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Authors: Anne Forsyth

The Baker's Daughter

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THE
BAKER'S DAUGHTER

THE
BAKER'S DAUGHTER

Anne Forsyth

British
Library Cataloguing in Publication Data available

This eBook edition published by AudioGO Ltd, Bath, 2012.

Published by arrangement with the Author

Epub ISBN 9781471307881

U.K. Hardcover ISBN 978 1 4458 4640 8

U.K. Softcover ISBN 978 1 4458 4641 5

Copyright © Anne Forsyth

All rights reserved

Jacket Illustration ©
iStockphoto.com

‘SHE
TOLD ME TO GO'

‘Ma feet's cauld, ma shoes thin, Gie us oor cakes an' let us rin.'
Two or three children crowded around the front door of Maclaren's Quality Baker's, chanting in a ragged chorus.

Angus Maclaren, owner of the shop, turned from rearranging the display of tins of shortbread and shook his head.

‘I thought they'd given up that caper a year or two back.'

‘You're going to send them away, I hope?' The woman behind the till was scrawny, dressed in black, her spectacles on the end of her nose. You would not have guessed that Lizzie Maclaren had ever been a child, let alone a bairn like those clustered hopefully around the door.

‘Och, Lizzie,' said the baker. ‘It's an old Scots tradition every ne'erday.'

She sniffed. ‘More an excuse for begging, if you ask me.' Her brother paid no attention and brought from the back premises a large brown paper bag.

‘There you are.' He handed it to the tallest of the children. ‘Now that's all there is, so you can tell any more of your pals not to bother coming to the door.'

‘Thanks, mister!' The children fell gleefully on the bag of yesterday's cakes and cookies,
sharing
them out, before they ran off, whooping and screeching and fighting for the privilege of bursting the paper bag.

‘They're just a nuisance, those bairns.' Lizzie paused in adding up a column of figures. ‘Bairns will take advantage if you let them away with things. Ruby was too soft with them.'

‘I'll thank you not to be criticising Ruby.'

Lizzie recognised the tone of voice and said no more. She knew by now that her brother wouldn't stand for any criticism of his Ruby.

Poor Ruby, she thought, if she'd lived . . . Angus had been a lost soul without her—
and what would he have done
, Lizzie told herself, with a sudden spurt of anger.

How would he have looked after those motherless bairns, if I hadn't come to the rescue?

Angus Maclaren finished rearranging the display. She was a good soul at heart, was his sister, but she could be very trying. Still, he thought, she had a grand head for figures and she ran his home efficiently. If only she had a bit more humour about her . . .

But now it was Hogmanay, and who knew what 1952 would bring.

‘So what'll it be today, Mrs Maclean?' he greeted the customer who pushed open the glass door.

‘An awful day, this,' she said, unwinding the shawl she had tied round her head. ‘My, it's a dreary start to the New Year and that's a fact.'

Angus
asked politely about her state of health—it was his custom to do this before they got on to the topic of pan loaves, soda scones or fruit cake and the like.

‘I'll not see the year out,' she returned gloomily. ‘Aye, who knows what'll happen this year?'

Angus thought briefly of the country—those long years of war and austerity, but at last things seemed to be taking a turn for the better.

No coupons for bread any more—those dreaded bread units and long queues. Angus had always refused to keep cakes under the counter. ‘First come, first served,' he'd said firmly. ‘So what is the matter?' he asked his customer with a sigh.

‘It's my feet. I'm a martyr to my feet.'

‘Take a seat,' he invited her, drawing forward a chair in front of the counter.

‘Thank you kindly.' She plumped herself down on the chair.

‘I saw your lassie,' Mrs Maclean continued. ‘The other evening—with a boy.' Her voice dropped as she imparted this information. ‘The Tulloch boy . . .'

‘Oh, yes?' Angus said.

‘Just so.' Mrs Maclean was a little disappointed that the baker didn't seem to be disturbed by her piece of news. She added, ‘All dressed up, she was.' She drew in her breath.

Angus coughed. He made up his mind to
have
a word with Rona when she appeared.

The Tulloch boy had a bit of a reputation for being wild. ‘Rona's twenty,' he said. ‘Old enough to go out with boys.'

‘You need to watch,' said Mrs Maclean. ‘Lassies—they're all the same. You want to see she doesn't get into trouble. She wouldn't be the first and she wouldn't be the last.'

If only, he thought, this customer would take her custom to another baker's, but Maclaren's was known to be the best in the town.

‘So what'll it be?'

‘I'll take a pan loaf and half a dozen treacle scones.'

When at last she heaved herself out of the chair, Angus opened the door for her. ‘A good New Year to you, Mrs Maclean, when it comes.'

‘Ah, well,' she said gloomily ‘We'll just need to take what's sent to us. What's for us will no gae past us.'

‘Just so.' Angus closed the door on her and turned to face his sister.

‘Did you hear that?'

‘What?' He busied himself making up the order for the hotel. Dundee cake, shortbread, black bun . . .

‘What she said, that woman, about your Rona. And a boy . . .'

‘Yes, I heard.'

‘So what are you going to do about it?' she
demanded.

‘Leave it to me. I'll have a word.'

‘And so you should. That laddie's been in trouble with the police.'

‘I said, leave it to me. I'll speak to her.'

‘Make sure you do.' She turned back to checking the invoices. From then on, the shop was busy with customers, buying tins of shortbread, black bun and fruit cakes.

