CHAPTER NINE—BENJIE'S CHRISTENING
At the christening of our only bairn, Benjie, two or three remarkable circumstances occurred, which it behoves me to relate.
It was on a cold November afternoon; and really when the bit room was all redd up, the fire bleezing away, and the candles lighted, every thing looked full tosh and comfortable. It was a real pleasure, after looking out into the drift that was fleeing like mad from the east, to turn one's neb inwards, and think that we had a civilized home to comfort us in the dreary season. So, one after another, the bit party we had invited to the ceremony came papping in; and the crack began to get loud and hearty; for, to speak the truth, we were blessed with canny friends, and a good neighbourhood. Notwithstanding, it was very curious, that I had no mind of asking down James Batter, the weaver, honest man, though he was one of our own elders; and in papped James, just when the company had haffins met, with his stocking-sleeves on his arms, his nightcap on his head, and his blue-stained apron hanging down before him, to light his pipe at our fire.
James, when he saw his mistake, was fain to make his retreat; but we would not hear tell of it, till he came in, and took a dram out of the bottle, as we told him the not doing so would spoil the wean's beauty, which is an old freak, (the small-pox, however, afterwards did that;) so, with much persuasion, he took a chair for a gliff, and began with some of his drolls—for he is a clever, humoursome man, as ye ever met with. But he had now got far on with his jests, when lo! a rap came to the door, and Mysie whipped away the bottle under her apron, saying, "Wheesht, wheesht, for the sake of gudeness, there's the minister!"
The room had only one door, and James mistook it, running his head, for lack of knowledge, into the open closet, just as the minister lifted the outer-door sneck. We were all now sitting on nettles, for we were frighted that James would be seized with a cough, for he was a wee asthmatic; or that some, knowing there was a thief in the pantry, might hurt good manners by breaking out into a giggle. However, all for a considerable time was quiet, and the ceremony was performed; little Nancy, our niece, handing the bairn upon my arm to receive its name. So, we thought, as the minister seldom made a long stay on similar occasions, that all would pass off well enough—But wait a wee.
There was but one of our company that had not cast up, to wit, Deacon Paunch, the flesher, a most worthy man, but tremendously big, and grown to the very heels; as was once seen on a wager, that his ankle was greater than my brans. It was really a pain to all feeling Christians, to see the worthy man waigling about, being, when weighed in his own scales, two-and-twenty stone ten ounces, Dutch weight. Honest man, he had had a sore fecht with the wind and the sleet, and he came in with a shawl roppined round his neck, peching like a broken-winded horse; so fain was he to find a rest for his weary carcass in our stuffed chintz pattern elbow-chair by the fire cheek.
From the soughing of wind at the window, and the rattling in the lum, it was clear to all manner of comprehension, that the night was a dismal one; so the minister, seeing so many of his own douce folk about him, thought he might do worse than volunteer to sit still, and try our toddy: indeed, we would have pressed him before this to do so; but what was to come of James Batter, who was shut up in the closet, like the spies in the house of Rahab, the harlot, in the city of Jericho?
James began to find it was a bad business; and having been driving the shuttle about from before daylight, he was fain to cruik his hough, and felt round about him quietly in the dark for a chair to sit down upon, since better might not be. But, wae's me! the cat was soon out of the pock.
Me and the minister were just argle-bargling some few words on the doctrine of the camel and the eye of the needle, when, in the midst of our discourse, as all was wheesht and attentive, an awful thud was heard in the closet, which gave the minister, who thought the house had fallen down, such a start, that his very wig louped for a full three-eighths off his crown. I say we were needcessitated to let the cat out of the pock for two reasons; firstly, because we did not know what had happened; and, secondly, to quiet the minister's fears, decent man, for he was a wee nervous. So we made a hearty laugh of it, as well as we could, and opened the door to bid James Batter come out, as we confessed all. Easier said than done, howsoever. When we pulled open the door, and took forward one of the candles, there was James doubled up, sticking twofold like a rotten in a sneck-trap, in an old chair, the bottom of which had gone down before him, and which, for some craize about it, had been put out of the way by Nanse, that no accident might happen. Save us! if the deacon had sate down upon it, pity on our brick-floor.
Well, after some ado, we got James, who was more frighted than hurt, hauled out of his hidy-hole; and after lifting off his cowl, and sleeking down his front hair, he took a seat beside us, apologeezing for not being in his Sunday's garb, the which the minister, who was a free and easy man, declared there was no occasion for, and begged him to make himself comfortable.
Well, passing over that business, Mr Wiggie and me entered into our humours, for the drappikie was beginning to tell on my noddle, and make me somewhat venturesome—not to say that I was not a little proud to have the minister in my bit housie; so, says I to him in a cosh way, "Ye may believe me or no, Mr Wiggie, but mair than me think ye out of sight the best preacher in the parish—nane of them, Mr Wiggie; can hold the candle to ye, man."
"Weesht, weesht," said the body, in rather a cold way that I did not expect, knowing him to be as proud as a peacock—"I daresay I am just like my neighbours."
This was not quite so kind—so says I to him, "Maybe, sae, for many a one thinks ye could not hold a candle to Mr Blowster the Cameronian, that whiles preaches at Lugton."
This was a stramp on his corny toe. "Na, na," answered Mr Wiggie, rather nettled; "let us drop that subject. I preach like my neighbours. Some of them may be worse, and others better; just as some of your own trade may make clothes worse, and some better, than yourself."
My corruption was raised. "I deny that," said I, in a brisk manner, which I was sorry for after—"I deny that, Mr Wiggie," says I to him; "I'll make a pair of breeches with the face of clay."
But this was only a passing breeze, during the which, howsoever, I happened to swallow my thimble, which accidentally slipped off my middle finger, causing both me and the company general alarm, as there were great fears that it might mortify in the stomach; but it did not; and neither word nor wittens of it have been seen or heard tell of from that to this day. So, in two or three minutes, we had some few good songs, and a round of Scotch proverbs, when the clock chapped eleven. We were all getting, I must confess, a thought noisy; Johnny Soutter having broken a dram-glass, and Willie Fegs couped a bottle on the bit table-cloth; all noisy, I say, except Deacon Paunch, douce man, who had fallen into a pleasant slumber; so, when the minister rose to take his hat, they all rose except the Deacon, whom we shook by the arms for some time, but in vain, to waken him. His round, oily face, good creature, was just as if it had been cut out of a big turnip, it was so fat, fozy, and soft; but at last, after some ado, we succeeded, and he looked about him with a wild stare, opening his two red eyes, like Pandore oysters, asking what had happened; and we got him hoized up on his legs, tying the blue shawl round his bull-neck again.
Our company had not got well out of the door, and I was priding myself in my heart, about being landlord to such a goodly turn out, when Nanse took me by the arm, and said, "Come, and see such an unearthly sight." This startled me, and I hesitated; but, at long and last, I went in with her, a thought alarmed at what had happened, and—my gracious!! there on the easy-chair, was our bonny tortoise-shell cat; Tommy, with the red morocco collar about its neck, bruised as flat as a flounder, and as dead as a mawk!!!
The Deacon had sat down upon it without thinking; and the poor animal, that our neighbours' bairns used to play with, and be so fond of, was crushed out of life without a cheep. The thing, doubtless, was not intended, but it gave Nanse and me a very sore heart.
CHAPTER TEN—RESURRECTION MEN
About this time there arose a great sough and surmise, that some loons were playing false with the kirkyard, howking up the bodies from their damp graves, and harling them away to the College. Words cannot describe the fear, and the dool, and the misery it caused. All flocked to the kirk-yett; and the friends of the newly buried stood by the mools, which were yet dark, and the brown newly cast divots, that had not yet taken root, looking, with mournful faces, to descry any tokens of sinking in.
I'll never forget it. I was standing by when three young lads took shools, and, lifting up the truff, proceeded to houk down to the coffin, wherein they had laid the grey hairs of their mother. They looked wild and bewildered like, and the glance of their een was like that of folk out of a mad-house; and none dared in the world to have spoken to them. They did not even speak to one another; but wrought on with a great hurry, till the spades struck on the coffin lid—which was broken. The dead-clothes were there huddled together in a nook, but the dead was gone. I took hold of Willie Walker's arm, and looked down. There was a cold sweat all over me;—losh me! but I was terribly frighted and eerie. Three more graves were opened, and all just alike; save and except that of a wee unchristened wean, which was off bodily, coffin and all.
There was a burst of righteous indignation throughout the parish; nor without reason. Tell me that doctors and graduates must have the dead; but tell it not to Mansie Wauch, that our hearts must be trampled in the mire of scorn, and our best feelings laughed at, in order that a bruise may be properly plastered up, or a sore head cured. Verily, the remedy is worse than the disease.
But what remead? It was to watch in the session-house, with loaded guns, night about, three at a time. I never liked to go into the kirkyard after darkening, let-a-be to sit there through a long winter night, windy and rainy it may be, with none but the dead around us. Save us! it was an unco thought, and garred all my flesh creep; but the cause was good—my corruption was raised—and I was determined not to be dauntened.
I counted and counted, but the dread day at length came and I was summoned. All the live-long afternoon, when ca'ing the needle upon the board, I tried to whistle Jenny Nettles, Neil Gow, and other funny tunes, and whiles crooned to myself between hands; but my consternation was visible, and all would not do.
It was in November; and the cold glimmering sun sank behind the Pentlands. The trees had been shorn of their frail leaves, and the misty night was closing fast in upon the dull and short day; but the candles glittered at the shop windows, and leery-light-the-lamps was brushing about with his ladder in his oxter, and bleezing flamboy sparking out behind him. I felt a kind of qualm of faintness and down-sinking about my heart and stomach, to the dispelling of which I took a thimbleful of spirits, and, tying my red comforter about my neck, I marched briskly to the session-house. A neighbour (Andrew Goldie, the pensioner) lent me his piece, and loaded it to me. He took tent that it was only half-cock, and I wrapped a napkin round the dog-head, for it was raining. Not being well acquaint with guns, I kept the muzzle aye away from me; as it is every man's duty not to throw his precious life into jeopardy.
