The Fower Quarters: 17 - Veesitors
Author(s): Sheena Blackhall
Copyright holder(s): Sheena Blackhall
This document contains language which some may find offensive
Twis the Sabbath, wi clouds ahin a wattery sun that foretelt a doonpish. On the wireless, the news wisna guid: war wisna far aff; war that aabody thocht hid bin ower an dane wi efter the last een. Aa yon fechtin, aa yon bluid, fur naethin. Twis the Sabbath, an Arthur hid brocht his quine, Nancy, tae the castle fur a day oot, waukin throw the wids an gairdens, a bit o a daunder wi his brither Chae an his best quine, Winnie. The twa brithers war coortin local lassies - "Hame-grown's aye best," Arthur leuch.
As wis aften the wye in yon airt, Chae an Winnie war far-awa cousins. "It'll save siller on the waddin invites," quo Chae, "seein' we share hauf the relatives atween us!"
There wadna be mony fine days left fur Arthur tae dauchle wi his quine, bit Chae wis exemptit frae war service. Transport an food production maun be kept gyaun, an Chae did baith, drivin a bus throw the day, helpin oot on his faither's craft fin he cud. Arthur tho, wis a different kettle o fush, a bank clerk, a scout maister, a jazz band trumpeter, a lang streak o a loon wi a croon o neat blaik curls that sat atap his heid like a nest o brummils. Already the army war sikkin Arthur tae takk a commission.
"I canna afford a commision, ye ken that," said Arthur tae his brither. "Ye've tae dress fur the officer's mess, an the uniform isna chaip. Forbye yer expeckit tae hae an officer's bank balance. Siller's ticht at hame as it is."
Chae nodded. Their faither hid sired a roon dizzen o a faimily, brocht up on "tatties an pynt." Aince a year their faither killt a soo, an aa the rest o the year the littlins pyntit at it. As heid o the hoose, their faither got the bacon. Aabody else, frae their mither tae the dog, got tatties an brose, or winted. Whyles, if their Da hid made a guid sale at the Abyne mart, some lucky loon micht hae the tap aff his egg at brakkfaist time. They didna sterve - naebody sterved in the kintra that ained a gun or could trap a bawd or drap a line inno the Dee fur a salmon - bit they didna live like lairds neither. An the officers wad be maistly lairds' loons, the brithers kent that. An lairds forbye hid wyes o keepin ye in yer place.
"I'll sattle fur sergeant's stripes - Sergeant Arthur Middleton. Disnae yon hae a ring till it?" the young loon lauched. "Will ye fancy me in a kilt, Nancy?"
His quine tichtened her grip on his airm an lookit intae his face. "I dinna wint tae spikk aboot wars the day, Arthur. We're here fur a day oot."
O a suddenty, she clappit her mochled hauns thegither wi pleisur. "See, Arthur. See, there's a hedgehog ower yonner. I see it! I see it! I've niver seen a hedgehog close tee. Bring it ower fur us aa tae hae a luik."
Nancy wis saxteen, still a bairn really. "Easy kittled, easy coortit, easy made a feel o," the auld spikk ran. Bit Arthur wisna the type tae mill a feel o onybody: saft-hairtit fur a laddie, wi white saft bank clerk's hauns, musician's hauns that fiver held onythin mair roch nur a trumpet. He left the wee group staunin on the path an strode aff throw the bracken. Fur a wee bauchle o a beastie, yon hedgehog wis gaun at a fair lick. It snochered an shauchled its wye aneth a pykit-weir fence that Arthur hid tae sclimm. Yon slawed him doon bit, far the wid turned thickest, he cam tee wi't. Nearhaun, a gairdener wis scrapin leaves thegither inno a boorich. Arthur nodded tae him, booed doon, liftit the hurcheon an rowed it up in his scarf.
He wis jist aboot tae pit it in his jaiket fan he spied the quine hersel comin frae the Big Hoose. The gentry wis aye haudin concerts an balls sae it wis naethin tae see them in aa their finery. Bit ye didna aften see them ootbye in their auld claes. Still, mebbe the lassie hid felt like haein a braith o air. Mebbe she'd winted a whylie ooto the steer o fitiver pairty wis gaun on up at the castle. If she'd bin a thochtie aulder, he wadna hae spoken tae her at aa. He kent his place. Aabody on Deeside kent their place. Ye didna fraternise wi the lairds or their like forbye they tuik ye aneth their wing as patrons. An even then there war rules. They war frienly eneuch - but on their ain terms. Arthur's band hid played jazz whyles, gaein roon the hooses o the local lairds - fegs, his faither hid even gien him a middle name efter ain o them: Cecil - Arthur Cecil Middleton. His ain faither was something o a laird's pet anna; cleaned up an taen in tae sing fur his supper at the antrin soiree. The lairds pyed weel fur't as lang as ye myndit yer mainners an niver forgot yer place. Maist o the lairds war gey far ben wi the Masons an Chae an Arthur's Da wis in the Britherhood.
