Death of a Dreamer: A Hamish Macbeth Mystery
The rugged landscape of Scotland attracts dreamers who move north, wrapped in fantasies of enjoying the simple life. They usually don't last, but it looks as if Effie Garrard has come to stay. When Constable Hamish Macbeth calls on her, he's amazed that she weathered the difficult winter. But Effie is quite delusional, imagining that she's engaged to local artist Jock Fleming. Later, Effie is found in the mountains, poisoned by hemlock.
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Death of a Dreamer
By M.C. Beaton
Mysterious PressCopyright © 2006 Marion Chesney
All right reserved.
Chapter OneSo, if I dream I have you, I have you,
For, all our joys are but fantastical. -John Donne
It had been a particularly savage winter in the county of Sutherland at the very north of Scotland. Great blizzards had roared in off the Atlantic, burying roads and cottages in deep snowdrifts. Patel's, the local grocery shop in the village of Lochdubh, sold out of nearly everything, and at one point it was necessary for rescue helicopters to drop supplies to the beleaguered inhabitants.
And then, at the end of March, the last of the storms roared away, to be followed by balmy breezes and blue skies. The air was full of the sound of rasping saws and the thump of hammers as the inhabitants of Lochdubh, as if they had awakened from a long sleep, got to work repairing storm damage.
The police station was comparatively sheltered below the brow of a hill and had escaped the worst of the ravages of winter. Police Constable Hamish Macbeth found that the only thing in need of repair was the roof of the hen house.
Archie Macleod, one of the local fishermen, went to call on Hamish and found the lanky policeman with the flaming red hair up on top of a ladder, busily hammering nails into the roof of the hen house.
"Fine day, Hamish," he called.
Glad of any diversion from work, Hamishclimbed down the ladder. "I was just about to put the kettle on, Archie. Fancy a cup of tea?"
"Aye, that would be grand."
Archie followed Hamish into the kitchen and sat at the table while Hamish put an old blackened kettle on the wood-burning stove.
"Got much damage, Archie?"
"Tiles off the roof. But herself is up there doing the repairs."
Hamish's hazel eyes glinted with amusement. "Didn't feel like helping her, did you?"
"Och, no. The womenfolk are best left on their own. How have you been doing?"
"Very quiet. There's one thing about a bad winter," said Hamish over his shoulder as he took a pair of mugs down from a cupboard. "It stops the villains driving up from the south to look for easy pickings in the cottages."
"Aye, and it keeps folks sweet as well. Nothing like the blitz spirit. How did that newcomer survive the winter, or did herself take off for the south?"
The newcomer was Effie Garrard. Hamish had called on her last summer when she first arrived, and had been sure she would not stay long. He put her down as one of those romantic dreamers who sometimes relocate to the Highlands, looking for what they always describe as "the quality of life."
"I sent gamekeeper Henry up to see her last month, and he said the place was all shut up."
The kettle started to boil. As he filled the teapot, Hamish thought uneasily about Effie. He should really have called on her himself. What if the poor woman had been lying there dead inside when Henry called?
"Tell you what, Archie. I'll take a run up there and chust see if the woman's all right." The sudden sibilance of Hamish's highland accent betrayed that he was feeling guilty.
That afternoon, Hamish got into the police Land Rover, fighting off the attempts of his dog, Lugs, and his cat, Sonsie, to get into it as well. "I'll take you two out for a walk later," he called.
He saw the Currie sisters, Nessie and Jessie, standing on the road watching him. The car windows were down, and he clearly heard Nessie say, "That man's gone dotty. Talking to the beasts as if they were the humans."
Hamish flushed angrily as he drove off. His adoption of the cat, a wild cat, had caused a lot of comment in the village, people complaining that it was impossible to domesticate such an animal. But Sonsie appeared to have settled down and had showed no signs of leaving.
Effie Garrard had bought a small one-storey cottage up in the hills above Lochdubh. It had a roof of corrugated iron, stone floors, and a fireplace that smoked. When Hamish had first visited her, he found her to be a small woman in her forties, sturdy, with brown hair speckled with grey, a round red-cheeked face, and a small pursed mouth. She had gushed on about the majesty of the Highlands and how she planned to sell her "art works" in the local shops.
If she were still alive, and he hoped to God she was, he expected to find that she had packed up and gone, all her fantasies of a highland life shattered.
But as he approached her cottage, he saw smoke rising up from the chimney. Maybe she had sold it to someone else, he thought, and because of the rigours of the winter which had kept most people indoors, he hadn't heard about it.
But it was Effie herself who answered the door to him. "You should really get the phone put in," said Hamish. "Something could have happened to you during the winter, and we'd never have known if you needed help."
"I've got a mobile."
"Does it work up here? There still seem to be blank spots all over the Highlands."
"Yes, it works fine. Are you coming in for tea?"
"Thanks." Hamish removed his cap and ducked his head to get through the low doorway.
The living room and kitchen combined had a long work table with a pottery wheel on it. On the table were a few vases and bowls glazed in beautiful colours.
"Yours?" asked Hamish, picking up a little bowl of sapphire blue and turning it around in his fingers.
