Aal Geordie walked intae the chaamer at Hogland. The mornin sun wiz warm as it streamed throwe the windae wi it’s lair o cobwebs and styoo and cast a wee bittie o heat ontae his arthritic shooders. He stood an lookit aroon the aal chaamer leanin heavily ontae his walkin stavve. His tired een took in the scene afore him, dust lay thick on the fleer, an odds an eynes o lang redundant bits an bobs lay scattered aboot. It lookit for aa the world that somebody hid jist opened the door an heaved them in as if feart tae enter? Fooivver, even that hid been deen mony a year afore because even they were coated wi dust an dirt an lookit jist as forlorn lyin there as athing else in the room.
The furniture wiz still in place, that is if ye could caa it furniture? Twa bunks een on tap o tither, a chest o drawers and a puckle kists. The chest o drawers hid been time worn fin Queen Victoria hid been a young quine. Nae doot it hid been made by a local vricht. Geordie smiled as he imagined tryin tae sell it tae een o yon funcy antique dealers ye see on tv.
‘Yes sir! This is pure Buchan workmanship! See these saw marks? That’s authentic Jeemy jiner!
Did you know sir that he also made cornkists an meal girnals?’
A strange hissin sound fulled the room, and if there’d been onybody else there they wid’ve seen Geordie laachin tae himsel. Shakin his heed as if tae clear awa the image his attention turned tae the bunks. They were made o sarkin boords the same as used on reefs and lookit for aa the world like giant fish boxes. The mattresses were still in them, cloot pyokes fulled o chaff fae the thrashin mull. He gave een a poke wi his stavve an it wint clean throwe the rotten cloot an intae the muchty chaff. Dust particles rose an flashed as they passed throwe the stream o sunlicht fae the windae. Geordie waved his haan tae pit awa the styoo an is so deein steered up even mair. The waas were lined wi the same sarkin boords that made the bunk an were butted thegither. At the jines dust hid filtered throwe them and some o it clung tae cobwebs that hung aawye. It wiz this Geordie hid disturbed by wavin his haan aboot. Movin awa tae the tither side o the room tae escape the dust he stumbled ower some aal clyse an kitchen utensils an near wint his length ontae the fleer. A bittie fleggit he lookit roon for something tae sit on. He saw in the corner fae the eyne o the bunks a big widden kist. Bit by bit he dragged it ower tae the sunlicht.
The kist wiz o the type used by fairmservants for huddin their goods & chattels. The kist wiz empty but Geordie kent fine fit wid’ve been intae it so many years ago. Great fully he sat doon ontae the kist. He fichered aboot in his jaicket pooch an teen oot his pipe an lit it while mentally tickin aff the list o contents o the kist. He muttered, ‘Sunday suit, gweed sheen, collars, studs, cuffs aboot twa o each, twa’r three pairs o leather thyangs for the beets, a tin o dubbin, maybe some siller an oh aye michtbe a bottle o fusky for medicinal purposes? The hissin sound fulled the room eence mair ‘Medicinal purposes’ - - - - !
Watchin the reek fae his pipe curlin up towards the reef timmers Geordie felt a great sadness come ower him. He kent that he’d been tryin nae tae think ower deeply but the memories o this very same room seemed tae loup oot at him fae ivvery dusty neuk an murmur tae his breest. He’d last been in this room saxty three years afore an sittin there he fairly felt that years. Time hid been relatively kind tae him though, even noo ye could see that he’d been a tall strong man weel used tae hard back brakkin vrocht. The haan that held the pipe wiz big an leathery wi callouses near makkin the haan hardly able tae close richt. Arthritis hid in the past puckle years laid its coorse haan ontae his braid shooders an as Geordie likit tae say aboot it- ‘It fair makks a budy claa fit’s nae yokie!’ Although at aichtythree he’d nae complaints an wid be quick tae tell ye so.
Geordie let his mind wanner back throwe time, warily at first as if feart tae awaken the hame seek feelins in his breest. A feelin that hid plagued him throughoot his life. It wid catch him unawares at the strangest times. Smells and sounds would trigger it, new cut girss, the barkin o a dog in the distance, the clatter o denner dishes bein stackit, ony o that things wid be eneuch tae drag his mind back tae this room. If he alloed the feelins tae persist tears wid smart his een but wi the passin o time he’d learned tae forcibly control his emotions; until now. This time the hissin sound wiz different an the tears flowed. As he sat there solomentin the door swung open and a wee lassie o aboot ten entered and started tae say ‘Grandfath- - - ‘ but stoppit.
