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 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.

The Freedom of the Individual

Secret admiration for Pearl, the big grey mare owned by Hughie Paterson of Seamuir – Voiced by Janet, 1947

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


Pearl had been bought “for half-nothing” as Tom put it, because she had been badly broken to harness and was not “guaranteed for work”. She was a handsome animal but a character to be reckoned with. Pearl was in no way vicious – she never thought of rearing, kicking, bolting or biting. No. When it came into Pearl’s head that she had had enough of work for the present she simply refused to move. All those men who prided themselves on their horsemanship tried all their tricks on Pearl. They would cajole and flatter her and the hatful of oats would be held a foot from her nose. Pearl would not move. Eventually in the middle of some man’s speech to her, she would give him a scornful, disgusted look and march away with her load, leaving him looking a fool for she made it obvious to all that she had moved merely because she felt like it and not because of anything that had been said to her.

In a contrary sort of way, all of us, who were so proud of our intelligent, hard-working, “guaranteed” horses, had a special pride in Pearl. She was a symbol of the freedom of the individual to entertain his own views and indulge his own whims. She was not mischievous like our big mare from Reachfar. Pearl lived unto herself and would pull a load to oblige when she felt like it, but when she did not feel like it, no power in heaven or on earth would make her do it. Secretly everyone admired her for her stolid independence of spirit, although at times, it could be the limit of exasperation for everyone involved.