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Chapter 17

Malta- March 1949

It was, Dorothea realised immediately, the stuff of stories, and the story might just be the contemporary romance her publishers kept asking for. The last of the sunlight cast a golden glow on the stone walls of the little courtyard, and the damage to the top of one of the walls suggested a few ideas. Nancy saw where Dorothea was looking.

“This bit was shared between two houses.” Nancy said. “You can see where there was another door in the wall, but it’s been blocked up with bits of what was left of the other house.”

“Is the wall climbable?” Dorothea asked.

“Absolutely not.” said Jane. “Mummy and Daddy said not. Not on any account, because there’s a big hole on the other side. You might fall down and break your neck and die.  ”

“And no sweeties for you.” Julia added, cheerfully.

“Grown-ups don’t eat sweeties.” Jane said.

“Let’s go and eat supper.” said Nancy. “Nina will be wanting to go home to her parents.”

“Is Daddy coming home tonight?” Julia asked.

“Not tonight.” Nancy said. “Tomorrow, probably, if nothing unexpected happens.”

After supper the girls managed to charm two bedtime stories from their mother, and one from Dorothea, but eventually settled down to some semblance of “trying to sleep.”

“They’re very good at not waking up once they are asleep; it’s just getting them to sleep that is the trick.” Nancy said. “I’m sorry to inflict that on you when you’ve only just arrived. It’s partly a ploy of course: whichever story one of them chooses, the other is sure to choose a different one, and they know perfectly well that most people will then read both for the sake of a quiet life. We do, at any rate. They only ask for Winnie-the-Pooh when John is here though – I do the voices wrong, they say.”

“Edward likes Winnie-the-Pooh too. I’m not sure if he understands it completely.”

“I don’t think Julia does either. About the wall,” said Nancy, “there is quite a drop on the other side, although there is a little ledge too. I’d rather try to get in than out that way.”

“I thought you’d probably have tried it,” Dorothea said, “but I didn’t think I should say anything in front of the girls.”

“I did it last year, when Mother and Uncle Jim were here and took the girls out for a walk. I did wait until John was around to pick up the pieces. I could probably do it without the rope, but I’m not trying anything like that for the immediate future. The girls don’t know about that yet. They aren’t the best in the world at patience.”

Nancy grinned at Dorothea over the edge of her mug of cocoa.  

“Can’t think where they get that from.” Dorothea murmured, surprising herself rather. She would have thought it, of course, when they were children, but she was surprised to hear herself actually say it to the Amazon pirate. Nancy just grinned a bit more widely. “Harriet sent you some pass-ons.  She hopes you don’t mind. Some of them might a bit long of course.” Dorothea continued.

“That’s kind of her.” said Nancy. “And of course I don’t mind. Peggy had years of having to wear my pass-ons, after all. In fact, I’m rather relieved. There’s a biggish do next month. I can’t really fasten my posh frock now, so I’m sure I shan’t be able to then.” She stood up. “Look here, I’ve locked up and I quite understand if you want to sit up a bit, but would you think it very rude of me if I went to bed now? The girls won’t wake up any later just because they went to bed long past their normal time, I’m afraid.”


 

Was Nancy really that tired? Dorothea wondered as she snuggled down under her bedclothes. The day had been pleasantly warm, but the night was chilly. Or was this just Nancy being tactful? Admittedly tact and Nancy Blackett weren’t ideas that went together naturally, but Dorothea remembered the great aunt’s letter to Mrs Blackett, that summer when the Callums had had to be Picts, and wondered if, after all, Miss Turner had seen a side to Nancy that the pirate captain had rather nobody noticed. But then, that had been part of Nancy’s gloriously complicated and astonishingly successful scheme to keep the great aunt from making her mother miserable. It was too complicated to think about now. Dorothea was tired. She slept.


 

Dorothea had slept long into the morning. She was embarrassed to discover the time when she finally did wake up.

After she had eaten breakfast, and the girls and Nancy had kept her company with a glass of milk each, Dorothea unpacked and showed them the dresses and smocks Harriet had sent for Nancy, a few little frocks Susie Brading had outgrown for Julia, and jumper Dorothea had bought for Jane, when she realised that the elder Walker daughter would end up with no “present.”

There was one wine –red frock from Harriet with a square neck (I had it for Bunter’s wedding, I think. About that time anyway.)  which reached to Nancy’s ankles and was pronounced suitable for dances and other occasions. Nancy was a good few inches shorter than Harriet, which meant that the empire line waist was lower than the dress’s designer had intended.

 “But it’s still higher than my actual waist, so I’m sure it will do.” Nancy said.

“Better check now.” Dorothea suggested, “rather than find there’s a problem when it’s too late to do anything about it.”

They decamped to Nancy’s bedroom where the girls sat on the bed while Dorothea fastened the buttons down the back of the dress.  It felt strangely intrusive to be there. Dorothea had slept in Nancy and Peggy’s bedroom at Beckfoot, of course, but this was the room Nancy shared with John, and his personality had stamped itself just as strongly on the room as Nancy’s, although his possessions were arranged more tidily.

“Have you got a pretty dress too, Auntie Dot?” Julia asked.

Dot was somehow not sorry to unpack the long gown of pale shell-pink silk. There had been another, very similar, in pale grey in the window of Miss Mango’s shop, which Dorothea had intended to try on, but Honoria had been with her and had insisted on her trying the pink.

“And after all, my dear, you do still have that grey satin that used to be Harriet’s, if you really need a grey evening frock. And I would certainly follow Miss Mango’s advice on this sort of thing. Peter wouldn’t have invested in this shop, you know if he wasn’t sure it was going to be a success, and I don’t see how it could be if she advised her customers poorly. Do you think you ought to buy yourself a new linen suit? I expect Malta gets quite warm in April and May. If you are pressed for coupons, you could use some of mine. I don’t think clothes rationing will last very much longer, and I have plenty of clothes already.”

That had been a day of quiet surprises, Dorothea remembered. Honoria had invited Lady Winifred and Bess Farland to join them for lunch and had somehow, through the flow of inconsequential chatter, made it clear to Dorothea what had caused the estrangement between Lady Winifred and her mother, and that Winifred could at least be sure her grandmother’s support.

“I have lived long enough, Dorothea,” Honoria said the next day as they were drive back to the dower house from Audley Square, “to realise that there is no point expecting other people to be happy in way we might want them to be happy. They have to be happy in their own way. Gerald will come around to the idea just as soon as Helen will let him. Sooner probably. He tries to do the decent thing as he sees it, of course, and fortunately Helen has never succeeded in making him care very much what other people might say.”

“They’ll want to make their own way.” said Dorothea, “Bess and Winifred I mean. Gerry did, but I don’t think he really realised it until the war.”

“That is what I admire so much about your generation, you and Harriet, although really I suppose you are in different generations, just the start of one and the end of another as it were. Perhaps that is part of the problem with Helen. In my day, and I suppose hers, it was so much more who you married that counted. Rather galling for her, to win the game and then discover that everyone else is playing a different game.”

“There are plenty of people still playing the old game, I suspect. I know my publishers never seem to accept a story where the hero is less well-off then the heroine, although it can seem that way for part of the story.”

“You’re a princess with long hair and a pink dress.” Julia was saying.

“Real princesses have brown hair like Mummy and Auntie Peggy.” Jane, “And their hair is short, sort of. Not long like in your book. You’ve seen pictures in the newspapers.”

“They aren’t real princesses. They haven’t got crowns on. And they haven’t got pink dresses.”

“They might be pink. You can’t tell in photographs.”

“Why are they all grey?” Julia demanded.

“I think they only have one kind of paint in the factory for newspapers.”  Jane was more than a little hazy on this herself, but Dorothea could see she wasn’t going to admit it if she could help it.

“They should have asked Father Christmas for some crayons.”

“John’s cousin sent a book of fairy tales with pictures. Very kind of her, of course. It made quite an impression.” Nancy said quietly to Dorothea. Anyone who knew Nancy could have told she wasn’t pleased.


 

Nancy had assured Dorothea that she would have plenty of time for writing and she stuck to her word. Dorothea wrote for an hour or so after breakfast while the girls had “lessons” with their mother. Julia’s lessons didn’t consist of much more than scribbling “pictures,” mostly on the insides of envelopes opened out by Nancy and counting to twelve, but Jane read simple sentences, wrote something in her carefully titled “dairy” every day, added up with numbers up to twenty and subtracted with numbers up to ten (twenty if someone would lend their fingers for long enough.) Nancy had encouraged Jane so show the diary to Dorothea. It was, thought, Dorothea, a very Walker-ish diary. It was sunnny. It was rainny. We ate fish. I had ann appple. Auntie Dot camme.” Jane stuck to her task of a sentence a day with dogged determination.

After an hour of lessons, Nancy took the girls for a walk, and Dorothea usually came with them. There was a little café where they sometime went for coffee. On the third visit, Nancy suggested that Dorothea took the girls for a bit more of a walk after they had finished their coffee.

“I’m not really all that tired – but I did promise John I wouldn’t over-do things.”

It seemed so un-Nancyish that Dorothea felt quite alarmed for a moment, but when she came back, Nancy was sitting talking cheerfully to the proprietress in the deserted lull between the mid-morning customers and the start of lunchtime. Soon that became a kind of routine, happening three or four times a week: a short walk, coffee, Dorothea taking the girls off for a quarter of an hour or so, the walk together back to the house for lunch. Dorothea wondered if this was Nancy’s way of grabbing a few moments to herself, away from the perpetual chatter of why? and what for? and Mummy look at me, see what I’m doing! In the afternoons, they sometimes went exploring, limited by the range of Julia’s little legs, or they stayed at home and Dorothea wrote more, while Nancy played with the girls in the little courtyard. Sometimes Nancy had people to tea – other naval wives who were delighted to find out that Dorothea was a “real author”. A gratifying number had actually read one of her stories.

Dorothea had wondered if they were just being polite at the time, but John mentioned it one Sunday in late March, when they were sitting in the courtyard waiting for Nancy and the girls so come downstairs.

“Oh, I heard about it. But surely you must be used to it. I imagined you got lots of letters from readers.” John said.

“Yes, and some of them so complimentary, I think they must be writing about a different author. Some of them tell me how they think the story should have gone differently.”

“Bit of a cheek.” John commented. “Do you have to reply to them?”

“I try to.” she replied. “I just say thank you for the kind ones, and what a splendid idea, I do hope to read your novel when you’ve written it to the ones who say the story should be different, and sorry you didn’t enjoy it to the ones who write to say they hated a story. They aren’t the difficult letters, really.”

“So which are the difficult letters?”

“The ones where they think they’re being kind. The worst was a letter which said I can tell you must be a mother because you write sympathetically. I expect she meant to be kind.” Dorothea replied.

John could not think of anything helpful to say. “I’m sorry.”

His daughters ran up and conferred in whispers with Dorothea, Nancy following. The girls waved cards, produced from Dorothea’s bag.

“Happy Mother’s Day!”

Jane’s card had a sailing boat and plenty of blue crayoning. Julia’s had pink frilly stuff on it.

“Auntie Dot did Julia’s writing. I did my own. I told Auntie Dot what I wanted to write and she wrote it down on a piece of paper for me and I copied it.”

“They’re beautiful. Thank you.” said Nancy.

 

Note: In the UK, Mother’s Day, or Mothering Sunday, falls about mid-way through Lent and hence is in March. It was on 27th March 1949, I believe. I understand it is in May in the US and some other countries.

Chapter Text

Henry Jemmerling Crayford  felt it was time to look to the future.  Being a gentleman of leisure was somewhat frowned on these days, but he was not minded to live his entire life at someone else’s beck and call. There were, he thought, two important factors that led to happiness – a willingness to count one’s blessings and the determination and foresight to see to it that those blessings increased. Henry felt he had done well on both counts. The modest private income he enjoyed from his late father’s fortune had been carefully invested and had increased rather than decreased during the war. He had done his bit with as little inconvenience to himself as he could contrive, made some friends, lived on his pay and felt that over all, the experience had been a profitable one. He had continued in a similar vein for a few more years. Gainful employment of the conventional kind was beginning to pall now, however.

 Henry still thought of himself as a young man, but he had to admit that he was nearer forty than thirty. A little concerted effort on his part had seen his mother settled comfortably enough with her new American husband.  Henry had made it plain enough to his mother’s suitors that, under the terms of his father’s will, his mother would receive no more support once she remarried. His mother had “thought it indelicate” to mention such matters. In fact, it had simplified things immensely, leaving only one suitor. Walter was admittedly an extremely boring conversationalist, but had positively welcomed the opportunity to support his English wife, and being the queen of a small community had always suited mother better than being a small fish in a bigger pond. With mother settled, it was time to start thinking of his own long term plans. Marriage for fun and profit might be wise. He should also, of course, keep a weather eye on his uncle, currently in the Bahamas. He was not the only nephew. And since he was in Malta for a week or so…….

He had always prided himself on his good memory. They were a letter from his mother – something about a friend’s grandson. The friend had remarried – what was her name now ? Orly, that was it. Henry flicked through a number of thin airmail sheets. He was stationed in Malta – a number of sisters – had recently inherited some land – no, his father had. Something about an entail, which suggested to Henry a fairly large property. She showed me some photographs – very pretty girls – take after their mother.

Marlow was the grandson’s name. I wonder if you’ll meet him, mother had written. Henry had always thought of himself as the sociable type. There would be no harm in looking the fellow up. Why, his mother had practically suggested it.


 

A child opened the door and showed Ian into the sunny, dilapidated courtyard. It was the same girl with her long legs stretched out on the wooden slats of a rickety steamer chair.  Ian thought he might have recognised her again even without knowing her name.  There was the same tangle of dark hair. A half hidden sleepy face. The same protective gesture. This time it was Nancy who made the gesture, and the half hidden face belonged to an even smaller child. For a moment, Ian envied John Walker as intensely as he had that afternoon so long ago.

Nancy turned her head and smiled at him, just as friendly and confident as ever, and reached out to shake his hand.

“Hello. You’ll understand my not getting up. But please, sit down.” The voice was quieter than he remembered, quieter probably than it usually was, but the sleeping child squirmed irritably against her mother’s shoulder anyway.

The little girl who had opened the door was bringing him a battered wooden chair from what was probably the kitchen. She had grasped the back rather than the seat of the chair and had to stand on tip-toes to stop it scraping on the floor. Every few steps she put it down on the floor, shifted her grip and tried again.

There was no need for Ian to introduce himself  – the courtyard was tiny and Nancy Walker must have heard his explanation to her daughter – but he did anyway. He handed Nancy the book and the envelope (Ian presumed Donaldson has sent some sort of letter of introduction, or perhaps it was an apology for the delay in sending the book.)

The little girl had placed the wooden chair in what she plainly considered to be the appropriate place.

“I’m not allowed to use the kettle.” she said as her mother flipped opened the letter, gave it the briefest of glances and tucked it into the pocket of the loose shirt she wore untucked over her shorts, “but I can bring you a glass of milk.”

“I think this is one of those occasions when Auntie Dot can be disturbed from her writing.” Nancy Walker said. “She met Major McGinty when we did.”

“Have I met him before?” the child asked.

“No, it was ages ago, before the war. And I should have introduced you, I suppose. Ian, this is my elder daughter Jane and this sleepyhead is Julia.”

At least Nancy thought they should still carry on using first names. Ian felt slightly relieved about that. He wondered which one “Auntie Dot” was. Nancy’s sister?  John’s sister? There had been three or four other girls, besides Nancy. All younger.  Nancy was the only one of the girls he could remember clearly. Awake or asleep, she was pretty much unforgettable, although he couldn’t exactly have explained why.  The boys had been more memorable. John, of course, and the one with glasses who had spotted the Divers, and the sleeping beauty. Ian wondered what had happened to them. Some of them had lived in Portsmouth, and some in London, and Nancy and her sister had come from somewhere in the Lake District. It was quite possible that they hadn’t all survived the war.

When “Auntie Dot” came downstairs, he found he remembered her perfectly well. She was hatless now of course, and wearing a blouse and skirt rather than a coat, but he recognised her as the woman who had helped the little lost child when he had been on that last visit to his father. There was not a flicker of recognition on her face until Nancy introduced them. She remembered that summer and the Divers well enough. Ian didn’t know whether to be pleased or sad that Dorothea didn’t recognise him from the station.

Now Nancy was asking him how long he would be on Malta, inviting him to stay with them.

“At least for tonight,” she said. “If you find you really can’t stand us after that - we’ll understand.”

“We’ll be really good.” Jane assured him.

And somehow, Ian found himself agreeing. It was difficult to say no to Nancy (or to Jane).


 

“So what are you up to, darling?” John asked, much later that night.

“Nothing out of the usual.” Nancy had turned her back to him. He recognised the invitation for what it was and wrapped an arm round her.  She wriggled a little closer to him.

“I don’t mean that. I wouldn’t ask that, either.” She could feel his breath on the back of her neck as he spoke, in a murmur rather than a whisper. “Why did you convince Ian to stay with us?”

“You don’t mind, do you?”

“Of course not.” And he found he meant it. John had found Ian likeable enough when he first met him, despite his admiration of Nancy, obvious at least to John. Even then, Ian had treated Nancy and John as if they belonged together. John had felt relieved, encouraged even, by that.

Now though… “You seemed awfully keen for him to come to this dance with us tomorrow.” John observed. He knew perfectly well what Nancy was up to. At least, he thought he knew. Whether he could get her to admit it was another matter.

“He’s not going to have much company when he gets home.  No-one of his own age. They’ll all be away working.”

“He’s probably used to being alone.” John suggested.

“That’s not going to stop him being lonely. And it will be worse now.”

John brushed his lips against her bare shoulder in acknowledgement of this point.

“So tomorrow…..”

“He’s only got a few days here; you can’t expect him to sightsee at the pace Julia walks.”

“And this wouldn’t be anything to do with Dot would it?”

“I didn’t think I was being that obvious.”

“You weren’t. At least, Ian doesn’t really know you, so it probably wasn’t that obvious to him. I was surprised Dot wasn’t worried at you saying it would be too tiring for you.”

“Oh, I find I get tired for half an hour or so a few mornings each week and have to sit having another cup of coffee while Dot takes the girls for a bit more of a walk.”

“Look here Nancy, you really shouldn’t overdo it.”

“Galoot. It’s just that Jane and Julia both have a tendency to repeat things. And I spent all this afternoon lounging around in the sun, so I’m not tired at all.”

“Good.”

 

Chapter Text

Chapter 19

“I suppose there were quicker ways to go back home.” Ian confessed, as they finished admiring St. John’s and walked out into the spring sunlight. “But I’m glad now I didn’t take them. Seeing this has rather the feeling of the condemned man’s last meal. I know it’s a terrible thing to say - and I’m fond enough of the place really - but going back home feels rather like going back into exile or imprisonment of some sort. The feeling of not being able to leave. I can’t shirk it.”

“The first day we saw you, up on that tower bit, I thought the house looked like a castle and Titty said something about Bluebeard. Roger thought you were a girl, you see, because of the kilt.”

