The Life We Choose – Episode 14

“Then there was trouble – or the threat of it,” Daniel said to Sarah. “Father was blamed. We moved here, and the only work he could get was out at the canal. Loading coal on to the barges, that kind of thing. Casual work.”

A long silence had fallen. When Daniel spoke once more, he managed a smile.

“I’ve Mary Ellen to thank for getting me steady work. I met her out at the Junction one day and we got talking. She got me the job at Langrigg and gave me a place to stay. A new start.”

“You could still be a mining engineer.” Sarah tried to encourage him. “You might have to take a longer road to it, but –”

At that, Daniel clasped her hands tighter.

“All I need is the right companion on the journey,” he said, looking at her in a way that made her forget the dangers of stepping into the unknown.

They talked on, long after Jess had gone in search of Sandy. The fire had burned low in the hearth when at last Sarah glanced at the clock on the mantel.

“I’ll have to get back to the farmhouse,” she said.

Little was said as Daniel walked with her to within sight of the Brodies’ farm. Nothing was said as he held her at arm’s length, his gaze intense.

“Please don’t go, Sarah,” he said suddenly.

“I have to go, Daniel, or Mrs Brodie will be worried. It’ll soon be dark.”

Sarah’s reply was hurried, her departure swift. For a moment or two, Daniel watched her. She had misunderstood what he’d said and, walking back to Langrigg, deep in thought, he was glad of it. After all, he told himself, how could he ask a girl like Sarah to forget about a new life in Edinburgh when he had so little to offer her? Anger welled up in him at the thought.

“I’ll find a way,” he said to the darkening sky.

Sarah had almost lost track of time when the note from Mary Ellen was delivered. While Sarah read it, the messenger perched on a stool in the farmhouse kitchen.

“I’ve no’ to go back withoot an answer,” he’d told her.

The schoolroom is finished. We would be obliged if you could come to see that it is in order. Hoping that you are well, the note read.

Sarah felt a pang of guilt. For more than a week now, the days had merged one into another in sunlit sameness, divided between helping Mrs Brodie and taking long rambles with Jess most afternoons, her evenings devoted to Daniel. The ache she had felt at losing her home had gone; she did not think of the summer’s end or of Edinburgh. For her, time had stood still and she had lived for the moment. She had all but forgotten about the schoolroom in Langrigg.

Hurriedly, she penned a reply.

Leaving Jess to have a baking lesson from her mother, Sarah walked through the fields towards Langrigg. The sun was warm on her back as she paused to look down on the squat rows of houses. Suddenly, it seemed to have a festive air, washing lines flourishing their contents like bright banners, children playing in the street.

As she made her way to Mary Ellen’s house, she was surrounded by children eager for her attention.

“Miss Ogilvie, the Wee School’s ready. It’s braw an’ painted an’ everything.”

A little girl tugged at her skirt to get her attention; others demanded to know if she’d be their teacher at the Wee School. The place seemed much busier than during her afternoon visits, some of the womenfolk on their knees scrubbing doorsteps, one whacking men’s working clothes against the gable end of a Raw and sending up clouds of coal dust.

Sarah returned their smiles and the occasional greeting. Folk seemed less suspicious of her all of a sudden.

She mentioned the fact to Mary Ellen and Pate when at last she reached their house.

“Oh, they’ve heard that the master’s away already, but you waited a while, and they’re hopin’ that you’ll stay and teach the bairns,” Mary Ellen said, bustling around to make tea for her visitor.

The conversation was interrupted by a banshee shriek, a crash and then the sound of a slamming door.

Alan Spink

Alan is a member of the “Friend” Fiction Team. He enjoys working closely with writers and being part of the creative process, which sees storytelling ideas come to fruition. A keen reader, he also writes fiction and enjoys watching football and movies in his spare time. His one tip to new writers is “write from your imagination”.