Priddy Cottage still looked deserted, the curtains were half drawn and there were no lights on inside even though it was a murky day.
‘It doesn’t look like she’s here does it?’ murmured Kitty still sniffing slightly, she balled the tissue up in her hand and shoved it into her pocket.
Gordon gave a few sharp raps on the door but there was no answer. He stared up and down the street, and then glanced across at the car park in front of the hall.
‘Where are you going to wait? There’s a bench over there by the village hall,’ he suggested.
Kitty looked across at the street. ‘No I think I’ll sit in the church for a while,’ she glanced about the village. ‘It’s so quiet; I think I would be happier waiting in there.’
‘Okay if you’re sure,’ Gordon handed Kitty Nero’s lead and gave her a hug. ‘Well, keep the dog with you and I’ll be as quick as I can,’ he reassured her and started to jog back up the street heading back to the cottage.
‘Be careful Gordon,’ she called after him.
He waved a hand in response and hurried off.
Kitty led the dog past the row of cottages to the main gate of the church, she lingered for a while reading the names on the war memorial and then climbed the steps up to the gate and followed the path along the side of the church to the entrance.
The porch was dark and cool, the various notices pinned to the board fluttering in the sharp breeze that swirled around the small space. Kitty shivered in her thin jumper and tentatively tried the door. The latch clicked and the heavy door swung open, Kitty walked in slowly, her footsteps echoing around the church.
There was an elderly woman stood near the pulpit arranging flowers in one of the vases. She looked around when she heard Kitty enter and smiled briefly then recognition flickered in her face and the smile became more welcoming.
‘Hello, come in and have a look round. Is this your first visit to the church?’
‘Yes, we haven’t been here long.’
‘Oh I know who you are; you’re from the new house at Castle Farm. Is your husband coming in?’ she added looking at the door.
‘No he’s just gone to get the car.’
The woman suddenly noticed Nero who was tucked in behind Kitty’s legs.
‘We don’t allow dogs in the church, dear.’
‘Oh I’m sorry,’ she apologised and turned to the door pulling Nero behind her.
The woman hesitated and called after her ‘Don’t worry, just this once won’t matter, after all they are God’s creatures as well.’ She turned back to the flowers and carefully adjusted a few blooms. ‘Do you like flower arranging Kitty?’ She looked at Kitty’s surprised face ‘I’ve heard all about you from Sybil.’
‘I see,’ said Kitty ‘Do you know where Sybil is? We need to see her about something.’
The woman snipped off a few dead leaves and inserted a spray of chrysanthemums into the vase. ‘There, what do you think?’
‘It looks lovely.’
‘Thank you,’ she looked pleased at the compliment and glanced around at Kitty.
‘Sybil is staying with her daughter at the moment. I think she is planning to come home tomorrow, that’s what she told me anyway.’
‘Tomorrow?’ said Kitty flatly.
‘Yes. Are you okay dear? You look very pale.’
‘I’m not feeling too good at the moment,’ Kitty slumped in one of the pews and distractedly pulled at Nero’s ears. ‘I needed to ask Sybil something.’
‘Oh?’ she inquired. ‘Is it anything I can help with?’
‘Well she knows so much about the village and we need to ask her about a little girl who used to live here.’
‘Really, what little girl is that?’ she asked looking curiously at Kitty.
‘Do you know of her? Her name was Ava.’
‘Ava? No that doesn’t ring a bell I’m afraid. Where does she live?’
‘No, it was some time ago, that’s why we wanted Sybil, she knows everybody.’
‘She certainly does,’ she smiled and swept up the stray twigs and stems into a plastic bag.
‘There all finished, would you be interested in helping with the flowers? We’re always looking for volunteers.’
Kitty shook her head distractedly. ‘No, I don’t think so not at the moment.’
‘Well if you change your mind just mention it to Sybil.’
She picked up the coat that was slung over a nearby pew and put it on.
