Having satisfied my eyes with a daylight view of the terrible devastation, I went away leisurely up the street with my hands in my breeches-pockets, comparing the scene in my mind with the downfall of Babylon the Great, and Sodom and Gomorrah, and Tyre and Sidon, and Jerusalem, and all the lave of the great towns that had fallen to decay, according to the foretelling of the sacred prophets, until I came to the door of Donald Gleig, the head of the Thief Society, to whom I related, from beginning to end, the whole business of the hen-stealing. 'Od he was a mettle bodie of a creature; far north, Aberdeen-awa like, and looking at two sides of a halfpenny; but, to give the devil his due, in this instance he behaved to me like a gentleman. Not only did Donald send through the drum in the course of half an hour, offering a reward for the apprehension of the offenders of three guineas, names concealed, but he got a warrant granted to Francie Deep, the sherry-officer, to make search in the houses of several suspicious persons.
The reward offered by tuck of drum failed, nobody making application to the crier; but the search succeeded; as, after turning everything topsy-turvy, the feathers were found in a bag, in the house of an old woman of vile character, who contrived to make out a way of living by hiring beds at twopence a-night to Eirish travellers—South-country packmen—sturdy beggars, men and women, and weans of them—Yetholm tinklers—wooden-legged sailors without Chelsea pensions—dumb spaewomen—keepers of wild-beast shows—dancing-dog folk—spunk-makers, and suchlike pick-pockets. The thing was as plain as the loof of my hand; for, besides great suspicion, what was more, was the finding the head of the muffed hen, to which I could have sworn, lying in a bye-corner; the body itself not being so kenspeckle in its disjasket state—as it hung twirling in a string by its legs before the fire, all buttered over with swine's seam, and half roasted.
After some little ado, and having called in two men that were passing to help us to take them prisoners, in case of their being refractory, we carried them by the lug and the horn before a justice of peace.
Except the fact of the stolen goods being found in their possession, it so chanced, ye observe, that we had no other sort of evidence whatsoever; but we took care to examine them one at a time, the one not hearing what the other said; so, by dint of cross-questioning by one who well knew how to bring fire out of flint, we soon made the guilty convict themselves, and brought the transaction home to two wauf-looking fellows that we had got smoking in a corner. From the speerings that were put to them during their examination, it was found that they tried to make a way of doing by swindling folks at fairs by the game of the garter. Indeed, it was stupid of me not to recognise their faces at first sight, having observed both of them loitering about our back bounds the afternoon before; and one of them, the tall one with the red head and fustian jacket, having been in my shop in the fore part of the night, about the gloaming like, asking me as a favour for a yard or two of spare runds, or selvages.
I have aye heard that seeing is believing; and that youth might take a warning from the punishment that sooner or later is ever tacked to the tail of crime, I took Benjie and Mungo to hear the trial; and two more rueful faces than they put on, when they looked at the culprits, were never seen since Adam was a boy. It was far different with the two Eirishers, who showed themselves so hardened by a long course of sin and misery, that, instead of abasing themselves in the face of a magistrate, they scarcely almost gave a civil answer to a single question which was speered at them. Howsoever, they paid for that at a heavy ransom, as ye shall hear by and by.
Having been kept all night in the cold tolbooth on bread and water, without either coal or candle to warm their toes, or let them see what they were doing, they were harled out amid an immense crowd of young and old, more especially wives and weans, at eleven o'clock on the next forenoon, to the endurance of a punishment which ought to have afflicted them almost as muckle as that of death itself.
When the key of the jail door was thrawn, and the two loons brought out, there was a bumming of wonder, and maybe sorrow, among the terrible crowd, to see fellow-creatures so left alone to themselves as to have robbed an honest man's hen-house at the dead hour of night, when a fire was bleezing next door, and the howl of desolation soughing over the town like a visible judgment. One of them, as I said before, had a red pow, and a foraging cap, with a black napkin roppined round his weasand; a jean jacket with six pockets, and square tails; a velveteen waistcoat with plated buttons; corduroy breeches buttoned at the knees; rig-and-fur stockings; and heavy, clanking wooden clogs. The other, who was little and round-shouldered, with a bull neck and bushy black whiskers, just like a shoebrush stuck to each cheek of his head, as if he had been a travelling agent for Macassar, had on a low-crowned, plated beaver hat, with the end of a peacock's feather, stuck in the band; a long-tailed old black coat, as brown as a berry, and as bare as my loof, to say nothing of being out at both elbows. His trowsers, I dare say, had once been nankeen; but as they did not appear to have seen the washing-tub for a season or two, it would be rash to give any decided opinion on that head. In short, they were two awful-like raggamuffins.
Women, however, are aye sympathizing and merciful; so as I was standing among the crowd, as they came down the tolbooth stair, chained together by the cuffs of the coat, one said, "Wae's me! what a weel-faur'd fellow, wi' the red head, to be found guilty of stealing folk's hen-houses."—And another one said, "Hech, sirs! what a bonny blackaviced man that little ane is, to be paraded through the streets for a warld's wonder!" But I said nothing, knowing the thing was just, and a wholesome example; holding Benjie on my shoulder to see the poukit hens tied about their necks like keeking-glasses. But, puh! the fellows did not give one pinch of snuff; so off they set, and in this manner were drummed through the bounds of the parish, a constable walking at each side of them with Lochaber axes, and the town-drummer row-de-dowing the thief's march at their backs. It was a humbling sight.
My heart was sorrowful, notwithstanding the ills they had done me and mine, by the nefarious pillaging of our hen-house, to see two human creatures of the same flesh and blood as myself, undergoing the righteous sentence of the law, in a manner so degrading to themselves, and so pitiful to all that beheld them. But, nevertheless, considering what they had done, they neither deserved, nor did they seem to care for commiseration, holding up their brazen faces as if they had been taking a pleasure walk for the benefit of their health, and the poukit hens, that dangled before them, ornaments of their bravery. The whole crowd, young and old, followed them from one end of the town to the other, liking to ding one another over, so anxious were they to get a sight of what was going on; but when they came to the gate-end, they stopped and gave the ne'er-do-weels three cheers. What think you did the ne'er-do-weels do in return? Fie shame! they took off their old scrapers and gave a huzza too; clapping their hands behind them, in a manner as deplorable to relate as it was shocking to behold.
Their chains—the things, ye know, that held their cuffs together—were by this time taken off, along with the poukit hens, which I fancy the town-offishers took home and cooked for their dinner; so they shook hands with the drummer, wishing him a good-day and a pleasant walk home, brushing away on the road to Edinburgh, where their wives and weans, who had no doubt made a good supper on the spuilzie of the hens, had gone away before, maybe to have something comfortable for their arrival, their walk being likely to give them an appetite.
Had they taken away all the rest of the hens, and only left the bantams, on which they must have found but desperate little eating, and the muffed one, I would have cared less; it being from several circumstances a pet one in the family, having been brought in a blackbird's cage by the carrier from Lauder, from my wife's mother, in a present to Benjie on his birth-day. The creature almost grat himself blind, when he heard of our having seen it roasting in a string by the legs before the fire, and found its bonny muffed head in a corner.
But let alone likings, the callant was otherwise a loser in its death, she having regularly laid a caller egg to him every morning, which he got along with his tea and bread, to the no small benefit of his health, being, as I have taken occasion to remark before, far from being robusteous in the constitution. I am sure I know one thing, and that is, that I would have willingly given the louns a crown-piece to have preserved it alive, hen though it was of my own; but no—the bloody deed was over and done, before we were aware that the poor thing's life was sacrificed.
The names of the two Eirishers were John Dochart and Dennis Flint, both, according to their own deponement, from the county of Tipperary; and weel-a-wat the place has no great credit in producing two such bairns. Often, after that, did I look through that part of the Advertizer newspapers, that has a list of all the accidents, and so on, just above the births, marriages and deaths, which I liked to read regularly. Howsoever, it was two years before I discovered their names again, having it seems, during a great part of that period, lived under the forged name of Alias; and I saw that they were both shipped off at Leith, for transportation to some country called the Hulks, for being habit and repute thieves, and for having made a practice of coining bad silver. The thing, however, that condemned them, was for having knocked down a drunk man, in a beastly state of intoxication, on the King's highway in broad daylight; and having robbed him of his hat, wig, and neckcloth, an upper and under vest, a coat and great-coat, a pair of Hessian boots which he had on his legs, a silver watch with four brass seals and a key, besides a snuff-box made of boxwood, with an invisible hinge, one of the Lawrencekirk breed, a pair of specs, some odd halfpennies, and a Camperdown pocket-napkin.
