|It was a beautiful, sunny afternoon at the end of July.|
Dr Rix Bettany opened his surgery window with a smile and whistled to attract the attention of his three five-year old sons, playing in the garden below. His final patient, a Mrs Olsen, was late. She was a new patient, and they hadn’t received her medical records yet.
They had been living in Howells for over four years now, Mary-Lou, who had married him some six years previously, had published two books on archaeology to modest acclaim and he had set up as a general practitioner, following the retirement of the previous incumbent. It wasn’t what he had dreamed of doing, but it was bearable and it did enable him to spend a lot more time with his family.
The triplets were occupied in collecting bits of wood, but upon noticing him, they raced over.
“Daddy!” James reached the window first. “Come and play with us! We’re building a fort, look!”
“I’ll be able to come out very soon, Jamie. Where’s Mummy?”
“She’s gone to ask Auntie Jane if she’s got any spare wood.” Tom said solemnly. “Can you help us build it, please Daddy?”
“You bet. Would you like your fort to go up in the oak tree?” Rix sat down on the windowsill, looking down with a smile at their three, almost-identical faces.
“A tree house?” Alex frowned, considering. “I thought they were for girls.”
“No they’re not, I want the fort in a tree,” James said, dictatorially. “We can see the enemy better from up in the tree.”
“If you collect more pieces of wood, you can have both,” Rix promised, “I’ll be down in about ten minutes.”
“Sorry to disturb you, doctor,” his assistant, Dilys came in, apologetically. “Your final patient is here.”
Rix closed the window and turned round, straightening his tie, “Thanks Dilys. Good afternoon, Mrs Olsen.”
She was small and dark and pretty, she shook hands and smiled at him.
“Thanks for seeing me at such short notice, Dr Bettany, I do appreciate it,”
“Not at all, what can I do for you?” he replied, cheerfully, indicating a chair and sitting down himself. She was looking at him rather intently.
“You look very familiar to me,” she said, “Bettany - even that is familiar.”
He glanced at her, but he was too professional to show his curiosity. He knew from experience that some patients needed to talk or build a rapport before sharing their symptoms. He had learnt patience since coming to Howells.
“I’ve an aunt who was Madge Bettany before she married. She had a school here for a while. I’ve another aunt who writes – Josephine M Bettany,” he remarked, pleasantly, as she sat down.
“I went to a few different schools. I’ve heard of Josephine M Bettany. I’ve recently moved to the area,” she changed the subject. “I think I might be pregnant.”
She noticed his glance at her left hand and laughed. “We’ve just moved here from Denmark, Dr Bettany. One wears one’s wedding band on the right hand there,” she held it up. “You see? Perfectly respectable.”
“Of course, I’m sorry,” she had made him feel small-minded and provincial, and it annoyed him. “Is your husband Danish?”
“Yes. This could be our third child. I’ve brought you a sample. It’s in my handbag.”
He nodded. She discussed her two children while he examined her, a boy of seven and a girl of five. “They hate me and my husband at the moment, for taking them away from their friends in Copenhagen. They refuse to speak English and Christian’s so naughty… I expect he’s tearing your waiting room to bits as we speak.” She sat up and began to dress.
“Not with my receptionist keeping an eye on him – she’s had plenty of practice keeping my own brats in line,” he grinned.
“I heard about your children in the village.”
“Oh, yes? They’re the same age as your daughter. Congratulations by the way, you are expecting.”
“I thought I was,” she sounded forlorn and remembering his time helping the clinic in Stepney, he picked up on it.
“Wasn’t it a planned pregnancy, Mrs Olsen?” he asked, as she finished dressing.
“Oh no, but it’s a happy surprise, believe me. Klaus will be thrilled. I’m just – I suppose it’s just bad timing. I wanted to settle in and get to know people in the village.”
“There’s an NCT meeting every week, I can have Dilys look out the details for you. The WI are quite active as well…”
“I’m not really one for flower-arranging, but thank you. You are kind.”
