Although more perceptive people saw all the other shades within the glossy strands, Caroline Burgess was a redhead as far as most folk were concerned. When she was a child, both she and her brown-haired mother had learned to smile dutifully at the jokes about the milkman and the postie. Her father Archie, who invariably referred to her hair as her crowning glory, teasingly told her it was the colour of newly fitted copper pipe.
Esther Burgess was fond of declaring she would die happy if she had hair the same colour as her daughter, and Carrie herself loved it. Looking pretty in pink was out of the question, of course, but she could wear lots of other colours her friends couldn’t. Take, for example, the pale green cotton sundress she had on today. The material had been a bargain for precisely that reason. The shade wouldn’t suit everybody.
Sitting up straight in the striped deck-chair, she smoothed the cool cotton down over her knees. She didn’t think anyone would be able to tell the garment wasn’t a bought one. Esther was a good dressmaker, who took great delight in running up a frock or a skirt out of a few shillings’ worth of fabric. She and her daughter had found the cloth for the sundress at one of their favourite shops, a fabric warehouse in Montrose Street up in Glasgow.
Carrie leaned forward to pick up the hand mirror lying on top of the book she’d brought out with her into the garden of the station house. She was happy with her hair, but she could have done without the freckles which went with her typically Scottish colouring.
Despite the broad-brimmed straw hat she wore as protection against the May sunshine, she could swear she’d acquired half a dozen more of the annoying little dots since she’d come outside fifteen minutes ago. Not a very desirable state of affairs – especially with Matthew Campbell due any minute.
He was on back shift this week, and her mother had agreed the two of them could spend some time together today before he went along to the booking office to start his duties. With a bit of luck, Carrie thought, she might be able to convince Esther that Matt could call past every day this week. She sighed contentedly. Newly left school, with nothing to do for the next few months but wait for her exam results, the summer stretched before her with what seemed like endless promise.
With a furtive glance towards the back door of the solidly built stone cottage in case her mother might be watching, she fished a slice of lemon out of the jug of lemonade she had made earlier that afternoon in preparation for Matt’s visit. Replacing the beaded crochet cover protecting the drink from the insects buzzing about the garden, she applied the fruit to her nose and cheeks. She heard a throaty chuckle.
Starting guiltily, she looked across her father’s potato drills to the fence which separated the long garden from the equally long platform of the railway station. Several faces were grinning at her over the palings. The squad of railway navvies was obviously coming off day shift.
Her eyes lit on Ewen Livingstone. He was standing a pace or two behind his workmates, apparently fascinated by something lying on the platform. Bare-headed, he carried his navy working jacket slung over his shoulder, his index finger crooked through its hanging loop. His mop of fair hair appeared not to have seen a comb for a week. As usual. He raised his head and Carrie looked quickly away.
‘Lemon juice against the freckles? Sure, we could all be doin’ with some of that today, Miss Burgess.’
It was the ganger of the Permanent Way men who had spoken – Martin Sharkey, a middle-aged man almost as wide as he was tall. Sweeping off his bunnet in salute, he wiped his broad and shining forehead with the back of his hand.
‘It’s a devilish warm day, eh?’ Consciously or not, his eyes went to the jug of lemonade. Jumping to her feet, Carrie lifted the chunky green glass pitcher and the tumbler she had put out for Matt and walked over to the fence. Weaving a little to avoid her dress catching on the potato shaws, she picked her way daintily round the edge of the vegetable patch on one of the paths her father had constructed to divide his garden into its different areas.
‘Would you like a drink?’
With a sweep of the hand which held the tumbler, she indicated that the invitation encompassed the whole group. She was going to be in trouble if they all accepted, even if each man took a gulp from the same glass. What the heck, she could always fetch the second jug she’d made, left in the scullery to keep cool. The P-way men had a tough job, out in the open all day and subject to the vagaries of the climate. In the case of the west of Scotland, those were considerable: freezing fog, ice, slush and snow; scorching heat and torrential downpours; the fine misty rain which could go on for weeks, penetrating coats and jackets and shoes.
Sometimes, as the old joke went, you got them all at the same time – although that wasn’t really a joke at all. Everyone had experienced days when Mother Nature flung all four seasons at you at once.
‘No, thanks, lassie,’ said one of the men, ‘but it’s kind o’ ye, all the same.’ He tipped his bunnet politely and headed off down the platform. Three of the other men followed his lead, leaving only their foreman standing by the fence – and Ewen Livingstone. She darted another glance at him. Was she imagining that faint look of reproach on his pale face?
