SERIAL The Mystery Of Macgregor’s Cove by June Davies
Should Kit confront Sandy about what he knew? He turned to Penelope for advice . . .
HUSH had settled upon Haddonsell Grange. The household was abed, save for Penelope waiting alone in her sitting-room.
This was her special corner of the Grange: the walls lined with shelves bearing books and music, painting and drawing materials, and hung with watercolours, oils and sketches from local artists.
Only the framed pencil likeness of Colin Unsworth was by Penelope’s own hand. She’d sketched it during their very last summer together.
It stood on the corner of her desk, alongside her friend Lydia’s letter, asking to visit the Grange.
It was midnight before Penelope heard the front door opening.
Hurrying into the hallway, she confronted Adam as he was crossing the threshold.
“You’re home!” she exclaimed in a low voice, mindful of disturbing the household.
“What’s happened?” Adam demanded, shrugging off his coat. “Is it Father?”
“No, Father’s had a good day and is sleeping easy,” Penelope reassured him. “I’ve waited up because I must speak with you –”
“Whatever it is will wait,” he interrupted dismissively, striding past her to the staircase. “It’s been a wearisome day, and I’ve endured a disappointing night when the cards were cruelly against me. I’m for my bed.”
“This won’t wait.”
The light but firm touch of her hand upon his arm stopped Adam, and Penelope’s determined eyes met his steadily.
“It concerns your bailiff’s behaviour towards the Macgregors. We can’t talk out here.”
Closing the sitting-room door behind them, Penelope considered her brother as he pulled a chair sideways and sank into it, carelessly leaning an arm across the desk’s surface and scattering her writing tablet, pens and letters.
“Have you been drinking?”
“I’ve dined at my club and it has a splendid cellar,” Adam replied, looking every inch the defiant, rebellious youth he’d been before Father packed him off to India. “I own this evening their claret was exceptionally fine!”
“Whatever it was,” Penelope snapped, “you’ve clearly imbibed far more than is good for you.
“Perhaps if you spent less time at your club and more overseeing your bailiff, he would not accuse the Macgregor sisters of trespass and order them from our land . . .”
Penelope related everything Mathilda Macgregor had told her.
“I’d forgotten the Macgregors went to the priory,” Adam remarked. “I wasn’t aware Gerrard had been out there, either.”
“That hardly surprises me. What reason has he for going to the ruins? And who on earth is this armed fisherman?”
“I’ve no idea of the fisherman’s identity,” Adam responded with a shrug. “As for why Gerrard was at the priory . . . He’s the Grange’s bailiff. Overseeing the Whitlock estate – including the priory ruins – is his responsibility.
“Given that Gerrard’s new to the situation, how could he possibly know the Macgregors have permission to trespass?”
Penelope held her tongue, frustration and concern deepening. Adam would not hear a word said against Gerrard!
Plainly, it would serve no purpose to express her fears and suspicions of the bailiff’s malign influence over her brother.
“Although no harm was done and Gerrard did not exceed his authority,” Adam continued evenly, “I understand how upsetting the affair was for the Macgregor girls. Apologies and amends must be made.
“You need worry your head not a moment longer, Pen. I’ll set all to rights on the morrow. Now, I’m going to my bed!”
Rising from Penelope’s desk, Adam’s gaze fell upon Lydia Unsworth’s letter and he glanced over the hastily penned lines.
“Lydia’s coming to visit, is she?” he mused, grinning across at Penelope. “You know, before I sailed to India I was hopelessly in love with your friend Lydia.
“Of course, I was very young. Still too much a boy for her then.” Adam strode from the sitting-room, casting a wry backward glance at his sister. “It’ll be good seeing Lydia again.”
“Are you coming with us?” Amaryllis exclaimed when, wearing her best bonnet and cape, Dorcas appeared in the doorway of the bedroom her younger sisters shared. “You haven’t been to the ruins since we were children.”
