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Authors: Gian Bordin

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BOOK: Summer of Love
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"You clumsy fellow! You did this on purpose!" railed Kelly. He looked
as if he was going to jump Andrew.

    
"I’m sorry. I was clumsy!" exclaimed Andrew, retreating a few steps
away from Kelly. But his hand was on the hilt of his dagger, ready to throw
it. The latter seemed to sense his intention. He knew that he would not
manage to knock down Andrew or discharge his pistol before the blade
would pierce his throat. Disgustedly, he spat on the ground and complained
aggrieved: "Look, now I missed out because of you!"

    
Andrew turned his head just a bit. The three women were also running to
the ravine. Before they disappeared in the bushes, Mary turned, and holding
her torn petticoat to her bosom, she raised her fist and shouted defiantly:
"You’ll pay for this! Your days are numbered!"

    
The dragoons taunted her, and Gordon yelled back: "You want some
more?"

    
His echo returned mockingly. The soldiers laughed again and then
collected the four plaids and the brooches, the women had left behind when
they fled. Three of them were silver with the MacGregor code of arms
engraved. More loot to sell and supplement their meager pay, were Andrew's
bitter thoughts. Suddenly, an all-consuming hatred was burning inside him.

 

 * * *

 

Catching her breath, Helen scrambled down to the ravine. Her first thought
was to look for Betty. She found her cowering behind a large boulder. The
girl was shivering and sobbing silently. Helen took her in her arms, stroking
her back.

    
"It’s all right, little Betty. Nothing happened to you." She kissed her hair.

    
Betty looked up, tears streaming down her hollow cheeks. "Did … did the
men … ?" She could not bring herself to utter the ugly word.

    
"No, … they didn’t."

    
"But I saw master Andrew holding you."

    
"He helped me get away, like he helped you."

    
Up to that moment this fact hadn’t really sunk in. Just getting away had
been her only aim. Why had he done it? Betty buried her head again on her
bosom.

    
Shortly afterward, she heard her mother curse the soldiers and then the
three women came down into the ravine, the two younger ones badly shaken,
one with a glassy look, the other crying, while Mary’s face was somber, like
set in stone. She was still naked.

    
"Come to the creek, lass," she ordered Helen with a grim voice and
headed for a pool. There, she crouched down and washed her crotch, letting
the icy liquid enter her. Without being told, the other two women did the
same.

    
"What are you waiting for, lass? Come, wash yourself. It may prevent you
from getting with child."

    
"I wasn’t raped."

    
"I saw the factor’s apprentice push you down."

    
"He didn’t rape me."

    
"Child, don’t lie to me. I heard you scream."

    
"I screamed because he begged me."

    
"I don’t believe you. Why do you want to protect that lad?"

    
Helen lifted her petticoat, exposing her crotch, and said, almost shouting:
"Here, look! There’s no blood. You want to check me?"

    
"Why did he then—?"

    
Helen interrupted her: "Because he wanted to help me, the same as he
helped Betty get away. He—"

    
"Don’t defend him. He may have spared you. But it was he who brought
the soldiers to our clachan and watched them burn it. He brought them up
here. He’s as guilty as they are."

    
Helen did not answer. It was all true. Maybe he had little choice about
that. She didn’t want to defend him. She was too stunned and confused
herself.

    
After the three women had washed themselves, they tried fixing their torn
petticoats as best as they could to cover themselves. Mary wrapped Betty’s
plaid around her, since the top of her petticoat was in shreds. Then, she
climbed cautiously back to the ridge and checked if the dragoons had left.
The last of them, trailed by Andrew, was just disappearing in the scattered
trees farther down the glen. She waited for a while to make sure that they
were not returning, and then called the others to come up too.

    
They had come here to dig roots for a meal. In the rush to escape, they had
left their tools and the roots already dug behind. They still needed to finish
their job if they wanted any food on the table that night. Although deeply
distressed and frightened, nobody needed any encouragement, except Betty
who still was in a state of shock, periodically shaking and sobbing uncontrollably. Helen remained close, holding her and offering words of solace. The
girl’s slight body suddenly seemed so fragile. Taking care of her sister’s
anguish relieved her own mind from the hideous pictures that relentlessly
assailed her—her mother’s brutal rape, the loathsome face of the dragoon
who caught her, Andrew’s frightened eyes.

 

 * * *

 

Under the cover of the fading light, the MacGregor men came out of their
daytime hiding places in the ravines or the moors near the mountain tops and
returned to their families.

    
"Is dinner ready?" Dougal called out as he entered his hut, the largest of
three. "We are hungry!"

    
"We’re all hungry," muttered Mary, her back turned to him, as she stoked
the fire under the big soup kettle.

    
"There is no game left, just a few crows. Not worth wasting our bullets on
them… What’s for dinner?"

    
Mary did not respond.

    
"Maybe I should lift a sheep or two from the McNabbs up Ardeonaig’s
way. Trouble is their guards carry guns, as if they expected trouble. And if
they suspect us they will call the soldiers in."

