Authors: Jenny Telfer Chaplin
“Mammy, it looks lovely. But after all that stew, I honestly
don’t think I could manage another mouthful. Sorry, but my belly’s full.”
With great self-restraint, Kate refrained from commenting on
this last observation, but even so, the fleeting thought went through her head:
So, your belly’s full, is it, my girl? Aye, indeed. And maybe even fuller than
With the sweetest smile she could summon, given the
circumstances and her own secret knowledge, Kate looked at her daughter and
“No need to worry your head, Jenny. Dadda will soon demolish
your helping as well as his own.”
Pearce, with bulging cheeks and busily chewing teeth, merely
nodded his delighted acceptance of the generous offer.
Kate turned to face her daughter. Then, keeping strictly to
her previously well thought out and prepared plan of action with which to
combat this latent family crisis, she smiled sweetly and in the voice of a
caring, considerate mother, she said: “Well, then, Jenny. If you’ve had enough
to eat, away with you into the hall and get ready. Take your time, dear, for
I’ll do the tea things tonight. You’ll want to look smart for this special
Jenny jerked her head up and, with a look of alarm on her
face, stuttered in some confusion: “Special ... special occasion? But what do
you mean, Mammy?”
Kate shook her head, as if gently reproving her daughter.
“Jenny, lass. What a memory. Do you not remember? You
mentioned it to me only the other day.”
But still Jenny looked not just puzzled, but also downright
scared at what she was about to hear. Kate laid a hand on her daughter’s arm
and was not in the least surprised to find that it was trembling.
“You said you were going out tonight to .... to help with a
new activity group, or some such ... for unemployed youngsters.”
Jenny had the grace to look somewhat shamefaced, but before
she could speak, Kate hurried on.
“That’s why I prepared your favourite tea tonight. Least I
could do, if you are doing a fine charitable act like that for the deprived.
Now then, off with you and get ready. Give me a shout once you’ve changed and
you and I will have a wee cup of tea together before you go. All right, dear?”
By the time Jenny came back into the kitchen some half hour
or so later, Dadda, replete with the excellent meal just consumed, was already
noisily dozing off.
From where she stood at the sink, Kate swivelled her head
round to speak to Jenny. But the words froze on her lips. In some weird way, it
suddenly appeared as if Jenny had gained an inordinate amount of weight within
the last thirty minutes or so. In a flash of inspiration, the truth dawned on
Of course. So that’s it. Why, the devious little bitch. Well
now. If that’s your game, we’ll soon settle your hash.
She walked over to the range and piled on to an already
bright fire, extra coal which she then prodded with a long-handled poker into
life. That done, she then insisted that Jenny take the seat nearest to the
fiercely burning fire while Kate poured them both a cup of tea. A swift glance
was enough to show Kate that already her daughter was sweating profusely. But
even so, she still could not believe that her daughter would really be so
devious. Excusing herself briefly, Kate went out into the hallway where she at
once opened the cupboard which did double duty as a wardrobe. The row of empty
coat-hangers was the final proof that she needed.
Kate’s lips pressed together into a thin, straight line, as
a firm resolve took hold.
Right, my girl. If that’s your sneaky little game, two can
play. Two can play at lying, cheating, and devious conniving. And I know
exactly what my first move is going to be.
Kate crept along to the end of the hall where, with great
secrecy and speed, she worked to put the first spoke in the wheel of her
daughter’s escape plan.
Once back in the safety of the over-warm kitchen, she again
sat down, having first of all given a ritual tap to the pocket in front of her
No sooner had she sat down, than her daughter rose to her
“Well, Mammy. I’d best be off now.”
Kate made no verbal reply, but simply nodded and watched
Jenny leave the room. In two seconds flat, the girl was back in the kitchen
beside her, a look of amazement on her still fire-flushed face.
“Mammy. I don’t understand. I can’t get the front door to
open. And the key that always hangs on the wall, it seems to have disappeared.”
Kate said not a word, but held out her hand, in the palm of
which rested the key which she had earlier taken from its usual perch.
“This what you’re looking for, Jenny?”
