<DIV></DIV> <P>Chapter 1</P> <P>I was the first one to see the dead whale lying on the sand at<BR>Scalpsie Bay. It must have been washed up in the night. I could<BR>imagine it flopping out of the sea, thrashing its tail, and opening<BR>and shutting the cavern of its mouth. It was huge and shapeless,<BR>a horrible dead thing, and it looked as if it would feel slimy<BR>if you dared to touch it. I crept up to it cautiously. There were<BR>monsters in the deep, I knew, and a great one, the Leviathan,<BR>which the Lord had made to be the terror of fishermen. Was this<BR>one of them? Would it come to life and devour me?<BR> The sand was ridged into ripples by the outgoing tide,<BR>which had left the usual orange lines of seaweed and bright<BR>white stripes of shells. The tide had also scooped out little pools<BR>around the dead beast’s sides, and crabs were already scuttling<BR>there, as curious as I was.<BR> It was a cold day in December. The sun had barely risen,<BR>and I’d pulled my shawl tightly around my head and shoulders.<BR>But it wasn’t only the chill of the wet sand beneath my bare feet<BR>that made me shiver. There was a strangeness in the air.<BR> Across the water I could already make out the Isle of<BR>Arran, rearing up out of the sea, the tops of its mountains<BR>hidden as usual in a crown of clouds. I’d seen Arran a dozen<BR>times a day, every day of my life, each time I’d stepped out<BR>the door of my grandmother’s cottage. I knew it so well that<BR>I hardly ever noticed it.<BR> But today as I looked up at the mountains from the dead<BR>whale in front of me, the island seemed to shift, and for a<BR>moment I thought it was moving toward me, creeping across<BR>the water. It was coming for me, wanting to swallow me up,<BR>along with the beach and Granny’s cottage, Scalpsie Bay, and<BR>the whole of the Isle of Bute.<BR> And then beyond Arran, out there in the sea, a shaft of<BR>sunlight pierced through the clouds and laid a golden path<BR>across the gray water, tingeing the dead whale with brilliant<BR>light. The clouds were dazzled with glory, and I was struck with<BR>a terror so great that my legs stiffened and I couldn’t move.<BR> “It’s the Lord Jesus,” I whispered. “He’s coming now, to<BR>judge the living and the dead.”<BR> I waited, my hands clamped in a petrified clasp, expecting<BR>to see Christ walk down the sunbeam and across the water,<BR>angels flying on gleaming wings around him. The minister<BR>had said there would be trumpets as the saved rose up in the<BR>air like flocks of giant birds to meet the Lord, but down here<BR>on the ground there would be wailing and gnashing of teeth<BR>as the damned were sucked into Hell by the Evil One.<BR> “Am I saved, Lord Jesus? Will you take me?” I cried out<BR>loud. “And Granny too?”<BR>The clouds were moving farther apart, and the golden<BR>path was widening, making the white crests on the little<BR>waves sparkle like the clothes of the Seraphim.<BR> I was certain of it then. I wasn’t one of the Chosen to rise<BR>with Jesus in glory. I was one of the damned, and Granny<BR>was too.<BR> “No!” I shrieked. “Not yet! Give me another chance,<BR>Lord Jesus!”<BR> And then I must have fallen down because the next thing<BR>I remember was Granny saying, “She’s taken a fit, the silly<BR>wee thing. Pick her up, won’t you?”<BR> I was only half conscious again, but I knew it was Mr.<BR>Macbean’s rough hands painfully holding my arms and the<BR>gruffvoice of Samuel Kirby complaining as he held my legs.<BR> “What are you doing, you dafties?” Granny shouted in<BR>the rough, angry voice I dreaded. “Letting her head fall back<BR>like that! Trying to break her neck, are you? Think she’s a<BR>sack of oatmeal?”<BR> Behind me, above the crunch of many feet following us up<BR>the beach toward our cottage, I could hear anxious murmurs.<BR> “The creature’s the size of a kirk! And the tail on it, did<BR>you see? It’ll stink when it rots. Infect the air for weeks, so<BR>it will.”<BR> And the sniping tongues were busy as usual.<BR> “Hark at Elspeth! Shouting like that. Evil old woman.<BR>Why does she want to be so sharp? They should drop the girl<BR>and let the old body carry her home herself.”<BR> Then came the sound of our own door creaking back on<BR>its leather hinge, the smell of peat smoke, and the soft tail of<BR>Sheba the cat brushing against my dangling hand.<BR> They dropped me down on the pile of straw in the corner <BR>that I used as a bed, and a moment later Granny had<BR>shooed them out of the cottage. I was quite back in my wits<BR>by then, and I started to sit up.<BR> “Stay there,” commanded Granny.<BR> She was standing over me, frowning as she stared at me.<BR>Her mouth was pulled down hard at the corners, and the<BR>stiffblack hairs on her chin were quivering. They were sharp,<BR>those bristles, but not as sharp as the bristles in her soul.<BR> “Now then, Maggie. What was all that for? Why did you<BR>faint? What did you see?”<BR> “Nothing, Granny. The whale . . .”<BR> She shook her head impatiently.<BR> “Never mind the whale. While you were away, in the<BR>faint. Was there a vision?”