Laddie to Lady
Michael was a proud Scot. He wore his kilt with genuine confidence that it was good to be Scottish, that it was right to be a man and that by virtue of these two factors, he was indeed better than most other people. As for sassenachs – they were below his interest; as for women they were beyond his interest, as for the ordinary worker – if they were not of his clan – then why should he have any concern for them. Over the years, he had managed to develop a faint, often pretended, interest in the doings of his fellows at school and a very few others. He was handsome in a neat, thin way but overall his arrogance spoiled anyone from looking for evidence of any worthwhile characteristics.
There were times that his cousins were keen to see him taken down a peg or two. Even at the age of ten or eleven, he was haughty, sneering and convinced of his innate superiority to all those who were not the nuclear family of McLeish of the McLeish. Despite being told that the clan was merely centred on the ruling family, he believed with heart and soul that the family was there to be supported by those who were merely McLeish.
As for his behaviour and attitudes to those who were ‘other’ – his attitude worsened in a steady progression. As already stated, he ranked his world in a strict order - McLeish of the McLeish, then McLeish, then a selection of other highland clans, then lowland scots of a worthy type especially if they were merchants who supplied McLeish equipment of many sorts, then other scots, then celts from Wales or Ireland or even Cornwall and Brittany, then enemy clans, then foreigners who he had met and approved, then the English.
There were no words to speak of his distaste for things English. He could not be accused of racism or genderism or barely sexism. He was attended by his family servants and knew little or nothing of the outside world. He was confident that this was how it had always been and how it always would be.
Things do change.
Michael’s parents were not especially interested in their son and had little idea that he was becoming all that was least attractive in a future leader of the clan. He was a bully; he was spoilt, greedy, demanding, egotistical, selfish, irate and generally cruel and nasty. In fact there were few of the seven deadly sins which he was actively avoiding. As a reminder, these are Sloth, Lust, Gluttony, Greed, Anger, Envy and Pride – and their symptoms are numerous and many and ugly.
It would be harsh to say that Michael was actually an evil boy but he was on a slippery slope of vileness and arrogance from which it would be hard to retreat.
The final straw came when his cousin Anna came to stay. The four parents were close because, as was common in many a close-knit clan, all four were distant cousins themselves and had grown up from babes together in the comfort and community of the 1950s clan. As many of that generation, they looked back and felt ‘we might have been poor as regards modern goods but it was actually a golden age for children’.
Anna was a nice kid. Not perfect of course, but she listened most of the time, she obeyed most of the time, she was receptive to argument and she generally tried to be nice to other people. In particular, she trusted other people and believed they were basically decent and trustworthy. Due to circumstances, she and her parents had been in Canada for most of her life and while her parents had occasionally, one by one, been able to visit Scotland, she had seen Michael only a very few times and not at all for six years. She did not know what sort of a boy he had become. He knew equally little about her.
“Your cousin Anna is coming to stay. I expect you remember her, she was a charming little girl when we last saw her here some six years ago.
Michael had little memory of Anna although he had seen her parents off and on over the last few years. He remembered a quiet little girl, quite skinny with reddish hair and the ability to be a dormouse falling asleep anytime and anywhere. He had no expectation that there would be much to interest him there.
The days passed until Anna arrived. Not surprisingly, Michael continued to fail to learn any lessons or gain any insight into the behaviour of a clan-chief. He was a despair to all his clan apart from his parents who seemed strangely ignorant.
On the day Anna was to arrive, Michael was asked to collect her from the station. He was as casual as ever; started late, didn’t bother to catch up and be there on time. When he did arrive in his shiny not-polished-by-him sportscar, Anna was waiting and nearly frantic that something had gone wrong.
“Oh, I’m so glad you’re here. I was getting worried. I seem to get worried about so many things at the moment. I’m just not coping with all these changes,” said the young girl waiting by the pile of luggage. Typically, Michael hadn’t thought whether he would have to collect luggage. He grunted to the effect that ‘he was here, wasn’t he and why had nobody told him there would be lots of luggage.’
Anna felt most uncomfortable – where was the welcome she was told she would expect – and she got this – a grunting youth who clearly thought that acting as a chauffeur for his cousin was beneath his dignity.
Anna might not have looked determined and tough but there was steel in her soul. She was a McLeish born and bred and, but for the few minutes that separated her grandfather from his twin, her father would be The McLeish and Anna would be aiming to take the reins. Not for nothing had several of the highland clans taken heed of the necessity for a woman at the head at times of trouble. Indeed, a famous McLeish of the seventeenth century had given the family one of its stories about it being ‘better to have a woman in a kilt than a boy in a skirt’.
This referred to the old story at the time of the Old Pretender when the clan head was a boy of barely four years who was still wearing babyclothes – which in those days were unisex and mostly arranged for girls. His mother, Agnes, was not one to flinch at her duty. She was at daggers drawn with her younger cousin who felt it was his right to take over. He was a small ferrety man of barely 30 years who was later found to be in the pay of the English. Curses still remained in the family records as to how he had been dealt with once this was known.
Agnes had held the clan firm, she had held the lands and the flocks and ensured that the English Caesars got there taxes with the barest minimum of grace.
Agnes was a well famed clan name as Anna Agnes Alice McLeish well knew.
