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Authors: Janie Bolitho

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Buried in Cornwall

BOOK: Buried in Cornwall
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BURIED IN CORNWALL

JANIE BOLITHO

For my grandson,

Matthew James Bolitho

‘You’ve made a real fool of yourself this time.’

Rose Trevelyan closed her eyes and took a deep breath. No need to ask who was calling, she knew that voice well enough. Anger and humiliation fought for supremacy.

‘Especially now. God, you must’ve read enough articles in the
Western Morning News
about time-wasters. You know, people who ring triple nine when they break a nail or can’t find their glasses. People like you, Rose.’

‘End of lecture?’ she asked sweetly, trying to show how little she cared for his opinion of her.

‘Why on earth did you do it? Do you know how much that whole exercise cost?’

No, she thought, but you’re about to tell me. He did, and it was an awful lot of money. How many emotions could she cope with at once? Guilt had now joined in the struggle with humiliation and anger. Never explain, never apologise, someone had once said. Rose had no intention of doing the latter but she still felt an unreasonable need to do the former, to justify herself to the man who had once promised her so much and whom she had wrongly blamed for not living up to her expectations. It was she who had not been ready to make a commitment. Rose knew what he was thinking, that in this, as in their personal life, she would refuse to take the blame. ‘I heard something, I really did.’

‘Too much red wine, I expect.’ And with that the line went dead.

Anger won. It was more than anger, it was rage. Red-faced, she paced the room, chewing at a fingernail. ‘Sod you, Jack Pearce,’ she said aloud, feeling the prickling of tears behind her eyelids.

With a shake of her head, she went to the kitchen and, to spite Jack, opened a bottle of Medoc. She took the glass into the sitting-room and sipped the wine as she surveyed what had become her world from the window. Warmth from
the fire she had lit in the grate complemented that of the small radiator beneath the curved window which overlooked Mount’s Bay. Darkness was already descending, coming earlier each day as Christmas drew nearer. St Michael’s Mount in the distance was no more than a sinister jagged rock outlined blackly against the striated colours of the sky. The horizon was tinged a whitish yellow as the sun sank further into the west. The clouds were purple, a shade deeper than that of the heather which bloomed on the cliffs that ran down to the sea. The last fingers of light edged them in brilliant orange.

A few cars, unseen below Rose’s steeply sloping garden, passed from Mousehole down into Newlyn, but she could see the tops of those coming up the hill. One slowed, and the arc of its headlights briefly illuminated the front of the house as it pulled into the drive. She swore aloud in the language of the fishermen with whom she often drank. The view which, day or night, winter or summer, was always able to restore her equanimity had done its work. The appearance of Jack Pearce, Inspector Jack Pearce, had destroyed it again. She heard a rapping on the kitchen door. It was at the side of the house and opened on to the garden. She could, of course, refuse to answer
it even though the door was unlocked and the kitchen light was on. Jack knew that she was in and that the door was rarely locked but he also knew better than to walk in uninvited. It would be cowardly to ignore him. Her affair with Jack was over, although he found it hard to accept, but that was no reason to behave in anything other than an adult manner. She had nothing to fear from him. Besides, in a way she owed him something. It was Jack who had shown her that she was able to feel again. Five years after David had died he had come into her life and proved that there could be someone else. The months of David’s lingering death were not a period of her life she would ever forget but she had learnt to accept the finality and had put it behind her as belonging only to her memory. Initially she had thought that to get involved with another man would be to diminish what she and David had shared, which was over twenty years of happiness. Later she had learnt that no one or nothing could take that away from either of them. In retrospect it seemed calculating to admit that Jack had served his purpose. Metaphorically he had brought her back to life and made her strong enough to live it alone. Jack had wanted permanency, Rose only wanted to feel alive again. There was no question
that she had enjoyed his company: the laughter and the arguments, the spark which had existed between them and the nights they had spent together. But that, too, was in the past.

