out a sigh. Well, it would just have to wait until tomorrow. She had baskets of plums waiting for her in the kitchen, newly picked, and she must start making her cordial and preserves.
She worked steadily all through the afternoon and even managed to keep her mind off the Earl of Mardoun—at least most of the time. She was still stirring the pots in her kitchen late in the evening, the air of her cottage filled with the sweet scent of plums, when she heard a rattle and a thump at the back of the house. Startled, Meg poked her head around the corner of the small alcove that was her kitchen and workroom just in time to see a man crawling through the open back window.
“Well,” she said sternly, crossing her arms. “So now you’ve taken to climbing in windows, I see.”
“Aye, I have—though I wish your window were not so wee,” her brother, Coll, answered imperturbably, contorting his long frame to pull it through the small, open square.
“I’m sure our great-great-gran would have made it larger if she’d known you’d be wanting to use it for a door,” Meg retorted. “Would you care to tell me why you are doing so?”
“Donald MacRae is watching the path to your door.” Coll came toward her, tall and wide-shouldered, his shaggy blond hair catching the low light in the cottage.
“Oh, Coll, what have you gotten yourself into now?”
“Sorry. I would not have pulled you into it, but it’s Young Dougal; he has a wound needs tending.” As Meg reached back to untie her apron, Coll held up a staying hand. “Nae, you need not come. He has a burn, the fool, nothing you can do except give me some ointment to soothe it—and maybe a tonic for the pain.”
Meg sighed and went over to her cabinets, pulling out mortar and pestle and several packets of herbs. “How bad is it? My ointment will help, but if the burn is severe . . .”
“It’s all down one arm. But they put it out quickly.” Coll followed her into the small workroom, ducking his head with the ease of long practice to walk through the low doorway.
“I’ll send something for infection as well, just in case.” Meg handed him a long wooden spoon turned dark from the simmering plums. “Here, stir that while I make this.”
“Smells good.” He sniffed the air appreciatively. “Will I be getting some plum preserves then?”
“Aye, you might. And plum wine as well, if you’ve a mind to it.” Meg’s fingers flew as she ground and stirred, filling a small pot with a thick ointment. “What have you done—no, I don’t want to know. I wish you would stop all these things you’ve been doing. I understand; I laughed, too, when Mardoun’s lackey got tossed into the lochan. No one can blame the lads who tried to block MacRae’s men from pulling Mrs. Sinclair from her cottage. But it dinna stop them, did it? And some of the things that have happened lately—stopping Jack on the road and robbing him, breaking into the granary—what does that have to do with fighting the Clearances? You’re going to get caught!” She stabbed her forefinger at him. “What if you get transported? Or hanged?”
“We dinna know it was Kensington till after we stopped him, and we let him go.” Coll held up his hands in an exculpatory gesture as she drew breath to argue. “I know, I know. You’re right. The lads have gone too far. I told them we are not reivers. It’s that Will Ross. I knew he would be trouble from the first. He’s hotheaded and none too honest. The way I see it, he joined more to get into mischief than anything else.” Coll shook his head. “I wasna there; I told them the idea was foolish. But Ross got in their ear this afternoon and convinced them I was too cautious. They only came to me afterwards because they need your help.”
“Well, they’ll not be getting my help ever again if they land you in gaol!”
“Ah, my fierce Meg.” Coll grinned at her, his blue eyes dancing. “What a terror you are.”
“You’d do well to