The story begins with Annie Reid, after seventeen years on Canada, back on the island of her birth. Raumsey has been impoverished even further by WW1. Many of the young men have not returned and survival is mainly down to the women. I mean to explore the restraints put upon women at that time as well as providing an easy read.
Annie is determined not to spend her life in poverty, and attaches herself to a young politically motivated school teacher. Here is a sneak preview.
updated 29/03/16. I'm afraid the above plan has changed.
'You can't get married to the minister.' Annie Reid faced her mother. Isa wiped her hands on her apron. 'Why not?’
‘How could you put another man in Dad’s place?’
‘I’ll never forget your father, but he’s gone. I’ve been lonely, and we're both free. In any case, it’s hard enough for Bel to feed herself, let alone us as well.’
'So we’re leaving? Dad might have been the heir to Scartongarth. Why should Bel have it?' Annie set her hand against the lime-washed wall which held the faded framed photograph of her grandparents on their wedding day.
Isa gave a pained sigh. ‘Look, Annie, there was no will. By rights it should have been Jimmy’s, but he doesn’t want it, Bel does.’
‘But you said Dad…’
Isa held up her hand. ‘I said it was a possibility only. I didn’t know then how Bel felt about the place, and I won’t fight her for it. She's worked hard to keep it going with the war and all.'
‘Then why did we come back? Was it for him, the Reverend Charleston?’
‘Of course not. There was nothing left for us in Canada. You know that.’
The arguments died on Annie’s lips. She, too, had been captivated by Bel’s gentle charm and had no real desire to take the croft from her. She changed the subject. 'So we'll be moving into the manse?’
Isa sighed. ‘It’s a fine big house and Donald has his stipend. We’ll be comfortable.’
‘Is that why you’re getting wed? So we won’t starve?’
‘No. I like Donald a lot and he’s a good man. You’ll be welcome until you decide your future. You’re clever, Annie, you could go back to school, maybe get a job in an office.'
Annie’s interest peaked. Maybe her mother marrying the minister wasn’t such a bad idea. ‘Would he pay for college?'
‘You’re my daughter. I wouldn’t expect him to do that even if he could afford it.’
Disappointed, Annie gazed at the floor where the flagstones shone with Isa's regular polishing.
'Maybe, maybe if you had a word with Mr Dick...' said Isa.
‘Mr Dick? The schoolteacher?'
‘He could give you some learning at nights. I could do a bit of washing, a bit of cleaning for him. If you want an education, we'll find a way to make it happen.'
This was so like her mother, pushing her to better herself when there was little chance of it becoming a possibility. Yet Isa’s enthusiasm was catching, her philosophy in life had always been, ‘there’s no such word as can’t.’
‘Then I don’t want to live with you and the minister,’ Annie muttered.
‘Bel would never turn you out, but see how you get on with Mr Dick. Right now, I need you to go to the shop for me.’
Annie snorted. ‘I’d best go and get my coat, then,’ she said, edging around the table in the middle of the floor. To go anywhere in this room she had to move sideways. Against one wall sat a pinewood dresser which held the crockery, in another was a bed in the recess with a door on either side, one leading to the passageway, the other to a steep staircase. On the third wall was the window, a dresser in front of it, and on the fourth was an iron stove with a mantelpiece and a rod for drying clothes. It was all so different from the roomy space where they had lived in Canada until a few weeks ago.
Annie climbed up to her room beneath the rafters, sat down on her makeshift bed with the large sack of chaff for a mattress that Bel called a chaff seck, and put her head in her hands. In spite of her words, she liked Donald Charleston, and he would be good to her mother. She had seen how quickly the strands of white had streaked Isa's coal-black hair after the Great War took her father. Over the years, she’d watched her mother struggle against poverty and she, Annie Reid, fuelled by her mother’s never-ending optimism, hungered for more. She had thought something better would be waiting for them in the place her parents referred to as ‘home,’ but the war had devastated Britain, and nowhere more than the islands. Without an education, the only life for a woman was gutting the fish, going into service or hopefully marrying a good man.
From beneath her pillow she pulled out the magazines she bought to pass the long hours on the journey to Scotland. In the meagre slice of day entering through the skylight she studied the photos of grand ladies, of fine carriages and city streets. ‘One day,’ she said, in a determined voice.
Annie knew she was beautiful. Even if the pock-marked mirror on the passage wall hadn't told her, the way men's eyes followed her, did. No, she was not going to settle for becoming a mere crofter-fisherman's wife or a skivvy for some rich family.
She didn't want lessons from Mr Dick with his big belly and bulbous nose and the veins that stood out on the backs of his hands like fat worms. But it seemed if she wanted to get anywhere in life she would have to do as her mother asked.
‘Where are you, girl?’ Her mother’s voice came from downstairs.
‘Coming, Ma.’ Annie stood up and lifted the coat which doubled as an extra blanket. She was taller than the average woman, and could only stand upright where the beams met in the middle to form the roof.
Downstairs her eyes fell on the big pot on the range. Her stomach clawed for a good feed. She lifted the lid. ‘Is there anything to eat other than porridge?’ She had never been fond of the grey gooey sludge, and since it had become their staple diet, she detested it.
‘There’s a crust of bread in the larder and some cheese.’ Isa went to the jar on the mantel and took out a ha’penny piece. ‘See if Lottie’s’s got any flour, I need to do a baking.’
Once outside a sharp breeze blew in from the Pentland Firth and lifted the hem of Annie’s skirt and the strands of her thick black locks. She never pleated her hair or tied it in a knot the way the local women did.
Sucking in the sea-salt air, she looked around. It would take time to get used to the flat expanse of Raumsey with its one-storied, stone-built cottages and miles of grey ocean beyond, or a sky that seldom, it seemed, was free of clouds.
Sloping down from the shingle path and behind the hummocks of waving grass, the pebbles on the beach rattled as angry breakers smashed over them. For seventeen years she had grown up in the prairies of Alberta and had never seen the ocean. Now she embraced its wildness. It was the one thing that fascinated her about this island. If only her dad were with them now, he would have built a boat for the fishing and turned Scartongarth back into the success it once was. Her brother, Dan, who had remained in Canada, would come and help them run it, and she would go to university and her mam would not be marrying the minister.