Time quake, p.17
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       TIME QUAKE, p.17

           Linda Buckley-Archer
 

  Kate sighed. ‘If we were in my century, all we would have to do is telephone 999 and within minutes an ambulance would come and take Sir Richard to hospital. And they’d give him a pain-killing injection and sort him out in no time. Sorry. This isn’t helpful. You must think I’m talking rubbish . . .’

  Hannah looked blankly back at her.

  ‘Perhaps we should just leave him be,’ said Kate. ‘At least until the driver comes back with a doctor.’

  Hannah nodded uncertainly and started to stroke Sir Richard’s head, her gaze studiously avoiding his arm. His breath came out in short, hard bursts. If it were not for being reluctant to leave Hannah in the lurch, Kate would have gone down that trapdoor by now . . .

  Kate stared blankly at the heavy folds of Sir Richard’s jacket which lay half on and half off his gently heaving back. The log fire glowed bright, hissing and crackling from time to time, and the heat began to redden her cheeks. In the stillness and the quiet, Kate gradually became aware of another vision forming at the back of her mind, like a wall of thunderclouds blowing in from the horizon. It crept up on her stealthily, growing, demanding her attention. A bat squeak of fear sounded in her head. What was it? What did it mean? It unnerved, even angered her. She resisted confronting the darkness that loomed over the landscape of her mind. She also resisted admitting that she could detect a figure in that darkness. Instinctively she wanted to fight it, crowd it out. So, instead of looking at the vision, Kate forced herself to think of her valley in Derbyshire and how a sudden break in the clouds would allow a ray of sunshine, dazzling against the grey, to pierce the valley as if heaven itself had decided to break through the gloom. She pictured the sunlight, skittering and dancing over the patchwork of yellow and green fields as the clouds moved across the sky.

  ‘Is anything the matter, Mistress Kate?’

  Hannah’s words dragged her back.

  ‘I . . . No. I’m fine.’

  Hannah reached out to hold Kate’s hand.

  ‘How cold you are!’

  ‘I was just thinking about what you said – about people not always getting better. That’s all.’

  ‘Oh, forgive me, Mistress Kate. I didn’t mean to worry you. Sir Richard will get better, I am sure of it . . . at least, I hope so.’

  Hannah warmed Kate’s hands in her own. Kate smiled at her and realised how young and pretty she was. Having spent so much time with Hannah when she was approaching fifty, Kate knew every last wrinkle of the plumper face she would have in her middle years, and was still not quite used to seeing her like this, with fresh young skin and shining hair and teeth that looked like they could have been bleached.

  ‘You know,’ Kate said, ‘you were really good to me when Peter’s father and I ended up in 1792. You looked after me when I didn’t feel well. It meant a lot . . .’

  ‘Oh, please don’t talk to me about the future, Mistress Kate! I’d rather not know if it’s all the same to you – although I’m glad that I was of service to you . . .’

  ‘Don’t worry, Hannah, if my dad and Dr Pirretti are right, we’re overwriting that particular future, anyway!’

  Hannah shook her head in bewilderment and resumed stroking Sir Richard’s brow.

  Time, Kate decided, was not as straightforward as she had once thought. It was not as if the past, present and future were obliged to keep in their correct order like good children standing in a queue, and in the same way that stories are supposed to have a beginning, a middle and an end. With everything that had happened to her, she had started to see time through a different lens. The Marquis de Montfaron had likened time to a corridor with many doors leading off it and she was beginning – finally – to grasp what he had meant. He had suggested that, in one sense, all times happen at once, and it was primarily a question of choosing which door to go through – and, of course, how to open that door. To travel through time, it was not necessary to live through each moment in sequential order – it was perfectly possible to leapfrog from one time to another.

  Perhaps it wasn’t such a difficult concept. Memory, she thought, means that we’re all used to juggling the past and the present. After all, she did not have a problem with reconciling the young Hannah whom she saw in front of her with her memory of Hannah on the very first day they’d met in Derbyshire, or with the middle-aged version of Hannah who had accompanied her and Peter’s father to France. Similarly, she only had to bend her mind a little and she could see Hannah in the future. There she was with a baby in her arms sitting in the spring sunshine . . . Kate’s train of thought suddenly screeched to a halt. She screwed up her eyes and clenched her teeth together so hard it hurt. Had she just invented an image of a potential future for Hannah, or had she just foreseen the future with no more difficulty or effort than if she had tried to remember where she had gone on holiday last summer? The fortune-teller’s words rang in her ears, and not for the last time that day. I’m no oracle, she told herself. I’m not!

