The Max Fac­tor

TALES FROM CARN­BEG

The Herald - Arts - - Books - By Ron­ald Frame

Maxwell Maxwell had been fac­tor of the Lochinch Es­tate for six years. Corn-yel­low cor­duroy trousers, navy V-neck over checked shirt, short blonde hair, red cheeks and an ac­cent sharp enough to prise open an oys­ter shell. Alum­nus of Cirences­ter Agri­cul­tural Col­lege, Old Har­ro­vian, Oxbridge write-off, here he was, in the coun­try he called his home­land. Yes, very pos­si­bly his CV had been fru­gal with the truth (end­less re-sits of ex­ams) – while putting it­self in the run­ning for the Booker Prize for fiction with de­scrip­tions of work ex­pe­ri­ence in Zim­babwe and Tas­ma­nia and even the pam­pas of Ar­gentina. But it had con­vinced Sir Henry. Pos­si­bly on a very cur­sory read­ing, be­cause Sir Henry wasal­wayson­the­move.He worked in Ed­in­burgh’s fi­nance ser­vices, which was how he helped to sub­sidise the es­tate. Sir Henry, a wi­d­ower, had three daugh­ters, and he wanted to have some­thing worth­while to pass on. Bella, the eldest at 25, was a tomboy and not the mar­ry­ing kind. She had let it be known that the es­tate didn’t in­ter­est her, and she wasn’t go­ing to give up her new life in Lon­don to take it on. That left Lucinda and her younger sis­ter, Katharine. Katharine was the pret­tier and live­lier, but Lucinda was the one who was go­ing to land up with Lochinch, and so it was to her that MM turned his at­ten­tion. Katharine mean­while threw her­self away on an up­start from Carn­beg who clearly didn’t know his level, a pushy know-all called To­pher Robb. MM had once over­heard him ask­ing Katharine if he, MM, was “real”, and co­erc­ing her to laugh along with him. Even­thoughMMmightbe think­ing of Katharine as he (chastely) kissed Lucinda, he re­pented by mak­ing him­self pro­tec­tive. In a flash of po­etic li­cence, he thought of him­self as di­rect­ing this shy flower to­wards the light.

Life rolled along.

He and Lucinda con­tin­ued their billing and coo­ing, spoon­ing away, and it was – it was all very pleas­ant, in an un­de­mand­ing way. Kather­ine was still mak­ing out with her To­pher, al­though MM sus­pected that this Robb had other, ahem, side-in­ter­ests he was care­ful to con­ceal, per­haps even a love-nest set up­some­where. MMre­maine­davis­i­ble pres­ence at Lochinch, and around Carn­beg, in as­sorted colours of cor­duroy, in his waxed Bar­bour or his Puffa. Nowandthen,helay low, when­ever there was trou­ble brew­ing – he was quite adept at pass­ing the buck, if blame was be­ing handed out – and re-emerged with cheeks red­der than ever, hair blon­der, smile whiter, ac­cent sharper.

Andthen?

**** Creek, that’s what. MM couldn’t ex­tri­cate him­self from Lucinda’s em­braces, lit­eral as well as metaphor­i­cal. She­want­edthem­to­be­come en­gaged, and so they did so. Sir Henry had a heart at­tack, and re­tired from his Ed­in­burgh life. Katharine’s other half was all for bring­ing in a prop­erty man­ag­ing ser­vice to take over the fac­tor’s du­ties. Sir Henry had a sec­ond heart at­tack. Bella was hitched in a civil cer­e­mony to her part­ner Terri. Which might have been nei­ther here nor there if Terri hadn’t turned out to be a mad keen green en­vi­ron­men­tal­ist, who had a re­search de­gree in agri­cul­tural sci­ences. They all met Terri when she ac­com­pa­nied Bella to Sir Henry’s bed­side in hospi­tal. Af­ter a po­lite tete-a-tete with Bella’s beloved, MM saw To­pher Robb sidling up to her and speak­ing to her sotto voce. Sir Henry died. With ris­ing panic, MM found Lucinda want­ing him to name the day for a wed­ding. “So we can cheer ev­ery­one up.” He re­ceived a text mes­sage one­day,ananony­mous in­vi­ta­tion­todin­ner­attheS­gian Palace.Hishostessturned­out to­beWilma,some­onehe’dgotto knowon­theCirences­ter­so­cial cir­cuit,afel­low­stu­dent’s bois­ter­ou­san­dover-sexed­sis­ter. Thethird­per­son­atthetable­was ablonde-haired,ap­ple-cheeked girlofeightor­nine. “I thought you’d like to meet your daugh­ter, Max.”

MM reeled out of the ho­tel

and went stum­bling down the long chi­cane of drive­way, blun­der­ing into shrub­bery. This was the point at which mad­me­nand­seer­swere born: rev­o­lu­tion­ar­ies and mas­ter con­men, mes­si­ahs and se­rial killers alike. Which­wasMM­to­be­come? If only col­umn space and wordage re­stric­tions per­mit­ted, I would tell you that as­soonasMM–

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