A weak ray of sun pushed its way through the grey skies over Dumfries in Scotland, gently lighting a cobbled street, flanked by quaint shops with flaking paint around their doors. The sunlight picked up the fresh paint of the newly built Draper's Shoppe with its sign proclaiming 'Established 1745' over the doorway.
Two noses pressed flat against the small swirly-glass panes of the draper's shop. Four hands spread out on the glass beside them. This was their first visit to the town without their father. To be without their father's supervision in such a busy place was exciting.
"Dare ye!" taunted Alexander McCubbin of his twin brother, reminding him of the idea he had thought up a few minutes ago.
"Och, it's a daft thing to do." Thomas replied, his fourteen year old mind turning on the possibilities.
"Aye, maybe, but what a hoot!"
Seeing the shopkeeper turn from the counter and disappear through a curtain into his store-room, Alex nudged his brother.
Their heads turned to look at each other, eyes searching deeply, Alex's crinkled with the grin on his face.
"Och, ye daft clattie," Thomas grinned, sealing the pact by using the family's pet name for a fool.
Alex, the older by a few minutes, was wearing a green jacket over his trousers, while his identical brother was clad in a brown one, so their family and friends could tell them apart. They opened the shop door and stepped up to the counter. Thomas ducked below counter height so he couldn't be seen.
The shopkeeper came through the curtains and enquired what assistance he could be on this bright morning.
"I'm lookin' fer a cap to match my jacket," Alex replied.
"Certainly, young Sir," and the man swept behind the curtains to his store-shelves to find a green cap. He returned a moment later to find Thomas standing there resplendent in his brown jacket, his face a picture of innocence.
"Nice cap, but it don't match," was his comment.
"So sorry, I could have sworn..." muttered the hatter as he repaired to the store-room. "Here, this one..." and his jaw dropped to see the green clad Alex standing there, shaking his head at the brown cap.
"Wait on, I'm sure you were wearing brown just a moment ago. Have ye swapped jackets mayhap?"
"No," Alex replied truthfully, a concerned look on his face. "Maybe the light....."
"Aye, maybe..." the man replied, scratching his head in bewilderment. "Well, I'll away to get the right cap," and he looked long and hard at Alex before pushing through the curtains again.
Returning only a couple of seconds later, he was confronted now by Thomas, with Alex crouched low out of sight. His brow frowned, then his face lit up with the realization that he had been duped and he said, "Just as well I brought both caps this time, young sirs!"
Realizing they were sprung, both boys darted out the door and ran down the street, laughing, as the shopkeeper yelled "Ye young spalpeens!" after them, waving the caps in his hand.
A minute later, they came to a halt on the banks of the River Nith, panting, bent over with laughter at the jape they had played.
"See, I told ye. Great fun!"
"Aye," replied Thomas, "Great fun until Father finds out about it. Ye ken how word travels around here."
A hand dropped heavily on Thomas's shoulder. They spun around to see a red-coated soldier standing there, his off-white leggings and orange jacket facings showing him to be a Corporal in Lee's Regiment.
"And what 'ave we 'ere? A couple o' likely lads up to no good, I'll be bound," he spat, grabbing their collars.
"Och, no, Sir. Please let us go, we're just on our way home to our poor mam. She's been sick and we've been to the apothocary for her herb brew," Alex explained, tears forcing their way down his face. Thomas took the cue and added, "It's the bad cough, ye see, and we dinna want anyone else catchin' it." He took a small green bottle from his pocket and showed the soldier.
"Catchin' it! I'll give you 'catchin' it'!" and he swung a boot at them as he hurriedly let their collars go. Nimbly dodging the black thigh boot, the boys ran off towards the bridge, leaving the English swearwords hanging in the air.
"Good thing ye had the wee bottle with ye," puffed Alex.
"Aye, it's got swamp water in it. I'm fer lookin' at all the wee bugs in it when I get home."
"Bastard almost had us. Ye heard of what the sassenachs done ter young Alasdair Graham last week?"
"Aye, I was there, same as you, when Donald was telling Dad the tale. But he no doubt deserved the beltin' him bein' such a wee devil. Not like us!" They chuckled as they slowed down to a walk.
The cobblestones soon turned to a well worn dirt road which took them out of Dumfries to the north. Deep wheel-ruts told of heavy traffic on this major road, and the boys skipped from one high-point to the next, in competition to see who could last longest without slipping down into the ruts.
After a mile or so, the road became rougher as it paralleled the River Nith. Just past Holywood, the boys branched off to the left onto a narrow track which led them home.
