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"A premium Scottish blend of robust characters and intriguing plot that satisfies to the last page...[Pilcher] writes...with every bit as much insight and meticulous detail as his mother."--Library Journal
"Pilcher crafts a fine and fulfilling novel that will please fans not only of his mother's books but of Maeve Binchy's as well."--Booklist
Jane Spiers drove with extreme caution through the pelting rain, her shoulders hunched over the steering wheel as she strained to make out the blurred outline of the road ahead. The windscreen wipers of the old Subaru struggled to cope with the deluge pouring down from the cold grey skies, and the feeble wheezing of the car's hot-air fan was of little help in clearing the steamy fog that had developed on the inside of the windows. That was Arthur's fault. He sat, enclosed in the boot by a large dog rack, soaking wet and panting heavily after his exertion on the moor. Jane opened the window a fraction to see if a little air circulation might help but shut it immediately when she felt the sliver of icy Scottish weather suck the warmth from the car. In all the forty years that she had lived in Scotland, she could not remember a May so cold and miserable.
Turning off the main road through a pair of lodge-gates, newly painted and bearing a sign marked PRIVATE DRIVE, she drove up the long tarmacked avenue, the tall oak trees on either side at last offering some protection against the elements. In this new-found shelter, the windscreen wipers' performance improved, and Jane crunched into a higher gear.
After half a mile, the drive opened out into a gravel sweep that rounded in front of the large Victorian house. Picking up one of her gloves from the passenger seat, Jane wiped the condensation off the windscreen, eager to complete the last few yards of her journey without running over either the trimmed edge of the grass border or one of the three black Labradors who customarily came bounding down the front-door steps.
On this occasion, there was no such welcoming committee, but even as she lurched the car to a halt in front of the house, Arthur sat up in the back and whined, his ears pricked forward and his nose pressed through the square mesh of the dog rack, anticipating a mad tear-around in the garden with his three black friends. Jane looked at his plaintive face in the rear-view mirror.
"Good boy, Arthur--you stay there," she said, pulling up the hood of her Barbour jacket and tightening the draw-string under her chin. "I won't be long."
Holding hard to the door in case the wind took it completely off its ageing hinges, Jane clambered out of the car, then, slamming the door shut, she scrunched her way in a half-run across the wet gravel and up the steps to the front door. With the informality of a frequent visitor, she opened up one of the heavy oak double doors and let herself in.
"Oooee!" she called out. "Anyone he-ere?"
No immediate reply. She took off her dripping Barbour and hung it on a hook amongst the collection of heavy tweed overcoats and waterproof jackets, then, clearing a space for herself on an old church pew, a dumping ground for fishing-tackle, hats and garden implements, she sat down to take off her sodden walking shoes.
"Hullo-o! Anyone here?" she called out again, and looked around to see if anyone had taken any heed of her call. The hallway of Inchelvie House stretched to the full height of the edifice, and was dominated by a huge central staircase which divided at right angles half-way up, leading to a balustraded landing above. Dark oak-panelled walls were lined with large family portraits intermingled with an eerie selection of crossbows, double-handed swords and shields, and above them, ranging to the highest point of the house, an array of about forty stags' heads, all rather old and moth-eaten. Jane smiled to herself, her own private thought always being that it was a toss-up as to which of these three adornments was the most hideous.
She left the pew and padded in her stockinged feet across the hallway. Approaching the bottom of the staircase, she became aware of a man's voice coming from the drawing-room. It was not a voice she recognized, more the deep, serious tone that might belong to a solicitor or chartered accountant, and instantly she wondered if she had chosen a bad time to call. She was caught in a moment of confusion, whether to try calling out again or just quietly leave, when a door opened in the far corner of the hall beyond the staircase and a small grey-haired lady appeared, precariously carrying a tray of tea and oblivious to her presence.
"Hullo, Effie," Jane said, as gently as possible, so as not to spread-eagle the little housekeeper and her load. Even at that, Effie stopped abruptly, making the contents of the tray shoot forward.
"Oh, Mrs. Spiers, whit a fright you gave me!" Effie said, steadying herself. "I didn't hear ye coming in."
