Chapter 47: Kirriemuir
By the time James arrived in Kirriemuir, he was thoroughly exhausted. He had spent seven days on a train from Edinburgh through Stirling and Perth to Dundee. From there, he was forced to endure a three-day carriage ride to his sister's home in Kirriemuir, not far from where he had spent his childhood. When the carriage finally pulled to a stop, James' sister hurried toward him, followed closely by his eager nieces and nephews. There were eight of them in total, all with good Christian names that James was currently too tired to remember. As he disembarked from the carriage, the children clustered around him and he was greeted with choruses of, "Uncle James! Uncle James!" In a moment, James' younger sister Jane appeared at his side.
"Come along, all of you," she ordered the children. "Your Uncle James has had a very long journey. He'll see you all later." She nodded to her oldest daughter, whom James now recalled was named Margaret, after their mother. The girl obediently took her siblings off to play in the field at the end of the road. Jane led her brother back toward the house. The walked in silence for a few moments before James was brave enough to inquire after his sister's health.
She glanced quickly at him. "I'm well enough, James. It's been several months since John died."
"And—and how are the children coping?" he asked after a moment's hesitation.
"As well as children can. But you've had plenty of experience with children who've lost their fathers." They entered the kitchen, and she directed him to sit down at the table. She poured two cups of tea and sat across from him.
"We were all very happy to hear that you remarried. Are you happy with her?"
"Yes, Charlotte and I are very happy," he answered pointedly. "She's going to be giving birth to our child quite soon."
Jane's eyebrows raised slightly. "How long do you expect you'll be staying with us, James?"
"I had not planned on staying more than two weeks. As a matter of fact, I'll be traveling directly back to London, so I should probably be leaving in about ten days."
"The children will be disappointed."
"I know. I'd hate for them to think I was abandoning them, now especially."
"Well, you must do as you see fit. You have a family to think of, after all."
He quickly looked away, reminding himself that his sister had just lost her husband. Still, her tactics were nothing worse that what he had experienced from Mrs. du Maurier. The difference was that Emma demonstrated an intense loyalty to her loved ones. Jane's conception of family had no provision for those who engaged in scandalous behavior. Her neat, simple mind could neither account for nor condone what she had heard of her brother's lifestyle.
"I thought I might visit the cemetery tomorrow…" he began helplessly.
"That sounds like an excellent idea. If you go early in the morning, the church should be nearly empty."
He nodded. As he took a sip of his now lukewarm tea, Jane once again pounced on his vulnerability.
"You know, I seem to recall that you never wanted children of your own, even though Mary desperately wanted a family. And now look at all the responsibility you've taken on."
James shut his eyes tightly, as though in pain. He clenched his teeth and pounded his teacup back onto the table with such force that he was vaguely surprised it didn't shatter.
"I did nothing wrong, you know," he managed finally. "Mary decided that our marriage was over. Sylvia died, and she knew how important it was for her boys to be taken care of. She wanted me to look after them. And I will not allow you to continue to say such vile things about my family. You may continue to think whatever you wish, and you may insult me as much as you like, but I will not tolerate the slander of my wife's name. Save your character assassinations for your friends. I do not care to hear anymore." He rose from his chair and stalked out the front door.
The next morning, James rose just as the sun was beginning to peek over the horizon. He crept down the rickety staircase and managed to escape through the front door without waking anyone. As he left the house behind, he finally felt as though he could breathe again. His sister had managed to create an oppressive and suffocating atmosphere in that house, and he wished he could save the children from it, just as he had attempted to rescue Sylvia's boys from the pain of their parents' absence. In this case, however, there was very little he could do.
In no time at all, James reached the small Presbyterian church to which he had once accompanied his family with greater frequency than he would have liked. Jane had been correct, at least; the church was completely deserted, and James was left alone to relive fragments of his life that he had buried deep in the recesses of his mind, but that now rushed back to him at an alarming speed. As James passed the altar, he couldn't help shivering, and as he approached the door at the back of the church, he could have sworn that it blew open to reveal a small, frightened boy standing forgotten among the imposing headstones.
