A story in Doric by Pat Hutchison
Aal Mary MacDonald sat at the cheek o the fire an gave the coals a rummle up wi the poker wi the hope that she micht get the last heat oot o the grate. She shivered wi the caal an pulled her shawl a bittie closer. The Laird’s factor hid came that mornin an teen her coal an athing else o value tae pey the back rent o the hoose. He wiz weel suited tae work for the Laird for he wiz jist like him, Godless an athoot mercy. Mary looked aroon the room in the deein licht even the deepening shadas showed it wiz empty. Athing gone barr the chair she sat on, the clyse on her back and her wee three fittid callander porridge pot that hung fae the swye abeen the fire. They micht as weel hae teen it ana because ower the past fyowe days she’d niver hin a haanfae o meal tae pit in it. Jock her aal man wiz beeriett a week syne. He’d broke his back in een o the Laird’s mills fin the laidder he wiz on cairryin a bolt o canvas hid given fae ablow him. His body hid been teen hame on a cairt an left for Mary tae deal wi. Wi nae a penny aboot her the parish hid beeriett him in a pauper’s grave. The parish hid a special coffin for paupers. The body wiz transported tae the corner o the kirkyard an lowered intae the hole an aifter ony folk that hid been there tae pey the corp last respects hid left, the gravedigger pulled a pin in the coffin an the bottom opened an the corp fell oot. The box wiz removed tae await the next pauper. Nae marker wiz allowed.
Wi Jock workin in the mill the hoose wiz tied so Mary hid tae be oot o the hoose by the wikeyne or twa days hence. The worst thing aboot the factor takin aa her goods & chattles wiz he hidna even left her wi the comfort o her great granda’s bible. A big leather beuk that the factor said wid mak a fyowe shillins. She’d begged him tae leave her w’t but na na he wiz takin it richt reason or neen.Mary hid made a grab for it an he gave her a backhaan slap in the face an tore it fae her hands. A letter hid fell fae it in the struggle an that’s fit she hid in her hand as she sat at her noo oot fire shiverin wi the caal.
The letter wiz worn wi age an being handled. Thirty five years hid passed since she’d been sent it fae her son’s commandin officer in India tellin her that Daavid her son hid been killed on the North West frontier in November 1845. Her only bairn hid died at the age o twenty one far far awa fae hame.. He’d been aichteen the last time she’d saw him at the jile in Banff, that hid been the day he’d been teen awa tae the army. Mary sobbed at the memory but nae tears came tae her eyes, the tears were dried up lang syne. She shivered again but this time nae wi the caal but wi the memory as tae how her bairn hid ended up bein pitten tae the army in the first place. It hid been her fault for sendin him tae the big hoose wi the curtains she’d repaired for the Laird’s wife. Mary commin fae the Heilands as she did hid been weel taught by her aunties how tae sow. She’d ayee managed tae mak an extra sair nott shillin that wye afore her hands hid gotten twisted wi age. That forenicht she sent her laddie up tae the big hoose little thinkin she wiz sendin him tae his destiny. Daavid hid left wi the curtains hoping it wid be the bonny servant deemy that wid answer the back door o the big hoose but wiz tae be disappointed fin it wiz the aal hoosekeeper that answered it. On the wye back hame he’d teen a shortcut throwe the widdies and it wiz there he’d heard the screams. Hurrying towards the sound, in a clearin he’d come across the Laird’s son an anither laddie forcing themsels on a lassie as she lay on the grun screamin for them tae stop. Daavid didna wait but plooed intae the twa lads like a carronade at Waterloo. At first they’d been shocked an back fitted, but soon they’d turned the tables on Daavid for baith o them were weel trained at fisticuffs. Daavid kent there’d be nae wye he could beat this lads fairly so he’d picked up a lump o stick like a crummoch an gave baith o them a good beettlin. He’d cairriet the lassie hame tae his mither in an affa state an she washed the lassie an tended tae her wounds as best she could. Daavid wiz mair than upset because this wiz the bonny servant lassie he’d hoped tae see fin he delivered the curtains tae the big hoose. That nicht the dragoons hid come tae the hoose an teen Daavid an the lassie awa. Her tae an asylum an David tae seven years service in the East India company. The servant lassie hid died in the asylum soon aifter and naebody hid known if she’d died by fair means or foul. Daavid wi nae proof o fit really happened hid been sentenced tae twenty years hard labour or seven years service in the ranks o The Honourable East India Company. He’d chosen the army an ended up dyin on the North West frontier. Mary sobbed as she looked doon at the time worn letter, the only link she noo hid wi her lang lost son. At least the paper and the ink hid came fae the place her bairn hid breathed his last. Mary shivered in the noo freezin room, the last o the fire wiz gone. As the shadas deepened Mary thocht tae hersel she’d licht the last inch o cannle so she could read the letter an await fitiver the future noo hid in store for her. She teen oot the flint ‘n’ fleerish fae her apron pooch for tae licht the cannle but changed her mind. Instead she stood up slowly stiff wi the caal an wupped her threedbare shawl tichter aboot her shooders an made for the door. In the dark shadas o Glen Tanner street she made her wye oot o the toon thinkin tae hersel aa the while as she passed the dimly lit windaes o the folk sittin within maybe laughin as they sat doon tae dine on their simple fare. As she passed one windae she did hear somebody laughin an the fine smell o mutton broth waffted fae the same place as the laughter. Mary made her wye past aa the hooses an headed up the Montcoffer road towards the ruined waasteens o the ancient kirk. She’s find the first o fit she wiz seekin there. By the scam o the full meen she saw the sparse winter branches o the aal aspen tree that grew aside the kirkyard. The aspen is a pagan tree an niver allowed tae growe in a Christian kirkyard. She kneeled afore the pagan tree and asked permission o’t tae tak some fallen branches fae it. Then she crawled roon the tree three times widdershins (anti-clockwise) each time sayin oot loud three names. Aifter she’d peyed her devotions tae the pagan aspen tree she picked up an oxterfae o branches. Thankin the tree Mary turned three times widdershins. Mary’s aunties werena only good wi the needle ‘n’ threed they’d been weel versed in the Black Airts and hid shown Mary some maledictions as well. Mary a deeply religious person hid niver in her life imagined hersel using that knowledge o the Black Airts, until this very day fin the factor hid teen fae her the Holy Bible that hid meant so much tae her.