Jane walked around the side of the staircase. "I'm sorry about that, Effie. I did call out twice, as loud as I thought decent." She smiled at the older woman, who was slowly recovering her composure. "I thought the dogs would probably have heard me. It's not like them to miss out on a good bark." She glanced towards the door of the drawing-room. "Tell me, is this a bad time to call? I have a feeling that Lady Inchelvie might have someone with her at this minute."
Effie shrugged up her little shoulders in a display of mousy mirth. "No, no, that's just the television you'll be hearing. Lady Inchelvie always has the volume up pretty high, and that's no doubt why the dogs never heard ye coming in." Effie always spoke quietly, as if everything she said were imparting some hugely private secret. "The snooker's on, ye see, and there's nothing she likes better than to watch the snooker." She moved forward, her eyes sparkling, ready to tell the best part of the tale. "Especially if yon Scottish laddie Stephen Hendry is playing. I think that she must be his greatest fan!"
Effie's face creased into another muted giggle, though it immediately gave way to a frown of concern when she noticed that Jane's jersey and tweed skirt were beginning to steam in the heat of the hall.
"Michty me!" Effie exclaimed. "You're surely awful wet! Dinnae tell me you've been walkin' oot on the moor wi' your dog on a day like this?"
Jane rubbed herself on the arm, Effie's observation suddenly bringing it home to her that she was indeed feeling rather damp. "If I didn't go out in weather like this, then Arthur wouldn't get a walk for about nine months of the year."
"Well, we canna have you standing around here catching your death," she said, bustling her way across the hall. "Let's get you in beside the fire, and then I'll away and fetch you an extra cup. Was Lady Inchelvie expecting you?"
"No, she wasn't. I just wanted to, well ..." Jane stopped Effie by putting her hand on her shoulder. "Actually, the real reason why I'm here is that my husband asked me to pop in just to find out how everyone is. He's purposely not visited since Rachel ... well, let's just say he felt that it would be better if I dropped in, sort of in passing, rather than him ... as the family doctor, so to speak."
"Dinnae say any more," said Effie, flashing an understanding smile at her. "I'll no' tell Lady Inchelvie that you're here just yet. I'll just take in her tea-things and you go through to the kitchen, and we'll have a wee chat before you go in and see her. Does that suit you?"
"That would be just fine. Thanks, Effie."
Jane watched her scuttle off to the drawing-room, knock and enter, then turned and walked across to the door from which Effie had first appeared, and pushed it open.
The kitchen was large and utilitarian, unlike Jane's own, which she herself had lovingly converted into the hub of the house over the years. This was a complete throw-back to the green-baize-door era, all the walls being painted in a sickly yellow and cream easy-wipe gloss. There were no easy chairs, no wall decorations, just a plethora of pots and pans hanging from meat-hooks alongside three blinding strip lights above the enormous scrubbed pine table in the centre of the room, its austere cleanliness reminding her of a Victorian operating-theatre. She walked over to the old cream Aga at the far end of the kitchen and leaned on its spotless surface in order to induce some heat back into her bones.
The door opened behind her and Effie entered. "There we are now," she said, walking towards her. "Let's get the kettle on, and we can have a good natter over a nice cup of tea."
Jane moved to the side of the Aga, so that Effie could put the kettle on the hob. "Can I do anything to help?"
"No, no, you just away and sit down at the table. I know where everything is in this place. Now tell me, how is Dr. Spiers keeping?"
"Run off his feet at the minute," Jane replied, pulling out one of the kitchen chairs from the table and sitting down. "This wretched weather is really keeping the cold and flu bugs flying around. About half the children at Dalnachoil Primary School are off sick, and rather than get them brought into the surgery, he spends most of his day charging around from one house to another in the village."
Effie moved around her familiar kitchen like an automaton, taking cups and saucers from the pine Welsh dresser, then the milk from the fridge and putting everything on the table. "Aye, we're that lucky to have a man like Dr. Spiers around here." She took the steaming kettle off the Aga and poured water into the teapot, then, turning to face Jane, she took up her apron and rubbed her hands on it. "He really has been the saviour of this family over the past six months."
Jane noticed a weary expression had come over Effie's face.
"How have things been?" she asked.
