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  • Pamela Belle

CHAPTER TWENTY NINE

Fran ran in pursuit of Flora, who'd already vanished over the top of the shingle ridge. Jenna scrambled to her feet and hurried in the opposite direction to rescue the phone the girl had thrown away. It had come to rest on the wet pebbles, only a foot or two from the sea, and there was a substantial wave approaching. She slid down the bank and snatched it up, just in time. Fortunately it seemed to have survived the rough treatment, and she could hear Krystal's voice squawking urgently. "Hello? Flora? Hello?"

Jenna took a deep breath and put the phone to her ear. The wave touched her feet, and she hastily moved up the bank, out of reach. "Hi, this isn't Flora, I'm afraid."

"Hello? What's happening? Where's Flora? Who are you?" The questions came thick and fast, delivered in a sharp, demanding tone that immediately raised her hackles. She'd had plenty of practice in the past, though, soothing angry or anxious parents, and it was easy to slip back into that calming, diplomatic mode. "I'm Jenna, I'm Flora's tutor. I'm afraid she was very upset, and ran off. Fran's gone after her."

"What's that noise?"

"It's the sea. We're having a picnic on the beach."

"She really is the limit, she knows what the plan is. She'll have to mend her ways if she's to fit in to her new school."

The unsympathetic comment infuriated Jenna, but she swallowed her anger. Kicking off at Krystal wouldn't help anyone, least of all Flora. She said mildly, "I think she was mainly surprised at how quickly it's happening." That was better than, "How did you think she'd react, you silly woman, given less than twenty four hours' notice that her life is about to change forever?"

"I thought that Francis would tell her."

Dear God, give me strength. Jenna bit back a rude retort and said, "There seems to have been some misunderstanding, he told me that you were going to talk to her about it once you'd arrived in London."

"I want to speak to her. Where is she?"

Jenna began to clamber up the piles of shingle, finding it difficult to keep her balance while holding the phone to her ear. "I don't know, but I expect she's gone back to the car." Hopefully Flora hadn't run straight across the road without looking: at least at this time of year, it was unlikely to be busy. "I'm just going to see what's happening. Can you give us, say, fifteen or twenty minutes? That should be time enough to sort it out. Fran will get back to you asap." Without waiting for the inevitable protest, she pressed 'End Call' and switched the phone off.

Flora and Fran weren't by the car, but she soon located them, on a bench overlooking the ruffled waters of the Meare. It was beginning to cloud over, and there was a chill in the air. Flora was snuggled against Fran's side, and he had his arm round her. She heard the soft murmur of his voice, quiet, reasonable, soothing, and the hiccup of the child's sobs. He looked up as she approached, but despite his smile his face revealed, only too clearly, the extent of his own distress. She held the phone out to him. "I told her what was happening, and then switched it off, said you'd phone her in half an hour." It wouldn't, she thought angrily, do Krystal any harm to keep her waiting. Their priority was calming Flora down, and trying to persuade her that she had to accept the inevitable and return to LA with her mother.

"Thanks." He took it and tucked it into the pocket of his jeans. Flora raised her head from his shoulder and looked at Jenna. Her face was red and blotchy with crying, and streaked with tears and snot. "I don't want to go back," she said angrily. "I want to stay here with Dad."

"I know you do, sweetheart." Jenna sat down on the girl's other side. "I'd love you to stay too. But your mum wants to take you back home to California and she calls the shots." Better she say that than Fran, who was so obviously torn between love for his daughter and his desire to do the right thing.

But the right thing for who? For Flora, settled and happy in England, perhaps tired of being frequently shunted across two continents between her parents? For her father, who could provide a stable home for her, but perhaps not the necessary female perspective for a girl approaching adolescence? Or for Krystal, whose relationship with her daughter seemed to be subject to the demands of her career and her desire for control?

"She can't make me," said Flora, a rigid set to her jaw. "I'll tell everyone at the airport that she's abducting me, and if that doesn't work I'll scream and scream and they won't let us on the plane."

Jenna wondered if Flora had ever read any of the William books: if she had, she'd obviously assimilated the lessons in manipulation given by Violet Elizabeth Bott. "Why don't you want to go back?" she asked, hoping to divert the girl's thoughts away from open rebellion. "I thought you liked California?"