“Well, I’m going today!” Dorcas declared airily. “It was most handsome of Adam to call offering humble apologies for what occurred. His insistence not only on accompanying us, but also on providing transport and a winter picnic, is exceedingly generous.”
Amaryllis was unimpressed.
“He’s the only reason you’re going, isn’t he?”
“What if he is?” Dorcas returned, glancing coldly at her sister. “You’re a sour lemon, Am.”
Amaryllis turned from braiding Betsy’s hair, nodding to Dorcas’s footwear.
“You’ll spoil your best shoes.”
“I shall take care not to,” Dorcas snapped, moving across to the window and perching on the linen chest there. “I’m not about to wear ugly great clodhoppers like those awful boots you have on.”
Securing Betsy’s braids with neat bows, Amaryllis smiled at the little girl.
“You’re done. Mr Whitlock will be here soon. Are you and Flossie ready?”
“Nearly.” Betsy scrambled down from the bed on to her knees beside Flossie on the rug, and began brushing the dog’s silky white fur. “I wish Noah was coming, Ammie.”
“Yes, it’s a shame,” Amaryllis agreed, gathering mittens and scarves from the tallboy. “But Noah’s away with the packet.”
“He’ll be back tomorrow,” Betsy persisted. “Can’t we wait until then? He’d take us in the wagon and we could have our picnic together, just like always.”
“Mr Whitlock has organised everything for today,” Amaryllis replied. “It’s kind of him and I’m sure we’ll have a grand –”
“Adam’s here!” Dorcas cried excitedly, peering through the window.
A wagon drawn by a pair of sturdy horses was turning into the Bell’s yard.
“And he has your Simon with him!”
“He’s not my Simon!” Amaryllis mumbled, vexed at the hot colour flooding her face.
“Not for the want of wishing he was, is it?” Dorcas retorted, sweeping from the sisters’ bedroom. “You’ve been making cow-eyes at Simon Baldwin for years, Am. Perhaps one day he’ll start noticing you.”
Although dull and overcast, the weather was dry with little wind and not particularly cold for the season, so they’d spent a pleasant day in Priory Woods, gathering Advent evergreens and choosing the yule log.
Adam had provided an abundance of delicious food, and when the party settled at the foot of St Agnes Falls for their picnic, unexpected shafts of bright wintry sun glimmered down between branches to warm them as they ate.
Well fed and weary, eventually they had to start packing up if they were to reach home in daylight.
“Does Flossie want a drink before we set off?” Amaryllis asked, bringing a bowl of water to where Betsy and the dog were scattering crumbs for robins and blackbirds. “Had a nice day, Bets?” Her young sister nodded. “But it’s not the same without Noah.”
Amaryllis smiled, ruffling the girl’s hair. Betsy was right. Although it had been an enjoyable day, somehow it hadn’t felt nearly as merry and festive as usual.
Like Betsy, Amaryllis had missed Noah Pendleton’s cheery presence, but spending a whole day with Simon was wonderful.
She’d been surprised to see he and Adam were such firm friends, and during the drive back to the Bell she asked Simon how that was.
“We were at school together.” Simon laughed, his arm slipping around her shoulders. “Hadn’t seen each other for years, until quite recently.
“We met across a card table in Liverpool – a disastrous experience for us both.” He grimaced, shaking his head goodhumouredly. “While drowning our sorrows, we got talking and found we have quite a few common interests and ambitions.
“Adam is a useful friend to have,” he finished firmly.
Somehow it hadn’t felt nearly as merry and festive as usual
The York-bound coach coming apace from the direction of the Bell rattled past Kit Chesterton as he was riding along the coast towards Macgregor’s Cove.
Turning into the inn’s yard, he saw Sandy and his brother Iain,
grappling with a mighty gnarled log – and from where Kit was sitting, the huge log was clearly getting the best of the contest.
