Read The Road to Rowanbrae Online
Authors: Doris Davidson
The Road to Rowanbrae
This eBook edition published in 2015 by
West Newington House
10 Newington Road
Copyright Â© Doris Davidson 2002
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eBook ISBN: 9780857906984
British Library Cataloguing-in-Publication Data
A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library
Rowanbrae â 1984
Ewan Duncan had never been in trouble in all his twenty-four years, and had always intended to help the police by reporting anything he saw that seemed suspicious, but he couldn't bring himself to notify them about this. He could just imagine them asking countless questions he couldn't answer, and grilling him until he got so mixed up that he wouldn't know what was what. Then they'd start making enquiries and uncover any skeletons there were in the family cupboard â¦ no, that was a bit too near the bone. Oh, God, he thought, rather hysterically, he had a one-track mind, not surprisingly in view of what he had just found, but how would he have reacted if he had found a whole skeleton? The skull was bad enough.
It lay grinning up at him as if defying him to disturb it, or perhaps it was ordering him to find out why it was there? It had been concealed too well for there to have been a natural death, but how long ago had it been buried? Whose was it? Was one of his long-dead â or not-so-long-dead â ancestors a murderer? Or was it one of his forebears who had been despatched to this ignominious grave? But they were all accounted for, as far as he knew. Wait! He vaguely recalled having heard, when he was very young, that someone had disappeared at some time and had never been seen again. Could this be why?
Ewan stood irresolutely, looking down. If he reported what he'd found, the extension would be held up for God knows how long, and Angie would be most upset if the house wasn't ready to move into by October. Deciding that it would be best to say nothing about it to his wife or to anyone else, he threw a shovelful of earth over the offending monstrosity.
Walking towards his car, it occurred to him that the deeds of the house had shown it to have been built some time in the 1930s on the site of the Duncans' croft, so it was more than likely that none of his ancestors had been involved in the secret burial. It was a comforting thought, but he had the strangest feeling that someone in his family
been responsible, and he knew that he couldn't leave the mystery unsolved. For his own peace of mind he would have to find out the truth.
Setting another lump of peat on the fire, the girl watched the sparks flying up the chimney, her dark head â hair pinned up now that she was wed â bowed in despair. It was difficult to remember that she was Mysie Duncan now, not Mysie Lonie as she had been for sixteen years, but it was true, unfortunately. Jeems Duncan would not have been her choice if she'd had any say in the matter. Only three short weeks ago, she had been given an extra day off from her scullerymaid's position at Forton House to see the Turriff Show, an important agricultural event in the northeast of Scotland, and had trigged herself out in her Sunday best. The first person she had seen when she arrived was her father, who had apparently been drinking since the night before and was making the usual spectacle of himself. She tried to turn away without him noticing, but had only taken a few steps when the drunken fool spotted her.
âMysie!' he shouted. âCome here an' speak to your father.'
Knowing that he would follow her anyway, and afraid of what he would do if she disobeyed him, she walked reluctantly back, conscious of the amused stares of the people standing near.
Eddie Lonie put his arm round her, announcing to the world in general, âShe's my lassie. Is she nae a bonnie wee quine?'
He trailed her round the show rings where the farm animals were being paraded, and it was almost an hour before she managed to give him the slip.
She was wandering round by herself, stopping occasionally to look at the knick-knacks on the stalls run by the travelling people, when she became aware of the stranger. A big, broad man in a floppy bonnet, he was eyeing her as if she were a beast he was considering buying, and she walked away uncomfortably. He followed her for a good ten minutes, then her father appeared again from nowhere.
She was almost glad to see him, something about the stranger having disquieted her, though he had never uttered a word. Again, Eddie proclaimed that she was his daughter, and the other man gave a start. âShe's your lassie, is she?' he said, after a very slight hesitation. âI was just thinkin' she was the best thing I'd seen so far.'
Her father cackled with delight. âI've mair at hame just as bonnie, for us Lonies are blessed wi' good looks.'
From the stranger's expression, Mysie gathered that he didn't think much of her father's looks, and little wonder, for his face was mottled from the drink he had poured down his throat over the years. It crossed her mind that the other man had no claim to good looks himself. Well over forty, he had hairs sprouting out of the huge red nose in the middle of his fat red face, a mouth big enough to swallow the whole of the North Sea and still have room for a couple of lochs, and a pot belly that suggested he'd already done just that. Looking at his face again, she noticed that his eyes â fixed on her with an intensity that filled her with dread â were so light that they seemed colourless, though there was a hint of blue somewhere.
The man turned to her father again. âI'm needin' a wife, an' your lassie's fair ta'en my fancy, so would you agree to lettin' me ha'e her?' He didn't see Mysie's expression of horror.
Always ready to grasp an opportunity, Eddie had found that a show of reluctance on his part often acted as a bit of a spur, and rubbed his chin thoughtfully. âI'm nae so sure aboot that. You're nae the kind o' man I had in mind as a son-in-law.'
