Anne Perry is the bestselling author of two Victorian detective series that are practically mandatory reading for any aficionado of the historical mystery. Her Thomas Pitt series and the William and Hester Monk series, although both set in the same nineteenth-century London, take very different looks at English society. She is also writing another acclaimed historical series set during the French Revolution, and consisting of the books A Dish Taken Cold and The One Thing More. She has also started another series set during World War I, which launched with the acclaimed novel No Graves As Yet. Besides this, she has also written a fantasy duology, Tathea and Come Armageddon. But no matter what genre she writes in, her deft, detailed research, multifaceted characters, and twisting plots have garnered her fans around the world. In her spare time she lectures on writing in such places as the cruise ship the Queen Elizabeth II. Recent books include Angels in Gloom and Dark Assassin.
Bridget folded the last pair of trousers and put them into the case. She was looking forward to the holiday so much there was a little flutter of excitement in her stomach. It would not be the west coast she loved with its clean wind off the Atlantic and the great waves pounding in, because that would mean crossing the border into Eire, and they could not do that. But the north coast held its own beauty, and it would be away from Belfast, from Connor’s responsibilities to the church, and most of all to the political party. There was always something he had to do, a quarrel to arbitrate, someone’s bereavement to ease, a weakness to strengthen, a decision to make, and then argue and persuade.
It had been like that as long as she had known him, as it had been for his father. But then the Irish Troubles were over three hundred years old, in one form or another. The courage with which you fought for your beliefs defined who you were.
There was room for more in the suitcase. She looked around to see what else to put in just as Liam came to the door. He was sixteen, tall and lean like Connor, not yet filled out with muscle, and very conscious of it.
“Are you packed yet?” she asked.
“You don’t need that much, Mum,” he said dismissively. “We’re only going for a week, and you can wash things, you know! Why are we going anyway? There’s nothing to do!”
“That’s exactly what I want to go for,” she answered with a smile. “Your father needs to do nothing.”
“He’ll hate it!” Liam responded. “He’ll be fretting all the time in case he’s missing something, and when he comes home he’ll only have to work twice as hard to put right whatever they’ve fouled up.”
“Has it ever occurred to you,” she said patiently, “that nothing will go wrong, and we’ll have a good time? Don’t you think perhaps it would be nice to be together, with no one else to think about, no one demanding anything, just for a few days?”
Liam rolled his eyes. “No,” he said candidly. “It’ll bore me out of my mind, and Dad too. He’ll end up half the time on the phone anyway.”
“There’s no phone there,” she told him. “It’s a beach house.”
“The mobile!” he said impatiently, his voice touched with contempt. “I’m going to see Michael.”
“We’re leaving in a couple of hours!” she called after him as he disappeared, and she heard his footsteps light and rapid along the passage, and then the back door slammed.
Connor came into the room. “What are you taking?” he asked, looking at the case. “What have you got all those trousers for? Haven’t you packed any skirts? You can’t wear those all the time.”
She could, and she intended to. No one would see them. For once appearance would not matter. There would be no one there to criticize or consider it was not the right example for the wife of a minister and leader of the Protestant cause. Anyway, what she wore had nothing to do with the freedom of faith he had fought for since he was Liam’s age, costing him the lightheartedness and the all too brief irresponsibility of his youth.
But was it worth arguing now, on the brink of this rare time together? It would sour it from the outset, make him feel thwarted, as if she were deliberately challenging him. It always did. And she wanted this week for them to have time away from anxiety and the constant pressure and threat that he faced every day at home, or in London.
Wordlessly she took the trousers out, all but one pair, and replaced them with skirts.
He did not say anything, but she saw the satisfaction in his face. He looked tired. There was a denser network of fine lines around his eyes and he was greyer at the temples than she had realized. A tiny muscle ticked intermittently in his jaw. Although he had complained about it, denied it, he needed this holiday even more than she did. He needed days without duty, without decisions, nights of sleep without interruption from the telephone, a chance to talk without weighing every word in case it were misjudged, or misquoted. She felt the little flutter of pleasure again, and smiled at him.
He did not notice. He left, closing the door behind him.
She was crushed, even as she knew it was stupid. He had far too much else on his mind to bother with emotional trivialities. He had every right to expect that she should take such things for granted. In the twenty-four years of their marriage he had never let her down. He never let anyone down! No matter what it cost, he always kept his word. The whole of Northern Ireland knew that, Catholic and Protestant. The promise of Connor O’Malley could be trusted, it was rock solid, as immutable as the promise of God—and as hard.
She heard the words in her mind with horror. How could she even think such a thing, let alone allow it to come into her head. He was engaged in a war of the spirit, there was no room for half measures, for yielding to the seduction of compromise. And he used the right words, she could feel her own temptation to water down the chastenings, in order to achieve a little peace, to yield on truth just for respite from the constant battle. She was heart and soul weary of it. She hungered for laughter, friendship, the ordinary things of daily life, without the pressure of outward righteousness and inner anger all the time.
And he would see that as weakness, even betrayal. Right cannot ever compromise with wrong. It is the price of leadership that there can be no self-indulgence. How often had he said that, and lived up to it?
She looked at the trousers she had taken out of the case. They were comfortable, and she could wear flat, easy shoes with them. This was supposed to be a holiday. She put two pairs of them back in again, at the bottom. She would do the unpacking anyway, and he would never know.
It was not difficult to pack for him: pyjamas, underwear, socks, plenty of shirts so he would always have a clean one, sweaters, lighter coloured casual trousers, toiletries. He would bring his own books and papers; that was an area she was not expected to touch.
Three middle-sized cases and Connor’s briefcase would fit into the trunk of the car easily. The bodyguards, Billy and Ian, would come separately, following in another car, and they were not her responsibility. In fact she would try to imagine they were not there. They were necessary, of course, as they always were. Connor was a target for the I.R.A., although as far as she knew they had never physically attacked him. It would be a politically stupid thing to do; it would be the one thing that would unite all the disparate Protestant factions in one solid outrage.
And for the verbal attacks, he gave as good as he received, or better. He had the gift of words, the knowledge, and above all the passion so that his sermons, and his political speeches, almost interchangeable, erupted like lava to scorch those who were against his vision of Protestant survival and freedom. Sometimes it was directed just as fiercely at those on his own side who wavered, or in his view committed the greatest sin of all, betrayal. He despised a coward even more than he hated an open enemy.
The doorbell rang, and then, before anyone had had time to answer it, she heard the door open, and then Roisin’s voice call out. “Hello, Mum! Where are you?”
“Bedroom!” Bridget answered. “Just finishing the packing. Like a cup of tea?”
“I’ll make it,” Roisin answered, arriving in the doorway. She was twenty-three, slim, with soft, brown hair like Bridget’s, only darker, no honey fair streaks. She had been married just over a year and still had that glow of surprise and happiness about her. “You all ready?” she asked.
Bridget heard a slight edge to her voice, a tension she was trying to conceal. Please heaven it was not a difference with Eamonn. They were sufficiently in love it would all iron out, but Bridget did not want to go away for a week leaving Roisin emotionally raw. She was too vulnerable, and Eamonn was like Connor, passionate about his beliefs, committed to them, and expecting the same kind of commitment from those he loved, unaware of how little of himself he gave to his family, forgetting to put into word or touch what he expected them to know. “What is it?” she said aloud.
“I’ve got to speak to Dad,” Roisin answered. “That’s what I came for, really.”
Bridget opened her eyes wide.
Roisin took a quick breath. “Sorry, Mum,” she apologized. “I came to wish you a good holiday too. Heaven knows, you need it. But I could have done that over the phone.”
Bridget looked at her more closely. She was a little flushed and her hands were stiff at her sides. “Are you alright?” she said with a pinch of anxiety. She almost asked her if she were pregnant, there was something about her which suggested it, but it would be intrusive. If it were so, Roisin would tell her when she was ready.
“Yes, of course I am!” Roisin said quickly. “Where’s Dad?”
“Is it political?” It was a conclusion more than a question. She saw the shadow deepen in Roisin’s eyes, and her right hand clench. “Couldn’t it wait until we get back? Please!”
Roisin’s face was indefinably tighter, more closed. “Eamonn asked me to come over,” she answered. “Some things don’t wait, Mum. I’ll put the kettle on. He’s not out, is he?”
“No …” Before she could add anything else, Roisin twisted around and was gone. Bridget looked around, checking the room for the last time. She always forgot something, but it was usually a trivial thing she could do without. And it was not as if they were going abroad. The house on the shore was lonely, that was its greatest charm, but the nearest village was a couple of miles away, and they would have the car. Even though they took bread and potatoes and a few tins, they would still need to go for food every so often.
She went through to the kitchen and found Roisin making the tea, and Connor standing staring out of the window into the back garden. Bridget would like to have escaped the conflict, but she knew there was no point. She would hear what had been said sooner or later. If they agreed it would be a cause for celebration, and she would join in. If they didn’t, it would be between them like a coldness in the house, a block of ice sitting in the kitchen to be walked around.
Roisin turned with the teapot in her hand. “Dad?”
He remained where he was, his back to the room.
She poured three cups. “Dad, Eamonn’s been talking with some of the moderates about a new initiative in education …” She stopped as she saw his shoulders stiffen. “At least listen to them!” Her voice was tight and urgent, a kind of desperation lifting it a pitch higher. “Don’t refuse without hearing what it is!”
He swung around at last. His face was bleak, almost grey in the hard light. He sounded weary and bitter. “I’ve heard all I need to about Catholic schools and their methods, Rosie. Wasn’t it the Jesuits who said ‘Give me a child until he’s seven, and I’ll give you the man’? It’s Popish superstition founded on fear. You’ll never get rid of it out of the mind. It’s a poison for life.”
She swallowed. “They think the same about us!” she argued. “They aren’t going to give in on teaching their children as they want, they can’t afford to, or they won’t carry their own people!”
“Neither am I,” he replied, nothing in his face yielding, his jaw set, his blue eyes cold.
Bridget ached to interrupt, but she knew better. He found her ideas woolly and unrealistic, a recipe for evasion, an inch by inch surrender without the open honesty of battle. He had said so often enough. She had never stood her ground, never found the words or the courage to argue back. Somebody had to compromise or there would never be peace. She was tired of the cost of anger, not only the destruction of lives, the injury and the bereavement, but the loss of daily sanity, laughter and the chance to build with the hope of something lasting, the freedom from having to judge and condemn.
Roisin was still trying. “But Dad, if we gave a little on the things that don’t matter, then we could stick on the things that do, and at least we would have started! We would look reasonable, maybe win over some of the middle parties.”
“To what?” he asked.
“To join us, of course!” She spoke as if the answer were obvious.
“For how long?” There was challenge in his voice, and something close to anger.
She looked puzzled.
“Rosie, we’re different parties because we have different principles,” he said wearily. “The door has always been open for them to join us, if they will. I am not adulterating my beliefs to please the crowd or to win favours of anyone. I won’t do it because it’s wrong, but it’s also foolish. As soon as they’ve got one concession, they’ll want another, and another, until there’s nothing left of what we’ve fought for, and died for all these years. Each time we give in, it’ll be harder to stand the next time, until we’ve lost all credibility, and our own can’t trust us any more. You’re one or another. There’s no half way. If Eamonn doesn’t know that now, he’ll learn it bitterly.”
She would not retreat. She was beaten on logic, but not on will. “But Dad, if no one ever moves on anything, we’ll go on fighting each other forever. My children will live and die for exactly the same things your parents did, and we’re doing now! We’ve got to live together someday. Why not now?”
Connor’s face softened. He had more patience with her than he did with Bridget. He picked up his cup in both hands, as if he were cold and warming himself on it. “Rosie, I can’t afford to,” he said quietly. “I’ve made promises I have to keep. If I don’t, I have no right to ask for their trust. It’s my job to bind them together, give them courage and hope, but I can only lead where they are willing to follow. Too far in front, and I’ll lose them. Then I’ll have accomplished nothing. They’ll feel betrayed and choose a new leader, more extreme, and less likely to yield to anything than I am.”
“But Dad, we’ve got to yield over something!” she persisted, her voice strained, her body awkward as she leaned across the table. “If you can’t in education, then what about industry, or taxes, or censorship? There’s got to be somewhere we can meet, or everything’s just pointless, and we’re all playing a charade that’s going to go on and on forever, all our lives! All of us caught in a madman’s parade, as if we hadn’t the brains or the guts to see it and get out. It isn’t even honest! We pretend we want peace, but we don’t! We just want our own way!”
Bridget heard the hysteria in her voice, and at that moment she was sure Roisin was pregnant. She had a desperation to protect the future that was primal, higher and deeper than reason. Perhaps it was the one real hope? She stepped forward, intervening in her own instinct to shield.
