All is not well in Brigadoon.
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'Have you seen,' whispered Mrs. Maclaren to Mrs. Macdonald as the pair strolled, around the market in MacConnachy Square, weighed down by baskets of shopping, 'Have you seen the size of Malcolm MacReekie's what-have-you?'
Jessie Macdonald sighed. 'Not since August 1740,' she admitted. 'It will be much smaller now, I expect?'
'No, Jessie, not that,' replied her companion primly, 'I was referring to Mr. MacReekie's new-plucked fowl.'
'But so was I !' protested Jessie blushing furiously. 'Whatever did you think?'
'Ah well,' said Mrs. Maclaren conceding nothing, just delighted that she had reminded Jessie of a youthful misdemeanour. 'You come along with me and we'll examine it closely. It's a monster!' She steered Jessie in the direction of Mr. MacReekie's stall, where, every Friday from nine o'clock, he was pleased to offer for sale plucked chickens and the occasional duck, grouse or pheasant, according to season. The two ladies had to fight their way through the usual troupe of whirling costermongers, drysalters, haberdashers, confectioners and layabouts, who, by tradition, danced their way around the market before the serious business of selling their goods got under way. Business had been slow of late, ever since Brigadoon had been concealed from the eyes of the world. There was little passing trade and no trade at all with neighbouring settlements. The tinkers and travelling salesmen and neighbours were no more. All that remained for the merchants of Brigadoon was to trade goods with each other. There was a fair press of on-lookers in front of Mr. MacReekie's stall, and, even from a distance, a sense of awe and wonderment. Whereas, around other stalls, there were either raised voices or no one at all, here a large and generally silent crowd had gathered. And no wonder: the stall comprised a small board normally lightly loaded with the corpses of a thin hen or two, and a perfunctory strip of cloth to shade the dead from the effects of sun and rain. Today however, there was nothing on the board except the enormous corpse of a plucked monster. The thing was the size of a boulder. Malcolm MacReekie in his younger days had been a man of considerable strength and, on certain days of the year, had demonstrated this by lifting from their beds hefty rocks around which most men could barely reach their arms. This bird was of that girth. And the flimsy board which MacReekie used to display his wares was visibly bending under its weight.
It was noticeable, too, that MacReekie's wife, the once-flighty and now-high-and-mighty Catriona, sported a new hat. To the unaccustomed eye, the feathers were astonishing in size, magnificent in sheen, incredible in colour. The gathered women, all covered in shawls of varying size, colour and quality, were of the opinion that it was much like the crown of some fabulous queen. Catriona MacReekie shared that opinion and revelled in it. She paraded up and down behind the stall, while her husband Malcolm gazed in considerable satisfaction upon the sensation of the hour.
'What kind of a bird is that?' asked one brave soul at last.
'That'll be the biggest and strangest bird you ever saw, most like?' asked MacReekie in his turn, well satisfied with the way the day was proceeding.
There was a general murmuring of confirmation, and then the question was repeated. 'Did it come with the witches?' demanded a younger voice. It was Hamish, who had thrust himself to the front of the assembly and was now gazing at the mound of flesh, nose to parson's nose. At this suggestion, there were some dark looks cast upon Malcolm and his bird. Mrs. MacReekie was affronted. 'No such thing!' she said loudly. 'That bird is one of God's own creations. I have it on the authority of Mr. Douglas himself! The bird is an Ox-finch. Is that not correct, Mr. Douglas?'
Jeff, who was lounging at the back of the throng, topping up a hip-flask for a near-empty bottle of spirits, looked up. 'That's quite right,' he said, 'an ostrich.' He looked around knowledgeably. 'Comes all the way from Africa.'
At this revelation, the crowd immediately split into two camps - the larger party were of the opinion that anything that came from Africa was likely to be the Devil's Own Work, for, even in 1754, the Enlightenment and all of its doings had not yet reached Brigadoon. The smaller party, keen advocates of Novelty, were simply much astonished at the bird's dimensions.
'And how,' demanded a leading member of the Godly Party, 'how the devil did that bird come to be in Brigadoon? Mr. Forsyth would never have permitted it!'
'Aye, how?' went up the supporting cry.
From the Gimmicky Party came a counter-argument. 'If God had meant that the ostrich should not reach Brigadoon, He would have struck it down. Unless you wish to deny the wisdom of the Good Lord?'
This theological argument quickly dampened down the wrath of the Godly Party and the crowd fell once more to admiring the size of the bird.
'And how much does it weigh, Malcolm?' asked one.
'I cannot tell,' replied Malcolm proudly. 'It near broke my scales this morning. However, I imagine it would feed your family for a day or two, Mr. Macafferty, should you wish to buy it.' He smiled comfortably upon his questioner, who had a wife, sixteen children, an aged father and a mother-in-law whose appetite was legendary. For all that, Mr. Macafferty was impoverished. So it was not he who wished to know the price.
'I will not take less than ten shillings,' announced MacReekie firmly. This proclamation met with a stunned silence for several seconds. And then disbelief.
'Ten shillings? For that thing, that spawn of Satan himself? Would that be the modern shillings, man?' The crowd had once more sharply divided into the Godly and the Dissidents. But this time, the Godly Party was in the great majority. 'I'll give you a shilling for it,' announced Mrs. Macdonald firmly. 'And not a penny more.'
Catriona MacReekie hooted with laughter, and tossed her head so that the vast superstructure of ostrich feathers danced dangerously. 'Oh, Jessie Macdonald,' she mocked, 'you always were a cheap lassie! Get away with you!'