Nearby, Mrs Macgregor was shaking her head in exasperation, while Betsy watched wide-eyed, perched on the corner of the stone horse trough with Flossie at her side.
Leading Patch into the stable and removing her saddle and bridle, Kit left Betsy rubbing down the piebald mare while he sprinted out into the yard and joined the fray.
When the yule log was finally manoeuvred into the Bell’s great hearth, the three men gathered round admiring their handiwork.
“We did a good job there,” Iain declared to Sandy and Kit.
“You did,” Ethel agreed crisply, coming up behind them. “But we’ve no time for standing gawping.
“You’re tall, Mr Chesterton,” she said, looking up at Kit. “You might want to lend Am a hand.”
Kit joined Amaryllis at one of the inn’s bay windows, where she was balancing precariously on a three-legged stool, assorted evergreens spilling from her arms.
“Does it sit along the top of the window?” he asked, taking the intertwined holly, ivy and laurel from her. “On this little ledge?”
“Yes, and try twisting it as you go so it makes a nice thick garland. That’s lovely!” she exclaimed. “There will be pine cones going up there, too – if Flossie leaves us any!”
Kit followed the direction of Amaryllis’s glance to the chimney corner, where Betsy was sorting through a heap of pine cones.
Even as Kit watched, Flossie rummaged amongst the cones and chose one, tossing it into the air before catching it and dashing from sight.
“She likes hiding them.” Amaryllis laughed as she and Kit moved to the next window. “This must be very different from your Christmas preparations in Jamaica, Mr Chesterton.”
“Although I do have hazy memories of Christmas at home when I was a boy, I’ve actually spent most in England.”
“How so?” She handed up another bundle of greenery.
“My brother and I went away to school when we were young,” Kit replied, stepping back to ensure the garland lay evenly. “We grew up here.”
“Does your brother live in England, too?”
Kit shook his head. “After school, he returned to Jamaica. But I developed an interest in engineering and begged my father to allow me to stay, so here I am.”
Soon the inn was bedecked for Christmastide, fragrant with rosemary and pine, and Sandy was helping Betsy light the festive candles in their sconces when Ethel hurried through from the inn-house.
“Supper’s ready. I’m dishing up, so don’t dally!” she announced and, turning back into the passageway, looked across at Kit, who was already on the stairs to his room. “I’ve set a place for you, Mr Chesterton. You’ll join us for supper?”
“It’s kind . . .” he began, reluctant to intrude upon the family.
“Come through,” Sandy chipped in warmly, clapping Kit on the shoulder. “You’re welcome at our table!”
Progress on the Akenside
Cut continues, Kit wrote, sitting at the writing table in his rooms at the Bell.
Despite it being almost noon, the wintry day was dark and gloomy. The candle he’d lit cast light across his letter, and upon the carved wooden St Christopher medallion.
Since sailing from Jamaica months earlier, Kit had carried Marietta’s keepsake in his pocket, and now, as he wrote home to his elder brother, it lay at the corner of his page.
I’ve removed from lodgings in Akenside and taken up residence at a cliff-top inn overlooking Macgregor’s Cove, the same cove mentioned in
Alexander’s letters to Marietta.
Alexander – Sandy – Macgregor is the innkeeper. I believe Sandy is my father. He lives here with his wife and three daughters.
Although the Bell is a busy inn with travellers overnighting or staying a day or two, I am their only lodger. I find myself drawn into their daily activities and am coming to like the Macgregors very well.
Suppose I speak out. What, then, the consequences for him and his family? Oft times, I begin to believe I should remain silent and leave Macgregor’s Cove.
Kit wrote a while longer before sealing his letter. Deep in thought, he snuffed the candle, reached for his coat and strode from his rooms on to the landing.
Amaryllis was hurrying upstairs carrying a basket of brushes, polishing cloths, beeswax and vinegar, and greeted him with her usual friendly smile.
Turning into Kit’s rooms, Amaryllis set down her basket and spotted something lying on the floor beneath the writing table.
