Swain Dundreary

Let me introduce you to my old friend, Swain Dundreary. The word: dundreary for those of you who’ve never actually come across it before, is this: dun·drear·ies  Pronunciation [duhn-dreer-eez] long, full sideburns or muttonchop whiskers. Also called dundreary whiskers.


“…and young Swain Dundreary from up Wildboarclough saw her first out in the fields whilst on his way home from the Dog’s Paw Inn.

She smiled so sweetly that he forgot to breathe and then pressed the place under his oilskin coat beneath his clean handkerchief to where his heart beat. Her black hair shone silkily despite the blanket of grey above them. She stepped boldly toward him, gently swaying her basket of wildflowers, and he found the sense to remove his father’s worn, old hat before he spake. He found his voice, though husky, to ask, “W.where be you fra’?”

She giggled softly – a sound like tinkling water over small pebbles in the glen and he shivered. “Fra’ by the Wootton Wawen, though we hail fra’ Coxlodge – Northumberland, or more lately St. Giles without Cripplegate.’ Her green frock fell loosely about the delicate bones of her shoulders, half-covered by a new-looking dove-grey crocheted shawl.

“Oh? The Wootton Wawen is close by here…I hae’ not seed you afore, sweetling. What be your name, then?” He dared a step closer, to see her large, grey eyes and thought her quite fey looking.

“Herie Amphia Willda Window. My mother was fra’ Courk Snaith and Da’s family be fra’ Barrow upon Soar, Yardley Gobion, Potterspury, Northamptonshire.”

She left him there…rubbing the woolly whiskered dundrearies…pondering the turning his life had tuk. He ambled home with a spring in his step, and to all those who saw—twas a sight to behold. Bramble’s crossed the path to avoid him. Swain Dundreary ne’er smiled yet here he was doing just that and lolloping—that was the best way to describe it…up the path toward his home. T’were likely drink that did it. Brambles shook his head—glad he had no home to go to. Folks that lived in a home had less sense these days than he, who slept in the barns and fields. He much preferred the company of the animals about the place because they liked a good talking to. Folks here abouts didn’t like to hear him speak. Their eyes widened and their faces screwed up when he spoke.

The lamb stew tasted better than ever that night and Swain’s poor aul’ mother knew naught about a thing, except that her only son was deranged. He had to be. He sat after his meal, rubbing his hands and pulling back his teeth in what she could only describe as a painful sneer. She would call the doctor first thing in the morning. He maun have a pain somewhere and the good doctor would find it, then all would be well again.

The morning was glorious, but his mother was acting furtive.

“Stay awhile longer this morn, son. I háe a feeling…” but she never finished for the knock at the door startled them both.

Doctor Fielding scratched his balding head and smiled at Maudie Dundreary. “He’s a fine, braw lad, Maudie.” He said kindly. “Soon him’ll be up and off starting his own family and gie ye less to worry about.”

“His e’en family?” Suddenly, without warning, she fetched a small pan from the sideboard and smacked it down on poor Swain’s head. He stumbled backwards and fell to the ground in terror.

“Bejars! Woman wha’ háe done tha’ fer?” The doctor helped poor Swain up and sat him gently on a chair to inspect the badly swollen egg on the lad’s forehead – larger now than it had been before which was saying something.

“I’ll gie him family!” she shrieked and the good doctor grabbed her arms in alarm as she lifted the pot again, a blow glancing off the poor man’s jacket.

“Cease, yer silly dab! Ye’ll kill poor Swain and where would ye be but on the street fer all him pays fer hims keep. Lor’ knows your Daniel don’t get much no more after hims accident…”

Maudie dropped the pot and covered her eyes. “Ohh…when will me life tak a good road agin?” she wailed. Swain took her hands, though unsteady he be, and now the blood dripped down his face as a large cut opened above his egg. “What be wrong, Mam?” Yer ne’er lifted a finger t’me afore?”

“A family, he said. He said yer were goin t’ háe yer e’en family so I know ye bin having doings w’some girl!

“Wha..? I’ve had doings with no lass, Mam!” He was hot with fury now, and a fearsome sight with the swollen egg on his head and the dripping blood. He turned to the ashen doctor. “Hers got it all awry!”

The doctor stood motionless—absorbed in horror at the sight, then realised her mistake. “Maudie! I meant the lad is love sick, not that he’d done anything. He’s a growed lad but, so ye maun know he’ll leave ye soon enow?”

Swain Dundreary looked askance at his mother and the doctor and knew the time had come. He would need to up and marry someone soon or end up like Brambles who slept in the hedgerows and talked gibberish…

Tracey Lee Hoy

[Previously unpublished]