Echoes From The Past – Episode 10

Abbot Alfred was a tall, austere man, with wispy white hair that floated in the spring breeze in the gardens of Cambuskenneth Abbey. He looked down his long nose as Maister Davie Scoular put forward the case for Murdo, son of Hector, host of the Black Cockerel in Stirling town. Abbot Alfred had no personal knowledge of the alehouse – there was no need, since the monks brewed their own – but he did not hold such humble beginnings against the boy. Although his gaze was distant, the abbot was listening carefully to Davie Scoular.

“You tell me he is the brightest boy you’ve had in your school for some time. Is that significant? Does Stirling town produce enough bright boys to make a comparison?”

Davie straightened his spine, though his height fell well short of the abbot’s.

“We have our share. In my time alone we have educated boys who have gone on to provide Stirling with lawyers and doctors sufficient for the town’s requirements. But I think this boy is different. He has an academic bent that would profit from a more rigorous and demanding education.”

Abbot Alfred put his finger to his lips in thoughtful contemplation. Davie Scoular carried on.

“Let me send him to you, Abbot Alfred, so that you can make your own judgement. I’m sure you will find him worthy of instruction by the monks.”

The abbot gazed into the distance again, and then nodded.

“Send him,” he said. “I will speak to him.”

One day later, Hector’s preparations to take his son to Cambuskenneth were overset by events at the Black Cockerel. The spring breeze that had lifted the abbot’s wispy hair had strengthened into a gale, which had lifted a corner of thatch from the alehouse roof, so that Hector had had to send for the town’s thatcher.

“I’ll have to stay,” he explained to his son, who was bouncing on his toes in anticipation. “I can’t leave Mirin to see to a roof. We’ll go tomorrow.”

“But Maister Scoular said –”

“I ken what he said.” Hector’s anxiety about both his son and his roof made him sharp.

The inn was busy. Folk were looking for their normal fare, in spite of the rain dripping into the far corner, removing at least one table from the general space. A small group of English soldiers was close enough to overhear bits of their conversation, though only Thomas registered Murdo’s disappointment. At that point, Mirin appeared, bearing ale and bread and cheese.

“Gentlemen,” she said to the soldiers with her customary bright smile.

“I could go myself,” Murdo protested.

“Of course you can’t,” his father said in some exasperation. “There’s the water in again. Get it mopped up, and then we’ll talk about the monks.”

With an ill grace, Murdo retreated to the scullery, scaring the life out of Etta the scullery maid, who was washing wooden plates in a bucket at the back door.

“It’s only me, Etta,” the boy said. “I’m looking for a mopping cloth.”

“I thought you were the devil, creeping up on me.” Etta’s pale eyebrows were almost in her hairline.

“Why would the devil want to get you, Etta? What have you done?” Murdo found it difficult not to tease the girl.

“Nothing.” Etta gave a dry screech. “I’ve been to mass already this morning, and prayed to Holy Mary.”

“You are in her good graces, then, so the devil will be out looking for someone more suitable. You worry far too much, Etta. Now, my faither says I’ve to mop the floor, so where’s the cloth?”

Lucy Crichton

Fiction Editor Lucy is always on the look-out for the very best short stories, poems and pocket novels. As well as sourcing enjoyable content, she enjoys working with our established contributors, encouraging new talent, and celebrating 155 years of 'Friend' fiction!