McCubbingstone Fermtoun sat comfortably on the hillside overlooking the Nith Valley. A large farm, big enough to have its own village on-site. There was a blacksmith shop, a bakery and grain-mill, a store house and a few scattered small cottages for the various McCubbin families and other workers.
Near the main farmhouse, a circular bed of masonry stone sat, surrounded by a granite block wall rising to knee height. This was to be the new milling machine house, where a pony would push a bar around the circular path to provide power for the flourmill next door. The central shaft with its wooden gears, was yet to be installed. It would be anchored into place after its supporting rafters were tied to the top of the wall.
Alex and Thomas waved at their father, James McCubbin, who was choosing the next block prior to setting it in position. As head stonemason, he had the responsibility of ensuring that the wall went up straight and true. His plumb-bob and large triangle lay to hand beside the wall, ready to check his work.
"Get ye home, yer mam's wantin' ye!" he grunted as he lifted the chosen stone into position. His helper arrived with another barrow of blocks from the large pile brought in from the quarry. They were tipped onto the ground and stacked in a line for his inspection.
Alex grabbed Thomas's shoulder and nodded assent as he dragged his brother away from the work-site.
At the front door of their cottage, Alex thumbed the latch and pushed the door open, ducking his head to clear the low lintel. Thomas followed and shut the door behind him. The thick leather hinges made no sound. Blinking their eyes in the smoky air, they saw their Mother stooping over the open fire, stirring the cauldron which hung on a chain above the flames. Smell of stew or 'hoosh-magoo' made their mouths water instantly.
"If ye've nought to do but stand there, ye can be choppin' the firewood an' fetchin' another pail o' water from the well. Which of ye does what, I dinna care, but both need doin'. So get ye gone," Maggie ordered.
"Can we help father wi' the stonework after, mither?"
"Meybe. If ye do a good job wi' the wood. Just don't know what to do about this wood. Doesn't seem to burn near as long as when I was a young 'un. Ye could put one end of a long log into the fire an' jis kick it further in bit by bit, an' it'd keep burnin' all day. This stuff is all ashes before ye ken it... And while ye're out there tell yer sister Annie to stop moonin' over her new husband Alasdair Lorimer an' come sweep the floors for me. I don't think she's put broom to floor this week!"
"Aye, mither." They scuttled back out through the low doorway, letting in a shaft of weak sunlight which caught the silver swirls of smoke in its grasp.
The four roomed cottage was typical of the others on the farm. Really a big single room with a fireplace at one end, but James had added a small stone room opposite the door as his bedroom. There were also two spaces curtained off at the other end of the main room. One was for fourteen year olds Alex and Thomas, and ten year old Wee Jamie, the other was now a store room having been Annie's room until she married. But this room would soon be needed for baby Mary, as her mother was with child and space in the main bedroom was tight.
Maggie straightened her aching back and arched backwards trying to alleviate the cramp that had come on her. In her sixth month, she was still quite agile, and did all the normal light housework without complaint.
Her main task was cooking meals over the open fire, most of them mixed up in the large black pot which shared the recessed fireplace with the girdle hanging on its chain and the big black kettle.
Also washing the clothes in a big wooden tub, with water fetched three times a day from the well, as well as taking care of young Mary, who at ten months was starting to crawl and investigate everything, her soggy breech-clout hanging low off her chubby hips.
Annie came by each day to help with the cleaning and the heavy lifting. She helped put the tub on the slab table and filled it from the pail, took the washing out to the line to dry, and took the 'round-again' stew-pot off the fire in time for the meals.
This never-ending pot of stew was kept cooking, re-supplied with barley, oats, various vegetables, some of the new-fangled potatoes that were becoming popular, and a little meat if available. Who knew if the piece of meat you were chewing was today's offering, or a piece that had escaped the ladle for a week! Finally, the old pieces of meat would disintegrate and merge into the rich gravy base. A nourishing and highly tasty dish which the whole family enjoyed, occasionally joined by a trout or old chicken on special days.
She arched her back again, supported her swollen belly and muttered, "Och, what a weight to carry. And still three months to go. It reminds me of when I carried the twins. Surely it couldna be twins again? That James and his strength. Wouldna' be surprised if he does have me knocked up wi' twins again." She sat on a stool to relax for a minute.
Alex and Thomas wandered through the small village, Thomas carrying the pail. They passed a group of girls whispering and giggling, and Alex pinched one on the bottom as he passed, then lengthened his step quickly so he drew ahead. As Isobel turned in annoyance, only Thomas was close enough to have been guilty.