Effie carried the teapot over to the table and sat down opposite. "Och, they come and go, up one minute, down the next." She poured out the tea into the two cups. "Lady Inchelvie has had to work like a Trojan this last month, getting all the grandchildren's things together to get them ready for returning to school. Mind, they didn't go back at the beginning of term, it being only a couple of weeks after their mother's funeral; and besides, I have an inkling that Mr. David was in two minds whether he should send them back there at all, thinking that they might be better off closer to him at the village school." She sighed and cocked her head to the side. "However, from what I can gather, it was the children's choice to go back and be with all their friends." She paused, seemingly unconvinced herself by the decision. "I don't know. Maybe a comfort for them to return to some sort of routine."
Jane took a drink from her cup. "I do think that's probably right, Effie. A different environment, yet a familiar one. Sophie has her GCSE exams this term, doesn't she?"
"Aye, she does. She's a grand wee girl--mind you, no' awful wee now, she's nearly sixteen years old, and that well-organized--just like her mother." As she said this, Effie suddenly faltered and swallowed hard, her composure suddenly under threat. "Oh, Mrs. Spiers, it's that hard getting used to not having Mrs. David around anymore."
Jane leaned across the table and patted the housekeeper's hand. "I know. My husband often wonders if cancer doesn't prepare a family better for the inevitable than, say, a heart attack or a road accident, but I don't think so. The loss when it happens is still devastating."
Effie was looking down in her lap, fiddling with her apron, her bottom lip quivering. Jane took a calculated gamble to continue the conversation.
"And what about the other children?"
Effie took a deep breath, and, almost for something to do, replenished both their cups even though Jane's was still three-quarters full. She delved into the pocket of her apron and brought out a handkerchief and wiped her eyes.
"Oh, they seemed to have coped better than any," Effie replied, managing to smile bravely, though her voice still faltered. "Even during the tea after the funeral, Charlie was badgering Mrs. David's brother to go out onto the lawn to kick a rugby ball with him. And wee Harriet, well, Sophie just seemed to take her under her wing. I don't really think the wee lass has taken it all in just yet. It's a blessing that all three are at the same school." She leaned across to Jane and said with a caring look, "Sophie will look after her, you can be sure of that."
Jane smiled and nodded. "Everyone plays a part in the healing process, Effie, not least you. You're as much a part of this family as any, and I know that everyone would have found it hard to cope without your being here."
The older woman went rather pink, not used to being praised quite so openly. She got up from her chair and cleared away the cups and saucers. "Och, we all do what we can under these kind of circumstances." She pulled open the dishwasher and started loading the racks.
Jane picked up the milk jug from the table and carried it over to the fridge, playing for time before asking the next question. "And what about David? How is he?"
Effie closed the door of the dishwasher and turned towards Jane. There was a moment's silence, an expression of concentrated bewilderment on her face as she tried to work out in her mind what to say. Then she just shook her head.
"I really canna tell, Mrs. Spiers. I mean, I have to say that he was wonderful as always wi' his children when they were home, playing tennis and fishing wi' them and all that, but even so, there always seemed to be something missing, as if he was only going through the motions. It was as if his mind was away somewhere else." She smiled at Jane and picked up a cloth from the sink and started to wipe absently at the draining-board. She stopped and nodded her head slowly. "Aye, now I think about it, it was the laughter that was missing." She looked across at Jane. "Maybe he's just finding it awful hard to concentrate properly on anyone but his wife. Dr. Spiers will no doubt have told you that he had nursed her entirely by himself since December." She turned away and looked out the window, and Jane heard her voice once again begin to falter. "I've a wee feeling that he was so devoted to her that some part of him died wi' her."
Jane went over to the little housekeeper and, putting her arm around her shoulder, gave it a comforting squeeze. "I can see that, Effie. I know that it must be really hard for you to talk about it, and I do appreciate you telling me." Jane felt that she had to break the melancholy of the conversation, and looked up at the clock above the Aga. "Heavens, it's half past four. I had no idea it was that late."
Effie turned from the sink, and on reaction looked up at the clock as well. "Och, Mrs. Spiers, what am I doin'? I shouldn't be going on so." She started to move towards the door, drying her hands on her apron. "Come on, I'll take you through to see Lady Inchelvie."
"Oh, please don't bother to do that," Jane said. "Look, I'll just show myself in. I'm sure that you've enough to do in here."
"Well, if you're sure. I'll have to be gettin' started on the potatoes for dinner. Lord Inchelvie has a meeting in the village tonight, so we'll be eating early."