‘Quite a nip in the air this morning, I think the nights will be drawing in soon, still can’t complain it’s been a good summer,’ she said comfortably and wrapped a scarf around her neck, she paused looking at Kitty. ‘Our harvest festival is next week; perhaps you’d like to help with that.’
‘Yes, that would be nice,’ Kitty roused herself to appear interested. ‘I’m sure I could help with something.’
The elderly woman picked up her bags and started to walk down the aisle to the door.
‘Is there a vicar in the village?’ Kitty suddenly called after her.
‘A vicar? No dear we have to share one with Axminster and Kilmington. We haven’t had anybody in the vicarage for quite some time.’ she looked closely at Kitty’s face. ‘Are you sure you’re okay?’
‘I’m fine really,’ Kitty half smiled at her.
‘I could give you the phone number of the church warden, if that would help?’
‘No, it was just a thought that was all. I’ll see Sybil tomorrow, I’m sure she will be able to help.’
The woman nodded at her. ‘Well alright, I’d better be off now. It’s nice to have met you Kitty, perhaps we’ll see you and Gordon in church on Sunday?’
She half pulled the door closed behind her then poked her head back around the door. ‘Can you make sure the door is shut properly when you leave? The wind sometimes blows it open.’
‘Yes, I’ll make sure it’s shut, I won’t be in here long, I’m just waiting for Gordon.’
‘Take your time dear,’ she paused looking around the church. ‘Sometimes it’s just nice to come and sit for a while, it refreshes the soul. Don’t you think?’ She looked intently at Kitty’s pale face.
Kitty nodded in response.
The heavy door closed and Kitty slumped back into the pew and closed her eyes. Nero yawned and pushed his nose into her lap; she gently pulled on his ears and smoothed the soft fur around his nose. The dog suddenly pricked up his ears, his tail started to wag and he bounced up looking expectantly at the door.
Outside she could hear Gordon’s voice; she caught snippets of the conversation as they hurried down the aisle, the door opened just as Kitty and the dog reached it.
‘Are you okay? Rose was just telling me how pale you look, she seemed quite worried about you.’
‘Rose? What the flower lady?’
‘She was in here arranging the flowers,’ she gestured to the elaborate arrangements of chrysanthemums and greenery in the vases next to the pulpit.
Gordon was carrying a thick fleece over his arm. ‘Here, I brought you this.’
He held it for her while she slipped her arms in and then zipped it up.
‘That’s better, I was getting so cold,’ she shivered and pulled the collar higher around her neck. ‘Sybil is coming back tomorrow, the flower lady told me.’
‘Rose,’ he reminded her. ‘She has invited us to church on Sunday.’
‘The way I’m feeling at the moment I could happily camp in here.’
‘Bit chilly though,’ he said giving her a hug. ‘I’ve got the car outside, come on.’
‘Did you pick up my handbag?’
‘What is it with women and their handbags?’ he joked grimly. ‘If the world was going to end you’d want your handbag.’
‘Well, did you remember it?’
‘Yes, and I threw a few things into a bag, toothbrushes, things like that.’
‘What about clothes?’
‘I picked up a few things, we’ll manage don’t worry. What I have forgotten we can buy in Axminster.’
He led her out of the church and closed the door.
‘Make sure the door is shut properly, apparently it blows open sometimes.’
‘Yes, the flower lady told me.’
Gordon tugged at the door. ‘Yep it’s pulled through okay.’
The skies had turned a uniform grey and a few drops of rain started to fall. Kitty shivered and took a firm hold of Gordon’s arm.
‘What are we going to do?’
‘We’ll find a B&B tonight and tomorrow, well we’ll see.’
‘We must ring Eve; did you pick up your mobile?’
‘I’ll ring her as soon as we’re in the car, come on the rain is coming on harder now and we’ll get soaked if we don’t hurry.’
The rain started to fall steadily and they hurried down the path to the gate. The car was parked in front of the War Memorial; Gordon opened the passenger door and helped Kitty in.
‘I’ll get the heater on, that will soon warm you up.’
He ran around to the other side and got in, starting the engine and turning the heater on full blast.
