Unforgettable, p.2

Unforgettable, page 2

 

Unforgettable
 


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  ‘But he’s the love of my life, Finn, and I know he loves me!’ she would wail. ‘He loves all of us. He said he was really looking forward to us having another child.’

  Finn believed she had conceived this baby in an attempt to cling on to his thoroughly rotten father. If his mother were not so fragile Finn would tell her exactly what he thought of his father – that Aidan Templeton-Barr, who had thought himself such a big shot, had carried out at least three adulterous affairs. Finn had learned this through the spiteful tongue of a town hall clerk. On Aidan’s arrest Fiona had hidden away in their elegant four-bedroom house in Wadebridge, and she didn’t know about the taunts thrown in Finn’s face at school and in the neighbourhood.

  Most days it was a hard task to get Fiona to drag herself out of her present ghastly bedroom or even to get her to eat and drink. She did nothing about the dilapidated place. Stale smells permeated everything like a desolate living force despite Finn keeping as many windows as possible open. Some windows, upstairs and downstairs, were boarded up, smashed at some point during the property’s long years of abandonment. The straggling cottage was as dark as winter, made worse by the wooded ground that surrounded it. Finn leaned against the cold, flaking whitewashed wall and threw his dark head back in despair. In a few short weeks he had lost everything, even the second half of his surname, dropped in the hope that his father’s disgrace would not become known in this backwater location. He loathed this place but it had been this or nothing and he was thankful it had been offered rent-free to Fiona by one of her old friends.

  It was only when the bailiffs had turned up that Fiona had made the frantic telephone call for help to Guy Carthewy. Aidan Templeton-Barr’s enormous debts had been a terrible shock to Finn but not to Fiona. Her disbelieving state over her husband’s conviction had led her to ignoring the warning letters from the courts for repossession of their home and belongings. Finn was furious that Aidan had left them in such dire circumstances. The bailiffs had claimed the two cars, the valuables, the paintings and porcelain, Fiona’s jewellery and furs, even Finn’s bicycle, which would be handy now for speeding along the lanes to the village shops and to get quickly to and from a job – if or when he got one. It was a worry to be away from his mother for long; he was afraid that in her despair she would hurt herself. But he had to bring some money in soon or they would starve. He had been left a small legacy by his grandparents but was unable to access it until he was twenty-one, five long years away. He and Fiona had been allowed to keep some of their clothes and a few personal possessions. How the hell was he supposed to cope with all this? Living in a dump with barely a decent stick of furniture and a few basic things found lying about in it. Guy Carthewy had apparently inherited Merrivale years ago from some eccentric old relative but had yet to decide what he would do with the property. He had supplied his own spare bed linen and curtains but those, like everything else here in the dank joyless cottage, had taken on the pervading mouldy smells. Guy Carthewy had promised to see about making improvements but after he had dropped them off here he had been called away on some serious family matter. Finn had been denied his studies and his dream of becoming a graphic artist; he was shunned by relatives for his mother’s devotion to her misdemeanant husband, dropped by so-called friends, and was crushed to be brought down from his comfortable, privileged, upper-middle-class lifestyle. Resentment bubbled up in him that there would soon be a bawling baby stealing the last of his mother’s failing energy.

  Earlier this morning, while fetching Fiona’s uneaten breakfast of porridge (all they could afford now), he had sighed impatiently at her curled-up lethargic form in the lumpy bed. ‘Mum, have I got a clean shirt somewhere?’

  When in this room Finn’s head felt heavy and his nose blocked up. Fiona insisted on keeping the curtains shut and the electric light overhead gave off a murky orangey glow. Discarded clothes lay heaped on the floor. Dust fuzzed the dressing table and the neglected make-up, brush and comb. The door of the built-in wardrobe, next to the boarded-up fireplace, had burst open, spilling out his mother’s few tossed-in clothes and shoes like flotsam on a seashore. Fiona had refused to sweep the scuffed floorboards or to allow Finn to do it and they were so strewn with fluff and grit he might actually be standing on a shingle beach.

  Another blow was his mother’s loss of interest in bathing. ‘Mum, will you listen to me for once!’

  ‘Don’t raise your voice at me, Finn,’ Fiona had muttered vaguely, hardly stirring in the sagging Victorian brass double bed.

