Authors: Marian Babson
PAWS FOR ALARM
This eBook published by AudioGO Ltd, Bath, 2012.
Published by arrangement with the Author
Epub ISBN 9781471303319
Copyright Â© 1984 by Marian Babson
The Author asserts the moral right to be identified as the author of this work
All rights reserved
This novel is entirely a work of fiction. The names, characters and incidents portrayed in it are the work of the author's imagination. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events or localities is entirely coincidental
Jacket illustration Â© iStockphoto.com
We had flown out from Logan Airport in the middle of a scorcher that showed no sign of abating. When it gets that hot so early in the summer, it usually means we're in for a blistering heat wave that can go on for weeks. What New England would be like in the August Dog Days didn't bear thinking about.
We landed at Heathrow and stepped out into a blissful, cool dampness; more mist than rain, really. I felt my drooping spirits begin to revive like a parched plant suddenly watered and moved to a shady spot.
âIt's raining!' Arnold was prepared to make a production out of it. He threw back his shoulders as much as the suitcases he was carrying allowed and looked upwards into the mist. âThe same rain that fell on Disraeli, on Palmerston, on â'
âNot quite the same, dear.' If I didn't bring him down to earth occasionally, I had the uneasy feeling that he might float away someday â leaving us behind. Of course, there were also moments â like now â when I felt I'd like to help the process along by giving him a kick that would blast him through the fourth dimension and into his dear Queen Victoria's Court. âIt's been recycled a few hundred thousand times since then.'
âNever mind that,' Arnold persisted stubbornly. âIt's liquid history, drifting down on us, enveloping us â'
âI'm getting wet,' Donna said.
âSo am I,' Donald chimed in. They both levelled accusing eyes on their father.
Young as the twins were, they somehow realized the perilous hold their father had on reality and the twentieth century; like me, they were afraid that he might slip away into that earlier era if we relaxed our vigilance. Especially now that he had the summer in which to roam through the century of his heart's delight, in the country where he not-so-secretly felt he should have been born.
All right, all right,' Arnold sighed. He gave one final upward glance, calling upon something beyond our ken to witness how crudely his aspirations were treated; promising another, deeper, communion once he had got these dreadful incubi settled and off his mind. âWhere's the car park?'
“That's immaterial,' I said. âWe only get the house, don't you remember? The car was totalled in that accident.'
âI thought you made arrangements to have one hired and waiting for us.'
âOh, no, dear, that was your responsibility. I arranged the house swap, organized the packing, gave our own house the most thorough cleaning it's ever known, handled the correspondence, got the children ready ... That was the one little detail
were supposed to take care of. Do you mean you didn't?'
The question was rhetorical. We walked on in silence. I'd suspected Arnold hadn't done a thing about the car hire, but I'd been too annoyed to remind him. Let him bury himself in his files, his reference books and his research â the time was coming when he would have to face the real world. And he was going to do it the hard way, without the supporting infrastructure of academia, without a secretary, without his clubs and cronies â and without any cooperation from me.
I hadn't wanted to come. I'd been stretching the truth when I said I'd arranged the house swap. I hadn't. Celia had.
âThere's a sign for a bus going into London over there.' Donald pointed and I didn't bother to reprimand him.
âAnd a Tube station â' Donna pointed, too. âCan we go by Tube, please, can we?'
âMay we?' Arnold corrected absently, veering in the indicated direction.
I followed along, still brooding. I shouldn't be here at a time like this, a time when my cousin and best friend, Patrick, was on the verge of a breakdown and needed me. It could be argued that Arnold and the kids needed me, too, but sometimes I doubted it. I knew for a fact that Patrick needed all the affection and moral support he could gather about him right now. I had been prepared to give it to him.
That was why Celia had sent me away.
Oh, not overtly â she was too clever for that. She had begun by working on Arnold, telling him how valuable it would be if he could spend the summer in England researching primary sources. She got him to agree that as little as three months direct research would be of immense value to his work. Once planted, the seed sprouted beyond all recognition in just a few days. Only the mechanics â and the expense â held him back.
Then Celia revealed that her recently-widowed sister, Rosemary Blake, would like to come over to the States for a few months to escape unhappy memories and recover a bit from her bereavement. What could be easier â and more convenient â than a house swap?
âWe'll be democratic about this â' Arnold halted at the entrance to the public transport system. âWho wants to go by bus and who votes for the Tube?'
I looked away, abstaining from the vote. Celia had never been able to grasp the essential relationship between Patrick and me. She had always been jealous of me.
The twins had a brisk argument. Donald favoured the bus, Donna the Tube. Arnold heard someone say that the Tube was faster and that decided it. He wanted to get everything over as quickly as possible and disappear into his musty old manuscripts.
âWhere do we want to go?' Arnold asked, squinting at the Tube map. I ignored the question and he got into the line for the ticket office.
,' Celia had said. â
It would be ideal.
' Her sister had a house â well, a semi-detached â within easy striking distance of London and all its research libraries and museums, and we had a house by the lake in New Hampshire, very near Celias. Why didn't we just do a house swap, as so many were doing these days? Arnold could do his research in England and Celia's newly-widowed sister could be near her for this difficult summer.
â' Celia had said it as though presenting an instance of Divine
â âboth have cats.
you'd feel at home and you wouldn't have to worry about who was going to look after the cat!'
I took this with a grain of salt â in Errol's case, it was every cat for himself â but Arnold lapped it up. He'd been more than halfway convinced ever since Celia had first broached the subject. A summer in England â rent-free â who could ask for anything more?
I could, but my wishes weren't considered.
âCome on â' Arnold waved tickets at me. âThis way!'
We plunged into the maelstrom of red-eyed, wearied travellers heading for the trains. They were shouting to each other in a dozen different languages, most of which I had never heard before. Suitcases bumped into the back of my legs, nearly knocking me off my feet. As I staggered, I was buffeted by backpacks and got more elbows in my ribs pushing me out of the way than helping hands extended to steady me. Donna got a clout on the head from a carelessly-handled duffel bag and began to cry.
âArnold,' I said, âcouldn't we at least have taken a taxi?'
âToo late,' he shouted back cheerfully. âWe've got the tickets now. Not much further,' he encouraged Donna. âJust ahead, see?'
We gained the station platform and were able to set down our suitcases, forming ourselves into a defensive group. We must have looked like an Old West wagon train drawn into a circle against the attacking Redskins.
There was a roar in the distance, a rush of high wind down the tunnel and the train charged into the station. A door opened right in front of us and we just had time to pick up our cases before we were caught in the forward surge.
âWhere are all those orderly queues we used to hear about?” I gasped as we fell into seats and fought to keep our luggage clear of some swarthy men who seemed to want to kick it to the far end of the car.
âWell probably find them farther into the country,' Arnold said encouragingly. âOnce we get away from all these foreigners.'
We were foreigners, too. I knew the thought had never occurred to Arnold. In his own mind, hobnobbing with the phantoms of his historical period, he was probably the equal, if not the superior, of anyone in England short of the Royal Family â and I wouldn't be too sure about them. When Arnold's imagination got going ...
Celia had played on it like a lute. It would be
different from arriving in a country and staying at a hotel; we would walk into a fully-equipped home; walk into a circle of friends and neighbours who would welcome us for Rosemary's sake; we would live like the English themselves. How much nicer than taking our chances in any squalid rented accommodation. The best part was that it would be free, and we could use all those extra savings to travel around and see the country â perhaps even some of the Continent.
When I demurred, I was a spoilsport. Even the twins had succumbed to the spell Celia had woven. Worst of all, I couldn't come out with the truth: they would refuse to believe it.
Celia was doing all this to get rid of me. Oh, she was happy enough to do Arnold a good turn but, basically, she was doing it to get me out of the country â far, far away, for a nice indefinite period. Probably she hoped we'd never come back; at least, that I wouldn't.
She had never been able to understand that Patrick and I were best friends, as well as cousins â but nothing more. She was consumed by the kind of jealousy that, fuelled old Greek legends. Whenever she watched us together, even chaperoned by our respective progeny, she suspected the worst. She hid it fairly well from the others, but there was always the barb beneath the surface when she spoke to me. It was totally unfair, but I could never convince her of the innocence of our relationship. Perhaps part of her problem was that she was from another country and her childhood memories took another frame of reference. Whenever Patrick and I referred to our shared childhood and common memories, she broke out in a seething rash.
Just let me catch Patrick's eye and say, â
Who knows what evil lurks in the heart of a man?
' and Patrick lift his arm to eye level, raising an imaginary cloak of invisibility and reply, â
The Shadow knows ... heh ... heh
' and Celia would go up in flames. It got so bad I didn't dare even remark, â
Gee willikins, Daddy Warbucks!
' or use any other catch phrases from the childhood wealth that social historians had now solemnized as Popular Culture.
I tried to tell myself that Celia was just insecure, but every now and again I was swamped by a rage to match her own â nobody needed to be that insecure!
She was cutting Patrick and me off from our past, driving us apart. She wanted to be the one and only female in his life. It was just as well she'd produced a son, rather than a daughter who wouldn't have stood a chance either.
Now that Patrick was ill, it was even worse. They were calling it Executive Burn-out, which was as good a name as any for the old-fashioned nervous breakdown threatening because his business was teetering on the edge of failure due to the recession. Apart from financial support, he needed moral support, reassurance, friends around him; I could have been a stabilizing presence, but Celia had succeeded in getting rid of me. She wanted to be Patrick's main support and now she was.
Poor Patrick. Celia herself had always struck me as a nervous breakdown looking for a place to happen. She was too tall, too thin, quivering with nerves like an overbred horse. She would not be a soothing influence at a time like this.
I had tried to like her. I liked her well enough. We would never be bosom buddies, but we might have been slightly better friends if she hadn't distrusted me so.
Now she had banished me to the strange territory she had come from. In nightmares just before our departure, I had dreamed of myself surrounded by thousands of Celia clones, all quivering with nerves, neighing disapproval and hating me.