The Life We Choose – Episode 16

Sarah didn’t answer. She didn’t want to go back to the schoolhouse, to look over her shoulder at what her life had been.

Behind the schoolroom was a scullery with a deep sink and running water.

“When the Raws were built, the colonel and Miss Bunty had runnin’ water put in. No buckets an’ standpipes for us, ye’ll understand. And he’s promised a bath-house for the menfolk comin’ off their shifts. We’re no’ badly off here in Langrigg. If we could just get rid o’ that Rushforth and get a new manager in, things would be a lot better.”

“Who’s Miss Bunty?” Sarah’s curiosity was aroused.

Mary Ellen laughed.

“That’s the colonel’s sister. Lives in Edinburgh, but she’s aye back an’ forward to the Big House. Doesna stand on ceremony, Miss Bunty. Keeps Colonel Grant’s lady wife in her place. They’re aye travellin’ t’ foreign parts, an’ that’s when Rushforth gets the upper hand, so to speak.”

“Are you gonnae be oor teacher?”

The speaker was a small boy who stood in the doorway with a cluster of companions.

“Don’t you be nosy, Isaac Makin. Awa’ you go, now. Your boots are a’ muddy, and this linoleum’s polished,” Mary Ellen scolded.

Isaac edged across the threshold, his friends clustered behind him.

“Where’s ma seat gonnae be, Mrs Walker?” he persisted.

“Let them come in,” Sarah whispered.

Mary Ellen relented. A bargain was struck. Boots had to be removed and left on the step. The children who were barefoot edged in first.

“We were playin’ in the burn ’n’ Isaac wouldna take off his boots.” One little girl tugged Sarah’s skirt.

“Don’t touch anything.” Mary Ellen tried to keep order. “That varnish is wet.”

Isaac had managed to open the wardrobe door.

“Here’s a hidey-hole,” he announced, creating instant interest.

“Come out o’ that, Isaac, and keep an eye on that brother o’ yours.”

The smallest child in the group was halfway into the scullery.

“Ah’ll get him, Mrs Walker,” a little girl piped up.

There was a bit of scuffling before Abie was cornered and given a scolding by his sister.

“That’s Rachel. She’s the manager of the family. A bright wee thing,” Mary Ellen explained.

Sarah stared in astonishment, noticing for the first time that all the children had hair as dark as a raven’s wing and equally dark eyes.

“They’re one family? All of them?” she asked.

“Seven, an’ I delivered every one of them.” Mary Ellen nodded. “There’s Isaac, Jacob, Rachel, Ruth, Abie – that’s Abraham – Sarah and Benjamin.”

“My da reads the Bible a lot,” Rachel added, her bright eyes studying Sarah’s face. “Mam says you’re stayin’ here an’ you’ll be oor teacher. Nellie Burnett next door saw it in the tea leaves, an’ you might even get that empty hoose in the Front Raw.”

“Away you and play, Rachel Makin, and mind your ain business.” Mary Ellen suddenly became severe and shooed the family out of the door.

Later, as Mary Ellen locked up the new schoolroom, she turned to Sarah, who had grown quiet.

“Dinna think that the Langrigg folk are talking about your private business, Miss Ogilvie,” she said. “Nellie Burnett’s the village gossip. We’re no’ a’ like that.”

On the way back to the Front Raw, Mary Ellen pointed out the empty house. It looked smart enough, the windows clean, the paint on the front door quite fresh.

“The McGills,” she said. “No’ that long married, but she was a city girl and missed the bright lights. Away back to Edinburgh.”

She noticed that Sarah’s step had slowed and that she seemed to have more than a passing interest in the empty house.

“You’ll stay for your tea,” she said to Sarah. “Daniel goes for his walk after his tea. He’ll see you home safe.”

Hurrying away from Langrigg, Sarah felt a pang of guilt at having refused Mary Ellen’s invitation. She’d had no wish to encounter Daniel, or indeed share a meal with him in the close confines of the Walker kitchen. Then, she felt sure, their secret would have been out, because Mary Ellen was eagle-eyed and had a mind as sharp as a needle.

Indeed, she’d given Sarah such a penetrating glance when she’d started to make her excuses that the reluctant guest had been glad to escape into the coolness of outdoors and make her escape across the fields to the Brodies’ farmhouse.

“You’re back early, lass,” Mrs Brodie remarked. “Were things no’ to your likin’ at Langrigg?”

Sarah, anxious to retreat to her room and be alone with her thoughts for a while, was obliged to relate every detail of the Wee School to her hostess.

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”.