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Authors: Janie Bolitho

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Buried in Cornwall (6 page)

BOOK: Buried in Cornwall
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Was it Stella, or had Maddy originally suggested this particular location? she wondered. And did it mean anything?

Mortification washed over her again as she recalled the false alarm she had raised. Uneasily she worked, mixing oils on her palette and lining up the scene using the wooden end of a brush. An hour passed and she became absorbed in what she was doing, fascinated with the ruins as they stood in silent testimony to the proud mining history of Cornwall. A kestrel, which she recognised by its long tail, distracted her for more than ten minutes as it soared then hovered high in the sky, head down in typical manner as it searched for prey. Three times it plummeted but Rose did not think it caught anything. She shook her head. There would be no exhibition like Stella’s if she didn’t get a move on. Swirling
the brush in the colour she had mixed for the brickwork which was in shadow, her arm jerked and paint splashed her jeans. ‘Dear God, no.’ Her voice was strangled as she jumped to her feet. A scream had pierced the air. She swung around, terrified. Had she been mistaken before, there was no doubt about it now. Her hands shook and her legs felt weak. It was hard to judge where it had come from yet it did not contain the thin quality which open air ought to have given it. And, more to the point, what to do now? Impossible to ring for assistance, the only help she could expect would be in the form of men in white coats come to take her away. Rapidly she packed her things, leaving the wet painting on the easel. Then, sick with fright and aware of the risk, Rose picked her way towards the engine house feeling like an actress in a horror film when the audience will her not to go into the empty building. She stood still, listening. Nothing, not a sound except her thumping heart and ragged breathing.

She looked in every direction but there was no sign of life other than the kestrel, now further away looking for richer pickings.

‘I’ve got to get out of here,’ she said. ‘I must be going mad.’

Panic overcame her. Staggering and half
tripping, she turned and ran, grabbing her equipment and throwing it into the back of the car, remembering just in time the wet canvas which she placed, face up, on the front passenger seat. Her foot slipped off the clutch and she reversed jerkily before starting to make her way home.

Never was she so relieved to see her house looking so normal at the top of her drive. It was a little after two and already the sun was less bright. It would set by four o’clock. Not caring what time it was or what anyone might think, the first thing she did was to pour a gin and tonic. If Jack Pearce walked in and called her an alcoholic she wouldn’t care. Gin slopped on to the worktop as the bottle clinked against the glass. Ice slipped on to the floor. Rose left it there and took a large sip before switching on all the lights.

The shaking began to lessen but it was an hour before she felt able to clean her brushes and the palette knife and stand the canvas against the wall in the attic studio out of the way of the central heating. Since she rarely used the room now she had turned off the radiator. Thank goodness for the down-to-earth solidity of Barry Rowe, she thought as she lit one of the five cigarettes she allowed herself each day and sat down at the
kitchen table to finish her drink and to plan what to cook him for dinner. Something special, she decided, to make up for her neglect. The crab season was over but she had some which she had frozen earlier in the year. She got it out of the freezer, it wouldn’t take long to thaw. White and dark meat. She could mix it with soft cheese and make pate with crudites. This would be followed by lamb kebabs marinated in lemon juice, olive oil, garlic and some of Doreen Clarke’s redcurrant jelly. Served with rice and a green salad it would appear to have taken more effort than it really had. Rose knew that concentration on the food was a way of subduing the thoughts that wanted to rise to the surface; if she kept calm a perfectly logical explanation would come to mind.

As she crushed the garlic its pungent aroma overrode the fruity smell of the redcurrant jelly which was melting slowly in a small saucepan. Rose enjoyed cooking and the automatic, familiar gestures as she moved around her kitchen soothed her. Outside the night clouds began to gather and soon it was completely dark. Once the table was laid, the pate in individual dishes in the fridge and the rest of the meal ready to cook, Rose went upstairs to change.

She was sitting quietly listening to some music
when Barry arrived, his head jutting forward as if he was unsure of his welcome. Rose kissed his cheek, accepted the bottle of wine he had brought and asked him to open it.

‘You look a bit pale, you’re not going down with something, are you?’

‘No, I don’t think so.’

He stood, arms folded, and studied her face. ‘Rose, tell me what’s happened.’ It wasn’t a question.

