She was about to climb the stairs
up to her room when she was hailed by a shout from the kitchen. ‘Is that
‘It is myself,’ she responded.
A door at the far end of the
passage was flung open to reveal a glimpse of a clean but dowdy kitchen
from which the tempting smell was wafting more deliciously into the
hallway. A tall angular woman stood in the doorway wiping her hands on a
towel. ‘Thank the Lord you’re back. I was praying the rain would drive
you back early so you’d be in time to help me,’ the woman greeted Kirsty
fretfully before turning to re-enter the kitchen.
Kirsty rested her umbrella against
the banister hoping Isable was too distraught to have noticed it and
followed her into the kitchen where Mac, Isabel’s husband was slouched
in an armchair, his face covered by a newspaper, his stockinged feet
splayed out as if to deliberately trip the unwary.
‘Is anything wrong, Isabel?’
Kirsty asked with only a pretence of surprise. In her experience nothing
ever seemed to go right for Isabel.
‘Wrong? Just about everything’s
gone wrong,’ wailed Isabel. ‘For a start I booked in three extra guests
only an hour or two ago. A couple and their son and now that wretched
Meggy hasn’t turned up. I tell you I’m in such a bourac I don’t know
which way to turn next.’
‘Why would you be in a bourac? The
meal must be almost ready and after that’s cleared away you have only to
pop the hot water bottles into the beds and take the guests their
evening tea and biscuits and then the evening will be free,’ Kirsty
reproved her mildly. She was accustomed to Isabel’s imagined bouracs.
‘Didn’t I tell you there’ll be
three extra mouths to feed?’ Isabel demanded
‘I don’t see that as being a
worry,’ retorted Kirsty. ‘There’s plenty of steak and kidney pudding and
also plenty of plum tart to fill three extra mouths without anyone
having to go short. You know I always err on the generous side.’
‘Too much,’ sniffed Isabel. ‘But
the point I’m making is that there are no potatoes peeled nor carrots
‘That’s only to be expected. It is
Meggy’s job to see to the vegetables when she comes,’ Kirsty told her
‘But she hasn’t come in,’ Isabel
Kirsty dated a quick glance at the
kitchen clock. ‘She’s certainly late,’ she allowed. ‘But supposing she
doesn’t turn up at all there is still plenty of time for you to peel the
potatoes and prepare the carrots ready for the evening meal,’ she
Isabel confronted her, hands on
hips and eyes lit with anger. ‘Me? Peel potatoes when you’re here to do
it. If Meggy’s not here then it’s your job.’
‘No, not on my half day off,’
Kirsty corrected. ‘And really, Isabel, you can’t pretend you have all
that much to do even without Meggy,’ she reasoned.
‘You can just forget about your
half day off and see to those vegetables,’ Isabel ordered irascibly.
Turning quickly she tripped over her husband’s feet and stumbled against
the corner of the dresser. Kirsty did not move. ‘Don’t just stand there
like a log of wood,’ Isabel berated as she rubbed at her arm. ‘Just go
and get changed and put on an overall. You’re not paid to watch me
Kirsty’s chin rose fractionally.
‘And you can mend your manners,’ she told Isabel in a tight voice. ‘I am
not used to being spoken to in such a way and you will please not speak
to me ever again like that.’
‘Really?’ taunted Isabel. ‘I’ll
decide how you’ll be spoken to, not you. D’you hear that, Mac?’ she
mocked, snatching away the newspaper that covered her husband’s face.
‘Milady here is telling me I mustn’t speak to her as if she’s just a
servant. She really does believe she owns the place now.’ Mac grunted a
Kirsty took a few seconds to
compose herself before she countered, ‘I will give up my time off to
help you but only because I care about the comfort of the guests. I will
not be ordered by you to do so. I may only be a paid servant as you
choose to call me but if you ever speak to me in such a way again I will
pack my belongings and walk out of that front door and, guests or no
guests, you will not see me again.’ She paused, aghast at her own
recklessness while Isabel, startled by the sudden outburst, could only
retaliate with an incredulous glare.
‘I will go now and change into dry
clothes and then, by my own choice, I will come down to the kitchen,’
Kirsty continued resolutely. ‘There need be no panic about the evening
meal being ready on time. I will see to that because I care about the
comfort of the guest and I will help clear away afterwards but then I
shall take the rest of the evening off as is my due.’
‘Oh, thank you for nothing,’
Isabel attempted to sneer, and as Kirsty was closing the kitchen door
behind her she heard Mac’s voice asking scornfully, ‘Where in hell does
the old boiler think she could go if she walked out of here, I’d like to
Lazy, good for nothing lout,
Kirsty reflected angrily as she climbed the stairs. Since he’s at home
why doesn’t she get him to prepare the vegetables?
