A Luckenbooth Story: Chapter 2

Chapter 1 of this story can be read in my last blog post which you can find here, but if that seems like too much effort, here is a summary of the story so far:

Mary MacDonald is a kitchen maid at Newhailes House, near Edinburgh. Danny Lamb is a carter who makes deliveries to the house. The couple are in love and planning a future together. Danny is short of cash but wants to buy a luckenbooth brooch as a token of his love for Mary, to present to her as he makes his marriage proposal. He steals a silver tray from Newhailes and has it melted down and made into a brooch by a dodgy back-street silversmith. One sunny summer day in June 1873, they set out for a picnic in the sand dunes.

Mary, says Danny, I got ye this brooch. Will ye marry me?

And now, the conclusion …

I apologise, Random Treasure blog readers, but I have no clear idea of how the story ends. I am not usually a writer of fiction, and most of my writing heretofore has been about objects, not people. You can easily check the accuracy of this statement by looking back through previous posts in this blog.

On the occasions when I do write about people they have generally either existed in real life, or are characters from stories made up by someone else. The courses of their lives have been determined and chronicled by others. I like it that way.

But now, perhaps for the first time since being instructed to make up stories in primary school, I have invented two characters, Danny and Mary. Having brought them to a cusp, a fulcrum, a pivotal moment in their existences (or non-existences), I find that I am not at all happy about exercising the unlimited power which is in my hands to dispose of their lives.  

What happens next? How does Mary respond to Danny’s proposal? Do my two attractive young characters deserve an anodyne happy-ever-after ending, or should I spice up their denouement with a little more verisimilitude, a little more edge? I’m not sure. In fact, I’m rather daunted by the whole prospect of concluding their story.

After much consideration I have decided to evade the provision of a definitive conclusion. Below are three possible endings to the story of Danny and Mary and the luckenbooth brooch. The choice is yours.

Chapter 2 (a)

Mary, says Danny, I got ye this brooch. Will ye marry me?

Mary looks at the brooch. She says: Oh Danny, I jist love it. O’ course I’ll marry ye.

She is so delighted that she doesn’t ask anything about the brooch and Danny doesn’t volunteer any information. She merely accepts it, there and then, open-heartedly, as her most treasured possession, a true love token received from the hand of the boy she adores. Of course she marries him.

As for Danny, he’s so affected by the outpouring of love from his sweetheart that he swears solemnly to himself to rein in his raucous social life, and never to steal anything again. He sticks by these promises for the rest of his life.

The pair embark on marriage. Mary leaves Newhailes and moves in to live with Danny and his parents in their small house. Over time, three babies arrive. A girl dies shortly after birth, another girl dies from measles aged 3, but the third, a boy they call Tam, thrives. Danny’s mother succumbs to influenza, and Mary nurses her father-in-law through a long and painful illness while Danny runs the business. The couple’s mutual love supports them through all their vicissitudes. But although there is potential for a carrier to do well in Portobello in the boom years of the late nineteenth century, Danny’s expansion plans never come to fruition.

Bright and street-smart as he is, Danny didn’t learn much at school and is defeated by paperwork. Working strictly for cash, and with a family to feed and doctors’ bills to pay, he finds it impossible either to save money or qualify for credit from the bank. When the old mare finally dies, they can’t afford a replacement, and thereafter there is only one horse and cart to generate income for the family.

At age 16, Tam joins the army, where his experience in his father’s stable-yard helps him to make a promising start in the Lothians and Border Yeomanry. He is able to send a little of his pay home to his mother. Patient, hard-working Mary also earns a little extra from taking in washing and ironing. But altogether there isn’t enough to keep up rent payments on the yard.

In 1893 Danny closes the business and thereafter earns meagre and sporadic wages from casual labouring work. Five years later he is fatally injured when scaffolding collapses at the building site where he is working. Then in 1901 Tam, having risen to the rank of sergeant, dies heroically in action in the Transvaal.

Left alone in her mid-forties, widowed and without surviving children, Mary also loses her home. Her long-time friend Jeannie, one of the other maids from her time in service, is now the housekeeper at Newhailes House, and finds Mary a job as a laundress with accommodation in a small bedroom above the stables. She works there reliably for the next twenty years until her death.

