The False Men by Mhairead MacLeod
I am delighted to be part of the Blog Tour for the fine new novel by Mhairead MacLeod, The False Men, run by Love Books Group. I even have an excerpt from the novel to share with you.
The story is set in North Uist, Outer Hebrides, Scotland in 1848. Jess MacKay has led a privileged life as the daughter of a local landowner, sheltered from the harsher aspects of life. Courted by the eligible Patrick Cooper, the Laird’s new commissioner, Jess’s future is mapped out, until Lachlan Macdonald arrives on North Uist, amid rumours of forced evictions on islands just to the south. As the uncompromising brutality of the Clearances reaches the islands, and Jess sees her friends ripped from their homes, she must decide where her heart, and her loyalties, truly lie.
This novel is set against the evocative backdrop of the Hebrides and inspired by the true story of Jessie Balranald, The False Men is a compelling tale of love in a turbulent past that resonates with the upheavals of the modern world.
Excerpt from The False Men
Summer – 1850- Inverness Castle, Scotland
The crowd at the castle’s entrance was large by the time Jess arrived on foot. A bellow of both excitement and anger went up as they caught their first sight of her, forcing the sheriff’s officers to hold them back even more roughly. So she walked quickly, her head high, wearing the same blue silk dress she had worn only four months before at the wedding.
Two or three women acknowledged her with benign smiles, drawn into her drama for their own private reasons. She heard them murmur in Gaelic and English – ‘Tis such a shame;’ ‘I do not blame him – tha Seasidh bòidheach.’ But she did not feel herself a prize. There was a witnesses’ bench outside the Criminal Court room and she sat tentatively to one side of it. Behind the large oak door he was already there, in the dock, alone.
She was still out of breath from hurrying up the steep street with its tightly closed doors and white-trimmed windows. Once she had been used to the slopes of mountains. There was no one else in this hallway, and the sound of seagulls reached her from high on the sandstone turrets outside. It was a harsh echo with no turf or tree to soften it, a call familiar but not comforting. The sheriff’s clerk, dressed in wig and robes, opened the courtroom door just wide enough to identify her, gave a perfunctory nod and retired inside again.
Somewhere in the castle were prison cells. She had asked the lawyer what they were like, hoping he’d say there would be no need for her to know. He gave her a history lesson rather than hope. The prison stood beside Doomesdale Street as it was once known, because it formed a path from the old prison house and led up to the gallows on the mount. Down the hill from the previous gaol, flaunting its ornate steeple, was the church where a hundred years before, exhausted Jacobite rebels had sought shelter from the Duke of Cumberland and his government army. Farmers and sons, their shirts stiff with dried blood, were dragged to the manse yard and hanged, or lined up to be shot beside the graceful river – target practice for soldiers who took aim from the other side. The town’s prosperous citizens never spoke of that time now, their orderly streets resisted the past.
The court door was opened again to allow someone to exit – a tall, slim man, his dark hair neat around a stern face. His only acknowledgement as he passed by her was a tightening of those lips which had kissed her just months before. Patrick Cooper, eminent witness for the prosecution.
Dread now settled in her chest, trapped there, wordless.