Servant girl Betsy McBride thinks she has as much right as any girl to set her cap at Tom Brodie, the most dashing young man in the district. When her master asks her to help out the Brodie family she jumps at the chance to get a bit closer to him. She doesn't realise that Tom Brodie thinks the only way to save his family's fortune - or at least their farm - is to dazzle his landlord's daughter. There is heartbreak is on the horizon unless Tom's much more down-to-earth brother Henry can catch Betsy's attention.
Release date: December 24, 2009
Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton
Print pages: 468
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A Kiss and a Promise
Most girls in Hayes regarded Tom Brodie as a catch worth having, though a few well-bred young ladies adamantly declared that he was far too coarse for their taste and his sugary compliments nothing short of vulgar. Such slanders did not concern Betsy McBride who felt just as entitled as any girl in Ayrshire to nurse a fancy for the farmer’s son.
What drew her to Tom Brodie was not his gift of the gab but the strut of him, half bashful, half arrogant, and the sprig of dark hair tied with blue ribbon that protruded from under his bonnet when he sauntered to church of a Sunday. She had exchanged not a word with him, though, until the day Mr Rankine sent her up to Brodie’s farm to help the old man out of his difficulties.
Betsy was not by nature timid and did not lack experience. Mr Rankine had stuck his hand up her skirts before she had turned fifteen and, when she had grown a bit, a lot more than his hand. If her mother guessed what dirty old Johnny was up to, she kept it to herself, for Mr Rankine was a man of influence and brought work their way. Besides, old Johnny popped in and out of her quick as a sparrow and slipped her a kiss and a few brown pennies, and in spite of his fat belly and red cheeks, Betsy was quite fond of him.
When Mr Rankine informed her that he had loaned her to the Brodies as a live-in for part of the winter she made no complaint. She ran home to pack her belongings and tell her mother and father that she was leaving home at last.
In the middle of the afternoon, she headed along the old toll road to the track that led up to Hawkshill. She had never set foot on the hill track before, though old Mr Brodie’s farm was only a mile from the house where she had been born and raised and not much further from Mr Rankine’s place where she’d entered day service as soon as she was old enough to lug a milk pail.
It was already coming down towards dusk. Black clouds threatened more rain and the track was muddy. Mr Brodie’s rigs were hidden by rising ground and the farm buildings tucked into a fold close to a stagnant hill loch. In the gloomy afternoon light the place seemed sullen and remote. Snow had lain late into April and rain storms in August had all but trashed the harvest. Poor seed and failed crops had ruined many an Ayrshire tenant, for the landowners showed no mercy when it came to clawing in rent. She wondered if bad weather was the cause of old Mr Brodie’s difficulties and recalled some market gossip about him being under summons for debt.
Three years ago her brothers had bought a calf from Mr Brodie and back in the spring of 1780 her sister, Effie, had been sent to deliver a small parcel of material that their father had woven on his hand-loom. Effie had been paid on the spot and had been given a bowl of warm milk by the lady of the house and had her head patted by old Mr Brodie himself. He had asked her if she studied her Scripture, a question Effie had been too shy, or too stupid, to answer. I’d have answered him boldly enough, Betsy thought. I can read and write a bit and can chant a psalm just as loudly as any of Mr Brodie’s brood; all of whom, bar Tom, hunched, cowed and surly, in church as if they were more afraid of their father’s disapproval than the preacher’s threats of damnation.
She was still some way short of the ridge when the first spots of rain splashed her cheek. Hastily gathering her skirts, she entered the farmyard just as the first great sheets of rain rattled across the causeway.
She drew up, unsure which way to go. Then a voice called out, ‘Come in here, you daft creature, afore you drown,’ and with her bundle bobbing on her head, she scampered for the shelter of the barn.
Tom Brodie looked different in work clothes, smaller, thinner, less cocksure. His hair was plastered to his brow, his shirt open at the throat and loose at the waist. He had been flailing sheaves of green corn and sweating hard. He grinned, showing white teeth and, screwing up a fistful of shirt-tail, swabbed his wrists and forearms.
‘You’re Rankine’s lass, I take it?’
‘Aye, sir. I am.’
‘Weaver McBride’s daughter?’
She felt his eyes upon her, sizing her up.
‘I’ve seen you in kirk, have I not?’ he asked.
‘Aye, Mr Brodie,’ she answered. ‘In the gallery.’
‘Have I not seen you at the dancin’ school too?’
