In my less realistic and rational moments (I can’t actually write and I don’t own the copyright) I imagine writing a follow on novel for adults based on my musings on what might have happened next in the lives of Nancy, Desda, Julia et al. I like to think that I’m enough in tune with Dorita Fairlie Bruce to at least come up with ideas that wouldn’t be out of step. Here are a couple of letters that move things along slightly.
We were all so sorry that you were unable to come up for Julia’s wedding. As Julia said, we haven’t so many relations that we can afford to do without one of them. She made me promise to tell you all about it (although I’m sure that Aunt Elsie will already have done so) as soon as I could. So here I am doing just that.
I’m glad that Julia has married into a family that’s so much a part of Colmskirk. Even though she has involved herself in the life of the town, I think she’s often felt a bit rootless and less confident than she appears. And she certainly couldn’t have found anyone more reliable and dependable than Sandy.
But back to the wedding. Knowing Julia, you’ll not be surprised to hear that it was a bit different. She was determined on a winter wedding of course but whatever possessed her to choose Christmas Eve I really don’t know! I have to say, though, that it was very pretty. Her bridesmaids wore deep green and Jentie wore ivory trimmed with crimson and they all carried white roses. Julia’s dress was ivory too, rather than white, and she had beautiful deep red roses. Together they looked a picture.
There were two bridesmaids: Lisbeth Bartle and Triffeny Blair. I don’t think you’ve met Triffeny, have you? She runs the family pottery over in Upper Craigs. She’s younger than Julia but they co-incided for a couple of years at school. For some reason best known to herself, Julia has always felt responsible for Triffeny. They’ve certainly become very good friends over the last few years. I worry about Triff sometimes; she’s very young to have the running of Blairhill entirely in her own hands. However, old Andrew Patch is still foreman and what he doesn’t know about the pottery isn’t worth knowing. His nephew, Charles, has joined the firm too and is an excellent addition by all accounts.
However, back to the wedding again. It was a beautiful day: sunny and crisp and cold – and still too which was a bonus. The service, of course, was at St Columba’s and was conducted by Mr Macrae our new minister. I do like him. He is very committed to his calling but lives in the real world – and he has a great sense of humour. Perry has recently joined the Kirk Session and he is very impressed with the way Mr Macrae leads it. And we all love his family. The oldest daughter, Elizabeth, is in Julia’s Sunday School class and Julia says she’s very intelligent but quite shy.
But the wedding, I hear you cry! It was Mr Macrae’s first wedding here and his wife’s first as organist. Mrs Macrae (or Nancy, as she’s asked me to call her) is an excellent musician and we’re very fortunate to have her. She was at school at St Bride’s and knows Prim Beton (Nisbet, I should say) from those days. The service was at 4pm and the Church was lit by candles, hundreds of them. Perry gave Julia away and he and Sandy looked splendid in their kilts. Sandy’s best man was his school friend, Robert Steele, who’s been the minister at the UF Church here for the last couple of years. Lisbeth’s fiancé, Stuart Cameron, was one of the ushers. He’s a journalist with The Scotsman but managed to get some time off over Christmas. The other usher was Charles Patch and I strongly suspect that his inclusion was a matchmaking attempt on Julia’s part!
The hymns were all Christmas ones: O Little Town of Bethlehem to start and Hark! The Herald Angels Sing to finish. And during the service we sang Love Came Down at Christmas. Do you know it? It’s by Christina Rossetti and is very simple but profound. I was going to say that it’s one of Julia’s favourites but actually they all are! The choir sang while we were through in the vestry for the signing of the register. We could hear them faintly and they were very good – Nancy has taken them in hand and somehow managed to improve the sound.
Old Sam Bartle hosted the reception which I know upset a few people. Aunt Elsie looked a bit scandalised! But he had begged so hard to do it that Perry and I agreed. And it was much easier for people than coming all the way out to Glenbruie. He is really going to miss Julia in the office and I know that Julia is slightly concerned about leaving him. However, she has found him a replacement and impressed upon her the need to keep a tight rein on Mr Bartle’s generous impulses! I’m glad to say that Julia and Lisbeth between them managed to keep the reception understated and tasteful. Really there was just a meal and a few speeches (Sandy was very funny which surprised those who don’t know him well!) and some community carol singing. Julia said that, having been denied the right to make a speech, she was going to have her fill of singing! And it was a lovely ending to the day.
Julia and Sandy stayed in Colmskirk over Christmas and joined us at Glenbruie after Church. And now they’re in Norway! You know how fascinated Julia has become with Colmskirk’s history and there’s quite a Norse influence. A year or so ago, she read about the Norwegian Coastal Steamer service that sails from Bergen all the way up the coast to the Russian border. It’s a lifeline service really, carrying the mail and cargo and people to tiny communities but the ships also take tourists who’re just doing the journey for the experience. Julia thought that this would be a most unusual honeymoon! I never heard what Sandy thought about it but, between you and me, I think he’d have gone anywhere so long as he was finally married to Julia.
