Read A Maxwell Mourned Online

Authors: Gwen Kirkwood

Tags: #Historical Romance

A Maxwell Mourned



Published by Accent Press Ltd – 2012

ISBN 9781909335837

Copyright © Gwen Kirkwood 2012

The right of Gwen Kirkwood to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted by her in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.

The story contained within this book is a work of fiction. Names and characters are the product of the author’s imagination and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, electrostatic, magnetic tape, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the written permission of the publishers: Accent Press Ltd, The Old School, Upper High St, Bedlinog, Mid Glamorgan, CF46 6RY.


Bairn, bairnie
Child, baby
A type of cake/bun
Blether, blather
Foolish chatter
Bonnie, bonny
Beautiful, handsome
Small hut, cottage for farm labourers
Fine, handsome, brave
Dare not
Did not
Land agent, steward
Tickling, fishing for trout
Ken, kenned
Know, knew
A harvest celebration
Laddie, lassie
Boy, girl
Church minister’s house
Memento, reminder
Milk pail
Cocked, as in raised eyebrows
Blacksmith’s, smithy
Year-old bullock or heifer
Groups of sheaves stood on end in field
Iron rod in fireplace for hanging kettles etc.
Gorse, furze
Exclamation – hush/get away with you!

Chapter One

1922 progressed Ross threw himself into his work. Alfie had become his constant shadow. His had phenomenal strength and an eagerness to please. They were great compensations for his handicap. Between them they fenced and ditched and mended boundary walls, thatched the stacks and cleaned out the sheds. Slowly The Glens of Lochandee was returning to the tidy, well run farm which Alice Beattie remembered.

She blessed the day the Factor had brought Ross to her. She enjoyed his company in the house too and was beginning to look upon him more like a favourite nephew. She sensed there was something overshadowing his happiness and keeping him from being totally content. It troubled her. She knew little of his family or his background. When such matters arose in conversation he seemed to draw a veil between them.

On Sunday afternoons Ross explored the countryside on his bicycle, even when the weather was less than kind. He could not rest. Whenever he was not working his thoughts returned to Rachel and Windlebrae. Although he knew nothing of her changed circumstances and the shame she felt at bearing a child without a husband, he experienced a growing tension within himself, as though some sixth sense mirrored Rachel’s need.

Beth Pearson was so thankful to be out of the clutches of her stepmother and would work endlessly to please Mrs Beattie. She had her own small bedroom off the kitchen. It had been the maids’ room for as long as Alice could remember and Beth was always up first to clean out the ashes and kindle the fire ready to cook the porridge as soon as milking was finished. In her free time she went to see her grandfather in his cycle shop.

‘Grandpa is going to make me a bicycle of my own,’ she announced joyfully on her return one afternoon. ‘He says if you had been going to sack me, Mistress Beattie, you would have told me to leave at the May term. That was last Sunday, the twenty eighth.’

‘So it was. The term day,’ Alice Beattie reflected, ‘And I did not even think of it. Indeed lassie, I wonder how I got through all the work before you came.’ Beth beamed happily. She was not a clever girl, but she was far from stupid and she had blossomed under Alice’s guidance.

The month of May had always filled Ross with a joyful exhilaration. The trees and hedgerows burgeoned with buds and unfurling leaves. Lambs danced in the fields and the world seemed refreshed. He remembered last year how Rachel had lifted her head to breathe in the scent of the hawthorn blossoms floating in the breeze like snow in summer. She had loved to watch the birds flying hither and thither in their search for wisps of straw or wool, or bits of dried grass to build their nests. She had clapped her hands like a happy child when she discovered a four-leaf clover.

This was the first spring Ross had ever spent away from Windlebrae and he told himself it accounted for his tension, the vague anxiety, the restlessness which disturbed him whether he was awake or sleeping. He could not get Rachel out of his mind.

Rachel’s yearning at this time more than equalled his own. They were separated by many miles, with memories and thoughts their only link. It had never occurred to Ross that she could be carrying a child – his child. He had no way of knowing she had given birth to a son. He simply knew he had the strongest urge to see her again, to hold her in his arms and talk with her.

He was tempted to ask Alice Beattie if he could take time off to journey back to his old home. Only the thought of Gertrude Maxwell held him back. He owed her a debt. She may not have loved him, but she had not abandoned him to an orphanage. She had fed and sheltered him. The price was his silence and his absence. The gift of fifty pounds he could repay but in his heart he knew nothing would make Gertrude Maxwell accept him, even less welcome his return. But Cameron Maxwell was his uncle, his flesh and blood. Had he agreed to his wife’s plan? Ross could not believe he had known of it.