Anna took stock of the situation. She decided that the best form of attack was quiet confidence. “As you have only a little car, I can only bring one or two small bags for now. I will arrange for the rest to wait for collection. I am sure you know who to talk to for that task.”
She placed her two chosen bags in the car. She noted that Michael did not get out of the car and therefore was unable to assist in the task. Her spine straightened another notch. This was not how things should be at McLeish.
Once they were under way, Michael did deign to talk to her; and she could see that he was having to make a significant effort not to instruct or demand. She was almost willing to give him a point for trying hard when he blew it.
“Why have you come here anyway?”
“I beg your pardon, I have been invited to stay here for a period while my parents finalise the situation in Canada. It is expected that I shall find a suitable college and then I shall be moving on to make my mark in the world. After all I am a McLeish.”
“Yeah, you’re a McLeish – but I’m going to be The McLeish and I have not been told yet why you are here rather than at one of the cottages.”
“My dear cousin - and that is indeed why – it has been arranged this way because I am your cousin. I am one of your closer relatives and I have been invited by The McLeish as you so proudly identify him. Do you wish to see the letter or do you continue to disbelieve me.”
Michael was silent. He was unused to any form of criticism – and this did sound like disagreement at the least. Barely a step from outright criticism and lack of due respect.
“Well that will have to do, then, won’t it,” he grudgingly agreed. By this time they were speeding through the woods. Ancient oaks grew here rather than the miles of Forestry Commission pines which had invaded much of the nearby lands. Anna looked at the huge trees fondly. She had climbed many a tree that size or bigger in the deep woods of Canada. She mentioned this and Michael’s response gave her a small inward smile.
“No, I don’t do anything like that. I’ll track deer and so on. I take part in the autumn cull of course. Can’t be allowed to miss out on that. But what d’you mean when you say you’ve climbed trees like that. I suppose you mean you’ve climbed up one of those long low branches and got all of 15 feet off the ground.”
He didn’t notice the glint in Anna’s eye. She was being provoked and that was not a wise act by the provokee. Several people had learnt that. But alas for Michael, none of these were within a thousand miles and, even had they been closer, several would have waited awhile so that they could watch how Anna would deal with this incautious provocation.
During dinner, there were more opportunities to assess her cousin in a poor light. His manners were barely adequate, his conversation inept, his intelligence suspect, his knowledge of anything beyond the clan was either feeble or fatuous. She decided that he might be aware of the existence of Canada but little more. He gave no indication that he would be a shining light for the clan to follow.
In the morning, things did not improve. Anna was up for breakfast at a respectable 7.45 while Michael did not stir until nearly an hour later. When he did his clothes were badly chosen, his face poorly washed and there was even dirt under one of his fingernails.
Michael’s parents were expected to arrive back from London by the mid-afternoon. Anna could see that Michael cared little about this. First, she asked him how he got on with his father.
“He’s alright but I really have very little in common with him. Apart from the autumn cull when we go stalking, he’s so busy running the clan’s affairs that I see little of him between breakfast and dinner.”
Anna’s opinion of her cousin-uncle needed revision perhaps – if Michael was able to be accurate.
“As for mother,” Michael continued without prompting. “She’s alright but so everlastingly busy with committees for this and organisations for that, that I have to look after myself. But of course there are plenty of servants to do what I want.”
Oh dear, thought Anna. Another set of parents incapable of doing the job and a damaged child as a result. This was the sort of job that the McLeish should be doing for all his clan families – and he was unable to do it in his own home. Yet again, she recalled the old saying that a cobbler’s children have no shoes.
That night, she began the first step of her campaign. She asked The McLeish, who she called by his nickname of TM, what his attitude was to bets and how they should be paid off.
“A bet is a bet when all is said and done. If you haven’t the means to pay your dues then you have no business making the bet in the first place. I cannot stand anyone who welches on a bet. It’s about as ungentlemanly as you get.”
“But what about women betting, TM?”
“Not sure that that is their business really. They can’t be expected to know much about horses or the like. I would really disapprove if they tried any of that casino stuff, y’know, roulette and so on. I suppose a little friendly wager is where the line should be drawn.”
Anna smiled with a quiet delight. These answers could not have suited her design more. Next, she would need to arrange for the support of certain staff. By her courteous manner and general willingness to be reasonable in her request, she already had the various members of staff almost eager to respond to her beck and call. She felt it would be wise to get agreement from both of Michael’s parents. Then she could start to line up that Michael.
Days passed and Michael began to suspect that his little cousin was about a feeble and wimpy as he had suspected. She had even tried to climb one of the oaks that she had gone on about – she had come back all bedraggled and confessed that it had been so hard to climb that big tree. Michael smiled to realize that this wet and skinny thing was no threat to his continued dominance at McLeish.
She had tried once or twice to dare him to try to climb the tree but he was having none of that.
“Why on earth would I be interested in climbing a tree. If I need to do so then I know that I can do it. Just because you can’t. After all I’m a boy, well, a young man now.”
So this young man did have spirit somewhere then, thought Anna Agnes Alice.
Early one afternoon, during a day buzzing with busyness, Anna found Michael’s mother, Teresa, fuming along the upper corridors. “I am not pleased. I want those men. Not pleased at all. Why can’t they understand the effort I put in to keep things running smoothly. Oooooh.”
