Course Adjustments

Course Adjustments

Maggie Williams Richmond

USD 23,99

Format: 13.5 cm x 21.5 cm
Number of Pages: 162
ISBN: 978-3-99131-432-5
Release Date: 29.12.2022
Scotland, 1625. A young Scotsman sets out on a voyage of discovery. Along the way he encounters war, religious intolerance, and thieves on a journey to an historical Europe rather like our own – but where loyalty and kinship prove saving graces.

The dining hall at Hawkhill is exactly as Elspeth likes it to be – a rare occurrence. The fire is burning brightly in the hearth. The shutters are open to let in the spring sunshine and a soft breeze. Her closest family are seated around the long oak table. The dresser is groaningly laden with dishes of fish, pots of vegetables, baskets of baps and bannocks, and the last of the apples and pears, retrieved from the cool scullery where they’ve been stored since last autumn. Davie and young Harry are topping up the tankards of ale, while Nellie darts to and fro between the hall and the kitchen, where wee Gytha is scouring the pans and longingly eyeing the comfits that are being kept back for the end of this feast.
‘Nellie, you’ve done us proud!’ Will says, smiling at the housekeeper.
‘Och, Master, thank you – but Gytha’s done her fair share, and Master Jack made the breads for us.’
Jack flushes, as all eyes turn to him, and he takes a breath in.
‘There’s something I’d …’ he starts – but he’s missed his chance.
‘What a shame Billy couldn’t join us too,’ Elspeth is saying. ‘It would’ve been lovely to have all our nephews together for once, wouldn’t it Will?’
Will looks down the table at his sister. ‘Aye, it would, but I daresay he can’t get away from the inn. Horses don’t look after themselves! But it’s good that Sandy made it – and kind of the Setons to let him come home.’
Sandy gives a small smug smile and a nod, feeling pleased by his uncle’s recognition. It was no trouble to walk the five miles this morning from Pinkie House. He knows he’s fallen on his feet, working as a gardener to Lord Winton. He enjoys both the creativity and the labour of the job, and his employer has a rare tolerant attitude, encompassing new ideas as well as old traditions. Today is a good example. Not everyone was happy when King James re-introduced the celebration of Christmas and Easter. Even fewer people now mark Mothering Sunday, one of the old festival days in Lent, when people used to go back to their ‘mother church’ where they were baptised. But the Setons, and especially Lord Winton himself, are staunch Catholics. They embrace what others decry as ‘Papist nonsense’, and today they have given all their staff a rare and welcome day off.
‘You must mind and say thank you to his lordship,’ Elspeth reminds Sandy, then raises her eyebrows. ‘I hope he’s not missing these daffs you’ve brought me?’
‘Nae, Auntie,’ Sandy replies, havering between amusement and irritation that his aunt still treats him as if he were nine, not nineteen.
‘I grew them on my own patch,’ he tells her, ‘under the apple trees – but the grounds are full of them, a regular sea of yellow!’
‘Speaking of seas …’ Jack leaps back into the conversation, ‘I’ve something to tell you all.’
‘Oh, Jack, just a moment. Nellie’s bringing in the pie!’