Flora shook her head emphatically. "I thought I did, but I like it better here. I don't want to leave Dad, I don't want to leave you, and I specially don't want to leave my friends at school." She turned to Fran. "Why can't I stay?"

"Because your Mom thinks the best thing for you is to go back to the US with her. She's your Mom, and she has the right to do whatever she thinks will be best for your happiness and your education."

"But what about you?"

"When your Mom and I split up, we agreed that she would look after you. It was the best thing for you. That's what we've always tried to do, the best thing for you. Not what we want, but what you need to grow up happy and successful."

"What about what I want? I'll be eleven soon, you ought to be thinking about what I want!" Flora's lip was beginning to wobble again. "I'm old enough to have a say. And I want to stay here with you. Please, Dad. Please. Talk to Mommy, try and persuade her."

Jenna suspected that would be a total non-starter. Fran sighed. "I will, but I don't think I'll get very far. She's decided that you should go to that school, to make sure that you have the best possible future. You're a really bright kid, you'd do very well there, go on to Harvard or Yale - "

"I don't. I want to be happy. And I'm not going to be happy if I go back to California. Anyway, Mom only wants me to go to that school so she doesn't have to think about how she's going to look after me when she's filming."

There was a brief, significant silence. Nail. Hit. Head, thought Jenna wryly. That was, surely, why Krystal wanted Flora to go there - because she liked the idea of having her daughter indirectly under her control, without the hassle and inconvenience of actually looking after her.

"I don't think that's true," Fran began cautiously. "Mommy loves you, and I love you, and we both want you to be happy."

"But I'm not going to be happy there. I'm happy here!"

The discussion was beginning to go round in circles. Fran glanced at his watch. "Look, hen, I've got to phone Mommy back soon. Can you be big and brave and grown up about this? No more tears and tantrums? You said yourself, you're nearly eleven, and you're old enough to be able to think about all this in a sensible, reasonable way. So let's do a deal. You take a deep breath and calm down, and I'll talk to Mommy and ask her to reconsider. OK?"

Flora wiped her hand across her runny nose. "OK," she said at last, reluctantly, with a snuffle.

"Shall we go back to the beach?" Jenna suggested. "We've left all the picnic things there and I didn't go to all that trouble just to feed the seagulls. And at the very least I think we could all do with a hot cup of tea."

"Sounds like an excellent idea," Fran said.

Twenty minutes ago, they'd hurried excitedly across the road and onto the shingle, looking forward to eating lunch by the sea. Their return was decidedly less exuberant. Fran and Jenna walked in silence, and Flora trailed just behind them, dragging her feet and sniffing occasionally. She livened up when they crested the last ridge and saw that there were, indeed, several gulls around their picnic, eyeing the food with a predatory yellow stare. "Don't you dare nick my lunch!" she yelled, and ran towards them, waving her arms. The birds took off with cries of dismay, and Flora sat down on the rug, holding her arms protectively above the pile of sandwiches.

"What did I tell you?" said Jenna, flopping down beside her. "They're a menace. One of them took an ice cream cone right out of Rosie's hand on Orford Quay last year. Do you want apple juice, or tea?"

"Tea please. Can I have a sandwich, before the gulls come back?"

Jenna poured three teas from the flask, adding milk, and distributed the sandwiches. She didn't feel much like eating anything, and it was obvious that the others didn't either: even Flora seemed reluctant to have more than two, and didn't try the dips or the nibbles. At last Fran finished his tea, swallowed the last falafel, and got to his feet, pulling his phone out of his back pocket. "I'm going to try and talk to Krystal. And I think it's best if you keep well out of the way, hen."

"I want - " Flora began, but her father made an emphatic gesture. "No, I don't think it's a good idea for you to speak to your mom again. You just put each other's backs up, and I'm done with arguing. I'm going to ask her to reconsider taking you back to the States tomorrow, and to think about whether an exclusive private boarding school really is the best place to send you. OK? I'll be as persuasive and reasonable as I know how, but when your mom's decided she wants something, it takes a lot to convince her otherwise." He gave Flora a wry smile. "Very much like you, in fact."

