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 humans."
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 life shattered.
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 needed help."
"I've got a mobile."
"Does it work up here? There still seem to be blank spots all over the Highlands."
"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 beautiful colours.
"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 to?"
"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."
Copyright © 2006 by Marion Chesney
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
- PW Starred Review
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