If love be love, p.1
If Love Be Love, page 1
IF LOVE BE LOVE
The young Allans, Nancy, Linda and Don were thrilled when they were left a croft on the west coast of Scotland: Nancy in particular, who felt responsible for her younger brother and sister and was used to shouldering their burdens, was sure that it was just what Don needed to help him settle down. Nancy will be free at last to make her own plans. Now that her brother was contentedly settled, she dreamed of a suitable marriage for herself. So it was rather daunting when they met the local laird, the dour Logan Maclaine, and found him unwelcoming and sceptical about the whole thing. Laird of Lanmore proved to be a very unsettling influence.
Unfortunately, until they got themselves sorted out, the Allans just had to keep accepting Logan’s help and advice, however much Nancy resented having to do so. But did it really matter much, when Nancy was soon going back home to marry Rod Ellis and needn’t ever have anything to do with Logan again?
‘How do you spell ancestral, Nancy?’ Linda Allan asked her sister who was sitting in the front of the car next to her brother Don who was driving.
‘What do you want to know for?’ asked Don scornfully. ‘Surely you’re not writing your diary at this time of the day in the back of a car. I thought you’d be too excited.’
Linda, a lively fifteen-year-old, whose present ambition was to be a distinguished writer, gazed at the back of his head, a pitying expression on her freckled snub-nosed face.
‘That’s the whole point. I want to convey my excitement through words immediately, or I’ll lose the whole effect.’
‘I always thought the best writers produced their greatest works when working in peaceful surroundings long after the incidents or conversations they were describing had happened,’ observed Nancy mildly. ‘Why ancestral, Lin?’
‘We’re going to find our ancestral home, aren’t we? You told me that the Allans had all lived on Lanmore until Daddy left. And they were our ancestors, so it must be our ancestral home,’ explained Linda with exaggerated patience as she enjoyed playing her favourite role of misunderstood genius, a pose she adopted when her sister and brother handed out criticism. Then forgetting her part, casting dignity aside, she exclaimed, ‘Oh, I wonder what it will be like? Do you think it will be like Dunvegan castle, or perhaps a ruin like Duntulm?’
Don snorted with derision.
‘To hear you talk you’d think the Allans had been clan chieftains They were only crofters. I expect the house is small, only two or three rooms, and possibly it has a tin roof. It’s the land I’m interested in. Evidently the Lanmore peninsula is one of those outcrops of sedimentary rock which occur in the Highlands, providing fertile soil and good grazing, and it’s unapproachable from the landward side because there’s no road through the mountains there. Do you know, Nancy, I can hardly believe this is happening to me, of all people.’
Nancy glanced at him. His brown eyes were bright. Enthusiasm sparkled in his thin angular face as he stared at the road in front of him. He leaned over the steering wheel as if by doing so he could reach Lanmore faster. Urgency and excitement were expressed in every feature and every limb.
She looked away through the windscreen at the winding ribbon of grey tarmac which was the old road north, the road from London to Scotland, parts of which followed the original Roman road once known as Watling Street. It was almost eight o’clock on a dull April morning and soon they would be in Newcastle. Then they would turn west to drive along the road which linked Newcastle, on the east coast of England, to Carlisle, on the west coast.
They had left Dulthorpe, the north Yorkshire industrial city in which the three of them had been born and where they had lived until to-day, at six o’clock, after saying goodbye to a rather tearful Aunt Win.
‘Aunt Win seemed quite sorry to see us leave, didn’t you think so?’ said Nancy.
‘Well, we’ve lived with her for five years, and she’s known us since we were babies,’ murmured Linda.
‘Five years too long,’ grunted Don. ‘I bet she and Uncle Arthur were glad to see the back of me.’
