Chapter One The Long Day ClosesIt was early afternoon on a pleasant summer’s day. The year was 1916, the middle year of the Great War. Mary McLean was sitting in the largest room of her son’s house, the manse of Cabrach, in rural Banffshire in the north of Scotland. The thought ran in her mind that never in her long life had she dreamt she would have been mistress of such a grand house. She did not think the thought in triumph. She was only too aware that her high status had been temporary. This was someone else’s drawing room since David had taken to himself a wife. The rooms that David and she furnished so simply but with much enjoyment was beginning to reflect the influence of a younger presence. After all, it was only right that the place should respond to the presence of the lady of the manse. Only the minister’s study with its mahogany book-case lining the walls and the massive desk in the window recess remained unchanged, giving that room an air of solemn dignity. She remembered the happy passage of the earlier years when she had been - indeed, still was – honoured and respected as the minister’s mother. She had no feelings of resentment, no sense of injustice and no suspicion that she was being pushed out. Far from that, she was aware that she was a decided asset in the big house, and was pleased with the idea that she could still be useful. In God’s good time she would be united with her kinsfolk whose mortal remains lay buried in the far south of Scotland. She had seen seventy-one summers, just one beyond the allotted span of three-score years and ten. But she was still clinging strongly to life and life was very, very sweet for her that summer afternoon. From the kitchen came the singing sound of the kettle and she went through to find David pouring the water into the pot. ‘The very thing after a good dinner,’ said David. ‘Young Mary’s resting. Her time is drawing near and she needs all the rest she can. She’s been overdoing it recently and it won’t be easy for her. Starting a family with twins! I meant to ask you, mother, have there been any twins in the family before? Of course I’m a twin myself, but I’ve never heard mention of others.’ ‘Aye, David lad. There’s been a few cases o’ twins in the Burns family; but don’t let’s think about it. Mary’ll be all right; and I hope you’ll hae boys.’ ‘I don’t know why you’ve always been one for praising the boys, mother. You were sometimes gey hard on our sister, and she played her part in seeing Jim and me through college. But, come on, drink up your tea. Mary’s sound asleep and I think I’ll take a turn over to Rhynie and make a few calls on the way back. What about coming with me?’ Mary had never had the pleasure of sharing in the pastoral calls when her son had been an assistant minister in St. Stephen’s in Glasgow. After all, she was no more than a housekeeper in the eyes of David’s colleagues. And it wasn’t a manse over which she had presided in Glasgow. It was a tenement flat which they had taken to provide a home for David and Mima, Mary’s twins. Mima came home from her duties as a ward sister in Glasgow’s Western Infirmary. A younger brother, James, a teacher was already married with a home of his own at St Vigeans near Arbroath. There was a faint blush on the moor, the crimson bell heather, soon to become a sea of purple stretching to the horizon when the ling heather blooms would blaze their full rich colour. The Deveron flowed through the bracken, a smooth, broad river, and high above the Buck of the Cabrach, the parish’s own mountain, a dark cloud floated by. ‘I think I’ll put on a heavy coat and I’ll tie a scarf round my hat’, said Mrs. McLean, looking at the menacing cloud above. ‘O, it’s just a passing cloud’, said David. ‘I’ll fix you up under the waterproof cover of the side-car once you’re in,’ said a dutiful son. The mode of transport was a large motorcycle with sidecar. Had it been an outing in the city it would have been a tramcar and Mary might have worn a veil. In this open country her face would be exposed to the elements and she would wear a fox fur round her neck, the animal’s head clasped to its tail. David wore a military-style raincoat and, for headgear he had a cloth cap, worn back to front so that the skip would not be dislodged by a sudden gust of wind. Mary put a finishing touch to her preparations, stepped lightly and expertly into the sidecar, an elegant accomplishment for a woman of her age and stature, and drew up the cover that David fixed securely under her chin. Grasping the handlebars he gave a quick stab at the foot-starter. The engine responded at once. He mounted and they were off past the Post Office on the way to Rhynie. Miss Law, the post-mistress was at her door and David sounded his horn, waved his hand, and then they were, duty-bound, speeding away on the loud throbbing machine. Rain was falling when they entered the small town, and, to escape a soaking, they left the motor cycle combination in the yard of a hotel and took shelter in the modest