A PLEASANT SIN
Captious people, such as ministers of religion and old maids of the precise kind, considered that the Seminary were guilty of many sins and mentioned them freely; but those excellent people erred through lack of vision. Hunting mice in Moossy's class-room, putting the Dowbiggins' clothes into a state of thorough repair, raiding the territory of the "Pennies," having a stand-up fight between two well-matched champions, say, once a month, and "ragging" Mr. Byles, might have an appearance of evil, but were in reality disguised virtues, feeding the high spirit of those who were active, and teaching the Christian grace of meekness to those who were passive. There was only one act which the Seminary knew it ought not to do, and which all the boys wanted to do, which they enjoyed very much in doing, and were quite willing to be punished for doing. The besetting sin of a school—a country school—which will remain its sin until the days of the millennium have fairly set in, was playing truant.
This crime was equivalent to high treason in the State, and consisted in a boy absenting himself from school without the knowledge of his parents, and without the consent of his master, for a day or half of a day. The boy did not disappear because he was ill, for he was on such occasions outrageously well: nor because he was overburdened by work, for the truants always guarded themselves against brain fag; nor because he wanted to hang about the streets, or smoke in secret places. He was simply seized with the passion of the open air and of the country. To tramp through the bosky woods, hunting for birds' eggs and watching the ways of wild animals; to guddle for trout under the stones of some clear running mountain burn, or to swim in the cool water on a summer day, or to join the haymakers on a farm, and do a full day's work, as long as lesson time and harder. There was a joy in escaping from bounds, as if an animal had broken out from a menagerie; there was joy in thinking, as you lay beside your burn or under the shadow of a tree, of the fellows mewed up in the hot class-room and swatting at their sums, under Bulldog's eye; and joy in coming home in the evening, tired, but satisfied, and passing the empty Seminary with defiance. There is no joy—I mean sin—but has its drawbacks, and there were clouds in the truant's sky. Country folk had their own suspicions when they came on a couple of boys going at large on a working day, when the school was in session, as one might have a shrewd guess if he came upon two convicts in their professional dress fishing in some lonely spot on Dartmoor. But there is a charitable sympathy with all animals who have escaped from a cage, unless it be a tigress looking for her dinner, and no one would have thought of informing on the boys, except one bad man; and Providence, using Speug as an instrument, punished him for his evil doings—as I shall tell.
"Well, laddies," some honest farmer would say, as he came upon them sitting by the burnside eating bread and cheese and counting up their trout, "I'm judgin' it will be a holiday at the Seminary the now, or mebbe the maister's given ye a day's leave for yir health. Or is this the reward for doing yir work so well? Ye have all the appearance of scholars." And then the good man would laugh at the simple raillery and the confusion of the boys.
"Dinna answer, laddies; for least said soonest mended, and ye mind where leears go to. But I'm thinkin' ye wadna be the worse for a jug of milk to wash down your dinner, and there's some strawberries in the garden up by, just about ripe."
So they all went up to the farm kitchen and had a glorious tuck in, and were afterwards turned loose among the strawberries, while the farmer watched them with keen delight and a remembrance of past days. Whose place in heaven for such deeds of charity is already secure.
The authorities at home were not so lenient, and the experienced truant was careful, when he could, to time his arrival home about five o'clock in the afternoon, which allowed for the school hours and one hour more of special confinement. According to the truant's code he was not allowed to tell a lie about his escapade, either at home or at school, but he was not obliged to offer a full and detailed statement of the truth. If his father charged him with being kept in at school for not having done his work, and rebuked him for his laziness, he allowed it to go at that, and did not accuse his father of inaccuracy. When, however, a boy was by habit and repute a truant, his father learned by experience and was apt to watch him narrowly. If the boy had an extra touch of the sun on his face, and his clothing was disorderly beyond usual, and his manner was especially unobtrusive, and his anxiety to please every person quite remarkable, and if in moments of unconsciousness he seemed to be chewing the cud of some recent pleasure, the father was apt to subject him to a searching cross-examination. And his mother had to beg the boy off with many a plea, such as mothers know how to use; and if the others did not succeed, and the appeal to the heart was in vain, she could always send the good man back upon his memory, and put it to his conscience whether he ought to visit too severely upon his son the sin the boy had inherited from himself.
It was next morning that the truant really paid for his pleasure; and the price was sharp, for there was no caning to be compared with that which followed a day in the country. It was a point of honour that no boy should show distress; but even veterans bit their lips as the cane fell first on the right hand and then on the left, and right across the palm, and sometimes doubling on the back of the hand, if the cane was young and flexible. Speug, though a man of war and able to endure anything, used to warm his hands at the fire, if the weather was cold, before going in to the inquisition, and after he had received a switching of the first order he would go down to the lade and cool his hands in the running water. It was an interesting spectacle to see four able-bodied sinners, who yesterday had given themselves to the study of Nature, now kneeling together, to efface their penalty in our waters of Lethe; but you must remember that they made no moan before the boys, and no complaint against the master. The school received them with respect when they came out, and Speug would indicate with a wink and a jerk of his head that Bulldog had exceeded himself; but he was not to be trifled with for an hour or two, and if any ill-mannered cub ventured to come too near when Peter was giving his hands a cold bath, the chances are that Peter gave the cub a bath, too, "just to teach him to be looking where he had no business."
Possibly fear of consequences might hinder some weak-hearted boys, but it never prevented any of the hardy ruffians from having their day out when the fever seized them. Playing truant was the same thing for a boy as bolting for a high-spirited horse; done once, the animal is bound to try it again, and to both, the joy of their respective sins must be very much the same. Boys did not plan a week ahead and then go astray in cold blood, because this sin was not an act of malice aforethought—it was a sudden impulse, not a matter of the will so much as of the blood. Had one determined on Tuesday night to take Wednesday, it might have turned out in our fickle climate a cheerless day, when a boy would as soon be playing marbles in the breaks, or cricket in the dinner-hour, or, for that matter, amusing himself in Moossy's class. No; a boy rose in the morning ready to go to school, without a thought of wood or water—arranging his marbles, in fact, for the day, and planning how to escape a lesson he had not prepared; but he was helpless against Nature if she set herself to tempt him. No sooner had he put his nose outside the door than the summer air, sweet and fresh, began to play upon his face and reminded him of a certain wood. As he went through the streets of the town, a glimpse of the river, steely blue that morning in the sunshine, brought up a pool where a fat trout was sure to be lying. As he crossed the North Meadow, the wind was blowing free from the Highlands, and was laden with the scent of hay and flowers, and sent his blood a-tingling. The books upon his back grew woefully heavy, and the Seminary reminded him of the city gaol frowning out on the fields with its stately and unrelenting face. He loitered by the lade and saw the clear water running briskly, and across the meadow he could catch a glimpse of the river, and in the distance the Kilspindie Woods with their mysterious depths, and rising high above the houses on the other side of the river was the hill where he spent last Saturday. The bell rings and he goes in, but not to work; the river is running through his heart, and the greenery is before his eyes, and the wind coming in puffs through the open window awakens the instinct of the wild animal in his breast and invites him to be free. Speug has a slate before him, but he is not pretending to do anything, he is looking out on the Meadow, and sniffing the air, just like a horse about to make its bolt. He catches Howieson's eye and reads that Jock is ready. Howieson inquires by signal of Bauldie whether he prefers compound fractions to a swim, and Bauldie explains, also by signal, that, much as he loves fractions, he will be obliging that afternoon and join them in their swim. A fourth would complete the party; and when Speug lifts his eyebrows with great dramatic art to "Piggie" Mitchell, three desks off, "Piggie," like the gallant spirit that he was, answers with a nod that he will not be found wanting. Not a word has been said, and no one will say "Truant" at any time, but at the next break the four separate themselves quietly and unobtrusively from their fellows, and by the time the last boy has gone through the door, they are scudding across the meadow to Speug's stable-yard, where they will make their preparations. Sometimes nothing more is needed than a hunch of bread and some fish-hooks; but as they ran Speug had dropped the word Woody Island, and a day on Woody Island was a work of art. It lay a couple of miles above the town, long and narrow, formed with a division of the river into its main current and a sluggish backwater. It was covered with dense brushwood, except where here and there a patch of green turf was left bare, and the island was indented with little bays where the river rippled on clean sand and gravel. It was only a little island, but yet you could lose yourself in it, so thick was the wood and so mazy, and then you had to find your comrades by signal; and it had little tracks through it, and there was one place where you could imagine a hole in the bank to be a cave, and where certainly two boys could get out of sight if they lay very close together and did not mind being half smothered. When you went to Woody Island, and left the mainland, you were understood to blot out the Seminary and Muirtown and Scotland and civilisation. Woody Island was somewhere in the wild West, and was still in the possession of the children of the forest; the ashes of their fires could be seen any day there, and you could come upon their wigwams in one of the open spots. There was a place where they had massacred three trappers and taken their scalps, and in that cave "Bull's-eye Charlie," the famous Indian scout, lying curled up like a ball, and with only the mouth of his rifle peeping out, had held twenty of the red-skinned braves at bay for a whole day. It was a fairy world in which our Indian tales could be reproduced upon the stage, and we ourselves could be the heroes we had so often admired. The equipment for the day consisted of four tomahawks (three axes out of small tool chests and one axe for breaking coals which "Piggie" used to steal for the day) two pistols (one belonging to Speug and the other to Bauldie); a couple of toy rifles—not things for kids, mark you, but long rifles with bayonets, and which could fire caps; a tent, which was in reality an old carriage cloth from Peter's yard; and a kettle for boiling water—I mean cooking the game—which Jock Howieson abstracted from his kitchen. Each boy had to visit his home on pretence of returning for a book, and bring away the necessary articles of war and as much food as he could steal from the pantry; and then everything, axes included, and, if possible, the rifles had to be hidden away about their persons until the four, skulking by back lanes, and separating from one another, reached the top of the North Meadow, after which they went up the bank of the river, none daring to make them afraid. They were out of bounds now, and the day was before them for weal or woe, and already Speug was changing into an Indian trapper, and giving directions about how they must deal with the Seminoles (see Mayne Reid), while Howieson had begun to speculate whether they would have a chance of meeting with the famous chief, Oceola. "Piggie" might want to try a cap on his rifle, but Speug would not allow him, because, although they had not yet entered the Indian territory, the crafty foe might have scouts out on this side of the river, and in that case there was no hope of Woody Island. The Indians would be in ambush among the trees on the bank, and the four would be shot down as they crossed.
