Read The Turtle Run Online

Authors: Marie Evelyn

The Turtle Run

The Turtle Run

by

Marie Evelyn

For Medusa

Acknowledgements

Many thanks to Catriona Robb for doing a superb job in editing the book. We now appreciate that, in terms of attention to detail and tenaciously pursuing a favourable outcome, an editor is like a brain surgeon on a good day.

We would like to thank Ursula Martin (Somerset Genealogy) for her research into the Monmouth rebels who were sent to Barbados – and for pointing out that one woman was among them.

CONTENTS

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Fifteen

Chapter Sixteen

Chapter Seventeen

Chapter Eighteen

Chapter Nineteen

Chapter Twenty

Chapter Twenty-one

Chapter Twenty-two

Chapter Twenty-three

Chapter Twenty-four

Chapter Twenty-five

Chapter Twenty-six

For more information about Marie Evelyn

Chapter One

‘You're not going to break in, are you?' asked the taxi driver, keeping his eyes fixed on the road glimpsed rhythmically through the windscreen wipers.

Becky Thomson laughed. ‘I'm obviously going to be one of your more boring passengers. No, I'm not going to break in.'

‘Just thought you might be undercover.'

‘I wish but nothing that exciting, I'm afraid. Why? Do you get hired by many burglars?'

‘No. Shame really; they'd probably tip well.' He cleared his throat. ‘Usually when I take people where you're going, they're not – let's just say they aren't so well dressed for the English weather.'

The rear-view mirror framed his eyes as he flicked a curious look at her. Becky wondered what he meant. She was wearing a presentable suit and her long copper-coloured hair was pulled back in a business-like ponytail. Then she realised what was bothering the cabbie: the old coat which enveloped her, dripping water over his back seat. Glamorous it wasn't but she loved it; it had survived journeys across the seas and oceans and a sojourn in the rubbish bin before she had rescued it under her mother's glare of disapproval.

‘Ah, you don't think I'm dressed appropriately to be interviewing Mr Darnley.'

‘Well, I suppose it depends what you've got on under there.' The taxi driver cleared his throat again, and she sensed he was embarrassed his last comment had sounded more lascivious than he had intended. ‘So he's the lord of the manor, is he? Mr Darnley?'

‘I guess he is,' said Becky.

‘I take all sorts of people there – always dressed up to the nines – but I never knew who actually lived there. So what are you interviewing him about?'

‘Architecture,' Becky answered, which was at least half the truth.

‘Architecture? For the
Essex Gleaner
?' The cabbie sounded incredulous and no wonder. The local paper maintained a relentlessly pedestrian tone, favouring fêtes above politics, arts and industry. Her own gentle article on a Brown Owl's lament that Brownies no longer had the sewing skills to fix their badges to their sashes had been afforded a generous quarter page last week.

‘I'm sorry. I've made a real mess of your cab.'

‘That's all right,' he said. ‘But next time don't wait outside. Huh? When I pick someone up from your offices I just normally buzz that Patsy woman and she calls them.'

‘OK.' But Patsy hadn't been at her desk this morning. The
Essex Gleaner
office had been deserted. No McBride, no Patsy, no Ian (thankfully). No anyone. Only ten minutes late – as her bus to Chelmsford had got snarled in rain-sluggish traffic – Becky would have normally worried she was meant to be somewhere with the others but had dismissed this concern when she found the brusquely worded memo on her desk: get a taxi to Noak Hall and interview Matthew Darnley, Esquire. About a very sensitive topic, but one that he was (apparently) keen to discuss. Familial guilt, maybe? If she'd known about the assignment in advance of course she wouldn't have worn this old coat.

The windows were too misted-up for Becky to see the Essex fields roll by but she felt the change as the taxi slid from smooth A-roads to pot-holed B-roads and the way grew ever more winding. The taxi driver grunted each time he had to change down a gear as though every bend in the road was a personal insult.

‘You wouldn't believe some of the people I've taken to this place. They're always late and having a go at me for not going faster round these bloody bends. I ask them if they would rather I just drive straight into a ditch but they don't like to hear that, do they?'

‘Well, it's OK. I'm not late,' said Becky, hoping this would mollify the driver's sudden bad humour.

They stopped to turn right and Becky noticed that a vein in his temple was throbbing in time with the clicking of the indicator. He was waiting for a huge agricultural vehicle with metal jaws to lurch past. She rubbed a porthole in the steamed-up side window and saw the sign for Noak Hall.

‘Of course you know why the roads round here are so bendy and twisty?' he said.

‘It's just the lay of the land, I suppose.'

‘Lay of the land?' he repeated. ‘Look around. It's as flat as a pancake. The lord of the manor didn't want common roads with common people mucking up his fields so the roads had to skirt round his manor.'

‘But that was a long time ago,' said Becky and got a grunt in reply.

They turned down a long drive, along which plane trees formed a guard of honour. In the distance, strobed by the windscreen wipers, a white stately pile was growing larger. Through her porthole, Becky glimpsed a rain-pocked lake sitting in grey meditation among rolling green fields. So much land. Green, boastful land.

‘It was the Normans, wasn't it?' said the cabbie.

‘Sorry?'

‘Nicking our land. All those bloody French names. And the enclosures and all that.' His socialist indignation swelled as Noak Hall grew larger in the windscreen. ‘It's the sense of entitlement I really object to. You know? Inherited wealth. Most of the people I bring here can't even be bothered to exchange a few words with me.' He turned round to look at Becky. ‘Not you, of course.'

