Authors: Jean S. MacLeod
When she phoned the hotel Morag Falkland was full of apologies.
‘We haven’t a corner to spare after tomorrow,’ she said. ‘I really am sorry.’
No doubt she was protecting Charles, playing the friend when he had asked her.
‘I just thought I’d try,’ Katherine said without attempting to mask the disappointment in her voice. ‘Is there anywhere else I could go?’
‘I think you should stay where you are,’ said Morag. ‘It won’t be for long. As soon as your car is repaired Charles will let you go.’
Her spirit dampened by the conversation, Katherine decided to phone London again, standing in the alcove in the hall with a swiftly-beating heart which leapt in response when the receiver was lifted at the other end.
‘Could I speak to Mrs. Moreton?’ she asked because the answering voice was unfamiliar.
‘Mrs. Moreton—Coralie,’ she supplied.
‘Oh, Coralie! I’d forgotten about the married bit. She’s not here. She went to New York two—no, three days ago on an assignment. Can I take a message?’
Katherine’s heart felt like lead.
‘When do you expect her back?’ she asked.
‘It will all depend,’ the girl on the far end of the line declared. ‘If the job’s any good she’ll probably stay for a while.’
‘But not permanently?’
‘Oh, nothing’s permanent, is it? Especially these days, but Coralie might be on a good thing. She’s terribly ambitious, you know, and this was something big.’
‘Was it designing?’
‘You could say that. She was to work with a film company and if she fitted in all would be well. If not, she’ll come back, I expect. Anyway, she’s kept on her room here in the meantime, just in case it doesn’t turn out to be as rosy as it seems. Can I say who called if she phones from New York?’
The shock she had received made Katherine feel uncertain.
‘I don’t think it matters very much while she’s still in America,’ she said. ‘You could tell her that her sister wasn’t at Beck Cottage when we got there and Sandy’s now at Glassary.’
‘Glassary—his father’s home in Scotland.’
‘Good grief!’ The girl seemed taken aback. ‘That’s what Coralie
want to happen.’
‘I know,’ Katherine said quietly, ‘but will you tell her, please? I made a promise and I feel responsible.’
Before she finally rang off she was aware of someone standing in the hall behind her listening to her side of the conversation.
‘You were phoning London,’ said Charles when she hung up the receiver.
He waited deliberately, expecting an explanation.
‘Coralie has gone to New York on an assignment of some sort.’
His face darkened.
‘Is she coming back?’
‘I don’t know. I don’t think anyone’s quite sure what she will do.’ Katherine drew a swift breath, looking him straight in the eye. ‘If this job is a success I think she’ll stay.’
‘I see.’ He didn’t look particularly relieved. ‘Did you also phone the hotel?’ he asked.
‘Yes, but you were quite right about the fishermen and their wives,’ she admitted. ‘Mrs. Falkland couldn’t take me. She pointed out that I’d be better to stay here since it would only be for a day or two.’
He made no remark, although she stood waiting.
‘I saw Emma coming along the road in her Mini,’ he said instead. ‘She’ll be going to the Stable House. Sandy’s still down there with Fergus, I expect.’
‘I was going to look for him,’ Katherine confessed, brushing their confrontation over the telephone call aside. ‘Do you want me to suggest that Emma comes back here?’
‘You could do that,’ he said with some enthusiasm. ‘Mrs. Stevas will give her tea.’
‘Will you be in?’ she found herself asking.
‘I don’t think so. I’m flying over to Mull to take a look at some property.’
She had noticed the light aircraft parked in a small clearing beyond the trees, a blue and white toy of a plane which she supposed he used in an emergency or when he was pressured for time.
‘You’ll be home for dinner, I suppose?’
He looked at his watch while she wondered about her use of the word ‘home’.
‘I’ll do my best,’ he said, turning away.
She walked quickly through the shrubbery towards the Stable House, hearing Sandy’s delighted laughter even before she reached it. He was unsaddling the pony with the help of Fergus, who had got out of his wheelchair to lean heavily on a walking-stick, and Emma was watching them. The little tableau halted Katherine in her tracks because it seemed the most natural thing she could have come across, a man and a woman who was deeply attached to him watching the efforts of a little boy to be self-sufficient with his pony.
It was right for Glassary and the Stable House, and there could be no doubt that it would be right for Emma, but what about Fergus? Did he want to renew his attempt at marriage here, in this place, with Emma Falkland by his side?
He turned and saw her standing at the end of the shrubbery.