With mouth agape, Jenny stared down at the key. “But you
never lock the door. Far less lock it and remove the key. What’s the big idea?”
For reply, Kate laid the key on the table between them, but
with the tip of her forefinger resting lightly on the fulcrum. Slowly, she rose
to her feet. Then with great deliberation and with every syllable crystal
clear, she said: “The idea is really quite simple, Jenny. Yes, I have indeed
locked the door. I have the one and only key and I have decided that you are
not leaving this house tonight. Do you understand?”
“Oh, I understand the words you’re saying, but what escapes
me is their meaning. What about the club for the unemployed?”
Kate smiled grimly and nodded her head.
“Yes. What about your grand Christian mission? If you think
I’ll believe that, my girl, then you must think I came up the Clyde on a
barrow. And if as you say, the meaning of my words escapes you, then that’s the
only thing that will be escaping this night. Perhaps you can understand that?”
“But I promised ... I said I’d meet Lizzie and we’d both go
together and ...”
Kate looked in disgust at her daughter, still lying in her
teeth. She leant forward, holding a bunched fist under the girl’s nose.
“Listen, Jenny. As far as your dear pal Lizzie is concerned,
I happen to know that you promised her nothing. Nothing, do you hear? You see,
my darling daughter, it so happens I know what you’re up to.”
Jenny’s eyes were wide with astonishment.
“But how ... What ...?”
This was to be Kate’s big moment and she resolved to relish
“The only one you’ve promised anything to – and quite a lot
at that, as I understand it– is that bloody wife-deserter, Ross fuckin’
Jenny paled and for a moment, she looked to be on the point
“Mammy. What’s got into you? I’ve never heard you swear
Kate gave an angry toss of her head.
“’Tis enough to make a saint swear. But the fact remains,
there is no way you are ever going to leave this house to run away with a
married man. And most certainly not with that damned Ross Cuthbert. Is that
“But Mammy, I love him.”
“Love him? Well, if he’s that keen to have you, the bastard
will first have to break down my front door and deal with me first.”
Jenny sank back into the chair and laid her head on her
hands. Then, she slowly raised her gaze.
“Listen, Mammy. You might just as well face it. I do love
Ross, but he’s not the only reason I’m leaving home.”
Here she let her eyes rove round the cluttered kitchen: a
forest of clothes hanging from the wooden pulley above them, Hannah snoring in
bed, and Pearce slumped, asleep, in his
easy chair. She sighed, and with a sweeping gesture of her hand, indicated the
room and all it stood for. Seeing this, Kate at once leapt to the defensive.
“Oh, and just what is that grand gesture supposed to
indicate, my fine lady? Would you tell me that?”
“If you must know, Mammy, I told you before. I cannot stick
another moment in the same house, far less the same room as that miserable old
curmudgeon of a father.”
Since there was little that Kate could have said to defend
Pearce and his black, explosive moods, she made no answer. It was the next cruel
barb that found its mark and really hit hard.
Jenny pointed a trembling forefinger towards the sleeping
“And that useless lump of blubber ... that daft idiot.
Honestly, Mammy. I’m ashamed to be seen out in the street with her, pushing
that rickety old pram and ...”
Jenny never got to finish her sentence. Kate’s hand shot out
and she slapped her errant daughter with such force that the sound echoed in
the quiet kitchen.
Jenny gasped in pain and horror as she held a soothing palm
to the side of her face. She opened her mouth, but no words came.
“Jenny, there’s plenty more of that, if required. And like I
say, if that accursed Ross Cuthbert wants you, then he’ll have to come in
person and beat that lion’s head on the door. After what you’ve just said about
poor Hannah ... well, I might just hand you over to him. And good riddance to
bad rubbish, say I.”
Kate shook off her daughter’s hand.
“Mammy, nothing. But if you’re going to sit there weeping
all night, while awaiting your love, at least have the decency to weep quietly.
We’re not wanting your Dadda and Hannah to waken. To say nothing of disturbing
the peace of that nosey Mrs Delaney in the front room.”
