Highlander’s Malicious Trap – Emilia C. Dunbar

Not again!” Caiome wailed as her father staggered through the door, singing a sailor’s shanty whose words were barely recognizable since he was so drunk. He weaved from side to side for a few steps before collapsing on the floor, groaning but still laughing. Caiome was holding her two-year-old sister Naomhan, who was mercifully sleeping, and looked helplessly at her brother Dugan. He made a growl deep in his throat and drew his foot back to kick his father’s prone figure, but before he could do so, Caiome pushed him away. “Why did you do that, Caiome?” he demanded. “He deserves a lot more than a kicking. He deserves a good beating, and if I had not been brought up to be a good Christian, I would have done it myself a long time ago!” Naomhan stirred in Caiome’s arms, and she made a soothing noise to quieten her. “He has not been the same since Mammy died,” she said sadly. “It is his broken heart that is making him do these things, and I am sure that after a while, he will stop.” Dugan laughed cynically. “Do you not know that this is a disease, Sister?” he asked. “This kind of gambling and drinking is not pleasant for him. He is not doing it because he enjoys it or finds comfort in it. He is doing it because it has become so necessary to him that he cannot stop. He is sick.

” Caiome stared at him and then at her father, who was now in a deep stupor. How had things become so bad? Her father, Alex Grant, had been a tradesman of the highest caliber, a carpenter of such talent that he was in high demand for the intricate carving of the finest quality furniture and even the bowsprits of ships. His fame had spread so wide that the king had asked him to work on some pieces for his royal palace, and he had been able to take on more apprentices and teach them his skills. Before long, he had a thriving business and built the family a handsome home in the better part of Glasgow, close to the shipyards. During this time, he had met and married a local beauty, Andrina Dunn, and shortly thereafter, Dugan was born, followed five years later by Caiome. Andrina had been plagued by miscarriages, and two years later, she had another. This weakened her to such an extent that when she became pregnant with Naomhan, she was too frail to survive the birth and died when the baby was three months old. Since then, Caiome and Dugan had been her parents because her father had been overcome with grief. His depression had led to drinking, the drinking had led to gambling, and now he was a shadow of the man he had once been. Dugan had been apprenticed to him and was showing the same talent as his father, but when Andrina died, Alex allowed the business to die too.

He lost commissions because he could not deliver work on time, and what he did was shoddy and unfinished. He could no longer teach his apprentices, and they left to find better work elsewhere. Dugan was too young to manage the business on his own, and when Alex Grant’s gambling and drinking began to consume him, it crumbled, leaving Caiome, Dugan, and Naomahn with no income or means of survival. Gradually they had been obliged to let go of the staff in their house, but since the house itself belonged to them, they thankfully still had a roof over their heads. Caiome had to clean and cook for her brother, sister, and father, as well as keeping the house in a reasonably tidy state and teaching Naomhan her letters and numbers. She had begun to take in sewing for a living just to put food on the table since Dugan’s wages were often frittered away by Alex, who was now wearing almost nothing. It was becoming harder and harder to make ends meet, and she was exhausted at the end of every day. Caiome was also losing weight and had begun to look haggard and worn, but no matter how weary she was, she could barely sleep properly, and worry was her constant companion. Tonight she looked down at her father’s sleeping form and felt nothing but contempt. Naomhan hardly ever heard a word of love from him and only knew him as a cold stranger, but with the innocence of childhood, she would feed on the crumbs he tossed to her and learn to love him anyway.

“What are we going to do, Dugan?” she asked her brother, desperate. Dugan gave an angry sigh. “Caiome, I do not care anymore,” he declared angrily. “Because of him”—he stabbed a finger at his father—“soon we will have to sell the house, or he will gamble it away, and then we will have no choice but to beg.” “Things will never be as bad as that,” she replied, wishing she felt as sure as she sounded. “Did you manage to get some food?” “A little,” he replied. He drew a linen pouch from his satchel and handed it to her. Inside were three small herrings and half a loaf of bread. “I traded with one of the fishermen,” he told her. “What did you give him?” she asked.

“My silver cross,” he said reluctantly. He held up a hand, anticipating her protest. “I know it was too valuable, but we have to eat, Caiome.” “I know,” she replied sadly, nodding. She looked hungrily at the fish. “I managed to pick some blackberries and hazelnuts, and Mistress McFine gave me some milk from her goat and a few eggs. We will have a fine supper tonight.” She looked down at the prone figure of her father on the floor. He was now snoring loudly and drooling. “What shall we do with him?” she asked.

Dugan glanced at his father in disgust, then turned his back on him. “Let him lie. Let him rot,” he said scathingly. “He is a waste of food, money, and air. We have no need of him.” A 1 lex Grant was dead. He had come home one night in such a state of inebriation that he could hardly walk, and had staggered into the front door of the family home, then fallen down and hit his head on the newel post of the staircase, cracking his skull instantly. He was not found until the following morning when Caiome came down to prepare his breakfast, and by that time, he was already cold and stiff. She knelt down beside him and felt for a pulse in his throat, but there was nothing. She had expected none.

He was utterly still, and his lips and fingertips were blue. His eyes were open and staring; she closed them with a shiver of disgust at the touch of his cold and waxy skin. Strangely, she felt nothing. He had been a poor father right to the end of his life, and now he had left them all but destitute. Caiome hoped that later on, she might experience some sadness and regret, some remnant of her former love for him, but as she went to get a sheet to cover the body, her immediate thought was of what would happen to the family now. At least we will not have to feed him or cope with any more of his gambling debts, she thought gratefully. However, the house they lived in belonged to him and would probably be ripped away from them at any moment. She had been thinking of leaving to find domestic work instead of straining her eyes and pricking her fingers doing the mending and sewing she did now, but if she did that, there would be no one to look after Naomhan since Dugan was always working, laboring in the docks every hour he could to bring in enough money to keep them all fed and clothed. Presently, Dugan clattered downstairs from his bedroom, humming a tune under his breath. He was always humming or whistling these days, mostly, Caiome thought, to keep his spirits up because there was precious little else he could do to keep himself happy.