But of all months of the year—or maybe, indeed, of my blessed lifetime—this one was the most adventurous. It seemed, indeed, as if some especial curse of Providence hung over the canny town of Dalkeith; and that, like the great cities of the plain, we were at long and last to be burnt up from the face of the earth with a shower of fire and brimstone.
Just three days after the drumming of the two Eirish ne'er-do-weels, a deaf and dumb woman came in prophesying at our back door, offering to spae fortunes. She was tall and thin, an unco witch-looking creature, with a runkled brow, sunburnt haffits, and two sharp piercing eyes, like a hawk's, whose glance went through ye like the cut and thrust of a two-edged sword. On her head she had a tawdry brownish black bonnet, that had not improved from two three years' tholing of sun and wind; a thin rag of a grey duffle mantle was thrown over her shoulders, below which was a checked shortgown of gingham stripe, and a green glazed manco petticoat. Her shoon were terrible bauchles, and her grey worsted stockings, to hide the holes in them, were all dragooned down about her heels. On the whole, she was rather, I must confess, an out-of-the-way creature; and though I had not muckle faith in these bodies that pretend to see further through a millstone than their neighbours, I somehow or other, taking pity on her miserable condition, being still a fellow-creature, though plain in the lugs, had not the heart to huff her out; more by token, as Nanse, Benjie, and the new prentice Mungo, had by this time got round me, all dying to know what grand fortunes waited them in the years of their after pilgrimage. Sinful creatures that we are! not content with the insight into its ways that Providence affords us, but diving beyond our deeps, only to flounder into the whirlpools of error. Is it not clear, that had it been for our good, all things would have been revealed to us; and is it not as clear, that not a wink of sound sleep would we ever have got, had all the ills that have crossed our paths been ranged up before our een, like great black towering mountains of darkness? How could we have found contentment in our goods and gear, if we saw them melting from us next year like snow from a dyke; how could we sit down on the elbow-chair of ease, could we see the misfortunes that may make next week a black one; or how could we look a kind friend in the face without tears, could we see him, ere a month maybe was gone, lying streiked beneath his winding sheet, his eyes closed for evermore, and his mirth hushed to an awful silence! No, no, let us rest content that Heaven decrees what is best for us; let us do our duty as men and Christians, and every thing, both here and hereafter, will work together for our good.
Having taken a piece of chalk out of her big, greasy, leather pouch, she wrote down on the table, "Your wife, your son, and your prentice." This was rather curious, and every one of them, a wee thunderstruck like, cried out as they held up their hands, "Losh me! did onybody ever see or hear tell of the like o' that? She's no canny!"—It was gey droll, I thought; and I was aware from the Witch of Endor, and sundry mentions in the Old Testament, that things out of the course of nature have more than once been permitted to happen; so I reckoned it but right to give the poor woman a fair hearing, as she deserved.
"Oh!" said Nanse to me, "ye ken our Benjie's eight year auld; see if she kens; ask her how old he is."
I had scarcely written down the question, when she wrote beneath it, "The bonny laddie, your only son, is eight year old: He'll be an admiral yet."
"An admiral!" said his mother; "that's gey and extraordinar. I never kenned he had ony inkling for the seafaring line; and I thought, Mansie, you intended bringing him up to your ain trade. But, howsoever, ye're wrong ye see. I tell't ye he wad either make a spoon or spoil a horn. I tell't ye, ower and ower again, that he would be either something or naething; what think ye o' that noo?—See if she kens that Mungo comes from the country; and where the Lammermoor hills is."
When I had put down the question, in a jiffie she wrote down beside it, "That boy comes from the high green hills, and his name is Mungo."
Dog on it! this astonished us more and more, and fairly bamboozled my understanding; as I thought there surely must be some league and paction with the Old One; but the further in the deeper. She then pointed to my wife, writing down, "Your name is Nancy"—and turning to me, as she made some dumbie signs, she chalked down, "Your name is Mansie Wauch, that saved the precious life of an old bedridden woman from the fire; and will soon get a lottery ticket of twenty thousand pounds."
Knowing the truth of the rest of what she had said, I could not help jumping on the floor with joy, and seeing that she was up to everything, as plain as if it had happened in her presence. The good news set us all a skipping like young lambs, my wife and the laddies clapping their hands as if they had found a fiddle; so, jealousing they might lose their discretion in their mirth, I turned round to the three, holding up my hand, and saying, "In the name o' Gudeness, dinna mention this to ony leeving sowl; as, mind ye, I havena taken out the ticket yet. The doing so might not only set them to the sinful envying of our good fortune, as forbidden in the tenth commandment, but might lead away ourselves to be gutting our fish before we get them."
"Mind then," said Nanse, "about your promise to me, concerning the silk gown, and the pair—"
"Wheesht, wheesht, gudewifie," answered I. "There's a braw time coming. We must not be in ower great a hurry."
I then bade the woman sit down by the ingle cheek, and our wife to give her a piece of cold beef, and a shave of bread, besides twopence out of my own pocket. Some, on hearing siccan sums mentioned, would have immediately struck work, but, even in the height of my grand expectations, I did not forget the old saying, that "a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush"; and being thrang with a pair of leggins for Eben Bowsie, I brushed away ben to the workshop, thinking the woman, or witch, or whatever she was, would have more freedom and pleasure in eating by herself.—That she had, I am now bound to say by experience.
[Picture: James Batter]
Two days after, when we were sitting at our comfortable four-hours, in came little Benjie, running out of breath—just at the dividual moment of time my wife and me were jeering one another, about how we would behave when we came to be grand ladies and gentlemen, keeping a flunkie maybe—to tell us, that when he was playing at the bools, on the plainstones before the old kirk, he had seen the deaf and dumb spaewife harled away to the tolbooth, for stealing a pair of trowsers that were hanging drying on a tow in Juden Elshinder's back close. I could scarcely credit the callant, though I knew he would not tell a lie for sixpence; and I said to him, "Now be sure, Benjie, before ye speak. The tongue is a dangerous weapon, and apt to bring folk into trouble—it might be another woman."
It was real cleverality in the callant. He said, "Ay, faither, but it was her; and she contrived to bring herself into trouble without a tongue at a'."
I could not help laughing at this, it showed Benjie to be such a genius; so he said,
"Ye needa laugh, faither; for it's as true's death it was her. Do you think I didna ken in a minute our cheese-toaster, that used to hing beside the kitchen fire; and that the sherry-offisher took out frae beneath her grey cloak?"
The smile went off Nanse's cheek like lightning, she said it could not be true; but she would go to the kitchen to see. I'fegs it was too true; for she never came back to tell the contrary.
This was really and truly a terrible business, but the truth for all that; the cheese-toaster casting up not an hour after, in the hands of Daniel Search, to whom I gave a dram. The loss of the tin cheese-toaster would have been a trifle, especially as it was broken in the handle—but this was an awful blow to the truth of the thieving dumbie's grand prophecy. Nevertheless, it seemed at the time gey puzzling to me, to think how a deaf and dumb woman, unless she had some wonderful gift, could have told us what she did.
On the next day, the Friday, I think, that story was also made as clear as daylight to us; for being banished out of the town as a common thief and vagabond, down on the Musselburgh Road, by order of a justice of the peace, it was the bounden duty of Daniel Search and Geordie Sharp to see her safe past the kennel, the length of Smeaton. They then tried to make her understand by writing on the wall, that if ever again she was seen or heard tell of in the town, she would be banished to Botany Bay; but she had a great fight, it seems, to make out Daniel's bad spelling, he having been very ill yedicated, and no deacon at the pen.
Howsoever, they got her to understand their meaning, by giving her a shove forward by the shoulders, and aye pointing down to Inveresk. Thinking she did not hear them, they then took upon themselves the liberty of calling her some ill names, and bade her good-day as a bad one. But she was upsides with them for acting, in that respect, above their commission; for she wheeled round again to them, and snapping her fingers at their noses, gave a curse, and bade them go home for a couple of dirty Scotch vermin.
The two men were perfectly dumfoundered at hearing the tongue-tied wife speaking as good English as themselves; and could not help stopping to look after her for a long way on the road, as every now and then she stuck one of her arms a-kimbo in her side, and gave a dance round in the whirling-jig way, louping like daft, and lilting like a grey-lintie. From her way of speaking, they also saw immediately that she too was an Eirisher.—They must be a bonny family when they are all at home.