“Auntie, what’s the matter. You don’t usually get cross about anything.”
“No dear, you’re wrong. I often get cross but I find it distasteful to display such a raw emotion. However, this time I am merely exploding with irritation.”
“May I ask why?”
“A lady may ask anything, but she may not get an immediate reply,” Teresa grinned faintly and they could both see the anger diminishing to a sullen glow. “I’m not pleased with either my husband or my son. I have made arrangements and they have quite casually upset them. And therefore me. I wish there was some way to make them more appreciative of the effort one puts in to run this place. Especially Michael, there are times that I do wonder at his suitability. I can’t say that he’s not a McLeish to the bone – I bore him and I know exactly how many men I have made love to in my life. Just one and that’s TM. I love the boy in so many ways – but ooooooooh. I shall stamp my foot.” And she did so.
“Auntie, I had a word with TM about making bets. Would you be averse to having a bet with me that I can make Michael do something he doesn’t want to do?”
“You puzzle me, my sweet and decorative Canadian import. But am I allowed to ask what you shall be persuading my son to perform?”
“Not really now, because as you said, ‘a lady may not get an immediate reply’. I can promise that he will be sorry that he has inconvenienced me and that he has teased me about my ability to climb trees one day and be a sugar-plum fairy the next. I await his exploits at the cull with interest. I suspect he may have a shock then or thenabouts.”
The two ladies looked at each with sudden interest and the dawning of a new respect.
“I shall also await events then, my clearly clever and deeply planning visitor from beyond these walls. I would be glad for Michael to learn new skills.”
Michael was the next item in the scheme.
“Michael, I’ve need your help. I’ve been looking for a project for college and I want to do something on deer. Can you help me learn about this ‘coll’ or whatever it’s called.”
“Anna, I told you it is a ‘cull’. It’s when we go out and pick off the oldest and weakest deer so that the herd stays strong. Can’t have any weaklings on the hills.”
“What do you mean about ‘picking them off’. Do you take them off to the nature reserves?”
“No. we kill them. We shoot them. We keep or sell as much meat locally as we can. A lot gets wasted because it is too expensive to store or travel with it. We should really give it away.”
“Oh, Michael, you can’t mean you shoot those dear little bambis. That’s horrid. I could never do that. I don’t think I could even bear to watch.”
Michael saw another opportunity to knock his cousin. “And I don’t think you could either. In fact I’d make a bet with you. If you can come out onto the hills with us and actually shoot a deer then I’ll promise that I’ll try to do something you set me.”
Anna put on a ghastly American accent. “What. You mean you’d take a bet on with little ol’me to do something so horrid and macho – and if I win then I can set you a target. Like then you’ve got to climb one of those big ol’ oaks or something.”
“Yes, my wee cuz. I’ll cure you of this bambi thing. I know you don’t want to admit that I’m tougher and stronger than you. I’ll make the bet easier for you. You don’t have to kill a deer just make a good shot at it. Our ghillie, Jock, will be with you. If he says it was a fair attempt then I’ll take his word for it.” Sadly, Michael believed he knew things about Jock and therefore calculated that Jock would never support Anna’s word against his. More sadly for Michael, Anna was very popular with Jock. Yet more sadly for Michael, Anna knew one end of a gun from the other.
The time for the cull was getting closer. Anna was playing scaredy-cat more and more of the time. This meant that Michael kept on pressing for the terms of the bet to be made more onerous on Anna if she were to lose.
Anna had no intention of losing. Jock had no intention of letting Anna lose.
Anna kept on whining back to Michael whenever he put the pressure on. “But that means if I do win then you’ll have to do something to match. You can’t mean to make me do all this macho boyish stuff just because I lose a silly little bet about doing my best to shoot at a lovely little deer.”
Michael kept on with his unattractive attitude – never getting weaker, never getting feebler, always getting pushier, always getting nastier, on went Michael, grinning like a schoolboy, grinning like a monster, on went Michael. Perhaps he had to.
There was one evening when Teresa was about to interrupt and bring to an end what she saw as a very improper to-and-fro between the two youngsters. Anna saw her aunt about to burst and interrupted her with a quick question and a heavy wink. Teresa hesitated but controlled herself with a brief cough.
“Anna, dear, I was about to ask how your project is going, the one you talked about when we were upstairs.”
Auntie, dear, it’s going just excellently. I’ll give you an update in a day or so after this horrid cull which Michael keeps going on about.”
Anna did not like Michael’s attitude or his behaviour or his bullying manner. Anna was going to make this stop. Anna wanted a true McLeish to be the next leader of the clan. Anna had plans. Anna had schemes. Anna was going to make Michael change his ways. Even though she knew that true change came from within the change and only when they were ready to accept that change was truly necessary – she also knew that change could be encouraged, endorsed and validated. And she was going to ensure that Michael was thoroughly persuaded to go along with the changes that were needed.
On the morning of the cull, Michael could have saved himself. He could have behaved decently and given Anna the chance to save face and surrender with good grace. He did not choose this option. Instead he spoke to his father. “TM, I’ve made a bet with our wee red-headed visitor that she can’t get close to a deer. She says she wouldn’t dare shoot a ‘darling little bambi’. I’ve decided to give her a lesson in how tough you need to be a McLeish. I’m rather looking forward to today. You just wait and see.”
