There was definitely underhanded dealings going on with the Wallace family-- where Ellie had been assured of this visit only being a week, this so-called last minute family gathering was put together suspiciously quickly. Within a day, the date and time was put down and sent out to the various family members, and the responses took hardly any time at all to come back, affirming their attendance.
Grant Wallace was clearly more conniving than she had first estimated-- and it seemed he planned for everything.
Having such a control freak for a father, she decided, must have had as much of an impression on Hardy’s psyche as his parents’ fights did; she could see how restless and uncomfortable he was as time went on, and the day of the family gathering grew nearer. When he finally disappeared altogether after dinner a couple of evenings before the family’s arrival, Ellie assumed he had gone to the family cemetery again, or was out wandering the groves of trees that flanked the great house. When dusk came and the house started to settle for the night, there was still no sign of him, and Elie felt uneasy enough by it that she slipped her shoes on and went searching for him.
It fell to the elderly servant Frank to point her in the right direction. “He’ll be in the stables, ma’am,” he said quietly as he passed her in the hallway. Ellie allowed herself one moment to pause and wonder what the hell he was doing there, and then she turned smartly on her heel and went in the opposite direction. The outside air was cool, the smell of fresh pine invigorating, and she breathed deeply as she went, wondering what was going on in the stables that Hardy would find them a refuge.
Not a refuge, she discovered after a moment; at least not completely. At first she thought that Frank had told her wrongly-- there was no sign of anyone there, but then she heard the low discomfited groans of an animal and she made her way down the aisle to one of the corner stalls. A heavily pregnant mare lay on her side in a bed of thick hay, swelled belly rippling with a contraction, grumbling her pain; Hardy sat in the corner of the stall, watching the mare carefully.
He knew she was there. “Miller.” His voice was soft and drowsy, and not loud enough to even startle the mare; clearly unbothered by what he was seeing. “Why aren’t you in bed?”
“I was making sure you hadn’t made a run for it,” she said with some bite-- she was tired, after all, and of course he was costing her sleep even if they weren’t on a bloody job. She jerked her head towards the groaning mare. “How’d you get stuck with this job, then?”
He shifted slightly in the hay, but only to brace himself more comfortably against the stall. “Ewan needed a couple hour’s sleep-- Merry’s been laboring for a while now, and he’d been with her the whole time. I sent him off for a break.”
Ellie’s stomach tightened with sympathy and remembered pain as a particularly prolonged contraction made the mare shudder. She eyed him critically. “Do you even have experience with this sort of stuff, Hardy?”
“I’ve never given birth, no.” This was said so dryly that Ellie couldn’t help but grin. “Granddad had trained thoroughbreds for racing, though, and I spent some time in the stables with him. Birthing mares was a regular occurrence.” His gaze drifted back to the said mare, who was lying quietly in preparation of the next contraction. “I’d forgotten what it was like.”
“What,” Ellie said with equal dryness, “hot, agonizing, and messy?”
“You’re the one who’s gone through it. Why don’t you tell me?”
She rolled her eyes and let herself into the stall, being careful not to disturb the resting mare as she slid down the wall to join him. “Knob. If you weren’t busy already, I’d smack you.”
One of his rare grins crossed his face as he glanced over at her again. “I’ll make sure to stand still, then, so you’ll be sure you can hit me.”
She really did slap his arm for that, amusement and irritation both warring to show itself—the amusement won this time, though, and she chuckled despite herself. The longer she sat there, the more she began to understand why he had taken up the job of watching over the said Merry; the birthing was clearly some time away still, and in the meantime the silence was a comfort.
Hardy preferred silence to a lot of noise; not only did he frequently go on walks along trails that were usually empty of tourists, but he was not one to listen to music at home, either, or have the telly on very often even as background noise. Whether he had always been like that or if he had had to learn to enjoy it through the chaos of the job she didn’t know, but she could appreciate it nonetheless.
“I don’t think I’ve been surrounded by so much silence since before Tom was born,” she remarked with some surprise.
Now it was his turn to chuckle, a dry rough sound from disuse. “And then you decided to add to the noise by having another one.”
She sat in the quiet for a long moment, trying to ignore the pang in her heart. “It was Joe, really,” she said quietly. “He had been an only child, and he always said how he’d always wanted a sibling growing up. I-… I’d suffered a miscarriage three years after Tom was born. Six months in.” Her voice was rough and flat. “We’d been so afraid to attempt any more after that, but there was always that want there, the desire to have another one. I’d thought we’d missed our chance by the time Fred came along.”
His attention was squarely on her again. “I didn’t know that,” he said softly.
Her smile was slight and bitter. “Miscarriage isn’t something most women are going to parade around, you know?” She sighed. “But it happens a lot more than anyone really thinks about… and it hurt for a long time afterward to even think about attempting pregnancy again. Fred was a difficult birth, and the doctor warned me the outcome next time would not likely end up so well, but to see him sleeping in my arms, still all pink and wrinkly… it was all worth it. All of it.”
He was still looking at her, his gaze remote and far away from the here and now. “Do you… think most women think that way? That having children is worth it?”
