Monthly Archives: November 2014

Highlights from Behind the Rose: Playing Rugby for England

England prepare to take on South Africa at Twickenham on Saturday, our sports editor, Peter Burns, picks some highlights from Behind the Rose: Playing Rugby for England. In this extract England team players past and present reflect on some of their encounters against the mighty Springboks.

Behind the Rose: Playing Rugby for England
Stephen Jones and Nick Cain

Unfortunately, I was in the first English side ever to lose a match at Twickenham and this was against the South Africans, largely caused by two enormous penalty goals kicked by Morkel. Both were for minor offences, and I have always thought it quite wrong that a kick in such circumstances should be worth as much as a try.
Rugby football is supposed to be a team game, but winning games by penalty goals is often entirely due to one man. Norman Wodehouse was [our] captain, and when we scored a try under the South Africans’ post he took the kick and missed. I naturally was disgusted as I had been asked by the selection committee to go to Twickenham the day before and practise place-kicks. We won the Triple Crown that year, beating Wales at Cardiff [for] the first time.

Of brilliant individual bursts, those who saw it will single out one of Poulton-Palmer’s in the England and South Africa match of 1913. Receiving the ball well inside his own half-way, Palmer commenced to ‘hare’ for the touchline. Then he seemed to stop, and his opponents, in doubt whether he was going to kick or to pass to his wing, dashed at various angles to where danger seemed to threaten.
Having drawn off the Springboks on to the wrong trail, a change of foot and one of his own inimitable swerves saw him flying across the face and almost within touch of the nearest foes. Then a feint – and a dodge – and he was through, with only, so it seemed, the [full-]back to pass. Morkel had no chance, and the roar of 35,000 voices urged the runner on to the unmarked goal-line.
The path, however, was not quite clear, for the speedy Stegmann was doing his utmost to cut off England’s centre. Another slight change of direction had to be undertaken, and this brought danger from another quarter. The race now was agonising in its excitement, but with Lowe in attendance it looked a certain try. It was not, however, to be.
Three or four yards from his destination Palmer was overtaken, and a splendid tackle spoilt his attempt at passing. It was a sad pity for England that success did not attend him. For thrilling sensationalism this run lives almost by itself in the football of very recent years.

The season was made memorable by the visit of the South African team. You feel there must be something extraordinary about the climate of South Africa, when you are easily given twenty yards in a hundred by a McHardy or a Stegmann, when you see the ball propelled infinite distances with perfect accuracy by a Morkel, and when you feel the weight of a Morkel, a Van Vuuren, or a Shum deposited on your chest.

1969 Autumn Test
I took over as captain when Bob Hiller went off with about ten minutes to go in the match against South Africa and we spent the entire time camped in our 25 under the old North Stand. We won the game but we were hanging on at the end. I only had one decision to make during my entire ‘reign’ as England captain and that came at a scrum right on our line when somebody else had gone off injured and we were temporarily down to seven men in the pack. As we went down to try and resist a pushover try I got a tap on my shoulder; it was Chris Wardlow, the big centre from Cumbria, and he asked, ‘Can I help?’
I said, ‘We will make our own arrangements thanks very much.’ A bit ungracious perhaps, but we were in the zone, just concentrating on keeping the Boks at bay. Sorry Chris, you didn’t deserve that, it was a nice thought!

It was my first match as England captain and the importance of the win caught me by surprise. I’m not sure many of us realised at the time that it was England’s first win over the Boks but it was definitely a big boost. When I look back on my England career that was the highlight right there, certainly from a team point of view. It was a pretty good team we fielded that day. Alas it wasn’t long before the selectors started to split the team up again.

Some of the boys insist they didn’t know it was England’s first win over the Boks but that must be the crew who never read the newspapers! I was very well aware of our poor record against them and felt very nervous – in a good way – but also a bit daunted before the fixture. What was it about these southern hemisphere teams that made them into supermen and apparently unbeatable?
It was a hell of game, incredibly physical and intense, and a bit of an overlooked classic in my opinion.

1972 summer tour
South Africa was my first England call-up, as a replacement after Lionel Weston was injured. I was called out for the last week, and sat on the bench for the Test. For me it was fantastic. I’d never been on a plane before, and I’d never been to a place like South Africa. I was star-struck – I had no idea how big rugby was out there and the crowd of 80,000 people at Ellis Park just blew me away.