Their first enemy, however, was not Oceola's Indians, but a white man—a renegade—who, to his shame, was in alliance with the Indians and was always ready to betray the trappers into their hands. This miscreant was a farmer on the mainland, who was the tenant of Woody Island, and had a determined objection to any boys, or other savages, except, as I have said, the Seminole tribe living on the island, and who used to threaten pains and penalties against anyone whom he caught on his land. One never knew when he might be about, and it was absolutely necessary to reach the island without his notice. There was a day in the past when Speug used to watch till the farmer had gone into his midday dinner, and then creep along the bank of the river and ferry himself across with the other trappers in the farmer's boat, which he then worked round to the other side of the island and kept there for the return voyage in the evening, so that the farmer was helpless to reach the island, and could only address the unseen trespassers in opprobrious language from the bank, which was sent back to him in faithful echo. This forenoon the farmer happened to be hoeing turnips with his people in a field opposite the island, and Speug was delighted beyond measure, for now the four had to drop down and crawl along through the thick grass by the river's edge, availing themselves of every bush and little knoll till they lay, with all their arms, the tent, and the food, concealed so near the farmer that they could hear him speak and hear the click of the hoes as the people worked in their drills. If you raised your head cautiously and looked through between the branches of a shrub, you could see him, and Bauldie actually covered him with his rifle. The unconscious farmer knew not that his life hung upon a thread, or, rather, upon Bauldie's trigger. Bauldie looked inquiringly to his chief, for he would dearly have loved to fire a cap, but Speug shook his head so fiercely that the trapper dropped down in his lair, and Speug afterwards explained that the renegade had certainly deserved death, but that it was dangerous to fire with so many of his gang present, and the Seminoles on the other side of the river. By and by the farmer and his people had worked themselves to the other end of the field, and the trappers, having ascertained that there were no Indians watching them, prepared to cross. Speug, who had reached the boat, spoke out suddenly and unadvisedly, for the farmer had chained and padlocked the boat. It would not have mattered much to the boys in ordinary circumstances, for they would have stripped and swum across, and back again when they were tired of the other side, for every one of them could swim like an otter; but that day they were trappers, with arms, and food, and a tent, and powder which must be kept dry, to say nothing of the kettle. There was a brief consultation, and Bauldie regretted that he did not shoot the farmer dead on the spot, and as many of his people as they could. Speug, who had been prowling around—though cautiously, mind you, and ever watching for a sign of the Seminoles—gave a low, mysterious whistle, which was one of the signs among the trappers; and when the others joined him he pointed and whispered, "A Seminole canoe." It was an ancient boat which the farmer's father had used, and which had lain for years upon the bank, unused. Its seats were gone, its planks were leaking, it had two holes at least in it, and there were no oars. It was a thing which, in the farmer's hand, would have sunk six yards from the shore, but it had the semblance of a boat, and it was enough for the hardy trappers. Very carefully did they work it to the bank, lest it should slip a whole plank on the road, and very gently did they drop it in, lest the Seminoles should hear. "Piggie" stuffed one hole with his bonnet, and Bauldie the second with his; Jock spread his jacket over an oozy part. They shipped all their stores, and one of them got in to bale, and the others, stripping off their clothes and adding them to the cargo of the boat, pushed out the boat before them, swimming by its side. It was a mere question of time whether the boat would go down in mid-channel; but so splendidly did "Piggie" bale, ready at any moment to swim for his life, and so powerfully did the others push, swimming with their feet and one hand, and with the other hand guiding the boat, that they brought it over safely to the other side; and the fact that half their clothes were wet through mattered little to men who had often hidden from the Indians in the water, with nothing but their eyes and nose out; and, at any rate, the food was safe. The matches and the percussion caps also were dry, for "Piggie" had taken care of that, and, in the worst emergency, they would have been carried on the top of his head if he also had been obliged to swim. They brought the boat into a little creek, and, communicating by signs to one another—for they were too old hunters to be speaking now, when there might be a party of Seminoles in that very wood—Speug and Jock hid themselves, each behind a tree with rifle in hand, to cover the others, while "Piggie" and Bauldie drew the boat up under cover of the bushes, and hid it out of sight, so that even a Seminole's keen eyes would not have been able to detect it. The trappers made another hiding-place, and left there the superfluous garments of civilisation, confining themselves to a shirt and trousers, and a belt which holds the pistol and tomahawk. Speug and Jock, as the two veterans who could discover the trail of the Seminoles by a twisted leaf on a branch, or a broken stick on the ground, warned their friends to lie low, and they themselves disappeared into the brushwood. They had gone to scout, and to make sure that no wandering party of Indians was in the vicinity. By and by a wood-pigeon cooed three times, "Piggie" nodded to Bauldie, and Bauldie hooted like an owl, then they knew that it was safe to advance. The two rejoined the scouts, whom they found on the edge of a clearing, leaning on their rifles in a picturesque attitude. "Bull's-eye Charlie" led, and the others followed, pausing now and again at a sound in the woods, and once at a signal from "Bull's-eye" they separated swiftly, and each took up his position behind a tree. But it was a false alarm. Then they went on as before, till they came to a pretty spot on the other side of the island, where they made their camp, cutting a pole for the tent, lighting a fire, which they did with immense success, and proceeding to cook dinner. As they had been afraid to fire, for fear of attracting any wandering Indian's notice, they had no deer nor wild turkey, which, in other circumstances, would have been their food; but they made tea (very badly, and largely because they wished to use the kettle), and they had bread and butter, which had turned into oil through the warmth of Bauldie's person, a half ham which Speug contributed, a pot of jam for which "Piggie" will have to account some day, and six jam tarts which Howieson bought with his last farthing, and which had been reduced practically to one in Jock's pocket. Speug had managed two bottles of stone ginger-beer, which were deeply valued, and afforded them a big mouthful each, as they drank without any cup, and shared honestly by calculation of time.
What a day they had! They fought Indians from one end of the island to the other, killing and scalping twenty-nine. They bathed in the quieter current on the other side, and they dried themselves in the sun, and in the sun they slept till they were burned red; and then just as they were thinking that it was time to go back to the camp and gather together their belongings and set off for home, Speug gave a whistle that had in it this time no pretence of danger, and bolted into the wood, followed by the other three. Whether he had heard the firing, or the Seminoles had sent a message, they never knew, but the farmer was on the island and proceeding in their direction through the brushwood. Speug did not think that he had seen them, and he would not quite know where they were, and in an instant that leader of men had formed what he thought the best of all his plans. He gave his directions to the other three, who executed a war-dance at the mere thought of the strategy, and then departed hurriedly for the camp; but Speug, who was naked, and not ashamed, started rapidly in an opposite direction, and just gave the farmer a glimpse of him as he hurried up the island.
"Ye're there, are ye, ye young blackguards! Wait till I catch ye; trespassin' and lightin' fires, I'll be bound; it's Perth gaol ye'll be in the nicht, or I'm no farmer of Middleton. Ye may hide if ye please, but I'll find ye, and ye'll no get the old boat to go back in, for I've found that, clever as ye thought yourselves, and knocked the bottom oot o' it."
It was twenty minutes before he discovered Speug, and then Speug was standing on the edge of the water at the top of the island, where the current runs swift and strong towards the other side.
"Was it me ye were seekin'?" said Speug, rosy red all over, but not with modesty. "I thought I heard somebody crying. We're glad to see ye on the island. Have ye come to bathe?"
"Wait till I get a grip of ye, ye impident little deevil, and, my word, I'll bathe ye," and the farmer made for Speug.
"I'll bathe mysel'," said Speug, when the enemy almost had his hands on him, and dived into the river, coming up nearly opposite the horrified man; and then, as he went down with the current which took him over to the opposite side, he invited the farmer to come in. When he landed Speug bade the farmer good-bye with much courtesy, and hoped he would enjoy himself among his Indian friends.
"Wait till I cross," shouted the farmer, "and I'll be after ye, and though I ransack Muirtown I'll find ye out. Ye're a gey like spectacle to go back to the town. Ye'll no escape me this time, whoever ye be," and the farmer hurried down the island to his boat, which he had loosely fastened to one of the trees. When he reached the spot it was not to be found, but he could see his boat lying in its accustomed place on the other side, chained and padlocked. For the other three trappers had gathered all their possessions and clothed themselves like gentlemen, and taking Speug's clothes with them, ferried themselves across with rapidity and dignity. Once more Speug bade the farmer good-night, extending both hands to him in farewell, but now the one hand was in front of the other, and the thumb of the inner hand attached to Speug's nose. He thoughtfully offered to take any message to Muirtown gaol or to the Provost that the farmer desired, and departed, wishing him a pleasant night and telling him where he would find the shank of a ham. As Peter dressed himself, his friends could only look at him in silent admiration, till at the thought of the renegade trapped so neatly and confined for at least a night on his own island, Howieson slapped his legs and triumphed aloud. And the four returned to Muirtown and to civilisation full of joy.