‘Nah, nah. The dancin’ school’s not for the likes o’ me.’
‘Why not?’ he said. ‘From what I can see you’ve the leg for it.’
‘But not the manners, Mr Brodie, nor the features.’
He tossed the flail aside and before she could stop him touched the scar that was not quite hidden by a curl of soft fair hair. It was not much of a scar, a little crescent of raised flesh that encroached an inch or two on to her temple, but she was embarrassed by it and believed, wrongly, that it set her apart from other girls. She flinched and tried to draw away but he was too quick for her. In spite of his black, broken nails his fingers were as soft as thistledown as he brushed back her rain-wet hair.
‘Who did this to you?’ he said. ‘Some bully?’
‘No bully, no.’
‘Is it a legacy of birth?’
‘No, Mr Brodie. I was kickit.’
‘Horse or cow?’
‘Horse – when I was a bairn.’
‘By God, it could have killed you.’
‘It might have been better if it had.’
‘Why do you say that?’ Tom Brodie asked.
‘It’s an ugly thing to have to carry all your life.’
Stooping, he lifted her bundle. ‘Well, you don’t look ugly to me an’ it’s our good fortune you survived. If what I hear from Johnny Rankine is true then the world would be the worse off without you. What do I call you?’
‘Some call me Lizzie,’ she said, ‘some Betsy.’
‘Which name do you prefer?’
She had never been offered the choice before. She shrugged.
‘I’ll call you Betsy,’ he said. ‘Betsy sounds right to me.’
‘An’ you, Mr Brodie, am I to be callin’ you Master?’
‘Thomas will do, or Tom. Now, rain or no rain, I suggest we make a cut for it. My sister will find you a bed an’ show you what needs to be done.’ Then, locking her elbow in his, he led her across the yard to the door of the cottage where his sister Janet watched, scowling, as her brother and the sturdy young servant lass came scurrying out of the rain.
The old man was up that afternoon, shuffling about the smoky room. He had been out pulling turnips in the plot behind the house, it seemed, and the labour had drained his strength and shortened his temper.
Tom pushed her forward.
‘This is the girl, Dad,’ he said, ‘the lass we told you about.’
Matthew Brodie knew less of her than she had been led to believe. He might once have patted her wee sister’s head but he was far past patting heads now. He was hardly more than a rack of bones.
Chin drawn down to his chest, eyes glassy, he studied Betsy at some length, then said, ‘Is this another o’ your harlots, Thomas? Is it not enough for you to have them in the dark o’ the night, now you have to flaunt them before us in broad daylight?’
‘I’ll thank you not to shame the girl with your insults. She’s here because we need an extra hand to help us through the winter months,’ Tom said thinly. ‘She’s Jock McBride’s lass.’
‘Aye, an’ Rankine’s harlot.’
‘Indeed, an’ I am not, sir,’ Betsy piped up. ‘If you’re goin’ to call me names I’ll be makin’ my way home again. I’m not indebted to you.’
He seemed surprised by her indignation. ‘You’ve a bold tongue in your head, I’ll say that for you,’ he told her. ‘But you’ve also got right on your side. I was o’er hasty in makin’ judgement. I am well aware of the sort of man your master is, however, an’ that he an’ my reprobate son have more things on their minds than obeyin’ the will of God.’
‘It’s not the will o’ God fetched me here, Mr Brodie,’ Betsy said, ‘not unless you prayed for a strong pair o’ shoulders to help gather your corn. If that’s the case then your prayers have been answered.’
‘Perhaps they have, lassie. Aye, perhaps they have. Do I have you to thank for this, Thomas? Have you been tradin’ on Rankine’s friendship again?’
‘I spoke to him at the lodge last fortnight,’ Tom admitted. ‘Johnny’s crops are well in hand an’ his calves close to weaned. Miss McBride is superfluous to his needs – at least until spring.’
‘We’ll think about spring when Martinmas is past,’ Matthew Brodie said. He gripped Tom’s arm, inched round and steered himself towards the bed. ‘Janet will show you what’s to be done, lassie. An’ you, Thomas, had best get on wi’ your work.’
‘It wants but a half-hour until dark, Father,’ Janet said.
‘Then he’d best take advantage o’ what light’s left to him,’ the old man said, ‘for there’s more light left to him than there is to me,’ and, grunting, seated himself on the bed by the wall and closed the sackcloth curtain.
