The Life We Choose – Episode 80

As Sarah came into Mary Ellen’s kitchen, it was as if nothing had changed – as if the past two weeks had been a dream or a wild imagining, as if all the things that came together to make Langrigg what it was had been thrown up in the air and had come down again, this time in perfect order.

Mary Ellen was stirring a pot on the range and Pate was working on one of his rugs. All the way along the Front Raw, Sarah had been greeted by groups of women chatting around open doors.

“Glad tae see ye, Sarah, lass.” Mary Ellen beamed. “Ye’ll have been right busy gettin’ your new hoose tae rights. Mind ye, Daniel’s kept us goin’ wi’ a’ the news when he’s been in for his dinner. He’s been kept busy and nae mistake. Seems to be the colonel’s right-hand man these days.”

Mary Ellen spoke with almost motherly pride.

Sarah nodded.

“He’s learning a lot from the engineers that the colonel’s brought in,” she said. “Letting him work alongside them’s a great opportunity for him.”

“Aye, and he aye has questions tae ask me when he comes here for his dinner.” Pate tried not to look pleased.

The talk ebbed and flowed between Sarah’s news of Jess and her refusal to rest, her daily visits, her insistence on hanging new curtains for her, and Mary Ellen’s news of the mothers who had worked hard to restore the Wee School to shining perfection for its opening two days hence.

“And you’ll hardly have time to turn afore it’s Christmas,” Mary Ellen remarked before veering off into an account of how good the colonel and Miss Bunty had been about making up the injured miners’ wages and seeing that the men who were helping to get the pit cleared and made safe for working again were well paid for their labour.

Pate had given up working on his rug and was filling his pipe.

“Aye,” he said approvingly. “A great wee wumman, that Miss Bunty. Nae airs or graces aboot her. No’ like some Ah could mention.”

He gave a meaningful nod to the far wall.

Mary Ellen laughed,

“Oh, aye. Miss Bunty’s made Tricky’s job permanent an’ Magrit’s fair away wi’ hersel’. Got a china teaset an’ Tricky’s ta’en to wearing a silk grauvit wi’ a silk handkie hangin’ oot o’ the pocket. A present frae Mister Giles frae Edinburgh.”

She lowered her voice.

“Who has a right notion o’ Miss Bunty, but she’s havin’ nane o’ it.”

The chat meandered then to Bessie Rank, the farmer’s daughter who had been looking for Sarah with a view to offering her services as a pupil teacher in the Wee School.

“A clever lassie.” Pate chuckled. “But she’s got a voice that rattles the windaes.”

The conversation turned then to the men who had been rescued from the old pit shaft, and Sarah could see that Mary Ellen had been doing her rounds, scolding and cajoling them by turns to help them shake off the shadow of their terrible ordeal.

“Dreels Cox was the worst. Took to his bed, never spoke for days on end. That thin he was nae mair than a crease in the sheets.”

“Isaac Makin wouldna speak an’ wouldna eat, but the bairns brought him oot o’ it. An’ that wee Rachel was her mither’s best help till she got the better o’ it all,” Pate added.

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”.