TM blinked. Did his son not have a clue about our red-headed visitor’s skills. He knew his Canadian cousins well and had been kept well informed about their doings and especially how his goddaughter Anna had been getting on. He was proud of her which was why he had invited her to Scotland for a prolonged stay. What had his appalling son got himself into. Had he never realized that the TripleA girl TM had mentioned a good few times over the years was this ‘wee red-headed’ visitor. TM thought for a moment and decided that perhaps he had never called Anna TripleA while she was at the castle. He paused for another moment and then asked ‘and what is the prize for the winner of this little contest.”
“If I win, then I’m allowed to set her some more tasks like climbing the old oak or the cliffs beyond Loch Farnie. If she wins, fat chance, she says that she’ll set me some tasks that will try my masculinity equally hard. She said she’d think of something just as hard as climbing the big oak. I said the oak wasn’t a real challenge to me even though I’ve never bothered to try; after all unlike her I wasn’t scared of heights.”
“She actually said you’d have to do things like climbing trees and so on. How did she phrase it exactly, not that it matters much.”
“No. She said ‘things just as difficult in their way as climbing the big oak. She said she would test me to prove myself as tough at the things she could do. I’ve set Jock to judge how good a shot she attempts – Jock’ll make the right decision.”
TM smiled. The next few hours and the weeks afterwards might prove sufficiently interesting that he might stay at McLeish rather more than was usual at this time of year. He could see definite enjoyment from watching the tasks that Anna would set Michael – if she were to win. He knew things about Anna’s time in Canada that Michael was obviously unaware about. He was all to ready to back Anna up when she won and was ready to implement her plans. He knew after the last few weeks that Anna was the sort of girl to be well prepared and ready with not just Plan A and B but variants all the way down the alphabet. Michael was going to get a shock and not before time. TM was all too aware that some of his parenting had not been as successful as he would have wished. Perhaps this cull would be one to remember for more than just the number of deer culled or missed.
After an early night, the whole house was up and about well before dawn. The porridge to warm the belly and the shot of whisky to warm the heart sent the teams out onto the hills. TM led one team, Michael had demanded to lead the other, Uncle Jack led the third with Jock and Anna included.
As arranged, the three teams began on separate hills so that they could work the deer towards the top of Loch Rathie where it was sometimes easy to set up a culling arena. This happened when the main herd was persuaded into the deep glacier-made corrie on the shoulder of the hill – about one time in four.
Not this year. Michael watched as Anna’s team set off and he suddenly realized that Anna looked happy and comfortable to be up at this time of the morning. That she looked excited and keen. Worse, that she had that glint in her eye and suppressed intense enthusiasm which he recognised as belonging to the devoted hunter. Oh God, he was going to get it wrong. He had to find ways to sabotage the event. Forget what trouble he might get into with TM – he realized that Anna had been leading him on. That she had a plan to go with her obviously deliberate tricking of him. Had he been stupid not to notice? How clever was his cousin?
Up and on, the teams toiled through the wet heather and bracken.
The dawn began to break into crisp early morning.
“How dare you deliberately try to ruin The Cull,” roared TM. “I know you had this bet with Anna but I cannot believe that you tried to throw away one of the great events of our year for something so petty. I am outraged. I have no idea what Anna has aimed at as her prize but I can promise you that I will enforce her wishes and that you will have no recourse to me to prevent her claiming her due. Disgraceful. Totally unworthy of a McLeish. I have no words to describe you at this moment.”
Michael stood shamefaced before his father. He knew he had done wrong – but he had felt that he had no choice. He knew Anna had some deep plan. He just had no idea what it was.
Anna had caught up with them by now. She had no idea what TM had said but it was clear that he was irate and that Michael was in trouble. She grinned, inwardly. To be boastful and puffed up would not suit her purpose. Nor would she be smug, gloating or over-the-top. She would just make it clear that she had won and that she was going to set the terms for Michael’s imminent future.
“So, here we are. Michael - Jock is coming up to tell you that I was not as bad as you expected. I managed to get my shot off and actually I felled my deer cleanly. I must be amazingly lucky, mustn’t I?. Now, we’ll have to look at what my prize is. I think we were talking in you having to do something better than I can do. At first, I was talking in terms of climbing trees or such. But that was a little misleading. I really have no interest in climbing trees here. I used to go out with the lumberjacks last year felling the redwoods. I can tell you that 200 feet up a tree is just, well, amazing.”
Michael’s mouth dropped open. His cousin had been doing what. He couldn’t speak. He feared what she might say next.
“As for shooting little bambis – I’ve not quite been truthful to you about that either. I disapprove of shooting little deer because they’re too easy. At least Jock allowed me to kill a worthwhile beast – I think he said it was one of the Old Men of the Hill – a twenty-pointer in its prime, he said.”
Michael’s mouth could drop no further – but his eyes were on stalks.
“So. What’s going to be my prize. You haven’t a clue have you? Well, here is your moment of truth. You are going to have to do something that I have done better than I have done it. One of the things I hated mummy making me do was highland dancing – so I’ve decided that that is what you will be learning and performing. You have to perform at one of the highland festivals within the year and do better than the fourth place which was the best I ever managed.”
