A Geranium in the window
A couple of years ago I bought, for pennies, a geranium at one of the country plant sales. It was just a wee bit of twig with two miserable leaves and a tiny, stunted flower. I really took it because it was so unhappy. At home I repotted it in a pretty pot and set it on the porch windowsill, to live or die as the case may be. It lived; and each season has looked better, until this spring it has burst out in a veritable froth of flowers. A seed order from the householder in the 1840’s is inevitably utilitarian – vegetable seeds for feeding a large household, and some agricultural seed too. And then, lastly, the request for a slip of “the scarlet geranium”. The householder was no Shetlander, a Highlander born and bred, who fetched up in Unst through meeting and marrying the girl who was right for him, and the pivot of his life. Together they built a happy marriage, strong enough to survive the harshest of all blows – the loss of a deeply loved son. They lived at Belmont, eventually – it was her family home, but he had travelled far further than that. He made a career in the army. Without money or connections he did well – as an untried Lieutenant he commanded, with some distinction, a Company of the 78th at the battle of Maida in south Italy, where British forces not very well generalled but very stoutly manned held and routed the French, the only time that happened before Wellington took command in Spain. He was part of the military expedition to Egypt, where he served on General MacKenzie Fraser’s staff, and also ran the Mess, where his brother officers liked him so well that when he was posted home they clubbed together to give him a silver-gilt cup as a thank you for his endeavours on their behalf. Straightforward, vigorous, passionate, his personal qualities brought him favourable notice, and made him in the eyes of the army, a good recruiter to the colours. Which brought him to Shetland – what military genius thought that up? Shetland, a “nursery for seamen” as one observer put it, they might and did join the navy, they wouldn’t join the army. Baffled, he found himself in Unst, and there he found, not men, but the love of his life, the daughter of Belmont. They were married in the drawingroom there, on a July day. His father-in-law was not happy, he thought no further than that his daughter should marry a Shetlander (she had so far shown absolutely no inclination to do so); the girl’s uncle got hold of his brother and talked some sense into him. He learnt new skills, peacetime skills, not all palatable but necessary. At last he lay dying in Edinburgh, Margaret at home. He managed to scrawl a few words to her, his love. It’s nice to think that his geranium was flowering in the Belmont porch, just as it does now.