SERIAL The Mystery Of Macgregor’s Cove
Penelope had never felt so happy, especially now that Kit was asking her to marry him . . .
SHOCKED and humiliated, Ethel stood stock still. Passing the tip of her tongue across dry lips, she was scarce able to draw breath.
Snatching her shopping list from the counter, she turned on her heel and marched from the store.
Once outside, Ethel’s trembling hand flew to her mouth, her composure crumbling as she scurried blindly along the market town’s busy high street.
“Ma!” Emerging from Great-aunt Macgregor’s bookshop, Amaryllis caught sight of her mother and ran to her side. “Whatever’s wrong?”
“They all know,” Ethel mumbled. “The whole of St Agnes is tittle-tattling about us!”
“I’ll fetch Noah to drive you home,” Amaryllis was saying. “Wait here, Ma. I shan’t be long!”
She found Noah in the
chandler’s, hurriedly explaining while they sped back across town.
“Will you take Ma home, please?” Amaryllis finished as they approached the cart and she turned away.
“Of course, but aren’t you coming with us?”
Amaryllis shook her head.
“There’s somebody I must see in town. I’ll make my own way home.”
“What an unexpected pleasure!” Simon beamed, rising to greet Amaryllis with hands outstretched. “To what do I owe –”
“When I told you Kit was my brother, you gave your word it would go no further,” Amaryllis cried, stepping clear of his embrace. “Yet all of St Agnes knows. Only you can be responsible, Simon!”
“I had no idea people were gossiping.” He slapped his head with the heel of his hand. “I was playing cards in town with some of the chaps. We were having a rare night, talking as fellows will . . .”
Simon appeared genuinely abashed and reached out, touching Amaryllis’s hand.
For the first time, she did not respond to his touch.
“You haven’t any notion of the distress you’ve caused, have you?”
“I’m sorry, but the truth was bound to come out sooner or later, wasn’t it?” he murmured persuasively.
Without another word, Simon moved nearer.
“I never want to see you again.” Amaryllis stood fast before the man she’d believed herself in love with, meeting his gaze. “It is over between us, Simon.”
As soon as the handfasting ceremony bound Adam and Dorcas as man and wife, the couple set off for Harrogate.
In contrast, Kit and Penelope weren’t in any hurry to resume travelling. They chose to put up at the village inn, crossing the Scottish border the next day and setting out upon the long road south.
“I’m declining the Birmingham investors’ commission,” Kit said as he and Penelope rode. They’d decided to break their journey and rest the horses at the Tarleton Hall Hotel. “I’ll write with my decision directly we’re home.”
“You’re an engineer,” Penelope concluded simply. “You must go wherever work takes you.”
“I design and build things.” Kit shrugged. “I’ll find something to design and build in Lancashire.
“That’s where I want to be, Penny.” He turned, gazing into blue eyes that seemed even bluer in the brightness of this morning. “I want to be with you, helping you with your work as you’re supporting me.”
“My work?” Penelope echoed, an uncharacteristic flash of anger and resentment flaring. “When Adam was setting off for Harrogate, did you hear what he said to me?”
“Not really. I guessed he was discussing your managing Whitlock’s during his lengthy wedding trip.”
“My brother told me to enjoy queening it over the pot-works, because this is the last chance I’ll have!”
Reading Kit’s disquieted expression, she went on.
“I assumed it was his way of saying he’d no longer allow me to be there, but now I can’t help suspecting it’s far more than that.
“Something concerning Whitlock’s that Adam knows. Something that’s pleasing him, because he never stopped smiling.” Penelope’s brow creased into a frown. “I don’t trust my brother, Kit. Adam’s up to no good!”
Snow continued falling for much of the day, and when they approached Tarleton Hall, it was to discover a lively ice party in full swing on the lake.
Fiery torches and lanterns illuminated its banks; fiddlers played reels and jigs, while relays of hotel servants slithered back and forth keeping guests supplied with roasted chestnuts, negus and hot chocolate.
