The Life We Choose – Episode 47

Daniel sat for a while with Pate, the two of them content with each other’s company, their conversation sparse. After a while, Pate set about lighting his pipe while Daniel continued to stare into the fire.

“Aye, they say the art o’ conversation’s a great thing, Daniel, but you’ve no’ got much to say for yoursel’ the day.”

Daniel managed a wan smile. Left alone in the house which had seemed bleak without Sarah’s presence, he’d suddenly felt the need for company and had come along to have a chat with Pate. But the turmoil of his thoughts had stilled his tongue. There was a long silence as Pate puffed contentedly on his pipe.

“Well, as Ah see it, Daniel, son, ye’ve done the same as me. Ye’ve married a strong-minded wumman. Now that’s no’ entirely a bad thing, as long as you ken when to keep your mooth shut. Young Sarah’s makin’ shapes to be just like my Mary Ellen.”

That managed to coax a rueful chuckle from the visitor. Pate warmed to his subject.

“Aye. I mind fine when oor two laddies were wee and Ah wis workin’ in a pit in Ayrshire, an’ there was a strike. Mary Ellen vowed that the laddies would never go doon a pit and took them up north t’ a cousin o’ hers. They got a taste o’ the croftin’ life and they went back when they were man-big.”

He puffed reflectively on his pipe for a minute or two.

“Did weel, the two o’ them. Got their ain places. Want us tae leave Langrigg and go up north. The younger son’s merrit juist last year, but the older yin’s showin’ nae signs o’ that an’ says we can bide wi’ him, but . . .” He sighed. “Langrigg’s where we belong, Daniel. We’ll see oot the rest o’ oor days here.”

“That’s good news for Langrigg,” Daniel remarked. “The place would be the poorer for it if you and Mary Ellen left.”

Pate stared into the fire.

“Aye. Mary Ellen spoke oot last night because she’s seen strikes in her day an’ seen the damage they dae, the hardship, then the men that have worked thegither bein’ set one agin the ither. And at the end o’ it they’re no’ one whit the better off, if the truth be telt,” he said quietly.

“Aye, fine words come easy tae some. But fine words can be dangerous forbye,” he finished, tapping out his pipe. “And just you mind, Daniel, that young Sarah spoke oot last night to protect what’s her ain. You, Daniel.”

* * * *

Home again, Daniel glanced at the clock as the silence of the house closed round him. For a moment, he considered walking up to Jess’s place to meet Sarah, then decided he might be better to liven up the fire which was all but out, put on the kettle and have a welcome of sorts waiting for her when she got home. Again and again, he turned over Pate’s words in his mind.

Fetching cups and saucers from the scullery, he came across the tea caddy that he and Sarah had begun to use as their savings bank. He’d pushed it to the back of a high shelf after his sister’s recent visit, hoping that he could replace at least some of the money he’d taken to give Katy a start in Edinburgh. She hadn’t wanted to take it.

“Mam managed to save some for me,” she’d told him, taking a purse from her pocket. “I just came to ask you to go over and see her as often as you can – you and Sarah. Father’ll be angry when he finds out I’ve gone and he’ll blame Mam, and . . .” Her voice had tailed away then and she’d started to cry. It was then that Daniel had gone to fetch the tin.

“Take this.” He’d emptied the contents on to her lap. “If you put it with Mam’s money, you’ll be able to find a decent rooming house and Mam will have one worry less.”

“I’ll pay you back, I promise.” His little sister had smiled through her tears at last.

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”.