Authors: Jean S. MacLeod
She left Sandy in the dining-room coping with the last of the toast and marmalade while she went back to the bedroom to re-pack their cases. The child’s tartan holdall lay on the smaller of the two beds and she folded his one-piece pyjama suit into it before she went to the adjoining bathroom to pick up their toilet bags. Sandy’s was a vivid blue covered with nursery-rhyme characters which he had named for her the night before as he dutifully brushed his teeth with the miniature toothbrush which Coralie had packed for him before he had left London, and the small brush looked oddly pathetic as she dropped it into the waterproof bag, but suddenly her eye caught the sewn-on name-tape on one corner. Sandy Moreton, she read as her blood froze.
Sandy Moreton? Charles Moreton’s child. It was painfully obvious now, after all that Coralie had told her. He had been there at the party in Kensington hoping to track Coralie down, but he must have arrived as Coralie had left, or soon afterwards. No, Katherine remembered, it was while she had been speaking to Coralie that she had first noticed the tall man in the grey suit at the far side of the noisy room, but Coralie had left so quickly afterwards that he could conceivably have missed her in the crowd. When he realised that Coralie had escaped him he had crossed the room to her side.
It all seemed to fall into place as she remembered: the questions he had asked; his interest in her future movements; the offer to see her home and, above all, the suggestion of coldness in his manner which had baffled her at the time but which she had foolishly taken for a natural reserve. He had been assessing her with a clinical detachment which now seemed all too obvious, and she had told him all he wanted to know. When they had eventually reached her flat she had told him that she could not invite him in because she was tired, and he had suggested that she would be leaving for Scotland the following morning. She hadn’t had the wit to contradict him nor, at that time, the inclination. He had bowled her over completely as no doubt he had intended to do, and she had fallen for the treatment like a romantic teenager.
Ramming the toilet bags into her case, she zipped up Sandy’s holdall and walked to the head of the stairs; then suddenly she was running down the hall as if her life depended on reaching the dining-room before disaster struck. But Sandy was still seated at the table in the corner, counting prune stones on to his side plate.
Hastily she paid her bill, driving back to the cottage as quickly as she could, but the kindly neighbour could tell her nothing further about Hattie Edgar.
‘I’ll have to make a phone call,’ she decided. ‘I wonder if you’d keep an eye on Sandy till I get back?’
‘Why, of course! He’ll be safe enough here, helping me to feed the hens,’ the woman said.
‘I won’t be long,’ Katherine explained to Sandy. ‘I’ll buy some sweets.’
‘He’ll be safe enough.’ The words echoed in her ears as she set off down the lane towards the phone box.
It was to be her final effort to contact Coralie in London, and she really didn’t hold out much hope of success, but rather than phoning from the hotel she had decided to wait for a while and use the public kiosk she had noticed on a corner of the village street opposite the post office. Acknowledging it as a last resort, she knew that she would have to make up her mind about the future as soon as she had made it.
Keeping the receiver to her ear for several minutes while the number rang out, she wondered why she should be trying so persistently to reunite Coralie with her child, and then she knew that only Sandy mattered. She would go to the end of the world to save him distress.
Automatically she replaced the receiver, picking up the returned coins from the receptacle under the slots with a heavy heart. What to do now?
Out of the corner of her eye she saw a parked car on the far side of the road, a grey car with an odd familiarity about it. Her breath caught in her throat as she opened the kiosk door, but the parked vehicle was empty. In no way could she be absolutely sure that it was the car which had turned off the motorway immediately behind her to follow them all the way to Keswick and beyond.
As she crossed the road in search of the sweets she had promised Sandy, her heart appeared to be beating suffocatingly close to her throat, and then she saw him. Charles Moreton was coming out of the post office, replacing his wallet in the inside pocket of his jacket with a look of concentration on his face which deepened as he recognised her.
‘Imagine seeing you!’ Katherine exclaimed, keeping her voice quite steady, although she imagined that he could easily hear her wildly-beating heart. ‘Are you on holiday?’
‘I’m on my way to Scotland,’ he said, giving her a quick calculating glance which seemed to strip her of all pretence.
‘So am I—more or less.’
How else was she to answer him, since he appeared to know much more about her than she suspected?
‘I passed you yesterday,’ he said, standing squarely between her and retreat. ‘You had a child in the car with you.’
Katherine had an almost compulsive desire to prevaricate, to stand between them and Coralie largely for Sandy’s sake, but finally she said:
‘I’m taking him to Scotland.’ She had made up her mind to do just that, she realised.
‘You’ve come slightly out of your way,’ Charles Moreton observed dryly.
‘I—we were going to a cottage just along the road,’ she confessed, ‘but his aunt isn’t there. She left for Austria a week ago, so—’
‘You’ve decided to take him with you to Scotland.’ His eyes were as cold as steel, his gaze as incisive as he looked down at her.
‘It wasn’t really my intention,’ she defended herself, ‘but I can hardly abandon a three-year-old child in a strange village, can I?’
