Short sex stories
- Haunted by Love
Haunted by Love
Welcome dear readers to this, my erotic lesbian romantic ghost story and entry for the "HALLOWEEN STORY CONTEST 2015".
I hope you will enjoy reading it but I feel I should warn t you that it is a lengthy story -- for those who have read some of my other work I hope this means you'll think "Oh goody!" and not "Oh no, not again!"
My thanks, as ever, to my wonderful editor Winterreisser, especially for his speedy efforts that allowed me to still meet the deadline after taking far longer writing this than I expected. Thanks also to Kat for her kind words and encouragement.
As this it a competition entry, do please take a moment to cast your vote at the end; comments and feedback are also always very welcome.
Happy reading and Happy Samhain!
Chapter 1: Creative Meeting
I push my hair back and gather my things -- pen, paper and notes -- push back from my desk and stand. Then I notice that, as usual, I've forgotten to lock my PC just as the reminder for the meeting pops up:
10:30 am (2 hour)
MM&M CREATIVE MEETING
Invitees: Mystery, Myth & Murder Research Team, Mystery, Myth & Murder Writers, Rick Ripley, Marcus Thompson
I drop everything so I can click the DISMISS button and then perform the three finger trick to lock the screen. Damn, I'm late now, which serves me right for leaving it until the last minute to leave I guess. I know why it is: I don't really want to see Rick after... it, last Saturday. Nor Marcus for that matter.
I pick up my stuff once more and kick the chair under the desk. I'd always considered myself ambitious but the truth is that my career hasn't exactly been meteoric and at thirty-one I'm still stuck as a researcher on, okay granted, a successful and popular BBC TV programme. Basically, my career has stalled and has been so for several years. Actually, the same can be said for my life as a whole really, with no boyfriend, let alone husband, disappointingly few friends that I can socialise with and a flat that is both small and dingy and at the same time, overpriced owing to its location. Still, however frustrating and disappointing my life is, I didn't think that I was the sort of woman to do anything
to get ahead but it rather seems I might be. Today I find out if it's been worth it.
I head down the corridor to the lifts and press the call button to go up. I can still recall word-for-word Marcus's words to me when he came to speak to me two weeks ago. "Do you enjoy working on ' Mystery, Myth and Murder'
Bethany?" he asked, bending over me as I sat at my desk working through an analysis of viewing figures for the recent episodes. Dull, dull, dull work when what I really wanted to be doing was the writing and scripting.
"I... do. I mean, I like doing the research I guess, though..."
"Though you'd like not to just be just stuck in the office finding out and confirming a few facts in between admin tasks," he said smiling. I suddenly worried that my thoughts were scrolling across my forehead in luminous green pixels as I nodded. "What's your ambition, Bethany?" he asked as his finger rubbed the stubble of his tanned face with a soft rasping sound. His tan silently boasted of the three weeks holiday in the Seychelles that he and his partner Blake had recently returned from.
"I'd like to write, Marcus; I want to go out and find and research stories and then script episodes of the show. I think I deserve the chance to try."
"Hmm. You know, Rick and I have always thought you rather... cold and standoffish." Knowing what Rick's language could be like I was a little surprised.
"Is that really what Rick said?" I asked and Marcus gave a little chuckle.
"No. He said that for an intelligent, pretty girl you can't half be a snooty little bitch sometimes." I bit my lip; where was this going? "So, you do have some ambition in you... which means you want to be a part of the next series?"
"Well, obviously. I mean, you did get that proposal for a story that I emailed didn't you? The Purdew Manor Hotel haunting?"
"Yes... though we'll have to see if there's any interest when we discuss it, probably at the next creative meeting for next year's series, the week after next..." He left that hanging as he straightened up. "Just remember, it always pays to be a team player," he added before leaving me to get back to the viewing figures.
So, as the lift doors open for me, I wonder whether paying attention to Marcus had been either wise, moral or worth it. To my shame I find that I'm more concerned that what I did ends up being worth it for my career than whether it was wise or moral. What kind of slut does than make me?
I enter the meeting room doing my best not to catch either Rick's or Marcus's eyes without seeming to ignore them. I manage it but more because the two of them are leaning in close together having a sotto voce
conversation. Of course I immediately worry that it's about me, that Rick is giving all the prurient details, and when Marcus nods and smiles I'm convinced of it. I bow my head trying to hide my embarrassment as I slip into my seat and shuffle my notes and papers.
Moments later Marcus calls the meeting to order and first on the agenda is the schedule for the next series. "Well, we're doing well with work on the next series and this was going to be a chance to look over that and look at planning the series episodes.... However we have something rather special to announce."
"What's that?" Janice asks, the beads in her hair clicking softly as her head jerks up.
"It's only a bleedin' Christmas Special," Rick exclaims. "When the scandal of you know who broke, they cancelled 'is show at Christmas and offered the slot to us!" Rick's distinctly London accent always startles people when they meet him in real life as it's such a contrast to the rather more polished accent he adopts on-screen.
"However," Marcus continues, "as it's already October, we've only six or seven weeks to get ready for broadcast," he glances to Rick, smiling.
"Yeah, we're goin' to 'ave to get our arses in gear!"
"Will it be on Christmas Day?" I ask in surprise.
"Nah, the day after, on Boxing Day evening." Wow, this was a big deal. The schedulers didn't put anything on over the Christmas holidays they didn't think was successful.
"So you could have a Christmas theme in all the stories!" chips in Gavin. He's a junior assistant and is basically there to take the minutes so I flinch inwardly at his comment. I want to find a way to gently suggest that, in his position he is much better not to speak unless he has a really
good idea. Colin, however, ever keen to prove he should be given Janice's job as Assistant Producer, rips into him.
"Yeah, fab idea Gavin and hardly trite at all; what did you have in mind? Some brutal Christmas Day murder? Perhaps some haunting by a woman looking for her baby who died on Christmas Day? Or, yes, of course, Rick could do a cutting exposé of how Father Christmas is fucking real!" Gavin cowers before the tirade and I flinch, not least because I'd almost asked a similar question as to whether they were considering a Christmas theme. I my case, however, it had been to check that they weren't because, and I had to agree with Colin here, it was a naff idea. Janice, however, comes to Gavin's defence.
"Okay, Colin, give the guy a break. Remember this is a creative meeting so we don't go ripping each other's ideas apart." An evil grin appears on her dark lips, "We save that for the editorial reviews!"
It occurs to me that old David Attenborough needn't be jetting off to Africa or South America, he could do an entire series here at the BBC: "Here we see the alpha female being challenged for her position by a junior male... but he is no match for her and he retreats, beaten for the time being."
"Okay, boys and girls. No, Gavin, there won't be a Christmas theme. What we need are really good stories or, even better, one story that can fill the episode." Marcus pauses. "Right," he says, "this seems like a good point to look at the feedback from the previous broadcasts. Bethany, you've been looking at that." My name jerks me to full attention, triggering butterflies in my stomach and I quickly pull the copies of the summaries from my papers and hand then around.
"Um, yes. Well the basic figures are on the sheet you have, summarising how the focus groups responded to each episode. I, er, I then classified the stories in each episode as 'Murder', for the unsolved crimes and, well, murder stories; 'Myth' for those that covered legends and 'Mystery' which, eighty percent of the time, are basically ghost stories." I look up and I'm startled to see polite interest in what I think is very dull stuff. "Anyway, the mysteries tend to be the most popular followed by the unsolved murders and finally the legends stuff, though the Loch Ness Monster piece was very well liked. However, what viewers really seem to like are when stories cover more than one area, like say, that story in the first series, of the stolen painting that was linked to the ghostly figure that seemed to appear over where they found the painting."
"Hmm, interestin'" Rick comments. "So we want more stories like that, definitely."
"Indeed and it's certainly something to bear in mind for the Christmas special." Marcus agrees, "So, with that in mind, let's look at what stories and leads we have so far..."
This is basically the cue for Janice, Colin and Terri, as the people mainly involved in writing and researching, along with Marcus and Rick to begin listing possibilities, thoughts and Ideas. I will occasionally make comments or suggestions but these never seem to do much raise my status within the team, even though I know that some have been really good and turned a mediocre episode into a good one; it always seem to be one of the others that gets the credit in the end. I sit listening for Marcus to present my Cornish ghost story, probably without even crediting me.
As the meeting drags on I'm starting to wonder if he's not even going to mention my suggestion, meaning what I did would be for nothing, when he suddenly says, "Actually, Bethany seems to have a rather interesting possibility. Perhaps you'd like to tell us about it Bethany?"
"Oh, er yes... well my parents holidayed in Cornwall over the summer and they stayed at a small hotel on Bodmin Moor, The Purdew Manor Hotel
which, they told me, fails to live up to the grandeur of its name and is rather run down and dilapidated. However, knowing my job, Mum recounted a tale she was told there of mystery and haunting linked to the hotel." I pause, pleasantly surprised that they are all listening with polite interest. I know I need to pitch this well and make it a good story but also be succinct.
"Before it was a hotel," I begin, "it was Purdew Hall
and, in in the mid nineteenth century, home to Sir Lovell Blyth and his beautiful wife Lady Rosalind. Sir Blyth was, of course, a wealthy landowner but had a reputation as a violent, vicious man. He had been an officer in the navy where even there, incredibly, his violent temper had been remarkable.
"In time, they eventually had a child, a son whom they called William. However, far from the strapping infant Sir Blyth wanted, the child was always sickly. Despite this, young William grew and Lady Blyth employed a governess to care for him, a young, educated woman who lived nearby. All was well until William was nearing his tenth birthday when Sir Blyth, feeling that his mother and the Governess were making the boy soft and weak, dismissed the Governess and declared that his son would soon go to boarding school to toughen him up and make a man of him.
"Shortly before the boy was due to leave for school, something happened and one morning he was found dead just inside the door of his bedroom. Some said it was a seizure or a fever, others that it was the fear of being sent away to school. There were a few that suggested his father had beaten him and caused it or even that it had been Lady Blyth, poisoning her son rather than have him suffer the pain of separation and bullying at the boarding school.
"Both mother and father were distraught, Lady Blyth crying and wailing in grief for the loss of her beloved, precious child. For Sir Lovell it was the loss of his heir and the end of the family line that upset him.
"They buried the boy two days later but something happened that evening and Lady Blyth fled Purdew Hall in the middle of the night, across the moors. One of the maids saw her leave but feared to go to the master, with his uncertain temper, so she roused the Housekeeper who, in turn, decided it should be the Butler who must tell Sir Lovell. The maid had been right to be afraid for Sir Lovell was incandescent with rage at the news, striking the butler and cursing him for not securing the house against his wife's escape. He immediately set off in pursuit thinking he could guess where she went.
"Neither Sir Lovell or Lady Blyth were ever seen again. Some said that both drowned in one of the many bogs on the Moor, others that Sir Lovell murdered his wife when he found her and buried her body before fleeing or foundering in a bog. However, since then in Purdew Hall people have sometimes reported hearing a child crying, pleading for his mother, or encountering a pale lady roaming the house, lost and dejected. Meanwhile, on the Moor, night travellers claim to have seen a dark shape, some seeing a man searching or dragging something or in pursuit, while others meet a ghostly woman running and fleeing over the desolate Moor in terror."
I look around, waiting for someone to say something.
Terri is the first to speak. "You are an unexpectedly engaging storyteller," she says grudgingly, though as usual her pronunciation and accent would put members of the Royal Family to shame. I give a nod of thanks but while it's nice to be complimented, I do slightly resent the note of condescending surprise in her voice.
"Okay, so... first question, Bethany: are there locals down there who claim to have seen the ghosts?" Marcus asks.
"I'm not sure," I reply. "The way Mum told me suggested that the woman who told her, one of the owners of the hotel, had seen something, but I don't know for certain. She'd probably love the advertising so..." I left the implication that she'd probably say anything for publicity just hanging there. The nods confirmed they all understood.
"Bodmin Moor," Janice says musingly. "It's a very atmospheric place and there must be loads of ghost stories and mysteries from down there. There used to be all sorts of pirates and smuggling in Cornwall."
"There were ship wreckers too, luring ships onto the rocks to kill the crews and steal the cargos," Colin chips in, "and wasn't there The Beast of Bodmin a few years back? Some big cat or the like going around killing sheep and scaring farmers?"
A quiet "Hmm," from Rick pulls my gaze reluctantly to him. "There might be enough for a whole episode from Cornwall, maybe even two with some other stories. What do you think Marcus?"
"I think you might be right," Marcus agrees, "thinking about it I'm surprised that we've never done a story from Cornwall in either of the first two series. Perhaps we should send someone down there for a week to dig around."
Janice nods but with a slightly concerned look on her face. "Might be a problem for the next few weeks though, because I've got those two stories from Scotland to work on and I've tasked Colin with working on the first stories form Europe -- the ones from Sweden and Denmark, trying to play off the success of the Scandinavian thrillers like The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
. These are the obvious ones to use for Christmas as we've made a start on them. We could use, what was it, Purdey Hall in the next series to replace one of them. I guess we could have Terri make a start on it, doing some general research..."
My heart sinks. Fucking golden girl Terri, as usual, with her first class honours degree from Durham University, her perfect skin, flawless elocution and, above all, her cast iron boarding school confidence.
"How about Bethany?" Rick asks. "She found the story, after all, an' she did a good job tellin' it too." Janice looks doubtful and is about to reply when Marcus speaks.
"Yes, why not? It'll be more responsibility that she's had before but let's give Bethany a chance. She can keep us regularly posted on her progress," he adds in answer to Janice's suspicious look. "We can send Beth down there for a week or so and give her a chance to show what we she can do."
Yes! In your face, Terri!
"Yeah. And Beth: don't mess up and don't think that we might not use your story at Christmas, right?" Rick smiles at me and I try to hide my shock; was he serious?
"Yes, absolutely Rick: I can do this, I promise." I feel so happy but one glance at Janice, Gavin and, especially, Terri tells me I've not made any friends here this morning.
There isn't much left to discuss and Marcus distributes actions to each of us. Mine are to finish up or hand over the things I've been working on and sort out going down to Cornwall "as soon as practicable and ideally next week." No pressure then! As the meeting breaks up I hang back; I have to thank Marcus for giving me this chance. Rick hasn't moved to go either so, when it's just the three of us, I say my thanks.
"No problem, Bethany," Marcus replies, "I meant it when I said you deserve this chance. I also mean it when I said not to fuck up." My throat constricts at his words and I can do is nod. "Right, I must get on," he concludes and quickly gathers his things and to leave me with Rick.
"Thank you too, Rick," I tell him. "It was good of you to be so positive about my idea."
"Beth... I said what I did coz your idea sounds really promisin' and not coz of last weekend or anything." He hesitates and then adds. "Beth, I'd like to see you again sometime, if you're alright with that." I recalled some of what happened on Saturday and, more, of Sunday morning. It had been pretty good, hadn't it?
"Yes, Rick, that sounds very nice," I told him, "I'd like that."
Chapter 2: Starting Out
Any sane person would know that setting out to drive down to the West Country is not best done late on a Friday afternoon, even a Friday in late October, by which reckoning I am completely insane. In my defence, I had planned to go on Wednesday but Colin, currently out in Denmark, had some research and information he needed urgently. Given it was now over three weeks since I was told to visit the Purdew Manor Hotel "within a week," I really felt I had to go before the weekend.
The traffic on the M25 motorway was its typical semi-gridlock, especially around the London Heathrow Airport exits, but didn't get much better heading south to the M3. I had already abandoned the idea of using the M4 after hearing that there were long delays already, due to roadworks, and besides, the M3 route did appeal as I recalled that it takes me past Stonehenge.
Eventually Gumdrop (okay, I name my cars; don't hate me for it) and I made it onto the M3 where the traffic was still busy but at least moving. However, it is now half past five and, at a conservative estimate I have at least four hours of driving ahead of me so I should get to the hotel at... around nine thirty at night, which is late but not ridiculously so.
I settle into driving at the traffic calms down a bit and, as usual, my mind wanders. Inevitably it settles on Rick. Marcus's little chat to me about friendliness and my career did leave me wondering what it was about but didn't have to wait long. The next week Rick asked if I'd join him for dinner. I almost automatically said no before I remembered Marcus's comments. "Um, okay, thank you," I replied, not wanting to harm my career but thinking that Rick had asked Marcus to speak to exactly for this reason. Still, I was committed now,
Saturday came and I duly, if very apprehensively, presented myself at the very nice restaurant. Rick had offered to pick me up but I declined, partly because my flat isn't exactly the height of style and opulence, partly because I didn't want Lucy, my annoyingly nosey neighbour, meeting Rick but mostly because I thought it would be easier to decline any "let me take you home" offers and the possible subsequent, "May I come in for a coffee/a pee/a fuck?" type requests.
As it turned out, it wasn't Rick who was the problem, I was. Rick was courteous and charming, friendly and very open as we talked. I, on the other hand, was a bundle of nerves, worried about where this would end up and, basically, if this evening would make or break my career. And so I did what many people do in such a situation: I drank rather too much. Oh, I wasn't falling down drunk by any means but I had got to that state where sound judgement was for other people and tomorrow didn't matter. This was not a good state for a single girl whose only sex in the last few months had been self-administered and who was now in the company of a satisfactorily handsome, rather charming and attentive man!
I'm sure you can guess what happened... yes, I slept with him.
The following morning, waking up alone in Rick's bed, I felt like a complete slut who'd whored herself out for the sake of her career. I expected Rick to want me out as soon as possible, having got what he wanted and leaving me to wonder, as I did, whether it had been worth it. However, I was alone only briefly because he came in carrying a tray with fresh-brewed coffee. "I thought you might need a pick-me-up after last night's er, drinking," he said with a slight smile.
I sat up, pulling the duvet close around my otherwise naked body, and thanked him as he poured the coffee, trying to piece together exactly what had happened last night. The recalled image of him on top of me pretty well confirmed we'd had sex and I was fairly sure that, the shame and awkwardness I felt now notwithstanding, I had enjoyed it at the time. The memory of an orgasm surfaced.
"I guess you'll want to be getting home," he said, his voice neutral. I couldn't tell if this was said in concern for my happiness or if he was dismissing me, which I have to admit I was half expecting. Whatever his meaning, I went with just a brief and rather awkward thank you.
The evening after the creative meeting we did the usual hour or two in the pub. I was in a good mood and so stayed later than I normally did. Rick was there and so was Terri. Indeed, she seemed to be determined to be the centre of things, always directing the conversation. Nevertheless, I had quite a good evening and went home still buzzing with the happiness of my new opportunity.
Work returned to normal, well, normal-ish. I had quite a lot of work to sort out and hand over to Gavin before I could swan off to Cornwall, so the 'go down there next week' deadline passed. I still felt rather awkward about having slept with Rick. However, despite what he said at the meeting, he didn't ask me out again. I felt both relieved and disappointed: relieved that perhaps this meant that the chance I'd been given wasn't because I'd let him fuck me but disappointed because, however plain and ordinary I generally thought myself to be, I didn't want him not
to fancy me!
It was rather a surprise, therefore, when a week and a half after the creative meeting, he invited me out on a second date.
This time we went to see some half-baked rom-com and then to a little Italian restaurant, where I insisted on paying the bill. However, I moderated my drinking this time and we got along quite well. As we left the restaurant his arm slipped around my waist and he said, "You know, I was furious when Marcus told me what he said to you, about being friendlier. I bet you thought I put him up to it when I asked you out?" he said and I nodded. "I just 'appened to mention to 'im in passing a couple of months ago that I thought that you was attractive but that I didn't think you'd be, you know, interested..."
"Um, actually, if he hadn't said anything I probably wouldn't have said yes," I confessed.
"Is that a fact? Well, looks like I'll 'ave to forgive the meddling gay bastard!" he chuckled and looked down as his hand took mine. "Do you want...to er..." he began and I knew what was coming. What should I do I wondered? I did quite like him, he'd been charming and good company this evening and it didn't seem like he was trying to pressurise me now so I could just decline... However, he had given me the chance to speak at the meeting and he could really help to get my career moving... I wasn't being mercenary, I told myself, which was fairly true: I did like him, much more than I thought I would.
"We could spend the night together again; I mean, if you'd like that." I remember grinning at the happy look on his face.
I return from my reminiscences as ahead I see the sign for my junction and pull into the left-hand lane. Then, a little further on, the sign on the gantry spanning the road confirming that this lane is for the A303 to 'The South-West, Salisbury and Andover'. As I leave the M3 another sign in the failing twilight tells me that it's 117 miles to Exeter as I turn Gumdrop's headlights on.
Despite it being my second visit to Rick's house, I was probably more nervous as this time it was without the anaesthetic of excessive alcohol. However, Rick led me indoors and upstairs. "I'd like to undress you," he said and my nervousness spiked: I've always been rather awkward about being naked, my figure being what it is. I know how to dress to emphasize the good bits and flatter the rest but nudity does not allow such trickery. Even though we had slept together already and despite the relaxation afforded by the couple of glasses of wine with the meal, there was no way I could just stand and let him peel away my camouflage.
"We can undress each another in bed," I replied, thinking that I'd make sure the light was off. Upstairs he didn't object to climbing into bed with just the streetlight from the window and the light spilling around the bedroom door that stood ajar. With much fumbling we stripped one another until, naked at last, we slipped into each other's arms. His body was not particularly muscled but he was thin and wiry, dark hair on his arms and chest. I raised my lips to his and we kissed deeply.
I could feel my nipples hardening as they pressed his chest. His hands caressed my back and my bum but gradually word round until his thumbs settled on my nipples, rubbing them gently. It felt so good.
I reached down and felt the hard length of his cock that gave a twitch as my fingers made contact and wrapped around it. I pushed gently, sliding the foreskin back; the emerging head, wet with pre-cum, brushed the inside of my wrist. Rick moved and rolled me onto my back as he knelt between my legs and I thought he was impatient to slip his cock inside me, as is usually the case in my experience. However, before I could say anything he moved down. Moments later I felt his mouth on my pussy.
I've had a few guys go down on me in my time, some have been good, while others... well, I suspect they didn't enjoy it any more than I did. Rick was definitely one of the better ones, his tongue exploring and delving, parting my ever-moistening folds and depths. I found myself wishing I had been less out of it the first time we made love. His tongue slithered up, seeking the tingling nub of my clitoris. Once he'd found it I was never going to last long and my orgasm when it struck was wonderfully intense.
He climbed up beside me and moved to kiss me but hesitated. I could smell my sex on his lips and lifted my head to kiss him; I've always found tasting myself on a lover a wonderfully erotic experience. When he feels my enthusiasm he responds just as excitedly.
I laid back, raising my knees and spreading them wide, opening to him. He edged forward and I felt his cock pressing against my very wet and very willing lower lips. With a slight groan of pleasure he slipped inside me, gently plumbing my depths. He pulled back and thrust again, quicker and more firmly this time. He built a rhythm and I began rocking my hips in counterpoint, making his member rub my g-spot inside.
Time seemed to float away; there was just his weight between my thighs, the rolling of my hips and the feel of him inside me. There was a hesitation and his thrusts became slower and harder as he threw his head back, gasping. He came, his hot cream jetting into me. "I'm so close," I gasped, not wanting Rick to stop as his orgasm made his movements erratic. He reached down between our sweat-glazed bodies and his thumb traced its way through my pubes.
"Oh yes!" I gasped as the questing digit found my nub and made my hips buck. I hadn't lasted long after that; I was so close anyway. As usual, my second orgasm was less intense than the first but good nonetheless. With a final gasp he rolled off me and we dozed, cuddled together.
Reality reasserts itself and I become aware of several things: the first is a signpost to Andover and Salisbury while the second is that the traffic has slowed somewhat and, finally, a distinctly gooey feeling between my legs. Perhaps daydreaming about my night with Rick wasn't such a good idea whilst driving as I cannot do anything about the consequences! I just hope I haven't made too much of a mess of my knickers.
As I take the second exit on the roundabout the traffic slows further, becoming a crawl as the two lanes of the dual carriageway converge to a single lane. I think this must be the section past Stonehenge but, as I look out I'm disappointed when I realize that I'm not going to be able to see the stones in the darkness. The traffic crawls on.
There are vague shapes out across the field to the right; so much for seeing Stonehenge. For some reason this disappointment makes the crawling traffic even more frustrating. All I want now is to reach Cornwall.
Eventually, the road becomes dual carriageway once more and the traffic speeds up until I'm cruising along at seventy-five miles an hour and I feel I'm making up for lost time, a little anyway. However, the sat-nav on my phone has moved my ETA back from 21:33 to 21:59. When it changes to 21:58 I give a little cheer, "Come on Gumdrop!"
Despite running late I have to stop: I need the loo, to stretch my legs and I'm desperate for a coffee. In the Ladies I take the opportunity to check my knickers: well, it could have been worse but there's a noticeable damp area and a definite scent of wet pussy. I'm briefly tempted to bring myself off but when I hear someone else entering the toilets I know I cannot. I wonder what I'd think if I heard the soft noises of a woman fingering herself in the adjacent cubicle? I'd probably admire her courage. I could join in alongside her and then, as we both left, the secret shy smiles, both knowing what we'd each been doing... Stop it! God, what's got into me? I'm not normally this randy so I guess that it's Rick's fault.
As I head back to the car, my phone beeps to signal a text message. I don't recognise the number and open the message expecting some on-line dating or 'have you had and accident' lawyer's spam. What I see is a shock:
SO YOU THINK YOU CAN WHORE YOUR WAY IN YOUR CAREER DO YOU, YOU UGLY COW? REMEMEBER THAT YOU'RE NOT THE ONLY ONE PREPARED TO OPEN HER LEGS TO GET WHAT SHE WANTS AND WHEN YOU FUCK THIS ASSIGNMENT UP I'LL MAKE SURE YOU'RE GONE FOR GOOD.
At first I can barely take in what I'm reading but, as I re-read it, a determination settles over me. Though I can't prove it, not right now, but this has Terri's venom all over it. Well, I'll show her, the bitch!
Suitably relieved, stretched and coffee-filled I get back under way, fired with a new determination to succeed at this. The road now alternates between winding roads and stretches of dual carriageway, some of these so short it makes me wonder why they bothered. Still, at least it all helps to keep my mind from wandering down sensual memory lanes to last Tuesday night with Rick (good, but not quite a s good at that second date) or to imagined scenes of retribution I'd like visited on the bitch Terri!
There is a long run of fast road as I approach Exeter, looping south of the city on the motorway briefly before turning off onto the A30. I've kept to schedule, even making up the time I lost drinking coffee, but the weather seems to be deteriorating and it's growing misty outside as the road runs along the edge of Dartmoor. I press on, a little slower, still heading west and south.
The outside temperature displayed on the dashboard shows it's growing colder as I cross from Devon into Cornwall. Actually, the temperature is dropping like a stone and within a mile or so it has dropped seven degrees to a chilly four degrees Celsius. I guess this is what they mean by a 'cold front' on the weather forecast. The sat-nav instructs me to take the next turn and I find myself in a winding country lane. I should have remembered this about this sat-nav app: it seems to like backways and little roads, ignorant of the fact that, while the speed limit is in theory fifty or sixty miles an hour, the chances of meeting an oncoming car or something agricultural in the road mean that only a maniac would attempt it. When the first squall of rain lashes across the windscreen, even forty miles an hour feels too fast.
I notice a road sign that indicates I'm driving through a village with the improbable name of Polyphant. "A polyphant must be a giant parrot with a trunk, tusks and big, flappy ears!" I think to myself, smiling. The road continues its meandering and I pass through another village, the pub being the main building seemingly. I drive on until the sat-nav tells me to turn left and then, in its usual hesitant way, "In... two... point eight miles... turn... right." Just then, the phone rings and the screen changes: it's Rick. I reach out and press the answer button on the screen. "Hi Rick!"
"Beth, 'ow's it going?" his happy voice emanates tinny and with a hiss from the hands-free speaker.
"Not too bad; I'm in Cornwall at least, on some tiny road off the A30. I should be there soon. The weather's crap though."
"Well, at least you're not there on 'oliday. I was goin' to say I might be..."
"Hello? Rick, can you hear me?" There's a bleep and the call ends. Damn, the mobile must have lost the signal. Perhaps he'll call back in a few minutes.
The road continues to twist and the rain increases so that even with the wipers on full speed, the visibility is atrocious. What I can see outside shows that the road is no longer a winding lane between hedgerows but is running across open country. I can't say why, perhaps it is just the weather, but I feel nervous and jumpy. I try to peer through the black rain as the wind-contorted shapes of stunted trees loom in the headlights. I speed up, anxious for this journey to be over but my sense of foreboding increases; perhaps I fear an accident out here in such a remote place so I slow down. It doesn't really help.
