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Authors: Lillian Beckwith

Beautiful Just!

BOOK: Beautiful Just!
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Contents
Lillian Beckwith
Beautiful Just!
Lillian Beckwith

Lillian Comber wrote fiction and non-fiction for both adults and children under the pseudonym Lillian Beckwith. She is best known for her series of comic novels based on her time living on a croft in the Scottish Hebrides.

Beckwith was born in Ellesmere Port, Cheshire, in 1916, where her father ran a grocery shop. The shop provided the background for her memoir
About My Father's Business
, a child's eye view of a 1920s family. She moved to the Isle of Skye with her husband in 1942, and began writing fiction after moving to the Isle of Man with her family twenty years later. She also completed a cookery book,
Secrets from a Crofter's Kitchen
(Arrow, 1976).

Since her death, Beckwith's novel
A Shine of Rainbows
has been made into a film starring Aidan Quinn and Connie Nielsen, which in 2009 won ‘Best Feature' awards at the Heartland and Chicago Children's Film Festivals.

Vocabulary

Bodach

Old man

Cailleach

Old woman or mother

Ceilidh

A meeting for gossip and song

Creagach

A rocky place

Creagag

The sea wrasse (rock fish)

Ha Nyall

No!

He breeah

It is fine!

He Flure

It is wet!

Oidche Mhath

Good night!

Slainte Mhath

Good health!

Mho ghaoil

My dear

Potach

A cake made from oatmeal mixed with water or, preferably, whisky

Strupak

A cup of tea and a bite to eat

Sooyan

Young coalfish

Souming

The number of animals a crofter is permitted to keep on his croft

Fancy Dress

A blend of peat smoke, tobacco smoke and the rhythm of Gaelic voices drifted languidly through the open doorway of Janet's cottage where the ceilidh was in progress. It was early June and all day the land had been spread with sunshine thick and yellow as Highland cream and even now, though it was past ten o'clock in the evening, the sun was only thinking of dimming its radiance; the larks were only thinking of moderating their exultation; the cattle on the hills were only thinking of bedding down for the night and the hens were only thinking of returning to their roosts in the henhouse. The Bruachites had just begun their evening relaxation when I joined them.

‘Aye, indeed, it's hard when a man has to have one foot on his croft and the other in Glasgow,' Old Murdoch was saying, referring to a crofter from the next village whose funeral the men of Bruach had that day been attending.

‘Ach, but he was always such a fast man,' said Morag. ‘Flittin' from one thing to another as if he couldn't rest at all.'

‘He lived fast an' he died fast,' said Erchy. ‘So fast he nearly missed his own damty funeral.'

‘How so?' asked Murdoch.

Erchy paused to light a cigarette before replying. ‘Why, when we was ready to take him to the burial ground after the minister had finished with him we couldn't find the damty bier to put him on. We searched everywhere an' we was thinkin' we'd have to put the coffin on a wheelbarrow to take it to the grave until Farquhar remembered seein' the bier proppin' up Hamish's haystack last winter.'

‘An' that's where it was?' asked Murdoch.

‘Aye, right enough, that's where we got it. But by God! it was a good job it was June an' not November or it would have been too dark to bury him by the time we got to the burial ground. He'd have needed to stay out all night.'

There were faint murmurs of condemnation, not of Hamish's appropriation of the funeral bier for such a mundane purpose but of his neglecting to mention its whereabouts to the gravediggers.

‘He was young enough to die,' said Janet in a puzzled tone.

‘Aye, an' he must have been sore vexed with himself for dyin' the night before he was to start drawin' his old age pension just,' Morag observed. Her statement was greeted with croons of sympathy.

Murdoch snatched the pipe from his mouth. ‘Is that true?' he queried in shocked tones.

Morag nodded emphatically. ‘I had it from Fiona at the post office herself,' she asserted. ‘Not twelve hours after he died he would have been legible: those were her very words to me.' Morag nodded smugly.

Murdoch, who had been drawing his pension for more than ten years sat back in his chair. ‘My, my!' he muttered, and then again, ‘My, my!' he said, shaking his head.

‘What are you girnin' about, Murdoch?' asked the postman. ‘You should put in your new teeths an' then we'd know what you're after sayin'.'