Kitty shivered and held her hands over the warm blast of air. ‘That’s better.’
Gordon pulled his mobile out of the door pocket and dialled his daughter’s number. It rang for several minutes before Eve answered.
‘Hi darling, it’s dad. Yes everything is okay, we’re just leaving. I’ve decided we’re going to stay in a guest house tonight...... no darling that’s very kind of you but you haven’t got enough room.’ he paused listening. ‘Okay we’ll see you later, bye.’
‘Is she okay?’
‘She wants us to come round for a meal.’
‘Are we going to tell her what’s happened?’
Gordon hesitated and stared out of the window.
‘I don’t think so; she was freaked out enough yesterday.’
He put the car into gear and pulled away, driving slowly through the quiet village. Kitty glanced across at the pub as they passed. An indistinct figure was in the window staring out but as they drew level whoever it was ducked out of sight. Kitty grinned wryly to herself, she had seen enough to realise who the watcher was.
The rain started to fall heavily and she could only just see the road in front of the car, the car’s wipers were flicking backwards and forwards at top speed to clear the water from windscreen.
Gordon slowed the car for the turning to the Axminster road, concentrating on navigating the corner. He didn’t notice the lone figure stood to one side of the street. The hunched figure stared bleakly after the car as it drove through the rain, and disappeared up the winding road leading over the hill.
‘We’ll drive through the town and see what we can see; if not, there is always Seaton.
There’s bound to be some vacancies at this time of year,’ Gordon reassured her as he navigated the narrow winding road through the town centre.
A lorry was unloading on the yellow lines near the pedestrian crossing and causing a snarl up of the traffic. He shook his head in exasperation.
‘I’ll have to drive down to the roundabout and turn left, we’ll see what’s around there,’ he said to Kitty.
She was gazing blankly out of the window. ‘What?’
‘Are you okay?’
‘Yes,’ she gave him a faint smile. ‘I’m feeling better now.’
He glanced at her doubtfully, Kitty’s face was still pale and drawn and even though the car’s heater was on full blast she was still shivering.
‘What we both need is a good night’s sleep.’
Kitty nodded slightly in agreement, ‘You haven’t had much sleep for several nights now have you?’
Gordon slowed the car as he peered through the steamed up windows at either side of the road.
‘I’ll survive, I’m sure there were some guest houses along here somewhere.’
‘What about that one?’ said Kitty pointing to a large house set back behind a laurel hedge.
‘Ah, vacancies, that will do,’ he said pulling into the gravel drive and slipping into an empty space between two cars.
He turned off the engine and turned to his wife who was sitting quietly and staring blankly at the house.
‘Come on Kitty, this will do for tonight.’
She roused herself and looked at him ‘Yes okay... I’m sure it will,’ she added more firmly.
Gordon opened his door and got out. ‘I’ll get the bag,’ and pulled a small rucksack from the back seat.
‘Is that all you brought?’ asked Kitty looking at it doubtfully.
‘It’s all we need for now and before you ask here’s your handbag,’ handing over a large green leather bag.
Kitty unzipped it and started rummaging through the contents.
‘What are you looking for?’
Gordon slung the bag over his shoulder. ‘Let’s get a room then you can have a sleep for an hour before we go around to Eve’s.’
‘What about the dog? Will he be okay in the car do you think.’
She peered in the back window at Nero stretched out on the seat, the dog wagged his tail at her and raised his head in expectation.
‘No Nero stay,’ Gordon said firmly. ‘He’ll be fine; we can pick up some food for him and feed him at Eve’s house. I wish I had put a towel down on the seat though,’ he said. ‘Look at the mess he’s made of the leather.’
Kitty sighed ‘It’s only dirt, Gordon. It will wipe off.’
She followed him up the front steps of the guest house and into the hall. He rang the bell on the desk and waited but not for long, the door at the end of the corridor opened and a young woman emerged from the kitchen.
‘Good Afternoon,’ she said politely smiling at the exhausted couple.