Once in her dry room she hastily
took off her damp clothes, changed into dry stockings and slipped on a
pair of house shoes. Finally she put on a plain black dress. The dress
was by no means a stipulated uniform, ISLAY not meriting such a
degree of formality but apart from the suitability and economy of plain
black she liked to wear it in the evenings considering it complemented
her smooth pale skin and enhanced the rich auburn of her hair. She was
not, nor ever had been, vain about her appearance and now at nearly
forty years of age and with a sturdy rather than shapely figure, she had
accepted that she could aspire only to be neat and clean in her person
Shaking out her abundant hair
which, she knew was the only feather that preserved her from plainness,
she towelled it dry before pinning it into a loose bun. That done, she
surveyed herself in the wardrobe mirror, glanced at her bare hands, and
satisfied with her appearance was tempted momentarily to further
aggravate Isabel by dawdling before she went down to the kitchen. But
pride in her own standards and in upholding ISLAY’s reputation
quickly banished the temptation and since there now seemed only a
slender chance of Mew turning up in time to serve the evening meal she
decided it would be wiser to do it herself rather than risk the sulky
Isabel upsetting the guests by her inattention.
She was halfway down the stairs
when the doorbell rang. ‘I’ll answer it,’ she called in the direction of
the kitchen, being sure she knew who would be waiting to enter.
‘Ah, ‘tis yourself, Mr MacDonald!’
she greeted the man as she opened the door. ‘Come away in now out of the
rain.’ Though hardly more than half an hour had elapsed since they had
parted company her tone had the same easy cordiality with which she
greeted all ISLAY guests.
Mr MacDonald seemed a little
nonplussed by the impersonality of her manner. He swallowed nervously
before he spoke.
‘Indeed I will be well pleased to
do that,’ he acknowledged in an undertone as he stamped his boots on the
Once inside the vestibule he
produced from his jacket pocket a half bottle of whisky which, a little
diffidently he offered to her. With a gesture of dismissal she pushed
his hand back towards his pocket and ushered him into the hallway. ‘Go
you now and get into a dry jacket and I will hang this one in the
kitchen where it will dry overnight,’ she instructed. He looked a little
dashed and a tiny patch of redness appeared high on his cheekbones.
Kirsty treated him to an explanatory nod of her head in the direction of
the kitchen. Instantly nodding his comprehension he slipped the half
bottle back into the jacket pocket.
‘Just you get yourself into some
dry clothes,’ Kirsty repeated, her voice taking on a louder note as they
entered the hallway. ‘You could easily catch your death.’ Acknowledging
her advice with a hesitant smile and more vigorous nodding he began to
climb the stairs. She watched him covertly, disguising her interest by a
show of rearranging a vase of artificial flowers on the chiffonier. Not
until she heard the door of his room close did she go into the kitchen.
‘You’ve taken your time,’ Isabel
grumbled. Kirsty ignored the allegation. Moving away from the sink
Isabel dried her hands on the roller towel and took a packet of
cigarettes from her apron pocket. ‘My God! What an afternoon!’ she
complained, collapsing into a chair and immediately lighting a
cigarette. ‘Talk about rush. I’ve never had to rush so much in all my
‘Meggy hasn’t come then?’ Kirsty
asked, starting to peel the potatoes.
‘Has there been any word from her
to say why?’
‘Nothing. Not a squeak from the
little bitch,’ Isabel snapped.
‘I hope she’s not ill or that
she’s not met with an accident,’ Kirsty observed anxiously. ‘It’s not
like Meggy to let folks down without a word.’
‘She’s very likely been put off by
the weather,’ Isabel said tartly.
‘I’d say that was most unlikely,’
Kirsty contradicted. ‘She’s always been very punctual and weather has
never put her off before.’
‘Maybe she’s found herself a
boyfriend at last,’ Isabel sneered. ‘With a squint like hers she’d be
that glad to get a fellow to take some notice of her she’d very likely
forget all about having a job to go to. She’ll get her notice when she
does turn up unless she’s got a good excuse, I’m telling you.’
‘She’s always been a jolly good
little worker and I’m sure there’s an excellent reason for her not
coming,’ Kirsty insisted.
‘Anyway, with no Meggy to serve
the meal, you’ll have to attend on the guests or else tell them to help
themselves or go hungry. I’ve set the tables but I’ll not wait on.’ She
tossed her head, plainly confident of Kirsty’s compliance.
