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Authors: Catherine Airlie

The Last of the Kintyres

BOOK: The Last of the Kintyres
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THE LAST OF THE KINTYRES

Catherine Airlie

 

For years, Elizabeth Stanton had wanted to go to Dromore, where her mother had spent all her girlhood. Something about the old romance between her mother and the laird had
c
aptured her imagination, colouring her thoughts of two people who had loved and parted and never come together again until it was too late.

Now she herself was going back to Dromore—to meet the laird's son. What would he be like? Would he be a reflection of that other young man who had captured her mother's heart? The stage was set for Elizabeth to re-enact her mother s old
r
omance—yet, in such c
a
ses, how often
does
history repeat itself?

 

CHAPTER ONE

“IT’S a long way to go to be unhappy.”

The solicitor looked over the gold rims of his spectacles at the girl sitting on the chair at the far side of the massive mahogany desk where her mother’s last will and testament lay open before him. Then, very slowly, the shrewd blue eyes under the shaggy grey eyebrows were raised to include the restless figure of the boy pacing the faded carpet beside the window, and it seemed that his remark had been directed more to the boy than to the grave-eyed young woman facing him across the desk.

Brother and sister, he thought, they were so little alike in their outlook. Yet in both of them ran the impetuous blood of the MacGregors of Dromore.

“Your mother was a MacGregor,” he continued slowly, “so it is perhaps only natural that she should have wished you to return to Scotland.”

“Scotland!” Anthony Stanton turned from the window. “Edinburgh—yes, but this place is right off the beaten track—an estate right out on the west coast! What can there possibly be there for us? We’d be prisoners,” he declared emphatically, his fine grey eyes flashing their swift rebellion. “The puppets of this old man’s Sentimental regard!”

Under cover of
his
hand the solicitor allowed his humorous mouth to quirk into a smile.

“It’s true,” he agreed, “that your mother might have married Sir Ronald Kintyre at one time, but there was, I believe, a clash of wills, and nothing came of the attachment. They both married someone else and were, I feel sure, reasonably happy in their marriages. With some people, however, the allegiances of first love linger through the years. It would seem that Sir Ronald never quite forgot your mother. Their friendship was renewed when your father died, but after Sir
Ronald’s wife became an invalid he rarely visited London, and your mother was never able to go to Dromore, even for a holiday.”

He paused, looking at the girl who had seemed to bring a flash of sunlight into the room when she had first entered it. He knew that she would understand what he was trying to convey, and he believed more than ever now that his late client had been right when she had insisted upon making such detailed provision for her children.

Elizabeth Stanton could have stood on her own two feet, he mused, but she would always consider herself responsible for her brother. The three years which separated them in age might have been ten, but no young girl could possibly hold the rein tightly enough to curb the impetuosity of an over-indulged youth. It needed a firmer and an older hand, a fact which Mary Stanton had evidently recognized at last, when the spoiling was already an accomplished fact.

“Sir Ronald must have been very fond of my mother,” Elizabeth reflected. “It’s rather a big responsibility for an old man to undertake—looking after two young people that he hardly knows. I met him once,” she added reminiscently, her expression softening in a smile. “I had been reading
Rob Roy
at the time and he told me that he came from Rob’s country, and that I was a MacGregor on my mother’s side and ought to know more about her home! He was a typical Scot, proud of his heritage; a gruff old man, but kind.”

“I’ve no doubt about that,” Richard Lord assured her, glancing again at the impatient figure beside the window. “And I’m certain that once you are settled at Ardlamond you will be very happy. Lome is lovely country. I went there once, on a fishing holiday, to a place called Port Sonachan on Loch Awe.” He smiled reminiscently. “One had to jerk one’s mind back to reality every now and then to realize that there could be such glorious peace.”

“In fact,” Anthony Stanton put in dryly, “you were practically buried alive—shut away from everything that mattered.”

“If you like to put it that way,” the old man agreed,
rising
to his feet. “But I still think of those two weeks of
infini
te,
detachment as a brief interlude when life was perfect. I don’t think I can explain it to you.” He was looking at Elizabeth again. “You will have to go there to discover what I mean for yourself.”

“I
think
I might have some idea,” she said. “You see, I’ve always wanted to go to Dromore. It’s only that—” She hesitated, looking briefly in her brother’s direction. “I only hope that we’re not going to be a burden to someone we hardly know.”