"Absolutely. I've been enough hindrance to you." She walked over to the door of the kitchen, then turned to the housekeeper. "Keep your spirits up, Effie. You really are one of the mainstays of the household. Just keep being as cheerful as you always have been."
The volume of the television hit Jane as soon as she entered the drawing-room, the usually whispered tones of the snooker commentator sounding as though he were speaking through a megaphone.
"... and if he can get a good angle on the pink ball, that should be the third consecutive frame to Hendry."
The three black Labrador dogs, however, heard Jane's entry above the noise, and, looking in her direction, each let out a short bark before realizing that it was a familiar figure. They left their place in front of the blazing fire and trotted over, their backquarters slewing from side to side with delight.
"Hullo, boys," Jane said, reaching down to pat their heads.
At the far end of the room, a figure moved in the high-backed armchair in front of the television. "Is that you, Effie?"
Unable to move any closer due to the keenness of the dogs' welcome, Jane called out, "No, Alicia, it's me--Jane."
Alicia Inchelvie peered round the corner of the chair, bowing slightly to look over the top of her reading spectacles. "Jane! How wonderful to see you! What a lovely surprise!"
She turned the television off with the remote control and rose to her feet, pushing a large ball of red wool onto the ends of two enormous knitting-needles. "Dogs, go and lie down and let poor Jane get into the room!"
Alicia walked rather stiffly towards Jane, her spectacles, now dangling by a cord around her neck, swinging from side to side as she walked. She was a tall and erect figure, dressed in her customary elegance of a tweed skirt and cashmere cardigan, with her grey hair pulled tight and gathered in a comb at the back of her head. It was the first time that Jane had seen her since the funeral five weeks previously, and although Alicia's whole comportment belied her seventy-eight years, it was obvious that even that short intervening period had taken its toll. There was now a drawn look on her face, a look of total fatigue, one that Jane surmised as being brought about by Alicia's own inner conflict to keep her thoughts of loss and anguish under control, so that outwardly she could appear strong and supportive to the rest of her family.
Two of the dogs took immediate heed of their mistress's request to return to the fireside. The other, an old greying boy with opaque eyes and obviously fading hearing, continued to wag his tail and gaze up lovingly at Jane, impeding any attempt she made to move farther across the room. Alicia's voice rose a full tone.
"HORACE!" she yelled in the direction of the dog. "GO AND LIE DOWN BY THE FIRE." She gesticulated like a policeman on point duty, waving on the old dog with one hand and pointing with the other, still clutching the knitting-needles, in the general direction of the fire. Horace looked sideways up at his mistress, her voice now having penetrated his senses, and, unclear as to why she held aloft those menacing objects in her hand, he slunk sheepishly away to join his younger companions.
"I'm sorry," Alicia said. "Horace is almost totally deaf now, rather like me. Can't hear anything unless it's at full volume. How are you, my dear?" She met Jane half-way across the room and gave her a kiss on both cheeks. "Come and sit down by the fire. What a revolting day! Would you like a cup of tea? I've just had one, but let me call Effie--"
"No, don't worry," Jane interjected. "I've actually just had one with Effie in the kitchen."
Alicia looked at her, surprised. "Have you? How extraordinary; I never heard you come in. How long have you been here?"
"Oh, about three quarters of an hour. No, actually I did want to speak to Effie about something." She smiled knowingly at her friend. "At any rate, I didn't want to interrupt the snooker!"
"Ah, so she's been telling you about my secret addiction, has she?" Alicia said, sitting back down in her chair. "I must say I get totally mesmerized by it, and it's such a treat to see so many young Scots being rather good at a sport! Really makes one feel quite patriotic, although I'm sure that being good at snooker reveals a somewhat misspent youth!"
"Absolutely," said Jane. "Who needs exam results when you can make money potting balls!"
They both dissolved into laughter, and Jane immediately felt at ease, any fears of how the overriding gloom of present circumstances might have affected her long-time friend expelled from her mind. They were still very much on the same wavelength, still able to laugh together.
Alicia put on her spectacles again, uncoupled the ball of wool from the end of the needles and resumed her knitting. For a second there was silence, as if her thoughts were taken up on a different plane. Then she looked up and smiled across at Jane.
"It's lovely to see you, my dear. I really have missed you. As you can imagine, life hasn't been filled with a great many happy thoughts lately."