There is no person in a Scots country town to be compared with a Bailie for authority and dignity, and Bailie MacConachie, of Muirtown, was a glory to his order. Provosts might come and go—creatures of three years—but this man remained in office for ever, and so towered above his brethren of the same kind, that the definite article was attached to his title, and to quote "the Bailie" without his name was the recognised form and an end to all controversy. Nature had been kind to him, and, entering into the designs of Providence, had given him a bodily appearance corresponding to his judicial position. He stood six feet in his boots, and his erect carriage conveyed the impression of six inches more. His waistband passed forty-eight inches; but, to do the great man justice, his chest measure was forty-two. His chin rested in folds upon his stock, and his broad, clean-shaven, solemn, immovable countenance suggested unfathomable depths of wisdom. His voice was deep and husky, and the clearance of his throat with which he emphasised his deliverances could be heard half a street away and was like the sealing of a legal deed. Never since he became a Bailie had he seen his boots—at least upon his feet—and his gait, as became his elevation, was a stately amble, as when a huge merchant-man puts out to sea, driving the water before her bow and yet swaying gently from side to side in her progress. Sunday and Saturday—except when officiating at the Sacrament, and of course he was then in full blacks—the Bailie wore exactly the same kind of dress—a black frock-coat, close buttoned, and grey trousers, with a dark blue stock, his one concession to colour. As his position was quite assured, being, in the opinion of many, second only to that of the Sheriff and the Fiscal, he could afford to wear his clothes to the bone, and even to carry one or two stains upon his paunch as a means of identification. Walking through the town, he stood at his full height, with his hands folded upon the third button of his coat; but when he reached the North Meadow, on his way home, and passed the Seminary, he allowed his head to droop, and clasped his hands behind after the manner of the great Napoleon, and then it was understood that the Bailie's mind was wrestling with the affairs of State. People made way for him upon the streets as he sailed along, and were pleased with a recognition, which always took the form of a judgment from the Bench, even though it dealt only with the weather or the crops.
There was no occasion, either in the Council or in the Presbytery, when the Bailie did not impress; but every one agreed that he rose to his height on the Bench. No surprise, either of evidence or of law, could be sprung on him, no sensational incident ever stirred him, no excitement of the people ever carried him away. He was the terror of the publicans, and would refuse a license if he saw fit without any fear; but if the teetotalers tried to dictate to him, he would turn upon them and rend his own friends without mercy. When any Muirtown sinner was convicted in his court he would preface his sentence with a ponderous exhortation, and if the evidence were not sufficient he would allow the accused to go as an act of grace, but warn him never to appear again, lest a worse thing should befall him. There are profane people in every community, and there were those in Muirtown who used to say in private places that the Bailie was only a big drum, full of emptiness and sound; but the local lawyers found it best to treat him with respect; and until the Seminary boys took his Majesty in hand he had never been worsted. No doubt an Edinburgh advocate, who had been imported into a petty case to browbeat the local Bench, thought he had the Bailie on the hip when that eminent man, growing weary of continual allusions to "the defunct," said that if he heard anything more about "the defunct" he would adjourn the case for a week, and allow him to appear in his own interests. Then the advocate explained with elaborate politeness that he was afraid that even the summons of the Muirtown Bench could not produce this party, and that his appearance, if he came, might secure the court to himself.
"You mean," said the Bailie, eyeing the advocate with unmoved dignity, "that the man is dead. Quite so! Quite so! But let me tell you that if you had been a Muirtown solicitor you would have had your case better prepared, and not wasted our time with the talk of dead people. You are still young, and when you have had more experience you will know that it is only the evidence of living witnesses that can be received in a court of justice. Proceed with your case and confine yourself to relevant evidence—yes, sir, relevant evidence."
It only shows the inherent greatness of the man, that in private life the Bailie followed the calling of an Italian warehouseman, which really, in plain words, was the same thing as a superior grocer, nor was he above his trade for eight hours of the day. When not engaged in official work, he could be found behind his counter, and yet even there he seemed to be upon the Bench. His white apron he wore as a robe of office, he heard what the ladies had to say with a judicial air, correcting them if they hinted at any tea costing less than four and sixpence per pound, commanding a cheese to be brought forward for inspection, as if it had been a prisoner in the dock, probing it with searching severity and giving a judgment upon it from which there was no appeal. He distinguished between customers, assigning to each such provisions as were suitable for their several homes, inquiring in a paternal manner after the welfare of their children, and when the case was concluded—that is to say, the tea and the sugar bought—even condescending to a certain high level of local gossip. When the customer left the shop it was with a sense of privilege, as if one had been called up for a little to sit with the judge. It was understood that only people of a certain standing were included among the Bailie's customers, and the sight of the Countess of Kilspindie's carriage at his door marked out his province of business. Yet if a little lassie stumbled into the shop and asked for a pennyworth of peppermints, he would order her to be served, adding a peppermint or two more, and some good advice which sent away the little woman much impressed; for though the Bailie committed one big, blazing indiscretion, and suffered terribly in consequence thereof, he was a good and honest man.
The Bailie made only one public mistake in his life, but it was on the largest scale, and every one wondered that a man so sagacious should have deliberately entered into a feud with the boys of the Seminary. The Bailie had battled in turn with the Licensed Victuallers, who as a fighting body are not to be despised, and with the Teetotalers, whom every wise man who loves peace of mind leaves alone; with the Tories, who were his opponents, and with the Liberals, his own party, when he happened to disagree with them; with the Town Council, whom he vanquished, and with the Salmon Fishery Board, whom he brought to terms; but all those battles were as nothing to a campaign with the boys. There is all the difference in the world between a war with regulars, conducted according to the rules of military science, and a series of guerilla skirmishes, wherein all the chances are with the alert and light-armed enemy. Any personage who goes to war with boys is bound to be beaten, for he may threaten and attack, but he can hardly ever hurt them, and never possibly can conquer them; and they will buzz round him like wasps, will sting him and then be off, will put him to shame before the public, will tease him on his most sensitive side, will lie in wait for him in unexpected places with an ingenuity and a perseverance and a mercilessness which are born of the Devil, who in such matters is the unfailing ally of all genuine boys.
It was no doubt annoying to a person of the Bailie's dignity and orderliness to see the terrace in which the Seminary stood, and which had the honour of containing his residence, turned into a playground, and outrageous that Jock Howieson, playing rounders in front of a magistrate's residence, should send the ball crack through the plate-glass window of a magistrate's dining-room. It was fearsome conduct on the part of Jock, and even the ball itself should have known better; but the Bailie might have been certain that Jock did not intend to lose his ball and his game also, and the maddest thing the magistrate could do was to make that ball a cause of war. It was easy enough to go to Bulldog's class-room and lodge a complaint, but as he could not identify the culprit, and no one would tell on Jock, the Bailie departed worsted, and the address which he gave the boys was received with derision. When he turned from the boys to the master, he fared no better, for Bulldog who hated tell-tales and had no particular respect for Bailies, told the great man plainly that his (Bulldog's) jurisdiction ceased at the outer door of the Seminary, and that it was not his business to keep order in the Terrace. Even the sergeant, when the Bailie commanded him to herd the boys in the courtyard, forgot the respect due to a magistrate, and refused point-blank, besides adding a gratuitous warning, which the Bailie deeply resented, to let the matter drop, or else he'd repent the day when he interfered with the laddies.
"I was a sergeant in the Black Watch, Bailie, and I was through the Crimean War—ye can see my medals; but it takes me all my time to keep the pack in hand within my ain jurisdiction; and if ye meddle wi' them outside yir jurisdiction, I tell ye, Bailie, they'll mak' a fool o' ye afore they're done w' ye in face o' all Muirtown. There's a way o' managin' them, but peety ye if ye counter them. Noo, when they broke the glass in the Count's windows, if he didna pretend that he couldna identify them and paid the cost himself! He may be French, but he's long-headed, for him and the laddies are that friendly there's naething they woudna do for him. As ye value yir peace o' mind, Bailie, and yir poseetion in Muirtown, dinna quarrel wi' the Seminary. They're fine laddies as laddies go; but for mischief, they're juist born deevils."
There is a foolish streak in every man, and the Bailie went on to his doom. As the authorities of the Seminary refused to do their duty—for which he would remember them in the Council when questions of salary and holidays came up—the Bailie fell back on the police, who had their own thoughts of his policy, but dared not argue with a magistrate; and one morning an able-bodied constable appeared on the scene and informed the amazed school that he was there to prevent them playing on the Terrace. No doubt he did his duty according to his light, but neither he nor six constables could have quelled the Seminary any more than you can hold quicksilver in your hand. When he walked with stately step up and down the broad pavement before Bulldog's windows, the Seminary went up and played opposite the Bailie's house, introducing his name into conversation, with opprobrious remarks regarding the stoutness of his person, and the emptiness of his head, and finally weaving the story of his life into a verse of poetry which was composed by Speug, but is not suitable for a book of family reading. If the constable, with the fear of the magistrate before his eyes, went up to stand as a guard of honour before the Bailie's house, the school went down then to the Russian guns and held a meeting of triumph, challenging the constable to come back to the Seminary, and telling him what they would do to him. They formed a bodyguard round him some days, keeping just out of reach, and marched along with him, backward and forward; other days they chaffed and teased him till his life was a burden to him, for he had no power to arrest them, and in his heart he sympathised with them. And then, at last, being weary of the constable, the school turned its attention to the Bailie.
One afternoon a meeting of choice spirits was held in the North Meadow, beyond the supervision of the constable, and after the Bailie had been called every name of abuse known to the Seminary, and Speug had ransacked the resources of the stable yard in profanity, he declared that the time had now come for active operation, and that the war must be carried into the enemy's country. Speug declared his conviction in the vernacular of the school, which is here translated into respectable language, that the Bailie was a gentleman of doubtful birth and discreditable pedigree, that his conduct as a boy was beyond description, and that his private life was stained with every vice; that his intellect would give him a right to be confined in the county asylum, and that he had also qualified by his way of living for the county gaol; that he didn't wash more than once a year, and that the smell of him was like to that from a badger's hole; that it was a pity he didn't attend to his own business, and that he had very little business to do; that he would soon be bankrupt, and that if he wasn't bankrupt already it was only because he cheated with his change; that he sanded his sugar, and that his weights and measures were a scandal; but that the Seminary must do what they could to lead him to honest ways and teach him industry, and that he (Speug) with the aid of one or two friends would do his best for the reformation of Bailie MacConachie, and in this way return good for evil, as Mr. Byles, assistant in the department of mathematics, used to teach. And the school waited with expectation for the missionary effort upon which Speug with the assistance of Howieson and Bauldie, was understood to be engaged.
