Saturday, 29 September 2007

Chapter 149

It wouldn’t be easy getting Laurel on her own, and Harry wondered, even, if it was fair to pull her away from the proceedings when she had only just ‘met’ her grandmother. It was while he helped Bill prepare the tea that he realised he had no choice.

They worked quietly, both of them straining to catch up on where Lillian was up to in her tale, but Harry saw how quickly his friend seemed to be organising everything, as if he couldn’t wait to get back into the lounge and continue taking his notes. It was proof, if he needed it, that Bill still intended to write his story. He hoped Danny had been paying attention to Lillian’s account, just in case she’ added anything new.

Harry carried the plate, replenished with biscuits, into the room, Bill following along with the tray of drinks. Lillian had started telling her guests about Thomas McFry. Colin McAllistair looked up as they returned. He’d wondered for a moment what had taken Bill and Harry so long, but the historian in him had kept him focused on the drama of a story he’d been hearing of Lillian’s return to England – without her daughter – and how she’d settled into her ‘relationship’ with Thomas.

As the tea was handed round, Harry noticed that Dave Morris seemed bored – almost frustrated – and that Jane Tobias looked a little uncomfortable, too. He guessed they hadn’t been expecting Lillian’s life story, and were struggling to link it all to Dacre Lawrence. Well, that would have to wait, just for the moment. Danny, he was pleased to see, seemed more alert to the story Lillian was telling.

“Thank you, Harry,” Lillian said, as she took a biscuit from the plate. “All this talking is making me quite thirsty. And I’m sure our guests will appreciate a fresh cup of tea.” Harry picked up a flatness in her tone, as if the pain of revealing her secrets might be taking its toll.

As Bill Blunt took his seat and picked up his notepad with undisguised relish, Harry nodded and forced an encouraging smile purely for Lillian’s benefit - turning, as he did so, to Laurel. She looked almost mesmerised, staring at her grandmother with a wrapt expression that Harry worried might just give the game away.

“Well, if you’ll excuse us, Lillian, I think Ana and I would like to go outside for a cigarette,” Harry said, suddenly. Laurel shot a look of disgust at him, but he studiously ignored it. Danny looked at the two of them quizzically, but thought he saw Harry wink. He couldn’t be sure what Harry was up to, and wondered what he’d been discussing with Bill Blunt while they’d been such a time in the kitchen. Whatever it was, Harry clearly felt he needed to brief Laurel, and he guessed, now, that the cigarette break was just a cover to get her alone. He saw that Laurel was looking at him, and nodded quickly, so she might realise she had to follow Harry’s lead.

“You go ahead, Harry. If I was ten years younger, I would have been joining you!” Lillian replied. “Now … where was I?” she asked, rhetorically, slipping back into her story while Ana collected her handbag and followed Harry out of the room.


When they were outside in the back garden, the door firmly closed, Harry reached for his cigarettes.

“Are you alright?” he asked, as Laurel leant against the wall, her eyes moving to the cat, which had stretched out a front leg and was settling itself back into slumber.

“Better let me have one of those,” Laurel said. Her hand was shaking as Harry handed her the pack.

“I guess this has all been quite a revelation to you, Laurel…” he said, his voice trailing off as he lit their cigarettes.

“Oh, Harry! You’ve got no idea!” she exclaimed. “It’s like a whole life just opened up for me! I never thought it would be so difficult – it was all I could do to stop myself hugging her at one point.”

He let the silence linger a moment, until she felt ready to continue.

“This has all come as a bit of a shock to me. I can’t explain, but even just a little thing – like why my mother spoke such perfect French – it starts to make sense now. But why did she never tell me any of this?”

Harry had wondered about that himself.

“Maybe she never got the chance, Laurel,” he said. “You were just a young girl, remember? I’m not sure how you’d tell a seven year old that her mother had been abandoned by her own mother in a foreign country – and that’s even supposing she knew the full facts herself.”

“But she didn’t have to leave my mother there! She was with Stuart – and he wasn’t my uncle then. If they’d come back to England together…”

Laurel – if they’d done that, have you considered that you wouldn’t be here now?” It was the kind of philosophical question that isn’t best fitted for discussion on a chilly Tuesday afternoon in February, in a small back garden in Telford, Harry realised, as he watched Laurel struggle to understand his meaning.

“I don’t understand…“ she said.

“It’s like this. Laurel McFry only exists because her mother somehow met up with her father, Philip McFry. Now, if Stuart had been with Lillian, had married her even, do you think it’s conceivable they’d have allowed their daughter to marry her uncle?” It was easier for Harry to put the question that way, somehow.

