A twitch upon the ancestral web...sensations of déjà-vu...nostalgia for times and places outside her own experience...these piloted Roisin towards her destiny and vanquished the doomed spirits of the air...
It was a dreary November day. Fog hung about the valley and effaced the mountains. The last tired leaves clung to the trees. Mereswater was dark and sheer, but for the triangular imprint made by paddling shellduck. Now and then a full-throated shindy broke out and echoed up between the pines and the tangled red osiers.
In silence, Roisin and Leo walked through the beechwood. She was grateful that he had insisted on coming. He guided her by the elbow through the lych-gate and they proceeded up the church path, scuffling the mulch of wet leaves. Canon Stackpole had been primed to expect them and waited in the porch. He received them in a fatherly, elegiac mood and motioned them to follow him to the vestry.
Under the ancient buttresses, the ashen-haired clergyman, garbed in the robes of his office, inserted a key into the brass-plated lock of an oaken drawer and took out the Parish Register. Diocese of Carlisle. Carefully, he turned back the musty annals of time, to the year 1796 and the first month when Roisin would have been six or seven weeks old. There, on the sallow parchment, in her father’s own hand, a more confident hand than he had been able to master since his sight had deteriorated, she read the entry of her own baptism.
Roisin Genevieve, adopted daughter of James Edward Drew Harcup, Vicar of the Parish of Wrydale-with-Holtleap, and his wife Priscilla Elizabeth, baptised this twenty-first day of January in the year of Our Lord, Seventeen Hundred and Ninety-Six.
The sloping text swam out of focus. Roisin did not move. Mere words could not have described the tumult of her mind at that moment. She was meeting herself for the first time. “Thank you, Mr Stackpole,” she managed to say. “And were my sisters also christened in this church?”
“The baptism of the elder Miss Harcup is recorded, if you care to see, two years prior to your own. Your younger sister, I presume, was born in the south.”
“The south. Ah, yes. It sounds like another hemisphere, does it not?”
“Miss Harcup, this is a shattering blow. To have had no inkling of the circumstances of your birth! To have chanced upon the harsh truth in this fashion is so beyond the limits of credibility that we must infer some Divine Purpose….”
“You misapprehend, sir,” Roisin cut in, choked. “My whole life begins to make sense!”
At a sign from the Viscount, Stackpole made a token bow and withdrew. The book lay open on the table against the hoary grain. Inside the church was doubly chill, dispersing human breath.
Brokenly, Roisin sat in a pew, drawing her cloak closer about her. She could not cry. She had been betrayed. She wanted to rail against those who had kept her in ignorance. No longer could she cast Meg as the villain. Meg had been wicked, but Meg had been wronged, used, discarded at will. Poor, deluded Meg. There was no one in Wrydale, nor the length and breadth of Cumberland who would take her part.
Leo took her hand and chafed it between his own. At his touch, her anger evaporated. “Dearest cousin,” she whispered. “Was it the bonds of kinship that drew us together that evening in Brighton?”
He fixed his eye on the carnelian-studded crucifix, then on the slate tombstone with its worn inscription beneath his feet. “Roisin, I am not your cousin. Mark Penrose was not my uncle. There are no ties of blood between us. In truth, if blood connection be the sole qualification for my title, I have no right to it.”
She listened without interruption and with astonishment and compassion while he poured out the story which had been dammed up within him for so long. How his mother had loved Herr Neumann of Hanover and had suffered for it for the rest of her days, how inexorable the old Viscount had been, and how he himself, when penury threatened, had resorted to marriage with Cassandra Stewart. “You must understand,” he said, “that I fully intended to forsake those ways.”
“Had it not been for your wife’s indisposition…. You are more justified in feeling aggrieved than I.”
“I am not aggrieved, Roisin. I ceased to feel that when the Viscount died. Somehow, death squares all accounts. Cassandra goads me, oppresses me, taxes my patience to the extreme, but I chose this course. Therefore I can bear it without acrimony. Does that sound perverse?”
Roisin rose and shook out her cloak. Her hood had fallen back and the coil of blonde hair had worked loose so that many strands escaped about her neck. She went to the Register and clamped the stained covers together in an act of finality. When she had lowered it into the drawer, she turned the key in the lock, dropping it into Leo’s palm and dusting her fingers. To have learnt that she was someone else, to have gained and lost a cousin in so short a space, was too much to grasp. She made off while Leo sought the Canon.
Soon he caught up with her on the woodland path. She scarcely heard him wading through the damp litter of autumn behind her. The bare trees exposed a desolate sky. “Tell me,” she said when he drew level, “where is she? What have they done with my….my mother?”
He turned to her and held her gently by the wrists. “Roisin, this anguish serves no purpose. She was a malicious woman. You are well rid of her.”
Tears sprang to her eyes. “Do you think that helps?” she cried.
“You would despise me for distorting the truth. She is not worthy of your pity. Forget her! You have another destiny, a whole tissue of antecedents that she did not.”
“I am like her. Others say that I am. My father, Mr Harcup, you know,” Roisin said with a touch of hysteria, “had me down for a wanton! I have a terrible foreboding that history is repeating itself. The Lord of Silvercragg is my lover, too.”
Causes Rosy Cole Supports
World Vision, International Prison Outreach, Salvation Army, Emmaus Project, Poor Clares, DogsTrust, BUAV (against animal testing) WWT (Wildfowl &...