|Eileen Kelly hugged her sister-in-law warmly. “Look what’s blew in for Hogmanay, and three shades whiter than milk! Come in and get some breakfast and tell me properly how you got here!”|
Meg smiled as she followed her good sister into the big kitchen.
“We were just supposed to refuel in Guam but we got stuck there for hours trying to keep the patients cool, no air conditioning, outside temperature in the mid 80s! Oh, thank you, I’ve been dying for a proper cup of tea and a morning roll or three! We'd three more fuelling stops and reached Washington late on Christmas Day. They'd arranged to get me on a flight on the 28th from outside Boston to Edzell so I made myself useful for the next couple of days. I didn’t call because the lines and telephonists were tied up with patients phoning home – they give them free long distance calls over Christmas – and there didn’t seem much point really since I had no idea when I’d arrive. We were due in Edzell early yesterday but we were grounded by a blizzard in Keflavik so it was about 7 o’clock when we landed. I was totally wabbit so just phoned to let you know where I was, had a night’s sleep and got a lift down this morning. Now, tell me what has happened!”
“Well,” said Eileen, who had returned to expertly rolling pastry and topping the row of meat filled pie dishes on the table, “it all started with your father!”
“Da? What did he do?”
“Calm down – and stop stealing the pastry trimmings, you’re worse than the bairns!”
“Where are the bairns? It’s a bit quiet!”
“Mum’s looking after Sandra and Nicol and Dad has taken Paddy and Tina to hear his latest ideas for The Ruin!” Tam Baxter’s purchase of a fire damaged house and surrounding land out the Perth Road puzzled his family but was a constant source of entertainment and interest to his older grandchildren. Eileen quickly put the pies in the oven and came back to the table, wiping it clean before she sat down.
“Anyway, your Da has been very upset so he got from Kate what shift Stella was on and met her last Friday outside the Infirmary. He said he was sorry he couldn’t be at her wedding but he wished her happiness and wanted to pay for the reception. Give Star her due, she did realise how hurt he was and that he would even be more hurt if she didn’t take the money. Between ourselves, I suspect she was very glad of it - she seems to have been paying for a lot.
So off she went to tell the bold boyo the good news. He had taken furnished rooms in Strathmartine Road - ‘no point renting unfurnished when we will be buying our own place and will want to furnish it properly’ was the tale. Of course, she had a key so in she walked - and there he was with a woman!”
Meg winced. “Jesus, Mary and Joseph, my poor Star! In flagrante?”
“That would have been bad enough but it turns out this lady was his lawfully wedded wife from whom he is not divorced, or even separated, and no divorce proceedings are pending! Although they might be now, right enough, if the woman has any sense.”
Meg buried her face in her hands and gave vent to some very colourful expletives, “If I ever get my hands on him I swear I will take his sacred life, the conniving, double-dealing....... how dare he treat my wee sister like that, I will kill him!”
“There’s a queue! If your father, brothers or cousins find him there will be murder done. Actually, if my lot get hold of him, it’ll be the same! They’ve always been fond of Stella, even more so since Nicol was born.” Eileen had developed pre-eclampsia in her last pregnancy and it was thanks to Stella’s experience and skill that mother and baby had survived.
“What did she do?”
“Well – and we only know through Kate, Star won’t talk to anyone else - Star and the wife were both screaming at him, he was trying to tell the wife that it was something he’d got into by accident, he wasn’t going through with it and trying to tell Star that it was all a misunderstanding, he was divorcing his wife but she was hysterical, refusing to accept it. You can imagine how well that went! Stella pulled off her engagement ring and stotted him on the nose with it, grabbed her belongings and left as the wife was belting him over the head with a tea tray.
She walked down town, went into Kidd’s, cancelled wedding breakfast and cake then went round to the registrar and cancelled the marriage. The banns were how the wife found out, by the way! They live the other side of Perth but apparently a friend brought her children to see G.L.Wilson’s grotto and, like me, she always has a wee look at the banns in the registrar’s window. He has an unusual middle name, Cyrus or Sirius or the like, so she mentioned it to the wife and the fat was in the fire – and thank God’s good grace for that, before we were into bigamy!
She has locked herself in the flat and Kate is the only one who gets in though we’ve all tried. Your mother sends food with Kate, the bairn keeps the place tidy and seems to be a comfort though she doesn’t think Stella has shed a tear. There’s not a problem with work - she was due two weeks holiday for the wedding and as the shifts worked she was off over the weekend anyway so...... Pat was talking about going up for the Bells. He is sure that she wouldn’t keep the door shut on a first foot, especially as it’s your flat!”
“Dear God, what a mess! She’ll be heartbroken and mortified, too, and feeling so shamed, my poor precious girl!”
“Oh the fiat has gone forth that anyone who does the “Telt you!” or “What were you thinking about?” line will face the wrath of the combined Kelly and Graham women and would you willingly fall out with all of them at the same time? Any one on her own would put the fear of God into Sugar Ray Robinson!”
In spite of everything, Meg laughed. “That’s true!”
“And talking of tough women - Da and Pat went to the rooms but, of course, the bird had flown. However, the landlady had overheard everything, probably ear to the keyhole, and she saw both Stella and the wife storming out. About ten minutes later, Mr Hendrie appeared carrying a suitcase, a cut on his nose and the start of a black eye, and told her that his fiancée had found a more suitable flat and could he have the deposit back minus the rent due, please. Of course, this epitome of panloaf respectability knew it was flannel, so hauled the case off him, smacking him in a delicate place in the process, said she wanted the rent now and the deposit would go back to the lady that paid it. He coughed up, the big saftie, and she gave Da the deposit, saying if there were to be ‘proceedings’ she would be happy to testify.”
“I like this woman! But we all saw through this basket – why didn’t out clever sensible Star?”
“Maybe that was the problem! Sensible Star, the one who always keeps her head, takes hold, settles disputes, your mother’s mainstay all through the War, tailoring her career ambitions to the best interests of the family. Maybe she just needed some Stella-centred time!”
“But she’s always had lots of decent boyfriends! And she loves her job and she’s very good at it!”
“Yes, but...” Eileen paused. This wasn’t the moment to tell Meg that Stella had longed to be a doctor but had felt obliged to choose a more direct, and more economical, way into medicine. And there might never be a time to tell her that it wasn’t always easy being Meg Kelly’s wee sister, or brother for that matter, in a community where her brilliant successes were such a source of local pride. Luckily, there was a distraction.
“Why on earth are you fidgeting like that – have you brought back flechs?”
Meg explained about her accident.
“Do you need it dressed?” Eileen was more concerned than amused.
“If I get into my flat, I’ll get Stella to dress it!”
“Well, that little Austin outside is for your use and the keys are on the dresser.” She hugged Meg tight. “You are probably the only one who can help her right now so I’ll be praying for you both! Keep us informed and we’ll keep mum just now!”
“Will do – and thanks for everything, as usual!”
Meg parked the car outside her door and looked at her flat, noting that the curtains were still closed. Her heart ached for her beloved sister sitting in the dark brooding. She knocked on the door but there was no answer. She put her key in the lock and realised that it had been snecked.
“Go away, Kate!” Stella’s voice was harsh. “I told you not to come back today!”
“You might have told Kate that but you didn’t tell me! Can I get into my house, please?”
“Meg? Meg?? Meg!” The door was flung open. “Oh, Megsy, Megsy!” And weeping bitterly, Stella flung herself into her sister’s arms.
Author's Chapter Notes:
Why the wedding didn't happen!