Authors: Jenny Telfer Chaplin
He stood lost in thought, oblivious of his surroundings,
when he heard a voice.
“For the last time, man, are you looking for work or not?”
Pearce shook himself. “That I am indeed.”
The man looked him up and down.
“By the looks of you, you’re no labouring man. Can you read
“Certainly, I can.”
“Right, one of my tally men got himself a skinful last night
and fell and broke his leg. I need a checker. Let’s see how you do.”
The man turned and strode off into the dark interior of the
Candlerigg’s Fruit Market with Pearce hastening after him.
In the three short months in which they’d been staying in
the mean street of squalid houses, Kate’s neighbours had already proved their
worth. All of them, like herself of Irish extraction, were good to her.
Already, she knew all too well it did not do to stray far beyond the confines
of her own immediate neighbourhood, for there was much anti-Irish feeling
abroad; Irish were not welcome for housing, employment, or even for a place in
a lowly soup kitchen. Kate was fully aware in her own street, and indeed,
throughout Scotland, there were strictly defined barriers, not only of class,
culture, and religion, but also perhaps even more strongly on racial lines.
It had not taken the inquisitive, yet well-meaning,
neighbours too long to work out that Kate, although not an attendee at Mass,
was still a good living Irish woman. That being so, even despite the mystery of
her man who attended the Episcopalian, or Anglican High Church, she was soon
surrounded with friendship, kindliness, and endless cups of tea and sympathy.
True, there was little enough to spare in the way of food in the other
single-end homes, but even so, her new-found friends loved to be able to give
Kate what little extra food they could afford.
Each time Mother Murphy did a morning’s baking for her own
large brood, of steps and stairs bairns, there was always an extra steaming-hot
pancake, or soda-bread scone wrapped up in a dish-cloth and sent over to Kate.
Big Betty Donovan took one sympathetic glance at the
peaky-looking, undernourished young mother-to-be and said in her forthright
manner, and her broad Glasgow accent: “Weel noo, ma lassie, apart frae that
bloody big bulge ye’ve got ther, yer needing for tae be fatted up a bit – wi’
sweet bites, dainty tit-bits and such like. And Ah’m tellin’ ye this, hen, Ah’m
the very one that’s goin’ tae tak ye in haun’ and see tae it.”
True to her word, Big Betty would bring in a dish of hot ham
and lentil soup or a cup of Scotch broth, or even as on one memorable occasion,
a rich creamy egg custard to tempt Kate’s appetite.
As she thought of the many kindnesses she had received Kate
hummed softly to herself as she worked about her tiny and already spotless
home. Cold as the morning was, she nevertheless refrained from yet lighting the
fire after she had set it with twists of newspaper and odd bits of coal. What
little coal there was left in the hod, she would keep for tonight when Pearce
would return, no doubt yet again, cold, hungry, still jobless and low in mind,
body, and spirit.
She had just finished sweeping round the hearth and was on
the point of lumbering to her feet when she felt the first stab of pain.
Strangely enough, the pain was not in her swollen belly as she might reasonably
have expected it to be. No, the debilitating pain was low down on her spine.
She cried out involuntarily at the same time placing a hand on the painful
spot. Then, after having eased herself gently into their one and only horsehair
armchair, she placed a cushion at her aching back for extra comfort. No sooner
had she done this and finding no instant relief, she decided in her wisdom what
was really needed was the stone jar filled with hot water. It was when she
rose, or rather tried to rise from the chair, that the excruciating pain shot
right through her entire body. With a gasp, she again sank back against the
cushion, at the same time wiping the beads of perspiration from her brow with a
She thought: It can’t possibly be the baby. Not yet, another
two weeks at least, that’s what they’d said at the Panel Clinic on my last
visit wasn’t it? Anyway, surely if the baby had really started then obviously
the pains would be in my stomach. Uninformed I might be, but even I know that,
it stood to reason, didn’t it?’
