A Window in Thrums
J. M. Barrie
I THE HOUSE ON THE BRAE
II ON THE TRACK OF THE MINISTER
III PREPARING TO RECEIVE COMPANY
IV WAITING FOR THE DOCTOR
V A HUMORIST ON HIS CALLING
VI DEAD THIS TWENTY YEARS
VII THE STATEMENT OF TIBBIE BIRSE
VIII A CLOAK WITH BEADS
IX THE POWER OF BEAUTY
X A MAGNUM OPUS
XI THE GHOST CRADLE
XII THE TRAGEDY OF A WIFE
XIII MAKING THE BEST OF IT
XIV VISITORS AT THE MANSE
XV HOW GAVIN BIRSE PUT IT TO MAG LOWNIE
XVI THE SON FROM LONDON
XVII A HOME FOR GENIUSES
XVIII LEEBY AND JAMIE
XIX A TALE OF A GLOVE
XX THE LAST NIGHT
XXI JESS LEFT ALONE
XXII JAMIE'S HOME-COMING
A WINDOW IN THRUMS
THE HOUSE ON THE BRAE
On the bump of green round which the brae twists, at the top of the
brae, and within cry of T'nowhead Farm, still stands a one-storey
house, whose whitewashed walls, streaked with the discoloration that
rain leaves, look yellow when the snow comes. In the old days the
stiff ascent left Thrums behind, and where is now the making of a
suburb was only a poor row of dwellings and a manse, with Hendry's cot
to watch the brae. The house stood bare, without a shrub, in a garden
whose paling did not go all the way round, the potato pit being only
kept out of the road, that here sets off southward, by a broken dyke of
stones and earth. On each side of the slate-coloured door was a window
of knotted glass. Ropes were flung over the thatch to keep the roof on
Into this humble abode I would take any one who cares to accompany me.
But you must not come in a contemptuous mood, thinking that the poor
are but a stage removed from beasts of burden, as some cruel writers of
these days say; nor will I have you turn over with your foot the shabby
horse-hair chairs that Leeby kept so speckless, and Hendry weaved for
years to buy, and Jess so loved to look upon.
I speak of the chairs, but if we go together into the "room" they will
not be visible to you. For a long time the house has been to let.
Here, on the left of the doorway, as we enter, is the room, without a
shred of furniture in it except the boards of two closed-in beds. The
flooring is not steady, and here and there holes have been eaten into
the planks. You can scarcely stand upright beneath the decaying
ceiling. Worn boards and ragged walls, and the rusty ribs fallen from
the fireplace, are all that meet your eyes, but I see a round,
unsteady, waxcloth-covered table, with four books lying at equal
distances on it. There are six prim chairs, two of them not to be sat
upon, backed against the walls, and between the window and the
fireplace a chest of drawers, with a snowy coverlet. On the drawers
stands a board with coloured marbles for the game of solitaire, and I
have only to open the drawer with the loose handle to bring out the
dambrod. In the carved wood frame over the window hangs Jamie's
portrait; in the only other frame a picture of Daniel in the den of
lions, sewn by Leeby in wool. Over the chimney-piece with its shells,
in which the roar of the sea can be heard, are strung three rows of
birds' eggs. Once again we might be expecting company to tea.
The passage is narrow. There is a square hole between the rafters, and
a ladder leading up to it. You may climb and look into the attic, as
Jess liked to hear me call my tiny garret-room. I am stiffer now than
in the days when I lodged with Jess during the summer holiday I am
trying to bring back, and there is no need for me to ascend. Do not
laugh at the newspapers with which Leeby papered the garret, nor at the
yarn Hendry stuffed into the windy holes. He did it to warm the house
for Jess. But the paper must have gone to pieces and the yarn rotted
I have kept the kitchen for the last, as Jamie did on the dire day of
which I shall have to tell. It has a flooring of stone now, where
there used only to be hard earth, and a broken pane in the window is
indifferently stuffed with rags. But it is the other window I turn to,
with a pain at my heart, and pride and fondness too, the square foot of
glass where Jess sat in her chair and looked down the brae.
Ah, that brae! The history of tragic little Thrums is sunk into it
like the stones it swallows in the winter. We have all found the brae
long and steep in the spring of life. Do you remember how the child
you once were sat at the foot of it and wondered if a new world began
at the top? It climbs from a shallow burn, and we used to sit on the
brig a long time before venturing to climb. As boys we ran up the
brae. As men and women, young and in our prime, we almost forgot that
it was there. But the autumn of life comes, and the brae grows
steeper; then the winter, and once again we are as the child pausing
apprehensively on the brig. Yet are we no longer the child; we look
now for no new world at the top, only for a little garden and a tiny
house, and a handloom in the house. It is only a garden of kail and
potatoes, but there may be a line of daisies, white and red, on each
side of the narrow footpath, and honeysuckle over the door. Life is
not always hard, even after backs grow bent, and we know that all braes
lead only to the grave.
This is Jess's window. For more than twenty years she had not been
able to go so far as the door, and only once while I knew her was she
ben in the room. With her husband, Hendry, or their only daughter,
Leeby, to lean upon, and her hand clutching her staff, she took twice a
day, when she was strong, the journey between her bed and the window
where stood her chair. She did not lie there looking at the sparrows
or at Leeby redding up the house, and I hardly ever heard her complain.
All the sewing was done by her; she often baked on a table pushed close
to the window, and by leaning forward she could stir the porridge.
Leeby was seldom off her feet, but I do not know that she did more than
Jess, who liked to tell me, when she had a moment to spare, that she
had a terrible lot to be thankful for.
To those who dwell in great cities Thrums is only a small place, but
what a clatter of life it has for me when I come to it from my
school-house in the glen. Had my lot been cast in a town I would no
doubt have sought country parts during my September holiday, but the
school-house is quiet even when the summer takes brakes full of
sportsmen and others past the top of my footpath, and I was always
light-hearted when Craigiebuckle's cart bore me into the din of Thrums.
I only once stayed during the whole of my holiday at the house on the
brae, but I knew its inmates for many years, including Jamie, the son,
who was a barber in London. Of their ancestry I never heard. With us
it was only some of the articles of furniture, or perhaps a snuff-mull,
that had a genealogical tree. In the house on the brae was a great
kettle, called the boiler, that was said to be fifty years old in the
days of Hendry's grandfather, of whom nothing more is known. Jess's
chair, which had carved arms and a seat stuffed with rags, had been
Snecky Hobart's father's before it was hers, and old Snecky bought it
at a roup in the Tenements. Jess's rarest possession was, perhaps, the
christening robe that even people at a distance came to borrow. Her
mother could count up a hundred persons who had been baptized in it.
Every one of the hundred, I believe, is dead, and even I cannot now
pick out Jess and Hendry's grave; but I heard recently that the
christening robe is still in use. It is strange that I should still be
left after so many changes, one of the three or four who can to-day
stand on the brae and point out Jess's window. The little window
commands the incline to the point where the brae suddenly jerks out of
sight in its climb down into the town. The steep path up the commonty
makes for this elbow of the brae, and thus, whichever way the traveller
takes, it is here that he comes first into sight of the window. Here,
too, those who go to the town from the south get their first glimpse of
Carts pass up and down the brae every few minutes, and there comes an
occasional gig. Seldom is the brae empty, for many live beyond the top
of it now, and men and women go by to their work, children to school or
play. Not one of the children I see from the window to-day is known to
me, and most of the men and women I only recognize by their likeness to
their parents. That sweet-faced old woman with the shawl on her
shoulders may be one of the girls who was playing at the game of
palaulays when Jamie stole into Thrums for the last time; the man who
is leaning on the commonty gate gathering breath for the last quarter
of the brae may, as a barefooted callant, have been one of those who
chased Cree Queery past the poor-house. I cannot say; but this I know,
that the grandparents of most of these boys and girls were once young
with me. If I see the sons and daughters of my friends grown old, I
also see the grandchildren spinning the peerie and hunkering at
I-dree-I-dree--I-droppit-it--as we did so long ago. The world remains
as young as ever. The lovers that met on the commonty in the gloaming
are gone, but there are other lovers to take their place, and still the
commonty is here. The sun had sunk on a fine day in June, early in the
century, when Hendry and Jess, newly married, he in a rich moleskin
waistcoat, she in a white net cap, walked to the house on the brae that
was to be their home. So Jess has told me. Here again has been just
such a day, and somewhere in Thrums there may be just such a couple,
setting out for their home behind a horse with white ears instead of
walking, but with the same hopes and fears, and the same love light in
their eyes. The world does not age. The hearse passes over the brae
and up the straight burying-ground road, but still there is a cry for
the christening robe.
Jess's window was a beacon by night to travellers in the dark, and it
will be so in the future when there are none to remember Jess. There
are many such windows still, with loving faces behind them. From them
we watch for the friends and relatives who are coming back, and some,
alas! watch in vain. Not every one returns who takes the elbow of the
brae bravely, or waves his handkerchief to those who watch from the
window with wet eyes, and some return too late. To Jess, at her window
always when she was not in bed, things happy and mournful and terrible
came into view. At this window she sat for twenty years or more
looking at the world as through a telescope; and here an awful ordeal
was gone through after her sweet untarnished soul had been given back
ON THE TRACK OF THE MINISTER
On the afternoon of the Saturday that carted me and my two boxes to
Thrums, I was ben in the room playing Hendry at the dambrod. I had one
of the room chairs, but Leeby brought a chair from the kitchen for her
father. Our door stood open, and as Hendry often pondered for two
minutes with his hand on a "man," I could have joined in the gossip
that was going on but the house.
"Ay, weel, then, Leeby," said Jess, suddenly, "I'll warrant the
minister 'll no be preachin' the morn."
This took Leeby to the window.
"Yea, yea," she said (and I knew she was nodding her head sagaciously);
I looked out at the room window, but all I could see was a man wheeling
an empty barrow down the brae.
"That's Robbie Tosh," continued Leeby; "an' there's nae doot 'at he's
makkin for the minister's, for he has on his black coat. He'll be to
row the minister's luggage to the post-cart. Ay, an' that's Davit
Lunnan's barrow. I ken it by the shaft's bein' spliced wi' yarn.
Davit broke the shaft at the saw-mill."
"He'll be gaen awa for a curran (number of) days," said Jess, "or he
would juist hae taen his bag. Ay, he'll be awa to Edinbory, to see the
"I wonder wha'll be to preach the morn--tod, it'll likely be Mr.
Skinner, frae Dundee; him an' the minister's chief, ye ken."
"Ye micht' gang up to the attic, Leeby, an' see if the spare bedroom
vent (chimney) at the manse is gaen. We're sure, if it's Mr. Skinner,
he'll come wi' the post frae Tilliedrum the nicht, an' sleep at the
"Weel, I assure ye," said Leeby, descending from the attic, "it'll no
be Mr. Skinner, for no only is the spare bedroom vent no gaen, but the
blind's drawn doon frae tap to fut, so they're no even airin' the room.
Na, it canna be him; an' what's mair, it'll be naebody 'at's to bide a'
nicht at the manse."
"I wouldna say that; na, na. It may only be a student; an' Marget
Dundas" (the minister's mother and housekeeper) "michtna think it
necessary to put on a fire for him."
"Tod, I'll tell ye wha it'll be. I wonder I didna think o' 'im sooner.
It'll be the lad Wilkie; him 'at's mither mairit on Sam'l Duthie's
wife's brither. They bide in Cupar, an' I mind 'at when the son was
here twa or three year syne he was juist gaen to begin the diveenity
classes in Glesca."
"If that's so, Leeby, he would be sure to bide wi' Sam'l. Hendry, hae
ye heard 'at Sam'l Duthie's expeckin' a stranger the nicht?"
"Haud yer tongue," replied Hendry, who was having the worst of the game.
"Ay, but I ken he is," said Leeby triumphantly to her mother, "for ye
mind when I was in at Johnny Watt's (the draper's) Chirsty (Sam'l's
wife) was buyin' twa yards o' chintz, an' I couldna think what she
would be wantin' 't for!"
"I thocht Johnny said to ye 'at it was for a present to Chirsty's
"Ay, but he juist guessed that; for, though he tried to get oot o'
Chirsty what she wanted the chintz for, she wouldna tell 'im. But I
see noo what she was after. The lad Wilkie 'll be to bide wi' them,
and Chirsty had bocht the chintz to cover the airm-chair wi'. It's ane
o' thae hair-bottomed chairs, but terrible torn, so she'll hae covered
it for 'im to sit on."
"I wouldna wonder but ye're richt, Leeby; for Chirsty would be in an
oncommon fluster if she thocht the lad's mither was likely to hear 'at
her best chair was torn. Ay, ay, bein' a man, he wouldna think to tak
off the chintz an' hae a look at the chair withoot it."
Here Hendry, who had paid no attention to the conversation, broke in--
"Was ye speirin' had I seen Sam'l Duthie? I saw 'im yesterday buyin' a
fender at Will'um Crook's roup."
"A fender! Ay, ay, that settles the queistion," said Leeby; "I'll
warrant the fender was for Chirsty's parlour. It's preyed on Chirsty's
mind, they say, this fower-and-thirty year 'at she doesna hae a richt
"Leeby, look! That's Robbie Tosh wi' the barrow. He has a michty load
o' luggage. Am thinkin' the minister's bound for Tilliedrum."
"Na, he's no, he's gaen to Edinbory, as ye micht ken by the bandbox.
That'll be his mither's bonnet he's takkin' back to get altered. Ye'll
mind she was never pleased wi' the set o' the flowers."
"Weel, weel, here comes the minister himsel, an' very snod he is. Ay,
Marget's been puttin' new braid on his coat, an' he's carryin' the sma'
black bag he bocht in Dundee last year: he'll hae's nicht-shirt an' a
comb in't, I dinna doot. Ye micht rin to the corner, Leeby, an' see if
he cries in at Jess McTaggart's in passin'."
"It's my opeenion," said Leeby, returning excitedly from the corner,
"'at the lad Wilkie's no to be preachin' the morn, after a'. When I
gangs to the corner, at ony rate, what think ye's the first thing I see
but the minister an' Sam'l Duthie meetin' face to face? Ay, weel, it's
gospel am tellin' ye when I say as Sam'l flung back his head an' walkit
richt by the minister!"
"Losh keep's a', Leeby; ye say that? They maun hae haen a quarrel."
"I'm thinkin' we'll hae Mr. Skinner i' the poopit the morn after a'."
"It may be, it may be. Ay, ay, look, Leeby, whatna bit kimmer's that
wi' the twa jugs in her hand?"
"Eh? Ou, it'll be Lawyer Ogilvy's servant lassieky gaen to the farm o'
T'nowhead for the milk. She gangs ilka Saturday nicht. But what did
ye say--twa jugs? Tod, let's see! Ay, she has so, a big jug an' a
little ane. The little ane 'll be for cream; an', sal, the big ane's
bigger na usual."
"There maun be something gaen on at the lawyer's if they're buyin'
cream, Leeby. Their reg'lar thing's twopence worth o' milk."
"Ay, but I assure ye that sma' jug's for cream, an' I dinna doot mysel
but 'at there's to be fowerpence worth o' milk this nicht."
"There's to be a puddin' made the morn, Leeby. Ou, ay, a' thing points
to that; an' we're very sure there's nae puddins at the lawyer's on the
Sabbath onless they hae company."
"I dinna ken wha they can hae, if it be na that brither o' the wife's
'at bides oot by Aberdeen."
"Na, it's no him, Leeby; na, na. He's no weel to do, an' they wouldna
be buyin' cream for 'im."
"I'll run up to the attic again, an' see if there's ony stir at the
By and by Leeby returned in triumph.
"Ou, ay," she said, "they're expectin' veesitors at the lawyer's, for I
could see twa o' the bairns dressed up to the nines, an' Mistress
Ogilvy doesna dress at them in that wy for naething."
"It fair beats me though, Leeby, to guess wha's comin' to them. Ay,
but stop a meenute, I wouldna wonder, no, really I would not wonder but
what it'll be--"
"The very thing 'at was passin' through my head, mother."
"Ye mean 'at the lad Wilkie 'll be to bide wi' the lawyer i'stead o'
wi' Sam'l Duthie? Sal, am thinkin' that's it. Ye ken Sam'l an' the
lawyer married on cousins; but Mistress Ogilvy ay lookit on Chirsty as
dirt aneath her feet. She would be glad to get a minister, though, to
the hoose, an' so I warrant the lad Wilkie 'll be to bide a' nicht at
"But what would Chirsty be doin' gettin' the chintz an' the fender in
"Ou, she'd been expeckin' the lad, of course. Sal, she'll be in a
michty tantrum aboot this. I wouldna wonder though she gets Sam'l to
gang ower to the U. P's."
Leeby went once more to the attic.
"Ye're wrang, mother," she cried out. "Whaever's to preach the morn is
to bide at the manse, for the minister's servant's been at Baker Duft's
buyin' short-bread--half a lippy, nae doot."
"Are ye sure o' that, Leeby?"
"Oh, am certain. The servant gaed in to Duffs the noo, an', as ye ken
fine, the manse fowk doesna deal wi' him, except they're wantin'
short-bread. He's Auld Kirk."
Leeby returned to the kitchen, and Jess sat for a time ruminating.
"The lad Wilkie," she said at last, triumphantly, "'ll be to bide at
Lawyer Ogilvy's; but he'll be gaen to the manse the morn for a
"But what," asked Leeby, "aboot the milk an' the cream for the
"Ou, they'll be hae'n a puddin' for the supper the nicht. That's a
michty genteel thing, I've heard."
It turned out that Jess was right in every particular.
PREPARING TO RECEIVE COMPANY
Leeby was at the fire brandering a quarter of steak on the tongs, when
the house was flung into consternation by Hendry's casual remark that
he had seen Tibbie Mealmaker in the town with her man.
"The Lord preserv's!" cried Leeby.
Jess looked quickly at the clock.
"Half fower!" she said, excitedly.
"Then it canna be dune," said Leeby, falling despairingly into a chair,
"for they may be here ony meenute."
"It's most michty," said Jess, turning on her husband, "'at ye should
tak a pleasure in bringin' this hoose to disgrace. Hoo did ye no
"I fair forgot," Hendry answered, "but what's a' yer steer?"
Jess looked at me (she often did this) in a way that meant, "What a man
is this I'm tied to!"
"Steer!" she exclaimed. "Is't no time we was makkin' a steer? They'll
be in for their tea ony meenute, an' the room no sae muckle as sweepit.
Ay, an' me lookin' like a sweep; an' Tibbie Mealmaker 'at's sae
partikler genteel seein' you sic a sicht as ye are?"
Jess shook Hendry out of his chair, while Leeby began to sweep with the
one hand, and agitatedly to unbutton her wrapper with the other.
"She didna see me," said Hendry, sitting down forlornly on the table.
"Get aff that table!" cried Jess. "See haud o' the besom," she said to
"For mercy's sake, mother," said Leeby, "gie yer face a dicht, an' put
on a clean mutch."
"I'll open the door if they come afore you're ready," said Hendry, as
Leeby pushed him against the dresser.
"Ye daur to speak aboot openin'the door, an' you sic a mess!" cried
Jess, with pins in her mouth.
"Havers!" retorted Hendry. "A man canna be aye washin' at 'imsel."
Seeing that Hendry was as much in the way as myself, I invited him
upstairs to the attic, whence we heard Jess and Leeby upbraiding each
other shrilly. I was aware that the room was speckless; but for all
that, Leeby was turning it upside down.
"She's aye ta'en like that," Hendry said to me, referring to his wife,
"when she's expectin' company. Ay, it's a peety she canna tak things
"Tibbie Mealmaker must be some one of importance?" I asked.
"Ou, she's naething by the ord'nar'; but ye see she was mairit to a
Tilliedrum man no lang syne, an' they're said to hae a michty grand
establishment. Ay, they've a wardrobe spleet new; an' what think ye
Tibbie wears ilka day?"
I shook my head.
"It was Chirsty Miller 'at put it through the toon," Henry continued.
"Chirsty was in Tilliedrum last Teisday or Wednesday, an' Tibbie gae
her a cup o' tea. Ay, weel, Tibbie telt Chirsty 'at she wears hose
"Ay. It's some michty grand kind o' stockin'. I never heard o't in
this toon. Na, there's naebody in Thrums 'at wears hose."
"And who did Tibbie get?" I asked; for in Thrums they say, "Wha did she
get?" and "Wha did he tak?"
"His name's Davit Curly. Ou, a crittur fu' o' maggots, an' nae great
match, for he's juist the Tilliedrum bill-sticker."
At this moment Jess shouted from her chair (she was burnishing the
society teapot as she spoke), "Mind, Hendry McQumpha, 'at upon nae
condition are you to mention the bill-stickin' afore Tibbie!"
"Tibbie," Hendry explained to me, "is a terrible vain tid, an' doesna
think the bill-stickin' genteel. Ay, they say 'at if she meets Davit
in the street wi' his paste-pot an' the brush in his hands she pretends
no to ken 'im."
Every time Jess paused to think she cried up orders, such as--
"Dinna call her Tibbie, mind ye. Always address her as Mistress Curly."
"Shak' hands wi' baith o' them, an' say ye hope they're in the
enjoyment o' guid health."
"Dinna put yer feet on the table."
"Mind, you're no' to mention 'at ye kent they were in the toon."
"When onybody passes ye yer tea say, 'Thank ye.'"
"Dinna stir yer tea as if ye was churnin' butter, nor let on 'at the
scones is no our am bakin'."
"If Tibbie says onything aboot the china yer no' to say 'at we dinna
use it ilka day."
"Dinna lean back in the big chair, for it's broken, an' Leeby's gi'en
it a lick o' glue this meenute."
"When Leeby gies ye a kick aneath the table that'll be a sign to ye to
Hendry looked at me apologetically while these instructions came up.
"I winna dive my head wi' sic nonsense," he said; "it's no' for a man
body to be sae crammed fu' o' manners."
"Come awa doon," Jess shouted to him, "an' put on a clean dickey."
"I'll better do't to please her," said Hendry, "though for my ain part
I dinna like the feel o' a dickey on week-days. Na, they mak's think
it's the Sabbath."
Ten minutes afterwards I went downstairs to see how the preparations
were progressing. Fresh muslin curtains had been put up in the room.
The grand footstool, worked by Leeby, was so placed that Tibbie could
not help seeing it; and a fine cambric handkerchief, of which Jess was
very proud, was hanging out of a drawer as if by accident. An
antimacassar lying carelessly on the seat of a chair concealed a rent
in the horse-hair, and the china ornaments on the mantelpiece were so
placed that they looked whole. Leeby's black merino was hanging near
the window in a good light, and Jess's Sabbath bonnet, which was never
worn, occupied a nail beside it. The tea-things stood on a tray in the
kitchen bed, whence they could be quickly brought into the room, just
as if they were always ready to be used daily. Leeby, as yet in
deshabille, was shaving her father at a tremendous rate, and Jess,
looking as fresh as a daisy, was ready to receive the visitors. She
was peering through the tiny window-blind looking for them.
"Be cautious, Leeby," Hendry was saying, when Jess shook her hand at
him. "Wheesht," she whispered; "they're comin'."
Hendry was hustled into his Sabbath coat, and then came a tap at the
door, a very genteel tap. Jess nodded to Leeby, who softly shoved
Hendry into the room.
The tap was repeated, but Leeby pushed her father into a chair and
thrust Barrow's Sermons open into his hand. Then she stole but the
house, and swiftly buttoned her wrapper, speaking to Jess by nods the
while. There was a third knock, whereupon Jess said, in a loud,
"Was that not a chap (knock) at the door?"
Hendry was about to reply, but she shook her fist at him. Next moment
Leeby opened the door. I was upstairs, but I heard Jess say--
"Dear me, if it's not Mrs. Curly--and Mr. Curly! And hoo are ye? Come
in, by. Weel, this is, indeed, a pleasant surprise!"
WAITING FOR THE DOCTOR
Jess had gone early to rest, and the door of her bed in the kitchen was
pulled to. From her window I saw Hendry buying dulse.
