Jessie Stevens started service in the the mansion of Kineddart. She was only fourteen at the time but it was roon aboot the age that maist lassies gaed intae service in the mid nineteenth century. Jessie was nae stranger tae work wi her being the eldest of a faimily of seven, fower brithers an twa sisters. She had fae an early age hid responsibilities far abeen her years. She felt mair than a little nervous though as she made her wye up the lang gravelled road that led tae the grand hoose of Kineddart.
It didna look that grand tae Jessie- jist a big ugly hoose made of dark steen and even darker shaddas caused by the daylicht strugglin tae push its wye throwe the heavy cloods. She could see the glimmer of licht in some of the mony windaes. At least somebody wis up and aboot. Her meagre belongings aa wuppit up in an aul bit o hodden grey wis aa she cairriet but even little as there wis seemed to weigh a ton as she trauchled on tae an uncertain fate. She made her wye to the back of the hoose and knocked.
“Sit down girl!” This was fae the grumpy looking cook. “What did you say your name was?”
“Jessie miss... Jessie Stevens”.
“Well you wait here Jessie and I'll go and fetch Mistress Gordon.She deals wi' all new servants!”
Dichtin her hands on her aapron she left the kitchen. Jessie sat looking aroon the place she'd be workin in for at least a year. She had nivver afore seen sic a huge range, the center wis the lowin fire and looked as if ye'd need a barra tae fill it but it wis the fire's surrounds that interested Jessie maist. There must have been a dizzen smaa doors leading tae different ovens and hot boxes. Wyte till she tellt her mither..!
The stern voice dragged Jessie back fae her contemplation of the cooking range tae the here and now. The voice belanged tae the maist crabbit lookin person she'd ever set een on.
“Don't you stand when a superior walks into the room”?
Jessie stumbled tae her feet saying “Sorry Miss”!
The grim lookin wifie wis obviously the Mrs Gordon the cook had gone to fetch. 'A gweed start' thocht Jessie an fin she lookit at the ticht face wi black fish een, her spirits drappit and it took her aa her time nae tae tak tae her heels an rin awa hame.
“I'm not 'miss' I'm to be addressed as Mistress Gordon at all times! Do you understand?”
Jessie nodded and said “Aye mis-- I mean Mistress Gordon”!
Mistress Gordon frowned and turned tae the cook faa wis scutterin aboot nearby.
“Take her disgusting coat and put it where it can't contaminate the kitchen!”
Jessie's hackles gaed up at this. Maybe her coat wisna the hicht o fashion nor wis it in the best of condition but it was clean and nae crabbit black eed hag wis gan tae say as much aboot her coat. She wis on the pynt of retaliating but the cook sensed Jessie's indignation, shook her heed ever so slightly and helpit her aff wi her coat. “I'll put it in the servant's cupboard for just now.”
Jessie wis shown her duties. As a lowly ‘scullery maid’ she'd tae start at five o'clock ivvery mornin and work throwe tae at least ten o'clock ivvery nicht. She was allowed one half day aff each month and that wis ayewis tae be a Sunday. Jessie didna worry ower muckle about the half day as she wis only five miles fae hame and could easily mak it there an back in the time allowed and at the same time she could gie her wages tae her mither.
Mistress Gordon tellt her she would get one pound twa shillings per month, her keep, twa hoddengrey smocks and a pair of work beets. The best bit o aa though wis her room; it was abeen the kitchen in a wee tower and the room wis half roon. She wid be like a lady wi a room o her very ain. Mistress Gordon then tellt her the rules o the hoose- faar she could go and mair importantly for her, faar she couldna go. On nae account were scullery maids to gyang intae the hoose proper; aa her duties were in the kitchen and confines. And, if for any reason some of the upstairs household were to come intae the kitchen then Jessie would turn to face the wall as a show of respect. Wi her heed buzzing she hoped she could remember aa the richts an wrangs.
Later that day Mr Pirie the soutar came tae the hoose wi work beets for Jessie.They were affa posh lookin and made o the saftest leather Jessie hid ever felt. He hid a few different pairs in different sizes and measured Jessie's feet wi a ruler. 'Size four' he muttered and handed a pair ower for Jessie tae try on. He gave her a smaa heuk tae pull the laces tight. She struggled wi the heuk till Mr Pirie showed her how tae use it richt. She stood up and stampit her feet tae sattle them intae the beets then walkit up and doon a file. They were heaven compared with the worn work sheen that she wore.Her ain were made wi chaip roch leather forbyes the new beets were like the anes that she saw ladies weerin.