Stooping, she retrieved a carved St Christopher and gasped in astonishment. It was Pa’s!
“You’ve found it!” Amaryllis spun round as Kit rushed into the room.
“Thank goodness,” he went on, coming forward to receive the medallion. “I was in the stable saddling Patch before I realised it wasn’t in my pocket.”
“It’s yours?” she queried. “How did you come by this, Mr Chesterton?”
“It’s a family heirloom, I suppose,” Kit replied, taking the St Christopher from her. “Thank you for finding it, Miss Amaryllis. I couldn’t bear to lose this.”
He hesitated, adding with a small smile, “It belonged to my mother.”
During a lull between chores and coaches coming in, Amaryllis squeezed into her father’s shed. It was crammed with all manner of tools and objects Pa refused to throw away.
Rummaging amongst the dusty, cobwebbed shelves, Amaryllis finally unearthed a battered old tobacco tin.
She hadn’t set eyes on it since she was a little girl, and had been in here with Pa while he was looking for something.
Opening the tobacco tin, he’d tipped it upside down, spilling out a heap of long-forgotten odds and ends – amongst them a small St Christopher.
Fashioned from wood, it was very unusual, and quite unlike anything Amaryllis had ever seen.
She remembered picking it up, taking it to the light so she might better see the primitive carving, and asking Pa about it.
He’d replied that the medallion was a souvenir brought home from his Navy days, and he’d put it back into the tobacco tin.
Now, Amaryllis held the St Christopher to the light exactly as she had all those years ago. It really was distinctive.
Surely this and the keepsake belonging to Mr Chesterton’s late mother must have been carved by the same hand?
Amidst a flurry of dry, powdery snowflakes, Lydia Unsworth arrived at Haddonsell Grange.
Penelope and Dorothy were on the front steps with Kit, who was about to take his leave, when the Unsworths’ carriage, laden with luggage, bowled up the beech drive.
Accompanied by her lady’s maid and abigail, Lydia disembarked, her appraising gaze sweeping Kit Chesterton.
Penelope made the introductions before Kit rode away, and he was barely out of earshot when Lydia widened her eyes, staring at her friend.
“Who is that fiendishly handsome man?” she demanded, linking her arm through Penelope’s as they started up the steps and indoors. “Wherever did you find him?”
“I didn’t.” Shaking her head, Penelope
explained. “Kit – Mr Chesterton – is involved with Father’s canal-building and has become a family friend.”
“Tell that to the pixies,” Lydia hissed, eyeing her friend mischievously. “There were so many sparks flying between you and Mr Kit Chesterton, mine eyes were fair dazzled by their brilliance.”
Penelope’s sitting-room was at the rear of the old house, overlooking Elias’s flower gardens and bee hives.
Draping a shawl about her head and shoulders, Penelope went through the French windows and across the terrace into the garden.
There was scarcely a breath of wind now. Snowflakes were settling upon her shawl and the dark earth for barely a moment before they melted and were gone.
Penelope moved about the garden, seeking out a handful of hardy flowers to fashion into a posy for her father’s room.
She hadn’t yet discovered what had brought Lydia to Haddonsell with such urgency, for upon arrival Lydia had gone directly to her rooms to rest after the lengthy journey.
However, it wasn’t Lydia who was presently occupying Penelope’s thoughts. It was Kit.
He was worrying about something, of that she was convinced. Were there problems at the Akenside Cut preying on his mind?
“There you are!” Lydia appeared at the French windows.
“Thank you for giving me refuge.” Lydia sighed when they were ensconced in the sitting-room. “I couldn’t have borne being at Skilbeck another day.”
“You’re as family, Lyddie,” Penelope replied warmly. “We’re glad you’ve come.”
“You’re doubtless wondering what dreadful circumstance has driven me from my home.” Rising from the fireside sofa, she paced the comfortable room in a restless manner.
