But then I found this ‘Section of the Bayeux Tapestry’ – and it’s public domain!
Why the excitement? That is revealed as the story unfolds.
So, in answer to a request from one of my readers, here is the next instalment: Widow Cob’s Cat (Neve: Ch 2).
. _____ .
Widow Cob’s Cat
Next day at work Neve’s thoughts refused to stay in the shop. She was supposed to be sorting the cross-stitch packs. Instead she was thinking of Raesan the angel . . . or elf . . . or Asar . . . or whatever he was . . . and that dragon he’d shown her.
Startled, she looked up.
“You have a customer.” Ms Cox, the proprietor, was unusually curt.
Neve mumbled a sorry and hastened to attend the elderly woman who, it turned out, wanted only one button. “Small, white . . . no, not that one. One with a star in the middle, a star.”
Ms Cox was beside her as soon as the door dinged behind the old woman. “What is your problem, Miss Carpory? That is the third time today I have had to tell you. Boyfriend trouble, is it?”
Neve shook her head. “No. Thinking.”
“Thinking, and not paying attention. I don’t pay you to daydream. It might only be one white button, please, at a time, but that’s the bread and butter of this business. Without customers like her there’d be no shop and without the shop you’d have no job. And if it isn’t a boyfriend, what is it? Are you behind with the rent?”
“No.” Neve resented the question. She owned the house but she couldn’t say that without sounding sarcastic. “No. I was just thinking of the wind farm.”
“The . . . ! Is that all? And for that you’d risk losing your job? But what of the wind farm? Personally, I’m surprised it went ahead, the way the environmentalists tried to block it.”
“I wasn’t thinking so much of the turbines, as where it is.”
“You’re a local person,” Neve said. “Have you ever heard it called Haggleland? Or Widow Cob’s Cat?”
Neve couldn’t decide what to believe of Raesan and his illusions. Everything he’d shown her could have been total invention. Or it could have been, as he’d claimed, a sharing of his memories. If the latter, then there might be some record of Yalesham Sands under the name of Widow Cob’s Cat, and maybe also as Haggleland.
Ms Cox sniffed, her mouth a grimace of disapproval. Yet instead of tutting that Neve’s thoughts had wandered far from her job, she said of the letters in the local press: “Last year – before they started the work. Oh, they went on for weeks. We all grew tired of the topic. I, for one, wrote in and said so. But yes, the name of Widow Cob’s Cat did crop up. It was that self-righteous, self-promoting minister. Hum, now what was his name? Doctor . . . yes, Doctor Reverend P. Filbert, that’s it. And isn’t he a nut.” She chortled at her own joke. “Deems himself erudite by the letters he wrote.” She pushed back her fuchsia-pink spectacles – they frequently slipped to the tip of her nose. “Yes, erudite – as in one who tries to bamboozle by using big words. As if anyone cared what the Sands once were called.”
But Neve cared. During her lunch break she found Doctor Filbert’s home number and phoned him.
~ ~ ~
The rain held off till she got home. Then Neve scooped up the mail from the doormat, slung it on the table in the kitchen as she passed, and rushed out to fetch in her washing. She hadn’t much, it took no time. But while out the back she noticed her neighbour’s line sagging beneath the weight of clothes for five children, a husband and wife. She imagined the woman’s hands would be full, children clamouring to be fed at this time of day. In Dowsingham, neighbours would fetch in each other’s washing. This might be a way to break the ice. She amended that to ‘glacier’ and hurried out to play the good neighbour.
Warren stood in the doorway, acrid smoke reeking around him. A skinny dork, sunken eyes, skipped school, did drugs, delinquent by his mother’s admission.
The day she moved in Neve had had an uneasy feeling about him. It was the way he’d eyed her furniture. But she dismissed it. As if a sixteen year old would know the value of a Jacobean cabinet, a Queen Anne table, an Art Décor deck-lounger. She hadn’t known, not until the solicitor had said of putting them to auction. But they were her grandma’s, she’d grown up with them, no way would not sell. Then these past few days that unease had returned – along with a growing sense of someone watching her. Not at work, just at the house.
But Warren was always polite; she must be wrong of the lad. Besides, he knew about the Lady of the Lake. He’d introduced her to his friend as they passed in the street: “My neighbour, Nineve. You know, the chick who entombed Merlin in her cave”. His friend’s reply had made her blush. She’d not thought of that interpretation.
“Mum!” he called into the kitchen. “There’s a gypsy lady offering rags.” He winked at her. Her arms were stacked with shorts, t-shirts, jeans, shirts and a veritable forest of tiny knickers and socks. Her arms were sinking beneath the weight.
Nerys appeared in the kitchen. “What the . . . ?”
Tiny, black-haired and Welsh, Neve had hoped they might become friends. But Nerys was too stressed to be friendly with anyone. Neve knew the names of all the children from hearing the mother yell at them. She knew the drunken husband’s name, too. Lyn. Lyn-this, Lyn-that. Lyn frequently fumbled to fit his key in the lock, three o’clock in the morning. Neve had moved into the back bedroom, not to be so disturbed.