Jessie smiled shyly and said to Mr Pirie 'They fit me like a glove.'
He laached and tellt her he wis pleased they fitted weel and wished her mony a gweed mile oot o' them. Mistress Gordon glowered at Jessie but spoke to Mr Pirie. 'You'd better give her two pairs, and if you've any felt slippers two pairs of those too!'
Jessie wis teen aback by this and smiled at Mistress Gordon but aa she got was a withering scowl. The cook winked at her though and said “Yer a lucky quinie!”
Mistress Gordon tellt Jessie tae follow her and teen her tae fit wis called the ‘Servant's Common Room’. Fae a cupboard she teen a puckle bundles of clyse and tellt Jessie tae try them on. They were smocks o hoddengrey. She soon found twa that gey near fitted but an oor wi the needle and she'd hiv them perfect. She rolled them up aifter Mistress Gordon checked them and was tellt faar the shewin stuff wis and that she wis tae help hersel tae fit she needed.
“Sit over there by the window to get the best light!”
At that Mistress Gordon left the room. Jessie found fit she nott and in nae time she wis busy shewin. She heard the door open but didna look up but waited for the “Well don't you stand when a superior enters the room!” But it wisna Mistress Gordon but the cook wi a plate of breid and cheese for her.
“Here lassie ye must be hungert-ye've been on the go for oors an' nae doot yer brain must be burnin wi' aa the rules an sic like ye've been getting blethered at ye!”
Jessie smiled “Aye ma heed is sair made tae tak it aa in but I suppose I'll learn foo tae dee athing the richt wye come time!”
The cook tellt her tae lay her shewin doon for eynoo and get some mait! Jessie thankit her for her kindness and soon cleared the plate.
“Michty me quine but ye must've been stairved o hunger!” said the cook fin Jessie returned the plate tae the kitchen. “Here ye'd better hae some mair!” and afore she kent it her plate wis filled again. “Wid ye like a bowel o milk tae wash it doon?”
For the rest of that day Jessie helpit the cook in the scullery deein general cleaning an helpin tae prepare the vegetables for that nicht's supper. The cook tellt her there was neen of the faimily in residence at the moment but Lord Braco wis expectit up at the weekend fae Edinburgh. She said it would gie her time tae learn the wyes o the hoose afore ony big denners or pairties were held.
Her first job in the mornin wis tae bring as mony bucketfaes o coal as the bink at the side o the fire could hud. The cook teen her doon tae the cellar tae show her faar the coal wis kept and by the gutterin glimmer o the lamp it wis a gey dreich lookin place wi its coomed ceilins. It put Jessie in mind o the story o the catacombs ablow Rome faar the Christians hid fae the Roman sodjers. At least though she widna hae tae cairry ilka bucketfae up the lang windin steps for there wis a thing the cook caad a ‘dumb waiter’ like a wee cupboard wi a door on’t. It could hud sax buckets and eence fulled aa Jessie hid tae dee wis ging back up tae the kitchen an pull on the rope till it cam up.
The cook said she'd need twa lifts o coal tae full the bink for that day’s use. Jessie wis neen worried aboot gettin the coal but the only problem for her wis the thocht o comin doon here in the early oors o the mornin. A gey eerie place it wis wi wee steen arches gan awa doon intae the bowels o the place. Her faither hid tellt her it wis eence a castle but hid been destroyed by the Bruce tae stop the Anglish fae usin it lang syne awa back in the days o yore. Jessie gied a bit shudder fin she thocht o aa the fowk that must've deet here.
Aifter a fine supper o tatties an neeps Jessie wis teen up tae her room jist abeen the kitchen. The room wis intae een o the towers an wis gotten fae the scullery by a windin stair. The room wisna big but it wis fair neat and tidy wi a wee bun in bed at the squarr side o the room on the curve o the tower there wis the bonniest leedit glaiss windae she'd ivver seen wi coloured glaiss jist like the kirk hid at Eden. The windae lookit oot abeen the kitchen gairden an it wis jist like the room, aa neat an tidy wi twa’r three men workin awa diggin the grun. There wis a kist at the side o the bed for her goods an chattels wi a wee table for tae hud a cannel jist aside it.
Jessie wis fair kinichtit wi the room.This wid be the first time in aa her life that she hid a room o her ain. Wi fower brithers an twa sisters there could nivver be muckle privacy an them aa bidin in a wee cottar hoose the wye they did. Her excitement wis spiled by the hoosekeeper comin in an tellin here that she'd tae keep it spotless clean an warned her that she wid inspeck it ivvery day tae mak sure o that. Wi that she wint back doon the stairs leavin Jessie an the cook lookin at eenanither. The cook smiled an said “Dinna mind her ower muckle ma quine her bark's waar nor her bite!”
