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Graham Donachie's Stories
The Countrie Lass


The first tyme  I saw her face...my heart stopped...

It may have missed a beat, or two, or three, but something surely happened to me...

I do not know if I can say I fell in love then, but being young and full of life, it may very well have been that most wonderful of sensations known to man.

I was taken quite aback on that first encounter. My gaze, elsewhere, roaming without purpose, met her eyes, saw her parted lips in such a sweet, yet mocking smile as I will never again encounter. I never had the pleasure of first introduction. I never did learn her name. I knew naught from where she came, but, it is from that not knowing of her, that this fantasy of mine  seeded and blossomed.  

I blundered into the room not knowing why or what I was doing in this strange place, when suddenly, there she was... In a striking pose, the Edwardian dress a-billowing about her form she captured my heart....

She appeared as a stranger.. and I no less the stranger..

She never did see me.. She never did know of my presence.....for that smile, and those eyes, were for someone else....

And so I concluded that I would go on and deal with the vagaries of life that fate had in store for me...
But the more I thought on the vision of her, the more my heart raced to know of her,  for I was caught....snared...in the hot headiness of love....

And so I thought about where she came from, who she was and what was the story behind that smile . I wanted to lose myself in the mystery of her eyes... I wanted to be a part of her very life.
.........................................................................................................


By my reckoning, she must hae been born aboot ten year afore the new  century...Och.. when blood is strong and loons are able and lasses are willing , and the hot love is upon them, then all caution is thrown to the wynds...It's there 'mangst fields o' harvests, that ither fields are ploughed, and the sowing is nae sic a chore, but mair o' a pleasure...

              --------   
Corn rigs, an' barley rigs,
 An' corn rigs are bonie;
I'll ne'er forget that happy nicht,
  Amang the rigs wi' Annie...
              --------

Oh the wondrous Springtyme o' life....The men in hard labour as they brak the hard crust o' natures sheild...the planting effort for future simmer crops ....and  steamy breaths frae snorting shires ..pulling the ploo'....The team..man and beast t'gither in the age auld harmony....The smell o' sacred Mither Earth.. as she gives ....her fertility...frae the sowing.... tae the joy of birth and succour...And the fields o' yonder land, loved and cherished by those that dwelt in the bounty of it's harvest..

And it was there lang syne, in the sweet lovemaking of it, that my heroine was thus conceived, t'ween a lad and his first lass in the field o' the maister's farm.....

How dear the thocht...O' the lass born tae the Angus land...
I see a rosy faced tyke, rinnin' in laughter and daft glakit loons pursuing the prize o' a kiss frae her bonnie  sweet lips.....

         -------
Her lips, more than the cherries bright,
    A richer dye has graced them ;
 They charm th' admiring gazer's sight,
 And sweetly tempt to taste them;
Her smile is as the evening mild,
 When feather'd pairs are courting,
And little lambkins wanton wild,
  In playful bands disporting²......

............................................................................

And Spring gied way tae the hotness o' Simmer's heady breath......

And the breath was hot in the kissin' twixt the hardness o' the coortin'chiel and the saftness o' the farm yaird lass...And the barn owl gave hoot tae the cry o' pleasure somewhere in the black moist nicht.....

And she did gae dancin' on these pleasant simmer nichts....and the reels and strathspeys and the laughter and birlin' by strang lads o' that strang land....

The fiddling and pipe playing and sangs frae bothy lads and tears for ither tymes and lang ballads tae fire the minds imaginings.....

The auld bent lads wi' mousers  broon wi' the smoking o' clay pipes and grannies  sookin'plooms soor, tae mak their cheeks pucker wi' the tartness o' them......

And the walkin' hame, after a' the dancing was ower, those maist majickal of nichts...when a' aroon' was dark and unknown and kisses were given eagerly, or stolen in the giddiness o' youth. And a' that was beautiful was here and the people reveled in the joy of living.....

