Authors: Evelyn Anthony
EARLY BIRD BOOKS
FRESH EBOOK DEALS, DELIVERED DAILY
BE THE FIRST TO KNOWâ
NEW DEALS HATCH EVERY DAY!
No Enemy but Time
In memory of my
father and mother
The house at Cloncarrig and the fox's hide are not a legend, nor did I invent them. They exist, and so did their owner, although his name was not Reynard, and his estate and the follies he built on it are in a different part of Ireland. I have walked the fields and seen the refuge for myself. His friends still hunt the country there, and some swear that they've seen a big dog fox disappear into the folly. Being Ireland, no one hunts it any further, just in case.
The dawn was breaking as the cars rolled off the ferry at North Wall; there was a sullen, red-streaked sky, with banks of threatening clouds building up on the horizon. After the stale fug in the tiny cabin, she gulped down the clean sea air, the car window wide open. It was a hired car. If they were watching for her, they wouldn't expect her to travel on the night boat from Liverpool, with a rough sea battering at the B & I ship, while the drunks and the seasick threw up in the smelly lounges.
Even so, she had hidden herself in the claustrophobic cabin, afraid she might be recognized. She was difficult to disguise, being tall and strikingly blonde with a face that had appeared too often in newspapers and smart magazines. The charming wife of the youngest member of the Cabinet. Articles about her family life, the handsome Georgian house in Gloucestershire,
Homes and Gardens
, colour supplement,
profile material. All the pre-packaged nonsense of a plastic person, she said once, but that only made her husband angry. âIf you hate it all so much, why don't you go back to the bogs?' was his retort. The bogs; that was how he dismissed Ireland. He'd said it once too often, and this time she'd taken him at his word. Slowly the line of cars inched towards the Customs sheds. She drove into the green section. She had nothing to declare. She was waved on by a sharp-eyed young officer, who boasted he could smell a smuggler from fifty yards away. She hadn't realized until she was bumping along the road away from the dock that she'd been shaking like an aspen leaf. There had been no time for a cup of coffee and she'd eaten nothing the night before, going straight to her cabin. She felt weak and her head ached. No cigarettes either: early-open cafÃ©s tempted her going through Dublin, but she resisted. The Irish are the most inquisitive race in the world. Every head would turn if a woman walked into one of those male preserves. She couldn't risk that.
The roads were empty in the grey light, and she jumped traffic lights, making smart time. As she turned on to the dual carriageway that ended only a few miles beyond Naas, the rain spat against the windscreen. She fumbled, looking for the windscreen wipers in the unfamiliar car. The little arms flashed back and forth against the glass, fighting the lashing water.
âThat's Our Lady weeping for your sins, Miss Claire, their cook used to say when the heavens opened. So many tears, she thought, and so many sins to be washed away. And so much blood. Centuries of blood-letting; at times the rivers of Ireland ran tainted water that the cattle wouldn't drink. It was so dark she switched on her car lights. âGod,' her husband said, whenever she'd brought him home before her father died, âwhat a bloody awful climate â¦' He never noticed the brilliant sunny days, hot as the Mediterranean, when the sky was vivid blue, and the air as sweet as wine.
She saw the signpost, white on green, pointing to the turn off, opposite Kill. How many times she had felt a lift of excitement when she saw that sign and knew that Riverstown was only ten minutes away. Coming back from school in England, being met at the airport, hoping to find Francis the other side of the door into the main building. Running to hug him without being in the least self-conscious. He was her brother, and she loved him best in the world after her own parents. And next came the wonderful, handsome, shabby old house where they had grown up together. Less than a mile now, down the twisty road past Straffan.
The storm had spent itself, and a thin sun was showing through. She stopped the whirring wipers, wound the window down and smelt greedily the scent of grass and overgrown hedgerows that nobody bothered to trim. There at the end of the road was the turning to their gates. There was a signpost saying âClane', and its other arm said âNaas' in faded lettering. The local children loved to turn them round. Nothing had changed in the last three years. The visitor would still travel miles in the wrong direction.