The touch of bitterness in his voice made Nancy look at him again. She hoped that this adventure on which they had embarked was going to provide a few answers for Don. Ever since the fire which had robbed them of both parents five years previously, Don had been a headache. After his last stormy two years at school he had left with a handful of mediocre ‘O’ level results, a reputation for unreliability and a great dislike for the industrial society in which he lived. However, a certain native hard-headedness and a sincere desire to be independent made him accept a job as a sampler in the chemical works for which Dulthorpe was famed. The job had been obtained through the influence of Rod Ellis, an acquaintance of Uncle Arthur’s.
That had been three years ago and had brought Rod, tall and handsome, an up-and-pushing executive in his mid-thirties, into their lives. He had taken an interest in the Allans’ affairs, often offering advice in his crisp methodical manner and showing admiration for Nancy in her efforts to ensure that Don and Linda were guided in the way that she thought her parents would have wanted. Now she and Rod were engaged to be married and the date for the wedding would be set as soon as this pilgrimage to Lanmore was over.
Lanmore—a peninsula on the rugged sea-indented coast of the north-west of Scotland, the place where their father had been born and where a few months ago their grandfather had died. They had only seen the old man once because their father had never taken them to Lanmore to visit him and had never spoken of his family. But their grandfather had come to Dulthorpe, travelling the long distance by ferry, bus and train to attend the funeral of his only offspring when Aunty Win had written to him. Five years later he had remembered Don in his will, leaving him two thousand pounds. In the letter informing Don of his legacy, Mr. Roberts, the Glasgow lawyer, had also drawn attention to the fact that the Allan croft on Lanmore could be Don’s too in the time-honoured way of the passing on of crofts since his father was dead, and if he wished to claim it and to pay the annual rent. Mr. Roberts had suggested that Don should make his claim soon, because the laird of Lanmore Mr. K. L. Maclaine wished to know. Apparently a croft which was not claimed could be rented these days to a party who wanted the use of it.
To say that the letter completely changed Don’s attitude to life was an understatement. He was almost ecstatic.
‘This is it, Nancy!’ he had crowed. ‘This is what I want—a chance to get away from this dump and its clockwork routine, its “where there’s muck there’s brass” outlook on life. I can go and live in a place which is mine, grow my own food and be completely independent.’
‘But supposing you don’t like it? You haven’t seen it.’
‘I’m going to see it. And so are you. We’ll take six months off and go. You’ve nothing to keep you here.’
‘Only my job ... and Rod.’
‘You know you can stop work any time, just as I can. It isn’t as if either of us will be missed.’
That was true. When Nancy’s parents had died she had left school, giving up all idea of studying pharmacy at a university, and had gone to work as a sales assistant in the Dulthorpe branch of a well-known chain of pharmacies. She had done so because she wanted one of them to be independent of Aunty Win’s generosity. Another reason had been a desire to stay near Don and Linda during their formative years, a responsibility which she had taken very seriously. But although the work had been pleasant it had not satisfied her any more than Don’s had satisfied him.
‘As for Rod,’ Don had continued, ‘I’m sure he’ll agree if he thinks the move is going to get me out of his hair for a while.’
Indeed, Rod had been most understanding. With a small flash of rebellion Nancy thought she would ha
At his leavetaking he had kissed Nancy in his usual brisk way, had said that he would write regularly and that he might take a week of his annual holiday in August to join them and to see how Don was coping with his croft.
Scarcely lover-like behaviour, Nancy thought now, as they drove through the shopping centre of Newcastle on their way west. But perhaps she expected too much. Perhaps that was all there was to love, mutual respect and a feeling of general kindliness. Instead of wishing that Rod’s behaviour was more exciting she should be glad that someone as highly thought of and as responsible as he was wanted to marry her. She wasn’t much of a matrimonial catch with her troublesome appendage Linda. She wasn’t good-looking nor particularly blessed with social graces. Her hair was red—not a nice becoming chestnut but more the colour of new copper, and it was dead straight so that she wore it short in an urchin crop and it fell forward in a spiky fringe under which her dark brown eyes twinkled with mirth or blazed with outraged pride according to how she felt.
