Illicit Union_Sanctuary, page 17
Caught on the horns of dilemma, Gillie hesitated. She urged, “So go on, and get this over with. I’m hungry.”
Gillie disclosed, “I am nae going in there to arrange a funeral. The Right Reverend Macaulay Munro is nae welcome at the castle. The McBains and Munro are longtime enemies.”
“Oh, because Alfreda brought an Anglican Cleric here?”
Great, he could not stand here reciting her own family history, so he held up his hand, “I’ll explain later. Let me go in there while I still have the nerve.”
At the door, he kicked the drift aside before knocking. The thin, taciturn minister opened the door himself, “So what brings ye to my door, MacGillivray?”
“I’ve a message for ye.” Announced Gillie pushing his way within. “From The McBain.”
“Ah now that the laird is laid low with grief,” Standing by the door, the cleric looked down his long nose at Gillie, “The McBain has need of me?”
“None. I am come with a warning: ye best go easy on his wife. Any talk of God’s wrath and the death of their babe . . . and yer body will be found in bloody snow.” Drawing himself up Gillie proclaimed, “And I, personally, will burn yer kirk to the ground. Ye ken? Everyone can attend services in the chapel at the castle.” Could there be a worse threat than ‘You’ll die and your life’s work will be undone’?
The man blinked – twice, but no reply came. At the very moment Munro opened his mouth, a rapid rapping sounded on the door. Munro threw open the door to reveal Margaret with her hand poised to knock yet again.
“Ah, unless I am very much mistaken, this is Lady McBain’s sister whom the Lord God sent in a timely manner to proffer sisterly comfort.” He motioned for Margaret to step in, “I am honored by this visit.”
Gillie thanked God above they had dispatched a lad to bring Margaret her cloak. She looked no more than bundled up; nonetheless he had to get her out of harm’s way. Pointing at the door, he demanded, “Get ye out the door, and I’ll be right behind ye.”
Starting to hustle her along, he redirected his finger to Munroe. “And ye better mind what I said.”
She dodged and circled around him, “Reverend, I know nothing of this situation, but I know dark days often bridge the gulf between adversaries.”
Leaping through the air in a flying tackle crossed The MacGillivray’s mind, but she was keeping a leery eye on him and the fall . . . well he could never harm Margaret, but wrestling her out the door crossed his mind nonetheless.
Munroe, the aggravating bastard, indicated a chair, “Won’t you sit Lady . . .”
“Margaret.” Supplied the ignorant lass. “Margaret Chilliam.”
Gillie latched onto her arm trying to pry her out of the chair. “And now ye two have been introduced, we’ll be going along.”
Munro intervened, “No indeed, MacGillivray. This lady should warm herself before making the climb through the snow to the castle.”
“Yes, it is nice and warm in here.” Chirped Margaret looking about Munroe’s barren domicile.
Sitting down and crossing his long, thin legs, Munro threw out, “I think you are perhaps quite right Miss Chilliam. God oft sends adversity not to punish but to muster good people together.”
Alarmed at the path this was taking, Gillie leaped in, slamming his fist into his palm, “Right there is an example of what the McBain forbids.”
“But good things can come out of disasters.” Asserted Margaret.
Trying to keep his volume below a shout, Gillie laid it out, “The McBain will have the arse of any who suggest the Lord God snatched the babe from yer sister because Alfreda or anyone else had a lesson to learn.”
Munro interjected, “I would never say that per se, but I cannot deny the truth: all on earth is a part of God’s great plan.”
Margaret leaned forward to stare seriously into Munro’s eyes, “You are a Calvinist then? Right?”
Munro’s head bobbed, “Yes, lady, in the grand tradition of John Knox. As a lad, I heard the great man preach.”
“That had to be impressive.” Offered Margaret.
“That one sermon changed my life.” Stated Munro looking quite pleased with himself.
Gillie considered a preemptive strike – like cutting the man’s throat – before any more damage took place. Poor Margaret, the unsuspecting lass, leaned forward imploring with earnest eyes. “There’s no minister to lay our Maisie to rest. None. Alfreda’s chaplain is – alas – in London. Could you not lay aside contention and conduct a proper funeral? Without mentioning predestination, or divine retribution, or the wages of sin?”
