While some people sit at home wondering what happened to their New Year Resolutions, and others are wearying on spring, a hardy bunch of Gallowa' locals are out in the hills. And this month they've been out on Curlywee, experiencing the weather and taking some pictures for us. So, because every day's a school day... here's Crockett's story 'The Tutor o' Curlywee' from The Stickit Minister and some common men.
THE TUTOR OF CURLYWEE
The Minister of Education started to walk across the great moors of the Kells Range so early in the morning that for the first time for twenty years he saw the sun rise. Strong, stalwart, unkempt, John Bradfield, Right Honourable and Minister of the Queen, strode over the Galloway heather in his rough homespun. 'Ursa Major' they called him in the House. His colleagues, festive like schoolboys before the Old Man with the portfolios came in, subscribed to purchase him a brush and comb for his hair, for the jest of the Cabinet Minister is even as the jest of the schoolboy. John Bradfield was sturdy in whatever way you might take him. Only last session he engineered a great measure of popular education through the House of Commons in the face of the antagonism, bitter and unscrupulous, of Her Majesty's Opposition, and the Gallio lukewarmness of his own party. So now there was a ripple of great contentment in the way he shook back locks which at forty-five were as raven black as they had been at twenty-five; and the wind that blew gently over the great billowy expanse of rock and heather smoothed out some of the crafty crows' feet deepening about his eyes.
When he started on a thirty-mile walk over the moors, along the dark purple precipitous slopes above Loch Trool, the glory of summer was melting into the more Scottish splendours of a fast-coming autumn, for the frost had held off long, and then in one night had bitten snell and keen. The birches wept sunshine, and the rowan trees burned red fire.
The Minister of Education loved the great spaces of the Southern uplands, at once wider and eerier than those of the Highlands. There they lie waiting for their laureate. No one has sung of them nor written in authentic rhyme the strange weird names which the mountain tops bandy about among each other, appellations hardly pronounceable to the southron. John Bradfield, however, had enough experience of the dialect of the 'Tykes' of Yorkshire to master the intricacies of the nomenclature of the Galloway uplands. He even understood and could pronounce the famous quatrain: 'The Slock, Milquharker, and Craignine, The Breeshie and Craignaw; Are the five best hills for corklit, That e'er the Star wife saw.'
The Minister of Education hummed this rhyme, which he had learned the night before from his host in the tall tower which stands by the gate of the Ferrytown of Cree. As he made his way with long swingin’ gait over the heather, travelling by compass and the shrewd head which the Creator had given him, he was aware in old times the rocks and cliffs of the Dungeon of Buchan were kind of moss known a, 'corklit,' used for dyeing, the gathering formed part of the livelihood of the peasantry. About midday he came upon a shepherd's hut which lay in his track. He went briskly up to the door, passing the little pocket-handkerchief of kailyaird which the shepherd had carved out of the ambient heather. The purple bells grew right up to the wall of grey stone dyke which had been built to keep out the deer, or mayhap occasionally to keep them in, when the land was locked with snow, and venison was toothsome.
'Good day to you, mistress,' said the Minister of Education, who prided himself on speaking to every woman in her own tongue.
'And good day to you, sir,' heartily returned the sonsy, rosy-cheeked goodwife, who came to the door, ‘an' blithe I am to see ye. It's no that aften that I see a body at the Back Hoose o' Curlywee.'
John Bradfield soon found himself well entertained— farles of cake, crisp and toothsome, milk from the cow, with golden butter in a lordly dish, cheese from a little round kebbuck, which the mistress of the Back House of Curlywee kept covered up with a napkin to keep it moist.
The goodwife looked her guest all over.
'Ye'll not be an Ayrshireman nae, I'm thinkin'. Ye kind o' favour them in the features, but ye hae the tongue o' the English.'
'My name is John Bradfield, and I come from Yorkshire,' was the reply.
'An' my name's Mistress Glencairn, an' my man Tammas is herd on Curlywee. But he's awa' ower by the Wolf's Slock the day lookin' for some forwandered yowes.'
The Minister of Education, satisfied with the good cheer, bethought himself of the curly heads that he had seen about the door. There was a merry face, brown with the sun, brimful of mischief, looking round the corner of the lintel at that moment. Suddenly the head fell forward and the body tumultuously followed, evidently by some sudden push from behind. The small youth recovered himself and vanished through the door, before his mother had time to do more than say, 'My certes, gin I catch you loons,' as she made a dart with the handle of the besom at the culprit.
