When it was known that I had begun another story my mother might ask what it was to be about this time.
‘Fine we can guess who it is about,’ my sister would say pointedly.
‘Maybe you can guess, but it is beyond me,’ says my mother, with the meekness of one who knows that she is a dull person.
My sister scorned her at such times. ‘What woman is in all his books?’ she would demand.
‘I’m sure I canna say,’ replies my mother determinedly. ‘I thought the women were different every time.’
‘Mother, I wonder you can be so audacious! Fine you know what woman I mean.’
‘How can I know? What woman is it? You should bear in mind that I hinna your cleverness’ (they were constantly giving each other little knocks).
‘I won’t give you the satisfaction of saying her name. But this I will say, it is high time he was keeping her out of his books.’
And then as usual my mother would give herself away unconsciously. ‘That is what I tell him,’ she says chuckling, ‘and he tries to keep me out, but he canna; it’s more than he can do!’
On an evening after my mother had gone to bed, the first chapter would be brought upstairs, and I read, sitting at the foot of the bed, while my sister watched to make my mother behave herself, and my father cried H’sh! when there were interruptions. All would go well at the start, the reflections were accepted with a little nod of the head, the descriptions of scenery as ruts on the road that must be got over at a walking pace (my mother did not care for scenery, and that is why there is so little of it in my books). But now I am reading too quickly, a little apprehensively, because I know that the next paragraph begins with - let us say with, ‘Along this path came a woman’: I had intended to rush on here in a loud bullying voice, but ‘Along this path came a woman’ I read, and stop. Did I hear a faint sound from the other end of the bed? Perhaps I did not; I may only have been listening for it, but I falter and look up. My sister and I look sternly at my mother. She bites her under-lip and clutches the bed with both hands, really she is doing her best for me, but first comes a smothered gurgling sound, then her hold on herself relaxes and she shakes with mirth.
‘That’s a way to behave!’ cries my sister.
‘I cannot help it,’ my mother gasps.
‘And there’s nothing to laugh at.’
‘It’s that woman,’ my mother explains unnecessarily.
‘Maybe she’s not the woman you think her,’ I say, crushed.
‘Maybe not,’ says my mother doubtfully. ‘What was her name?’
‘Her name,’ I answer with triumph, ‘was not Margaret’; but this makes her ripple again. ‘I have so many names nowadays,’ she mutters.
‘H’sh!’ says my father, and the reading is resumed.