  ‘I have to raise my voice at you,’ he’d cried, tugging hopelessly at his thick dark brown hair. ‘You’ve practically stayed hunched up in this bed the entire two weeks we’ve been here. The only time you made an effort was when you arranged for the midwife to call. It’s the only sensible thing you’ve done since we arrived here. Mum, you’ve got to try to pull yourself together. You’re not doing yourself any good. This place is in a dreadful mess. I’ve done my best but you know better than me how a place should look. Like it or not this is our home for only God knows how long, thanks to my miserable, rotten father.’

  ‘Don’t talk about your father like that, Finn,’ Fiona wailed, struggling on her elbows to sit up a bit. Finn looked away, hating the sight of his mother, once beautifully groomed and classy even in utility clothes, now with straggling hair, gone a dull blonde, her eyes red-rimmed, her highly toned features now puffy and ghastly white. He especially hated her bulging middle. ‘What was it you wanted?’

  ‘A clean shirt. Well, where can I find one?’

  Fiona shifted her cumbersome weight and leaned against the bed head, groggily pushing back tats of hair. ‘I–I did some washing in that horrid sink the other day. Have you looked in that old basket in the scullery? Wait, Finn . . .’ She was instantly panicky. ‘Why do you need a clean shirt? You got some food in yesterday. You’re not going out, are you?’

  ‘I have to, Mum.’ He suppressed a despairing sigh, knowing his mother was fast getting beyond thinking clearly. ‘I’ve got to look for work. The money you had in your purse is nearly all gone. We can’t live on fresh air, and there’s even a short supply of that in this damned place. I’ll try to get something part-time. I thought before I try the farms I’d ask at The Orchards. All sorts are grown there, apparently. It’s not far past the crossroads that’s just down the hill. I’ve gleaned from the couple of times I was in the general stores the Lawrys sometimes take on extra help at this time of year. Seems the best bet. So I need a clean shirt to make a good impression.’

  ‘But it won’t be their busy picking season yet and would be a waste of time. Finn, I don’t want you going out today. Please stay here.’

  ‘I can’t,’ he stressed impatiently. ‘I’ve got to earn some money. In fact, as soon as you get your head sorted out and accept that this is our life from now on, I’ll be looking for something full-time and permanent. We’ve got to make the best of it. All you need do is get out of that wretched bed and do something to make this place something like a home, and then look after the baby when it comes. Guy said we can stay here indefinitely and he’s promised to do something about the basic conditions when he gets back. We’ve got some hope, Mum. Try to see it that way. If not for Guy we’d be on the ruddy streets.’

  ‘I’m sorry I’m like this, Finn.’ Fiona wiped away tears of desperation. ‘It’s not my fault . . .’

  ‘I know that, it’s my damned father’s for getting himself sent down! Because he was so bloody bent he took a bribe off a building contractor, and why? Because he got himself up to the eyeballs in debt from dealing on the black market. Didn’t you ever wonder why we always had plenty while our neighbours were struggling with the rationing? His war effort was a bloody joke! He’s ruined our lives and sent my future down the bloody drain. Mum, you’ve got to get a grip on yourself. Keeping me tied to you in this dump all day isn’t going to help our situation.’

  Finn had felt if he stayed cooped up here he would go off his head, like the loca
l people would say his mother was and deserved to be if they discovered the truth about the strangers in their midst, and that was inevitable sooner or later. They couldn’t keep hiding away from interested callers. The small lady, casually draped, who had dropped by soon after their arrival, holding a tea towel round a promising-looking gift of welcome for them, had gazed at all the windows, showing a kind face fixed with a natural pleasant smile. Finn had wanted to speak to her on the doorstep – he was too ashamed to invite anyone inside. His mother in her condition needed at least one trustworthy female acquaintance. But Fiona had been adamant from the start that she did not want anyone to even come near the cottage. ‘They would only be busybodies and soon as they find out all about us – don’t forget it was in all the newspapers – we’d be the subject of spiteful gossip. People will look down on us like they did in our old neighbourhood and I couldn’t cope with that.’

  Finn was beginning to feel like he was a faint drawing, gradually being rubbed out. He realized then just how scared he was to face the future with his mother so feeble and in a month’s time a new baby brother or sister would be depending on him.