"I quite understand. I should have popped in before now, but I didn't want to intrude." Jane watched Alicia as she concentrated on her knitting. "What are you making?"
"Oh, just something that Sophie started during the last holidays. It seems to be the rage at her school to have a chunky sweater with huge arms that come down at least six inches over the hands." She looked at Jane over her spectacles. "The waif look, I think. I took her into Inverness to see if we could find one, but they were all dreadfully acrylic, so we ended up buying a pattern and this rather garish wool." Alicia held the shapeless garment up at arm's length and wrinkled up the side of her nose in an expression of uncertainty as to what the end result might look like. "I have a feeling that it might look a little better on a large male gorilla than on Sophie."
"Well," said Jane, "I'm sure that if Sophie doesn't like it, there would be a welcome recipient at Edinburgh Zoo."
"You're not meant to agree with me Jane," Alicia retorted, feigning hurt. "You're supposed to say something like `It's far too well-made for that!'" She laughed, then abruptly bundled knitting-needles, sweater, and ball of wool into one heap and threw it onto the sofa. "Anyway, I don't know why on earth I'm doing it when you're here. Come on," she said, getting up from her chair and manoeuvring her way through the prostrate dogs to put another log on the fire, "tell me what's going on in the outside world. I don't seem to have been in touch with anyone for so long."
It took Jane all of five minutes to fill Alicia in with the most important topics of local news: how the incessant rain had washed away part of the back road between Dalnachoil and Achnacudden, and how the local Territorial Army Brigade had come to the aid of the already overstretched roads division by erecting a temporary Baillie Bridge over the yawning gap; how Mrs. Mackenzie, the postmistress in Dalnachoil, had also been affected by the weather, bringing on a dreadful bout of arthritis which `literally ballooned up my ankles, Mrs. Spiers, and I have to serve all my customers sitting on a chair behind the counter wi' my bedroom slippers on'; how everyone in the village had been asking kindly after all those at Inchelvie. And finally she told Alicia about how the influenza bug had hit the local school, and how Roger had taken it upon himself to visit all the children at home, rather than risk its spread by treating them in his surgery.
Alicia looked concerned. "You know, my dear, that husband of yours works far too hard. I mean, he really should have retired last year, shouldn't he? Maybe that's a silly thing to say knowing that the prime reason he kept going was to look after Rachel, but now can't he get one of his younger partners to do all these house calls? They really are going to have to start coping without him."
Jane sat back in her chair and sighed. "Oh, I know, and don't think I haven't put that argument forward on more than one occasion. What makes it more difficult is that I do have one of his partners phoning me up every so often to ask if I could gently persuade Roger to call it a day. I'm really caught between the devil and the deep blue sea. Anyway," Jane said, sitting up and looking at Alicia, "we're both in the same boat at the minute, aren't we? Having husbands who should have retired but are still working?"
Alicia smiled. "You're right, but mine are more exceptional circumstances."
"Of course they are. Tell me, how is George?"
"Like everyone else around here--totally exhausted, even though I think he's actually secretly enjoying his return to active duty. Nevertheless, if you've been retired for ten years, suddenly to have to start working again really comes as a jolt to the system. Not that he's hugely overtaxed. The new managing director at Glendurnich, Duncan Caple, is doing a wonderful job running both the business and David's marketing division, but George just feels that as he's the chairman and major shareholder and David's father, he should give support where he can, especially as the whisky market seems to be in such turmoil at the minute. I don't really pretend to know that much about it now, but there do seem to be an ever-increasing number of licensed trade dinners and marketing launches that George has to attend on behalf of the distillery."
Alicia paused for a moment, placing her elbow on the arm of the chair and resting the side of her face in her hand.
"But do you know, Jane, what we both find so energy-sapping is having to go back to a hectic daily routine we thought we'd left behind years ago! Having to get up in the morning, having to get children ready for going back to school, and then having them here all the time meant that one was always on call to entertain them. Heavens, just before he went back to school, Charlie had me out on the lawn operating the clay-pigeon trap! Can you imagine it? I'm absolutely hopeless with mechanical devices, and he kept shouting at me, `Come on, Granny, you're useless!' as I launched off clays one after the other at about the level of his knees!" She laughed and sat forward in her chair. "Actually, come to think of it, this is about the first time that I've sat down and indulged myself for about a month!"
