The Life We Choose – Episode 39

“I’ve set the fire under the bine, Sarah,” Mary Ellen said.

“Bine?” Sarah asked.

“The boiler. If the fire’s lit first thing, the water’ll be hot enough for the washin’ to go in at seven. A wee stir wi’ the big wooden paddle and ye’re mair than halfway there. Soap an’ the washin’ board at the sink in the corner’ll take out stains afore the stuff goes in the bine, mind. Then there’s the wringin’, the rinsin’ and cawin’ that big mangle, an’ ye’ll be done afore ye know it.”

“An’ ye’ll have muscles like the boys on the backshift.” Pate chuckled, noting the look of alarm on Sarah’s face.

“Don’t you heed him.” Mary Ellen laughed. “I’ll be there to help you, an’ you’ll get used to it. Think nothin’ o’ it after a time or two in the wash house.”

Her words were suddenly drowned out by the sound of a melodeon and a cracked voice singing.

“O, the heather bells are bloomin’ just ootside Granny’s door.”

Mary Ellen stared in horror at the far wall.

“He’s found his melodeon,” she announced.

The discordant sound through the wall increased in volume until Mary Ellen was nearly shouting an explanation.

“Thinks he can play. Thinks he’s a singer an’ all, but he’s tone deaf so Magrit hid the melodeon.”

“Granny’s Heilan’ Hame” soared to a crescendo next door and was joined by the sound of children crying. Mary Ellen got up.

“Excuse me one wee minute,” she said grimly, and disappeared out of the front door.

An instant later, the noise next door came to an abrupt stop, followed by Mary Ellen’s stentorian tones.

“Ye never weary in this hoose.” Pate laughed. “Livin’ through the wa’ frae Tricky an’ Magrit’s right entertainment. Mind you, wee Tricky’s been ower excited a’ day. Seems there’s a job goin’ up at Colonel Grant’s place and Tricky’s sure that he could land it if he goes up to see Miss Bunty. Says he’s cut out for somethin’ better than bein’ a miner.”

The front door slammed and Mary Ellen returned carrying the offending melodeon at arm’s length.

“That goes to the back o’ the top shelf in the big press,” she announced. “An’ Tricky Binnie’ll have to get past me to get his hands on it.”

“If he gets that job up at Grant’s he’ll have nae time for the melodeon,” Pate remarked. “The gentry like their money’s worth.”

“He’s sittin’ in there, wearin’ a cravat, wi’ the best jacket and bunnet laid out for the mornin’. Intends to go up to see Miss Bunty first thing to get in there afore anybody else, seein’ as his pal up at the farm tipped him the wink about the job. Fly as a jailer, that Tricky.”

“There’s nae harm in him,” Pate told Sarah. “He just gets a wee bit ower excited at times.”

Mary Ellen replenished her teacup.

“Now, where were we, Sarah?” she said, smiling. “Oh, yes, just come round to the wash house at the back o’ six and we’ll make a start.”

* * * *

Bunty Grant poked Thor with a stockinged foot.

“Move,” she ordered.

Growling slightly, the dog deserted his place in front of the fire.

“Down.” She pushed Vulcan, who was asleep on her sister-in-law’s chaise longue. He slid on to the carpet leaving another trail of muddy paw marks on the cream damask.

Bunty placed her feet on the fender and let her wet socks steam gently.

“Filthy day,” she told her father’s portrait as rain beat a tattoo on the window. “Soaked again. It would make the most cheerful person depressed. And if that’s not enough . . .” She waved a letter from her suitor in the air. “I’ve had another letter from Giles telling me he’s decided to come and see me. Says he’s pining. Silly man. Just listen to this . . .

I would go through fire and flood for you, my dearest Bunty, or brave the terrors of the wilderness, which I intend to do once I have packed a valise and checked my rail timetable.”

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”.