‘Surely,’ he suggested, ‘you made some kind of provision for this kind of emergency.’
‘Not really.’ Katherine was remembering how little time Coralie had given her to arrange anything. ‘Coralie—my friend was quite sure her sister would be here.’
He looked about him.
‘It’s remote enough,’ he acknowledged with a hardness she had come to recognise in him. ‘Where have you parked your car?’
Katherine felt suddenly cold. Everything Coralie had told her about this determined man was probably true.
‘At the cottage,’ she said dismissively. ‘And I really must go. I thought I would pick up some sweets for the journey.’ She turned towards the confectioner’s shop next to the post office. ‘Goodbye,’ she said. ‘I can’t leave Sandy for too long.’
He probably knew that she had recognised him as a potential enemy because she had ranged herself on the side of his former wife, but he no longer barred her way and she passed him without further explanation. She saw him loitering on the pavement outside the bow-fronted window of the confectioner’s with its pebble-glass panes and the jangling bell which heralded her approach to the counter, and the sharp ping of the bell seemed to echo too loudly in the silence as she waited.
‘Can I help you?’
She was jolted back to the present by the question to find herself confronted by the shopkeeper.
‘Yes. Yes, thank you.’ She cast an apprehensive glance at the waiting figure on the pavement outside. ‘Is there another way out?’ she found herself asking.
‘There’s the tea-room.’ The woman behind the counter looked surprised by her question. ‘You could go through there and out into Beck Street.’
Hastily Katherine purchased some home-made candy, going quickly through the door which led to the tiny tearoom with a definite fear in her heart and running most of the way back to the cottage in the lane. Supposing something had happened to Sandy in her absence? Supposing he had been spirited away? Kidnapped had been the ugly word Coralie had used. ‘His father is trying to kidnap him,’ she had said with conviction. He would be ready to go to any length to recover his son, and that was the undoubted impression Katherine had formed during the past ten minutes as she had faced Charles Moreton across the cobbled pavement of the village street. He was a man who would offer no quarter once he had established the fact that she was in the plot to frustrate his immediate plans to take possession of his child.
Her heart sank as she thought about him, of the way she had reacted to his obvious charm on so short an acquaintance and the unexpected kiss which had shaken her to the foundations of her being. He had been playing on her susceptibility, flagrantly planning to use her for his own ends for as long as he could. Coralie had said that he would be ready to go to any lengths to recapture his son.
Sympathy vibrated in her for a moment as she realised how much he probably loved his child, but he had broken the law—or was about to break it—by snatching Sandy away.
Why? Because he was determined to get his hands on a great deal of money, Coralie had declared; because Sandy was a considerable heir under his uncle’s will.
If the accusation was difficult to believe that was just another proof of her own gullibility, she told herself, running towards Beck Cottage with the bag of candy in her hand. She had told herself a hundred times not to accept people at face value, and it was a kind of madness to think that Charles Moreton might have been different.
Beck Cottage bore the same deserted look, but she drew a deep breath of relief at the sight of Sandy riding astride the neighbour’s gate with the ducks in attendance.
‘You get right down from there!’ she admonished, her voice sharp with relief. ‘We’re leaving right away.’ She moved towards her parked car. ‘You can say goodbye to the ducks.’
‘Did you get the sweets?’ Sandy came obediently towards her.
‘Yes. Get in.’ She put the striped candy bag into his hand. ‘We’ll say goodbye to Mrs. Yates and be on our way.’
Trying to find some trace of Charles in Sandy’s bright little face, she drove back down the lane towards the road, but the child was too like Coralie with his fair, curling hair and sweeping dark lashes half veiling the incredibly blue eyes to bear comparison with anyone else. There was nothing in Sandy’s features to suggest that Charles might be his father, but resemblances were not always easy to establish and Charles had acted out the part of her pursuer. Even now, he might still be waiting for her outside the confectioner’s shop.
The fact that he could still be there firmed her resolve to get away. Whoever Charles was, she must leave him behind as fast as she could because she couldn’t afford complications while she had yet to make up her mind where to go, but one thing she was certain about was the fact that she must keep her promise to Coralie, for Sandy’s sake.
The Carlisle bypass was the most obvious way north, but she decided to take a more roundabout route when she came to the next junction. Both signposts said Penrith, and she drove on to the narrower road through Matterdale and Caldbeck.
All the way along the lovely, hidden dale she was conscious of a mounting tension, looking for a following car, but the innocent switchback road stretched empty behind her, the mountains closing in companionably as she drove north, and her spirits lifted.
‘We’ll play a game,’ she suggested. ‘Blue cars again, like your anorak. Let’s count blue cars going the other way.’
Not grey cars. Definitely blue ones!
It was several miles before they met the first car, parked outside an inn on the valley floor where a narrow blue lake reflected the stretch of cloud-free sky above their heads.
‘We’ll have something to eat here,’ Katherine suggested.
The innkeeper was a jolly, talkative man.
‘I don’t suppose you get many people here at this time of year,’ Katherine remarked when he had set coffee and orange juice on the table before them.