A furm was set before the session-house fire, which bleezed brightly, nor had I any thought that such an unearthly place could have been made to look half so comfortable either by coal or candle; so my spirits rose up as if a weight had been taken off them, and I wondered, in my bravery, that a man like me could be afraid of anything. Nobody was there but a touzy, ragged, halflins callant of thirteen, (for I speired his age,) with a desperate dirty face, and long carroty hair, tearing a speldrin with his teeth, which looked long and sharp enough, and throwing the skin and lugs into the fire.
We sat for mostly an hour together, cracking the best way we could in such a place; nor was anybody more likely to cast up. The night was now pitmirk; the wind soughed amid the head-stones and railings of the gentry, (for we must all die,) and the black corbies in the steeple-holes cackled and crawed in a fearsome manner. All at once we heard a lonesome sound; and my heart began to play pit-pat—my skin grew all rough, like a pouked chicken—and I felt as if I did not know what was the matter with me. It was only a false alarm, however, being the warning of the clock; and, in a minute or two thereafter, the bell struck ten. Oh, but it was a lonesome and dreary sound! Every chap went through my breast like the dunt of a fore-hammer.
Then up and spak the red-headed laddie:—"It's no fair; anither should hae come by this time. I wad rin awa hame, only I am frighted to gang out my lane.—Do ye think the doup of that candle wad carry i' my cap?"
"Na, na, lad; we maun bide here, as we are here now.—Leave me alane? Lord save us! and the yett lockit, and the bethrel sleeping with the key in his breek pouches!—We canna win out now though we would," answered I, trying to look brave, though half frightened out of my seven senses:—"Sit down, sit down; I've baith whisky and porter wi' me. Hae, man, there's a cawker to keep your heart warm; and set down that bottle," quoth I, wiping the saw-dust affn't with my hand, "to get a toast; I'se warrant it for Deacon Jaffrey's best brown stout."
[Picture: Rev. Mr Wiggie]
The wind blew higher, and like a hurricane; the rain began to fall in perfect spouts; the auld kirk rumbled and rowed, and made a sad soughing; and the branches of the bourtree behind the house, where auld Cockburn that cut his throat was burned, creaked and crazed in a frightful manner; but as to the roaring of the troubled waters, and the bumming in the lum-head, they were past all power of description. To make bad worse, just in the heart of the brattle, the grating sound of the yett turning on its rusty hinges was but too plainly heard. What was to be done? I thought of our both running away; and then of our locking ourselves in, and firing through the door; but who was to pull the trigger?
Gudeness watch over us! I tremble yet when I think on it. We were perfectly between the de'il and the deep sea—either to stand still and fire our gun, or run and be shot at. It was really a hang choice. As I stood swithering and shaking, the laddie flew to the door, and, thrawing round the key, clapped his back to it. Oh! how I looked at him, as he stood for a gliff, like a magpie hearkening with his lug cocked up, or rather like a terrier watching a rotten. "They're coming! they're coming!" he cried out; "cock the piece, ye sumph;" while the red hair rose up from his pow like feathers; "they're coming, I hear them tramping on the gravel." Out he stretched his arms against the wall, and brizzed his back against the door like mad; as if he had been Samson pushing over the pillars in the house of Dagon. "For the Lord's sake, prime the gun," he cried out, "or our throats will be cut frae lug to lug before we can cry Jack Robison! See that there's priming in the pan."
I did the best I could; but my whole strength could hardly lift up the piece, which waggled to and fro like a cock's tail on a rainy day; my knees knocked against one another, and though I was resigned to die—I trust I was resigned to die—'od, but it was a frightful thing to be out of one's bed, and to be murdered in an old session-house, at the dead hour of night, by unearthly resurrection men, or rather let me call them deevils incarnate, wrapt up in dreadnoughts, with blacked faces, pistols, big sticks, and other deadly weapons.
A snuff-snuffing was heard; and, through below the door, I saw a pair of glancing black een. 'Od, but my heart nearly louped off the bit—a snouff, and a gur-gurring, and over all the plain tramp of a man's heavy tackets and cuddy-heels among the gravel. Then came a great slap like thunder on the wall; and the laddie, quitting his grip, fell down, crying, "Fire, fire!—murder! holy murder!"
"Wha's there?" growled a deep rough voice; "open, I'm a freend."
I tried to speak, but could not; something like a halfpenny roll was sticking in my throat, so I tried to cough it up, but it would not come. "Gie the pass-word then," said the laddie, staring as if his eyes would loup out; "gie the pass-word!"
First came a loud whistle, and then "Copmahagen," answered the voice. Oh! what a relief! The laddie started up, like one crazy with joy. "Ou! ou!" cried he, thrawing round the key, and rubbing his hands; "by jingo, it's the bethrel—it's the bethrel—it's auld Isaac himsell."
First rushed in the dog, and then Isaac, with his glazed hat, slouched over his brow, and his horn bowet glimmering by his knee. "Has the French landed, do ye think? Losh keep us a'," said he, with a smile on his half-idiot face (for he was a kind of a sort of a natural, with an infirmity in his leg), '"od sauf us, man, put by your gun. Ye dinna mean to shoot me, do ye? What are ye about here with the door lockit? I just keepit four resurrectioners louping ower the wall."
"Gude guide us!" I said, taking a long breath to drive the blood from my heart, and something relieved by Isaac's company—"Come now, Isaac, ye're just gieing us a fright. Isn't that true, Isaac?"
"Yes, I'm joking—and what for no?—but they might have been, for onything ye wad hae hindered them to the contrair, I'm thinking. Na, na, ye maunna lock the door; that's no fair play."
When the door was put ajee, and the furm set fornent the fire, I gave Isaac a dram to keep his heart up on such a cold stormy night. 'Od, but he was a droll fellow, Isaac. He sung and leuch as if he had been boozing in Luckie Thamson's, with some of his drucken cronies. Feint a hair cared he about auld kirks, or kirkyards, or vouts, or through-stanes, or dead folk in their winding-sheets, with the wet grass growing over them, and at last I began to brighten up a wee myself; so when he had gone over a good few funny stories, I said to him, quoth I, "Mony folk, I daresay, mak mair noise about their sitting up in a kirkyard than it's a' worth. There's naething here to harm us?"
"I beg to differ wi' ye there," answered Isaac, taking out his horn mull from his coat pouch, and tapping on the lid in a queer style—"I could gie anither version of that story. Did ye no ken of three young doctors—Eirish students—alang with some resurrectioners, as waff and wile as themsells, firing shottie for shottie with the guard at Kirkmabreck, and lodging three slugs in ane of their backs, forbye firing a ramrod through anither ane's hat?"
This was a wee alarming—"No," quoth I; "no, Isaac, man; I never heard of it."
"But, let alane resurrectioners, do you no think there is sic a thing as ghaists? Guide ye, man, my grannie could hae telled as muckle about them as would have filled a minister's sermons from June to January."
"Kay—kay—that's all buff," I said. "Are there nae cutty-stool businesses—are there nae marriages going on just now, Isaac?" for I was keen to change the subject.
"Ye may kay—kay, as ye like, though; I can just tell ye this:—Ye'll mind auld Armstrong with the leather breeks, and the brown three-story wig—him that was the grave-digger? Weel, he saw a ghaist, wi' his leeving een—aye, and what's better, in this very kirkyard too. It was a cauld spring morning, and daylight just coming in when he came to the yett yonder, thinking to meet his man, paidling Jock—but Jock had sleepit in, and wasna there. Weel, to the wast corner ower yonder he gaed, and throwing his coat ower a headstane, and his hat on the tap o't, he dug away with his spade, casting out the mools, and the coffin handles, and the green banes and sic like, till he stoppit a wee to take breath.—What! are ye whistling to yoursell?" quoth Isaac to me, "and no hearing what's God's truth?"
"Ou, ay," said I; "but ye didna tell me if onybody was cried last Sunday?"—I would have given every farthing I had made by the needle, to have been at that blessed time in my bed with my wife and wean. Ay, how I was gruing! I mostly chacked off my tongue in chittering.—But all would not do.
"Weel, speaking of ghaists—when he was resting on his spade he looked up to the steeple, to see what o'clock it was, wondering what way Jock hadna come, when lo! and behold, in the lang diced window of the kirk yonder, he saw a lady a' in white, with her hands clasped thegither, looking out to the kirkyard at him.
"He couldna believe his een, so he rubbit them with his sark sleeve, but she was still there bodily; and, keeping ae ee on her, and anither on his road to the yett, he drew his coat and hat to him below his arm, and aff like mad, throwing the shool half a mile ahint him. Jock fand that; for he was coming singing in at the yett, when his maister ran clean ower the tap o' him, and capsized him like a toom barrel; never stopping till he was in at his ain house, and the door baith bolted and barred at his tail.
"Did ye ever hear the like of that, Mansie? Weel, man, I'll explain the hail history of it to ye. Ye see—'Od! how sound that callant's sleeping," continued Isaac; "he's snoring like a nine-year-auld!"
I was glad he had stopped, for I was like to sink through the ground with fear; but no, it would not do.
"Dinna ye ken—sauf us! what a fearsome night this is! The trees will be all broken. What a noise in the lum! I daresay there's some auld hag of a witch-wife gaun to come rumble doun't. It's no the first time, I'll swear. Hae ye a silver sixpence? Wad ye like that?" he bawled up the chimney. "Ye'll hae heard," said he, "lang ago, that a wee murdered wean was buried—didna ye hear a voice?—was buried below that corner—the hearth-stane there, where the laddie's lying on?"
I had now lost my breath, so that I could not stop him.
"Ye never heard tell o't, didna ye? Weel, I'se tell't ye—Sauf us, what swurls of smoke coming doun the chimley—I could swear something no canny's stopping up the lum head—Gang out, and see!"
At that moment a clap like thunder was heard—the candle was driven over—the sleeping laddie roared "Help!" and "Murder!" and "Thieves!" and, as the furm on which we were sitting played flee backwards, cripple Isaac bellowed out, "I'm dead!—I'm killed—shot through the head!—Oh! oh! oh!"
Surely I had fainted away; for, when I came to myself, I found my red comforter loosed; my face all wet—Isaac rubbing down his waistcoat with his sleeve—the laddie swigging ale out of a bicker—and the brisk brown stout, which, by casting its cork, had caused all the alarm, whizz—whizz—whizzing in the chimley lug.