Bit this quine wis ages wi Nancy. Saxteen - nae mair nor seeventeen onywye. Her face wis hairt-shaped an her twa een the bonniest blue, like the speedwells ye see in the ley parks. An her hair wis yalla, blin fair, like the Auld Norse fowk micht hae haen. She wis staunin aneth an aik, a lang green shawl roon her shooders and a green frock trailin on the grun, an she wis rowin something in her airms - a bairn likely eneuch, though there wis niver a myowt comin fae't. Showdin saftly she wis, aa bi hersel in the castle wid. An she lookit that lanely aa hir lane, like some puir tint craitur, that Arthur steppit forrit tae spikk till her.
Bit far she slippit aff till he cudna jalouse, fur the neist meenit there wis neither hair nur hide o her tae be seen throw the skeleton airms o the trees. Back he gaed tae Chae an Winnie an Nancy wi the hurcheon rowed in his scarf, its wee wise face powkin ooto the tweed claith fringe as it cooried inno a baa o progs. He telt them aboot the quine, an Chae said they should speir at the gairdener, Alasdair Ross, fur he'd be bound tae ken far she'd wis gaein her lanesome. Faith, Alasdair Ross kent aathing; there wis nae bigger sklaik gaun.
Alasdair laid aff raikin the leaves fin they cam ower, leant on the raik, tuik a pipe frae his pooch, duntit it teem, stappit it wi baccy, crackit a spunk on the fit o his buit an kinnlit it. Syne he tuik a lang sook an watched the smoke curl inno the quaet air.
"Ye say ye saw her staunin aneth yon aik?" he speired Arthur.
Arthur noddit. "Aye, an I'd sweir she wis cairryin a bairn at her breist, tho it didna greet nane."
"Is she frae hereaboots?" Chae wintit tae ken.
"Och aye, she's local richt eneuch," quo the gairdener. "Aye, she's frae this airt aa richt."
Syne the gairdener telt them fit aa he kent o yon quine in the castle gruns. The spikk gaed that she wis some auld laird's dother, hyne, hyne back, that hid coortit a local loon against her faither's wishes - some said he wis a shepherd, ithers that he wis a gaun-aboot body, ain o the traivellin fowk. Fitiver he wis, he'd bairned her. An the auld laird wis black affrontit, an the quine wis keepit inbye, wi naebody tae veesit her ava, nae friens tae spikk till, naebody tae see the shame o her growin wame. Weel, ye'd hae thocht a new-born bairn wad hae saftened the auld laird's hairt but damnt the bit! It turned him mair agin the quine than iver. An fur seeven nichts efter it opened its een inbye the castle waas, it grat like a banshee, howl in fit tae burst, till the auld laird hid it smored fur a bastard geet, an its mither's neck wis thrawn fur the hoor he thocht she wis, tho fa he pyed tae dae't nae a sowel kent. She couldna be beeriet in the faimly crypt, nor yet in the kirkyaird doon in the clachan, fur in spite o aa, she wis a still a lady, wi a laird's bluid in her veins. Sae he hid them baith, mither an bairn, brickit up ahin a fireplace in the castle, at the back o a muckle lum.
"Foo d'ye ken aa thon?" speired Winnie.
"Weel, they fand the banes o the mither an bairn nae lang syne," Ross telt her, "fin they war plaisterin the waas ahin the fireplace. An a doctor chiel cam oot frae Aiberdeen tae see them, an said he'd stake his reputation on't that the quine wisna a year mair nur saxteen fin she deid, an that she'd lain in yon fremmit lair five hunner years or mair."
"Haud on, noo," quo Chae. "I heard somethin o the kyn frae ma mither aince. They caa her ghaist the Green Lady hereaboots. Bit nae mony hae iver seen her."
"Nae mony," quo Alasdair, gliskin hard at Arthur. "Nae mony ava. Bit aa that hiv seen her say the same thing. She's sterved fur human company, puir ootlinned vratch."
Ower the next few weeks an months there was mair tae fash aboot than castle ghaisties fur the twa brithers. Arthur's papers cam through, orderin him tae jyne the 51st Heilan Division. Chae an Winnie merriet ane anither, fur warfare his a braw wye o makkin up fowks' minds. Arthur an Nancy didna mairry though, He wis a quaet loon, Arthur, gey thochtfu like. "It wadna be fair," he telt her. "Far I'm tae be sent, I michtna come back. We"ll wyte or the war's past."
