Unforgettable, page 6
Finn read her emotion and loved her all the more for it. ‘Pretty bleak, isn’t it? Our landlord had to go away on family business. He offered us his house in Wadebridge but Mum wanted to go somewhere isolated. She got her wish here. The landlord will be back soon hopefully and he’s promised to do something about the worst of the place. Mrs R said we could do with a working party in the house and outside, that Mr Greg would be glad to organize some willing villagers to hack down the gardens and remove some of the tree branches. It would make the place much lighter, but Mum said she couldn’t bear that yet. God knows when she will be up to anything. Take a seat, Mrs Belle. I’ll get Eloise.’
He reached the creaking landing and Fiona’s voice came to him strained and muffled for she tended to hold the bedcovers over her face. ‘Finn . . .’
He went in to her and made a face at her manky sweaty smells, the same as when he had brought some porridge to her the day Eloise was born. ‘Yes, Mum?’
Fiona’s puffy face peeped out of the crumpled sheet. ‘Is someone downstairs? I thought Mrs Resterick wasn’t coming until later and the nurse isn’t due yet, is she?’
‘It’s Mrs Belle Lawry from The Orchards, where I went hoping to get a job. She’s very, very nice and she’s brought us some coffee, milk, a loaf and things made from her own produce. Cheer up, Mum, the people of Nanviscoe have saved us a whole week’s rations and we don’t need to spend a farthing this week.’
‘Finn!’ Belle called up the stairs. ‘Can you come down at once? Don’t bring the baby. It looks like a reporter is heading this way.’
‘Oh no!’ Fiona screeched, hiding under the bedcovers. ‘Don’t let them in, Finn. Send them away. Oh, the shame of it.’
‘Shush, Mum, keep totally quiet. I sensed from the tone of Mrs Belle’s voice that she has an idea.’
Belle hauled Finn out of the cottage and round to the front garden. ‘You’re called Sam, right? Leave this to me.’ Next instant Belle was dragging Finn by the arm away from the place and speaking stridently. ‘Come away, Sam! I told you those people scooted off the instant the news broke in the papers. It’s too spooky to stay here. We should never have accepted your father’s dare to come. It’s a horrid place!’
Finn went with her willingly, loving her touches, but he didn’t like her putting him on a par with her son. He burnt with jealousy that Belle had two men who had the right to claim so much of her.
His heart leaped when she suddenly let out a frightened shriek, and for one stupid second he believed she had actually seen a ghost. Then he saw the grey-suited, high-hatted woman holding a notepad and pencil lose the eager look on her nondescript face. The reporter said, under a network of frowns, ‘The Templetons have left here? But according to the woman in the shop the village is rallying round them.’
‘Good morning. We’re the nearest neighbours and my husband saw them leaving in a taxicab last evening.’ Belle released Finn’s arm and he put his hand over that warm tingling place. ‘He’d met the boy briefly, you see, and the boy shouted out the window that they were going for good. Apparently their landlord has found them better accommodation. I was glad to hear it, for this is a dreadful, cold place; it’s rundown and practically uninhabitable and there are many people who swear that it’s haunted. I’ve never had the nerve to come here before and I certainly won’t be coming again.’
The woman snapped her notebook shut. ‘Do you know where they went?’
‘They didn’t say, so my husband said. They were very private people. We never met them, hardly anyone did. My husband keeps bees, would you like to hear about them? It would make a very good story and it would be great publicity for his honey. I know the whole history of—’
‘No, thank you,’ the reporter said smartly. ‘I have another assignment and I must get on.’ She left briskly, wobbling on her high heels out to the lane, where her black car could just be seen through the scramble of trees.
‘Well, that got rid of her,’ Belle laughed, wiping her hands to convey she had got rid of a pest.
Finn gazed at her from huge admiring eyes. ‘That’s the neatest thing I’ve ever seen. You’re blooming marvellous!’
In the lane outside Merrivale a car was parked. Dorrie was concerned that the reporter, whom Belle had told her about, was back, perhaps with a photographer this time. The Templetons did not need the sort of complications caused by lurid columns in the newspapers which might lead to malicious gossip. Some locals had voiced their opinion that the Templetons did not deserve any help, that there were more deserving cases than them. ‘They wouldn’t have cared about the likes of us when they were in the money,’ a few had observed.
Delia Newton had declared haughtily to Dorrie, ‘The wife must have known what her husband was up to. She’s got what she deserves. And it might be a case of like father, like son; that boy probably shouldn’t be trusted. It’s just as well they keep themselves to themselves. We don’t want their sort in Nanviscoe, it’s a respectable place.’
‘Yes,’ Dorrie had retorted. ‘It’s full of respectable, charitable and un-judgmental people who wouldn’t dream of throwing the first stone.’
To that Delia had made what Greg called her ‘squashed muffin face’ and had continued serving Dorrie in frosty silence.
‘Hello, Finn,’ Dorrie called out cheerily as she entered the kitchen, ready to see off any persistent members of the press.
‘Finn isn’t here.’