Murdoch spread his lips in a gummy smile. ‘My teeths are stayin' where they are now,' he said, indicating the dresser drawer. ‘Except for when the minister comes.'

‘Ach, come on, Murdoch! Put them in an' let's see how you look in them. What's the use of gettin' new teeths from the dentist an' then leavin' them in the drawer?' The arrival of Murdoch's false teeth had been a minor event in Bruach and there was a chorus of exhortation. ‘Come on, Murdoch! Give us a good laugh.'

Janet turned round in her seat and reaching out opened the dresser drawer to take out Murdoch's new dentures. ‘They'll not rest now till they see you in them,' she urged jovially. Obediently Murdoch took the teeth, stuffed them into his mouth and bared them in a gorilla-like smile. The company screamed with mirth and Murdoch, himself shaking with laughter, spat the teeth hurriedly into his hand and gave them to Janet who returned them to the drawer.

‘There now,' he told them. ‘Don't ask to see them again for they're stayin' there till the day I die!'

‘And after,' interposed Erchy. ‘You won't need teeths where you're goin'. Not to eat hot soup.'

‘Oh, here, here.' Murdoch looked a little discomfited by Erchy's remark. Janet hastily brought the subject back to the funeral.

‘It would be overwork likely that killed yon fellow so young,' she suggested.

‘Ach, the only way yon fellow overworked himself was dodgin' tse income tax mannie,' said Hector, whose acquaintance with income tax assessments was limited to watching them burn. ‘Tsat's tse reason for him workin' his croft for six months of tse year an' takin' a job in Glasgow for tse otser six months. He as good as told me so himself.'

‘I'm sayin' it was hard all the same,' repeated Murdoch after a short silence. ‘A man cannot rightly do two jobs together.'

‘Indeed it is so,' agreed Padruig the roadman. ‘Don't I know myself what it's like for a man to be needed in two places at one time?'

‘An' not to be found in either one of them when the time comes,' taunted Erchy with a wink at the assembled company.

‘Why so?' asked Murdoch with pretended surprise and quickly pushed his pipe between his lips so as to hide a grin.

‘Ach, the only times Padruig's usin' his spade these few days past is for plantin' potatoes for his sweetheart Flora,' Erchy elucidated. ‘Ever since she's come back to live on the croft she's not wanted for help so long as Padruig's around.'

The return of Flora to her native village after more than thirty years working as a servant on the mainland was the subject of much speculation in Bruach. She was ten years off pension age and she had never previously shown much eagerness to live the crofting life yet here for the past year she had been living and working, apparently contentedly, on the croft she had inherited some years earlier from her parents. There were rumours of a legacy but the Bruachites were sceptical. They knew all Flora's relatives and not one had died leaving more than the amount needed to ship the corpse home for burial and since she had always chosen to be a servant at ‘the manse' they dismissed the possibility of her having benefited either by savings or inheritance from such a source. However, it was noticed that she did not stint herself; that there was always a good dram in recompense for work done and so, accepting she had money other than the income from the croft, they could only ponder on its origin.

‘Tsat's true what Erchy's sayin',' averred Hector. ‘An' I'm tsinkin' we'll be hearin' next she's after gettin' the County Council lorry to take home her peats for her.'

‘Here no, surely,' protested Janet.

‘The Dear knows my fine Flora's no needin' any County Council lorry,' said Morag. ‘She's well able to pay for the hire of her own lorry.' There was a slight trace of envy in her voice.

Padruig leaned forward and lifting a live peat from the fire with his spade-hardened fingers he relit his pipe.

‘Sweetheart!' He spoke the word like an epithet. ‘There's no harm in givin' a body a hand when it's asked for,' he defended. ‘Not when her croft's right there beside the road where I'm workin'.'

‘An' you make damty sure that's where you are working',' Erchy told him. ‘But ach, maybe you're wise. I daresay there's a strupak an' a good dram at the end of it.'

Padruig permitted himself a slow, self-satisfied smile. ‘Aye, I'm no denyin' it,' he admitted. ‘Right enough there's a good dram in it for me most days.' He leaned back puffing at his pipe, savouring their envy.

‘Ach, isn't he the wily one?' commented Janet, getting up to swing the boiling kettle half on to the hob.

BOOK: Beautiful Just!
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