  ‘I don’t know what to do, Finn,’ Fiona groaned, tears welling up in her throat.

  ‘Don’t, Mum,’ Finn sighed, but he sat down close to her and reached for her hand. ‘Look at it another way, what is it that you want?’ Guy Carthewy had counselled Finn that this might be a good question to ask her when Finn considered it the right time, to get Fiona to face up to the future. It was a critical time. Finn had no choice about leaving her alone for considerable lengths of time, and he didn’t have the slightest idea what to do about the baby when it was born. He was more scared now than when the police had swooped at an ungodly hour to arrest his father.

  ‘I–I just want your father back,’ Fiona whimpered, her voice watery and frightened. ‘I know things will never be the same as before but I don’t care about that, I just want Aidan. I love him so much.’

  Her plaintive longing made Finn’s guts turn over. He had always had a good relationship with his father – not matey, for they had shared little of the same interests, but they had engaged a mutual pride in each other. Now he loathed his father, saw him for the cunning crook that he was. Aidan Templeton-Barr was an unprincipled, smooth-talking bastard. Finn thanked God he had managed to shield his mother from the most malicious taunts and gossip, and that she was unlikely to find out about it now they were several miles away from their old home. He didn’t want to talk positively about his father but he had to use him to coax Fiona out of her crushing misery. ‘Well, Father wouldn’t want to see you like this, would he? He’d said he was looking forward to the baby’s birth. Think about it, Mum, if we work together to get this place more presentable you can write to him about it and give him somewhere to look forward to living in when he’s released. You can send him photos of the baby; show him you’re making the best of it. A good thing for all of us, don’t you think?’

  For the first time in weeks Fiona had managed to look thoughtful. ‘I suppose you’re right, Finn.’

  ‘Of course I am. Now how about getting up and helping to sort me out a shirt? And eat something, Mum. You’ll feel much better. I won’t be away long, I promise. It’s a nice warm sunny day. When I get back we’ll sit out in the garden and make some simple plans, one step at a time, eh?’

  ‘All right, Finn,’ Fiona had said wearily. Finn wasn’t a bit heartened; she still looked as if all she wanted to do was to curl up, sleep and forget she existed.

  To hide his impatience with her he had left the room. Like all the good things before his father’s arrest the natural affection that had flowed between him and his mother was gone.

  Now he was back from The Orchards having failed to get work there, shouting up the stairs and crushed that Fiona wasn’t up and about. ‘Mum, for goodness sake will you answer me!’

  ‘Finn . . .’ He heard her strained breathless groan from her room and knew at once something was seriously wrong. He took the stairs three at a time.

  Three

  Dorrie and Corky were back at the crossroads. Both were satisfied and at ease after their gentle amble under the canopy of trees that merged together from the long hedgerows either side of Shady Lane. Corky had taken his regular drink of sparkling water from the stream. Dorrie had composed some poetry – for the first time a nursery rhyme, about a comical young rabbit playing tricks on his meadow friends. She wrote all sorts of stuff, often loving messages to Piers. Some of her poetry she read at parties and when requested at village events. Most she kept in an ever-growing stack of journals. For years she had belonged to a poetry group, meeting in an upstairs room of the pub, but the other two members, an elderly couple, had long ago died. The three of them had been disappointed not to attract new members.

  Although virtually deaf, Corky was wholly sensible to vibrations on or under the ground and he swung his head towards Meadow Hill and sniffed and stared short-sightedly and sniffed and sniffed.

  ‘No sound of a vehicle or a pony, so it’s someone heading this way on foot, eh boy?’ Dorrie soon heard running steps thumping down the hill and she waited curiously to greet, as she supposed, a neighbour in some sort of hurry. Jack Newton’s farmstead and some of his tied cottages, and Honoria Sanders’ impressive property were further along from Merrivale. A moment passed and then Dorrie was watching the youth from Merrivale tearing her way, red in the face and puffing, his eyes wide and glittering, clearly in a panic.