Let me think: it had been two point six miles to the next turn on the right, no, left. I glance at the sat-nav for confirmation and to my horror the map is gone, replaced by a little spinning circle thingy. "Shit!" I curse, realizing that the phone must have lost its data signal too. "Fucking useless technology!" I shout at the phone, realizing that even if I knew where I was, there isn't actually a map in the car.
I see a turning on the left; good, there can't be too far to go now. I make the turn and the road climbs gradually. I notice the temperature outside is even lower here, just two degrees above freezing.
I notice that there is grass growing in the middle of the road between the tyre tracks and I begin to suspect I've gone wrong. A couple of hundred metres later and there is no road, just a track, and my suspicion becomes a certainty. Suddenly something large and dark dashes across in front of me and I break hard. Gumdrop skids on the muddy track and lurches sickeningly as the rear of the car twists to the left; I'm terrified the car will spin and crash.
Gumdrop slews to a halt; my right leg is locked in panic, pressing the brake pedal hard to the floor, my hands grasp the wheel in a death-grip and I sit there motionless and panting as my heart races. What the hell was that? Colin's comment about 'The Beast of Bodmin' comes back to me... but, no: whatever it was didn't move like a big cat.
My hammering heart slows and I have that shaky feeling that comes after a near-miss. Whatever it was, I don't want to be here. In my panicked braking I stalled the car; don't you fail your driving test for stalling during an emergency stop? I put the car into neutral, turn off the engine and then back on. There is a low whine and a half-hearted cough from Gumdrop and the headlights dim and flicker. "Come on, Gumdrop, don't be a bitch!" I mutter as I turn the headlights off and try again; this time the result is even more feeble and I'm acutely conscious of the darkness pressing in around me and of the slight shaking of the car as the wind batters against it.
I grab my phone, pulling it from the mount stuck to the windscreen that held it so I could use the treacherously useless sat-nav. Still no signal and I give a shiver that isn't entirely due to the cooling of the car now the heating is off. What to do?
I look around but can see nothing in the dark. Maybe I can get a signal outside the car, not surrounded by metal. I reach around and grab my jacket and begin awkwardly pulling it on, the cramped space and steering wheel hampering my movements. The jacket won't be nearly enough on a night like this but it's better than nothing. Finally, grasping the phone tightly, I open the door and my cheeks are immediately stung by icy raindrops. I stand up against the buffeting wind, pushing the door shut behind me. I try to let my eyes adapt to the dark and peer around. The dwindling road is faintly visible ahead while to the left I sense more than see the ground rising in a moderate slope.
I look at the phone, the glow of the screen dazzling after the darkness. "Oh... fuck!" I curse. My head snaps up as I think I hear a shout or call but after the glow of my phone I can see nothing. It's probably a sheep's bleating, carried and distorted by the wind. Whatever it was, I can't stay here all night. Height, I think; if I can get higher then maybe I can get a signal on my phone and call someone, anyone.
Hesitantly, I head off the road and onto the tussock-strewn grass. I try to use the screen of my phone as a torch but the light that seemed too bright when I looked at is seems little more than a firefly's glow as I struggle up the hill. I try to peer ahead to keep a straight course but the ground is treacherous underfoot and I have to peer down or risk a fall. I am soaked through and very cold but at last the ground levels out. I check my phone but there is still no signal, not even the tiniest of the four bars. I am desperate and close to tears as I turn, scanning the darkness for a light but can see nothing.
There, what was that? I spy a deeper shadow in the rain-drenched night that I instinctively take a step towards. "Please, can you help me?" I call out. The dark shape seems to shift, to grow and suddenly I am filled with dread: this is not anyone to rescue me. I back away; I don't know what, if anything, is there but I sense a violent malice and know that this is nothing I want anything to do with!
The shape shifts again and I cannot help thinking that it -- whatever it is -- has become aware of me. Terror floods me and, trembling, I stagger backwards, two steps, three, four, before I turn and run. In the dark I am running blind, downhill, away; that's the key, just get away. I am moving as fast as I dare but I know it is not enough: the malevolent dark thing is behind me and closing in, I'm sure. The biting wind and the stinging, icy rain are nothing by comparison.
The ground changes underfoot. It becomes soft, a layer of water over soft, cloying mud. Thinking it is a puddle I manage a half step, half jump forward but as my right foot lands there is more mud... just soft, bitterly cold, liquid mud into which my leg plunges. I scream in panic and fear, desperately throwing my weight to the left, terrified of disappearing into the bog that is swallowing my leg. I land heavily with a splash but, mercifully, do not sink, not instantly anyway, but the ground is oozing beneath me, flowing sickeningly into my clothes.
I reach out, grasping and pulling at whatever I can touch, anything to stop my sinking, to help me escape. I catch hold of something, reeds I think, and haul. I realise that I've lost my phone, dropped into the mire, but I don't care just as long as I can survive. I think it's working but the reeds start to pull out. I flail out and snag something thorny and sharp. I force myself not to let go but pull harder, despite the pain as the palm of my hand is lacerated.
There are agonising eternal moments as the pull of the mud is balanced by the strength of my arm. I recall the... the thing, the shadow and the fear of it fires my muscles. Slowly at first and then suddenly, my legs slither free. I drag myself and then crawl as the ground becomes firmer. Still panting I manage to get back on my feet. I have no idea where my car is. It is irrelevant because all that matters is the fear. Stumbling and shivering with panic and cold I blunder on. I hear whimpering, moaning sounds and it takes a few moments before I understand that the sounds are mine.
I am lost; where I am and what I am an impossible mystery. Who am I? What am I? All that I have is the fear of what I'm fleeing and an aching sense of loss for something I cannot recall. My body is numb but at least the shivers have stopped.
Something... there... some glimmer lies ahead, through the swaying, stunted trees. It might be a figure, faintly glowing as if carrying a light, a lantern or torch perhaps, moving. I have no idea who it might be out on a night like this; all that matters is that it is no terrifying shadow. I try to call out but my voice is a feeble noise in the wind and rain lashed dark. I struggle on, desperate not to lose this person.
I stumble, putting my arms out as I pitch forwards, in mortal fear that another muddy sinkhole is lurking ready to swallow me. Thankfully, the ground is solid and I hurriedly scramble to my feet once more. However, the flitting illuminated figure is gone and I give a cry of despair. I try to hurry to where I think the figure last was but exhaustion and cold sap my strength as I push through clawing, tearing branches and then stumble on.
I look up and there, a little way ahead is a faint, rectangular glow that cries out to me as shelter, as sanctuary. There is a gate... what's a gate for? It's in the way. I stumble forwards and half climb, half fall over the wide farm gate. Lurching to my unsteady feet once more I reel drunkenly forward. I can see a soft, flickering glow through the windows of the building before me.
I almost fall against the door and bang feebly. "Please, open," I croak, "Help me..." I'm so tired... I try to bang on the door again, my strength almost entirely gone.
Suddenly the door opens a crack and I look up into a pretty face, lit by the faint glow from inside as she tucks her dark hair behind her ear. Shock crosses her face as she sees me.
"I'm here..." I sigh.
Chapter 3: Mysterious Morning
Warmth: it's nice to feel warm and dry. And safe too, especially after that weird dream of cold, wet, terror. I drift, floating between sleep and wakefulness, the occasional soft sound of rain against the window no doubt the trigger for my dreams.
The mattress below me is firm but comfortable, the covers are soft and the person, Rick obviously, snuggled against my back wonderfully warm. Something nudges my drowsing brain, a sort of 'What's wrong with this picture?' puzzled thought. My eyes open slowly and focus. I sit bolt upright, stiff muscles complaining, my right hand bandaged and sore. "Where am I?" I exclaim as I take in my surroundings. It is a large kitchen that simply has to be called a 'farmhouse kitchen'. However, it is a kitchen being worked on as I notice wires protruding from holes in the walls and ceiling and patches and lines of fresh plaster. There is also a row of modern, albeit suitably styled, kitchen cupboards being fitted along the wall under the window, with a large Belfast sink in the middle.
In front of me is an old but solid looking table with three chairs while to my left is a large, black cooking range with a pile of smouldering ash in the grate. The room is tidy and swept clean but the paintwork and walls are patchy and peeling in places. The mattress is just that: simply a mattress laid directly on the stone-flagged kitchen floor. This is nowhere I recognise.
I turn apprehensively and beside me it isn't Rick but an attractive, dark-haired woman, opening her eyes to look at me, a nervous half smile on her face. "You're... you were in my dream!" I gasp. If she's here and real then it wasn't a dream. She half sits, propping herself with her elbows behind her, making the covers slip from her and revealing enough to shown she is topless. Now I'm really worried.
"Please, don't be afraid; you're quite safe," she tries to reassure me, my fear obviously showing. Her voice is gentle, calming and with a very slight West Country accent. "You turned up on my doorstep in the middle of the night. Proper frozen you were and wetter than a fish. All you said to me was 'I'm here,' and then you fainted." She looks a little awkward. "I, er, I had to warm you up so I took your wet things off and put you into bed. I got in with you to help heat you up a bit: You were so cold you weren't even shivering and I know enough first aid to recognise hypothermia and, besides, I haven't anywhere else to sleep."
"Thank you." I can't think of what else to say, sat here in just my bra and knickers, even if it sounds like this woman may have saved my life. I can see my left hand is dirty, although my right has been washed beneath the bandage, and my hair feels matted... so my memories weren't a dream, even if I can't be sure how much was real and how much was panic-induced imagination.
"So, what were you doing out on the Moor at night? You didn't much look like you were dressed for walking."
"No, I wasn't walking... well, I was but only because my car broke down and I couldn't get a signal on my phone so I tried walking up a hill, to see if that helped."
"I bet it didn't; can't use a mobile phone around here more'n ten percent of the time. I have one but it's more use as a clock than anything, when I can charge it. So, what happened?"
"There was something..." No, I can't tell her I was chased by some evil shadow; she'll think I'm on drugs or some kind of escaped lunatic. "It was the dark and I... I guess I panicked. I fell into a bog and nearly sank. I was so scared..." My voice cracks as the terror of last night comes flooding back and I'm sobbing. I feel the woman's arms around me, warm, safe and comforting, and it helps as I strive to control my crying.
I look over her shoulder at the door to the outside, nervous as if at any moment it might fly open and the darkness from the Moor flood into the room. The door remains reassuringly solidly closed and, the fear passes as do my tears. "I'm sorry," I tell her, "I'm not normally like this and certainly not with someone I don't even know the name of." Her arms carefully release, as if she expects me to dissolve into tears again at any moment. I don't and, after her hands give my shoulders a final, reassuring squeeze, she lets me go. "I'm Bethany, by the way, Bethany Cooper."
She straightens up, raising her chin. "Good morning to you, Bethany Cooper, Programme Assistant at the BBC," she says very formally, despite the fact that the covers have fallen away and she's sitting there topless. A silver pendant glints where it hangs between the top of her breasts. "I'm Ruth Penrose and welcome to Trehalow Farm. Would you like some tea?" she adds before smiling.
"I'd love some," I reply earnestly, "but how did you know where I work?" She stands, clad only in knickers, and reaches behind me, taking a woollen jumper from the chair stood there and pulls it on. It is baggy and long, virtually a dress on her. I notice what seem to be my clothes hanging muddy, stained and dishevelled from the back of the chair; I doubt the pale jeans will ever recover.
"Well," Ruth says, as her head pops up through jumper's neck, "I suppose I ought to tell you that I come from a long line of Cornish wise-women and witches." She looks at me and makes mysterious gestures with her hands before smiling and giving a little laugh. "Or I could admit that your work pass fell out of the pocket of your jeans." She bends and picks up a couple of lumps of wood from the basket beside the range and, swinging opening the grille, carefully places the wood on the faintly glowing embers before blowing gently. A yellow tongue of flame licks up the wood and she closes the door.
I watch as she picks up a small kettle and walks over to the old fashioned sink to fill it from the brass tap before replacing it on the hob of the range, right above the fire. She moves with an easy grace that I can only envy, even more since she seems several years older than I. She is quite slim and her straight, dark hair hangs down her neck to below her shoulders. I notice she often reaches up to tuck the hair back behind one ear or the other.
She looks up and sees me watching her and bows her head. "I'll see if I can find you something to wear because you're clothes are still wet; back in a moment." She leaves the room and I'm left on my own.
I take a deep breath. "Well, Beth, you didn't expect this!" I mutter. I take stock of myself and my situation. I stretch and the aches in my arms and shoulders and the pain in my bandaged hand bring back all too vividly my struggle in the muddy, sucking bog. Yes, that was definitely real. What about the dark shape that so terrified me? I don't know but I put it down to an overactive imagination in a strange and scary situation.
And what about being here now, with this woman Ruth? She is, in all likelihood, quite literally my saviour. I have to find some way to thank her when I get myself sorted and so the first thing I need to do is to get back to my car. This, of course, presents the challenge of actually finding it; I was lost when I broke down and I'm even more lost now. "You're not going to win any prizes for fashion I'm afraid, Bethany." Ruth's voice floats through the doorway.
It's odd, but I don't feel lost; no, somehow it feels right that I should be here. I can't help giving a little chuckle and shake my head. I might work on Mystery, Myth and Murder
but I've always thought all the spooky supernatural stuff was just, well, bollocks, frankly. And here I am being chased by eerie shadows across Bodmin Moor to arrive at a place where I feel I belong. "Get a grip, girl," I mutter under my breath, "or it'll be Tarot cards and Ouija boards next, and then it's a slippery slope to mystical jewellery and too many cats!" I smile to myself.
"What's so funny?" I look up as Ruth returns carrying an armful of clothes and see she has also slipped on a pair of leggings and thick socks.
"Oh, nothing really," I reply. "I was just thinking that I have never been more lost in my life and yet I don't feel lost. Does that sound weird?"
"Well, a bit, I suppose. I mean, you do know that you're not actually lost, don't you Bethany?" she asks and she drops the clothing on the bed. "There you are. Hopefully they'll fit, more or less."
"I know you
know where we are but I
don't, so I feel lost. And I have no idea where my car is... and I've lost my phone, too, in that bog." My litany of complaint is interrupted by my body sending increasingly urgent signals. "Um, us there anywhere I can wash and, er, I need to use the loo."
"Oh, of course. There's no running hot water, I'm sorry to say, but the toilet and the cold tap in the cloakroom work. If you want to use that, it's just through there," she points out through the door to the hallway. "In the meantime, I'll get the bowl I use to wash ready in the sink here. Is that okay? It is a bit primitive, I'm afraid."
I return, my bladder feeling much relieved, to find a gently steaming bowl of water in the sink, with soap and a flannel beside it. She helps me wash so I don't wet the bandage on my right hand. It's not anything like a shower but at least the mud on my face, hand and arms is gone.
"Thanks so much, Ruth; this is so kind of you." I go over to the clothes on the bed and find a baggy t-shirt, jogging trousers, a hoodie and a pair of socks similar to the ones she's wearing. Ruth goes and checks the kettle and moves about while I start dressing. My aches complain but, with my bandaged hand, I'm glad that the clothes have no buttons. They're a little small and smell slightly musty but they cover me up and are warm. "How do I look?" I ask.
"Um, is there a style called 'Refugee Chic'
?" I shake my head. "That's a pity now, because you're spot on for it."
"I do feel a bit of a refugee," I say and see a look of disappointment on Ruth's face. "But one whose found a safe place to be," I add hastily.
"Good. Right, would you like some porridge for breakfast?" she asks as I stand stiffly. I suddenly realise how hungry I am.
"Oh god, yes please!" I tell her. "Thank you so much for all this, Ruth. Is there anything I can do to help?"
"Certainly: can you add some wood to the fire? Not too much, mind." I stoke the fire, carefully, as instructed, as Ruth mixes the oats and water in a saucepan that goes on the hob beside the kettle. She hands me a wooden spoon. "You can be on stirring duty," she instructs.
It takes a while but eventually the porridge is cooked and the tea made and we sit down together. I take a sip of the tea and I'm surprised by the taste, not unpleasant but, "Hmm, this tea tastes... different. Is it an unusual blend?"
"No, just ordinary tea bags; it's probably that the milk is goat's milk," she explains and I nod. "So, what does Bethany Cooper do as a Programme Assistant at the BBC and what brings her to Cornwall?"
"Okay, well I'm a researcher and, hopefully, a writer on a TV programme, Mystery, Myth and Murder
..." I pause, waiting for her to nod or smile or say 'Oh wow,' but she just looks blank.
"Sorry, but I don't have a telly," she says apologetically, "what's it about?"
"Well, it does stories, sort of dramatizations I suppose, of mysteries, like reports of strange events such as sightings of ghosts, of myths and legends and of unsolved or infamous murders."
"And is that why you're here? Are you researching, what, the Beast of Bodmin?"
"I am researching but it's a ghost story, a haunting at Purdew Hall; it's now the Purdew Manor Hotel, do you know it?" She nods.
"I know of the Hotel; it's a couple of miles from here but can't say I've ever visited it. So what's the story?" she asks interestedly and I tell her, relating the story as I had at the creative meeting. She sits, elbow on the table with her chin resting on her hand and she listens intently, taking the occasional spoon of porridge or sip of tea.
"And since then at Purdew Hall people have claimed to have heard a child crying, begging for his mother, or a woman roaming the house, lost and dejected and, out on the Moor, a dark shape has been encountered, a woman fleeing or a man running and chasing. Um..." Last night comes back to me.
"What is it, Bethany? What's the matter?"
"It's... no, I'm being silly." I do not actually believe in ghosts, I tell myself.
"Was it something on the Moor last night?" she asks with disturbing insightfulness. "Come on, you can tell me..."
"Alright, there was something... something and nothing really, but it felt very real at the time. I climbed a hill beside where my car broke down to try and get a signal on my phone and there was something up there: dark shape, sort of human-like but... strange." I take a deep breath. "It was also completely, fucking terrifying!" I blurt out and I am trembling as I recall what I felt. Ruth's hands enclose mine reassuringly. "Sorry. I guess it was my overactive imagination on a dark and stormy night in a strange, unnerving situation. I'm not some mad woman, really."
"I'm sure you're not," she replies with certainty, "but don't assume it was just imagination: perhaps you really did encounter the spirit of Sir Lovell."
"Oh come on, Ruth, surely you don't believe ghosts are real, do you..?" She nods.
"I didn't but I... I think this house is haunted," she admits. "People around here think it is too."
"Really? Why, have you seen something?"
"Mostly it's feelings, fear mostly but sometimes," she looks a little shy, "just a couple of times, it's been love. There have been noises and, just once, I came into this room," she gestures towards the doorway and the hallway beyond, "and I saw a woman clad in grey bending over something pale just inside the back door over there." There is complete conviction in her voice.
"Were you scared?" I ask, fairly predictably given recent experiences.
"No, not at all, strangely; I could feel fear and sadness but, you know, they weren't mine. D'you understand me?"
"I think so... the fear and sadness belonged to the woman, the ghost. Do you know who the woman was?"
"I don't know but there are tales of a woman who lived here being found dead in 'strange circumstances'; maybe it's her." She looks at me. "Another story for your programme?" she asks.
"Perhaps. Would you want to tell your tale on TV?"
"Oh, probably not," she admits and I smile, finishing the last of my porridge.
"Thank you, that was delicious. You've been very kind to me Ruth; what can I do to thank you?"
"Can you milk a goat?"
"What?" I wonder if I heard her correctly. "Why?"
"Because Nancy and Mable are in the shed and they need milking, obviously!" she laughs, standing and taking the bowls to the sink.
"Oh yeah, obviously. I should have known, obviously, because all my friends have goats in their sheds!" I find her laughter is infectious or perhaps, after last night, I just need to laugh.
"Well, if you want me to help finding your car I need to get them milked."
"Why keep goats?" I ask, "Why not just buy milk and keep it in the fridge?"
"In part because I like the taste of goats' milk but mainly it's because I don't have a fridge." I look at her in amazement. "Don't worry, 'Buy a fridge' is on my list of things to do, right after 'Get the electrics in here sorted'! In the meantime, there are Mabel and Nancy. So, are you coming?"
I watch Ruth carefully sterilize a bucket and then apprehensively follow her outside. I feel safe in the house but outside is, after last night, a scary place. The day is unexpectedly bright but cool with a gusty breeze that keeps the high clouds moving. Ahead is Bodmin Moor, undulating and rising, grey-green, russet and brown. I give a shiver that isn't just the breeze cutting through my borrowed clothes. Ruth turns right and walks around the farmhouse, which is larger than I imagined but also more dilapidated, until I find myself in a shed that's large enough to be called a small barn and is full of the smell of, fairly obviously, goats.
She sets up and washes the goat's udder and a few minutes later I'm standing watching Ruth milking Nancy. She works with an easy confidence that makes the job look simple, though I'm pretty sure it's not. I suspect that I'll get my chance to find out shortly. "So, do I get to learn more about who Ruth Penrose is? What does she do, apart from milk goats, and what brings her to this, please excuse me, very run down farmhouse?"
"Well, my family were from Cornwall, St Austell in fact, and I liked coming here on holiday. As to why I'm here, in this 'very run down farmhouse'" she gives me a hard stare of disapproval, "well I suppose my experience wasn't too different to yours: I got lost." she sighs. "It was last year and my life was not going well. I worked for a big finance company in the City of London, BJK Investments; a massive salary, true, but insane pressure, stupidly long hours and colleagues, mostly young blokes, who seemed to think sexism was obligatory. I was a big disappointment to my parents," she adds with a chuckle and I look at her in surprise. "They're very socialist in their outlook, hippies in most people's eyes probably, and to them it was as if I'd sold my soul to the devil by choosing to work for BJK. I was good, though I say so myself, but the work, well, it wasn't exactly illegal but more and more it made me feel... dirty, d'you follow me?"
"Not exactly illegal but definitely immoral you mean?"
"That's it. Anyway, I was down here on holiday and I wanted to drive to Tintagel, on the north coast, and tried to get clever taking a short cut across Bodmin Moor. I'd planned it all on a map but then left the map in my room. That was daft of me but not as daft as thinking I could drive the route from memory."
"I'd have said not using a sat-nav was daft, but look how that worked out for me," I smile. "Not that I'm much good at map reading either."
"Anyway, I ended up here and it was like, I don't know... there was something about here, this house. I suddenly had the strongest feeling that this was where I belonged." To my surprise, she is bushing and she looks up at me awkwardly. "You're the first person I've ever admitted that to." I am touched by her confidence. "I did some searching and found the place was for sale, it had been for years but no one had ever wanted it, which amazed me. However, I did get told the place was haunted or possibly cursed, at least according to one old boy in the nearby village pub. It looks like the haunting bit it true, but I've never felt it's cursed; I always feel very safe here. That's strange, isn't it?"
"Well, I guess if you said you felt safe living in a haunted house to most people then they would think it a bit peculiar but you're right, it feels very safe in the house," I tell her, remembering how secure I felt earlier. "I'm sure when you've fixed it up it'll be a lovely place to live."
"Thank you, Bethany. It feels so nice to finally have someone
who agrees with me! I've a local builder and his mate working on the rest of the house, the plumbing and electrics mainly but also general repairs and plastering and stuff, and they hate it, saying the house gives them the creeps."
"They've probably been listening too much to your old man in the pub," I tell her and she nods.
"You're probably right. I, on the other hand, didn't believe him, or maybe I didn't care if he was right because I'd already decided: I quit my job and bought this house. A crazy woman, right?"
"No, you're not crazy; hopelessly romantic and idealistic perhaps, but not crazy. I wish I had your courage just to follow a dream."
"What dream's that?" Ruth asks, intrigued, tucking her hair behind her ear as she looks up at me.
"Oh no," I chuckle, "I didn't say I had
a dream but that if I did I'd want the same courage as you have to just go for it."
She nods as she pats the goat on its rump. "Right, that's Nancy done. Now it's your turn with Mabel." She looks at the apprehension on my face. "Don't worry, Mabel is very placid and I'll help."
Ruth does the cleaning and set up but before very long I'm sat squeezing a goat's udder with my un-bandaged left hand. I get a real sense of achievement when, after many failed attempts, a thin stream of milk squirts out. "Wow, I did it!" I exclaim.
"Well done. Now next time see if you can get it in the bucket instead of down your trouser leg!"
"Oh, you're so fussy!" I complain. "You know, when I set off from London yesterday afternoon, sitting in a barn wearing -- what did you call it? - 'Refugee Chic'
and trying to milk a goat wasn't exactly what I had planned for today," I tell her, as this time the milk hits the inside of the bucket. "Mind you, getting lost, breaking down, nearly drowning in a bog and wandering in terror over Bodmin Moor weren't on my to-do list either."
"What were you expecting?"
"I don't know: a lie in, a big cooked breakfast and starting my research, probably..." It occurs to me that I've not exactly made much effort to leave here so far this morning and return to normal life. I feel at ease here, almost as if I'm on holiday. "I'm sort of glad I'm here instead and I'm very happy to have met you."
"That's very sweet," she replies, "and I'm glad your getting lost brought you here."
"Even so, I need to find my car... and then get a new phone and call Rick, I suppose." I've started to get the knack of milking and work steadily in silence for a while until Ruth touches my shoulder and tells me to stop. She squats beside me and bumps the udder with her hand before milking it a little more and then stopping.
"That's it, all done," she says as she wipes the teats dry. We both stand and I pick up the half-full bucket of milk, anxious to do as much as I can to help, and we head back inside. "Here, come with me and well find a map to help locate your car," she says and, as we move from room to room, I suspect that this is in part an excuse to give me a tour of the house. The rest of the rooms are in various states of renovation, some just needing decorating and the completion of the electrical work as wires sprout from walls and ceilings. The bathrooms have a way to go, with no tiling and unfinished plumbing.
"You're not changing much are you," I observe. "Are you keeping a tight budget?"
"No, not really; as I said, my job paid silly money so I've plenty saved. I actually don't see any need to change much and in fact it's only the en-suite bathrooms upstairs and the cloakroom downstairs that are alterations."
"You needed your en-suite bathroom then?" I tease, wondering at the same time why she'd need one given she seemed to be on her own.
"Yes, absolutely!" she replies, a little defensively. "Anyway, I've thought of maybe offering Bed and Breakfast in the future, just a couple of rooms, so I'd really need it then, don't you agree?"
"Ruth, you don't have to justify your choice to me. Besides, I'd do the same in your position." She relaxes and we conclude the tour as we arrive back in the kitchen. "Um, weren't you supposed to find a map?" I ask.
"Oh yes!" She walks over to the dresser and pulls a couple of maps off a shelf and a pen. "I, er, just remembered they were here," she explains sheepishly. She spread s out the first map; it's an Ordnance Survey map that takes me back to school geography lessons with its colours and symbols (is that square with a cross on top a church with a tower of one with a spire?) and the faint pink contour lines curling sinuously. "Right," Ruth says confidently, "Now we're... here." Her finger points to a spot on the map beside a narrow double black line: 'Other road, drive or track' my glance at the legend informs me and she uncaps the pen to mark the spot with a little blob. "So, Bethany, you came down the A30 and turned off where?"
"Oh god, I'm not sure. Let me think... Polyphant, the home of the elephant-headed parrot! I drove through a place called Polyphant."
"Okay." Ruth is laughing as she scans the map until her index finger stabs down. "There's Polyphant so, from the A30 you were probably coming along this road..." she traces a little yellow line. "Did you turn off?"
"Um... yes... the sat-nav made me turn left, but not immediately. It was, I don't know, maybe two or three miles on? I drove through another village I think, one with a pub" her finger tracks the road.
"Hmmm, that might have been Tregunnon... so left could be... here? No, you'd have ended up too far to have walked here. Hmm... was it much beyond Tregunnon you turned left?"
"I'm sorry, Ruth, but I'm not sure. I turned left and then it told me to turn right but I don't know if I got the right turn, you know, the right
"Okay, maybe we need to try something different. What do you remember about the road you broke down on?" This is getting harder because part of me doesn't want to remember the scary walk up the hill in the dark.
"Yes, there was that hill beside it. Fairly steep but not, like, mountainous. I climbed it to see if I could get a signal on my phone." Ruth pores over the map intently for a minute or two, eyes scanning.
"You said... Ahhh, there, look." She points and there is an 'other road drive or track' that's so 'other' that it becomes dotted and, as it follows the contour line of a hill, just stops. I nod, remembering what I'd seen. "And there, up the hill and if you came down this way," her finger moves, "you come to an area of marsh that I'm guessing you fell in to, you poor girl. From there, in this direction for about, what, a mile and a half at least, more if you didn't follow a direct route... you come to here, Trehalow Farm. So I reckon your car must be roughly... here." She draws a neat little cross. "Do you want to go and get it?"
