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PART OF THE Wish You Were Here ISSUE

‘‘I’d like to get out of this bog before I sink to my knees,’ said Merlissa Benck with some asperity.’

When Ann Scott-Moncrieff submitted Auntie Robbo to her regular London publishers in 1941 they rejected it as being ‘too Scottish’. As a result, the book was sent to Viking Press in New York who published it that year.  After successful sales it was taken on by Constable in 1959 and was later published in South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, Denmark and Germany.
Hector is an eleven-year-old boy living near Edinburgh with his great auntie Robbo who is in her eighties. A woman calling herself his stepmother arrives from England and Hector and Auntie Robbo realise that they have to run away.  The chase leads all over the north of Scotland, narrowly escaping police and the authorities, adopting three homeless children on the way.
This is an exerpt from the part that was deemed ‘too Scottish’ in 1941. Hector is meeting Melissa Benck for the first time, and takes her on a walk up a hill.

 

Extract taken from Auntie Robbo
By Ann Scott-Moncrieff
Published by Scotland Street Press

 

Merlissa Benck’s expression had become hard and eager; she was like a hound picking up an interesting scent; she panted for breath on the steep, windy hillside…

Hector led the way up the path.

‘But what about … Hector, wait for me … What about other subjects?’

‘Oh, Auntie Robbo knows all about them. Sometimes we do sums. We keep account books, and history – lots of history; then afterwards we ride over the battlefields and go and look at the castles where the murders were done.’

Seeing Merlissa Benck’s shocked expression, Hector explained seriously. ‘Scottish history has a great many murders, you know.’

‘I dare say,’ said Merlissa Benck shortly. ‘But I should have thought British history would have been more suitable for a boy of your age, indispensable in my opinion. England’s story is a very great and noble one.’

‘Yes,’ said Hector. ‘But then we couldn’t ride to the battlefields, could we? I mean they were mostly fighting in places that didn’t belong to them, weren’t they?’

‘Certainly not – at least unless it was for a very good cause.’

‘Auntie Robbo says the causes won’t bear looking into.’

‘What other lessons have you?’ asked Merlissa Benck in exasperation.

‘Oh, Gaelic poetry. Auntie Robbo …had a Gaelic nurse when she was young who had the second sight. Her name was Morag, and Morag’s brother was a bard. Then let’s see; we’ve done an awful lot of geography. Auntie Robbo has been three times to New Zealand and twice to South America and once to Italy, passing through France, and once to Norway. So we’ve done all these places very thoroughly. Oh, and French; we read French. This summer we’re going to make a grand tour.’

‘Whatever for?’ cried Merlissa Benck.

‘To finish my education,’ replied Hector confidently.

‘Nonsense!’ but the wind flung the word back in her teeth. Merlissa Benck snapped her mouth tight on it.

Hector bounded ahead out of the gully through which the burn ran and onto a tableland of moor.

‘Come on,’ he shouted, and Merlissa Benck struggled after him.

A neat little lochan lay on the tableland and it was its brown, peaty waters that fed the burn…

Hector pulled a scone out of his pocket and began crumbling it, casting it on the water.

Merlissa Benck had regained her breath. ‘Then I suppose you’ll be going to school in the autumn when you and your aunt come back from this … this so-called grand tour.’

‘S-s-sh,’ said Hector. ‘You’re a stranger, so you’d better keep low down behind me.’ He began to whistle.

From the far side of the lochan a pair of wild ducks began to scutter across the water towards them.

‘Hold your breath,’ whispered Hector, strung up with excitement.

The wild ducks came closer, swimming carefully. Then the brown female dived right close in to gobble the bread, but the male one circled far out, cautious and aloof.

‘Isn’t he a beauty?’ breathed Hector. ‘They’re not so tame this time of the year. Let’s go now so as he can get some food as well. What would you like to see next?’

‘I’d like to get out of this bog before I sink to my knees,’ said Merlissa Benck with some asperity.

Hector stared at her.

‘Oh,’ he said in a subdued voice. ‘There’s a road over there.’

They plodded over to it in silence. It was a cart-track, a deep cutting between banks of heather. Water ran down the middle of it but there were comparatively dry patches on either side.

‘This is better,’ said Merlissa Benck, putting good humour back into her voice. ‘Now do tell me about this school you’re going to. You’ve no idea how interested I am.’

‘I’m not going to school,’ he said.

 

Auntie Robbo by Ann Scott-Moncrieff is published by Scotland Street Press, priced £9.99

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