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As spring came and the young lambs were born Ross wished they had been able to rent the extra land to provide fresh spring grass for the ewes and their offspring. It angered him to see the stretch of land which McNish and Jim Douglas had given up. It lay neglected on the boundary of The Glens of Lochandee. Already there were signs of bracken and reeds and the brambles and gorse would soon spread from the hedges into the fields.
‘Surely the Laird cannot know his land is being so shamefully wasted,’ Alice said. ‘No wonder he’s short of money, but he has only himself to blame. His father and grandfather always came to inspect their property from time to time, and they had far more reliable Factors than Mr Elder.’
‘It makes me wonder if there will be a future for Conan in farming,’ Ross said morosely.
‘At least he’s doing very well with his lessons, according to Mr Hardie, the headmaster,’ Alice remarked. ‘You should be proud of him, Ross.’
‘Rachel is proud enough for two of us.’
‘You must admit there is little he misses with such sharp eyes and ears,’ Rachel said defensively. She knew Margaret’s death had grieved him, as it had herself, but she had a feeling that Ross could not bring himself to express pride in his son. He never praised Conan and it had begun to cause tension between them. But it was the death of Sam Dewar which caused the most serious rift of all.
On a Saturday morning in August, Rachel received an astonishing letter from Sam Dewar’s lawyer.
‘Sam has left nearly everything he possessed to Conan!’ she gasped.
‘To Conan? Why would he do that?’ Ross demanded.
‘I don’t know. According to the copy of his will, which the lawyer has enclosed, Conan was only a few months old when he made it.’
‘I expect it was just the whim of a lonely old man.’ Ross shrugged. ‘I don’t suppose he had much to leave to anyone.’
‘More than you think. Listen to this. Shortly before he died he had added a request that three hundred pounds should be paid to Meg for looking after him.’
‘Three hundred pounds! I’m sure Meg was a good neighbour … but even so …’
‘She was a very good neighbour. But listen! He owned his house and shop and the fields. After his visit here, to Lochandee, he instructed his lawyer to sell them after his death. The proceeds, and the remainder of his savings, are to be put into a Trust for Conan. I am to be the main Trustee, but his lawyer, Mr Finlay, will be my adviser. The money is to be used for Conan’s future. A Trustee – whatever that means? Goodness! I can scarcely believe this. The total comes to one thousand, one hundred and eighty-nine pounds, ten shillings and sixpence!’
‘One thousand! Pounds? But where did he get all that? And why would he leave it all to a baby? Your baby, Rachel! Why your child?’
‘I don’t know. The solicitor requires Conan’s birth certificate and he has sent some papers for me to sign …’ She looked up and saw Ross’s face flush, but he scowled and his eyes narrowed.
‘What is it? Is something wrong?’
‘No!’ Ross said harshly. ‘Oh, no. Why should there be anything wrong? Some old man leaves your son all his worldly goods. Why?’ His tone was a mixture of accusation and sarcasm, and Rachel hated it.
Conan, cleaning his clogs in the adjoining scullery, had paid little attention until his father’s raised voice startled him. It was so unusual to hear his parents quarrelling. He listened curiously.
‘Conan is your son too. Surely you are pleased that he has been so fortunate?’
‘My son … Mine?’ Ross had not consciously intended to form a question.
‘What do you mean by that?’ Rachel demanded angrily.
‘Nothing … Except … Well why would a man leave everything he possessed to a young child, unless he had a particular feeling of … of responsibility? Or … or …’
‘Ross! What are you saying? What are you implying?’
‘Yes, you are! You surely can’t think Sam Dewar had anything to do with …with …’ She stared at Ross, her eyes more green than blue now, and sparking angrily. ‘You can’t still doubt that Conan is your son? Not after all this time?’