*This is my first attempt at writing a short story (or a beginning chapter) on one of our ancestors. Please be kind!
With the mist barely risen from the sea, and the sound of the waves hitting the pebbles on the shore, Hugh took a deep breath in, and wondered how he ended up in this place.
It was the year 1828 and England was changing faster than the people could adjust to. The manufacturing industry was fastly becoming more mechanized and the labour force which once could make a living by hand through weaving etc., were having to seek out work in large factories. People were not happy. Hugh was not happy.
Hugh’s unhappiness though, came from a much different place.
He had left Scotland years before, mostly due to his father’s mismanagement of his birthright as the next Laird. After having to place their lands and monies in trust to be managed by a factor, it was impossible to continue living in his country. The constant litigation and battle to maintain his dignity in the face of his family’s financial ruin became too much to bear and he made the decision to move to England- the furthest point of England to be exact.
Plymouth was a bustling port city with all manner of seafaring entertainment. There were the fishermen who arose before daylight to haul their vessels out to sea to catch their daily wages. Then there were the straggling military men who had spent a little too long at the seaside pubs on the previous night and were to be found here and there, sleeping in the alleyways running along side the piers.
There were ships, anchored, patiently waiting for the passengers that they would bring to new places in the world, hopefully, to begin wonderful lives that could not be had on this side of the ocean. Finally, there were the cargo ships that were chock-a-block full of items brought there to be sold or laden with cargo to be sold in another part of the world.
Those cargo ships were Hugh’s favourite. It brought back memories of the ships his family filled full to the brim with kelp. Kelp is what brought his family wealth. Yes, they had owned a lot of land and various islands, but it was the harvest and sale of kelp that his grandfather had so brilliantly managed,and that filled his family’s coffers and allowed them be able to live the life of richness that many believed was the reality of lairds. Little did they know that, in reality, the life of most of the clan chiefs and lairds was far from such a vision. Most struggled to eek out a living on a harsh, barren land that produced little in way of crops and hardly gave them enough to live on, let alone live well. They had tenants who were desperately poor and who relied on them to be their saviours, leaders and helpers.
After the Jacobites (who his family were proud supporters of) lost, most of the old way of Clan life was lost or not permitted. Hugh’s grandfather would regale him with stories of how his clan members would surround him waiting with baited breath… for the clan sennachie, or story teller, to tell them about his great grandfather’s brush with Bonnie Prince Charlie. How his great grandfather was put in prison for awhile for his part in giving the Prince advice that was never taken! Luckily for his great grandfather, there were many witnesses to the fact that the Prince did not heed his warnings and that most probably saved his great grandfather’s life.
His father, on the other hand, was not at all like his grandfather. He spent all their money rather than earn it. He lived like it would be forever appearing in the bank legers, miraculously arriving whenever he felt the need for it. Hugh’s grandfather was married 3 times. His final wife was from the Campbell clan- just as powerful as his and she made it known to all that she was now the matriarch and that HER children by her new husband would be favoured. As it turned out, this is exactly what happened.
She left most of her estate to her eldest son, Reginald. He became known as Staffa. He married well and lived an extremely luxurious life. He was friends with all the upper class elite of Edinburgh society, including Sir Walter Scott. Hugh had also known Sir Walter, but in a different way. His father had been his friend and together they spent a lot of time visiting at Scott’s cottage in Lasswade. Hugh’s father died in 1818 in Lasswade. Lasswade had become a symbol of both the wonderfulness of his Scottish heritage and the horribleness of his father’s indulgences.
Hugh took another breath as he mulled over the fact that as the first son of his grandfather’s first born son, HE should have become the next Captain of Clanranald. By the time his half-cousin, by his grandfather’s 2nd wife, had been given the title, Hugh was no longer living in Scotland and not considered a possible candidate anymore. Although he considered himself as the rightful heir, he was still living abroad, so to speak, on the rentals of the property in Scotland. Little did he know how the decision to leave would affect the rest of his life.
In a way, Hugh thought, it was just as well, as he really was not happy. Not happy in Scotland, and not happy with where his life ended up. With every step he took along the cobblestoned pier, he gazed out onto the sea, where his family’s past wealth came from, and where he hoped his future would take him next. Anything would be better than where he was now, he thought.
A small boy ran past him, brushing him roughly as he tried to outrun the rather angry man who was trying to retrieve the apples the boy had taken.
How sad, Hugh thought, that this child had to steal to eat. The sight of this child made him think of his son Hector. Hector would be 2 now, he thought. He missed the boy, but knew that he was better off with his mother. Hugh had not married the woman but he supported his son. He could not make peace with the fact that she was a crofters daughter. A mistake that was made on a lonely night while he visited an island he detested.
Then there were his 2 daughters, Amelia and Charlotte. They were born a decade before Hector, while he was living in York. Hugh had gone to school there. His father having secured his education while he lived in York, basically exiled to live there while his estate was being mismanaged and put in trust. In his early twenties, Hugh met a lovely local woman who he fell in love with, but could not marry. It was to be one of the saddest times of his life. Although he loved her, his father, at the time, deemed the match unsuitable. His daughter’s births were considered, by some, to be an acceptable side effect of a gentleman’s desires. Politely acknowledged but not spoken of.
At the time, he was so full of hope and desire to be who he had been groomed to be, the next laird. Instead, he was stuck living in a rented townhome, listening to his father read aloud letters that were constant reminders that they survived on charity most of the time and that their debts were only increasing, making his future look grim. Their benefactors, or let’s call them bankers (as they truly were) were becoming increasinly aggressive in their desire to get paid back what his father owed. Litigations over ever single detail of their financial life bored him to tears and he had had it with his father’s constant rantings that “this was not fair”.
By the time his father died, Hugh was the father of 2 daughters and 1 son out of wedlock. He inherited some money, and with that, plus the rentals from his lands in Scotland, he decided he would forever leave his life there. Although he supported his children, he could not be their “father”.
No more Edinburgh, no more South Uist in the Western Isles, no more York. From now on, he was disengaging from his previous associations and starting anew.
And that’s how he ended up here, in this city, walking along this pier.