“I don’t think Sir Ronald looks at it in that way,

Richard Lord assured her. “You see, he knew your mother very well, and I’m 'quite sure he would not have taken on this responsibility if he had not wanted to do it. You needn’t be strangers for long,” he added with a quick glance towards the door of the outer office. “As a matter of fact, I’m expecting Sir Ronald’s son here at any moment. He is in London on business. I would like you to meet.”

The colour deepened in Elizabeth Stanton s cheeks. For years she had wanted to go to Scotland—to Dromore, where her mother had been
born
and all her girlhood had been spent. Something about the very name of Lome—her mother’s country—had the power to quicken her heartbeats and send the quick blood coursing excitedly through her veins, and something, too, about that old romance between her mother and the laird of Dromore had captured her imagination, colouring her thoughts of two people who had loved and parted and never come together again until it was too late for the fulfilment of their love. She had known for a long time now that there had always been a
corner
of her mother’s heart kept warm and bright by the memory of Ronald Kintyre, and now she had handed on her children to him, as a trust.

Meeting Sir Ronald’s son, however, was a different proposition. What would he be like? Would he be a reflection of that other young man who, years ago, had captured her mother’s heart?

“If you will excuse me a moment,” Richard Lord said, “I’ll go and see if he has come in.”

He left them, and immediately Anthony Stanton wheeled round from the window. Brother and sister were amazingly alike to look at. Both had inherited the strong, regular MacGregor features and the dark hair and deeply-set grey eyes which went with them. It was only in the expression of the mouth that the difference lay. Elizabeth’s mouth was firm and lifted humorously at the
corner
s; the boy’s, at nineteen, had taken on the sullen droop of petulance, although he had a strong chin and a straight and fearless regard.

“Look here, Liz,” he said as soon as the solicitor was out of the room, “we’ve got to squash this thing before it goes any further, nip it in the bud, clamp down on it, freeze it out. In a word, say ‘No!’ ”

Elizabeth rose from her chair, trying not to let him see her impatience.

“How can we, Tony?” she reasoned. “It was Mother’s last wish for us.”

He turned from her abruptly because sudden tears had sprung to his eyes.

“I know that,” he said. “But she might have consulted us about going.”

“I think it was something she always wanted,” Elizabeth said slowly. “She just wouldn’t think that we might not want to go. For her it would be like—taking us home.”

“She hadn’t lived there for over twenty years,” he protested.

Elizabeth’s eyes were a little misty as she tried to explain.

“That’s just it, Tony. She always longed to go and never could. There never was enough money to spare. When Father died she had the house here, in London,
and we were both at school. She was able to rent off part of the house and it
gave her a steady income, but not much more. Then, I suppose, the years drifted by like that. We were both being educated within easy reach of London, and Dromore was too far away.”

“Which is no reason why we should go there now,” Tony pointed out.

There was a little silence in which Elizabeth studied his stubborn back view.

“Don’t you think we ought to give it a trial?” she suggested at last. “It was what she wanted—so much.”

“Oh—all right!” She had succeeded in touching the deep well-spring of his affection for his mother, and she had done it deliberately. “But don’t expect me to stay for long,” he added on a warning note. “Nor to knuckle under to an old man’s whims!”

“There’s nothing to suggest that he’s a domineering old man,” Elizabeth returned rather sharply, although she felt immeasurably relieved by his decision. “Mother used to talk about him quite a lot. She said he was extremely kind.”

Tony turned from the window.

“Our
cha
rmin
g
Mr. Lord has sold you the idea well and truly,” he reflected.

Elizabeth smiled.

“I
think
it was ‘sold’ to me long ago,” she said, as the solicitor came back into the room.

“I’m afraid Mr. Kintyre has been delayed,” he explained. “He has probably got into a traffic jam somewhere or other. Normally, he is most punctual.”

“Perhaps we can meet him some other time,” Elizabeth suggested with relief in her voice. “We’ve talked over our visit to Ardlamond, Mr. Lord, and I—we think we ought to go. You mentioned that you could make arrangements about the sale of the house for me and—settling up the mortgage,” she added, not yet accustomed to the fact that she was about to sell her old home. “Mother wanted it that way. I don’t
think she ever considered that we really belonged here, in London.”

“No, her heart was always in the Highlands,” Richard Lord agreed, with a quick nod of his bald head. He felt a great deal of relief now that their decision had been made, for he had anticipated a struggle, with the boy, at least. “There will, of course, be quite a lot to settle,” he added, “but I think you would be well advised to leave the details in my hands. It is never a pleasant experience to see one’s home being sold to strangers. I think, though, that your mother was wise to insist on a clean break. She was never truly settled in London.”

