Juliana stepped back to let him run past her to the vestibule. He flung open the door to the last person Juliana wanted to see. Mrs. Dalrymple.
“Morning, love,” she said. “I need to speak to ye if ye don’t mind.”
Gone was the stiff-necked pose, the rather superior accent. Though Mrs. Dalrymple wore a well-made morning gown of gray cotton, she no longer looked like the prim and proper middle-class woman who’d tried to ignore everything Indian when she’d lived in India.
Her softly lined face looked more that of a harmless, middle-aged woman who went to the market with a basket on her arm. Also, her strained proper accent had gone, and now she sounded as though she’d come straight from the backstreets of Glasgow.
“Come in,” Juliana said.
Mahindar looked unhappy, but Juliana wanted to hear what the woman had to say. She led Mrs. Dalrymple to the morning room and bade Mahindar bring them tea.
“I won’t stay long,” Mrs. Dalrymple said, sitting in the same chair she had occupied a week ago. “I just came t’ give ye warning. Not that one,” she said quickly as Juliana’s brows went down. “Ye see, lass, I know ye’ve tumbled on t’ us. Me husband came across Mr. Stacy’s death certificate when he was working for the civil service in Lahore. He heard tell that your husband had turned up after being missing, crazy as a loon. So George stole the certificate. When we came back to Glasgow, me husband asked about and learned that Elliot McBride had purchased a house up here in Highforth. I’d never heard of th’ place, but George says we were goin’. He decided that if your husband was out of his wits, maybe George could make you or his family believe he’d murdered Stacy and get some money out of ye.”
“But Mrs. Terrell described you as a friend,” Juliana said, keeping her anger in check with difficulty. “You knew her?”
“Mrs. Terrell.” Mrs. Dalrymple dismissed her with a wave of her hand. “She’s a simple one. I convinced her that her mother and mine had been great friends. Easy to do while I dithered at the post office and managed to steal letters of likely ladies in the area. So Mr. and Mrs. Dalrymple were invited to stay.”
“Well, I am sorry we disappointed you,” Juliana said stiffly. “Neither I nor my husband were willing to pay you any of your blackmail.”
Mrs. Dalrymple winced. “Oh, I don’t like that word, love. Sounds so nasty. Mr. Dalrymple and I, we provide a service. You’d be amazed at the things people get up to—rich ladies who steal from any house they enter, proper husbands who keep a bit on the side, upright clerks and bankers who skim out of the till. They get away with it—theft, adultery, embezzlement, and now we thought murder. The law can’t touch these people, but we make them pay. ’Tis only right—they’ve committed crimes after all.”
Juliana forbore to point out that blackmail was also a crime. In any case, the Dalrymples, or whatever their true names might be, never took the evidence of the wrongdoings to the police.
She grew impatient. “Why did you come to see me today?”
“Well, first I wanted to make my apologies. We had no idea that Mr. Stacy was alive, and your husband entirely innocent. We were so glad to learn it. ‘Emily,’ Mr. Dalrymple said to me, ‘I’m that glad we were wrong about Mr. McBride. He’s a fine Highland gentleman.’”
“What is this warning?” Juliana asked in a hard voice.
“Because we stole the death certificate and asked questions about Mr. Stacy and Mr. McBride along our way here, I’m afraid we inadvertently alerted some very bad men as to their whereabouts. But I wanted you to know that Mr. Dalrymple and I had nothing to do with that. We might ask people for what they can give—a contribution, if you like—to apologize for the wrongs they’ve done, but we never harm anyone. I know you have a man from Scotland Yard staying with you, but if anything happens to Mr. Stacy or your husband, it’s nothing to do with us. That’s why I want to warn you, to put you on your guard. I can tell that you are a sweet, respectable lady, and you and your husband should take care.”
Too late for that. Hamish came barreling down the back hall, bellowing at the top of his lungs, “Mahindar! M’lady! Mr. McGregor! Mr. McBride went out to chase brigands in the woods!”
“There, you see?” Mrs. Dalrymple stood up. “Well, I’ve done me duty. ’Tis nothing on me and m’ man, remember. I’ll go and leave you to it.”
“No,” Juliana said. Her sharpness made Mrs. Dalrymple jump. Juliana pointed at the chair. “You will sit down and tell me every detail you know about these very bad men, and you will stay there until my husband and Mr. Stacy come home in safety. Hamish—run back to McPherson’s and tell him all about it.”
“I’ve just been. He’s coming over. And all the Mackenzies.”
“Good. Then wake up every man in this house and tell them to come and talk to me. We are going to find my husband and these assassins and end this, for once and for all.”
Hamish’s eyes rounded. “Aye, m’lady.” He disappeared to do her bidding.
Elliot and Fellows moved swiftly and silently across the land, following the trail Elliot had picked up. Elliot’s tracking ability came back to him as had the steps to the sword dance. Inspector Fellows had been hunting criminals in London for years and could move as quickly and quietly as Elliot.
The trail took them north across the hills and down into the next valley. The ocean was to the east of them, the land sloping out of uplands to farms and flat land by the sea.