Standing in the graveyard at last, James felt an odd, and perhaps inappropriate, calm. He remembered precisely where the members of his family were buried, and he strode purposefully toward their plots. He stood in front of the line of stone markers that denoted the final resting places of all the family members for whom he had felt any lasting affection: his brother, his mother, his older sister, and his father. This time, he did not linger over David's grave; they had finally executed a satisfactory reconciliation on James' last visit. He passed quickly too over his father and sister's remains, allowing his mind to recite the obligatory prayer for the safeguarding of their souls, and the routine request that they forgive him for his offenses against them when they were alive. He did not, however, permit himself to feel sadness or regret. James was quite sure that, wherever they were, his father was laughing jovially at some joke of his own invention, and his sister was doing her best to prevent a carefully restrained smile from spreading across her lips.
He returned to his mother's grave. It was all he could do not to fall on his knees and beg for her approval. He stopped himself just in time. Margaret Ogilvy had approved of Mary. In fact, she had loved Mary. It was quite likely that, had she been alive to see James' marriage fail, her heart would have been utterly broken. She would never have approved of, much less loved, Charlotte. Not even the promise of another grandchild could have changed that. However, there were certain sins that James felt compelled to confess to his mother, and he began with the most recent, the one he knew would cause her the most distress.
"Mother, I lied to Jane yesterday. I told her that I could only stay ten days, but I was originally planning on being here for three weeks. I've decided to cut my visit short because I want to get home—to London. I remarried a few months ago and my wife is going to have a child. I'm going to be a father."
It was the first time James had ever uttered those words, and the overwhelming power of their meaning nearly drove him to his knees again. James shuddered as a slight breeze stirred the leaves on the tree in front of him. Arthur would have claimed that Margaret's spirit was attempting to manifest itself. James quickly pushed that thought aside. Impossible, his mind told him firmly, at the same time realizing how much it hated that word.
James narrowly avoided meeting anyone as he left the church. The dedicated parishioners who never found an excuse not to attend a service paid no heed to the solitary man walking in the opposite direction.
As James trudged back toward his sister's house, the newly risen sun bathed the landscape in a soft golden glow. He stopped for a moment to gaze upon the wonder of nature, which both Stevenson and Con had taught him never to take for granted. His thoughts turned to Emma, and the boys, and Charlotte. He wondered if she too was awake to see the sunrise. Probably not. He hoped she was still in bed, getting some much-needed rest and delaying for a few more hours the worries of a new day. He decided to stay out of his sister's way as much as he possibly could for the remainder of his visit. Thankfully, he was quite sure that his nieces and nephews would keep him sufficiently occupied.
The name Stevenson once again refers to James' friend, Robert Louis Stevenson (see note, chapt. 44).
"Con" is Robert Falcon Scott (1868-1912), a naval captain who was a close friend of James'. Scott enjoyed a fairly distinguished career before making the decision to marry quite late in life. On September 2, 1908, Scott married a twenty-eight-year-old sculptor called Kathleen Bruce. You may recall that at one point, Gilbert Cannan was also romantically linked to a Kathleen Bruce, and all indications are that she was the same woman who became Scott's wife shortly thereafter. At the time that Kathleen Bruce was pursued, perhaps unwillingly by Cannan, she was acquainted with Scott, who was also pursuing a courtship with her. Almost a year to the day after their marriage, on September 13, 1909, the Scotts were blessed with a son, Peter. They chose James as Peter's godfather, a role that he was happy to take. Unfortunately, Scott had very little time to enjoy his family.
