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Authors: The Wardens Daughters

Anne Douglas (6 page)

BOOK: Anne Douglas
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‘Better get writing, then,’ Monnie told her. ‘And make it nice and neat. Though I don’t know what you’re going to say about your experience with the public.’
‘Tricky,’ Frank remarked. ‘You’ve not had much.’
‘Clients came to Couper’s, didn’t they? Don’t worry, I’ll make things sound good.’ Lynette glanced at the date on the kitchen calendar left by the MacKays. ‘But help! I haven’t got much time to get this off, have I?’
‘Couple of days. Plenty of time if you post it today. Didn’t we see a post box as we came in?’
‘First, I’ll have to get some paper and envelopes. Want to come with me to the shop, Monnie?’
‘I have to go to the shop anyway,’ Frank said, rising. ‘I get supplies in for the hostellers. They buy what they need from me, so I’ll have to make my number with the lady cake maker.’
‘And I stay here on my own?’ Monnie asked. ‘Dad, suppose somebody comes? I won’t know what to do.’
‘You’re hoping to be assistant warden, don’t forget.’ He clapped her thin shoulder. ‘Och, you’ll be all right. The hostel doorbell rings in our flat, but if you like you can sit in my office and if anybody comes, tell ’em to wait, provided they’ve got a membership card. If they haven’t, move ’em on. It’s a strict association rule that only members can use the hostels.’
‘OK, but seems like I should be reading that folder,’ she said uneasily. ‘Remember, I’ve got an interview this week.’
‘Lucky you,’ said Lynette. ‘Wish I had.’
But Frank was already finding his coat, anxious to be off. ‘Come on, Lynette, let’s away, so we don’t have to leave Monnie too long on her own.’
‘She’ll be fine, she can do the washing up,’ Lynette said with a smile. ‘And we’ll see if we can bring back something nice to eat, eh?’
‘Just hurry home,’ Monnie replied. ‘I don’t want to have to look after a crowd of people without Dad, when I don’t know what to do.’
‘I’ve told you, it’s still too early for new folk,’ Frank told her. ‘I guarantee, there’ll be nobody knocking at the front door of Conair House just yet.’
Maybe not, but when he and Lynette had left and Monnie, having made the beds and washed up, was in the office, reading Bill’s file, someone did come knocking. At the back door.
Oh, Lord! She put down the file and stood up, sighing. Oh, she’d known it, hadn’t she? She’d known someone would come.
Well, she’d just have to tell them to wait as her dad had said. No point in being nervous. This was going to be part of her job, after all, if she was lucky enough to be appointed assistant warden. But then if she got that far, she’d know what to do, and now she didn’t, and she always liked being sure about what was expected. Unlike Lynette, who could just give a big smile and improvise. Lynette, though, was down at the shop.
Help, there was another knock. She’d have to go, open the door. Hurrying, she made her way to the back door off the kitchen, heavy and old, with a chain and bolts and great iron key.
‘Anybody home?’ asked a man’s pleasant Highland voice.
‘Just coming,’ she called, struggling with the key.
There. It had turned. She was able at last to open the door. And see the caller on the step.
‘Morning,’ said a tall young man, touching the plaid cap he was wearing over his straw-yellow hair. ‘I’m Torquil MacLeod. Would you be wanting any fish today?’
Nine
He was like his mother, no question about that. The fine nose, the high cheekbones, yes, they were hers. And the yellow hair, of course, and the light blue eyes. Or, maybe not the eyes, which were her colour, but languorous, sleepy, almost, beneath heavy lids, quite lacking Agnes MacLeod’s frank inquisitiveness. And then there was the boldness of her manner. Monnie, her lips parted, her heart still beating fast, couldn’t, in this young man standing on her doorstep, sense that at all. He seemed very – what was the word? – tranquil.
Suddenly, he was smiling. ‘Any fish?’ he asked again. ‘I always used to bring Mrs MacKay something twice a week, today and Friday. Whatever I’d had the luck with. She told me to call on the new warden, which you see, is what I am doing.’
‘Oh – yes. Yes, well, my father’s the warden – Mr Forester.’ Monnie cleared her throat. ‘I’m sure he’ll want us to have your fish, but he’s out at the minute. Just at the shop, with my sister.’
‘Shall I call later then? With what I have? I’m away now for the day.’
‘Please do – come this evening. I’ll tell my father that you called.’
‘Thank you, Miss Forester.’ He touched his cap, turning aside. ‘Goodbye, then – for now.’
‘Goodbye, Mr MacLeod.’