For a little John Bradfield was left alone. There were sounds of a brisk castigation outside, as though some one were taking vigorous exercise on tightly stretched corduroy. 'And on the mere the wailing died away!’
'They're good lads eneuch,' said the mistress, entering a little breathless, and with the flush of honest endeavour in her eye, 'but when their faither's oot on the hill they get a wee wild. But as ye see, I try to bring them up in the way that they should go,' she added, setting the broomstick in the corner.
'What a pity,' said the Minister of Education, 'that such bright little fellows should grow up in this lonely spot without an education.'
He was thinking aloud more than speaking to his hostess. The herd's wife of Curlywee looked him over with a kind of pity mingled with contempt.
'Edicated! did ye say? My certes, but my bairns are as weel edicated as onybody's bairns. Juist e'en try them, gin it be your wull, sir, an' aiblins ye'll fin' them no' that far ahint yer ain!’
Going to the door she raised her voice to the telephonic pitch of the Swiss jodel and the Australian 'coo — ee, Jee-mie, Aa-leck, Aa-nie, come ye a' here this meenit!’
The long Galloway vowels lingered on the still air, even after Mistress Glencairn came her ways back again into the house. There was a minute of a great silence outside. Then a scuffle of naked feet, the sough of subdued whispering, a chuckle of interior laughter, and a prolonged scuffling just outside the window.
'Gin ye dinna come ben the hoose an' be douce, you Jeemie, an' Rob, an' Alick, I'll come till ye wi' a stick! Mind ye, your faither 'ill no be lang frae hame the day.'
A file of youngsters entered, hanging their heads, and treading on each other's bare toes to escape being seated next to the formidable visitor.
'Wull it please ye, sir, to try the bairns' learning for yoursel'?’
A Bible was produced, and the three boys and their sister read round in a clear and definite manner, lengthening the vowels it is true, but giving them their proper sound, and clanging their consonants like hammers ringing on anvils.
'Very good!’ said John Bradfield, who knew good reading when he heard it.
From reading they went on to spelling, and the great Bible names were tried in vain. The Minister of Education was glad that he was examiner, and not a member of the class. Hebrew polysyllables and Greek-proper names fell thick and fast to the accurate aim of the boys, to whom this was child's play. History followed, geography, even grammar, maps were exhibited, and the rising astonishment of the Minister of Education kept pace with the quiet complacent pride of the Herd's Wife of Curlywee. The examination found its appropriate climax in the recitation of the 'Shorter Catechism.' Here John Bradfield was out of his depth, a fact instantly detected by the row of sharp examinees. He stumbled over the reading of the questions. He followed the breathless enunciation of that expert in the 'Caritches,' Jamie, with a gasp of astonishment. Jamie was able to say the whole of Effectual Calling in six ticks of the clock, the result sounding to the uninitiated like the prolonged birr of intricate clockwork rapidly running down.
'What is the chief end of man?’ slowly queried the Minister of Education, with his eye on the book.
'Mans-chiefend-glorfyGod-joyim-frever!’ returned Jamie nonchalantly, all in one word, as though some one had asked him what was his name.
The Minister of Education threw down his Catechism.
'That is enough. They have all done well, and better than well. Allow me,' he said, doubtfully turning to his hostess, 'to give them each a trifle.'
'Na, na,' said Mistress Glencairn, 'let them e'en do their work withoot needin' carrots hadden afore their nose like a cuddy. What wad they do wi' siller?’
'Well, you will at least permit me to send them each a book by post—I suppose that you get letters up here occasionally?’
‘'Deed, there's no that muckle correspondence amang us, but when we're ower at the kirk there, yin o' the herds on Lamachan that gangs doon by to see a lass that leeves juist three miles frae the post-office, an' she whiles fetches ocht that there may be for us, an' he gi'es it us at the kirk.'
John Bradfield remembered his letters and telegrams even now entering in a steady stream into his London office and overflowing his ministerial tables, waiting his return—a solemnising thought. He resolved to build a house on the Back Hill of Curlywee, and have his letters brought by way of the kirk and the Lamachan herd's lass that lived three miles from the post-office.
