The Mystery Of Macgregor’s Cove by June Davies
It had taken a long time, but Amaryllis was at last beginning to realise her true feelings for Noah . . .
DURING the darkness of a hot summer’s night, the merchantman Wilhelmina,
bound for her home port of Liverpool, was wrecked north of Macgregor’s Cove and her valuable cargo pillaged.
Come morning, Amaryllis Macgregor and Noah Pendleton discovered a lifeless stranger upon the sands; his were not the only remains to be borne ashore during that day, nor to be washed up amongst the breakers of subsequent tides.
“Soldiers found the makings of the false light that drew Wilhelmina into shallow water and broke her over Gibbett Rocks,” Sandy Macgregor was relating when he called at Haddonsell Grange the following evening. “There had been passengers as well as crew aboard.
“Them who didn’t drown were murdered, Elias. Cut down as they struggled ashore. Every last one of them stripped of their valuables.”
The elderly man pushed a generous tot of rum towards his old friend, and Sandy downed it gratefully.
“We’ve had Wilhelmina’s owner up from Liverpool today,” he went on grimly. “Man called Protheroe. He’s staying at the Bell. Marched right in, asking questions. Demanding to know everything.
“It was Protheroe who put a name to the body Am and Noah found. He was a Dutchman,” Sandy finished, frowning.
“Wilhelmina’s entire cargo was plundered, yet the only thing Protheroe quizzed Am and Noah about was them finding the Dutchman. He asked them over and over if they were sure they saw none of his belongings nearby.
“I reckon that Dutchman was carrying summat particular, and Protheroe’s desperate to get it back.”
“Happen you’re right,” Elias opined shrewdly. “If the Dutchman was his agent – carrying who knows what? – it’s small wonder Protheroe’s posted a hefty reward for the capture of the wreckers.”
“His brass would be better spent investing in Kit’s lighthouse. A permanent light would make this coast safer all round.”
Sandy rose wearily, taking his battered hat from a highly polished table.
“Wilhelmina’s cargo and whatever the Dutchman carried are long gone, Elias. Like the thieves and murderers who lured that vessel and every soul aboard her to their graves!”
“After apple-picking,” Penelope replied, beaming at Kit as they rode towards the Bell. “It was Betsy’s idea. September’s a beautiful month.”
It was to be a quiet, old-fashioned wedding at the little church of St Agnes. Upon this the couple were already decided.
Riding at a leisurely pace and conversing about their plans, Penelope and Kit reached the Bell as a mail coach was departing.
Alerted to their approach by Flossie, Betsy raced across the cobbles, brandishing a couple of letters and carrying a laden fruit basket.
“What have the pair of you been gathering, Betsy?” Penelope asked, bending to fuss Flossie and peek into the trug. “Oh, my – they’re beauties!”
“I know. We’re baking a big gooseberry tart for supper.”
“May I help?”
“You can help Ammie and me top and tail the goosegogs while Ma makes pastry.” Betsy nodded.
Turning her attention to Kit, she held out one of the letters.
“This is yours. The other is Ammie’s. It’s from Dorcas. I recognise her writing.
“I’ll tell Ma and Ammie you’re here, Penny!” Betsy called over her shoulder, running back to the innhouse. “We’ll be in the kitchen.”
Penelope turned to Kit, and he met her eyes apprehensively.
“This is from Jamaica,” he murmured. “Tabby’s reply.”
She touched a reassuring hand to his arm. Kit spoke often with deepest affection of Tabitha Warburton, the elderly Jamaican woman who’d been part of his life for as long as he could recall.
“I’ll tend the horses while you read her letter.”
When Penelope emerged from the stables, Kit offered her Tabby’s letter and she began reading the neat, old-fashioned writing.
Warmth and love shone from every word, as did Tabby’s devotion for the Chesterton family, and especially for Clara, the mistress to whom she’d been lady’s maid, friend and companion since both were young girls. Clara had loved children, Penelope read, but after the difficult birth of her son, Geoffrey, doctors told her she would never bear another child. My sister Bathsheba,
Tabby wrote, was a laundress down in Jobert Town. When Geoffrey was almost two years old, fever broke out in Jobert and many people were dying.
