The Outing - Montrose July 1804
The sun shone brightly through the small window; its rays disclosing a cluster of dusty cobwebs on the sill. Henry had awoken early, his day of wooing uppermost in his mind. He had not yet met Margaret's mother and certainly hoped to make an acceptable impression. His fine silk shirt – the one with the ruffles about the neck, he had specially cleaned and arranged for the occasion. Standing in his stocking feet, he admired himself in the cracked, stained mirror. He sat to tug on his tall boots which he spent a great amount of time last night, spitting on and buffing to a perfect shine. The dark blue jacket he slide on with pride, nimbly affixing it's gleaming buttons. A knock came on his door, along with the Innkeeper's gruff voice,
“Sergeant Shuttleworth! Will I hae Nell arrange ye some brakfast, before she's awa tae the shops?”
The door screeched as Henry whisked it open.
“Ah that will not be needed Johnston; send her on her way.”
“Ach, Henry! Ye dae leuk like aa cockeral redd tae cross the fairmyard! An whar is it ye are gang the day?!” the Innkeeper teased.
“Ah... No place ye are invited for sure, Sergeant! laughed Henry as he slapped the aging innkeeper on the shoulder and set off down the stairs.
Stepping out into the fresh morning air, surveying the clear blue sky, he felt encouraged. He began thinking about the recent times he and Margaret had walked about the town after her working hours were done, and the day he had borrowed a small horse and trap for a playful jaunt to the countryside... By the time he reached the corner of Dummie Ha's Wynd and the High Street, he had made up his mind!
“Ach John! Quit ye faffin' aboot! We must be awa soon!” Margaret scolded, impatiently shooing her young brother out the door of the small dark rooms they let from Mrs Bridgeford. Taking her Mother by the arm, she led her through the close that connected the back lane to the High Street.
“Ach it's aa pity Jean coo nae come wi us the day... she coo fair use aa day tae rest.” Margaret's mother bemoaned.
“Aye, aye.” Margaret agreed somewhat sadly. “Tha crabbit ol' Mr Robb at the soapworks niver gies anyone a day tae themsel! The tales ah hear telt o' tha place! Puir Jean...”
“Nae be compleenin' Maggie, dear. Jean gies aa guid wage an we must be thenkful for tha.”
Emerging from the close, Margaret anxiously peered up the street in search of Henry.
“Dee ye see him Maggie?” her Mother asked, shifting her shawl and brushing her skirts with her free hand. “Come Johnnie; carry this basket fer ye mither noo.” He obediently took the large basket in hand, pursing his lips with a groan under his breath, as he already had the cloth satchel containing bottles of lemonade slung across his small shoulders.
“Di ye think we hae anough tae eat, Maggie? Does ye Mr Shuttleworth hae a grand appetite?”
Margaret's mother, somewhat intimidated by the knowledge of Henry's position, was up late baking meat pies, (and not at a little expense), had her own pride to consider!
“Ach Mither! We wi hae enough tae gie aroond... dinna fret. Ye hae prepared some very lovely things tae aet. Ah could fairly sleep for the smeels in the room last nicht!” “Ach, there he is!” Margaret gestured with a slight wave to a man across the road, just exiting the confectioners shop. He carried a small box wrapped in fine brown twine. Young John looked over, his eyes wide with anticipation – he already felt an acceptance and liking to his sister's gentleman friend!!
Henry smiling as he strolled over, called out, “Hallo, Maggie!”
“Henry. Ah want ye tae meet ma mither...” A sheepish blush rising in her cheeks. With a slight bow and nod of his head, he graciously spoke,
“Mrs Tindal. It tis a great pleasure to make ye acquaintance.” Then turning his head, saw the young boy and laughing said,
“And who is this strong looking lad?!”
“An tha's ma brither, John.”
Henry eyed the large basket and sagging satchel, saying,
“Well, John, it's a fair walk to the dunes, let me help ye.”
“Oh, aye, sir!” John agreed as he handed the well stuffed basket to Henry, all the while his eyes still fixed on the small box tied with fine brown twine.
The damp of the still early morning soaked into the hems of the women's skirts as they crossed the grassy faulds. Walking a few steps behind the others, her mother on her arm, Margaret noticed Henry and John engaged in animated conversation.
“Ach, Mither! Henry seems tae hae aa new recruit!”
“Aye, Maggie. Johnnie needs aa' gude firm hand tae leuk up tae.”