Jack deflates like a pricked balloon, feeling the weary sort of resignation that his family increasingly provokes. Everyone’s attention has turned to the centrepiece of the meal, the meat pie, releasing its delicious savoury aroma as Will slices and serves it. Sighing, Jack chides himself that it’s his own fault. He really should have known better than to try to compete for attention with food – and with his three younger brothers. This is how it’s been ever since they all came to live here with Aunt Elspeth and Uncle Will, after their foster-grannie, Ma Mayne, died. Lucky for Billy that he inherited her cottage, and for Sandy, that he got to move away for his work. Not that Jack’s not glad of this comfortable home, the slightly fussy love of his old-fashioned aunt, the gentle guidance of his uncle – he’s just grown out of it. He’s twenty-one now. For the last five years, he’s been striding day and night to and fro to Leith and back to his work at MacMorran’s Mill. It’s good work, fetching the grains from the merchant ships at the dock, overseeing the lads to make sure they adjust the grindstone for the oats, the barley, or the wheat … and of course the baking itself. It’s served Jack well, and no doubt it will again, but first …
‘Could you all please listen a moment? I’ve some news.’
The babble of voices continues around him, as his family pile their plates high, stretching out for just another spoonful. The youngsters are chewing and talking at the same time, and Sandy is describing his latest planting scheme for the new herb garden at Seton House.
‘Please, could you listen?’
At the far end of the table, Will catches the urgency in Jack’s tone. He glances across at him and realises that this usually placid and quiet lad is about to erupt.
‘Quiet all of you!’ he says, not loudly, but in his school-masterly tone that cannot be ignored. A hush falls. Jack blushes and gulps.
‘Jack, you’ve something to tell us,’ Will says, looking his nephew in the eye, giving him a smile and an encouraging nod. ‘We’re listening now. What is it we need to know, eh, lad?’
‘Um, it’s just, I thought you all should know …’
‘You’ve got a girl!’
‘You’ve lost your job!’
‘Harry, Davie, stop sniggering and be quiet. Jack, you’re not ill are you?’ Elspeth asks, noticing how pale he is.
‘No, I’m not ill, and it’s not about a girl …’ he falters, the interruptions having almost robbed him of his momentum. He takes a deep breath.
‘Um, yes, so it is about my job. Well, sort of. I’ve spoken with Miller MacMorran …’
‘Oh,’ Elspeth interrupts, ‘such a pleasant man. And so good of him to give you your job. But then, his pa always had a soft spot for your dear ma, and you’ve certainly inherited her talent for baking. I always say …’
‘Elspeth, stop,’ Will intervenes, laughing. ‘You don’t know yet what Jack’s trying to tell us! Go on lad, make it quick!’
All right then, Jack thinks, I can do quick!
‘I’m leaving. I’m leaving tomorrow on a ship called Eagle. Miller MacMorran says if I’m home in three months I can have my job back, and until then wee Brodie can take my place … And if Davie wants it,’ he looks at his brother, ‘you can take Brodie’s place with the other millers.’
‘Yes!’ Davie punches the air in delight. ‘No more school!’
‘Um, so that’s it really,’ says Jack, bowing his head slightly, and peering up from under his brows to gauge his family’s reactions. Davie’s is obvious, as he begins to lord it over Harry, the youngest of the brood and doomed to another year at school. Sandy gives him a thumbs up – and keeps on eating. Elspeth and Will look thunderstruck. Will recovers first.
‘Let me get this straight, Jack. You’re leaving the mill for three months, someone called Brodie is taking your place … and Davie can take Brodie’s place …’
Jack nods. ‘Aye, that’s it.’
‘… and you’re going off on a ship called Eagle? God’s teeth, lad – sorry, Elspeth – but why? Where’s all this coming from? What’s happening?’
Will gets up, yanks Harry off his chair next to Jack, and takes his place.
‘Harry, go sit in my chair by Davie and Sandy – and mind you all keep the noise down. Your aunt and I need to talk to Jack.’
Pulling faces at his brother, Harry does as he’s told, and the three youngsters are happy to get on with their meal – with a few extras since no one is looking. Nellie, popping her head around the door to see that everyone’s happy with their meal, sees the serious faces of her master and mistress, and retreats to the kitchen.
I’ll hear about it soon enough, she thinks to herself, and turns to the young kitchen maid.
‘Gytha, I don’t think we’ll be needed in the hall for a while, and you’ve finished the cook-pots, haven’t you?’
‘Yes, Miss Nellie. They’re all done.’ Gytha points anxiously at the gleaming stack.
‘Then it’s time for our dinner. Pass us your plate …’
Gytha is swift to obey. She’s still adjusting to the comforts of life at Hawkhill, after spending all of her twelve years in the poor house. Surely, she thinks, life can’t get better than this!
In the dining hall, Jack is feeling both relieved and sheepish.
‘Uncle Will, Aunt Elspeth, I’m sorry to have dropped this on you so suddenly. I didn’t know how else to do it. I wanted everyone to know at the same time …’
‘It’s all right, Jack,’ Will reassures him. ‘I know it’s hard for you to get a word in edgewise, and you’re right to tell us all …’
‘But it’s a shock,’ Elspeth adds. ‘Jack, what’s going on? Have you been so unhappy? Could you not have tell’t me? Or Uncle Will?’
‘Oh, no, please don’t think that.’ Jack takes his aunt’s hand, gives it a gentle squeeze. ‘It’s not that I’ve been unhappy, just, ach I don’t know, restless? My mates who work on the ships, they’re always telling me where they’ve been, what they’ve seen – so many strange places, strange people. I suppose I’ve been envying them, imagining what it must all be like …’
‘And getting itchy feet?’ Will suggests.
‘Exactly. I can’t put my finger on it, but I’ve felt more and more unsettled for … oh, for ages now. So when I heard that they’re a man down on the Eagle, after Buchan broke his leg and was laid off, I had a word with Master Flint. I’d already met him, of course, had a few drinks with him and the lads whenever they were in Leith. And he’s said he’ll take me on!’
Telling his tale, Jack is getting his confidence back, feeling that the worst – making his announcement – is over.
‘It’s great, isn’t it? Even ‘though I’ve no experience, never set foot outside Scotland, Flinty – I mean, Master Flint – he says I can go. It’ll be hard work, and I’ve a lot to learn … but I really need this.’ He looks his uncle in the eye. ‘I want to do something different, just for a while …I’m sorry …’
His voice trails off. Jack’s not used to expressing how he feels. It’s embarrassing, childish, weak? His head droops again. But suddenly he feels his uncle’s strong arms go around him, and he’s being hugged so hard he can barely breathe.
‘Jack, you’re a good lad. I should’ve told you more often,’ Will says, ‘and I should’ve seen that you need a break, aye, and a bit of adventure, mebbe? I can’t say it’s not a surprise, and I can’t say I don’t have a few misgivings … but I know better than to try and stop you. Why, you’re older than I was when me and your father, God rest his soul, and our brother Andrew all ran off and joined the army of the Netherlands. Changed all our lives, that did.’
Will’s mind flashes back to those days, fighting with the Dutch for their independence from Spain. In amongst the blood and the muck, the fear, the camaraderie, and the occasional bouts of boredom, Will had fallen in love, for the first and only time. Not a day passes but he doesn’t remember Pieter; not a night passes but he sees again Pieter’s body lying on the battlefield, perfect but for the one deep wound.