CHAPTER TWENTY-ONE—ANENT THE YOUNG CALLANT MUNGO GLEN
Perhaps, since I was born, I do not remember such a string of casualties as happened to me and mine, all within the period of one short fortnight. To say nothing connected with the play-acting business, which was immediately before—first came Mungo Glen's misfortune with regard to the blood-soiling of the new nankeen trowsers, the foremost of his transactions, and a bad omen—next, the fire, and all its wonderfuls, the saving of the old bedridden woman's precious life, and the destruction of the poor cat—syne the robbery of the hen-house by the Eirish ne'er-do-weels, who paid so sweetly for their pranks—and lastly, the hoax, the thieving of the cheese-toaster without the handle, and the banishment of the spaewife.
These were awful signs of the times, and seemed to say that the world was fast coming to a finis; the ends of the earth appearing to have combined in a great Popish plot of villany. Every man that had a heart to feel, must have trembled amid these threatening, judgment-like, and calamitous events. As for my own part, the depravity of the nations, which most of these scenes showed me, I must say, fell heavily upon my spirit; and I could not help thinking of the old cities of the plain, over the house-tops of which, for their heinous sins and iniquitous abominations, the wrath of the Almighty showered down fire and brimstone from heaven till the very earth melted and swallowed them up for ever and ever.
These added to the number, to be sure; but not that I had never before seen signs and wonders in my time. I had seen the friends of the people,—and the scarce years,—and the bloody gulleteening over-bye among the French blackguards,—and the business of Watt and Downie nearer home, at our own doors almost, in Edinburgh like,—and the calling out of the volunteers,—and divers sea-fights at Camperdown and elsewhere,—and land battles countless,—and the American war, part o't,—and awful murders,—and mock fights in the Duke's Parks,—and highway robberies,—and breakings of all the Ten Commandments, from the first to the last; so that, allowing me to have had but a common spunk of reflection, I must, like others, have cast a wistful eye on the ongoings of men: and, if I had not strength to pour out my inward lamentations, I could not help thinking, with fear and trembling, at the rebellion of such a worm as man, against a Power whose smallest word could extinguish his existence, and blot him out in a twinkling from the roll of living things.
But, if I was much affected, the callant Mungo was a great deal more. From the days in which he had lain in his cradle, he had been brought up in a remote and quiet part of the country, far from the bustling of towns, and from man encountering man in the stramash of daily life; so that his heart seemed to pine within him like a flower, for want of the blessed morning dew; and, like a bird that has been catched in a girn among the winter snows, his appetite failed him, and he fell away from his meat and his clothes.
I was vexed exceedingly to see the callant in this dilemmy, for he was growing very tall and thin, his chaft-blades being lank and white, and his eyes of a hollow drumliness, as if he got no refreshment from the slumbers of the night. Beholding all this work of destruction going on in silence, I spoke to his friend Mrs Grassie about him, and she was so motherly as to offer to have a glass of port-wine, stirred with best jesuit's barks, ready for him every forenoon at twelve o'clock; for really nobody could be but interested in the laddie, he was so gentle and modest, making never a word of complaint, though melting like snow off a dyke; and, though he must have suffered both in body and mind, enduring all with a silent composure, worthy of a holy martyr.
Perceiving things going on from bad to worse, I thought it was best to break the matter to him, as he was never like to speak himself; and I asked him in a friendly way, as we were sitting together on the board finishing a pair of fustian overalls for Maister Bob Bustle—a riding clerk for one of the Edinburgh spirit shops, but who liked aye to have his clothes of the Dalkeith cut, having been born, bred, and educated in our town, like his forbears before him—if there was anything the matter with him, that he was aye so dowie and heartless? Never shall I forget the look he gave me as he lifted up his eyes, in which I could see visible distress painted as plain as the figures of the saints on old kirk windows; but he told me, with a faint smile, that he had nothing particular to complain of, only that he would have liked to have died among his friends, as he could not live from home, and away from the life he had been accustomed to all his days.
'Od, I was touched to the quick; and when I heard him speaking of death in such a calm, quiet way, I found something, as if his words were words of prophecy, and as if I had seen a sign that told me he was not to be long for this world. Howsoever, I hope I had more sense than to let this be seen, so I said to him, "Ou, if that be a', Mungo, ye'll soon come to like us a' well enough. Ye should take a stout heart, man; and when your prenticeship's done, ye'll gang hame and set up for a great man, making coats for all the lords and lairds in broad Lammermoor."
"Na, na," answered the callant with a trembling voice, which mostly made my heart swell to my mouth, and brought the tear to my eye, "I'll never see the end of my prenticeship, nor Lammermoor again."
"Hout touts, man," quo' I, "never speak in that sort o' way; it's distrustfu' and hurtful. Live in hope, though we should die in despair. When ye go home again, ye'll be as happy as ever."
"Eh, na—never, never, even though I was to gang hame the morn. I'll never be as I was before. I lived and lived on, never thinking that such days were to come to an end—but now I find it can, and must be otherwise. The thoughts of my heart have been broken in upon, and nothing can make whole what has been shivered to pieces."
This was to the point, as Dannie Thummel said to his needle; so just for speaking's sake, and to rouse him up a bit, I said, "Keh, man, what need ye care sae muckle about the country?—It'll never be like our bonny streets, with all the braw shop windows, and the auld kirk; and the stands with the horn spoons and luggies; and all the carts on the market-days; and the Duke's gate, and so on."
"Ay, but, maister," answered Mungo, "ye was never brought up in the country—ye never kent what it was to wander about in the simmer glens, wi' naething but the warm sun looking down on ye, the blue waters streaming ower the braes, the birds singing, and the air like to grow sick wi' the breath of blooming birks, and flowers of all colours, and wild-thyme sticking full of bees, humming in joy and thankfulness—Ye never kent, maister, what it was to wake in the still morning, when, looking out, ye saw the snaws lying for miles round about ye on the hills, breast deep, shutting ye out from the world, as it were; the foot of man never coming during the storm to your door, nor the voice of a stranger heard from ae month's end till the ither. See, it is coming on o' hail the now, and my mother with my sister—I have but ane—and my four brithers, will be looking out into the drift, and missing me away for the first time frae their fireside. They'll hae a dreary winter o't, breaking their hearts for me—their ballants and their stories will never be sae funny again—and my heart is breaking for them."
With this, the tears prap-prapped down his cheeks, but his pride bade him turn his head round to hide them from me. A heart of stone would have felt for him.
I saw it was in vain to persist long, as the laddie was falling out of his clothes as fast as leaves from the November tree; so I wrote home by limping Jamie the carrier, telling his father the state of things, and advising him, as a matter of humanity, to take his son out to the free air of the hills again, as the town smoke did not seem to agree with his stomach; and, as he might be making a sticked tailor of one who was capable of being bred a good farmer; no mortal being likely to make a great progress in any thing, unless the heart goes with the handiwork.
Some folks will think I acted right, and others wrong in this matter; if I erred, it was on the side of mercy and my conscience does not upbraid me for the transaction. In due course of time, I had an answer from Mr Glen; and we got everything ready and packed up, against the hour that Jamie was to set out again.
Mungo got himself all dressed; and Benjie had taken such a liking to him, that I thought he would have grutten himself senseless when he heard he was going away back to his own home. One would not have imagined, that such a sincere friendship could have taken root in such a short time; but the bit creature Benjie was as warm-hearted a callant as ye ever saw. Mungo told him, that if he would not cry he would send him in a present of a wee ewe-milk cheese whenever he got home; which promise pacified him, and he asked me if Benjie would come out for a month gin simmer, when he would let him see all worthy observation along the country side.
When we had shaken hands with Mungo, and, after fastening his comforter about his neck, wished him a good journey, we saw him mounted on the front of limping Jamie's cart; and, as he drove away, I must confess my heart was grit. I could not help running up the stair, and pulling up the fore-window to get a long look after him. Away, and away they wore; in a short time, the cart took a turn and disappeared; and, when I drew down the window, and sauntered, with my arms crossed, back to the workshop, something seemed amissing, and the snug wee place, with its shapings, and runds, and paper-measurings, and its bit fire, seemed in my eyes to look douff and gousty.
Whether in the jougging of the cart, or what else I cannot say, but it's an unco story; for on the road, it turned out that poor Mungo was seized with a terrible pain in his side; and, growing worse and worse, was obliged to be left at Lauder, in the care of a decent widow woman that had a blind eye, and a room to let furnished.
It was not for two-three days that we learnt these awful tidings, which greatly distressed us all; and I gave the driver of the Lauder coach threepence to himself, to bring us word every morning, as he passed the door, how the laddie was going on.
I learned shortly, that his father and mother had arrived, which was one comfort; but that matters with poor Mungo were striding on from bad to worse, being pronounced, by a skeely doctor, to be in a galloping consumption—and not able to be removed home, a thing that the laddie freaked and pined for night and day. At length, hearing for certain that he had not long to live, I thought myself bound to be at the expense of taking a ride out on the top of the coach, though I was aware of the danger of the machine's whiles couping, if it were for no more than to bid him fare-ye-weel—and I did so.