Sharkey surveyed them both thoughtfully. ‘I’ll be getting on too, Miss Burgess, but Ewen here will take a glass of your lemonade. Won’t you, son?’
They stood for a minute or two gazing after the ganger, watching as he caught up with the rest of the squad. Heavy-footed in their working boots, the men clattered over the bridge to the other platform and then were swallowed up by the cavernous exit at the end of it. It framed a steep flight of stairs which led down into the hustle and bustle of Partick.
Carrie pulled back the bolt on the platform gate. Invisible from the railway side, it was an integral part of the picket fence. Like the villain coming up through the stage floor at the pantomime, she had often enjoyed surprising an unsuspecting passenger by suddenly emerging from the riot of rhododendron bushes – interspersed with the occasional silver birch or rowan tree – which tumbled along both sides of the garden.
‘Will you come in for a wee minute?’
Carrie hoped she didn’t sound as reluctant as she felt. She’d been avoiding him for over a month, since the railway social club ceilidh at Partick Burgh Hall. She owed him an apology for that night when, not to put too fine a point upon it, she had used one young man to make another jealous. She repeated the invitation, forcing herself to look Ewen in the face.
Compared to him, she had to admit her own freckles paled into insignificance. Darker than his tousled locks, his marched across his cheeks and nose in the summer months. Yet underneath them, his complexion was as smooth and creamy as her own.
‘Do you want me to?’ Ewen asked gravely.
‘Of course,’ she said, turning about and leading the way back to the deck-chairs. If she got the exam results she was hoping for – and her teachers had said they would be astonished if she didn’t – she was heading for nearby Jordanhill College after the summer holidays to start her teacher training. Last month she had met a recently qualified member of the profession at a tennis party up on Partickhill.
The young woman had insisted that one of the most important qualities required when facing a classroom full of children – all potential wee horrors if they spotted the merest hint of weakness – was the ability to act the part. Judging by this performance, I’m halfway there, Carrie thought ruefully.
Some of the tension in the atmosphere dissipated when they reached what Esther Burgess referred to as the lawn. This was to differentiate the square of grass near the back door of the station house where the family sat out in the summer months from the drying green on the other side of the pebbled path which bisected the long back garden.
‘I’m manky and mucky,’ Ewen said, declining Carrie’s invitation to sit in the second deck-chair, set opposite her on the other side of a small home-made garden table. He took a long stride to avoid standing on the flowers which bordered the lawn, threw his heavy jacket on to the grass and sat down on the edge of the drying green. The ground there was raised by several inches, bordered and supported by upended railway sleepers.
‘This makes a fine seat.’ He stretched his legs out and crossed them at the ankles, the white chuckies which formed the path crunching under the pressure of his heavy boots. He looked around him with every appearance of pleasure, and Carrie felt herself relax a little. Was it possible they could slide back into their previously relaxed friendship as though nothing had happened?
‘This is almost like being out in the country,’ he said. ‘Ye certainly wouldnae think we were between a passenger station and a goods yard.’
‘It’s the trees and the rhododendron bushes.’ She gestured towards the latter. It being May, the extravagant pinky-purple blossoms were just coming into their full glory. ‘They screen us off from everything. Even the noise and soot sometimes.’ The constant danger of the pernicious black flecks puffed out by steam engines settling on clothes drying on the washing line was the bane of her mother’s life. Carrie tried a tentative smile. ‘If the wind’s blowing in the right direction, that is.’
‘Aye,’ he replied, I don’t doubt it.’ If he had noticed that wee smile, he hadn’t responded to it. His eyes drifted once more over the garden: the vegetables, the raspberry canes, the neatly trimmed grass. ‘Your daddy works hard,’ he observed. ‘Making everything grow. The tatties and the vegetables and the wee flowers and everything. It must be rare having all this right outside your own door.’
‘You’re not near a park or anything?’
His eyes came back to her face. ‘There’s no’ much grass in Keith Street, hen.’
She knew instantly that the reminder of the difference in their circumstances had been entirely deliberate. Before she could think of some suitably neutral comment, Ewen spoke again, his face thoughtful. ‘Apart from the Quaker graveyard, of course.’
The delivery was faultlessly deadpan. ‘A graveyard wi’ deid Quakers in it.’
‘Walked right into that one,’ she conceded, expecting him to grin in triumph. He was nothing if not quick-witted, and he had caught her out like this several times. No smile appeared, however. He continued gazing at her with that pensive and extremely disconcerting look on his face.
‘I m-mean,’ she stuttered, ‘why is there a Quaker g-graveyard in Partick?’