Clearly she had caught Munro by surprise. His brows arched and his mouth flapped just a bit. Margaret smoothly carried on, “Just a simple, short sermon for a simple short life? A bit of comfort for those who will miss Maisie until once again – God willing - they meet her in the spirit?”
Then miracle of miracle Margaret stood, “I trust you will think on your duty to provide an innocent babe a decent Christian burial.” She reached the door before turning about, “But only if you can do so, without laying a greater burden of suffering upon those who mourn her passing.” And just like that, she bowed out.
At her heels, Gillie paused to goad in Gaelic, “I’d like to see ye do that, Munro. I’d be pleased to witness a miracle and relieved Lyall will nae be hung for murdering ye.”
During the ascent to the castle, Gillie fumed too angry to speak to Margaret. Her silence confirmed she knew damned well she had blundered.
By the time they reached the cemetery, however, Gillie decided she had done no harm. Munroe knew not to set foot in Black Bannoch. No invitation from a newly arrived, largely uninformed relative, would prompt him to break Lyall’s decree. If Munro foolishly thought to enter, the men at gates would keep The Right Reverend Macaulay Munro at bay. Gillie would see to that, since he was personally overseeing the manning of Black Bannoch.
At her door, she turned to him and spoke for first time since the parsonage, “I am sorry I’ve upset you. B-But . . . I heard at the wake - earlier - there’s no minister for the funeral and . . .”
He stared at her for a spell trying to decide if her eyes were blue or grey with a touch of green. Those specks of gold sometimes seemed brown. No matter, the anxiety within them moved his heart as did the stuttering of the ‘B’. He seized her face pulling her close to assure, “I am nae upset with ye, Lady, for trying to arrange a Christian burial for yer niece.”
She expelled a single, “Oh”.
Looking about to see who might linger nearby, Gillie reluctantly surrendered the velvet of her skin. Thus reminded of her vulnerability to Munro’s vicious tongue, he soothed, “Munro is a dangerous man who will – if he can - drive you from the Highlands. I dinnae want to see you go.”
“Aye, but dinnae ye fash yerself. I’ll nae let The Right Reverend Macaulay Munro drive ye from my life. I’ll kill the bastard first.” She seemed shocked by this murderous declaration, so Gillie gave her his most charming smile, “Laird McBain will help me hide the body.”
He had hoped for a laugh, but no. She did blush prettily – so prettily with dual dimples. Along came Two Pence Betty and put an end to that interlude. Margaret developed the jitters and boomed out, “I am once again in your, debt, MacGillivray . . . uh . . . Laird MacGillivray. I thank you for the fresh air. Your errand took all longer for dragging me along.”
Margaret thrust out her hand awkwardly as if to shake his hand. He instead brought it to his lips for a farewell kiss. “Ye made a chore a joy, and I thank ye, Lady.”
Blushing ever redder, Margaret darted into her room slamming the door in his face. Sprinting down the hallway, Gillie caught up with Betty, “Tell me, Elsbeth McBain. Why did ye take it upon yerself to share with the whole of Black Bannoch I slept in Margaret’s room? Hey?”
“I dinnae tell everyone, MacGillivray. I haven’t time for such prattle being as how I am the housekeeper . . .”
“Yer sister Jean is
“Jean or me? Tis all the same.” She planted a hand on her broad hip to launch her counter attack, “I told only one soul, and evidently one is all it takes to get the word out.”
Leaning into Gillie’s face, Betty snapped, “And English Betty knew the same as me. Why is it ye dinnae blame her? Or better yet, ye should take a look at yerself, for ye feed the fire, do ye nae? Acting like ye were just now.”
Nonplussed, Gillie stammered, “All in all, ye should nae have said anything until ye ken the truth of it. I fell asleep . . . she did too. We were exhausted in many ways, what with the baby and all.”
“That’s between ye and yer maker, and nae business of mine.” Elsbeth Colina Cobain flounced away with one ‘I told you about your fine self” backward glance. Overall Gillie counted the whole encounter a grievous mistake.