“He will be filling his heid wi' military stories... he did mine ye know!” Margaret laughed.
“Dee ye care very much for him , Maggie?” Her mother's tone now growing quite serious. “Will ye want tha' sort o' life... aa tha way tae England; maybe always haen tae move abut?”
After a long pause, the silence accented only by the trilling of a distant lark, Margaret's mother quietly spoke, “Ye ken we aire still fighting aa war?”
“Aye, Mother. Aye...”
Now crossing the broad links that served as a golf ground and a monthly racecourse, Margaret's memory was stirred back to that dreadful day her small charge had fallen from her grasp. But her painful reverie was soon broken by John's excited shouts from atop the dunes. Below him, on the overgrown path stood Henry, waiting for the two women; Margaret's eye took in the fair, handsome man, dressed in his fine jacket, gleaming buttons, fancy ruffled shirt and down to the large straw basket at his feet – she smiled to herself and burst out laughing! They continued on, winding their way through the soft sand, finally reaching it's end where the broad expanse of sea, deep blue, sparkling like a field of crushed diamonds appeared before them. Carried on the gentle breezes, they heard the occasional muffled roar of surf breaking in its tidal retreat with parties of gulls swooping, squawking over a school of sprats. John, still on the dune top, pointing to multiple sails on the horizon.
Having reached their destination at last, they laid out their goods and settled down to rest in the warm sand, nibbling on meat pies and sipping sweet lemonade. Tucking into his second pie, Henry exclaimed,
“Mrs Tindal, ye can cook for me on any occasion! You must have taken great care with these; nothing as good as this is given to us at the barracks!”
“Aye, ah do hope ye hae enuff.” Mrs Tindal still worried about her impression on the young soldier. Then somewhat wistfully, she continued, “Ah remember when we were young, Maggie's faither would aet and aet...” Reaching into the bottom of the satchel, Margaret pulled out another corked bottle, but this one containing ale.
“Here, Henry. Ah brought this for ye. Ah filled it at the inn last nicht.”
“Oh that will taste a fair treat, Maggie. Thank ye.” Henry said as he reached for the small white box, tied with fine twine... “And I almost forget! I brought these...” casting a knowing wink to Margaret as he slowly and deliberately untied the string under the young lad's anticipating gaze. John finished rolling up his britches, took one of the frosted cake slices in hand; running to the water's edge to splash about in the shallow pools he waved back shouting,
“Thank ye, Henry!”
“He does seem to be enjoying himself.” Henry laughed.
“Aye he hae been excited waitin' for this day...” Margaret began. “It's nae too far for him tae come on his own, bit he spends most days makin' grocery deliveries for Mr Millar-”
“Aye...” her mother interrupted... “When he nae doing wee chores for me.”
Mid-day had run into afternoon by the time Henry and Margaret returned from their stroll along the beach.
“Ach. It's ben aa lovely day. The salt aire is so refreshin' !” Margaret exhaled as she stretched her arms above her head.
“ Aye, tis Maggie; bit I thenk we maun be heiding back noo.” Mrs Tindal suggested as she began tidying away. “Puir Jean wi be arriving hame, tired fra her day a wark an' nae supper on the stove.”
“Oh, do take that last cake to her, Mrs Tindal. I'm sure John won't mind.” Henry suggested as he slyly placed a copper piece in the young lad's hand.
Henry again took up the large basket, though mostly empty now and handed the cloth satchel with its clanking, empty bottles, to young John. The four began their walk back along the path towards the flatter ground. Henry and Margaret, striding ahead, engaged in deep conversation, were oblivious to those walking behind. Suddenly, Mrs Tindal stopped and bent down to smell a lone cluster of petite blue flowers, half buried in the sand. Young John, slowed briefly as he was intent on catching up to Henry and his sister. Beginning to hasten his pace, his mother quickly called him back -
“Oh Johnnie! Are these nae bonnie?!”
“Aye, Mither.” His patience waning as he saw the two getting further away.
“Thay only appear in tha Summer.” she calmly explained.
“Thay aa very bonnie... aye, very bonnie!!” John frantically confirmed as he turned to run after his new friend.
“Johnnie!!” his mother snapped as she grabbed his jacket collar. “Gie us ye airm and help ye tired mither across this field”
“Bit, mither...!! Henry and Maggie are so far aheid noo!”
“Aye, Johnnie. Aye. They are, indeed...”
By Sandy Campbell