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Authors: Aline Templeton

Past Praying For

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Past Praying For

 

Aline Templeton

 

© Aline Templeton 2014.

 

Aline Templeton has asserted her rights under the Copyright, Design and Patents Act, 1988, to be identified as the author of this work.

 

First published 1996 by Constable and Company Ltd.

 

This edition published by Endeavour Press Ltd in 2014.

 

 

For Philip and Clare
with much love

 

Table of Contents

 

Prologue

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

8

9

10

11

12

13

14

15

16

Extract from
Night and Silence
by Aline Templeton

 

 

Prologue

 

Christmas 1967

 

The
huge depression that settled down over Europe brought with it snow – soft, wet, dangerous stuff that clung like a damp sheet as it spread itself down into Northern Italy, over the Alps and Switzerland, Austria, France, then at last across the Channel into Britain on Christmas Eve.

But
the man who stood bleakly at the upstairs window of the drawing room of the big house was not considering the prospect of a white Christmas. Giles stared unseeing into the snow-flecked darkness, the lines about his mouth taut with suffering. It was eight months now. Surely in eight months the raw agony should have subsided into some manageable ache.

Restless
in his mental torment, he turned. Mrs Beally, the housekeeper, had set up a Christmas tree, a poor puny travesty of a thing, its artificial limbs decked with gaudy lights and cheap ornaments. He looked at it, but saw instead, as if he could touch it, the tree that had stood there last year, and the years before that; huge, towering kings of the forest, hung with chains of popcorn and little patchwork dolls and proclaiming home and family and the joy of Christmas in a triumphal procession stretching back over twenty-four years.

He
shook his head impatiently to clear his vision, and when he looked again the little tree with its tawdry finery seemed to symbolize all that he had lost.

He
had conscientiously, or perhaps desperately, finished his hospital paperwork. He had nothing left to do, and tomorrow yawned empty before him, a chasm of misery as black as an open grave.

Gervase
had had the right idea. He usually did, particularly when it came to his own comfort.

It
was hard, though, for Giles to view the boy dispassionately. He was tall, blond and athletic, and managed his Oxford finals without neglecting either his sport or his social life. He had come up to London that autumn to St Theresa’s, the teaching hospital where his father was a highly successful consultant, to complete his medical training.

Melody
had been more objective, viewing her big handsome son with some amusement. But then, Melody was alive with humour, from her taffy-coloured curls to her size three feet, commonly encased in pastel suede shoes with three-inch heels.

At
nineteen, she had laughed into enslavement the tall, serious young doctor, come to her home town of New Orleans to do a year’s specialization in its famous hospital. Within the year, he had married her and swept her off to England, to the dismay of her warm, affectionate and extended Southern family.

The
double-cream drawl had become a little less pronounced over the years, but nothing changed her sunny nature. Coming home from hospital, tired and frequently depressed, Giles’s heart still lifted twenty years later to the lilt of that voice calling, ‘That you, sugar?’ and the clip of small feet in perilously high heels scurrying across the parquet floors.

A
son to follow in his footsteps was the only other thing he had ever wanted, and, for twelve years, all they seemed likely to have. As an only child (the son of elderly parents, now dead) it seemed to him a natural family.

The
late addition of a daughter was, if he were honest with himself, unwelcome as well as unexpected. With Gervase away at school, he had Melody’s undivided attention once more, and he resented sharing it now with a girl child who appeared to regard him as little more than an alarming stranger.

But
Melody doted on her daughter. She called her Missy, in Southern style; Giles used her given name, finding the pet name awkward on his tongue.

Missy
was not, like Gervase, a fearless and outgoing child. In temperament, though he failed to recognize it, she was not unlike Giles himself, and worshipped her lovely, laughing mother with round adoring eyes; in company she held her skirt as if presciently afraid that she might lose something so infinitely precious.

So
the world ended for Missy, in the spring just before her ninth birthday when, aged forty-four, her mother died after a mercifully brief but painful illness, from the type of cancer which was Giles’s own speciality.

It
was a bitter irony; one of the foremost experts in that field of research, he could do nothing to save this one vital life, and it tormented him.

His
work became a blind obsession. Gervase was part of it; for Melody’s sake, he must join Giles in research for a cure which might, all too easily, be the work of more than one generation.

His
daughter, however, was irrelevant to him, almost like a pet for whom his wife had conceived an unwarrantable affection, and he made provision for her in that spirit. He dealt with her physical welfare by appointing the first housekeeper he could find, and saw to it that she was taken daily to her little private school, but did not think to warn them of her loss. It never occurred to him that she, in his eyes a baby still, could experience grief as great as his own, and infinitely more destructive.

His
mourning was self-centred, all-absorbing, and there was no space in his heart for her suffering. Indeed, he found it hard to curb his irritation when, in the rare times that he was at home in her waking hours, she followed him about like a shadow, even pressing herself to him with the ill-judged insistence of a fawning cur.

Gervase,
too, missed his mother, but he was embarking on the excitements of a flat in London and a new career. Arriving home a week before Christmas, he took one look round the house, desultorily run by Mrs Beally and haunted by wisps of laughter no longer heard, and announced that he was going skiing in Kitzbuhel with a party of friends.

