Auld Licht Idyls
Part 2 out of 3
was a proud day for the Auld Lichts to find their leading elder so
conversant with apt Scripture texts. They bowed their heads
reverently while he thundered forth that those who lived by the
sword would perish by the sword; and when he had finished they took
him ben to inspect their bludgeons. I have a vivid recollection of
going the round of the Auld Licht and other houses to see the sticks
and the wrists in coils of wire.
A stranger in the Tenements in the afternoon would have noted more
than one draggled youth in holiday attire, sitting on a doorstep
with a wet cloth to his nose; and, passing down the commonty, he
would have had to step over prostrate lumps of humanity from which
all shape had departed. Gavin Ogilvy limped heavily after his
encounter with Thrummy Tosh--a struggle that was looked forward to
eagerly as a bi-yearly event; Christy Davie's development of muscle
had not prevented her going down before the terrible onslaught of
Joe the miller, and Lang Tammas' plasters told a tale. It was in the
square that the two parties, leading their maimed and blind, formed
in force; Tilliedrum thirsting for its opponents' blood, and Thrums
humbly accepting the responsibility of punching the fast-day
breakers into the ways of rectitude. In the small, ill-kept square
the invaders, to the number of about a hundred, were wedged together
at its upper end, while the Thrums people formed in a thick line at
the foot. For its inhabitants the way to Tilliedrum lay through this
threatening mass of armed weavers. No words were bandied between the
two forces; the centre of the square was left open, and nearly every
eye was fixed on the town-house clock. It directed operations and
gave the signal to charge. The moment six o'clock struck, the upper
mass broke its bonds and flung itself on the living barricade. There
was a clatter of heads and sticks, a yelling and a groaning, and
then the invaders, bursting through the opposing ranks, fled for
Tilliedrum. Down the Tanage brae and up the Brae-head they skurried,
half a hundred avenging spirits in pursuit. On the Tilliedrum fast-day
I have tasted blood myself. In the godless place there is no Auld Licht
kirk, but there are two Auld Lichts in it now who walk to Thrums to
church every Sabbath, blow or rain as it lists. They are making their
influence felt in Tilliedrum.
The Auld Lichts also did valorous deeds at the Battle of Cabbylatch.
The farm land so named lies a mile or more to the south of Thrums.
You have to go over the rim of the cut to reach it. It is low-lying
and uninteresting to the eye, except for some giant stones scattered
cold and naked through the fields. No human hands reared these
bowlders, but they might be looked upon as tombstones to the heroes
who fell (to rise hurriedly) on the plain of Cabbylatch.
The fight of Cabbylatch belongs to the days of what are now but
dimly remembered as the Meal Mobs. Then there was a wild cry all
over the country for bread (not the fine loaves that we know, but
something very much coarser), and hungry men and women, prematurely
shrunken, began to forget the taste of meal. Potatoes were their
chief sustenance, and, when the crop failed, starvation gripped
them. At that time the farmers, having control of the meal, had the
small towns at their mercy, and they increased its cost. The price
of the meal went up and up, until the famishing people swarmed up
the sides of the carts in which it was conveyed to the towns, and,
tearing open the sacks, devoured it in handfuls. In Thrums they had
a stern sense of justice, and for a time, after taking possession of
the meal, they carried it to the square and sold it at what they
considered a reasonable price. The money was handed over to the
farmers. The honesty of this is worth thinking about, but it seems
to have only incensed the farmers the more; and when they saw that
to send their meal to the town was not to get high prices for it,
they laid their heads together and then gave notice that the people
who wanted meal and were able to pay for it must come to the farms.
In Thrums no one who cared to live on porridge and bannocks had
money to satisfy the farmers; but, on the other hand, none of them
grudged going for it, and go they did. They went in numbers from
farm to farm, like bands of hungry rats, and throttled the
opposition they not infrequently encountered. The raging farmers at
last met in council, and, noting that they were lusty men and brave,
resolved to march in armed force upon the erring people and burn
their town. Now we come to the Battle of Cabbylatch.
The farmers were not less than eighty strong, and chiefly consisted
of cavalry. Armed with pitchforks and cumbrous scythes where they
were not able to lay their hands on the more orthodox weapons of
war, they presented a determined appearance; the few foot-soldiers
who had no cart-horses at their disposal bearing in their arms
bundles of firewood. One memorable morning they set out to avenge
their losses; and by and by a halt was called, when each man bowed
his head to listen. In Thrums, pipe and drum were calling the
inhabitants to arms. Scouts rushed in with the news that the farmers
were advancing rapidly upon the town, and soon the streets were
clattering with feet. At that time Thrums had its piper and drummer
(the bellman of a later and more degenerate age); and on this
occasion they marched together through the narrow wynds, firing the
blood of haggard men and summoning them to the square. According to
my informant's father, the gathering of these angry and startled
weavers, when he thrust his blue bonnet on his head and rushed out
to join them, was an impressive and solemn spectacle. That bloodshed
was meant there can be no doubt; for starving men do not see the
ludicrous side of things. The difference between the farmers and the
town had resolved itself into an ugly and sullen hate, and the
wealthier townsmen who would have come between the people and the
bread were fiercely pushed aside. There was no nominal leader, but
every man in the ranks meant to fight for himself and his
belongings; and they are said to have sallied out to meet the foe in
no disorder. The women they would fain have left behind them; but
these had their own injuries to redress, and they followed in their
husbands' wake carrying bags of stones. The men, who were of various
denominations, were armed with sticks, blunderbusses, anything they
could snatch up at a moment's notice; and some of them were not
unacquainted with fighting. Dire silence prevailed among the men,
but the women shouted as they ran, and the curious army moved
forward to the drone and squall of drum and pipe. The enemy was
sighted on the level land of Cabbylatch, and here, while the
intending combatants glared at each other, a well-known local
magnate galloped his horse between them and ordered them in the name
of the king to return to their homes. But for the farmers that meant
further depredation at the people's hands, and the townsmen would
not go back to their gloomy homes to sit down and wait for sunshine.
Soon stones (the first, it is said, cast by a woman) darkened the
air. The farmers got the word to charge, but their horses, with the
best intentions, did not know the way. There was a stampeding in
different directions, a blind rushing of one frightened steed
against another; and then the townspeople, breaking any ranks they
had hitherto managed to keep, rushed vindictively forward. The
struggle at Cabbylatch itself was not of long duration; for their
own horses proved the farmers' worst enemies, except in the cases
where these sagacious animals took matters into their own ordering
and bolted judiciously for their stables. The day was to Thrums.
Individual deeds of prowess were done that day. Of these not the
least fondly remembered by her descendants were those of the gallant
matron who pursued the most obnoxious farmer in the district even to
his very porch with heavy stones and opprobrious epithets. Once when
he thought he had left her far behind did he alight to draw breath
and take a pinch of snuff, and she was upon him like a flail. With a
terror stricken cry he leaped once more upon his horse and fled, but
not without leaving his snuff-box in the hands of the derisive
enemy. Meggy has long gone to the kirk-yard, but the snuff-mull is
Some ugly cuts were given and received, and heads as well as ribs
were broken; but the townsmen's triumph was short-lived. The
ringleaders were whipped through the streets of Perth, as a warning
to persons thinking of taking the law into their own hands; and all
the lasting consolation they got was that, some time afterward, the
chief witness against them, the parish minister, met with a
mysterious death. They said it was evidently the hand of God; but
some people looked suspiciously at them when they said it.
THE OLD DOMINIE.
From the new cemetery, which is the highest point in Thrums, you
just fail to catch sight of the red school-house that nestles
between two bare trees, some five miles up the glen of Quharity.
This was proved by Davit Lunan, tinsmith, whom I have heard tell the
story. It was in the time when the cemetery gates were locked to
keep the bodies of suicides out, but men who cared to risk the
consequences could get the coffin over the high dyke and bury it
themselves. Peter Lundy's coffin broke, as one might say, into the
church-yard in this way, Peter having hanged himself in the Whunny
wood when he saw that work he must. The general feeling among the
intimates of the deceased was expressed by Davit when he said:
"It may do the crittur nae guid i' the tail o' the day, but he paid
for's bit o' ground, an' he's in's richt to occupy it."
The custom was to push the coffin on to the wall up a plank, and
then let it drop less carefully into the cemetery. Some of the
mourners were dragging the plank over the wall, with Davit Lunan on
the top directing them, when they seem to have let go and sent the
tinsmith suddenly into the air. A week afterward it struck Davit,
when in the act of soldering a hole in Leeby Wheens' flagon (here he
branched off to explain that he had made the flagon years before,
and that Leeby was sister to Tammas Wheens, and married one Baker
Robbie, who died of chicken-pox in his forty-fourth year), that when
"up there" he had a view of Quharity school-house. Davit was as
truthful as a man who tells the same story more than once can be
expected to be, and it is far from a suspicious circumstance that he
did not remember seeing the school-house all at once. In Thrums
things only struck them gradually. The new cemetery, for instance,
was only so called because it had been new once.
In this red stone school, full of the modern improvements that he
detested, the old dominie whom I succeeded taught, and sometimes
slept, during the last five years of his cantankerous life. It was
in a little thatched school, consisting of but one room, that he did
his best work, some five hundred yards away from the edifice that
was reared in its stead. Now dismally fallen into disrepute, often
indeed a domicile for cattle, the ragged academy of Glen Quharity,
where he held despotic sway for nearly half a century, is falling to
pieces slowly in a howe that conceals it from the high-road. Even in
its best scholastic days, when it sent barefooted lads to college
who helped to hasten the Disruption, it was but a pile of ungainly
stones, such as Scott's Black Dwarf flung together in a night, with
holes in its broken roof of thatch where the rain trickled through,
and never with less than two of its knotted little window-panes
stopped with brown paper. The twelve or twenty pupils of both sexes
who constituted the attendance sat at the two loose desks, which
never fell unless you leaned on them, with an eye on the corner of
the earthen floor where the worms came out, and on cold days they
liked the wind to turn the peat smoke into the room. One boy, who
was supposed to wash it out, got his education free for keeping the
school-house dirty, and the others paid their way with peats, which
they brought in their hands, just as wealthier school-children carry
books, and with pence which the dominie collected regularly every
Monday morning. The attendance on Monday mornings was often small.
Once a year the dominie added to his income by holding cockfights in
the old school. This was at Yule, and the same practice held in the
parish school of Thrums. It must have been a strange sight. Every
male scholar was expected to bring a cock to the school, and to pay
a shilling to the dominie for the privilege of seeing it killed
there. The dominie was the master of the sports, assisted by the
neighboring farmers, some of whom might be elders of the church.
