Ripples from the stone .....Chapter 13

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Ripples from the stone .....Chapter 13

Post by AnneM » Sun Oct 09, 2005 3:53 pm

The Ripples from the Stone

At a wooden table in her tenement home, Bridget Mulholland is baking a pie for her grandchildren’s tea. There are flakes of pastry under her nails and little lines of flour embedded in the cracks in the skin on her rough hands. As she kneads the dough, she croons under her breath an Irish melody, a favourite of her father’s, “She is far from the land”.

When the knock on the door comes it startles her so much that she drops her pastry and has to scoop it from the spotless floor. Who could be calling at this time? Wiping her hands on her apron she hurries to respond.

The boy on the doorstep silently thrusts the telegram towards her. For a moment she looks at it in disbelief and then without a word snatches it from his hand and, not stopping to take off her apron runs the few blocks to the home of her eldest son.

Seated by the fire Mary Mulholland, is feeding her baby when her mother-in –law bursts in. Taking in Bridget’s unusually dishevelled and agitated appearance, she lays the infant in his cradle where he grizzles in protest for a moment and then falls asleep satisfied. As she fastens her blouse she asks in concern:

“Mother, what is it? What’s happened?”

Bridget holds the telegram by a corner as though it will burn her:

“Read it for me, Mary, and tell me it’s not our Vincent. It can’t be our Vincent.”

Mary has no such confidence and, hoping to delay the inevitable, asks, “Will you not take a cup of tea or even a drop of whisky to settle you, Mother?”

“No read it. Read it now. It’s not my baby.”

Mary tears open the missive and wonders how to break the news. She decides to tell the truth simply.

“Ma, I’m sorry. It is our Vincent. He’s been killed in action.”

At this Bridget begins a dreadful high pitched keening. The baby, woken suddenly, begins to cry again but Mary drops to her knees beside her mother-in-law. She and her sisters-in-law had agreed that they were glad when Vincent enlisted, fearing his influence on their own children. In all truth they would not greatly mourn his loss but the sight of Bridget racked by this terrible grief touches her deeply.

Ignoring her child’s wails she pats the older woman’s arm. “Mother, try to calm yourself. I’ll make a cup of tea and get young Patrick next door to fetch Father Moran for you.”
Bridget sobs, “I don’t want the Father. I want my boy. It must be a mistake. He’s coming home.” By the time Mary seeks out young Patrick she is struggling to fight back her own tears.


It is a blustery spring morning and, in the garden of the cottage by the forge, the wind catches the washing and nearly blows it away before Bessie Tripp has the chance to pin it to the line. The pegs rattle in the pocket of her apron as she wrestles with the sheet from the double bed in which she has slept alone for too long. Although a big woman she has to fight to avoid losing it.

So busy is she with this task that she does not hear the garden gate rattle and her attention is only claimed when the telegram boy, a local lad who knows she will be at home, calls out, “Missus Tripp, Missus Tripp.”

As she takes the message from him she rakes in her apron pocket and says absent-mindedly, “Wait a minute, Bert, while I get my purse and find you a penny.”

Bert, whose elder brother Sam is at the front mutters, “Doesn’t matter, honest Missus. Just hope its not bad news.” And, averting his eyes modestly from the sight of Bessie’s generously proportioned knickers billowing on the line, pedals off, being respectfully careful not to whistle until he is well out of earshot.

Bessie opens the envelope carefully and reads the words she has so long dreaded, “Regret to inform you etc” Feeling faint she clutches at the clothes pole. Her stomach heaves and she retches painfully on the grass. She scolds herself, “For the children’s sake I must pull myself together. Edwin will expect me to be strong.”

“Mary-Ann”, she calls.

At this her eldest daughter, a rosy-cheeked child of thirteen, appears from the end of the garden where she has been feeding the chickens, three shiny brown eggs cradled in her pinafore.

“Mary-Ann, go and fetch your brother and sisters. They’re playing on the green. I need to speak to you all.”

Mary-Ann, puzzled but long accustomed to unquestioning obedience, deposits her spoils in the wicker basket still half full of washing and runs off, two fat blond pigtails flying behind her ,to fetch her siblings.

Neighbours gossiping at their gates have seen the telegram boy pass and shake their heads knowingly as they watch the girl tear the youngsters unwillingly from a game of cricket made almost impossible by the wind.

Once they are all assembled in the cottage kitchen Bessie says solemnly, “Now children, you must all be very brave. Your father has gone to be with the Lord Jesus.”

The children, barely able to comprehend, all sit stunned and silent except the youngest, a boy of four who asks, “When is he coming back?”

“He’s not coming back, dearest. We’ll not see him in this world again but we’ll all meet in heaven.”

This does not satisfy young Eddie who begins to sob loudly, “I don’t want my Daddy to be in heaven. I want him here. He promised he would come home.”

Mary-Ann, trying to hide her own distress but seeing that her mother’s composure is beginning to crack, quickly runs to her small, hard earned store of money and produces a penny which she waves in front of her little brother. “Eddie, if you stop crying and come to the shop with me I’ll buy you some boiled sweets. You’d like that, wouldn’t you?” As Eddie chokes back a sob, she clutches the small grubby hand in hers, wipes his nose and propels him towards the door.

From that day on for as long as he lives Eddie Tripp will associate grief and fear with the taste of boiled sweets. More than a quarter of a century later as he waits, crowded against his fellows in the landing craft that will soon disgorge them onto the beach, to the back of his mouth will come the unmistakeable taste of cinnamon balls.

Pushing herself to her feet, Bessie knows that now she must face the hardest and final task before she can give rein to her own grief. With unwilling steps she forces herself to walk towards the heat and noise of the forge where her father-in-law is working.