<BR> “No. I just— everything was black. Before that I thought<BR>I saw—”<BR> “What? What did you see? Do I have to pull it out<BR>of you?”<BR> “The sky looked strange, and there was the whale— it scared me<BR>— and I thought that Jesus was coming. Down<BR>from the sky. I thought it was the Last Day.”<BR> She stared at me a moment longer. There wasn’t much<BR>light in the cottage, only a square of brightness that came<BR>through the open door and a faint glow from the peat burning<BR>in the middle of the room, but I could see her eyes glittering.<BR> “The whale’s an omen. It means no good. It didn’t speak<BR>to you?”<BR> “No! It was dead. I thought the Lord Jesus was coming,<BR>that’s all.”<BR> “Hmph.” She turned away and pulled on the chain that<BR>hung from the rafter, holding the cauldron in place over the<BR>fire. “That’s nothing but kirk talk. You’re a disappointment<BR>to me, Maggie. Your mother had it, the gift of far-seeing,but<BR>you’ve nothing more in your head than what’s been put there<BR>by the minister. You’re your father all over again, stubborn<BR>and blind and selfish. My Mary gave you nothing of herself<BR>at all. If I hadn’t delivered you into this world with my own<BR>hands, I’d have thought you were changed at birth.”<BR> Granny knew where to plunge her dagger and twist it<BR>for good measure. There was no point in answering her. I bit<BR>my lip, stood up, and shook the straws offthe rough wool of<BR>my skirt.<BR> “Shall I milk Blackie now?”<BR> “After you’ve touched a dead whale? You’ll pass on the<BR>bad luck and dry her milk up for good. You’re more trouble<BR>than you’re worth, Maggie. Always were, always will be.”<BR> “I didn’t touch the whale. I only . . .”<BR> She raised a hand and I ducked.<BR> “Get away up the hill and cut a sack of peat. The stack’s<BR>low already, or had you been too full of yourself to notice?”<BR> Cutting peat and lugging it home was the hardest work<BR>of all, and usually I hated it, but today, in spite of the rain<BR>that was now sweeping in from the sea, I was glad to get out<BR>of the cottage and run away to the glen. I usually went the long<BR>way, up the firm path that went around and about before it<BR>reached the peat cuttings, but today I plunged straight on<BR>through the bog, trampling furiously through the mass of reeds<BR>and flags and the treacherous bright grass that hid the pools<BR>of water, not hearing the suck of the mud as I pulled my feet<BR>out, not feeling the wetness that seeped up the bottom of my<BR>gown, not even noticing the scratches from the prickly gorse<BR>as it tore at my arms.<BR> “An evil old woman. They were right down there. That’s<BR>what you are.” Away from Granny, I felt brave enough to answer<BR>back. “I am like my mam. I’ve her hair, and her eyes,<BR>and her smile, so Tam says.”<BR> Most people called old Tam a rogue, a thief, a lying,<BR>drunken rascal, living in his tumbledown shack like a pig in<BR>a sty. But he was none of those things to me. He’d known my<BR>mother, and I knew he’d never lie about her to me.<BR> I don’t remember my mother. She was Granny’s only child,<BR>and she died of a fever when I was a very little girl. I just about<BR>remember my father. He was a big man, not given to talking<BR>much. He was a rover by nature, Tam said. He came to the Isle<BR>of Bute from the mainland to fetch the Laird of Keames’s cattle<BR>and drive them east across the hills to sell in Glasgow. He was<BR>only meant to stay in Bute for a week or two, while the cattle<BR>were rounded up for him, but he chanced on my mother as she<BR>walked down the lane to the field to milk Blackie one warm<BR>June evening. The honeysuckle was in flower and the wild roses<BR>too, and it was all over with him at once, so Tam said.<BR> “Never a love like it, Maidie,” Tam told me. “Don’t you<BR>listen to your granny. A child born of love you are, given to<BR>love, made for love.”<BR> “Granny said the sea took my father,” I asked Tam once.<BR>“What did she mean?”<BR> I’d imagined a great wave curling up the beach, twining<BR>around my father’s legs, and sucking him back into the depths.<BR> “An accident, Maidie. Nothing more.” Tam heaved a sigh.<BR>“Your father was taking the cattle to the mainland up by Colintraive,<BR>making them swim across the narrows there. He’d done<BR>it a dozen times before. The beasts weren’t easy— lively young<BR> steers they were— and one of them was thrashing about in<BR>the water as if a demon possessed it. Perhaps a demon did,<BR>for the steer caught your father on the head with its horn, and<BR>it went right through his temple. He went down under the<BR>water, and when he was washed up a week later, there was a<BR>wound from his eyebrow to the line of his hair deep enough<BR>to put your hand inside.”<BR></P> <BR><BR><i>Continues...</i> <!-- copyright notice --> <br></pre> <blockquote><hr noshade size='1'><font size='-2'> Excerpted from <b>The Betrayal of Maggie Blair</b> by <b>Elizabeth Laird</b> Copyright © 2011 by Elizabeth Laird. Excerpted by permission.<br> All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.<br>Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.