It was a cold cloudy day in February, and everything on the road looked dowie and cheerless; the very cows and sheep, that crowded cowering beneath the trees in the parks, seemed to be grieving for some disaster, and hanging down their heads like mourners at a burial. The rain whiles obliged me to put up my umbrella, and there was nobody on the top beside me, save a deaf woman, that aye said "ay" to every question I speered, and with whom I found it out of the power of man to carry on any rational conversation; so I was obliged to sit glowering from side to side at the bleak bare fields—and the plashing grass—and the gloomy dull woods—and the gentlemen's houses, of which I knew not the names—and the fearful rough hills, that put me in mind of the wilderness, and of the abomination of desolation mentioned in scripture, I believe in Ezekiel. The errand I was going on, to be sure, helped to make me more sorrowful; and I could not think on human life without agreeing with Solomon, that "all was vanity and vexation of spirit."
At long and last, when we came to our journey's end, and I louped off the top of the coach, Maister Glen came out to the door, and bad me haste me if I wished to see Mungo breathing. Save us! to think that a poor young thing was to be taken away from life and the cheerful sun, thus suddenly, and be laid in the cold damp mools, among the moudiewarts and the green banes, "where there is no work or device." But what will ye say there? it was the will of Him, who knows best what is for his creatures, and to whom we should—and must submit. I was just in time to see the last row of his glazing een, that then stood still for ever, as he lay, with his face as pale as clay, on the pillow, his mother holding his hand, and sob-sobbing with her face leant on the bed, as if her hope was departed, and her heart would break. I went round about, and took hold of the other one for a moment; but it was clammy, and growing cold with the coldness of grim death. I could hear my heart beating; but Mungo's heart stood still, like a watch that has run itself down. Maister Glen sat in the easy chair, with his hand before his eyes, saying nothing, and shedding not a tear; for he was a strong, little, blackaviced man, with a feeling heart, but with nerves of steel. The rain rattled on the window, and the smoke gave a swarl as the wind rummelled in the lum. The hour spoke to the soul, and the silence was worth twenty sermons.
They who would wish to know the real value of what we are all over-apt to prize in this world, should have been there too, and learnt a lesson not soon to be forgotten. I put my hand in my coat-pocket for my napkin to give my eyes a wipe, but found it was away, and feared much I had dropped it on the road; though in this I was happily mistaken, having, before I went to my bed, found that on my journey I had tied it over my neckcloth, to keep away sore throats.
It was a sad heart to us all to see the lifeless creature in his white nightcap and eyes closed, lying with his yellow hair spread on the pillow; and we went out, that the women-folk might cover up the looking-glass and the face of the clock, ere they proceeded to dress the body in its last clothes—clothes that would never need changing; but, when we were half down the stair, and I felt glad with the thoughts of getting to the fresh air, we were obliged to turn up again for a little, to let the man past that was bringing in the dead deal.
But why weave a long story out of the materials of sorrow? or endeavour to paint feelings that have no outward sign, lying shut up within the sanctuary of the heart? The grief of a father and a mother can only be conceived by them who, as fathers and mothers, have suffered the loss of their bairns,—a treasure more precious to nature than silver or gold, home to the land-sick sailor, or daylight to the blind man sitting beaking in the heat of the morning sun.
The coffin having been ordered to be got ready with all haste, two men brought it on their shoulders betimes on the following morning; and it was a sight that made my blood run cold to see the dead corpse of poor Mungo, my own prentice, hoisted up from the bed, and laid in his black-handled, narrow housie. All had taken their last looks, the lid was screwed down by means of screw-drivers, and I read the plate, which said, "Mungo Glen, aged 15." Alas! early was he cut off from among the living—a flower snapped in its spring blossom—and an awful warning to us all, sinful and heedless mortals, of the uncertainty of this state of being.
In the course of the forenoon, Maister Glen's cart was brought to the door, drawn by two black horses with long tails and hairy feet, a tram one and a leader. Though the job shook my nerves, I could not refuse to give them a hand down the stair with the coffin, which had a fief-like smell of death and saw-dust; and we got it fairly landed in the cart, among clean straw. I saw the clodhapper of a ploughman aye dighting his een with the sleeve of his big-coat.
The mother, Mistress Glen, a little fattish woman, and as fine a homely body as ye ever met with, but sorely distracted at this time by sorrow, sat at the head, with her bonnet drawn over her face, and her shawl thrown across her shoulders, being a blue and red spot on a white ground. It was a dismal-like-looking thing to see her sitting there, with the dead body of her son at her feet; and, at the side of it, his kist with his claes, on the top of which was tied—not being room for it in the inside like (for he had twelve shirts, and three pair of trowsers, and a Sunday and every day's coat, with stockings and other things)—his old white beaver hat, turned up behind, which he used to wear when he was with me. His Sunday's hat I did not see; but most likely it was in among his claes, to keep it from the rain, and preserved, no doubt, for the use of some of his little brothers, please God, when they grew up a wee bigger.
Seeing Maister Glen, who had cut his chin in shaving, in a worn-out disjasket state, mounted on his sheltie, I shook hands with them both; and, in my thoughtlessness, wished them "a good journey,"—knowing well what a sorrowful home-going it would be to them, and what their bairns would think when they saw what was lying in the cart beside their mother. On this the big ploughman, that wore a broad blue bonnet and corduroys cutikins, with a grey big-coat slit up behind in the manner I commonly made for laddies, gave his long whip a crack, and drove off to the eastward.
It would be needless in me to waste precious time in relating how I returned to my own country, especially as I may be thankful that nothing particular happened, excepting the coach-wheels riding over an old dog that was lying sleeping on the middle of the road, and, poor brute, nearly got one of his fore-paws chacked off. The day was sharp and frosty and all the passengers took a loup off at a yill-house, with a Highlandman on the sign of it, to get a dram, to gar them bear up against the cold; yet knowing what had but so lately happened, and having the fears of Maister Wiggie before my eyes, I had made a solemn vow within myself, not to taste liquor for six months at least; nor would I here break my word, tho' much made a fool of by an Englisher, and a fou Eirisher, who sang all the road; contenting myself, in the best way I could, with a tumbler of strong beer and two butter-bakes.
It is an old proverb, and a true one, that there is no rest to the wicked; so when I got home, I found business crying out for me loudly, having been twice wanted to take the measure for suits of clothes. Of course, knowing that my two customers would be wearying, I immediately cut my stick to their houses, and promised without fail to have my work done against the next Sabbath. Whether from my hurry, or my grief for poor Mungo, or maybe from both, I found on the Saturday night, when the clothes were sent home on the arm of Tammie Bodkin, whom I was obliged to hire by way of foresman, that some awful mistake had occurred—the dress of the one having been made for the back of the other, the one being long and tall, the other thick and short; so that Maister Peter Pole's cuffs did not reach above half-way down his arms, and the tails ended at the small of his back, rendering him a perfect fright; while Maister Watty Firkin's new coat hung on him like a dreadnought, the sleeves coming over the nebs of his fingers, and the hainch buttons hanging down between his heels, making him resemble a mouse below a firlot. With some persuasion, however, there being but small difference in the value of the cloths, the one being a west of England bottle-green, and the other a Manchester blue, I caused them to niffer, and hushed up the business, which, had they been obstreperous, would have made half the parish of Dalkeith stand on end.
After poor Mungo had been beneath the mools, I daresay a good month, Benjie, as he was one forenoon diverting himself dozing his top in the room where they sleeped, happened to drive it in below the bed, where, scrambling in on his hands and feet, he found a half sheet of paper written over in Mungo's hand-writing, the which he brought to me; and, on looking over it, I found it jingled in metre like the Psalms of David.
Having no skeel in these matters, I sent up the close for James Batter, who, being a member of the fifteenpence a-quarter subscription book-club, had read a power of all sorts of things, sacred and profane. James, as he was humming it over with his specs on his beak, gave now and then a thump on his thigh, "Prime, prime, man; fine, prime, good, capital!" and so on, which astonished me much, kenning who had written it—a callant that had sleeped with our Benjie, and could not have shaped a pair of leggins though we had offered him the crown of the three kingdoms.
Seeing what it was thought of by one who knew what was what, and could distinguish the difference between a B and a bull's foot, I judged it necessary for me to take a copy of it; which, for the benefit of them that like poems, I do not scruple to tag to the tail of this chapter.