Having convinced herself of her own logic she nodded and
again determined to stand up, this time to put the kettle on the hob for a
much-needed cup of tea as well as to fill the earthenware stone pig water
bottle. If anything, the pain was even worse than before and Kate almost
fainted as the waves of pain, fear, and nausea washed over her. It was then it
finally dawned on her she would have to seek help of some kind – and be pretty
damned quick about it too.
Somehow, she managed to crawl from the chair, pick up the
long-handled poker, and then by holding on to the side of the table she
eventually reached the side of the bed. Once safely there she stretched across
and with as much force as she could manage in her present state she beat a
tattoo on the thin dividing wall between her own single-end home and that of
Hannah Mary Malone. Still poised uncomfortably against the bed, she listened
intently, but as yet could hear no answering tattoo. Drawing the last of her
strength to her aid, she banged again on the thin partition wall, but this time
even louder and more desperately than before. Then instead of stopping to
listen, she banged and banged and went on beating a desperate summons for help.
Her last vestige of strength gone, she collapsed on top of the bed, a weeping,
pitiful bundle of abandoned humanity. She longed to run away and hide, but not
only was flight impossible in her present state, the harsh fact remained, and
this kept hammering at her exhausted, befuddled brain, she had nowhere else in
the wide world to go. There she was and there she would stay until either a
passing neighbour – or perhaps even Pearce – heard her cries of distress, or,
and here she shuddered at the awful thought, until she died. Just as this
thought crossed her mind, she was aware of the sound of the door opening. This
at once gave her hope, for in this neighbourhood nobody ever locked their doors
and so neighbours, family, and friends were free to come and go exactly as and
when they pleased. So the releasing of the doors neck could mean one thing:
help in the shape of a kent face and sympathetic neighbour was now at hand.
By the time Pearce returned home late that evening from his
newly-acquired job, his suffering and exhausted young wife had already been in
the agonies of labour for close on twelve hours. As yet, nothing much of any
importance had happened. She was being attended by a well-meaning woman, Martha
Shaw, who was by way of being the local amateur midwife. This worthy was doing
her feeble, but totally ineffective, best to help poor Kate in her long hours
of travail. She did this by mopping at the young woman’s forehead with a
vinegar rag from time to time, while quoting what she in her wisdom thought
appropriate: namely long passages from the Guid Book. In addition to being
versed in such Bible-thumping, she was also well-versed in such trite sayings
as: ‘Oh. Sleep, oh gentle sleep. Nature’s soft nurse,’ and Take Time while Time
is, for Time will away.’ As if this were not enough and about as much good to
poor Kate as a silken tea-gown, the stupid woman, throughout her ministrations,
Bible readings and brow-moppings used as a sort of Greek Chorus, the promise
that all would be well, for it was well known, and in fact, promised by the
Guid Lord himself that: ‘Joy cometh in the morning. Halleluiah. Joy cometh in
In the end, it wasn’t Joy that came. It was further
excruciating pain, followed at long last by the entry into the world of not
one, but two screaming babies.
The arrival of twins was cause for even greater verse
speaking by the now flushed-with-triumph Martha Shaw. As she washed each tiny
bundle of humanity, she went into ecstasies of praise and thanksgiving to the
Guid Lord, high above in his Heaven.
Throughout this seemingly never-ending night, Kate was not
the only one to be suffering. Pearce had also endured the tortures of the
damned as he listened to his wife’s screams, knowing not only he was powerless
to help her in any way, but it was all his fault in the first place that she
should now be suffering. Through that weary night, he not only battled with his
conscience, but also sank ever deeper into a dark pit of self-loathing and
Yet, when at last the ordeal was over and he looked down at
the two babies laid side by side in the large wooden drawer, he felt a
wonderful, almost holy upsurge of his spirits.
Perhaps it had all been worthwhile after all and not just a
dreadful mistake? As he gazed in wonder at the two tiny forms, which the
midwife had assured him were perfect in every detail with the requisite number
of pink fingers and toes, he, there and then, decided in his own mind which
child was to be his own particular favourite.
Such a bonnie wee lass she is,’ he thought, ‘already with a
cap of fine golden hair like spun sunbeams, a rosebud mouth, and a good lusty
pair of lungs.’