Now and again the dulseman wheeled his slimy boxes to the top of the
brae, and sat there stolidly on the shafts of his barrow. Many passed
him by, but occasionally some one came to rest by his side. Unless the
customer was loquacious, there was no bandying of words, and Hendry
merely unbuttoned his east-trouser pocket, giving his body the angle at
which the pocket could be most easily filled by the dulseman. He then
deposited his half-penny, and moved on. Neither had spoken; yet in the
country they would have roared their predictions about to-morrow to a
ploughman half a field away.
Dulse is roasted by twisting it round the tongs fired to a red-heat,
and the house was soon heavy with the smell of burning sea-weed. Leeby
was at the dresser munching it from a broth-plate, while Hendry, on his
knees at the fireplace, gingerly tore off the blades of dulse that were
sticking to the tongs, and licked his singed fingers.
"Whaur's yer mother?" he asked Leeby.
"Ou," said Leeby, "whaur would she be but in her bed?"
Hendry took the tongs to the door, and would have cleaned them himself,
had not Leeby (who often talked his interfering ways over with her
mother) torn them from his hands.
"Leeby!" cried Jess at that moment.
"Ay," answered Leeby, leisurely, not noticing, as I happened to do,
that Jess spoke in an agitated voice.
"What is't?" asked Hendry, who liked to be told things.
He opened the door of the bed.
"Yer mother's no weel," he said to Leeby.
Leeby ran to the bed, and I went ben the house. In another two minutes
we were a group of four in the kitchen, staring vacantly. Death could
not have startled us more, tapping thrice that quiet night on the
"It's diphtheria!" said Jess, her hands trembling as she buttoned her
She looked at me, and Leeby looked at me.
"It's no, it's no," cried Leeby, and her voice was as a fist shaken at
my face. She blamed me for hesitating in my reply. But ever since
this malady left me a lonely dominie for life, diphtheria has been a
knockdown word for me. Jess had discovered a great white spot on her
throat. I knew the symptoms.
"Is't dangerous?" asked Hendry, who once had a headache years before,
and could still refer to it as a reminiscence.
"Them 'at has 't never recovers," said Jess, sitting down very quietly.
A stick fell from the fire, and she bent forward to replace it.
"They do recover," cried Leeby, again turning angry eyes on me.
I could not face her; I had known so many who did not recover. She put
her hand on her mother's shoulder.
"Mebbe ye would be better in yer bed," suggested Hendry.
No one spoke.
"When I had the headache," said Hendry, "I was better in my bed."
Leeby had taken Jess's hand--a worn old hand that had many a time gone
out in love and kindness when younger hands were cold. Poets have sung
and fighting men have done great deeds for hands that never had such a
"If ye could eat something," said Hendry, "I would gae to the flesher's
for 't. I mind when I had the headache, hoo a small steak--"
"Gae awa for the doctor, rayther," broke in Leeby.
Jess started, for sufferers think there is less hope for them after the
doctor has been called in to pronounce sentence.
"I winna hae the doctor," she said, anxiously.
In answer to Leeby's nods, Hendry slowly pulled out his boots from
beneath the table, and sat looking at them, preparatory to putting them
on. He was beginning at last to be a little scared, though his face
did not show it.
"I winna hae ye," cried Jess, getting to her feet, "ga'en to the
doctor's sic a sicht. Yer coat's a' yarn."
"Havers," said Hendry, but Jess became frantic.
I offered to go for the doctor, but while I was up-stairs looking for
my bonnet I heard the door slam. Leeby had become impatient, and
darted off herself, buttoning her jacket probably as she ran. When I
returned to the kitchen, Jess and Hendry were still by the fire.
Hendry was beating a charred stick into sparks, and his wife sat with
her hands in her lap. I saw Hendry look at her once or twice, but he
could think of nothing to say. His terms of endearment had died out
thirty-nine years before with his courtship. He had forgotten the
words. For his life he could not have crossed over to Jess and put his
arm round her. Yet he was uneasy. His eyes wandered round the poorly
"Will ye hae a drink o' watter?" he asked.
There was a sound of footsteps outside.
"That'll be him," said Hendry in a whisper.
Jess started to her feet, and told Hendry to help her ben the house.
The steps died away, but I fancied that Jess, now highly strung, had
gone into hiding, and I went after her. I was mistaken. She had lit
the room lamp, turning the crack in the globe to the wall. The
sheepskin hearthrug, which was generally carefully packed away beneath
the bed, had been spread out before the empty fireplace, and Jess was
on the arm-chair hurriedly putting on her grand black mutch with the
"I was juist makkin' mysel respectable," she said, but without life in
This was the only time I ever saw her in the room.
Leeby returned panting to say that the doctor might be expected in an
hour. He was away among the hills.
The hour passed reluctantly. Leeby lit a fire ben the house, and then
put on her Sabbath dress. She sat with her mother in the room. Never
before had I seen Jess sit so quietly, for her way was to work until,
as she said herself, she was ready "to fall into her bed."
Hendry wandered between the two rooms, always in the way when Leeby ran
to the window to see if that was the doctor at last. He would stand
gaping in the middle of the room for five minutes, then slowly withdraw
to stand as drearily but the house. His face lengthened. At last he
sat down by the kitchen fire, a Bible in his hand. It lay open on his
knee, but he did not read much. He sat there with his legs
outstretched, looking straight before him. I believe he saw Jess young
again. His face was very solemn, and his mouth twitched. The fire
sank into ashes unheeded.
I sat alone at my attic window for hours, waiting for the doctor. From
the attic I could see nearly all Thrums, but, until very late, the
night was dark, and the brae, except immediately before the door, was
blurred and dim. A sheet of light canopied the square as long as a
cheap Jack paraded his goods there. It was gone before the moon came
out. Figures tramped, tramped up the brae, passed the house in shadow
and stole silently on. A man or boy whistling seemed to fill the
valley. The moon arrived too late to be of service to any wayfarer.
Everybody in Thrums was asleep but ourselves, and the doctor who never
About midnight Hendry climbed the attic stair and joined me at the
window. His hand was shaking as he pulled back the blind. I began to
realize that his heart could still overflow.
"She's waur," he whispered, like one who had lost his voice.
For a long time he sat silently, his hand on the blind. He was so
different from the Hendry I had known, that I felt myself in the
presence of a strange man. His eyes were glazed with staring at the
turn of the brae where the doctor must first come into sight. His
breathing became heavier, till it was a gasp. Then I put my hand on
his shoulder, and he stared at me.
"Nine-and-thirty years come June," he said, speaking to himself.
For this length of time, I knew, he and Jess had been married. He
repeated the words at intervals.
"I mind--" he began, and stopped. He was thinking of the spring-time
of Jess's life.
The night ended as we watched; then came the terrible moment that
precedes the day--the moment known to shuddering watchers by sick-beds,
when a chill wind cuts through the house, and the world without seems
cold in death. It is as if the heart of the earth did not mean to
"This is a fearsome nicht," Hendry said, hoarsely.
He turned to grope his way to the stairs, but suddenly went down on his
knees to pray. . . .
There was a quick step outside. I arose in time to see the doctor on
the brae. He tried the latch, but Leeby was there to show him in. The
door of the room closed on him.
From the top of the stair I could see into the dark passage, and make
out Hendry shaking at the door. I could hear the doctor's voice, but
not the words he said. There was a painful silence, and then Leeby
"It's gone," cried Jess; "the white spot's gone! Ye juist touched it,
an' it's gone! Tell Hendry."
But Hendry did not need to be told. As Jess spoke I heard him say,
huskily: "Thank God!" and then he tottered back to the kitchen. When
the doctor left, Hendry was still on Jess's armchair, trembling like a
man with the palsy. Ten minutes afterwards I was preparing for bed,
when he cried up the stair--
"Come awa' doon."
I joined the family party in the room: Hendry was sitting close to Jess.
"Let us read," he said, firmly, "in the fourteenth of John."
A HUMORIST ON HIS CALLING
After the eight o'clock bell had rung, Hendry occasionally crossed over
to the farm of T'nowhead and sat on the pig-sty. If no one joined him
he scratched the pig, and returned home gradually. Here what was
almost a club held informal meetings, at which two or four, or even
half a dozen assembled to debate, when there was any one to start them.
The meetings were only memorable when Tammas Haggart was in fettle, to
pronounce judgments in his well-known sarcastic way. Sometimes we had
got off the pig-sty to separate before Tammas was properly yoked.
There we might remain a long time, planted round him like trees, for he
was a mesmerising talker.
There was a pail belonging to the pig-sty, which some one would turn
bottom upwards and sit upon if the attendance was unusually numerous.
Tammas liked, however, to put a foot on it now and again in the full
swing of a harangue, and when he paused for a sarcasm I have seen the
pail kicked toward him. He had the wave of the arm that is so
convincing in argument, and such a natural way of asking questions,
that an audience not used to public speaking might have thought he
wanted them to reply. It is an undoubted fact, that when he went on
the platform, at the time of the election, to heckle the Colonel, he
paused in the middle of his questions to take a drink out of the
tumbler of water which stood on the table. As soon as they saw what he
was up to, the spectators raised a ringing cheer.
On concluding his perorations, Tammas sent his snuff-mull round, but we
had our own way of passing him a vote of thanks. One of the company
would express amazement at his gift of words, and the others would add,
"Man, man," or "Ye cow, Tammas," or, "What a crittur ye are!" all which
ejaculations meant the same thing. A new subject being thus
ingeniously introduced, Tammas again put his foot on the pail.
"I tak no creedit," he said, modestly, on the evening, I remember, of
Willie Pyatt's funeral, "in bein' able to speak wi' a sort o' faceelity
on topics 'at I've made my ain."
"Ay," said T'nowhead, "but it's no the faceelity o' speakin' 'at taks
me. There's Davit Lunan 'at can speak like as if he had learned it aff
a paper, an' yet I canna thole 'im."
"Davit," said Hendry, "doesna speak in a wy 'at a body can follow 'im.
He doesna gae even on. Jess says he's juist like a man ay at the
cross-roads, an' no sure o' his wy. But the stock has words, an' no
ilka body has that."
"If I was bidden to put Tammas's gift in a word," said T'nowhead, "I
would say 'at he had a wy. That's what I would say."
"Weel, I suppose I have," Tammas admitted, "but, wy or no wy, I couldna
put a point on my words if it wasna for my sense o' humour. Lads,
humour's what gies the nip to speakin'."
"It's what maks ye a sarcesticist, Tammas," said Hendry; "but what I
wonder at is yer sayin' the humorous things sae aisy like. Some says
ye mak them up aforehand, but I ken that's no true."
"No only is't no true," said Tammas, "but it couldna be true. Them 'at
says sic things, an', weel I ken you're meanin' Davit Lunan, hasna nae
idea o' what humour is. It's a think 'at spouts oot o' its ain accord.
Some of the maist humorous things I've ever said cam oot, as a body may
say, by themsels."
"I suppose that's the case," said T'nowhead, "an' yet it maun be you
'at brings them up?"
"There's no nae doubt aboot its bein' the case," said Tammas, "for I've
watched mysel often. There was a vara guid instance occurred sune
after I married Easie. The Earl's son met me one day, aboot that time,
i' the Tenements, and he didna ken 'at Chirsty was deid, an' I'd
married again. 'Well, Haggart,' he says, in his frank wy, 'and how is
your wife?' 'She's vara weel, sir,' I maks answer, 'but she's no the
ane you mean.'"
"Na, he meant Chirsty," said Hendry.
"Is that a' the story?" asked T'nowhead.
Tammas had been looking at us queerly.
"There's no nane o' ye lauchin'," he said, "but I can assure ye the
Earl's son gaed east the toon lauchin' like onything."
"But what was't he lauched at?"
"Ou," said Tammas, "a humorist doesna tell whaur the humour comes in."
"No, but when you said that, did you mean it to be humorous?"
"Am no sayin' I did, but as I've been tellin' ye, humour spouts oot by
"Ay, but do ye ken noo what the Earl's son gaed awa lauchin' at?"
"I dinna exactly see't," he confessed, "but that's no an oncommon
thing. A humorist would often no ken 'at he was ane if it wasna by the
wy he makes other fowk lauch. A body canna be expeckit baith to mak
the joke an' to see't. Na, that would be doin' twa fowks' wark."
"Weel, that's reasonable enough, but I have often seen ye lauchin',"
said Hendry, "lang afore other fowk lauched."
"Nae doubt," Tammas explained, "an' that's because humour has twa
sides, juist like a penny piece. When I say a humorous thing mysel I'm
dependent on other fowk to tak note o' the humour o't, bein' mysel
ta'en up wi' the makkin' o't. Ay, but there's things I see an' hear
'at maks me lauch, an' that's the other side o' humour."
"I never heard it put sae plain afore," said T'nowhead, "an', sal, am
no nane sure but what am a humorist too."
"Na, na, no you, T'nowhead," said Tammas, hotly.
"Weel," continued the farmer, "I never set up for bein' a humorist, but
I can juist assure ye 'at I lauch at queer things too. No lang syne I
woke up i' my bed lauchin' like onything, an' Lisbeth thocht I wasna
weel. It was something I dreamed 'at made me lauch, I couldna think
what it was, but I laughed richt. Was that no fell like a humorist?"
"That was neither here nor there," said Tammas. "Na, dreams dinna
coont, for we're no responsible for them. Ay, an' what's mair, the
mere lauchin's no the important side o' humour, even though ye hinna to
be telt to lauch. The important side's the other side, the sayin' the
humorous things. I'll tell ye what: the humorist's like a man firin'
at a target--he doesna ken whether he hits or no till them at the
target tells 'im."
"I would be of opeenion," said Hendry, who was one of Tammas's most
staunch admirers, "'at another mark o' the rale humorist was his seein'
humour in all things?"
Tammas shook his head--a way he had when Hendry advanced theories.
"I dinna haud wi' that ava," he said. "I ken fine 'at Davit Lunan gaes
aboot sayin' he sees humour in everything, but there's nae surer sign
'at he's no a genuine humorist. Na, the rale humorist kens vara weel
'at there's subjects withoot a spark o' humour in them. When a subject
rises to the sublime it should be regairded philosophically, an' no
humorously. Davit would lauch 'at the grandest thochts, whaur they
only fill the true humorist wi' awe. I've found it necessary to rebuke
'im at times whaur his lauchin' was oot o' place. He pretended aince
on this vara spot to see humour i' the origin o' cock-fightin'."
"Did he, man?" said Hendry; "I wasna here. But what is the origin o'
"It was a' i' the Cheap Magazine," said T'nowhead.
"Was I sayin' it wasna?" demanded Tammas. "It was through me readin'
the account oot o' the Cheap Magazine 'at the discussion arose."
"But what said the Cheapy was the origin o' cock-fechtin'?"
"T'nowhead 'll tell ye," answered Tammas; "he says I dinna ken."
"I never said naething o' the kind," returned T'nowhead, indignantly;
"I mind o' ye readin't oot fine."
"Ay, weel," said Tammas, "that's a' richt. Ou, the origin o'
cock-fightin' gangs back to the time o' the Greek wars, a thoosand or
twa years syne, mair or less. There was ane, Miltiades by name, 'at
was the captain o' the Greek army, an' one day he led them doon the
mountains to attack the biggest army 'at was ever gathered thegither."
"They were Persians," interposed T'nowhead.
"Are you tellin' the story, or am I?" asked Tammas. "I kent fine 'at
they were Persians. Weel, Miltiades had the matter o' twenty thoosand
men wi' im', and when they got to the foot o' the mountain, behold
there was two cocks fechtin'."
"Man, man," said Hendry, "an' was there cocks in thae days?"
"Ondoubtedly," said Tammas, "or hoo could thae twa hae been fechtin'?"
"Ye have me there, Tammas," admitted Hendry. "Ye're perfectly richt."
"Ay, then," continued the stone-breaker, "when Miltiades saw the cocks
at it wi' all their micht, he stopped the army and addressed it.
'Behold!' he cried, at the top o' his voice, 'these cocks do not fight
for their household gods, nor for the monuments of their ancestors, nor
for glory, nor for liberty, nor for their children, but only because
the one will not give way unto the other.'"
"It was nobly said," declared Hendry; "na, cocks wouldna hae sae muckle
understandin' as to fecht for thae things. I wouldna wonder but what
it was some laddies 'at set them at ane another.'
"Hendry doesna see what Miltydes was after," said T'nowhead.
"Ye've taen't up wrang, Hendry," Tammas explained. "What Miltiades
meant was 'at if cocks could fecht sae weel oot o' mere deviltry,
surely the Greeks would fecht terrible for their gods an' their bairns
an' the other things."
"I see, I see; but what was the monuments of their ancestors?"
"Ou, that was the gravestanes they put up i' their kirkyards."
"I wonder the other billies would want to tak them awa. They would be
a michty wecht."
"Ay, but they wanted them, an' nat'rally the Greeks stuck to the stanes
they paid for."
"So, so, an' did Davit Lunan mak oot 'at there was humour in that?"
"He do so. He said it was a humorous thing to think o' a hale army
lookin' on at twa cocks fechtin'. I assure ye I telt 'im 'at I saw nae
humour in't. It was ane o' the most impressive sichts ever seen by
man, an' the Greeks was sae inspired by what Miltiades said 'at they
sweepit the Persians oot o' their country."
We all agreed that Tammas's was the genuine humour.
"An' an enviable possession it is," said Hendry.
"In a wy," admitted Tammas, "but no in a' wys."
He hesitated, and then added in a low voice--
"As sure as death, Hendry, it sometimes taks grip o' me i' the kirk
itsel, an' I can hardly keep frae lauchin'."
DEAD THIS TWENTY YEARS
In the lustiness of youth there are many who cannot feel that they,
too, will die. The first fear stops the heart. Even then they would
keep death at arm's length by making believe to disown him. Loved ones
are taken away, and the boy, the girl, will not speak of them, as if
that made the conqueror's triumph the less. In time the fire in the
breast burns low, and then in the last glow of the embers, it is
sweeter to hold to what has been than to think of what may be.
Twenty years had passed since Joey ran down the brae to play. Jess,
his mother, shook her staff fondly at him. A cart rumbled by, the
driver nodding on the shaft. It rounded the corner and stopped
suddenly, and then a woman screamed. A handful of men carried Joey's
dead body to his mother, and that was the tragedy of Jess's life.
Twenty years ago, and still Jess sat at the window, and still she heard
that woman scream. Every other living being had forgotten Joey; even
to Hendry he was now scarcely a name, but there were times when Jess's
face quivered and her old arms went out for her dead boy.
"God's will be done," she said, "but oh, I grudged Him my bairn
terrible sair. I dinna want him back noo, an' ilka day is takkin' me
nearer to him, but for mony a lang year I grudged him sair, sair. He
was juist five minutes gone, an' they brocht him back deid, my Joey."
On the Sabbath day Jess could not go to church, and it was then, I
think, that she was with Joey most. There was often a blessed serenity
on her face when we returned, that only comes to those who have risen
from their knees with their prayers answered. Then she was very close
to the boy who died. Long ago she could not look out from her window
upon the brae, but now it was her seat in church. There on the Sabbath
evenings she sometimes talked to me of Joey.
"It's been a fine day," she would say, "juist like that day. I thank
the Lord for the sunshine noo, but oh, I thocht at the time I couldna
look at the sun shinin' again."
"In all Thrums," she has told me, and I know it to be true, "there's no
a better man than Hendry. There's them 'at's cleverer in the wys o'
the world, but my man, Hendry McQumpha, never did naething in all his
life 'at wasna weel intended, an' though his words is common, it's to
the Lord he looks. I canna think but what Hendry's pleasin' to God.
Oh, I dinna ken what to say wi' thankfulness to Him when I mind hoo
guid he's been to me. There's Leeby 'at I couldna hae done withoot, me
bein sae silly (weak bodily), an' ay Leeby's stuck by me an' gien up
her life, as ye micht say, for me. Jamie--"
But then Jess sometimes broke down.
"He's so far awa," she said, after a time, "an' aye when he gangs back
to London after his holidays he has a fear he'll never see me again,
but he's terrified to mention it, an' I juist ken by the wy he taks
haud o' me, an' comes runnin' back to tak haud o' me again. I ken fine
what he's thinkin', but I daurna speak.
"Guid is no word for what Jamie has been to me, but he wasna born till
after Joey died. When we got Jamie, Hendry took to whistlin' again at
the loom, an' Jamie juist filled Joey's place to him. Ay, but naebody
could fill Joey's place to me. It's different to a man. A bairn's no
the same to him, but a fell bit o' me was buried in my laddie's grave.
"Jamie an' Joey was never nane the same nature. It was aye something
in a shop, Jamie wanted to be, an' he never cared muckle for his books,
but Joey hankered after being a minister, young as he was, an' a
minister Hendry an' me would hae done our best to mak him. Mony, mony
a time after he came in frae the kirk on the Sabbath he would stand up
at this very window and wave his hands in a reverent way, juist like
the minister. His first text was to be 'Thou God seest me.'
"Ye'll wonder at me, but I've sat here in the lang fore-nichts dreamin'
'at Joey was a grown man noo, an' 'at I was puttin' on my bonnet to
come to the kirk to hear him preach. Even as far back as twenty years
an' mair I wasna able to gang aboot, but Joey would say to me, 'We'll
get a carriage to ye, mother, so 'at ye can come and hear me preach on
"Thou God seest me."' He would say to me, 'It doesna do, mother, for
the minister in the pulpit to nod to ony of die fowk, but I'll gie you
a look an' ye'll ken it's me.' Oh, Joey, I would hae gien you a look
too, an' ye would hae kent what I was thinkin'. He often said, 'Ye'll
be proud o' me, will ye no, mother, when ye see me comin' sailin' alang
to the pulpit in my gown?' So I would hae been proud o' him, an' I was
proud to hear him speakin' o't. 'The other fowk,' he said, 'will be
sittin' in their seats wonderin' what my text's to be, but you'll ken,
mother, an' you'll turn up to "Thou God seest me," afore I gie oot the
chapter.' Ay, but that day he was coffined, for all the minister
prayed, I found it hard to say, 'Thou God seest me.' It's the text I
like best noo, though, an' when Hendry an' Leeby is at the kirk, I
turn't up often, often in the Bible. I read frae the beginnin' o' the
chapter, but when I come to 'Thou God seest me,' I stop. Na, it's no
'at there's ony rebellion to the Lord in my heart noo, for I ken He was
lookin' doon when the cart gaed ower Joey, an' He wanted to tak my
laddie to Himsel. But juist when I come to 'Thou God seest me,' I let
the Book lie in my lap, for aince a body's sure o' that they're sure o'
all. Ay, ye'll laugh, but I think, mebbe juist because I was his
mother, 'at though Joey never lived to preach in a kirk, he's preached
frae 'Thou God seest me' to me. I dinna ken 'at I would ever hae been
sae sure o' that if it hadna been for him, an' so I think I see 'im
sailin' doon to the pulpit juist as he said he would do. I seen him
gien me the look he spoke o'--ay, he looks my wy first, an' I ken it's
him. Naebody sees him but me, but I see him gien me the look he
promised. He's so terrible near me, an' him dead, 'at wen my time
comes I'll be rale willin' to go. I dinna say that to Jamie, because
he all trembles; but I'm auld noo, an' I'm no nane loth to gang."
Jess's staff probably had a history before it became hers, for, as
known to me, it was always old and black. If we studied them
sufficiently we might discover that staves age perceptibly just as the
hair turns grey. At the risk of being thought fanciful I dare to say
that in inanimate objects, as in ourselves, there is honourable and
shameful old age, and that to me Jess's staff was a symbol of the good,
the true. It rested against her in the window, and she was so helpless
without it when on her feet, that to those who saw much of her it was
part of herself. The staff was very short, nearly a foot having been
cut, as I think she once told me herself, from the original, of which
to make a porridge thieval (or stick with which to stir porridge), and
in moving Jess leant heavily on it. Had she stood erect it would not
have touched the floor. This was the staff that Jess shook so joyfully
at her boy the forenoon in May when he ran out to his death. Joey,
however, was associated in Jess's memory with her staff in less painful
ways. When she spoke of him she took the dwarf of a staff in her hands
and looked at it softly.
"It's hard to me," she would say, "to believe 'at twa an' twenty years
hae come and gone since the nicht Joey hod (hid) my staff. Ay, but
Hendry was straucht in thae days by what he is noo, an' Jamie wasna
born. Twa' an' twenty years come the back end o' the year, an' it
wasna thocht 'at I could live through the winter. 'Ye'll no last mair
than anither month, Jess,' was what my sister Bell said, when she came
to see me, and yet here I am aye sittin' at my window, an' Bell's been
i' the kirkyard this dozen years.