‘Hi, can we have a room please, I haven’t booked.’
‘That’s alright; we’re quiet at the moment. Is it a double?’
‘With an en suite if possible.’
‘Yes certainly, we have one double available at the back of the house, it has a nice garden view. It’s very quiet,’ she added looking at Kitty’s pale and tired face.
Kitty smiled slightly at her ‘That sounds very nice.’
‘If you would sign in and fill in your details while I get the key, how many nights would you like the room for?’
‘Well...’ said Gordon looking at Kitty. ‘I’m not too sure at the moment.’ He looked at the woman. ‘Would that be a problem?’
‘No not all, if you just pay for tonight and then let me know in the morning. As I said we are quiet at the moment, it’s the end of the season so we’re winding down.’
She looked at the details on the card. ‘Mr and Mrs Bishop? My name is Alison Hawes and my husband is Roger, he’s out at the moment but you’ll meet him in the morning, he cooks the breakfasts.’
‘Right, how much is it by the way?’
‘It’s sixty five pounds a night, are you paying cash or card?’
‘Umm,’ Gordon looked through his wallet. ‘Have you got any cash Kitty?’
She stared blankly at him blankly. ‘What?’
‘No, it will have to be card then,’ turning back to Angela.
Angela led them to a high ceilinged room on the second floor. ‘Here you are,’ she said opening the door. ‘Number seven, I hope you find the room comfortable.’
She crossed the room and opened a door to the side of the room. ‘And this is your en suite, there are towels over there on the rack and there are complimentary shower gels and shampoo in the basket.’
Gordon looked around the room. ‘This will do just fine, thank you.’
‘There’s tea and coffee over there, and if you need anything else just let me know, I’ll be in the kitchen.’ Angela started to leave the room but then thought of something. ‘Would you require a meal tonight?’
‘Thanks, but we’re going to our daughter’s tonight for a meal.’
‘She lives locally then?’
‘Yes Axminster, we do as well, in Medbury.’
Angela looked at them curiously. ‘That’s not far away is it..’
‘No just a couple of miles that’s all,’ He added. ‘We’re moving house.’
‘Oh I see,’ she smiled sympathetically. ‘I don’t envy you that. Now the front door will be open until ten after that you will have to ring the bell when you come back.’
‘Oh we won’t be that late,’ Gordon reassured her. ‘We’re both really tired.’
‘Well in that case I will see you in the morning for breakfast; I start serving at eight. Just come down when you’re ready.’
She smiled at them and pulled the door closed behind her.
Kitty wandered across the room and peered into the bathroom. ‘No bath.’
‘You will have to make do with a shower tonight.’ Gordon picked up the kettle, ‘Tea?’
‘Oh yes,’ she said gratefully. ‘I can’t remember when I had one last.’
‘It was before Sheena came.’
‘Sheena,’ Kitty shuddered at her name. ‘Bloody stupid woman.’
‘Yeah,’ he replied ruefully shaking his head. ‘That was a really bad idea wasn’t it?’
‘And we’re still no better off; all we have is a name.’
‘Yes... well, we’ll forget all about that now.’
He stirred some sugar into the tea and handed Kitty the cup.
‘Forget it!’ she said indignantly. ‘How on earth are we going to forget it?’
‘We’re going to forget about it for tonight,’ he said sharply. ‘And tomorrow I’ll get an estate agent around to value the house.’
‘Gordon we have just moved in, and where are we going to live until it’s sold? And that could take months.’
‘I don’t know,’ he replied stubbornly. ‘But we’re not going back there.’
Kitty sat on the edge of the bed and sipped her tea. She closed her eyes against her thumping headache.
‘Is your head bad?’
‘Hmm,’ she murmured rubbing her cold hands over her forehead. Kitty opened her handbag and pulled out the box of aspirin. ‘I’ll take a couple of these, that will help.’
Gordon watched her swallow the pills. ‘You don’t really want to go back there do you?’
‘I don’t know,’ she confessed. ‘But it felt right that we were there, it felt like home. We have moved so much over the years and I’ve never felt really settled anywhere but there I did.’