  ‘Would you hold Sir Richard’s hand, Mistress Kate? I shan’t mean to but I’m sure to hurt him.’

  Kate looked up with a start. ‘Yes – of course.’

  ‘Well,’ Hannah said. ‘I don’t suppose there’s any point delaying. I reckon I’ll be more careful than most of the doctors I’ve seen. Though, to be fair, Dr Darwin in Lichfield was gentle. And best do it now, while he’s half-asleep.’

  Kate nodded and Hannah, with her face settled in a firm resolve, started to pull the sleeve softly. Disconnected from the shoulder socket, Sir Richard’s injured arm behaved more like a joint of meat than a human limb. It made Kate want to heave.

  Sir Richard was clearly in shock. Kate took his hand in hers. It was cold and clammy to the touch, and he was already groaning and pursing his lips together trying to hold in his pain. Kate watched apprehensively as Hannah gave a little tug to get the sleeve over his elbow. Sir Richard instantly responded by squeezing Kate’s fingers violently enough to make her knuckles crack. At the same time he raised his head from the floor, opened his jaws and bellowed. It was the cry of an animal, a cry of pure agony.

  The sound was unbearable. Kate tried to cover her ears but Sir Richard would not release her hand. The terrible cry went on and on, getting louder and deeper, until she felt it more than she heard it, his pain throbbing in her heart.

  ‘Oh, Hannah,’ she cried. ‘What can we do to make him stop? Hannah? Hannah!’

  Hannah’s face was flushed with anxiety and the effort of taking off Sir Richard’s jacket. A row of small white teeth bit into her lower lip; a bubble was forming in the corner of her mouth. Although her back arched precariously backwards after the sleeve had suddenly come away, Hannah remained absolutely still. As was Sir Richard, his mouth fixed open in a scream; as was the candle; as were the orange flames that licked around the logs in the hearth.

  ‘No!’ wailed Kate. ‘Not again! Not with Peter gone!’

  CHAPTER FOURTEEN

  A Bonfire in Derbyshire

  In which the Marquis de Montfaron

  comforts Sam and the farmhouse

  receives some unexpected visitors

  The Marquis de Montfaron found Sam buried in a ball under the bedclothes. When Sam refused to come out he perched elegantly on the end of the bed with a very straight back, and studied the duvet cover printed with skyrockets and stars. He noted that its depiction of the night sky was wholly inaccurate. Presently Montfaron noticed a page, torn out of a newspaper and stuck to the back of Sam’s bedroom door with strips of yellowing sticky-tape. He scanned the articles but found nothing which he thought would interest a ten-year-old boy. He looked at the date. December 15th.

  Montfaron waited patiently and started to hum the piano sonata which he was currently learning and which he found particularly uplifting. The composer was new to him. He had noticed the sheet music open on the upright piano that Mrs Dyer sometimes played in the dining room. After idly picking out a few notes with one finger, he had been so taken with the melody that he had rolled up his sleeve
s and played it until he had a proper grasp of the piece. He wondered if this fellow Beethoven had achieved any fame – he would not be at all surprised.

  ‘Ssshh!’ hissed Sam from under the duvet. ‘Please leave me alone. I’m not a baby. Humming me a tune isn’t going to do anything.’

  Montfaron was tempted to argue the case for music in life’s more difficult moments but instead paced around the tiny room, stooping as he approached the open window on account of the pitched roof. Swallows were diving after the clouds of midges that hovered in the sunny farmyard. Beyond the mud-caked yard, cattle grazed on sun-bleached grass and, moving between the docile beasts towards the far end of the field, Montfaron could make out a line of people, of assorted heights, all carrying baskets. Mrs Dyer brought up the rear. She was holding Milly’s hand as she skipped along. Montfaron smiled.

  ‘I’m not going,’ said Sam. ‘What’s the point of having a birthday picnic for Kate when we she’s not even here? And when the world is probably going to self-destruct. For all we know Kate might even be—’

  Before Sam could finish his sentence, Montfaron, whose head was now halfway out of the window, let out a loud peal of laughter.