"Leeby was saxteen month younger than Joey, an' mair quiet like. Her
heart was juist set on helpin' aboot the hoose, an' though she was but
fower year auld she could kindle the fire an' red up (clean up) the
room. Leeby's been my savin' ever since she was fower year auld. Ay,
but it was Joey 'at hung aboot me maist, an' he took notice 'at I wasna
gaen out as I used to do. Since sune after my marriage I've needed the
stick, but there was days 'at I could gang across the road an' sit on a
stane. Joey kent there was something wrang when I had to gie that up,
an' syne he noticed 'at I couldna even gang to the window unless Hendry
kind o' carried me. Na, ye wouldna think 'at there could hae been days
when Hendry did that, but he did. He was a sort o' ashamed if ony o'
the neighbours saw him so affectionate like, but he was terrible taen
up aboot me. His loom was doon at T'nowhead's Bell's father's, an'
often he cam awa up to see if I was ony better. He didna lat on to the
other weavers 'at he was comin' to see what like I was. Na, he juist
said he'd forgotten a pirn, or his cruizey lamp, or ony thing. Ah, but
he didna mak nae pretence o' no carin' for me aince he was inside the
hoose. He came crawlin' to the bed no to wauken me if I was sleepin',
an' mony a time I made belief 'at I was, juist to please him. It was
an awfu' business on him to hae a young wife sae helpless, but he wasna
the man to cast that at me. I mind o' sayin' to him one day in my bed,
'Ye made a poor bargain, Hendry, when ye took me.' But he says, 'Not
one soul in Thrums 'll daur say that to me but yersel, Jess. Na, na,
my dawty, you're the wuman o' my choice; there's juist one wuman i' the
warld to me, an' that's you, my ain Jess.' Twa an' twenty years syne.
Ay, Hendry called me fond like names, thae no everyday names. What a
straucht man he was!
"The doctor had said he could do no more for me, an' Hendry was the
only ane 'at didna gie me up. The bairns, of course, didna understan',
and Joey would come into the bed an' play on the top o' me. Hendry
would hae ta'en him awa, but I liked to hae 'im. Ye see, we war long
married afore we had a bairn, an' though I couldna bear ony other
weight on me, Joey didna hurt me, somehoo. I liked to hae 'im so close
"It was through that 'at he came to bury my staff. I couldna help
often thinkin' o' what like the hoose would be when I was gone, an'
aboot Leeby an' Joey left so young. So, when I could say it without
greetin', I said to Joey 'at I was goin' far awa, an' would he be a
terrible guid laddie to his father and Leeby when I was gone? He aye
juist said, 'Dinna gang, mother, dinna gang,' but one day Hendry came
in frae his loom, and says Joey, 'Father, whaur's my mother gaen to,
awa frae uset.' I 'll never forget Hendry's face. His mooth juist
opened an' shut twa or three times, an' he walked quick ben to the
room. I cried oot to him to come back, but he didna come, so I sent
Joey for him. Joey came runnin' back to me sayin', 'Mother, mother, am
awfu' fleid (frightened), for my father's greetin' sair.'"
"A' thae things took a haud o' Joey, an' he ended in gien us a fleg
(fright). I was sleepin' ill at the time, an' Hendry was ben sleepin'
in the room wi' Leeby, Joey bein' wi' me. Ay, weel, one nicht I woke
up in the dark an' put oot my hand to 'im, an' he wasna there. I sat
up wi' a terrible start, an' syne I kent by the cauld 'at the door maun
be open. I cried oot quick to Hendry, but he was a soond sleeper, an'
he didna hear me. Ay, I dinna ken hoo I did it, but I got ben to the
room an' shook him up. I was near daft with fear when I saw Leeby
wasna there either. Hendry couldna tak it in a' at aince, but sune he
had his trousers on, an' he made me lie down on his bed. He said he
wouldna move till I did it, or I wouldna hae dune it. As sune as he
was oot o' the hoose crying their names I sat up in my bed listenin'.
Sune I heard speakin', an' in a minute Leeby comes runnin' in to me,
roarin' an' greetin'. She was barefeeted, and had juist her nichtgown
on, an' her teeth was chatterin'. I took her into the bed, but it was
an hour afore she could tell me onything, she was in sic a state.
"Sune after Hendry came in carryin' Joey. Joey was as naked as Leeby,
and as cauld as lead, but he wasna greetin'. Instead o' that he was
awfu' satisfied like, and for all Hendry threatened to lick him he
wouldna tell what he an' Leeby had been doin'. He says, though, says
he, 'Ye'll no gang awa noo, mother; no, ye'll bide noo.' My bonny
laddie, I didna fathom him at the time.
"It was Leeby 'at I got it frae. Ye see, Joey had never seen me gaen
ony gait withoot my staff, an' he thocht if he hod it I wouldna be able
to gang awa. Ay, he planned it all oot, though he was but a bairn, an'
lay watchin' me in my bed till I fell asleep. Syne he creepit oot o'
the bed, an' got the staff, and gaed ben for Leeby. She was fleid, but
he said it was the only wy to mak me 'at I couldna gang awa. It was
juist ower there whaur thae cabbages is 'at he dug the hole wi' a
spade, an' buried the staff. Hendry dug it up next mornin'."
THE STATEMENT OF TIBBIE BIRSE
On a Thursday Pete Lownie was buried, and when Hendry returned from the
funeral Jess asked if Davit Lunan had been there.
"Na," said Hendry, who was shut up in the closet-bed, taking off his
blacks, "I heard tell he wasna bidden."
"Yea, yea," said Jess, nodding to me significantly. "Ay, weel," she
added, "we'll be hae'n Tibbie ower here on Saturday to deave's (weary
us) to death aboot it."
Tibbie, Davit's wife, was sister to Marget, Pete's widow, and she
generally did visit Jess on Saturday night to talk about Marget, who
was fast becoming one of the most fashionable persons in Thrums.
Tibbie was hopelessly plebeian. She was none of your proud kind, and
if I entered the kitchen when she was there she pretended not to see
me, so that, if I chose, I might escape without speaking to the like of
her. I always grabbed her hand, however, in a frank way.
On Saturday Tibbie made her appearance. From the rapidity of her walk,
and the way she was sucking in her mouth, I knew that she had strange
things to unfold. She had pinned a grey shawl about her shoulders, and
wore a black mutch over her dangling grey curls.
"It's you, Tibbie," I heard Jess say, as the door opened.
Tibbie did not knock, not considering herself grand enough for
ceremony, and indeed Jess would have resented her knocking. On the
other hand, when Leeby visited Tibbie, she knocked as politely as if
she were collecting for the precentor's present. All this showed that
we were superior socially to Tibbie.
"Ay, hoo are ye, Jess?" Tibbie said.
"Muckle aboot it," answered Jess; "juist aff an' on; ay, an' hoo hae ye
"Ou," said Tibbie.
I wish I could write "ou" as Tibbie said it. With her it was usually a
sentence in itself. Sometimes it was a mere bark, again it expressed
indignation, surprise, rapture; it might be a check upon emotion or a
way of leading up to it, and often it lasted for half a minute. In
this instance it was, I should say, an intimation that if Jess was
ready Tibbie would begin.
"So Pete Lownie's gone," said Jess, whom I could not see from ben the
house. I had a good glimpse of Tibbie, however, through the open
doorways. She had the armchair on the south side, as she would have
said, of the fireplace.
"He's awa," assented Tibbie, primly.
I heard the lid of the kettle dancing, and then came a prolonged "ou."
Tibbie bent forward to whisper, and if she had anything terrible to
tell I was glad of that, for when she whispered I heard her best. For
a time only a murmur of words reached me, distant music with an "ou"
now and again that fired Tibbie as the beating of his drum may rouse
the martial spirit of a drummer. At last our visitor broke into an
agitated whisper, and it was only when she stopped whispering, as she
did now and again, that I ceased to hear her. Jess evidently put a
question at times, but so politely (for she had on her best wrapper)
that I did not catch a word.
"Though I should be struck deid this nicht," Tibbie whispered, and the
sibilants hissed between her few remaining teeth, "I wasna sae muckle
as speired to the layin' oot. There was Mysy Cruickshanks there, an'
Kitty Wobster 'at was nae friends to the corpse to speak o', but Marget
passed by me, me 'at is her ain flesh an' blood, though it mayna be for
the like o' me to say it. It's gospel truth, Jess, I tell ye, when I
say 'at, for all I ken officially, as ye micht say, Pete Lownie may be
weel and hearty this day. If I was to meet Marget in the face I
couldna say he was deid, though I ken 'at the wricht coffined him; na,
an' what's mair, I wouldna gie Marget the satisfaction o' hearin' me
say it. No, Jess, I tell ye, I dinna pertend to be on an equalty wi'
Marget, but equalty or no equalty, a body has her feelings, an' lat on
'at I ken Pete's gone I will not. Eh? Ou, weel. . . .
"Na faags a'; na, na. I ken my place better than to gang near Marget.
I dinna deny 'at she's grand by me, and her keeps a bakehoose o' her
ain, an' glad am I to see her doin' sae weel, but let me tell ye this,
Jess, 'Pride goeth before a fall.' Yes, it does, it's Scripture; ay,
it's nae mak-up o' mine, it's Scripture. And this I will say, though
kennin' my place, 'at Davit Lunan is as dainty a man as is in Thrums,
an' there's no one 'at's better behaved at a bural, being particularly
wise-like (presentable) in's blacks, an' them spleet new. Na, na,
Jess, Davit may hae his faults an' tak a dram at times like anither,
but he would shame naebody at a bural, an' Marget deleeberately
insulted him, no speirin' him to Pete's. What's mair, when the
minister cried in to see me yesterday, an' me on the floor washin',
says he, 'So Marget's lost her man,' an' I said, 'Say ye so, nae?' for
let on 'at I kent, and neither me at the laying oot nor Davit Lunan at
the funeral, I would not.
"'David should hae gone to the funeral,' says the minister, 'for I
doubt not he was only omitted in the invitations by a mistake.'
"Ay, it was weel meant, but says I, Jess, says I, 'As lang as am livin'
to tak chairge o' 'im, Davit Lunan gangs to nae burals 'at he's no
bidden to. An' I tell ye,' I says to the minister, 'if there was one
body 'at had a richt to be at the bural o' Pete Lownie, it was Davit
Lunan, him bein' my man an' Marget my ain sister. Yes,' says I, though
am no o' the boastin' kind, 'Davit had maist richt to be there next to
Pete 'imsel'.' Ou, Jess. . . .
"This is no a maiter I like to speak aboot; na, I dinna care to mention
it, but the neighbours is nat'rally ta'en up aboot it, and Chirsty Tosh
was sayin' what I would wager 'at Marget hadna sent the minister to
hint 'at Davit's bein' overlookit in the invitations was juist an
accident? Losh, losh, Jess, to think 'at a woman could hae the michty
assurance to mak a tool o' the very minister! But, sal, as far as that
gangs, Marget would do it, an' gae twice to the kirk next Sabbath, too;
but if she thinks she's to get ower me like that, she taks me for a
bigger fule than I tak her for. Na, na, Marget, ye dinna draw my leg
(deceive me). Ou, no. . . .
"Mind ye, Jess, I hae no desire to be friends wi' Marget. Naething
could be farrer frae my wish than to hae helpit in the layin' oot o'
Pete Lownie, an', I assure ye, Davit wasna keen to gang to the bural.
'If they dinna want me to their burals,' Davit says, 'they hae nae mair
to do than to say sae. But I warn ye, Tibbie,' he says, 'if there's a
bural frae this hoose, be it your bural, or be it my bural, not one o'
the family o' Lownies casts their shadows upon the corp.' Thae was the
very words Davit said to me as we watched the hearse frae the
sky-licht. Ay, he bore up wonderfu', but he felt it, Jess--he felt it,
as I could tell by his takkin' to drink again that very nicht. Jess,
Jess. . . .
"Marget's getting waur an' waur? Ay, ye may say so, though I'll say
naething agin her mysel. Of coorse am no on equalty wi' her,
especially since she had the bell put up in her hoose. Ou, I hinna
seen it mysel, na, I never gang near the hoose, an', as mony a body can
tell ye, when I do hae to gang that wy I mak my feet my friend. Ay,
but as I was sayin', Marget's sae grand noo 'at she has a bell in the
house. As I understan', there's a rope in the wast room, an' when ye
pu' it a bell rings in the east room. Weel, when Marget has company at
their tea in the wast room, an' they need mair watter or scones or
onything, she rises an' rings the bell. Syne Jean, the auldest lassie,
gets up frae the table an' lifts the jug or the plates an' gaes awa ben
to the east room for what's wanted. Ay, it's a wy o' doin' 'at's juist
like the gentry, but I'll tell ye, Jess, Pete juist fair hated the
soond o' that bell, an' there's them 'at says it was the death o' 'im.
To think o' Marget ha'en sic an establishment! . . .
"Na, I hinna seen the mournin', I've heard o't. Na, if Marget doesna
tell me naething, am no the kind to speir naething, an' though I'll be
at the kirk the morn, I winna turn my heid to look at the mournin'.
But it's fac as death I ken frae Janet McQuhatty 'at the bonnet's a'
crape, and three yairds o' crape on the dress, the which Marget calls a
costume. . . . Ay, I wouldna wonder but what it was hale watter the
morn, for it looks michty like rain, an' if it is it'll serve Marget
richt, an' mebbe bring doon her pride a wee. No 'at I want to see her
humbled, for, in coorse, she's grand by the like o' me. Ou, but . . ."
A CLOAK WITH BEADS
On weekdays the women who passed the window were meagrely dressed;
mothers in draggled winsey gowns, carrying infants that were armfuls of
grandeur. The Sabbath clothed every one in her best, and then the
women went by with their hands spread out. When I was with Hendry
cloaks with beads were the fashion, and Jess sighed as she looked at
them. They were known in Thrums as the Eleven and a Bits (threepenny
bits), that being their price at Kyowowy's in the square. Kyowowy
means finicky, and applied to the draper by general consent. No doubt
it was very characteristic to call the cloaks by their market value.
In the glen my scholars still talk of their school-books as the
tupenny, the fowerpenny, the sax-penny. They finish their education
with the ten-penny.
Jess's opportunity for handling the garments that others of her sex
could finger in shops was when she had guests to tea. Persons who
merely dropped in and remained to tea got their meal, as a rule, in the
kitchen. They had nothing on that Jess could not easily take in as she
talked to them. But when they came by special invitation, the meal was
served in the room, the guests' things being left on the kitchen bed.
Jess not being able to go ben the house, had to be left with the
things. When the time to go arrived, these were found on the bed, just
as they had been placed there, but Jess could now tell Leeby whether
they were imitation, why Bell Elshioner's feather went far round the
bonnet, and Chirsty Lownie's reason for always holding her left arm
fast against her side when she went abroad in the black jacket. Ever
since My Hobart's eleven and a bit was left on the kitchen bed Jess had
hungered for a cloak with beads. My's was the very marrows of the one
T'nowhead's wife got in Dundee for ten-and-sixpence; indeed, we would
have thought that 'Lisbeth's also came from Kyowowy's had not Sanders
Elshioner's sister seen her go into the Dundee shop with T'nowhead (who
was loth), and hung about to discover what she was after.
Hendry was not quick at reading faces like Tammas Haggart, but the
wistful look on Jess's face when there was talk of eleven and a bits
had its meaning for him.
"They're grand to look at, no doubt," I have heard him say to Jess,
"but they're richt annoyin'. That new wife o' Peter Dickie's had ane
on in the kirk last Sabbath, an' wi' her sittin' juist afore us I
couldna listen to the sermon for tryin' to count the beads."
Hendry made his way into these gossips uninvited, for his opinions on
dress were considered contemptible, though he was worth consulting on
material. Jess and Leeby discussed many things in his presence,
confident that his ears were not doing their work; but every now and
then it was discovered that he had been hearkening greedily. If the
subject was dress, he might then become a little irritating.
"Oh, they're grand," Jess admitted; "they set a body aff oncommon."
"They would be no use to you," said Hendry, "for ye canna wear them
"A body doesna buy cloaks to be wearin' at them steady," retorted Jess.
"No, no, but you could never wear yours though ye had ane."
"I dinna want ane. They're far ower grand for the like o' me."
"They're no nae sic thing. Am thinkin' ye're juist as fit to wear an
eleven and a bit as My Hobart."
"Weel, mebbe I am, but it's oot o' the queistion gettin' ane, they're
sic a price."
"Ay, an' though we had the siller, it would surely be an awfu' like
thing to buy a cloak 'at ye could never wear?"
"Ou, but I dinna want ane."
Jess spoke so mournfully that Hendry became enraged.
"It's most michty," he said, "'at ye would gang an' set yer heart on
sic a completely useless thing."
"I hinna set my heart on't."
"Dinna blether. Ye've been speakin' aboot thae eleven and a bits to
Leeby, aff an' on, for twa month."
Then Hendry hobbled off to his loom, and Jess gave me a look which
meant that men are trying at the best, once you are tied to them.
The cloaks continued to turn up in conversation, and Hendry poured
scorn upon Jess's weakness, telling her she would be better employed
mending his trousers than brooding over an eleven and a bit that would
have to spend its life in a drawer. An outsider would have thought
that Hendry was positively cruel to Jess. He seemed to take a delight
in finding that she had neglected to sew a button on his waistcoat.
His real joy, however, was the knowledge that she sewed as no other
woman in Thrums could sew. Jess had a genius for making new garments
out of old ones, and Hendry never tired of gloating over her cleverness
so long as she was not present. He was always athirst for fresh proofs
of it, and these were forthcoming every day. Sparing were his words of
praise to herself, but in the evening he generally had a smoke with me
in the attic, and then the thought of Jess made him chuckle till his
pipe went out. When he smoked he grunted as if in pain, though this
really added to the enjoyment.
"It doesna matter," he would say to me, "what Jess turns her hand to,
she can mak ony mortal thing. She doesna need nae teachin'; na, juist
gie her a guid look at onything, be it clothes, or furniture, or in the
bakin' line, it's all the same to her. She'll mak another exactly like
it. Ye canna beat her. Her bannocks is so superior 'at a Tilliedrum
woman took to her bed after tastin' them, an' when the lawyer has
company his wife gets Jess to mak some bannocks for her an' syne
pretends they're her ain bakin'. Ay, there's a story aboot that. One
day the auld doctor, him 'at's deid, was at his tea at the lawyer's,
an' says the guidwife, 'Try the cakes, Mr. Riach; they're my own
bakin'.' Weel, he was a fearsomely outspoken man, the doctor, an' nae
suner had he the bannock atween his teeth, for he didna stop to
swallow't, than he says, 'Mistress Geddie,' says he, 'I wasna born on a
Sabbath. Na, na, you're no the first grand leddy 'at has gien me
bannocks as their ain bakin' 'at was baked and fired by Jess Logan, her
'at's Hendry McQumpha's wife.' Ay, they say the lawyer's wife didna
ken which wy to look, she was that mortified. It's juist the same wi'
sewin'. There's wys o' ornamentin' christenin' robes an' the like
'at's kent to naebody but hersel; an' as for stockin's, weel, though
I've seen her mak sae mony, she amazes me yet. I mind o' a furry
waistcoat I aince had. Weel, when it was fell dune, do you think she
gae it awa to some gaen aboot body (vagrant)? Na, she made it into a
richt neat coat to Jamie, wha was a bit laddie at the time. When he
grew out o' it, she made a slipbody o't for hersel. Ay, I dinna ken a'
the different things it became, but the last time I saw it was ben in
the room, whaur she'd covered a footstool wi' 't. Yes, Jess is the
cleverest crittur I ever saw. Leeby's handy, but she's no a patch on
I sometimes repeated these panegyrics to Jess. She merely smiled, and
said that the men haver most terrible when they are not at their work.
Hendry tried Jess sorely over the cloaks, and a time came when, only by
exasperating her, could he get her to reply to his sallies.
"Wha wants an eleven an' a bit?" she retorted now and again.
"It's you 'at wants it," said Hendry, promptly.
"Did I ever say I wanted ane? What use could I hae for't?"
"That's the queistion," said Hendry. "Ye canna gang the length o' the
door, so ye would never be able to wear't."
"Ay, weel," replied Jess, "I'll never hae the chance o' no bein' able
to wear't, for, hooever muckle I wanted it, I couldna get it."
Jess's infatuation had in time the effect of making Hendry
uncomfortable. In the attic he delivered himself of such sentiments as
"There's nae understandin' a woman. There's Jess 'at hasna her equal
for cleverness in Thrums, man or woman, an' yet she's fair skeered
about thae cloaks. Aince a woman sets her mind on something to wear,
she's mair onreasonable than the stupidest man. Ay, it micht mak them
humble to see hoo foolish they are syne. No, but it doesna do't.
"If it was a thing to be useful noo, I wouldna think the same o't, but
she could never wear't. She kens she could never wear't, an' yet she's
juist as keen to hae't.
"I dinna like to see her so wantin' a thing, an' no able to get it.
But it's an awfu' sum, eleven an' a bit."
He tried to argue with her further.
"If ye had eleven an' a bit to fling awa," he said, "ye dinna mean to
tell me 'at ye would buy a cloak instead o' cloth for a gown, or
flannel for petticoats, or some useful thing?"
"As sure as death," said Jess, with unwonted vehemence, "if a cloak I
could get, a cloak I would buy."
Hendry came up to tell me what Jess had said.
"It's a michty infatooation," he said, "but it shows hoo her heart's
set on thae cloaks."
"Aince ye had it," he argued with her, "ye would juist hae to lock it
awa in the drawers. Ye would never even be seein' 't."
"Ay, would I," said Jess. "I would often tak it oot an' look at it.
Ay, an' I would aye ken it was there."
"But naebody would ken ye had it but yersel," said Hendry, who had a
vague notion that this was a telling objection.
"Would they no?" answered Jess. "It would be a' through the toon afore
"Weel, all I can say," said Hendry, "is 'at ye're terrible foolish to
tak the want o' sic a useless thing to heart."
"Am no takkin' 't to heart," retorted Jess, as usual.
Jess needed many things in her days that poverty kept from her to the
end, and the cloak was merely a luxury. She would soon have let it
slip by as something unattainable had not Hendry encouraged it to
rankle in her mind. I cannot say when he first determined that Jess
should have a cloak, come the money as it liked, for he was too ashamed
of his weakness to admit his project to me. I remember, however, his
saying to Jess one day:
"I'll warrant you could mak a cloak yersel the marrows o' thae eleven
and a bits, at half the price?"
"It would cost," said Jess, "sax an' saxpence, exactly. The cloth
would be five shillins, an' the beads a shillin'. I have some braid
'at would do fine for the front, but the buttons would be sax-pence."
"Ye're sure o' that?"
"I ken fine, for I got Leeby to price the things in the shop."
"Ay, but it maun be ill to shape the cloaks richt. There was a queer
cut aboot that ane Peter Dickie's new wife had on."
"Queer cut or no queer cut," said Jess, "I took the shape o' My
Hobart's ane the day she was here at her tea, an' I could mak the
identical o't for sax and sax."
"I dinna believe't," said Hendry, but when he and I were alone he told
me, "There's no a doubt she could mak it. Ye heard her say she had
ta'en the shape? Ay, that shows she's rale set on a cloak."
Had Jess known that Hendry had been saving up for months to buy her
material for a cloak, she would not have let him do it. She could not
know, however, for all the time he was scraping together his pence, he
kept up a ring-ding-dang about her folly. Hendry gave Jess all the
wages he weaved, except threepence weekly, most of which went in
tobacco and snuff. The dulseman had perhaps a halfpenny from him in
the fortnight. I noticed that for a long time Hendry neither smoked
nor snuffed, and I knew that for years he had carried a shilling in his
snuff-mull. The remainder of the money he must have made by extra work
at his loom, by working harder, for he could scarcely have worked
It was one day shortly before Jamie's return to Thrums that Jess saw
Hendry pass the house and go down the brae when he ought to have come
in to his brose. She sat at the window watching for him, and by and by
he reappeared, carrying a parcel.
