When Morag, her best friend, announced just a week later that she and her new husband Donald were emigrating to a new life in Canada, it felt to Fiona’s anguished mind like an omen. The world was turning on its head as it approached a new century. Change was everywhere, and maybe change was what she needed, too.
So Ella’s letter proved most providential. Fate had decreed she must build a new life for herself. Heronsay represented the past, Glasgow the future, and now here she was, on the cusp of this brave new world.
A soft tap on the door roused Fiona from her reverie. Blearily blinking her eyes, she opened it to find a maid on the other side, bearing a large tray.
“Your dinner, Miss Matheson,” the girl said shyly. “You’re to leave Mr Francis until the morning, madam says, then she’ll go over his routine with you.”
Fiona smiled her thanks. She didn’t feel hungry, but lifting the lid from the first plate, the appetising smell proved her quite wrong. Used to the simple, home-produced fare harvested from their garden and the sea, the rich beef stew and soft white bread made her mouth water.
Shaking out the crisp linen napkin, she sat down at the table and picked up her silver-plated knife and fork. The crockery was china. And there was a fire set in the room, too, just for her, which the girl had kindled.
Taking a mouthful of stew, Fiona savoured the tender meat, the rich gravy. She’d had no idea what to expect life in the Cunningham household to be like, but she had never dreamed it would be so luxurious. Her spirits lifted. Things were going to work out, she was sure of it.
As she finished her meal, a tap on the door made her jump.
“If you’ve come to ask me how dinner is, Annie, I can tell you it’s absolutely delicious,” she said, opening the door.
“Not half as delicious as you.”
A tall male figure in black evening clothes lounged against the doorframe. Black hair carefully pomaded, brushed away from a high brow, revealed a face striking rather than handsome, with heavy-lidded eyes, a strong nose and a mouth curved into a smile which should have been pleasant but instead gave her shivers.
Instinctively, Fiona shrank behind the door.
“No need to be shy,” the man said. “Allow me to introduce myself. Roderick Cunningham at your service, but you may call me Roddy. I knew the moment my sickly little brother was reluctant to describe you that you would be worth seeking out. May I come in?”