“I’d like to think so,” she said slowly after a long moment. “Plenty of abandoned and neglected children to say otherwise, though.” It was a sobering thought, and she sat in troubled silence as she thought about it. How often did she hear about that through friends in the job, and on the news? Then she realized what he likely meant by his question-- Daisy was an only child, after all. “Are you-- are you talking about Tess?”
It was his turn to look away. “She never wanted more than Daisy. And whatever else she is, Tess is a good mother-- but she didn’t like the pregnancy, and swore that our daughter was the only one she’d ever have. I didn’t fight her on it-- I’d always been afraid that if Daisy had a brother or sister, they’d be like me and Will, bickering and fighting amongst themselves. I’ve always thought that being an only child would be a good thing.”
“Siblings are overrated,” Ellie said dryly, by way of benediction, and had the pleasure of hearing him laugh quietly again. They were silent for another long moment, then she spoke again. “Do you and Will ever get along, Hardy?”
“After we’ve had a few drinks, aye.”
Ellie straightened abruptly against the door, realization clicking into place. ‘That’s why you’re so relaxed right now!” she exclaimed accusingly. “You’ve been drinking, haven’t you?”
“Took you that long to catch on, eh?” With another slow grin, he reached to the far corner of the stall and withdrew a bottle of whiskey, which he handed over to her. It was still quite full; clearly he hadn’t been at it for awhile, which was somewhat of a relief.
“Drinking on the job, sir?” she asked wryly, and took the cap off to take a swig of it herself.
“I’m allowed to. I’m on vacation.”
The whisky was smooth and finely aged, with the singular oaky taste to it that identified it as genuine Scottish drink, and her eyes widened with surprised pleasure. When she surfaced it was to his raised brow and a full-blown smirk on his face. She coughed into her fist, feeling the heat of the drink settle in her stomach and sear her throat. “I can see why.”
He laughed again freely, and she thought with a pang that seeing him a bit squiffed was endearing. Certainly he was a lot easier to deal with being so than his usual brusque and aloof self. “You’ve never woken up with a hangover from it yet.”
“And I take it you have.”
He scoffed. “Please. Scots don’t get drunk.”
Ellie took another drink and then passed it back over to him. “I can only imagine the family gatherings with this involved.”
“It’s the only thing that doesn’t get thrown against the walls.”
It was Ellie’s turn to laugh then, the warmth of the whisky still pleasantly thrumming in her stomach, and settled in more comfortably against the door to watch over the mare with him.
When she finally made it back to her room and bed, stiff and flushed from the whisky she had imbibed, she didn’t immediately notice the book until its jagged edge pinched her leg. Startled, she jumped up again with a cry thinking it a spider of some kind before seeing its dark cover partially hidden by the blanket. Frowning, she bent down and picked it up, trying to remember whether or not she had fallen asleep reading the previous night.
She hadn’t. And when flipping the pages open, she realized that the words she was seeing were handwritten. A fair hand, but thin and at times meandering, like the person writing had had a hard time concentrating on their words. Ellie didn’t truly think anything of great significance about what she was looking at until she noticed the names springing out at her: Grant, and Alec. With an unpleasant twist to her stomach, she flipped to the front page and found the name of this journal’s owner scrawled there: Mairi Elizabeth Hardy.
Ellie’s throat was tight, and she stared down at the book with a mix of amazement and consternation. Her first thought was to go and find Hardy and show him what she had in front of her-- but he already knew about this, surely? Maybe that was where the journal had come from-- maybe he wanted her to know more about his mother.
She should have felt more guilty about opening the first page to read, but a single fact stood out above all for the justification: someone had clearly meant for her to see it and read its contents.
Whatever else I may be, the first entry said, I am not a writer. I have no interest in a career of professional writing, and nor do I wish for my life to be read aloud by hundreds upon thousands of people. I have trouble keeping track of my thoughts as they come and go, and perhaps putting them to paper will help me in my endeavor to be more organized. So there will likely be a lot of punctuation mistakes and the like mixed in while I’m writing this-- but I don’t need an editor, so I’m not concerned.
Ellie grinned despite herself; she could almost hear the dry Scottish drawl in her ear as she read, the wit so readily apparent even in these slightly-faded words. Glancing at the date, she saw that Mairi Hardy had written this in June of 1965.
Roughly four years before Hardy himself was born, then. Ellie flipped back to where she had left off reading with the mental note in the back of her mind, her fascination only growing.
Mum will likely never realize that her writing lessons have paid off-- but that’s alright, too, as she merely has faith that they have and doesn’t ask me to show her proof. We must make a good impression in the world-- and literacy is a very important part of that. It proves you are not a dunce.
Or so she tells me.
But dunce or not, I still have no serious interest in writing. This is merely an exercise, an attempt to collect my thoughts and make me understand how I work. I hope it’s not considered selfish or arrogant to speak of oneself in one’s own journal, but there is no one besides God who knows a person’s heart better than the one who lives with it every day.
Ellie dropped the book in her lap and felt a sudden shiver down her spine. ‘You can never really know what goes on inside somebody else’s heart.’ Would Mairi Hardy have found it poetic that her son would say such similar words some forty years later? To Ellie herself, in fact, and the memories of that horrific night following Joe’s arrest came back with such vivid force she very nearly had the wind knocked out of her.
She put the journal carefully on the side table, suddenly afraid to touch it, and did not fall asleep until after she heard the clock in the hallway strike three.