The Fourth Crow

Free The Fourth Crow by Pat McIntosh

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Authors: Pat McIntosh
bawheid! Annie’s no witch, just melancholy.’
    There was a handful of local people in the chapel, arguing briskly about who the dead woman might be, their speculations hindered only slightly by the fact that none of them could recognise her. The bier was now attended by two of the hostel servants; a man in blue livery stood at its head and a woman in a blue gown and grey cloak knelt at the foot, her beads sliding through her fingers. Near them, leaning negligently against the chancel-screen, was Lowrie. His attention was on the arguing townsfolk, but when Gil stood aside to let the Muir brothers enter first, he straightened up, watching them approach. Gil, watching his assistant in turn, was warned by the way the younger man’s expression went blank, a fraction before Austin Muir stopped in his tracks and dropped his hat to seize his brother’s arm.
    ‘Henry! Is that no— Is it no—’ He swallowed, and his brother turned a furious face on him, as the group of neighbours paused to watch. ‘Aye, it is, surely!’
    ‘It’s no Annie, bawheid, they’ve tellt us that,’ Henry said savagely. ‘Hold your tongue, and let the rest o us decide what’s to do!’
    ‘No, it’s no Annie, I ken that,’ argued Austin, ‘it’s surely—It’s that— It’s awfy like—’ He took in his brother’s expression and fell silent. Henry freed himself and stepped forward to the bier, bending to look at the dead girl’s damaged face, then straightened up.
    ‘Never saw her afore,’ he said. ‘I’ve never a notion who she might be.’
    ‘And you, Austin?’ said Gil deliberately. Austin jumped, looked over his shoulder at Gil, and back at his brother.
    ‘I, I— I never saw her neither,’ he averred.
    ‘Likely she’s some hoor from away down the town, from the Gallowgate or the like,’ said Henry easily, crossing himself as he moved to join Gil. ‘Poor soul.’
    ‘That’s a good thought, maister,’ said one of the neighbours, a stout woman with a basket full of purchases from the market. ‘You never ken what they folks down the Gallowgate will get up to, beating lassies to death would be nothing to them.’
    This met with agreement from two more of the group, but one man shook his head and the other woman present said,
    ‘It’s right far to carry her once she’s deid, Agnes, to bring her up here to St Mungo’s. Did the bellman no say she was bound to the Cross? Why would anyone do that?’
    ‘So they wouldny get the blame for it away down there, a course!’ said the basket-carrier triumphantly.
    ‘There, you see,’ said Henry to Gil. ‘Make sure the bellman cries her down the town, or better still carry her down there and show her, the most of them’ll not trouble themselves to come up here for a dead lassie. Likely someone down the Gallowgate’ll name her for you.’
    ‘But how would they do that, Henry?’ asked his brother in perplexity, ‘when they—’
    ‘Will you be quiet, bawheid that you are?’ demanded Henry. ‘Hold your wheesht and let those of us that can think do the thinking.’
    ‘No, I never met them before this,’ said Lowrie, accepting a share of bread and cheese with gratitude. ‘I doubt Austin can sign his name, let along con his books, and Henry doesny seem like a college man. Certainly he’s no Glasgow man.’
    ‘He never came to visit your friend Ninian when you were at the College? Ninian Boyd, I mean,’ Gil expanded, without much hope. Lowrie shook his head.
    They had repaired to the inner courtyard; Gil wanted to consider what he had learned so far, and it seemed a good moment to consume Kittock’s dole. Now he continued, ‘I reckon they’d be some kind of kin of Ninian’s, third or fourth cousins maybe, closer than they are to me. The two of them are lodged wi Canon Muir on Rottenrow, who Dame Ellen said was another kinsman. I need to get a word wi him, confirm that, confirm what they were doing last night. I’m not at all convinced they gave us the whole

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