He saw the body at once and strode towards it just as Caiome draped a blanket over it. He stared down at what was left of his father with utter contempt, then pulled the blanket back and spat on him. “Good riddance!” he growled and then made to turn away, but Caiome caught his elbow and turned him to face her. “You cannot say that about him!” she cried, shocked. “Whatever else he was, he was still our father.” “Hah!” Dugan said, his lip curling scornfully. “He was nothing but a waste of skin. He was absolutely no good to anyone, and we are better off without him. When was the last time that he earned any money that he did not waste on the turn of dice? He had a sickness, Caiome. I truly believe that.

He was nothing but a drain on the meager resources we have, and I am glad— yes, glad— that he is gone, and I hope he is roasting in hell.” Caiome was shocked, but only for a moment before her mind turned to practical matters. “Who is going to pay for his coffin?” she asked, bending down to pull the sheet back over her father’s face again. Dugan almost smiled. “Trust you to be practical,” he said, and then sighed. “You can sew him a shroud, and we can bury him in the garden with a few prayers. I will carve a cross for him as a grave marker. What more does he need? He will rot whether he is in a wooden box or a linen cloth.” “He needs God,” Caiome said firmly. “He needs a Mass.

No one is ever buried without a priest, and only pet dogs are buried in the garden, not people.” “We can invite Father Martin around to say a Mass,” he said, sighing in resignation. “But there is no money or time for anything elaborate, and he does not deserve it anyway. Even when he is dead, he takes the bread out of our mouths.” Then, with a last disgusted glance at his father’s corpse, he turned away and strode out of the front door. Caiome went to heat up some ale for herself and her sister, trying to think of a way to break the news of her father’s death to Naomhan. She had begun to weep, not out of grief, but out of fear. Even though her father had been utterly useless as a breadwinner, he had loved them in his lucid moments, and as she had pointed out to Dugan, he was the man who had sired them. Now a piece of their lives was missing that they could never replace. She laid her arms on the table, put her head upon them, and wept.

Father Martin had arrived to give the last rites to Alex Grant, and he looked pityingly at the shrunken figure who lay on the bed, already looking shriveled and yellow. The room was beginning to smell of the first faint whiff of decay, despite the freezing weather, and Caiome could not wait to be rid of the corpse, which was beginning to make her feel nauseous. Father Martin had experienced death so often before he could no longer smell it, and not a flicker of revulsion crossed his calm face. When the priest had finished his prayers, he crossed himself and turned to Caiome. “We can have the funeral tomorrow,” he said in his gentle voice. Caiome shook her head and shrugged helplessly. “I have no money for a plot of land or a coffin, Father,” she confessed. “Dugan has not the time to make a wooden box. He is working every hour God sends as it is. I have sewn Pa a shroud, and we will bury him here in the garden.

” Father Martin was a gentle old man, but now his brow clouded with anger. “I will not bury him in a shroud!” he cried, outraged. “He may have been a wastrel, but he was still a man, and he deserves some dignity. I know someone who will donate a coffin, and the church will forego the burial fee. I will not have him treated like a leper.” Caiome sighed with relief. She felt ashamed of accepting charity, but she had no choice. It was either do things this way or leave Alex Grant’s body in the woods for the wolves to eat. “The church does not take money in circumstances like these,” the priest said kindly. “Jesus himself was a poor man.

Be at ease, my girl. Your father will be taken care of.” As Caiome, Dugan, and Naomhan, the only three mourners who had come to the funeral, watched the coffin being lowered into the grave, Naomhan asked sadly, “He was our pa. What are we going to do without him?” At just under ten years old, Naomhan was still unable to grasp the concept of money and debt and knew her father only as the man who provided for them. Caiome did not wish to burden her with the truth and destroy all her illusions; she was too young and innocent. “I am taking in sewing and mending, and Dugan is working at the docks,” Caiome replied soothingly. “Do not fret, wee one. There is nothing to worry about.” Naomhan nodded, but she still looked anxious. Caiome felt altogether wretched.

She had lied to her small defenseless sister, who was utterly dependent on her. What if she could not put food on the table? What if something happened to Dugan? What if they were turned out of their house? She thought of a hundred different disastrous scenarios, each one worse than the last, ’til her head was aching. She prepared Naomhan’s dinner—a plate of porridge with a cup of milk and a bannock—then, when Naomhan had finished eating, tucked her into bed. Caiome had missed her own meal so that her sister could eat. She wished she could buy new clothes for Naomhan, who was growing so quickly that Caiome could not sew fast enough, as she had so much else to do. She had not been able to buy or make new clothes for Dugan or herself either. As soon as something tore or a hole was worn in it, it was immediately patched, darned, or resewn. Caiome had long since altered all the dresses she had worn as a little girl to fit Naomhan. Nothing ever went to waste, and thankfully her neighbors were kind and donated old clothes to her or gave her more work. Dugan mended furniture and made toys for the local children in the little spare time that he had, although he was often forced to rest before he dropped from sheer exhaustion.

They were all losing weight. When she was sure that Naomhan was asleep, Caiome went to search for Dugan. She found him in the garden chopping wood for the fire, and she offered him a goblet of ale. He looked at it greedily and then shook his head, knowing that it was the last of it. After this, it would be water.


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