All this time, Elspeth has been sitting quietly, picking at her dinner. But now she’s had enough.
‘And is that all you’ve got to say to your nephew, Will Balfour? You did it, so he can do it? Mercy on us, I never heard the like! Oh yes,’ she carries on, her voice rising as Will begins to protest, ‘yes, I’m sure all the three of you thought you were off on a fine adventure. But Hendrie nearly died, that time you brought him home, and then there were all those shenanigans that we won’t talk about here …’ She gives Will a stern look, knowing that he knows what she’s referring to. ‘And Andrew never came home again, just off and marrying the Dutch girl, and then there’s you!’
Oh God, Will thinks, conscious of the silence that’s fallen around the table, and the four pairs of sharp young ears. Now what’s she going to say!
‘You left the army and just drifted around for years! Och, I know you finally settled down here with me, took up your school-mastering … And I know you’ve been a good uncle to these lads here. But honestly Will, I just think if you and Andrew and the boys’ father had never gone off to that damn army, it would’ve been better all round. And now …’
Elspeth’s got the bit between her teeth. Usually so calm and quiet, her fears for her family, for the boys, for Jack especially, sound like anger.
‘… yes, now Jack’s about to do the same thing, to throw everything up! For the sake of what? An adventure! Ha!’
She looks her nephew up and down.
‘Jack, I can’t forbid you to go and I won’t even try. But I think you’re making a very big mistake. So you think, and think hard! Regrets are something it’s impossible to get rid of. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ll go for my rest.’
Will and Jack jump to their feet to help her, but she shakes them off. Reaching for her two trusty sticks to lean on, her crooked back making her walk unevenly, her aching legs making her slow, she inches her way to the door and out of the room. No one says a word.
‘Nellie!’ they hear Elspeth call. ‘Help me to my room, if you please.’

As the sound of footsteps diminishes up the stairs, Will and the boys begin to breathe again.
‘God’s teeth,’ Will says, ‘I’m sorry about that, lads. You do know it was more directed at me and my brothers than at you all? I never knew my sister was so upset – has been so upset for all these years.’
‘But she’s not wrong, is she?’ Sandy says. ‘I mean, about what the army did to you all?’
‘Ach, lad, the army was both good and bad, just like anything else. And no one can ever know what would, what might, have happened if we hadn’t joined up! But …’
Will is interrupted by Harry, the youngest. ‘I don’t want Jack to go. Not unless I can go too! It’s not fair. I’ll be the only one left, the only one still going to school. I’m fourteen now. I’ve learned enough!’
‘No. You’re not leaving school yet. One more year, that’s what we agreed, Harry, and then the world’s your oyster.’ Will turns to Jack. ‘Jack, I’m sorry your aunt’s upset. But you know, it’s out of love, fear and love, for you, for all of you. She just wants to keep you all safe. This is her world and it’s small. You know she’s never been able to get about much herself. This is all she knows.’
‘I still think she’s right,’ Sandy insists. ‘Jack’s throwing over a good job, and for what? For a whim!’
‘But it means I get to leave school, go and work at the mill,’ Davie chips in. ‘I think you should go, Jack!’
Will, Jack, and even Sandy, laugh at Davie’s self-interested opinion, and the atmosphere relaxes a little.
Jack, who hasn’t said a word since his aunt began her harangue, finally speaks.
‘I’m sorry I’ve upset Aunt Elspeth. I’m sorry to have spoilt this meal. I should’ve told you sooner. But I’m not changing my mind. I’m still going in the morning.’