“What will you do after Akenside?” Penelope queried when they were emerging from the hotel with their borrowed skates.
“Oh, there will be plenty of engineering challenges close to home,” Kit reassured her, indicating a bench where they might put on their skates. “Have you heard of John Smeaton?
“He built canals, but he was also responsible for bridges, harbours and lighthouses,” Kit finished, accepting two mugs of chocolate from a maid bearing a tray. “Perhaps I’ll build a lighthouse.”
They sat with their drinks, cupping cold hands about hot mugs and watching the skaters.
“The waters along our coastline are known to be treacherous,” Penelope began, sipping her chocolate.
“Many a vessel comes to grief making its way to or from Liverpool. A proper lighthouse would be a godsend.”
“That’s it!” He laughed, setting aside his mug. “As soon as the Akenside Cut is navigable, I’ll build a lighthouse at Macgregor’s Cove.”
After donning his skates, Kit dropped to his knees in the snow and began lacing up Penelope’s.
He looked up at her. Their faces were on a level, and Kit’s dark eyes were dancing.
“While I’m down on one knee, Miss Whitlock,” he murmured softly, taking both her hands, “may I tell you I love you and ask you to marry me?”
Penelope uttered not a word, merely leaning closer and touching Kit’s lips with her own.
After spending those special days alone with Penelope, parting from her was more of a wrench than usual.
Leaving her at the Grange, Kit rode out to Macgregor’s Cove. The Bell’s yard was empty, and everywhere was still.
After stabling Patch, Kit went into the inn. Sandy was alone, seated before the fire with a tot of rum, contemplating glowing logs and enjoying a pipe.
“I’m glad you’re keeping busy,” Kit declared, taking off his hat and coat.
“You should have been here an hour since,” Sandy muttered grimly, adding with a sigh, “I’d best fetch you summat to drink, seeing as you’ve come all the way from Scotland.”
“Stay put. I’ll help myself.”
Kit brought his glass to the fireside.
“What’s been happening here?”
“Baking. Ethel and the girls have made Dorcas’s marriage cake. Huge, it is. We got another letter from her today,” he went on, sipping his rum. “They’re in Harrogate.”
“What do you make of Adam?”
“I like him fine well,” Sandy replied. “Adam’s a good man – but he’s not our class.
“Adam’s gentry; she’s the daughter of a country innkeeper. I don’t want her hurt, or to be ashamed of who she is and where she’s from.”
Sandy swirled the dregs of the Jamaican dark rum around his glass.
“I just hope our Dorcas never regrets marrying above herself.”
“I don’t trust my brother. Adam’s up to no good!”
Penelope slipped effortlessly back into the routine of managing Whitlock’s.
Wintry days were lengthening into spring, and Penelope sensed the mood around the pottery changing. Folk went about their work with a will again. Just like old times.
Yet she never was free of apprehension for Adam’s return, nor the nameless, nagging
suspicions she couldn’t quite dismiss.
Work upon the Dorothy design progressed apace, and one evening after coming home from the pottery, Penelope carried a small wooden crate into her father’s room.
“Is that what I think it is?” Elias’s pale face lit up.
Carefully prising open the lid, Penelope revealed a cup, saucer and side plate, together with the sugar bowl, milk jug and teapot from the Dorothy handpainted floral set.
“It’s beautiful!” Elias mumbled, overcome. He’d hoped to throw the set himself, but illness had put paid to that.
“You and everyone at the pot-works have done a grand job, Penny.”
“We know how much the Dorothy means to you,” she responded, a lump coming to her throat.
“You wanted to surprise Mother on her birthday last year.”
“It can go into full production as soon as fits with whatever else is on the books,” Elias declared, enthusiastic as ever when it came to the pottery. “We’ll surprise Dotty on this year’s birthday. Better late than never.