‘Oh, good,' said Becky, relieved when he turned back to look where he was going.

‘We should have another Peasants' Revolt. Finish what we started.'

‘We?'

‘My lot's always been in Essex. I reckon some of them would have been involved. Probably all ended up swinging or with their heads on pikes.'

Becky laughed. ‘You have a strong sense of history.'

‘Don't you?'

‘Not really. I'm afraid that I found history pretty boring at school.'

‘Yeah, but you've got to know where you came from, haven't you?'

‘I've never really thought about it. I don't even know where my grandparents came from,' said Becky, apologetically.

‘Ask them!'

‘I'd need a Ouija board.'

‘Ah.' He toned down his truculence. ‘Well, you've got to admit you could feed a county off these grounds – and look at it now – just bloody lawn.'

‘Actually, I agree with you,' said Becky. There was something faintly obscene about the cropless green acres that surrounded them.

‘He must be a rich bastard, excuse my French. And that bloody mansion. What do you call it? Neo-something.'

‘Neo-classical, I think.'

As they approached the Hall itself, Becky could see the main drive ended in a lollipop shape at the head of which lay a small flight of steps up to a grand portico and beyond that an uncovered courtyard. Beyond that stood the huge house. She wondered if all the cabbie's other fares to Noak Hall felt as daunted as she did right now. Probably not judging from his description of them.

He stopped the cab before the steps and turned to Becky. ‘Is Darnley an old bloke, or what?'

‘I don't know.' Becky hated arriving for an interview this unprepared. She paid the fare and asked for a receipt but hesitated before opening the car door. A pang of unease hit her as though she wasn't supposed to be here.

The cabbie must have noticed. ‘Are you going to be more than an hour?' he asked.

‘Probably less.'

‘Right, I'm going to wait for you. There's a little area for parking over there by the side of the house. I'll just stay up there, out the way. No extra charge. I've got sandwiches and a paper – that should last me.'

‘Thank you,' said Becky. ‘Actually, I would appreciate that.'

She got out of the car and ran up the steps, pausing as she spied smoke rising from the chimneys. Once again Becky wondered if she should really be here. Maybe she should be looking for the tradesman's entrance. No, Matthew Darnley himself had suggested this assignment and she was bloody lucky to get a story of substance so early on in her career. She would go to the front door like a proper guest.

The skies were still pouring water as she sprinted over the courtyard so that, by the time she had reached the door and swung the heavy knocker, her coat had more than managed to rehydrate itself. At her third knock the door was opened by a middle-aged woman with flour-patinaed hands and a horrified face. She looked at Becky's coat, then at Becky and then past her to the empty courtyard.

‘Has Fielding just dropped you off like this? In the rain?'

‘Pardon?'

‘Has Fielding – oh never mind. I'm sorry but we weren't expecting you for another hour.'

Becky had assumed it would just be her and Mr Darnley. ‘We?' she said.

‘Oh, er,
nous ne expectons pas vou
s – I don't suppose you speak English?'

‘Yes. Actually it's all I speak.' Becky felt a wave of panic. ‘Mr Darnley does know the interview will be in English, doesn't he?'

The woman looked at her and again at her coat, obviously baffled. Becky could hear a digital bleeping from somewhere inside the house, faint but insistent. The woman obviously heard it too for she ushered Becky in with sudden urgency.

‘Look, just follow me – we'll sort this out in a second.'

The digital pulsing grew louder as Becky followed the woman along a green entrance hall with ornate plasterwork, past a portrait of an elderly man (Darnley?) and into a huge kitchen, where Becky realised she had interrupted preparations for a big do. As well as the delicious roast lamb smells which were wafting from an oven that looked large enough to be in a forge, the aroma of freshly baked pastry arose from trays of golden-clad nibbles on the kitchen counters. The woman took another tray of nibbles out of the oven and then reset the digital kitchen clock – which looked as incongruous as a microwave would in the kitchen of Downton Abbey.

‘Right,' said the woman. ‘I'm Mrs Collie, by the way. ‘Would you like a drink?'

‘I'm Becky Thomson. Please don't worry about me. Can I just sit here, out of the way, until Mr Darnley is ready?'

‘Of course,' said Mrs Collie, opening the door of the substantial oven, and testing the meat. Succulent wraiths of steam streamed out as if in happy escape. Evidently satisfied, she shut the door and turned a dial on the oven. ‘So you're not from Paris?'

‘No, from the
Essex Gleaner.
And I'm from Essex.' Becky pulled a barstool from beneath the central counter and winced as her coat shed water on the kitchen flagstones.

‘The
Essex Gleaner
? And Matthew – Mr Darnley's expecting you?'

‘I haven't met him before, but yes. He wants to talk about this house. And I can see why. I can't imagine living in a place this enormous.'

‘He doesn't live here. He's abroad most of the time.'

‘Oh. Now I am confused,' said Becky. ‘I assumed if he wanted us to do an article on the house it was his main residence – an old family home. You mean he has other places too?'

Mrs Collie didn't reply but she looked perplexed. ‘He's going to be pushed for time,' she said. ‘And I didn't think he did interviews. I must admit I'm a bit surprised.'

‘To be honest I was,' said Becky. ‘Considering the topic he's suggested but good for him for being so open about it.'

‘What topic?'

‘Architecture and slavery. He suggested the
Essex Gleaner
do an article on the grand homes of Essex and how much of the original money to build them came from the colonies, plantations. Well, the slave trade.'

‘The slave trade?' echoed Mrs Collie.

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