  Leaving Corky, Dorrie hastened to meet the youth, holding her hand out to him in a gesture of offering help. From a certain angle of the boy’s head Dorrie knew where she had seen someone like him before – in a photograph in the local newspapers – and she suddenly knew exactly who Finn was: the son of disgraced criminal Aidan Templeton-Barr, who was now in Dartmoor Prison. Dorrie understood why his mother had dropped the second half of her name and had not once showed her face in Nanviscoe.

  ‘Pl . . . ease,’ Finn flung the plea forward to her, his breath coming in painful rasps, just saving himself from stumbling and plunging flat on his face. ‘I’m in a terrible fix. It’s my mother . . .’

  He came to a shuddering halt in front of Dorrie and grabbed for her shoulder, his well-built frame heaving from lack of oxygen, all the while staring into Dorrie’s eyes.

  ‘Now catch your breath. Finn, isn’t it?’ Dorrie said, her voice slipping into confident-kindly-in-charge mode. ‘Then tell me what’s wrong with your mother. I’m sure I can help.’

  Panting wildly, his eyes huge in fright, Finn got out, ‘She – she’s having a baby and she says it’s coming right now! She says there’s not a minute to lose. She needs the midwife. Please, have you got a telephone? I couldn’t find where my mother put the directions to the midwife’s house. Do you live far from here? Can we go there now? I’m so worried, my mother’s so fragile.’

  ‘I live just there at Sunny Corner,’ Dorrie pointed the short distance to where the thatched roof and chimneys were peeping through trees. ‘I’m Dorrie Resterick. You run back to your mother, Finn. I’ll summon Nurse Rumford, and then I’ll be straight along after you. Can I bring anything you might need?’

  ‘I–I don’t know. Please hurry the midwife.’ Fear and anxiety rife in every inch of him, Finn turned tail and tore back up the hill.

  Dorrie hastened home, as concerned for Finn as she was for his mother. She had learned from District Nurse and midwife Rebecca Rumford, who had called at Merrivale, that a woman and her son had moved into the tumbledown property. A pregnancy had not been mentioned. Rebecca Rumford, a born and bred Nanviscoe girl, was strictly observant about patient confidentiality. Merrivale had lain empty for seven years after its owner Elvira White had been discovered passed away peacefully in her bed by the postman. Shortly afterwards, the gruesomely murdered bodies of young courting couple Neville Stevens and Mary Rawling had been discovered in the gardens. They had been shot between the eyes in execution style. There followed the inevitable tales o
f ghostly haunting. Three years on, just before the end of the war, a one-armed tramp had broken in and slept there overnight. He was well known and liked in the village, a harmless veteran from the First World War, down on his luck. Known only as Freddie, and thought to have been in service before fighting on the Somme, he passed through Nanviscoe each autumn. Dorrie and Greg, like many others, gave him food and good used clothes or a blanket – he refused to accept anything new. Freddie had told Dorrie and Greg about his night in the abandoned property. ‘I’ll never do that again, sir, madam. The place is cursed. Heard all manner of weird and ungodly noises, I did, and I’ll swear on a stack of Holy Bibles I saw the spirits of that couple. Was them and no mistake, saw them face-to-face and they had great black holes in their foreheads. Then I heard Elvira White’s voice shrieking at us all to get out. She might have died peaceful but she was mean and cantankerous, well, everyone knew that. She wouldn’t give me nothing, not even a sip of water. Snooty she was, but I believe her past would show she was no better than she ought to be. You won’t catch me going there again. Tell the kiddies to stay away and never play there.’

  Haunted or not, Merrivale, although basically sound and with a bathroom of sorts, required its water to be pumped up from the well outside and it offered no other amenities. Dorrie thought the electrical wiring might be tricky. It was no place for a vulnerable baby to be born in, especially one without a father on the scene.

  At the front door, Corky used his black snout for a thorough sniffing then had other ideas to settling down on the sitting-room hearthrug. He went off round to the back. The mock pagoda was one of his favourite places to snooze in. Dorrie made the telephone call. Rebecca Rumford’s landlady, Great War widow Mrs Agnes Pentecost, said she would track her down on her rounds and send her along to Merrivale directly. Dorrie had no qualms about mentioning the possibility of the baby’s imminent birth. Mrs Pentecost was the soul of discretion and very protective of her paying guest. Dorrie collected some things together, dashed off a note to Greg and was soon off and out again.

 
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