Page 1


The Prologue The name of Garry Forbes has passed into proverb in Fetter-Rothnie. One sees him gaunt, competent, a trifle anxious, the big fleshy ears standing out from his head, the two fur­ rows cutting deeply round from nostril to chin, his hands powerful but squat, gift of a plebeian grandfather, and of­ ten grimed with oil and grease-hardly a figure of romance. Of those who know him, to some he is a keen, long-headed manager, with a stiff record behind him in the training of ex-service men and the juvenile unemployed, tenacious, taciturn, reliable, with uncanny reserves of knowledge; to others, a rampageous Socialist blustering out disaster, a frequenter of meetings: they add a hint of property (some say expectations) in Scotland; to some he is merely anoth­ er of those confounded Scotch engineers; but to none is he a legend. They are not to know that in Fetter-Rothnie, where the tall, narrow, ugly house of Knapperley is situate, his name has already become a symbol. You would need Garry Forbes to you. It is the local way of telling your man he is a liar. And wben they deride you, scoffing at your lack of common sense, Hine up on the head of the house like Garry Forbes and his twa fools, is the accepted phrase. As the ladies at the Weatherhouse said, A byword and a laughing stock to the place. And married into the family, too! ONE

To the Lorimers of a younger generation, children of the three Lorimer brothers who had played in the walled manse garden with the three Craigmyle girls, the Weatherhouse I


2

The Weatherhouse

was a place of pleasant dalliance. It meant day-long sum­ mer visits, toilsome uphill July walks that ended in the cool peace of the Weatherhouse parlour, with home-brewed gin­ ger beer for refreshment, girdle scones and strawberry jam and butter biscuits, and old Aunt Leeb seated in her corner with her spider-fine white lace cap, piercing eyes and curi­ ous staves of song; then the eager rush for the open, the bickering around the old sundial, the race for the moor; and a sense of endless daylight, of enormous space, of a world lifted up beyond the concerns of common time; and eggs for tea, in polished wooden egg-cups that were right end up either way; and queer fascinating things such as one saw in no other house-the kettle holder with the black cross-stitch kettle worked upon it, framed samplers on the walls, the goffering iron, the spinning wheel. And sometimes Paradise would show them how the goffering iron was worked. Paradise, indeed, gave a flavouring to a Weatherhouse day that none of the other ladies could offer. Round her clung still the recollection of older, rarer visits, when they were smaller and she not yet a cripple; of the splendid abounding wonder that inhabits a farm. Not a Lorimer but associated the thought of Paradise with chickens newly broken from the shell, ducks worrying with their flat bills in the grass; with dark, half-known, sweet-smelling cor­ ners in the barn, and the yielding, sliding, scratching feel of hay; with the steep wooden stair to the stable-loft and the sound of the big, patient, clumsy horses moving and munching below, a rattle of harness, the sudden nosing of a dog; with the swish of milk in the pail and the sharp delightful terror as the great tufted tail swung and lashed; with the smell of oatcakes browning, the plod of the churn and its changing note of triumph, and the wide, shallow basins set with gleaming milk; with the whirr of the reaper, the half-comprehended excitement of harvest, the binding, the shining stooks; with the wild madness of the last uncut patch, the trapped and furtive things one watched in a delirium of joy and revulsion; and the com­ fort, afterwards, of gathering eggs, safe, smooth and warm against the palm.


The Prologue

3

Of that need for comfort Paradise herself had no com足 prehension. Rats, rabbits and weakly chicks were killed as a matter of course. There was no false sentiment about Miss Annie: nothing flimsy. She was hard-knit, like a home足 made worsted stocking, substantial, honest and durable. 'A cauff bed tied in the middle,' her sister Theresa said rudely of her in her later years, when inactivity had turned her flabby; but at the farm one remembered her as being everywhere. It was Andrew Lorimer, her cousin, who transformed her baptismal name of Annie Dyce to Paradise, and now his children and his brothers' children scarcely knew her by another. Not that Miss Annie cared! 'I'm as much of Para足 dise as you are like to see, my lad,' she used to tell him. The four ladies at the Weatherhouse, old Aunt Craigmyle and her daughters, could epitomise the countryside among them in their stories. Paradise knew how things were done; she told of ancient customs, of fairs and cattle markets and all the processes of a life whose principle is in the fields. The tales of Aunt Craigmyle herself had a fiercer quality; all the old balladry, the romance of wild and unscrupulous deeds, fell from her thin and shapely lips. And if she did not tell a tale, she sang. She was always singing. Ballads were the natural food of her mind. John, the second of the three Lorimer brothers, said of her, when the old lady attained her ninetieth birthday, 'She'll live to be a hundred yet, and attribute it to singing nothing but ballads all her life.' Cousin Theresa cared more for what the folk of her own day did-matter of little moment to the children. But she had, too, the grisly tales: of the body-snatchers at Drum and the rescue by the grimy blacksmith on his skelping mare; of Malcolm Gillespie, best-hated of excise足 men, and the ill end he came by on the gallows, and of the whisky driven glumly past him in a hearse. To Cousin Ellen the children paid less heed; though they laughed ( as she laughed herself) at her funny headlong habit of suggesting conclusions to every half-told tale she heard. Cousins Annie or Theresa would say, 'Oh, yes, of course Nell must know all about it!' and she would laugh with them and answer, 'Yes, there I am again.' But sometimes she would bite her lip and


