Strife In The Valley
A vivid portrayal of character and nature of gossip. Extract from John J. Graham's 1992 novel 'Strife in the Valley'.
Fae Strife in the Valley, by John J. Graham, The Shetland Publishing Company, 1992.
Strife in the Valley Osla, Jannie and Christy (Prunk) are servants of Robert Ross, Weisdale merchant in late 18th century. Subjects of gossip are Ross’s sister Elizabeth, and George Clunies, local school teacher.
Osla struggled through the kitchen door, kishie o paets in her skurt, face flushed and excited. In her agitation to empty the peats as quickly as possible into the box by the fireside, some came rumbling to the floor.
Janny, standing on a stool reaching up into a wall cupboard, went rigid. Her arm remained outstretched but her head came down. ‘Du klushit moniment at du is, can du dö naethin ithoot spöllyin everything aroond dee?’
Osla dropped on to her knees, gathered the spilt peats into the box, then grabbed a besom and swept the möld towards the fire.
The muckle round face looked up, despondent.
‘Dunna staand dere laek a dyeuk glyin for thunder! Pit on dat pot o tatties!’
Osla set off for the pantry and returned with a bucket of tatties. She'd had such a tale to tell, a piece of news she knew Janny would relish. She hung the tattie-pot on the crook and straightened up, one eye on Janny, still searching the top shelves.
‘Der’s somethin I was gyaan ta tell you, Janny.’
‘Get on wi dee wark. I dunna hae time ta listen ta dy klash.’
The tale seethed and bubbled in Osla's mind. It just had to come out.
‘It’s aboot Miss Elizabeth an da skulemester.’
Janny tensed on the stool. Slowly an enquiring face turned towards Osla. ‘What are dey been up tae noo?’ she asked, stepping gingerly down. ‘Shö’s no hed him apo da horse again, is shö?’
‘Na,’ said Osla, smoothing her apron, relaxed to see Janny nibbling at the hook, ‘dey wir baith apo da grund.’
‘What’s du sayin, lass? Shuirly der no geen dat lent. Whaar wir dey?’
Osla settled comfortably into a muckle chair, hands folded on lap. ‘Weel, I’ll tell you, but you mostna say a wird ta Mr Ross, or he’ll be fit for tyin.’
‘Aaricht, aaricht, but get on wi dee tale.’
‘Weel, as you ken, I was oot eenoo for a kishie o paets an as I cam oot benort da hoose I was awaar o somethin muvvin doon at yon peerie hoose i da gairden at Mr Ross biggit — what caas he it again?’
‘Arbour, lass, arbour. Get on wi dee tale.’
‘Weel, as I was sayin, I saw somethin muvvin. An I kent Mr Ross doesna laek aa dis folk at’s been comin aboot lately axin for mell, so I creepit doon alang da daek ta see wha it was.’
‘Yea, yea. An it was dem?’
‘Yea, dat was it. Staandin dere — braaly closs dey wir.’
‘Yea, an you’ll no believe dis whin I tell you.’
‘What, lass?’ She leaned closer.
‘Weel, shö laid her haand apon his airm . . . ‘
‘An dan . . . ?’
‘You’ll no believe dis. Didna he tak her in his skurt '
‘Dan what did he dö?’
Osla glowered. Janny was never satisfied. When had she last heard a tale as savoury as dis ane? Peerie Tamar o Everabister haein a bairn i da lammie-hoose was naethin laek dis.
‘Wis dat no enyoch, tink you? Takkin her in his skurt i da laird's peerie hoose. What tink you wid he say if he only kent?’
‘O what’s dis wirld comin tae? I tink . . .’
‘Wheesht Osla! Here’s someen comin.’
Osla sprang to her feet and grabbing a besom began to sweep round the hearth. The door opened cautiously and in slid Prunk’s head.
‘What’s du snuffin aroond efter, Christy Jeemson?’ asked Janny.
He stood just inside the door rubbing his hands together. ‘I was kinda winderin if der micht be a cup o tae on da go dis cowld mornin.’
‘We hae mair ta do as feed dee wi cups o tae. Stick on da pot, Osla, or he’ll lie showein i wir faces aa mornin.’
Christy sat down at the end of the table and stroked his moustache. ‘You’re laekly seen Mr Ross dis mornin,’ he said with a knowing intonation.
‘Seen Mr Ross?’ said Janny. ‘We see him every day, du moniment.’
‘Weel dan,’ he continued serenely, ‘you’ll hae noticed he’s in a braaly guid lay eenoo.’
