Illicit Union_Sanctuary, page 27
Utterly defeated by her determined table clearing, they headed to the door as Malcolm asked, “What have ye planned for tomorrow?”
“Oh, we will be finishing the roof.”
“The roof?” Hooted Malcolm. “Ye spent today on the roof. Did ye nae finish?”
“Aye, the roof was done until I walked across the part nae needing repair, and fell through to the attic.” Behind him, he heard Margaret’s merry giggle. He threw back, “Dinnae ye forget, Maggie, my fire is always banked, so dinnae ye dawdle over the dishes.”
Malcolm exploded, “Ye are a disgrace. Have ye nae consideration for the lass? Do ye think she wants a rutting, sweaty man humping her? In her condition?”
This time Gillie welcomed his uncle’s criticism. First off, it was Gaelic, so Margaret had no idea he was a disgrace. Secondly, Malcolm had honored his promise: supper had ended. Most importantly, Margaret had certainly moved up several notches since yesterday.
Chapter Twenty Two
The ruffles on a pretty little gown shook then blurred as tears stung Margaret’s eyes. She tried to steady her hands, but it took Searlaid’s hands to stay their palsied movement. “Oh, dinnae ye cry. Tis just a gown I made for my lad Clennan, when I had hoped he might be a she.” Lowering Margaret’s hands to the table, she pinned them down. “I only did one or two, so determined was Jock to have son.”
Margaret forced the gown into Searlaid’s grasp, “But this time, you may have a daughter.”
“And so might you. So let us make a pact betwixt us. Whoever has the first lassie has first use of this frilly dress.” Eagerly Searlaid brought out another larger stack of baby clothes and a blanket, “And here’s Clennan’s auld clothes – a few gowns he out grew before he wore them out - for the first to have a boy.”
Touched to her core, Margaret sniffled, “Oh, this is so kind. You hardly know me.”
“Haud yer wheesht now,” demanded Una. With each word, Una slapped Margaret’s hands, “Ye are our lady. Ye ken?”
Searlaid joined in, “Indeed, but if in the end ye must go,” Her blue eyes watered a bit, “Then we are still women, and must pull together. I care not for how ye came to bear this babby. It will need clothes and blankets.”
Una shook her fist, “But Gillie better stand as man . . .”
“He will, he will.” Assured Searlaid. “He’s a good man, our laird. Look at the way he puts up with auld Malcolm. Most lairds would kick his scrawny arse down the hill.”
“Tis said his grandfather, Malcolm’s brother fought his tanist for control when he came of age.” Returned Searlaid, but Margaret barely followed their conversation.
Taking up the tiny dress, she neatly folded it lovingly pressing the creases out. She found a cap with green ribbons and refolded it as well. No one else had done least thing for the baby – unless you count all of Ferquhar’s aide to herself. Not its mother or father, aunts or uncles, or grandparents. No one but Ferquhar and his kinswomen. Tears squeezed out wetting trails down her cheeks.
Margaret rebuked herself for being silly, for of all its relatives only its uncle knew, and possibly its aunt if The McBain had told Alfreda. Obviously, some would rather see her baby dead. Once tales of her pregnancy spread, there could well be a whole list of people wishing both mother and child in the grave, including Margaret’s own family. She had, after all, disgraced them and may well be the undoing of all Alfreda accomplished by marrying a Scot and moving to the Highlands.
Suddenly, she became aware of two sets of eyes pitying her. “Oh I am sorry, but I was thinking of . . . my family and how upset they may be.” Weakly she gestured downward, “About this.”
“I believe Mairi has the right idea. You should declare this marriage, and let everyone deal with the fact you are both married and with child.”
Una nodded, “Aye, get it over with all at once. Like yanking out a rotted tooth.”
“God’s beard, no wonder she is dragging her feet.” Gibed Ferquhar. “My dear lady, I promise ye, our wedding will nae resemble pulling a tooth. Far from it.”
Una and Searlaid laughed, but he peered into Margaret face, “Och, ye have made my lady cry. Shame on ye two.”
Shot back Una, “Shame on ye, Laird MacGillivray. She is woebegone, for she had nae blanket for to swaddle her babe.” Pointing a finger square at Ferquhar, “Ye were in Inverness and dinnae buy a length of linen for to make a gown or a diaper.”