"Ouch, That hurt, ye Deivil. I ken it's you Thomas McCubbin, ye're always hangin' behind. Well, how d'ye like this?" and she swiped at him, hitting his shoulder a glancing blow.
"Wasna' me, it were Alex. But I would ha' done it if I'd thought of it first Isobel McNish. Ye're a spitfire, right enough."
With that, he took to his heels, catching up with Alex in a few strides and seeing the big grin on his brother's face.
"Och, ye're always getting me in trouble, that ye are," he complained.
"Away wi' ye. Ye love it really. That Isobel, she's got eyes for ye, right enough. Ye'll have to watch yerself wi' that one."
The two boys joked and shoved their way up the hill to the well, where Alex wandered off to sit and stare over the hills and valley he so dearly loved. Thomas tied the pail onto the rope and let it down into the stone well, hearing it splash at the bottom. When it had filled, he hauled it up again, resting it on the edge as he watched his brother.
"Bloody sassenachs. Think they own everything. Think they can walk all over our hillsides an' fish in our burns. Why don't they go back where they belong, 'stead o' pushin' us around? We don't want their poxy faces, their lobster jackets, their button-up high boots trampin' all over us. They should get out o' Scotland an' let us be!"
"But Alex, they are keepin' the peace. They have stopped the Grahams stealin' the cattle. An' Father says they spend big money in Dumfries, an' that gives people a job. Without 'em, likely a lot o' folks would starve. An' they're startin' up factories to make things. Father was tellin' me so. An' Uncle James says most of his payin' customers are from over the border. That's why he can make good money as a merchant, an' keep his tract o' land at Edgartown."
"Aye, that's as might be, but I hates to see 'em lord it over us all. If I had my way..."
They were interrupted by a 'Hoy' from the bottom of the hill. Their uncle Robert stood there, his leather blacksmith's apron carrying its burn marks as a badge of his trade.
"Come ye down and help me wi' yer father's new hinges. Hot off the anvil, they are, and ready to be mounted."
The boys ran down the hill, Thomas behind as usual, lugging the wooden pail, and joined their Uncle on his way from the Smithy. Reaching their home, Thomas took the water in to his mother, while Alex ran off to tell his dad what was happening. Returning in a minute, he was in time to watch Robert prise the leather strapping off the open door and lay it on the ground. Their mother stood just inside the doorway watching as well as he fitted the iron pin hinge to the timber and belted the hand-made nails in to hold it in place.
"Here, hold this," he ordered. The boys held the door in position as he slid a branch under the door to raise it clear of the threshold. Making sure it was raised about an inch to allow for sagging, he nailed the ring sections to the doorpost.
"Aye, that'll hold 'er," he claimed. "Ye can tell yer dad he owes me an ale. Or two!" With a laugh, he clapped the boys on the shoulder, rolled his tools in the leather holder and carried them back up the path to his smithy.
"And ye'll not be swingin' on the new door, now!" their mother admonished.
The heather was almost knee deep as Alex lay on his back in it, hidden from view. He was staring up at the clouds scurrying across the sky, identifying patterns and shapes. He had flapped his arms and legs around to create a 'butterfly' and was chewing the stub of a piece of the broken plant while he imagined rabbits and foxes running through the mountains of clouds.
Dimly he heard a horse clopping along the nearby track. Propping his head up, he saw a file of red-coated soldiers tramping towards Dumfries behind their officer. Their heads looked down at the uneven ground, while the officer from his higher vantage point, surveyed the river valley to his left. As they passed, Alex felt the urge to show how he felt at their intrusion into his lands. He scraped together some mud from a depression beside him, and, taking careful aim, flung it at the rearguard, then dropped silently back into the heather, just as the soggy mess found its mark.
"Godstrewth! What was that?" he exclaimed.
"What?" the redcoat next to him asked.
Turning around to show his mate, he said "This!"
"Some great bird's done a King sized poop on you, 'e 'as," laughed the other.
"No bird done that! Someone threw that deliberate, like! An' when I find 'im..."
"What's going on back there?" the officer demanded.
"Some local despoilin' of the King's uniform, Sir. Mud, Sir! All over me back, like."
"Well, who did it, man. Come on, speak up!"
"Don't rightly know, Sir, but they cain't be too far away. 'Aven't seen nobody move," and his eyes swept the stand of heath on either side of the road for evidence.