Her head jerked up. Had she spoken her thoughts aloud or was he telepathic?

‘You’re involved in something, Rose, I know it.’

‘No. Not involved. Oh, it’s ridiculous.’

‘You didn’t go out there again?’

‘I had to, Barry. The painting’s good, I know it is. In fact, I’m certain it’s the best I’ve ever done. I couldn’t not finish it because of some wild auditory hallucination.’

Barry shrugged and pulled the cork from the bottle. ‘The mind can play strange tricks.’

‘Yes. You’re right. Perhaps I need a holiday.’

‘I could do with one myself.’

Rose turned away to put the skewered lamb and peppers under the grill, unprepared to follow up the obvious hint. ‘It won’t be long.’

They were halfway through the meal. Rose was struggling to eat as Barry regaled her with stories about his customers and complimented her on the food. He knew something was very wrong and was hurt that she wouldn’t confide in him, but to press her would be a waste of breath, she would dig her heels in further. All he could do was to offer assistance if she required it. ‘Rose?’

She looked up and tried to smile. He was a decent man, solid and dependable, and she often wished she had been able to offer him more. He could also be irritating, domineering and possessive, she reminded herself as the telephone rang causing her to jump. She went to the sitting-room to answer it. It was Nick. Rose shuffled backwards, trailing the lead in one hand, and, with the heel of her shoe, nudged the door closed behind her. This is silly, she thought, there was no reason she shouldn’t receive a call from whomsoever she pleased. However, she had to take Barry’s feelings into consideration. Nick asked how she was. Rose wondered why he was ringing again. Only last night she had told him that she was busy. Was he the sort of man to pester, not to take no for an answer? If so, there was no future for them. That was not the sort of relationship she wanted. A more sinister thought
crossed her mind. He knew she had been going back to the mine that day – had he called to find out her reaction to what he may have known would happen?

‘No, I haven’t,’ she answered, puzzled, when Nick asked if she’d seen Jenny. ‘Not since we were at Stella’s. Why? What’s wrong?’

‘Probably nothing. She came to see me afterwards. Rose, I ought to have told you sooner, we were once …’

‘Yes. I thought so. You don’t have to explain, Nick.’ And she meant it. At least he was being honest with her.

‘Well, good. Anyway, as I was saying, she came up here wanting to make a go of things again. It was all over more than six months ago and there was no chance of my agreeing. In retrospect I see I could’ve been kinder. She was in a bit of a state when she left. Maddy rang me to say she’d seen her running down the road in tears.’

Rose couldn’t see where this was leading.

‘I felt bad about it. I mean, I loved the girl once. Did you know she’s staying in a squat?’

‘No. I didn’t.’

‘Well, nor did I until today. I went down there. The crowd she shares with haven’t seen her since yesterday morning. We know she was all right
when she left my place. I’m probably worrying about nothing, Jenny can look after herself. If she was that upset she may not have fancied facing her friends.’

‘But why would I have seen her?’

‘Oh, God. Look, I just thought, well, she made one or two insinuations about us. She was drunk and upset. I thought she may have come to see you, to persuade you to give me up or to put you off me. Besides, you’re out and about a lot, I thought you may simply have run into her somewhere.’

‘No, Nick, I’m sorry. The last time I saw her she was still at Stella’s.’

‘Okay, thanks anyway. I expect she’ll turn up when she’s got whatever it is out of her system. I hope I’m not interrupting anything?’ he asked with a question in his voice.

Rose hesitated. ‘I’ve got a dinner guest.’

‘I see.’

No, you don’t, she thought, but was not prepared to explain.

‘Rose, can I still see you next Saturday? We could make a day of it, go to Truro and shop and have a meal.’

She was surprised that she didn’t hesitate in agreeing. ‘I shall look forward to it,’ she said.
And that was as much encouragement as Nick Pascoe was getting. If he was so worried about Jenny, a girl, or woman, with whom he had once been close, one who now chose to live or sleep wherever she pleased, then he must still care for her. It was none of her business. She still loved David and always would. You don’t necessarily stop caring for someone just because you’re no longer together, she reminded herself.

Putting on a cheerful smile she returned to the kitchen to find Barry cleaning his glasses on the edge of the tablecloth in a manner so nonchalant she guessed he had made a determined effort not to eavesdrop on her side of the conversation. She felt exhausted and was glad when he said he must go because he was seeing another of his artists early in the morning.