hostelry. Storm clouds spring up suddenly in northern climes; and, as mother and son looked from the spattered windows they disconsolately observed that the rain was thundering on the kerb. They had sat long in the inn and had drunk innumerable cups of tea and still the rain was lashing down; as though it would never cease. There was nothing else for it. They would have to leave, pick up the bicycle and make for home at such considerable speed as the conditions would allow. It was a bumpy ride, and both came home with sodden garments. ‘Get changed as quick as you can,’ was Mary’s instruction to David who had always been ‘chesty’. She herself slipped hastily into dry clothing but she was shivering from the exposure to the wind and weather. She felt sick. David came downstairs and entered the drawing room where his mother sat with bowed head, examining her fingernails. A blind man might have sensed all was not well, but David, who had a very deep affection for his mother, did not seem to notice her discomfort. He had made a complete change of clothing though he still wore a clerical collar and he had put on stout shoes as if ready to go out to any parishioner needing comfort. His entry to the ministry had been a late one. He had been a teacher of mathematics and science in Linlithgow for several years before hearing and responding to a call to the ministry. But he chose to take the full graduating course at Glasgow University in which he graduated as the most distinguished student of his year. A brilliant career would surely follow in a large city charge. So thought his fellow students and some of this professors; but here in the lonely highland parish he had found his ideal charge, the place he had worked and prepared for. He was in his mid-thirties, slim of build, with a pale complexion and a head of fair hair, not particularly handsome, but with a wonderful smile and shining eyes. He entered the room slowly, a book in one hand, the other hand fondling the bowl of a pipe of tobacco whose stem he gripped with strong white teeth. ‘David,’ said his mother, raising her head, ‘you know Mary doesn’t like you smoking in the house and I have a dreadful head and a cold coming on…. and the smell of your tobacco won’t help me either.’ ‘I’m sorry, mother’, said David, laying his pipe on an ‘occasional’ table. ‘But you look ill. You’ve caught a chill. Shouldn’t you be getting up to bed? I’ll bring you up a hot toddy.’ ‘Thank you, son’ said Mrs McLean. ‘Just get me a hot-water bottle and an aspirin and I’ll be fine. Oh and how’s Mary?’ ‘She’s had a good rest and she’s getting dressed. She’ll be down in a minute to get the tea ready.’ ‘I’ll not have any tea, David. It’s a right good sleep I’m needing. I’ll be alright in the morning.’ Mary rose to make her way upstairs. She moved unsteadily and David hurried to her side to support her in her climb. She had never been sure of her footing since she came to look after the manse. The chores in a flat were performed on the level. Tenement stairs were broad and punctuated by wide landings, and once one had struggled to one’s door one had escaped into rooms conveniently and reassuringly all at the same level. She had lived in a lot of places in her lifetime, but her background had been very simple, almost peasant-style. For the most part her people had been very poor. Nevertheless she had proud, rich memories. Mary was grateful to David for his physical assistance and when they had reached her bedroom David went to the windows to draw the curtains and shut out the fading evening light. It was still raining outside so the drawn curtains shut out the sound of rain on her window. ‘Thanks, David,’ said his mother. ‘You’re a good lad. Now you don’t need to stay any longer. I’ll prepare for my bed.’ ‘I’ll get your hot-water bottle and something to drink,’ said David, as he slipped quietly out of the room. It was no more than half-an-hour later when David returned. Downstairs he had been quietly and seriously talking with Mary, his wife. There was a hint of anxiety in his voice and his premonitions amounted to more than an over-zealous imagination. Mary tried to allay his ridiculous fears. She’ll be as right as rain tomorrow. I’m sorry I’m not much help in this condition, but we’ll both do everything we can.’ ‘But it’s not just a cold, Mary. It could be serious.’ ‘Well, we must wait and see. The doctor is coming in three days’ time to check me over and he can have a look at mother if she’s not any better.’ David feared there was a risk of pneumonia. That was the killer that carried off so many folk in their seventies. Strong and well built as his mother was, his suspicion was something more than a mild hysteria. When he remounted the stair, knocked on the door and tip toed into the room his mother was sleeping peacefully, if not heavily. He debated with himself what was best to do and decided that he had better give her an aspirin and the hot milk and brandy he had prepared together with the hot-water bottle she had requested. He laid his hand on her shoulder and immediately she opened her eyes. ‘Sorry I’ve disturbed you,’ said David, ‘but I’ve brought you what you needed, a hot drink, an aspirin and a hot-water bottle. Now take your pill and drink this, then you can get back to sleep.’ Mary smiled up at her son and thought what a wonderful blessing it was to have a devoted and loving family. David blamed himself for the unfortunate outcome of their jaunt to Rhynie. It was an irresponsible thing to do to take his mother in an open sidecar when the weather was so unpredictable. And it couldn’t be a worse time. Mary was heavily pregnant with twins. He wasn’t being fair to the two women he most dearly loved –his mother and his wife. Mary did not fall asleep immediately. She lay thinking long thoughts of the present and the future. That should have been a lovely drive to Rhynie, alone with David, one of her two sons of whom she was so proud. She had always been under the influence of men, not that she ever regarded them as her lords and masters. It was just her fortune or her fate that she had cared first for her grandfather and then for her father, their respective wives having died young. She had always seen her place in life as that of a server and now when she needed to be strong for Mary’s sake, she wondered whether she was to be anything other than an encumbrance. In less than a month she would be a grandmother again and doubly so, twins! She hoped it would be a brace of bonny boys. Already she had grandchildren. In a school-house a few miles from Arbroath there lived her son James with wife and two children, first a boy, another David, then a girl, Nora. Arbroath was rather far away, but she’d stop at nothing if she should be needed there. Then there was her daughter Mima, David’s twin. Mima had married a doctor with a practice in Larkhall, an area of industrial Lanarkshire. They had a baby son, two months old who they felt was not rightfully theirs since they had married rather late in life. Mima was in her mid thirties while husband John was approaching the mature age of forty. When they decided to take the plunge into matrimony it was with the intention that Mima, with her higher qualification in midwifery would assist her future husband in the regular home delivery of babies, a highlight in mining communities. Instead there was an early interruption of the planned routine, but after young James, who was given the name of his paternal grandfather, would be up and running, it was hoped that life would be restored to its normal pattern. That was what they were thinking, though time would show there was nothing very clever about their prophecy. Mary had longed to see this new grandson, and now she felt she might have to resolve to dismiss this cherished desire from her mind. She lay there tossing and turning in the darkness. She conjured up pictures in the flames that leapt from the bedroom fire. Whereas earlier she had been shivering downstairs now she was over-warm. She had an irritating cough that hurt her chest. She started to think of a young friend of her school-days who had died of tuberculosis. Then she took a grip of herself. ‘This won’t do,’ she said to herself. ‘I’ve simply got to get over this quickly. I can’t give trouble at this stage to Mary and David.’ She reached for a glass of water on the bedside table and sipped from the glass slowly. The water was luke-warm but it soothed her throat. She listened but all was quiet save for the ticking of the clock on the bedroom mantelpiece. The rain had ceased. She began to feel drowsy again. Apprehensions disappeared. She murmured a prayer committing herself to God’s keeping and confessing that her fears were unfounded. It was Mary who brought a cup of tea to a seemingly refreshed mother-in-law. ‘Had a good night, mother?’ she asked, and surprisingly alert Mrs. McLean senior answered, ‘Yes, once I got over I slept like a log.’ ‘Here’s a cup of tea, now. And you’re to stay in bed till you’re fully recovered. Mary looked at her younger namesake. She looked well. She was bright of eye and her fair hair had a good sheen to it. But, Oh, her figure! ‘Was I misshapen when I was having my twins?’ she wondered. ‘Anyway, I never thought about it at all. That’s what women are made for. Their bodies return to their comely shape when it’s all over; and what a bonus to have a bairn for all this trouble. To know true happiness you have to know the joy of motherhood.’ The day that followed was one of the happiest and most peaceful Mary McLean had known for a long time. She lay in bed supping beef tea which Mary junior had brought up on a tray. Mid morning David had come up from the study and stood above the bed, looking down at her. He was as proud of her as she was of him. She had managed to arrange her hair, which lay in long sweeping natural waves, with hairpins. She looked paler and frailer than she had looked yesterday when she had stepped with determination into the sidecar but she looked comfortable and David was able to leave and turn his attention to the world outside. They were a tough farming people in the parish of the Cabrach but they had their problems, their worries, which called for his wisdom and understanding. Whether it was a matter of insurance or domestic strife, trouble with a landlord or problems relating to debt, wayward children or sheep at lambing time, people came to him or he went to them. He advised them and they confided in him. The night that followed was a vastly different one for old Mrs. McLean. Her temperature raged and she was having heart palpitations. She rolled about her bed, fighting wildly against the fever; but it was a senseless struggle. As she lay in the furnace of suffering her thoughts began to turn to her early life and beyond into the strange entanglement that had made her a direct descendant of the National Bard. Plebeian blood it might be, but it was the blood of a genius that had flowed in her veins and in the veins of men who had sown seeds of prosperity in the developing change in modern industry. Men who made bold decisions, set up new factories, provided employment for city toilers and stirred up into flame through their great skills both the delight and the pride of the nation. In her weakened state tears rolled down her cheek as she thought of her own laddies and their struggle to reach college and train for professions. Her own courage she remembered too, the sacrifice of the years when she, her daughter and sons made strenuous efforts together to gain the ascendancy over mediocrity and poverty and failure. Her own early struggles mingled with those of her children and she lost control of herself in the jumble of thoughts that tumbled in her head. Her cough was troubling her and she began to feel it really didn’t matter whether she lived or died. Next morning David came in early to see his mother. He looked at the crumpled bedclothes, disarranged hair, felt the fevered brow and decided at once he must send for the doctor. He went for his motor-bicycle straight away and drove to the doctor’s house in a state of anxious excitement. The doctor was, unfortunately, on holiday and a young deputy, Dr. Donald, was acting locum. He could see the concern staring out of the minister’s face and promised to call at the manse within the hour. This was clearly a case of emergency. Having enquired about the symptoms the doctor knew exactly what to put in his bag. It was almost certainly a case of pneumonia. It was a lovely warm morning. After the recent heavy rain the sunshine took David by surprise but he did not feel grateful for it. His heart was heavy. What had happened in the past two days had vexed him. He was depressed. Only his faith prevented him from blaming God. He knew he should be thanking God for sparing his mother to a useful long life. Now she was both tired and ready to escape from this world of suffering and be received into the salvation of God. It was the actual beginning of the new life and she would see God face to face. David had begun to see that his mother must soon lay down life’s burden. The young doctor set off for the manse by pony and trap flourishing his whip as he surveyed the deep colours of the late summer countryside. ‘A grand day for the fishing’, he cogitated as he watched the swollen Deveron rush between its banks. He loved river fishing more than any thing in the world but duty called. This would not be difficult to diagnose. He hadn’t checked anything in a textbook. ‘It won’t take long’ he told himself as, humming a tune, he made his way to the door of the manse. Young Mary was in the kitchen when he pulled up in the trap at the door where David met him. Inexperience and over-confidence can be the curse of a young doctor’s life. He can hurt rather than help by making stupid remarks at the wrong moment. He needs to learn the sympathetic approach. This young doctor, for all his cleverness, lacked understanding. He rushed upstairs and, on the landing, called back to David, ‘Which room?’ Entering the bedroom he peered at the fevered patient and ostentatiously adopted the most melancholy and stupid expression. Even in her extreme weakness Mary McLean had to smile. She had always had a particularly radiant smile. ‘How are you feeling, Mrs McLean?’ asked the doctor as he pulled out his stethoscope. ‘I’ve felt a lot better,’ replied Mary speaking with outer calm and inner misery. ‘Well, let’s listen to your chest’, said the doctor as Mary, embarrassed with modesty, loosened the neck bands of her night-dress. ‘Mmm,’ muttered the doctor as Mary hastily re-tied the tapes. ‘And you’ve been sick too? Eh?’ ‘Yes, but not too severe, doctor.’ ‘Let’s take the temperature,’ said the doctor as he slipped a thermometer into Mary’s mouth. He glanced at the withdrawn thermometer, then shook it down. Mary felt a little annoyed at the uncommunicative deputy doctor. No doubt he was an excellent man but his true thoughts were absolutely impenetrable. ‘You can tell me the worst, doctor. I’m quite prepared.’ ‘Have you a bad cough?’ asked the doctor as though he had not heard Mary’s comment. ‘I’ll have a look at your tongue.’ Mary opened her mouth. ‘I’m sure its not a particularly pleasant colour’, Mary observed with a smile. 'But I shouldn’t meddle. You’re very careful,’ Mary emphasised to the sullen doctor, ‘and’ she added, graciously condescending, ‘I’m just a foolish old woman’. Turning to David who, with young Mary, was standing by, the doctor said, almost in a whisper, ‘Can you fetch me a bowl, please.’ David descended the stairs and returned, passing a white empty bowl to the doctor. ‘I’d like to have a sample of your sputum,’ said the doctor. ‘Would you spit into this, please?’ The thick rusty sputum confirmed the clear-cut nature of the disease. It was certainly pneumonia. It had started with the cold she’d caught in the sidecar from the soaking on the way to and from Rhynie. The pain in the chest, the headache, the sickness, the fever, the cough and especially the sputum, all were symptoms of the severity of the illness. The doctor folded up his stethoscope and returned it to his Gladstone bag. He turned away from the bed waving a friendly hand to the patient and casting towards her a genuine and kindly smile. Outside the room he spoke quietly to David and Mary. ‘Your own G.P. will take over. He’ll be back tomorrow. And he’ll be checking you over Mrs. McLean. It’s not very good news I have to give you about your mother. But she’s been a strong and determined woman and she could pull through. Where there’s life, there’s hope. But it’s pneumonia, and a bad case. Keep her warm. Feed her nourishing liquids. Sponge her down. There’s not much more you can do. If she’s going to improve you should notice it soon. She’ll reach the crisis and if she’s going to recover her temperature will drop rapidly. I’ll report to your G.P. and he’ll keep his eye on her.’ The doctor departed. His face was a study in despair. ‘Why, ’ he thought, ‘why with the accumulation of medical knowledge throughout centuries, could there be no answer to an illness such as this?’ He felt all his years of study, all the most valuable time spent in laboratories, in hospital wards were worth nothing after all. He thought of the patient whose bedside he had just left. She was no ordinary woman. The wrinkles at the sides of her eyes showed she had experienced much happiness. He was haunted by those eyes. Oh that he could do something to relieve the suffering of this woman who desired nothing but peace. Her long day’s work seemed to be almost over, no doctor could prolong her life which was swiftly drifting away like a seed of thistledown. ‘How powerless we doctors are’, he pondered. Flinging himself into the trap and jerking the reins to stir the pony into action he remembered the parting words of a professor as with his fellow students he was sent out to the harsh world of incessant torture. ‘Remember, in the last resort you can not perform miracles, but you must always do your best. Death is the most ordinary event. It comes to everyone. It is inevitable, yet it is always unexpected. Your comfort is as reassuring as that of the clergyman. You have a most valuable role to play in the death-bed scene.’ The doctor cast his eyes round the highland scene full of deep colours. He became stimulated by the beauty of the day. The care-worn feeling slackened and he said to the pony in his musing, ‘Let’s go down to the river. There’s good grazing for you and my rod’s in the back of the trap here.’ An hour and more at the fishing was what he needed and for an hour he would be free. Mary and David took counsel with themselves. ‘We must write Jim and Mima at once,’ said Mary. ‘Of course,’ agreed David; ‘this very minute…’ He went hastily to the study, took sheets of notepaper from his desk then filled his fountain pen from the inkbottle. He stopped then and wiped a tear from his eye. It was so hard for a man, even a devoted son, to shed a tear. Then he dropped to his knees and uttered a short prayer in which he called for God’s blessing on his mother and all his dearest ones before he addressed the brief message in identical terms to his sister and brother. ‘I’m sorry to inform you,’ he began; ‘that mother is seriously ill. The doctor has just called and confirmed our suspicion that it is pneumonia. Mary and I are doing everything we can, but we have to wait and see how things develop after the crisis. We shall wire a telegram whether the news is for better or for worse. Mary and I send our warmest love.’ He sealed the letters having slipped them in their envelopes, pressing the stamps he had licked firmly in place. Getting up from the chair at his desk he called to Mary, ‘I’ll slip round quickly to Miss Law’s at the Post Office and get these letters away with the next dispatch. I feel a stroll in the fresh air will do me good and it’ll help me straighten myself out this bewildering day. Shan’t be long.’ Images of the past rose in his mind as he walked the stony road. He did not notice the scenery. The outlines of the picture were indistinct, but central was his mother, her strong almost masculine expression, the smiling eyes, the firm thin lips, with character in every noble feature. It was the face of a strong personality, a woman in the prime of life who was setting out on a journey and knew where she was going and who were going with her; a woman who walked with an upright carriage and with a firm step. Not one to be blown over by a puff of wind. A vigorous woman, and good- looking too. Heads turned as she passed by. He remembered how she had fought for her family like a tigress fighting for her cubs. His thoughts stopped when the little bell tinkled as he opened the Post Office door. ‘How’s your mother today, Mr. McLean?’ asked Miss Law. ‘Not so well, I’m afraid.’ ‘Oh I am sorry to hear that, Mr. McLean.’ Miss Law took the letters and threw them in the mailbag. They would go off with some parcels and some half-dozen letters and odds and ends of feeding-stuffs for animals and some picks and shovels and other miscellaneous items on the mail-van to Dufftown. She noticed the sad expression on the minister’s face and decided it was not an occasion for conversation. ‘I hope your mother will be a bit better tomorrow,’ she remarked uneasily as Mr. McLean walked quickly away to return to the manse. The news content of the envelopes that dropped through the letter boxes of the Forfarshire and Lanarkshire houses could not have come with a greater thud. Mother Mary McLean was their tower of strength, always in good health, quietly efficient with complete confidence in herself without ordinary weaknesses and failings, their enduring, never-drooping mother. Under no circumstances was it permissible for this star to recede out of sight or for this nightingale to cease her sweet melody. Could it really be true that her weary head was sunk in her pillow and she had fought her last fight? For James in Forfarshire there would be no great difficulty in getting himself away to the north. It was the time of the long school holiday. It would be almost a fortnight before school resumed. When should he leave? If he delayed until there was more definite news there would be occasion for self-reproach. He would certainly be going to the Cabrach for this was shocking news The Lanarkshire situation was somewhat different. ‘I think I should go up at once, John,’ said Mima. ‘I feel mother needs my help.’ ‘Yes, Mima,’ said John who had never known what it was to have a mother, his own having died during his infancy. ‘I think I understand, but what about wee Jim? He needs you too; even more than your mother needs you.’ ‘John, how can you be so heartless! It’s plain to see you never had a mother. And she did everything she could possibly do for her offspring’ ‘Yes, I know,’ replied John, ‘but,’ he added getting slightly irritated, ‘your mother for all her strong affections and all her exceptional powers and all her hard work has others nearer to hand to care for her.’ He gave Mima an encouraging smile. ‘The symptoms are certainly alarming but pneumonia is complex and can take a turn one way or the other quite suddenly. Your mother has a very strong constitution.’ Mima accepted these observations, but with a deep sigh. At home in Cabrach Mrs McLean accepted with gratitude the ministrations of her daughter-in-law and her son. She was glad for the return of her own doctor, and quietly surrendered to his advice. She faced the future prospect without fear or dread but rather with resignation and fortitude. She was, she felt, most fortunate in that she was not starved of affection. She had David and Mary close by and a very caring doctor and many of David’s parishioners called to ask for her and brought tempting delicacies which, alas, no longer refreshed the body but cheered the spirit. Material things no longer presented themselves as a boon but she received them with a smile of ethereal sweetness though she could not hold them. Clearly she was fading fast. She had not conquered the crisis. She was sinking into the shadow. David sat long with her and prayed with her. When her tired head sank wearily in the plumped up pillows he said, ‘Mother, is there anything you’d specially like?’ Her sunken eyes lit up and she said, ‘Yes, David. I’d like to see Mima.’ The message went to the black country by telegram. Mima received the news with quiet complacency. She, indeed, was expecting it. ‘John,’ she said to her husband when he came home from a round of sick-calls, ‘I’ve got to go to mother. She’s calling for me. I got a wire today.’ ‘What?’ said John, who was tired after a hard round of visits. ‘You’ll leave wee Jim? You’ll go to attend to the last hours of a life that’s run its course and put at risk one that’s only beginning, that could have fifty years ahead of it?’ ‘Yes John. I have to go, and that’s final. There’s Katie the maid to look after the house, the meals, the callers; and we’ll easily get a nurse-maid to look after Jim.’ So it was settled. She could not be certain her decision was right but it had been taken out of a sense of duty and fidelity. There was no other way for her. Other alternatives were bankrupt. Her most intense wish was to reach her mother before there was any profound change or dimming of the mental faculties. Physical decline was something she expected to see. Please God she would arrive before her mother reached the last milestone on her earthly journey. Mima’s was a long and lonely weary journey. In her anguished mind thoughts were jangling but her face was expressionless. The train rumbled on with exasperating slowness it seemed and Mima began to feel remorse she hadn’t travelled north when first she heard the bad news. Would she be too late? At Aberdeen she was glad to see the lights of the city, the high slim spires of churches, the homely faces of passers-by, to tread again the solid earth, the platform concourse first and then the pavements. She was looking for a hire hall all the way to Cabrach. It would cost a lot of money but she had resolved that speed was of the essence. The slow journeys by local trains would have been too frustrating and the delays, while changing, a punishing interruption. A hired cab for the last stretch would be essential on the final lap. She reflected that despite all the difficulties of this homeward journey there was one redeeming feature. She was thankful it wasn’t dead of winter for the Rhynie to Dufftown road was always the first in Scotland to be blocked by snow each winter. A woman’s instinct and insight and stamina enabled her to accomplish things that no man could achieve though he struggled to the point of exhaustion and Mima arrived at the manse of Cabrach none the worse for her long journey, and, quite untired. Her hard-won victory left her eager to be of assistance. She came, bright-eyed, and after the genuine warm greeting for David and Mary, learning her mother was awake, she said she must go and see her at once. The hollowness of her mother’s face distressed her, and the burning fever of her brow disturbed her. She stroked her mother’s hair and a beautiful astonished smile spread over her mother’s face. It was as if she had discovered a lost child. Mima held her mother’s hand and her heart was full of tenderness. ‘Do you love me mother?’ she asked. For a moment Mrs McLean did not answer, but turned her eyes sorrowfully on her only daughter. ‘Lassie,’ she said. ‘What a question to ask me! Of course, I love you.’ The days that followed were peaceful. Though she was slowly sinking, a smile played on Mary McLean’s lips. She was contented as a child as she submitted herself to her daughter’s ministrations. Then there came a serious message by telegram. ‘Jim pining for his mother. Return as soon as possible.’ The deep-down biological urge prevailed. Mima had been there to support a dear mother in her last days, but her true purpose now was to care for her young child. No matter now that her mother lay dying. She now had the courage to leave the old home and walk back into the new. The decision was neither cold nor selfish. She had given here mother all she could. She knew her mother loved her. Tomorrow she’d be back with her John and her Jim. Mary McLean died peacefully. Her sons were with her. Her daughter could not return; which was unfortunate but understandable. The service in the little country church which was filled with parishioners, was simple. Mary and David sat in the reserved front pew. The remaining pine wood seats were occupied by the countrymen and their wives. The officiating clergyman paid tribute to the gracious lady who had found her peace in the remote highland parish and her rest in Christ. They would all have enduring memories of their minister’s mother. The little procession of family mourners filed out to the kirk-yard where a sprinkling of boys and girls of the parish had gathered to witness the rare sight of an interment. As the children stood there nudging one another and whispering in solemn undertones, the committal service was read, the coffin lowered, the wreaths laid, and soon the gravediggers had taken over, filling in the open grave. It was more than fifty years later that Mima was taken from her son’s manse (yes, another generation, another minister, ‘wee Jim’) and brought to the same grave, re-opened for the first time, with her five sons standing by holding the cords. Mima was laid to rest in her mother’s grave. (Two women who had less time for their own sex but admired and ‘slaved’ for their menfolk as this tale will unfold.) On the tomb-stone at the Cabrach there is inscribed the legend for:
Mary, her husband and for Mima – In loving memory of James Walker McLean Interred Whitburn Cemetery And his wife Mary Miller Pender Great-grand-daughter of Robert Burns, Poet Who died Manse of Cabrach 26th August 1916 Aged 71 Erected by the family Another panel of the stone tells that: On 6th October 1968 Aged 90 Their daughter Jemima Helen Walker Caldwell née McLean passed on and was laid to rest in her mother’s grave.