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The Selkie's Song

Dedication

For Doug, who never blinks an eye no matter what stray critter I bring home.

Acknowledgments

 

Thanks are due to John and Frances Watts of Cornwall for their patience in answering my many questions. I am indebted to my beta-reader and number one fan, Catherine Heer for her advice and comments. This book is better for their involvement and I am most grateful to them.

Chapter One

 

 

Arabella Angarrick’s hair whipped in the wind as her black Fell pony careened along the grassy track. Behind her, Sarie’s pony pounded over the soft turf as the gelding fought to catch up with Raven. Her laugh was torn from her mouth and flung back at her best friend on the wild wind that scoured the rocky cliffs above the thundering sea to her left. Sarie shouted something Arabella couldn’t hear over the booming surf. Raven stretched out her neck and grabbed at the bit, obviously enjoying having her head. The savage waves of the Atlantic Ocean crashed on the rocky shore far below the headland where the girls raced. The force flung huge spumes of white, lacy spray that hung in the turbulent air before falling back into the cove to start a new assault. Arabella gloried in the freedom of the afternoon; the harder the wind shrieked, the wilder and more reckless she felt. It was so good not have to worry about who was watching and what they would say to Da about what she was doing, or not doing.

Out here on the moor there was only her, Sarie, and the horses. The dark clouds overhead scudded and gathered against each other as cold rain lashed her face. The wind pressed more moisture from the dark grey ceiling of the sky. Arabella reluctantly straightened in the saddle and pulled Raven back to a trot, and then a walk. The black mare dropped her head and blew gustily to clear the moisture from her nostrils. With a thundering rush, Sarie and Tristan caught up with them and the two girls smiled at each other in shared appreciation of the afternoon.

Bella pulled the hood of her riding coat over her head while Sarie did the same. She let her pony amble along beside Tristan, oblivious to the blustery weather. Rain and wind in March in the southwest corner of Cornwall was more the rule than the exception. They turned off the track near Carn Du and headed inland, passing near an old standing stone. Bella knew most of the menhirs and stone circles in the area. Whenever she could be free of the chores her father set her, Bella spent the time riding the familiar bridleways of the Penwith Peninsula, ranging far and wide from her home in Penzance. She often rode out toward Longrock to meet Sarie. There were more ancient stone circles and monuments in Cornwall than anywhere else in Britain. They fascinated Bella, standing enigmatically in out of the way places on the moor. She spared a moment to contemplate what possible use they might once have had. Sarie led the way onto a narrow hedge bound lane that angled toward Penzance.

“Sarie, if the weather clears, let’s take a picnic up to Lanyan Quoit tomorrow.” Bella loved to sit under the canopy of Lanyon Quoit on soft summer evenings when the mist from the moors rose up to embrace the underside of the thick rain clouds overhead. It would be a might chillier at this time of year, but still worth the ride.

She sighed in contentment, the discomfort of her cold hands and chapped face more than worth the exhilaration of racing along the pathway hugging the rugged coastline. The wind was always fresh coming up the cliffs and valleys, making its first landfall since leaving the Americas far to the west across the vast ocean. She loved it even on days like this when the wind cut through her clothes like a rapier and the rain sluiced down from overhead, driven against the mists fighting to rise against it from the soft wet earth.

The rain continued to fall as they turned the corner leaving Lamorna Cove and the deep rift of Lamorna Valley behind them. Raven and Tristan dropped their heads and carefully picked their way through the mud that had formed on the path since they rode south earlier in the morning. Water ran in heavy rivulets down the thick strands of the full black manes of the ponies. It formed huge crystal drops on the ends of their forelocks before falling unto their broad black noses. The roar of the wind and the rustle of their hoods made talking difficult so Bella rode quietly, lost in her thoughts. She was tired; they had been out all day in the inclement weather. But it was a good tired, her body was wore out with riding and climbing rocks. Her mind distracted from the problems of everyday, now filled with calm, despite the storm raging around them.