At that, he laughed. ‘Now no one calls me Mr MacLeod. Torquil is my name.’
She hesitated. ‘People call me Monnie,’ she said at last. ‘It’s short for Monica.’
‘It suits you.’
Their eyes met and hers were the first to fall. ‘Goodbye,’ she murmured again and as he left her, looking back once, slowly closed the door.
For some moments she stood quite still, waiting for her heart to settle down, waiting to feel – what? Herself. To feel as she usually did, not all strung up because a man with blue eyes and yellow hair had come to her door.
What had got into her? She had no idea. Something she’d take care not to be involved in again, anyway.
Still, she stayed where she was, not ready yet to settle back into herself, moving only when she heard footsteps and voices outside and knew her father and Lynette had returned.
‘Hi!’ she called, opening the back door again. ‘I’m in here.’
Rosy with the cold, their eyes sparkling, they joined her in the kitchen, both carrying bags of groceries, which they set down with relief.
‘Think we’ve bought the shop,’ Frank said with a laugh. ‘But what a nice woman there, eh? So obliging. Monnie, did anybody come?’
‘Only the fish man.’
‘Agnes’s son?’ Lynette asked, with interest. ‘My, he was quick off the mark. What’s he like, then?’
Monnie shrugged. ‘All right. Bit like her.’
‘Did you buy any fish?’
‘Hasn’t caught it yet. Said he’d be back this evening.’
‘I’ll get this stuff away,’ Frank said, beginning to unpack bags of flour and sugar, cereals, eggs, cheese, cold ham, bottles of milk and loaves of bread, while Lynette set out a variety of tinned stuff as well as jars of pickle, tomato sauce, more sausages and a selection of vegetables.
‘Can’t say the hostellers will starve when you look at this lot,’ she said with a laugh. ‘And that’s without stuff from the butcher’s van. Seemingly, he calls this afternoon.’
‘Well, the youngsters have to pay me for whatever they want, and then I’ve to keep accounts.’ Frank was unlocking the cupboards and storing away his purchases. ‘You keeping notes, Monnie. Part of our duties, eh?’
‘Your duties, unless I get the job.’ Monnie glanced at Lynette. ‘Shall we go to the flat and make a cup of coffee? Then you can write your letter and I might walk down to see this wonderful shop. I need some shampoo and odds and ends.’
‘OK,’ Lynette agreed. ‘Dad, you want coffee? We can bring it round.’
‘No, thanks. I’ve some paperwork I want to get on with. You’d better get on with your application.’
‘Sure. I’ll just grab some of those nice biscuits we bought. Mrs MacNicol’s shop really does seem to have everything.’
Back in the annexe kitchen, Monnie put on the kettle and found the jar of instant coffee left by Rhoda, while Lynette opened her new writing pad and uncapped her pen. Then sat back and lit a cigarette.
‘Maybe I’ll just have a ciggie before I start. Have to sort out what I want to say.’
‘Thought you were supposed to be cutting down on smoking?’
‘Well, I have cut down, haven’t I? You must admit I’ve been very good since we came here, and so has Dad.’ Lynette smiled, as the kettle began to boil. ‘Still bought a packet of Players at the shop, though. Maybe we’re just on edge, eh?’
‘Since when have you been “on edge”?’ Monnie, shaking coffee into cups and setting out biscuits, had raised her fine brows.
‘Since I decided to apply for this job. Och, I guess we’re all a wee bit jumpy. You too, I’d say.’
‘Me?’ Monnie’s eyes flickered. ‘I was just a bit worried in case customers came and I wasn’t prepared.’
‘Oh?’ Lynette drew on her cigarette. ‘Thought it might be meeting this handsome fisherman.’
‘Who said he was handsome?’
‘If he’s like his ma, he will be. Is that my coffee? Thank goodness – could do with it.’
For some moments the girls, drinking their coffee, were silent, then Monnie set down her cup and stood up.
‘I’ll away to this shop, then. Let you get on.’
At the door, though, she looked back. ‘Can’t think why you thought I’d be worked up over that fisherman, Lynette. I didn’t say more than two words to him.’
‘Come on, you’re taken with him, I can tell.’
‘That’s a piece of nonsense. How can you possibly tell?’
‘Because I know you, Monnie. I know just how you are when something special has happened, the same as you know about me.’ Lynette shook her head. ‘No need to be upset. It’s no disgrace to be attracted to somebody.’
‘Once and for all, I am not attracted!’ Monnie, scarlet-faced, pulled on her coat. ‘Look, I’ll see you when I get back, OK?’
Outside, the day was fine. Cold, bright, with the sort of air Ellie Forester used to describe as ‘a tonic’, and ideal for walking. Skirting the side of the hostel, Monnie strode out through the grounds between leafless trees and evergreen shrubs, glancing back when she reached the village street, to wonder why anyone had actually built Conair House.
At least, built it where it was, seeming so out of place with only wee cottages for neighbours. Maybe the original Victorian family had just wanted a tranquil site, with splendid views of the Sound and the opposite island of Skye. And mixed only with the folk from big houses elsewhere, who would all have kept horses and carriages and organized shoots to go stalking the deer.
How things had changed . . . But as Monnie moved on, the hostel left her mind, for her eye was caught by the slipway, some way down from the village street. Next thing she knew, without conscious effort, she was standing at the edge of the water, looking out for a boat.
Looking out for a boat. Well, there was another piece of nonsense, if you like. It wasn’t as though she was interested in Torquil MacLeod, or his boat, which wasn’t even there. Not as far as she could see. Perhaps he’d already moved on, out of sight, or, hadn’t even come yet? What did it matter? She was on her way to the shop.
For another moment or two, she studied the calmness of the Sound, and the majesty of the hills of Skye. Nothing dark about them now, for the morning was so beautifully bright, the water so glittering, the sky so clear, it might almost have been summer. Except that it was still only early March and the air that was a tonic was really quite intensely cold.
Better get going, she told herself, get to the shop. And turning up the collar of her coat, began to hurry back up the slipway to the street.
Here it was, then, Mrs MacNicol’s famous shop, a whitewashed cottage with an upper storey, not so different from its neighbours, except that it had a plate glass front window and a door covered in advertisements. As Monnie went in, the bell jangled fit to wake the dead. Or, to summon the owner from her comfortable back room.
Ten
‘Mrs MacNicol’s shop really does seem to have everything,’ Lynette had said, and heavens, she was so right.
Never had Monnie seen a shop with so much to offer, and in such apple-pie order. Nor one so lovingly looked after, with spotless wooden floor and polished counter, and everything that could be made to shine, shining – why, even the few plants for sale in the doorway looked as though they’d just been sprayed.
As she stood staring round at the ranks of tinned goods, bags of flour and sugar, boxes of eggs, packets of cereals, tins of biscuits, ham and bacon, dairy foods in a cabinet, vegetables and fruit in paper lined cases, toiletries set out separately, she was greeted by a slim woman who came out from the back. Mrs MacNicol, of course. And wasn’t she nice looking?
‘Nice looking’ would be the way to describe her, rather than ‘good looking’, perhaps, for a good-looking woman could have Mrs MacLean’s boldness, and that was completely missing in Mrs MacNicol. Probably in her forties, her face was faintly powdered and unlined, her eyes hazel, her hair fair – and, again, you wouldn’t call it blonde, Monnie thought, for ‘blonde’ sounded quite different. Her main attraction was the sweetness of the smile with which she welcomed her new customer.
‘May I help you?’ she asked, and her voice was exactly in keeping with the rest of her, soft and musical, a Highland voice.
‘Thanks, I’m Monnie Forester, from the hostel,’ she answered, in her own clear Lowland tones. ‘My dad’s the warden – he was in earlier with my sister.’
‘Oh, yes, of course,’ Mrs MacNicol exclaimed, her eyes brightening. ‘Mr Forester, the new warden! And your sister – Lynette – well, I’m very pleased to meet you too, Monnie – if I may call you that? I was hoping you’d be coming in, so that I could meet the whole family. I knew the MacKays very well.’
‘They spoke very highly of your shop,’ Monnie told her. ‘And we all think it’s lovely.’
‘Oh, well.’ A blush rose to Mrs MacNicol’s cheeks. ‘That’s very nice of you to say so. But what can I get you now, then?’
Monnie was beginning to say, ‘Just a shampoo and some toothpaste, please,’ when the door gave its strident jangle and, blowing in, with a rush of cold air, came Agnes MacLeod, large and stout, in a blue mackintosh.
‘Morning!’ she cried. ‘Morning, Ishbel! Oh, and is that young Miss Forester from the hostel at the counter? Good morning to you, my dear – everything all right for you?’
‘Fine, thank you.’
Seeing Mrs MacLeod today, hatless and with her thick yellow hair loose around her face, Monnie was deciding she really was quite good looking. And with his mother again before her eyes, it was more than ever clear that the son was like her. Except, of course, that, even if his face was as handsome, his nature might be different; somehow Monnie was sure it was.
BOOK: Anne Douglas
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