At the Tillicoultrie Inn
by Margaret Rumford
Table of Contents|
parts: 1, 2, 3
They woke Friday morning to leaden skies. It had rained all night. At six, Dorrie scrambled up the outside steps to collect eggs from the henhouse. When she went into the barn to find a pail, Eluf greeted her head on. She side-stepped him, grabbed the pail and fled in time to find Euan in the kitchen delivering a crate of seafood, his curls springing up like coils of copper wire.
Astrid, bent over a concoction of cream and eggs soon to become rhubarb caramel ice cream, slapped Euan’s hand away. “Go away,” she said, laughing. “No dipping. Put the fish in the fridge.”
“And how’s the new apprentice?” Euan grinned at Dorrie. “Brought any Down Under ideas up here?” He winked as he unloaded the crates in the pantry.
Dorrie wanted to kill him.
“Don’t forget to remind the staff to be here at two sharp tomorrow afternoon, Euan.” Astrid said.
The sound of Euan’s boat chugging away was a relief to Dorrie. He was the type that would wait for the most inappropriate moment to tell everyone about her TV debacle. She knew it. Who cared that he was drop-dead gorgeous? Looks weren’t everything.
By seven o’clock, the sun had made an effort to break through the gray clouds. Astrid yanked on her rubber boots, grabbed some scissors and headed out to pick sorrel for soup.
“Isn’t sorrel a weed?” Dorrie said, following her through the door.
“Silly girl, with a dash of cream and nasturtiums for garnish, it is delicious,” Astrid called over her shoulder.
Yikes, nasturtiums in soup!
She watched as Astrid dashed up the steps to be met at the top by Eluf. Delighted to see his mistress, he bounded towards her. With horns lowered, the idiot animal smashed into her chest. The impact hurled her backwards. Dorrie watched in horror from the kitchen door.The action seemed to be happening in slow motion as Astrid crashed down the steps. As she fell, her head hit the stone wall. Dorrie rushed to where she lay, noting Astrid’s legs were horribly twisted. Blood poured from a gash on her right temple.
“Astrid! Speak to me!” Dorrie knelt beside her and put fingers on Astrid’s neck, feeling for a pulse. After she found that Astrid was, in fact, alive, she dialed 999. The operator assured her a Medevac helicopter would be there in half an hour.
“Don’t move her,” the operator’s calm voice told her. “Keep her warm.”
“Do hurry,” implored Dorrie.
Looking up she saw Eluf standing at the top of the steps, a quizzical expression on his face, his head cocked to one side.
“Get out!” Dorrie screamed. “You stupid thing!” She looked around for something to throw at him.
Eluf must have got the message for he sauntered off in the direction of the barn, munching dandelions as he went.
Dorrie dashed into the kitchen and grabbed some towels along with a navy fleece. She wrapped the fleece around Astrid and used the towels to staunch the flow of blood. Then she rushed back into the kitchen and grabbed a pack of frozen peas. She pressed it against Astrid’s head before she lay down beside her, desperate to keep Astrid warm, Holding her hand, she waited. “Don’t die, Astrid!” she begged.
After what seemed an eternity, she heard the thud-thud-thud of the approaching Medevac. Dorrie ran to the beach and waved frantically to the pilot. “Here!” she yelled.
The black and yellow Medevac hovered like a monster bumblebee over the inn before turning into the breeze to land in the pasture near the pebbled beach. The clatter of its rotors increased to a deafening pitch as it touched down. Turbulence caught a rabbit that dashed across the pasture, somersaulting it through the air to land unharmed in the long grass.
The whine of the engines decreased as the helicopter squatted on the field. Two men in chrome-yellow gear jumped down. Crouching low to avoid the still spinning rotors, they ran towards the inn. Ten minutes later they returned, carrying Astrid, strapped on a stretcher, shrouded in blankets.
The men said they couldn’t really tell a lot about Astrid’s condition, except both legs looked broken. Was there possibly brain damage? Dorrie had heard the sickening thud of Astrid’s head against stone. Maybe Astrid’s back was also broken. Maybe she would never walk again. Oh God!
Astrid’s eyes fluttered open. “Food critic,” she whispered before falling back into unconsciousness.
The attendants bundled the stretcher into the belly of the Medevac and scrambled in after it. The door slammed shut. The rotors’ speed increased. Vibrating at maximum volume, the helicopter tilted forward and took off. It heeled around and headed east towards Inverness.
