December 29, 1929
EUAN looked round the neat sitting-room, with its fancy wallpaper, comfortable settees, bookcases and all the other trappings of middle-class life. Claredon Drive was a far cry from his threadbare tenement on Stobswell Loan and the poverty of mill-life. When Marigold Pettigrew and her husband, Hugh, a professor at Dundee University, had greeted him and the bairns at the front door and led them through their elegant hallway, his breath caught at the sight of a brand-new pram.
Jean was carrying Douglas, but she must have thought the same thing as her dad when she saw the pram, because her face tilted to his, emotion pulsing in her tear-reddened eyes, and Euan had to work hard not to feel resentment for these well-off people who were giving his baby son a home.
“It’s for the best,” he had assured Jean and Nell the evening before. “He needs a mither, and the Pettigrews are guid, decent folk.”
“Why can’t Auntie Caitlin be his mither?” Nell asked.
Sitting on the edge of their bed, looking at both their beautiful wee faces, Euan had so many burdens on his mind, he felt a coldness go over him.
“She just cannae,” he said.
Jean started crying first, then Nell joined her. Euan gathered them into his arms, holding them tight, as if his life depended on them being there, as if he’d never let them go, even though that was exactly what was going to happen. Their sobs undid him and tears streamed down his face. All the hopes he’d ever had for himself and his family had gone out of him. It was Colleen who had died, yet he felt in a way he had, too.
He had to tell his daughters as much of the truth as he dared.
“I can’t look after you myself,” he said eventually, wiping his face with his sleeve.
“Aye, you can,” Jean told him.
“No, lass not properly. But I’ve got the chance o’ a better job at the shipyard through in Glasgow and it’ll mean more money for the three of us, and when I’ve saved enough, I’ll come back and get you baith.”
Jean pulled herself upright.
“What dae ye mean ‘come back’?”
A voice in the back of Euan’s head told him this was a terrible, terrible thing. But he forced himself to go on.
“There’s a place where bairns like you can go to live for a wee while. You’ll be properly looked after. And it’ll not be for long, I promise. I just need time tae get things sorted.”
“No. I’m staying wi’ you, Paw,” Jean protested.
“Me, too,” Nell added, her voice trembling.
“Now, listen . . .” he began. But he could see they were panicking and he felt shame and guilt, and the words he wanted to say stuck in his throat. The pain of what was happening to his family appalled him so much, he told them something else, something he wasn’t sure of.
“Everything will be all right,” he said. And he hated himself for what he’d already done.
His gaze met Hugh Pettigrew’s.
“Marigold won’t be long in getting the tea and biscuits,” Hugh said, casting a kind look at Jean and Nell who were huddled beside their dad. “Girls, would you like to hear the wireless?”
Jean’s eyes flicked immediately to Euan and he could tell that she was intrigued.
“Go on,” he said. “Mr Pettigrew is offering.”
But only Jean followed Hugh across to the radio box in the corner of the room, for Nell was too shy. She stayed next to Euan, who held baby Douglas in his arms.