The only home he had now was at Glens of Lochandee with Alice Beattie. She showed him more warmth than Gertrude Maxwell had ever done. He was grateful, but if only he could get Rachel out of his mind … The memory of her, the scent of her skin, the feel of her body … He groaned. However hard he worked, however many plans he made, Rachel’s shadow was there.

At Ardmill Grocery Store Peter had sold the horse and wagon. He was well pleased with his new motor vehicle and had gained one or two extra customers. He still kept the small trap and a pony which Meg used to visit her father, and for local deliveries.

Rachel was determined to prove herself worthy of her wages by supplying the growing demand for her butter. So Peter had bought two more milk cows. They grazed in the adjoining paddocks belonging to Sam Dewar.

‘We shall need a shed for them in the winter,’ Rachel reminded Peter. ‘Mr Dewar says we can use his byre. He has been helping me to clear it out.’

‘Then I must call on him and arrange payment for the use of his fields and buildings,’ Peter nodded. ‘I will go round to see him tonight.’

He need not have worried. It was not part of Sam Dewar’s plans to drive a hard bargain. He was enjoying the activity and Rachel’s company.

‘I am pleased to see Miss Rachel attending her cows each day. Such a lovely smile she has, though still a little sad. The sight of her pretty face cheers a man’s heart. As for storing the hay you could use the lean-to shed at the side, there is a door leading into the byre so it is quite convenient. Jock McCabe was in here to collect his clogs yesterday. I took the liberty of asking if he would have hay to sell. He said you could buy all you would need and he would deliver it here if you are interested?’

‘That’s splendid. Thank you very much.’ Peter was delighted by Sam Dewar’s co-operation. ‘But we must agree on a rent for the use of the paddocks and the buildings. I would rather pay my way,’ He waved aside the cobbler’s protest. ‘You are obliging me greatly. Will the Laird be agreeable if you sub-let your land and buildings to me? I would not like to cause any trouble for you.’

Sam Dewar did not answer immediately. He took his time lighting up his pipe, then he had another sip of whisky.

‘Not often I take a second glass these days,’ he commented, ‘But it’s a good blend you’ve brought.’ He frowned and when he spoke his words came slowly. Peter was astonished at the story which unfolded, but he was even more surprised at the careful thought Sam had given to this arrangement. He was even more astonished at the attention Sam had given to Rachel’s situation, and to her future.

The August day was well and truly over by the time Peter returned to his own home. Rachel and the children were asleep. Only Meg was waiting for him and she stifled a yawn as he entered.

‘Come on to bed, lass,’ Peter said apologetically. ‘I’ll tell you about my talk with Sam Dewar once we are tucked up for the night.’ Meg agreed readily but once Peter started to recount the evening’s events her weariness disappeared.

‘Apparently, when Sam’s grandmother was a young girl in the 1830s, she went to work for the family who owned most of the houses and property in Ardmill. The eldest son fell in love with her. He wanted to marry her. That did not suit his parents. They sent him abroad to travel. Unbeknown to them, he had already given the poor girl a child. She returned to her father who was one of the cloggers in Ardmill. When the young Laird inherited the estate he returned with a wife. He realised the misery he must have caused. As a form of recompense and a measure of security for his child he gave her the deeds for the clogger’s property, and the two extra paddocks. That’s why he has more fields than the rest of us in Ardmill. The child was a boy – Sam’s father. He learned his trade from his grandfather and took over from the old man. He passed his skill on to Sam, along with some artistic additions in leather tooling apparently. Sam says there is little call for such things in the village now. The gentry all shop in Edinburgh or London, but he does nicely from making and repairing the clogs and boots.’

‘So Sam Dewar owns the house and the land.’ Meg smiled in the darkness. ‘He is such a shy, modest wee man you wouldna think he owned two matchsticks. Some of the women in the village say he fills his mouth full of nails so that he does not have to talk to them, but he is always very civil to me. I often see him chatting to Rachel.’

‘He’s a very genuine man. I have lived next door to him all my life and tonight I had the longest conversation I have ever had with him. Anyway he’s perfectly willing to rent the land and buildings to us at a very modest price. Apparently Rachel has confided her desire to earn her keep.’

‘She’s a little more settled now that she’s more independent.’

‘Yes. Sam is planning …’ Suddenly, instinct warned Peter that Meg might not accept the cobbler’s observations, or his proposals, with quite the same approval as he had done.

Sam Dewar’s perception had surprised him. It was clear the old man had noted Meg’s devotion to Conan. He approved of her love, but it troubled him too.

