tagRomanceRestoring the Castle Ch. 08

Restoring the Castle Ch. 08

byolivias©

"It wasn't anyone's fault, Ally," Angela said. "She wanted to go and we all know how strong her will was. If we wouldn't do it for her, she was determined to do it herself. I should have known, though."

"What do you mean?" Ally asked. They were sitting in the living room of Shadow Hill, Angela Harris' Washington home. They had just been to the cremation ceremony. Ally would be putting Miranda's ashes in the base of a fountain that would go in the ornamental garden at Banffy when the castle restoration was complete. There was no reason new owners need even know they were there. But Ally knew her mother would be pleased that no one could deny her eternal possession of the castle.

"The day before you took Miranda up to the castle, she was lucid enough to bring up the topic of our contract again. She told me that she knew and accepted that I couldn't do that for her—that our bond was too strong. She let me off the hook. I told her that her bond was just as strong with you and that you hadn't agreed to any such contract, and she said she knew and accepted that. I should have known then that she was taking the responsibility back on her own shoulders. I assumed, with relief, that it meant she was giving up the idea of ending her life. I was wrong. I should have known that this would be Miranda's way."

They sat in silence for a few minutes before Angela sighed and said, "I asked you to stop by today because I have something for you. Your mother had me keep a strongbox for her. She said it was just a lot of papers, but they'd be ones you needed when she was gone."

"You have Mother's papers? They didn't burn in any of the fires?"

"No they didn't burn. I had to laugh when she asked me to keep them. She said she was sure she'd burn the castle down someday because of her smoking habit—that you kept saying she would—and that she couldn't stop smoking, so she'd best have the papers kept somewhere else."

"Can I see the box now? It might contain something the sheriff wanted me to discover from her that would help with the case of that body in the wall in the ballroom."

Angela went upstairs and retrieved the box and Ally sifted through the papers inside it with trembling hands. Sure enough she came up with the paperwork on the partition wall that Miranda had put in the ballroom.

"I need to make a phone call," she said, almost beside herself with excitement and concern.

"Yes, that figures," Sheriff Shiflet said when she told him what she'd found. "The police ID just came in on the body in the wall. I was going to contact you as soon as you'd had a chance to have the memorial service for your mother. The body was that of Craig Monroe, Jake's brother and partner. He didn't just run away with the money four years ago. He didn't run away at all. He was murdered and walled up in the castle."

"And we know now that the Monroes are the ones who were putting in that wall—so it was Jake lying about that. So—"

"So Jake is probably our murderer. Those two were from two different mothers and they were always at each other's throats. I'm not a bit surprised that Craig is dead and Jake is gone. He got the money then and he's taken off with the money now too. He isn't just pouting somewhere; he's taken off."

"So you should—"

"Already in train, missy," the sheriff interjected. "And your mother is completely off the hook for taking her ornery ways toward men too far."

Ally told Angela that news when she and the sheriff had disconnected. She should have felt elated and relieved, but a nagging question remained. And it was a question she should have asked a long time ago. Angela readily agreed with that.

"My goodness, Ally. Why didn't you ask before? And I thought I told you. Dennis is in Prague. He couldn't have been the man in the wall at the castle. He's very much alive. I had to talk to him last week about some investments we still share."

"I was so afraid it was him—and that maybe mother did have something to do with . . . and that there was some secret about that between you two that would be devastating for me to bring up. I kept intending to ask. You did tell me he was in Prague, but I didn't think he really was there. I know wherever he was he'd be playing his violin in an orchestra. That's too big a part of his life. I had friends in the State Department scour the city of Prague for a Dennis Harris and they came up blank. So I thought he really wasn't there."

"Don't you remember that I told you he had changed his name when he came to the States?"

"Yes, but . . ."

"He changed it back when he went back to Prague. He's known as Antoine Donateley in Prague. And he does play for the Czech Philharmonic. You can find him readily enough—if you really want to. But you may not want to."

"Why is that, Angela?"

"I suppose it's time you knew. That was another thing your mother told me she wanted me to do when she spoke to me about dying the day before she plunged off that tower. She thought you should know who your father was—and even why she hasn't told you all of these years."

"I know what the speculation is," Ally said.

"The speculation is wrong. You think it's the conductor, August Donáti, don't you?"

Ally's expression revealed that she did.

"So did a lot of other people, even though Donáti was sixty at the time. But he was in no way involved in your parentage. I've always told your mother that it was wrong to let that speculation float. But she didn't deny it. To protect me."

"To protect you?"

"Yes, Ally. You didn't figure out the significance of that record your mother had Lois give you, did you?"

"I assumed it was a clue that August Donáti really was my father. He conducted the music."

"You missed two key points then. First was the featured piece itself. Do you remember what that was?"

"'Elgar's Violin Concerto in B minor,' wasn't it?"

"Yes. But did you know that that concerto had another name? It was discussed in the notes on the record jacket. Did you read them?"

"No, I'm afraid not. I thought the message was less subtle than that."

"Well, when you go back to the castle, look at that record jacket again. The Elgar violin concerto is also known as 'Alice's Concerto.' It has been strongly suggested that he wrote the concerto for a woman named Alice Street-Wortley. 'Alice' is the important word here. Your mother named you Alice. It was such an old-fashioned name—and ultimately such a painful one for both her and me—that we quickly gave you the nickname 'Ally.' But your mother had originally used Alice as a sort of revenge and a statement that the circumstances would never be forgotten. She never gave you an idea where the name came from, did she? After she'd had you, though, and had fallen in love with having you, she couldn't live with that daily reminder of how she had gotten you."

