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Title: Auld Licht Idyls
Author: Barrie, J. M. (James Matthew)
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.

*** Start of this LibraryBlog Digital Book "Auld Licht Idyls" ***


By J. M. Barrie





     II.   THRUMS




Early this morning I opened a window in my school-house in the glen of
Quharity, awakened by the shivering of a starving sparrow against the
frosted glass. As the snowy sash creaked in my hand, he made off to the
waterspout that suspends its “tangles” of ice over a gaping tank, and,
rebounding from that, with a quiver of his little black breast, bobbed
through the network of wire and joined a few of his fellows in a forlorn
hop round the henhouse in search of food. Two days ago my hilarious
bantam-cock, saucy to the last, my cheeriest companion, was found frozen
in his own water-trough, the corn-saucer in three pieces by his side.
Since then I have taken the hens into the house. At meal-times they
litter the hearth with each other’s feathers; but for the most part they
give little trouble, roosting on the rafters of the low-roofed kitchen
among staves and fishing-rods.

Another white blanket has been spread upon the glen since I looked out
last night; for over the same wilderness of snow that has met my gaze
for a week, I see the steading of Waster Lunny sunk deeper into the
waste. The school-house, I suppose, serves similarly as a snow-mark for
the people at the farm. Unless that is Waster Lunny’s grieve foddering
the cattle in the snow, not a living thing is visible. The ghostlike
hills that pen in the glen have ceased to echo to the sharp crack of the
sportsman’s gun (so clear in the frosty air as to be a warning to every
rabbit and partridge in the valley); and only giant Catlaw shows here
and there a black ridge, rearing his head at the entrance to the glen
and struggling ineffectually to cast off his shroud. Most wintry sign of
all I think, as I close the window hastily, is the open farm-stile, its
poles lying embedded in the snow where they were last flung by Waster
Lunny’s herd. Through the still air comes from a distance a vibration
as of a tuning-fork: a robin, perhaps, alighting on the wire of a broken

In the warm kitchen, where I dawdle over my breakfast, the widowed
bantam-hen has perched on the back of my drowsy cat. It is needless
to go through the form of opening the school to-day; for, with the
exception of Waster Lunny’s girl, I have had no scholars for nine days.
Yesterday she announced that there would be no more schooling till it
was fresh, “as she wasna comin’;” and indeed, though the smoke from the
farm chimneys is a pretty prospect for a snowed-up school-master, the
trudge between the two houses must be weary work for a bairn. As for the
other children, who have to come from all parts of the hills and glen,
I may not see them for weeks. Last year the school was practically
deserted for a month. A pleasant outlook, with the March examinations
staring me in the face, and an inspector fresh from Oxford. I wonder
what he would say if he saw me to-day digging myself out of the
school-house with the spade I now keep for the purpose in my bedroom.

The kail grows brittle from the snow in my dank and cheerless garden. A
crust of bread gathers timid pheasants round me. The robins, I see, have
made the coal-house their home. Waster Lunny’s dog never barks without
rousing my sluggish cat to a joyful response. It is Dutch courage with
the birds and beasts of the glen, hard driven for food; but I look
attentively for them in these long forenoons, and they have begun to
regard me as one of themselves. My breath freezes, despite my pipe, as
I peer from the door: and with a fortnight-old newspaper I retire to the
ingle-nook. The friendliest thing I have seen to-day is the well-smoked
ham suspended, from my kitchen rafters. It was a gift from the farm of
Tullin, with a load of peats, the day before the snow began to fall. I
doubt if I have seen a cart since.

This afternoon I was the not altogether passive spectator of a curious
scene in natural history. My feet encased in stout “tackety” boots, I
had waded down two of Waster Lunny’s fields to the glen burn: in summer
the never-failing larder from which, with wriggling worm or garish fly,
I can any morning whip a savory breakfast; in the winter time the only
thing in the valley that defies the ice-king’s chloroform. I watched the
water twisting black and solemn through the snow, the ragged ice on its
edge proof of the toughness of the struggle with the frost, from which
it has, after all, crept only half victorious. A bare wild rose-bush
on the farther bank was violently agitated, and then there ran from its
root a black-headed rat with wings. Such was the general effect. I was
not less interested when my startled eyes divided this phenomenon into
its component parts, and recognized in the disturbance on the opposite
bank only another fierce struggle among the hungry animals for
existence: they need no professor to teach them the doctrine of the
survival of the fittest. A weasel had gripped a water-hen (whit-tit
and beltie they are called In these parts) cowering at the root of the
rose-bush, and was being dragged down the bank by the terrified
bird, which made for the water as its only chance of escape. In less
disadvantageous circumstances the weasel would have made short work of
his victim; but as he only had the bird by the tail, the prospects of
the combatants were equalized. It was the tug-of-war being played with a
life as the stakes. “If I do not reach the water,” was the argument that
went on in the heaving little breast of the one, “I am a dead bird.”
 “If this water-hen,” reasoned the other, “reaches the burn, my supper
vanishes with her.” Down the sloping bank the hen had distinctly the
best of it, but after that came a yard, of level snow, and here she
tugged and screamed in vain. I had so far been an unobserved spectator;
but my sympathies were with the beltie, and, thinking it high time to
interfere, I jumped into the water. The water-hen gave one mighty final
tug and toppled into the burn; while the weasel viciously showed me
his teeth, and then stole slowly up the bank to the rose-bush, whence,
“girning,” he watched me lift his exhausted victim from the water, and
set off with her for the school-house. Except for her draggled tail,
she already looks wonderfully composed, and so long as the frost holds I
shall have little difficulty in keeping her with me. On Sunday I found
a frozen sparrow, whose heart had almost ceased to beat, in the disused
pigsty, and put him for warmth into my breast-pocket. The ungrateful
little scrub bolted without a word of thanks about ten minutes
afterward, to the alarm of my cat, which had not known his whereabouts.

I am alone in the school-house. On just such an evening as this last
year my desolation drove me to Waster Lunny, where I was storm-stayed
for the night. The recollection decides me to court my own warm hearth,
to challenge my right hand again to a game at the “dambrod” against
my left. I do not lock the school-house door at nights; for even a
highwayman (there is no such luck) would be received with open arms, and
I doubt if there be a barred door in all the glen. But it is cosier to
put on the shutters. The road to Thrums has lost itself miles down the
valley. I wonder what they are doing out in the world. Though I am the
Free Church precentor in Thrums (ten pounds a year, and the little town
is five miles away), they have not seen me for three weeks. A packman
whom I thawed yesterday at my kitchen fire tells me that last Sabbath
only the Auld Lichts held service. Other people realized that they were
snowed up. Far up the glen, after it twists out of view, a manse
and half a dozen thatched cottages that are there may still show a
candle-light, and the crumbling gravestones keep cold vigil round the
gray old kirk. Heavy shadows fade into the sky to the north. A flake
trembles against the window; but it is too cold for much snow to-night.
The shutter bars the outer world from the school-house.



Thrums is the name I give here to the handful of houses jumbled together
in a cup, which is the town nearest the school-house. Until twenty
years ago its every other room, earthen-floored and showing the rafters
overhead, had a hand-loom, and hundreds of weavers lived and died
Thoreaus “ben the hoose” without knowing it. In those days the cup
overflowed and left several houses on the top of the hill, where their
cold skeletons still stand. The road that climbs from the square, which
is Thrums’ heart, to the north is so steep and straight, that in a sharp
frost children hunker at the top and are blown down with a roar and a
rush on rails of ice. At such times, when viewed from the cemetery where
the traveller from the school-house gets his first glimpse of the little
town. Thrums is but two church-steeples and a dozen red-stone patches
standing out of a snow-heap. One of the steeples belongs to the new Free
Kirk, and the other to the parish church, both of which the first Auld
Licht minister I knew ran past when he had not time to avoid them by
taking a back wynd. He was but a pocket edition of a man, who grew two
inches after he was called; but he was so full of the cure of souls,
that he usually scudded to it with his coat-tails quarrelling behind
him. His successor, whom I knew better, was a greater scholar, and said,
“Let us see what this is in the original Greek,” as an ordinary man
might invite a friend to dinner; but he never wrestled as Mr. Dishart,
his successor, did with the pulpit cushions, nor flung himself at the
pulpit door. Nor was he so “hard on the Book,” as Lang Tammas, the
precentor, expressed it, meaning that he did not bang the Bible with his
fist as much as might have been wished.

Thrums had been known to me for years before I succeeded the captious
dominie at the school-house in the glen. The dear old soul who
originally induced me to enter the Auld Licht kirk by lamenting the
“want of Christ” in the minister’s discourses was my first landlady. For
the last ten years of her life she was bedridden, and only her interest
in the kirk kept her alive. Her case against the minister was that
he did not call to denounce her sufficiently often for her sins, her
pleasure being to hear him bewailing her on his knees as one who was
probably past praying for. She was as sweet and pure a woman as I ever
knew, and had her wishes been horses, she would have sold them and kept
(and looked after) a minister herself.

There are few Auld Licht communities in Scotland nowadays--perhaps
because people are now so well off, for the most devout Auld Lichts were
always poor, and their last years were generally a grim struggle with
the workhouse. Many a heavy-eyed, back-bent weaver has won his Waterloo
in Thrums fighting on his stumps. There are a score or two of them left
still, for, though there are now two factories in the town, the
clatter of the hand-loom can yet be heard, and they have been starving
themselves of late until they have saved up enough money to get another

The square is packed away in the centre of Thrums, and irregularly built
little houses squeeze close to it like chickens clustering round a
hen. Once the Auld Lichts held property in the square, but other
denominations have bought them out of it, and now few of them are even
to be found in the main streets that make for the rim of the cup. They
live in the kirk wynd, or in retiring little houses, the builder of
which does not seem to have remembered that it is a good plan to have
a road leading to houses until after they were finished. Narrow paths
straggling round gardens, some of them with stunted gates, which it is
commoner to step over than, to open, have been formed to reach these
dwellings, but in winter they are running streams, and then the best way
to reach a house such as that of Tammy Mealmaker the wright, pronounced
wir-icht, is over a broken dyke and a pig-sty. Tammy, who died a
bachelor, had been soured in his youth by a disappointment in love, of
which he spoke but seldom. She lived far away in a town which he had
wandered in the days when his blood ran hot, and they became engaged.
Unfortunately, however, Tammy forgot her name, and he never knew the
address; so there the affair ended, to his silent grief. He admitted
himself, over his snuff-mull of an evening, that he was a very ordinary
character, but a certain halo of horror was cast over the whole family
by their connection with little Joey Sutie, who was pointed at in Thrums
as the laddie that whistled when he went past the minister. Joey became
a pedler, and was found dead one raw morning dangling over a high
wall within a few miles of Thrums. When climbing the dyke his pack had
slipped back, the strap round his neck, and choked him.

You could generally tell an Auld Licht in Thrums when you passed him,
his dull, vacant face wrinkled over a heavy wob. He wore tags of yarn
round his trousers beneath the knee, that looked like ostentatious
garters, and frequently his jacket of corduroy was put on beneath his
waistcoat. If he was too old to carry his load on his back, he wheeled
it on a creaking barrow, and when he met a friend they said, “Ay,
Jeames,” and “Ay, Davit,” and then could think of nothing else. At long
intervals they passed through the square, disappearing or coming into
sight round the town-house which stands on the south side of it, and
guards the entrance to a steep brae that leads down and then twists up
on its lonely way to the county town. I like to linger over the square,
for it was from an upper window in it that I got to know Thrums. On
Saturday nights, when the Auld Licht young men came into the square
dressed and washed to look at the young women errand-going, and to laugh
some time afterward to each other, it presented a glare of light; and
here even came the cheap jacks and the Fair Circassian, and the showman,
who, besides playing “The Mountain Maid and the Shepherd’s Bride,”
 exhibited part of the tall of Balaam’s ass, the helm of Noah’s ark, and
the tartan plaid in which Flora McDonald wrapped Prince Charlie. More
select entertainment, such as Shuffle Kitty’s wax-work, whose motto was,
“A rag to pay, and in you go,” were given in a hall whose approach was
by an outside stair. On the Muckle Friday, the fair for which children
storing their pocket-money would accumulate sevenpence halfpenny in
less than six months, the square was crammed with gingerbread
stalls, bag-pipers, fiddlers, and monstrosities who were gifted with
second-sight. There was a bearded man, who had neither legs nor arms,
and was drawn through the streets in a small cart by four dogs. By
looking at you he could see all the clock-work inside, as could a boy
who was led about by his mother at the end of a string. Every Friday
there was the market, when a dozen ramshackle carts containing
vegetables and cheap crockery filled the centre of the square, resting
in line on their shafts. A score of farmers’ wives or daughters in
old-world garments squatted against the town-house within walls of
butter on cabbage-leaves, eggs and chickens. Toward evening the voice
of the buckie-man shook the square, and rival fish-cadgers, terrible
characters who ran races on horseback, screamed libels at each other
over a fruiterer’s barrow. Then it was time for douce Auld Lichts to go
home, draw their stools near the fire, spread their red handkerchiefs
over their legs to prevent their trousers getting singed, and read their
“Pilgrim’s Progress.”

In my school-house, however, I seem to see the square most readily
in the Scotch mist which so often filled it, loosening the stones
and choking the drains. There was then no rattle of rain against my
window-sill, nor dancing of diamond drops on the roofs, but blobs of
water grew on the panes of glass to reel heavily down them. Then the
sodden square would have shed abundant tears if you could have taken
it in your hands and wrung it like a dripping cloth. At such a time the
square would be empty but for one vegetable-cart left in the care of a
lean collie, which, tied to the wheel, whined and shivered underneath.
Pools of water gather in the coarse sacks that have been spread over the
potatoes and bundles of greens, which turn to manure in their lidless
barrels. The eyes of the whimpering dog never leave a black close over
which hangs the sign of the Bull, probably the refuge of the hawker. At
long intervals a farmer’s gig rumbles over the bumpy, ill-paved square,
or a native, with his head buried in his coat, peeps out of doors,
skurries across the way, and vanishes. Most of the leading shops are
here, and the decorous draper ventures a few yards from the pavement
to scan the sky, or note the effect of his new arrangement in scarves.
Planted against his door is the butcher, Henders Todd, white-aproned,
and with a knife in his hand, gazing interestedly at the draper, for a
mere man may look at an elder. The tinsmith brings out his steps, and,
mounting them, stealthily removes the saucepans and pepper-pots that
dangle on a wire above his sign-board. Pulling to his door he shuts out
the foggy light that showed in his solder-strewn workshop. The square is
deserted again. A bundle of sloppy parsley slips from the hawker’s
cart and topples over the wheel in driblets. The puddles in the sacks
overflow and run together. The dog has twisted his chain round a barrel
and yelps sharply. As if in response comes a rush of other dogs. A
terrified fox-terrier tears across the square with half a score of
mongrels, the butcher’s mastiff, and some collies at his heels; he is
doubtless a stranger, who has insulted them by his glossy coat. For two
seconds the square shakes to an invasion of dogs, and then again there
is only one dog in sight.

No one will admit the Scotch mist. It “looks saft.” The tinsmith “wudna
wonder but what it was makkin’ for rain.” Tammas Haggart and Pete Lunan
dander into sight bareheaded, and have to stretch out their hands to
discover what the weather is like. By-and-bye they come to a standstill
to discuss the immortality of the soul, and then they are looking
silently at the Bull. Neither speaks, but they begin to move toward the
inn at the same time, and its door closes on them before they know what
they are doing. A few minutes afterward Jinny Dundas, who is Pete’s
wife, runs straight for the Bull in her short gown, which is tucked
up very high, and emerges with her husband soon afterward. Jinny is
voluble, but Pete says nothing. Tammas follows later, putting his head
out at the door first, and looking cautiously about him to see if any
one is in sight. Pete is a U.P., and may be left to his fate, but the
Auld Licht minister thinks that, though it be hard work, Tammas is worth

To the Auld Licht of the past there were three degrees of
damnation--auld kirk, playacting, chapel. Chapel was the name always
given to the English Church, of which I am too much an Auld Licht myself
to care to write even now. To belong to the chapel was, in Thrums, to be
a Roman Catholic, and the boy who flung a clod of earth at the English
minister--who called the Sabbath Sunday--or dropped a “divet” down his
chimney was held to be in the right way. The only pleasant story
Thrums could tell of the chapel was that its steeple once fell. It is
surprising that an English church was ever suffered to be built in such
a place; though probably the county gentry had something to do with it.
They travelled about too much to be good men. Small though Thrums used
to be, it had four kirks in all before the disruption, and then another,
which split into two immediately afterward. The spire of the parish
church, known as the auld kirk, commands a view of the square, from
which the entrance to the kirk-yard would be visible, if it were not
hidden by the town-house. The kirk-yard has long been crammed, and is
not now in use, but the church is sufficiently large to hold nearly
all the congregations in Thrums. Just at the gate lived Pete Todd, the
father of Sam’l, a man of whom the Auld Lichts had reason to be proud.
Pete was an every-day man at ordinary times, and was even said, when
his wife, who had been long ill, died, to have clasped his hands and
exclaimed, “Hip, hip, hurrah!” adding only as an afterthought, “The
Lord’s will be done.” But midsummer was his great opportunity. Then took
place the rouping of the seats in the parish church. The scene was the
kirk itself, and the seats being put up to auction were knocked down
to the highest bidder. This sometimes led to the breaking of the peace.
Every person was present who was at all particular as to where he sat,
and an auctioneer was engaged for the day. He rouped the kirk-seats like
potato-drills, beginning by asking for a bid. Every seat was put up to
auction separately; for some were much more run after than others, and
the men were instructed by their wives what to bid for. Often the women
joined in, and as they bid excitedly against each other the church rang
with opprobrious epithets. A man would come to the roup late, and learn
that the seat he wanted had been knocked down. He maintained that he
had been unfairly treated, or denounced the local laird to whom the
seat-rents went. If he did not get the seat he would leave the kirk.
Then the woman who had forestalled him wanted to know what he meant by
glaring at her so, and the auction was interrupted. Another member would
“thrip down the throat” of the auctioneer that he had a right to his
former seat if he continued to pay the same price for it. The auctioneer
was screamed at for favoring his friends, and at times the group became
so noisy that men and women had to be forcibly ejected. Then was Pete’s
chance. Hovering at the gate, he caught the angry people on their way
home and took them into his workshop by an outside stair. There he
assisted them in denouncing the parish kirk, with the view of getting
them to forswear it. Pete made a good many Auld Lichts in his time out
of unpromising material.

Sights were to be witnessed in the parish church at times that could
not have been made more impressive by the Auld Lichts themselves. Here
sinful women were grimly taken to task by the minister, who, having
thundered for a time against adultery in general, called upon one sinner
in particular to stand forth. She had to step forward into a pew
near the pulpit, where, alone and friendless, and stared at by the
congregation, she cowered in tears beneath his denunciations. In that
seat she had to remain during the forenoon service. She returned home
alone, and had to come back alone to her solitary seat in the afternoon.
All day no one dared speak to her. She was as much an object of
contumely as the thieves and smugglers who, in the end of last century,
it was the privilege of Feudal Bailie Wood (as he was called) to whip
round the square.

It is nearly twenty years since the gardeners had their last “walk” in
Thrums, and they survived all the other benefit societies that walked
once every summer. There was a “weavers’ walk” and five or six others,
the “women’s walk” being the most picturesque. These were processions of
the members of benefit societies through the square and wynds, and all
the women walked in white, to the number of a hundred or more, behind
the Tillie-drum band, Thrums having in those days no band of its own.

From the northwest corner of the square a narrow street sets off,
jerking this way and that, as if uncertain what point to make for. Here
lurks the post-office, which had once the reputation of being as crooked
in its ways as the street itself.

A railway line runs into Thrums now. The sensational days of the
post-office were when the letters were conveyed officially in a creaking
old cart from Tilliedrum. The “pony” had seen better days than the
cart, and always looked as if he were just on the point of succeeding in
running away from it. Hooky Crewe was driver--so called because an iron
hook was his substitute for a right arm. Robbie Proctor, the blacksmith,
made the hook and fixed it in. Crewe suffered from rheumatism, and when
he felt it coming on he stayed at home. Sometimes his cart came undone
in a snow-drift; when Hooky, extricated from the fragments by some
chance wayfarer, was deposited with his mail-bag (of which he always
kept a grip by the hook) in a farmhouse. It was his boast that his
letters always reached their destination eventually. They might be
a long time about it, but “slow _and_ sure” was his motto. Hooky
emphasized his “slow _and_ sure” by taking a snuff. He was a godsend to
the postmistress, for to his failings or the infirmities of his gig were
charged all delays.

At the time I write of, the posting of the letter took as long and was
as serious an undertaking as the writing. That means a good deal,
for many of the letters were written to dictation by the Thrums
school-master, Mr. Fleemister, who belonged to the Auld Kirk. He was one
of the few persons in the community who looked upon the despatch of his
letters by the post-mistress as his right, and not a favor on her part;
there was a long-standing feud between them accordingly. After a few
tumblers of Widow Stables’ treacle-beer--in the concoction of which she
was the acknowledged mistress for miles around--the schoolmaster would
sometimes go the length of hinting that he could get the post-mistress
dismissed any day. This mighty power seemed to rest on a knowledge of
“steamed” letters. Thrums had a high respect for the school-master; but
among themselves the weavers agreed that, even if he did write to the
Government, Lizzie Harrison, the post-mistress, would refuse to transmit
the letter. The more shrewd ones among us kept friends with both
parties; for, unless you could write “writ-hand,” you could not compose
a letter without the school-master’s assistance; and, unless Lizzie was
so courteous as to send it to its destination, it might lie--or so
it was thought--much too long in the box. A letter addressed by the
schoolmaster found great disfavor in Lizzie’s eyes. You might explain to
her that you had merely called in his assistance because you were a poor
hand at writing yourself, but that was held no excuse. Some addressed
their own envelopes with much labor, and sought to palm off the whole as
their handiwork. It reflects on the post-mistress somewhat that she had
generally found them out by next day, when, if in a specially vixenish
mood, she did not hesitate to upbraid them for their perfidy.

To post a letter you did not merely saunter to the post-office and drop
it into the box. The cautious correspondent first went into the shop
and explained to Lizzie how matters stood. She kept what she called a
bookseller’s shop as well as the post-office; but the supply of books
corresponded exactly to the lack of demand for them, and her chief trade
was in nick-nacks, from marbles and money-boxes up to concertinas. If he
found the post-mistress in an amiable mood, which was only now and then,
the caller led up craftily to the object of his visit. Having discussed
the weather and the potato-disease, he explained that his sister Mary,
whom Lizzie would remember, had married a fishmonger in Dundee. The
fishmonger had lately started on himself and was doing well. They had
four children. The youngest had had a severe attack of measles. No news
had been got of Mary for twelve months; and Annie, his other sister,
who lived in Thrums, had been at him of late for not writing. So he
had written a few lines; and, in fact, he had the letter with him.
The letter was then produced, and examined by the postmistress. If
the address was in the schoolmaster’s handwriting, she professed her
inability to read it. Was this a _t_ or an _l_ or an _i?_ was that a _b_
or a _d?_ This was a cruel revenge on Lizzie’s part; for the sender of
the letter was completely at her mercy. The school-master’s name being
tabooed in her presence, he was unable to explain that the writing was
not his own; and as for deciding between the _t_‘s and _l_‘s, he could
not do it. Eventually he would be directed to put the letter into the
box. They would do their best with it, Lizzie said, but in a voice that
suggested how little hope she had of her efforts to decipher it proving

There was an opinion among some of the people that the letter should not
be stamped by the sender. The proper thing to do was to drop a penny for
the stamp into the box along with the letter, and then Lizzie would see
that it was all right. Lizzie’s acquaintance with the handwriting of
every person in the place who could write gave her a great advantage.
You would perhaps drop into her shop some day to make a purchase, when
she would calmly produce a letter you had posted several days before.
In explanation she would tell you that you had not put a stamp on it, or
that she suspected there was money in it, or that you had addressed it
to the wrong place. I remember an old man, a relative of my own, who
happened for once in his life to have several letters to post at one
time. The circumstance was so out of the common that he considered it
only reasonable to make Lizzie a small present.

Perhaps the post-mistress was belied; but if she did not “steam” the
letters and confide their titbits to favored friends of her own sex, it
is difficult to see how all the gossip got out. The school-master once
played an unmanly trick on her, with the view of catching her in the
act. He was a bachelor who had long been given up by all the maids in
the town. One day, however, he wrote a letter to an imaginary lady in
the county-town, asking her to be his, and going into full particulars
about his income, his age, and his prospects. A male friend in the
secret, at the other end, was to reply, in a lady’s handwriting,
accepting him, and also giving personal particulars. The first letter
was written; and an answer arrived in due course--two days, the
school-master said, after date. No other person knew of this scheme
for the undoing of the post-mistress, yet in a very short time the
school-master’s coming marriage was the talk of Thrums. Everybody became
suddenly aware of the lady’s name, of her abode, and of the sum of
money she was to bring her husband. It was even noised abroad that the
school-master had represented his age as a good ten years less than it
was. Then the school-master divulged everything. To his mortification,
he was not quite believed. All the proof he could bring forward to
support his story was this: that time would show whether he got married
or not. Foolish man! this argument was met by another, which was
accepted at once. The lady had jilted the school-master. Whether this
explanation came from the post-office, who shall say? But so long as he
lived the school-master was twitted about the lady who threw him over.
He took his revenge in two ways. He wrote and posted letters exceedingly
abusive of the post-mistress. The matter might be libellous; but then,
as he pointed out, she would incriminate herself if she “brought him up”
 about it. Probably Lizzie felt his other insult more. By publishing his
suspicions of her on every possible occasion he got a few people to seal
their letters. So bitter was his feeling against her that he was even
willing to supply the wax.