Angus thought, as he wrapped tins, and boxed fancy cakes, that it was time he had an assistant. But who was there?

Lots of the lads in the town were still away on National Service—and not many wanted to work in a baker's. Like his own lad, Doug, who had worked in the garage since he left school. Not that Doug was a problem—the problem was Rona.

‘A good New Year to you!' He closed the door behind the last customer and pulled down the blinds. ‘That's us, then. As soon as I've swept up and cleaned the shop I'll get away. Why don't you go? You'll have things to do at home.'

‘I might at that . . .'

They were interrupted by a knock on the door.

‘We're closed,' Angus began, but reluctant to turn away a customer, he unlocked the door.

‘Rona! I didn't expect you.'

The girl who stood on the shop doorstep
was
tall and slim with untidy gold hair. In the cold December air, her cheeks were flushed and her eyes sparkled.

‘I thought I'd come and surprise you. Old Mrs Fowler let me off early . . .' She made a face. As a companion to the old lady at the big house just beyond the little town of Kirkton, Rona was a sore trial to the grim housekeeper who liked everything done by the book.

Oh, dear, thought Rona, looking round the shop. It never changed. It had been the same always since she was a small girl. There was Father, in his white overall behind the counter, and Aunt Lizzie—Rona thought she looked like a black crow in a cage, sitting at the cash desk . . .

She grinned to herself. And the tins, neatly stacked, the counter, scrubbed every night. Who would want to work here, year in, year out?

‘Well, this is a surprise!' Angus smiled at his daughter. ‘I was just clearing up. And your aunt's on the way home.'

Lizzie put on her hat and adjusted it in front of the mirror that advertised a well known brand of sugar biscuits.

‘If that's all right with you . . .' she hesitated. ‘I've things to do for the morn.'

‘Away you go,' said Angus.

‘I'll help you clear up,' Rona offered. ‘Tell me what to do.'

‘You'll need to clear the window display
then
wipe the shelves.'

Window display, thought Rona. The same tins of shortbread had been there for years.

‘Right you are.'

Angus kept an eye on what she was doing. Rona was slapdash, he knew that. She was of little real use. How long she would last at any job, he often thought to himself, was in doubt. And yet, he told himself, as she went energetically about her task; humming tunefully,
Singing in the Rain
, she was a happy presence to have around.

He paused. Was this the time to talk to her about the Tulloch boy?

‘Rona?'

‘Yes?' She was wringing out the cloth and hanging it up to dry.

‘Are you, er, going out tonight?'

‘It's Hogmanay, Father.'

‘Well, I just thought, you might perhaps be going out with . . .' he paused. ‘Your friends.'

She stood, glaring at him. ‘I know fine what you're on about,' she said angrily. ‘It's that old cat, Mrs Maclean, isn't it? The biggest and worst gossip in Kirkton.'

‘Well,' said Angus as mildly as he could, ‘she did mention something.'

‘That she'd seen me with a boy.'

‘Well, yes.'

‘So?'

‘You're far too young,' said Angus more firmly. ‘Too young to be running around with
boys.
Especially the Tulloch lad.'

‘I'm grown up, Father,' she said, exasperated.

Suddenly a thought struck Angus.

‘Should you not be still at your work?'

Rona hesitated. ‘I got away early.'

Angus paused, and carefully replaced a tin on the shelf. He turned to face his daughter.

‘So?'

She didn't meet his gaze. ‘So?' she mimicked.

‘Don't you give me that, young lady,' said Angus sharply. ‘I'll not have your impertinence. Why are you not at your work?' Rona sighed. ‘If you must know . . .'

‘I'm waiting.'

‘Well, I've resigned.'

‘You've what?'

‘I said . . .' she looked sulky. ‘I've left. It wasn't my fault—that old cat, Mrs Jackson, the housekeeper—she'd got it in for me. I only broke a vase,' she said defensively. ‘But she cast it up to me—and all the other things I was supposed to have done. Well,' she swept back her hair. ‘I wasn't having that. So I told her I was leaving.'

‘The truth,' said Angus grimly.

‘She told me to go,' said Rona in a small voice.

‘So you got the sack.'

‘Well . . .'

‘You had a good place there,' said her
father
coldly. ‘You could have stayed there, learned a lot.'

‘I didn't like it,' said Rona. ‘I'd never liked it.'

‘It was a job.' Her father spaced out the words. ‘Jobs are hard to get. You've no training . . .'

‘The teachers said I could go on to college. Maybe.'

‘Aye, if you got a bursary. But where's the money to come from? And you wouldn't stick in. You never have.'

They stood silent, glaring at each other.

Angus went on, ‘You've been in that many jobs. The chemist's—that didn't last, nor the wool shop. It's not that there aren't jobs to be had. You've only to look at the Fife News—there're adverts, folk looking for girls to work at the hospital, Farm Mec are wanting office girls to train, and there're jobs going at the printers in Cupar. You can learn shorthand and typing.'

He paused. ‘But no-one's wanting a girl that's been sacked that many times.' He gave an exasperated sigh. ‘So what do you want to do?'

‘I want to be a model,' said Rona defiantly.

‘Save us!' Angus roared, his patience at an end. ‘A model!' Thank goodness, he thought, that her Aunt Lizzie had gone home and wasn't here to listen to this nonsense. ‘And what makes you think you could be a model?'

BOOK: The Baker's Daughter
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