Monarch of the Glen: The Coming of Lexie
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"You lyin', schemin' little cow!" said her mother's hard edged, Glasgow accented voice. "Ye're just jealous, that's all it is with you, Alexandra! Jealousy and wishful thinkin'! He's my man. You leave him alone, you hear? Anyway, why'd he want to shack up with a skinny wee kid like you when he could have a real woman?" With a vindictive, jealously laden push, Pamela left the room and her daughter turned...
...and opened her eyes. A gasp of relief escaped Lexie as she realised it had only been a dream. She wasn't with her mother and her slimy boyfriend. The conversation she had relived so vividly in her sleep had taken place some two years previously, when she had been fifteen, and by now Lexie felt that she was experienced in finding her own way and living alone, with no contact with either parent or any other family.
And that was just how she liked it, wasn't it? She was her own girl, her own woman, and she needed no-one!
With this defiant mental assertion, the seventeen year old sat up in her narrow hostel bed and grimaced at the sight of the dingy room that had been her home for two months now. With every day, she hated it more, but the wages she was paid by the restaurant where she worked under the glorified title of 'assistant chef' did not pay her enough to sustain more luxurious surroundings. Now she did not even have that- she was 'surplus to requirements' and had been 'let go' the day before.
Sighing, the girl flung back the thin covers, supplemented by a gaudy throw that she had bought for herself- if only to satisfy her passionate love of colour and pattern in otherwise dreary surroundings- and rose to her feet. She crossed the room to retrieve from the small cupboard a rather worn wash bag and a threadbare towel. More surprisingly, she also reached for a bottle of Flash bathroom disinfectant and a cloth, and only then left her little room for the communal shower rooms down the corridor.
This was the bit she loathed. In spite of her troubled upbringing- or, perhaps, because of it- Lexie was a born housekeeper. The sight of the grotty, hair-plugged, lime scaled showers never failed to make her stomach flip in an instinctive and involuntary expression of revulsion. Thus the cleaning gear. Grimly, she set to work at cleaning the shower head and tap, and doing the best she could with the floor- which, admittedly, wasn't much.
That done, she undressed swiftly and flipped her pajamas and towel over the door rail, and stood under the shower head, and turned the tap. She was greeted with a shocking deluge of cold water, and Lexie gasped, but managed to retain enough presence of mind to quickly step aside from under the water fountain- just in time to avoid the subsequent burst of scalding hot liquid.
After standing shivering for the moment, the temperature stabilised enough to be bearable, and Lexie scrubbed herself clean with a vehemence that left her skin looking red and raw. Nearly sobbing from accumulated frustration, she finally turned off the shower jet and dried herself as well as she could before returning to her room to change. The landlady was apt to be unpleasant about drips of water on her floor, and Lexie had already fallen foul in this respect more than once.
It was the work of moments to dress, and Lexie moved towards her bed in order to make it, but stopped dead and went to the window instead. She opened the window and leaned out to breathe, feeling suddenly suffocated, and as she took a deep breath of the comparatively fresher air of an April morning, she made a decision that would change her life forever. She was tired of boarding houses; tired of Glasgow; tired of the city and the dangers that lurked in every street. She wanted to get as far away as she could- as far away as her limited funds would allow.
This decision made, Lexie packed up her few possessions into her rucksack. A certain amount went into the bin, but there was one apparent piece of rubbish that she packed with care- a picture drawn in a childish hand of a turreted castle, with the name 'Alexandra' emblazoned below. A silent and constant reminder of what appeared to be an increasingly foolish childhood dream- to be a princess, and live in a great castle...
Ready at last, Lexie marched downstairs and went to reception to hand her keys in. The hard-faced woman with purple hair and narrow eyes raised an eyebrow.
"Goin', are ye, Lexie? I thought I had ye for keeps!"
The woman's tone was slightly regretful, but Lexie did not allow it to turn her from her resolution. She knew what caused the woman's regret- the many hours she had spent cleaning this hostel in lieu of rent- sometimes on an empty stomach, tired and exhausted from a long day at work. With her departure, the landlady would lose a free maidservant, so now Lexie smiled a smile redolent of irony rather than courtesy, and turned to leave the hostel- for good, she sincerely hoped.
It was a good half hour's walk to Glasgow's Central Station, but this Lexie did not mind. She had always enjoyed walking, and this part of Glasgow was becoming a vibrant and international city, and appealed to the colourful side of Lexie's nature.
A part which had long been suppressed; a young girl alone in the city- especially the part behind the University of Strathclyde's dramatic centre- learned early that to wear the revealingly cut and brightly hued clothes she loved was to invite unwanted male attention and perhaps worse, so she had abandoned her beloved crop tops and instead wore plainly knitted jumpers, warm fleeces, and jeans which did their utmost to disguise the curves of her slim figure.