‘The way I see it,’ he had said slowly, choosing his words with great deliberation in case he caused offence, ‘The bairn will scarcely know whether his mother is Miss Rachel, or your wife. When he gets older he will cajole one whenever he canna get his way with the other – not good for a boy’s character,’ he added, puffing thoughtfully on his pipe. ‘Not that I have had any o’ my own to rear, but I’ve watched two generations of bairns growing up in the village and I can tell which ones will turn out to be men and women to respect.’

‘Well, what else did you and Sam Dewar discuss?’ Meg asked with some amusement at Peter’s apparent reverie.

‘Sam has plans … not until next spring. We must not interfere. He will discuss them with Rachel. It must be her decision.’

‘What plans?’ Meg was suddenly alert. ‘What decision?’

‘He’s going to improve his cottage, install a water closet and a hot water boiler. He’s going to paint the windows outside and in. When it is finished he intends to ask Rachel if she will live there, as his housekeeper, with Conan of course …’

‘Live there! Take Conan? No! no …’

‘Hush, Meg,’ Peter reached out for her, pulling her back beneath the bed clothes, trying to calm her agitation. ‘He’s not doing anything until the spring. He was asking my opinion…’

‘Well I hope you told him it’s a stupid idea!’

‘No-o. As a matter of fact I think it would be a good opportunity for Rachel to have a house of her own to run, and a place to bring up her son.’

‘Oh Peter! How could you? How could you send them away? After all the hard work Rachel has done for you?’

‘Meg, I’m not sending them away. If Sam Dewar puts his proposition to Rachel it’s up to her to accept or refuse. He’s getting an old man. He needs someone to look after him. He obviously likes Rachel’s quiet manner, and he has seen how capable she is. I suspect her situation reminds him of his grandmother’s. He has some sympathy for her predicament and that is a lot better than condemnation, which is all most people offer her.’

‘I couldn’t bear it, Peter! I don’t want Rachel to take Conan away. We have plenty of room here – you said so yourself.’

‘Oh come on, Meg! They would not be going away. They would be next door – just a few yards away.’

‘But Conan would live in a different house. He would eat there, sleep there. I would not be able to bathe him. He loves his bath already …’

‘Please, Meg, calm down.’ Peter was worried. Meg sounded almost as obsessive as her mother. ‘Think about Rachel and her son. Think about Sam Dewar. He has neither kith nor kin.’

‘You want rid of Rachel and Conan. I love him, Peter. He is the nearest I shall ever have to a baby of my own. He’s so lovely …’

‘He’s Rachel’s son, Meg,’ Peter insisted sternly. ‘And you have to admit it does not look as though Ross is going to help her bring him up. We must encourage her to look to the future for her sake as well as Conan’s.’

Meg began to weep. Peter could not bear to see her so upset. He drew her into his arms and comforted her in the only way he knew – loving her with all the warmth which came so naturally to him. As always the desire he had been denied for so long flared into passion. The whisky he had drunk earlier added fire to his veins, sweeping aside his usual control as he gave himself up to Meg’s wild passion. The sublime ecstasy of their loving exhausted them both. They slept, arms entwined around each other, harmony restored.

Peter was careful to avoid the subject of Sam Dewar in the following weeks and Meg preferred to put the whole matter out of her mind. Her thoughts were preoccupied with Windlebrae and her father. The signs of neglect were increasing and it was clear her mother had too much work to do in spite of the girl she had hired from one of the neighbouring farms. It hurt and troubled her that her own mother maintained the silence between them.

‘Mother must be aware of my visits but Father says she never comments on the baking and groceries I take for them.’

‘At least your father appreciates your visits, lass,’ Peter comforted. ‘There’s little more you can do. Willie and Ruth have done their best too.’

‘That’s true. I would be happier if they had a live-in maid. Father says Carrie is often late in the mornings. They have fewer cows too. That’s a sure sign mother is finding the work too much.’ Peter murmured soothing noises but he knew Mistress Maxwell’s stubborn attitude.

It was the end of October. Alice Beattie received a letter from Mr Shaw to say the Laird hoped to pay one last visit to The Glens of Lochandee.

‘He wants to meet you, Ross. I remember the time when his Lordship used to ride round the estate on his pony with his father. They always visited the tenants at least once every quarter. The present Laird kept up the visits until he became crippled with the rheumatism but his son has never accompanied him. Now that he has two small boys of his own I thought he might have shown more interest in his tenants and the way they farm. After all the estate will be his one day.’

‘Is Mr Shaw coming too?’

‘Yes, they are coming in a motor car this time.’

Alice and Beth cleaned the house from top to bottom, although the Laird would only see the front hall and the dining room. She took the silver tea service out of its layers of tissue paper. ‘This was presented to my grandfather by the old Laird,’ she told Ross proudly.

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