Laughing Gillie dropped down in a chair next to Margaret. He draped his arm around her shoulder, “She’s got 75 days or so. I’ll be off to find some cloth once her uninvited visitor is gone from Black Bannoch.”
Both must have forgotten Ferquhar’s warning of the villain trailing Margaret. When the remembrance hit, Una mouth folded and Searlaid’s hands knotted into fists. Ferquhar asked, “Have either of ye heard of any strangers about?”
With snort, Una proclaimed, “He’ll get nae farther than the first MacGillivray he meets.”
“We’ll ride him out of here on a rail.”
“If he lifts a hand against this dear lassie, he dies.” Searlaid helped Una to her feet before gathering up the boy clothing. “Lady, I’ll take the clothes for a laddie, and ye keep the lassie’s. We’ll trade as need be.”
“There’s others who will bring out a wee shift or shirt.” Promised Una. Together they bent their knees to Ferquhar, and Searlaid intoned, “God keep ye, Laird MacGillivray.”
Una appended, “And bless yer braw lady.”
Out the door they went, already speculating who might have baby clothes set aside. Sternly Margaret repressed her tears, for Ferquhar’s unwavering eyes were upon her face. His hand curled along her jaw line, “Are ye worried about the birth to come, or as they believe, concerned your babby will go through life naked?”
She leaned her head into his caress, “A bit of both.”
“Dinnae ye fear, ye are strong. And for babby clothes, that wee stack is but a start. Every family in Guddick Burn and beyond will vie to give some fancy something to the babe.” With a smile, he dared to suggest, “Once yer sister gets over the shock of finding out ye are expecting, she will load ye up with both cloth and clothes.”
“Oh, I don’t think I want any of Maisie’s clothes.” Implored Margaret, “It feels kind of calloused. I feel awful about . . . like I didn’t care enough.”
“Nonsense, but ye must do as suits yerself in this matter. From the power in its kicks, I’d say this is laddie.” Standing up, he grinned down at her, “He’ll be needing a wee tam for his head. And right now, I need something to fill my belly. What have ye in the kitchen?”
“There’s porridge from this morning.” Margaret tried to rise, but his hand descended to keep her in place.
“Nae, I’ll help myself.” The pressure lifted.
“I’m sorry I have nothing else to offer.” She called after him, but he waved off her apology.
From within the kitchen, he called out, “I have nae more moping about worrying about a babe who’s strong as a mule. Ye will nae be needing those lassie clothes for our wee laddie”
The word ‘our’ stood out plainly, out weighing all else. When he solicited, “Have ye eaten since morning?” Wondering what to do or say about the possessive ‘our’ preoccupied Margaret’s thoughts.
“I’ll bring ye bowl. That wee laddie needs his noon feeding.”
Laddie? Margaret had to tackle the greatest offense first. “It would be much better if I had a girl.”
Bearing two bowls, he entered contradicting, “Nae, first ye should have us a lad.”
‘Us’ there it was again. What had prompted Ferquhar’s new possessive attitude? Pointing at the bowl, he commanded, “Eat. Ye scarce touched yer breakfast.”
Automatically she countered, “I was pouting because I ate up all the bread yesterday.”
“Get over it. Eat. Och, but I’m starving.” He demonstrated by diving into his porridge with real gusto. “
Placating him, she nibbled away at hers until she built
He used jabs of his spoon to accent his replay. “First, no one pays the least mind when I say the babe is nae mine. In fact, they shake their heads and think me a liar.”
Consuming more porridge occupied him for a while. When he reached the bottom of the bowl, he pushed his chair back and held out his arms, “Come here to me.”
Margaret hesitated knowing the topic must be dealt with and soon. He entreated, “Come sit on me a spell.”
She obeyed and he enfolded her, “Much better. I need this. I get worried ye ken? I need the smell of ye, the feel of ye in arms, the knowledge ye are here, and ye are mine.”
“Ferquhar, I am yours even if the baby isn’t. You can’t pretend.”
“I am nae pretending. If ye are mine, then the fruit of yer womb is mine as well. Mine to keep, mine to love. I love this babe who will have yer face. How could I nae?”