“It’s nothing,” he said, studying her covertly as she pulled on her coat. She was very attractive and had very dark hair. “In any case, you must bring the children round to meet our three.”
When she had gone, he went into the garden to join his family.
"Daddy, you said you’d only be ten minutes," James said, reproachfully.
"I had to see my last patient, didn’t I? Then I had to change my clothes, you remember what your mother said to me after that time we went to play football in the meadow," Rix winked at his wife, who grinned back, before assuming a mock-stern expression.
"What’s this about building a tree-house?" she demanded.
"It’s not a tree house, it’s a fort" Alexander said, with a scowl.
"Sorry, a fort, of course," Mary-Lou gave her husband a secret smile, as she ruffled the black curls of her second son.
"How would you like some other children to play with this summer?" Rix asked, scooping up Alex in his arms before starting to tickle him. "The lady I’ve just seen has two about your age, a boy and a girl."
"A girl?" Alex wriggled out of his father’s grasp, giggling and considered,. "Tom can play with her."
"You can all play with her," Mary-Lou said, with a frown at him, "Who are they, darling? New people?"
"They’ve just moved here, name of Olsen. She’s English, I think, but he’s Danish. They’ve got two kids, a boy of seven, and a girl of five. I suggested they could come round and play with the boys."
"They must have taken the Phillips’ house," Mary-Lou mused. "I must pop round and say hello before I go to Verity next week."
Rix paused, letting go of Alex, who ran to join his brothers in piling the wood. "I thought we were all going?"
"No - I forgot I hadn’t told you. Alan ‘phoned this morning. Verity’s not up to coping with the boys as well. It’s only three weeks since she had the baby, so instead of us all going for a fortnight, I thought I’d go on my own, just for a week - and then," she added, hurriedly, for he was frowning, "We could take the boys somewhere else for the second week - maybe the cottage in Garnham?
"That’s a good idea. I’ll get on to the locum tomorrow morning and cancel the first week."
"No, don’t do that, you deserve a break. You could spend time with the boys, or take them to the Quadrant, perhaps."
"I’ll think about it." He looked up at the sound of raised, childish voices and sighed as he saw Alex and Tom starting to argue.
Luckily it was easily settled and far from an extraordinary occurrence. Tom and Alex were alike in temperament and fought almost daily.
The boys went to bed very soon after supper, so he could talk to Mary-Lou about Verity’s new baby daughter.
At first she refused to discuss the matter, at all, withdrawing in a frosty way. He persisted, and eventually she could sob out her jealousy and hurt in his arms.
“Mr Olsen? My name is Mary-Lou Bettany, and these are Alex, James and Thomas. Welcome to Howells Village,” Mary-Lou smiled, at the man who had opened the door of the pretty cottage opposite the village green. “My husband, Dr Bettany, met your wife and children yesterday.”
“Klaus Olsen,” He replied politely, holding out his hand. “Thank you. Won’t you come in?”
“Thank you.” Mary-Lou walked in, handing him the basket of scones she had baked, and he thanked her, in his careful and accented English.
“This is Christian, my son, and Jana, my daughter.” Mr Olsen waved in the direction of two children, who stared at the triplets, cautiously. “I’m afraid Lida, my wife, is not home – she likes to walk in the afternoons.”
“Well, there are some jolly walks around here. We live at Carn Beg, at the other end of the village. My husband’s surgery is there as well. Boys, why don’t you run and play with Christian and Jana?” She smiled at the blonde girl and brown-haired boy, who turned to each other and said something in Danish to each other, before Christian came forward and said they should all go to the garden, in perfect English.
The triplets were not shy and followed eagerly, full of questions about the newcomers. Mary-Lou noticed that Alex and James scorned Jana for the moment, consistent with their current anti-girl phase, but was pleased to see that Thomas spoke to her nicely.
“May I offer you some coffee?” Klaus Olsen asked.
“Thank you, that would be lovely. Rix – my husband, mentioned that you’ve moved here from Denmark?”
“Yes. Copenhagen, but we have moved here so I can write my book. It is quiet here, and I can have some peace.”
