Read Island-in-Waiting Online

Authors: Anthea Fraser

Island-in-Waiting (8 page)

BOOK: Island-in-Waiting
7.3Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

I said sharply, “It doesn't seem to occur to you that I might resent being taken over like this. Anyway, you've proved your point, or you seem to think you have, so will you please stop it now and let me go.”

“Let you go, is it?” There was a note in his voice which brought the gooseflesh to my skin. “Now why should I do that? Haven't I only just succeeded in getting you here? No, I'll not let you go, Chloe, don't think it. You belong to me. Surely you can see that? I told you so yesterday.”

My heart lurched. The unexpected intrusion of Tom Kelly had momentarily blotted out the extent of my problem with Ray. Now I saw that this was deeper and more threatening than I could have imagined and to ward off the sudden personal element I said quickly, “What did you mean about my still being linked to your uncle?”

“Well, it's obvious, isn't it? The connection was never broken. O.K., you were brought round eventually, but by someone else. The particular line joining your mind and his was never cut and the dreams you mention seem to show something's still passing along it, like a telephone receiver that hasn't been replaced properly.”

Somewhere in another world a bell rang and the corridor outside echoed with hurrying feet. “I must go,” I said mechanically.

There was a tap on the door and a boy put his head round. “Excuse me, Mr Kittering, H.M.'s looking for you, sir.”

“Right, thanks.” He glanced at me as I rose unsteadily to my feet. “I'm afraid I'll have to leave you, and we still haven't fixed anything for Saturday.”

“I really think I'd rather –” But he had already taken my arm and opened the door and we emerged to see Neil coming down the corridor towards us. I stopped abruptly, pulling Ray to a halt.

“So there you are.” Neil spoke directly to me. “Hugo said you were here somewhere.” He frowned slightly, searching my face. “Are you all right, Chloe? You're very pale.”

“I'll have to go,” Ray interrupted. “I'll phone you this evening.”

He walked quickly away down the corridor and Neil said gently, “You don't look overjoyed at the prospect.”

I moistened my lips. “I think I've had enough of him for one day.”

“Then come out somewhere with me instead.”

I stared at him uncomprehendingly, still trying to shake myself free of the clinging strands of fear, and he smiled, his mouth going up in the way that somewhere deep inside myself I remembered so well. “That doesn't seem to strike you as a much better alternative!”

“I'm sorry,” I said with an effort. “I'd like to, thank you.”

“Fine. Do you play squash?”

It was difficult for me to adjust to what he was saying. “I haven't for a while, but I used to.”

“Would you like a game, then? We've some quite good courts here. If Martha could kit you up I can provide a racket.” His eyes moved assessingly over my face. “You're sure you're all right?”

“Yes, really.”

“I'll have to go; I'm due to invigilate but I'll put my name down for a court on the way and pick you up about eight.”

The air outside was sweet and clear and cold after the stuffy central heating in college. I stood drawing in lungsful of it before I climbed into Martha's little Ford and set off for home.

Tom Kelly. I'd forgotten he was a Manxman, but now I remembered the jingle that had been his signature tune – ‘Kelly from the Isle of Man'. And there was another tune – but it was dangerous to think of that.

He loved this island, Ray had said, was sure to know the legend of Sigurd and Fafni, about the strange gatherings on the mound and the dance on the seashore.

Somehow I had reached the cottage. Martha came out to meet me as I climbed unsteadily out of the car. “How did it go?”

I looked at her blankly.

“The lunch, girl! Did you manage all right?”

“Oh – yes, I think so, thanks.” I felt a deep need to confide in her, to share the mounting fears of my unwilling involvement with Ray, but she and Hugo would simply prevent my seeing him and I knew that wasn't the answer. Running away from his phone call this evening was a temporary respite, no more. I now knew that the unaccountable phenomena that had been assailing me ever since I came to the island had their roots five years in the past, and I suspected that I shouldn't be free of them until they had played themselves out to the end.