Three rounds were fought. By the end of the first round all the
cocks had fought, and the victors were then pitted against each
other. The cocks that survived the second round were eligible for
the third, and the dominie, besides his shilling, got every cock
killed. Sometimes, if all stories be true, the spectators were
fighting with each other before the third round concluded.
The glen was but sparsely dotted with houses even in those days; a
number of them inhabited by farmer-weavers, who combined two trades
and just managed to live. One would have a plough, another a horse,
and so in Glen Quharity they helped each other. Without a loom in
addition many of them would have starved, and on Saturdays the big
farmer and his wife, driving home in a gig, would pass the little
farmer carrying or wheeling his wob to Thrums. When there was no
longer a market for the produce of the hand-loom these farms had to
be given up, and thus it is that the old school is not the only
house in our weary glen around which gooseberry and currant bushes,
once tended by careful hands, now grow wild.
In heavy spates the children were conveyed to the old school, as
they are still to the new one, in carts, and between it and the
dominie's whitewashed, dwelling-house swirled in winter a torrent of
water that often carried lumps of the land along with it. This burn
he had at times to ford on stilts.
Before the Education Act passed the dominie was not much troubled by
the school inspector, who appeared in great splendor every year at
Thrums. Fifteen years ago, however, Glen Quharity resolved itself
into a School Board, and marched down the glen, with the minister at
its head, to condemn the school. When the dominie, who had heard of
their design, saw the board approaching, he sent one of his
scholars, who enjoyed making a mess of himself, wading across the
burn to bring over the stilts which were lying on the other side.
The board were thus unable to send across a spokesman, and after
they had harangued the dominie, who was in the best of tempers, from
the wrong side of the stream, the siege was raised by their
returning home, this time with the minister in the rear. So far as
is known, this was the only occasion on which the dominie ever
lifted his hat to the minister. He was the Established Church
minister at the top of the glen, but the dominie was an Auld Licht,
and trudged into Thrums to church nearly every Sunday with his
The farm of Little Tilly lay so close to the dominie's house that from
one window he could see through a telescope whether the farmer was
going to church, owing to Little Tilly's habit of never shaving except
with that intention, and of always doing it at a looking-glass which
he hung on a nail in his door. The farmer was Established Church, and
when the dominie saw him in his shirt-sleeves with a razor in his hand,
he called for his black clothes. If he did not see him it is undeniable
that the dominie sent his daughter to Thrums, but remained at home
himself. Possibly, therefore, the dominie sometimes went to church,
because he did not want to give Little Tilly and the Established
minister the satisfaction of knowing that he was not devout today,
and it is even conceivable that had Little Tilly had a telescope and an
intellect as well as his neighbor, he would have spied on the dominie
in return. He sent the teacher a load of potatoes every year, and the
recipient rated him soundly if they did not turn out as well as the
ones he had got the autumn before. Little Tilly was rather in awe of
the dominie, and had an idea that he was a Freethinker, because he
played the fiddle and wore a black cap.
The dominie was a wizened-looking little man, with sharp eyes that
pierced you when they thought they were unobserved, and if any
visitor drew near who might be a member of the board, he disappeared
into his house much as a startled weasel makes for its hole. The
most striking thing about him was his walk, which to the casual
observer seemed a limp. The glen in our part is marshy, and to
progress along it you have to jump from one little island of grass
or heather to another. Perhaps it was this that made the dominie
take the main road and even the streets of Thrums in leaps, as if
there were bowlders or puddles in the way. It is, however, currently
believed among those who knew him best that he jerked himself along
in that way when he applied for the vacancy in Glen Quharity school,
and that he was therefore chosen from among the candidates by the
committee of farmers, who saw that he was specially constructed for
In the spring the inspector was sent to report on the school, and,
of course, he said, with a wave of his hand, that this would never
do. So a new school was built, and the ramshackle little academy
that had done good service in its day was closed for the last time.
For years it had been without a lock; ever since a blatter of wind
and rain drove the door against the fire-place. After that it was
the dominie's custom, on seeing the room cleared, to send in a smart
boy--a dux was always chosen--who wedged a clod of earth or peat
between doorpost and door. Thus the school was locked up for the
night. The boy came out by the window, where he entered to open the
door next morning. In time grass hid the little path from view that
led to the old school, and a dozen years ago every particle of wood
about the building, including the door and the framework of the
windows, had been burned by travelling tinkers.
The board would have liked to leave the dominie in his whitewashed
dwelling-house to enjoy his old age comfortably, and until he
learned that he had intended to retire. Then he changed his tactics
and removed his beard. Instead of railing at the new school, he
began to approve of it, and it soon came to the ears of the
horrified Established minister, who had a man (Established) in his
eye for the appointment, that the dominie was looking ten years
younger. As he spurned a pension he had to get the place, and then
began a warfare of bickerings between the board and him that lasted
until within a few weeks of his death. In his scholastic barn the
dominie had thumped the Latin grammar into his scholars till they
became university bursars to escape him. In the new school, with
maps (which he hid in the hen-house) and every other modern
appliance for making teaching easy, he was the scandal of the glen.
He snapped at the clerk of the board's throat, and barred his door
in the minister's face. It was one of his favorite relaxations to
peregrinate the district, telling the farmers who were not on the
board themselves, but were given to gossiping with those who were,
that though he could slumber pleasantly in the school so long as the
hum of the standards was kept up, he immediately woke if it ceased.
Having settled himself in his new quarters, the dominie seems to
have read over the code and come at once to the conclusion that it
would be idle to think of straightforwardly fulfilling its
requirements. The inspector he regarded as a natural enemy, who was
to be circumvented by much guile. One year that admirable Oxford don
arrived at the school, to find that all the children, except two
girls--one of whom had her face tied up with red flannel--were away
for the harvest. On another occasion the dominie met the inspector's
trap some distance from the school, and explained that he would
guide him by a short cut, leaving the driver to take the dog-cart to
a farm where it could be put up. The unsuspecting inspector agreed,
and they set off, the obsequious dominie carrying his bag. He led
his victim into another glen, the hills round which had hidden their
heads in mist, and then slyly remarked that he was afraid they had
lost their way. The minister, who liked to attend the examination,
reproved the dominie for providing no luncheon, but turned pale when
his enemy suggested that he should examine the boys in Latin.
For some reason that I could never discover, the dominie had all his
life refused to teach his scholars geography. The inspector and many
others asked him why there was no geography class, and his
invariable answer was to point to his pupils collectively, and reply
in an impressive whisper:
"They winna hae her."
This story, too, seems to reflect against the dominie's views on
cleanliness. One examination day the minister attended to open the
inspection with prayer. Just as he was finishing, a scholar entered
who had a reputation for dirt.
"Michty!" cried a little pupil, as his opening eyes fell on the
apparition at the door, "there's Jocky Tamson wi' his face washed!"
When the dominie was a younger man he had first clashed with the
minister during Mr. Rattray's attempts to do away with some old
customs that were already dying by inches. One was the selection of
a queen of beauty from among the young women at the annual Thrums
fair. The judges, who were selected from the better-known farmers as
a rule, sat at the door of a tent that reeked of whiskey, and
regarded the competitors filing by much as they selected prize
sheep, with a stolid stare. There was much giggling and blushing on
these occasions among the maidens, and shouts from their relatives
and friends to "Haud yer head up, Jean," and "Lat them see yer een,
Jess." The dominie enjoyed this, and was one time chosen, a judge,
when he insisted on the prize's being bestowed on his own daughter,
Marget. The other judges demurred, but the dominie remained firm and
won the day.
"She wasna the best-faured amon them," he admitted afterward, "but a
man maun mak the maist o' his ain."
The dominie, too, would not shake his head with Mr. Rattray over the
apple and loaf bread raffles in the smithy, nor even at the Daft
Days, the black week of glum debauch that ushered in the year, a
period when the whole countryside rumbled to the farmers' "kebec"
For the great part of his career the dominie had not made forty
pounds a year, but he "died worth" about three hundred pounds. The
moral of his life came in just as he was leaving it, for he rose
from his death-bed to hide a whiskey-bottle from his wife.
CREE QUEERY AND MYSY DROLLY.
The children used to fling stones at Grinder Queery because he loved
his mother. I never heard the Grinder's real name. He and his mother
were Queery and Drolly, contemptuously so called, and they answered
to these names. I remember Cree best as a battered old weaver, who
bent forward as he walked, with his arms hanging limp as if ready to
grasp the shafts of the barrow behind which it was his life to
totter up hill and down hill, a rope of yarn suspended round his
shaking neck and fastened to the shafts, assisting him to bear the
yoke and slowly strangling him. By and by there came a time when the
barrow and the weaver seemed both palsy-stricken, and Cree, gasping
for breath, would stop in the middle of a brae, unable to push his
load over a stone. Then he laid himself down behind it to prevent
the barrow's slipping back. On those occasions only the barefooted
boys who jeered at the panting weaver could put new strength into
his shrivelled arms. They did it by telling him that he and Mysy
would have to go to the "poorshouse" after all, at which the gray
old man would wince, as if "joukin" from a blow, and, shuddering,
rise and, with a desperate effort, gain the top of the incline.
Small blame perhaps attached to Cree if, as he neared his grave, he
grew a little dottle. His loads of yarn frequently took him past the
workhouse, and his eyelids quivered as he drew near. Boys used to
gather round the gate in anticipation of his coming, and make a
feint of driving him inside. Cree, when he observed them, sat down
on his barrow-shafts terrified to approach, and I see them now
pointing to the workhouse till he left his barrow on the road and
hobbled away, his legs cracking as he ran.
It is strange to know that there was once a time when Cree was young
and straight, a callant who wore a flower in his button-hole and
tried to be a hero for a maiden's sake.
Before Cree settled down as a weaver, he was knife and scissor
grinder for three counties, and Mysy, his mother, accompanied him
wherever he went. Mysy trudged alongside him till her eyes grew dim
and her limbs failed her, and then Cree was told that she must be
sent to the pauper's home. After that a pitiable and beautiful sight
was to be seen. Grinder Queery, already a feeble man, would wheel
his grindstone along the long high-road, leaving Mysy behind. He
took the stone on a few hundred yards, and then, hiding it by the
roadside in a ditch or behind a paling, returned for his mother. Her
he led--sometimes he almost carried her--to the place where the
grindstone lay, and thus by double journeys kept her with him. Every
one said that Mysy's death would be a merciful release--every one
Cree had been a grinder from his youth, having learned the trade
from his father, but he gave it up when Mysy became almost blind.
