Chapter 24. Walks
They were focused on getting to the spot where Maeve had encountered Thomas without slipping in the mud or getting waylaid by any other spirits. As they walked, both were looking down watching at their feet, avoiding puddles and muddy drifts, Maeve told Orla Ada’s theories on ‘natural spirits’.
“So she thinks I might have chosen Canterbury because I can feel them and that maybe you have become passionate about the environment for the same reason.” Sidestepping the off-road bike tracks, now filled with water.
“You do seem to have an affinity for trees.”
Orla was reflecting,
“Well it seems like a neat explanation. Maybe too neat. Just because a round peg can fit into a round hole, doesn’t mean it belongs there.”
“Quite right too.” Said a deep voice from behind them.
Maeve and Orla jumped, Maeve landed awkwardly, lost her balance, ending up sitting in the wet path with both hands stuck in the muddy edges. Matthew reached down and pulled her up. It surprised Maeve because he felt warm, and he had that magnetic charisma, against her better judgment she found him very attractive.
He breathed in, “I smell scent, emm... rose water? Mum.”
Then “I’m so sorry.... It’s nice to see friends....”
Maeve had noticed before that he had that look somewhere between Hugh Grant and George Clooney, so without thinking said,
“We must stop meeting like this.” But this time as he pulled her up, she had looked directly into his eyes. They were red rimmed, troubled. Had he been crying, she wondered.
He spoke like he was picking up from the middle of a conversation with them.
“Sometimes I don’t know who to talk to, who to turn to. It’s all so bloody hopeless…..” Running his fingers through his hair.
As he talked, Orla had taken wipes from her pocket and was cleaning Maeve up, working around her, as Maeve carried on paying attention to Matthew.
“...I don’t get the point of it all. It’s not like I haven’t tried. I took the office job, wore the suit…pitched up everyday...on time….worked hard, more than most.”
Orla, deciding that this might go on for a while, started heading off, catching Maeve’s arm and pulling Maeve with her. She was right, and just as she thought, Matthew followed them still talking. He had a large stick in one hand, which he waved about from time to time to emphasise a point. They walked on to the far side of the lake where for a short distance the path was more tame with a hard surface and indicative rather than significant railings.
“..but who gives a shit about the size of your desk? How does anyone work with these people? They have no idea what’s really important. There are no lives at stake for Chrissake!”
He hit the short length of cosmetic railing on the side of the path, a powerful thump, breaking the stick clean in two. Maeve and Orla glanced sideways at each other, signalling that it was time to put some distance between them and Matthew.
“Oh well,” Maeve was trying a cheery voice to bring him back to normal. “I have been looking for people who might be able to help you. It sounds like you have some things to work through.”
Matthew was distant, he wasn’t paying them any real attention.
“We’ll come back another day and have a chat. Right now we have to meet someone over in the woodland there who is very shy. So we will leave you here. Bye for now.” Maeve took Orla by the arm this time, facing Matthew, they waved a firm farewell, encouraging him to carry on the path and not follow them.
“Er, oh, yes, of course.” He was still preoccupied with his own thoughts but did head off as they had indicated.
“Phew, that was a little more than I was expecting. Did you get the smell of spirits from his breath? It may be early, but he had been drinking or maybe hadn’t stopped since last night.” Maeve said as she kept her arm linked through Orla’s.
“It confirms what I thought. I had begun to look into it after talking to Steve, and I’m no expert but that sounds very much like PTSD.”
Maeve and Orla were walking as they talked, moving through some of the minor tracks in the wood, bringing them back to the incline where Thomas first spoke to Maeve.
“I doubt Matthew will even remember that he has had the conversation with us at all. I wonder if that smell was a trigger. Maybe combined with the alcohol. He is not in a good place. He needs specialist help, I gather in this frame of mind he could flip, be dangerous, and not even know it.”
As they were now close to where Maeve had last seen Thomas, Orla brought them back to this problem. “What are you going to say to this guy?”
“Say to who?” For a second time that morning, a voice from behind made Maeve jump. This time it was Orla who missed her footing, as Maeve grabbed onto her, and it was Orla who elegantly slid, while falling forwards onto the steep bank in front of them. She got away with minimal damage, just dirty hands. She righted herself and turned to Maeve.
Maeve now had her back to Orla, with one hand out in front of her like a policeman stopping traffic.
“Stop right there. I have some news. And I have some questions for you.”
Her firm tone and action had the desired effect. Thomas stepped back, took the remains of a hat off his head in a sign of respect, revealing greasy locks of hair stuck to his head. Maeve pressed her advantage,
“You wouldn’t be hiding out here if you were not one of the troublemakers. Were you the one who started all of this and tore the Mayor’s cloak?”
Thomas bowed his head further. Maeve took this as a sign that she was on the right track.
“And after that melee, did you smash any of the Puritans’ windows?”
“We wuz just showing them, enough is enough. I didn’t do no-one a permanent damage. Not like them.” By not disagreeing Thomas had accepted the charge, but he wasn’t going to take it lying down.
“It would have quieted down, if not for that bloody barber, White. They made him Captain White. He shot my brother dead, jus for callin him a ‘Roundhead’, and that’s the truth of it.” Thomas, looked around, in case anyone was listening.
“That’s when the real trouble started. We opened the jail ‘n let ‘em all out, from then I knew I wuz a wanted man. When they put the other two lads in jail. I ran. Bin here ever since.”
“So you let others take the blame while you hid out?”
Thomas shifted from foot to foot, uncomfortable.
“Well Edward, wasn’t your enemy. He didn’t want any of you to starve, he left food out for you.” Maeve was watching the reaction. It seemed to calm him.
“Mebbe he wasn’t so bad then. I didn’t think anyone giv a damn.”
The fight had gone out of him, he looked a little lost.
“It’s all over then?” He seemed less present.
“Yes, it's all over. People celebrate Christmas now.” Maeve didn’t know what would make sense to him, but this seemed to be enough. She didn’t feel him close to her anymore. The threat diminished. He was gone.
Orla had been watching throughout the conversation. Once there was silence she spoke.
“Fill me in that didn’t make much sense.”
“I had guessed that he was hiding out for a reason and Edward might hint at things but didn’t want to get him officially into trouble. These riots kicked off a Kent-ish rebellion and by summer 1647 they were part of the Second Civil War.”
It was too cold to stand around for long, so they started walking as Maeve finished the story.
“From the research that Marianne and Adam found, there wasn’t much about the ordinary people. There was a lot of politics going on among those who had land but not much about the actual rioters. So I took a chance that the locals who started the trouble were forgotten. And that’s how Thomas might have ended up here, starving to death.”
“Good detective work.” Orla was impressed. “I heard them talking about it all but would never have figured that out.”
Maeve didn’t have long to enjoy that sense of satisfaction. They had been walking quickly to get the circulation going, now with heart rates elevated and warm breath leaving vapour trails they knew that they were in the right spot.
That distressing feeling of sadness hit them both at exactly the same time. The child was calling.