He tilted his chin, angling his face towards the sun. ‘Och, there was a group o’ them here once. In the olden days, like. When Partick was a wee village. Seemingly there were some folk called Purdon among their leadin’ lights. That’s why we’ve got a Purdon Street.’
He was full of wee snippets like that, what he himself called ‘another piece of useless information’. Carrie had no idea where he got them all from. She supposed he must read a lot.
‘Where is Purdon Street again?’ The answer didn’t matter. Keeping this harmless conversation going as long as possible did.
‘Where the steamie is,’ he replied, using the colloquial name for the building which housed the public baths and wash-house. The station house had its own little laundry room off the kitchen, equipped with a clothes boiler, two deep sinks for steeping and rinsing clothes and a mangle for squeezing the water out of them. Many of Partick’s overcrowded tenement homes, like those throughout Glasgow, had no such luxuries. On washday the housewives who lived in them pushed prams piled high with their families’ dirty clothes to the steamie.
Ewen pretended to catch himself on. ‘You wouldnae know where that is, of course. The street the Carnegie Library’s on the corner of, then. That’s more your kind of level.’
Carrie didn’t miss the edge to his voice. So much for having a harmless conversation, slipping back seamlessly into their old easy comradeship. Trying to get her courage up to offer that apology, she studied him over the flowers. He sat framed between a clump of marguerites and the group of red hot pokers Archie Burgess had planted in a circle next to them. The flaming hue of the spiky flowers matched the red neckerchief Ewen wore knotted at his throat, traditional garb for Permanent Way men.
‘Catches the sweat,’ he had once told her cheerfully, ‘and it comes in handy for tying to the end o’ a wagon if you need to leave a warning signal for the man coming behind you.’
She couldn’t help noticing he had a hole in the sole of each boot. Embarrassed for him, her eyes slid to his navy reefer jacket, lying on the washing green beside him. That was also traditional gear, as were the brown corduroy trousers he wore. Whether the men bought their working clothes themselves or had them issued free of charge by their employers every two or three years was a perennial bone of contention between them and the railway company.
The jacket was pretty threadbare. The elbows were soon going to be through. Couldn’t his mother sew some patches on for him?
With a pang, Carrie realized she didn’t even know if he had a mother. The two of them had talked a lot since Ewen had come to work on the railway – almost two years ago now – but somehow their conversations had never really touched on the personal. She had picked up the subtle signals that he preferred it that way.
She hadn’t even known he lived in Keith Street until he had mentioned it just now, only that his home lay in one of the crowded streets along towards Partick Cross, on what her mother called the wrong side of Dumbarton Road. Ewen Livingstone belonged, quite literally, on the wrong side of the tracks.
His cheerful description of the state of his working clothes had been perfectly accurate. His trousers and blue collarless shirt were pretty manky. He had his sleeves rolled up and she saw that his muscular forearms had caught the sun. The fine hairs on them were golden, like those at his throat where, under the red neckerchief, the first two or three buttons of his shirt were undone.
‘So, do I get a glass of lemonade? Or do I have to roll over and die for Scotland first?’ The pale eyes were quizzical.
‘What? Oh, sorry.’ Carrie hastily lifted the pitcher and poured. ‘Is that Bobby you’re talking about? Does he roll over and die for Scotland?’
Ewen nodded, but there was a gleam in his light eyes – she had never been able to decide whether they were grey or blue – which told her he knew very well that she was grabbing at any possible topic of conversation except for the one that really mattered.
Bobby was a mongrel of indeterminate parentage but impeccable manners, intelligence and training. His owner Donald Nicholson was a man of few words, but his dog was a great favourite in Partick. Being invited to take him through his various party pieces – giving his right paw, giving his left paw and so on – was considered a great social coup. It was a sure sign that his rather taciturn master approved of you.
‘Aye. I seen him and Donald when I was on the way to ma work this morning.’
Resisting the temptation to correct his grammar, Carrie handed over a tumbler of lemonade. He gave her a glimpse of his old smile as he took it out of her hands.
Ewen Livingstone wasn’t handsome exactly, although his features were pleasant enough. It was the face-splitting smile and the mischievous twinkle in his eye which made him attractive. Up until the ceilidh a month ago, both had almost always been in evidence whenever Carrie and he had met: when he jumped nimbly up onto the platform after working down the line somewhere; when he stopped on his way to and from work to exchange a few words with her.
Caroline Burgess would have been an extremely unobservant young lady indeed if she hadn’t realized fairly early on in their relationship that Ewen Livingstone had a wee fancy for her. She would have been lying if she’d claimed to have no feelings for him in return. There had been at least two occasions when she had been in imminent danger of being kissed over the fence. She wasn’t entirely sure which one of them had been the first to take a step back … or whether or not she was grateful for the physical barrier provided by the wooden palings.
