The Max Factor
TALES FROM CARNBEG
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.
**** 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–