"Yes. Mr. Patel has taken some, and the gift shop at the Tommel Castle Hotel has taken a good few more. I didn't do any business during the winter because of the bad weather, but I'm hoping for sales when the visitors come back."
There were paintings of birds and flowers hanging on the walls, each one an exquisite little gem. Hamish was beginning to revise his opinion of Effie. She was a talented artist.
"I'm surprised you survived the winter up here," he said.
"I didn't need to. Coffee or tea?"
"Coffee would be grand. Just black. What do you mean, you didn't have to?"
"I went to stay with my sister in Brighton, and so I escaped the worst of it. Do sit down and don't loom over me."
Hamish sat down on a hard chair at a corner of the work table while she prepared coffee. "Odd," he said. "I thought the Highlands would have driven you out by now."
"Why? This is the most beautiful place in the world."
Yes, thought Hamish cynically, if you can afford to get out of the place for the winter.
Aloud, he said, "Oh, I put you down as one of those romantics."
"There is nothing up with being romantic. Everyone needs dreams. Here's your coffee."
Hamish looked at the little blue bowl. "That bowl. Is it for sale?"
"Fifty pounds!" Hamish stared at her.
"It's a work of art," she said calmly. "Fifty pounds is cheap at the price."
A hard businesswoman as well, thought Hamish. Still, it meant he had been wrong about her. Romantically minded newcomers had caused trouble in the past.
In April there was one last blizzard-the lambing blizzard, as the locals called it-and then the fine weather returned, and by June, one long sunny day followed another. Memories of the black winter receded. It stayed light even in the middle of the night. Amazingly, for Hamish, there was still no crime, not even petty theft.
He was strolling along the waterfront one fine morning when he was stopped by a tall man with an easel strapped on his back who said he was looking for accommodation.
"I don't think there's a place here with a studio available," said Hamish.
The man laughed. "I'm a landscape painter. I work outside." He thrust out a hand. "I'm Jock Fleming."
"Hamish Macbeth. You could try Mrs. Dunne along at Sea View, just along the end there. You can't miss it."
Jock looked down at the dog and the cat, waiting patiently at Hamish's heels. "That's an odd pair of animals you've got there," he said.
"They're company," said Hamish dismissively.
"Really? It's a good thing I'm not superstitious, or I'd be crossing myself," said Jock with an easy laugh. "A wild cat and a dog with blue eyes!"
Hamish grinned. He took an instant liking to the artist. He was a powerful man in, Hamish judged, his early forties with shaggy black hair streaked with grey. He had a comical, battered-looking face and seemed to find himself a bit of a joke.
"When you've got settled in," said Hamish, "drop by the police station and we'll have a dram."
"Great. See you."
Hamish watched him go. "Well, Lugs," he said. "That'll be one incomer who won't be any trouble at all."
Hamish was disappointed as two days passed and Jock did not call for that drink. But on the third day, as he walked along the waterfront in the morning, he saw Jock at his easel, surrounded by a little group of women.
Walking up to the group, Hamish said, "Move along, ladies. The man can't do any work with you bothering him."
"I don't mind," said Jock cheerfully. "I like the company of beautiful ladies."
Freda, the schoolteacher, giggled and said, "He's giving us lessons. Why don't you run along, Hamish?"
"Yes," agreed Nessie Currie. "Go and catch a criminal or something."
"I'll see you later for that dram, Hamish," called Jock as Hamish walked off.
I hope that one isn't going to turn out to be a heartbreaker, thought Hamish. He decided to visit Angela Brodie, the doctor's wife.
The kitchen door was open, so he walked straight in. Angela was sitting at her kitchen table at her computer. She looked up when she saw Hamish and gave a sigh of relief, pushing a wisp of hair out of her eyes.
"I can't get on with this book, Hamish," she complained. "When the first one was published, I thought I was all set. But the words won't come."
"Maybe you're trying too hard."
"Maybe. Let's have coffee."
Angela's first novel had been published the previous autumn. Reviews were good, but sales were modest.
"The trouble is I am damned as a 'literary writer,'" said Angela, "which usually means praise and no money."
"Perhaps something in the village will spark your imagination," said Hamish, covertly shooing two of her cats off the table where they were trying to drink the milk out of the jug.
"Like this artist fellow. Seems to be a big hit with the ladies."
"Oh, he jokes and teases them. But I can't see anyone falling for him."
"In a funny kind of way, there's nothing about him that gives any of them the come-on. He's just a thoroughly nice man."
"Painting any good?"
"He's just started, but I looked his name up on the Internet. He's considered to be a very good landscape painter. He paints pictures in the old-fashioned way, and people are going for that. I think they're moving away from elephant dung and unmade beds or whatever the modern artist has been exhibiting at the Tate. I don't think he's going to cause any dramas. Where are your animals?"
"I left them playing in the garden."
"Don't you find it odd that a dog and a wild cat should get on so well?"
"Not really. A relief, if you ask me. If Lugs hadn't taken to the cat, I'd need to have got rid of it."
"Be careful, Hamish. It is a wild cat, and they can be savage."