"What do you want, lassie?" mumbled the girl at the ticket kiosk, her hair dyed to match her bright red lips.
"How far will £30 take me from here?" was Lexie's unexpected response.
The ticket officer opened her green eyes widely. "I couldnae say, lassie. Depends on where ye want tae go."
"The country," said Lexie firmly. "No big cities."
"Gissae sec," the older girl drawled, and spent a few moments calling up various screens on her computer. Lexie waited patiently. At last, the officer looked up.
"If it's country ye want, it's country ye're gettin'," she declared. "For £25 you can get to wee village in the Highlands called Glenbogle. Will that do ye?"
"Dunno. S'pose so," Lexie said, her courage beginning to fail her. "Have- well, have you ever been there?"
"Once. T'is beautiful, but if ye want nature, that's what ye'll get. Nice wee village, but mind, lassie, there's nowhere tae buy your clothes or do your hair. Are ye sure ye wanna go there, a bright wee thing like you?"
"I'm sure," Lexie said firmly. "Here's the cash. Thanks for your help!" and she turned on her heel to walk over to the platforms.
"Aw, she's only a kid," the ticket officer thought, her green eyes unusually soft as they followed the slim, brown-haired figure into the crowds. "I hope she'll find what's she's searchin' for in Glenbogle!"
Two hours later, as the train drew to a stop at the remote little station of Glenbogle, Lexie found herself unconsciously echoing the ticket officer's words.
"I hope I like it," she thought as she swung the door back and hopped nimbly down. "I hope I can stay here."
As if to turn her back on her former life, she deliberately refrained from looking as the train pulled out and trundled on towards its ultimate destination. Once it had gone, there was silence. Complete silence, broken only by the sound of the wind and birds, flying high above. Lexie let out a long breath, feeling the tension and strain drain out of her. How long had she desired this silence, after the bustle and noise of the city in which she had been born and bred?
Deciding it was time to make a move, she walked towards the sign posted 'exit' and followed the path as far as it led- only to find herself confronted with a two opposing signposts. One read 'the village' and the other read 'House.' Puzzled by this second, and decidedly more cryptic sign, Lexie spent a moment standing before it and considering the possibilities. Then her innate good sense came to her rescue and she turned back in the opposite direction, towards the village.
"That's the best place to start, Lexie, my girl," she told herself firmly. "If there's work to be had, the village should know." Defiantly, she pushed away the niggling worry at the back of her mind: what would happen if there was no work? She had nothing but the clothes she wore, the contents of her rucksack, and a mean five pound note, and that wouldn't take her far. It wasn't even enough to get back to Glasgow or anywhere else she could think of. No. She must find a way to stay here. She could not afford to fail.
"Excuse me, Ma'am," Lexie asked at the little hardware shop in Glenbogle village, nervousness intensifying the Glasgow burr in her voice, "could ye tell me if there's any work goin' ?"
The little woman behind the til shook her head and looked curiously at her. It wasn't every day that a city-bred girl came to a remote little place like Glenbogle to look for work. If anything, it was the Glenbogle-bred ones who left, even to the children of the big house.
Seeing Lexie's face fall at her negative response, the shop-woman smiled.
"Now, don't look so downcast, lassie," she advised. "I'm no' the centre of the village, so I couldnae tell ye. Go ye to the post office, and ask there. If there's work to be had, they'll tell you there."
Lexie beamed gratefully, and her blue eyes shone. The woman smiled again.
"Off ye go now," she urged gently. "All the best for ye, lassie!"
Lexie grinned, and ducked out of the shop. She walked with decision and determination to the tiny little post office at the other end of the village, and opened the door. Apart from the post-mistress, there was no-one else there, and Lexie was glad. If the answer here was bad, she did not want anyone to see her disappointment.
"Can I help ye, lass?" the elderly post-mistress asked.
"Yes, I think so. They-they told me down the village that you'd know if there's any work goin' in Glenbogle. Do you?" Lexie held her breath and waited for the response.
There was a long moment, and the post-mistress shook her head. "Nay, lassie, there's none to be had in the village." Lexie turned away to hide her tears, and the older woman looked at her back in dismay.
"Don't cry, girl! I havenae finished. There's no work to be had in the village, indeed, but you could try the hoose. A place the size of that, I should think the laird and lady of Glenbogle would take ye in a thrice!"
"The hoose?" Lexie repeated, puzzled again.
"The village of Glenbogle is part of the lairdship of Glenbogle, lassie," the woman explained patiently. "Ye want to go oop to Glenbogle House itself, and ask if the lady will have ye."