She stood stock still. A man was lounging at the table, apparently thoroughly at home, turning a gold cigarette case and matching lighter over and over in his fingers. Finn wouldn’t have got on good terms with a reporter. He stood up out of respect to Dorrie’s entry and laid on an amiable smile, but Dorrie knew a charmer when she saw one. In his late thirties, slick in style, in a gleaming white shirt and dark tie, his sports jacket over the chair back, he exuded control and sophistication. ‘Mr Carthewy, I take it?’
‘You’ve guessed correctly,’ he replied in a careless but interested way, offering his big tidy hand across the table. A gold signet ring gleamed on his right ring finger. ‘And you must be the indispensable Mrs R. I’m very pleased to meet you. Finn and Fiona have told me how good you’ve been to them. Please accept my gratitude for all you’ve done here, and pass it on to your brother and the neighbours. It was unfortunate I had to attend to family business at Fiona’s most desperate time of need. I couldn’t convince her to accept more help from me. My secretary would have been willing to check regularly on her but Fiona wouldn’t hear of it, even though I’d assured her Miss Marks is the epitome of discretion.’
‘I’m pleased to meet you, Mr Carthewy. Finn’s out, you say?’
‘He’s not long left to go over to By The Way, to see about getting a few things for the baby. I convinced him to allow me to hold the fort until you arrive. The baby shouldn’t wake for a while. I offered to buy everything the little one needs but Finn insisted it was his place to provide for her. I admire him for that. I’m pleased he’s not a grasping crook like his father. Aidan Templeton-Barr is rotten right through, but Fiona still can’t see it or won’t hear a word against him. I’ve managed to talk Fiona into getting out of bed and she’s getting dressed. I’m here to persuade her to move to somewhere more comfortable. I’d almost forgotten I’d inherited this place, didn’t even know it existed until the lawyers tracked me down. In case you’re wondering why I’m so intent on helping Fiona I’ll be thoroughly honest, it’s quite simply because I’m in love with her. We were about to get engaged until Aidan stole her away from me. I’ve never stopped loving Fiona. I married a few years later but my wife divorced me, couldn’t stand being second best to Fiona, she said; I couldn’t blame her. I’d do anything for Fiona and her children. Haven’t got any children myself. Finn doesn’t quite trust me. I understand that, but I’m not trying to take over. I hope he’ll see that, and you too, Mrs Resterick.’
‘I think I do believe you, Mr Carthewy, that was a very impassioned spe
The pair heard slow shuffling sounds followed by puffing and blowing and then Fiona appeared stooped over in the doorway. Grey-faced, she was in her dressing gown and slippers but had made an attempt to brush her lank hair. Guy rushed to her and supported her with caring hands. ‘Let’s get you resting on the settee.’ Dorrie followed them into the front room.
‘I don’t want to go anywhere else, Guy,’ Fiona whined. ‘This cottage is basic but we’re surviving, and Finn’s hoping to get a job and he’s good with the baby. Mrs Resterick – thank you for coming again – Mrs Resterick assures us we’re not putting her out. We can manage here, Guy.’
‘I can see Finn’s not doing too badly with the help he’s receiving but you’re not managing at all, Fiona,’ Guy said gently, easing her to sit down. He took the crochet blanket and tucked it round her as if she were a child. She was certainly childlike and looked utterly lost. ‘This place will be horrendously draughty and cold in winter. The baby will suffer. You’ll never become well in this environment.’
‘I’ll never get well anywhere unless Aidan drops his silence with me. He hasn’t even answered my letters about Eloise’s birth.’ Fiona began to sob into the blanket. ‘I don’t know what I’ve done wrong. I wish he’d tell me. Guy, would you do something for me? I know it’s a great deal to ask, but would you visit Aidan in Dartmoor Prison, speak to him and try to get him to understand that I’m waiting for him? Please!’
Dorrie noticed how her desperate begging made Guy gulp and shudder, and she saw his reluctance to comply with her request. ‘I’ll get in touch with the authorities and ask for a visitor’s pass, Fiona, but on one condition, that you’ll allow me to turn this cottage into a decent place for you to live in. Do you agree?’
‘Well I . . . All right, agreed, but please, Guy, I couldn’t stand a lot of disruption.’
‘You won’t need to. While I was in Bude sorting out new nursing care for my senile grandmother, I thought a lot about what to do with Merrivale. If you’d agreed to move out I was going to sell it cheap in its present state. I was sure Farmer Newton would have been glad to acquire it. But if you wish to stay, I’ll get the place done up slowly, as your health and strength permits. I’ll have to employ painters so I might as well pay Finn to do it for me, so there would be practically no disruption for you, Fiona.’
Relief plain on her sallow face, Fiona sank back on the settee. Weary again, her eyelids were flickering for sleep but she listened gratefully.
Greg was smiling, into his stride now. ‘And you must have new curtains and stuff. I’m sure Mrs Resterick can advise on a local seamstress, eh, Mrs R?’
‘Indeed I can. Jean and Jenna Vercoe of By The Way, where Finn has gone, can run up anything on a sewing machine. All the work and workers that you might need can be found in Nanviscoe. My brother Greg is handy with a saw and a plane, he’s always glad to help anyone out, and an old boy Hector Evans would enjoy tackling the garden, with a bit of manual help. Verity, my niece, will also be glad to pitch in again. Denny Vercoe can turn his hand to plumbing and heavy work, tree felling too, if you want.’
