|photo by Darja Vorontova, Dreamstime|
If she had not been up early supervising Gil as he fired up the coal to heat the forge, she would not have seen Hepburn out of the corner of her eye as he lugged his satchel to the door. She snagged his sleeve just as he was sneaking out of the house like a common burglar. When she tugged at his garment he turned back to face her and rolled his eyes.
“I cannae stay here, Daisy.”
“And rather than to tell us to our faces you are stealing away like a house thief? We deserve better thanks than that, Will Hepburn!”
He shrugged his shoulders and shook his head. “I simply cannae stay here – not so much as another day. I dinnae belong here.”
“Does Uncle Melville snore that loudly?”
He set down his satchel but he did not let her drag him into the kitchen when she tried to make him stay.
“Not like this, Will Hepburn. Do not steal away without an explanation to return three years later with a new language on your tongue and a head filled with tales of foreign ports, but not a word between.”
“‘Tis unwise for me to stay, Lass. Comin’ was a mistake.”
He threw up his hands in frustration. Then he stooped to gather up his belonging and passed through the door while Daisy stood just inside the threshold and waited for the door to snick. Her stomach churned in a mix of fear and personal hurt. She who was always so impetuous and quick to act stood transfixed with no idea of what to do.
“If ya fetch him back, Sweetheart, you’d best be prepared to keep him,” Melville said from halfway down the stairs.
“I have no idea what you mean, Uncle, and I have no idea why he is leaving.”
“Then you are as dense as the metal of young Gilbert‘s anvil. And equally in need of a worthy hammering.”
She had not expected such a retort from Melville. She wanted to brush by him and close herself in her room to cry or perhaps throw herself on the floor in a screaming fit, but she did neither. She spun on her heels and headed out the door. By the time her slippers hit the cobbles, she was shouting like a she-devil and making windmills of her arms, dragging her lame left leg as best she could as she hustled down the street in Hepburn’s wake.
Her voice was loud enough to be heard at World’s End Close, the line of demarcation between the Canongate and Edinburgh.
“Damn you to hell, Will Hepburn!. Do not be taking so much as another step!”
He stopped in his tracks but he did not turn around until he heard the strange shuffle of her gimpy gait. He lowered his satchel to the cobbles and put his hands out to the side, but did not turn around until was certain there was no stopping her. Then he pivoted to face her, but he did not move to close the gap between them. Tears glistened in the sunlight and tracked through the dust on his cheeks. He tried to suppress them in a squint that failed.
“Do not dare walk away from me, ya coward!”
“You’ve got that right straight, ya have, Lassie.”
He had faced torture and death and been less terrified than he was of the feelings he had for the frenzied girl.
He winced as he watched her stumble forward on her damaged leg. If he had seen such determination in his adversaries in battles and brawls, he would have run away to hide. When she reached him, she clenched her fists and poised to strike him in the chest, but he was too fast for her. He grabbed both arms above the elbows and pulled her to his chest while she kicked him in the shins. The many citizens strolling down the Canongate to the palace stopped to gape. Some whistled while other cheered.
“Go back inside, Daisy. You’re making a spectacle of yourself,” he scolded, but his voice was not the least bit harsh. Daisy buried her face in his jack and began to sob.
“Hush, Lass,” he said as he stroked her hair. “Half of the Canongate is watchin’ us and thinkin’ we’re havin’ ourselves a lover’s quarrel.”
She raised her eyes to his, and her look conveyed a challenge that stunned almost as much as the words that followed:
“Are nae we?”
“I dinnae hear ya right.”
“Are nae we havin’ ourselves a lover’s quarrel, Will Hepburn?”
Her voice was strong, resolute. This time there was no mistaking her words. He pushed her far enough away so he could truly look at her, but he did not release her. For some reason, she was grinning.
“You’re supposed to be in love wi’ Ferniehirst.”
She refused to look away from his bewildered stare.
“Seems as we both were mistaken as tae the truth of that particular story, Mister Hepburn, but seeing as I have it sorted out, it would behoove ya to catch up.”
“Nay, not Andrew. Some other bonehead of my acquaintance.”
The crowd had not thinned and someone cheered when she stumbled back into his arms. It sounded as if some among the bystanders were placing bets.
Will kissed her forehead, but she did not seem content to settle for anything that ambiguous. She locked her hands behind his neck and kissed him soundly on the mouth while the assembled gawkers gasped. Hepburn was in no hurry to break it off, but eventually he had to breathe. He raised his hands at the elbows in a gesture of surrender that drew hoots from the crowd.
“If we keep this up much longer, someone will be hawking cakes and ale to the bystanders. ‘Tis time to take this show inside,” he said. He gathered her under one arm and hoisted his satchel to the other and smiled broadly at the cheering crowd.
A voice in the throng called out: ‘Awrite, Friends. I’m betting on the bonnie little wadwife. Who’ll be betting on the browdinstair?”
Hepburn gave a departing wave to the crowd. He was in a desperate hurry get back inside the house.
“Good thing I left the door ajar,” Daisy said before she slammed it shut behind them.