It’s the winter of 1967 and snow is on the ground in the colorful Irish village of Ballybucklebo, but the chilly weather can’t stop love from warming hearts all over the county. Not just the love between a man and woman, as with young doctor, Barry Laverty, and his fiancee Sue Nolan, who are making plans to start a new life together, but also the love of an ailing pensioner for a faithful dog that’s gone missing, the love of the local gentry for the great estate they are on verge of losing, or Doctor Fingal Flahertie O’Reilly’s deep and abiding love for his long-time home and practice.
For decades, ever since the war, Number One Main Street, Ballybucklebo, has housed O’Reilly and his practice. In recent years, it has also opened its doors to O’Reilly’s wife, Barry Laverty, and a new addition to the practice, Doctor Nonie Stevens, a sultry and occasionally prickly young woman who may not be fitting in as well as she should. It is to Number One that patients young and old come when they need a doctor’s care, for everything from the measles to a rare and baffling blood disease.
An unexpected turn of events threatens to drive O’Reilly from his home for good, unless the entire village can rally behind their doctor and prove that love really can conquer all.
An Irish Country Love Story—available October 4th—is a new and heartwarming installment in Patrick Taylor’s beloved bestselling Irish Country series. Please enjoy this excerpt.
In Perils of Water
“Brisk,” said Doctor Barry Laverty, standing on the shore and watching his breath turn to steam in the chilly, early-January air. The tang of the sea was in his nose, a fair breeze on his cheeks. “Distinctly brisk. Cold as a witch’s ti—” No. Out of deference to one of his companions, he’d not make the allusion much loved by his senior partner to the frigidity of a wisewoman’s breast. Tucking his neck down into the collar of his overcoat, he held more tightly to Sue Nolan’s gloved hand. The young schoolteacher, Barry’s fiancée, was spending the weekend at Number One Main Street, Ballybucklebo, before returning to her exchange-teaching work in Marseille.
“Brrrr,” she said despite being snuggled into a sheepskin coat and fur hat. Barry’s old six-foot-long British Medical Students’ Association scarf was wrapped in layers round her neck. She pretended to chatter her teeth and smiled at him, the light sparkling from her green eyes. Her Mediterranean tan looked out of place on this wintry Ulster afternoon. “In some ways I’ll not be one bit sorry to be going back to the sunny Bouches-du-Rhȏne on Monday.” She must have seen Barry’s look. “And don’t worry, silly, I’ll be home for good in March, with the added qualification of having done a six-month teacher exchange. And a much better command of French. I’ll be getting a pay raise aussi.” She pecked his cheek.
He felt her lips, cold on his chilled skin. “And a wedding to look forward to,” Barry said. He loved this girl with the long copper hair, distinct political views, and very tasty kisses. Two months wasn’t that long to wait. Not really. “Our wedding.” He hugged the idea. And mercenary though his thought seemed, her increase in salary would help out with the housekeeping. Becoming a full partner in O’Reilly’s practice last January had been very good for the ego, but with what Barry was paid it was unlikely that he’d soon be up there with the Rothschilds or the Rockefellers.
“Our wedding,” she said, squeezed his hand, and her smile was radiant. “Yours and mine, mon petit choux.”
Barry smiled at the French endearment, although why being called a little cabbage should be thought affectionate was beyond him. He held her gaze, then his visions of their soon-to-be married life became entangled with the real world as two little boys dashed past. One, pursued by a scruffy mongrel, yelled, “Happy New Year til youse all,” but before Barry could reply, Colin Brown and his dog Murphy had juked round a small crowd of folks enjoying a stroll in the Saturday sunshine.
“Hi lost. Go on out. Hey on,” Doctor Fingal Flahertie O’Reilly said to his big black Labrador. Typical of the man, he was hatless and wore a tweed sports jacket over a woollen sweater. No overcoat for him. Barry was convinced that O’Reilly, despite his colourful expressions about the cold, was impervious even though his bent nose and boxer’s cauliflower ears were red.
Barry watched a tennis ball thrown by his senior partner fly over the damp ochre sand and splash into the waters that lapped Ballybucklebo Beach. A kayak was hauled up above the tide line. Its owner must have gone to get something because there was no one near the little craft, and unless the paddler came back, the soon-to-be-rising tide might carry the boat out to sea.
Arthur Guinness charged past the kayak, his paws leaving blurred prints on the beach. What must be very chilly water didn’t seem to bother the big dog as he swam out, grabbed his ball, turned, and headed snorting for the shore. It would be for him no worse than making retrieves, for which he and his clan had been bred, when he was with his master wildfowling on nearby Strangford Lough.
Barry didn’t know Strangford well, but he was at home here on Belfast Lough. He’d grown up in Ballyholme and its waters had been his playground for canoeing, sailing, fishing, swimming.
Arthur came ashore, stopped, stood with splayed legs, and shook, the water droplets spraying away to shimmer in the winter sunlight.
“Happy dog,” Barry said.
“And happy Barry, I hope,” said Sue. “I have loved the sunshine in France, but truly, March can’t come soon enough for me, pet.”
“I know. And I couldn’t be happier. Just look out there.” He pointed to a sailing dinghy whose shining white sails gently pushed the boat along in a fair breeze rippling the blue waters. Here and there was a chalk mark of white foam where a wave had broken. “I love the lough. And you know I love sailing.” The little sailboat was only about a hundred yards from the tide line. The 16 sail number told him that his pal Andy Jackson was out in his Shearwater. “One of my friends. He must be daft. Out in this weather?” Barry said, but well remembered winter sailing before he’d gone to medical school. “It’ll be cosier on that big one out there.” In the shipping channel, an oil tanker made her way to Belfast, a pilot boat keeping the great vessel company. “I’m happy because I have a great job here in County Down. I could never leave the sea or Ulster for long.” He bent and said into her ear, “And I’m happy because most of all I love you, Sue Nolan.” And he didn’t need her to parrot his words. He knew now how she felt, although until she’d come back from France for the Christmas holidays he’d had his reservations.
“Good boy.” O’Reilly took the ball from the grinning dog’s mouth and threw it again. “Hi lost.”
Barry watched Arthur run and again noticed the kayak. It triggered a memory. “See that kayak, Sue?”
“I tried one once years ago. Couldn’t get it to do anything but go round in circles and then I dropped the paddle and tipped myself right into the sea trying to retrieve it. Don’t trust the things. Never tried again. I much prefer something bigger, like a Glen-class yacht.”
“And so do I when I’m sailing with you, but once I’m back for good I’m going to get you to try kayaking again. It’s lots of fun.”
“You know how to paddle one of those things?”
“I do, and—don’t get huffy now—but my friend Jean-Claude…”
“Ah, yes, Monsieur Hamou.” Barry recalled the awful feelings of jealousy he’d wrestled with when her letters from Marseille had arrived, filled with mentions of the fellow teacher who was showing her the sights. A lot of worry about nothing. Jean-Claude Hamou had just been a friendly colleague who had taken Sue under his wing and made her feel at home in a strange place. “Water under the bridge.”
“Good.” She gave him a wide smile. “He persuaded me to take kayak lessons and it’s great fun. I can even do a screw roll.”
“A what?” He chuckled. “Any relation to a jam roll?”
“No, silly. A screw roll’s the simplest type of Eskimo roll to right a capsized kayak while you’re still sitting in it.”
“I’m impressed. I really am.” He shrugged. “All I could ever do was paddle a kind of Indian canoe. It was more beamy than that one. And less cramped.” He pointed across the lough. “Look over there.” She and O’Reilly turned and followed where his hand pointed. On the far shore, the solid, blue, eternal Antrim Hills rose above the grim granite face of Carrickfergus Castle. Its name meant Fergus’s Rock. “When I was fourteen I had a canoe made of wood and canvas. I took it from Bangor to Carrickfergus and back one day.”
Her eyes widened. “That’s quite a way for a youngster.”
