The Fourth Crow

The Fourth Crow by Pat McIntosh Read Free Book Online

Book: The Fourth Crow by Pat McIntosh Read Free Book Online
Authors: Pat McIntosh
    ‘Euan had it,’ he said. ‘Deil kens what he was planning to do with it. Look at this, Maister Gil.’
    He dropped most of the tangle, in order to hold up one length. Euan, or one of his helpers, had cut the loops of rope to free the dead woman from the upright of the cross, and the knots were still present. But clearly to be seen were the kinks and curves of a previous knot, unpicked with care some time before the dead woman was bound in her place.
    ‘So was she freed, beaten, and tied up again?’ speculated Lowrie.
    ‘Mon Dieu!’
said Maistre Pierre. ‘Or was it not a new rope, perhaps?’
    ‘We need to check,’ said Gil. ‘It’s usually a new rope. This one has certainly been tied and untied once at least, I agree, Lowrie.’
    ‘Would the family tell us?’ Lowrie asked, colouring up at the commendation in Gil’s tone.
    ‘Lockhart, or the men—’ began Gil, and was interrupted. There was a sudden outbreak of shouting within the little chapel, the two women’s voices raised, one in anger, one protesting, the sound of a hearty slap. Gil, striding towards the discord, collided in the chapel doorway with the maidservant Meggot backing out.
    ‘I swear it, mistress!’ she was protesting, one hand nursing her ear, ‘it’s no her, it’s no our Annie! It’s some other woman, Our Lady kens who it is, but it’s never her!’
    ‘Fool of a lassie!’ Dame Ellen was in pursuit, hands reaching for her shoulders to shake her, ‘who else could it be? Barefoot in a sacking gown and bound to the Girth Cross, a course it’s Annie! No matter if her own mammy wouldny ken her face!’
    ‘What’s this?’ demanded Gil, and they both stopped to stare at him. ‘Is there some doubt about the corp?’
    ‘This gomeril—’ began Dame Ellen, and visibly controlled herself to assume her thin smile. ‘This foolish lassie tries to tell me—’
    ‘No, mistress, I swear it!’ said Meggot again. ‘It’s no her! It’s no Annie Gibb!’
    Beside the bier, despite the indignant comments of Dame Ellen, she offered more reasoned argument, lifting a lock of the corpse’s elbow-length mud-coloured hair.
    ‘Our Lady kens who she is,’ she said again, ‘but her hair’s away too long, maister, my mistress’s hair never came ablow her shoulder-blades, and see here,’ she pulled the hem of the penitential gown aside to expose the small bare feet, twisted sideways by the way the body had sagged in its bonds and somehow very pitiful, Gil thought. Meggot seemed to feel the same way, for she curved a gentle hand round one instep as she said, ‘See, this lassie’s gone barefoot the most o her days. Her feet’s hard as neat’s leather. Annie wears hose and shoon, I took them off her yestreen afore she— Afore she— What’s come to her, maister? Where is she? Is she deid, or hurt, or—?’
    ‘The lassie’s run mad like her mistress,’ declared Dame Ellen. ‘Who else could it be but Annie? Maister Cunningham, I think we need hardly trouble you wi this nonsense. We’ll get on wi our duty to the dead, if you’ll just leave us.’
    Gil considered the two women. Dame Ellen stood by the head of the bier, tall and indignant in the light of the candles. She was probably past fifty, dressed like any country lady in a plain gown of good woad-dyed homespun over a kirtle of a lighter blue, her head covered by a black Flemish hood. Wisps of grey hair escaped at her temples, and her face was lined and bony. Under his gaze she crossed her arms, hitching up a substantial bosom, and said, with an attempt at a complicit smile,
    ‘I’ve raised the lassie since she came into my brother’s house, how would I not know her when she’s come to be laid out?’
    ‘And I’ve served her and dressed her and put her stockings on these six year,’ retorted Meggot. She was shorter than Dame Ellen, a round-faced comfortable young woman in a side-laced kirtle, her shift rolled up over its short sleeves to expose capable hands and

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