The Brodies’ cottage was smaller than Betsy’s father’s house in Hayes and much smaller than Mr Rankine’s spacious two-storey farmhouse with its whitewashed walls, black-painted window sills and fine big kitchen. There was no separate parlour, the ingle was as deep as a cave and the flue so wide that it not only sucked up smoke but let in rain. In a room to the left of the fireplace Janet slept in a narrow bed that Betsy would be expected to share.
On the far side of the ingle a vertical wooden ladder gave access to the loft where the boys slept. Mr Brodie’s sickbed occupied an alcove screened by a curtain, and a thin vertical opening in the plaster wall allowed a peep into the stable so that, in the old style, the Brodies lived cheek by jowl with their horses.
When the brothers returned, drenched, from their day’s labours there was hardly room to turn round. Betsy found herself tripping over Tom’s feet and Henry’s knees. Tom’s sister, Janet, was not welcoming. She tisked, tutted and darted black looks in Betsy’s direction until Tom told her to hold her scolding tongue and get on with serving supper.
He pulled a warped old chest from beneath the table to serve as a chair. Betsy mounted it as if it were a saddle. Janet, not chastened by Tom’s reprimand, sniggered. There was no tea or small beer to wash down the salty soup and not so much as a sliver of butter to flavour the dry bread but Betsy was hungry and ate without a word of complaint.
Tom and Henry watched her with interest.
The brothers were not alike in character or appearance. Tom was dark and brooding, quite a different fellow from the devil-may-care gamecock who swaggered about the village. Henry, on the other hand, was courteous and self-effacing. He had a long, oval face, wispy fair hair, piercing blue eyes and, Betsy thought, a poise that would not shame a gentleman.
‘No need to skimp, Miss McBride,’ he said. ‘There’s not much variety but there’s no paucity. Barley broth and pease-meal are nourishing an’ filling.’
‘I’ve supped on both often enough, Mr Brodie.’
‘Then eat up, lassie,’ Tom’s mother, Agnes Brodie, said. ‘You’ll need all o’ your strength tomorrow to reap the last o’ our corn.’
‘When the crop’s brought in, what then?’ Betsy asked.
‘There’s the stubble to rake,’ Tom answered.
‘An’ the cattle to see to,’ said Agnes Brodie.
‘Do you winter your beasts in the byre?’ Betsy asked.
‘Only if there’s feed enough,’ Henry told her. ‘We might have to sell half the herd just to pay the rent if the winter brings early snow.’
‘We’re down to skin an’ bone as it is,’ Tom said. ‘Would you leave us without horn or udder an’ every damned, miserable acre left bare?’ He tapped the table with his spoon as if he were calling for order at a lodge meeting. ‘We know you’re an advocate of conciliation but I tell you, Henry, if the case goes against Daddy conciliation will equate wi’ starvation. There’s only this much’ – he held up his hand with forefinger and thumb a half-inch apart – ‘this much between us an’ the poorhouse.’
Matthew Brodie pulled back the curtain and swung his feet to the floor.
‘In God’s name, Thomas,’ he snapped, ‘what’s this talk of the poorhouse? There’ll be no mention of the poorhouse while I still have breath in my body. I’ll not bow down to Neville Hewitt. The man is a villain, a thief an’ a liar. I’ll not have you makin’ a settlement with him.’
‘All or nothing, Daddy,’ Henry said. ‘Is that the way of it?’
‘Aye, all or nothin’,’ Matthew Brodie said. ‘Right is on our side.’
‘When did right equate wi’ justice?’ Tom said.
Janet spoke up. ‘Why don’t we abandon this dung-heap before the Sheriff’s officer arrives wi’ a warrant?’
‘Every farthing we have is sunk in Hawkshill,’ Tom said. ‘Would you have us lease another place, Janet, just to dig ourselves a deeper hole?’
Betsy had heard enough talk in Mr Rankine’s milking-shed to know that Mr Brodie’s farm was owned by Neville Hewitt, a flax manufacturer from the town of Drennan, three miles down the Ayr road. She had also heard Mr Rankine say that Hawkshill had been a bad bargain from the beginning and Brodie a fool to take on a lease on the strength of a handshake.
‘If only we could persuade Hewitt to deliver a few loads o’ lime,’ Henry said, ‘we could sweeten the meadow an’ give the beasts an early bite.’
‘Hewitt will pay for nothin’ until we pay him,’ Tom said. ‘Besides, if we do make improvements he’ll only increase the rent.’