“They’re just people with a different faith and political aim,” she said to Connor. “There must be a point where we can meet. They’ve moderated a lot in the last twenty years. They don’t insist on Papal censorship of books any more …”
Connor looked at her in amazement, his eyebrows rising sharply. “Oh! And you call that moderation, do you? We should be grateful to be allowed to choose for ourselves what we can read, which works of philosophy and literature we can buy and which we can’t, instead of being dictated to by the Pope of Rome?”
“Oh, come on, Dad!” Roisin waved her hand sharply. “It’s not like it used to be …”
“We are not living under Roman Catholic laws, Roisin, not on marriage and divorce, not on birth control or abortion, not on what we can and cannot think!” His voice was grating hard, and he too leaned forward as if some physical force impelled him. “We are part of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and that is the guarantee of our freedom to have laws that are the will of the people, not of the Roman Catholic Church. And I will die before I will give away one single right to that.” His fist was clenched on the table top. “I don’t move from here!”
Roisin looked pale and tired, her eyes stunned with defeat. When she spoke it was quietly. “Dad, not everyone in the party is behind you, you know. There are many who want at least to listen to the other side and make a show of being reasonable, even if at the end we don’t change anything that matters.” She half reached towards him, hesitated, then her hand fell away. “It’s dangerous to appear as if we won’t move at all.” She was not looking at him, as if she dared not, in case she did not complete what she felt compelled to say. “People get impatient. We’re tired of killing and dying, of seeing it going on and on without getting any better. If we’re ever to heal it, we’ve got to begin somewhere.”
There was sadness in Connor’s face, Bridget could see it and pity wrenched inside her, because she knew what he was going to say. Maybe once there had been a choice, but it had gone long ago.
“We don’t begin by surrendering our sovereignty, Roisin,” he said. “I’ve tried all my life to deal with them. If we give an inch they’ll take the next, and the next, until we have nothing left. They don’t want accommodation, they want victory.” He let his breath out in a sigh. “Sometimes I’m not even sure they want peace. Who do they hate, if not us? And who can they blame every time something goes wrong? No.” He shook his head. “This is where we stand. Don’t try to push me again, and tell Eamonn to do his own errands, not send you.” He reached across as if to touch her hair, but she backed away, and Bridget saw the tears in her eyes.
“I’m frightened for you,” Roisin said softly.
He straightened up, away from her. Her movement had hurt, and that surprised him.
“If you stand for your beliefs, there’ll always be people who fight you,” he answered, his lips tight, his eyes bitter. “Some of them violently.”
Bridget knew he was thinking of the bombing nearly ten years ago in which his mentor had lost both his legs, and his four grandchildren with him had been killed. Something in Connor had changed then, the pain of it had withered compassion in him.
“Would you rather I were a coward?” he demanded, looking at Roisin. “There are different kinds of deaths,” he went on. “I’ll face mine forwards, trusting in God that He will protect me as long as I am in His service.” Emotion twisted his face, startlingly naked for an instant. “Do you admire a man who bends with the wind because it might cost him to stand straight, Rosie? Is that what I’ve taught you?”
She shook her head, the tears spilling over. She leaned forward very quickly and brushed his cheek with her lips, but was gone past him before he could reach out his arm to hold her, and respond. She looked at Bridget for an instant, trying to smile. Her voice trembled too much to say more than a word of good-bye, and she hurried out. They heard her feet down the hall, and the front door slammed.
“It’s Eamonn,” Connor said grimly, avoiding meeting her eyes.
“I know,” she agreed. She wanted to excuse Roisin and make him understand the fear she felt, the fierce driving need to protect the child Bridget was more than ever sure she was carrying. And she wanted to ease the hurt in Connor because he was being questioned and doubted by the daughter he loved, even if she had no idea how much, and he did not know how to tell her, or why she needed to know.
“He wants to impress her,” she tried to explain. “You’re the leader of Protestantism in Ireland, and he’s in love with your daughter. He needs her to see him as another strong man, like you, a leader not a follower. He admires you intensely, but he can’t afford to stand in your shadow—not with her.”
Connor blinked and rubbed his hand wearily across his face, but at last he looked at her, surprise and a fleeting gratitude in his eyes.
Bridget smiled. “It’s happened as long as young men have courted great men’s daughters, and I expect it always will. It’s hard to fall in love with a man who’s in your own father’s mould, just younger and weaker. He has to succeed for himself. Can’t you see that?” She had felt that about Connor twenty-five years ago. She had seen the strength inside him, the fire to succeed. His unbreakable will had been the most exciting thing she could imagine. She had dreamed of working beside him, of sharing defeat and victory, proud just to be part of what he did. She could understand Roisin so well it was as if it were herself all over again.
Bridget had been lovely then, as Roisin was now. She had had the passion and the grace, and perhaps a little more laughter? But the cause had grown grimmer and more violent since then, and hope a little greyer. Or perhaps she had only seen more of the price of it, been to more funerals, and sat silently with more widows.
Connor stiffened. The moment was past. He looked at his watch. “It’s nearly time we were going. Be ready in twenty minutes. Where’s Liam?” He expected her to know, even though she had been here in the kitchen with him. The requirement for an answer was in his voice.
“He’s gone to see Michael. He knows when to be back,” she answered. She did not want an argument just as they were leaving, and they would have to sit together in the car all the way to the coast, verbally tiptoeing around each other. Liam would side with his father, hungry for his approval whatever the cost. She had seen his unconscious imitating of Connor, then catching himself, and deliberately doing differently, not even realizing it when he began to copy again. He was always watching, weighing, caught between admiration and judgment. He wanted to be unique and independent, and he needed to be accepted.
Connor walked past her to the door. “He’d better be here in ten minutes,” he warned.
The journey to the coast was better than she had feared. The bodyguards followed behind so discreetly that most of the time she was not even aware of them. Usually she did not even know their names, only if she looked at them carefully did she notice the tension, the careful eyes, and perhaps the slight bulge of a weapon beneath their clothes if they turned a particular way, or the wind whipped a jacket hard against the outline of a body. She wondered sometimes what kind of men they were, idealists or mercenaries? Did they have wives at home, and children, mortgages, a dog? Or was this who they were all the time? They drove in the car behind, a faintly comforting presence in the rearview mirror.
She still wished they were all going west to the wildness of the Atlantic coast with its dark hills, heather-purpled in places, bogdeep, wind-scoured. It was a vast, clean land, always man’s master, never his servant. But even this gentler coast would be good. They would have time together to be at ease, to talk of things that mattered only to them, and rediscover the small sanities of ordinary life. Perhaps they would even recapture some of the laughter and the tenderness they had had before. Surely neither of them had changed too much for that?
She spoke little, content to listen to Liam and Connor talk about football, what they thought would happen in the new season, or the possibilities of getting any really good fishing in the week, where the best streams were, the best walks, the views that were worth the climb, and the secret places only the skilled and familiar could find.
She smiled at the thought of the two of them together doing things at which they were equally skilled, no leader, no follower. She was prepared to stand back and let that happen, without thinking of herself, or allowing herself to miss Connor because he gave his time, and his pleasure in it, to someone else. She was glad he had the chance to let go of the responsibility, not have to speak to anyone from the Party, and above all not to have to listen to their bickering and anger. She would be happy to walk alone along the beach and listen to the sound of the water, and let its timelessness wrap itself around her and heal the little scratches of misunderstanding that bled and ached at home.
They reached the village a little after five. The sun was still above the hills and only beginning to soften the air with gold. They stopped to buy fresh milk, eggs, an apple pie and a barbecued chicken to add to what they had brought, then drove on around the curve of the bay to the farther headland. Even Connor seemed to be excited when they pulled up at the cottage standing alone in a sheltered curve, almost on the edge of the sand. He looked around at the hills where they could climb, then across at the windows of the village where the first lights were beginning to flicker on, the dark line of the jetty cutting the golden water and the tender arch of the fading sky above. He said nothing, but Bridget saw his body relax and some of the tension iron out of his face, and she found herself smiling.
They unpacked the car, the guards, Billy and Ian, helping, Billy slender and energetic, his dark hair growing in a cowlick over his forehead, Ian fair-haired with freckles and strong, clever hands. It was he who got the gas boiler going, and unjammed the second bedroom window.
When everything was put away they excused themselves. “We’ll go up the rise a little,” Billy said, gesturing roughly behind him. “Set up our tent. It’s camouflaged pretty well, and in the heather up there it’ll be all but invisible.”
“But don’t worry, sir,” Ian added. “One of us will be awake and with our eyes on you all the time.” He gave a slight laugh. “Not that I don’t feel a fraud, taking money to sit here in the sun for a week. Have a nice holiday, Mr. O’Malley. If ever a man deserved it, you do.” He glanced at Bridget, smiling a little shyly. “And you, ma’am.”
She thanked them and watched the two of them get back into their car and drive away up the hill until they disappeared into what seemed to be a hollow where the track ended, and she turned back and went inside. The air was growing cool and she realized how happy she was.
They ate cold chicken and salad, and apple pie. Liam went to his room with a book.
Bridget looked across at Connor. It was twilight now and the lamp on the table cast his face into shadows, emphasising the hollows under his cheeks and the lines around his mouth.
“Would you like to go for a walk along the beach?” she invited.
He looked up as if the question had intruded on his thoughts.
“Please?” she added.
“I’m tired, Bridget,” he said, his voice flat. “I don’t feel like talking, especially if you’re going to try explaining Roisin to me. You don’t need to. I understand perfectly well that she’s young, thinking of having children, and she wants peace. Just leave it alone.”
“I wasn’t going to talk!” she said angrily. “About Roisin, or anything else. I just wanted to be outside.” She added in her own mind that there used to be a time when they could have talked about anything, just for the pleasure of sharing ideas, feelings, or being together, but it sounded sentimental, and it exposed her hurt too clearly. And companionship was of no value once you had had to ask for it.
She went out of the door onto the hard earth, and then a dozen yards across it, past the washing line and through the sea grass to where the sand was softer, cool and slithering away under her feet. The evening was calm, the wave edge barely turning over, pale under the starlight. She walked without thinking, and trying to do it without even dreaming. By the time she came back her face and hands were cold, but there was a warmth inside her.
In the morning Connor seemed to be more relaxed. He was even enthusiastic about going fishing with Liam, and hummed to himself as he sorted out and chose his tackle, instructing Liam what he should take. Liam looked over his shoulder at Bridget and raised his eyebrows, but he accepted the advice goodnaturedly, secretly pleased. They took sandwiches, cold pie and bottles of water, and she watched them climb up the slope side by side, talking companionably, until they disappeared over the crest.
It was a long day without them, but she was happy knowing how much it would please Liam. Connor had sacrificed much for the cause, and perhaps one of the most costly was time with his son. He had never spoken of it, but she had seen the regret in his face, the tightening of his muscles when he had to explain why he could not be at a school prize-giving, or a football match, or why he could not simply talk, instead of working. At times it had seemed that everyone else mattered more to him than his own family, even though she knew it was not true.
At midday Ian came down to make sure everything was still working in the house, and she did not need anything. Billy had followed Connor and Liam, at a discreet distance, of course.
“It’s fine, thank you,” she told Ian.
He leaned against the door in the sun, and she realized with surprise that he was probably no more than thirty-two or -three.
“Would you like lunch?” she offered impulsively. “There’s still some apple pie—enough for one, and I don’t want it.”
He smiled. “I’d love it, Mrs. O’Malley, but I can’t come inside for more than a moment or two. Can’t see the road.”
“Then I’ll put the pie on a plate, and you take it,” she said, going inside to fetch it before he could refuse.
He accepted it with evident pleasure, thanking her and striding away up the hill again, waving for a moment before he disappeared.
Connor and Liam came back, faces flushed, delighted with their success. For the first time in months Bridget heard him laugh.
“We’ve caught more than enough for us,” he said triumphantly. “Do you want to go and ask Ian and Billy if they’d like a couple?” He turned to Bridget. “You’ll cook them, won’t you?”
“Of course,” she agreed, liking the thought, and beginning immediately as Liam went out of the back door. She had them ready for the pan when he came back again, walking straight past her to the sitting room. “Dad, I can’t find them!”
“Go back and look properly!” Connor said with impatience. “And hurry up! Ours’ll be ready to eat in a few minutes.”
“I have looked,” Liam insisted. “And I called out.”
“Then look again,” Connor ordered. “They can’t be far. At least one of them is on duty. The other one could have taken the car for something. Maybe gone to the pub to fetch a crate of Guinness.”
“The car’s there,” Liam told him.
Connor put his newspaper down. Bridget heard the rustle of it. “Do I have to go and look myself?” he demanded.
“I’ll go!” Liam was defensive, the friendship and the equality of the afternoon were gone. He marched past Bridget without looking at her, angry that she should have seen it shatter, and went outside into the darkness.
