“You know, in all my married life my press has never been so full!” Maggie Kelly beamed at the sight of the shelves stacked with tins, bags and packets. “And there's as much left still to share! Your friends have been really generous, Meg.”
“They have indeed! Louise said 'a few small things' so I nearly fainted when she produced those two huge boxes. Thank the Lord I had time to send a telegram to Pat to meet me at the station with the van! The taxi driver would have thought I was a black marketeer and driven me straight to Bell Street. Shame really - I could have produced the note from His Excellency the United States Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary to the Court of St James's saying that the goods were his personal gift to me. That would have floored Sergeant Forbes!”
“He'd have thought you were the man's fancy woman and you know what a gossip he is. We'd have been black affronted!”
“Och, come on, Ma – anybody related to Auntie Bella should be well past being affronted!”
“Aye well, that's true enough.” Maggie looked thoughtful.“You've mingled with some high ranking people in the past few years, Meg - are you sure you wanted to come home? You had all those other chances. The Army , that big London hospital and the Sanatorium, and one or two lads that wanted to whisk you away to a life of luxury. Are you sure you'll not regret turning them all down?”
“Oh Ma” sighed Meg, “you have no idea how much it means to me to be back home with you and the family. I've made good friends, Gren and her people, Dunc and Dolly, Hilda, Nell and all the Chalet crowd and others that I'll want to keep in touch with but if the War taught me anything it was that my roots are here and this is where I want to be! This family didn't knock its collective pan in to put me through medical training so I could beggar off to Harley Street or some expensive clinic. And I was never in the least bit serious with any of the lads.”
“They were just all right for an occasional scratch?” queried Maggie with a wicked grin.
“Ma!” protested Meg, blushing to the roots of her dark brown hair.
“Dinna fash yourelf, lass,” returned Maggie. “I never thought that you would marry but I wouldn't want you to die wondering! But I glad you can still take a red face!”
“You're incorrigible, Ma.” Meg rose switched on the big wireless set on the sideboard and the pair settled down by the fireside to listen quietly to the news.
“I was speaking to Dr Ram and he's really worried about the situation in India,” Maggie said as the news ended. “He thinks it's not so much Jinnah that's the problem but the religious fanatics on both sides. What with that and the Yanks and the Russians squaring up to one another in Turkey you wonder how long it'll be before we're in another war.”
“I think that's the way of the world, Ma. Do you remember Granny K saying in '39 that every war that had happened in her lifetime just sowed the seeds of the next? I saw it when I was in Europe. But let me catch up on the family before we try to change the world. I'll make some cocoa and you can tell me what's wrong with my Star!”
Stella had been about to leave for her night shift at the maternity hospital when her sister arrived so there had been time for no more than a warm hug and a “Talk tomorrow, please?” before she left.
“The second wee doorstep twinnie died on Saturday. Stella wasn't on duty but she's taking it hard, worried that she should have done more, and she's still fretting about the mother. You know how she feels for people!”
“ I'm amazed that the wee soul lasted as long as he did. From what she wrote, he wasn't thriving and who could wonder? Some poor frightened lassie has premature twins in the park on a cold, wet March night and in desperation leaves them on a doorstep. She could have bled to death or died of infection without medical help. It's Dickensian. Have they never found a trace?”
“Na, there's just rumour. Some say she was a maid at a big house out the Arbroath Road – there are still them that have maids out there – and a couple of lassies ran away from the orphanage about that time. There was a lass found drowned at Eyemouth that they thought might have gone in the Tay but she wasn't identified so God alone knows.”
Meg shook her head sadly. “I'll see Star in the morning. I see Mickey is as full of fizz as ever, hard to believe he's going into 3rd year when he's only just 13! He was telling me he loves his paper round but do you not think he's too young to be going out so early every weekday?”
“And you were how old when you started your paper round, lady?”
“I know but that was me and this is him and I don't want it to be as hard for the young ones. I thought the bairn was a bit quiet tonight. The only time I got a smile was when she was telling me how much money she made at the berries.”
“That was for singing, not picking! With all the rain we've had the berries were waterlogged. A lot of days they just couldn't pick. It's maybe just going back to school and finding she's got a new teacher who seems to be a bit of a tartar and too free with the tawse. Mrs McCann had to have her appendix out a couple of weeks ago so they've got someone down from Queen's Cross, Sister Ignatius, I believe.”
“Sacred Heart, eh? She'll find the Andys a bit of a change! I wonder how Sister Marie-Therese will get on with her? Do you remember when the minister at St Mary's took to wearing a wooden cross and that wee evangelist with the ginger beard kept roaring that he was no better than a Jesuit. Sister Marie-Therese's response was 'He's damning him with faint praise!' I'll need to drop in and see her.”
“That reminds me. They've decided that sandshoes must be worn for drill and Kate is out of her last pair even with toe and heel cut. She's got drill on Thursday so if you could..”
“Of course, Ma, I'll meet her tomorrow and get her a pair. Shame though, I really liked drill in my baries and hated the sandshoes we'd to wear at the Academy. Will Birrell's have them?”
“Probably, they had a good few when I took them for their school shoes. I think they are about 4/-a pair, everything's such a price now. Oh, and have you got your bread coupons?”
“No, I've got my ration book but just bread stamps so I'd better get them changed tomorrow.”
“The Food Office should be fairly quiet now but you should have seen the carry-on last week. The queue was down the Wynd and up again and they ran out of coupons, had to be sent on the train from Edinburgh! The laddies did our queuing and Kate and Alice ran to get your Granny when they were near the front. Had to be an adult to actually get them, of course. I told them at the Sosh that you would be putting your book in there, so I hope that's OK?”
“Fine with me, the more we eat, the bigger the divvie! By the way, when I peeked in on Mickey I had to rescue his book before it landed on the floor. That's another present that went down well.”
“It was so good of Miss Wilson to send them books again. Were they her own?”
“Not this time! As she put it, this was the only useful thing that came out of her trailing round umpteen book shops with Hilda during the holidays. She came across a box of books that must have been some old family collection and spotted an old botany book that she wanted. The shop owner insisted the box was a job lot and as there were a few books that would do for the school library they decided to buy them. When they went through them they thought of our two so Mickey has “A First Book of Applied Electricity” and Kate has that book on plant families.”
“I just hope he doesn't want to try electric experiments! He had the place sailing twice trying things out from that last book.”
“I think that's why she sent him this one – Nell likes adventurous spirits. It's a shame she and Hilda can't get to Dolly and Dunc's wedding for I'd really love you to meet them. You'd like Nell, she's gallus in her refined way and you and Hilda could talk books forever!” said Meg with a fond smile. Maggie Graham Kelly had been a keen reader since childhood and was rarely without at least two books from the public library and, when finances permitted, several from the penny lending library.
“I'd like to meet them to thank them for all their goodness to you during the War.”
“Yes, the school was my refuge. If they hadn't been there I don't know where I would have ended up when........” Meg stopped and looked at the floor.
“When Martin was killed?” suggested her mother gently.
“Say it, lassie. When Martin was killed.”
Meg looked up, her eyes swimming with tears. “When Martin was killed. Oh Mammy!” She flung herself into her mother's arms and Maggie, her heart aching for her lost son and her heartbroken daughter, held her close as she wept.
It was several minutes before the sobs subsided. Meg gulped and said “I'm sorry, Ma, it's worse for you.”
“I'm not so sure of that, sweetheart, “ replied Maggie unexpectedly. “ When the War broke out I remembered the last one and I was in dread that I'd lose you all. I've come through this War still having my man and six of my bairns. You lost your favourite brother and best pal, the one that knew you best and always had your back. I know you love Pat and Alex and you dote on Star and the bairns but Marty was your other self. He kept you from being too serious and you kept him out of mischief, some of the time anyway!” In spite of herself Meg smiled, remembering some of the joint escapades that they had got away with by the skin of their teeth.
“Anyway, tomorrow is also a day, and you've places to go and people to see so it's bedtime. Goodnight, sleep tight!” The two embraced and Meg slipped in beside Kate, her heart lighter than it had been for a long time.
Author's Chapter Notes:
Apologies for this long post but the bunnies had a lot to say. The international issues were current and the local based on real events. Meg and her mother would speak to each other in Scots with a Dundee accent but I've just kept some expressions and constructions to give a flavour.