‘Come and help!’ he called. ‘We need a dozen hands!’
Emma looked round as Katherine covered the last few yards to the Stable House, her face still diffused by a happy glow, although she probably wished they had been left alone for a while longer.
‘I didn’t know whether to call at the Lodge first or come on here,’ she said. ‘My mother sent you some honey. She thought she’d been rather abrupt when you phoned.’
‘I understood when she said she couldn’t put me up.’ Katherine accepted the peace-offering with a smile. ‘Charles had told me you’d be busy from now on, but I wondered if there was just a chance of a single room.’
‘Not even one,’ said Emma, ‘but I hope we’re not going to be too busy to have an hour off now and then. Had any luck with your car?’
Katherine shook her head.
‘I don’t think they really know what’s wrong with it. It isn’t new, of course.’
‘You should have bought a Mini!’ Emma laughed. ‘They go on for ever. This one is ten years old and it never puts a foot wrong.’
‘There isn’t much mileage on the clock,’ Fergus pointed out. ‘Emma keeps it in a glass case!’
‘You know that isn’t true,’ Emma countered. ‘It takes me to Perth and back, and sometimes Glasgow. I’ll buy a new one when it refuses to do either.’
Sandy ran to fetch bread and biscuit crumbs for the ducks which had gathered expectantly at the water’s edge.
‘What are they?’ Katherine asked.
‘Teal and mallard mostly,’ Emma told her, ‘with an occasional merganser among them. They’ve been breeding at Glassary for a very long time. Sandy loves them.’ Sandy came back with a tin of crumbs and broken up bread which he proceeded to throw into the water.
‘Don’t overdo it or they’ll sink!’ Fergus advised with a bright twinkle in his eyes.
They stood watching the ducks diving for the sinking bread, their agitated rumps uppermost as they sought for it among the reeds, and then Emma took a sketching block from the Mini and began to draw. Fergus sat down in the electric wheelchair he had been using earlier to follow Sandy on the pony and Katherine found a tuft of dry grass with a stone under it where she could sit and watch.
Under Emma’s inspired hand the ducks came quickly to life, but because her drawing was primarily for Sandy they were comical ducks, their actions captured by her talented pen so lifelike and so lovable that even Fergus grinned.
‘You’re really a cartoonist!’ he declared. ‘You’re completely wasted at the hotel.’
‘Spare my blushes,’ said Emma. ‘I want to get this duck just right.’
‘That duck’s a drake,’ Fergus pointed out.
‘Well, you know what I mean! If I were using colour you wouldn’t have to guess,’ Emma reminded him.
‘Funny how the male animal world is generally the more colourful,’ Fergus mused. ‘It’s only the human male who’s so drab.’
‘Perhaps he feels safer that way.’ Emma stole a glance at him. ‘Safer from predators.’
‘Woman as the pursuer, you mean?’ Fergus flung back his head to laugh, showing a row of splendid teeth. ‘Has it come to that?’
‘I wouldn’t know,’ said Emma, averting her gaze. ‘There’s a lot of Women’s Lib about.’
‘Not in these parts,’ he declared, teasing her. ‘We still like to believe in the dominant male—in spite of wearing the kilt!’
‘You’ve put me off my duck!’ Emma laid aside her sketching block. ‘Are we being offered tea?’ she enquired.
‘Certainly.’ Fergus picked up the discarded drawing, looking at it thoughtfully before he folded it and put it in his anorak pocket. ‘Will you do the honours, as usual?’ he asked Emma.
‘I ought to go back to Glassary,’ said Katherine.
‘Why?’ he asked. ‘It’s early yet.’
She had wanted to give him some time alone with Emma, but he had refused it. Katherine did not know what to think as she followed them to the Stable House.
Emma knew her way about, finding a teapot and some tea which he kept for just such an emergency. She also found orange juice for Sandy and some cake.
‘Mrs. Stevas baked it yesterday,’ Fergus explained. ‘She thinks I neglect myself down here.’
‘What have you been doing since I last saw you?’ Emma enquired, appearing from the kitchen with the tray.
‘This and that,’ he said. ‘Nothing really special.’
‘Which means you’ve been wasting your time!’
‘I’ve been thinking,’ Fergus confessed. ‘About the future,’ he added.
Emma set the tray down beside his chair.
‘Does that mean you really will send your pictures to Edinburgh?’ she asked, delighted.
‘Some of them.’
‘Why not all?’
‘My dear Emma, I have dozens of them in there, some of them not yet finished.’ He looked towards the studio.