Next Friday evening an art committee met in a stable-loft on the premises of Mr. McGuffie senior, and devoted their skill—which was greater than they ever showed in their work—to the elaboration of a high-class advertisement which was to be shown round a certain district in Muirtown, and which they hoped would stimulate the custom at Bailie MacConachie's shop. Howieson had provided two large boards such as might be hung one on the breast and one on the back of a man, and those Speug had cut to the proper size and pasted over with thick white paper. Upon them Bauldie, who had quite a talent for drawing, wrought diligently for a space of two hours, with the assistance and encouragement of his friends, and when they set the boards up against the wall the committee was greatly pleased. Speug read aloud the advertisement with much unction—
CHEAP TEA! CHEAP TEA! CHEAP TEA!
SALE OF BANKRUPT STOCK AT BAILIE MACCONACHIE'S THE FAMOUS ITALIAN WAREHOUSEMAN, 49, ST. ANDREW STREET.
ELEVENPENCE-HALFPENNY PER POUND.
Sale Begins at One o'clock on Saturday. GLASS OF WHISKY FREE TO ALL PURCHASERS. Poor People Specially Invited. Be early. Be early.
BAILIE MACCONACHIE'S CHEAP TEA! CHEAP TEA! CHEAP TEA!
The three artists contained themselves till they came to the last "Cheap Tea!" then Jock knocked Bauldie down among the hay, and Speug fell on the top of them, and they rolled in one bundle of delight, arising from time to time to study the advertisement and taste its humour.
"'Bankrupt stock!'" cried Bauldie, "and him an Elder of the Kirk! That'll learn him to be complaining of his windows."
"'Poor people specially invited,' and calls himself an Italian warehouseman. I would give half a dozen ginger-beer to see Lady Kilspindie there," stammered Jock with delight.
"'Glass of whisky free!'"—and Speug took a fresh turn in the hay—"it's against law to drink whisky in a grocer's shop—and him a magistrate! He'll no meddle wi' the Seminary again."
"Be early!'" chanted Jock, "'be early!' My word! They'll be there, all the waufies of Muirtown; there'll no be room in the street. 'Glass of whisky free!'" and Jock wiped his eyes with his knuckles.
Upon Saturday, at noon, just as the Bailie was going along the Terrace to his house and congratulating himself that on that day at least he was free from all annoyance by the way, another character of Muirtown had started out through a very different part of the fair city. London John was as well known in Muirtown as the Bailie himself, and in his way was quite as imposing. Tall and gaunt, without an ounce of superfluous flesh, and with an inscrutable countenance, dressed in a long frock-coat which he had worn for at least a quarter of a century, and a tall hat which he had rescued from an ashpit, with the remains of a pair of trousers, and something in the form of a shirt which was only seen when he laid aside the outer garment for active service, London John stalked with majesty through the streets of Muirtown. He earned his living as a sandwich man, or by carrying in coals, or by going errands, or by emptying ashpits. He could neither read nor write, but he remembered a number and never forgot what was due to him, and the solitary subject on which he spoke was the wonders of London, where it was supposed he had lost such reason as he had at once possessed. His coming was always welcome in the poorer parts of the town, for the sake of his discourse on London, but never had he received such an ovation before in the Vennel, which was largely inhabited by tramps and tinkers, unskilled labourers and casuals of all kinds. The cheap tea might not have aroused their enthusiasm, but at the mention of a free glass of whisky the deepest emotions of the Vennel were stirred.
"Tea at elevenpence halfpenny," cried Tinkler Tam, who jogged round the country with petty wares, which he sold in exchange for rabbit-skins, old clothes, and other debris of a house, "and a glass of whisky free! Ma certes? let me get a sight o' that," and London John was brought to a standstill while Tam read aloud the advertisement to a crowd who could appreciate the cheapness of the tea, and whose tongues began to hang out at the very thought of the whisky.
"A lee!" cried the travelling merchant, touched at the suggestion of such deceit. "He daurna do sic a thing, else his shop would be gutted. Na, na, it reads plain as a pikestaff; ye pay elevenpence halfpenny and ye get a pound of tea and a glass of whisky. I count it handsome o' the Bailie; and if they didna say he was a teetotaler! It's awfu' how a man is abused."
"He gave me six days in the court," said Jess Mitchell, who had had a difference of opinion with another lady in the Vennel and received the Bailie's best attention from the Bench, "and if I hadna to hear him preach a sermon as long as my leg besides—confound him for a smooth-tongued, psalm-singin', bletherin' old idiot! But I bear him no grudge; I'll hae a taste o' that whisky, though I'm no mindin' so much about the tea. The sooner we're at the place the better, for I'll be bound there'll be more tea bought this day in Muirtown than a' the last year." And there was a general feeling that the Vennel had better make no delay, lest some other locality should obtain the first call.
As London John went on his way the news spread through the back streets and closes, and the Bailie's generous invitation fell on responsive ears. And if any person was inclined to doubt there was the advertisement in plain terms, and over the board with its engaging news the austere and unmoved countenance of London John. That worthy could give no information about the remarkable placard, not even from whom he received it; but he was quite sure that he was to take it through the Vennel and neighbouring streets for two hours, and that he had received a shilling for his labour, which he proposed to spend at Bailie MacConachie's when his task was done. He also explained that in London, where he used to reside, whisky ran like water, and tea could be had for the asking. But his hearers had no interest that day in London.
It struck the Bailie as he returned from midday dinner, and long before he reached St. Andrew's Street, that something was happening, and he wondered whether they were changing the cavalry at the barracks. People looked curiously at him, and having made as though they would have spoken, passed on, shaking their heads. When he turned into the familiar street, down which he was accustomed to parade with a double weight of dignity, an enlivening spectacle met his eyes. Every shopkeeper was out at his door, and would indeed have been along the street, had he not judged it wiser to protect his property, and the windows above the shop were full of faces. Opposite his own most respectable place of business the street was crammed from side to side with a seething mob, through which Mr. McGuffie senior was striving to drive a dogcart with slender success and complaining loudly of obstruction. Respectable working women were there, together with their husbands, having finished the day's work; country folk who dropped into town on the Saturday had been attracted to the scene; the riff-raff of Muirtown had come out from their dens and lodging-houses, together with that casual population which has nothing particular to do and is glad of any excitement. They were of various kinds and different degrees of respectability, but they were all collected in answer to Bailie MacConachie's generous offer; they were also all ready to buy the tea, and a large number of them particularly ready for the whisky. The first to arrive on the scene had been Tinkler Tam, who put down elevenpence-halfpenny in copper money upon the counter with a crash, and informed the Bailie's senior assistant that to save time he would just take the whisky while they were making up the tea, and was promptly ordered out of the shop for an impudent, drunken blackguard. Thomas, in the course of a varied life, was not unaccustomed to be called disrespectful names, and it was not the first time he had been requested to leave high class premises; but for once, at least, he had a perfectly good conscience and a strong ground of complaint.
"Impident, am I, and drunken, did ye say, ye meeserable, white-faced effeegy of a counter-jumper? If I werena present on business I would put such a face on you that yir mother wouldna know you; but I'm here wi' my friends" (great applause from the doorway, where the crowd was listening to the interview) "for a commercial transaction. Div ye no ken, ye misshapen object, that we're here on a special invitation of yir master, sent this mornin' to the Vennel?" (strong confirmation given under oath by Jess Mitchell), "and I'll juist give you the terms thereof, ye two-faced, leein', unprincipled wratch" (enthusiastic support from the street).
The ambassador of the proletariat—whose constituency filled the outer part of the shop, pressed their faces against the window and swayed with impatience across the street, and also seized a lamp-post for purposes of observation—rehearsed the terms of the advertisement with considerable accuracy and expounded them with various figures of speech, and then issued his ultimatum.
"Ye have heard the invitation sent oot by a magistrate o' Perth, and a man whom I've met on public occasions" (Tarn had been prosecuted before the Bailie under the Game Acts): "we're here in response to a public advertisement in terms thereof, and my money is on the counter. I call these persons present to witness that I've fulfilled my side of the covenant, and I here and now before these witnesses demand the tea and the whisky as above stated" (howls from the crowd, who were greatly impressed by this judicial effort, and were getting every minute more thirsty).
"It's maist extraordinary that the Bailie is no here himsel' to receive his friends; but what is done by the servant is done by the master—that's good law" (vehement support from Jess Mitchell, who at the smell of the shop was getting beyond control); "and I give ye two meenuts, my dainty young friend, and if the material be not forthcoming at the end of that time, the law will allow us to help ourselves, and gin ye offer ony resistance I'll pit ye and yir neebour inside the sugar-cask." And it was fortunate for every person concerned that the police, who had been somewhat perplexed by the circumstances, arrived at the scene, and turned Tinkler Tam and his friends into the street and themselves stood guard over the shop. It was at this point that the Bailie arrived and was received with frantic applause and a Babel of appeal.
"Hurrah for the Bailie! Come awa' man, quick, else yir shop will be wreckit. Where ha' ye been? The folk are cryin' oot for ye. It's time ye started on the tea and the whisky. Make way for the Bailie. He's coming to start the auction. Three cheers for Bailie MacConachie!" And the Bailie, limp and dishevelled, amazed and furious, was hustled through the crowd to see the Italian warehouse guarded by the police, and the mob of Muirtown clamouring for tea and whisky at his hand, while face to face with him stood London John, who had now been produced for the occasion, bearing on his back and breast the seductive advertisement.
"It's a brazen lie!" And the enraged Bailie lost all self-control as he read the legend on the board. "A low, mean, dirty trick, a deliberately planned fraud. It's perfectly iniquitous, in fact, juist—juist damnable! Bankrupt—who is bankrupt? Is't me?" And the veins on the Bailie's neck swelled visibly. "Tea at elevenpence-halfpenny! I never had such trash in my shop. Three shillings is the lowest, and I never recommended it. Whisky!—there is not a drop in the shop. Who dare say I would turn this shop into a public-house? I'll be at the bottom of this, though it cost me a thousand pounds. Who hired ye to carry round the board, ye peetiful creature? If ye don't tell the truth I'll commit ye to gaol this very meenute." And the Bailie turned the battery of his wrath upon London John, who was greatly flattered by his own prominent position, and not at all concerned about the Bailie's threat.