South Africa were the unofficial world champions, but we went into it thinking if we brought out our best game we could win. In our own minds we were not underdogs because it had been such a good tour that each one of us was confident. South Africa did not play well that sunny afternoon, but we didn’t allow them to play well.
I remember putting Alan Morley through for his try – I wouldn’t have wanted to play anywhere else but scrum-half because you are everywhere. I used to take quick taps a lot, and I liked to play at pace and set people up by getting them quick ball.

That win over South Africa in Johannesburg was a typical English backs-against-the-wall reaction. There was a realisation that they were a better organised side, so we had to restrict their possession – and we did that.
South Africa’s lethal weapon was Joggie Jansen, a huge centre, but Jeremy Janion was also a big lad. He was asked to stand up to Jansen, and he did. Our guys cut them down. Sam Doble at fullback was a brilliant kicker, and at altitude he kicked everything, while Jan Webster was a very lively scrum-half – he didn’t have the pass, but he was very jinky and linked well with the back-row. He also had a very good box-kick.

Pre-Test we were told by the media in South Africa, ‘You try to tackle Joggie Jansen and you will break your arm.’ They didn’t seem to register that we were five games unbeaten, or that we had trained together for three weeks.
The remarkable thing about my try was that there is a photo in which you can see the touch judge and the referee at the moment I grounded the ball and was hit into the corner flag by their fullback, Carlson. All the officials in the Test were South Africans, and it was a close enough call that they could have ruled I was in touch. Thinking back I should probably have scored three that day – if I’d been a little more experienced I could have turned one or two more chances into tries. However, the game went so quickly that it is the only incident I can remember.
After the match I ran off the pitch to get my tour shirt with my opposite number, Jan Muller, and when I went back into the changing room the others were all sat there with their heads in their hands. There was just sheer relief and disbelief, and tears in their eyes at that result after such a horror season.

1997 Autumn Test
I remember thinking when we played the Springboks in November ’97 later how much bigger and more powerful than us the South Africans seemed that day. Perhaps it’s a trick your mind plays on you when you are beaten, but it certainly felt a little like boys against men… If we gained anything that afternoon, it was the realisation that we had a vast amount of work to do if we were going to turn the tables on the southern hemisphere and start bullying them.

1998 Tour of Hell
At the end of my first season we made the notorious Tour from Hell. I’m hugely proud of my overall results by the time I finished, but you go through those early fixtures and you say, ‘No sane person would ever pick those fixtures.’ It was just madness – but that was how madly things were run with England. No one had ever tried to do a tour like that before and no one ever will again.

Whoever drew up the itinerary had given no thought to the enormity of the challenge.

I thought I was getting somewhere in the game until I went on that tour. It was as if someone was saying to me: ‘You think you’ve done well, but hold on. You’ve got a long way to go to even get close to this level.’ I raised my standards. In one respect I spent years trying to distance myself from the experience, but I have always maintained that it taught me more than anything else I have gone through, or ever will.

For some players it was a step too far and they were never seen again. It was a really tough tour mentally, and we were getting abuse left right and centre from the media. But it was part of the contract, and some came through it to greater things.

We never looked back. Less than two years later we went back and beat South Africa in Bloemfontein. The Tour of Hell was really the making of me. And it was the making of many of the players.

1999 World Cup
I remember in the quarter-final just craning my neck time after time as Jannie de Beer kicked all those drop-goals – it was almost like watching it in slow motion as they flew over your head. Then I remember Os du Randt, who had always been a bit of an idol of mine. I was up against him in the scrum and we did all right – we didn’t have much trouble at all up front. But he really hit me. I remember going back to pick up the ball and, as I stood up, he hit me. I thought my body had snapped in half.

I did write once that I got the fly-half selection wrong, that I should not have switched Wilkinson and brought in Paul Grayson for the quarter-final at fly-half. But I am not sure I actually believe that myself. It wouldn’t have made any difference.

It was a sad end to our 1999 tournament. You can try and find all the positives you want but you can’t get rid of the feeling that you’re leaving and the big boys are getting on with it. We wanted to be among them but we weren’t good enough, and that hurt.

When a guy has a freak day – and that’s what it was – there is not a lot you can do about it. We had looked at De Beer, of course, and knew he was a fine kicker. But five drop-goals in half an hour. No-one saw that coming.