'Oot wi' ye!’ said the mistress briefly, addressing her offspring, and the school scaled with a tumultuous rush, which left a sense of vacancy and silence and empty space about the kitchen.
'And now will you tell me how your children are so well taught?’ said John Bradfield. 'How far are you from a school?’
'Weel, we're sixteen mile frae Newton Stewart, where there's a schule but no road, an' eleven frae the Clatterin' Shaws, where there's a road but no schule.'
'How do you manage then?’ The Minister was anxious to have the mystery solved.
'WE KEEP A TUTOR!’ said the herd's wife of Curlywee, as calmly as though she had been a duchess.
The clock ticked in its shiny mahogany case, like a hammer on an anvil, so still it was. The cat yawned and erected its back. John Bradfield's astonishment kept him silent.
'Keep a tutor,' he muttered; 'this beats all I have ever heard about the anxiety of the Scotch peasantry to have their children educated. We have nothing like this even in Yorkshire.'
Then to his hostess he turned and put another question.
'And, if I am not too bold, how much might your husband get in the year?’
'Tammas Glencairn is a guid man, though he's my man, an' he gets a good wage. He's weel worthy o't. He gets three an' twenty pound in the year, half score o' yowes, a coo's grass, a bow o' meal, a bow o' pitatas, an' as mony peats as he likes to cast, an' win', an' cairt.'
'But how,' said John Bradfield, forgetting his manners in his astonishment, 'in the name of fortune does he manage to get a tutor?’
'He disna keep him. I keep him!’ said Mistress Glencairn with great dignity.
The Minister of Education looked his genuine astonishment this time. Had he come upon an heiress in her own right?
His hostess was mollified by his humbled look.
'Ye see, sir, it's this way,' she said, seating herself opposite to him on a clean-scoured, white wooden chair: ‘there's mair hooses in this neighbourhood than ye wad think. There's the farm hoose o' the Black Craig o' Dee, there's the herd's hoose o' Garrary, the onstead o' Neldricken, the Dungeon o' Buchan—an' a wheen mair that, gin I telled ye the names o', ye wadna be a bit the wiser. Weel, in the simmer time, whan the colleges gang doon, we get yin o' the college lads to come to this quarter. There's some o' them fell fond to come. An' they pit up for three or fower weeks here, an' for three or fower weeks at the Garrary ower by, an' the bairns travels ower to whaur the student lad is bidin', an' gets their learnin'. Then when it's time for the laddie to be gaun his ways back to college, we send him awa' weel buskit wi' muirland claith, an' weel providit wi' butter an' eggs, oatmeal an' cheese, for the comfort o' the wame o' him. Forbye we gather up among oorsels an' bid him guid speed wi' a maitter o' maybe ten or twal' poun' in his pooch. And that's the way we keep a tutor!’
If you enjoyed this story and want more... there's another Curlywee story up on the FREE SRC website HERE
And why not catch up, week by week, with The Lilac Sunbonnet, serialised right HERE in commemoration of its first outing 125 years ago. You can purchase the complete Stickit Minister and some common men HERE or download it for free digitally HERE
January 2019 marks the 60th anniversary of the Cuban Revolution.
Unco author Cally Phillips has written two remarkable books featuring Cuba
and there's never been a better time to read them.
'Revolutionaries will come who will sing the song of the new man and woman
in the true voice of the people' (Guevara)
The One that Got Away.
To commemorate the 60th anniversary of the Cuban Revolution Cally Phillips sings her revolutionary song. The One that Got Away offers a personal and passionate perspective which will challenge and charm anyone open enough to want to explore beyond the beach. Uncompromising in structure and style, it offers something truly new in fiction.
You won’t find critiques of this book from the mainstream media – it’s not the kind of book the mainstream would champion, or even countenance. Why should they? It challenges everything they stand for.
But there are readers who have enjoyed it. Real people. Maybe like you. Maybe not. This is what those people have said:
‘Evocative, realistic and sobering. I really enjoyed it.’
‘A journey that touches your soul and connects you to an existence that is rea.l’
‘Immerse yourself in Cuba – its culture, its people, its ideologies, its dichotomies. Read this book and I guarantee your preconceived ideas of the country will change.’
‘A place where humanity is revered not as a commodity to be exploited purely for gain but is an integral part of a society.’
‘Hard to put down. Sad and beautiful in equal measure. Coffee and sugar in perfect harmony!’
