Lammas

Lammas by Shirley McKay Read Free Book Online

Book: Lammas by Shirley McKay Read Free Book Online
Authors: Shirley McKay
that,’ he said. ‘I am thirsty still.’
    â€˜Wait there, then.’ He was drinking good white wine, the most expensive kind, and Sliddershanks would want to have the sale. She filled another flask, from the coolness of the cellar, and brought it back to him.
    â€˜Drink with me.’
    â€˜I cannae do that, I am working,’ she said.
    â€˜Sit with me, then. Tell me what to dae for a broken heart. For a lassie as lovely as you has broken a few hearts, I doubt.’
    She laughed at his charm. The boy was quite fu’, and ought to go home. Where were his friends?
    Elspet glanced around. Marie was working the crowd, in the way that she did, a squeeze and a kiss and a slap. Her apron was fat with her purse. And all of her clients had drinks. She caught Elspet looking and winked. Elspet sat down. Her legs had grown tired, yet her heart brimmed with gladness and kindness. ‘Just for a moment,’ she said.
    She recognised his face; he was the lad who had clashed with Michael at the butts. He was lucky Michael was not here among the crowd. Michael was a man, and could hold his drink. He would have made mince of this boy.
    The thought of Michael made her strong and proud. She asked the boy, ‘Where is your lass?’
    He stared at her, mournful. ‘She left me.’
    â€˜Why did she do that?’
    â€˜Because I will not marry her.’
    â€˜Do you not love her?’
    â€˜I love her,’ he said, ‘with all of my heart. You cannot fathom how much.’
    She felt that she could. ‘Marry her, then.’
    â€˜Marry her, aye. It is not as simple as that.’
    The piper struck a tune.
    â€˜Dance with me,’ the boy said.
    â€˜I cannot.’
    â€˜I will teach you. I once saw a justice dancing naked in a court. Do you believe that?’
    â€˜I believe you saw it in a dream.’
    The young man stood up, finding his balance and dancing a jig, folding his limbs at her feet in an extravagant courtesy, making her laugh. ‘Jackanapes.’
    â€˜Ah, mistress cruelty, be kind.’
    â€˜Why won’t you marry her, then?’ Elspet asked.
    â€˜I cannot.’
    â€˜Why can’t you?’
    The question seemed to sober him, or else he did not to wish to take the matter further, for he turned his back. ‘Why are those people crowding at the pier?’
    â€˜The tumblers are going to walk across on ropes.’
    â€˜That is not so hard, with the basin filled with water. More hazardous to walk above the rocks.’
    â€˜It is harder than you think. The distance is quite far. And though the water here looks still, they walk close to the tide, and the current as it turns may catch and drag them out.’
    â€˜Piffle. For a fellow who has poise, as a fencer or a dancer, it is easily done. I could do it myself.’
    â€˜I’d like to see you try it,’ Elspet said.
    â€˜Well then, you shall. Send a man for Mary. She shall see it too.’
    The young man took off, with unexpected speed, making for the pier. Elspet cried, ‘Wait! Dinna be daft. What are ye thinking of, now?’
    She followed as well as she could, forcing her way through the crowd. She did not have to fear, for he had not travelled far when his stomach failed him. His limbs had buckled too, and he sat down on a stone. ‘I dinna feel well.’
    Elspet said, ‘Sit there, you loun, and drink in the air.’ She left him to feel sorry for himself, following the line to the far end of the pier. The balladeer was singing Quhy sowld not Allane honorit be? ‘Quhen he wes yung and cled in greene, haifand his air abowt his een.’ Surely, Elspet thought, that is Michael’s song.
    The crowd was urgent now. The young Egyptian boy had taken off his shirt, and his feet were bare. He wore a kind of hose, tight against the skin, with no flap or fold for the wind to catch, knotted round the waist with a piece of string. He was sweating, just a little,

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