have a mind of my own even if its I.Q. isn't half yours!”

“Love, I'm sorry.” Hugo put an arm contritely round me. “He gets everyone's back up and I'd be much happier if you didn't have anything to do with him, that's all. It gave me the most uncomfortable feeling yesterday, seeing you with him. You seemed to – to dwindle into some kind of puppet. It was macabre.”

A puppet: the idea of controlling strings had occurred to me too. We reached the car and Hugo bent down suddenly and kissed my cheek. “Home you go, little sister, out of harm's way!”

But was I? Would I ever be again? It was all very well for Hugo and Martha to tell me to avoid Ray, I thought as Martha turned the car out of the college gates, but the option was not mine to make. I was convinced that the forces which had engineered our meeting would not be deflected by any action of mine.

Four

“Did Hugo tell you we're invited out for dinner tonight?” Martha asked me as we were preparing to go shopping in Ramsey. “I can't say I'm particularly looking forward to it; the Quayles aren't the easiest of hosts. You met Nicholas yesterday – tall, with a bit of a stoop. Older than the rest of us.”

“I remember. Why don't you want to go?”

“Well, Vivian can be difficult. Nicholas is all right, except that he's a bundle of nerves and poor Hugo sees enough of him as it is. It's rather sad, really. I gather he came over here with the half-promise of being appointed deputy head, but it didn't come off and his wife can't let him forget it. However,” Martha added with a smile, “she's a first-class cook, I'll say that for her, so for once you'll have something edible that you haven't prepared yourself!”

The sun was shining as we left the house, though heavy clouds were massing to the north.

“How's your paper on the island going?” I asked. “Don't forget you promised me a guided tour.” Ray's similar offer was probably in both our minds, but neither of us referred to it.

“I'll be glad to. The research is just a hobby really, though I've become quite hooked on it. I'm concentrating on pre-history, the very early times before the Stanley dynasty. It was the names of the college houses that first roused my interest – Godred, Sigurd, Lagman and Magnus. They were ancient kings of Man.”

“Kings?”

“Yes, the ruler was known as King for centuries. I think it was Thomas Stanley in the fifteen hundreds who decided he preferred to be ‘a powerful Lord rather than a petty King'. That was when the title became Lord of Man, and it still is.”

“When did it pass to the Crown, then?”

“The first three Edwards each held it briefly, alternating with the Scots. Henry IV gave the island to the Stanleys but Elizabeth I intervened when there were no male heirs and she thought it might be seized by France or Spain. After that it went back to the Stanleys for another hundred and fifty years until it reverted to George III and the title Lord of Man has been held by the British monarch ever since.”

We were coming round a bend of the road and a sweep of countryside lay spread before us, purple and gold under the uncertain sky. Quite suddenly it was all dangerously familiar. Surely it had been here that –

“Careful!” I interrupted sharply. “Watch out for that sheep –”

Automatically Martha's foot went down on the brake and as the car rocketed to a halt, a black ram broke through the hedge bordering the road. Without my warning it would certainly have been under our wheels. With a startled glance at my white face, Martha pulled in to the side of the road and the animal, ears laid back, set off at an ungainly run down the verge.

“You realize you warned me before that sheep had even appeared?”

“I know.” With an effort I unclenched my hands. “Martha, this has all happened before. Don't ask me when. I recognized the lay-out of the country, even that broken plough over there, and I remembered you having to brake suddenly. I even knew the sheep was black.”


Déjà vu
?” she queried after a moment.

“I suppose it must have been.” I shivered suddenly. “How horrible!”

“Or,” she went on deliberately, “could you have dreamed it? One of your extra-sensory specials? You say you keep dreaming of the sea, though till now you've never been near it.” She broke off, leaving the implication of her words to sink in.

‘Till now'. There was an insistent drumming of blood in my ears. “You're surely not suggesting some of the dreams could have been of the future?”

She was watching me intently. “Couldn't they?”

Neil! The word exploded in my brain, and as I fumbled after its relevance it blindingly clarified itself. That was why I had ‘recognized' him at the airport; I knew him from previous dreams, dreams which perhaps were now actually going to come true. It was a possibility I had never even remotely contemplated and I recoiled from it with superstitious horror.

Martha said gently, “It fits, you know. Precognitive dreams are known to be exceptionally vivid, and you said they seem more like personal memories.”

“But how could they be memories of the future? It just isn't possible!”

“Some people think it is. John Dunne, for example, tied it in with his idea of serial time. Apparently your astral consciousness or other self or whatever it is, is released in sleep and can slip either backwards or forwards in time. So you really would have experienced those things, which is why they seemed familiar.”

My frightened eyes went over the sweep of fields and woodlands lit by dramatic stormy sunshine. It was this identical scene striking a mental replica that had ‘broken the dream'. At the airport the sight of Neil had had the same effect. And what of my nebulous connection with Ray? Was that too attributable to my wandering psyche?

Martha laid a hand on my arm. “Don't look so frightened, love. I believe it's quite a common experience.”

“So you think I actually slipped forward into today, to this particular spot on the Sulby road?”

“Perhaps that's what precognition is, not only knowing in advance but experiencing too. You remember you said the dreams all seemed to be set in the same place? It looks as though it's here, doesn't it? They haven't come true before, because in this dimension of time you've only just arrived.”

The thought had already occurred to me. ‘
Why did you take so long to come?
'

“But why? Why here, of all the places on earth?” At the back of my mind a possible answer, unwanted and unacknowledged, began to form and I clamped down on it at once. Quite suddenly I didn't want any more revelations, and before Martha could reply I said jerkily, “Still, we can't sit here all day discussing metaphysics! If we don't hurry the shops will have shut for lunch.”

Accepting my abrupt dismissal of the matter, Martha didn't refer to it again. Nor, though I was sure she mentioned it to Hugo when he came home, did he make any comment. In all probability he was waiting for me to raise the subject but I was still playing ostrich, superstitiously afraid that talking about it would somehow solidify a mere conjecture into fact. I was thankful that the dinner party that evening would provide a distraction for all of us.

The Quayles lived in one of the staff flats in Mona Lodge, a large house in its own grounds just outside Ballacarrick. As we turned into the driveway, thick dark trees closed overhead and our headlamps made only a token tunnel of light. I half expected to find a Gothic castle at the end of it, but in fact the house which came into view was plain and uninteresting, four-square Victorian with not so much as a turret to satisfy the aroused imagination.

Vivian Quayle answered our ring. “I'm so glad to meet you,” she greeted me as Hugo performed the introductions. “Lord knows, we don't often see a new face round here. Let me take your coats and come and get warm. I've invited Neil to make up the numbers.”

I was aware of a little spurt of gladness as I followed Martha into the large, comfortably furnished room. This time, presumably, there would be neither Pam nor Ray to interrupt our conversation.

BOOK: Island-in-Waiting
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