She took the frying pan off the heat.
It was another ten minutes before Liam came back alone. “They’re not there,” he said again, this time his voice was sharp, edged with fear.
Connor slammed the newspaper down and came out of the sitting room, his face tight and hard, the muscle jumping in his jaw. He walked past both of them and went outside. They heard him shouting, the wind carrying his voice, fading as he went up the hill.
Liam said nothing. He stood awkwardly in the kitchen, looking suddenly vulnerable, and acutely aware of it. He was waiting for Connor to return, successful where he had failed. He dreaded looking stupid in his father’s eyes, far more than anything Bridget might think of him.
But when Connor came in quarter of an hour later his face was white and his body rigid, shoulders stiff. “They’re not there,” he said angrily. “Damn it, they must have walked over to the pub in the village.” His mouth closed in a thin line and there was an icy rage in his eyes.
For the first time Bridget was touched with real fear, not of his temper but of something new, and far uglier. “They won’t be far,” she said aloud, and the moment the words were out of her mouth she realized how pointless they were.
He spun round on her. “They’re out of earshot!” he said between his teeth. “If you screamed now, who’d hear you? For God’s sake, Bridget, use your brains! They’re supposed to be bodyguards! We may not be in Belfast, but we’re still in Ireland! I’ll have them dismissed for this.”
Bridget felt the heat burn up her face, for Ian and Billy who had taken trouble to help, and even more for herself. She knew her words had been foolish, but he had had no need to belittle her in front of Liam. His lack of regard for her hurt more than she wanted to face. It was probably part of growing up, separating the man from the boy. But she was losing him, and each new widening of the gap twisted inside her.
“Don’t worry, Dad,” Liam said awkwardly. “No one else knows we’re here. We’ll be okay. We can always fry them up tomorrow.”
Connor hesitated, his anger easing out of him. “Of course we will,” he agreed. “It’s a matter of discipline, and loyalty.” He turned to Bridget, no warmth in his eyes. “You’d better put the extra fish in the fridge, and do ours. It’s late.”
She did as she was told, and they ate in silence. It was a long evening. Connor and Liam talked a little, but not to her. She did not intrude, she knew she would gain nothing by it, and only invite them to make her exclusion more obvious. She saw Liam glance at her once or twice, anxious and a little embarrassed, but he did not know what to say.
She went to bed early. She was still awake an hour later, and heard Connor come in, but she made no movement, and he did not attempt to waken her, as if it had not even occurred to him.
She woke to hear a steady banging, and it was several minutes before she understood what it was. There was someone at the door. It must be Billy and Ian back, probably full of remorse. They were wrong to have gone, but she wanted to protect them from Connor’s anger. In theory it could have cost him his life, but actually no harm had come of it. They wouldn’t have been gone any more than that brief half hour of suppertime. And no one had ever attempted to harm him physically. It was all just threat.
She swung her feet out of bed, slipped her coat over her nightgown, and went to answer before Connor heard them. She closed the bedroom door softly and tiptoed across the hall to the front door. She opened it.
It was not Billy and Ian there, but three men she had never seen before. The first was tall and lean with fair brown hair and a slightly crooked face that looked as if he laughed easily. The one to the left of him was darker, his features more regular, but there was a seriousness in him that was heavy, almost brooding. The third man was thin with bright blue eyes and hair with a strong tinge of auburn in it.
“Good morning, Mrs. O’Malley,” the first one said with a smile. “It’s a beautiful day, is it not?” But he did not look at the sweep of the bay, glittering in the sun, or the dark headland behind them.
It was a moment before the chill struck her that he knew her name. Then it came with a cold, tight knot.
He must have seen it in her eyes, but his expression altered only fractionally. “My name’s Paddy.” He gestured to the dark man. “This is Dermot.” He motioned the other way. “And this is Sean. We’ve brought some fresh eggs with us from the farm over the way, and perhaps you’d be good enough to cook them for us, and we’ll all have breakfast together—you and Mr. O’Malley, and us—and the boy, of course.” He was polite, still smiling, but there was no question in his voice, no room for refusal.
She backed away from him. It occurred to her for an instant to close the door on him, but she knew he could force his way in if he wanted. “Come back in half an hour, when we’re up,” she said quite sure even as she spoke that he would refuse.
“We’ll wait in the sitting room.” He took a step towards her, holding out the open box of eggs, smooth and brown, faintly speckled. There were at least a dozen of them. “We’ll have them fried, if that’s alright with you? Sean here has a fresh loaf of bread, and a pound of butter as well. Here, Sean, give it to Mrs. O’Malley.”
Sean held them out and Bridget took them from him. She needed time to think. She was angry at the intrusion, but she dared not show it. As she led the way to the sitting room and watched them go in easily, as if they had a right to be there, she thought how often she was angry, and suppressed it because she was afraid of making it worse, and losing what she already had. She had done it for so long it was habit.
Connor was sitting up when she returned to the bedroom.
“Where have you been?” he said irritably. “Did you go out to warn Billy and Ian? I know you!” He swung his feet out of bed and stood up. “You’ve no idea of the gravity of it. I don’t tell you of the threats I get, there’s no need for you to know, but going off as they’ve done is a betrayal of me—and the cause.”
“No, I didn’t!” she said curtly. She was frightened and angry, and the accusation was true in spirit. She would have, had they been there. “There are three men in the sitting room to speak to you …”
For an instant he was motionless, frozen in time and place. Then slowly he turned to stare at her. “What men?” His mouth was so dry his voice was husky. “What men, Bridget?”
She swallowed. “I don’t know. But they won’t go until you speak to them. They’re waiting in the sitting room. They told me to get them breakfast.”
He was incredulous. “They what?”
“I don’t mind!” she protested, wanting to stop him from quarrelling with them needlessly. She was used to men with that hard, underlying anger in them, and the threat of violence close under the surface. Religious politics always seemed to be like that. She wanted it over as soon as possible. Let the wind and the sea wash them clean from the taste of it. She started to dress.
“Where the hell are Billy and Ian?” She heard the first cutting edge of fear in his voice, higher and sharper than the anger. It startled her. She swung around to look at him, but it was gone from his face, only fury remaining.
“Don’t you dare make their breakfast!” he ordered. “Tell them to come back when I’m shaved and dressed … and I’ve eaten.”
“I already did, and they won’t do it,” she replied, fastening her skirt. “Connor …” she gulped. She felt separate from him and she needed intensely to have the safety, the courage of being together. “Connor … they aren’t going to go until they want to. Just listen to them … please?”
“What are they going to say? Who are they?” He demanded it as if he believed she already knew.
It was ridiculous, but her throat tightened as if she was going to cry. “I don’t know.” This time she went out, leaving him alone to shave and dress. In the kitchen she started making breakfast for five. Liam was still asleep, and perhaps he would stay that way until after the men had gone.
By the time Connor appeared she had laid the table and made tea and toast and was ready to serve the eggs and bacon.
“Very civil of you, Mrs. O’Malley,” Paddy said appreciatively, taking the seat at the head of the table. The other two sat at the sides, leaving spaces for Connor and Bridget between them.
A flicker of annoyance crossed Connor’s face, but he accepted and sat also, and started to eat. It was a race against time until either Billy or Ian should appear, or better still, both of them. They were armed and would get rid of Paddy and his friends in moments. Then Connor would crucify them for not having prevented it in the first place. She dreaded that. They were lax, but years of physical safety had left them unprepared for the reality of such intrusion. They would be horribly ashamed, and she would have given them a second chance.
“Now, Mr. O’Malley,” Paddy said, putting his knife and fork together on his empty plate. “To business.”
“I have no business with you,” Connor replied, his eyes level, his voice flat.
“Well that’s a shame now.” Paddy did not lose his slight smile. “But I’m not easily put off. You see, I’m after peace, not all of a hurry, because it’s not a simple thing, but just a beginning.”
“So am I,” Connor answered. “But only on my terms, and I doubt they’re yours, but put them, if you want.”
“I doubt that we can agree, Mr. O’Malley. I know right enough what your terms are. It’s not as if you were backward about it, or had ever shifted your ground.”
“Then where have you shifted?” Connor asked. “And who do you represent, anyway?”
Paddy leaned back in his chair, but the other two remained exactly as they were, vigilant. “Well I haven’t shifted a great deal either,” Paddy said. “And that’s the trouble. We need to have a change, don’t you think?” He did not stop long enough for Connor to answer. “This is getting nowhere, and sure enough, I don’t see how it can. I’m a moderate man, Mr. O’Malley, reasonable, open to argument. And you’re not.”
A shred of a smile touched Connor’s lips, but Bridget could see half under the table where his fists were clenched and his feet were flat on the floor to balance if he moved suddenly.
“That’s the change I propose,” Paddy went on.
“You’ve already said that you know I won’t change,” Connor pointed out, a very slight sneer on his face.
“Perhaps I haven’t made myself plain.” Paddy said it as a very slight apology. “I’m suggesting that you step down as leader, and allow a more amenable man into your place.” He stopped as Connor stiffened. “Someone who’s not tied by past promises,” Paddy went on again. “A fresh start.”
“You mean I should abandon my people?” Connor’s eyebrows rose. “Walk away from them and leave the leadership open to someone of your choosing, that you can manipulate! You’re a fool, Paddy—whoever you are, and you’re wasting my time, and yours. You’ve had your breakfast, now take your friends and get out. Leave my family alone. You’re …” He stopped.
Bridget was certain that he had been going to say that they were lucky the bodyguards had not come in and thrown them out, then he had realized that they had been here half an hour already, in fact thirty-five minutes by the kitchen clock, and neither Billy nor Ian had come. Why not? Where were they? The flicker of fear was stronger inside her and more like a bird’s wing than a moth’s. Was that why he had stopped, because he had felt that as well?
Paddy made no move at all, he did not even straighten in his chair. “Give it a bit of thought now, Mr. O’Malley,” he persisted. “I’m sure you don’t want all this trouble to go on. If there’s ever going to be peace, there’s got to be compromise. Just a little here and there.”
“Get out,” Connor repeated.
There was a slight movement in the hall doorway and as one man they all looked at Liam, in his pyjama trousers, blinking at them, his face half asleep, confused.
“And you’ll be Liam,” Paddy remarked. “Wanting your breakfast, no doubt. Come on in, then. Your mother’ll lay a place for you. There’s plenty of food left—eggs and bacon, fresh from the farm, they are.”
Liam blushed. “Who are you? Where are Billy and Ian?”
“My name’s Paddy, and these are my friends, Dermot and Sean. We just dropped by to have a word with your father. Have a cup of tea.” He gestured to Sean. “Get up now, and let the boy have your place.”
Wordlessly Sean obeyed, taking his used dishes to the sink.
Bridget stood up. “Sit,” she told Liam. “I’ll fry you some eggs.”
Connor’s face was white. “You’ll do no such thing!” he said furiously. “Liam, go and get dressed! You don’t come to the table like that, and you know it.”
Liam turned to go.
Sean moved to the door to block his way.
Connor swivelled around in his chair.
“Come back to the table, Liam,” Paddy said levelly. “It’s a fine morning. You’ll not be cold. Get him his breakfast, Mrs. O’Malley. Feed the boy.”
Connor drew in his breath sharply, his face now twisted with anger. Bridget dreaded what punishment Ian and Billy would get when they finally showed up. It would finish their careers, perhaps even finish them ever getting work in Belfast. Connor would never forgive them for allowing him to be humiliated like this in his own house.
Then like having swallowed ice water she realized that Billy and Ian were prisoners somewhere else, just as they were here. They had not come because they could not. She turned to face Paddy and he looked across at her. She tried to mask the knowledge in her eyes, but it was too late. He had already seen it. He said nothing, but the understanding was like a rod of iron between them.
Liam sat down, looking at his father, then away again, embarrassed.
Bridget relit the gas and moved the frying pan over onto the heat.
“Are you sure you won’t think again, Mr. O’Malley?” Paddy asked gently. “There are men just a little more to the centre than you are, who could afford to yield a point or two, and still hold to the rest. You’ve had your day at the top. It’s not as if you’d not made it …”
“You arrogant fool!” Connor exploded. “Do you think that’s what it’s about—being leader?” His voice burned with contempt. He half rose in his seat, leaning across the table towards Paddy who still lounged in his chair. “It’s about principle, it’s about fighting for the freedom to make our own laws according to the will of the people, not the Church of Rome! I don’t care that much,” he snapped his fingers, “who’s leader, as long as they do it with honour and the courage to yield nothing of our rights, whoever threatens them or promises money or power in exchange for the surrender of our birthright.”
Liam straightened up in his chair, squaring his bare shoulders.