Jenna watched him walk away, parallel to the sea, tension in every line of his body. Over to the east, the sky was still a pure light blue, but above them it was veiled in thin high cloud, and when she glanced to the west, beyond the Meare, there was an ominous grey blur. She said to Flora, "Help me clear everything up? I think it's going to rain fairly soon."

Without speaking, they put the remaining food back in the hamper, along with the dirty plates and mugs. Flora chased an errant paper napkin along the beach, and brought it back to be put in the litter bag. One or two hopeful gulls lingered, watching, well out of reach. There would inevitably be a few crumbs for them, once they were gone. Jenna kept an eye on Fran, now a dark and distant figure standing a couple of hundred yards away, not far from the edge of the sea. He was too far away for her to judge how the discussion with Krystal was going, but she didn't hold out much hope. The owner of that imperious, commanding voice wasn't likely to change her mind in a hurry.

"I meant it," Flora said suddenly, as Jenna buckled the straps on the hamper. "I will scream and scream at the airport. And she can't make me go if I don't want to."

"I don't think that would be a very good idea. The screaming, I mean. It's not very adult."

"I'm not an adult," said Flora, unanswerably.

"I know you're not, but if you want your opinions to be taken seriously, it doesn't help if you behave like a toddler having a tantrum. Your mum is much more likely to listen to you if you're mature and sensible about all this. And you know, it won't be long before you're legally allowed to have a say in what happens to you."

"How long?"

"I don't know, but I can find out. When you're twelve, perhaps. And the law may be different in the US."

Flora looked down at the rug she'd been folding. "I won't be twelve for more than a year."

"All the more reason to accept this with as good a grace as you can manage, and try to persuade your mother, calmly and sensibly, to let you live with your dad."

"I know what she's like, she won't listen. She never listens."

"But the older you get, the more she'll realise she has to listen. I know it feels like your world is ending, but your dad isn't going anywhere, Suffolk isn't going anywhere, I'm not going anywhere. We'll all still be here when you come back - and you will come back, perhaps for a few weeks over the summer, I don't think your mum would have any quarrel with that."

Flora nodded, but she still looked sulky and unsure. Jenna's heart went out to her, but she knew that nothing would prevent Krystal taking her back to the States tomorrow. "Your dad's coming back," she said, seeing Fran's figure approaching across the shingle. "Do you remember what he said? About being brave, and sensible, and grown up? Do you think you can try to be that?"

A very large tear had begun to make its way down Flora's cheek. Still looking at the ground, she mumbled, so quietly that Jenna could hardly hear her, "I can try, but I can't promise."

"I know you can't. Just do your best, that's all anyone can do." Jenna felt very emotional herself. This had stirred up so many unhappy memories of her own childhood, and that feeling of helpless misery that, all too obviously, was affecting Flora too.

As Fran came nearer, she could tell by his body language that the news wasn't good, and his shake of the head confirmed it. "Sorry, hen," he said, as soon as he was close enough. "I did my best. She's coming to pick you up tomorrow morning, and the flight leaves Heathrow at three."

Flora, to her credit, didn't sob, or scream, or stamp her foot. She drew a very deep breath, her face chalk white, and said in a small voice, "OK."

Fran reached her, and hugged her close. Jenna knew there were tears in his eyes: indeed, there were tears in her own. "I'll take you home," she said.

In contrast to their outward journey, the drive back was silent and unhappy. Flora, sitting behind Jenna, spent the whole time looking out of the window, saying nothing. Jenna concentrated on the road, and tried not to think about what else lay ahead. She wanted to stay with them and help, but she felt she'd be intruding on the last evening that father and daughter would be spending together for quite some time. In any case, she had little choice: as they were driving through Snape, her phone rang, and she pulled over to answer it.

"Mum!" It was Rosie's voice, bright and happy. "Mum, can you pick me up from Woodbridge station in about an hour?"

"I thought you weren't coming till next week?"

"Oh, slight change of plan, Indy's in bed with flu and I said I'd come and stay with you now and then go back to St. Albans when she's better. Is that OK?"

Well, it would ensure that she wasn't moping alone at home this evening. "Of course it's OK," Jenna said warmly. "As long as you don't mind that I haven't tidied up. And as long as you don't pass her germs on to me."

"I'll try not to."

"Well, I'm happy to take my chances. I'll see you shortly."