"Whaur on earth hae ye been?" she asked, "an' what's that you're
"Did ye think it was an eleven an' a bit?" said Hendry.
"No, I didna," answered Jess, indignantly.
Then Hendry slowly undid the knots of the string with which the parcel
was tied. He took off the brown paper.
"There's yer cloth," he said, "an' here's one an' saxpence for the
beads an' the buttons."
While Jess still stared he followed me ben the house.
"It's a terrible haver," he said, apologetically, "but she had set her
THE POWER OF BEAUTY
One evening there was such a gathering at the pig-sty that Hendry and I
could not get a board to lay our backs against. Circumstances had
pushed Pete Elshioner into the place of honour that belonged by right
of mental powers to Tammas Haggart, and Tammas was sitting rather
sullenly on the bucket, boring a hole in the pig with his sarcastic
eye. Pete was passing round a card, and in time it reached me. "With
Mr. and Mrs. David Alexander's compliments," was printed on it, and
Pete leered triumphantly at us as it went the round.
"Weel, what think ye?" he asked, with a pretence at modesty.
"Ou," said T'nowhead, looking at the others like one who asked a
question, "ou, I think; ay, ay."
The others seemed to agree with him, all but Tammas, who did not care
to tie himself down to an opinion.
"Ou ay," T'nowhead continued, more confidently, "it is so, deceededly."
"Ye'll no ken," said Pete, chuckling, "what it means?"
"Na," the farmer admitted, "na, I canna say I exac'ly ken that."
"I ken, though," said Tammas, in his keen way.
"Weel, then, what is't?" demanded Pete, who had never properly come
under Tammas's spell.
"I ken," said Tammas.
"Oot wi't then."
"I dinna say it's lyin' on my tongue," Tammas replied, in a tone of
reproof, "but if ye'll juist speak awa aboot some other thing for a
meenute or twa, I'll tell ye syne."
Hendry said that this was only reasonable, but we could think of no
subject at the moment, so we only stared at Tammas, and waited.
"I fathomed it," he said at last, "as sune as my een lichted on't.
It's one o' the bit cards 'at grand fowk slip 'aneath doors when they
mak calls, an' their friends is no in. Ay, that's what it is."
"I dinna say ye're wrang," Pete answered, a little annoyed. "Ay, weel,
lads, of course David Alexander's oor Dite as we called 'im, Dite
Elshioner, an' that's his wy o' signifyin' to us 'at he's married."
"I assure ye," said Hendry, "Dite's doin' the thing in style."
"Ay, we said that when the card arrived," Pete admitted.
"I kent," said Tammas, "'at that was the wy grand fowk did when they
got married. I've kent it a lang time. It's no nae surprise to me."
"He's been lang in marryin'," Hookey Crewe said.
"He was thirty at Martinmas," said Pete.
"Thirty, was he?" said Hookey. "Man, I'd buried twa wives by the time
I was that age, an' was castin' aboot for a third."
"I mind o' them," Hendry interposed.
"Ay," Hookey said, "the first twa was angels." There he paused. "An'
so's the third," he added, "in many respects."
"But wha's the woman Dite's ta'en?" T'nowhead or some one of the more
silent members of the company asked of Pete.
"Ou, we dinna ken wha she is," answered Pete; "but she'll be some
Glasca lassie, for he's there noo. Look, lads, look at this. He sent
this at the same time; it's her picture." Pete produced the silhouette
of a young lady, and handed it round.
"What do ye think?" he asked.
"I assure ye!" said Hookey.
"Sal," said Hendry, even more charmed, "Dite's done weel."
"Lat's see her in a better licht," said Tammas.
He stood up and examined the photograph narrowly, while Pete fidgeted
with his legs.
"Fairish," said Tammas at last. "Ou, ay; no what I would selec' mysel,
but a dainty bit stocky! Ou, a tasty crittury! ay, an' she's weel in
order. Lads, she's a fine stoot kimmer."
"I conseeder her a beauty," said Pete, aggressively.
"She's a' that," said Hendry.
"A' I can say," said Hookey, "is 'at she taks me most michty."
"She's no a beauty," Tammas maintained; "na, she doesna juist come up
to that; but I dinna deny but what she's weel faured."
"What taut do ye find wi' her, Tammas?" asked Hendry.
"Conseedered critically," said Tammas, holding the photograph at arm's
length, "I would say 'at she--let's see noo; ay, I would say 'at she's
defeecient in genteelity."
"Havers," said Pete.
"Na," said Tammas, "no when conseedered critically. Ye see she's drawn
lauchin'; an' the genteel thing's no to lauch, but juist to put on a
bit smirk. Ay, that's the genteel thing."
"A smile, they ca' it," interposed T'nowhead.
"I said a smile," continued Tammas. "Then there's her waist. I say
naething agin her waist, speakin' in the ord'nar meanin'; but,
conseedered critically, there's a want o' suppleness, as ye micht say,
aboot it. Ay, it doesna compare wi' the waist o' ----" (Here Tammas
mentioned a young lady who had recently married into a local county
"That was a pretty tiddy," said Hookey, "Ou, losh, ay! it made me a
kind o' queery to look at her."
"Ye're ower kyowowy (particular), Tammas," said Pete.
"I may be, Pete," Tammas admitted; "but I maun say I'm fond o' a
bonny-looken wuman, an' no aisy to please; na, I'm nat'rally ane o' the
"It's extror'nar," said T'nowhead, "what a poo'er beauty has. I mind
when I was a callant readin' aboot Mary Queen o' Scots till I was fair
mad, lads; yes, I was fair mad at her bein' deid. Ou, I could hardly
sleep at nichts for thinking o' her."
"Mary was spunky as weel as a beauty," said Hookey, "an' that's the
kind I like. Lads, what a persuasive tid she was!"
"She got roond the men," said Hendry, "ay, she turned them roond her
finger. That's the warst o' thae beauties."
"I dinna gainsay," said T'nowhead, "but what there was a little o' the
deevil in Mary, the crittur."
Here T'nowhead chuckled, and then looked scared.
"What Mary needed," said Tammas, "was a strong man to manage her."
"Ay, man, but it's ill to manage thae beauties. They gie ye a glint o'
their een, an' syne whaur are ye?"
"Ah, they can be managed," said Tammas, complacently. "There's naebody
nat'rally safter wi' a pretty stocky o' a bit wumany than mysel; but
for a' that, if I had been Mary's man I would hae stood nane o' her
tantrums. 'Na, Mary, my lass,' I would hae said, 'this winna do; na,
na, ye're a bonny body, but ye maun mind 'at man's the superior; ay,
man's the lord o' creation, an' so ye maun juist sing sma'.' That's
hoo I would hae managed Mary, the speerity crittur 'at she was."
"Ye would hae haen yer wark cut oot for ye, Tammas."
"Ilka mornin'," pursued Tammas, "I would hae said to her, 'Mary,' I
would hae said, 'wha's to wear thae breeks the day, you or me?' Ay,
syne I would hae ordered her to kindle the fire, or if I had been the
king, of coorse I would hae telt her instead to ring the bell an' hae
the cloth laid for the breakfast. Ay, that's the wy to mak the like o'
Mary respec ye."
Pete and I left them talking. He had written a letter to David
Alexander, and wanted me to "back" it.
A MAGNUM OPUS
Two Bibles, a volume of sermons by the learned Dr. Isaac Barrow, a few
numbers of the Cheap Magazine, that had strayed from Dunfermline, and
a "Pilgrim's Progress," were the works that lay conspicuous ben in the
room. Hendry had also a copy of Burns, whom he always quoted in the
complete poem, and a collection of legends in song and prose, that
Leeby kept out of sight in a drawer.
The weight of my box of books was a subject Hendry was very willing to
shake his head over, but he never showed any desire to take off the
lid. Jess, however, was more curious; indeed, she would have been an
omnivorous devourer of books had it not been for her conviction that
reading was idling. Until I found her out she never allowed to me that
Leeby brought her my books one at a time. Some of them were novels,
and Jess took about ten minutes to each. She confessed that what she
read was only the last chapter, owing to a consuming curiosity to know
whether "she got him."
She read all the London part, however, of "The Heart of Midlothian,"
because London was where Jamie lived, and she and I had a discussion
about it which ended in her remembering that Thrums once had an author
of its own.
"Bring oot the book," she said to Leeby; "it was put awa i' the bottom
drawer ben i' the room sax year syne, an' I sepad it's there yet."
Leeby came but with a faded little book, the title already rubbed from
its shabby brown covers. I opened it, and then all at once I saw
before me again the man who wrote and printed it and died. He came
hobbling up the brae, so bent that his body was almost at right angles
to his legs, and his broken silk hat was carefully brushed as in the
days when Janet, his sister, lived. There he stood at the top of the
I was but a boy when Jimsy Duthie turned the corner of the brae for the
last time, with a score of mourners behind him. While I knew him there
was no Janet to run to the door to see if he was coming. So occupied
was Jimsy with the great affair of his life, which was brewing for
thirty years, that his neighbours saw how he missed his sister better
than he realized it himself. Only his hat was no longer carefully
brushed, and his coat hung awry, and there was sometimes little reason
why he should go home to dinner. It is for the sake of Janet who
adored him that we should remember Jimsy in the days before she died.
Jimsy was a poet, and for the space of thirty years he lived in a great
epic on the Millennium. This is the book presented to me by Jess, that
lies so quietly on my topmost shelf now. Open it, however, and you
will find that the work is entitled "The Millennium: an Epic Poem, in
Twelve Books: by James Duthie." In the little hole in his wall where
Jimsy kept his books there was, I have no doubt--for his effects were
rouped before I knew him except by name--a well-read copy of "Paradise
Lost." Some people would smile, perhaps, if they read the two epics
side by side, and others might sigh, for there is a great deal in "The
Millennium" that Milton could take credit for. Jimsy had educated
himself, after the idea of writing something that the world would not
willingly let die came to him, and he began his book before his
education was complete. So far as I know, he never wrote a line that
had not to do with "The Millennium." He was ever a man sparing of his
plural tenses, and "The Millennium" says "has" for "have"; a vain word,
indeed, which Thrums would only have permitted as a poetical licence.
The one original character in the poem is the devil, of whom Jimsy
gives a picture that is startling and graphic, and received the
approval of the Auld Licht minister.
By trade Jimsy was a printer, a master-printer with no one under him,
and he printed and bound his book, ten copies in all, as well as wrote
it. To print the poem took him, I dare say, nearly as long as to write
it, and he set up the pages as they were written, one by one. The book
is only printed on one side of the leaf, and each page was produced
separately like a little hand-bill. Those who may pick up the
book--but who will care to do so?--will think that the author or his
printer could not spell--but they would not do Jimsy that injustice if
they knew the circumstances in which it was produced. He had but a
small stock of type, and on many occasions he ran out of a letter. The
letter e tried him sorely. Those who knew him best said that he tried
to think of words without an e in them, but when he was baffled he had
to use a little a or an o instead. He could print correctly, but in
the book there are a good many capital letters in the middle of words,
and sometimes there is a note of interrogation after "alas" or "Woes
me," because all the notes of exclamation had been used up.
Jimsy never cared to speak about his great poem even to his closest
friends, but Janet told how he read it out to her, and that his whole
body trembled with excitement while he raised his eyes to heaven as if
asking for inspiration that would enable his voice to do justice to his
writing. So grand it was, said Janet, that her stocking would slip
from her fingers as he read--and Janet's stockings, that she was always
knitting when not otherwise engaged, did not slip from her hands
readily. After her death he was heard by his neighbours reciting the
poem to himself, generally with his door locked. He is said to have
declaimed part of it one still evening from the top of the commonty
like one addressing a multitude, and the idlers who had crept up to
jeer at him fell back when they saw his face. He walked through them,
they told, with his old body straight once more, and a queer light
playing on his face. His lips are moving as I see him turning the
corner of the brae. So he passed from youth to old age, and all his
life seemed a dream, except that part of it in which he was writing, or
printing, or stitching, or binding "The Millennium." At last the work
"It is finished," he printed at the end of the last book. "The task of
thirty years is over."
It is indeed over. No one ever read "The Millennium." I am not going
to sentimentalize over my copy, for how much of it have I read? But
neither shall I say that it was written to no end.
You may care to know the last of Jimsy, though in one sense he was
blotted out when the last copy was bound. He had saved one hundred
pounds by that time, and being now neither able to work nor to live
alone, his friends cast about for a home for his remaining years. He
was very spent and feeble, yet he had the fear that he might be still
alive when all his money was gone. After that was the workhouse. He
covered sheets of paper with calculations about how long the hundred
pounds would last if he gave away for board and lodgings ten shillings,
nine shillings, seven and sixpence a week. At last, with sore
misgivings, he went to live with a family who took him for eight
shillings. Less than a month afterwards he died.
THE GHOST CRADLE
Our dinner-hour was twelve o'clock, and Hendry, for a not
incomprehensible reason, called this meal his brose. Frequently,
however, while I was there to share the expense, broth was put on the
table, with beef to follow in clean plates, much to Hendry's distress,
for the comfortable and usual practice was to eat the beef from the
broth-plates. Jess, however, having three whole white plates and two
cracked ones, insisted on the meals being taken genteelly, and her
husband, with a look at me, gave way.
"Half a pound o' boiling beef, an' a penny bone," was Leeby's almost
invariable order when she dealt with the flesher, and Jess had always
neighbours poorer than herself who got a plateful of the broth. She
never had anything without remembering some old body who would be the
better of a little of it.
Among those who must have missed Jess sadly after she was gone was
Johnny Proctor, a half-witted man who, because he could not work,
remained straight at a time of life when most weavers, male and female,
had lost some inches of their stature. For as far back as my memory
goes, Johnny had got his brose three times a week from Jess, his custom
being to walk in without ceremony, and, drawing a stool to the table,
tell Leeby that he was now ready. One day, however, when I was in the
garden putting some rings on a fishing-wand, Johnny pushed by me, with
no sign of recognition on his face. I addressed him, and, after
pausing undecidedly, he ignored me. When he came to the door, instead
of flinging it open and walking in, he knocked primly, which surprised
me so much that I followed him.
"Is this whaur Mistress McQumpha lives?" he asked, when Leeby, with a
face ready to receive the minister himself, came at length to the door.
I knew that the gentility of the knock had taken both her and her
"Hoots, Johnny," said Leeby, "what haver's this? Come awa in."
Johnny seemed annoyed.
"Is this whaur Mistress McQumpha lives?" he repeated.
"Say 'at it is," cried Jess, who was quicker in the uptake than her
"Of course this is whaur Mistress McQumpha lives," Leeby then said, "as
weel ye ken, for ye had yer dinner here no twa hours syne."
"Then," said Johnny, "Mistress Tully's compliments to her, and would
she kindly lend the christenin' robe, an' also the tea-tray, if the
same be na needed?"
Having delivered his message as instructed, Johnny consented to sit
down until the famous christening robe and the tray were ready, but he
would not talk, for that was not in the bond. Jess's sweet face beamed
over the compliment Mrs. Tully, known on ordinary occasions as Jean
McTaggart, had paid her, and, after Johnny had departed laden, she told
me how the tray, which had a great bump in the middle, came into her
"Ye've often heard me speak aboot the time when I was a lassie workin'
at the farm o' the Bog? Ay, that was afore me an' Hendry kent ane
anither, an' I was as fleet on my feet in thae days as Leeby is noo.
It was Sam'l Fletcher 'at was the farmer, but he maun hae been gone
afore you was mair than born. Mebbe, though, ye ken 'at he was a
terrible invalid, an' for the hinmost years o' his life he sat in a
muckle chair nicht an' day. Ay, when I took his denner to 'im, on that
very tray 'at Johnny cam for, I little thocht 'at by an' by I would be
sae keepit in a chair mysel.
"But the thinkin' o' Sam'l Fletcher's case is ane o' the things 'at
maks me awfu' thankfu' for the lenient wy the Lord has aye dealt wi'
me; for Sam'l couldna move oot o' the chair, aye sleepin in't at nicht,
an' I can come an' gang between mine an' my bed. Mebbe, ye think I'm
no much better off than Sam'l, but that's a terrible mistak. What a
glory it would hae been to him if he could hae gone frae one end o' the
kitchen to the ither. Ay, I'm sure o' that.
"Sam'l was rale weel liked, for he was saft-spoken to everybody, an'
fond o' ha'en a gossip wi' ony ane 'at was aboot the farm. We didna
care sae muckle for the wife, Eppie Lownie, for she managed the farm,
an' she was fell hard an' terrible reserved we thocht, no even likin'
ony body to get friendly wi' the mester, as we called Sam'l. Ay, we
made a richt mistak."
As I had heard frequently of this queer, mournful mistake made by those
who considered Sam'l unfortunate in his wife, I turned Jess on to the
main line of her story.
"It was the ghost cradle, as they named it, 'at I meant to tell ye
aboot. The Bog was a bigger farm in thae days than noo, but I daursay
it has the new steadin' yet. Ay, it winna be new noo, but at the time
there were sic a commotion aboot the ghost cradle, they were juist
puttin' the new steadin' up. There was sax or mair masons at it, wi'
the lads on the farm helpin', an' as they were all sleepin' at the
farm, there was great stir aboot the place. I couldna tell ye hoo the
story aboot the farm's bein' haunted rose, to begin wi', but I mind
fine hoo fleid I was; ay, an' no only me, but every man-body an'
woman-body on the farm. It was aye late 'at the soond began, an' we
never saw naething, we juist heard it. The masons said they wouldna
hae been sae fleid if they could hae seen't, but it never was seen. It
had the soond o' a cradle rockin', an' when we lay in our beds
hearkenin', it grew louder an' louder till it wasna to be borne, an'
the women-folk fair skirled wi' fear. The mester was intimate wi' a'
the stories aboot ghosts an' water-kelpies an' sic like, an' we couldna
help listenin' to them. But he aye said 'at ghosts 'at was juist heard
an' no seen was the maist fearsome an' wicked. For all there was sic
fear ower the hale farm-toon 'at naebody would gang ower the door alane
after the gloamin' cam, the mester said he wasna fleid to sleep i' the
kitchen by 'imsel. We thocht it richt brave o' 'im, for ye see he was
as helpless as a bairn.
"Richt queer stories rose aboot the cradle, an' travelled to the ither
farms. The wife didna like them ava, for it was said 'at there maun
hae been some awful murder o' an infant on the farm, or we wouldna be
haunted by a cradle. Syne folk began to mind 'at there had been na
bairns born on the farm as far back as onybody kent, an' it was said
'at some lang syne crime had made the Bog cursed.
"Dinna think 'at we juist lay in our beds or sat round the fire
shakkin' wi' fear. Everything 'at could be dune was dune. In the
daytime, when naething was heard, the masons explored ae place i' the
farm, in the hope o' findin' oot 'at the sound was caused by sic a
thing as the wind playin' on the wood in the garret. Even at nichts,
when they couldna sleep wi' the soond, I've kent them rise in a body
an' gang all ower the house wi' lichts. I've seen them climbin' on the
new steadin', crawlin' alang the rafters, haudin' their cruizey lamps
afore them, an' us women-bodies shiverin' wi' fear at the door. It was
on ane o' thae nights 'at a mason fell off the rafters an' broke his
leg. Weel, sic a state was the men in to find oot what it was 'at was
terrifyin' them sae muckle, 'at the rest o' them climbed up at aince to
the place he'd fallen frae, thinkin' there was something there 'at had
fleid im. But though they crawled back an' forrit there was naething
"The rockin' was louder, we thocht, after that nicht, an' syne the men
said it would go on till somebody was killed. That idea took a richt
haud o' them, an' twa ran awa back to Tilliedrum, whaur they had come
frae. They gaed thegither i' the middle o' the nicht, an' it was
thocht next mornin' 'at the ghost had spirited them awa.
"Ye couldna conceive hoo low-spirited we all were after the masons had
gien up hope o' findin' a nat'ral cause for the soond. At ord'nar
times there's no ony mair lichtsome place than a farm after the men hae
come in to their supper, but at the Bog we sat dour an' sullen; an'
there wasna a mason or a farm-servant 'at would gang by 'imsel as far
as the end o' the hoose whaur the peats was keepit. The mistress maun
hae saved some siller that spring through the Egyptians (gypsies)
keepin' awa, for the farm had got sic an ill name, 'at nae tinkler
would come near 't at nicht. The tailorman an' his laddie 'at should
hae bidden wi' us to sew things for the men, walkit off fair skeered
one mornin', an' settled doon at the farm o' Craigiebuckle fower mile
awa, whaur our lads had to gae to them. Ay, I mind the tailor's
sendin' the laddie for the money owin' him; he hadna the speerit to
venture again within soond o' the cradle 'imsel. The men on the farm
though, couldna blame 'im for that. They were juist as flichtered
themsels, an' mony a time I saw them hittin' the dogs for whinin' at
the soond. The wy the dogs took on was fearsome in itsel, for they
seemed to ken, aye when nicht cam on, 'at the rockin' would sune begin,
an' if they werena chained they cam runnin' to the hoose. I hae heard
the hale glen fu, as ye micht say, wi' the whinin' o' dogs, for the
dogs on the other farms took up the cry, an' in a glen ye can hear
soonds terrible far awa at nicht.
"As lang as we sat i' the kitchen, listenin' to what the mester had to
say aboot the ghosts in his young days, the cradle would be still, but
we were nae suner awa speeritless to our beds than it began, an'
sometimes it lasted till mornin'. We lookit upon the mester almost wi'
awe, sittin' there sae helpless in his chair, an' no fleid to be left
alane. He had lang white hair, an' a saft bonny face 'at would hae
made 'im respeckit by onybody, an' aye when we speired if he wasna
fleid to be left alane, he said, 'Them 'at has a clear conscience has
naething to fear frae ghosts.'
"There was some 'at said the curse would never leave the farm till the
house was razed to the ground, an' it's the truth I'm tellin' ye when I
say there was talk among the men aboot settin 't on fire. The mester
was richt stern when he heard o' that, quotin' frae Scripture in a
solemn wy 'at abashed the masons, but he said 'at in his opeenion there
was a bairn buried on the farm, an' till it was found the cradle would
go on rockin'. After that the masons dug in a lot o' places lookin'
for the body, an' they found some queer things, too, but never nae sign
o' a murdered litlin'. Ay, I dinna ken what would hae happened if the
commotion had gaen on muckle langer. One thing I'm sure o' is 'at the
mistress would hae gaen daft, she took it a' sae terrible to heart.
"I lauch at it noo, but I tell ye I used to tak my heart to my bed in
my mooth. If ye hinna heard the story I dinna think ye 'll be able to
guess what the ghost cradle was."
I said I had been trying to think what the tray had to do with it.
"It had everything to do wi't," said Jess; "an' if the masons had kent
hoo that cradle was rockit, I think they would hae killed the mester.
It was Eppie 'at found oot, an' she telt naebody but me, though mony a
ane kens noo. I see ye canna mak it oot yet, so I'll tell ye what the
cradle was. The tray was keepit against the kitchen wall near the
mester, an' he played on't wi' his foot. He made it gang, bump bump,
an' the soond was just like a cradle rockin'. Ye could hardly believe
sic a thing would hae made that din, but it did, an' ye see we lay in
our beds hearkenin' for't. Ay, when Eppie telt me, I could scarce
believe 'at that guid devout-lookin' man could hae been sae wicked. Ye
see, when he found hoo terrified we a' were, he keepit it up. The wy
Eppie found out i' the tail o' the day was by wonderin' at 'im sleepin'
sae muckle in the daytime. He did that so as to be fresh for his sport
at nicht. What a fine releegious man we thocht 'im, too!
"Eppie couldna bear the very sicht o' the tray after that, an' she telt
me to break it up; but I keepit it, ye see. The lump i' the middle's
the mark, as ye may say, o' the auld man's foot."
THE TRAGEDY OF A WIFE
Were Jess still alive to tell the life-story of Sam'l Fletcher and his
wife, you could not hear it and sit still. The ghost cradle is but a
page from the black history of a woman who married, to be blotted out
from that hour. One case of the kind I myself have known, of a woman
so good mated to a man so selfish that I cannot think of her even now
with a steady mouth. Hers was the tragedy of living on, more mournful
than the tragedy that kills. In Thrums the weavers spoke of "lousing"
from their looms, removing the chains, and there is something woeful in
that. But pity poor Nanny Coutts, who took her chains to bed with her.