The next day dawns grey, with a mist in the air that clings to the skinny branches of the rowan trees, glistens from the intricate spider’s webs, and drips onto the cobbled lanes of Restalrig. Jack never gives it a thought. What does the weather matter? After a restless night, he’s eager to be off, his pack already stuffed with a few essentials – a change of clothes, a knife, a spoon, a pair of spring scissors, his flageolet, and a small bag of coins. His bed-roll is tied on underneath the pack with some stout cord. After a scant wash, he pulls on his tunic, jacket, and breeches, and, carrying his shoes and his pack, creeps down the stairs. There was enough bother yesterday without running into anyone today and starting it all off again, just minutes from leaving. Jack’s stomach is already churning with a mixture of excitement and anxiety. But perhaps there’s time to filch a couple of the bannocks he made himself and some cheese from the kitchen? If he can’t eat them now, he’s sure to want something later.

‘Jack, there you are lad!’
‘Who …? Oh, Uncle Will! I didn’t expect anyone else to be up. I was just …’
‘You were just about to sneak off, weren’t you?’ Will says with a smile, to show he’s not cross. ‘I know. Yesterday was enough, wasn’t it! But I couldn’t let you go off on your own, lad, and besides, you need something in your stomach. Oh yes,’ he insists over Jack’s protests, ‘I know you’ll be feeling queasy, but you hardly ate anything yesterday. Look, there’s a sausage bap here with your name on it, and this’ll wash it down well.’
Will hands Jack a tankard of small beer, takes a deep draught of his own, and they both munch in silence for a few minutes.
‘Thanks, Uncle Will. You were right. I don’t feel so shaky now!’ Jack admits. ‘But I’d better get going.’
He hefts his pack onto his back, squinting over his shoulder as his uncle shoves something into the top.
‘Just something to see you on,’ Will says. ‘And I’ll walk with you, if I may? I’ve plenty of time to see you to Leith and get back before old Dunlop rings the school bell.’
Striding away along the lane, the two men are so deep in conversation that they don’t hear the call from behind them – ‘Jack, wait! Jack? Come back! Please come back. I haven’t said goodbye …’ – and nor do they turn to see the bent and forlorn figure of Elspeth, propped on one of her sticks at the doorway, her hand waving farewell, her cheeks wet with tears, her heart heavy with regret.

‘So the Eagle, she’s one of the Baltic traders isn’t she?’ Will asks.
‘Aye,’ Jack replies, sounding surprisingly glum. ‘I’d hoped to be seeing Riga and Visby and Stettin – don’t you just love those names! But no, that’s not to be. Flinty says there’s too much trouble at the moment, you know, with the Swedes and the Dutch, to make that passage safe. We’re bound for Bordeaux and Bilbao, by way of Bruges and La Rochelle.’
‘Are you, by God!’ Will sounds surprised. ‘There’s been a fair bit of trouble among the French down that way – but it must be quieter now, or else Master Flint wouldn’t take that route.’ Will pauses, thinks for a moment. ‘Jack,’ he asks, ‘d’you remember Rab Logan? He used to live at Pitcullo, near your Aunt Missy in Fife.’
‘Of course,’ Jack replies, smiling. ‘We used to mess about with his lads when we visited Missy and Walter – and their lads too. Quite a gang we all were, nine of us – us five, Robin and Jon, and Jamie and Mel.’
‘Aye, a load of ruffians! But the thing is, the Logans have moved, did you know? Jesette’s father died, so she and Rab are running her family’s estate. Her mother’s getting on a bit now, and moved in with her sister I believe. There was no one else. Our second cousin, another William, and his wife Helena Napier, they’re at Pitcullo now. Ach, but that’s beside the point! What I wanted to say was, if you get the chance, you could p’rhaps visit Rab? I believe it’s inland from La Rochelle where they are, near Surgères. The Cosse estate.’

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