"It was," replied the Mercury of the Vennel, with great composure, "a big, stout man like yirsel', Bailie, that gied me the boards and a shillin'; or, noo that I think about it, he wasna so big, he was a little man, and gey shilpit (thin) about the neck. Dod! I'm no very sure, though, but that it was a woman wi' a red face and a shepherd's tartan plaid; at ony rate, if it wasna her it micht be a bit lassie wi' bare head and feet; and I'm thinkin' noo, Bailie, it was a bit lassikie, for she said to me, 'Have ye ever been in London?' Noo, Bailie, I would like to tell you about London." And if the police had not silenced London John, the Bailie at that moment would have had a fit of apoplexy, for it was evident that the trail was blind and there was no getting to the real person behind London John.
The crowd had listened with considerable patience and self-restraint to this conversation, but as soon as the hope of tea and refreshment died away, and they realised that some one had fooled them, they looked out for a victim, and settled upon the Bailie.
"Ye should be ashamed of yourself," and Tinkler Tam, standing out from the midst of the crowd, and sitting as it were upon the bench sentenced the Bailie in the dock. "It's a fine business to be playing tricks on the poor folk o' Muirtown, wilin' them from their work to waste their time at your shop-door and sendin' them awa' empty-handed. If it had been the first o' April, and ye had been a laddie, I wouldna hev said much aboot it; but at your age, and you a magistrate, to play sic a trick, it's perfectly disgraceful. Ye ought to get a month's hard labour, but aye thing's sure, ye'll no long be a Bailie o' Muirtown. It was fearsome to hear ye askin' London John who gave him the shillin' when he describit ye juist as ye are standing; then the puir body, when ye threatened him, brought in the lassie. Man, though ye're a Bailie and I'm naething but Tinkler Tam, I would scorn to make use of a poor natural that hasna his wits, juist to feed my vanity and gither a crowd round my shop." Then the crowd united in three long groans, and possibly might have shown their indignation in a still more pronounced form, but the police, being still further reinforced, drove them along the streets, while the Bailie hid himself in the recesses of his shop.
Three minutes later Speug sauntered into the shop with Howieson and Bauldie, and demanded a pennyworth of peppermint drops. He also remarked to Jock, as they were being folded up, "If there be as mony o' the Bailie's friends callin' at the shop on Monday, I doubt the police will no be able to spare a constable to keep order on the Terrace." And as a matter of fact the offensive patrol was withdrawn, and the Seminary resumed possession of the debatable ground.
THE FALL OF GOLIATH
Bailie MacConachie made a mistake when he risked a war with the boys of the Seminary, and it was colossal folly on his part to continue the war after his first defeat in the affair of the advertisement. No doubt it was humiliating to have his respectable place of business filled with the mob of Muirtown demanding whisky as a right, and threatening him with penalties as a covenant-breaker when they did not get it; he had also very good reasons for believing that the unholy inspiration which gathered the vagrants to his shop came from the Seminary. His best policy, however, would have been to treat the matter as a joke; and if the Bailie had stopped on his way to dinner, and told the boys plainly that he knew quite well they were at the bottom of the affair, that they were a set of confounded young rascals, that he had intended to hang six of them and send the rest to penal servitude, that he was going to forgive them for the sake of their unhappy parents, and because it had not been half bad fun after all, that there would be no more policemen before the Seminary, and there must be no more windows smashed in his (the Bailie's) house—the Seminary, which always respected a fellow who took his licking with good humour and didn't squeal, would have given the Bailie the best cheer he ever got in his public career, and a covenant of peace would have been made between him and the boys which would never have been forgotten. Had another pane of glass been broken by a Seminary ball, the value thereof in a packet of halfpence, with an expression of regret, would have been handed in before evening. The honorary freedom of the school would have been conferred on the Bailie, without any public ceremony, but with immense practical advantage, and although the Bailie was surfeited with civic honours, yet even he might have tasted a new pleasure as he passed along the terrace to see the boys suspend a game for an instant to let him pass in stately walk, and to hear Speug cry, "Oot o' the Bailie's road," and to receive a salute from tailless Highland bonnets that were touched to none outside the school, except to the Count and Dr. Manley. If Providence had given a touch of imagination to the Bailie, and his head had not been swollen by a position approaching that of the angels, he would have come to terms at once with the boys, in which case bygones would have been bygones, and he would have been spared much humiliation.
Unfortunately the Bailie allowed his temper to get the better of him, raging furiously in public places, and breathing forth threatenings about what he would do to the plotter, till all Muirtown, which otherwise might have pitied him, held its sides. He kept our single detective at work for a fortnight, who finally extracted from London John that the "boardies" containing the shameful advertisement had been given him by a man uncommonly like the detective himself and that the said "boardies" were not to be compared with those he used to carry in London. The detective also learned, on a somewhat risky visit to Mr. McGuffie's stables, that the Speug had spent the whole day of that historical Saturday till the hour of two—when he called for peppermints at the Bailie's shop—in cleaning out his rabbit-hutch and other domestic duties—this on the testimony of three of Mr. McGuffie's grooms, each of whom was willing to swear the same anywhere, or fight the detective, with gloves or without gloves, in the stable-yard or any other place which might be agreed upon. The Bailie also, going from bad to worse, offered a reward of L5 for any information which would lead to the conviction of the offender, and received thirty letters—so many anonymous, attacking his character, public and private, and so many signed, from various cranks in Muirtown, in which the crime was assigned to Irish Roman Catholics, to the Publicans, to the Morisonians, and to a tribe of gypsies camped outside the city. They were all annoying, but there were two which cut the Bailie to the quick. One was written from the security of Glasgow, in which the writer promised, on receipt of the reward, to send a full account of the conspiracy, and, having got the money, replied briefly that he left the matter to the Bailie's own conscience; and the second, which asked for no reward except the writer's sense of having done his duty, and which hinted that if the Bailie put the question straight to his senior assistant, he might find he had been nourishing a viper in his bosom, and that a young man with such a smug appearance could be little else than a rascal. This letter, which was written in a schoolboy hand, and had five words misspelt, was signed, "An Elder of the Free Kirk." None of the letters seemed to help the matter forward, and life at the Bailie's residence was very troubled during those weeks.
When news of the Bailie's vindictive spirit spread through the Seminary, the boys were much pained, for it was sad to see an old man forgetting himself and harbouring a spirit of revenge. It seemed, indeed, as if all they had done for the Bailie was simply love's labour lost, and that they must begin again to bring him to a proper state of mind. The Seminary loved peace and hated war, being a body of quiet, well-behaved, hard-working lads. Still, if war was forced upon them, and detectives set upon their track, it was a duty to themselves and their families to meet the situation bravely. Nothing could have been more successful than the last campaign; and, although Speug had never boasted, and none dared say that he had anything to do with it, there was a feeling in the Seminary that the conduct of the next campaign was safe in his hands. As it turned out, it was certainly safe, and one ought not to detract from genius, but there can be no doubt that Fortune played into the hands of Speug.
Much may be allowed to a broad sense of humour, and the walk of the Bailie was marvellous to behold; but it was rather poor business for Speug to walk half the length of the Terrace a yard behind the Bailie in an exact imitation of the magistrate's manner, although the school was hugely delighted. If the Bailie had taken no notice, the score had been on his side; but when he turned round and gave Speug a sound box on the side of the head, he lost himself, and out of that single mistake, by a chain of consequences, arose the scandal which almost drove the Bailie from Muirtown. Speug could not have hoped for anything so good as that foolish blow, and the moment that it came he saw his opportunity. Many a stroke had he endured in his day, from his father and from the grooms, when his mischief was beyond endurance, and from Bulldog when he caught him red-handed, and from the boys in a fight, and there was no one of his age so indifferent to such afflictions. Had the hand been any other than that of Bailie MacConachie, Speug would have made derisive gestures and invited the second stroke. As it was, he staggered across the pavement and fell with a heavy thud upon the street, where, after one sharp, piercing cry of pain, he lay motionless, but his moans could be heard along the Terrace. His one hope was that, when he had seized the occasion with such dramatic success, the Seminary would not fail to play up and support his role, and, although they were cleverer at reality than acting they entered heartily into their opportunity.
"Are ye conscious, Peter?" inquired Howieson tenderly, as he stooped over the prostrate figure. "Div ye hear us speakin' to ye? Dinna moan like that, but tell us where ye're hurt. What are ye gatherin' round like that for an keepin' away the air? Hold up his head, Bauldie? Some o' ye lift his feet out o' the gutter? Run to the lade, for ony's sake, and bring some water in yir bonnets."
It was pretty to see Jock and Bauldie lifting the unconscious form of their beloved friend, and carrying him carefully across the pavement, and placing Speug in a sitting position against the railing, and then rendering what would now be called first aid to the wounded, while that ingenuous youth kept his eyes tightly closed and moaned occasionally, to show that he was still living. Never in his life had Providence given him a chance of playing so much mischief, and he was not going to be disobedient. They opened his shirt at the breast to give him air, they anxiously searched the side of his head for the wound, and washed away imaginary blood with very dirty pocket-handkerchiefs. They bathed his forehead with such profuseness that the water ran down his chest, whereat Speug expressed himself in low but stern tones, so Nestie advised them to stick to his head; and some of the smaller boys were only prevented from taking off his boots by a seasonable warning from Bauldie and a reasonable fear of consequences. The Seminary circle was reinforced by all the message-boys within sight, and several ladies who were coming home from the shops. Two maiden ladies, against whose railings Peter had been propped in the hour of his distress, came out—their hearts full of compassion and their hands of remedies. As Jock and Bauldie did not consider it safe that Peter should be moved at once, one maiden lady placed a cushion between his head and the railings, while the other chafed his forehead with scent, and both insisted that Dr. Manley should be sent for at once. This was the first suggestion which seemed to have any effect on Peter, for it would not at all have suited his plans that that matter-of-fact physician should have arrived on the spot. And when a bottle of ferocious smelling-salts was held to the patient's nose, Speug showed signs of returning consciousness.
