It was now James Batter's time to come up in line, and, though a douce man (being savage for the insulting way that Cursecowl had dared to use him), he dropped down like mad, with his knees on Cursecowl's breast, who was yelling, roaring, and grinding his buck-teeth like a mad bull, kicking right and spurring left with fire and fury; and, taking his Kilmarnock off his head, thrust it, like a battering-ram, into Cursecowl's mouth, to hinder him from alarming the neighbourhood, and bringing the whole world about our ears. Such a stramash of tumbling, roaring, tearing, swearing, kicking, pushing, cuffing, rugging and riving about the floor!! I thought they would not have left one another with a shirt on: it seemed a combat even to the death. Cursecowl's breath was choked up within him like wind in an empty bladder, and when I got a gliskie of his face, from beneath James's cowl, it was growing as black as the crown of my hat. It feared me much that murder would be the upshot, the webs being all heeled over, both of broad cloth, buckram, cassimir, and Welsh flannel; and the paper shapings and worsted runds coiled about their throats and bodies like fiery serpents. At long and last, I thought it became me, being the head of the house, to sound a parley, and bid them give the savage a mouthful of fresh air, to see if he had anything to say in his defence.
Cursecowl, by this time, had forcible assurance of our ability to overpower him, and finding he had by far the worst of it, was obliged to grow tamer, using the first breath he got to cry out, "A barley, ye thieves! a barley! I tell ye, give me wind. There's not a man in nine of ye."
Finding our own strength, we saw, by this time, that we were masters of the field; nevertheless, we took care to make good terms when they were in our power; nor would we allow Cursecowl to sit upright, till after he had said, three times over, on his honour as a gentleman, that he would behave as became one. After giving his breeches-knees a skuff with his loof, to dad off the stoure, he came, right foot foremost, to the counter side, while the laddies were dighting their brows, and stowing away the webs upon their ends round about, saying, "Maister Wauch, how have ye the conscience to send hame such a piece o' wark as that coat to ony decent man? Do ye dare to imagine that I am a Jerusalem spider, that I could be crammed, neck and heels, into such a thing as that? Fye, shame—it would not button on yourself, man, scarecrow-looking mortal though ye be!"
James Batter's blood was now up, and boiling like an old Roman's; so he was determined to show Cursecowl that I had a friend in court, able and willing to keep him at stave's-end. "Keep a calm sough," said James Batter, interfering, "and not miscall the head of the house in his own shop; or, to say nothing of present consequences, byway of showing ye the road to the door, perhaps Maister Sneckdrawer, the penny-writer, 'll give ye a caption-paper with a broad margin, to claw your elbow with at your leisure, my good fellow."
"Pugh, pugh," cried Cursecowl, snapping his finger and thumb at James's beak, "I do not value your threatening an ill halfpenny. Come away out your ways to the crown of the causey, and I'll box any three of ye, over the bannys, for half-a-mutchkin. But 'od-sake, Batter, my man, nobody's speaking to you," added Cursecowl, giving a hack now and then, and a bit spit down on the floor; "go hame, man, and get your cowl washed; I dare say you have pushioned me, so I have no more to say to the like of you. But now, Maister Wauch, just speaking holy and fairly, do you not think black burning shame of yourself, for putting such an article into any decent Christian man's hand, like mine?"
"Wait a wee—wait a wee, friend, and I'll give ye a lock salt to your broth," answered I, in a calm and cool way; for, being a confidential elder of Maister Wiggie's, I kept myself free from the sin of getting into a passion, or fighting, except in self-defence, which is forbidden neither by law nor gospel; and, stooping down, I took up the towel from the corner, and, spreading it upon the counter, bade him look, and see if he knew an auld acquaintance!
Cursecowl, to be such a dragoon, had some rational points in his character; so, seeing that he lent ear to me with a smirk on his rough red face, I went on: "Take my advice as a friend, and make the best of your way home, killing-coat and all; for the most perfect will sometimes fall into an innocent mistake, and, at any rate, it cannot be helped now. But if ye show any symptom of obstrapulosity, I'll find myself under the necessity of publishing you abroad to the world for what you are, and show about that head in the towel for a wonder to broad Scotland, in a manner that will make customers flee from your booth, as if it was infected with the seven plagues of Egypt."
At sight of the goat's-head, Cursecowl clapped his hand on his thigh two or three times, and could scarcely muster good manners enough to keep himself from bursting out a-laughing.
"Ye seem to have found a fiddle, friend," said I; "but give me leave to tell you, that ye'll may be find it liker a hanging-match than a musical matter. Are you not aware that I could hand you over to the sheriff, on two special indictments? In the first place, for an action of assault and batterification, in cuffing me, an elder of our kirk, with a sticked killing-coat, in my own shop; and, in the second place, as a swindler, imposing on his Majesty's loyal subjects, taking the coin of the realm on false pretences, and palming off goat's flesh upon Christians, as if they were perfect Pagans."
Heathen though Cursecowl was, this oration alarmed him in a jiffie, soon showing him, in a couple of hurries, that it was necessary for him to be our humble servant: so he said, still keeping the smirk on his face, "Keh, keh, it's not worth making a noise about after all. Gie me the jacket, Mansie, my man, and it'll maybe serve my nephew, young Killim, who is as lingit in the waist as a wasp. Let us take a shake of your paw over the counter, and be friends. Bye-ganes should be bye-ganes."
Never let it be said that Mansie Wauch, though one of the king's volunteers, ever thrust aside the olive branch of peace; so, ill-used though I had been, to say nothing of James Batter, who had got his pipe smashed to crunches, and one of the eyes of his spectacles knocked out, I gave him my fist frankly.
James Batter's birse had been so fiercely put up, and no wonder, that it was not so easily sleeked down; so, for a while he looked unco glum, till Cursecowl insisted that our meeting should not be a dry one; nor would he hear a single word on me and James Batter not accepting his treat of a mutchkin of Kilbagie.
I did not think James would have been so doure and refractory—funking and flinging like old Jeroboam; but at last, with the persuasion of the treat, he came to, and, sleeking down his front hair, we all three took a step down to the far end of the close, at the back street, where Widow Thamson kept the sign of "The Tankard and the Tappit Hen"; Cursecowl, when we got ourselves seated, ordering in the spirits with a loud rap on the table with his knuckles, and a whistle on the landlady through his fore-teeth, that made the roof ring. A bottle of beer was also brought; so, after drinking one another's healths round, with a tasting out of the dram glass, Cursecowl swashed the rest of the raw creature into the tankard, saying—"Now take your will o't; there's drink fit for a king; that's real 'Pap-in.'"
He was an awful body, Cursecowl, and had a power of queer stories, which, weel-a-wat, did no lose in the telling. James Batter beginning to brighten up, hodged and leuch like a nine-year-old; and I freely confess, for another, that I was so diverted, that, I dare say, had it not been for his fearsome oaths, which made our very hair stand on end, and were enough to open the stone-wall, we would have both sate from that time to this.
We got the whole story of the Willie-goat, out and out; it seeming to be, with Cursecowl, a prime matter of diversion, especially that part of it relating to the head, by which he had won a crown from Deacon Paunch, who wagered that the wife and me would eat it, without ever finding out our mistake. But, aha, lad!
The long and the short of the matter was this. The Willie-goat, had, for eighteen year, belonged to a dragoon marching regiment, and, in its better days, had seen a power of service abroad; till, being now old and infirm, it had fallen off one of the baggage-carts, and got its leg broken on the road to Piershill, where it was sold to Cursecowl, by a corporal, for half-a-crown and a dram. The four quarters he had managed to sell for mutton, like lightning—this one buying a jigget, that one a back-ribs, and so on. However, he had to weather a gey brisk gale in making his point good. One woman remarked, that it had an unearthly, rank smell; to which he said, "No, no—ye do not ken your blessings, friend,—that's the smell of venison, for the beast was brought up along with the deers in the Duke's parks." And to another wife, that, after smell-smelling at it, thought it was a wee humphed, he replied, "Faith that's all the thanks folk gets for letting their sheep crop heather among Cheviot Hills"; and such like lies. But as for the head, that had been the doure business. Six times had it been sold and away, and six times had it been brought back again. One bairn said, that her "mother didna like a sheep's head with horns like these, and wanted it changed for another one." A second one said, that, "it had tup's een, and her father liked wether mutton." A third customer found mortal fault with the colours, which, she said, "were not canny, or in the course of nature." What the fourth one said, and the fifth one took leave to observe, I have stupidly forgotten, though, I am sure, I heard both; but I mind one remarked, quite off-hand, as she sought back her money, that "unless sheep could do without beards, like their neighbours, she would keep the pot boiling with a piece beef, in the meantime." After all this, would any mortal man believe it, Deacon Paunch, the greasy Daniel Lambert that he is, had taken the wager, as I before took opportunity to remark, that our family would swallow the bait? But, aha, he was off his eggs there!
James and me were so tickled with Cursecowl's wild, outrageous, off-hand, humoursome way of telling his crack, that, though sore with neighering, none of the two of us ever thought of rising; Cursecowl chapping in first one stoup, and then another, and birling the tankard round the table, as if we had been drinking dub-water. I dare say I would never have got away, had I not slipped out behind Lucky Thamson's back—for she was a broad fat body, with a round-eared mutch, and a full-plaited check apron—when she was drawing the sixth bottle of small beer, with her corkscrew between her knees; Cursecowl lecturing away, at the dividual moment, like a Glasgow professor, to James Batter, whose een were gathering straws, on a pliskie he had once, in the course of trade, played on a conceited body of a French sicknurse, by selling her a lump of fat pork to make beef-tea of to her mistress, who was dwining in the blue Beelzebubs.