“And,” said O’Reilly, who had taken the ball from Arthur and told the dog to sit, “what did my old shipmate, your dad, have to say about that?”
Barry laughed. “My father, as you should know, Fingal, believes in discipline. He was, as I believe Queen Victoria said to a minion who had told an off-colour story, ‘Not amused.’ He thought I’d been very reckless.”
O’Reilly laughed, a deep rumbling. “And so you had. I’m sure he wasn’t at all amused.” He patted a smiling Arthur before adding, “And it is reported that she also said it after watching Gilbert and Sullivan’s H.M.S. Pinafore.” He frowned. “I must say I like the piece, but I prefer The Mikado. Councillor Bertie Bishop, worshipful master of the Orange Lodge, committee member of the Ballybucklebo Bonnaughts Rugby Club, et cetera, et cetera, holds so many offices he reminds me of one of its characters, Pooh-Bah.”
Barry shook his head. “Sometimes, Fingal, I worry about your store of minutiae. I really do. You’re a sort of idiot savant, or at least the first half of one.” Inside, despite his words, Barry felt a deep sense of comfort. Three years ago, when he had applied for his first job after qualifying as a doctor and completing his houseman’s year, he’d been terrified of O’Reilly. Now he was completely at his ease with the big man and never hesitated to tease him.
“Less of your lip, Laverty,” O’Reilly said, but he was smiling.
“Anyhow,” Barry said, “Dad put his foot down. No more cross-lough forays. When Dad said ‘no,’ he meant ‘no.’”
“How’s about youse, Doctors, Miss Nolan?” The speaker, a buck-toothed young man, lifted his duncher by the peak as was proper when a lady was being addressed. The shock of hair beneath was carroty red.
“We’re grand, Donal,” O’Reilly said. “Giving Bluebird her run?” He nodded at a greyhound, the recent mother of pups. She was exchanging sniffs with a tail-wagging Arthur Guinness. They had been friends for years.
“Wasn’t it dead sad about your man Sir Donald Campbell and the real Bluebird?” Donal said.
“It was,” Barry said. “I saw the film on TV. The speedboat did a back somersault and he’d nearly broken his own water speed record.”
“And no sign of the body,” O’Reilly said.
“Very sad,” said Sue.
“Right enough. He was a brave man, so he was. Just like his da, Sir Malcolm.” Donal patted his dog’s head. “Don’t you worry your head, girl. Nothing’s going til happen til you because you share a name. But we’ve got to get yiz back into condition and then,” Donal lowered his voice, “come here til I tell youse…”
Oh oh, Barry thought, that meant Donal was going to impart some secret.
His left eyelid drooped. “Me and your man Dapper Frew are—”
“No,” said Barry. “Oh no, Donal.” Barry and O’Reilly had been involved in too many of Donal Donnelly’s harebrained get-rich-quick plots with dogs and racehorses. “Tell us when it’s over. Doctor O’Reilly and I are going to be busy.” Indeed they were only able to be out together today because the new assistant, Doctor Nonie Stevenson, who had taken over from Jennifer Bradley, was holding the medical fort. It was going to be interesting to see how she worked out in the months ahead. Barry had been in her year at medical school and had some reservations about her suitability, but she’d been fine so far.
“Fair enough, sir,” Donal said. “What the eye doesn’t see, the heart doesn’t grieve over, if youse get my meaning.”
Barry nodded and couldn’t hide a smile. Donal was incorrigible, but in local parlance he had a heart of corn.
“And how’s the family?” O’Reilly asked, clearly, like Barry, not wanting to become involved in another of Donal’s ploys.
“Julie’s got some more work modelling for that Belfast photographer man and wee Tori’s growing at a rate of knots. And,” he glanced at Sue, “I hope you don’t mind, Miss Nolan, but I’d like to tell my doctors that me and Julie think we’re…” He hesitated then the words tumbled out. “… up the builder’s again.” His blush was nearly as red as his hair.
“Wonderful,” Sue said. “Congratulations.”