"I asked about my name. No one in our family has that name. But she never would tell me. But why was it an act of revenge? Why is it significant?"

"Her first thought in using it was so that Dennis would never forget what he'd done—the shame of it."

"Dennis?"

"Yes, the second clue on the record jacket. There's a featured violin solo in the Elgar piece. Did you see from the record jacket who that featured solo artist was in that version?"

"Yes, I did see that. It was Dennis. Are you trying to tell me—?"

"Yes, that Dennis is your biological father. But it's more sordid than that. And here I still hesitate to say . . . but your mother told me that if you were told any part of it, that you should know it all."

"What? Do tell me."

It took Angela several moments to begin forming the words. "I'm sorry, child. You are a child of rape—not a rape of sexual desire but one of anger. And some would even say a justified anger."

"Dennis raped my mother, and I was the result of that?"

"Yes. But out of rage, not desire or lust. Desire was your mother's and my sin. It wasn't Dennis'. Surely you've seen through the years how close your mother and I were. We were as close as two people could get. We were lovers. Everyone could see that, I think, but Dennis. He was absorbed in himself and after our initial months of marriage, we more or less went our separate ways. He had taken up with a flutist. I knew of their affair, of course. But I didn't care. I already had Miranda. Dennis walked in on us one afternoon. He went into a rage that ended with him beating me and raping your mother—to punish me. Your mother hated men ever since then. And she refused not to have you. I have often thanked our lucky stars you were a girl and not a boy, though."

Ally sat quietly for a few minutes to let that sink in. She couldn't be surprised that Miranda and Angela had been lovers. It had been right before her eyes her entire life. "But the rumors were that the conductor was my father?"

"That was partially Miranda's fault. She may have been the one to drop the initials 'A.D.' to torment Dennis with the danger that his deed would be uncovered. We couldn't really publicly accuse him of the act, because he could counter by revealing our affair. And in those days, our affair would have been more of a scandal then his moment of rage. His affair would be written off as men just being men and a man whose anger could be justified by having been cuckolded. My affair with your mother would have been seen as abhorrent.

"I don't even know if she was thinking that the conductor had those initials when she used them as a tease when asked. She probably was only thinking of Dennis's real name. His original name and the one he has gone back to, Antoine Donateley."

"The initials. Those were the initials on the cup on the mantel in mother's room—the one that gave her such a bitter reaction on the day she died when she saw it."

"Ah, yes. That was another one of your mother's angry responses at the time to what Dennis had done to her. Dennis had inherited some silver—very old silver pieces—that had come down through his family in Eastern Europe. It was a family tradition that all of the men have the same initials. And they put those initials on their silver pieces. That cup on your mother's mantle was one of a set. I have the other seven still, here in the dining room."

"I know," Ally said in a whisper. "I've seen them."

"In a fit of pique your mother took one of the cups and had it engraved on the other side."

"The inscription 'Forgotten Never.'" Ally whispered.

"Yes, that, precisely. So you've seen that. It was meant to have a double meaning. Only the three of use—Miranda, Dennis, and I—would know that it symbolized a shame that was never forgotten rather than a love. She kept it out on her mantelpiece so that Dennis would see it whenever he came to where she was living. Very soon, though, he just stopped coming to where she lived."

"So, when my mother came here to live . . ."

". . . Dennis had to leave, to move back to Prague. He's not an evil man, Ally. He just has a volatile temper and he's also a very self-centered man. In my observation, most highly talented musicians, whether they are men or women, are the same. But it was an act of anger that was in part, at least, justified and understandable.

"Miranda and I had been treating him shabbily—and we continued to treat him shabbily through the decades since then. We never broke our bond. Instead we broke his spirit. I had no idea, but obviously he loved me—or wanted to possess me—more than I understood when I went looking for love with your mother. At least that was what he told me when he later tried to justify his horrific action. We broke him, Miranda and I. But I can't say, even after all of these years, that I care. I'm the one who encouraged your mother to move here—to buy and live in Banffy. Dennis of course opposed that strongly and said he would have to leave me—that he'd go back to Prague alone—if Miranda came here. I rejoiced in that. I always chose your mother over Dennis. My greatest fear now is that he will want to come back."

The two drifted off into silence again, broken only when a clock on Angela's mantle chimed the hour.

"So, there you have it. You know all now—including having an inkling of why your mother was so bitter toward men in general. I never could be, even when I was willing to give my all to her. But then I never had happen to me what happened to her. It did not cloud her love for you, though, I must assure you of that. You were her whole world. I even came to be a bit jealous of you. I hope that, even knowing the full story, you will not suffer the bitterness toward men that she did. It was probably a deeper tragedy of her stubborn strain than not being able to give up the smoking."

"Thank you, no, Angela. It will not put me off men."

Angela gave her a sharp look, and then a twinkle entered her eye. "Perhaps there's one man in particular who doesn't put you off?"

"I think there very likely is."

"And he's nearby?"

"Just up the mountain."

"Then I think we are well finished here. Why don't you go to him?"

"I think that perhaps I shall."

And so she did.

Hugh was waiting for her at the door of the Airstream. He took one look at her and recognized that some sort of burden had lifted from her shoulders, something she never had discussed with him.

"I have missed you," he said. "Would it be too forward of me to ask if you would come into my trailer."

"No, not at all," Ally answered, with a smile. "I know of nothing else this afternoon that I'd rather do—or anyone else I'd rather be with."

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