“The Sleeping Beauty. I’d have put something worse on that piece of paper, if I’d known that at the time.”

“Are you offended now?” Dorothea asked rather anxiously.

“Now – good heavens, no! Of course not.” He reassured her. “There was probably a bit of envy on my part anyway.”

“He did get rather touchy about the sign – but that was mostly because he thought that Nancy and John had done it. Or rather, I think he thought Nancy had done it and John hadn’t stopped her.”

“Well, it was probably just as well that I’d seen Roger before I’d seen John and Nancy that day.”

“You’d met John and Nancy? They never said.”

“Not met, exactly. I didn’t wake them up. I wonder what would have happened if I had?”

“Woke them up?”

Ian grinned. “Nicely asleep in a little hollow. It’s not as good a place as the Pict house, but they did well to find it. You can see why I wasn’t totally surprised to find that Nancy Walker was Nancy Blackett when I arrived here. I felt rather envious of John at the time. I still do a little, as a matter of fact.”

It was totally unreasonable of her to feel upset by this. She had, after all, only met Ian again for the first time as adults twenty-four hours ago. Dorothea hoped it didn’t show on her face.

“Oh?” she said. She hoped it sounded as unconcerned as possible.

“He had friends his own age, more or less, and a brother and sisters, and a girlfriend, and could sail a boat.”

“Nancy and John were just friends then. They didn’t get engaged until the summer before the war. 1938, I mean.”

Ian glanced at her with an expression she couldn’t interpret. “Anyway, it is just envy, not jealousy. I just rather wished I had someone to feel that way about, and now I wish I didn’t know I was going to spend the rest of my life in pretty much the one place doing something that was chosen for me, not what I chose.”

She liked the way he distinguished between jealousy and envy. Was it because she spent so much time thinking about words and emotions that it mattered to her? Or was it something else?

“My husband felt very much the same way. The trapped feeling. What his parents expected.”

“Your husband?”

Dorothea noticed the quick, surprised glance, although Ian had his face back under control very quickly. Of course, when Jane had brought her down to the courtyard yesterday Nancy had reintroduced them using first names and reminded Ian that Dot was Dick’s sister.

“He was killed in the battle of Britain. We had been married for a month.”

“I’m sorry.”

She nodded. There wasn’t really anything much to say.


 

In the afternoon they went by bus to Marsaxlokk.

“It’s a pity we don’t have time to visit St. Peter’s Pool.” Nancy said.

“Oh let’s.” said Jane. “It’s our best swimming place, Uncle Ian.”

“Does Major McGinty mind being Uncle Ian?” Nancy asked, not very clearly as she held a safety pin in her mouth. Julia wriggled on her mother’s lap; the bus was crowded.

“I’d far rather be called Uncle Ian, no-one else calls me that.” Ian assured her.

“Aren’t you anyone’s uncle?” Jane asked. “I thought all grown up men were someone’s uncle.”

“I haven’t got any brothers or sisters. So that means I don’t have any nieces or nephews.”

“Nieces?”

“This thread looks as if it has been cut off.” Nancy said. “Julia, did you cut these buttons off? You’ve heard the word before, Jane. If someone is your aunt or uncle, you’re their niece. You’re Auntie Titty and Uncle Dick’s niece, for example; and baby Rosemary is Auntie Dot’s niece because Uncle Dick is Auntie Dot’s brother, and our niece - mine and Daddy’s - because Daddy is Auntie Titty’s brother.”

Well, I’ve probably got them all sorted out now without having to admit how much I had forgotten, Ian thought.

“Grown-up ladies don’t have straps on their skirt.” Julia glared at her mother, and trying to wriggle away from the attempted repairs to the shoulder straps.

“Where did you put the buttons?”

“In Teddy’s bed.”

“Well, I’ve done my best with the safety pin. If your skirt falls down and everyone laughs at you, you’ve only got yourself to blame. We’re nearly here.”

The advantages of St Peter’s Pool and swimming were forgotten. Jane was quite determined to show Ian the brightly painted fishing boats and explain all she knew about them.

“We’ve got a boat at home. Two boats.” Jane announced rather proudly.

“No, we haven’t, ‘cept the toy ones Daddy is making.” Julia interrupted.

“Not at home here. At home by the lake. In England.”

“We don’t live in England. We live here.”

“We used to. We used to live in England by a lake with Granny Molly and lots of ducks. Then Daddy came here and we came here too.” Jane explained with an air of kindly condescension. “Julia can’t remember because she was only a baby. She’s forgotten.”

“I’m not a baby. I didn’t forgetted.” Julia had certainly inherited her mother’s ability to make herself heard.

“You’re not a baby now.” Ian assured her. “And lots of people do forget things when they are babies. I know I’ve forgotten things myself. I’m sure you’ll remember better now you’re quite a big girl.”

Julia was mollified, somewhat.

“Tell me about the boats.” he continued, “Are they as big as the ones here?”

“No, they’re littler. One’s called Amazon and one’s called Swallow. And Auntie Dot has one called Scab.”

Ian looked at Dorothea for clarification.

“They are sailing dinghies.” She explained. “Scarab is half mine and half my brother’s.”

“She’s got a red sail.” Jane added. “Amazon is half Auntie Peggy’s, but all of Swallow belongs to Daddy. Mummy bought Swallow for him when Auntie Bridget’s friend nearly sank it. Someday, when we can all swim and Mummy and Daddy have taught us, I’ll probably be the captain of Swallow andJulia will be the first mate and Susie will be the Captain of Amazon and Jamie will be her first mate and maybe Edward will be captain of Scab and Rosemary will be first mate.”

“Rosemary is a baby and she’s very little and she can’t walk or talk or do anything really yet.” Julia explained. “And she hasn’t got any hair.”

“Like Uncle Jim.” Jane then clarified this.  “Fat Uncle Jim, I mean, not Susie’s Daddy.”

“Don’t you think you should think of something more polite to call him?” Dorothea asked, “What about Great Uncle Jim, since he is your great uncle?”

Jane waved a casual hand in the air. “He doesn’t like that. I don’t know why. Daddy said maybe I should call him that too. Uncle Jim said he’d rather be called Fat Uncle Jim than that.”

Nancy had wandered off during this explanation and seemed to be listening to a long story from a man who appeared to be the captain of one of the most colourful of the painted luzzus. It had the same red, yellow and blue paint that most of the boats seemed to have, with the same eyes painted on the prow, but there were extra strips of green, and lines in white and red between the stripes. It certainly appeared to be one of the best turned out and most prosperous of the vessels.

“Is it the one that got away?” Dorothea murmured to Ian as they watched the fisherman explaining the dimensions of something to Nancy with his hands. Ian wondered if he was describing some wonderful new piece of fishing equipment. The shape sketched in the air was strange for a fish. Nancy nodded intently, then handed the man some money and received in exchange a fish which she popped in a string bag she produced from the pocket of her shorts.

“Lampuka tonight.” she said as she scrambled back onto the quay.

“Let me carry that for you.” Ian said, and looked curiously at the large fish with its bulging forehead as Nancy handed over the bag and bent to hitch up Julia’s slowly descending skirt.

“And strawberries?” Jane asked hopefully.

“And strawberries,” Her mother agreed. “but afterwards, not with.”


 

John was not quite asleep when Nancy lifted her head off her pillow, and shook her hair back.

“I can’t hear anything.” he whispered hopefully.

“I can. Scrabbling.” Nancy whispered back. “It’s coming from the girls’ room.”

John sighed. “We weren’t going to have rabbit soon, were we?”

“The day after tomorrow. Nina’s brother brought it round when we were out this afternoon. I didn’t think they’d noticed it was there.”

“Won’t it be just as happy in the toy box as in the hutch? We could just leave it until the morning. It probably thinks it’s digging in its burrow.”

“They probably haven’t given it any water. They didn’t last time.”

John sighed again and felt around for his slippers. Rabbit recapture and removal was, as they had discovered last time, a two-person job, at least if you wanted to do it without waking anyone. Still at least they knew how to set about it more efficiently this time.

 Nancy topped up the water bowl and added a few dandelion leaves, plucked from between the flagstones.

“How do you know what they are in the dark?” John whispered, as he put the rabbit back in the little hutch.

“I knew there were dandelions here. I meant to pull them up, but there was always something else to do. Anyway, can’t you smell the leaves?”

She held one up to his nose, and he thought he caught a fresh smell that was…well leaf-like. He wasn’t sure he could really tell it from grass.

“I don’t suppose we could let them keep a rabbit, just as a pet?” John said.

“Quarantine.” she said. “We can’t let them have a pet, knowing that we’ll have to pass it on. Anyway, Jane’s bright enough to suspect that people might offer to take a rabbit with culinary intentions.”

“We always missed out on having pets, because of moving. Until Sinbad, of course.”

“He had a good innings. And he probably enjoyed living in Horning best of all.”

 

Chapter Text

Thank you again to Fergus  Mason for proof-reading.

Chapter 20

The dance was, Henry thought, very much what he had expected - officers, their wives, various local dignitaries, their wives and so on. It was a big enough occasion for an extra guest to go unremarked. Perhaps Marlow had some influence with whoever had the task of organising the guest list. No-one seemed minded to query another gentleman in unexceptional evening dress. Marlow’s cheerful offhand manner seemed to be wearing a little thin. He made his way back to Henry’s side at the end of a dance with a tall blonde in shell-pink silk. Henry was surprised Marlow didn’t ask for a second dance. He would have done. She danced rather well.

“I suppose I’d better introduce you around a little.” Marlow said, rather morosely to Henry. “Come on.”

The first introduction was to a Mrs Walker. The wine-red dress appeared to have been chosen to suit her dark hair without reference to her pink cheeks. The material and the making were both of pre-war quality. She didn’t dance as well as the blonde, though she managed to avoid stepping on his feet. Still, Mrs Walker was lively and agreeable enough, and Henry wondered why Marlow asked her for the next dance with such an ill-concealed air of duty. It seemed impolitic for one thing.

This left Henry standing next to Commander Walker. He wondered if he was going to be asked any awkward questions. Something in the way Marlow and his friend Russell had spoken of Commander Walker suggested that if anyone would, it might be him. Henry needn’t have worried. The Commander made some conventional remark about hoping Henry was enjoying Malta and then introduced him to the shell-pink blonde.

“Dot, may I introduce Mr Crayford? He’s a family friend of young Marlow. Mr Crayford – Lady St. George.”

He asked her to dance, of course, exactly as he had intended to do since he had seen her dancing with the seemingly unappreciative Giles Marlow.

“Are you enjoying Malta?” she asked him. An unexceptionable conversational opener.

“Very much indeed, although I’ve only been here a few days. And you?”

“Oh, I like it tremendously. It’s wonderful seeing Nancy and John again and spending time with their children.”

“Nancy and John?”

“Commander and Mrs Walker. I think you’ve already danced with Mrs Walker.”

“Yes – is she an old school friend? I had the impression you’ve known them some time.”

“Even better than school; we met on holiday when I was – oh, eleven I think. They both seemed so much older than me then, although the difference is only a couple of years or so.”

“They’re childhood sweethearts?”

“Childhood friends at least.” A faint smile creased the corners of her eyes and her lips twitched slightly, as if she knew something she wasn’t about to share. Henry found himself smiling back at her and wondering if Lady St. George was married or a widow. She could be a divorcee, of course.  He managed a discreet glance at her left hand. Only a signet ring on the middle finger of the left hand. It did not look as though it had been made for a woman.

“So you’ve been here a while. What should I see while I’m here? Or has everything revolved around other people’s children?”

And that, Henry, he told himself, is about as much fishing as is safe. For the moment.

“Oh no. Nancy’s been very good about that.  There’s plenty to see – it depends on the sort of things you like. There are temples, of course, Hagar Qim and Mnajdra, but perhaps you don’t like archaeology.”

“I don’t know a great deal about it, but I’m always willing to learn.” Henry said. “Is it an interest of yours?”

“My father is an archaeologist – I only know what I’ve learnt from him,” Lady St. George said. “A sort of hobby at one remove. Although in Father’s case, it’s a profession, not a hobby. But it’s rather like the birds. It’s my brother’s hobby, but I find myself noticing any unusual birds to tell him about.”

“And what do you do? What’s your hobby?”

“I’m a writer – although it’s how I earn my living, not my hobby. I sail, when I can, and fish.”

“My uncle lives on a boat. He’s keen on birds too.” The dance came to an end. “That wasn’t a whole dance, you know. May I have the pleasure of the next, too?”

The Scottish officer who had been determinedly approaching veered off, scowling briefly. Henry’s smile was inward only.


 

Nancy caught his eye and gave a little nod. John made his way over to her side, nodded politely at the older ladies who stood next to Nancy and danced his wife off from under their noses. It seemed simpler than finding yet more small talk. The two ladies returned his nod, and he heard one murmur something in Maltese to the other, but John didn’t understand a word.

“What did they say?” he asked Nancy once they were out of earshot. “I didn’t understand a word of that.”

“You weren’t meant to.” she grinned at him. “I’ll bet I wasn’t meant to either.”

“So what did they say, darling?”

“I can’t tell you now. You’ll blush too much and they’ll know I understood. I’ll tell you when we’re alone.” Her eyes sparkled at him.

“Ah, a comment on the excellence of my dancing.” John said solemnly.

“We aren’t that bad.” Nancy protested. It was John’s turn to grin. They carried on dancing. They weren’t that bad, either of them, but sometimes, as now, they simply resorted to keeping their feet out of each other’s way in time to the music. The important thing was that they were together. They had spent far too much of their lives apart.

Nancy heaved a small sigh.  “We’ll have to go after this one.”

“Are you tired? We can go now if you want.”

She chuckled. “No, but I did promise Nina’s mother that she’d be back before midnight. Ian’s bringing Dot home. I gave her the spare door key. No need for them to leave now.”

Nancy smiled up at him, looking far too innocent. John glanced over at Ian and Dot. He returned Nancy’s grin and held her a little closer.

 “No need at all.” he agreed.


 

“You remembered not to bolt the door?” Nancy asked him, when he came in from walking Nina back to her parents’ house. She was sitting on the side of their bed with her hair unpinned and freshly brushed out and her make-up removed. The thin leather slippers she had been wearing earlier were lying next to the bed. He was surprised that she was still wearing the crimson dress.

“Do you think we ought to wait up for Dot and Ian to come back?” John asked rather reluctantly. After all, they were guests.

Nancy chuckled, but softly. “Practising for when Jane and Julia grow up? Ian won’t thank you for it anyway, and I doubt Dot would.”

“Oh, I wasn’t planning to let the girls go out unchaperoned until they’re thirty at least,” John said straight-faced as he started to undress, “And I’m planning to buy a shotgun and clean it regularly. Especially on the evenings they’re out with young men who aren’t good enough, which by definition will be all young men. I might practise glowering, too.”

“Spoilsport.” Nancy flicked one of the slippers at him. He caught it without dropping the shirt he was folding and flipped it back. Nancy caught it just as neatly and put it with the other.  “Dot is thirty – or pretty nearly. I wasn’t planning to wait for them, love.”

But she continued to sit on the bed, with her eyes following him around the room, watching him undress, smiling slightly.

“Why aren’t you taking your dress off then?” he asked.

“I can’t. Lady Peter must have had a lady’s maid. All the buttons are down the back.” The smile widened to a grin. “Lots and lots of little buttons.”


 

Time was running out. He should, perhaps, have said more earlier, but he had only been here a few days and was going tomorrow. Dorothea was happy to take his arm and they talked, walking back to the Walkers’ home, of Ian’s home, of the Great Northern Divers, and whether Dick and Titty would think it worthwhile to come that far to see the Divers again – certainly, Dot thought, but would Ian want two such small and noisy visitors as Edward and Rosemary? And would Dorothea come with her brother and his family? Of course, she would. Would she mind if Ian wrote to her sometimes?

“I know writing letters must be a kind of busman’s holiday for you.”

“Letters are different from stories.”

She smiled up at him, fumbling in that ridiculously tiny bag for the door key. He held the bag, so she could use both hands to feel about inside it.

“Nancy said to bolt the door.” she said when they were standing inside the kitchen and she had locked the door again.  He reached up to do so. The perfume she was wearing was noticeable now in the still, warmer air of the kitchen – a gentle, silken flowery scent.

He had to say something now. Her hand was already reaching out for the kitchen door handle. Tomorrow he was unlikely to get a moment alone with her. The problem was that he had too many things he wanted to say.

“May I kiss you?” He could have kicked himself the moment it was out if his mouth. It made him sound like a nervous schoolboy.

She smiled. “I think I would like that.”

The first kiss was wonderful. The second was even more marvellous. The third … the third started even better, but was interrupted by a small pyjama-ed figure pattering into the kitchen, taking a glass out of a cupboard and presenting it to Dorothea with a mumbled request in which Ian could only distinguish the word “please” and “milk.” Jane’s hair, without its usual slides, hung down evenly to the level of her chin on all sides, covering her face. The buttons on her pyjamas and her bare feet were the main clues to which direction she was facing. Dorothea half-filled the glass for Jane after giving the milk a cautious sniff, and tucked the child’s hair behind her ears before it got into the glass. Jane drank the milk steadily and handed the empty glass to Ian with the confidence of someone young enough never to be entrusted with washing up. Without another word, Jane held up her face for a goodnight kiss from Dorothea and, to his surprise, Ian.  Then she pattered off back to bed as if interrupting kisses in the kitchen in the small hours of the morning was as usual to her as the glass of milk. Perhaps it was.

Dorothea smiled at him and took the glass from his hands to put in the washing up bowl.

“Maybe we went to our beds.” she said very softly, and just as softly gave him one last, lingering kiss before going upstairs.

Chapter Text

Chapter 21

Henry’s father had cautioned him about putting his eggs in one basket. It was practically a family motto, although no-one phrased it that way to his uncle who was apt to be both pompous and humourless.

That signet ring – three mice. Henry would cheerful admit –at least to himself – that he could be as lazy as the next man. He did, however, consider himself an intelligent man, and it would surely be folly to let slip a golden opportunity for want of a little effort. Of course any young Englishman who worked as a private secretary to a wealthy American gentleman of independent means had his own methods of ensuring that his knowledge of the British aristocracy was, if required, encyclopaedic. (Alas, that such employment opportunities were drying up! The last post had been more onerous that previous ones – a sure sign that employers knew the marketplace was over supplied with employees.)

The three mice on the signet ring led him to the Wimseys. A dukedom, a very old scandal (nothing that need bother him) and a more well-known younger son. Now no longer so young. St. George was a courtesy title and, Henry flicked a page over, the delightful Lady St. George was a widow. She had been so for the best part of nine years.

She would not, surely, have been short of offers in that time? Her failure to remarry – did it indicate a devoted resolution not marry again or simply that by doing so she would say goodbye to any allowance from the Duke of Denver?


 

He saw Lady St George, here and there about Valetta, raised his hat to her and was acknowledged, even chatted to her and her rather eccentric friend. (What was a jibboom, or for that matter a bobstay – except obviously things that would be found together?) He wasn’t at all sure that he was getting anywhere, however.