Alex now realized the enormity of what he had done. He lay as quiet as he could while orders were given to search the heather on each side of the road. The lobsters went to it with a will, mounting their bayonets onto their muskets and sweeping the heath with them as they fanned out. Alex heard them come closer, and wished for the ground to swallow him up.
He saw the tricorn hat with its lace trim appear over the heads of heather, and like a flushed rabbit, panicked. Up to his feet in a flash, his ashen face stared at the soldiers for an instant before he bolted.
Shouts and abuse from behind urged him on to speeds he would never have thought possible. Finally his nimble feet were able to leave the pursuers behind as he flew over the hill and down to the safety of the village. His breath ripped its way in and out of his heaving chest and his legs felt like rubber as he propped himself up against a wall.
"Hide.... Gotta hide," was his only thought as his head swept the stone buildings. The wall he was leaning against on was the smithy, and he could hear his Uncle Robert pounding on the anvil inside. He sneaked around the doorway and slid along the wall behind the blacksmith. To his left was the store-room, a repository for pieces of iron and timber for the fire, as well as a large pile of old cartwheels. It was behind them that he managed to squeeze, most of his body being hidden by some cart sideboards. His heart thumping in time with the anvil hammer, he waited.
Thomas walked up to his father and said, "Mam says to come in fer tea. She's ladled it out an' it's coolin' off now."
"Right, Thomas. I'll just be puttin' this last slab into place. Hand it up to me, will yer."
He handed his father the large stone block and watched him position it as the redcoats marched up. They swept past the stonemason towards the village, until the man near the rear saw Thomas.
"That's him!" he bellowed, "That's the bleeder I seen in the heather."
The column came to a halt, the Officer turning his mount back to stand in front of James. His men formed a semi-circle around father and son, their muskets held horizontally in front of them at chest height, their left hands behind the butt to take the force if they fired.
"So, this is the young rabble who thinks it is clever to despoil the King's uniform!" the officer spat.
"Sorry, Sir, but I dinna ken what ye are talkin' about?" Thomas's father replied, his forehead creased.
"I'm talking about throwing mud on my soldier's uniforms. Anyone despoiling of the King's uniform is the same as despoilin' King George himself. And that is likely the death sentence! Now my man says he saw this lad with his own eyes, an' that's good enough fer me."
"But not fer me, Sir. Ye see, young Thomas here, has been workin' with me all mornin' an' hasna been out o' my sight all that time. So ye canna be meanin' him."
A crowd had gathered, and were watching with interest as James tried to give his son an alibi.
"An' why would I be believin' a thievin' Scot like yerself?" the officer sneered.
"Because he is telling the truth," a voice interjected from behind the horse.
The officer spun to see who had the temerity to interrupt his interrogation and found himself staring at the local Preacher. His frock coat and black leggings added stature to his lean height as he calmly added, "I was here speaking to the McCubbin for some half hour before you arrived. And young Thomas was with us all the time. We were discussing what should be done about building a new Kirk, and Mr. McCubbin here was very helpful in describing the worth of various types of stone, ye ken. And young Thomas was kept hard at work all the time chipping the slabs to shape, as evidence by that heap of stone-chips over there. So ye see, it couldna have been this lad, at all.
"But it was him, I recognize the face, sure as the Devil sits on me right shoulder."
"Devil take ye for a fool, private. It's a man of the cloth with us. Mind yer tongue!" and to the preacher he proclaimed with a flourish, "Well, if you say he was here all the time, I'll not be callin' you a liar." And turning to James, he asked, "Have ye seen anyone lookin' like this lad around here in the last hour?"
Truthfully, James could answer "no" because he hadn't seen hide nor hair of his other son all afternoon.
Seemingly satisfied with this answer, and mindful of the hot roast dinner awaiting him at the Barracks, the Officer wheeled his men into marching order facing back the way they came. Without so much as a 'by your leave', he proceeded to lead them back down the road towards Dumfries.
As the rearguard passed James, he was heard to say, "It's alright fer some people, they don't 'ave to wipe the muck orf their coat!"
When they were out of earshot, James turned to the preacher and said, "Thank you for not giving Alex away. I ken it must be him. Thomas wouldna' have thought of doin' that."
Preacher Fyfe looked at him quizzically and replied, "Oh, your other son! I completely forgot about him! However, I will have to have words with him before Kirk on the Sabbath. We live on the sharp edge of peace in this land, and he would be well advised not to upset the balance, ye ken" Then, with a twinkle in his eye, he touched James's sleeve and added, "Did ye really think I would give up one of our own to those lobsters?"
Go on to Chapter Two