............................................................................................

And the Autumn....
Whar did the tyme gang  ?...

I see her loving a strang quiet lad....Tall he would have been. Fresh and open and honest and as strong as the land he toiled upon. Able to chase and catch and win the heart o' my country lass......They would gie tae each ither their love troths..Sworn in the shadow of the Ancient standing stones, under the glow of the harvest moon....the sacred grove of the auld anes wad serve as kirk tae the couplings and promises o' the lovers.

        ---------

The night was still, and o'er the hill
  The moon shone on the castle wa';
The mavis sang, while dew drops hang
  Around her on the castle wa';
Sae merrily they danced the ring
  Frae e'enin' till the cock did craw;
And aye the o'erword o' the spring
  Was ŒIrvine's bairns are bonie a'.....

        -----------

Then did the red of Autumn fade,
Tae gie way tae Winter's grey..and my maid yet not a married dam'..
The strang lads' pleadings wad no' shift her resolve....
T'was the new century and a' was for the getting....My lass had sichts far beyond the fields o' hame...
But ither fates wad play their worldly part.
And on a mad day, in a land, wha's name wad be unpronounceable tae the country lass, a single shot frae the pistol o' a daft lad wad call the dogs o' war tae heel.
And senceless killing would prevail.

And the Warpipes sounded...and the young men cam tae the toons seeking the offers o' the recruiting Sergeants...
Now in the toons o' Angus the parent Regiment was the 42nd, but by the zealous endeavours of a Mearns tongue, wad the lad be signed up by the 92nd..ŒGordons'.....

And the strang lad, now in the Highland garb o' the sojer, once mair asked for the hand o' the  lass......But, she could gie nae positive answer tae the swain who loo'ed her dearly......

       ----------

I am my mammy's ae bairn,
  Wi' unco folk I weary, sir,
And lying in a man's bed,
  I'm fley'd it mak me eerie, sir.

Hallowmass is come and gane,
  The nights are lang in winter, sir,
And you an' I in ae bed,--
   In trowth, I  dare na venture, sir.

Fu' loud an' shrill the frosty wind
  Blaws thro' the leafless timmer, sir;
But if ye come this gate again,
  I'll aulder be gin simmer, sir.

I'm o'er young, I'm o'er young,
  I'm o'er young to marry yet;
I'm o'er young, Œtwad be a sin
  To tak me frae my mammy yet.

     --------

So, cam the spring o' that next year.....The Highland lads marched in grand formations awa tae the war........And mony the tears were shed at their going.....
But news was slow in returning tae the Angus  glens...The fate o' the lads was no' kent, and life lost most of the pleasure that was aye taken for granted....

Traveling folk were often the source of news. They would tell o' battles fought in the far off France. Letters would be sent tae the men in the ŒFront'....accompanied by photographs o' loved ones...And the lang War raged on...And now, news o' casualties filtered back to the simple folk of the Angus land...........
News of..Mons...Ypres..The Somme.......

  --------
John Delaney of the Rifles has been shot.

  A man we never knew,
Does  it cloud the day for you
  That he lies among the dead
Moving, hearing, heeding not ?

  No history will hold his humble name.
No sculptured stone will tell
  The traveler where he fell;
That he lies among the dead
  Is the measure of his fame.

When our troops return victorious shall we care
  That deaf to all the cheers,
Lacking tribute of our tears,
  He is lying with the dead.
Stark and silent, God knows where ?

John Delaney of the Rifles----Who was he ?
  A name seen on a list
All unknown and all unmissed.
  What to us that he is dead ?--
Yet he died for you and me......
      ______

The Roll Call o' the Dead............

