Chapter 1: A Proposition
- A Proposition
It started raining as the train slid out of Keswick Station. Sympathetic background, thought Ginty Marlow as she waved to Monica and Mrs Eliot until they were out of sight. She’d certainly felt like a Thomas Hardy heroine over the past few months – it seemed that if anything could possibly go wrong, it went wrong. And if anything couldn’t possibly go wrong, it still went wrong. Such as the doctor declaring that Monica wouldn’t be sufficiently recovered from her accident to go back to school until after half-term. Which meant that Ginty would have to travel back to Kingscote on her own and be without her best friend again for six weeks. Just when she really needed Monica too, after the conduct mark and troubles of the previous term. Ginty sighed.
“Cheer up,” said a male voice with an Irish accent. “It might never happen.”
It already has, thought Ginty gloomily. She looked across at the man who’d spoken, sitting across the aisle from her. He was in his early 20s, good-looking, with blond curls and green eyes and a friendly grin. Ginty grinned back.
“I’m on my way back to boarding-school. A good reason not to be cheerful.”
“Ah, I know where you’re coming from there,” said the man. “Never got on too well with school myself. My name’s Declan Broderick, by the way.”
“Declan Broderick … ?” Ginty frowned. The name sounded familiar somehow … In fact, thinking about it he looked familiar. She’d seen him somewhere before, she was certain. Now, where … ?
“You’d be finishing school soon enough, though, surely?” he asked her, interrupting her thoughts. “How old are you? Seventeen?”
“Sixteen,” Ginty said, pleased he’d thought she was older. “I do my O Levels in June.” Her stomach churned as she remembered Levels and the fiasco of last term when she’d discovered exam papers on the desk in the secretary’s office, when she’d been ringing Patrick. She wondered if Mrs Lambert would be back again this term and hoped not; she didn’t think she could bear to face her again. Or Ferguson. Or Keith. Or anyone, it was all so –
“What’s the matter?” asked Declan. “Worried about your exams?”
“Not really,” said Ginty, who expected she’d pass with moderate grades. “I’m just not looking forward to going back to school this term.”
“I never looked forward to it,” he said. “And boarding-school must be a hundred times worse than day school. Look,” he said, with a rueful grin, “I was just about to get myself a coffee from the buffet car. Can I get you one?”
“Thanks,” she replied. “That would be lovely.”
When Declan returned with the coffees, she was flattered when he settled in the seat next to her instead of the one across the aisle. She was aware of one or two envious glances from women sitting a little further down the carriage, and her spirits soared – this, she thought, was the happiest she’d felt in ages; perhaps her luck was about to turn. She and Declan giggled companionably as they did battle with the steaming coffee that kept leaping over the Styrofoam cup every time the train lurched, which it did, often. Then, when they’d drunk enough to no longer be in danger of being scalded, Con said, “Hey, I’ve just realized I’ve been buying you dangerous coffee and I don’t even know your name.”
“It’s Ginty. Ginty Marlow. Short for Virginia.”
“Well, Ginty-Marlow-short-for-Virginia, do want to talk about it?”
“School. Or whatever it is that was making you look so unhappy when you first got on the train.”
Ginty pondered whether she did. She desperately wanted a sympathetic ear, but Declan was after all a grown-up and so far adult ears had not been sympathetic. Monica had been quite amused by the whole telephone business, but when Mrs Eliot had overheard part of Ginty’s tale, she’d become very frosty and Ginty had thought it better not to mention it again. So it was best, she decided, not to mention the phone calls and the O Level papers, but instead just to focus on a couple of things that he’d surely be sympathetic about – such as the fact that her best friend wasn’t going back to school with her and that she’d also had a bit of a row with her boyfriend …
“That’s his loss, not yours,” said Declan. “You’re a lovely looking, intelligent girl. He’s mad not to want to be with you.”
Ginty couldn’t help beaming at this compliment, and felt so warm towards him that she confided in him about the fact that no-one had sent on her Christmas presents and her family had forgotten her birthday.
“Sounds like you’ve been having a rotten time,” he said. “Here’s hoping this year’ll bring better luck, eh? Where are you headed for, by the way?”
“Where’s your school?”
“In Wade Abbas. I change trains at Bristol,” Ginty told him.
“Me too. Train to Pembroke, then boat to Ireland. Back to the horses.”
“The – ?” Of course, Ginty remembered, suddenly flustered. Declan Broderick, owner and trainer of the great show-jumper Sonata – the grey mare, with her rider Aidan Murphy had been one of the stars of the pre-Christmas Olympia International Show-Jumping Championships in London. Ginty and Monica had watched most of the Olympia Show on telly; a highlight in an otherwise dull holiday for Ginty, for Monica hadn’t really been up to doing very much. When Murphy and Sonata had won the Grand Prix, the cameras had picked up Declan, dancing an exuberant jig of delight. Ginty wondered what she should say. “I saw you on the telly” sounded so feeble. But she couldn’t say nothing; she wanted him to know she followed show-jumping. “I saw you at Olympia,” she said at last, blushing.
“Ah, you’d be remembering my antics when Sonata won, no doubt,” he said, looking abashed himself. “Made a right fool of myself, I did.”
“No you didn’t,” Ginty assured him. “I’d be thrilled if I had a horse that won something at Olympia.”
“Do you have a horse yourself?”
“A pony. Catkin.”
“A bit. I hunt as well.”
“What’s your record like?”
Briefly, Ginty told him about the local shows she’d competed in, then changed the subject to ask about the other horses in his yard that she’d read about in Horse and Hound. She was surprised when he responded with equal brevity, and then started questioning her about her riding again.
“It sounds as if you’ve got potential as a rider. Any plans to make a career out of it?”
Ginty hesitated. Becoming a famous show-jumper was one of her favourite fantasies. Sometimes when she was jumping Catkin, she ran a commentary in her head; Dorian Williams marvelling, “And how can she possibly do it? And she’s done it!” as she and Catkin soared over the final fence and went through the finish line, just pipping the seemingly unbeatable time set by David Broome. But at the same time she had a firm grip on reality: local shows were one thing, but a world away from being the reigning junior show-jumper of the year at the Horse of the Year Show.
“I don’t know,” she said. “I haven’t finished school yet or – or anything,” she finished lamely.
“Well, I could do with a stable girl, if you’re interested,” he said. “My last girl left me after Olympia – one of the other trainers offered her more money. So there’s a job for you if you want it.”
Last term, when she’d been in the san after the telephone huha, and had fully expected to be expelled, Ginty had wondered whether she might like to be a stable girl and had decided that, while the riding would be good, the mucking out part of it would not be. As if reading her thoughts, Declan said, “I know it’s not glamorous work but if you’re any good at riding, I can offer you some great opportunities. You can ride, go in shows.”
“Oh,” said Ginty, flustered again. “I don’t know.”
“And you could come with me to the shows – to Wembley, Aachen, Hickstead, everywhere,” he added. “You should think about it, Ginty. You like horses. I’ve got a good yard. With unemployment the way it is, there are graduates struggling to get jobs, whereas I’m offering you a job with really good prospects. If you’re any good, I can give you one of my decent horses – you could even end up competing at places like Wembley and Aachen.” Ginty hesitated again and he shrugged and said, “Opportunity only knocks once, Ginty. Think about it. You’re unhappy and I’m offering you an alternative. A chance to really make something of your life.”
Declan Broderick’s yard, Ginty thought, twisting the empty coffee cup around in her hands. Working with him and his horses would be right up there with working at David Broome’s yard or Ted Edgar’s. It was the chance of a real career with horses, a chance to work on the show-jumping scene, perhaps even, as he’d suggested, become a show-jumper.
“I will think about it,” she promised. “If you give me your phone number, as soon as I’ve finished my O Levels, I’ll – ”
”No, I’m really sorry Ginty,” he said. “But I can’t wait for you to do your O Levels. I run a busy yard and I need someone who can start straightaway. I’d already have appointed somebody if I hadn’t already arranged to have a holiday over Christmas and New Year, and there’d be scores of girls in Ireland who’d be interested.”
“But – starting straightaway. I don’t know …” Did that mean she’d have to go with him now? She was going back to school – she was in uniform – it was all too much to deal with right at this instant …
“Look, sorry, I realise I’m dropping this on to you and expecting you to make a decision a bit too quickly. I can give you a week to think about it, but after that I’m afraid I’ll have to take someone on. So you go back to school, give it some thought.” Declan took a card from his pocket and passed it to her. “Here’s my number. Call me, if you decide you want a job.”
From where, Ginty thought, panicking. She couldn’t sneak out of school to the call box or use the office phone, not after last term. And how did you organise leaving school? Did you talk to Keith? And the parents wouldn’t –
“My parents won’t want me not taking my Levels,” she said.