London. How was she going to get there? Bella dreamed of being a nurse and training at the King’s College Teaching Hospital at Denmark Hill. She’d inquired about all the teaching hospitals in London and decided King’s College would fit her to a tee. Bella heaved a sigh. Her da didn’t see the sense in sending his daughter all the way to London just so she could empty bedpans for the Londoners when she could just as well work at the Royal Cornwall at Truro. What was wrong with Cornish hospitals, he’d roared at her. No matter how she tried to explain to him that it would be so much better if she could train in London, Da just didn’t understand. London. Bella’s eyes sparkled as she looked down through Raven’s ears, seeing not the muddy coastal path in front of her but the flash and excitement of Trafalgar Square and Piccadilly Circus. When her mum was still living with her da, she used to take Bella up to London every year at Christmas time. The long ride on the train and the treat of eating in a pub and then having gloriously greasy fish and chips wrapped in newspaper to devour on the ride home the next day had been the best part of the year for Bella. The city shone with Christmas lights and gaudy finery. The last year before Mum left, they went to see The Nutcracker performed by the Royal Ballet. It was the most magical thing Bella had ever seen. The theatre was filled with people in the most fabulous outfits. The hats of the ladies adorned with feathers and flowers, some with holly in keeping with the season. Dresses of sumptuous velvet and satin that Bella’s fingers itched to stroke. Their seats had been high up in the balconies and it was hard to see. The world was reduced to the little pool of light and magic on the stage where the story of the Nutcracker unfolded before her eyes. Bella promised herself as she lay in bed that night, too excited to sleep, one day she would live in London and save her money so she could see The Nutcracker every year. And who knew, maybe Swan Lake as well if she was very lucky. But then Mum walked out the door and never looked back.

Bella planned and schemed all through school. There were only so many professions open to a woman. She could be a teacher, a nurse, a nanny, or failing that, her only course would be to marry one of the local boys and start raising a family. Depending on the pilchards and the whims of the ocean.

Bella did not want to be a teacher, or a nanny. But nursing, nursing would be wonderful. She pictured herself walking confidently into a patient’s room. Her hair perfectly coifed beneath her neat starched white hat, a dainty watch pinned to her lapel, her uniform all crisp and pristine. She would smile and the patient would feel immediately better, knowing he was in the care of such a competent nurse. Elaine Kerris, one of the local girls a few years older than Bella, was already training at King’s College. Elaine was full of stories when she came home for holiday about the posh London nightclubs and plays she had seen at the Royal Albert Hall. There was a lot of whispering about the cute interns and the handsome doctors Elaine worked with. She seemed to be having dinner with one or the other almost every weekend. Da said Elaine was full of wind and just putting on airs. No daughter of his was going to London to play the harlot with any Harley Street doctor, rich or no. Sometimes Bella wished Elaine would just shut her trap about the handsome doctors and tell stories about the heroic way she saved some poor blighter’s life. Life, Bella decided, was very unfair.

The sound of macadam under Raven’s hooves startled her. They were entering the outskirts of Mousehole. The little fishing village was hunkered down in the mist which wrapped around the picturesque harbour where the boats bobbed at their moorings or bumped up against the quay.

“Do you want to see if we can put the ponies up at Sam’s and get a ride home?” Sarie’s voice came out of the misty rain behind Bella.

“Ever so much! But I can’t. Da is expecting me home and he’ll never let it rest if I’m late again,” Bella said reluctantly.

“Well we’re almost home anyway,” Sarie said. Although she would have liked nothing better than to knock on Sam Pritchard’s door and enjoy a hot cup of tea by his fire. The ponies all tucked up safe in his stable.

They continued out of Mousehole, past the lifeguard station at Penlee Point and into Newlyn. The rain didn’t slacken in the least and the wind grew colder. Bella wondered what time it was, there was no sun for her to take a guess with and her watch was broken. It couldn’t be more than three o’clock, she reckoned. It had been just past twelve thirty when they turned for home. The rain soaked through her riding coat and her fingers were numb on the reins. She supposed it was a good thing Raven had her fill of galloping up on the cliffs. She could be a right pain once she knew was heading for home. Bella had been seen flying through the streets clinging to Raven’s broad back more than once when the headstrong pony decided her dinner couldn’t wait one second longer. Her da tore a strip off Bella’s hide every time, too. Like she wanted to charge through the market square! But once Raven got the bit in her teeth there was no reasoning with her, it was home by the quickest way and damn the torpedoes. Bella couldn’t tell her da that though or he would sell Raven out from under her so fast it would make her head spin. Finally! They were clattering through the narrow cobble streets of Penzance.

“Do you want to stay over and ride home in the morning, Sarie?” Bella asked.

Sarie lived further on, out toward Marazion. Her mum’s holding was just north of Longrock about halfway between Penzance and Marazion.

“If your da won’t be put out,” Sarie said curtly.

“As long as I have his tea on the table by the time he gets home he won’t have much to say,” Bella said wearily as all the problems and pressures of everyday life in her father’s house fell back on her shoulders like a physical weight.

“Whyn’t I take the ponies and put them up then. You can start tea for your da and be ahead of the game,” Sarie suggested.