    
He looked at her expectantly. She still busied herself with the fire.

    
"Woman, why don’t you talk to me?"

    
She rose, facing him, and he saw the roughly stitched rips of her petticoat.
"What happened to you? Was there a fight?"

    
"We were roughed up by English dragoons. They tore away our plaids."

    
"Did they come into our shielings?"

    
"No, it was over by the Achmore burn."

    
"What were you doing over there? Didn’t I tell you not to leave our
shielings?"

    
"And where do you think our food comes from? There are no oats left,
and you men haven’t brought us anything yet."

    
He looked at her outraged and raised his voice: "Didn’t you hear? There’s
no game left. We’ll have to kill our goats. That will give us some decent
food."

    
"You will not touch the goats, not over my dead body! We need their
milk. Or do you want to bury your son before the summer is over too?"

    
"All right, woman. But why did you go all the way over there?"

    
"Because we have to dig roots where they grow. The same as you will
have to get meat where there’s some."

    
"Don’t you ever listen, woman? I told you the shepherds are armed. Or
you want us to get shot at?" retorted Dougal angrily.

    
"And you want us to get raped?" It was said with vile vehemence.

    
"What do you mean, woman?" Dougal thundered. Then he noticed Helen
huddled in a corner, holding Betty. The girl started to tremble again when
Dougal raised his voice.

    
All color drained from his face, and then he roared: "The bastards! I am
going to kill them all! Robbing me of my honor."

    
"Is this all you care about? Your honor?" Mary asked, hurt, the tears she
had suppressed all that time suddenly bursting.

    
For an instant, he looked at her as if she had slapped him. Then he yelled:
"If you hadn’t gone over there, this wouldn’t have happened. But you always
know better! … And why couldn’t you run away?"

    
"Because they were on horses," she cried.

    
"One of you should have been a lookout?"

    
"It wouldn’t have made any difference. They came over the top and were
upon us before we reached the ravine below the lochan." Her voice sounded
resigned again.

    
"Oh, God!" He pressed both fists onto his forehead and pushes out an
angry groan. "I will kill every one of them," he growled between clenched
teeth. "These bastards, defiling my wife and daughters." He slumped onto a
stool.

    
"Betty and I weren’t harmed," Helen murmured. "Master Andrew helped
us get away."

    
"Ah, I should have guessed it. It was he who brought the dragoons over
the top, the conniving bastard," Dougal raved again. "He led them to our
clachan, killed my mother, and now he brought them up into the shielings to
rape our women. I will strangle him with my own hands."

    
"But he helped Betty and me escape! … He could have raped me, and
there was another soldier there to help him. He tricked him into letting me
go," she pleaded.

    
"He probably could not get it up," sneered Dougal. "Yes, that’s it."

    
"Dougal, watch your words," muttered Mary, but he ignored her and
ranted on: "He is impotent, the miserable, despicable coward. That’s why he
was afraid to go to battle… I should have known not to trust him… Burn this
into your minds, children, all of you. Never trust a Campbell. You could not
trust them fifty years ago when they murdered the MacDonalds of Glencoe
in cold blood and you can’t trust them now. Listen, they even were their
guests for two weeks and ate their food." He caught his breath. "How
gullible I was to believe him! He was so sly with his talk of not taking sides,
and then he brings the soldiers into our clachan and burns our houses and
steals our cattle."

    
He isn’t a coward. A coward wouldn’t have dared to oppose that big, ugly
man. Maybe he is cunning the way he helped me get away,
Helen’s mind
protested, but she said nothing. She knew that her father, raving and ranting,
would not hear her words. She was back to her unanswered question: Why
had he helped them? She turned inward, stopped listening to the repeated
outbursts of her father, holding Betty who, exhausted, had finally fallen
asleep in her arms.

    
The communal dinner that night was a somber affair. Nobody spoke.
Despite being hungry, the women only played with their food. One of the
two young ones who got raped suddenly rushed out of the hut, silent tears
running down her cheeks. Her husband followed her immediately, his face
worried. The other one still had a vacant look on her face. Her man
occasionally shot her a glance, his expression a mixture of anger and
loathing. Only Mary’s face was again set in stone, closed up, betraying
nothing.

    
At the end of the dinner, Dougal announced that from now on the men
would remain in close proximity of the huts, rather than hide in the ravines,
and that no woman or girl was to venture away from the shielings unless
accompanied by two men.

 

 * * *

 

In the waning light of the evening—it never gets really pitch dark in June and
July at these northern latitudes—the growling bark of the dogs heralded the
approach of strangers. The men readied their pistols and swords and sneaked
noiselessly out of the huts.

    
The dark silhouettes of four men, all wearing Highland plaids, stood out
sharply against the horizon on the small rise protecting the huts from the
incessant westerly winds. One of them limped badly and was supported by
another. They halted.

BOOK: Summer of Love
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