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Coulter's Candy

“Ally bally ally bally bee
sitting on her Mammy's knee
greetin' fer a wee bawbee
tae buy some Coulter's candy”
[bawbee = ha'penny]

Everyone in the family was partial to a nice piece of soft candy, so when wee Bobby Carswell from No. 21 shouted up from the street to the MacFarlanes' first floor flat: “Eh, Mrs MacFarlane, Mr. Coulter's up in the High Street!” she was soon flurrying around the house fetching her purse and filling her daughter's head with sound advice.
That day was Annie's sixth birthday and she jumped off her little stool and clapped her hands with delight when Ma declared that she was a big girl now and would be off on her own to fetch two wee bags of Mr. Coulter's fine soft sticky aniseed flavoured candy. Mr. Coulter and his very own candy were famous in all the Border towns – only he had the secret of the fabrication. He carried the candy in a big basket on his head and sold from street to street. Ma pressed just two ha'penny pieces into Annie's hand. Money was scarce in these hard times with Annie's Pa out of work. ”No talking to strangers. And no crossing the street, just straight there and back. One bag fer the pair of ye and one bag fer yer granny”. Granny looked up from her place by the fire and smiled, all wrinkles and no teeth, and gave Annie a wink. Annie's little sister Jessie just banged on the floor with her spoon.
Off Annie skipped. Down the stairs, through the hallway and out into the dusty street. If she hurried she might catch up with Bobby Carswell. Wouldn't he be surprised to see Annie so grown up! Eyes shining, feet skipping, so intent was she on clutching her two ha'penny pieces and already tasting the delicious toffee sweetness, that she forgot all about Mrs. MacLean's dog, Alexander. Alexander, for no less was the small dog's name, was a white Scots terrier. “That dog's a terror, no' a terrier.” often laughed Annie's father. Mrs. MacLean had a tiny front garden with a trimmed hedge and a pretty wrought-iron gate. Alexander's rituel was to hide behind the hedge and just when some unwitting person would pass in front of the gate, his joy was to leap out in a frenzy of yapping. He had in this way frightened the living daylights out of any number of poor souls. On a normal day Annie was ahead of Alexander and met him straight on, rosy face to black nose, and with as much sternness as she could muster into her trill voice: “that's enough of ye, Alexander. Ye should be ashamed of yersel' like that!” The wee dog would try a half hearted yap and then, through the bars of the gate, agree to receive a pat and a tickle between the ears.
Annie was known throughout the whole town for her way with animals. Some folk said “uncanny she is, that child”, and others “it's a God given gift that lassie has and no doubt about it”. While yet others would mutter darkly about sorcellery, strange powers and “it not being right”. Annie was, thank goodness, oblivious to all that.
Today Alexander, bristling with mischief, sensed that he had the upper on Annie. His yapping took her completely unawares. Annie, nearly jumping out of her skin, fell lengthwise into the ground. Her little fat fingers shot open, the two bright copper pieces flew right out, landed, rolled all the way out to the middle of the street and finally settled side by side like two faraway stars twinkling faintly in the summer night sky. Then, as if out of nowhere, in a thunderous beating of hooves and a mighty kicking up of dust, up the street came charging, hell for leather, Mr. Duthy on his big, black mare. Mr. Duthy was the richest landowner in these parts and was known as a dour man, well respected, if not well-liked, by the townsfolk. Faster and louder did that horse gallop up the street and charged right over Annie's two ha' pennies, obscuring them from view. Annie, still flat on her tummy, looked and blinked. One second those two bawbees were there and an instant later, they had vanished. Up in a trice, she squinted down the street after the receding horse and its rider and, right enough, she could just make out, on the underside of an upturned hoof, the flash of two glints of metal.
Annie felt as if her heart were filled with lead and her eyes brimmed with tears. No more bawbees, no sweet candy. She was covered with dirt, her knees and elbows were scraped, her dress was torn. She turned around to find Mr. Fergus the cobbler standing right behind her. He nodded to her, pipe in mouth, and said, “Ah seen whit happened tae ye, Annie. Come awa in. We'll soon have ye cleaned up and bright as a new spark.” The cobbler called to his wife and together they washed and wiped, mended and consoled and then finally, sucking thoughtfully on his pipe, Mr. Fergus said: “I tell ye what, wee Annie. If ye take this pair o' shoes that I've repaired back over to Mrs. Ross at the bakery, I'll gie ye this ha'penny piece fer yer trouble. And if ye're quick aboot it, ye'll still catch Mr. Coulter doon the street.”