“You say your family didn’t send you Christmas presents or birthday presents,” Declan said with a shrug. “Why should you worry about them? You’re sixteen, old enough to leave school, make your own decisions.”
Ginty worried all the way to Bristol, half-tempted to accompany him to Ireland, but worried about the fall-out when her parents realised what she’d done. He didn’t mention the job again, but told her about the yard, some of the funny things that happened, what some of the other stable girls were now doing. One was married to an up-and-coming French show-jumper, whom she’d met while on the circuit. The idea of being married to a famous show-jumper rather appealed to Ginty and it was, she admitted to herself, much more practical than the idea of being a top show-jumper herself.
They arrived at Bristol and Declan got up and heaved Ginty’s case down from the luggage rack. Then he grabbed his own case and put on his coat.
“Got to dash,” he said. “My train leaves in ten minutes and I don’t know the platform. Think about what I said – I’ll hold the job open till next Friday.”
She watched Declan as he climbed out of the train and told herself what he was offering her was better than anything either Karen or Rowan had managed to do with their lives post-Kingscote. There was Karen, stuck with a brood of stepkids, and Rowan, bored out of her brain keeping Trennels going until Giles decided it was his time to take over …
She grabbed her case and pushed her way out of the train, and ran along the platform till she caught up with Declan.
“I’ve thought about it,” she told him, grabbing his arm.
He turned and grinned at her. “And?”
“I’ll do it,” she said.
Chapter 2: Back at School
2. Back at School
“I can’t wait to see Gin’s face when you tell her,” said Lawrie. She stretched and grinned as she looked across from her own bed to Ginty’s vacant spot in Sara Crewe.
“Tell her what?” asked Nicola, sorting clothes tidily into drawers with half an eye on her watch: only fifteen minutes till she was due to meet Miranda for their beginning-of-term ritual.
“About you and Patrick of course, clot!”
“What do you mean about me and Patrick?”
“Well, you have been seeing a lot of each other.”
“So what? We always did. Up till last Christmas, anyway.” And that stupid Gondalling, thought Nicola. “And it’s not my fault Gin scuppered their relationship with her idiot telephone calls,” she added.
“So they have fallen out! I thought so!” said Lawrie jubilantly.
“That doesn’t mean – ” Nicola began, then stopped. “That doesn’t mean I’ve now replaced Gin as Patrick’s girlfriend” was what she’d been going to say, except she knew that wasn’t really strictly true. Nicola and Patrick were definitely close friends again, but not in the way they had been before he’d started seeing Ginty. Their friendship had taken on a new dimension, especially after that sudden and surprising kiss under the stage. Nicola felt warm inside at the memory of it.
“Doesn’t mean what?” asked Lawrie.
Nicola was prevented from replying by the arrival of Ann in Sara Crewe, wondering if Ginty was back yet. “Apparently Monica’s not coming back yet, so Gin’s travelling on her own. The Scottish girls are back, and she hasn’t had as far to come – she should be here by now,” Ann said. She sounded worried, but at the same time, distant – things had been awkward between Ann and the rest of the Marlows after she’d found out about their having helped Edward Oeschli escape.
“Probably been delayed,” said Nicola. “You know what British Rail’s like.”
“If her train was delayed, why not the Scottish girls’ train?”
“Goodness, I don’t know. Perhaps they come on a different line,” returned Nicola.
“Perhaps her train’s been in a nasty accident,” said Lawrie cheerfully.
“I hope not,” said Ann. “I’ll catch the news on the radio later, if I can, just in case something has happened.” She nodded a goodbye to her sisters and left.
“You’d think,” said Lawrie in injured tones, looking at her clothes still lying in the trunk, “she’d have given me a hand with my things. She always used to.”
“Well, I rather think those days are over – temporarily at least,” said Nicola. “Anyway, why can’t you just do it yourself, Lal? It’s not like you’re incapable of unpacking.”
“I know I’m not incapable – it’s just insufferably boring,” sighed Lawrie, giving in to the inevitable and starting to unpack.
“Can’t you pretend you’re a maid or something to make it more interesting?” asked Nicola. She’d meant it as a joke, but Lawrie perked up considerably and said, yes, how super, why hadn’t she ever thought of doing that before, and she’d pretend she was a servant at Miss Minchin’s academy, having to unpack the trunk of a wealthy schoolgirl …
“Clot,” grinned Nicola. “I’ll leave you to it.” It was time to meet Miranda.
Up on the roof, Miranda wanted to know if Nicola had worn the dress and if it had been a success. Nicola told her that yes, she’d worn it to the Merricks’ party as planned, but then felt suddenly shy when it came to describing people’s reaction to it. She didn’t feel ready to talk to Miranda about Patrick – she had a feeling that somehow Miranda wouldn’t understand. So she just said even Peter had thought she’d looked good in it instead of taking the mickey.
“And the rest of the holidays? How did they go?” Miranda asked.
There was so much, Nicola thought, about the holidays that one couldn’t tell. She didn’t want to talk about Patrick and she certainly couldn’t talk about her part in Edward Oeschli’s escape. So she said, “Oh, super, thanks. Ma was called away to Grandmother’s for Christmas, but Giles was home on leave, and we had a Christmas Day picnic on the beach.”
“Oh, that does sound super,” replied Miranda. “Sometimes – though not often – I rather envy your having siblings to do things with in the holidays.”
“It is fun,” said Nicola, who couldn’t imagine how hard it must be for Miranda and Tim Keith and also for Patrick to have to entertain themselves all the time when with family. “Tell me about your holidays,” she said.
So Miranda talked a little about her parents and the shop, and then conversation turned to the coming term. Nicola asked if she was still in the same dormitory as last term and with the same people, and Miranda said yes, they were still stuck with dreary Wendy and boring Sandra, worse luck.
“Esther back yet?” asked Nicola, deliberately lightly, for she was still not sure what she was going to say to Esther when they met up again.
“Not yet. Train’s been delayed, I expect,” said Miranda, and Nicola wondered briefly whether to find Ann and tell her that Esther also wasn’t back yet so there was really no need to worry about Gin. Then, irritated with herself for feeling so guilty about Ann, she decided that, no – if she saw Ann, she’d tell her, but she wasn’t going out of her way to find her.
But when supper time arrived and still no Gin, Ann’s nagging worry became a full-blown panic. She came over to Upper IVa’s table to ask the twins if they’d seen her.
“She hadn’t got back when we came down,” said Lawrie cheerfully. “Stop worrying, Ann. She’s not the only one not back yet. Esther isn’t.”
“Esther’s not coming back for a couple of weeks,” announced Tim Keith, who had herself only arrived back at Kingscote in the past half-hour and had barely had time to exchange more than a few “Hullos” and “Had good holidays” with everyone before the supper bell had rung.
“Isn’t she? Why not?” asked Nicola, suddenly relieved – meeting Esther was going to be awkward, to say the least, and she was rather glad it was delayed for at least a little longer. Then, suddenly, she regretted it, wishing Esther already back, the words “Esther, look – about that solo. I don’t mind. Honestly” already spoken and the awkwardness hopefully over.
“Her mother’s had a baby,” Tim said.
“I’d forgotten she was expecting a baby in January,” said Nicola.
“I didn’t know she was,” said Lawrie.
“Me neither. How ghastly,” said Miranda and the rest of Lower IVa within hearing shot concurred.
“Boy or girl?” asked Nicola.
“No idea,” said Tim. “I only know Me Auntie isn’t best pleased about the timing and Esther missing out on education and all.”
“Anyway,” said Ann, still hovering behind Nicola, “about Gin … ”
“What about her?”
“Well, there’s been nothing about a train crash on the news.”
“Why should there have been a crash? A delay’s much more likely,” said Nicola.
“All the same, I think I’m going to talk to Ferguson. The train could be delayed for hours and Gin mightn’t get back till midnight. Or she could have missed a connection or be stranded somewhere. We need to find out what time she left the Eliots,” said Ann, suddenly decisive. “I’ll ask Ferguson if she or Keith can phone them. Then she can take it from there. If she should have arrived hours ago – ”
“Mightn’t you be getting Ginty in trouble?” asked Lawrie, buttering more bread. “If Ferguson finds out she missed a connection because of something daft, you don’t know what she might do to Gin.”
“That’s true,” nodded Nicola. Especially after last term’s huha and the conduct mark; Ginty wouldn’t want to find herself back in Keith’s office on First Day just because she’d caught the wrong train by accident..
“Look, I think Ginny getting told off because she’s done something daft is a much better option than her lying in a hospital after being knocked down by a car or something and nobody knowing who she is,” snapped Ann. “But then, we rarely see eye to eye on most moral issues, do we? I’m going to see Fergus,” she added and turned away, to the surprise of those of Upper IVa who’d overheard and of Ann’s fellow prefect, Gina French, who was supervising the Upper IVa table this term.
