The Faerie Tree, страница 1
Born and brought up in Cardiff, Jane Cable now lives on the Sussex Hampshire border with her husband. In 2011, her debut novel, The Cheesemaker’s House, won the Suspense & Crime category of The Alan Titchmarsh Show’s People’s Novelist competition. Find out more at www.janecable.com.
The Faerie Tree was inspired by an oak in the National Trust woods at Curbridge, next to the River Hamble; a tree festooned with ribbons, beads and small toys; a magical place where children leave letters for the fairies – and the fairies reply.
Praise for The Cheesemaker’s House:
“I desperately want to find out about Owen; a fascinating character… the gift here is to make you want to read on.”
“I really loved the authorial voice – it really drew me in. But more than that I loved the fact that the initial mystery posed is one that I could not think of a possible solution for, so that really got me hooked.”
“Jane Cable’s first novel is intriguing from the first page, to the last.”
Lizzie Greenhalgh, The Lady
“The book is easy to read, but it is also gripping, you desperately want to know what is going to happen and the characters draw you in.”
Catherine Balavage, Frost Magazine
“A fantastic, mysterious story which also brings with it a wonderful tale of romance.”
Me, Bookshelf & I
“This is a book that kept me turning the pages long into the night, long after I should have been asleep.”
Copyright © 2015 Jane Cable
The moral right of the author has been asserted.
Apart from any fair dealing for the purposes of research or private study, or criticism or review, as permitted under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988, this publication may only be reproduced, stored or transmitted, in any form or by any means, with the prior permission in writing of the publishers, or in the case of reprographic reproduction in accordance with the terms of licences issued by the Copyright Licensing Agency. Enquiries concerning reproduction outside those terms should be sent to the publishers.
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British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data.
A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library.
Matador® is an imprint of Troubador Publishing Ltd
In memory of my father, Mercer Simpson, who introduced me to folklore and never lost his belief in fairies.
Izzie: Chapter One
Robin: Chapter Three
Izzie: Chapter Ten
Robin: Chapter Thirteen
Izzie: Chapter Nineteen
Robin: Chapter Twenty-Four
Izzie: Chapter Thirty-Three
Robin: Chapter Thirty-Seven
Izzie: Chapter Forty-One
Robin: Chapter Forty-Eight
Izzie: Chapter Fifty-Three
Robin: Chapter Fifty-Six
Izzie: Chapter Sixty-Three
Robin: Chapter Sixty-Seven
Izzie: Chapter Seventy-Four
I think, with a second novel, there are even more thank yous than the first. But the most important one is still to my mother and my husband for their constant, patient love and for being my rocks.
More practically, my editor, the wonderful Margaret Graham, who believed in the story while helping me to see the wood from the trees. And the team at Matador who worked so hard on The Cheesemaker’s House and who I know will be equally impressive this time around.
Thank you to friends in Hampshire, Sussex, Cornwall, Cardiff and around the world who have become book buyers, reviewers and recommenders (some of them for the first time), giving me a great deal of confidence and support at the start of my writing career. And thank you to the fantastic community of book bloggers, none of whom have I met, and many of whom I now count amongst my friends.
Finally, thank you to Jason who first showed me the fairy tree; to all the people who leave their offerings and letters there; and to the hidden hand who answers them all.
The icy air is a slap in the face after the fug of the probate office. And a slap in the face is what I damn well need, but it doesn’t help and I am left feeling disorientated. I have to pull myself together. For Claire’s sake, as much as anything. A father is irreplaceable, after all – a husband is, well…
She touches my arm. “Come on, Mum – let’s go for a coffee now that’s over.”
“I thought you had to be in college?”
“It’s fine – I’ve got time. No class ‘til 11.30.”
The closer we get to Winchester city centre the more crowded the pavements become. The early morning shift of Christmas shoppers battles back to Tower Street car park, carrier bags thudding against their legs. Coats, handbags, reddened faces rush towards me and I sidestep into the gutter. A cyclist curses. Claire grabs my arm.
“Watch out, Mum.”
It is little better when we reach the pedestrian section of the High Street. Crowds ooze around a handcart laden with gloves and scarves. Claire fingers an emerald green one with orange tassels but I can’t stop now; I can see Caffe Nero ahead and I want to
My face meets the softness of an anorak. It is the smell of it which makes me recoil. I look up to see a bearded face framed by straggly hair.