 

“Daddy, I don’t like Mr Crayford.”

“Why not, Jane?”

“He stops us in the street and talks about boring things to Auntie Dot. And you can tell he wishes we weren’t there. And we wish he wasn’t there. Auntie Dot came to see us, not him. And when Mummy’s there and she asks him questions – you know grown-up questions about places with difficult names and boring things – he tries not to answer them. It’s naughty not to answer questions when Mummy asks them, isn’t it?”

John thought this was probably a reference to this yesterday’s incident with the blue pottery bowl. It had appeared one day in the house without much in the way of an explanation.  John thought the pattern looked North African. Julia had been very much taken with it and had been playing alone in the sitting room one day while her parents were trying, without much success, to remove a splinter from Jane’s finger in the better light of the courtyard when a crash was heard from the sitting room. John and Nancy had both rushed to the rescue. Some of the pieces of pottery were still moving on the floor as they reached the door and part the broken rim of the bowl was still in Julia’s hand.

“Are you hurt? What happened to the bowl?”

“Jane dwopped it.” Julia had been able to say her “r”s properly for months now. Luckily for sisterly unity, Jane had not heard that. Jane clearly had heard her parents telling Julia it was not the accident, it was lack of a truthful answer to Nancy’s question that had made them cross.

“I expect he’ll go back to wherever he lives soon.” John said. “Look, do you want to put this blue paint on your luzzu? See if you can do it really carefully and keep it this side of the pencil line.”


 

Lieutenant Marlow had in any case been giving John some cause for concern. Finding the opportunity to speak to him wasn’t that difficult. John knew that Titty would have got the conversation to where he she wanted it more neatly.

“Crayford? No, I’ve not met him before. His Ma is a friend of my grandmother’s, but she lives in France, so we hardly see her. If she wasn’t at school with the Jemmerling girls, it was something like that.” Marlow glanced at the Commander. “He hasn’t been asking the wrong sort of question, if that’s what’s bothering you – and I knew he existed of course. He hasn’t just made up the connection or anything like that.”

“So what is bothering you?”

Marlow’s glance was a bit sharper this time. “Nothing. At least nothing here. Feeling a bit of a heel for staying here and landing my sister with running the farm, if you must know. Not enough of a heel to do anything about it. But the farm manager’s had a heart attack and my next youngest sister has fallen out with the Ro – that’s the one who’s running the farm about it and ..” Marlow shrugged. “I suppose if you don’t have a parcel of sisters you won’t understand.”

“I’ve got three myself. How many sisters is a surfeit?”

“More than three, evidently.”  A flash of the nonchalant smile and John knew the barriers were back up. “Six of them – and a brother. Rowan’s the sort who’s good at running things – good at things full stop. So I suppose it may as well be the farm really.”


 

“ ………but Jemmerling sounds familiar. A long time ago familiar.” John said

“Barbequed billy-goats, I should think so. That beastly egg collector in the Hebrides was a Jemmerling.”

“You can’t blame him for that.”

“I wasn’t going to, love. Suppose you started blaming me for Aunt Maria!”

It could just be a coincidence, of course.  Anyhow, it reminded her that she owed Dot a letter.

Chapter Text

Chapter 22

May 1949

Her parents met her at Southampton. Dorothea had not been expecting to be met and had planned to spend a couple of days in London, doing all the things that publishers liked authors to do, before going to stay with her parents for a month. She immediately suspected bad news.

“It isn’t that.” Mother said. “At least it is, but not as bad as you must be thinking. Dick and his family are quite well. You went quite white just now, sweetheart.”

“Honoria?” Dorothea asked. The Dowager Duchess was, after all, well into her eighties.

“She’s quite well – terribly sad, of course. Her brother died a few days ago. Lord Peter telephoned to tell us and then sent a letter to us for you.” Mother handed the envelope to Dorothea.

The letter had in fact been written by Harriet.

Dear Dorothea,

I’m very sorry to tell you that Peter’s Uncle, Paul Delagardie died early this morning, after a short illness at the Dower House. The funeral is on Wednesday (That was the day after tomorrow.) at eleven o’clock and will take place at Duke’s Denver. Peter and I will stay will Honoria until after the funeral of course, but we do hope you will be able to attend it. Peter would like to speak to you on a matter of business afterward, and Honoria has asked me to tell you that she will be glad if you will bear her company for a few days after that.

Dorothea did the now automatic calculation. The Duchess would be going to London is a few days’ time, if she had not already done so.

Dorothea passed the letter to her parents to read.


 

Dorothea had once heard Harriet say that, if it could be managed, the first funeral person attended should not be that of a parent. Nor that of a husband. Dorothea had thought bitterly, soon after. It came as no surprise, therefore, that Bredon had been fetched from Eton by Bunter to attend the service for his great-uncle. The degree to which Bredon attached himself to her did surprise her slightly.   She was surprised, too, by how much the thirteen-year-old really was the support to her that he had evidently set himself to be.

She had  sat in that church of course, many times since Gerry’s funeral and was wondered at how much more she thought now of those dreadful weeks after Gerry’s death than she did on ordinary Sunday services. Winifred accompanied her parents and this time sat next to them. It must be no easier for her. From her place several rows back, Dorothea could see the back of Lady Mary’s head, but not Charles Parker’s. Bess Farland slipped very quietly into the space next to Dorothea. Dorothea saw Bredon’s lips form the word blimey. The heir to the dukedom knew very well the reason for his aunt’s unmentioned semi-estrangement from his cousin, then. Dorothea suspected his parents had explained it to him carefully.

“I’ll slip away after the interment.” Bess managed to mutter during the arrangement of her prayer book and hymn book, just loud enough for Bredon, sitting on Dorothea’s other side to hear too. He gave a slight nod – understanding, and appreciation too, that Bess was trying to support Winifred as much as she could without stirring up more trouble than she could help. Dorothea felt a sort of pang as she realised that Bredon, since he would almost certainly have to become a duke, had set himself to learn how to be a good one.  Somehow it reminded her of John Walker – a much younger John Walker, always knowing that he would one day be a naval officer, and of Ian when she had thought of him only as the young McGinty in the capture of the egg collector.

After the service in the church, when they were waiting to join the sombrely dressed procession down the central aisle, Bredon held her hand for a moment as he had when he was a much younger child and said quietly. “I wish Gerry was here too. My brothers don’t remember, but I can’t expect them to; they were too young.”

Dorothea realised that for Bredon as well, this was as much a farewell to Gerry, or at least his small child’s recollection of his hero-cousin, as to his great-uncle Paul.

“I think if Gerry could see you now, he would be rather proud of you.” she said softly, and was not surprised to see that Bredon had to bite his lip rather hard for a moment.


 

Black would probably never be Dorothea’s colour, Lord Peter thought as he watched her gazing out into the garden from one of two armchair drawn up in the bay window of the morning room.  His mother had once said that having Dorothea to stay was like having all the good bits of having a house-guest with none of the disadvantages. Perhaps that was the advantage of living with a writer – when you didn’t feel like company they could take themselves off elsewhere, in imagination if not in body. Like Harriet, Dorothea also had the ability to bring herself back to the present and focus a sharp intellect on the matter in hand at a moment’s notice. Was it the university training? The self-discipline required to earn one’s living by the pen?

Peter crossed the room and sat in the other armchair. Both chairs were carefully angled so that one could talk comfortably to the other person or enjoy the garden in companionable silence if one wished.

“Uncle Paul left me as his executor.” Peter began. Dorothea glanced up at him. She was slightly surprised. Her cause of her surprise was probably not that he was his uncle’s executor, but that he should be speaking of it to her. That Paul Delagardie had left his younger nephew as his executor would be a foregone conclusion to anyone who realised that Peter was the favourite of the two nephews. Peter could almost see the question And what business off mine is that? form behind Dorothea’s eyes. She would be too courteous to say it out loud.

 He let the silence lengthen deliberately, but just when the silence was about to become awkward, she said “Yes?”

“There are bequests to my Mother, and to Winifred, but a little over half his money is left to you, Dorothea.”

“But why?” Genuinely puzzled. What would she make of the next bit of their interview?

“As to that….I always suspected that Uncle Paul thought Helen had treated you rather shabbily – although that is conjecture. That is not the reason he gives, however. He left a letter of explanation – at the same time that he remade his will. Perhaps you’d better read it yourself. It was written in December of 1947, so please don’t think this was some last minute whim of a dying man. He had all his faculties when he wrote it.”

He drew the letter from his pocket and handed it to her. Some instinct of delicacy made him cross the room and examine his Mother’s Sevres porcelain shepherdesses in minute detail.

Dorothea read it through quickly the first time.

The bequest to my beloved sister needs of course no explanation…….nephews and niece need no financial assistance from me, either living or dead……the sum left to my great niece, Lady Winifred Wimsey, is I hope calculated to mark my pleasure at her belated but much-to-be applauded acquisition of a backbone, without removing from her the inestimable gift of the necessity making her own way in the world. That would sting, thought Dorothea, but it was very like Paul Delagardie. Lord Peter was right, he had been entirely himself when he wrote it. The residue of my estate I leave to Dorothea Wimsey, nee Callum, Viscountess St George, widow of my late nephew Gerald. She is a woman of character and I can only regret that my nephew’s untimely death did not permit….

Dorothea’s eyes skipped to the next sentence and who has earned my esteem by eschewing both vulgar indiscretion and the ungrateful avoidance of the pleasures which divine Providence, or Nature, take which you will, have given to the human race. Her good sense and her freedom from the avarice which beset some of her sex further encourage me to believe she will make good use of this bequest.

“Lord Peter?”

He thought the return to the long abandoned formal address betokened some degree of internal distress.

“I ….I‘m not sure thatyour uncle meant the bequest – I mean – I know he did – but I think he was under a misapprehension.”

“You may have one lover or a dozen or none at all, Dorothea, and none of them are my business. It isn’t a condition of the bequest.  This is just a letter of explanation, addressed to me, which I don’t even have to make public if I wish – and I would really rather not. So far you are the only other person to have read it, apart from myself. It was his money, Dorothea, and he had a right to leave it as he wished.”

She did and said nothing for a minute or two. Then she looked up at Peter and nodded.  

“I rather hope you wouldn’t show this to Winifred, although I realise that her part of it is none of my business.” Dorothea said, handing the letter back.

Peter glanced at the letter again. “Yes – I dare say you’re right.”

 

Chapter Text

Chapter 23

It wasn’t coming back to an empty house. You might think so if you looked through the windows that gave on to the terrace, into the room shrouded in dust sheets, but Ian had approached from the other side and walked in through the kitchen door. It was, after all, his house. Reassuringly it smelt pretty much as it always had. The general background smell that said “home” was supplemented by a tempting smell from a slowly simmering saucepan.

Jean came back into the kitchen and said, “I didn’t know whether you’d be wanting your father’s room or your own, so I’ve aired the both of them,” just as if they had seen each other only that morning.

“My own.”

“I knew that fine well.” Jean said. “But I thought I’d better start with a wee bit of respect. Don’t go counting on it after that.”

Ian smiled, lifted up the lid of the saucepan and sniffed appreciatively. “A culinary genius as ever.”

She was trying not to look flattered. Jeannie Burns had been trying not to admit it openly when she was pleased, angry or scared since she had arrived in the house as a pale fourteen year-old, missing her family in Glasgow dreadfully, speaking no Gaelic, and determined to make a success of her position as house-and-kitchenmaid.  By the end of that first day, eight year old Ian had found out that she was the middle one of five children and that her two elder sisters worked in something called an insurance office. By the end of the second day, Ian had discovered that doctor had said she must not live in Glasgow because she had a weak chest. By the end of the first week, old Mairi, who would not admit that any good could come from Glasgow, admitted that Jeannie Burns was a hard worker.  Jeannie Burns was Jean Paterson now and had run the house single-handed since Mairi had died.

It was just as well, with what Ian had in mind, that it was Jean not Mairi who ruled the kitchen now.

“Could you cope with visitors?” he asked her.

She snorted. “And when did you ever know me not cope? Who are they? And how long for?”

“Mr and Mrs Callum, their two small children and Mr Callum’s sister.”

“Callum,” said Jean, “He was the one who photographed those birds.”

“That’s right. I’m not sure how long they can stay for, even if they want to come. I’m not sure how long Dick is allowed to take for holiday.”

“And is it his sister writes the stories? Or his wife? Adventure nonsense.”  Jean had always dismissed all fiction as nonsense.   That never stopped her from reading it, Ian knew.

“His sister is the writer. Dorothea.” Ian couldn’t help smiling as he said her name.

 It was hard to get anything past Jean Paterson. “You’ll  happen to mention that Andrew and myself are living in the house too, when you write to them?  Miss Callum will not need to go back as soon as if she worked in an office. Perhaps she’ll be able to stay a little longer than her brother?”

Ian opened and shut his mouth.  He had been wondering if Dorothea would stay a little longer, and had wondered if her parents, or this Dowager Duchess, whom Dorothea sometimes lived with, would consider Jean a sufficient chaperon.  He nodded, just as if he hadn’t been thinking about it at all himself.

“Yes, although she’s not Miss Callum any more. She’s a widow, Lady St George.” It was Jean’s turn to nod.  She picked up the basket and went out to fetch in the washing. She paused on the outside step and stuck her head back through the door.

“Mr and Mrs Callum are no too posh to share a bed for sleeping in?” she asked. “I was minded to put them in your father’s room and the little ones in the dressing room.”

“I’m sure that will be fine. One is only a baby – born in February I think.”


 

Dick was worried. New babies were demanding and tiring, he realised that. Toddlers (although Edward was charmed to think of himself as a big brother and therefore a big boy) were even more demanding. Rosemary was at least still at the stage where she stayed wherever you put her down. There was nothing unusual about a having a cold in winter, nor about having a cough afterwards. But Easter had come and gone, the cherry trees had blossomed and shed their petals, examinations had been set and sat and at least partly marked and the Brotherton library had become crowded and had then started to empty out. Last Saturday, a woman’s hat had appeared on the head of the statue of Robert Peel and the warm weather had at last begun to warm the Hall of Residence.  Titty was still coughing and still seemed more tired, surely, than should be expected.  There was an air of determination about her cheerfulness.

“Mummy says she’s being silly when she cries.” Edward commented as Dick read him his bedtime story. “But I give her a cuddle. The little boy pig should give his little sister a cuddle when she’s crying, shouldn’t he?”

Dick had been thinking about his plan for some time. He hadn’t yet found out whether it would be possible and had been reluctant to raise Titty’s hopes unfairly. (He had been confident that she would like the idea. Now he was not so sure.) He had better say something about it before Rosemary woke up to be fed.

Titty was sewing, sitting at the end of the uncomfortable wooden-armed sofa that was under the standard lamp. It looked as though she was moving the buttons on Edward’s dungarees.

“Sweetheart,” he began, sitting down next to her, “How would you feel about having a proper home of our own?”

The expression on her face told him at once that he had started in quite the wrong way.

“You’ve done absolute wonders with this flat.” Dick said swiftly, and it was true. Titty had a gift for arranging even most unprepossessing items to the best effect. “But we’re only here for absolutely sure until the end of next year. If we could afford to buy somewhere, only somewhere very small of course, where would you like it to be? If it could be anywhere – anywhere in England I mean.”

“By the Lake, of course.” Titty said. So he had been right about that. Was she looking a bit happier too? “But there isn’t work there.”

“I was only meaning it for holiday times. A couple of weeks at Christmas, a couple at Easter. Maybe a month or so in the summer.  A lot of my work I do have to do in the lab of course, but writing up can be done anywhere. And even if I did have to go back for a day or two to check something, you wouldn’t have to uproot yourself and the children if you didn’t want to.”

“It seems – well, not quite fair to have a house and use it for so little of the time.” But Dick could see Titty was tempted.

“If we had another home, I might think so too.” Dick’s conscience had troubled him on that. “But the place I’m thinking of probably wouldn’t suit too many people as a full time home. Do you remember the little cottage on the Beckfoot side of the Lake? We used it as a landmark when we skated across to signal to Nancy, that time she had mumps. It’s been let out in the summers, and used for evacuees and so forth, but I don’t think it has been let out during the winters except in the war. It won’t have electricity of course, and I don’t know how they get their water, and it isn’t very big and it’s not handy for anywhere except Beckfoot and the Swainsons. I suppose someone with a car or a boat could go to work every day at the head of the lake or the foot or even Rio – but it never seems to get used like that.”

Titty nodded.

“And of course if we’d bought it, other people could stay there when we weren’t using it – or you could go and stay with them. Dot, for example, or your parents, when your father has leave, or Roger. I don’t suppose Susan and Tom can get away for long and Nancy and Peggy would probably want to stay with their mother.”

“Do we know for sure if the people who own it want to sell?” Titty asked.

“I don’t know. I’ve been thinking about it for quite a while. I wondered if maybe we should hire it for a fortnight or so this summer to see if we liked it first, before we made any other enquiries. I wasn’t going to say anything to you about it until I’d found out a bit more.”

“But?”

“But I was worried about your cough and you seemed so worried and unhappy. What’s upsetting you? Are the children too much work?”

Titty shook her head. “No, not really. And I do try to make myself get enthusiastic about things like going to the park and feel grateful it’s so handy. I was worried about you. You seemed well, rather distant. And I am a bit tired.”

“You could go to bed early if you liked. We don’t both have to stay up until lock-up time.”

Titty put down her sewing and snuggled closer. “No, I don’t want to go to bed yet. Besides, Rosemary will wake up to be fed soon. It’s rather strange, after Edward to have a baby who does exactly what the books say she should.”

After a bit she spoke again. “I think the cottage is a lovely idea and I really do hope it will be possible. I think going to ________________ (Here Titty said the name of the island Captain Flint’s friend had been so careful to conceal when he wrote his story about the Divers.) is more important this year though. We’ve got an invitation from the Young Chieftain – only he is the chieftain now. He thought you might want to see the Divers again.” Titty smiled. “Of course, it might be that he wants to see Dot again.”

“He only saw her a month ago in Malta. You said that Nancy said that…oh.” Dick considered it. “Well I do see that he can hardly just invite her. Dot hasn’t said anything about him has she?”

“You’ve read her letters.”

“I just wondered if she said wrote anything to you – separately.”

“No.” Titty’s voice was thoughtful. “She’s hardly mentioned him at all.”    

They exchanged glances.

“I liked him.” said Titty. “We are going aren’t we?”

Dick smiled. “Of course.”


 

Dorothea had somehow expected that once Ian McGinty had reached his home he would, if not actually forget all about her, find there were so many other things to attend to, that the actual matter of inviting the Callums to stay (and she still often thought of herself as a Callum, feeling disloyal every time she did so) got so delayed that it would be too late for this year and forgotten about the next.

Ian’s letter, forwarded by her parents, reached her a week after Paul Delagardie’s funeral. It did more to cheer her spirits than even the Duchess of Denver’s return to London.


