To keep this blog ticking over as a ‘community hub’ of sorts for admirers of Mary Stewart’s writing, I would like to blog more regularly than I have done over the last few years. Which means blog content that is for the most part short, simple, and requiring little in the way of research or checking of sources. Which brings me back to ‘Mary on Monday’, where I get to share Mary Stewart quotes that I like and you, dear Reader, can pitch in with your thoughts on the quote – or on anything else relating to Mary Stewart.

I decided almost a week ago that I would quote from ‘The Loch’ because this short essay is so little known, so well written (well, of course it is, it is authored by Mary Stewart), and because 2021 marks fifty years since its publication in an anthology called The Twelfth Man. The Twelfth Man (1971) is a collection of original contributions brought together by the Lord’s Taverners in honour of the 50th birthday of their patron HRH Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh. Now Prince Philip has died, one month short of his 100th birthday, and it seems more appropriate than ever to quote the work that she wrote and gave as a tribute to him.

In the following quote, Mary is walking beside a loch when a bird flies off from its nest in the grass, right at her feet. She sees four chicks in the nest.

Each chick was barely an inch long, a tiny ball of dusky, gold-tipped fluff, dark-eyed, dark-billed, and totally unafraid.

As I looked at them it began to rain, and in a moment, it seemed the large cold rain turned to hailstones, big and hard; this was the Maytime storm, the teuchat storm that kills young birds, and batters eggs into fragments. And here, exposed to it by my presence, were the four tiny chicks. If I hurried away the mother might come back in time to shelter them, but she might wait too long. There was no sign of her. I did the only possible thing; I crouched there in the beating hail and arched my cupped hands over the nestlings. The soft down brushed my fingers. They settled, unafraid, cheeping like chickens in the warmth. The storm seemed to go on for ever, but it was probably less than ten minutes before the hail cloud drifted by, the sun came out, and the whitened grasses streamed, glittering, as the hailstones melted. As we walked away we saw the dunlin come back quietly, running between the tussocks, and settle herself on the young, fluffing out her breast.

Mary Stewart, ‘The Loch’

I like this quote because it illustrates Mary Stewart so well, as both writer and individual. The writing is precise, every word considered, and her descriptions marry the quietly lyrical with the reporting skills of a natural historian. We can clearly picture the dunlin chicks and the danger they face. And then we have Mary Stewart the person: as in so much of her work, her love of living creatures shines through. Her repetition of the words ‘tiny’ and ‘unafraid’ about these chicks emphasises how defenceless they were. She feels responsible for the imperilled nestlings and gladly protects them, sheltering them rather than herself from the fierce hailstorm (and imagine how uncomfortable it would be to crouch for ten minutes or so in those conditions, utterly motionless so as to protect without crushing those tiny vulnerable chicks). And with her, we feel the relief that the chicks’ mother returns, not frightened by the human presence into abandoning her nest.

I would love to know what you think about this quote, and to hear from anyone who has read ‘The Loch’. Also, if anyone has a plan as to how we could have this story reprinted, please get in touch 😊.

You can find out more about ‘The Loch’ in previous blog-posts:

Guest Review of ‘The Loch’

A Merry Mary Stewart Christmas! 8 December

Previous Mary on Monday posts:

Mary on Monday: a quote from My Brother Michael

Mary on Monday: a quote from Madam, Will You Talk?

Mary on Monday: a quote from The Gabriel Hounds

Mary on Monday: a quote from The Little Broomstick

Mary on Monday: a quote from Stormy Petrel

Mary on Monday: a quote from Thunder on the Right

Mary on Monday: a quote from Thornyhold

Mary on Monday: a quote from The Little Broomstick (2)

Mary on Monday: a quote from The Moon-Spinners