He Moved Through the FairbyBullwip©
This a tale based on ancient Celtic song, once popular in Scotland and Ireland that has haunted me for a couple of years. I've combined the song's timeless theme of unrequited love with a few others that are important to me and seemed to intertwine so very well...
Sheena fussed over the placement of the pickles and preserves that she had carefully arranged on a red and white checkered table cloth that covered a six foot folding table in her booth at the Carlisle Christmas Fair. She was getting impatient to the point of irritation and realized the best thing to do was try and keep busy. She had been waiting for her love, a young man she had known since she was a wee girl, and it had never been his habit to keep her waiting.
"Sheena, Darling!" said a tiny elderly woman wrapped in an overcoat and scarf. "I'm just headed home. I'd love some of that wonderful raspberry jam of yours, for my Christmas trifle." she said.
"Of course Mrs. Roberts, Happy Christmas. How nice to see you." she said, as she wrapped an eight ounce pot raspberry jam, and handing it to her as they made small talk.
Mrs. Roberts was a dear friend of her mother, so Sheena insisted she couldn't accept any payment for the jam. The elderly woman made a fuss and put a brave defence in defiance of not paying before capitulating gratefully as she placed the jam in her shopping bag.
"Has young MacGregor not returned from London for Christmas yet Lassie?" she asked, "I'm no used to seeing you without him underfoot."
"Aye Mrs. Roberts, he arrived home on leave two days ago. In fact he was to meet me here a half an hour ago." she said. The concern in Sheena's voice was palpable.
"Perhaps he's away to your parents to have a wee chat with your father." said Mrs. Roberts, giving her a sideways look and a knowing smile.
Everyone in the village had always expected the two to be married. Since they were children running loose in the streets of Carlisle with all of their friends. They'd been nearly inseparable. Everyone saw the two as a perfect match and had Andrew not been accepted on a history scholarship at Cambridge two years ago, they would certainly have been man and wife by now.
Andrew had slowly entered the booth quietly behind Sheena, signalling Mrs. Roberts to hush with his index finger across pursed lips. Sheena jumped with a start, as he wrapped his arms lovingly around her from behind. He laid his chin on her shoulder and softly spoke into her ear, "Hello Sheena my love, How are you today?"
She turned to kiss him, thrilled he'd finally decided to put in an appearance and noted with a start that he was wearing his uniform. He removed his forge cap and once again taking her in his arms, found her gaze and gave her a loving smile before kissing her gently on the lips.
"I've just been to see your father my Love. He's agreed to grant his consent for me to ask for your hand." he said. He took hold of her right hand in both of his and lowered himself to one knee. "Sheena MacPherson, will you marry me?" he asked. He gazed up at her, beaming.
Sheena was in shock. She knew the day would come but she didn't think it could be now- not now with the world having gone mad. She looked down into his clear blue eyes and saw the love and devotion that she knew filled his heart, smiling back at her. Her lower lip began to quiver slightly as she was soon overcome with emotion.
"Oh Yes Andrew-Yes my Darling-YES!" she said, "I will."
Andrew was up in a second lifting her off the floor and spinning round, laughing with delight. Mrs. Roberts having witnessed the whole thing had dropped her shopping and was now reaching into her purse for a handkerchief, feeling a little overcome and perhaps a little teary, if anyone cared to ask.
"Now listen Pet," said Andrew, "I've not had time to purchase a ring but I will as soon as I can. I've saved the money."
Mrs. Roberts despite her years, and reputation for meanness had always had a soft spot for both Andrew and Sheena since they were youngsters. She'd been a widow now for ten years but still remembered fondly the day her husband of fifty five years proposed to her. She quietly slipped her own wedding band from her finger and reaching out to the couple, declared, "Andrew MacGregor, you canny ask for a woman's hand in marriage without a ring. Here use mine." She said handing the ring to Andrew.
Andrew was deeply touched at the gesture, "Thank you Mrs. Roberts! I'll be certain you get it back very soon." He said, placing the ring on Sheena's finger. It was two sizes too large but she held it on with her other fingers easily enough. It can be sized, she thought grateful enough to have a ring.