Ohone, and woes me, for old Father Adam and the fall of man! Poor, sober, good, honest James Batter was not, by a thousand miles, a match for such company. Everything, however, has its moral, and the truth will out. When Nanse and me were sitting at our breakfast next morning, we heard from Benjie, who had been early up fishing for eels at the water-side, that the whole town-talk was concerning the misfortunate James Batter, who had been carried home, totally incapable, far in the night, by Cursecowl and an Irish labourer—that sleeped in Widow Thamson's garret—on a hand-barrow, borrowed from Maister Wiggie's servant-lass, Jenny Jessamine.
CHAPTER TWENTY-FOUR—JAMES BATTER & THE MAID OF DAMASCUS
On the morning after the debosh with Mr Cursecowl, my respected friend, James Batter, the pattern of steadiness and sobriety, awoke in a terrible pliskie. The decent man came to the use of his senses as from a trance, and scarcely knew either where he was, or whether his head or heels were uppermost. He found himself lying without his Kilmarnock, from which he might have received deadly damage, being subject to the rheumatics in the cuff of the neck; and everything about him was in a most fearful and disjaskit state. It was a long time before he could, for the life of him, bring his mind or memory to a sense of his condition, having still on his corduroy trowsers, and his upper and under vest, besides one of his stockings:—his hat, his wig, his neckcloth, his shoes, his coat, his snuff-box, his spectacles, and the other stocking, all lying on the floor, together with a table, a chair, a candlestick, with a broken candle, which had been knocked over;—the snuffers standing upright, being sharp in the point, and having stuck in the deal floor.
It was a terrible business! and might have been a life-long lesson to every one, of the truth of St Paul's maxim, that "evil communication corrupts good manners";—Cursecowl being the most incomprehensible fellow that ever breathed the breath of life. To add to his calamities, James found, on attempting to rise, that he had, in some way or other, of which he had not a shadow of recollection, dismally sprained his left ankle, which, to his consternation, was swelled like a door-post, and as blue as his apron. There was also a black ugly lump on his brow, as big as a pigeon's egg, which was horrible to look at in the bit glass. Many a gallant soldier escaped from Waterloo with less scaith—and that they did. Poor innocent sowl! I pitied him from the very bottom of my heart—as who would not?
Having got an inkling of the town-talk by breakfast time, and knowing also that many a one—such is the corruption of human nature—would like to have a hair in the neck of James, by taking up an evil report, I remembered within myself that a friend in need is a friend indeed, and cannily papped up the close, after I had got myself shaved, to see how the land lay. And a humbling spectacle it was! James could scarcely yet be said to be himself, for his eyes were like scored collops, and his stomach was so sick that his face was like ill-bleached linen—pale as a dishclout. When he tried to speak, it was between a bock and a hiccup with him, and my feeling for his situation was such—knowing, as I did, all the ins and outs of the business—that I could not help being very wae for him. It therefore behoved me to make Nanse send him a cup of well-made tea, to see if it would act as a settler, but his heart stood at it, as if it had been 'cacuana, and do as he liked, he could not let a drop of it down his craig. When the wife informed me of this, I at last luckily remembered the old saying about giving one a hair of the dog that bit him; and I made poor James swallow a thimbleful of malt spirits—the real unadulterated creatur, with wonderfully good effects. Though then in his sixty-first year, James declares on his honour as a gentleman, that this was the first time he ever had fallen a victim to the barley-fever!
How could we do otherwise! it afforded Nanse and I great pleasure—and no mistake—in acting the part of good Samaritans, by pouring oil and wine into his wounds; I having bound up his brow with a Sunday silk-napkin, and she having fomented his unfortunate ankle with warm water and hog's lard. The truth is, that I found myself in conscience bound and obligated to take a deep interest in the decent man's distresses, he having come to his catastrophe in a cause of mine, and having fallen a victim to the snares and devices of Cursecowl, instead of myself, for whom the vagabond's girn was set. Providence decided that, in this particular case, I should escape; but a better man, James Batter, was caught in it by the left ankle. What will a body say there?
The web of Lucky Caird, which James had promised to carry home to her on the Saturday night, was still in the loom, and had I been up to the craft, I would not have hesitated to have driven the shuttle myself till I had got it off hand for him; but every man to his trade; so afraid of consequences, I let the batter and the bobbin-box lie still, trusting to Lucky Caird's discretion, and my friend's speedy recovery. But the distress of James Batter was not the business of a day. In the course of the next night, to be sure, he had some natural sleep, which cleared his brain from the effects of that dangerous and deluding drink, the "Pap-in"; but his ankle left him a grievous lameter, hirpling on a staff; and, although his brown scratch and his Kilmarnock helped to hide the bump upon his temple, the dregs of it fell down upon his e'e-bree, which, to the consternation of everybody, became as green as a docken leaf.
My friend, however, be it added to this, was not more a sufferer in body than in estate; for the illness, being of his own bringing on, he could not make application to the Weavers' Society—of which he had been a regular member for forty odd years—for his lawful sick-money. But, being a philosopher, James submitted to his bed of thorns without a murmur; Nanse and I soothing his calamities, as we best could, by a bowl of sheep-head broth; a rizzar'd haddock; a tankard of broo-and-bread; a caller egg; a swine's trotter; and other circumstantialities needless to repeat—as occasion required.
As for Cursecowl, the invincible reprobate, so ashamed was he of his infamous conduct, that he did not dare, for the life in his body, to show himself before my shop-window—far less in my presence—for more than a week; yet, would ye believe it! he made a perfect farce of the whole business among his own wauf cronies; and, instead of repentance, I verily believe, would not have cared twopence to have played me the same pliskie that he did my douce and worthy friend. But away with him! he is not worth speaking about; and ye'll get nothing from a sow but—grumph!
Being betimes on mending order, James sent down, one forenoon, to request, with his compliments, that I would hand him up by the bearer old Taffy with the Pigtail's bundle of old papers,—as having more leisure in his hands than either he liked, or well knew how to dispose of, it might afford him some diversion to take a reading of them, for the purpose of enquiring farther into the particulars of the Welsh gentleman's history—which undoubtedly was a wee mysterious; consisting of matters lying heads and thraws; and of odds and ends, that no human skill could dovetail into a Christian consistency.
On the night of the next day—I mind it weel, for it was on that dividual evening that Willie, the minister's man, married Mysie Clouts, the keeper of the lodging-house called the Beggars' Opera—it struck me, seeing the general joy of the weans on the street, and the laughing, daffing, and hallabuloo that they were making, that poor James must be lonely at his ingle side, and that a drink of porter and a crack would do his old heart good. Accordingly, I made Nanse send the bit lassie, our servant, Jenny Heggins, for a couple of bottles of Deacon Jaffrey's best brown stout, asking if he could pawn his word anent its being genuine, as it was for a gentleman in delicate health. So, brushing the saw-dust off the doup of one of them, and slipping it into my coat pocket, which was gey an' large, I popped at leisure up the close to pay my neighbour a friendly visit.
[Picture: Peter Farrel]
'Od, but comfort is a grand thing. If ever ye saw an ancient patriarch, there was one. James was seated in his snug old easychair by the fireside, as if he had been an Edinburgh Parliament House lawyer, studying his hornings, duplies, and fugie warrants, with his left leg paraded out on a stool, with a pillow smoothed down over it, and all the Welshman's papers docketed on the bit table before him. The cat was lying streaked out on the hearth, pur-purring away to herself, and the kettle by the fire cheek was singing along with her, as if to cheer the heart of their mutual master. As for Mr Batter, he looked as prejinct as a pikestaff, and so taken up was he with his papers, that, when I asked him how he felt, his answer, to my wonderment, was, that "in the Song of Songs Solomon had likened the nose of his beloved to the tower of Lebanon, which looketh towards Damascus." So brown was he in his studies, that, for a while, I feared the fall had produced some crack in his pan, and that his seven senses had gone a wool-gathering; but the story will out, as ye will hear, and being naturally a wee-camstairie, I gave him time to gather the feet of his faculties before pressing him too hard; but even the sight of the bottle of porter toasting by the cheek of the fire, hardly brought him at once to his right mind.
Mr Batter's noddle, however, after a little patience, clearing up, we leisurely discussed between us the porter, which was in prime condition, with a ream as yellow as a marigold; together with half-a-dozen of butter-bakes, crimp and new-baked, it being batch-day with Thomas Burlings, who, like his father and grandfather before him, have been notorious in the biscuit department. It soon became clear to me, that the dialogue about Lebanon and Damascus, which was followed up with a clishmaclaver anent dirks, daggers, red cloaks, and other bloody weapons which made all my flesh grue, had some connexion with Taffy's papers on the table—out of which James had been diverting himself by reading bits here and there, at random like.
In the course of our confab, he told me a monstrous heap about them; but, in general, the things were so out of the course of Providence, and so queer and leeing-like, that I, for one, would not believe them without solemn affidavy. Indeed, I began at length to question within myself—for the subject naturally resolved itself into two heads; firstly, whether Taffy's master might not have had a bee in his bonnet; or, secondly, whether he was a person not over-scrupulous regarding the matter of truth. As for James, he declared him a nonsuch, and said, that although poor, he would not have hesitated to have given him sixpence for a lock of his hair, just to keep beside him for a keepsake; (did anybody ever hear such nonsense?) Before parting, he insisted that I should bear with him, till he read me over the story he had just finished as I came in, and which had been running in his noddle. At such a late hour, for it was now wearing on to wellnigh ten o'clock, I was not just clear about listening to anything bloody; but not to vex the old boy, who, I am sure, would not have sleeped a wink through the night for disappointment, had he not got a free breast made of it, I at long and last consented—provided his story was not too long. My chief particularity on this point, as I should mention, was, that it was past Benjie's bedtime, and the callant had a hoast, which required all his mother's as well as my own good doctoring—having cost us two bottles of Dantzic black beer, with little effect; besides not a few other recommendations of friends and skielly acquaintances.