“She’s getting ready for Adam bringing Dorcas home,” he went on. “Even though they’ll not be here long before they move – to Rishton Place, no less!
“I’m right proud of Adam,” Elias reflected. “I sent the lad off to India with next to nowt in his pockets, but he worked hard and made his fortune.
“It wasn’t fair of me, expecting Adam to give up everything in India to come home,” he admitted, frowning. “I wouldn’t blame him if he resented it.
“But he’s never complained! He’s knuckled down and got on with it. That’s not easy for an ambitious man with his whole life in front of him, Penny. Not easy at all.”
“Now the excitement is over and, for the time being, Dorcas and her husband are settled at Haddonsell Grange,” Mathilda Macgregor was telling Amaryllis while they planted shallots in the Bell’s kitchen garden.
“I’ve decided to pay our Manx cousins a long overdue visit. I suggest that you and Betsy accompany me.
“I’ve spoken to Noah,” she concluded. “Passage is arranged aboard the packet’s next sailing.”
Amaryllis stared in astonishment.
“Betsy and I can’t possibly go away!”
“These past months haven’t been the easiest for your parents,” Mathilda countered. “Nonetheless, they’ve kept the family and the inn running like clockwork. I doubt they’ve had any time together to think and take stock.”
“But with Dorcas gone, too,” Amaryllis protested, “however will Ma and Pa manage?” Mathilda smiled. “Child, your mother and father ran the Bell long before you and your sisters arrived in this world,” she remarked. “I daresay they’ll muddle along without you for a wee while.”
On the morning the girls were sailing to the Isle of Man, Ethel came from the inn-house, a basket over her arm, and crossed the yard to the stable where Kit was saddling Patch.
“I’ve made a batch of goosnargh for Am and Betsy’s journey. I thought you might like to take some to work,” she began, offering the parcel. “It’s a pity you can’t go with the girls.”
Kit thanked her for the shortbread rounds.
“I’d like to have gone, but I can’t be away from the Cut just now. We’re due to start puddling the wharf.”
“You must go next time. Perhaps take Miss Whitlock with you?” Ethel met his eyes awkwardly, before rushing on.
“Kit, I never did thank you for what you and Miss Whitlock did for our Dorcas. You were a true brother. I’ll not forget it.”
With a smile and bob of her head, she hurried away.
“I’d best make sure the girls are packing what’s needed.”
Ethel and Sandy stood on the quayside beyond the Bell, waving off the packet.
“You’re wearing your new gansey,” Ethel remarked. “I’ve not seen it since I gave it to you at Christmas.”
“It didn’t seem right putting it on,” he mumbled, fidgeting with the ribbing on the sleeve. “It’s a grand gansey. Best I’ve seen.”
“Aunt Mathilda found the pattern for me. It’s been in your family for generations. Came down from Scotland with the Macgregors.” They fell silent.
“I’m sorry I never told you about Marietta,” Sandy blurted out, stumbling over his words. “When I heard they were dead, I came home. I didn’t tell anybody what had happened. Not even Iain. I couldn’t.
“Nobody ever knew.” He shook his head, avoiding her gaze. “Years went by, and when you and me started walking out, it was easier not looking back.”
“I can understand,” she acknowledged soberly. “And we have been blessed with a good life.”
“I don’t want to lose you,” he muttered. “Are we all right, Ethel?”
“Aye. We’re all right, Sandy.” She nodded, her features softening into a smile.
With the packet fading from sight on the swell of the tide, they turned from the quayside and started up towards the inn-house.
“Penny suggested it and I’ve given the notion considerable thought.” Kit paused, waiting while Elias made his move on the chessboard between them.
“A permanent light would assist safer navigation through the approaches and on into Liverpool.”
“I’ve approached several shipping companies in Liverpool, but none were forthcoming with support for constructing a lighthouse.”
“But you are staying in Lancashire?”
“There’s no doubt about that.” Kit raised his face. “What position is Penny to have at Whitlock’s?”