For a time he had to leave her in Thrums with Dan'l Wilkie's wife,
and find employment himself in Tilliedrum. Mysy got me to write
several letters for her to Cree, and she cried while telling me what
to say. I never heard either of them use a term of endearment to the
other, but all Mysy could tell me to put in writing was: "Oh, my son
Cree; oh, my beloved son; oh, I have no one but you; oh, thou God
watch over my Cree!" On one of these occasions Mysy put into my
hands a paper, which she said would perhaps help me to write the
letter. It had been drawn up by Cree many years before, when he and
his mother had been compelled to part for a time, and I saw from it
that he had been trying to teach Mysy to write. The paper consisted
of phrases such as "Dear son Cree," "Loving mother," "I am takin' my
food weel," "Yesterday," "Blankets," "The peats is near done," "Mr.
Dishart," "Come home, Cree." The grinder had left this paper with
his mother, and she had written letters to him from it.
When Dan'l Wilkie objected to keeping a cranky old body like Mysy in
his house, Cree came back to Thrums and took a single room with a
hand-loom in it. The flooring was only lumpy earth, with sacks spread
over it to protect Mysy's feet. The room contained two dilapidated
old coffin-beds, a dresser, a high-backed arm-chair, several
three-legged stools, and two tables, of which one could be packed
away beneath the other. In one corner stood the wheel at which Cree
had to fill his own pirns. There was a plate-rack on one wall, and
near the chimney-piece hung the wag-at-the-wall clock, the time-piece
that was commonest in Thrums at that time, and that got this name
because its exposed pendulum swung along the wall. The two windows in
the room faced each other on opposite walls, and were so small that
even a child might have stuck in trying to crawl through them. They
opened on hinges, like a door. In the wall of the dark passage leading
from the outer door into the room was a recess where a pan and pitcher
of water always stood wedded, as it were, and a little hole, known as
the "bole," in the wall opposite the fire-place contained Cree's
library. It consisted of Baxter's "Saints' Rest," Harvey's "Meditations,"
the "Pilgrim's Progress," a work on folk-lore, and several Bibles. The
saut-backet, or salt-bucket, stood at the end of the fender, which
was half of an old cart-wheel. Here Cree worked, whistling "Ower the
watter for Chairlie" to make Mysy think that he was as gay as a mavis.
Mysy grew querulous in her old age, and up to the end she thought of
poor, done Cree as a handsome gallant. Only by weaving far on into the
night could Cree earn as much as six shillings a week. He began at six
o'clock in the morning, and worked until midnight by the light of his
cruizey. The cruizey was all the lamp Thrums had in those days, though
it is only to be seen in use now in a few old-world houses in the
glens. It is an ungainly thing in iron, the size of a man's palm, and
shaped not unlike the palm when contracted and deepened to hold a
liquid. Whale-oil, lying open in the mould, was used, and the wick was
a rash with the green skin peeled off. These rashes were sold by
herd-boys at a halfpenny the bundle, but Cree gathered his own wicks.
The rashes skin readily when you know how to do it. The iron mould was
placed inside another of the same shape, but slightly larger, for in
time the oil dripped through the iron, and the whole was then hung
by a cleek or hook close to the person using it. Even with three
wicks it gave but a stime of light, and never allowed the weaver to
see more than the half of his loom at a time. Sometimes Cree used
threads for wicks. He was too dull a man to have many visitors, but
Mr. Dishart called occasionally and reproved him for telling his
mother lies. The lies Cree told Mysy were that he was sharing the
meals he won for her, and that he wore the overcoat which he had
exchanged years before for a blanket to keep her warm.
There was a terrible want of spirit about Grinder Queery. Boys used
to climb on to his stone roof with clods of damp earth in their hands,
which they dropped down the chimney. Mysy was bedridden by this time,
and the smoke threatened to choke her; so Cree, instead of chasing
his persecutors, bargained with them. He gave them fly-hooks which
he had busked himself, and when he had nothing left to give he tried
to flatter them into dealing gently with Mysy by talking to them as
men. One night it went through the town that Mysy now lay in bed all
day listening for her summons to depart. According to her ideas this
would come in the form of a tapping at the window, and their intention
was to forestall the spirit. Dite Gow's boy, who is now a grown man,
was hoisted up to one of the little windows, and he has always thought
of Mysy since as he saw her then for the last time. She lay sleeping,
so far as he could see, and Cree sat by the fireside looking at her.
Every one knew that there was seldom a fire in that house unless
Mysy was cold. Cree seemed to think that the fire was getting low.
In the little closet, which, with the kitchen, made up his house,
was a corner shut off from the rest of the room by a few boards, and
behind this he kept his peats. There was a similar receptacle for
potatoes in the kitchen. Cree wanted to get another peat for the
fire without disturbing Mysy. First he took off his boots, and made
for the peats on tip-toe. His shadow was cast on the bed, however,
so he next got down on his knees and crawled softly into the closet.
With the peat in his hands he returned in the same way, glancing
every moment at the bed where Mysy lay. Though Tammy Gow's face was
pressed against a broken window, he did not hear Cree putting that
peat on the fire. Some say that Mysy heard, but pretended not to do
so for her son's sake; that she realized the deception he played on
her and had not the heart to undeceive him. But it would be too sad
to believe that. The boys left Cree alone that night.
The old weaver lived on alone in that solitary house after Mysy left
him, and by and by the story went abroad that he was saving money.
At first no one believed this except the man who told it, but there
seemed after all to be something in it. You had only to hit Cree's
trouser pocket to hear the money chinking, for he was afraid to let
it out of his clutch. Those who sat on dykes with him when his day's
labor was over said that the wearer kept his hand all the time in
his pocket, and that they saw his lips move as he counted his hoard
by letting it slip through his fingers. So there were boys who
called "Miser Queery" after him instead of Grinder, and asked him
whether he was saving up to keep himself from the workhouse.
But we had all done Cree wrong. It came out on his death-bed what he
had been storing up his money for. Grinder, according to the doctor,
died of getting a good meal from a friend of his earlier days after
being accustomed to starve on potatoes and a very little oatmeal
indeed. The day before he died this friend sent him half a
sovereign, and when Grinder saw it he sat up excitedly in his bed
and pulled his corduroys from beneath his pillow. The woman who, out
of kindness, attended him in his last illness, looked on curiously
while Cree added the sixpences and coppers in his pocket to the
half-sovereign. After all they only made some two pounds, but a look
of peace came into Cree's eyes as he told the woman to take it all
to a shop in the town. Nearly twelve years previously Jamie Lownie
had lent him two pounds, and though the money was never asked for,
it preyed on Cree's mind that he was in debt. He paid off all he
owed, and so Cree's life was not, I think, a failure.
THE COURTING OF T'NOWHEAD'S BELL.
For two years it had been notorious in the square that Sam'l Dickie
was thinking of courting T'nowhead's Bell, and that if little
Sanders Elshioner (which is the Thrums pronunciation of Alexander
Alexander) went in for her, he might prove a formidable rival. Sam'l
was a weaver in the Tenements, and Sanders a coal-carter, whose
trade-mark was a bell on his horse's neck that told when coal was
coming. Being something of a public man, Sanders had not, perhaps,
so high a social position as Sam'l, but he had succeeded his father
on the coal-cart, while the weaver had already tried several trades.
It had always been against Sam'l, too, that once when the kirk was
vacant he had advised the selection of the third minister who
preached for it on the ground that it came expensive to pay a large
number of candidates. The scandal of the thing was hushed up, out of
respect for his father, who was a God-fearing man, but Sam'l was
known by it in Lang Tammas' circle. The coal-carter was called
Little Sanders to distinguish him from his father, who was not much
more than half his size. He had grown up with the name, and its
inapplicability now came home to nobody. Sam'l's mother had been
more far-seeing than Sanders'. Her man had been called Sammy all his
life because it was the name he got as a boy, so when their eldest
son was born she spoke of him as Sam'l while still in the cradle.
The neighbors imitated her, and thus the young man had a better
start in life than had been granted to Sammy, his father.
It was Saturday evening--the night in the week when Auld Licht young
men fell in love. Sam'l Dickie, wearing a blue glengarry bonnet with
a red ball on the top, came to the door of a one-story house in the
Tenements, and stood there wriggling, for he was in a suit of tweed
for the first time that week, and did not feel at one with them.
When his feeling of being a stranger to himself wore off, he looked
up and down the road, which straggles between houses and gardens,
and then, picking his way over the puddles, crossed to his father's
hen-house and sat down on it. He was now on his way to the square.
Eppie Fargus was sitting on an adjoining dyke knitting stockings,
and Sam'l looked at her for a time.
"Is't yersel, Eppie?" he said at last.
"It's a' that," said Eppie.
"Hoo's a' wi' ye?" asked Sam'l.
"We're juist aff an' on," replied Eppie, cautiously.
There was not much more to say, but as Sam'l sidled off the hen-house,
he murmured politely, "Ay, ay." In another minute he would have been
fairly started, but Eppie resumed the conversation.
"Sam'l," she said, with a twinkle in her eye, "ye can tell Lisbeth
Fargus I'll likely be drappin' in on her' aboot Mununday or
Lisbeth was sister to Eppie, and wife of Tammas McQuhatty, better
known as T'nowhead, which was the name of his farm. She was thus
Sam'l leaned against the hen-house as if all his desire to depart
"Hoo d'ye kin I'll be at the T'nowhead the nicht?" he asked,
grinning in anticipation.
"Ou, I'se warrant ye'll be after Bell," said Eppie.
"Am no sae sure o' that," said Sam'l, trying to leer. He was
enjoying himself now.
"Am no sure o' that," he repeated, for Eppie seemed lost in
"Ye'll be speirin' her sune noo, I dinna doot?"
This took Sam'l, who had only been courting Bell for a year or two,
a little aback.
"Hoo d'ye mean, Eppie?" he asked.
"Maybe ye'll do't the nicht."
"Na, there's nae hurry," said Sam'l.
"Weel, we're a' coontin' on't, Sam'l."
"Gae wa wi' ye."
"What for no?"
"Gae wa wi' ye," said Sam'l again,
"Bell's gei an' fond o' ye, Sam'l."
"Ay," said Sam'l.
"But am dootin' ye're a fell billy wi' the lasses."