"I don't think there's such a thing as a pure wild cat any more. They've been interbreeding with the domestic ones for years. When I found Sonsie up on the moors with a broken leg, I didn't think the beast would live. Someone had been mistreating that animal. I'd dearly like to find out who it was."
"Maybe it just got caught in a trap."
"I've a feeling Sonsie had been kept captive somewhere."
"Here's your coffee. Is Effie Garrard still around?"
"Yes. I visited her the other day and asked around about her. Patel is selling her stuff, and so is the gift shop up at the Tommel Castle Hotel. She does charge awfy high prices."
"Are you going to the ceilidh on Saturday?"
"I might drop in."
"You'll need a ticket. Five pounds."
"Five pounds! What on earth for?"
"The church hall needs repainting."
"I thought some of the locals would have done that for free."
"Oh, they are. But it's to raise money for repairs to the roof, paint, and new curtains."
"And what would I be getting for five pounds?"
"A buffet supper. The Italian restaurant is doing the catering."
"That's decent of them. I'll go."
"You must be getting very bored," said Angela, putting a mug of coffee in front of him. "No crime."
"And that just suits me fine. No crime now and no crime on the horizon."
Effie Garrard was a fantasist. Dreams were as essential to her as breathing. While Hamish sat in the doctor's wife's kitchen drinking coffee, Effie approached the village of Lochdubh, wrapped in a dream of attending her own funeral. Villagers wept, the piper played a lament, famous artists came from all over to give their eulogies. She had decided to walk instead of taking her car because the day was so fine. The twin mountains behind the village soared up to a clear blue sky. Little glassy waves on the sea loch made a pleasant plashing sound as they curled onto the shingly beach.
A pleasurable tear ran down Effie's cheek, and she was wondering just how long she could stretch out this splendid dream when she saw Jock at his easel.
Her dream bubble burst as she experienced a jealous pang. She wanted to be the only artist in Lochdubh. Probably some amateur, she thought, approaching him. Jock's coterie of admiring women had left for dinner-dinner in Lochdubh still being in the middle of the day, except in posh places like the Tommel Castle Hotel.
Effie stood behind him and studied his work. His colours were magnificent. He had caught the purplish green of the forestry trees on the other side of the loch, and the reflections in the glassy loch had been painted by the hand of a master.
She did not want to interrupt him, but he turned round and smiled at her. "Grand day," said Jock.
"Oh, please go on. I'm an artist myself, and I hate to be interrupted," said Effie.
"I don't mind. I was just about to take a break. What do you do?"
"Small pictures of birds and flowers, and I'm a potter as well." She held out her hand. "Effie Garrard."
"I'm Jock Fleming. Wait a bit. I saw some of your pottery at the gift shop up at the hotel. You're very talented."
"Thank you. I live up in the hills above the village. Drop in on me any time you like."
"I'll do that."
Jock smiled at her again.
Effie gazed up at him in a dazed way. "Come now," she said.
"Can't. I promised the policeman I'd drop in for a dram."
"I know Hamish. I'll come with you."
"Not this time. It's man's talk. But I'll see you around."
Effie retreated, cursing herself. She had been too pushy. But she would act differently the next time. And, oh, there would be a next time. She hardly noticed the walk home. This time she was at her own wedding with Jock at her side. The church bells rang out over Lochdubh, and the villagers threw rose petals. "I loved you that first moment I saw you," Jock murmured.
"Oh, it's yourself," said Hamish, letting Jock into the kitchen. "Where's your stuff?"
"In my car."
"You surely didnae drive the few yards from Mrs. Dunne's?"
"No, but it's a good place to put my paints when I'm taking a break."
"Sit down," said Hamish. "I'll get the whisky out."
Jock looked around the kitchen. It was a narrow room with cupboards and fridge along one wall and a wood-burning stove, which was sending out a blast of heat.
"I'm surprised you've got the fire on today," said Jock.
"It's got a back boiler. I'm heating up water for a shower."
"Wouldn't it be easier to have an immersion heater?"
"Thae things cost a mint." Hamish put a bottle of whisky, a jug of water, and two glasses on the table. "Besides, it'll be a long time afore we see a summer like this again."
He poured out two measures. "Water?"
"Just a splash."
Hamish sat down opposite him.
"Where are your animals?" asked Jock.
"Somewhere around," said Hamish, who had no intention of telling his visitor that the dog and the cat had eaten well and were now stretched out on his bed. The Currie sisters had started telling him he was behaving like an old maid. Even Archie Macleod had commented the other day that it looked as if Hamish was married to his dog and cat.
"How's the painting going?" asked Hamish.
"It was going fine until I got interrupted by a pushy woman."
"Mrs. Wellington, the minister's wife?"
"No, another artist. Effie Garrard."
"That quiet wee thing. I'd never have thought of her as being pushy."
"Oh, maybe I'm being hard on the woman."
"How pushy?" asked Hamish with his usual insatiable highland curiosity.
"Let me see.
Excerpted from Death of a Dreamer by M.C. Beaton Copyright © 2006 by Marion Chesney. Excerpted by permission.
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