After two weeks of suspense, “Different truths,” chapter 13 of The Dragon Lady of Stockbridge finally reveals what happened when the parson put a gun to Rebecca’s head. It’s a long chapter, by the way, about twice as long as usual, so plan your time accordingly. And if you haven’t started reading this tale told in weekly installments, you can start reading here.
Below is the third of the drawings of Rebecca’s dragon-headed walking stick, done by E. J. Barnes. (Keep in mind that these three drawings are the property of E. J. Barnes, and should not be reproduced without her permission; contact instructions are on her website here.)
I’ve added a smaller version of this drawing to decorate the Dragon Lady‘s table of contents.
Just as happens at the Double Eagle Hotel in this chapter, I’ve stayed at an inn where the more favored guests ate dinner at the main table, while less favored guests ate at a smaller table. It was in Scotland, in the Hebrides. I was on vacation, doing the “ancestor trip.” Many Americans feel this need to connect to their family’s history by going to visit the countries from which their ancestors had come. I was one of them. My mother had come from a town in Scotland called Milngavie, not far from Glasgow. But there was no way I was going to go visit just Milngavie, which is not a very remarkable town. I wanted to sample the historical and scenic highlights of the entire country, which is why I was staying for a few days at a bed and breakfast inn out in the Hebrides, the islands off the west coast of Scotland. The inn was an old Georgian house that had been renovated and expanded when the family made a great deal of money in the indigo trade in the Victorian era. Part of the renovations included adding a tower. Much to my initial delight, my room was in the tower. My delight was diminished when I saw that the room was barely large enough for the bed, and that the bathroom was down the stairs, down a hallway, down a step, and along another hallway. Still, it was a tower room, and between that and the view from the windows, I was content.
Apart from an American family that left the day after I arrived, the guests were British or Western European. It made for interesting conversation at the main dinner table. That the central ornament on the table was a stuffed ram’s head played a surprisingly small role in the conversation.
You can imagine my surprise and distress when the owner came to me the next day and told me that I had been banished to the smaller table. Naturally, I asked why. He replied, “The French couple could not understand a word you said.”
They couldn’t understand a word I said? Me? I’m a New Englander, but I don’t have much of an accent. There was a couple there from the Orkneys (the island group just north of mainland Scotland) whose accent was so thick even I had trouble making out what they said. And yet the French couple objected to me? I had to wonder if it was something I had said, as opposed to how I had said it, and my host was being polite. Or maybe my accent sounded too strange to people who expect to hear BBC-accented English. Or it might have been that I talk fairly quickly. In any case, I was banished to the small table for the rest of my stay.
My troubles were not over. I was sitting in the parlor, updating my travel journal and watching it rain outside. The owner was tidying up, when he discovered that one of the old chairs in the parlor had been broken. He asked me if I knew anything about it. I told him it had broken when the husband in the American family, who had just left, had sat in it last night. He grumbled that the man had not bothered to tell him, and that this was far too typical of American guests, that things tended to be damaged or go missing when American guests were around.
OK, I was now twice in the dog house. I somehow offended due to my speech, and I was an American who had just helped demonstrate just how inconsiderate Americans are. What else could go wrong?
Wouldn’t you know, my host found the one other topic that could cause a problem. No, not politics. History. Scottish history. Scottish clan history. He was curious as to just what I was doing in Scotland, as I didn’t fit the usual categories of Americans he got. (Apart from thieves and vandals, that is.) So he asked me what brought me there.
My heart sank, and I tried to give as general an answer as possible. “Some of my family came from Scotland.”
“Oh, what was their family name?” he asked.
I thought I might pretend to a coughing fit that would end in my apparent death, but decided that would lead to too many complications. Time for courage! “Oh, Campbell.”
Now my host was a MacDonald, and the MacDonalds and the Campbells have a famous feud that goes back centuries. The MacDonalds once controlled the Hebrides and the adjacent coastal lands on mainland Scotland. Then these upstart Campbells, who were such Johnny-come-latelies that they didn’t even have a legendary ancestor, pushed the MacDonalds and several other clans aside in bloody conflicts, seizing many of their lands and making the Campbells a leading power in Scotland. And some Scotsmen remember these things.
My host was one of them. He looked at me and said, “You know what my mother told me?”
I did not, but thought that saying so was not going to win his favor. In fact, I had the uncomfortable feeling that I was about to find out, willy-nilly.
Taking my silence for acquiescence, he continued, “Never trust a Campbell. The name means ‘liar’ in Gaelic.”
Well, that’s a somewhat prejudiced translation, but, yeah, there’s something to it. I was tempted to reply that the MacDonalds had their name because otherwise they wouldn’t know who their father was, but thought better of it.
We continued in uneasy silence thereafter. He had run out of ways to condemn me, short of asking about my religion, and was perhaps afraid that I’d turn out to be a Free Presbyterian who thought him dreadfully slack. I did not feel like provoking him further as he picked up around the place, lest he take up the fireplace poker and do me in.
Finally, he was finished and asked me if I wanted any refreshments. I allowed as I was not hungry, but some Scotch whiskey would be a delightful afternoon treat. He ran through the list of what they had. I picked the Lagavulin, a whiskey made in the Hebrides. At my choice, his face lit up. I had chosen well. He complimented me on my good taste in Scotch, and I never got anything but a smile from the owner thereafter. Except, of course, he did get me the Scotch!