 

People tend to avoid compartments with a baby and a toddler. Edward eventually tired of pointing out all the things he could see from the carriage window and settled down on Dick’s lap in thumb-sucking silence for long enough for Dick and Titty to explain Dick’s idea about the cottage.

“It belonged to that neighbour of the Blacketts who fell out with the great aunt, but she died last year and now it all belongs to a nephew who lives in London. We haven’t contacted him or anything yet.”

“What do you think?”

 Titty and Dick were looking at her. Dorothea was appalled to discover that she minded very much indeed. That wasn’t even what they were asking her.

“I think it’s a wonderful idea.” Dorothea replied. “Providing the water and so on is alright.”

No one had any reason to know about the plans that she and Gerry had for that cottage after all.


 

“Lady St George.”

“Mr Crayford.” Dorothea felt no inclination to introduce him to Titty and Dick. It was a pity the ferry was so small. She was in no mood for small talk. A certain amount was unavoidable.

“Yes, we’ve been here before, rather a long time ago. We’re visiting a friend.” Civility compelled Dorothea to add, “And you?”

“Walking and bird watching, mainly.”

“How pleasant. Well I do hope you have an enjoyable time.” Dorothea had learned something from Honoria. Dick meanwhile had almost visibly pricked up his ears at Mr Crayford’s last words.

“It’s pretty decent for that - at least it was. I don’t expect it will have changed.” Dick said. Dorothea managed to prod him discreetly in the ribs. It was a pity that Dick had never been expert at interpreting such prods.

“I’m Dick Callum, by the way.” He added conscientiously, shifting Rosemary to his left shoulder and holding out his right hand. “Dorothea’s brother. What do you hope to see?”

Titty, holding Edward’s hand rather carefully, thought Mr Crayford’s expression became almost cagey when he heard Dick’s name. Perhaps it was Dick’s question that had made him cautious. He mentioned a few birds he hoped to see, but Titty wondered if he really knew very much. Even she knew that the birds mentioned by Mr Crayford were not really worth travelling that far to see.  


 

Ian was just as courteous and considerate as he had been in Malta. The four of them spent a very pleasant evening, chatting, moving inside as the light started to fade from the sky and the midges started biting in earnest. Dorothea, ridiculously, felt like crying by the time she went to bed. Possibly it was time she gave herself a severe talking to.

He’s thought better of it. It isn’t his fault you’ve been spending far too much time day dreaming about him. For heaven’s sake Dorothea, you’re thirty and a widow. You’re far too old to be thinking like this. Just be grateful he’s being so friendly. And don’t, whatever you do, do or say anything to cause any embarrassment. It was just one evening. You’d been dancing together, it was a lovely evening, a romantic situation. You can hardly pretend you’ve never kissed anyone without meaning very much by it, can you now, Dorothea? Not boyfriend-and-girlfriend very much anyway. In fact, that was rather more than just a kiss wasn’t it?

But Roger and I both knew……. And this is quite different.

So I should jolly well hope! ( Dorothea wondered in passing why her internal voice for a moment sounded so much like Peggy at her Guide Captain briskest.) Look here, I’m not going to start an argument with myself. (Dorothea realised her hair was really quite brushed enough by this point and put the brush down on the chest of drawers.) I’ll never get to sleep if I start to do that. Just get into bed.

It wasn’t just one evening, said the rebellious internal voice. Ian kissed me goodbye in Malta.

That proves nothing. He kissed Jane and Julia too.

He only shook hands with Nancy.

Go to sleep. At least try.

Perhaps she dozed fitfully, but the sky was growing light again before she fell asleep.

Chapter Text

Ian had warned them when he invited them that he would have to spend quite a bit of time on paperwork.

“Other work too,” he added at breakfast, “but weather this good shouldn’t be wasted. I suppose you’d prefer to see the Great Northern Divers as soon as possible?”

This last was addressed mostly to Dick, who was being kept busy cutting up toast soldiers for Edward’s boiled egg. Edward only really had any use for the yolk of an egg and was delighted to discover that a bantam’s egg contained so much of the best bit. He had been delighted, too, at the little drizzle of honey Jean had added to his porridge (milk he was used to). Titty had been rather relieved that the porridge was not, after all, salty.

“Yes, but,” Dick gave his son a quick glance. “Edward’s very good at watching birds that don’t mind a bit of noise and like bread, of course, but the Divers will be very shy.”

Edward had evidently been following some of this and said something that might have been “I want to see the Divers.”

Ian looked at Dorothea for confirmation. Dorothea gave a barely perceptible shrug of her shoulders. She wasn’t quite sure either, then.

“They’re just a bird a bit like a duck, not people going underwater, darling.” Titty said, adding hastily, “And they’re scared of little boys and they would have dreadful tummy ache if you gave them bread.”

Edward took another bite of toast and egg, and said something even more indistinct.

“They don’t like being cuddled either.” Titty said.

“I think maybe we should save seeing the Divers for another time,” Dick said. “and do something else this morning, if that’s alright with you, Ian?”

So they ended up walking in the other direction, along the road that led back to the village and the harbour.  The road wasn’t properly made up, but it was good enough for motor vehicles and for the pram.  They met the postman in a small van as they toiled up a steep slope. Ian and Dick lifted the pram onto the side of the unfenced road to let him past and Ian agreed with the postman that they had their hands full and didn’t want their letters now, not even the ones with the Maltese stamps.

“It’s quite windy.” Dot pointed out as the van continued on its way. “Only it’s so warm we aren’t feeling it so much. But is it’s too breezy for hats, it’ll be too breezy for letters.”

“We’re not so far from the cliff edge here.” Ian agreed.

“I thought I could hear sea birds.” Dick said. “Not just a few flying – a colony I mean.”

“There’s a colony of puffins a few hundred yards that way.” Ian pointed ahead and towards the cliff. “You’d see more from a boat, probably, but do you want a look?”

Dick and Ian lifted the pram off the road again, and Dot and Titty settled down in a little hollow twenty yards from the road way, on the inland side, with Rosemary on Titty’s lap and Edward solemnly delivering “letters” to them, with a frequency of delivery that even the best post office could not have matched. The letters all looked exactly like rushes, but Edward considerately told his aunt and mother who each letter was from. Dorothea “read” the letters aloud. They were certainly exciting. Uncle John’s ship had been threatened by a sea serpent, but luckily they had discovered in time that the serpent preferred eating spam to eating sailors and it had swum off after they had fed ten tins of spam and some apples for afters.

“Really?” said Edward, wide eyed.

“Not really.” said his aunt.

The next letter explained how Auntie Susan had come downstairs one morning to find a lion on the backdoor step. She had given it all the milk they had in the house in the biggest preserving pan because it was very thirsty, and Uncle Tom had taken a nasty thorn out of its paw and bandaged it up.

“Bill is much littler than me.” Edward said. “I think he was scared. I wouldn’t be scared.”

“Well, he might have been a bit scared, but the tiger gave him a ride on its back and then he wasn’t scared anymore.”

“It wasn’t a tiger, it was a lion.” said Edward reproachfully.

“I’m sorry. Of course it was a lion. I must have misread it.”

“This letter is from grandpa.”

“Which grandpa?” asked Dorothea cautiously.

“Grandpa who digs things up.”

“Well, he’s been very busy. Grandma said he must go outside and get some fresh air, so he went to dig in the back garden and found the holy grail.”

“What’s a holy grail?”

“It’s a sort of special cup.”

“Did someone throw it away because it had holes in? All the milk would fall out.”

“No,” said Dorothea, thinking that she really should have stuck to animals. After all, dinosaur bones would have been simpler, and more to Edward’s taste. “Holy in this case means..”

“Here’s Daddy.”

“Just Daddy?” asked Titty, who was sitting with her back to the road. Rosemary disliked any interruption to her meals.

“Just Dick,” Dorothea confirmed.

“I thought she’d be hungry.” Dick commented as he came up to them. “So I left McGinty on the cliff. We’ve found a really good spot where the cliff goes in to a narrow little bay. There are some stacks left by erosion, ten yards or so from the cliffs, but lower. You can look down on them – the puffins, I mean- and the top of the stacks too.”

“Can I see them?”

“That’s what I came back for. You need to be very quiet and careful and hold my hand and do exactly as you’re told, of course. No running. In fact, it might be better to crawl when we get closer to the cliff top.”

Wide-eyed, Edward nodded.

“Mummy and Rosemary might like to see them.” he said, then adding rather importantly, “But maybe we’d better see if it’s safe for them first.”

Edward was delighted to see the puffin parents going in and out of the nesting burrows with bills full of food and only the importance of telling his mother all about it lured him away from his position lying flat on his stomach. Uncle Ian (Attempts at a more formal mode of address had become tangled, and as Ian himself had pointed out, if Jane and Julia called him Uncle Ian, he did not see why Edward should not do so too.) was suitably impressed at Edward’s ability to wiggle himself backwards without even rising to his knees.

“Mummy showed Bill and me. Bill will do it better when he’s a big boy like me. He can’t do it very well at the moment.” Edward confided.

Auntie Dot was holding Rosemary on her shoulder and rubbing her back gently when Edward and his father came back to the rushy hollow.

Edward, well aware of his baby sister’s tendency to be slightly sick after meals, prudently did not come too close.

“We think it’s safe enough for you, Mummy, but it might be too scary for Rosemary. She is very little.”

“What about Auntie Dot?”

Edward nodded solemnly. “She’ll be OK too. Fat Uncle Jim said she was very sensible.”

Dorothea and Titty were equally charmed by the puffins, but eventually all three of them returned to the road, where Dick had got the pram turned round and was explaining to Edward how the brakes worked. Rosemary appeared equally entranced by the explanation, although Ian supposed it was merely the effect of a familiar voice.

“Hello!”

They turned round.

“How lovely to see you Lady St. George! And your brother too. Well, I do hope you have been having a pleasant time. Mrs Callum.” The man looked almost as though he was waiting to be introduced Ian.  Ian disliked his air of confidence.

“Seen anything interesting?” the man asked Dick.

“Puffins.” Dick said. “They’re breeding, of course, and I think most of the eggs are hatched. The colony is over there, but be careful as you approach the edge.”

The man looked puzzled.

“The vegetation goes right up to the edge. You can’t see the state of the rock underneath. Where the grass grows thickest there might not be any rock underneath.” Ian explained. He probably wasn’t giving Dorothea the best impression with his short manner, especially as the man seemed to be an acquaintence of hers, but somehow couldn’t help himself.  Anyway, he’d give the idiot fair enough warning.

The man nodded at him rather coolly. Surely the fool couldn’t mind that they’d not been introduced. Come to that, why hadn’t the Callums or Dorothea introduced him? Ian glanced at Dorothea. Her face was perfectly pleasant and impassive. Why then did he have the distinct impression that she didn’t much care for the man? Wishful thinking, most probably.

“I’m surprised they can find enough sticks round here. It’s is a bit bleak. Am I likely to run into any problems wandering about where I like, d’you think? There’s no shooting for a while yet, but they say there’s a new landowner and no-one wants to commit themselves on whether he’s likely to be sticky or not. D’you know if he’s a reasonable chap? Some of these fellows can be pompous and awkward for the sake of it. Inferiority complex, I expect.”

“Are you mostly interested in seabirds?” Dick asked. Ian received the distinct impression that Dick was involved in some thought process of his own and might not have heard the other man’s last remark at all.

“If you are, you can go most of the places you want to go without doing any harm.” Ian outlined some places locally where seabirds might be seen and how to get there. He also warned the man to stay away from the deer and not to startle them, explaining why.

“You think he’s reasonable then?”

“So long as no harm is done.  I don’t expect to see you with a gun on my land and I’d rather you kept away from, and out of, the lochs. I assure you there is a good reason for it. As for whether I’m a reasonable man, you can make your own mind up.”

“Oh, err, no offence meant. I mean..”

“Good day to you.”

Ian offered his arm to Dorothea and his other hand to Edward and swept his guests back up the track towards home and lunch.

Chapter Text

Ian noticed that the others were a little circumspect in what they said in front of Edward that lunchtime.

“I suppose puffins don’t take sticks down their holes do they?” Dorothea had asked.

Dick shook his head. “Only dried grass and that sort of thing.”

After Edward had eaten his macaroni cheese and his raspberries and cream, and been allowed to get down from the table and go and play with Ian’s old wooden blocks in the next room, the discussion started in earnest. Ian was a little surprised at how much Titty took the lead and how much the other two seemed to expect it.

“You had better tell us all you know about this fellow, Dot.” Titty said. “He’s not what he pretends to be. If he just wanted to mooch about or walk, why not say so? Why pretend to be interested in birds?”

“We met him at a dance, in Malta. At least, I met him. I danced with him a couple of times.” Dorothea glanced at Ian.

“He didn’t ask me to dance.” Ian said, in a completely serious voice, and was pleased to have made Dorothea smile.

“John said he was a family friend of some lieutenant, I forget the name. There was a bit of an air of I don’t know what to do with this fellow, please take him off my hands.”

“That sounds rather like John.” said John’s sister, grinning. “So did this Mr Crayford say anything about coming here when he was in Malta.”

“No, he did mention that he had an uncle who had lived on a boat and was keen on birds, when I mentioned Dick was keen on them. But he didn’t say anything about liking them himself.”

“Could he have worked out you had any connection with Dick?” Titty asked.

“I don’t think so. John introduced me as Lady St George.”

“Anyway, sweetheart, the only thing I’ve ever had published to do with birds was the piece about the Great Northern Divers, and that was well before the war.” Dick pointed out.

“Did Mr Crayford see you dance with Ian?” Titty asked.

“Probably,” Dot said. “We danced a fair bit.”

“Five times.” said Ian. “But I don’t see how he would have made the connection with (he named the island). And even if he had asked someone else who I was, they probably wouldn’t have known. And even if they had known, it wouldn’t have helped them. All they would know was that I was a McGinty, not the. There are thousands by the same name. Quite a lot of them don’t even live in Scotland. There would be no reason to connect me with here. There’s at least two other Major McGintys that I know of and one isn’t even in a Scottish regiment.”

“So it isn’t a connection with Dick or with Ian.” said Titty.

“Some people at the dance would have known that Dorothea was a writer. Certainly one of my partners was full of having had afternoon tea with such a famous writer.” Ian was watching Dorothea as he said this. So that was what was meant by “blushing prettily.” It had seemed such an improbable phrase, and Ian had felt rather scornful when he encountered it in stories by other, lesser writers in Young Women’s Weekly. (He must give them back to Jean.) Dorothea really did look very attractive indeed when she blushed.

“Did you meet him at all after the dance, Dorothea?” Ian asked her.

“We ran into him a couple of times in Valetta, when I was with Nancy and the girls, and he always made a point of stopping and speaking to us.”

“And he always spoke to you first?” Titty asked frowning.

Dorothea nodded.

“Do people normally do that?” Dick asked. “I mean if it’s just introducing someone so you can dance?”

Titty and Dorothea exchanged glances.

“People do, sometimes.” Titty said. “It depends on the people you both know and what sort of dance it was and so on.”

Dorothea frowned thoughtfully. “He somehow gave the impression that he might be the sort of person who knew the Wimseys – the Duke and Duchess, I mean, not Harriet and Peter. And it was just an impression – he didn’t say he did. But if he was – well the Duchess is just the sort of person to be very sticky about “presuming on a ballroom introduction.”  She’d probably complain even if I’d spoken to him first. It somehow doesn’t quite match up.”

“Did Nancy say anything more about him in her letter?” Titty asked.

“I haven’t even read it yet.” Dorothea pulled it out of her pocket and skim read it. Her face grew graver.

….seemed odd enough for John to ask young Marlow about it. (If Marlow happens to see me about, he sidles off if he possibly can. John thinks he suspects me of intending to ask Sympathetic Questions about his home life. Marlow apparently suffers from a surfeit of sisters.)

“Cheek of it.” said Titty.

Anyway, it might be nothing, but it seems that Mr Crayford mother’s family is called Jemmerling. Might be nothing to do with the beastly egg collector of course, and even if it is, he might be perfectly OK really. I’d hate it if someone judged me by the GA. Anyway, perhaps it’s just as well he cleared off. John hasn’t ever forgiven the egg collector for shooting at the dogs and offering him money to tell where the Divers were. I can’t either.

“No one could.” Titty said fiercely.

“He thought John was my brother.”

“It wouldn’t have made any difference to John whether it was you or Roger.” Titty said. “Not even then.”

“Mr Crayford said he had an uncle who lived on a boat and was keen on birds.” Dorothea said thoughtfully.

Ian stood up abruptly and strode off to the kitchen. He came back a few minutes later.

“It does no harm to keep an eye on him – and the birds.” Ian said. “Will you be going down to the loch this afternoon, Dick?”

OOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO

Small children needed afternoon naps, Ian was sure, and didn’t new mothers need to lie down with their feet up? Edward gravely explained that, now he was a big brother, he was too old for naps. Somehow – Ian wasn’t sure quite how, except that Jean and Dorothea seemed to have found the time to collude on this – Edward was to accompany Dorothea and himself for the afternoon. Jean had volunteered to spend her two hours afternoon break minding Rosemary, who would most probably be asleep and Titty and Dick would go and watch the Divers. Ian supposed he should be glad that Dorothea and Jean were getting on so well. Edward was quite an endearing little chap – it would be no hardship to look after him for the afternoon, but he had hoped to speak to Dorothea by herself.

“What’s that flower?” Edward asked as they crossed the track and continued towards the broch.

“Ragwort.” said Dorothea and pulled it up.

“It’s naughty to pull up flowers.” Edward was horrified.

“It poisons horses – gives them jaundice – if they eat it. But I should have asked Ian before I pulled it up. It’s his land.”

“What’s jaundice?”

“Your liver doesn’t work and you go yellow.”

“Yellow horses are pretty.”

“Not that sort of yellow. And the poor horse would have terrible tummy ache.”

Edward stumped onwards thoughtfully.

“There’s only old Paddy and he doesn’t graze here.” Ian said. “And they’ll mostly leave it alone – except in hay - but pull the stuff up all you like. Do you ride?”

“Not properly.” Dorothea said. “but Bredon’s taught me to ride a bit on Winifred’s – that’s my sister-in-law’s – horse. All I can really do is not-fall-off at a walk, a trot and a canter.”

“Bredon?”

“Gerry’s cousin. He’ll be the next Duke – or the next but one Duke. Lord Peter’s son.  He seems to have made up his mind that keeping an eye on me when he can is a sort of duty. It’s rather sweet really. ”

Rather sweet. Keeping an eye on her. Teaching her to ride. Sort of duty? This Bredon (ridiculous, pretentious name) wasn’t a fool. It wasn’t even as if he were Dorothea’s cousin – just the late Lord St. George’s.

“Not of course that I’d ever say that where he could hear it.” she continued, “Can you imagine anything much more lowering than being called sweet when you’re thirteen?”