Oh, wad that my time were ower but, Wi' this wintry sleet and snaw, That I might see our house again I' the bonny birken shaw!— For this is no my ain life, And I peak and pine away Wi' the thochts o' hame, and the young flow'rs I' the glad green month o' May.
I used to wauk in the morning Wi' the loud sang o' the lark, And the whistling o' the ploughmen lads As they gaed to their wark; I used to weir in the young lambs Frae the tod and the roaring stream; But the warld is changed, and a' thing now To me seems like a dream.
There are busy crowds around me On ilka lang dull street; Yet, though sae mony surround me I kenna ane I meet. And I think on kind, kent faces, And o' blythe and cheery days, When I wander'd out, wi' our ain folk, Out-owre the simmer braes.
Wae's me, for my heart is breaking! I think on my brithers sma', And on my sister greeting, When I came fra hame awa And oh! how my mither sobbi, As she shook me by the hand; When I left the door o' our auld house, To come to this stranger land;
There's nae place like our ain hame; Oh, I wish that I was there!— There's nae hame like our ain hame To be met wi' ony where!— And oh! that I were back again To our farm and fields so green; And heard the tongues o' my ain folk, And was what I hae been!
That's poor Mungo's poem; which I and James Batter, and the rest, think excellent, and not far short of Robert Burns himself, had he been spared. Some may judge otherwise, out of bad taste or ill nature; but I would just thank them to write a better at their leisure.
CHAPTER TWENTY-TWO—THE JUNE JAUNT WITH PETER FARREL
After Tammie Bodkin had been working with me on the board for more than four years in the capacity of foresman, superintending the workshop department, together with the conduct and conversation of Joe Breeky, Walter Cuff, and Jack Thorl, my three bounden apprentices, I thought I might lippen him awee to try his hand in the shaping line, especially with the clothes of such of our customers as I knew were not very nice, provided they got enough of cutting from the Manchester manufacture, and room to shake themselves in. The upshot, however, proved to a moral certainty, that such a length of tether is not chancey for youth, and that a master cannot be too much on the head of his own business.
It was in the pleasant month of June, sometime, maybe six or eight days, after the birth-day of our good old King George the Third—for I recollect the withering branches of lily-oak and flowers still sticking up behind the signs, and over the lamp-posts,—that my respected acquaintance and customer, Peter Farrel the baker, to whom I have made many a good suit of pepper-and-salt clothes—which he preferred from their not dirtying so easily with the bakehouse—called in upon me, requesting me, in a very pressing manner, to take a pleasure ride up with him the length of Roslin, in his good-brother's bit phieton, to eat a wheen strawberries, and see how the forthcoming harvest was getting on.
That the offer was friendly admitted not of doubt, but I did not like to accept for two-three reasons; among which were, in the first place, my awareness of the danger of riding in such vehicles—having read sundry times in the newspapers of folk having been tumbled out of them, drunk or sober, head-foremost, and having got eyes knocked ben, skulls cloured, and collar-bones broken; and, in the second place, the expense of feeding the horse, together with our feeding ourselves in meat and drink during the journey—let alone tolls, strawberries and cream, bawbees to the waiter, the hostler, and what not. But let me speak the knock-him-down truth, and shame the de'il,—above all, I was afraid of being seen by my employers wheeling about, on a work-day, like a gentleman, dressed out in my best, and leaving my business to mind itself as it best could.
Peter Farrel, however, being a man of determination, stuck to his text like a horse-leech; so, after a great to-do, and considerable argle-bargling, he got me, by dint of powerful persuasion, to give him my hand on the subject. Accordingly, at the hour appointed, I popped up the back loan with my stick in my hand—Peter having agreed to be waiting for me on the roadside, a bit beyond the head of the town, near Gallows-hall toll. The cat should be let out of the pock by my declaring, that Nanse, the goodwife, had also a finger in the pie—as, do what ye like, women will make their points good—she having overcome me in her wheedling way, by telling me, that it was curious I had no ambition to speel the ladder of gentility, and hold up my chin in imitation of my betters.
That we had a most beautiful drive I cannot deny; for though I would not allow Peter to touch the horse with the whip, in case it might run away, fling, or trot ower fast—and so we made but slow progress—little more even than walking; yet, as I told him, it gave a man leisure to use his eyes, and make observation to the right and the left; and so we had a prime look of Eskbank, and Newbottle Abbey, and Melville Castle, and Dalhousie, and Polton, and Hawthornden, and Dryden woods—and the powder mills, the paper mills, the bleachfield—and so on. The day was bright and beautiful, and the feeling of summer came over our bosoms: the flowers blossomed and the birds sang; and, as the sun looked from the blue sky, the quiet of nature banished from our thoughts all the poor and paltry cares that embitter life, and all the pitiful considerations which are but too apt to be the only concerns of the busy and bustling, from their awaking in the morning to their lying down on the pillow of evening rest. Peter and myself felt this forcibly; he, as he confessed to me, having entirely forgot the four pan-soled loaves that were, that morning, left by his laddie, Peter Crust, in the oven, and burned to sticks; and for my own part, do what I liked, I could not bring myself to mind what piece of work I was employed on the evening before, till, far on the road, I recollected that it was a pair of mouse-brown spatterdashes for worthy old Mr Mooleypouch the mealmonger.
Oh, it is a pleasant thing, now and then, to get a peep of the country! To them who live among shops and markets, and stone-walls, and butcher-stalls, and fishwives—and the smell of ready-made tripe, red herring, and Cheshire cheeses—the sights, and sounds, and smells of the country, bring to mind the sinless days of the world before the fall of man, when all was love, peace, and happiness. Peter Farrel and I were transported out of our seven senses, as we feasted our eyes on the beauty of the green fields. The bumbees were bizzing among the gowans and blue-bells; and a thousand wee birds among the green trees were churm-churming away, filling earth and air with music, as it were a universal hymn of gratitude to the Creator for his unbounded goodness to all his creatures. We saw the trig country lasses bleaching their snow-white linen on the grass by the waterside, and they too were lilting their favourite songs, Logan Water, the Flowers of the Forest, and the Broom of the Cowdenknowes. All the world seemed happy, and I could scarcely believe—what I kent to be true for all that—that we were still walking in the realms of sin and misery. The milk-cows were nipping the clovery parks, and chewing their cuds at their leisure;—the wild partridges whidding about in pairs, or birring their wings with fright over the hedges;—and the blue-bonneted ploughmen on the road cracking their whips in wantonness, and whistling along amid the clean straw in their carts. And then the rows of snug cottages, with their kailyards and their goose-berry bushes, with the fruit hanging from the branches like ear-rings on the neck of a lady of fashion. How happy, thought we both—both Peter Farrel and me—how happy might they be, who, without worldly pride or ambition, passed their days in such situations, in the society of their wives and children. Ah! such were a blissful lot!
During our ride, Peter Farrel and I had an immense deal of rational conversation on a variety of matters, Peter having seen great part of the world in his youth, from having made two voyages to Greenland, during one of which he was very nearly frozen up—with his uncle, who was the mate of a whale-vessel. To relate all that Peter told me he had seen and witnessed in his far-away travels, among the white bears, and the frozen seas, would take up a great deal of the reader's time, and of my paper; but as to its being very diverting, there is no doubt of that. However, when Peter came to the years of discretion, Peter had sense enough in his noddle to discover, that "a rowing stane gathers no fog"; and, having got an inkling of the penny-pie manufacture when he was a wee smout, he yoked to the baking trade tooth and nail; and, in the course of years, thumped butter-bakes with his elbows to some purpose; so that, at the time of our colleaguing together, Peter was well to do in the world—had bought his own bounds, and built new ones—could lay down the blunt for his article, and take the measure of the markets, by laying up wheat in his granaries against the day of trouble—to wit—rise of prices.
"Well, Peter," said I to him, "seeing that ye read the newspapers, and have a notion of things, what think ye, just at the present moment, of affairs in general?"
Peter cocked up his lugs at this appeal, and, looking as wise as if he had been Solomon's nephew, gave a knowing smirk, and said—
"Is it foreign or domestic affairs that you are after, Maister Wauch? for the question is a six-quarters wide one."
I was determined not to be beat by man of woman born; so I answered with almost as much cleverality as himself, "Oh, Mr Farrel, as to our foreign concerns, I trust I am ower loyal a subject of George the Third to have any doubt at all about them, as the Buonaparte is yet to be born that will ever beat our regulars abroad—to say nothing of our volunteers at home; but what think you of the paper specie—the national debt—borough reform—the poor-rates—and the Catholic question?"