"Poor dear!" said one lady; "what a mercy he wasn't killed. A blow behind the ear is often fatal. He's coming round nicely. The colour is returning to his cheeks. Bailie MacConachie, did you say?" as Jock Howieson unfolded to the ladies in simple, straightforward, truthful words the story of the murderous attack. "I can't believe that any man would so abuse a poor helpless child." (At this moment Peter, who had been reconnoitring the whole scene through his half-closed eyes, seized the opportunity to wink to the mourners with such irresistible effect as to prove once again the close connection between tears and laughter.) "And him a magistrate," concluded the sympathetic female. "He ought to be ashamed of himself; but if I were the laddie's friends, I would make the Bailie hear about it on the deaf side of his head."
Upon a sign from Speug, who was getting a little weary of inaction, he was helped to his feet, and after one or two staggers seemed to come to himself, and submitted with agreeable humour to the attention of his friends, who dusted him from head to foot, under the superintendence of the ladies and to the huge delight of the message-boys, who were now entering into the meaning of the scene. His bonnet, which had been thoughtfully used as a water-can, was placed wrong end foremost upon his head, but Peter resisted the proposal to tie up his head in Bauldie's handkerchief, partly because there was a limit even to his endurance, and because Bauldie's handkerchief served many a purpose in the course of the day. The maiden ladies were anxious that he should rest in their house, but Speug indicated that he preferred to be taken home, where he could break the news himself to his anxious father. And so an impressive procession was formed, with so many boys in front to clear the way, and then Speug, upheld on the one hand by Nestie, and on the other by Jock, while Bauldie commanded the rearguard and kept the message-boys at a distance, in order to secure due respect for the sufferer. It was with difficulty that Speug could sustain his role until he and his friends got safely within the shelter of the stable-yard, when they plunged into a straw-shed and rolled together in one heap of triumphant mischief.
"You're a g-genius, Peter," said Nestie, "and it would be pure waste for you to be a h-horsedealer. You must go on the st-stage. The way you came whack on the pavement was j-just immense; and do you know, Peter, you looked quite nice when you lay f-fainting. One lady called you a pretty boy, and I was quite sorry you were unconscious."
"Ye're a disgustin' liar, Nestie, besides being an impident young brat. I heard every word, and she never said 'pretty'; but," and Speug looked round thoughtfully, "if I knew which o' ye emptied the water down my breast, I'd give him something to remember. I'm wet to the skin," and Speug made a drive at Bauldie, who caught Howieson by the leg, who pulled down Nestie by the hair of the head, and they all fought together in high glee. Speug extricated himself and demanded news of the Bailie. Then the three told Speug the story together in bits, one beginning where another left off.
"He was that astonished when ye coupit over that he couldna speak, and Jock cried, 'The Bailie has killed Speug.'" "He was wantin' to lift ye up, but Bauldie gets in afore him and dares him to strike ye a second time." "It would have done you good, Peter, to see the Bailie walking along to his house, just like an ordinary man, all the s-starch out of him, and taking a look back to see what was h-happening." "Aye, and he stoppit opposite the lade to get another look, and if Cosh didna empty a cupful of water on his legs by mistake! I didna think Cosh had the spirit." "He was ashamed to stand at the w-window, but I saw him p-peeping out behind the curtains, just to find out whether you were living." "If his servant lass didna follow us across the meadow, and, my word, she's back to the Bailie with a fine story." "He's sweatin' the now for fear he be taken up for assault, and maybe manslaughter." "What w-would you say, Peter, just to die altogether, and we would gi-give you an A1 funeral? If you'll just be g-good-natured and do it, I'll write your l-life myself. It's perfectly sc-scrummageous." And then Peter fell on Nestie, and Howieson on Bauldie, and they rejoiced together once more in the straw.
"You're 'avin' an 'igh 'ole time in 'ere, young gentlemen," and Mr. McGuffie's English groom looked down on the boys; "but you're missin' the Derby, that's what you are. Hold Pompous has come 'isself, and if he ain't been hexplainin' to the master 'ow he 'appened to knock Speug down. He's out o' breath now, and the master he's took up the runnin', and—my eye and Betty Martin—ain't he talkin'! Not cussin'—no, not one swear word has he let go. Young gentlemen, upon my Alfred David, if the master ain't preachin' for all the world as if he was a blessed beak on the Bench and old Pompous was a 'habit and repute.' It's as good as a circus; you just go and 'ear 'im," and in exactly one and a quarter seconds the boys were an unseen audience when Mr. Peter McGuffie senior gave his opinion of the conduct of Bailie MacConachie, which he had been doing already for some time with much effect.
"Imitatin' ye, was he, and followin' ye along the street, walkin' as ye walk, and so ye knocked him down in open day? Why should he not be doing as ye did? Is yir walk protected by law, that nobody dare step the same way on the streets of Muirtown? Answer me that, if ye please. Bailies are pretty high and mighty in this town, they are; but I never heard yet that the street belonged to them, and that a laddie was in danger of death if he followed in their steps. That would be a fine pass. Aren't boys always imitatin' somebody? Why, you stupid old fool, half the laddies in this district try to imitate me; and, as sure as ye're standing there, I've seen half a dozen of them, each one with a straw in his mouth, and the bit legs of him straddled, and his bonnet on the side of his head, and the belly of him stuck out like a pillow, just the eemage of myself. What would ye think of me if I knockit one of them down, ye double-distilled old fool?
"I'm astonished at ye, for ye might be pleased to think that the laddies, instead of copying a horsedealer, are trying to be magistrates. Didna the Provost tell the laddies the last time he gave the prizes to 'take notice of my freend Bailie MacConachie, and try to be like him?' And now, when one of them has taken his advice, if ye dinna turn round on the street and half kill him, till he had to be brought home half faintin' to his father's house! Fine-like conduct for a magistrate! Ye bloodthirsty old ruffian!
"Came to make inquiries, did ye? Ye made enough inquiries, by all accounts, on the Terrace. Expression of regret, was it? We don't want yir regret, ye hypocritical Pharisee! Present of a top? I wonder ye have the face! Ye break a laddie's head and then offer him a top! I can buy tops myself for my family. Confound ye! to think ye're standing there after manglin' a poor, defenceless, harmless, motherless laddie! Ye should be ashamed to show yir face in Muirtown; and if there was any public spirit in this town, ye would be drummed out o' the place!
"Look ye here, Bailie MacConachie"—and Mr. McGuffie adopted a conciliatory tone—"the best of us will make mistakes, and ye've made a particularly big one when ye knockit down Peter McGuffie in the face of the public of Muirtown. Ye may bet on that and take my tip for it. Let's settle this matter fair and sure as between man and man. Ye say ye're sorry, and ye don't want any noise made about it. Well, now, I've lived here man and boy for fifty years, and any man in Muirtown will tell you I'm straight. If I give a warranty with any horse, ye needn't be afraid to buy that horse, and I'll deal with ye on the square.
"Ye and me are about an age of and on, and we ought to be pretty even as fighting men. Ye have the pull of me in height, but I would say that I am nimbler on my legs. Ye might be called a heavy weight, and I am a middle weight, but there isn't much in that. We could meet pretty level with the gloves.
"Suppose, now, we just went into the straw-shed here, and stripped and fought the matter of six rounds, easy and quiet? There would be no mischief done, and no bad blood left, and that would be the end of the matter.
"Magistrate, did ye say, and elder in the Kirk. What do ye take me for? Do ye mean to say I'd split on ye, and go round Muirtown saying that Bailie MacConachie and me had a friendly turn with the gloves! Ye don't do me justice. Why, there's nobody outside this stable-yard would ever hear tell of it; and if they did, they would respect ye, and count ye an able-bodied man, which is more than a Bailie any day. Is it a deal, Bailie? Ye won't, won't ye, and I ought to be ashamed of myself, ought I? And a prizefight would be a disgrace to Muirtown, would it? Muirtown is pretty easy disgraced, then. Who's speaking about a prizefight, ye haverin' old body? But I see how the wind blows. If the other man stands a bare five feet, and ye can get at him before he's ready, ye're mighty handy with yir fists. Ye cowardly old sneak? But when ye're offered the chance of facing a man about yir own size, ye count it a disgrace. My opinion is, ye havna the spirit of a mouse in yir body! I'm ashamed to think ye're a magistrate of Muirtown! Dinna speak to me, MacConachie, for I might lose control and send ye out of the stable-yard, with my foot followin'! My advice is to be off as quick as ye can, for if some of the grooms got hold of ye they would make an awful mess of ye—they're not just particularly fond of magistrates, and they've a great notion of Peter.
"One word before we part, Bailie," and the Bailie took that word walking, "So far as I understand, ye might be arrested for assault, and I might prosecute ye for damages; but I will let ye off just this once with a word of solemn advice. Ye're a Bailie of Muirtown, and ye're an elder in the Kirk, and ye're an Italian warehouse-man; but for all that, MacConachie, remember ye're just a man. Ye're swollen up and fozzy with pride and vanity, and ye pace down the streets like an elephant let loose from a menagerie; but, MacConachie, consider ye're just a man. Ye're wily and cunning and pawky and long-headed, and ye're got yir own way in this town for many a year; but lay it to heart, ye're just a man. Ye've sat on the Bench and laid down the law, and when ye wagged yir head everybody kept quiet, and when ye've scrapit yir throat they thought it was Gospel; but, MacConachie, dinna forget it, ye're just a man. Ye needna hurry," and Mr. McGuffie, standing in the gateway of the stable-yard, pursued the Bailie along the street with exhortations. "I've said all I wanted to say, and I've just one word more. Ye've fought with the Tories and ye've fought with the Publicans, ye've fought with this body and with that body, and ye've beaten them, and ye thought ye were cock of the roost in Muirtown; but ye meddled with the laddies, and they've licket ye once, Bailie, and they've licket ye twice, Bailie, and if ye dinna cry 'Peace,' they'll lick ye again, and that'll be the end of ye, Bailie MacConachie."