"Ay, oh, I d'na kin, moderate, moderate," said Sam'l, in high
"I saw ye," said Eppie, speaking with a wire in her mouth, "gae'in
on terr'ble wi' Mysy Haggart at the pump last Saturday."
"We was juist amoosin' oorsels," said Sam'l,
"It'll be nae amoosement to Mysy," said Eppie, "gin ye brak her
"Losh, Eppie," said Sam'l, "I didna think o' that."
"Ye maun kin weel, Sam'l, 'at there's mony a lass wid jump at ye."
"Ou, weel," said Sam'l, implying that a man must take these things
as they come.
"For ye're a dainty chield to look at, Sam'l."
"Do ye think so, Eppie? Ay, ay; oh, I d'na kin am onything by the
"Ye mayna be," said Eppie, "but lasses doesna do to be ower
Sam'l resented this, and prepared to depart again.
"Ye'll no tell Bell that?" he asked, anxiously.
"Tell her what?"
"Aboot me an' Mysy."
"We'll see hoo ye behave yersel, Sam'l."
"No 'at I care, Eppie; ye can tell her gin ye like. I widna think
twice o' tellin' her mysel."
"The Lord forgie ye for leein', Sam'l," said Eppie, as he
disappeared down Tammy Tosh's close. Here he came upon Henders
"Ye're late, Sam'l," said Henders.
"Ou, I was thinkin' ye wid be gaen the length o' T'nowhead the
nicht, an' I saw Sanders Elshioner makkin's wy there an oor syne."
"Did ye?" cried Sam'l, adding craftily, "but it's naething to me."
"Tod, lad," said Henders, "gin ye dinna buckle to, Sanders'll be
carryin' her off."
Sam'l flung back his head and passed on.
"Sam'l!" cried Henders after him.
"Ay," said Sam'l, wheeling round.
"Gie Bell a kiss frae me."
The full force of this joke struck neither all at once. Sam'l began
to smile at it as he turned down the school-wynd, and it came upon
Henders while he was in his garden feeding his ferret. Then he
slapped his legs gleefully, and explained the conceit to Will'um
Byars, who went into the house and thought it over.
There were twelve or twenty little groups of men in the square,
which was lit by a flare of oil suspended over a cadger's cart. Now
and again a staid young woman passed through the square with a
basket on her arm, and if she had lingered long enough to give them
time, some of the idlers would have addressed her. As it was, they
gazed after her, and then grinned to each other.
"Ay, Sam'l," said two or three young men, as Sam'l joined them
beneath the town-clock. "Ay, Davit," replied Sam'l.
This group was composed of some of the sharpest wits in Thrums, and
it was not to be expected that they would let this opportunity pass.
Perhaps when Sam'l joined them he knew what was in store for him.
"Was ye lookin' for T'nowhead's Bell, Sam'l?" asked one.
"Or mebbe ye was wantin' the minister?" suggested another, the same
who had walked out twice with Chirsty Duff and not married her after
Sam'l could not think of a good reply at the moment, so he laughed
"Ondootedly she's a snod bit crittur," said Davit, archly.
"An' michty clever wi' her fingers," added Jamie Deuchars.
"Man, I've thocht o' makkin' up to Bell mysel," said Pete Ogle. "Wid
there be ony chance, think ye, Sam'l?"
"I'm thinkin' she widna hae ye for her first, Pete," replied Sam'l,
in one of those happy flashes that come to some men, "but there's
nae sayin' but what she micht tak ye to finish up wi'."
The unexpectedness of this sally startled every one. Though Sam'l
did not set up for a wit, however, like Davit, it was notorious that
he could say a cutting thing once in a way.
"Did ye ever see Bell reddin' up?" asked Pete, recovering from his
overthrow. He was a man who bore no malice.
"It's a sicht," said Sam'l, solemnly.
"Hoo will that be?" asked Jamie Deuchars.
"It's weel worth yer while," said Pete, "to ging atower to the
T'nowhead an' see. Ye'll mind the closed-in beds i' the kitchen? Ay,
weel, they're a fell spoilt crew, T'nowhead's litlins, an' no that
aisy to manage. Th' ither lasses Lisbeth's hae'n had a michty
trouble wi' them. When they war i' the middle o' their reddin' up
the bairns wid come tumlin' about the floor, but, sal, I assure ye,
Bell didna fash lang wi' them. Did she, Sam'l?"
"She did not," said Sam'l, dropping into a fine mode of speech to
add emphasis to his remark.
"I'll tell ye what she did," said Pete to the others. "She juist
lifted up the litlins, twa at a time, an' flung them into the
coffin-beds. Syne she snibbit the doors on them, an' keepit them
there till the floor was dry."
"Ay, man, did she so?" said Davit, admiringly.
"I've seen her do't mysel," said Sam'l.
"There's no a lassie maks better bannocks this side o' Fetter Lums,"
"Her mither tocht her that," said Sam'l; "she was a gran' han' at
the bakin', Kitty Ogilvy."
"I've heard say," remarked Jamie, putting it this way so as not to
tie himself down to anything, "'at Bell's scones is equal to Mag
"So they are," said Sam'l, almost fiercely.
"I kin she's a neat han' at singein' a hen," said Pete.
"An' wi't a'," said Davit, "she's a snod, canty bit stocky in her
"If onything, thick in the waist," suggested Jamie.
"I dinna see that," said Sam'l.
"I d'na care for her hair either," continued Jamie, who was very
nice in his tastes; "something mair yalloweby wid be an
"A'body kins," growled Sam'l, "'at black hair's the bonniest." The
others chuckled. "Puir Sam'l!" Pete said.
Sam'l not being certain whether this should be received with a
smile or a frown, opened his mouth wide as a kind of compromise.
This was position one with him for thinking things, over.
Few Auld Lichts, as I have said, went the length of choosing a
helpmate for themselves. One day a young man's friends would see him
mending the washing-tub of a maiden's mother. They kept the joke
until Saturday night, and then he learned from them what he had been
after. It dazed him for a time, but in a year or so he grew
accustomed to the idea, and they were then married. With a little
help he fell in love just like other people.
Sam'l was going the way of the others, but he found it difficult to
come to the point. He only went courting once a week, and he could
never take up the running at the place where he left off the
Saturday before. Thus he had not, so far, made great headway. His
method of making up to Bell had been to drop in at T'nowhead on
Saturday nights and talk with the farmer about the rinderpest.
The farm kitchen was Bell's testimonial. Its chairs, tables, and
stools were scoured by her to the whiteness of Rob Angus' saw-mill
boards, and the muslin blind on the window was starched like a
child's pinafore. Bell was brave, too, as well as energetic. Once
Thrums had been overrun with thieves. It is now thought that there
may have been only one, but he had the wicked cleverness of a gang.
Such was his repute that there were weavers who spoke of locking
their doors when they went from home. He was not very skilful,
however, being generally caught, and when they said they knew he was
a robber, he gave them their things back and went away. If they had
given him time there is no doubt that he would have gone off with
his plunder. One night he went to T'nowhead, and Bell, who slept In
the kitchen, was awakened by the noise. She knew who it would be, so
she rose and dressed herself, and went to look for him with a
candle. The thief had not known what to do when he got in, and as it
was very lonely he was glad to see Bell. She told him he ought to be
ashamed of himself, and would not let him out by the door until he
had taken off his boots so as not to soil the carpet.
On this Saturday evening Sam'l stood his ground in the square, until
by and by he found himself alone. There were other groups there
still, but his circle had melted away. They went separately, and no
one said good-night. Each took himself off slowly, backing out of
the group until he was fairly started.
Sam'l looked about him, and then, seeing that the others had gone,
walked round the town-house into the darkness of the brae that leads
down and then up to the farm of T'nowhead.
To get into the good graces of Lisbeth Fargus you had to know her
ways and humor them. Sam'l, who was a student of women, knew this,
and so, instead of pushing the door open and walking in, he went
through the rather ridiculous ceremony of knocking. Sanders
Elshioner was also aware of this weakness of Lisbeth's, but though
he often made up his mind to knock, the absurdity of the thing
prevented his doing so when he reached the door. T'nowhead himself
had never got used to his wife's refined notions, and when any one
knocked he always started to his feet, thinking there must be
Lisbeth came to the door, her expansive figure blocking the way in.
"Sam'l," she said.
"Lisbeth," said Sam'l.
He shook hands with the farmer's wife, knowing that she liked it,
but only said, "Ay, Bell," to his sweetheart, "Ay, T'nowhead," to
McQuhatty, and "It's yersel, Sanders," to his rival.
They were all sitting round the fire; T'nowhead, with his feet on
the ribs, wondering why he felt so warm, and Bell darned a stocking,
while Lisbeth kept an eye on a goblet full of potatoes.
"Sit into the fire, Sam'l," said the farmer, not, however, making
way for him.
"Na, na," said Sam'l; "I'm to bide nae time." Then he sat into the
fire. His face was turned away from Bell, and when she spoke he
answered her without looking round. Sam'l felt a little anxious.
Sanders Elshioner, who had one leg shorter than the other, but
looked well when sitting, seemed suspiciously at home. He asked Bell
questions out of his own head, which was beyond Sam'l, and once he
said something to her in such a low voice that the others could not
catch it. T'nowhead asked curiously what it was, and Sanders
explained that he had only said, "Ay, Bell, the morn's the Sabbath."
There was nothing startling in this, but Sam'l did not like it. He
began to wonder if he were too late, and had he seen his opportunity
would have told Bell of a nasty rumor that Sanders intended to go
over to the Free Church if they would make him kirk-officer.
Sam'l had the good-will of T'nowhead's wife, who liked a polite man.
Sanders did his best, but from want of practice he constantly made
mistakes. To-night, for instance, he wore his hat in the house
because he did not like to put up his hand and take it off.
T'nowhead had not taken his off either, but that was because he
meant to go out by and by and lock the byre door. It was impossible
to say which of her lovers Bell preferred. The proper course with an
Auld Licht lassie was to prefer the man who proposed to her.
"Ye'll bide a wee, an' hae something to eat?" Lisbeth asked Sam'l,
with her eyes on the goblet.
"No, I thank ye," said Sam'l, with true gentility.
"I dinna think it."
"Hoots aye; what's to hender ye?"
"Weel, since ye're sae pressin', I'll bide."
No one asked Sanders to stay. Bell could not, for she was but the
servant, and T'nowhead knew that the kick his wife had given him
meant that he was not to do so either. Sanders whistled to show that
he was not uncomfortable.
"Ay, then, I'll be stappin' ower the brae," he said at last.