I do not think Peter jealoused I ever had so much in my noddle; but when he saw I had put him to his mettle, he did his best to give me satisfactory answers to my queries, saying, that till gold came in fashion, it would not be for my own interest, or that of my family, to refuse bank-notes, for which he would, any day of the year, give me as many quarter loaves as I could carry, to say nothing of coarse flour for the prentices' scones, and bran for the pigs—that the national debt would take care of itself long after both him and I were gathered to our fathers: and that individual debt was a much more hazardous, pressing, and personal concern, far more likely to come home to our more immediate bosoms and businesses—that the best species of reform was every one's commencing to make amendment in their own lives and conversations—that poor-rates were likely to be worse before they were better; and that, as to the Catholic question,—"But, Mansie," said he, "it would give me great pleasure to hear your candid and judicious opinion of Popery and the Papists."
I saw, with half an e'e, that Peter was trying to put me to my mettle, and I devoutly wished that I had had James Batter at my elbow to have given him play for his money—James being the longest-headed man that ever drove a shuttle between warp and woof; but most fortunately, just as I was going to say, that "every honest man, who wished well to the good of his country, could only have one opinion on that subject,"—we came to the by-road, that leads away off on the right-hand side down to Hawthornden, and we observed, from the curious ringle, that one of the naig's fore-shoon was loose; which consequently put an end to the discussion of this important question, before Peter and I had time to get it comfortably settled to the world's satisfaction.
The upshot was, that we were needcessitated to dismount, and lead the animal by the head forward to Kittlerig, where Macturk Sparrible keeps his smith's shop; in order that, with his hammer, he might make fast the loose nails: and that him and his foresman did in a couple of hurries; me and Peter looking over them with our hands in our big-coat pockets, while they pelt-pelted away with the beast's foot between their knees, as if we had been a couple of grand gentlemen incog.; and so we were to him.
After getting ourselves again decently mounted, and giving Sparrible a consideration for his trouble, Peter took occasion, from the horse casting its shoe, to make a few apropos moral observations, in the manner of the Rev. Mr Wiggie, on the uncertainties which it is every man's lot to encounter in the weariful pilgrimage of human life. "There is many a slip 'tween the cup and the lip," said Peter.
"And, indeed, Mr Farrel, ye never spoke a truer word," said I. "We are here to-day—yonder to-morrow; this moment we are shining like the mid-day sun, and on the next, pugh! we go out like the snuff of a candle. 'Man's life,' as Job observes, 'is like a weaver's shuttle.'"
"But, Maister Waugh," quo' Peter, who was a hearer of the Parish Church, "you dissenting bodies aye take the black side of things; never considering that the doubtful shadows of affairs sometimes brighten up into the cloudless daylight. For instance, now, there was an old fellow-apprentice of my father's, who, like myself, was a baker, his name was Charlie Cheeper; and, both his father and mother dying when he was yet hardly in trowsers, he would have been left without a hame in the world, had not an old widow woman, who had long lived next door to them, and whose only breadwinner was her spinning-wheel, taken the wee wretchie in to share her morsel. For several years, as might naturally have been expected, the callant was a perfect dead-weight on the concern, and perhaps, in her hours of greater distress, the widow regretted the heedlessness of her Christian charity; but Charlie had a winning way with him, and she could not find it in her heart to turn him to the door. By the time he was seven—and a ragged coute he was as ever stepped without shoes—he could fend for himself, by running messages—holding horses at shop doors—winning bools and selling them—and so on; so that when he had collected half-a-crown in a penny pig, the widow sent him to the school, where he got on like a hatter, and in a little while, could both read and write. When he was ten, he was bound apprentice to Saunders Snaps in the Back-row, whose grandson has yet, as you know, the sign of the Wheat Sheaf; and for five years he behaved himself like his betters.
"Well, sir, when his time was out, Charlie had an ambition to see the world; and, by working for a month or two as journeyman in the Candlemaker-row at Edinburgh, he raked as much together as took him up to London in the steerage of a Leith smack. For several years nothing was heard of him, except an occasional present of a shawl, or so on, to the widow, who had been so kind to him in his helpless years; and at length a farewell present of some little money came to her, with his blessing for past favours, saying that he was off for good and all to America.
"In the course of time, Widow Amos became frail and sand-blind. She was unable to work for herself, and the charity she had shown to others no one seemed disposed to extend to her. Her only child, Jeanie Amos, was obliged to leave her service, and come home to the house of poverty, to guard her mother's grey hairs from accident, and to divide with her the little she could make at the trade of mangling; for, with the money that Charlie Cheeper had sent, before leaving the country, the old woman had bought a calender, and let it out to the neighbours at so much an hour; honest poverty having many shifts.
"Matters had gone on in this way for two or three fitful years; and Jeanie, who, when she had come home from service, was a buxom and blooming lass, although yet but a wee advanced in her thirties, began to show, like all earthly things, that she was wearing past her best. Some said that she had lost hopes of Charlie's return; and others, that, come hame when he liked, he would never look over his left shoulder after her.
"Well, sir, as fact as death, I mind mysell, when a laddie, of the rumpus the thing made in the town. One Saturday night, a whole washing of old Mrs Pernickity's that had been sent to be calendered, vanished like lightning, no one knew where: the old lady was neither to hold nor bind: and nothing would serve her, but having both the old woman and her daughter committed to the Tolbooth. So to the Tolbooth they went, weeping and wailing; followed by a crowd, who cried loudly out at the sin and iniquity of the proceeding; because the honesty of the prisoners, although impeached, was unimpeachable; the mob were furious; and before the Sunday sun arose old Mrs Pernickity awakened with a sore throat, every pane of her windows having been miraculously broken during the dead hours.
[Picture: Country lassies bleaching their snow-white linen]
"The mother and the daughter were kept in custody until the Monday; when, as they were standing making a declaration of their innocence before the justices, who should come in but Francie Deep, the Sheriff-officer, with an Irish vagrant and his wife—two tinklers who were lodging in the Back-row, and in whose possession the bundle was found bodily, basket and all. Such a cheering as the folk set up! it did all honest folk's hearts good to hear it. Mrs Pernickity and her lass, to save their bacon, were obliged to be let out by a back door; and, as the justices were about to discharge the two prisoners, who had been so unjustly and injuriously suspected, a stranger forced his way to the middle of the floor, and took the old woman in his arms!"
"Charlie Cheeper returned, for a gold guinea," said I.
"And no other it was," said Peter, resuming his comical story. "The world had flowed upon him to his heart's desire. Over in Virginia he had given up the baking business, and commenced planter; and, after years of industrious exertion, having made enough and to spare, he had returned to spend the rest of his days in peace and plenty, in his native town."
"Not to interrupt you," added I, "Mr Farrel, I think I could wager something mair."
"You are a witch of a guesser I know, Mansie," said Peter; "and I see what you are at. Well, sir, you are right again. For, on the very day week that Patrick Makillaguddy and his spouce got their heads shaved, and were sent to beat hemp in the New Bridgewell on the Caltonhill, Jeanie Amos became Mrs Cheeper; the calender and the spinning-wheel were both burned by a crowd of wicked weans before old Mrs Pernickity's door, raising such a smoke as almost smeaked her to a rizzar'd haddock; and the old widow under the snug roof of her ever grateful son-in-law, spent the remainder of her Christian life in peace and prosperity."
"That story ends as it ought," said I, "Mr Farrel; neither Jew nor Gentle dare dispute that; and as to the telling of it, I do not think man of woman born, except maybe James Batter, who is a nonsuch, could have handled it more prettily. I like to hear virtue aye getting its ain reward."
As these dividual words were falling from my lips, we approached the end of our journey, the Roslin Inn house heaving in sight, at the door of which me and Peter louped out, an hostler with a yellow striped waistcoat, and white calico sleeves, I meantime holding the naig's head, in case it should spend off, and capsize the concern. After seeing the horse and gig put into the stable, Peter and I pulled up our shirt necks, and after looking at our watches, as if time was precious, oxtered away, arm-in-arm, to see the Chapel, which surpasses all, and beats cock-fighting.
It is an unaccountable thing to me, how the auld folk could afford to build such grand kirks and castles. If once gold was like slate stones, there is a wearyful change now-a-days, I must confess; for, so to speak, gold guineas seem to have taken flight from the land along with the witches and warlocks, and posterity are left as toom in the pockets as rookit gamblers.
But if the mammon of precious metals be now totally altogether out of the world, weel-a-wat we had a curiosity still, and that was a clepy woman with a long stick, and rhaemed away, and better rhaemed away, about the Prentice's Pillar, who got a knock on the pow from his jealous blackguard of a master—and about the dogs and the deer—and Sir Thomas this-thing and my Lord tother-thing, who lay buried beneath the broad flag stones in their rusty coats of armour—and such a heap of havers, that no throat was wide enough to swallow them for gospel, although gey an' entertaining I allow. However, it was a real farce; that is certain.
