The Glens of Stone – Episode 29

Robert was eager to know Miss McAllan better but McLaurin pushed herself forward.

“I’m sure the guests would welcome some entertainment now, my lady, else ’twill be difficult to hear the young ladies over the sound of gurgling stomachs.”

The group fell silent, wondering what Lady Catherine’s reaction would be to the old woman’s insolence. Unperturbed, Lady Catherine nodded gravely.

“You’re quite right, McLaurin. It’s remiss of me to forget the needs of my guests. Pray get their attention.”

The old woman struck the floorboards with her cane until the repeated raps caused the animated chatter to cease.

“My friends,” Lady Catherine began, “we have two young ladies who have graciously agreed to entertain us this evening.” She introduced Kirsty and Alison and escorted the girls to the clavichord.

McLaurin sidled close to Robert.

“A braw pair, are they not, Captain?”

“To be sure,” Robert agreed wholeheartedly.

The old woman sighed.

“You know, there’s a true story about a barber who had a shop in this very street ten years or so ago. He owned a bird – a talking bird, a blackbird of sorts.”

“How interesting,” Robert muttered, suppressing a yawn.

“The barber favoured the Stuarts and he taught his bird to express Jacobite sentiments in front of his customers.”

Robert smiled.

“While I can’t approve, I suppose it would make a refreshing change from the usual inane prattle for which barbers are famed.”

“That’s as may be,” the old lady agreed, “but it annoyed the Whigs so much that one called in the law and the poor bird was taken to the tollbooth prison and incarcerated there for years until it died.”

“A fitting end for a traitor!” General Guest had been listening, and McLaurin gave him a grin.

“As you say, sir. Still, I thought the tale would interest you.”

She stumped away, leaving the two soldiers perplexed. What was the point of the story? How could a bird, trained to promote the Jacobite cause, possibly be of interest to them?

Kirsty was standing ready to sing, and as her clear, melodious voice filled the room Robert stood entranced. He glanced quickly at McLaurin and could see that even that old harridan was captivated.

When the piece ended, the assembly burst into rapturous applause.

“My, but that was a joy to the ears, was it not, Captain?” A voice came at Robert’s side and he turned to see a sturdy, bewhiskered man beaming amiably at him.

“Forgive me, our hostess told me who you were. My name’s Watt – William Watt. I’m a merchant in Aberdeen, here in the city on business.”

“You know Lady Catherine well?” Robert pretended interest but was keeping a watchful eye on the two girls, awaiting their next piece.

“Oh, I don’t know her ladyship at all. It’s Miss McLaurin I am acquainted with,” Watt affirmed. “We go back many years. But I distract you, I see.”

He inclined his head towards Kirsty and Alison.

“Your interest in the girls is obvious.”

Robert’s face reddened.

“I have only clapped eyes on them this evening, sir.”

“Even so,” Watt replied softly, “take my advice, Captain, and don’t stoke the flames of ardour as far as they’re concerned. They are not for you.”

Annoyed at the man’s effrontery, Robert was about to remonstrate but Watt had sidled away. Robert felt there was something familiar about the man.

Had he seen him before somewhere? Anyway, darn him for his impertinence. How dare he offer advice like that?

A burst of applause startled Robert and he realised he’d let his attention wander from the girls. He made to move nearer to them but was stopped by Jean Forbes.

“If you please, sir, there’s a man waiting downstairs. Wishes a word with you and the general. He wouldn’t give his name, sir.”

“This is all I need,” Robert muttered.

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.