"Rosie's coming to stay," she told Fran, somewhat unnecessarily. "I'm going on to Woodbridge after I've dropped you off, to pick her up."

"That's great," he said, and her heart ached for him, because he was losing his daughter just as she was, temporarily, regaining hers. She gave him a quick, encouraging smile, and used the rear view mirror to glance at Flora, who was still staring out of the window, though the stretch of hedgerow she was looking at seemed singularly uninteresting. There were tear tracks on her face, and her mouth was set. Jenna hoped that she wouldn't resort to making any kind of scene when Krystal came. If nothing else, a major tantrum wouldn't help the relationship between mother and daughter, nor would it help her cause if she wanted a part in deciding where she lived in the future.

It was raining by the time she reached Fran's cottage. She got out, and folded Flora into a close hug. "Goodbye, sweetheart. I've loved teaching you, it's been such fun. Thank you for being a brilliant pupil."

"Thank you for being a brilliant teacher," said Flora, into her shoulder. "But I still wish I didn't have to go." She gulped, and added, in a whisper, "And I wish you were my mum."

"You don't mean that," said Jenna, remembering, painfully, that she had once said the same thing, in very similar circumstances, to Nanna May, and had meant every word. "I wish you didn't have to go too, but you know you must, don't you? And if you're sensible and grown up, it'll make your time away from your dad so much better. Fighting battles all the time is totally exhausting, especially if they're battles you haven't a hope of winning. I know, I've been there with my mum. And remember, it won't be long before you can come back and stay."

"July," said Fran. "It's not long till July. You'll have two whole months here before you start your new school in September."

Flora nodded, but her eyes were filled with tears. "Chin up," Jenna said softly. "It's not long, just a few months. You'll see your dad, and me, and all your friends. We can row on the Meare again, and have picnics by the sea, and anything else you'd like. OK?"

"OK."

"Safe journey," Jenna told her, and watched as the child turned and walked slowly to the porch.

"Thanks for that," Fran said. He gave her a quick hug, and a chaste peck on the cheek. "And thank you for a lovely day."

"It was, wasn't it? Just a shame about the end of it."

"Can't be helped. I could murder Krystal for what she's doing, I've tried to tell her she's making things worse for herself in the long run, but listening to reason isn't her strongest point. OK, I've got to go, there's packing to be started, but I'll phone you tomorrow when it's over, and let you know how it all went. And perhaps you and Rosie could come over for a meal some time?"

Jenna assured him that they'd love that, and said goodbye. Then she turned towards Woodbridge, and her own daughter, wiping the tears away and hoping against hope that all would go smoothly for Fran and Flora tomorrow.

She got to the station just before the train arrived. Rosie hadn't been back since Christmas, and Jenna, watching her as she stepped down onto the platform, was struck afresh by how confident and assured she seemed now. Here was a young woman who knew what she wanted and wasn't afraid to pursue her goals. Her face lit up when she saw her mother, and she flew into her arms. "Oh, it's great to see you! I hope you don't mind me coming back early?"

"Of course I don't! It's a lovely surprise! I haven't made up your bed yet, though, and there's not a lot in the fridge."

"Oh, that doesn't matter," Rosie said. "I don't have to be waited on hand and foot, you know. How are the kittens?"

"Growing up fast, you'll hardly recognise them, they're proper little cats now, but as mischievous as ever."

She regaled her daughter with tales of their misdeeds until they got back to Wisteria Cottage, where they were welcomed by the reprobates in question, purring loudly and quite happy to be cuddled, tickled and played with. Rosie had had a sandwich on the train, so didn't need lunch, and as the rain had stopped, they took Sammy out for a walk along the sea wall.

"It's great to have a dog you can just borrow," Rosie said. She stood by the gate, where not long ago her mother had received the text message announcing the birth of her half-brother, and turned her head towards the distant sea, appreciatively sniffing the salt and seaweed on the air. "You don't even have to walk him when it's wet!"

"But I do, quite often. Believe it or not, I actually quite enjoy being out in wild weather. It makes you feel so alive."

Rosie grinned. "Well, if he needs walking in the rain while I'm here, count me out. Is it my imagination, or has he calmed down quite a lot?"