âI work Rowanbrae Croft in the parish o' Burnlea, an' I mak' a fair livin', enough to keep her an' ony bairns we ha'e.'
âA croft?' Eddie Lonie said, speculatively. âBut if I agree, I'd be lossin' my auldest lassie, so what â¦?' Understanding how her father's mind was working, Mysie tried to protest, but he turned on her angrily. âIt's got naething to dae wi' you. It's just atween me an' this man.' After a pause, he went on, âWhat would you gi'e me for her?' Taken aback, the other man scowled, then muttered, obviously averse to throwing away good money, âTwenty pound?'
âOh, Father, I dinna wantÂ â¦'
Ignoring his daughter, Eddie said, âMak' it forty?'
Mysie's heart plunged straight to her feet. Thirty pounds was a fortune to her father. âWhat if I dinna agree to this?'
âNaebody's askin' you, so haud your tongue!'
She jumped back as his hand struck her, and rubbed her cheek as Eddie said, âWeel, Mister â¦ ehÂ â¦?'
âJeems Duncan, an' I'll bring you the money next week.'
âWeel, Jeems, she's worth a lot mair, but â¦ och, weel, it's a bargain.' Eddie spat on his hand then extended it and they shook hands gravely.
Remembering, Mysie felt the same sickness again. She would never forgive her father for selling her like an animal, as she'd sobbed out to him on the way home that day, but he had yanked her along the road, grinning stupidly. When they reached the rather ramshackle house that had been her home until she'd gone into service, she ran to her mother and burst out, âFather's sell't me to a auld man.' Jean Lonie â thirty-three, but looking much older because of her emaciated face and greying hair â turned round from her baking board. âSell't you? But what in God's nameÂ â¦?'
âThis man said he wanted me for his wife, an' he's goin' to gi'e Father thirty pound for me.'
âJeems Duncan's got a croft in Burnlea,' Eddie said, proudly, âso he'll be able to provide for her. Mysie'll be weel settled, an' that's nae less for us to worry aboot.'
âBut, my God, Eddie, she's only fifteen, still a bairn.'
âShe'll be sixteen afore the weddin', for the banns'll need to be cried, an' it's nae ilka day I can mak' thirty pound that easy. Noo, I'll hear nae mair aboot it, an' if she doesna dae what she's tell't, she needna expect to come back to my hoose.' He clambered into the box bed in the alcove in the kitchen and was soon snoring loudly.
His wife crossed over to the fireside, where their daughter was weeping silently. âI'm sorry, Mysie. I'll try again the morn, but you ken what he's like when he's fu'.'
âAye, I ken, but, Mother, I dinna like Jeems Duncan.'
âHe'll maybe nae be so bad when you get to ken him, lass.'
All Sunday, Jean tried to make her husband see sense, Mysie adding her own sobbing pleas before returning to Forton House, but Eddie, still suffering from the previous day's drinking, was adamant. âYou ken fine the smiddy's nae payin' nooadays, an' thirty pound's aye thirty pound.'
Jean lost her temper at that. âThe smiddy would pay if you bade sober lang enough to work, but you canna keep awa' fae the drink. It's nae muckle wonder folk goes to Erchie Yule, for he mak's a better job o' shoein' a horse than you.'
âIs it ony wonder I drink?' Eddie thundered. âA hoose fu' o' bairns an' a wife that nags fae morn to nicht? The bargain's made, an' nae even my ain lassie's goin' to mak' me br'ak it. She's lucky to get such a hard-workin' man.'
True to his word, Jeems Duncan came to Drumloanings Smithy the following Saturday to hand thirty sovereigns to Eddie, and the wedding took place in the manse two weeks later. Before the minister began the simple ceremony, he drew Eddie aside. âAre you sure your daughter knows what she is doing?' he asked, looking doubtfully at the bridegroom.
âOh, aye, minister. Jeems Duncan's maybe nae a oil paintin', but he has his ain croft an' Mysie'll be weel enough there.'
The wedding proceeded, and they returned to Drumloanings to celebrate, Jeems providing the spirits to drink their health.
Give him his due, Mysie mused, he had just taken one glass himself, and she should be thankful that he wasn't a drinker. She had been betrayed for thirty pieces of gold, not silver, and her father had likely spent most of it before the wedding. If he hadn't drunk it himself, he had wasted it on his cronies, who had as big a thirst as his and congregated round any man with money to lash out. Wherever it had gone â and she was quite sure that her mother had never smelt a bawbee of it â Jeems had handed it over in all good faith and transported her away from Drumloanings in a rickety cart he had borrowed from the miller in Burnlea. Rowanbrae was nothing special, she had discovered, just a wee bit place with a few acres of land. The furniture was old â he had told her yesterday that it had belonged to his father and mother â but it was good, solid stuff, and should last Jeems and her for the rest of their lives, as well. A real china dinner service, delicate white with a dark red pattern, sat on the dresser shelves, but he had warned her that it was not for every day and had pointed to the using dishes â earthenware with just a plain blue band round the rim â which were kept on a rack nailed to the wall beside the back porch. The meal girnel in the corner looked a bit âwaur o' the wear', but it would serve the purpose, and the table would look better after a good scrubbing. The mantelpiece was nearly black with smoke from the fire, and would need a lot of elbow grease to take it back to its original colour, but, taken all in all, Mysie thought, brightening a little, she hadn't done too badly.