Clive never let us forget how we felt on the journey home from Paris. Any booklet he produced for us carried photos of us at the end of that game and there was one shot of Backy crouching down on all fours, utterly distraught. Another shot showed Johnno and I looking hopelessly over our shoulders at a De Beer drop-goal as it flew between the posts. Clive touched a raw nerve and when he saw us wince with pain, he touched it again and again.

I was a bench player but it was still the start of the Clive Woodward era. I was fighting for the No. 12 shirt with Will Greenwood. Although we lost in the quarter-final to South Africa, the seeds were beginning to be sown. People forget that the team who won the World Cup were together for six years. After that 1999 quarter-final defeat to the Springboks there were the three Grand Slam losses, and I honestly believe if we had not lost those games when we did – and learned what we did – then we would never have won the World Cup in 2003.

2000 summer tour
We started to out-think sides, as well as using our physicality to establish dominance up front. The big turning point for the team was the tour to South Africa in the summer of 2000. After losing the first Test in Pretoria, we showed real steel to win the second Test in Bloemfontein. After 2000 we matched the southern hemisphere sides for physicality, and that tour was a turning point.

I went to the South African changing room after the first Test and was shocked by what I saw. There were bodies everywhere, bandages being taken off, ice-packs on knees and heads, players having wounds checked and everyone too shattered to talk… They were completely gone whereas I felt we still had 20 to 30 per cent of our energy left. At that moment I knew we would take these guys the following week. I also knew that in their bruised and smashed state, they now respected us. With that thought came the certainty that we were no longer the old England.

The 2000 tour to South Africa was a big moment for the squad. Arguably we should have won that first game in South Africa but Bloemfontein in the second Test was massive. For me, the big heroes were Baron and Fran, who supported me, who allowed me to keep developing the team for another crack at the World Cup.

Without doubt, it was a turning point in the development of the team. We had come to South Africa and drawn the Test series 1–1 but we all knew we should have won it 2–0. That tour convinced us all that Clive was the right man.

2003 World Cup
The most important game I played for England was probably that pool game against South Africa. My back was not great and considering that I couldn’t touch my toes before the game, I played really well. There was a crucial moment in the first half when Will Greenwood forgot the rules and failed to touch the ball down in the in-goal area after a missed kick. That gave South Africa a scrum near our line and when van der Westhuizen got the ball, I managed to stop him and turn the ball over. It meant that we were level 6-6 at half-time and we’d stopped South Africa getting any momentum. In the second half, we took our chances.

Lewis Moody set off like a demented cheetah and I cantered behind him waiting to feed off any scraps. Sure enough, Mongo [Moody] lunged at Louis Koen, smashed down the kick and the ball squirted backwards towards the South African line. By now I had a 15-yard start on everyone else and I knew that if I stayed cool I was going to score.
It was quite late at night and there was dew so figuring the ball would go skidding along the surface quite smoothly, I aimed to summon up every last iota of my modest football talent and side-foot it over the line. I reached it first with a gang of 15 Springboks at my back.

I had given everything I had against South Africa. I could not have wrung one more ounce out of myself and even though we had won, it hadn’t gone that well for me. God, it can be demoralising because you’ve got to go back and face your team-mates. There was no hiding place in the squad. So you front up, and I suppose that is why not everyone plays for England.

2006 Autumn Test
Look at the two games we played against South Africa back-to-back in 2006. Jake White was under huge pressure, and so was Robbo, and the second game was one where everyone was saying that the coach who lost would get the sack. We were 14-3 up going into the last ten minutes of the first half and had just scored. I was telling everyone, ‘Just give 100 per cent concentration and don’t give them a sniff.’ They kicked off long and we went back under our posts and gave them a scrum and they scored. We kicked off, they came back and we gave them a penalty and they were in front at half-time. That was where we were as a side. We could play well but it was built on flaky foundations and when the pressure came on we did not have belief.
We should have won that match but there is a fine line between winning and losing, and confidence is a big part of getting you over the line. After 35 minutes of that game Jake White was gone – he was writing his resignation letter – and we let them back into the game. How can coaches be responsible for things like that? That is really down to the players.

2007 World Cup
I have always been disappointed in how we have been described after the pool game against South Africa. We were incredibly depressed about being described as the worst defending champions ever. During the game I thought we had got them because, as a forward pack, we were very confident against them. I wondered what we could have done differently. The bounce of the ball did not go our way and Fourie du Preez had a blinder at scrum-half. We could not say we were awful in any department. The Springboks just exploited every mistake we made.