It was best, therefore, to consent with a good grace; so, after clearing his windpipes, James wiped the eyes of his spectacles with the corner of his red-check pocket-napkin; and thereafter fixing them on his beak, he commenced preaching away in grand style at some queer outlandish stuff, which fairly baffled my gumption. I must confess, however, both in fairness to Taffy and to James, that, as I had been up since five in the morning (having pawned my word to send home Duncan Imrie, the heel-cutter's new duffle great-coat by breakfast time, as he had to go into the Edinburgh leather-market by eleven), my een were gathering straws; and it was only at the fearsome parts that I could for half a moment keep them sundry. "Many men," however, "many minds," as the copy-line book says; and as every one has a right to judge for himself, I requested James to copy the concern out for me; and ye here have it, word for word, without substraction, multiplication, or addition.
The Maid Of Damascus
In the reign of the Greek Emperor Heraclius, when the beautiful city of Damascus was at the height of its splendour and magnificence, dwelt therein a young noble, named Demetrius, whose decayed fortunes did not correspond with the general prosperity of the times. He was a youth of ardent disposition, and very handsome in person: pride kept him from bettering his estate by the profession of merchandise, yet more keenly did he feel the obscurity to which adverse fates had reduced him, that in his lot was involved the fortune of one dearer than himself.
It so happened that, in that quarter of the city which faces the row of palm-trees, within the gate Keisan, dwelt a wealthy old merchant, who had a beautiful daughter. Demetrius had by chance seen her some time before, and he was so struck with her loveliness, that, after pining for many months in secret, he ventured on a disclosure, and, to his delighted surprise, found that Isabelle had long silently nursed a deep and almost hopeless passion for him also; so, being now aware that their love was mutual, they were as happy as the bird that, all day long, sings in the sunshine from the summits of the cypress-trees.
True is the adage of the poet, that "the course of true love never did run smooth"; and, in the father of the maiden, they found that a stumbling-block lay in the path of their happiness, for he was of an avaricious disposition, and they knew that he valued gold more than nobility of blood. Their fears grew more and more, as Isabelle, in her private conversations, endeavoured to sound her father on this point; and although the suspicions of affection are often more apparent than real, in this they were not mistaken; for, without consulting his child—and as if her soul had been in his hand—he promised her in marriage to a rich old miser, ay, twice as rich, and nearly as old as himself.
Isabelle knew not what to do; for, on being informed by her father of the fate he had destined for her, her heart forsook her, and her spirit was bowed to the dust. Nowhere could she rest, like the Thracian bird that knoweth not to fold its wings in slumber—a cloud had fallen for her over the fair face of nature—and, instead of retiring to her couch, she wandered about weeping, under the midnight stars, on the terrace on the house-top—wailing over the hapless fate, and calling on death to come and take her from her sorrows.
At morning she went forth alone into the garden; but neither could the golden glow of the orange-trees, nor the perfumes of the rosiers, nor the delicate fragrance of the clustering henna and jasmine, delight her; so she wearied for the hour of noon, having privately sent to Demetrius, inviting him to meet her by the fountain of the pillars at that time.
Poor Demetrius had, for some time, observed a settled sorrow in the conduct and countenance of his beautiful Isabelle—he felt that some melancholy revelation was to be made to him; and, all eagerness, he came at the appointed hour. He passed along the winding walks, unheeding of the tulips streaked like the ruddy evening clouds—of the flower betrothed to the nightingale—of the geranium blazing in scarlet beauty,—till, on approaching the place of promise, he caught a glance of the maid he loved—and, lo! she sate there in the sunlight, absorbed in thought; a book was on her knee, and at her feet lay the harp whose chords had been for his ear so often modulated to harmony.
He laid his hand gently on her shoulder, as he seated himself beside her on the steps; and seeing her sorrowful, he comforted her, and bade her be of good cheer, saying, that Heaven would soon smile propitiously on their fortunes, and that their present trials would but endear them the more to each other in the days of after years. At length, with tears and sobs, she told him of what she had learned; and, while they wept on each other's bosoms, they vowed over the Bible, which Isabelle held in her hand, to be faithful to each other to their dying day.
Meantime the miser was making preparations for the marriage ceremony, and the father of Isabelle had portioned out his daughter's dowery; when the lovers, finding themselves driven to extremity, took the resolution of escaping together from the city.
Now, it so happened, in accordance with the proverb, which saith that evils never come single, that, at this very time, the city of Damascus was closely invested by a mighty army, commanded by the Caliph Abubeker Alwakidi, the immediate successor of Mahomet; and, in leaving the walls, the lovers were in imminent hazard of falling into their cruel hands; yet, having no other resource left, they resolved to put their perilous adventure to the risk.
'Twas the Mussulman hour of prayer Magrib: the sun had just disappeared, and the purple haze of twilight rested on the hills, darkening all the cedar forests, when the porter of the gate Keisan, having been bribed with a largess, its folding leaves slowly opened, and forthwith issued a horseman closely wrapt up in a mantle; and behind him, at a little space, followed another similarly clad. Alas! for the unlucky fugitives, it so chanced that Derar, the captain of the night-guard, was at that moment making his rounds, and observing what was going on, he detached a party to throw themselves between the strangers and the town. The foremost rider, however, discovered their intention, and he called back to his follower to return. Isabelle—for it was she—instantly regained the gate which had not yet closed, but Demetrius fell into the hands of the enemy.
As wont in those bloody wars, the poor prisoner was immediately carried by an escort into the presence of the Caliph, who put the alternative in his power of either, on the instant, renouncing his religion, or submitting to the axe of the headsman. Demetrius told his tale with a noble simplicity; and his youth, his open countenance, and stately bearing, so far gained on the heart of Abubeker, that, on his refusal to embrace Mahomedism, he begged of him seriously to consider of his situation, and ordered a delay of the sentence, which he must otherwise pronounce, until the morrow.
Heart-broken and miserable, Demetrius was loaded with chains, and carried to a gloomy place of confinement. In the solitude of the night-hours he cursed the hour of his birth—bewailed his miserable situation—and feeling that all his schemes of happiness were thwarted, almost rejoiced that he had only a few hours to live.
The heavy hours lagged on towards daybreak, and, quite exhausted by the intense agony of his feelings, he sank down upon the ground in a profound sleep, from which a band, with crescented turbans and crooked sword-blades, awoke him. Still persisting to reject the Prophet's faith, he was led forth to die; but, in passing through the camp, the Soubachis of the Caliph stopped the troop, as he had been commanded, and Demetrius was ushered into the tent, where Abubeker, not yet arisen, lay stretched on his sofa. For a while the captive remained resolute, preferring death to the disgrace of turning a renegado; but the wily Caliph, who had taken a deep and sudden interest in the fortunes of the youth, knew well the spring, by the touch of which his heart was most likely to be affected. He pointed out to Demetrius prospects of preferment and grandeur, while he assured him that, in a few days, Damascus must to a certainty surrender, in which case his mistress must fall into the power of a fierce soldiery, and be left to a fate full of dishonour, and worse than death itself; but, if he assumed the turban, he pledged his royal word that especial care should be taken that no harm should alight on her he loved.
Demetrius paused, and Abubeker saw that the heart of his captive was touched. He drew pictures of power, and affluence, and domestic love, that dazzled the imagination of his hearer; and while the prisoner thought of his Isabelle, instead of rejecting the impious proposal, as at first he had done, with disdain and horror, his soul bent like iron in the breath of the furnace flame, and he wavered and became irresolute. The keen eye of the Caliph saw the working of his spirit within him, and allowed him yet another day to form his resolution. When the second day was expired, Demetrius craved a third; and on the fourth morning miserable man, he abjured the faith of his fathers, and became a Mussulman.
Abubeker loved the youth, assigning him a post of dignity, and all the mighty host honoured him whom the Caliph delighted to honour. He was clad in rich attire, and magnificently attended, and, to all eyes, Demetrius seemed a person worthy of envy; yet, in the calm of thought, his conscience upbraided him, and he was far less happy than he seemed to be.
Ere yet the glow of novelty had entirely ceased to bewilder the understanding of the renegade, preparations were made for the assault; and after a fierce but ineffectual resistance, under their gallant leaders Thomas and Herbis, the Damascenes were obliged to submit to their imperious conqueror, on condition of being allowed, within three days, to leave the city unmolested.
When the gates were opened, Demetrius, with a heart overflowing with love and delight, was among the first to enter. He enquired of every one he met of the fate of Isabelle; but all turned from him with disgust. At length he found her out, but what was his grief and surprise—in a nunnery! Firm to the troth she had so solemnly plighted, she had rejected the proposition of her mercenary parent; and, having no idea but that her lover had shared the fate of all Christian captives, she had shut herself up from the world, and vowed to live the life of a vestal.
The surprise, the anguish, the horror of Isabelle, when she beheld Demetrius in his Moslem habiliments, cannot be described. Her first impulse, on finding him yet alive, was to have fallen into his arms; but, instantly recollecting herself, she shrank back from him with loathing, as a mean and paltry dastard. "No, no," she cried, "you are no longer the man I loved; our vows of fidelity were pledged over the Bible; that book you have renounced as a fable; and he who has proved himself false to Heaven, can never be true to me!"