She rubbed her forehead and stood up. ‘Oh I don’t know..,’ she sighed.
Gordon pulled the duvet back.
‘We don’t have to be at Eve’s for over an hour, there’s time enough for you to have a sleep. Go on..,’ as she hesitated. ‘I’ll wake you in time for you to have a shower.’
Kitty sighed and looked longingly at the bed.
‘I think I had better shower first, I’d feel a bit fresher,’ she wrinkled her nose and pulled a wry face. ‘Especially after being sick.’
She tipped the contents of the rucksack onto the bed and found a brush and some toothpaste. ‘I won’t be long.’
Gordon kicked off his shoes and climbed onto the bed, stretched out and put his arms behind his head. ‘At least the bed is comfortable,’ he said relaxing. ‘See you in a minute.’
His eyes flickered and closed, and his deep breathing showed that he was already asleep before Kitty had reached the shower.
Clouds of steam billowed into the room as she opened the door, Gordon hadn’t stirred from his position on the bed.
She walked softly across to the bed so as not to wake him and slipped under the duvet.
Kitty checked the watch on his arm, it was three forty five. She sighed. Great over an hour for a snooze she thought in relief and pulled the duvet up higher and settled down.
It was a cold miserable day in April and a heavy shower had caught Hannah on her way home to the cottage on the hill. She had been up all night with old John Trevitt, he was not long for this world and she had been doing her best to make sure that his last few hours of this earth was as pain free as possible. Sarah, his daughter had taken over from Hannah for a while, giving her the chance to go home for a rest.
Already soaked to the bone she sheltered under the wide spreading branches of an oak and waited for the shower to ease off. Just out of sight around the bend in the road she heard with a sinking heart the familiar tread and thump of a walking stick.
Hannah looked around in desperation for somewhere to hide, she was too bone weary to cope with a meeting with him. There was no cover into which she could duck so she drew back into the shadow of the tree and hoped that he would be in too much of a hurry to notice her.
At first it seemed that Hannah was in luck, he had his head down against the rain and was walking quickly by. But as he drew level with the sheltering woman some instinct made him slow and glance into the shadows.
‘Well, well, what are you doing skulking there?’
‘Sheltering from the rain ‘tis all.’
‘And how are you feeling?’ he inquired with mock interest.
Hannah looked at him in contempt. ‘I be very well thank ‘ee, you’m wasted your money I’m afraid.’
A slow flush crept up his neck ‘And what is that supposed to mean?’
‘You know,’ she said stepping out from under the sheltering tree and advancing on him. ‘Finding that drunk in one of the inns of Chard and setting him up as a white witch! What were thee thinking of man? That ain’t going to fool nobody.’
‘Anything to get rid of you.’ he said quietly glaring at her.
‘Not man enough to do yer own dirty work eh? I hope ‘ee paid him well.’
He smiled coldly at her. ‘Oh I did, I paid him very well to get the job done.’
Hannah snorted ‘How is this going to go down with yer intended’s family eh? Good family like that; this’ll give ‘em second thoughts about welcoming thee into the fold.’
He stared at her with a satisfied smirk on his face. ‘Oh I’ve seen to that, he’s more than pleased to be marrying his sister off to me now.’
‘So tis true then, thee have been busy,’ she laughed derisively. ‘And you’m thinking yer so high and mighty. Only way thee could get ‘er was it? To give ‘er a bellyful!’
Without a change of expression he raised his stick and struck her across the side of her head sending her staggering back onto the wet bank.
Hannah lay there dazed, the mud soaking into her gown, a purple bruise already appearing on the side of her forehead. He paced slowly forward until he was standing over her prone figure.
‘Now, now Hannah, don’t lay there in all that wet. We wouldn’t want you to catch a chill and get sick now would we?’
He leant on his stick and smiled down at her then turned and carried on walking steadily up the hill. Just as he disappeared over the brow of the hill a snatch of whistling was carried back on the wind.