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“She’ll have to be told, the poor wee lassie.”
The man who spoke stood with his back to the room, as if surveying the leaden waters of the Clyde. The river was barely visible in the late-afternoon gloom, although a creamy wake on the murky surface revealed traffic on the water.
“Her father’s death was a misfortune, to be sure. Timely or untimely, we all face our end. As the Good Book says, the soul that sinneth, it shall die.” He exhaled heavily. “But this…”
Euan Sinclair strained to hear, for the speaker continued to address the river. Words surfaced at intervals, words laden with regret and pronounced in a manner that contrasted with the measured, matter-of-fact exposition of the terms of James Carrick’s last will and testament. Deplorable…legally binding…regrettable… as if their interjection absolved the speaker of any personal responsibility in the matter. His muffled voice and bowed head echoed his distaste for the subject-matter.
He stopped speaking, rounded on Euan, and glared at him under bushy grey eyebrows.
“ I leave it in your hands. Better to tell her at the house.”
“But, Mr Murchison, sir—” Euan stifled his instinctive protest. As the newest and youngest member of staff, he was in no position to challenge his employer’s authority.
“What, laddie? Do you no want to do it? Are you telling me yon fine training in Edinburgh was a waste of time? The law is a messy business at times, your tutors must have told you that. Messy indeed. We cannae wash our hands of its less pleasant aspects.”
Yet the look he gave Euan was not unkind. “You and she are of an age. She’ll take it better from you.”
Euan’s alarm got the better of him. “Has Miss Carrick no female relations? Should we not use some older lady as an intermediary?” Although he had been told Meredith Carrick was 26, and it was the custom to consider that any female still unmarried by the age of 25 had attained her independence, the news he had to carry was shocking indeed. Miss Carrick led a sheltered life as her father’s housekeeper. What if she fainted, or fell into hysterics? He shuddered at the thought. He had no sisters and no idea how he would cope.
The older man waved a hand in a gesture of dismissal. “Away with you. Away and explain her father’s will to her. Explain how your fancy, Frenchified, Edinburgh ideas infected James Carrick.” Having delegated the distasteful task, Murchison was eager to be rid of Euan. He strode to the door to open it. “A sorry business indeed, when a sound man loses his reason.”
Euan however stood his ground. “If you refer to my politics, sir, I have given you no cause for complaint. My work here has never suffered.”
“Edinburgh flim-flam! Radicalism! Striplings playing at revolution with fine rhetoric and empty words.” The older man seemed to have forgotten that he had completed his law degree at Edinburgh University, as had all Scots lawyers. “Words are no protection against swords, laddie. The meanest labourer in Glasgow knows that, even if your fine Edinburgh society does not.” Civic pride infused his voice with power and resonance. “Here in Glasgow, we have our feet on the ground. It was our city and our trade that laid the foundations for Scotland’s wealth.”