They know all about post-offices in Thrums now, and even jeer at the
telegraph-boy’s uniform. In the old days they gathered round him when he
was seen in the street, and escorted him to his destination in triumph.
That, too, was after Lizzie had gone the way of all the earth. But
perhaps they are not even yet as knowing as they think themselves. I was
told the other day that one of them took out a postal order, meaning to
send the money to a relative, and kept the order as a receipt.

I have said that the town is sometimes full of snow. One frosty
Saturday, seven years ago, I trudged into it from the school-house, and
on the Monday morning we could not see Thrums anywhere.

I was in one of the proud two-storied houses in the place, and could
have shaken hands with my friends without from the upper windows. To
get out of doors you had to walk upstairs. The outlook was a sea of snow
fading into white hills and sky, with the quarry standing out red and
ragged to the right like a rock in the ocean. The Auld Licht manse was
gone, but had left its garden-trees behind, their lean branches soft
with snow. Roofs were humps in the white blanket. The spire of the
Established Kirk stood up cold and stiff, like a monument to the buried

Those of the natives who had taken the precaution of conveying
spades into their houses the night before, which is my plan at the
school-house, dug themselves out. They hobbled cautiously over the snow,
sometimes sinking into it to their knees, when they stood still and
slowly took in the situation. It had been snowing more or less for
a week, but in a commonplace kind of way, and they had gone to bed
thinking all was well. This night the snow must have fallen as if the
heavens had opened up, determined to shake themselves free of it for

The man who first came to himself and saw what was to be done was young
Henders Ramsay. Henders had no fixed occupation, being but an “orra man”
 about the place, and the best thing known of him is that his mother’s
sister was a Baptist. He feared God, man, nor the minister; and all the
learning he had was obtained from assiduous study of a grocer’s window.
But for one brief day he had things his own way in the town, or,
speaking strictly, on the top of it. With a spade, a broom, and a
pickaxe, which sat lightly on his broad shoulders (he was not even
back-bent, and that showed him no respectable weaver), Henders delved
his way to the nearest house, which formed one of a row, and addressed
the inmates down the chimney. They had already been clearing it at
the other end, or his words would have been choked. “You’re snawed up,
Davit,” cried Henders, in a voice that was entirely business-like; “hae
ye a spade?” A conversation ensued up and down this unusual channel of
communication. The unlucky householder, taking no thought of the morrow,
was without a spade. But if Henders would clear away the snow from his
door he would be “varra obleeged.” Henders, however, had to come to
terms first. “The chairge is saxpence, Davit,” he shouted. Then a
haggling ensued. Henders must be neighborly. A plate of broth, now--or,
say, twopence. But Henders was obdurate. “I’se nae time to argy-bargy
wi’ ye, Davit. Gin ye’re no willin’ to say saxpence, I’m aff to Will’um
Pyatt’s. He’s buried too.” So the victim had to make up his mind to one
of two things: he must either say saxpence or remain where he was.

If Henders was “promised,” he took good care that no snowed-up
inhabitant should perjure himself. He made his way to a window first,
and, clearing the snow from the top of it, pointed out that he could
not conscientiously proceed further until the debt had been paid. “Money
doon,” he cried, as soon as he reached a pane of glass; or, “Come awa
wi’ my saxpence noo.”

The belief that this day had not come to Henders unexpectedly was
borne out by the method of the crafty callant. His charges varied from
sixpence to half-a-crown, according to the wealth and status of his
victims; and when, later on, there were rivals in the snow, he had the
discrimination to reduce his minimum fee to threepence. He had the honor
of digging out three ministers at one shilling, one and threepence, and
two shillings respectively.

Half a dozen times within the next fortnight the town was re-buried in
snow. This generally happened in the night-time; but the inhabitants
were not to be caught unprepared again. Spades stood ready to their
hands in the morning, and they fought their way above ground without
Henders Ramsay’s assistance. To clear the snow from the narrow wynds and
pends, however, was a task not to be attempted; and the Auld Lichts, at
least, rested content when enough light got into their workshops to let
them see where their looms stood. Wading through beds of snow they did
not much mind; but they wondered what would happen to their houses when
the thaw came.

The thaw was slow in coming. Snow during the night and several degrees
of frost by day were what Thrums began to accept as a revised order of
nature. Vainly the Thrums doctor, whose practice extends into the glens,
made repeated attempts to reach his distant patients, twice driving so
far into the dreary waste that he could neither go on nor turn back. A
ploughman who contrived to gallop ten miles for him did not get home for
a week. Between the town, which is nowadays an agricultural centre of
some importance, and the outlying farms communication was cut off for
a month; and I heard subsequently of one farmer who did not see a human
being, unconnected with his own farm, for seven weeks. The school-house,
which I managed to reach only two days behind time, was closed for a
fortnight, and even in Thrums there was only a sprinkling of scholars.

On Sundays the feeling between the different denominations ran high, and
the middling good folk who did not go to church counted those who did.
In the Established Church there was a sparse gathering, who waited
in vain for the minister. After a time it got abroad that a flag of
distress was flying from the manse, and then they saw that the minister
was storm-stayed. An office-bearer offered to conduct service; but the
others present thought they had done their duty and went home. The U.P.
bell did not ring at all, and the kirk-gates were not opened. The Free
Kirk did bravely, however. The attendance in the forenoon amounted to
seven, including the minister; but in the afternoon there was a turn-out
of upward of fifty. How much denominational competition had to do with
this, none can say; but the general opinion was that this muster to
afternoon service was a piece of vainglory. Next Sunday all the kirks
were on their mettle, and, though the snow was drifting the whole day,
services were general. It was felt that after the action of the Free
Kirk the Established and the U.P.’s must show what they too were capable
of. So, when, the bells rang-at eleven o’clock and two, church-goers
began to pour out of every close. If I remember aright, the victory
lay with, the U.P.’s by two women and a boy. Of course the Auld Lichts
mustered in as great force as ever. The other kirks never dreamed of
competing with them. What was regarded as a judgment on the Free Kirk
for its boastfulness of spirit on the preceding Sunday happened during
the forenoon. While the service was taking place a huge clod of snow
slipped from the roof and fell right against the church door. It was
some time before the prisoners could make up their minds to leave by the
windows. What the Auld Lichts would have done in a similar predicament I
cannot even conjecture.

That was the first warning of the thaw. It froze again; there was more
snow; the thaw began in earnest; and then the streets were a sight to
see. There was no traffic to turn the snow to slush, and, where it had
not been piled up in walls a few feet from the houses, it remained
in the narrow ways till it became a lake. It tried to escape through
doorways, when it sank, slowly into the floors. Gentle breezes created a
ripple on its surface, and strong winds lifted it into the air and flung
it against the houses. It undermined the heaps of clotted snow till they
tottered like icebergs and fell to pieces. Men made their way through,
it on stilts. Had a frost followed, the result would have been
appalling; but there was no more frost that winter. A fortnight passed
before the place looked itself again, and even then congealed snow
stood doggedly in the streets, while the country roads were like newly
ploughed fields after rain. The heat from large fires soon penetrated
through roofs of slate and thatch; and it was quite a common thing for
a man to be flattened to the ground by a slithering of snow from above
just as he opened his door. But it had seldom more than ten feet to
fall. Most interesting of all was the novel sensation experienced as
Thrums began to assume its familiar aspect, and objects so long buried
that they had been half forgotten came back to view and use.

Storm-stead shows used to emphasize the severity of a Thrums winter. As
the name indicates, these were gatherings of travelling booths in the
winter-time. Half a century ago the country was overrun by itinerant
showmen, who went their different ways in summer, but formed little
colonies in the cold weather, when they pitched their tents in any empty
field or disused quarry, and huddled together for the sake of warmth,
not that they got much of it. Not more than five winters ago we had a
storm-stead show on a small scale; but nowadays the farmers are less
willing to give these wanderers a camping-place, and the people are
less easily drawn to the entertainments provided, by fife and drum. The
colony hung together until it was starved out, when it trailed itself
elsewhere. I have often seen it forming. The first arrival would be what
was popularly known as “Sam’l Mann’s Tumbling-Booth,” with its tumblers,
jugglers, sword-swallowers, and balancers. This travelling show visited
us regularly twice a year: once in summer for the Muckle Friday, when
the performers were gay and stout, and even the horses had flesh on
their bones; and again in the “back-end” of the year, when cold and
hunger had taken the blood from their faces, and the scraggy dogs that
whined at their side were lashed for licking the paint off the caravans.
While the storm-stead show was in the vicinity the villages suffered
from an invasion of these dogs. Nothing told more truly the dreadful
tale of the showman’s life in winter. Sam’l Mann’s was a big show, and
half a dozen smaller ones, most of which were familiar to us, crawled
in its wake. Others heard of its whereabouts and came in from distant
parts. There was the well-known Gubbins with his “A’ the World in a
Box,” a halfpenny peep-show, in which all the world was represented
by Joseph and his Brethren (with pit and coat), the bombardment of
Copenhagen, the Battle of the Nile, Daniel in the Den of Lions, and
Mount Etna in eruption. “Aunty Maggy’s Whirligig” could be enjoyed on
payment of an old pair of boots, a collection of rags, or the like.
Besides these and other shows, there were the wandering minstrels, most
of whom were “Waterloo veterans” wanting arms or a leg. I remember one
whose arms had been “smashed by a thunderbolt at Jamaica.” Queer, bent
old dames, who superintended “lucky bags” or told fortunes, supplied the
uncanny element, but hesitated to call themselves witches, for there can
still be seen near Thrums the pool where these unfortunates used to be
drowned, and in the session book of the Glen Quharity kirk can be
read an old minute announcing that on a certain Sabbath there was no
preaching because “the minister was away at the burning of a witch.” To
the storm-stead shows came the gypsies in great numbers. Claypots (which
is a corruption of Claypits) was their headquarters near Thrums, and it
is still sacred to their memory. It was a clachan of miserable little
huts built entirely of clay from the dreary and sticky pit in which they
had been flung together. A shapeless hole on one side was the doorway,
and a little hole, stuffed with straw in winter, the window. Some of the
remnants of these hovels still stand. Their occupants, though they went
by the name of gypsies among themselves, were known to the weavers as
the Claypots beggars; and their King was Jimmy Pawse. His regal dignity
gave Jimmy the right to seek alms first when he chose to do so; thus he
got the cream of a place before his subjects set to work. He was rather
foppish in his dress; generally affecting a suit of gray cloth with
showy metal buttons on it, and a broad blue bonnet. His wife was a
little body like himself; and when they went a-begging, Jimmy with a
meal-bag for alms on his back, she always took her husband’s arm. Jimmy
was the legal adviser of his subjects; his decision was considered final
on all questions, and he guided them in their courtships as well as on
their death-beds. He christened their children and officiated at their
weddings, marrying them over the tongs.

The storm-stead show attracted old and young--to looking on from
the outside. In the day-time the wagons and tents presented a dreary
appearance, sunk in snow, the dogs shivering between the wheels, and but
little other sign of life visible. When dusk came the lights were lit,
and the drummer and fifer from the booth of tumblers were sent into the
town to entice an audience. They marched quickly through, the nipping,
windy streets, and then returned with two or three score of men, women,
and children, plunging through the snow or mud at their heavy heels. It
was Orpheus fallen from his high estate. What a mockery the glare of the
lamps and the capers of the mountebanks were, and how satisfied were
we to enjoy it all without going inside. I hear the “Waterloo veterans”
 still, and remember their patriotic outbursts:

  On the sixteenth day of June, brave boys, while cannon loud did
  We being short of cavalry they pressed on us full sore;
  But British steel soon made them yield, though our numbers was but
  And death or victory was the word on the plains of Waterloo.

The storm-stead shows often found it easier to sink to rest in a field
than to leave it. For weeks at a time they were snowed up, sufficiently
to prevent any one from Thrums going near them, though not sufficiently
to keep the pallid mummers indoors. That would in many cases have meant
starvation. They managed to fight their way through storm and snowdrift
to the high road and thence to the town, where they got meal and
sometimes broth. The tumblers and jugglers used occasionally to hire an
out-house in the town at these times--you may be sure they did not pay
for it in advance--and give performances there. It is a curious thing,
but true, that our herd-boys and others were sometimes struck with the
stage-fever. Thrums lost boys to the show-men even in winter.

On the whole, the farmers and the people generally were wonderfully
long-suffering with these wanderers, who I believe were more honest than
was to be expected. They stole, certainly; but seldom did they steal
anything more valuable than turnips. Sam’l Mann himself flushed proudly
over the effect his show once had on an irate farmer. The farmer
appeared in the encampment, whip in hand and furious. They must get off
his land before nightfall. The crafty showman, however, prevailed upon
him to take a look at the acrobats, and he enjoyed the performance so
much that he offered to let them stay until the end of the week. Before
that time came there was such a fall of snow that departure was out of
the question; and it is to the farmer’s credit that he sent Sam’l a bag
of meal to tide him and his actors over the storm.

There were times when the showmen made a tour of the bothies, where
they slung their poles and ropes and gave their poor performances to
audiences that were not critical. The bothy being strictly the “man’s”
 castle, the farmer never interfered; indeed, he was sometimes glad
to see the show. Every other weaver in Thrums used to have a son a
ploughman, and it was the men from the bothies who filled the square on
the muckly. “Hands” are not huddled together nowadays in squalid barns
more like cattle than men and women, but bothies in the neighborhood of
Thrums are not yet things of the past. Many a ploughman delves his way
to and from them still in all weathers, when the snow is on the ground;
at the time of “hairst,” and when the turnip “shaws” have just forced
themselves through the earth, looking like straight rows of green
needles. Here is a picture of a bothy of to-day that I visited recently.
Over the door there is a waterspout that has given way, and as I entered
I got a rush of rain down my neck. The passage was so small that one
could easily have stepped from the doorway on to the ladder standing
against the wall, which was there in lieu of a staircase. “Upstairs” was
a mere garret, where a man could not stand erect even in the centre.
It was entered by a square hole in the ceiling, at present closed by a
clap-door in no way dissimilar to the trap-doors on a theatre stage. I
climbed into this garret, which is at present used as a store-room
for agricultural odds and ends. At harvest-time, however, it is
inhabited--full to overflowing. A few decades ago as many as fifty
laborers engaged for the harvest had to be housed in the farm out-houses
on beds of straw. There was no help for it, and men and women had to
congregate in these barns together. Up as early as five in the morning,
they were generally dead tired by night; and, miserable though this
system of herding them together was, they took it like stoics, and
their very number served as a moral safeguard. Nowadays the harvest is
gathered in so quickly, and machinery does so much that used to be done
by hand, that this crowding of laborers together, which was the bothy
system at its worst, is nothing like what it was. As many as six
or eight men, however, are put up in the garret referred to during
“hairst”--time, and the female laborers have to make the best of it in
the barn. There is no doubt that on many farms the two sexes have still
at this busy time to herd together even at night.

The bothy was but scantily furnished, though it consisted of two rooms.
In the one, which was used almost solely as a sleeping apartment, there
was no furniture to speak of, beyond two closet beds, and its bumpy
earthen floor gave it a cheerless look. The other, which had a single
bed, was floored with wood. It was not badly lit by two very small
windows that faced each other, and, besides several stools, there was
a long form against one of the walls. A bright fire of peat and
coal--nothing in the world makes such a cheerful red fire as this
combination--burned beneath a big kettle (“boiler” they called it), and
there was a “press” or cupboard containing a fair assortment of cooking
utensils. Of these some belonged to the bothy, while others were the
private property of the tenants. A tin “pan” and “pitcher” of water
stood near the door, and the table in the middle of the room was covered
with oilcloth.

Four men and a boy inhabited this bothy, and the rain had driven them
all indoors. In better weather they spend the leisure of the evening
at the game of quoits, which is the standard pastime among Scottish
ploughmen. They fish the neighboring streams, too, and have burn-trout
for supper several times a week. When I entered, two of them were
sitting by the fire playing draughts, or, as they called it, “the
dam-brod.” The dam-brod is the Scottish laborer’s billiards; and he
often attains to a remarkable proficiency at the game. Wylie, the
champion draught-player, was once a herd-boy; and wonderful stories are
current in all bothies of the times when his master called him into
the farm-parlor to show his skill. A third man, who seemed the elder by
quite twenty years, was at the window reading a newspaper; and I got
no shock when I saw that it was the _Saturday Review_, which he and a
laborer on an adjoining farm took in weekly between them. There was a
copy of a local newspaper--the _People’s Journal_--also lying about, and
some books, including one of Darwin’s. These were all the property of
this man, however, who did the reading for the bothy.

They did all the cooking for themselves, living largely on milk. In the
old days, which the senior could remember, porridge was so universally
the morning meal that they called it by that name instead of breakfast.
They still breakfast on porridge, but often take tea “above it.”
 Generally milk is taken with the porridge; but “porter” or stout in
a bowl is no uncommon substitute. Potatoes at twelve o’clock--seldom
“brose” nowadays--are the staple dinner dish, and the tinned meats have
become very popular. There are bothies where each man makes his own
food; but of course the more satisfactory plan is for them to club
together. Sometimes they get their food in the farm-kitchen; but this
is only when there are few of them and the farmer and his family do not
think it beneath them to dine with the men. Broth, too, may be made in
the kitchen and sent down to the bothy. At harvest time the workers take
their food in the fields, when great quantities of milk are provided.
There is very little beer drunk, and whiskey is only consumed in

Life in the bothies is not, I should say, so lonely as life at the
school-house, for the hands have at least each other’s company. The
hawker visits them frequently still, though the itinerant tailor, once a
familiar figure, has almost vanished. Their great place of congregating
is still some country smiddy, which is also their frequent meeting-place
when bent on black-fishing. The flare of the black-fisher’s torch still
attracts salmon to their death in the rivers near Thrums; and you may
hear in the glens on a dark night the rattle of the spears on the wet
stones. Twenty or thirty years ago, however, the sport was much more
common. After the farmer had gone to bed, some half-dozen ploughmen and
a few other poachers from Thrums would set out for the meeting-place.

The smithy on these occasions must have been a weird sight; though one
did not mark that at the time. The poacher crept from the darkness into
the glaring smithy light; for in country parts the anvil might sometimes
be heard clanging at all hours of the night. As a rule, every face was
blackened; and it was this, I suppose, rather than the fact that dark
nights were chosen, that gave the gangs the name of black-fishers. Other
disguises were resorted to; one of the commonest being to change clothes
or to turn your corduroys outside in. The country-folk of those days
were more superstitious than they are now, and it did not take much
to turn the black-fishers back. There was not a barn or byre in the
district that had not its horseshoe over the door. Another popular
device for frightening away witches and fairies was to hang bunches of
garlic about the farms. I have known a black-fishing expedition stopped
because a “yellow yite,” or yellow-hammer, hovered round the gang
when they were setting out. Still more ominous was the “péat” when it
appeared with one or three companions. An old rhyme about this bird
runs--“One is joy, two is grief, three’s a bridal, four is death.” Such
snatches of superstition are still to be heard amidst the gossip of a
north-country smithy.

Each black-fisher brought his own spear and torch, both more or less
home-made. The spears were in many cases “gully-knives,” fastened to
staves with twine and resin, called “rozet.” The torches were very
rough-and-ready things--rope and tar, or even rotten roots dug from
broken trees--in fact, anything that would flare. The black-fishers
seldom journeyed far from home, confining themselves to the rivers
within a radius of three or four miles. There were many reasons for
this: one of them being that the hands had to be at their work on the
farm by five o’clock in the morning: another, that so they poached and
let poach. Except when in spate, the river I specially refer to offered
no attractions to the black-fishers. Heavy rains, however, swell it much
more quickly than most rivers into a turbulent rush of water; the part
of it affected by the black-fishers being banked in with rocks that
prevent the water’s spreading. Above these rocks, again, are heavy green
banks, from which stunted trees grow aslant across the river. The effect
is fearsome at some points where the trees run into each other, as it
were, from opposite banks. However, the black-fishers thought nothing of
these things. They took a turnip lantern with them--that is, a lantern
hollowed out of a turnip, with a piece of candle inside--but no lights
were shown on the road. Every one knew his way to the river blindfold;
so that the darker the night the better. On reaching the water there
was a pause. One or two of the gang climbed the banks to discover if any
bailiffs were on the watch; while the others sat down, and with the help
of the turnip lantern “busked” their spears; in other words, fastened on
the steel--or, it might be, merely pieces of rusty iron sharpened into a
point at home--to the staves. Some had them busked before they set out,
but that was not considered prudent; for of course there was always a
risk of meeting spoil-sports on the way, to whom the spears would tell a
tale that could not be learned from ordinary staves. Nevertheless little
time was lost. Five or six of the gang waded into the water, torch in
one hand and spear in the other; and the object now was to catch some
salmon with the least possible delay, and hurry away. Windy nights were
good for the sport, and I can still see the river lit up with the lumps
of light that a torch makes in a high wind. The torches, of course, were
used to attract the fish, which came swimming to the sheen, and were
then speared. As little noise as possible was made; but though the men
bit their lips instead of crying out when they missed their fish,
there was a continuous ring of their weapons on the stones, and every
irrepressible imprecation was echoed up and down the black glen. Two or
three of the gang were told off to land the salmon, and they had to work
smartly and deftly. They kept by the side of the spears-man, and the
moment he struck a fish they grabbed at it with their hands. When the
spear had a barb there was less chance of the fish’s being lost; but
often this was not the case, and probably not more than two-thirds of
the salmon speared were got safely to the bank. The takes of course
varied; sometimes, indeed, the black-fishers returned home empty-handed.

Encounters with the bailiffs were not infrequent, though they seldom
took place at the water’s edge. When the poachers were caught in the
act, and had their blood up with the excitement of the sport, they were
ugly customers. Spears were used and heads were broken. Struggles even
took place in the water, when there was always a chance of somebody’s
being drowned. Where the bailiffs gave the black-fishers an opportunity
of escaping without a fight it was nearly always taken; the booty being
left behind. As a rule, when the “water watchers,” as the bailiffs
were sometimes called, had an inkling of what was to take place, they
reinforced themselves with a constable or two and waited on the road
to catch the poachers on their way home. One black-fisher, a noted
character, was nicknamed the “Deil o’ Glen Quharity.” He was said to
have gone to the houses of the bailiffs and offered to sell them the
fish stolen from the streams over which they kept guard. The “Deil” was
never imprisoned--partly, perhaps, because he was too eccentric to be
taken seriously.



One Sabbath day in the beginning of the century the Auld Licht minister
at Thrums walked out of his battered, ramshackle, earthen-floored kirk
with a following and never returned. The last words he uttered in it
were: “Follow me to the commonty, all you persons who want to hear the
Word of God properly preached; and James Duphie and his two sons
will answer for this on the Day of Judgment.” The congregation, which
belonged to the body who seceded from the Established Church a hundred
and fifty years ago, had split, and as the New Lights (now the U.P.’s)
were in the majority, the Old Lights, with the minister at their head,
had to retire to the commonty (or common) and hold service in the open
air until they had saved up money for a church. They kept possession,
however, of the white manse among the trees. Their kirk has but a
cluster of members now, most of them old and done, but each is equal to
a dozen ordinary churchgoers, and there have been men and women among
them on whom memory loves to linger. For forty years they have been
dying out, but their cold, stiff pews still echo the Psalms of David,
and the Auld Licht kirk will remain open so long as it has one member
and a minister.

The church stands round the corner from the square, with only a large
door to distinguish it from the other buildings in the short street.
Children who want to do a brave thing hit this door with their fists,
when there is no one near, and then run away scared. The door, however,
is sacred to the memory of a white-haired old lady who, not so long ago,
used to march out of the kirk and remain on the pavement until the psalm
which had just been given out was sung. Of Thrums’ pavement it may here
be said that when you come, even to this day, to a level slab you will
feel reluctant to leave it. The old lady was Mistress (which is Miss)
Tibbie McQuhatty, and she nearly split the Auld Licht kirk over “run
line.” This conspicuous innovation was introduced by Mr. Dishart, the
minister, when he was young and audacious. The old, reverent custom in
the kirk was for the precentor to read out the psalm a line at a time.
Having then sung that line he read out the next one, led the singing
of it, and so worked his way on to line three. Where run line holds,
however, the psalms is read out first, and forthwith sung. This is not
only a flighty way of doing things, which may lead to greater scandals,
but has its practical disadvantages, for the precentor always starts
singing in advance of the congregation (Auld Lichts never being able
to begin to do anything all at once), and, increasing the distance with
every line, leaves them hopelessly behind at the finish. Miss McQuhatty
protested against this change, as meeting the devil half way, but
the minister carried his point, and ever after that she rushed
ostentatiously from the church the moment a psalm was given out, and
remained behind the door until the singing was finished, when she
returned, with a rustle, to her seat. Run line had on her the effect of
the reading of the Riot Act. Once some men, capable of anything, held
the door from the outside, and the congregation heard Tibbie rampaging
in the passage. Bursting into the kirk she called the office-bearers to
her assistance, whereupon the minister in miniature raised his voice and
demanded the why and wherefore of the ungodly disturbance. Great was the
hubbub, but the door was fast, and a compromise had to be arrived at.
The old lady consented for once to stand in the passage, but not without
pressing her hands to her ears. You may smile at Tibbie, but ah! I know
what she was at a sick bedside. I have seen her when the hard look had
gone from her eyes, and it would ill become me to smile too.