“Sorry,” the man mumbles.
“No – no it’s my fault – I wasn’t looking.”
He melts into the crowd and Claire is tugging at my arm. But I know him; I’m sure I do. Then I’m sure I don’t. How could I?
Claire sits me down at the nearest table while she queues for our drinks. She’ll be gone a while. I unbutton my coat and spread it over the back and arms of the low leather chair, sliding into its lining. I close my eyes but I can still hear Christmas; instrumental carols through the chatter. A face drifts across my memory; a pair of intense hazel eyes. No. It was twenty years ago.
Claire has two mugs of latte in one hand and a plate of banoffee pie in the other.
“They’ve run out of trays.”
“I don’t think I’ve ever seen it so busy in here.”
She hands me a fork and plunges the other one into the pie. “Sugar. We need it.” She savours a mouthful. “Mmmm – it’s delish. Dig in.”
“I’m OK, Claire. Really.”
She nods, but she doesn’t believe me. Come on, Isobel – get a grip. I clear my throat. “I’m fine, honestly. I was just… wondering… I think I know that tramp I bumped into.”
Claire frowns. “How do you know a tramp?”
“He wasn’t a tramp then. It was a very long time ago. I’d only just finished college – if I’m right, of course.”
“So what makes you think it was him?” She sounds cautiously curious.
“Two things really – his height and his eyes. You have to admit he was exceptionally tall.”
“You only came up to his chin.”
Her words stir a warm memory and I pick up my fork.
“So who do you think is he, Mum?”
“Someone I knew before I started my teacher training. I was filling in time selling stationery and he was the office manager at one of the big firms of solicitors.”
“Office manager? Wow – I wonder what happened?”
I shrug. “People’s lives change. The last time I saw him he was wearing a suit.” But that’s a lie and I know it; Robin was naked – his face buried in a pillow, our duvet twisted around his legs. I ask Claire what classes she has today.
The clock ticks past eleven and Claire has to go. The crowds outside are even thicker, but through the shifting shapes of bags and coats I spy a bearded man in a grubby blue anorak sitting on the bottom step of the Buttercross – right opposite the café door. Claire’s eagle eyes don’t miss him either.
She nudges me. “Mum – it’s your tramp.”
I nod. “I know. I think I’ll get another coffee.”
“You’ll be alright?”
“Of course I will. Now you run along and I’ll pick you up from the station later.”
I do buy another coffee, but it isn’t for me. I ask for a takeaway and balance some sugar and a stirrer on the lid before fighting the short distance across the street. I put the cup on the step next to the man but he doesn’t look up. I am unsure now; unsure of everything and I don’t know what to say, but as I turn away I hear him mumble “Thanks, Izzie.” I have only moved a few feet but I keep on walking.
The determination to wrap Claire’s Christmas presents gets me home. There are only a few days left before she breaks up and I need to have them hidden before she starts turning the house upside down looking for them. I wonder if she will this year, without Connor to egg her on. He never grew out of it either – they used to drive me nuts.
I stop in the hall, one arm out of my coat, as the memory assails me. There is no leather jacket on the hook; no violin case propped at the bottom of the stairs. I want to curl up and cry – die, even – as the gap left by Connor rises up to engulf me. I fight it with everything I’ve got and scramble out of the house and into the car. As my breath slows an idea begins to take shape – a distraction – so I let myself follow it.
It is literally years since I’ve been to the Faerie Tree and I wonder if it’s still there. I know it was when Claire was a child – Connor used to take her because she loved it. I used to tell him it was a load of mumbo-jumbo and he shouldn’t encourage her.
Today is a far cry from the late summer afternoon when Robin brought me here; the stripped trees give little shelter from the wind and the sky is a slatey-grey. No dappled sunlight to lure me into mysterious dells; how could I have almost believed the magic was real? My laugh sends a pair of pigeons flapping from the highest branches. I sound like a bloody mad woman. Thank god there’s no-one around to hear me.
I suppose I almost believed in the magic because I was almost in love. When Robin showed me the notes from the children in the letterbox tacked to the tree I cried and he kissed me. The guilt I’d been feeling about my boyfriend was swept away and I couldn’t help but want him. And later, after everything that happened, we held hands around the tree to wish, and I begged and begged the fairies to take all the obstacles away so that Robin and I could be together from that moment. Begging? The fairies? What the fuck planet was I on?