Bathsheba wrote me that her friend Marietta had perished, but Marietta’s infant son still lived. Bathsheba wanted to get you away from the town to somewhere there was no fever.
She brought you up here to Florence and came to the villa. She asked me to go with her to the orphanage and beg them to take you in – but your mama overheard Bathsheba and me talking.
Before she set eyes on you, that sweet lady said you’d be going nowhere, because you were already home.
And that’s how you came to be family, child.
“What a beautiful letter, Kit.”
“One day, Penny, when time and our work permit,” he said emotionally, “you and I must sail for Jamaica and visit my old home in Florence. I want you to meet my family, and get to know Tabby, Geoffrey and Susan.”
“I’d like that very much.” “You go indoors and help Betsy top and tail those goosegogs.” Kit leaned across and kissed her cheek. “I need to show Tabby’s letter to Sandy.”
Amaryllis distractedly skimmed the opening paragraphs of Dorcas’s letter.
Her sister was writing proudly about an invitation to a summer ball at the country estate belonging to one of Adam’s old school friends, who was the captain in command of Castlebridge Garrison.
His family are among the grandest in Lancashire, and Adam promised to present me with something special to wear at the Fenwick ball.
As you know, I’ve no patience with surprises, so when Adam was away in Chester I went into his dressing-room and happened to look in the tall-boy. There amongst his shirts was the most glorious necklace!
Huge diamonds and sapphires, Am! It took my breath away and must be worth a king’s ransom – it’s certainly fit for a queen! The ladies at that summer ball will be green with envy.
With a rush, Amaryllis’s long-held suspicion that Adam Whitlock regularly purchased contraband engulfed her.
Unbidden, the persistent questions Wilhelmina’s owner had asked concerning the Dutchman – together with Noah’s reckoning he might have been a goldsmith, gem merchant or some such from Amsterdam – flooded her mind.
Was Dorcas’s necklace plunder from the wrecked merchantman?
“This is the happiest birthday I’ve ever had, Penny!” Dorothy Whitlock exclaimed.
They were on the terrace at Haddonsell, putting the finishing touches to a table set with the delicate, floral-patterned and gilded Dorothy tea service.
“I don’t like looking back to my last birthday,” Dorothy reflected, gazing across the gardens to where Kit was sitting with Elias. “Your father was so ill, I thought we were losing him – and now look!
“He’s back in his beloved gardens with his flowers and his bees, and the pair of you have made this grand tea set for me!”
“Father planned it long ago.”
“It’s so lovely,” Dorothy murmured, admiring the clear, brilliant glaze of the richly hand-painted creamware. “We’re having a fine day, aren’t we? It’s a shame Adam and Dorcas couldn’t come.”
“I’m sorry Adam chose to quit the pottery,” Penelope said after a moment. “If I hadn’t confronted him, he might have had a change of heart.”
“It wasn’t your fault, lass,” Dorothy cut in firmly. “Adam was bound to go his own way again sooner or later. He never cared for the pot-works.
“But you always have, Penny. And you’re good at running it, so Whitlock’s is in the best hands.”
The little party made short work of feather-light cakes, melting pastries and moreish dainties, and were lingering over third cups of tea when a maid appeared bearing Cyril Protheroe’s card.
“He said he’s on his way back to Liverpool, sir.” She gave the card to Kit. “Wants to see you most urgent.”
Unimpressed, Kit considered the card and glanced around the table to Penelope and her parents.
“Protheroe is among the wealthiest shipowners I’ve approached,” he remarked drily. “In common with the others, he agreed the construction of a lighthouse was a worthy endeavour, then promptly showed me the door.”
“I’ve never met Cyril Protheroe, but I’ve heard plenty about him,” Elias remarked. “It’s no secret he has political ambitions.