'A celebration of an absolute truth, where truth is looked square in the eye.’
So what is it all about?
The One that Got Away is the ‘companion’ volume to Cally Phillips 2007 work Another World is Possible but you don’t need to have read that to ‘get’ this. This is the story of Tom Black (a minor character in AWIP) set mostly in 1989. Against the backdrop of a failing marriage, the fall of the Soviet Union, amidst the rise of Thatcher’s ‘no society’ Britain and global ‘free’ markets Tom goes to Havana with a job to do. But what job? The reader can barely work it out – is he a spy, is he ‘just an economist’ or is he ‘only a man’? In any case, he is confronted by a world that challenges his identity to its very core – and the reader may face a similar challenge.
Stylistically this book challenges. Forget three act narrative structure. This story is laid out as a pack of cards, the ‘full deck’ of 52 chapters broken into 8 ‘games’. While there is an element of linear story which throws in (among other things) a passing nod to the Graham Greene thriller Our Man in Havana, the work has undertones and gracenotes far beyond this. It plays with narrative structure and theme deliberately, the goal being a reordering of narrative itself. The author explains her belief that: ‘the progressive linear three act structure narrative form is the product and the darling of a capitalist aspirational mindset and in writing this story, which tells of a different view of life, a different structure had to be developed. The established tradition of socialist novels didn’t offer a solution, so I played around with all that has gone before, attempting to develop a new narrative. Whatever else it is, it is a revolutionary structure. The conceit of the cards is simply to disrupt the expectations of the reader and to point towards an alternative experience and expression of reality.’
That said, the revolutionary structure does not hold up the action but is embedded, guerrilla-like in the narrative, so that Tom draws the reader along with him. Together they face a world they think they understand but discover they never really knew. The change of perspectives leads to a change of heart – and a fundamental shift in identity.
The novel’s exploration of the complexities of Cuban culture is reflected in its powerful descriptions of Cuban coffee – the bitter and sweet combination being integral to the spirit of the work as it is to the spirit of Cuba.
In the end, you will have not just read a story, but experienced a different way of reading, of thinking and of being. The challenge laid down to the reader is to forget everything you believe you know, open your eyes and let the taste and flavour of revolution course through your veins.
Not for the risk averse! Buying this book, and more so reading this book, will be a gamble – but if you take on The Full Deck you may discover something that causes you to reconsider what you know about Cuba, about economics, about love, about reading – and even about yourself.
Giving Dickens a run for his money, here's a free Christmas story... with a difference.
The packman's pool by S.R.Crockett
‘It's just three days to Christmas,’ said Gray Stiel to Robin as they stood at the black gates of the farm-town and looked up at the threatening December sky.
‘Kirsmas—I think I hae heard tell o' that afore— what is't?’ said Robin Stiel, who was Gray Stiel's nephew and twelve years old.
‘Oh,’ said Gray Stiel, whistling on his smooth-haired little collie, ‘it's a time, juist!’
‘But what is it a time for?’ continued Robin, who was small for his age but mighty persistent.
‘Robin, man, ye are awfu' ignorant; I maun send ye to the schule,’ said Gray Stiel, who had been as far as Lockerby Lamb Fair and once met an Englishman. ‘Christmas is a time when folk hae mair to eat than they ken what to do wi', and mair to drink than is guid for them.’
‘O Lord,’ groaned Robin, ‘I wuss Kirsmas wad come to the Nethertoun. I'm no mindin' what I hae to drink. There's naething sae slockenin' as cauld water, but to hae mair than ye can eat, it's just heeven to think on!’
Gray Stiel sighed, and for a moment his face looked a little weary. He too did not know what it was to have more to eat than left him hungry when it was gone. And, to tell the truth, he did not care much. For he had grown indurated to a brave, brisk, hard life at the hill farm of Nethertoun among the wild hills of Galloway. He had been fourteen years herd to Ralph Edgar of the House of Folds, commonly known as ‘Hoppety-Skip’ from a hobbling way of walking he had, through his leg having once been put out of joint (it was said by an indignant former herd), and he now knew that he would not make a fortune in the service of his present master.
Gray had thought it was a fine thing when he was a younger man to get such a place, the sole charge of as fine a ‘hill’ as there was in all Galloway, a cow's grass, one lamb in every two-score of those drafted off the farm at selling time, and five-and-twenty pounds in wages. Gray Stiel at that time was twenty-four years of age and sanguine.
