The Noisy Bird Pub & Inn…
It was unusually warm for this time of year. MacLeod wiped his brow with a length of linen as he stepped off the road and up onto the pavement, the movement causing a blast of fresh air to swirl up his legs and cooling his…
Aye, thank God for kilts…traditionally worn.
MacLeod opened the door to The Noisy Bird Pub & Inn and stepped inside, pausing to allow his eyes to adjust to the dim interior. He’d left Amelia here while he took care of posting a letter to Dansbury with word of his sister.
It was quiet inside the inn, which was odd, considering…
The low light made seeing difficult, but gave one the illusion that the air was much cooler than it was. MacLeod unerringly looked to the table where he’d left Amelia Chase sitting with a drink and a bowl of shepherd’s pie.
And of course, she wasn’t there.
Is this a habit of hers? Can she no’ help herself?
MacLeod approached the innkeeper, currently at work wiping down the main bar. “The American woman that was seated across the way…where is she?”
“Oh, ya mean Mrs. Chase?” At MacLeod’s nod, he added, “Fine woman. Fine woman, indeed.”
MacLeod didn’t agree or deny it, but simply waited for the man to continue with what little patience he could muster given the circumstances. When waiting produced no results, he crossed his massive arms across his chest, a habit he seemed to need to employ more and more often of late.
The innkeeper got the message. “Right—let’s see. She spoke with the Preacher Hayworth for a spell, then Pat, the post man. Erm, let’s see, then there was James, the costermonger. Shirley, one of the Hughes’ milkmaids. Jayne, another one…” The barkeeper’s voice drifted off as he ticked off person after person. MacLeod was surprised, though he shouldn’t have been. “Aha! I’ve got it. She left with Angus, the butcher, who needed help with a critter who kept pestering him for bones. A dog, I think.”
Finally. “When did she leave?”
“Hmmmm. Good question.”
MacLeod wanted to shake the man, who appeared lost in thought counting the minutes now.
“I’d say ten, no, twenty minutes ago. Aye, that’s it. Twenty-five minutes ago, give or take five or ten minutes.”
MacLeod thanked the man, then turned on his heel and left, destination: Angus the butcher. He’d find it himself; it’d probably take more time to listen to the barkeep give directions than it would for him to stumble upon it on his own. The town was only little.
Five minutes later, the bell over the door of the butcher’s shop chimed in greeting as MacLeod walked inside. The place smelled disagreeably of blood and meat.
And once again, all was quiet, dammit.
A short, balding man with a bloodied apron appeared from the back, wiping his hands on the backside of his trousers as he sidled over to the counter. “Can I help ye?”
“I’m looking for Mrs. Chase.”
“Oh, yea, Mrs. Chase. A fine woman. A fine woman, indeed.”
MacLeod went straight to folding his arms across his chest and glaring the man down.
“Right—she was here, but a house maid from that big house on the hill, the Stevens’ house, arrived in desperate need of some assistance. Let’s see…she wanted…”
MacLeod didn’t wait around for him to finish. It didn’t matter why, he just needed to find her.
Ten minutes later, MacLeod was at the servant’s entrance to the Stevens’ House. A house maid answered the door.
Her eyes widened to the size of a dinner plates, and her jaw dropped open as she looked him up and down from the bottom of his kilt to the top of his head and said, “Cor…”
“I’m looking for Mrs. Chase.”
“Loud woman, about yae high.” He held up his hand a few inches below his shoulder.
“Do you speak English?”
The maid nodded her head yes, but said, “Nay.”
“Well, which is it?”
The maid shook her head no, and said, “Aye.”
Exasperated would be a mild description for what he was beginning to feel by this point. Hell, this entire day was turning into a comedy of errors—or a tragedy—he wasn’t quite sure which.
“Which way did she go? Did she leave with someone?” he tried again.
“Thank you.” MacLeod left without another word and walked around to the front of the house. The door opened before he had a chance to knock on the door, the butler standing in the frame stiff and formal, his pretentious nose practically touching the sky.
“May I help you, sir?” said the manservant, in typical butler-esque fashion.
“I’m looking for Mrs. Amelia Chase.”
The butler raised his brow and took in MacLeod’s appearance. Clearly, the man wasn’t sure whether it was safe to answer.
This time, MacLeod decided to try a new approach. “She’s ma wife.”
Right away, the butler’s bland façade turned into a scowl of disgust, and he lifted his nose higher in the air, if possible. The man sniffed once, then attempted to close the door in MacLeod’s face, but MacLeod placed his big booted foot in the doorway, foiling his attempt.
“She told you she was a widow, didn’t she?”
The butler nodded once.
Of course, she did. MacLeod sighed and shook his head in exasperation, his fingers rubbing the bridge of his nose as he felt the beginnings of a headache coming on. He wasn’t sure if he wanted to laugh or bellow to the sky in frustration. Of course, this man knew Amelia was a widow. She’d probably told everyone she met here today her entire life’s history.
There was nothing for it. When he found her, he was going to kill her. She needn’t worry about Kelly and his men.
MacLeod pleaded with the butler. Man to man. “Look, mon, I need to find her. It’s important. Verra important.”
The next step was to lift the butler by the velvet lapels of his coat, part of his ridiculously formal livery, and force an answer of him. In truth, MacLeod hated resorting to physical violence when a person was only doing his job. In fact, in other circumstances, he might admire the butler’s fortitude in the face of an obviously angry and frustrated man. But MacLeod was beginning to grow alarmed over his inability to catch up with Amelia, which meant he was willing to bend his own rules a little in this exceptional circumstance.
Fortunately, he didn’t have to resort to that.
“She left with George, the blacksmith.” The butler all but spat out the words before he slammed the door in MacLeod’s face, successfully this time.
Yet strangely enough, MacLeod’s first thought was: Is everyone in this town known by their occupation?
MacLeod turned, shaking his head, and jogged down the front steps.
The blacksmith, Amelia?
Five. Hours. Later. MacLeod had visited the blacksmith, a carpenter, a shepherd, the local priest, a mum of five, the post office, and six—count them, six—different women of questionable reputation. He suspected that covered the entire population of the small town.
Now, he was back to where he started: The Noisy Bird Pub & Inn, and he was equally furious and anxious, both at Amelia Chase and at the unavoidable flair of suspicion he harbored over her unexpected and lengthy absence.
Not once did he suspect she might actually be in trouble.
MacLeod walked inside and was practically assaulted by Amelia the minute he stepped through the doorway.
“There you are, you big wayward, tardy-gaited, oaf! Where have you been, MacLeod?”