At the writing table, Lydia’s gaze lingered upon the pencil likeness of her brother, and she touched a fingertip to its frame.
“How different everything would be if Colin had lived,” she murmured. “You and he would be married with a horde of children, while I would be free to continue living my life as I choose. Not as duty dictates!”
“Whatever’s happened?” Penelope queried, startled by Lydia’s vehemence. “How may I help?”
“Short of waving a wand and making the animosity between my father and his nephew disappear,” Lydia returned bitterly, “there’s nothing that will set this catastrophe to rights.
“It’s so unfair, Penny!” she railed. “After Colin died, Papa named his only nephew as heir to the estate. Everything was fine until recently. They argued violently and are now estranged.
“Papa’s cut my cousin from his will, and insists I marry without delay. I feel so helpless!” Lydia declared in desperation, sitting down and meeting Penelope’s eyes. “Once I’m wed, a husband will control my whole life.
“Since I am Papa’s only surviving child, my husband will also come into the entire Unsworth estate.”
“Oh, Lyddie.” Deeply troubled by her friend’s distress, Penelope put her arms about Lydia’s shoulders, seeking to reassure her, but keenly aware there was nothing she could say or do.
“I’m to be forced into a marriage with whomever my father deems suitable to inherit the estate,” Lydia declared, striving to regain her composure. “I’m utterly powerless to prevent it. Unless . . .
“I must find an acceptable husband with haste!” she declared, resolve sparking in her eyes. “Before Papa finds one for me!”
“She’s always been a very bright girl,” Amaryllis was saying while she walked home from St Agnes.
Kit was at her side, leading Patch and carrying Amaryllis’s heavy basket of provisions together with an armful of books. “Betsy’s always loved reading.
“I’ve noticed.” Kit smiled, glancing at the books. “She has a good selection here. Are they from Miss Macgregor’s shop?” Amaryllis nodded. “After Betsy’s illness, she couldn’t go back to school so Great-aunt began teaching her at home.”
They had reached the Bell and Amaryllis broke off in surprise, seeing Simon emerging from the inn and striding towards them.
“I’ve been here for ever!” he exclaimed, his glance darting from Amaryllis to her companion. “Where is everybody?”
“Ma, Betsy, Great-aunt and I have been in church arranging evergreens. I’ve no idea where Dorcas is,” she replied distractedly. “I’m sorry, Simon. I wasn’t expecting you.”
“I’m presently away down to Liverpool,” he went on, passing the time of day with Kit before offering Amaryllis his arm. “You’ll excuse us, sir?”
“Of course,” Kit replied. He saw Amaryllis looking to the basket and books he carried, and added with a smile, “I’ll take these inside, Miss Amaryllis.”
Nodding her thanks, Amaryllis returned his smile, but was aware of Simon drawing her nearer, his head bowed so his lips were against her ear.
“You realise,” he began in a low voice, “every time I come here you’re together with the Chesterton fellow?
“I don’t like seeing you in cahoots with that stranger,” he concluded. “Chesterton’s too old for you to be stepping out with him.”
“Stepping out?” Amaryllis echoed.
She couldn’t tell if he were teasing her or in earnest.
“I was walking from St Agnes when I met Mr Chesterton riding from Akenside,” she explained. “He carried my parcels and accompanied me home. Mr Chesterton’s a very considerate gentleman.”
“If you say so.” Simon laughed, drawing her nearer. “A man’s entitled to be jealous about his sweetheart, is he not?”
Amaryllis gasped, looking up sharply, and suddenly her face was close to Simon’s. Her heart was thumping and she could scarcely breathe.
Since childhood they’d been friends, never anything more, and yet Simon was jealous! He’d called her his sweetheart!
Turning towards him, she drew breath to speak. No words came.
In that moment, Amaryllis knew Simon was about to kiss her.
During the hours after Simon left for Liverpool, Amaryllis hugged a newfound happiness, daydreaming through her chores at the Bell.
