Celtic Remnants

Celtic Remnants by Deborah O'Toole is a powerful novel of enduring love and betrayal set in the political turbulence of Ireland, glamour of London and wilds of Scotland.

From Chapter Twenty-Five

July 1993

Amber Court, Oxfordshire



DAVID AND CHEE spent the rest of the evening in the company of Maura Lancaster. David dismissed William for the night so he and Chee could be alone with his grandmother. David brewed the tea himself and served for the three of them.

Maura was holding up remarkably well considering it was the day of her only son's funeral. Edward's treatment of her had left a deep chasm in the feelings she had for him. He had barely acknowledged her for years. Maura realistically felt nothing in her life would change whether Edward was alive or not. Yet he was her son - her flesh and blood. The tumult of emotions left her troubled.

After a long tea service in which the threesome consumed two pots of tea and several scones, Maura dozed in her wheelchair while David and Chee started to talk softly. Fading light from the window cast murky shadows in the room, but Chee was not afraid of them. She felt comforted somehow, and very safe.

They became silent after a short time, each lulled by the hot tea and scones. He leaned his head back in the chair next to Maura, closing his eyes. Chee stretched out on the small settee in front of the fireplace, where she stared into the cold depths of the dry hearth. It was too warm for a fire, but she could imagine what it would look like in the winter, during Christmas. It would be soothing and inviting, and probably decorated for the season. She would like nothing better than to spend Christmas at Amber Court with David and Maura, even though it was five months away. The only missing element was Ava.

There was not a sound in Maura's sitting room, but Chee felt her spine stiffen all the same. She sat up and looked over her shoulder toward the doorway. Her heart skipped a beat. Ava stood there. She looked healthy and rested, swathed in dark clothes. She was smiling at her daughter.

Mindful of Maura, Chee glanced at the older woman still asleep in her wheelchair. Then she sped across the room to Ava. She wrapped her arms around her mother tightly and started to cry.

"Sshhh," Ava whispered in her ear. "We don't want to rouse David, do we? Is that his grandmother in the wheelchair?"


"We don't want to rouse her, either."

Chee pulled back from her mother so she could see her face. "But Maura is okay, Mummy. She knows a lot, and she keeps secrets so well. Where have you been? I was so worried, and not a word from you."

Ava touched her daughter's face, delighted to be seeing her after so long. She had grown in just a few months, and was even taller than she remembered. "I've been working, darling," Ava said lightly. "Tim returned from his trip to America, and we've been traveling around quite a bit since. This is the first chance I've had to come and see you."

Chee hugged her mother again. "I'm just glad you're here," she exclaimed. "How long can you stay?"

"You mean we," Ava said. "I've come for you, lass."

What Chee had been dreading for weeks was finally becoming a reality. She hid in her mother's arms, not daring to show her face which she knew revealed her feelings, her unwillingness to leave. Ava could sense her daughter's discomfort. Slowly, she held Chee away so she could look into her face. It was then David opened his eyes and saw both of them standing in the doorway. He felt an elation course through his body at the sight of Ava. He could barely contain himself as he alighted from the chair and hurried over to them.

Ava held out her arm and took both David and Chee in her embrace. She gripped them both tightly, wanting to hang on for as long as possible. It was then she fully realized Chee's unease at the mention of leaving with her. Forcing herself to break free of the embrace, she looked to her daughter's face again.

"You don't want to leave with me, do you?" Ava asked, flashing her eyes at David as she spoke.

"I didn't say that," Chee protested.

"Do I get my own greeting, Ava Egan?" David spoke up, taking Ava's arm and pulling her close to him. He kissed her on the mouth, not gently but fiercely, and she could not help but respond to him. For one brief moment she forgot Chee was watching them, and fully returned David's kiss.

Finally, he mumbled against her lips. "I'm glad you're here and I'm glad you're safe."

"I'm sorry to hear about your father," Ava said quietly. "I came as soon as I heard."

"The Earl was murdered," Chee said bluntly. "But the police don't know who did it."

"Hopefully they'll find out," Ava replied, locking eyes with her daughter. "Are you ready to leave with me, love?"