‘What’s the matter grandfather, why are you crying?’ She wiz gye concerned an wint tae him.
‘Oh nithing’ Geordie replied, ‘Jist a bittie o styoo got intae ma ee.’
‘Grandfather don’t talk that funny way’ I don’t understand what you are saying!’ She giggled and gave her grandfather a big hug. ‘Mummy says it will soon be time to go and that the taxi is on its way to take you back.’
‘Aye ma wee lamb gyang an tell yer mither I’ll be alang in a fyowe minties’, said Geordie kindly. He saw the bonny wee facie brak intae a grin as she scolded him laughingly for speaking ‘In that funny way!’ and aifter giein her granda anither great big hug she left tae tell her mither.
Geordie wiz left eence mair tae his thochts but instead o the past they were in the here an noo. The taxi wiz comin tae tak him back- ‘Aye tae tak ma back tae the home’ he muttered. He shuddered at the thocht. They were gweed enough tae him there but the fowk jist didna understand him fin he spoke o his youth. This room kent though, it kent his ivvery feelin ivvery memory for this wiz the room that aifter a lang life always creepit intae his thochts. The fowk that hid passed throwe its muchty confines, their hopes, their loves, their fears aa were laid bare tae this room!’
It wiz wantin a fyowe days afore the aal ‘November Term’ as Geordie alloed his mind tae travel back saxty three years. His memory got sharper an sichts an sounds became clearer, the blanket o time slid back an in his mind’s ee he’d returned.
The room wiz cleaner noo. Far wiz the cobwebs? The chaff bed lookit nearly clean. He made tae lift his stavve tae gie it a powk but the door swung open an as he turned tae look for his grandochter’s smilin facie tellin him the taxi’s there a face straacht fae the past met him.
He started an shouted the name o the man faa hid came in makkin sic a din. ‘Gweed sakes is at you Bill Reid? Ye hivna changed a bit min!’ Geordie put oot his haan tae greet the ither man but found himsel completely ignored as the figure wint tae the windae an hunkered doon at a smaa kist Geordie hidna seen. Aifter some raikin aboot he came oot wi a horse brush an closed the kist. He watched Bill staan up an look throwe the windae an shout ower his shooder- ‘It’s still poorin doon oot there Geordie heavier than ivver! The grieve winna be best pleased aboot at!’
As he left the room he continued tae spik in the same loud voice- - ‘We’d better be seein tae the horse afore he takks a blae fit aathegither!’
Geordie wiz mesmerised an muttered ‘That couldna be Bill? He’s but a young loon an onywye he wiz killed in the war!’ Rubbin his een an lookin aboot the room he began tae feel the first steerins o panic.
He thocht tae himsel that this how a budy first becomes dottled in the heed. A lang forgotten smell began tae filter intae the room an for a minty he couldna place it. Fin he did though the hairs on the back o his neck fair birssed up an he exclaimed oot o him- - ‘Horses!’ An in a whisper ‘We’re ower the stable here.’ The musty sweet smell o horses breath brocht a flood o memories that threatened tae overpower him aathegither. He tried tae rise fae the kist but he couldna an he began tae curse the arthritis in gweed pure Doric. As he struggled tae arise anither voice fae the past spoke softly tae him.
‘Tak it easy Geordie min ye’ll nae wun up that wye.’
Fin he lookit up his hert near missed a beat. There standin in aa her radiant beauty stood Kirsteen Blair. She wiz lookin at him wi a saft wistful look in her een.
‘Oh Geordie yer an aal mannie noo!’
She teen teen his haan in hers an he could see the tears gither intae her een. ‘Yer aal an frail wi the mark o pain etched in yer face. An fit’s happened tae yer bonny curly hair?’
Geordie at last managed tae spik an replied in a gye shakky falterin voice - ‘Oh yer as bonny as I mind Kirsteen.’ And in a resigned tone he philosophically continued wi- - ‘I’m fair amazed that as ye growe dottled in mind ye remember details lang forgotten!’
Kirsteen smiled an said ‘But yer nae dottled ava Geordie I’m really stannin here in front o ye. Can ye nae feel ma haans in yours?’
