Made for another world

"If I discover within myself a desire which no experience in the world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world." C. S. Lewis

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Maggie of Scotland

I'm thankful for imagination and for family heritage, these two thing prompted this short story as part of a writing competition. My mother's family settled in South Carolina 250 years ago. I like to imagine what motivated them to leave their wild Scottish homeland for a new world. Who were they, how did they live, what did they feel, I've always wanted to know...
Once upon a time. Isn't that how all good stories begin? There was a girl with cascading auburn curls, emerald eyes, and a smile that flashed wild. Maggie had insighted the hearts of many a lad. But it had always been Alan who held her fancy.

Today she whistled as she made her way home; adventure sparkling in her heart. Maggie's bare feet had memorized the winding dirt path like a familiar friend from childhood. Her dark blue skirts swished around her thin ankles as she skipped up the grassy brae to the white cottage she shared with her little sister, brothers and Da'. After dinner she was meeting Alan by the stream beyond the cow pasture to say goodbye.

Banging into the snug cottage where crates stood ready she called out, "Da', where are ye?" No answer. He must be driving the cows home. Angus McKay was purchasing the lot this evening to add to his great herd. The cottage stood silent with a mantel of stillness draped over it's solid walls. Matthew, John, and Alice were most likely off saying goodbye to their playmates. 

Leaving Scottland was hard on the younger ones. They didn't understand the difficulties Da' faced nor the promise of hope in the new world. For many of her countrymen the promise of a better life in the American colonies stood in stark contrast to the economic hardship at home. The sorrow of leaving Scotland, where she and decades of Bankheads had lived in the same whitewashed cottage, was tempered by the fact that many of her towns people and relatives would be seeking their fortune in the colonies as well. Her father's cousins James and Matthew had promised to settle with Da'. Many farmer's leases from Lord Doneagal expired this summer and tenants would no longer be able to afford the increasing rent. It was a matter of survival. 

Maggie started a fire in the low hearth to cook her family's supper one last time. She had ladled piping hot stew into tin bowls and placed a large, round crusty bread in the center of the table by the time her siblings came tumbling through the door. A smile spread across her fair face at the racket of her younger brother's good natured argument and Alice's sing-song mocking of the two. 

"All right ye daft bunch, settle down! Why are ye carrying on so?"

"The foolish boys are fighting over who will get the top birth on the boat. I told them they will likely sleep on the floor," piped Alice.

"Ye will sleep where there's room for ye, that's what. Mind Da' boys and see yer no trouble to him." Maggie ruffled fifteen year old Matthew's ruddy head. He was growing as tall as their father but he still needed reminding of his responsibilities. The new world would hold a great deal of promise for a growing boy like Matthew. 

Maggie ate her stew listening to her sibling's chatter. Excitedly they talked about the ocean passage and what life would be like in their new home. Father and his two cousins had secured land grants in the Carolina's from the crown. Their Da' had been successful with his herd, expanding the barns and cottage. He had laid enough by to purchase passage to America. It was a good thing too because despite his success with the cows, and respect in the village, it still wouldn't be enough to pay the increased rent and taxes on their land.

As soon as dinner was done and the young ones were set to their chores Maggie went tripping down the brae to see Alan. She called out a soft cooey as she shimmied over the low rock wall and then picked her way across the stepping stones of the small brook. Alan emerge from behind the stand of alder. 

A lump rose in her throat as his tawny hair caught the late gleam of sunshine above his broad shoulders. Running to catch his hand she took off with Alan through the gloaming. One last chase through the heather of her homeland. As they laughed and ran past the hills of green, Maggie let the beauty sink into her soul, becoming a part of her very pulse. Flinging themselves breathless on the springy turf, the mist of the evening rolling in, she drank in Scotland as the evening wrapped them in a shroud of soft sorrow. 

Turning her head she looked into his eyes, blue as the sea that would take her from him. "I'll be coming for ye, Maggie lass. America is a braw land and good. Father says that in a year we'll have the passage. I'll come to ye then." 

Her hand reached out to touch his strong jaw, aching at the parting, thrilling in his nearness. How she hoped he would come. Her heart would cling to that hope and believe, it was the only way she could say goodbye. It was late when she crept to the cottage. She watched Alan melt away into the darkness, his hand stretched out in a last farewell. 

After two day's travel James, Maggie, Matthew, John and Alice Bankhead set foot on The Edinburgh bound for Cape Fear, North Carolina. As the ship pulled away from the quay and headed out to the open sea Maggie turned away from the green coastline of Scotland and set her face to America. Salty tears stung her eyes. The scent of adventure rose around her, bracing her heart.

The voyage passed slowly; adventure wore thin. After a few weeks at sea they were nearing America and a desperate fear had wound around Maggie's heart. The silent reality of meeting a new world with a new life growing inside of her cast a shadow of worry across her brow. Her cousin Bess had noticed the thin lines growing around Maggie's mouth and taut shoulders. 

Asking her about it on deck one evening Bess pressed her to confide. The truth slipped out in a gush of relief and a sob, "Bess, what shall I do? How can I face Da' and this new world with my shame."

"Oh, dear, hush yer fretting. Yer Da' loves ye and maybe this new world is the place for a fresh beginning. It's not the first time a sorrowful parting has born regret and it'll not be the last. Take the sorrow as a gift to remember yer Alan. A wee bairn is always welcome no matter the grief that has born it here."

"Thank ye Bess." A comforted Maggie set her face to a new life and adventure once more. Before she new it they were landing in America. Several weeks later they were settling in South Carolina, rolling and green, not unlike the home they had left behind. A crude cabin was quickly constructed and earth turned for planting. Home was taking shape. By spring little James Alan Bankead, born from a dream of love into a land of freedom, was in Maggie's arms. Bess had been right, there was always room in a family.

Many, many years later on a spring evening, after a continent had been tamed, a mother with emerald eyes tucks another Maggie into her bed. "Hush", she whispers as she smooths auburn curls back from her toddlers brow. And in the whoosh of her pulse and the beat of her heart the untamed whisper of Scotland echoes strong and brave. 

Has your family heritage ever inspired you? Tell us how!

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