“He’s been taking up charitable works and good causes around the town. Fancies himself summat of a philanthropist.”
“Does he now?” Kit mused, rising from the table. “Maybe our Mr Protheroe is having second thoughts about investing in a lighthouse.”
Was Dorcas’s necklace plunder from the wrecked merchantman?
“Flossie and I will miss you,” Betsy said, watching Kit pack a small valise.
“We’ll only be gone for three days.” Kit smiled.
He and Penelope were attending Lydia Unsworth’s wedding in Yorkshire.
“Have you chosen a best man for your wedding?” Ethel enquired.
“I haven’t even thought about it.”
“Why not ask Sandy? You’re his only son,” she went on warmly. “He’d be very proud to be standing with you on your wedding day, Kit.”
Dorcas Whitlock arrived at the Bell in a fluster of angry outrage.
Sweeping into the inn, she found Amaryllis on her knees polishing the oak settle, a basket of rags, brushes, cloths and beeswax beside her.
“You and I have never been close,” Dorcas began. “I wouldn’t be here if I had anybody else to turn to, but you’re the only one I can tell.
“You must never breathe a word about this. I will not be publicly humiliated and made to look a fool!”
“What’s wrong?” Amaryllis asked, not unduly concerned because Dorcas was prone to exaggeration. “This!”
She flung a slender, glittering bracelet down on to the basket of polishing cloths.
“Adam promised me something special for the Fenwick ball, and this trinket is what he gave me!”
“It’s very pretty.”
“It isn’t my exquisite diamond and sapphire necklace, though, is it?” “Well, no –”
“After Adam went out, I searched his dressing-room and his study,” she cut in bitterly. “There’s no sign of my necklace anywhere!
“Where is it, Am? Who’s he given it to?” Amaryllis’s jaw dropped. “Surely you can’t believe –”
“Don’t be naïve!” Dorcas sneered. “Adam’s given my necklace to another woman. Married gentlemen may take mistresses, but I’m one wife who will not be made a laughing stock.
“I intend finding out who the baggage is, and putting a stop to Adam’s dalliances once and for all!”
“Father organised it while Kit and I were in Yorkshire,” Penelope was explaining. “After we returned and I went to the pottery, there was a new sign above the gates: Whitlock And Daughter, Master Potters.”
“You deserve it, Penny!” Amaryllis exclaimed. “Great-aunt Mathilda was only saying . . .”
She broke off when the chaise neared the inn-house and Ethel called from the kitchen garden.
“A message has come from Dorcas. It’s on the mantel-shelf.”
Reading the note, Amaryllis was alarmed. Dorcas had followed Adam!
He’d taken private rooms at an establishment called Thornton’s Hotel. She hadn’t seen his mistress yet, but . . .
“Is anything wrong?” Amaryllis faltered. “I’ve no idea what to do, Penny.”
Penelope drew the chaise to a halt a carriage length from the Whitlocks’ imposing residence.
A young groom was waiting directly outside, holding his master’s favourite bay.
In horror, Penelope watched her brother marching furiously from the vestibule, almost knocking Amaryllis aside and muttering a gruff apology.
“What’s going on here?” Penelope demanded, stepping into his path.
“None of your concern,” he retorted brusquely, snatching the reins and dismissing the groom with a cursory wave of his hand. “Make yourself useful by ensuring Dorcas doesn’t follow me.”
“Why on earth would your wife wish to follow you?”
“What I’m about is dangerous,” he confided unexpectedly. “I believe the ringleaders behind the smuggling and wrecking are regular card players at the King’s Arms.
“I’ve taken rooms at the hotel opposite and have been keeping a watch upon various comings and goings at the tavern.
“Why haven’t you taken this intelligence to the garrison?”
“I can’t. Not yet. Gerrard is one of the card players – along with Simon Baldwin and a Manx fisherman – but Gerrard is my friend, Pen. He once risked his own life to save mine.