‘I will do all that is necessary
for the comfort of the guests,’ Kirsty stressed. Isabel flicked her a
smug glance and left the kitchen.
The meal was served at the regular
time and when the tables had been cleared and the guests had gone about
their various evening activities Kirsty washed and dried and stacked
away the dishes. She was standing by the stove filling a thermos flask
with hot tea ready to take up to her room when the door opened and
Isabel and Mac entered the kitchen bringing with them the mingled smell
of scent and cigarette smoke. Seeing that they were both dressed in
their outdoor clothes she glanced at them with raised eyebrows and
waited for them to speak.
‘We’re away to the flicks,’ Mac
announced in a slurred voice which betrayed he had already taken a
substantial evening dram.
Kirsty made no comment.
‘You’ll have to see to the ten
o’clock tea and biscuits for guests and pop the hot water bottles into
their beds,’ instructed Isabel, pulling on her gloves and looping a
scarf around her neck.
Kirsty fought to control her
rising indignation. Putting down the flask she turned to face them.
‘Indeed I shall do nothing of the kind,’ she asserted. ‘Must I remind
you that it is still my half day off and tonight as I have already told
you I particularly wish to have the time to myself.’
For a second or two she was able
to rejoice at their flabbergasted expressions before she went on, ‘When
your aunt was in charge here I was never called upon to work during my
time off unless there was a special reason for me to do so and then,
more than willingly, I gave up my time.’
‘She was a damn sight too soft
with you!’ Mac interjected testily.
Ignoring him Kirsty looked
straight at Isabel. ‘You will not be trying to tell me that going to the
cinema is in any way a special kind of reason?’ She screwed the cup
firmly onto the flask.
‘But you’ll be here in the house,
won’t you? It’s surely not much to ask you to do us the favour of taking
in tea and biscuits and seeing to the hot water bottles. It won’t take
you more than a few minutes,’ expostulated Isabel.
‘No, it is maybe not much to ask,’
Kirsty agreed. ‘But you did not ask me, did you? You told me I would
have to do it.’ She reached for a cup and saucer, took a couple of her
own baked scones from a tin and set them on the tray with the flask.
‘Just you stop this hoity toity,’
Mac interposed more as if he felt it was time he contributed to the
disagreement rather than in the hope of ending it.
With a gesture Isabel silenced
him. ‘It’s the last night of a film we particularly want to see and if
we stay to the end it’ll be too late to see to the guests. They’ll have
gone to their beds.’ Her manner was only a little less unpleasant.
‘What d’you do on your nights off
anyway? Just sit in your room knitting or reading stuffy old books or
listening to the wireless?’ jeered Mac.
‘Just that,’ affirmed Kirsty
equably. ‘And that is exactly what I am planning to do this evening.’
‘You’d still have time to do all
that,’ Isabel quibbled. ‘You wouldn’t have to forsake your pleasure for
more than a few minutes to oblige us.’
‘That’s true,’ Kirsty
acknowledged. ‘But tonight I am not intending to oblige you. As you can
see I have my own supper here on the tray which in a moment or two I
shall be taking up to my room and then I shall not be coming down to the
kitchen again until the morning.’ She surveyed them coolly. ‘You must
learn that I am not a slave to be hectored and bullied as you two have
tried to hector and bully me. You must get back from your cinema in time
to attend the guests or,’ she continued, ‘you can tell them they must
get their own tea and biscuits and see to their own hot water bottles
tonight.’ Again Kirsty was surprised at her own audacity.
For a full moment the couple
glared at her without speaking as if convinced that their glares were
menacing enough to weaken her resolve. Disregarding them she picked up
her tray and with a curt ‘goodnight’ started towards the door. Seemingly
dumbfounded by her unexpected outburst the couple moved sullenly to let
‘See that!’ Isabel remarked
spitefully as Kirsty opened the door. ‘Wouldn’t think of doing anything
for anyone but herself.’ Mac opened his mouth ready to speak but Isabel
went on, ‘You’ll just have to stay here or go to the cinema on you own.’
‘What the...?’ Mac began to
protest but before he could continue Isabel cut in. ‘Go on, I wouldn’t
be able to enjoy going out now, not after all this nastiness.’
Seemingly unperturbed Kirsty
carried her tray to the stairway. She could still hear the couple
wrangling in the kitchen. ‘Well, haven’t I told you often enough. It’s
your own fault. Never mind what you promised your aunt. Give the bloody
woman her notice. You can manage without her,’ Mac rebuked his wife.
‘Oh, shut your mouth and go,’
Isabel snarled at him. With a muttered oath he came shambling past
Kirsty and jerking open the vestibule door let it slam behind him.