He did not go, however. There was sufficient pride in him to get him
off his chair, but only slowly, for he had to get accustomed to the
notion of going. At intervals of two or three minutes he remarked
that he must now be going. In the same circumstances Sam'l would
have acted similarly. For a Thrums man, it is one of the hardest
things in life to get away from anywhere.
At last Lisbeth saw that something must be done. The potatoes were
burning, and T'nowhead had an invitation on his tongue.
"Yes, I'll hae to be movin'," said Sanders, hopelessly, for the
"Guid nicht to ye, then, Sanders," said Lisbeth. "Gie the door a
fling-to, ahent ye."
Sanders, with a mighty effort, pulled himself together. He looked
boldly at Bell, and then took off his hat carefully. Sam'l saw with
misgivings that there was something in it which was not a
handkerchief. It was a paper bag glittering with gold braid, and
contained such an assortment of sweets as lads bought for their
lasses on the Muckle Friday.
"Hae, Bell," said Sanders, handing the bag to Bell in an off-hand
way as if it were but a trifle. Nevertheless he was a little
excited, for he went off without saying good-night.
No one spoke. Bell's face was crimson. T'nowhead fidgeted on his
chair, and Lisbeth looked at Sam'l. The weaver was strangely calm
and collected, though he would have liked to know whether this was a
"Sit in by to the table, Sam'l," said Lisbeth, trying to look as if
things were as they had been before.
She put a saucerful of butter, salt, and pepper near the fire to
melt, for melted butter is the shoeing-horn that helps over a meal
of potatoes. Sam'l, however, saw what the hour required, and jumping
up, he seized his bonnet.
"Hing the tatties higher up the joist, Lisbeth," he said with
dignity; "I'se be back in ten meenits."
He hurried out of the house, leaving the others looking at each
"What do ye think?" asked Lisbeth.
"I d'na kin," faltered Bell.
"Thae tatties is lang o' comin' to the boil," said T'nowhead.
In some circles a lover who behaved like Sam'l would have been
suspected of intent upon his rival's life, but neither Bell nor
Lisbeth did the weaver that injustice. In a case of this kind it
does not much matter what T'nowhead thought.
The ten minutes had barely passed when Sam'l was back in the farm
kitchen. He was too flurried to knock this time, and, indeed,
Lisbeth did not expect it of him.
"Bell, hae!" he cried, handing his sweetheart a tinsel bag twice the
size of Sanders' gift.
"Losh preserve's!" exclaimed Lisbeth; "I'se warrant there's a
"There's a' that, Lisbeth--an' mair," said Sam'l firmly.
"I thank ye, Sam'l," said Bell, feeling an unwonted elation as she
gazed at the two paper bags in her lap.
"Ye're ower extravegint, Sam'l," Lisbeth said.
"Not at all," said Sam'l; "not at all. But I widna advise ye to eat
thae ither anes, Bell--they're second quality."
Bell drew back a step from Sam'l.
"How do ye kin?" asked the farmer shortly, for he liked Sanders.
"I speired i' the shop," said Sam'l.
The goblet was placed on a broken plate on the table with the saucer
beside it, and Sam'l, like the others, helped himself. What he did
was to take potatoes from the pot with his fingers, peel off their
coats, and then dip them into the butter. Lisbeth would have liked
to provide knives and forks, but she knew that beyond a certain
point T'nowhead was master in his own house. As for Sam'l, he felt
victory in his hands, and began to think that he had gone too far.
In the mean time Sanders, little witting that Sam'l had trumped his
trick, was sauntering along the kirk-wynd with his hat on the side
of his head. Fortunately he did not meet the minister.
The courting of T'nowhead's Bell reached its crisis one Sabbath
about a month after the events above recorded. The minister was in
great force that day, but it is no part of mine to tell how he bore
himself. I was there, and am not likely to forget the scene. It was
a fateful Sabbath for T'nowhead's Bell and her swains, and destined
to be remembered for the painful scandal which they perpetrated in
Bell was not in the kirk. There being an infant of six months in the
house it was a question of either Lisbeth or the lassie's staying at
home with him, and though Lisbeth was unselfish in a general way,
she could not resist the delight of going to church. She had nine
children besides the baby, and being but a woman, it was the pride
of her life to march them into the T'nowhead pew, so well watched
that they dared not misbehave, and so tightly packed that they could
not fall. The congregation looked at that pew, the mothers
enviously, when they sang the lines--
"Jerusalem like a city is
Compactly built together."
The first half of the service had been gone through on this
particular Sunday without anything remarkable happening. It was at
the end of the psalm which preceded the sermon that Sanders
Elshioner, who sat near the door, lowered his head until it was no
higher than the pews, and in that attitude, looking almost like a
four-footed animal, slipped out of the church. In their eagerness to
be at the sermon many of the congregation did not notice him, and
those who did put the matter by in their minds for future
investigation. Sam'l, however, could not take it so coolly. From his
seat in the gallery he saw Sanders disappear, and his mind misgave
him. With the true lover's instinct he understood it all. Sanders
had been struck by the fine turn-out in the T'nowhead pew. Bell was
alone at the farm. What an opportunity to work one's way up to a
proposal! T'nowhead was so over-run with children, that such a
chance seldom occurred, except on a Sabbath. Sanders, doubtless, was
off to propose, and he, Sam'l, was left behind.
The suspense was terrible. Sam'l and Sanders had both known all
along that Bell would take the first of the two who asked her. Even
those who thought her proud admitted that she was modest. Bitterly
the weaver repented having waited so long. Now it was too late. In
ten minutes Sanders would be at T'nowhead; in an hour all would be
over. Sam'l rose to his feet in a daze. His mother pulled him down
by the coat-tail, and his father shook him, thinking he was walking
in his sleep. He tottered past them, however, hurried up the aisle,
which was so narrow that Dan'l Ross could only reach his seat by
walking sideways, and was gone before the minister could do more
than stop in the middle of a whirl and gape in horror after him.
A number of the congregation felt that day the advantage of sitting
in the laft. What was a mystery to those downstairs was revealed to
them. From the gallery windows they had a fine open view to the
south; and as Sam'l took the common; which was a short cut though a
steep ascent, to T'nowhead, he was never out of their line of
vision. Sanders was not to be seen, but they guessed rightly the
reason why. Thinking he had ample time, he had gone round by the
main road to save his boots--perhaps a little scared by what was
coming. Sam'l's design was to forestall him by taking the shorter
path over the burn and up the commonty.
It was a race for a wife, and several onlookers in the gallery
braved the minister's displeasure to see who won. Those who favored
Sam'l's suit exultingly saw him leap the stream, while the friends
of Sanders fixed their eyes on the top of the common where it ran
into the road. Sanders must come into sight there, and the one who
reached this point first would get Bell.
As Auld Lichts do not walk abroad on the Sabbath, Sanders would
probably not be delayed. The chances were in his favor. Had it been
any other day in the week Sam'l might have run. So some of the
congregation in the gallery were thinking, when suddenly they saw
him bend low and then take to his heels. He had caught sight of
Sanders' head bobbing over the hedge that separated the road from
the common, and feared that Sanders might see him. The congregation
who could crane their necks sufficiently saw a black object, which
they guessed to be the carter's hat, crawling along the hedge-top.
For a moment it was motionless, and then it shot ahead. The rivals
had seen each other. It was now a hot race. Sam'l, dissembling no
longer, clattered up the common, becoming smaller and smaller to the
on-lookers as he neared the top. More than one person in the gallery
almost rose to their feet in their excitement. Sam'l had it. No,
Sanders was in front. Then the two figures disappeared from view.
They seemed to run into each other at the top of the brae, and no
one could say who was first. The congregation looked at one another.
Some of them perspired. But the minister held on his course.
Sam'l had just been in time to cut Sanders out. It was the weaver's
saving that Sanders saw this when his rival turned the corner; for
Sam'l was sadly blown. Sanders took in the situation and gave in at
once. The last hundred yards of the distance he covered at his
leisure, and when he arrived at his destination he did not go in. It
was a fine afternoon for the time of year, and he went round to have
a look at the pig, about which T'nowhead was a little sinfully
"Ay," said Sanders, digging his fingers critically into the grunting
animal; "quite so."
"Grumph," said the pig, getting reluctantly to his feet.
"Ou, ay; yes," said Sanders, thoughtfully.
Then he sat down on the edge of the sty, and looked long and
silently at an empty bucket. But whether his thoughts were of
T'nowhead's Bell, whom he had lost forever, or of the food the
farmer fed his pig on, is not known.
"Lord preserve's! Are ye no at the kirk?" cried Bell, nearly
dropping the baby as Sam'l broke into the room,
"Bell!" cried Sam'l.
Then T'nowhead's Bell knew that her hour had come.
"Sam'l," she faltered.
"Will ye hae's, Bell?" demanded Sam'l, glaring at her sheepishly.
"Ay," answered Bell.
Sam'l fell into a chair.
"Bring's a drink o' water, Bell," he said. But Bell thought the
occasion required milk, and there was none in the kitchen. She went
out to the byre, still with the baby in her arms, and saw Sanders
Elshioner sitting gloomily on the pig-sty.
"Weel, Bell," said Sanders.
"I thocht ye'd been at the kirk, Sanders," said Bell.
Then there was a silence between them.
"Has Sam'l speired ye, Bell?" asked Sanders stolidly.
"Ay," said Bell again, and this time there was a tear in her eye.
Sanders was little better than an "orra man," and Sam'l was a
weaver, and yet--But it was too late now. Sanders gave the pig a
vicious poke with a stick, and when it had ceased to grunt, Bell was
back in the kitchen. She had forgotten about the milk, however, and
Sam'l only got water after all.
In after days, when the story of Bell's wooing was told, there were
some who held that the circumstances would have almost justified the
lassie in giving Sam'l the go-by. But these perhaps forgot that her
other lover was in the same predicament as the accepted one--that of
the two, indeed, he was the more to blame, for he set off to
T'nowhead on the Sabbath of his own accord, while Sam'l only ran
after him. And then there is no one to say for certain whether Bell
heard of her suitors' delinquencies until Lisbeth's return from the
kirk. Sam'l could never remember whether he told her, and Bell was
not sure whether, if he did, she took it in. Sanders was greatly in
demand for weeks after to tell what he knew of the affair, but
though he was twice asked to tea to the manse among the trees, and
subjected thereafter to ministerial cross-examinations, this is all
he told. He remained at the pig-sty until Sam'l left the farm, when
he joined him at the top of the brae, and they went home together.
