The Life We Choose – Episode 20

Mary Ellen gave one last wipe to the range that had been blackleaded until it shone, and stepped back to view her handiwork with more than a little satisfaction. As she did, Daniel put his head round the door of his new home.

“Tak’ yer boots off, lad, and dinna be trackin’ dirt in here. Ye should have gone up to the hoose and got washed and shifted afore comin’ in here.”

Daniel kicked off his working boots and stepped into the room. Smiling, he looked around.

“Mary Ellen, you’ve worked wonders. Just wait till Sarah sees this.”

“You’re bringin’ her tonight?”

Still smiling, Daniel nodded.

“I’ll light the fire, then, and that’s me finished, except for the food,” was the reply. “No’ that you two’ll need much in the way o’ food for a while, I expect.”

Mary Ellen returned Daniel’s smile and he reddened.

“Away you and get out o’ your workin’ clothes and take somethin’ to eat. It’s a fair walk up to the farm, an’ by the time you an’ that Sandy fella get the cart loaded up and he brings you and the new Mrs Morrison back here, it’ll be yon time.”

Mary Ellen shooed him out of the house and closed the door. Coming back into the kitchen, the weight of her labours suddenly fell on her and she sank into a fireside chair for a minute or two, resting limbs that had suddenly become weary.

She looked around the room to check that everything was in place. Two chairs of slatted wood softened with bright cushions flanked the range, and Pate’s newly completed rag rug with the sunburst sat between them.

Miss Bunty, the colonel’s sister, hearing of the marriage and reacting with a romantic heart concealed by a gruff exterior, had donated a card table, two picnic tables and a glass-fronted cabinet with carved cherubs at the corners. The card table had become a dining table, and the picnic tables, dressed in flowered skirts, bore lamps on either side of the fire, and the cabinet stood against the far wall.

Mrs Brodie had donated two pairs of curtains patterned with ivy leaves.

One pair flanked the white lace curtains that covered the front window and could be drawn at night to ensure privacy. The other concealed the bed recess which lay empty and would serve meantime as a sort of box-room. On the other side of the small lobby was the bedroom which was sparsely furnished but had a fireplace.

“A fire’ll make it cosy enough,” Mary Ellen had told Daniel. “Ye’ll be well gathered afore long. Just take your time.”

Daniel had spent every spare minute he had papering, painting, scouring, repairing, varnishing and getting his house ready. From the start, it had been clear that he intended to bring Sarah here as his bride. Mary Ellen smiled to herself as she recalled his surprise and pleasure at being given her rose-gold ring.

“Lookin’ for a collar stud and polishin’ his boots on a workin’ day,” she told the clock on the mantelpiece. “And he thocht that we hadna’ noticed,” she added with a chuckle, easing herself out of the fireside chair and setting about lighting the fire.

Mary Ellen was never happier than when she was busy, but later, when she got home to find that Daniel had left for the Brodie farm and Pate was in the mood for talking, her spirits began to flag a little.

“It’ll be a change for the master’s daughter,” Pate said, lighting his pipe.

“Daniel’s wife,” Mary Ellen corrected him with the slightest of sighs. “I just hope it’ll no’ be too much o’ a change for her to manage.”

“You managed,” Pate said with the ghost of a smile.

“It took a while,” was the answer. “I was a wee bit older than Sarah, mind. And we didna live in Langrigg then.”

Mary Ellen stared into the fire for a while, remembering. She started as a crash and the sound of raised voices came from next door. A child started to wail. There was another crash followed by a banshee shriek.

“Magrit.” Mary Ellen sighed, easing herself out of her chair.

As she made for the door, the wailing child was joined by several others and the sound of their neighbours’ argument was drowned out.

Pate shook his head and growled, but Mary Ellen was out the 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”.