"I do, though I don't much fancy walking on the Moor again."
"Don't be daft, Bethany, Mr Bump can take us." She carefully refolds the map.
"Who is Mr Bump?"
"Oh, he'll be my car."
"And he has a big dent?" I ask smiling.
"We'll he did, and on the day I bought him too, though the accident weren't my fault!" she protests. He's also bright blue, like the Mr Men character, so the name was inevitable really. You probably think I'm a bit soppy giving my car a name."
"Of course it's soppy," I tell her, "Anyway, I'm sure Mr Bump will be very happy to meet Gumdrop, when we find her."
"Gumdrop?" she asks with a quizzical raised eyebrow. "Really?"
"Yes, really; and I'm not taking any teasing from a woman with a car called Mr Bump!" I check my clothes but my jeans are still too damp to wear so I fish the keys from my pocket. I also take my jacket, even though it too is still damp I know I'll need it. Hopefully at the hotel I can get it cleaned.
We leave through the hall and out by the front door. There is what might once have been a garden to one side, extremely overgrown, and a driveway in which sits a small, turquoise blue Peugeot: Mr Bump. Ruth leads the way to the car and before I get in I turn and look back at the house just as weak sunlight breaks through momentarily. I have a sudden vision of this house as it might once have looked, tended and cared for with bright white walls and flowers in the garden. For some reason my imagination also furnishes the scene with a woman in a long, grey dress standing in the front doorway as another woman in a pale crinoline dress approaches holding the hand of a child.
I blink in surprise and the vision vanishes, even as the sunlight fades once more. A little confused I climb into the car, reluctantly taking my gaze from the house.
Chapter 4: Back to Reality
I had feared that Ruth was going to expect me to navigate but, mercifully, the map remains folded on the dashboard and she seems confident about where she's going.
I try to concentrate on where we're going and memorize landmarks, something I've never been terribly good at, as Ruth points out places or sights. It's almost as if she's trying to convince me that Cornwall is a lovely place, something I can see for myself. However, I am apprehensive of returning to the hill that had scared me so badly.
We turn right and I'm surprised by a sense of déjà vu
until I realise that we've arrived from the opposite direction and we're now on the road on which I broke down. Mr Bump bounces along the increasingly narrow and uneven road until, at last, there is my car looking very forlorn and abandoned with one wheel on the grass where I slewed on the track.
I look nervously up the hill as we pull up behind Gumdrop but it is just a hill, covered with grass and dotted with clumps of gorse, a stunted, wind-sculpted tree near the top that I hadn't seen in the darkness.
"It's just a hill, Bethany," Ruth's voice speaks my own thoughts but, somehow, that fact that she says it helps.
"I know, but it was so scary last night."
"Come on," she says, opening her door and climbing out. I do the same and she walks around the car and takes my hand. She starts to lead me up the hill but I hesitate. "Beth, it's okay, we'll be fine," she promises and, reluctantly, I allow her to lead me.
The climb is much easier in the light and as we reach the top the view is amazing: the Moor lies open and it falls away in front of us to rise again in hills and tors in the distance. Releasing Ruth's hand I step up onto a half buried boulder and take in the vista. The breeze is strong and cold but there is nothing scary, not now. "You're right, Ruth: this is just a hill and the Moor is just wild and lonely, not evil," I admit. "It was just that the shadowy shape seemed so real last night."
"Perhaps last night it was. You know, for a woman who works on a programme about ghosts and mysteries, you're very, I don't know, not cynical but... humdrum and prosaic." I look down to see her looking up at me and notice again the silver glitter of the pendant around her neck, hanging inside her jumper and the checked shirt she's wearing underneath. I hadn't paid much attention earlier, given she was sitting topless, but now, without thinking, I reach down to gently pull the jumper's neck opening a little wider to see the pendant better.
"A pentacle?" I exclaim, surprised. I wonder if it's just an ornament of if whether she wears it for a reason.
"You're wondering if I'm a witch or a pagan, aren't you?" she asks, an amused look in her eyes and I nod a little awkwardly, suddenly feeling that I might be trespassing in something very private and personal. "I suppose I am a bit," she admits, "but... not properly, not really. Mum is pagan so I grew up with it, though she never tried to indoctrinate me. She gave me this just after I started working at BJK and said it was to remind me never to forget that the important things in life weren't a career or money and that life in a big city wasn't real life. At the time I thought she was just finding another way to criticise my choice of career."
"But now you think differently?" I ask and she looks out over the wild moorland as the wind whips her hair.
"Yeah, she was right and you know living here, on the Moor, it's not difficult to feel the earth and sky and wind and rain as spiritual forces. I'm not a witch though!" she adds firmly.
"I never suggested it," I assure her, "though I'm sure you'd be stunningly brilliant at it if you chose to be one."
"Thank you," she smiles as we walk back down the hill. "Well, here's your car."
I reach into my pocket and draw out the keys. "I wonder if she'll start," I say as I open the door and slip into the driver's seat. I turn the key in the ignition expecting nothing and wondering how a breakdown truck will be able to retrieve it. To my surprise it starts perfectly. "I really didn't expect that," I told her.
"Hmm, it looks like your Gumdrop has been a mischievous girl!"
"I think you're right. Still, I won't tell her off too much."
"Good. Now, we'd better get going. I'll lead the way to the hotel and you follow, alright?" I agree and Ruth returns to her car. There is a distressingly long drive in reverse before the road broadens enough for us each to turn our car around.
I follow Ruth and Mr Bump and discover where I went wrong: at a junction on a bend I went straight on instead of following the road around as it curved right. Ruth's navigation is faultless, however, and fifteen minutes later we pull into the Hotel's car park where I draw up alongside her and get out.
I look across at the hotel: a bleak, dark grey stone building that is, as Mum had said, rather down at heel and shabby. It also exudes an air of brooding malice, almost malevolence, which reminds me somewhat of the shadow on Moor and makes me shiver.
"God, what an unpleasant place!" Ruth exclaims, echoing my thoughts.
"Perhaps it's nicer inside," I reply, trying to convince myself. The look on Ruth's face shows that she too thinks that the unpleasant aura has nothing to do with the state of repair of the place. I'm rather disconcerted that the word 'aura' found its way into my thoughts as if I'm some kind of New Age spiritualist. This is a cheap, backwater hotel but one that has TV, phones, hot running water and Wi-Fi I remind myself. I feel a slight pang as I turn to Ruth. "Well, I guess it's time to say goodbye. Thank you so much for all you've done," I tell her. "For taking me in and warming me, for bandages and 'Refugee Chic'
, for tea and porridge and goat milking and... well, just everything."
"Bethany... Beth," she ventures the diminutive and I don't mind, not from her, "you're very welcome: it was all my pleasure. I feel very happy to have met you."
"Me too oooph!" I have the breath squeezed out of me as she wraps me in a startlingly firm hug that, once I recover from the surprise, I return. "I you ever get your bed and breakfast going then..." She pulls back, an offended look on her face.
"Don't you dare!" she says. "I'm not having you say you might come back as a paying guest one day." She relaxes slightly. "You're down here for a while so there should be time to drop in to the farm again; you need to bring these clothes back at least."
"I'm sorry, I didn't mean I didn't want to meet up again... I know, why don't you come over to the hotel here so I can treat you to dinner one evening? What about Monday or Tuesday? Or Sunday lunch tomorrow even." She looks at the Hotel warily but nods.
"Okay, let's say lunch tomorrow," she agrees. "Well, you probably want to get in and have a bath and get changed and log on and... whatever."
"Yes. I ought to contact Rick." I suddenly realize that some sixteen hours ago I was suddenly cut off mid-sentence; he'll be a little worried I should think. However, first I have to say goodbye to Ruth and there seems to be some awkwardness in doing this; perhaps it's the intense indebtedness I feel for her unstinting kindness and friendliness, not to mention probably saving my life. "I'll see you again tomorrow. I hope those builders of yours don't give you any hassles and get on with the work to your lovely house." It's such a feeble comment but I'm unsure what else to say.
"They're not coming over today but don't worry, I can keep them under control. I'm not such a hippy that I'm not looking forward to electricity and hot water! I'll see you tomorrow." She bends forward and kisses my cheek. "You be safe in there," she adds glancing at the Hotel.
"I'll be fine," I promise, returning her kiss before she returns to her car and, with a final wave, backs out of the parking space and drives away. I open the boot of my car and take out my suitcase, feeling somehow that rucksack would have been more appropriate. I lock the car and make my way into the hotel. Crossing to the reception desk I hear a man's voice, which makes me jump.
"Mornin' Madam. Can I help you?" he asks with distinct Cornish twang. He is in his fifties, dark hair turning grey and thinning on top.
"Oh, yes. I'm Bethany Cooper and I was supposed to be here last night but I, well, my car, broke down and I lost my phone."
"Oh, I'm very sorry to hear that. Still, you're here now and you look... er..."
"I look a right state I know, but if you knew the night I've had you'd understand! But what I really need is a hot bath and, yes, some food. Do you serve lunch?"
"Well, let me just get you signed in and you can go up to your room for a bath and the restaurant opens in just under an hour at twelve thirty if that would do you?"
"Perfect," I reply. "And can you tell me what the password for the Wi-Fi is please?"
My room is at the front of the Hotel overlooking the driveway and small car park. The room doesn't have the sinister feel I got looking at the Hotel but it's a pretty depressing place none the less, with tired, worn décor in muted colours. The bed is a double, but only just, and there is a bedside cabinet with a lamp that has the most hideous shade -- a domed contrivance of Paisley fabric with a fringe of tatty tassels around the bottom that makes it look like some psychedelic jellyfish. Finally there is also a desk in the room on which sits an old, battered telly, the miniature kettle with a single cup and a pot containing sachets of tea, coffee, sugar and tubs of milk.
First things first: I use the toilet and begin filling the bath before starting my laptop and connecting to the Wi-Fi. There are four emails from Rick that show he's becoming increasingly worried about me until by the final email, sent a couple of hours ago, he is desperate:
Bethany, where the hell are you? You're still not answering your phone. I called the hotel and they said you hadn't checked in last night. If I don't hear from you by midday I'm calling the police to report you missing.
The clock on the laptop shows 11:44 so I quickly send him a brief reply saying I'm okay. I then write a slightly longer email explaining about breaking down, losing my phone, becoming lost on the Moor and finding Ruth's cottage that, alas, had no phone or even electricity. I decide to leave out mysterious, scary shadows, waking up in bed with Ruth, milking goats and 'Refugee Chic';
apart from not wanting Ruth or I to sound weird, somehow last night and this morning was something special, a time apart from my normal life that I'm not ready to share, not even with Rick and certainly not in an email. I do ask him to send me his phone number as I can barely remember my own and, apart from my parents' home phone number, I have to rely on my phone's contacts all the time.
I click SEND and return to the bathroom where I strip, finding my knickers are rather stained and pungent, and climb gratefully into the bath for a long, cleansing soak. I take the bandage from my right hand to prevent it getting wet and look at the damage for the first time: there are several cuts where thorns, or whatever they were on the plant I grabbed, sliced into my palm and fingers. However, the cuts are clean and already much less painful than they had been when I awoke. I must compliment Ruth on her first aid skills.
Much as I wanted to just float and relax, I find that I'm agitated and feel that I should be getting on with the research I'm supposed to be doing. I also need to sort out a replacement phone and so after just twenty minute and barely wrinkled at all from the water I'm back in the bedroom towelling myself dry and dressing in deliciously clean clothes. When I check my email again I can see Rick has replied, much relieved and begging me to call him. I hesitate over whether to re-apply the bandage to my hand; as the cuts are still rather tender, I do, though tying the bandage is challenging and the result is much messier that Ruth's neat original.
Since, rather bizarrely, there's no phone in the room, it's a trip down to reception to use the pay phone in the foyer. As I make my way downstairs I count out the change I have on me, worried that I won't be able to speak for long. However, the cold draught that flows around me from the half-open front door (why the hell is it open, and in late-October too?) makes a long chat a decidedly unappealing option, however much I want to talk to Rick.
"Hi Rick, it's me!"
"Bethany, thank god you're okay. I was so worried after you got cut off last night. What 'appened?"
"Well, at that point nothing; it's just that mobile phone reception around here is crap so my phone lost the signal. It also meant that the sat-nav stopped working and I got lost and then I broke down and..."
"'ang on Beth, that doesn't make sense," he interrupts. "The sat-nav GPS system isn't linked to the phone signal."
"Isn't it?" I ask rather indifferently. "Well, the sat-nav stopped working anyway," I point out, "and so I got lost and then Gumd... my car broke down and I ended up wandering on Bodmin Moor in the freezing rain. I lost my phone when I almost sank in a bog: I got out but the phone didn't."
"Beth, that terrible! Not the phone, I mean you in a bog. So where was you after the bog?"
"Completely lost. Well, I was lost before that, but, anyway, I was just walking and stumbling in the dark until I came across this house. The woman who lives there, Ruth, she took me in. She thinks I was suffering from hypothermia so she put me to bed and warmed me up. She also cleaned and bandaged my hand where I'd cut it. She was so kind. This morning she found me some dry clothes and fed me and then she helped me work out where my car was left before driving me there and then she guided me here. She's just amazing."
"She certainly sounds it," Rick comments and the dryness of his voice makes me realize that I've been gushing perhaps a little too much about Ruth.
"Sorry, but it was such a horrible night and Ruth did so much; I wouldn't be here talking to you now if it wasn't for her."
"You're right Beth. I shouldn't be envious but I missed you and I was worried. You need to be more careful and not do foolish things like wandering on the Moors. Now what..." The front door suddenly slams shut cutting off the cold air flowing off the Moor. It makes me jump and I try to tell myself it was just coincidence but there was something in what Rick just said that made me feel uncomfortable. I wonder if it's not simply that Rick sounded like some villainous character from Scooby Doo
:"Don't visit the creepy place if you know what's good for you..." as he tries to scare people away from his secret diamond mine.
"...you need to see if there's any factual evidence about the people in your story: that always helps make the thing seem more real." Rick has been speaking while I was distracted and I hope I didn't miss some beautiful, romantic words, though he now seems to be talking work.
"Yeah, I thought I might check the library in Bodmin: deaths at a nearby manor house must have been commented on in any local newspapers and there might be books written locally too."
"Sorry, I'm telling you 'ow to do your job aren't I?" he admits. "I have a good feeling about this story and I want it all to go well, not just for the show but for you too."
"Aw, thanks Rick. I love you," I tell him in an upsurge of affection.
"Yeah, me too."
"Oh crap, my times almost run out and I've no more change."
"Bugger! Get yourself a new phone, Beth, you can bung it through on expenses as you lost yours when you were working."
"Oh, thanks Rick. Bye for now, I'll message you."
"Okay. Bye Beth d..." The line cuts off as my time runs out. I replace the phone handset in the cradle. Why do the guys I fall for always seem to have such an issue with the words 'I love you'?
Lunch is indifferent: a rather lack lustre chicken salad that does not auger well for lunch with Ruth tomorrow. Perhaps as Saturday lunchtime is quiet they don't make much effort so I'll see what this evening is like and then decide.
I head up to my room and make a start going through the notes I have, checking some things on the Internet and making a to-do list:
Check local newspapers - Royal Cornwall Gazette & poss. Falmouth Packet Visit Bodmin Library Explore Hotel. See if there is a plan or pictures of Purdew Hall. Buy Ordnance Survey map of area! Sort out phone. Should I buy a proper camera?
This last comes from seeing Marcus and Janice produce shots of locations that look too good to have come from a phone's camera. After a moment I delete it: I've got to get a new phone so I'll ask about how good the camera is before I choose. I sit and think. There might be all sorts of next steps but until I see what I can find to begin with it's hard to think about what comes next. I hesitate before adding another item:
Buy boots and clothing for walking on the Moor.
Somehow I feel that at some point I may need to go out there and, if I must, I'm going prepared this time! I do an internet search for mobile phone stores and there are several in Bodmin, including a branch of the one from which I bought my old phone. Perhaps I should drive into Bodmin and sort it out but, to be honest, I don't have the energy to face the driving or finding my way around a new town. Perhaps I'll explore the Hotel instead. Thoughts of my phone remind me that I ought to email Mum and Dad, so I drop them a brief message saying that I'm here safely but I've lost my phone, that the hotel is okay if a bit manky and asking how they are.
I leave my room and try to explore, visiting the bar and the residents' lounge but other areas of the old building lie behind doors that are locked or marked 'Staff Only' or both. I extend my exploration to a brief foray outside as I attempt a circuit of the grounds. However, it starts to grow gloomy as the afternoon wanes and the clouds build. When the first raindrops fall, I head straight indoors because I've had enough rain for this weekend. Anyway, it'll be dinnertime soon and the bar should be open and a gin and tonic is a very appealing thought.
I wake suddenly from a deep sleep, my disorientation a mix of unfamiliar surroundings and a couple too many gins and tonics. I listen: I hear the wind moaning around the building making the window rattle from time to time. It is disconcertingly dark: no yellow gleam of streetlighting edging between the curtains.
There is a thin, high cry, "Ma-aaaa!" and my blood runs cold. Silence returns and I begin to wonder if I had imagined it or if maybe it was just the wind. "Maaa-maa!" This new cry is no less chilling. There is something strange and unearthly about the cry, which is at once all around me yet seeming distant and, turning my head as I lie here, I cannot locate the direction from which it comes. I grab the other pillow from beside me, pulling it under the covers to hug it for comfort. I suppose it helps, a little, until I see the pale shape by the bedroom door. My body tenses in alarm and then horror as I realize almost instantly that this is not a real person for there is an uncertainty in the shape and a blurriness in the details. However, the form is nonetheless that of a woman in a pale robe, her hair falling down her back in vague, grey ripples.
"Bear-aaaa... Maamaa..." The sound is one filled with fear and I cannot help shivering. "Maaaamaaaaa! Bea-aaaaa! Heeelll meeeee!" The terror in the sound is almost painful to hear. The ghostly -- there, I've used the G-word -- the ghostly woman also seems to react to the sound: her hands rise as she seems to beat on the door and though there is no sound her desperation is palpable. Her form appears a little more definite than at first.
Yet, though the sights and sounds leave me trembling, I feel no threat to me in the cries or from the woman and there is a tiny part of me that feels an urge to go to the source of these cries because nothing should suffer like that. "MAAA-MAAaaa! Maaa... Bea-aaa... M-Maaa..." The cries are fading, becoming weaker and more broken even as the ghostly woman's hammering against the door becomes frantic, the thrashing of her head making her hair dance and sway. "Maaaa..." this cry is little more the sighing of the wind now. "Mama!" The ethereal woman slumps, sliding down the door to lie crumpled at its base, face buried in her hands..
"No!" I sit up sharply. Quiet as this last sound had been there was something distressingly final in its abrupt ending. I can feel my cheeks are wet with tears; the sound was, I'm sure, that of the boy, William Blyth. The woman's head lifts and turns towards me and my heart clenches in fear: indistinct as they are her features are a mask of loss and devastation. It has to be Lady Blyth whose head tips back in a thin, distant-sounding scream of loss and I empathise with her pain.
That thought, that I might have just heard a young boy's death, even if only the echoes of it, is truly grotesque and one that would distress anyone. Yet, from this building, all I sense is an underlying feeling of hardness and callousness, malice almost, as if it is inured to such suffering; there is no one coming to comfort the fading shade of the grieving mother.
I lie there, my trembling and fear and weeping all slowly easing but I'm unable to sleep as I half dread, half hope at any moment to hear that plaintive, desperate cry of 'Mama!' once more. If the horrible wailing comes again then I didn't just listen to the child die... The wind grows stronger and louder and now there is the rattle of rain against the window panes. I worry that the sound of water will be another distress after recent events but I am warm and dry and I imagine myself back in the bed at Trehalow Farm, safe and protected and cared for, as I cuddle the pillow...
Chapter 5: Getting Started
I wake late, the broken night's sleep and perhaps the alcohol combining to make me sleep later than usual. As consciousness fully returns I remember the cries in the night and the ghost at the door and wonder did I really hear and see them or was it just a dream? I roll over and my hand brushes the pillow in the bed beside me. The memory of cuddling this tells me that, while I still might have imagined it all, it wasn't a nightmare or dream. Somehow, I cannot believe that I simply imagined it all.
Of course, it might actually have been a real child crying and that worked on my overwrought imagination; there don't seem to be many other guests here at present but it's a possibility I need to check. The answer is to talk to the owners, Kenneth and Alison Curnow. Actually, what I've seen of Mr Curnow suggests he's a bit of a grumpy bastard and Mum said it was Mrs Curnow who told her the tale. Therefore, it looks like I'll have to do something I've not done much of: I'll need to go all roving reporter and interview people.
Half an hour later I'm sat down for breakfast. I flex my right hand that feels unexpectedly naked without the bandage. It's still a little sore and the skin tight but the cuts are closed and I think being open to the air will be better than being under an increasingly grubby bandage.
I'm pleased to see it is Alison Curnow waiting on the tables rather than her husband or one of the few staff they employ and I say a friendly hello when she comes over. "Hello my dear. You were the lady who got herself proper lost on the way here aren't you? What can I get you?"
"Oh, I certainly did!" I reply as I glance over the short menu. "That'll teach me to depend on sat-nav in this part of the world. I think," I say in response to my growling stomach, "it has to be the full English breakfast and a pot of tea, please." She nods and bustles off. If I recall, it was Samuel Pepys who said, 'A man might dine well in England if he breakfasts three times a day'; I'm hoping his axiom extends to a woman at the Purdew Manor Hotel.
There are only three other guests: an elderly couple and a middle aged chap, so no young children. When Mrs Curnow returns with the pot of tea I ask her if the Hotel is busy at the moment. "Oh no, not really my dear: this is it actually," she replies, gesturing to the other guests. "We'll be a little busier next when the schools are on half-term holiday."
"But not as busy as in the summer I guess?" She shakes her head in confirmation. "My parents stayed here during the summer; they're the reason I'm here actually."
"They liked it then, even though the summer wasn't very good?"
"They did enjoy," I assure her. "Mum particularly liked the story of the haunting you told her."
"Oh, the tale of Sir Lovell and Lady Blyth and their dead son, yes; it's such a sad story. And people have seen things here and on the Moor you know? Some people think Ken and I just made it up to attract the spiritualists and ghost hunters but we didn't. I..." she hesitates, "I'm sure I've seen the ghost of Lady Blyth, one night on the landing. Proper scary it was." She looks at me, keen that I should believe her so I nod.
"I can certainly believe you did. Mrs Curnow I should tell you," I glance around and lower my voice not wanting to be overheard, "I work for the BBC on the 'Mystery, Myth and Murder'
TV show?" Her eyes go wide.
"Oh, I love that programme!" she exclaims, "And that Rick Ripley is quite a dish Are you here to do a story about our ghosts?"
"Well, we're certainly considering it Mrs Curnow."
"Oh no, you must call me Alison, Miss Cooper."
"I prefer Ms actually but, please, my name is Bethany." Just then there is the ding of a bell and she excuses herself, returning moments later with my breakfast: a large plate with bacon, sausage, a fried egg, grilled tomato, baked beans and fried bread that is daunting in its scale.
"I'll leave you to eat, Ms, I mean Bethany," and she moves off. I tuck in and the food is surprisingly good but also very filling. I eat only half of it, conscious that I promised to treat Ruth to lunch and I know how awkward it is dining with someone who has no appetite.
The other diners finish their meals and leave and I am left on my own. Alison comes over and sits beside me and I ask her whether she has much information on the family or about what the house was like before it became a hotel. "Well, there are a couple of old paintings of Sir Lovell and Lady Blyth and a watercolour of Purdew Hall as it was then. I'm sure I've seen a, whatchamacallit, a plan of the old house at some point. It might have been part of the deeds when we bought the place so I'll ask Ken."
"That would be brilliant, Alison, thank you. Um, could I see the paintings at some point?" For some reason, much as I want to see them, it is a scary prospect.
"Of course; give me half an hour to get sorted in here and I'll meet you in the front hall. Would that suit you?"
I tell her is would be perfect and drink the last of the tea before walking out into the hall. The grandfather clock opposite says it just gone nine thirty and I wonder what to do for half an hour. I see a painting on the wall near the clock that I haven't noticed before and walk over to examine it. As I suspected, it is the water coloured etching of Purdew Hall, the one that Alison mentioned. I can see the artist did their best but there is now doubt about it: this has always been a grim, foreboding looking place.
I jump as two slightly chilly hands slip over my eyes from behind. I give a little squeal as Ruth's voice asks, "Guess who?" and I laugh. My laughter here sounds out of place, inappropriate almost, like a giggle at a funeral and I cut it off.
"You clown!" I say, turning to her and the sight of Ruth's smiling face is unexpectedly comforting. Actually, given what I'm sure I saw and heard last night, maybe it's not so unexpected. My eyes register her clothing: a good quality outdoor coat that's unzipped to show a jumper beneath, waterproof trousers and, strangely, her feet just in thick, woollen socks. She glances down, following my gaze.
"Oh, I took my boots off and left them in the entrance so I didn't walk mud across the floor; it wasn't so I could sneak up on you, I promise!"
"You walked here?" I ask in amazement.
"Yes, I walk a lot on the Moors. It's quite safe as long as you're sensible about the weather, dress appropriately and know where you're going."
"You mean don't go out there in the middle of a storm at night wearing only a thin jacket with no idea where you are, I suppose."
"Yes, sort of I suppose."
"I'll bear that in mind. I don't suppose you'd be willing to act as a guide if I do go out there again would you?"
"It would be my pleasure, Bethany. Are you okay? You look tired."
"You won't believe the night I've had," I tell her as I grab her hand and pull her to the Guests' Lounge that is, as I'd hoped, empty. I urge her into an armchair and draw another one up so I can sit close, facing her.
"You too?" she asks as she sits. "I had to come over early to see you because of my night!"
"Why? What happened?"
"No, you go first."
"Okay. Well, something woke me up in the night. At first I thought it was the wind but it was a child crying. It was calling 'Mama' and something else... 'Baya' or 'Bear-ra'; something I couldn't make out properly." I see the look on her face. "No, Ruth, before you suggest it there are no guests with children here, I checked." She nods in acceptance. "Anyway, the child's cries woke me up but then I saw a woman. Shit, Ruth, it was a ghost. That sounds so corny sitting here but it's true. It was a woman and she was at the door, banging on it like she was trying to get out."
"Oh god!" she exclaims. "Were you scared?" I think for a moment.
"When I first saw her, the ghost, I was bloody terrified. For a moment I thought it was a person in my room but I could tell as I looked that she wasn't real. It was scary but... Ruth it was just so desperately sad
. Hearing a child cry in such fear or pain was horrible enough but the poor woman trying to get through the door to comfort or rescue the child but unable to do so. She was so desperate..."
"And you think it was the ghost of Lady Blyth and the crying was her son?" I nod dejectedly as I relive the emotions of last night and feel Ruth take my hand to comfort me. I look at her, gazing into the light, golden brown of her eyes that shine with concern. I wish she'd been with me last night.
"So, what happened to you last night?" I ask after a few moments.
"Well, nothing as right scary as you had," she assures me. "I was lying in bed last night listening to the wind and I heard a noise from upstairs, from the main bedroom actually, right above the kitchen. It sounded like soft footsteps but I knew that was silly so I thought maybe it was something banging in the wind. It was really disconcerting so I went up to check." I imagine her climbing the stairs, pitch black as she has no electricity.
"Sooner you than me in the dark!" I tell her earnestly.
"Well, I did have my little electric torch. Anyway, I could still hear them, the walking feet, as I came to the bedroom door, which was closed. When I opened the door the sounds were really clear and they were definitely footsteps; I could almost follow where the person was pacing up and down... but there was no one there!"
"What did you do?"
"I did the same stupid thing most people probably do: I said 'Hello, is there anyone there?'" she smiles. "Of course there was no answer -- it would have really freaked me out if there had been! -- but the footsteps stopped and I got this real feeling of anxiety, almost of panic."
"What were you worried about?" I ask in concern and she looks a little awkward.
"Um... you, Bethany; I had the most intense feeling that something horrible was going to happen to you. That's why I came over here sooner than I planned. I'd have come even earlier but..."
"But you didn't want to seem like some mad woman?" I suggest.
"Yes, something like that. I was so glad when I saw you standing there looking at that picture and nothing terrible had happened." Her hand squeezes mine just a little tighter. "Although..." That thought hangs between us: something pretty horrible had
happened to me in the night.
"You don't think, maybe, we're getting carried away here?" Her hand releases mine and she sits up a little, drawing back slightly.