Demetrius was conscience-struck; too late he felt his crime, and foresaw its consequences. The very object for whom he had dared to make the tremendous sacrifice had deserted him, and his own soul told him with how much justice; so, without uttering a syllable, he turned away heart-broken, from the holy and beautiful being whose affections he had forfeited for ever.
When the patriots left Damascus, Isabelle accompanied them. Retiring to Antioch, she lived with the sisterhood for many years; and, as her time was passed between acts of charity and devotion, her bier was watered with many a tear, and the hands of the grateful duly strewed her grave with flowers. To Demetrius was destined a briefer career. All-conscious of his miserable degradation, loathing himself, and life, and mankind, he rushed back from the city into the Mahomedan camp; and entering, with a hurried step, the tent of the Caliph, he tore the turban from his brow, and cried aloud—"Oh, Abubeker! behold a God-forsaken wretch. Think not it was the fear of death that led me to abjure my religion—the religion of my fathers—the only true faith. No; it was the idol of Love that stood between my heart and heaven, darkening the latter with its shadow; and had I remained as true to God, as I did to the Maiden of my love, I had not needed this." So saying, and ere the hand of Abubeker could arrest him, he drew a poniard from his embroidered vest, and the heart-blood of the renegade spouted on the royal robes of the successor of Mahomet.
* * * * *
So grandly had James spooted this bloody story, that notwithstanding my sleepiness, his words whiles dirled through my marrow like quicksilver, and set all my flesh a grueing. In the middle of it, he was himself so worked up, that twice he pulled his Kilmarnock from his head, silk-napkin, bandage and all, and threw them down with a thump on the table, which once wellnigh capsized a candlestick.
The porter and the stabbing, also, very nearly put me beside myself; and I felt so queerish and eerie when I took my hat to wish him a good-night—knowing that baith Nanse and Benjie would be neither to hold nor bind, it being now half-past ten o'clock—that, had it not been for the shame of the thing, and that I remembered being one of the King's gallant volunteers, I fear I would have asked James for the lend of his lantern, to show me down the dark close.
The reader will thus perceive that the adventure of the killing-coat, stuck alike in the measurement and in the making by Tammie Bodkin, was destined, in the great current of human events, to form a prominent feature, not only in my own history, but in that of worthy James Batter. To me it might be considered as a passing breeze—having been accustomed to see and suffer a vast deal; but my friend, I fear much, will bear marks of it to his grave. Yet I cannot blame myself with a safe conscience for James having fallen the victim to Cursecowl. I had tried everything to solder up matters which the heart of man could suggest; and knowing that it was a catastrophe which would bring down open war and rebellion throughout the whole parish, my thoughts were all of peace, and how to stave off the eruption of the bloody heathen. I had thought over the thing seriously in my bed; and, reckoning plainly that Cursecowl was not one likely soon to hold out a flag of truce, I had come to the determination within myself to sound a parley—and offer either to take back the coat, or refund part of the purchase-money. I may add, that having an unbounded regard for his judgment and descretion, I had, in my own mind, selected James Batter to be sent as the ambassador. The same day, however, brought round the extraordinary purchase of the Willie-goat's head, and gave a new and unexpected turn to the whole business.
Folk, moreover, should never be so over-proud as not to confess when they are in fault; and from what happened, I am free to admit, that James, harmless as a sucking dove, was no match in such a matter for the like of Cursecowl, who was a perfect incarnation, for devilry and cunning, of the old Serpent himself.
My intentions, however, were good, and those of a Christian; for, had Cursecowl accepted the ten shillings by way of blood-money, which it was thus my intention to have offered, this fearful and bloody stramash would have been hushed up without the world having become a whit the wiser. But "there is many a slip," as the proverb says, "between the cup and the lip"; and the best intentions often fall to the ground, like the beggarman between the two stools.
The final conclusion of the whole tradegy was, as it behoves me to mention, that Cursecowl, in consideration of a month's gratis work in the slaughter-house, made a brotherly legacy of the coat to his nephew, young Killim. The laddie was a perfect world's wonder every Sunday, and would have been laughed at out of his seven senses, had he not at last rebelled and fairly thrown it off. I make every allowance for the young man; and am sorry to confess that it was indeed a perfect shame to be seen. At Dalkeith, where one is well known, anything may pass; but I was always in bodily terror, that, had he gone to Edinburgh, he would have been taken up by the police, on suspicion of being either a Spanish pawtriot or a highway robber.
CHAPTER TWENTY-FIVE—CATCHING A PHILISTINE IN THE COAL-HOLE
Years wore on after the departure and death of poor Mungo Glen, during the which I had a sowd of prentices, good, bad, and indifferent, and who afterwards cut, and are cutting, a variety of figures in the world. Sometimes I had two or three at a time; for the increase of business that flowed in upon me with a full stream was tremendous, enabling me—who say it that should not say it—to lay by a wheen bawbees for a sore head, or the frailties of old age. Somehow or other, the clothes made on my shopboard came into great vogue through all Dalkeith, both for neatness of shape and nicety of workmanship; and the young journeymen of other masters did not think themselves perfected, or worthy a decent wage, till they had crooked their houghs for three months in my service. With regard to myself, some of my acquaintances told me, that if I had gone into Edinburgh to push my fortune, I could have cut half the trade out of bread, and maybe risen, in the course of nature, to be Lord Provost himself; but I just heard them speak, and kept my wheisht. I never was overly ambitious; and I remembered how proud Nebuchadnaazer ended with eating grass on all-fours. Every man has a right to be the best judge of his own private matters; though, to be sure, the advice of a true friend is often more precious than rubies, and sweeter than the Balm of Gilead.
It was about the month of March, in the year of grace anno Domini eighteen hundred, that the whole country trembled, like a giant ill of the ague, under the consternation of Buonaparte, and all the French vagabonds emigrating over, and landing in the Firth. Keep us all! the folk, doitit bodies, put less confidence than became them in what our volunteer regiments were able and willing to do; yet we had a remnant among us of the true blood, that with loud laughter laughed the creatures to scorn; and I, for one, kept up my pluck, like a true Highlander. Does any living soul believe that Scotland—the land of the Tweed, and the Clyde, and the Tay—could be conquered, and the like of us sold, like Egyptian slaves, into captivity? Fie, fie—I despise such haivers. Are we not descended, father and son, from Robert Bruce and Sir William Wallace, having the bright blood of freemen in our veins, and the Pentland Hills, as well as our own dear homes and firesides, to fight for? The rascal that would not give cut-and-thrust for his country as long as he had a breath to draw, or a leg to stand on, should be tied neck and heels, without benefit of clergy, and thrown over Leith pier, to swim for his life like a mangy dog!
Hard doubtless it is—and I freely confess it—to be called by sound of bugle, or tuck of drum, from the counter and the shopboard—men, that have been born and bred to peaceful callings, to mount the red-jacket, soap the hair, buckle on the buff-belt, load with ball-cartridge, and screw bayonets; but it's no use talking. We were ever the free British; and before we would say to Frenchmen that we were their humble servants, we would either twist the very noses off their faces, or perish in the glorious struggle.
It was aye the opinion of the Political folk, the Whigs, the Black-nebs, the Radicals, the Papists, and the Friends of the People, together with the rest of the clan-jamphrey, that it was a done battle, and that Buonaparte would lick us back and side. All this was in the heart and heat of the great war, when we were struggling, like drowning men, for our very life and existence, and when our colours—the true British flag—were nailed to the mast-head. One would have thought these rips were a set of prophets, they were all so busy prophesying, and never anything good. They kent (believe them) that we were to be smote hip and thigh; and that to oppose the vile Corsican was like men with strait-jackets out of Bedlam. They could see nothing brewing around them but death, and disaster, and desolation, and pillage, and national bankruptcy—our brave Highlanders, with their heads shot off, lying on the bloody field of battle, all slaughtered to a man; our sailors, handcuffed and shackled, musing in a French prison on the bypast days of Camperdown, and of Lord Rodney breaking through the line; with all their fleets sunk to the bottom of the salt sea, after being raked fore and aft with chain-shot; and our timber, sugar, tea and treacle merchants, all fleeing for safety and succour down to lodgings in the Abbey Strand, with a yellow stocking on the ae leg and a black one on the other, like a wheen mountebanks. Little could they foresee, with their spentacles of prophecy, that a battle of Waterloo would ever be fought, to make the confounded fugies draw in their horns, and steek up their scraighing gabs for ever. Poor fushionless creatures!
I do not pretend to be a politician,—having been bred to the tailoring line syne ever I was a callant, and not seeing the Adverteezer Newspapers, or the Edinburgh Evening Courant, save and except at an orra time,—so I shall say no more, nor pretend to be one of the thousand-and-one wise men, able and willing to direct his Majesty's Ministers on all matters of importance regarding Church or State. One thing, however, I trust I ken, and that is, my duty to my King as his loyal subject, to old Scotland as her unworthy son, and to my family as their prop, support, and breadwinner;—so I shall stick to all three (under Heaven) as long as I have a drop of blood in my precious veins. But the truth is—and I will let it out and shame the de'il—that I could not help making these general observations (as Maister Wiggie calls the spiritualeezing of his discourses), as what I have to relate might well make my principles suspected, were they not known to all the world to be as firm as the foundations of the Bass Rock. Ye shall nevertheless judge for yourselves.
It was sometime in the blasty month of March, the weather being rawish and rainy, with sharp frosty nights that left all the window-soles whitewashed over with frost rind in the mornings, that as I was going out in the dark, before lying down in my bed, to give a look into the hen-house, and lock the coal-cellar, so that I might hang the bit key on the nail behind our room window-shutter, I happened to give a keek in, and, lo and behold! the awful apparition of a man with a yellow jacket, lying sound asleep on a great lump of parrot-coal in a corner!