The ponies turned willingly into the yard behind Bella’s house. There was a low stone stable with three loose boxes and a feed room against the far side of the yard. Bella slid down from Raven’s back and gave her the lump of molasses candy that she kept in her pocket. Raven lipped it from her hand and butted Bella gently with her nose. Bella gratefully handed her reins to Sarie and ducked in the door to the warm kitchen. Sarie led the ponies across the rain-slick yard and opened the door to Raven’s box. She threw the reins over her head and slapped the pony on the butt as she went by. She led Tristan into the box next to Raven and quickly stripped his tack off him and threw a rug over him to keep out the chill. Next she performed the same tasks for Raven. Soon, the ponies were enjoying their dinner as Sarie rubbed them dry and quartered them for the night. When she could find no other excuse to stay out in the stable yard, Sarie sighed and slopped across the wet yard to the back door. The windows of the kitchen were misted from the heat and the scene inside had an unreal quality to it. Sarie watched as Bella laid the table for tea and took Da’s wet coat to hang by the fire to dry. She shook her head and pushed the door open to the mud room which was just off the kitchen. The sound of the rain covered her entrance and through the half open door Sarie could hear Bella’s da’s voice.

“Ya look like a drowned rat, daughter. What have you and that young guttersnipe Sarie been up to today?” Barney Angarrick’s voice was rough from shouting over the roar of the sea all day.

“Nothin’ much, Da.” Bella didn’t look at her father as she spoke.

Deftly she turned the rashers of bacon in one pan as she flipped the potatoes frying in the other one. Her mass of dark blonde hair fell forward across one shoulder as she worked.

“Don’t lie to me, girl!” Barney growled. “You’ve been riding all over the Hundred of Penwith from what I hear. Wastin’ time you should be using to better advantage.”

Sarie winced at the screech as Barney pulled the chair closer and sat down at the table. She hesitated in the darkness of the mudroom just outside of the slice of light that came in from the kitchen. If Barney was in one of his moods, Sarie would just as soon saddle Tristan again and ride home in the rain. She’d just decided that it might be the better part of valor to just cut her losses and go and fetch Tristan. Bella, with her uncanny knack of knowing things she couldn’t see, looked up toward the mudroom door at just that instant.

“Sarie, there you are!” Bella said with a brittle brightness in her voice. “Thanks for putting Raven away for me. C’mon, tea’s on the table.”

“Evening, Mr. Angarrick.” Sarie walked reluctantly into the warm kitchen and slid into the vacant chair nearest the fire.

Barney acknowledged Sarie’s greeting with a nod and a grunt before he set about making short work of the tea Bella put on the table. The kettle on the stove was whistling as they finished eating. Sarie helped Bella clear the table and carried the big brown pottery teapot over to the table, setting it down at Barney’s left elbow. Barney never raised his head from the racing form he was engrossed in. Without lifting his eyes he reached out and poured himself a third of a cup of milk and then filled the rest with tea. Sarie and Bella washed up in silence. Bella looked pointedly at her Da and rolled her eyes at Sarie. Sarie grinned silently in return. Presently, Barney folded up his paper and rose, stretching his brawny arms over his head.

“Well, I’m off up to the Arms for some gargle,” Barney said to no one in particular, referring to the local pub.

The man pulled his rough cloth cap onto his thick head of hair and shrugged into his waterproof coat as he clumped across the floor into the mudroom to fetch his boots.

“Not a fit night for man nor beast,” Barney remarked as he stepped out into the windy night.

Bella waited until she was sure her Da had really left before she turned and grabbed Sarie’s hands in excitement.

“Look what came in today’s post!” Bella could hardly contain herself.

“What is it? For goodness sake, Bella, stop waving it around so I can see it!” Sarie said in exasperation.

“Here, here. Look, it’s brill, so it is. I can’t believe it.” Bella wrung her hands and danced in place as she handed the slightly crumpled envelope to her friend.

Sarie took it and pulled out the sheaf of papers, quickly scanning the top page of the neat script. When she reached the bottom, Sarie raised her head and looked at Bella in amazement.

“This is from the King’s College Hospital. It says that you’ve been accepted into the School of Nursing,” Sarie said quietly.

“I know, I know! Isn’t it bloody marvelous?” Bella grabbed Sarie around the waist and danced her around the kitchen.

Finally, Bella collapsed into a chair at the table laughing and out of breath. Sarie sat down opposite her and regarded her best friend’s flushed and happy face.

“When did you apply? You never told me,” Sarie accused Bella.

“I was a-scared to put the jinx on it. You know, by talking about it,” Bella said sheepishly.

“Well good for you, my gold. I know this is what you want,” Sarie said encouragingly.