She let him knock a second time before crossing the narrow flagstoned hallway and going to open the kitchen door. Through the glass she saw Jack’s large, familiar figure as he stood rubbing his hands together. She let him in. With him came cold air so she quickly shut the door. That indefinable feeling, that
frisson
which had existed between them, had not completely disappeared, Rose realised as his bulk filled the room and she looked up, allowing herself a brief glimpse of his dark, handsome Cornish face.

Warmth flooded her neck and cheeks when his own eyes dropped pointedly to the glass she still held in her hand. It was so unfair. Most evenings when she had finished work she opened some wine. Why did Jack always have to catch her in the act and make it seem like a sin? ‘Why are you here?’

‘I wanted to make sure you were all right.’ In a manner which suggested he was more than at home in her kitchen he folded his arms and leant back against the cooker. Rose wished it was on. Full on.

She snorted and flung back her thick, shoulder-length hair with her free hand. In the evenings she untied it and brushed it loose over her shoulders. There were a few strands of grey amongst the auburn waves but she chose to ignore them, as she did the fine lines around her eyes. She was not vain and she had no idea how attractive she was as she neared her fifties, but she was comfortable with herself, physically and mentally, and it showed in her character. In jeans and low-heeled shoes she only reached Jack’s shoulder. She had bought her shirt in Waghorn Stores in Newlyn Strand. It was a shop where anything could be purchased, from hardware to hard-wearing clothing, from crockery to gardening tools, from light bulbs to pet food, and if what you wanted wasn’t on display they were sure to have it upstairs. The shirt was thick and heavy, checked in blue and black, and although the smallest size it was meant for a man and therefore swamped Rose’s petite figure. She was out in all weathers for most of the year and her fashion sense was non-existent during the daytime. Over the shirt she wore a baggy sweater, streaked with paint and fraying at the hem, beneath which the tails of the shirt could be seen. To Jack Pearce she always looked vulnerable and
desirable but, to his cost, he had learnt she was only the latter. She lifted her arms as if to display herself, being careful not to spill her drink. ‘Well, as you can see, I’m fine. Why shouldn’t I be?’ She did not want to hear the answer.

‘Because it was so unlike you, so completely out of character for you to panic and to act the way you did, if you don’t mind me saying so.’

‘But I do mind, Jack.’ She smiled sardonically and sipped the wine, making a point of not offering him a drink. ‘Are you here officially? Am I to be charged with anything?’

‘Of course not. Mistakes happen. I just thought …’

Rose was already moving. She had placed her glass on the table and opened the side door. ‘Goodnight, Jack. Thank you for calling.’ His mouth dropped open in surprise. ‘I said goodnight. Now go. I’ll catch pneumonia standing here in this draught.’

With an angry shrug he thrust his hands into the pockets of his reefer jacket and stomped out of the house. Rose locked the door with a decisive twist of the key but her satisfaction didn’t last. She slumped into a kitchen chair and played with the stem of the wine glass, which was cold between her fingers. It would have been the
perfect opportunity to explain. Once his anger had abated Jack would have listened, she was sure of that. He had always believed and trusted her in the past. It was too late now, and she had no intention of telephoning him. An awful end to an awful day, she thought.

It had been one of those balmy days with which the area was often blessed in winter. Late October and most of November had been wet, heavy rain had been accompanied by gale force winds, then, just when it should have been getting colder, the temperature started to rise. Indian summer days were followed by spectacular sunsets and chilly evenings. It was difficult to believe Christmas was so close …