‘He can’t increase the rent until the first day o’ November,’ Matthew Brodie said. ‘We’ve a bindin’ agreement.’
‘A bindin’ agreement,’ Tom said, ‘without a scrap o’ paper to back it.’
‘He gave me his hand on it,’ Matthew Brodie said.
‘A handshake will not hold up in law,’ Tom said. ‘Hewitt was livin’ fat when he let us this place but if rumours are to be believed his flax mill is workin’ on half shuttle an’ he’s in financial straits himself now.’
‘I’ll wager Mr Hewitt’s not sittin’ down to sup on barley broth an’ pease puddin’, though,’ Janet said, ‘no matter how poor he claims to be.’
‘I have no fear o’ Neville Hewitt,’ Matthew Brodie said. ‘If I had air in my lungs an’ more flesh on my bones I’d tackle him face to face.’
‘He’s threatenin’ to have our stock sequestered an’ your name called round the parish as a debtor if we don’t pay him the full year on the due date in November,’ Henry said. ‘If he does so then we’re finished here on Hawkshill an’ no landowner in his right sense will grant us another lease.’
Matthew Brodie crept back into bed. ‘I’ve heard enough argument for one night. If Hewitt becomes insistent we’ll put the matter up for judgement an’ that will gain us a few more months.’ He tugged the blanket across his chest. ‘But not yet. Do you hear me, Henry? No conciliation. Not yet.’
‘I hear you, Daddy,’ said Henry softly.
‘An’ you, Thomas, do you hear me too?’
‘I do, Dad,’ Tom said. ‘I do.’
Betsy was not used to going to bed early. Her father seldom finished work on his loom much before nine after which the family gathered at the table in the kitchen to eat supper. When she’d been younger her brothers and her slump-shouldered daddy would invent some silly piece of nonsense to keep them all amused while Mammy clapped her hands and laughed until tears formed in the corners of her eyes. Her mammy was a perfect match for her father; a quick wee person whose outlook on life was as rosy as her cheeks. But thirty months ago her brothers had abandoned the weaving trade and had leased a small farm in the Border country and only Effie remained at home to help Daddy at the loom.
An elbow dug into the small of Betsy’s back.
‘Are you snivellin’?’ Janet Brodie asked.
‘I’ve a bit o’ a cold, that’s all.’
‘Are you pinin’ for some man?’ said Janet.
‘I’m not pinin’ for anyone.’
‘So it wasn’t a man gave you that scar?’
Betsy sniffed up her tears, fluffed her hair to hide the shameful mark and wriggled away from the edge of the mattress.
‘No.’ She hesitated, then said, ‘I was knifed.’
Janet sat up. ‘Knifed?’
‘Aye,’ said Betsy. ‘In a fight.’
‘Who was fightin’?’
‘I was,’ said Betsy. ‘In Souter Gordon’s tavern.’
‘Souter Gordon’s?’ said Janet. ‘Only bad girls go there.’
‘What makes you think I’m not a bad girl?’ said Betsy.
‘You’re a weaver’s daughter, an’ I’ve seen you in church,’ Janet said sceptically. ‘You were never stabbed wi’ a knife.’
‘Oh, have you not heard the story? Come to think o’ it, I don’t suppose you have since it was all hushed up at the time.’ Betsy inched into the middle of the bed and Janet retreated towards the wall. ‘I was drinkin’ wi’ the Irish tinkers after harvest three years back. One o’ the men – a handsome devil, he was, too – took a fancy to me. His lassie resented it. She came for me in a jealous rage brandishin’ a blade.’
‘You fought wi’ a tinker in a quarrel over a man?’
Betsy claimed half the bolster, punched it with her fist and, with a sigh, settled her head in the hollow.
At length, Janet said, ‘What happened to the tinker girl?’
‘I strangled her,’ said Betsy.
Silence for a moment, then, ‘How?’
‘Wi’ my bare hands,’ said Betsy.
‘An’ – an’ the body?’
‘Carted off in my cousin Connor’s boat.’
‘Carted off where?’
‘To the Isle o’ Man,’ said Betsy, ‘in dead o’ night. The tinks wanted no trouble. The body was slipped o’er the side in the deep channel an’ there was nothin’ to show for the murder but my scar.’
‘I don’t believe you,’ Janet Brodie said.
‘Believe what you like.’ Betsy gave the bolster another thump. ‘My cousin Connor knows the truth. Ask Connor next time you see him.’