“Oh, yes, it is very quiet in Howells. I write myself and you can generally get a lot done.” Mary-Lou glanced out of the window, but the triplets seemed to be playing happily. “Is it fiction or non-fiction?”
“It’s about quantum mathematics, you would probably find it very dull,” he smiled, “I’ll be lecturing at the University of Warwick. Lida taught formerly at the Mathematics Institute of Copenhagen, which was where we met.”
“Oh?” Mary-Lou was impressed, remembering how she had always loathed Maths in any shape or form. When she mentioned this to Klaus, he laughed and agreed.
“Do you work, Mrs Bettany?” he asked, as they sipped coffee.
“I’m an archaeologist, under my maiden name. I’m just putting the finishing touches to my new book and of course, I am just starting to get back to going on expeditions now that the children are older. I went to the Middle East last year. Mm? Oh, it’s Trelawney, I’m Mary-Lou Trelawney for my work.”
“I’ve heard of you – one of my colleagues recommended your book. And of course, I’ve heard of your father.”
The conversation turned to academia and Mary-Lou was pleased to be able to fill him in on some of the university gossip. In fact, she was sorry when the clock struck quarter to one and she had to take her leave.
“Are Christian and Jana nice?” she asked, as they hurried back to Carn Beg for lunch.
“Jana is. Christian isn’t.” Tom said, slipping his hand into hers. “He shouted at Jana for wanting to play with him an’ Alex an’ Jamie. Can Jana come round an’ play, please Mummy?”
“Of course she can, darling.”
“She’s clever, she can tell me an’ Alex apart,” Tom continued, obviously very taken with his new friend.
“Really?” Mary-Lou glanced at Alex, who was identical to Thomas. James was very similar to them both, but his eyes had turned as dark as his father’s and some of his features were more like Mollie Bettany’s than his brothers. But people had great difficulty in telling Alex and Thomas apart. “She must be clever.”
“I wish I didn’t look like you,” Alex said, rather nastily, but before they could fight, their attention was taken with a pony, eating the flowers next to the Village shop, and elderly Mr Thirlbeck coming out to shout at it and wave his arms, much to the children’s amusement.
“How long do you want to stay?” Rix asked his little sister, Daphne, who had telephoned him at the surgery.
“Oh, just a week or so… It’s so boring here, Rix, honestly. Nothing but cows and hens and Mum fussing over what I’m wearing and where I’m going! I’ll look after the Trips or do housework, anything, please?”
Rix suppressed a grin, imagining sixteen-year old Daphne doing housework. “We’ve got Mrs Jones,” he said, naming their housekeeper/cook who came daily from the village.
“I’ll babysit then.” She had an answer for everything.
“Oh, all right, but you’ll have to pull your weight around the house. And only if Mary-Lou agrees, all right?”
“Daphne asks if she can come and stay for a week,” he said, as they ate dinner, after another evening spent in the garden, building forts.
“Auntie Daphne’s coming?” Tom asked, dropping the contents of his fork over the tablecloth.
“Maybe. Eat your dinner properly, please. She said she’s bored at the Quadrant. She’s offered to look after the boys.”
“Of course she can come, and if she’s offering to take the boys about a bit, I’d welcome her with open arms.” Mary-Lou smiled. “It means I can go to London to arrange about Father’s collection and I might as well take the opportunity to see some of the university people, without taking the kids.”
“Can’t we go to London with you, Mummy?” Tom’s face fell almost comically.
“No darling, there’s nowhere for you to stay. Auntie Vi’s only got a small flat. I’ll bring you back a present, if Daddy tells me you’ve been good for Auntie Daphne.”
“We’ll have fun without you, Mummy,” Alex smiled, cheekily, making his mother laugh.
“I’m sure you will! Oh, Rix, we met the new family, too. He’s very nice, he’s a Professor of Maths. I didn’t meet her though, she was out, but we must invite them round for dinner.”
“Good idea,” Rix started to pile the plates.
