Far From The Island – Episode 15

Over in Kelvinside, where the Cunninghams were hosting their annual Hogmanay get-together, things were much more sedate. Constance Cunningham, in a new gown of lilac satin trimmed with grey lace, watched like a hawk as Annie the maid handed round a silver salver upon which were crystal glasses half filled with champagne.

Her husband, she noticed, was rather flushed. She suspected that he’d started the celebrations early, as usual. Making a mental note to check the level of the brandy decanter in his study in the morning, Constance beckoned her elder son over to her side.

“I rely upon you, Roddy, to make sure your father does not overdo things as he did last year,” she said, ignoring or failing to notice the smell of brandy on her favourite son’s breath.

Last year, when the upstairs party broke up just half an hour after midnight, the pre-arranged first foot having delivered the coal, the black bun having been politely nibbled, Mr Cunningham had joined the servants downstairs, taking with him several bottles of best champagne. It had been the singing which had raised Constance from her bed. The memory of her husband dancing a jig on top of the kitchen table with the maid while their manservant played the spoons could still make her wince.

Roddy, perfectly well aware of this, grinned.

“Don’t worry, Ma, I shall see that the servants get their Hogmanay drink. No need for Father to put himself out,” he said, thinking what fun it would be to ply Annie with champagne. The girl had been on her high horse with him of late. Miss Fiona’s doing, no doubt. Well, Miss Fiona was safely out of the way tonight.

As the grandfather clock in the hall heralded the New Year, Roddy raised his glass to his mother.

“To a new century.”

She allowed him to kiss her before making her stately way around the rest of her guests shaking hands, her husband at her side. She did not kiss his father, Roddy noticed without surprise. Nor did she kiss Francis. A handshake, fingertips only, and a quiet word in his ear were all his weakling brother got, and judging from the furious look on his face, the word was an instruction to him to retire.

Roddy felt an unusual spark of anger on Francis’s behalf. His mother had never been demonstrative. She thought any extremes of emotion were the height of bad breeding, but he wished she would make more of an effort to disguise the physical disgust she felt at any contact with her younger child.

He raised his glass to toast him across the crowded room in a rare gesture of brotherly bonhomie, but Francis turned pointedly away. Roddy wondered, angrily throwing the entire contents of his glass down his throat, if Miss Fiona had been telling tales. Not that there were any tales to tell the girl seemed to be quite immune to his charms and his blandishments alike.

Goodness, but this party was dull. The doorbell rang, and the coal man, who had been bribed into first-footing, slunk into the drawing-room surely so much luckier than just a lump of coal, his mother had said. Roddy had had enough.

Brushing past the man, who looked completely out of place in his shabby best clothes, clutching a lump of coal in his scrubbed but not quite clean hands, Roddy informed him that comfort could be found downstairs as soon as he could escape. Then he escaped himself, through the green baize door at the back of the hall which separated the masters from the servants, by way of his father’s locked wine cellar. Clutching several bottles of champagne, he bounded into the heat of the kitchen with a beaming smile.

“Happy New Year!” he declared, placing the bottles on the scrubbed kitchen table. “Come on,” he urged, looking round at the startled servants. “Get the glasses and let’s get the party started. Who’s going to be first to give me a kiss?”


Used to make posts more anonymous, eg a criminal case where you don’t want to expose the actual journalist.