‘Finish them, then, before the exhibition,’ she urged, pouring Sandy’s orange juice. ‘You’re hardly being fair to yourself,’ she added on a more serious note.
‘I’m lazy,’ he excused himself. ‘Always have been.’
‘You’ve had other things to think about,’ Emma allowed, ‘but now you haven’t a leg to stand on if you refuse to go ahead with your work.’
‘I wish I had your faith in my painting,’ he said.
‘Don’t pretend you haven’t any faith,’ she returned almost angrily. ‘You
you’re good. We all do, only you need prodding occasionally,’ she concluded clumsily, her colour heightening.
‘I must remember that,’ said Fergus, smiling at her gently. ‘You were always good for me, Emma, where my work was concerned.’
The quiet words seemed to put her away from him and Emma knew it. She turned to the window to look out across the loch where the mountains came down close to the shore.
‘It would be such a waste,’ she said, as if to herself. When they had collected the used cups and saucers on to the tray Katherine went to the kitchen with her to help to wash up.
‘It’s a shambles!’ Emma groaned, looking around at the disarray of unstacked plates and pans left carelessly on the cooker hob. ‘A man’s idea of paradise, I suppose!’
‘We could tidy up,’ Katherine suggested.
‘It would be like this again tomorrow, so there’s not much point,’ said Emma, stacking cups. ‘Fergus loves it.’
‘Did he always live at the Stable House?’ Katherine asked without thinking.
‘After he married Coralie. Before that he was at Glassary. Mrs. Moreton was alive then,’ Emma explained, ‘and Charles was working in Edinburgh. When Charles came back Fergus and Coralie moved to the Stable House, but Coralie never liked it. She couldn’t accept the fact that Charles was the real heir and Fergus was only second in command.’
‘What happened to Fergus?’ Katherine asked.
Emma turned her head away.
‘There was an accident with Charles’s plane, the one he had before the Cessna. They were flying home together from London. It was a filthy night and Fergus was at the controls. He couldn’t see a thing and they both knew he could hit the mountain coming in to land. It must have been a terrible decision to make, but they hadn’t enough fuel left to go back to Glasgow. It was Charles who took the final decision to land at Glassary.’
The sharp, staccato sentences fell into a silence pregnant with horror as Emma stared into the past.
‘It happened quite quickly,’ she went on. ‘A wind had got up, but it didn’t quite blow the mist away. Then, suddenly, something went wrong and they came plummeting down to destruction. It was all over in seconds. Fergus was thrown clear, but he crawled back to get Charles out. The plane was an inferno, but he managed to drag him clear before he collapsed.’
‘They must both feel glad to be alive,’ Katherine whispered.
‘I think Charles still wonders why he should have come out of it unscathed,’ Emma said, ‘but he did. Fergus hauled him out just before everything blew up, but he was severely burned and his spine was damaged. At first they thought he’d never walk again,’ she added. ‘It seemed that he’d lost everything he believed in—his career, his art—and Coralie.’
‘It must have been terrible for everybody concerned,’ Katherine murmured with profound pity. ‘And for you, Emma.’
Emma turned from the sink.
‘I could have cheerfully killed Coralie when she left him,’ she admitted. ‘It was so callous—so cruel—but all she thought about was herself and her precious career, the chance she had to shine in her own small way.’
‘There was Sandy,’ Katherine said. ‘She must have wanted to be here with him, too.’
‘That was her problem. She couldn’t make up her mind about motherhood. She wanted a child if he wouldn’t interfere with her career. She was the most selfish person I’ve ever known, but I suppose I’m hopelessly prejudiced. Always have been,’ Emma concluded sharply.
‘I suppose Charles feels that he owes Fergus an eternal debt of gratitude,’ Katherine suggested, seeing the whole sad story in a new perspective.
‘That’s why he made sure of Sandy’s future by settling what he could on him,’ she said. ‘He saw it as a very small return for what Fergus had done for him. He tries all the time to do something more, but there really isn’t much he can do. I don’t think he’ll marry now,’ she added, looking straight at Katherine.
A hard lump rose into Katherine’s throat.
‘Is that his token sacrifice?’ she asked huskily.
‘It could be. Even if he did fall in love he would consider Fergus’s needs before his own. He’s made that way.’
They went back to the studio where Fergus was stacking canvases into two neat piles.
‘You really mean to submit them!’ Emma exclaimed, her eyes glowing with satisfaction.
‘I’m doing as you say,’ he smiled. ‘And that ought to please you, Emma!’