"Oh, I'm sorry, Alicia," said Jane, "and I come barging in and disrupt your peace."
Alicia waved her hand dismissively. "Don't be silly, my dear. This is exactly what the doctor ordered." She looked at Jane with a quizzical smile on her face. "Well, isn't it?"
Jane gave a surprised expression. "My word, that's intuitive of you." She smiled. "Of course, you're right; Roger did ask me to drop in to see you, just to find out how you all were. That's why I had a quiet word with Effie beforehand, just in case my timing wasn't very good." She paused for a moment. "She said that David is still keeping very much to himself."
"Yes, he is," Alicia said quietly. One of the Labradors had moved from his position by the fire and now lay at her feet, his head resting on her shoe. She bent forward and stroked his sleek black crown. "You know, the appalling thing about this whole affair is that he's going through something which neither you nor I have experienced. He has lost his life's partner. It's just so unfair." Alicia's tone had suddenly changed to one of anger and frustration. "Think of the many friends we have of our age who have lost their husbands or wives. That in a way is expected. But neither you nor I know what it's like, because it hasn't happened to us." She stopped talking and combed a loose strand of grey hair behind her ear with her fingers, her eyes looking at a point somewhere behind Jane's head. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean that. I think that that is the first time I've said it out loud. It's just that it makes me feel ... well ... so guilty."
"But that's natural," Jane said caringly. "The pain of losing someone close to you always seems to manifest itself in anger or guilt. But there is a positive side to it, and that is that David is extremely lucky, at forty-three years of age or whatever, to still have both his parents around to give their support. How could he have devoted so much time to looking after Rachel if you and George hadn't been there to pick up all the loose ends? Friends are great, but parents are better. And I'm sure that he's fully aware of that."
"I know, I know, but one just feels so useless. I wish that there was something, well, active that I could do to help him. If only he would let himself talk about it once in a while, but he just seems to bottle himself up. As far as I'm aware, he hasn't mentioned Rachel's name since the funeral. Outwardly, it's as if she never existed, but inwardly, I know he's in turmoil. It's a terrible thing to say, but sometimes I feel like grabbing the poor boy by the shoulders and giving him a jolly good shake." Alicia took a deep breath. "And then giving him a huge hug."
In the moment's silence that followed, Jane was aware for the first time of the wind and rain beating against the four large double-paned windows of the drawing-room. She looked over her shoulder and upwards at the black storm-clouds that spread themselves oppressively across the sky, and thought to herself how cruelly the elements accentuated the tragedy that had befallen this household. Her instincts told her that she shouldn't follow this line of conversation any further. Enough had been said for the moment, and it would serve no useful purpose to either Alicia or herself to continue it. She turned from the window and shook her head.
"Would you believe this weather for May?" She glanced up at the silver carriage clock on the mantelpiece above the fire. "It's only a quarter past five, and it's nearly dark." She did a double take. "Oh, my word, Alicia, a quarter past five! What am I thinking of?" She put her hands on the arms of the chair and pushed herself to her feet. "Poor Arthur has been sitting all this time in the back of my car, and I promised him that I would only be a moment. He'll probably have eaten his way through the dog rack by now."
Alicia rose stiffly from her chair. "My dear, you should have brought him in. The boys would have loved to have seen him."
"No, he would only have caused chaos. He's not as well-behaved as your dogs. Anyway, we had a lovely walk on the moor earlier on this afternoon, and he was soaking wet."
"Well, he's lucky to have such a devoted mistress to take him out on a day like this. I have to admit that I've been totally feeble. The boys' walk today consisted of my going to the front door, opening it and pushing them out for ten minutes. I am certainly not going out in weather like this!" Alicia went over to one of the windows and unhooked the cords that held back the huge room-high damask curtains. "And I really don't think that it is going to improve very much either. Better just to shut it out, don't you think?" she said, pulling the heavy curtains across the window.
