The Glens of Stone – Episode 06

“And why does my handsome dragoon captain look so solemn this evening?” Lady Catherine Gray approached Robert Marshall amidst the guests crowding the drawing-room.

Robert forced himself to smile.

“Forgive me, Lady Catherine. My responsibilities are heavy in the absence of General Guest.”

“Of course. It was thoughtless of me to take you away from the castle this evening.” She paused, her eyes twinkling. “Your brave band of men are reputed to be the cream of English soldiery.”

“You are jesting with me, ma’am,” he said reprovingly.

It was well known that the castle’s garrison was composed of misfits and the sick and weary. God alone knew how he’d come to be transferred to such a miserable and thankless post.

“Please, call me Catherine. And you’re right, Robert, I do jest. Now, come.” She took his arm. “Let me escort you over to McLaurin. The old soul’s always pleased to speak with you.”

His heart sinking, Robert was steered to the far corner of the room where the old nursemaid sat scowling at all and sundry.

“McLaurin,” Lady Catherine said heartily, “you’ll remember Captain Marshall?”

The old woman glared.

“Of course I remember him! It was I who suggested that he and the general be on your guest list.”

Robert watched his hostess’s slim figure as she went to mingle with the other guests. Lady Catherine was a strikingly attractive woman. He knew she’d been widowed after her marriage to Lord Simon Gray, an elderly friend of her father.

Lord Simon had died after falling from his horse while in a drunken stupor, leaving his young widow penniless. Lady Catherine’s father, Sir Patrick Crichton, had settled all debts and given her a large sum which enabled her to stay in Edinburgh.

Robert’s thoughts were interrupted by the old crone.

“What are you smiling at, pray?”

Hastily he composed himself.

“Just random thoughts, ma’am,” he said gravely.

“Huh. Old and infirm I may be, Captain, but I can read the look in a man’s eyes. Lady Catherine may be widowed and attractive but she’s not for the likes of you.”

The old woman belched.

“Get that stupid lassie Forbes tae fill my tankard.”

Robert caught the eye of the maid, Jean Forbes. At his signal she poured out more ale, then gave a small curtsey before moving away.

“Great gormless lump,” McLaurin groused. “I don’t know why her ladyship keeps her.”

Robert found it difficult to hide his disgust at the old lady’s demeanour. Yet there was something that made him wary and cautious.

Robert thought back to his first meeting with the old harridan, some months earlier. The castle governor, General Guest, had instigated a series of dinner parties to which he’d invited the cream of Edinburgh society.

“It’s an exercise in nurturing good relations between us and the citizens, Marshall,” he’d explained. “We’ll wine and dine them and even give them a tour of the precincts.”

“Is that wise, sir? Some of the guests will have Jacobite sympathies and might well relay details of our strength to rebel forces.”

“Man, the coarsest street urchin out there knows the garrison’s below strength,” the general had replied wearily. “However, the castle’s virtually impregnable: no rebel army will breach its walls, I assure you.”

To Robert’s surprise the dinners had proved popular, and if he’d had doubts as to the politics of some of those invited, he’d also had the opportunity to meet some of Edinburgh’s most eligible ladies.

Lady Catherine Gray had attended the last of the scheduled dinners and Robert had been entranced by her charms. But it was her companion, the aged Miss McLaurin, who had intrigued him.

Abigail Phillips

Abbie is the newest member of the fiction team at the "Friend." She loves how varied the role is - every day is different and there is always a new story to read. She is keen to work closely with established writers and discover new writers, too.