‘An’ when will that be?’ asked Janet.
‘When he comes to fetch me for his bride,’ Betsy answered and with a dark little laugh that sent shivers down Janet Brodie’s spine, tugged the blanket over her shoulders and settled down to sleep.
Mr Fergusson had been out of town for the best part of a week. He had travelled to Wigton to pick up a parcel of yearling calves and had ridden part of the way home with the drovers.
On his return, it did not take him long to arrange to meet his friend, Neville Hewitt, in Caddy Crawford’s. He was quite unprepared for the violence of the flax manufacturer’s entry into the public house, which almost knocked the door off its hinges, or the haste with which Neville downed not one but two glasses of brandy at the counter.
‘Neville, what on earth’s got into you?’ Mr Fergusson asked.
‘The bastard died on me,’ Neville Hewitt snarled.
Mr Fergusson led his friend into the garden, pushed him on to a bench, and fed him another shot of brandy from the bottle.
‘The wake, the funeral feast, whatever name you care to give it,’ Neville Hewitt fumed, ‘is taking place right now with, no doubt, the bloody Brodies dancin’ round the damned coffin to celebrate the fact they’ve bested me.’
‘The more they dance, the more they’ll drink,’ Mr Fergusson pointed out. ‘The more they drink, the more they’ll spend.’
‘My money – every mouthful – my money.’
‘Well, be that as it may, they’re not good for it.’
‘Good for it? Good for nothing!’
‘If they buy drink on credit, they’re not buyin’ seed, are they?’
Mr Hewitt tossed back a fourth glass of brandy. The fiery liquid seemed to calm rather than inflame him. Clutching Mr Fergusson’s sleeve, he said, ‘That’s true, Walter, that’s true. They might bury my money with the old bastard’s body but they’re burying their future too. Hah! Yes! You’re right!’
‘Of course I am,’ said Mr Fergusson modestly. ‘The Brodies represent a common breed of men who’d rather bleat about injustice than practise prudence. They’ll blame you an’ God an’ the weather without a glance in the mirror at their own shortcomings. In a word, they’re victims of their own base natures.’
‘True, very true.’
‘You an’ I, Neville, we know better.’
‘We do, we do.’
‘It’s just a matter of time until base nature catches up with them. The half-year’s rent due in May comes to what?’
‘Not exactly a fortune to far-sighted gentlemen like us, Neville, but to shiftless spendthrifts like the Brodies it’s a king’s ransom.’
Neville Hewitt nodded. ‘Hmm, I see what you’re a-drivin’ at, Walter.’
‘Are you short?’
‘Strapped for capital.’
‘No, I – well, I’m – things have been better,’ Mr Hewitt admitted.
‘Can you ride the wave until May?’
‘Then do so,’ Mr Fergusson said. ‘Ride the wave until May, cut the Brodies loose – and we’ll have ourselves a summertime wedding.’
‘Your daughter an’ my son,’ Mr Fergusson said. ‘Did you suppose I’d abandoned the project, Neville?’
‘Why wait until May?’
‘From what I gather, your daughter’s still in thrall to Brodie. I don’t want my boy encumbered with a resentful wife. Better for all of us – Rose, too – if she rejects Brodie an’ accepts Lucas for what he’s worth.’
‘I doubt if she’ll ever do that,’ Neville Hewitt said.
‘She will if she’s made to see Brodie in his true light.’
‘How can we make sure that happens? By ruining him?’
‘No,’ said Mr Fergusson, ‘by letting him ruin himself.’
Johnny Rankine had been the first mourner to arrive at Hawkshill. He was installed in the kitchen sipping whisky, munching oatcakes and murmuring homespun platitudes when Peter Frye rode into the yard. From the window, Betsy watched the lawyer’s son peer into the stable and byre and finally the barn, as if looking for someone to direct him.
She said, ‘It’s Mr Frye, Tom.’
‘See to his horse, Betsy, will you?’ Tom said.
Betsy was relieved to leave the cottage. She had already grown tired of Mr Rankine’s sentimental commiserations. She went out into the yard. Peter Frye had nosed the horse half into the barn. When she came up on him from the flank, she saw that he was craned forward in the saddle, staring down, all agog, at the body in the coffin. When she cleared her throat, he jumped in the saddle and it took all his skill to prevent the horse kicking over the trestles. He backed the stallion out of the barn and dismounted. The animal remained fretful. He pranced away from the barn and, if Peter had given him free rein, would surely have galloped off.
