Authors: Santa Montefiore
Also by Santa Montefiore
The Summer House
The House By The Sea
The Italian Matchmaker
The French Gardener
Sea of Lost Love
The Gypsy Madonna
Last Voyage of the Valentina
The Swallow and the Hummingbird
The Forget-Me-Not Sonata
The Butterfly Box
Meet Me Under the Ombu Tree
First published in Great Britain by Simon & Schuster UK Ltd, 2013
A CBS COMPANY
Copyright © Santa Montefiore, 2013
This book is copyright under the Berne Convention.
No reproduction without permission.
® and © 1997 Simon & Schuster Inc. All rights reserved.
The right of Santa Montefiore to be identified as author of this work has been asserted by her in accordance with sections 77 and 78 of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act,
Simon & Schuster UK Ltd
222 Gray’s Inn Road
London WC1X 8HB
Simon & Schuster Australia, Sydney
Simon & Schuster India, New Delhi
A CIP catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library
Hardback ISBN 978-1-47110-095-6
Trade Paperback ISBN 978-1-47110-096-3
Ebook ISBN 978-1-47110-098-7
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either a product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to
actual people, living or dead, events or locales, is entirely coincidental.
Typeset by M Rules
Printed and bound by CPI Group (UK) Ltd, Croydon, CR0 4YY
Miguel Pando and
Not gone, just out of sight,
and always in my heart
It is autumn and yet it feels more like summer. The sun is bright and warm, the sky a translucent, flawless blue. Ringed plovers and little terns cavort on the sand and bees
search for nectar in the purple bell heather, for the frosts are yet to come and the rays are still hot on their backs. Hares seek cover in the long grasses, and butterflies, hatched in the
unseasonal weather, flutter about the gorse in search of food. Only the shadows are longer now and the nights close in early, damp and cold and dark.
I stand on the cliff and gaze out across the ocean to the end of the earth, where the water dissolves into the sky and eternity is veiled in a mysterious blue mist. The breeze is as soft as a
whisper and there is something timeless about the way it blows, as if it is the very breath of God calling me home. I can see the sweeping Connemara coastline to my left and right. The deserted
beaches, the soft velvet fields dotted with sheep, the rugged rocks where the land crumbles into the sea. I look ahead to Carnbrey Island, the small mound of earth and rock that sits about half a
mile out, like an abandoned pirate ship from long ago. The old lighthouse is charred from the fire that gutted it, leaving a forlorn white shell where once it stood proud and strong, guiding
sailors safely back to land. Only seagulls venture there these days to pick at the remains of unfortunate crabs and shrimps trapped in rock pools, and to perch on the fragile skeleton of burnt
timber that creaks and moans eerily in the wind. To me it’s romantic in its desolation and I remain transfixed, remembering wistfully the first time I rowed out to explore soon after we were
married. It was a ruin even then, but just as I had hoped the lighthouse possessed a surprising warmth, like a children’s playhouse that still resonates with the laughter of their games long
after the children have packed up and gone. I remained captive in fantasy, oblivious as the wind picked up about me and the sea grew rough and perilous. When the skies darkened and I decided to row
back to shore, I found myself stranded like a shipwrecked sailor. But shipwrecked sailors don’t have heroic husbands to rescue them in gleaming speedboats, as I had. I remember Conor’s
furious face and the fear in his eyes. I still feel the frisson of excitement his concern gave me, even now. ‘I told you never to row out here on your own,’ he growled, but his voice
had a break in it that pulled at my heart. I pressed my lips to his and tasted the sweet flavour of his love. The lighthouse never lost its allure and, to my cost, I never lost my fascination for
that lonely and romantic place. It resonated with the lonely and romantic person that I was.
Now it beckons me across the waves with a light that only I can see and I’m almost sure that I can make out the figure of a child in white, running up the grass with outstretched arms; but
then I’ve always had a fanciful imagination. It could just be a large seagull, swooping low.
I turn suddenly, my attention diverted by the people now arriving at the grey stone chapel behind me. It is a short walk up the hill from the car park and I watch with curiosity the mourners
dressed in black, making their way up the path like a solemn line of moorhens. Our home is situated outside the village of Ballymaldoon, which boasts a much bigger church. But there is something
special about this weather-worn little chapel, surrounded by ancient gravestones and shrouded in myth, which has always enthralled me. Legend says that it was built in the fourteenth century by a
young sailor for his deceased wife, so that she could keep watch over him while he went to sea, but the headstones have all been eroded by the elements so that it’s impossible to read what
was once carved into them. I like to think that the gravestone at the far end, closest to the sea, is the one that contains the remains of the sailor’s wife. Of course she’s not in
there and never was: just her bones, discarded along with the clothes she no longer needed. But it’s a sweet story and I’ve often wondered what happened to the disconsolate sailor. He
must have loved her very dearly to build an entire church in her memory. Will Conor build a church for me?