“It’s raining,” she explained. By now, thanks to a gap between jacket and neck, the wet was slithering down her back. “I thought you’d be busy so I’ve fetched in your washing.” She offered it. No sign of Warren now, disappeared into the nappy-filled cave.
Nerys folded her arms over her chest.
Neve could hear her grandma as if she was standing beside her: Cantankerous woman with her eternal scolding. And look, she hardly holds herself together, so exhausted.
“I thought you wouldn’t want it all over the house, drying,” Neve said, and again offered it.
“And what makes you think I don’t have a tumbler?”
“I was only—“
“—handling my garments. I don’t like strangers to handle my garments.”
“But it’s raining, I was trying to help.”
“Washing is private.”
“I wasn’t looking at your washing, I was only gathering it in.”
“If I see any of mine on your line . . .”
Neve’s mouth opened upon a retort – cut short when the woman’s leg shot out to hold back the seven year old Eldon. Neve stepped back to save shins and toes. “You get back in here, you little bastard.” Nerys hauled on his collar. “It’s wet, and the cow next door has left open the gate.”
Neve wanted to say she’d found the gate open but Nerys’s tongue was both sharp and swift. “You’re wanting to help? Do it by taking yourself out of my garden.”
“I will, if you’ll just take these.” Again, Neve held out the mountain of clothes. They weren’t properly stacked and the shirt at the top was starting to slip. She dreaded an avalanche following.
Again Nerys folded her arms across her chest. “I wasn’t intending to fetch them in yet. A good rinse in the rain is better than any expensive softener. No, you can put every last item back on the line.”
Neve made to move as if to conform. But stopped. All she had done was to try to help. In Dowsingham a neighbour would have said thanks. But this wasn’t Dowsingham. Sunny Yalesham-on-Sea. Only it was raining and cold, and she’d had a foul day at work, and now she was hungry and soaked to the skin. She pushed the washing upon the woman. Splashing back through the puddles, she resisted the impulse to kick the kids’ torn football, abandoned upon the brick path.
“And shut that gate after,” Nerys yelled at her.
Gladly, thought Neve. Then she saw her own gate left open. And her back door ajar. She suddenly felt doubly deflated. If the watcher was intent upon entering, then she’d just issued the invitation. How much easier life would be if she used the mind-tricks she’d long set aside. No worries about a watcher with evil intent. No battle with Nerys. Simply open to their thoughts, then turn them to another direction. But that was to counter a person’s free-will, and she wouldn’t. Besides, it was true what they said of eavesdroppers. Wasn’t that the reason she’d vowed never again to use the tricks.
But now there was Raesan with his dragon, and he’d been right about Widow Cob’s Cat. She shuddered. She was wet, she was cold.
She sat at the table to open the mail, music on, playlist set to medieval. It had never been her music of choice, but since her grandma’s death she found herself more often playing it. From a time long gone, it came with no memories.
The first letter, manila envelope, was from the doctor’s surgery, inviting her in for a cervical smear. She balled it and aimed it at the bin. She wasn’t exactly sexually active. Her most exciting moment had been a kiss – when she was fourteen. She was a virgin. The second, another manila, was the water rates bill. She set that aside for filing. It was paid by direct debit.
She searched the third, a long white envelope, for some clue to its sender. Postmark Bedford. She knew no-one in Bedford. No return address, no company logo. She squinted at it. A hand-written address: Ms N. Carpory, 10 South Grove, Yalesham-on-Sea, Norfolk, all neatly aligned. No postcode. She could hear her grandma laughing at her. “What is it, Nevey, afraid of surprises?” But she wasn’t used envelopes that didn’t bring bills. It wasn’t from Bullock, Mays and Grove, the solicitors.
She used the veg knife to open it.
It was from Beasley, the private investigator she’d found on the internet. She couldn’t calm her hands, the paper so quaking she hardly could read it. He had located three women by the name of Constance Carpory. So much for James Bullock’s insistence that she’d find nothing. The office, he’d said, had executed a thorough search when her mother first disappeared. Disappeared. That was his solicitous way of saying her mother had deserted her, and she only a five year old child at the time.
Two of Beasley’s women lived in Germany, the first in Göttingen. She was of the right age, but Carpory was her married name. Her husband was a professor at the university. The second Constance lived in Stuttgart and, lo, she was daughter of the first.
The third dwelt in Hamilton. North Island. New Zealand.
Neve took a deep breath, her belly turned queasy. In her head was a buzz. She knew what it was, she’d felt it before. Her hands wouldn’t be still; she scarcely could read the rest of his letter.
He had found the woman in a phone listing on the internet, complete with an address. But his phone calls netted nothing and as yet she had not answered his letter. He had a contact in New Zealand; did Neve want him to proceed?
Her breathing had quickened, grown shallow. She was shivering.
Next episode: Be Banished He Bellowed