Despite the midwife’s assurance, his own impression was the
little boy was not nearly as robust as his sister. With his drawn face and
mewling cry, he resembled nothing so much as a wizened old man, who was not
only not long for this world, but who was already weary of the struggle for
Next day, Pearce, already the proud father, was on hand at
the Registry Office the moment it opened for business and with great aplomb,
swaggered in and registered the births of his son and daughter. Strangely
enough, both he and Kate had liked the name, ‘Joy’, and had even thought to
name their daughter thus. However, after various stanzas of ‘Joy cometh in the
morning’ Kate had voiced the opinion that never again did she wish to hear the
word ‘Joy’. So it was that Pearce had decided to call the wee girl Angela,
since even from his first sight of her, he had called her, my own little angel.
Kate opted to name the boy Daniel, after her own elder brother who had
emigrated to America.
When later that same week, the twins had been christened in
the Anglican Church, it seemed that the Kinnon family life was set fair to
continue and prosper for the years ahead. However, that very same evening,
Pearce’s beloved Angela, having given not a moment’s trouble
or anxiety to anyone in her short life, died from a convulsion.
In the aftermath of the death of little Angela, poor Kate
felt as though the Good Lord who Giveth but also Taketh Away, had indeed taken
away not only her precious little baby, but also much more besides. Although
Pearce’s physical presence was still with her, somehow in his own grief, her
husband also had gone from her. Strong and arrogant as he might appear to
outsiders with his great height, piercing dark eyes which seemed to bore into
one, and his luxuriant, wavy beard, Kate felt his proud bearing was all too
often a shield against a prying and unsympathetic world.
This suspicion had been confirmed of late, as night after night
when Pearce thought her to be asleep, he would give way to bitter sobs which
wracked his whole body, over the death of his own little angel. Kate had never
before heard a man weep and such had been the bond between them she longed with
every fibre of her being to be able to comfort him. However, on those occasions
when she did draw near him and try to embrace him, his only response was to
push her away from him, and on rising to face yet another day, to don once
again the mask of superiority.
Pearce remained distraught. And as the short winter days
lengthened into spring, it seemed nothing or nobody could assuage his grief.
Even worse, each time he looked on the puny features of baby Daniel, he felt a
wild urge to choke the very life out of him, just as a cruel, unloving God had
virtually done with his very own beloved Angela. Feeling as bitter and as
unloving as he did, it was hardly surprising that as young Daniel grew into a
sickly toddler. It gradually came to the point where it was almost as if an unseen
barrier existed between father and son.
What made matters even worse was that Kate now seemed to
devote her entire energies and devotion to the youngster, leaving Pearce far
behind in her priorities. It was as well that at this point, he had a job on
which to concentrate and expend all his energies.
Ever since that first day at the Fruit Market, Pearce had
been gainfully employed, bringing home his hard-won wages every Friday night.
The overall boss of the market had quickly realised Pearce had a very quick
brain and responsibility sat easily on his shoulders. With the right guidance,
he might in time even become a section gaffer, as the men called the bosses. So
Pearce now had his own high stool and desk in the accounts office and was
efficient and conscientious at his work.
On the home front, having by now accepted, albeit
unwillingly, his role as an outsider whose sole function was to pay the bills
with the money earned from the sweat of his brow, life began to settle into a
more ordered existence. With the extra money now coming in from his latest
promotion, both he and Kate began to plan for a move to a room-and-kitchen at
double their present rent. They’d already had an eye on such a flat for some
time. It was not exactly situated in a tiled close – a wally close as the
locals called them – nor did it have any better an outlook, but nevertheless,
they were both desperate to get it. It was bigger, certainly, but the main
advantage was that it was closer to the Fruit Market which would mean less travelling
to and from work for Pearce. Better still, he would be able to come home each
day at noon for a dish of mince and tatties, or a plate of Scotch broth, or
Irish stovies. There were disadvantages, not least that they would have to
leave behind the good and supportive neighbours and friends they had already
made. But even so, for the sake of a giant leap up the social scale in moving
out of the lowly single-end, they were prepared to take the bad with the good.