The Life We Choose – Episode 28

There was a nip in the air. Sarah drew her warmest shawl closer round her shoulders, wondering if it had been wise to take Mary Ellen’s advice to go exploring on such a day. Daniel glanced at her in concern and threw a protective arm round her shoulders.

“No’ the best o’ days for exploring, Sarah,” he said, concerned. “We could turn back if you like.”

His wife laughed.

“I wouldn’t dare, Daniel. Mary Ellen has decided that I need to see more of Langrigg than just the Raws, and if we sneak back, she’ll be less than pleased. She almost chased me out of the schoolroom today and said she’d dismiss the children early for me. You know what she’s like once she gets an idea into her head . . .” As her voice tailed off, Daniel laughed.

“Take my hand.” He smiled. “We’ll run as far as the Loan and pay a visit to Maggie Pender’s shop. It’s the only shop between here and the Junction, so it’s a busy place.”

Sarah tugged his hand.

“No,” she said. “Let’s take our time. I’m enjoying the quiet.”

And she was. The constant noise and bustle of Langrigg tired her and while the miners and their wives were polite enough, she wondered if they’d ever welcome her like Mary Ellen. Respect was shown by the mothers and thanks were offered for her work with the children, but the knots of women who stood gossiping by the wash house stopped speaking as she passed. She felt that Mary Ellen had noticed this, and was surer still when her good friend had suggested that Daniel take her out and about a bit.

On a track behind the road leading to the Junction was a scatter of cottages, one in ruins, several looking a bit tumbledown, and one, peeping out from a thicket of trees, neater than the rest, its walls painted white, a little garden in front and a freshly painted front door.

“This is the Loan,” Daniel announced with a wide sweep of his arm. “It was a wee village once, they tell me. It was here long before Langrigg.”

Sarah looked at the huddle of cottages.

“Are there people living here?” she asked. “There’s nobody about and most of the cottages look as if they might be empty.”

Daniel laughed.

“That’s the Loan for you. They keep themselves to themselves up here. Not like the Langrigg folk. All except Maggie Pender at the shop. She’s a great one for the gossip.” He pointed at the cottage nearest the road and gave Sarah’s hand a tug.

“Come on.” He smiled. “You must meet Maggie.”

It was a very small shop, occupying the front room to the left of the cottage door. A plump little woman wearing wire-framed glasses and a floral apron was seated behind the counter. She was surrounded by shelves crammed with everything from tins of soft soap, candles and shoe polish to tins of biscuits and two giant jars of sweets.

On the counter, the remains of a wheel of cheese and a slab of butter stood under glass domes. As Sarah stared in amazement, marvelling at how much had been crammed into such a small space, the woman finished a row of her knitting and leaned forward.

“It’s yersel’, Daniel Morrison,” she said with the hint of a smile. “An’ this must be Master Ogilvie’s lassie.”

Sarah felt herself blush under Maggie’s penetrating stare.

“My wife, Sarah Morrison,” Daniel said proudly.

“Aye, Daniel. Ye’ve done weel,” the shopkeeper said without taking her eyes off Sarah. “They telt me she was bonnie, an’ they were right. Mind you,” she went on without pausing for breath, “your father must ha’ been pit oot when you and Daniel ran awa’ thegither. It wis the talk o’ the place for a while.”

There was a pause while Sarah tried to think of a safe reply.

“We’re well settled in Langrigg now, Maggie.” Daniel came to her rescue.

“They tell me that you dinna mix much ower at the Raws,” Maggie offered. “But then, you’re no’ like them, are ye?”

As Sarah cast a desperate glance at Daniel, who was trying to smother a smile, Maggie whipped two small stools out from behind the counter.

“Ye’ll tak’ a wee cup o’ tea, will ye? I wis juist goin’ tae make some.”

Without waiting for a reply, Maggie bustled past them and into her private quarters.

“We’re trapped.” Daniel laughed. “But if you listen carefully, you’ll learn everything you need to know about Langrigg and the folk that live there.”

Sarah looked doubtful.

“Don’t worry, Sarah. There’s no harm in Maggie. She’s just keen on the news,” Daniel explained, giving her a little squeeze.

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”.