Elias glanced up, perplexed.
“How do you mean?” “Penny’s been running the pottery,” Kit replied. “When Adam returns, what is she to do?”
“Come home, of course. And before you start arguing her corner,” Elias put in hastily, raising a hand as Kit drew breath to dissent. “Penny does a grand job and if I had no son, things would be different.”
“Despite Penny’s abilities and hard work, she’s to be excluded from her family’s firm?” Kit interrupted. “You must understand how much the pottery means to her.”
“Of course I do. It’ll be hard on the lass,” Elias conceded. “But once she’s wed, she’ll have other things to think on.
“Whitlock’s is Adam’s birthright, Kit,” Elias finished impatiently. “There’s nowt more to be said on the matter.”
“Your ma said to tell you all’s fine,” Noah related.
While Amaryllis was visiting her cousins, whenever he sailed across to the island, Noah had taken to going up to the Macgregors’ croft and calling upon her with messages from home.
“They’ve taken on a girl. Widow Watkins recommended her, and she’s doing well. She’s the daughter of one of Widow Watkins’s friends.”
“That is good news!” Amaryllis exclaimed. After Dorcas married, the Bell had needed another pair of hands. “I’m glad she’s settling in.”
It was a fine summer’s day and they’d been up to the ancient kirk where the first Macgregors to settle on Man had worshipped.
“Is there a chance you and Simon will make up?” he asked unexpectedly.
“Certainly not,” Amaryllis replied. “You were right about him. I’m sorry for the things I said, Noah – and for our falling out.”
“We had words
right enough,” he agreed with a smile. “But we never fell out. You and me, we’ve been pals far too long for that ever to happen.”
Holding on to Noah’s hand, Amaryllis edged along the split oak-bole bridging the stream.
“If Betsy and Cousin Lachlan were with us,” she said, her voice not quite steady, “they’d tell us be sure and wish the fairy-folk good morning while we’re crossing the burn!”
“Moghrey mie!” Noah laughed, slipping an arm about her as they traversed the deep, clear water.
Amaryllis and Noah hadn’t long returned to the Macgregors’ croft when Flossie’s barking drew them to the open door.
Betsy, Lachlan and Flossie were hurtling up the path, while Great-aunt Mathilda and Morag Macgregor followed at a more dignified gait.
“I have my clogs!” Betsy cried, proudly showing off her new footwear. “They’re exactly like Lachlan’s!”
“They’re beauties,” Amaryllis said admiringly. “I’ll ask Mr Watterson to make pairs for Ma and me, too.”
“You’ll not go wrong with Watterson’s clogs,” Morag opined. “I’d be lost about the croft without mine.”
“While we were in the village,” Betsy went on, fetching a dish of water for Flossie, “we saw those men who chased us from the ruins at Christmastide.”
“Killip and Gerrard?” Amaryllis asked. “Whatever are they doing here?”
“I’ve often spotted Killip. He’s a Manx fisherman, so that’s only to be expected,” Noah said. “But what reason would Adam’s bailiff have to be on the island?”
“He’s been here before, but I know nothing of him,” Morag put in. “I know plenty about the other one, though.
“He may call himself Killip, but he’s a Faragher. One of five brothers, and they make their money smuggling.
“If you’ve seen Faragher around Macgregor’s Cove, Amaryllis,” she warned, “you’d best pray he does no worse than bring ashore contraband. Setting false lights is his evil trade.”
The instant Penelope rode through the gates of Whitlock’s, she realised something was wrong.
A knot of grim-faced workers stood in the yard, talking in low voices to the foreman; others scurried about their duties, heads bowed and eyes fixed upon the grimy cobbles.
“What’s going on, Mr Doyle?” she asked when the watchman hurried from his hut. “Has there been an accident?”
“It’s not that –” Before the watchman could finish, Albert Thwaite came to her.
“I need a word, Miss Penny.”