He saw her again the next morning. Mary-Lou had a headache, so he had taken the children to the village shop to pick up the few groceries she had wanted and left her to lie in.
Maud Thirlbeck, who was serving that day, adored the Bettany triplets. They were content to stand by the counter and charm her into giving them sweets from one of the jars on the shelf. Rix sent them outside while he gave his wife’s order and chatted. They usually sat on the bench outside the shop in the sunshine.
“Hello – you must be the Bettany triplets,” A lady came over to them, smiling.
“Hello,” they chorused, politely, forgetting they were forbidden to speak to strangers.
“Let me see – you must be Tom and you must be Alex,” she laughed merrily.
“I’m James,” James said at once.
“Of course you are, darling. Oh, good morning, Dr Bettany.”
“Hello Mrs Olsen.” Rix took her hand, noticing that she’d moved her wedding ring to her left. He also saw again how attractive she was and that her two children did not take after her.
“This is Christian and Jana. We’re going to the tea shop to have a coffee, would you like to join us?”
“Good morning, Doctor,” Miss Aldham, one of the two elderly spinsters who owned the tea shop, greeted him at once. “This is an unexpected pleasure, we don’t see you often enough.”
“My wife won’t let me come here, Miss Aldham,” he smiled, “I’ve told her there’s no comparison between your delicious cakes and her attempts at baking.”
“Go away with you! I’ll bring some over,” she walked away, beaming all over her face at the compliment.
Mrs Olsen laughed, “I bet you’ve got every woman in the village eating out of your hand.”
He smiled, “No chance, most of them remember me from when I was a kid. We lived a couple of miles out of the village, towards Armiford. It’s taken ages for them to stop bringing up the time I smashed the village hall window playing cricket.”
“Ssh, don’t give Christian ideas,”
“Can we play on the swings out back, please, Daddy?” James was bored of this conversation.
“What a good idea, darling,” Mrs Olsen said, and all five went out to the small playground at the rear of the teashop.
“Will you have coffee? I might not, I’m afraid the morning sickness I had with these two is coming back.”
“Are you having a lot of sickness?” he asked.
“Some. I’m afraid I’ve an ulterior motive for asking you to join us, Dr Bettany,” she looked up at him through her long lashes. “I don’t want you to tell anyone about the baby, not just yet. I – I need to find the right time to tell Klaus.”
“Mrs Olsen… I wouldn’t tell anyone, I’m bound not to discuss patients’ confidential details.” Rix frowned. “I can assure you…”
“I’m sorry. I expect I’m being very insulting. Only – well, I know that some doctors do discuss things with one another, or with their wives, and well – I expect everyone will know soon enough, but… Look, please call me Lida, won’t you? I want us to be friends.”
“I’m Rix. I don’t discuss anything with my wife, but I know what you mean. Some doctors might discuss cases, but I don’t.”
“Rix,” A look of utter relief crossed her face. “The system is different in Denmark. I do apologise. Does – if Klaus asked you, would you have to tell him?”
“No – You’ve asked me not to tell him, then I won’t.”
“I was ill when Jana was born and my doctors told Klaus things I would have preferred to tell him myself.” Her eyes lost their sparkle. “It was a bad time for us, but… You must forgive me telling you all this, but once my medical records arrive from Copenhagen, you will learn it anyway. And, as I said, I would like us to be friends.”
“Of course,” he said, as their drinks and a selection of cakes arrived.
Rix could tell that Lida, as he now called her, was uncomfortable about having revealed so much. He also wondered just what her medical files, due to arrive from her Danish doctor, would contain.
He told her a lot of village gossip, and some funny anecdotes about the triplets, which made her relax a little.
“Your aunt, the writer, she has triplets, doesn’t she?”
“She does, Len, Con and Margot. Do you know Aunt Joey?”
“Oh, no, I’ve read her books. She dedicated one to her triplet daughters,” she looked out of the window at the children, briefly.
“Con’s married to a great friend of mine, I’m hoping they’ll be able to visit later this summer. They’ve got a little boy of eighteen months. Len’s got two girls, she’s married as well, and living in Switzerland. Margot’s just finished her medical training.”