“I owe him the benefit of doubt,” Adam concluded. “I won’t call in the military until I’m absolutely certain Gerrard is involved.”
Adam glanced down at her from the bay’s saddle, his impetuous grin broad and confident.
“This time, I’m on the side of angels.”
Once indoors, Penelope hurriedly explained.
“I was wrong about him!” Dorcas gasped, relief rapidly becoming fear. “But what if Adam gets hurt?”
“Has he told the garrison?” Amaryllis chipped in. Penelope shook her head. “But I intend doing so immediately.”
“I’ll come with you, Penny.”
“So will I,” Dorcas snapped. “I’ll have Groves bring round the carriage.”
“There’s no time to be lost.” Penelope started into the hallway. “We’ll use the chaise.”
Long shadows were falling when the three women emerged from their interview with Nicholas Fenwick.
“Penelope, it was exceedingly rude of you,” Dorcas admonished, stepping up into the chaise. “Refusing Captain Fenwick’s gallant suggestion that an officer escort us home.”
“We aren’t going to Rishton Place,” Penelope responded tartly, glancing over her shoulder at 12 mounted and armed Redcoats thundering from the garrison. “We’re following the soldiers.”
Turning into Mount Pleasant, she manoeuvred through a noisy, jeering crowd congregating about the King’s Arms.
Musket-bearing Redcoats were marching four men in chains from the tavern towards the waiting gaol wagon.
Dorcas scrambled from the chaise, and in her desperation to reach her husband would have flung herself at the phalanx of soldiers guarding the prisoners had not Penelope forcibly held her back.
“Take her to Haddonsell.” Adam Whitlock’s handsome face contorted with rage as he twisted round in the gaol wagon, yelling at his sister. “And stay there!”
“Adam Whitlock turned up at the Grange as though naught was amiss?” Noah exclaimed next morning.
Amaryllis nodded, her shoulders bowed to the task of rowing up the precious hay crop in the long field beyond the Bell.
“Adam told us since he was with the suspects at the King’s Arms, the Redcoats arrested him, too. Once at the garrison, the misunderstanding was speedily resolved and he was released with profuse apologies from Captain Fenwick.”
“Despite the yarn he spun his sister,” Noah remarked, “I think Whitlock was going to that tavern to meet Gerrard and his other accomplices.”
“No!” Amaryllis spun round, staring at him in horror. “That cannot be so!”
“We’d had neither smuggling nor wrecking along our coast for twentyodd years until he came back from India.”
“Adam was spying on those men, Noah. He intended reporting them to the authorities in due course,” she reasoned quietly. “Why would he do that if they were in cahoots?”
“Maybe there had been a falling out amongst thieves, or Baldwin and Killip were getting greedy and taking more than their fair share,” he speculated with a shrug. “But he’d never risk turning them into the law.
“They know too much. Besides, we only have his word he intended reporting them. I wouldn’t trust him as far as I could throw him.”
The two old friends laboured on throughout the morning, speaking little.
It was almost dinnertime when Sandy strode past the field to meet an incoming coach.
“Thanks for offering to help, Noah,” he called, squinting up at the cloudless sky. “We need to get it in before this weather breaks.”
He’d no sooner gone on his way than he was back again, sticking his head around the hedgerow and shouting.
“News just come with the coach. Them villains Adam put in gaol escaped during the night! Like as not bribed the turn-key, if you ask me.
“Redcoats killed two of them making a run for it,” Sandy went on, hurrying back towards the inn’s yard. “But Gerrard got clean away!
“By now, he’ll be down to Liverpool and aboard the first ship leaving England.”
Amaryllis’s mind was suddenly racing, her heart thumping.
“Do you suppose Pa is right, Noah? About Gerrard, I mean?”
“I do. And it’s surely not mere chance Whitlock’s right-hand man is the one who’s gone free, while Baldwin and Killip have been silenced,” Noah concluded gravely.
“Dead men tell no tales, Amaryllis.”