He was in love, too, and hoped that this ‘doing for himself’ would bring him quickly to the goal of his hopes. But after the first successful season a series of backward unkindly years had smitten him sore. There were late snowstorms, into which the young lambs were born only to die. He himself was stricken with a pleurisy which cut like a knife into his flesh each time he mounted a brae. But still he struggled on, with hope upspringing in the loyal faithful heart of him. Gray Stiel was true steel.
But yet sorer things to bear struck him. In one year his father died, his mother, left penniless, aged and infirm, came to live with him, bringing one Robin, a baby, the son of Allan, Gray Stiel's elder brother, who had levanted into parts unknown out of the reach of his responsibilities. Then one week after she had come to her son's house, she woke wailing in the dawn with a great and strange fear upon her. She was blind. Something had snapped after long wearing pain in her eyeballs—snapped suddenly and without warning. And so she became a burden upon Gray, and wearied his life out by telling him so—which, indeed, was his greatest burden.
With his own hands he had to dress her, and lead her about the house. He was nurse to little Robin, carrying him often to the hills with him in the nook of his plaid, or in bad weather taking a hasty run down in the mid of the morning to the cot-house to see that all was right within.
Then to show that the blast of misfortune had not blown itself out, the one cow died, and Gray had three miles to walk before he could get a bottle of milk for his two helpless charges, while the road was so rough that oftentimes it was churned into butter in his pocket by the time he got back. After the lambing time it was easier, of course, for then he milked the ewes which happened to lose their lambs. And those who know understand that it is no joke to milk a full-sized old blackface of the mountains—a ‘Snaw-breaker’ and the mother of many.
But Gray Stiel came through the trial, though it handicapped him for life. In the autunm his cunning master offered him an advance upon his wages, part of which he used in buying another cow, and part in paying some outstanding obligations of his father's about which his mother kept up a perpetual craking complaint wearisome to listen to.
Then quite suddenly his sweetheart, Peggy Sinclair, a small farmer's daughter in the low country, married his master, Ralph Edgar, called Hoppety-Skip. She was eighteen years of age and she had been acted on by her people, whose pride was awakened when Hoppety-Skip came a-courting in a dark green gig with lines picked out in red. That the bridegroom was within a few years of seventy made no difference to them, though it did to Peggy, gentility's sacrifice.
For many days Gray Stiel went to the hill with a worse pain in his heart than last winter's stitch of pleurisy. He had never seen Peggy since, though she had come to Nethertoun once or twice with her husband. But on these particular days Gray Stiel had business among his flocks on the remotest hilltops, and if Hoppety-Skip wanted to see him, he could come to seek him.
So the years went on and Robin grew a big boy. The weariful complaining of Gray's mother was suddenly stilled in the tenth year of his herdship at Nethertoun, and the lonely man felt the want acutely. But from that day his heart was set on Robin, the child of his lost brother Allan. It used to be his fear that he would come back and claim his son. Gray Stiel felt sure that Allan could do that, or any other mean thing to which he applied his mind.
So at the yett of Nethertoun, leaning upon the top bar and looking at the dull grey of a sky which presaged snow. Gray Stiel and his nephew Robin stood. Three or four dogs, feeling the need of keeping the blood coursing through their veins that nipping winter morning, tumbled over each other with riotous snapping of teeth, worrying and yelping with their noses in the scruff of each other's necks.
A far-away whistle reached them in the midst of their play, and instantly every dog stopped in the midst of a spring, or was turned to stone with jaws wide open for a snap. Their ears were instantly cocked in the direction of the sound, and a low continuous gur-r-r-ring quivered through each from sharply-pointed nose to twitching tail.
With a great fear in his heart Gray Stiel went to the barn-end and looked down the valley. What he saw made him turn sharply round and bid Robin go into the house and bide there. Whereat the boy, though infinitely curious, obeyed without question. He had but one law, and that was the will of Gray Stiel.
Then Gray took his staff in his hand and went down the glen to face what he felt might be the greatest peril of his life. Upon a rock sat a tall, burly man clad apparently in rags. The toe of one foot peeped through the broken boot. His hair of a sandy grey was short cropped, and his face had an unwholesome prison pallor like half-bleached cloth.