“You’re close to your family then,” she shook her glossy, dark hair back from her face, her expression inscrutable.
“I suppose so, we’ve had our arguments, but what family hasn’t? I should see my parents more often, I suppose.”
“I haven’t seen my parents for years... We argued, years ago, when Christian was a baby and I gave up my work at the Institute. They – they pushed me very hard, when I was a child, I was clever and they wanted me to do well – I don’t know why I’m telling you about all my problems.”
“I’m your doctor, you can talk to me about anything, in confidence,”
“I went from school to school, I never had any friends; I was bullied… I-I’m sorry,” she wiped away a tear. “I should really make an appointment, shouldn’t I?”
“Ssh, it’s all right.” He patted her arm, sympathetically.
“I used to cry myself to sleep in the dormitory, wishing I had just one friend. All the other girls seemed so popular. I knew it was my own fault, I went to three schools and it was the same story in all of them. Even some of the mistresses disliked me.”
“You’re not alone, you know, Lida... Kids can be cruel… It’s one of the reasons I’m not sending the boys away to school, although I know it’s probably different now.”
She smiled and laid her hand on his, “You are kind. I appreciate it.
He pulled his hand away, gently. “I’d better go back. Will you be all right?
She nodded, so he called the triplets and paid for their cakes and coffee on his way out. At the door, he looked back at her, sympathetically, but missed seeing the smile that slowly crossed her face.
“Are you feeling better?” he sat down on the edge of the bed, where Mary-Lou was dozing.
“A bit,” she said, sleepily. “Where are the kids?”
“Mrs Jones is feeding them, don’t worry, then they’re going to play in the garden. I’ve done the shopping and we met the Olsens, the boys seem to be making friends.”
“I’m glad. She’s lovely, isn’t she, the little girl?”
“Yes,” he studied at her carefully, noting her over-bright tone. “We might hear soon. I could phone them…”
“Don’t… I couldn’t bear it if it was bad news.”
“It won’t be, I’m sure, but I won’t ring if you don’t want me to.” He was vaguely irritated by the superstition she had built up around the adoption agency they had contacted, but he took care not to show it. “Only remember what Geraldine said, they might not have a little girl to give us.”
“I know,” she sighed. “I think I’ll try and get back to sleep.”
“OK.” He kissed her, knowing that once he had gone, she would cry. He sighed, wishing deep down that she could be happy with him and the three healthy children they had, without this inexorable need for a daughter.
Geraldine didn’t telephone until after Mary-Lou had left to visit Verity, and then it was only to touch base, as she said. She had no definite news. Rix thanked her and hung up.
He took the boys with him to Armiford Station; they were excited about ‘Auntie Daphne’s’ visit and ran about on the concourse so he wished he’d left them at home.
He was calling them to order, bad-temperedly, when he saw Lida Olsen coming from Platform 2, with her husband.
They were talking intently and didn’t notice him, or the triplets. Rix felt reluctant to say hello. Klaus Olsen, who was much younger than he had expected, had his arm around his wife and looked very much in love with her. From what Lida had said in the tea shop, he had wondered if they had problems in their relationship, but they did look close. He watched as Lida laughed at something her husband said, as they walked out of the station.
“Rix! Hello, you were miles away!” Daphne was wearing jeans with her curly hair loose over her shoulders and she had lipstick on. He suspected she had waited until she had been far away from the Quadrant before that had been applied.
“Hi Daffy, sorry, how was the journey? Give me your bag, I’ve got the car outside.”
“Has Mary-Lou gone yet?” Daphne asked as her brother rounded up the children.
“Yes, she went yesterday. You’re still all right to keep an eye on the boys during the day, aren’t you? The locum’s not arriving till Thursday and this is only Monday. However, I’m going to take three weeks off and we can go away for a week if you like – Garnham or somewhere.”
“Garnham’s boring. Can’t we go to London?”
