An Unsavoury Scene and How Janet is Relieved of the Burden

On the accidental witnessing of Jamie “taking advantage” of Miss Violet and how George and Tom relieve Janet of the burden – Voiced by Uncle George, Tom and the eight-year-old Janet, 1918

(Extracted from My Friends the Miss Boyds by Jane Duncan)

But it was not any member of my family that came over the green rim of the basin.  It was that Miss Iris Boyd and that son of the cattleman at Whitemills that was on leave from the Army, and he had his arm around her waist and she had her head on his shoulder and was giggling in a way so silly that I was red hot all over and rooted to the ground with shame for her.   Before Fly and I could feel calm enough to move, they suddenly sat down right beside the clump of broom that held us, and he began to pull at the front of her blouse and she was saying: “Now don’t Jamie!” and giggling, and then again: “Jamie you mustn’t!” and not really meaning it at all, and his face was looking sly and his eyes were bright and his mouth was open and the lips wet and slobbery.  And always from Miss Iris there would come that silly ineffectual guilty furtive giggle and the “Now don’t Jamie!  You mustn’t take advantage!”  After what seemed a very long time of this she suddenly sprang to her feet and ran clumsily like a crab but giggling all the time, across the grass by the pool but I saw Jamie catch up with her and they threw themselves down by another clump of broom and I could see only their feet and his hand now pushing the skirts up from her skinny legs with the black stockings and the pink garters below the knees.  Fly and I crawled out, silent and unseen on to the path, then took to our heels and left Miss Iris and Jamie wrestling in the quarry. …

It was all Dreadful, dreadful in a way I could not describe, for my brain would not think about it without having red sparks of shame, and my stomach felt sick.  And I was afraid to go home, not just because the broom bushes had torn my hair ribbons, but because I felt that some of the hideous, sly guilt of Jamie’s slobbery mouth was somewhere on me and that my family would see it.  I felt that, for the first time in my life, I had been in contact with Real, Awful Sin and it was my fault for going to the quarry where my Friend Tom and my Friend George had told me I must not go.

Several days later:

“Here come now,” said George in a voice more like my father than my clown of an uncle.  “Sit up now and tell Tom and me about this.”

“That Miss Boyd and that man –

I told them.  I told them everything – black stockings, pink garters, “Don’t take advantage” and all.  They listened in rigid silence and when I had finished I looked from one of them to the other.

“For myself,” said George, “I am hard put till it not to be laughing!” and suddenly he rolled over on the grass towards Tom, caught him around the neck and said: “Come on, Tom, dearie, give me a nice kiss, now!”

“Now, now, Geordie!” said Tom with squeaky refinement, “Don’t be taking advantage!”

They began to roll about on the grass together until I could hardly believe that they hadn’t seen the whole episode for themselves.  The longer it went on the funnier it became, and by the time Tom sprang up and began to run, giggling away, with his toes turned out, his hands holding up his trouser legs as Miss Iris had held her skirt, I was holding my aching sides as I laughed, and the dogs were barking their delight and jumping around in circles.

“Was that the way it was, at all?” George asked, after they had sat down again and caught their breath.

“Yes, but not funny like that,” I told him.

“No.  That was because they weren’t doing it for pure foolishness like Tom and me.  But it was just foolishness that was in them, a-all the same although that Miss Boyd is too foolish to know when she’s being foolish, like.” 

“That’s just the way of it,” said Tom.  “But man George we’ll have to sort it out so that they will not be at their foolishness at the old quarry.  The lady might be getting mud on her pink garters!”  They both began to laugh as though they would burst and somehow my Burden of Sin had now disappeared.

Disappointment, and How Best to Deal With It

The disappointment of there being no Harvest Home – Voiced by Uncle George and the eight-year-old Janet, 1918

(Extracted from My Friends the Miss Boyds by Jane Duncan)

“I don’t think there is going to be a Harvest Home this year,” George said.

“That’s foolishness, George Sandison!” I was indignant. “There is always a Harvest Home. Why isn’t there going to be one.”

George leaned on his rake and stared away at the Ben in that searching way, and Tom said: “Well, ye see, since the War things is not the same. Apples and raisins and things is very, very dear, and your father says the Laird kind of feels that he canna afford it like he used to.”

“But we don’t have to have raisin dumpling! We could sing and dance—“

“Listen,” George said. “I don’t think we should be speaking about it. If Sir Torquil feels he canna afford it, to be speaking about it and showing that a person is disappointed will chust make things worse for him. For me, I am just going to go on as usual as if I had never heard o’ such a thing as a Harvest Home.”