He was drinking raw spirits out of a bottle as the clean muirland nose of his brother told him a hundred yards off
‘Ho, Square-toes!’ he cried, waving the bottle about his head, ‘come and have a drink. You won't — you upsettin' blastie. Well, then, I will, if ye will not. There!’
He swigged off the remainder of the contents without removing the bottle from his lips. Then catching it by the neck he threw it with unsteady aim at one of the circling collies, who, of course, easily evaded the clumsy missile. The bottle smashed against the rock with an ugly sound as Gray Stiel stood face to face with his enemy.
Allan Stiel balanced himself uneasily, lurching a little, and trying to suppress a hiccough. Then he smiled.
‘I have come for my share of the family estate,’ he said, ‘heir, you know. Gray—eldest son of his parents. Where's the cash my father left— mother too? Give me my portion of goods. Master Stay-at-home, or Allan Stiel will soon let ye ken what's what!’
‘Allan,’ said Gray Stiel, ‘well do you know that our father not only left no money but died in debt—not through any fault of his own, poor man. And as for my mother, God rest her, she brought me nothing but the clothes on her back.’
Allan Stiel laughed aloud.
‘Nonsense, man,’ he said, ‘I’ve heard you paid faither's creditors in full, and some o' mine too. That shows ye hae siller. Nae man pays siller that he hasna got. Sae if ye please, nae gammon wi' Allan. Ten pounds ye pay me or I will tak' awa' that callant o' mine to learn my new business. Oh, it's a braw trade!’
There was no need for Gray Stiel to ask what that trade was. The man breathed beggary, theft, and debauchery from polled head to cracked boots. And to think that such an one had a claim upon Robin, and could make him like that!
Gray Stiel drew his breath hard.
‘I havena the siller,’ he said slowly; ‘I havena a pound note i' the hoose!’
‘Then ye ken where to get it,’ retorted his brother, ‘there's your sweetheart, Peggy, married to your rich maister, a young lass wedded to an auld man. She will never refuse a loan to her jo for the sake o' auld lang syne.’
‘I cannot do that!’ said Gray with a gasp.
Allan Stiel swore a great oath, and held up his clenched hand above his head. His prison paleness flushed purple.
‘Then I swear that if ye do not get me that ten pounds by Christmas Day, I will tak' the boy wi' me. It's an awesome-like thing to keep a boy frae his ain faither that has tane a' the trouble o' bringin' him into the world, and noo ye wad hinder him frae learnin’ to earn an honest penny, and to be the staff o' his faither's declinin' years!’
The affectionate parent turned and strode unsteadily down the rough rocky track which led towards the loch. Gray Stiel watched him with wild whirling thoughts in his heart. At the angle of the path Allan stopped and shouted back, ‘Ten o'clock at the Packman's Pool on Christmas mornin', and mind ye hae the siller wi' ye!’
Gray Stiel went back into the house and his collies slunk uneasily after him. Their master ought, they knew, to have been on the hill long ere this. There were not so many hours of daylight left in which to cover so much moss and heather. But still Gray Stiel sat and thought.
Robin, wearied of his book, had risen and gone to the door with his dog Airie. Gray Stiel abruptly bade him come in and sit down. He was not to go out of doors that day while he was on the hill. He was afraid that his brother might yet return.
Then, having locked the door, Gray took the path for the Craig Lee knowes, whence the best general idea of the hill can be got. The sheep, it appeared to him, were all on their several ridges and slopes, and Gray Stiel resolved (as he put it) to ‘leave them to Providence for yae day!’
Then with an abrupt change of direction he struck right across the moorland for Dee fords, conquering the heather and moss-hags with his long shepherd's stride. He was making a bee line for the House of Folds, where dwelt a woman he had never set eyes upon, since she had looked up and told him how much she loved him. But now it was not a time to let any sentimental considerations stand in the way. He must see Peggy Sinclair— he could not bring himself to say the other name by which men called her. And as he spoke the image of Hoppety-Skip, his mean, narrow-visaged grippy master, rose before his eyes with a sense of physical disgust. He stopped and half turned on his heel. No, he could not do it— not even for Robin's sake. And yet the thought of the babe whom he had held in his arms, laying him down in his plaid only that he might milk the ewes, and— yes, it should be done.
It was late in the short winter's afternoon before he reached the House of Folds and asked for ‘the Mistress.’
