The Glens of Stone – Episode 05

“Welcome!” John Porteous clasped Duncan McAllan’s arm. He turned to the woman at his side. “Agnes, you’ll remember Duncan and his daughter?”

“Of course.” Agnes Porteous embraced them both. “Kirsty, my dear, you’ve become a beauty, and Duncan, the years have been kind to you.”

“And to you, Agnes. You’ve hardly changed from the lass John and I wooed all those years ago. Why you chose this windbag instead of me I’ll never know!”

In good humour the group took seats around a warm fire. Malcolm Porteous placed himself next to Kirsty.

“Supper won’t be long. Alison’s preparing it.”

Agnes overheard his words.

“Why has Alison not joined us?” she asked her husband.

“Oh, the girl’s busy, I’m sure,” Duncan suggested quickly. “There’s a rare smell coming from somewhere. It would be a sin to interrupt her labours.”

As he spoke, Alison entered the room, wiping her hands on a cloth. Duncan rose to greet her.

“Well, Alison, ’tis a pretty lass you’ve grown to be.” He turned to his daughter. “Kirsty, surely you remember this young lady?”

As the two girls clasped hands, Kirsty studied Alison’s face, framed in soft fair hair.

“I think so. You had a rag doll. You called her . . . Maggie?”

“Meggie,” Alison said. “She’s a bit tatty now.” She fixed Kirsty with clear grey eyes. “You pushed us into the loch.”

“As I recall, we deserved it.” Malcolm put in.

“I’m sure.” Alison’s eyes belied the smile that accompanied her words. “Supper’s ready,” she said, addressing the group.

She led them into an adjoining room. Kirsty looked down on the Grassmarket from the windows. As darkness fell, stalls were being dismantled, their owners making their way into the taverns encircling the market area.

She turned back to the table as Alison and her mother began ladling out bowlfuls of steaming broth. John was an excellent host, telling the McAllans about the customers in his bookshop.

The meal over, they withdrew to the other room. Kirsty’s offer to help clear up was declined.

“Not at all, my dear,” Agnes said. “We’ve a young girl who comes in to help. She welcomes the chance to eat the leftovers and earn a few extra coppers.”

“I’ve long felt we should use our good fortune for the benefit of others,” Porteous said. “When we were young, Duncan, we both wanted to do the Lord’s work, but you had the stronger faith and became a pastor and city missionary, while I let my love of books take me into business.”

“Each to his own, John.”

“Still, I’ve long envied you and the work you do for the needy.” He looked at his wife. “That’s why, when the Canongate premises became known to me, I asked you to open a mission house here. We wanted to invest in something good.”

Kirsty looked at her father.

“Forgive me. Invest?”

“Rent and equipment is all taken care of. You’ll have the best mission in the city.”

“But, John, we can’t accept all this from you!” Duncan protested.

“Why not? My money’s mine to give. Besides, didn’t we once consider such a venture together?”

“We certainly spoke of it.”

Kirsty smiled at Duncan.

“It’s what you’ve always wanted, a big city mission. What Mother hoped for, too.”

Duncan’s face grew solemn.

“Aye, Elizabeth would have loved to be here,” he said softly.

John rose to his feet.

“I’ve more good news. This has been a family decision. Agnes and I will provide the money, and Malcolm and Alison will help at the mission house.”

Kirsty and her father gasped.

“This is a very handsome gesture on your part. I’m grateful to you, my friend. We’ll accept the help of these two young people with joy. ”

Duncan stood.

“There is much to do and we start early tomorrow, so a sound night’s sleep is called for. We’ll be off back to our lodgings.”

Amidst much laughter and handshaking, the McAllans said their farewells. As they made their way down the staircase to the street a young girl was coming up. She pressed herself against the wall and flashed them a smile.

“Good evening,” she said softly.

Despite the poor light Kirsty glimpsed a pretty face framed in soft, curly hair.

“Good evening to you,” she replied.

Kirsty watched briefly as the girl, doubtless the one who came to help clear up, disappeared into the darkness above. There was something about her . . .

She shook her head.

“Och, I’m just being stupid.”

Edging carefully down the last few steps, she joined her father and took his arm.

Ahead lay the imposing outline of the castle from which the mile-long street tailed down to Holyrood. It was a street bordered by high tenements, which Kirsty fancied gave the impression of walking through great glens. Glens of stone.

High above them, Alison Porteous answered the door.

“About time, too,” she said coldly. “You’re late.”

“I’m sorry, Miss Alison, I was held up at the –”

“Your excuse doesn’t interest me. Come in and get on with your duties.”

Abigail Phillips

Abbie is the newest member of the fiction team at the "Friend." She loves how varied the role is - every day is different and there is always a new story to read. She is keen to work closely with established writers and discover new writers, too.