The chapel fills with people but I keep my distance. I see my mother, pinched and weary like a scrawny black hen, beneath a wide black hat embellished with ostrich feathers – much too
ostentatious for this small funeral, but she has always tried to look grander than she is – and my father who walks beside her, tall and dignified in an appropriate black suit. He is only
sixty-five but regret has turned his hair white and caused him to stoop slightly, making him look older. They have travelled up from Galway. The last time they made this journey was the year Conor
and I married, but that time they were pleased to be getting rid of me. None of my six sisters have come. But I am not surprised: I was always the black sheep and it is too late now to make
My parents disappear into the chapel to take their places among the congregation of locals and I wonder whether they feel shame in the glare of the people’s love: for I am loved here. Even
the one man I was sure would not attend is sitting quietly in his pew, hiding his secret behind a mask of stone. Tentatively, I step closer. The music draws me right up to the door as if it has
arms that reach out and embrace me. It is an old Irish ballad I know well, for it is Conor’s favourite: ‘When Irish eyes are smiling’. And I smile sadly at the memory of those
helicopter journeys from Dublin to Connemara when we’d all sing it loudly together over the rumble of the propellers, our two small children with their big earphones on their heads, trying to
join in but unable to get their tongues around the words.
Just then, as I seek refuge in the past, I am wrenched back into the present where the tall, shaggy-haired figure of my husband is making his way up the path. Three-year-old Finbar and
five-year-old Ida hold his hands tightly, their small feet stumbling occasionally as they struggle to keep up with his long strides. His dark eyes are fixed on the chapel, his long, handsome face
set into a grimace as if he is already fighting the accusations muttered against him behind hands and pews. The children look bewildered. They don’t understand. How could they?
Then Finbar notices a black-backed gull on the path ahead and suddenly drops his father’s hand to chase it. The little boy flaps his arms and makes a whooshing noise to scare it away, but
the bird just hops casually over the grass, careful to maintain a safe distance. Ida says something to her father, but Conor doesn’t hear. He just keeps his eyes focused on the chapel in
front. For a moment I think he sees me. He is looking directly at me. My heart gives a little leap. With every fibre of my being I want to run to him. I want him to enfold me in his arms like he
always used to. I long for his touch as life longs for love. But his expression doesn’t change and I retreat back into the shadows. He sees only bricks and stone and his own desolation.
The desire to gather my children against my breast propels me into hell and I realize then what hell is. Not a land of fire and torture in the centre of the planet, but a land of fire and
torture in the centre of one’s soul. My longing is constant and unbearable. I am unable to kiss their sweet brows and brush my lips against their skin and whisper my love into their ears. I
am certain their little hearts would be lifted to know that I am close. And yet, I cannot. I am imprisoned here and can only watch helplessly as they walk on past me into the chapel, followed by
the coffin and its six solemn bearers. The coffin, which contains within its oak walls the greatest lie.
I remain outside a while longer. Singing resounds from inside the chapel. The scent of lilies is carried on the breeze. I can hear the shrill voice of Conor’s eccentric mother, Daphne, who
sings louder than everyone else, but I don’t feel a mocking sense of amusement as I usually would: only a rising fury, boiling up from the bottom of my belly because she is there to pick up
the pieces and nurse her son’s broken heart, not I. I think of Finbar and Ida and the coffin that rests in front of them, and wonder what they are feeling as they face death for the first
time in their young lives.
I have to find a way to tell them. There must be
I can do to tell them the truth.
I gather my courage like a warrior gathering arms. I never dreamed this would be so hard. I thought, at this point, everything would be so much easier. But I have brought it upon myself so I
will bear the pain bravely. It is my choice to be here, after all.
But now I am afraid. I step silently into the chapel. The singing has stopped. Father Michael takes to the pulpit and speaks in a doleful monotone and I believe that he is truly sad and not just
pretending. The congregation is still and attentive. I am distracted a moment by the enormous displays of tall-stemmed lilies on either side of the altar, like beautiful white trumpets lifting
their muted lips to heaven. They vibrate with a higher energy that draws me to them and I have to muster all my will to resist their pull. I am like a thread of smoke being drawn to an open window.
I focus on my intent and tread noiselessly over the stone floor towards the coffin. It is bathed in a pool of sunlight that streams in through the dusty windows, like spotlights on a stage. I was
never the famous actress I once yearned to be. But my moment of glory has come at last. Everyone’s eyes are upon me. I am where I have longed to be all my life. I should revel in their
devotion but I feel nothing but frustration and despair – and regret, it is true: I feel a terrible regret. For it is too late.