The Glens of Stone – Episode 34

Ewan Ogilvie was in jubilant mood. In three, possibly even two weeks the Jacobite forces would be in Edinburgh; his months of hard work would be over and he could hand matters over to his mentor, Colonel Alastair Crawford.

Acting on instructions received recently by secret courier, he had called on the lawyer Davidson, and as he strode briskly down the high street, he allowed himself a brief smile; everything had gone exceedingly well.

Earlier he’d watched cartloads of supplies being delivered to the castle, but he knew General Guest’s poorly trained dragoons posed little threat.

In any event, the Prince would lodge in Holyrood Palace, safely out of reach of the castle’s cannons.

His timepiece revealed that it was close to the meridian. A cool tankard of midday refreshment would be welcome. He retraced his steps until he reached a familiar heavy oaken door and rapped the lion’s head knocker.

The door was opened by Jean Forbes.

“Oh, it’s you, sir,” she said with a warm smile. “Please come in.”

Ewan followed the maid up the steep flight of stairs. Jean tapped at a door.

“Mr Ogilvie to see you, ma’am.”

There was a muffled response.

“You may go in, sir,” Jean said, and Ewan advanced into the room.

“Good day to you, dear lady,” he cried, smiling broadly, “I trust I find you well?” Getting no response, he went on. “All goes according to plan. The little birds are rich, warm and cosy in their nests, our supporters are poised to aid the advancing army, and consequently your obedient servant feels happy and content.”

“Indeed? I would rejoice with you, Ewan, were it not for the fact that Alison Porteous lies gravely ill with typhus.”

The blood drained from Ewan’s face. He sank into the nearest chair, unhappily aware of the wrathful look on old McLaurin’s face.

*  *  *  *

“We’ll have to close the Mission House,” Duncan McAllan said. Still shocked, they had gathered in the meeting hall.

“Of course,” Malcolm agreed, and his words were echoed by Kirsty and Ellie, both red-eyed from weeping.

John Porteous shook his head.

“No, Duncan, there’s no need for that.”

“But the fever is catching,” Ellie protested. “We can’t expose folk to such danger.”

John held up his hand.

“Hear me out. Aye, the disease is catching, but my dear daughter is confined in an upstairs room.”

Duncan allowed a wry smile to cross his face at those words “my dear daughter”, which he now knew to be false.

“And she is well attended by the nursing lady sent by Doctor Turner.”

“The blood-letter, you mean,” Malcolm snarled, and his father’s face darkened.

“Your sister has to be cut regularly to relieve the fever.”

“It is barbaric,” Malcolm said in disgust. “Why are you so keen to keep this place open, Father? Does the health of those who come here not count?”

“Of course it does!” Porteous thundered. “But the Lord’s Word counts a great deal more. To close might undo all Duncan’s hard work in drawing folk in, and we could lose all these souls for God. Alison would be the first to support me.”

Ellie, standing at the back of the room, spoke up.

“I’m sure she would, Mr Porteous, though I’m wondering if your concern is solely for the reasons you give.”

Kirsty and her father looked at each other, bewildered, while Malcolm stared at Ellie.

“What do you mean?” he asked.

Ellie walked slowly forward.

“Are you all blind? Many of the so-called worshippers have little interest in the services,” she said. “Oh, they attend regularly and appreciate the music, but they have some other purpose in coming.”

“I’ve seen them, too,” Malcolm said. “Sitting about in groups, pretending not to know each other but passing notes.”

“Notes? What kind?” Kirsty asked.

“Ask my father. He knows.” Malcolm’s face was grim.

Duncan broke the silence following Malcolm’s words.

“Is it not wrong of us to be talking like this? A poor girl lies seriously ill and we’re arguing about some folk you think are acting suspiciously. Surely we have our priorities wrong?”

“Of course we have, Duncan,” John agreed. “We should be considering God’s wishes and not wasting time on trivial matters.”

“It’s not a trivial matter!” Ellie protested. “I’ve seen the same sort of folk at the mission in the Grassmarket, Mr Porteous. Diligent worshippers? I doubt it.”

“Ellie, you’re wrong.” John raised his hands in exasperation. “The people you’re talking about are surely innocent enough. We can’t condemn them as faithless simply because they act in a manner we deem strange.”

“Well, it’s very odd,” Malcolm said, “and I side with Ellie.”

“Then more fool you,” his father rasped. “Anyway, are we agreed this place remains open?”

Duncan McAllan nodded.

“Though I’ll be having a closer look at those who attend from now on,” he said.

“Fine!” John sighed with impatience. “Now Agnes and I will get away upstairs to keep vigil outside Alison’s room.”

As he left he cast a cold look at Ellie. In reply the girl gave him a wide, knowing smile.

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.