The oil lamps shed a soft light in the sitting room. The heavy curtains are drawn as outside it is already dark. In an armchair, a woman in her middle years is reading a novel by Henry James. She is tall and somewhat severe in appearance; her long dark hair is drawn back firmly and her spectacles occasionally slip down her aquiline nose.

From across the hall she can hear her two eldest daughters. The elder is playing the piano, accompanying her sister, who has a very pretty voice, in some Scottish airs. Kate is singing “My love is like a Red, Red, Rose” with such feeling that her mother is confirmed in her suspicion that the girl is in love. As Kate is only eighteen this thought troubles her greatly. Children can be such a worry. She hopes at least that the twins Maggie and Caro are concentrating on their lessons but suspects they are either annoying each other or plotting some mischief designed to torment their elders.

Just as she has resigned herself to putting her book aside and checking up on her children, there is a faint scratching at the door which opens slowly to admit a slightly flustered looking maid, clutching an envelope,

“Message for you, madam.”

Sarah tries to look calm as she takes the telegram and when the curious maid shows a tendency to linger says firmly, “Thank you, Faith.”

She picks up her spectacles which she has laid on the table by her chair. To her surprise she finds that her hands are trembling so much she can hardly put them on. She turns the telegram over as if hoping to guess its content without opening it. Sick with apprehension she considers leaving it aside until her husband comes home but dismisses this impulse as cowardly. Finding a letter opener in the writing desk she firmly slits the envelope open.

At first the words though she reads them several times make no sense. Even once she has taken in their meaning they seem to bear no relevance to her big, clever, energetic eldest son.

Experience had taught her not to give her heart easily but always to keep something back. When Callum was born she had not given him her heart; he had taken it, grasped it firmly between two tiny dimpled fists. She had never guessed it was possible to love another human being so much and initially the emotion had terrified her. Now as the reality that she will never see or hold him again begins to dawn, she wonders how it can be possible to feel so much pain without dying.

Her younger daughters’ shrieks begin to drown out their sisters’ musical offerings alerting Sarah that the inevitable battle has broken out between the twins. Hopefully one of their elders will be sufficiently irritated to intervene. At this moment she cannot face them. She is already grieving for their secure little world which she must soon shatter. How can she tell them that their precious oldest brother is dead? Let them enjoy their childhood for a little longer, at least until their father comes home.

That moment cannot be long delayed. The sound of the heavy front door alerts her to her husband’s return and she rushes into the hall, clutching the telegram.

One look at his wife’s tortured face is enough for Hugh. His heavy black Gladstone bag hits the floor with a thud as he strides towards her to gather her into his arms. Her head against his shoulder, Sarah can at last release her emotion. On the back of her neck she can feel the damp warmth of her husband’s tears joining her own.


The bright June afternoon has brought a good crowd of people out to walk in the gardens. Elderly gentlemen are sitting on benches with their peers, lamenting the decline in modern morals and manners. Nurses are pushing their well-born charges in perambulators. Couples are strolling hand in hand, most of the men in uniform.

Alone and gazing down on this busy scene stands a young woman. She feels self conscious. Abandoning her usual practical clothes, she has dressed with care to meet her lover. Her new dress is in the latest fashion, its skirts showing more stocking than she is accustomed to. The knowledge that her ankles are on display does nothing to increase her comfort. Her curly brimmed hat frames a pretty face that is pale and strained with grief.

Everything is as Callum imagined. There is even a band playing, a group of elderly men in red coats somewhat inaccurately pumping forth patriotic tunes, Barbara feels perversely irritated that they have the programme wrong. She tries hard to ignore their uninspiring rendition of “Soldiers of the King” and struggles to conjure up Callum’s comforting image.

“Where are you? Where are you?” she cries with frustration as the presence of her love proves elusive. “You promised you would be here with me. How can you leave me alone to face all of this, you swine?”

Her anger soon turns to guilt. She realises she cannot transport Callum to this homely scene. She can only picture him in his last days among the blood and horror of the trenches. Even this inability feels like a betrayal.

The memory of his last letter, delivered days after she had read his name in the casualty lists haunts her. For one heart-stopping moment she had believed that its arrival meant that the entry in the newspaper had been a mistake. Callum was alive after all. Then the truth hit home and the realisation felt like losing him all over again.

“My love”, she murmurs, “You wanted me to promise to be the best doctor possible. I promise. I’ll do it for you. It’s so cruel. You could have done so much but now I’ll have to do it for both of us. But how can I manage now? I must be strong and find a way.”

Suddenly, Callum seems to be here, approving of her vow but as quickly as she felt his presence come, it vanishes. Bereft again, she feels the tears begin to well and is mortified to realise that she is showing emotion in public.

However, in a world where grief and loss are everyday companions, her tears attract no condemnation. As the couples pass, some of the women cast quick sympathetic glances towards her. The men look away embarrassed, as though afraid that Barbara’s sorrow will jinx their own luck.

When a pair of sisters, strolling arm-in-arm stop to ask her if they can help, she shakes her head, thanks them in a shaky voice and hurries away to begin the hardest time of her life.
Researching M(a)cKenzie, McCammond, McLachlan, Kerr, Assur, Renton, Redpath, Ferguson, Shedden, Also Oswald, Le/assels/Lascelles, Bonning just for starters

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Post by AnneM » Sun Nov 11, 2007 1:58 pm

Reposting this which is the next bit of the one above.
Researching M(a)cKenzie, McCammond, McLachlan, Kerr, Assur, Renton, Redpath, Ferguson, Shedden, Also Oswald, Le/assels/Lascelles, Bonning just for starters

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