"What do you mean?" she asks, a slight edge to her voice.
"Well, I tell you I met a strange, threatening shadow on the Moor and hear a crying child and see a ghost, while you hear disembodied footsteps, and then there was that ghost you saw at the back door, and we're both just 'Oh, what was it like and were you scared?' Neither of us is questioning what the other says, we just accept it." She relaxes a little.
"So you're worried we're encouraging each other, like two girls telling each other ghost stories at a sleepover until we're both seeing things?"
"More or less, yes."
"Well I know what I saw and heard, and I guess you know how it was for you, right? Maybe my worry for you might have been me over reacting but only because I... I like you and I care about you after what happened the other night."
"I really like you too, Ruth. I, er, I did wish you were there after I saw that ghost last night, I can tell you!" I laugh and she smiles. Just then I hear Alison calling my name. "That's the owner; she's promised to show me a couple of paintings they have of Sir and Lady Blyth. Come on."
I introduce Ruth and Alison to each other before she leads us through one of the 'Staff Only' doors.
"This is our part of the house," she explains. "It used to be the drawing room and the library," she tells us as we pass a dining room and a sitting room. "This was the estate office," she shows us the kitchen, "and this room here was the study," she says as she users us into her bedroom. There on the wall opposite the bed are two portraits that seem to have been painted directly onto the wood panelling. That has to be the only reason that there still there because there is no earthly way anyone would choose to have the picture of Sir Lovell staring at them and certainly not in bed. I feel Ruth edge closer to me, her arm slipping though mine as we look upon his intense, dark-eyed and malevolent gaze. His nose is croocked, evidently broken at some point, his mouth a thin, hard line that curves upwards slightly in the left corner to become a cold sneer.
"Fucking hell," Ruth murmurs to me, "I thought a portrait was supposed to be flattering!"
"What's even more worrying is the possibility that this is
a flattering portrait!" I whisper back. "He not exactly handsome, is he?" I say to Alison.
"Oh, I don't know," she muses, "he has a certain rugged appeal..." Ruth and I exchange a look of incredulity at her comment but tactfully say nothing, edging past to look at the painting of Lady Blyth more carefully. Immediately I know: this was the woman whose ghost I saw last night.
"Oh my god: it's her," I gasp.
"What's that?" Alison asks curiously. "What do you mean, 'It's her'? Have you..." she gives a little squeak of excitement, "have you seen Lady Blyth's ghost?"
"I, erm, well maybe... I saw something last night..." I reply awkwardly, embarrassed to admit it to Alison in a way I hadn't been with Ruth.
"She's got hair like yours, Beth," Ruth interjects, "and blue eyes too; she's beautiful."
"Her eyes are a much nicer blue than mine," I smile. "She's certainly beautiful though. Makes you wonder why she chose matey there."
"The marriage would probably been arranged between his family and hers in large part. She, Lady Blyth, would have been under huge pressure to marry Sir Lovell, whatever her feelings in the matter I'm afraid," Ruth replies.
"But you saw her?" Alison insists. I realise that I'm going to have tell her something and so I simply say I had seen a ghostly figure at the door of my room that looked like she was trying to get out.
"I sort of suspected it might be Lady Blyth," I admit. "That was why I wondered if there was an old floorplan..."
"Because you wondered if it was her room!" she finishes as if she has just made some Sherlock Holmesian deduction. However, I just nod. "Oh, I'll definitely ask Ken about them," she assures me as I reach into my pocket looking for my phone to photograph the two pictures.
"Damn!" I curse softly as I remember the phone's lost. Ruth guesses what's happened and reaches into an inside pocket of her coat before handing me a little digital camera.
"Would this help?" she asks and I smile in acceptance.
"Would you mind if I photographed the two paintings? To include with my research?" I ask Alison and she acquiesces happily.
"Would, I mean if you show this tale on 'Mystery, Myth and Murder'
would there be like proper filming with actors 'n'all? And might Ken and I be on TV?" she asks excitedly.
"Well, yes and very likely," I tell her as I line up the camera to photograph Lady Blyth and then struggle to find the shutter release button.
"Here," says Ruth, her hand brushing the back of mine as she reaches over to guide my finger. I take a couple of photographs of each painting in turn and one of the two of them together, showing them in-situ, before thanking Alison. We make our way back out into the main hall by reception where Alison apologises, saying she must get on with work.
"She's going straight to Ken to tell him all about you, the hot-shot TV producer!" Ruth teases.
"I'm not a producer, as you well know." I walk over to the entrance and through the doors to stand in the porch. Just inside the outer door are a pair of muddy walking boots and a small rucksack, Ruth's I guess. "Do you think this is a porch or a portico?" I ask as I stand looking out. It is raining, again, the staccato patter soft but immense, filling the world with its sound. I have the intense but bizarre urge to slip my arm around Ruth, to hold her and be held. As I feel her shoulder brush mine the urge is almost overwhelming.
"Do you ever feel like things are happening to you like you're part of a story?" She asks unexpectedly. "Like... whenever you do something it seems afterwards to have been part of a script?"
"You mean... what? Us meeting? You taking me in the other night?"
"Yes, all of that. For instance, why did I take you to milk the goats?"
"What?" I laugh at the unexpectedness of the question. "They needed milking and you didn't want to leave me sat on my own I suppose. But Ruth, I loved doing that, I loved that whole morning," I confess.
"Exactly! The goats could have waited and I certainly have never asked a new visitor to come and milk them with me before, so why did I do it with you, a woman who was half-dead with cold?"
"I was neither half-dead nor cold at that point; you had cared for me and warmed me up." I feel the blush heating my cheeks as I remember the sensation of her warm, almost naked body heating mine as I woke. To my surprise, I see the colour rising in her face too. I give in to the coercive urge inside me and put my arms around her. "I know I said it before, but thank you." After a brief hesitation, she hugs me back. I wonder if the sound of rain will always make me think of her holding me?
"I don't know if this is scripted, but I really need to go into Bodmin and sort out a new phone," I tell her as we move apart. "Plus, if I'm honest," I lower my voice, "the food here isn't up to much and I did promise you lunch so I thought we could eat elsewhere."
"You're not just after a navigator are you, Beth?" I put my tongue out at her.
"While I've no doubt I'm forever in need of a navigator, I think spending time with a friend is much more important," I reply. "Anyway, it's not my fault I was never a girl scout or whatever; I bet you were."
"Queen's Guide actually," she replies with a touch of pride and I try to look suitably impressed despite having no idea what this means. She obviously senses my ignorance. "Queen's Guide is like the highest award in Girl Guiding; you have to take on challenges and lead and go on expeditions to gain it."
"So it's like the top Girl Guide badge you can get?" I ask and she laughs.
"Yes, I suppose so. Anyway, as a friend and
a navigator, I'd love to come with you."
Chapter 6: Bodmin
The drive to Bodmin gives us time to just chat and get to know each other: she shares details of her past career in the City, her growing frustration and disillusionment with her work and how finding the farm seemed to offer the chance to reinvent herself. I tell her of life at the BBC, the way it lacks the glamour that people assume it must have, the frustrations of my seemingly stalled career and, to my amazement, even how I came to be sleeping with Rick.
"So, do you love him?" she asks. It is a disconcertingly direct question and one that I have been reluctant to put to myself. It makes me think.
"I... I certainly like
him. I mean he's good company and... well he's good in other areas too." I pray that she doesn't ask me to explain that as I feel my cheeks ignite.
"Okay, so he's good in bed and good company when you go out," she says, smiling at my discomfort. "However, the other important question is: does he love you?"
"He cares about me; he was very worried when I told him about getting lost on the Moor and very insistent that I should take more care of myself." Though he didn't say he loved me, even after I said I did to him, a treacherous thought reminds me, and even his concern had felt rather domineering. "We've only been out a couple of times so it's still early days..." I finish rather lamely and then curse myself: I've just admitted that I've slept with Rick each time we've gone out. I glance at Ruth, hoping she doesn't think me a complete slut, though I couldn't really blame her if she did. "What about you? Is there any boyfriend or significant other in your life?" I ask, deciding that we've discussed my love life quite enough.
"No, not at the moment," she admits. "I guess I don't fall for someone easily but when I did I fell hard but it didn't work out. I'm sure there's the perfect someone for me somewhere and that somehow we'll find each other. Until then I'm going to see where life takes me."
"Like going to Bodmin with the mad woman who banged, half dead, on your door in the middle of the night?"
"Yeah, why not? Turn right up ahead there," she says and points.
Bodmin is unexpected: an odd mixture of old and new with old stone buildings and modern shopfronts. Still, this does mean that there is the very modern mobile phone shop that has all the latest models. Unfortunately it also has, as Ruth observes, "The usual patronising, smarmy gits as sales assistants!" I have to agree because, although I might not be the most tech-savvy woman in the world, I'm not a simpleton either; I have a pretty good idea what I want, which isn't a phone that has a tiny screen, small memory and indifferent camera just because it's available in pink!
"Look, I had the C4 model, which I really liked, but I know there's now the C5 and the larger C6 so if you could just show me those and let me know the price and plans available, please," I say as I realize that if I let this guy keep making suggestions we'll be here all day. Ruth gives a little nod of approval as he leads the way. "Oh, and I'll need my old number transferred to the new phone please."
There is some trial and error -- the C6 is very large and feels rather like holding a paperback book to my ear but the screen is amazing and Rich did say I could charge it to expenses-- and rather more internal debating over the very large price and whether I should change my contract but forty-five minutes later we are walking out of the shop.
"Sorry that took so long," I apologise to Ruth.
"You looked so set on that big phone and the assistant looked so annoyed when you changed your mind at the last minute."
"I didn't mean to mess him around but the big model was just a silly price really. Anyway, he should have told me at the start that the C5 is waterproof. I'm glad I noticed that after what happened to my old phone." I hesitate when I see Ruth's expression. "Being waterproof wouldn't actually have helped my old phone would it?"
"Not really, no. Still, you can make calls and take photos in the bath without worrying!" she teases. "So, what now?"
"Do you mind if we do a bit more shopping? Well, after a cup of coffee, obviously. I could do with your help buying some stuff for walking on the Moor and I'd also like to find the library so I can come back tomorrow and get on with some research."
Ruth happily accompanies me, advises me and guides me around the town. The library, an amazing old stone building, is of course closed but will be open tomorrow but, I notice from the sign outside, closed on Wednesdays. We move on to visit several shops, some to buy and others just to browse. Ruth's taste doesn't do 'pretty and girlie', preferring practical, simple and, occasionally, elegant.
"Also comfortable and warm!" she insists when I make this observation to her. "No point in wearing something that hurts or means you freeze your arse off! The history of fashion seems to contain quite a lot of things designed to constrict, hamper and possibly humiliate women, corsets and high-heeled shoes to name just two!" I look at her a little surprised by her vehemence. "Sorry," she adds, more calmly, "it's a hangover from working at the bank. I got quite a lot of stick in the beginning because I don't wear heels and preferred a trouser suit to the narrow skirted suits that seemed de rigueur
for female staff. Who wants to waddle like some demented penguin?"
"Some people would call it a sexy, feminine sashay," I suggest, smiling.
"Well, I think a woman's walk is sexy enough and doesn't need ridiculous exaggeration," she says firmly. I wear heels when the situation seems to demand it but, since I've never felt I move with any particular poise or elegance in them, I rather regret not taking Ruth's 'screw you' stance sometimes.
We head to what I promise will be the last shop and in the light of our last conversation I find myself watching Ruth walk. She is quite tall and slim, but not skinny. She walks with a confidence and ease in her mud-stained boots and trousers. Is it sexy? I think perhaps it is, or should be: a strong, confident independent woman should definitely be attractive. Of course, Ruth also has good legs and a nice bum, which helps too. Maybe I should take up hiking because I find myself envying her figure and I have the clothing now.
I suddenly realise we are hours past lunch. "I'm sorry, Ruth; I promised you lunch and it's getting late so no more shops. What do you fancy to eat? Whatever you like, it's my treat."
"Actually, what I really fancy is a curry and I know just the place. Is that okay?"
The meal was very good and very filling, which made our walk back to the car more of an amble but a happy and contented one. "Hotel or farm?" I ask as we begin the drive back.
"Can we go back to hotel? I'll walk home and we can have a drink in the bar first as you didn't want to drink with the meal."
"It'll be dark; will you be okay walking on the Moor in the dark?" I ask apprehensively, remembering my own experience.
I'll be fine. I've walked the Moor at night before and I know the way; I also have a torch in my rucksack."
"You're such a Girl Scout," I tell her with a chuckle. "What else have you got in there?"
"Queen's Guide, remember! And there's a small plastic sheet that I can sit on or maybe shelter under, a couple of energy bars, a water bottle, a compass, a box of waterproof matches and some kindling, a whistle and a little first aid kit. Got to 'be prepared'! You know, 'Be Prepared' the Scout and Guide motto?"
"I didn't," I confess, a little embarrassed by my ignorance. "Have you ever needed much of the stuff you carry?"
"Well, the first aid kit's been useful once or twice and I've used the compass sometimes when walking somewhere new. The sheet gets used but it's a bit of a hassle putting it away when it's wet." She smiles, "I used to carry chocolate bars but they'd either melt on warm days or I'd eat them in the evening when I was at home and I got the craving. Energy bars are much less tempting!"
"So what have you got for dealing with terrifying night shadows on the Moor?" I ask, only half in jest. "Crucifix? Holy water?"
"I'm afraid not; I shall just have to depend upon my dauntless, indomitable spirit." She holds her clenched fist over her heart, chin raised like some female worker in a Soviet poster and then laughs. "Honestly, Beth: if I'd been in your place the other night I'd have done what you did and run away."
We draw up outside the hotel and as we get out I see Ruth bite her lip, uncharacteristically nervous. "Are you okay?" I ask.
"Yes, I just want to ask you something, but it's a bit, um, cheeky I suppose. I wonder could I use your bath? There's no running hot water at the Farm so having a proper bath is such hard work..."
"Of course you can! We should have gone via the Farm and picked up some clean clothes or clean underwear at least."
"Actually, in my rucksack..."
"You really are prepared for everything, aren't you?" I laugh.
"No, not quite everything," she replies cryptically, "but most things."
I sit on the bed as Ruth soaks in the bath. The bathroom door in front of me is open so we can chat; I can see she is happy, relaxing with her eyes closed at the moment. Suddenly there's a knock on the door. "Shit!" I exclaim as we look at each other in alarm. Ruth taking a bath isn't exactly illegal but it's certainly not quite right either. "Who is it?" I call.
"It's Alison," comes the rather muffled reply.
"One moment," I say rising from the bed. I put my fingers to my lips and Ruth nods as I move past the bathroom, pulling the door closed as I go. Opening the room door I give Alison a bright, and hopefully innocent-sounding, "Hello."
"Ah, Bethany, I just wanted to give you this," she hands me several sheets of paper. "It's a photocopy of the old floor plans; Ken thought you'd like a copy more than just looking at the originals."
"Oh, thank you very much," I reply gratefully. "That's perfect, thank you."
"He couldn't copy it all in one, I'm afraid because the original is too big for our copier so he had to copy a bit at a time..."
"No, that's not a problem," I reassure her. "This will fit in my folder better anyway." I notice her looking over my shoulder into the room where Ruth's coat is hung over the back of the chair and her trousers, rather embarrassingly, lie on the end of the bed where she left them. "Sorry, Alison, I need to get on. I ought to email my boss and update him how I'm getting on. I'll mention the plans... Um," a thought suddenly occurs. "Alison, you mentioned seeing the ghost, Lady Blyth. Where was it you saw her?"
"I thought I said: it was here, on the landing," she gestures to the area outside my door. "I was coming up the stairs and she was sort of gliding along. I thought it was a real person at first because she seemed to cast a shadow on the wall but it wasn't a proper shadow but a sort of darkness beside her." My mind immediately thinks of the thing on the Moor.
"Thank you, that's useful to know." She bobs her head and turns to go, letting me close the door. When I open the bathroom the first thing I see is Ruth's naked form as she stands in the bath. "Oh god, I'm so sorry!" I say, looking down and hastily retreating, pulling the door closed. "I should have knocked." Blushing furiously I sit on the bed.
Moments later I look up as the bathroom door opens once more to see Ruth calmly towelling herself dry. "Don't worry, Beth; please don't be embarrassed on my behalf." I nod, trying to keep my eyes on her face in an attempt to respect her privacy and not seem to be eying her body. Earlier she'd stripped down to bra and knickers in the bedroom before going into the bathroom and I remember that first morning in her bed and how she was quite happy for me to see her topless. Once again she seems to be able to read my thoughts. "Mum always said that my brother and I should never be embarrassed or ashamed of the human body, ours or anyone else's. She'd been brought up Catholic and hated the way she'd been made to feel that almost everything to do with the body was shameful; especially nudity... and sex, of course."
"So you have quite liberal-minded parents then?"
"Yes, I suppose so. 'Bodies are natural, sex is part of life, love comes in different forms and it's all cool!' as my Dad once put it. What about your parents?"
"Ha! No, they were, still are, both rather prudish, Mum especially. They're not particularly religious or anything just depressingly middle class and 'proper'; they'd fit embarrassingly well into Victorian Britain." I can't help thinking that Ruth has good reason to feel comfortable in her, it has to be said, very attractive skin. If she's happy to be naked perhaps I shouldn't be so hung up about looking at her... or about getting undressed in front of her in future.
"You're not much like your Mum and Dad then," she says reassuringly. "I'll be ready in a couple of minutes. Do you have to email your boss like you told Alison?"
"No, I just said that to get rid of her. Did you hear what she said about seeing a shadow with the ghost of Lady B?" I try not to stare as she steps into her clean blue knickers, drawing them up to cover the dark triangle between her legs. Watching someone dress is almost as intimate as seeing them undress.
"Hmm, and you were thinking of your shadowy shape on the Moor, I assume?" I nod. "Could be, but she didn't seem to have felt the threat that you did."
"Well, not exactly my
shadowy shape but, yes, the thought did occur. Assuming it wasn't all my overactive imagination."
"Do you believe it was?" she asks, she slips her bra on, covering them and her large, dark aureoles then fastening it.
"Had nothing else happened, then maybe, but hearing that crying and seeing that ghost... well, perhaps I'm less 'humdrum and prosaic' now."
"Sorry for calling you that. Can I use the excuse that we weren't friends then and I didn't know you?" She walks over to the bed to retrieve her shirt and pulls it on. Without thinking, I reach up and start buttoning it for her.
"No, it was a fair comment... my friend." I look up into her face; yes, she is after just a couple of days, a close friend. It seems strange that it could be so, but no stranger that the rest of the weird shit that's happened to me. "Come on, Ruth, hurry up and finish dressing because I want a drink."
Chapter 7: Restless Night
We go down for drinks in the bar and I try to persuade Ruth to book into the hotel for the night rather than risk the walk back. "Beth, I'll be fine, I promise. Besides, I need to milk the goats tonight and in the morning and, please don't think me a coward, but I don't think I could actually sleep here... sorry."
I'm surprised that such an amazingly together and capable woman has just said that. I also feel disappointed that she's going to leave me, though I'm not sure why. Perhaps because I want to know if she sees the ghost too, maybe I feel I need her strength or it could be simply that I'll miss her company. All of them, probably.
After just a single drink each I walk with her out through the front door of the hotel and cannot help shivering; the night is cold and when I look up there are a few clouds drifting briskly on the steady breeze lit by the moon that is waxing towards full. "See, with the moon that close to full I'll hardly need the torch," she says, trying to allay my fears.
"Ruth, please... please stay here tonight. I need you here, with me because..." there are several reasons I could give, "...because I need to know that I'm not imagining this."
"Imagining what, Beth?"
"All this spooky, creepy, scary stuff. Please. I can drive you to the farm and we can milk the goats together, you can grab some stuff and come back with me. I've only had one drink." There is an odd look on her face, almost disappointment as If she thought or hoped I might say something different; perhaps it was just the play of moonlight and the electric light above on her face because after a moment she nods.
"Okay," she acquiesces.
"Oh, thank you! It'll be like we're having a sleepover," I say happily as I reach out and hug her in gratitude. "Come on, lets sort out a room for you."
"Will I be sleeping in it?" she asks wryly, "Or is it just for decorum?"
"Well, I hoped we'd be in the same room, in case the ghost appears," I reply, "but paying for a room it does mean that you'll get breakfast."
"And the decorum?"
"Um, I think Alison Curnow might be wondering what's going on between us," I confess awkwardly. "I'm pretty sure she knew we were both in the room and I think she saw your trousers on the bed when you were in the bath earlier."
"Is that a problem for you, what she thinks?"
"Mum always said that there was nothing more important that your reputation," I reply, remembering her handwringing anxiety over what Mrs Jones would think about something or other or whether she should have told Eileen Jackson something else and what if Eileen repeated it to Linda May... "I really don't want to be like my Mum." I say quietly.
"So, shall we book a separate room for me or... whatever you're happier with because I really don't mind."
"I so want to say 'Fuck Alison and her opinion' but... I do need her and her husband's cooperation in researching and writing this ghost story so I can't risk upsetting them. I'm not saying that they'd be upset by us sharing a room, I rather suspect they might be more upset by the loss of revenue, but whatever, I don't want to risk it."
So that's what we do: we go and book Ruth a room for tonight. It's not next door unfortunately but along the landing to the left, through the arch and then down the corridor to the right; I don't think old Ken deliberately
gave her a room miles from mine; I hope not, anyway. It's then the drive over to the farm, and some hasty milking. At least Ruth's is hasty; she has finished and has time to go, sort out her changes of clothing and return to the shed before I'm done. "Well done," she says and I finally finish.
"Thank you, and thanks for letting me finish: it's quite a satisfying feeling isn't it?"
"Mmm very, and especially so when you use the milk to drink or cook. I want to start growing some vegetables next year too and maybe get some chickens. Make this more like a farm again, you know?"
"That sounds lovely. I envy you living here; well, maybe not right now but when the builders have finished definitely. "
"Even with the spooky, scary Moor outside?" she asks as she locks up and we head to the car. I still don't know how to explain it but here on the farm and with her it feels very safe.
"Yeah, even with the Moor," I smile.
Back at the hotel we're lying side by side in my bed looking through the floorplans that Alison gave me earlier as we try to work out which room is which. The re-working of the building into a hotel and the fact that neither of us is particularly good at reading the plans makes it a challenge.
"We can assume that the stairs are the same..." I say, holding one of the sheets above us so we can both see it "so... this is still the main landing here..." My finger points to the paper as it flops around above our heads.
"I know. Hang on a moment." Ruth jumps up and goes to the bedroom door. She goes to her rucksack and fetches a Swiss Army knife from it and then proceeds to work the fire escape instruction sheet out of its frame. A minute later she is back in bed. "Ta daa!" she says as she holds up the instructions, alongside the sheet I hold, and there on the bottom half is a small floor plan with the current layout. It's a long way from ideal but it does help.
"So Room 1 was the old master bedroom, more or less, Room 2, this room was... no the room the other side, Room... 10 used to be the Master's Dressing Room which means this room was, oh yes, the Mistress's Dressing room.." I look at Ruth. "Had you considered that for your house: his and hers dressing rooms?"
"No," she smiles. "Anyway, there'd be no one to use the 'his' room and I don't have enough clothes to need a separate room for them." She returns to studying the plans. "You know, if this was her room, Lady, er, Blyth's room then seeing her ghost here makes sense; the ghost was replaying something terrible that happened."
"Is that all a ghost is, I wonder: just a replay of something intense and emotional?" I muse. "Is that why I felt more sadness than terror by the end?"
"Perhaps," she replies, a little distractedly, "though I guess it might also be the spirit of the dead person stuck reliving particularly emotional or traumatic events, unable to move on. Ooh, look: the room I was given used to be the Governess's room."
"How very kinky!" I answer, saying the first thought that comes to mind. The idea that a ghost is actually a dead person's spirit is quite upsetting, especially thinking of the boy William crying. On the other hand, maybe I was experiencing Lady's Blyth's memory of the event.
"Not that sort of Governess," she replies, slapping my hand playfully and distracting me. "A governess helped to look after a child but, unlike a nanny, she was mainly a teacher. For girls in wealthy families the Governess would usually be their only teacher, while boys would sometimes have a governess until they went to boarding school."
"How old would that be?" I ask. I don't think William's age was mentioned in the story Alison told Mum.
"Ten or eleven I think but it might have been younger, I'm not sure."
"You seem very knowledgeable about this stuff."
"You'll have to blame my love of historical fiction books, I'm afraid."
I tidy up the papers from the bed, placing them on the bedside table and we turn out the lights before settling down under the covers. Our shoulders and arms touch, inevitably in the rather narrow double bed and her lower leg brushes mine. It feels so very comfortable and safe that I cannot help wriggling a little bit closer to her as we talk quietly about favourite books and films.
We quieten as tiredness builds. However, though I am very comfortable and happy, I struggle to find sleep, my mind restless. I should have called Rick, or texted him at least, but somehow everything -- him, work, the BBC and the programme, even home and London itself -- all seem like a different planet. I feel captured by events here, both the supernatural and the earthly, and it feels scary and exciting and... mysterious, all mixed up together.
The moon outside gives just enough light to see the vague outline of her sleeping face: she looks beautiful and so peaceful. I drift into a doze eventually; perhaps I even sleep a little. It doesn't feel as if it lasts long when I am woken again by the cries. "Ma-aaaa!" The sound chills me once again but this time there is no wondering if I imagined as I see the gleam of Ruth's eyes, wide open in the dark.
"Was that..?" she asks, her voice a tight whisper.
"Yes," I breathe as under the covers our hands meet and clasp in mutual reassurance. I wait for the next cry.
"Maaa-maa!" Tonight I am ready, looking over Ruth towards the door, and see the pale shape coalesce into existence: the same white robe and wavy hair rippling down her back. The sharp intake of breath tells me Ruth sees it too and there is a tiny flutter of relief within me that this is not all just my imagination. "Bear-aaaa... Maamaa..." However much I anticipate them the cries retain the power to shock me each time. "Maaaamaaaaa! Bea-aaaaa! Heeelll meeeee!"
The fear, the abject terror in the voice still distresses me, much as it does the shade of Lady Blyth as I watch her fists beat the same silent, ghostly tattoo on the door as she again futilely seeks to escape and return to her suffering child. Resting against Ruth I can feel her flinch too, telegraphing her upset at the sounds and sight. "MAAA-MAAaaa! Maaa... Bea-aaa... M-Maaa..." The cries reach their crescendo and begin fading, growing weaker as, the same as last night, the woman becomes frantic, "Maaaa... Mama!"
I sit up to see the slumped form of Lady Blyth crumpled on the floor raise its, her, head and tip it back in the same thin cry as yesterday. "Lady, I'm so sorry for you," I say quietly. I am startled as the figure appears to react to my words, her head turning towards me and her hand lifting, she seems to see me even as she fades. Had the ghost really reacted to my voice?
I find I have been holding my breath and let it out with a sigh and a shiver; my skin is chilling rapidly as the nervous sweat evaporates. Ruth makes a sharp sound, half gasp, half sob. "Shit, that was horrible!" and I can see her cheeks glisten with tears in the dim light. Without a moment's thought I lie back down and wrap my arms around her to hug her tightly. She responds in kind, hugging me back with her head pressing into the curve of my neck. I kiss her cheek as I make soothing sounds. It makes me happy to be able to comfort her after she looked after me. "Thank you," she says.
"It makes a change for me to be looking after you," I reply, "but you're right, it is horrible and it had me in tears too last night. I find it easier to be brave with you here."
"Is that what you feel being here, just brave?" she asks. It is strange question.
"Well, no... not just brave; I feel very happy and comfortable. Why?"
Ruth reaches up and brushes my cheek with her fingertips, a startlingly pleasurable feeling. Her breath is warm and soft on my skin. I look into her eyes; in the darkness the whites are faintly glistening around the dark depths. I'm not aware that either of us moves but our noses brush gently. Her fingers are in my hair. "Because I really want to give you a kiss," she whispers, our mouths so close that I can feel her words on my lips.
"Er, okay," is all I manage before our mouths come together. I tense, briefly, but then start to enjoy the feel of her lips on mine, so warm and soft and everything you could want with a kiss; almost as if, though I hadn't known it, this was what I had desired all along. I have such an upsurge of affection for this woman, for the warmth and tenderness in her that I haven't felt from anyone for such a long time. Our lips part and I press my cheek against hers as we hold tight.
It is like being a teenager again as the emotions of finding something new and special fill me. The idea that I, as an adult, could feel such intense friendship and affection for another woman is amazing: it is like having a best friend once again. It could just be all that's happened, the fear and strangeness countered by her kindness and openness has made our time together more emotionally intense than anything I've experienced in years. Perhaps when I go back to London it'll all settle down and I'll simply have a new friend living in Cornwall...