Sheena was flush with excitement and stood beside Andrew, with her arm in his, listening as Mrs. Roberts offered Andrew advice on being a good husband, the vice of drink, gambling, and other things... Sheena, allowed her mind to wander only half listening to Mrs. Robert's words to the wise. She wondered about when they could be married. Things were in such turmoil.
It was earlier that summer, in August of 1914, that Britain declared a state of war existed with Germany. And so began the conflict that soon consumed the entire globe and would later come to be known as the Great War. Andrew along with most of his classmates at Cambridge joined the armed services in a mad patriotic rush, like so many lemmings, in Sheena's view. He was commissioned as an officer in the Scot's Guards, and after a short period of training was attached to the third battalion the Scot's Guards, that was being held in reserve for the British Expeditionary force. The first battalion had immediately been sent to fight in Belgium and later France.
In his letters to Sheena he explained that as the reserve battalion they would be in rotation for house duties at Buckingham palace and would not be expected to see action. He was gravely disappointed and she was much relieved and looked forward to his coming home on Christmas leave.
Now they were engaged to be married. A fine Christmas it was sure to be. "Come on then Darling, let's put everything here away and call round to family and tell them about the engagement. We should celebrate!" she said, excitement at being formally engaged to be married had taken firm hold of her.
Mrs. Roberts had now decided to monopolize her fiancé. "My word you look handsome in a soldier's uniform. Is that a Scot's Guards cap badge I see?" She asked. She knew full well that he had joined the Scot's Guards. She was just playing to his pride a little. "And what's this? Are those wee pips?" she asked
"Aye Mrs. Roberts I'm a lieutenant, Ma'am" he replied patiently.
"Wee Andrew MacGregor, an officer in His Britannic Majesty's Brigade of Guards! My heavens!" she chuffed. "Well I must be off." She announced gathering up her shopping. "Best of luck to the both of you, I'm so happy for the pair of you." She said before leaving the couple to themselves. For years after she would tell the story to those who cared to listen that she was with Sheena when Andrew had proposed to her.
"Oh Andrew! I can't believe it. I've so many plans to make. This will be such a wonderful Christmas! Will you come with me to tell my parents first? She asked. Waiting for the answer she could see the disappointment in his eyes.
"I can't Sheena. I received a telegram from the battalion adjutant this morning. I've to be in London by tomorrow afternoon. I'm catching the three o'clock train. That's why I'm in uniform." he said.
Sheena looked at him in, shocked for the second time. She noticed that had a duffle bag with him for the first time. He had everything and was ready to leave.
"No-I'll no have it! Your home for Christmas Andrew. You can't go off to your stupid little war! ...We've plans to make- there's work to do!" She was getting hysterical at the realization that he was leaving her again so soon.
"Now Pet, it's all right- Listen my love..." he said, patiently trying to calm her down.
Sheena eventually started to cry softly looking at him, "You can't go. Andy- please!"
"The adjutant assured me that I can have a month's leave in the summer. We have between now and then to organize the wedding, and be married in the summer..." he said, as she realized it wasn't as bad as she'd initially thought. "Would it not be lovely to be married in July?" he asked.
He held her for a few minutes as she sniffled and eventually calmed down.
"The army on the continent is being reorganized at the moment. They're short of officers, that's why they've sent for me. By summer, things will be sorted and Jerry will be on the run! Now kiss me Darling, I have to go shortly." he said, looking into her beautiful green eyes.
They kissed tenderly for a few minutes, waving off potential customers until Andrew was certain she would be all right with his departure. He told her that there were a few people at the Fair that he needed to say goodbye to before he left. He stepped away from her and moved through the Fair. She watched him fondly as he moved here and there, shaking hands, granting the occasional Merry Christmas hug, and the odd quick conversation before returning briefly to Sheena to say good bye.
