The Cheesemaker's House, страница 1
The Cheesemaker’s House
Copyright © 2013 Jane Cable
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For my mother, with grateful thanks
for her constant encouragement.
And for Jim, for his patience and his love.
About the Author
With thanks to...
Brett, Carole, Caroline, Clare, Coral, Cynthia, Debra, Faisal, Gill, Jason, Kerrie, Lisa, Paula, Roger, Stella and Tanya.
And Mark and Victoria, who loved New Cottage as much as I do.
About the Author
Born and brought up in Cardiff, Jane Cable now lives on the Sussex Hampshire border with her husband. In 2007 they almost moved to Great Fencote in Yorkshire, and New Cottage is the home they never had. The Cheesemaker’s House is Jane’s first published novel and won the Suspense & Crime category of The Alan Titchmarsh Show’s People’s Novelist competition in 2011.
Charmers work largely with non-herbal cures for complaints. Secrecy surrounds their work, which must not be done for gain, and while men or women may be charmers, the gift must be passed contra-sexually, man to woman or woman to man; charmers often receive their powers and word-charms from old persons anxious to pass their skills to a worthy successor.
It is the sort of day when the roads melt. So William and I don’t take them. Instead I clamber over the garden fence and pull some of the chickenwire away so that he can squeeze under the lowest bar. I must remember to put it back securely later; I’d never forgive myself if he disappeared over the fields towards the Moors.
The grass ripples around my feet and ankles, filled with the buzz of summer. William’s lead tightens around my hand and his nose quivers with excitement. We pick our way through the thistles, eager to reach the shade on the other side of the pasture.
Close up I can see that the trees mark the bank of a beck. I resist the temptation to dip my toes into it so we wander along the path towards the River Swale. The stream bends sharply and there are alders on either side, their boughs arching together into a tunnel of dark green.
As we approach the river I hear splashing; not panic, nor playful exuberance, but a rhythmic, solitary sound. I tie William’s lead to a tree and creep forward.
My view is restricted by the undergrowth but I catch sight of a man swimming in the river. His buttocks are taut and white as he ploughs through the water, droplets flying from his arms where they break the surface. He moves out of my field of vision and the splashing stops. I hold my breath.
When he reappears he is floating with the current, arms akimbo and eyes shut beneath the fair hair plastered across his forehead. His upturned nose and firm chin jut from the water. They don’t seem to fit together and are separated, rather than joined, by a pair of generous lips curved into the merest trace of a smile. Then he is gone, and I am left staring at the rippling water.
I am about to move away when I hear splashing again and the pattern repeats itself. I feel guilty invading the swimmer’s privacy but there is no reason to drag myself away until William whimpers. I turn to see what is wrong, but my top catches on a dog rose. I ease it away from the thorns, one by one.
There is an enormous crash of water followed by silence. My T-shirt rips as I yank myself free and run up the bank to get a clearer view of the river. It takes me seconds, but the surface of the water is completely undisturbed. The Swale flows freely, calm and clear.
I cast around me to see where the swimmer might be. I am on a grassy knoll three or four feet above the water; the only break in the undergrowth which lines the banks. A couple of hundred yards to my left is an old stone bridge which spans the river in three arches. On the bank opposite willows dip their branches.
It is too long now for the swimmer to have held his breath. A cloud passes over the sun as I scan the water, but the only sign of life is a heron feeding close to the bridge. I am suddenly cold, inside and out, and I hug my arms around me. My fingers meet the stickiness of blood where the thorns ripped into my flesh.
The beaten up Land Rover pulls out in front of me onto the High Street but it’s my lucky day and the parking space is mine. I ease the gearstick into reverse and look over my shoulder, edgi
It surprises me how small things make the difference when everything around you is new; the sheer relief of not having to hunt for the pay & display when you don’t know your way around town, the simple pleasure of parallel parking well. I pat the bonnet of my car and set off in search of a newsagent.
The pavement on this side of the road is narrow and although you wouldn’t call it crowded if it were Reading, an elderly lady with a shopping trolley jockeying for position with a double buggy probably passes for rush hour in Northallerton. Age triumphs over beauty when a man in a suit holds open the door of Barkers Department Store; as the pushchair stops in front of me I glimpse a blonde toddler chewing a banana with a baby sleeping beside her.
The glass front of the newsagent jars with the elegant Georgian structure it has been rammed into, but looking around I find this is typical of the town. I push the door open; the place reeks of newsprint and spilt milk – I try to hold my nose but it makes my breath come in funny little gulps so I grab a copy of the Yorkshire Post, all but throw my money on the counter and escape into the fresh air.
I need a coffee. Badly. I spy Costa’s opposite but from an opening to my left comes a wondrous waft of baking mixed with roasting beans. I skipped breakfast and I didn’t even know I was hungry.
It takes a moment for my eyes to adjust to the shade of the alleyway. I grope my way down the side of a haberdashery and past a florist before the paving opens out onto the edge of the supermarket car park. It isn’t a promising location, but the door of the café is clean and newly painted so I go in.
The coffee shop is completely devoid of customers and at first there seems to be no-one serving, but then a fresh faced guy of about thirty pops up from behind the counter. I stare at him, open mouthed, because he is the man I watched swim in the river yesterday. Same fair hair falling forwards over his oval face; same generous lips; same jutting chin.