If only she could take to Jeems.
Last night had been much worse than her mother had led her to expect, and her body still felt sore from his muckle hands pawing at her. Should she chance telling him tonight that her time of the month had come, to save him touching her? But when it did come, he would know she had been lying to him, so it would be best just to put up with it. Sighing, she walked over to the girnel to get a handful of oatmeal for the pot, and by the time her husband came in for his breakfast the porridge was nearly solid. With trembling hands she put great dollops into the big bowl and waited for him to turn on her angrily, but after one spoonful, he looked up at her with what she supposed was intended to be a smile. âIt's nae bad, quine, but it would ha'e been better if you'd steeped the meal last nicht.'
Waiting at the fireside, she gave him the second helping he asked for, having to force the wooden spoon deep down into the grey morass to make it come out of the pot. âIf there's nae enough left for the morn,' he told her, âput the rest oot to the hens. Feedin' them's your job, an' collectin' the eggs. Some lay ootbye fae the yard, but you'll get to ken where they'll be come time. An' you'll need to milk Broonie the coo first thing ilka day for I like fresh milk wi' my porridge, an' her udder'll be near burstin' by noo. I should ha'e tell't you last nicht, but â¦ we'd other things to think aboot, eh?' He gave a lewd cackle that made her flesh creep. âI dinna think you enjoyed it much, but you'll get used to it.' Mysie didn't think she would ever get used to
, but maybe a body could get used to anything.
Standing up, he said, âI'm awa' to the well for the drinkin' water.' On his way past her, he gripped her buttocks for a moment. âAye, you've a broad enough backside on you, that's one good thing. The very dab for ha'ein' bairns, but they'll need to be loons, for there's nae room here for ony useless quines.'
Disgust surged up in her as she went to take the cow in from the field. They'd been wed for less than a day, and he was speaking about bairns already, but no doubt he'd be successful in that, as he was in everything else, from running this croft single-handed to bargaining for a wife. Her bed was made and she would have to lie on it, there was nothing else for it.
Her spirits lifted as the creamy liquid streamed into the pail. The cow was a lovely beast, a velvety black-and-white Friesian, with soft eyes which fastened on Mysie occasionally as if grateful for the gentle fingers, and her milk would make beautiful butter. When the steady flow became a trickle, she stopped pulling the teats and carried the pail into the dairy which Jeems had shown her last night, built on to the end of the house. At least everything here was spotless, she was glad to see, the wooden churn, the flat pats for shaping the butter, the press for squeezing the cheeses.
While she was feeding the porridge to the hens, she felt the touch of a hand on her back and jumped round, startled, to find a tall, well-built young woman regarding her with curiosity.
âI'm Jess Findlater, fae Downies, alang the road a bit. I thought you'd be needin' somebody to speak to, for your man can whiles be as dour as a fire kindled wi' damp sticks. You're awfu' young to be wed on Jeems Duncan, though, an' you'll need to stand up for yoursel'. I was just sayin' to Jake, that's my man, I hoped Jeems had picked a lass wi' a bit o' spunk in her, for he's needin' to be held in aboot a bit. He's been here on his ain ower lang, for it's aboot five year since his mother passed on, an' her man a good five year afore that, so he's got set in his ways.'
Noticing that her rigmarole had made the girl's mouth fall open, Jess gave a shrill laugh. âAch, I'm sorry. Jake says my tongue's as lang as the road to Timbuctoo, but he's a great ane for teasin', my Jake.'
Mysie smiled. âI'm real pleased to meet you. I'm Mysie Lonie that was, an' my father's a blacksmith at Drumloanin's ootside Turra. Come into the hoose an' I'll mak' us a cup o' tea.' As soon as Jess sat down, she said, âTurra, you say? An' was that where Jeems met you?'
âAye, at the Show. He gi'ed my father thirty pound to get me for a wife.' Mysie hadn't meant to tell anyone this degrading fact, but it was out before she thought.
Jess was impressed. âThirty pound? My God, Mysie, that's a fair bit.'
âThat's what Father thought as weel, so they shook hands an' the bargain was made.'
âWeel, you didna get muckle o' a bargain,' Jess laughed, âfor Jeems has a face like a sow's erse, an' you'll ha'e your work cut oot settin' this place to rights, for a man doesna bother cleanin' up ahin' him. I'm aye tellin' Jake to lay things by when he's finished wi' them, but it's like water aff a duck's back. You'll need to let Jeems ken you've a mind o' your ain, right fae the start, or he'll glory on like he's aye daen.'