By hook or by crook we reached the final, where once again we came unstuck against South Africa, although our performance was much better than it had been just over a month earlier. Had the Mark Cueto ‘try’ been given early in the second half who knows, things might have been different. You can never be satisfied with defeat, but if someone had offered me a place in the final after our group matches I would have gladly taken it.

I remember at the time, when I flew home, my left foot was pretty much on the front of every newspaper. It was incredible. I remember thinking was it a good thing or a bad thing that it was not given? I was disappointed it was not given but on the other hand it got my name out there and it could lead to other opportunities. I remember thinking that it would be a ‘flash in the pan’ and people would talk about it for a month or two. But all these years later, I must get asked at least once or twice a week.

You know, when I look back on 2007 it is probably with more fondness than 2003. Playing for England has meant everything to me – and that’s not saying Gloucester or Wasps or the Lions weren’t important – but to represent your country and to be able to sing your national anthem before playing the greatest team sport in the World Cup is unbeatable.
Things did get bad on the field but then you have a choice. You can either go home, or you can do something about it. We didn’t let ourselves down, we fought to the very end, and the sense of disappointment was outweighed by a sense of pride that we had done everything that we possibly could.
It was totally different to 2003. My God, I felt so proud of everybody, the players, the coaches, the physios, everyone in the group.
Some very strange things happen in sport. You write people off at your peril. There’s a little spark inside me which died the day I knew I would never be able to do that again, you can’t replace it, I wouldn’t want to try to replace it but my God I look back with so many wonderful, wonderful memories of coaches, of fans, of highs and lows that I will always remember. And all I can say is, thank you.

2012 QBE Autumn Test
The decision to kick a late penalty instead of going for the corner against South Africa was mine and I thought potentially we had time to get the points and get back down there, and put ourselves in winning drop-goal or penalty range. But it didn’t come off. We discussed it but I make the calls and, at the end of the day, it was all on me.
The mix up was the first time I’d ever experienced such negativity towards me and made me realise just how much my head is on a stake as captain. Fortunately, we beat New Zealand the following week, so we were all able to move on.

Scottish Writing from the First World War

From the absolute horror of the First World War came some of the most harrowingly beautiful writing of the 20th century. This year, to mark 100 years since the commencement of the Great War, we have published an anthology of Scottish writing, Isn’t All this Bloody: Scottish Writing from the First World War. Here is a piece from the collection: ‘Shot at Dawn’ from Sunset Song.

Isn't All This Bloody

In the novel Sunset Song, Ewan Tavendale enlists in the army and returns to Blawearie a changed man. During his leave, he abuses his wife Chris and goes off to France without resolving the quarrel between them. The memory of his brutal behaviour leads Ewan to desert and encourages Chris to have sex with Long Rob Duncan, a pacifist. Like many such offenders, Ewan is sentenced to death by firing squad, but in the last conversation with his friend, Chae Strachan, his action is seen as a final heroic attempt to return to the old values of the land.


