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Authors: The Wardens Daughters

Anne Douglas (10 page)

BOOK: Anne Douglas
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‘Come on, Monnie, let’s go to the flat.’ Lynette took her sister’s arm. ‘I want to change out of this dreary suit anyway.’
‘I thought you were happy about it.’
‘Can’t say I’m happy about anything at the moment.’
‘Hey, what’s happened to my bouncy sister?’
At that, Lynette smiled. ‘Och, you’re right. I need to bounce back. Just give me time – first, to get changed.’
But Lynette had not had time to change out of her suit, and Monnie had only just filled the kettle, when the knock came at their back door.
‘Anybody home?’ came Torquil’s voice.
‘Coming,’ cried Monnie.
Sixteen
‘You’re early again,’ Monnie said, clearing her throat.
‘Meant to be,’ Torquil returned, his eyes unmovingly fixed on hers. ‘One guess why.’
‘I’ve no idea.’ Monnie, glancing round, saw that Lynette had left the kitchen, which made things easier. ‘Maybe because you’ve several places to visit yet?’
‘Why should I come here first?’ He bent his head towards her face. ‘Because I want to see you.’
Her colour flamed and she made a pretence of wanting to see what he had in his basket, slightly lifting the cover, staring unseeingly at the paper-wrapped fish it contained.
‘What – what did you bring us?’ she asked.
‘It’s hake again. Hope that’s all right?’
‘Oh, yes, fine. Shall I take them?’
As she put out her hand, he caught it and held it in a warm, strong grasp.
‘Let’s wait a minute,’ he whispered. ‘Till I ask you—’
‘What?’
‘If you’d like to come out with me. Just for a walk, maybe?’
The world seemed to be spinning, spinning so fast, Monnie was glad her hand was still in his. Not that she was in danger of spinning herself, she knew quite well it was all in her head. But still, she felt safer, just holding his hand.
‘I would like to,’ she said huskily. ‘I would like to go for a walk with you.’
‘Would be Saturday afternoon. I give myself Saturdays off, but I still sometimes fish in the mornings, if conditions are good. Afternoons, no – I keep them free.’
He was smiling at her, keeping his voice low.
‘Free for you, too? If your father can spare you?’
‘Of course he can. I shall see you on Saturday afternoon.’ Monnie swung round again, thinking she could hear someone coming, but there was no one there, and she sighed a little, finally releasing her hand from Torquil’s.
‘Where shall we meet?’
‘Here. At the front entrance. I shall have my van.’
‘You have a van? I didn’t know.’
He grinned. ‘How do you think I make my deliveries? I cannot be walking everywhere. Of course I have a van and on Saturday we’ll drive, then walk.’
‘What time shall we meet?’
‘Say, two? Or, half past? Make it half past. Come to the front gate and I’ll be there. Now, you’d better take your fish. They’re all ready for cooking.’
‘Oh, Torquil, you spoil us. I’ll get some money—’
‘No need, your father can pay me next time.’
For some moments they stood very still in the doorway, eyes locked, but no words said, until Torquil stepped away.
‘See you Saturday,’ he whispered.
‘No, Friday.’
‘If you can come to the door.’
‘I always come to the door.’
When Lynette returned to the kitchen, wearing a sweater and slacks, it was to find Monnie putting fish on a plate and the back door shut.
‘Torquil gone, then?’
‘Oh, yes.’
Lynette, after studying her sister for a few moments, began to set the table.
‘Dad says he’ll be along soon, wants to have tea before all the hostellers are back, so we’d better start now.’
‘OK.’
‘Are you all right?’
‘Why shouldn’t I be?’
‘You look – I don’t know – a wee bit dazed.’
‘What an imagination!’ Monnie said scornfully.
‘Imagination, indeed!’ Lynette was to comment later, when her sister casually announced that she was to go out walking with Torquil on Saturday afternoon. She hoped her father wouldn’t need her.
‘Going out with Torquil?’ Lynette repeated. ‘No wonder you were looking dazed!’
‘Going out with Torquil?’ Frank repeated heavily, and put his knife and fork together. ‘Now I’m not so sure that that’s a good thing, Monnie.’
‘What do you mean? Why shouldn’t it be a good thing?’
‘Well, I was in the shop this morning – just getting in extra provisions, on account of more folk booking in—
‘Yes, what of it?’