When Mr. McGuffie returned to the stable-yard he called for his son, and passed a careful hand over Peter's head, and then he declared that Speug was a chip of the old block and prophesied aloud that there lay before him a long and useful life.
THE BAILIE'S DOUBLE
Muirtown is not a large city, and schoolboys of high principle and domestic habits used to go home in the dinner-hour and take the meal with their anxious mothers, who seized the opportunity of repairing the rents made in their clothes since morning, and giving them good advice on their behaviour. Thoroughly good boys, who had been tossed to and fro, much against their will, in the tempest of morning play, were glad to go into harbour and come back at two o'clock, not only revictualled, but also re-fitted and re-painted for the troubled voyage of the afternoon; and boys not so entirely good as the Dowbiggins, and other models of propriety, still appreciated the home trip, because, although there might be an embarrassing review of garments, and awkward questions might be asked about a mark on the face, there was always a toothsome dainty for a growing laddie, weary with intellectual work and the toils of a snow-fight. As the business of a horsedealer took Mr. McGuffie senior in various directions, and as in no case were the arrangements of his house since Mrs. McGuffie's death of an extremely regular character, there was no meal to which his promising son—Speug—could return with any confidence; and therefore Peter did not make a practice of going home at one o'clock, unless there was a special event at the stables, such as the arrival of a new horse, in which case he invited a few friends to an inspection, with light refreshments; or unless, having racked his brain to the utmost for four hours, he was still in sheer despair of mischief. With one or two other young friends of a like mind, he was accustomed to spend the dinner-hour in what might be called extramural studies—rowing over to the island below the bridge against the tide and coming back gloriously with the current; assisting the salmon-fishers to draw their nets and gather the silver spoil; in the happy snow-time raiding the playground of a rival school when the boys were away, and leaving insulting remarks wrought in snow; or attending the drill of the cavalry on the South Meadow. Like other guerillas, he carried his biltong and mealies with him, and took his meal anywhere and by preference when on the run. Perhaps that was one reason why Speug in after years made one of the best of South African fighters.
When Speug was disinclined for active occupation, and desired to improve his mind by contact with the greater world, he took a cab, or hotel 'bus (the box-seat of every one in Muirtown was at Speug's disposal, and his edifying conversation was much enjoyed by the driver), and went to spend his hour at Muirtown Station, which, as everybody knows, is at the shooting season a spectacle to be classed with Niagara or the Jungfrau for interest, and at any time is worth seeing. It pleased Speug, whose interests were varied and human rather than classical and literary, to receive the English express, or even one from Edinburgh, as it swept into the station; or to see the Aberdeen fast train fairly off; to watch a horse safely entrained, and if necessary to give understanding assistance; and to pass the time of day with the guards, ticket-collectors, and carriage-cleaners, the last of whom would allow him as a favour to see the inside of the huge mail-carriage, with its pigeon-holes and its ingenious apparatus for delivering letters at roadside stations while the train passed at full speed. It was an hour of what might be called irregular study, but one never knows what he may pick up if he only keeps his eyes open (and the eyes of Speug were as open as a savage's), and it was on a visit to Muirtown railway station that Peter found the opportunity for what he ever considered his most successful achievement at the Seminary, and one on which the recollection of his companions still fondly dwells.
When a cab passed the Muirtown Arms 'bus at the entrance to the station, and the cabman signalled to Peter on the box-seat, and referred to the contents with an excited thumb and great joy on his face, Peter knew that there would be something worth seeing when the cab emptied at the ticket-office; but he could not have imagined anything so entirely satisfying. First, Bailie MacConachie emerged, dressed in the famous frock-coat and grey trousers, in the high collar and magisterial stock, but without his usual calm and dignity. His coat was only half buttoned, his tie was slightly awry, and although his hat had been distinctly tilted to the side on getting out of the cab, he was too much occupied to set it right. Instead of clearing his throat as he alighted among the waiting porters, and giving them, as it were, the chance of honouring a live Bailie going forth upon his journey, he did not seem to wish for any public reception, or, indeed, for any spectators, and in fact had every sign of a man who desired to be incognito.
"No, no, I've no luggage to-day," the Bailie hastily explained to an obliging porter, and he stood between the man and the cab so as to block all vision. "Just running down to Dundee on business and ... seeing a friend off."
As the embarrassed magistrate endeavoured to disperse the porters, the driver, leaning over the roof of the cab, winked with much unction to Peter, and indicated to that ingenuous youth that it would be worth while for him to wait and see the mysterious friend. Speug, in fact, understood from all this telegraphic communication that there were going to be circumstances of a quite remarkable character, and in which he—Peter McGuffie—was expected to be personally interested. He dragged Jock Howieson, who was spending the hour with him, behind a pile of luggage, and from their hiding-place they saw, to their utter amazement, a second Bailie come slowly and gingerly, but yet withal triumphantly, out of the cab. The same height as the great man himself, and built after the same pattern; a perfect reproduction also in dress, except that the trousers were baggier, and the coat shabbier, and the collar frayed at the edges, and the hat had the appearance of having been used either as a seat or as a pillow, or perhaps for both purposes, at different times; and the air of this second, but by no means ghostly, Bailie was like that of the first, as confident, as mighty, as knowing, with the addition of a certain joviality of expression and benignant humanity, and a certain indifference to all the trials and difficulties of life which is characteristic of a man who has been "tasting," not wisely, but too well.
"Lean on me, James," said the Bailie, nervously, as the figure came with a heavy lurch on the pavement. "The faintness may pass off. Take care of your feet," and the Bailie shouldered his double to the ticket-office and propped it against the wall while he went to take the tickets.
It might have been ill, and the remarkable walk might have been due to weakness of the heart, for you never can tell, and one ought to be charitable; but there was no sign of an invalid about this new Bailie, nor was he at all too exhausted for genial conversation. He explained during the other Bailie's brief absence, to all who were willing to listen, in a style that was rather suggestive than exhaustive, that he had been paying a visit to Muirtown for the good of his health, and that he felt better—in fact, very much better; that where he lived the supply of liquid refreshment was limited, and that in consequence he had suffered through weakness of the heart; that he had intended to stay longer in a place where there was every comfort of life, and that nothing would have induced him to leave but the immoral conduct of his twin brother; that Bailie MacConachie, he was sorry to say, being his brother, was fearfully given to drink, and that he, James MacConachie, could no longer stay with him; that he, his brother, was not fit to be a Bailie, and that he was a hypocrite whose judgment would not tarry, and indeed, according to his language, was already pronounced. He also gave a certificate of character to the refreshment to be obtained at the Black Bull, Muirtown, and cheerfully invited any person who had a friendly heart to go with him there and then to drink the Queen's health. On seeing his brother returning, the figure concluded his address—which had been mightily enjoyed by three porters, a couple of Highland drovers, a Perth loafer, who had once passed through the police-court when the Bailie was on the Bench, and an elderly lady, who was anxious that a doctor should be sent for—by explaining once more that his brother was a gentleman beside whom the Pharisees were straightforward and honourable members of society.
As the procession was again re-formed, and the two Bailies left the ticket-office together, one of them waving a regretful farewell to his sympathetic congregation, the boys executed a war-dance of triumph; for the contrast between the twin brethren afforded just that kind of comedy which appeals to a boy's heart, and because they had an instinct that the incident would be of service in the war between the Bailie and the Seminary, which had gone on for a year and showed no signs of closing.
"The Bailie keeps him oot o' sight somewhere in the country, I'll warrant," said Speug to Jock, in great spirits, "and there's naebody in Muirtown kens he's got a twin brother. Dod, Jock, he's juist the very eemage of him, and he's got a suit o' his auld clothes on. It would take Dr. Manley himself or the Chief Constable to tell the one from the ither. Jock Howieson, if you and me could get the use o' that lad, we would have a michty time. I would give my four rabbits and ... and my skye terrier pup just for an hour of him." And although they had no hope that circumstances would deal so kindly with them, yet they went on to the platform to see the last of the two Bailies.
Under the influence of the senior Bailie's chastening conversation, who at first reminded his brother of a drunkard's end, which had no effect, and then threatened to cut off his modest weekly allowance, which had an immediate effect, the figure consented to be taken along the platform, and might even have been safely deposited in its carriage, had not the word "Refreshment-room," printed in absurdly large type, attracted his attention.
"Div ye see that, man?" said the figure, pointing jubilantly to the board. "I declare it juist a Providence. It's no that I'm thirsty, Bailie, and I canna bear drinkin'; that's never been a fault o' mine, though I doubt ye're fallin' into the habit yirsel'. No, I'm no thirsty, but I've a sinkin' at the heart. Ye'll come in, and we'll taste together afore we part. I forgive ye onything ye said. I bear no grudge, and I'll let ye pay, Bailie." And the figure had the Bailie almost at the door of the refreshment-room before he could make a stand.
"Mair than I can carry already, Bailie, did ye say? Gude forgie ye. I wonder ye're not black ashamed to say sic a word, and me draggin' ye along the platform and holdin' ye up, juist to cover yir character. Well, well, I canna fecht wi' ye, for I'm no the man I was once. The fact is, I havna strength to go another step, and if ye'll no let me get a cordial, I'll juist have to sit down on the platform." And the horrified Bailie had to accept the assistance of a porter to support his exhausted brother and to guide him to his carriage.
From an adjacent third class compartment, where Speug and Jock promptly secreted themselves, they heard the senior Bailie's exhortation to his frail kinsman—that he must on no account come out of the carriage; that he must hold his tongue and not talk nonsense to his fellow travellers; that he must not mention his—the Bailie's—name, nor claim to be connected with him; and that he must not come back to Muirtown again until the Bailie sent for him; and all this he must lay to heart as he valued his weekly allowance. The Bailie also expressed his deep regret, which, indeed, seemed to be very sincere, that he had to leave by the Dundee train before the departure of the slow Fife train by which his double travelled. And when this fact emerged—that the other Bailie was to be left even for five minutes at their disposal—Speug threw Howieson's bonnet to the end of the compartment, with his own following in a rapture of joy.