“I … I see what you mean.” Laurel had got Harry’s drift. “My uncle would have been my grandfather, then?”

Harry drew on his cigarette, and shook his head.

“Thankfully, it never happened that way, Laurel.”

Laurel realised, then, that in the course of their journey to Telford they hadn’t actually discussed the DNA results, and she wondered briefly whether Harry had engineered it that way.

“So tell me. What exactly did happen?” She was trying to hide an anger that was welling up inside her, the feeling that she was being, somehow, manipulated by Harry, had come to mind.

“OK, here goes,” Harry said, taking a deep breath. “Your grandfather was John Lawrence He came from Thirsk, in North Yorkshire – co-incidentally, not far from where Lillian was born. By the time he was working in Spain, he’d assumed the name of Jonathan Harcourt. You heard, just now, how he met Lillian.

“And you know this for a fact?” Laurel asked. “The DNA samples, I suppose…”

“Yes. Your DNA shows a match to Dacre Lawrence, who was John Lawrence’s – Jonathan Harcourt’s – son. Or at least enough of a match to show Dacre’s father was your grandfather.”

“So… Dr Lawrence was … what? My mother’s…”

“Half brother. But he never knew that – at least not when he met Lillian.”

Laurel considered this for a moment. “But, if he never knew, how come he wrote to me?”

“He’d worked out before he met Lillian that he was related to the McFry’s, because his father was a cousin of theirs. He actually said as much to Lillian when he visited her. But I suspect he didn’t find out about his more direct link to you until later – and only Cyril Galloway can confirm that for us.”

Laurel shook her head. “I just find it all so … bewildering. First, I’ve got a grandmother I never knew about, and then, all this.” She paused to stub out her cigarette against the wall. “But tell me, how much of this does Lillian actually know?”

“Not very much at all. In fact, I suspect she thinks Stuart McFry was your grandfather. And that’s why she’s wanted to keep quiet all these years.”

“But why didn’t they marry?”

“Ah … well, that’s the question I’d like her to answer. I have my own theory, but that’s all it is just now.”

She looked at him pointedly. “And you’re not one much for sharing your theories, are you?”

Harry ignored the comment. “If only I had those certificates, I’d be surer…” He realised she was still shaken by the news of the link to Lawrence. “Are you sure you’re alright?”

Laurel nodded. “Yes, I’ll be fine. But you know, while I was listening to Lillian I realised I had seen her before. She was at my mother’s funeral. I was only seven, Harry – but I remember a woman standing at the back, away from everyone. I know it was her.”

“I’m sure Lillian had her reasons for not keeping in touch, Laurel. The main thing is, you’ve found her now.” He wanted to re-assure her. “Sometimes, families just sort of … lose their way.” He’d had enough evidence of that, recently.

“Yes. I suppose I have to look at it that way.” She didn’t sound fully convinced, but Harry had other business he wanted to discuss.

“Listen, Laurel – I need your help.”

“How so?” she asked, as Harry lit yet another cigarette.

“It’s like this. Bill Blunt’s got an extension on his deadline. I wondered why the old dog was so relaxed when we met him, earlier. It’s my guess they’re holding publication until later this afternoon, and that if he has his way they’ll run with your story on the front page.”

Laurel shook her head. “Oh no, Harry. This is Lillian’s story, not mine. And I, for one, don’t want it splashed all over Birkenhead. She’s my grandmother, after all.” It was still a novelty to be able to use that word, and know it related to a living, breathing person. “How do you think she’d feel if she found everything about Stuart, Jonathan – her lovers – available for all and sundry to read?”

“Precisely,” Harry said. “I’ve already had a go at persuading Bill to kill the story, but he won’t have any of it. That’s why I need your help.”

“I don’t understand. If he won’t listen to you, why is he going to listen to me?”

“Oh, he won’t. But I’ve got an idea there’s someone – or, rather, something – that his editor will listen to, if you’ll hear me out.”

By the time their conversation had finished and they were ready to return to the bungalow, Laurel had made a call through to the editor of the Birkenhead Beagle, and everything was fixed.


Theresa111 said...

Harry is so clever!

Thomas Hamburger Jnr said...

But not so clever as he sometimes likes to think he is, Theresa!

Kind Regards


70steen said...

ok Thomas where are you ??
I don't want to have to re read back I had it fixed in my mind the who's after a weekend of partying it is diminishing :-)

Thomas Hamburger Jnr said...

Thanks, 70steen. A busy old week that crowded out the space for writing that I thought I'd have...

Fingers crossed for more time this week!

Kind regards