Privately, the old woman had no doubt of it. Hector and Molly MacDonald were renowned eccentrics, but no-one had ever disputed their kindness.
"OK. I'll-I'll try that," Lexie said. "Thank you so much!"
"Nae problem, lassie. I was glad tae help ye. Do you know where you're going?"
"I'm afraid not," Lexie admitted apologetically.
"Och, lass, and how could ye be knowing? Never worry. If ye don't mind walkin' it's not hard at all. Ye follow the signs to the hoose."
Of course! Lexie thought to herself in a spurt of dry amusement. It was so obvious, wasn't it! With a final smile of gratitude at the post-mistress, Lexie left the little office, her renewed hope evident in the spring of her step.
"Och, it's a pleasure to help a wee girl like that," the post-mistress thought indulgently. "I do hope Molly can take her."
Lexie enjoyed her walk. She was overawed by the beauty- and what was more, the size- of her new surroundings.
Imagine one person owning all of this! she thought, and grinned in sheer joy when a deer bounded quickly across her path. This is just so beautiful!
At last, she found herself on a long curve of road, and she beamed when she emerged from the shelter of the trees to get her first look at the edifice that was Glenbogle House.
"A castle! Just like the one in my picture," she said aloud. "It's come true!"
"What's come true, dear?" asked a voice behind her, and Lexie turned with a startled gasp to face a woman in her late fifties or early sixties. A big leghorn hat was clapped on her head, covering the ash-blonde hair, and an equally large apron swathed her still-slender figure. The face beneath the hat was smiling gently, the brown eyes twinkling, and, in spite of herself, Lexie relaxed.
"My dream," she explained, supposing the woman to be a member of the laird's staff. "When I was a wee girl and at school, they asked us to draw what we wanted to be in the future. I drew being a princess and living in castle that looks just like this! And now, if the lady of Glenbogle will take me, it'll come true!"
The kohl-lined dark eyes facing hers twinkled again in amusement. "Well, there's only one way to find out, isn't there, dear? Come with me and we'll talk about it. You're quite right, you know," the woman continued thoughtfully as she lifted the large gardening basket she had plonked on the ground when she had started talking to Lexie. "Glenbogle is exactly like a fairy-tale castle. It's Gothic Victorian, you know," she finished brightly.
Lexie didn't know, but she smiled and nodded intelligently all the same.
"Are-are you goin' to take me to Mrs MacDonald?" she asked hesitantly as they crossed the expanse of gravel that lay before the entrance to the house.
The older woman turned to her in surprise. "Oh, dear, I'm so sorry! How foolish of me- I forgot to tell you my name. I'm Mrs MacDonald- Molly MacDonald."
Lexie's jaw dropped, and Molly laughed.
"I'm not quite what you expected then, am I?" and for the first time, Lexie noted the cultured English voice and the beautifully kept hands, and felt herself blushing. It was so obvious. How could she have mistaken this woman for anyone else?
"We're not at all grand these days, as you see," Molly explained cheerfully as she led Lexie into the front hall. "Come along and we'll see what we can do for you. What's your name, dear?"
"Alexandra- Lexie," Lexie replied, feeling slightly stunned.
"I'm delighted to meet you, Lexie. Now, let's see if we can find my husband. Run along into this room and sit down for a moment. Have you come a long way, dear?"
"F-from Glasgow!" Lexie stuttered.
"You poor child! You must be exhausted. Sit down and rest, and I'll find Hector." After flashing another smile at Lexie, the lady of Glenbogle disappeared, and Lexie could hear her calling.
"Hector? Hector darling? Hector!" When no reply was forthcoming, the calling ceased, and Molly reappeared.
"I'm so terribly sorry, dear, but it seems my husband has gone to earth. To the golf club, possibly, or to Kilwillie Castle. He'll be back soon, I'm sure. But never mind. Tell me what you would like to do."
"Er- do you not have any jobs, then?" Lexie asked, confused by the unorthodox start to this interview.
Molly laughed and threw her hands up in a gesture that was thoroughly characteristic. "My dear, with a house this size, we always have jobs. There are only two problems. The first one is finding the people to fill them"- Lexie's face brightened- "and the second is finding the money to pay them. At the moment, the second problem is more pressing." Molly stopped and stared pensively out of the window for a moment, and Lexie felt her hopes fall once more.
"But don't worry about that," Molly continued brightly, much to Lexie's amazement. "We can discuss the money later. In any case, if you decide to stay, you'll find there's very little to spend your money on. You will have your own room, of course, and board, so that's settled, isn't it? And now, what would you like to do, dear?"
"Cook," said Lexie decidedly after a moment's thought. "And clean. Do you need a housekeeper, Mrs MacDonald?"
