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Authors: Pamela Kavanagh

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BOOK: Across the Sands of Time
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Her breath caught in her throat.

‘I don't want that for my Polly.'

She paused, clearly upset and growing visibly weaker.

‘Don't try to talk any more, dear. Have a little rest,' Jessica said gently. ‘I think I can guess what you're asking. You want Polly out of Parkgate, and you'd like me to find her somewhere suitable. A place with a respectable family, perhaps, where she can earn her keep and not be a victim of circumstance.'

It seemed a tall order for a girl in Polly's position, but Jessica was tactful enough not to say so.

Marion nodded.

‘You know so many good people, Jessica. You move in the right circles.'

‘I shall look into the matter right away,' her sister said briskly. ‘There's a Chester family I've heard of who are seeking help in the nursery. Polly should suit admirably. Now don't fret about the ins and outs of it all, my dear. Polly can be spirited out of here in a wink if needs must.'

Jessica reached for her full basket of goods.

‘Look, I've brought you some fruit and a new novel. Shall I read you a chapter or two?'

Jessica's thoughts raced. She was pleased to have eased her sister's mind. Deep down, however, to her shame and chagrin, she knew a sneaking gratification that the matrimonial arrangements between her niece and George Rawlinson now looked to be scotched.

She rather liked George. Upstanding, courteous, a gentleman in every sense of the word, he was part of her own circle and, when all was said and done, a good deal closer to her age than Polly's. Up until quite recently Jessica had relished her single state, but of
late the thought of the companionship and protection a suitable union could bring was sweet. If she played her cards carefully, George could be hers.

 

Thea had woken, moaning a little, disturbed by what she was experiencing. She had drifted back to sleep, only to have the dream pursue its relentless course. Plainly some time had now passed. The scene swung to John Royle.

He was regretting his impulse to end all contact with Polly. He loved her so much, missed her so terribly it was like an ache that would not ease. His wish to have her as his wife had refuelled his earlier ambitions. Wanting to be worthy of Polly and provide a sound existence for her, since the life of a fisherman was notoriously spiked with danger and insecurity, he had stepped up his quest to leave the trade and start his own school for boys.

John left the house he had looked over in vain with a view to renting, determined not to be disheartened. This was the fourth unsuitable premises in as many days. In this case the drawback was the rent being way above his means.

Walking along the Parade, an upright figure in a best suit of brown fustian, boots buffed to a fine gloss, he looked more the schoolmaster he wished to be than the fisher lad Polly knew.

How he longed to see her, to tell her his plans.

Ahead loomed the sea-battered walls and dipping roofline of the Harbour House. Without thinking twice, John turned into the courtyard and entered the kitchen. Instead of Polly's mother, he saw to his surprise a young woman stirring the large iron pot of stew over the fire.

‘Good day to you,' John bid her. ‘I wonder if I might speak with Polly?'

‘Polly, is it?' she said, straightening, her plain face alight with the prospect of a choice piece of gossip shared. ‘You're too late, mister. Polly's gone. Went in the night, she did. Nobody knows where.'

‘Gone?' John looked at her incredulously. ‘But she can't have, not with her mama so poorly. Polly wouldn't desert her like that.'

‘Well, she has. You should have heard the master when he found out. Stamping and raging, he was, and his good wife scarcely strong enough to lift her head, poor soul. If you ask me, the mistress knows more about Polly's disappearance than she's letting on. Quietly satisfied, she seems to me. As if she's got her own way for once and … hey, mister! Where are you going?'

John had already slammed out. Crossing the straw and dung littered yard with angered strides, he cursed himself for a fool. If only he had come yesterday. If only he had never broken with Polly. If only.…

 

The sound of Dominic's car turning into the lane brought Thea back to the present with a sense of relief. She was tempted to tell him about her experiences – anything to lighten the burden of what was happening to her. But how could she describe them? They were not dreams as such; they were more like flashbacks to a previous age.

Not only did she see and hear what was happening, she could tell what the people were thinking. It was freaky and yet it intrigued her. But were the characters figments of her imagination or had they really existed?