Martha, delighted to learn of my date with Neil, willingly lent me her plimsolls and tennis whites and as he'd promised Neil brought one or two rackets for me to choose from. Fortunately I managed to give him quite a good game. There was relief in physical exercise, in slamming the ball and concentrating on it to the exclusion of all else. When our time was up Neil slipped a casual arm round my shoulders as we walked from the court.

“Well done! I enjoyed that – we must do it again.”

It was only then that some movement on the shadowed balcony overlooking the court made me glance up with an instinctive fear of finding Ray looking down on me. But it was Pam Beecham who dodged back out of sight and I released my indrawn breath. I don't think Neil saw her; in any event he made no comment and nor did I.

“I could of course offer you an exotic cup of cocoa at Staff House,” he said as I joined him again outside the changing-rooms, “but personally I feel a glass of something at the King Orry might be more acceptable.”

I hesitated. “Does Ray ever go there?”

“Not as far as I know. I've never seen him. Has he been bothering you in some way, because I can soon –”

“No,” I said hastily, “it's nothing like that.”

“I gather Hugo's not too happy about your seeing him,” he remarked as he opened the car door.

“Why, what did he say?”

“Oh, nothing specific, it was just an impression I had. I can't say I blame him though. You looked really shaken at lunch time. What is it between you two?”

“I can't explain,” I said helplessly, “at least, not at the moment. If I tried to you wouldn't believe me.”

“Apparently I'm not to be given the chance. Still, if you prefer not to talk about it, fair enough. I just thought it might help.”

The King Orry was quieter than it had been on Sunday and we found a corner settle near the huge old fireplace. Several times I caught Neil's eyes consideringly on my face, but he didn't question me any further and our conversation was light and general. I was tired after the physical exertion and the mental traumas of the day and soon after ten he said, “I think I'd better take you home, young lady, before you fall asleep in your chair.”

We didn't speak much on the way back and at the cottage he got out and opened the gate for me. “Thanks for the game and the drink,” I said dutifully.

“My pleasure. And Chloe –”

“Yes?”

“Take care.” For a moment his eyes held mine. Then I nodded, attempted a not very successful smile, and turned to walk up the path to the house.

Seven

It was bitterly cold. A thin icy wind was blowing straight in from the sea, lancing through my threadbare skirt and the shawl I wrapped tightly about my shoulders. Around me, people stamped their feet and rubbed their raw red hands together for warmth, but the despair in their eyes was not for their own discomfort.

“The King'll not let it happen,” the woman beside me said suddenly. “'Tis old history now and Her Ladyship came to no harm. Wasn't it the Island he was thinking of, and no wrong in that?”

“Master George'll explain,” a man answered reassuringly. “There may still be time.”

But even as he spoke a shudder ran through the crowd, and straining over the heads in front of me I could make out a figure escorted by guards being helped up on to the little mound. The woman beside me fell to her knees keening in a high-pitched whine which, together with the strong wind, made it exceedingly difficult to hear the prisoner's final speech. But he was standing straight and true and through my streaming tears I saw that white blankets covered the hillock so that not a drop of his blood should soak away into the ground.

As the shots rang out the scene wavered and starred like a shattered mirror, but down the long years its lament still reached me: “Dty vaaish, Illiam Dhone, te brishney nyn gree – Thy death, Illiam Dhone, is breaking our heart.”

With a sigh, I spooned out the last helpings of blackcurrant sponge and loaded them on to the tray Kitty held ready. The unexplained phenomenon I'd experienced in the early hours of the morning had left me decidedly on edge – my second excursion into the past in the space of a couple of days. I was unable to dismiss it simply as a dream, however special, even though I had not, as on the last occasion, been wide awake immediately beforehand. In fact I had been lying drowsily in the limbo between sleep and waking remembering the evening spent with Neil. Then, suddenly, the anxious crowds and the cold wind blowing.

“Where the hell were you last night?”

I jumped and turned to meet Ray's belligerent gaze. The word ‘Ronaldsway' came instinctively to my mind but I blocked it off and answered as levelly as I could, “Playing squash.”

“You knew I was going to phone.”

“But you didn't say what time. Did you expect me to wait in all evening?”