As with all the churches in Thrums, care had been taken to make the Auld
Licht one much too large. The stair to the “laft” or gallery, which
was originally little more than ladder, is ready for you as soon as you
enter the doorway, but it is best to sit in the body of the kirk.
The plate for collections is inside the church, so that the whole
congregation can give a guess at what you give. If it is something
very stingy or very liberal, all Thrums knows of it within a few hours;
indeed, this holds good of all the churches, especially perhaps of
the Free one, which has been called the bawbee kirk, because so many
halfpennies find their way into the plate. On Saturday nights the Thrums
shops are besieged for coppers by housewives of all denominations, who
would as soon think of dropping a threepenny bit into the plate as of
giving nothing. Tammy Todd had a curious way of tipping his penny into
the Auld Licht plate while still keeping his hand to his side. He did
it much as a boy fires a marble, and there was quite a talk in the
congregation the first time he missed. A devout plan was to carry your
penny in your hand all the way to church, but to appear to take it out
of your pocket on entering, and some plumped it down noisily like men
paying their way. I believe old Snecky Hobart, who was a canty stock but
obstinate, once dropped a penny into the plate and took out a halfpenny
as change, but the only untoward thing that happened to the plate was
once when the lassie from the farm of Curly Bog capsized it in passing.
Mr. Dishart, who was always a ready man, introduced something into
his sermon that day about women’s dress, which every one hoped Christy
Lundy, the lassie in question, would remember. Nevertheless, the
minister sometimes came to a sudden stop himself when passing from the
vestry to the pulpit. The passage being narrow, his rigging would catch
in a pew as he sailed down the aisle. Even then, however, Mr. Dishart
remembered that he was not as other men.

White is not a religious color, and the walls of the kirk were of a dull
gray. A cushion was allowed to the manse pew, but merely as a symbol of
office, and this was the only pew in the church that had a door. It was
and is the pew nearest to the pulpit on the minister’s right, and one
day it contained a bonnet, which Mr. Dishart’s predecessor preached at
for one hour and ten minutes. From the pulpit, which was swaddled in
black, the minister had a fine sweep of all the congregation except
those in the back pews downstairs, who were lost in the shadow of the
laft. Here sat Whinny Webster, so called because, having an inexplicable
passion against them, he devoted his life to the extermination of whins.
Whinny for years ate peppermint lozenges with impunity in his back seat,
safe in the certainty that the minister, however much he might try,
could not possibly see him. But his day came. One afternoon the kirk
smelt of peppermints, and Mr. Dishart could rebuke no one, for the
defaulter was not in sight. Whinny’s cheek was working up and down
in quiet enjoyment of its lozenge, when he started, noticing that the
preaching had stopped. Then he heard a sepulchral voice say “Charles
Webster!” Whinny’s eyes turned to the pulpit, only part of which was
visible to him, and to his horror they encountered the minister’s head
coming down the stairs. This took place after I had ceased to attend the
Auld Licht kirk regularly; but I am told that as Whinny gave one wild
scream the peppermint dropped from his mouth. The minister had got him
by leaning over the pulpit door until, had he given himself only another
inch, his feet would have gone into the air. As for Whinny he became a
God-fearing man.

The most uncanny thing about the kirk was the precentor’s box beneath
the pulpit. Three Auld Licht ministers I have known, but I can only
conceive one precentor. Lang Tammas’ box was much too small for him.
Since his disappearance from Thrums I believe they have paid him the
compliment of enlarging it for a smaller man, no doubt with the feeling
that Tammas alone could look like a Christian in it. Like the whole
congregation, of course, he had to stand during the prayers--the first
of which averaged half an hour in length. If he stood erect his head
and shoulders vanished beneath funereal trappings, when he seemed
decapitated, and if he stretched his neck the pulpit tottered. He looked
like the pillar on which it rested, or he balanced it on his head like a
baker’s tray. Sometimes he leaned forward as reverently as he could,
and then, with his long, lean arms dangling over the side of his box,
he might have been a suit of “blacks” hung up to dry. Once I was talking
with Cree Queery in a sober, respectable manner, when all at once a
light broke out on his face. I asked him what he was laughing at, and
he said it was at Lang Tammas. He got grave again when I asked him what
there was in Lang Tammas to smile at, and admitted that he could not
tell me. However, I have always been of opinion that the thought of the
precentor in his box gave Cree a fleeting sense of humor.

Tammas and Hendry Munn were the two paid officials of the church, Hendry
being kirk-officer; but poverty was among the few points they had in
common. The precentor was a cobbler, though he never knew it, shoemaker
being the name in those parts, and his dwelling-room was also his
workshop. There he sat in his “brot,” or apron, from early morning to
far on to midnight, and contrived to make his six or eight shillings a
week. I have often sat with him in the darkness that his “cruizey”
 lamp could not pierce, while his mutterings to himself of “ay, ay, yes,
umpha, oh ay, ay man,” came as regularly and monotonously as the tick
of his “wag-at-the-wa’” clock. Hendry and he were paid no fixed sum
for their services in the Auld Licht kirk, but once a year there was a
collection for each of them, and so they jogged along. Though not the
only kirk-officer of my time Hendry made the most lasting impression. He
was, I think, the only man in Thrums who did not quake when the minister
looked at him. A wild story, never authenticated, says that Hendry once
offered Mr. Dishart a snuff from his mull. In the streets Lang Tammas
was more stern and dreaded by evil-doers, but Hendry had first place
in the kirk. One of his duties was to precede the minister from the
session-house to the pulpit and open the door for him. Having shut
Mr. Dishart in he strolled away to his seat. When a strange minister
preached, Hendry was, if possible, still more at his ease. This will not
be believed, but I have seen him give the pulpit-door on these occasions
a fling to with his feet. However ill an ordinary member of the
congregation might become in the kirk he sat on till the service ended,
but Hendry would wander to the door and shut it if he noticed that the
wind was playing irreverent tricks with the pages of Bibles, and proof
could still be brought forward that he would stop deliberately in the
aisle to lift up a piece of paper, say, that had floated there. After
the first psalm had been sung it was Hendry’s part to lift up the plate
and carry its tinkling contents to the session-house. On the greatest
occasions he remained so calm, so indifferent, so expressionless, that
he might have been present the night before at a rehearsal.

When there was preaching at night the church was lit by tallow candles,
which also gave out all the artificial heat provided. Two candles stood
on each side of the pulpit, and others were scattered over the church,
some of them fixed into holes on rough brackets, and some merely
sticking in their own grease on the pews. Hendry superintended the
lighting of the candles, and frequently hobbled through the church to
snuff them. Mr. Dishart was a man who could do anything except snuff a
candle, but when he stopped in his sermon to do that he as often as not
knocked the candle over. In vain he sought to refix it in its proper
place, and then all eyes turned to Hendry. As coolly as though he were
in a public hall or place of entertainment, the kirk-officer arose and,
mounting the stair, took the candle from the minister’s reluctant hands
and put it right. Then he returned to his seat, not apparently puffed
up, yet perhaps satisfied with himself; while Mr. Dishart, glaring after
him to see if he was carrying his head high, resumed his wordy way.

Never was there a man more uncomfortably loved than Mr. Dishart. Easie
Haggart, his maid-servant, reproved him at the breakfast table. Lang
Tammas and Sam’l Mealmaker crouched for five successive Sabbath nights
on his manse-wall to catch him smoking (and got him). Old wives grumbled
by their hearths when he did not look in to despair of their salvation.
He told the maidens of his congregation not to make an idol of him. His
session saw him (from behind a haystack) in conversation with a strange
woman, and asked grimly if he remembered that he had a wife. Twenty
were his years when he came to Thrums, and on the very first Sabbath he
knocked a board out of the pulpit. Before beginning his trial sermon he
handed down the big Bible to the precentor, to give his arms free swing.
The congregation, trembling with exhilaration, probed his meaning. Not
a square inch of paper, they saw, could be concealed there. Mr. Dishart
had scarcely any hope for the Auld Lichts; he had none for any other
denomination. Davit Lunan got behind his handkerchief to think for
a moment, and the minister was on him like a tiger. The call was
unanimous. Davit proposed him.

Every few years, as one might say, the Auld Licht kirk gave way and
buried its minister. The congregation turned their empty pockets inside
out, and the minister departed in a farmer’s cart. The scene was not an
amusing one to those who looked on at it. To the Auld Lichts was then
the humiliation of seeing their pulpit “supplied” on alternate Sabbaths
by itinerant probationers or stickit ministers. When they were not
starving themselves to support a pastor the Auld Lichts were saving up
for a stipend. They retired with compressed lips to their looms, and
weaved and weaved till they weaved another minister. Without the grief
of parting with one minister there could not have been the transport
of choosing another. To have had a pastor always might have made them

They were seldom longer than twelve months in making a selection, and
in their haste they would have passed over Mr. Dishart and mated with a
monster. Many years have elapsed since Providence flung Mr. Watts out
of the Auld Licht kirk. Mr. Watts was a probationer who was tried before
Mr. Dishart, and, though not so young as might have been wished, he
found favor in many eyes. “Sluggard in the laft, awake!” he cried to
Bell Whamond, who had forgotten herself, and it was felt that there
must be good stuff in him. A breeze from Heaven exposed him on Communion

On the evening of this solemn day the door of the Auld Licht kirk was
sometimes locked, and the congregation repaired, Bible in hand, to the
commonty. They had a right to this common on the Communion Sabbath,
but only took advantage of it when it was believed that more persons
intended witnessing the evening service than the kirk would hold. On
this day the attendance was always very great.

It was the Covenanters come back to life. To the summit of the slope a
wooden box was slowly hurled by Hendry Munn and others, and round this
the congregation quietly grouped to the tinkle of the cracked Auld Licht
bell. With slow, majestic tread the session advanced upon the steep
common with the little minister in their midst. He had the people in his
hands now, and the more he squeezed them the better they were pleased.
The travelling pulpit consisted of two compartments, the one for the
minister and the other for Lang Tammas, but no Auld Licht thought that
it looked like a Punch and Judy puppet show. This service on the common
was known as the “tent preaching,” owing to a tent’s being frequently
used instead of the box.

Mr. Watts was conducting the service on the commonty. It was a fine,
still summer evening, and loud above the whisper of the burn from which
the common climbs, and the labored “pechs” of the listeners, rose the
preacher’s voice. The Auld Lichts in their rusty blacks (they must
have been a more artistic sight in the olden days of blue bonnets and
knee-breeches) nodded their heads in sharp approval, for though they
could swoop down on a heretic like an eagle on carrion, they scented no
prey. Even Lang Tammas, on whose nose a drop of water gathered when he
was in his greatest fettle, thought that all was fair and above-board.
Suddenly a rush of wind tore up the common, and ran straight at
the pulpit. It formed in a sieve, and passed over the heads of the
congregation, who felt it as a fan, and looked up in awe. Lang Tammas,
feeling himself all at once grow clammy, distinctly heard the leaves
of the pulpit Bible shiver. Mr. Watts’ hands, outstretched to prevent a
catastrophe, were blown against his side, and then some twenty sheets of
closely written paper floated into the air. There was a horrible, dead
silence. The burn was roaring now. The minister, if such he can be
called, shrank back in his box, and as if they had seen it printed
in letters of fire on the heavens, the congregation realized that Mr.
Watts, whom they had been on the point of calling, read his sermon. He
wrote it out on pages the exact size of those in the Bible, and did not
scruple to fasten these into the Holy Book itself. At theatres a sullen
thunder of angry voices behind the scene represents a crowd in a rage,
and such a low, long-drawn howl swept the common when Mr. Watts was
found out. To follow a pastor who “read” seemed to the Auld Lichts like
claiming heaven on false pretences. In ten minutes the session alone,
with Lang Tammas and Hendry, were on the common. They were watched by
many from afar off, and (when one comes to think of it now) looked a
little curious jumping, like trout at flies, at the damning papers still
fluttering in the air. The minister was never seen in our parts again,
but he is still remembered as “Paper Watts.”

Mr. Dishart in the pulpit was the reward of his upbringing. At ten he
had entered the university. Before he was in his teens he was practising
the art of gesticulation in his father’s gallery pew. From distant
congregations people came to marvel at him. He was never more than
comparatively young. So long as the pulpit trappings of the kirk at
Thrums lasted he could be seen, once he was fairly under way with his
sermon, but dimly in a cloud of dust. He introduced headaches. In a
grand transport of enthusiasm he once flung his arms over the pulpit and
caught Lang Tammas on the forehead. Leaning forward, with his chest on
the cushions, he would pommel the Evil One with both hands, and
then, whirling round to the left, shake his fist at Bell Whamond’s
neckerchief. With a sudden jump he would fix Pete Todd’s youngest boy
catching flies at the laft window. Stiffening unexpectedly, he would
leap three times in the air, and then gather himself in a corner for a
fearsome spring. When he wept he seemed to be laughing, and he laughed
in a paroxysm of tears. He tried to tear the devil out of the pulpit
rails. When he was not a teetotum he was a windmill. His pump position
was the most appalling. Then he glared motionless at his admiring
listeners, as if he had fallen into a trance with his arm upraised. The
hurricane broke next moment. Nanny Sutie bore up under the shadow of the
windmill--which would have been heavier had Auld Licht ministers worn
gowns--but the pump affected her to tears. She was stone-deaf.

For the first year or more of his ministry an Auld Licht minister was
a mouse among cats. Both in the pulpit and out of it they watched for
unsound doctrine, and when he strayed they took him by the neck. Mr.
Dishart, however, had been brought up in the true way, and seldom gave
his people a chance. In time, it may be said, they grew despondent, and
settled in their uncomfortable pews with all suspicion of lurking heresy
allayed. It was only on such Sabbaths as Mr. Dishart changed pulpits
with another minister that they cocked their ears and leaned forward
eagerly to snap the preacher up.

Mr. Dishart had his trials. There was the split in the kirk, too,
that comes once at least to every Auld Licht minister. He was long in
marrying. The congregation were thinking of approaching him, through the
medium of his servant, Easie Haggart, on the subject of matrimony; for
a bachelor coming on for twenty-two, with an income of eighty pounds per
annum, seemed an anomaly--when one day he took the canal for Edinburgh
and returned with his bride. His people nodded their heads, but said
nothing to the minister. If he did not choose to take them into his
confidence, it was no affair of theirs. That there was something queer
about the marriage, however, seemed certain. Sandy Whamond, who was a
soured man after losing his eldership, said that he believed she had
been an “Englishy”--in other words, had belonged to the English Church;
but it is not probable that Mr. Dishart would have gone the length of
that. The secret is buried in his grave.

Easie Haggart jagged the minister sorely. She grew loquacious with
years, and when he had company would stand at the door joining in the
conversation. If the company was another minister, she would take a
chair and discuss Mr. Dishart’s infirmities with him. The Auld Lichts
loved their minister, but they saw even more clearly than himself the
necessity for his humiliation. His wife made all her children’s clothes,
but Sanders Gow complained that she looked too like their sister. In one
week three of the children died, and on the Sabbath following it
rained. Mr. Dishart preached, twice breaking down altogether and gaping
strangely round the kirk (there was no dust flying that day), and spoke
of the rain as angels’ tears for three little girls. The Auld Lichts let
it pass, but, as Lang Tammas said in private (for, of course, the thing
was much discussed at the looms), if you materialize angels in that way,
where are you going to stop?

It was on the fast-days that the Auld Licht kirk showed what it was
capable of, and, so to speak, left all the other churches in Thrums far
behind. The fast came round once every summer, beginning on a Thursday,
when all the looms were hushed, and two services were held in the kirk
of about three hours’ length each. A minister from another town assisted
at these times, and when the service ended the members filed in at
one door and out at another, passing on their way Mr. Dishart and his
elders, who dispensed “tokens” at the foot of the pulpit. Without a
token, which was a metal lozenge, no one could take the sacrament on
the coming Sabbath, and many a member has Mr. Dishart made miserable by
refusing him his token for gathering wild-flowers, say, on a Lord’s Day
(as testified to by another member). Women were lost who cooked dinners
on the Sabbath, or took to colored ribbons, or absented themselves from
church without sufficient cause. On the fast-day fists were shaken at
Mr. Dishart as he walked sternly homeward, but he was undismayed. Next
day there were no services in the kirk, for Auld Lichts could not afford
many holidays, but they weaved solemnly, with Saturday and the Sabbath
and Monday to think of. On Saturday service began at two and lasted
until nearly seven. Two sermons were preached, but there was no
interval. The sacrament was dispensed on the Sabbath. Nowadays the
“tables” in the Auld Licht kirk are soon “served,” for the attendance
has decayed, and most of the pews in the body of the church are made
use of. In the days of which I speak, however, the front pews alone were
hung with white, and it was in them only the sacrament was administered.
As many members as could get into them delivered up their tokens and
took the first table. Then they made room for others, who sat in their
pews awaiting their turn. What with tables, the preaching, and unusually
long prayers, the service lasted from eleven to six. At half-past six
a two hours’ service began, either in the kirk or on the common, from
which no one who thought much about his immortal soul would have dared
(or cared) to absent himself. A four hours’ service on the Monday,
which, like that of the Saturday, consisted of two services in one, but
began at eleven instead of two, completed the programme.

On those days, if you were a poor creature and wanted to acknowledge it,
you could leave the church for a few minutes and return to it, but the
creditable thing was to sit on. Even among the children there was a keen
competition, fostered by their parents, to sit each other out, and be in
at the death.

The other Thrums kirks held the sacrament at the same time, but not
with the same vehemence. As far north from the school-house as Thrums
is south of it, nestles the little village of Quharity, and there the
fast-day was not a day of fasting. In most cases the people had to go
many miles to church. They drove or rode (two on a horse), or walked in
from other glens. Without “the tents,” therefore, the congregation, with
a long day before them, would have been badly off. Sometimes one tent
sufficed; at other times rival publicans were on the ground. The tents
were those in use at the feeing and other markets, and you could get
anything inside them, from broth made in a “boiler” to the firiest
whiskey. They were planted just outside the kirk-gate--long, low tents
of dirty white canvas--so that when passing into the church or out of
it you inhaled their odors. The congregation emerged austerely from the
church, shaking their heads solemnly over the minister’s remarks, and
their feet carried them into the tent. There was no mirth, no unseemly
revelry, but there was a great deal of hard drinking. Eventually the
tents were done away with, but not until the services on the fast-days
were shortened. The Auld Licht ministers were the only ones who
preached against the tents with any heart, and since the old dominie, my
predecessor at the school-house, died, there has not been an Auld Licht
permanently resident in the glen of Quharity.

Perhaps nothing took it out of the Auld Licht males so much as a
christening. Then alone they showed symptoms of nervousness, more
especially after the remarkable baptism of Eppie Whamond. I could
tell of several scandals in connection with the kirk. There was, for
instance, the time when Easie Haggart saved the minister. In a fit of
temporary mental derangement the misguided man had one Sabbath
day, despite the entreaties of his affrighted spouse, called at the
post-office, and was on the point of reading the letter there received
when Easie, who had slipped on her bonnet and followed him, snatched
the secular thing from his hands. There was the story that ran like fire
through Thrums and crushed an innocent man, to the effect that Pete
Todd had been in an Edinburgh theatre countenancing the play-actors.
Something could be made, too, of the retribution that came to Charlie
Ramsay, who woke in his pew to discover that its other occupant, his
little son Jamie, was standing on the seat divesting himself of his
clothes in presence of a horrified congregation. Jamie had begun
stealthily, and had very little on when Charlie seized him. But having
my choice of scandals I prefer the christening one--the unique case of
Eppie Whamond, who was born late on Saturday night and baptized in the
kirk on the following forenoon.

To the casual observer the Auld Licht always looked as if he were
returning from burying a near relative. Yet when I met him hobbling down
the street, preternaturally grave and occupied, experience taught me
that he was preparing for a christening. How the minister would have
borne himself in the event of a member of his congregation’s wanting the
baptism to take place at home it is not easy to say; but I shudder to
think of the public prayers for the parents that would certainly have
followed. The child was carried to the kirk through rain, or snow, or
sleet, or wind; the father took his seat alone in the front pew, under
the minister’s eye, and the service was prolonged far on into the
afternoon. But though the references in the sermon to that unhappy
object of interest in the front pew were many and pointed, his time had
not really come until the minister signed to him to advance as far as
the second step of the pulpit stairs. The nervous father clenched the
railing in a daze, and cowered before the ministerial heckling.
From warning the minister passed to exhortation, from exhortation to
admonition, from admonition to searching questioning, from questioning
to prayer and wailing. When the father glanced up, there was the radiant
boy in the pulpit looking as if he would like to jump down his throat.
If he hung his head the minister would ask, with a groan, whether he was
unprepared; and the whole congregation would sigh out the response
that Mr. Dishart had hit it. When he replied audibly to the minister’s
uncomfortable questions, a pained look at his flippancy travelled
from the pulpit all round the pews; and when he only bowed his head in
answer, the minister paused sternly, and the congregation wondered what
the man meant. Little wonder that Davie Haggart took to drinking when
his turn came for occupying that front pew.

If wee Eppie Whamond’s birth had been deferred until the beginning of
the week, or humility had shown more prominently among her mother’s
virtues, the kirk would have been saved a painful scandal, and Sandy
Whamond might have retained his eldership. Yet it was a foolish but
wifely pride in her husband’s official position that turned Bell Dundas’
head--a wild ambition to beat all baptismal record.

Among the wives she was esteemed a poor body whose infant did not see
the inside of the kirk within a fortnight of its birth. Forty years ago
it was an accepted superstition in Thrums that the ghosts of children
who had died before they were baptized went wailing and wringing their
hands round the kirk-yard at nights, and that they would continue to do
this until the crack of doom. When the Auld Licht children grew up,
too, they crowed over those of their fellows whose christening had
been deferred until a comparatively late date, and the mothers who had
needlessly missed a Sabbath for long afterward hung their heads. That
was a good and creditable birth which took place early in the week, thus
allowing time for suitable christening preparations; while to be born on
a Friday or a Saturday was to humiliate your parents, besides being an
extremely ominous beginning for yourself. Without seeking to vindicate
Bell Dundas’ behavior, I may note, as an act of ordinary fairness, that,
being the leading elder’s wife, she was sorely tempted. Eppie made her
appearance at 9:45 on a Saturday night.

In the hurry and skurry that ensued, Sandy escaped sadly to the square.
His infant would be baptized eight days old--one of the longest deferred
christenings of the year. Sandy was shivering under the clock when I met
him accidentally, and took him home. But by that time the harm had been
done. Several of the congregation had been roused from their beds to
hear his lamentations, of whom the men sympathized with him, while the
wives triumphed austerely over Bell Dundas. As I wrung poor Sandy’s
hand, I hardly noticed that a bright light showed distinctly between the
shutters of his kitchen-window; but the elder himself turned pale and
breathed quickly. It was then fourteen minutes past twelve.

My heart sank within me on the following forenoon, when Sandy Whamond
walked, with a queer twitching face, into the front pew under a glare of
eyes from the body of the kirk and the laft. An amazed buzz went round
the church, followed by a pursing up of lips and hurried whisperings.
Evidently Sandy had been driven to it against his own judgment. The
scene is still vivid before me: the minister suspecting no guile, and
omitting the admonitory stage out of compliment to the elder’s standing;
Sandy’s ghastly face; the proud godmother (aged twelve) with the
squalling baby in her arms; the horror of the congregation to a man and
woman. A slate fell from Sandy’s house even as he held up the babe
to the minister to receive a “droukin’” of water, and Eppie cried so
vigorously that her shamed godmother had to rush with her to the vestry.
Now things are not as they should be when an Auld Licht infant does not
quietly sit out her first service.

Bell tried for a time to carry her head high; but Sandy ceased to
whistle at his loom, and the scandal was a rolling stone that soon
passed over him. Briefly it amounted to this: that a bairn born
within two hours of midnight on Saturday could not have been ready for
christening at the kirk next day without the breaking of the Sabbath.
Had the secret of the nocturnal light been mine alone all might have
been well; but Betsy Mund’s evidence was irrefutable. Great had been
Bell’s cunning, but Betsy had outwitted her. Passing the house on the
eventful night, Betsy had observed Marget Dundas, Bell’s sister, open
the door and creep cautiously to the window, the chinks in the outside
shutters of which she cunningly closed up with “tow.” As in a flash the
disgusted Betsy saw what Bell was up to, and, removing the tow, planted
herself behind the dilapidated dyke opposite and awaited events.
Questioned at a special meeting of the office-bearers in the vestry,
she admitted that the lamp was extinguished soon after twelve o’clock,
though the fire burned brightly all night. There had been unnecessary
feasting during the night, and six eggs were consumed before
breakfast-time. Asked how she knew this, she admitted having counted the
eggshells that Marget had thrown out of doors in the morning. This, with
the testimony of the persons from whom Sandy had sought condolence on
the Saturday night, was the case for the prosecution. For the defence,
Bell maintained that all preparations stopped when the clock struck
twelve, and even hinted that the bairn had been born on Saturday
afternoon. But Sandy knew that he and his had got a fall. In the
forenoon of the following Sabbath the minister preached from the text,
“Be sure your sin will find you out;” and in the afternoon from “Pride
goeth before a fall.” He was grand. In the evening Sandy tendered his
resignation of office, which was at once accepted. Webs were behind-hand
for a week, owing to the length of the prayers offered up for Bell; and
Lang Tammas ruled in Sandy’s stead.



With the severe Auld Lichts the Sabbath began at six o’clock on Saturday
evening. By that time the gleaming shuttle was at rest, Davie Haggart
had strolled into the village from his pile of stones in the Whunny
road; Hendry Robb, the “dummy,” had sold his last barrowful of “rozetty
(resiny) roots” for firewood; and the people, having tranquilly supped
and soused their faces in their water-pails, slowly donned their Sunday
clothes. This ceremony was common to all; but here divergence set
in. The gray Auld Licht, to whom love was not even a name, sat in his
high-backed arm-chair by the hearth, Bible or “Pilgrim’s Progress” in
hand, occasionally lapsing into slumber. But--though, when they got the
chance, they went willingly three times to the kirk--there were young
men in the community so flighty that, instead of dozing at home on
Saturday night, they dandered casually into the square, and, forming
into knots at the corners, talked solemnly and mysteriously of women.

