The Deer-Lord Chapter II

The Deer-Lord Chapter II

Being a young lass in 1930s Scotland proves to be a challenge for Kirsty. She is a spirited girl who wants to show the world her true internal strength.


Paranormal fiction / Magic realism


Eliza Hamilton Wright (Australia)

She found her stepmother Annie leaning on the garden gate. She was a thin woman with blue eyes and short, bobbed sandy hair. Years of frowning had left her forehead creased. Kirsty did not know how old she was exactly – when asked she would not answer – but she and Shaun reckoned she would be a little younger than their father, somewhere around thirty-five.
Annie straightened up, pursing her lips and let Kirsty in.
‘Did ye take the flowers?’ she asked the girl.
‘Aye, Annie. Have you seen Shaun?’
‘You could say that, ‘ she said, puckering her lips, not smiling but giving the impression of humour. ‘Straight round to the yard. He’s probably feeling his rabbits.’
Annie looked more closely at Kirsty’s mouth. ‘What’ve ye done to yer lip?’
‘It’s nothing. I slipped, that’s all.’
Annie put her hands on her hips and inhaled steadily.
‘Is that a fact?’ she said. ‘Ye two wouldn’t be fighting again, would ye?’
‘Oh, no, Annie.’
‘I’ll oh no ye, my lass! I might’ve known ye’d not give your brother away. Ye’re as thick as thieves, ye two! Now listen here, next time I catch ye fighting I’ll bang ye’re heads together. Is that understood?’
‘Yes, Annie,’ the girl said. Thin-legged, freckled-faced she stood there, fearing Annie’s hand.
‘Now come in and get yer face washed. Ye’re a disgrace. How many times have I told ye about being a lady? Eh? Ladies don’t fight and get their clothes dirty. Just look at that smudge on your face!’
‘I don’t want to be a lady, Annie!’ the girl said boldly as they walked up the path between the rose bushes.
‘Too bad, lassie. That’s what god had intended.’ Annie said firmly.
‘Och, it’s not fair. Boys don’t have to do anything at all. They just grow into men but we have lots of rules; there’s even a rule on how to sit!’
Annie started laughing so that the ripples on her forehead vanished. ‘The things you come out with, child!’ she said.
Once in the kitchen Annie went to the back door and hollered for Shaun, using her cupped hands, and although such a mighty call could have been heard halfway up the brae, there was no answer. Kirsty knew that he had gone up to the moor. There was always a breeze up there and the boys at school all had a craze for kite flying.
Kirsty wanted to go flying kites too but Annie wouldn’t let her. She was to stay at home and help with darning socks. Annie tipped out a whole drawer of dark socks onto the boards of the kitchen table and sat down with a pot of tea. Kirsty sighed. It wasn’t fair. There was such a mountain of socks! She paused, looking at Annie on the other side of the table who was placing a large smooth darning egg against the hole and crisscrossing the wool over it. She sighed again but when Annie lifted her head and stared at her, she promptly bent to her work.
‘Are ye ever jealous, Annie?’ she asked the woman a little later.
‘Jealous?’ Annie queried ‘Who should I be jealous of?’
‘Of mam. My real mam.’ Kirsty really wanted to ask if she was jealous of Lady Craig.
‘Good gracious no!’ Annie said. She had large hands but her work was as fine as you like. ‘Helen died ten years ago. Och, I know it marked him, but all that’s past now. It’s only in books folk go on moping. In real life ye have to go on living. Thinking about cooking and washing and bringing up the bairns as is your Christian duty. Ye canna do anything else.
‘When did ye first meet my dad?’
Annie paused. For a moment she looked out of the window into the yard, staring at the low stone shed under the slope of the brae, purple with heather.
Then she turned to the girl, her fingers working slowly now, working mechanically.
‘It was at Hogmanay, when my old farther was alive, and Donnie came first-footing with Murdo.’
‘The postie?’
‘Aye, only he wasna the postie then, he was working up at the estate. Anyway, my dad used to make his own whisky and there was always plenty of visitors anxious to have dram or two!’ Annie laughed. ‘Any road, that Hogmanay we sat up till two in the morning, me and dad, hoping there’d be company. But there wasna; not until dad was in his pyjamas. Then there was this thumping at the door, and the sound of laughing. Father says I’m to open up, and then, out in the snow I find these two good-looking lads, Murdo and your father, grinning all over their faces. “Weel, tell them to come away in and get warm!” my dad shouted; and get warm we did. We stacked up the fire with new peats and started on them bottles of whisky. By the morning Murdo couldna see straight and Donnie had to help him home, and off they went, one held up by the other. Dad and I crying with laugher to see the way they staggered off in the snow. Then Donnie turns round, sudden-like, and beckons me, “Come here a meenit, lass, will ye!’ So I go running down to him and he just gives me this smacking great kiss! Me just sixteen! And right in front of father! Father was not best pleased because, ye see, Donnie was popular with the girls – always had a way with the women and never went anywhere without a lass on his arm. Any road, the next I heard about Donnie was that he’d got engaged to this actress in a touring company that was passing though Inverness. She was a pretty girl – her folks were from Rhodesia. She was highly-strung and wasna well-balanced, Kirsty, not like ordinary folk. She’d these tempers and tantrums. Och, I’m sorry to be telling ye this, about yer mother. But she loved yer father, there’s no doubt about that. So they got married and I didna see Donnie for some years.’
Annie took a long sock from the pile; drawing it out slowly and moving her darning egg down the tube of it.
‘Then I heard she’d died, who didna hear of it, and the circumstances. And everyone was sorry for him being left with two young bairns like that; so I came round one day, just to see if there was anything I could do to help. Then what should I find in the kitchen but two young ladies – I’ll call them that, any road! – each vying with the other as to who should have the honour of doing his washing. Well, I just turned and ran! But he must have seen me, because he ran after me. He caught me up in the roadway and spun me round, “Annie, isn’t it!” he said, as if it was awful difficult just remembering my name. “My but you’ve grown sae bonny!” he said, and there was me with my owl eyes. “I still mean to marry ye, Annie!” he said. And he did, Kirsty! Just after yer puir mother was laid in the kirk-yard.’
Annie smiled at Kirsty who was shuffling awkwardly in her seat.
‘Is it true what they say about mam’s accident?’ Kirsty asked.
‘Pay no heed to the village gossips, lass.’ Annie said frowning. ‘What’re ye stopping for!’ Annie said, suddenly remembering the task she had set them. ‘Yer dad’ll be home late today; he’s going to the kirkyard to see yer mam, and he’ll want ye fed and out of the way. He wants ye to have an early night. Ye have a big day tomorrow.’
She nodded obediently. Silence steadily engulfed the room. Kirsty was taken back to the meeting she’d had with Miss Joyce after school a month or so ago. Her father was there and they were trying to convince her to stay on; Miss Joyce more so than her father. Kirsty had made up her mind. The only book she’d retained from Miss Joyce’s class was Great Expectations. She kept the paperback copy of Dickens’ novel under her pillow and always read a little before bed. Pip had been young apprentice and soon she would be too. She would learn to be a cask-maker. Her father was only the only cooper in the distillery and Kirsty was proud to learn his trade. She might also have to shovel the malt or assist in delivering crate loads of whiskey. Kirsty smiled and without giving her new life another thought, focused on the task at hand.

Competition: Friendly feedback, Round 1



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