Chee hesitated again, so David broke in. "Do you have to be in such a rush, Ava? Can't you stay for a little while?"

"No," she shook her head. Her eyes narrowed as she regarded David and Chee. "The two of you are a couple of conspirators. I know something is on between you, and I'd like to know what it is. What are you trying to hide from me?"

In the candid style she inherited from her mother, Chee blurted out: "I know David is my father for real, Mummy. I sort of guessed, and grandmother Maura knew the minute she saw me."

Both David and Chee expected Ava's anger, but she surprised them. She took in the words rather calmly, her hands behind her back. David thought she looked thinner, but it was hard to tell because of the dark clothes adorning her body. "How can I be upset?" Ava finally said. She turned to gaze at Chee. "You look so much like David, and the rest of the Lancaster's. Maura sounds like a very observant lady. Funny I should have given you her name when you were born. I never met her."

"You're not upset?" Chee asked, still not convinced.

"No, actually I'm relieved," Ava said, smiling at them. "Now you know the truth Chee, once and for all. I'm sorry I kept it from you all these years, and I'm sorry I denied you a relationship with David for so long. Will you ever forgive me?"

Chee went into her mother's arms. Ava listened as her daughter spoke. "I know him now," she quavered. "That's what matters. I have a lot of time to make up for, but I would like to try."

"Which leads me to my first question: you don't want to leave with me, do you?"

Chee looked up at her mother, guilt written on her face. "I want to stay with David for awhile, but I don't want you to be hurt or sad. David will keep me safe, Mummy, and you can come here or to London anytime. Did you know David is now the Earl Lancaster, and that he is very rich? He said he'd make me his heir."

Ava glanced at David, but he was unable to read the emotion in her eyes.

"I'd like to make Chee my legal heir," David spoke up. "If it's agreeable with you, Ava."

"How could it not be?" she countered. "Why would I deny my daughter a safe home, and a secure future?"

"You wouldn't."


"But Mummy," Chee cried. "You always said when you came to get me, David was not to stop you. If you want me to, I'll leave with you tonight. I'll go wherever you want me to. I just don't want you to be sad or hurt."

Ava turned away from her daughter, trying to hide the tears in her eyes. When Chee was born, Ava had thought the experience the pinnacle of unconditional love. Nothing could or would replace such a feeling, she thought at the time, but she was wrong. Chee would be consumed by guilt if she stayed with David, but miserable and unhappy if she left with Ava. The poor child had created her own hell in her mind, and there was nothing Ava could do or say to alleviate her dilemma. Chee had been through so much in her short life, and Ava knew it wasn't fair to make her existence even more insecure.

She turned back to her daughter. "Stay with David if that's what you want," she said simply. "I just want you to be happy."

Still, Chee was uncertain. "But, are you sure? Will you still come and see me?"

Ava laughed. "Of course I will, silly lass."

"But when?"

Ava shrugged, a veil suddenly shading her facial expression. "Like it was before - when I can."

Chee chewed her lip in vexation. David longed to comfort her, but he didn't dare. The room was too highly charged with her emotions. Then Chee started to cry. "But that's what I hate, never knowing. I'll always wonder if someone has killed you, like they did Aunt Sophie, from one minute to the next."

Ava went to her daughter, and led her to a nearby chair, making her sit down. Ava's voice became somber, but the concern she felt for Chee was still evident. "Listen to me, darling. I've made my own choices, and I can't change them. Not now, and you know why. I love you very dearly, and I love David your father. But I also hate as much as I love, and I abhor what has happened to the Irish people, and how they have been prosecuted and massacred by the British for centuries. It's not just because of the plight of the Irish, it's also because of what was done to the Egan's and O'Casey's. I've seen too many people I love die: my parents, my brother and sister, Tim's father, sister and mother. You see, I could never be happy if I let it all go now. It wouldn't change a thing. I could stop tomorrow, and start living a normal life with you and David." Ava paused, taking a deep breath. "But my heart would never be content. I would always wonder if I had done one more thing for the Irish, if I had kept on my course, could I have made a difference? I can't live with the uncertainty, Chee, I just can't. In this one case, my hatred and desire are blind to all else. I don't hold you to that. You have your own life to live and your own choices to make, just as David does." She stressed her final words: "Just as I do."