"How marvellous!" Molly exclaimed enthusiastically. "And do, please, call me Molly. Almost everyone else does. As it happens, we do need a cook-housekeeper very badly. Our last one left us three weeks ago, and ever since Hector and I and the boys have been living off fruit cake, bacon, baked beans and toast. Terribly unhealthy, I know, but it's all Hector and I can do between us, and Golly and Duncan are no better. As for the cleaning- well! I dust a little, but that's all I can do, I'm afraid. I'm really very useless, you see."
"I'm sure that's not true!" Lexie told her firmly, finding herself liking her new employer more and more.
Molly smiled. "Thank you, dear. I can see you will be a delightful person to have in the house. Now, what would you like to do first- have a nice cup of tea, or go to your room?" She clasped her hands and looked at the girl eagerly.
"I'm hired, then?" Lexie asked breathlessly, hardly daring to believe it.
Molly looked surprised. "Of course you are, dear! What kind of room would you like?"
Lexie's jaw dropped again. "Er-I-well, I don't know! Whatever you have will be fine, I'm sure."
Molly smiled. "We have twenty three empty bedrooms," she told her new housekeeper gravely. "Of all styles, shapes and sizes. Oh dear, I'm probably being silly as usual. Think about it another way. What colours do you like?"
Lexie's face shone, and for a moment she looked as young as she was. "Oooh! Lilacs, and oranges, and reds and blues!"
"Ah! An artistic temperament!" Molly said, obviously pleased. "Well, I don't think you would like to sleep in a red or orange room, would you, dear? Not at all restful. And blue can be so cold. I do believe, however, that we have a little lilac room. It might be a little dusty, but would you like to take a look?"
"That would be really lovely, Mrs Mac- Molly."
"Oh, good! Come along, dear, and we'll see what you think!" With a final smile at the bemused Lexie, Molly whipped off her hat, removed her apron, and then took the girl's arm in hers to lead her up the grand staircase.
"Will I always use this staircase?" Lexie asked, half-forgotten memories of storybooks and various BBC costume dramas surfacing.
"Of course, dear. The other one is a tight spiral around the lift from the cellar. So dangerous. Dear Jamie fell down it once when he was a child and broke his leg, so we never use it now if we can help." Molly's mobile countenance dimmed, and Lexie realised how much she had already become accustomed to its usual cheeriness.
"Is Jamie your son?" Lexie asked hesitantly as they turned a corner.
Molly smiled sadly. "One of them. He was our eldest, but he was killed on the loch a few summers ago." Her eyes veiled with tears, and Lexie pressed the arm she still held sympathetically.
"I'm really sorry to hear that," she said sincerely. "It must have been so hard for you."
"Yes. Well. Thank you, dear." Molly stopped for a moment and turned to face the younger woman, taking Lexie's hands in hers. "This house has been silent and dark for too long. We need young people here again, to fill it with laughter. I'm so glad you have come, Lexie. Please stay. We need you- perhaps more than you can imagine."
Moved, Lexie squeezed Molly's hands. "Well, ye don't need to worry about that, Molly. I love this place already. I'm not going 'til you tell me to!"
"How wonderful!" Molly smiled and blinked away her tears, before continuing in her usual fashion, although her voice was still a little husky. "Oh, do listen to me rabbiting on when you want to see your room! Come along. It's at the end of this corridor," and Molly drew Lexie down the blue-and-gold papered corridor to stop in front of a closed door. "Here we are!" she announced, and Lexie almost wondered if she had imagined the sadness of a moment ago.
Molly opened the door, and entered. The room smelled a little musty and unused, but a smile of pure joy swept across Lexie's face, all the same. The lilac on the walls was the precise shade she loved, and the warm wood of the furniture provided a pleasant contrast with both the colour and the big old bedstead in the centre of the room. The curtains were of old damask, worn by time into subtler shades of the original, and the same could be said of the carpet. Lexie dropped her rucksack on the bed and gave a sigh of heartfelt satisfaction.
"Do you like it?" Molly asked anxiously and Lexie impulsively took her hands.
"Molly, I love it! Thank you so much, and thank you for takin' me!"
"I was glad to." Molly MacDonald paused and looked keenly at the younger woman. As Lexie would learn, Molly's apparent scattiness concealed a genuine kindness and an innate wisdom, and the older woman could guess from the wholehearted delight of the girl's response to this room, battered as it was, that her life had not always been a happy one. Impulsively in her turn, Molly placed her hands on Lexie's shoulders and kissed her lightly on the cheek.
"I'm so glad you like it, dear," she said softly. "It's your home now, for as long as you want it."
And Lexie smiled through her own sudden tears as she realised the truth of those words. She had a home at last.
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