Then, shortly before Christmas last year, Matthew Campbell had arrived at Partick, transferred from Hyndland, the next station up the line. Carrie had taken one look at the new clerk and forgotten all about the young P-way man.
Matt was everything Ewen wasn’t: tall and handsome, well-spoken and well-dressed, and with a quiet maturity and sophistication which appealed strongly to Carrie. At twenty-four, he was seven years older than her. That age gap worried Carrie’s mother, but Matt’s grave courtesy and respectful attitude were beginning to win her round.
The invitation to afternoon tea extended by his mother had also helped. Esther Burgess had been mightily impressed both by the spacious main-door flat at the posh end of Gardner Street and by Matthew’s father. According to her, Charles Campbell was the dead spit of Ronald Colman, and charming with it. Her daughter was inclined to agree with her there, but she had found Matt’s mother rather cold. Spotting her curl of the lip at the way Esther raised her pinkie when she drank her tea hadn’t exactly endeared Shona Campbell to Carrie either.
Mature and courteous Matt might be, but it had taken him long enough to ask her out. A month ago an exasperated Carrie, convinced the attraction between them was mutual, had decided to do something about it. The railway social club do had seemed the ideal opportunity, especially when she found that they were seated at the same table.
He asked her up for the first dance, saw her politely back to her seat at the end of it – and stayed firmly in his own for the next half hour. Sitting on the opposite side of the round table from him, the noise of accordion and fiddles had made conversation impossible. Then Ewen came bounding up, the fair waves of his hair flying, looking for all the world like Bobby the dog when he spotted one of his favourite humans. He had one girl by the hand and was looking for another to make up a threesome for the Dashing White Sergeant. A plan began to form in Carrie’s mind.
It crystallized during the procession of the dance round the hall. Meeting young Mr Campbell, persuaded on to the floor by a colleague to make up a set of two men and girl, Carrie was not at all displeased to be greeted by a ferocious glower. To make sure she was on the right track, she stood up with Ewen for the next dance, a Military Two-Step. Getting up with him the third time for a waltz might have been pushing it a bit – but it did achieve the desired result.
As she came back into the hall from the powder room after the brief interval, Matt stepped out from behind one of the pillars which supported the balcony of the ballroom and took a firm hold of her hand.
‘You’re dancing every other dance tonight with me,’ he told her. His voice was low and husky, his beautiful brown eyes intense. She had made a joke about loving masterful men, but secretly she had been thrilled. To her shame, seeing Ewen’s face fall as he came eagerly towards her and then registered that she had her hand in Matt Campbell’s had given her only the merest twinge of regret at the time.
She was thoroughly ashamed of herself now that the first heady flush of being Matt’s girlfriend had subsided and she was beginning to think straight again. Taking a drink of lemonade, she set her glass down on the table, carefully not too close to her book. She looked up and saw Ewen’s light eyes go to her head.
‘Are you wearing that for a bet, Miss Burgess?’
The cheeky comment didn’t bother her. The brim of her straw hat was rather large. The Miss Burgess did. They’d long since gone on to first name terms with each other. If this unusual formality was a measure of how much she had hurt his feelings, she was truly sorry for it. Stalling for time, she removed the hat and laid it on the table. It covered most of the surface, so she took the book onto her lap.
‘You’ve ayeways got yer heid stuck in a book, haven’t you? Romantic poetry, nae doot. A’ hearts and flowers. Nothing whatsoever to do wi’ real life.’
Thirty seconds ago she’d been feeling sorry for him, but now Carrie bristled. ‘They’re not romantic, as a matter of fact,’ she said with an unconscious lift of the chin. ‘You might even like some of them.’
He shrugged. ‘Read me one, then. I’ll bet ye cannae find anything that’ll mean something to me. That would mean something to any working man.’
She was more than happy to pick up the challenge. She knew exactly which poem to choose. ‘Listen to this,’ she urged. ‘It’s by Robert Louis Stevenson. It’s called From a Railway Carriage.
Faster than fairies, faster than witches,
Bridges and houses, hedges and ditches
And charging along like troops in a battle
All through the meadows the horses and cattle
All of the sight of the hill and the plain
Fly as thick as driving rain;
And ever again, in the wink of an eye,
Painted stations whistle by.
She broke off, unnerved by the silence with which Ewen was listening to her. ‘It’s about a train journey, you see-’
‘I’d worked that out,’ he growled, giving her one of his do-you-think-my-head-buttons-up-the-back looks. Drawing his legs up in front of him, holding his lemonade in one hand, he bent his head forward and stared down at the stones on the path. ‘Read the rest of it,’ he commanded, his voice muffled by the posture.