In the first hurry of my terror and surprise, at seeing a man with a yellow jacket and a green foraging-cap in such a situation, I was like to drop the good twopenny candle, and faint clean away; but, coming to myself in a jiffie, I determined, in case it might be a highway robber, to thraw about the key, and, running up for the firelock, shoot him through the head instantly, if found necessary. In turning round the key, the lock, being in want of a feather of oil, made a noise, and wakened the poor wretch, who, jumping to the soles of his feet in despair, cried out in a voice that was like to break my heart, though I could not make out one word of his paraphernally. It minded me, by all the world, of a wheen cats fuffing and fighting through ither, and whiles something that sounded like "Sugar, sugar, measure the cord," and "dabble dabble." It was worse than the most outrageous Gaelic ever spoken in the height of passion by a Hieland shearer.
"Oho!" thinks I, "friend, ye cannot be a Christian from your lingo, that's one thing poz; and I would wager tippence you're a Frenchy. Who kens, keep us all, but ye may be Buonaparte himself in disguise, come over in a flat-bottomed boat to spy the nakedness of the land. So ye may just rest content, and keep your quarters good till the morn's morning."
It was a wonderful business, and enough to happen to a man in the course of his lifetime, to find Mounseer from Paris in his coal-neuk, and have the enemy of his country snug under lock and key; so, while he kept rampauging, fuffing, stamping, and diabbling away, I went in and brought out Benjie, with a blanket rowed round him, and my journeyman, Tommy Staytape—who, being an orphan, I made a kind of parlour-boarder of, he sleeping on a shake-down beyond the kitchen-fire—to hold a consultation, and be witness of the transaction.
I got my musket, and Tommy Staytape armed himself with the goose—a deadly weapon, whoever may get a clour with it—and Benjie took the poker in one hand, and the tongs in the other; and out we all marched briskly, to make the Frenchman, that was locked up from the light of day in the coal-house, surrender. After hearkening at the door for a while, and finding all quiet, we gave a knock to rouse him up, and see if we could bring any thing out of him by speering cross-questions. Tommy and Benjie trembled from top to toe, like aspen leaves, but fient a word could we make common sense of at all. I wonder who educates these foreign creatures? it was in vain to follow him, for he just gab-gabbled away, like one of the stone masons at the Tower of Babel. At first I was completely bamboozled, and almost dung stupid, though I kent one word of French which I wanted to put to him, so I cried through, "Canna you speak Scotcha, Mounseer?"
He had not the politeness to stop and make answer, but just went on with his string of haivers, without either rhyme or reason, which we could make neither top, tail, nor main of.
It was a sore trial to us all, putting us to our wit's end, and how to come on was past all visible comprehension; when Tommy Staytape, giving his elbow a rub, said, "Od, maister, I wager something that he's broken loose frae Penicuik. We have him like a rotten in a fa'."
On Penicuik being mentioned, we heard the foreign creature in the coal-house groaning out, "och," and "ochone," and "parbleu," and "Mysie Rabble,"—that I fancy was his sweetheart at home, some bit French quean, that wondered he was never like to come from the wars and marry her. I thought on this, for his voice was mournful, though I could not understand the words; and kenning he was a stranger in a far land, my bowels yearned within me with compassion towards him.
I would have given half-a-crown at that blessed moment to have been able to wash my hands free of him; but I swithered, and was like the cuddie between the two bundles of hay. At long and last a thought struck me, which was to give the deluded simple creature a chance of escape; reckoning that, if he found his way home, he would see the shame and folly of fighting against us any more; and, marrying Mysie Rabble, live a contented and peaceful life, under his own fig and bay tree. So wishing him a sound sleep, I cried through the door, "Mounseer, gooda nighta"; decoying away Benjie and Tommy Staytape into the house. Bidding them depart to their beds, I said to them after shutting the door, "Now, callants, we have the precious life of a fellow-creature in our hand, and to account for. Though he has a yellow jacket on, and speaks nonsense, yet, nevertheless, he is of the same flesh and blood as ourselves. Maybe we may be all obliged to wear green foraging-caps before we die yet! Mention what we have seen or heard to no living soul; for maybe, if he were to escape, we would be all taken up on suspicion of being spies, and hanged on a gallows as high as Haman."—After giving them this wholesome advice, I dispatched them to their beds like lamplighters, binding them to never fash their thumbs, but sleep like tops, as I would keep a sharp look-out till morning.
As soon, howsoever, as I heard them sleeping, and playing on the pipes through their noses, I cried first "Tommy," and syne "Benjie," to be sure; and, glad to receive no answer from either, I went to the aumrie and took out a mutton-bone, gey sair pyked, but fleshy enough at the mouse end; and, putting a penny row beside it, crap out to the coal-house on my tiptaes. All was quiet as pussie,—so I shot them through the hole at the corner made for letting the gaislings in by; and giving a tirl, cried softly through, "Halloa, Mounseer, there's your suppera fora youa; for I dara saya you are yauppa."
The poor chiel commenced again to grunt and grane, and groan and yelp, and cry ochone;—and make such woful lamentations, that heart of man could not stand it; and I found the warm tears prap-prapping to my een. Before being put to this trial of my strength, I thought that, if ever it was my fortune to foregather with a Frenchman, either him or me should do or die; but, i'fegs, one should not crack so crouse before they are put to the test; and, though I had taken a prisoner without fighting at all—though he had come into the coal-hole of the Philistines of his own accord as it were, and was as safe as the spy in the house of Rahab at Jericho—and though we had him like a mouse beneath a firlet, snug under custody of lock and key, yet I considered within myself, with a pitiful consideration, that, although he could not speak well, he might yet feel deeply; that he might have a father and mother, and sisters and brothers, in his ain country, weeping and wearying for his return; and that his true love Mysie Rabble might pine away like a snapped flower, and die of a broken heart.
Being a volunteer, and so one of his Majesty's confidential servants, I swithered tremendously between my duty as a man and a soldier; but, do what you like, nature will aye be uppermost. The scale weighed down to the side of pity. I hearkened to the scripture that promises a blessing to the merciful in heart; and determined, come of it what would, to let the Frenchy take his chance of falling into other hands.
Having given him a due allowance by looking at my watch, and thinking he would have had enough of time to have taken his will of the mutton-bone in the way of pyking, I went to the press and brought out a bottle of swipes, which I also shoved through the hole; although, for lack of a tanker, there being none at hand, he would be obliged to lift it to his head, and do his best. To show the creature did not want sense, he shoved, when he was done, the empty plate and the toom bottle through beneath the door, mumbling some trash or other which no living creature could comprehend, but which I dare say, from the way it was said, was the telling me how much he was obliged for his supper and poor lodging. From my kindness towards him, he grew more composed; but as he went back to the corner to lie down, I heard him give two-three heavy sighs.—I could not thole't, mortal foe though the man was of mine; so I gave the key a canny thraw round in the lock, as it were by chance; and, wishing him a good-night, went to my bed beside Nanse.
At the dawn of day, by cock-craw, Benjie and Tommy Staytape, keen of the ploy, were up and astir, as anxious as if their life depended on it, to see that all was safe and snug, and that the prisoner had not shot the lock. They agreed to march sentry over him half an hour the piece, time about, the one stretching himself out on a stool beside the kitchen fire, by way of a bench in the guard-house, while the other went to and fro like the ticker of a clock. I dare say they saw themselves marching him after breakfast time, with his yellow jacket, through a mob of weans with glowering een and gaping mouths, up to the Tolbooth.
The back window being up a jink, I heard the two confabbing. "We'll draw cuts," said Benjie, "which is to walk sentry first; see, here's two straws, the longest gets the choice."—"I've won," cried Tommy; "so gang you in a while, and if I need ye, or grow frightened, I'll beat leather-ty-patch wi' my buckles on the back-door. But we had better see first what he is about, for he may be howking a hole through aneath the foundations; thae fiefs can work like moudiwarts."—"I'll slip forret," said Benjie, "and gie a peep."—"Keep to a side," cried Tommy Staytape, "for, dog on it, Moosey'll maybe hae a pistol; and, if his birse be up, he would think nae mair o' shooting ye as dead as a red herring, than I would do of taking my breakfast."
"I'll rin past, and gie a knock at the door wi' the poker to rouse him up?" asked Benjie.
"Come away then," answered Tommy, "and ye'll hear him gie a yowl, and commence gabbling like a goose."
As all this was going on, I rose and took a vizzy between the chinks of the window-shutters; so, just as I got my neb to the hole, I saw Benjie, as he flew past, give the door a drive. His consternation, on finding it flee half open, may be easier imagined than described; especially, as on the door dunting to again, it being soople in the hinges, they both plainly heard a fistling within. Neither of them ever got such a fleg since they were born; for expecting the Frenchman to bounce out like a roaring lion, they hurried like mad into the house, couping the creels over one another, Tommy spraining his thumb against the back-door, and Benjie's foot going into Tommy's coat-pocket, which it carried away with it, like a cloth-sandal.
At the noise of this stramash, I took opportunity to come fleeing down the stair, with the gun in my hand; in the first place, to show them I was not frightened to handle fire-arms; and, in the second, making pretence that I thought it was Mounseer with his green foraging-cap making an attempt at housebreaking. Benjie was in a terrible pickle; and, though his nose was blooding with the drive he had come against Tommy's teeth, he took hold of my arm like grim death, crying, "Take tent, faither, take tent; the door is open, and the Penicuiker hiding himself behind it. He'll brain some of us with a lump of coal—and will he!"