From the door of the inn, Dorrie watched. The draught whipped her hair into dark ribbons. Shivering, she clutched Astrid’s fleece to her chest. “It’s all my fault,” she moaned.
In the silence that followed, Dorrie wandered back to the kitchen, slumped onto a chair and laid her head on her arms at the cluttered table. She had never felt so alone.
Later, from across the loch came the sound of a diesel engine. Oh no, not him. The thought of seeing Euan was too much. She couldn’t put up with his smart-assed remarks.
She heard him call, “Astrid! Dorrie!”
He found her in the kitchen. “I saw the Medevac and came immediately. What happened?”
“Astrid fell and probably broke her both legs.” Dorrie, head still down, sniffled, “It was my fault. I let Elug and Bendt out of the barn.” She looked up, her face red and swollen from crying. “That stupid Eluf butted Astrid down the back steps. She lost her balance and fell.” Dorrie let out a loud wail.
“Och, pull yourself together, girl.” Euan took her arm. “Come with me.” He led her along the passage that connected the kitchen to the bar where Connor kept his collection of premium Scotch.
“Sit here.” He indicated a stool beside the mirror-backed bar. He took a bottle and poured a generous amount into a tumbler. “Drink this,” he ordered.
Dorrie gulped down the Scotch.
“Oh my God, I’ve got to cancel the reservations,” she said, remembering the guests coming the following evening.
“Why would you do that?” he said.
“The last thing Astrid said to me was, ‘Food critic.’ She wanted me to cancel dinner.”
Euan stared at her for a moment. “Have you thought that maybe she was encouraging you to go ahead?”
“Are you crazy?” Dorrie shouted. She leant across the bar and splashed more Scotch into her glass.
“Hey, steady.” Euan moved the bottle out of her reach. He took out his phone as he left her.
Dorrie gazed at the brightly lit bottles of Scotch lining the shelves. She realized she was drinking Connor’s most prized one. He’ll have a fit, she thought.
“I called the hospital,” Connor said, coming back to the bar. “Astrid is being prepped. Nothing to report yet. I also called my mother. She’ll drive to the hospital and let us know as soon as there’s any news.” He closed his phone. “Astrid and she are great friends,” he added.
“That’s so good of her,” said Dorrie, her eyes filling with tears.
“Listen,” said Euan, “I think you and I can pull this off, the dinner. The menu may need to be simplified. Knowing Astrid, she was probably over-prepared. The fridge must be packed with stuff. This is your chance to redeem yourself. You want to, don’t you, after what happened on TV...?” His voice trailed away when he saw the horrified expression on Dorrie’s face.
How could he be so cruel? She was crushed. But not for long. Her body began to glow from the Scotch. Maybe he was right; this could be a chance to showcase her culinary expertise.
Euan then spoiled it all by saying, “Hey, even if you screw up, we can explain to the critic, you did your best. But at least, Dorrie, you gave it a shot. So what do you say?”
“I’ll do it,” Dorrie said, her confidence more or less restored. Already she imagined the critic, an elegant gentleman in a blazer and linen slacks, asking to meet the chef. Then she, in a clean starched apron appearing in the dining room to a round of applause.
Saturday proved to be one of those rare Scottish days, not a cloud in the wide blue sky. The loch, girdled with dark pines and surrounded by amethyst hills, sparkled sapphire blue.
Dorrie decided to serve dinner in the conservatory. The setting sun would highlight the soft greenery of the ferns hanging in the windows and shine on the silver and glassware set on white linen tablecloths.
The help, two women and a plump, spotty-faced teenage boy to work in the scullery, arrived with Euan at two. Jean, the older woman, matronly with a cheerful disposition, bustled efficiently about the kitchen.
“Not to worry, dear,” she told Dorrie. “We’ve done this dozens of times.”
Fiona, a slim, attractive redhead made centerpieces with white roses and blue hydrangea, while seriously flirting with Euan. She was so annoying.
Euan had cleaned up well: his curls tamed, freshly shaved, dressed in black pants and a crisp white shirt and, naturally, full of himself.
“Isn’t Dr. McIver sexy, Dorrie?” Fiona said.
“Euan!” Fiona said, setting wine glasses on a tray. “You’re lucky he’s home.”