From the gates ahead, she had left for her wedding in the big Church of Ireland church in Naas. Miss Claire Arbuthnot, shrouded in her English mother's family lace, with pearls shining like drops of new milk round her neck. Claire had heard the Irish maids talking in the kitchen, âPearls are tears â¦ God love her, she shouldn't be wearin' those on her weddin' day â¦'
Her half-brother had said, âWhy do you have to wear his bloody family jewellery â¦'
âBecause it's my wedding present and I'm not a superstitious idiot like you.' And then, because she couldn't bear to quarrel with him the night before she left for a new life, she said, âI'm wearing your mother's brooch, Fran. It's my something blue.' He'd looked ashamed then, and mumbled about being sorry. On the morning she saw him standing in the body of the church, dark as a gypsy in his morning suit. The little brooch with its sapphire heart was pinned to the silk bow of her dress. She gave him a special smile as she passed by on their father's arm. But the girls' whispering had been right. She still had the pearls, but there had been many tears since she first wore them.
She didn't turn into the gates, although they were open. Her mother always got up early and exercised her dogs before breakfast. Claire drove past, bearing left down a small side road, following the curve of the grey stone wall that surrounded Riverstown.
Billy's cottage was set back off the road, behind a neat little hedge. He had kept lurchers when they were children, and used to take Francis lamping for rabbits. She had been furious that he wouldn't take her too. It wasn't fit for a young girl, he'd explained in his thick brogue, and her half-brother had grinned and mocked her behind his back. The dogs' descendants were still with him, though rheumatism made it difficult for him to go scrambling over the fields at night with the powerful torch to blind the rabbits. They began to bark as she walked the few yards to his front door. There was no bell. She knocked. She saw a lift in the lace curtain and wondered whether Billy had his woman with him. Everyone knew about Billy's woman, but he kept her hidden and it was supposed she must be married. The door opened and he stood there, staring at her, a squat little old man in shirt-sleeves and braces, a cap set on his head. He was never seen without it, except at Mass. He hated showing his bald head. For a moment he stared, and then his face broke up into a huge smile. âJaysus, it's yerself! Will ye come in?'
Sitting in his kitchen, with a cup of tea and a begged cigarette, she didn't try to pretend when he said, âWhat's wrong wit' ye, Claire?' He'd been there to pick her up when she fell off her first pony; he'd taught her to fish and to know about dogs, and whatever mischief she and Francis got up to, he never told a tale. He was, as her mother had said for twenty years, the laziest codder God ever put breath into, but Claire loved him, and he loved her as if she were his own. She looked him in the eye, and saw him turn and blink. There was tinker blood in him, so her father said. Tinkers always shifted away if you held their gaze.
âI've come to help Frankie,' she said. Fear shuttered his face. Now he wouldn't look near her.
âSure there's no helping him,' he muttered. He went to the stove and lifted the lid off the teapot to distract himself. âPay no thought to him,' he muttered. âNot God himself could do anything for him.'
âBilly,' she said quietly, âhe's my brother.'
âOnly the half of him,' the old man said. He poured more tea into her cup, fumbled with the bottle of milk and dropped the tin-foil top. âIt's the other half that's been the death of him.'
She exclaimed in anguish, and he couldn't keep his head turned from her. âDead! You mean they've found him?'
âNo, no, no â¦ not yet so, but they're lookin'. He's no time left at all. Have you been up to the house yet?'
âNo, and you're not going to tell Mother I'm here.'
âAnd how would I, seein' she's away?'
Claire said, âWhere's she gone?'
He frowned, sucking at his lower lip. âOff to stay wit' auld missus Keys down in Cork. You're to bolt and bar the house up, she says to me. He'll not hide himself at Riverstown.' He slid a sly look at Claire when he said that. He had always hated Mrs Arbuthnot. He rubbed his stubby nose. âI padlocked them gates after herself drove away,' he muttered.
Claire said, âThey were open, that's why I thought she was at home.'
âI'd better go up and take a look,' he mumbled again, but he didn't move.
After a long pause, Claire said, âWould it be the Gardai who opened them â¦?' Knowing that the Irish police would have come to Billy for the key.
He was already frightened, and the question irritated him. âJaysus, if it's the others in there, waitin' for him â¦'
Claire touched his arm. He was old and she could see the empty teacup was trembling in his hand. âIt's not them,' she said. âThey'd know Frankie wouldn't come home. It could be the Special Branch waiting for me.'
He let out a deep breath. âYou? Oh, Mother o' God, what have ye to do wit' any of this?'
âI told you, I've come to try and find him,' she answered. âI didn't tell anyone, not my husband, no one. I just got on the ferry. But my husband will guess. He'll guess I've come back and why. He'll tell the authorities in Dublin.'