Barry wondered at the numerous Irish euphemisms for pregnancy.
“Great news,” said O’Reilly. “Now you tell her, Donal, that we’d like to see her before the end of her third month. Get her care organised.”
“I’ll do that right enough, and this time it will be a wee lad because—”
The calm of the day was interrupted by shouting. People were rushing to the water’s edge, gesticulating, pointing out to sea. Barry stared. Andy Jackson had managed to capsize his dinghy, and Shearwaterlay on her side, sails in the water. Andy, in yellow oilskins, was trying to clamber onto the keel, obviously hoping to right the boat. Trying and failing. He fell off with a great splashing and thrashing. Andy Jackson had never learned to swim.
Barry turned to Donal. “Donal, run like blazes round to the harbour. See if any of the fishermen can get a motorboat round here quick.”
“Right.” Donal took off with Bluebird at his heels.
Out at sea, Andy had stopped floundering and was clinging on to the keel.
“Hang on,” bellowed O’Reilly, waving furiously, “we’re getting help.”
Barry, his eyes fixed on Andy’s boat, sent up a silent prayer for his friend. “Hypothermia was common on the North Atlantic convoys during the war,” said O’Reilly. “At fifty degrees Fahrenheit, a man develops it pretty quickly and just might stay alive for an hour. Near freezing, people die in fifteen minutes. That’s about how long the swimmers from Titanic survived.” He pursed his lips. “This time of the year the water’s going to be close to fifty degrees. It could take nearly an hour before Donal finds someone and gets them here. I’m going to go look for that kayaker. See if he can help.”
“The nearest lifeboat’s at Donaghadee away down the coast,” said Sue. “They wouldn’t make it in time. I can help, though.” She shrugged out of her sheepskin coat, unwrapped Barry’s long scarf, and tossed them higher up the beach on the dry sand. “Barry, give me a hand.” She headed toward the beached kayak. “I’ll take the bows. You take the stern.” She was very much in charge.
“Sue,” he said, “what in hell’s name are you up to?” He glanced out to sea and saw Andy still clinging to the dinghy. Not waiting for an answer, he picked up the little boat and saw that the twin-ended double paddle was aboard. Sue was running to the water’s edge and Barry had to sprint to keep up, following her into the sea, feeling the freezing water fill his shoes. “Put the boat down.” She bent and Barry followed suit. “But you can’t,” Barry spluttered. “You can’t drag a man into a kayak. If he panics, he could capsize you. I’m not letting you go. It’s far too risky.”
Sue grinned. “No, it’s not, and that man, and we know it’s Andy, is in real trouble.” She strode toward the little craft’s stern, grabbed the port gunnel, and dragged the kayak out until it was well afloat. Sue turned back. “I’ve done this before. They made us take turns in the kayak and in the water.” She smiled. “I preferred it in the boat. Now, if Andy can hang on to my stern or if I can get a rope round him, I can drag him into shallow water. Get him ashore.”
Barry hesitated, glanced out to sea again. Thank God, Andy was still afloat, clinging to the dinghy’s keel. But hypothermia would sap his energy quickly. “All right. Do it,” Barry said, conceding defeat. “But for God’s sake be careful. Please.”
“You weren’t the day you dived in to fish me out. I’m off. Wish me luck.” She put a hand on either gunnel to steady the boat and with an obviously well-practised skill, hoisted herself into the cockpit, sat legs outstretched, grabbed the paddle, and with strong rhythmic strokes set off.
Barry watched. She had to cover the hundred yards to the capsized dinghy before Andy’s strength gave out and he slipped into the sea. Silly bugger that he was. Sailing without a life jacket when you can’t swim. Barry scowled and dug the toe of his shoe into the soft sand. The human capacity for ignoring the obvious sometimes took his breath away. And here was his dear Sue risking life and limb to safe the daft bastard. He loved her for it. Barry took a deep breath. Please, please be careful, Sue. I couldn’t bear to lose you.
Copyright © 2016 by Ballybucklebo Stories Corp
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