Jane walked over to the middle window to do the same. As she unhooked the first cord, she looked out of the window at the darkness falling on the gardens of Inchelvie House. They were, even on this day, quite beautiful. Protected on either side by giant beech- and oaktrees, the long lawns swept majestically down to the dark frothy waters of the fishing-loch, their regularity split by meandering herbaceous borders with azaleas and rhododendrons in the early stages of bloom. Daffodils, still flowering due to the prolonged winter, bravely held their yellow heads high, a small splash of colour in defiance of the all-encompassing greyness of the day. To the right of the lawns, where two parallel paths ran between neat box hedges to the wall garden, Jane noticed that distinct changes had been made to the layout of the garden, the dark rich soil recently dug over to form two new flowerbeds symmetrical to those on the west side of the lawn. She was about to turn and remark on this to Alicia, when a movement in the flowerbed farthest to the right caught her eye. She pressed her face closer to the window, cupping her hands around her eyes to cut out the light from the drawing-room behind her.
"Alicia, there seem to be ..." Jane felt Alicia's arm brush hers as she came to stand beside her. She too cupped her hands over her face.
Alicia continued for her. "... two men standing out in the wind and rain digging holes in the garden and getting extremely wet."
"What are they doing?" She screwed up her eyes in an attempt to accustom her sight better to the fading light.
Alicia laughed. "My dear, don't you recognize them? It's David and Jock--you know, Effie's husband. They've been out there all day planting roses in that new flower-bed."
Jane turned and looked incredulously at Alicia. "In weather like this? What on earth for? They could end up catching double pneumonia if they're not careful."
"I tell you, it's more than my life's worth to try to stop them. For the past five months, that garden has been David's greatest therapy."
"Really? In what way?" Jane said, turning back to look out the window to where the two men were working.
Alicia drew one of the curtains across the window. "Do you remember when David gave up work at Glendurnich last December and moved Rachel and the family here from The Beeches after her first course of chemotherapy?"
"Yes, of course," Jane said, standing back from the window to allow the other curtain to be drawn across.
"Well, at that time George thought that it would be a good idea if David had something to occupy his mind, so he asked him to help look after the estate." Alicia moved away from the window and leaned against the back of one of the sofas, her arms stretched out at either side to support her. "Anyway, it became pretty clear to David that the farm manager was coping quite well without his input, and it just happened that while he was looking for some papers in the farm office one day, he unearthed these old plans of how the Inchelvie gardens looked when the house was first built. Apparently, some of the original flower-beds had vanished, I think probably sown out in grass about the time of the Great War, when manpower was scarce. So, on an impulse, David took it upon himself to reinstate the garden to its former glory, and that is where he has quite literally spent every free minute since. Whenever Rachel was receiving treatment in Inverness or just in the house asleep, David would head out to the garden, pore over his old drawings, and start digging away." Alicia laughed, raising herself from the back of the sofa. "Somewhere along the line, he roped in Jock to give him a hand. I don't think the old boy has ever worked so hard in his life."
They both walked over to the third window. It was now almost totally dark outside, but once again they cupped their hands around their faces to look out the window. The two figures had now moved closer to the house, and were dimly lit by the weak shaft of light that came from Jane and Alicia's window. David, bare-headed, with his hair plastered flat by the rain, stood talking to Jock, who, enveloped in a huge yellow fisherman's raincoat, peered from the shelter of an equally large sou'wester at the plastic-covered paper that David held in his right hand.
Alicia and Jane moved back from the window, both instinctively feeling that they didn't want to be caught looking out at the two men. Alicia turned and smiled at Jane. "The anger that that garden must have absorbed over the past five months has to be immeasurable."
She drew together the curtains of the remaining window and shut out the day.
Posted April 20, 2008
Posted November 16, 2001
We chose this book for our book club because we love Rosamund Pilcher's works. Sadly, we found her son's book trite and unrealistic. The characters evoked no sympathy from us, and the plot lines were completely predictable. In fact, we wondered why he bothered with some of his side plots as they were left dangling and unresolved. In his defense, we did enjoy his descriptions of Scotland, and we were able to appreciate the Scottish idiosyncracies. If you want to read a love story that engages and moves you, however, we suggest you read his mother's books.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted July 4, 2001
I have never read the works of this writer until now and I find this particular work engaging. While it isn't taxing, it is a good read. It was relaxing to read a good, short work of fiction without feeling controlled by it.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted February 28, 2000
I actually had my husband pick up this book we both assumed the 'R.' stood for Rosamund but it was Robin instead. Well, I thoroughly enjoyed the book. I thought he painted great pictures with his descriptions of scenes. Can anyone tell me if he will be writing another book any time soon????Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.