Authors: Debra Daley
Tags: #Fiction, #Historical
First published in Great Britain in 2014 by Heron Books
An imprint of Quercus Editions Ltd
55 Baker Street
7th Floor, South Block
Copyright © 2014 Debra Daley
The moral right of Debra Daley to be
identified as the author of this work has been asserted in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988.
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopy, recording, or any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher.
A CIP catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library
HB ISBN 978 1 78206 989 8
TPB ISBN 978 1 78206 990 4
EBOOK ISBN 978 1 78206 991 1
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, organizations, places and events are either the product of the author’s imagination or used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events or locales is entirely coincidental.
You can find this and many other great books at:
and to Finn and Beau
The House of Kitty Conneely, Connemara
Do you know what I am going to tell you? This is it now: a vision of the missing child has come to me.
How did the vision arrive, you will want to know. Lookit, as I have grown older my powers have amplified. You would not know me now to look at me, I have withered in the face and there is a head of hair on me as white as foam, but the goings-on inside my mind are so full of wonders you would not credit. How else may I talk to you, friend of my heart, save through the marvels of the mind, for we have long been parted?
You could say that in my own way I have migrated to the deep, just as you have. I see things behind my eyes as if reflected in water. I send out invisible feelers from the sprit of my head like a lobster into the currents around me and from time to time I receive a transmission.
In that way, last night, I saw the child. She was in a place far from here. She is grown now, but hang me, Nora, if I did not recognise her.
I must tell you that she is frightened and in danger. She has been ill-used and by the blood of Brigid I will not stand for it. When I saw her plight I was swept anew by fury. Indeed that vengeful tide has been long rising to its occasion.
Seventeen years have passed since that terrible afternoon on the strand and the loss it left behind. I have had a poor time of it since then with only bitterness and wrath for company. It was my wish to bind a curse on those villains at that time, but I feared that it might by chance harm the child. And to tell the truth, my powers were weak then. I had lost the force of them. I suppose you may be surprised by that. You always knew me as a sure woman who had many people cured with herbs, and I could talk well-shaped stones out of their hiding places under the earth. Many a neighbour man came to me for help in that regard when he was building a house.
But you will remember, Nora, how I suffered for my ways of knowing. People in the parish said I would pay a price for my knowledge and God help me, I did. They say that a woman with powers must sacrifice something to them, and so it was.
I found I could not conceive a child. Sure though, you knew that. But what you do not know is this: I made a promise at a holy well to give up making cures. In return I asked the well to let me get a little babe.
I put away my herbs, Nora. Yet no child came to me.
But now that I have entered my late years, I find my powers are renewed. Perhaps God has taken pity on me for all my years of emptiness, sure that is it. There is nothing I cannot do these days, my friend, once I set my mind to it, bar flying up in the sky. And so those sinful people must watch out for me! Had they cherished the girl, in spite of what they did, I might have thought to stay my hand.
But what am I thinking to let them off the hook? I have
brooded too long on the greediness of those who believe another’s life is theirs to spend. And I have felt every class of despair at the desperate want of justice in this world.
I know, Nora, that dark ways were never to your liking, but I declare in all sincerity that strong measures are called for to punish those who harmed us.
I myself, Kitty Conneely, am able for the task. That woman there and that man there will pay for the past. They must pay a penalty. I will bring back our girl, if I can do it, and take their daughter away from them. In that way, the grief will be put off me and cast on to them. Sure, it will not be an easy thing to bring off. A soul of iron is needed for such work. I know right enough that the words that are used to bind a curse are violent and irrevocable.
But God forgive me if this is not deserved three times over.
With brutal suddenness my mind wakes from its stupor and surprises a girl in the looking glass. Her face is as white as paste, her black hair unravelled.
She stares at me with eyes that are dark pools.
Her shift slides from one lascivious shoulder, gaping open at the front, nakedness beneath. I see that her pockets are still securely tied around her waist, a detail that strikes me as absurd given the air of desecration that hangs over her. There is a string of tiny teeth, or pearls rather, at her throat. She raises her hand to the necklace – which I recognise, it belongs to Eliza Waterland – and my own hand touches the pearls.
