Authors: D. E. Stevenson
Also by D. E. Stevenson
Miss Buncle's Book
Miss Buncle Married
The Young Clementina
The Two Mrs. Abbotts
The Four Graces
Copyright Â© 1938, 2016 by the Estate of D. E. Stevenson
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Originally published in 1938 in the United States by Farrar & Rinehart, Inc. This edition issued based on the paperback edition published in 1977 in the United States by Ace, an imprint of Penguin.
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Stevenson, D. E. (Dorothy Emily)
The baker's daughter / D. E. Stevenson.
pages ; cm
(pbk. : alk. paper)
This book was written in 1938 and published soon after, but although many of the facts have proved untrue, it is still artistically true of any little town in the Scottish Border Country, and the people are as real today as they were thirty-four years ago.
In writing the history of Miss Bun I have avoided the use of dialect (which is ugly and troublesome to read) and have relied upon the turn of a phrase and an occasional Scottish word to gain my ends. The people of Beilford and others of their ilk are bilingual and can speak good modern English when they please but slip into the comfortable vernacular when they are conversing among themselves or are moved by any strong emotion. The Scottish nobility and gentry, such as Sir James Faulds of Beil and his friend the Admiral, speak cultured modern English in everyday life but often use the vernacular in conversation with their tenants. It would be difficult to say whether they use it unconsciously or for the sake of friendliness and auld lang syne. In their early days, when they ran about their fathers' estates and mixed freely with gamekeepers and the village boys, they would naturally pick up the contagious lilt and expressive phrasing of their tongue.
“And remember this,” said Darnay. “The old Scots language is a grand language, hoary with tradition. They spoke it at King James's Court and at the Scottish Bar. Poets used it and made it live forever.”
A curlew, winging its way across southern Scotland, would see the little town of Beilford as a handful of gray pebbles cast down on the banks of the river Beil. It is all grayâgray stone houses, gray roofs, and gray stones paving the streetsâfor the stone of which it was built came from the quarry at the base of the Castle Rock.
The castle is the seat of Sir James Faulds and is one of the oldest inhabited buildings in the land; it is set upon the cliff overlooking the town, and here the river makes a double bend before flowing away southeastward to the sea.
Beilford is an old town with an East Gate and a West Gateânarrow arches set in thick wallsâand the street that runs from one to the other through the middle of the town is narrow and winding. On market days this street is congested with traffic, for Beilford is the shopping center of a prosperous farming communityâironmongers, saddlers, butchers, and drapers all thrive wellâat one end of the High Street, near the West Gate, a fine frontage displays the sign of THOMAS BULLOCH, WINE MERCHANT AND ITALIAN WAREHOUSEMAN.
* * *
Thomas Bulloch was a well-respected man in Beilford. He had inherited his business from his father and had extended it by hard work and capable management. His shop was patronized not only by the townspeople, but also by the surrounding landowners, for he had a large and varied assortment of goods and his prices were moderate. The shop was served by a good staff of assistants, but Mr. Bulloch could quite often be seen there himself, for he believed it to be good policy to show a personal interest in his customers, and he enjoyed the work. When Mr. Bulloch was not in the shop he was probably in his office at the back of the premisesâa queer stone chamber, three-cornered in shape, wedged in between his ample storehousesâhere he sat, day after day, writing letters, interviewing travelers and agents, ordering wines and spirits, butter and bacon, oranges and spices, and a hundred and one necessities and luxuries that it was his business to retail.
There was a very fine smell in this wedge-shaped office, for Mr. Bulloch liked to keep samples of his wares on the shelves that lined its walls: tins of fruit, jars of ginger, glasses of preserves, spices and cereals and dried fruits of all kinds, and, in a very special cupboard that was always locked, a few bottles of very special wines, liqueurs, and brandies. When any of Mr. Bulloch's old customers had reason to visit the shopâcustomers such as Sir James Faulds of Beil or Admiral Sir Rupert Lang of Bonnywallâthey made a beeline for Mr. Bulloch's sanctum, knowing full well that they would be welcomed there and regaled with a glass of old brown sherry and a thin biscuit or perhaps asked to sample some especially delectable brand of ginger or fine cigar. The gentlemen liked that, but perhaps the chief attraction that brought them to “Bulloch's den” was the man himself.
Bulloch was tall and big boned, with shaggy white eyebrows and strong white hair. The eyes beneath the shaggy brows were gray and keen. There was something birdlike about the straight glance, the slightly hooky nose, and the big spare frame, and when Admiral Lang remarked to the Earl that Bulloch reminded him of “a benevolent eagle,” the Earl was startled at the aptness of the comparison. There was dignity in Bulloch, and wisdom, and a quiet humor.