I jealoused at once that this was nonsense; judging that, by all means of rationality, the creature would be off and away like lightning to the sea-shore, and over to France in some honest man's fishing boat, down by at Fisherrow; but, to throw stoure in the een of the two callants, I loaded with a wheen draps in their presence; and, warily priming the pan, went forward with the piece at full-cock.
Tommy and Benjie came behind me, while, pushing the door wide open with the muzzle, as I held my finger at the tricker, I cried, "Stand or be shot"; when young Cursecowl's big ugly mastiff-dog, with the bare mutton bone in its teeth, bolted through between my legs like a fury, and with such a force as to heel me over on the braid of my back, while I went a dunt on the causey that made the gun go off, and riddled Nanse's best washing-tub, in a manner that laid it on the superannuated list as to the matter of holding in water. The goose that was sitting on her eggs, among clean straw, in the inside of it, was also rendered a lameter for life.
What became of the French vagrant was never seen or heard tell of, from that day to this. Maybe he was catched, and, tied neck and heels, hurried back to Penicuik as fast as he left it; or maybe—as one of the Fisherrow oyster-boats was amissing next morning—he succeeded in giving our brave fleets the slip, and rowing night and day against wind and tide, got home in a safe skin: but this is all matter of surmise—nobody kens.
On making search in the coal-house at our leisure afterwards, we found a boxful of things with black dots on them, some with one, some with two, and four, and six, and so on, for playing at an outlandish game they call the dominoes. It was the handiwork of the poor French creature, that had no other Christian employment but making these and suchlike, out of sheep-shanks and marrow bones. I never liked gambling all my life, it being contrary to the Ten Commandments; and mind of putting on the back of the fire the old pack of cards, with the Jack of Trumps among them, that the deboshed journeymen tailors, in the shop with me in the Grassmarket, used to play birkie with when the maister's back was turned. This is the first time I have acknowledged the transaction to a living soul; had they found me out at the time, my life would not have been worth a pinch of snuff. But as to the dominoes, considering that the Frenchy must have left them as a token of gratitude, and as the only payment in his power for a bit comfortable supper, it behoved me—for so I thought—not to turn the wrong side of my face altogether on his present, as that would be unmannerly towards a poor stranger.
Nevertheless, and notwithstanding all these reasons, the dominoes, after everything that can be said of good anent them, were a black sight, and for months and months produced a scene of riot and idleness after working hours, that went far to render our housie that was before a picture of decorum and decency a tabernacle of confusion and a hell upon earth. Whenever time for stopping work came about, down we regularly all sat, night after night, the wife, Benjie, and Tommy Staytape, and myself, playing for a ha'penny the game, and growing as anxious, fierce, and keen about it, as if we had been earning the bread of life. After two or three months' trial, I saw that it would never do, for all subordination was fast coming to an end in our bit house, and, for lack of looking after, a great number of small accounts for clouting elbows, piecing waistcoats, and mending leggins, remained unpaid; a great number of wauf customers crowding about us, by way of giving us their change, but with no intention of ever paying a single fraction. The wife, that used to keep everything bein and snug, behaving herself like the sober mother of a family, began to funk on being taken through hands, and grew obstrapulous with her tongue. Instead of following my directions—who was his born maister in the cutting and shaping line—Tommy Staytape pretended to set up a judgment of his own, and disfigured some ploughmen's jackets in a manner most hideous to behold; while, to crown all, even Absalom, the very callant Benjie, my only bairn, had the impudence to contradict me more than once, and began to think himself as clever as his father. Save us all! it was a terrible business, but I determined, come what would, to give it the finishing stitch.
Every night being worse than another, I did not wait long for an opportunity of letting the whole of them ken my mind, and that, whenever I chose, I could make them wheel to the right about. So it chanced, as we were playing, that I was in prime luck, first rooking the one and syne the other, and I saw them twisting and screwing their mouths about as if they were chewing bitter aloes. Finding that they were on the point of being beaten roop and stoop, they all three rose up from the chairs, crying with one voice, that I was a cheat.—An elder of Maister Wiggie's kirk to be called a cheat! Most awful!!! Flesh and blood could not stand it, more especially when I thought on who had dared to presume to call me such; so, in a whirlwind of fury, I swept up two nievefuls of dominoes off the table, and made them flee into the bleezing fire; where, after fizzing and cracking like a wheen squeebs, the whole tot, except about half-a-dozen which fell into the porritch-pot, which was on boiling at the time, were reduced to a heap of grey aizles. I soon showed them who was the top of the tree, and what they were likely to make of undutiful rebellion.
So much for a Mounseer's legacy; being in a kind of doubt whether, according to the Riot Act and the Articles of War, I had a clear conscience in letting him away, I could not expect that any favour granted at his hands was likely to prosper. In fighting, it is well kent to themselves and all the world, that they have no earthly chance with us; so they are reduced to the necessity of doing what they can, by coming to our firesides in sheep's clothing, and throwing ram-pushion among the family broth. They had better take care that they do not get their fingers scadded.
Having given the dominoes their due, and washed my hands free of gambling I trust for evermore, I turned myself to a better business, which was the going, leaf by leaf, back through our bit day-book, where I found a tremendous sowd of wee outstanding debts. I daresay, not to tell a lee, there were fifty of them, from a shilling to eighteenpence, and so on; but small and small, reckoned up by simple addition, amount to a round sum; while, to add to the misery of the matter, I found we were entangling ourselves to work to a wheen ugly customers, skemps that had not wherewithal to pay lawful debts, and downright rascal-raggamuffins, and ne'er-do-weels. According to the articles of indenture drawn up between me and Tommy Staytape, by Rory Sneckdrawer the penny-writer, when he was bound a prentice to me for seven years, I had engaged myself to bring him up to be a man of business. Though now a journeyman, I reckoned the obligation still binding; so, tying up two dockets of accounts with a piece of twine, I gave one parcel to Tommy, and the other to Benjie, telling them by way of encouragement, that I would give them a penny the pound for what silver they could bring me in by hook or crook.
[Picture: An old Dalkeith body]
After three days' toil and trouble, wherein they mostly wore their shoon off their feet, going first up one close and syne down another, up trap-stairs to garrets and ben long trances that led into dirty holes—what think ye did they collect? Not one bodle—not one coin of copper! This one was out of work;—and that one had his house-rent to pay;—and a third one had an income in his nose;—and a fourth was bedridden with rheumatics;—and a fifth one's mother's auntie's cousin was dead;—and a sixth one's good-brother's nevoy was going to be married come Martymas;—and a seventh one was away to the back of beyond to see his granny in the Hielands;—and so on. It was a terrible business, but what wool can ye get by clipping swine?
The only rational answers I got were two; one of them, Geggie Trotter, a natural simpleton, told Tommy Staytape, "that, for part-payment, he would give me a prime leg of mutton, as he had killed his sow last week."—And what, said I to Benjie, did Jacob Truff the gravedigger tell ye by way of news? "He just bad me tell ye, faither, that hoo could ye expect he cou'd gie ye onything till the times grew better; as he hadna buried a living soul in the kirkyard for mair nor a fortnight."
CHAPTER TWENTY-SIX—ANENT BENJIE IN HIS THIRTEENTH YEAR
It is a most wonderful thing to the eye of a philosopher, to make observation how youth gets up, notwithstanding all the dunts and tumbles of infancy—to say nothing of the spaining-brash and the teeth-cutting; and to behold the visible changes that the course of a few years produces. Keep us all! it seemed but yesterday to me, when Benjie, a wee bit smout of a wean, with long linty locks and docked petticoats, toddled but and ben, with a coral gumstick tied round his waist with a bit knitten; and now, after he had been at Dominie Threshem's for four years, he had learned to read Barrie's Collection almost as well as the master could do for his lugs; and was up to all manner of accounts, from simple addition and the multiplication-table, even to vulgar fractions, and all the lave of them.
At the yearly examination of the school-room by the Presbytery and Maister Wiggie, he aye sat at the head of the form, and never failed getting a clap on the head and a wheen carvies. They that are fathers will not wonder that this made me as proud as a peacock; but when they asked his name, and found whose son he was, then the matter seemed to cease being a business of wonder, as nobody could suppose that an only bairn, born to me in lawful wedlock, could be a dult. Folk's cleverness—at least I should think so—lies in their pows; and, that allowed, Benjie's was a gey droll one, being of the most remarkable sort of a shape ye ever saw; but, what is more to the purpose both here and hereafter, he was a real good-hearted callant, though as gleg as a hawk and as sharp as a needle. Everybody that had the smallest gumption prophesied that he would be a real clever one; nor could we grudge that we took pains in his rearing—he having been like a sucking-turkey, or a hot-house plant from far away, delicate in the constitution—when we saw that the debt was likely to be paid with bank-interest, and that, by his uncommon cleverality, the callant was to be a credit to our family.
Many and long were the debates between his fond mother and me, what trade we would breed him up to—for the matter now became serious, Benjie being in his thirteenth year; and, though a wee bowed in the near leg, from a suppleness about his knee-joint, nevertheless as active as a hatter, and fit for any calling whatsoever under the sun. One thing I had determined in my own mind, and that was, that he should never with my will go abroad. The gentry are no doubt philosophers enough to bring up their bairns like sheep to the slaughter, and dispatch them as cadies to Bengal and the Cape of Good Hope, as soon as they are grown up; when, lo and behold! the first news they hear of them is in a letter, sealed with black wax, telling how they died of the liver complaint, and were buried by six blacks two hours after.