Frank moved awkwardly in his chair. ‘I’m just explaining why I was in the shop – not talking about you or anything – but Ishbel—’
‘Ishbel? You call Mrs MacNicol Ishbel?’
‘It is her name, Monnie. Thing is, she happened to ask if we were having Torquil deliver fish and when I said yes, she said there’d be no problems there, he was good with his fish business, but—’
‘But what?’
‘But she thought perhaps she should mention that he and his brother were . . . a bit wild.’ Frank sat back, not looking at either of his daughters. ‘Considered to be,’ he added.
‘A bit wild?’ Monnie’s eyes as she stared at her father, were sparkling, her face very pale. ‘Considered to be wild? By Mrs MacNicol, you mean? What right has she got to call them that?’
‘Seemingly, it’s what most of the village folk call them. They’ve no father, you see. He ran off years ago – drowned at sea, says Agnes, but it’s generally believed he got to Australia and set up with another family. So, the lads have had a difficult start, and maybe it’s understandable that they’ve turned out difficult themselves. To be honest, it sounds as though Tony’s a bit more difficult than Torquil.’ Frank suddenly lit a cigarette, sighing, as Lynette helped herself from the packet on the table and lit one too. ‘Let’s not go into all that.’
‘Yes, let’s!’ Monnie cried, breathing hard. ‘I want to hear what’s being said about Torquil and his brother, because I’ll bet it’s not true. What’s Tony supposed to have done, then?’
‘Got a girl in the family way, if you must know,’ Frank answered with sudden roughness. ‘It’s no good playing ostrich, Monnie. The facts are known – the girl was from here and had to move away – went to Inverness, in fact, and Tony never made the slightest effort to help her. And Agnes kept him up in it, from all accounts. Now, are you satisfied?’
Monnie, lowering her eyes, was silent, while Lynette and Frank drew on their cigarettes, exchanging glances.
‘Well, that’s Tony,’ Lynette said at last. ‘Can’t blame Torquil for what his brother does though, can you?’
‘That’s right,’ Monnie chimed in eagerly. ‘What Tony does has nothing to do with Torquil at all. And you can see that he’s not wild, Dad. He’s quiet and gentle – why do people call him wild?’
Frank shrugged. ‘I agree, he’s always been very polite to me. I suppose it might just have been high spirits that got him into trouble when he was younger. Going round with other lads, making a nuisance of themselves the way they do.’
‘But that’s not important, Dad. As you say, it’s what lads do, and then when they grow older, they change. Like Torquil must have changed. I mean, he doesn’t cause trouble now.’
Very slowly, Frank put out his cigarette and let his gaze rest on his younger daughter. ‘Oh, I think he can still cause trouble, Monnie. In fact, he’s already caused it. Between you and me.’
‘Oh, Dad!’ Monnie’s face was crumpling, her eyes filling fast with tears. ‘Dad, I never wanted that, I never wanted anyone to come between you and me!’
She left her chair and stood looking down at him, until he stood up and held her, and she leaned against him with her hand to her eyes.
‘It’s all right, pet, it’s all right. I’m maybe being a bit hard—’
‘Dad, I think you are,’ Lynette put in quickly. ‘Monnie’s not even been out with the laddie yet. Why get so steamed up? I mean, what’s one walk together?’
‘It’s a start,’ he answered tiredly, letting Monnie go. ‘But you’re right. I shouldn’t be laying down the law at this stage. It’s just that I don’t want you getting hurt, Monnie. You can understand that, eh?’
‘I’m not going to get hurt,’ she declared, dabbing at her eyes with a tissue. ‘There’s no need to worry, Dad, Torquil’s not going to hurt me, and I can take care of myself, anyway.’
Forewarned is forearmed, he wanted to say, but bit back the words. Maybe he’d said enough.
It was good that the hostellers began to arrive shortly afterwards. Cold, wet and hungry, they all needed attention, and some supervision, with the young men scuffling in the bathroom queues, while the girls more often than not nipped in quickly under their noses, hurrying to wash and change before skidding to the kitchen to get first use of the cookers.
New guests were arriving, too, and both Frank and Monnie were kept busy, with Lynette being drawn in to find people places in the dormitories, and even after everyone was dry and fed, it still wasn’t time for the wardens to relax. Not with the evening to plan, the young folk to be encouraged, and Frank having to call: ‘Everyone to the common room – let’s have a sing-song!’