“It is. I can’t wait to go up to London on the train and get off at Denmark Hill like some posh lady. I can ask for directions, all casual like, just so that someone will know that I’m accepted at King’s College.” Bella’s eyes were round and full of stars.

“You haven’t told your da yet, have you.” Sarie made the question a statement.

Bella shook her head. “You know I haven’t. He’d have been on me like a fly on horse manure in July.”

“You need to tell him soon. The letter says you have to be in London in just over a fortnight.” Sarie waved the letter at Bella.

“I know I do.” Bella paused. “I was thinking that I might just catch the train and leave Da a letter on the table. I could wait until his boat clears the harbour and catch the late train a day earlier than if I could catch the early one. He couldn’t stop me then.”

“You think he wouldn’t figure out where you went? And that old man Trevethy at the station wouldn’t tell him what the destination was on the ticket you bought?” Sarie was used to Bella proposing wild schemes without thinking them through.

“Well, he would eventually anyway. But once I’m there and I impress the Head Sister with what a good student I am, he won’t be able to make me come home. And Head Sister will praise me so much that Da will have to be proud of me,” Bella reasoned.

“Do ya have the money for the ticket?” Sarie asked.

When Bella was in full flight there was no talking her out of something she had set her heart on. No matter how impractical it might be. Far better, Sarie knew, to get her to see the problems on her own.

“Not yet. I have almost enough saved and I thought that I could maybe borrow the rest.” Bella looked hopefully at Sarie.

“You’re my best mate Bella, you know I’ll give you what I have. Have you worked out how you’ll pay for your books and living expenses?” Sarie tried again to get Bella to see the cold hard truths of going to London on her own.

“Joseph’s sister took nursing, and he said I can have her used books and pay for them when I have the money. I asked him about them before I applied.” Bella smiled triumphantly at Sarie.

“Okay then, you have books and money for a ticket. What about food?” Sarie asked.

“Don’t be such a wet blanket! I’ll figure something out,” Bella said airily. “They give breakfast and dinner at the Nurses’ Residence.”

Bella pushed her chair back from the table and picked up the dish rag from the sink. Wish brisk movements she wiped down the table and the counters. Sarie got up as well and banked the fire for the night. Barney wouldn’t be home until the night was well past half over, there was always a good game of darts to be had at the Arms on a rainy evening. Bella flicked the light switch off as she and Sarie left the kitchen. The hall outside the kitchen door was cold after the close warmth of the main room of the house. Bella and Sarie hurried down the narrow hall and climbed the steep stairs two at a time.

Once they were in Bella’s little bedroom at the back of the house, Bella quickly laid a fire in the grate and soon the cheery glow of the flames was chasing the shadows and the chill from the room. Sarie and Bella huddled under the covers leaning up against the headboard with the quilts pulled up to their chins.

“It’s so exciting. I have to pinch myself to make me believe that I actually got accepted.” Bella wrapped her arms tighter around her knees.

“I’m happy for you, that I am,” Sarie said slowly. “But London is a long ways from Penzance. I’m going to miss you like crazy.”

Bella hugged Sarie tight. “I’m going to miss you, too. But you can come up to London to visit on a weekend, and once Da cools down I can come home for holidays.”

“What about Raven? Will your da keep her or take her to the horse fair?” Sarie had a sudden thought. She knew that Bella loved that mare more than anything.

“I was hoping that you could take her to your place.” Bella made the statement a question. “Da won’t come and take her from there, he’s afraid of your mum.” Bella smiled as she said the last.

“I’ll have to ask Mum of course. I don’t think she’ll mind, as long as you don’t mind if she gets a foal out of Raven from our stud,” Sarie said.

“As long as you foal her out and make sure nothing goes wrong,” Bella said.

“You know I won’t leave her alone when it’s her time. I’ll sleep in her box if it comes to that,” Sarie promised.

“Can we talk to your mum tomorrow when you go home?” Bella needed all the pieces to fall into place to make her dream come true.

“Sure, can you get free to ride out with me then?” Sarie answered.

“Da will sleep late if he’s at the Arms till all hours, so I’ll be gone before he can stop me,” Bella said confidently. “The tide’s running so he won’t be able to put out of the harbour until later.”

Sarie straightened her legs and slid down into the soft warmth of the bed. Bella did the same and they snuggled together for warmth.

“We’d best get some sleep then, or we’ll be as late as your Da sleeping past cock crow.” Sarie smothered a yawn as she spoke.

“Night Sarie, and thanks.” Bella hugged Sarie tight. “I just know that everything will work out.”