As that awful war went on,the country lass new no joy... The lad o' the fields...o' him there was no news. His Regiment were , as always,  in the van....It was no' for nothing that the Highland regiments had the reputation so envied by fellow warriors....
But news gradually filtered through...in dribs and drabs, the full horror of what was happening became apparent to the folk wha waited for word o' their loved ones....
And mony the mither collapsing in screaming sobs at the news o' a son lost, to the abomination of that war.......
And faithers, stunned , but haudin' their grief until oot o' sicht and earshot o' the wummenfolk. In the fields they wad greet their sair tears for strong sons wha had warked alang side them, wi' the heavy horses at the plooin', in the springtyme of the year......

And so the daily ritual began.........
The Litany of The Lost souls....

     ______

You strange old ghouls,
Who gloat with dulled old eyes,
Over those lists
Those dreadful lists,
To see what name
Of friend, relation,
However distant,
May be appended
To your private  Roll of Honour.
Unknowingly you draw, it seems,

From their young bodies,
Dead young bodies.
Fresh life,
New value,
Now that yours are ebbing.
You strange old ghouls,
Who gloat with dulled old eyes,
Over those lists
Those dreadful lists,
Of young dead men......


What happened tae my country lass  ?.........
Never will I ken...If her lad returned tae the farm ?....
Did he woo her and win her and wed her and did he live to adore those eyes and that smile....for the look and that smile were not for me.......

.......................................

On a summer evening when the  breeze blew gently o'er the fields of ripening crops, a young man cycled his way along the old country road...His route had taken him through the old market toun of Forfar, and he  now looked for the familiar direction of home...But , he now found himself on a stretch of road which he was not familiar with. ..But in the distance he could view the Sidlaws, so  he  was content to let his mind wander and his legs would do the rest......

On a fork in the road however, he came in sight of the old cottage...

It was set back from the road a bit, and was surrounded by what appeared to be a rambling and thorny rose hedge. But he could see that the cottage was derelict, for some windows were bereft of any glass, and their dark sockets stared out at him as he  passed..

Being of a curious nature he drew on the brakes and pulled to a standstill...  He was a away beyond the cottage now and was not sure whether to go investigate the place or move on...The evening was nearing the gloaming tyme and the light was fading.....But he could not resist the chance of a nosy... So off the bike got he and leaving it at the old broken gateway, he walked toward the door of the cottage....It was slightly ajar...He could smell the mustiness and oldness of the place before he entered...But he pushed the door gently inward , and it offered no resistance to his invasion. It had obviously been lying in this state of decay for sometyme. He stepped into the lobby and on into what was the front room. Nothing but scraps of old newspapers and other rubbish lay on the floor. Into the back kitchen now, and he was confronted by a superb example of an old cottage range. Ashes from some long dead cooking fire were still in the grate..He could sense the living that had once gone on in this humble country cottage. A narrow stairway led into the upper floor. With the light almost non existent on this stair, he was unsure whether to proceed any further. But the old nose for knowledge spurred him upwards. At the top of the stairs, the room to the left was bulging with all manner of old furniture and bedding. The door to the room to the right was closed. Gingerly turning the doorknob he pushed an entry. Something at the back of the door unabled it to swing wide, but he saw light coming into the room from a tiny window, and he managed to squeeze his slight frame through the space and into.......

A small attic bedroom.

The light barely allowed him proper vision and the smell was musty and damp in this place and he felt a small discomfort at being here. He had the feeling that he was invading a space that was still private, even though the occupants had long ago departed...

He turned to leave and his foot kicked something lying on the floor. A pile of old photographs he could see, were scattered all over. One he had kicked had landed under the small window and lay face down. His heart by now, was thumping somewhat loudly, and he chided himself for his foolish nervousness. He looked down at the photograph, bent to pick it from the floor, and turned it to look at whoever might be portrayed there...................

That was the first tyme...... I saw her face....
That perfect face.....
Those eyes and ...that smile......
No Mona Lisa could ever compare with her.....

Graham

Poems.....Robert Burns...
Casualty......Winifred. M. Letts...
The Ghouls.....Helen Hamilton...


Read other stories from Graham Donachie

 


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