Not even, on the night preceding his wedding was an Auld Licht
ever known to stay out after ten o’clock. So weekly conclaves at
street-corners came to an end at a comparatively early hour, one Coelebs
after another shuffling silently from the square until it echoed,
deserted, to the town-house clock. The last of the gallants, gradually
discovering that he was alone, would look around him musingly, and,
taking in the situation, slowly wend his way home. On no other night of
the week was frivolous talk about the softer sex indulged in, the Auld
Lichts being creatures of habit, who never thought of smiling on a
Monday. Long before they reached their teens they were earning their
keep as herds in the surrounding glens or filling “pirns” for their
parents; but they were generally on the brink of twenty before they
thought seriously of matrimony. Up to that time they only trifled with
the other sex’s affections at a distance--filling a maid’s water-pails,
perhaps, when no one was looking, or carrying her wob; at the
recollection of which they would slap their knees almost jovially on
Saturday night. A wife was expected to assist at the loom as well as to
be cunning in the making of marmalade and the firing of bannocks, and
there was consequently some heartburning among the lads for maids of
skill and muscle. The Auld Licht, however, who meant marriage seldom
loitered in the streets. By-and-bye there came a time when the clock
looked down through its cracked glass upon the hemmed-in square and
saw him not. His companions, gazing at each other’s boots, felt that
something was going on, but made no remark.

A month ago, passing through the shabby, familiar square, I brushed
against a withered old man tottering down the street under a load of
yarn. It was piled on a wheelbarrow, which his feeble hands could
not have raised but for the rope of yarn that supported it from his
shoulders; and though Auld Licht was written on his patient eyes, I did
not immediately recognize Jamie Whamond. Years ago Jamie was a sturdy
weaver and fervent lover, whom I had the right to call my friend. Turn
back the century a few decades, and we are together on a moonlight
night, taking a short cut through the fields from the farm of
Craigiebuckle. Buxom were Craigiebuckle’s “dochters,” and Jamie was
Janet’s accepted suitor. It was a muddy road through damp grass, and we
picked our way silently over its ruts and pools. “I’m thinkin’,” Jamie
said at last, a little wistfully, “that I micht hae been as weel wi’
Chirsty.” Chirsty was Janet’s sister, and Jamie had first thought of
her. Craigiebuckle, however, strongly advised him to take Janet instead,
and he consented. Alack! heavy wobs have taken all the grace from
Janet’s shoulders this many a year, though she and Jamie go bravely
down the hill together. Unless they pass the allotted span of life, the
“poors-house” will never know them. As for bonny Chirsty, she proved a
flighty thing, and married a deacon in the Established Church. The
Auld Lichts groaned over her fall, Craigiebuckle hung his head, and the
minister told her sternly to go her way. But a few weeks afterward Lang
Tammas, the chief elder, was observed talking with her for an hour in
Gowrie’s close; and the very next Sabbath Chirsty pushed her husband in
triumph into her father’s pew. The minister, though completely taken by
surprise, at once referred to the stranger, in a prayer of great length,
as a brand that might yet be plucked from the burning. Changing his
text, he preached at him; Lang Tammas, the precentor, and the whole
congregation (Chirsty included) sang at him; and before he exactly
realized his position he had become an Auld Licht for life. Chirsty’s
triumph was complete when, next week, in broad daylight, too, the
minister’s wife called, and (in the presence of Betsy Munn, who vouches
for the truth of the story) graciously asked her to come up to the manse
on Thursday, at 4 P.M., and drink a dish of tea. Chirsty, who knew her
position, of course begged modestly to be excused; but a coolness arose
over the invitation between her and Janet--who felt slighted--that was
only made up at the laying-out of Chirsty’s father-in-law, to which
Janet was pleasantly invited.

When they had red up the house, the Auld Licht lassies sat in the
gloaming at their doors on three-legged stools, patiently knitting
stockings. To them came stiff-limbed youths who, with a “Blawy nicht,
Jeanie” (to which the inevitable answer was, “It is so, Cha-rles”),
rested their shoulders on the doorpost, and silently followed with their
eyes the flashing needles. Thus the courtship began--often to
ripen promptly into marriage, at other times to go no farther. The
smooth-haired maids, neat in their simple wrappers, knew they were on
their trial, and that it behoved them to be wary. They had not compassed
twenty winters without knowing that Marget Todd lost Davie Haggart
because she “fittit” a black stocking with brown worsted, and that
Finny’s grieve turned from Bell Whamond on account of the frivolous
flowers in her bonnet: and yet Bell’s prospects, as I happen to know,
at one time looked bright and promising. Sitting over her father’s
peat-fire one night gossiping with him about fishing-flies and tackle,
I noticed the grieve, who had dropped in by appointment with some
ducks’ eggs on which Bell’s clockin’ hen was to sit, performing some
sleight-of-hand trick with his coat-sleeve. Craftily he jerked and
twisted it, till his own photograph (a black smudge on white) gradually
appeared to view. This he gravely slipped into the hands of the maid of
his choice, and then took his departure, apparently much relieved. Had
not Bell’s light-headedness driven him away, the grieve would have soon
followed up his gift with an offer of his hand. Some night Bell would
have “seen him to the door,” and they would have stared sheepishly at
each other before saying good-night. The parting salutation given, the
grieve would still have stood his ground, and Bell would have waited
with him. At last, “Will ye hae’s, Bell?” would have dropped from his
half-reluctant lips; and Bell would have mumbled, “Ay,” with her thumb
in her mouth. “Guid nicht to ye, Bell,” would be the next remark--“Guid
nicht to ye, Jeames,” the answer; the humble door would close softly,
and Bell and her lad would have been engaged. But, as it was, their
attachment never got beyond the silhouette stage, from which, in the
ethics of the Auld Lichts, a man can draw back in certain circumstances
without loss of honor. The only really tender thing I ever heard an
Auld Licht lover say to his sweetheart was when Gowrie’s brother looked
softly into Easie Tamson’s eyes and whispered, “Do you swite (sweat)?”
 Even then the effect was produced more by the loving cast in Gowrie’s
eye than by the tenderness of the words themselves.

The courtships were sometimes of long duration, but as soon as the young
man realized that he was courting he proposed. Cases were not wanting in
which he realized this for himself, but as a rule he had to be told of

There were a few instances of weddings among the Auld Lichts that did
not take place on Friday. Betsy Munn’s brother thought to assert his two
coal-carts, about which he was sinfully puffed up, by getting married
early in the week; but he was a pragmatical feckless body, Jamie.
The foreigner from York that Finny’s grieve after disappointing Jinny
Whamond took, sought to sow the seeds of strife by urging that Friday
was an unlucky day; and I remember how the minister, who was always
great in a crisis, nipped the bickering in the bud by adducing the
conclusive fact that he had been married on the sixth day of the
week himself. It was a judicious policy on Mr. Dishart’s part to take
vigorous action at once and insist on the solemnization of the marriage
on a Friday or not at all, for he best kept superstition out of the
congregation by branding it as heresy. Perhaps the Auld Lichts were only
ignorant of the grieve’s lass’ theory because they had not thought of
it. Friday’s claims, too, were incontrovertible; for the Saturday’s
being a slack day gave the couple an opportunity to put their but and
ben in order, and on Sabbath they had a gay day of it--three times at
the kirk. The honeymoon over, the racket of the loom began again on the

The natural politeness of the Allardice family gave me my invitation to
Tibbie’s wedding. I was taking tea and cheese early one wintry afternoon
with the smith and his wife, when little Joey Todd in his Sabbath
clothes peered in at the passage, and then knocked primly at the door.
Andra forgot himself, and called out to him to come in by; but Jess
frowned him into silence, and, hastily donning her black mutch, received
Willie on the threshold. Both halves of the door were open, and the
visitor had looked us over carefully before knocking; but he had come
with the compliments of Tibbie’s mother, requesting the pleasure of Jess
and her man that evening to the lassie’s marriage with Sam’l Todd,
and the knocking at the door was part of the ceremony. Five minutes
afterward Joey returned to beg a moment of me in the passage; when I,
too, got my invitation. The lad had just received, with an expression of
polite surprise, though he knew he could claim it as his right, a
slice of crumbling shortbread, and taken his staid departure, when Jess
cleared the tea-things off the table, remarking simply that it was a
mercy we had not got beyond the first cup. We then retired to dress.

About six o’clock, the time announced for the ceremony, I elbowed my way
through the expectant throng of men, women, and children that already
besieged the smith’s door. Shrill demands of “Toss, toss!” rent the air
every time Jess’ head showed on the window-blind, and Andra hoped, as I
pushed open the door, “that I hadna forgotten my bawbees.” Weddings were
celebrated among the Auld Lichts by showers of ha’pence, and the guests
on their way to the bride’s house had to scatter to the hungry rabble
like housewives feeding poultry. Willie Todd, the best man, who had
never come out so strong in his life before, slipped through the back
window, while the crowd, led on by Kitty McQueen, seethed in front, and
making a bolt for it to the “‘Sosh,” was back in a moment with a
handful of small change. “Dinna toss ower lavishly at first,” the
smith whispered me nervously, as we followed Jess and Willie into the
darkening wynd.

The guests were packed hot and solemn in Johnny Allardice’s “room:” the
men anxious to surrender their seats to the ladies who happened to be
standing, but too bashful to propose it; the ham and the fish frizzling
noisily side by side but the house, and hissing out every now and then
to let all whom it might concern know that Janet Craik was adding more
water to the gravy. A better woman never lived; but, oh, the hypocrisy
of the face that beamed greeting to the guests as if it had nothing to
do but politely show them in, and gasped next moment with upraised arms
over what was nearly a fall in crockery. When Janet sped to the door
her “spleet new” merino dress fell, to the pulling of a string, over
her home-made petticoat, like the drop-scene in a theatre, and rose as
promptly when she returned to slice the bacon. The murmur of admiration
that filled the room when she entered with the minister was an
involuntary tribute to the spotlessness of her wrapper and a great
triumph for Janet. If there is an impression that the dress of the Auld
Lichts was on all occasions as sombre as their faces, let it be known
that the bride was but one of several in “whites,” and that Mag Munn
had only at the last moment been dissuaded from wearing flowers. The
minister, the Auld Lichts congratulated themselves, disapproved of all
such decking of the person and bowing of the head to idols; but on such
an occasion he was not expected to observe it. Bell Whamond, however,
has reason for knowing that, marriages or no marriages, he drew the line
at curls.

By-and-bye Sam’l Todd, looking a little dazed, was pushed into the
middle of the room to Tibbie’s side, and the minister raised his voice
in prayer. All eyes closed reverently, except perhaps the bridegroom’s,
which seemed glazed and vacant. It was an open question in the community
whether Mr. Dishart did not miss his chance at weddings; the men shaking
their heads over the comparative brevity of the ceremony, the women
worshipping him (though he never hesitated to rebuke them when they
showed it too openly) for the urbanity of his manners. At that time,
however, only a minister of such experience as Mr. Dishart’s predecessor
could lead up to a marriage in prayer without inadvertently joining
the couple; and the catechizing was mercifully brief. Another prayer
followed the union; the minister waived his right to kiss the bride;
every one looked at every other one as if he had for the moment
forgotten what he was on the point of saying and found it very annoying;
and Janet signed frantically to Willie Todd, who nodded intelligently
in reply, but evidently had no idea what she meant. In time Johnny
Allardice, our host, who became more and more and doited as the night
proceeded, remembered his instructions, and led the way to the kitchen,
where the guests, having politely informed their hostess that they were
not hungry, partook of a hearty tea. Mr. Dishart presided, with the
bride and bridegroom near him; but though he tried to give an agreeable
turn to the conversation by describing the extensions at the cemetery,
his personality oppressed us, and we only breathed freely when he rose
to go. Yet we marvelled at his versatility. In shaking hands with the
newly married couple the minister reminded them that it was leap-year,
and wished them “three hundred and sixty-six happy and God-fearing

Sam’l’s station being too high for it, Tibbie did not have a penny
wedding, which her thrifty mother bewailed, penny weddings starting a
couple in life. I can recall nothing more characteristic of the nation
from which the Auld Lichts sprang than the penny wedding, where the only
revellers that were not out of pocket by it were the couple who gave
the entertainment. The more the guests ate and drank the better,
pecuniarily, for their hosts. The charge for admission to the penny
wedding (practically to the feast that followed it) varied in different
districts, but with us it was generally a shilling. Perhaps the penny
extra to the fiddler accounts for the name penny wedding. The ceremony
having been gone through in the bride’s house, there was an adjournment
to a barn or other convenient place of meeting, where was held the
nuptial feast; long white boards from Rob Angus’ saw-mill, supported on
trestles, stood in lieu of tables; and those of the company who could
not find a seat waited patiently against the wall for a vacancy. The
shilling gave every guest the free run of the groaning board; but though
fowls were plentiful, and even white bread too, little had been spent on
them. The farmers of the neighborhood, who looked forward to providing
the young people with drills of potatoes for the coming winter, made
a bid for their custom by sending them a fowl gratis for the marriage
supper. It was popularly understood to be the oldest cock of the
farmyard, but for all that it made a brave appearance in a shallow sea
of soup. The fowls were always boiled--without exception, so far as my
memory carries me; the guid-wife never having the heart to roast them,
and so lose the broth. One round of whiskey-and-water was all the drink
to which his shilling entitled the guest. If he wanted more he had
to pay for it. There was much revelry, with song and dance, that no
stranger could have thought those stiff-limbed weavers capable of; and
the more they shouted and whirled through the barn, the more their host
smiled and rubbed his hands. He presided at the bar improvised for the
occasion, and if the thing was conducted with spirit his bride flung an
apron over her gown and helped him. I remember one elderly bridegroom
who, having married a blind woman, had to do double work at his penny
wedding. It was a sight to see him flitting about the torch-lit barn,
with a kettle of hot water in one hand and a besom to sweep up crumbs in
the other.

Though Sam’l had no penny wedding, however, we made a night of it at his

Wedding-chariots were not in those days, though I know of Auld Lichts
being conveyed to marriages nowadays by horses with white ears. The
tea over, we formed in couples, and--the best man with the bride,
the bridegroom with the best maid, leading the way--marched in slow
procession in the moonlight night to Tibbie’s new home, between lines of
hoarse and eager onlookers. An attempt was made by an itinerant musician
to head the company with his fiddle; but instrumental music, even in the
streets, was abhorrent to sound Auld Lichts, and the minister had spoken
privately to Willie Todd on the subject. As a consequence, Peter was
driven from the ranks. The last thing I saw that night, as we filed,
bareheaded and solemn, into the newly married couple’s house, was Kitty
McQueen’s vigorous arm, in a dishevelled sleeve, pounding a pair of
urchins who had got between her and a muddy ha’penny.

That night there was revelry and boisterous mirth (or what the Auld
Lichts took for such) in Tibbie’s kitchen. At eleven o’clock Davit Lunan
cracked a joke. Davie Haggart, in reply to Bell Dundas’ request, gave
a song of distinctly secular tendencies. The bride (who had carefully
taken off her wedding-gown on getting home and donned a wrapper)
coquettishly let the bridegroom’s father hold her hand. In Auld Licht
circles, when one of the company was offered whiskey and refused it, the
others, as if pained even at the offer, pushed it from them as a thing
abhorred. But Davie Haggart set another example on this occasion, and no
one had the courage to refuse to follow it. We sat late round the dying
fire, and it was only Willie Todd’s scandalous assertion (he was but a
boy) about his being able to dance that induced us to think of moving.
In the community, I understand, this marriage is still memorable as the
occasion on which Bell Whamond laughed in the minister’s face.



Arms and men I sing: douce Jeemsy Todd, rushing from his loom, armed
with a bed-post; Lisbeth Whamond, an avenging whirlwind: Neil Haggart,
pausing in his thank-offerings to smite and slay; the impious foe
scudding up the bleeding Brae-head with Nemesis at their flashing heels;
the minister holding it a nice question whether the carnage was not
justified. Then came the two hours’ sermons of the following Sabbath,
when Mr. Dishart, revolving like a teetotum in the pulpit, damned every
bandaged person present, individually and collectively; and Lang Tammas
in the precentor’s box with a plaster on his cheek, included any one the
minister might have by chance omitted, and the congregation, with most
of their eyes bunged up, burst into psalms of praise.

Twice a year the Auld Lichts went demented. The occasion was the
fast-day at Tilliedrum; when its inhabitants, instead of crowding
reverently to the kirk, swooped profanely down in their scores and tens
of scores on our God-fearing town, intent on making a day of it. Then
did the weavers rise as one man, and go forth to show the ribald crew
the errors of their way. All denominations were represented, but Auld
Lichts led. An Auld Licht would have taken no man’s blood without the
conviction that he would be the better morally for the bleeding; and if
Tammas Lunan’s case gave an impetus to the blows, it can only have
been because it opened wider Auld Licht eyes to Tilliedrum’s desperate
condition. Mr. Dishart’s predecessor more than once remarked that at
the Creation the devil put forward a claim for Thrums, but said he
would take his chance of Tilliedrum; and the statement was generally
understood to be made on the authority of the original Hebrew.

The mustard-seed of a feud between the two parishes shot into a tall
tree in a single night, when Davit Lunan’s father went to a tattie roup
at Tilliedrum and thoughtlessly died there. Twenty-four hours afterward
a small party of staid Auld Lichts, carrying long white poles, stepped
out of various wynds and closes and picked their solemn way to the house
of mourning. Nanny Low, the widow, received them dejectedly, as one
oppressed by the knowledge that her man’s death at such an inopportune
place did not fulfil the promise of his youth; and her guests admitted
bluntly that they were disappointed in Tammas. Snecky Hobart’s father’s
unusually long and impressive prayer was an official intimation that the
deceased, in the opinion of the session, sorely needed everything of the
kind he could get; and then the silent driblet of Auld Lichts in
black stalked off in the direction of Tilliedrum. Women left their
spinning-wheels and pirns to follow them with their eyes along the
Tenements, and the minister was known to be holding an extra service at
the manse. When the little procession reached the boundary-line between
the two parishes, they sat down on a dyke and waited.

By-and-bye half a dozen men drew near from the opposite direction,
bearing on poles the remains of Tammas Lunan in a closed coffin. The
coffin was brought to within thirty yards of those who awaited it, and
then roughly lowered to the ground. Its bearers rested morosely on their
poles. In conveying Lunan’s remains to the borders of his own parish
they were only conforming to custom; but Thrums and Tilliedrum differed
as to where the boundary-line was drawn, and not a foot would either
advance into the other’s territory.

For half a day the coffin lay unclaimed, and the two parties sat
scowling at each other. Neither dared move. Gloaming had stolen into
the valley when Dite Deuchars, of Tilliedrum, rose to his feet and
deliberately spat upon the coffin. A stone whizzed through the air; and
then the ugly spectacle was presented, in the gray night, of a dozen
mutes fighting with their poles over a coffin. There was blood on the
shoulders that bore Tammas’ remains to Thrums.

After that meeting Tilliedrum lived for the fast-day. Never, perhaps,
was there a community more given up to sin, and Thrums felt “called”
 to its chastisement. The insult to Lunan’s coffin, however, dispirited
their weavers for a time, and not until the suicide of Pitlums did
they put much fervor into their prayers. It made new men of them.
Tilliedrum’s sins had found it out. Pitlums was a farmer in the parish
of Thrums, but he had been born at Tilliedrum; and Thrums thanked
Providence for that, when it saw him suspended between two hams from his
kitchen rafters. The custom was to cart suicides to the quarry at the
Galla pond and bury them near the cairn that had supported the gallows;
but on this occasion not a farmer in the parish would lend a cart,
and for a week the corpse lay on the sanded floor as it had been cut
down--an object of awestruck interest to boys who knew no better than to
peep through the darkened window. Tilliedrum bit its lips at home. The
Auld Licht minister, it was said, had been approached on the subject;
but, after serious consideration, did not see his way to offering up a
prayer. Finally old Hobart and two others tied a rope round the body,
and dragged it from the farm to the cairn, a distance of four miles.
Instead of this incident’s humbling Tilliedrum into attending church,
the next fast-day saw its streets deserted. As for the Thrums Auld
Lichts, only heavy wobs prevented their walking erect like men who had
done their duty. If no prayer was volunteered for Pitlums before his
burial, there was a great deal of psalm-singing after it.

By early morn on their fast-day the Tilliedrummers were straggling into
Thrums, and the weavers, already at their looms, read the clattering of
feet and carts aright. To convince themselves, all they had to do was to
raise their eyes; but the first triumph would have been to Tilliedrum if
they had done that. The invaders--the men in Aberdeen blue serge coats,
velvet knee-breeches, and broad blue bonnets, and the wincey gowns of
the women set off with hooded cloaks of red or tartan--tapped at the
windows and shouted insultingly as they passed; but, with pursed lips,
Thrums bent fiercely over its wobs, and not an Auld Licht showed outside
his door. The day wore on to noon, and still ribaldry was master of the
wynds. But there was a change inside the houses. The minister had pulled
down his blinds; moody men had left their looms for stools by the fire;
there were rumors of a conflict in Andra Gowrie’s close, from which
Kitty McQueen had emerged with her short gown in rags; and Lang Tammas
was going from door to door. The austere precentor admonished fiery
youth to beware of giving way to passion; and it was a proud day for the
Auld Lichts to find their leading elder so conversant with apt Scripture
texts. They bowed their heads reverently while he thundered forth that
those who lived by the sword would perish by the sword; and when he had
finished they took him ben to inspect their bludgeons. I have a vivid
recollection of going the round of the Auld Licht and other houses to
see the sticks and the wrists in coils of wire.

A stranger in the Tenements in the afternoon would have noted more than
one draggled youth in holiday attire, sitting on a doorstep with a wet
cloth to his nose; and, passing down the commonty, he would have had to
step over prostrate lumps of humanity from which all shape had departed.
Gavin Ogilvy limped heavily after his encounter with Thrummy Tosh--a
struggle that was looked forward to eagerly as a bi-yearly event;
Christy Davie’s development of muscle had not prevented her going
down before the terrible onslaught of Joe the miller, and Lang Tammas’
plasters told a tale. It was in the square that the two parties, leading
their maimed and blind, formed in force; Tilliedrum thirsting for its
opponents’ blood, and Thrums humbly accepting the responsibility of
punching the fast-day breakers into the ways of rectitude. In the small,
ill-kept square the invaders, to the number of about a hundred, were
wedged together at its upper end, while the Thrums people formed in a
thick line at the foot. For its inhabitants the way to Tilliedrum lay
through this threatening mass of armed weavers. No words were bandied
between the two forces; the centre of the square was left open,
and nearly every eye was fixed on the town-house clock. It directed
operations and gave the signal to charge. The moment six o’clock struck,
the upper mass broke its bonds and flung itself on the living barricade.
There was a clatter of heads and sticks, a yelling and a groaning,
and then the invaders, bursting through the opposing ranks, fled for
Tilliedrum. Down the Tanage brae and up the Brae-head they skurried,
half a hundred avenging spirits in pursuit. On the Tilliedrum fast-day
I have tasted blood myself. In the godless place there is no Auld Licht
kirk, but there are two Auld Lichts in it now who walk to Thrums to
church every Sabbath, blow or rain as it lists. They are making their
influence felt in Tilliedrum.

The Auld Lichts also did valorous deeds at the Battle of Cabbylatch. The
farm land so named lies a mile or more to the south of Thrums. You
have to go over the rim of the cut to reach it. It is low-lying and
uninteresting to the eye, except for some giant stones scattered cold
and naked through the fields. No human hands reared these bowlders, but
they might be looked upon as tombstones to the heroes who fell (to rise
hurriedly) on the plain of Cabbylatch.