Here is a child who clambers and scrambles,
All by himself and gathering brambles;
Here is a tramp who stands and gazes;
And here is the green for stringing the daisies!
Here is a cart runaway in the road
Limping along with man and load;
And here is a mill, and there is a river:
Each a glimpse and gone forever!
‘Well?’ she demanded when she had finished.
Ewen straightened up. ‘No’ bad,’ he admitted grudgingly. ‘He’s got the rhythm of the train in his words. That’s clever, that.’
She closed the book and reached for her lemonade. Ewen tossed the last of his own drink back with a gulp and placed the glass on the path, tilting it against the railway sleeper border so that it wouldn’t fall on to the stones. Then he raised his head and fixed her with a penetrating gaze.
‘Go on then,’ he said softly, both elbows now resting on his knees, his hands loosely clasped between his legs, ‘spit it out. You’ll feel a whole lot better afterwards. You’re quite right, Carrie. Ye dae owe me an apology.’
She supposed he didn’t have to be a mind-reader to work out why she had invited him in this afternoon. And despite his rough speech and lack of education, he was by no means unintelligent.
‘About what happened at the ceilidh,’ she began. What was the best way to phrase this? ‘I-I’m sorry-’ What was she sorry about? That she had hurt his feelings? But men didn’t like being reminded of their vulnerabilities, did they? ‘I’m sorry about what happened.’ She faltered under his steady gaze. ‘I mean-’
‘Go on,’ he said in an infuriatingly encouraging tone. ‘I might even throw ye a biscuit if ye manage tae get tae the end o’ a sentence. Like rewarding Bobby for giving me a paw.’ He gave a short bark of laughter. ‘Don’t glare at me like that. Ye’ll get wrinkles to go wi’ your freckles.’
He rose abruptly to his feet and came towards her, thrusting his hands deep into the pockets of his corduroy trousers as he stood on the path in front of her.
‘I’ll say it for you, will I, Carrie? You’re very sorry that you used me to make Matthew Campbell jealous. You’re very sorry you got up to dance with me three times for that express purpose. No’ because you actually wanted to dance with me. Perish the thought, eh?’
His eyes were boring into her across the red hot pokers. Like red hot pokers. He muttered something she didn’t catch, except to realize it was an exclamation of some sort. He took a couple of paces away from her, his angry feet making an impression on the path. She’d have to get the rake out and smooth the pebbles over after he’d gone. He stomped back to stand on the other side of the flowers.
‘And – although I might just be flatterin’ myself here -you’re very sorry that I’m only a railway navvy and you’re the stationmaster’s daughter. Is that no’ the sum of it, Carrie?’
Dismayed, and upset that he was so upset, she stood up and went to him, the poetry book sliding unheeded into the canvas seat of the deck-chair. The skirt of her green dress swished against the marguerites as she took a long step between the flowers and over the earth of the border.
‘Ewen.’ She laid her fingers on his bare forearm but he shook her off, pulling his hands out of his pockets and waving them angrily.
‘I suppose you thought you were as well to keep me dangling. On standby, like. Till someone better came along. Someone like Matthew Campbell.’ The name was spat out. ‘A young gentleman more suited to your superior social status.’ He enunciated the final three words with careful and precise sarcasm. ‘Is that it, Carrie?’ he demanded, nostrils flaring. ‘Have I got it right?’
He wasn’t much taller than her, but he had his head – fair waves more unruly than ever now – tilted back at a haughty angle. The posture enabled him to look down at her. She studied his face and wondered if he did have it right. Had she refused to let herself care for him because of the difference in their social positions? She didn’t want to think that about herself.
‘Ewen…’ she said again. She had no idea what she was going to say to him. He didn’t give her any help, simply kept staring down at her with cool and unforgiving eyes. There was a noise behind them: footsteps coming round the side of the house.
‘Sorry I’m a wee bit late,’ called a cheerful voice. ‘Oh!’ It was Matthew. Carrie threw him the swiftest of glances over her shoulder. She was in no doubt now about the colour of Ewen’s eyes. They had darkened to an icy winter blue.
‘In the name o’ God,’ he whispered. ‘I didnae think you’d do it a second time. I really didnae think anyone would stoop that low.’ He took his frosty gaze off the rapidly approaching Matthew Campbell and bent it once more on Carrie. ‘I’ve obviously had far too high an opinion of you, Miss Burgess. I’ll not make that mistake again.’
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