“What’s got into your Ann?” asked Tim.
“Goodness knows,” said Lawrie, helping herself to cake. “Isn’t it a pity there’s no play again this term, Tim? Has Keith by any chance mentioned which play we might be putting on next term?”
Tim said, no, she hadn’t, and the conversation turned to school things – to netball, to lacrosse, to whether or not the list for Shopping Saturday had been put on the notice board yet. Lawrie soon forgot about Ginty and Ann; not so Nicola, reminded yet again of Rowan’s comment that even Ann had feelings. Clearly, the events of the Christmas holidays had left Ann angrier and more resentful than any of them had realised.
Ann sat in an armchair in Miss Keith’s office, listening while the headmistress made a couple of phone calls that brought chilling news. Mrs Eliot had informed Miss Keith that she and Monica had seen Ginty off on the nine-thirty-five train; Ginty should have arrived back at Kingscote hours ago. A call to British Rail had brought the news that yes, there had been a twenty minute delay on the Bristol-Wade Abbas train, but no problem with the Penrith-Bristol train.
“I’d better ring your parents,” said Miss Keith, putting down the receiver with a frown. “Virginia might have contacted them if she encountered any trouble.”
Ann could hear Ma’s agitated voice responding to Keith’s questioning, and began to feel sick. Something bad, she was sure, had happened to Ginty: she must be lying in a hospital bed somewhere between Penrith and Wade Abbas. Keith was going to have to call the police. She …
“Ann.” Miss Keith broke into her thoughts. “Your mother hasn’t heard anything from Virginia. Have you been in touch with Virginia at all during the holidays?”
“No.” Ann regretted now not making the birthday call, not sending on Gin’s Christmas presents. She’d wanted to do both, but had as ever been overruled. She should have insisted … Why did her family always have to gang up on her and tell her she was a clot, always wrong?
“It’s simply that Virginia had a very difficult time last term. With Monica not returning with her, it’s possible that – ”
“She’s run away?” Ann considered. It was, she thought, possible. Ginty had had an awful time last term; she’d wanted to talk to Gin about it but Gin, as ever, had pushed her away, and then she’d gone to Monica’s for Christmas. Running away then, Ann realised.
“I’m going to telephone the police, but if you or Nicola or Lawrence can think of anything Virginia might have said or where, if she wanted to run away, she might have gone, please let me know,” said Miss Keith. “I’ll phone the police now and I’ll let you know once I have any news.”
Dismissed, Ann left the room. She wondered if Nick or Lawrie knew anything – but if they did, she thought bitterly, they wouldn’t tell her. The kids in her dormitory would be sleeping – or should be – and she didn’t feel like sitting chatting with her friends. Instead, she sought the sanctuary of her empty form room and knelt on the ground praying that God would take care of Gin.
Chapter 3: Repercussions
The nagging worry that this was all a ghastly, terrible mistake and what-on-earth-did-she-think-she-was-doing-running-off-with-a-stranger dissipated when Ginty saw the house, stables and grounds she’d now be calling home. That Declan was a very wealthy young man was clear from the external gleaming appearance of the buildings and, indoors, the expensive-looking furniture. Not for Declan Broderick the nothing-matches look of Trennels or the window sills in need of a lick of paint.
“This is lovely,” Ginty said as he led her through to the kitchen, which had a variety of pots and pans hanging from low beams, an Aga, and big bay window overlooking immaculate lawns. “How long have you lived here?”
“A few years now. My mother bought it. She used to run the yard but she’s getting older and wanted to retire and left all the work to me. I thought you knew about showjumping,” he added with a grin. “She’s been in Horse and Hound often enough.”
Ginty blushed. “I don’t – get to read it – much,” she stammered. “What with school and – ”
“Well, it’s required reading in your new job,” he said. “Sit down,” he added, pointing to the kitchen table. “I’ll make us a cup of tea. Mam must be out somewhere.”
‘Mam’, a tall woman in her late fifties with a helmet of grey hair, turned up about an hour later and gave Ginty a grim glare. “Who’s this, then?” she demanded.
“Happy New Year, Mam,” said Declan, giving her a kiss on the cheek.
“Bit late for that. I said, who’s this?”
“This, Mammy,” said Declan, “is Ginty Marlow, our new stable girl. Ginty, this is Norah Broderick, my mother.”
“You can call me Mrs Broderick,” his mother said.
“Pleased to meet you,” said Ginty politely, hoping this old battleaxe wouldn’t be around too much. Mrs Broderick asked her a few questions about what work she’d done before – “You’ve just been at boarding-school? Oh, for goodness’ sake, Declan! She’ll need training!” – then got on with making dinner. She was at least a good cook, as Ginty found when she tucked in later. She cleared her plate before Declan did, and her hearty appetite wasn’t lost on Mrs Broderick. “I thought with your figure you’d be one of those anorexics,” Mrs Broderick said. “Like that silly Princess Diana.”
“Not me,” Ginty responded cheerfully and asked for a second helping. Mrs Broderick, Ginty thought, seemed to warm to her as a result of her eating a hearty dinner. But that night after she’d been shown up to what would be her room – quite a decent size, on the top floor, away from Declan and Mrs Broderick – she realised she’d left the clothes she’d bought earlier down in the hallway and made her way back downstairs, and heard angry voices coming from the kitchen.
“You and your weakness for a pretty girl, Declan! One day it’s going to be our downfall. Didn’t you learn anything from having to pay Alice off just a few months ago.”
“This is different, Mammy.”
“Make sure it is. I don’t want to have to keep sending girls over to England to get an abortion.”
“This is different, I said. I won’t be getting involved with Ginty. She’s here to work.”
“She’d better be. I don’t see why an English private school girl wants a job as a stable girl, though. Are you sure it’s safe to use her?”
“’Course it is. She’s run away from school – hates the place. As long as she gets to accompany me on the circuit sometimes, she’ll be happy enough. She won’t cotton on to anything, don’t worry.”
“Well, make sure you keep away from her. Let her just do the job we’re paying her to do. Right, I think I’m going off to bed now.”
Ginty ran back upstairs as lightly and as quickly as she good. She sank onto her bed, heart pounding. What had she got herself into? Had Declan employed her because he wanted to sleep with her? It was flattering, if so; he was good looking … but pregnancy? Abortion? Didn’t he know about contraceptives? Or couldn’t you get them here in Ireland? Ginty wasn’t sure. And what was this “anything” he’d told his mother Ginty wouldn’t “cotton on to”? Perhaps, she thought, she’d better leave. Now, straightaway. Go downstairs and tell Declan it had all been a mistake, she really should go back to Kingscote.
It was dark, though, and she didn’t know when there’d be a boat. And anyway, they were a long way from Rosslare now. She’d have to wait till morning – especially if Declan was miffed that she wanted to leave, and refused to drive her back to the docks. Things will be clearer in the morning, she told herself, as she undressed and got into the cold bed. Tomorrow she would go. And hopefully Miss Keith would have her back.
“I knew it,” said Mrs Broderick triumphantly when Ginty explained haltingly that she thought she’d made a mistake, that she really should go back to Kingscote and finish her O Levels. “A spoilt little girl like you won’t want to work hard. Go ahead – use the phone. Tell your parents to come and fetch you.”
Feeling small, Ginty dialled the number for Trennels, praying that her mother, not Rowan, would answer the phone. Thank you, God, she thought as she heard her mother’s voice.
“Ginty? Where are you?”
“I’m in Ireland.”
“In Ireland? Ginty, what on earth – ”
Ginty told the story, feeling increasingly stupid as her mother interrupted at intervals with comments like “Oh, for goodness’ sake, Ginty!” and “How could you be so foolish?” Then, crossly, “Do you realise the trouble you’ve put us all to? I had to contact your father’s ship. The police are looking for you. We’ve been phoning the hospitals. Miss Keith’s been trying to find out from your friends if anyone knew what had happened to you. And we even got the Merricks to phone Patrick at Broomhill to see if he knew where you were.” And finally, “Well, I’ll need to talk to your father about this, Ginty, and I will call you back. Give me your number, please. And I’d like to speak to Mr Broderick.”
Miserably, Ginty handed the phone to Declan, and only half-listened as he, all charm, assured Mrs Marlow that Ginty was fine, had come to no harm, and he had a job for her if she wanted it, as she’d been so upset on the train at the thought of returning to school. Ginty had expected Ma to blast him but that didn’t appear to be happening. When Declan put the phone down, he said, “She’s just been worried about you, that’s all, Ginty. You can’t blame her, the way you ran off like that. She’ll get back in touch when she’s spoken to your father, so in the meantime you sit down and eat some breakfast. And you can think a bit more about whether you want to stay or go.”