“We might go up for the day, if you behave yourself and if I can find someone to look after the kids.”
“Brilliant! I’ve got all my birthday money saved up. I could get some new gear, couldn’t I?”
“It’s your cash. I could ask Con if she’d take you round the shops,” Rix pulled out of the station car park, after a quick look round for the Olsens, who seemed to have disappeared.
“Con? Oh no, I could go round on my own. I’m sixteen now, I’m hardly a kid.”
“All right… Anything interesting happened at home?”
She sighed, “No, nothing ever happens there. Mummy just fusses all the time now, it’s really boring. Daddy says it’s a difficult time and we just have to be patient with her. She’s obsessed with my clothes, honestly.”
“A difficult time? What did he mean?”
“You’re the doctor, aren’t you? What do you think? After all, she’s ancient now, it’s not like she wants more children, so I don’t know what all the fuss is about,”
“Ah, I see. I’ll speak to her on the phone tonight.”
“Maurice has got a girlfriend,” Daphne said, scornfully. “She’s really wet, she’s scared of the animals. She keeps on baking cakes and bringing them round and Maurice doesn’t even like them but he eats them anyway.”
She chattered on for the rest of the journey, and when they arrived back at Carn Beg, she took charge of the triplets while he went to see his first patient.
Jane Curtis, Mary-Lou’s friend from the village, came round with a cake she had baked, just as the Bettanys were about to eat supper.
“Sorry, I know it’s late.” She was brusque by nature. “I’ll just leave this and run. Hello, boys, I hope you’re behaving yourselves.”
“Thanks, Jane. This is Daphne, my sister, staying with us for a few weeks. Join us for supper? There’s plenty.” Rix offered, hoping she would refuse.
She considered. “All right. Thank you. Hello, Daphne. You must go to the Chalet School that Mary-Lou’s told me about. Enjoy it, do you?”
“I go to the Carnbach branch.” Daphne looked bored. “I’ve just failed my O levels, but I don’t care, I’m going to art school in September.”
“Armiford’s got a good one,” Jane replied, tucking into her food.
“She’s not going to art school, and she hasn’t failed her exams. Anyway, if you have, you know you can retake them, Daphne.”
Daphne subsided, and Jane changed the subject. “I saw the new people today, the Danes. Their son’s behaviour is atrocious - he was actually pulling all the plants in the village square up. I managed to replant them, but when I told his idiot of a mother, she just laughed. Disgraceful really…”
“It’s a big adjustment, to come to a new country.”
“Another delinquent to add to those ruffians who hang around in the playground in the evenings,” she sniffed. “You know, Ross Parry and the Griffiths pair.”
“They’re just bored, Jane, it’s not as if they have anywhere else to go. They’re hardly delinquents.”
“You wouldn’t let your three hang around the streets like that and you know it,” she seemed to be gearing up for one of her lengthy arguments and he wasn’t in the mood for it, although normally he didn’t mind the debate. The description of Lida Olsen’s out-of-character behaviour was bothering him and he couldn’t quite fathom why.
“How do you know Mary-Lou?” Daphne asked, managing to change the subject.
“Who are these Danish people?” she asked, as they were doing the washing up together. “You looked really annoyed when she started on about them.”
“She’s just a busybody who can’t stop interfering in everybody’s business,” he replied, bad-temperedly.
“Ouch, that’s harsh… I thought she was your pal?”
“She’s Mary-Lou’s friend, hates any newcomers to the village.”
“Is there anyone my age around here?” Daphne put the last plate away and closed the cupboard door.
“Besides Jane’s delinquents? There are the farm lads, of course, and Karen and Susan Thirlbeck from the shop. The vicar’s got a daughter… think she’s fifteen or thereabouts.”
“Better than Channing St Mary, but only just.”
“I told you so. Cheer up, we’ll go to London and there’s an art gallery in Armiford I’ll take you to next weekend. D’you really want to study art?”
She shrugged. “No, but I really have messed up my exams.”
“Well, don’t worry about them all summer. I’d better go and settle the kids,” he added, as there was a thud from the floor above.