‘Yea, I wid say he’s kinda settled doon again efter he got yon pier o his feenished.’
‘Dat he is in feth. But,’ and there was the hint of a smeeg on his face, ‘I hear he has idder irons i da fire.’
Janny's eyes glittered wickedly. ‘Did du ever hear da laek, Osla? What dis men dunna fin ta spaek aboot.’
But Osla was all ears. In the act of lifting the teapot, she paused.
‘What is it you’re heard, Christy?’
‘Weel, ta tell you da truth, it was nae idder as Mr Ross himsel at telt me. An what he said was at he was gyaan ta marry again an no lang ta da time idder.’
Both women gaped and Osla plumped down on a chair at the table, teapot in hand. Janny was first to regain her composure.
‘Osla, dunna sit yunder lookin laek a midderless foal. Pooer oot Christy’s tae.’
Cup in hand, he sat back and regaled them with his news of the forthcoming marriage. When they’d picked him clean of information, Janny sniffed, ‘Weel, he’s up in his cuddie eenoo but he’ll maybe no be sae canty whin he fins oot aboot his sister.’
‘His sister? What aboot her?’
Janny crossed to the muckle chair, a swing in her step. ‘Is du no heard, my Christy, shö’s been takkin lessons fae da skulemester.’ And she gave a peerie crackling laugh to herself.
‘Lessons? Does du mean dem apo da horse dis mornin?’
‘Yea, dat an a lok mair.’
‘Mair says du?’
‘Yea, der mair, an since du’s sae aaber ta fin oot, I sall tell dee. Didna shö geng ta da skulehoose when he was ill an laand up i da very room aside him? An dan juist twartree meenits sin syne dey wir staandin kyoderin tagidder doon i da arbour.’
‘Yea,’ asserted Osla, ‘I saw dem wi my own twa een.’
‘I da arbour?’ said Christy. ‘Dat’s no far fae da shop, an I’m been dere aa mornin. An I never saw dem. I spak ta Mr Clunies a little ago an he was on his wye ta spaek ta Mr Ross.’
‘It’ll no be spaekin at Ross’ll be doin wi him,’ said Janny, ‘when he fins oot aboot dis latest onkerry.’
Christy rose and crossed to the window that overlooked the garden.
‘You needna look for dem noo,’ said Osla. ‘I saa dem baith laevin.’
‘Dunna be a föl, Osla. I ken der gien. Dey werena dere whin I cam in here a meenit sin syne.’ He tugged at his moustache. ‘He’ll juist geng baak-high when he hears. I widna be i da skulemester's shön for a hunder pound.’
Osla's eyes swivelled between the two of them as she envisaged the unfolding drama. ‘O, I ken he will be da tirn! He had sic big ideas for Miss Elizabeth.’
‘Yea,’ said Janny, ‘he’s hed a gadderie o dem here but shö never seemed ta fancy ony o dem. Da hidmost ane was Jeems Hay, an dan dey wir young Scott o Scallowa, an ane o da Ogilvy men fae Lerook, an Heddell da Customs officer, he was here, an young Scott fae Laxfirt. He draggit dem aa here but nane o dem seemed ta click wi her. An I couldna blame her. Dere was young Scott o Laxfirt — a drucken dereeshion dat wis, an as for Heddell—a great creeshy clatch. An dan . . .’
‘Christy!’ The voice was unmistakeable. ‘Where is du?’
Out the door shot Prunk and the women ran to the window to watch the bee-line to his master. Janny leaned on the sill, shaking.
‘Run, Prunk, run!’ she cackled. ‘Keep him awa fae wis for a peerie while.’
Osla beamed. ‘Does du ken, Janny, dis minds me o a guddick I heard da idder night.’
‘O, dee an dy guddicks.’
‘Weel, it was aald Bekka o Gardie at telt me him.’ She screwed up her eyes in concentration: ‘What’s naethin for wan, plenty for twa, an far owre muckle for tree?’
‘Noo dan,’ Janny mused, ‘dat’s a cramper. “Plenty for twa”: soonds laek Miss Elizabeth an Clunies. Na, du has me baet. What is it?’
Osla's face shone in triumph. ‘It’s a secret!’
‘A secret. A secret. Heth, dat's a göd ane.’ Janny smiled to herself then crossed to the stool and began to edge herself up on to it. ‘But I’ll tell dee dis. Whin da secrets aroond here win oot, dey’ll be wan unholy collyshang.’