Thinking back over the events of that day led to nostalgic memories of her youth. Having left art college, Rose had arrived in Penzance at the age of twenty-one with no idea of what to expect. Her intention was to remain for six months whilst she studied the artists of the Newlyn School and did some painting herself. But fate had other things in store and she had never gone home. Lodgings had been organised before her arrival and she had soon settled down to work but, unable to sell many of the oils she completed, she had turned to watercolours. A chance meeting with Barry
Rowe, the owner of a shop which sold greetings cards and postcards amongst other things, had altered the direction of her career. Needing a map, she had gone into the shop. Barry, noticing her sketchpad, politely asked if she was an artist. Rose had shown him some of her watercolours and before she knew it he had employed her on an almost full-time basis, using her designs on his notelets and cards. He had a printing works in Camborne where they were produced. Later Rose had taken up photography and sold much of her work to postcard manufacturers as well as taking portrait pictures. The oils, which she had so loved painting, had long gone by the wayside. Until recently, that is. Her new friends, met at a party thrown by Mike and Barbara Phillips, a couple she had known for many years, had given her so much encouragement that she was now relatively successful in marketing and selling her work. A single painting had done it, the one she had started immediately after David’s death, one she could not recall finishing. Recovering it from its hiding place because she had an idea it might make a suitable gift for Mike’s fiftieth birthday, she had been startled by how good it was. Anger and grief and experience had lent her work the maturity it had previously lacked and had added
something which even she was unable to define. Mike and his guests had been genuinely impressed with her talent and things had continued from there.

Today she had gone back to capture the barren ruggedness of the countryside rather than the dramatic coastline or the prettiness of the villages which nestled in the coves. The work depicted the ruins of an old engine house at a disused mine. With the trees and the undergrowth still in autumnal colouring, it was the perfect place to test her ability in her new medium. Sitting there in the early afternoon, she had heard a scream: the high-pitched scream of a woman.

She rested her head in her hands. No, she had not imagined it. Superstitious and able to sense things almost as well as the Cornish could, she knew the difference between reality and fancy. Nor was it some trick of acoustics, the countryside was well known to her. She knew how many areas of open country could be dangerous with hidden and uncovered mine shafts which might suddenly subside. Still, she saw how it must appear and was annoyed to think that those who had answered her summons, made from the mobile phone she now carried with her, probably thought her an hysterical female. An ambulance and the cliff
rescue team had turned up. At least they hadn’t sent a helicopter from Culdrose as well. There was nothing she could do now but to put it from her mind and live with the humiliation: despite a thorough search no one had been found.

She glanced at the cooker clock. It was time to get changed. Nick Pascoe was taking her to a classical concert at the Methodist church in Chapel Street, and afterwards they were going for something to eat. This was to be their third meeting. So far they had done no more than to share a few drinks, once in Newlyn, and once in St Ives where Nick lived and worked.

Rose knew of his reputation as an artist both locally and nationally yet she had hardly noticed him at Barbara and Mike’s party where they were introduced. This, she realised, was due to the excitement she had felt at the more than favourable reception of her painting which she had wrapped and presented to Mike. It showed a wild, storm-ridden coastline which reflected the state of her mind at the time she had worked on it. Only when he telephoned to invite her out did Nick’s face come clearly to mind. It was a nice face, lined and rugged and weatherbeaten. His hair, completely grey, was the colour of her filing cabinet and he wore it brushed back from
the forehead and long over the collar. His green eyes were peculiarly speckled and changed with the light. At the party he had worn jeans, a shirt and a denim jacket and, having seen him twice since, Rose wondered if he possessed any other clothes. Only the shirt had been different. On the first occasion it was black, worn over a black T-shirt; the second time it had been similar to the one she was now wearing herself. Mounting the stairs, she smiled as she imagined what her mother would have to say about him. ‘Honestly, Rose, he might have put on a jacket and tie.’ Rose’s parents were conventional and were still bewildered by their artistic only child who had adopted the lifestyle and dress of her own kind.

Rose showered and washed her hair. Bending her head she flung the wet tresses forward over her face to give them more body as the drier buzzed noisily. From the wardrobe she took a black dirndl skirt with an embroidered hem and a silky green shirt. Over this she wore a black jacket. Shoes were a problem so she settled for her one good pair of boots in tan leather. At least they matched her handbag.

They had arranged to meet in the Admiral Benbow, a pub and restaurant in Chapel Street in Penzance. The drinking was done upstairs, at
the long bar or in the room which overlooked the sea; the restaurant was on ground level, behind a door with a low lintel. The building dated back to the days of smugglers and a tunnel was supposed to run from the building to the sea. There were ancient beams and nautical artefacts and unmatching furniture made from heavy wood.

BOOK: Buried in Cornwall
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