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Authors: Gian Bordin

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BOOK: Summer of Love
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For a moment, she was left in limbo until another young man partnered
her again. Annoyed at feeling disappointed, she tried in vain to plunge fully
back into the dancing, but the playful spirit of before had abandoned her.

    
 Back at the MacGregor table, she resumed her ruminations. But why
didn’t he want them to know? Was he ashamed? The very thought bristled
her pride as a MacGregor, but she dismissed it as quickly as it arose. He
wouldn’t have danced with her for such a long time. Other people had also
noticed his clever switching of partners to get back to her and some had even
cooperated smilingly. It must be something else, something to do with his
friends… Maybe he was afraid they might play a trick on him … or on her.
That thought had a sobering effect. She had heard stories of young lairds
spiriting a girl away from a dance or even her father’s house and then getting
her into trouble.

    
"You seem preoccupied, Helen. Don’t you want to dance anymore?" Her
mother’s question shook her out of her thoughts. She had not even noticed
that couples were forming again on the green.

    
"Just catching my breath, mother."

    
"Yes, you danced quite wildly with this young Campbell lad. I’m glad he
left."

    
"Has he left?" The question was out before she could check herself. Mary
looked at her daughter sharply, and Helen found it prudent to add in a casual
tone: "He danced well though."

    
"That is true, but it will only spell trouble if you encourage a gentleman
from the castle, particularly a Campbell of Argyle."

    
Helen forced out a quick laugh. "Oh, a little dancing can hardly do any
harm, mother."

    
"No, a bit of dancing does no harm. But he seems to have more than just
a passing interest in you, and doesn’t even make an effort to hide it. So be
forewarned, child."

    
"Do you think that he fancies me?" Helen feigned surprise.

    
Her mother snorted dismissively and said: "Don’t try to fool me, lass."

    
"The more there are, the better my choice," Helen attempted to parry
mockingly.

    
"Just beware that you don’t get caught, child, and end up sorry. It can
happen before you know it… and he is a Campbell. Just remember that!"

    
Her mother’s voice had taken on a sharp edge, and Helen found it prudent
to placate her. "Don’t worry, mother. I won’t get caught. Promise." She
couldn’t help wondering why her mother would say that. Did it happen to her
when she lived at the castle? She dismissed the thought. She was her
mother’s first born. Maybe it almost happened when she fancied one of the
Duke’s sons. That’s why she was so upset. She wished her mother would
confide in her. Wasn’t she her best friend?

    
As she got up to join the dancers, she saw Andrew walk down the path to
the old church. Time and again her gaze strayed back in that direction. What
could they be doing back there, she asked herself? A while later, she got a
brief glimpse of a young woman disappearing behind the church. It took a
few seconds for its meaning to sink in, and she felt her ears get hot,
disappointment and embarrassment battling inside her.
Mother is right!

 

 * * *

 

Andrew finished the dance with the lively second daughter of the inn keeper,
hoping to deflect the curiosity of his drinking companions away from Helen.
They immediately took him aside.

    
"We caught you, you liar," exclaimed Francis. "Who’d have thought that
you fancied Molly Nichols. She’s cheap."

    
"We all had her." John grinned foolishly.

    
For an instant, Andrew was on the verge of denying it, but then he
changed his mind. What better way to protect Helen than let them believe
that Molly was his girl.

    
"This is too easy. She’ll come willingly. You’ll have your lay," James
added with a slight sneer. "But you must have ravished her already."

    
Try as he may, Andrew couldn’t suppress blushing.

    
"Look at him," exclaimed James, and turning to Francis, asked: "Is it
really true he has never been with a woman?"

    
"Not in Edinburgh, I’m sure of that."

    
"I’ll go get her. Take him behind the cemetery, you know, the usual
place."

    
Before Andrew could protest, James disappeared in the crowd, and
Francis and John linked their arms firmly with his. Taken by surprise he let
himself be walked several hundred feet to the cemetery behind the old
church, while he listened to the McNabb brothers brag about their exploits
with Molly.
If she’s so willing and eager, as they claim, you might as well do
it. You’ve wanted for a long time! … But what if she gets with child? I don’t
want to risk that! … She hasn’t so far, so she might not… But I don’t fancy
her… All the better. You won’t feel obliged to her then… But what about
Helen? … She’ll never need to know. Just imagine how they’ll laugh at you
and tell everybody if you lose your nerve now!
So battled the voices in his
mind.

    
When they reached the shelter of the bushes and willows behind the
cemetery, the sun had set and a humid chill was creeping up from the loch.

    
"Don’t look so nervous or she’ll know that she’s your first," remarked
Francis condescendingly, and John added with a leering snigger: "Oh, she
might like to be his first, show him a few tricks."

    
"Why don’t you two now disappear, so I can have a chat with her?"
Andrew’s anxiety began to get the better of him.

    
"We’ll go when we see her coming."

    
They showed him a soft patch of grass, hidden between low bushes, "a
good place for smooching" as Francis put it, adding that this was where he
had his first woman.

    
Suddenly, Molly came around the bushes. She stopped in her tracks when
she saw the McNabb brothers.