Newcastle was behind them and as they drove along the road to Carlisle at a steady speed Nancy began to feel the first stirrings of excitement. Now at last they were breaking new ground and she was seeing places she had not seen before. Linda, who had been unusually silent, came to life again and on looking at the road map discovered to her delight that if they digressed to the right they could visit the remains of the Roman town of Corstopitum which were situated near the little town of Corbridge.
Don, who could not get to Lanmore fast enough, refused to give in to Linda’s request that he should turn off to Corbridge, and went on to the grey stone market town of Hexham. All the time Linda agitated, muttering that he had no romance in his soul, until eventually he stopped in a layby and looked at the map while they ate their packed lunch.
After due consideration of the mileage involved he agreed to turn off the main road at Bardon’s Mill and cross the country to join the road which followed the line of Hadrian’s Wall so that they could visit the remains of the famous fort of Borvicium, more commonly known as House-steads, the name of the nearby farmhouse.
By this time the sun had struggled through the grey clouds and was shining benignly on the rolling border countryside. It was possible to see for miles. Cloud galleons sailed above the wave-like ridges of the fields which sloped gradually upwards to the north. The short grass was pale, lifeless after the long winter and the clusters of tall elms which were silhouetted against the sky were still leafless, although a pinkish-brown blur smudging their outline indicated that their buds were swelling.
Looking out at the seemingly endless flow of land, crisscrossed by dry-stone walls where there was no visible sign of habitation, Nancy experienced again a wonderful sense of freedom. The feeling was replaced by one of awe when they reached the road which followed the line of the ancient wall and she saw straight ahead of her situated at the top of the last gently sloping ridge the excavated walls of the Roman camp.
There was only one other car in the car park because it was early in the season for visitors. The car was low-slung and aggressive, making the Allans’ old Rover seem very sedate. Naturally it attracted Don’s attention and after informing his sisters that it was the most recent development in sports cars he began to peer at it closely, the efforts of the Romans completely forgotten as he admired the product of modern genius.
Nancy and Linda, both under the spell of the past, set out without him to explore the camp. On the way up the windy slope they passed the farmhouse hiding amongst its clump of trees. Behind the house was the museum where various artefacts discovered during the excavation of the site were displayed. They did not linger there long because Linda, intent on seeing all she could, went ahead of Nancy, guide book in hand, to examine the walls of the camp. Nancy followed slowly, enjoying the silence, the sharp sting of the wind in her face and the tangy smells of the reawakening earth.
By the time she reached the excavated remains of the granaries Don had caught up with her and together they admired the ingenuity of the Roman builders as they looked at the system of ventilation. Between the buttresses which supported the outer wall, there were spaces which acted as ventilators, allowing free access of air beneath the floor, which in this case had been made of lengthwise planks laid on cross beams resting on upright pillars. Only the pillars remained, but for a while they stood and stared imagining the whole building and the wind sighed around them, and the feeling of the past was so strong that Nancy could fancy she heard a centurion shouting orders to his men.
‘Time we were on our way,’ stated Don. ‘Where’s Linda?’
‘I don’t know. She went ahead without me.’
‘And now I suppose we’ll waste another half-hour looking for her.’
‘Why the rush?’ queried Nancy. ‘We’ve plenty of time, Don. This is the first holiday we’ve had for ages. Let’s make the most of it and see all we can...’
‘We haven’t plenty of time. We have to be in Glasgow by to-morrow to see Mr. Roberts ... and have you forgotten we must show that we want the croft or the laird will take it over?’
‘We’ll be there in time, don’t worry ... and Mr. Maclaine, the laird, will soon find he can’t prevent us Allans from claiming what’s ours.’
Don grinned as he recognised the fighting spirit which had kept the last of the Allans with their heads in the air during the past five years.
‘All right. I thought we’d get to Dumfries to-night. It isn’t on the fastest route to Glasgow, but it’ll interest you and Linda and we can stay in the Youth Hostels there. What’s the betting Linda is lost or has fallen into a ditch somewhere?’
