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The bright sunshine of early May, pouring through the latticed windows of the old house, shone on to the short dark curls of the girl bent over the case she was packing with a kind of controlled ferocity.
She was young, built on Junoesque lines, and tall with a lovely face and dark eyes heavily fringed with black lashes. The face was marred at the moment by her heavy frown.
'I cannot think what Granny is about,' she observed to the middle-aged ladyan older, gently faded version of herself sitting and watching her. 'Mother, she is eighty years old; why on earth does she want to go trekking across the Highlands of Scotland ?'
'Not trekking, Rosieshe won't have to move from the train if she doesn't wish to!' Mrs Macdonald heaved a sentimental sigh. 'I think it is rather touching that she should want to see the surroundings of her childhood.'
'Well, she won't see much from the train.' Rosie then added because of her mother's unhappy look, 'Well, if it makes her happy. But why me? There's Aunt Carrie '
'Your granny and Aunt Carrie don't get on, dear. It is only for a week, and I dare say there will be some interesting people on the train.' She paused. 'Aren't you going to take the cream jersey? You look so nice in it, and it doesn't take up any room
'Anyway, you never know,' continued her mother vaguely, and Rosie, guessing her parent's thoughts, said baldly,
'There will be Americans on the train, Mother, and possibly a German or two, all married and over fifty.'
'Oh, I do hope not,' said Mrs Macdonald. She had never quite understood why Rosie, at twenty-five, was still unmarried. She was as pretty as a picture, had any number of friends and, to her mother's knowledge, had turned downin the nicest possible mannerseveral offers of marriage.
'Don't you want to get married?' she voiced her thoughts out loud.
'Oh, yes, Mother, dear. But I haven't met him yet..'
'There was that nice Percy Walls,' said Mrs Macdonald.
'Pooh!' replied Rosie strongly. 'He only talked about food and how clever he was. If I had married him I would have been a doormat, everlastingly cooking snacks.'
'He did like his food,' conceded Mrs Macdonald, 'but he was keen on you, darling.'
'Just because I can cook.' Rosie rolled up a pleated skirt in a ruthless fashion, and stuffed it into her case. 'Very surely being keen isn't enough, Mother. The man I marry must dote on me, cherish and love me for always, even when I'm bad-tempered or sneezing my head off.' She closed the case, and added briskly, 'I don't imagine there is such a man '
'He sounds worth waiting for,' said Mrs Macdonald. 'I must admit that a man's love can be tried to the utmost when one has a heavy cold. Though I must say that your father is an exception.' She sounded a little smug, and Rosie laughed and dropped a kiss on her mother's cheek as she went to the dressing-table. 'Mother, Father is the nicest man I know. How much money shall I need to take, do you think?'
'Your granny said not to take any, but I think you had better take some; she forgets sometimes. Are you not looking forward to this trip at all, love?'
'Well, it will be nice to be in Scotland again, only a week isn't long enoughI'd love to stay up in the Highlands for a long time, walk perhaps, or drive around. But I've only got two weeks' holiday, and Miss Porter wants to go away in June, so I'll have to be there to do some of her work.'
Rosie had spoken cheerfully; she disliked her job as a shorthand typist at Messrs Crabbe, Crabbe and Twitchett, the leading solicitors in the small country town in Wiltshire where she lived, but she had never said so; her father had lost almost all of his capital some years previously when the shares he held became almost worthless, and in order to keep his home in Scotland intact he had handed it over to a cousin and taken the job of agent on a large estate in Wiltshire. Neither he nor her mother had ever complained, although Rosie knew that they missed their home as much as she did. She had set about learning shorthand and typing, got herself a job, and consoled herself with the thought that their home in Scotland was, at least, still in the family.
Her grandmother lived in edinburgh with her unmarried daughter who was older than Rosie's fathera wispy lady who was seldom able to complete a sentence, and was possessed of a meekness which irritated the old lady, a forceful person who browbeat her despite the care Aunt Carrie took of her. Rosie was able to see her very seldom; the journey to Scotland was expensive and long, and she suspected that her parents were reluctant to visit their old home now that her father's cousin lived there. Now she had been bidden to accompany the old lady on a train tour of the Highlands. 'To revive old memories,' her grandmother had said, and had explained her plan more fully by letter.
'I hear that the train is splendidly equipped and very well staffed. I shall not need to exert myself, but of course I need a companion. You will come with me, Rosie.'
'Of course you must go,' her father had observed. 'It will be a pleasant holiday for you; besides, it will give Carrie a week of peace and quiet.' He hadn't seen his sister for some time but he had vivid memories of his mother keeping her under her thumb. A week of freedom would do her good. So all the arrangements had been made; Rosie was to travel up to Edinburgh by train, spend the night at her grandmother's house, and escort her to the station on the following day. There wouldn't be many passengers, she had been told, and she had been sent the brochure so that she would have some idea what to expect. It had looked rather fun, and they would see many of the places she had known so well as a child, only she thought it unlikely that she would have much chance to poke around on her own. Granny had made it quite clear that she expected constant attention and companionship.
She and her mother went downstairs presently into the kitchen, and began to get supper while they argued amicably as to whether Rosie's jersey suit would be better than her lovat corduroy skirt and country shirt with her matching gilet over.
'It could be quite chilly still,' argued Mrs Macdonald. 'On the other hand the jersey is useful. I wish you could have had some new clothes.'
'No needI've got several thin tops with me, and I'll take the skirt and gilet. There's the shirtwaister if it gets really warm.'
Her father came in presently, and she went to lay the table in the small dining-room, seldom used, but this evening seemed a special occasion.