Michael’s mouth and eyes could do no more. His brain and heart were close to stopping.
“Wh…., wh….. wh…”
“Michael, stop sounding like a stupid helicopter. I will be clear. We will return to McLeish. You will begin lessons with Auntie Jess in order that you can begin to learn genuine, authentic prize-winning highland dancing. Your first event is in five months. You have until the end of the games season to win your bronze, silver or gold medal – this means a whole year which I think is remarkably generous of me.”
TM stood there like a rock. “Sounds eminently fair to me, Anna. But Michael is quite good at Highland dancing already. Not competition standard, I agree, but fair.”
“Oh, don’t be silly, TM. I don’t think it would count as being better than me if he competed without being in a dress and high heels like I would have to wear. He’s got to do it better than me, better than a young lady who he tried to trick; better than making a young girl do things as if she were a young man. Like Ginger Rodgers said about Fred Astaire – Fred didn’t have to dance going backwards in high heels. That’s what he has to do better than me.”
Michael’s brain and heart did stop. But not for long enough to kill him; just for long enough for him to remain silent while TM listened to Anna’s declaration and came to Michael’s rescue.
“I think, despite Michael’s recent attitude and behaviour to you, I think that sounds quite harsh.”
Michael began to breathe again.
TM continued. “But, his behaviour of today makes me angry and appalled. I suspect that he would learn an amazing amount by having to try to be better than you at something so unusual. I have been more aware over the last months of his weaknesses. Perhaps standing in someone else’s shoes for a while will teach him humility and give him some new backbone. Yes, my dear, you have my full support for the 360 days until the final highland gathering in Auchie.”
Michael had thought, as much as his numbed brain could think, that he would still be able to get out of this hellish hole that he had been tricked into. But now his father was against him. His father was supporting this – whatever it was.
Anna stood before him. “Now listen. I can see that this is a bit of a shock to you.” She grinned and her sharp and pointed little teeth suddenly looked ferocious. “This can go two ways. Either you fight me every step of the way and you will hate every step of the way – or you can relax and accept that you have lost a little family bet. One way, your humiliation will be appallingly public and people may well laugh at you for the rest of your life – or you can do your very best to win the bet and learn that you can win without being a nasty, sneering, bullying oaf who, from what I have recently seen, is not fit to lead an old lady across the street – let alone fit to lead the McLeish.” Her eyes flashed with a determination and an anger that Michael had never seen before. Perhaps he had never looked.
“Er, erm, wh…”
“Oh for God’s sake, get a grip. You need to learn to control yourself and then you need to learn how to control others. You need to learn how to persuade and encourage rather than brutally instructing others as part of some macho power-game. Power is not a one-way structure – or at least when a structure works well it is because the flow of power is even-handed. It requires the one with power and the ones who appear to have less power to work together. Life is not a competition where only one person wins. Life for a community requires the whole community to work together. I have identified a method whereby you can learn essential skills. If you fail to learn then McLeish will not have a worthy leader. TM may not wish to acknowledge that you are not worthy – but your recent behaviour does make my point quite clear. This is a major opportunity, perhaps the last chance of your life before you are out in the wide and vicious real world. I won’t beg or plead with you to grow up before it’s too late – other people have said that and you took no notice. Look at where you are and what could happen now – a choice between abject and public humiliation for you and your clan OR having a whole year where you can learn whether you are a man willing to take on new lessons and become an example to follow.”
TM growled. “I cannot thank you yet for this brutal lesson, young Anna. But I suspect that this will become a make-or-break task for young Michael. I do hope that he will come through in a way that will make us all proud of him.”
He turned to Michael. “You’ve brought this on yourself. You know what I feel about gambling and you never worked out either what you were risking nor the odds on losing. Careless of you. So – the bet stands. You will obey Anna in every task she sets you. At the end of the year, we will decide as a family whether you are my heir or not. That is what you have risked by betting your honour in this way. You must become strong within so that you are strong for others. You have not yet learnt to be a gentleman – we shall await with interest your efforts as a lady. Mark me well. I urge you with every fibre of my power as clan leader to take the second of Anna’s options. Learn as much from Anna as you can. Make her proud of you. Become proud of yourself, fer Guid’s Sake.”
TM marched away calling for Jock to discuss the evening session of the cull.
“So, dear cuz. We will walk to the house and as we reach your room, you may tell me which of the two paths you wish to be taking.”
“Whichever I choose. Hah. I do now realize, you have twisted and manoeuvred me so that even my father has lost faith in me. I will think on but I suspect you have nigh-on forced me into the accepting mode rather than the fight-you-every-step alternative where you would display me as a useless faggoty sissy to everyone around. How could I survive such an ordeal?”
“Oh, Michael, You may well learn, eventually, that this is not solely aimed at putting you under my thumb. There may be other and subtler motives at work. Nevertheless, this is the first glimmer of maturity I have ever detected in you. You have earned one point. You will learn very soon that points are very good for you; but that black marks are, if anything, too painful to bear.”
As Michael opened his mouth to protest, Anna held a finger up for silence. “I suggest that you learn, before we arrive at the house, that questioning my decisions is not a good option – questioning me or my motives or my actions is definitely black-mark territory. Be warned, be wise.”