My own hand
The wretched reflection belongs to me.
I am shocked to find myself in such a state, my brain untethered, my senses at a stagger. Do I even know where I am? In a closet, evidently. It belongs to a gentleman, I see. Shaving brush, soap, cologne laid out on a silver tray in front of the looking glass. A pitcher and a basin. I reach with shaking hands for the pitcher.
Because I must wash away the blood smeared on my chest and on my forearms and on one of my feet. I seem to have trodden in blood.
In a wild movement I dash myself with water. As I scrub my skin with the hem of my shift, the numbness begins to lift. Many parts of me inside and out are hurting. I cease my foolish laundering. Because now I understand that I am in a place of danger and I must make an escape.
Quitting the closet, I rush to a door at the far end of – of, I see it is a bedchamber. There is a bedstead. Rumpled linen shows behind ponderous velvet hangings. I do not care about the bed. I want the door.
But the door is fast.
Who has locked me in?
I tug at the handle, a sob trying to scramble up the walls of my throat. It threatens to burst from my mouth with a howl that will bring servants running. I swallow it down, but still, panic flops around in my stomach looking for a way out.
I turn to face the chamber. I do so with extreme reluctance as if there is something there I do not wish to see. The light is dim – the candles have consumed themselves – and the air is stale and sickening. The window curtains are drawn, but blades of light show between them. The sly gleam of a steel chimney piece catches my eye. Could he have left the key there? (And who is this he? I do not know.) Alas, there is no sign of a key on the chimney piece or on the hulking bureau. But my search brings me in proximity to a couch.
I cannot avoid noticing that my clothes are lying in a distressed strew on the floor and that, oddly enough, someone has dropped a bloody razor on the tangle of my stockings. My gaze fixes on the blade and then insists, against my will, on travelling towards the
over there between the couch and one of the windows.
Oh, dear God. There is the
. Lying face down where he
fell. He must have been there for some time because the blood that spurted out of him has turned black upon the carpet like a monstrous blot. I swear that I did not kill him. I do not believe I did. I couldn’t have. I do not even recognise him. I cannot say that I know who he is. I cannot admit that I know who he is.
But now I am awake to my predicament. It does not take a genius to foresee how this picture will be interpreted when the door is cracked open by constables. They will make a connection between the dead man and me that will bind me as a murderess and the thread of my life will end in a noose or transportation.
I need the door-key.
There is a coat here, tossed over the back of a chair. Reaching into the slit of its pockets in search of the key I am overwhelmed by a sensation of disgust and then suddenly I am burning, inexplicably, with shame as if it is my own fault that I have come to this. I snatch away my empty hand. Oh, Lord, the key, where is the key? Did it fall from his pocket to the floor? My hand, floundering about, brushes against something beneath the couch that feels like a dead mouse. With a choking cry I draw back – and the abruptness of my movement sweeps an object into view. It is a suede moneybag. A glance shows the glint of a guinea or two and a few shillings and pennies. I shove the bag into one of my pockets and now I think to step into my crushed gown and petticoat. Tie the petticoat clumsily. Where are my shoes? Here they are near the bureau. Was I wearing a hat? My mantle is missing, too, and my hairpins are lost. I cannot put up my hair. No matter, it really is of no matter at all to go abroad with my hair
undressed. And my bloodied stockings – I will leave them off.
Suddenly, a noise comes to my ear and with it a wash of horror. I freeze, the nape of my neck prickling, and eye the door. Someone is tapping at it.
As the tapping sounds again, a whimper of fear escapes from my mouth. I stand, rigid with tension, waiting for discoverers to burst in and drag me away.
And then it dawns on me that the sound does not come from the door at all, but from quite the opposite direction.
I tread a line of watery light towards one of the window curtains and heave it to one side. The tapping comes from a sycamore that is scratching at the glaze with its fingertips as if it is trying to attract my attention. On throwing open the window, I find that I am on the third storey of a house in an unfamiliar street of handsome townhouses. The street lies half in shadow. The pavement is unattainably far below. Craning my head to look towards the roof of the house, I see no way out in that direction either. The sky seems lower than usual as if it has been crammed into a space too small for it. There is a cloud directly overhead threatening rain.