It was perhaps as well that our table became available. Over dinner we were obliged to discuss – I was about to say, less contentious subjects, but for me, in his company, most things were contentious. I don’t recall what we ate, only that there were several courses, and by the end of it my stomach was too heavy to suffer from any kind of nervous rebellion. I drank more than usual too, which for once was more steadying than otherwise. I was able to talk about my life with equanimity, relating the story of how I’d met my husband, the decade of challenge and excitement I’d enjoyed while working with him in the City.
When I met him, Henry Lindsey had been a childless widower, and, much to his regret, we had not been blessed with children. But that, as I explained to my companion, did not grieve me overmuch; I preferred the challenge of charter parties to children’s parties, and lucrative cargoes to lace-trimmed cradles.
It was a practised little speech, but, thinking it frank and original, he was both impressed and amused. There was a certain amount of truth in what I said so glibly, and although the unvarnished facts were much less palatable, this was not the place to divulge them. For the time being it was enough for him to know that I was childless. But that was another reason for envying his wife: whatever her faults, at least she had his son.
The shortage of tables for dining meant that we were encouraged to take our coffee elsewhere. At last we found a pair of wing-back chairs in a corner of the reading room, and a young waiter keen to earn his tips. He kept up the fire and made sure we were well supplied with coffee and spirits, especially after midnight, when many people had retired to their rooms. I could have done the same, but the coincidence of our meeting gripped me as much as it did my companion. Having once broached Pandora’s Box, we found it impossible to shut the lid. To my surprise as much as my dismay I realised that the details of our affair had not been forgotten by him, and that he could recall incidents and events just as well as I.
The intimacy of those hours after midnight brought everything back. Shadows and secrecy, whispered confessions, fears and passions so powerful they seemed still alive. The memories were unsettling and the pain of them made me angry; although in some respects I think my anger was an advantage, since it took the edge off caution and brought out levels of honesty that might have shocked anyone else. Perhaps they shocked him too, but I’d kept a seal on my tongue for long enough. It did me good to say what I thought, to allow myself free rein with never a care for the consequences.
I may have railed against fate, sitting there in my chair by the fire, but my companion had the grace not to remind me that others would have given much to be in my shoes. Mostly I was aware of that, and in bad moments had only to think of my cousin Bella to be profoundly thankful; but just then that was no consolation. Bella was dead, which was another reason to be angry. If the Fates had to have their sacrifice, I demanded of the man by my side, why did it have to be Bella? Why couldn’t it have been her twin, Isa, lying there in her shroud?
Isa, dead, would have been a matter for rejoicing. Difficult or not, I knew I would have returned to Whitby under far worse circumstances than this, just for the pleasure of dancing on her grave.
Those sentiments, expressed so vehemently, did surprise him. He’d never forgotten the consequences of my friendship with Bella; what he did not know was how Isa came to be involved. To anyone else those details may not have been important, but he was part of that time, and suddenly I was as eager to tell him as he was to listen. I’d shouldered the burden alone for more years than I cared to recall, and wanted rid of it. Let him feel the weight, I thought; let him wince and stagger while he studied the options. And let him try to decide what should be done to redress the balance.
This is the final excerpt from Moon Rising. The full ebook will be available on 31st October 2015