"It's yersel, Sanders," said Sam'l.
"It is so, Sam'l," said Sanders.
"Very cauld," said Sam'l.
"Blawy," assented Sanders.
After a pause--
"Sam'l," said Sanders.
"I'm hearin' ye're to be mairit."
"Weel, Sam'l, she's a snod bit lassie."
"Thank ye," said Sam'l.
"I had ance a kin' o' notion o' Bell mysel," continued Sanders.
"Yes, Sam'l; but I thocht better o't."
"Hoo d'ye mean?" asked Sam'l, a little anxiously.
"Weel, Sam'l, mairitch is a terrible responsibeelity."
"It is so," said Sam'l, wincing.
"An' no the thing to tak up withoot conseederation."
"But it's a blessed and honorable state, Sanders; ye've heard the
"They say," continued the relentless Sanders, "'at the minister
doesna get on sair wi' the wife himsel."
"So they do," cried Sam'l, with a sinking at the heart.
"I've been telt," Sanders went on, "'at gin ye can get the upper
han' o' the wife for a while at first, there's the mair chance o' a
"Bell's no the lassie," said Sam'l appealingly, "to thwart her man."
"D'ye think she is, Sanders?"
"Weel, Sam'l, I d'na want to fluster ye, but she's been ower lang
wi' Lisbeth Fargus no to hae learnt her ways. An a'body kins what a
life T'nowhead has wi' her."
"Guid sake, Sanders, hoo did ye no speak o' this afore?"
"I thocht ye kent o't, Sam'l."
They had now reached the square, and the U.P. kirk was coming out.
The Auld Licht kirk would be half an hour yet.
"But, Sanders," said Sam'l, brightening up, "ye was on yer wy to
spier her yer-sel."
"I was, Sam'l," said Sanders, "and I canna but be thankfu' ye was
ower quick for's."
"Gin't hadna been you," said Sam'l, "I wid never hae thocht o't."
"I'm sayin' naething agin Bell," pursued the other, "but, man Sam'l,
a body should be mair deleeberate in a thing o' the kind."
"It was michty hurried," said Sam'l, wo-fully.
"It's a serious thing to spier a lassie," said Sanders.
"It's an awfu' thing," said Sam'l.
"But we'll hope for the best," added Sanders in a hopeless voice.
They were close to the Tenements now, and Sam'l looked as if he were
on his way to be hanged.
"Did ye--did ye kiss her, Sam'l?"
"There's was varra little time, Sanders."
"Half an 'oor," said Sanders.
"Was there? Man Sanders, to tell ye the truth, I never thocht o't."
Then the soul of Sanders Elshioner was filled with contempt for
The scandal blew over. At first it was expected that the minister
would interfere to prevent the union, but beyond intimating from the
pulpit that the souls of Sabbath-breakers were beyond praying for,
and then praying for Sam'l and Sanders at great length, with a word
thrown in for Bell, he let things take their course. Some said it
was because he was always frightened lest his young men should
intermarry with other denominations, but Sanders explained it
differently to Sam'l.
"I hav'na a word to say agin the minister," he said; "they're gran'
prayers, but, Sam'l, he's a mairit man himsel."
"He's a' the better for that, Sanders, isna he?"
"Do ye no see," asked Sanders compassionately, "'at he's tryin' to
mat the best o't?"
"Oh, Sanders, man!" said Sam'l.
"Cheer up, Sam'l," said Sanders, "it'll sune be ower."
Their having been rival suitors had not interfered with their
friendship. On the contrary, while they had hitherto been mere
acquaintances, they became inseparables as the wedding-day drew
near. It was noticed that they had much to say to each other, and
that when they could not get a room to themselves they wandered
about together in the churchyard. When Sam'l had anything to tell
Bell he sent Sanders to tell it, and Sanders did as he was bid.
There was nothing that he would not have done for Sam'l.
The more obliging Sanders was, however, the sadder Sam'l grew. He
never laughed now on Saturdays, and sometimes his loom was silent
half the day. Sam'l felt that Sanders' was the kindness of a friend
for a dying man.
It was to be a penny wedding, and Lisbeth Fargus said it was
delicacy that made Sam'l superintend the fitting-up of the barn by
deputy. Once he came to see it in person, but he looked so ill that
Sanders had to see him home. This was on the Thursday afternoon, and
the wedding was fixed for Friday.
"Sanders, Sanders," said Sam'l, in a voice strangely unlike his own,
"it'll a' be ower by this time the morn."
"It will," said Sanders.
"If I had only kent her langer," continued Sam'l.
"It wid hae been safer," said Sanders.
"Did ye see the yallow floor in Bell's bonnet?" asked the accepted
"Ay," said Sanders reluctantly.
"I'm dootin'--I'm sair dootin' she's but a flichty, light-hearted
crittur after a'."
"I had ay my suspeecions o't," said Sanders.
"Ye hae kent her langer than me," said Sam'l.
"Yes," said Sanders, "but there's nae gettin' at the heart o' women.
Man, Sam'l, they're desperate cunnin'."
"I'm dootin't; I'm sair dootin't."
"It'll be a warnin' to ye, Sam'l, no to be in sic a hurry i' the
futur," said Sanders.
"Ye'll be gaein up to the manse to arrange wi' the minister the
morn's mornin'," continued Sanders, in a subdued voice.
Sam'l looked wistfully at his friend.
"I canna do't, Sanders," he said, "I canna do't."
"Ye maun," said Sanders.
"It's aisy to speak," retorted Sam'l bitterly.
"We have a' oor troubles, Sam'l," said Sanders soothingly, "an'
every man maun bear his ain burdens. Johnny Davie's wife's dead, an'
he's no repinin'."
"Ay," said Sam'l, "but a death's no a mairitch. We hae haen deaths
in our family too."
"It may a' be for the best," added Sanders, "an' there wid be a
michty talk i' the hale country-side gin ye didna ging to the
minister like a man."
"I maum hae langer to think o't," said Sam'l.
"Bell's mairitch is the morn," said Sanders decisively.
Sam'l glanced up with a wild look in his eyes.
"Sanders!" he cried.
"Ye hae been a guid friend to me, Sanders, in this sair affliction."
"Nothing ava," said Sanders; "dount mention'd."
"But, Sanders, ye canna deny but what your rinnin oot o' the kirk
that awfu' day was at the bottom o'd a'."
"It was so," said Sanders bravely.
"An' ye used to be fond o' Bell, Sanders."
"I dinna deny't."
"Sanders, laddie," said Sam'l, bending forward and speaking in a
wheedling voice, "I aye thocht it was you she likit."
"I had some sic idea mysel," said Sanders.
"Sanders, I canna think to pairt twa fowk sae weel suited to ane
anither as you an' Bell,"
"Canna ye, Sam'l?"
"She wid mak ye a guid wife, Sanders, I hae studied her weel, and
she's a thrifty, douce, clever lassie. Sanders, there's no the like
o' her. Mony a time, Sanders, I hae said to mysel, 'There's a lass
ony man micht be prood to tak.' A'body says the same, Sanders,
There's nae risk ava, man: nane to speak o'. Tak her, laddie, tak
her, Sanders; it's a grand chance, Sanders. She's yours for the
spierin'. I'll gie her up, Sanders."
"Will ye, though?" said Sanders.
"What d'ye think?" asked Sam'l.
"If ye wid rayther," said Sanders politely.
"There's my han' on't," said Sam'l. "Bless ye, Sanders; ye've been a
true frien' to me."
Then they shook hands for the first time in their lives; and soon
afterward Sanders struck up the brae to T'nowhead,
Next morning Sanders Elshioner, who had been very busy the night
before, put on his Sabbath clothes and strolled up to the manse.
"But--but where is Sam'l?" asked the minister; "I must see himself."
"It's a new arrangement," said Sanders.
"What do you mean, Sanders?"
"Bell's to marry me," explained Sanders.
"But--but what does Sam'l say?"
"He's willin'," said Sanders.
"She's willin', too. She prefers't."
"It is unusual," said the minister.
"It's a' richt," said Sanders.
"Well, you know best," said the minister.
"You see the hoose was taen, at ony rate," continued Sanders. "An'
I'll juist ging in til't instead o' Sam'l."
"An' I cudna think to disappoint the lassie."
"Your sentiments do you credit, Sanders," said the minister; "but I
hope you do not enter upon the blessed state of matrimony without
full consideration of its responsibilities. It is a serious
"It's a' that," said Sanders, "but I'm willin' to stan' the risk."
So, as soon as it could be done, Sanders Elshioner took to wife
T'nowhead's Bell, and I remember seeing Sam'l Dickie trying to dance
at the penny wedding.
Years afterward it was said in Thrums that Sam'l had treated Bell
badly, but he was never sure about it himself.
"It was a near thing--a michty near thing," he admitted in the
"They say," some other weaver would remark, "'at it was you Bell
"I d'na kin," Sam'l would reply, "but there's nae doot the lassie
was fell fond o' me. Ou, a mere passin' fancy's ye micht say."
DAVIT LUNAN'S POLITICAL REMINISCENCES.
When an election-day comes round now, it takes me back to the time
of 1832. I would be eight or ten year old at that time. James
Strachan was at the door by five o'clock in the morning in his
Sabbath clothes, by arrangement. We was to go up to the hill to see
them building the bonfire. Moreover, there was word that Mr.
Scrimgour was to be there tossing pennies, just like at a marriage.
I was awakened before that by my mother at the pans and bowls. I
have always associated elections since that time with jelly-making;
for just as my mother would fill the cups and tankers and bowls with
jelly to save cans, she was emptying the pots and pans to make way
for the ale and porter. James and me was to help to carry it home
from the square--him in the pitcher and me in a flagon, because I
was silly for my age and not strong in the arms.
It was a very blowy morning, though the rain kept off, and what part
of the bonfire had been built already was found scattered to the
winds. Before we rose a great mass of folk was getting the barrels
and things together again; but some of them was never recovered, and
suspicion pointed to William Geddes, it being well known that
William would not hesitate to carry off anything if unobserved. More
by token Chirsty Lamby had seen him rolling home a barrowful of
firewood early in the morning, her having risen to hold cold water
in her mouth, being down with the toothache. When we got up to the
hill everybody was making for the quarry, which being more sheltered
was now thought to be a better place for the bonfire. The masons had
struck work, it being a general holiday in the whole countryside.
There was a great commotion of people, all fine dressed and mostly
with glengarry bonnets; and me and James was well acquaint with
them, though mostly weavers and the like and not my father's equal.