    
"Oh, you’re here too," she exclaimed, visibly disconcerted.

    
Francis grinned and said: "Yes, my sweetie. We just wanted to say hello."

    
She hesitated for a few seconds and then quickly turned to leave, but her
path was blocked by James.

    
"James Campbell, you said that Andrew Campbell wanted to talk to me
alone. Why are you all here?" There was panic in her voice now.

    
"We just thought we might all have a bit of fun," John cheered, advancing
and grinning broadly.

    
"James, let her go," Andrew shouted and shoved John away.

    
"Come on, Andrew, she’s just pretending to be coy." John poked him
quite hard. "They all do!"

    
"James, let her go," repeated Andrew.

    
Molly struggled to get past James. Andrew started toward her, but John
stepped in front of him, grabbing his left arm, hissing: "Don’t spoil everything now, you stupid bastard!"

    
Francis rushed to his brother, shouting: "No, John, don’t! He’ll thrash
you."

    
But the warning was too late already. Andrew’s right hook slammed into
John’s jaw and the heavy lad went down without a sound. Coming from
behind, Francis wrapped both arms around Andrew’s chest and throat, while
James rushed him from the front. Using Francis as his support, Andrew
pulled up both knees and kicked his feet into James’ stomach. The tall man
rolled to the ground, coughing and sputtering, desperately trying to recover
his breath. Andrew’s kick made Francis lose his balance, and they both fell
backward, Andrew on top of him.

    
Molly watched, her mouth wide open. She must never have seen any men,
let alone one of the gentry, get into a fight over her. When Andrew jumped
back to his feet she quickly fled.

 

 * * *

 

Things between Andrew and the other three young men were never quite the
same after that evening. More often than not, they excluded him from their
drinking parties, and Andrew didn’t really mind. Except for James, their
conversations had become a repetitive bore. They avoided the library
whenever Andrew was reading there, and he stayed away when he heard
their rowdy voices.

    
Two weeks later—the first snowfalls had already pulled a white blanket
over the mountain tops—Andrew visited the MacGregors a second time,
bringing two bottles of claret. Dougal MacGregor greeted him heartily. Mary
seemed to be rather less pleased. There was no welcoming smile from her.
But if she hadn’t intended to have him for a meal, her husband thwarted her
by inviting him. His heart was beating higher up in his chest when he saw
Helen.

    
Dougal promptly opened a bottle and asked Andrew to join him at the
table. Mary and Helen resumed mending children’s clothing next to a small
window, while grandmother MacGregor continued to nap in a rocking chair
by the fire. The two MacGregor sons, Robin and Alasdair, just a year and
two younger than Helen, crouched on the ground. Everybody seemed to
listen attentively to the conversation between Dougal and Andrew. It quickly
revolved around the hot topic on everybody’s mind—the likelihood of
another Jacobite rising.

    
Andrew had turned his chair so that he could observe Helen without being
too obvious about it. She seemed to avoid his gaze.

    
"You believe that most of the clans will come out united this time," he
expounded. "But what I hear at the castle paints a different picture. The
Mackays and the Rosses are thought to be stout Whig supporters, same as the
Campbells of Argyle and Breadalbane. Nor are the Grants and Munros likely
to come out in support of the Stuarts, I was just told the other day."

    
Dougal raised his arm dismissively.

    
Andrew continued: "The Chisholms seem to be badly divided, and Chief
Angus of the Mackintoshes is serving with the English. I can’t see his clan
coming out."

    
Andrew’s tone of voice was maybe just a shade too ponderous. Although
he didn’t want to provoke Dougal, he was eager to make him think carefully
about his own options. Dougan Graham had instructed him to stress that the
Earl of Breadalbane expected all his tenants to support him, and it was
obvious where his sympathies lay. Andrew doubted though that any such
appeal would have much effect on the MacGregors. But he had another
reason for trying to sway the man. He wanted to remain on good terms with
him and his family. If Dougal joined up with the new pretender, they would
be on opposite sides, regardless of whether he, Andrew, took any active part
or not. The very fact of being a Campbell of Argyle would make it happen.

    
Dougal pursed his lips, shaking his head. "Except for the Campbells, these
are all small clans. It won’t make much difference, and when they see that
the Stuarts are winning, as they surely must, everybody will join."

    
"That’s just the point. Didn’t many of the clans in 1715 wait to see which
way the scales were tipping before committing their men?"

    
"This time will be different. Most have grievances against the English
now. They’ll welcome this opportunity to kick off the yoke of the Hanover
kings. But tell me lad, which side will you be on? I would hate to see you
across the battle field."

    
"I’ll stay right here with Mr. Graham. What do I care if we are ruled by a
Stuart or a Hanover king? It will make little difference for most people in the
Highlands. They’ll still be poor and see their own children starve when their
crops fail or their herds get sick."

    
This statement, expressed with naive conviction, visibly startled Helen by
its unexpected candor, particularly coming from a man of the gentry. She
raised her head from her work. His eyes immediately locked on to hers and
kept her in check, holding her like magnets.

    
"These are strong words, master Andrew, strong words for a man who
lives in the comfort of the castle."

BOOK: Summer of Love
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