Bridget put bacon into the frying pan, and two eggs. She had known that was what Connor would say, and there was a kind of pride in her for his courage, but larger than that, overtaking it, was pity and anger, and sick fear.
“That’s right, Mr. O’Malley,” Paddy said calmly. “You’re hostage to all the fine speeches you’ve made one time or another. I understand that you can’t go back on them. You’ve left yourself no room. That’s why I’m thinking it’d be a fine idea for you to step down now, and allow someone new to take over—someone who has a little space to move.”
“Never!” Connor forced the word between his teeth. “I’ve never yielded to threats in my life, and I’m not beginning now. Get out of my house.” He straightened up, standing tall, almost to attention. “Now!”
Paddy smiled very slightly. “Don’t be hasty, Mr. O’Malley. Give it some thought before you answer.”
Bridget had the frying pan in her hand, full of hot fat, the eggs and bacon sizzling.
“I wouldn’t do that, Mrs. O’Malley,” Paddy said warningly.
Connor swivelled around, his jaw slack for an instant, then he realized what Paddy meant. He leaned across the table and picked up the teapot and flung it not at Paddy, but at Sean standing in the doorway. It hit him in the chest, knocking him off balance and he staggered backwards.
Suddenly Dermot was on his feet, a gun in his hand. He pointed it at Liam.
“Sit down, Mr. O’Malley,” Paddy said quietly, but there was no gentleness in his voice any more. “I’m sorry you won’t be reasonable about this. It puts us all in an unpleasant situation. Perhaps you should consider it a little longer, don’t you think? When you’ve finished the boy’s breakfast, how about another cup of tea, Mrs. O’Malley.” It was an order.
Connor sank to his chair. It seemed he had only just grasped the reality that they were prisoners. He was shaking with anger, his hands trembled and the muscle in his jaw flicked furiously.
Bridget picked up the spatula and served the eggs and bacon, using two hands because she was shaking as well, and she thought of the mess she would make on the floor if she dropped the plate.
Liam seemed about to refuse it, then met Paddy’s eyes, and changed his mind.
Bridget returned the teapot to the stove, and cleaned up the spilled leaves and water on the floor. She boiled the kettle again and made more. Paddy thanked her. The minutes ticked by. No one spoke.
Liam finished his meal. “Can I go and get dressed?” he asked Paddy.
Connor’s temper flared, but he did not speak.
“Sure you can,” Paddy answered. “Sean’ll go with you, just to make sure you don’t forget to come back.”
When they were gone he turned to Connor. “We’ve got all week, Mr. O’Malley, but it’ll be nicer for everyone if you make the right decision sooner rather than later. Then you can have a nice holiday here with your family, and enjoy it just as you intended to.”
“I’ll see you in hell first,” Connor replied.
“Now that’s a shame,” Paddy answered. “Hell’s surely a terrible place, so I hear the preachers say. But then you’re a preacher aren’t you, so you’ll know that already.”
“You’ll know it yourself, soon enough!” Connor returned.
Dermot rose to his feet. “That’s your last answer, is it?”
He shrugged. “Sean!” he called out.
Sean reappeared, Liam behind him, fully dressed now.
“Mr. O’Malley’s not for changing his mind,” Dermot said. “Leave the boy here. You and I have a job to do.”
Sean pushed Liam, nudging him forward into the kitchen.
“What?” Connor demanded.
“You’re staying here,” Dermot told him. He signalled to Sean and the two of them went outside. Paddy stood up, revealing the gun in his hand also. He lounged against the door post, but it would have taken less than a second for him to straighten up and raise the barrel if one of them threatened him.
There were several moments’ silence, then a shout from outside. Paddy looked up sharply, but it was Connor’s name that was called. He lowered the gun and Connor walked to the outside door and opened it.
Bridget followed a step behind him.
On the tussock grass just beyond the gate Ian and Billy stood facing Dermot; their hands were tied behind their backs. Dermot jerked the gun up, gesturing with his other arm.
Billy knelt down.
Dermot put the gun to Billy’s head and a shot rang out, sharp and thin in the morning air, sounding surprisingly far away. Billy fell forward. Ian swayed.
Dermot pointed again. Ian knelt. A second shot cracked. Ian fell forward.
Connor gave a strangled cry in his throat and staggered over to the sink as if he could be sick. He dry-retched and gulped air.
Bridget felt the room reel around her, her legs turn to jelly. She clasped onto the door jamb until the nausea passed, then turned to look at Liam, ashen-faced by the table, and Paddy by the stove, the gun still in his hand.
A terrible sadness overwhelmed her. It was a moment that divided forever the past from the present. Billy and Ian were dead. They had helped her, casually, smiling, not knowing what was ahead of them. They had never deserted their posts, and they were lying out there with bullets through their heads, butchered almost without thought.
Liam was ashen. Connor looked as if he might be sick.
Bridget ached to be able to help someone, help herself, undo the moment and see Billy and Ian alive again. And it was all impossible, and far too late.
She made a move towards Liam, and he jerked away from her, too hurt to be touched, blaming her in some way, as if she could have prevented it. School friends had been caught in bomb blasts. He had seen plenty of injury and bereavement, but this was the first murder he had seen. Connor went to him, holding out his hand, wordlessly. Liam took it.
Time stretched on. Bridget washed the dishes and put them away. Sean and Dermot returned. She noticed that their boots had earth on them, and there were marks of sweat on their shirts, as if they had been involved in some heavy physical exertion.
Connor stood up.
“Sit down,” Dermot said pleasantly, but he stood still, waiting to be obeyed.
“I’m going to the bathroom!” Connor snapped.
“Not yet,” Dermot answered. “My hands are dirty. Sean’s too. We’ll go and wash, then you can. And don’t lock yourself in. We’ll only have to break the door down, then Mrs. O’Malley’ll have no privacy, and you don’t want that, do you?”
“For God’s sake, you can’t …” Connor began, then he knew that they could—they would.
The morning passed slowly, all of them in the kitchen except when someone needed to use the bathroom. Bridget made them tea, and then started to peel potatoes for lunch.
“We haven’t enough food for five,” she pointed out. “Not beyond this evening, anyway.”
“They’ll be gone before then!” Connor snapped at her.
“If you’ve made the right decision,” Paddy agreed. He turned to Bridget. “Don’t worry, we’ve got plenty, and it’s no trouble to get more. Just make what you’ve got, Mrs. O’Malley.”
“You don’t tell her what to do!” Connor turned on him.
Dermot smiled. “Sure he does, Mr. O’Malley. She knows that, don’t you, Bridget?”
Connor was helpless, it was naked in his face, as if something were stripped from him.
Bridget longed to protect him, but he had made it impossible. Everything that came to her mind to say would only have made it worse, shown up the fact that she was used to being ordered around, and he was not. She realized it with a shock. Usually it was Connor, for different reasons, and now it was two strangers, but the feeling of being unable to retaliate was just the same.
“We’ve got to eat,” she said reasonably. “I’d rather cook it myself than have one of them do it, even if I had the choice.”
Connor said nothing.
Liam groaned and turned away, then slowly looked up at his father, anxiety in his face, and fear, not for himself.
Bridget dug her nails into the palms of her hands. Was Liam more afraid that Connor would be hurt, or that he would make a fool of himself, fail at what he needed to do, to be?
“You’ll pay for this,” Connor said at last. “No matter what you do to me, or my family, you won’t change the core of the people. Is this your best argument—the gun? To hold women and children hostage?” His voice descended into sarcasm, and he did not notice Liam’s sudden flush of anger and shame. “Very poor persuasion! That’s really the high moral ground!”
Dermot took a step toward him, his hand clenched.
“Not yet!” Paddy said warningly. “Let him be.”
Dermot glared at him, but he dropped his hand.
Bridget found herself shaking so badly she was afraid to pick up anything in case it slipped through her fingers. “I’m going to the bathroom,” she said abruptly, and pushed past Sean and out of the door. No one followed her.
She closed the bathroom door and locked it, then stood by the basin, her stomach churning, nausea coming over her in waves. They were prisoners. Billy and Ian were dead. Connor was frightened and angry, but he was not going to yield, he couldn’t. He had spent all his life preaching the cause, absolutism, loyalty to principles whatever the cost. Too many other men had died, and women and children, he had left himself no room to give anything away now. He might have, even yesterday, when it was only Roisin who asked him, but today it would be seen as yielding to force, and he could never do that.
They were prisoners until someone rescued them, or Dermot and Sean killed them all. Would Connor let that happen? If he gave in to save them, he would hate them for it. She knew without hesitation that he would resent them forever for being the cause of his weakness, the abandoning of his honour, even his betrayal of all his life stood for.
How blindingly, ineffably stupid! For a sickening moment rage overtook her for the whole idiotic religious divide, which was outwardly in the name of Christianityl
But of course it wasn’t. It was human arrogance, misunderstanding, rivalry, one wrong building on another, and the inability to forgive the terrible, aching losses on both sides. Religion was the excuse they clothed it in, to justify it. They created God in their own image: vengeful, partisan, too small of mind to love everyone, incapable of accepting differences. You might fear a god like that, you could not love him.
She dashed cold water over her face and dried it on the rough towel. She hung it up and saw that they were going to run out of toilet paper with six of them in the house. And laundry powder. She would have to tell Paddy that, as well as getting food.
“I’ll remember,” he said with a smile when she told him early in the afternoon. The others were still in the sitting room and she was in the kitchen going through the store cupboard to see what there was.
“And washing-up liquid,” she added.
“Of course. Anything else?”
She straightened up and looked at him. He was still smiling, his slightly lopsided face softened by humour.
“How long are you going to stay here?” she asked.
There was a shadow around his eyes. It was the first uncertainty she had seen in him. She did not find it comforting. Suddenly she was aware, with a sharp pain of fear, how volatile the situation was. He did not know the answer. Perhaps he really had expected Connor to step down, and now that he knew he would not, he did not know how to proceed. She felt cold inside.
“That’s all,” she said without waiting for him to answer. “Except some bread, I suppose. And tea, if you want it.” She moved past him, brushing his arm as she went back to the sitting room.
Connor was standing looking out of the window, his shoulders stiff. She could imagine the expression on his face by seeing his back. Liam was huddled in the armchair, watching his father. His unhappiness was written in every line of his body. Sean was lounging against the door. Dermot was nowhere to be seen.
The afternoon wore on in miserable silence, sporadic anger, and then silence again. Dermot returned at last. He looked at his watch. “Half past five,” he observed. “I think we’ll eat at seven, Mrs. O’Malley.” His eyes flickered to Connor and saw the dull flash of anger in his face. A tiny smile touched his mouth. “And you can go to bed at nine, after you’ve done the dishes.”
The muscle in Connor’s jaw twitched. He was breathing slowly, trying to control himself. Liam stared at him, fear and embarrassment struggling in his eyes. He was mortified to see his father humiliated, and yet he was also deeply afraid that if he showed any courage at all he would be hurt, and then humiliated even more. Bridget found his confusion painful to watch, but she had no idea how to help. Exactly the same fear twisted inside her stomach, making her swallow to keep from being sick.
“How about a cup of tea?” Dermot went on.
She moved to obey, and saw his satisfaction.
“Get your own tea!” Connor said curtly. “Bridget! Don’t wait on them!”
“I don’t mind,” she told him. “I’ve nothing else to do.”
“Then do nothing!” He swung around to face her. “I told you not to wait on them. For God’s sake, they’re not so stupid they can’t boil water!”
She saw Paddy’s expression, and realized with surprise that Connor had spoken to her in exactly the same tone of voice that Dermot had used. Was that deliberate—Dermot mimicking Connor? And she was so accustomed to obeying that she was going to do it automatically.
Now she was totally undecided. If she obeyed Dermot she would further reduce Connor, and if she did not she might provoke the violence she feared, or at best make him exert his control in some other way.
They were all watching her, waiting, particularly Liam.
“Actually I’m going to do the laundry,” she said. “Just because we’re prisoners here doesn’t mean we shouldn’t have clean underwear. If any of you can be bothered to follow me you can, but it’s pretty stupid. You know I’m not going to leave. You’ve got my family here.” And without looking at Paddy or Dermot, she walked out and went to the bedrooms to collect whatever she could find to wash. No one came after her.
The evening passed slowly, with tension in the air so brittle every time anyone moved suddenly, or made a sound with knife on china, or Liam dropped his fork, they all stiffened, and Sean in the doorway lifted the barrel of his gun.
Bridget washed the dishes and Liam dried them. They went to bed at nine o’clock, as ordered.
As soon as the bedroom door was closed Connor turned on Bridget.
“Why are you obeying them?” he said furiously, his face mottled dark with rage. “How can I make a stand against them if you defy me all the time?”
“You can’t make a stand against them,” she replied wearily. “They’ve got guns.” She started to undress, hanging her skirt and blouse up in the wardrobe.