There were ways of finding out. She had considered it before but had baulked. Already she felt at the mercy of events beyond her comprehension. Who knew what else might be stirred up by delving too deeply into the past?

‘Hello, there,' Dominic called, cutting across the grass towards her, the setter bounding in demented circles around him. ‘What a nice surprise. How are you?'

‘I'm fine.' Thea bent to fuss over the dog. ‘Hi, Trina. Good girl. What a good dog.'

‘Spoiled rotten, so she is. Trina, will you leave us in peace! I've just come past your place, Thea. The workmen are back, I see. And here's me thinking the renovations on the Harbour House were done and dusted.'

‘Oh, there was some tidying up still to do so I told them to go ahead and finish. Might as well have it looking respectable, for what it's worth.'

‘It's a thought.' Dominic's smile was understanding. ‘Poor old you. It hasn't been your year, has it? Have you decided what you're doing with the house?'

‘Not really. It's turned out to be something of a white elephant. I'm sometimes tempted to take it on myself but … you know.'

‘Too many memories? Don't I know exactly how you feel!'

‘Do you, Dominic?' She looked at him closely. ‘Do you really? What a puzzle you are sometimes. Could we make a pact? I let you in on something really weird that's happened to me, and you tell me what you meant by what you just said.'

‘It's a long story.' The amazingly blue eyes never left her face. ‘And not a very nice one.'

‘Still, I'd like to hear it,' she said evenly.

He seemed to consider, then grinned suddenly.

‘Sure, it'll have to wait while I feed Trina, or won't she be ringing up Justice For Dogs with a complaint of neglect?'

Thea didn't raise a smile but waited. She was growing wise to Dominic Shane. A funny remark was usually a ruse to get out of a tight corner, and this time she wasn't playing.

‘OK, fine,' Dominic said, relenting. ‘Tell you what, Thea, me girl. Let's see to Trina and then what if you and I can go to the pub for a bite to eat? I don't know about you, but my revelation could need fortifying with something stronger than the lighter beverages.'

This time Thea allowed herself a grin.

‘You're on,' she said.

 

Richard's head swam. They had arrived at Limerick only to find that the original venue for the gig had been double booked and he and the boys had spent the best part of the day looking for an alternative. Quite by chance – or so Richard thought at the time – they had bumped into Aisling Cleary.

Having valuable contacts in the Irish jazz scene, she had made a few calls on her mobile and presently they were unpacking their equipment at a lugubrious-looking but seemingly popular premises on the outskirts of the town.

They had an hour to prepare before the club opened. While
Tracey was getting ready in a cramped little dressing-room behind the stage, the boys tore around setting up microphones and loudspeakers. Richard had to be everywhere at once, checking for sound quality and the lighting.

On stage, the drummer's long, sinewy hands executed triplets and paradiddles as if his very life depended on it.

Aisling, perched elegantly on a tall stool by the bar, watched the proceedings covertly, her long-lashed smoke-grey eyes not missing a thing. Richard looked up from wrestling with a mike that refused to adjust and sent her a friendly wink.

Whatever Tracey's opinion, tonight they owed a lot to the glamorous Irish girl. To show his gratitude Richard had awarded her a prime slot in the guest spot. The smile she'd bestowed on him had said it all.

‘Right, lads,' Richard shouted, his eye on the clock over the entrance. ‘That's about it, here. We've got ten minutes to change. Let's move!'

They made it with seconds to spare, leaping on stage as the doors burst open and the punters came pouring in. This was a different audience from the more cosmopolitan Dublin and Wexford crowds. Jeans and cycle jackets of battered black leather predominated, with hair spiked and dyed a myriad of hues.

All this Richard took in at a glance, before the PA system uttered a warning stutter, the house lights slowly dimmed and the usual stomach-grabbing hush descended. Raising his saxophone to his lips, Richard blasted out the first phrase of notes and, as the group came in gratifyingly on cue, gave himself up to the music.

 

‘Sure, you were great. Just great,' Aisling praised when the buzzing, up-tempo night was finally over.

‘You weren't so bad yourself,' Richard returned with a grin.

Tracey, at his side, nodded her agreement. She still hadn't exactly warmed to Aisling, but potential disaster had been overcome and they had her to thank for that.