The day after the funeral, a housemaid is sent up to clear out Mary’s room. She is surprised to find among Mary’s paltry belongings an embroidered silk drawstring purse, inside which, carefully wrapped in a muslin handkerchief, is a showy silver luckenbooth brooch. Furtively, she pockets the brooch and takes it home as a gift for her seven-year-old daughter Agnes.

Chapter 2 (b)

Mary, says Danny, I got ye this brooch. Will ye marry me?

Mary looks at the brooch. She says: Oh Danny, I jist love it. But ye’ve never got any money. How did ye get the cash tae buy an expensive thing like this?

Danny knows that however hard he might try, he won’t have sufficient strength of character to withhold the truth from Mary. Rapidly calculating the odds of causing an irremediable rift, he reckons that on balance, here and now, after they have eaten a good lunch and he has made his marriage proposal, will be the best moment to tell her how he came by the luckenbooth brooch. So, sheepishly, he confesses to Mary that the brooch was made from a silver tray which he had stolen from Newhailes.

He has calculated wrongly. Mary’s smile turns to a furious frown. Oh Danny, how could ye be so dishonest? How could ye betray me wi’ my employers? I dinnae want to touch yon brooch. Take me back right now to Newhailes and I never want tae see yer face again. She bursts into hysterical tears and tosses the brooch into the dunes.

The morning after the picnic, a distressed Mary reports the incident to the Cook, who, after discussions with the Butler and Housekeeper, takes Mary upstairs to the Library, where Lord Shand sits in state at the great desk at which, a century earlier, Lord Hailes wrote his monumental work Annals of Scotland. Lord Shand takes a very dim view of Danny’s actions, which call into question his own stewardship of property owned by his landlord Sir Charles Dalrymple.

A report is made to the local constable, and Danny is taken up and held on remand in Haddington jail pending trial at the Sheriff Court. At the trial, Mary forswears her vow never to see Danny’s face again in order to testify against him for the Crown. Fortunately for Danny, Lord Shand has recently been elevated from the Sheriffdom of Haddington to the Court of Session, and is therefore ineligible to preside over the trial personally. Unfortunately for Danny, Shand’s successor as Sheriff is a close associate and friend of his lordship.

The Sheriff decides to impose an exemplary sentence upon a particularly vicious criminal who had the effrontery to steal a Member of Parliament’s property while it was in the custodianship of a Judge. Fourteen years’ penal servitude.

Danny serves his time without remission in the notorious Calton Jail in the centre of Edinburgh. There is no record of what became of him after his release.

For her honesty in reporting Danny’s crime, Mary finds favour with Lady Shand. She is promoted from the drudgery of her lowly kitchen maid post and moves to an upstairs position as a chambermaid. A quick learner, a willing worker and a bright personality, she rises within a few years to lady’s maid, and by the time of Danny’s release from prison into obscurity, she has moved south with the Shands and is housekeeper of their dignified London residence.

Upon her retirement many years later, Mary returns to Scotland, having saved enough to buy a small cottage with a sea view in North Berwick. In 1925, at the age of 70, she dies from rheumatic fever, a highly respectable spinster in comfortable circumstances.

A week after the disastrous picnic in the Longniddry dunes, a seven-year-old local girl called Agnes is chasing her puppy towards the beach when she sees something shiny in the sand and picks up a silver luckenbooth brooch. Hastily slipping it into the pocket of her pinafore, she takes it home and keeps it as a secret treasure for the whole of her life.

Chapter 2 (c)

Mary, says Danny, I got ye this brooch. Will ye marry me?

Mary looks at the brooch. She smiles and says: Oh Danny, what have ye been up tae? Where did ye get this awfu’ cheap thing frae?

Noting the amused twinkle in Mary’s eye, Danny takes a chance and tells her straight out that he has spent all his ready money on apparel and drink. To get a present for Mary he has stolen a silver tray from Newhailes, and has had it melted down and made into this brooch by a back-street silversmith.

