He saw the Currie sisters, Nessie and Jessie, standing on the road
watching him. The car windows were down, and he clearly heard Nessie
say, "That man's gone dotty. Talking to the beasts as if they were the
Hamish flushed angrily as he drove off. His adoption of the cat, a
wild cat, had caused a lot of comment in the village, people complaining
that it was impossible to domesticate such an animal. But Sonsie
appeared to have settled down and had showed no signs of leaving.
Effie Garrard had bought a small one-storey cottage up in the hills
above Lochdubh. It had a roof of corrugated iron, stone floors, and a
fireplace that smoked. When Hamish had first visited her, he found her
to be a small woman in her forties, sturdy, with brown hair speckled
with grey, a round red-cheeked face, and a small pursed mouth. She had
gushed on about the majesty of the Highlands and how she planned to sell
her "art works" in the local shops.
If she were still alive, and he hoped to God she was, he expected to
find that she had packed up and gone, all her fantasies of a highland
But as he approached her cottage, he saw smoke rising up from the
chimney. Maybe she had sold it to someone else, he thought, and because
of the rigours of the winter which had kept most people indoors, he
hadn't heard about it.
But it was Effie herself who answered the door to him. "You should
really get the phone put in," said Hamish. "Something could have
happened to you during the winter, and we'd never have known if you
"I've got a mobile."
"Does it work up here? There still seem to be blank spots all over
"Yes, it works fine. Are you coming in for tea?"
The living room and kitchen combined had a long work table with a
pottery wheel on it. On the table were a few vases and bowls glazed in
"Yours?" asked Hamish, picking up a little bowl of sapphire blue and
turning it around in his fingers.
There were paintings of birds and flowers hanging on the walls, each
one an exquisite little gem. Hamish was beginning to revise his opinion
of Effie. She was a talented artist.
"I'm surprised you survived the winter up here," he said.
"I didn't need to. Coffee or tea?"
"Coffee would be grand. Just black. What do you mean, you didn't have
"I went to stay with my sister in Brighton, and so I escaped the
worst of it. Do sit down and don't loom over me."
Hamish sat down on a hard chair at a corner of the work table while
she prepared coffee. "Odd," he said. "I thought the Highlands would have
driven you out by now."
"Why? This is the most beautiful place in the world."
Yes, thought Hamish cynically, if you can afford to get out of the
place for the winter.
Aloud, he said, "Oh, I put you down as one of those romantics."
British Parliament asks Amazon to clarify why it pays $9 million in income tax on $23 billion of UK sales.(May 20 2013) Amazon will be called back to give further evidence to members of the British Parliament "to clarify how its activities in the U.K. justify its low corporate...