“Don’t turn your back on me when I’m talking to you!” His voice shook.
She turned around. It was only one full day, not even a night, and already he was losing his mastery of himself, because nothing was in his control. She looked at him steadily, unblinking.
“We have no choice, Connor. I’m not defying you, I’m just not making them angry when there’s no point. Besides, I’m used to doing what someone else tells me to.”
“What do you mean by that?”
She turned back to the wardrobe. “Go to bed.”
“You don’t care, do you!” he accused. “You think I should give in to them, let them have whatever they want, buy our freedom now by surrendering everything we’ve fought for all our lives!”
“I know you can’t do that.” She went on undressing, looking out for a clean nightgown because she had washed the other one, for something to do. “You haven’t left yourself room. I don’t suppose they have either. That’s the trouble with all of us, we’re hostage to the past we’ve created. Go to bed. Staying up all night isn’t going to help.”
“You’re a coward, Bridget. I didn’t think I’d ever be ashamed of my own wife.”
“I don’t suppose you thought about it at all,” she replied. “Not really, not about me, I mean.” She walked past him, putting the nightgown on and climbed into her side of the bed.
He was silent for several minutes. She heard him taking off his clothes, hanging them up as well, then she felt the bed move a little as he got in.
“I’ll excuse that, because you’re afraid,” he said at last.
She did not answer. She was not helping him, and she felt guilty, but it was his intransigence that had made dealing with him impossible. It was a matter of principle, and she knew he could not help it, not now, anyway. He had ordered her around for years, just the way Dermot was ordering him. And it was her fault too, for obeying. She had wanted peace, wanted him happy, not always for his sake but for hers, because he was kinder then, closer to the man she wanted him to be, the man who made her laugh sometimes, who enjoyed the small things, as well as the great, and who loved her. She should have been honest years ago.
Now she could not even protect Liam from the disillusion that was already beginning to frighten him more deeply than the threat of violence from Dermot or Sean. There was nothing she could do. She slid down a little further, and pretended to be asleep.
The next day was worse. Tempers were tighter, edges more raw. There was nothing to do, and they were all cramped inside the cottage. Sean, Paddy, and Dermot took turns watching and sleeping. They had nailed the windows closed, so the air was stuffy, and there was no escape except through one of the two doors.
“What the hell are they waiting for?” Connor demanded when he and Bridget were alone in the bedroom, Sean just beyond the door.
“I don’t know,” she replied. “I don’t know what can happen. You aren’t going to change, and neither are they.” What was really in her mind was Billy and Ian murdered in front of them and buried somewhere up the hillside, only she did not want to acknowledge it in words. Then she would have to face the consequences of what it meant, and the possibilities it closed off.
“Then what are they waiting for?” he repeated. “Have they asked somebody for money? Or are they going to keep me here until someone else has taken power?”
She had not thought of that. It was a relief, because it made sense. “Yes,” she said aloud. “That could be it.” Then doubt came to her again. She had become aware that Dermot was waiting, just small signs, a turning when there was a sound, a half listening attitude, a certain tension in him that was not in Paddy. Sean she saw far less of—in fact she had not watched him at all.
“You sound pleased,” Connor said.
She looked at him. His face was deeply lined, his eyes pink-rimmed as if he had not slept at all. The muscle in his jaw jumped erratically. “I’m not pleased,” she said gently. “I’m just glad you thought of something that makes sense. It’s easier to deal with.”
“Live with,” she corrected. “I’m going back out, before they come for us.” She left him alone because she did not know what more to say.
It was the third day when she was standing in the back garden, picking a handful of mint for the potatoes, and staring across the stretch of tussock grass towards the sea, when she was aware of someone behind her.
“I’m coming,” she said a little tartly. Dermot was irritating her. She had watched him deliberately baiting Connor, ordering him in small, unnecessary things. She swung around, to find Paddy a yard away.
“No hurry,” he answered, looking beyond her to the water, barely restless in the slight wind, the waves no more than rustling as they turned over on the sand.
She followed his glance. It had beauty, but she ached for the wilder Atlantic shore with its vast width, the skies that stretched for ever, the wind so hard and clean it blew mares’ tails of spume off the incoming rollers so that when they crashed on the sand the streamers of foam trailed behind them.
“I miss the west,” she said impulsively.
“And of course you can’t go there any more.” His voice was quiet, almost gentle. “It’s a high price we pay, isn’t it?”
She drew in her breath to challenge him for including himself, then she realized that perhaps he too was bound by choices he had made long ago, things other people expected of him, as Connor had always expected of her.
“Yes,” she agreed. “Penny by penny, over the years.”
He said nothing for a little while, just watching the water, as she did.
“Do you come from the west?” she asked.
“Yes.” There was regret in his voice.
She wanted to ask him how he had come to be here, holding Connor at gunpoint, what had happened in his life to change a crusade for his beliefs into this kind of violence, but she did not want to anger him with what was undoubtedly intrusive. Perhaps like her, he had started by wanting to please someone he loved, to live up to their ideas of courage and loyalty, and ended clinging onto the shreds of love, because that was all there was left, hoping for something that honesty would have told him did not exist. She had not wanted to face that. It invalidated too much she had paid for with years of trying, swinging from hope to defeat, and then creating hope again.
He started to speak, and stopped.
“What were you going to say?” she asked.
“I was going to ask you something it’s none of my business to know,” he replied. “And maybe I’d rather not, anyway. I know what you’d say, because you’d be loyal, and perhaps I’d believe you, perhaps not. So maybe it’s better we just stand and look at the water. The tides will come and go, the seabirds will call exactly the same, whatever we do.”
“He won’t change,” she said.
“I know. He’s a hard man. His time is past, Bridget. We’ve got to have change. Everyone’s got to yield something.”
“I know. But we can’t take the hard liners with us. They’ll call him a traitor, and he couldn’t bear that.”
“Captain going down with the ship?” He had a slight, wry humour in his voice, but a knowledge of tragedy as well.
“I suppose so,” she agreed.
A gull wheeled above them, and soared up in the wind. They both watched it.
She thought of asking him what they were waiting for, but she was not certain that Paddy was waiting, not as Dermot was. Should she warn him, say that Dermot was different, darker? Perhaps he already knew, and it would be disloyal to Connor if she were to say anything to Paddy that could be of help to him. Perhaps she shouldn’t be speaking to him at all, more than was necessary.
“I must go in,” she said aloud, turning towards the kitchen door.
He smiled at her, not moving from her path, so she passed almost close enough to brush him. She smelled a faint odour of aftershave, clean cotton from the shirt she had laundered. She forced the thoughts out of her mind and went inside.
The evening was tedious and miserable. Connor paced back and forth until Dermot lost his temper and told him to stop. Connor glared at him, and kept pacing. Dermot walked over to Liam and lifted the gun, held by the barrel.
“You don’t need to do that!” Paddy said angrily. “Mr. O’Malley’s going to do as he’s told. He doesn’t have the control of his nerves that Bridget has. He doesn’t take easily to not being master of his fate.”
The dull red colour rose up Connor’s face, but he did not take his eyes off Dermot, the gun still within striking distance of Liam’s head.
Liam sat motionless, white with misery, not fear for himself, but embarrassment for his father, and helpless anger that Bridget had been singled out for strange and double-edged praise. His loyalties were torn apart. The world which had been difficult enough had become impossible.
“I’m going to bed!” Connor said in a voice so hard it rasped on the ear.
“Good,” Paddy agreed.
Liam stumbled to his feet. “So am I! Dad! Wait for me!”
Bridget was left alone with Paddy and Dermot. She did not want to stay, but she knew better than to follow Connor yet. He needed time on his own, to compose himself, and to pretend to be asleep when she came. There was nothing she could say to comfort him. He did not want her understanding, he would only take it for pity. He wanted respect, not companionship, honour, loyalty and obedience, not the vulnerability of love.
She would stay here for at least another hour, saying nothing, making tea for them if they wanted it, fetching and carrying, doing as she was told.
The morning began the same, but at quarter to ten suddenly Dermot stiffened, and the moment after, Bridget also heard the whine of an engine. Then it cut out. Sean went to the door. Everyone else waited.
The silence was so heavy the wind in the eaves was audible, and the far cry of seabirds. Then the footsteps came, light and quick on the path. The door opened and Roisin came in. She looked at Bridget, at her father, then at Paddy.
Paddy beckoned her to follow him, and they went into Liam’s bedroom.
Dermot started to fidget, playing with the gun in his hand, his eyes moving from Connor to the door, and back again.
Connor stared at Bridget.
“I don’t know,” she whispered. “Some kind of a message?”
“Maybe it’s money …” he mouthed the words.
“Where would she get money?”
“The party,” Liam was close beside them. “They’d pay for you, Dad. Everybody’d give.”
Bridget looked at him, he was thin, very young. In the sunlight from the window she could see the down on his cheek. He shaved, but he didn’t really need to. He was desperate to believe that his father was loved, that the party respected him and valued him enough to find whatever money was demanded. She was afraid they would be politically astute enough to see the value of a martyr—three martyrs—four if Roisin were included. Please God she wasn’t! Why had Eamonn sent her, instead of coming himself?
The door opened and Roisin came out, Paddy on her heels.
Dermot stared at him, the question in his eyes.
Connor was so stiff he seemed in danger of losing his balance.
Paddy faced him. “There’s been a slight change, Mr. O’Malley,” he said softly, his voice a trifle husky. “One of your lieutenants, Michael Adair, has gone over to the moderate camp.”
“Liar,” Connor said immediately. “Adair would never desert. I know him.”
Bridget felt her stomach clench inside her. Connor spoke as if to change one’s mind were a personal affront to him. She had felt Adair’s doubt for several months, but Connor never listened to him, he always assumed he knew what he was going to say, and behaved as if he had said it. Almost as he did with her!
“It’s not desertion, Dad,” Roisin said awkwardly. “It’s what he believes.”
Connor’s eyebrows rose. “Are you saying it’s true? He’s betrayed us?” His contempt was like a live thing in the air.
“He has either to betray you or himself,” Roisin told him.
“Rubbish! You don’t know what you’re talking about, Rosie. I’ve known Adair for twenty years. He believes as I do. If he’s turned his coat it’s for money, or power, or because he’s afraid.”
Roisin seemed about to say something, then she turned away.
“Traitor!” Liam said, his pent-up fury breaking out at last. “You’re best without him, Dad. Someone like that’s worth nothing to them, or to us.”
Connor touched his hand to Liam’s shoulder in the briefest gesture, then he turned to Paddy. “It makes no difference. If you thought it would, then you’re a fool!”
“Adair carries weight,” Paddy answered. “He represents many. He could still carry most of your party, if you gave him your backing.”
“My backing?” Connor was incredulous. “A traitor to the cause? A man who would use my imprisonment by you to seize the leadership? He’s a greedy, disloyal coward, and you’d deal with him? You’re an idiot! Give him a chance and he’ll turn on you too.”
“He’s doing what he believes,” Roisin repeated, but without looking at her father.
“Of course he is!” Connor spat. “He believes in opportunism, power at any price, even betrayal. That’s so plain only a fool couldn’t see it.”
Paddy glanced at Bridget, but she knew the denial was in his eyes, and she looked away. Roisin was right. Connor had expected, bullied, ignored argument and difference, until Adair had been silenced. Now in Connor’s absence, and perhaps hearing that he was hostage, he had found the courage to follow his own convictions. But she did not want Paddy even to guess that she knew that. It seemed like one more betrayal.
Paddy smiled, a funny, lopsided gesture with self-mocking in it as well as humour, and a touch of defiance. “Well, Mr. O’Malley, aren’t there enough fools? But for the sake of argument, what if you were to give Adair your support, written in your own hand, for Roisin here to take back, would that not be the best choice open to you now? All things considered, as it were?”
“Ally myself with traitors?” Connor said witheringly. “Endorse what has happened, as if I’d lost my own morality? Never.”
“Then maybe you could just retire, on grounds of health?” Paddy suggested. He was leaning against the kitchen bench, his long legs crossed at the ankle, the light from the window shining on his hair. The lines on his face marked his tiredness. He had seemed younger at the beginning, now it was clear he was over forty. “Give it some thought.”
“There’s nothing wrong with my health!” Connor said between his teeth.
Dermot twisted his gun around. “We could always do something about that,” he said with a curl to the corners of his mouth that lacked even the suggestion of humour.
“And explain it as what?” Paddy rounded on him. “A hunting accident? Don’t be stupid.” He turned back to Connor before he saw the moment of bleak, unadulterated hatred pass over Dermot’s face, making it dead, like a mask. Then he controlled it again, and was merely flat, watchful. It touched Bridget with a quite different, new fear, not just for herself but for Paddy.