They had all gone for a meal after the show. Now, the other members of the group had claimed utter exhaustion and taken
themselves off to the hotel they had booked into, leaving Richard and Tracey, as always, to mull over the performance. Aisling looked to have no thoughts on following the rest of the band's example.

Richard was just beginning to unwind. Accepting the coffee Tracey handed him, he looked at Aisling.

‘So what are your plans now? In fact what are you doing over here anyway? I thought you worked in Dublin.'

‘I did,' she replied, shrugging laconically. Every movement she made was measured and graceful.

When she had first turned up at the Dublin club her sultry appeal had intrigued him. Now, a few weeks along the line, he was able to see through the glitz to the determined and manipulating creature beneath. He could even find it in him to tease her a little.

‘Did? You mean they've given you the push at Ferlann Ridge?'

‘Indeed they did not! Wasn't I the best admin officer they had on the floor! Sure, I left of my own accord to follow a singing career. I'd been offered a contract for a permanent spot at the Dublin Club and there'll be others. The money's good and I enjoy it. Besides, it was never the same at Ferlann Ridge after Dom went.'

Tracey looked at her sharply.

‘Dominic Shane, you mean? He's a vet in the Wirral.'

‘That's right. I'd heard he got another job pretty quickly. Well, he would. He's a brilliant vet. You'll know about the trouble.'

Richard looked blank.

Aisling lowered her voice to a confidential tone.

‘We were getting married, had the house, furniture, everything. I don't need to tell you how expensive all that is.…' She shrugged. ‘I … well, let's just say I'm not one for doing things on the cheap! The chance to make a quick buck came along.…' She grinned ruefully. ‘Didn't come off, as it happened. Then the balloon went up. Doping isn't the done thing in the racehorse trade.'

‘Dominic was accused of horse doping?' Richard was incredulous. ‘Heck! I bet the press had a field-day!'

She nodded.

‘It did get a bit nasty. The only way Dom could hold on to his
career was to get out and start again, go somewhere else where he wasn't known.' Aisling hesitated, as if she were weighing up her words. ‘The thing is, I need to see him. It's a private matter but it's in his interest. I've tried to contact him but it's hopeless. He doesn't reply.

‘You'll be going back to the Wirral when the tour is up so you're sure to see Dom. I wondered if you could put in a word for me?'

Richard thought fast. What was she up to? Something about the story just didn't ring true. Tracey looked about to speak but he silenced her with a glance.

‘Aisling, we haven't made any specific plans beyond the tour,' he said carefully. ‘There could be something in the pipeline for us, so we may not be going home.'

Finishing his coffee, he sent Tracey a nod.

‘Don't know about you, but I'm bushed love. Shall we go?'

They all stood up and Aisling, who was staying with friends in Wicklow, reluctantly took her leave.

‘That was a clever cop out,' Tracey said as they walked hand in hand to their hotel.

‘Well, you can't be too careful. We don't want to be dragged into anything we mightn't like, especially as Thea seems to have hit it off with Dominic.'

‘Has she? It's true the engagement's off, then?'

‘Yes. I'm not really surprised. Geoff's a great guy but there was no spark there, somehow. Thea and Dominic? Well, maybe. Anyway, I don't want to be the cause of trouble. I wouldn't put it past Aisling to go tearing over there with whatever scheme she's cooking up.

‘We don't even know the full picture. All we heard was her side of the story, and even that seemed evasive. Frankly, I suspect there's more to it than she's letting on.'

‘She's cunning, that one. Dominic's well rid of her. I can't think why he took up with her in the first place.'

‘Can't you?' Richard looked amused. ‘But she's done him no favours. I can't honestly see Dominic getting mixed up in a doping scandal, can you? He's far too ethical for that.'

‘Oh, it'll be her. She's the sort who can't stay out of trouble for long. Funny business, all the same. Dominic Shane had it made here. Something pretty dire must have happened for him to settle for a job at Parkgate. I'd love to get to the bottom of it all. I don't know, all these mysteries! And talking about mysteries, what's this about “something in the pipeline”? Or aren't I supposed to know?'

BOOK: Across the Sands of Time
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