Letters cam back frae Arthur, bit fyew an far atween. His mither wad takk her glaisses ooto their case, dicht them wi a cloot, an read the twa-three lines ower an ower, burnin them inno her mind. Syne, she'd gie the letter tae Chae. "His quine micht like tae ken foo he's gettin on," she said. It wis her wye o speirin if Chae wad veesit Nancy tae fin oot fit news the quine micht hae gotten hersel frae the young banker-sodjer.
The war trauchled on. Noo an again a neebor wad hae yon knap at the door wi the wird that naebody iver socht. Doon by the Middleton craft, there wis naethin: eneuch that twa o the faimly'd bin killt the last time aroon. There'd bin nae wird frae Arthur, an yon wis queer, bit he wis sodjerin somewye oot in Africa - Arthur, that couldna thole the heat, plyterin aboot in a muckle kilt in the san; Arthur fa'd niver held onything deidlier than a pen or a hyew in his haun afore the forces tuik him awa tae train. Jist a lang raik hissel, he hidna the hurdies tae cairry the kilt wi ony style. Faith, the faimly either ran tae fat or war as thin's the links o a crook. Nae happy medium. Aywis affa trig, he widna like sharin a billet, his mither said - a prnickity kinno vratch fur a loon, ay likin aathing ironed an clean. Chae winnert foo mony irons there'd be in Africa, fit kinno sichts his brither hid seen oot there, an if it wid mebbe cheenge him.
Syne the war cam tae an eyn, the guid Lord be thankit, bit still nae sign o Arthur, an troop ships comin hame fair reamin wi sodjers, an celebrations aawye, like shipwrecked fowk that's bin saved fa thocht they wad shairly droon. Ae day, a letter cam - nae a telegram, nae thon, aabody feared thon - jist a regimental letter tae let his fowks ken Arthur wis bein brocht hame. Fechtin oot yonner in the het desert, he'd gotten san on the lungs, an his lungs warna gweed tae stert wi, fur ony hoast or pyocher laid him up an gart him wheeze like a kist o fussles.
Hame he cam syne, a rickle o beens inside a pair o strippit pyjamas, happed wi a dressin goon, his lang thin feet tint in twa muckle bauchles. Hame he cam tae lie in a sanatorium, alangside hunners o ithers. Fin his comrades at airrns hid laid by their kilts an sporrans, an meltit back tae the lives they'd left, Arthur wis streekit oot in a hospital bed, weak as a kittlin, wheezlin an strivin fur breath as the wikks spreid inno months o hospital veesitin.
Winnie wis wi bairn bi noo, near echt month gone. Ane o the baby boom, fowk said, tho Chae'd bin nae farrer frae Deeside than Aiberdeen. Aince a fortnicht they drave oot tae veesit Arthur, on the day that Nancy, his sweethairt, couldna gyang. Takkin shottie aboot tae spreid the load o streetchin news oot like elastic, twisna easy fur Chae tae spikk muckle tae Arthur, fur Chae'd niver bin tae Africa. It made him feel guilty, in a wye, that Arthur hid bin picked tae fecht, nae himsel, fa wis far hardier an sturdier. He couldna jalouse Arthur fechtin, the quaet ane, the jazzman, the banker. Arthur niver as muckle as liftit his haun tae a dog, let alane a German. He winnert if Arthur hid killt onybody. Insteid, they blethered aboot faimly maitters, aboot the bairn that Winnie wis cairryin, aboot the faimly craft, aboot the weather.
Twis a roch hurl up tae the sanatorium. Chae's car duntit an stottit aff ilkie steen. Ae veesitin day the exhaust hid near faan aff gyaun ower a rock, an syne Winnie needit a drink o watter eence they war inno the ward. Arthur wis in gweed form thon day; his chikks war bricht reid an he wis merry as a miller, comin oot wi ae joke efter the ither finiver he could catch the breath fae his bladdit lungs. "I'll need tae book ye the bed neist me," he telt Winnie. "A roch hurl like thon's eneuch tae start the bairn aff ony time. It's a winner yer watters didna brakk in yon auld roost-bucket Chae rins!"
Efter a fly cup an a piece, at the eyn o the twa oors, Chae an Winnie left. Arthur gaed them a cheery wave, "See ye baith in twa wikks," he wheezled. "Tell Nancy tae bring in a paper fan she veesits the morn." Hauf wye back doon the stoory, lumpy road, Winnie fand she'd left ane o her gloves on the wee table aside Arthur's bed.