“You’re wasting your time,” Connor answered, exactly as Bridget had known he would. He was not even considering it, not acknowledging change, he never had. Now he did not even know how to. He had made his own prison long before Paddy and his men came here with guns.
“Are you sure about that?” Paddy said softly.
“Of course he is!” Dermot cut across him. “He was never going to agree to anything. I could have told you that the day you set out.” He jerked his head towards Sean, standing at the far door and the way out to the beach. Sean straightened up, holding his gun steady in front of him.
Paddy was still staring at Connor, as if he believed that he might yet change his mind. He did not see Dermot move behind him, raise his arm and bring it across sharply on the side of his jaw. Paddy crumpled to his knees, and then forward onto the floor.
“Don’t!” Sean warned as Connor gasped, and Roisin made a sharp move towards Paddy. “He’ll be alright.”
Dermot was taking the gun out of Paddy’s waistband. He stood up again, watching Bridget rather than Connor or Liam. “Just don’t do anything heroic, and you’ll be alright.”
“Alright?” Connor was stupefied. “What the hell’s the matter with you? He’s your own man!”
Roisin ignored him and bent to Paddy who was already stirring. She held out her arms and helped him to climb up, slowly, his head obviously paining him. He looked confused and dizzy. He was gentle with Roisin, but did not speak to her. Awkwardly he turned to Dermot, who was careful to keep far enough away from him he was beyond Paddy’s arm’s length. He held the gun high and steady.
Sean was watching the rest of them. “The first one to move gets shot,” he said in a high-pitched voice, rasping with tension. “None of you’d want that, now would you?”
“Dermot?” Paddy said icily.
“Don’t be losing your temper, now,” Dermot answered. “We did it your way, and it didn’t work. Not that I thought it would, mind. O’Malley wasn’t even going to change. He can’t. Hasn’t left himself room. But you wouldn’t be told that, you and your kind. Now we’ll do it our way, and you’ll take the orders.”
“You fool!” Paddy’s voice was bitter and dangerous. “You’ll make a hero out of him! Twice as many will follow him now!”
“Not the way we’ll do it,” Dermot answered him. “And stop giving me orders, Paddy. You’re the one that’ll do as you’re told now.”
“I’m not with you. This is the wrong way. We already decided …”
“You did! Now I’m in charge …”
“Not of me. I told you, I’m not with you,” Paddy repeated.
Dermot’s smile was thin as arctic sunshine. “Yes, you are, Paddy, my boy. You can’t leave us. For that matter, you never could—at least not since we shot those two lads up the hill, and buried them. Markers are left, just so we could direct anyone to find them, if it were ever in our interest.” He raised his black eyebrows in question.
The blood drained out of Paddy’s skin, leaving him oddly grey. He was not old, yet Bridget, looking at him, could see the image of when he would be.
“That’s why you killed them …” he said with understanding at last.
“We killed them, Paddy,” Dermot corrected. “You were part of it, just like us. Law makes no difference who pulls the trigger. Isn’t that right, Mr. O’Malley?” He glanced at Connor, who was still standing motionless. Then the ease in Dermot’s face vanished and his voice was savage. “Yes of course that’s why we did it! You’re one of us, whether you like it or not. No way out, boy, none at all. Now are you going to take your gun and behave properly? Help us to keep all these people good and obedient, until we decide exactly what’s to be done with them. Now we’ve got the pretty Roisin as well, perhaps Mr. O’Malley will be a bit more amenable, not to mention her husband. Though to tell the truth, maybe we’d be better not to mention him for yet a while, don’t you think?”
Paddy hesitated. Again there was silence in the kitchen, except for the wind and the sound of the gulls along the shore.
Liam stared at his father, waiting.
At last Paddy held out his hand.
“For the gun?” Dermot enquired. “In a little while, when I’m satisfied you’ve really grasped your situation. Now, Mrs. O’Malley.” He turned to Bridget. “We’ve one extra to feed. You’d best take a good look at your rations, because there’ll be no more for a while. I’m not entirely for trusting Paddy here, you see. Not enough to send him off into the village, that is. So be sparing, eh? No seconds for anyone, in fact you’d best be cutting down a bit on firsts as well. D’you understand me?”
“Of course I understand you,” she replied. “We’ve got a whole sack of potatoes. We’ll live on those if we have to. We haven’t much to season them with, but I suppose that doesn’t matter a lot. Connor, you’d better move in with Liam, and Roisin can come in with me. I’ll wash the sheets. It’s a good day for drying.”
“That’s a good girl, now,” Dermot approved. “Always do what you’re told, don’t you! I’d like a woman like you for myself, one day. Or maybe with a bit more fire. You can’t be much fun. But then I don’t suppose Mr. O’Malley is much of a man for fun, is he? Got a face like he bit on a lemon, that one. What do you see in him, eh?”
She stopped at the doorway into the hall and looked directly at him. “Courage to fight for what he believes, without violence,” she answered. “Honour to keep his word, whatever it cost him. He never betrayed anyone in his life.” And without waiting to see his reaction, or Connor’s, she went out across the hall and into first Liam’s bedroom, taking the sheets off the bed, then her own. They could watch her launder them if they wanted to. She wouldn’t have gone anywhere before, but with Roisin here as well, she was even more of a prisoner.
There was a separate laundry room with a big tub, a washboard, plenty of soap, a mangle to squeeze out the surplus water, and a laundry basket to carry them out to the line where the sea wind would blow them dry long before tonight.
She began to work, because it was so much easier than simply standing or sitting, as Connor and Liam were obliged to do.
She had filled the tub with water and was scrubbing the sheets rhythmically against the board, feeling the ridges through the cotton, when she heard the footsteps behind her. She knew it was Roisin.
“Can I help, Mum?” she asked.
“It doesn’t take two of us,” Bridget replied. “But stay if you want to.”
“I can put them through the mangle,” Roisin offered.
They worked without speaking for several minutes. Bridget didn’t want to think about why Roisin was here, who had sent her with the message, but the thoughts crowded into her mind like a bad dream returning, even when her eyes were open. She was the only one they had told where they were going, not even Adair knew. Roisin had tried so hard to persuade Connor to moderate his position on education before they left. Bridget had never seen her argue with such emotion before. When he had refused, she had looked defeated, not just on a point of principle, but as if it hurt her profoundly, emotionally. The loss was somehow permanent.
“You’re pregnant, aren’t you?” she said aloud.
Roisin stopped, her hands holding the rinsed sheets above the mangle. The silence was heavy in the room. “Yes,” she said at last. “I was going to tell you, but it’s only a few weeks. It’s too soon.”
“No, it isn’t,” Bridget said quietly. “You know, that’s all that matters.” She wanted to be happy for her, congratulate her on the joy to come, but the words stuck in her throat. It was why Roisin had betrayed her father to the moderates, and for Eamonn. She not only wanted peace, she needed it, for her child. Everything in her now was bent on protecting it. It was part of her, tiny and vulnerable, needing her strength, her passion to feed it, keep it warm, safe, loved, defended from the violence of men who cared for ideas, not people. Perhaps Bridget would have done the same. She remembered Roisin when she was newborn. Yes, she would have done whatever was necessary to protect her, or Liam, or any child.
Roisin started the mangle again, keeping her face turned away; she did not yet realize that Bridget knew. She would have done it for Eamonn as well. He was another idealist, like Connor. Roisin was vulnerable herself. It was her first child. She might be ill with it.
She would certainly be heavy, awkward, needing his love and his protection, his emotional support. She might even be afraid. Childbirth was lonely and painful, full of doubts that the baby would be well, that she would be able to look after it properly, do all the things she should to see nothing went wrong, that the tiny, demanding, infinitely precious life was cherished. She would be desperately tired at times. She would need Eamonn. Perhaps she had no choice either.
“Your father doesn’t know,” she said aloud.
Roisin pulled the wrung sheet out from between the rollers and put it into the basket, ready for the line. “I’ll tell him in a couple of months.”
“Not about the child.” Bridget passed her the next sheet. “He doesn’t know that you told the I.R.A., or whoever Paddy is, where we are.”
Roisin froze, hands in the air. There was no sound but the dripping water.
“I know why you did it,” Bridget went on. “I might have done the same, to protect you, before you were born. But don’t expect him to understand. I don’t think he will. Or Liam.”
Roisin’s face pinched, looking bruised as if some deep internal injury were finally showing. Roisin realized she had always expected her father to reject her, but she had not thought about Liam before. It was a new pain, and the reality of it might be far worse than the idea, even now.
“I thought when he realized how many of us want peace, he might change, even a little,” she said. “Someone has to! We can’t go on like this, year after year, hating and mourning, then starting all over again. I won’t!” She bit her lips. “I want something better.”
“We all do,” Bridget said quietly. “The difference is in how much we are prepared to pay for it.”
Roisin turned away, blinking, and bent her attention to the sheets.
When they were finished Bridget took them out and hung them on the line, propping up the middle of it with the long pole, notched at the end to hold the rope taut so the sheets did not touch the ground.
How could she protect Connor from the disillusion he would feel when he knew that it was Roisin who had betrayed him? All the reasoning in the world would not make any difference to the pain. Even if his mind understood, his emotions would not. First Adair, now his own daughter.
And what would Liam make of it? He was confused, all his previous certainties were slipping away. His fathers, whom he had believed to be so strong he wavered in nothing, was losing control of his temper, being ordered around by men he despised, and he did nothing about it. Now his sister was the cause of it all, and for an emotion and a loyalty he could only guess at.
She yanked up the heavy pole, awkward, tipping in her hands from the weight of the wet sheets with the wind behind them. Suddenly it eased and she lurched forward, straight into Paddy.
“Sorry,” he apologized, propping the pole up for her.
“Thank you,” she said abruptly, realizing he had done it to help. The wind filled the sheets, bellying them high and wide, temporarily shielding them from view of the house.
“Your husband’ll work it out that it was her,” he said quietly. “You can’t stop it.”
“I know.” She was not sure if she resented his understanding, or in an obscure way it was a comfort not to face it alone. No, that was absurd. Of course she was alone. Paddy was the enemy. Except that he too had been betrayed by someone he had trusted, and it had been very neatly done, using his own plan against him, enmeshing him in a double murder so he had no retreat. He must feel like a complete fool.
“It doesn’t seem as if either of us can stop much, does it?” she said drily.
He looked at her with a black laughter in his eyes, self-mocking. He was trying to hide the hurt, and she knew in that instant that it was deep, and there were probably years of long and tangled debt behind it, and perhaps love of one sort or another. She was not sure if she wanted to know the story or not. She might understand it more than she could afford to.
She glanced at him again. He was staring out towards the horizon, his eyes narrowed against the light off the water, even though the sun was behind them.
“It didn’t go where you expected, did it?” she said aloud.
“No,” he admitted. “I never thought Connor would yield easily, but I thought he would, when he realized Adair had crossed over. I misjudged him. I guess the ransom for freeing him from old promises was too high. Too high for him, I mean.”
“I know what you mean,” she answered. “I’m not sure he knows how to escape now. He’s more hostage to the past than he is to you. You’re just more physically apparent, that’s all. It’s …” She thought how she was going to phrase what she wanted to say. She was thinking aloud, but if she spoke to anyone at all, it would be to Paddy.
“It’s a matter of admitting it,” he said for her, watching to see if she understood. “We’ve invested so much of ourselves, our reason for living, whatever it is that makes us think we matter, into a set of ideals. It takes a hell of a lot of courage to say that we didn’t get it right—even in the silence of the small hours, staring up at the bedroom ceiling, let alone to all the angry men who’ve invested the same, and can’t face it either. Some of us will die of pride, I think. If you don’t believe in yourself, what have you got left?”
“Not much,” she replied. “At least—not here. Ireland doesn’t forgive—not politically. We’re too good at remembering all the wrong things. We don’t learn to forget and start again.”
He smiled, turning to look at the water again. “Could we, do you think, then? There’d be a lot of things I’d do differently and dear God, but wouldn’t I!” He swivelled suddenly to stare very directly at her. “What would you do differently, Bridget?”
She felt the colour rise up her face. His eyes were too frank, far too gentle, intruding into her thoughts, the hopes and sorrows she needed to keep locked inside herself. And yet she allowed him to go on look ing at her, the wind streaming past them, the sun bright, the gulls wheeling and crying above.
“You won’t tell me, will you?” he said at last, his voice urgent.
She lowered her gaze. “No, of course I won’t. None of it matters anyway, because we can’t.”
“But I would like to have known,” he said, as she started to walk back in again, forgetting the laundry basket half hidden by the blowing sheets.
She did not answer. He did know. He had seen it in her face.
