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The Red Necklace: A Story of the French Revolutionby Sally Gardner
In seventeenth-century Scotland, saying the wrong thing can lead to banishmentor worse. Accused of being a witch, sixteen-year-old Maggie Blair is sentenced to be hanged. She escapes, but instead of finding shelter with her principled, patriotic uncle, she brings disaster to his door.
Betrayed by one of her own accusers, Maggie must try to save her uncle and his family from the kings men, even if she has to risk her own life in the process. Originally published in the UK, this book has a powerful blend of heart-stopping action and thought-provoking themes.
"Laird celebrates courage, survival, and the spark of independence that carries Maggie through."Publishers Weekly
"Fine and effortless prose, creating instantly gripping characters and setting ."Kirkus Reviews
I was the first one to see the dead whale lying on the sand at
Scalpsie Bay. It must have been washed up in the night. I could
imagine it flopping out of the sea, thrashing its tail, and opening
and shutting the cavern of its mouth. It was huge and shapeless,
a horrible dead thing, and it looked as if it would feel slimy
if you dared to touch it. I crept up to it cautiously. There were
monsters in the deep, I knew, and a great one, the Leviathan,
which the Lord had made to be the terror of fishermen. Was this
one of them? Would it come to life and devour me?
The sand was ridged into ripples by the outgoing tide,
which had left the usual orange lines of seaweed and bright
white stripes of shells. The tide had also scooped out little pools
around the dead beasts sides, and crabs were already scuttling
there, as curious as I was.
It was a cold day in December. The sun had barely risen,
and Id pulled my shawl tightly around my head and shoulders.
But it wasnt only the chill of the wet sand beneath my bare feet
that made me shiver. There was a strangeness in the air.
Across the water I could already make out the Isle of
Arran, rearing up out of the sea, the tops of its mountains
hidden as usual in a crown of clouds. Id seen Arran a dozen
times a day, every day of my life, each time Id stepped out
the door of my grandmothers cottage. I knew it so well that
I hardly ever noticed it.
But today as I looked up at the mountains from the dead
whale in front of me, the island seemed to shift, and for a
moment I thought it was moving toward me, creeping across
the water. It was coming for me, wanting to swallow me up,
along with the beach and Grannys cottage, Scalpsie Bay, and
the whole of the Isle of Bute.
And then beyond Arran, out there in the sea, a shaft of
sunlight pierced through the clouds and laid a golden path
across the gray water, tingeing the dead whale with brilliant
light. The clouds were dazzled with glory, and I was struck with
a terror so great that my legs stiffened and I couldnt move.
“Its the Lord Jesus,” I whispered. “Hes coming now, to
judge the living and the dead.”
I waited, my hands clamped in a petrified clasp, expecting
to see Christ walk down the sunbeam and across the water,
angels flying on gleaming wings around him. The minister
had said there would be trumpets as the saved rose up in the
air like flocks of giant birds to meet the Lord, but down here
on the ground there would be wailing and gnashing of teeth
as the damned were sucked into Hell by the Evil One.
“Am I saved, Lord Jesus? Will you take me?” I cried out
loud. “And Granny too?”
The clouds were moving farther apart, and the golden
path was widening, making the white crests on the little
waves sparkle like the clothes of the Seraphim.
I was certain of it then. I wasnt one of the Chosen to rise
with Jesus in glory. I was one of the damned, and Granny
“No!” I shrieked. “Not yet! Give me another chance,
And then I must have fallen down because the next thing
I remember was Granny saying, “Shes taken a fit, the silly
wee thing. Pick her up, wont you?”
I was only half conscious again, but I knew it was Mr.
Macbeans rough hands painfully holding my arms and the
gruffvoice of Samuel Kirby complaining as he held my legs.
“What are you doing, you dafties?” Granny shouted in
the rough, angry voice I dreaded. “Letting her head fall back
like that! Trying to break her neck, are you? Think shes a
sack of oatmeal?”
Behind me, above the crunch of many feet following us up
the beach toward our cottage, I could hear anxious murmurs.
“The creatures the size of a kirk! And the tail on it, did
you see? Itll stink when it rots. Infect the air for weeks, so
And the sniping tongues were busy as usual.
“Hark at Elspeth! Shouting like that. Evil old woman.
Why does she want to be so sharp? They should drop the girl
and let the old body carry her home herself.”
Then came the sound of our own door creaking back on
its leather hinge, the smell of peat smoke, and the soft tail of
Sheba the cat brushing against my dangling hand.