"That's me Pet. Remember that I love you with all my heart and that it will not be long before our wedding day." he said, then kissed her lips gently one last time. He straightened his cap and as he looked into her soft green eyes, smiled warmly and gave her a proper military salute.
She watched as he stood there frozen, slowly fading away, gradually becoming transparent, her heart sinking as she stared desperately into his vanishing eyes, willing him to come back to her, crying out and beseeching him to return. But it never worked. He always faded away until there was no trace of him ever having been.
The dream had always ended the same way. As a young women she would wake from it in tears, aching terribly, trying to make sense of the loss of her beloved Andrew. He was killed in the second battle of Ypres, in May of 1915, just five weeks before his scheduled leave. He never returned to his beloved Sheena to be married in Carlisle Cathedral as they'd planned.
But now, after sixty years had passed the dream brought her comfort. Seeing her beloved, his tall stout frame, piercing blue eyes and broad, wonderful smile was a thing of wonder to her. A great gift that occurred all too infrequently now. She had just awoke up from a nap in her armchair from it. It had been at least a year, she recalled, since she had dreamt of that day.
She tried closing her eyes to see if Andrew's face was still there. She chuckled, that had never worked although she would always try. She looked down at Mrs. Roberts's wedding band, still on the ring finger of her right hand. She had the ring properly sized and worn it to this day. She'd tried to give it back once, but Mrs. Roberts wouldn't hear of it.
It was Christmas Eve and Sheena, now in her eightieth year was with her extended family to enjoy the holidays. Most of them knew of her great love for the dashing young Guards officer and romanticized that she had remained a spinster out of loyalty to him. This was in part true but like so many women after the war discovered there were just too few eligible men to marry. The conflict had cut a huge swath through the manhood of the nation. She was one of the two million women of her generation that never married, nor had children of their own.
"Aunt Sheena!" said a young blonde women, sitting down beside her. "Merry Christmas. How lovely to see you! Did I hear you calling to Andrew just a moment ago?" she asked, "I think he's in the kitchen with Mum. Shall I get him for you?"
The young women was her favourite grandniece, Sandra. "No. No Pet, I was having a wee dream. I was calling out to my Andrew." She said
"Your fiancé? The army officer?" she had sat at Sheena's knee and listened intently to her wonderful stories as a child growing up. "Did you dream about Andrew again Aunt Sheena?" She asked, delighted.
Sheena had always been a wonderful story teller and used to delight Sandra and the other children, describing a world without television, motor cars and jet planes. It was her influence that had encouraged Sandra to pursue an academic career as an historian. It was only with Sandra that she shared the details of her recurring dream about Andrew.
"You had the dream where he tells you that you would soon be married? I used to love the stories you told about him. You make him sound so dashing and romantic..." said Sandra
"Yes, he was all of that..." she said. She soon forgot about her past remembrances as she caught up with all the adventure in Sandra's life; career, husband, children, holidays, all the bustle of life the young inflicted upon themselves these days.
Later, as she lay in bed looking out the window she noticed how the moon shone bright in a cloudless sky over a city covered in a blanket of snow and drifted quietly off to sleep thinking how nice for the little ones to be having a white Christmas.
She dreamt only once that night, and quite briefly, of her beloved Andrew once again, his arms gently embracing her from behind, and his kindly voice whispering sweetly in her ear, "It will not be long my Love 'till our wedding day."
They found her next morning laying peacefully having passed quietly in her sleep. It was a traumatic thing to have occurred on a Christmas day but the family took solace in the knowledge that it was a peaceful death amongst her loved ones.
"Mummy what happened to Aunt Sheena?" Sandra's seven year old daughter asked, tugging at her mother's dress
"Well now I can't say for sure my Darling, but I think she may have gone to Carlisle Cathedral to keep a very important date." Said Sandra, smiling to her little girl.
"Pardon?" asked the little girl, her little frown betrayed her confusion.
So Linda took her daughter upon her knee and sitting down in a big comfortable chair, began to tell her the story of the lovely lass who had watched the handsome prince as he moved through the Fair.