CHAPTER ELEVEN—TAFFY WITH THE PIGTAIL: SCHOOL RECOLLECTIONS
It was a clear starry night, in the blasty month of January, I mind it well. The snow had fallen during the afternoon; or, as Benjie came in crying, that "the auld wives o' the norlan sky were plucking their geese"; and it continued dim and dowie till towards the gloaming, when, as the road-side labourers were dandering home from their work, some with pickaxes and others with shools, and just as our cocks and hens were going into their beds, poor things, the lift cleared up to a sharp freeze, and the well-ordered stars came forth glowing over the blue sky. Between six and seven the moon rose; and I could not get my two prentices in from the door, where they were bickering one another with snow-balls, or maybe carhailling the folk on the street in their idle wantonness; so I was obliged for that night to disappoint Edie Macfarlane of the pair of black spatterdashes he was so anxious to get finished, for dancing in next day, at Souple Jack the carpenter's grand penny-wedding.
Seeing that little more good was to be expected till morning, I came to the resolution of shutting-in half-an-hour earlier than usual; so, as I was carrying out the shop-shutters, with my hat over my cowl, for it was desperately sharp, I mostly in my hurry knocked down an old man, that was coming up to ask me, "if I was Maister Wauch the tailor and furnisher."
Having told him that I was myself, instead of a better; and having asked him to step in, that I might have a glimpse of his face at the candle, I saw that he was a stranger, dressed in a droll auld-farrant green livery-coat, faced with white. His waistcoat was cut in the Parly-voo fashion, with long lappels, and a double row of buttons down the breast; and round his neck he had a black corded stock, such like, but not so broad, as I afterwards wore in the volunteers, when drilling under Big Sam. He had a well-worn scraper on his head, peaked before and behind, with a bit crape knotted round it, which he politely took off, making a low bow; and requesting me to bargain with him for a few articles of grand second-hand apparel, which once belonged to his master that was deceased, and which was now carried by himself, in a bundle under his left oxter.
Happening never to make a trade of dealing in this line, and not very sure like as to how the old man might have come by the bundle in these riotous and knock-him-down times, I swithered a moment, giving my chin a rub, before answering; and then advised him to take a step in at his leisure to St Mary's Wynd, where he would meet in with merchants in scores. But no; he seemed determined to strike a bargain with me; and I heard from the man's sponsible and feasible manner of speech—for he was an old weatherbeaten-looking body of a creature, with gleg een, a cock nose, white locks, and a tye behind—that the clothes must have been left him, as a kind of friendly keepsake, by his master, now beneath the mools. Thinking by this, that if I got them at a wanworth, I might boldly venture, I condescended to his loosing down the bundle, which was in a blue silk napkin with yellow flowers. As he was doing this, he told me that he was on his way home from the north to his own country, which lay among the green Welsh hills, far away; and that he could not carry much luggage with him, as he was obliged to travel with his baggage tied up in a bundle, on the end of his walking-staff, over his right shoulder.
Pity me! what a grand coat it was! I thought at first it must have been worn on the King's own back, honest man; for it was made of green velvet, and embroidered all round about—back seams, side seams, flaps, lappels, button-holes, nape and cuffs, with gold lace and spangles, in a manner to have dazzled the understanding of any Jew with a beard shorter than his arm. So, no wonder that it imposed on the like of me; and I was mostly ashamed to make him an offer for it of a crown-piece and a dram. The waistcoat, which was of white satin, single-breasted, and done up with silver tinsel in a most beautiful manner, I also bought from him for a couple of shillings, and four hanks of black thread. Though I would on no account or consideration give him a bode for the Hessian boots, which having cuddy-heels and long silk tossels, were by far and away over grand for the like of a tailor, such as me, and fit for the Sunday's wear of some fashionable Don of the first water. However, not to part uncivilly, and be as good as my word, I brought ben Nanse's bottle, and gave him a cawker at the shop counter; and, after taking a thimbleful to myself, to drink a good journey to him, I bade him take care of his feet, as the causeway was frozen, and saw the auld flunkie safely over the strand with a candle.
Ye may easily conceive that Nanse got a surprise, when I paraded ben to the room with the grand coat and waistcoat on, cocking up my head, putting my hands into the haunch pockets, and strutting about more like a peacock than a douce elder of Maister Wiggie's kirk; so just as, thinking shame of myself, I was about to throw it off, I found something bulky at the bottom of the side pocket, which I discovered to be a wheen papers fastened together with green tape. Finding they were written in a real neat hand, I put on my spectacles, and sending up the close for James Batter, we sat round the fireside, and read away like nine-year-aulds.
The next matter of consideration was, whether, in buying the coat as it stood, the paper belonged to me, or the old flunkie waiting-servant with the peaked hat. James and me, after an hour and a half's argle-bargleing pro and con, in the way of Parliament-house lawyers, came at last to be unanimously of opinion, that according to the auld Scotch proverb of
"He that finds keeps, And he that loses seeks,"
whatever was part or pendicle of the coat at the time of purchase, when it hung exposed for sale over the white-headed Welshman's little finger, became according to the law of nature and nations, as James Batter wisely observed, part and pendicle of the property of me, Mansie Wauch, the legal purchaser.
Notwithstanding all this, however, I was not sincerely convinced in my own conscience; and I daresay if the creature had cast up, and come seeking them back, I would have found myself bound to make restitution. This is not now likely to happen; for twenty long years have come and passed away, like the sunshine of yesterday, and neither word nor wittens of the body have been seen or heard tell of; so, according to the course of nature, being a white-headed old man, with a pigtail, when the bargain was made, his dust and bones have, in all likelihood, long ago mouldered down beneath the green turf of his own mountains, like his granfather's before him. This being the case, I daresay it is the reader's opinion as well as my own, that I am quite at liberty to make what use of them I like. Concerning the poem things that came first in hand, I do not pretend to be any judge; but James thinks he could scarcely write any muckle better himself: so here goes; but I cannot tell you to what tune:
They say that other eyes are bright, I see no eyes like thine; So full of Heaven's serenest light, Like midnight stars they shine.
They say that other cheeks are fair— But fairer cannot glow The rosebud in the morning air, Or blood on mountain snow.
Thy voice—Oh sweet it streams to me, And charms my raptured breast; Like music on the moonlight sea, When waves are lull'd to rest.
The wealth of worlds were vain to give Thy sinless heart to buy; Oh I will bless thee while I live, And love thee till I die!
From this song it appears a matter beyond doubt—for I know human nature—that the flunkie's master had, in his earlier years, been deeply in love with some beautiful young lady, that loved him again, and that maybe, with a bounding and bursting heart, durst not let her affection be shown, from dread of her cruel relations, who insisted on her marrying some lord or baronet that she did not care one button about. If so, unhappy pair, I pity them! Were we to guess our way in the dark a wee farther, I think it not altogether unlikely, that he must have fallen in with his sweetheart abroad, when wandering about on his travels; for what follows seems to come as it were from her, lamenting his being called to leave her forlorn and return home. This is all merely supposition on my part, and in the antiquarian style, whereby much is made out of little; but both me and James Batter are determined to be unanimously of this opinion, until otherwise convinced to the contrary. Love is a fiery and fierce passion every where; but I am told that we, who live in a more favoured land, know very little of the terrible effects it sometimes causes, and the bloody tragedies, which it has a thousand times produced, where the heart of man is uncontrolled by reason or religion, and his blood heated into a raging fever, by the burning sun that glows in the heaven above his head.
Here follows the poem of Taffy's master's foreign sweetheart; which, considering it to be a woman's handiwork, is, I daresay, not that far amiss.
SONG OF THE SOUTH
Of all the garden flowers The fairest is the rose; Of winds that stir the bowers, Oh! there is none that blows Like the south—the gentle south— For that balmy breeze is ours.
Cold is the frozen north; In its stern and savage mood, 'Mid gales, come drifting forth Bleak snows and drenching flood; But the south—the gentle south— Thaws to love the unwilling blood.
Bethink thee of the vales, With their birds and blossoms fair— Of the darkling nightingales, That charm the starry air In the south—the gentle south— Ah! our own dear home is there.
Where doth Beauty brightest glow, With each rich and radiant charm, Eye of light, and brow of snow, Cherry lip, and bosom warm; In the south—the gentle south— There she waits, and works her harm.
Say, shines the Star of Love, From the clear and cloudless sky, The shadowy groves above, Where the nestling ringdoves lie; From the south—the gentle south— Gleams its lone and lucid eye.
Then turn ye to the home Of your brethren and your bride; Far astray your steps may roam, But more joys for thee abide, In the south—our gentle south— Than in all the world beside.
After reading a lot of the unknown gentleman's compositions in prose and verse, something like his private history, James Batter informs me, can be made out, provided we are allowed to eke a little here and there. That he was an Englisher we both think amounts to a probability; and, from having an old "Taffy was a Welshman" for a flunkie, it would not be out of the order of nature to jealouse, that he may have resided somewhere among the hills, where he had picked him up and taken him into his kitchen, promoting him thereafter, for sobriety and good conduct, to be his body servant, and gentleman's gentleman. Where he was born, however, is a matter of doubt, and also who were his folks; but of a surety, he was either born with a silver spoon in his mouth, or rose from the ranks like many another great man. That, however, is a matter of moonshine; we are all descended in a direct line from Adam. Where he was educated does not appear; but there can scarcely be a shadow of doubt, that he was for a considerable while at some school or other, where he had a number of cronies. In proof of this, and to show that we have good reasons for our suppositions, James recommends me to print the following rigmarole meditations, on the top of which is written in half-text,
"—They who in the vale of years advance, And the dark eve is closing on their way, When on the mind the recollections glance Of early joy, and Hope's delightful day, Behold, in brighter hues than those of truth, The light of morning on the fields of youth."