The food, at least, was much better than at Kingscote. Ginty, despite her woes, enjoyed the fry-up washed down with scalding tea. Eventually, though, when the phone rang, it was her father and not her mother. He spoke to Declan first, and she couldn’t make out much from the conversation given Declan said nothing more than, “Yes, of course”, “I just did what I could given she was upset” and “Of course she can”. Then he passed the phone to Ginty. With sinking heart, Ginty heard a furious Commander Marlow tell her that her behaviour over the past few months had been appalling, and that as far as he was concerned, by running away to be a stable girl, she’d made her bed and could lie on it. He would not be paying for her to come back to England, and as far as he was concerned she had left Kingscote. Hard work in a riding stables, he told her, might do her the world of good.
When Nicola learned that Ginty wasn’t returning to school but was working as a stable-girl in Ireland, her first thought was thank goodness Lois Sanger isn’t here to crow about it. There was, of course, going to be gossip galore anyway, but not one girl at Kingscote was likely to be as exultant as Lois would have been over the dropping-out of education of yet another of the ‘illustrious Marlows’.
“A stable-girl!” Lawrie was saying to Ann, their informant. “Gin won’t last more than a fortnight!”
“Well, Dad says she has to,” said Ann, troubled. Miss Keith had summoned her to the telephone that morning, so that her mother could pass on the news. Stable work didn’t sound like Gin, attentive though she’d been towards Catkin. She must have been very unhappy about returning to Kingscote to have so readily accepted an offer like that, made by a stranger on a train.
“So she’s not coming back to Kingscote or home to Trennels?”
“Catches on quick this girl, doesn’t she?” said Nicola, with a grimace at Ann. “No, of course she isn’t coming back to Kingscote, clot. Didn’t you hear what Ann said? She’s left. Kaput. Finito.”
“No, she’s definitely not returning to school,” said Ann. “Whether she’ll go home to Trennels, I can’t say.”
“In that case, can I have Catkin?” Lawrie asked.
“Oh, Lawrie,” said Ann, scandalised.
“Don’t you ever think of anyone but yourself?”
“Nope,” said Lawrie cheerfully. “You have to be single-minded to make it as an actress.”
Nicola was surprised to see Ann cast Lawrie a look of pure scorn. “I’ll see you both later,” said Ann, opening the bedroom door. “I suppose there’ll be lots of questions about Gin, but it’ll be a five-minute wonder like it was with Rowan.”
The door to Sara Crewe reopened within five minutes, this time to admit Matron. “Now that your sister’s left,” she told them, “we’re going to have to move someone else in here. Dormitory 15 has one bed extra in it that makes it more crowded than we’d like, so we’re going to move out one of the beds, and Esther Frewen, when she returns, can have Virginia’s. That minimises disruption to Dormitory 15. It’ll just be for this term – next term, you’ll have to move into one of the other dormitories, and we can move a group of sisters in here, which is what it’s meant for.”
Nicola’s heart sank – Esther. How awkward that would be – still, she realised, Esther couldn’t avoid her all term if they were sharing a dormitory. Matron left the room with a reminder that they only had a couple of minutes left before they had to go down for Prayers.
“Blow Gin,” said Lawrie dolefully, as she straightened her tie. “I like this room. I don’t want to have to go into a big dormitory like everybody else.”
“Sometimes I think it looks okay,” said Nicola, “but now it’s going to be a reality, I’m not so sure.” She’d envisaged staying in Sara Crewe until Upper Sixth, after Gin had left. She wished Miranda were joining them up in the attic this term – that would have been fun – but it could have been worse, it could have been Tim, and then Nicola would have been the odd one out, while Lawrie and Tim plotted plays in corners. They made their way down to the Assembly hall; already, somehow, the news had spread, and Nicola and Lawrie were surrounded on all sides by people wanting to know if it was really true what they’d heard about Gin.
Chapter 4: A Discovery
4. A Discovery
Being a stable girl was everything Ginty had feared it would be.
It was hard, exhausting, back-breaking work. At night, when she’d finished, Ginty was thankful to collapse first into a bath, to soothe her aching limbs, and then into bed. There was no social life at all, apart from the occasional visit to one of the local pubs with Declan and Aidan Murphy, if he was around. The only sweetener was that every morning Ginty exercised the horses along with the other stable girl, Cathy – who lived locally and came in every day – Declan and Aidan Murphy. Riding top horses, especially a world-class one like Sonata, was like a dream come true. It was the only thing Ginty felt able to write to family and friends about. Riding such great horses made her decision sound like the right one, mucking out and cleaning tack definitely did not.
Declan remained friendly towards her, but seemed to be as good as his word as far as his promise to his mother went, for he didn’t try anything on with Ginty – Ginty didn’t know whether she was relieved or disappointed. Cathy was twenty and an amiable enough colleague, but she had a steady boyfriend she was obsessed with, so never invited Ginty on a night out. One day, when they were mucking out together, Cathy told her that Old Battleaxe Broderick didn’t like Ginty because she was so beautiful. “She made the last stable girl’s life miserable too, because she was pretty,” Cathy, who was definitely plain, said. “That’s why she left in the end. Mrs B can’t stand it if she thinks a girl’s going to capture Declan’s heart – she can’t bear to let him go, you see.”
“Oh,” said Ginty, “is that why she left? Where did she go?”
“Well,” said Cathy, lowering her voice, “there was a baby, you know, and Mrs B paid for Declan to take her over to London. Then she paid her off to go away and leave him alone. I think, left to himself, Declan would have married Alice and had the baby. But Mrs B always gets her way in the end.”
As the weeks went by, Ginty felt increasingly lonely. The work was hard, the money meagre, and there was no-one to have a good time with. Mrs Broderick was always gruff and found fault with Ginty’s work whenever she could, and Aidan Murphy was friendly enough in that he smiled at her, but he said very little. He seemed only interested in working with the horses, not in socialising. Still, thought Ginty, you couldn’t blame him for that – it was, after all, his job. The World Cup rounds would be starting again soon – there were a couple of meets coming up in late February. Ginty hoped she’d be allowed to go. Seeing a bit of the world in her job would be something.
“Isn’t Esther supposed to be coming back today?” said Lawrie to Nicola, two weeks into term. It was the end of the school day and they’d come up to Sara Crewe to change.
“Mmm. That’s what Matron said.” Nicola began to change into slacks and a jumper.
“Maybe she’ll come back tonight. I do wish we had Tim in here instead of Esther, don’t you? It’d be a lot more fun.”
Nicola shrugged noncommittally. “Could be worse. Sandra Grigson f’rinstance.”
“True,” Lawrie agreed.
Just as they’d finished changing and were about to go back downstairs for tea, Matron turned up in Sara Crewe with news. “We’ve just heard from Esther’s mother,” she said. “She’s not coming back to Kingscote – so it looks as if you’ll be able to keep this room for this term. Next term, as I said, you’ll have to be put elsewhere.”
“Esther – not coming back? Why?” Lawrie asked.
“Now that her mother has had the baby and they’ve moved, they’ve decided they’re better situated for Esther to be at home in term-time, so she’ll be attending a day school. I’m sure Esther will write to you and tell you about it – her mother says she’s very happy to be at home and is loving having a baby sister,” said Matron kindly to Nicola, for she knew that Nicola and Esther were friends.
“Lucky old Esther,” said Lawrie when Matron had gone. “Oh, well, this news’ll stop people gossiping about Gin, won’t it? I’m getting sick of people asking how Gin is when I haven’t a clue.”
“Mmm,” said Nicola. She felt more jolted than she’d ever have believed. She knew exactly why Esther wasn’t returning to Kingscote. It wasn’t because of the new house and convenience and the baby. It was because of the huha last term. That was why Esther had persuaded her mother she’d rather go to a day-school. She wouldn’t write to Nicola and tell her all about it at all. If only she’d phoned and sorted it out, like she’d wanted to, only Rowan had said not. If she’d done that, Esther would probably have returned after all.
But perhaps this was for the best, Nicola thought. Day school, after all, wouldn’t be so bad, and Esther’s mother would make sure she sent her to a good one. All the same, Nicola realised, surprised; she’d miss her.
The term went by, quickly as always. Nicola, caught up in netball and school work, as well as trying out for lacrosse, soon felt only very occasional pangs of guilt about Esther. The rest of the form was happy for Esther, saying it must be so much better for her to have a permanent home now, instead of spending term-time at school and alternating holidays between her parents. Then they forgot about her, busy with interests and anxieties of their own.
Nicola and Lawrie made the most of Sara Crewe and its private bathroom next door, half-fearful that during half-term, Matron would take it into her head to reorganise the dormitories. Neither of them wrote to Ginty nor spared more than a passing thought for her. Ann wrote and received a letter back, passing on only the barest details to her sisters: Ginty was riding Declan’s horses every morning and Sonata was a dream to ride. She’d be accompanying Aidan Murphy and Declan to a couple of horse shows soon. “Perhaps we’ll see her on the telly,” said Lawrie, with a deep sigh, for she had long planned to be the first Marlow ever to be seen on the small screen.