They dropped me down on the pile of straw in the corner
that I used as a bed, and a moment later Granny had
shooed them out of the cottage. I was quite back in my wits
by then, and I started to sit up.
“Stay there,” commanded Granny.
She was standing over me, frowning as she stared at me.
Her mouth was pulled down hard at the corners, and the
stiffblack hairs on her chin were quivering. They were sharp,
those bristles, but not as sharp as the bristles in her soul.
“Now then, Maggie. What was all that for? Why did you
faint? What did you see?”
“Nothing, Granny. The whale . . .”
She shook her head impatiently.
“Never mind the whale. While you were away, in the
faint. Was there a vision?”
“No. I just everything was black. Before that I thought
“What? What did you see? Do I have to pull it out
“The sky looked strange, and there was the whale it scared me
and I thought that Jesus was coming. Down
from the sky. I thought it was the Last Day.”
She stared at me a moment longer. There wasnt much
light in the cottage, only a square of brightness that came
through the open door and a faint glow from the peat burning
in the middle of the room, but I could see her eyes glittering.
“The whales an omen. It means no good. It didnt speak
“No! It was dead. I thought the Lord Jesus was coming,
“Hmph.” She turned away and pulled on the chain that
hung from the rafter, holding the cauldron in place over the
fire. “Thats nothing but kirk talk. Youre a disappointment
to me, Maggie. Your mother had it, the gift of far-seeing,but
youve nothing more in your head than whats been put there
by the minister. Youre your father all over again, stubborn
and blind and selfish. My Mary gave you nothing of herself
at all. If I hadnt delivered you into this world with my own
hands, Id have thought you were changed at birth.”
Granny knew where to plunge her dagger and twist it
for good measure. There was no point in answering her. I bit
my lip, stood up, and shook the straws offthe rough wool of
“Shall I milk Blackie now?”
“After youve touched a dead whale? Youll pass on the
bad luck and dry her milk up for good. Youre more trouble
than youre worth, Maggie. Always were, always will be.”
“I didnt touch the whale. I only . . .”
She raised a hand and I ducked.
“Get away up the hill and cut a sack of peat. The stacks
low already, or had you been too full of yourself to notice?”
Cutting peat and lugging it home was the hardest work
of all, and usually I hated it, but today, in spite of the rain
that was now sweeping in from the sea, I was glad to get out
of the cottage and run away to the glen. I usually went the long
way, up the firm path that went around and about before it
reached the peat cuttings, but today I plunged straight on
through the bog, trampling furiously through the mass of reeds
and flags and the treacherous bright grass that hid the pools
of water, not hearing the suck of the mud as I pulled my feet
out, not feeling the wetness that seeped up the bottom of my
gown, not even noticing the scratches from the prickly gorse
as it tore at my arms.
“An evil old woman. They were right down there. Thats
what you are.” Away from Granny, I felt brave enough to answer
back. “I am like my mam. Ive her hair, and her eyes,
and her smile, so Tam says.”
Most people called old Tam a rogue, a thief, a lying,
drunken rascal, living in his tumbledown shack like a pig in
a sty. But he was none of those things to me. Hed known my
mother, and I knew hed never lie about her to me.
I dont remember my mother. She was Grannys only child,
and she died of a fever when I was a very little girl. I just about
remember my father. He was a big man, not given to talking
much. He was a rover by nature, Tam said. He came to the Isle
of Bute from the mainland to fetch the Laird of Keamess cattle
and drive them east across the hills to sell in Glasgow. He was
only meant to stay in Bute for a week or two, while the cattle
were rounded up for him, but he chanced on my mother as she
walked down the lane to the field to milk Blackie one warm
June evening. The honeysuckle was in flower and the wild roses
too, and it was all over with him at once, so Tam said.
“Never a love like it, Maidie,” Tam told me. “Dont you
listen to your granny. A child born of love you are, given to
love, made for love.”
“Granny said the sea took my father,” I asked Tam once.
“What did she mean?”
Id imagined a great wave curling up the beach, twining
around my fathers legs, and sucking him back into the depths.
“An accident, Maidie. Nothing more.” Tam heaved a sigh.
“Your father was taking the cattle to the mainland up by Colintraive,
making them swim across the narrows there. Hed done
it a dozen times before. The beasts werent easy lively young
steers they were and one of them was thrashing about in
the water as if a demon possessed it. Perhaps a demon did,
for the steer caught your father on the head with its horn, and
it went right through his temple. He went down under the
water, and when he was washed up a week later, there was a
wound from his eyebrow to the line of his hair deep enough
to put your hand inside.”
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