The morning being clear and fine, full of Milton's "vernal delight and joy," I determined on a saunter; the inclemency of the weather having, for more than a week, kept me a prisoner at home. Although now advanced into the heart of February, a great fall of snow had taken place; the roads were blocked up; the mails obstructed; and, while the merchant grumbled audibly for his letters, the politician, no less chagrined, conned over and over again his dingy rumpled old newspaper, compelled "to eat the leek of his disappointment." The wind, which had blown inveterately steady from the surly north-east, had veered, however, during the preceding night, to the west; and, as it were by the spell of an enchanter, an instant thaw commenced. In the low grounds the snow gleamed forth in patches of a pearly whiteness; but, on the banks of southern exposure, the green grass and the black trodden pathway again showed themselves. The vicissitudes of twenty-four hours were indeed wonderful. Instead of the sharp frost, the pattering hail, and the congealed streams, we had the blue sky, the vernal zephyr, and the genial sunshine; the stream murmuring with a broader wave, as if making up for the season spent in the fetters of congelation; and that luxurious flow of the spirits, which irresistibly comes over the heart, at the re-assertion of Nature's suspended vigour.
As I passed on under the budding trees, how delightful it was to hear the lark and the linnet again at their cheerful songs, to be aware that now "the winter was over and gone;" and to feel that the prospect of summer, with its lengthening days, and its rich variety of fruits and flowers, lay fully before us. There is something within us that connects the spring of the year with the childhood of our existence, and it is more especially at that season, that the thrilling remembrances of long departed pleasures are apt to steal into the thoughts; the re-awakening of nature calling us, by a fearful contrast, to the contemplation of joys that never can return, while all the time the heart is rendered more susceptible by the beauteous renovation in the aspect of the external world.
This sensation pressed strongly on my mind, as I chanced to be passing the door of the village school, momentarily opened for the admission of one, creeping along somewhat tardily with satchel on back, and "shining morning face." What a sudden burst of sound was emitted—what harmonious discord—what a commixture of all the tones in the vocal gamut, from the shrill treble to the deep underhum! A chord was touched which vibrated in unison; boyish days and school recollections crowded upon me; pleasures long vanished; feelings long stifled; and friendships—aye, everlasting friendships—cut asunder by the sharp stroke of death!
A public school is a petty world within itself—a wheel within a wheel—in so far as it is entirely occupied with its own concerns, affords its peculiar catalogue of virtues and vices, its own cares, pleasures, regrets, anticipations, and disappointments—in fact, a Lilliputian facsimile of the great one. By grown men, nothing is more common than the assertion that childhood is a perfect Elysium; but it is a false supposition that school-days are those of unalloyed carelessness and enjoyment. It seems to be a great deal too much overlooked, that "little things are great to little men;" and perhaps the mind of boyhood is more active in its conceptions—more alive to the impulses of pleasure and pain—in other words, has a more extended scope of sensations, than during any other portion of our existence. Its days are not those of lack-occupation; they are full of stir, animation, and activity, for it is then we are in training for after life; and, when the hours of school restraint glide slowly over, "like wounded snakes," the clock, that chimes to liberty, sends forth the blood with a livelier flow; and pleasure thus derives a double zest from the bridle that duty has imposed, joy being generally measured according to the difficulty of its attainment. What delight in life have we ever experienced more exquisite than that, which flowed at once in upon us from the teacher's "bene, bene," our own self-approbation, and release from the tasks of the day?—the green fields around us wherein to ramble, the stream beside us wherein to angle, the world of games and pastimes, "before us where to choose." Words are inadequate to express the thrill of transport, with which, on the rush from the school-house door, the hat is waved in air, and the shout sent forth!
Then what a variety of amusements succeed each other. Every month has its favourite ones. The sports-man does not more keenly scrutinize his kalendar for the commencement of the trouting, grouse shooting, or hare-hunting season, than the younker for the time of flying kites, bowling at cricket, football, spinning peg-tops, and playing at marbles. Pleasure is the focus, which it is the common aim to approximate; and the mass is guided by a sort of unpremeditated social compact, which draws them out of doors as soon as meals are discussed, with a sincere thirst of amusement, as certainly as rooks congregate in spring to discuss the propriety of building nests, or swallows in autumn to deliberate in conclave on the expediency of emigration.
Then how perfectly glorious was the anticipation of a holiday—a long summer day of liberty and ease! In anticipation it was a thing boundless and endless, a foretaste of Elysium. It extended from the prima luce, from the earliest dawn of radiance that streaked the "severing clouds in yonder east," through the sun's matin, meridian, postmeridian, and vesper circuit; from the disappearance of Lucifer in the re-illumined skies, to his evening entree in the character of Hesperus. Complain not of the brevity of life; 'tis men that are idle; a thousand things could be contrived and accomplished in that space, and a thousand schemes were devised by us, when boys, to prevent any portion of it passing over without improvement. We pursued the fleet angel of time through all his movements till he blessed us.
With these and similar thoughts in my mind, I strayed down to the banks of the river, and came upon the very spot, which, in those long-vanished years, had been a favourite scene of our boyish sports. The impression was overpowering; and as I gazed silently around me, my mind was subdued to that tone of feeling which Ossian so finely designates "the joy of grief." The trees were the same, but older, like myself; seemingly unscathed by the strife of years—and herein was a difference. Some of the very bushes I recognized as our old lurking-places at "hunt the hare"; and, on the old fantastic beech-tree, I discovered the very bough from which we were accustomed to suspend our swings. What alterations—what sad havoc had time, circumstances, the hand of fortune, and the stroke of death, made among us since then! How were the thoughts of the heart, the hopes, the pursuits, the feelings changed; and, in almost every instance, it is to be feared, for the worse! As I gazed around me, and paused, I could not help reciting aloud to myself the lines of Charles Lamb, so touching in their simple beauty.
"I have had playmates, I have had companions, In my days of childhood, in my joyful school-days; All, all are gone, the old familiar faces. Some they have died, and some they have left me, And some are taken from me, all are departed; All, all are gone, the old familiar faces."
The fresh green plat, by the brink of the stream, lay before me. It was there that we played at leap-frog, or gathered dandelions for our tame rabbits; and, at its western extremity, were still extant the reliques of the deal-seat, at which we used to assemble on autumn evenings to have our round of stories. Many a witching tale and wondrous tradition hath there been told; many a marvel of "figures that visited the glimpses of the moon"; many a recital of heroic and chivalrous enterprise, accomplished ere warriors dwindled away to the mere puny strength of mortals. Sapped by the wind and rain, the planks lay in a sorely decayed and rotten state, looking in their mossiness like a sign-post of desolation, a memento of terrestrial instability. Traces of the knife were still here and there visible upon the trunks of the supporting trees; and with little difficulty I could decipher some well-remembered initials.
"Cold were the hands that carved them there."
It is, no doubt, wonderful that the human mind can retain such a mass of recollections; yet we seem to be, in general, little aware that for one solitary incident in our lives, preserved by memory, hundreds have been buried in the silent charnel-house of oblivion. We peruse the past, like a map of pleasing or melancholy recollections, and observe lines crossing and re-crossing each other in a thousand directions; some spots are almost blank; others faintly traced; and the rest a confused and perplexed labyrinth. A thousand feelings that, in their day and hour, agitated our bosoms, are now forgotten; a thousand hopes, and joys, and apprehensions, and fears, are vanished without a trace. Schemes, which cost us much care in their formation, and much anxiety in their fulfilment, have glided, like the clouds of yesterday, from our remembrance. Many a sharer of our early friendships, and of our boyish sports, we think of no more; they are as if they had never been, till perhaps some accidental occurrence, some words in conversation, some object by the wayside, or some passenger in the street, attract our notice—and then, as if awaking from a perplexing trance, a light darts in upon our darkness; and we discover that thus some one long ago spoke; that there something long ago happened; or that the person, who just passed us like a vision, shared smiles with us long, long years ago, and added a double zest to the enjoyments of our childhood.
Of our old class-fellows, of those whose days were of "a mingled yarn" with ours, whose hearts blended in the warmest reciprocities of friendship, whose joys, whose cares, almost whose wishes were in common, how little do we know? how little will even the severest scrutiny enable us to discover? Yet, at one time, we were inseparable "like Juno's swans"; we were as brothers, nor dreamt we of ought else, in the susceptibility of our youthful imagination, than that we were to pass through all the future scenes of life, side by side; and, mutually supporting and supported, lengthen out the endearments, the ties, and the feelings of boyhood unto the extremities of existence. What a fine but a fond dream—alas, how wide of the cruel reality! The casual relation of a traveller may discover to us where one of them resided or resides. The page of an obituary may accidentally inform us how long one of them lingered on the bed of sickness, and by what death he died. Some we may perhaps discover in elevated situations, from which worldly pride might probably prevent their stooping down to recognize us. Others, immersed in the labyrinths of business, have forgot all, in the selfish pursuits of earthly accumulation. While the rest, the children of misfortune and disappointment, we may occasionally find out amid the great multitude of the streets, to whom life is but a desert of sorrow, and against whom prosperity seems to have shut for ever her golden gates.
Such are the diversities of condition, the varieties of fortune to which man is exposed, while climbing the hill of probationary difficulty. And how sublimely applicable are the words of Job, expatiating on the uncertainty of human existence: "Man dieth and wasteth away; yea, man giveth up the ghost, and where is he? As the waters fail from the sea, and the flood decayeth and drieth up; so man lieth down and riseth not till the heavens be no more."
While standing on the same spot, where of yore the boyish multitude congregated in pursuit of their eager sports, a silent awe steals over the bosom, and the heart desponds at the thought, that all these once smiling faces are scattered now! Some, mayhap, tossing on the waste and perilous seas; some the merchants of distant lands; some fighting the battles of their country; others dead—inhabitants of the dark and narrow house, and hearing no more the billows of life, that thunder and break above their low and lonely dwelling-place!
* * * * *
Nanse, who was sitting by the table, knitting a pair of light-blue worsted stockings for Benjie, and myself, who was sewing on the buttons of a velveteen jacket for a country lad, were, I must say, not a little delighted, not only with the way in which the Welshman's late master had spoken of his school-fellows, but with the manner in which James Batter, with his specs on, had read it over to us. Upon my word—and that of an elder—I do not believe that even Mr Wiggie himself could have done the thing greater justice. It was just as if he had been a play-actor man, spouting Douglas's tragedy.
Having folded up that paper, and turned over not a few others, the docketings of which he read out to us, James at last says, "Ou ay, here it is. I think I can now prove to ye, that the gentlemen's sweetheart died abroad; and that, likely from her name—for it is here mentioned—she must have been a Portugee or Spaniard."