Chee regarded her mother silently for a moment, her face a mask of emotions. She reminded David so much of Ava at the moment. He wondered if she had fully understood what Ava told her. David had the need to speak with Ava privately. He wanted to make it clear he had nothing whatsoever to do with Chee's decision, lest she think he planned the scenario.

David spoke up. "Chee, love, will you let Ava and I step out for a moment alone? Can you sit by grandmother Maura just for a bit?"

Chee looked relieved. She glanced at Ava as if to seek her approval. Ava nodded. Chee hurried over to the still-sleeping Maura and took the chair next to her, but her eyes remained on her parents.

David gently led Ava by the elbow to the foyer of Maura's rooms, where they would be assured of privacy without being overheard. As they came to a stop, Ava reached out and laid her head on his shoulder. He instinctively put his arms around her.

"I've missed you," she whispered, her voice breaking. "I know you don't believe me, but I truly missed you and Chee. I wanted so much to come back sooner, spend some time together as a family whether Chee realizes it or not. Now I see she has discovered the truth, and she's happy about it."

"I didn't try to sway her in either direction, Ava," David said, speaking over her head as she remained in his arms. "I think Chee suspected the truth all along, and Maura merely confirmed it for her."

Ava laughed through her tears. "I'm sure your grandmother figures she had nothing to lose. She was probably anxious for Chee to know the truth."

"She was," he agreed. "And Chee took to Maura instantly, as she did to my housekeeper in London, Mrs. Kindersley. I never once tried to talk Chee into living with me, never even hinted at it. She was the one who started talking about it, and how guilty she would feel when she had to tell you."

"I know," she told him, pulling away so she could look at him. "I can see it, David. She's happy. What have I ever offered her but instability? There were times when I couldn't see her for months on end. What the hell kind of life is that? She was safe, which was my primary concern. I suppose my main priority should have been to be a better mother, but life kept interfering and the years slipped away . . ."

He was wrenched by the genuine grief he saw in her eyes. "Chee loves you," he said strongly. "Ava, you have been a wonderful mother, and you will continue to be so."

She was resigned, but still sad. "Chee will live with you, and I won't fight it. And yes, I understand you had nothing to do with her decision. Chee is right, you know. I'm in London more than I'm in Ireland, and perhaps I'll be able to see her more often now that she won't be shut away at Kylemore Abbey."

David stared at Ava. She was struck by the intensity of his gaze. "What is it?" she asked. "What are you thinking?"

"Marry me," he blurted out, forging ahead even though he knew what her answer would be. "Leave what you're doing and marry me. We can have a wonderful and full life. With the money I now have at my disposal, we can change your identity and you can live your life as my wife."

She laughed shakily, stepping away from him. She wiped the tears from her cheeks, sniffling. "You tempt me sorely," she finally said. Her voice was soon steady again, and he braced himself for her words. "If only it were that easy." She shook her head, and then whispered: "I can't."

He swallowed. "I know, but I had to ask."

"And I had to answer. Besides," she added, trying to lighten his mood, "can you see me as the Countess Lancaster? Little Ava Egan from a shanty in Northern Ireland, the wife of an Earl? Your social dizzies would have a field day. They would be horrified."

"I don't give a damn."

"I know you don't, not anymore. That's what makes it even harder."

David and Ava stared at one another for a long time, each of them drinking in the sight of the other. He felt as if his heart was breaking, and she felt much the same. Deep down she also knew he would never stop wanting her to leave her life as it was, and he would never cease to desire her. And Chee would always feel guilty about the decision she made today, no matter what happened. And there was nothing Ava could do to alleviate their suffering. Then she furrowed her brow.

Or was there?

"What are you thinking now?" David asked her. "You look very serious all of a sudden."

"I'm thinking we should get back to Chee."

He felt the dread of finality. "I love you very much, Ava Egan. I want you to know my offer will always be open. You have been my wife in my heart from the minute I laid eyes on you."

She felt a sob catching in her throat. She reached out and caressed his cheek. He leaned into her and heard her whisper: "You are the only man I have ever loved, David. Please never forget it."

