A Place Called Freedom

Free A Place Called Freedom by Ken Follett

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Authors: Ken Follett
Tags: Highlands (Scotland)
Then again, tonight you chose to retire when Robert was out of the room, so that he lost the chance of escorting you upstairs.”
    Lizzie studied her mother in the looking-glass. The familiar lines of her face showed determination. Lizzie loved her mother and would have liked to please her. But she could not be the daughter her mother wanted: it was against her nature. “I’m sorry, Mother,” she said. “I just don’t think of these things.”
    “Do you … like Robert?”
    “I’d take him if I were desperate.”
    Lady Hallim put down the hairbrush and sat opposite Lizzie. “My dear, we are desperate.”
    “But we’ve always been short of money, for as long as I can remember.”
    “That’s true. I’ve managed by borrowing, and mortgaging our land, and living most of the time up here where we can eat our own venison and wear our clothes until they have holes in them.”
    Once again Lizzie felt a pang of guilt. When Mother spent money it was almost always on Lizzie, not on herself. “Then let’s just go on the same way. I don’t mind having the cook serve at table, and sharing a maid with you. I like living here—I’d rather spend my days walking in High Glen than shopping in Bond Street.”
    “There’s a limit to how much one can borrow, you know. They won’t let us have any more.”
    “Then we’ll live on the rents we get from the crofters. We must give up our trips to London. We won’t even go to balls in Edinburgh. Nobody will come to dinner with us but the pastor. We’ll live like nuns, and not see company from one year’s end to the next.”
    “I’m afraid we can’t even do that. They’re threatening to take away Hallim House and the estate.”
    Lizzie was shocked. “They can’t!”
    “They can—that’s what a mortgage means.”
    “Who are they?”
    Mother looked vague. “Well, your father’s lawyer is the one who arranged the loans for me, but I don’t exactly know who has put up the money. But that doesn’t matter. The point is that the lender wants his money back—or he will foreclose.”
    “Mother … are you really saying we’re going to lose our home?”
    “No, dear—not if you marry Robert.”
    “I see,” Lizzie said solemnly.
    The stable yard clock struck eleven. Mother stood up and kissed her. “Good night, dear. Sleep well.”
    “Good night, Mother.”
    Lizzie looked thoughtfully into the fire. She had known for years that it was her destiny to rescue their fortunes by marrying a wealthy man, and Robert had seemed as good as any other. She had not thought about it seriously until now: she did not think about things in advance, generally—she preferred to leave everything until the last moment, a habit that drove her mother crazy. But suddenly the prospect of marrying him appalled her. She felt a kind of physical disgust, as if she had swallowed something putrid.
    But what could she do? She could not let her mother’s creditors throw them out of their home! What would they do? Where would they go? How could they make a living? She felt a chill of fear as she pictured the two of them in cold rented rooms in an Edinburgh tenement, writing begging letters to distant relations and doing sewing for pennies. Better to marry dull Robert. Could she bring herself to, though? Whenever she vowed to do something unpleasant but necessary, like shooting a sick old hound or going to shop for petticoat material, she would eventually change her mind and wriggle out of it.
    She pinned up her unruly hair, then dressed in the disguise she had worn yesterday: breeches, riding boots, a linen shirt and a topcoat, and a man’s three-cornered hat which she secured with a hatpin. She darkened her cheeks with a dusting of soot from the chimney, but she decided against the curly wig this time. For warmth she added fur gloves, which also concealed her dainty hands, and a plaid blanket that made her shoulders seem broader.
    When she heard midnight strike she took a candle and went

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