Nanny was buried a month or more before I came to the house on the
brae, and even in Thrums the dead are seldom remembered for so long a
time as that. But it was only after Sanders was left alone that we
learned what a woman she had been, and how basely we had wronged her.
She was an angel, Sanders went about whining when he had no longer a
woman to ill-treat. He had this sentimental way with him, but it lost
its effect after we knew the man.
"A deevil couldna hae deserved waur treatment," Tammas Haggart said to
him; "gang oot o' my sicht, man."
"I'll blame mysel till I die," Jess said, with tears in her eyes, "for
no understandin' puir Nanny better."
So Nanny got sympathy at last, but not until her forgiving soul had
left her tortured body. There was many a kindly heart in Thrums that
would have gone out to her in her lifetime, but we could not have loved
her without upbraiding him, and she would not buy sympathy at the
price. What a little story it is, and how few words are required to
tell it! He was a bad husband to her, and she kept it secret. That is
Nanny's life summed up. It is all that was left behind when her coffin
went down the brae. Did she love him to the end, or was she only doing
what she thought her duty? It is not for me even to guess. A good
woman who suffers is altogether beyond man's reckoning. To such
heights of self-sacrifice we cannot rise. It crushes us; it ought to
crush us on to our knees. For us who saw Nanny, infirm, shrunken, and
so weary, yet a type of the noblest womanhood, suffering for years, and
misunderstood her to the end, what expiation can there be? I do not
want to storm at the man who made her life so burdensome. Too many
years have passed for that, nor would Nanny take it kindly if I called
her man names.
Sanders worked little after his marriage. He had a sore back, he said,
which became a torture if he leant forward at his loom. What truth
there was in this I cannot say, but not every weaver in Thrums could
"louse" when his back grew sore. Nanny went to the loom in his place,
filling as well as weaving, and he walked about, dressed better than
the common, and with cheerful words for those who had time to listen.
Nanny got no approval even for doing his work as well as her own, for
they were understood to have money, and Sanders let us think her merely
greedy. We drifted into his opinions.
Had Jess been one of those who could go about, she would, I think, have
read Nanny better than the rest of us, for her intellect was bright,
and always led her straight to her neighbours' hearts. But Nanny
visited no one, and so Jess only knew her by hearsay. Nanny's
standoffishness, as it was called, was not a popular virtue, and she
was blamed still more for trying to keep her husband out of other
people's houses. He was so frank and full of gossip, and she was so
reserved. He would go everywhere, and she nowhere. He had been known
to ask neighbours to tea, and she had shown that she wanted them away,
or even begged them not to come. We were not accustomed to go behind
the face of a thing, and so we set down Nanny's inhospitality to
churlishness or greed. Only after her death, when other women had to
attend him, did we get to know what a tyrant Sanders was at his own
hearth. The ambition of Nanny's life was that we should never know it,
that we should continue extolling him, and say what we chose about
herself. She knew that if we went much about the house and saw how he
treated her, Sanders would cease to be a respected man in Thrums.
So neat in his dress was Sanders, that he was seldom seen abroad in
corduroys. His blue bonnet for everyday wear was such as even
well-to-do farmers only wore at fair-time, and it was said that he had
a handkerchief for every day in the week. Jess often held him up to
Hendry as a model of courtesy and polite manners.
"Him an' Nanny's no weel matched," she used to say, "for he has grand
ideas, an' she's o' the commonest. It maun be a richt trial to a man
wi' his fine tastes to hae a wife 'at's wrapper's never even on, an'
wha doesna wash her mutch aince in a month."
It is true that Nanny was a slattern, but only because she married into
slavery. She was kept so busy washing and ironing for Sanders that she
ceased to care how she looked herself. What did it matter whether her
mutch was clean? Weaving and washing and cooking, doing the work of a
breadwinner as well as of a housewife, hers was soon a body prematurely
old, on which no wrapper would sit becomingly. Before her face,
Sanders would hint that her slovenly ways and dress tried him sorely,
and in company at least she only bowed her head. We were given to
respecting those who worked hard, but Nanny, we thought, was a woman of
means, and Sanders let us call her a miser. He was always anxious, he
said, to be generous, but Nanny would not let him assist a starving
child. They had really not a penny beyond what Nanny earned at the
loom, and now we know how Sanders shook her if she did not earn enough.
His vanity was responsible for the story about her wealth, and she
would not have us think him vain.
Because she did so much, we said that she was as strong as a
cart-horse. The doctor who attended her during the last week of her
life discovered that she had never been well. Yet we had often
wondered at her letting Sanders pit his own potatoes when he was so
"Them 'at's strong, ye see," Sanders explained, "doesna ken what
illness is, an' so it's nat'ral they shouldna sympathize wi' onweel
fowk. Ay, I'm rale thankfu' 'at Nanny keeps her health. I often envy
These were considered creditable sentiments, and so they might have
been had Nanny uttered them. Thus easily Saunders built up a
reputation for never complaining. I know now that he was a hard and
cruel man who should have married a shrew; but while Nanny lived I
thought he had a beautiful nature. Many a time I have spoken with him
at Hendry's gate, and felt the better of his heartiness.
"I mauna complain," he always said; "na, we maun juist fecht awa."
Little, indeed, had he to complain of, and little did he fight away.
Sanders went twice to church every Sabbath, and thrice when he got the
chance. There was no man who joined so lustily in the singing or
looked straighter at the minister during the prayer. I have heard the
minister say that Sanders's constant attendance was an encouragement
and a help to him. Nanny had been a great church-goer when she was a
maiden, but after her marriage she only went in the afternoons, and a
time came when she ceased altogether to attend. The minister
admonished her many times, telling her, among other things, that her
irreligious ways were a distress to her husband. She never replied
that she could not go to church in the forenoon because Sanders
insisted on a hot meal being waiting him when the service ended. But
it was true that Sanders, for appearance's sake, would have had her go
to church in the afternoons. It is now believed that on this point
alone did she refuse to do as she was bidden. Nanny was very far from
perfect, and the reason she forsook the kirk utterly was because she
had no Sabbath clothes.
She died as she had lived, saying not a word when the minister,
thinking it his duty, drew a cruel comparison between her life and her
"I got my first glimpse into the real state of affairs in that house,"
the doctor told me one night on the brae, "the day before she died
'You're sure there's no hope for me?' she asked wistfully, and when I
had to tell the truth she sank back on the pillow with a look of joy."
Nanny died with a lie on her lips. "Ay," she said, "Sanders has been a
guid man to me."
MAKING THE BEST OF IT
Hendry had a way of resuming a conversation where he had left off the
night before. He would revolve a topic in his mind, too, and then
begin aloud, "He's a queer ane," or, "Say ye so?" which was at times
perplexing. With the whole day before them, none of the family was
inclined to waste strength in talk; but one morning when he was blowing
the steam off his porridge, Hendry said, suddenly--
"He's hame again."
The women-folk gave him time to say to whom he was referring, which he
occasionally did as an after-thought. But he began to sup his
porridge, making eyes as it went steaming down his throat.
"I dinna ken wha ye mean," Jess said; while Leeby, who was on her knees
rubbing the hearthstone a bright blue, paused to catch her father's
"Jeames Geogehan," replied Hendry, with the horn spoon in his mouth.
Leeby turned to Jess for enlightenment.
"Geogehan," repeated Jess; "what, no little Jeames 'at ran awa?"
"Ay, ay, but he's a muckle stoot man noo, an' gey grey."
"Ou, I dinna wonder at that. It's a guid forty year since he ran off."
"I waurant ye couldna say exact hoo lang syne it is?"
Hendry asked this question because Jess was notorious for her memory,
and he gloried in putting it to the test.
"Let's see," she said.
"But wha is he?" asked Leeby. "I never kent nae Geogehans in Thrums."
"Weel, it's forty-one years syne come Michaelmas," said Jess.
"Hoo do ye ken?"
"I ken fine. Ye mind his father had been lickin' 'im, an' he ran awa
in a passion, cryin' oot 'at he would never come back? Ay, then, he
had a pair o' boots on at the time, an' his father ran after 'im an'
took them aff 'im. The boots was the last 'at Davie Mearns made, an'
it's fully ane-an-forty years since Davie fell ower the quarry on the
day o' the hill-market. That settles't. Ay, an' Jeames 'll be turned
fifty noo, for he was comin' on for ten year auld at that time. Ay,
ay, an' he's come back. What a state Eppie 'll be in!"
"Tell's wha he is, mother."
"Od, he's Eppie Guthrie's son. Her man was William Geogehan, but he
died afore you was born, an' as Jeames was their only bairn, the name
o' Geogehan's been a kind o' lost sicht o'. Hae ye seen him, Hendry?
Is't true 'at he made a fortune in thae far-awa countries? Eppie 'll
be blawin' aboot him richt?"
"There's nae doubt aboot the siller," said Hendry, "for he drove in a
carriage frae Tilliedrum, an' they say he needs a closet to hing his
claes in, there's sic a heap o' them. Ay, but that's no a' he's
brocht, na, far frae a'."
"Dinna gang awa till ye've telt's a' aboot 'im. What mair has he
"He's brocht a wife," said Hendry, twisting his face curiously.
"There's naething surprisin' in that."
"Ay, but there is, though. Ye see, Eppie had a letter frae 'im no mony
weeks syne, sayin' 'at he wasna deid, an' he was comin' hame wi' a
fortune. He said, too, 'at he was a single man, an' she's been
boastin' aboot that, so you may think 'at she got a surprise when he
hands a wuman oot o' the carriage."
"An' no a pleasant ane," said Jess. "Had he been leein'?"
"Na, he was single when he wrote, an' single when he got the length o'
Tilliedrum. Ye see, he fell in wi' the lassie there, an' juist gaed
clean aft his heid aboot her. After managin' to withstand the women o'
foreign lands for a' thae years, he gaed fair skeer aboot this stocky
at Tilliedrum. She's juist seventeen years auld, an' the auld fule
sits wi' his airm round her in Eppie's hoose, though they've been
mairit this fortnicht."
"The doited fule," said Jess.
Jeames Geogehan and his bride became the talk of Thrums, and Jess saw
them from her window several times. The first time she had only eyes
for the jacket with fur round it worn by Mrs. Geogehan, but
subsequently she took in Jeames.
"He's tryin' to carry't aff wi' his heid in the air," she said, "but I
can see he's fell shamefaced, an' nae wonder. Ay, I'se uphaud he's
mair ashamed o't in his heart than she is. It's an awful like thing o'
a lassie to marry an auld man. She had dune't for the siller. Ay,
there's pounds' worth o' fur aboot that jacket."
"They say she had siller hersel," said Tibbie Birse.
"Dinna tell me," said Jess. "I ken by her wy o' carryin' hersel 'at
she never had a jacket like that afore."
Eppie was not the only person in Thrums whom this marriage enraged.
Stories had long been alive of Jeames's fortune, which his cousins'
children were some day to divide among themselves, and as a consequence
these young men and women looked on Mrs. Geogehan as a thief.
"Dinna bring the wife to our hoose, Jeames," one of them told him, "for
we would be fair ashamed to hae her. We used to hae a respect for yer
name, so we couldna look her i' the face."
"She's mair like yer dochter than yer wife," said another.
"Na," said a third, "naebody could mistak her for yer dochter. She's
ower young-like for that."
"Wi' the siller you'll leave her, Jeames," Tammas Haggart told him,
"she'll get a younger man for her second venture."
All this was very trying to the newly-married man, who was thirsting
for sympathy. Hendry was the person whom he took into his confidence.
"It may hae been foolish at my time o' life," Hendry reported him to
have said, "but I couldna help it. If they juist kent her better they
couldna but see 'at she's a terrible takkin' crittur."
Jeames was generous; indeed he had come home with the intention of
scattering largess. A beggar met him one day on the brae, and got a
shilling from him. She was waving her arms triumphantly as she passed
Hendry's house, and Leeby got the story from her.
"Eh, he's a fine man that, an' a saft ane," the woman said. "I juist
speired at 'im hoo his bonny wife was, an' he oot wi' a shillin'!"
Leeby did not keep this news to herself, and soon it was through the
town. Jeames's face began to brighten.
"They're comin' round to a mair sensible wy o' lookin' at things," he
told Hendry. "I was walkin' wi' the wife i' the buryin' ground
yesterday, an' we met Kitty McQueen. She was ane o' the warst agin me
at first, but she telt me i' the buryin' ground 'at when a man mairit
he should please 'imsel. Oh, they're comin' round."
What Kitty told Jess was--
"I minded o' the tinkler wuman 'at he gae a shillin' to, so I thocht I
would butter up at the auld fule too. Weel, I assure ye, I had nae
suner said 'at he was rale wise to marry wha he likit than he slips a
pound note into my hand. Ou, Jess, we've ta'en the wrang wy wi'
Jeames. I've telt a' my bairns 'at if they meet him they're to praise
the wife terrible, an' I'm far mista'en if that doesna mean five
shillin's to ilka ane o' them."
Jean Whamond got a pound note for saying that Jeames's wife had an
uncommon pretty voice, and Davit Lunan had ten shillings for a
judicious word about her attractive manners. Tibbie Birse invited the
newly-married couple to tea (one pound).
"They're takkin' to her, they're takkin' to her," Jeames said,
gleefully. "I kent they would come round in time. Ay, even my mother,
'at was sae mad at first, sits for hours noo aside her, haudin' her
hand. They're juist inseparable."
The time came when we had Mr. and Mrs. Geogehan and Eppie to tea.
"It's true enough," Leeby ran ben to tell Jess, "'at Eppie an' the
wife's fond o' ane another. I wouldna hae believed it o' Eppie if I
hadna seen it, but I assure ye they sat even at the tea-table haudin'
ane another's hands. I waurant they're doin't this meenute."
"I wasna born on a Sabbath," retorted Jess. "Na, na, dinna tell me
Eppie's fond o' her. Tell Eppie to come but to the kitchen when the
Jess and Eppie had half an hour's conversation alone, and then our
"It's a richt guid thing," said Hendry, "'at Eppie has ta'en sic a
notion o' the wife."
"Ou, ay," said Jess.
Then Hendry hobbled out of the house.
"What said Eppie to ye?" Leeby asked her mother.
"Juist what I expeckit," Jess answered. "Ye see she's dependent on
Jeames, so she has to butter up at 'im."
"Did she say onything aboot haudin' the wife's hand sae fond-like?"
"Ay, she said it was an awfu' trial to her, an' 'at it sickened her to
see Jeames an' the wife baith believin' 'at she likit to do't."
VISITORS AT THE MANSE.
On bringing home his bride, the minister showed her to us, and we
thought she would do when she realized that she was not the minister.
She was a grand lady from Edinburgh, though very frank, and we simple
folk amused her a good deal, especially when we were sitting cowed in
the manse parlour drinking a dish of tea with her, as happened to
Leeby, her father, and me, three days before Jamie came home.
Leeby had refused to be drawn into conversation, like one who knew her
place, yet all her actions were genteel and her monosyllabic replies in
the Englishy tongue, as of one who was, after all, a little above the
common. When the minister's wife asked her whether she took sugar and
cream, she said politely, "If you please" (though she did not take
sugar), a reply that contrasted with Hendry's equally well-intended
answer to the same question. "I'm no partikler," was what Hendry said.
Hendry had left home glumly, declaring that the white collar Jess had
put on him would throttle him; but her feikieness ended in his
surrender, and he was looking unusually perjink. Had not his daughter
been present he would have been the most at ease of the company, but
her manners were too fine not to make an impression upon one who knew
her on her every-day behaviour, and she had also ways of bringing
Hendry to himself by a touch beneath the table. It was in church that
Leeby brought to perfection her manner of looking after her father.
When he had confidence in the preacher's soundness, he would sometimes
have slept in his pew if Leeby had not had a watchful foot. She
wakened him in an instant, while still looking modestly at the pulpit;
however reverently he might try to fall over, Leeby's foot went out.
She was such an artist that I never caught her in the act. All I knew
for certain was that, now and then, Hendry suddenly sat up.
The ordeal was over when Leeby went upstairs to put on her things.
After tea Hendry had become bolder in talk, his subject being
ministerial. He had an extraordinary knowledge, got no one knew where,
of the matrimonial affairs of all the ministers in these parts, and his
stories about them ended frequently with a chuckle. He always took it
for granted that a minister's marriage was womanhood's great triumph,
and that the particular woman who got him must be very clever. Some of
his tales were even more curious than he thought them, such as the one
Leeby tried to interrupt by saying we must be going.
"There's Mr. Pennycuick, noo," said Hendry, shaking his head in wonder
at what he had to tell; "him 'at's minister at Tilliedrum. Weel, when
he was a probationer he was michty poor, an' one day he was walkin'
into Thrums frae Glen Quharity, an' he tak's a rest at a little housey
on the road. The fowk didna ken him ava, but they saw he was a
minister, an' the lassie was sorry to see him wi' sic an auld hat.
What think ye she did?"
"Come away, father," said Leeby, re-entering the parlour; but Hendry
was now in full pursuit of his story.
"I'll tell ye what she did," he continued. "She juist took his hat
awa, an' put her father's new ane in its place, an' Mr. Pennycuick
never kent the differ till he landed in Thrums. It was terrible kind
o' her. Ay, but the old man would be in a michty rage when he found
she had swappit the hats."
"Come away," said Leeby, still politely, though she was burning to tell
her mother how Hendry had disgraced them.
"The minister," said Hendry, turning his back on Leeby, "didna forget
the lassie. Na; as sune as he got a kirk, he married her. Ay, she got
her reward. He married her. It was rale noble of 'im."
I do not know what Leeby said to Hendry when she got him beyond the
manse gate, for I stayed behind to talk to the minister. As it turned
out, the minister's wife did most of the talking, smiling
good-humouredly at country gawkiness the while.
"Yes," she said, "I am sure I shall like Thrums, though those teas to
the congregation are a little trying. Do you know, Thrums is the only
place I was ever in where it struck me that the men are cleverer than
She told us why.
"Well, to-night affords a case in point. Mr. McQumpha was quite
brilliant, was he not, in comparison with his daughter? Really she
seemed so put out at being at the manse that she could not raise her
eyes. I question if she would know me again, and I am sure she sat in
the room as one blindfolded. I left her in the bedroom a minute, and I
assure you, when I returned she was still standing on the same spot in
the centre of the floor."
I pointed out that Leeby had been awestruck.
"I suppose so," she said; "but it is a pity she cannot make use of her
eyes, if not of her tongue. Ah, the Thrums women are good, I believe,
but their wits are sadly in need of sharpening. I daresay it comes of
living in so small a place."
I overtook Leeby on the brae, aware, as I saw her alone, that it had
been her father whom I passed talking to Tammas Haggart in the Square.
Hendry stopped to have what he called a tove with any likely person he
encountered, and, indeed, though he and I often took a walk on
Saturdays, I generally lost him before we were clear of the town.
In a few moments Leeby and I were at home to give Jess the news.
"Whaur's yer father?" asked Jess, as if Hendry's way of dropping behind
was still unknown to her.
"Ou, I left him speakin' to Gavin Birse," said Leeby. "I daursay he's
awa to some hoose."
"It's no very silvendy (safe) his comin' ower the brae by himsel," said
Jess, adding in a bitter tone of conviction, "but he'll gang in to no
hoose as lang as he's so weel dressed. Na, he would think it boastfu'."
I sat down to a book by the kitchen fire; but, as Leeby became
communicative, I read less and less. While she spoke she was baking
bannocks with all the might of her, and Jess, leaning forward in her
chair, was arranging them in a semicircle round the fire.
"Na," was the first remark of Leeby's that came between me and my book,
"it is no new furniture."
"But there was three cart-loads o't, Leeby, sent on frae Edinbory.
Tibbie Birse helpit to lift it in, and she said the parlour furniture
"Ou, it's substantial, but it is no new. I sepad it had been bocht
cheap second-hand, for the chair I had was terrible scratched like,
an', what's mair, the airm-chair was a heap shinnier than the rest."
"Ay, ay, I wager it had been new stuffed. Tibbie said the carpet cowed
"Oh, I dinna deny it's a guid carpet; but if it's been turned once it's
been turned half a dozen times, so it's far frae new. Ay, an' forby,
it was rale threadbare aneath the table, so ye may be sure they've been
cuttin't an' puttin' the worn pairt whaur it would be least seen."
"They say 'at there's twa grand gas brackets i' the parlour, an' a
wonderfu' gasoliery i' the dinin'-room?"
"We wasna i' the dinin'-room, so I ken naething aboot the gasoliery;
but I'll tell ye what the gas brackets is. I recognized them
immeditly. Ye mind the auld gasoliery i' the dinin'-room had twa
lichts? Ay, then, the parlour brackets is made oot o' the auld
"Weel, Leeby, as sure as ye're standin' there, that passed through my
head as sune as Tibbie mentioned them!"
"There's nae doot about it. Ay, I was in ane o' the bedrooms, too!"
"It would be grand?"
"I wouldna say 'at it was partikler grand, but there was a great mask
(quantity) o' things in't, an' near everything was covered wi'
cretonne. But the chairs dinna match. There was a very bonny-painted
cloth alang the chimley--what they call a mantelpiece border, I
"Sal, I've often wondered what they was."
"Well, I assure ye they winna be ill to mak, for the border was juist
nailed upon a board laid on the chimley. There's naething to hender's
makin' ane for the room."
"Ay, we could sew something on the border instead o' paintin't. The
room lookit weel, ye say?"
"Yes, but it was economically furnished. There was nae carpet below
the wax-cloth; na, there was nane below the bed either."
"Was't a grand bed?"
"It had a fell lot o' brass aboot it, but there was juist one pair o'
blankets. I thocht it was gey shabby, hae'n the ewer a different
pattern frae the basin; ay, an' there was juist a poker in the
fireplace, there was nae tangs."
"Yea, yea; they'll hae but one set o' bedroom fireirons. The tangs'll
be in anither room. Tod, that's no sae michty grand for Edinbory.
What like was she hersel?"
"Ou, very ladylike and saft spoken. She's a canty body an' frank. She
wears her hair low on the left side to hod (hide) a scar, an' there's
twa warts on her richt hand."
"There hadna been a fire i' the parlour?"
"No, but it was ready to licht. There was sticks and paper in't. The
paper was oot o' a dressmaker's journal."
"Ye say so? She'll mak her ain frocks, I sepad."
When Hendry entered to take off his collar and coat before sitting down
to his evening meal of hot water, porter, and bread mixed in a bowl,
Jess sent me off to the attic. As I climbed the stairs I remembered
that the minister's wife thought Leeby in need of sharpening.
HOW GAVIN BIRSE PUT IT TO MAG LOWNIE
In a wet day the rain gathered in blobs on the road that passed our
garden. Then it crawled into the cart-tracks until the road was
streaked with water. Lastly, the water gathered in heavy yellow pools.
If the on-ding still continued, clods of earth toppled from the garden
dyke into the ditch.
On such a day, when even the dulseman had gone into shelter, and the
women scudded by with their wrappers over their heads, came Gavin Birse
to our door. Gavin, who was the Glen Quharity post, was still young,
but had never been quite the same man since some amateurs in the glen
ironed his back for rheumatism. I thought he had called to have a
crack with me. He sent his compliments up to the attic, however, by
Leeby, and would I come and be a witness?
Gavin came up and explained. He had taken off his scarf and thrust it
into his pocket, lest the rain should take the colour out of it. His
boots cheeped, and his shoulders had risen to his ears. He stood
steaming before my fire.
"If it's no' ower muckle to ask ye," he said, "I would like ye for a
"A witness? But for what do you need a witness, Gavin?"
"I want ye," he said, "to come wi' me to Mag's, and be a witness."
Gavin and Mag Birse had been engaged for a year or more. Mag was the
daughter of Janet Ogilvy, who was best remembered as the body that took
the hill (that is, wandered about it) for twelve hours on the day Mr.
Dishart, the Auld Licht minister, accepted a call to another church.
"You don't mean to tell me, Gavin," I asked, "that your marriage is to
take place to-day?"
By the twist of his mouth I saw that he was only deferring a smile.
"Far frae that," he said.
"Ah, then, you have quarrelled, and I am to speak up for you?"
