"I'm surprised you've got the fire on today," said Jock.
"It's got a back boiler. I'm heating up water for a shower."
"Wouldn't it be easier to have an immersion heater?"
"Thae things cost a mint." Hamish put a bottle of whisky, a jug of water, and two glasses on the table. "Besides, it'll be a long time afore we see a summer like this again."
He poured out two measures. "Water?"
"Just a splash."
Hamish sat down opposite him.
"Where are your animals?" asked Jock.
"Somewhere around," said Hamish, who had no intention of telling his visitor that the dog and the cat had eaten well and were now stretched out on his bed. The Currie sisters had started telling him he was behaving like an old maid. Even Archie Macleod had commented the other day that it looked as if Hamish was married to his dog and cat.
"How's the painting going?" asked Hamish.
"It was going fine until I got interrupted by a pushy woman."
"Mrs. Wellington, the minister's wife?"
"No, another artist. Effie Garrard."
"That quiet wee thing. I'd never have thought of her as being pushy."
"Oh, maybe I'm being hard on the woman."
"How pushy?" asked Hamish with his usual insatiable highland curiosity.
"Let me see. She asked me to drop in on her any time. Then she wanted me to go back with her there and then. I said I was coming to see you, and she said she would come as well. I told her it was man talk and got rid of her."
"Maybe she's lonelier than I thought," said Hamish.
Jock laughed. "You underrate my charms."
"I believe you're pretty well known. More whisky?"
"Just a little," said Jock. "My agent's coming up from Glasgow."
"I didn't know artists had agents."
"Well, we do. She takes her cut and finds me a gallery for an exhibition, and the gallery takes fifty percent. I used to do it myself until she found me and offered her services."
"How long do you think you'll stay up here?"
"I don't know. The light is fascinating, like nowhere else. I hope the good weather holds so I can make the most of it."
For the next two days, Effie found she could not concentrate on anything. She sat by the front window, looking down the brae to Lochdubh from early morning until late at night, waiting to see if Jock would call.
On the morning of the third day, she found that all her colourful dreams were beginning to get as thin as gossamer. This time she drove down in her little Ford Escort, not wanting to waste time walking, suddenly anxious to see him.
Jock was sitting at his easel, talking animatedly to Angela Brodie and Freda Campbell, the schoolteacher. Both were married, thought Effie sourly, and should be with their husbands. Freda was not long married, too, and to that local reporter, Matthew Campbell.
She waited patiently in her car for them to go. Then Jock began to pack up his things. Effie watched in dismay as they all headed for Angela's cottage.
She sat nervously biting her thumb.
At last, she got out of her car and went to Angela's cottage. The kitchen door was standing open, and she could hear the sounds of laughter. Squaring her small shoulders, she marched straight into the kitchen. Three startled pairs of eyes turned in her direction.
Copyright © 2006 by Marion Chesney
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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