“I certainly didn't realize I had to queue for your favours!” His eyes held mine, furious but with an underlying bewilderment which, to my consternation, I found rather touching. He had obviously expected my instant capitulation to whatever plans he had for me, and the first hint of defiance left him floundering.

“Anyway,” I added more calmly, “it was only to make arrangements for Saturday, wasn't it?” And I realized as I spoke that my brief moment of sympathy had irrevocably committed me to a full day in his company.

He stared at me a moment longer, his mouth still sulky, then he relaxed. “O.K. Ten o'clock suit you?”

“I'll be ready.”

Neil didn't come to the kitchen to see me. There was, of course, no reason why he should. Once as the door swung to behind one of the hurrying girls I caught a quick, unwelcome picture of him sitting beside Pam, their heads together laughing at something. Either she had forgiven him for the previous evening's defection or she was taking extra care that it shouldn't happen again.

I tugged off my apron and hung it on its hook. The tight band round my head was threatening to turn into a full-scale migraine and the lingering smell of food in the small room added to my malaise.

With a sense of relief I pulled the door to the quadrangle shut behind me, welcoming the cool breeze on my face. Directly opposite a stone archway led through the science wing to the college gardens and, unwilling to face the immediate prospect of the car journey home, I made my way towards it, emerging from the shadowed archway into brilliant sunshine. The playing-fields stretched away to my left behind the assembly hall and I could see a few boys in the distance kicking a ball about before the game began. Ahead of me, beyond the stretch of neat lawns and flowerbeds, the five boarding-houses stood in a row like ancient guardians. I stood for a moment looking across at them, but the sunlight was too strong for my aching eyes and flowers, grass and glinting grey stone merged into a blinding kaleidoscope.

I was just deciding to return to the car after all when the sound of footsteps made me turn in the sudden hope that Neil might be hurrying after me. But it was John Stevens who joined me with a smile.

“I believe we have you to thank for saving us from the rigours of starvation? On behalf of us all, much thanks!” Automatically I fell into step beside him. “It's a pleasure. I'm quite enjoying it.”

“Confidentially, there's been a distinct improvement in cuisine the last couple of days! Annette St Cyr's a nice little thing but it's her husband who's the real chef and he keeps well away!”

The path we were walking along had been winding its way between the sweeping lawns but now it divided, one fork leading to the houses and the other back in the direction of the main gates. John hesitated.

“Are you making for anywhere in particular?”

“No, just trying to shake off a headache.”

“Oh, bad luck. I'd better leave you then. I have to collect a couple of books from Staff House and class begins in five minutes.”

He set off down the path and I had started along the other one when suddenly, with an incredulous shaft of fear, I seemed to see him lying on the ground covered in blood.

I spun round, wide-eyed. He was still in sight walking quickly away from me. I tried to call out but no sound came. He had almost reached the house and a clock in my head started on an ominous count-down to disaster.

Frantically I hurled myself forward over the grass, my feet seeming hardly to move as I fought my way through the sudden density of the atmosphere. Stop! I shrieked silently. Don't go any further! Wait! But he didn't stop, or even look round until, just short of the shallow step leading to the porch, he became aware of my pursuit and turned in surprise. By then it was already too late. With a last superhuman burst of speed I flung myself against him and we fell together against the heavy wood of the front door. In the same instant a deafening crash exploded immediately behind us and as the clouds of dust rose we could make out the shattered remains of a huge chimney lying on the path.

John's hands were gripping my shoulders, his face above mine suddenly ashen.

“My God, that was a close thing! If you hadn't –”

Beside us the front door burst open and people came hurrying out to see what had happened, gasping and exclaiming at our escape.

“It was Chloe!” John said jerkily. “She saved my life. If she hadn't pushed me clear –”

Everyone clustered round, congratulating me on noticing the sudden danger, and I had almost convinced myself that no-one would suspect the truth when a couple of workmen, white-faced, pushed their way through the small throng.

BOOK: Island-in-Waiting
7.3Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Other books

The Edible Woman by Margaret Atwood
Dizzy by Jolene Perry
Last Screw Before I Do by Manda McNay
(2013) Four Widows by Helen MacArthur
The Witch's Desire by Elle James