Jenna whistled, and Sammy came racing back along the top of the dyke, ears flying, eager for his treat. She waited while he collected himself and sat in front of her, without a word of command. As Rosie looked on in admiration, she gave him a piece of dog biscuit, and gestured that he could go.

"I'm impressed," her daughter said, as the spaniel flew off again, full of energy. "Have you been training him on the quiet?"

"Well, not really on the quiet, but since the incident when he tried chasing some birds, I thought it would be a good idea if I had some control over him. Apart from anything else, it won't be long before there are sheep grazing on the marshes. Hence the biscuits and the hand signals. He's a bright dog, it didn't take him long to learn, especially as he's very keen on food."

"So have you taught him any tricks?"

"Well, I've got him to come back, and sit, and walk to heel - things any well-behaved dog ought to do. And sometimes if we go another way, not near the river, or if it's really cold and wet, I take his ball and flinger - he's really keen on that, once he'd realised he had to bring the ball back, and it means he can get loads of exercise without us going very far. And now I'm trying to teach him to find things by scent as well." Sammy was charging back, so she pulled the glove out of her pocket and held it out to him. He sniffed it enthusiastically and she made him sit, then threw the bright red mass of wool as far as she could into a tangled clump of bushes.

"Look at him go!" Rosie said. "Just like a police sniffer dog." She grinned. "Don't ever think of bringing him on campus, he'd go mental."

"Don't worry, I wouldn't dream of it. How are your courses going?"

"Great, thanks, did I tell you, I'm writing some short stories? I'm not going to show them to you yet, but I will when I've got them polished up, they're a bit rough round the edges at the moment. And next term I'm doing the poetry option, with your friend Mr. McNeil, I'm really looking forward to that." Her voice dropped, though there wasn't another soul in sight. "Guess what Indy told me!"

Jenna's heart sank, for she had wanted to tell Rosie about her new relationship with Fran in her own time and her own way. "What?" she asked, aware that she sounded rather abrupt.

Rosie didn't seem to notice. "She said Saskia's new boyfriend is your other old uni friend - Professor Gerrard! Did you know?"

"I did, as a matter of fact - she stayed here a few weeks ago, and he and Fran came over for dinner." Jenna felt relieved, though she knew she couldn't delay telling Rosie for much longer. However, after the events of that morning, she didn't want to rush Fran into anything too soon. Making the assumption that with his daughter out of the way, they could joyfully embark on a full-blown affair, would be appallingly heartless. They'd waited thirty years for this, a few weeks more wouldn't hurt.

She and Rosie walked back to the cottage, and handed over Sammy, wet, tired and happy, to a grateful Ruth. They spent a cheerful hour in the kitchen, improvising an evening meal with the limited contents of the fridge and freezer, and Jenna was glad that she hadn't had time to brood on what might be happening over at Fran's cottage. After consuming a Spanish-style chicken and vegetable stew, seasoned with plenty of smoked paprika and served with brown rice and peas, they sat by the stove, which was pumping out very welcome warmth on a chilly night, and chatted over mugs of coffee, while Rosie cuddled the kittens.

"I know what I meant to ask you, Mum," she said, tickling Artemis under the chin, while wearing Apollo like a scarf around the back of her neck. "Have you found out who made the casket yet? Saskia said you'd probably only got about three or four generations to go."

In all the worry and concern about Flora's fate, Jenna had completely forgotten her researches. "No, I haven't. I've been so busy lately, I haven't had much time."

It sounded very lame to her ears, and obviously to Rosie as well. "Oh, come on, Mum, how long does typing a name into Google take? Saskia's worried that Professor Gerrard will do your work for you, and you surely don't want that?"

"You're right, I don't."

"Well, what are you waiting for? There's your laptop, go for it!"

Now, Jenna thought, with sudden determination, was as good a time as any. She and Rosie, the inheritors of the casket, could discover its creator together. It was almost as if she'd subconsciously been waiting for her daughter to come home before taking this final step. She collected her laptop, and the notebook with the pretty blue butterflies on the cover, in which she'd put down all the results of her research, and sat down again beside Rosie. "OK, let's do it."

The girl's eyes were bright with eager curiosity. "I've been so looking forward to finding out."