As they entered the house, Anna held up her finger to attract Michael’s attention. “Now sweet cuz, it’s close to decision time. The hard work choice where nobody knows or the easy choice for public humiliation that you will not be beaten - easy or hard – your choice. And this is probably your last chance to speak freely without fear of retribution.”
“I’ll take the hard work option. I couldn’t bear for anyone to realize that I was being manipulated by a mere girl.”
“That may not have been sensible wording from you – you will know more about mere girls than you ever expected by the end of this training. But, for now, that most unattractive phrase earns you no punishment. I do not, however, ever expect to hear such a phrase again. Understand me. Now, upstairs with you. I had made a private bet with myself that this would be your choice. Instructions are in your room and you would do well to be completely obedient. Only if an instruction is unclear are you allowed to ask Muriel for assistance. If there is merely doubt then I would most strongly recommend that you take the appropriate choice.”
“The appropriate choice?”
“I do not recollect giving you permission to speak yet. The appropriate choice will be that which encourages or further ensures your new role in the family. The household knows that you have lost a bet. The household also knows that their silence is essential for the name of McLeish. Fortunately, they are all loyal clan members and there is no doubt about their willingness to assist. It may surprise you somewhat to learn how little respect or affection they have for you. So, get upstairs before I have to contemplate a first punishment.”
Michael went upstairs. Not speedily but not completely unwillingly. This changed when he went into his room. It was no longer his room. His bed with the McLeish tartan counterpane had been retopped with pink frills and lavender cushions. His desk was now a vanity table with matching décor. His pictures of the local landscapes were gone in favour of fashion plate photographs. On the bed was an array of clothes which made his heart quiver.
He turned to exclaim. Anna stood in the doorway. “It would be wise for you to delay any protest. You have made promises about your intention to comply with this bet. This is the beginning of your training in how to be a prize-winning highland dancer or in your case, a danceress. Now, be silent and get on with it. I told you the instructions are there. Read them and obey. I will await you in the blue sitting room. I arranged this through Jock. If I won he would signal to the house and certain re-arrangements would take place – as you can see.”
Michael went towards the bed as if certain that something there would bite him. How could frills, and gossamer satins and lacy underwear be a threat. Hah.
He read the first page of instructions. ‘Use the pink ointment in the bathroom, wait for three minutes, have a shower and then soak for ten minutes in the bath. When you get out of the bath, ring the little bell and await Muriel who will assist you with dressing and accessories. While she works on your hair, read page 2 and 3.’
Michael shuddered. This was dreadful, horrible. How would he be able to survive the next months.
While he pondered his long-term fate, he decided that he had no option other than to obey. He put on the ointment all over his legs, arms, chest as instructed and blenched as a revolting smell soon came off his burning skin. But he had read that this was necessary and that the full three minutes must be used. As soon as the alarm rang, he leapt into the shower and watched, appalled, as his thin body hair sluiced off down the drain. His skin felt incredibly naked in the sting of the shower jets. Soon he climbed into the ready bath and winced as he realized that it was perfumed with what could only be described as girly bath salts. But he was obedient again. He began to relax into the intimate water. But soon, he climbed out and rang the bell. He dried himself and wondered again at the feel of the new soft towelling. As he was finishing, Muriel entered the bathroom. Michael began to protest.
Muriel used the silent finger and Michael, shocked, realized that he was already accepting control from more people and in more ways than he had ever accepted in years.
“Better, you drab wee thing. Now pat yourself off with powder using those fluffy little pompoms. You’ve got to learn how to look after your fair soft skin. You’ve got to become a proper bonnie maid for Miss Anna’s plans to work.”
What was Muriel talking about?
Nevertheless, Michael strode to the table and sat on the chair at Muriel’s imperative gesture. Muriel investigated his hair, stroking it, twirling it in her fingers, feeling the length and strength. “Well, there’s not much of it, but there’s some length and it’s all that we have to work with. Now you sit still while I do my work.”
Continuing his unusual obedience, Michael read page 2 and 3. He was to choose clothes from what was on the bed, he was to decide on a new name, he was to decide much of what would be done to and for him. A note said ‘if you are to be a genuine participant in this task then the more you decide for yourself then the more real will be your commitment’. Heck, somehow Anna had managed to twist things so that he was having to contribute to his own feminization, to this ghastly emasculation.
At Muriel’s signal, he rose and went to the bed. What was all this stuff. When had Anna arranged all this. Clearly this was no spur of the moment effort.
Michael picked up and dropped piece after piece until Muriel snapped, “That’s enough of that messing about. You’re messing up all your dainty new undies in a most unladylike manner. Choose your panties, choose your bra, choose your vest, your blouse and your skirt. Now, get on with it. There’s a great deal more work to be done.”
With shuddering breath and quavery fingers, Michael’s hands reached out to pick a selection of garments. He chose a pair of cotton panties with green trim and dark green flowers; a matching bra – he knew at least that that was important. He chose a matching vest and then a simple green blouse and a pale cream linen skirt. He had no idea what the materials were or how to put together a stylish outfit. But despite his lack of knowledge, Muriel did note that his choices were not too bad. She did not say this of course.