6

The Weatherlwuse

The grey cat's kittled in Charley's wig, There's ane o' them livin' an' twa o' them deid. 'Now this should be part of the living-room,' said she. 'It's dark and awkward as a passage. We'll have it so--and so.' She knew exactly what she wanted done, and gave her orders; but the workman sent to her reported back some three hours later with instructions not to return. 'But what have you against the man?' his master asked. 'I've nothing against him, forbye that he's blind, and he canna see.' She refused another man; but one day she called Jeames Ferguson in from the garden. Jeames was a wonder with his hands. He had set up the sundial, laid the crazy paving, and constructed stone stalks to the querns, some curved, some tapering, some squat, that made them look like monstrous mushrooms. 'Could you do that, Jeames?' 'Fine that.' Jeames did it, and was promptly dismissed to the garden, for his clumps of boots were ill-placed in the house. Mrs Craigmyle did the finishing herself and rearranged her curi­ ous possessions. Some weeks later Jeames, receiving orders beside the glass door, suddenly observed, 'I hinna seen't sin' it was finished,' and strode on to the Persian rug with his dubbit and tacketty boots. But no Persian rug did Jeames see. Folding his arms, he beamed all over his honest face and contemplated his own handiwork. 'That's a fine bit o' work, ay is it,' he said at last. 'You couldn't be angered at the body. He was that fine pleased with himself,' said Mrs Craigmyle. But the house once to her mind, Mrs Craigmyle did no more work. Dismissing her husband in a phrase, 'He was a moral man-I can say no more,' she sat down with a careless ease in the Weatherhouse and gathered her chapbooks and broadsheets around her: Songs, Bibles, Psalm-books and the like, As mony as would big a dykethough, to be sure, daughter of the manse as she was, the Bible had scanty place in her heap of books. Whistle Binkie was her Shorter Catechism. She gave all her house­ hold dignity for an old song: sometimes her honour and


8

The Weatherhouse

her child; and there was nowhere to put her but the daft room at the head of the stairs that Theresa had been using for lumber. 'It's a mad-like place,' Theresa said. 'Nothing but a trap for dust. But you won't take a Finnan baddie in a Hielan' burnie. She's no way to come but this, and she'll just need to be doing with it. She's swallowed the cow and needn't choke at the tail.' Ellen did not choke. She loved the many-cornered room with its irregular windows. There she shut herself in as to a tower and was safe; or rather, she felt, shut herself out from the rest of the house. The room seemed not to end with itself, but through its protruding windows became part of the infinite world. There she lay and watched the stars; saw dawn touch the mountains; and fortified her soul in the darkness that had come on her. TWO

Of the three Craigmyle sisters, Ellen was the likest to her mother. She too was long and lean, though she had not her mother's delicacy of fingers and of skin; and to Ellen alone among her daughters Mrs Craigmyle had bequeathed the wild Lorimer heart. How wild it was not even the girl herself had discov­ ered, when at twenty seven she married Charley Falconer. There was no opposition to the match, though Falconer was a stranger; well-doing apparently; quiet and assured: which the family took to mean reliable, and Ellen, pro­ found. Her life had hitherto been hard and rigid; her father, James Craigmyle, kept his whole household to the plough; not from any love of tyranny, but because he had never conceived of a life other than strait and laborious. To work in sweat was man's natural heritage. His wife obeyed him and bided her time; Ellen obeyed, and escaped in thought to a fantastic world of her own imagining. The merest hint of a tale sufficed her, her fancy was off. Her choicest hours were spent in unreality-a land where others act in accordance with one's expectations. Sometimes her toppling palaces would crash at the touch of the actual, and


The Weatherhouse by Nan Shepherd  

The women of the tiny town of Fetter-Rothnie have grown used to a life without men, and none more so than the tangle of mothers and daughter...

Read more
Read more
Similar to
Popular now
Just for you