"Dinna be afraid," said the figure in the compartment to the Bailie on the platform, who was torn between his profitable business engagement at Dundee and the fear of leaving his brother to his own devices. "After the way ye've treated me and put me to shame afore the platform, I wouldna stay another day in Muirtown for a thousand pounds. I am no angry, Bailie," the figure continued with mournful dignity, "for that's no my speerit, but I'm hurt at yir conduct. Weel, if ye maun go, ye maun, and I heard the Dundee engine whistlin'; but for ony sake dinna be tastin' in Dundee and disgracin' the family. Drink is an awfu' failin', but ye canna say I havna warned ye." And as the Bailie hurried to catch the Dundee train the figure shook its head mournfully, with the air of one who hopes for the best, but who has had too good reason to expect the worst.
"Bailie," said Speug, presenting himself with a fine mixture of haste and importance before the figure which was still moralising to itself on the evils of drink, "div ye no mind that the Rector o' the Seminary is expectin' ye to address the laddies this afternoon, and they'll be waitin' this very meenut in the Latin class-room?" and Speug made signs that he should come at once, and offered to secure a cab. The figure could only shake its head and explain that on account of the disgraceful conduct of a relative, who had given way to drink, it had no heart for public appearances; but the idea of a return to the enjoyment of Muirtown was evidently filtering in.
"Are ye no Bailie MacConachie?" demanded Speug. "A porter threipit (insisted) that he had seen the Bailie in the Dundee train, but naebody can mistake Bailie MacConachie. The school will be terrible pleased to see ye, Bailie."
"Who said I wasna Bailie MacConachie?" and the figure was plainly roused. "Him in the Dundee train? Laddies, there's a black sheep in every family, and that man is a poor, helpless brother o' mine that's taken to bad habits, and I've juist to support him and keep him oot o' sicht. It's an awfu' trial," and the figure wept, but immediately brisked itself up again. "Of course I'm Bailie MacConachie. Laddies, was't at the Black Bull they're expectin' me?"
"The very place, Bailie; but ye maun say juist a word at the Seminary in passin'," and Speug signalled to a ticket-collector who had just come upon the scene.
"Would ye mind helpin' Bailie MacConachie oot o' the carriage, for he's forgotten an engagement at the Seminary, and he's juist a wee thingie faint with the heat?"
"It's no the heat, man," as the amazed collector helped the magistrate on to the platform, "it's family trouble. Are ye connected with the Black Bull? Well, at any rate, ye seem a well-behaved young man, and these are twa fine laddies." And outside the station, surrounded by a sympathising circle of drivers, who were entering into the spirit of Speug's campaign, this astonishing Bailie warned every one to beware of strong drink, and urged them to take the pledge without delay. He also inquired anxiously whether there was a cab there from the Black Bull and explained that the Rector of the Seminary, with his laddies, was waiting for him in that place of hospitality. He added that he had been on his way to the General Assembly of the Kirk, where he sat as a ruling elder, and he warmly denounced the spread of false doctrine. But at last they got him into the cab, where, after a pathetic appeal to Speug and his companion to learn the Catechism and sing the Psalms of David, he fell fast asleep.
By a happy stroke of strategy, Howieson engaged the attention of the sergeant in the back-yard, who considered that Jock was playing truant and was anxious to arrest him, while the cabman, fortunately an able-bodied fellow, with Speug's assistance induced the Bailie to leave the cab and convoyed him upstairs and to the door of the Rector's class-room. At this point the great man fell into low spirits, and bemoaned the failure of a strenuous life, in which he had vainly fought the immorality of Muirtown, and declared, unless he obtained an immediate tonic, he would succumb to a broken heart. He also charged Speug with treachery in having brought him to the County Gaol instead of to the Black Bull. It was painfully explained him that he was now in the Seminary, and within that door an anxious school was waiting for him—Bailie MacConachie—and his address.
"Who said I wasna Bailie MacConachie, and that I was a drunken body? I'll teach them to smuggle me oot o' Muirtown as if I was a waufie (disreputable character). He thinks I'm at Leuchars, but I'm here" (with much triumph), "and I'm Bailie MacConachie" (with much dignity). And the Bailie was evidently full awake.
"Losh keeps, laddies, what am I saying? Family troubles shakes the mind. Take the pledge when ye're young, laddie, and ye'll no regret it when ye're old. I've been an abstainer since the age of ten. Noo, laddie" (with much cunning), "If I am to address the school, what think ye would be a fine subject, apairt from the Catechism? for it's a responsibility, especially me being a Bailie. If ye can mind onything, laddie, I'll give ye sixpence next time we meet."
Although Speug was reticent in the class, for reasons that commended themselves to his practical judgment, he had a rich wealth of speech upon occasion, and he fairly drilled into the head of Bailie MacConachie's double that it had been a very foolish thing for him—the Bailie—to quarrel with the Seminary about their playground upon the Meadow, and an act of an unchristian bitterness to strike him—the Speug—upon the head and nearly injure him for life, but that he—the Bailie—was sorry for all his bad conduct, and that he would never do the like again as long as he was Bailie of Muirtown; and Speug concluded, while the cabman stood open-mouthed with admiration, "Ye micht juist say that ye have an awfu' respect for me—Speug—ye know."
"I'll be sure to do that," said the delighted Bailie, "for it's a fact. Ye're a fine laddie and have a fearsome power o' the gab (mouth); I expect to see ye in the pulpit yet; but keeps a' it's time I was at the Black Bull, so ye micht juist slip in and tell the Rector I'm at the door—Bailie MacConachie of Muirtown."
Had it been the class-room of Bulldog, master of mathematics, arithmetic, and writing, and, it might also be added, master of discipline, Speug would as soon have ventured into his presence on such an errand as into the lion's den of the travelling menagerie which had recently visited Muirtown, and at which he had spent many an unlicensed hour. But the Rector was that dear delight of boys, a short-sighted, absent-minded, unsuspicious scholar, who lived in a world of his own with Homer and Horace, and could only be fairly roused (to sorrow) by a false quantity or (to joy) by a happy translation.
Muirtown Seminary had an inexhaustible confidence in Speug's genius for mischief and effrontery of manner, but the Rector's class sat breathless when Peter came in with an unshaken countenance, and politely intimated to the Rector that a magistrate of Muirtown had come and desired to speak to the school. Before the Rector could fairly withdraw himself from a cunning phrase of Horace's, or the school had energy to cheer, the wonderful Bailie was launched into the room with almost too much vigour by the cabman, who remained in the shadow and whispered a last direction to "hold up your head and keep to the right." They had forgotten—Speug's only oversight—to take off the Bailie's hat, which was set jauntily on the side of his head, and the course which he took through the room was devious, and mainly regulated by the furniture, while his expression was a fine blend of affable dignity and genial good humour. "Gosh!" exclaimed Bauldie, and he liberated the feeling of the class, who understood that their enemy had been delivered into their hands, and that Peter McGuffie—their own Speug—had been the means thereof. Yet could it be the case? Yes! It was the very countenance, line by line, and the very clothes, piece by piece, though looking a trifle shabby, of the premier Bailie of Muirtown, and it was evident that he had been "tasting," and that very freely.
"I am—er—proud to bid you welcome, Mr. Bailie," said the Rector, bowing with old-fashioned courtesy, and not having the faintest idea what like was the figure before him. "We are always delighted to receive a visit from any of the magistrates of the city, who are to our humble school" (and here the Rector was very gracious) "what Maecenas was to Horace, whose curiosa felicitas we are now studying. Is it your pleasure, Mr. Bailie, to examine the school?"
During this stately reception the Bailie came to rest upon a desk, and regarded the Rector's flowing gown with unconcealed admiration, which he indicated to the school by frank gestures.
"It would be a great satisfaction to hear the laddies answer 'The Chief End of Man,' and to say juist a word to them aboot good conduct; but you and me has an engagement, and ye ken where we're expected. I juist looked in to say——" And here the worthy man's thoughts began to wander, and he made an indistinct allusion to the Black Bull, so that Speug had to prompt him severely from behind. "Aye, aye! we're all poor, frail creatures, and I'm the last man to hurt the feelings of the Seminary. Seminary laddie mysel', prize medal Greek. Bygones be bygones!... No man in Muirtown I respect more than ... Speug an honourable tradesman" (breaking away on his own account with much spirit), "a faithful husband, and an affectionate father. What? All a mistake from beginning to end. Family trouble did it—conduct of a relative," and the Bailie wept. Bailies and other municipal dignitaries were a species of human beings so strange and incalculable to the Rector, that he was hardly amazed at anything that they might say; and having some vague idea that there had been a quarrel between the Seminary and some Bailie or other, about something or other, some time or other, he concluded that this was an official intimation that the quarrel was over, and that it was in style and allusion according to the habits of municipal circles.
"It is," he responded, bowing again, "my grateful duty, as Rector of the Seminary, to thank you for your presence here to-day—the Mercury of the gods, if I may say so—and for your courteous intimation that the—er—controversy to which you—er—have delicately alluded is healed. Any dispute between the Council and the Seminary could only have a favourable issue. Amantium irae amoris integratio has had another illustration, Mr. Bailie; but it would please us that you should hear the class translate the Ode we have in hand, which happens to be 'Ad Sodales.'" And a boy began to translate "Nunc est bibendum."
"Time to drink, did ye say?" and the Bailie, who had been taking a brief nap, was immediately conscious. "Man, ye never said a truer word. Work hard at yir lessons, laddies, and for ony sake dinna forget the Catechism. Yir maister has an engagement wi' me, and he'll no be back for an hour. Come awa,' man" (in a loud whisper to the amazed Rector), "it's time we were off." And the Bailie, making a hurried rush for the door, found himself in the arms of the school sergeant, who had caught the sound of the uproar in the Rector's class-room, and suspected trouble.