Mr. Scrimgour was not there himself; but there was a small active
body in his room as tossed the money for him fair enough; though not
so liberally as was expected, being mostly ha'pence where pennies
was looked for. Such was not my father's opinion, and him and a few
others only had a vote. He considered it was a waste of money giving
to them that had no vote and so taking out of other folks' mouths;
but the little man said it kept everybody in good-humor and made Mr.
Scrimgour popular. He was an extraordinary affable man and very
spirity, running about to waste no time in walking, and gave me a
shilling, saying to me to be a truthful boy and tell my father. He
did not give James anything, him being an orphan, but clapped his
head and said he was a fine boy.
The captain was to vote for the bill if he got in, the which he did.
It was the captain was to give the ale and the porter in the square
like a true gentleman. My father gave a kind of laugh when I let him
see my shilling, and said he would keep care of it for me; and sorry
I was I let him get it, me never seeing the face of it again to this
day. Me and James was much annoyed with the women, especially Kitty
Davie, always pushing in when there was tossing, and tearing the
very ha'pence out of our hands: us not caring so much about the
money, but humiliated to see women mixing up in politics. By the
time the topmost barrel was on the bonfire there was a great smell
of whiskey in the quarry, it being a confined place. My father had
been against the bonfire being in the quarry, arguing that the wind
on the hill would have carried off the smell of the whiskey; but
Peter Tosh said they did not want the smell carried off; it would be
agreeable to the masons for weeks to come. Except among the women,
there was no fighting nor wrangling at the quarry, but all in fine
I misremember now whether it was Mr. Scrimgour or the captain that
took the fancy to my father's pigs; but it was this day, at any
rate, that the captain sent him the game-cock. Whichever one it was
that fancied the litter of pigs, nothing would content him but to
buy them, which he did at thirty shillings each, being the best
bargain ever my father made. Nevertheless I'm thinking he was
windier of the cock. The captain, who was a local man when not with
his regiment, had the grandest collection of fighting-cocks in the
county, and sometimes came into the town to try them against the
town cocks. I mind well the large wicker cage in which they were
conveyed from place to place, and never without the captain near at
hand. My father had a cock that beat all the other town cocks at the
cock-fight at our school, which was superintended by the elder of
the kirk to see fair play; but the which died of its wounds the next
day but one. This was a great grief to my father, it having been
challenged to fight the captain's cock. Therefore it was very
considerate of the captain to make my father a present of his bird;
father, in compliment to him, changing its name from the "Deil" to
During the forenoon, and I think until well on in the day, James and
me was busy with the pitcher and the flagon. The proceedings in the
square, however, was not so well conducted as in the quarry, many of
the folk there assembled showing a mean and grasping spirit. The
captain had given orders that there was to be no stint of ale and
porter, and neither there was; but much of it lost through hastiness.
Great barrels was hurled into the middle of the square, where the
country wives sat with their eggs and butter on market-day, and was
quickly stove in with an axe or paving-stone or whatever came handy.
Sometimes they would break into the barrel at different points; and
then, when they tilted it up to get the ale out at one hole, it gushed
out at the bottom till the square was flooded. My mother was fair
disgusted when told by me and James of the waste of good liquor. It
is gospel truth I speak when I say I mind well of seeing Singer Davie
catching the porter in a pan as it ran down the sire, and when the
pan was full to overflowing, putting his mouth to the stream and
drinking till he was as full as the pan. Most of the men, however,
stuck to the barrels, the drink running in the street being ale and
porter mixed, and left it to the women and the young folk to do the
carrying. Susy M'Queen brought as many pans as she could collect on
a barrow, and was filling them all with porter, rejecting the ale;
but indignation was aroused against her, and as fast as she filled
the others emptied.
My father scorned to go to the square to drink ale and porter with
the crowd, having the election on his mind and him to vote.
Nevertheless he instructed me and James to keep up a brisk trade
with the pans, and run back across the gardens in case we met
dishonest folk in the streets who might drink the ale. Also, said my
father, we was to let the excesses of our neighbors be a warning in
sobriety to us; enough being as good as a feast, except when you can
store it up for the winter. By and by my mother thought it was not
safe me being in the streets with so many wild men about, and would
have sent James himself, him being an orphan and hardier; but this I
did not like, but, running out, did not come back for long enough.
There is no doubt that the music was to blame for firing the men's
blood, and the result most disgraceful fighting with no object in
view. There was three fiddlers and two at the flute, most of them
blind, but not the less dangerous on that account; and they kept the
town in a ferment, even playing the country-folk home to the farms,
followed by bands of towns-folk. They were a quarrelsome set, the
ploughmen and others; and it was generally admitted in the town that
their overbearing behavior was responsible for the fights. I mind
them being driven out of the square, stones flying thick; also some
stand-up fights with sticks, and others fair enough with fists. The
worst fight I did not see. It took place in a field. At first it was
only between two who had been miscalling one another; but there was
many looking on, and when the town man was like getting the worst of
it the others set to, and a most heathenish fray with no sense in it
ensued. One man had his arm broken. I mind Hobart the bellman going
about ringing his bell and telling all persons to get within doors;
but little attention was paid to him, it being notorious that Snecky
had had a fight earlier in the day himself.
When James was fighting in the field, according to his own account,
I had the honor of dining with the electors who voted for the
captain, him paying all expenses. It was a lucky accident my mother
sending me to the town-house, where the dinner came off, to try to
get my father home at a decent hour, me having a remarkable power
over him when in liquor, but at no other time. They were very jolly,
however, and insisted on my drinking the captain's health and eating
more than was safe. My father got it next day from my mother for
this; and so would I myself, but it was several days before I left
my bed, completely knocked up as I was with the excitement and one
thing or another. The bonfire, which was built to celebrate the
election of Mr. Scrimgour, was set ablaze, though I did not see it,
in honor of the election of the captain; it being thought a pity to
lose it, as no doubt it would have been. That is about all I
remember of the celebrated election of '32 when the Reform Bill was
A VERY OLD FAMILY.
They were a very old family with whom Snecky Hobart, the bellman,
lodged. Their favorite dissipation, when their looms had come to
rest, was a dander through the kirk-yard. They dressed for it: the
three young ones in their rusty blacks; the patriarch in his old
blue coat, velvet knee-breeches, and broad blue bonnet; and often of
an evening I have met them moving from grave to grave. By this time
the old man was nearly ninety, and the young ones averaged sixty.
They read out the inscriptions on the tombstones in a solemn drone,
and their father added his reminiscences. He never failed them.
Since the beginning of the century he had not missed a funeral, and
his children felt that he was a great example. Sire and sons
returned from the cemetery invigorated for their daily labors. If
one of them happened to start a dozen yards behind the others, he
never thought of making up the distance. If his foot struck against
a stone, he came to a dead stop; when he discovered that he had
stopped, he set off again.
A high wall shut off this old family's house and garden, from the
clatter of Thrums, a wall that gave Snecky some trouble before he
went to live within it. I speak from personal knowledge. One spring
morning, before the school-house was built, I was assisting the
patriarch to divest the gaunt garden pump of its winter suit of
straw. I was taking a drink, I remember, my palm over the mouth of
the wooden spout and my mouth at the gimlet-hole above, when a leg
appeared above the corner of the wall against which the hen-house
was built. Two hands followed, clutching desperately at the uneven
stones. Then the leg worked as if it were turning a grindstone, and
next moment Snecky was sitting breathlessly on the dyke. From this
to the hen-house, whose roof was of "divets," the descent was
comparatively easy, and a slanting board allowed the daring bellman
to slide thence to the ground. He had come on business, and having
talked it over slowly with the old man he turned to depart. Though
he was a genteel man, I heard him sigh heavily as, with the remark,
"Ay, weel, I'll be movin' again," he began to rescale the wall. The
patriarch, twisted round the pump, made no reply, so I ventured to
suggest to the bellman that he might find the gate easier. "Is there
a gate?" said Snecky, in surprise at the resources of civilization.
I pointed it out to him, and he went his way chuckling. The old man
told me that he had sometimes wondered at Snecky's mode of approach,
but it had not struck him to say anything. Afterward, when the
bellman took up his abode there, they discussed the matter heavily.
Hobart inherited both his bell and his nickname from his father, who
was not a native of Thrums. He came from some distant part where the
people speak of snecking the door, meaning shut it. In Thrums the
word used is steek, and sneck seemed to the inhabitants so droll and
ridiculous that Hobart got the name of Snecky. His son left Thrums
at the age of ten for the distant farm of Tirl, and did not return
until the old bellman's death, twenty years afterward; but the first
remark he overheard on entering the kirk-wynd was a conjecture flung
across the street by a gray-haired crone, that he would be "little
Snecky come to bury auld Snecky."
The father had a reputation in his day for "crying" crimes he was
suspected of having committed himself, but the Snecky I knew had too
high a sense of his own importance for that. On great occasions,
such as the loss of little Davy Dundas, or when a tattie roup had to
be cried, he was even offensively inflated: but ordinary
announcements, such as the approach of a flying stationer, the roup
of a deceased weaver's loom, or the arrival in Thrums of a cart-load
of fine "kebec" cheeses, he treated as the merest trifles. I see
still the bent legs of the snuffy old man straightening to the
tinkle of his bell, and the smirk with which he let the curious
populace gather round him. In one hand he ostentatiously displayed
the paper on which what he had to cry was written, but, like the
minister, he scorned to "read." With the bell carefully tucked under
his oxter he gave forth his news in a rasping voice that broke now
and again into a squeal. Though Scotch in his unofficial
conversation, he was believed to deliver himself on public occasions
in the finest English. When trotting from place to place with his
news he carried his bell by the tongue as cautiously as if it were a
flagon of milk.
Snecky never allowed himself to degenerate into a mere machine. His
proclamations were provided by those who employed him, but his soul
was his own. Having cried a potato roup he would sometimes add a
word of warning, such as, "I wudna advise ye, lads, to hae ony-thing
to do wi' thae tatties; they're diseased." Once, just before the
cattle market, he was sent round by a local laird to announce that
any drover found taking the short cut to the hill through the
grounds of Muckle Plowy would be prosecuted to the utmost limits of
the law. The people were aghast. "Hoots, lads," Snecky said; "dinna
fash yoursels. It's juist a haver o' the grieve's." One of Hobart's
ways of striking terror into evil-doers was to announce, when crying
a crime, that he himself knew perfectly well who the culprit was. "I
see him brawly," he would say, "standing afore me, an' if he disna
instantly mak retribution, I am determined this very day to mak a
public example of him."