Mary laughs and laughs. Oh he saw you comin’! There’s a’most nae siller in this brooch. But for all I care ye can steal as much as ye like frae they stuck-up Dalrymples and Shands, and I’ll help ye: they deserve all they get. O’ course I’ll marry ye, brooch or no brooch, ye great bampot!

The couple marry soon after, Mary having purloined much of her trousseau from Lady Shand’s chest of drawers and from trunks stored in the Newhailes attics. They move into Danny’s parents house. Around the same time, Mary’s uncle, who had worked as overseer at Buchan’s pottery in Portobello, dies a childless widower from lead poisoning and bequeaths to her his worldly goods, valued at £120.

Danny and Mary use the legacy to purchase the vacant house and yard next-door to their premises in Pipe Street, Portobello. Combining the two plots allows room for expansion of the carter’s business and construction of new stables and a workshop. Two extra carts and four extra horses are acquired cheaply from a failed concern nearby.

The combination of Danny’s streetwise charm and Mary’s intuitive head for business lead to rapid expansion. Within five years they are proprietors of the largest carriers in East Lothian, and then they diversify successfully into the manufacture of carts and carriages.

When the horseless carriage is invented, Danny becomes an early adopter of the new technologies, setting up a factory in Edinburgh initially to make steam-powered road vehicles, and soon afterwards changing over to making automobiles and motor vans powered by the internal combustion engine.

Danny and Mary become rich. They build a large neo-baronial house in the fashionable Grange district of Edinburgh, where they entertain lavishly. One evening in 1903, their table for dinner is joined by two very special guests: the Right Honourable Baron Shand of Woodhouse in the County of Dumfries, Lord of Appeal in Ordinary, and his friend the Right Honourable Sir Charles Dalrymple of Newhailes, Member of Parliament for Buteshire. If either guest knows or suspects anything about the origins of their host and hostess, they refrain from making mention of such intelligence.

Upon the outbreak of the First World War in 1914, the factory secures major government contracts for the manufacture of vehicles for transporting troops and supplies to the Front. In 1917, in recognition of his assistance with the War effort (enhanced by a substantial financial donation to Liberal Party funds), Prime Minister David Lloyd George recommends Danny to the King for the award of a knighthood. Sir Daniel and Lady Lamb join the ranks of the aristocracy.

In addition to financial success and social elevation, the couple are blessed with two fine children, a son and a daughter. Both offspring inherit the charm and success of their parents. They marry well, and they and their own progeny emerge unscathed from the War.

The happy and fruitful marriage endures for half a century. In 1923, Danny and Mary die painlessly and peacefully within six months of each other. After Mary’s death, a small trinket box is unearthed from her bottom drawer and is passed on to her seven-year-old granddaughter Agnes. Among the worthless and forgotten odds and ends contained in the box, one special item catches Agnes’s eye: a shiny silver luckenbooth brooch.

5 thoughts on “A Luckenbooth Story: Chapter 2

  1. A n entertaining story, Roger. Now turn it into a full-length novel please. Or how about a screenplay? Jerry O’R


  2. Thank you Jerry. Not certain that I have either the attention span required to write a novel or screenplay, or the imagination to invent a country-house-murder-mystery story line that hasn’t been used a million times before. But now I come to think of it, Lady Antonia Dalrymple, the last owner of Newhailes before it was taken over by the NTS, was a close relative (by marriage) of the Earl of Carnarvon who lived at Highclere Castle. So if we could come up with a plot combining Tutenkhamun’s Curse, Downton Abbey and Musselburgh, then we might be on to something big…


  3. I really enjoyed this, Roger, many thanks … and love the alternative endings, all with a fair chance of being the truth in my view! I’ve just been reading Francis Spufford’s Golden Hill, a century earlier, but with the same moving up and down within the established order and advancement (or otherwise) hanging on twists of fate.


    1. Thank you Anne. So pleased you enjoyed my brief and tentative excursion into fiction. On your recommendation I have just downloaded Golden Hill onto my Kindle and am looking forward to reading it.


  4. I love the alternative endings approach – there’s a story of a murder here in 1776 (I may have mentioned before), and I’m intrigued by the ‘what if’s’ of the story … As our travelling excursions are limited at the moment, I hope you continue yours into fact-based fiction!


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