"Na, na," he said, "I dinna want ye to do that above all things. It
would be a favour if ye could gie me a bad character."
This beat me, and, I daresay, my face showed it.
"I'm no' juist what ye would call anxious to marry Mag noo," said
Gavin, without a tremor.
I told him to go on.
"There's a lassie oot at Craigiebuckle," he explained, "workin' on the
farm--Jeanie Luke by name. Ye may ha'e seen her?"
"What of her?" I asked, severely.
"Weel," said Gavin, still unabashed, "I'm thinkin' noo 'at I would
rather ha'e her."
Then he stated his case more fully.
"Ay, I thocht I liked Mag oncommon till I saw Jeanie, an' I like her
fine yet, but I prefer the other ane. That state o' matters canna gang
on for ever, so I came into Thrums the day to settle 't one wy or
"And how," I asked, "do you propose going about it? It is a somewhat
"Ou, I see nae great difficulty in 't. I'll speir at Mag, blunt oot,
if she'll let me aff. Yes, I'll put it to her plain."
"You're sure Jeanie would take you?"
"Ay; oh, there's nae fear o' that."
"But if Mag keeps you to your bargain?"
"Weel, in that case there's nae harm done."
"You are in a great hurry, Gavin?"
"Ye may say that; but I want to be married. The wifie I lodge wi'
canna last lang, an' I would like to settle doon in some place."
"So you are on your way to Mag's now?"
"Ay, we'll get her in atween twal' and ane."
"Oh, yes; but why do you want me to go with you?"
"I want ye for a witness. If she winna let me aff, weel and guid; and
if she will, it's better to hae a witness in case she should go back on
Gavin made his proposal briskly, and as coolly as if he were only
asking me to go fishing; but I did not accompany him to Mag's. He left
the house to look for another witness, and about an hour afterwards
Jess saw him pass with Tammas Haggart. Tammas cried in during the
evening to tell us how the mission prospered.
"Mind ye," said Tammas, a drop of water hanging to the point of his
nose, "I disclaim all responsibility in the business. I ken Mag weel
for a thrifty, respectable woman, as her mither was afore her, and so I
said to Gavin when he came to speir me."
"Ay, mony a pirn has 'Lisbeth filled to me," said Hendry, settling down
to a reminiscence.
"No to be ower hard on Gavin," continued Tammas, forestalling Hendry,
"he took what I said in guid part; but aye when I stopped speakin' to
draw breath, he says, 'The queistion is, will ye come wi' me?' He was
michty made up in 's mind."
"Weel, ye went wi' him," suggested Jess, who wanted to bring Tammas to
"Ay," said the stone-breaker, "but no in sic a hurry as that."
He worked his mouth round and round, to clear the course, as it were,
for a sarcasm.
"Fowk often say," he continued, "'at 'am quick beyond the ordinar' in
seeing the humorous side o' things."
Here Tammas paused, and looked at us.
"So ye are, Tammas," said Hendry. "Losh, ye mind hoo ye saw the
humorous side o' me wearin' a pair o' boots 'at wisna marrows! No, the
ane had a toe-piece on, an' the other hadna."
"Ye juist wore them sometimes when ye was delvin'," broke in Jess, "ye
have as guid a pair o' boots as ony in Thrums."
"Ay, but I had worn them," said Hendry, "at odd times for mair than a
year, an' I had never seen the humorous side o' them. Weel, as fac as
death (here he addressed me), Tammas had juist seen them twa or three
times when he saw the humorous side o' them. Syne I saw their humorous
side, too, but no till Tammas pointed it oot."
"That was naething," said Tammas, "naething ava to some things I've
"But what aboot Mag?" said Leeby.
"We wasna that length, was we?" said Tammas. "Na, we was speakin'
aboot the humorous side. Ay, wait a wee, I didna mention the humorous
side for naething."
He paused to reflect.
"Oh, yes," he said at last, brightening up, "I was sayin' to ye hoo
quick I was to see the humorous side o' onything. Ay, then, what made
me say that was 'at in a clink (flash) I saw the humorous side o'
"Man, man," said Hendry, admiringly, "and what is't?"
"Oh, it's this, there's something humorous in speirin' a woman to let
ye aff so as ye can be married to another woman."
"I daursay there is," said Hendry, doubtfully.
"Did she let him aff?" asked Jess, taking the words out of Leeby's
"I'm comin' to that," said Tammas. "Gavin proposes to me after I had
haen my laugh--"
"Yes," cried Hendry, banging the table with his fist, "it has a
humorous side. Ye're richt again, Tammas."
"I wish ye wadna blatter (beat) the table," said Jess, and then Tammas
"Gavin wanted me to tak' paper an' ink an' a pen wi' me, to write the
proceedins doon, but I said, 'Na, na, I'll tak' paper, but no nae ink
nor nae pen, for there'll be ink an' a pen there.' That was what I
"An' did she let him aff?" asked Leeby.
"Weel," said Tammas, "aff we goes to Mag's hoose, an' sure enough Mag
was in. She was alone, too; so Gavin, no to waste time, juist sat doon
for politeness' sake, an' syne rises up again; an says he, 'Marget
Lownie, I hae a solemn question to speir at ye, namely this. Will you,
Marget Lownie, let me, Gavin Birse, aff?'"
"Mag would start at that?"
"Sal, she was braw an' cool. I thocht she maun ha'e got wind o' his
intentions aforehand, for she juist replies, quiet-like, 'Hoo do ye
want aff, Gavin?'
"'Because,' says he, like a book, 'my affections has undergone a
"'Ye mean Jean Luke,' says Mag.
"'That is wha I mean,' says Gavin, very strait-forrard."
"But she didna let him aff, did she?"
"Na, she wasna the kind. Says she, 'I wonder to hear ye, Gavin, but
'am no goin' to agree to naething o' that sort.'
"'Think it ower,' says Gavin.
"'Na, my mind's made up,' said she.
"'Ye would sune get anither man,' he says, earnestly.
"'Hoo do I ken that?' she speirs, rale sensibly, I thocht, for men's no
sae easy to get.
"''Am sure o' 't,' Gavin says, wi' michty conviction in his voice, 'for
ye're bonny to look at, an' weel-kent for bein' a guid body.'
"'Ay,' says Mag, 'I'm glad ye like me, Gavin, for ye have to tak me.'"
"That put a clincher on him," interrupted Hendry.
"He was loth to gie in," replied Tammas, "so he says, 'Ye think 'am a
fine character, Marget Lownie, but ye're very far mista'en. I wouldna
wonder but what I was lossin' my place some o' thae days, an' syne
whaur would ye be?--Marget Lownie,' he goes on, ''am nat'rally lazy an'
fond o' the drink. As sure as ye stand there, 'am a reglar deevil!'"
"That was strong language," said Hendry, "but he would be wantin' to
fleg (frighten) her?"
"Juist so, but he didna manage 't, for Mag says, 'We a' ha'e oor
faults, Gavin, an' deevil or no deevil, ye're the man for me!'
"Gavin thocht a bit," continued Tammas, "an' syne he tries her on a new
tack. 'Marget Lownie,' he says, 'yer father's an auld man noo, an' he
has naebody but yersel to look after him. I'm thinkin' it would be
kind o' cruel o' me to tak ye awa frae him?'"
"Mag wouldna be ta'en wi' that; she wasna born on a Sawbath," said
Jess, using one of her favourite sayings.
"She wasna," answered Tammas. "Says she, 'Hae nae fear on that score,
Gavin; my father's fine willin' to spare me!'"
"An' that ended it?"
"Ay, that ended it."
"Did ye tak it doun in writin'?" asked Hendry.
"There was nae need," said Tammas, handing round his snuff-mull. "No,
I never touched paper. When I saw the thing was settled, I left them
to their coortin'. They're to tak a look at Snecky Hobart's auld hoose
the nicht. It's to let."
THE SON FROM LONDON
In the spring of the year there used to come to Thrums a painter from
nature whom Hendry spoke of as the drawer. He lodged with Jess in my
attic, and when the weavers met him they said, "Weel, drawer," and then
passed on, grinning. Tammas Haggart was the first to say this.
The drawer was held a poor man because he straggled about the country
looking for subjects for his draws, and Jess, as was her way, gave him
many comforts for which she would not charge. That, I daresay, was why
he painted for her a little portrait of Jamie. When the drawer came
back to Thrums he always found the painting in a frame in the room.
Here I must make a confession about Jess. She did not in her secret
mind think the portrait quite the thing, and as soon as the drawer
departed it was removed from the frame to make way for a calendar. The
deception was very innocent, Jess being anxious not to hurt the donor's
To those who have the artist's eye, the picture, which hangs in my
school-house now, does not show a handsome lad, Jamie being short and
dapper, with straw-coloured hair, and a chin that ran away into his
neck. That is how I once regarded him, but I have little heart for
criticism of those I like, and, despite his madness for a season, of
which, alas, I shall have to tell, I am always Jamie's friend. Even to
hear any one disparaging the appearance of Jess's son is to me a pain.
All Jess's acquaintances knew that in the beginning of every month a
registered letter reached her from London. To her it was not a matter
to keep secret. She was proud that the help she and Hendry needed in
the gloaming of their lives should come from her beloved son, and the
neighbours esteemed Jamie because he was good to his mother. Jess had
more humour than any other woman I have known while Leeby was but
sparingly endowed; yet, as the month neared its close, it was the
daughter who put on the humorist, Jess thinking money too serious a
thing to jest about. Then if Leeby had a moment for gossip, as when
ironing a dickey for Hendry, and the iron was a trifle too hot, she
would look archly at me before addressing her mother in these words:
"Will he send, think ye?"
Jess, who had a conviction that he would send, affected surprise at the
"Will Jamie send this month, do ye mean? Na, oh, losh no! it's no to
be expeckit. Na, he couldna do't this time."
"That's what ye aye say, but he aye sends. Yes, an' vara weel ye ken
'at he will send."
"Na, na, Leeby; dinna let me ever think o' sic a thing this month."
"As if ye wasna thinkin' o't day an' nicht!"
"He's terrible mindfu', Leeby, but he doesna hae't. Na, no this month;
mebbe next month."
"Do you mean to tell me, mother, 'at ye'll no be up oot o' yer bed on
Monunday an hour afore yer usual time, lookin' for the post?"
"Na, no this time. I may be up, an' tak a look for 'im, but no
expeckin' a registerdy; na, na, that wouldna be reasonable."
"Reasonable here, reasonable there, up you'll be, keekin' (peering)
through the blind to see if the post's comin', ay, an' what's mair, the
post will come, and a registerdy in his hand wi' fifteen shillings in't
at the least."
"Dinna say fifteen, Leeby; I would never think o' sic a sum. Mebbe
"Five! I wonder to hear ye. Vera weel you ken 'at since he had
twenty-twa shillings in the week he's never sent less than half a
"No, but we canna expeck--"
"Expeck! No, but it's no expeck, it's get."
On the Monday morning when I came downstairs, Jess was in her chair by
the window, beaming, a piece of paper in her hand. I did not require
to be told about it, but I was told. Jess had been up before Leeby
could get the fire lit, with great difficulty reaching the window in
her bare feet, and many a time had she said that the post must be by.
"Havers," said Leeby, "he winna be for an hour yet. Come awa' back to
"Na, he maun be by," Jess would say in a few minutes; "ou, we couldna
expeck this month."
So it went on until Jess's hand shook the blind.
"He's comin', Leeby, he's comin'. He'll no hae naething, na, I couldna
expeck---- He's by!"
"I dinna believe it," cried Leeby, running to the window, "he's juist
at his tricks again."
This was in reference to a way our saturnine post had of pretending
that he brought no letters and passing the door. Then he turned back.
"Mistress McQumpha," he cried, and whistled.
"Run, Leeby, run," said Jess, excitedly.
Leeby hastened to the door, and came back with a registered letter.
"Registerdy," she cried in triumph, and Jess, with fond hands, opened
the letter. By the time I came down the money was hid away in a box
beneath the bed, where not even Leeby could find it, and Jess was on
her chair hugging the letter. She preserved all her registered
This was the first time I had been in Thrums when Jamie was expected
for his ten days' holiday, and for a week we discussed little else.
Though he had written saying when he would sail for Dundee, there was
quite a possibility of his appearing on the brae at any moment, for he
liked to take Jess and Leeby by surprise. Hendry there was no
surprising, unless he was in the mood for it, and the coolness of him
was one of Jess's grievances. Just two years earlier Jamie came north
a week before his time, and his father saw him from the window.
Instead of crying out in amazement or hacking his face, for he was
shaving at the time. Henry calmly wiped his razor on the window-sill,
"Ay, there's Jamie."
Jamie was a little disappointed at being seen in this way, for he had
been looking forward for four and forty hours to repeating the
sensation of the year before. On that occasion he had got to the door
unnoticed, where he stopped to listen. I daresay he checked his
breath, the better to catch his mother's voice, for Jess being an
invalid, Jamie thought of her first. He had Leeby sworn to write the
truth about her, but many an anxious hour he had on hearing that she
was "complaining fell (considerably) about her back the day," Leeby, as
he knew, being frightened to alarm him. Jamie, too, had given his
promise to tell exactly how he was keeping, but often he wrote that he
was "fine" when Jess had her doubts. When Hendry wrote he spread
himself over the table, and said that Jess was "juist about it," or
"aff and on," which does not tell much. So Jamie hearkened painfully
at the door, and by and by heard his mother say to Leeby that she was
sure the teapot was running out. Perhaps that voice was as sweet to
him as the music of a maiden to her lover, but Jamie did not rush into
his mother's arms. Jess has told me with a beaming face how craftily
he behaved. The old man, of lungs that shook Thrums by night, who went
from door to door selling firewood, had a way of shoving doors rudely
open and crying--
"Ony rozetty roots?" and him Jamie imitated.
"Juist think," Jess said, as she recalled the incident, "what a startle
we got. As we think, Pete kicks open the door and cries oot, 'Ony
rozetty roots?' and Leeby says 'No,' and gangs to shut the door. Next
minute she screeches, 'What, what, what!' and in walks Jamie!"
Jess was never able to decide whether it was more delightful to be
taken aback in this way or to prepare for Jamie. Sudden excitement was
bad for her according to Hendry, who got his medical knowledge
second-hand from persons under treatment, but with Jamie's appearance
on the threshold Jess's health began to improve. This time he kept to
the appointed day, and the house was turned upside down in his honour.
Such a polish did Leeby put on the flagons which hung on the kitchen
wall, that, passing between them and the window, I thought once I had
been struck by lightning. On the morning of the day that was to bring
him, Leeby was up at two o'clock, and eight hours before he could
possibly arrive Jess had a night-shirt warming for him at the fire. I
was no longer anybody, except as a person who could give Jamie advice.
Jess told me what I was to say. The only thing he and his mother
quarrelled about was the underclothing she would swaddle him in, and
Jess asked me to back her up in her entreaties.
"There's no a doubt," she said, "but what it's a hantle caulder here
than in London, an' it would be a terrible business if he was to tak
Jamie was to sail from London to Dundee, and come on to Thrums from
Tilliedrum in the post-cart. The road at that time, however, avoided
the brae, and at a certain point Jamie's custom was to alight, and take
the short cut home, along a farm road and up the commonty. Here, too,
Hookey Crewe, the post, deposited his passenger's box, which Hendry
wheeled home in a barrow. Long before the cart had lost sight of
Tilliedrum, Jess was at her window.
"Tell her Hookey's often late on Monundays," Leeby whispered to me,
"for she'll gang oot o' her mind if she thinks there's onything wrang."
Soon Jess was painfully excited, though she sat as still as salt.
"It maun be yer time," she said, looking at both Leeby and me, for in
Thrums we went out and met our friends.
"Hoots," retorted Leeby, trying to be hardy, "Hookey canna be oot o'
"He maun hae startit lang syne."
"I wonder at ye, mother, puttin' yersel in sic a state. Ye'll be ill
when he comes."
"Na, am no in nae state, Leeby, but there'll no be nae accident, will
"It's most provokin' 'at ye will think 'at every time Jamie steps into
a machine there'll be an accident. Am sure if ye would tak mair after
my father, it would be a blessin'. Look hoo cool he is."
"Whaur is he, Leeby?"
"Oh, I dinna ken. The henmost time I saw him he was layin' doon the
law aboot something to T'nowhead."
"It's an awfu' wy that he has o' ga'en oot withoot a word. I wouldna
wonder 'at he's no bein' in time to meet Jamie, an' that would be a
"Od, ye're sure he'll be in braw time."
"But he hasna ta'en the barrow wi' him, an' hoo is Jamie's luggage to
be brocht up withoot a barrow?"
"Barrow! He took the barrow to the saw-mill an hour syne to pick it up
at Rob Angus's on the wy."
Several times Jess was sure she saw the cart in the distance, and
implored us to be off.
"I'll tak no settle till ye're awa," she said, her face now flushed and
her hands working nervously.
"We've time to gang and come twa or three times yet," remonstrated
Leeby; but Jess gave me so beseeching a look that I put on my hat.
Then Hendry dandered in to change his coat deliberately, and when the
three of us set off, we left Jess with her eye on the door by which
Jamie must enter. He was her only son now, and she had not seen him
for a year.
On the way down the commonty, Leeby had the honour of being twice
addressed as Miss McQumpha, but her father was Hendry to all, which
shows that we make our social position for ourselves. Hendry looked
forward to Jamie's annual appearance only a little less hungrily than
Jess, but his pulse still beat regularly. Leeby would have considered
it almost wicked to talk of anything except Jamie now, but Hendry cried
out comments on the tatties, yesterday's roup, the fall in jute, to
everybody he encountered. When he and a crony had their say and
parted, it was their custom to continue the conversation in shouts
until they were out of hearing.
Only to Jess at her window was the cart late that afternoon. Jamie
jumped from it in the long great-coat that had been new to Thrums the
year before, and Hendry said calmly--
Leeby and Jamie made signs that they recognized each other as brother
and sister, but I was the only one with whom he shook hands. He was
smart in his movements and quite the gentleman, but the Thrums ways
took hold of him again at once. He even inquired for his mother in a
tone that was meant to deceive me into thinking he did not care how she
Hendry would have had a talk out of him on the spot, but was reminded
of the luggage. We took the heavy farm road, and soon we were at the
saw-mill. I am naturally leisurely, but we climbed the commonty at a
stride. Jamie pretended to be calm, but in a dark place I saw him take
Leeby's hand, and after that he said not a word. His eyes were fixed
on the elbow of the brae, where he would come into sight of his
mother's window. Many, many a time, I know, that lad had prayed to God
for still another sight of the window with his mother at it. So we
came to the corner where the stile is that Sam'l Dickie jumped in the
race for T'nowhead's Bell, and before Jamie was the house of his
childhood and his mother's window, and the fond, anxious face of his
mother herself. My eyes are dull, and I did not see her, but suddenly
Jamie cried out, "My mother!" and Leeby and I were left behind. When I
reached the kitchen Jess was crying, and her son's arms were round her
neck. I went away to my attic.
There was only one other memorable event of that day. Jamie had
finished his tea, and we all sat round him, listening to his adventures
and opinions. He told us how the country should be governed, too, and
perhaps put on airs a little. Hendry asked the questions, and Jamie
answered them as pat as if he and his father were going through the
Shorter Catechism. When Jamie told anything marvellous, as how many
towels were used at the shop in a day, or that twopence was the charge
for a single shave, his father screwed his mouth together as if
preparing to whistle, and then instead made a curious clucking noise
with his tongue, which was reserved for the expression of absolute
amazement. As for Jess, who was given to making much of me, she
ignored my remarks and laughed hilariously at jokes of Jamie's which
had been received in silence from me a few minutes before.
Slowly it came to me that Leeby had something on her mind, and that
Jamie was talking to her with his eyes. I learned afterwards that they
were plotting how to get me out of the kitchen, but were too impatient
to wait. Thus it was that the great event happened in my presence.
Jamie rose and stood near Jess--I daresay he had planned the scene
frequently. Then he produced from his pocket a purse, and coolly
opened it. Silence fell upon us as we saw that purse. From it he took
a neatly-folded piece of paper, crumpled it into a ball, and flung it
into Jess's lap.
I cannot say whether Jess knew what it was. Her hand shook, and for a
moment she let the ball of paper lie there.
"Open't up," cried Leeby, who was in the secret.
"What 's't?" asked Hendry, drawing nearer.
"It's juist a bit paper Jamie flung at me," said Jess, and then she
"It's a five-pound note!" cried Hendry.
"Na, na, oh keep us, no," said Jess; but she knew it was.
For a time she could not speak.
"I canna tak it, Jamie," she faltered at last.
But Jamie waved his hand, meaning that it was nothing, and then, lest
he should burst, hurried out into the garden, where he walked up and
down whistling. May God bless the lad, thought I. I do not know the
history of that five-pound note, but well aware I am that it grew
slowly out of pence and silver, and that Jamie denied his passions many
things for this great hour. His sacrifices watered his young heart and
kept it fresh and tender. Let us no longer cheat our consciences by
talking of filthy lucre. Money may always be a beautiful thing. It is
we who make it grimy.
A HOME FOR GENIUSES
From hints he had let drop at odd times I knew that Tammas Haggart had
a scheme for geniuses, but not until the evening after Jamie's arrival
did I get it out of him. Hendry was with Jamie at the fishing, and it
came about that Tammas and I had the pig-sty to ourselves.
"Of course," he said, when we had got a grip of the subject, "I dount
pretend as my ideas is to be followed withoot deeviation, but
ondootedly something should be done for geniuses, them bein' aboot the
only class as we do naething for. Yet they're fowk to be prood o', an'
we shouldna let them overdo the thing, nor run into debt; na, na.
There was Robbie Burns, noo, as real a genius as ever--"
At the pig-sty, where we liked to have more than one topic, we had
frequently to tempt Tammas away from Burns.
"Your scheme," I interposed, "is for living geniuses, of course?"
"Ay," he said, thoughtfully, "them 'at's gone canna be brocht back.
Weel, my idea is 'at a Home should be built for geniuses at the public
expense, whaur they could all live thegither, an be decently looked
after. Na, no in London; that's no my plan, but I would hae't within
an hour's distance o' London, say five mile frae the market-place, an'
standin' in a bit garden, whaur the geniuses could walk aboot
arm-in-arm, composin' their minds."
"You would have the grounds walled in, I suppose, so that the public
could not intrude?"
"Weel, there's a difficulty there, because, ye'll observe, as the
public would support the institootion, they would hae a kind o' richt
to look in. How-some-ever, I daur say we could arrange to fling the
grounds open to the public once a week on condition 'at they didna
speak to the geniuses. I'm thinkin' 'at if there was a small chairge
for admission the Home could be made self-supportin'. Losh! to think
'at if there had been sic an institootion in his time a man micht hae
sat on the bit dyke and watched Robbie Burns danderin' roond the--"
"You would divide the Home into suites of rooms, so that every inmate
would have his own apartments?"
"Not by no means; na, na. The mair I read aboot geniuses the mair
clearly I see as their wy o' living alane ower muckle is ane o' the
things as breaks doon their health, and makes them meeserable. I' the
Home they would hae a bedroom apiece, but the parlour an' the other
sittin'-rooms would be for all, so as they could enjoy ane another's
company. The management? Oh, that's aisy. The superintendent would
be a medical man appointed by Parliament, and he would hae men-servants
to do his biddin'."
"Not all men-servants, surely?"
"Every one o' them. Man, geniuses is no to be trusted wi' womenfolk.
No, even Robbie Bu--"
"So he did; but would the inmates have to put themselves entirely in
the superintendent's hands?"
"Nae doubt; an' they would see it was the wisest thing they could do.
He would be careful o' their health, an' send them early to bed as weel
as hae them up at eight sharp. Geniuses' healths is always breakin'
doon because of late hours, as in the case o' the lad wha used often to
begin his immortal writin's at twal o'clock at nicht, a thing 'at would
ruin ony constitootion. But the superintendent would see as they had a
tasty supper at nine o'clock--something as agreed wi' them. Then for
half an hour they would quiet their brains readin' oot aloud, time
about, frae sic a book as the 'Pilgrim's Progress,' an' the gas would
be turned aff at ten precisely."
"When would you have them up in the morning?"