Dorrie wasn’t sure how lucky she was; Euan acted as if he was in charge. “Dr. McvIver?” she said.
“Euan’s a marine biologist.” Fiona told her
“A marine biologist?” echoed Dorrie. “Not a fisherman?”
“No, he just comes to see his mum.” Fiona lifted the tray and headed to the conservatory.
“I must get back to work,” said Dorrie, beginning to panic about dinner.
She had revised Astrid’s menu, telling herself, simplify, simplify. The menu now read:
Pheasant Pate with Raspberry Jus and Green Grapes
Gravalox of Salmon with Fennel and Dill Mousse
Green Salad with Land Cress, Mustard Leaf Rocket, Perthshire Pears tossed with Elderberry Vinaigrette
Angus Beef with Port Wine and Horse Chestnuts, Roast Potatoes, Runner Beans
Baked Gigha Halibut stuffed with Colhost Crab, Garden Peas, Asparagus
Grilled Venison Marinated with Garlic and Tarragon
Creamed Brussel Sprouts, Julienned Carrots, Rosemary Potatoes
Danish Cake with Damson Crème Fraîche
Rhubarb Caramel Ice Cream with Astrid’s Shortbread
Selection of Cheeses
Isle of Mull Cheddar, Mull of Kintyre, Arran Blue
Tillicoultrie Goat Artisan
Motor launches delivered the dinner guests to the inn at seven. Busy in the kitchen, Dorrie did not see them arrive but heard the sounds of party chatter drfting from the bar. Fiona came to tell her that Euan had welcomed them and explained about Astrid’s accident.
“Och, you should’ve heard them,” she said, “until he said fortunately another chef was visiting, and she, that’s you, Dorrie, had agreed to take over. And because they must be incredibly disappointed, there’d be a reduction in their bills.”
“What!” Dorrie felt her blood rise. Why would they be disappointed? Furious he hadn’t consulted her and that he seemed determined to undermine her, she chewed her lip as she arranged the dill mousse.
“Take no notice, lassie. You’ll do just fine.” said Jean. “By the way, where’s Euan? He’d better be away to grilling the meat.”
Euan eventually dragged himself away from the guests and showed up in the kitchen.
“Which one’s the critic?” demanded Dorrie.
“It’s hard to tell,” he said. “There’s a family party of six, elderly parents with sons and their dates. Three tables of two and two men, one’s Jamaican, I think. They’ve already had too much drink and are more than cozy with each other.” Here Euan winked.
“Big deal,” said Dorrie, impatiently. “Who’s the critic?
“It could be anyone, except a Spanish couple in their forties, very stylish. What does a food critic look like?”
“You’re hopeless,” Dorrie told him. “I’ll check for myself.”
“Maybe not a good idea,” Euan said, taking bottles of white wine out of the cooler and blocking the way. You’re needed here.”
“I happen to be in charge,” Dorrie shouted as he left.
After pouring herself and Jean glasses of Beaujolais and changing her apron, she decided that once the pudding had been served, she would look to decide who was the critic.
Peering from the doorway of the conservatory, at a table directly opposite her, Dorie saw a man whose muscular back strained the seams of his pewter gray silk suit. She watched him stroke his companion’s dark cheek and kiss him. Then he turned around.
Rhod Lightning, the macho star of Kiwi Kook, was gay? And here! She’d ruined his show and now he would have his revenge.
Why did she have such terrible luck? Fate was determined to ruin her life. If only she hadn’t gone to the conservatory, he never would have seen her. Connor could have warned her. Actually, Rhod looked equally shocked. And the reservation hadn’t been made in his name. Maybe he was traveling incognito. Ha!
“Time to serve coffee.” Euan edged past her, heading to the kitchen. “So, you saw our famous guest?” He raised an eyebrow. “I don’t know who looked more horrified, you or him.” He laughed.
As Dorrie backed away, a scuffle started at the Spanish couple’s table. The woman stood. With her back to the room, she inserted herself between her husband’s knees. She bent over him and appeared to be thrusting her breasts in his face. Good God! Grunting sounds issued from both of them. The other diners stopped eating and stared. No one moved. What she was doing? Surely people, no matter how European, didn’t have sex in restaurants, for heaven’s sake.
A low growl erupted from the man as he fell sideways onto the floor into his own vomit.
Copyright © 2018 by Margaret Rumford