It had burned up as a fire in a whin-bush, that thing in her life, and it burned out again and was finished. She went about the Blawearie biggings next day singing under breath to herself, quiet and unvexed, tending to hens and kye, seeing to young Ewan’s sleep in the day and the setting of old Brigson’s supper ere he came at night. She felt shamed not at all, all the vexing fears had gone from her, she made no try to turn from the eyes in the glass that looked out at her, wakened and living again. She was glad she’d gone out with Long Rob, glad and content, they were one and the same now, Ewan and her.
So the telegram boy that came riding to Blawearie found her singing there in the close, mending young Ewan’s clothes. She heard the click of the gate and he took the telegram out of his wallet and gave it to her and she stared at him and then at her hands. They were quivering like the leaves of the beech in the forecoming of rain, they quivered in a little mist below her eyes. Then she opened the envelope and read the words and she said there was no reply, the boy swung on his bicycle again and rode out, riding and leaning he clicked the gate behind him; and laughed back at her for the cleverness of that.
She stood up then, she put down her work on the hackstock and read again the telegram, and began to speak to herself till that frightened her and she stopped. But she forgot to be frightened, in a minute she was speaking again, the chirawking hens in the close stopped and came near and turned up bright eyes to her loud and toneless whispering, What do I do – oh, what do I do?
She was vexed and startled by that – what was it she did! Did she go out to France and up to the front line, maybe, into a room where they’d show her Ewan lying dead, quiet and dead, white and bloodless, sweat on his hair, killed in action? She went out to the front door and waved to the harvesters, Brigson, young Ewan, and a tink they’d hired, they saw her and stared till she waved again and then John Brigson abandoned the half- loaded cart and came waddling up the park, so slow he was, Did you cry me, Chris?
Sweat on his hair as sweat on Ewan’s. She stared at that and held out the telegram, he wiped slow hands and took it and read it, while she clung to the door-post and whispered and whispered What is it I do now, John? Have I to go out to France? And at last he looked up, his face was grizzled and hot and old, he wiped the sweat from it slow. God, mistress, this is sore news, but he’s died like a man out there, your Ewan’s died fine.
But she wouldn’t listen to that, wanting to know the thing she must do; and not till he told her that she did nothing, they could never take all the widows to France and Ewan must already be buried, did she stop from that twisting of her hands and ceaseless whisper. Then anger came, Why didn’t you tell me before? Oh, damn you, you liked tormenting me! and she turned from him into the house and ran up the stairs to the bed, the bed that was hers and Ewan’s, and lay on it, and put her hands over her ears trying not to hear a cry of agony in a lost French field, not to think that the body that had lain by hers, frank and free and kind and young, was torn and dead and unmoving flesh, blood twisted upon it, not Ewan at all, riven and terrible, still and dead when the harvest stood out in Blawearie’s land and the snipe were calling up on the loch and the beech trees whispered and rustled. And SHE KNEW THAT IT WAS A LIE!
He wasn’t dead, he could never have died or been killed for nothing at all, far away from her over the sea, what matter to him their War and their fighting, their King and their country? Kinraddie was his land, Blawearie his, he was never dead for those things of no concern, he’d the crops to put in and the loch to drain and her to come back to. It had nothing to do with Ewan this telegram. They were only tormenting her, cowards and liars and bloody men, the English generals and their like down there in London. But she wouldn’t bear it, she’d have the law on them, cowards and liars as she knew them to be!
It was only then that she knew she was moaning, dreadful to hear; and they heard it outside, John Brigson heard it and nearly went daft, he caught up young Ewan and ran with him into the kitchen and then to the foot of the stairs; and told him to go up to his mother, she wanted him. And young Ewan came, it was his hand tugging at her skirts that brought her out of that moaning coma, and he wasn’t crying, fearsome the sounds though she made, his face was white and resolute, Mother, mother! She picked him up then and held him close, rocking in an agony of despair because of that look on his face, that lost look and the smouldering eyes he had. Oh Ewan, your father’s dead! she told him the lie that the world believed. And she wept at last, blindly, freeingly, for a little, old Brigson was to say it was the boy that had saved her from going mad.
But throughout Kinraddie the news went underbreath that mad she’d gone, the death of her man had fair unhinged her. For still she swore it was a lie, that Ewan wasn’t dead, he could never have died for nothing. Kirsty Strachan and Mistress Munro came up to see her, they shook their heads and said he’d died fine, for his country and his King he’d died, young Ewan would grow up to be proud of his father. They said that sitting at tea, with long faces on them, and then Chris laughed, they quivered away from her at that laugh.
Country and King? You’re havering, havering! What have they to do with my Ewan, what was the King to him, what their damned country? Blawearie’s his land it’s not his wight that others fight wars!
She went fair daft with rage then, seeing the pity in their faces. And also it was then, and then only, staring through an angry haze at them, that she knew at last she was living a dream in a world gone mad. Ewan was dead, they knew it and she knew it herself; and he’d died for nothing, for nothing, hurt and murdered and crying for her, maybe, killed for nothing: and those bitches sat and spoke of their King and country . . .
They ran out of the house and down the brae, and, panting, she stood and screamed after them. It was fair the speak of Kinraddie next day the way she’d behaved, and nobody else came up to see her. But she’d finished with screaming, she went quiet and cold. Mornings came up, and she saw them come, she minded that morning she’d sent him away, and she might not cry him back. Noons with their sun and rain came over the Howe and she saw the cruelty and pain of life as crimson rainbows that spanned the horizons of the wheeling hours. Nights came soft and grey and quiet across Kinraddie’s fields, they brought neither terror nor hope to her now. Behind the walls of a sanity cold and high, locked in from the lie of life, she would live, from the world that had murdered her man for nothing, for a madman’s gibberish heard in the night behind the hills.
And then Chae Strachan came home at last on leave, he came home and came swift to Blawearie. She met him out by the kitchen door, a sergeant by then, grown thinner and taller, and he stopped and looked in her frozen face. Then, as her hand dropped down from his, he went past her with swinging kilts, into the kitchen, and sat him down and took off his bonnet. Chris, I’ve come to tell you of Ewan.
She stared at him, waking, a hope like a fluttering bird in her breast. Ewan? Chae – Chae’s he’s not living? And then, as he shook his head, the frozen wall came down on her heart again. Ewan’s dead, don’t vex yourself hoping else. They can’t hurt him more, even this can’t hurt him, though I swore I’d tell you nothing about it. But I know right well you should know it, Chris. Ewan was shot as a coward and deserter out there in France.