“She’s only a stable girl,” said Nicola scornfully. “We won’t see her jumping off against the clock.”
“Don’t you think so?” asked Lawrie hopefully.
“Nope. Gin’s a good rider, good enough for a stable girl – but not good enough for Wembley.”
Lawrie cheered up. She was still going to be the famous Marlow, after all.
There was a minor indoor show in England that Aidan wanted to jump his second-string horse, Symphony, as well as Minuet, and Declan told Ginty that she could accompany them. “Cathy’ll go to the World Cup meets with us,” said Declan, “as she’s more experienced, but this show will help you learn the ropes.”
It was quite exciting to travel with the horse box by boat back to England. Even better was the fact that Ginty would be free of Old Battleaxe Broderick for a long weekend. The show was in the Midlands, so a long way from Trennels. It was, Ginty knew, half-term – Ann and Nick and Lawrie would be home. She wondered whether they were missing her. If she’d been going to one of the World Cup meets, she’d definitely be phoning home to say so. But a minor show just outside Wolverhampton? She’d only attract scorn; it was best to keep quiet.
The first surprise when they got to the show was that quite a few reasonably big-name British show-jumpers were there – like Aidan, they were testing out their second- or third-string horses. Declan quickly found people to have a drink with, while Aidan started chatting to some of the other riders. Ginty groomed Sonata, who’d be jumping in the main class.
When she’d finished, Declan wandered over to her, glass of wine in hand. “Ginty,” he said. “Aidan’ll look after Sonata now. I need you to do something else for me. In the horse box you’ll find some bags of horse feed I brought over and I’ve got a few customers who want to buy them. Can you see to it for me?” He told her the cost per bag and Ginty was surprised. It seemed a hell of a lot for horse feed.
“Just stay there till the bags have gone,” he said. “Aidan and I’ll see to things here.”
Ginty went back to the horse box and found the bags of horse feed. Weird, she thought. Why would people be buying horse feed from Ireland? She’d bought horse feed for Catkin in the past, and it had been a lot cheaper than the exorbitant amount Declan was charging. Still, maybe top-class horses were given top-class feed – not that she’d ever noticed anything particularly superior-looking about the food she regularly have Declan’s horses. Anyway, Declan didn’t seem short of customers for the feed. She took the money and put it in her bag, trying to ignore the increasing nagging feeling that something was going on here.
Finally, there were just two bags of horse feed left; she checked that no-one was coming, then opened one of the bags. Among the chopped-up carrots she found packets containing white powder. Panicking, she closed the bag. Heroin, she thought. Or cocaine, perhaps. Ginty didn’t know – but it was definitely drugs. No wonder Declan was so wealthy. No wonder his mother had worried that she, Ginty, might “cotton on” to something. Declan was dealing in drugs. She had to get out of here – and quick.
“All gone?” asked Declan, coming up to the horse box. The last two bags had been sold. Ginty, who was wondering exactly when she could do a runner, knew instinctively that she needed to act all innocent here; Declan mustn’t suspect that she’d found out what he was doing.
“Yes,” said Ginty.
“Good girl. Go and see to Symphony, would you? Aidan’s finished jumping her.”
“How’d he go?”
“Great. Won the class.”
“Here,” said Ginty, opening her bag. “You’d better have your money.”
“Oh, leave it in your bag for now, Gin. We can sort it out later. Leave your bag here, though. I’ll keep an eye on it. You don’t want it being nicked by one of the other stable-girls.”
Ginty left her bag and went back to congratulate Aidan, wondering if he knew about Declan’s non-equestrian activities. While she untacked Symphony, she wondered what she should do. Ring the police? She’d need proof, though, and the drugs had gone now – and she didn’t know the names of the people who’d taken them. The only proof of sorts was the money, which was in her bag. And she was the one who’d done the selling. Her stomach lurched. She was in this now, up to her neck.
She needed help. She’d ring Trennels, soon as she could. Speak to Ma, tell her what was happening. She remembered seeing a call box at the end of the road the equestrian centre was on. When she’d finished with Symphony, she’d go and make a call. And if she was really lucky, a bus might come along that would take her into Wolverhampton, where she’d find a railway station and a passage home.
Chapter 5: Plans
Chapter 5: Plans
“I’ll get it,” said Rowan when the phone rang. “It’s probably Ma with news of Grandmother.” For half-term, like Christmas, had seen their mother dash off to Paris after Aunt Molly phoned saying Grandmother was down with flu again.
“She won’t die,” said Lawrie cheerfully. “Only the good die young.”
“Which means we’re stuck with you for ever,” said Rowan, picking up the phone. She gave the number, then waited for coins to be dropped into the phone at the other end. Not Ma, then. She heard Lawrie say, “You should worry that you mightn’t make it into your twenties, Ann”, and then heard a panicky voice on the line say, “Rowan? Is Ma there?”
“Ginty? No, she’s not.” Rowan rolled her eyes. Nick, Lawrie and Ann looked across at her expectantly. “Ma’s in Paris – Grandmother again. What d’you want?” Ginty started saying she had to talk quickly and she really needed help, her boss was a drug dealer, and she was on her way back to Trennels now.
“You’re not, you know,” said Rowan firmly. “You know what Dad’s line on this is – you chose to run away, so you stick with that. … Ginty, I don’t care. This is probably one of your flights of fancy – you can’t just go round making accusations like that. Oh, grow up!” She put down the phone, irritated. How like Gin to start imagining all sorts of things and expect family to bail her out.
“What was that about?” asked Ann.
“Oh, Ginty, wanting to come back to Trennels. Making out her boss is a drug dealer. Little ninny! He probably needs drugs to cope with her.”
“But Rowan,” said Ann, concerned. “If he is – ”
“He won’t be,” said Rowan confidently. “She’s probably seen him smoking a joint and is making it out to be more than it is so she can come home. You know what she’s like.”
“’S’right,” said Nicola. “When Monica was in that crash, she imagined her dead. She always exaggerates.”
“But what if she is right?” pressed Ann.
“She won’t be,” said Lawrie. “She never is.”
“For once I agree with you, Lawrie,” said Rowan. “Forget it, Ann. Ginty needs to do a lot of growing up and sticking it out as a stable-girl will help her do that.”
Don’t be a clot, Ann thought, half expecting to hear the words from Rowan’s lips. She hoped Gin would ring again – she’d make sure next time she was the one who answered the call. Rowan had thwarted her over Edward and over Ginty’s presents – and she wasn’t going to be put off doing the right thing by Rowan’s cutting, uncaring remarks ever again.
Ann’s opportunity came on the last morning of half-term, about two hours before Rowan planned to drive them back to Kingscote. Rowan was out somewhere on the farm, Lawrie was riding Catkin – whom she’d claimed as her own in Ginty’s absence – and Nicola was where she’d spent most of half-term, round at the Merricks’. Peter had returned to Dartmouth the previous day.
When the phone rang Ann hoped it was Ginty, but feared it might be her mother saying Grandmother was dead. For Grandmother really was very ill this time; for once Aunt Molly hadn’t panicked unnecessarily.
“Gin! Where are you?”
“At Pembroke. I catch the ferry to Dublin in half an hour. Declan and Aidan are in a pub – I’m using the call box there. Oh, Ann … ”
“Gin – Gin. Listen. No, listen,” Ann insisted, as Ginty started to tell her the things she’d previously told Rowan. “Gin – are you absolutely sure it’s drugs.”
“Oh yes. You can’t get that kind of money for horse feed.”
“How much was he selling the horse feed for?” When Ginty told her, Ann gasped. How could Rowan have ignored Ginty if she’d been told this? “Gin – I’ve been thinking this through. You need proof that this is going on. If you have proof, then you can go to the police and you can leave the yard looking good. If you just run away now, with no proof, what will you do? You can’t go back to Kingscote – ”
“I can’t? Surely when Dad hears – ”
“No, Gin. Keith told the parents that you’re finished there. After last term and now running away … But don’t worry about that now. The trouble you’re in now is what matters. Do you have a camera?”
“No … ”
“Right – Gin, I want you to catch the boat to Ireland. Pretend everything’s normal and that you haven’t cottoned on to anything. And I’m coming after you.”
“Ann – you – you can’t. You go back to school today, don’t you.”
“I do, but this is important. I’ll come over to Ireland after you. I’ve got your address – I can make my way there. I’ll bring a camera with me, and what you have to do is find where Declan keeps the drugs. Then we take photos of them, and you come back with me.”
“But you said I can’t go back to Kingscote.”