Next Mary made her wye back the road she’d came an wint tae the wee brigg far baith the living an the deed crossed. She struggled throwe fun bushes that tore at her legs and eventually near drappin reached the burn. She entered the freezin water wi a gasp as it came up tae her hochs and walked ablow the arch o the wee brigg. There wisna ony meenlicht here but she’d nae need o’t. Takin her shawl fae her shooders she bent doon an guddled aboot in the water till she got ten waterworn steens each aboot the size o an aipple. Pittin them intae her shawl she wint back up the bank near in a state o collapse. Her clyse were soakin aweet wi the freezin water but o that she peyed nae heed. On the side o the brigg she handled each o the ten steens in turn an threw yin back tae the water. Placing the nine chosen steens back intae her shawl she tied them up intae the mak dee bag. Pickin up the aspen branches on her wye she made the road hame. It wiz much later noo an hardly a licht showed as she passed the hooses. By the time Mary reached her ain door the bitter caal an the days athoot food were beginin tae tell on her. Exhausted she drapped the steens an the aspen branches tae the grun an thankfully sat on the seat she’d left oors afore.. Mary didna ken foo lang she sat there but wi a start she got tae her feet an staggered tae the shawl and teen oot the nine steens. She layed the steens in front o the fire and there turned each steen tae the widdershins nine times at each turn repeatin three names. Neist she teen the aspen branches an laid them oot ontae the caal fire grate then placed the nine stones on tap. Takin the flint ‘n’ fleerish fae her apron pooch she tried wi freezin hands tae garr it spark. It teen a gye few cracks at it afore the oo started tae smolder and blawin it tae flame she put it aneth the aspen and in nae time the green tinged flames were lickin roon the steens. As the aspen burned she said the names o the Laird, the Laird’s son and the factor an cursed them foriver-and-a-day. She keepit this up as she knelt afront the fire until the green flames wint oot. Aifter a while Mary teen the steens oot fae the fire an put them intae her shawl. Ower the next couple o oors Mary walked aboot the parish an ivery noo an then she’d cast awa een o the steens intae a place it wid niver be found. At each cast she cursed the three names and said “This curse will niver be lifted until the nine steens are githered once mair in one place!” Exhausted an freezin Mary made it hame tae her chair. She thocht tae hersef she micht pray for forgiveness for fit she’d jist done but thinkin hersel beyond redemption she jist sat an shivered wi the letter in her hand. How lang she’d been sittin there fin she felt a hand touch her on the richt shooder she didna ken. She slowly looked up and saw Daavd standin there smiling at her the wye he used tae. Mary stood up wi a gasp an teen her lang lost laddie in her bosie an sobbed oot his name ower an ower again while the saat tears ran doon her aal life-worn cheeks. Fin he spoke he sounded exactly the same “Mither I’ve come tae tak ye tae a far better place, nae mair pain Mam life his been far too cruel tae ye!”
The room seemed fulled wi murmuring shadas an here an there she got the glimpse o fit she thocht wiz faces. Fin she looked at Daavid again the bonny wee servant lassie wiz at his side an Mary teen her intae her bosie ana.. Sittin doon in her exhaustion Mary sat an sobbed fit tae brak yer hert. Daavid kneeld doon in front o his mither huddin her hand. Mary stroked his face an said “I canna come wi ye ma laddie for I’ve sinned against God by the turnin o the steens.” Daavid smiled an cuddled his Mam sayin “Faa div ye think sent me tae ye? Yer forgiven for ye hinna sinned ava. Fit is gan tae happen tae that three men is comin their wye an they’ll nae be dodgin it.”Daavid leaned ower an picked up something fae the floor an handed it tae her. “Here mither it’s yer beloved bible.”
A couple o days later Doctor Webster stood in Mary’s room shakin his heed. He’d already written the cause o death as a mixture o starvation and very low temperatures. Mary sat on her chair wi a bonny smile on her face and a letter in her hand. The doctor teen the letter and read it, unusually for him bein a doctor and used tae seein sichts like this he felt the hot tears rin doon his ain cheeks. At hame he’d a very similar letter tae this yin tellin him o the death o his only child at Bermuda. He’d contracted the fever fae the sojers he wiz treating and hid died. Doctor Webster dichtin his een turned tae see the factor and the undertakers waitin wi the pauper’s coffin. Doctor Webster nearly exploded wi anger an roared “Tak you that abomonation fae oot this hoose an bring tae me the very best coffin ye hiv in stock. This isna a pauper’s funeral! This is tae be the funeral o a devoted mither that died o a broken heart!” He looked doon an murmured “Thirty five years o unimaginable pain quine!” Turnin in anger he said “See tae it she’s layed tae rest wi aa honours and the best stone money can buy as her marker!” He teen one last look at the wee aal wifie shrunken in death but wi a bonny smile on her face an muttered “Though I think she’s awa tae a much better place.”
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