Sarie didn’t answer Bella but lay awake long after her friend’s slow, even breathing told her that she was asleep. Sarie hoped Bella wasn’t riding for a fall; it was very hard to keep any kind of secret in such a small community. With any luck at all Barney wouldn’t hear about Bella’s plans before she could put them into action.

Dawn came with a blustery, watery light. The wind continued to gust wildly and a light rain still was falling. Sarie and Bella swung up into their saddles in the half light of the grey dawn. With one eye on the back door of the house in case Barney should suddenly appear, the girls splashed out of the yard and headed for the street that would take them out of Penzance and on to the Waters’ place. Sarie had hoped that the cold light of day would calm Bella’s excitement about London, but Bella seemed more determined than ever to make her dream come true. The ponies slogged along happily in the drizzle, they were Cornish born and bred and it took more than a little wind and rain to dim their spirits. Raven snatched at her bit and jogged along rather than walking, Tristan lengthened his stride to keep up with her but didn’t break out of his walk.

“Where did you leave your letter?” Sarie asked Bella over the whistle of the wind.

“I have it right here.” Bella patted her jacket pocket and smiled. “I want to show your mum.”

“She’ll be happy for you too,” Sarie assured Bella.

 

 

 

Chapter Two

 

 

Mrs. Waters was the closest thing to a mother Bella had while she was growing up. Bella’s mum had left when Bella was only seven. The small town life of Penzance wasn’t enough excitement for Lily Raginnis. She had married Barney Angarrick only because she had found herself in a most unsatisfactory position for a young unwed girl. There was never any great affection toward Barney on her part; Barney had adored her. Lily Raginnis was a beauty, the whole town agreed. She was a bit flighty but that was only to be expected from someone so lovely who had only to ask for something and her da would get it for her. She was just young and spirited, the folks of Penzance told each other over tea, and didn’t it do the heart good to see such a lovely child having a good time.

Lily had gone out with Barney on a lark, he was good-looking in an ordinary kind of way and not such a bad bloke to talk to if one had to. Lily wasn’t much on small talk, just enough to get what she wanted. Which was usually a couple of pints of bitters, or if she was lucky one of the boys in her crowd would get his hands on some rum. Lily didn’t consider herself fast, she just liked to have a good time, and if sometimes having a good time crossed the line of what her mum and dad would consider decent, well, they didn’t have to know now, did they? Lily turned seventeen the day she went out with Barney Angarrick for the first time. Her boyfriend, Paul, dumped her that day because she refused to give his friend Brian a bit of a kiss and a cuddle. Paul had been bragging to his mates about how he could get Lily to do anything he asked, it just took a little bit of rum, and there you were. Lily didn’t want to admit it, but if Brian hadn’t made the mistake of telling her what he wanted after only one shot of rum, she most likely would have gone along with the plan. As it was, Paul got all bent out of shape and accused her of making him look a right fool and broke it off right then and there.

So, there was Lily, the belle of Penzance, without a date for her seventeenth birthday celebration. Barney heard Paul and some of his mates talking out on the quay by the where the fishing boats came in. Barney had worshiped Lily from afar for years, since elementary school. Lily hardly knew that Barney was alive. Here was the chance Barney had been waiting for. He gathered up his courage and marched himself up to Lily’s parent’s house and rang the bell. He was still dressed in his work gear and smelled strongly of the sea with a very fishy undertone. Lily’s da was glad to see him, a good hardworking lad come to ask his Lily out instead of the fast crowd she usually ran with.

Lily came to the door and took one look at Barney’s hopeful face and agreed to go out with him to a dance over in St. Just. She took great pleasure in knowing that Paul would be there and would see her with Barney not twenty four hours after they broke up. Lily was not one to let grass grow under her feet. Barney couldn’t fathom his good fortune and hurried home to wash and change. He borrowed his da’s motor car and before he could think twice about it, Barney and Lily were headed off across the Penwith Peninsula to St. Just. Lily wasn’t very good at small talk Barney decided before they were half way there. Other than asking if Barney had managed to score any rum for the drive, Lily barely said a word. She powdered her nose constantly and fluffed her hair and re-applied her lipstick. The evening wasn’t going exactly as Barney had pictured it but he really didn’t mind. He couldn’t believe his good fortune to be taking Lily Raginnis to the dance. People would look at him differently now, more respectful like. If Lily Raginnis would go to the dance with Barney there must be more to the big slow-talking hardworking young man than met the eye. Oh yes, things were definitely looking up for Barney Angarrick.