At five next mornin Jessie gid doon tae the kitchen an raiked up the coals an opened the flap in aneth jist the wye she'd been shown tae kittle up the smoored coals. Jessie wis mair used tae her mither's fire wi its big iron grate that only nott a puckle peats tae get it lowin first thing in the mornin.Wi this thing though ye'd tae gang throwe a puckle different routines tae get the same. But sayin that the coal wis fairly the thing an in nae time, the fire wis lowin ready for her first job getting the kettle on the swye for the tea eence the cook came in.
Wi lantern in haan she made her wye doon the dark dank stairs tae the cellar. She felt the hairs on the back o her neck prickle mair that eence on the wye. Yin o the airches hid a door on it an this wis faar the coal wis stored. Hingin the lantern on the heuk for the job she soon hid the first sax buckets fulled and intae the dumb waiter.
As she made tae tak doon the lantern she thocht she saw a movement tae her richt so she held up the lantern tae cast licht farrer intae the cellar but she didna see onything an thocht it hid been a rat scurryin aboot. Onywye she held up the stairs tryin tae mak on that she wisna feart. A fyowe meenits later she wis back fullin up the buckets again. This time fin she feenished there came a bigger noise like something faain so grabbin the lantern she walkit a step or twa towards the sound. She got a gey fear fin she thocht she saw the shape o a man jist ayont the flickerin licht. Jessie wasted nae mair time but got oot o there as faist as her feet wid cairry her.
By the time the cook came in Jessie wis in a gey state aboot fit hid happened.' Jessie tellt her fit she’d seen or thocht she’d seen. The cook laached and tellt her it hid jist been the flicherin o the lantern oot o the tail o her ee. Jessie wis reassured at this but she nivver saa the scared look on the cook’s face as she turned awa.
Onywye as the wiks gaed in Jessie wid gyang doon for the coal ilka mornin. She didna look aboot but jist concentrated on the coal. Ayee she felt though that she wis bein watched and wid feel the goose pimples rise at the back o her neck and airms.
“It’s only the flicker o the lamp!” She’d reassure hersel but she still gaed up the dank stairs as faist as she could.
The Laird, his wife and son were in residence but they didna hae ony big pairties; jist a puckle freens noo an then for dinner. Mistress Gordon seemed tae hae thawed oot a bit and wid fyles come doon tae the kitchen for a cup o tae wi Jessie and the cook. Mistress Gordon tellt Jessie aboot Lord Braco being a lawyer doon in Edinburgh and that he wis a richt fine man and affa gweed tae his workers on the estate. His son wis at university in Edinburgh learnin tae be a lawyer like his father. Mistress Gordon said he wis affa gweed lookin wi blond hair and blue een like his mither,Lady Braco fa wis a gey bit younger than the Laird.
Jessie wis spellbound at the stories Mistress Gordon tellt her. She kent athing aboot the history o the faimily, sodjers, sailors, politicians and ancestors hid focht in countless wars and even een o the Laird’s forefathers hid been a pirate on the seven seas.
Jessie hid settled in richt fine and got her half day aff tae wun hame ilka month as promised. She’d gie her mither aa her pey tae help wi the feedin o the younger bairns. Jessie earned as much as her faither in a month aa thanks tae the kindness o Laird Braco faa’s policy it wis tae gie his workers a good wage an that wis a rare sentiment at that time fae ony laird in the land.
Ae mornin early Jessie gaed doon tae get the coal as usual but this time made the mistake o peyin heed tae the flichering shaddas at the tail o her ee. She stoppit fullin the coal pails and lookit doon intae the shaddas and that’s fin she saw him stannin there nae ten fit fae her. Jessie near skirled oot but it wis the sadness on the laddie’s face that stoppit her. She held up the lantern tae get a better look at him. She could see he wis nae muckle auler than hersel maybe aichteen or twenty. Her hairt beatin like a haimmer she askit o him fa he wis. In reply he jist shook his heed, turned and walked awa intae the gloom.
Jessie by this time wis near on her knees wi the fear and got oot o there as faist as her feet could cairry her. Fin the cook came in Jessie tellt her aboot the ghost she’d seen and refused point blank tae gang doon for the coal. Mistress Gordon wis called and she’d little sympathy for Jessie and wid hae nithing tae dee wi the idea o ghosts. Jessie’s refusal got her intae an affa lot o trouble and Mistress Gordon docked her pey for as lang as she keepit up refusing tae gyang for the coal. The only sympathy Jessie got wis fae the cook faa made a cup o tea and gave Jessie a hankie tae dry up her tears. The cook widna hae teen a king’s ransom tae gyang doon tae that place hersel but she didna tell that tae Jessie.