The fight of Cabbylatch belongs to the days of what are now but dimly
remembered as the Meal Mobs. Then there was a wild cry all over the
country for bread (not the fine loaves that we know, but something very
much coarser), and hungry men and women, prematurely shrunken, began
to forget the taste of meal. Potatoes were their chief sustenance, and,
when the crop failed, starvation gripped them. At that time the farmers,
having control of the meal, had the small towns at their mercy, and
they increased its cost. The price of the meal went up and up, until
the famishing people swarmed up the sides of the carts in which it
was conveyed to the towns, and, tearing open the sacks, devoured it in
handfuls. In Thrums they had a stern sense of justice, and for a time,
after taking possession of the meal, they carried it to the square and
sold it at what they considered a reasonable price. The money was handed
over to the farmers. The honesty of this is worth thinking about, but it
seems to have only incensed the farmers the more; and when they saw that
to send their meal to the town was not to get high prices for it, they
laid their heads together and then gave notice that the people who
wanted meal and were able to pay for it must come to the farms. In
Thrums no one who cared to live on porridge and bannocks had money to
satisfy the farmers; but, on the other hand, none of them grudged going
for it, and go they did. They went in numbers from farm to farm, like
bands of hungry rats, and throttled the opposition they not infrequently
encountered. The raging farmers at last met in council, and, noting that
they were lusty men and brave, resolved to march in armed force upon
the erring people and burn their town. Now we come to the Battle of

The farmers were not less than eighty strong, and chiefly consisted of
cavalry. Armed with pitchforks and cumbrous scythes where they were
not able to lay their hands on the more orthodox weapons of war, they
presented a determined appearance; the few foot-soldiers who had no
cart-horses at their disposal bearing in their arms bundles of firewood.
One memorable morning they set out to avenge their losses; and by and
by a halt was called, when each man bowed his head to listen. In Thrums,
pipe and drum were calling the inhabitants to arms. Scouts rushed in
with the news that the farmers were advancing rapidly upon the town, and
soon the streets were clattering with feet. At that time Thrums had its
piper and drummer (the bellman of a later and more degenerate age); and
on this occasion they marched together through the narrow wynds, firing
the blood of haggard men and summoning them to the square. According
to my informant’s father, the gathering of these angry and startled
weavers, when he thrust his blue bonnet on his head and rushed out to
join them, was an impressive and solemn spectacle. That bloodshed was
meant there can be no doubt; for starving men do not see the ludicrous
side of things. The difference between the farmers and the town had
resolved itself into an ugly and sullen hate, and the wealthier townsmen
who would have come between the people and the bread were fiercely
pushed aside. There was no nominal leader, but every man in the ranks
meant to fight for himself and his belongings; and they are said to have
sallied out to meet the foe in no disorder. The women they would fain
have left behind them; but these had their own injuries to redress, and
they followed in their husbands’ wake carrying bags of stones. The
men, who were of various denominations, were armed with sticks,
blunderbusses, anything they could snatch up at a moment’s notice; and
some of them were not unacquainted with fighting. Dire silence prevailed
among the men, but the women shouted as they ran, and the curious army
moved forward to the drone and squall of drum and pipe. The enemy was
sighted on the level land of Cabbylatch, and here, while the intending
combatants glared at each other, a well-known local magnate galloped his
horse between them and ordered them in the name of the king to return to
their homes. But for the farmers that meant further depredation at the
people’s hands, and the townsmen would not go back to their gloomy homes
to sit down and wait for sunshine. Soon stones (the first, it is said,
cast by a woman) darkened the air. The farmers got the word to charge,
but their horses, with the best intentions, did not know the way.
There was a stampeding in different directions, a blind rushing of one
frightened steed against another; and then the townspeople, breaking any
ranks they had hitherto managed to keep, rushed vindictively forward.
The struggle at Cabbylatch itself was not of long duration; for their
own horses proved the farmers’ worst enemies, except in the cases where
these sagacious animals took matters into their own ordering and bolted
judiciously for their stables. The day was to Thrums.

Individual deeds of prowess were done that day. Of these not the least
fondly remembered by her descendants were those of the gallant matron
who pursued the most obnoxious farmer in the district even to his very
porch with heavy stones and opprobrious epithets. Once when he thought
he had left her far behind did he alight to draw breath and take a pinch
of snuff, and she was upon him like a flail. With a terror stricken cry
he leaped once more upon his horse and fled, but not without leaving his
snuff-box in the hands of the derisive enemy. Meggy has long gone to the
kirk-yard, but the snuff-mull is still preserved.

Some ugly cuts were given and received, and heads as well as ribs were
broken; but the townsmen’s triumph was short-lived. The ringleaders were
whipped through the streets of Perth, as a warning to persons thinking
of taking the law into their own hands; and all the lasting consolation
they got was that, some time afterward, the chief witness against them,
the parish minister, met with a mysterious death. They said it was
evidently the hand of God; but some people looked suspiciously at them
when they said it.



From the new cemetery, which is the highest point in Thrums, you just
fail to catch sight of the red school-house that nestles between two
bare trees, some five miles up the glen of Quharity. This was proved by
Davit Lunan, tinsmith, whom I have heard tell the story. It was in the
time when the cemetery gates were locked to keep the bodies of suicides
out, but men who cared to risk the consequences could get the coffin
over the high dyke and bury it themselves. Peter Lundy’s coffin broke,
as one might say, into the church-yard in this way, Peter having hanged
himself in the Whunny wood when he saw that work he must. The general
feeling among the intimates of the deceased was expressed by Davit when
he said:

“It may do the crittur nae guid i’ the tail o’ the day, but he paid
for’s bit o’ ground, an’ he’s in’s richt to occupy it.”

The custom was to push the coffin on to the wall up a plank, and then
let it drop less carefully into the cemetery. Some of the mourners were
dragging the plank over the wall, with Davit Lunan on the top directing
them, when they seem to have let go and sent the tinsmith suddenly into
the air. A week afterward it struck Davit, when in the act of soldering
a hole in Leeby Wheens’ flagon (here he branched off to explain that he
had made the flagon years before, and that Leeby was sister to Tammas
Wheens, and married one Baker Robbie, who died of chicken-pox in his
forty-fourth year), that when “up there” he had a view of Quharity
school-house. Davit was as truthful as a man who tells the same story
more than once can be expected to be, and it is far from a suspicious
circumstance that he did not remember seeing the school-house all at
once. In Thrums things only struck them gradually. The new cemetery, for
instance, was only so called because it had been new once.

In this red stone school, full of the modern improvements that he
detested, the old dominie whom I succeeded taught, and sometimes slept,
during the last five years of his cantankerous life. It was in a little
thatched school, consisting of but one room, that he did his best work,
some five hundred yards away from the edifice that was reared in its
stead. Now dismally fallen into disrepute, often indeed a domicile for
cattle, the ragged academy of Glen Quharity, where he held despotic sway
for nearly half a century, is falling to pieces slowly in a howe that
conceals it from the high-road. Even in its best scholastic days, when
it sent barefooted lads to college who helped to hasten the Disruption,
it was but a pile of ungainly stones, such as Scott’s Black Dwarf flung
together in a night, with holes in its broken roof of thatch where
the rain trickled through, and never with less than two of its knotted
little window-panes stopped with brown paper. The twelve or twenty
pupils of both sexes who constituted the attendance sat at the two loose
desks, which never fell unless you leaned on them, with an eye on the
corner of the earthen floor where the worms came out, and on cold days
they liked the wind to turn the peat smoke into the room. One boy, who
was supposed to wash it out, got his education free for keeping the
school-house dirty, and the others paid their way with peats, which they
brought in their hands, just as wealthier school-children carry books,
and with pence which the dominie collected regularly every Monday
morning. The attendance on Monday mornings was often small.

Once a year the dominie added to his income by holding cockfights in the
old school. This was at Yule, and the same practice held in the parish
school of Thrums. It must have been a strange sight. Every male scholar
was expected to bring a cock to the school, and to pay a shilling to the
dominie for the privilege of seeing it killed there. The dominie was the
master of the sports, assisted by the neighboring farmers, some of whom
might be elders of the church. Three rounds were fought. By the end
of the first round all the cocks had fought, and the victors were then
pitted against each other. The cocks that survived the second round were
eligible for the third, and the dominie, besides his shilling, got every
cock killed. Sometimes, if all stories be true, the spectators were
fighting with each other before the third round concluded.

The glen was but sparsely dotted with houses even in those days; a
number of them inhabited by farmer-weavers, who combined two trades and
just managed to live. One would have a plough, another a horse, and so
in Glen Quharity they helped each other. Without a loom in addition
many of them would have starved, and on Saturdays the big farmer and his
wife, driving home in a gig, would pass the little farmer carrying or
wheeling his wob to Thrums. When there was no longer a market for the
produce of the hand-loom these farms had to be given up, and thus it is
that the old school is not the only house in our weary glen around which
gooseberry and currant bushes, once tended by careful hands, now grow

In heavy spates the children were conveyed to the old school, as they
are still to the new one, in carts, and between it and the dominie’s
whitewashed, dwelling-house swirled in winter a torrent of water that
often carried lumps of the land along with it. This burn he had at times
to ford on stilts.

Before the Education Act passed the dominie was not much troubled by the
school inspector, who appeared in great splendor every year at Thrums.
Fifteen years ago, however, Glen Quharity resolved itself into a School
Board, and marched down the glen, with the minister at its head, to
condemn the school. When the dominie, who had heard of their design, saw
the board approaching, he sent one of his scholars, who enjoyed making
a mess of himself, wading across the burn to bring over the stilts which
were lying on the other side. The board were thus unable to send across
a spokesman, and after they had harangued the dominie, who was in the
best of tempers, from the wrong side of the stream, the siege was raised
by their returning home, this time with the minister in the rear. So far
as is known, this was the only occasion on which the dominie ever lifted
his hat to the minister. He was the Established Church minister at the
top of the glen, but the dominie was an Auld Licht, and trudged into
Thrums to church nearly every Sunday with his daughter.

The farm of Little Tilly lay so close to the dominie’s house that from
one window he could see through a telescope whether the farmer was going
to church, owing to Little Tilly’s habit of never shaving except with
that intention, and of always doing it at a looking-glass which he hung
on a nail in his door. The farmer was Established Church, and when the
dominie saw him in his shirt-sleeves with a razor in his hand, he called
for his black clothes. If he did not see him it is undeniable that
the dominie sent his daughter to Thrums, but remained at home himself.
Possibly, therefore, the dominie sometimes went to church, because
he did not want to give Little Tilly and the Established minister the
satisfaction of knowing that he was not devout today, and it is even
conceivable that had Little Tilly had a telescope and an intellect as
well as his neighbor, he would have spied on the dominie in return. He
sent the teacher a load of potatoes every year, and the recipient rated
him soundly if they did not turn out as well as the ones he had got the
autumn before. Little Tilly was rather in awe of the dominie, and had an
idea that he was a Freethinker, because he played the fiddle and wore a
black cap.

The dominie was a wizened-looking little man, with sharp eyes that
pierced you when they thought they were unobserved, and if any visitor
drew near who might be a member of the board, he disappeared into his
house much as a startled weasel makes for its hole. The most striking
thing about him was his walk, which to the casual observer seemed a
limp. The glen in our part is marshy, and to progress along it you have
to jump from one little island of grass or heather to another. Perhaps
it was this that made the dominie take the main road and even the
streets of Thrums in leaps, as if there were bowlders or puddles in the
way. It is, however, currently believed among those who knew him best
that he jerked himself along in that way when he applied for the vacancy
in Glen Quharity school, and that he was therefore chosen from among the
candidates by the committee of farmers, who saw that he was specially
constructed for the district.

In the spring the inspector was sent to report on the school, and, of
course, he said, with a wave of his hand, that this would never do. So
a new school was built, and the ramshackle little academy that had done
good service in its day was closed for the last time. For years it had
been without a lock; ever since a blatter of wind and rain drove the
door against the fire-place. After that it was the dominie’s custom,
on seeing the room cleared, to send in a smart boy--a dux was always
chosen--who wedged a clod of earth or peat between doorpost and door.
Thus the school was locked up for the night. The boy came out by the
window, where he entered to open the door next morning. In time grass
hid the little path from view that led to the old school, and a dozen
years ago every particle of wood about the building, including the door
and the framework of the windows, had been burned by travelling tinkers.

The board would have liked to leave the dominie in his whitewashed
dwelling-house to enjoy his old age comfortably, and until he learned
that he had intended to retire. Then he changed his tactics and removed
his beard. Instead of railing at the new school, he began to approve of
it, and it soon came to the ears of the horrified Established minister,
who had a man (Established) in his eye for the appointment, that the
dominie was looking ten years younger. As he spurned a pension he had to
get the place, and then began a warfare of bickerings between the
board and him that lasted until within a few weeks of his death. In
his scholastic barn the dominie had thumped the Latin grammar into his
scholars till they became university bursars to escape him. In the new
school, with maps (which he hid in the hen-house) and every other modern
appliance for making teaching easy, he was the scandal of the glen. He
snapped at the clerk of the board’s throat, and barred his door in the
minister’s face. It was one of his favorite relaxations to peregrinate
the district, telling the farmers who were not on the board themselves,
but were given to gossiping with those who were, that though he could
slumber pleasantly in the school so long as the hum of the standards was
kept up, he immediately woke if it ceased.

Having settled himself in his new quarters, the dominie seems to have
read over the code and come at once to the conclusion that it would
be idle to think of straightforwardly fulfilling its requirements. The
inspector he regarded as a natural enemy, who was to be circumvented by
much guile. One year that admirable Oxford don arrived at the school, to
find that all the children, except two girls--one of whom had her face
tied up with red flannel--were away for the harvest. On another occasion
the dominie met the inspector’s trap some distance from the school, and
explained that he would guide him by a short cut, leaving the driver to
take the dog-cart to a farm where it could be put up. The unsuspecting
inspector agreed, and they set off, the obsequious dominie carrying
his bag. He led his victim into another glen, the hills round which had
hidden their heads in mist, and then slyly remarked that he was
afraid they had lost their way. The minister, who liked to attend the
examination, reproved the dominie for providing no luncheon, but turned
pale when his enemy suggested that he should examine the boys in Latin.

For some reason that I could never discover, the dominie had all his
life refused to teach his scholars geography. The inspector and many
others asked him why there was no geography class, and his invariable
answer was to point to his pupils collectively, and reply in an
impressive whisper:

“They winna hae her.”

This story, too, seems to reflect against the dominie’s views on
cleanliness. One examination day the minister attended to open the
inspection with prayer. Just as he was finishing, a scholar entered who
had a reputation for dirt.

“Michty!” cried a little pupil, as his opening eyes fell on the
apparition at the door, “there’s Jocky Tamson wi’ his face washed!”

When the dominie was a younger man he had first clashed with the
minister during Mr. Rattray’s attempts to do away with some old customs
that were already dying by inches. One was the selection of a queen of
beauty from among the young women at the annual Thrums fair. The judges,
who were selected from the better-known farmers as a rule, sat at the
door of a tent that reeked of whiskey, and regarded the competitors
filing by much as they selected prize sheep, with a stolid stare. There
was much giggling and blushing on these occasions among the maidens, and
shouts from their relatives and friends to “Haud yer head up, Jean,” and
“Lat them see yer een, Jess.” The dominie enjoyed this, and was one time
chosen, a judge, when he insisted on the prize’s being bestowed on
his own daughter, Marget. The other judges demurred, but the dominie
remained firm and won the day.

“She wasna the best-faured amon them,” he admitted afterward, “but a man
maun mak the maist o’ his ain.”

The dominie, too, would not shake his head with Mr. Rattray over the
apple and loaf bread raffles in the smithy, nor even at the Daft Days,
the black week of glum debauch that ushered in the year, a period when
the whole countryside rumbled to the farmers’ “kebec” laden cart.

For the great part of his career the dominie had not made forty pounds
a year, but he “died worth” about three hundred pounds. The moral of his
life came in just as he was leaving it, for he rose from his death-bed
to hide a whiskey-bottle from his wife.



The children used to fling stones at Grinder Queery because he loved his
mother. I never heard the Grinder’s real name. He and his mother were
Queery and Drolly, contemptuously so called, and they answered to these
names. I remember Cree best as a battered old weaver, who bent forward
as he walked, with his arms hanging limp as if ready to grasp the shafts
of the barrow behind which it was his life to totter up hill and down
hill, a rope of yarn suspended round his shaking neck and fastened to
the shafts, assisting him to bear the yoke and slowly strangling him.
By and by there came a time when the barrow and the weaver seemed both
palsy-stricken, and Cree, gasping for breath, would stop in the middle
of a brae, unable to push his load over a stone. Then he laid himself
down behind it to prevent the barrow’s slipping back. On those occasions
only the barefooted boys who jeered at the panting weaver could put new
strength into his shrivelled arms. They did it by telling him that he
and Mysy would have to go to the “poorshouse” after all, at which the
gray old man would wince, as if “joukin” from a blow, and, shuddering,
rise and, with a desperate effort, gain the top of the incline. Small
blame perhaps attached to Cree if, as he neared his grave, he grew a
little dottle. His loads of yarn frequently took him past the workhouse,
and his eyelids quivered as he drew near. Boys used to gather round
the gate in anticipation of his coming, and make a feint of driving
him inside. Cree, when he observed them, sat down on his barrow-shafts
terrified to approach, and I see them now pointing to the workhouse till
he left his barrow on the road and hobbled away, his legs cracking as he

It is strange to know that there was once a time when Cree was young and
straight, a callant who wore a flower in his button-hole and tried to be
a hero for a maiden’s sake.

Before Cree settled down as a weaver, he was knife and scissor grinder
for three counties, and Mysy, his mother, accompanied him wherever he
went. Mysy trudged alongside him till her eyes grew dim and her limbs
failed her, and then Cree was told that she must be sent to the pauper’s
home. After that a pitiable and beautiful sight was to be seen. Grinder
Queery, already a feeble man, would wheel his grindstone along the
long high-road, leaving Mysy behind. He took the stone on a few hundred
yards, and then, hiding it by the roadside in a ditch or behind a
paling, returned for his mother. Her he led--sometimes he almost carried
her--to the place where the grindstone lay, and thus by double journeys
kept her with him. Every one said that Mysy’s death would be a merciful
release--every one but Cree.

Cree had been a grinder from his youth, having learned the trade from
his father, but he gave it up when Mysy became almost blind. For a
time he had to leave her in Thrums with Dan’l Wilkie’s wife, and find
employment himself in Tilliedrum. Mysy got me to write several letters
for her to Cree, and she cried while telling me what to say. I never
heard either of them use a term of endearment to the other, but all Mysy
could tell me to put in writing was: “Oh, my son Cree; oh, my beloved
son; oh, I have no one but you; oh, thou God watch over my Cree!” On one
of these occasions Mysy put into my hands a paper, which she said would
perhaps help me to write the letter. It had been drawn up by Cree many
years before, when he and his mother had been compelled to part for a
time, and I saw from it that he had been trying to teach Mysy to write.
The paper consisted of phrases such as “Dear son Cree,” “Loving mother,”
 “I am takin’ my food weel,” “Yesterday,” “Blankets,” “The peats is near
done,” “Mr. Dishart,” “Come home, Cree.” The grinder had left this paper
with his mother, and she had written letters to him from it.

When Dan’l Wilkie objected to keeping a cranky old body like Mysy in his
house, Cree came back to Thrums and took a single room with a hand-loom
in it. The flooring was only lumpy earth, with sacks spread over it to
protect Mysy’s feet. The room contained two dilapidated old coffin-beds,
a dresser, a high-backed arm-chair, several three-legged stools, and
two tables, of which one could be packed away beneath the other. In one
corner stood the wheel at which Cree had to fill his own pirns. There
was a plate-rack on one wall, and near the chimney-piece hung the
wag-at-the-wall clock, the time-piece that was commonest in Thrums at
that time, and that got this name because its exposed pendulum swung
along the wall. The two windows in the room faced each other on opposite
walls, and were so small that even a child might have stuck in trying to
crawl through them. They opened on hinges, like a door. In the wall of
the dark passage leading from the outer door into the room was a recess
where a pan and pitcher of water always stood wedded, as it were, and
a little hole, known as the “bole,” in the wall opposite the fire-place
contained Cree’s library. It consisted of Baxter’s “Saints’ Rest,”
 Harvey’s “Meditations,” the “Pilgrim’s Progress,” a work on folk-lore,
and several Bibles. The saut-backet, or salt-bucket, stood at the end
of the fender, which was half of an old cart-wheel. Here Cree worked,
whistling “Ower the watter for Chairlie” to make Mysy think that he was
as gay as a mavis. Mysy grew querulous in her old age, and up to the end
she thought of poor, done Cree as a handsome gallant. Only by weaving
far on into the night could Cree earn as much as six shillings a week.
He began at six o’clock in the morning, and worked until midnight by the
light of his cruizey. The cruizey was all the lamp Thrums had in those
days, though it is only to be seen in use now in a few old-world houses
in the glens. It is an ungainly thing in iron, the size of a man’s palm,
and shaped not unlike the palm when contracted and deepened to hold a
liquid. Whale-oil, lying open in the mould, was used, and the wick was a
rash with the green skin peeled off. These rashes were sold by herd-boys
at a halfpenny the bundle, but Cree gathered his own wicks. The rashes
skin readily when you know how to do it. The iron mould was placed
inside another of the same shape, but slightly larger, for in time the
oil dripped through the iron, and the whole was then hung by a cleek or
hook close to the person using it. Even with three wicks it gave but a
stime of light, and never allowed the weaver to see more than the half
of his loom at a time. Sometimes Cree used threads for wicks. He was too
dull a man to have many visitors, but Mr. Dishart called occasionally
and reproved him for telling his mother lies. The lies Cree told Mysy
were that he was sharing the meals he won for her, and that he wore the
overcoat which he had exchanged years before for a blanket to keep her

There was a terrible want of spirit about Grinder Queery. Boys used
to climb on to his stone roof with clods of damp earth in their hands,
which they dropped down the chimney. Mysy was bedridden by this time,
and the smoke threatened to choke her; so Cree, instead of chasing his
persecutors, bargained with them. He gave them fly-hooks which he had
busked himself, and when he had nothing left to give he tried to flatter
them into dealing gently with Mysy by talking to them as men. One night
it went through the town that Mysy now lay in bed all day listening for
her summons to depart. According to her ideas this would come in the
form of a tapping at the window, and their intention was to forestall
the spirit. Dite Gow’s boy, who is now a grown man, was hoisted up to
one of the little windows, and he has always thought of Mysy since as
he saw her then for the last time. She lay sleeping, so far as he could
see, and Cree sat by the fireside looking at her.

Every one knew that there was seldom a fire in that house unless Mysy
was cold. Cree seemed to think that the fire was getting low. In the
little closet, which, with the kitchen, made up his house, was a corner
shut off from the rest of the room by a few boards, and behind this
he kept his peats. There was a similar receptacle for potatoes in the
kitchen. Cree wanted to get another peat for the fire without disturbing
Mysy. First he took off his boots, and made for the peats on tip-toe.
His shadow was cast on the bed, however, so he next got down on his
knees and crawled softly into the closet. With the peat in his hands he
returned in the same way, glancing every moment at the bed where Mysy
lay. Though Tammy Gow’s face was pressed against a broken window, he did
not hear Cree putting that peat on the fire. Some say that Mysy heard,
but pretended not to do so for her son’s sake; that she realized the
deception he played on her and had not the heart to undeceive him.
But it would be too sad to believe that. The boys left Cree alone that

The old weaver lived on alone in that solitary house after Mysy left
him, and by and by the story went abroad that he was saving money. At
first no one believed this except the man who told it, but there seemed
after all to be something in it. You had only to hit Cree’s trouser
pocket to hear the money chinking, for he was afraid to let it out of
his clutch. Those who sat on dykes with him when his day’s labor was
over said that the wearer kept his hand all the time in his pocket, and
that they saw his lips move as he counted his hoard by letting it slip
through his fingers. So there were boys who called “Miser Queery” after
him instead of Grinder, and asked him whether he was saving up to keep
himself from the workhouse.

But we had all done Cree wrong. It came out on his death-bed what he had
been storing up his money for. Grinder, according to the doctor, died
of getting a good meal from a friend of his earlier days after being
accustomed to starve on potatoes and a very little oatmeal indeed.
The day before he died this friend sent him half a sovereign, and when
Grinder saw it he sat up excitedly in his bed and pulled his corduroys
from beneath his pillow. The woman who, out of kindness, attended him in
his last illness, looked on curiously while Cree added the sixpences and
coppers in his pocket to the half-sovereign. After all they only made
some two pounds, but a look of peace came into Cree’s eyes as he told
the woman to take it all to a shop in the town. Nearly twelve years
previously Jamie Lownie had lent him two pounds, and though the money
was never asked for, it preyed on Cree’s mind that he was in debt. He
paid off all he owed, and so Cree’s life was not, I think, a failure.



For two years it had been notorious in the square that Sam’l Dickie
was thinking of courting T’nowhead’s Bell, and that if little Sanders
Elshioner (which is the Thrums pronunciation of Alexander Alexander)
went in for her, he might prove a formidable rival. Sam’l was a weaver
in the Tenements, and Sanders a coal-carter, whose trade-mark was a bell
on his horse’s neck that told when coal was coming. Being something of
a public man, Sanders had not, perhaps, so high a social position as
Sam’l, but he had succeeded his father on the coal-cart, while the
weaver had already tried several trades. It had always been against
Sam’l, too, that once when the kirk was vacant he had advised the
selection of the third minister who preached for it on the ground that
it came expensive to pay a large number of candidates. The scandal
of the thing was hushed up, out of respect for his father, who was a
God-fearing man, but Sam’l was known by it in Lang Tammas’ circle.
The coal-carter was called Little Sanders to distinguish him from his
father, who was not much more than half his size. He had grown up with
the name, and its inapplicability now came home to nobody. Sam’l’s
mother had been more far-seeing than Sanders’. Her man had been called
Sammy all his life because it was the name he got as a boy, so when
their eldest son was born she spoke of him as Sam’l while still in the
cradle. The neighbors imitated her, and thus the young man had a better
start in life than had been granted to Sammy, his father.

It was Saturday evening--the night in the week when Auld Licht young men
fell in love. Sam’l Dickie, wearing a blue glengarry bonnet with a red
ball on the top, came to the door of a one-story house in the Tenements,
and stood there wriggling, for he was in a suit of tweed for the first
time that week, and did not feel at one with them. When his feeling of
being a stranger to himself wore off, he looked up and down the road,
which straggles between houses and gardens, and then, picking his way
over the puddles, crossed to his father’s hen-house and sat down on it.
He was now on his way to the square.

Eppie Fargus was sitting on an adjoining dyke knitting stockings, and
Sam’l looked at her for a time.

“Is’t yersel, Eppie?” he said at last.

“It’s a’ that,” said Eppie.

“Hoo’s a’ wi’ ye?” asked Sam’l.

“We’re juist aff an’ on,” replied Eppie, cautiously.

There was not much more to say, but as Sam’l sidled off the hen-house,
he murmured politely, “Ay, ay.” In another minute he would have been
fairly started, but Eppie resumed the conversation.

“Sam’l,” she said, with a twinkle in her eye, “ye can tell Lisbeth
Fargus I’ll likely be drappin’ in on her’ aboot Mununday or Teisday.”