"At sax in summer an' seven in winter. The superintendent would see as
they were all properly bathed every mornin', cleanliness bein' most
important for the preservation o' health."
"This sounds well; but suppose a genius broke the rules--lay in bed,
for instance, reading by the light of a candle after hours, or refused
to take his bath in the morning?"
"The superintendent would hae to punish him. The genius would be sent
back to his bed, maybe. An' if he lay lang i' the mornin' he would hae
to gang withoot his breakfast."
"That would be all very well where the inmate only broke the
regulations once in a way; but suppose he were to refuse to take his
bath day after day (and, you know, geniuses are said to be eccentric in
that particular), what would be done? You could not starve him;
geniuses are too scarce."
"Na, na; in a case like that he would hae to be reported to the public.
The thing would hae to come afore the Hoose of Commons. Ay, the
superintendent would get a member o' the Opposeetion to ask a queistion
such as 'Can the honourable gentleman, the Secretary of State for Home
Affairs, inform the Hoose whether it is a fac that Mr. Sic-a-one, the
well-known genius, at present resident in the Home for Geniuses, has,
contrairy to regulations, perseestently and obstinately refused to
change his linen; and, if so, whether the Government proposes to take
ony steps in the matter?' The newspapers would report the discussion
next mornin', an' so it would be made public withoot onnecessary
"In a general way, however, you would give the geniuses perfect
freedom? They could work when they liked, and come and go when they
"Not so. The superintendent would fix the hours o' wark, an' they
would all write, or whatever it was, thegither in one large room. Man,
man, it would mak a grand draw for a painter-chield, that room, wi' all
the geniuses working awa' thegither."
"But when the labors of the day were over the genius would be at
liberty to make calls by himself or to run up, say, to London for an
hour or two?"
"Hoots no, that would spoil everything. It's the drink, ye see, as
does for a terrible lot o' geniuses. Even Rob--"
"Alas! yes. But would you have them all teetotalers?"
"What do ye tak me for? Na, na; the superintendent would allow them
one glass o' toddy every nicht, an' mix it himsel; but he would never
get the keys o' the press, whaur he kept the drink, oot o' his hands.
They would never be allowed oot o' the gairden either, withoot a man to
look after them; an' I wouldna burthen them wi' ower muckle
pocket-money. Saxpence in the week would be suffeecient."
"How about their clothes?"
"They would get twa suits a year, wi' the letter G sewed on the
shoulders, so as if they were lost they could be recognized and brocht
"Certainly it is a scheme deserving consideration, and I have no doubt
our geniuses would jump at it; but you must remember that some of them
would have wives."
"Ay, an' some o' them would hae husbands. I've been thinkin' that oot,
an' I daur say the best plan would be to partition aff a pairt o' the
Home for female geniuses."
"Would Parliament elect the members?"
"I wouldna trust them. The election would hae to be by competitive
examination. Na, I canna say wha would draw up the queistions. The
scheme's juist growin' i' my mind, but the mair I think o't the better
I like it."
LEEBY AND JAMIE
By the bank of the Quharity on a summer day I have seen a barefooted
girl gaze at the running water until tears filled her eyes. That was
the birth of romance. Whether this love be but a beautiful dream I
cannot say, but this we see, that it comes to all, and colours the
whole future life with gold. Leeby must have dreamt it, but I did not
know her then. I have heard of a man who would have taken her far away
into a county where the corn is yellow when it is still green with us,
but she would not leave her mother, nor was it him she saw in her
dream. From her earliest days, when she was still a child staggering
round the garden with Jamie in her arms, her duty lay before her,
straight as the burying-ground road. Jess had need of her in the
little home at the top of the brae, where God, looking down upon her as
she scrubbed and gossipped and sat up all night with her ailing mother,
and never missed the prayer-meeting, and adored the minister, did not
perhaps think her the least of His handmaids. Her years were less than
thirty when He took her away, but she had few days that were altogether
dark. Those who bring sunshine to the lives of others cannot keep it
The love Leeby bore for Jamie was such that in their younger days it
shamed him. Other laddies knew of it, and flung it at him until he
dared Leeby to let on in public that he and she were related.
"Hoo is your lass?" they used to cry to him, inventing a new game.
"I saw Leeby lookin' for ye," they would say; "she's wearyin' for ye to
gang an' play wi' her."
Then if they were not much bigger boys than himself, Jamie got them
against the dyke and hit them hard until they publicly owned to knowing
that she was his sister, and that he was not fond of her.
"It distressed him mair than ye could believe, though," Jess has told
me; "an' when he came hame he would greet an' say 'at Leeby disgraced
Leeby, of course, suffered for her too obvious affection.
"I wonder 'at ye dinna try to control yersel," Jamie would say to her,
as he grew bigger.
"Am sure," said Leeby, "I never gie ye a look if there's onybody there."
"A look! You're ay lookin' at me sae fond-like 'at I dinna ken what wy
"Weel, I canna help it," said Leeby, probably beginning to whimper.
If Jamie was in a very bad temper he left her, after this, to her own
reflections; but he was naturally soft-hearted.
"Am no tellin' ye no to care for me," he told her, "but juist to keep
it mair to yersel. Naebody would ken frae me 'at am fond o' ye."
"Mebbe yer no?" said Leeby.
"Ay, am I, but I can keep it secret. When we're in the hoose am juist
richt fond o' ye."
"Do ye love me, Jamie?"
Jamie waggled his head in irritation.
"Love," he said, "is an awful like word to use when fowk's weel. Ye
shouldna speir sic annoyin' queistions."
"But if ye juist say ye love me I'll never let on again afore fowk 'at
yer onything to me ava."
"Ay, ye often say that."
"Do ye no believe my word?"
"I believe fine ye mean what ye say, but ye forget yersel when the time
"Juist try me this time."
"Weel, then, I do."
"Do what?" asked the greedy Leeby.
"What ye said."
"I said love."
"Well," said Jamie, "I do't."
"What do ye do? Say the word."
"Na," said Jamie, "I winna say the word. It's no a word to say, but I
That was all she could get out of him, unless he was stricken with
remorse, when he even went the length of saying the word.
"Leeby kent perfectly weel," Jess has said, "'at it was a trial to
Jamie to tak her ony gait, an' I often used to say to her 'at I
wondered at her want o' pride in priggin' wi' him. Ay, but if she
could juist get a promise wrung oot o' him, she didna care hoo muckle
she had to prig. Syne they quarrelled, an' ane or baith o' them grat
(cried) afore they made it up. I mind when Jamie went to the fishin'
Leeby was aye terrible keen to get wi' him, but ye see he wouldna be
seen gaen through the toon wi' her. 'If ye let me gang,' she said to
him, 'I'll no seek to go through the toon wi' ye. Na, I'll gang roond
by the Roods an' you can tak the buryin'-ground road, so as we can meet
on the hill.' Yes, Leeby was willin' to agree wi' a' that, juist to
get gaen wi' him. I've seen lassies makkin' themsels sma' for lads
often enough, but I never saw ane 'at prigged so muckle wi' her ain
brother. Na, it's other lassies' brothers they like as a rule."
"But though Jamie was terrible reserved aboot it," said Leeby, "he was
as fond o' me as ever I was o' him. Ye mind the time I had the
"Am no likely to forget it, Leeby," said Jess, "an' you blind wi' them
for three days. Ay, ay, Jamie was richt taen up aboot ye. I mind he
broke open his pirly (money-box), an' bocht a ha'penny worth o'
something to ye every day."
"An' ye hinna forgotten the stick?"
"'Deed no, I hinna. Ye see," Jess explained to me, "Leeby was lyin'
ben the hoose, an' Jamie wasna allowed to gang near her for fear o'
infection. Weel, he gat a lang stick--it was a pea-stick--an' put it
aneath the door an' waggled it. Ay, he did that a curran times every
day, juist to let her see he was thinkin' o' her."
"Mair than that," said Leeby, "he cried oot 'at he loved me."
"Ay, but juist aince," Jess said, "I dinna mind o't but aince. It was
the time the doctor came late, an' Jamie, being waukened by him, thocht
ye was deein'. I mind as if it was yesterday hoo he cam runnin' to the
door an' cried oot, 'I do love ye, Leeby; I love ye richt.' The doctor
got a start when he heard the voice, but he laughed loud when he
"He had nae business, though," said Leeby, "to tell onybody."
"He was a rale clever man, the doctor," Jess explained to me, "ay, he
kent me as weel as though he'd gaen through me wi' a lichted candle.
It got oot through him, an' the young billies took to sayin' to Jamie,
'Ye do love her, Jamie; ay, ye love her richt.' The only reglar fecht
I ever kent Jamie hae was wi' a lad 'at cried that to him. It was
Bowlegs Chirsty's laddie. Ay, but when she got better Jamie blamed
"He no only blamed me," said Leeby, "but he wanted me to pay him back
a' the bawbees he had spent on me."
"Ay, an' I sepad he got them too," said Jess. In time Jamie became a
barber in Tilliedrum, trudging many heavy miles there and back twice a
day that he might sleep at home, trudging bravely I was to say, but it
was what he was born to, and there was hardly an alternative. This was
the time I saw most of him, and he and Leeby were often in my thoughts.
There is as terrible a bubble in the little kettle as on the cauldron
of the world, and some of the scenes between Jamie and Leeby were great
tragedies, comedies, what you will, until the kettle was taken off the
fire. Hers was the more placid temper; indeed, only in one way could
Jamie suddenly rouse her to fury. That was when he hinted that she had
a large number of frocks. Leeby knew that there could never be more
than a Sabbath frock and an everyday gown for her, both of her mother's
making, but Jamie's insinuations were more than she could bear. Then I
have seen her seize and shake him. I know from Jess that Leeby cried
herself hoarse the day Joey was buried, because her little black frock
was not ready for wear.
Until he went to Tilliedrum Jamie had been more a stay-at-home boy than
most. The warmth of Jess's love had something to do with keeping his
heart aglow, but more, I think, he owed to Leeby. Tilliedrum was his
introduction to the world, and for a little it took his head. I was in
the house the Sabbath day that he refused to go to church.
He went out in the forenoon to meet the Tilliedrum lads, who were to
take him off for a holiday in a cart. Hendry was more wrathful than I
remember ever to have seen him, though I have heard how he did with the
lodger who broke the Lord's Day. This lodger was a tourist who
thought, in folly surely rather than in hardness of heart, to test the
religious convictions of an Auld Licht by insisting on paying his bill
on a Sabbath morning. He offered the money to Jess, with the warning
that if she did not take it now she might never see it. Jess was so
kind and good to her lodgers that he could not have known her long who
troubled her with this poor trick. She was sorely in need at the time,
and entreated the thoughtless man to have some pity on her.
"Now or never," he said, holding out the money.
"Put it on the dresser," said Jess at last, "an' I'll get it the morn."
The few shillings were laid on the dresser, where they remained
unfingered until Hendry, with Leeby and Jamie, came in from church.
"What siller's that?" asked Hendry, and then Jess confessed what she
"I wonder at ye, woman," said Hendry, sternly; and lifting the money he
climbed up to the attic with it.
He pushed open the door, and confronted the lodger.
"Take back yer siller," he said laying it on the table, "an' leave my
hoose. Man, you're a pitiable crittur to tak the chance, when I was
oot, o' playin' upon the poverty o' an onweel woman."
It was with such unwonted severity as this that Hendry called upon
Jamie to follow him to church; but the boy went off, and did not return
till dusk, defiant and miserable. Jess had been so terrified that she
forgave him everything for sight of his face, and Hendry prayed for him
at family worship with too much unction. But Leeby cried as if her
tender heart would break. For a long time Jamie refused to look at
her, but at last he broke down.
"If ye go on like that," he said, "I'll gang awa oot an' droon mysel,
or be a sojer."
This was no uncommon threat of his, and sometimes, when he went off,
banging the door violently, she ran after him and brought him back.
This time she only wept the more, and so both went to bed in misery.
It was after midnight that Jamie rose and crept to Leeby's bedside.
Leeby was shaking the bed in her agony. Jess heard what they said.
"Leeby," said Jamie, "dinna greet, an' I'll never do't again."
He put his arms round her, and she kissed him passionately.
"O, Jamie," she said, "hae ye prayed to God to forgie ye?"
Jamie did not speak.
"If ye was to die this nicht," cried Leeby, "an' you no made it up wi'
God, ye wouldna gang to heaven. Jamie, I canna sleep till ye've made
it up wi' God."
But Jamie still hung back. Leeby slipped from her bed, and went down
on her knees.
"O God, O dear God," she cried, "mak Jamie to pray to you!"
Then Jamie went down on his knees too, and they made it up with God
This is a little thing for me to remember all these years, and yet how
fresh and sweet it keeps Leeby in my memory.
Away up in the glen, my lonely schoolhouse lying deep, as one might
say, in a sea of snow, I had many hours in the years long by for
thinking of my friends in Thrums and mapping out the future of Leeby
and Jamie. I saw Hendry and Jess taken to the churchyard, and Leeby
left alone in the house. I saw Jamie fulfil his promise to his mother,
and take Leeby, that stainless young woman, far away to London, where
they had a home together. Ah, but these were only the idle dreams of a
dominie. The Lord willed it otherwise.
A TALE OF A GLOVE
So long as Jamie was not the lad, Jess twinkled gleefully over tales of
sweethearting. There was little Kitty Lamby who used to skip in of an
evening, and, squatting on a stool near the window, unwind the roll of
her enormities. A wheedling thing she was, with an ambition to drive
men crazy, but my presence killed the gossip on her tongue, though I
liked to look at her. When I entered, the wag at the wa' clock had
again possession of the kitchen. I never heard more than the end of a
"An' did he really say he would fling himsel into the dam, Kitty?"
Or--"True as death, Jess, he kissed me."
Then I wandered away from the kitchen, where I was not wanted, and
marvelled to know that Jess of the tender heart laughed most merrily
when he really did say that he was going straight to the dam. As no
body was found in the dam in those days, whoever he was he must have
thought better of it.
But let Kitty, or any other maid, cast a glinting eye on Jamie, then
Jess no longer smiled. If he returned the glance she sat silent in her
chair till Leeby laughed away her fears.
"Jamie's no the kind, mother," Leeby would say. "Na, he's quiet, but
he sees through them. They dinna draw his leg (get over him)."
"Ye never can tell, Leeby. The laddies 'at's maist ill to get
sometimes gangs up in a flame a' at aince, like a bit o' paper."
"Ay, weel, at ony rate Jamie's no on fire yet."
Though clever beyond her neighbours, Jess lost all her sharpness if
they spoke of a lassie for Jamie.
"I warrant," Tibbie Birse said one day in my hearing, "'at there's some
leddie in London he's thinkin' o'. Ay, he's been a guid laddie to ye,
but i' the course o' nature he'll be settlin' dune soon."
Jess did not answer, but she was a picture of woe.
"Ye're lettin' what Tibbie Birse said lie on yer mind," Leeby remarked,
when Tibbie was gone. "What can it maiter what she thinks?"
"I canna help it, Leeby," said Jess. "Na, an' I canna bear to think o'
Jamie bein' mairit. It would lay me low to loss my laddie. No yet, no
"But, mother," said Leeby, quoting from the minister at weddings, "ye
wouldna be lossin' a son, but juist gainin' a dochter."
"Dinna haver, Leeby," answered Jess, "I want nane o' thae dochters; na,
This talk took place while we were still awaiting Jamie's coming. He
had only been with us one day when Jess made a terrible discovery. She
was looking so mournful when I saw her, that I asked Leeby what was
"She's brocht it on hersel," said Leeby. "Ye see she was up sune i'
the mornin' to begin to the darnin' o' Jamie's stockins an' to warm his
sark at the fire afore he put it on. He woke up, an' cried to her 'at
he wasna accustomed to hae'n his things warmed for him. Ay, he cried
it oot fell thrawn, so she took it into her head 'at there was
something in his pouch he didna want her to see. She was even onaisy
I asked what had aroused Jess's suspicions last night.
"Ou, ye would notice 'at she sat devourin' him wi' her een, she was so
lifted up at hae'n 'im again. Weel, she says noo 'at she saw 'im twa
or three times put his hand in his pouch as if he was findin' to mak
sure 'at something was safe. So when he fell asleep again this mornin'
she got haud o' his jacket to see if there was onything in't. I
advised her no to do't, but she couldna help herself. She put in her
hand, an' pu'd it oot. That's what's makkin' her look sae ill."
"But what was it she found?"
"Did I no tell ye? I'm ga'en dottle, I think. It was a glove, a
woman's glove, in a bit paper. Ay, though she's sittin' still she's
I said I supposed Jess had put the glove back in Jamie's pocket.
"Na," said Leeby, "'deed no. She wanted to fling it on the back o' the
fire, but I wouldna let her. That's it she has aneath her apron."
Later in the day I remarked to Leeby that Jamie was very dull.
"He's missed it," she explained.
"Has any one mentioned it to him," I asked, "or has he inquired about
"Na," said Leeby, "there hasna been a syltup (syllable) aboot it. My
mother's fleid to mention't, an' he doesna like to speak aboot it
"Perhaps he thinks he has lost it?"
"Nae fear o' him," Leeby said. "Na, he kens fine wha has't."
I never knew how Jamie came by the glove, nor whether it had originally
belonged to her who made him forget the window at the top of the brae.
At the time I looked on as at play-acting, rejoicing in the happy
ending. Alas! in the real life how are we to know when we have reached
But this glove, I say, may not have been that woman's, and if it was,
she had not then bedevilled him. He was too sheepish to demand it back
from his mother, and already he cared for it too much to laugh at
Jess's theft with Leeby. So it was that a curious game at chess was
played with the glove, the players a silent pair.
Jamie cared little to read books, but on the day following Jess's
discovery, I found him on his knees in the attic, looking through mine.
A little box, without a lid, held them all, but they seemed a great
library to him.
"There's readin' for a lifetime in them," he said. "I was juist
takkin' a look through them."
His face was guilty, however, as if his hand had been caught in a
money-bag, and I wondered what had enticed the lad to my books. I was
still standing pondering when Leeby ran up the stair; she was so active
that she generally ran, and she grudged the time lost in recovering her
"I'll put yer books richt," she said, making her word good as she
spoke. "I kent Jamie had been ransackin' up here, though he came up
rale canny. Ay, ye would notice he was in his stockin' soles."
I had not noticed this, but I remembered now his slipping from the room
very softly. If he wanted a book, I told Leeby, he could have got it
without any display of cunning.
"It's no a book he's lookin' for," she said, "na, it's his glove."
The time of day was early for Leeby to gossip, but I detained her for a
"My mother's hodded (hid) it," she explained, "an he winna speir nae
queistions. But he's lookin' for't. He was ben in the room searchin'
the drawers when I was up i' the toon in the forenoon. Ye see he
pretends no to be carin' afore me, an' though my mother's sittin' sae
quiet-like at the window she's hearkenin' a' the time. Ay, an' he
thocht I had hod it up here."
But where, I asked, was the glove hid.
"I ken nae mair than yersel," said Leeby. "My mother's gien to hoddin'
things. She has a place aneath the bed whaur she keeps the siller, an'
she's no speakin' aboot the glove to me noo, because she thinks Jamie
an' me's in comp (company). I speired at her whaur she had hod it, but
she juist said, 'What would I be doin' hoddin't'?' She'll never admit
to me 'at she hods the siller either."
Next day Leeby came to me with the latest news.
"He's found it," she said, "ay, he's got the glove again. Ye see what
put him on the wrang scent was a notion 'at I had put it some gait. He
kent 'at if she'd hod it, the kitchen maun be the place, but he thocht
she'd gi'en it to me to hod. He came upon't by accident. It was
aneath the paddin' o' her chair."
Here, I thought, was the end of the glove incident, but I was mistaken.
There were no presses or drawers with locks in the house, and Jess got
hold of the glove again. I suppose she had reasoned out no line of
action. She merely hated the thought that Jamie should have a woman's
glove in his possession.
"She beats a' wi' 'cuteness," Leeby said to me. "Jamie didna put the
glove back in his pouch. Na, he kens her ower weel by this time. She
was up, though, lang afore he was wauken, an' she gaed almost strecht
to the place whaur he had hod it. I believe she lay waukin a' nicht
thinkin' oot whaur it would be. Ay, it was aneath the mattress. I saw
her hodden't i' the back o' the drawer, but I didna let on."
I quite believed Leeby when she told me afterwards that she had watched
Jamie feeling beneath the mattress.
"He had a face," she said, "I assure ye, he had a face, when he
discovered the glove was gone again."
"He maun be terrible ta'en up aboot it," Jess said to Leeby, "or he
wouldna keep it aneath the mattress."
"Od," said Leeby, "it was yersel 'at drove him to't."
Again Jamie recovered his property, and again Jess got hold of it.
This time he looked in vain. I learnt the fate of the glove from Leeby.
"Ye mind 'at she keepit him at hame frae the kirk on Sabbath, because
he had a cauld?" Leeby said. "Ay, me or my father would hae a gey ill
cauld afore she would let's bide at hame frae the kirk; but Jamie's
different. Weel, mair than ance she's been near speakin' to 'im aboot
the glove, but she grew fleid aye. She was so terrified there was
"On Sabbath, though, she had him to hersel, an' he wasna so bright as
usual. She sat wi' the Bible on her lap, pretendin' to read, but a'
the time she was takkin' keeks (glances) at him. I dinna ken 'at he
was broodin' ower the glove, but she thocht he was, an' just afore the
kirk came oot she couldna stand it nae langer. She put her hand in her
pouch, an pu'd oot the glove, wi' the paper round it, just as it had
been when she came upon't.
"'That's yours, Jamie,' she said; 'it was ill-dune o' me to tak it, but
I couldna help it.'
"Jamie put oot his hand, an' syne he drew't back. 'It's no a thing o'
nae consequence, mother, he said.
"'Wha is she, Jamie?' my mother said.
"He turned awa his heid--so she telt me. 'It's a lassie in London,' he
said, 'I dinna ken her muckle.'
"'Ye maun ken her weel,' my mother persisted, 'to be carryin' aboot her
glove; I'm dootin' ye're gey fond o' her, Jamie?'
"'Na,' said Jamie, 'am no. There's no naebody I care for like yersel,
"'Ye wouldna carry aboot onything o' mine, Jamie,' my mother said; but
he says, 'Oh, mother, I carry aboot yer face wi' me aye; an' sometimes
at nicht I kind o' greet to think o' ye.'
"Ay, after that I've nae doot he was sittin' wi' his airms aboot her.
She didna tell me that, but weel he kens it's what she likes, an' she
maks nae pretence o' its no bein'. But for a' he said an' did, she
noticed him put the glove back in his inside pouch.
"'It's wrang o' me, Jamie,' she said, 'but I canna bear to think o' ye
carryin' that aboot sae carefu'. No, I canna help it.'
"Weel, Jamie, the crittur, took it oot o' his pouch an' kind o'
hesitated. Syne he lays't on the back o' the fire, an' they sat
thegither glowerin' at it.
"'Noo, mother,' he says, 'you're satisfied, are ye no'?'
"Ay," Leeby ended her story, "she said she was satisfied. But she saw
'at he laid it on the fire fell fond-like."
THE LAST NIGHT
"Juist another sax nichts, Jamie," Jess would say, sadly. "Juist fower
nichts noo, an' you'll be awa." Even as she spoke seemed to come the
The last night! Reserve slipped unheeded to the floor. Hendry
wandered ben and but the house, and Jamie sat at the window holding his
mother's hand. You must walk softly now if you would cross that humble
threshold. I stop at the door. Then, as now, I was a lonely man, and
when the last night came the attic was the place for me.
This family affection, how good and beautiful it is. Men and maids
love, and after many years they may rise to this. It is the grand
proof of the goodness in human nature, for it means, that the more we
see of each other the more we find that is lovable. If you would cease
to dislike a man, try to get nearer his heart.
Leeby had no longer any excuse for bustling about. Everything was
ready--too soon. Hendry had been to the fish-cadger in the square to
get a bervie for Jamie's supper, and Jamie had eaten it, trying to look
as if it made him happier. His little box was packed and strapped, and
stood terribly conspicuous against the dresser. Jess had packed it
"Ye mauna trachle (trouble) yersel, mother," Jamie said, when she had
the empty box pulled toward her.
Leeby was wiser.
