Authors: Joyce Grant-Smith
Tags: #General Fiction
Oatcakes and Courage
Oatcakes and Courage
Copyright Â© Joyce Grant-Smith and Quattro Books Inc., 2013
The use of any part of this publication, reproduced, transmitted in any
form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, or otherwise stored in an
electronic retrieval system without the prior consent (as applicable) of the individual
author or the designer, is an infringement of the copyright law.
The publication of
Oatcakes and Courage
has been generously
supported by the Canada Council for the Arts and the Ontario Arts Council.
Author's photograph: Les Smith
Cover photo: Les Smith
design: Sarah Beaudin
Editor: John Calabro
Typography: Grey Wolf
Library and Archives Canada Cataloguing in Publication
Oatcakes and courage / Joyce Grant-Smith.
Also issued in electronic format.
ISBN (EPUB) 978-1-927443-33-0
1.Â Scots--Nova Scotia--Fiction. I. Title.
PS8613.R3675O28Â 2013Â Â Â Â Â Â C813'.6Â Â Â Â Â C2013-900402-5
Published by Quattro Books Inc.
382 College Street
Ontario, M5TÂ 1S8
For my father,
Freeman John Grant
over and over.
She sat atop a craggy hill overlooking the head of Loch Broom. The loch curved and stretched in a sinuous line toward the western horizon. A stiff westerly breeze whipped slate blue waves into frothy whitecaps. Some of Anne's auburn curls escaped from under her hood and she let them writhe, unheeded, about her face.
She asked the wind, “How could Father have promised me to James MacDonald? Even if he'd been deep into his cups, how could he think of such a thing?” The uncaring wind continued on its way.
MacDonald shared the shape and bearing of the great sour boars that he raised. He'd been married twice before and both his wives had died in childbirth. Rumours had gone about the village that the unfortunate wives had carried bruises on their bellies, backs and legs from his hammy fists, and so it was no wonder they'd bled terribly during birthing. Anne didn't doubt the rumours for a moment.
And now, her father had promised
to that brute in marriage! To have to keep house for such a slovenly pigâ¦! She shuddered. She couldn't bear to think of the other wifely duties he would expect of her.
If only her mother was still alive, this would never have happened. Mother would not have consented to a betrothal to that horrible MacDonald, regardless of his land or his money or his prize pigs.
She sat and brooded till the sun hung low over the loch, spilling rays of gold and crimson across the waves.
“I would rather die,” she declared, her face set and grim.
However, it was not suicide that she was contemplating. A desperate plan, yes. And perhaps fatal when all was said and done. But one worth the risk.
She went home and waited her chance, careful not to let her father see any change in her. She kept to her chores, speaking only when spoken to, and so her father and older brothers paid her no heed.
One summer evening, when Anne's father returned from the pub smelling of whisky and pipe tobacco, he announced, “I'm going to Inverness.”
“Oh, aye?” Anne replied.
“Tomorrow. To do some trading.”
“Are you going alone?” Anne asked, trying to sound casual.
“Nay. I'm taking the boys with me.”
Anne suppressed a smile. With her brothers William and John gone, her plan would be simple. “Will you be gone long?” Anne kept her eyes downcast and her voice even, though her heart was leaping.
“Fortnight. No more. Your Aunt Sarah will be keeping an eye on you, don't you worry.”
“I'll pack your things, then. And some food for the trip.”
“Thank you, lass,” her father said, almost kindly. He peered, blurry-eyed, at her for a moment. “You remind me soâ¦” He shook his head, and bent to pull off his boots. His voice had a gruff edge as he continued. “We'll be having the wedding when I get back.”
Anne swallowed the panic that welled up in her throat. She hurried to her father's room to pack his clothes.
Anne wore a mask of detachment as her father, Will and John bade her farewell the next morning, but her heart pounded.
George Grant and his sons had no more than left sight of the farm when Anne threw her cloak about her shoulders. She rushed from the cottage, down a muddy track, and into the tiny village. She hurried along the narrow rutted road, past low cottages, an alehouse, and the butcher's, to the blacksmith's shop.
A bed of coals winked in the forge. Seeing no one within the shop, Anne stepped back outside and scanned about, her hand shielding her eyes from the bright morning sunlight. Coming toward her from the village well, a wooden bucket in each hand, was Ian MacLeod. He was a slim, dark young man, wide through the shoulders, and tall.
“Ian!” she called.
He looked up, and seeing her, smiled. Then the smile dissolved as quickly as it appeared.
“âMorning,” he mumbled as he sidled by her into the shop. He set the buckets down, laid wood on the fire, and turned to the bellows. With a practiced rhythm, he fanned the embers. They danced into a sizzling red glow.
Anne followed Ian inside and regarded him, her arms crossed about her waist.
“I guess you heard,” she said.
“The whole village is talking of it.”
Anne stepped closer and put a hand on Ian's shoulder. “Ian, I do not want to.”