I open my eyes, waking into darkness as cold air infiltrates the bedclothes. Ruth is no longer cuddled against me and I feel the mattress move as she evidently climbs out. I look up at her, dimly visible in the almost pitch dark room, the moon no longer shining on the curtains. "What's the matter Ruth?" My voice is husky with sleep.
"Much as love sharing the bed with you, Beth dear, I ought to head to my room if there aren't to be any awkward questions in the morning." I want to tell her not to go, to come back into the warmth with me, but she has a point. We could be filming down here in a few weeks and comments from Alison Curnow about Ruth and I sleeping together could be embarrassing, to say the least, especially with my, well boyfriend I suppose, Rick.
"I suppose so," I agree reluctantly. "At least we can have breakfast together. Sleep well Ruth, love," I tell her. She bends and our cheeks brush as we kiss, not on the mouth this time but more chastely. She turns and I hear her soft, careful footsteps and she moves to the door. As the door opens I'm half blinded by the seemingly dazzling light from the landing and I reflexively shut my eyes.
"Night, night Bethany." The door gives a gentle squeak as she pulls it closed but I barely have time to settle back down before it jerks open again. "Beth, quick, come here," Ruth calls in an urgent whisper, "there's something down there!" Slightly bemused, I slip out of bed and hurry over. She nods towards the banister and the open void to the hall below. I stand on tiptoe and peer through the balustrades to the dim-lit hall where a shadowy form stands. I watch in dread as it turns and, even with the soft-focus blurriness of a ghost, the cold, cruel-featured face of Sir Lovell instantly recognisable. My moan of fear releases the breath I'd been holding.
"Arabella!" Sir Lovell shouts and I am startled to hear a ghostly voice speak actual words; Lady Blyth's ghost had been virtually silent. This voice, though it seems real at first, has the same strange acoustic of the crying child, as if coming from the hall and yet also from beside and behind me as well. However, where the crying stirred the heart with pity at the suffering it embodied, his voice chills the soul with its implacable malice.
I tremble as I feel the same vicious hatred as on Bodmin Moor and reach out to Ruth for support. "Arabella, come here you mealy-mouthed cunt!" he shouts and there is a movement to the left when a dark-clad, dark haired female form emerges from the corridor that leads to Ruth's room. For a moment I think one of the other guests has been disturbed by the noise but the woman has the same indistinctness as the Lady: she too is a ghost. She moves to the head of the stairs and descends two steps before looking down into the hall. "Yes, Sir Lovell?" she asks. Her voice is soft but I think I can hear the barely-suppressed fear she is trying to control.
"Why are you still here, bitch?" His hate-filled voice cuts through me. "I ordered you and your enfeebling, book-learned morality gone from here yesterday. My son has no need of a woman who's good only for teaching him how to be a simpering milksop. He's off to school soon and in the meantime I mean to teach him what it is to be a man. Now, get out before I take my horsewhip to you!"
Suddenly coldness engulfs me and my sight seems to dim and grow misty; the icy chill is so intense it makes me gasp. Worse than the chill is the sickening sense of desperate fear and sadness that borders on despair. Ruth turns to me at the sound, a look of horror appearing on her face as she steps abruptly away. Blinking furiously I try to clear my vision and, as clarity returns, I see Lady Blyth's ghost materialize in front of me to head across the landing towards the stairs. The sense of hopelessness lifts as I remind myself that these are simply echoes of past events and not real in the here and now.
"No, Lovell, please," she begs and I hear her voice for the first time. "Until William must go, please, let her stay for his sake and mine." I take nervous steps forward, following Lady Blyth, both wanting and not wanting to see again into the hall below. Sir Lovell looks up, a momentary expression of surprise on his cruel face as he looks towards Lady Blyth and me, stood just behind her.
"Silence, woman, I shall not be gainsaid in this. She will be gone inside the hour or she shall know my displeasure, as shall you."
The dark clothed woman, Arabella, returns dejectedly up the stairs even as Lady Blyth hurries to her. The two women cling together and I see Arabella is slightly taller and thinner that Lady Blyth.
"Those poor women." Ruth whispers but in the silence of the sleeping hotel, her voice seems loud. The two women's heads towards us, a look of surprise and fear readable in their wide eyes and open mouths, and I feel my heart start to race again: what new and horrible thing will Ruth and I see this time? We draw close, our hands instinctively clasping in mutual support as the two ghostly women stand stock-still, staring directly towards us. I turn my head and glance backwards but whatever these apparitions can see is invisible to me. As I turn back towards them, I notice Ruth did the same thing but also that the two spectres are now starting to fade, exactly the way the ghost in my room did, as the ghost of Arabella pulls away hurriedly, grasping the Lady's hand to tug her back down the corridor from which she emerged.
"I don't give a fuck what Alison bloody Curnow thinks, we're not going to spend the rest of tonight each on our own!" I tell Ruth quietly but firmly.
"I wish I could argue but that... demonic man and seeing the ghost of the Lady walk through you... god that was horrible."
"She, it... walked through me?" I ask, aghast. "Something certainly felt
horrible, but I didn't realize. Come on, I just want to hide under the covers with you." I lead the way back into my room, to the faint, residual heat of the bed into which we both climb. Gradually the chill leaves us and the reassuring solidity of Ruth is comforting as I spoon against her back with my arm resting around her waist. I feel tired and wrung out: I need sleep but for a long while it eludes me. I hear Ruth's breathing settle into the soft, steady rhythm of slumber. Please, not more hauntings tonight. I think of Ebenezer Scrooge begging the ghost of Jacob Marley that the three spirits might visit all at once so that he can then sleep. If our hauntings have a purpose, I cannot fathom it, though they seem to have brought Ruth and I close, which is one good thing. I snuggle a little closer to her, take a slow, deep breath and try to relax.
Chapter 8: Research and Discoveries
I do sleep, eventually; exhaustion getting the better of me in the end. I open my eyes blearily to find them looking into the beautiful golden-brown of Ruth's. "Morning," she says. "You look wrung out," she adds.
"You look annoyingly well rested," I tell her, which she does, especially considering the night we've just had. I stretch and yawn and give a heartfelt groan. "This place is going to kill me; I don't know if can take many broken nights like last night."
"Oh, please don't say that, Beth."
"It's alright for you: you'll be safe at home and sleep well tonight," I point out as I sit up. "Excuse me, I really need the loo."
"I'd better sneak back to my room and mess up the bed to preserve your reputation," she says with a small smile and also rising.
"The way I feel now, I couldn't care less. Anyway, when we tell Alison about what we've seen, I doubt she'll give a shit who slept where!"
"True," she acknowledges with a smile. "However, unless you want to share a shower, it's probably better if I head back." I look at her, not sure if she's joking or not and her face is inscrutable, offering no clue.
"And your clothes are there too," I point out. She nods and leaves the room but only after a quick check to be sure the landing is empty.
It's ridiculous, but almost as soon as the door closes I start missing her. I use the toilet then strip and start to shower, hoping that the hot water will revive me and wash away the heavy tiredness. I attempt, semi-successfully, to lather myself down using the hobbit-sized bar of hotel soap and my mind drifts back to Ruth's question just before she left. Did she think I would want to share a shower with her? I guess she wouldn't have said it if she didn't want us to shower together, or at least not mind the idea. It would be nice to have someone to soap your back. "Bethany Cooper, stop kidding yourself," I say out loud, "it wasn't backs, yours or hers, that you were thinking of!" Do I feel better for admitting that? Not much, no because I'm sure that I shouldn't find the thought being naked with my new friend quite so... interesting.
While my conscious mind has been occupied with its debate, my subconscious seems to have made its own decision as a tingle of pleasure runs through me from my nipples that I have begun rubbing and pulling gently. I immediately stop: I shouldn't be doing this while thinking about Ruth... but then, what's the harm, really? What would it feel like to be naked with her? I love the feel of her when we hug, not just her comforting presence in the scary darkness but the shape and softness and warmth of her as our bodies conform, one against the other. What would her wet skin feel like against mine, smooth and slippery with soap?
Suddenly I recall her kissing me in the night; was that real or did I dream it? I recall how good it felt, maybe too good to have been real. Whatever, real or not, the kiss raises questions about my feelings for Ruth... though fewer perhaps than the way in which the fingers of my right hand have found their way between my legs to part my outer lips and reveal that I've become suddenly very wet within.
There is little self-control left in me, not as the urge to climax takes possession. I squat slightly, opening my legs to allow me to bury two fingers deep inside me as my thumb seeks my clit, the pad pressing and rubbing. Mad thoughts run through my mind: the thought of Ruth doing this to herself, or whether Lady Blyth ever did this in here, in her bedroom, or did she have a maid pleasure her? What would happen if Ruth walked in on me now? Would she still want to join me in the shower, washing my back as my plunging fingers bring me to a gasping, shuddering orgasm..? My imaginings and reality collide and I'm forced to grab the side of the bath as the wonderful climactic spasms wrack my body with pleasure. God it feels so good.
The trembling thrills pass and I straighten up. Tendrils of guilt and anxiety worm their way into my brain for thinking of Ruth as I masturbated. Shit, she was pretty definitely the trigger for my starting to finger myself! I wash my hair slowly, trying to get my thoughts in order. As I turn off the shower and step from the bath to begin towelling myself dry I am left with the uncomfortable feeling that, however awkward I feel about it, I cannot say it won't happen again...
I finish drying and hang the towel over the rail as I head back into the room to dress, combing my still very damp, tangle-prone hair through with my fingers. I spin round in alarm at the sound of the door opening behind me, about to yell at the intruder to get out but the shout dies on my lips as I see it is Ruth. Nevertheless, my shyness and embarrassment at being nude cut in, amplified by fear that what I've just been doing in the shower will somehow be obvious to her, and I cannot help instinctively contorting myself to minimize what she can see.
"Sorry Bethany I thought you'd be nearly ready," she says, her voice full of concern. "I'll come back in a few minutes."
"No... no, you can stay," I tell her as I try to stop acting like a gawky teenager in a changing room. She slips through the door, closing it behind her. It occurs to me that I'm, for a second time, about to get dressed in front of her, this time from a state of complete nudity. This thought does nothing to ease my blushing.
"Thanks Beth; I really didn't mean to embarrass you... although, you know you have nothing to be ashamed of, don't you?" I'm not convinced, though it's sweet of her to say it: I am fully aware of the size of my hips and the effect that my sedentary job and lack of self-discipline in respect of gym going has on my figure and that I'm just on the wrong side of 'softly rounded'.
I dress as quickly as I can without looking like I'm totally ashamed of my body. As I bend to pull up my knickers I surreptitiously glance towards Ruth and I'm astonished to see she's watching me, a gentle, contented smile on her face that's flattering but makes me wonder again about her suggestion of showering together.
Once I'm dressed we go down to breakfast, which Ruth concedes is pretty good. "Though not," she adds, "good enough to be worth enduring a night like last night!" a sentiment with which I wholeheartedly agree. Only Ken seems to be around this morning so we're spared making any decision on whether to mention our ghostly encounters to Alison.
After breakfast I drive Ruth home, a route I'm now getting to know. "Are you sure you don't want to spend the day here?" she asks for a third time.
"Ruth, much as I might like to, I have work to do and a deadline to meet so I have to visit Bodmin Library and get on with some serious research. You could always come and help me," I suggest.
"Unfortunately I've Bob the Builder
and his merry men to deal with. Actually it's Tom the builder and he's only got one man, but I really want hot water and electricity by the end of this week. I know, come over for dinner tonight. You know your way now, so as long as Gumdrop here behaves there'll be no problem." Of course I'm hugely tempted to accept her invitation but I reluctantly decline.
"I really need to get on with this research and visiting you, while I'd love being with you," I can't help feeling a little bashful as I tell her this, "I'm not sure it'd make for an early night. The library is closed on Wednesdays so could we say Tuesday night instead?"
"Well, I can't say I'm not disappointed that sitting in some manky hotel tonight is preferable to seeing me... I'm teasing," she smiles at the look on my face. "Of course you need to get your work done but you absolutely must come over on Tuesday." Not seeing her for a day and a half is a surprisingly daunting prospect, especially being alone in the hotel tonight, but thinking of coming back on Tuesday is a comfort and lifts my spirit as I turn around and drive away.
The drive to Bodmin and the library there is uneventful, though I do find myself viewing the Moor, the hills and hollows that I found so terrifying that first night, a little more favourably; Ruth walks here fearlessly so it cannot be all bad.
Not surprisingly, the library is quiet on a Monday morning and once inside I ask for the reference library. I start in the local history section to tackle the first challenge: to prove that the events of the legend have some basis in truth and, if so, when they happened. The problem is that I have no dates beyond 'mid-nineteenth century' as my starting point and there are a surprising number of books in this section.
I scan along the titles: 'Bodmin: A Social History'
, 'Farming on Bodmin Moor'
, 'Bodmin Moor, A brief history of habitation'
, 'Moonrakers: Pirates and Smugglers in Cornwall'
. None of those sound promising, though the 'Moonrakers
one might be useful as some background and help with Rick's opening, scene setting monologue. 'Bodmin Gaol and Punishment in the 18th and 19th Centuries'
, 'Policing in Cornwall -- A History'
, now that might be relevant if I need to check whether they even had police men back then so I pull that one out too. 'Bodmin Castle'
, nope, 'Victorian Bodmin'
, 'Bodmin between the World Wars'
. Ah, what's this? 'The Ghosts of Bodmin Moor'
. That sounds more like it. I search on and in the end have eight books to begin my research.
As promising as its title sounds, 'The Ghosts of Bodmin Moor'
is a complete let down; far from being about the supernatural the 'ghosts' in the book are the various abandoned farms and buildings that dot the moor. The next two books are more accurate in their titles but Purdew Hall is only mentioned in one and then only fleetingly, with no useful information. Still, it at least suggests others have heard of the legend.
Several hours have passed and I'm getting desperate for something to eat and, more importantly, coffee as the broken sleep last night is taking its toll. I decide to try one more book and then take a break. 'Tales of Bodmin Moor'
is its unpromising title; another tedious social history of how hard life was on the Moor I suspect. It's not overly long but, like most of the books so far, there is no index sot I'll have to browse through it, page by page.
Almost immediately I change my mind about this book for it is exactly the sort of work I need: a collection of ghost stories, one for each chapter. I flick through the pages, checking the chapter titles. Please let there be something... yes! Chapter 11: The Mysteries of Purdew Hall.
Purdew Hall and its estate (though the estate is now almost gone) stands in the southern half of the Moor on an area of higher ground. At the time of this tale it had been the home of the noble Blyth family for over two hundred years, though the Hall itself was extensively rebuilt by Sir Isaac Blyth in the 1830s and 40s. The tale, however, does not concern Sir Isaac but rather his son, Lovell
Lovell inherited the title and his estate not with the death of his father but that of his older brother, who died unmarried and without an heir just eighteen months after their father died. Lovell, as a junior son of a knight, had been making his own way in the world as an officer in the navy, rising to the rank of Lieutenant. Even within the navy, an institution with a reputation for harshness and brutality, Lovell seems to have been remarkable in his viciousness in imposing discipline. With the death of his brother in the early 1850s, his duty was, whether he liked it or not, to return home and become Sir Lovell.
Of course, simply being Sir Lovell was not all that was required of him, as his aged mother, the old Lady Blyth, made clear: he must do what his brother had not and marry so that, in time, an heir might be produced. To this end she had already enquired among her connexions for a suitable, eligible young lady and had lit upon one Rosalind Redmayne who was, reputedly, as charming and beautiful a bride as any man could wish for.
I pause for a moment in my reading; there is something about the name Redmayne
that seems familiar. I struggle for a minute and then remember there's an actor, Eddie Redmayne. That must be it.
The couple were duly married and, in time, Rosalind bore a child, a son whom they christened William Isaac. There were suggestions that the marriage was not entirely happy. Lovell's temper ill-suited him to a life ashore, much less to the role of faithful husband and loving father. Rumours of his violence and regular visits to the stews and brothels of Plymouth circulated, though never in his hearing for fear of a thrashing or worse. One can only imagine how hard marriage to this man must have been for Rosalind and it seems that her love and care was focussed wholly on her son as he grew.
Then, suddenly and unexpectedly, young William died. The cause was given as 'Brain Fever', a disease that would now be called Meningitis, and this may have been so. However, there was speculation: perhaps he had died after a beating administered by his father, or that his mother had poisoned him rather than have him sent away to become a man like his father, or even that the child had committed suicide.
Whatever the truth, stranger events were to follow...
The book goes on to relate the disappearances of Sir and Lady Blyth in more or less the same way as Alison told it to Mum, the only differences being that Lady Blyth and her husband had some kind of argument or fight the evening before she fled and that the weather had been '...appalling on that autumn night...'. I also learn, with some surprise, that old Lady Blyth was still alive at this point, though she died a few months later, possibly due to the stress and upset of all that happened, I shouldn't wonder.
I take a break but return half an hour later having had a sandwich and hoping the library won't object to the extra cup of coffee I've brought back with me.
I start by photocopying chapter 11 from 'Tales of Bodmin Moor'
. I make a note of the author, one Charles Penhalligan, the publisher and the publication date. Given the book was published over eighty years ago, I suspect copyright won't be an issue. I feel I now have a starting point: Lovell gained his title in the 1850s, got married and had a son who, if Ruth is right, would have been a little under ten when he died. Let's say autumn 1862 as the place to begin searching the old newspapers.
I go to the counter and I suppress a yawn as I ask the woman, Denise according to her ID badge, about whether they have copies of the local newspaper, the Royal Cornwall Gazette
. "That we do, Miss," she replies in a very broad West Country accent, "but I'm afraid they're all on that microfiche stuff. I know that people are always disappointed that they're not proper papers." I assure her that it's fine and, yes, I do know how to use a microfiche reader.
She shows me the cabinet that holds the microfiche sheets and leaves me to get on with it. I take a few minutes to find the sheets that hold the editions from the 1860's and begin the search. After an hour I've just started on 1862 and my eyes are going funny from staring at the screen. I hadn't realized that in the 1860s Newspapers didn't do headlines -- or any text above miniscule for that matter. I suppose that it allowed them to minimize the paper needed. I blink and stretch and press on.
The first evidence appears an hour and a half later when I find the obituary announcement of the child William's death in 1864:
IT IS WITH the deepest sadness that we must report the sudden death of WILLIAM ISSAC BLYTH, the only & much beloved son of Sir Lovell & Lady Blyth on the night of 28th October from a sudden and terrible case of the brain fever.
We extend our deepest sympathy and condolences to the family at this unhappy time.
"Bingo!" I exclaim and then feel a little guilty: this is the death notice of the boy who's dying screams I've heard, twice. Nevertheless, I have a date and, if the tales are correct, Lady Blyth and her hideous husband disappeared on the thirtieth or thirty-first of the month.
I doesn't take long before I have confirmation that it was the thirty-first on which they disappeared, that Lady Blyth left the house during the night and, a little while later, Sir Lovell set out in pursuit of her across the Moor... and they both disappeared. That's all; apart from a mention that policemen from the recently formed Devon and Cornwall Constabulary were investigating and searching the Moor. I read on, wondering if there were ever any follow-up and find just two things.
The first is a short piece telling of how the body of a woman, a spinster, had been found in her cottage a couple of miles from Purdew Hall. She had been dead for several days and was thought to have been attacked by some burglar as there were signs of a struggle. What caught my eye was a mention that the woman, Arabella Penross, had worked at Purdew Hall. With a shiver I recall the ghastly spectre of Sir Lovell shouting "Arabella, come here you mealy-mouthed cunt!" This must be the same woman, surely.
The second, some three months later, is a notice for the sale of Purdew Hall. There is a comment that no sign of the couple had ever been found and the County Coroner had now officially declared them believed dead. The estate was being sold to pay death duties and, as Sir Lovell had died without heir and intestate, the remainder to proceeds of the sale would be divided between various distant relatives. Though no mention is made, I assume old Lady Blyth must also have died by this point.
I press PRINT and add this to the other printouts I've taken before removing the microfiche film and slipping it back into its paper sleeve, then turning off the reader. I stretch and notice through the window that the light is fading so I quickly tidy up and gather my things together.
On the way out the library assistant, Denise, bids me goodbye. "You're looking much happier that you were earlier, my dear; has it been a successful afternoon?"
"It has, and thanks for your help earlier, I found lots of information but I'll need to come back tomorrow; I have more research still to do."
"I'll see you tomorrow then."
I am back at the library before it is even open, cup of hot coffee in hand. Yes, the coffee is very necessary for once again I had to endure the ghost cries of the child and Lady Blyth's shade in my room. Whether there were apparitions on the landing and in the hall last night I simply don't know; wild horses couldn't have dragged me from my room, certainly without Ruth at my side.
I had made use of yesterday evening to review the results of my research and to make some notes on what I still needed to find out. The whole point of 'Mystery, Myth and Murder'
was the idea that we investigated
these things, so specific dates, places and details were the order of the day. Therefore, the dates of the marriage of Sir Lovell and Rosalind and the birth of William Isaac would be useful, either from newspapers or the Registrars' records. Some official confirmation of the cause of death of William (did they have coroners back then, I wonder) and what about the investigation into the disappearances? Surely the police must have made some kind of report.
Lastly, there was the woman, Arabella Penross. Assuming this was the same Arabella as the ghost we saw, the question is who was she and what was her status at Purdew Hall? Lady Blyth seemed very upset by her dismissal; what had she said: "For my sake and for Williams'," or something like that? So perhaps she had been a nursemaid... no! Ruth had mentioned her room had been the Governess's room; I'll bet she was the Governess. Since I'm not exactly sure what a governess's duties entailed, it too has been added to my 'Things To Find Out' list.
I hear the library door in front of me being unbolted and I sight with relief; it's too bloody cold out here for standing around. I head straight to the main library and the History section to answer the easy question: what exactly was
It turns out, according to 'Above Stairs and Below Stairs -- Life in the Victorian Household'
that Ruth had it pretty well spot on, though the book does offer some additional information. In particular there is the fact that the Governess existed "between stairs" as the book puts it; she was not exactly a servant since she was of "gentle birth", meaning she was a bit posh, I assume, but whose situation meant she had to seek paid employment, which was decidedly not posh, apparently. Still, the Governess's education and background would have allowed her interact more easily with the Lord and Lady of the house. Seeing Lady Blyth's reaction to Arabella's dismissal, it seems that Arabella had become an ally to Lady Blyth, perhaps even something of a companion.
With that question ticked off I feel hopeful heading back to the Reference section and there is Denise again. Now that we've spoken before it seems simplest just to talk to her and ask if they have copies of birth and marriage certificates held in the library. "I can look through the newspapers to find marriage and birth announcements but the certificates would be better," I explain.
"I'm sorry, Miss, but we don't; I wish I had a pound for every visiting genealogist who asked me that!" she smiles. "There's the County Record Office right here in Bodmin, although it is on the new estate on the edge of town. You might find copies of christening and marriage certificates in the churches where they happened but otherwise it's the National Registrar, I'm afraid, though I think you can search and order copies online these days."
"Damn," I mutter under my breath; given my navigation skills I could do without trying to find somewhere else. However, her mention of 'genealogist' triggers a memory and a light bulb turns on in my head. "Okay, looks like the Internet it is then; do you have Wi-Fi that I can connect to?"
I find a desk, which has a plug nearby and, though I don't know if I'm supposed to use it, I plug the laptop charger in and start up the laptop. I launch my personal email and do a quick search for emails from Maria Cooper, or 'Mum' as I usually call her. I'm looking for an email from about, let me see, ten or eleven months ago. And there it is: an email with an attachment that has the results of Mum's months, possibly years, of research into our family tree.
Opening the document, a scanned copy of Mum's hand-drawn original, I begin tracing back over the generations. There: Judith Redmayne, born 1784 died 1851 in Truro, Cornwall having married Percival Cooper in 1801. That's
where I'd seen Redmayne. Okay, so Rosalind Redmayne isn't exactly an ancestor but she just might be a distant relative. That thought gives me a little shiver of excitement.
Right; I get onto the web and to what turns out to be called the General Register Office
. Denise is right, you can order on line but you have to have them mailed to you to see them! Damn. Well, if necessary I can go to the County Records Office tomorrow. The library being closed tomorrow had seemed like a good excuse to spend the day with Ruth so perhaps I'll just order the copies online later. Anyway, for now, it looks like the newspapers will have to do. At least searching for this sort of information I can just focus on the Announcements section of each edition under 'Births, Marriages and Deaths'
, or 'Hatches, Matches and Dispatches'
as I've heard it nicknamed. Still, it's a tedious job but after a couple of hours I know that Sir Lovell Arthur Blyth and Miss Rosalind Elizabeth Redmayne were married at St Petrock's Parish Church on 24 June 1853 and that their son, William Isaac, was born on 13 February 1855.
So far, so good but now I need to find out about what actually happened. Given that my search of the newspapers yesterday revealed only vague suggestions I need to find some other source. The police are the obvious choice, so I pack up my laptop and go to the enquiries desk. "Denise, are there any books or files that detail police cases from the 1860s?" I ask her. "Some kind of summary of case reports, perhaps?"
"I'm afraid not," Denise tells me.
"Actually, there is something," a colleague standing behind her interjects. He's a young chap with a nervous habit of repeatedly pushing his glasses up his nose. "Um, in the store room downstairs there are all the records from the old Bodmin Police station that they passed to us, back when they moved to the fancy new regional Police HQ outside town." He looks across at me. "They've never been sorted or catalogued, I'm afraid Ms, but I, er, I could take you down there and um we could do a quick search, if you, er, wanted," he concludes a little shyly.
"Thank you... George," I read from his name badge, "that would be fantastic."
On the way to the storeroom, which is evidently in the basement, we pass through a very large room filled with row upon row of metal shelving all packed with books. "The stacks," George says as if that explains everything. Beyond we come to a smaller room. This is lined with the same metal shelving but that is where the similarity ends. The stacks had a kind of order to them, albeit a rather tatty and dusty looking one. This room, however, is chaos: the shelves are stuffed with a variety of boxes, folders and ledgers, in a multitude of sizes, shapes and muted colours, and this disorder spills onto the floor with boxes and books stacked haphazardly.
"Holy shit," I murmur, "how do you ever find anything?"
"Um, we don't. All this stuff has basically been dumped here; it's supposed to be gone through and organised like, but no one's had the time or willpower yet. Some of the local history society said they'd have a go last year and they made a bit of a start."
"Really?" I ask sceptically.
"Oh yes. Not a proper job, mind, but they did start sorting things by year." He gestures to a box with 'Notebooks -- 1900-10'
written in red marker pen on the side. I take a deep breath. "I seem to remember someone saying that they only sent us stuff more'n a hundred years old," he adds. "Probably worried about someone still alive being in the newer stuff."
"Well, I'm looking for 1864; can you help me? I'm Bethany, by the way"
"I can for a bit, er, at least until Mary notices I'm missin'; she's the library manager." I get the impression he's glad for the chance to do something different.
It's laborious, dusty work but we try to be systematic. Initially, it's just trying to find anything from the 1860s which isn't too tricky thanks to the police's obsessive dating of everything. Anything we find gets added to a pile that slowly grows just outside the door. I notice that he glances shyly at me from time to time as we talk and work. I don't mention working for the BBC, just that I'm researching the truth behind a purported haunting at the Purdew Manor Hotel.
"What, like they do on 'Mystery, Myth and Murder'
on the TV? I love that show. It would be so cool to go, like, ghost hunting the way Rick Ripley does," he enthuses, making me smile.
"I guess, though I suspect the reality is less exciting than it appears on the TV," I tell him, looking at the dirt and dust covering me and the boxes and shelves still to be checked.
We push on steadily. I'm not sure what the time is but I'm getting very thirst when George calls me over. He's part way through a long series of large bundles, each in a sort of manila folder and bulging with papers, all tied with ribbon, rather as a Christmas present might be. I've encountered several myself so far and they're a bugger to untie and even harder to tie back up again after checking the contents. This time, however, George has hit pay dirt, with two folders that seem to cover the latter months of 1864 and the start of 1865. "George, you're a marvel!" I tell him. "Will it be okay to take these upstairs to examine them carefully?"
"I should think so but, Bethany you won't, um, like try to take any of these papers away will you?"
"No, I promise I won't but it's okay if I photocopy stuff, right?" He says it should be no problem and together we carry the two bundles and the few other things upstairs and over to a large table in the corner of the reference section.
