M.C. Beaton

Death of a Nag

Hamish Macbeth #11

1995, EN

? Death of a Nag ?


O the disgrace of it! –

The scandal, the incredible come-down!

—Sir Max Beerbohm

Hamish Macbeth awoke to another day. His dog, Towser, was lying across his feet, snoring rhythmically. Sunlight slanted through the gap in the curtains. The telephone in the police office part of the house shrilled and then the answering machine clicked on. He should rise and go and find out what it was. It was his duty as a police constable of the village of Lochdubh and part of the surrounding area of the county of Sutherland. But all he wanted to do was pull the duvet over his head and go back to sleep.

He could not really think of any good reason for getting up to face the day.

He had, until his demotion from sergeant back to constable and the end of his engagement with Priscilla Halburton-Smythe, daughter of a local hotelier, been very popular, a happy state of affairs he had taken for granted. But somehow the story had got about that he had cruelly jilted Priscilla, she who had been too good for him in the first place, and so, when he went about his duties, he was met with reproachful looks. Although Chief Superintendent Peter Daviot had also been angry with him over the end of the engagement, that was not why Hamish had been demoted. He had solved a murder mystery by producing what he firmly believed was the body of the murdered man to elicit a shock confession from the guilty party. The ruse had worked, but he had had the wrong body. It had turned out to be a fine example of Pictish man and the police were accused of being clod- hopping morons for having so roughly handled and used such a prime exhibit. Someone had to be punished, and naturally that someone was Hamish Macbeth.

Hamish was not an ambitious man. In fact, he was quite happy with his lot as an ordinary police constable, but he felt the displeasure of the village people keenly. His days before his disgrace had pleasantly been given up to mooching around the village and gossiping. Now no one seemed to want to spend the time of day with him, or that was the way it seemed to his gloomy mind. If Priscilla, whom Hamish considered remarkably unaffected by the end to the romance, had stayed around to demonstrate that fact, then he would not be in bad odour. But she had left to stay with friends in Gloucestershire for an extended visit, so as far as the villagers were concerned, Hamish had driven her off and she was down in ‘foreign’ parts, nursing a broken heart.

Mrs Halburton-Smythe did not help matters by shaking her head and murmuring ‘Poor Priscilla’ whenever Hamish’s name was mentioned, although what Mrs Halburton-Smythe was sad about was that she was beginning to believe that her cool and aloof daughter did not want to marry anyone.

With a groan, Hamish made the effort and got up. Towser gave a grumbling sound in the back of his throat and slid to the floor and padded off towards the kitchen.

Hamish jerked back the curtains. The police station was on the waterfront and overlooked the sea loch, which lay that morning as calm as a sheet of glass.

He washed and dressed and went through to the police office. The message was from headquarters in Strathbane reminding him he had not sent in a full statement about a break-in at a small hotel on the road to Drim. He ambled into the kitchen and made himself a breakfast of bread and cheese, for he had forgotten to light the stove. Priscilla had presented him with a brand-new electric cooker, but he had childishly sent it back.

He fed Towser and stood on one leg, irresolute, looking like a heron brooding over a pond. Depression was new to him. He had to take action, to do something to lift it. He could start by typing that report. On the other hand, Towser needed a walk.

The phone began to ring again and so he quickly left the police station with Towser at his heels and set out along the waterfront in the hot morning sun. And it was hot, a most unusual state of affairs for the north of Scotland. He pushed his peaked cap back on his fiery-red hair and his hazel eyes saw irritation heading his way in the form of the Currie sisters, Jessie and Nessie.

The eyes of the village spinsters constantly accused him of being a heartless flirt. He touched his cap and said, “Fine morning.”

“It is for some. It is for some,” said Jessie, who had an irritating habit of repeating things. “Some, on the other hand, are breaking their hearts.”

Hamish skirted round them and went on his way. Resentment and self-pity warred in his bosom. He had once helped the Currie sisters out of a dangerous jam and had destroyed evidence to do so. Damn it, he had helped a lot of people in this village. Why should he be made to feel guilty?

His thoughts turned to Angela Brodie, the doctor’s wife. Now she had not turned against him. He walked up the short path leading to the doctor’s house, went round the back and knocked at the kitchen door. Angela answered it, the dogs yapping at her feet. She pushed her fine wispy hair out of her eyes and said vaguely, “Hamish! How nice. Come in and have coffee.”

She cleared a space for him at the kitchen table by lifting piles of books off it and placing them on the floor.

“I don’t seem to have had a chat with you in ages,” said Angela cheerfully. “Heard from Priscilla?”

Hamish, who had just been lowering his bottom on to a kitchen chair, stood up again. “If you are going to start as well…” he began huffily.

“Sit down,” said Angela, startled. “Start what?”

Hamish slowly sat down again. “You haff been the only one who hass not gone on about Priscilla,” he said, his Highland accent becoming more sibilant, as it always did when he was angry or upset.

“Oh, I see,” said Angela, pouring him a mug of coffee and sliding it across the table towards him. “I only asked about Priscilla because I assumed that you and she were still friends.”

“And so we are!” said Hamish. “But ye wouldnae think so with this lot in Lochdubh. You would think I wass some sort of Victorian philanderer the way they go on.”

“It’ll blow over,” said Angela comfortably. “These sort of ideas spread through these villages like an infection. Mrs Wellington started it.” Mrs Wellington was the minister’s wife. “She started it by complaining that you were a feckless womanizer and things like that. You know how she goes on. But you brought that on yourself!”


“She happened to overhear you doing a very good impression of her to delight the boy scouts.”


“And so she got a resentment to you and shared it around. Resentment is very infectious. It has always fascinated me the way, for example, one malcontent can bring a whole factory out on strike and keep everyone out on strike until the firm folds and they all lose their jobs. Also, you’re going around being so gloomy. That fuels it. You look like a guilty man.”

“I’m a bit down,” confessed Hamish. “The fact is I’ve taken a scunner tae Lockdubh and everyone in it.”

“Hamish! You love the place!”

“Not at the moment.”

“You’re due some leave, aren’t you? Get right away on holiday. You could get one of those cheap holidays in Spain. Or some of the African package holidays are very cheap.”

“I’ll think about it,” said Hamish moodily. “I might just take a wee holiday somewhere in Scotland, seeing that the weather’s fine.”

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