Geordie shook his heed ‘It canna be! Yer still young, an I’m aichtythree we were aboot the same age ye ken!’ She smiled an wipit a tear fae his ee as he repeated ‘It canna be! It canna be!’
He lookit up intae her facie an stared at her for a lang time seein the real beauty o Kirsteen as if for the first time. His aal tired weary een takin in ivvery part o her face as if terrifeart he’d lose the picture o his sweetest memory.
Doubtfully he stood and as if expectin tae touch empty space he reached oot an teen her intae his airms an held her close as sabbs wracked his work worn body. ‘Why did ye nae let ma ken Kirsteen?’ Mair sobs tore throwe him as he continued - ‘If ye’d tellt ma I wid’ve come for ye. Oh we wid’ve been happy thegither. I loed ye dearly quine!’
Kirsteen stood awa fae him an turned as if lookin oot the windae. Fin she spoke it wiz saft an hesitant- - ‘I – I didna ken fit tae dee-- I thocht o writin tae ye in the trenches an tellin ye aboot the bairn.’ She turned at her ain words an said ‘ I wiz gan tae write an tell ye but word came back that ye’d been killed alang wi Bill Reid!’ Aifter that aathing wint wrang for me an the bairn. Geordie waakit ower tae her an teen her tae his bosie as she tellt the rest o her story.
‘The fairmer an his wife were affa gweed tae me an the bairn but they hid tae sell the fairm an move awa. The new fowk that bocht it promised tae keep me on as kitchie but nae lang aifter takkin ower I wiz given my marchin orders. They widna hae a kitchie that wiz a slattern workin aboot the place. Ye see they were affa religious kindo fowk.’ She sabbit intae his bosie- - ‘I tried for ither vrocht but naebody wid tak ma on because o the bairn.’
‘Things got fae bad tae waar an eventually the Cruelty teen oor we laddie awa fae ma. Aifter that my hert wiz completely broken, as lang as I hid him I ayee hid a bit o you, he wiz the spittin image o his faither!’
Through teerin sobs she tellt him the rest o the story. ‘I wandered aboot an finally reached Aiberdeen mair deed than alive. I couldna get a job or even a reef ower ma heed and as illness teen it’s grip I must’ve snappit an threw masel aff the Union Street brig! She stared intae his een ‘Because o my deein that I’ve spent aa the years wanderin aboot this place. But I nivver found oot . Why this place? Why is it my spirit wanders here!’ Her voice wiz raised and as if jist realising it she added tenderly ‘You’re the first person faa’s been intae this room in decades for abody says this place is haunted.’ She gave the shadda o a smile at this an dichted her een wi the corner o her aapron.
Geordie gently teen up the story- ‘I wiz wounded by the same shell that killed peer Bill. I didna mind muckle aifter bein hut, jist bitties here an there. I mind the French nurses dressin my wounds an bein lifted intae an ambulance then ontae a boat. Next thing I wiz in a military hospital in England. It wiz there I began tae fit things thegither an as I got better I fun oot I wiz in a place caad Colchester. They were affa gweed tae us.
I wrote a lot o letter tae ye but they ayee came back wi ‘no one of this name lives here’. Aifter aboot fower months the doctor said I wiz fit enough tae be discharged. The army gave me three weeks hame leave an a travel warrant. I arrived in Aiberdeen aboot fower days later, the trains were jist affa an we were delayed ivvery fyowe miles because o aa the troop trains headin sooth. Fan I got tae Aiberdeen the Reed Cross weemin gave me a meal and an address o a hall that catered for wounded sojers hame on leave. I’d a wander up fae the station haein a look intae the shop windaes an sic like fin an affa commotion set up at the heed o the hill. Being nosy kind I wint tae see fit wiz up. Fin I got there aabody wiz lookin ower the brig. Geordie faltered as if ower painful tae relive- ‘It wiz you Kirsteen! O michty me it wiz you lyin there aa broken on the rails!’ Sobs wracked him as he lookit intae her bonny facie- - ‘I—I’d missed ye by five meenits, five bliddy meenits! He sobbed again an Kirsteen held him close wi the tears fleein fae her ana. Geordie tried tae dicht awa her tears as he said ‘Noo saxty three years hiv wun past an I’ve loved ye for ivvery five meenits in aa that years.’ They were in eenanithers airms again lost tae the past. Aifter a while he cairried on wi his story. ‘I tellt the policeman faa ye were an fae far aboot ye came. Aifter a fyowe days they’d traced doon fit hid happened tae ye an it wiz then I found oot aboot the bairn. I managed tae get ye beeriet in the aal kirkyard yonder wi a Christian beerial. The meenister wiz affa sympathetic fin I tellt him fit hid happened.’