Before starting I pop out for coffee, buying one for George too by way of a thank you for his help. I consider stopping for lunch but decide I need to push on and get through this and so, back at the desk, I start on the first bundle.
It's an eclectic mix: there are incident reports, witness statement, timesheets, duty rotas, crime reports and requisitions for uniform, all in manuscript as I think they predate the typewriter. They are generally in date order, though there are odd sections that are out of place or disordered and if items have been removed and replaced carelessly in the past. My heart skips a beat as I spot 'Purdew Hall'
as I turn a page. I then almost have a heart attack as my eyes are covered from behind by what I realize are, as they were at the hotel on Sunday, a pair of slim, chilly-fingered hands.
"Hello Bethany, dear; guess who?" Ruth's voice whispers huskily in my ear.
"Ruth!" I exclaim, rather loudly and, as she removes her hand, I glance across to the Enquiries Desk expecting a disapproving look from Denise. "Ruth, what are you doing here?" I ask more quietly.
"I missed you so I thought I'd catch the bus and come in and see how you're getting on. Are you... upset that I'm here?" she asks.
"Of course not," I tell her, taking her hand and squeezing it. "
"Good. So, how's it going and what's all this stuff?"
I give Ruth a brief outline of what I've been doing and where all these papers have come from. I also mention how Lady Blyth's maiden name, Redmayne, is the same as one of my own distant relatives. "I also think I know who the ghost woman we saw with Lady Blyth was," I tell her she was the Governess, Arabella Penross. She was found dead in her cottage a couple of miles from Purdew Hall a few days after the couple disappeared."
"Urgh, creepy!" Ruth replies.
"Very," I agree. "However, I think I may have just found some of the police papers linked to the disappearances of Lovell and Rosalind." I turn to the page I had only glanced at, as Ruth huddles close to me to read at the same time.
This morning, Thursday 1st November 1864, at 11 of the clock Mr John Blackwood, Butler at Purdew Hall in this borough, did attend this station to report that his Master and Mistress, Sir Lovell and Lady Blyth, were missing and believed lost upon Bodmin Moor.
He stated that it is suspected that Lady Blyth had fled the house at some time during the night. He ventured that her ladyship had not been in her right mind following the death of her Son, Master William three days past and that she and the Master had been much distressed with each other since the sad occurrence. Upon being pressed on the Matter, Blackwood confided that her ladyship seemed to blame her husband for the boy's death, claiming that she hadn't been allowed to save him.
Lady Blyth's vanishment had been discovered after the Boot Boy, Thomas, was awoken by some noise in the night. The Impetuous Youth went to investigate and noticed that the front door of the Hall was ajar. He duly raised the alarm by waking his sister (who is one of the Maids) who in turn roused others, from concern that intruders might be abroad in the House. When Her Lady's Maid when to check on her, Lady Blyth absence was discovered.
When told, the Master was much vexated, and ordered Blackwood to immediately help him dress, declaring that he knew whence 'That God D_____d Woman' had fled. Once attired he immediately set out, though without his topcoat, despite the inclemency of the night. As he had not returned at daybreak and at Old Lady Blyth's instruction, Blackwood sent some of the Estate's men out to see if they could find their Master and Mistress.
Sgt. Jackson, with Constables Smith and Whealman are to accompany Blackwood in his trap, returning to Purdew Hall to assist with the search on the Moor.
"Well, it looks like the story of the disappearance s is true," Ruth observes as we finish reading.
"And there are lots of added details, like the name of the butler and policemen. Also that Lady Blyth blamed her husband for the death of William."
"Hmm, her ghost in your room: she looked like she was locked in. Perhaps Sir Lovell locked her in for some reason."
"I wonder if it was meningitis that the boy died from..." I muse. I remove the report sheet from the bundle and place it to one side, marking the place it came from with an unused coffee shop napkin. "Let's see what else what else we can find." There are some notes and reports from the search on the Moor, all negative and I'm beginning to wonder if any real investigation as to why her Ladyship ran away was ever conducted when, tucked between the pages there is a folded piece of paper which I open and read
Inspector, I heard report this afternoon that young Whealman had been talking to the domestics at Purdew Manor and asking inappropriate questions, contrary to your instructions to treat the matter with delicacy, as requested by Old Lady Blyth. I have reprimanded him most severely and can assure you, Sir, that there shall be no repetition.
Edwin Jackson (Sgt)
"Sounds like young Whealman was playing detective!" Ruth quips. I glance towards her and feel so happy we're discovering this together.
"And got into trouble as a result; at least he tried, I suppose." I keep turning over pages as we scan each in turn. At last, towards the end of the bundle I see the name Arabella.
The body of a young woman was discovered in her home at Trehalow Farm yesterday by a neighbour, Mrs Frances Goss. The discovery was reported to me at the local station at Penmill by her son, Arthur.
I attended the scene and can witness to the following:
That the room in which the body lay, the kitchen, was in some considerable disarray, with two chairs overturned and broken crockery upon the floor.
That I did find that the dead woman had suffered a blow to the head, just above her right eye that had bled much, pooling upon the floor. There was, in addition, a cut to her mouth. It is my belief that neither injury was necessarily inflicted maliciously but might have resulted from a fall.
That Mrs Goss did identify the woman as Miss Arabella Penrose, a spinster and sole occupant of the house, lately employed as a Governess at Purdew Hall.
"Penrose?" I say, shocked. "The newspaper said her name was Penross!
Penrose is your name," I protest, "she could be a distant relative of yours."
"Indeed," says Ruth, intrigued. "Either this report or the newspaper must be wrong; I wonder which?" She looks at me, "And back in your family tree the Redmayne family... Perhaps we're both relatives." I give a little shiver and turn back to resume reading.
That upon further examination I found the stove to be no longer lit and cold. The ash in the grate leads me to believe that the fire had been set but that it had burned out and to conclude that Miss Penrose had died many hours previously. I have notified Dr Fitzwilliam as Coroner, and who did tell me that he shall make his own report betimes.
I attest that the forgoing is true and accurate.
Signed this Third day of November, 1864,
Constable Peter Thorne
"It's all a bit horrible, isn't it?" I say to Ruth and she nods. "Are you okay, knowing Arabella died in your house?" I ask, reaching out to touch her arm softly. She leans into me slightly and nods.
"It was a hundred and fifty years ago -- exactly a hundred and fifty in a few days, actually. Any house that old will have had people die in it, I'm certain. I wonder whether it was an accident."
"We'd probably need to see the Coroner's report to see what he thought. Even then, I don't think there was much by way of forensics back then, no 'CSI Cornwall'.
Would even a doctor be able to say whether it was a fall or a blow that killed her?"
"True. Do you want to start on your next bundle?" Ruth asks, reaching out to it.
"I'm not sure there's much point. We know that Sir and Lady Blyth were never found and, to be honest I'm tired of papers and I'd much rather..." I feel suddenly bashful.
"What?" she asks softly and I lean in close her.
"I want to go back and spend the evening with you at the farm, Ruth, more than anything. And you did promise me dinner, I recall."
"I certainly did. Come on then!"
"Let me just make copies of these documents and tidy up." I take two photocopies of each and slip them back into place in the folder, leaving the places marked for future reference before re-tying the bundle. Ruth helps me carry them to the Enquiry Desk where we leave them with Denise, telling her I might well be back later in the week and thanking her for her help.
It's a little after four-thirty by the time we return to the car. "You know you don't have to come over just for the evening, Beth; you're very welcome to stay all night."
"In... your bed, together?" I ask, and she nods. There are some seriously turbulent feelings going on inside me. "I'd love to, but I've no clothes with me."
"I won't complain if you've no clothes, I promise," she says and though there's a teasing note to her voice, I hear something more sexual too. Perhaps I want to hear that. "But we could always go back via the hotel if you want to grab a change of clothes."
"You do seem very interested in my being naked," I observe, recalling her comment about us showering together and the way she watched me dress later. "However, I think having clean knickers in the morning and an avoidance of a return to 'refugee chic'
are worth the detour." I feel quite proud of myself at how cool and unfazed my reply was, despite the emotions churning within.
Back at the hotel Ruth sits on the end of the bed as I lift my rucksack up beside her and start to rummage through it. "Don't you unpack when you arrive?" she asks.
"No, I can never be bothered," I admit. "It used to drive my Mum mad when we went on holiday," I add, remembering her ordering me to do it and not be lazy. I look down into Ruth's face smiling up at me. "Ruth... the other night when we were in bed, you kissed me." She nods slowly. "I think I'd like to kiss you back." It would have been nice if I said this in a calm, suave voice but it all comes out in a bit of a rush. Ruth doesn't seem to notice but closes her eyes and tips her head back slightly, inviting me to do as I wish. I bend forward and it's hard to believe not only that I am about to deliberately kiss another woman on the mouth but also just how much I want to. Our lips meet and hers feel just as wonderful this time. The kiss lingers and I feel her mouth open slightly. Is she going to..? Her tongue touches my top lip, a single light caress that makes me tremble. There is no insistence: her tongue poses a question, no, an invitation that we can go further if I choose.
And I choose yes as my lips part almost immediately and my hands move to hold her head. Our tongues come together in an intensely intimate meeting. I lose myself in the moment, the feeling of our interlocked mouths and the upwelling of affection for Ruth within me. I keep saying affection but perhaps I mean love...
We part and, though I've barely moved, I feel breathless. It was just a kiss yet it moved me so much more than sex with Rick did, more than anyone ever has. "There's something going on here and I'm not sure what it is... but I like it," I tell her quietly.
"Me too," she says and I see her eyes suddenly go wide, staring past me. I turn and see the room has grown dim in the fading daylight but there is Lady Rosalind Blyth, standing close to the window.
"Arabella, my darling friend," she says and I turn to see the figure in a grey dress standing across the room, a smile perceptible on the vague features of her face.
"Rosalind, my love," she replies I look back and watch as Lady Blyth -- no, here and now she has to be Rosalind -- as Rosalind raises her hands to the neck of the long shift she wears. Her hand draws away, drawing a pale, indistinct line as she pulls the ribbon that ties the neck of the dress. I cannot help a gasp of surprise as she draws the neck wide and it slides past her shoulders to fall to the floor. The ghost stands there, naked. Her breasts are full and her hips flare from her waist, her curled locks tumble over her very pale shoulders: she is truly lovely. She reaches out her hands and walks forward, passing through the chair as if it were not there until she and Arabella come together into each other's arms, mouths meeting in a kiss so like the one Ruth and I just shared.
I feel tears on my cheeks: tears of joy to see them so happy, so in love and of sadness, knowing what was to happen to them both. My sight blurs and as I wipe them with the back of my hand I find the ghostly, passionate women have vanished.
"Wow!" Ruth murmurs and I can empathise completely with that sentiment.
"That was so moving and sad, knowing what happens but... beautiful too, I suppose." I push my things back into the rucksack and swing it onto my shoulder as I look into Ruth's face, "Take me home, my darling friend."
Chapter 9: What Ruth Didn't Say
The journey to the farm is easy, even in the fading light and the contrast with that first journey is startling. As I drive I try to analyse my feelings, specifically why do I feel like a youngster on a first date. There is an obvious answer of course: Ruth. I'd like to pretend that my feelings for her are entirely platonic and it's true that I love her company and the way she makes me feel when we're together. But I also like it when we cuddle and her kiss felt really good; okay, it felt amazing. Come on, Beth, admit it, at least to yourself: you're wondering what it would be like to do more than kiss and cuddle her. There's a tingling warmth inside me, down below, that suggests my body's up for it, even if my brain's still uncertain.
"A penny for your thoughts," she says and my glance savours the silhouette of her happy face softly lit by the glow from the dashboard and the reflected headlights. Not for the first time I wonder if she can sense my thoughts and feelings.
"I'm just very happy, Ruth, happier than I've been in a long time."
I turn into the yard in front of the farmhouse and park Gumdrop alongside Mister Bump. As I fetch my rucksack from the boot of the car Ruth heads inside. The bags of shopping -- the walking boots, waterproofs and jacket -- are in the boot too but after a brief debate, I decide to leave them. I lock the car and walk around the house through the chill autumn air to the open backdoor from which the inviting warm glow of candlelight spills.
Through the door I see Ruth over at the range. "Oh wow, that smells so good!" I tell her as I walk into the warm, cooking-scented air of the kitchen, pushing the door closed behind me and dropping the rucksack. Ruth is now lifting a casserole dish from the oven. She places it on the hob and lifts the lid to stir it as steam curls around her. She slips the lid back on and returns it to the oven, placing two potatoes beside it. Finally she turns to reveal a huge smile on her pretty face and almost skips over to throw her arms around me. I respond in kind and enjoy her in my arms and being in hers.
"I'm so glad you're here," she whispers as I feel her lips on my neck. I feel such happiness and content welling within me.
"You've been decorating," I observe, seeing some of the lines of fresh plaster have gone.
"Yes, though it's just those two walls and they still need a second coat; maybe I'd have got more done if I hadn't come looking for you this afternoon, though I'll also need help to move the dresser to paint that wall," she gestures behind me to the large dresser from which she'd taken the maps that first morning. "Anyway, I want to try and get it done before they finish the electrical stuff, which should be on Thursday, or so they've promised." She concludes with a slightly suspicious tone as if she expects to be let down.
"Have they sorted the plumbing yet?"
"Actually, yes!" she says excitedly, "But until the electricity is on there's still no hot water. Right, I've just put the potatoes in the oven so dinner will be about an hour. How 'bout you come and help me with the milking?" She releases me but only to take my hand and lead me to the shed.
Dinner is delicious: braised pork in cider with apples, baked potatoes and carrots and parsnips with glasses of cider to accompany it all. "Ruth, this is so good," I tell her, pouring myself another glass of cider from the jug on the table. "It's real cold autumn evening food!"
"Thank you. The food's all local stuff and this recipe is proper easy."
"It would have to be for me to attempt it," I chuckle. "I don't cook very much I'm afraid."
"We'll definitely have to change that when you... um." Even in candlelight I can see Ruth's blush; she has said something she didn't intend.
"When I what?" I ask, intrigued. I see pleading in her eyes, begging me not to press her. I take a long sip of cider.
"You might want to go easy on the scrumpy," she warns, changing the subject, "It's stronger than it tastes."
"More local produce?" I ask, taking another sip but just a small one. I might not be driving anywhere but I don't want to get pissed; I feel that this evening is too important.
"Yeah, old Joe Daniels in the village brews it." We eat in a peaceful, companionable silence for a while, much to the delight of my stomach. As we finish, she places her knife and fork on her empty plate reaches across the table and takes my hand. "I'm so glad you're here and shouldn't have to put up with any ghosts tonight."
"True. Though what about Rosalind and Arabella being lesbian lovers. That was... unexpected."
"You said it was beautiful," she reminds me. "You really think two women in love can be beautiful?"
"Yes, I do. Ruth... and I think you're beautiful and I love being in your company; I feel so happy and safe and... cared about when we're together." I squeeze her hand. The scrumpy has certainly loosened my tongue.
"Thank you Beth; I love being with you too." She pauses. "Beth, do you believe that some things are meant to happen?"
"What, like fate or predestination?"
"No... it's more that sometimes we come to places or meet people or things happen because... because it's right for us."
"Like me getting lost, breaking down and finding this house?"
"Yes!" she exclaims.
"And nearly drowning and dying of cold," I suggest in a sceptical tone. To my surprise she agrees.
"Yes, even that because... Listen, Mum was a pagan, right, a Wiccan, and part of what they believe in is that magic -- spells and rituals -- really work. Wiccans do consider themselves witches. Well, as a typical stroppy teenager, I knew that was ridiculous, a bit embarrassing too when other kids at school took the piss about Mum being a witch, asking if I was supposed to be at Hogwarts."
"Kids can be cruel," I commiserate and she nods.
"Anyway, I told Mum that there were no such things as magic or spells, not properly. She just looked at me and said that there were. She said that was real magical power in the earth and sky and all life for those who learned to use it. However, all of us have some magic in us. We all have the power to change something or someone, that a spell can be a thank you or a kind word, a cuddle or a helping hand, that a cup of tea or glass of water could be a potion if given with love and the desire to do good." I look at her, captivated. "When you fell through that door I had the strongest feeling that I was to be the magic -- okay, the witch -- that helped you and healed you."
"And change my life?" I wonder aloud to myself.
"Maybe; I think you're changing mine, more that you realize."
"Ruth... we do both know there's something going on here between us, don't we?" I ask nervously.
"You mean more than just finding an unexpected friend in each other? Maybe even... love?"
"Yes. Ruth, I'm longing to lie in bed with you, to hold and kiss you but... I don't know what happens beyond kissing. I've never, um..."
"Never slept with a woman? Neither have I Beth; well, apart from the two nights we spent together, obviously." She makes me smile. "Why don't we clear up and turn in? We can just be together and have a bit of a cuddle..."
"Maybe a kiss... or two."
"Too right! Come on then, let's get sorted."
It doesn't take long, Ruth filling the sink with water from the kettle while I clear the table. We wash and dry the plates, glasses and cutlery while the casserole dish gets left to soak. Soon, with teeth cleaned and ablutions performed, we're stood by the bed as Ruth turns down the cover. She starts unbuttoning her shirt and I cannot help watching. She says nothing, though she is fully aware of my gaze, but continues to undress. She places her shirt on the chair and her bra follows. Her breasts, smaller than mine and much firmer, hold my eye; the large, dark areoles surrounding the paler nipples are pointed, perhaps from the cool air.
He hands move to the waistband of her trousers, unbuttoning them and with surprising elegance, removes them. All that remain are her knickers, a surprisingly sexy red pair, and these now slip soundlessly to the floor. She stands, naked and beautiful before me. "You are so beautiful, Ruth."
"So are you, Bethany," she replies simply and her words are both a compliment and an invitation. I pull my shirt off over my head, tossing it onto the floor and my bra quickly follows; the hardness of my own nipples has absolutely nothing to do with the temperature of the room. She may have seen me naked in the hotel room, and even undressed me when I stumbled here across the Moor, but deliberately stripping in front of her is a challenge nonetheless. I quickly undo my jeans and push them down, taking my knickers with them, before kicking them off. I look sheepishly at Ruth.
"Sorry, I guess I don't do elegant like you do."
"Don't worry, Beth love, you make up for it in cuteness," she tells me and steps closer, holding her hands out. I take her hands and she leans in to kiss. It is brief but not so brief that there isn't time for our tongues to become reacquainted after their first meeting earlier. Our naked bodies meet too, the wonderful soft warmth of her skin against mine. "Get into bed, Beth, I'll just be a moment."
I feel colder as she pulls away. I get into the bed but keep watching her, intrigued by what she's going to do but it is just to extinguish most of the candles, leaving only the nightlight in its amber glass holder on the table. The room is very dim now, just the wavering candle flame and the warm fire-glow through the grill of the range. These delicately trace Ruth's form as she walks back towards me and she is, without a doubt, the most beautiful sight I've ever witnessed.
She slips under the covers to join me and we snuggle tight into each other's arms. I feel the soft fur of her sex brush my leg even as her thigh presses against my own womanhood and our breasts mesh. It is a feeling of intimacy, togetherness and, as on that first morning, of safety.
I reach up to hold her cheek and draw her in to kiss her, soft pecks on the mouth and cheeks deepen to become long, languorous, deep kisses as we open and explore and, yes, penetrate each other. Who knew kissing could feel this good, this intimate? There is a feeling of disappointment with myself, of disgust almost, as I realize I hadn't felt this emotionally close to Rick even as he came inside me. Why had I let him if I felt so little for him?
The thought of Rick makes me hesitate. It's not only that Rick might think of me as his girlfriend and feel betrayed buy what I'm doing, but also that Ruth is a woman that I met just four days ago; four very intense, event-filled days perhaps but still just barely half a week.
It takes an effort of will but I gently end the kiss. "Ruth, that felt... well, simply wonderful..."
"But? I know there's a 'but' coming, what is it?" she asks; her voice is flat with suppressed anxiety.
"Oh, Ruth, love, it's just that I'm nervous and... and I don't want to go further than kissing and cuddling. Not just yet; I don't want to rush and... spoil things between us. Is that alright?"
"Oh Beth," she says easily and with a definite note of relief, "of course it is. You were right, there is something going on between us but exactly what that is and what we do together as a result, well, we don't have to rush to answer all that. Let's take our time and find out together."
I pull her tight and she hugs me back. I know that I feel more for her than I've felt for anyone before, feelings so deep and intense that love is probably the only word for them. That I should feel like this about a woman is a surprise but not one that upsets me: it is wonderful that have found someone who I care so much for, that I love like this, and who evidently feels the same about me. Does feeling like this make me a lesbian or do I have to do something sexual with her? Does kissing count? I'm not sure it matters because it doesn't change how I feel. I'm pretty sure she wants us to make love and I think... yes, I think I'll be okay with that but not just right now, not quite. There's always tomorrow, or the day after or the weekend; just as long as I can be with her...
I wake to a grey light at the window and Ruth in my arms, her bum pressed against my tummy as I lie curled against her. Her naked bum against my bare tummy because, I remember, we are naked in bed together. The previous nights of haunted, broken sleep had obviously caught up with me last night and I must have fallen asleep while we cuddled. I can feel her breathing, soft and even, that tells me she is sleeping soundly and I cannot resist the temptation to slide my hand gently up and delicately cup her left boob. The firm softness of it is wonderful and my thumb caresses the soft skin. I feel a gentle bulge under my palm that can only be the hardening of her nipple.
Last night I had been unsure about the idea of sex with Ruth but that is not the case right now as my own nipples have become tight, hard points and I feel, basically, pretty damn turned on. I want to... well, I'm not actually sure exactly what, and I'm still unsure of how Ruth would react. Perhaps if I leave my hand here...
She doesn't wake but her arm moves, trapping mine. I kiss the nape of her neck and close my eyes as my fingers stroke her cupped boob. I don't think 'pretty damn turned on' covers what I'm feeling here as thoughts of touching her as a lover inflame me. I move my hand to take her hardened nipple between my thumb and forefinger and gently, roll and squeeze it in the way I do my own when I masturbate.
Her breathing catches and in panic I release her nubbin. "Please don't stop, Beth darling; that feels so good." She tells me sleepily. Relieved I resume, though now she's awake I'm a little firmer in my squeezes and caresses. She wriggles, pressing her bum harder into me and I feel her hand on my hip and thigh as she strokes my skin. "Are you all right with this my love?" she asks.
"Oh god, yes!" I exclaim. "I feel so turned on this morning, Ruth; I really want this, I want to make love with you." She rolls in my hug, taking the boob from my grasp, until we are face to face and the movement of the covers brings the scent of my arousal wafting up.
"Oh wow, smell how turned on you've made me!" she says, a smile lighting up her beautiful face.
"That smell is definitely as much me as it is you! I reply as I lean in to kiss her while my hand enfolds her boob. Ruth's hand reciprocates, sending such shocks of pleasure through me. I feel her hand move lower down, fingers trailing tingling lines across my tummy. However, her fingers do not stop and I feel them brush through the now moist tangle of my pubes towards my opening. "Oh, Ruth!" I sigh and copy her, sliding my hand down to between her legs. The hair feels less dense than I expect and I my fingers encounters the crease of her pussy. There is something slightly surreal about this, not that I'm in bed with a woman, or even that I'm about to touch her in the most intimate and sexual way possible, but that I so completely and desperately want this.
"Shall we?" She asks as two index fingers nuzzle at two sets of wet labia. For the first time I understand that this is just as momentous a moment for Ruth as it is for me."
"Oh yes, my darling friend," and with that we penetrate one another. It is hard to say which feeling is better: her slipping inside me or the feel of her warm, wet womanhood engulfing my finger. Both are truly wonderful and elicit simultaneous gasps of pleasure.
I curl my finger as it glides easily into her hot interior, seeking the sensitive spot in her that matches the one I love to rub within me. At the same time I cannot help pushing my hips forward, urging her deeper inside me. To my surprise she pulls back momentarily but thrusts again but now with the added pleasure of two fingers inside me. "Oh yes! Fuck me with your fingers, Ruth!"
My own finger is buried to the hilt inside her, rubbing the soft sponginess of her G-spot as the pad of my thumb presses against the top of her pussy, seeking to stimulate her clitoris within its hood. Ruth's moan tells me it's as good for her as it is for me.
I feel the first trembling tendrils of approaching orgasm and know that my first climax, as Ruth and I become true lovers, will not be long coming. I hope that I bring her to climax too.
Just then there is a sound from outside that startles me and makes Ruth freeze: the muted but unmistakable sound of an engine and the crunch of tyres on gravel. "Oh shit! What time is it?" she asks urgently.
"I don't know, why?"
"It's probably the... fucking... builders!" she complains. I can't help it, I start giggling and after a moment, Ruth joins in.
"What do we do? Will they just walk in?" I ask, trying to be sensible.
"Probably, it's what they usually do because the door always unlocked, though they normally call out as they arrive."
"So we're either going to get caught naked in bed together or out of bed at least semi-naked."
"Beth... um, these two guys are from the village so... would, um, would it matter, I mean, would you be okay liv... er, being here, with me, if they knew about us?" Like the comment about cooking last night I get the impression there is something deeper behind her question but we can hear faint voices approaching.
"Ruth, I think we need a long talk but right now I vote for staying in bed and, as soon as they open the door, asking your workmen to go and sit in their van for ten minutes. Okay?"
She nods and moments later a deep, Cornish-accent voice calls out, "Mornin' Ruth. Proper foggy it is this mornin' and no mistake!" The door opens and a burly ginger-bearded man in grubby overalls stomps through the door, stopping dead as his gaze falls upon us, leaving the taller, fair-headed man following to walk into him. "Oh, er sorry I didn't realize you were, er, like..." He turns bright red and steps back, standing on the foot of his mate behind him in the process.
"Tom, would you and Danny mind very much popping back in, say, ten minutes? I'm afraid we both overslept." She tries to sound light-hearted but I can feel her squeeze my hand for comfort.
"Oh, er, right you are. Come on Danny." With a little slapstick toing and froing Tom hustles Danny out of the door, though the taller man cannot resist a backward glance at the two of us. Once alone again, though the door is still ajar, we scramble out of bed, smiling. I feel her juices chilling on my fingers and the temptation to taste them is irresistible and I slip them into my mouth. Her flavour is not too different to mine and I know that I will not mind tasting it again. I see Ruth watching me and she raises a quizzical eyebrow even as she copies me.
"You taste nice, darling," I assure her, "and very well handled just now," I tell her as we come together in the chill air for a quick kiss before we hurriedly dress.
"We'd best wash our hands so we don't smell of each other." I give a pout of disappointment but do as she suggests. "I'll put the kettle on. Can you make the bed and tidy up over there, Beth love?"
The workmen Danny and Tom return, calling out sheepishly as they approach the door. At least, Tom is sheepish; Danny on the other hand has a knowing, mischievous glint in his eye as if the idea of finding two women in bed together is a long-held fantasy. Perhaps it is.
Ruth chats to Tom who seems to relax a little while I set about attempting to make porridge, desperately trying to remember where Ruth keeps things. I want to be useful but also to show these men that I belong here... I stop with a jolt. Bloody hell, is that what I want? Do I want these two guys to see us as a couple?
I get back to porridge, managing to find the oats and a suitable saucepan before Ruth, having finished with Tom, comes over. "You know," I whisper, "if you were to kiss me while those two were still here, I wouldn't mind."
"It's tempting," she replies equally quietly, her head close to mine, "but I reckon Danny boy there would enjoy it rather too much!"
We milk the goats while the porridge cooks and, having made tea for the men and ourselves, we sit down to eat. "So, what shall we do today? The library's closed today so I'm all yours."
"Ooo, I do hope so!" she says with a smile. "I seem to recall you saying we need a long talk so are you up for a walk on the Moor?"
"In the fog?" I ask.
"Oh, that's clearing away already, so what about it?"
"Okay; it'll give me a chance to try the walking stuff I bought at the weekend."
Ruth is, of course, correct and the fog has thinned to a slight mistiness by the time we head out. She leads the way, through the gate I scrambled over that first night but veering right, up the hill. I draw alongside her and our hand clasp as we walk on in silence for a while.
"Ruth," I break the silence at last, "last night and this morning you said things... the comment about my lack of cooking skills needing to be addressed when... something and then this morning you asked if I'd be okay with the builders knowing about us..." She looks uncomfortable and nervous. "Ruth, you nearly asked if I would be okay living
here with you this morning, didn't you? And the cooking thing; I couldn't quite work out what you almost said at the time but I'll bet it was something like 'when we live together', yes?"
"Yes," she murmurs. "I meant what I said about thinking things happen for a reason, that you were supposed to find me that night and I was to help you; that it's right that we've become friends."
"And lovers?" This makes her smile.
"Oh yes. Damn, I was proper close to cumming this morning," she complains.
"Me too and it was bloody frustrating. Okay, it's my confession time. This morning, when you were talking to whatsit, Tom, I really wanted to get on and show that I belonged in your house. Basically, I wanted them to see us as a couple. So I guess yes: I do want to be with you and not just for a quick fumble in bed together!"
She lunges at me, grabbing me into a tight bear hug of a cuddle and I hug back. "You did like the fumble in bed though didn't you?"
"What a silly question: of course I did! However, that does leave the fact that I have a home and career in London." I see the look on her face and I wonder if I'm picking up her gift of knowing what someone else is thinking. "You're going to tell me it's just a detail aren't you, and that it'll sort itself out?" She nods.
"Love will find a way," she says. This should have sounded ridiculously schmaltzy but there's something about the calm, certain way she says this that makes it seem like a fundamental law of the universe, like gravity. Actually, it sounds like love would probably give gravity a run for its money! Hey, maybe she's right.
We come to a halt as we crest the brow of the tall hill we've climbed and look out across the Moor and it undulates away from us, a patchwork of colours -- autumnal browns, coppers and golds displacing the greens of summer -- with little pockets of fog lurking in the hollows, all fading into the pale, misty distance. I draw close to her, slipping my arm through hers and leaning into her. There is a peacefulness here but also, as Ruth observed the other day, a power; it is quiescent at the moment but I can imagine, in storm, gale or blizzard, the brutal force of this place.
"I love the end of the year," Ruth suddenly disturbs my reverie.
"Sorry?" I ask, a little confused, "There're a couple of months left yet, surely."
"Do you know what today is?" she asks. I've rather lost track of the days since being here so I have to work it out.
"Er... oh, is it the thirty-first of October? Or do you mean Halloween?"
"What's Sah-wan?" I ask trying to say the strange word.
"Samhain is the Wiccan new year. It's a time of spirits, as you could guess from Halloween, and also for remembering the dead. However, it's also a time for looking back over the year and I guess it was that got me thinking. So much has changed for me this year, what with giving up my job and finding Trehalow Farm and moving here; I have so much to be happy about... and even more now you're here."
"You're such wonderful and lovely person, Ruth." A gust of cold wind makes me shiver as its chilly fingers find gaps and openings in my clothing. "Brrr, I need to get moving again; so, which way now, my darling? Which way is the Hotel?"
"Um, that way," she points off somewhat to the left, which she probably knows is south by south west or some equally nautical-sounding direction. "Did you want walk there? It's about a mile or so."
"Well, we go up to my room there and try some new things on each other," I suggest.
"That sounds tempting but... Beth, I'm not sure I can really face going into that room, not on today of all days: it is the anniversary of the disappearances, remember, and it's Samhain too. I know I'm not really a Wiccan but I remember Mum saying that today, particularly tonight, is when the spirit world is especially close to this one so things can, sort of, come across..." She gives a little tremble and I can empathise: the idea of encountering the ghost of Sir Lovell storming through the hotel is, as they might say here in Cornwall, 'proper terrifying!'
"I'm not a Wiccan either but you're right, Ruth: it is
too scary. I know, what about we go back to the farm and I can give you a hand with some painting and," I give her a quick kiss on the cheek, "when Danny and Tom have gone..."
"Come on girl, let's get home!"
Chapter 10: Samhain Night
We pile through the door into the kitchen, pink cheeked and happy, pulling up abruptly when we see Tom and Danny sat at the table drinking tea. It occurs to me that it's a bit early for lunch and this may be why Ruth is still without electricity since they don't exactly appear to be pulling out all the stops to get finished tomorrow. However, despite the urge to say something I bite my tongue, figuring that it's not really my place.
"Early lunch?" Ruth asks, echoing my own thoughts.
"Oh, yes, well with all the dust Danny an' me needed a drink so we thought we'd take a lunch, er, early like." I suspect these two have been shirking, and not for the first time, and I have an idea.
"That reminds me Ruth, you never did guess who it was I met in the BBC canteen the other week when I was at lunch." I give her a surreptitious wink. She looks a little confused but plays along.
"No... well, I didn't want to join in with your 'Guess which celebrity I met' game. So, go on then, who was it?"
"Well," I reply to Ruth knowing that Tom and Danny are listening, "it was one of the presenters, Jack Bowles, from the Watchdog
programme." I pause and Ruth looks non-plussed, as I'd guessed she would. "Oh, of course, you've no telly. Well it does consumer protection stories, you know: exposing scams and rip-offs and companies who treat their customers badly, like builders who do poor work and the like. He was saying that they're always having to look for new stories..."
"Right ladies, if you'll excuse us, Danny and me must crack on and get back to work." Tom stands up so abruptly his chair topples over behind him. He hastily retrieves it and ushers Danny out ahead of him.
"Tom, the electrics will be done before you go home tomorrow, won't they?" Ruth asks, fighting to control the smile on her face.
"Oh yes, a proper job too." He assures her before hurrying away.
"Thanks, Beth; that was very clever. You just earned... I don't know what but I'm sure I'll think of something in bed tonight!"
"Hmm, I might just hold you to that! In the meantime I was going to help you decorate so shall we get started?" I ask as I remove my coat.
"Okay. Shall we change into old clothes? I can let you have the ones you wore the other day."
"Back to 'refugee chic'
then," I smile. We both head upstairs into what is, or will be, the master bedroom to change, while resolutely ignoring the two men working in the other bedroom and what they might be thinking. Back downstairs we begin by emptying the dresser before trying to move it. There isn't a huge amount -- mainly a dinner service and some serving dishes plus one drawer full of cutlery -- but the dresser is a very solid piece of oak furniture. "Have you had this dresser long? Did you bring it with you?" I ask as we prepare to move it.
"Oh no; it was here when I bought the cottage. It was filthy, all dusty and covered in cobwebs and dirt, but when I cleaned it up, as you can see, it's in very good condition. There's not even any woodworm."
"So have you moved it before? It looks bloody heavy!"
"I didn't even attempt it, not on my own; I just cleaned it where it stands. Are you ready?" We get into position. "Remember, we're just trying to slide it out from the wall." I nod and, with a count of three we heave... and fail to move it even a millimetre. "Shall we give it one more try before we ask Tom and Danny?"
"Definitely; we're strong, independent women!" I reply with a smile. "I just hope we're strong enough!" We try again, fingers hooked between the dresser and the wall and pulling hard. This time there is some movement.
"Stop!" Ruth exclaims in panic, "It's just toppling forward!"
"We need to pull from lower down then," I suggest. I reach lower and slip my fingers behind the dresser and they brush against something. I feel around but with my fingertips I cannot tell what it is. "Ruth, there's something behind the dresser here." She comes round to my side and, when I indicate the location, she has a feel for it with her slimmer hand and longer fingers.
"It feels sort of rough and folded. I wonder what it is?" she muses, obviously as curious as I am.
"Perhaps if we both pull on this side we can move this out enough to reach behind?"
Together we heave, with me squatted down and Ruth above. Suddenly, with a complaining shriek of wood on stone, the dresser moves. It's not far, just a couple of inches, but that's enough. We both reach behind but it is my hand that finds the object, which has now slipped down to the floor. I pull it out and stand up to see it is some kind of purse or wallet, roughly the size of a paperback book and made of leather, I guess, but the surface is dry, rough and cracking with age. We glance at each other and by unspoken agreement we take it to the table to examine it.
"You open it," I tell her, "this is from your house." She nods and, with care, opens the flap. I had perhaps wondered if there might be something valuable inside, jewellery perhaps, so seeing paper is a bit of an anti-climax. Very gently Ruth pulls it out: It is a bundle of papers, folded together. With the care of an archaeologist handling an ancient papyrus, she carefully unfolds them. The topmost paper is half filled with flowing, neat handwriting but it is the large, shaky and obviously hastily written sentence at the bottom that catches my eye:
Lovell is outside yelling for Rosa. I believe he means to drag her back to the Hall, or else to beat or kill her. I must protect her. I pray I have the strength.
"Shit!" I gasp, "This must be Arabella's writing. I think 'Rosa' is short for Rosalind... and that means..."
"It means Lady Blyth made it here when she ran away, by the looks of it. It seems obvious when you think about it: where else would Rosalind flee but to her girlfriend's house?"
"Unfortunately Sir Lovell worked that out too. Do you think he knew about them, you know, being lovers?" I wonder aloud.
"I don't know but I would guess he knew they were friends and very close; I think he'd have resented that, especially if it helped Rosalind stand up to him. Let's see what the rest of the page says."
Wednesday thirty-first. My darling Rosa is sleeping. She was so cold, chilled nigh unto death, when upon the door I heard her rapping faintly. The dear woman fell to the floor as I opened the door, her linen nightdress soiled and besmirched by the Moor, soaked through from the wild, wind-driven rain. She was so wan and icy to the touch that all I could think to do at the first was to draw her inside and shut the door on the storm raging without, and thereafter to hold her, praying that sharing my warmth might revive her.
Ruth looks up and our eyes meet just moments before I lean in and kiss her. "Thank you," I whisper, remembering my own arrival here. She reaches up and strokes my cheek affectionately before we look down to read on.
It was such unutterable relief where her eyes did finally flutter and open, and I beheld again the beautiful blue of her gaze. I drew the arm-chair close to the stove for heat and helped her into it, placing shawls and blankets that she might be warmed. When she revived further I made for her a hot posset.
She told me she has fled the Hall and Him for this very evening, though they buried poor William, that darling poppet but this morning, He did tell Rosa that He would bed her, saying, God be d—ned if he did not get her seeded with a new son by next Moon. Rosa suffered much for her refusal for he took her anyway, and with much force. He is not fit to be called a man; He is a beast and a brute.
"God, what a heartless monster that man was," Ruth interrupts her reading to vent her disgust.
My darling sleeps now and I worry, for her cheek is bright and I fear she shall be running a fever before the dawn. Pray the Lord she can come through it. Afterwards, when she is able, we shall go from here. I have some money and she the jewellery that she wears; it is not much but we shall have each other and be away from Him forever.
"That's all, apart from the extra bit at the bottom," she concludes.
"So she fled across the Moor to come here, in the storm. Then, a few hours later, Lovell turns up and, what, breaks in? Then kills Arabella in the struggle and drags Rosalind away?"
"That sounds plausible: the police report did mention signs of a struggle when her body was found."
"Let's see what the rest of the papers are," I suggest and we begin looking through them, handling the dry and rather brittle-feeling paper carefully.
"They're love letters!" Ruth exclaims a few moments later. "Listen: 'My dearest Bella, I cannot tell you how my heart soars in your presence. The sound of your voice or the sight of your sweet face fills me with such rejoicing but neither can compare to the feel of your hand on mine.'" She pauses, "There's just '18th March' at the top; no year, what about yours?"
I look at the paper I'm holding. "No, no date at all but I think mine must have been earlier because it's far less, er, intense I suppose. Here: 'Arabella, thank you for the time we spent today. I cannot tell you what a pleasure it is to have someone with whom I might converse as I might an equal. Your wit and spirit are a delight. I had not the chance to say this to you today for fear of being overheard, so I write now so you might read and consider this as you sit at home this evening. Though our situations and stations in life are at a disparity, I would consider it a great kindness to me if we might, when not in company, dispense with the formalities and be as friends are? Might you, when just the two of us, forego Lady Blyth or My Lady and call me simply Rosalind? With friendly regards, Rosalind.'" I look at Ruth. "I think Rosalind was lonely and wanted, needed even, a friend."
"And later they became lovers. Listen to this: 'I sit here this afternoon while you are with my William and, though I know it to be a sin, I find myself envying him, jealous that he can be with you and I not. Will you come again to my room tonight my darling? Will your lips rest upon mine and shall our hands explore each other once again? Oh my love, will you bring me the Trembling once more, your fingers knowing me as L never has?' Our Rosalind is petty explicit, isn't she? No doubt what 'the Trembling' means."
"So they were passionate, too! I wonder if the kiss we saw in the hotel was the night after that letter?" I ask, smiling.
"Maybe it was the night before," she smiles back and I cannot resist leaning across to kiss her. I think she is expecting a brief but affectionate kiss but I have other ideas. Thoughts of Rosalind and Arabella together, and the memory of their kiss last night, are stirring feelings within me. We came so close this morning and my body craves her touch again, longs for the Trembling just as Rosalind's did. My mouth opens, my tongue signalling my desire. She gives a little grunt of surprise but responds willingly. My hand reaches out and cups her boob, feeling the yielding softness under the textured warmth of her sweater.
It is perhaps just as well that it isn't too long before the creak of the stairs alerts us to someone descending. Disappointing though it is to have to end our kiss, there is the distinct possibility of us being caught with our hands in each other's knickers had we continued much longer! Even so, the glow of Ruth's cheeks and the shine of her eyes would tell anyone who looks that we were doing more than just chatting. Fortunately, Tom or Danny don't come through the kitchen but out through the front door, presumably to fetch something from their van.
We make tea and toast, using the last of the bread which has become rather stale anyway. Wiping our hands carefully, we resume our study of the letters. There are twenty-two in all, some brief others longer and none have the years in their dates so it is a challenge to work out their chronology. The story of Arabella and Rosalind emerges.
There is almost nothing we can tell about Arabella save that she is obviously educated and one reference to her father being a 'yeoman farmer', which Ruth thinks means he was a landowning farmer rather than a tenant; he might even have had tenants of his own. For some reason I get the impression that Arabella's parents are dead by the time of the letters, though I can't justify that. Sometime after her arrival at Purdew Hall Arabella and Rosalind became friends. The letters suggest that Arabella lived away from the Hall at first, presumably in this farmhouse. However, it seems that eventually she moved to live at the Hall; Rosalind may have been the instigator because she seemed very pleased about it.
We can't work out how the two became lovers, who made the first move. Certainly Rosalind responded enthusiastically and, knowing how I feel about Ruth, I have my doubts her passion would have gone entirely unnoticed, however discreet they sought to be. Perhaps that's another reason, or the real reason, Arabella was dismissed.
There is a long letter that must have been written just after Arabella was dismissed. In the letter, Rosalind also complains of Lovell's (she writes just 'L' in the letters) treatment of William:
The boy is overweight and soft, L has decreed, and must be toughened up. He is to have but simple food and less of it while Penworth has been instructed that the boy is to walk the bounds of the estate each day for his exercise whatever the weather.
Ruth and I agree that it is this treatment that leads Rosalind to blame her husband for William's death. But there's something else, something even harsher, as Rosalind laments:
L had ordered that I am not to go to him when he cries at night, for 'The boy has to know that none shall be there when he is at the school,' he tells me, to my sore distress. Last night, when I could stand no longer to hear William's weeping, I went to him. L was in a great rage this morning and has vowed that both William's bedroom and mine shall be locked at night to keep us apart..
"What a complete bastard!" is Ruth's opinion and I have to agree. It also explained Rosalind's ghost beating on the bedroom door, unable to go to her dying son.
There is a short note that may be the last thing written as it is dated 14th October. It seems she intended to come to the farm to visit and to bring William so that he might see her one last time and say goodbye properly. I remember the vison I had that first morning as we went out to Ruth's car: a woman with a child approaching that cottage, a woman stood in the doorway.
We sit in silence for a while. "Well, this should certainly make for an amazing episode of your programme," Ruth observes. I have to think about it for a moment for I'd forgotten that was where this all began, why I was here.
"I don't know. I'm not sure that a lesbian affair between a Lady and the Governess is exactly prime-time TV, even these days. And I can't face the others on the team suggesting air-brushing Arabella out of the story. I can just imagine Tina suggesting, 'Oh, let's replace Arabella with a hunky guy as a love interest; we can make him the Gamekeeper or a Gardener.' Arabella seems to have been the one source of friendship and love in what was a miserable married life for Rosalind."
"Perhaps you're tired and have become over-involved in the story," Ruth suggests, taking my hand. "You'll have to tell your bosses something and send them some kind of write up, surely."
"I think it's the other way round: the story has rather involved us, or that's what it feels like. The only reason you're holding my hand is because of the story."
"Then I owe the story a great debt of gratitude!" she says earnestly.
Nevertheless, I fetch my laptop and, with Ruth's help, I write up all we've learned or conjectured from the letters, together with the details of my other research. Ruth insists that I keep the love letters and Arabella's note with the other copies and notes collected. She has a point: it makes a substantial dossier for what is basically three days of work. The trouble is, I don't think I can bear to hand it over to Rick and Marcus and the others. Actually, the truth is that I can't stand to think of work or the BBC or London or even my flat because their all not here, with Ruth. Yeah, I think I've fallen hard for her.
Twilight is gathering when the men leave, having stayed an hour longer than usual, apparently, and with a promise that there'll be power and hot water tomorrow. Ruth even believes them. Once we're alone she suggests that we walk into the village to the pub. "I don't really have anything in for dinner," she admits, "I've been rather distracted for some reason."
"Milking first?" I ask, making her laugh.
"I think you're turning into farmer's wife!" she teases. I nearly reply that as long as she's the farmer I'd love that, but bite back the comment; it sounds just a little too much too soon, however gooey the idea makes me go inside.
The near darkness is cold and blustery as we go out but I'm well wrapped up. The pub is decent and warm but I feel a little obvious as an outsider even though Ruth knows several of the other customers and introduces me as her "very dear friend from London." I do my best to be friendly and open, though their expectation of someone from London seems to be just the opposite.
Several drinks and a good meal later we head home and as we leave the village there is a slight rise where the cold wind blowing across the Moor catches us broadside, carrying a smattering of bitter rain. I shiver, as much from the memory of that first night as the cold. I feel again the echo of the menace I felt before, though much less strongly; I am not lost now, I am starting to know this place and, above all, Ruth is at my side.
Inevitably, our arrival at the cottage is the cue for us to begin kissing and cuddling. Bed beckons irresistibly, though Ruth insists on placing a lamp in one of the windows. "It's Samhain," she explains, "Mum always did the same, saying with spirits abroad a guiding light was important."
Neither of us says it but we both know we're going to make love and that we both want it. Ruth comes over and we undress each other, there in the softly lit kitchen. It is careful and deliberate; we take care to fold clothes and place them neatly and, I realize, I am happy for her to see me naked. She loves and accepts my body with its shortcomings and imperfections and that complete acceptance is wonderful. Her skin glows in the light of the flames, her silver pendant sparkling against the pale flesh of her chest.
We lie down on the bed together and kiss as our hands roam freely. I find unexpected pleasure in the feel of the soft crease of her spine as my fingers trace it down her back. The rounded cleft between the tops of her bum cheeks is even more wonderful, and I caress it as she lies on top of me kissing my neck and shoulders.
Our legs are interlaced, bringing hot, swollen pussies against thighs and we move gently for our own exploration. She works her way a little lower and begins kissing my boobs. The sensation is lovely but I have a complaint, "This isn't fair: I can't do anything to turn you on!"
"Trust me, Beth darling, this is proper turning me on," she assures me. I guess this taking turns must be a part of lesbian lovemaking. The words 'lesbian lovemaking' give me a shiver of excitement as does the feel of Ruth's lips on my nipple. I expect her to begin sucking but instead she plays her tongue around it and over the hard point. I close my eyes and savour the sensations that are soon repeated on my other breast. I give little gasps and sounds of pleasure.
She slides from on top of me and I lie still, wondering what she has in mind. Something brushes my nose and I smell the warm musk of her skin. I open my eyes and she is on all fours over me, her firm nipple just above my nose and mouth. I reach out with my tongue to lick it; it slips away, sliding off my tongue which now chases it, lapping and flicking as it sways and weaves. I turn my head but her left nipple proves just as elusive! Still, the fun of this is in the chase, not the capture until, that is, I suddenly suck the evasive nubbin into my mouth with sudden force that makes her squeal. I briefly worry I've hurt her but the moan that follows reassures me.
Her hand glides over my stomach and I part my legs in anticipation and encouragement. I think I am wetter there than I have ever been and I know it will not take her long to bring me to my long-delayed climax.
My hand reaches out and finds her legs held together. I release her boob to say, "I want us to cum together darling," She obliges, parting her legs. As my fingers run up I can feel her inner thighs are slick with her juice. Simultaneously we penetrate each other; I cannot say how it is for Ruth but this is heaven for me: I want her to be within me, be a part of me as I become part of her. There is no single finger touching and exploration this time: our pussies simply demand to be fucked.
I repeat what I did this morning, burrowing my fingers deep to find the soft sponge of her G-spot once again as her fingers plunge inside me before dragging back and up over my hypersensitive clit. I really am not going to be long cumming. I remember Rosalind's words to Bella, her lover. "Oh, Ruth, darling, you're going to give me the Trembling!" I gasp.
"Me... too..." she pants, increasing the tempo as she rubs me. I feel the tightening and tension building within me, while Ruth's repeated "Mmm... mmmmm... mmmm..." suggests she is getting close too. My thumb nuzzles between her labia at the top of her pussy and I feel the hard button within her hot, wet lips. "Aahhhhh!" she cries, her hips thrusting down to grind and buck against my fist.
Ruth's fingers curl convulsively inside me as she rides her climax and that new sensation does for me, electric, trembling waves of ecstasy ricocheting through my body. Eyes clenched my back arches off the bed as a second, smaller orgasm takes me. My lover gives one long sigh and topples to her side.
I open my eyes and see her sprawled beside me, legs splayed open. Her pussy gapes wetly, deep red and glistening in the candlelight and draws me. I roll onto my side, bringing my face close to her opening. The smell of her juice is intoxicating and I lean in, bringing my mouth to her sex. I am nervous but I so want to do this; I love having my pussy licked, skilfully licked anyway, so I want to give Ruth this pleasure; god, I hope I can do a good job! I slip my tongue out and experience the feel and taste of her.
The taste is the one I had from my fingers this morning but so much fuller and more intense, which is a little disconcerting at first but only fleetingly. It is a thrill to be doing this and even more when she reaches down and pulls her pussy wider. I probe as deeply as I can and my mouth fills with her flavour. Backing off a little I run my tongue over her sex, savouring the feel of the slick, hot, folded flesh as much as the taste. I work my way up. The sensitivity of my tongue makes her clit feel larger, a stiff, rounded lump. I play my tongue over it and her pussy, gradually becoming faster and firmer.
Suddenly she grabs my head and yells and shakes and writhes. As the climax passes she pushes me away to clamp her legs together. "Oh wow, oh wow, oh wow!" she mutters, hugging herself. I reach down and retrieve the covers, pulling them over us as we start to chill as the excitement wanes.
She wriggles straighter on the bed and I wrap my arms around her. "I love you, Ruth," I whisper.
"Mmmm, love you too, Beth darling," she mumbles as we snuggle together.
I wake to the sound of wind outside rattling the window softly as it gusts. The fire is down to a few deep orange embers and the nightlights have burned out but the lantern in the window still flickers. I wonder if any lost soul has been helped by it. On impulse I slip out of the bed into the now chilly air and pad softly over to the window to pull the curtain aside.
The pale, leering face just outside the window is terrifying and the scream that escapes me is inevitable. I take two steps back, eyes transfixed by the sight of Sir Lovell's ghastly, ghostly face. "Unfaithful bitch!" his evil, vicious voice cuts through me, freezing my heart.
The face disappears and I glance round to see Ruth stirring. "What's matter m' darlin'?" she asks drowsily.
"Sir Lovell, out... outside," is all I manage to stammer before the door reverberated under heavy blows and I scream again and back away once more, my legs having a will of their own.
"I've come for you, bitch wife," Lovell's voice screeches. "And that mealy-mouthed whore whom you love so dearly shall not stop me." I look at the door in terror as it trembles under the impacts and can barely keep standing as, with a crash, it flies open. There stands Sir Lovell, a grotesque and evil smile on his face as I glance round in panic like a cornered animal. Nearby is a pale figure, close to the range, floating and reclined as if seated; it moves slowly, a figure roused from sleep. Beyond is a darker shape, a grey-clad woman, Arabella moving to interpose herself between Lovell and Rosalind, her love.
However, Lovell is looking at me and I know he will size me, dragging me out onto the cold dark Moor... darkness and cold: I feel it surrounding me, seeping into me and I am paralyzed even as Lovell enters, my gazed transfixed by his talon of a hand reaching towards me.
"I will not be without you, you shall not betray me," his voice hisses, "I shall possess you..."
"No, evil spirit, you shall not!" Ruth has risen from our bed and stands solid and vital against the cold darkness of Lovell's spirit. A sneer twists his mouth in contempt.
"You could not stop me then, you shall not now." Despite his scorn she takes another step forward, her pentacle pendant held forward, and she begins to chant.
"Goddess of the Earth and Moon,
Spirits of the Storm and Moor,
I invoke your aid and seek a boon.
And bid you come now to my door.
"By the love and strength within my heart
And by the symbol in my hand,
Sir Lovell's shade from here depart,
No more to stalk this living land."
I can feel the force of the power gathering within her, radiating from her naked form, the strength of her will and protective love. In her hand the soft glitter of her pentacle pendant has become a bright gleam. Sir Lovell's spirit seems unimpressed and slips forward, his menace undiminished though Ruth stands firm and undaunted even as the chill in the room increases.
"Your words are but empty cant. You are no witch!" Lovell sneers and his pale hand rises threateningly.
"You are mistaken, for on this night, I know I can be," Ruth replies, her voice firm. She tilts her head, listening, as Lovell pulls his arm back, about to lash out and strike Ruth down in the way I know he did Arabella when she stood there a century and a half ago.
This time, however, he hesitates. On the edge of hearing is a sound: wind and rain, the rustling of leaves and the sighing of grasses, the dim growl of far-off thunder. A breeze gusts through the open door bringing the scents of wet earth and vegetation, of mire and heather and rain.
"The Moor and the storm are coming to claim you, Lovell, as they claimed your body all those years ago."
For the first time Lovell appears uncertain, his habitual sneer replaced by an anxious look as he glances over his shoulder through the door behind. The wind strengthens, as do the scents and sounds, and a grey mist swirls in. I stare, hypnotised by the grey tendrils curling around the spectre and I notice subtle shapes in the mist, like tumbling leaves and clouds scudding on the wind.
The grey is thickening rapidly, the vague mist becoming fog, becoming smoke-like as its opacity increases. At the same time the curling tendrils coalesce, tightening to become a whirling gyre. Finally Lovell's ghost starts to move as he struggles and thrashes against the thickening vapours that imprison him. "No! Damn you, you witch slut, this cannot happen! No! NOOooo..."
The sound is overwhelming, a near deafening storm-roar as the vortex whirls with tornado speed. However, all I feel is a cold draught and even for Ruth, little more than an arm's length from the storm, it does no more than whip her long, dark hair around her head and bare shoulders. The other ghosts, on the other hand, cling together, heads bowed as though battered by a gale that tears at their clothes and makes them stagger.
Suddenly, in the space of a few heartbeats, the whirling storm is gone, falling away to nothing as silence falls like a blanket. Ruth sags with relief and I, now freed of the immobilizing dread, take three hurried steps to throw my arms around her, hugging her tight as I shed tears of relief and happiness.
"Ruth, I... I can't believe what I just saw, what you did. Was that... magic, a spell?"
"I guess so. I saw him, it, coming for you and when he said about possessing you I was so scared but I knew I had to do something to protect you..."
"But those words and... oh Ruth, the... power
I could feel coming from you. You were just... awesome!"
"I couldn't think what else to do and the words, well, just came to me. I guess hearing Mum chant and invoke spirits maybe helped; though I do remember her saying that the chants were just a way to focus and what really mattered was your will to use the power that's within and all around us." Ruth smiles absently. "Mum really believed in magic, but I never did."
"Until tonight, when you became a witch to save me." My hand strokes her cheek. "I did tell you you'd be good at it if you tried."
"I'd do anything, Beth my darling, anything; whatever it takes, to keep you safe." We hug tight, the joy in the contact of our unclad bodies a mirror of the joy for our shared love. I move to kiss her when a movement reminds me we are not alone.
"Ruth, the ghosts of Rosalind and Arabella are still here." We turn to them and the four of us face each other, two couples, each arm in arm. They do not look afraid, but rather dazed and confused.
"Arabella, Lady Blyth you are free of him," Ruth tells them. The two look towards her but there's a feeling that they're not sure of whether Ruth is really there or not, rather like Rosalind when I spoke to her in the hotel room. They seem lost, as if some pivotal thing has been taken away, which in a way it has.
"Sir Lovell has gone, forever," I assure them and Lady Blyth looks at me.
"I have seen you before... are you perhaps a second or third cousin?" she murmurs, "No, in my room it was..." I nod. "Gone?" Her focus finally seems to find me, though her quiet voice has that same dislocated quality I've noticed before. "Gone, like poor William?"