“But you are disappointed all the same, George?”

“Och aye, surely. But when a person’s disappointed it’s better to be disappointed in to yourself and not be bawling about it at people. That only makes it worse …. Man, Tom, I wish I had a sweetie! You wouldna have a black-strippit ball about you?”


The Difference between Townsfolk and Countryfolk

Discussing the ineptitude of townsfolk on Red Cross collection day – Voiced by Tom and the eight-year-old Janet, 1918

(Extracted from My Friends the Miss Boyds by Jane Duncan)


So down Tom and I went to the village on Friday afternoon, both in very good form behind Dulcie, who was spanking along, as if she thought it a fine thing to be alive and so it was. Everybody knew us, of course, and stopped to speak to us, and Doctor Mackay put a threepenny piece in the box on the shore road “just for luck” he said. The butter, eggs and honey we had with us would be delivered at the houses that had ordered them, and some would be exchanged for our groceries and butcher-meat through accounts that had been going on for years but the wild raspberries I had picked and the pigeons Tom had shot, were for our Red Cross.

“And we have this new call to make the-day, on the Miss Boyds,” said Tom. “Should we be keeping a pair of Red Cross pigeons for them, do you think?”

“Maybe they couldn’t pluck them, Tom,” I said. “They are awful handless-looking, somehow.”

“Maybe you’re right,” Tom agreed. It’s them being from the town, the poor craiturs. People from the town is very inclined to be useless in a lot of ways. They’ll be buying their pigeons from a mannie that plucks them all ready for the pot, so they never get a chance to learn a thing for themselves. Aye. We’ll just chust sell the pigeons as usual and maybe they’ll be putting a penny in the boxie whateffer.”

The Foolishness of Grown-Ups

Eavesdropping on a hitherto dull, adult conversation – Voiced by the eight-year-old Janet, 1918

(Extracted from My Friends the Miss Boyds by Jane Duncan)


My grandmother said something which I could not hear and Miss Tulloch spoke again. “Och, the bairn is busy choosing the buns, Mrs Sandison, although I’ll give you that she’s a lively little clip.” They were talking about me, and I thought how foolish grown-up people were, for now that my granny had been to see the Miss Boyds I was not interested in them, or would not have been if they had not talked about me in between. But, now that they had brought me into it, where, before, I had been hearing without attending, I now began to listen hard to their low-pitched conversation.

The Dying Art of Good Stacking

The realisation that people in one’s family are mortal – Voiced by the eight-year-old Janet, 1918

(Extracted from My Friends the Miss Boyds by Jane Duncan)

Along the gable of the barn were nine front stacks and woven into the thatch of each stack in dark-green broom, which showed black in the moonlight, was a letter, so that the front row of stacks spelled “Poyntdale”.

“Who did it?” some man’s voice asked.

“Duncan Reachfar, the grieve,” said Sir Torquil. “He and his brother and Tom, their man, are the only men left about here that I know who can do it now. Old Reachfar taught them. But the very art of good stacking is dying out. That’s only the finishing touch to a high-class job, but it’s bonnie.”

I thought Sir Torquil’s voice was unduly sad when he said that only the men of my family, in our district, could thatch and mark his stacks like that, for what was he worrying about? Even if my father got sick (a thing I had never known to happen) at harvest-time, Tom or George would come down and thatch his stacks for him, for it was impossible that they could all be sick at once. “Dying out,” he had said. Dying. Did he mean that when my father, George and Tom died there would be nobody left who could –? But that was not possible! These men were not mortal! They had always been there, they were never sick, people like a person’s father and a person’s friends did not die! Only old, old people died – people like old Granny Macintosh, maybe….But everyone was getting older all the time. Even I was Big Enough now to come to the Harvest Home! And if I was a year older, my father was a year older, everybody was a year older than last year – a year more like old Granny Macintosh….


Emotional Intelligence

When people are not “in their usual” – Voiced by the eight-year-old Janet, 1918

(Extracted from My Friends the Miss Boyds by Jane Duncan)


Even at home, at supper, Tom went on being unusual until my uncle noticed it. Of course, my uncle would just be the one to notice a thing like that. The Big World outside Reachfar thought that my father was far cleverer that his brother, my uncle, but all of us in my family knew that this was not the case. My father was cleverer than my uncle at letter-writing and business – though not at farming of course – and my father was a year older which gave him a little more of that thing called experience, but my father would never be as good or as quick as my uncle at noticing when people were not “in their usual” as Tom was tonight.