  ‘What?’ asked Sam, put out that Montfaron should come into his room and then not even bother to listen to him.

  ‘Oh, it is nothing of any consequence, nothing at all,’ the Marquis chuckled.

  There was a pause and then Montfaron started to laugh again.

  ‘What is it? What are you looking at?’

  ‘I do not wish to disturb your contemplations. It is but a trivial thing, I assure you.’

  Sam peeped out from under the duvet. Montfaron’s shoulders were shaking. Sam stared at him with round, tear-stained eyes. Slowly, he rolled off the mattress onto the floor and crawled towards the window on his hands and knees. Montfaron glanced down at the boy and held out his hand. Sam took it and Montfaron pulled him up. Sam looked out at the farmyard and at the patchwork of fields beyond but saw nothing out of the ordinary except a shiny black car snaking down the steep road that led to the farmhouse.

  ‘I can’t see anything funny.’

  Montfaron pointed upwards and made a noise that sounded like oink. The puzzlement on Sam’s pale face melted away as his mouth cracked into a grin.

  ‘That is so random!’

  The bright blue sky was clear apart from one huge, billowing cloud. It was the precise shape of a pig – ears, snout and four legs. As it sailed over Derbyshire there was even a wispy bit of water vapour at the end for its curly tail.

  Montfaron turned around to look at the scrap of newsprint stuck to the door. He fixed Sam with his intense brown eyes.

  ‘On what day did Kate disappear?’

  ‘Saturday, December 16th.’

  ‘Ah, now I understand. The past is safe; the future never certain, is that not so, Sam? Yet there is wisdom in this that one grows to understand . . . I am sorry you are so angry.’

  ‘I’m not angry! . . . I just want things to go back to normal. I’m fed up of feeling frightened all the time!’

  Montfaron saw the tears welling up again in Sam’s eyes and he had to blink away his own. The tall man put an arm around the boy’s shoulder and squeezed it. They both stared in silence at the cloud floating over the valley.

  ‘We are men, my dear friend,’ said Montfaron finally. ‘We are creatures of reason and will, and are therefore able to look our fear in the face. All things pass, Sam, in the end. Happiness will return.’

  ‘I don’t mean to get like this. Everyone says I am too sensitive. I wish I were like the others.’

  ‘Do not wish to be rid of a quality which may serve you well . . . You remind me a little of Kate. Your sister is a remarkable person and I think you share some of her qualities.’

  Sam’s face lit up. ‘Do I?’

  ‘Yes.’

  ‘I’m still not going on the picnic, though . . .’

  Suddenly the sound reached them of car tyres crunching on gravel.

  ‘It appears that we have visitors!’ said Montfaron.

  ‘Mum said Inspector Wheeler might come today.’

  Sam ran onto the landing and looked down from the window onto the front drive. ‘Who the heck are they?’ he exclaimed.

  Montfaron peered over his shoulder. ‘You do not know them?’

  Sam’s eyes widened. ‘We don’t know anyone who looks like that! And we definitely don’t know anyone who has a chauffeur-driven Mercedes!’

  The chauffeur opened the door for his passenger. Dressed all in white, accessorised with heavy chain jewellery and with her nails painted black, Anjali climbed out of the car and squinted at the Derbyshire landscape. Her shining black hair was streaked with electric blue. She slid her giant sunglasses down onto her nose, and turned in a circle, surveying the sunny, stone farmhouse, the rippling brook, the towering beech, its coppery leaves fluttering in the breeze, the swooping swallows. She halted when her gaze encountered the black and white cattle in the adjoining field.

  ‘Wow! Real cows!’

  The chauffeur opened the door for Tom who hesitated before stepping out of the safety of the Mercedes and stood, shoulders hunched anxiously and brow furrowed.

  ‘Come on, city boy!’ Anjali cried, ‘take a deep breath of all that fresh air and manure and stuff.’

  On cue, Tom sneezed violently. Anjali cackled with laughter. ‘Don’t tell me you’re allergic to the countryside!’

  Anjali eyed the stone farmhouse with its small-framed windows and hollyhocks and ragweed growing from cracks between the paving stones. A lace curtain at an upstairs window dropped abruptly as she looked at it. Anjali gave a little wave.