Oh, but the building was a grand and overpowering sight, making man to dree the sense of his own insignificance, even in the midst of his own handiwork! First, we looked over our shoulders to the grand carved roofs, where the swallows swee-swee'd, as they darted through the open windows, and the yattering sparrows fed their gorbals in the far boles; and syne we looked shuddering down into the dark vaults, where nobody in their senses could have ventured, though Peter Farrel, being a rash courageous body, was keen on it, having heard less than I could tell him of such places being haunted by the spirits of those who have died or been murdered within them in the bloody days of the old times; or of their being so full of foul air, as to extinguish man's breath in his nostrils like the snuff of a candle. Though no man should throw his life into jeopardy, yet I commend all for taking timeous recreation—the King himself on the throne not being able to live without the comforts of life; and even the fifteen Lords of Session, with as much powder on their wigs as would keep a small family in loaves for a week, requiring air and exercise, after sentencing vagabonds to be first hanged, and then their clothes given to Jock Heich, and their bodies to Doctor Monro.
Before going out to inspect the wonderfuls, we had taken the natural precaution to tell the goodman of the inn, that we would be back to take a smack of something from him, at such and such an hour; and, having had our bellyful of the Chapel,—and the Prentice's Pillar,—and the vaults,—and the cleipy auld wife with the lang stick,—we found that we had still half an hour to spare; so took a stroll into the Kirkyard, to see if we could find out any of the martyrs had been buried there-away-abouts.
We saw a good few head-stones, you may make no doubt, both ancient and modern; but nothing out of the course of nature; so, the day being pleasant, Mr Farrell and me sat down on a throughstane, below an old hawthorn, and commenced chatting on the Pentland Hills—the river Esk—Penicuik—Glencorse—and all the rest of the beautiful country within sight. A mooly auld skull was lying among the grass, and Peter, as he spoke, was aye stirring it about with his stick.
"I never touched a dead man's bones in my life," said I to Peter, "nor would I for a sixpence. Who might that have belonged to, now, I wonder? Maybe to a baker or a tailor, in his day and generation, like you and I, Peter; or maybe to ane of the great Sinclairs with their coats-of-mail, that the auld wife was cracking so crousely about?"
"Deil may care," said Peter; "but are you really frighted to touch a skull, Mansie? You would make a bad doctor, I'm doubting, then; to say nothing of a resurrection man."
"Doctor! I would not be a doctor for all the gold and silver on the walls of Solomon's Temple—"
"Yet you would think the young doctors suck in their trade with their mother's milk, and could cut off one another's heads as fast as look at you.—Speaking of skulls," added Peter, "I mind when my father lived in the under-flat of the three-storey house at the top of Dalkeith Street, that the Misses Skinflints occupied the middle story, and Doctor Chickenweed had the one above, with the garrets, in which was the laboratory.
"Weel, ye observe, in getting to the shop, it was not necessary to knock at the Doctor's door, but just proceed up the narrow wooden stairs, facing the top of which was the shop-door, which, for light to the customer's feet, was generally allowed to stand open.
"For a long time, the Doctor had heard the most unearthly noises in the house—as if a thunderbolt was in the habit of coming in at one of the sky-lights, and walking down stairs; and the Misses Skinflints had more than once nearly got their door carried off the hinges; so they had not the life of dogs, for constant startings and surprises. At first they had no faith in ghosts; but, in the course of time, they came to be alike doubtful on that point; but you shall hear.
"The foundation of the mystery was this. The three mischievous laddies—the apprentices—after getting their daily work over, of making pills and potions for his Majesty's unfortunate subjects, took to the trick of mounting a human skull, like that, upon springs, so that it could open its mouth, and setting it on a stand at the end of the counter, could make it gape, and turn from side to side, by pulling a string.
"The door being left purposely ajee—whenever the rascals saw a fit subject, they set the skull a-moving and a-gaping; the consequence of which was, that many a poor customer descended without counting the number of steps, and after bouncing against Dr Chickenweed's panels, played flee down to try the strength of Misses Skinflints'. One of the three instantly darted down, behind the evanished patient; and, after assisting her or him—whichever it might chance to be—to gain their feet, begged of them not to mention what they had seen, as the house was haunted by the ghost of an old maiden aunt of their master's who had died abroad; and that the thing would hurt his feelings if ever it came to his ears."
"Dog on me," said I, "if ever I heard of such a trick since ever I was born! What was the upshot?"
"The upshot was, that the thing might have continued long enough, and the laboratory been left as deserted as Tadmor in the Wilderness, had not a fat old woman fallen one day perfectly through the doctor's door, and dislocated her ankle—which unfortunately incapacitated her from making a similar attack on that of the Misses Skinflints. The consequence was, that the conspiracy was detected—the Doctor's aunt's ghost laid, and the fat old woman carried down on a shutter to her bed, where she lay till her ankle grew better in the course of nature."
It being near the hour at which we had ordered our dinner to be ready, we rose up from the tombstone; and, after taking a snuff out of Peter's box, we returned arm-in-arm to the tavern, to lay in a stock of provisions.
Peter Farrel was a warm-hearted, thorough-going fellow, and did not like half-measures, such as swollowing the sheep and worrying on the tail; so, after having ate as many strawberries as we could well stow away, he began trying to fright me with stories of folk taking the elic passion—the colic—the mulligrubs—and other deadly maladies, on account of neglecting to swallow a drop of something warm to qualify the coldness of the fruit; so, after we had discussed good part of a fore-quarter of lamb and chopped cabbage—the latter a prime dish—we took first one jug, and syne another, till Peter was growing tongue-tied, and as red in the face as a bubbly-jock; and, to speak the truth, my own een began to reel like merligoes. In a jiffy, both of us found our hearts waxing so brave as to kick and spur at all niggardly hesitation; and we leuch and thumped on the good-man of the inn-house's mahogany table, as if it had been warranted never to break. In fact, we were as furious and obstrapulous as two unchristened Turks; and it was a mercy that we ever thought of rising to come away at all. At the long and the last, however, we found ourselves mounted and trotting home at no allowance, me telling Peter, as far as I mind, to give the beast a good creish, and not to be frighted.
The evening was fine and warmer than we could have wished, our cheeks glowing like dragons' jackets; and as we passed like lightning through among the trees, the sun was setting with a golden glory in the west, between the Pentland and the Corstorphine Hills, and flashing in upon us through the branches at every opening. About half-way on our road back, we foregathered with Robbie Maut, drucken body, with his Shetland rig-and-fur hose on, and his green umbrella in his hand, shug-shugging away home, keeping the trot, with his tale, and his bit arm shak-shaking at his tae side, on his grey sheltie; so, after carhailing him, we bragged him to a race full gallop for better than a mile to the toll. The damage we did I dare not pretend to recollect. First, we knocked over two drunk Irishmen, that were singing "Erin-go-Bragh," arm-in-arm—syne we rode over the top of an old woman with a wheelbarrow of cabbages—and when we came to the toll, which was kept by a fat man with a red waistcoat, Robbie's pony, being, like all Highlanders, a wilful creature, stopped all at once; and though he won the half mutchkin by getting through first, after driving over the tollman, it was at the expense of poor Robbie's being ejected from his stirrups like a battering-ram, and disappearing head-foremost through the toll-house window, which was open, hat, wig, green umbrella, and all—the tollman's wife's bairn making a providential escape from Robbie's landing on all-fours, more than two yards on the far-side of the cradle in which it was lying asleep, with its little flannel nightgown on.
At the time, all was war and rebellion with the tollman, assault and battery, damages, broken panes, and what not; but with skilful management, and a few words in the private ear of Mr Rory Sneckdrawer, the penny-writer, we got matters southered up when we were in our sober senses; though I shall not say how much it cost us both in preaching and pocket, to make the man keep a calm sough as to bringing us in for the penalty, which would have been deadly. I think black-burning shame of myself to make mention of such ploys and pliskies; but, after all, it is better to make a clean breast.
Hame at last we got, making fire flee out of the Dalkeith causey stones like mad: and we arrived at our own door between nine and ten at night, still in a half-seas-overish state. I had, nevertheless, sense enough about me remaining, to make me aware that the best place for me would be my bed; so, after making Nanse bring the bottle and glass to the door on a server, to give Peter Farrel a dram by way of "doch-an-dorris," as the Gaelic folk say, we wished him a good-night, and left him to drive home the bit gig, with the broken shaft spliced with ropes, to his own bounds; little jealousing, as we heard next morning, that he would be thrown over the back of it, without being hurt, by taking too sharp a turn at the corner.