“Now to the table so I can do a little makeup and finish your first presentation. And what am I to be calling you from now on, dear?”
Michael winced, and remained silent.
“Come on dear, or are you wanting Miss Anna to decide for you. I might suggest that letting her choose might be to your disadvantage. She is quite cross with you.”
“I don’t know. Would Michelle be sensible.”
“I don’t think so, dear. Not unless you actually do want people to make it easy to link the absent Michael with the new Michelle. I believe that you are likely to be introduced as another Canadian McLeish cousin. So, I would not encourage the choice of Michelle.”
“Well, how about Tamsin or Rosa. They’re good solid clan names from a generation or so back.”
“That sounds splendid. Which would you prefer? Tamsin feels more suitable somehow. Rosa reminds me too much of that lass Rosie from the village.”
“So, I am to become Tamsin McLeish then.”
Time passed and Tamsin learnt many lessons. Anna was with her every day, teaching, encouraging, reinforcing.
Anna grew proud of the effort that Tamsin was putting in. And in conversation with the various assistants in the house and on the estate, there was growing agreement that Tamsin was ‘showing potential’.
One day the two cousins sat talking. Tamsin was at her vanity touching up her makeup before going out for an evening practice session. Anna was sat beside her on a chair she had pulled forward.
“Tam dear, how is it going for you? Are you happy with this project? “
“Oh, Annie, I can’t tell you. I’ve realized just how much of a change this has all been. I must have been a complete idiot before. Now, I’ve been shown by you – and so many others – that I was not a nice person. I’m not saying that I’ve enjoyed the frills, let alone the high heels – but I think I have learnt some good things. Is it right for me to say this, what do you think, my satin angel.”
“Well, my cuz, you have made some wonderful and remarkable improvements. You dance adequately. You behave well with the other girls and you behave well with the boys too. And the stroppy over-controlling snark that I met 7 months ago is well forgotten.”
“Are you keeping TM or Mum up to date on progress?”
“I’m allowing myself a tweet-equivalent once a month or so. Last month I sent ‘Project going well, 2nd in class, better social skills, golds 8, blacks 3’. And that should tell you that they know quite enough for the moment. I’m being quite limited in what I tell them – and fortunately they are keeping away and not interfering.”
“Have you got an objective for where this project is going? I’m on target to do well in the dancing, aren’t I? But what’s next – when I go back to the estate with TM.”
“Cuz, you’re doing well in lots of areas. To a degree, how this progresses is up to you. You’ve been making all the changes – so the final decision about how far to go is really going to be up to you. I will say that once the bet is over – and I have won – then we can discuss the future with TM and auntie. They are so eager to get to the end of the year.”
“I have taken some of the time to think about things. I am so grateful for some of what I’ve learnt. It is right that you have shown me how to relate to girls – although relating to them while wearing skirts and dresses has been unusual. In the same way, I have had to re-assess how boys operate – and some of that has not been pretty or, to the new me, acceptable – and I used to be amongst the worst of them. So, I mean it when I say thanks.”
“I never expected you to make me wear a dress except for the dancing – but when you took me to the first evening and everyone smirked or outright laughed at me – then it became so obvious that I had to do as you first suggested. So, almost every day, I’ve worn skirts and blouses, I’ve done my daytime and evening makeup until I feel quite confident about it; I’ve let my hair grow well below my neckline and I’ve even been to the salon and had a makeover several times. But, when I change over back to being Michael, I feel I carry over a fair amount of the skills and knowledge I have picked up by being Tamsin.”
“And I feel that I’m going to have to take a decision about what to do with Tamsin at the end of the year. I enjoy a great deal of being Tamsin – but I do know that Michael is going to come back. As I said on that very first day, I am going to be the McLeish – but thanks to you and Tamsin I am willing to argue that I might be able to do a decent job eventually.”
“So, my tall tall girlfriend thinks she is able to cope with the big bad world – eh?”
“Better than I would have done a while ago, yes.”
More time passed, the last dance of the season was imminent and Tamsin had come in fourth place four times. But the competition was fierce and not once had she gained a medal. And as the last event, there would be even more pressure. Tamsin sat waiting for her turn.
She felt a hand on her shoulder and a rough voice murmured ‘I can see that this McLeish lass is feeling a wee bit concerned about the evening’s dancing. I know the folk of McLeish – and I know that when the hard times come then they fight the harder. I’ll tell you this – dance as if the stags are fighting and you’ll do just fine. Dance as if the clan was watching one of their own perform. Make us proud. Make me proud, make Anna proud and make yersel’ proud.”
Tamsin turned to look and saw Jock wandering off. She felt enormously grateful for his support. She felt both amazingly relaxed and confident, if not filled to the brim with girlish glee.
This combination of feelings stayed with her throughout the dancing – and to her great surprise she got the bronze medal and the congratulations of the other girls. They all commended her for her efforts and asked what had given her that extra boost today – for they all, including Tamsin, recognised that she had danced better than usual.
Anna was by her side as soon as the dance had finished. “That was phenomenal, Tam, just wonderful. I was beginning to worry that you wouldn’t beat me and that this was the last possible time to do it. What did you do, what happened to make that difference?”