Going to the wake early, likewise, proved ill conceived. Why did he think Margaret would come down before dinner? Now with her some six foot way, yet as inaccessible as the moon, he had already logged one long dreary hour. Looking at Margaret beat any other occupation, so he lingered - another lapse of judgement.
“MacGillivray!” Allie’s hard slap snapped Gillie to attention. “Yer just the man I need to see. I want to talk to you about your trip from Inverness.” And that was just the beginning.
Alexander McBain’s humorously disguised accusations sent Gillie into a panic. Once freed of Allie, he hustled toward the door, but stopped dead in his tracks when he overheard Alspeth saying, “I hate to bring this up right now, but ye will have to deal with MacGillivray and Alfreda’s sister. They make google eyes one at the other constantly.”
Pretending to adjust his shoe, Gillie listened, “And son, as God is my witness the lass is with child, possibly as far along as was yer wife.”
Alas for Margaret who had wanted to break the news herself. Lyall would not confront his sister-in-law until after the funeral. Thank goodness, Gillie would have time to warn her – if he could steal a private moment with her. His optimism dissipated when Lyall replied, “God’s beard, this had to have happened in London last summer. I thought Gillie would at least have the sense to seduce a lass with a dowry.”
Gillie switched to creeping across the floor making a show of seeking some button or coin until he reached the door for the courtyard, then he ran.
The doors to the balcony shook with the rising wind. Margaret tossed and turned unable to sleep. She rejected getting back up and updating her completely and entirely caught up journal. Again, the doors to the balcony rattled. This time so hard she feared they must be in the midst of blizzard. Would they even be able to have a funeral tomorrow?
Going over, she wrenched the curtains open to better see the weather. The stark moon shone down newly fallen snow, but the wind must have abated. As she turned to go a hoarse voice entreated, “Margaret, open the door and let me in.”
Looking down toward the voice, she discovered MacGillivray crouching against the door, he begged, “Maggie, darling please. I’m freezing. I have to talk to ye.”
Naturally, she opened the door and MacGillivray duck-walked into the room, hissing, “Close the door and curtains. Hurry.”
Doing exactly as he asked, she asked, “Why?”
“Because they can see the balcony from the parapet.” He stood swiping at his clothes. “Tis one of the reasons I am here.”
Aghast, Margaret entreated, “What did they see? And who are they?”
“Who they are dinnae matter, but they told Allie.” Pacing to and fro, he huffed, “Damn their eyes, they say they saw me on the balcony last night.”
This was as bad as Margaret feared, “Oh no . . .”
“Aye, and I was not at any time out those doors last night.”
“What?” Now she began to pace with him, “You weren’t? Why you weren’t. You sat in the chair, then sat on the bed, and went to sleep. Well, I hope you set those flap-mouthed fools straight.”
“Nae, twas no use. Allie knew about both Bettys as did the night watch. Those lads claimed to see me because they fear they missed me standing on the balcony.”
“Oh, yes.” Margaret had to smile, “Why not? Let them have their cover up.” Margaret sank down on the bed, “Obviously its general knowledge now.”
“Worse than that.” Said MacGillivray blinking twice.
“Worse? What did Alexander say to you?”
MacGillivray sunk down beside her and took up her hands. “He poked at me with clever questions. For instance, he asked, ‘How is it that ye took three days to come from Inverness. That must be a record.’”
Throwing out her arms, she declared, “Because of the weather.”
“Aye, but he traveled in the same weather the other direction, ye ken.”
“So? Then he knows how awful . . .” Insisted Margaret.
“Aye, impassable if ye are a woman rendered awkward by her belly, but nae if ye are man who has put up with Highland winters all his life.” He began toying with lace along the cuff of her gown. “If ye had not been . . . in the state yer in, I would have pushed on. We would have stayed over at the Cock and Goose.”
“Well Thank God and the hosts of heaven we didn’t. People would be saying we rode out of Inverness never to be seen again.”
Nodding appreciatively, he concurred, “This has been known to happen.”
Returning to the original topic, Margaret prompted, “What else had Alexander to say?”
