Every Monday and Thursday brings two more free chapters of my exciting historical paranormal romance novel, Return to Rhonan (that’s four chapters each week). Set mainly in the Scottish Highlands, the reader will find much to enjoy on this mysterious well researched journey.
Don’t worry if you miss any chapters, since you will find links to other posted chapters here:
Return to Rhonan: Chapters 45 & 46
Copyright © 2012 Katy Walters
All rights reserved
Raising her hands to the circle of light she floated up through the waters. Glimpsing silver fish, with scales iridescent greens and blues, darting among lily pads, she tried to touch one. At the surface, the sun beamed on her face, as reeds brushed her legs. However, the sun became an electric light, the reeds, a crisp hospital sheet. Astonished, Jess saw Douglas asleep, his head lying across her lap. Hesitantly, she reached out, her fingers brushing the blue-black waves. At her touch, he awoke instantly.
Raising his head, he said, ‘Darling – at last.’ Smiling gently, he grasped her hand.
Visions flooded her mind, the boat tipping, a scaly arm grabbing her, taking her to the bottom of the lake. ‘Douglas? What happened? I fell out of the boat –there was a monster. There was−‘
‘Don’t get upset. You’re safe sweetheart.”
‘Daisy?’ ow’s Lily?”
She’s fine – resting at the vet’s. They had to stitch up a tear on her shoulder, but she‘s okay.’
‘Oh thank God. She tried to save me. I can see her now, swimming right down to the bottom. She attacked that monster.’
Douglas nodded. ‘When it came to it Jess, she was right there – would’ve given her life for you.’
‘Did she have many stitches?’
Douglas decided to keep it light. ‘Just a few Jess – but she’s gonna be okay’
‘How long have I been here?
‘Just the night.’
‘It was Max – wasn’t it?
‘Yeah, but I don’t think you’ll be bothered with him again. He’s gone back to the hell he came from.’
‘You can’t send them back Douglas. Only an exorcist can do that. He’s not finished yet.’ She shuddered. “You know – I think I saw Murial. I remember seeing her streaking towards me, long red hair, and a skirt billowing in the water.’
‘I saw her Jess – saw her face. She fought him – saved you – saved me. I can’t explain it away this time. It happened. I’m sorry Jess. It’s my bloody fault for not believing in you. I feel such a heel.’
He almost jumped as Jessie gasped, ’Oh no, the box – oh no – there was a box with letters−’
‘Is this what you’re talking about?’ Douglas grinned holding up the tin box. She squealed with delight, wincing through the pain of two cracked ribs ‘Oh God, yes – yes.’
‘Nat saved it. They went out to get the boat and found it in the bottom. I checked the contents; they didn’t get wet, but then it had a tight-fitting lid. How did you find them?’
‘I just couldn’t get the painting out of my mind – the inscription. I saw Murial struggling with someone, I thought – Max. Ghost or no ghost, I had to help her.’
Douglas nodded. ‘I understand – I wish to God, you’d contacted me first.’ He lowered his eyes. ‘I’ve been so stupid Jess.’
Impulsively, she reached out her hand to grip his. ‘We both have. I shouldn’t have tried to make you believe. You were trying to go along with it.’
He managed a weak grin, ‘Trying is the right word I think. I know it’s no excuse but it was all too much, but the demon, I saw the bloody thing. Fought with it.’
Jess coloured up. ‘It could have killed you—‘
He interrupted, his face tense. ‘Changing the subject, the inscription on the tin is the same as your locket?’
Jessie nodded opening the tin box. Lifting out the letters, she looked at Douglas ‘This is as much yours as mine. I mean I found it in the tomb on your island.’ Her voice trailed away as she held his eyes.
‘No, it’s yours as well Jess. If the inscription on the tin is the same as the locket, then it looks like we’re both involved here. Go on, have a look, take the letters out.’
Jessie hesitated. ‘You’re sure?
He smiled, as he looked at the pale skin, framed in fiery hair, a narrow bridge of light freckles across her nose. ‘Open the letters.’
Jessie stopped as Dinah popped her head through the door. ‘Hey. You’re awake. Is it okay for us to come in?’
As usual, her cousin looked radiant, the raven hair curling around her shoulders contrasting with the pale pink shirt. Lucy appeared behind her followed by George and Nathan. Lucy put a bunch of mixed flowers on her bedside cabinet whilst Dinah popped some grapes in the bowl.
As the girls found chairs, Dinah said, ‘You look better. That was one terrible night Jess.’
Douglas muttered, ‘She shouldn’t have gone on her own – should’ve asked me.’
Jess threw him a look, but refrained from saying he hadn’t been talking to her at the time.
Nathan said, “We heard Daisy barking and then the screaming. Douglas’s office is at the back, but we made it out front pretty quick.’
George said, “We were teaching – but when we heard the racket, I think the whole class came out to have a look. Didn’t realize it was anything to do with you.’
Jessie said. I don’t remember much Nat. But, thank you for saving my life.’
Nat said, ‘Douglas took the beast on. Phobia or no phobia. I managed to get Daisy and you to the shore.’
Jessie’s eyes filled. ’That was so brave of you both. I just don’t know how to thank you’ Looking at Douglas, she said, ‘A phobic attack can paralyse, but you not only fought that, but also Max.’
Nat broke in, ‘It was a bloody monster – scales – fangs. Scared the life out of me.’
Douglas took her hand, squeezing it gently, ‘All I could think of was you.’ He rose and gently kissed her forehead.
Jessie felt her heart swell at his kiss. If only they could stop arguing – find some balance. As if reading her mind, Douglas said, ‘Looks like we’re gonna go on quarrelling into the sunset.’
Dinah grinned, that sounded like a proposal if only Jess realized. She would tell Jess of Douglas’s heartbreak as he fought for her life. But, not here, not now.
Jessie flinched at Douglas’s words, blushing as she saw the adoration in his eyes. That look and those words sounded long term. Covering her confusion, she said to the group. ‘We’ve got some letters here. I found them in the tomb – I’ll explain later.’ She took the bundle out of the tin box and untied the crimson ribbon. Spreading them across the bed she said, “They’re all dated but out of order. Let’s start with the first shall we?’
Startled Dinah said, ‘Oh my God, this is exciting. What date is it?”
‘Well there’s a single page of parchment. Oh my goodness, it is from Sir Guy Mavebury. It reads, These letters and newspaper articles belong to my beloved stepsister Murial. These I have interred in her tomb for posterity. Enclosed also are letters, she wrote to her sister the Lady Brianna. These were kindly returned by Brianna’s husband shortly after her untimely death from the Typhus. We still had no knowledge of the whereabouts of Duncan and Murial, Her letters to Duncan’s beloved wife should be in your safe keeping. Jessie began sorting through them flinching as she moved her body. ‘Here’s a date – March 27th 1810. Then there’s another one April 15th.” Seeing the raised eyebrows and curiosity, she said, “Shall I read it out?’
Dinah quipped, ‘Can’t wait – go on.’
Pushing herself higher on the bed Jessie began to read, peering closer at the faded script on yellowed parchment paper. Lifting the first page to find the writer, she said. ‘It’s from Murial. She looked over to Douglas, beaming; she continued. ‘Err … it’s to The Lady Brianna A’Hearne, Rhonan Castle, Cornwall, England. Dearest Brianna, Your letter meant so much to me. I know that you are with me in spirit, and I am stronger for it. The Scottish Clearances are raising panic on the estates here. We fear the absentee landlords intend to evict the tenant farmers to use their land for sheep grazing. It’s all to do with the wool economy. How can this be….’?’
She paused; this is just like the dreams; it confirms everything. Murial was really speaking to us.’
George said, ‘Uncanny – just makes my blood boil. Those bloody landlords had no right – no morals. D’you know I read that one of the landlords inherited ninety thousand acres and immediately planned to clear the lot – give it over entirely to sheep, the tenants forced to trek to the coast – to cut seaweed. It was a special kind of seaweed only found in deep water. So the poor devils had to wade out waist deep to hack it from the rocks, children too…. But carry on Jess – carry on.’
Jess picked up another letter to read of the plight of an old couple starving in a shack by the sea; Dinah looked over to Lucy to see her wiping her eyes smudging the mascara. ‘Oh God, it just doesn’t seem possible. Those poor people, left to die. If, it hadn’t been for Murial and her sister, they would have just walked to their death in the sea.’
Picking up another letter Jessie said, ‘Douglas would you mind reading, I just don’t feel up to it really, anyway my ribs hurt.’
Douglas winced, ‘That’s my fault. I’m sorry, I was clumsy … I—‘
‘You saved my life Doug. And I’m grateful.’
Looking into his eyes, Jess saw the adoration, the pain. Reaching out he took his hand, ‘Without you, I wouldn’t be here – I know that.’
His faced flushed. ‘It was joint effort – me, Nat and Murial.’
Dinah bit her lip; Jess still didn’t know that she had literally died for a few minutes. Now was not the time to tell her.
Pushing through the letters and articles, Doug said, ‘I’ll just read out some snippets, they’re not in date order, obviously they were bundled together in haste. We can study them in depth later.’ As he read, so the tragic story of the Clearances and of Murial unfolded.
After reading for some time, he said, my voice is getting hoarse, so I’ll just finish reading this one, and then you can all take your pick. Picking up another letter ad-lib, he read,
My dearest Love,
How happy I am to read your letter. I love you so much – it hurts when we’re so far apart. I do hope you can rally support. But now, I must ask you to hurry back. Duncan I am increasing – I am with child. What are we to do my love? It will take some time for you to return from Jamaica. I can conceal it for some months, but then I am at the mercy of the Earl. I fear his wrath. I know he loves me, but if he finds out before your return, I fear banishment. – Or worse, he may put me out into the night. It is just not ‘ton’; it has happened to other girls. They have been left to roam the roads begging.