  ‘Canary Wharf, it ain’t,’ she said.

  Anjali rooted about in her Prada handbag and drew out a couple of ten-pound notes. She offered them to the chauffeur who was standing to attention in his peaked cap, awaiting orders.

  ‘Here – go and buy yourself a Bakewell tart or feed the ducks or something. Wait in town and leave your phone on. I’ll give you a bell when we need you.’

  ‘Would you like me to unload the gentleman’s luggage, miss?’

  ‘I told you – the name’s Anjali. No. Thank you very much. We don’t know if he’s staying yet.’

  As the Mercedes disappeared up the drive, the front door opened and Sam and the Marquis de Montfaron appeared. Tom flinched at the sight of such a tall, upright man.

  ‘C’mon, Tom,’ said Anjali encouragingly, ‘let’s say hello.’

  She walked confidently up to the front door, dragging Tom by the hand.

  ‘Hi! This is the Dyer farm?’

  ‘Yes, it is,’ said Sam.

  ‘That’s a relief! It’d be a long hike back to town in these . . .’ She indicated her boots. ‘I’m Anjali – and this is Tom.’

  She shook Sam’s hand and then held out her hand to Mont-faron. He took it and kissed it. ‘I am delighted to make your acquaintance. I am . . . Mr Montfaron.’

  Anjali looked at him quizzically and noted the erect stance and the shoulder-length hair tied up in a ponytail.

  ‘So you’re not Dr Dyer, then?’

  Sam tried not to stare too hard at Anjali or at the boy in jeans and T-shirt who could not look them in the eye. ‘My dad’s down in the valley. I could get him if it’s important. Is it him you want to speak to?’

  ‘Yeah. We could walk down . . .’

  Sam looked at Anjali’s suede ankle boots with their pointed heels which would be ruined before she reached the first gate. ‘I could lend you a pair of Kate’s wellingtons, if you liked . . . they’d probably fit.’

  At the sound of Kate’s name, Tom looked up sharply.

  Anjali accepted Montfaron’s offer of refreshments and they all trooped into the kitchen. Sam became suddenly contrite on account of all the mess.

  ‘Sorry, I was doing an assignment for school—’

  ‘You’re kidding me!’ said Anjali. ‘It’s the holidays! That’s harsh. What is it?’

&n
bsp; ‘Maths . . .’

  Anjali pulled a face. ‘Rather you than me, mate.’

  Too much of a gentleman to enquire what business the guests had with their host, Montfaron nevertheless eyed Anjali with great curiosity. The feeling was mutual.

  ‘This might sound mental,’ said Anjali to Montfaron. ‘But I reckon you come from the eighteenth century? Am I right? ’Cos I’m becoming a bit of an expert as it happens.’ She cocked her head at Tom. ‘This one is ’n’all. And I want to get him home.’

  Montfaron’s large chestnut eyes grew round and Sam started like he’d received an electric shock.

  ‘Tom?’ Sam exclaimed, wheeling around to look at him. ‘Tom who was in the Carrick Gang that attacked Kate and Peter?’

  Tom returned his stare anxiously. ‘I’ll wager you are Mistress Dyer’s brother.’

  Sam flew at him, grabbed him around the neck and pushed him against a kitchen cupboard. ‘What have you done with her?’ he yelled in Tom’s face. ‘Where’s the Tar Man?’

  ‘Oi!’ shouted Anjali. ‘Put him down right now or we’re out of here.’

  Montfaron peeled away Sam. He was pale and trembling. Tom remained flattened against the cupboard. He was panting and looking desperately at Anjali for guidance.

  ‘These people aren’t about to help us! Please, Miss Anjali, let us leave while we can!’

  ‘You’re all right,’ Anjali said to him, motioning at him to calm down. ‘No harm done. He’s only a kid.’ She turned to Sam who was still staring, glassy-eyed, at Tom. ‘I ain’t seen the Tar Man in months. He disappeared – right after he’d hired a helicopter to come to this place. I was hoping you was going to tell us where he was.’

  ‘I think it best,’ said Montfaron, ‘that I take you to see Kate’s parents and Dr Pirretti without delay.’

  ‘You are from the eighteenth century, ain’t you?’

  ‘Yes,’ said Montfaron. ‘As you have been so open with us, I shall not deny it.’

 

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