“Not a lot.” Ian said automatically. He wanted to whirl Dorothea round in his arms and kiss her. It might be better not to. She hadn’t, after all, really indicated that she minded that they hadn’t yet had much of chance to be alone together. Perhaps she had thought better of the situation and was trying to avoid awkwardness.

They had arrived at the broch. Edward seemed as delighted with it as Ian had hoped.

“Why don’t you go all round it and see that you can find?” Ian suggested. “We’ll climb on top of it and wait for you there.”

Edward nodded, his expression slightly doubting.

“We will only be a few steps away. If you call, we’ll hear you.” Dorothea reassured him.

Peering over the edge of the broch, they could follow Edward’s progress until the seat of his blue shorts disappeared inside the entrance tunnel.

“It’s perfectly safe. I checked. Nothing can collapse on him.” Ian whispered very softly close to Dorothea’s ear.

She hadn’t thought that it might. Of course, the fact that it had been safe enough fifteen years ago – or however long it had been… And they knew where he was and would hear at once if anything..and then she remembered the tunnel under Ling Scar and the rock fall…and imagined it was Edward there instead… “Dorothea?”

And abruptly there was sunshine again, instead of the chill – always the same temperature, Dick had said, whatever the time of year. If we came here in winter, it would seem quite warm. – that could so easily have been…

Ian’s voice again, concerned. “Dorothea? You’ve gone pale. What’s the matter?” and then more insistently, “Sit down before you fall down.”

And she was sitting down on the grass on top of the Pict House with her head on her knees and Ian’s arm around her shoulders. Edward was peering over the edge of the Pict House  at her. He was telling her something.

“…and there’s a cave with a lion living in it. But don’t be frightened, he’s a very friendly lion, not the fierce sort.”

Edward paused and gazed at his aunt in concern. Deciding the matter called for some further action on his part, he scrambled the rest of the way to the top.

“You really mustn’t be frightened of the lion. He hardly ever eats people – only bad ones.”

Dorothea managed a smile – aware that it was rather weak. “I’m sure that you and Ian would protect me very well from a dozen lions.” she said. “I was just remembering something – but it was a long time ago and nothing for you to worry about.”

Edward was well aware of this grown-up propensity for remembering things that made them unhappy. He wasn’t sure Uncle Ian, who was after all a new person, would know what to do. He sort of had his arm around Auntie Dot, but it wasn’t really a proper cuddle. Edward sat down on the grass next to his aunt.

“When someone is sad, you have to give them a cuddle and then they don’t feel sad anymore.” Edward explained and wrapped his arms around Auntie Dot.

“That sounds a rather good idea – if you don’t mind that is?” he heard Uncle Ian say.

“It seems a very good idea.” Auntie Dot said. Her voice sounded funny to Edward because he could feel it with the ear pressed against her side.

And they sat there like that for a bit, both cuddling Auntie Dorothea while she cuddled them with one arm each. After a bit Edward looked at his aunt’s face and decided that she didn’t look sad and frightened any more. Dearly as he loved her, he had just discovered a perfectly good cave that was probably too small for grown-ups and it would be a pity to waste it.

“Uncle Ian?”

“Yes, Edward?”

“I’m going to explore the cave now and I’ve prob’ly got to feed the lion. You have to look after Auntie Dot and you must cuddle her if she feels sad.”

“That’s a very good idea. And maybe a few cuddles just to stop her feeling sad in the first place?” Uncle Ian was looking carefully at Auntie Dot as he said it. Edward felt happy he was taking the job seriously. Sometimes grown-ups didn’t take things seriously. Duty done, Edward wriggled off to explore.

“Your nephew is quite the mostly wonderfully intelligent boy I have ever met.” Ian said.

“Isn’t he?” Dorothea smiled back.

“You really don’t mind? I was beginning to think that maybe in Malta…… That maybe you’d decided after all… I just didn’t want to make things awkward … if…”

“I was beginning to think you didn’t mean anything by that evening in Malta, too.” she said.

Ian was still smiling. “We’re a pair of idiots together then.”

The edge of the sunken roof of the Pict house provided them with shelter from the wind, so it didn’t matter that Dorothea’s hair somehow lost all its pins over the course of the afternoon. Edward scrambled over the edge and joined them occasionally to update them on the wellbeing of the lion and hear how Uncle Ian had used to come here with his father, when he had been Edward’s age, and by himself when he had been older and how Uncle Roger had been keeping watch here and fallen asleep and woken up to find a note and a flower in his lemonade bottle.

“Did he fly an aeroplane then?” Edward asked.

“That was a long time before he learned to do that. We were all still at school then, even Uncle John.”

Or had that been the summer he had left? She could not remember.

The lion had expressed a wish for lion food, Edward said – Dorothea knew better than to ask what the lion food was meant to be. It looked very much like sprigs of heather and Edward had to go to the lion food shop and fetch it piece by piece to feed to the lion. This gave Dorothea and Ian plenty of time for talking, and kissing and more talking, but it still seemed almost no time until Edward announced that he could see Daddy coming towards them and wasn’t it tea-time soon?

“Already?” Ian said, “Why don’t you go and tell him about the lion?”

Chapter Text

Titty barely seemed to glance at Dorothea and Ian when they came back, but she had insisted privately to Dick that they should go to bed as early as they reasonably could. Dick was therefore not entirely surprised to find he was awake already when his daughter made the first of a series of murmurs that would escalate into a full scale wail if her breakfast was not forthcoming soon.

“I’ll fetch her. You have my pillows too, sweetheart.” Dick said and slipped through the slightly open door into the dressing room. Rosemary was willing to suspend plans to cry for a few minutes and Edward had fortunately not wakened. He brought Rosemary back to their bed and lay down again while Titty fed her.

He must have fallen asleep again, and slept through Rosemary’s return to the cradle, because when he woke up the room was lighter. Titty had partly opened the curtains and was looking out at the view. Dick reached out for his spectacles again and reclaimed his pillow.

She turned to him. “Do you think we’re worrying too much about this Crayford?”

The room faced east – more or less - and the sunlight made her cotton summer nightdress translucent. The white fabric made a white glowing cloud around the outline of her body and the light filtered through her tousled hair.

“Dick?”

“Mm – sorry. I was thinking about something else. No – I don’t think we are. Something’s not right – we just don’t know what it is. I was thinking about this last night. Trying to guess about people. There is simply isn’t enough data to go on – about them I mean. There isn’t so very much to go on the other way round, either, but there is some.”

“So..” Titty prompted gently.

“When we make mistakes – you and me, I mean, and Dot too, it’s more likely to be because we’ve been too trusting. I was an idiot and told the egg collector about the divers before I’d found out what he was.”

“We suspected Squashy Hat of all sorts of nefarious things, only he turned out to be Timothy.”

“Did we? I mean, would we have done left to ourselves? You and Roger came to Beck foot  last, those holidays, but Nancy and Peggy had pretty much made up their minds that Timothy was a problem by the time Susan and John turned up.”

Titty laughed, but softly. “And John agreed with Nancy pretty much straight away, I suppose.”

“I suppose so. I wasn’t really noticing that sort of thing then to be honest.”

“Anyway, if Nancy were here, she’d be having us set a round the clock guard on the birds.” Titty said, coming back to bed.

“You sound as if that’s what you’d like to do.”

“Wouldn’t you?” She settled her head on his shoulder. One arm crept across his chest.

“We’ve got to be good visitors and so on.” Dick sounded regretful.

“Ian did say he would have to do quite a bit of paper work.”

“Crayford couldn’t get at the eggs without a boat.”

“There is that. And there’d be no point in harming the birds without the eggs, I suppose.”

“Not that I can see. The point was to prove that the divers nested here for the first time.”

“And you did that with the photographs.” Her hand caressed his arm, not quite idly.

“All the same,” said Dick, “perhaps we should keep an eye on the divers as much as we can.”

“Ian warned him pretty comprehensively.” Titty said.

“When is breakfast?”

“Half past eight. Ages yet. Hungry?”

“Not especially.” Dick said. “Tired?”

“Not in the slightest.”


 

Ian and Edward were discussing porridge when Dorothea arrived, damp haired, at the breakfast table.

“I like the porridge you have here. I thought I wouldn’t like it. Mummy said it might have salt in it because of being in Scotland. We have milk at home. I like porridge with honey.”

“I’m glad about that.”

“Uncle Ian?”

“Yes?”

“Why did Mummy say it would be salty when it wasn’t?”

“She didn’t know there would be honey. Everyone knows that we have salt in our porridge in Scotland.”

“But this has honey.”

“Well, we knew that an English little boy wouldn’t be used to salt in his porridge.”

“Your porridge has got honey too, Uncle Ian.”

“I thought it would be more polite to keep you company.” Ian said and Edward nodded with equal solemnity.


 

“I know Edward would do his best,” Titty said firmly. “but it would probably be rather too far for him. Perhaps you and Dot ought to go by yourselves. We can wander down to the nearer lochs. That won’t be so far to carry Rosemary.”

“And you must look after Auntie Dot. In case of any tigers.”

“I can promise you that your aunt is quite safe from tigers whilst under my protection.”

  “What does that mean?”

“Protection? That means while Uncle Ian is there to look after Auntie Dot.”

Edward nodded. “That’s a good word. I like that word.”


 

“Of course” Ian said when they had crossed the valley that the red herrings – or had they been the decoys? Dorothea could no longer remember -had walked up, driving the deer before them so long ago. “Of course, there might be tigers?” He smiled at her hopefully. She reached out and took his left hand, pleasantly warm and reassuring broad. He squeezed it gently and they carried on, across the ridge and down the slope into the valley where Nancy and John had led the sailor from Pterodactyl a dance.

“I feel completely safe with you.”

“Good. I want you to be. And not bored either.”

“I’m not in the least bit bored. I’m not Nancy. She’s never happy unless there’s something that might go desperately wrong at least. At least, she never used to be.” Dorothea frowned. Something still puzzled her. Nancy had seemed quite confident and happy with her life as a naval wife in Malta. Dorothea had arrived in Malta expecting to find a quietly seething, frustrated Nancy, always on the verge of setting a cat among the pigeons, as she had been after Julia was born. Perhaps she was being kept occupied by the difficulties of learning Maltese. Somehow that seemed unlikely.

“I was more thinking that maybe you’d miss parties and so on.”

She smiled wryly. “What with being Lady St George?”

He nodded.

“It’s not like that really. I have to put on my glad rags and go to stand around with a tea –cup or a glass in my hand to launch something or other occasionally. Gerry’s mother invites me to a dinner party twice a year – if we’re both lucky it’s when I can’t go for at least one of them. Mostly writing is just writing, though.  And researching.”

“I didn’t know you wrote non- fiction as well.”

It was Dorothea’s turn to smile. “I don’t. But most of what I write is historical – at least it has a historical setting, I don’t usually use actual historical characters. Maybe a few traits or details. Having an eighteenth century heroine who was called Wendy would be a bit of a mistake, for example – but there are also things about travelling – you can’t have the wrong number of horses pulling the wrong type of carriage. And I’d certainly get letters if I made any mistakes with ships.”

“One of them from Malta?”

Dorothea laughed. “I think John would mind so much he might actually write himself.”

“So how do you research?”

Now, if I’m thinking of story, or a particular period, I think of a lot of the things I might need to know and take myself to a fairly large library and look them up. A lot of little day to day things are just as easily found out in contemporary fiction – people didn’t bother recording them at the time in serious works. Peter” Ian looked enquiringly “Lord Peter Wimsey – Gerry’s uncle- introduced me to someone who owns an advertising agency. He’s kept copies of everything they’ve put out, but also of lots of earlier advertising stuff. He was kind enough to let me look at them, so I filled a half a dozen exercise books with notes. I probably won’t use all of them, but it helps.”

“You said now. What used you to do?” Ian asked curiously.

“Plan a story and get half way through writing it, and then discover the plot wouldn’t work because it would take too long for them to get from one place to another, or something like that.”

“Couldn’t you just alter the plot?”

“I did, but it meant altering some of the minor characters, and sometimes a major one, and rewriting a lot. It was uncomfortably close to missing the deadline. The longer I’ve been writing, the less research I need to do for each story. I can always go back to my old notebooks for most things now. I’ve done a few short stories with no extra research at all – not even the dress description.”

“The dress description?”

“There’s always got to be a dress description. It has to be a nice, long dress and the heroine has to be pretty. Actually, not always, but there’s one editor who insists on it and since he’s got the first British serial rights to the next five stories I write set before 1900, there has to be one. The magazine does sell well, so he seems to know what he’s doing.”

“So you would always have to live in or near a city? Even if it wasn’t London?”

Dorothea shook her head. “No – most of the time writing is writing, not research. At least it is for me. It’s different for other authors, I know.”

They crossed the stream (burn Dorothea reminded herself). The rocks were close enough to the surface of the water to be wet. She could have managed well enough by herself, but Ian was obviously determined to help her, so it seemed better to let him.

“Thank you.” she said.

“Thank you.” he said, and then laughed gently at her puzzled expression. She found she didn’t mind.

“I know perfectly well that you could have managed that by yourself,” he explained, taking her hand again. “But I like helping you.”

Several minutes later, when they were ready to carry on walking, Ian told her, “There are several small lochs up this valley – all of them quite pleasant and a nice little hollow that might be convenient to eat our lunch in.”


 

“I didn’t know they flew so far from their nests. Unless I’ve got it wrong.” Dorothea said, watching the bird swimming on the loch.

“I don’t think you have.” Ian said. “I thought they were Great Northern Divers too. Dad wrote in…1940 it was I think- Not long after Dunkirk anyway -to say that he was fairly sure there was another pair nest here. His binoculars got commandeered of course.”

“And so you never saw them again.” said Dorothea.

“Not those, no. Strangely enough he did get a pair back, a much better pair – pretty bashed on the outside and one of the lens for the left eye cracked, but the lenses for the right eye were much better quality – or I’ve just got better at using them of course.”

“I can’t see properly through binoculars.” Dorothea admitted. “Those sound like the Great Northern Divers too.”

“And act like them.”

“We’ll have to tell Dick.”

“I thought maybe it would be more fun for him to find out for himself.”


 

They arrived back, both rather sunburned, in time to see Rosemary roll herself over for the first time on the drawing room hearth rug, much to her own surprise, and to hear about Edward’s walk down to the shore with his parents.

“And can I go and throw stones in tomorrow too, Uncle Ian? You’ve got lots of them.”

“Throw all the stones in the sea you like, Edward, but I think it’s going to be a wet day tomorrow.”

 

Chapter Text

It was wet the next day, and considerably cooler. After breakfast, Ian settled down to deal with his most urgent correspondence; Dick went down to the loch by himself; Edward built a castle out of the blocks and Dorothea got on with the next chapter of Pirates of the Mediterranean.

“And if anyone has any better ideas for a title, do tell me.” she had said at breakfast. “I really can’t see Pirates of anything selling at all well. It doesn’t matter so much for the serialisation of course, but it does for the book.”

One of the hens had gone broody just outside the bay window of the drawing room.  Titty settled herself where she could do some pen and ink sketches for Poultry-keeping fortnightly. Rosemary lay on her tummy on a blanket on the heath rug, where she could watch Edward and do a little rolling over if she felt inclined.

Mummy admired the castle and said she could tell Rosemary was impressed too. After a while, Edward tired of telling Rosemary everything he knew about castles, which was not after all very much. Rosemary tired of being on her tummy. She rolled over onto her back and after looking at her hands for a bit, seemed very much inclined to go to sleep.  Mummy had already drawn three pictures of the hens, but said she needed to do more.

“You never know which the editor will like.”

Edward knew editors were hard to please. He was rather glad he didn’t have one, like Mummy and Auntie Dot. Daddy didn’t have one either, just a professor, who came round to Sunday dinner sometimes. The professor was rather jolly and could make very good train noises. Uncle Roger could too.

Edward thought he had better go and see if Uncle Ian needed any help in writing letters. Besides, maybe Uncle Ian could do train noises.

“People would think I was being rude if I didn’t write my own letters.” Uncle Ian explained when Edward offered to help.

“Mummy writes my letters when I say thank you.” Edward said, “except I write my name. Not all of it, just Ed.”

“I’m sure people understand. I expect you’ll get to write more of your letters when you’re older and get better and better at it. Do you want to start practising now?

Edward nodded, so Uncle Ian pulled some used envelopes out of the waste paper basket and sharpened a pencil for him with a penknife. He did it like Daddy, not so sharp that the point broke and made things difficult, but just right. Uncle Ian wrote out Edward’s name – all of it, Edward Richard Callum - for Edward to see if he could copy. Uncle Ian also wrote Dear which he said was very useful for writing letters.

“You always put it in.” he said.

“And love from,” said Edward. “Mummy always puts that at the end. Do you put it in your letters?”

“Not the ones to the Ministry of Agriculture – I don’t love them very much.”

Edward wrote Ed and few times and then Edward, which didn’t go too badly except the w seemed to go on for too long and he forgot the r and had to put it at the end. He looked at Richard Callum and decided to leave it to the afternoon, when he would be a bit older. Dear went quite well, except for the a which seemed to have got itself back to front. Perhaps he would look about the study a bit before he made a start on love from.

Intriguingly, there was a cupboard inside a cupboard. The inside cupboard was metal and locked.

“What’s in there?”

“A gun.”

“Please may I see it?”

“No.”

Edward recognised the tone of finality and decided it was best to talk about something else.

“If you wrote a letter to Uncle Roger would you write love from.

“I’ve never written to your Uncle Roger, so no.” Uncle Ian chuckled. “I did leave him a note once – but I don’t believe he liked it.”

“Why not? What did it say?”

“Sleeping beauty.”

“But sleeping beauty is a girl. And she went to sleep for a long time, but I can’t remember why. Uncle Roger isn’t a girl.”

“Not very beautiful either – but he was asleep.”

“Would you write love from to Auntie Dot?”

“Yes, in fact, I had better do so now.”

Uncle Ian took a smaller bit of paper and scribbled something on it. Edward watched with interest.

“That word says love, doesn’t it?”

“Yes, but gentlemen don’t normally read letters that aren’t addressed to them.” Uncle Ian said.

“Oh, I didn’t know.”

“That’s why I’m not cross, just telling you for another time. And when you’ve given the letter to Auntie Dot, maybe you’d better be a sentry and stand outside her door or march up and down quietly for a bit, in case of any tigers.”

“OK.” said Edward. He stopped at the door and looked back at Uncle Ian who was frowning at another piece of paper. Edward came back.

“You do know the tigers aren’t real, don’t you Uncle Ian? You mustn’t be worried.”


 

The grown-ups all looked a bit worried at dinner time.

“So David says that Donald says that Morag who runs the guest –house says that Mr Crayford does have a gun with him.” Jean said as she served the shepherd’s pie.

“Shot gun?” Ian asked.

Jean frowned. “She didn’t see it unwrapped, but the size, David says was..” Here Jean put down the shepherd’s pie dish and held her hands out.

“Seems like it.” Ian said, although it since the original description came from Morag, it could easily be a foot out either way.

“Also, Donald was saying to David that Murdoch’s been drinking.”

“When isn’t he?” Ian said. Jean put a rather large portion of peas, which she knew he disliked, on his plate.

“When Margaret won’t let him have the money.” Jean pointed out rather tartly. “and since no-one who knows Murdoch would pay him in advance  for anything…”

“Mr Crayford has an ally in whatever he’s up to?” Titty suggested. Jean gave her a smile and an approving nod.

Edward beamed happily too. If you had to eat all your peas, it was best if there weren’t too many of them and his portion had been very small.

“I think maybe I had better go and have another look at the loch this afternoon.” Dick said.

“Good idea.” said Ian, “and you have my permission to send Crayford packing if he’s hanging about the loch. He’s been warned about that.”

“It might be a good idea if Edward went with you, if you’re just looking at the loch, not the birds. It’s been brightening up a little.” Titty suggested. Edward sat up a little straighter in his chair and looked hopeful.


 

There were so many ripples in the water from the falling raindrops that Daddy said it wouldn’t matter if Edward threw a few fairly small stones in the loch a very long way away from the divers. Then they went down to the shore for a little bit and Daddy skimmed a stone and it bounced. Edward’s stones just went plop.

“Never mind.” said Daddy. “I was much older than you when I learned. Your Aunt Nancy is the real expert. I’ve seen her do six bounces. Your Uncle John is pretty good at it too.”

“I can’t remember Auntie Nancy.” said Edward. “Have I ever seen her?”

“She came to see you when you were really small – much smaller than Rosemary is now, and again, before she went off to Malta. You’ve seen Uncle John too – but only once.”

“I can’t remember.” said Edward rather sadly.

“They haven’t forgotten you.” Dick said.


 

After tea, Ian and Dorothea went for a walk – first to the broch, then down to the loch and then along the little road towards the puffins.

“It’s stopped raining, but it’s still far too wet to go wriggling around on the ground if we don’t have to.” Dorothea pointed out.

“I wouldn’t want you that close to that edge just after it’s rained that much anyway.” Ian said.

“Do you think we’re all making a fuss about a coincidence?” Dorothea asked. “I’d hate to think we were being a nuisance.”

“You couldn’t be a nuisance if you tried.” Ian said. “But no, I don’t think you are. Not taking into account the shotgun and who Crayford’s uncle is. I did wonder though – the way he looked at you – did he make a nuisance of himself, in Malta? After I left I mean?”

Dorothea laughed. “No, he didn’t. I can’t imagine Nancy letting anyone do that anyway. But no, Crayford wasn’t a nuisance in that sort of way, nothing improper, just a bit inclined to make boring small talk for slightly too long.”

“Is Nancy very fierce then? I’d have said John was the one to avoid annoying.”

“You’ve only seen Nancy on her best behaviour.” Dorothea said

“Mind you.” she continued as they reached the track and could walk comfortably hand in hand again, “I know – well it sounds  a bit conceited – I’m sorry – I don’t mean to be – but I did wonder  – the way Mr Crayford  always kept popping up in Malta- whether he was interested in me. I don’t mean me as me – I mean Lady St George.”

“He’s a fool if he isn’t interested in you as you.” Ian said and then after they had walked on a bit, “Do you get a lot of that  - the Lady St George thing, I mean?”

Dorothea glanced at his face. Ian’s expression was nearly unreadable, but it was not quite his normal calm good humour. She might almost describe it as “well-concealed dismay.” Not perfectly concealed of course, otherwise she wouldn’t have noticed.

“Not a great deal.” Dorothea said. “I imagine mama-in-law has made it quite plain to her friends that I’m persona non grata so anyone who really cares about that sort of thing is more likely to steer clear of me.”

“Speaking of smirking, smarming idiots..” said Ian, and nodded along the track ahead of them.

Crayford was approaching, looking, Dorothea thought, indefinably like someone playing the part of an English gentleman on holiday in the country rather than the real thing. She spent too long trying to decide without watching her own feet and stumbled. Ian kept her upright and they walked on, Dorothea paying more attention to how she placed her feet. She was looking at the track itself when Ian’s swept her into his arms and kissed her ruthlessly.

Well, perhaps not ruthlessly, but she couldn’t care less what the right word was, and it was just as well that Ian’s arms were wrapped rather firmly around her because her knees were slightly wobbly for no good reason and she really, really didn’t want this to stop.

Eventually it did, but only long enough to him to say “Oh Dot, I do love you.” and start kissing her again. They were pressed so closely together that Dorothea wondered in passing if it was her heart she could feel racing or her own.  She had no idea how long they had stood there so totally wrapped up in each other, murmuring disjointed bits of wonderful nonsense in the brief pauses between kisses. Eventually they seemed able to move apart a little.

“Dorothea, I’m sorry, maybe I shouldn’t have… I didn’t mean any disrespect…I mean, you know I respect you a great deal, don’t you? I should have… ”

“You did mean all those things you just said, didn’t you?” she asked. It was a regrettably unromantic thing to say, but she suddenly felt she desperately needed to know.

“Of course I did!”

“Then I’d like it, please, if you did that again, rather frequently.”

  

 

Chapter Text

Happy and content are not exactly the same thing, and Dorothea was not surprised to find she had trouble sleeping that night.

She spent some of that time prodding at old wounds, and was not entirely surprised at how little they hurt now.

The oldest wound first, that last Easter holiday she and Dick had spent on the Broads, when Tom had, so gently, and without ever admitting he had noticed any change in her manner, made it quite clear that he would only ever think of her as a friend. She, without ever admitting that she might have ever had thought of him otherwise, had been grateful for, but saddened by the warning. It had been unreasonable of her to feel that little stab of jealousy when Joe told her Tom was married, but she had felt it nevertheless. Dorothea scrambled out of bed and lit the candle again. She kept some photographs pressed flat between the flyleaf and cover of a book. Here was the one of Susan, Tom and young Bill in the Farland’s garden. Did she feel jealous? No. Not anymore. The snap beneath it was one of Roger playing with a younger Edward in the Park opposite the hall of residence. She could look at it and note that Roger was still much better looking than his brother, look at it and remember that night in London with a smile, but with no desire to repeat it. She imagined a letter from Roger arriving for Titty tomorrow. Dear Titty and Dick, Congratulated me, because I’m engaged. She’s the most beautiful girl in the world… The thought only made her smile. No regrets to be had there. Good.

She took a deep breath. There would be something wrong if the third wound did not hurt. The first two were minor injuries – the equivalent of cuts and grazes, maybe a small fracture – the sort of thing that no grown person should shed tears over. The third one was like – no, she would not let herself complete the metaphor. Especially, she would not let herself think of burns or burning.

But she had to think about Gerry.

The question was, did it hurt too much to be fair to Ian if she let things go any further? The third photograph she looked at was tucked into her suitcase and, though small, had its own frame. Bunter had taken it, a month or so before she had met Gerry. She found it hard sometimes now to remember exactly how Gerry’s voice had sounded. She had to picture an exact occasion and remember what he had said…

…the odds are pretty high that it will you know – no, listen, I can be serious…. If it does, don’t let the mater force you into any Queen Victoria stuff. I suppose I ought to write to tell her we’re married and face the music – only I’d rather wait until things with the Luftwaffe have calmed down a bit. Anyway, if it does happen, and you want to marry again, or take a string of lovers or go and live in a hermitage or something, for heaven’s sake do, whatever anyone says. Only I think the hermitage would be a bit of a waste.

Up until she had come home from Bletchley Park to see Harriet sitting in the parlour at her billet, waiting to give her the terrible news, her marriage to Gerry had all been good bits. She had worried of course, but somehow Gerry had convinced her that he would survive, if only on pure luck.

And of course, even if something did happen, and it won’t, I’m not good enough to die young..

 It might be that she had spent more time with Ian already that she had with Gerry. She thought about it a bit. No, perhaps not, yet, but she had spent more time with Ian than she had with Gerry before she had agreed to marry him. Ian was not trying to sweep her off her feet – except today, physically – he seemed more anxious for her to find out if she could live with him in a role he had no intension of shirking.

….Just because I’m not the reliable type myself, doesn’t mean that I don’t appreciate Reliable Types. Uncle Peter’s a sterling example of the species, by the way, whatever my mother might say. You can rely on him for sound advice if I’m not around. And of course, even if something did happen, and it won’t, I’m not good enough to die young, then when it’s over, it’s over – unless I decide to haunt the old pile of course. Do you believe in ghosts, Dorothea? We’ve got a few wandering around the place at Duke’s Denver.

“No.” she had said “Is that a problem?”

“I shouldn’t think they’ll mind, so long as you don’t try to have them exorcised.”

Dorothea smiled and blew out the candle again.


 

Two days later, they heard news that made Dorothea quite sure that they were not worrying over nothing.

It was Andy Paterson who brought the news. On Saturday, unlike other days, the ferry finished for the night on the Island, and did not sail again until Monday morning. Andy Paterson walked from the harbour to spend Saturday night and all of Sunday with Jean.

“A funny thing.” he said to Titty on Sunday morning, hearing she liked sailing “I’d not heard of a folding boat before. There’s a gentleman, staying with Morag who’s ordered one. It’s big enough to carry, I’m thinking, but perhaps that’s for rowing, not sailing?”

Titty agreed that it was almost certainly for rowing. From then on, the loch was seldom left unwatched for long, at least by daylight.

“Not that there’s very much time that isn’t daylight at this time of year.” Titty had said.

“As long as it’s not light enough to see to shoot the divers.” Dick said.

They didn’t have to be by the loch the whole time, and the Hump and the Picthouse both made good vantage points to watch the approaches to the loch.

One afternoon, Ian and Dick kept watch from the Pict house together. They talked of the birds and wildlife, and the changes that Ian thought might result from introducing sheep to the Ian’s land. After a pause, Ian started to talk about the real reason for this afternoon spent away from other ears. There were no books to tell you what to say when a Highland Chieftain doesn’t quite ask for your widowed sister’s hand in marriage, but makes it quite clear that if you’ve got any objections, now would be a good time to say something. Dick wasn’t quite sure how much notice Ian would have taken if he had objected. He had surprised himself with his own fierceness on one point, however.

Ian looked rather sick. “You mean Lord St George hit her?”

“No, I don’t mean that at all. Only…it does happen…and in all sorts of homes. It had better not happen to my sister. Ever.”

“It won’t.” said Ian. 

There was a long silence.

“This folding boat,” said Ian. Dick was rather glad Ian had evidently decided against any further questions. “could you row round from the harbour to the inlet in it? I’ve not come across one before.”

Dick frowned. “I wouldn’t like to do it in the one from Sea Bear, but Captain Flint always did say it wasn’t a very good one. You’d still have to carry it up from the shore.”

“Could two men do it?”

“I think so.” Dick frowned. The captains and mates had carried it. John had been sixteen or seventeen then – not fully grown, but as tall as Dick was now, probably. The girls might have been full grown, but were certainly not tall, although they weren’t small enough to attract comment. “Probably. Especially if you didn’t have to hurry. And maybe the commercially made ones are lighter. This Murdoch – is he a big fellow?”

“Aye.” said Ian gloomily. “He is. Well, I’ll give everyone to know I’d be interested to hear if they see Murdoch and an Englishman lugging a boat about the place.”

 

Chapter Text

“Daddy, daddy, wake up!”

Dick was no stranger to small, cold fingers patting his face in the middle of the night.

“Daddy, there’s pirates!”

“Nonsense, your Auntie Peggy just likes the flag.” Dick muttered, without opening his eyes. “It’s just playing really.”

“’Tisn’t Auntie Peggy, it’s man pirates, an’ they’re carrying treasure an’ they’re going to bury it. Do come and see.”

Dick thought he had better get up and have a look.

“Why don’t you go back to bed, Edward?”

“Can I come an’ see you fight them an’ make them give back the treasure an’ be sorry?”

A blunt “no” seemed unkind, and an explanation would require Dick to wake-up completely and seemed like too much effort. No-one and nothing could be seen, of course.

“We’d better tuck you up in your bed again.”

“Can I come in with you and Mummy? Then I can tell you if the pirates come back.”

“Don’t you want to get in your own bed? Then you can protect Rosemary if they come back.” Dick said hopefully.

“They won’t come in this house. They had a big box of treasure to bury.”

“OK, but get in very quietly and try not to wake Mummy.”

Edward’s feet were very cold too, and he kicked in his sleep.


 

To Dick’s surprise, Edward still remembered about the pirates next morning at breakfast.

“Please can I look for where they’ve buried the treasure and dig it up?” The request for permission was spread hopefully between his parents and Ian.

“The vegetable patch is the most likely place for burying things.” Ian suggested. “You could dig where we’ve had the first potatoes up.”

“Would anyone mind if I spent most of the day at the loch?” asked Dick. He did not need to say which loch. “Would it be a problem if I wasn’t back for lunch?”

“One of us can bring your sandwiches. It’s going to be hot.” Ian said.

The telephone in the hall rang.

“I’ll get her at once.” They heard Jean’s voice.

Titty and Dorothea looked at each other. Each noticed the other was quite pale. Dorothea half-rose. Honoria had seemed quite well when Dorothea had left her to come north, but the dowager duchess was, after all, nearer ninety than eighty and losing her brother had been a shock, if not actually a surprise.

“A telephone call for you, Mrs Callum.” said Jean in the tone of one who believes the news she bears is of a fatality. Titty shot out into the hall.

 “Has something bad happened?” Edward looked anxious.

“I don’t believe so.” Dick said. He was straining his ears to hear what was said, but could only tell Titty’s tone of voice.

Titty was smiling when she returned.

“Now Bill is a big brother too, Edward.” she said. “Auntie Susan had a baby boy last night, Henry Francis, but they’re going to call him Harry for every day.”

“Wasn’t that early?” Dorothea asked.

“Only by a week. He’s seven pounds and ten ounces, and they’re both very well.”

Dick had his notebook out. “Was it actually last night, or very early this morning?” he asked, wanting to make sure he got the date right.

“About midnight.” Titty said with laugh. “It was definitely just after midnight when they thought to look at the time again, but they don’t know exactly how long it was between Harry being born and Tom looking at the clock again.”

“Why must Uncle Tom look at a clock?” Edward asked.

“To see whether your cousin Harry’s birthday is. To see whether he was born today or yesterday.”

“Will Harry still get presents if Uncle Tom didn’t look?” Edward asked.

“I’m sure he will.”

“And cake?”

“When he’s old enough to eat it. He can only drink milk at the moment, like Rosemary.”

“If he smaller than Rosemary?”

“Yes.”

“Good.”


 

The second telephone message was for Ian. He was out on the terrace, helping Titty fix the white canopy over the pram to keep the sun off Rosemary. The day was going to be hot. Rosemary watched the procedure from her aunt’s arms, quite intrigued.

“Fiona says that Murdoch came in with a note that a man had given him, that turned out to be from Janet Fraser saying could you go and see her aunt Isobel, because she’s had another of these premonitions and want to check what’s in her will, again.”

Ian sighed. “Will it be alright if I borrow your bicycle, Jean?”

“I’ll no be going anywhere.”

“It shouldn’t take very long.” Ian said.

“Hadn’t you better go now?” Titty asked, “But why do you have to go for someone to check their will?”

“I don’t, not really. Anyone who could read well enough in English would do, but Isobel won’t have her family or neighbours look at it. Isobel Fraser has these premonitions about once a fortnight that she’s going to die. Has done for ages – since before the war – although Dad said she didn’t have them half so often during it.  Anyway, everyone knows about Isobel’s premonitions and everyone, but Janet, has stopped taking them seriously. Isobel hasn’t a great deal to leave, but she’s for ever fiddling about with the details. Don’t wait if I’m not back for lunch – if Isobel doesn’t want to bend my ear a little I’m sure Janet will.” and Ian went  to fetch the bicycle as Titty fastened the straps that would stop Rosemary from rolling herself out of the pram onto the hard stones of the terrace.

 


 

“Ach …. He’ll not expect you wait for him.” said Jean, when lunchtime came and Ian had not returned. Titty, Dorothea and Edward sat down to the table, while Rosemary slumbered peacefully in her pram after a busy morning of being sung to, rolling over on her blanket and chewing her toes.

“Shall I take the sandwiches down to Dick?” Dorothea asked when they had finished. It was still only half past twelve.

Titty hesitated. “I’d quite like the walk - if you don’t mind. Would you mind looking after Edward? Rosemary won’t be expecting to be fed until two.”

Edward spent some minutes, at his aunt’s suggestion, drawing a picture (two pirates and a big box of treasure) for his grandparents. He graciously told Dorothea which of the blobs were the pirates and which was the treasure before returning to his excavations with the small trowel Ian had found for him. Dorothea checked that the canopy was still shading Rosemary’s face before settling her chair next to the pram and starting a letter to her parents. The single chime from the clock in the hall could be clearly heard though the open windows. Edward continued his excavations.

“Look Auntie Dot, I’ve found some pottery. It must be really old!” And inevitably in his excitement, Edward tripped and fell. Little harm would have been done if he had tripped on the soft soil of the vegetable patch itself, but Edward had reached the edge of the terrace before he fell, and the stone edging cut into his dirty knees.

With one last hasty glance to see that Rosemary was still shaded from the sun, Dorothea scooped up her sobbing nephew and carried him into the house in search of antiseptic, cotton wool and sticking plaster.

Edward could not help crying, but he did his best to keep still while Dot and Jean bathed his knees. Still, the grandfather clock in the hall chimed the quarter hour by the time that Edward, moving rather cautiously and holding Dot’s hand, returned to the terrace to tell Rosemary how brave he had been.

“Can you lift me up so she can see my plasters?”

Dorothea did not respond.

“Please?” Edward added hastily. “Please can you lift me up?”

Dorothea did, but continued to stare, open mouthed and sheet white, at the empty pram and neatly severed straps.

 

Chapter Text

  

Every minute must count, Dorothea told herself. Rosemary, and whoever had her, could not be far away.

“They’ve a sharp knife.” she said.

“To cut the straps, aye.” said Jean,”but there’s not a drop of blood. They’ve taken her – but they’re no intending to hurt her.  We must ring the police and then….” The rattle of the loose mudguard on her own bicycle interrupted her. “Maybe he’s seen them.  There’s only two ways they would be likely to go.”

They didn’t need to explain anything twice to Ian.

“Within the last twenty minutes.” he said. “They’ll not have gone far. Are you sure Titty didn’t come in and take the baby upstairs to feed her while you were in the bathroom with Edward’s knee.

“The straps were cut.” Dot said. That had been her first hope when she saw the empty pram too.

“I’ll ring the police.” Ian said. “We have a policeman now. I saw no-one on the road. Jean, you go to every house – check the baby isn’t there- then get them to search.  Tell Archie’s grandson, whatever his name is, to search the broch – all of it, and anywhere else secret that he knows of. Dorothea, can you go and fetch Dick and Titty? You’d best take Edward with you.”

“A whistle would be quicker.” Dorothea said. Ian handed her one from the hall table, and she went out onto the terrace and blew three short blasts, three long ones and three short. It was a loud whistle.


 

Titty, already at the gap, broke into a run.


 

Dick shoved sandwiches, papers and notebooks back into his rucksack and scrambled towards the gap as quickly as the rough heather and occasional loose stone would let him. The divers flew off in fright, unregarded.


 

A hand paused in reaching for the door of the barn on hearing the whistle and then Titty’s feet thudding past on the peaty ground.


 

Ian had evidently got through to the police.

“Yes, and it may still be that. I hope it is. But there are only two women of that description on this island and they were in the bathroom here, together, patching up the little laddie’s knee. This valley and the next  - yes, we can do that, but we have not so many people as we used to.” he was saying when Dorothea still holding Edward’s hand returned to the hall.


 

“Mummy, a bad person has taken Rosie.”

Dorothea would have given a great deal not to have Titty hear the news like that. Given that she was determined not to let go on Edward for a minute, it was unavoidable. Titty went sheet white.

“Titty, sit down, it’s not quite as bad as it might seem. It was only minutes ago, and we’re on an island and we’re sure they haven’t taken her to hurt her. Ian’s rung the police and a search is being organised, and they won’t let the ferry leave until she’s found.”

Gentle pressure urged Titty to sit down.  Edward scrambled into her lap. Dorothea realised that her brother as least could be spared hearing the news quite so abruptly and ran to meet him, leaving Ian to explain the rest.  She had only a few yards to run before she met Dick. She explained the situation as briefly as she could. No time must be lost.

Breathless and grim, Dick uttered only one sentence of censure.

“We trusted you.” and then, “We have to find her quickly.”


 

Rosemary heard the noises and listened, distracted from voicing her objections to this dark place and this person with the strange voice and strange smell, who held her as if he might drop her. She listened to the strange sound of the whistle twice more. More feet thudded passed.  She was just remembering that she was hungry and did not like this place, when the door eased open and she  was carried her out into the sunlight, still moving close to the wall. Perhaps now she was being taken to her mother?


 

The door of the barn was not wholly concealed from the crenelated gothic house, but the risk was small.


 

There was no sign of a baby anywhere about the broch.  David knew himself to be a good runner, for his age. He had approached the broch through the gap and had been able to see up the valley.  Despite spending his term times in Helensburgh where his parents both had jobs, David was enough Archie’s grandson to judge that the deer, grazing a fair way up the valley, had not been disturbed recently. Instead of returning through the gap, he trotted along the cliff a little way before turning inland. He found no clues.


 

Rosemary liked being outdoors and did not mind being carried bumpily downhill.  She liked the loch glittered in the sun.


 

Someone had to stay in the house, to look after Edward, to sit by the telephone, hoping for  and dreading  a telephone call.

“Look, if they ring up and ask for a ransom,” Dorothea said, “and it’s more than we’ve got put together – or there’s any difficulty about getting it- or anything really, ring Lord Peter. He’ll know what to do. Here are the numbers. They’re most probably at Tallboys if the holidays have started.  And if you get Bunter or Harriet, just tell them about it straight off.”

Titty nodded. The heir to a Dukedom, with three young sons of his own, would have thought about the dangers of kidnapping perhaps. One who was a famous detective would be more likely to know what to do for the best.

“Lock the doors after us.” said Ian.  “If you get word she’s found, whistle. Long blasts in groups of 4. Any group that finds her will do the same.”

Titty nodded, wrote down 4 blasts= found  on the pad beside the telephone with a shaking hand.


 

This person had put her down where she couldn’t see the nice sparkly water. Mother wasn’t here.  She was hungry. 


 

There would be search parties all over the place soon. They had to get the boat moved quickly. Henry Crayford thought that they would not think to look by the loch for a while. After all, Callum and his wife had been by the loch when their daughter was taken.  The track to the village and the harbour was the logical place to look first.

Murdoch rose from his hiding place in the heather, hastily stowing a small bottle somewhere about his person.

“You got them away well enough, however you did it.” Murdoch said, with a chuckle ending with a cough. “Ran they did, man and wife both when that whistle blew. I’ve taken the oars down already and hidden them.”

They lifted the net stuck with heather from the folding boat. It was not the cheapest, but his Uncle’s considerable private wealth would be a good return on the investment. It was light enough and had been easy to fold. A pity he would have to abandon it.

“Murdoch.” he said, “I’m expecting to be away by the afternoon ferry, and I don’t expect to take the boat with me. It’s yours to sell or keep. You might be wise to wait a while before you do so. I don’t expect McGinty to take kindly to today’s events.”

“Aye, they’re funny about those birds, him and his father both. Won’t ever have them disturbed.”

“I thought his father was dead?”

“Aye, two-three years past, but he was funny about those birds.”

The baby was whinging when they got to the shore. Murdoch looked at it in something like horror.

“The baby?”

“The Callums’ child.  I’ve no intention of hurting her. They’ll look for her here eventually. I’ll be on the ferry by then, I hope.”

Murdoch continued to look horrified.

“Look, I’ll ring from the public call box just before I get on the ferry, if that makes you any happier.” Henry had no intension of being so foolish. He might ring once he was on the mainland. He could do quite a good Yorkshire accent, when he put his mind to it. Or perhaps French? Time enough to think about that later.

“I’ll have no part of this. Birds yes,  no a baby.” Murdoch turned and walked away in the direction of the inlet.

Henry made no demur. Murdoch had not asked for the last part of his money, which was a bad sign, but he had gone back towards his own boat, rather than up towards the house. Men like Murdoch fought shy of those in authority on principle. Murdoch might yet let sentimentality spur him into some dangerous confession, but Henry judged it would not happen before nightfall at least.

Henry got the boat in the water, but didn’t push it off yet. The eggs, after all, could not move themselves. It was best to be sure of the birds first. He had no thought of trying to shoot the birds from the boat and launching the boat would startle the divers. He’d wait for his shot, getting both birds if he could, but settling for one if he had to. He’d have a little time to collect the eggs and slip away.  They would have to spread out to search, and would most likely be working their way up the valley.  This upper end of the loch was marshy and he’d prefer not to risk the folding boat on rocks more than he could help. Now that he was by himself, it would be better to paddle the boat quietly along the side of the loch and then strike out for the island, after he had shot the birds, rather than try to launch the boat nearer the island. He would be nearly as conspicuous either way.

He wouldn’t make the mistake of staying too near the baby, especially if she was going to carry on whimpering like that.  Babies could, he knew, cry rather loudly.  He had made some provision for that.

“Here you are.” He said in as kindly a voice as he could manage. “That should keep you quiet for a bit.”

He took the dummy he had purchased yesterday from the little shop in the village that appeared to sell everything. By rights it should have quieted her.  She sucked on it briefly, spat it out and began to wail. He picked up the dummy, put it back in her mouth while she paused for breath, said “last chance or you’ll do without” and walked away. 

It did not quieten the baby completely, but certainly muffled the sound. He crossed the marshy area at the top of the loch and skirted round the side away from the baby. The bank rose higher, offering some concealment and he had notes a large rock, which he had planned to use for cover. Since the baby did not seem to have frightened the divers off completely with her wails, she might usefully keep the divers away from the top of the loch, bringing them nearer his gun.

He found his shotgun where he had concealed it under some heather and unwrapped it carefully and with some relief. There had always been the chance that Callum would have found it while he was fiddling around with his binoculars. The wretched McGinty, with his infuriating air of quiet command had made it impossible for him to carry the thing openly. Last night had been a busy one, but he could have a day or two of quiet amusement once the birds were safely at the taxidermist’s.

Henry settled himself down to wait until the divers came within shot.

 

Chapter Text

The three of them had been adamant that Titty should not have to stay in the house with only Edward for company. She could not help thinking that the more people there were to search for Rosemary the better.  David’s grandmother could not walk far and so was deemed more useful keeping Titty company than as a searcher.  Her name was Margaret and, after making Titty a very sweet cup of tea, she sat on a dining room chair next  to Titty in the small sitting room, with her walking stick across her knees in an attitude that suggested that any intruder would be beaten into submission, even if Margaret had difficulties getting to her feet.

Margaret had indicated that she understood English well enough, although she found it difficult to speak it, so she did not try to cheer Titty with inconsequential chatter, for which Titty was grateful.


 

It was much the hottest day of the year so far. Poor Rosemary must be suffering terribly with thirst.  Dorothea searched grimly on. Eyes down to spot the smallest clue, the smallest scrap of pink cloth.  Glance up frequently and scan the hillside for the tiniest flicker of movement. They were all stretched out in a line moving steadily, as the S,A&D mining company had done in that hot dry summer on High Topps. Young David to her left glanced frequently up at the deer nearer the head of the valley, watching for the slightest sign of disturbance. No-one spoke. Everyone was listening for the wail of a hungry, frightened baby. Sometimes Dorothea’s eyes caught a flicker of movement on the hills they had called the Northern Rockies on their first visit to the island, but it was only the members of the group led by Dick, with Archie to advise him.

A noise from the other direction, two large birds flew over the low ridge to the other side, uttering harsh loud “Heurch” calls. Ian’s search party had disturbed one of the other pairs of divers by a loch in the other valley. Silently, Dorothea cursed all divers. Without them, they would all doubtless be safely at the lake and Rosemary would be safely asleep in her pram on Beckfoot lawn.

Where Edward would be equally likely to scrape a knee, where a baby could be carried far away by car in the time it took to wash a cut and put on a plaster, let alone to organise a search party.

“We will find her.” Dorothea murmured to herself.  Ian had insisted that they leave the pram out on the terrace.  David had said that his grandmother had left her door wide open, the old cradle that had held his father and uncle as babies had been hastily emptied of the oddments stored in it and pulled out in the middle of the floor, clearly visible to anyone passing the door. The message was clear. We want her back safe. We care more about that than catching you. Whoever had Rosemary must surely be beginning to realise the chance of getting her away were slim and would probably abandon her.  Dorothea hoped the policeman was right about some desperate childless woman having taken Rosie. At least Rosemary would be cared for, given boiled water and bottles of baby milk, kept out of the pitiless glare of the sun.  Dorothea was more worried about kidnappers for ransom, who might simply abandon her when they realised how unlike they were to get away with it. That was what this search was about, really, finding Rosemary wherever she had been abandoned before too much harm came to her.

She carried on scanning the heather to both sides, glancing up the valley ahead.  The deer grazed, still undisturbed in the heat.


 

The telephone rang, filling Titty with sudden hope.  The news was not bad, but not good either. The ferry had arrived, and the crew and able bodied passengers had joined the search. The woman who kept the shop had reported a smartly dressed Englishman buying a baby’s dummy yesterday. The policeman hesitated to ask, did not wish to cause offence, but, Mrs Callum’s sister-in-law was a childless widow, was she not? Husband killed in the war, he’d heard. That must be very lonely for her.

“I know what you’re insinuating and I’m quite sure this is not Dorothea’s doing.” Titty said firmly. “She was married for just over a month before her husband was killed in the Battle of Britain. Not very much time to start a family. There is no reason to suppose that Dorothea could not have a child if she chose to marry again and I’m sure she could marry again if she wished it. Besides which, she is always welcome in our home and can spend as much time with both our children as she wishes.”

The policeman apologised. His accent was quite definitely Scottish, but more like Jean’s than the local accent.

“Everyone from the ferry says they’ve seen no vessel at all leaving the island, and only Murdoch’s boat at all, but he’s coming this way. We’ll hear if he’s seen anything presently.” The policeman reported.

“There’s been no telephone calls, no ransom demands, have there?”

“No Mrs Callum. In those kinds of cases we usually find that the family is contacted directly – told not to inform the police in fact.”

“I see.” Titty felt rather as if she was going to be sick.

“There’s one thing.” the policeman said. “Your wee daughter is three months old?”

“Yes.” Telling him the exact number of days sounded too much like gravestone. She would not think of gravestones and Rosemary together.

“They’ll know fine well that she’s no use as a witness, then. They’ve no reason to harm her. Every reason to keep her alive, in fact, and save themselves from the noose. We’ll find your daughter, Mrs Callum. I’m just glad it wasn’t your wee laddie who’s walking and talking that they took. “

“I am too. I hadn’t thought it like that.”

Edward surveyed his mother’s face anxiously.

“Have they founded Rosie, yet, Mummy?”

“Not yet, but they’re all looking for her really hard.”

“What does ransom mean?”

“Sometimes when someone is kidnapped, taken away as Rosie has been, the bad people ask for lots of money before they’ll give the person back.”

To Titty’s slight surprise her son’s tear-stained face lightened slightly and he went upstairs (step together, step together holding the handrail as she had taught him on the steep stairs of the Hall of Residence, although these stairs were broad and much shallower.) She followed him.

Edward gathered together his teddy, his wooden elephant, the balsa wood aeroplane that would fly a little way if you threw it just right, The House at Pooh Corner and the Just So Stories. He handedthese toTitty and then took out the threepenny piece Roger had given him and the American cents Captain Flint had given him.

“Can you write a letter for me, please, Mummy?” He asked anxiously. “I know where Uncle Ian has some paper.”

 Dear Bad People,

Please give my sister back, because I love her and she is very small and needs us to look after her because she can’t do anything yet.

This is all the money and toys that I have here but you can have my wooden boat that Uncle John gave me too if you will give Rosie back and not make her cry.

Not love from Edward

Still weeping, Titty unlocked the French windows for the third time that afternoon and put the letter, toys and coins in the still empty pram.

“We mustn’t keep looking out of this window.” she told Edward. “If they come to give her back and see us looking they might run away again and not leave her. That’s why we have to sit in the little sitting room.”

Edward climbed back on her lap, when she returned to the small sofa, and eventually sobbed himself to sleep.

Chapter Text

Henry began to think that he had made an error in his choice of gun. He had been thinking of how the Divers would look stuffed, on one of those scenes in a glass box his uncle was so fond of. A shotgun would do less damage. Besides, he already had a shotgun. He was worrying now about the range. The loch was bigger than his uncle had made it sound and although the island was no more than 30 yards from his hiding place, and the birds were quite big, the one he could see was swimming at least 50 yards away and showed no sign of coming closer. Surely though, it would have to eventually, in order to swop places with the other bird. Or perhaps one did all the sitting and the other brought food. Henry wished he knew rather more about what birds actually did.

Shooting them on the island, or at least very close to the edge of it, would make life easier. The noise was going to be another problem with the shotgun – or maybe the searchers were so close that a rifle would be just as clearly heard. Henry hoped they would be far enough away, or so involved in their search that he would have time to get back to the folding boat, row to the island and collect the eggs before anyone arrived to investigate the sound.

If he gave up now, he might not get another chance. He could give up now and walk away, or at least give it another hour or so. If anyone came done to the lake, he could deny all knowledge of the boat and the baby. Perhaps they might not completely believe him, but the distance was sufficiently great to make it difficult to call him a liar if he stoutly maintained he was ignorant of their presence. He would wait a little longer.


 

When she heard the shot, all the pieces fell into place for Dorothea. Of course it was too much of a coincidence - Rosemary being taken whilst they were trying so hard to protect the Great Northern Divers.  Dorothea stopped, frowning at the ground. The Divers didn’t really matter to her or any of them, not compared to Rosemary.  That was the purpose behind Rosemary’s kidnapping, to make sure that everyone was searching for her. And one of the places the searchers would look last would be the loch since Dick and Titty had been at the loch when Rosie was taken.

So someone, Crayford himself probably, was by the loch and had by now most likely shot the Divers. That didn’t matter. Was Rosemary there? Was she in danger?

Perhaps he was planning on using Rosemary to ensure he got away with shooting the birds on Ian’s land. Perhaps he had Rosemary hidden somewhere? Where? He could not have taken her into the village on the little track-like road without passing Ian.  Had he taken her up into the hills Dick was searching? Perhaps, but he could not have taken her very far into them and still managed to get down to the loch before search parties were organised. If he had taken her that way, Dick and his search party were likely to find her soon.  Over the low ridge into the next valley? Further to go, and more exposed to view. He could not have gone far up the valley. Ian’s search party would almost certainly find her before nightfall.

Dorothea thought it more likely that Rosemary had been taken down to the loch. Even if Crayford had this ne’er do well Murdoch helping him, they might both be at the loch. The egg collector had had the sailor to row him as he tried to shoot the Divers from the boat. The cold sick feeling washed over her again as she remembered what happened to Mac’s folding boat in the loch. She hoped they had left Rosemary on the shore. Surely they would not want the extra nuisance of a baby in the boat? She could not run away or tell what she had seen after all. There might be two of them. Well, at least if she was captured herself there would be someone with Rosemary.

Another shot rang out. Dorothea realised that she had been thinking a minute or two, not more. If Rosie was left on the shore, now was the time to rescue her. Speed and stealth were most important now.  There was no time to explain.

 She called to young David, who was closest, “If you don’t see me coming back in fifteen minutes, come down to the lower loch to look for me, but don’t go rushing in, keep out of sight and if it’s bad, don’t try to deal with it yourself, tell Ian.”

David nodded, doubt already springing up in his eyes.  Dorothea departed at a run down the slope.  Whatever authority she had in David’s eyes, whether as Rosie’s aunt, Ian’s girlfriend or simply as a grown-up might not be enough to keep him from following her for the full quarter of an hour, but she was confident that  a group of Gaels would not come charging up behind her and ruin any surprise. She dropped to the ground before she silhouetted herself on the skyline, and snaked forward cautiously.

The bank was high here, and she could see Crayford hurrying along the shore to the head of the loch. He did not appear to be carrying a gun. He seemed to be heading towards a small boat, doubtless the folding boat that Andy Paterson had reported arriving on the ferry. There was no sign of a second man.  Dorothea suspected she would still not win if it came to a fight, but still, the odds were a little better than they might be. It was important to find out where Rosie was first. She wriggled forward, screwing up her eyes against sunlight glancing of the water. Was that a pink frock, there a little way back from the shore? Rosemary did not appear to be moving, but it was hard to tell from this distance.

A hand grabbed her ankle. “Whisht,” came the fierce whisper.

Chapter Text

 

“Let him get his boat first. He’ll be going to the island to get the eggs as his uncle did. The further he gets away from the little one the better. You grab her and carry her back up to the house as quickly as you can. Whatever is happening - whatever you think is happening - just get Rosemary to the house as quickly as possible. She needs her mother most of all I suppose.” Ian had wriggled alongside her in the heather and coarse grass. “I’m sorry if I startled you.”

“Only for a second.” Dorothea said. “We can get most of the way to the head of the loch without him seeing me.”

“That would be best.” Ian agreed. “I’ll come part of the way with you at least.”

Peggy herself could not have taught Ian anything.  Eventually they were as near Rosemary as they could get and still be able to see what Crayford was up to. Crayford glanced frequently up the loch, towards the upper loch, but did not seem to expect approaches from the side.

“He’s nearly at the island.”

“Let him get out of the boat. Then you get Rosemary. Dot, I have to know that she’s OK. Alive and breathing at least. Don’t stop too long to check her, but if she’s not OK, put an arm in the air. Otherwise just get her back to Titty as quickly as possible.”

If Rosemary was not alive and breathing, Ian doubted that that Dorothea would be in a fit state to remember his instructions anyway. Perhaps he should have made the signal the other way round. Too late now to confuse things.

Dot nodded. “He’s got a shotgun.”

Ian grinned savagely. “I know, but not in the boat with him. He’ll have left it on the shore. There, he’s out of the boat. Go and rescue her now.”

Rosemary had stopped crying. Her mother was not there. No-one was there to help her. The discomfort from her wet nappy paled into insignificance compare to her hunger, but no-one was there to help her. Her crying had subsided into a whimper and then, tired out but too hungry and uncomfortable to sleep properly, she just lay there.

Here was a familiar voice and face. Gentle arms that she knew lifted her up and held her securely. This person might take her to her mother. Still exhausted, Rosemary managed a little wail. The person seemed to understand because she walked faster.  Sometimes she had carried Rosemary to her mother before, or had done other things to make Rosemary comfortable. Rosemary did not mind the jolting if she was being carried quickly to her mother.

Crayford did not seem to notice that Rosemary had been carried away until he was back in the boat. Ian saw him waver and look around, hesitating. Would he turn to the head of the loch to pursue Dorothea and her niece? No. After a few minutes, Crayford looked around again. He seemed to be heading for a particular spot on the shore, near a large rock close to the lower end of the loch. Ian doubted the rock itself held any significance, except that a man might use it for cover when waiting for the birds to come within shot.

The folding boat had been far more difficult to row than Henry had thought. One of the women, he could not tell which from this distance and it did not matter, had found the baby and taken her away. Well, that did not matter.  In fact, with the baby found, the searchers would presumably all go back to their homes and work which would make it easier for him to get back to the village and the ferry without curious questions. He would not have to make any decision about whether or when to ring the authorities and tell them where the kid was, either. Henry was not even sure that the woman had noticed him. He must have been in plain view on the loch for some of the time, but perhaps her whole attention had been fixed on the baby. She had seemingly arrived on the shore of the loch while he was on the island, collecting the eggs from the nest, so he could still plead complete ignorance of the baby’s presence.

All he needed to do now was to get back to the shore of the lock, pick up the his shotgun and the feathery bodies of the Divers, stuffed in the bag he had brought for the purpose, and make sure he was in time for the late afternoon ferry. He still had time to manage it. He scrambled out of the boat and found himself facing the landowner again. The man had seemingly appeared from nowhere. The McGinty was standing a few yards away from him, and holding Henry’s own shotgun. The shotgun was not pointing at Henry and that was the only good thing about the situation. That, and the absence of dogs.

“You brought a boat on my loch without permission. I allow you to roam on my land watching birds and you abuse that by coming to the places where I ask you not to come. I forbid you to bring a gun onto my land and you bring a gun. You steal eggs from birds and you shoot nesting birds. But all of that is a minor matter. You take a baby girl from her pram when she is my guest and leave her out in the baking sun without food and water. That is a very long way from a minor matter. How long did you plan to leave her there? Do you know how long a little baby can be kept from her mother and food like that and not become ill? Not die?”

“Well really, how can you expect me to know much about babies? Long enough I dare say. Anyway, I never saw any baby, until I saw that woman walking away with one in her arms. I had no idea that there was a baby there. I never touched any baby on your land. Someone else must have put it there.”

“I doubt that. Murdoch may have helped you with the boat, but he would not have harmed the child, nor even put her at the slightest risk. They had a little daughter once. She died. Pneumonia.”

“You may doubt my word. A jury might not doubt it.”

“Lady St George saw you collect that folding boat not five yards from her baby niece, as I did myself.”

“You wouldn’t drag her into a witness box.”

McGinty smiled without humour. “You don’t know a courageous woman when you see one. She would willingly see justice done. You are greedy and, I think, a coward.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“This was about gaining your uncle’s favour. More specifically, his fortune. The Pterodactyl was not bought cheaply. You risked a baby’s life to gain first place in your uncle’s will, I think.”

“All that is going to sound like a penny-novelette in court. I would hate to have to make Lady St George look bad, but really viewed in certain lights, her character….” Henry suggested.

“Her character is exemplary and there is nothing to make a jury doubt her word.”

“The gutter press are always keen to sell papers. Her first marriage was very hasty and short-lived, I understand.”

“Blame the Luftwaffe for that.”

“It might be suggested that she was well aware of what would probably happen to him.”

“Of course she would be. Lady St George is an intelligent woman.”

Henry smiled.  McGinty would see it in a minute. Henry’s smile broadened as he saw the implication sinking in.

“I am fortunate enough to have a number of friends in the publishing world.” Henry insinuated. The number admittedly was one, but Amaranth Sylvester-Quicke had been friendly enough, and it had become quite obvious when Lord Peter Wimsey had arrived to escort his ailing uncle home from the Rivera that she had no love for the Wimseys. “You’re making far too much fuss about one little baby. There’s probably no harm done at all.”

Henry could see the other man make a decision. Stony-faced, McGinty half turned and threw the shotgun into the lake. He made quite a depressingly good job of it. Henry opened his mouth to protest, and  McGinty’s fist landed squarely on it. Henry expected it to be followed with another blow, but it wasn’t, not immediately. Was McGinty expecting him to run? To apologise? Henry had never favoured physical force as a means of gaining the upper hand, not even at school, although he had felt confident enough that he could have done so had he wished. He had even avoided playing rugger as much as possible. Now Hnery felt he had had enough of interference with his plans. The blow he gave this infuriating Scotsman in return was the only blow he managed to land on him at all, and did not seem to do as much damage as he expected. The next minute was a painful one.

Henry had expected the blows to turn into kicks when he landed on the ground. Instead they stopped. He could feel McGinty staring at him for a minute. Henry didn’t dare open his eyes properly, but he heard measured footsteps. The folding boat was pulled up higher on the shore, by the sound of it, and Henry heard the gentle tap of wood on wood, the snap of clasps undone and then refastened. McGinty had the Divers eggs then. Much good they would do him without the Divers. Henry heard four blasts of a whistle in the distance; they were repeated from many directions.

A resonant voice spoke softly, not so far away, unhurried, taking time to make every syllable crystal clear.

“You are not so badly hurt as you seem to think, Mr Crayford. You are well enough to walk to the ferry, which will be leaving this afternoon after all, now that little Rosemary Callum is found.”

He thought the chieftain had left then, but it was a many minutes before Henry dared to open his eyes and pulled himself to his feet. He would get on the ferry as instructed.

 

Chapter Text

Dick thought he had never heard a more beautiful sound than those four whistle blasts. He only just remembered to pull out the whistle from his own pocket and relay the signal. Found was not necessarily the same as safe, and he left Archie (who in any case knew everyone) to do whatever, if anything, need to be done on the hills, whilst he ran back down to the house.

When he arrived, an old woman he did not recognise was in the kitchen.

“Where?”

She pointed upstairs. Dick hurried through the hall, past Jean who was using the telephone to tell someone called Fiona that Rosemary was safe.

“Not a mark on her and her mother feeding her now.” Dick heard with gladness as he rushed up the stairs.

Titty was sitting on their bed, feeding Rosemary while Dot sat on the dressing table stool with Edward on her lap. Edward jumped up and rushed to his father.

“Daddy, a bad man took Rosie to the loch where you look at birds and Auntie Dot found her an’ brought her back.”

Dick was surprised to find that he still had not forgiven his sister.

“It was Ian just as much.” Dorothea said. Dick looked at her expressionlessly, and she rose to her feet and left the room. He had said nothing, but only Rosemary was unaware that her father was angry with her aunt. Edward scramble on to the bed and sat as close to his mother as she could.

“Is Rosie hurt?” Dick asked.

“Not a mark on her that I can see and I did check quickly. I haven’t changed her nappy yet, it seemed more urgent to feed her. She must have been terribly thirsty as well as hungry.”

Dick came over to the bed, kissed Titty’s cheek, Rosemary’s toes and Edwards’s forehead and then got ready the things that would be needed to put a clean nappy on Rosemary.

“That summer we found the copper on High Topps” Titty said, “and Daddy came back home and we mapped the Secret Water.”

“What’s the Secret Water?” Edward asked.

“I’ll tell you that story another time. Anyway, Bridget was with us, and I was in our camp drawing what we’d found on the map and looking after Bridget. The others were exploring. And the Eels came and kidnapped Bridget.”

“Fish stole Auntie Bridget?” said Edward, incredulous.

“I remember Roger telling me about the Mastodon.” said Dick

“Was Auntie Bridget a baby then too?”

“No, she was about the age that Jane is now. But I wasn’t doing anything important really. The map could wait. And we had some idea that the Eels would try to do something.  That’s why Bridget and I had been left in the camp really, to guard it. And it was just play, really, and then we made a treaty with them.  But they took Bridget away in their boats, and we didn’t know then that then were such good sailors. Anything could have happened to her.  John and Susan would have had every right to be really angry with me, even after we had rescued Bridget. But they weren’t.”

“You were only a child.”

Edward said tentatively. “I fell over any cut my knee and got all soil and stones in it and I cried and we went to the bath room and Auntie Dot and Jean got all the stones out and put disinf, dis, something on it to make the germs go away and then the bad man took Rosie. But I didn’t know he was going to do that.”

“Neither did Auntie Dot.” said Dick. Dot had left his daughter alone in her pram for a few minutes to prevent his son getting blood poisoning. He had left his family in the care of others for nearly the whole day just to guard some birds.

“Damn the Divers.” Dick discovered he had said it out loud.

“What does damn mean?” Edward said.

“It’s a bad word and I would like you not to say it.” Titty said hastily.

“I’m going to talk to Dot for a minute or so, but I promise not to be too long.” Dick said. Titty smiled approval.


 

Dorothea was trying to look as if she had not been crying.

“Dot, can come in? Look, I’m sorry I’ve been a complete rotter about this. It was as much my fault as anyone’s and of course it wasn’t your fault at all. You couldn’t have known – and Rosie’s my daughter after all. And thank you for dealing with Edward’s knee.”

“That’s OK.” but it started her crying again.

The last time Dick had hugged his sister had been the day of Gerry’s funeral. He hoped she didn’t remember that now.


 

Jean was making an omelette when Ian came in through the kitchen door.

“There’s no the time to cook the stew now.” Jean explained.

“Don’t take the eggs from under the broody hen by the drainpipe. They’re Divers’ eggs.”

“Will the poor wee things no grow up very confused?” Jean asked.

“I’ve got an idea about that,” Ian said. “but Dick will know better how that might work.”

“Mr and Mrs Callum are upstairs with the baby and their little lad.” Jean hesitated, before adding. “Lady St George is in her room, I think.  I think she’s … no very happy.”

“I’ll go and speak to her.”

“Could you take this up to Mrs Callum, while I’m doing another for wee Edward? She’ll no want to leave the baby, but she must have something to eat.”


 

Rosemary seemed determined to make up for lost time. In the end, Dick found himself feeding forkfuls of omelette to Titty whilst she continued to feed Rosemary. Edward was charmed to discover that you could have an omelette with raspberry jam in it, but refused to leave his mother and sister.


 

Dorothea had been crying, but looked fairly happy, Ian thought, when she opened her bedroom door and stood back to let him in. He had suddenly no idea what to say and where to begin. He held out his arms to her. Neither of them said anything for quite some time.


 

There was no point in letting the fourth omelette get cold and leathery, Jean thought. She ate it herself. She would not wash the pan, but sit and read a little, here in the kitchen. The pair of them would discover they were hungry eventually and come downstairs looking for food, no doubt.


 

There was room for them both on the window seat, and Ian found it surprisingly easy to tell Dorothea what had happened by the loch after she had left.

“Maybe it’s for the best.” Dorothea said. “Not that I mind what Amaranth Sylvester-Quicke writes about me. She’s already written a couple of unpleasant pieces about me. I think the only people who were upset were the Duchess – Helen I mean – and oddly enough, Susan. Someone left a gossip paper in the waiting room. But I wonder if Crayford is the sort of person who knows people and wriggles out of things that way. And he could say that we aren’t really independent witnesses. Independent from each other, I mean.”

She smiled at him and kissed him.

The open bedroom window faced west and the room was filled with golden sunlight. Sometime later, Ian took his eyes away from Dorothea’s face and glanced around the room. It  had been unoccupied since his Aunt Agnes had married a Canadian and emigrated. Dorothea had somehow arranged her few possessions to make it….well, Ian didn’t know how to describe it. Calm, warm, tasteful, pleasant. All of those. There was the faintest trace of the silken, rosy scent that made him think of that evening in Malta and the shell-pink satin dress.

“I was wondering,” he said, “if you’d like this to be your bedroom always.”

He had been thinking for days of what to say, how to ask her. He had been wondering if he was really being fair asking her to give up a pleasant and interesting life, free of household cares, with as much time to devote to her writing as she liked. He hadn’t been planning to ask her quite like that – or indeed at all this evening, while she was still, however bravely she was trying to hide it, shaken by the kidnap of her niece.

“What I meant to say, only today didn’t seem the right day, is that I love you very much Dorothea, and I would very, very happy if you married me.”

It still wasn’t the prefect proposal, which was what she deserved, and he had probably spoiled it rather by adding, “I’ll try to make sure you have enough time for all the writing you want to do, and I do understand if you want to go and visit your friends and see publishers and people, and I’d like to come too, as often as I can, but that might not be very often because…”

But that didn’t matter, because as soon as he had stopped making a babbling fool of himself, Dorothea smiled and kissed him and said “Yes.”

 

Chapter Text

Epilogue

Bredon had always considered himself one of the unimaginative Wimseys, so he was surprised to come round the corner on the gravel path below the terrace and see the well- remembered figure smoking a cigarette.

His cousin looked up and said, “It doesn’t work quite like that. Dorothea is as imaginative as anyone, but she can’t see any of the Wimsey ghosts. The guv’nor can – and I don’t think he would lay claim to any imagination at all. I’ve not tried appearing to Dorothea myself, of course. I think that would be rather cruel of me.”

“Maybe if you did – maybe she would change her mind and not marry that man.”

“That’s exactly why I haven’t tried it. Not the only reason, of course. I always told myself I wouldn’t hang around the place at all. I’m still only going to show up if I absolutely have to. Don’t worry” Gerry smiled, “I’m not going to turn up every night to discuss the oaks in Boulter’s Hollow or anything like that.”

“Well, it would do precious little good if you did,” Bredon answered, “because..” he caught Gerry’s expression and abandoned that tack. “Why did you appear then? Not that I’m not very glad to see you, of course.”

“Now that last little bit was pure Dorothea.” Gerry observed. “I’m rather glad you’ve seen enough of her for it to rub off a little. Not that I don’t have enough of the Wimsey arrogance myself, of course.”

“Father doesn’t.”

“He does – but he has Aunt Harriet to temper it and the wisdom to see it in himself. I think the rest of us mostly don’t notice it until afterwards in ourselves. In fact, I suspect it still hasn’t occurred to grandfather at all. And has for why I’m here, I came to speak to you. You’re being rather rotten to Dorothea, you know.”

“And it isn’t making the slightest bit of difference.”

“It is, you know. She could be feeling completely happy about her wedding, and thanks to you, she isn’t.”

“Aunt Helen doesn’t approve either.”

“Dorothea doesn’t mind what my mother thinks. I warned her about that before we married; she never had any reason to expect anything but hostility from that corner.”

“But she was married to you, and now she’s marrying this bloody Scotsman. I mean, you’re a hero and now she’s just going to turn round and…..” Bredon spluttered to a halt. He found it difficult to put what he felt in words. Surely Gerry, his war-hero cousin, of all people should appreciate what he was trying to do. It was Gerry he was sticking up for after all.

“If being a hero consists of getting shot at, I think you’d find Ian McGinty is quite as much a hero as I am – or rather more.” Gerry said rather drily. “And from what I can make out – and I have been listening to plenty of conversations that were none of my business – he will actually make Dorothea happier, in the long run, than I would have done. And that I do regard as very much my business – still and always. If you feel any particular loyalty to me, you might make it yours.”

“She’s got plenty of friends.”

“Good friends.  The same ones as when I met her – plus a few others. If that was enough why would she have married me?”

Answering that would take Bredon’s thoughts to places he didn’t want them to go. 

“Gerry, do you want me to have to like this McGinty? And tell Dorothea you don’t mind her marrying again?”

“Entirely up to you how you feel about him. And you don’t have to tell Dorothea. She knows.”

“I thought you said she couldn’t see you.”

“We talked about it. The possibility that someday I might not come back did occur to me. There was a possibility of invasion, of course, although I don’t think either of us considered it that likely. I did make her promise me not to do some kind of Widow of Windsor thing on my account unless she really felt she wanted to. I was rather afraid the mater would make her feel she had to, you know.”

“Aunt Helen’s been pretty nasty about McGinty.”

“I bet Aunt Harriet wasn’t.”

“Of course she wasn’t!” Bredon said rather hotly.

Gerry raised an eyebrow, but didn’t push his point further.

“I remember.” said Bredon, “You always used to hold your cigarette like that.”

“Used to drive my mother mad. That’s why I did it.”

“Your uniform ..” Bredon swallowed hard as a thought struck him. “It’s…I mean it isn’t …and you…..you look quite erm..” He wished wildly his father had explained more about what actually constituted acceptable behaviour when talking to family ghosts. Luckily Gerry, who really was rather like Father in some ways, knew what he meant.

“No, Bredon, we aren’t compelled to go round in the condition we died in. Although, thinking of the third duke scurrying round in the state he died in is rather amusing. I suppose I’m meant to say you’re too young to know or something like that. Never mind that. Most of us settle for looking the way we feel most ourselves.”

“Oh. I was wondering for a moment – you see, you’re exactly how I remembered you. I wondered if you were just my memory or my conscience or something like that.”

Gerry gave a brief shout of laughter. (And Bredon remembered that too.) “You’ve got a much better conscience of your own. As for being a memory – I don’t think you’ll remember this.”

Gerry pulled out a silk scarf from under his collar. Bredon could have sworn it wasn’t there a moment ago. Things were probably different for ghosts. Gerry shook the scarf out. It was clearly a woman’s scarf. It was mostly the sort of green they call mint green.

“It’s her’s.” Gerry said simply. “She gave it to me not long before we were married. I was wearing it when I died, so you won’t have seen it tucked away in a drawer or anything.”

He stubbed his cigarette out on a handy statue and tucked the scarf back under the collar. 

“So you want me to apologise to Dorothea?”

“God, no! I can’t stand forced apologies. Anyway, I’ve said my piece. You’re doing rather well overall you know. Better than I ever did. Goodbye, Bredon.”

And Bredon found himself staring at a statue and the wall behind it.  After a little while he felt in his pocket and took out a matchbox. It wasn’t a matter of finger-prints, at least he presumed it wasn’t with ghosts, but out of habit he used a leaf to help him tease the cigarette butt into the matchbox. He would show Father. He’d explain and ask him to write to his housemaster about that exeat to go to the wedding after all.