It was quite late when the phone rang, startling them both.
“Who’s ringing this late?” Daphne asked.
“Could be one of my patients… Hello, Dr Bettany… Yes.”
Daphne returned to the chessboard, with which they had been amusing themselves, to plan her next move. Rix was on the phone for some time.
“You don’t have to go out, do you?” she asked, as he returned, frowning. “Who was it, one of your patients?”
“No, someone I was at school with – Liam Cameron. He wanted to talk to Mary-Lou. I’ve tried to phone her, but the operator’s told me Verity’s phone is down.”
“Why would someone who you were at school with want to speak to Mary-Lou and not you?” Daphne asked, but her brother was hunting for his car keys and wasn’t listening.
“I need to drive to Verity’s – I’ll phone Jane and ask her to come over and stay the night. Is that all right?”
“Yes – but what’s happened?” Daphne asked, worriedly.
“Something about the Murray-Cameron expedition, I’m not quite sure… Look, go up to bed, it’s late. I’ll fetch Jane and give her my keys and I’ll see you tomorrow, all right?”
“What’s the Murray-Cameron expedition?” Daphne asked, blankly, as the door slammed behind him.
Jane, once she had heard the full story, agreed at once to staying the night at Carn Beg, for which Rix was thankful. He couldn’t leave Daphne alone to cope with the triplets, not overnight, but he had to tell his wife before she looked over the morning papers or heard the news on the radio.
Mary-Lou was awake, in the guest bedroom of Verity’s home just outside Gloucester, which overlooked the front of the house. She heard the car and looked out. Seeing her husband, she dashed downstairs at once and wrenched open the front door.
“What’s wrong?” she demanded, anxiously, “The boys…”
“No, they’re fine.” He took her in his arms. “Everyone’s fine. I’ve left the kids with Jane and Daphne. I’m sorry to come over so late – are Verity and Alan asleep?”
“Yes – Rix, something must be wrong…”
“I had a phone call from Cameron, he was a few forms above me at Winchester. They’ve found your father, and his… Their remains.” He smoothed back her hair that had fallen to cover her face. “I thought you should know right away. I’m sorry, darling.”
“Oh… I see. I didn’t know him, you know, I was younger than the boys when he left. I can barely remember him. What will happen now?”
“You can give him a proper burial, at least.”
“I’m glad – my mother always wanted that, you know. We had the memorial service, but – you came all this way to tell me, you didn’t have to do that. I do love you.”
“Of course I did, I love you, too, Cameron said it’ll be in the papers tomorrow.”
“I wish Mother were here to know they’d found him,” she sighed, as they went inside.
The next morning, they came down to breakfast together, startling Verity and her husband, who had slept through Rix’s arrival.
Mary-Lou told them about the discovery. Alan nodded.
“I heard about the new trip on the radio, that they were following in the footsteps of the original group – but then I forgot all about it. I’m sorry, I should have said something,” he said, sympathetically.
“Come to that, I read about it myself. I just never thought – I never asked when I was a kid, I suppose I just assumed he’d been buried over there. Still, I’ll meet Mr Cameron, the Murrays and some others when I’m in London next week and see what’s going to happen. You should come, Verity.” Mary-Lou turned to her sister-by-marriage. “They might like to meet you.”
“Oh, I couldn’t, Mary-Lou, Emily’s too young to be left at the moment.” Verity turned imploring eyes to Alan, who patted her hand reassuringly.
“Fine, it doesn’t matter.” Mary-Lou pushed her bowl of untouched porridge away as the baby’s cries sounded from above.
“I’ll go and see to her,” Verity got up and went upstairs, looking relieved.
“I need to go to my office, I’m going to be late…” Alan left the Bettanys together.
“I wish for once – oh, forget it.” Mary-Lou stood up. “It won’t take me long to pack, I’d barely unpacked…”
“I’ll come with you to London, if you want me to,” he offered.