Earlier in his career, Scott had made a successful expedition to Antarctica, on which he was accompanied by a crew that included famed explorer Ernest Shackleton. In January 1907, Scott wrote to the Royal Geographical Society to request finances for a proposed second expedition. However, Shackleton also had plans to make his own expedition to Antarctica. The ensuing confusion over which man should receive the funding and crew for the journey, and, by extension the right to the territory of Antarctica (which Scott believed was rightfully his, as he had led the first expedition) ruined Scott's friendship with Shackleton. Fortunately, they were able to amicably divide the territory, and both men agreed to remain within the chosen parameters, which were set up in a series of letters between them. The aim of the expedition was to reach the South Pole and claim it in the name of the British Empire. Early in 1909, Shackleton sent word that he had failed to do so. As a result, Scott notified Shackleton that he intended to go ahead with his own plans for an exploration of the Ross Sea, and he set about gathering donations and crewmembers. In November, Shackleton published the memoirs of his own expedition, Heart of the Antarctic, and was presented with the knighthood that Scott had previously been unsuccessful in achieving.
With the crew selected and funds finally raised, the Terra Nova Expedition (named for the ship on which they sailed) got under way. The expedition was long and difficult, and required the men to hike across endless miles of frozen nothingness. As they trekked further south, the temperatures rapidly became less tolerable. It began to become clear to Scott that their expedition was doomed. As the men struggled to reach a depot at which they would find shelter, Petty Officer Edgar Evans was suffering from severe frostbite and Captain L.E.G. Oates was constantly unable to keep his feet warm enough. Finally, at the beginning of February, the stumbled accidentally upon the very depot for which they had been searching. However, they were forced to ration their food, which was quickly disappearing. Shortly after midnight on February 18, 1912, Edgar Evans died. The surviving crew members struggled on.
Over the next few days, Oates began to suffer from severe frostbite and gangrene. He insisted that his companions leave him in his sleeping bag and go on without him, but they refused. Sometime on March 16 or 17, Oates left the tent, telling the others, "I am just going outside and may be sometime". He never returned.
On March 20, Scott's foot froze. He and the remaining members of the party discussed their situation. They were running out of food and oil, and were prevented from reaching the next depot by a horrible blizzard. The men were faced with very few options, none of which were pleasant to think about. They chose the certain, natural, painful death that awaited them. No one had the strength to fight anymore.
On March 29, 1912, Scott made his last diary entry, which contained an instruction to give the diary to his widow, Kathleen. He then managed to write twelve coherent, legible letters to friends and family members, including his wife, sister, and brother-in-law, as well as a message to the public, defending his decision to undertake the expedition and to end it the way he did. James Barrie was also a recipient of one of Scott's letters. In it, Scott wrote, "I may not have proved a great explorer but we have done the greatest march ever made and come very near to great success."
On November 12, 1912, the search party that had been sent to find Scott and his men finally came across the three remaining crewmembers' tent. The men were still entombed within their sleeping bags, virtually mummified by the freezing conditions. Scientist Edward Wilson and Cadet Henry Bowers appeared to have died in their sleep. Scott, however, was found halfway outside of his sleeping bag with one arm stretched toward Williams, who lay on his left. It was clear that he had suffered greatly in the minutes leading to his death. His skin was yellow and covered in frostbites. Scott had been the last of his party to die. He was forty-three years old.
Scott's family and friends struggled with the reality of his death. Kathleen continued her career as a sculptor, and in her husband's absence, was bestowed with the honor that was meant for him. For the rest of her life, she was titled as Lady Scott. She was eventually remarried to Edward Hilton Young, and died of leukemia in 1947.
Scott's legacy lived on in his son Peter, who became Sir Peter Markham Scott, carrying on his father's title (Wikipedia). Additionally, Cambridge University established the Scott Polar Research Institute in 1926. In 1922, James Barrie gave his commencement address at St. Andrews University. The speech was titled, simply, "Courage". In it, James read a portion of the letter that Scott had written him, and urged the students to remember Scott's sacrifice and to think of Scott and his comrades, "these hard-bitten men singing courage to you from their tent" as examples of the beauty that was to be found in the world. (In case you're interested, it's quite a remarkable speech, in my opinion. The full text is available online.)
*All information, unless otherwise noted, comes from . (It will come up near the head of the list if you do a search for Robert Falcon Scott.)