‘Easy, Cawdor.’ Peter stroked the horse’s neck. ‘Be easy, boy.’
‘What’s wrong wi’ him?’ Betsy asked.
Peter ignored her question. ‘Where’s Tom?’
‘Who’s with him?’
‘His mother, Janet, Henry – an’ Mr Rankine.’
‘Oh, Johnny’s here, is he?’ Peter Frye clicked his tongue. ‘Damn!’
‘There’s a rail behind the byre, Mr Frye. Hitch him there till he calms down. It might not be wise to put him in the stable.’
‘You’re right, Betsy,’ Peter told her. ‘He’s got the devil in him this morning. Show me this post, please, then ask Tom to come out.’
‘Are you not for goin’ in, Mr Frye?’
‘I require a private word with Tom first.’
She led the young man behind the byre and watched him hitch the stallion before she went into the cottage and, a moment later, followed Tom out into the yard. She watched the men embrace and then, arm-in-arm, enter the barn.
Janet appeared in the doorway.
‘Is that Mr Frye?’ she enquired excitedly. ‘Is that Peter?’
‘Is he not for comin’ in to see us?’
‘He’ll be . . .’
Tom came into view. He backed away from the barn, arms outstretched and fists raised. Peter followed, stooped like a wrestler seeking a hold. They moved across the yard, Tom retreating, Peter advancing until, as if in response to a hidden signal, they rushed together and embraced again.
‘Janet,’ Betsy said. ‘Fetch Henry, fetch Henry out here. Now.’
Rose had never seen her father falling-down drunk. Even when he had tramped upstairs to beat her for some misdemeanour, real or contrived, he had always been in charge of his faculties. That Saturday afternoon, however, he was not in charge of anything, not his wits, his legs, or his bladder.
It was all the Fergussons, father and son, could do to drag him from the pony-trap, lug him up the front steps and lay him on the floor of the hallway where Mrs Prole, with a face like thunder, waited to take command. Seated on the stairs, quiet as a mouse, Rose watched with a mixture of incredulity and amusement.
‘What,’ Mrs Prole barked, ‘have you done to my master?’
Mr Fergusson removed his hat. For a moment, Rose thought he was about to plant a foot on her father’s chest like a hunter with a trophy but he used the hat merely to wipe off the trail of vomit that adhered to his coat. ‘I’ve done nothin’ to your master, madam,’ he said, ‘except rescue him from the gutter.’
‘I’ve never seen him this drunk before,’ Mrs Prole said.
‘No more have I,’ said Mr Fergusson. ‘Indeed, instead of castin’ blame, my dear lady, you might thank me for being on hand.’
‘Where did the trap come from?’
‘I sent a boy to my house to fetch it.’
‘Well,’ said Mrs Prole, ‘for that I suppose you deserve our gratitude, but why did you get him into this sorry state in the first place?’
‘I did nothing of the kind,’ said Mr Fergusson. ‘If we had been matching glass for glass would I be standing before you now, sober an’ upright?’
The housekeeper peered down at the object on the floor. ‘Neville has reason enough to forget himself, I suppose,’ she said. ‘Temper got the better o’ temperance, for once.’
‘Do you wish us to carry him through to his bed, Mrs Prole?’
‘Certainly not,’ Eunice Prole replied. ‘I changed the sheets this mornin’ an’ I’m not havin’ him spew all over them. Leave him where he is. I’ll deal with him when he sobers up.’
‘In that case’ – Walter Fergusson put on his hat – ‘we’ll be on our way.’
‘Will you not be takin’ tea first?’ Mrs Prole asked.
‘No,’ Mr Fergusson answered. ‘We’ve—’
But Lucas had spotted the girl on the staircase. He gave his father a thump in the small of the back, and said, ‘Aye, missus, thank you, we’ll stay for a wee dish o’ tea.’ Then, stepping over the master of the house, he waited for Rose to come down to him.
‘For God’s sake, Tom, pull yourself together,’ Henry said. ‘Do you intend to let some old wife’s tale play havoc with your reason?’
‘He’s here,’ Tom said. ‘I know he’s here.’
‘Aye, there he is,’ said Henry, ‘our daddy, dead as a doornail. Look at him, man, look at him. Do you think he’s about to rise an’ point the finger o’ blame when all we did was what he told us to do?’
‘The egg-wife knows, she knows, she talked wi’ him.’
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