This week I'd like to share a little more of the story. You can check here - The Alexanders - if you'd like to read the beginning.
Danny Alexander is buried on a hilltop not far from the Firth of Clyde, near the community of Saltcoats. He died three weeks previous by drowning. He and two drinking buddies in a stolen dory, none of them could swim. Reckless fun turned deadly peril when the boat was swept asunder by a rogue wave. All three perished. He left behind a defeated wife, seven children, a legacy for drink and the cards, and no money. The rent was four months behind, unable to find work, not enough food for her children, his wife Lucretia relented to the inevitable and moves to Kilwinning to live with her widowed father and accepts charity.
The ancient farm provides a meagre existence. Old man Brodie has two draught horses, Clydesdales named Charlie and Belle. The horses plow fields, haul fodder, yard logs and whatever he can do with them to earn a living. His parcel of land is only big enough for a small garden, a woodshed and his two bedroom house. Living alone for the last nine years, he welcomes his daughter to stifle the loneliness but is adamant that there is not enough room nor food for eight more mouths.
The two youngest bairns, Paul and baby Sheila, could stay but the rest of her lot would have to find other lodgings. The two oldest boys, William and Thomas went to live with Lucretia’s brother and his wife in Newtongrange where they would earn their keep by toiling in the coalfields at the Lady Victoria Colliery where he worked. Her brother Robert was childless and the boys were most welcome.
Mary, the eldest girl, went to live with Molly MacDougall, her deceased husband’s sister, in New Lanark. Molly’s husband, Geoffrey is the floor manager at the cotton mills and was more than willing to have Mary as a domestic to earn her keep until she is old enough to be employed at the mills. The second youngest girl, Lily, went to live with Lucretia’s sister, Victoria, in Dumgoyne. Victoria and her husband, Willard have a daughter the same age and both work at the Glengoyne distillery.
Every time Lucretia left one of her children with a relative, she did so with a heavy heart. Her determination was a thin string holding a dead weight when she turned her back to leave on each occasion. Fortifying herself with the thought that each one would have a better life. She loves all her children but especially Dominic and this will be the most difficult. She kept him until the last and decided that he would be better off with his uncle Duff.
Duff tries to focus on the pair that sits across from him at the table. The boy is looking around the kitchen, eyes wandering back and forth to the fishing rod leaning against the icebox. Lucretia is glaring and tsk-tsking at the empty crock on the cupboard, brown sauce drying on the top. Several errant beans are poised along the rim like sure footed bugs. She turns to stare at him directly. She says, almost a whisper,
“Your brother Danny is dead.”
Duff sits straighter, a bit more stable. Shock causes him to blubber loudly. Dominic stares at him with wide eyes, surprised by the outburst. He sits back in his chair.
“What! Little Danny! How? When? Why wasn’t I told...?”
Lucretia has both elbows on the table when she leans forward and points a finger at him. It’s no nonsense and freckled like her brow.
“You wouldn’t have come anyway. You didn’t even like him.”
Accused he relaxes back into the seat. One hand rubs worried fingers unconsciously through his beard.
“Well, I didn’t hate him.”
“You haven’t spoken to him since your Da died. It must be what…almost four years now?”
Duff answers affirmatively by shaking his head. He’s looking at the boy. He’s not totally sober yet. The body glow is still active but the head cleared a bit. The lad doesn’t look troubled, makes him curious. From the corner of the table he picks up his mug, the tea Lucretia made still steams. Settling both elbows on the armrests, he cradles the cup in both hands.
“Tell me what happened.”
“Him and his two mates…”
Lucretia relates the past 20 days of her life. There are tears, there is anger. Her voice raises in emphasis at points. Flat when in denial. Faint when she speaks of sorrow and loss of which Lucretia has plenty. Dominic watches intently, fascinated by his mother’s admissions. Alcoholics and cards, other women, hard worker when sober, always fed his kids, a wild man under the sheets. Dominic blushes, hangs his head. Both hands under his bum on the hard chair, he wiggles to get comfortable as he thinks about that, staring at the knee of his wool pants.
She tells Duff about the funeral, the dreaded landlord, her dire straits, the parting of her children. It goes on for forty-five minutes. He’s had Dominic fetch two more teas in the telling. He’s as sober as he’s going be. Watching the woman in front of him, he pities her but lets her speak. She pauses frequently, something personal arresting her thoughts. He follows her hazel eyes as they change from dark to light, perhaps a memory sweet. She finishes with the parting of her kin and the people who’ve helped her.