“Jock spoke to me. He came and told me he was proud of me – and he’s never said that before. And he reminded me that I was a McLeish.”
“What d’y mean. ‘A’ McLeish – you usually make a point of being The McLeish, at least in the future.”
“No, he reminded me that I am part of the clan and that the clan is part of me. I am not The McLeish yet and I do not want to be until the time comes and I am confident of doing the job as well as I can. I know now what a prat I was, what an arrogant, selfish, rude person I had become. Having to re-assess my life so completely in the last year – well, some of it hasn’t been nice. But some of it, especially today with the words from Jock and dancing so well – some of that has been wonderful, glorious, fantastic.”
In the early hours, after the dance had finished and they had all made our way to bed, Anna sat on the bed watching Tamsin remove her makeup.
“Tam dear, I have actually been truly impressed by your efforts in the last year. I can honestly say that accepting the terms of the bet without whingeing was the first indication that you had some worthwhile guts. And today, I can willingly tell you as well as TM and auntie that you have grown up by several years in the last 360 days. In truth, I can barely believe that the red-haired lady sat beside me in the long white dress with the clan sash is indeed the monster I met a year ago at the station. I did not like that boy.”
“But what shall we do with this girl in front of me. She is by no means beautiful except with the beauty that comes tonight from doing her very very best – she is tall, attractive, well-spoken, intelligent and, to my admiration, kind and generous. You could not have done so well in this year if you were not underneath it all a decent person. So I hope you have an answer, - what has been different inside you to let this happen?”
Cleaned up and fresh for bed in a long silk nightgown, Tamsin climbed into the bed and leant back on the pillows while Anna lay on the eiderdown beside her.
“Oh, Annie, I am so unsure of the me, the actual who I am. I know I was awful – at the time I sometimes knew that I was getting it all wrong – but I had trapped myself in a loop of behaving that way. The people I thought were my friends encouraged me and some of them were worse and some were not so bad. But I was stuck. Then you turned up and I got glimpses of a new friend who saw through me. Then came The Cull and you hooked me with your bet which I so thoroughly lost and worse, tried to ruin. I have never had Dad cross with me like that. It was ghastly and I realized that he was not proud of me and at that moment did not like what I had become. For the first time that I remember, I was ashamed of myself. I would never have listened to the terms of the bet before. I would have fought you to a standstill. But right at that moment, I was in a dirty great hole – and I knew it was of my own making. And I suddenly recognised that I didn’t like me and that this was a chance to get out of that pit. Thank you, dear cuz.” And my tall girl leant over and hugged me and kissed my cheek and our tears mingled with love.
“So – what do we do next.” / “So what happens next” was spoken together.
After a pause, Tamsin spoke first, “I am making a promise that I will not return to being the Michael of the past. That would be a complete waste of the last year. I can say that I am no longer that person – I have seen my old ‘friends’ with my Tamsin eyes – and they are not nice people. They are history. Gone. I must make another promise too, and that is that Tamsin is not going to go away. But Michael is who I am. I am the future laird. There is no arguing about that – and with what Tamsin has taught Michael, well Michael will be capable of doing the job with true will and a much kinder heart. So Michael will be back – but I cannot remove Tamsin. I have truly come to love my dresses and frocks. I’m not sure I could cope with the rough clothes of the male except when necessary. I adore the feel of my stockings on my legs, the pull against my suspenders, the slither of my silk panties against the lining of my skirts and dresses. These are all good, goooood things which I do not wish to set aside. When I wear my dresses, I love the extra shape that the breasts give me – being a 34AA has no attraction to me. I love the feel of my hair as it brushes my shoulders. I love the swing of my earrings and the delicious choices I have for scents and perfumes. There are so many things I have learnt to love – and they all contribute to Tamsin. And Tamsin is part of Michael.”
“You mean to say that Tamsin is not going away.”
“Not permanently no. Michael will be there and Tamsin will sometimes be there. I will have to find a balance that I am comfortable with. How I live my life will be a balance in the future. As Chief, I will not be any more than the visible face of the Clan. As I said – the clan is me and I am the clan – we are bonded in ways I did not understand until just tonight.”
“And who will Tamsin-Michael find to love?” murmured Anna.
“I have thought of this a few times in the last month or so – once I recognised that I was now a composite of Michael and Tamsin and that both would have to stay if I was to do my job as well as I wanted. I have noticed boys, as of course you insisted, while I was Tamsin and I have learnt so much about girls while being Tamsin. There are one or two who have caught my eye – and you can possibly guess who they might be.”
“Maybe so, maybe no.”
“But there is one who has caught my eye above all others. She has trapped me, tormented me, taught me and helped me learn what I can do with my life. And she is you, dear cuz. Will you stay by my side? Will you support me in whatever I do? Will you teach me when I am going wrong? Will you help Tamsin-Michael to be the best they can be?”
“Yes, oh yes,”
And the one who I knew as my sweet, sweet love was in my arms for the first time. Our tears of happiness mingled and dripped into our mouths as our lips swooped in the ancient dance.
Time would tell whether this was love, infatuation, domination or true partnership – I was hopeful. Then more kisses put all those thoughts out of my girl-ish mind.
I could add this into the SisterDom stories but it would need a rewrite or a large extra chunk. Maybe. Alys P
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