“Can I help you?” He looks at me curiously as I continue to gape. “Err…do I have a smudge of coffee on my nose or something?”
I manage to recover myself. He is so beautifully turned out, perfectly shaven and wearing a crisply ironed linen shirt, that he would be the last person in the world to have a smudge on his nose. “I’m sorry. It’s just I thought I recognised you from somewhere, that’s all.”
He smiles politely. “Strange how that sometimes happens, isn’t it? Now, what can I get you?”
“A skinny latte and...” I scan the display of cakes, temptingly mouth-watering in their glass cabinet. “Oh my God – are they all homemade?”
“My business partner, Adam, bakes them. He’s very gifted in the kitchen department.” He leans forward. “I’d go for a caramel shortbread if I were you; it’s still warm and gooey from the oven.”
I hope he will not notice that my hands are shaking as I pick up my tray and take it to a table by the big picture window. I spread my newspaper in front of me. But I’m not looking at it – I’m not even looking at the shoppers walking past; I’m wondering how the hell he got out of the river without me seeing him.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m really pleased that he did. He disappeared so suddenly and so completely I’ve been worrying all night and fretting over whether I should have raised the alarm. And when I did sleep of course I dreamt about him; that we were standing on the riverbank together and he kissed me so gently, reverently, almost. The brush of his lips on my cheek lingered long after I woke.
It’s quite a while since I’ve been kissed like that, if at all. Neil was my first boyfriend – we met when I was nineteen – and we were never much into demonstrations of affection. We were comfortable with each other though, happily married – or so I thought – and probably best friends. It was just a shame he never told me that being friends wasn’t enough. Instead he acted like every bloody stereotypical businessman and had an affair with his secretary – a clinging, doe-eyed blonde – the exact opposite of me.
I am so average it must have been really hard for him to find my opposite. I’m not that tall – but she was tiny; I’m not that thin – but she was all curves. But my hair is dark, so I suppose hers was something different. As was her down-with-the-kids dress sense and text-speak vocabulary. It made dreary old Neil seem like her father.
And made me wonder if, at the tender age of thirty-five, I’d become my mother. It does make you think when your man runs off with someone else. I mean, I can’t be that awful – I did used to get quite a few wolf whistles from the mechanics at work. Even so, when I moved up here I had a serious wardrobe clear out and although my tops are now much lower and my jeans much tighter, I do still prefer to speak in proper sentences.
Ridiculous as it sounds, I could have probably coped with the affair, but the secretary fell pregnant and Neil said he had to do the right thing. Despite the fact the bastard never wanted children. But what about the right thing by me? He was shocked when I yelled and cried and screamed; he said he’d never imagined I’d felt so strongly about him, that if he had, the affair would never have happened, but now it was too late to do anything about it.
All I wanted to do was run away. My friends told me I was nuts to cut myself off from them and hide at the other end of the country, but to be honest I was frightened I might need them too much. They have their own lives; they don’t really want a bad tempered divorcee hanging around their necks, however much they protested otherwise.
The escape route was ready. Three years earlier Neil had inherited some money and we’d bought New Cottage; we were such smug marrieds we’d bought our retirement home in our early thirties, but in the great property carve up that comes with the end of a relationship I told him I wanted the cottage and he could keep the house in Reading. I think he was surprised but he was in so much of a hurry to have everything sorted out before the baby arrived he would have agreed to anything.
Maybe it was guilt too; but whatever it was I pressed home my advantage and walked away with most of our savings. Not just for the hell of it; I have to eat, after all. Plus the house needs a small fortune spending on it. That’s my plan: do it up – including the barn, which would make a fab holiday let, and if I don’t like living in Yorkshire then I can sell it and move on.
I rouse myself and shake the newspaper – that’s why I bought it, after all – to look for a builder. As I flick to the small ads I sink my teeth into the caramel slice. It is still a little warm and the shortbread crumbles deliciously over my tongue, sweet but somehow not over sickly; it has bite to it. I could get fat as a mole if I keep coming here and I’m not going to let that happen – the best bit of divorcing is the weight dropping off and now I’m an ever-so-slightly top heavy size 10 I have every intention of staying that way.
The guy from behind the counter pulls out the chair opposite me and sits down. At close quarters I am treated to a studied gaze from the darkest blue eyes I have ever seen and goosebumps tingle on the back of my arms. I’m glad I bothered to put on a bit of make-up.
“More coffee?” he asks.
“Have I outstayed my welcome on just one cup?”
“No, not at all.” He indicates the empty café. “We don’t exactly need the table.”
“You should be packed, with those wonderful cakes.”
“Oh, we are some of the time, but then we haven’t long opened,” he says, pushing his hair back from his face and running his long fingers over the top of his head. “Look, what I really came over to say is that we have seen each other before, I’ve worked it out.”
I am about to die of embarrassment when he continues “It was in church last Sunday – St Andrew’s at Great Fencote.” I sink back into my chair. He is right, I did go to church, but I’ve tried to blank the visit from my mind.
“I noticed you when I was reading the lesson – we don’t often get new people. But didn’t you leave before the end?”
“Err, yes. I…I had a frog in
The truth of the matter is that the second hymn had been one we’d sung at my wedding and I’d started to well up. My intention had been to go outside, take a walk around the church to control myself then go back to the service. But in the far corner of the graveyard was a young woman kneeling by a freshly covered grave and that had upset me even more so I just went home.