"We may be related, but only very distantly. I'm sorry, Lady Rosalind," I say gently, "but your son died many years ago... as did you and Arabella."
"I remember, the Moor: the bitter wind and rain, the pain of his blows and... the darkness... so cold, I could not escape and," she looks to Arabella, "you were gone my darling, somewhere... I died..?" Rosalind's last word is not quite a question. Rather, it as if she is finally finding an explanation to explain what's been happening.
"The terrible wind and the... things within that did surround him," Arabella now speaks, looking at both of us but now at Ruth. "You have enchanted him away; you are witches? White witches of whom I have hear tale?" Arabella is a blend of fear and awe. "And this is your coven, that you are... unclad to practise your magic?"
"If there is a witch here it is Ruth and she is most certainly a white witch for a kinder, better woman is not to be found!" I tell her.
"No Arabella, this is no coven it is just my home. We are unclad because Bethany and I are lovers, just as you and Rosalind were."
"Were?" she looks at Rosalind. "No, lovers we remain yet."
"And always shall be, my dear Bella, though I know not what shall happen." As she speaks Rosalind touches Arabella's cheek affectionately. "I wish William were here..."
"Tonight is Samhain," Ruth tells them, "and the barrier between worlds is thin. You do not have to remain here, ladies. You both cared for and loved William; I'm sure your hearts can guide you to him now."
"Oh, that the three of us can be together..." Rosalind says to Arabella.
"Always..." she replies. Their figures are becoming more blurred and indistinct as they turn and hug. I cannot be sure but I think they kiss as their forms become pale smears in the air before fading completely. I let out a breath I'd been unconsciously holding.
I also begin to shiver as the adrenaline in my veins finally begins to ebb away and the cold makes itself felt. "Damn, I freezing!" I complain.
"Go and slip a jumper on, darling, I just need to do something," Ruth tells me. I watch intrigued as she walks out of the open back door into the night and, cold or not, I cannot resist following.
The sky outside is full of scudding, broken clouds between which can be seen the occasional bright star and the full moon. Ruth takes a few steps and stops, facing towards the moon. She raises her arms in a Y-shape and stands there. The pale moonlight silvers her skin, drawing the outline of her beautiful body in shining lines. "Goddess, I give thanks for your aid and protection tonight," she says in a low, quiet voice, "and for my life here."
On impulse I step up beside her and raising my arms in the same way, taking her raised hand in mine as I do; whatever happened tonight and however it happened, I am grateful that Ruth was there to keep me safe. I look at the moon, the beauty of it amid the sky and clouds. "Thank you Goddess," I echo. "Thank you that we are safe and thank you for my
life here with this woman I love so much." I feel slightly unsure of whether I believe in this Goddess or if I'm addressing the universe as a whole; perhaps they are one in the same. Nevertheless, I feel very at peace and connected with everything right now.
Ruth lowers her arms and I do too. "Come on Beth darling, let's get back to bed: I'm bloody frozen!"
Chapter 11: New Beginnings
I wake from a wonderful deep sleep and for the fourth morning in succession it is in Ruth's bed and in her arms. For the first time, however, we can look forward to electric light and hot water. It has been a happy few days, mainly spent decorating but with a couple of walks on the Moor, which I'm growing to love. The kitchen here is looking very good, though we gave up trying to move the dresser on our own and got Tom and Danny to help.
They had, on Thursday morning, turned up when we were still in bed; it was simple tiredness, before your imagination gets going, and not surprising after the Samhain night we'd had. I had to ask Tom to, once again, give us ten minutes and in between dressing, fixing the fire and putting the kettle on, we agreed to tell them about us. I knew it meant 'coming out' for the first time but it wasn't that hard a decision: I refuse to be ashamed of loving Ruth, whatever the future holds.
They hadn't quite managed to get everything working that day, some problem with the 'consumer unit', whatever that is. Anyway, it meant that they had to go to Bodmin for a replacement and so it was just before lunch on Friday that the first lightbulb was lit and the first hot water flowed. It was stupid, but I got so emotional when I saw the steaming water. I think it must be nearing my time of the month because I'm not normally so emotional.
There have, of course, been lots of hugs, kisses, caresses and passionate lovemaking. Damn, my period will get in the way of some of that too; I shall have to seduce Ruth when she wakes up, just in case it starts today.
We're going to continue painting the main bedroom and then this mattress can go back onto the bedframe. Or are we going into Bodmin to buy a fridge and freezer and some other electrical stuff? I can't remember. The only electrical items plugged in at the moment are my phone and laptop.
I feel Ruth stir, her hand gliding over my tummy in a wonderful caress that makes my insides go mushy in anticipation. That's another thing: I don't remember ever being quite so damned horny all the time, certainly not since my teens. I've not really resolved the 'am I a lesbian?' question because the only woman, indeed the only person, I've ever felt this way about is Ruth. I guess I am and I don't really have a problem with it, as long as I don't think about how I'll tell my parents, especially Mum.
Ruth's hand moves again and I can tell from her breathing that she is probably awake. She runs her hand up to cup my boob and I give a little sigh of anticipation as my nipples tingle. Her thumb and forefinger close around the tingling nub and the sensation is wildly intense. However, the little roll and squeeze that follow is way off the pleasure scale and into pain territory so I give a yelp.
"Oh, sorry love; are you okay?" she asks full of contrition and concern. I roll to face her.
"Yes, it's just my nipples seem hyper-sensitive this morning." She looks down as her hand gently covers my boob but avoiding the nipple.
"Your tits seem a bit swollen, a bit larger, I think." I smile; given the amount of time she's spent with my boobs I'm not going to argue.
"Perhaps; I'm due on soon; I think I probably am." It's a simple enough thing to say to Ruth, though not something I could ever imagine saying to a boyfriend. "However, other bits of me are just fine..." I say as I lay back invitingly. She comes into kiss as our hands seek the warm wetness between each other's legs.
We have learned over the past few days, we know each other's bodies from our intimate explorations. I know the feel and taste of this beautiful, amazing woman. Mmm taste... "I want to lick you, darling."
"That sounds wonderful but I want to lick you too," she replies; we have both rather developed a taste for each other, figuratively and literally.
"Shall we try the sixty-nine position?" I suggest.
"Will your nipples be okay?" she asks.
"Well, if I go on top it should be fine." We move around, Ruth lying down as I climb on top. The feel of skin on skin is delightful as we slide into position. As lips and tongues encounter wet, willing pussies I wonder why it's taken us until now to try it.
As always, my mouth and nose fill with her taste and scent as my face lathered in her juice. I love the feel and texture of her labia and opening as I lick her and, oh what she is doing to my cunt! Her tongue probes and laps exquisitely.
I climax first; she is too damn good at finding my buttons and pressing them in just the right way. Not that I'm complaining it's just that I can't keep licking her as the glorious spasms wrack me. However, as they ebb I bury my face once more into her sex.
Filled with the satisfied afterglow of our lovemaking, we cuddle. "I love discovering you more and more," she says. "I don't think I'll ever get bored of learning about you."
"Like what?" I ask, intrigued.
"Like when you're due on you taste different and your vaj juice is thicker and sort of creamier; still tastes good though." She kisses me and I think I can taste what she means. "Right, do you want breakfast?"
"Mmm yes. I'll make the tea." We get up and do our usual part dressing: a baggy sweatshirt for me and a similarly bagger jumper for Ruth, thick sock for the both of us because, however good it looks, a flagstone floor can be bloody cold!
I empty the kettle and fill it with fresh water, placing it on the hob and then add wood to the fire, carefully so as not to smother it, as Ruth taught me that first morning. Meanwhile, she puts a frying pan on the hob to warm and fetches bread, eggs and bacon.
The bacon sizzles filling the air with its distinctive odour that smells so... horrible. "Is that bacon alright?" I ask concerned.
"Well, the smell... it's disgusting!" She looks at me intently.
"Are you feeling okay?" Now it is her turn to sound concerned.
"Yeah. It's just the smell of the bacon is making me feel a bit queasy, that's all. Perhaps I'll just have some toast."
"Okay my darling."
I go over and turn on my phone for the first time in days then start cutting bread for toast. Moments later I'm startled by the phone beeping to indicate messages received. Ruth sees the surprise on my face and laughs. "You do get a signal here sometimes; it's just very erratic."
I pick up the phone and there are emails and text messages; my already queasy stomach contracts to a tight knot as I see that I have had lots of texts, including one from Marcus and no less than six from Rick. There are also a couple from the number that texted me as I drove down. Perhaps it's masochism but I begin with these. The first was sent on Monday:
HEARD YOU GOT LOST ON THE WAY DOWN AND THINK YOU NEARLY DIED. #NOTAFUCKINGCLUE
The second is from Thursday morning:
YOU'RE MAKING THIS TOO EASY YOU DOPY BITCH. YOU SHOULD HEAR WHAT RICK WAS CALLING YOU AT BREAKFAST THIS MORNING #STUPIDLAZYCOW
I know these are probably from Tina, the Boarding School Bitch, and they're intended to hurt and upset me so I respond appropriately and start crying. It's not just my hormones: the words hurt but more is the gathering feeling that I've really fucked up. Ruth comes up behind me and he arms wrap around my waist to support and comfort me.
There's no choice: I have to read Rick's texts. They start with concern: am I okay, are there no aftereffects from being out on the Moor, can I please call or at least text him. However, the concern clearly has limits because the texts quickly become more demanding. He wants to know what I'm playing at, that he needs me keep him up to date on how the research is going, as I'd 'AGREED TO DO'. Given the tone of the message, the capitals were superfluous really.
Suddenly, on Thursday, the tone changes radically and become cold and official: he 'requires' me to contact him and provide details of my work over the past four days, pointing out that I'd been made aware of the time constraints on this work. I know he has a point but on Thursday we'd still been coming to terms with what had happened the night before.
Friday's first text is brutally sarcastic, thanking me so much for repaying his trust in me so handsomely; that I should think nothing of the let-down I had caused, not so much to him as to my colleagues whose jobs I had made much more difficult. Never mind: just as long as I was enjoying taking it easy in the West Country. And by the way I should check my email for details of the formal disciplinary notice.
Yesterday's second text is very brief:
Just in case you don't know: there's a second email regarding your disciplinary hearing. Don't be late.
"That seems very... harsh," Ruth seems to have been reading over my shoulder. "Can he do that? I mean reprimand you and then immediately call you to a disciplinary hearing?"
"I don't know!" I sob. "No, maybe. I've never read the rules. But he has a point: I was
supposed to keep Rick and Marcus updated on progress. I should have sent the stuff I wrote up through, or at least a summary of it... I have let them down." Ruth pulls me into a tight hug, just holding me. Feeling her strength and protectiveness I gradually calm, the sobbing slowly ceasing.
"Come and sit down, Beth." She takes my hand and makes me sit then, as the kettle is now boiling vigorously, goes and makes tea for us both.
"Could you stick some sugar in mine, Ruth love? I think I need it."
"Um, I think so... Yes, here we are." She's had to hunt but finds a small packet. "There, darling," she says, placing the tea in front of me. It is the best tea I've had in ages. "Is it okay?" she asks.
"Mmm yes, it's perfect."
"You never normally take sugar and that mugs got two large spoonsful in it. Do you normally crave sweet things when you're due on?"
"Well, chocolate sometimes. But then I'm not normally in a new lesbian relationship and being threatened with disciplinary procedures at work because I've been too busy with said lesbian girlfriend," I look at her, "being rescued by her, and hugged by her... walking on the Moor with her, helping her decorate and, the best part, making love with her."
"Beth, you forgot all the hours you put in researching, what you learned with those sleepless nights, all that you've written out. You could send it in; we'll go to the library or somewhere with Wi-Fi and you can email it. That would help, surely? I mean what are a few days? They could have their programme and they'd know how brilliant you are..."
"You were part of that research, Ruth, at the library, here with the love letters and with those night time encounters. And as for all that I've written out, we did most of that together."
"That doesn't matter because they don't have to know any of that. You can fight this Beth; it's just this Rick being a bully."
I'm not sure bully is the right word. I might as well complete misery and open Marcus's text.
Bethany, I'm not sure what's happened to you. Hope you're okay. Rick is furious and Tina and Colin are stirring it. Call me if you can't talk to Rick. Marcus.
"That looks a little more supportive," Ruth says when she reads it. "Why don't you call him, while you have a signal?" I think for a minute before nodding.
"Okay." I press the call button on the text screen and wait to see if he'll answer.
"Bethany? Are you alright? What's been happening?" he asks, full of concern.
"Hello Marcus, I'm fine. It's all just been a bit hectic here. Is Rick really pissed off with me?"
"You have no idea. He's really stressed with this whole Christmas Special thing and we were sort of thinking your story might be the one but it was always going to be a tight deadline. There was the possibility of booking a location crew but we needed to decide by last Wednesday but we didn't because we hadn't heard from you..."
"I'm sorry. I was still trying to get information and, well... sorry."
"Bethany, look, Rick's not being very fair on you, I know, but Colin and Tina aren't helping. What have you done to upset Tina? She's really been doing you down at every opportunity."
"I think it's because I slept with Rick, as I guess you know. She seems to think I did it to further my career but that wasn't my intent. It was after you said about being friendlier and it just sort of happened."
"Yeah, I sort of gathered you two had, er, got together. But Bethany, I just felt that you weren't happy being involved with the show and didn't get on with the rest of the team. Your suggestion about Purdew Manor was good but you know what it's like at creative meetings: you need allies to get a proposal accepted. I was trying just to encourage you to be more of a team player, to make some friends; hell, just to not look so bloody fed up all the time!" He sighs. "I didn't mean you should sleep with Rick."
"Sorry, but I didn't plan it that way either." I'm not sure what else to say, but find myself adding, "After I got the chance with the story I guess I felt I owed Rick..." I feel my cheeks flush, more that Ruth hears my confession than Marcus. She, however, simply takes my hand and squeezes gently, a gesture of care and support.
"I understand," Marcus says sympathetically.
"Marcus, can I tell you something just between the two of us?
"Sure," he replies, a note of intrigue in his voice.
"The thing is... I've met someone, down here."
"Oh... well that helps explain the silence from you, what with Rick and all. And you really like this chap, I assume?"
"Um, it's not a chap." Had Marcus not been gay, I don't think I could have admitted that. "Her name's Ruth and she's here now."
"Hmm, well that was
unexpected." I hear him take a deep breath. "Bethany, have you got a story with Purdew Manor or not?"
"Um, sort of... I sure I know what happened but I don't know if I can, you know, prove it. There is some information but not as much as you'd hope for."
"Well, why don't you send me what you've got? That was meant to be the point of you staying in contact, so you didn't have to feel it was all up to you."
"Okay, I'll see what I can do. I've no Internet access here."
"I thought the hotel had Wi-Fi?" he asks suspiciously.
"It does but I'm staying with Ruth." I admit.
"O-kay; well that sounds pretty serious. Try and send me something, Bethany, please. I'm sure this disciplinary stuff can be dealt with but you need to help yourself here. Understand?"
"Yes, I do. Thanks Marcus, you've been really good to talk to. Bye for now."
"Goodbye Bethany. Glad you're okay." He rings off and I'm left looking at Ruth.
"What are you going to do, darling?" she asks. "Are you going to send them your notes?" I feel so torn.
"I hate the way this is going at but..." I try to get my thoughts and feelings in order. "I thought I wanted this so much, this chance to become a writer on the show," I tell her. "When I was given the opportunity I was so pleased, even though I was ashamed of sleeping with Rick to get it. And then I met you... and we were haunted and I fell in love with you."
"Beth, what do you want? Never mind what happened or might happen with the disciplinary; what do you want for yourself?" My head may be unsure but my heart is screaming the answer.
"I want to be here, with you. I don't want to go back to London and leave you. I hate even more that I'll have to go there cap in hand, begging forgiveness. I'll be back to the same crappy work because there's no way now that I'll be given any part in writing this story; they'll just take all the notes and research and hand them to Gavin or fucking Tina." Tears of hurt and frustration fill my eyes at the unfairness of it all. "I'm so tempted just say to hell with them all and send my resignation," I sob.
"Well, why don't you?" Ruth asks quietly.
"But... what would I do?"
"Stay here and live with me of course. Beth, my darling, I've dreaded the thought of you going back to London, that your career would take over and we... we'd drift apart. I never want that." Her words resonate so strongly with my own feelings but I'm so emotional.
"We only met a week ago, Ruth. How can we know? Life isn't that simple..."
"Our ancestors met and fell in love a century and a half ago and, maybe because of that we were meant to meet and fall in love and live together as they never had the chance to."
"Oh Ruth, I so want that to be true but I just don't know; what would I do for work and money?" She looks at me with such kindness and affection in her beautiful golden-brown eyes.
"We can live simply here, grow some of our own food, keep the goats and a few chickens. We could even get solar panels or a wind turbine so we make our own electricity. We'd manage..." Her hand caresses my cheek and a smile appears on her face. "You said your ambition was to be a writer? Well, who said the notes have to become a brief episode of a crappy TV show. Have the courage to follow a dream, Beth."
"Like you had, moving here... Ruth, my love," I take a deep breath. "Somehow I've always felt at home here so... yes, I'd love to make this my home for real." She gives a whoop and hugs me.
"Come on then," she says when we eventually let each other go, and she takes my hand. "We need to have breakfast and then go to Bodmin to buy a fridge and freezer and other things for our home."
After breakfast, for which I can still only stomach toast, we spend several hours touring shops. I don't know if Ruth intended it but it feels like we're making a home together, something that thrills my heart. If only I knew how to sort the work stuff out.
We grab a sandwich for lunch before heading home with curtains for the bedroom, a couple of lamps, a new duvet, pillows and bedding, a coffee maker (bought only because I said how much I'd always wanted to get one I suspect) and, finally, a combined fridge-freezer that will be delivered next Tuesday.
Back home -- I can't help feeling it's that -- we move the mattress upstairs from the kitchen and cover it with a dust sheet. As Ruth points out, it's better not trying to bring the mattress in when there's wet paint on the walls. The walls get painted but by then the light is fading in the room.
We shower together, carefully washing paint splashes from hair and skin, caressing and touching as if we can never experience enough of each other. Afterwards we go down and cook. Well, Ruth cooks but I do bits under her careful direction; I can now chop an onion with more confidence and know the process to make Shepherd's Pie.
As we cuddle in bed in the bedroom for the first time, enjoying the fresh, crisp feel of the new bedding. Ruth reminds me that this was the room from which she heard the footsteps. "I don't think you'll be disturbed tonight," I assure her, "unless I wake up feeling randy!"
"Ooo, promises, promises!" she laughs but then becomes more serious. "How are you feeling?"
"Well, I'm tired but not sick or anything , though my boobs are still tender. I'm also very in love with you... but I'm still nervous about the future. I just wish there was something, some sign, some way of knowing..."
"Of knowing that what we feel will last, I suppose."
"Beth, there are
no guarantees, only our love and commitment, renewed day after day. We take what life gives, the good things and the bad, and together we enjoy or overcome them."
"You make it sound so easy."
"The principles might be but living them? No, it's not always. Look at Arabella and Rosalind; despite all the problems they had, they still chose each other."
"I know..." I yawn. "I love you so much." I close my eyes and snuggle into her. The smell of her skin and the feel of her arms around me make me feel so safe, so cherished...
I wake and Ruth is still holding me. Outside, through the still curtain-less window, I can see the first light of day is bleeding into the sky. I feel so contented and safe, and it is so peaceful: all I can hear is the soft sound of Ruth's breathing and the occasional bird outside. I made the right decision yesterday because how can I ever think of leaving this woman? I hear her stir behind me. I turn to face my lovely Ruth and hug her tight.
"My darling, gorgeous woman; I don't know how to express all I feel for you, to show you how deeply and completely I love you," I tell her.
"The way I will with you: day by day, making a life together." Her voice is thick with emotion.
"I want that too, Ruth darling. I want to wake like this every morning." I smile but my stomach gripes. What I do not want is the same queasy feeling I woke with yesterday and I let out a slight moan.
"What's up love?" Ruth asks in concern.
"It's just my tummy playing up again." She looks at me, biting her lip and thinking.
"Beth, I just need to ask this: when was your last period?"
"What? Well about four weeks ago, it must be. I, let me think; I'd just come on when Marcus spoke to me about being a team player so... oh... crap. It was six weeks ago. You don't think..?"
"Did you use contraception, when you, er, slept with Rick?"
"Well, I take the pill. I missed a few days at the start of last month but I'd been taking them when we actually, you know, did it. I can't be pregnant!"
"I think there's a possibility."
"But it's never mattered in the past when I've missed the odd day," I protest. Remembering to take the damn pills has always been a challenge.
"Maybe in the past your body knew the time wasn't right," she says gnomically. "I did wonder yesterday: queasiness, swollen tits, sensitive nipples... I lived with my cousin and her husband for a couple of years after I finished at university and we're quite close: she likes telling me of all the symptoms she has during her pregnancies."
"How many?" I can't help asking.
"Three, so far, and three gorgeous babies as a result," she smiles. "I, um, I bought a pregnancy testing kit yesterday."
"While you were off finding the loo, at the shopping centre. You don't mind do you?" Do I? What if I am?
"No, I guess it's better to know. Ruth, what if I'm pregnant? What will that do to us?"
"I'll still love you, Beth, every bit as much... and not just you, if that's what you want" She adds the last bit a little shyly and I have to think a moment to realize she means the baby, if I keep it.
Ten minutes later we're sat side by side on the bed and I'm a little shell-shocked. In the en-suite bathroom a few minutes ago I'd peed on the end of the tester as per instructions and wiped myself after finishing. I hadn't even made it back to the bed before there was a deep pink line. "Fucking hell!" I gasped, as much at the suddenness as the actual result, which I held out to Ruth to see and to check I wasn't misreading it. I'm startled by the huge smile on her face and I look at her in amazement. "You're really happy about this, aren't you?"
"Sorry, Beth my darling," she says. She might be trying to stop herself grinning but if she is then it's not working. "I suppose I've had a bit of time to think about it but, yes, I think it's wonderful."
"Ruth... the idea... me... a mum?" The image of me holding a baby, a tiny person, is startling and yet, terrifying as the idea is I can't say that there isn't part of me that gives a little skip of excitement at the idea.
"Does thinking of us as parents make the idea any better?" she asks quietly. I remember again the vision of the woman approaching the cottage with a child in hand. That was Rosalind but it could be me too in future, walking with my, no, our
child. I suddenly see what Ruth means about being part of something that leads us to where we ought to be. Maybe Ruth is right and maybe she's right that now the time is right.
"So Mummy Ruth and Mummy Beth?" I try to say it as a joke but the emotion of it hits me and my eyes well with tears.
"Beth, it has to be your decision in the end but, yes, I would love us to be Mums to our little..." she puts her hand on my tummy and closes her eyes. "Our little girl."
"Are you just messing around or are you being witchy again?"
"It's just the feeling I got; I could be wrong and a little boy would be just as lovely." She strokes my tummy affectionately.
I let out a long breath. "You will still love me when I grow to the size of a whale, won't you?"
"Of course I will. Anyway, I happen to think there is something magical and beautiful about a pregnant woman and if that woman is you, well, you'll be stunning."
"Thank you." I edge down and snuggle into her boobs and she hugs me. I need to be held right now and she seems to know that instinctively. "Ruth love, when I come to tell Mum that she has a pregnant, lesbian and possibly unemployed daughter, you will be there with me, won't you?"
"Of course, my darling; I'll always be with you, I promise."
There is a bang and I look up from the potatoes I'm unearthing. "Heather Penrose-Cooper, what are you up to?" I call across to where I see her give a little start at my voice before turning around guiltily. Beside her the broom that had been propped against the wall now lies on the flagstones of the patio.
"Chicken do it!" she protests and I can't help smiling. A couple of weeks ago one of the chickens escaped from the run and, as we were chasing it, I knocked a glass off the garden table to smash on the stones below; I said it was the chicken's fault that the glass got smashed and, ever since, Heather has blamed the chickens for everything.
"I don't think it was a chicken; I think it was.... YOU!" I lunge for her and she runs a few steps laughing. "Come and help me with these potatoes, you can put them in the bowl here." She toddles over and squats down to help as asked. She is utterly cute and adorable, Ruth and I think so anyway, with her big blue eyes and wavy reddish-blonde hair that I expect will go darker as she grows as mine did. She'll be two on Wednesday next week but we're having a party today as our parents and Ruth's cousin, Flo, and her husband and kids can all make it on a Saturday.
Mum and Dad are going to stay at the Purdew Manor Hotel for a couple of nights as it's a long drive from near London. We did offer the spare room but Mum says she doesn't want to put us out. Maybe that is the reason and not that the idea of sleeping in the room next to Ruth and me is just too disturbing for her. I can't really criticise her though: she dealt with the multiple bombshell of Ruth and pregnancy remarkably better that I thought she would.
Heather picks up the little potatoes and drops them into the bowl until something much more interesting catches her eye. "Wriggly worm!" she cries excitedly, picking it up in chubby fingers. "Mummy look: wriggly worm!" She thrusts it under my nose.
"That's right, Heather. It's a very long and very wriggly worm, isn't it?" I pull back slightly, preferring it not up my nostril." "Where do worms live?" I ask her.
"Yes, in the earth, underground. And what do you think they eat?" Her face contorts in concentration as she looks at the worm closely.
"Um... eat mud?" she says eventually.
"Yes, more or less. Now, are you going to put worm back on the ground? You can see what it does then." She nods and watches, captivated by the way it burrows into the soil, while I pick up the last of the spuds.
"Beth?" Ruth's voice floats out of the open kitchen door. "Here, come and see this."
"Let's go and see what Mummy wants shall we?" I stand up, lifting the bowl as I do, and take her hand as I walk back into the house. I put the bowl on the table as Heather walks over to Ruth, arms reaching to be picked up.
"What have you and Mummy Beth been doing?" Ruth asks, smiling, as she lifts Heather into a hug.
"Um, 'tatoes... an' a wriggly worm!"
"So I see. Did you get the onions, Beth love?"
"You called me in, remember? What was it?"
"Oh yes! You'd better wash your hands. Heather's too." She brings our daughter over and plonks her on the worktop next to the sink and leaves the kitchen while I proceed to be flicked with slightly muddy water as Heather plays with the stream running from the tap. As I finish drying our hands I notice Ruth is back and holding something behind her back.
"What are you up to, darling?" I ask, intrigued. With a smile she pulls a brown parcel, well, more of a small box, from behind her back and presents it to me formally. I can't help a little squeal of delight and excitement as I know instantly what it is.
"But they said it'd be another week yet!" I protest, holding the box reverently. I realize I'm actually trembling and Ruth tells me to put it on the table before I drop it.
"What Mummy got?" Heather asks, trying to climb onto the chair to see. Ruth picks her up once more, balancing her on her hip. Heather holds Ruth's t-shirt in one hand and sucks the thumb on the other as she watches me open the parcel.
As I open the flaps of the box the first thing I see are the words 'PREVIEW COPY -- Not For Sale' but then there it is, the silhouettes of two women holding hands as they stand within the pale, ghostly outline of two other women surrounding them, the cover of, as the title proclaims, HAUNTED BY LOVE and there, across the bottom: Bethany Cooper. I just stand there, staring and trying to take it in, worried that the books, my book, will suddenly vanish and all of this -- Ruth, Heather, and our life together in this lovely home -- will all turn out to have been a dream.
Ruth's very real arm slips through mine and her kiss is soft on my cheek. "Well done, darling," she says, as I finally lift the topmost of the two copies of the book from the box, "you're officially an author."
Thank you, though it's not officially published for another six weeks, so I suppose I'm still only nearly an author."
"Book," says Heather reaching out, "me look." I hold it towards her and she pushes open the cover and the first few pages. "Want look pictures!" she demands.
"There are no pictures, Heather love," Ruth tells her, "just the words, all those words, that your clever Mummy Beth wrote to tell a story, and now lots of people will read them." Ruth looks at me with such love and admiration that it brings a lump to my throat. "Do I get to see it now?"
"Of course, darling," I say as I raise the book to her, but hesitate. "Just remember that it is only the tiniest glimmer of all that I feel for you." She nods and I turn back to the beginning of the book, to the dedication:
To my darling Ruth,
with love and gratitude for her unstinting
support, encouragement and companionship;
for taking me in and making me whole,
for loving me and our daughter, Heather.
She has taught me that what we think we want
is not always what we really need,
that life can take us down scary paths to unexpected places,
which turn out to be our perfect destination,
and that magic is real,
present in every act of kindness and compassion
that we do for one another.
Feb 23, 2018