That was one thing settled and sealed, so no more need be said about it; yet, notwithstanding of Nanse's being satisfied that the spaewife was a deceitful gipsy, perfectly untrustworthy, she would aye have a finger in the pie, and try to persuade me in a coaxing way. "I'm sure," she would say, "ane with half an e'e may see that our son Benjie has just the physog of an admiral. It's a great shame contradicting nature."
"Po, po," answered I, "woman, ye dinna ken what ye're saying. Do ye imagine that, if he were made a sea-admiral, we could ever live to have any comfort in the son of our bosom? Would he not, think ye, be obliged with his ship to sail the salt seas, through foul weather and fair; and, when he met the French, to fight, hack, and hew them down, lith and limb, with grape-shot and cutlass; till some unfortunate day or other, after having lost a leg and an arm in the service, he is felled as dead as a door-nail, with a cut and thrust over the crown, by some furious rascal that saw he was off his guard, glowring with his blind e'e another way?—Ye speak havers, Nanse; what are all the honours of this world worth? No worth this pinch of snuff I have between my finger and thumb, no worth a bodle, if we never saw our Benjie again, but he was aye ranging and rampauging far abroad, shedding human blood; and when we could only aye dream about him in our sleep, as one that was wandering night and day blindfold, down the long, dark, lampless avenue of destruction, and destined never more to visit Dalkeith again, except with a wooden stump and a brass virl, or to have his head blown off his shoulders, mast high, like ingan peelings, with some exploding earthquake of combustible gunpowder.—Call in the laddie, I say, and see what he would like to be himsell."
Nanse ran but the house, and straightway brought Benjie, who was playing at the bools, ben by the lug and horn. I had got a glass, so my spirit was up. "Stand there," I said; "Benjie, look me in the face, and tell me what trade ye would like to be."
"Trade?" answered Benjie; "I would like to be a gentleman."
Dog on it, it was more than I could thole, and I saw that his mother had spoiled him; so, though I aye liked to give him wholesome reproof rather than lift my fist, I broke through this rule in a couple of hurries, and gave him such a yerk in the cheek with the loof of my hand, as made, I am sure, his lugs ring, and sent him dozing to the door like a peerie.
"Ye see that," said I, as the laddie went ben the house whingeing; "ye see what a kettle of fish ye have made o't?"
"Weel, weel," answered Nanse, a wee startled by my strong, decisive way of managing, "ye ken best, and, I fancy, maun tak' the matter your ain way. But ye can have no earthly objection to making him a lawyer's advocatt?"
"I wad see him hanged first," answered I. "What! do you imagine I would set a son of mine to be a sherry-offisher, ganging about rampauging through the country, taking up fiefs and robbers, and suspicious characters, with wauf looks and waur claes; exposed to all manner of evil communication from bad company, in the way of business; and rouping out puir creatures that cannot find wherewithal to pay their lawful debts, at the Cross, by warrant of the Sherry, with an auld chair in ae hand and a eevery hammer in the ither? Siccan a sight wad be the death o' me."
"What think ye then of the preaching line?" asked Nanse.
"The preaching line!" quo' I—"No, no, that'll never do. Not that I want respect for ministers, who are the servants of the Most High; but the truth is, that unless ye have great friends and patronage of the like of the Duke down by, or Marquis of Lothian up by, or suchlike, ye may preach yoursell as hoarse as a corbie, from June to January, before onybody will say, 'Hae, puir man, there's a kirk.' And if no kirk casts up—which is more nor likely—what can a young probationer turn his hand to? He had learned no trade, so he can neither work nor want. He daurna dig nor delve, even, though he were able, or he would be hauled by the cuff of the neck before his betters in the General Assembly, for having the impudence to go for to be so bold as dishonour the cloth; and though he may get his bit orra half-a-guinea whiles, for holding forth in some bit country kirk, to a wheen shepherds and their dogs, when the minister himself, staring with the fat of good living and little work, is lying ill of a bile fever, or has the gout in his muckle toe, yet he has aye the miseries of uncertainty to encounter; his coat grows bare in the cuffs, greasy in the neck, and brown between the shouthers; his jawbones get long and lank, his een sunk, and his head grey wi' vexation, and what the wise Solomon calls 'hope deferred'; so at long and last, friendless and penniless, he takes the incurable complaint of a broken heart, and is buried out of the gate, in some bit strange corner of the kirkyard."
"Stop, stop, gudeman," cried Nanse, half greeting, "that's an awfu' business; but I daresay it's owre true. But mightna we breed him a doctor? It seems they have unco profits; and, as he's sae clever, he might come to be a graduit."
"Doctor!" answered I—"Keh, keh, let that flee stick i' the wa'; it's a' ye ken about it. If ye was only aware of what doctors had to do and see, between dwining weans and crying wives, ye would have thought twice before ye let that out. How de ye think our callant has a heart within him to look at folk blooding like sheep, or to sew up cutted throats with a silver needle and silk thread, as I would stitch a pair of trowsers; or to trepan out pieces of coloured skulls, filling up the hole with an iron plate; and pull teeth, maybe the only ones left, out of auld women's heads, and so on, to say nothing of rampauging with dark lanterns and double-tweel dreadnoughts, about gousty kirkyards, among humlock and long nettles, the haill night over, like spunkie—shoving the dead corpses, winding-sheets and all, into corn-sacks, and boiling their bones, after they have dissected all the red flesh off them, into a big caudron, to get out the marrow to make drogs of?"
"Eh, stop, stop, Mansie!" cried Nanse holding up her hands.
"Na," continued I, "but it's a true bill—it's as true as ye are sitting there. And do ye think that any earthly compensation, either gowpins of gowd by way of fees, or yellow chariots to ride in, with a black servant sticking up behind, like a sign over a tobacconist's door, can ever make up for the loss of a man's having all his feelings seared to iron, and his soul made into whinstone, yea, into the nether-millstone, by being art and part in sic dark and devilish abominations? Go away wi' siccan downright nonsense. Hearken, to my words, Nanse, my dear. The happiest man is he that can live quietly and soberly on the earnings of his industry, pays his day and way, works not only to win the bread of life for his wife and weans, but because he kens that idle-set is sinful; keeps a pure heart towards God and man; and, caring not for the fashion of this world, departs from it in the hope of going, through the merits of his Redeemer, to a better."
"Ye are right, after a'," said Nanse, giving me a pat on the shouther; and finding who was her master as well as spouse—"I'll wad it become me to gang for to gie advice to my betters. Tak' your will of the business, gudeman; and if ye dinna mak' him an admiral, just mak' him what ye like."
Now is the time, thought I to myself, to carry out my point, finding the drappikie I had taken with Donald M'Naughton, in settling his account for the green jacket, still working in my noddle, and giving me a power of words equal to Mr Blouster, the Cameronian preacher,—now is the time, for I still saw the unleavened pride of womankind wambling within her like a serpent that has got a knock on the pow, and been cast down but not destroyed; so taking a hearty snuff out of my box, and drawing it up first one nostril, then another, syne dighting my finger and thumb on my breek-knees, "What think ye," said I, "of a sweep? Were it not for getting their faces blacked like savages, a sweep is not such a bad trade after a'; though, to be sure, going down lums six stories high, head-foremost, and landing upon the soles of their feet upon the hearth-stone, like a kittlin, is no just so pleasant." Ye observe, it was only to throw cold wayter on the unthrifty flame of a mother's pride that I said this, and to pull down uppishness from its heathenish temple in the heart, head-foremost. So I looked to her, to hear how she would come on.
"Haivers, haivers," said Nanse, birsing up like a cat before a cooley. "Sweep, say ye? I would sooner send him up wi' Lunardi to the man of the moon; or see him banished, shackled neck and heels, to Botany Bay."
"A weel, a weel," answered I, "what notion have ye of the packman line? We could fill his box with needles, and prins, and tape, and hanks of worsted, and penny thimbles, at a small expense; and, putting a stick in his hand, send him abroad into the wide world to push his fortune."
The wife looked dumfoundered. Howsoever—"Or breed him a rowley-powley man," continued I, "to trail about the country frequenting fairs; and dozing thro' the streets selling penny cakes to weans, out of a basket slung round the neck with a leather strap; and parliaments, and quality, brown and white, and snaps well peppered, and gingerbread nits, and so on. The trade is no a bad ane, if creatures would only learn to be careful."
"Mansie Wauch, Mansie Wauch, hae ye gane out o' yere wuts?" cried Nanse—"are ye really serious?"
I saw what I was about, so went on without pretending to mind her. "Or what say ye to a penny-pie-man? I'fegs, it's a cozy birth, and ane that gars the cappers birl down. What's the expense of a bit daigh, half an ounce weight, pirled round wi' the knuckles into a case, and filled half full o' salt and water, wi' twa or three nips o' braxy floating about in't? Just naething ava;—and consider on a winter night, when iceshackles are hinging from the tiles, and stomachs relish what is warm and tasty, what a sale they can get, if they go about jingling their little bell, and keep the genuine article. Then ye ken in the afternoon, he can show that he has two strings to his bow; and have a wheen cookies, either new baked for ladies' teaparties, or the yesterday's auld shopkeepers' het up i' the oven again—which is all to ae purpose."
"Are ye really in your seven natural senses—or can I believe my ain een? I could almost believe some warlock had thrown glamour into them," said Nanse staring me broad in the face.