As the night wore on Lily became more animated and made a point of leaning in close to Barney and resting her head on his shoulder. If her breath was rich with the sweet smell of rum, Barney didn’t bother to question where she had gotten the drink from. He just blessed his luck that it was his shoulder she was leaning into and his shirt that her small fingers kept finding their way inside. Lily kept one eye on Paul for most of the evening and made sure that Paul saw how friendly she was with Barney Angarrick. If she could have planned it, it couldn’t have been more perfect. When Barney showed up at her door that afternoon, cloth cap twisted in his big fisherman’s hands, asking her to out tonight, it was too perfect a way to show Paul that he didn’t own her. It would sting doubly she knew that it was Barney and not one of their own crowd that Lily had chosen to go with this evening. Some of the girls she chummed with had a stash of rum which they were more than willing to share in the girls’ cloakroom. Before too long, Lily had a pleasant buzz going. Barney was kind of cute in a bumbling kind of way and awfully sweet. Offering to walk her to the loo when she stumbled getting up from her chair and waiting patiently outside while she chatted with her friends and consumed more rum than was probably wise. Lily was past caring, she just felt so good. She blinked in the darkness of the dance floor as she left the bright light in the girls’ cloakroom. Barney appeared in front of her and offered Lily his arm. Lily giggled and poked her wet finger in Barney’s ear. She was totally unprepared for Barney’s reaction. He jumped liked she’d hit him with a cattle prod and then swept her into his arms and kissed her deeply, his tongue slipping between her lips. Lily gulped and tried to draw back, but her head kept spinning and then it just felt so good that she didn’t want to stop. Barney pulled back and rested his forehead against hers. The room stopped spinning around Lily and she clung tightly to Barney’s arm.

“Let’s get out of here,” Barney said huskily.

“Somewhere cooler,” Lily agreed.

The cool air outside made Lily feel much better and she began to giggle.

“I bet I can fly!” she told Barney and started to run and dance toward the car park.

“Lily, wait!” Barney hurried after her.

Lily twirled in circles by the car and then hopped up on the hood of Barney’s car and leaned back against the windscreen. She laughed breathlessly and watched the stars slowly revolve in crazy circles above her. Barney caught up with her, grabbed her hands and slid her down the bonnet of the car so that she was standing between the car and Barney, wedged between his legs. He caught her chin in his large rough hand and tipped her head back so he could capture her lips again. Lily knew she should stop him when Barney slid his hand under her sweater around her waist. She had let Paul get more familiar than he should a couple of times, but it had never gone very far. She must have drunk more rum than she thought. Lily let herself drift away on the alcohol-induced euphoria. Barney’s hands felt so good she didn’t want him to stop. Somehow, Lily found herself in the back of the car with his hands all over her. This was way beyond anything that she ever allowed Paul to do. She hiccupped and tried to find the words to tell Barney to stop. She lost track of the words as Barney’s lips trailed down her neck and the buttons on her blouse were suddenly gaping open under his hands. The roughness of his hands felt marvelous on her bare skin, Lily was past caring whether she should or shouldn’t. Somewhere in the back of her mind she knew she had drunk far too much rum. She was dimly aware of the fact Barney would stop if she asked him to. But somehow the words never made it out of her mouth and before she knew it Lily had done what her friends in the cloakroom only whispered about. Barney lay on top of her breathing heavily. Lily found it hard to breathe with his weight crushing her and the burning between her legs. Suddenly she felt very sick. Lily pushed at Barney and mumbled that she needed to get up. The idiot man took her fumbling to mean that she wanted to repeat the act and pressed his mouth down on hers. His hands once again taking the liberties that she had encouraged minutes earlier. His fingers pinched her breasts, sending thrills of pleasure through her belly, even while she gasped at the hot stab of pain each time he plunged into her. When Barney was finished, he pushed himself up off of Lily and fastened his trousers without looking at her. Lily pushed the door of the car open, flipped over on her stomach and hung her head out over the gravel of the car park. She emptied her stomach and kept on heaving. Barney held her hair back from her face and drew a car rug up over her naked shoulders. Finally, Lily pulled herself together, rearranged her clothes, and got into the front of the car. What in God’s name had she done? If the bloke bragged about what they’d done she’d be ruined. In the dim light that reached them from the dance hall Lily tried to repair her hair and make-up with trembling hands. She couldn’t go home looking like she’s just jumped in Mount’s Bay. Lily refused to look at Barney who sat quietly behind the wheel suddenly looking very unsure of himself.

“Take me home,” Lily ordered him when she had made herself look as good as possible considering the circumstance. She pressed her thighs together and willed her legs to stop shaking.

“What’s the matter, Lily? You wanted to do it, didn’t you? You never said to stop,” Barney said into the dead silence of the car.