It had been a long and eventful day, yet that night, up in the room she and Betsy shared, Amaryllis remained wide awake.
Beside her in the high bed, Betsy slept soundly, with Flossie curled up in the hollow of her knees, also fast asleep.
The dog stirred when Amaryllis slipped from bed, yawning before settling her head on to her paws and sleeping once more.
Padding across the room, Amaryllis took her shawl and went to the window, sitting on the linen chest.
She leaned upon the window’s ledge and gazed up into the sky. There was no moon this chill night, and only the sparsest scattering of pale stars pierced the darkness.
Amaryllis noticed neither the dark nor the cold. Her thoughts and her heart were filled with Simon.
That same moonless night, some eight miles north of Macgregor’s Cove, a fore-and-aft rigged vessel showing no lights lay at anchor broadside to the ragged coastline.
On the beach, Haddonsell Grange’s bailiff and the armed Manx fisherman, Killip, stood watching row-boats heavy with contraband
edging into the shallows. Shadowy figures waded out to meet them, hauling the cargo ashore, loading casks, barrels, chests, boxes and jars on to a train of docile pack-ponies.
The ponies were led along the shoreline, disappearing into a warren of caves and tunnels deep beneath the priory towards the storehouse vault.
Gerrard and Killip were last to quit the beach and follow the train. Not a word had been spoken.
Concealed amongst the plantation pines fringing the high ground above the beach, a lone horseman had observed the successful landing.
Turning about, he rode soundlessly on the soft, sandy earth between the tall pines and away inland.
“Our first call will be Quiggin’s, the confectioner.” Penelope consulted the shopping list while she and Kit were driving north. “Mother has asked me to get a tin of Father’s favourite Mabyn taffy as a Christmas treat . . .”
She broke off, cross at her thoughtlessness. Christmas would be a poignant time for Kit, being so far from family and home.
Touching her hand to his sleeve, Penelope said as much, but Kit shook his head before returning his attention to the narrow, winding road ahead.
“It isn’t that.”
“Then what is it? I don’t wish to pry,” she continued quietly. “Something is weighing upon your mind, Kit. Can’t you tell me?”
“You’re not prying,” he replied, meeting Penelope’s eyes. “And you’re the only person I can tell . . .”
She listened while Kit poured out the whole story of finding Marietta’s letters and the carved St Christopher; of arriving in Macgregor’s Cove on the day the yawl sank; of meeting Sandy and his family; of coming to know and care for them.
“If Sandy were alone, I wouldn’t hesitate asking about Marietta,” he concluded as they jogged along the wintry lanes. “But Sandy has a wife and daughters. I don’t want them hurt on my account.”
She nodded, understanding the turmoil of emotions Kit was struggling against.
He looked at her, anguish in his dark eyes.
“Whatever am I to do, Penny?”
“You believe Sandy is your father,” she murmured, clasping Kit’s hand within her own. “You owe him the chance to know his only son.”
Kit and Penelope had had a good day amongst the festive bustle of Castlebridge, and afterwards enjoyed a quiet supper together at Haddonsell Grange.
Penelope was in Kit’s thoughts while he rode at an unhurried pace from the Grange to the Bell. It was late when he turned into the cobbled yard.
Everywhere seemed silent. Only Sandy was still up and about, repairing a harness in the lantern’s steady light.
He turned from his work when Kit led Patch into the stable. Kit thought he looked weary, and very old. He’d never before noticed that about Sandy.
“Had a nice time at Castlebridge? It’s a grand town,” Sandy began. “Ethel’s left a cold plate in case you’re hungry.
“The family’s got used to you having supper with us,” he went on, adding a shade awkwardly, “We missed you tonight.”
Feeling an unexpected rush of affection for his father, words failed Kit.
Reaching into his pocket, he outstretched his hand towards Sandy. Marietta’s keepsake lay on his palm.
“I believe this belonged to my mother.”
To be continued.