Ross Cuthbert never did beat a tattoo on the brass lion’s
head, or make any attempt whatever to claim his bride. He had flown, free as
air, leaving his abandoned Jenny to face alone the consequences of their brief,
if ecstatic and entirely illegal, union.
In the days that followed that never-to-be-forgotten
Wednesday night, Jenny went skulking around the house in the greatest huff, not
even sparing a loving gesture, a kind word , or so much as a disinterested
glance for poor Hannah. The only sounds coming from Jenny were in the early
morning when she could be heard retching in the water closet.
One morning it got to be so bad that Mrs Delaney was
prompted, with an assumed air of innocence, to ask of Kate when the latter
brought in her early cup of tea and biscuits: “Is Jenny not too well this
morning, then, Mrs Kinnon?”
Keeping a poker face, Kate laid the tray down on the bedside
“Oh, nothing for you to worry about, Mrs Delaney. Just a wee
bilious attack, I think. She was very prone to them as a bairn, you know, and I
have heard it said that you never really grow out of them.”
Even as she spoke the words, Kate already knew herself to be
lying in her teeth.
Bilious attack, did I say? Humph. That will be right. But at
least there is one thing true ... there is nothing for you to worry about, Mrs Delaney.
But plenty to keep my mind troubled for many a long day, if I’m not far
Even so, and despite the telling sounds each new morning,
with Jenny in her present dark and uncommunicative mood, no words were spoken
between mother and daughter, and certainly no reference was made to the subject
uppermost in the minds of both women. Finally, it got to the point that Kate
felt she would have to ask Jenny the question which had been on the tip of her
tongue for weeks now.
On the following Saturday night, Jenny had gone out with
Lizzie, supposedly to the weekly soiree at the local church hall. And no sooner
were they out the door than Kate made a decision, and one which she knew she
should have taken weeks ago. As she sat at the kitchen table with a pile of
darning in front of her, she resolved, that very night she would sit up,
awaiting her daughter’s return and then finally have it out with the girl once
and for all. Having come to this decision, she already felt happier in her own
mind as, with a smile on her face, she drew the basket of darning towards her
and set to with a will on the ever-present task. As she plied her needle, her
thoughts kept on racing even faster than her nimble fingers. If the situation
was exactly as she feared, then she knew that come what may, she would still be
able to face this latest challenge, as she had already faced so much in life.
She would weather the storm. And in view of her own history, she would also be
able not only to sympathise with her daughter, but also stand by, encourage,
and help her in her hour of need. She nodded her head with satisfaction.
And another good thing, at least we’ll be having no dealings
with that bastard Ross Cuthbert. He’s done a runner to Edinburgh, they say.
As she got up to make herself a mug of cocoa, she stretched
her arms above her head to ease her aching muscles. As she again lowered them
to her side, she glanced over at both the
and the wall-bed to check that their respective occupants were sound asleep.
Kate stretched forth a hand, meaning to stroke Hannah’s brow, but then thought
the better of it, lest she should awaken the girl, who would then start
demanding a mug of `
for herself. Instead, Kate tip-toed over to the range. As she heated up the pan
of milk, the thought came to her: Well, Jenny lass, I just hope that when your
time does come, the child will be perfect in every detail and not in any way
like poor Wee Hannah, God help her.
As she sat at the oilcloth covered table and stirred her mug
of steaming cocoa, she gave free rein to wild thoughts of young Jenny left not
only with a bastard child, but one who was even more physically and mentally
handicapped than her own Hannah. Sinking ever deeper into a pit of depression,
she shook her head, as if in this way she could abandon such gloomy thoughts.
She bunched her fist and, raising her arm, pounded the air,
with all the while, a look of vehemence on her face.
Men. Humph, every one of them are absolute bastards. Never
met a good one yet. Out only for that one thing. Then it’s off with the old and
on with the new. Bastards. Never mind, Jenny lass, you and I will struggle
through somehow. And surely we couldn’t end up with two damaged
in the one family? No, the wee one will be fine. And
come to think of it, it will be real cosy having another wee bairn about the
house. Yes, we’ll manage just fine.