The Life We Choose – Episode 69


It was late when the two of them let themselves into the Walkers’ kitchen. Pate was working on one of his rag rugs, and Mary Ellen, feet on a little stool, was sewing, the snowy fold of a bedsheet spilling round her.

“I’m turnin’ a sheet,” she told Sarah, gathering up her sewing while explaining it all to her. “When a sheet’s worn oot doon the middle ye cut it in half, unpick then sew the middle, then hem the ootside edges, and ye have a new sheet for nae expense at a’.”

While she talked, Pate was having a quiet conversation with Daniel.

“I canna sleep, Daniel, for I’ve ta’en to hearin’ noises in the night, when the place is quiet.” Keeping his voice down, Pate leaned forward. “It’s a sort o’ rumblin’ noise. Doesna last long. Some nights there’s nothin’ at a’. At first, I thocht it was thunder.” His voice petered out and he stared into the fire.

“They say that there are some auld workin’s runnin’ ablow the Raws,” he added with a wary glance in Mary Ellen’s direction.

“I’ll try to get a look at some of the old drawings in the pit office and I’ll mention this to Miss Bunty. I have to see her about my job, now that Rushforth’s got his marching orders,” Daniel told Pate, before the conversation veered to the tale of his search for work, and how he had left the workers’ train on an impulse and had spent two miserable days tramping round the countryside looking for casual work and sleeping in a barn at night.

There was no mention of the Gowan Bank and of his meeting with Sarah at their special place. That was something which belonged to them, which was so precious that it couldn’t be shared, not even with Mary Ellen and Pate.

Suddenly, as there was a pause in the conversation, Mary Ellen glanced at the clock on the mantelpiece.

“Guidsakes. Is that the time? Ye must be tired, the two o’ ye, wi’ a’ that’s passed the day. An’ I’m sure ye’ve a lot to discuss in private,” she said, sounding suddenly formal. “Away hame an’ get some rest. The morra’s a new day. Time enough then for the talkin’.”

As she ushered them out, Pate reminded her of the letter that had arrived days before.

“It came the day afore Sarah here got back fae Edinburgh and Daniel was away on his travels. You pit it in the big press for safe keepin’.”

“Beside Tricky’s melodeon?” Daniel laughed, seeing the stricken look on Sarah’s face.

“It’ll be from the School Board,” she whispered to him.

After they’d left, the official-looking letter tucked into Daniel’s pocket, Pate glanced in puzzlement at his wife.

“That wisna like you at a’, Mary Ellen,” he said, settling down to fill his pipe. “You got rid o’ the young anes gey quick there.”

Mary Ellen settled back in her chair with a sigh.

“Bein’ sensitive’s no’ your strong point, Pate Walker.” She shook her head and smiled at him. “I heard Daniel tellin’ you that he was goin’ after Miss Bunty t’get his job back, and at the same time, Sarah was makin’ plans for a flittin’ out o’ a pit hoose and up to Jess and Sandy’s place. They havena had time to talk aboot a’ this, an’ when they do, they’ll have to do it in private, no’ in front o’ us.”

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 aspiring tip to new writers is to “write from your imagination”.