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….


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.