"So have I." Jenna lifted the lid and typed in her password. She waited until the desktop appeared, with the familiar picture of Orford Castle behind the ranked icons, before opening her browser and selecting Google. Carefully, aware of Rosie peering at the screen, she typed in the name of her seven greats grandmother, Merelina Leheup.

As she'd expected, there weren't many results, and they were all either pages from genealogical websites, or extracts from ancient peerage volumes. Rosie looked at them dubiously. "Well, at least she did exist."

"Of course she did. Let's try this one, it looks the most promising."

And there she was, the Merelina who had died within a week of her husband in 1792, ending their lovely and pleasant lives: who had had no surviving daughters and just one son, Michael, the only male link in the chain of the casket's inheritance. She had been married in 1755, at the age of 21. And her parents, according to the web page, had been Thomas and Merelina Discipline.

"Discipline?" said Rosie, surprised. "That's a weird name. Sounds like a character from Fifty Shades. Which I haven't read, before you ask," she added.

"I wasn't going to, and of course you haven't." Jenna opened her notebook and headed a fresh page. Merelina Discipline, born c. 1734, married Michael Leheup in 1755, died 1792, one son, Michael William Leheup. There was no further information on that website, so she returned to Google, and clicked on A Genealogical and Heraldic History of the Extinct and Dormant Baronetcies, by John and Bernard Burke.

Merelina Discipline, it seemed, had had a sister called Delariviere, married to John Godbold, Esquire. "Delariviere? Another weird name," Rosie commented.

"Don't knock weird names. I'd never have got this far back so quickly if they'd all been called John and Mary Smith." Jenna studied the page, which was a scan of the original book, probably printed in the 19th century if not the 18th. The type was quite hard to read, and the layout was complicated. But it seemed that Merelina Discipline's father, Thomas, had been a JP for Suffolk, and had lived in Bury St. Edmunds, and that her mother Merelina's maiden name had been Spring. And her mother ...

She looked at the screen again, very carefully, making sure that she had the details right, then wrote the next generation down on a new page in her notebook. Merelina Spring, married Thomas Discipline, two daughters, Merelina and Delariviere. There weren't any dates for them, so she went back to Google and typed in 'Merelina Discipline'.

"Oh, Mum, look," Rosie said, pointing at the heading of the first page on the list. "Look at her. Could she be MJ, do you think?"

"The dates are right, born in 1673 and died in 1727." Jenna felt a rush of excitement. After so long, and so much effort, she could hardly believe that in the end it had been so easy to trace back those last three generations. There, plain on the screen, was Merelina Spring's mother, yet another Merelina, her nine greats grandmother. She would have been the right age to have sewn the casket in the 1680s, when such things were still fashionable, and the initials of her maiden name were MJ.

"It must be her!" Rosie sounded just as thrilled. "Mum, I bet it is. Everything fits, doesn't it? We've found her at last!"

They spent a feverish half hour trawling Google for references. There were lots, because MJ's father was a lord and a Member of Parliament, and the family was well known and the subject of considerable research. Jenna took screenshots and saved everything to a memory stick, to be on the safe side, then printed it all off. With every new piece of information, Jenna became more and more convinced that they had found MJ at last. Delighted, she grinned at Rosie. "Thank you, sweetheart!"

"What for? All I've done is look over your shoulder and put more paper into the printer."

"Thank you for telling me to go for it. It was just the kick up the backside I needed." Jenna stretched and yawned, noting the time: it was not long before midnight, well past her usual bedtime. And at that moment, her phone rang.

"I bet that's Granny," said Rosie.

"Hardly likely, she's usually tucked up in bed by ten." Her heart thumping suddenly, Jenna picked it up and looked at the screen i.d. It was Fran. With apprehension, she answered it. "Hi! What's up?"

His voice was strained and urgent. "Jen, have you got Flora with you?"

"Flora? No, of course not, I haven't seen her since I said goodbye to you both this afternoon. Why? What's happened?"

"I went to check on her just now, before I went to bed," said Fran. "And she's gone. So's the backpack she'd got ready for the flight tomorrow, and her padded jacket. I've looked everywhere, and she's not in the house, or the garden."

"Oh, God," said Jenna, her hand to her mouth. "You mean - "

"Yes. She's run away."

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