Mother Angus and Robbie, berrypicking at Blairgowrie, summer holiday 1936 Mother Angus and Robbie, berrypicking at Blairgowrie, summer holiday 1936.
Glory Of The Seas by Monague Dawson Glory Of The Seas by Montague Dawson.

Mother Angus

'Sure, I made some pennies at Inchture Fair, Reading palms and casting spells, And blessed the lassies, desperate to hear The sound of wedding bells'

Of an evening, in the spring and the summer months, Mother Angus would sit by the doorway of the little cottage where she had been born into rural poverty when Queen Victoria was the ruler of an Empire, of which it was said, 'the sun would never set'. She had no husband that anyone could remember, and her son, her only son, it was whispered in gossip, was the legacy of her youth as a servant in a grand house near Weem. As a young girl, she had cleaned and fetched and carried, from early morning until late, earning a pittance for her labours, as so many others had to do. There was gossip in the village, also. Her son asked her, one day, when he had returned home from the school, if she knew what a bastard was. It was what he had been called by some of the other children and he grew to feel that he was an outsider, for his mother never told him why he had no father, unlike those children, who taunted him so cruelly.

He was known as Johhny, Johhny Angus, a restless, inquisitive laddie, with a shock of fair hair and he had run away to be a sailor just after his fourteenth birthday. It was said that the seeds of the wanderlust were planted in his imagination when he had first seen the tall masts of the ships in the harbour at Dundee, during a rare visit when he was but a child. Auld Syme, the village blacksmith, had carried him there on the back of his cart, to the city, an adventure indeed!. The vessels, coming and going with the tide, and the men who crewed the ships had beguiled him, they had taken root in his soul and they had called to him, one spring morning, from far away, over the horizon and beyond.

As the years passed, the memory of the youth faded as people moved through their own lives, the days turning into years as they found their own destinies, their own joys and sorrows. Perhaps it was in the cry of a new-born infant, coming from the room of a little cottage, and, sometimes, the black horses would take the dead to their final resting place to the church on the hill. The Kirk yard overlooking the village where they had lived and loved, and laughed and wept, through the years which had gone before.

One morning, and much like the spring morning when Johhny Angus had slipped away, with a few belongings and a head full of dreams, the postman, Mr Roberts had called at the cottage. He came rattling down the hill, his arrival announced by the yarking of the black crows flocking the branches of the tall trees by the burn. Sitting astride his battered red bicycle with the grey canvas sacks of post hanging over the sides. It was unusual, because he never had cause to stop at the cottage, although he always waved as he passed, on his way to the grand houses, where the post was delivered regularly.

Mother Angus had opened the weather-beaten door in answer to his gentle knock and she could only feel a sense of trepidation as he greeted her. They talked for a few moments, commenting on the weather and she inquired if his wife was keeping well, and then, he handed over a small parcel. It was wrapped in coarse brown paper and tied with rough twine, the sort of twine that a sailor would use in his craft.

She had signed the acceptance slip with a faltering hand and the postman bade her farewell and took off, mounting the bicycle with a little run as he hoisted his leg over the crossbar. She watched him depart and then she went back inside to the chair by the hearth and sat down, for a moment, lost in her thoughts. The morning was warm and the ashes from the fire of the evening before lay in the grate, as grey as her hair. And then, she opened the brown paper parcel, stamped from foreign parts.

There was a letter, written by the master of the trading ship, 'Hyderabad', and it expressed deepest sympathy as it informed her of the loss of her son, Petty Officer's Mate, J. Angus, late of Abernyte. He had been lost at sea, during a terrible storm when not even a solitary star could be seen to guide the ship to safety. The vessel, lashed by the gale and torn and battered by the elements had barely survived the onslaught. Her son, Petty Officer Angus, had courageously performed his duty, to the very end, but was presumed drowned, lost overboard in the South China Sea.

His meagre possessions were enclosed. A sum of money, in a money-order, a white cotton shirt and a photograph of a young man, standing on the deck of a ship, by a life preserver, emblazioned with the legend, 'Hyderabad'. He wore a navy blue coat with gold buttons and he was smiling shyly into the camera. The shock of fair hair visible under the straw hat, perched on the back of his head. Her son, her only child, who had run away to be a sailor, so very long ago.

Far away, over Seemas Hill, the white clouds hung like the sails of some lost ship of dreams, ephemeral and fragile and without substance, waiting to be taken by the wind, like the wild imaginings of a young man, who had once dreamed of adventures bold, over the high seas in exotic lands.

Mother Angus placed the photograph of her son on the shelf of the wooden dresser, and it found a home there, beside her other treasures. Blue china plates and cups, saved for, and purchased over the years, a lock of fair-hair, kept safe in a thimble. Then she whispered that she would always love her son, and she took a little comfort in the thought that, perhaps, maybe, he had survived the storm, and that he might come home again, after all, one day, when she would look out of the window of the little cottage, by the burn, and she would see his figure crest the hill, in silhouette. Her son, returning to her, on the road like a ribbon of silver that leads to the river and to the oceans of the world.

But he never returned, although she refused to give up hope as the years passed. She would tell the children of the village, in stories, that her son was, probably, the master of a great vessel by now, him being gone all of these years, sailing the oceans of the world, far away from tiny land-locked Abernyte.

When the tinker's wife had died, in childbirth, he had brought his son to her, and she had agreed to take in the infant, at least until he was old enough to follow his calling upon the open road, tramping through the dust and heat of summer, and the ice and snow of winter. Mother Angus had first set eyes upon the tinker's woman when the Foden bus had creaked it's way up the brae, coming from Inchture. The driver, a surly, unpleasant man, called, McKeachan, had sworn when he had seen the tinker woman and her man trudging up the brae. He had sounded the horn in a bad-temper and it had rasped out like a crabbit old billy-goat, harrumphing at the world.

The tinker-woman had turned on hearing the noise, and they had both stood back from the side of the road, waiting until the bus passed them by. She was a good-looking woman, with a mane of red hair as Irish as Tipperary and a smile as broad as the river Liffey. Her man stood beside her, a cheery like loon, wearing a patched threadbare coat and worn trousers, tied at the ankles with twine.

McKeachan had cursed loudly as the bus passed, 'damn tinkers!', and Mother Angus had felt a wave of sympathy for the man and the woman standing by the side of the road, itinerant folk, simply coming to seek honest toil in the fields of Abernyte and Perthshire.

The child, Robbie, who had never seen his mother's face, was known throughout the village as, 'the tinker's son', and he grew into a healthy, happy bairn, his red hair as wild as his mother's and with a temper to match. There were some who chose to pick on him, as some children will do with an outsider, but he always stood up for himself and Mother Angus, perhaps, saw in him, the son whom she had lost to the sea so many years before.

Her own son never did return to the cottage at Abernyte, and with her passing the memory of the boy slowly faded and died, like a light, far away over the horizon, fades and dies. As the years passed by, the memory of the old woman, who had lived in the cottage by the burn, at Abernyte, faded too. Now and then, someone would remember something about her, what was it they said, was she not a witch?. Her son, though, well, it was known that he had been lost at sea. he had been the captain of a great ocean-going ship and he had perished in a storm, long ago, so they said. Nobody was really sure, her having been gone these long years since.


That was all they remembered of her, Mother Angus, of Abernyte.