And never truly happy? Elizabeth held out her hand. Her mother’s death was too recent, too near, to allow her to think about it without tears gathering in her eyes, and her voice was not quite steady as she tried to thank this kindly old man who had been adviser and friend to her as well as solicitor during the past few confusing weeks.

“You’ve done so much, Mr. Lord,” she said, “and I can only thank you. It has all been—rather confusing since Mother died.”

He cradled the slim, gloved hand in both of his, patting it affectionately as he looked down into her distressed face.

“I’m sure this is the right way for you,” he assured her. “You’ll find that out once you’ve reached Dromore.”

Tony stood impatiently behind them. He had given in about this against his better judgment, he reflected, but the truth was that he had seen, in a most unusual flash of insight, how much this journey to Dromore meant to Elizabeth. He had no intention, however, of allowing it to become a lifetime’s pilgrimage where he was concerned. He had other plans for his future, vague, unformed plans, maybe, but they could never include years spent in a remote
corner
of Scotland away from the exciting beat and pulse of living which he could feel here in London. He could not see himself remaining for any length of time in what he thought of as a drab backwater on the edge of the Atlantic where nothing ever happened. Nothing of importance.

They were at the door and Richard Lord’s fingers had fastened round the handle to open it when Elizabeth looked beyond him and saw a man’s figure silhouetted against the pane of frosted glass which bore the firm’s name. The shadow seemed to project itself into the room even before the door was opened, forceful, aggressive almost, as it came between them and the artificial light of the outer office.

“I’m glad you’ve managed to get here, Hew,” Richard Lord said. “I’ve someone I want you to meet.”

He stood aside, and Hew Kintyre walked into the inner sanctum, a tall, striking-looking man in his early thirties with the mark of authority strong on
him
and a definite hostility in his eyes.

Somehow, in that moment, Elizabeth knew that he was well aware of why they were here, waiting to meet him, and her heart lurched with a little stab of discomfiture as their eyes met and held. It was the first small icy breath blowing across her imagined paradise.

“This is Miss Stanton and her brother.” The solicitor’s voice seemed to be coming from very far away. “You know about their mother’s will and the provision your father has made for them, of course, but I thought it would be rather nice if you met here before they went to Ardlamond.”

The pleasant voice ebbed into a tense silence. It could not have lasted for more than a second, Elizabeth realized afterwards, but in that suspended moment, redolent with disapproval, Hew Kintyre seemed to set his seal upon the relationships of the coming weeks. He did not want them at Dromore. He thought that his father had been far too indulgent, far too generous, and altogether far too eager to take on a responsibility which was in no way his.

In an instant pride had asserted itself and she heard herself saying in a none-too-friendly voice:

“I’m sure Mr. Kintyre must be here on business. We won’t keep you any longer, Mr. Lord. Perhaps we can talk things over—finally—some other time.”

Hew Kintyre held out his hand and she refused to take it, turning her back on him. She would not allow him to imagine that she had come as a beggar to Richard Lord’s office, hoping for his father’s charity. Sir Ronald must have made the offer to her mother in the first place, she reasoned, conscious of an anger which was rooted in hurt and disappointment. It had nothing to do with this man who so obviously did not want them at Dromore.

Hew Kintyre thrust the rejected hand into his pocket and turned to survey Tony.

“I
think
you will enjoy Dromore,” he said indifferently. “That is, of course, if you are not too strongly attached to London.”

“We’ve lived in London all our lives,” Tony informed him sullenly, although he must have known that already. Elizabeth supposed that there was not much he didn’t know about their lives, or their affairs. “We don’t intend to stay in Scotland, of course,” Tony added. “This will be, more or less, just a holiday.”

“That will be something which you must settle with my father,” he said. “It is no concern of mine. Your visit to Ardlamond is entirely his affair.”

He could not have said more plainly that he considered their journey ill-advised, and a quick, angry flush mounted into Elizabeth’s cheeks as she turned towards the door. She was tempted to tell Richard Lord, then and there, that she had no intention of making her home at Ardlamond Lodge, even for a week, but when her angry gaze encountered the older man’s it advised her to wait, to reconsider her hasty decision in the light of another day.

BOOK: The Last of the Kintyres
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