So
Giles was left facing Christmas alone with his daughter. He had refused the pressing invitation of the American relatives, believing that there he would feel worse, not realizing then that there could be no worse. Perhaps he should have sent the child on her own; perhaps he might think about it later, if she was too demanding.

But
the question did not really occupy his thoughts. His mind had drifted again, mouthing the dead-sea apples of memory, when the door opened and his daughter insinuated herself into the room. She was pale and too thin, with an aura of insubstantiality about her, and she paused on the threshold, sniffing the air, as it were, like an animal poised for flight.

Lost
in his own thoughts, Giles did not hear her approach, and jumped as she slid her hand into his.


Don’t do that!’ he said sharply, dropping her hand and taking a step back. Then, controlling himself with an obvious effort, he said more gently, ‘I’m sorry, but you startled me. Shouldn’t you be in bed? What time is it?’


It’s only nine o’clock. I’m going up soon.’ She shifted uncomfortably from foot to foot.

Trying
not to sound impatient, he said, ‘Did you want something?’

Her
eyes swept up to study his face. ‘Er – no, not really. I just – I just wondered what was happening tomorrow?’

For
a fleeting second he had the impression that this was not what she had originally intended to say, but it was swept away in a flood-tide of dismay as he looked down at her beseeching expression.


I – I’m not sure. I must make a phone-call,’ he said, turning abruptly and almost running downstairs to his study.

***

Left alone in the big room, the child stood silent for a moment, then, half-turning as if in conversation, she said, ‘What do you think? Do you think he’s got it yet, Missy?’

She
knew, really, that she was sort of talking to herself, but after – well, afterwards, it had been a comfort to have an imaginary friend. Missy, she called her, because when she had been Missy everything had been all right, and she had been happy and strong and clever and loving and loved.

Missy
said, ‘Why don’t we wait until he comes out of the study and go down and see? If he hasn’t opened it we could take it away and silly old fat Miss Jenkins would never know.’


That’s bad. We shouldn’t do bad things like that.’


It’s not bad, it’s sensible. Otherwise he’ll be cross, and you know you hate it when he’s cross.’

The
child shuddered. ‘I know. But it’s because of what you told me to do that I got in a mess anyway.’

Miss
Jenkins had been angry, very angry. Miss Jenkins was short and plump with round gold spectacles, and she was usually a cosy, rather jolly headmistress. But as Miss Jenkins talked fiercely of bullying and cruelty it seemed as if she changed into some kind of monster before the eyes of the frightened child.


I simply cannot imagine what has possessed you, and I shall be writing home to say that this sort of evil behaviour – I can only call it that – must stop. You’ve made several children very unhappy, and poor little Sophie was distraught after that note you put in her desk. She’s been deeply upset by her parents’ divorce, and we must all be very kind to her.’

The
girl felt a shaft of self-pity. Sophie would see her father every week; it wasn’t as if he’d gone away for ever, like her own mother, but no one was told to be specially nice to her. It did not occur to her that no one knew.


Yes, Miss Jenkins,’ she said dutifully.


There can really be no excuse for this. We’ve all been upset by it – very upset – because we are a happy community, with no place for wicked, spiteful little girls who enjoy making people miserable. Do you understand?’


Yes, Miss Jenkins.’


So will you promise that this will never happen again? Because if it did, we would ask you to leave the school.’


Yes, Miss Jenkins,’ she said a third time, dully. Miss Jenkins didn’t want her either; was there anyone, anyone at all, who did?

Behind
her spectacles her headmistress’s eyes were softer now, though puzzled. ‘I hope you mean that. I’m very disappointed in you, you know. You used to be such a nice child. Well, we’ll leave it at that, and hope that this has just been a temporary fit of naughtiness, shall we?


Off you go, now. Have a happy Christmas and come back your old self, will you?’

It
had all been Missy’s idea, of course. She herself would never have thought of writing the notes. When she saw that Lucy’s new coat came from a thrift shop and she hadn’t money for tuck, she knew she should be sorry for her, and for Sophie Chambers who looked miserable all the time, now that her daddy had gone away with someone else. But misery loves company, and something inside her was glad other people were sad as well, even if she was afraid she was sadder than any of them.


Make them cry,’ Missy advised. ‘If they’re crying, they’re sadder than you are. You’re not crying.’

She
had tried crying, until she had no tears left, and it didn’t change anything. So she didn’t cry now, but once Missy had told her what to put in the letters – nasty, poisonous things that nice people didn’t say – the other girls cried and in some horrible way it made her feel better.

But
then Miss Jenkins had found her out. She didn’t know how – perhaps she was a witch – and things were even worse. She’d never had a best friend – when Mommy was alive she didn’t need one – but now everyone hated her.

Missy
refused to take the blame. ‘It was only because you were so dumb you got caught. Do it better next time, Dumbo.’

After
that, she was so cross she didn’t speak to Missy for days. And now she had, Missy was just trying to get her into trouble again.

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