“…and they’ll always be my angels.”
Duff is sitting up, elbows on the table, hands clasped about the empty tea mug. He knows what’s coming. Tilting his head at his nephew, he sees his brother’s eyes looking back at him. Same brownish center and green outer ring, same depth. Beginning to think of his lost freedom, Lucretia interrupts his thoughts.
“I need ya to help raise my Dom.”
There’s quiet now as everyone settles on the statement. Lucretia pulls her shawl tighter while fighting back her tears. Staring at the table, she only sees the blurry surface, wanting Duff to say no…and wanting him to say yes. Dominic is shy of his uncle’s direct stare, the bushy eyebrows look stern. He glances back at the fishing rod in the corner. Duff notices where Dom’s eyes travel.
“Do ya like fishing?”
The head bobs up and down in quick answer and he speaks to the rod, still shy.
“Aye, though I’ve never done it. I know I would though.”
He chances a glance at his uncle whose brow is unknotted. A slight grin makes the cheeks pudgier. He returns a weak smile watching Duff push the teacup aside. One hand begins grooming the beard trying to grasp what raising a boy entails. Lucretia knows she must remain silent while Duff considers her request. She understands how disruptive a child can be. She brought Dom here because the boy usually does as he’s told. A bachelor can be set in his ways.
Dominic has already shed tears over the parting, mostly on the wagon ride, but is warming to the idea of maybe his own bed, probably lots of food and hopefully a new pair of boots. His gaze returns to hands clasped in his lap, red behind his ears because his uncle is still staring at him.
The ticks of the big clock in the entryway grow louder in the silence. Duff is wondering what Adairia and his buddies will think? He resents being forced into this situation. Breaking his gaze away from the boy, he looks back at the rod. He put it there last spring, promising himself he’d get out. He sees the dust bunny swirled about the end of the handle resting on the floor. It convinces him that a change might be needed. Sitting up abruptly, he claps his big hands, startling both of his visitors. Dominic jumps in his seat, Lucretia gasps and Duff waves a hand at Dominic.
“How old are ya lad?”
“Have ya had any schoolin’?”
Dominic squirms in his seat, the flushed cheeks, embarrassed at his lack of education. Lucretia attempts to speak for him.
“He’s good with….”
Shaking his head at her, Duff keeps his eyes on his nephew.
“Let the boy answer.”
Dominic may be pliant, an eager to please fellow but he’s never been known to back down from a challenge. He looks directly at Duff.
“I know my numbers and letters but have a hard time putting them all together. I…I don’t know what to do with them.”
Looking at his mother, the same Watson half smile as her as if they’ve had this discussion before. That moment Duff sees another facet of Dominic.
“Please don’t ask me about fractions, or tell me I’m gonna like girls.”
Duff chortles, slaps his thigh and breaks into a laugh. Relaxes back in the chair. Lucretia, about to scold Dominic, is softened by the innocence in his eyes. She too begins chuckling, a rare occurrence of late. Dominic becomes shy and drops his gaze.
The revelry is short and quiet returns. Momentarily, Duff sits up in his chair, brushes his beard, and straightens out his suspenders. Looking at Dominic, his face is stern.
“You’ll have to earn your keep. You’ll have to learn how to arrange those numbers and letters properly and you’ll do as I tell you. Is that understood?”
Dominic has warmed to his uncle. He likes the bushy beard and bristly eyebrows and eyes that looked like his Da’s. Trying to make himself look bigger, he straightens out from his slouch.
“I’m a good worker, uncle. You can ask Mr. McLaughlin, I worked on his farm for two summers. Isn’t that right Ma?”
“It’s true Duff, lad may be skinny but he’s tough enough, good as any man. Gets that from you Alexander’s. ”
Lucretia feels a warmth descend upon, knowing Duff has agreed to take Dominic. It is soon replaced by melancholy that she must leave one more child in the hands of a relative. Her emotions are a mixture of pain and comfort.
“You’ll not be sorry Duff, he’s a good boy,” she says.
Pushing her chair away from the table, she stands and waves to Dominic.
“Come along then Dom and get your bag from the cairt.”
Thanks for dropping by the Scribbler today. I hope you're enjoying the Alexander story. I would appreciate any comments and you can find a spot below to leave some.
Next two weeks on the Scribbler will bring you guests
*John David Buchanan of Texas, USA
*4Q Interview with Gerard Collins of New Brunswick, Canada.