Once within the master’s house, she led the way into her office.
“Whatever’s wrong, Albert?”
“There’s talk Whitlock’s is selling up to a firm bringing in its own workers,” the foreman returned. “Is it right we’ll all be out us jobs?”
The question struck Penelope like a blow.
Far worse was being unable to quash the rumour and set everybody’s mind at rest, for this was the first she had heard of it.
Her brother had not been into Whitlock’s this week. Since returning from his wedding trip, Adam was devoting less of his time and interest to the pottery.
Penelope rarely entered Adam’s office, but now she did so, setting about a thorough search.
The correspondence from Sydney Parker & Sons was burning a hole in Penelope’s pocket, but there was no chance to confront Adam until after dinner, when she sought him out in their father’s study.
The door was ajar. She could hear her brother speaking with Gerrard, and waited until the bailiff quit the study before entering.
Adam was standing over by the sideboard, pouring brandy from one of the heavy crystal decanters.
Penelope crossed the room and set Parker’s letters down before him.
“You’ve stolen those from my office!” Adam cried.
Rather than being angry, a grin of amazement creased his face.
“You rise in my estimation, old girl!”
“You intend selling Whitlock’s to this cotton manufacturer?”
“Since those letters are evidence, there’s little point denying it,” he remarked. “Thanks to Father bringing the canal to Akenside, property and land are as gold dust. Parkers made an excellent offer. Only a fool would refuse.”
“Father doesn’t know about this deal, does he?”
“I planned upon waiting until proceedings were more advanced.” He shrugged. “Ah, but if I don’t tell Father at once, I’m sure you will.”
“What were you thinking of?” she challenged angrily. “Our workers’ livelihoods are at stake! And have you even considered Father? He built Whitlock’s from nothing to pass to you! It’s his life’s work –”
“His, not mine!” Adam cut in, no trace of humour in voice now. “I don’t want it. Never did.
“You can’t understand that any more than Father does, can you?
“I made a fortune in India and had a good life there. I’m not about to spend the next forty years running a pot-works!”
“Father will never agree to your selling Whitlock’s.”
“You think not?” he countered. “Our father is a shrewd man of business. He’ll recognise the offer as one far too good to refuse.” “You’re wrong.”
“Am I?” Adam swept up the correspondence and strode out into the hallway. “I’m about to prove there’s no sentiment in business.”
“Leave us for a bit, will you, lass?”
Penelope had no choice but to respect Elias’s request.
She trailed down the stairs to wait in her sittingroom, praying her father would not be distressed and his recovery suffer a setback.
“Father wants to see you.” Penelope started, springing to her feet and rushing past Adam up to her father’s room.
To her relief, Elias appeared well and composed.
“The pottery will not be sold, Penny.” He looked at her. “Mind, it’s a sterling offer. Parkers are a canny firm. Adam struck a hard bargain. I see now why the lad did so well in India.”
Penelope stared at Elias incredulously.
“You sound as though you admire Adam!”
“I do. If this offer came from a potter who’d keep on our people, I’d give the sale my blessing.
“As it is, Parkers have no use for pot-workers and I’ll not be responsible for turning out our own folk and robbing them of their jobs.”
“You would have sold Whitlock’s?” She shook her head in disbelief. “I don’t understand, Father. The pottery means everything to you.”
“But not to Adam,” he replied sadly. “I’ve been thinking back, Penny. My father was a miner, from a long line of miners.
“Da expected me to follow him down the pit, but I was having none of it! I upped sticks and went to Liverpool.”
“That was different,” Penelope chipped in, wishing to comfort him. “The pottery belongs to our family. To be passed down to Adam and –”
“He’s determined to go his own way. Didn’t I do the same?” Elias finished, adding with a rueful smile, “Happen Adam is more like me than he knows.”
“Here we are!” Dorcas cried proudly when the pair of carriage horses slowed to a halt and the women alighted before an imposing house. “This