"I'll drive back," quo Chae, "bit I'll nae come in. The peer vratch shairly disna ken foo ill he is. The doctor telt wir mither he wis jist pit hame tae dee. Naebody thocht he'd hing on this lang. The War's bin ower twa year noo. If twis a beast by the roadside sufferin like yon, I sweir I'd pit him ooto his misery as a kindness. Did ye see him the day, though? Lauchin like he hidna a care in the warld? Like he'd aathing tae luik forrit till? A blessin he disna ken, that he canna see fit's afore him!"
Fin Chae parkit the car, Winnie hashed back inno the sanatorium, noddit tae the nurses, an nippit intae the ward. They'd pitten Arthur inno a cheer, nae a sair job, there bein sae little mait left on the beens o him, the strippit flannel pyjamas hingin like the faulds o a tent, an the adam's aipple in his thrapple like a baa he'd chokit on. She liftit her leather glove frae the wee table - ane o a pair she'd gotten frae Chae on her birthday - an steppit forrit tae spikk a wird tae Arthur. He didna see her. He hidna heard her come in, hid thocht it wis ane o the nurses movin ahin him, sortin the bedclaes likely. He wis glowerin oot at the wids, in their midsimmer finery, his twa lang airms in his lap, wi the beens powkin throw the skin he wis that thin. An syne he sabbed, sic a lang, low sab it wis, an grat like a bairn, tear eftir tear rinnin doon his face undichtit, as if his hairt wis brukkken, till the roch black stibble on his blae, sunken chikks wis weet like he'd jist washed his face.
His sister-in-law raxxed oot her haun tae touch his shooder, syne thocht better o't. Arthur hid winted Chae an hersel tae myne on him lauchin an happy. They hid aathing in the warld tae luik forrit till - a new bairn, a hame, a future; bit Arthur? Aye, Arthur kent aaricht he wis deein, hid kent richt frae the verra start. He kent fine fit his future wis. Quaetly, Winnie tiptoed oot the door.
"Ye dinna ken fit it costs him tae be sae cheery at veesitin time," a nurse body telt her. "We see him like yon aften. He screws himsel up fur veesitors, jist tae makk on he's fine. If iver I saw smeddum, yon's it."
Twa wikks efter, the bairn wis born, on the verra day Arthur wis taen awa. "Ane comes; tither gyangs," quo Chae as he luikit doon at the wee quine in her cot. "Weel, he'll suffer nae mair - an at least he niver kent fit wis facin him." Winnie didna pit him wise, kennin foo muckle Chae loued his brither Arthur. Bit Nancy, his sweethairt, wis inconsolable. Fur the first wee whyle she spent day efter day at the new-dug grave in the village kirkyaird hard by the castle. Sic a rowth o daiths there'd been in the tail o the war, that the War Office war latchy in pittin up stanes tae the deid. An Arthur hid bin killt bi the war jist as shair as if he'd bin shelled or shot or bayoneted. His name in gowd letters stuid on the Roll o Honour, sma remeid fur a young life snippit aff in the first flush o manhood.
Noo the leaves o the trees war turnin yalla an broon at the back eyn o the year, an still nae steen pit up. Nancy wis doon on her knees wi a jam jar, pittin flooers inno't fan she heard a cracklin an a scooshlin soon. Luikin ower tae a far neuk, she scried the castle gairdener, Alasdair Ross, raikin leaves tae clear the graves bi the auld waas. He stoppit awhile, an luikit ower tae her, kindly eneuch.
"Come tae spen a fylie aside yer lad, hae ye?" he speired.
"Foo div ye ken that?" she answered. "There's nae steen up tae say fa's beeriet here!"
The gairdener fummlit in his pooch fur his pipe, fichered wi't, then stappit it back.
"He saw her," he said, nae luikin at Nancy. "He saw her, ye ken! The Green Lady. He saw her. An she disna show hersel lichtly. I didna tell him thon. I couldna tell him thon. She wis sic a bonnie lass, sic a lanesome quine, sterved o luve an hungerin fur a young an cheerfu loon. An aince he tellt he'd seen her, I kent ye widna haud him lang. Bit I canna bide here newsin aa day. I maun keep the graves tidy fur their veesitors."
An turnin on his heel the castle gairdener boued tae gaither up a boorich o deid leaves, cheenged in ae wikk frae bonnie, leevin green tae freuchie broon.
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The Fower Quarters: 17 - Veesitors. 2024. In The Scottish Corpus of Texts & Speech. Glasgow: University of Glasgow. Retrieved 2 March 2024, from http://www.scottishcorpus.ac.uk/document/?documentid=562.
"The Fower Quarters: 17 - Veesitors." The Scottish Corpus of Texts & Speech. Glasgow: University of Glasgow, 2024. Web. 2 March 2024. http://www.scottishcorpus.ac.uk/document/?documentid=562.
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