“Mr. McBride. Ye’ve come. My grandmother will be that happy to see ye.”
The young woman tugged off her gloves and moved quickly to the open door of the house, apparently assuming he’d follow. Elliot made his decision and stepped inside after her, ducking his head under a low, thick lintel.
The inside of the house was small but warm. This was an old crofter’s house, which had originally had one large room and a loft, but in recent years, interior walls had been built to divide up the house. The front door opened into a kitchen and small sitting room, the sitting room containing cushioned armchairs and a wide hearth rug.
The walls were freshly painted, curtains hung in the windows, and a flower box outside the window overflowed with summer blossoms. Cozy. Juliana would like it.
The door to an inner room opened, and Mrs. Rossmoran, leaning on her black cane, emerged. Elliot offered Mrs. Rossmoran his arm, led her to the chair, and made sure she settled herself without harm. Her granddaughter Fiona moved to the kitchen, filled a kettle from the pump at the sink, and set the kettle on the small black stove.
“Thank ye, lad,” Mrs. Rossmoran said. “Ye’re a gentleman, even if ye’re kin to McGregor.” She thumped the seat of the second chair with her cane. “Sit there and let me look you over. Your lady wife came to call, but she was with McGregor, and I didn’t want to see him. A lovely creature, is the new Mrs. McBride. Very proper too, paying me a formal visit. Her mother was a Duncan.” Mrs. Rossmoran grunted as she moved deeper into the chair. “Daughter of one of my friends at school. Quite a featherhead was your wife’s mother. Charming, but a featherhead.”
Elliot had nothing to answer to this outpouring. He gave Mrs. Rossmoran a polite nod as he obediently took the seat, and she charged along.
“Juliana’s mother charmed prim and proper St. John into marriage for his money all right, smooth as butter, then she ignored him, bought more clothes than any woman has need for, and completely neglected her daughter. Mrs. St. John let the servants do as they pleased, and mostly they didn’t please to do anything. And so poor little Juliana was left quite to herself. It isn’t good for a child to be alone like that. Oh, she had nannies, a proper governess, and finishing school—her father was not the sort to forget about her education—but her playmates were footmen and maids, her confidants the housekeeper and butler. Any polish Miss St. John acquired she managed to put on herself, never mind that fine academy she attended, which I thought a waste of time and money.”
Elliot recalled how, the few times he’d visited Juliana’s home with Ainsley in his youth, they’d been banished from any room Mrs. St. John might enter. Juliana had pretended she didn’t mind—it was a fact of life that children did not mingle much with their parents—but Elliot had seen Juliana’s hurt when her mother did happen to cross their path and never noticed her daughter in front of her.
“Don’t look so surprised at my knowing all this, lad. I might be buried out here, but I know every Scottish family this side of the country and on up into the Orkneys, and I get stacks and stacks of letters.”
Fiona brought over the tea tray and placed it on the table. “She does, Mr. McBride. Every day, letters and letters. And sends a pile out herself.”
“So I know all about your young wife,” Mrs. Rossmoran said, signaling Fiona to serve Elliot first. “She’s a good lass, from what I hear. I did shake my head when I learned she was to marry Mr. Barclay. Not a good match for her. He’s an incomer without much to recommend him, his family dull as ditchwater. Thank heavens he eloped, but with all things, a piano teacher! Well, may she have the joy of him.”
Elliot accepted his tea. “I’m just as happy he stepped out of the way.”
Mrs. Rossmoran took the cup Fiona gave her in both hands, but she didn’t tremble. “Of course you are. I always thought you and young Juliana would make a couple. Helps that she’s such friends with your sister, and your brother and her father thick in finance. Though why a man has truck with finance, I don’t know. But these days, there’s not much in the land anymore, and bankers and merchants rule the world. I hear you have quite a penny put by.”
“A bit.” Elliot drank his tea. Conversation with Mrs. Rossmoran was proving to be refreshing—Elliot didn’t have to say a word.
“Made it out of the subcontinent, didn’t you? So many go out there to make their fortunes, and they end up destitute, or dead of disease, or addicted to some noxious substance. But that never happened to you, eh? Ye kept your head and made money off foolish Englishmen who wanted you to teach them how to make money there.” Mrs. Rossmoran chuckled. “Wise, lad. When I was a girl, I watched the Sassenachs drive away the Scottish farmers and burn out tenants so they could turn Scotland into one big sheep pasture. Fitting that one of our own took away the money all those sheep made for them.”
It hadn’t been quite that simple, but Elliot didn’t bother correcting her. Her outpouring was lightening his darkness a little.
“So what are you going to do, eh?” Mrs. Rossmoran paused to take a sip of tea. “Young Hamish says you’re mad as a hatter. You look sane enough to me, but Hamish says you’re a raving madman sometimes. My grandnephew likes to exaggerate, but the core of what he says is true. Have you seen a doctor about it?”
“I have. He wasn’t much use.” Patrick had suggested a specialist, who’d listened to Elliot, taken his pulse, said Hmm a lot, and prescribed a course of barley water.