One cold November day, Mr. Bulloch was sitting at his desk in his wedge-shaped office. Ostensibly he was engaged in writing a letter to his agent in Calcutta to point out that the last consignment of Orange Pekoe had been distinctly below standard, but the pen had fallen from his hand and he was staring with unseeing eyes at the small coal fire that winked and blinked cheerfully in the polished grate. Today was Mr. Bulloch's birthday, and birthdays are the milestones of life, inviting reflection upon the road that has been traveled, or the road that lies ahead. At seventy there is more road behind than in front, and Mr. Bulloch was looking backward down the years. He was looking back a long way, forty-five years or more, to his courtship of Susan Smart, to their marriage and the happy days that followed. He thought of the birth of his only child, Mary, and of the joy that the baby daughter had brought to the comfortable house above the shop.
Those were happy times
, thought Mr. Bulloch
. Mary's childhood, Mary's school daysâhow quickly they passed!
When Mary was barely nineteen she had married Will Pringle, the baker whose premises were at the other end of the street. It was a good enough match as far as money went, for the bakery was a large and prosperous concern, but Will was dour and taciturn, with no humor and less kindliness in him, and the Bullochs had never been able to like him however hard they tried. They could not understand what Mary saw in Will, but they had always given her all she wanted, and a habit of this kind is hard to break. To do Will justice, he had been very fond of Mary and good to her in his own way, and as far as his limitations would permit. Mary had borne him two children: a girl who was named Sue after her grandmother and a boy named Alexander. The years sped onâthey were calm, contented years in retrospectâand then the blow had fallen.
Mr. Bulloch sighed, for Mary's death did not bear thinking ofâit was so unnecessary. If only they had realized
that her cold was serious! If they had put her to bed and had proper advice she might be alive now! They did all they could when once they knew, but it was too late then, for pneumonia is swift and cruel and tarries for no man.
One evening, when Mr. Bulloch was sitting with Mary, she had opened her eyes for a moment, and seeing him there, she had caught at his hand and whispered, “Dad, take care of Sue; she's too serious.” She had drifted away into unconsciousness again before he could answer, but he had known then that there was no hope: Mary was dying.
Sue was fourteen when her mother died, and Will took her away from school to keep house for him. The neighbors talked about itâas neighbors doâsome saying that Will Pringle had no right to take the child from school, and others that it was the best training she could have, and she would make a better wife when the right man came along.
Nobody predicted that Will would remarry, for Will was no “ladies' man,” and he seemed quite comfortably off with Sue as housekeeper. He waited a long timeâuntil his daughter was twenty-twoâand then electrified Beilford with the news that he was going to take a second wife. It is possible, of course, that he may have envisaged Sue's marriage (for there were several young men who would have been glad to have her) and looked about him for a wife-housekeeper before it was too late, or he may have fallen in love with plump Grace Simpson. Nobody knew what was in Will Pringle's head and nobody was ever likely to know, for he was a man who kept his own counsel.
Will's remarriage was a shock to the Bullochs, for
had not forgotten Mary, and her place in
hearts could never be filled, but they kept their bitter feelings to themselves and were friendly and pleasant to Will's new wife. It was necessary that they should keep on good terms with the Pringles on account of the grandchildren.
All this passed through Mr. Bulloch's mind as he sat and stared at the fire, and then, because he was weary of unhappiness, he switched his mind back to the happy times and thought again of the young Maryâof Mary the child. What a gay, pretty creature she was, a fairy princess who had danced her way through life! They had all sorts of foolish little jokes together, he and Mary, and childish secrets and games. And they read fairy tales, for these were her chief delightâMr. Bulloch sitting in the big armchair and Mary on the floor by his knee. The tale of
Goldilocks and the Three Bears
was their favorite (Mary's own hair was spun gold) and he had read it to her so often that, even now, he knew it off by heart: “â¦and when Goldilocks reached the little cottage in the woods, she crept up to the door and knocked softlyâthree little taps, and then three little taps again, and then another three little taps for luckâ¦” And always Mary had knocked upon Mr. Bulloch's office door in the same way, with three times three little taps so that he would know it was Goldilocks calling on the Big Bear. Then, before he had time to answer, she would rush in, laughing merrily, her gold hair blown about by the wind, and swinging her schoolbooks at the end of a little strap. “Big Bear!” she would cry. “It's teatime now; school's over for the day!” Mr. Bulloch had that little strap stillâit was in his table drawer, a queer keepsake for a hardheaded businessman.
It was this gay, irresponsible creature who had said to him, “Take care of Sue; she's too serious,” and Mr. Bulloch often pondered on the words. Did Mary realize that life is hard on serious people and that her own lightheartedness had saved her from hurt?