He loosened the end of his hand wrap, and began peeling the rags from his hands, “He warned me I’d better cool . . . leave ye well enough alone. He reminded me Lyall would nae appreciate me creating a problem for him – now of all times.”
The rags he unraveled were discolored with splotches of red. Margaret knelt before him peering close as he pulled away the last shred. “I’ll be fine, Maggie. Ye see I dinnae ken the trellis out there held up roses.”
Fretting Margaret struggled to rise, he heaved her up, “We’ve greater problems than a few scratches.”
Nothing could be done about this mess. Nothing at all; however, she could care for his lacerated palms. She bustled about lighting another candle, pouring water into the basin, and choosing a handkerchief to sacrifice. Yes, why give her mind the opportunity to reel? Following behind her, Ferquhar entreated, “Come now sit down, there’s more.”
“I can’t take any more.” Snapped Margaret. “You sit down and let me clean those cuts.”
No more did he say. She enjoyed full silence as she cleaned his torn and pierced flesh. A sharp intake of breath expressed his opinion when she dug out a particularly deep thorn. Once bandages were in place, Margaret invited, “Now, tell me more. What else did Alexander say?”
“Precious lady, I have greater news than Allie’s blustering. Alspeth told the laird ye are with child. She must have got a good look.”
Margaret nearly swooned, but MacGillivray rescued the basin setting it aside. “Now, lady, ye had to tell him sometime. Maybe it will be easier this way.”
“But Alfreda . . .”
“He’ll nae tell Alfreda until he feels she’s able to handle it. In fact he’ll appreciate ye dinnae come straight in and dump yer woes on Alfreda or himself under the circumstances.”
Numbly Margaret summarized, “Yes, he’ll understand about the timing. I couldn’t tell him or her.”
“Of course.” He slid back to lean against the headboard and gestured her near. “Come here. If I must be scarred for life, I earned the right to hold ye in my arms.”
Laying down the pathetic rags which served as his gloves, Margaret curled up in the consolation of his embrace. “Are you going to keep well away from me?”
“If so, I’m off to a bad start.” He brushed tender kisses on her brow, “I can nae stay away.”
In all honesty, she urged, “But Alexander couldn’t be more right about the Laird having more
“Tis why we tried to keep it from him. If he’s annoyed he can blame his mother.”
“MacGillivray, for shame.”
“I have nae shame.” Becoming excited he expounded, “We have it tough. I mean, look at Lyall and Alfreda. They had it easy. Greater powers than they negotiated the entire deal and showered them with gold. When Lyall followed her around like a hungry pup, everyone said, “Och, isn’t that sweet?”
His volume rose, “Oh, and they did their courting in fields of flowers, rambling barefoot through the highlands, swimming naked in the lochan, dining in high style night after night.”
“Shhh . . . sh hhh.” Commanded Margaret stifling laughter.
“But us? We’re always plowing through the snow, soaked by the rain, plastered with ice, hungry as hounds, trudging up hill – always up hill.” Now he dissolved into laughter, “and . . . and . . . attacked by vicious thorny vines planted by an evil witch to keep ye from the world . . . from me.”
A sillier question had never been asked, but Margaret needed confirmation, “Are you courting me, Ferquhar?”
“Nae nae, I just thought I’d ruin yer reputation, tick off all the McBains, and chance frost bite just to pass the time away.”
Reminded of all the opportunities he bypassed to do more than ‘pass the time away’, Margaret planted soft kisses on his neck. “Am I also allowed to court you?”
“Aye, ye can keep doing just that.”
When she slid her hand within his shirt, he called a halt fleeing the bed, “Now Maggie, none of that. I’ve got to be on my way. We dare not get caught again – and on the night before Maisie’s funeral. Allie will kick my arse to save Lyall the trouble.”
He looked toward the door and sighed. “I wish I could slip out down the hall.” He eased the door open a crack and shut again before stomping back to the bed fuming, “That Bastard Allie has set a guard. Red Ian is hanging about out there for nae reason.” He regained his original position with his arm thrown around her, “Just for that I am staying a wee bit longer.”