“Thanks… I’ll phone Vi from home. I need to phone Mr Cameron first and see what’s happening…” she looked worried. “Do you think I’ll need to fly out there?”
“We’ll phone and see, but I wouldn’t have thought so. The authorities will deal with all that kind of thing. I’d better go and see to the car.”
“Don’t you want to meet your niece? She’s beautiful,” Mary-Lou said, wistfully.
“Sure, I’ll go and say goodbye to Verity.”
“Don’t say anything to her, she’s always been the same. Joey always said she was like a broken reed.”
They drove back in silence, both deep in thought. Mary-Lou was inwardly rather dreading the meeting with Professor Cameron’s son and planning a funeral service for the father she hadn’t known.
“I’d arranged with Dr Bettany for the children to play together,” Lida Olsen said, trying to ignore the hostile glance of the awful, dowdy woman she’d argued with by the village green, and addressing all her remarks to the pretty sixteen-year old who had invited her in. “I’m Mrs Olsen and this is Christian and Jana, my own two.”
“Rix has had to go away… I think he’ll be back later this morning. The boys are in the garden, so your children could go out there as well?”
“I hope there’s nothing wrong,” Lida sat down on the sofa Daphne indicated and lit her cigarette. “I could take the triplets to my own home if you’d like, Daphne. Do call me Lida, won’t you, darling.” She added a few words in Danish to her children and they went outside.
“I’ve just sent them to fetch the boys,” she added. “I shan’t stay. Please tell your brother I can keep them for the night if it will help.”
“That’s very kind of you,” Daphne said.
“That Olsen woman came round, saying you’d arranged for the triplets to go to play with her awful children,” Jane said, almost before the Bettanys had got through their front door.
“That’s right,” Rix replied, taking off his coat. Mary-Lou kissed Jane, who murmured some words of sympathy.
“I thought it best if they stayed here, in case they were wanted.” Jane continued.
“Fine,” Rix brushed away the explanation, concerned only for his wife. She had cried on the journey. “Thanks for coming over last night.”
“Your sister’s gone out to get milk and the boys are in the garden. I’ll go home now, if you don’t need me, Mary-Lou?”
The triplets were thrilled to have their mother back, and she spent most of the day with them, telling them about their grandfather, the stories her mother had told her and Clem and Tony when they had been young, and finishing with a watered-down version of his violent yet heroic death. The children listened enthralled and Mary-Lou wished she’d told them before.
They pored over the photographs of him, where he looked very young and very like his daughter, and asked eager, interested questions.
Daphne and Rix left them alone and went for a walk to Haylings. Several of the village lads were hanging around the village square as usual and some of them whistled at Daphne, who stared coolly back at them.
“I had the oddest phone call while you two were out,” Mary-Lou said, as they settled down after dinner that evening. “It was for John.”
“John? My brother John?” Rix looked up, frowning. “What did they say?”
“Well, he asked to speak to John Bettany and so I said that he wasn’t here. He went on to say that John had given this number to contact him on and it was important, so he’d try later, but then he was cut off.”
“Strange. I thought John was out East.”
“No, he was in Portsmouth, he wrote to Mum and Dad,” Daphne chipped in. “He didn’t say anything about visiting you though. He said he was busy.”
“I’ll speak to the caller if he rings back,” Rix said, easily. “Maybe we could get down to Portsmouth for the day, I haven’t seen Jackie in two years or so.”
“I’m going to bed,” Mary-Lou said, closing her book. “Are you coming?”
“I’ll just finish writing this up – give me five minutes,” her husband replied, looking up briefly from his patient notes.
“You work too hard,” she murmured, kissing him as she passed. “Don’t stay up too long.”
“I won’t,” he smiled after her.
Ten minutes later, Rix finished and put his pen down, thinking about how quiet it was. Howells went to sleep early and all he could hear was the sound of the rain tapping against the window. The window was still open and he went to close it, yawning as he did so.
He paused, and stared out of the window for a few moments. He could have sworn he’d seen something – someone – move by the trees outside the house. Someone waiting – and watching.
Sequel to Red Sky at Night