The Crossing

Chapter 7

Roy plunged out into a park whose paths wound between stately trees and tidy gardens. Pressing blindly on, he came to the ruins of a church. Was this the magnificent Minster? Had he pushed himself so far into the future that its roof had fallen in? As he tried to clear his head, a square of paper blew across the grass towards him. Without thinking, he bent and plucked it out of the air.

‘Bravo!’ someone cried, and Roy looked over to see a plump woman with stockinged feet flitting towards him.

‘Good catch,’ she panted, coming closer. ‘You’ll play for England yet.’

Roy blushed. He held up the paper and saw on it a sketch of the remains of a building. The words ‘Whitby Abbey’ were printed underneath.

‘It’s Dorothy’s,’ the woman said, laughing and pointing back behind her. Following her finger, Roy saw a second woman, tall and straight and clad in khaki, standing behind an easel, a picnic rug and basket – flanked by a bottle – beside her on the grass.

‘She’s Dotty and I’m Spotty – schoolgirl nicknames, you know, are so hard to shake off.’ She giggled. ‘Dotty has a dream. To paint every old church in England.’

‘Really?’ Roy said. ‘And you?’

‘Me? My dream, you mean? It’s the same.’

‘You’re an artist, too?’

‘No, thank God. My dream, you silly, is for Dotty to paint every old church in England. With my help, of course.’ She tapped the side of her nose. ‘Someone has to drink the champagne.’

‘Whitby Abbey,’ Roy murmured, looking at the drawing.

‘Yesterday’s pile. Two hours away, by the seaside.’

‘Thank you,’ Roy said, and gave her the paper.

‘Thank you, Good Samaritan, sir.’

With a wave, she turned to go.

‘Wait,’ Roy said. ‘The patron saint – of Whitby, I mean. Do you know who it is?’

Spotty giggled again. ‘Not me. Dotty,’ she bawled over her shoulder. ‘Patron saint. Of Whitby.’

But Roy knew the answer before it came, borne on the breeze. With unseeing eyes, he watched the woman skip back to her companion, his own voice echoing in his ears, across the years, mocking his sister. Blessed Saint Hilda.

He set out after the woman – after Spotty.

‘Which way,’ he called, ‘to the Minster?’

She pointed to her right. ‘That way, Sir Disinherited Knight. The holy land lies to the east. Beware, though, the storm, lest you be wrecked and cast up on a desolate isle.’

He was about to ask her what she meant when a drop of rain anointed his head. As thunder rumbled in the darkening sky, he hurried through a screen of trees and out into a paved courtyard that ended, some twenty yards away, at a high stone wall. Roy sank to his knees. He could go no further. The cathedral would have to come to him. Then a bell sounded, deep and booming and close.

‘You do that inside the Minster, mister,’ someone called.

Scrambling to his feet, Roy turned to see a half-circle of sniggering soldiers, chins and boots gleaming, cigarettes smouldering in their fists.

‘That way,’ the nearest said, pointing with his rifle.

Roy stumbled away, red-faced.

‘Say a prayer for me mam,’ one of them called.

Hoots of laughter pursued him around the corner.

Chapter 8