Lily Raginnis sat ramrod straight in the passenger seat and said nothing.

Barney dropped Lily off without her saying another word to him. When she saw him in town she would cross the street and refuse to speak to him. Barney withdrew back into himself and outwardly no one would guess that his heart was breaking. He didn’t know what he had done wrong. Lily knew that none of it was Barney’s fault, but that didn’t mean she had to be nice to the big idiot. She was embarrassed that she had let things go so far and secretly was grateful that Barney wasn’t bragging about his conquest down at the Arms. Lily’s dreams of leaving Penzance for the hustle bustle of London where she planned to work in a typing pool and marry a rich business man came to an abrupt halt when her monthlies failed to come. Before she was showing and could become the target of gossip Lily became Mrs. Barney Angarrick. Barney was stunned, and secretly very pleased and happy. He was married to the woman he loved and she was carrying his child. Barney thought that his life was complete. That lasted only until the baby was born, then Lily had no time for the child and demanded Barney hire a nanny. Barney tried to explain that on a fisherman’s pay he couldn’t afford such a thing. Lily took to leaving the child with Barney’s mum and going up to London for the weekends and shopping with her girlfriends. Barney tried to understand and explain her absence.

When Bella was seven, Lily went to London for the weekend and never came home. The divorce was final in six months and Lily gave Barney uncontested full custody of Arabella. Barney tried the best he could to do right by the child and he did love her, but every time he looked at her, he saw Lily looking back at him from Bella’s eyes. Barney sometimes thought he was too hard on Arabella, but then he would remember how Lily used to gad about the village and her da with nothing to say about it.

Barney vowed that his Arabella would not follow in her mother’s footsteps. And now this nonsense about going to London. London! Again the woman, for Arabella was a young woman now, Barney had to admit to himself, was wanting to leave him behind and head off for the bright lights and noise of London. He might have been a fool once, but never again. Arabella was staying right here in Penzance and no amount of pleading on her part was going to change his mind. She could marry one of her mates from school and provide Barney with lovely grandchildren for him to spoil. Why just the other day wasn’t Daniel, Brian Treliving’s brother, saying what a handsome woman Arabella was becoming. Brian was a fine upstanding young man with a bright future; it stood to reason that his brother Daniel would be a good match for Barney’s Arabella.

 

 

* * *

 

 

Arabella was in the dark about her da’s plans for her future as she rode blithely along with Sarie clutching the letter from King’s College like a lifeline. In no time at all, Sarie and Bella were drinking tea with Sarie’s mum in her cozy kitchen. The infamous letter lay on the table in between them. Mrs. Waters regarded Bella with a worried expression on her face.

“Have you talked to Barney about this?” Mrs. Waters asked.

“You know I haven’t. You’d have heard him shouting from here if I had,” Bella said acerbically.

Mrs. Waters exchanged a quick look with Sarie who shrugged to indicate that she had already tried to talk Bella out of the wild scheme with no success.

“Have you talked to Matron about a place to stay?” Mrs. Waters inquired.

“She says I can stay in residence and work in the kitchen in my off hours to pay for my board,” Bella said enthusiastically.

“You can’t just go and leave your da without telling him first,” Mrs. Waters cautioned Bella.

“But I’m afraid he won’t never let me leave if I tell him first,” protested Bella.

“It would be very cruel of you to do that to him, after what your mum up and did to him years ago this month,” Mrs. Waters said sternly.

“What do you mean, what my mum did?” Bella demanded.

Sarie sighed and gave her mum a hard stare. Sarie knew the story of what had taken place between Bella’s parents, but she knew that Bella didn’t have a clue. The gossip had been all over the village and there were some who still talked about it come every August. Barney had managed to keep the truth from Bella’s ears so far.

“Lily left your da ten years ago this month. She said she was going up to London for the weekend, like she did most weekends, and she never came home,” Mrs. Waters told an astounded Bella.

“But she took me with her sometimes didn’t she? Da said she always wanted to take me and that he hadn’t let her that last time and that’s why she didn’t come home. She was that mad at him.” Bella spoke quickly.

“Your da loved your mum very much Bella, and he would never hear a bad word about her. No matter how she carried on. He never wanted you to know the truth. Truth is Lily Raginnis was never good enough for Barney Angarrick, although he could never see that,” Mrs. Waters said sadly.

“So you think that by me running off to London without telling him that he’ll think I’m just like my mum?” Bella asked.

“It would pain him greatly, although he would die before he admitted that to anyone,” Mrs. Waters agreed.

“I will think about telling him then. But I’m still going, he won’t stop me,” Bella promised.