Chae had lain in a camp near by and had heard of the thing by chance, he’d read Ewan’s name in some list of papers that was posted up. And he’d gone the night before Ewan was shot, and they’d let him see Ewan, and he’d heard it all, the story he was telling her now – better always to know what truth’s in a thing, for lies come creeping home to roost on unco rees, Chris quean. You’re young yet, you’ve hardly begun to live, and I swore to myself that I’d tell you it all, that you’d never be vexed with some twisted bit in the years to come. Ewan was shot as a deserter, it was fair enough, he’d deserted from the front line trenches.
He had deserted in a blink of fine weather between the rains that splashed the glutted rat-runs of the front. He had done it quickly and easily, he told to Chae, he had just turned and walked back. And other soldiers that met him had thought him a messenger, or wounded, or maybe on leave, none had questioned him, he’d set out at ten o’clock in the morning and by afternoon, taking to the fields, was ten miles or more from the front. Then the military policemen came on him and took him, he was marched back and court-martialled and found to be guilty.
And Chae said to him, they sat together in the hut where he waited the coming of the morning, But why did you do it, Ewan? You might well have known you’d never get free. And Ewan looked at him and shook his head, It was that wind that came with the sun, I minded Blawearie, I seemed to waken up smelling that smell. And I couldn’t believe it was me that stood in the trench, it was just daft to be there. So I turned and got out of it.
In a flash it had come on him, he had wakened up, he was daft and a fool to be there; and, like somebody minding things done in a coarse wild dream there had flashed on him memory of Chris at Blawearie and his last days there, mad and mad he had been, he had treated her as a devil might, he had tried to hurt her and maul her, trying in the nightmare to waken, to make her waken him up; and now in the blink of sun he saw her face as last he’d seen it while she quivered away from his taunts. He knew he had lost her, she’d never be his again, he’d known it in that moment he clambered back from the trenches; but he knew that he’d be a coward if he didn’t try though all hope was past.
So out he had gone for that, remembering Chris, wanting to reach her, knowing as he tramped mile on mile that he never would. But he’d made her that promise that he’d never fail her, long syne he had made it that night when he’d held her so bonny and sweet and a quean in his arms, young and desirous and kind. So mile on mile on the laired French roads: she was lost to him, but that didn’t help, he’d try to win to her side again, to see her again, to tell her nothing he’d said was his saying, it was the foulness dripping from the dream that devoured him. And young Ewan came into his thoughts, he’d so much to tell her of him, so much he’d to say and do if only he might win to Blawearie . . .
Then the military policemen had taken him and he’d listened to them and others in the days that followed, listening and not listening at all, wearied and quiet. Oh, wearied and wakened at last, Chae, and I haven’t cared, they can take me out fine and shoot me tomorrow, I’ll be glad for the rest of it, Chris lost to me through my own coarse daftness. She didn’t even come to give me a kiss at good-bye, Chae, we never said good-bye; but I mind the bonny head of her down-bent there in the close. She’ll never know, my dear quean, and that’s best – they tell lies about folk they shoot and she’ll think I just died like the rest; you’re not to tell her.
Then he’d been silent long, and Chae’d had nothing to say, he knew it was useless to make try for reprieve, he was only a sergeant and had no business even in the hut with the prisoner. And then Ewan said, sudden-like, it clean took Chae by surprise, Mind the smell of dung in the parks on an April morning, Chae? And the peewits over the rigs? Bonny they’re flying this night in Kinraddie, and Chris sleeping there, and all the Howe happed in mist. Chae said that he mustn’t mind about that, he was feared that the dawn was close, and Ewan should be thinking of other things now, had he seen a minister? And Ewan said that an old bit billy had come and blethered, an officer creature, but he’d paid no heed, it had nothing to do with him. Even as he spoke there rose a great clamour of guns far up in the front, it was four miles off, not more; and Chae thought of the hurried watches climbing to their posts and the blash and flare of the Verey lights, the machine-gun crackle from pits in the mud, things he himself mightn’t hear for long: Ewan’d never hear it at all beyond this night.
And not feared at all he looked, Chae saw, he sat there in his kilt and shirt-sleeves, and he looked no more than a young lad still, his head between his hands, he didn’t seem to be thinking at all of the morning so close. For he started to speak of Blawearie then and the parks that he would have drained, though he thought the land would go fair to hell without the woods to shelter it. And Chae said that he thought the same, there were sore changes waiting them when they went back; and then he minded that Ewan would never go back, and could near have bitten his tongue in half, but Ewan hadn’t noticed, he’d been speaking of the horses he’d had, Clyde and old Bess, fine beasts, fine beasts – did Chae mind that night of lightning when they found Chris wandering the fields with those two horses? That was the night he had known she liked him well – nothing more than that, so quick and fierce she was, Chae man, she guarded herself like a queen in a palace, there was nothing between her and me till the night we married. Mind that – and the singing there was, Chae? What was it that Chris sang then?
And neither could remember that, it had vexed Ewan a while, and then he forgot it, sitting quiet in that hut on the edge of morning. Then at last he’d stood up and gone to the window and said There’s bare a quarter of an hour now, Chae, you’ll need to be getting back.
And they’d shaken hands, the sentry opened the door for Chae, and he tried to say all he could for comfort, the foreshad- owing of the morning in Ewan’s young eyes was strange and terrible, he couldn’t take out his hand from that grip. And all that Ewan said was Oh man, mind me when next you hear the peewits over Blawearie – look at my lass for me when you see her again, close and close, for that kiss that I’ll never give her. So he’d turned back into the hut, he wasn’t feared or crying, he went quiet and calm; and Chae went down through the hut lines grouped about that place, a farm-place it had been, he’d got to the lorry that waited him, he was cursing and weeping then and the driver thought him daft, he hadn’t known himself how he’d been. So they’d driven off, the wet morning had come crawling across the laired fields, and Chae had never seen Ewan again, they killed him that morning.