"Ay, let us hear it," cried Nanse. "Do, like a man, let us hear it, James; for I delight above a' things to hear about love-stories. Do ye mind, Maister," she said, "when ye was so deep in love aince yoursell?"
"Foolish woman," I said, giving her a kind of severe look; "is that all your manners to interrupt Mr Batter? If ye'll just keep a calm sough, ye'll hear the long and the short o't, in good time."
By this, James, who did not relish interruption, and was a thought fidgety in his natural temper, had laid down the paper on the table, snuffed the candle, and raised his spectacles on his brow. But I said to him, "Excuse freedoms, James, and be so good as resume your discourse." Then wishing to smooth him down, I added, by way of compliment—"Do go on; for you really are a prime reader. Nature surely intended ye for a minister."
"Dinna flatter me," said James; looking, however, rather proudishly at what I had said, and replacing his glasses on the brig of his nose, he then read us a screed of metre to the following effect; part of which, I am free to confess, is rather above my comprehension. But, never mind.
'Tis midnight deep; the full round moon, As 'twere a spectre, walks the sky; The balmy breath of gentlest June Just stirs the stream that murmurs by; Above me frowns the solemn wood; Nature, methinks, seems Solitude Embodied to the eye.
Yes, 'tis a season and a scene, Inez, to think on thee; the day, With stir and strife, may come between Affection and thy beauty's ray, But feeling here assumes control, And mourns my desolated soul That thou are rapt away!
Thou wert a rainbow to my sight, The storms of life before thee fled; The glory and the guiding light, That onward cheer'd and upward led; From boyhood to this very hour, For me, and only me, thy flower Its fragrance seem'd to shed.
Dark though the world for me might show Its sordid faith and selfish gloom, Yet 'mid life's wilderness to know For me that sweet flower shed its bloom, Was joy, was solace:—thou art gone— And hope forsook me, when the stone Sank darkly o'er thy tomb.
And art thou dead? I dare not think That thus the solemn truth can be; And broken is the only link That chain'd youth's pleasant thoughts to me! Alas! that thou couldst know decay, That, sighing, I should live to say "The cold grave holdeth thee!"
For me thou shon'st, as shines a star, Lonely, in clouds when Heaven is lost; Thou wert my guiding light afar, When on misfortune's billows tost: Now darkness hath obscured that light, And I am left in rayless night, On Sorrow's lowering coast.
And art thou gone? I deem'd thee some Immortal essence—art thou gone?— I saw thee laid within the tomb, And turn'd away to mourn alone: Once to have loved, is to have loved Enough; and, what with thee I proved, Again I'll seek in none.
Earth in thy sight grew faery land;— Life was Elysium—thought was love,— When, long ago, hand clasp'd in hand, We roam'd through Autumn's twilight grove; Or watch'd the broad uprising moon Shed, as it were, a wizard noon, The blasted heath above.
Farewell!—and must I say farewell?— No—thou wilt ever be to me A present thought; thy form shall dwell In love's most holy sanctuary; Thy voice shall mingle with my dreams, And haunt me, when the shot-star gleams Above the rippling sea.
Never revives the past again; But still thou art, in lonely hours, To me earth's heaven,—the azure main,— Soft music,—and the breath of flowers; My heart shall gain from thee its hues; And Memory give, though Truth refuse, The bliss that once was ours!
After this, Mr Batter read over to us a great many other curiosities, about foreign things wonderful to hear, and foreign places wonderful to behold. Moreover, also, of divers adventures by sea and land. But the time wearing late, and Tammie Bodkin having brought ben the shop-key, after putting on the window-shutters, Nanse and I, out of good-fellowship, thought we could not do less than ask the honest man, whose cleverality had diverted us so much, to sit still and take a chack of supper;—James being up in the air, from having been allowed to ride on his hobby so briskly, made only a show of objection; so, after a rizzard haddo, we had a jug of toddy, and sat round the fire with our feet on the fender—Benjie having fallen asleep with his clothes on, and been carried away to his bed. Poor bit mannikin!
I never remember to have heard James so prime either on Boston or Josephus; but as his heart warmed with the liquor and the good fire, for it was a cold rawish night,—he returned to Taffy with the pigtail's master; and insisted, that as we had heard about his foreign sweetheart's death, which he appeared to have taken so much to heart, we should just bear with him once more, as he read over what he called her dirgie, which was written on a half-sheet of grey mouldy paper—as if handed down from the days of the Covenanters. It jingles well; and both Nanse and me thought it gey and pretty; but eh! if ye only had heard how James Batter read it. It beat cock-fighting.
Weep not for her!—Oh she was far too fair, Too pure to dwell on this guilt-tainted earth! The sinless glory, and the golden air Of Zion, seem'd to claim her from her birth; A Spirit wander'd from its native Zone, Which, soon discovering, took her for its own: Weep not for Her!
Weep not for her!—Her span was like the sky, Whose thousand stars shine beautiful and bright; Like flowers that know not what it is to die; Like long-linked, shadeless months of Polar light; Like music floating o'er a waveless lake, While Echo answers from the flowery brake: Weep not for Her!
Weep not for her!—She died in early youth, Ere hope had lost its rich romantic hues; When human bosoms seem'd the homes of truth, And earth still gleam'd with beauty's radiant dews. Her summer prime waned not to days that freeze; Her wine of life was run not to the lees: Weep not for Her!
Weep not for her!—By fleet or slow decay, It never grieved her bosom's core to mark The playmates of her childhood wane away, Her prospects wither, or her hopes grow dark; Translated by her God with spirit shriven, She pass'd as 'twere in smiles from earth to heaven. Weep not for Her!
Weep not for her!—It was not hers to feel The miseries that corrode amassing years, 'Gainst dreams of baffled bliss the heart to steel, To wander sad down age's vale of tears, As whirl the withered leaves from friendship's tree, And on earth's wintry wold alone to be: Weep not for Her!
Weep not for her!—She is an angel now, And treads the sapphire floors of paradise: All darkness wiped from her refulgent brow, Sin, sorrow, suffering, banish'd from her eyes; Victorious over death, to her appear The vista'd joys of heaven's eternal year; Weep not for Her!
Weep not for her!—Her memory is the shrine Of pleasant thoughts, soft as the scent of flowers, Calm as on windless eve the sun's decline, Sweet as the song of birds among the bowers, Rich as a rainbow with its hues of light, Pure as the moonshine of an autumn night: Weep not for Her!
Weep not for her!—There is no cause for woe; But rather nerve the spirit that it walk Unshrinking o'er the thorny paths below, And from earth's low defilements keep thee back: So, when a few, fleet, severing years have flown, She'll meet thee at heaven's gate—and lead thee on! Weep not for Her.
[Picture: The first day I got my regimentals on]
Having right and law on my side, as any man of judgment may perceive with half an eye, nothing could hinder me, if I so liked, to print the whole bundle; but, in the meantime, we must just be satisfied with the foregoing curiosities, which we have picked out. All that I have set down concerning myself, the reader may take on credit as open and even-down truth; but as to whether Taffy's master's nick-nackets be true or false, every one is at liberty, in this free country, to think for himself. Old sparrows are not easily caught with chaff; and unless I saw a proper affidavit, I would not, for my own part, pin my faith to a single word of them. But every man his own opinion,—that's my motto.
In the Yankee Almanack of Poor Richard, which, besides the Pilgrim's Progress and the Book of Martyrs, I whiles read on the week-days for a little diversion, I see it is set down with great rationality, that "we should never buy for the bargain sake." Experience teaches all men, and I found that to my cost in this matter; for, cheap as the coat and waistcoat seemed which I had bought from the auld-farrant Welsh flunkie with the peaked hat and the pigtail, I made no great shakes of them after all. Neither the Lord Provost of Edinburgh, nor any other of the grand public characters, ever made me an offer for them, as some had led me to expect; and the play house people lay all as quiet as ducks in a storm. After hanging at my window for two or three months, collecting all the idle wives and weans of the parish to glour and gaze at them from morn till night, during which time I got half of my lozens broken, by their knocking one another's heads through, I was obliged to get quit of them at last, by selling them to a man and his son, that kept dancing dogs, Pan's pipes, and a tambourine; and that made a livelihood by tumbling on a carpet in the middle of the street, the one playing "Carle now the King's come," as the other whummled head over heels, and then jumped up into the air, cutting capers, to show that not a bone of his body had been broken.
Knowing that the raiment was not for everybody's wear, and that the like of it was not to be found in a country side, I put a decent price on it, "foreign birds with fair feathers" aye taking the top place of the market. When I mentioned forty shillings to the dancing-dog man and his son, they said nothing, but, putting their tongues in their cheeks, took up their hats, wishing me a good day. Next forenoon, however, a sleight-of-hand character having arrived, together with a bass drum and a bugle horn, that was likely to take the shine out of them, and maybe also purchase my article—which was capital for his purpose, having famous wide sleeves—they came back in less than no time, asking the liberty, before finally concluding with me, of carrying them home to their lodgings for ten minutes to see how they would fit; and, in that case, offering me thirty-five shillings and an old flute. The old flute was for next to no use at all, except for wee Benjie, poor thing, too-tooing on, to keep him good, and I told them so, myself being no musicianer; but would take their offer not to quarrel. It would not do unless some of us were timber-tuned; men not being meant for blackbirds.
Home went the man, and home went the son, and home went my grand coat and waistcoat over his arm; and putting my hands into my breeches pockets, as if I had satisfactorily concluded a great transaction, I marched ben to the back shop, and took my needle into play, as if nothing in the world had happened; but where their home lay, or whether the raiment fitted or not, goodness knows, having never to this blessed hour heard word or wittens of either of them. Such a pair of blacks! It just shows us how simple we Scotch folk are. The London man swindled me out of my lawful room-rent and my Sunday velveteens; the Eirishers, as will be but too soon seen, made free with my hen-house, committing felonious robbery at the dead hour of night; and here a decent-looking old Welshman, with a pigtail tied with black tape, palmed a grand coat and waistcoat upon me, that were made away with by a man and his son, a devilish deal too long out of Botany Bay.
Benjie, poor doggie, was vastly proud of the flute, which he fifed away on morning, noon, and night; and, for more than a fortnight, would not go to his bed unless it was laid under his pillow. But for me I could not bide the sight of it, knowing whose hands it had been in, and reminding me as it did of the depravity of human nature.
