When Jess met Willie at a Donside Emporium

The shell of James Sherriff's country emporium still stands at the Bridge of Alford
The shell of James Sherriff's country emporium still stands at the Bridge of Alford

The merchant’s wife’s washday was Monday and she had her maid out of bed by four, and standing to the tub on the kitchen floor, in case the day wore past before she had taken the good of it.

The rest of the week though Jess MacKendrick’s day stretched only from six in the morning until eleven at night: seventeen hours.

And certainly it wasn’t the fee that kept her there for at 5s (25p) a week she would not have been worse off at any farmtoun in the district.

But there was this consolation: there was never any outdoor work she could be sent to…..

Mindful of the position her man had to keep up in the community (and before the local gentry), Mistress Sheriff kept her maids presentable in black frocks that would be replaced before they got anywhere near to threadbare. These were worn with all the insignia of service, a white cap and white apron and (to lift the gloom round the face) a starched white collar….

Mistress Sheriff kept an orderly house, fearful of the havoc an amiable maid might cause among the menfolk, and the merchant himself, with a fine knowledge of his sex, met all attempts at courting his maid with a venomous ‘No’...

The young mason, who had finally found lodgings in the married vanman’s house was well pleased with the trim figure of the merchant’s maid, small and neat in its dark dress. If she had offers from time to time, maybe she liked the mason’s stolid, steady nature best, even enjoyed the prestige his job gave him as skill became increasingly praised in their small community.

Stone upon stone, the merchant’s new home grew under his guidance at the side of the old shop, and with it, the early friendship of the mason man and (Jess) deepened into courtship …..So when the mason man’s work drew to an end, they had been married with all the dignity that the Sheriff’s new drawing room could give to the occasion…..

Out of his customary white mason’s moleskins, Willie Gavin that day cut a fine figure in his black swallow-tailed jacket and bell-mouthed trousers that narrowed dramatically at the knee.

His vest was bound with black braid and his wedding shirt, a lavender shade, with his tie –in the custom of that long ago time- had been chosen and bought by the bride.

Taken from Willie Gavin, Crofter Man by David Kerr Cameron with an introduction by Jack Webster published by Birlinn Publishing at £8.99 and available from Yeadon’s of Elgin and Banchory