This was the story Chae told to Chris, sitting the two of them in the kitchen of Blawearie. Then he moved and got up and she did the same, and like one coming from a far, dark country, she saw his face now, he’d been all that time but a voice in the dark. And at last she found speech herself Never vex for me or the telling me this, it was best, it was best!

She crept up the stairs to their room when he’d gone, she opened the press where Ewan’s clothes were, and kissed them and held them close, those clothes that had once been his near as ever he’d come to her now. And she whispered then in the stillness, with only the beech for a listener, Oh, Ewan, Ewan, sleep quiet and sound now, lad, I understand! You did it for me, and I’m proud and proud, for me and Blawearie, my dear, my dear – sleep quiet and brave, for I’ve understood!
The beech listened and whispered, whispered and listened, on and on. And a strange impulse and urge came on Chris Tavendale as she too listened. She ran down the stairs and found young Ewan and kissed him, Let’s go a jaunt up to the hill.
Below them, Kinraddie; above, the hill; the loch shimmering and sleeping in the autumn sun; young Ewan at her feet; the peewits crying down the Howe.
She gave a long sigh and withdrew her hand from the face of the Standing Stone. The mist of memories fell away and the aching urge came back – for what, for what? Sun and sky and the loneliness of the hills, they had cried her up here – for what?
And then something made her raise her eyes, she stood awful and rigid, fronting him, coming up the path through the broom. Laired with glaur was his uniform, his face was white and the great hole sagged and opened, sagged and opened, red-glazed and black, at every upwards step he took. Up through the broom: she saw the grass wave with no press below his feet, her lad, the light in his eyes that aye she could bring.
The snipe stilled their calling, a cloud came over the sun. He was close to her now and she held out her hands to him, blind with tears and bright her eyes, the bright weather in their faces, her voice shaping a question that she heard him answer in the rustle of the loch-side rushes as closer his soundless feet carried him to her lips and hands.
Oh lassie, I’ve come home! he said, and went into the heart that was his forever.