"Take a good look, gudewife, for seeing's believing," quo' I; and then continued, without drawing breath or bridle, at full birr—
"Or if the baking line does not please ye, what say ye to binding him regularly to a man-cook? There he'll see life in all its variorums. Losh keep us a', what an insight into the secrets of roasting, brandering, frying, boiling, baking, and brewing—nicking of geese's craigs—hacking the necks of dead chickens, and cutting out the tongues of leeving turkeys! Then what a steaming o' fat soup in the nostrils; and siccan a collection o' fine smells, as would persuade a man that he could fill his stomach through his nose! No weather can reach such cattle: it may be a storm of snow twenty feet deep, or an even-down pour of rain, washing the very cats off the house tops; when a weaver is shivering at his loom, with not a drop of blood at his finger nails, and a tailor like myself, so numb with cauld, that instead of driving the needle through the claith, he brogs it through his ain thumb—then, fient a hair care they; but, standing beside a ranting, roaring, parrot-coal fire, in a white apron and gingham jacket, they pour sauce out of ae pan into another, to suit the taste of my Lord this, and my Lady that, turning, by their legerdemain, fish into fowl, and fowl into flesh; till, in the long run, man, woman, and wean, a' chew and champ away, without kenning more what they are eating than ye ken the day ye'll dee, or whether the Witch of Endor wore a demity falderal, or a manco petticoat."
"Weel," cried Nanse, half rising to go ben the house, "I'll sit nae langer to hear ye gabbling nonsense like a magpie. Mak' Benjie what ye like; but ye'll mak' me greet the een out o' my head."
"Hooly and fairly," said I; "Nanse, sit still like a woman, and hear me out;" so, giving her a pat on the shouther, she sat her ways down, and I resumed my discourse.
"Ye've heard, gudewife, from Benjie's own mouth, that he has made up his mind to follow out the trade of a gentleman;—who has put such outrageous notions in his head I'm sure I'll not pretend to guess at. Having never myself been above daily bread, and constant work—when I could get it—I dare not presume to speak from experience: but this I can say, from having some acquaintances in the line, that, of all easy lives, commend me to that of a gentleman's gentleman. It's true he's caa'd a flunky, which does not sound quite the thing; but what of that? what's in a name? pugh! it does not signify a bawbee—no, nor that pinch of snuff: for, if we descend to particulars, we're all flunkies together, except his Majesty on the throne.—Then William Pitt is his flunky—and half the house of Commons are his flunkies, doing what he bids them, right or wrong, and no daring to disobey orders, not for the hair in their heads—then the Earl waits on my Lord Duke—Sir Something waits on my Lord Somebody—and his tenant, Mr So-and-so, waits on him—and Mr So-and-so has his butler—and the butler has his flunky—and the shoeblack brushes the flunky's jacket—and so on. We all hang at one another's tails like a rope of ingans—so ye observe, that any such objection in the sight of a philosopher like our Benjie, would not weigh a straw's weight.
"Then consider, for a moment—just consider, gudewife—what company a flunky is every day taken up with, standing behind the chairs, and helping to clean plates and porter; and the manners he cannot help learning, if he is in the smallest gleg in the uptake, so that, when out of livery, it is the toss up of a halfpenny whether ye find out the difference between the man and the master. He learns, in fact, everything. He learns French—he learns dancing in all its branches—he learns how to give boots the finishing polish—he learns how to play at cards, as if he had been born and bred an Earl—he learns, from pouring the bottles, the names of every wine brewed abroad—he learns how to brush a coat, so that, after six months' tear and wear, one without spectacles would imagine it had only gotten the finishing stitch on the Saturday night before; and he learns to play on the flute, and the spinnet, and the piano, and the fiddle, and the bagpipes; and to sing all manner of songs, and to skirl, full gallop, with such a pith and birr, that though he was to lose his precious eyesight with the small-pox, or a flash of forked lightning, or fall down a three-story stair dead drunk, smash his legs to such a degree that both of them required to be cut off, above the knees, half an hour after, so far all right and well—for he could just tear off his shoulder-knot, and make a perfect fortune—in the one case, in being led from door to door by a ragged laddie, with a string at the button-hole, playing 'Ower the Border,' 'The Hen's March,' 'Donald M'Donald,' 'Jenny Nettles,' and such like grand tunes, on the clarinet; or, in the other case, being drawn from town to town, and from door to door, on a hurdle, like a lord, harnessed to four dogs of all colours, at the rate of two miles in the hour, exclusive of stoppages.—What say ye, gudewife?"
Nanse gave a mournful look, as if she was frighted I had grown demented, and only said, "Tak' your ain way, gudeman; ye'se get your ain way for me, I fancy."
Seeing her in this Christian state of resignation, I determined at once to hit the nail on the head, and put an end to the whole business as I intended. "Now, Nanse," quo' I, "to come to close quarters with ye, tell me candidly and seriously what ye think of a barber? Every one must allow it's a canny and cozy trade."
"A barber that shaves beards!" said Nanse. "'Od Mansie, ye're surely gaun gyte. Ye're surely joking me all the time?"
"Joking!" answered I, smoothing down my chin, which was gey an' rough—"Joking here or joking there, I should not think the settling of an only bairn in an honourable way of doing for all the days of his natural life, is any joking business. Ye dinna ken what ye're saying, woman. Barbers! i'fegs, to turn up your nose at barbers! did ever living hear such nonsense! But to be sure, one can blame nobody if they speak to the best of their experience. I've heard tell of barbers, woman, about London, that rode up this street, and down that other street, in coaches and four, jumping out to every one that halooed to them, sharping razors both on stone and strap, at the ransome of a penny the pair; and shaving off men's beards, whiskers and all, stoop and roop, for a three-ha'pence. Speak of barbers! it's all ye ken about it. Commend me to a safe employment, and a profitable. They may give others a nick, and draw blood, but catch them hurting themselves. They are not exposed to colds and rheumatics, from east winds and rainy weather; for they sit, in white aprons, plaiting hair into wigs for auld folks that have bell-pows, or making false curls for ladies that would fain like to look smart in the course of nature. And then they go from house to house, like gentlemen in the morning; cracking with Maister this or Madam that, as they soap their chins with scented-soap, or put their hair up in marching order either for kirk or playhouse. Then at their leisure, when they're not thrang at home, they can pare corns to the gentry, or give ploughmen's heads the bicker-cut for a penny, and the hair into the bargain for stuffing chairs with; and between us, who knows—many rottener ship has come to land—but that some genty Miss, fond of plays, poems, and novels, may fancy our Benjie when he is giving her red hair a twist with the torturing irons, and run away with him, almost whether he will or not, in a stound of unbearable love!"
Here making an end of my discourse, and halting to draw breath, I looked Nanse broad in the face, as much as to say, "Contradict me if ye daur," and, "What think ye of that now?"—The man is not worth his lugs, that allows his wife to be maister; and being by all laws, divine and human, the head of the house, I aye made a rule of keeping my putt good. To be candid, howsoever, I must take leave to confess, that Nanse, being a reasonable woman, gave me but few opportunities of exerting my authority in this way. As in other matters, she soon came, on reflection, to see the propriety of what I had been saying and setting forth. Besides, she had such a motherly affection towards our bit callant, that sending him abroad would have been the death of her.
To be sure, since these days—which, alas, and woe's me! are not yesterday now, as my grey hair and wrinkled brow but too visibly remind me—such ups and downs have taken place in the commercial world, that the barber line has been clipped of its profits and shaved close, from a patriotic competition among its members, like all the rest. Among other things, hair-powder, which was used from the sweep on the lum-head to the king on the throne, is only now in fashion with the Lords of Session and valy-deshambles; and pig-tails have been cut off from the face of the earth, root and branch. Nevertheless, as I have taken occasion to make observation, the foundations of the cutting and shaving line are as sure as that of the everlasting rocks; beards being likely to roughen, and heads to require polling, as long as wood grows and water runs.
CHAPTER TWENTY-SEVEN—"PUGGIE, PUGGIE"—A STORY WITHOUT A TAIL
The welfare of the human race and the improvement of society being my chief aim, in this record of my sayings and doings through the pilgrimage of life, I make bold at the instigation of Nanse, my worthy wife, to record in black and white a remarkably curious thing, to which I was an eye-witness in the course of nature. I have little reluctance to consent, not only because the affair was not a little striking in itself—as the reader will soon see—but because, like AEsop's Fables, it bears a good moral at the end of it.
Many a time have I thought of the business alluded to, which happened to take place in our fore-shop one bonny summer afternoon, when I was selling a coallier wife, from the Marquis of Lothian's upper hill, a yard of serge at our counter-side. At the time she came in, although busied in reading an account of one of Buonaparte's battles in the Courant newspaper, I observed at her foot a bonny wee doggie, with a bushy black tail, of the dancing breed—that could sit on its hind-legs like a squirrel, cast biscuit from its nose, and play a thousand other most diverting tricks. Well, as I was saying, I saw the woman had a pride in the bit creature—it was just a curiosity like—and had belonged to a neighbour's son that volunteered out of the Berwickshire militia (the Birses, as they were called), into a regiment that was draughted away into Egypt, Malta, or the East Indies, I believe—so, it seems, the lad's father and mother thought much more about it, for the sake of him that was off and away—being to their fond eyes a remembrancer, and to their parental hearts a sort of living keepsake.
After bargaining about the serge—and taking two or three other things, such as a leather-cap edged with rabbit-fur for her little nevoy—a dozen of plated buttons for her goodman's new waistcoat, which was making up at Bonnyrig by Nicky Sharpshears, my old apprentice—and a spotted silk napkin for her own Sunday neck wear—I tied up the soft articles with grey paper and skinie, and was handing over the odd bawbees of change, when, just as she was lifting the leather-cap from the counter, she said with a terrible face, looking down to the ground as if she was short sighted, "Pity me! what's that"?