As she lay in bed the weather began to echo the turmoil of her thoughts. The breeze, which had sent tremors through the shrubs as Barry was leaving, gained strength and whistled in the chimney breast. The windows rattled as the wind increased to gale force. The house was taking the blasts from the front. Rose was unconcerned about damage. The place had survived numerous storms, worse ones than this, and the roof had been replaced a couple
of years ago after slates had been ripped off and flung into the garden.

In the end she had decided against telling Barry what had happened. For once she would have welcomed the listening ear of Jack Pearce and almost found herself missing him. Perhaps, she admitted, that was only because he was a foil for her eccentric friends.

Rose did not believe that Jenny was the sort of girl to do a disappearing act simply to gain the attention of a man, but she didn’t know her well enough to be certain. And there was, she decided as she turned over to find a more comfortable position, little enough for Jenny to be jealous of. If anything, it ought to be the reverse. Jenny was young and beautiful with a softness of body and face few possessed.

When she woke the violence of the wind had not abated although it had veered to the west and, with it, brought squally rain. The sky had hardly lightened by the time she had showered and dressed and by nine thirty it was obvious that the weather was set for the day. The view Rose so loved was obscured. The Mount, shrouded in rain, might not have existed. To cheer the place up she lit the fire, which smoked infuriatingly for half an hour before finally catching properly.
There was no reason for her to leave the house. The fridge was well stocked and she could put the final touches to the painting in the attic where she had splashed out on an overhead light fitting which produced the next best thing to daylight.

Against her better judgement Rose still took the odd photographic commission, which Laura had told her was a sop to her insecurity.

‘I don’t want to lose my touch,’ Rose had argued.

‘What you mean is you’re afraid you’ll fail and you’ll need something to fall back on.’

Is she right? Rose wondered as she carried a mug of coffee upstairs to develop the one roll of film that was outstanding. Twice she was interrupted, once by Stella who had now heard that Jenny had gone into hiding, although this was not the main reason for the call. She was ringing to ask if Rose would come to a party they were having on 23rd December. ‘It’s the only effort we make,’ Stella added. ‘All our friends come in one go. After that we lock ourselves in and ignore Christmas. I suppose if we’d had children it might’ve been different. Do come.’

‘I’d love to. Thanks.’ Rose scribbled herself a reminder note then, without time to think about
what she was saying, said, ‘In which case I hope you’ll come to me on New Year’s Eve.’

‘I’ll check with Daniel but I’m sure the answer’ll be yes. Goodness, we haven’t done that for donkey’s years.’

And neither have I, Rose thought, wondering what she had let herself in for. A party? Not since the early years of her marriage had she thrown one. It was an exciting thought.

‘Did you do any work on your painting yesterday? I managed to get out for an hour or so and make the most of the weather.’

‘Yes.’ Rose waited but Stella made no further comment. For the first time she wondered how genuine her friend’s interest was.

On her way back upstairs she realised that there wasn’t much time. If she was seriously going to throw a party she must organise the invitations quickly before people made other arrangements, if they hadn’t done so already.

The second call was from Barry to inform her that they had sold out of the wildflower notelets and he wanted her permission to do a reprint. Rose said yes, knowing that he need not have asked, she always agreed, but that he often found excuses to talk to her. When she mentioned the party, Barry stuttered his
acceptance. He was as amazed as Rose had been at the idea.

Leaving the film to dry prior to making prints, Rose stared at the almost complete oil. It disturbed her because of its associations and if it wasn’t so good she might have destroyed it. But it is good, she thought, very good. Ought I to tell someone, even if it does make me look ridiculous? she asked herself as she began mixing colours which would put the final touches to the painting.

It was early evening and she was cleaning her brushes when she thought she heard a noise downstairs. Standing still, she listened. From two flights up she could not always be sure if it was the wind or a knock on the kitchen door. She wiped her paint-stained hands on a rag and went to see. Leaning against the jamb, soaking wet, was Inspector Jack Pearce. Rose bit her lip. What now? Why did he keep having to bother her? Seconds later she saw that he wasn’t alone.

BOOK: Buried in Cornwall
12.17Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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