Inside the house the tension was almost unbearable. Everyone was in the kitchen, so Dermot and Sean could watch them. Liam was sitting at the table swinging his legs and alternately kicking and missing the opposite chair. Dermot was glaring at him, obviously irritated. Now and then Liam looked up at him, sullen and miserable, almost daring to defy him, then backing off again.
Sean was standing in his usual place against the door frame to the hall and the bedrooms and bathroom. Connor stood by the sink and the window to the side, and the long view of the path winding up over the hill, where he and Liam had gone fishing on the first day.
Roisin was looking through the store cupboards putting things in and out, as if it made any difference.
“Stop doing that,” Connor told her. “Your mother knows what we’ve got. We’ll have to live on potatoes, until Dermot here gets tired of them.”
Roisin kept her back to him, and replaced the tins and packets, such as they were, exactly where she had found them. She was stiff, her fingers fumbling. Twice she lost her grip on a tin and knocked one over. Bridget realized she was waiting for Connor to piece the facts together and realize it was she who had betrayed them.
It was still early, but she wanted to break the prickling, near silence, the tiny, meaningless remarks.
“I’ll make lunch,” she said to no one in particular.
“Too soon,” Dermot told her. “It’s only half past eleven. Wait an hour.”
“I’ll make a fish pie,” she answered. “It takes a while. And I could bake something at the same time. There’s flour.”
“Don’t bake for them!” Connor ordered.
“Good idea,” Dermot responded instantly. “You do that, Mrs. O’Malley Bake us something. Can you do a cake?”
“Don’t be ridiculous!” Connor moved forward as if he would stop her physically. “For God’s sake, Bridget! Adair’s betrayed us, told these terrorists where we are, so he can take my place and sell out the party! We’re prisoners until God knows when, and you’re going to bake a cake! Haven’t you the faintest understanding of what’s happening?”
She walked past him to the cupboard and bent down in front of it. She was aware of Paddy by the back door, and knew he was watching her. She needed to defend herself.
“Not eating isn’t going to help,” she replied. “And you may be perfectly happy to have potatoes for every meal, but I’d rather have something else as well. A cake is one of the few things we have the ingredients for. I’d rather bake than just stand here.”
“You’re playing into their hands! Don’t you give a damn that Adair betrayed us? Billy and Ian are lying dead up there. Doesn’t that mean something to you? You knew them for months! Ian helped you mend the gas. He stood in this kitchen only a couple of days ago.” His voice was shaking. “How can you bake a cake, when this man tells you to?” He jerked his arm towards Dermot. “Are you so afraid you’ll do anything at all?”
She stood up slowly and turned around to face him. “No, Connor, I’m not. I’m baking a cake because I want to. I haven’t forgotten what happened to Billy and Ian, but nothing’s going to change that now. Maybe we could have when we had the chance, but now it’s too late. And fighting over what we eat isn’t brave, it’s just stupid. Please move away from the bench, so I can use it.”
Connor remained where he was.
Liam was watching them, his eyes wide, the muscles in his face drawn tight with fear.
“Please, Dad?” Roisin said urgently.
He raised his head and looked at her.
Bridget watched them. It was as if time stood still. She could hear the ticking of the clock on the wall as the secondhand jumped. She knew what was going to happen before it did, in the endless moment from one word to the next.
“You want me to do what he says?” Connor asked. “Why is that, Rosie? I told Adair we were going away for a week. I didn’t tell him where to. Who did?”
Whether she could have lied or not, Bridget did not know, but Roisin must have felt her face give her away. The tide of colour must have burned.
“Eamonn!” Connor said bitterly. “You told him, and he told Adair!”
“No,” Roisin looked straight back at him. “Adair never knew. He still doesn’t, so far as I know. I told Paddy, because you won’t listen and you won’t change. I’m going to have a child, and I’m tired of endless fighting and killing from one generation to the next, with no hope of ever being different. I want peace for my children to grow up in. I don’t want them afraid all the time, as I am, and everyone I know. No sooner do we build something than it’s broken again. Everybody I know has lost someone, either dead, or maimed. Everybody’s got to move. If you won’t, then we need somebody else to lead us who will!”
“You did?” He said the words as if he could hardly believe them. He swayed a little, and gripped hard on the edge of the bench, his knuckles white. “You betrayed me, the cause? My own daughter? You got Billy and Ian murdered, and the rest of us, your mother and your brother held here at gunpoint—because you’re going to have a baby? Great heaven, girl, do you think you’re the only woman in Ireland to have a child?”
Bridget stepped forward. “Leave her alone, Connor. She did what she thought was right. She thought you’d change. She was wrong. But I think I’d have done the same thing in her place. We protect our children. We always have.”
He stared at her. “You sound as if you agree with her?” It was an accusation.
Bridget heard Paddy move a little to her left, towards Connor, but closer to her also. She was afraid he was going to say something to protect her, then she realized how stupid that was, but the feeling was still there. She rushed into speech to prevent it. “I understand. It’s not the same thing. Please, Connor, this isn’t the time for us to quarrel, and not here.”
His face twisted in scorn. “You mean in front of this lot?” he jabbed his elbow to indicate Dermot and Sean. “Do you think I give a damn what they think about me, or anything else?”
“Perhaps you don’t,” she replied. “Have you considered that I might? Or Roisin, or Liam?”
“Liam’s with me,” he stared at her icily. “As far as Roisin is concerned, she is no longer part of my family. She is Eamonn’s wife, not my daughter. That’s what she has chosen.” He moved fractionally so he turned his shoulder away from Roisin, as if physically cutting her out of his sight, and his knowledge.
Bridget saw her face pale, and the tears fill her eyes, but she did not defend herself. Bridget understood why Connor had said it, she could feel his hurt as if it were a tangible thing in the room, but she still was angry with him for his reaction. He should have been larger, braver of heart than to cut Roisin off. She was not betraying for money or power, but because she believed differently, even though she had deceived him.
“What she did was wrong, at least the way she did it,” she said aloud. “But you contributed to that also.”
“I what?” he shouted.
“You contributed to that also! You don’t listen. You never really listen to anybody else, unless they agree with you.” She stopped abruptly as she saw Connor’s face.
Behind her Dermot was applauding. She turned and saw his smile, a wide, curling leer. His hands were held up, clapping where the others could see them.
“It’s a crusade of hate, with you, isn’t it!” she said to him with disgust. “It’s nothing to do with religion, or freedom, or any of the other things you talk about with such affected passion. It’s about power and hate. The only way you can make anybody notice you is with a gun in your hand.” Her contempt was so fierce, carrying her shame for Connor, her pain for all of them, that her voice was laden with it.
Dermot swung his arm back to strike her, and Paddy lunged forward and took the blow on his forearm, sending him off balance a little, landing against the table.
Dermot swivelled to face him, his lips drawn back in a snarl. Then suddenly he stopped, and a hard, artificial smile replaced his anger. “Oh, very good!” he said sarcastically. “But I’m not that stupid, Paddy. A grandstand rescue isn’t going to make any difference now. You’re with us, like it or not. Remember Billy and whatever his name is, up on the hillside? You put them there just as much as we did, so you can forget trying to win Mrs. O’Malley over. She can’t help you, and she won’t.”
“She’s right,” Paddy said bitterly. “You only know how to destroy.”
“I know how to clear the ground, before I build,” Dermot said between his teeth. “More than you do, Paddy. You’re soft. You haven’t the guts to go through with it, or the judgement to know who’s strong and who’s weak.”
“Or who’s honest and who isn’t,” Paddy added, but he did not move.
By the far door Sean relaxed a little. “I’m going to cook,” Bridget said abruptly. “If you want to eat, you’ll let me get on with it. If you don’t, there’s not much but raw potatoes. Take your choice.” And without wait ing for permission she went to the sink, filled the bowl with water, and took a dozen large potatoes out of the sack and began to scrub them.
Silence descended again until every movement she made sounded like a deliberate noise. The wind was rising. She heard Connor say he was going to the bathroom. There was a brief altercation with Dermot, and then he went.
She looked at Liam, still sitting at the kitchen table, and saw the misery in him. He glared back at her, as if she were the enemy. He was furious with her because she was not defending Connor. She had seen his defeat, and Liam could not forgive her for that. It confirmed it in his own mind, and made his confusion deeper. He so desperately wanted certainty, a cause to believe in and someone to admire, and in the space of a few days it had all been torn away and the flaws exposed, the fear and the weaknesses, the self-absorption.
She turned back at the potatoes. They were half done. She had to persuade Connor and Paddy both to run, in opposite directions. Paddy must know Dermot wasn’t going to let them live? Was that regret deep enough in him for him to risk his life? Or would he sacrifice them all for his own chance?
And what about Connor? Would he risk himself, to save his family? Or did he really believe it was his duty to live, that only he was fit to lead the cause? She remembered him in her mind’s eye as he had been when they first met, his face smooth and eager, his eyes full of dreams. There had been something beautiful in him then.
She was nearly finished with the potatoes. How long had she got left before Dermot made his decision? Once he moved it would be too late. Little time, very little. She must think of a way to persuade each person to do what she needed them to. With Paddy and Connor it would have to be without their knowing.
She cut the potatoes into manageable pieces, awkward with the one blunt slice they had left her, and put them into the largest saucepan, then covered them with cold water. They were going to be very bland. There was a little bacon left, and some eggs, but she did not want to use them now. It would betray the fact that she knew that there was no tomorrow. She must behave as if she believed rescue, or at least release, was only a matter of time. There was no ideological difference between Connor and Eamonn, or Adair, only the means to attain the goal of Protestant safety. Just as there was none between Dermot and Paddy, only the means to unite Ireland under Catholic rule. No one expected anyone to cross the gulf between them. Their quarrels with each other were nothing compared with the enmity that stretched down the generations dividing Catholic from Protestant, Southern Ireland from the North. Paddy might not be on Dermot’s side, but he would never be against him. There was all the difference in the world between those two things. She must not trust him.
But she did not have to tell the truth—to anyone!
She looked at the potatoes. They needed salt, and flavour. An idea began in her mind. It was small, not very good, but there was not time to spend waiting for something better. Dermot was nervous, shifting uneasily already. How much longer would it be before he decided to act? He could shoot them, her whole family, everyone she loved most in the world. Paddy would be upset, for a while, caught in an act of barbarity he had not intended, but violence was part of Irish life. Almost every week someone was killed. It would not make any difference to him, in the long run.
“Liaml” she said suddenly. “I want to move something in my room. Will you come and help me please?”
Sean looked up suspiciously.
“In my bedroom I’d rather have my son, thank you,” she said sharply. “Liam!”
He stood up slowly, unwilling. He looked for a moment at his father, and received no response. He followed Bridget along the short corridor to the bedroom.
“What is it?” he said as soon as they were inside.
“Close the door,” she told him.
“What is it?” He looked puzzled now, and a little alarmed, but he obeyed.
“Listen to me, Liam.” She swallowed down the tension inside her, and deliberately banged the chair on the floor as if moving it. There was no time to think of the risk she was taking, or whether this might be the most costly mistake in her life. “Dermot can’t afford to let us go. He killed Billy and Ian, and there isn’t going to be any resolution to this. He’ll realize it soon, and then he’ll kill us.”
His eyes were dark, wide with horror at what she had said, and the leap to denial.
“It’s true,” she said with as much firmness as she could put into her trembling voice. “One of us has to escape and get to the village.”
“But, Mum …” he began.
“It has to be you,” she cut across him. “There”s no time to argue. Roisin can’t do it, your father won’t. I can’t outrun them, but you might. I’m going to try and make Dermot think both Paddy and your father are escaping, in opposite directions, which should occupy Sean as well. When you see the chance, run for it. Don’t go straight to the village, it’s what they would expect. Go round the shore, and bring help back, as soon as you can. Do you understand?”
He stood silently, absorbing what she had said.
“Do you understand?” she repeated, her ears straining to catch the sound of Sean or Dermot in the passage outside. “There’s no time to think of anything better.”
“Are you sure?” he asked, his voice was tight, high pitched with fear.
“Yes. He can’t let us go. Your father will hunt him down for ever. You know that!”
“Yes. Okay. When?”
“In a few minutes.” She gulped. “If I can make Paddy and your father go in opposite directions—or I can make Dermot and Sean think they have.”
“Does Dad know?”
“No. If I tell anyone else it’ll raise their suspicions. Now go back and behave just the same. Go on.”
He hesitated only a second, started to say something, then swallowed it back and went out. She followed a moment later.
In the kitchen everything was exactly as they had left it, Sean standing by the door, Dermot by the window behind the table, Roisin at the stove and Connor sitting on the hard-backed chair nearest to the back door. Bridget went back to the sink and ran the tap until it was hot, replaced the water over the potatoes, put in salt, and set them on the stove.
She must do it now, before thinking about it sapped away her courage. She had nothing to lose. She must keep that in mind all the time. If Dermot realized, and acted before she did, they would all be dead.
She started to speak, but her mouth was too dry. She licked her lips and started again. “This is going to be very bland. I need something with a bit of flavour to add to it.” She turned to Connor. “There are some wild onions growing up the hillside, about a hundred yards or so. Can you go and dig them up?”
He looked surprised.
“Please?” She must not make it too urgent, or Dermot would suspect. Surely worrying about food would sound so normal, so sure of tomorrow and the next day?
“Send Liam,” Connor replied, without moving from his seat.
Dermot straightened up. “You’re neither of you going! Do you think I’m stupid? A hundred yards up the hill, and I’d never see you again. How do I know there even are onions up there?”
Liam raised his head. “There are,” he replied, without looking at Bridget.
“Then Paddy can get them,” Dermot said. He looked at Paddy. “Do you know an onion when you see it?”
“Probably not,” Paddy said with a half smile. “But I can smell one, or taste it.” He turned to Bridget. “Do you want them dug up, or pulled, or what?”
“Dig up two or three,” she told him.
“There’s a small garden fork just outside the back door. Thank you.” She could not meet his eyes for more than a moment, but by then he was gone anyway, closing the door after him. ,
Now she had to get Connor to go in the other direction, or at the worst to make Dermot think he had. She glanced at Dermot. The slight sneer was still on his face. Could she trick him into doing what she wanted? Had she understood him?
She turned back to Connor. “Will you help me get the sheets in, please? It’s a lot easier to fold them with two. Roisin, watch the potatoes.”
“Liam can do it,” Connor replied, remaining where he was.
Bridget let her annoyance show in her face. “Why can’t you do something for once?” she answered back.
Liam’s head turned from Bridget to Connor and back again. He was very pale.
“Liam, do as you’re told,” Connor said abruptly. “Help your mother with the laundry.”
Uncertainly Liam started to climb to his feet.
“Sit down!” Dermot snapped. “O’Malley, she’s right. You go and do something for a change. Help her fold the sheets! Move!”
Sean was smiling, leaning against the door to the passage, his gun also raised.
Slowly Connor rose to his feet, his face red, his lips in a tight, thin line. He opened the back door and Bridget followed him out. He walked ahead, without looking at her, and went straight to the line.
She hesitated. Now that the moment had come she found it desperately hard to do, almost too hard.
“Don’t,” she said as he unpegged the first end.
“What the hell’s the matter now?” he snapped.
She moved closer to him, making him back behind the billowing sheet and he grabbed at it with his left hand.
“Connor, they won’t let us go,” she said levelly “Dermot can’t. And as soon as he realizes you aren’t going to give in, which will be any moment, he’ll shoot us. He has no choice. He’ll go back over the border into Southern Ireland, and at least he’ll have a head start before anybody even knows what’s happened to us.”
“They’ll hunt him down like a rat,” Connor said contemptuously.
“How? Who’ll be alive to say it was him?”
The full horror of it dawned on him. She saw it in the void of his eyes.
There was a shout from the house. She could not tell from where, because the sheets were in the way, but it was Sean’s voice. There was no time to hesitate.
“We’ve got to go! Now, while there’s time,” she urged. Was Sean coming after them already? What about Paddy up the hill? If he’d kept on looking for the onions, which didn’t exist, he should be over the slight rise and out of sight. Why wasn’t one of them looking for him? Surely after their betrayal of him they couldn’t trust him, could they? Not enough to let him out of their sight, this side of the border?
Then she heard Sean’s voice again, calling Paddy’s name, sharp and angry.
“Is this what you intend to do?” Connor demanded. “Turn and run, and leave Liam and Rosie to take Dermot’s rage when he finds we’ve escaped? And you were the one who said you understood Rosie putting her baby before the cause, sacrificing her morality to save her child! You disgust me, Bridget. I thought I knew you, and you were better than that. You’ve betrayed not only me, but everything you said you believed in, everything you are.”
“Don’t stand there preaching!” She heard her voice rising out of control. “Run! While there’s time! For the cause, if not for yourself!”
There was a shout of rage from up the hill, and then another. They both turned towards the sound, but they could see nothing. Then there was a scream, a shot, and then silence again.
The back door slammed open and for an instant she saw Dermot’s head and shoulders outlined against the house, his arm raised.
“Run!” she yelled at Connor. Then in case Dermot had not heard her, she did it again.
This time Connor obeyed. At least they were drawing one of them away from the house, and there had been no shots inside. She caught up and grasped his hand, leaping over the sea grass and running down onto the beach, towards the low rise of the sandhills twenty yards away, where at least there was a little shelter.
They were racing over the beach near the tide line where it was hard and firm when the shot rang out. Connor stumbled and pitched forward, his hand going to the scarlet stain spreading across his chest and shoulder. He rolled over and over, carried by the impetus of his speed, then lay still.
Bridget stopped abruptly, and turned back. Dermot was standing on the soft sand just in front of the sea grass, the gun still held out stiffly in front of him. He could pull the trigger again any moment, all he had to do was tighten his grip.
She waited. Oddly, she did not feel a terrible loss. As long as Liam had got away, something was saved. Perhaps Rosie had even gone with him, at least far enough to be out of sight of the house. If they were alive, that was enough. This was a clean way to go, here on the wind-scoured sand, one shot, and then oblivion. It was a bad time, but a good place to die.
Dermot lowered the gun, not right down, he still held it in his hand. He started walking towards her, slowly, evenly.
She did not know if Connor was dead or not. A chest wound might be fatal, but it looked to be closer to the shoulder. Just in case he was still alive, she moved away from him, and began to walk up towards Dermot. If he came down for her, he might shoot Connor again, to make sure. She increased her speed. Strange how she could walk so easily even where the wet sand changed to dry, slithering under her feet. She stopped a couple of yards from Dermot. He was smiling. “You don’t care that I shot him, do you!” he said, his eyes wide, his face pale, with two spots of colour high on his cheeks.
“You have no idea what I care about,” she answered coldly.
“You’d rather have Paddy, wouldn’t you!” he said, his lip curling in disgust. “He’d use you, and throw you away.”
“It really doesn’t matter what you think,” she said wearily, surprised that now it was almost over, that was the exact truth. All she needed was time for Liam to get away, and Rosie if possible.
He jerked the gun towards the house. “Well, let’s see, shall we? Is the Reverend O’Malley’s wife as cold as she looks? Or his daughter, the pretty turncoat, Roisin?”
If she refused to move, she had no doubt he’d shoot her where she stood. Walking would gain a little more time, only minutes, but minutes might count. She obeyed slowly, passing him and walking ahead. She stepped carefully through the clumps of sea grass and onto the level stretch at the beginning of the lawn, or what passed for it. The sheets were still billowing. She had no idea where Paddy or Sean were. There was no sign of life from the house, and no sound.
She reached the sheets blowing towards her. The plastic laundry basket was just in front of her, empty. Why should she go into the house with him without a fight? It was ridiculous. Rosie might be in there. Even if she wasn’t, why should Bridget herself let it be easy?
She picked up the laundry basket and threw it at his feet just as he emerged between the sheets.
He had not had time to see it and dodge. It caught him below the knee, hard enough to cost him his balance. He stumbled forward, still clutching the gun. He was on his hands and knees, his face twisted with rage, already beginning to scramble up again.
She reached for the clothes prop, grasping it with both hands, yanking it out from the line and swinging it wide in a half circle, low and with all her weight behind it. The end of it caught him on the side of the head with a crack she felt all the way through her own body. He fell over sideways and lay motionless, the gun on the ground six inches away from his limp hand.
She scrambled over to him, her body shaking. She picked up the gun, then looked at him. The upper side of his head was bleeding, but not heavily. She knew from the angle of it that he had to be dead. His neck was broken.
She felt sick. But she still needed to face Sean and Paddy.
She walked shakily over to the back door and opened it. The kitchen was empty. “Roisin!” she called.
The bedroom door crashed wide and Roisin came out, her eyes hollow with fear.
There was no time for hugging, for any kind of emotion. “Where’s Liam?” Bridget asked. “And Sean?”
“Liam’s gone, as you told him,” Roisin answered. “Sean went up the hill after Paddy. I heard him shout. I don’t think he came back. Where’s Dad?” The look in her face betrayed that she knew.
“On the beach,” Bridget replied. “Dermot’s dead. I don’t know how your father is, I hadn’t time to look. Take the tea towels and see what you can do.”
“What about you?”
“I’ve got the gun. I have to find Paddy and Sean.”
“I’ll shoot them if I have to.” She meant it. She could, to save herself and Roisin. “Go.”
Roisin obeyed, and Bridget set off carefully up the slope, watching all the time, keeping both hands on the gun, ready to use it the moment she saw any kind of movement in the tussock and heather.
She had followed the track all the way to the ridge and beyond when she saw Paddy’s body lying in a clear patch of grass, his shirt a pale blur against the green, except for the wide, bright red stain of blood across his chest, right in the middle.
Where was Sean? There was no time to allow herself grief now, or any understanding of the waste. She had heard only one shot. Sean was alive somewhere, maybe waiting, watching her right now. Then why had he not shot her too?
She turned around slowly, searching for him, expecting the noise and the shattering weight of the bullet any moment. But all she could hear was the distant sound of the waves, and bees in the heather. She could see where it had been broken, trampled down around Paddy as if there had been a fight there. Stems were snapped off, the damp earth gouged. The trail led to the edge of a little gully.
Very carefully she walked over towards it, holding the gun in front of her, ready to squeeze the trigger. She looked from right to left, and back again. If Sean was still here, why did he do nothing?
She came to the edge and looked over. She saw him immediately, lying on his back, his body twisted, hips and legs crooked, right thigh bent half under him. His eyes were still open and the gun was in his hand.
He shot at her, but it went wide. The angle was wrong, and he could not move to correct it.
She thought of shooting him, but it was cold-blooded, unnecessary. She also thought of saying something, but that was unnecessary too. His pelvis was broken, and at least one leg. He was not going to get out of the gully until someone came and carried him.
She turned away and walked back down the path to the house, and into the kitchen. It was empty. The pan of potatoes, half cooked, stood in the sink. Roisin had thought to take them off before she went into the bedroom.
She should go down to the sand and see if Connor was alive, and if she could do anything for him. At least she could help Roisin. She picked up a couple of bath towels and went out of the back door and past Dermot’s body, over the edge of the sea grass and down the sand. Roisin was walking towards her, Connor lay beyond, where he had fallen, but she could not see clearly enough to know whether he was in exactly the same position or not.
Roisin stopped as Bridget reached her. Her face was wet with tears.
“He won’t let me do anything,” her voice choked. “He won’t even listen to me.”
So he was alive! And conscious. For an instant Bridget did not even know if she was glad or not. It was as if walls had closed around her again.
Yes, of course she must be pleased. He didn’t deserve to die. And she didn’t have to stay inside the walls. It was her choice. If she paid her ransom she could escape. She must never forget that again.
“He may change his mind,” she said gently, looking at Roisin. “But if he doesn’t, you’ll have to accept that. You made your choice, it’s your husband and your child. It doesn’t matter what I think, it’s what you think. But if you care, I believe it’s the right choice. And whether I like what you do or not, I shall always love you … as you will love your child.” She touched Roisin for a moment, just the tips of her fingers to her cheek, then she walked on down the sand to Connor.
He looked at her as she knelt beside him. He was very white and there was a lot of blood on his shirt, but he seemed quite conscious. The tea towels were on the sand. She picked them up, rolled them into pads, and placed them firmly on the wound.
He winced and cried out.
“You should have let Rosie do it,” she told him. “It would have cost you less blood.”
“Never!” he said between clenched teeth, gasping as the pain washed through him in waves. “I don’t have a daughter.”
“That’s your choice, Connor.” She took one of the long towels to put it round him as well as she could to keep the pads in place. “I expect she’ll forgive you for your part in this. Whether you forgive her or not is up to you, but I can tell you now, if you don’t, you’ll lose more than she will. By the way, you might like to know that Sean killed Paddy, but his own pelvis is broken, and he’s lying up the hill in a gully. He’ll be there until someone carries him out.”
He stared at her as if he had never seen her before.
“And I killed Dermot.” She could hardly believe her own words, though they were terribly, irrevocably true.
“Liam’s gone for the police,” she added. “I expect they’ll be here soon. And a doctor.”
“I can’t feel my left arm,” he said.
She rolled up the other towel and eased it under his head. “I’ll go up to the house and get a blanket. You should be kept warm.”
“No!” He breathed in and out slowly. “Stay with me!”
“Oh, I probably will,” she replied. “But on my terms, Connor, not on yours. And I’m going to get the blanket. Shock can kill, if you get cold.” She rose to her feet, smiling very slightly to herself, and walked back up the sand.