Before the time of the Burke and Hare murders Snecky's father was
sent round Thrums to proclaim the startling news that a grave in the
kirk-yard had been tampered with. The "resurrectionist" scare was at
its height then, and the patriarch, who was one of the men in Thrums
paid to watch new graves in the night-time, has often told the
story. The town was in a ferment as the news spread, and there were
fierce suspicious men among Hobart's hearers who already had the
rifler of graves in their eye.
He was a man who worked for the farmers when they required an extra
hand, and loafed about the square when they could do without him. No
one had a good word for him, and lately he had been flush of money.
That was sufficient. There was a rush of angry men through the
"pend" that led to his habitation, and he was dragged, panting and
terrified, to the kirk-yard before he understood what it all meant.
To the grave they hurried him, and almost without a word handed him
a spade. The whole town gathered round the spot--a sullen crowd, the
women only breaking the silence with their sobs, and the children
clinging to their gowns. The suspected resurrectionist understood
what was wanted of him, and, flinging off his jacket, began to
reopen the grave. Presently the spade struck upon wood, and by and
by part of the coffin came in view. That was nothing, for the
resurrectionists had a way of breaking the coffin at one end and
drawing out the body with tongs. The digger knew this. He broke the
boards with the spade and revealed an arm. The people convinced, he
dropped the arm savagely, leaped out of the grave and went his way,
leaving them to shovel back the earth themselves.
There was humor in the old family as well as in their lodger. I
found this out slowly. They used to gather round their peat fire in
the evening, after the poultry had gone to sleep on the kitchen
rafters, and take off their neighbors. None of them ever laughed;
but their neighbors did afford them subject for gossip, and the old
man was very sarcastic over other people's old-fashioned ways. When
one of the family wanted to go out he did it gradually. He would be
sitting "into the fire" browning his corduroy trousers, and he would
get up slowly. Then he gazed solemnly before him for a time, and
after that, if you watched him narrowly, you would see that he was
really moving to the door. Another member of the family took the
vacant seat with the same precautions. Will'um, the eldest, has a
gun, which customarily stands behind the old eight-day clock; and he
takes it with him to the garden to shoot the blackbirds. Long before
Will'um is ready to let fly, the blackbirds have gone away; and so
the gun is never, never fired; but there is a determined look on
Will'um's face when he returns from the garden.
In the stormy days of his youth the old man had been a "Black Nib."
The Black Nibs were the persons who agitated against the French war;
and the public feeling against them ran strong and deep. In Thrums
the local Black Nibs were burned in effigy, and whenever they put
their heads out of doors they risked being stoned. Even where the
authorities were unprejudiced they were helpless to interfere; and
as a rule they were as bitter against the Black Nibs as the populace
themselves. Once the patriarch was running through the street with a
score of the enemy at his heels, and the bailie, opening his window,
shouted to them, "Stane the Black Nib oot o' the toon!"
When the patriarch was a young man he was a follower of pleasure.
This is the one thing about him that his family have never been able
to understand. A solemn stroll through the kirk-yard was not
sufficient relaxation in those riotous times, after a hard day at
the loom; and he rarely lost a chance of going to see a man hanged.
There was a good deal of hanging in those days; and yet the
authorities had an ugly way of reprieving condemned men on whom the
sight-seers had been counting. An air of gloom would gather on my
old friend's countenance when he told how he and his contemporaries
in Thrums trudged every Saturday for six weeks to the county town,
many miles distant, to witness the execution of some criminal in
whom they had local interest, and who, after disappointing them
again and again, was said to have been bought off by a friend. His
crime had been stolen entrance into a house in Thrums by the
chimney, with intent to rob; and though this old-fashioned family
did not see it, not the least noticeable incident in the scrimmage
that followed was the prudence of the canny housewife. When she saw
the legs coming down the lum, she rushed to the kail-pot which was
on the fire and put on the lid. She confessed that this was not done
to prevent the visitor's scalding himself, but to save the broth.
The old man was repeated in his three sons. They told his stories
precisely as he did himself, taking as long in the telling and
making the points in exactly the same way. By and by they will come
to think that they themselves were of those past times. Already the
young ones look like contemporaries of their father.
LITTLE RATHIE'S "BURAL."
Devout-under-difficulties would have been the name of Lang Tammas
had he been of Covenanting times. So I thought one wintry afternoon,
years before I went to the school-house, when he dropped in to ask
the pleasure of my company to the farmer of Little Rathie's "bural."
As a good Auld Licht, Tammas reserved his swallow-tail coat and "lum
hat" (chimney-pot) for the kirk and funerals; but the coat would
have flapped villanously, to Tammas' eternal ignominy, had he for
one rash moment relaxed his hold of the bottom button, and it was
only by walking sideways, as horses sometimes try to do, that the
hat could be kept at the angle of decorum. Let it not he thought
that Tammas had asked me to Little Rathie's funeral on his own
responsibility. Burials were among the few events to break the
monotony of an Auld Licht winter, and invitations were as much
sought after as cards to my lady's dances in the south. This had
been a fair average season for Tammas, though of his four burials
one had been a bairn's--a mere bagatelle; but had it not been for
the death of Little Rathie I would probably not have been out that
year at all.
The small farm of Little Rathie lies two miles from Thrums, and
Tammas and I trudged manfully through the snow, adding to our
numbers as we went. The dress of none differed materially from the
precentor's, and the general effect was of septuagenarians in each
other's best clothes, though living in low-roofed houses had bent
most of them before their time. By a rearrangement of garments, such
as making Tammas change coat, hat, and trousers with Cragiebuckle,
Silva McQueen, and Sam'l Wilkie respectively, a dexterous tailor
might perhaps have supplied each with a "fit." The talk was chiefly
of Little Rathie, and sometimes threatened to become animated, when
another mourner would fall in and restore the more fitting gloom.
"Ay, ay," the new-comer would say, by way of responding to the sober
salutation, "Ay, Johnny." Then there was silence, but for the
"gluck" with which we lifted our feet from the slush.
"So Little Rathie's been ta'en awa'," Johnny would venture to say by
"He's gone, Johnny; ay, man, he is so."
"Death must come to all," some one would waken up to murmur.
"Ay," Lang Tammas would reply, putting on the coping-stone, "in the
morning we are strong and in the evening we are cut down."
"We are so, Tammas; ou ay, we are so; we're here the wan day an'
gone the neist."
"Little Rathie wasna a crittur I took till; no, I canna say he was,"
said Bowie Haggart, so called because his legs described a parabola,
"but be maks a vary creeditable corp [corpse]. I will say that for
him. It's wonderfu' hoo death improves a body. Ye cudna hae said as
Little Rathie was a weel-faured man when he was i' the flesh."
Bowie was the wright, and attended burials in his official capacity.
He had the gift of words to an uncommon degree, and I do not forget
his crushing blow at the reputation of the poet Burns, as delivered
under the auspices of the Thrums Literary Society. "I am of
opeenion," said Bowie, "that the works of Burns is of an immoral
tendency. I have not read them myself, but such is my opeenion."
"He was a queer stock, Little Rathie, michty queer," said Tammas
Haggart, Bowie's brother, who was a queer stock himself, but was not
aware of it; "but, ou, I'm thinkin' the wife had something to do
wi't. She was ill to manage, an' Little Rathie hadna the way o' the
women. He hadna the knack o' managin' them's yo micht say--no,
Little Rathie hadna the knack."
"They're kittle cattle, the women," said the farmer of
Craigiebuckle--son of the Craigiebuckle mentioned elsewhere--a
little gloomily. "I've often thocht maiterimony is no onlike the
lucky bags th' auld wifies has at the muckly. There's prizes an'
blanks baith inside, but, losh, ye're far frae sure what ye'll draw
oot when ye put in yer han'."
"Ou, weel," said Tammas complacently, "there's truth in what ye say,
but the women can be managed if ye have the knack."
"Some o' them," said Cragiebuckle woefully.
"Ye had yer wark wi' the wife yersel, Tammas, so ye had," observed
Lang Tammas, unbending to suit his company.
"Ye're speakin' aboot the bit wife's bural," said Tammas Haggart,
with a chuckle; "ay, ay, that brocht her to reason."
Without much pressure Haggart retold a story known to the majority
of his hearers. He had not the "knack" of managing women apparently
when he married, for he and his gypsy wife "agreed ill thegither" at
first. Once Chirsty left him and took up her abode in a house just
across the wynd. Instead of routing her out, Tammas, without taking
any one into his confidence, determined to treat Chirsty as dead,
and celebrate her decease in a "lyke wake"--a last wake. These wakes
were very general in Thrums in the old days, though they had ceased
to be common by the date of Little Rathie's death. For three days
before the burial the friends and neighbors of the mourners were
invited into the house to partake of food and drink by the side of
the corpse. The dead lay on chairs covered with a white sheet.
Dirges were sung and the deceased was extolled, but when night came
the lights were extinguished and the corpse was left alone. On the
morning of the funeral tables were spread with a white cloth outside
the house, and food and drink were placed upon them. No neighbor
could pass the tables without paying his respects to the dead; and
even when the house was in a busy, narrow thoroughfare, this part of
the ceremony was never omitted. Tammas did not give Chirsty a wake
inside the house; but one Friday morning--it was market-day, and the
square was consequently full--it went through the town that the
tables were spread before his door. Young and old collected,
wandering round the house, and Tammas stood at the tables in his
blacks inviting every one to eat and drink. He was pressed to tell
what it meant; but nothing could be got from him except that his
wife was dead. At times he pressed his hands to his heart, and then
he would make wry faces, trying hard to cry. Chirsty watched from a
window across the street, until she perhaps began to fear that she
really was dead. Unable to stand it any longer, she rushed out into
her husband's arms, and shortly afterward she could have been seen
dismantling the tables.
"She's gone this fower year," Tammas said, when he had finished his
story, "but up to the end I had no more trouble wi' Chirsty. No, I
had the knack o' her.'
"I've heard tell, though," said the sceptical Craigiebuckle, "as
Chirsty only cam back to ye because she cudna bear to see the fowk
makkin' sae free wi' the whiskey."
"I mind hoo she bottled it up at ance and drove the laddies awa',"
said Bowie, "an' I hae seen her after that, Tammas, giein' ye up yer
fut an' you no sayin' a word."
"Ou, ay," said the wife-tamer, in the tone of a man who could afford
to be generous in trifles, "women maun talk, an' a man hasna aye
time to conterdick them, but frae that day I had the knack o'
Back to Full Books