Wide-eyed and grateful, Annie took the ha'penny and the brown paper and string package, said her thankyous and set off to cross the road. Well, at least there would be one bag of candy for Granny. And being as this was quite an exceptional turn of events, she considered that just this once she would not heed her mother and anyway had she not crossed the street many times holding on to her mother's hand. It would suffice to take great care.
The main thoroughfare of the town was more often than not full of people, animals and vehicles, pell mell in every direction. There was even on occasion one of these new contraptions that were becoming quite the fashion for those who had the means. It had a wheel at the front with handlebars and another behind, and a man, or even a woman, would sit astride a small saddle and by means of peddling could advance rapidly along any surface that was not too rough. Luckily, that day was a quiet day and Annie crossed safely to the other side and handed over the package to Mrs. Ross at the bakery. Mrs. Ross was all bustle and plumpness and she gave Annie a raisin scone “fer yer tea and fer yer trouble”, she said, “noo off wi' ye, and mind how ye cross that road”. Once again, Annie stepped cautiously into the thoroughfare. She was halfway across when, to her and all the passers-by's surprise, again came the great pounding and thundering and looking down the street she saw, this time riderless, stirrups and reins flapping freely and heading straight for her, Bessie, Mr. Duthy's black mare. Annie just stood, shock still, right in the middle of the road. What happened next was curious indeed and those that saw it are still talking about it to this day. Black Bessie gallopped right up to Annie and reared, front legs high in the air. Then, with a change of humour as fast as the wind blows a cloud away from in front of the sun in a Border sky, she put down those powerful legs and giant hooves and came nuzzling softly up to Annie's outstretched hand. “There, there,” murmured Annie to Bessie, “what on earth gave ye' such a fright, poor beast?” Then lo and behold if it wasn't Mr. Duthy himself who arrived on the scene, all dirty and messed up just as Annie had herself been. He was swearing and grumbling, “a damnation to those bicycles” and other such things. Struck dumb he was to find his Bessie as docile as a little lamb with this tiny lassie no higher than three apples with blond curls and serious blue summer eyes. “Mr. Duthy” said she, for Annie was quite beside herself and forgot that she was addressing the region's most powerful man and a stranger to boot. “You should take more care of this animal”, followed by “Your horse has my two ha'penny pieces stuck under her shoes. I'd be obliged to have them back!” Mr. Duthy stared for a second in disbelief. Then scowl changed to smile and so it was on this day of June 1893 that both mount and master fell under the charm of wee Annie MacFarlane.
The rest of this tale is not long in the telling. Of Mr.Duthy enquiring and Annie telling about the birthday, her granny, the candy and not least about the part Mr. Duthy himself had unwittingly played in Annie's tribulations. Mr. Duthy soon had Annie's ha'pennies picked from out of the mud stuck under Bessie's back shoe and he even wiped them clean with his very own handkerchief. Of the thrill of being hoisted high up onto Bessie's broad back with Mr. Duthy behind her and from this high and exciting vantage point setting off in search of Mr. Coulter. He was soon found further down the street in the market square by the fountain. With her three ha'pennies (the two returned and the one she had earned) she purchased three whole bags bursting with delicious candy. The very last bag in Mr. Coulter's basket was Mr. Duthy's gift to wee Annie. That made four whole bags!
Of how, minutes later Annie was helped carefully down to the ground in front of her house where Bobby Carswell stood gaping. With a muffled ”happy birthday, Annie” the boy shyly thrust yet another bag of Coulter's candy on top of Annie's growing pile and quick as lightning planted the tiniest of kisses on Annie's rosy cheek before dashing helter skelter back to No. 21.
Of Annie's home coming, of her placing on the table five bags of Coulters candy and one raisin scone. Of her family's beaming, expectant faces. Of that evening's supper being a merry affair and when the dishes had been wiped and dried, the candy tasted and the rest put away, Annie's adventure told and retold (Ma naturally scolded Annie for her disobedience but Pa smiled and said “that”s all right Elizabeth, let the child be”) she was finally able to kneel down and say her prayers. That night a special mention was given to all Annie's new and old friends and even Alexander the Terror was not forgotten. Then she slipped snugly into bed beside Jessie who was already fast asleep sucking on a sticky thumb, and she dreamt of riding on a fine horse with the wind in her hair and the soft dry brush on her cheek of the lips of a small boy with hazelnut eyes.

Louise Dykes

 

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