Verily, verily, this is a wonderfully wicked world. To find out the two vagabonds would have been hopeless; unless I could have followed them to the Back of Beyond, where the mare foaled the fiddler.
CHAPTER TWELVE—MANSIE ON THE OLD VOLUNTEERING DAYS
The sough of war and invasion flew over the face of the land, at this time, like a great whirlwind; and the hearts of men died within their persons with fear and trembling. The accounts that came from abroad were just dreadful beyond all power of description. Death stalked about from place to place, like a lawless tyrant, and human blood was spilt like water; while the heads of crowned kings were cut off; and great dukes and lords were thrown into dark dungeons, or obligated to flee for their lives into foreign lands, and to seek out hiding-places of safety beyond the waves of the sea. What was worst of all, our trouble seemed a smittal one; the infection spread around; and even our own land, which all thought hale and healthy, began to show symptoms of the plague-spot. Losh me! that men, in their seven senses, could have ever shown themselves so infatuated. Johnny Wilkes and liberty was but a joke to what was hanging over the head of the nation, brewing like a dark tempest which was to swallow it up. Bills were posted up through night, by hands that durst not have been seen at the work through day; and the agents of the Spirit of Darkness, calling themselves the Friends of the People, held secret meetings, and hatched plots to blow up our blessed King and Constitution.
Yet the business, though fearsome in the main, was in some parts almost laughable. Everything was to be divided, and every one made alike: houses and lands were to be distributed by lot; and the mighty man and the beggar—the auld man and the hobble-de-hoy—the industrious man and the spendthrift—the maimed, the cripple, and the blind, the clever man of business and the haveril simpleton, made all just brethren, and alike. Save us! but to think of such nonsense!!—At one of their meetings, held at the sign of the Tappet Hen and the Tankard, there was a prime fight of five rounds between Tammy Bowsie the snab, and auld Thrashem the dominie with the boulie-back about their drawing cuts which was to get Dalkeith Palace, and which Newbottle Abbey. Oh, sic riff-raff!!!
What was worst of all, it was an agreed and determined on thing among them, these wise men of Gotham, to abolish all kings, clergy, and religion, as havers. No, no—what need had such wise pows as theirs of being taught or lectured to? What need had such feelosophers of having a king to rule over, or a Parliament to direct them? There was not a single one among their number, that did not think himself, in his own conceit, as wise as Solomon or William Pitt, and as mighty as King Nebuchadnezzar.
It was full time to put a stop to all such nonsense. The newspapers told us what it had done abroad; and what better could we expect from it at home? Weeds will not grow into flowers anywhere, and no man can handle tar without being defiled; the first of which comparisons is I daresay true, and the latter must be—for we read of it in Scripture. Well, as I was saying, it was a brave notion of the king to put the loyalty of his land to the test, that the daft folk might be dismayed, and that the clanjamphrey might be tumbled down before their betters, like windle-straes in a hurricane:—and so they were.
Such a crowd that day, when the names of the volunteers came to be taken down! No house could have held them, even though many had not stepped forward who thought to have got themselves enrolled. Losh me! did they think the government was so far gone, as to take characters with deformed legs, and thrawn necks, and blind eyes, and hashie lips, and grey hairs on their pows? No, no, they were not put to such straits; though it showed that the right spirit was in the creatures, and that, though their bodies might be deformed, they had consciences to direct them, and souls to be saved like their neighbours.
I will never forget the first day that I got my regimentals on; and when I looked myself in the bit glass, just to think I was a sodger, who never in my life could thole the smell of powder, and had not fired anything but a penny cannon on a Fourth of June, when I was a haflins callant. I thought my throat would have been cut with the black corded stock; for, whenever I looked down, without thinking like, my chaff-blade played clank against it, with such a dunt that I mostly chacked my tongue off. And, as to the soaping of the hair, that beat cock-fighting. It was really fearsome; but I could scarcely keep from laughing when I glee'd round over my shoulder, and saw a glazed leather queue hanging for half an ell down the braid of my back, and a pickle horse-hair curling out like a rotten's tail at the far end of it. And then the worsted taissels on the shoulders—and the lead buttons—and the yellow facings,—oh, but it was grand! I sometimes fancied myself a general, and giving the word of command. Then the pipeclayed breeches—but that was a sore job; many a weary arm did they give me—beat-beating camstane into them.
The pipeclaying of the breeches, I was saying, was the most fashious job, let alone courtship, that ever mortal man put his hand to. Indeed, there was no end to the rubbing, and scrubbing, and brushing, and fyling, and cleaning; for to the like of me, who was not well accustomed to the thing, the whitening was continually coming off and destroying my red coat or my black leggings. I had mostly forgot to speak of the birse for cleaning out the pan, and the piker for clearing the motion-hole. But time enough till we come to firing.
Big Sam, who was a sergeant of the Fencibles, and enough to have put five Frenchmen to flight any day of the year, whiles came to train us; and a hard battle he had with more than me. I have already said, that nature never intended me for the soldiering trade; and why should I hesitate about confessing, that Sam never got me out of the awkward squad? But I had two or three neighbours to keep me in countenance. A weary work we made with the right, left—left, right,—right-wheel, left-wheel—to the right about,—at ease,—attention,—by sections,—and all the rest of it. But then there is nothing in the course of nature that is useless; and what was to hinder me from acting as orderly, or being one of the camp-colour-men on head days?
We all cracked very crouse about fighting, when we heard of garments rolled in blood only from abroad; but one dark night we got a fleg in sober earnest.
There were signal-posts on the hills, up and down all the country, to make alarms in case of necessity; and I never went to my bed without giving first a glee eastward to Falside-brae, and then another westward to the Calton-hill, to see that all the country was quiet. I had just papped in—it might be about nine o'clock—after being gey hard drilled, and sore between the shoulders, with keeping my head back and playing the dumb-bells; when, lo and behold! instead of getting my needful rest in my own bed, with my wife and wean, jow went the bell, and row-de-dow gaed the drums, and all in a minute was confusion and uproar. I was seized with a severe shaking of the knees, and a flang at the heart; but I hurried, with my nightcap on, up to the garret window, and there I too plainly saw that the French had landed—for all the signal posts were in a bleeze. This was in reality to be a soldier! I never got such a fright since the day I was cleckit. Then such a noise and hullabaloo in the streets—men, women, and weans, all hurrying through ither, and crying with loud voices, amid the dark, as if the day of judgment had come, to find us all unprepared; and still the bells ringing, and the drums beating to arms. Poor Nanse was in a bad condition, and I was well worse; she, at the fears of losing me, their bread-winner; and I, with the grief of parting from her, the wife of my bosom, and going out to scenes of blood, bayonets, and gunpowder, none of which I had the least stomach for. Our little son, Benjie, mostly grat himself blind, pulling me back by the cartridge-box; but there was no contending with fate, so he was obliged at last to let go.
Notwithstanding all that, we behaved ourselves like true-blue Scotsmen called forth to fight the battles of our country; and if the French had come, as they did not come, they would have found that to their cost, as sure as my name is Mansie. However, it turned out as well, in the meantime, that it was a false alarm, and that the thief Buonaparte had not landed at Dunbar, as it was jealoused: so, after standing under arms for half the night, with nineteen rounds of ball-cartridge in our boxes, and the baggage carts all loaden, and ready to follow us to the field of battle, we were sent home to our beds; and, notwithstanding the awful state of alarm to which I had been put, never in the course of my life did I enjoy six hours sounder sleep; for we were hippet the morning parade, on account of our gallant men being kept so long without natural rest. It is wise to pick a lesson even out of our adversities; and, at all events, it was at this time fully shown to us the necessity of our regiment being taught the art of firing—a tactic to the length of which it had never yet come.
Next day, out we were taken for the whilk purpose; and we went through our motions bravely. Prime—load—handle cartridge—ram down cartridge—return bayonets—and shoulder hoop—make ready—present—fire. Such was the confusion, and the flurry, and the din of the report, that I was so flustered and confused, thinking that half of us would have been shot dead, that—will ye believe it?—I never yet had mind to pull the tricker. Howsomever, I minded aye with the rest to ram down a fresh cartridge at the word of command; and something told me I would repent not doing like the rest (for I had half a kind of notion that my piece never went off); so, when the firing was over, the sergeant of the company ordered all that had loaded pieces to come to the front. I swithered a little, not being very sure like what to do; but some five or six stept out; and our corporal, on looking at my piece, ordered me with the rest to the front. It was just by all the world like an execution; we six, in the face of the regiment, in a little line, going through our manoeuvres at the word of command; and I could hardly stand upon my feet, with a queer feeling of fear and trembling, till at length the terrible moment came. I looked straight forward—for I durst not jee my head about, and turned to the hills and green trees, as if I was never to see nature more.
Our pieces were cocked; and at the word—Fire!—off they went. It was an act of desperation to draw the tricker, and I had hardly well shut my blinkers, when I got such a thump in the shoulder, as knocked me backwards head-over-heels on the grass. Before I came to my senses, I could have sworn I was in another world; but, when I opened my eyes, there were the men at ease, holding their sides, laughing like to spleet them; and my gun lying on the ground two or three ell before me.
When I found myself not killed outright, I began to rise up. As I was rubbing my breek-knees, I saw one of the men going forward to lift up the fatal piece; and my care for the safety of others overcame the sense of my own peril,—"Let alane—let alane!" cried I to him, "and take care of yoursell, for it has to gang off five times yet."
The laughing was now terrible; but being little of a soldier, I thought, in my innocence, that we should hear as many reports as I had crammed cartridges down her muzzle. This was a sore joke against me for a length of time; but I tholed it patiently, considering cannily within myself, that knowledge is only to be bought by experience, and that, if we can credit the old song, even Johnny Cope himself did not learn the art of war in a single morning.
CHAPTER THIRTEEN—MANSIE IN SEARCH OF A CURE FOR CHINCOUGH
Some folks having been bred up from their cradle to the writing of books, of course naturally do the thing regularly and scientifically; but that's not to be expected from the like of me, that have followed no other way of life than the shaping and sewing line. It behoves me, therefore, to beg pardon for not being able to carry my history aye regularly straight forward, and for being forced whiles to zig-zag and vandyke. For instance, I clean forgot to give, in its proper place, a history of one of my travels, with Benjie in my bosom, in search of a cure for the chincough.