If I tell him I am your wife, he could have the marriage annulled – make up some excuse. You know how powerful he is and Father O’Sullivan so timid.’
Please answer this Duncan – I fear the worst.
Douglasput down the letter. ‘Poor girl – she’s fighting for the tenants and for her unborn child.’
Jessie whispered, ‘Good God, what a predicament. She must have been terrified. I know young women were actually thrown out – left to starve really. Honestly, men are beasts.”
Douglas said, ‘Yeah, if wives were unfaithful or even if the husband suspected it, they could be ejected from the house – lose their home, children – money. Some were ferreted away to asylums, or locked in a room without anyone raising any questions.”
Jess muttered, ‘Women had no rights at all– damn men.’
George said, ‘Yeah, seems men ruled with a rod of iron. A man had the right to bring his mistress home and install her in the marriage bed; the wife had to sleep in the spare room. If they rebelled, the husband or even their own brothers quickly subdued them. There was a film about it, The Duchess, few years back now.’
Jessie scowled, ‘Bloody men.’
George gave a tight smile. “Can’t argue with that now. It was terrible for women through the centuries. Even in the nineteenth and early twentieth-century, women were sold. It was called ‘wife selling’. In the poorer areas, the wife was paraded before the men wearing a halter and sold off to the highest bidder. It was legal, went on all the time. With the rich they sold her off to friends to settle gambling debts.”
Jessie plucked at the crisp sheet. “Men – bastards.’
‘But, not all women suffered Jess. Some were cherished. Others led normal lives as long as they didn’t nag or answer back too much. The husband had the right to use her money as he pleased.’
‘Cherished? I’m sorry George but you make them sound like pets.’
‘Yeah I know – didn’t mean to – you’re right though – shocking business.’
Seeing that Jess was slipping down in the bed, Dinah, went to help her sit up. Aware of the cracked ribs, she took care not to pull her too much. Adjusting the pillows, she said, ‘There now, is that more comfortable?’
Jess nodded. ‘Thanks Di, that’s great. Looking around at the friends she said, ‘Let’s get on. There’s another letter here from Murial to Duncan.
Dinah moved forward eagerly, ‘What does it say?’
My dearest Duncan ,
I was so glad to receive your letter. I read and re-read it, then held it to my breast as I went to sleep. I could smell your scent on the paper, even that you had a cigar at some time during the writing of it. I am so relieved you will be home long before I begin to show. This empire line does indeed help. Many women dispense with corsets – as have I. So, along with a shawl, I think I can keep our secret until your return. I know that you are working hard for the slaves. I do not blame them making for the hills at least they will have some kind of a life with the Maroons, but as you write they can barely scratch a living in such arid land.
I miss you so much, I long to hold your dear face and kiss your lips. My body aches for you; I dream of you holding me close to your heart. Pray God, we will soon be able to live as man and wife publicly. But, as you say it could well be that we repair to your plantations in Jamaica. I must say it would be a welcome relief from these cold and wet climes.
We are still ferreting food to the farmers and tenants. Uncle has no idea; he’s only interested in his tomes anyway. With regular sustenance, they are beginning to get some flesh back on their bones. Robbie is taking on a lot of work at the stables. Uncle sees none of the servants besides the intimate house staff, as he expects all servants to keep to the tunnels. This rule serves us well as now I have Alice helping in the kitchen and the bairns are looked after by the neighbours. He would be furious if he were to espy any of the servants, as you know, from any room in the Manor so this ruling serves our purpose.
We are still saving as much of our own food as we can, and stealing from the stores and the kitchen. We have to be wary of the Housekeeper you know what the old witch is like, always currying favour with Uncle and the Steward. One of the servants told me that last night, the Steward, the Butler and the Head Houseman, dined in the Housekeeper’s private rooms, with meats, fish and fine wines and then a pudding of apple pie and custard with helpings of fresh cream. God will repay them their selfishness and greed. How I would like to take my horsewhip to them Duncan.
But, there is the dinner gong. I must go. You know how uncle becomes so tetchy if anyone is late. Why we have to dress for dinner I know not? We have no guests this night, but still we must bathe and dress formally. Aunt will not be present; as usual, she has a touch of the vapours, due to the dog escaping into the gardens today. On a lighter note, it was such a merry scene, with the housemaids and the Butler running hither and thither after it and Aunt almost fainting as she watched from the balustrade.
Take care my beloved husband. I pray God you can help the slaves. These are wretched times with the slaves and the Clearances.
Your own devoted Murial.
Dinah pursed her lips. ‘I wonder if he did get back in time. Accidents happen especially at sea.’
No part of this book may be stored, reproduced, or transmitted in any form or by any means without the express permission of the author.
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and events are either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
Copyright © 2012 Katy Walters
All rights reserved
Don’t worry if you miss any chapters, since you will find links to other posted chapters here: