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Jean S MacLeod


After Adam Denham died, his daughter Susan knew that for the sake of his young widow, her beloved stepmother Evelyn, she would have to accept the take-over of the family business.

But how could she ever accept the man who was taking it over — the arrogant Maxwell Elliott?



THE small blue car left Catchleuch behind and sped up the winding road to the Bar, a tiny speck in that vast world of rolling hills and cloud-flecked sky making its way surely and eagerly towards the summit. It was a clear day, with the Border stretched out for miles in the sunshine, green and peaceful and kind to the eye, from Catchleuch Shin and Carter Fell to Dindy Gyle and the great Cheviot himself standing in splendid isolation in the east.

Normally Susan Denham would have stopped at this much-loved spot where all the hills seemed to meet, where the road climbed up from England to afford her a first glimpse of her native land, but today was different. Although she could see The Pike and Din Fell clearly enough, with all the dales in between and the singing waters silver-threaded through the trees, her mind was on something else.

The speed at which she set the car towards the west was a sure measure of her disturbed thoughts, and she had covered the distance between Otterburn and the summit in record time. Slim hands on the wheel, she gazed straight ahead, her blue eyes stormy, her lips set in a firm, decisive line. It couldn’t happen, she told herself. It just couldn’t! There had been Denhams at Yairborough for over a hundred years, Denhams producing knitwear since the Industrial Revolution had enlarged the trade from a cottage hand industry to a mechanised one, father and son following one another ever since the Brae mill had been built on the swift-flowing Yair in the middle of the nineteenth century by the first Adam Denham, and the name had been carried on until it had died with her father six months ago.

There was no Adam Denham now, no son to inherit the mill and a famous name. Only me, she thought, and what can I really do?

Sudden tears glistened in her eyes and her vision blurred for a moment, but she wasn’t the kind for tears. She brushed them aside with a determination which suggested that she might be as good as any son. The mill had been paying its way. There was no doubt about that, but suddenly, without its head, without the man who had held its fortunes firmly in his own strong, capable hands, it had seemed to die.

Loyal though she was, she knew that their progress over the past few years had not been swift enough to meet the growing competition on every side, but she imagined that it had only been money that had been lacking. The money necessary for expansion. Her own mind was full of ideas for improvements, but there was Evelyn to consider.

She pulled up when she had crossed the Jed Water and come to the junction of the roads. It would be quicker to go on by Hawick, but she needed the comfort and quiet of the hills. She didn’t want to meet anyone she knew who might commiserate with her or ask her about Denham’s, whose fate lay in the balance.

The side road dipped and climbed from one brow to the next, skirting the open moor until the whole of Teviotdale lay before her on her homeward way. Child of the fells as she was, nothing could dim for her the romance of her native hills. Even when her thoughts were so deeply troubled by the present and the future, part of them still lingered in the past.

Wherever she looked, an ancient castle or a ruined peel tower stood gauntly against the sky, and it wasn’t difficult for her to people that broad landscape with the knights and ladies, the yeomen and the minstrels who had lived there long ago. The feel of it was in her blood, the sorrow and hopelessness of it close to her heart now. She knew all the Border heroes by name: John of Thirlstane; Watt of Harden; Jedwood and the Scotts of the Middle Marsh; Blind Jock Jamieson and Willie Twee die, and Black John of Arkenshaw. It didn’t seem so long ago that the muffled hooves of smugglers' horses had sounded on those narrow roads between the hills, nor strange that a waft of air might bring with it the echo of some dark Knight of Hermitage’s scornful laughter as he galloped his armoured steed into some lone and hidden glen.

Foray and bloodshed had stained the heather all about her and the measured tread of marching feet still echoed down the years. She could almost hear them through the open window as she drove along with the wind whipping a strand of hair across her cheek and her mind busy in the past. Then, as if her gaze had been drawn there against her will, her eyes lifted to the summit of the high crags ahead of her and she saw a man coming from them riding a white horse. The westering sun was full upon him and for a moment something glinted at his saddle girth. It was as if the light had caught the gleam of a lance couched against a palfrey’s side, and she was imaginative enough to see the toss of a plume on a helmeted head as horse and rider drew steadily nearer. So Gilbert of Gailliard might have rode from Minto Hill to the valley of the Eske, the valley that was lost and won ‘for a bonnie white horse’.

Something of the bold Gailliard was in the rider’s ’dark face as he approached, but Susan was too busy admiring his faultless horsemanship to notice every detail. When the deceptive sunlight had been left behind and she came to look at him more closely his dress was quite ordinary—riding-breeches and a yellow turtle-necked pullover, with a silk scarf tucked in
at the
throat. No lance; no favour in his crest or glove!

Smiling at her own wayward fancy, she slowed the car, giving him time to pass. He was coming at a brisk pace, riding almost breakneck down from the crags.

He’s a fool, she thought, if he doesn’t know the ground. Yet the horse seemed familiar, because she knew about horses. Surely this was Bucksfoot? The Gailliard, indeed!

But she also knew the owner of Bucksfoot, and this wasn’t Fergus Graeme.

Horse and rider came on to jump the low fence on to the road just ahead of her and she pulled up with a screeching of brakes.

“You needn’t have done that,” the man said through the open window. “ I saw you coming.”

“If you did, you should have waited till I got past,” she told him angrily, because the car had slewed across the road and she was almost in the ditch. “These roads are far too narrow to take chances, riding across the heather like—like a moss-trooper on someone else’s horse!”

He eyed her speculatively, his smile a trifle sardonic.

“Don’t tell me you know all about me already,” he protested. “I’ve heard of the moss-telegraph, of course, but I didn’t think I had been here long enough to arouse interest locally.”

They were near enough now for her to put up her hand to fondle the horse’s sensitive nose and Bucksfoot gave a little whinney of delight at her gentle touch.

“You’re riding Bucksfoot,” she countered. “I know him very well.”

“And his master?”


He was evidently prepared for her further questions, but she was determined not to fall into his trap. The bit about the moss-telegraph had stung and she was aware of feeling faintly ill at ease as he continued to gaze at her with that slightly arrogant smile. He had the faintest hint of an accent, which she couldn’t quite place, and a look of the open air about him which should have pleased her, but his skin had been burned by the rays of a hotter sun than they knew in the dales and his eyes, when the smile had left them, were darkly veiled. He was a man who would keep his own counsel until the time came when he wished his identity to be known, yet she could so easily find out who he was by going to Fetterburn Mains and asking Fergus all about him.

“You’re staying at the Mains, I suppose,” she said, unable to completely leash her curiosity while she waited for him to move away.

He shook his head.

“No. I’ve been over there doing a deal. In horseflesh,” he added when she did not immediately challenge him. “Didn’t you know that Bucksfoot was for sale?”

A deep colour stained her cheeks. She could hardly look at him.

“I had an idea,” she confessed. “Fergus can’t possibly want to part with him,” she added heavily, “but I suppose he had to make the decision.”

“He still has the mare,” the stranger pointed out. “This is the sort of horse I like and my luck was in to be able to buy him at such short notice.”

Resentment flared in her at the thought of the Fetterburn champion going to a stranger.

“You have been lucky,” she told him distantly. “If Fergus hadn’t been so busy on the farm he’d never have parted with Bucksfoot. He takes a lot of exercising and after Colin went abroad Fergus just hadn’t got the time.”

“A pity.” The horse backed restlessly and he pulled him round on a tighter rein. “I see what you mean. A powerful animal like this has to be kept on the go all the time. Did he belong to the younger brother?”

“Yes.” She looked up at him with the faintest challenge in her blue eyes. “He’s not an easy horse to handle. Colin was the best rider this side of Jedburgh.”

“And that’s saying quite a lot,” he mused, still holding the horse in. “But you prefer a car, I fancy?”

“Oh, no,” she contradicted him. “But one can’t ride around on horseback all the time. I work most days— in Yairborough—and today I’ve been to Otterburn on business.”

When he smiled she was instantly sorry that she had volunteered so much information about herself, but he was still in her way, not allowing the horse to have his head, and she couldn’t start the car because Bucksfoot was easily upset by a sudden noise.

“Have you definitely bought him?” she asked for something to say to bridge the gap of silence between them. “Is it final?”

“It is now, after your enthusiastic recommendation.” The dark eyes were laughing at her, yet shrewdly calculating, too. “How far is Yairborough? Gould I ride the rest of the way through the hills?”

“There’s a bridle path,” she agreed, wondering why he was going to Yairborough and not back to Fetterburn. “But you have to know it. It goes up over the side of the Law and into the dale beyond the Feus.”

“This is your country,” he said. “I can tell by the way you talk about it. What do you do in Yairborough?”

The straightforward question took her by surprise.

“I design knitwear,” she found herself answering, “at the local mill.”

“Denham’s?” he asked. “Do you like the job?”

“I wouldn’t be doing it if I didn’t,” she told him.

His eyes sharpened, making his face look harder.

“I’m sure you wouldn’t,” he said. “You’re the type who would make a move if you suddenly felt you needed to. How long have you worked at the mill?”

It was Susan’s turn to smile.

“Since I left art school, more or less.”

“Why ‘more or less’ ?”

“I travelled for a year—with my father.”

How much more did he want to know? It was almost as if this information might be essential to him.

“You’re very curious for a stranger,” she told him.

He slackened the rein to give Bucksfoot his head.

“Would that be considered a fault in these parts?” he asked. “I am a stranger, but I’m interested. Who wouldn’t be?” he added as his dark eyes ranged the hills on either side of them. “It’s all here, isn’t it? The glory and the gore; the ruined towers and castles grey, the sound of battles long ago! You can almost see them when you look around—your fearless knights and ladies gay, but they were a vengeful lot, I understand, always feudin’ and fechtin’ and rustling somebody else’s cattle over the Border. Even the monks had a finger in every pie, and wizards and goblin pages were common talk!”

“That was a long time ago,” she defended sharply.

“Do you think so? I don’t.” His eyes came back to study her flushed face. “It’s all only a hairsbreadth away, isn’t it? The depth of a sigh. You can feel it everywhere you go, from Lammermuir to White Hope Edge. These hills are dangerous. They shut you in on the past!”

“And the past has no attraction for you?”

“Very little. I read about it and leave it alone.”

“Yet you can feel it here? You’ve just said so.”

“It would be hard to ignore. The breathless panorama of the ages viewed from the Border fells! But can we afford to ‘stand and stare'?”

“You’d learn to stand, at least for a while, if you lived here,” she told him stonily. “We don’t rush at life as you do in London. I presume you come from London,” she added dryly.

“No. From Dunedin.”

For a moment she thought that he was amusing
self at her expense, using the ancient name for
Scottish capital because he had guessed at her preoccupation with the past, and then, before he could supply the answer, she recognised the source of the accent she had wondered about.

“You’re a New Zealander!”

“Right first time,” he agreed. “A native of the Plains of Canterbury with a strong Scottish affiliation!”

“Is that why you came to Teviotdale?”

“Partly.” His gaze was suddenly remote and sterner than it had been. “My grandparents were Scots on my father’s side, and on my mother’s. You can’t get away from it!”

BOOK: Unknown
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