My son Benjie was, at this dividual time, between four and five years old, when—poor wee chieldie!—he took the chincough, and in more respects than one was not in a good way; so the doctor recommended his mother and me, for the change of air, first to carry him down a coal-pit, and syne to the limekilns at Cousland.
The coal-pit I could not think of at all; to say nothing of the danger of swinging down into the bowels of the earth in a creel, the thing aye put me in mind of the awful place, where the wicked, after death and judgment, howl, and hiss, and gnash their teeth; and where, unless Heaven be more merciful than we are just—we may all be soon enough. So I could not think of that, till other human means failed; and I determined, in the first place, to hire Tammie Dobbie's cart, and try a smell of the fresh air about the limekilns.
It was a fine July forenoon, and the cart, filled with clean straw, was at the door by eleven o'clock; so our wife handed us out a pair of blankets to hap round me, and syne little Benjie into my arms, with his big-coatie on, and his leather cappie tied below his chin, and a bit red worsted comforterie round his neck; for, though the sun was warm and pleasant withal, we dreaded cold, as the doctor bade us. Oh, he was a fine old man, Doctor Hartshorn!
We had not well got out of the town, when Tammie Dobbie louped up on the fore-tram. He was a crouse, cantie auld cock, having seen much and not little in his day; so he began a pleasant confab, pointing out all the gentlemen's houses round the country, and the names of the farms on the hill sides. To one like me, whose occupations tie him to the town-foot, it really is a sweet and grateful thing to be let loose, as it were, for a wee among the scenes of peace and quietness, where nature is in a way wild and wanton—where the clouds above our heads seem to sail along more grandly over the bosom of the sky, and the wee birds to cheep and churm, from the hedges among the fields, with greater pleasure, feeling that they are God's free creatures.
I cannot tell how many thoughts came over my mind, one after another, like the waves of the sea down on Musselburgh beach; but especially the days when I was a wee callant with a daidly at Dominie Duncan's school, were fresh in my mind as if the time had been but yesterday; though much, much was I changed since then, being at that time a little, careless, ragged laddie, and now the head of a family, earning bread to my wife and wean by the sweat of my brow. I thought on the blythe summer days when I dandered about the braes and bushes seeking birds'-nests with Alick Bowsie and Samuel Search; and of the time when we stood upon one another's backs to speil up to the ripe cherries that hung over the garden walls of Woodburn. Awful changes had taken place since then. I had seen Sammy die of the black jaundice—an awful spectacle! and poor Alick Bowsie married to a drucken randie, that wore the breeks, and did not allow the misfortunate creature the life of a dog.
When I was meditating thus, after the manner of the patriarch Isaac, there was a pleasant sadness at my heart, though it was like to loup to my mouth; but I could not get leave to enjoy it long for the tongue of Tammie Dobbie. He bade me look over into a field, about the middle of which were some wooden railings round the black gaping mouth of a coal-pit. "Div ye see that dark bit owre yonder amang the green clover, wi' the sticks about it?" asked Tammie.
"Yes," said I; "and what for?"
"Weel, do you ken," quo' Tammie, "that has been a weary place to mair than ane. Twa-three year ago, some o' the collyer bodies were choked to death down below wi' a blast of foul air; and a pour o' orphan weans they left behint them on the cauldrife parish. But ye'll mind Hornem, the sherry-officer wi' the thrawn shouther?"
"Ou, bravely; I believe he came to some untimeous end hereaway about?"
"Just in that spat," answered Tammie. "He was a drucken, blustering chield, as ye mind; fearing neither man nor de'il, and living a wild, wicked, regardless life; but, puir man, that couldna aye last. He had been bousing about the countryside somehow—maybe harrying out of house and hald some puir bodies that hadna the wherewith to pay their rents; so, in riding hame fou—it was pitmirk, and the rain pouring down in bucketfu's—he became dumfoundered wi' the darkness and the dramming thegither; and, losing his way, wandered about the fields, hauling his mare after him by the bridle. In the morning the beast was found nibbling away at the grass owre by yonder, wi' the saddle upon its back, and a broken bridle hinging down about its fore-legs, by the which the folks round were putten upon the scent; for, on making search down yon pit, he was fund at the bottom, wi' his brains smashed about him, and his legs and arms broken to chitters!"
"Save us!" said I, "it makes a' my flesh grue."
"Weel it may," answered Tammie, "or the story's lost in the telling; for the collyers that fand him shook as if they had been seized wi' the ague. The dumb animal, ye observe, had far mair sense than him; for, when his fitting gaed way, instead of following it had plunged back; and the bit o' the bridle, that had broken, was still in his grup, when they spied him wi' their lanterns."
"It was an awful like way to leave the world," said I.
"'Deed it was, and nae less," answered Tammie, "to gang to his lang account in the middle of his mad thochtlessness, without a moment's warning. But see, yonder's Cousland lying right forrit to the east hand."
At this very nick of time Benjie was seized with a severe kink; so Tammie stopped his cart, and I held his head over the side of it till the cough went by. I thought his inside would have jumped out; but he fell sound asleep in two or three minutes; and we jogged on till we came to the yill-house door, where, after louping out, we got a pickle pease-strae to Tammie's horse.
CHAPTER FOURTEEN—MANSIE AND TAMMIE AT MY LORD'S RACES
It happened curiously that, of all the days of the year, this should have been the one on which the Carters'-play was held; and, by good luck, we were just in time to see that grand sight. The whole regiment of carters were paraded up at my Lord's door, for so they call their box-master; and a beautiful thing it was, I can assure ye. What a sight of ribands was on the horses! Many a crame must have been emptied ere such a number of manes and long tails could have been busked out. The beasts themselves, poor things, I dare say, wondered much at their bravery, and no less I am sure did the riders. They looked for all the world like living haberdashery shops. Great bunches of wallflower, thyme, spearmint, batchelor buttons, gardeners' gartens, peony roses, gillyflower, and southernwood, were stuck in their button holes; and broad belts of stripped silk, of every colour in the rainbow, were flung across their shoulders. As to their hats, the man would have had a clear e'e that could have kent what was their shape or colour. They were all rowed round with ribands, and puffed about the rim with long green or white feathers; and cockades were stuck on the off side, to say nothing of long strips fleeing behind them in the wind like streamers. Save us! to see men so proud of finery; if they had been peacocks one would have thought less; but in decent sober men, the heads of small families, and with no great wages, the thing was crazy-like. Was it not?
At long and last we saw them all set in motion, like a regiment of dragoons, two and two, with a drum and fife at their head, as if they had been marching to the field of battle. By-the-bye, it was two of our own volunteer lads that were playing that day before them, Rory Skirl the snab, and Geordie Thump the dyer; so this, ye see, verified the old proverb, that travel where ye like, to the world's end, ye'll aye meet with kent faces; Tammie and me coming out to the yill-house door to see them pass by.
Behind the drum and fife came a big, half-crazy looking chield, with a broad blue bonnet on his head, and a red worsted cherry sticking in the crown of it. He was carrying a new car-saddle over his shoulder on a well-cleaned pitchfork. Syne came three abreast, one on each side of my lord, being the key-keepers; he keeping the box, and they keeping the keys, in case like he should take any thing out. And syne came the auld my lord—him that was my lord last year, ye observe; and syne came the colours, as bright and bonny as mostly any thing ye ever saw. On one of them was painted a plough and harrows, and a man sowing wheat; over the top of which were gilded letters, the which I was able to read when I put on my specs, being, if I mind well, "Speed the Plough." On the other one, which was a mazarine blue with yellow fringes, was the picture of two carters, with flat bonnets on their heads, the tane with a whip in his hand, and the tither a rake, making hay like. Then came they all passing by two and two, looking as if each one of them had been the Duke of Buccleuch himself, every one rigged out in his best; the young callants, such like as had just entered the box, coming hindmost, and thinking themselves, I daresay, no small drink, and the day a great one when they were first allowed to be art and part in such a grand procession.
But losh me! I had mostly forgot the piper, that played in the middle, as proud as Hezekiah, that we read of in Second Kings, strutting about from side to side with his bare legs and big buckles, and bit Macgregor tartan jacket—his cheeks blown up with wind like a smith's bellows—the feathers dirling with conceit in his bonnet—and the drone, below his oxter, squeeling and skirling like an evil spirit tied up in a green bag. Keep us all! what gleys he gied about him to observe that the folk were looking at him! He put me in mind of the song that old Barny used to sing about the streets—
Ilka ane his sword and dirk has, Ilka ane as proud's a Turk is; There's the Grants o' Tullochgorum, Wi' their pipers gaun before 'em; Proud the mithers are that bore 'em. Feedle, faddle, fa, fum.
But who do ye think should come up to us at this blessed moment, with a staff in his hand, being old now, and not able to ride in the procession, as he had many a time and often done before, but honest Saunders Tram, that had been a staunch customer of mine since the day on which I opened shop, and to whom I had made countless pairs of corduroy spatterdashes; so we shook hands jocosely together, like old acquaintances, and the body hodged and leuch as if he had found a fiddle, he was so glad to see me.
Benjie having fallen asleep, Luckie Barm of the Change, a douce woman, put him to his bed, and promised to take care of him till we came back; Saunders Tram insisting on us to go forward along with him to see the race. I had no great scruple to do this, as I thought Benjie would likely sleep for an hour, being wearied with the joggling of the cart, and having supped a mutchkin bowlful of Luckie Barm's broo and bread.
By the time we had tramped on to the braehead, two or three had booked for the race, and were busy pulling away the flowers that hung over about their horses' lugs, to say little of the tapes and twine; and which made them look, poor brutes, as if they were not very sure what was the matter with them. Meanwhile, there was a terrible uproar between my lord and a man from Edinburgh Grassmarket, leading a limping horse, covered with a dirty sheet, with two holes for the beast's een looking out at.