Kirsteen gasped oot ‘So that’s why I’m here?’ said she shakin her heed in understandin. And wi a glance o admiration at Geordie she mummled ‘A Christian beerial!’ He nodded an cairried on. ‘I wint tae see the bairn at the home an wiz promised by the Authorities that if I could provide a hame for him I’d get tae tak him fae their care. I wiz discharged fae the army as unfit for active service, mind you I still dinna ken fit wye because at that time if ye could cairry a gun ye were fit for the slaachter. I didna think I wiz that unfit but I think that maybe my commandin officer hid something tae dee wi it for he gave me a job on his faither’s estate at the Cabrach. I got a hoose wi the job an found an aal woman tae keep hoose for me so I eventually got oor bairn back fae care. Aifter the war my commandin officer gave me the gran job o estate keeper. Oor loon grew up fine an strong an workit alang wi ma till he emigrated tae Australia. He smiled at Kirsteen. ‘He’s deen affa weel for himsel oot there an owns a big sheep fairm. He’s heen twa o a faimily baith lassies an ilka year een o them comes ower tae see their granda.’ Kirsteen speired at him if he’d ivver thought o gyan oot there wi there loon? But na na Geordie wid nivver leave. He ayee wanted tae be close tae her. He said’ I vrocht awa at the Cabrach until I retired a puckle years ago.’
He teen a hud o Kirsteen’s an speired at her if she’d seen the wee lassie that came in?’
Aye she hid seen her and Geordie tearfully tellt her that wiz their great grand dochter hame fae Australia tae see him.
Kirsteen’s een brimmed wi tears as she thocht o the bonny wee lassie, she slowly an somehow knowingly speired her name. ‘Kirsteen’ said Geordie ‘ An she’s as like you as twa peys in a pod.’
The door burst open - ‘Grandfath- - - !’ Geordie swung roon tae see her lookin at the lassie in her granda’s airms.
‘Wh- - - who’s that grandfather? Who’s the pretty lady an why is she crying?’ She looked at him wi puzzlement on her facie. Geordie tried tae explain fin Kirsteen butted in - ‘I’m the lady that cleans here and I must have got dust in my eyes. Your grandfather was trying to take it out for me.’ Would you take a look at it for me because I don’t think your granda can see too well?’ Kirsteen picked the bairn up and wint tae the windae sayin ‘There’ll be more light here. Kirsteen managed tae get tae cuddle her great gran bairn as she lookit intae her een for the dust.’ She couldna see onything sayin ‘Granda must’ve got it all out.’ Kirsteen sighed as she let the bairn go. A lifetime she’d been alloed tae touch for the briefest o moments. She said tae Geordie, ‘The taxi’s coming now grandfather, we’ll take you home.’ ‘Aaricht tell yer mither I’m jist comin.’ he said kindly. Pittin her hands ontae her hips in mock anger she said ‘Grandfather! Don’t talk funny! I jist dinna understan ae wird yer spikkin!’ And wi a giggle she ran oot o the room.
‘She’s learnin the Doric weel fae ye.’ said Kirsteen smilin.
‘Aye’ says Geordie ‘But I’ll bet her great grunny could tell it better!’
Eence mair they were in eenanither’s airms. Michty but Geordie wiz sweered tae let go o her but Kirsteen tellt him they’d be thegither again soon.
The taxi came for Geordie an teen him back tae the home and aifter a special hug fae his gran dochter he said his farewells, but nae afore Kirsteen said she’d seen her grandfather holding a young cleaning lady in his arms. Aabody laached at this because they kent the fairm wiz derelict an hid only teen an aal man tae see far some o his youth hid been spent afore the bulldozers moved in.
Kirsteen knew she’d nivver see her great granda again. She didna ken how she knew but fin she lookit at Geordie she wiz happy for him and ran back for one last cuddle and whispered ‘I love you granda ‘tell the pretty lady to take good care of you!’
You can read more of Pat's work in Sanners Gow's Tales and Folklore of the Buchan. Just go over to the Unco store www.unco.scot and find him in the contemporary Scots section
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