Unhallowed Ground, page 30
And if Georgie had known it was Gail who’d killed Angie, who had finally gone too far with her scolding, her screaming, her angry smacking, if she’d known it was Gail who killed her daughter, why had she denied this mother’s violence? Why was she still playing let’s pretend whenever the morning came?
A sensible woman like Georgie? A plodder, wise and capable?
Oh yes, she knew why Stephen had gone, and she understood his paintings. If Georgie had been able to paint perhaps she would have told on Gail Hopkins.
Maybe she would have done her job properly and saved little Angie’s life.
She opens her eyes to Stephen’s picture, the gift he gave the Horsefields. It hangs on the opposite wall inside its gaudy frame, and the child’s face stares straight at her.
Georgie’s mouth goes dry again, and she feels her tongue starting to swell. She wishes she could sip that tea. ‘Who is the girl in the picture, Nancy?’
Almost invisible, confused against the dark background, yet Georgie suddenly notices that among the toys on the tartan rug there is a doll with missing hair, and a pink, childish make-up case that could have come from Woolworths.
Nancy smiles broadly. ‘That’s our June.’
‘You know June. Everybody knows June. Stephen was very fond of June. Such a pretty child, isn’t she? So very appealing. He used to let her visit him and she’d help him paint some pictures. June was very fond of Stephen. She used to play in his woodshed when he was too busy to let her in. Oh yes, poor June was devastated when Stephen passed away. Too young to understand about death, that was the trouble. We tried to explain that he wasn’t coming back, but it was all too much for a child to take in. Too cruel, don’t you think?’
Georgie’s brain whirls slowly round, creaking like a rusty cog while Nancy offers her a peanut brownie. She cannot take it in. She hasn’t the strength to assimilate this. Stephen passed away and Georgie came to his cottage instead. She had filled June’s playroom with logs. She’d cleaned it out, whitewashed it. Thoughtlessly thrown out the make-up case. June tried to remind her she wanted to paint, but having no oils had used blood instead… no wonder June was hurt and angry.
‘Where is June now, Nancy?’
‘June’s a naughty girl. She’s upstairs in her room. Horace had to be firm with her.’
Georgie’s voice is soft. ‘In her room? Here? In this house?’
‘Of course. Where else? This is her home. June has her own special place upstairs, the whole of the attic. Horace converted it when we first came. Oh, he did a lovely job, and I chose the furniture and fittings, mail order.’
‘And Stephen painted that picture of June?’
‘Yes. She was very good. She sat for it under the tree in the garden. I remember we had a lovely summer that particular year, rather like the last one. There was a drought. Stephen had all the time in the world for June.’ Nancy smiles and her face lights up. ‘She used to dance for him sometimes. She was always a very good girl when Stephen was around, she loved it when he let her paint her own pictures.’
Georgie’s words are slow and careful. ‘Does June often go out on her own, Nancy?’
‘She shouldn’t go out alone, of course, not these days, with the dangerous roads and dirty men, but she has her little ways. She hasn’t been allowed outside for a long, long time now. Horace has had to get very strict. She discovered a way of opening the shutters and climbing onto the roof. We had it rethatched a few years ago and the little monkey hangs onto the netting.’
‘She must be a very brave girl to crawl across the roof like that. How old is June now, can you remember?’
A quick flash of annoyance passes over Nancy’s face. ‘Of course I know the age of my daughter! She will be seven next birthday. I always bake her a special cake, June loves the way I ice them. The last was in the shape of a little log hut, I built it up with chocolate fingers. Stephen liked to come to June’s parties when he wasn’t too busy, when he wasn’t too sulky. Your brother was never a sociable man, and, of course, he missed the last one. Poor June. Poor Stephen.’
Given Nancy and Horace’s ages their daughter has to be over thirty.
When she speaks of her fantasy child Nancy’s face becomes sweet, pink and healthy, all the sickness gone out of it. ‘Loves animals, you know, especially dogs. We did get her a dog once, a gorgeous little thing, but Horace said she killed it with kindness. I never knew what he meant.’ The hands that are always plucking become suddenly still. There’s a faraway look in Nancy’s eyes as they both gaze at Stephen’s picture.
Georgie forces herself from her chair when she hears the back door open. She limps across the room, through the hall, and stands there, too shocked to go any further.
Horace Horsefield, this giant of a man, holds his monstrous child in his arms. His eyes hold Georgie’s for a moment before he moves them to his wife. Nancy is right behind her. Horace pushes his way past with all that heavy weight in his arms, and it seems as if he carries a feather. He goes into the sitting room, where he lies his daughter gently on the sofa. The knife is still lodged in her throat and pink bubbles still flake her lips, but now they are dry. The girl is not moving.
At once Nancy flies to her side. She kneels before her grotesque baby. She strokes the huge frozen face with the side of her own birdlike hand. ‘June! June! What’s happened to you, my darling? Where have you been? And you are a naughty, naughty girl when Daddy told you not to go out, he told you to stay in the playroom, and I bought you all those new toys.’
‘June is dead.’
Horace stands perfectly still, watching his wife’s desperate ministrations with anguish in his patient eyes. He repeats those three hopeless words, ‘June is dead, Nancy, my sweet. I’m sorry, so sorry, but June is dead.’
‘Tut. And what’s that horrid, horrid sharp thing doing there in her throat? Take it out, Horace, do, before it starts to hurt.’
Horace crosses the room, picks up a blanket and begins to cover the body of the creature. ‘We couldn’t abandon her in some heartless hospital, even when they told us how bad things would get.’ Georgie stands, watching, shivering, and although she was their daughter’s victim, some measure of the couple’s torment touches her heart and wrenches it. ‘It’s the drugs, they affected her size and her senses. They never said she’d get dangerous. To leave her would have killed Nancy. We had to choose our home very carefully. But in the end, you see, even Wooton-Coney proved too sociable a place.’ Horace adores his wife. And now Georgie sees to what lengths this kind man, this decent man, has gone in order to protect his family, even making huge offers for Furze Pen Cottage when he noticed the change in June’s behaviour, advising Georgie to leave the hamlet… He did what he could, so far as he knew his child was just playing naughty tricks…
Cramer must have known about June and suspected, how the man must have revelled in Georgie’s blatant distress. Donna, a newcomer to the hamlet, had never seen the girl, who has obviously been kept a prisoner since Stephen’s untimely death and the dreadful effect this event had on her unstable behaviour. The hideous Buckpits must have known, too, but considered it none of their business. After all, until June’s savage attack on Dave, the only person affected was Georgie.
Nancy reaches to pull down the cover. ‘Not over her face, Horace, please, you know how afraid she is of the dark. You know that she needs her night light on, even in summer when the nights are quite bright.’
‘I know, dear. I know.’
Mother love. How can one mother love so obsessively while another can kill her own child?
Nancy continues her gentle stroking before she tuts with a shake of the head. ‘She must have been fighting again. That’s what must have happened this time, and it got out of hand. She’s such a sweet child, really, but she’s always had a temper, a very nasty temper. And now she’s gone and hurt herself. Perhaps, at dear last, she’ll have learned her lesson.’
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This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, businesses, companies, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
Copyright © 1998 by Gillian White
cover design by Mumtaz Mustafa
This edition published in 2013 by Open Road Integrated Media
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New York, NY 10014
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