After a tremendous sound sleep, I was up betimes in the morning, though a wee drumly about the head, anxious to enquire at Tammie Bodkin, the head of the business department, me being absent, if any extraordinars had occurred on the yesterday; and found that the only particular customer making enquiries anent me was our old friend Cursecowl, savage for the measure of a killing-coat, which he wanted made as fast as directly. Though dreadfully angry at finding me from home, and unco swithering at first, he at length, after a volley of oaths enough to have opened a stone wall, allowed Tammie Bodkin to take his inches; but, as he swore and went on havering and speaking nonsense all the time, Tammie's hand shook, partly through fear, and partly through anxiety; and if he went wrong in making a nick in the paper here and there in a wrong place, it was no more than might have been looked for, from his fright and inexperience.
In the twinkle of an eyelid, I saw that there was some mortal mistake in the measurement; as, unless Cursecowl had lost beef at no allowance, I knew, judging from the past, that it would not peep on his corpus by four inches. The matter was, however, now past all earthly remede, and there was nothing to be done but trusting to good fortune, and allowing the killing-coat to take its chance in the world. How the thing happened, I have bothered and beat my brains to no purpose to make out, and it remains a wonderful mystery to me to this blessed day; but, by long thought on the subject, both when awake and in my bed, and by multifarious cross-questionings at Tammie's self concerning the paper measurings, I am devoutly inclined to think, that he mistook the nicking of the side-seams and the shoulder-strap for the girth of the belly-band.
CHAPTER TWENTY-THREE—ON CATCHING A TARTAR—CURSECOWL
From the first moment I clapped eye on the caricature thing of a coat, that Tammie Bodkin had, in my absence, shaped out for Cursecowl the butcher, I foresaw, in my own mind, that a catastrophe was brewing for us; and never did soldier gird himself to fight the French, or sailor prepare for a sea-storm, with greater alacrity, than I did to cope with the bull-dog anger, and buffet back the uproarious vengeance of our heathenish customer.
At first I thought of letting the thing take its natural course, and of threaping down Cursecowl's throat that he must have been feloniously keeping in his breath when Tammie took his measure; and, moreover, that as it was the fashion to be straight-laced, Tammie had done his utmost trying to make him look like his betters; till, my conscience checking me for such a nefarious intention, I endeavoured, as became me in the relations of man, merchant, and Christian, to solder the matter peaceably, and show him, if there was a fault committed, that there was no evil intention on my side of the house. To this end I dispatched the bit servant wench, on the Friday afternoon, to deliver the coat, which was neatly tied up in a brown paper, and directed—"Mr Cursecowl, with care," and to buy a sheep's head; bidding her, by the way of being civil, give my kind compliments, and enquire how Mr and Mrs Cursecowl, and the five little Miss Cursecowl's, were keeping their healths, and trusting to his honour in sending me a good article. But have a moment's patience.
Being busy at the time, turning a pair of kuttikins for old Mr Molleypouch the mealmonger, when the lassie came back, I had no mind of asking a sight of the sheep's head, as I aye like the little blackfaced, in preference to the white, fat, fozy Cheviot breed: but, most providentially, I catched a gliskie of the wench passing the shop window, on the road over to Jamie Coom the smith's, to get it singed, having been dispatched there by her mistress. Running round the counter like lightning, I opened the sneck, and halooed to her to wheel to the right about, having, somehow or other, a superstitious longing to look at the article. As I was saying, there was a Providence in this, which, at the time, mortal man could never have thought of.
James Batter had popped in with a newspaper in his hand, to read me a curious account of a mermaid, that was seen singing a Gaelic song, and combing its hair with a tortoise-shell comb, someway terrible far north about Shetland, by a respectable minister of the district, riding home in the gloaming after a presbytery dinner. So, as he was just taking off his spectacles cannily, and saying to me—"And was not that droll?"—the lassie spread down her towel on the counter, when, lo and behold! such an abominable spectacle, James Batter observing me run back, and turn white! put on his glasses again, cannily taking them out of his well-worn shagreen case, and, giving a stare down at the towel, almost touched the beast's nose with his own.
"And what, in the name of goodness, is the matter?" quo' James Batter; "ye seem in a wonderful quandary."
"The matter!" answered I, in astonishment; looking to see if the man had lost his sight or his senses—"the matter! who ever saw a sheep's head with straight horns, and a visnomy all colours of the rainbow—red, blue, orange, green, yellow, white, and black?"
'"Deed it is," said James, after a nearer inspection; "it must be a lowsy-naturay. I'm sure I have read most of Buffon's books, and I have never heard tell of like. It's gey an' queerish."
'"Od, James," answered I, "ye take every thing very canny; you're a philosopher, to be sure; but, I daresay, if the moon was to fall from the lift, and knock down the old kirk, ye would say no more than it's gey an' queerish!"
"Queerish, man! do ye not see that?" added I, shoving down his head mostly on the top of it. "Do ye not see that? awful, most awful! extonishing!! Do ye not see that long beard? Who, in the name of goodness, ever was an eyewitness to a sheep's head, in a Christian land, with a beard like an unshaven Jew crying 'owl clowes,' with a green bag over his left shoulder!"
"Dog on it," said James, giving a fidge with his hainches; "Dog on it, as I am a living sinner, that is the head of a Willie-goat."
"Willie or Nannie," answered I, "it's not meat for me; and never shall an ounce of it cross the craig of my family:—that is as sure as ever James Batter drave a shuttle. Give counsel in need, James: what is to be done?"
"That needs consideration," quo' James, giving a bit hoast. "Unless he makes ample apology, and explains the mistake in a feasible way, it is my humble opinion that he ought to be summoned before his betters. That is the legal way to make him smart for his sins."
At last a thought struck me, and I saw farther through my difficulties than ever mortal man did through a millstone; but, like a politician, I minted not the matter to James. Keeping my tongue cannily within my teeth, I then laid the head, wrapped up in the bit towel, in a corner behind the counter; and turning my face round again to James, I put my hands into my breeches-pockets, as if nothing in the world had happened, and ventured back to the story of the mermaid. I asked him how she looked—what kind of dress she wore—if she swam with her corsets—what was the colour of her hair—where she would buy the tortoise-shell comb—and so on; when, just as he was clearing his pipe to reply, who should burst open the shop-door like a clap of thunder, with burning cat's een, and a face as red as a soldier's jacket, but Cursecowl himself, with the new killing-coat in his hand,—which, giving a tremendous curse, the words of which are not essentially necessary for me to repeat, being an elder of our kirk, he made play flee at me with such a birr, that it twisted round my neck, and, mostly blinding me, made me doze like a tottum. At the same time, to clear his way, and the better to enable him to take a good mark, he gave James Batter a shove, that made him stotter against the wall, and snacked the good new farthing tobacco-pipe, that James was taking his first whiff out of; crying, at the same blessed moment—"Hold out o' my road, ye long withered wabster. Ye'er a pair of havering idiots; but I'll have pennyworths out of both your skins, as I'm a sinner!"
[Picture: The waiting girl, Jeanie Amos]
What was to be done? There was no time for speaking, for Cursccowl, foaming like a mad dog with passion, seized hold of the ell-wand, which he flourished round his head like a Highlander's broadsword, and stamping about, with his stockings drawn up his thighs, threatened every moment to commit bloody murder.
If James Batter never saw service before, he learned a little of it that day, being in a pickle of bodily terror not to be imagined by living man; but his presence of mind did not forsake him, and he cowered for safety and succour into a far corner, holding out a web of buckram before him—me crying all the time, "Send for the town officer! will ye not send for the town-officer?"
You may talk of your general Moores, and your Lord Wellingtons, as ye like; but never, since I was born, did I ever see or hear tell of anything braver than the way Tammie Bodkin behaved, in saving both our precious lives, at that blessed nick of time, from touch-and-go jeopardy: for, when Cursecowl was rampauging about, cursing and swearing like a Russian bear, hurling out volleys of oaths that would have frighted John Knox, forbye the like of us, Tammie stole in behind him like a wild-cat, followed by Joseph Breekey, Walter Cuff, and Jack Thorl, the three apprentices on their stocking soles; and, having strong and dumpy arms, pinned back his elbows like a flash of lightning, giving the other callants time to jump on his back, and hold him like a vice; while, having got time to draw my breath, and screw up my pluck, I ran forward like a lion, and houghed the whole concern—Tammie Bodkin, the three faithful apprentices, Cursecowl and all, coming to the ground like a battered castle.