But, for all this outward care, the poor thing seemed very like as if wind was more plenty in the land than corn, being thin and starved-looking, and as lame as Vulcan in the off hind-leg. So ye see the managers of the box insisted on its not running; and the man said "it had a right to run as well as any other horse"; and my lord said "it had no such thing, as it was not in the box"; and the man said "he would take out a protest"; and my lord said "he didna gie a bawbee for a protest; and that he would not allow him to run on any account whatsoever"; but the man was throng all the time they were argle-bargling taking the cover off the beast's back, that was ready saddled, and as accoutred for running as our regiment of volunteers was for fighting on field-days. So he swore like a trooper, that, notwithstanding all their debarring, he would run in spite of their teeth—both my lord's teeth, ye observe, and that of the two key-keepers;—maybe, too, of the man that carried the saddle, for he aye lent in a word at my lord's back, egging him on to stand out for the laws to the last drop of his blood.
To cut a long tale short, the drum ruffed, and off set four of them, a black one, and a white one, and a brown one, and the man's one, neck and neck, as neat as you like. The race course was along the high road; and, dog on it, they made a noise like thunder, throwing out their big heavy feet behind them, and whisking their tails from side to side as if they would have dung out one another's een; till, not being used to gallop, they at last began to funk and fling; syne first one stopping, and then another, wheeling round and round about like peiries, in spite of the riders whipping them, and pulling them by the heads. The man's mare, however, from the Grassmarket, with the limping leg, carried on, followed by the white one, an old tough brute, that had belonged in its youth to a trumpeter of the Scots Greys; and, to tell the truth, it showed mettle still, though far past its best; so back they came, neck and neck, all the folk crying, and holloing, and clapping their hands—some "Weel dune the lame ane—five shillings on the lame ane";—and others, "Weel run Bonaparte—at him, auld Bonaparte—two to one that Whitey beats him all to sticks,"—when, dismal to relate, the limping-legged ane couped the creels, and old white Bonaparte came in with his tail cocked amid loud cheering, and no small clapping of hands.
We all ran down the road to the place where the limping horse was lying, for it was never like to rise up again any more than the bit rider, that was thrown over its head like an arrow out of a bow; but on helping him to his feet, save and except the fright, two wide screeds across his trowser-knees, and a scratch along the brig of his nose, nothing visible was to be perceived. It was different, however, with the limping horse. Misfortunate brute! one of its fore-legs had folded below it, and snapped through at the fetlock joint. There was it lying with a sad sorrowful look, as if it longed for death to come quick and end its miseries; the blood, all the while, gush-gushing out at the gaping wound. To all it was as plain as the A, B, C, that the bones would never knit; and that, considering the case it was in, it would be an act of Christian charity to put the beast out of pain. The maister gloomed, stroked his chin, and looked down, knowing, weel-a-wat, that he had lost his bread-winner, then gave his head a nod, nod—thrusting both his hands down to the bottom lining of the pockets of his long square-tailed jockey coat. He was a wauf, hallanshaker-looking chield, with an old broad-snouted japanned beaver hat pulled over his brow—one that seemed by his phisog to hold the good word of the world as nothing—and that had, in the course of circumstances, been reduced to a kind of wild desperation, either by chance-misfortunes, cares and trials, or, what is more likely, by his own sinful, regardless way of life.
"It canna be helpit," he said, giving his head a bit shake; "it canna be helpit, friends. Ay, Jess, ye were a gude ane in yere day, lass,—mony a penny and pound have I made out of ye. Which o' ye can lend me a hand, lads? Rin away for a gun some o' ye."
Here Thomas Clod interfered with a small bit of advice—a thing that Thomas was good at, being a Cameronian elder, and accustomed to giving a word. "Wad ye no think it better," said Thomas, "to stick her with a long gully-knife, or a sharp shoemaker's parer? It wad be an easier way, I'm thinking."
Dog on it! I could scarcely keep from shuddering when I heard them speaking in this wild, heathenish, bloody sort of a manner.
'"Deed no," quo' Saunders Tram, at whose side I was standing, "far better send away for the smith's forehammer, and hit her a smack or twa betwixt the een; so ye wad settle her in half a second."
"No, no," cried Tammie Dobbie, lending in his word; "a better plan than a' that, wad be to make a strong kinch of ropes, and hang her."
Loveyding! such ways of showing how to be merciful!! But the old Jockey himself interfered. "Haud yere tongues, fules," was his speech; "yonder's the man coming wi' a gun. We'll shune put an end to her. She would have won for a hundred pounds, if she hadna broken her leg. Wha'll wager me that she wadna hae won? But she's the last of my stable, puir beast; and I havena ae plack to rub against anither, now that I have lost her. Gi'e me the gun and the penny candle. Is she loaded?" speired he at the man that carried the piece.
"Troth is she," was the answer, "double charged."
"Then stand back, lads," quoth the old round-shouthered horse-couper, and ramming down the candle he lifted up the piece, cocking it as he went four or five yards in front of the poor bleeding brute, that seemed, though she could not rise, to know what he was about with the weapon of destruction; casting her black eye up at him, and looking pitifully in his face.
When I saw him taking his aim, and preparing to draw the trigger, I turned round my back, not being able to stand it, and brizzed the flats of my hands with all my pith against the opening of my ears; nevertheless, I heard a faint boom; so, heeling round, I observed the miserable bleeding creature lift her head, and pulling up her legs, give them a plunge down again on the divots: after which she lay still, and we all saw, to our satisfaction, that death had come to her relief.
We are not commanded to be the judges of our fellow-creatures, but to think charitably of all men, hoping every thing for the best; and, though the horse-couper was a thought suspicious, both in look, speech, dress, and outward behaviour, still, ever and anon, we were bound by the ten commandments to consider him only in the light of a fellow-mortal in distress of mind and poverty of pocket; so we made a superscription for the poor man; and, though he did not look much like one that deserved our charity, nevertheless and howsoever, maybe he was a bad halfpenny, and maybe not; yet one thing was visibly certain, that he was as poor as Job—misery being written in big-hand letters on his brow. So it behoved each one to open his purse as he could afford it; and, though I say not what I put into the hat, proud am I to tell that he collected two or three shillings to help him home.
This job being over to his mind as well as mine, and the money safely stowed into his big hinder coat-pocket—would ye believe it? ere yet the beast was scarcely cold, just as we were decamping from the place, and buttoning up our breeches-pockets, we saw him casting his coat, and had the curiosity to stand still for a jiffy, to observe what he was after, in case, in the middle of his misfortunes, he was bent on some act of desperation; when, lo and behold! he out with a gully knife, and began skinning his old servant, as if he had been only peeling the bark off a fallen tree!
One cannot sit at their ingle-cheek and expect, without casting their eyes about them, to grow experienced in the ways of men, or the on-goings of the world. This spectacle gave me, I can assure you, much and no little insight; and so dowie was I with the thoughts of what I had witnessed of the selfishness, the sinfulness, and perversity of man, that I grew more and more home-sick, thinking never so much in my life before of my quiet hearthstone and cheerful ingle; and though Thomas Clod insisted greatly on my staying to their head-meeting dinner, and taking a reel with the lassies in the barn; and Tammie Dobbie, the bit body, had got so much into the spirit of the thing, that little persuasion would have made him stay all night and reel till the dawing—yet I was determined to make the best of my way home; more-be-token, as Benjie might take skaith from the night air, and our jaunt therefrom might, instead of contributing to his welfare, do him more harm than good. So, after getting some cheese and bread, to say nothing of a glass or two of strong beer and a dram at Luckie Barm's, we waited in her parlour, which was hung round with most beautiful pictures of Joseph and his Brethren, besides two stucco parrots on the chimney-piece, amusing ourselves with looking at them, as a pastime like, till Benjie wakened; on the which I made Tammie yoke his beast, and rowing the bit callant in his mother's shawl, took him into my arms in the cart, and after shaking hands with all and sundry twice or thrice over, we bade them a "good-night," and drove away.
CHAPTER FIFTEEN—MANSIE ON THE RETURN FROM MY LORD'S RACES
I may confess, without thinking shame, that I was glad when I found our nebs turned homeward; and, when we got over the turn of the brae at the old quarry-holes, to see the blue smoke of our own Dalkeith, hanging like a thin cloud over the tops of the green trees, through which I perceived the glittering weathercock on the old kirk steeple. Tammie, poor creature, I observed, was a whit ree with the good cheer; and, as he sat on the fore-tram, with his whip-hand thrown over the beast's haunches, he sang, half to himself and half-aloud, a great many old Scotch songs, such as "the Gaberlunzie," "Aiken Drum," "Tak' yere Auld Cloak about ye," and "the Deuks dang ower my Daddie"; besides "The Mucking o' Geordie's Byre," and "Ca' the Ewes to the Knowes," and so on; but, do what I liked, I could not keep my spirits up, thinking of the woful end of the poor old horse, and of the ne'er-do-weel loon its master. Many an excellent instruction of Mr Wiggie's came to my mind, of how we misguided the good things that were lent us for our use here, by a gracious Provider, who would, however, bid us render a final account to him of our conduct and conversation. I thought of how many were aye complaining and complaining, myself whiles among the rest, of the hardships, the miseries, and the misfortunes of their lot; putting all down to the score of fate, and never once thinking of the plantations of sorrow, reared up from the seeds of our own sinfulness; or how any thing, save punishment, could come of the breaking of the ten commandments delivered to the patriarch Moses. Perhaps, reckoned I with myself, perhaps in this, even I myself may have in this day's transactions erred. Here am I wandering about in a cart; exposing myself to the defilement of the world, to the fear of robbers, and to the night air, in the search of health for a dwining laddie; as if the hand that dealt that blessing out was not as powerful at home as it is abroad. Had I remained at my own lap-broad, the profits of my day's work would have been over and above for the maintenance of my family, outside and inside; instead of which, I have been at the expense of a cart-hire and a horse's up-putting, let alone Tammie's debosh and my own, besides the trifle of threepence to the round-shouldered old horse-couper with the slouched japan beaver hat. The story was too true a one; but, alack-a-day, it was now over late to repent!
As I was thus musing, the bright red sun of summer sank down behind the top of the Pentland Hills, and all looked bluish, dowie, and dreary, as if the heart of the world had been seized with a sudden dwalm, and the face of nature had at once withered from blooming youth into the hoariness of old age. Now and then the birds gave a bit chitter; and whiles a cow mooed from the fields; and the dew was falling like the little tears of the fairies out of the blue lift, where the gloaming-star soon began to glow and glitter bonnily.