Bella pushed back from the table and reached for her jacket. Sarie walked with her to the back door. Bella pulled on her jacket and gave Sarie a quick hug.

“I’ll talk to you tomorrow and let you know how things go,” Bella told her.

Outside the morning was well on toward noon and the sun was shining through the last of the mist. Bella put her foot in the stirrup and stepped up onto Raven’s back with the ease of long practice. Clucking to the black mare, Bella settled her jacket about her and picked up the reins as Raven started to head down the hedge-lined lane to the road. Bella let Raven pick her way along without paying much attention to where the mare was headed. She was lost in her thoughts. The quandary of whether to tell Da about King’s College before or after she left was foremost in her mind. Bella didn’t want to hurt him, but she did want very much to go and study at King’s College Hospital in London.

All the stuff Mrs. Waters said about Mum! Bella wondered if that was true at all, although why she would lie to her about something like that was beyond Bella’s reckoning. She had never known Mrs. Waters to lie, or to gossip about anything, for that matter. So maybe there was some truth to what she said. Bella wanted to ask Da but was afraid to. Barney Angarrick rarely spoke his wife’s name after she left him. If he had to refer to her it was ‘Arabella’s mother’ or ‘the ex’ that came out of his mouth. Arabella thought about Da’s reaction the few times she asked about her mum. He always avoided the question and looked very uncomfortable. Bella had finally quit asking when Mum was coming home. Truth be told, Bella hadn’t missed her hardly at all. Her mum was just someone who came and went in her young life without making much impact. Bella could barely remember her; just that she was very pretty and always dressed better than the mums of her friends. It was her Gramma Angarrick who had the hand in raising Bella. Bella had spent more time at her gramma’s than she had at home. Mum always seemed to have an important appointment, or meeting, or something that kept her away from her daughter. In fact, other than to dress her up and show her off when it suited her, Lily Raginnis Angarrick had little time for her baby as she went from pram to toddler to school age. And then Lily was gone, off to London, where she had always longed to be. No longer tied down by her big lug of a husband and her cute, but quite inconvenient, daughter. The child would be better off without a mother who didn’t really love her, Lily told Barney as she left for the last time.

Bella wasn’t paying attention to where Raven was going and the mare took a track that took them past Penzance and south toward Newlyn. When Bella thought to look where they were headed she was surprised to see that they were almost to Lamorna Cove. She knew she should turn around immediately and head for home, but she just didn’t feel like facing Da just then. He would be up and teazy as an adder after being up at the Arms till time was called. The wind came up from the cliffs and lifted Bella’s heavy hair from her face. She nudged Raven into a trot and continued on towards Lamorna Cove. Just as Raven trotted up the last bit of a rise to a point that overlooked the cove she stumbled and her gait became uneven. Bella immediately jumped down from her back, before the mare was even stopped. Leaning down, Bella ran her hand down the mare’s left foreleg. The tendons felt fine, tight and hard. Bella breathed a sigh of relief. At least Raven hadn’t blown a tendon. She lifted the big black hoof and probed the recesses of the frog with a hoof pick that she pulled out of her back pocket. There was a largish chunk of grey granite wedged tightly into the cleft of the frog. Bella tried every angle she could with the hoof pick but couldn’t budge the stubborn stone. Well, this was just great, wasn’t it just? Way down by Lamorna Cove, and nobody knew where she was, and no way to get Raven home without really injuring her by making her walk on the sore hoof. Grunting, Bella lifted Raven’s hoof again. The mare reached down and rested her big muzzle on Bella’s head.

“That’s not helping, Raven!” Bella said testily.

Her arms were tired from wrestling with the hoof pick and she had a big scrape up the knuckle of her thumb where the pick had slipped. Swearing in frustration, Bella put Raven’s hoof back down and sat on a nearby rock to rest. The wind had picked up considerably, and unless Bella was wrong, it was blowing in more rain. She hitched the hood of her jacket up over her head and considered what to do. She nearly jumped out of her skin when a man spoke right by her left shoulder. Even more surprising, was the fact that Raven never even gave any notice that he was there.

“Are you having trouble, miss?” the stranger asked.

Bella scrambled to her feet and moved closer to Raven. She knew she could vault unto Raven’s back in an instant, and even lame, Raven was quicker than a man on foot.

“In a way,” Bella said warily.

The man wasn’t familiar at all, which meant he couldn’t be from these parts. Bella knew most of the folks from hereabouts, although, she owned, she didn’t know them all. So maybe he was okay, but then again maybe he was a smuggler. There was still some smuggling in this part of the ...

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