“No, back here to Trennels, clot.” Ann smiled faintly, realising she sounded ever-so-slightly like Rowan there. “We’ll have proof for the police and we can expose Declan. Well, you can. You can start to rebuild your life because of this, Gin – it’s an opportunity for you.”
“What do you mean?” Ginty sounded dubious.
“Well, maybe you can sell your story to the papers. Or write something for Horse and Hound. You’re good at English, Gin – having something published would look good down the track. You can go to Colebridge Grammar, get your O-levels and A-levels there, and maybe get a job on a magazine.”
“Oh, Ann – that sounds super. Do you think … ?”
“I don’t know. But it’s going to look a lot better than running away from school then running away from your job, isn’t it? Right – I have to go, Gin. I need to get away from here before Rowan and the others get back.”
“Won’t you get into trouble with Keith over this?”
“Possibly. But I’m not you, Gin. Or even Nick. My record’s clean. Now, I’ve got your number at Declan’s. I’ll phone you when I get to Ireland. You can pretend I’m a friend phoning because I’m over there for a short holiday and want to see you before I go back. And remember, Gin – it’s really important that Declan doesn’t realise that you know what you do or that you’re planning to leave.” And Ann hung up, wishing that it was Lawrie in this plight, for Lawrie could be depended upon to act her role to perfection – and hoping that she was right about Miss Keith being lenient because of her previous good character.
Her photo in Horse and Hound. “The inside story of what really went on in Declan Broderick’s yard. By Virginia Marlow.” Ginty could see it all perfectly, and thought that yes – Ann was right. This was her chance to look good, to establish a career for herself so that her departure – expulsion? Ginty wasn’t sure whether Miss Keith’s stipulation that she couldn’t return to Kingscote counted as being expelled or not; probably not, she decided, as she had chosen to leave – from Kingscote wouldn’t matter. She’d been unsure about what to do with her life beforehand, but honestly, being an equestrian journalist would be super. She could travel all over covering the show-jumping and three-day eventing, hobnobbing with all the top riders, and even with royalty … She put a brake on her own imaginings, knowing that to see yourself successful was to doom yourself to failure, just as she had with the diving cup … She busied herself with the horses, who really didn’t seem to mind being in their box on a bobbing ferry all that much, and concentrated on how she was going to find where Declan kept the drugs.
“So did you enjoy your first trip with us, Ginty?” It was Declan, managing to tear himself away from the bar.
Ginty gave what she hoped was a nonchalant grin. “’Course I did. It was super being at a horse show.”
“Sorry it wasn’t a big one, but your time’ll come for that.”
“It’s okay, Declan, I understand that. I’d love to go to a big show, of course I would, but I know Cathy’s more experienced.”
“There’s a show in Dublin at the weekend. Another indoor one that I want to take Symphony to. I thought you’d like to come to that one with me. After that, you’ll be at the yard for a few months because the international circuit starts up again.”
“Yes, I’d like that. Thank you.”
Declan smiled at her, patted Minuet, and then wandered off again. Well, one good thing, thought Ginty. If there was a show next weekend then he’d be selling drugs at it. Which meant there’d definitely be drugs around the yard this week. She’d just have to find out where.
There were train timetables in the telephone table drawer and Ann checked them carefully. There was a train to London from Colebridge Junction within the hour. She could catch that, then a train to Wales. It was probably a convoluted journey, but she didn’t have time to do much planning before the others got back. She grabbed her already packed bag, double-checked she had her purse, then went downstairs and grabbed Rowan’s car keys from the key rack near the front door. Ann didn’t feel good about this part of it, but really she had no choice if she was to make the London train – and she could hardly ask Rowan to give her a lift.
An hour later Ann was on the London-bound train and Rowan’s car at the Colebridge Junction car park.
“Where the heck are my car keys? I know I left them on the rack.” Rowan double-checked – her keys were definitely missing.
“Try your pockets,” Nicola advised. “Or the car itself.”
“No – I know I left them on the rack,” Rowan insisted. “Nick, would you go down to the stables and hurry Lawrie along. I saw her come back with Catkin, but that was ages ago. She’s had more than enough time to groom him.”
“Will do,” Nicola said cheerfully. “Where’s Ann?”
“Oh, in her room reading, probably. I haven’t seen her since breakfast. We really need to leave soonish to get you all back to Kingscote on time.” Rowan was feeling in her coat pockets for her keys – no, nothing there, but then she’d known they weren’t there anyway. Where had they gone?
“Well, don’t hurry on our account,” said Nicola. She left the house in search of Lawrie, but returned within minutes.
“I say – Rowan.”
“What’s up, Nick?”
“I wouldn’t spend too much time looking for the car keys if I were you. I just went past the garage and your car’s missing as well.”
“You’re saying Ann has stolen the car?” said Lawrie gleefully. “Oh, Rowan. You cannot be serious,” she added, giving a perfect impression of John McEnroe.
“Well, Ann’s not here. And the car’s not here.” Rowan frowned. If it was Ann, it was so unlike her.
“But she can’t even drive,” Lawrie pointed out.
“She can, you know,” said Nicola. “She’s had some driving lessons and she’s driven the car around the farm a bit, just like Rowan did before she passed her test. And Ro drove the car before she was supposed to,” she added with a grin at Rowan.
“Yes, but that’s Rowan. This is Ann we’re talking about.”
“Lawrie’s right,” said Rowan. “It’s not like Ann at all. It must be something really important for her to … Oh, hell,” she said, thinking of Ann’s words about Ginty. “I think she must have gone after Ginty.”
“She’s driving your car illegally to go after Gin?” Lawrie danced a little jig of excitement. “Oh, Ann’s really going up in my estimation if you’re right, Rowan. No more Ms Nice Girl.”
“So what are we going to do?” asked Nicola. “Assuming Ann hasn’t just driven down to say goodbye to Karen and the kids, that is.”
Of course. That was it. Rowan relaxed. It would be just like Ann to go and say goodbye. She’d be back any moment now with the car. Of course Ann wouldn’t have gone after Ginty. How could she have thought that? Ann was just too sensible.
“So what are we going to do?” Nicola repeated, when it became apparent that Ann had not merely gone off in the car to see Karen, and the time for returning to Kingscote was well and truly upon them. A search of Ann’s room had revealed that her bag had gone, and Rowan was again convinced that, unlikely as it seemed, Ann had gone after Ginty.
“Well, you two are going back to Kingscote,” said Rowan. “I’ll take you in Ma’s car. Come on,” she said, picking up the keys.
“But what do we tell Keith?” asked Nicola, picking up her bag.
“I don’t know yet.” Rowan frowned. “Maybe say Ann’s sick or something. I don’t think it’s a good idea to say she’s run off after Ginty. Keith can ring Trennels if she’s bothered by it – she’ll only get me after all and I’ll say I don’t think Ann’s well enough to go back yet.”
“Are you going to try to find Ann yourself?” asked Lawrie, reluctantly picking up her own bag, seeing that Rowan wasn’t going to do it for her.
“How? By going off after her. Don’t be a clot,” said Rowan scornfully. “If she wants to rescue Gin, let her. But Gin really had better be right about what’s going on in that yard. Ann’s putting her school life on the line for Ginty, and if Ginty’s wrong about Declan Broderick and doesn’t need rescuing, I’ll personally scrag her.”
Chapter 6: Tangled Web
Chapter Six: Tangled Web
She really should ring Kingscote. Ann worried about that on the journey to London, while not sparing a thought for her sisters or a moment’s doubt as to whether she was right about rescuing Ginty. But Miss Keith relied upon her – she had all those youngsters in her dormitory; who would take charge of them with Ann away? Miss Keith would want to know where she was. But Ann felt anxious about that – if she told Miss Keith about Gin, then Keith might try to talk her out of it. She, like Rowan, would probably feel that Ginty’s word was not to be believed. What a mess, Ann thought. If only Gin hadn’t been so daft last term, earning herself a reputation as untrustworthy. Should she ring or not?
In the end she decided she should. She didn’t need to go into detail about the drugs, just say that Ginty needed help and she was going over to Ireland to bring her home. She’d only be away a few days, then she’d be back, doing her prefect duties and helping with the kids. It wasn’t going to be easy telling Keith, but then following God’s path was never easy. She’d find a phone booth between trains in London.
“Sick you say?” said Matron. “Well, do you know when she’ll be back?”
Nicola shook her head. “No idea. But Rowan thought it best for her not to come back yet and infect us all. I’m sure she’ll be back the minute she’s well again, though – you know Ann.”
“I’d better let Miss Keith know,” said Matron with a sigh. “She’ll need to arrange for another prefect to look after Ann’s dormitory for a few days. Thank you for letting me know, Nicola.”
Matron left Sara Crewe and Nicola and Lawrie looked at each other and giggled. “Covering for Ann,” said Nicola. “Whatever next?” And they too left their attic bedroom in search of Miranda and Tim.