‘Oh, help,’ Lynette groaned, and fled to the flat, while a volunteer gamely played the piano and Frank led the singing. Passed the time, didn’t it? Kept uneasy thoughts at bay, and afterwards, there were board games to play and listening to the wireless until the half hour after ten struck and Frank could call, ‘OK, that’s it, good night, everybody up to the dorms, then. Lights out at eleven, don’t forget.’
‘Don’t worry about Dad,’ Lynette whispered, when Monnie and she were finally alone in their room. ‘He’ll be OK. He was just the same over that guy you went out with who used to haunt the bookshop. And with me and – well, let me see . . .’
‘All those fellows you used to go out with.’ Monnie smiled a little. ‘But I don’t think Dad ever minded about them the way he seems to mind about Torquil. It’s all Mrs MacNicol’s fault. Telling him about Tony and their father.’
‘I expect she meant it for the best. She’s not a troublemaker, Monnie.’
‘Och, I’m taking no notice, anyway. I know Torquil and he’s not like she says.’
Lynette, climbing into bed, made no reply. But as she put out their light, the thought was still in her mind. How could Monnie say she knew Torquil? How well did you get to know a guy, just standing talking to him at the door?
On the other hand, of course, she felt she knew Mr Allan, the hotel manager, after only one meeting. But she was absolutely certain she wasn’t wrong about him.
Seventeen
Friday came. No letter yet from the hotel for Lynette, but then it was too early, wasn’t it? She wasn’t in the least disappointed. Rather relieved, in fact, that she didn’t have to face bad news yet. There were always the job adverts in the local paper to scan – she could do that on Saturday.
Meanwhile, Monnie was being very practical, getting on with hostel work for Frank, though she still wasn’t officially in her job, and trying not to look forward to seeing Torquil when he called that evening. Somehow, she knew her father, understanding though he might think himself now, would block any talk with Torquil at the door, simply by being there himself.
In fact, she didn’t get to see Torquil at all.
Had her father intended that? She wasn’t sure. But he’d certainly made things difficult, by sending her to the shop just as the time drew near for Torquil’s visit. Well, asked her to go, anyway. Needed milk, you see, and the usual hordes would soon be descending.
‘Need milk?’ Monnie repeated coldly. ‘You were at the shop this morning, as usual. Didn’t you get milk then?’
‘Forgot it,’ Frank said blandly. ‘And we do need it, Monnie. If you go now, you’ll be back before Torquil comes.’
‘And supposing I’m not?’
‘No harm done, you’ll be seeing him tomorrow.’
Once again, the eyes of father and daughter locked.
‘Promise you won’t say anything to him, Dad,’ Monnie said at last. ‘No warnings off, or anything, OK?’
‘All I’ll do is pay him for the fish.’ Frank put some coins into her hand. ‘There, that’s for the milk. Take the big bag, eh?’
With bad grace, Monnie took the money. ‘Why can’t Lynette go to the shop?’
‘She’s washing her hair.’
‘Bet you suggested that.’
Frank laughed heartily. ‘When have I ever told you girls when to wash your hair? Look, you’re making too much of this, Monnie. I’m not going to be able to stop you seeing Torquil when he delivers the fish, am I? This is just a one-off.’
Because he is going to say something to Torquil, whatever he promises, Monnie thought, preparing to run to the shop like the wind. She would do just as he said, though he was hoping she couldn’t do it, and be back before Torquil came.
Didn’t happen. Even though she was in and out of the shop in a few moments, carrying the bag full of milk bottles which Mrs MacNicol had thoughtfully put aside for the hostel, she didn’t make it home in time. For when she came out of the shop, a young man, about to go in, stepped politely aside, then smiled and called her name.
‘It’s Miss Forester, isn’t it, from the hostel?’ His voice was mellow, with an Edinburgh accent. ‘I’m Paul Soutar, we met on the bus.’
Oh, yes, she remembered. He was one of the two climbers who were going to the hotel; the one with the pleasant face. And here he was, smiling at her, glad to have met again, it seemed. So, what could she do?
Just for a moment, she set down her bag and shook his outstretched hand, still breathing fast.
‘I do remember you – I’m Monica Forester.’
‘I’m sorry, you’re in a hurry, I mustn’t keep you.’
‘It’s all right.’ She too was being polite, having given up all hope of reaching the hostel before Torquil. If he hadn’t already done so, any moment now, he would be arriving with his basket of fish. Looking out for her, hoping to talk, and she wouldn’t be there. But what could she do?
BOOK: Anne Douglas
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