Lisbeth was sister to Eppie, and wife of Tammas McQuhatty, better
known as T’nowhead, which was the name of his farm. She was thus Bell’s

Sam’l leaned against the hen-house as if all his desire to depart had

“Hoo d’ye kin I’ll be at the T’nowhead the nicht?” he asked, grinning in

“Ou, I’se warrant ye’ll be after Bell,” said Eppie.

“Am no sae sure o’ that,” said Sam’l, trying to leer. He was enjoying
himself now.

“Am no sure o’ that,” he repeated, for Eppie seemed lost in stitches.



“Ye’ll be speirin’ her sune noo, I dinna doot?”

This took Sam’l, who had only been courting Bell for a year or two, a
little aback.

“Hoo d’ye mean, Eppie?” he asked.

“Maybe ye’ll do’t the nicht.”

“Na, there’s nae hurry,” said Sam’l.

“Weel, we’re a’ coontin’ on’t, Sam’l.”

“Gae wa wi’ ye.”

“What for no?”

“Gae wa wi’ ye,” said Sam’l again,

“Bell’s gei an’ fond o’ ye, Sam’l.”

“Ay,” said Sam’l.

“But am dootin’ ye’re a fell billy wi’ the lasses.”

“Ay, oh, I d’na kin, moderate, moderate,” said Sam’l, in high delight.

“I saw ye,” said Eppie, speaking with a wire in her mouth, “gae’in on
terr’ble wi’ Mysy Haggart at the pump last Saturday.”

“We was juist amoosin’ oorsels,” said Sam’l,

“It’ll be nae amoosement to Mysy,” said Eppie, “gin ye brak her heart.”

“Losh, Eppie,” said Sam’l, “I didna think o’ that.”

“Ye maun kin weel, Sam’l, ‘at there’s mony a lass wid jump at ye.”

“Ou, weel,” said Sam’l, implying that a man must take these things as
they come.

“For ye’re a dainty chield to look at, Sam’l.”

“Do ye think so, Eppie? Ay, ay; oh, I d’na kin am onything by the

“Ye mayna be,” said Eppie, “but lasses doesna do to be ower partikler.”

Sam’l resented this, and prepared to depart again.

“Ye’ll no tell Bell that?” he asked, anxiously.

“Tell her what?”

“Aboot me an’ Mysy.”

“We’ll see hoo ye behave yersel, Sam’l.”

“No ‘at I care, Eppie; ye can tell her gin ye like. I widna think twice
o’ tellin’ her mysel.”

“The Lord forgie ye for leein’, Sam’l,” said Eppie, as he disappeared
down Tammy Tosh’s close. Here he came upon Henders Webster.

“Ye’re late, Sam’l,” said Henders.

“What for?”

“Ou, I was thinkin’ ye wid be gaen the length o’ T’nowhead the nicht,
an’ I saw Sanders Elshioner makkin’s wy there an oor syne.”

“Did ye?” cried Sam’l, adding craftily, “but it’s naething to me.”

“Tod, lad,” said Henders, “gin ye dinna buckle to, Sanders’ll be
carryin’ her off.”

Sam’l flung back his head and passed on.

“Sam’l!” cried Henders after him.

“Ay,” said Sam’l, wheeling round.

“Gie Bell a kiss frae me.”

The full force of this joke struck neither all at once. Sam’l began to
smile at it as he turned down the school-wynd, and it came upon Henders
while he was in his garden feeding his ferret. Then he slapped his legs
gleefully, and explained the conceit to Will’um Byars, who went into the
house and thought it over.

There were twelve or twenty little groups of men in the square, which
was lit by a flare of oil suspended over a cadger’s cart. Now and again
a staid young woman passed through the square with a basket on her
arm, and if she had lingered long enough to give them time, some of the
idlers would have addressed her. As it was, they gazed after her, and
then grinned to each other.

“Ay, Sam’l,” said two or three young men, as Sam’l joined them beneath
the town-clock. “Ay, Davit,” replied Sam’l.

This group was composed of some of the sharpest wits in Thrums, and
it was not to be expected that they would let this opportunity pass.
Perhaps when Sam’l joined them he knew what was in store for him.

“Was ye lookin’ for T’nowhead’s Bell, Sam’l?” asked one.

“Or mebbe ye was wantin’ the minister?” suggested another, the same who
had walked out twice with Chirsty Duff and not married her after all.

Sam’l could not think of a good reply at the moment, so he laughed

“Ondootedly she’s a snod bit crittur,” said Davit, archly.

“An’ michty clever wi’ her fingers,” added Jamie Deuchars.

“Man, I’ve thocht o’ makkin’ up to Bell mysel,” said Pete Ogle. “Wid
there be ony chance, think ye, Sam’l?”

“I’m thinkin’ she widna hae ye for her first, Pete,” replied Sam’l,
in one of those happy flashes that come to some men, “but there’s nae
sayin’ but what she micht tak ye to finish up wi’.”

The unexpectedness of this sally startled every one. Though Sam’l did
not set up for a wit, however, like Davit, it was notorious that he
could say a cutting thing once in a way.

“Did ye ever see Bell reddin’ up?” asked Pete, recovering from his
overthrow. He was a man who bore no malice.

“It’s a sicht,” said Sam’l, solemnly.

“Hoo will that be?” asked Jamie Deuchars.

“It’s weel worth yer while,” said Pete, “to ging atower to the T’nowhead
an’ see. Ye’ll mind the closed-in beds i’ the kitchen? Ay, weel, they’re
a fell spoilt crew, T’nowhead’s litlins, an’ no that aisy to manage. Th’
ither lasses Lisbeth’s hae’n had a michty trouble wi’ them. When they
war i’ the middle o’ their reddin’ up the bairns wid come tumlin’ about
the floor, but, sal, I assure ye, Bell didna fash lang wi’ them. Did
she, Sam’l?”

“She did not,” said Sam’l, dropping into a fine mode of speech to add
emphasis to his remark.

“I’ll tell ye what she did,” said Pete to the others. “She juist lifted
up the litlins, twa at a time, an’ flung them into the coffin-beds. Syne
she snibbit the doors on them, an’ keepit them there till the floor was

“Ay, man, did she so?” said Davit, admiringly.

“I’ve seen her do’t mysel,” said Sam’l.

“There’s no a lassie maks better bannocks this side o’ Fetter Lums,”
 continued Pete.

“Her mither tocht her that,” said Sam’l; “she was a gran’ han’ at the
bakin’, Kitty Ogilvy.”

“I’ve heard say,” remarked Jamie, putting it this way so as not to tie
himself down to anything, “‘at Bell’s scones is equal to Mag Lunan’s.”

“So they are,” said Sam’l, almost fiercely.

“I kin she’s a neat han’ at singein’ a hen,” said Pete.

“An’ wi’t a’,” said Davit, “she’s a snod, canty bit stocky in her
Sabbath claes.”

“If onything, thick in the waist,” suggested Jamie.

“I dinna see that,” said Sam’l.

“I d’na care for her hair either,” continued Jamie, who was very nice in
his tastes; “something mair yalloweby wid be an improvement.”

“A’body kins,” growled Sam’l, “‘at black hair’s the bonniest.” The
others chuckled. “Puir Sam’l!” Pete said.

Sam’l not being certain whether this should be received with a smile
or a frown, opened his mouth wide as a kind of compromise. This was
position one with him for thinking things, over.

Few Auld Lichts, as I have said, went the length of choosing a helpmate
for themselves. One day a young man’s friends would see him mending
the washing-tub of a maiden’s mother. They kept the joke until Saturday
night, and then he learned from them what he had been after. It dazed
him for a time, but in a year or so he grew accustomed to the idea, and
they were then married. With a little help he fell in love just like
other people.

Sam’l was going the way of the others, but he found it difficult to come
to the point. He only went courting once a week, and he could never take
up the running at the place where he left off the Saturday before. Thus
he had not, so far, made great headway. His method of making up to Bell
had been to drop in at T’nowhead on Saturday nights and talk with the
farmer about the rinderpest.

The farm kitchen was Bell’s testimonial. Its chairs, tables, and stools
were scoured by her to the whiteness of Rob Angus’ saw-mill boards, and
the muslin blind on the window was starched like a child’s pinafore.
Bell was brave, too, as well as energetic. Once Thrums had been overrun
with thieves. It is now thought that there may have been only one, but
he had the wicked cleverness of a gang. Such was his repute that there
were weavers who spoke of locking their doors when they went from home.
He was not very skilful, however, being generally caught, and when they
said they knew he was a robber, he gave them their things back and went
away. If they had given him time there is no doubt that he would have
gone off with his plunder. One night he went to T’nowhead, and Bell, who
slept In the kitchen, was awakened by the noise. She knew who it would
be, so she rose and dressed herself, and went to look for him with a
candle. The thief had not known what to do when he got in, and as it was
very lonely he was glad to see Bell. She told him he ought to be ashamed
of himself, and would not let him out by the door until he had taken off
his boots so as not to soil the carpet.

On this Saturday evening Sam’l stood his ground in the square, until by
and by he found himself alone. There were other groups there still,
but his circle had melted away. They went separately, and no one said
good-night. Each took himself off slowly, backing out of the group until
he was fairly started.

Sam’l looked about him, and then, seeing that the others had gone,
walked round the town-house into the darkness of the brae that leads
down and then up to the farm of T’nowhead.

To get into the good graces of Lisbeth Fargus you had to know her ways
and humor them. Sam’l, who was a student of women, knew this, and so,
instead of pushing the door open and walking in, he went through the
rather ridiculous ceremony of knocking. Sanders Elshioner was also aware
of this weakness of Lisbeth’s, but though he often made up his mind to
knock, the absurdity of the thing prevented his doing so when he reached
the door. T’nowhead himself had never got used to his wife’s refined
notions, and when any one knocked he always started to his feet,
thinking there must be something wrong.

Lisbeth came to the door, her expansive figure blocking the way in.

“Sam’l,” she said.

“Lisbeth,” said Sam’l.

He shook hands with the farmer’s wife, knowing that she liked it, but
only said, “Ay, Bell,” to his sweetheart, “Ay, T’nowhead,” to McQuhatty,
and “It’s yersel, Sanders,” to his rival.

They were all sitting round the fire; T’nowhead, with his feet on the
ribs, wondering why he felt so warm, and Bell darned a stocking, while
Lisbeth kept an eye on a goblet full of potatoes.

“Sit into the fire, Sam’l,” said the farmer, not, however, making way
for him.

“Na, na,” said Sam’l; “I’m to bide nae time.” Then he sat into the fire.
His face was turned away from Bell, and when she spoke he answered her
without looking round. Sam’l felt a little anxious. Sanders Elshioner,
who had one leg shorter than the other, but looked well when sitting,
seemed suspiciously at home. He asked Bell questions out of his own
head, which was beyond Sam’l, and once he said something to her in
such a low voice that the others could not catch it. T’nowhead asked
curiously what it was, and Sanders explained that he had only said, “Ay,
Bell, the morn’s the Sabbath.” There was nothing startling in this, but
Sam’l did not like it. He began to wonder if he were too late, and
had he seen his opportunity would have told Bell of a nasty rumor that
Sanders intended to go over to the Free Church if they would make him

Sam’l had the good-will of T’nowhead’s wife, who liked a polite man.
Sanders did his best, but from want of practice he constantly made
mistakes. To-night, for instance, he wore his hat in the house because
he did not like to put up his hand and take it off. T’nowhead had not
taken his off either, but that was because he meant to go out by and
by and lock the byre door. It was impossible to say which of her lovers
Bell preferred. The proper course with an Auld Licht lassie was to
prefer the man who proposed to her.

“Ye’ll bide a wee, an’ hae something to eat?” Lisbeth asked Sam’l, with
her eyes on the goblet.

“No, I thank ye,” said Sam’l, with true gentility.

“Ye’ll better.”

“I dinna think it.”

“Hoots aye; what’s to hender ye?”

“Weel, since ye’re sae pressin’, I’ll bide.”

No one asked Sanders to stay. Bell could not, for she was but the
servant, and T’nowhead knew that the kick his wife had given him meant
that he was not to do so either. Sanders whistled to show that he was
not uncomfortable.

“Ay, then, I’ll be stappin’ ower the brae,” he said at last.

He did not go, however. There was sufficient pride in him to get him off
his chair, but only slowly, for he had to get accustomed to the notion
of going. At intervals of two or three minutes he remarked that he
must now be going. In the same circumstances Sam’l would have acted
similarly. For a Thrums man, it is one of the hardest things in life to
get away from anywhere.

At last Lisbeth saw that something must be done. The potatoes were
burning, and T’nowhead had an invitation on his tongue.

“Yes, I’ll hae to be movin’,” said Sanders, hopelessly, for the fifth

“Guid nicht to ye, then, Sanders,” said Lisbeth. “Gie the door a
fling-to, ahent ye.”

Sanders, with a mighty effort, pulled himself together. He looked boldly
at Bell, and then took off his hat carefully. Sam’l saw with misgivings
that there was something in it which was not a handkerchief. It was a
paper bag glittering with gold braid, and contained such an assortment
of sweets as lads bought for their lasses on the Muckle Friday.

“Hae, Bell,” said Sanders, handing the bag to Bell in an off-hand way
as if it were but a trifle. Nevertheless he was a little excited, for he
went off without saying good-night.

No one spoke. Bell’s face was crimson. T’nowhead fidgeted on his
chair, and Lisbeth looked at Sam’l. The weaver was strangely calm
and collected, though he would have liked to know whether this was a

“Sit in by to the table, Sam’l,” said Lisbeth, trying to look as if
things were as they had been before.

She put a saucerful of butter, salt, and pepper near the fire to
melt, for melted butter is the shoeing-horn that helps over a meal of
potatoes. Sam’l, however, saw what the hour required, and jumping up, he
seized his bonnet.

“Hing the tatties higher up the joist, Lisbeth,” he said with dignity;
“I’se be back in ten meenits.”

He hurried out of the house, leaving the others looking at each other.

“What do ye think?” asked Lisbeth.

“I d’na kin,” faltered Bell.

“Thae tatties is lang o’ comin’ to the boil,” said T’nowhead.

In some circles a lover who behaved like Sam’l would have been suspected
of intent upon his rival’s life, but neither Bell nor Lisbeth did the
weaver that injustice. In a case of this kind it does not much matter
what T’nowhead thought.

The ten minutes had barely passed when Sam’l was back in the farm
kitchen. He was too flurried to knock this time, and, indeed, Lisbeth
did not expect it of him.

“Bell, hae!” he cried, handing his sweetheart a tinsel bag twice the
size of Sanders’ gift.

“Losh preserve’s!” exclaimed Lisbeth; “I’se warrant there’s a shillin’s

“There’s a’ that, Lisbeth--an’ mair,” said Sam’l firmly.

“I thank ye, Sam’l,” said Bell, feeling an unwonted elation as she gazed
at the two paper bags in her lap.

“Ye’re ower extravegint, Sam’l,” Lisbeth said.

“Not at all,” said Sam’l; “not at all. But I widna advise ye to eat thae
ither anes, Bell--they’re second quality.”

Bell drew back a step from Sam’l.

“How do ye kin?” asked the farmer shortly, for he liked Sanders.

“I speired i’ the shop,” said Sam’l.

The goblet was placed on a broken plate on the table with the saucer
beside it, and Sam’l, like the others, helped himself. What he did was
to take potatoes from the pot with his fingers, peel off their coats,
and then dip them into the butter. Lisbeth would have liked to provide
knives and forks, but she knew that beyond a certain point T’nowhead was
master in his own house. As for Sam’l, he felt victory in his hands, and
began to think that he had gone too far.

In the mean time Sanders, little witting that Sam’l had trumped his
trick, was sauntering along the kirk-wynd with his hat on the side of
his head. Fortunately he did not meet the minister.

The courting of T’nowhead’s Bell reached its crisis one Sabbath about a
month after the events above recorded. The minister was in great force
that day, but it is no part of mine to tell how he bore himself. I was
there, and am not likely to forget the scene. It was a fateful Sabbath
for T’nowhead’s Bell and her swains, and destined to be remembered for
the painful scandal which they perpetrated in their passion.

Bell was not in the kirk. There being an infant of six months in the
house it was a question of either Lisbeth or the lassie’s staying at
home with him, and though Lisbeth was unselfish in a general way, she
could not resist the delight of going to church. She had nine children
besides the baby, and being but a woman, it was the pride of her life to
march them into the T’nowhead pew, so well watched that they dared
not misbehave, and so tightly packed that they could not fall. The
congregation looked at that pew, the mothers enviously, when they sang
the lines--

  “Jerusalem like a city is
   Compactly built together.”

The first half of the service had been gone through on this particular
Sunday without anything remarkable happening. It was at the end of the
psalm which preceded the sermon that Sanders Elshioner, who sat near the
door, lowered his head until it was no higher than the pews, and in that
attitude, looking almost like a four-footed animal, slipped out of the
church. In their eagerness to be at the sermon many of the congregation
did not notice him, and those who did put the matter by in their minds
for future investigation. Sam’l, however, could not take it so coolly.
From his seat in the gallery he saw Sanders disappear, and his mind
misgave him. With the true lover’s instinct he understood it all.
Sanders had been struck by the fine turn-out in the T’nowhead pew. Bell
was alone at the farm. What an opportunity to work one’s way up to a
proposal! T’nowhead was so over-run with children, that such a chance
seldom occurred, except on a Sabbath. Sanders, doubtless, was off to
propose, and he, Sam’l, was left behind.

The suspense was terrible. Sam’l and Sanders had both known all along
that Bell would take the first of the two who asked her. Even those
who thought her proud admitted that she was modest. Bitterly the weaver
repented having waited so long. Now it was too late. In ten minutes
Sanders would be at T’nowhead; in an hour all would be over. Sam’l rose
to his feet in a daze. His mother pulled him down by the coat-tail, and
his father shook him, thinking he was walking in his sleep. He tottered
past them, however, hurried up the aisle, which was so narrow that Dan’l
Ross could only reach his seat by walking sideways, and was gone before
the minister could do more than stop in the middle of a whirl and gape
in horror after him.

A number of the congregation felt that day the advantage of sitting in
the laft. What was a mystery to those downstairs was revealed to them.
From the gallery windows they had a fine open view to the south; and as
Sam’l took the common; which was a short cut though a steep ascent, to
T’nowhead, he was never out of their line of vision. Sanders was not to
be seen, but they guessed rightly the reason why. Thinking he had ample
time, he had gone round by the main road to save his boots--perhaps a
little scared by what was coming. Sam’l’s design was to forestall him by
taking the shorter path over the burn and up the commonty.

It was a race for a wife, and several onlookers in the gallery braved
the minister’s displeasure to see who won. Those who favored Sam’l’s
suit exultingly saw him leap the stream, while the friends of Sanders
fixed their eyes on the top of the common where it ran into the road.
Sanders must come into sight there, and the one who reached this point
first would get Bell.

As Auld Lichts do not walk abroad on the Sabbath, Sanders would probably
not be delayed. The chances were in his favor. Had it been any other
day in the week Sam’l might have run. So some of the congregation in the
gallery were thinking, when suddenly they saw him bend low and then
take to his heels. He had caught sight of Sanders’ head bobbing over the
hedge that separated the road from the common, and feared that Sanders
might see him. The congregation who could crane their necks sufficiently
saw a black object, which they guessed to be the carter’s hat, crawling
along the hedge-top. For a moment it was motionless, and then it shot
ahead. The rivals had seen each other. It was now a hot race. Sam’l,
dissembling no longer, clattered up the common, becoming smaller and
smaller to the on-lookers as he neared the top. More than one person in
the gallery almost rose to their feet in their excitement. Sam’l had it.
No, Sanders was in front. Then the two figures disappeared from view.
They seemed to run into each other at the top of the brae, and no one
could say who was first. The congregation looked at one another. Some of
them perspired. But the minister held on his course.

Sam’l had just been in time to cut Sanders out. It was the weaver’s
saving that Sanders saw this when his rival turned the corner; for Sam’l
was sadly blown. Sanders took in the situation and gave in at once. The
last hundred yards of the distance he covered at his leisure, and when
he arrived at his destination he did not go in. It was a fine afternoon
for the time of year, and he went round to have a look at the pig, about
which T’nowhead was a little sinfully puffed up.

“Ay,” said Sanders, digging his fingers critically into the grunting
animal; “quite so.”

“Grumph,” said the pig, getting reluctantly to his feet.

“Ou, ay; yes,” said Sanders, thoughtfully.

Then he sat down on the edge of the sty, and looked long and silently at
an empty bucket. But whether his thoughts were of T’nowhead’s Bell, whom
he had lost forever, or of the food the farmer fed his pig on, is not

“Lord preserve’s! Are ye no at the kirk?” cried Bell, nearly dropping
the baby as Sam’l broke into the room.

“Bell!” cried Sam’l.

Then T’nowhead’s Bell knew that her hour had come.

“Sam’l,” she faltered.

“Will ye hae’s, Bell?” demanded Sam’l, glaring at her sheepishly.

“Ay,” answered Bell.

Sam’l fell into a chair.

“Bring’s a drink o’ water, Bell,” he said. But Bell thought the occasion
required milk, and there was none in the kitchen. She went out to the
byre, still with the baby in her arms, and saw Sanders Elshioner sitting
gloomily on the pig-sty.

“Weel, Bell,” said Sanders.

“I thocht ye’d been at the kirk, Sanders,” said Bell.

Then there was a silence between them.

“Has Sam’l speired ye, Bell?” asked Sanders stolidly.

“Ay,” said Bell again, and this time there was a tear in her eye.
Sanders was little better than an “orra man,” and Sam’l was a weaver,
and yet--But it was too late now. Sanders gave the pig a vicious poke
with a stick, and when it had ceased to grunt, Bell was back in the
kitchen. She had forgotten about the milk, however, and Sam’l only got
water after all.

In after days, when the story of Bell’s wooing was told, there were some
who held that the circumstances would have almost justified the lassie
in giving Sam’l the go-by. But these perhaps forgot that her other
lover was in the same predicament as the accepted one--that of the two,
indeed, he was the more to blame, for he set off to T’nowhead on the
Sabbath of his own accord, while Sam’l only ran after him. And then
there is no one to say for certain whether Bell heard of her suitors’
delinquencies until Lisbeth’s return from the kirk. Sam’l could never
remember whether he told her, and Bell was not sure whether, if he did,
she took it in. Sanders was greatly in demand for weeks after to tell
what he knew of the affair, but though he was twice asked to tea to
the manse among the trees, and subjected thereafter to ministerial
cross-examinations, this is all he told. He remained at the pig-sty
until Sam’l left the farm, when he joined him at the top of the brae,
and they went home together.

“It’s yersel, Sanders,” said Sam’l.

“It is so, Sam’l,” said Sanders.

“Very cauld,” said Sam’l.

“Blawy,” assented Sanders.

After a pause--

“Sam’l,” said Sanders.


“I’m hearin’ ye’re to be mairit.”


“Weel, Sam’l, she’s a snod bit lassie.”

“Thank ye,” said Sam’l.

“I had ance a kin’ o’ notion o’ Bell mysel,” continued Sanders.

“Ye had?”

“Yes, Sam’l; but I thocht better o’t.”

“Hoo d’ye mean?” asked Sam’l, a little anxiously.

“Weel, Sam’l, mairitch is a terrible responsibeelity.”

“It is so,” said Sam’l, wincing.

“An’ no the thing to tak up withoot conseederation.”

“But it’s a blessed and honorable state, Sanders; ye’ve heard the
minister on’t.”

“They say,” continued the relentless Sanders, “‘at the minister doesna
get on sair wi’ the wife himsel.”

“So they do,” cried Sam’l, with a sinking at the heart.

“I’ve been telt,” Sanders went on, “‘at gin ye can get the upper han’ o’
the wife for a while at first, there’s the mair chance o’ a harmonious

“Bell’s no the lassie,” said Sam’l appealingly, “to thwart her man.”

Sanders smiled.

“D’ye think she is, Sanders?”

“Weel, Sam’l, I d’na want to fluster ye, but she’s been ower lang wi’
Lisbeth Fargus no to hae learnt her ways. An a’body kins what a life
T’nowhead has wi’ her.”

“Guid sake, Sanders, hoo did ye no speak o’ this afore?”

“I thocht ye kent o’t, Sam’l.”

They had now reached the square, and the U.P. kirk was coming out. The
Auld Licht kirk would be half an hour yet.

“But, Sanders,” said Sam’l, brightening up, “ye was on yer wy to spier
her yer-sel.”

“I was, Sam’l,” said Sanders, “and I canna but be thankfu’ ye was ower
quick for’s.”

“Gin’t hadna been you,” said Sam’l, “I wid never hae thocht o’t.”

“I’m sayin’ naething agin Bell,” pursued the other, “but, man Sam’l, a
body should be mair deleeberate in a thing o’ the kind.”

“It was michty hurried,” said Sam’l, wo-fully.

“It’s a serious thing to spier a lassie,” said Sanders.

“It’s an awfu’ thing,” said Sam’l.

“But we’ll hope for the best,” added Sanders in a hopeless voice.

They were close to the Tenements now, and Sam’l looked as if he were on
his way to be hanged.


“Ay, Sanders.”

“Did ye--did ye kiss her, Sam’l?”



“There’s was varra little time, Sanders.”

“Half an ‘oor,” said Sanders.

“Was there? Man Sanders, to tell ye the truth, I never thocht o’t.”

Then the soul of Sanders Elshioner was filled with contempt for Sam’l

The scandal blew over. At first it was expected that the minister would
interfere to prevent the union, but beyond intimating from the pulpit
that the souls of Sabbath-breakers were beyond praying for, and then
praying for Sam’l and Sanders at great length, with a word thrown in for
Bell, he let things take their course. Some said it was because he
was always frightened lest his young men should intermarry with other
denominations, but Sanders explained it differently to Sam’l.