Quite seriously, Margaret reminded, “But what if it resembles its father?”
“Was he a handsome man?”
“Most everyone regarded him as quite blessed - charismatic.”
“Why would I begrudge the father passing on that blessing to this child? Thank God, ye dinnae say yer husband was ugly and deformed.”
Smacking him at random, Margaret reproached, “You couldn’t love the baby if it’s ugly?”
“Oh, I’d love it. I get used to its pathetic little face, I guess. I mean, I would love it if it wore my unsightly face.”
A mighty kick from within her womb set them both to laughing. Ferquhar recovered first, “See, OUR babe’s fighting mad.” In shift of moods, he announced, “Give us a kiss to last until dark. I’ve got a thousand things to do.”
“Still fixing the roof?”
“Finished just now.”
“Then what thousand chores remain?”
“We’re butchering poultry. The sides of beef must be butchered out and the meat sliced just so. The lads are gathering fuel for a fire pit to smoke meat, I best get there. The fire pit can nae be too hot. Tomorrow, after it smokes the night through, we’re having a celebration.”
“What are you cele . . .” Asked Margaret before his mouth hushed her inquiry.
Gentle yet active, his lips became increasingly possessive prolonging their pleasure, then heightening their passion with his tongue. Too stunned to protest, simply let him push her up and off his lap. Before he reached the door, she insisted, “What are you celebrating?”
Rearing back in a proud stance, Ferquhar proclaimed, “Because The MacGillivray of the MacGillivrays wants to dance. He has found his own true love, and has a wee laddie on the way.”
“Stop!” Admonished Margaret going on to protested: “Please pray for a girl. So many of my problems will fade away if I only have a girl.”
With a dismissive snort and a derisive “Bah,” he went back out into a cold day where snow flurries pirouetted through the air.
Margaret turned her chair to Moiri’s window, plumped her pillow, and settled down to admire the beauty of a winter day in the Highlands. In the distance someone yelled, “MacGillivray” Ferquhar answered, “Aye?” From somewhere the laughter of children echoed down the valley. Underlying all, she hear the gurgle of the swollen stream.
An emotion so long absent surprised Margaret: contentment. Her lips were well bruised from his enthusiastic affections. Tonight surely they would resume relations dormant since the ‘shitting in yer mother’s bed’ goad. Contentment. God it was wondrous. Glorious.
In her mind, Margaret could visualize herself in this same chair with a cradle at her knee, sewing in hand, and the kettle on. Or with a tyke dodging around her to grab a biscuit. Or sitting across Ferquhar’s lap after a fine supper. Listening to the greeting “MacGillivray!” ring out to her grown son. Oh how she wished . . . but it did no good. The baby was not Ferquhar MacGillivray’s.
Her first violent weeping since the funeral burst forth. Rather out of proportion for having escaped her steely determination. Right when she struggled to smother out sniffles, Mairi hustled in saying, “Here now here. I could hear ye before I reached the porch.”
“Oh, I am so sorry.” Margaret sopped her tears with the backs of hands. Mairi searched her various layers until she brought out a kerchief. “Oh lady, dinnae ye go on so. Gillie will nae let his son be born on wrong side of the blanket. All this guff about yer dead husband. Bah! We can see he regrets that nonsense already.”
Margaret flat out, without restraint bawled like a baby. Mairi flustered about, shushing and cooing in a mixture of two languages. Finally Margaret hiccoughed out, “Oh if only this were Ferquhar’s baby . . . if only . . .”
Strong arms rattled Margaret’s teeth, “And why not? Let him be. It’s what our Laird wants. Just up and reveal it is his, and . . .” Mairi rolled her eyes up to the ceiling, “that’s why ye fled to the Highlands to find him. . .” She snapped her fingers, “But ye first needed to be sure of his affections.”
Margaret wanted to say something but her mouth would not close. Mairi prodded, “Why not?”
“Be . . .be . . . because he knows he did not lie with me in London or anywhere else until this month.”
“Well then, he may take some convincing, eh?” And they both burst out laughing. In the end Mairi appealed, “He dinnae deny it to anyone, just waves them away.”