It’s much too cold to hang around wondering. I march along the path and suddenly the tree is in front of me; taller, broader, but still festooned with ribbons, necklaces and small toys. All around it little plastic folk are perched in shrubs and on tree stumps; Tinkerbells and Wonder Women jostling for position to guard the approach.
The tips of my fingers scrape over the bark. On closer inspection it’s studded with coins and I wonder why, but then I spot a note, supposedly from the fairies, thanking the children for the money for Barnardo’s. It looks as though it’s been there for a long time. The letter box is bulging to the brim and the plastic folder pinned to the back of the trunk is almost devoid of replies. Maybe whoever has been perpetrating this elaborate hoax has finally come to their senses.
Okay, this isn’t really the tree that’s drawn me back here – there is another one, a willow, close to the river, where Robin and I ran to escape the storm, and where we made love for the first time, with thunder rolling around the valley and raindrops skating down the leaves above us. I remember afterwards he sat against the trunk and I nestled into the crook of his arm, full of hope for a new beginning.
But first I had an ending to deal with: my boyfriend Paul. I told Robin I would do it straight away but he was hesitant. “Don’t burn your boats, Izzie,” is what he said.
I sat up straight and pulled away to look him in the eye. “Do you think you’ve made a mistake?”
He shook his head. “Not in the way you mean. But you’ve always been open about Paul and I haven’t been the same with you.”
I felt my shiny new world slipping from under me. “You’re… you’re not married are you?”
“No, it’s not that. I live with my mother. I care for her – she’s in a wheelchair.”
I relaxed back against his shoulder. “Well that’s OK, it’s not a problem.”
His fingers dug into the top of my arm. “Izzie – it is. It’s a major, major thing. I have to be there every morning to get her dressed, every night to put her to bed.”
“But you go to work… and come out…”
“Thanks to the neighbours, my Auntie Jean especially. Mum will have been with her most of this afternoon.”
“So your mum doesn’t want you to have a girlfriend?”
I heard the smile in his voice. “Far from it – she’d love me to. She says she doesn’t want to ruin my life as well. In fact she knows there’s someone I care for at the moment. I’ve had to promise she’ll meet you if, well, if anything comes of it.”
“Something has come of it.” I stood and brushed myself down. “Come on – it’s almost stopped raining – I’ll drive you home and I can meet her now.”
“Izzie – no – not yet…”
He stood up and took me in his arms. “You’re wonderful, Izzie,” he murmured, “a dream come true.” Only it was a nightmare that was about to begin.
The tide of Christmas fair washed me down the High Street. The Salvation Army band was gathered near the Buttercross, the trumpet player’s scales rising into the air and mingling with the scent of roasting chestnuts. Further on the traffic lights glowed into the leaden morning; red, yellow, green. The colours were coming back.
Towards King Alfred’s statue the pavements narrowed. Opposite the bus station tourists streamed from a coach, Welsh accents filling the air. I pressed myself against the railings of the park but in truth I need not have bothered. I seemed to have perfected the art of creating an empty space of at least a yard around me. Despite being invisible. One day I’d laugh about it – I hoped.
It was ice cold next to the river. The wind had torn down the High Street after me, ripping away any hope of shelter by the water. It was no surprise that most of the benches were free. I put the carrier bag containing my belongings on the first one I came to and crouched beside it in a fruitless bid to escape the worst of the gale.
The Itchen was in full spate. A drake huddled on a flat rock, hunkering down to avoid the wind but finding himself splashed by the freezing waters instead. The gardens rising up on the other side of the river were stripped for winter, naked branches shivering. A single holly bush stood out glossy green, a miserly few berries left by the birds. Red and green; colours again. Piercing the fog in my mind, even as my body battled the cold.
I knew when the colours had started. I was on the steps of the Buttercross, nursing the paper cup. Empty now, I turned it in my hand; royal blue with a firmament of Christmas stars. Izzie. A heart-stopping moment of joy, confusion, then shame. But all the same I couldn’t tear myself away; waiting for her there every morning, just in case. I could still taste the coffee – bitter, hot and strong.
The faintness of my memory of meeting Izzie for the first time had been frustrating me. It was as if she had faded into view; a navy trouser suit at a business breakfast, a shock of blonde hair across a bar, manicured nails clutching a leather filofax, and laughter, always laughter. Sitting opposite me, trying to sell me stationery. And succeeding.