Een o the men came in fae the gairdens tae get the coal in the mornins but he nivver saa onything strange. This gaed on for mair than a fortnicht until in the hinner eyn wi the cook’s insistence Jessie saa sense. Onywye she’d already lost a half months pey and if she didna gyang back doon she’d lose the ither half.
At five the next mornin Jessie lichtit the lantern wi a taper fae the fire an set fit tae the cellar. She gaed doon the steps gey canny wi her knees near bucklin fae ablow her. Soon she’d the first sax buckets fulled. Nae lookin tae the left or richt she made tae gyang up the stairs tae haul up the dumb waiter. That wis fin she saw him stannin atween her an the stair.
Jessie backit awa an near fell in amongst the coal pile. There wisna ony place tae rin besides deeper intae the dark recesses o the dank eerie cellar. She opened her mooth tae scream fin the laddie said in a soft voice, “Dinna skirl Jessie I winna hurt ye!”
That stopped her and she only gave a wee whimper instead. He steppit nearer her and she cooried doon wi her back tae the coal. He held up a haan tae show he meant nae hairm and wi the ither haan he gave her twa coins.
“I’m sorry about your loss of pay because I frightened you, so I hope this will make it up to you!”
He then walked awa back intae the gloom and seemed tae vanish. Jessie a complete gibbering wreck by this time scooted up the stairs covered in coal styoo and tears. Sic a how-d’ye- do set up this time. The cook wis in an affa state at the condition o Jessie and tried aathing tae calm her doon. Misstress Gordon came in and saa straicht awa that Jessie wis in the complete hysterics. Her reaction wis swift and she gave Jessie a stinging slap in the face. That seemed tae calm her doon a wee bittie and atween saichs and sighs she blurted oot fit hid happened doon in the cellar.
The door opened and the Laird himsel came in wintin tae ken fit wis gan on. Jessie repeated fit hid happened and showed the coins tae the Laird. He’d been sittin in front o Jessie. Noo fin he saa the coins he stood up wi a gasp. He asked Jessie if she’d mind him takkin the coins then walked oot and gaed back intae the main hoose. A fyowe meenits later raised voices could be heard as if fowk were haein a row.
A filie aifter that yin o the hoose servants came in and asked if Mistress Gordon would be so kind as to come upstairs to the library and to take the scullery maid with her. Dichtin Jessie’s tearstained een and sortin her hair she then tellt Jessie tae run up tae her room and change intae a clean smock. Thus Mistress Gordon led Jessie,riggit but still sabbin, intae the hoose proper.
It wis the first time Jessie hid seen intae the hoose and she wis fair teen aback at the size o it an aa the fancy stuff hingin fae the waas. Paintings, sculptures, swords, spears and shields lined the waas. Suits o armour stood as if there wis men still inside them ready tae chaap ye wi their raised swords. Mistress Gordon hid her grim face on as she knockit at the huge double doors an wytit. Jessie kent she wis gyan tae get the saick for aa the cairry on and she could feel the tears trippin her again.
The door wis opened by a footman an Mistress Gordon ushered her in. It wis a huge room wi the waas lined wi shelves o beuks. In the middle there wis a big table wi wee sloped stands wi opened beuks on them. A lamp burned abeen them. She’d nivver seen a lamp like that afore, it hid fit looked like mirrors tae reflect the licht doon on the books. Jessie wis tellt by Mistress Gordon tae ging ower tae the table and that’s fin she saw the Laird pacing aboot ayont it at the fire. He looked affa troubled but fin he saa the state o Jessie he smiled and tellt her tae sit doon.
Jessie startit tae habber an apology for aathing but he said nae tae worry aboot it and just sit down. Jessie did fit she was bid and sat doon on a high backit chair. Emotions were rinnin riot in her mind and she felt her knees knockin thegither wi fear. Seein how close she was tae panic the Laird spoke softly telling her she wisna in ony trouble. His words put Jessie at her ease a wee bittie and she startit tae relax.
“Now Jessie could you tell me the story again about what happened in the cellar?”
Jessie tried tae spik English like they were taught at school but keepit faain doon throwe it. The Laird said tae pit her at her ease, “In yer ain words quine nivver mind the pan loaf. Cairry on!”