Well, Marion, I hope this gives you a flavour of Julia’s day. I’m sure that Aunt Elsie and Pearl and Polly will be able to fill in all my gaps. I hope that your leg heals quickly and that you’ll be able to come and visit soon.
With much love,
12. February 1956
I hope you’re prepared for shocks. You had better sit down to read this. First (and biggest surprise, I think) I’m going to marry Gordon Macrae! I know it seems unlikely given all I’ve said but it would be kindest to burn those letters and forget those conversations. As you know we’ve seen a lot of each other over the years. What you don’t know (unless he’s told Angus) is that he asked me to marry him way back in 1948 – while we were in Easterbraes, in fact, for Jessica’s baptism. To be honest I didn’t take him seriously then but put it down to the warmth of your family life making him sentimental. But after that, he made much more effort to keep in touch and then when I moved to London after Mummy and Daddy died I saw him more often. He asked me again a couple of years ago and I did take him seriously then but I just couldn’t see myself as the wife of a university lecturer. And I was busy with lots of commissions after the painting I did of Celia for the National Portrait Gallery. You know how much fuss there was in the papers because of us being sisters. So, I said no and I thought that was it. We saw each other occasionally after that but usually as part of a bigger group.
And then at Christmas I heard from Ros and Nick that Gordon had been offered a professorship (is that the right word?) at Glasgow University and would be moving after Easter. Why didn’t you tell me that? And I knew then that I’d miss having him around. To be honest, I’ve often been lonely in London. Even when Celia’s here it’s hard to see much of her and, although I know plenty of people, there’s no-one I’m close to. And I suppose that’s when I realised how much difference Gordon makes. Even when I turned him down it wasn’t because I didn’t care for him but because I didn’t think we could make it work – our lives are so different. You know better than anyone what a struggle it’s been for me to get anywhere so, when I got the breakthrough, I felt I had to be single-minded.
I put off getting in touch with Gordon because I felt so mixed up but then, last weekend, we were both staying with Ros and Nick. I had a sudden craving to see the Yellow Farm and all our old haunts so I decided to go for a long tramp on Saturday and Gordon came too. And, to cut a long story short, we were engaged by the time we got back to Rosalind’s! I’ll give you all the details when I see you but we talked lots of things through and I was properly honest with him and somehow all my worries have shrunk. I’m still a bit nervous of being Professor Macrae’s wife but not of being married to Gordon! And you and I will be near each other again. Hurrah!
We would like to get married in Colmskirk. Gordon is writing to ask Angus if he’ll conduct the service. It’s going to be hard to gather everyone together but Angus is Gordon’s only family and it’s so hard for him to get away that we thought we should come to him. If we wait until the end of June, Celia will have finished her run. She starts filming in the middle of July but is free until then. Merry is a law unto herself as ever, especially now that she’s freelancing but she’s quite happy to spend some of the summer in Scotland. And she has offered to take photographs of the wedding so we can show off about that in the future! Ros will come up with Celia, and Nick will come too if his flying schedule allows. He’s optimistic that, if he puts in a request now for that week off, he’ll get it. He is one of their longest-serving pilots after all! So there should be a decent showing. I wish Angela and Olivia could be there but Canada and Australia are rather a long way away. Celia will be my bridesmaid so long as we all promise to keep quiet about the wedding. She doesn’t want the day swamped by the press. And I hope that Elizabeth, Jessica and Mhairi will be flower girls. Nick will give me away if he can; otherwise I’ll ask Mr Paterson. Do you think he’d mind?
And that’s my other news. I’m going to stay with the Patersons after Easter. The Trustees of St Bride’s want a portrait of Miss Caldwell and they’ve asked me to do it. The easiest way was to do it in situ, of course. Mrs Pat heard I’d been asked and immediately wrote and asked me to stay for as long as I like. My plan now is to give up my flat here at Easter and come to you then (if that’s all right) and then stay with the Patersons for as long as the portrait takes. I hope that you’ll have me from then until the wedding.
Oh Nancy, it will be so good to see you and to be back in Scotland. I loved living in Easterbraes and mostly I loved being at St Bride’s. But the best bit of living in Scotland was our friendship. And next to being married to Gordon that will be the best bit again. And we’ll sort of be sisters. I can’t tell you how happy I am – about everything – but I will try to when I see you, at some length probably! Give the girls a hug each from me and please tell Angus that I’m looking forward to being part of his family.