When Gina French tapped Nicola’s shoulder at supper, and gave her the message “Miss Keith wants to see you now”, Nicola’s first thought was Grandmother. After all, with Ann absent, it would most likely be Nicola to whom Miss Keith decided to break the news of the death of a family member; so she wasn’t concerned as she made her way to see the headmistress.
What Keith wanted, however, had nothing to do with Grandmother. It had very much to do with Nicola having lied to Matron and Ann having telephoned Keith herself to admit she was on her way to Ireland to bring back Ginty. Nicola was left stunned by the depth of Miss Keith’s anger. “After last term’s Conduct Mark, I’d have expected you to behave in a more trustworthy fashion this term,” Keith said.
“We agreed – to tell you she was sick – we didn’t want Ann to get into trouble,” Nicola responded.
“Who’s ‘we’? Not your mother, surely?”
“Rowan, me and Lawrie. Mother’s away in France – Grandmother’s sick.”
“I see.” Miss Keith seemed to calm down a little at the mention of the sick Grandmother. “Honesty is always the best policy, Nicola. Ann herself realises that. As I said to you last term, your record here at Kingscote really does leave a lot to be desired. As a result of this latest incident, I’m going to have a word with Miss Craven and explain to her that the way things stand I don’t think you’re the best girl to represent Kingscote in school teams.”
“What an utter heel!”
“What rotten luck!”
“Why did your Ann have to ’fess up like that? Surely she could have checked with your Rowan first, find out what sort of excuse you were making for her … ”
“Doesn’t she realise this harms the school as much as it harms you, Nick?”
Nicola managed a faint grin at the last speaker, Elizabeth Collins. “Nice of you to say so, Liz, but I don’t suppose Keith cares overly about that. Oh, perhaps we should have realised that Ann is just the sort to ring Keith and tell her what she’s doing.”
“Perhaps,” Lawrie agreed. “But then Ann hasn’t exactly been herself today, has she?”
“I see you get away scot-free again, Lawrie,” said Miranda. “Even though you were in it just as much as Nick.”
“I never told Matron – ”
“No, you didn’t,” said Miranda. “I wasn’t there, but I know that. You’d have let Nick do the talking the way you always do. So it’s Nick who’s accused of lying, even though you haven’t actually done anything other than silently agree with what she said.”
“She’s right, you know,” said Tim unexpectedly. “You do get away with things, Lawrie. That’s why it’s safer to be best friends with you than with Nick.” She grinned at Nicola, who grinned back. “Well, maybe you should share in Nick’s punishment a little … you could always let Nick play for you one day. Like last year … ”
“Yes, all right,” said Lawrie happily, not minding the chance to pretend to be her twin again.
“Oh, no,” said Nicola firmly. “I’m not going down that road again. Don’t you remember the row we were all in at the end of that term? If I was caught out doing something like that again, I’d be expelled I shouldn’t wonder. I’ll just put up with what’s happened and hope Keith comes round to forgiving me sooner rather than later.”
Ann spent the night at a bed and breakfast in Pembroke; there wasn’t another ferry until early the next morning. She wondered whether Gin was back at Declan’s yet and if she should ring her to say she was on her way. Then she decided against it – better to ring from Ireland and be there to meet Gin. If Declan knew she’d phoned and got suspicious, he could whisk the drugs away so there’d be no evidence, and perhaps even sack Gin … She didn’t want to create more trouble for anyone, especially after Keith had told her that Nicola had said Ann was sick … Nick, Ann knew, had been just trying to cover for her, and she hoped Keith wouldn’t over-react; after all, Nick had been in as much trouble as Gin last term. Unfairly so, true, but she had been …
Still, thought Ann, snuggling down under the covers, in a couple of days’ time she’d be back in Kingscote, Ginty would be safely at Trennels, and everything would be all right again. Even Miss Keith would understand, when presented with the proof, that Ann had had to get Ginty away from her drug-dealing employer.
Behaving naturally around Declan and the rest was actually a lot easier than locating the drugs. Once back at the yard, Ginty had taken care of the horses, then joined Declan and his mother for one of her first-class meals. That was something she would miss about the job, thought Ginty, eating with her usual good appetite, for nothing ever put her off her meals. “That was fantastic,” she said as she finally laid her knife and fork to rest on her clean plate. “I missed your cooking while we were in England.”
Norah’s icy face cracked a little at the compliment. “I don’t know how you keep your figure,” she commented, “the amount you eat. You’re not one of those bulimics, are you?”
“Bulimics? Oh, that’s the one where people throw their food up, isn’t it,” said Ginty. “Gosh, no, why would anyone ever want to do that? I’m lucky – I’ve always been able to eat what I like and stay slim.”
“It’s all the outdoor exercise you have,” Declan said.
After such a long day and a hearty meal at the end of it, Ginty wanted nothing more than to go to bed and sleep for hours. Even her concerns about drugs couldn’t keep her awake, especially now Ann was coming to help her get away. Good for Ann, she thought warmly, as she went up to bed. Always reliable, always kind. She was definitely her favourite sister. She’d go drug-hunting the next day.
But finding the opportunity to go looking was well nigh impossible. For Ginty was kept busy with the horses – there was always something Declan needed done, and if not him, then Aidan or old Norah needed something. By midday too she was worrying again that she hadn’t heard from Ann – for Ann had run out of time to ring Gin before catching the ferry – and wondered if that meant she’d been talked out of coming for her or had changed her mind. Her first opportunity to poke around came after lunch when Declan was looking at an ad in Horse and Hound and wanted his mother’s advice on it, Cathy had gone home for lunch, and Aidan was out jumping Sonata. Ginty crept into Declan’s office area near the stables and started looking in his drawers, in the cupboards. Damn, she thought, nothing … But there was one cupboard that was locked. Ginty went back to his desk to see if she could find a key in one of the drawers.
“What are you doing?” came Declan’s voice behind her, as the office door opened – thankfully before she’d got to the other side of his desk.
“I was just looking for you,” Ginty replied, feeling herself going red. “I thought you were back in here … ”
“So what d’you want?” He eyed her suspiciously.
“Aidan’s jumping Sonata and I wondered if it was okay for me to try the course myself later – when I’ve finished my jobs – with Minuet or – ” Ginty could hear her voice trembling.
“Yes, if you want,” he said, sitting down. “As long as you’ve got through your work first, like you said. I want you to do as much riding as you can – part of my promise to you, wasn’t it? Oh, by the way,” he added as Ginty inched towards the office door, “someone who knows you called Ann just called. Says she’s over here in Ireland for a few days and would like to meet up with you if you’re free.”
Ginty smiled with relief. “Ann? Oh, that’s great. Did she leave a number.”
“No, she rang from a call box. Says she’ll ring you once she’s settled in a hotel. Does she ride?” he asked.
“Yes – yes she does.”
“Oh well, invite her over to see the horses. It’ll be nice for you to have a friend for a while.”
Ann was here! Ginty left the office for the stables, feeling much happier. Ann was on her way and would ring again later, and then she’d be out of here. But first, she reminded herself, quickly feeling deflated again, she had to find those blasted drugs.
Chapter 7: The Rescue
Chapter Seven: The Rescue
Ann was beginning to run out of cash. She’d had the train trip, the ferry crossing and finally the bus journey, and now she’d paid for one night’s bed and breakfast in the village closest to Declan’s farm. She’d bought open returns for all three forms of transport, and hoped Gin would have enough money for her own journey back to Trennels. Standing outside the bed and breakfast, waiting for Ginty to arrive, Ann jangled Rowan’s car keys that were still in her handbag. She should have kept driving, she thought, and brought the car over on the ferry. It would probably have been cheaper.
At last Ginty arrived, clad in jeans, sweater and jacket. She waved cheerily at Ann on her approach, and Ann waved cheerily back.
“I was so glad to get your call,” said Ginty.
“I know you were. So, Gin … ” Ann glanced around nervously. This village was so close to Declan’s yard that he was bound to have good friends here, for with his superlative horses he’d be very much the local hero. “Did you, you know, find what you were looking for?”
Ginty grinned. “I did. It took me a while, but I finally managed it. Anyway, Ann, Declan said you can come and take a look at the yard, ride one of the horses if you like … ”
“Gin, we’re working against time here.” Ann lowered her voice to a whisper. “Can you show me the stuff at night or should we wait till morning? I’ve booked into a bed and breakfast. I’ve checked the buses as well … nothing till early in the morning. Really early. Five-thirty.”
“Tonight, then … They go to bed reasonably early because they get up early,” Ginty murmured back. “Tell you what, I’ll show you the way to the yard and then you can come along at about nine o’clock. Declan and Aidan will probably be out having a drink and old Norah’ll be in bed – she goes to bed earlier than anybody. You can meet me just outside the yard … The dogs won’t bark as long as you’re with me. Once you’ve got the photos you can go back to the bed and breakfast and I’ll get up and meet you really early tomorrow.”