“Because . . . he wants it to be his. He says ‘our’ baby. He wants this child as much as I.” She dabbed her eyes and blew her nose before tremulously adding, “Maybe more.”
“Where’s the problem? Do it his way. Let him claim it, marry ye, and to hell with all else.” With jab of her chin, Mairi declared, “That is what I’d do. It’s yer life, lady. The only one yer likely to have.”
All business again Mairi added a stack of linen garments to Margaret’s slight stack of baby clothes doubling its height. “These are from my son, wee Harailt, who is nae so wee these days.” She sharply tapped Margaret’s arms, “And I have a surprise for ye.”
From her basket she brought out rows of intricate lace. “Like you suggested, I loosed it from the moldy pillow cases. Tis auld and fragile. I would nae use it on baby clothes.”
Margaret bent over the lace admiring the miniature detail. “Those nuns must have eyes like hawks.”
“And the patience of a saint, nae that I’m a papist.”
“Neither am I, nor am I likely to be if I must spent my life in prayer and needlework some bishop sells to buy himself a fine carriage.”
“So ye are a staunch Presbyterian?”
“No, Church of England, but I am very low church. Alfreda loves the ceremony and pomp of high church, but not I.”
Taking up the lace herself Mairi observed, “Funny how the Church of England can be both high and low at the same time.”
Margaret agreed, “Well, that may indicate a lack of spiritual backbone in some regions determined to be one or other.”
“Aye, I mean both can nae be right.” Maira took up the lace Margaret had laid on the shiny tabletop. “So what are ye going to do with this?”
“I’m thinking I’ll edge a neck cloth for Ferquhar. The man has so few clothes.”
“He was always as ragged as an Inverness urchin until he began working here about and buying himself a few items with Malcolm yapping all along about the waste of silver.” Mairi whispered, “The old coot just sat by the fire. Doing nothing for ye. Ye might have been losing the babe, but did he stick his head through the door? Nae.”
Uncomfortable with the thought Malcom had hear her outpouring of frustration and grief, Margaret guided the conversation, “A fancy neck stock, a jabot, yields the greatest return. It can distract from a thread bare coat and the shirt can be entirely concealed.”
“True, true.” A wide smile wrinkled Mairi cheeks and eyes, “Och, but ye are going to like this. I recalled how ye longed for some silk left in yer trunk, so I brought this.
“I’ll save some of the lace.” Promised Margaret caressing the silk.
“There ye go. The devil makes work for idle hands and despair for idle minds.” She wagged her finger. “Lassie, ye should sit here, sew yer man a neck cloth, and think about how ye can have all ye want if ye would only allow it.”
Mairi trod out the door with the air of someone who had set matters to right and was moving on to another challenge. In a pique because her dilemma had been so easily dismissed. How could she have what she wanted? This situation was more than this countrywoman could ever envision. God’s beard, it boggled Margaret’s mind.
Angrily she ripped a strip from the silk from end to end. Just wide enough when hemmed to make a cravat. By the time she had stomped about gathering scissors, thread and needles from her valise, her mood had lifted considerably. When she passed by Malcolm, he sniped from his corner, “The interfering biddy, I was giving ye time to pull yerself together. If ye had nae, I would have went into ye.”
“Oh I was just being . . . silly, as expectant mothers sometimes are.”
Malcolm nodded wisely, “I thought so, all pregnant women use that excuse at some time or another.”
“Maybe they all feel that way at some time or another.” Snapped Margaret, then added, “You old coot.”
Malcolm growled as Margaret swept by.
With the half complete cravat hidden in the bottom of her sewing basket, Margaret peeped into the oven to admire her pastries. With her apron she fanned the aroma of chicken and herbs into the dining room, hoping to torture Malcolm. She would teach him to turn down a sample from the first batch. Her quiet satisfaction with her scheme faded entirely when Ferquhar cried out, “Lady mine, wait til ye see what I have for ye.”
The lilt in his announcement put a spring in her steps. They met at the dining room door. With a flourish, he flung the door wide open, and there stood Alexander McBain. Margaret could not have been more disappointed. For what but bad news could come from Black Bannoch? At best, she was being summoned to at long last face judgment. To her joyous relief, Alexander stepped aside to admit Stratton and Jock carrying her trunk.