The August afternoon was warm and balmy, and Dorothy Whitlock arranged a family get-together in the gardens at Haddonsell to bid farewell to Adam and Dorcas.
After the picnic, Dorothy and Ethel plumped for settling down on the terrace with fresh cups of tea.
“When Adam came home from India,” Dorothy mused, “I never thought he’d up sticks again so soon. Especially with him and Dorcas only newly wed.”
“I know,” Ethel agreed. “And fancy giving up that beautiful house in Rishton Place! It came right out of the blue, too. When Dorcas told us and I asked her where they were going, she said they hadn’t decided yet.
“She said they wanted to see the world; have you ever heard the like?”
Dorothy turned to her companion.
“Do you think they’ll ever come back, Ethel? Come home again, I mean?”
“I don’t know.” She sighed, looking across the gardens to her daughter.
These past few weeks, Ethel hadn’t been able to quell the dread she might never see Dorcas again; nor ever see the grandchildren who would surely come along in time.
“We’ve no say about it, have we?”
With a shake of her head, Dorothy gazed out upon the garden, to the furthest corner and the old swing beneath the horse chestnut tree.
“Adam loved that swing when he was a little lad,” she murmured. “It’s nice seeing somebody swinging on it again.”
“Why aren’t Dorcas and Adam staying for Kit and Penny’s wedding?” Betsy asked, stretched out beneath the horse chestnut’s great, leafy umbrella.
Amaryllis slid from the swing and dropped down on to the grass beside her young sister.
“I expect they’re impatient to set off on their travels.”
“They don’t even know where they’re going,” Betsy declared indignantly. “Kit and Penny have decided to go to Scotland on their trip.”
Amaryllis tried to look aghast.
“They’re not secretly eloping to Gretna Green, are they?”
“Of course not!” Betsy laughed. “Penny asked me to tell her about how our family came from a Scottish village to Macgregor’s Cove, and I showed her the map I’d drawn of their journey.
“She and Kit are travelling by road up to the village and staying in Scotland for their honeymoon.
“Afterwards they’ll sail down to the cove exactly like the old Macgregors did.”
“Kit’s asked me to be his best man,” Sandy remarked, offering his tobacco pouch to Elias.
“Aye, Penny said. You and me’ll need to smarten ourselves up.” He grinned, helping himself to the strong, dark tobacco.
“Are you all right going this far?” Sandy queried.
They’d left the garden and were walking at a snail’s pace through Haddonsell’s woodland.
“Now I can get out under my own steam,” Elias returned, indicating his stout stick, “I’m making the most of it!”
Sandy nodded, lighting his pipe.
“How’s work on the canal going?”
“It’ll be finished early next year,” Elias replied proudly. “Then that lad of yours will be full speed ahead building his lighthouse.”
“A permanent light can’t come soon enough to the cove,” Sandy commented soberly.
“God willing, we’ve heard the inn’s tolling bell ring out for the last time, Elias. Too many lives have already been lost.”
They turned, slowly retracing their path through the wood.
“You were right about that Dutchman aboard the
Wilhelmina carrying summat particular,” Elias related breathlessly, leaning heavily on the stick. “Yesterday, an old pal from Liverpool visited me. He’s very thick with Cyril Protheroe.
“Harry told me Protheroe commissioned a jeweller in Amsterdam to make a necklace for his wife. That’s what the Dutchman was bringing to Liverpool. A diamond necklace, with sapphires big as robins’ eggs.”
On the morning of her marriage, Penelope rose and dressed hours before the household stirred, slipping out for her daily walk.
Starting across the garden, she caught sight of Kit sitting beneath the lime, his back leaning against the greyish ridged bark and his hat drawn down over his eyes.
“Have you been here all night?”
“Feels like it.” He rose stiffly, flexing his shoulders. “I wanted to see you before our wedding, Penny. Be with you. Is that all right?”
She kissed him and smiled.
“That’s all right.”
At the Bell, Ethel had forbidden anybody to go near the inn-house pantry, lest some mishap befall the richly fruited and daintily decorated Lancashire marriage cake before it was presented to the newly wed couple.
She and the other womenfolk were in a flurry of preparations when Betsy spotted Kit and Penelope down on the beach.
“They’re never together today!” Widow Watkins exclaimed, rushing to the big bay window, closely followed by Ethel.
The far shore was swathed in drifting wisps of hazy September mist, the tide quietly ebbing, and with arms entwined, Penelope and Kit were meandering along the damp, shell-strewn sand.
“Not right, is it?” Freda Watkins tutted. “And it’s bad luck an’ all, bride and groom seeing each other before the wedding.”
“Foolish superstition,” Ethel rebuked, frowning. “It’s not seemly, though, is it? Being down there together like that.”
Amaryllis hadn’t joined them at the window. She remained at the ironing table, pressing Betsy’s best ribbons.
Her troubled mind was brooding over a few lines from Dorcas’s letter, which had arrived with the day’s first coach.
We’ve taken a divine villa here and Adam arranged a most elegant party to celebrate my twenty-first birthday.
You’ll never guess what he gave me, Am – a certain necklace. Adam must have kept it hidden away all these months as a surprise for my special birthday.
“Am, stop wool gathering and finish pressing those ribbons,” Ethel scolded.
Her stern expression softened when she glanced once more from the bay window.
“Kit and Penny do make a lovely couple, don’t they?”
Approaching the Bell, Amaryllis felt a surge of happiness at the sight of Noah Pendleton. He was on the beach, making ready Starfish.
As though sensing her gaze upon him, Noah turned to see Amaryllis entering the inn’s cobbled yard.
“Hurry up!” he called cheerfully. “Time and tide wait for no-one.”
“I know,” she returned, shifting the weight of the heavy baskets. “We’ll put this fruit away and be right out.”
With heart singing, Amaryllis headed towards the inn-house’s kitchen door.
She paid scant attention to Betsy making a beeline for the pump and drawing fresh water for Flossie; didn’t notice Ethel scurrying from the Bell to have a few conspiratorial words with the child, much less Betsy’s delighted response.
Absorbed in thoughts of Noah, Amaryllis sped across the cobbled yard towards the beach and didn’t at first realise Betsy wasn’t following her.
Glancing back, she saw the little girl standing on the steps of the Bell, Flossie at her side.
“Aren’t you coming, Betsy?” she cried in astonishment.
“Betsy will go next time,” Ethel interrupted firmly, joining her youngest daughter on the steps. “Away you go.”
Leaving Starfish bobbing in the shallow surf, Noah sprinted across the sands to meet Amaryllis.
His pleasure at seeing her was undisguised.
“Isn’t Betsy coming sailing?” he asked. Amaryllis shook her head. “It’s just us, then?” “Yes.”
From their vantage point at the Bell, Ethel and Betsy had a clear view of Amaryllis and Noah Pendleton.
“It’s been a long while happening,” Ethel remarked with satisfaction, her arm about the child’s shoulders. “But thanks be, happen it has. Those two are a match made in heaven, Betsy.”
Curious, Sandy ambled over from the stables and joined them on the steps.
“What are you pair so pleased about?”
“Ammie and Noah.” Betsy beamed. “Look, Pa.”
The young couple were conversing quietly, walking so close their arms occasionally brushed.
When Noah offered his hand, Amaryllis linked her fingers through his and together they wandered on down the gently sloping sand to Starfish.
Hoisting the sail, Amaryllis glanced sidelong up to the Bell. Seeing her family, she raised an arm, waving joyously.
Noah cast off, clambering aboard and taking his place beside her in the trim little craft.
Canvas billowed and
Starfish ran before the fresh wind, catching the rush of a swift, autumnal tide as Amaryllis and Noah sailed across the deep, clear water of Macgregor’s Cove.
Ashore, Sandy Macgregor turned to his wife and daughter.
“Aye.” He nodded sagely. “Happen the pair of you will be baking another marriage cake afore we know it.”