Her father drove her to the station the next morning in the rather battered Land Rover. He hadn't much to say; he was a quiet man, tall and thin and hardworking; he looked after the estate with the same care with which he had run his own family home in Scotland. Rosie wished with all her heart that he and her mother could have been coming with her; more than that she wished that they could go back to her home there. She sat up straighter; it did no good to repine. It would be nice to see Granny again even though she was a tartar; she listened carefully to her father's last-minute messages, kissed him goodbye, and got into the train.
'I'll be back in a week,' she told him. 'I'll phone and let you know which train I'll be on.'
Her grandmother had sent enough money for her fare and for a taxi to get her to King's Cross Station, and she joined the long queue. She was seldom in London, she didn't like it much, and she was glad when she finally reached the station with time to spare for coffee before she needed to get on to the train. It was more than six years since she had been at King's Cross; that was when they had left Scotland, and Rosie remembered how unhappy she had been. Her spirits lifted at the thought of going back, even if only for a week, and she got on to the train, found a corner seat, and prepared to while away the journey with a paperback until the train had left London and its suburbs, and begun its race to the north.
Waverley Station hadn't changed; it was in the heart of Edinburgh, and she gave an unconscious sigh of pleasure as she went in search of a taxi. Her grandmother lived on the other side of Princes Street, in a grey granite house, tall and narrow, one of a terrace of such houses in a narrow, winding street near Queen Street Gardens, surprisingly quiet although there was the constant hum of traffic from Princes Street and Queen Street. She got out of the taxi, and stood for a moment on the pavement looking up at her grandmother's house. It hadn't changed at all; there was the same solid door, the same dark green curtains at the narrow windows. She mounted the steps to the door and banged the knocker, and after a few moments it was partly opened by Elspeth, the elderly maid who had been with her grandmother ever since Rosie could remember.
She must be all of seventy, thought Rosie, embracing her warmly, but she seemed ageless, her iron-grey hair scraped back into a stiff bun, her bony frame erect in its black dress.
Elspeth led the way into the narrow hall, and opened a door. 'Yer granny's waiting. I'll leave ye a wee while before I bring in the tea.'
She gave Rosie a little push and shut the door on her. Old Mrs Macdonald was sitting bolt upright in a high-backed chair. She was an imposing figure, tall and stout with dark hair only lightly streaked with silver. She was handsome, with dark eyes and a straight nose above an obstinate mouth. She hadn't changed, thought Rosie, crossing the room to kiss her.
'You had a good journey?' asked her grandmother, the question uttered in a voice which expected no reply. 'Your mother and father are well?'
'Very well, Granny. They sent their love.'
'Sit down, child, and let me look at you. Still not wed? There is, perhaps, a young man?'
'Nonot one I wish to marry. Where is Aunt Carrie, Granny?'
'She got it into her head to make a cake for your arrival. She will be in the kitchen.'
The door opened as she spoke, and Aunt Carrie came in. Rosie remembered her as a pretty, rather faded woman who adored her brother and sister-in-law. She was still pretty, but she looked dispirited and worn out. She probably was, reflected Rosie as she went to greet her, living with Granny day in and day out. She would have a week to herself now, and not before time.
Aunt Carrie kissed her fondly. 'I made a cake, it seemed You look well, dear, and not a day You're not.?'
'No, Aunt Carrie. I'm waiting for a millionaire, handsome and generous, who will lavish the world's goods upon me.'
Mrs Macdonald gave a ladylike snort. 'That is a worldly attitude to be deplored, Rosie.'
Rosie winked at Aunt Carrie and said, suitably meek, 'Yes, Granny.'
They had tea presently, and Rosie lavished praise upon the cake while she listened to her grandmother's plans for the train journey, which would start in the morning. Her plans concerned herself and her comfort, for she was a selfish old lady. Rosie, listening to them, wondered if they clashed with their journey; she had read the brochure with its carefully planned itinerary, and it allowed little room for independent plans for the passengers, and as far as she could see the whole journey was so meticulously arranged that only the most discontented and selfish person could take exception to it. Of course, her grandmother was both discontented and selfish.
'This is, of course, a great treat for you, Rosie,' observed her grandparent complacently.
Rosie replied suitably, wondering silently just how much of a treat it would be.
She managed to have a word with her aunt the next morning. 'Do have a good time, Aunt Carrie,' she urged. 'You've a whole week, think of all the things you can do. You must have friends?'
'Well, your grandmother doesn't care for visitors, dear, but I meet them from time to time while I'm shopping.'
She had gone a pretty pink, and Rosie said, 'Is he nice, Aunt Carrie?'
The pink deepened. 'A retired solicitor, dear, but of course I have your granny to look after.'
'Stuff!' retorted Rosie fiercely. 'There is Elspeth, and Granny can afford a companion. Does she know?'
'No. And there's not much point.. I mean, we're just friends.'
'Well, make the most of him.' They stood listening to her grandmother's voice giving brisk orders. 'It's time we wentwe have to be on the platform before nine o'clock.'
They were met at the station by two pleasant young men, who whisked away their luggage and took them to one of the lounges to wait for the train. The room was full, and a score of faces turned to them as they were introduced, before Mrs Macdonald was seated with suitable care in a chair, and offered coffee. Rosie sat down not too near her, and over coffee exchanged names with those around her. Americans mostly, a sprinkling of Germans, and a haughty-looking woman with a meek husband who had flown up from London. All very VIP, thought Rosie, making suitable replies to friendly questions. She had been right; there was no one there under fifty. They were all prosperous-looking couples, well dressed and pleased with themselves. Within five minutes they had asked her name, and from then on she was 'Rosie', despite the look of affront upon her grandmother's face.