“I hav’na a word to say agin the minister,” he said; “they’re gran’
prayers, but, Sam’l, he’s a mairit man himsel.”

“He’s a’ the better for that, Sanders, isna he?”

“Do ye no see,” asked Sanders compassionately, “‘at he’s tryin’ to mat
the best o’t?”

“Oh, Sanders, man!” said Sam’l.

“Cheer up, Sam’l,” said Sanders, “it’ll sune be ower.”

Their having been rival suitors had not interfered with their
friendship. On the contrary, while they had hitherto been mere
acquaintances, they became inseparables as the wedding-day drew near. It
was noticed that they had much to say to each other, and that when they
could not get a room to themselves they wandered about together in the
churchyard. When Sam’l had anything to tell Bell he sent Sanders to tell
it, and Sanders did as he was bid. There was nothing that he would not
have done for Sam’l.

The more obliging Sanders was, however, the sadder Sam’l grew. He never
laughed now on Saturdays, and sometimes his loom was silent half the
day. Sam’l felt that Sanders’ was the kindness of a friend for a dying

It was to be a penny wedding, and Lisbeth Fargus said it was delicacy
that made Sam’l superintend the fitting-up of the barn by deputy. Once
he came to see it in person, but he looked so ill that Sanders had to
see him home. This was on the Thursday afternoon, and the wedding was
fixed for Friday.

“Sanders, Sanders,” said Sam’l, in a voice strangely unlike his own,
“it’ll a’ be ower by this time the morn.”

“It will,” said Sanders.

“If I had only kent her langer,” continued Sam’l.

“It wid hae been safer,” said Sanders.

“Did ye see the yallow floor in Bell’s bonnet?” asked the accepted

“Ay,” said Sanders reluctantly.

“I’m dootin’--I’m sair dootin’ she’s but a flichty, light-hearted
crittur after a’.”

“I had ay my suspeecions o’t,” said Sanders.

“Ye hae kent her langer than me,” said Sam’l.

“Yes,” said Sanders, “but there’s nae gettin’ at the heart o’ women.
Man, Sam’l, they’re desperate cunnin’.”

“I’m dootin’t; I’m sair dootin’t.”

“It’ll be a warnin’ to ye, Sam’l, no to be in sic a hurry i’ the futur,”
 said Sanders.

Sam’l groaned.

“Ye’ll be gaein up to the manse to arrange wi’ the minister the morn’s
mornin’,” continued Sanders, in a subdued voice.

Sam’l looked wistfully at his friend.

“I canna do’t, Sanders,” he said, “I canna do’t.”

“Ye maun,” said Sanders.

“It’s aisy to speak,” retorted Sam’l bitterly.

“We have a’ oor troubles, Sam’l,” said Sanders soothingly, “an’ every
man maun bear his ain burdens. Johnny Davie’s wife’s dead, an’ he’s no

“Ay,” said Sam’l, “but a death’s no a mairitch. We hae haen deaths in
our family too.”

“It may a’ be for the best,” added Sanders, “an’ there wid be a michty
talk i’ the hale country-side gin ye didna ging to the minister like a

“I maum hae langer to think o’t,” said Sam’l.

“Bell’s mairitch is the morn,” said Sanders decisively.

Sam’l glanced up with a wild look in his eyes.

“Sanders!” he cried.


“Ye hae been a guid friend to me, Sanders, in this sair affliction.”

“Nothing ava,” said Sanders; “dount mention’d.”

“But, Sanders, ye canna deny but what your rinnin oot o’ the kirk that
awfu’ day was at the bottom o’d a’.”

“It was so,” said Sanders bravely.

“An’ ye used to be fond o’ Bell, Sanders.”

“I dinna deny’t.”

“Sanders, laddie,” said Sam’l, bending forward and speaking in a
wheedling voice, “I aye thocht it was you she likit.”

“I had some sic idea mysel,” said Sanders.

“Sanders, I canna think to pairt twa fowk sae weel suited to ane anither
as you an’ Bell.”

“Canna ye, Sam’l?”

“She wid mak ye a guid wife, Sanders, I hae studied her weel, and she’s
a thrifty, douce, clever lassie. Sanders, there’s no the like o’ her.
Mony a time, Sanders, I hae said to mysel, ‘There’s a lass ony man micht
be prood to tak.’ A’body says the same, Sanders, There’s nae risk ava,
man: nane to speak o’. Tak her, laddie, tak her, Sanders; it’s a
grand chance, Sanders. She’s yours for the spierin’. I’ll gie her up,

“Will ye, though?” said Sanders.

“What d’ye think?” asked Sam’l.

“If ye wid rayther,” said Sanders politely.

“There’s my han’ on’t,” said Sam’l. “Bless ye, Sanders; ye’ve been a
true frien’ to me.”

Then they shook hands for the first time in their lives; and soon
afterward Sanders struck up the brae to T’nowhead,

Next morning Sanders Elshioner, who had been very busy the night before,
put on his Sabbath clothes and strolled up to the manse.

“But--but where is Sam’l?” asked the minister; “I must see himself.”

“It’s a new arrangement,” said Sanders.

“What do you mean, Sanders?”

“Bell’s to marry me,” explained Sanders.

“But--but what does Sam’l say?”

“He’s willin’,” said Sanders.

“And Bell?”

“She’s willin’, too. She prefers’t.”

“It is unusual,” said the minister.

“It’s a’ richt,” said Sanders.

“Well, you know best,” said the minister.

“You see the hoose was taen, at ony rate,” continued Sanders. “An’ I’ll
juist ging in til’t instead o’ Sam’l.”

“Quite so.”

“An’ I cudna think to disappoint the lassie.”

“Your sentiments do you credit, Sanders,” said the minister; “but I
hope you do not enter upon the blessed state of matrimony without
full consideration of its responsibilities. It is a serious business,

“It’s a’ that,” said Sanders, “but I’m willin’ to stan’ the risk.”

So, as soon as it could be done, Sanders Elshioner took to wife
T’nowhead’s Bell, and I remember seeing Sam’l Dickie trying to dance at
the penny wedding.

Years afterward it was said in Thrums that Sam’l had treated Bell badly,
but he was never sure about it himself.

“It was a near thing--a michty near thing,” he admitted in the square.

“They say,” some other weaver would remark, “‘at it was you Bell liked

“I d’na kin,” Sam’l would reply, “but there’s nae doot the lassie was
fell fond o’ me. Ou, a mere passin’ fancy’s ye micht say.”



When an election-day comes round now, it takes me back to the time of
1832. I would be eight or ten year old at that time. James Strachan was
at the door by five o’clock in the morning in his Sabbath clothes,
by arrangement. We was to go up to the hill to see them building the
bonfire. Moreover, there was word that Mr. Scrimgour was to be there
tossing pennies, just like at a marriage. I was awakened before that
by my mother at the pans and bowls. I have always associated elections
since that time with jelly-making; for just as my mother would fill the
cups and tankers and bowls with jelly to save cans, she was emptying the
pots and pans to make way for the ale and porter. James and me was to
help to carry it home from the square--him in the pitcher and me in a
flagon, because I was silly for my age and not strong in the arms.

It was a very blowy morning, though the rain kept off, and what part
of the bonfire had been built already was found scattered to the winds.
Before we rose a great mass of folk was getting the barrels and things
together again; but some of them was never recovered, and suspicion
pointed to William Geddes, it being well known that William would not
hesitate to carry off anything if unobserved. More by token Chirsty
Lamby had seen him rolling home a barrowful of firewood early in the
morning, her having risen to hold cold water in her mouth, being down
with the toothache. When we got up to the hill everybody was making for
the quarry, which being more sheltered was now thought to be a better
place for the bonfire. The masons had struck work, it being a general
holiday in the whole countryside. There was a great commotion of people,
all fine dressed and mostly with glengarry bonnets; and me and James was
well acquaint with them, though mostly weavers and the like and not my
father’s equal. Mr. Scrimgour was not there himself; but there was a
small active body in his room as tossed the money for him fair enough;
though not so liberally as was expected, being mostly ha’pence where
pennies was looked for. Such was not my father’s opinion, and him and a
few others only had a vote. He considered it was a waste of money giving
to them that had no vote and so taking out of other folks’ mouths;
but the little man said it kept everybody in good-humor and made Mr.
Scrimgour popular. He was an extraordinary affable man and very spirity,
running about to waste no time in walking, and gave me a shilling,
saying to me to be a truthful boy and tell my father. He did not give
James anything, him being an orphan, but clapped his head and said he
was a fine boy.

The captain was to vote for the bill if he got in, the which he did. It
was the captain was to give the ale and the porter in the square like
a true gentleman. My father gave a kind of laugh when I let him see my
shilling, and said he would keep care of it for me; and sorry I was I
let him get it, me never seeing the face of it again to this day. Me and
James was much annoyed with the women, especially Kitty Davie, always
pushing in when there was tossing, and tearing the very ha’pence out of
our hands: us not caring so much about the money, but humiliated to see
women mixing up in politics. By the time the topmost barrel was on the
bonfire there was a great smell of whiskey in the quarry, it being a
confined place. My father had been against the bonfire being in the
quarry, arguing that the wind on the hill would have carried off the
smell of the whiskey; but Peter Tosh said they did not want the smell
carried off; it would be agreeable to the masons for weeks to come.
Except among the women, there was no fighting nor wrangling at the
quarry, but all in fine spirits.

I misremember now whether it was Mr. Scrimgour or the captain that took
the fancy to my father’s pigs; but it was this day, at any rate, that
the captain sent him the game-cock. Whichever one it was that fancied
the litter of pigs, nothing would content him but to buy them, which
he did at thirty shillings each, being the best bargain ever my father
made. Nevertheless I’m thinking he was windier of the cock. The captain,
who was a local man when not with his regiment, had the grandest
collection of fighting-cocks in the county, and sometimes came into the
town to try them against the town cocks. I mind well the large wicker
cage in which they were conveyed from place to place, and never without
the captain near at hand. My father had a cock that beat all the other
town cocks at the cock-fight at our school, which was superintended by
the elder of the kirk to see fair play; but the which died of its wounds
the next day but one. This was a great grief to my father, it having
been challenged to fight the captain’s cock. Therefore it was very
considerate of the captain to make my father a present of his bird;
father, in compliment to him, changing its name from the “Deil” to the

During the forenoon, and I think until well on in the day, James and me
was busy with the pitcher and the flagon. The proceedings in the square,
however, was not so well conducted as in the quarry, many of the folk
there assembled showing a mean and grasping spirit. The captain had
given orders that there was to be no stint of ale and porter, and
neither there was; but much of it lost through hastiness. Great barrels
was hurled into the middle of the square, where the country wives sat
with their eggs and butter on market-day, and was quickly stove in with
an axe or paving-stone or whatever came handy. Sometimes they would
break into the barrel at different points; and then, when they tilted it
up to get the ale out at one hole, it gushed out at the bottom till the
square was flooded. My mother was fair disgusted when told by me and
James of the waste of good liquor. It is gospel truth I speak when I say
I mind well of seeing Singer Davie catching the porter in a pan as it
ran down the sire, and when the pan was full to overflowing, putting his
mouth to the stream and drinking till he was as full as the pan. Most of
the men, however, stuck to the barrels, the drink running in the street
being ale and porter mixed, and left it to the women and the young
folk to do the carrying. Susy M’Queen brought as many pans as she could
collect on a barrow, and was filling them all with porter, rejecting the
ale; but indignation was aroused against her, and as fast as she filled
the others emptied.

My father scorned to go to the square to drink ale and porter with the
crowd, having the election on his mind and him to vote. Nevertheless he
instructed me and James to keep up a brisk trade with the pans, and run
back across the gardens in case we met dishonest folk in the streets who
might drink the ale. Also, said my father, we was to let the excesses of
our neighbors be a warning in sobriety to us; enough being as good as
a feast, except when you can store it up for the winter. By and by my
mother thought it was not safe me being in the streets with so many wild
men about, and would have sent James himself, him being an orphan and
hardier; but this I did not like, but, running out, did not come back
for long enough. There is no doubt that the music was to blame for
firing the men’s blood, and the result most disgraceful fighting with no
object in view. There was three fiddlers and two at the flute, most of
them blind, but not the less dangerous on that account; and they kept
the town in a ferment, even playing the country-folk home to the farms,
followed by bands of towns-folk. They were a quarrelsome set, the
ploughmen and others; and it was generally admitted in the town that
their overbearing behavior was responsible for the fights. I mind them
being driven out of the square, stones flying thick; also some stand-up
fights with sticks, and others fair enough with fists. The worst fight I
did not see. It took place in a field. At first it was only between two
who had been miscalling one another; but there was many looking on, and
when the town man was like getting the worst of it the others set to,
and a most heathenish fray with no sense in it ensued. One man had his
arm broken. I mind Hobart the bellman going about ringing his bell and
telling all persons to get within doors; but little attention was paid
to him, it being notorious that Snecky had had a fight earlier in the
day himself.

When James was fighting in the field, according to his own account, I
had the honor of dining with the electors who voted for the captain, him
paying all expenses. It was a lucky accident my mother sending me to the
town-house, where the dinner came off, to try to get my father home at
a decent hour, me having a remarkable power over him when in liquor,
but at no other time. They were very jolly, however, and insisted on my
drinking the captain’s health and eating more than was safe. My father
got it next day from my mother for this; and so would I myself, but it
was several days before I left my bed, completely knocked up as I was
with the excitement and one thing or another. The bonfire, which was
built to celebrate the election of Mr. Scrimgour, was set ablaze, though
I did not see it, in honor of the election of the captain; it being
thought a pity to lose it, as no doubt it would have been. That is about
all I remember of the celebrated election of ‘32 when the Reform Bill
was passed.



They were a very old family with whom Snecky Hobart, the bellman,
lodged. Their favorite dissipation, when their looms had come to rest,
was a dander through the kirk-yard. They dressed for it: the three young
ones in their rusty blacks; the patriarch in his old blue coat, velvet
knee-breeches, and broad blue bonnet; and often of an evening I have
met them moving from grave to grave. By this time the old man was
nearly ninety, and the young ones averaged sixty. They read out the
inscriptions on the tombstones in a solemn drone, and their father added
his reminiscences. He never failed them. Since the beginning of the
century he had not missed a funeral, and his children felt that he was a
great example. Sire and sons returned from the cemetery invigorated
for their daily labors. If one of them happened to start a dozen yards
behind the others, he never thought of making up the distance. If his
foot struck against a stone, he came to a dead stop; when he discovered
that he had stopped, he set off again.

A high wall shut off this old family’s house and garden, from the
clatter of Thrums, a wall that gave Snecky some trouble before he went
to live within it. I speak from personal knowledge. One spring morning,
before the school-house was built, I was assisting the patriarch to
divest the gaunt garden pump of its winter suit of straw. I was taking
a drink, I remember, my palm over the mouth of the wooden spout and my
mouth at the gimlet-hole above, when a leg appeared above the corner
of the wall against which the hen-house was built. Two hands followed,
clutching desperately at the uneven stones. Then the leg worked as if
it were turning a grindstone, and next moment Snecky was sitting
breathlessly on the dyke. From this to the hen-house, whose roof was
of “divets,” the descent was comparatively easy, and a slanting board
allowed the daring bellman to slide thence to the ground. He had come on
business, and having talked it over slowly with the old man he turned to
depart. Though he was a genteel man, I heard him sigh heavily as, with
the remark, “Ay, weel, I’ll be movin’ again,” he began to rescale
the wall. The patriarch, twisted round the pump, made no reply, so I
ventured to suggest to the bellman that he might find the gate easier.
“Is there a gate?” said Snecky, in surprise at the resources of
civilization. I pointed it out to him, and he went his way chuckling.
The old man told me that he had sometimes wondered at Snecky’s mode of
approach, but it had not struck him to say anything. Afterward, when the
bellman took up his abode there, they discussed the matter heavily.

Hobart inherited both his bell and his nickname from his father, who was
not a native of Thrums. He came from some distant part where the people
speak of snecking the door, meaning shut it. In Thrums the word used is
steek, and sneck seemed to the inhabitants so droll and ridiculous that
Hobart got the name of Snecky. His son left Thrums at the age of ten
for the distant farm of Tirl, and did not return until the old bellman’s
death, twenty years afterward; but the first remark he overheard on
entering the kirk-wynd was a conjecture flung across the street by a
gray-haired crone, that he would be “little Snecky come to bury auld

The father had a reputation in his day for “crying” crimes he was
suspected of having committed himself, but the Snecky I knew had too
high a sense of his own importance for that. On great occasions, such as
the loss of little Davy Dundas, or when a tattie roup had to be cried,
he was even offensively inflated: but ordinary announcements, such as
the approach of a flying stationer, the roup of a deceased weaver’s
loom, or the arrival in Thrums of a cart-load of fine “kebec” cheeses,
he treated as the merest trifles. I see still the bent legs of the
snuffy old man straightening to the tinkle of his bell, and the smirk
with which he let the curious populace gather round him. In one hand
he ostentatiously displayed the paper on which what he had to cry was
written, but, like the minister, he scorned to “read.” With the bell
carefully tucked under his oxter he gave forth his news in a rasping
voice that broke now and again into a squeal. Though Scotch in his
unofficial conversation, he was believed to deliver himself on public
occasions in the finest English. When trotting from place to place with
his news he carried his bell by the tongue as cautiously as if it were a
flagon of milk.

Snecky never allowed himself to degenerate into a mere machine. His
proclamations were provided by those who employed him, but his soul was
his own. Having cried a potato roup he would sometimes add a word of
warning, such as, “I wudna advise ye, lads, to hae ony-thing to do wi’
thae tatties; they’re diseased.” Once, just before the cattle market, he
was sent round by a local laird to announce that any drover found taking
the short cut to the hill through the grounds of Muckle Plowy would
be prosecuted to the utmost limits of the law. The people were aghast.
“Hoots, lads,” Snecky said; “dinna fash yoursels. It’s juist a haver o’
the grieve’s.” One of Hobart’s ways of striking terror into evil-doers
was to announce, when crying a crime, that he himself knew perfectly
well who the culprit was. “I see him brawly,” he would say, “standing
afore me, an’ if he disna instantly mak retribution, I am determined
this very day to mak a public example of him.”

Before the time of the Burke and Hare murders Snecky’s father was
sent round Thrums to proclaim the startling news that a grave in the
kirk-yard had been tampered with. The “resurrectionist” scare was at its
height then, and the patriarch, who was one of the men in Thrums paid to
watch new graves in the night-time, has often told the story. The town
was in a ferment as the news spread, and there were fierce suspicious
men among Hobart’s hearers who already had the rifler of graves in their

He was a man who worked for the farmers when they required an extra
hand, and loafed about the square when they could do without him. No one
had a good word for him, and lately he had been flush of money. That was
sufficient. There was a rush of angry men through the “pend” that led
to his habitation, and he was dragged, panting and terrified, to the
kirk-yard before he understood what it all meant. To the grave they
hurried him, and almost without a word handed him a spade. The whole
town gathered round the spot--a sullen crowd, the women only breaking
the silence with their sobs, and the children clinging to their gowns.
The suspected resurrectionist understood what was wanted of him, and,
flinging off his jacket, began to reopen the grave. Presently the spade
struck upon wood, and by and by part of the coffin came in view. That
was nothing, for the resurrectionists had a way of breaking the coffin
at one end and drawing out the body with tongs. The digger knew this.
He broke the boards with the spade and revealed an arm. The people
convinced, he dropped the arm savagely, leaped out of the grave and went
his way, leaving them to shovel back the earth themselves.

There was humor in the old family as well as in their lodger. I found
this out slowly. They used to gather round their peat fire in the
evening, after the poultry had gone to sleep on the kitchen rafters, and
take off their neighbors. None of them ever laughed; but their neighbors
did afford them subject for gossip, and the old man was very sarcastic
over other people’s old-fashioned ways. When one of the family wanted to
go out he did it gradually. He would be sitting “into the fire” browning
his corduroy trousers, and he would get up slowly. Then he gazed
solemnly before him for a time, and after that, if you watched him
narrowly, you would see that he was really moving to the door. Another
member of the family took the vacant seat with the same precautions.
Will’um, the eldest, has a gun, which customarily stands behind the old
eight-day clock; and he takes it with him to the garden to shoot the
blackbirds. Long before Will’um is ready to let fly, the blackbirds
have gone away; and so the gun is never, never fired; but there is a
determined look on Will’um’s face when he returns from the garden.

In the stormy days of his youth the old man had been a “Black Nib.” The
Black Nibs were the persons who agitated against the French war; and
the public feeling against them ran strong and deep. In Thrums the local
Black Nibs were burned in effigy, and whenever they put their heads
out of doors they risked being stoned. Even where the authorities were
unprejudiced they were helpless to interfere; and as a rule they were
as bitter against the Black Nibs as the populace themselves. Once the
patriarch was running through the street with a score of the enemy at
his heels, and the bailie, opening his window, shouted to them, “Stane
the Black Nib oot o’ the toon!”

When the patriarch was a young man he was a follower of pleasure. This
is the one thing about him that his family have never been able to
understand. A solemn stroll through the kirk-yard was not sufficient
relaxation in those riotous times, after a hard day at the loom; and he
rarely lost a chance of going to see a man hanged. There was a good deal
of hanging in those days; and yet the authorities had an ugly way of
reprieving condemned men on whom the sight-seers had been counting. An
air of gloom would gather on my old friend’s countenance when he told
how he and his contemporaries in Thrums trudged every Saturday for six
weeks to the county town, many miles distant, to witness the execution
of some criminal in whom they had local interest, and who, after
disappointing them again and again, was said to have been bought off by
a friend. His crime had been stolen entrance into a house in Thrums by
the chimney, with intent to rob; and though this old-fashioned family
did not see it, not the least noticeable incident in the scrimmage that
followed was the prudence of the canny housewife. When she saw the legs
coming down the lum, she rushed to the kail-pot which was on the fire
and put on the lid. She confessed that this was not done to prevent the
visitor’s scalding himself, but to save the broth.

The old man was repeated in his three sons. They told his stories
precisely as he did himself, taking as long in the telling and making
the points in exactly the same way. By and by they will come to think
that they themselves were of those past times. Already the young ones
look like contemporaries of their father.



Devout-under-difficulties would have been the name of Lang Tammas had
he been of Covenanting times. So I thought one wintry afternoon,
years before I went to the school-house, when he dropped in to ask the
pleasure of my company to the farmer of Little Rathie’s “bural.” As a
good Auld Licht, Tammas reserved his swallow-tail coat and “lum hat”
 (chimney-pot) for the kirk and funerals; but the coat would have flapped
villanously, to Tammas’ eternal ignominy, had he for one rash moment
relaxed his hold of the bottom button, and it was only by walking
sideways, as horses sometimes try to do, that the hat could be kept at
the angle of decorum. Let it not be thought that Tammas had asked me to
Little Rathie’s funeral on his own responsibility. Burials were among
the few events to break the monotony of an Auld Licht winter, and
invitations were as much sought after as cards to my lady’s dances in
the south. This had been a fair average season for Tammas, though of his
four burials one had been a bairn’s--a mere bagatelle; but had it not
been for the death of Little Rathie I would probably not have been out
that year at all.

The small farm of Little Rathie lies two miles from Thrums, and Tammas
and I trudged manfully through the snow, adding to our numbers as we
went. The dress of none differed materially from the precentor’s, and
the general effect was of septuagenarians in each other’s best clothes,
though living in low-roofed houses had bent most of them before their
time. By a rearrangement of garments, such as making Tammas change coat,
hat, and trousers with Cragiebuckle, Silva McQueen, and Sam’l Wilkie
respectively, a dexterous tailor might perhaps have supplied each with
a “fit.” The talk was chiefly of Little Rathie, and sometimes threatened
to become animated, when another mourner would fall in and restore the
more fitting gloom.

“Ay, ay,” the new-comer would say, by way of responding to the sober
salutation, “Ay, Johnny.” Then there was silence, but for the “gluck”
 with which we lifted our feet from the slush.

“So Little Rathie’s been ta’en awa’,” Johnny would venture to say by and

“He’s gone, Johnny; ay, man, he is so.”

“Death must come to all,” some one would waken up to murmur.

“Ay,” Lang Tammas would reply, putting on the coping-stone, “in the
morning we are strong and in the evening we are cut down.”

“We are so, Tammas; ou ay, we are so; we’re here the wan day an’ gone
the neist.”

“Little Rathie wasna a crittur I took till; no, I canna say he was,”
 said Bowie Haggart, so called because his legs described a parabola,
“but be maks a vary creeditable corp [corpse]. I will say that for him.
It’s wonderfu’ hoo death improves a body. Ye cudna hae said as Little
Rathie was a weel-faured man when he was i’ the flesh.”

Bowie was the wright, and attended burials in his official capacity.
He had the gift of words to an uncommon degree, and I do not forget his
crushing blow at the reputation of the poet Burns, as delivered under
the auspices of the Thrums Literary Society. “I am of opeenion,” said
Bowie, “that the works of Burns is of an immoral tendency. I have not
read them myself, but such is my opeenion.”

“He was a queer stock, Little Rathie, michty queer,” said Tammas
Haggart, Bowie’s brother, who was a queer stock himself, but was not
aware of it; “but, ou, I’m thinkin’ the wife had something to do wi’t.
She was ill to manage, an’ Little Rathie hadna the way o’ the women. He
hadna the knack o’ managin’ them’s yo micht say--no, Little Rathie hadna
the knack.”