She came, and at sight of him set hand to her side with a strange little animal cry, something like a weak thing that has been trodden upon.
‘Gray,’ she whispered mechanically, ‘ye hae comed!’ Perhaps she was thinking of the tryst she never kept. At least Gray Stiel was.
Then it was that there came a strange construction into the man's throat. Something seemed to grow so great and hard at the root of his tongue, that he had no words to articulate. Then all at once he noted that it was dark, and he thought of little Robin sitting alone with his dog in the cothouse of Nethertoun. Then words came suddenly to him.
‘I have a sudden call,’ he said; ‘Allan has come back and swears that he will take Robin frae me— and— mak' him a thief like himsel' if I winna gie him ten pounds on Christmas morning!’
There was a pitiful look on the face of the young mistress of the House of Folds and her hand sought her throat, wavering upwards like a little detached flame from a fire of green wood. ‘Oh, I havena a shilling. Gray,’ she whispered, ‘he—he winna— And oh, Gray, it was a' my faither!’
At that moment from the little parlour there came the sound of a kind of skipping patter as if a large dog had leaped down from a chest upon the bare wooden floor. And the girl involuntarily withdrew further from the door, as it were, shrinking within herself.
‘Wha's there— wha's there?’ cried a high-pitched, querulous voice, ‘what for canna ye come in, wha-ever ye are? Stiel—Stiel! What's wrang aboot Nethertoun? Are ony o' the sheep deid? Dinna say that the steadin's on fire?’
Then he turned to his wife.
‘Gang in there,’ he said, as he would have spoken to a dog, glancing over his deformed shoulder at her with an ugly look on his face, strange under his crown of reverend hair.
‘Lend ye ten pounds to gie to your ill-set brither — my bonny pound notes that I hae worked sae hard for!’ he screamed when he understood. ‘Gray Stiel, do ye think I hae gane crazy? And ye hae no been that fast in payin' back what ye owe me already, that I should fling awa' ten pounds, for you and your brither to waste in drink an' debauchery!’
‘To keep the boy—and what for should ye keep the boy? I wat ye hae wasted mair on that boy than wad hae paid me my legal debt ten times ower! Na, na, Gray, gang your ways back, and let the wean gang to his faither. That's aye a mouth the less to be fed aff the Nethertoun! And get a strong laddie that will be some use to ye on the hill. Guid-nicht to ye. And mind, dinna leave your hill and my sheep on ony mair siccan daft errands! Ay, or you and me will quarrel, Gray!’
The door slammed to and Gray Stiel was left without in the darkness gripping his hands to keep them from taking hold of the miser's scraggy neck. And while Peggy, the wife of Hoppety-Skip, lay all night awake thinking of Gray Stiel and his trouble, hardly once did Gray Stiel think of her. For all his mind was on Robin, the boy whom he must deliver into his father's hand on the morning of Christmas,—the day when Happiness came to the whole earth.
And on the twenty-fifth day of December Robin woke late to see through the curtains of his bed a strange sight. His uncle Gray was taking down the old gun off the wall— the gun with the long single barrel which had not been fired for many a year. He cleaned it carefully, and then as carefully loaded it, measuring the powder in the hollow of his hand and taking care with the wadding and something else that was certainly not the lead pellets he used for rabbit-shooting. And the face of Gray Stiel was as the face of the dead, for he had not slept since he had met with his brother Allan three days before.
Then drawing an ancient web purse from a worm-eaten desk, sole relic of the former better estate of the family, he counted out seventeen shillings and nine pennies, in silver and copper—all his worldly possessions. It was with a somewhat grim look that he thrust this into his pocket, and taking in hand the alternative to the seventeen-and-ninepence, he went out on tiptoe.
Robin drew aside the curtain and saw him striding away down towards the loch through the falling snow. That was why Robin had slept so long. It was after nine o'clock of the day, but the snow had been falling all night and still continued. His uncle sank nearly to the knees in it. Poor Uncle Gray—Robin thought—to be obliged to go out in such weather. But again, perhaps he had seen a deer on the side of Craig Lee, and was only going to try for a shot.
That might be God's Christmas gift. Robin had once tasted venison and the flavour remained with him yet.
