photo from Dunrod Hill (gm7something.wordpress.com)
There was an old road, they called it ‘the Roman road’, which led there once upon a time. The farm, like the family, used to stand proud and shiny as it looked hopefully towards the loch. There’s nothing much of it left now, just a shell that keeps the wind and rain from the lonely hill-walker. But a long, long time ago, probably before you were born, something magic happened on that farm; something truly wonderful.
I suppose I should start by telling you about Sean. He was a lad who was always looking for adventure and excitement. Yet being much younger than his brothers, he found life on the farm a little lonely and so, after his chores, he would take to the hills with his imaginary pals and become the hero of the latest book he was reading.
If I recall correctly, the storm that started all this came on a dark Saturday afternoon in April. Sean would have been eight by then but like the rest of the family he knew the hills better than the back of their own hands. He had finished up his work on the farm for the day, had got washed and was ready to set out for another adventure as The Lone Ranger.
“Just you hold your horses,” said Annie, Sean’s mother. “Your father wants to speak to you.”
Those words usually meant that the school had reported to his parents that he hadn’t turned up again. Sean normally hid his books at the bottom of Dunrod Hill (but he was particular – he only went absent on those hot, sunny days) and then he’d spend the time jumping around the rocks at the top where he’d round up the bad guys. He’d pick up his stuff at the end of the day just about the time he should have been coming home from school. So what if he couldn’t add up? He loved the freedom and hated being in class.
His father, Alex, came in to the kitchen looking worried.
“We need everyone to help. One of the sheep is lost on the hill and we need to bring it in before the storm,” he said.
Each of the family was given an area, and since Dunrod was the Lone Ranger’s domain, naturally Sean was given that hill to search.
The climb up Dunrod was steep but there was an old wall on the left side which a person could grab on to. It didn’t help that the storm was bringing in the darkness quicker than expected. The wind had picked up too and so by the time that Sean reached the summit of Dunrod, it was taking all his strength just to walk.
He searched around the top of the hill and down a couple of the gullies but there was nothing. Then Sean thought he might try the small pond in the lost valley. The sheep never usually made it that far but as the Lone Ranger, Sean had caught a couple of cowpokes rustling down that way.
As he approached the pond, he could hear the bleating of a sheep and sure enough there was the lost animal, one leg stuck in-between two rocks at the edge of the pond. The wind and rain was burning Sean’s face but he managed to crawl down to the side of the water and pull the sheep’s leg free.
Somewhere out there, the storm had torn a large part of a tree away and sent it flying in the direction of Sean. So as he tried to stand, the tree hit the back of his head and knocked him flying into the pool. Sean was out cold and face down in the pond.
The man had been standing a little distance off and waiting for his moment. He walked over to the pond and pulled Sean from the pool. He laid the boy on his side and forced every last bit of water from his lungs. Sean coughed and spluttered and eventually fell into a sleep.
When Sean came to, he was lying on his side and a blazing fire was warming his face and body. The man sat at the other side of the fire, just smiling. Sean lifted his head.
“Just take your time, you’ve had a shock,” said the man.
“Who are you?” Asked Sean.
“Just a pal, who happened to be passing.”
Sean could see the man was wearing a uniform, probably an army one but not one he’d seen before. The light from the fire caught a glass red rose pinned to the man’s lapel. He must have been in his twenties, dark hair and had a pleasant face.
“When you’re warm enough and you’re ready, I’ll take you home,” said the man.
“What happened to the sheep?” Asked Sean.
“She’s safe, outside, don’t worry.”
And the funny thing is, Sean felt safe too.
Soon they were making their way down Dunrod Hill with the man holding tightly on to the sheep.
There were two farms at the bottom of the hill, Sean’s family’s and the MacIntyre’s.
“Which one?” Asked the man and Sean led the man and the sheep over to the left farm. It was dark as they approached Sean’s home and though they both struggled, they managed to place the sheep with the rest of the flock.
“Are you coming in?” Asked Sean to the man.
“Better not, I’m already late.”
Sean noticed the man staring in through the kitchen window.
“What’s wrong?” Asked Sean.
“Nothing, just watching your mother and father. They seem like a happy family.”
Sean opened the door to the farmhouse and turned to ask the man again to come in, but he had disappeared into the night.
Sean’s mother gave him the biggest hug then scolded him for being gone for so long.
It was the following year that Sean’s mother died and Sean and his family helped each other get through their grief. Sean went to school less and less and eventually spent all of his time helping on the farm.
One winter a huge war started, and so Sean’s brothers went off to fight in foreign lands. The war lasted for several years and so came the day when Sean was to go off to fight as well. His father was going to miss him dearly, not only on the farm but in their closeness.
The morning that Sean left for the war in a far away land, his father had packed a haversack for the boy. He put in some bread and cheese for the boy to eat on his journey. The father kissed his youngest and wished him well. Sean never saw his father’s tears as he marched down the Roman road in to the town and on to war.
Not far outside Glasgow, Sean felt a little hungry and pulled out the food his father had given him. A letter also dropped out and Sean picked it up. It read:
‘My Darling Boy, you’ll never know how proud I am of you or how much I’ll miss you. When your mother left us, you were my little soldier who helped me. Now you’re going off to fight a war. I know your mother will be watching. Before she died, she asked me to give you this on the day you left home. I won it for her at the Fair in Greenock. It was my first gift to her. I miss her and all my family. I’ll miss you. Love, your father.’
Sean slipped the little trinket on to the palm of his hand. It was a little glass red rose.
He pinned it to his lapel.
bobby stevenson 2014