He nodded, not trusting himself to speak. He looked down at his feet. Ava took him by the hand to lead him back into the sitting room.

Chee saw her parents as soon as they reentered, and hurried across the carpet to greet them. They enveloped her into their arms, and for a brief few moments they stood as one family, united in their desperate love and yet torn apart by it as well.

This was the sight which met Maura Lancaster's eyes when she opened them. At first she thought she was dreaming, but then as her eyes focused she realized she was seeing David with his daughter and Ava Egan for the first time. This was the woman who had her grandson's heart, who always had it. Maura remained quiet and still, not wanting to intrude upon their private moment, but her curiosity about Ava led her to regard the woman closely.

She was small and dark, with the intense air of Chee about her. Or was it Chee who had the air of Ava? At the same time, Chee was so obviously a Lancaster. The child possessed the absolute best of both her parents. The thought struck Maura with a surge of alacrity. The threesome was sad and clinging to one another. It did not bode well. Chee was either leaving with her mother - which Maura prayed was not the case - or Ava was leaving without both Chee and David. Maura suspected the latter.

Ava opened her eyes, still in the midst of her embrace with Chee and David, her gaze meeting the clear and open directness of Maura Lancaster. Ava smiled at the older woman. She felt as if she knew her, oddly enough, and the woman smiled back. "If only I had the time to get to know Maura," Ava thought. "I'm missing so damned much, but I have no other choice."

David noticed the direction of Ava's eyes, and he looked to his grandmother. She smiled peacefully, taking in the sight. He returned her smile and winked.

Chee was the first to break the familial embrace. She laughed when she saw Maura was awake. She grabbed Ava by the hand. "Since you're here and grandmother is awake, you have to meet her," Chee insisted. "Please, Mummy. She won't tell anyone."

"How can I refuse?" Ava asked. As Chee led her away, she glanced back at David and raised her eyebrows at him.

Maura was already holding out her gnarled hands to Ava, the ever-present notepad in her lap. "I have waited to meet you for a long time," Maura wrote. "You're beautiful, Ava. David has told me so much about you."

"As he has told me about you," Ava murmured. "I'm finally glad to meet you. It's very nice putting a real face to the name."

Maura took the pad and wrote: "And I take it you will soon be leaving us."

"I must," Ava responded simply.

Maura nodded, writing again: "I think I understand, my dear. God be with you."

"And with you," Ava said, and both women smiled.

Ava turned to Chee. "I have to leave, darling. I've stayed longer than I should have."

Chee's face fell. "You can't stay the night at least?"

Ava shook her head. "I'm afraid not. Tim is waiting for me on the edge of the estate. We have a trip to take, and we'll be gone just a few weeks. When we're done, I can come back. By that time, you should be all ready for school."

"David said he can send me to a wonderful school in London," Chee replied, excited by the mention of it. "I'd rather live here and go to school in Amberwood Village, but David's work is in London so I have to live there."

"Only the best for my girl," David said, laughing at Chee's enthusiasm.

Ava hugged Chee to her. "Take care, Shenachie Maura. I'll see you before you know it."

"Please be careful, Mummy," Chee pleaded.

"As always."

Ava gazed at David, her smile turning sad. "Goodbye, my love," she said. Then she left the room quickly, not looking back.

Maura could see the tears coming to Chee, and she held out her arms to the child. Chee settled herself at Maura's feet, sobbing softly as the older woman scribbled a note: "You heard your mother. She'll be back before you know it."

"But I worry so much," Chee fretted. "The kind of stuff she does . . . I mean, she never knows from one day to the next what will happen. Each day could be her last."

"Ava is too smart for that," David said, his eyes still on the doorway from where Ava had vanished. "She knows how to take care of herself, as does Tim O'Casey."

Chee looked at her father. "Didn't the Earl know how to take care of himself, too?"

The sitting room fell silent.



CELTIC REMNANTS ©Deborah O'Toole. All rights reserved.

"Celtic Remnants" may not be reproduced in whole or in part without written permission from the author. "Celtic Remnants" is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to actual persons living or dead is purely coincidental.