New 44 Scotland Street Chapter 67: Recovery

Matthew and Elspeth had made it clear that they would be perfectly happy to look after the Duke of Johannesburg during the weeks that followed his release from enforced Gaelic immersion.

44 Scotland Street
44 Scotland Street

“There’s no hurry for your uncle to go back to Single Malt House,” Matthew reassured James. “We like having him here – we really do.”

James looked at Matthew with the look of one who wants to know whether the person to whom he is speaking means what he says. “You’re not just saying that, are you?” he asked.

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Matthew laughed. “I promise you, James – I am not just saying that. Well, I am saying it, I suppose, but I am not saying it just because he’s your uncle and just because he happens to be a duke.”

“But he isn’t a real duke,” said James. “The Government promised his grandfather, I think it was, that he could be a duke in return for twenty-five thousand pounds.”

“That was a lot of money in those days,” said Matthew.

“And then the Government took the twenty-five thousand pounds – or the political party behind the Government did – and they never actually made him a duke.”

Matthew looked grave. “I call that fraud,” he said. “And yet it happens. Or happened. I don’t think it could happen today.” He stopped. He was not quite sure of his ground there.

“And so he thinks he’s entitled – or almost entitled – to call himself the Duke of Johannesburg,” James continued. “Secretly, though, he’s worried that the Lord Lyon and his people will catch him. He saw the Lord Lyon the other day in the supermarket in Morningside and he almost fainted. I was with him at the time. It was in the frozen products section and he had to stick his head into one of those big refrigerated displays so as not to be recognised.”

Matthew tried not to laugh. “Uncomfortable,” he said.

“Yes,” James went on. “And then he spotted Adam Bruce – he’s Marchmont Herald – in the street and he had to run round a corner in order to get away. He’s really worried that they’ll get him.”

“Oh well,” said Matthew.

“Mind you,” said James, “he’s very happy – apart from that. That psychologist who’s been seeing him has been very helpful. I spoke to her, too, and she told me that he’s been making good progress. She played Jimmy Shand and his Band to him the other day and he was quite calm. She said that he even started to tap the ground with his feet in time with the music. She says that’s a very positive sign.”

“I’m so glad,” said Matthew. “And what about Pádruig? Has he tried to get in touch?”

“He went back to Stornoway,” said James. “He wrote to my uncle and apologised for being a bit too keen to teach him Gaelic. He says that maybe some time in the future he can take it up again.”

“At least he realises that it was wrong,” said Matthew. “Gaelic is a beautiful language and it deserves better.” And he thought: the world would be so much poorer without its endangered languages. As words died, the thoughts behind them died too. And the colours and feelings and the words that went with those colours and feelings.

“It’ll be very dull when we live in a monoglot sea of English,” mused Matthew.

James looked up at the sky. “I agree,” he said. “I don’t want the world to be dull.”

For the Duke’s part, he was as grateful to have been released from captivity, however well-intentioned that captivity might have been. He liked Matthew and Elspeth, and doted on James. He also got on well with the triplets, Tobermory, Fergus and Rognvald, although, like most people, including – sometimes – Matthew, he could not tell which one was which. He spent hours helping Josefine, the Danish au pair engaged to assist James. Together they would invent new and unusual games for the boys, or bring out old favourites that would be played robustly and noisily on the lawn. There was Chase the Dentist, a version of tig, that involved everybody chasing one player and shouting Dentist! on catching him or her. It was not a sophisticated game, but it was one that appealed greatly to the small boys, as did West Highland Steamers, which involved two teams chasing one another in circles shouting, “Look out, MacBrayne!”

“These Scottish games are very strange,” said Josefine. “We do not have their exact equivalent in Denmark, although we have one or two games that share certain features. There’s Bad Swedes, for instance, in which the children who are the Swedes have to go and hide from the children who are the Danes. When they find them, they have to shout Bad Swede! and then it’s the Danes’ turn to hide.”

The Duke liked Josefine and Josefine liked the Duke. “We do not have people like him in Denmark,” she said to Elspeth. “They have all been abolished or have died.”

James liked Josefine, but not quite as much as Josefine liked James. He found it a bit disconcerting that she should stand so close to him when she addressed any remark to him, and he also wished that she would spend less time gazing at him.

“I think that young woman likes you,” whispered the Duke.

“Oh well,” said James, blushing.

Gradually, the Duke grew stronger. His sleep improved, and he no longer awoke five or six times a night muttering unintelligibly. A spell of unusually fine weather had settled over Scotland, and this meant that the Duke could sit out on the terrace in front of Elspeth’s garden room on an ancient cane sun lounger. Elspeth would sometimes read to him and Josefine would ferry cups of tea through from the kitchen. He and Elspeth would talk for hours, about all sorts of subjects, and Elspeth found this as helpful and therapeutic, as did the Duke. She told him about her girlhood in Perthshire, and the Duke listened with real interest and pleasure to the stories she related.

“It must have been very sunny then,” he said.

“It was,” said Elspeth.

“Is it easier to be a girl than a boy?” mused the Duke.

“Both can be quite hard,” answered Elspeth. “I used to think that it would be much easier being a boy, but then I suppose I changed my mind. Now I realise that being a boy – and being a man too – can be very difficult.”

“Especially today, do you think?” asked the Duke.

Elspeth thought about this. “It’s become harder because men used to skew everything in their favour. They held on to the best jobs. They had all the fun while women had to toil away in the kitchen or look after the children. It was much easier for men in those days.”

The Duke inclined his head. “I’m sorry,” he said. “You’re right, and I’m sorry.”

“But it’s different now,” said Elspeth. “At least to some extent.”

“I wish people would treat one another better,” said the Duke, looking out over the lawn towards the hills to the south. Blue hills. Gentle hills. Hills that made one realise how lovely a country is Scotland. He looked at his hands, and then at his feet, in his brown brogue shoes. He looked up at the sky.