“They’re kittle cattle, the women,” said the farmer of
Craigiebuckle--son of the Craigiebuckle mentioned elsewhere--a little
gloomily. “I’ve often thocht maiterimony is no onlike the lucky bags th’
auld wifies has at the muckly. There’s prizes an’ blanks baith inside,
but, losh, ye’re far frae sure what ye’ll draw oot when ye put in yer

“Ou, weel,” said Tammas complacently, “there’s truth in what ye say, but
the women can be managed if ye have the knack.”

“Some o’ them,” said Cragiebuckle woefully.

“Ye had yer wark wi’ the wife yersel, Tammas, so ye had,” observed Lang
Tammas, unbending to suit his company.

“Ye’re speakin’ aboot the bit wife’s bural,” said Tammas Haggart, with a
chuckle; “ay, ay, that brocht her to reason.”

Without much pressure Haggart retold a story known to the majority of
his hearers. He had not the “knack” of managing women apparently when he
married, for he and his gypsy wife “agreed ill thegither” at first. Once
Chirsty left him and took up her abode in a house just across the wynd.
Instead of routing her out, Tammas, without taking any one into his
confidence, determined to treat Chirsty as dead, and celebrate her
decease in a “lyke wake”--a last wake. These wakes were very general in
Thrums in the old days, though they had ceased to be common by the date
of Little Rathie’s death. For three days before the burial the friends
and neighbors of the mourners were invited into the house to partake of
food and drink by the side of the corpse. The dead lay on chairs covered
with a white sheet. Dirges were sung and the deceased was extolled, but
when night came the lights were extinguished and the corpse was left
alone. On the morning of the funeral tables were spread with a white
cloth outside the house, and food and drink were placed upon them. No
neighbor could pass the tables without paying his respects to the dead;
and even when the house was in a busy, narrow thoroughfare, this part
of the ceremony was never omitted. Tammas did not give Chirsty a wake
inside the house; but one Friday morning--it was market-day, and the
square was consequently full--it went through the town that the tables
were spread before his door. Young and old collected, wandering round
the house, and Tammas stood at the tables in his blacks inviting every
one to eat and drink. He was pressed to tell what it meant; but nothing
could be got from him except that his wife was dead. At times he pressed
his hands to his heart, and then he would make wry faces, trying hard to
cry. Chirsty watched from a window across the street, until she perhaps
began to fear that she really was dead. Unable to stand it any longer,
she rushed out into her husband’s arms, and shortly afterward she could
have been seen dismantling the tables.

“She’s gone this fower year,” Tammas said, when he had finished his
story, “but up to the end I had no more trouble wi’ Chirsty. No, I had
the knack o’ her.’

“I’ve heard tell, though,” said the sceptical Craigiebuckle, “as Chirsty
only cam back to ye because she cudna bear to see the fowk makkin’ sae
free wi’ the whiskey.”

“I mind hoo she bottled it up at ance and drove the laddies awa’,” said
Bowie, “an’ I hae seen her after that, Tammas, giein’ ye up yer fut an’
you no sayin’ a word.”

“Ou, ay,” said the wife-tamer, in the tone of a man who could afford to
be generous in trifles, “women maun talk, an’ a man hasna aye time to
conterdick them, but frae that day I had the knack o’ Chirsty.”

“Donal Elshioner’s was a vary seemilar case,” broke in Snecky Hobart
shrilly. “Maist o’ ye’ll mind ‘at Donal was michty plagueit wi’ a
drucken wife. Ay, weel, wan day Bowie’s man was carryin’ a coffin past
Donal’s door, and Donal an’ the wife was there. Says Donal, ‘Put doon
yer coffin, my man, an’ tell’s wha it’s for.’ The laddie rests
the coffin on its end, an’ says he, ‘It’s for Davie Fairbrother’s
guid-wife.’ ‘Ay, then,’ says Donal, ‘tak it awa’, tak it awa’ to Davie,
an’ tell ‘im as ye kin a man wi’ a wife ‘at wid be glad to neifer
[exchange] wi’ him.’ Man, that terrified Donal’s wife; it did so.”

As we delved up the twisting road between two fields that leads to the
farm of Little Rathie, the talk became less general, and another mourner
who joined us there was told that the farmer was gone.

“We must all fade as a leaf,” said Lang Tammas.

“So we maun, so we maun,” admitted the new-comer. “They say,” he added,
solemnly, “as Little Rathie has left a full teapot.”

The reference was to the safe in which the old people in the district
stored their gains.

“He was thrifty,” said Tammas Haggart, “an’ shrewd, too, was Little
Rathie. I mind Mr. Dishart admonishin’ him for no attendin’ a special
weather service i’ the kirk, when Finny an’ Lintool, the twa adjoinin’
farmers, baith attendit. ‘Ou,’ says Little Rathie, ‘I thocht to mysel,
thinks I, if they get rain for prayin’ for’t on Finny an’ Lintool, we’re
bound to get the benefit o’t on Little Rathie.’”

“Tod,” said Snecky, “there’s some sense in that; an’ what says the

“I d’na kin what he said,” admitted Haggart; “but he took Little Rathie
up to the manse, an’ if ever I saw a man lookin’ sma’, it was Little
Rathie when he cam oot.”

The deceased had left behind him a daughter (herself now known as Little
Rathie), quite capable of attending to the ramshackle “but and ben;” and
I remember how she nipped off Tammas’ consolations to go out and feed
the hens. To the number of about twenty we assembled round the end of
the house to escape the bitter wind, and here I lost the precentor, who,
as an Auld Licht elder, joined the chief mourners inside. The post of
distinction at a funeral is near the coffin; but it is not given to
every one to be a relative of the deceased, and there is always much
competition and genteelly concealed disappointment over the few open
vacancies. The window of the room was decently veiled, but the mourners
outside knew what was happening within, and that it was not all prayer,
neither mourning. A few of the more reverent uncovered their heads at
intervals; but it would be idle to deny that there was a feeling
that Little Rathie’s daughter was favoring Tammas and others somewhat
invidiously. Indeed, Robbie Gibruth did not scruple to remark that
she had made “an inauspeecious beginning.” Tammas Haggart, who was
melancholy when not sarcastic, though he brightened up wonderfully at
funerals, reminded Robbie that disappointment is the lot of man on his
earthly pilgrimage; but Haggart knew who were to be invited back after
the burial to the farm, and was inclined, to make much of his position.
The secret would doubtless have been wormed from him had not public
attention been directed into another channel. A prayer was certainly
being offered up inside; but the voice was not the voice of the

Lang Tammas told me afterward that it had seemed at one time “vary
queistionable” whether Little Rathie would be buried that day at all.
The incomprehensible absence of Mr. Dishart (afterward satisfactorily
explained) had raised the unexpected question of the legality of a
burial in a case where the minister had not prayed over the “corp.”
 There had even been an indulgence in hot words, and the Reverend
Alexander Kewans, a “stickit minister,” but not of the Auld Licht
persuasion, had withdrawn in dudgeon on hearing Tammas asked to conduct
the ceremony instead of himself. But, great as Tammas was on religious
questions, a pillar of the Auld Licht kirk, the Shorter Catechism at his
finger-ends, a sad want of words at the very time when he needed them
most incapacitated him for prayer in public, and it was providential
that Bowie proved himself a man of parts. But Tammas tells me that
the wright grossly abused his position, by praying at such length that
Craigiebuckle fell asleep, and the mistress had to rise and hang the pot
on the fire higher up the joist, lest its contents should burn before
the return from the funeral. Loury grew the sky, and more and more
anxious the face of Little Rathie’s daughter, and still Bowie prayed on.
Had it not been for the impatience of the precentor and the grumbling
of the mourners outside, there is no saying when the remains would have
been lifted through the “bole,” or little window.

Hearses had hardly come in at this time, and the coffin was carried by
the mourners on long stakes. The straggling procession of pedestrians
behind wound its slow way in the waning light to the kirk-yard, showing
startlingly black against the dazzling snow; and it was not until
the earth rattled on the coffin-lid that Little Rathie’s nearest male
relative seemed to remember his last mournful duty to the dead. Sidling
up to the favored mourners, he remarked casually and in the most
emotionless tone he could assume; “They’re expec’in’ ye to stap doon the
length o’ Little Rathie noo. Aye, aye, he’s gone. Na, na, nae refoosal,
Da-avit; ye was aye a guid friend till him, an’ it’s onything a body can
do for him noo.”

Though the uninvited slunk away sorrowfully, the entertainment provided
at Auld Licht houses of mourning was characteristic of a stern and
sober sect. They got to eat and to drink to the extent, as a rule, of a
“lippy” of short bread and a “brew” of toddy; but open Bibles lay on
the table, and the eyes of each were on his neighbors to catch them
transgressing, and offer up a prayer for them on the spot. Ay me! there
is no Bowie nowadays to fill an absent minister’s shoes.



The ministers in the town did not hold with literature. When the most
notorious of the clubs met in the town-house under the presidentship of
Gravia Ogilvy, who was no better than a poacher, and was troubled in his
mind because writers called Pope a poet, there was frequently a wrangle
over the question, “Is literature necessarily immoral?” It was a
fighting club, and on Friday nights the few respectable, God-fearing
members dandered to the town-house, as if merely curious to have another
look at the building. If Lang Tammas, who was dead against letters, was
in sight they wandered off, but when there were no spies abroad they
slunk up the stair. The attendance was greatest on dark nights, though
Gavin himself and some other characters would have marched straight to
the meeting in broad daylight. Tammas Haggart, who did not think much
of Milton’s devil, had married a gypsy woman for an experiment, and the
Coat of Many Colors did not know where his wife was. As a rule, however,
the members were wild bachelors. When they married they had to settle

Gavin’s essay on Will’um Pitt, the Father of the Taxes, led to the
club’s being bundled out of the town-house, where people said it should
never have been allowed to meet. There was a terrible towse when Tammas
Haggart then disclosed the secret of Mr. Byars’ supposed approval of the
club. Mr. Byars was the Auld Licht minister whom Mr. Dishart succeeded,
and it was well known that he had advised the authorities to grant
the use of the little town-house to the club on Friday evenings. As he
solemnly warned his congregation against attending the meetings, the
position he had taken up created talk, and Lang Tammas called at the
manse with Sanders Whamond to remonstrate. The minister, however,
harangued them on their sinfulness in daring to question the like of
him, and they had to retire vanquished though dissatisfied. Then came
the disclosures of Tammas Haggart, who was never properly secured by the
Auld Lichts until Mr. Dishart took him in hand. It was Tammas who wrote
anonymous letters to Mr. Byars about the scarlet woman, and, strange to
say, this led to the club’s being allowed to meet in the town-house.
The minister, after many days, discovered who his correspondent was, and
succeeded in inveigling the stone-breaker to the manse. There, with the
door snibbed, he opened out on Tammas, who, after his usual manner
when hard pressed, pretended to be deaf. This sudden fit of deafness so
exasperated the minister that he flung a book at Tammas. The scene
that followed was one that few Auld Licht manses can have witnessed.
According to Tammas, the book had hardly reached the floor when the
minister turned white. Tammas picked up the missile. It was a Bible.
The two men looked at each other. Beneath the window Mr. Byars’ children
were prattling. His wife was moving about in the next room, little
thinking what had happened. The minister held out his hand for the
Bible, but Tammas shook his head, and then Mr. Byars shrank into a
chair. Finally, it was arranged that if Tammas kept the affair to
himself the minister would say a good word to the bailie about the
literary club. After that the stone-breaker used to go from house to
house, twisting his mouth to the side and remarking that he could tell
such a tale of Mr. Byars as would lead to a split in the kirk. When
the town-house was locked on the club Tammas spoke out, but though the
scandal ran from door to door, as I have seen a pig in a fluster do, the
minister did not lose his place. Tammas preserved the Bible, and showed
it complacently to visitors as the present he got from Mr. Byars.
The minister knew this, and it turned his temper sour. Tammas’ proud
moments, after that, were when he passed the minister.

Driven from the town-house, literature found a table with forms round
it in a tavern hard by, where the club, lopped of its most respectable
members, kept the blinds down and talked openly of Shakespeare. It was
a low-roofed room, with pieces of lime hanging from the ceiling and
peeling walls. The floor had a slope that tended to fling the debater
forward, and its boards, lying loose on an uneven foundation, rose and
looked at you as you crossed the room. In winter, when the meetings were
held regularly every fortnight, a fire of peat, sod, and dross lit up
the curious company who sat round the table shaking their heads over
Shelley’s mysticism, or requiring to be called to order because
they would not wait their turn to deny an essayist’s assertion, that
Berkeley’s style was superior to David Hume’s. Davit Hume, they said,
and Watty Scott. Burns was simply referred to as Rob or Robbie.

There was little drinking at these meetings, for the members knew what
they were talking about, and your mind had to gallop to keep up with the
flow of reasoning. Thrums is rather a remarkable town. There are scores
and scores of houses in it that have sent their sons to college (by what
a struggle!), some to make their way to the front in their professions,
and others, perhaps, despite their broadcloth, never to be a patch on
their parents. In that literary club there were men of a reading so wide
and catholic that it might put some graduates of the universities to
shame, and of an intellect so keen that had it not had a crook in
it their fame would have crossed the county. Most of them had but a
threadbare existence, for you weave slowly with a Wordsworth open before
you, and some were strange Bohemians (which does not do in Thrums), yet
others wandered into the world and compelled it to recognize them. There
is a London barrister whose father belonged to the club. Not many years
ago a man died on the staff of the _Times_, who, when he was a weaver
near Thrums, was one of the club’s prominent members. He taught himself
shorthand by the light of a cruizey, and got a post on a Perth paper,
afterward on the _Scotsman_ and the _Witness_, and finally on the
_Times_. Several other men of his type had a history worth reading, but
it is not for me to write. Yet I may say that there is still at least
one of the original members of the club left behind in Thrums to whom
some of the literary dandies might lift their hats.

Gavin Ogilvy I only knew as a weaver and a poacher: a lank, long-armed
man, much bent from crouching in ditches whence he watched his snares.
To the young he was a romantic figure, because they saw him frequently
in the fields with his call-birds tempting siskins, yellow yites, and
Unties to twigs which he had previously smeared with lime. He made the
lime from the tough roots of holly; sometimes from linseed, oil, which
is boiled until thick, when it is taken out of the pot and drawn
and stretched with the hands like elastic. Gavin was also a famous
hare-snarer at a time when the ploughman looked upon this form of
poaching as his perquisite. The snare was of wire, so constructed that
the hare entangled itself the more when trying to escape, and it was
placed across the little roads through the fields to which hares confine
themselves, with a heavy stone attached to it by a string. Once Gavin
caught a toad (fox) instead of a hare, and did not discover his mistake
until it had him by the teeth. He was not able to weave for two months.
The grouse-netting was more lucrative and more exciting, and women
engaged in it with their husbands. It is told of Gavin that he was
on one occasion chased by a game-keeper over moor and hill for twenty
miles, and that by and by when the one sank down exhausted so did the
other. They would sit fifty yards apart, glaring at each other. The
poacher eventually escaped. This, curious as it may seem, is the man
whose eloquence at the club has not been forgotten in fifty years.
“Thus did he stand,” I have been told recently, “exclaiming in language
sublime that the soul shall bloom in immortal youth through the ruin and
wrack of time.”

Another member read to the club an account of his journey to Lochnagar,
which was afterward published in _Chambers’s Journal_. He was celebrated
for his descriptions of scenery, and was not the only member of the club
whose essays got into print. More memorable perhaps was an itinerant
match-seller known to Thrums and the surrounding towns as the literary
spunk-seller. He was a wizened, shivering old man, often barefooted,
wearing at the best a thin, ragged coat that had been black but was
green-brown with age, and he made his spunks as well as sold them. He
brought Bacon and Adam Smith into Thrums, and he loved to recite long
screeds from Spenser, with a running commentary on the versification and
the luxuriance of the diction. Of Jamie’s death I do not care to write.
He went without many a dinner in order to buy a book.

The Coat of Many Colors and Silva Robbie were two street preachers who
gave the Thrums ministers some work. They occasionally appeared at the
club. The Coat of Many Colors was so called because he wore a garment
consisting of patches of cloth of various colors sewed together. It hung
down to his heels. He may have been cracked rather than inspired, but he
was a power in the square where he preached, the women declaring that
he was gifted by God. An awe filled even the men when he admonished them
for using strong language, for at such a time he would remind them of
the woe which fell upon Tibbie Mason. Tibbie had been notorious in her
day for evil-speaking, especially for her free use of the word handless,
which she flung a hundred times in a week at her man, and even at her
old mother. Her punishment was to have a son born without hands. The
Coat of Many Colors also told of the liar who exclaimed, “If this is not
gospel true may I stand here forever,” and who is standing on that spot
still, only nobody knows where it is. George Wishart was the Coat’s
hero, and often he has told in the square how Wishart saved Dundee. It
was the time when the plague lay over Scotland, and in Dundee they saw
it approaching from the West in the form of a great black cloud. They
fell on their knees and prayed, crying to the cloud to pass them by, and
while they prayed it came nearer. Then they looked around for the most
holy man among them, to intervene with God on their behalf. All eyes
turned to George Wishart, and he stood up, stretching his arms to the
cloud, and prayed, and it rolled back. Thus Dundee was saved from the
plague, but when Wishart ended his prayer he was alone, for the people
had all returned to their homes. Less of a genuine man than the Coat
of Many Colors was Silva Robbie, who had horrid fits of laughing in the
middle of his prayers, and even fell in a paroxysm of laughter from the
chair on which he stood. In the club he said, things not to be borne,
though logical up to a certain point.

Tammas Haggart was the most sarcastic member of the club, being
celebrated for his sarcasm far and wide. It was a remarkable thing about
him, often spoken of, that if you went to Tammas with a stranger and
asked him to say a sarcastic thing that the man might take away as a
specimen, he could not do it. “Na, na,” Tammas would say, after a few
trials, referring to sarcasm, “she’s no a crittur to force. Ye maun
lat her tak her ain time. Sometimes she’s dry like the pump, an’
syne, again, oot she comes in a gush.” The most sarcastic thing the
stone-breaker ever said was frequently marvelled over in Thrums, both
before and behind his face, but unfortunately no one could ever remember
what it was. The subject, however, was Cha Tamson’s potato pit. There is
little doubt that it was a fit of sarcasm that induced Tammas to marry
a gypsy lassie. Mr. Byars would not join them, so Tammas had himself
married by Jimmy Pawse, the gay little gypsy king, and after that the
minister remarried them. The marriage over the tongs is a thing to
scandalize any well-brought-up person, for before he joined the couple’s
hands Jimmy jumped about in a startling way, uttering wild gibberish,
and after the ceremony was over there was rough work, with incantations
and blowing on pipes. Tammas always held that this marriage turned out
better than he had expected, though he had his trials like other married
men. Among them was Chirsty’s way of climbing on to the dresser to get
at the higher part of the plate-rack. One evening I called in to have a
smoke with the stone-breaker, and while we were talking Chirsty climbed
the dresser. The next moment she was on the floor on her back, wailing,
but Tammas smoked on imperturbably. “Do you not see what has happened,
man?” I cried. “Ou,” said Tammas, “she’s aye fa’in aff the dresser.”

Of the school-masters who were at times members of the club, Mr. Dickie
was the ripest scholar, but my predecessor at the schoolhouse had a way
of sneering at him that was as good as sarcasm. When they were on their
legs at the same time, asking each other passionately to be calm, and
rolling out lines from Homer that made the inn-keeper look fearfully
to the fastenings of the door, their heads very nearly came together,
although the table was between them. The old dominie had an advantage
in being the shorter man, for he could hammer on the table as he spoke,
while gaunt Mr. Dickie had to stoop to it. Mr. McRittie’s arguments were
a series of nails that he knocked into the table, and he did it in a
workmanlike manner. Mr. Dickie, though he kept firm on his feet, swayed
his body until by and by his head was rotating in a large circle. The
mathematical figure he made was a cone revolving on its apex. Gavin’s
reinstalment in the chair year after year was made by the disappointed
dominie the subject of some tart verses which he called an epode, but
Gavin crushed him when they were read before the club. “Satire,” he
said, “is a legitimate weapon, used with michty effect by Swift, Sammy
Butler, and others, and I dount object to being made the subject of
creeticism. It has often been called a t’nife [knife], but them as is
not used to t’nives cuts their hands, and ye’ll a’ observe that Mr.
McRittie’s fingers is bleedin’.” All eyes were turned upon the dominie’s
hand, and though he pocketed it smartly several members had seen the
blood. The dominie was a rare visitor at the club after that, though
he outlived poor Mr. Dickie by many years. Mr. Dickie was a teacher in
Tilliedrum, but he was ruined by drink. He wandered from town to town,
reciting Greek and Latin poetry to any one who would give him a dram,
and sometimes he wept and moaned aloud in the street, crying, “Poor Mr.
Dickie! poor Mr. Dickie!”

The leading poet in a club of poets was Dite Walls, who kept a school
when there were scholars and weaved when there were none. He had a
song that was published in a halfpenny leaflet about the famous lawsuit
instituted by the fanner of Teuchbusses against the Laird of Drumlee.
The laird was alleged to have taken from the land of Teuchbusses
sufficient broom to make a besom thereof, and I am not certain that the
case is settled to this day. It was Dite, or another member of the club,
who wrote “The Wife o’ Deeside,” of all the songs of the period the one
that had the greatest vogue in the county at a time when Lord Jeffrey
was cursed at every fireside in Thrums. The wife of Deeside was tried
for the murder of her servant, who had infatuated the young laird, and
had it not been that Jeffrey defended her she would, in the words of the
song, have “hung like a troot.” It is not easy now to conceive the rage
against Jeffrey when the woman was acquitted. The song was sung and
recited in the streets, at the smiddy, in bothies, and by firesides, to
the shaking of fists and the grinding of teeth. It began:

  “Ye’ll a’ hae hear tell o’ the wife o’ Deeside,
   Ye’ll a’ hae hear tell o’ the wife o’ Deeside,
   She poisoned her maid for to keep up her pride,
   Ye’ll a’ hae hear tell o’ the wife o’ Deeside.”

Before the excitement had abated, Jeffrey was in Tilliedrum for
electioneering purposes, and he was mobbed in the streets. Angry crowds
pressed close to howl “Wife o’ Deeside!” at him. A contingent from
Thrums was there, and it was long afterward told of Sam’l Todd, by
himself, that he hit Jeffrey on the back of the head with a clod of

Johnny McQuhatty, a brother of the T’nowhead farmer, was the one
taciturn member of the club, and you had only to look at him to know
that he had a secret. He was a great genius at the hand-loom, and
invented a loom for the weaving of linen such as has not been seen
before or since. In the day-time he kept guard over his “shop,” into
which no one was allowed to enter, and the fame of his loom was so great
that he had to watch over it with a gun. At night he weaved, and when
the result at last pleased him he made the linen into shirts, all of
which he stitched together with his own hands, even to the button-holes.
He sent one shirt to the Queen, and another to the Duchess of Athole,
mentioning a very large price for them, which he got. Then he destroyed
his wonderful loom, and how it was made no one will ever know. Johnny
only took to literature after he had made his name, and he seldom spoke
at the club except when ghosts and the like were the subject of debate,
as they tended to be when the farmer of Mucklo Haws could get in a
word. Mucklo Haws was fascinated by Johnny’s sneers at superstition, and
sometimes on dark nights the inventor had to make his courage good by
seeing the farmer past the doulie yates (ghost gates), which Muckle Haws
had to go perilously near on his way home. Johnny was a small man, but
it was the burly farmer who shook at sight of the gates standing out
white in the night. White gates have an evil name still, and Muckle Haws
was full of horrors as he drew near them, clinging to Johnny’s arm. It
was on such a night, he would remember, that he saw the White Lady go
through the gates greeting sorely, with a dead bairn in her arms, while
water kelpie laughed and splashed in the pools and the witches danced in
a ring round Broken Buss. That very night twelve months ago the packman
was murdered at Broken Buss, and Easie Pettie hanged herself on the
stump of a tree. Last night there were ugly sounds from the quarry of
Croup, where the bairn lies buried, and it’s not mous (canny) to be out
at such a time. The farmer had seen spectre maidens walking round the
ruined castle of Darg, and the castle all lit up with flaring torches,
and dead knights and ladies sitting in the halls at the wine-cup, and
the devil himself flapping his wings on the ramparts.

When the debates were political, two members with the gift of song fired
the blood with their own poems about taxation and the depopulation of
the Highlands, and by selling these songs from door to door they made
their livelihood.

Books and pamphlets were brought into the town by the flying stationers,
as they were called, who visited the square periodically carrying their
wares on their backs, except at the Muckly, when they had their stall
and even sold books by auction. The flying stationer best known to
Thrums was Sandersy Riaca, who was stricken from head to foot with
the palsy, and could only speak with a quaver in consequence. Sandersy
brought to the members of the club all the great books he could get
second-hand, but his stock in trade was Thrummy Cap and Akenstaff, the
Fishwives of Buckhaven, the Devil upon Two Sticks, Gilderoy, Sir James
the Rose, the Brownie of Badenoch, the Ghaist of Firenden, and the like.
It was from Sandersy that Tammas Haggart bought his copy of Shakespeare,
whom Mr. Dishart could never abide. Tammas kept what he had done from
his wife, but Chirsty saw a deterioration setting in and told the
minister of her suspicions. Mr. Dishart was newly placed at the time and
very vigorous, and the way he shook the truth out of Tammas was grand.
The minister pulled Tammas the one way and Gavin pulled him the other,
but Mr. Dishart was not the man to be beaten, and he landed Tammas in
the Auld Licht kirk before the year was out. Chirsty buried Shakespeare
in the yard.

*** End of this LibraryBlog Digital Book "Auld Licht Idyls" ***

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