Gray Stiel came of a race which loves not murder, but is not averse to slaying in a just cause. And it was with no thought of the consequences to himself that he resolved that upon no consideration would he deliver Robin to his father. The seventeen-and-ninepence— yes, or—that which he had dropped into the old musket! His brother should have his choice of these two—but not Robin.
The snow fell softly, whisperingly. It was powdery with frost, and slid off the plumy branches of the fir trees with a hushing sound. There— there was the Packman's Pool, dead black amid a perfection of whiteness.
A mist as of blood ran redly across Gray Stiel's eyes. His ears drummed and he gripped the old gun that had been his father's. He could feel his heart beating in his throat. He knit his brows, and tried hard to collect himself, and even to con the speech he had resolved to make to Allan, his brother.
Yet, as he approached, there was no Allan to be seen— an empty bottle winked at him with one black eye from under a hoary eyelid of snow. Beyond, on the edge of the pool, there was a curious mound of snow hunched together.
Something in the shape took Gray Stiel by the heart. He uttered a hoarse cry, and dropping his gun he ran forward and laid his hand upon the thing.
It was his brother, frozen dead, all his evil days and evil deeds covered with the spotless righteousness of the snow.
And Gray Stiel fell on his knees and lifted up his hands in thankfulness to heaven that the sin of Cain was not to be his that bitter Christmas Day.
And away in the little cothouse Robin, for whose unconscious sake certain things might have been done, drew in a creepie stool to his porridge and milk with another thankful heart.
‘So this is Christmas Day,’ he said, ‘and in England where they hae a' the siller they want, folk get presents, and grand gifts, and as muckle as ever they can eat?’
He took one spoonful and then, recollecting that he had forgotten to say grace, he reverently took off his bonnet and asked a blessing.
Then he took another spoonful.
‘But after a',’ he added thankfully, ‘Christmas or no Christmas, porridge is hard to beat!’
But though he knew it not, out by the Packman's Pool, God had placed the best Christmas gift that could have come to the cothouse of Nethertoun, or into the life of young Robin Stiel, the nephew of one Gray, a brave man of that name. But that is not the end of the story. Other things even more interesting occurred after the death of Hoppety-Skip, which happened also before that Christmas snow melted.
For death as well as life is the gift of God.
For the ebook edition of the S.R.Crockett anthology 'A Cameronian Christmas and other Winters Tales' click HERE. Galloway Raiders members can get this free with the code issued in the December Raiders125 e-newsletter. For the rest of you, it's discounted from the Amazon price until the end of the month.
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Robert Louis Stevenson (our unco author of the month for November) was born on 13th November 1850. He's best known for 'Treasure Island,' 'Kidnapped' and 'The Master of Ballantrae' but there's a lot more to him than these (wonderful) novels.
In 2018 Lachlan Munro fulfilled a long held ambition to publish his thoughts on Stevenson's Kidnapped through Deveron Press, and you can buy it from the Unco store HERE
Scenery of Dreams: The True Story of Robert Louis Stevenson's 'Kidnapped' offers a new perspective on the man, his work and the history surrounding this well loved classic work.
Lachlan Munro will be talking about his book and signing copies at Blackwells, South Bridge, Edinburgh on Saturday 17th November at 3.30pm as part of the RLS day (week) celebrations. More information HERE
EXCLUSIVE TO UNCO
S.R.Crockett's Deep Moat Grange (1908) published 31st October 2018 in a new digital edition which includes the short story it was derived from 'How Elsie Danced for her life' (1901 ) as well as illustrations from the original and an introduction by Cally Phillips which contextualises this most misunderstood Crockett work.
Available in epub, pdf and mobi (Kindle) formats.
To transfer a mobi file to your kindle follow
the instructions https://www.amazon.com/gp/sendtokindle
RAIDERS 125 MEMBERS CAN GET THIS FOR FREE UNTIL MIDNIGHT ON 31ST OCTOBER 2018
Introducing you to some of our classic unco writers.
Here's a story for Halloween.
'A Cry Across the Black Water' is a spooky story set in Galloway at the Black Water of Dee.
Written by S.R.Crockett and first published in the Pall Mall Magazine in 1894 you can read it free online at McStorytellers.
It was subsequently published in the short story collection of 1895 Bog Myrtle and Peat available from Unco in paperback and digital formats
Find out more about S.R.Crockett at The Galloway Raiders
Find out more about the history of The Pall Mall Magazine