Ann, making her way to the yard by torchlight later, rather wished she had taken part in the Edward Oeschli affair. It would have given her much-needed practice in subterfuge. Gin was no old hand at this either, she thought with a sigh. Had it been Rowan rescuing Nick, say – or more likely Lawrie, because Nick was unlikely to get herself into this plight … but then, would Rowan bother herself in rescuing Lawrie any more than she had Gin? “Okay, then,” Ann murmured impatiently to herself, “if this were Giles rescuing Peter it would all go smoothly, no questions asked until the whole thing were over … ” Then she remembered that she had something to turn to that the rest of them didn’t, and when she’d prayed that everything would go well, she felt comforted. And all seemed to go as well as it could – Gin met her outside the yard and reported that Norah was indeed in bed and the two men at the pub; then, after throwing biscuits to the excited and delighted dogs, took Ann to a storeroom where all the horse feed was kept.
“I came in for feed earlier and it didn’t look as if there were any drugs here,” she said, heaving some big bags out of the way and opening one of those behind. “But here, look – all ready for the weekend, when he’s going to a show.”
Ann took photos, hoping the flashes wouldn’t draw anyone’s attention – but then the crack of light under the storeroom door would anyway, if Norah woke up or the men came back.
Declan and Aidan were enjoying their customary after-work pints of Guinness at O’Donnell’s and talking about their chances at the following weekend’s show when they were interrupted by one of the other pub regulars. “How are you, Declan? Aidan?”
“Kate,” said Declan with a smile, for the woman was the mother of one of his old schoolfriends and he remained fond of her as she did of him. “How are you? How’s business? You’ll be looking forward to summer coming along soon.”
“I will,” Kate agreed. “But I’ve got a steady trade at the moment; can’t complain at all. In fact, I’ve a young girl staying with me overnight who looks a lot like that stable girl you’ve got.”
“Cathy? Poor kid,” said Declan with a grin.
“No, not Cathy. The other one. The blonde bombshell.”
“Oh, yes?” grinned Aidan. “Ginty did mention she had a friend over in Ireland, but she didn’t say her friend was as beautiful as she is.”
“Hands off,” said Declan.
“Why?” said Aidan. “You’ve had weeks to make a move on her.” He winked at Declan.
“Well, she looks more like her sister than her friend,” mused Kate. “Ginty is more beautiful, I’d say – but yes, definitely they look like sisters. Anyway, time to get my pint,” she said, edging away.
“Odd that,” reflected Declan.
“What is?” asked Aidan, finishing his pint.
“Ginty definitely said friend.”
“And Kate says they look like sisters.”
“Well, Ginty’d know if it was her sister or not, wouldn’t she? And anyway, how many blondes do you see around here? If this other girl’s got hair like Ginty’s then she probably would look like her sister to Kate … ”
“I spoke to her and they did sound a bit alike now I think about it … ”
“She’s posh, Ginty, isn’t she? And her friends would be too. They’d all sound the same, talking with a plum … Now,” added Aidan, flourishing his empty glass, “are we having another or are we going to talk about Ginty all night?”
She’d need to be out of the house by four-thirty to be ready to meet Ann and catch the bus. Ginty packed her bag and shoved it under her bed. By the time Norah and Declan realised she wasn’t there, they’d be on the bus. Ginty lay in the darkness going over and over everything in her mind. She just hoped they wouldn’t work out where she was and come after her … though Ann had been more worried that they’d get rid of the drugs before the police could get here after their tip-off.
She was just dozing off when the noise of her bedroom door creaking open startled her.
“Ginty?” came Declan’s voice, fuzzy with drink, and Ginty froze. “Ginty, are you awake?”
Ginty swallowed. What did he want? Then she remembered that if he tried anything on she only had to scream and old Norah would do her nut if she thought her precious son was getting too friendly with a stable girl again. “I am now,” she whispered.
“Ginty – this girl who’s come to see you. Is she just a friend?”
What? What the hell did he mean by that? “Yes,” Ginty said firmly. “Why?”
“It’s just the owner of the bed and breakfast she’s staying at says she looks more like your sister.”
Oh, God, Ginty thought. He knew the bed and breakfast owner? That meant he’d soon know that they’d gone off together. Then, suddenly, a thought came into her mind and she felt it was so brilliant that it must be Fate that she use it. “All right,” she said, “it is my sister. She’s got a boyfriend who’s in the army and he’s been posted to Belfast. She’s planning to meet him up at the border. My parents don’t know, so I just said friend in case Ma phoned – I was worried you or your mother might give it away if you said my sister was here.”
“Oh, right,” he said. “Bad luck to be posted there.”
“Isn’t it?” she said. She wished he’d go away and she was also keeping her fingers crossed that he wouldn’t switch on the light and settle in for a conversation and see she’d packed up her things. “I really need to get some sleep, Declan,” she said.
“Sure,” he said. “Good night, Ginty.”
“Good night,” she said. He shut the door behind him, and Ginty relaxed. But all the same, she found it hard to sleep so worried was she that he’d return and ask more questions.
They caught the bus to Wexford and, as agreed, said nothing about the drugs or Declan or the yard on the journey. Instead Ann brought Ginty up to date with all the gossip. Most devastating for Ginty was the news that Nicola had spent most of her half-term holiday round at Patrick’s. Ann, realising Ginty was hurt, filled her in on the Edward Oeschli Christmas drama, but that didn’t help distract her, especially since Nicola and Patrick had worked together on one of the legs of the ‘rescue’.
At Wexford, there was, as they’d feared, no sign of Declan, and Ann made straight for the police station, where she and Ginty gave statements to the police and handed over the roll of film. When the police officers went off with the film, Ginty said nervously, “You don’t think they’ll cover for Declan and destroy the film, do you?”
“Let them,” said Ann. “I’ve got a second film, hidden. We can show it to the English police if the garda aren’t interested.”
The garda were interested, however. And it was the news of the arrest of Declan Broderick on television that alerted Rowan at Trennels to the fact that Ann and Ginty would be on their way home now. And so it was that she was there to meet them at Colebridge Junction.
“How did you know which train we’d be on?” asked Ann.
“I didn’t,” Rowan returned grimly. “Not many go through here so I thought I’d meet every one until you turned up. I’d like my car keys, please.”
Ann handed them over without apology and Rowan drove them back in silence. When she turned into Trennels, she said, “Oh, by the way. Heroines of the hour you might be, but you need to know that Ma’s got other things on her mind right now. Grandmother died last night.”
Ann returned to Kingscote the next day, under her mother’s orders. Her mother phoned from Paris saying Declan’s arrest had made the pages of L’Equipe, and that she was proud of Ann for believing Ginty and going to Ireland to help expose him. But Ann, she said, needed to get back to Kingscote and sort things out with Miss Keith. So Ann returned, and was instantly summoned to Miss Keith’s office. There, the headmistress told her that given she was a sixth-former she was too old for most penalties, but that she could consider her chances of being next year’s head girl zero.
And Ann, to her own surprise, found that she really didn’t care very much.
“We saw your photos in the papers today,” said Nicola, seeking Ann out at supper. “You and Gin.”
“Yes, I was right, wasn’t I?” said Ann.
“About Gin? Yes you were. I wish we’d come with you,” said Nicola, thinking the adventure sounded fabulous fun, and more to the point it was one that both Ann and Gin could actually talk about …
“What’s happening to Gin?” asked Lawrie, coming across to join her sisters, some cheese and crackers still in her hand.
“She’s going to Colebridge Grammar to do her Levels, then will do A Levels in their sixth form. Patrick’ll be there too,” Ann added, glancing across at Nicola. “He didn’t take to his new school, and Rowan said Anthony Merrick told her they’ve agreed he can do A Levels at Colebridge Grammar.”
“Gosh,” said Lawrie, and Nicola could feel both of them looking at her. Bother Gin, Nicola thought crossly. And bother Patrick too for not liking Broomhill.
“Rowan thinks he prefers you,” said Ann, looking directly at Nicola, who blushed deeply, giving away her feelings for Patrick to both her sisters. “But then,” said Ann, “Rowan’s been wrong about a lot of things, hasn’t she?”
When Ann had finished telling them about the arrangements for Grandmother’s cremation and more about Declan and the drugs – “Gin’s sold a story to Horse and Hound about what really went on at the yard – that was my idea,” she said proudly – Nicola excused herself to Lawrie, who wanted to go and tell Tim about it all straightaway, and went up to Sara Crewe. Ann had been right, she thought, and Rowan wrong. And if Rowan had been wrong about Ginty and what was happening at Declan’s yard, then she could have been wrong about other things …
Nicola took her stationery from her bedside drawer and settled down to write a letter to Esther.