“Someone’s gone to great pains to leave her comfortable.” Angus stared down at Anna. He was a church elder, and because of his wisdom, the unspoken head of the community. The ten minutes since Neil had arrived with his news had seemed an hour.
“Aye, they have indeed.” Duncan regarded the neatness of Anna’s grey drugget dress arranged modestly around her ankles, her folded hands lying across her abdomen. “It’s more than she deserved.”
“Hush now, Duncan, it’s bad luck to speak ill of the dead.”
“Yes, Duncan, she might come back and haunt you,” said Hector, his pale blue eyes quite serious.
“Och, Hector, you’re always thinking of ghosts.” Angus shook his grey head. “The poor thing probably has more to do than come back and haunt the likes of you.”
“She’s likely dancing in the hot place wishing for a bigger fan,” said Duncan.
A giggle erupted from Neil who had been hovering at the periphery of the small group of men. Angus looked hard at Duncan. “No more of that talk now, in front of children.” He squatted down beside Anna. “Is this the way you found her, Neil?”
“You didn’t touch her?”
“No, sir, only to shake her arm to see if she had just fallen asleep. She was stiff with the cold.”
Angus regarded Anna for another moment. “Help me turn her over, then.”
The three men knelt and turned her onto her left side. A small swarm of flies rose from their feast of sticky blood left on the pillow of yellow straw that had supported her head.
“It must have been someone who cared about her to take such trouble with her remains,” said Hector.
“Aye, it’s as if she was being put to bed,” agreed Angus.
“One more time,” said Duncan.
“Who’s going to tell Ian?” asked Hector.
“I will,” said Angus. “He’s my own cousin and we’ve known each other since we were schoolboys.”
“But we’re his cousins, too,” said Duncan.
“Nevertheless, I will tell him. You two will follow with Anna’s remains.”
“We need something to carry her on,” said Hector.
“There’s the door to Murdoch’s house that’s fallen in,” said Neil.
“Run, then, and be quick about it. Go with him, Hector, he’ll not be able to carry it by himself.”
Hector and Neil set out across the field where they had worked side by side with Ian only a few days before. The oats had been thick that summer and the straw had been plentiful, its shadowy roots home to field mice and grass snakes and crickets. Murdoch’s house had long stood vacant, its windows broken and its door fallen off its leather hinges. The roof had blown off in a winter gale three years ago and now the whole structure sat at a crazy angle not quite ready to fall into its cellar.
“You’re lighter than I am,” said Hector. “Go in and get the other end of the door, but mind where you step, it’s none of it very stable.”
The floor creaked and moved even under Neil’s slight weight. A few moments of careful manoeuvring freed the door from its bed of fallen rafters. In a few minutes Hector and Neil returned to the others.
Neil watched as Hector, Duncan and Angus loaded Anna’s remains onto the grey planks of the door. A smear of blood darkened the wood as they positioned her head for the journey home.
Hector shuddered. “Old Annie said this door would be smeared with the blood of the just.”
“Will you stop it, Hector,” said Duncan. “When did she say that?”
“The winter before Murdoch left for the Boston States.”
“That’s years ago, and Annie’s senile.”
“Not then she wasn’t. She said it as plain as day. I was there and I heard her.”
“And what did Murdoch think of all that?”
“There’s some say that’s the reason he left the Island.”
Anna Gillis, the midwife and neighbour in Mattie’s Story, has been found killed. The close-knit community is deeply shaken by this eruption of violence, and neighbours come together to help one another and to discover the perpetrator. But the answer lies Anna’s secret, long guarded by Old Annie, the last of the original Selkirk Settlers, and the protagonist of An Irregular Marriage. Join the community! Read Anna’s Secret and other novels by Margaret A. Westlie.
Genre – Fiction, mystery, historical
Rating – G
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