‘That would be good, eh, Fiona? Make the place lighter and brighter and provide firewood. And I’m willing to put on a pair of overalls and act as labourer to the experts. All you have to do is rest and get well again.’
‘Don’t know how to thank you both,’ Fiona yawned, struggling to get up on her weak legs. Again Greg rushed to help her. ‘Do you mind if I go back to bed? You’ve both made me take heart. If Aidan knows he’s got somewhere nice to come home to where his family are waiting for him he’ll think differently and get in touch with me, won’t he? He must be so unhappy and scared. He’s probably been too ashamed over what he’s done.’
Dorrie took Fiona upstairs and came back down with Eloise, who was fretting with a windy tummy. She held the baby to her shoulder and gently patted her back. It was wonderful, the smell of a baby and the feel of a baby, and with Eloise wrapped in one of Veronica’s shawls it took Dorrie back to wonderful old memories.
Guy was pacing the room, tossing his head like a wild stallion, hands on his hips, obviously boiling with rage. ‘I can’t help it, Mrs Resterick, I could kill that bloody husband of Fiona’s. He’s never been scared of anything in his life and he’d certainly feel no shame. I’m sure he stashed some money away when he knew the game was up. He treated Fiona like dirt, put her down in public, and made lewd comparisons between her and his litany of tarts.’ He raked his hands through his hair and appealed to Dorrie, ‘How can I make her see the truth? That Aidan Templeton-Barr doesn’t care a jot about her, Finn or the baby? Finn realizes the truth.’
‘I’m afraid there’s nothing anyone can do about that until Fiona is ready to face the facts herself,’ Dorrie said softly.
Guy shook his head. ‘I know and I hate it. Some women are drawn to bad men. They’ll endure every sort of humiliation dealt out to them yet they still love their men. I suppose I can only carry on supporting Fiona for the moment and see what happens.’
‘That would be for the best, Mr Carthewy,’ Dorrie replied softly. She liked Guy heartily; he reminded her of Piers, kindness and forbearing to the last but not a pushover. She was sure Guy would protect Fiona with his life. ‘Actually, I’ve just had an idea which might ease Mrs Templeton along the way to a quicker recovery. Tell me what you think. If you agree with me, then after she’s had a rest and Finn has come back we’ll put it to them both.’
By The Way, the Vercoe home, was easy to locate, nestling a thousand yards down the lane of the same name, behind the north side of the village church. Finn first passed the redundant forge where Denny Vercoe’s father had been the last blacksmith. When motorized vehicles caught on for farming and private use there had not been enough work to justify keeping the forge occupational. Equestrian needs were now seen to by neighbouring villages. Finn felt Nanviscoe was missing something by the silencing of blasts from the furnace and the rhythmic clangs of the hammer. Apparently, Denny used the forge as a store. He was jack-of-all-trades and worked as a dealer in a diverse variety of goods.
Finn listened to the persistent happy chirps and tweets of the birds, something he had not noticed when living in town. He had marvelled at how still and calm little Eloise seemed in his arms when he was outside with her, as if she was aware of nature’s calls too. Across the fields he saw rabbits hopping about and wondered if Denny Vercoe, known for taking bounty where it abounded, was out with a shotgun to bag his family a meal. He had seven children in a wide range of ages, according to Mrs R – a lot of mouths to feed.
‘Damn it, hope you’re not out, Vercoe,’ Finn muttered, shifting, as he was apt to, all too easily into a dark mood. ‘I want to get back to Eloise quickly.’ He trusted Mrs R not to be late arriving at Merrivale but he hated the thought of Guy Carthewy being there. Carthewy had the right to be inside his property, and while Finn was grateful for his charity and goodwill, he feared Carthewy’s influence on his mother. After days of Finn and Nurse Rumford trying to coax his mother out of bed it had only taken Carthewy five minutes to get her to agree to do so. It was plain as the nose on his face that Carthewy was hankering after Fiona, that he would promise her anything to make her happy, and Finn feared she would plead with him to get in touch with his father on her behalf, and this might lead to his sly and calculating father using Carthewy to springboard him back into some element of the business world and the same sordid pattern being repeated.
Under his arm Finn had a large parcel of things he hoped to barter with Denny Vercoe for a second-hand, good-quality pram for Eloise so he could take her down to The Orchards to see Belle, who was never out of his mind and hopes.
On either side of the Vercoe home rambling one-storey extensions had been built. The original house seemed squashed in be
On the driver’s seat of a wheelless rust heap was a small tan curly-coated dog, with a tall tuft sticking up on the top of its square head. In case the mutt was territorial and the old van was its sentry box, Finn strode the last few feet cautiously, but it was a friendly little creature and while creating a high-pitched din it jumped out of the cab and came tearing energetically towards Finn and then rolled over on its back to display submission.
Finn hunkered down to it and tickled its wiry tummy, wary of fleas, worried about carrying any back to Eloise. ‘Daft little thing, aren’t you?’
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