‘Not many. You’re only the second today, in fact.’
Katherine’s heart lurched, because she had been thinking of Charles Moreton.
‘Was it long ago?’ she asked.
‘About an hour. He didn’t wait. That’s odd,’ he added, glancing through the window to where she had parked her car by the lakeside. ‘He asked if a girl in a blue car had passed this way with a child.’ He looked from Katherine’s flushed face to Sandy, who was half-way through his glass of orange juice, vastly intrigued by the red straw which had been provided with it. ‘He must have been searching for you.’
‘Was he driving a grey car—a Rover?’
‘He was that, and he seemed in a great hurry, but perhaps you’ll meet up with him on the motorway.’
It was the last thing she wanted to do, because she was convinced that it was indeed Charles Moreton who had enquired about her. Katherine rose to her feet. No more stops at obvious hotels, she thought, since he had been astute enough to choose the less frequently used dale road in his pursuit of her. The fact that he had left ahead of her was a bonus which she felt immeasurably thankful for, but they could so easily meet up with him again at a hotel farther along the road.
‘Could you let me have a few sandwiches?’ she asked. ‘Just something light to eat in the car. We’ll be having a meal somewhere when we stop for the night. I’d also be obliged if you could let me have some milk.’
‘For the little ’un? Why, of course you can.’ The innkeeper was greatly impressed by Sandy. ‘You look as if you’ve come away in a hurry,’ he observed, ‘but we do packed lunches for the climbers, so I can let you have a couple. Alice will get you the milk if you come round to the kitchen,’ he added. ‘And I’ll find you a couple of plastic beakers.’
Katherine was grateful and soon they were on their way again. Full of orange juice and biscuits, Sandy fell asleep and she put him in the back seat for safety—or was it because, lying down with the travelling rug wrapped securely round him, he would be less obvious from a passing car?
They reached the Border without incident, keeping off the motorway and threading their way along the side roads through little towns and villages, going by the less obvious route through Annan and Dumfries towards the coast.
Katherine had consulted her road map before Dumfries, making her decision to keep to the west in her attempt to shake off a grey Rover which would surely have kept to the main way north.
Suddenly carefree, she looked about her at the bright panorama of the Kirkcudbright hills, at Corserine and Merrick with their heads in the clouds and the deep valley of the Doon opening up before her. Surely no one would think of following her along such an unlikely route.
Sandy stirred and they ate their sandwiches and hard-boiled eggs on a hilltop where they could look down on the loch.
‘We’ll stretch our legs,’ she suggested, running down the hill as he followed her. ‘It’s like having wings, Sandy, isn’t it, with all the wind behind us?’
The blue eyes sparkled.
‘I’ve got a kite,’ he said. ‘I can fly it on the moor when we get to Glassary.’
It was the first time he had spoken of any sort of home environment, a brief reference to the past which had obviously no connection with a London flat, but Katherine thought that the memory of Glassary might disturb him and steered the conversation in another direction. No child, no matter how young, could fail to remain untouched by a broken marriage, and Sandy was a sensitive little boy who evidently remembered his former home. The fact that he had rarely mentioned Coralie also disturbed her, but boys often kept a stiff upper lip even at a tender age, and she decided to amuse Sandy without mentioning his mother.
When they set off in the car again she followed the course of the Doon to Ayr where they had their first glimpse of the sea. The vast, open Firth of Clyde sparkled in the spring sunshine, delighting Sandy, who gazed out across the blue water to the hills of Arran, pressing his nose close to the window to watch for boats.
It was his obvious fascination which made her think of the car ferry from Gourock which would take them across the estuary to Dunoon, but the ferry was pulling away from the pier as they rounded the point at the Cloch lighthouse and she knew that she would have an hour or more to wait for the next one. Better, she thought, to press on and put Loch Lomond behind her before she thought of somewhere to spend the night.
Wondering again about her final destination, she came to the conclusion that there was only one thing to do. She must go ahead with her own plans and take Sandy with her. His small tartan grip was in the boot of the car beside her own suitcase, packed for a lengthy stay with Miss Edgar, who was now in Austria, address unknown, so it was more or less inevitable that she should look after this child till she could eventually contact his mother, who had been so certain that he would be safely installed in Beck Cottage in a remote Lakeland village by now.
Once or twice during the next hour as she skirted Glasgow by using the Erskine Bridge to cross the river, she wondered if she had any real right to continue her journey in this way, but then she remembered Coralie and the blue eyes which were so like Sandy’s and felt herself justified. She would carry on with her own plans to go to the Trossachs until she could contact Sandy’s mother and ask Coralie to collect her son at a given rendezvous farther north.
Sandy was delighted with their flight across the bridge which rose in a high, slender arc above the narrowing Clyde, his large, sombre eyes taking in the strange atmosphere with interest.
‘Will Mummy come?’ he asked unexpectedly, gazing down at the grey river as they passed.
Taken by surprise, Katherine hesitated.
‘Soon,’ she promised. ‘I’ll phone her when we stop for some tea, just to make sure.’