His eyes met hers, wordlessly, sad as a hound's.
She repeated, “I do not want to.”
“But your fatherâ¦”
“I know,” she interrupted, her voice bitter. “He must owe MacDonald money. Why else would he do such a thing?” Her hands dropped to her sides, clenched in fists.
“Well, MacDonald does have land, and those prize hogsâ¦”
Anne snorted in a most unladylike way.
“When doâ¦When will youâ¦?” Ian stammered wretchedly.
“He expects me to marry in a fortnight.”
Ian paled. “So soon.”
“I will not marry him, Ian. I'd rather die,” Anne whispered.
Ian turned and sat heavily on the anvil, his hands clasped between his knees. “You have no choice, lass.”
Anne took a deep breath, letting it out in a sigh. She came to stand in front of Ian, so close that her homespun skirt brushed his knees. “Are you still planning to leave, Ian?”
He looked up at her, startled, confused by her question. “Aye. There's naught here for me. The third sonâ¦ I'll get nothing. John Ross says I can have a better life. I'll be able to own my own land! I can make something of myself.”
“Take me with you.”
Ian sprang to his feet, nearly knocking Anne over backward. He grabbed her by the shoulders. “Are you daft? I can't do that!”
“Shh! Don't shout it to the whole village.”
Ian was shaking his head and her shoulders in silent denial.
“Just escort me to the ship,” she said calmly, as if it were a reasonable request.
“I can't do that. Your father wouldâ¦”
“I must leave. You can see that. To stay is unthinkable.”
“If we get caught, I'll be a dead goose. And youâ¦”
“We won't get caught. We'll leave right away.” Her voice was a harsh whisper. “Father and the boys are away to Inverness. They won't know till it's too late. You are going soon, are you not?”
Ian nodded. “On the morrow. I was going to come and say good-byeâ¦”
“By the time my father returns, we'll be long gone. He'll never catch us.”
“Lass, do you know what you are asking?” Ian exclaimed. He stood motionless, his dark eyes boring into hers, his hands heavy on her shoulders.
She returned his gaze. “Ian, I cannot stay. I will not stay and become the wife of thatÂ â¦ that brute. If you will not take me, then I will leave on my own.”
Ian saw the fear and the determination in her chestnut eyes. He swallowed loudly.
“We'll be on the ship before he gets back from Inverness. Then what could he do? Even if he found out where I'd gone, what could he do?”
“You've got me into a lot of scrapes, Anne Grant. But this timeâ¦ Do you know what you're asking?” he repeated.
She stepped back from him. “Maybe too much.” She regarded him for a long, silent moment, then turned and stepped to the doorway. She paused and said over her shoulder, “I am going to leave, Ian. Tonight. I'll wait till dark, so no one will see me go. I would feel safer if it was with you. But I
going.” With that, she hurried back up the track.
Anne started to throw things into a sack as soon as she returned to the cottage. First, warm clothes and a wool blanket. Then oatcakes and cheese. She found a haunch of smoked pork in the larder, and realizing that it came from MacDonald's farm, refused to touch it.
She hurried into her father's room, to the wooden chest that stood in the corner. She threw a blanket from its lid. It hadn't been opened since they had packed away her mother's few treasures, after her death.
As Anne lifted the heavy lid, the smell that had always lingered around her mother â heather and soap and the salt air off the loch â enveloped Anne. She stifled a sob. She took a deep, steadying breath, and reached inside, moving aside garments.
At last she found what she sought. She pulled out a small emerald-coloured pouch, hand-sewn and embroidered with delicate stitches. She traced a finely crafted thistle with her finger, then parted the drawstring and tipped the pouch. Into her skirt fell three coins.
Her mother had left the money to Anne. That chill March morning, lying in her bed, buried in quilts and blankets, Mother had pressed them into Anne's hand, her fingers as frail as a bird's claw. “If you ever have need,” she had said, “it will be here for you. Even though I cannot be.” It was the last thing her mother had said to her. The fever had taken her soon afterward.
Anne brushed the back of her hand across her cheeks. She secured the coins back in the pouch and nestled it in her
bodice. She carefully closed the lid on the chest and replaced the blanket.
Anne thought about going to see Aunt Sarah one last time, to say good-bye. Aunt Sarah had been good to her, in her own way, and would fret over her disappearance. Anne couldn't blame her for being afraid of George Grant and his fits of temper. But Anne dared not risk the visit. Sarah might just send for her father and foil her one chance to flee.
She ate a supper of cold chicken and black bread and waited for dusk.
Finally, the Evening Star glimmered above the hills. Anne pulled on the best boots she could find â they had been Mother's â and she took her warmest wool cloak. She hefted her bag and left the cottage, closing the door firmly behind her. She gazed out over the loch. She had had many happy years here growing up. But when her mother died, everything seemed to change. The laughter in the house had died with her.