They moved away from the granaries and started to search for Linda. She wasn’t very far away, and she wasn’t in a ditch. She was sitting on the well-worn steps of what remained of the great hall, and she was with a man.
As far as Nancy was concerned the situation was worse than if Linda had fallen into a ditch and ruined her clothing. Time and time again she had warned Linda against her propensity for talking to complete strangers who were usually men. Very conscious of her responsibility for her young sister, Nancy had developed a rather exaggerated fear of strange men. The sight of Linda sitting close to the dark-haired stranger, gazing up at him, apparently enraptured by what he was saying, roused all her protective instincts and she marched forward.
‘Linda! What d’you think you’re doing? We’ve been looking everywhere for you. How many times have I told you not to talk to strangers!’
Her hair ruffled by the wind into a crest which resembled a cock’s comb, her brown eyes snapping dangerously, she glared down and encountered a pair of grey eyes set under thick straight dark eyebrows. The eyes considered her coolly almost insolently and then looked back at Linda.
Linda said: Don’t take any notice. Go on, finish, what you were saying. She is my sister Nancy.’
‘Your sister, is she?’ The voice was quiet and had an attractive lilt to it. ‘I thought she was one of the hens from the farm ... so much clucking and so many ruffled feathers.’ The mockery as well as the way in which he ignored her reduced Nancy to unaccustomed speechlessness and she could only glare down at a head of thick longish dark hair while he continued to talk to Linda.
‘As I was saying, one of the gods they worshipped was Mithras ... the Persian sun-god. He found special favour with the Roman army in the third century. He exacted high standards of conduct. Knowledge of the ritual attending his worship was only attained by grades of initiation. Men who wished to join the cult had to pass physical and psychological tests which were very difficult. For this reason the cult was secret and it excluded women.’
‘How mean!’ exclaimed Linda, jumping to her feet in her usual restless
‘Personally I think it was an excellent idea to exclude women, and if I’d been a Roman I think I’d have worshipped Mithras,’ replied her teacher. He stood up too. He wasn’t much taller than herself, noted Nancy, possibly about five feet ten, and he was compactly built. He was dressed in finely checked trousers, a white woollen round necked sweater and a brown leather jacket. He looked elegant and expensive like the car in the car-park.
‘I’d like to see the place where the temple used to stand,’ said Linda hopefully, looking at him with bright expectant eyes.
Nancy recovered her voice and her wits and said sharply, ‘There’s no time. Go straight to the car at once, please.’
Linda tossed her head mutinously and stood her ground. ‘No. I want to see everything. I might never come here again.’ She turned to the stranger and with a complete change of tone and of facial expression, a change which irritated Nancy so that she spoke again.
‘You can see it quite easily on your way to the car-park,’ said the stranger smoothly as if Nancy hadn’t spoken. ‘It’s below the farmhouse and it’s marked by a single upright post. Now off you go. Goodbye, Linda.’
Linda smiled, her sudden sweet smile which crinkled her freckled nose and made her brown eyes dance.
‘Thank you. Goodbye, Mr. ... er ... I don’t know your name.’
‘Linda...” started Nancy threateningly.
‘Nor are you ever likely to know it,’ said the man. ‘I’m not in the habit of revealing it to every schoolgirl I meet.’
‘Then I shall call you Mr. Mithras,’ retorted the irrepressible Linda. ‘Goodbye.’
Without a glance at Nancy she tripped off and out of the hall.
‘But you are in the habit of speaking to schoolgirls, even when you don’t know them.’ accused Nancy acidly, giving expression to her indignation at last. Everything about him irritated her. His longish hair, the bold arrogance of his nose, the startling lightness of his grey eyes against the sallowness of his complexion and the downward curve of one corner of his mouth as he gave her an oblique glance over his shoulder.
by Flora Kidd have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes