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Jenny Telfer Chaplin

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Hopes and Sorrow

 

Jenny Telfer Chaplin

 

 

 

© Jenny Telfer Chaplin 2013

 

Jenny Telfer Chaplin has asserted her rights under the Copyright, Design and Patents Act, 1988, to be identified as the author of this work.

First published 2010 by BeWrite Books.

This edition published 2013 by Endeavour Press Ltd.

 

 

 

With many thanks to Bill McCaffrey, Psychic Transfiguration Medium, Teacher and Healer for his friendship, encouragement and guidance.

 

 

 

Part 1

 

 

 

Chapter One

 

1893

 

On a fine spring morning in the soft, clear air of Argyll for young Mary Jane Gregg it felt so good to be alive. The window in front of her was wide-open and despite the heavy, iron bars marring the view the sixteen-year-old beauty could see the sun was shining, the hills were dew tipped and she knew in her heart of hearts that God was in His heaven. Out there in the garden of Kinnaird House, the birds sounding as happy as she felt were chirping, twittering and singing.

Yes, she thought, it is indeed the very time to be young, footloose and to fancy myself in love.

However, Mary knew full well her total enjoyment of the glorious spring day was largely due to its being in sharp contrast with the dark events suffered by her in a different time and another place furth of Dunoon.

“And now here ah am dreaming and drooling over a handsome man who scarcely knows of my existence.”

All else forgotten she found herself imagining a beautiful romantic scene ... Yes! She could see it all so clearly. Out there in the luxurious greenery of the ornate conservatory the son of the house, Tavish McCall, was down on one knee beseeching her to be his bride. In the realms of fantasy she could feel the rich silks and satins of her ball gown while she expertly wielded the hand-painted fan and fluttered her eyelashes beguilingly in the approved fashion.

The rosy haze of her daydream was blown aside when a voice at her elbow said: “Mary! For the love of heaven girl, are ye gonnae be all day at the scourin o them porridge pots? And why in God’s name are ye waving that filthy spurtle aroon like some demented fairy godmother?”

Dragging her romantic thoughts away from the delightful dreams of impossibility Mary swivelled to face the irate cook. One look at Mrs Scanlon’s face convinced Mary it was time to get back to work.

With a muttered, “Sorry, Mrs Scanlon,” Mary tried, desperately, to concentrate her full attention on the food-encrusted, heavy, black pot lying in a disgusting pool of greasy water in the sink before her.

With a deep sigh born of a longing for a happier more meaningful life, Mary pushed back a lock of her fly-away auburn hair which had escaped from the hated regulation draw-string mobcap.

Hearing this indication of discontent Mrs Scanlon marched back, with heavy stride, across the kitchen to stand directly behind Mary.

“Ye can sech and sigh all ye want my fine young miss, but the fact remains, as an orphan from God alone knows what kind of hovel in Glasgow, ye were very lucky tae get a position in this household o decent God-fearin, church-going folk.”

Mary thought: Ah wisnae always an orphan. But frae Glasgow or not, ma Mammie’s wee cottage was no hovel.

Mrs Scanlon gripped Mary’s shoulders and turned her. Now face to face Mrs Scanlon raged: “Stupid girl that ye
are . Ye’re no even listening tae me. For the last time, for Heaven’s sake just ye get about yer work and tackle that mountain o dirty pots and pans still awaiting yer ladyship’s kind attention.”

Mary turned back to the sink but yet again the cook’s voice stopped her.

“Dirty pots, pans and dishes – that’s yer world, Mary. So best keep yer energies for that. Dae ye hear? Never bother yer head about sighin awa there like some love-lorne lady of quality who’s never soiled her hands with honest work.”

There was no answer to this, at least not one that could be given without bringing in its wake Mary’s marching orders. Although she said not a word, Mary could not avoid the set of her shoulders which spoke volumes of her determination.

Seeing this body language, the cook poked an admonitory finger into Mary and shouted: “We’ll have none o yer silent insubordination either, my lady. If ye’ll take my advice, ye’ll stop daydreamin about the lads ... otherwise ye’ll come tae a bad end. Ah’ve seen it all before. Ye makin sheep’s eyes at that Archie, the new coachman. It can only end in one way for the likes of ye.”

Mary rolled her sleeves further back and, her lips set in a determined line, she thought: Ye think ye know it all, Mrs Scanlon? As for that young coachman – Archie what’s-his-name – it was the other way round. The action was all on his side. He tried to force himself, his would-be stolen kisses, on me the other night as I passed the coach house. Moonlit night or not – Ah soon told him his fortune. For me, it’s the marriage bed or nothing. Ah’ve seen too many
young lassies left wi a bulgin belly and nae man tae call their ain. Nae weddin ring means nae special favours o that dirty kind. Ah soon scared him off. He’ll scarcely even look the road Ah’m on noo.

With that moral victory fresh in her mind Mary set about her pot-scouring duties with gusto, and frowned as she tried to remember her mother’s words on marriage:

“Nothin much in it for women, Mary. Even less when ye count childbearing, overwork, poverty and a bad-tempered man.”

Mammy didnae leave me much, but at least she instilled that into me.

 

 

 

Chapter Two

 

1890

 

As Mary entered the cottage on Bunhouse Road the wag-at-the-wall was already striking the hour of eight, long past the time when her mother would have put the evening meal on the table. Ignoring the carefully-set table and with scarcely a glance at her mother Mary tugged off her tam-o’shanter and threw it across the room. She threw herself onto the nearest chair and allowed her coarse tweed shawl to slither off her shoulders. With a heartfelt sigh more appropriate for an octogenarian than the thirteen-year-old she was, Mary fell back against the comforting support of the crocheted cushion.

“Made ye work late the night did he?” her mother said.

Almost as if summoning her last reserves of energy, Mary nodded wearily.

Mrs Gregg bustled about the kitchen banging pots and pans thus clearly indicating her feelings about Mary’s late arrival and lack of communication before finally saying: “That’s yer food on the table now, my girl. If it’s dried up and overcooked, it’s not ma blame.”

Once started on her meal Mary found her mother had not exaggerated the state of the food, but now aware of her hunger she set to with a will. Seeing
this her mother beamed across at her.

“That’s the girl. Once ye’ve got that good food inside
ye the world and everything in it will seem a better place.”

Mary had her own opinions on that line of thinking but kept them to herself.

Later as they sat on either side of a blazing fire Mary was aware that in fairness to her mother some explanation of her earlier conduct was required.

“That was good o ye, Mammy, tae keep ma meal hot for me all that while.”

Suitably appeased Mrs Gregg said: “Och, hen dinnae worry – it’s what mothers dae. Fine well Ah mind, afore yer brothers emigrated tae America, there was many a night Ah was left keeping meals hot when they would be on late shifts at the yards.”

Mary cleared her throat. “Tae tell
ye the truth, Mammy, Ah wasnae workin late ... it was something quite different that held me up. It was very strange really – we had just finished work at the mill and Ah was about tae say cheerio tae ma work-mate Elsie Todd when something told me that Ah should walk her home.”

“Walk her home?
On a stormy night like this? She’s a grown girl, same as you and surely able enough tae see herself home. Anyway, ye're talking in riddles. How dae ye mean, something told ye? Ah just dinnae understand that.”

Mary scratched her ear. “Ah
cannae say Ah understand that myself. All Ah know was that Ah had the strongest feelin – a gut instinct, Ah suppose ye might call it – that on no account should Ah let Elsie go home alone.”

“Go on, Mary.
One thing’s sure, ye’ve got ma attention.”

“Well, we got safely enough to the end of Elsie’s road despite being nearly blown off our feet every time we turned a corner – the wind was that strong. Just as we were saying our goodbyes and hanging onto our
tammies in the gale, out of the corner of my eye Ah saw the gable-end of the building behind us starting tae move. Oh Mammy Ah’ve never been so scared in all my life. Without really thinking of what I was about Ah grabbed hold o Elsie and the pair o us ran as if Auld Nick himself was after us. If Ah hadnae been there tae save her it would hae been certain death for Elsie.”

Mrs Gregg pursed her lips. “Ah could argue that if ye hadnae been with her the chances are she widnae hae been on that corner talkin tae ye in the first place.”

“Aye, Mammy, but there’s more to it than that. ... Elsie’s granny lived in that building and Elsie had been planning tae pop in tae see her and hae a wee cup o tea.”

Mrs Gregg’s eyes widened in horror.
“Ye dinnae mean tae tell me there’s nae–”

“Ye’ve got it in one, Mammy. They’re no expecting to find any survivors under the rubble.”

Mary and her mother sat in silence for a short time.

“So, Mammy, when I was told – by some unseen power – tae see Elsie home was Ah not right to follow through as best Ah could on that mystifying message?”

Mrs Gregg was on the point of replying when Mary waved a dismissive hand.

“Before ye start, Mammy, for Heaven’s sake dinnae try tae tell me it was some weird kind o coincidence.”

“Ah widnae dream o telling ye any such thing, darlin. Ah dinnae believe in coincidences.” Mrs Gregg paused as if gathering her thoughts. “Ah really dinnae understand any o this, but it seems tae me ye might hae the gift of the Second Sight. Yer Hielan granny afore ye had it.”

Mary looked in astonishment at the expression of compassion on her mother’s face.

“Some folk might cry it the curse o Second Sight, but yer granny always thought it a gift with which she could do good. The main thing is no tae worry about it whatever happens.”

 

On the Saturday of the week after the collapse of the tenement building, as Elsie and Mary bustled about the house to help Elsie’s mother prepare the funeral tea, Elsie stopped and bumped into Mary almost causing her to drop the tray of hot sausage rolls.

“Ye know, Mary, Ah just
cannae stop thinkin about it ... if it hadnae been for ye, it would hae been me they’d hae been burying the day as well as my Granny.”

“Give it a rest, Elsie. It disnae dae tae think overmuch about the hows, whys and wherefores o such matters. Just be glad Ah was there at the right time. Count yersel lucky tae still be alive and leave it at that.”

“But, Mary, what Ah just cannae get my head round is this – ye never walked me home before and ye havenae walked me home since – so why on that day?”

Mary was saved from having to think up a suitable reply when they both heard Mrs Todd’s voice.

“If you two girls don’t hurry up and serve that food the Meenister will hae a wheen mair funerals tae conduct, for the mourners gathered here will all hae died o hunger.”

Elsie rolled her eyes, jerked her head in the direction of the ‘starving mourners’ and the two girls hastened to go about their duties.

In the course of that afternoon and early evening when the whisky for the men and the sherry for the women was beginning to have the desired effect no more was said on the subject of Elsie’s narrow escape, but later when the guests had eventually left Mrs Todd pulled Mary aside.

“Ye were miles away just then, Mary. Are ye all right, ma dear?”

Mary nodded and Mrs Todd went on: “Ah hope we havenae  worked ye ower hard at this funeral tea.”

“No, no, dinnae worry,
Ah’m fine, thanks. Ah was glad tae help.”

“Aye, Mary, help out ye certainly did – and Ah’m no just talking about today.”

Mary wondered exactly how much Elsie had told her mother about Mary’s strange part in the ‘miraculous’ escape, but before she could say anything Mrs Todd moved even closer to Mary and whispered: “Ah want ye tae know that Ah thank ye from the bottom of my heart that ma wee Elsie isnae six-feet under the day.”

Shaking her head Mary said: “There’s no call for ye tae be thankin me.”

Mrs Todd pursed her lips. “We’ll say nae mair about the matter for now, but just bear this in mind. Ah ken fine well that folk hereabouts think Ah’m some kind o auld battleaxe – a strong madam – but Ah believe in many a strange thing that some other folks would run screamin frae. So, what Ah’m trying to say is this: If ye ever need tae talk, Ah’m a good listener – Ah don’t gossip – and Ah knew yer auld granny ... the one frae the Hielans.”

 

In the months following Elsie’s escape from the jaws of death, inevitably the story became something of a local legend and Mary found herself the object of much curiosity and not always friendly questioning.

Mima Turner laughed and said: “Ah suppose ye’ve turned into some sort o saint, or maybe an angel is that it?”

“Right,” Mima’s friend chipped in, “A guardian angel.”

Elsie
who usually kept quiet when Mary was being teased like this, threw down her work.

“Right then, ye two.
That’s more than enough o that. Leave Mary be. As far as Ah’m concerned that was exactly what Mary was that night – ma Guardian Angel – and no mistake. Now can we get back tae our work before that narky wee gaffer comes along and sacks the lot o us?”

As the girls turned away Mary determined to have the last word said: “Ye can pester and harangue me as much as ye like but whether ye can understand or not Ah’ve had these weird gut feelings about things since Ah was a wee lassie at school.” She paused and then rushed on: “One time Ah knew – Ah just knew – that ma favourite Auntie was about tae breathe her last ... A couple of days later there was my Aunt Euphemia lyin dead as a doornail; lyin in her coffin like a stookie. Explain that if ye can.”

 

Over a year had passed since the death of Elsie’s granny when one morning Mary, just as she was about to pass through the work’s gates, stopped and stood still. A feeling of an impending momentous event about to unfold hit her as if she had been dealt an actual physical blow.

She was standing fixed to the spot as if in a trance when several of her work-mates spotted her.

“Hey, Mary, What’s up with ye noo? Is some unlucky beggar about tae
meet his Maker this day?”

Raucous laughter shook Mary out of her reverie and she decided to fight back.

“Just hold on a minute. It isnae always doom and gloom Ah get frae ma spirit guides. Ye all seem tae forget that quite often Ah get foreknowledge o happy events too.”

Gus Carter laughed and shouted: “Aye, some happy events! Dae ye mind wee Sarah Gillan? She’d meet her knight in shinin armour.
Isnae that what ye told her?”

“Not exactly,” Mary objected. “She pestered me tae tell her if she would meet a man –”

“And she did, did she no’? A fly-by-night, randy wee sailor. What ye didnae tell her that once he’d done the business he’d be aff sailing the high seas again. Leaving her with a damned big cargo tae humph around for nine months.”

“Aye, some happy event that turned out tae
be,” Mima Turner said. “Her God-fearing father flung her out o the hoose.”

Mary turned away from the boisterous, rowdy group and at the last minute turned back to them.

“Ye can laugh all ye want, but ma spirit guides is telling me that you, Gus Carter – whether ye choose tae believe it or not – is goin tae be surrounded by illness.”

Gus laughed and in a voice intended to be heard by all said: “Ye're game tae the last, Mary Gregg, Ah’ll gie ye that. But hen, ye don’t need tae be a damned spaewife tae tell me that. Everybody roon here knows fine that Ah’m plunked
doon right in the middle o illness. With ma auld grandfather stoatin about on his last legs and ma decrepit auld granny away with the fairies.”

As the crowd began to break up Minnie Roberts gave a triumphant look at Mary and said: “It seems tae me that Gus’s auld granny isnae the only one away with the fairies. There’s somebody else no a thousand miles frae here and hell o a lot younger who isnae quite twelve pennies tae a shillin.”

 

The early shift was within minutes of finishing for the day when a shout of alarm came from a group of men working at some heavy machinery in a corner of the factory. An eerie silence followed the initial shout before all hell broke loose. Barked commands, appeals for calm could be heard above the moans. The gaffer, his face white as a ghost, ordered everyone to shut down their own machines and clear the factory floor to allow the injured man to be seen to. The workers scurried to do his bidding.

Sour looks were cast in Mary’s direction and she heard:

“It’s all her fault, the bloody witch. She must hae put a hex on him.”

“Aye, surrounded by illness – wasnae that what she told him?”

“She never said a truer word. But she didnae tell him tae take the gypsie’s warning and be extra careful this day.”

“Poor Gus, once he’s carted off tae the Royal – or what’s left o him – he’ll be lyin in a packed ward, sick folk all round him – fair surrounded by illness.”

Not one of Mary’s workmates had a kind glance much less a comforting word for Mary as she trudged home wondering how much of today’s tragic events she should tell her mother.

Oh well, she’ll be sure to hear a detailed account from some busybody or other, Mary thought.

 

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