The wind was fresh on the Sussex downs, and now winter was not far, the ground was hard, too hard almost for Jack Catherick to dig his spade into. He let go off it to clasp his hands and warm them with his breath.
"Cold, ey?" Martin, his sole companion, grinned underneath his face wrapper. "Won't be much longer now we can carry on with the business."
"What's it you suggest? Store them until summer?"
Catherick picked up his spade again, shoveling heavy earth over his shoulder as though he would be paid a fortune for it instead of a pittance.
They worked in silence for a while until the grave was deep enough. Helping each other out of the ditch, they puffed, and made to brush down the legs of their trousers.
"Have a fag?"
Martin reached into the depth of his lunch box, rummaging for the smokes.
"Who else is there? Who's next, Jack?"
Catherick accepted his cigarette with a grunt, and lit it in the shelter of his crooked hand, against the wind.
"It's that woman Abe Flynn fished out of the sea. Over there." He indicated a corner of the churchyard, underneath a lilac bush and thus a little less exposed to the weather.
The men finished their break in the consequent monosyllabism of physical workers. It was only when they set to their task in the chosen spot of God's acre that the younger of the two picked up the conversation.
"What exactly happened to her, Jack?"
"Why'd you ask me that, boy? All aif heard is from old Flynn, who was out in his dogger when she fell off the cliff. Says he heard her cry and as he turned round he saw her fall. Recovered her near the coast he did, at his own risk, but of course she was dead as mutton."
"Wonder what she was doing up there."
Martin shoved his cap to the back of his head, scratching his curly forehead.
"Why, what's it to you? Who has she even been? A stranger."
"Aye. Belonged to the people of the cottage."
"The one near the honey farm. Out on the downs. I've seen her once or twice, when she was out with her wee one. Fine looking woman, she was."
They fell silent again, throwing clumps of soil out of the stranger woman's grave. After a while, Jack Catherick started whistling the "Old Brigade".
I will do an equal favour to you and me if I do not go into the details of the weeks that followed Kitty's death. Let me just say they passed by at the same pace as other weeks, though it may have seemed different to those who lived through them.
The past is for the dead, and the present for the living. I have made it my motto to live accordantly, and would welcome it if my best friend would follow the set example. Of course, we are not the same. He is convinced her death was intentional. I heard him tell the coroner so, when he came to interrogate us.
I told him it was my persuasion she has had an accident, the miserable situation she found herself in notwithstanding. Of course we can never know for certain. Still, I am convinced of her misadventure as if I had accompanied her, climbed with her on the cliff, seen her foot slip; heard the cry reported to us by the old local fisherman. Kitty was not one to do a foolish thing; she loved life too much for that. I do not say so to diminish the guilt Holmes may have brought upon himself during her lifetime. I knew Kitty Winter.
We have returned to London because there is nothing we could do for him, or Sheridan. All our attempts to dissuade him from his scheme to put the child into the care of a special orphanage have been unsuccessful. I can only guess at the feeling of failure that may have beset him every time he looked at his son. However, it was unnecessary to hide him from the world. We could have taken him, or he could have been made the charge of Kitty's family. But at the end of the day, it is for his father to say.
He is in a strange condition. He has sent the girl away. Her similarity to Catherine has proven too much for him, and it will become worse as she grows up. Fanny cried on departure, she did not want to go back to her mother's. Maybe, after all, it would have been the place for Kitty. She was Irish down to her bones, had she never known Holmes, perhaps it might have been her way to happiness. Not so for Fanny. Born and raised in the downtown molech of Limehouse, she is English to a degree her aunt never has accomplished. Maybe she will never be at home in Kerry.
I have thought much about her since she has left. I even went so far as to secretly post a letter to Kitty's brother, Joe Winter, to ask if he could consider the possibility of Fanny living in London, with us. I think Mary would like that.
This story is dedicated to Kit Thompson and Jeremy Brett, the Kitty and Holmes of my imagination.
So, that has been it. My first completed novel-length piece of writing. It has taken three years for me to write and for you to read.
I am in two minds about the end. Happy, because it turned out the way I wanted, and sad, obviously, because I can write it no longer. Thank you, my dear faithful readers, for your constant encouragement and feedback. It is essential to every writer, I think, to get some sort of response to his work. It would never have been finished without your input and support.
Hopefully all of you enjoyed the story. I know that I did. The characters so much better than any I could have invented. I loved to purloin them!
:-D Lots and lots and lots of love and good bye, your deeply obliged