This got a big smile fae Jessie as she visibly relaxed. So she tellt the Laird in her ain words exactly fit happened.
Aifter she finished Jessie could see the Laird wis distracted and deep in thought. Comin tae a decision he went tae a big cord aside the fire and pulled doon on it a couple o times. A fitman came in fae a wee side door and the Laird said something tae him. A fylie later he cam back wi the Laird’s son. Jessie’s hairt missed a beat fin she saa him. Mistress Gordon wis richt eneuch, he wis really handsome wi pure blond hair and sky blue een. He smiled shyly at Jessie as he sat doon. The Laird wi a grim face on him said tae his son, “Now James I want you to apologise to Jessie for scaring her down in the coal cellar!”
James frowned at this sayin, “I told you earlier father. It wasn’t me and anyhow I don’t have gold coins like those!”
He pointed to the coins on the table. Jessie interrupted much to the consternation o Mistress Gordon who gave a gasp and was aboot tae gie Jessie intae trouble for her lack o respect fin the Laird held up his hand tae her and said tae Jessie, “Cairry on Jessie fit were ye gan tae say?”
Jessie cleared her throat and feelin the colour rise tae her cheeks she lookit at the Laird’s son and said, “It wisna him sir that wis doon in the cellar!” Pyntin at the big paintin abeen the fireplace she said, “That’s him there in the paintin!”
The paintin wis o a young laddie maybe aboot twenty stannin aside a chair weerin aul fashioned clyse wi a cane in his hand. The Laird gave a groan and sat doon staring at the paintin as if he’d nivver seen it afore. Jessie froze as she realised she’d done something affa wrang and fin she saa the laddie pour his father some brandy the bottom fell clean oot o her world.
Mistress Gordon wis scowlin at Jessie wi barely controlled anger. The Laird saw this and tellt Mistress Gordon aathing wis fine and asked her to leave the room. As Mistress Gordon reluctantly left the room Jessie felt like rinnin aifter her. The Laird composin himsel stood up and gid tae a safe built intae the waa and teen oot a wee box and took it tae the table. Turning tae Jessie he asked her tae come ower. He opened the wee box and teen oot a sma leather bag tied at the top. He untied it and cowpit it oot and seven gold coins jist the marra o Jessie’s eens rolled across the table.
He tellt her that his uncle gave seven each tae him and his brither Hugh fifty years afore. He’d been a pirate in his youth and had sailed the seven seas in search o Spanish treasure. The coins were doubloons and each yin wis worth a King’s ransom as there wis only fourteen o them ivver minted. His uncle thocht as he’d nae faimily that he’d gie them tae his only nephews.
The Laird said his brither Hugh wanted tae sail the seven seas jist like his uncle and wrote a letter saying as much tae his father. Hugh wis nivver heard fae again and that broke his mither’s hairt. Hugh wis the auler o the two so he should’ve been the Laird o Kinedder instead o him.
“And now this!” He handled the two coins fae Jessie deep in thought then lookit up at Jessie.
“Could you show me where you saw the apparition of my brother?”
She nodded and led him and his son doon tae the cellar. She showed them the arch he came oot o and left throwe.
The Laird thankit her and said she was a very brave lassie. Later the Laird and a fyowe o the men fae the gairdens gaed doon tae the cellar. They’d richt funcy lamps wi reflectors on them that the cook said burned a special ile fae sperm whales that burned wi a white licht instead o the yella peely-wally licht that they were used wi.
The laird and his men were doon there maist o the day and Jessie’s job wis tae tak mait doon for them so she saa the cellar lichtit up as nivver before. She didna ken fit they were lookin for but at aboot suppertime a shout set up and aboot an oor later the Laird, his son and aa the men came up fae the cellar covered in styoo and cobwebs. The Laird hid in his haan a wee leather bag exactly the same as the yin up in the library. It wisna tied like his yin and fin he cowpit it ontae the table only five coins fell oot instead o the seven that there should’ve been.
He looked at Jessie and said “We found this along with my brother’s remains. He must’ve been trying to sneak out without letting anyone know. There’s a small tunnel that leads out to the old bridge and must’ve been used in the days this building was a castle, Hugh had been killed when a part of it fell in!”
“Thank you Jessie for solving a mystery that has lasted for fifty years! I can now put my brother to his rest in the family vault at Kineddart kirkyard.”
So saying he picked the seven coins and put them in the wee leather bag. He handed them tae Jessie saying, “I think my brother Hugh would want you to have those.”
A series of longer stories from Sanners Gow's collected works to entertain you through lockdoon an' beyont.