The Life We Choose – Episode 25

After she’d gone, Sarah applied herself to the class register, which recorded names, addresses and ages of the children who had come to the Wee School. It bore far too many blanks and posed far too many questions, especially about the exact age of the pupils.

Sarah knew some of the children from her work as a pupil teacher, even though their attendance at her previous schoolroom had been patchy. Others she remembered as pupils of her father in the big schoolroom, and they were clearly too old for the Wee School, but continued to attend, day after day, stuffed into seats too small for them.

After a while, she gave up and closed the register. There, in the quietness, with only the tick of the clock as company, her mind turned to the whirlwind of the last few weeks since Daniel had brought her from the Brodies’ farm and had carried her across the threshold of their little house. Mary Ellen had made sure that they’d been left alone in their precious little world, and the days had gradually blurred one into the next, each one the same, a rhythm of work marked out by the pit hooter and the sound of tramping boots, of cleaning and polishing till the little house shone.

There had been unwelcome discoveries, too, like trying to use the scullery for laundry rather than face the mysteries of the wash-house and trying to get things dried in front of the fire rather than hang them out on display and run the gauntlet of the curious gaze of the groups of women who stood, arms folded, leaning inwards for a gossip. She was lost when Daniel was at work, unable to read because she was distracted by constant noise outside, unable to settle to embroidering a teacloth planned as a present for Mary Ellen.

Mary Ellen had made a discreet entrance by the back door every single day since Sarah had come to Langrigg. She always came at one o’clock, bearing a pot or a dish with a share of what she had cooked that day, accepted a cup of tea and had a chat for no more than 10 or 15 minutes. But, struggling in a morass of unfamiliar things, Sarah clung to that visit with real gratitude. It was Mary Ellen who had urged her to make a start with the Wee School.

“Just a day or two as ye can manage it, lass. Tak’ it slowly. I’d gie ye a hand till ye get a routine, and Daniel can dae his bit,” Mary Ellen had advised.

It had been good advice, Sarah reflected as she tidied up her table in the schoolroom. The children were full of mischief but eager to learn, and the mothers had begun to accept her rather than whisper about her as she passed. And when the children went home for something to eat in the middle of the day, Mary Ellen still made her visit, taking care to bring something for Daniel’s meal when he came in from work just after two.

“You canna be at mill and market on Wee School days, lass,” she’d said briskly, when Sarah had protested.

Sarah smiled to herself as she locked up. On her way back to the Front Raw, two men passed.

They nodded in her direction.

“Aye, Mistress Morrison,” they said.

Sarah smiled at them.

“Good day to you,” she replied, her spirits rising. Langrigg was becoming a less frightening place.

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”.