"Let her do't," she whispered, "it'll keep her frae broodin'."
Jess tied ends of yarn round the stockings to keep them in a little
bundle by themselves. So she did with all the other articles.
"No 'at it's ony great affair," she said, for on the last night they
were all thirsting to do something for Jamie that would be a great
affair to him.
"Ah, ye would wonder, mother," Jamie said, "when I open my box an' find
a'thing tied up wi' strings sae careful, it a' comes back to me wi' a
rush wha did it, an' am as fond o' thae strings as though they were a
grand present. There's the pocky (bag) ye gae mi to keep sewin' things
in. I get the wifie I lodge wi' to sew to me, but often when I come
upon the pocky I sit an' look at it."
Two chairs were backed to the fire, with underclothing hanging upside
down on them. From the string over the fireplace dangled two pairs of
"Ye'll put on baith thae pair o' stockin's, Jamie," said Jess, "juist
to please me?"
When he arrived he had rebelled against the extra clothing.
"Ay, will I, mother?" he said now.
Jess put her hand fondly through his ugly hair. How handsome she
"Ye have a fine brow, Jamie," she said. "I mind the day ye was born
sayin' to mysel 'at ye had a fine brow."
"But ye thocht he was to be a lassie, mother," said Leeby.
"Na, Leeby, I didna. I kept sayin' I thocht he would be a lassie
because I was fleid he would be; but a' the time I had a presentiment
he would be a laddie. It was wi' Joey deein' sae sudden, an' I took on
sae terrible aboot 'im 'at I thocht all alang the Lord would gie me
"Ay, I wanted 'im to be a laddie mysel," said Hendry, "so as he could
tak Joey's place."
Jess's head jerked back involuntarily, and Jamie may have felt her hand
shake, for he said in a voice out of Hendry's hearing--
"I never took Joey's place wi' ye, mother."
Jess pressed his hand tightly in her two worn palms, but she did not
"Jamie was richt like Joey when he was a bairn," Hendry said.
Again Jess's head moved, but still she was silent.
"They were sae like," continued Hendry, "'at often I called Jamie by
Jess looked at her husband, and her mouth opened and shut.
"I canna mind 'at you ever did that?" Hendry said.
She shook her head.
"Na," said Hendry, "you never mixed them up. I dinna think ye ever
missed Joey sae sair as I did."
Leeby went ben, and stood in the room in the dark; Jamie knew why.
"I'll just gang ben an' speak to Leeby for a meenute," he said to his
mother; "I'll no be lang."
"Ay, do that, Jamie," said Jess. "What Leeby's been to me nae tongue
can tell. Ye canna bear to hear me speak, I ken, o' the time when
Hendry an' me'll be awa, but, Jamie, when that time comes ye'll no
"I winna, mother, I winna," said Jamie. "There'll never be a roof ower
me 'at's no hers too."
He went ben and shut the door. I do not know what he and Leeby said.
Many a time since their earliest youth had these two been closeted
together, often to make up their little quarrels in each other's arms.
They remained a long time in the room, the shabby room of which Jess
and Leeby were so proud, and whatever might be their fears about their
mother, they were not anxious for themselves. Leeby was feeling lusty
and well, and she could not know that Jamie required to be reminded of
his duty to the folk at home. Jamie would have laughed at the notion.
Yet that woman in London must have been waiting for him even then.
Leeby, who was about to die, and Jamie, who was to forget his mother,
came back to the kitchen with a happy light on their faces. I have
with me still the look of love they gave each other before Jamie
crossed over to Jess.
"Ye'll gang anower, noo, mother," Leeby said, meaning that it was
"No yet, Leeby," Jess answered, "I'll sit up till the readin's ower."
"I think ye should gang, mother," Jamie said, "an' I'll come an' sit
aside ye after ye're i' yer bed."
"Ay, Jamie, I'll no hae ye to sit aside me the morn's nicht, an' hap
(cover) me wi' the claes."
"But ye'll gang suner to yer bed, mother."
"I may gang, but I winna sleep. I'll aye be thinkin' o' ye tossin' on
the sea. I pray for ye a lang time ilka nicht, Jamie."
"Ay, I ken."
"An' I pictur ye ilka hour o' the day. Ye never gang hame through thae
terrible streets at nicht but I'm thinkin' o' ye."
"I would try no to be sae sad, mother," said Leeby. "We've ha'en a
richt fine time, have we no?"
"It's been an awfu' happy time," said Jess. "We've ha'en a
pleasantness in oor lives 'at comes to few. I ken naebody 'at's ha'en
sae muckle happiness one wy or another."
"It's because ye're sae guid, mother," said Jamie.
"Na, Jamie, am no guid ava. It's because my fowk's been sae guid, you
an' Hendry an' Leeby an' Joey when he was livin'. I've got a lot mair
than my deserts."
"We'll juist look to meetin' next year again, mother. To think o' that
keeps me up a' the winter."
"Ay, if it's the Lord's will, Jamie, but am gey dune noo, an' Hendry's
fell worn too."
Jamie, the boy that he was, said, "Dinna speak like that, mother," and
Jess again put her hand on his head.
"Fine I ken, Jamie," she said, "'at all my days on this earth, be they
short or lang, I've you for a staff to lean on."
Ah, many years have gone since then, but if Jamie be living now he has
still those words to swallow.
By and by Leeby went ben for the Bible, and put it into Hendry's hands.
He slowly turned over the leaves to his favourite chapter, the
fourteenth of John's Gospel. Always, on eventful occasions, did Hendry
turn to the fourteenth of John.
"Let not your heart be troubled; ye believe in God, believe also in Me.
"In My Father's house are many mansions; if it were not so I would have
told you. I go to prepare a place for you."
As Hendry raised his voice to read there was a great stillness in the
kitchen. I do not know that I have been able to show in the most
imperfect way what kind of man Hendry was. He was dense in many
things, and the cleverness that was Jess's had been denied to him. He
had less book-learning than most of those with whom he passed his days,
and he had little skill in talk. I have not known a man more easily
taken in by persons whose speech had two faces. But a more simple,
modest, upright man, there never was in Thrums, and I shall always
revere his memory.
"And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and
receive you unto Myself; that where I am, there ye may be also."
The voice may have been monotonous. I have always thought that
Hendry's reading of the Bible was the most solemn and impressive I have
ever heard. He exulted in the fourteenth of John, pouring it forth
like one whom it intoxicated while he read. He emphasized every other
word; it was so real and grand to him.
We went upon our knees while Hendry prayed, all but Jess, who could
not. Jamie buried his face in her lap. The words Hendry said were
those he used every night. Some, perhaps, would have smiled at his
prayer to God that we be not puffed up with riches nor with the things
of this world. His head shook with emotion while he prayed, and he
brought us very near to the throne of grace. "Do thou, O our God," he
said, in conclusion, "spread Thy guiding hand over him whom in Thy
great mercy Thou hast brought to us again, and do Thou guard him
through the perils which come unto those that go down to the sea in
ships. Let not our hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid, for
this is not our abiding home, and may we all meet in Thy house, where
there are many mansions, and where there will be no last night. Amen."
It was a silent kitchen after that, though the lamp burned long in
Jess's window. By its meagre light you may take a final glance at the
little family; you will never see them together again.
JESS LEFT ALONE
There may be a few who care to know how the lives of Jess and Hendry
ended. Leeby died in the back-end of the year I have been speaking of,
and as I was snowed up in the school-house at the time, I heard the
news from Gavin Birse too late to attend her funeral. She got her
death on the commonty one day of sudden rain, when she had run out to
bring in her washing, for the terrible cold she woke with next morning
carried her off very quickly. Leeby did not blame Jamie for not coming
to her, nor did I, for I knew that even in the presence of death the
poor must drag their chains. He never got Hendry's letter with the
news, and we know now that he was already in the hands of her who
played the devil with his life. Before the spring came he had been
lost to Jess.
"Them 'at has got sae mony blessin's mair than the generality," Hendry
said to me one day, when Craigiebuckle had given me a lift into Thrums,
"has nae shame if they would pray aye for mair. The Lord has gi'en
this hoose sae muckle, 'at to pray for muir looks like no bein'
thankfu' for what we've got. Ay, but I canna help prayin' to Him 'at
in His great mercy he'll take Jess afore me. No 'at Leeby's gone, an'
Jamie never lets us hear frae him, I canna gulp doon the thocht o' Jess
bein' left alane."
This was a prayer that Hendry may be pardoned for having so often in
his heart, though God did not think fit to grant it. In Thrums, when a
weaver died, his womenfolk had to take his seat at the loom, and those
who, by reason of infirmities, could not do so, went to a place the
name of which, I thank God, I am not compelled to write in this
chapter. I could not, even at this day, have told any episodes in the
life of Jess had it ended in the poorhouse.
Hendry would probably have recovered from the fever had not this
terrible dread darkened his intellect when he was still prostrate. He
was lying in the kitchen when I saw him last in life, and his parting
words must be sadder to the reader than they were to me.
"Ay, richt ye are," he said, in a voice that had become a child's; "I
hae muckle, muckle, to be thankfu' for, an' no the least is 'at baith
me an' Jess has aye belonged to a bural society. We hae nae cause to
be anxious aboot a' thing bein' dune re-respectable aince we're gone.
It was Jess 'at insisted on oor joinin': a' the wisest things I ever
did I was put up to by her."
I parted from Hendry, cheered by the doctor's report, but the old
weaver died a few days afterwards. His end was mournful, yet I can
recall it now as the not unworthy close of a good man's life. One
night poor worn Jess had been helped ben into the room, Tibbie Birse
having undertaken to sit up with Hendry. Jess slept for the first time
for many days, and as the night was dying Tibbie fell asleep too.
Hendry had been better than usual, lying quietly, Tibbie said, and the
fever was gone. About three o'clock Tibbie woke and rose to mend the
fire. Then she saw that Hendry was not in his bed.
Tibbie went ben the house in her stocking-soles, but Jess heard her.
"What is't, Tibbie?" she asked, anxiously.
"Ou, it's no naething," Tibbie said, "he's lyin' rale quiet."
Then she went up to the attic. Hendry was not in the house.
She opened the door gently and stole out. It was not snowing, but
there had been a heavy fall two days before, and the night was windy.
A tearing gale had blown the upper part of the brae clear, and from
T'nowhead's fields the snow was rising like smoke. Tibbie ran to the
farm and woke up T'nowhead.
For an hour they looked in vain for Hendry. At last some one asked who
was working in Elshioner's shop all night. This was the long
earthen-floored room in which Hendry's loom stood with three others.
"It'll be Sanders Whamond likely," T'nowhead said, and the other men
But it happened that T'nowhead's Bell, who had flung on a wrapper, and
hastened across to sit with Jess, heard of the light in Elshioner's
"It's Hendry," she cried, and then every one moved toward the workshop.
The light at the diminutive, yarn-covered window was pale and dim, but
Bell, who was at the house first, could make the most of a cruizey's
"It's him," she said, and then, with swelling throat, she ran back to
The door of the workshop was wide open, held against the wall by the
wind. T'nowhead and the others went in. The cruizey stood on the
little window. Hendry's back was to the door, and he was leaning
forward on the silent loom. He had been dead for some time, but his
fellow-workers saw that he must have weaved for nearly an hour.
So it came about that for the last few months of her pilgrimage Jess
was left alone. Yet I may not say that she was alone. Jamie, who
should have been with her, was undergoing his own ordeal far away;
where, we did not now even know. But though the poorhouse stands in
Thrums, where all may see it, the neighbours did not think only of
Than Thomas Haggart there can scarcely have been a poorer man, but
Tammas was the first to come forward with offer of help. To the day of
Jess's death he did not once fail to carry her water to her in the
morning, and the luxuriously living men of Thrums in those present days
of pumps at every corner, can hardly realize what that meant. Often
there were lines of people at the well by three o'clock in the morning,
and each had to wait his turn. Tammas filled his own pitcher and pan,
and then had to take his place at the end of the line with Jess's
pitcher and pan, to wait his turn again. His own house was in the
Tenements, far from the brae in winter time, but he always said to Jess
it was "naething ava."
Every Saturday old Robbie Angus sent a bag of sticks and shavings from
the saw-mill by his little son Rob, who was afterwards to become a man
for speaking about at nights. Of all the friends that Jess and Hendry
had, T'nowhead was the ablest to help, and the sweetest memory I have
of the farmer and his wife is the delicate way they offered it. You
who read will see Jess wince at the offer of charity. But the poor
have fine feelings beneath the grime, as you will discover if you care
to look for them, and when Jess said she would bake if any one would
buy, you would wonder to hear how many kindly folk came to her door for
She had the house to herself at nights, but Tibbie Birse was with her
early in the morning, and other neighbours dropped in. Not for long
did she have to wait the summons to the better home.
"Na," she said to the minister, who has told me that he was a better
man from knowing her, "my thochts is no nane set on the vanities o' the
world noo. I kenra hoo I could ever hae ha'en sic an ambeetion to hae
thae stuff-bottomed chairs."
I have tried to keep away from Jamie, whom the neighbours sometimes
upbraided in her presence. It is of him you who read would like to
hear, and I cannot pretend that Jess did not sit at her window looking
"Even when she was bakin'," Tibbie told me, "she aye had an eye on the
brae. If Jamie had come at ony time when it was licht she would hae
seen 'im as sune as he turned the corner."
"If he ever comes back, the sacket (rascal)," T'nowhead said to Jess,
"we'll show 'im the door gey quick."
Jess just looked, and all the women knew how she would take Jamie to
We did not know of the London woman then, and Jess never knew of her.
Jamie's mother never for an hour allowed that he had become anything
but the loving laddie of his youth.
"I ken 'im ower weel," she always said, "my ain Jamie."
Toward the end she was sure he was dead. I do not know when she first
made up her mind to this, nor whether it was not merely a phrase for
those who wanted to discuss him with her. I know that she still sat at
the window looking at the elbow of the brae.
The minister was with her when she died. She was in her chair, and he
asked her, as was his custom, if there was any particular chapter which
she would like him to read. Since her husband's death she had always
asked for the fourteenth of John, "Hendry's chapter," as it is still
called among a very few old people in Thrums. This time she asked him
to read the sixteenth chapter of Genesis.
"When I came to the thirteenth verse," the minister told me, "'And she
called the name of the Lord that spake unto her. Thou God seest me,'
she covered her face with her two hands, and said, 'Joey's text, Joey's
text. Oh, but I grudged ye sair, Joey.'"
"I shut the book," the minister said, "when I came to the end of the
chapter, and then I saw that she was dead. It is my belief that her
heart broke one-and-twenty years ago."
On a summer day, when the sun was in the weavers' workshops, and bairns
hopped solemnly at the game of palaulays, or gaily shook their bottles
of sugarelly water into a froth, Jamie came back. The first man to see
him was Hookey Crewe, the post.
"When he came frae London," Hookey said afterwards at T'nowhead's
pig-sty, "Jamie used to wait for me at Zoar, i' the north end o'
Tilliedrum. He carried his box ower the market muir, an' sat on't at
Zoar, waitin' for me to catch 'im up. Ay, the day afore yesterday me
an' the powny was clatterin' by Zoar, when there was Jamie standin' in
his identical place. He hadna nae box to sit upon, an' he was far frae
bein' weel in order, but I kent 'im at aince, an' I saw 'at he was
waitin' for me. So I drew up, an' waved my hand to 'im."
"I would hae drove straucht by 'im," said T'nowhead; "them 'at leaves
their auld mother to want doesna deserve a lift."
"Ay, ye say that sittin' there," Hookey said; "but, lads, I saw his
face, an' as sure as death it was sic an' awfu' meeserable face 'at I
couldna but pu' the powny up. Weel, he stood for the space o' a
meenute lookin' straucht at me, as if he would like to come forrit but
dauredna, an' syne he turned an' strided awa ower the muir like a
huntit thing. I sat still i' the cart, an' when he was far awa he
stoppit an' lookit again, but a' my cryin' wouldna bring him a step
back, an' i' the end I drove on. I've thocht since syne 'at he didna
ken whether his fowk was livin' or deid, an' was fleid to speir."
"He didna ken," said T'nowhead, "but the faut was his ain. It's ower
late to be ta'en up aboot Jess noo."
"Ay, ay, T'nowhead," said Hookey, "it's aisy to you to speak like that.
Ye didna see his face."
It is believed that Jamie walked from Tilliedrum, though no one is
known to have met him on the road. Some two hours after the post left
him he was seen by old Rob Angus at the sawmill.
"I was sawin' awa wi' a' my micht," Rob said, "an' little Rob was
haudin' the booards, for they were silly but things, when something
made me look at the window. It couldna hae been a tap on't, for the
birds has used me to that, an' it would hardly be a shadow, for little
Rob didna look up. Whatever it was, I stoppit i' the middle o' a
booard, an' lookit up, an' there I saw Jamie McQumpha. He joukit back
when our een met, but I saw him weel; ay, it's a queer thing to say,
but he had the face o' a man 'at had come straucht frae hell."
"I stood starin' at the window," Angus continued, "after he'd gone, an'
Robbie cried oot to ken what was the maiter wi' me. Ay, that brocht me
back to mysel, an' I hurried oot to look for Jamie, but he wasna to be
seen. That face gae me a turn."
From the saw-mill to the house at the top of the brae, some may
remember, the road is up the commonty. I do not think any one saw
Jamie on the commonty, though there were those to say they met him.
"He gae me sic a look," a woman said, "'at I was fleid an' ran hame,"
but she did not tell the story until Jamie's home-coming had become a
There were many women hanging out their washing on the commonty that
day, and none of them saw him. I think Jamie must have approached his
old home by the fields, and probably he held back until gloaming.
The young woman who was now mistress of the house at the top of the
brae both saw and spoke with Jamie.
"Twa or three times," she said, "I had seen a man walk quick up the
brae an' by the door. It was gettin' dark, but I noticed 'at he was
short an' thin, an' I would hae said he wasna nane weel if it hadna
been at' he gaed by at sic a steek. He didna look our wy--at least no
when he was close up, an' I set 'im doon for some ga'en aboot body.
Na, I saw naething aboot 'im to be fleid at.
"The aucht o'clock bell was ringin' when I saw 'im to speak to. My
twa-year-auld bairn was standin' aboot the door, an' I was makkin' some
porridge for my man's supper when I heard the bairny skirlin'. She
came runnin' in to the hoose an' hung i' my wrapper, an' she was
hingin' there, when I gaed to the door to see what was wrang.
"It was the man I'd seen passin' the hoose. He was standin' at the
gate, which, as a'body kens, is but sax steps frae the hoose, an' I
wondered at 'im neither runnin' awa nor comin' forrit. I speired at
'im what he meant by terrifyin' a bairn, but he didna say naething. He
juist stood. It was ower dark to see his face richt, an' I wasna nane
ta'en aback yet, no till he spoke. Oh, but he had a fearsome word when
he did speak. It was a kind o' like a man hoarse wi' a cauld, an' yet
no that either.
"'Wha bides i' this hoose?' he said, ay standin there.
"'It's Davit Patullo's hoose,' I said, 'an' am the wife.'
"'Whaur's Hendry McQumpha?' he speired.
"'He's deid,' I said.
"He stood still for a fell while.
"'An' his wife, Jess?' he said.
"'She's deid, too,' I said.
"I thocht he gae a groan, but it may hae been the gate.
"'There was a dochter, Leeby?' he said.
"'Ay,' I said, 'she was ta'en first.'
"I saw 'im put up his hands to his face, an' he cried out, 'Leeby too!'
an' syne he kind o' fell agin the dyke. I never kent 'im nor nane o'
his fowk, but I had heard aboot them, an' I saw 'at it would be the son
frae London. It wasna for me to judge 'im, an' I said to 'im would he
no come in by an' tak a rest. I was nearer 'im by that time, an' it's
an awfu' haver to say 'at he had a face to frichten fowk. It was a
rale guid face, but no ava what a body would like to see on a young
man. I felt mair like greetin' mysel when I saw his face than drawin'
awa frae 'im.
"But he wouldna come in. 'Rest,' he said, like ane speakin' to 'imsel,
'na, there's nae mair rest for me.' I didna weel ken what mair to say
to 'im, for he aye stood on, an' I wasna even sure 'at he saw me. He
raised his heid when he heard me tellin' the bairn no to tear my
"'Dinna set yer heart ower muckle on that bairn,' he cried oot, sharp
like. 'I was aince like her, an' I used to hing aboot my mother, too,
in that very roady. Ay, I thocht I was fond o' her, an' she thocht it
too. Tak' a care, wuman, 'at that bairn doesna grow up to murder ye.'
"He gae a lauch when he saw me tak haud o' the bairn, an' syne a' at
aince he gaed awa quick. But he wasna far doon the brae when he turned
an' came back.
"'Ye'll, mebbe, tell me," he said, richt low, 'if ye hae the furniture
'at used to be my mother's?'
"'Na,' I said, 'it was roupit, an' I kenna whaur the things gaed, for
me an' my man comes frae Tilliedrum.'
"'Ye wouldna hae heard,' he said, 'wha got the muckle airm-chair 'at
used to sit i' the kitchen i' the window 'at looks ower the brae?'
"'I couldna be sure,' I said, 'but there was an airm-chair at gaed to
Tibbie Birse. If it was the ane ye mean, it a' gaed to bits, an' I
think they burned it. It was gey dune.'
"'Ay,' he said, 'it was gey dune.'
"'There was the chairs ben i' the room,' he said, after a while.
"I said I thocht Sanders Elshioner had got them at a bargain because
twa o' them was mended wi' glue, an' gey silly.
"'Ay, that's them,' he said, 'they were richt neat mended. It was my
mother 'at glued them. I mind o' her makkin' the glue, an' warnin' me
an' my father no to sit on them. There was the clock too, an' the
stool 'at my mother got oot an' into her bed wi', an' the basket 'at
Leeby carried when she gaed the errands. The straw was aff the handle,
an' my father mended it wi' strings.'
"'I dinna ken,' I said, 'whaur nane o' thae gaed; but did yer mother
hae a staff?'
"'A little staff,' he said; 'it was near black wi' age. She couldna
gang frae the bed to her chair withoot it. It was broadened oot at the
foot wi' her leanin' on't sae muckle.'
"'I've heard tell,' I said, ''at the dominie up i' Glen Quharity took
awa the staff.'
"He didna speir for nae other thing. He had the gate in his hand, but
I dinna think he kent 'at he was swingin't back an' forrit. At last he
let it go.
"'That's a',' he said, 'I maun awa. Good-nicht, an' thank ye kindly.'
"I watched 'im till he gaed oot o' sicht. He gaed doon the brae."
We learnt afterwards from the gravedigger that some one spent great
part of that night in the graveyard, and we believe it to have been
Jamie. He walked up the glen to the school-house next forenoon, and I
went out to meet him when I saw him coming down the path.
"Ay," he said, "it's me come back."
I wanted to take him into the house and speak with him of his mother,
but he would not cross the threshold.
"I came oot," he said, "to see if ye would gie me her staff--no 'at I
I brought out the staff and handed it to him, thinking that he and I
would soon meet again. As he took it I saw that his eyes were sunk
back into his head. Two great tears hung on his eyelids, and his mouth
closed in agony. He stared at me till the tears fell upon his cheeks,
and then he went away.
That evening he was seen by many persons crossing the square. He went
up the brae to his old home, and asked leave to go through the house
for the last time. First he climbed up into the attic, and stood
looking in, his feet still on the stair. Then he came down and stood
at the door of the room, but he went into the kitchen.
"I'll ask one last favour o' ye," he said to the woman: "I would like
ye to leave me here alane for juist a little while."
"I gaed oot," the woman said, "meanin' to leave 'im to 'imsel', but my
bairn wouldna come, an' he said, 'Never mind her,' so I left her wi'
'im, an' closed the door. He was in a lang time, but I never kent what
he did, for the bairn juist aye greets when I speir at her.
"I watched 'im frae the corner window gang doon the brae till he came
to the corner. I thocht he turned round there an' stood lookin' at the
hoose. He would see me better than I saw him for my lamp was i' the
window, whaur I've heard tell his mother keepit her cruizey. When my
man came in I speired at 'im if he'd seen onybody standin' at the
corner o' the brae, an' he said he thocht he'd seen somebody wi' a
little staff in his hand. Davit gaed doon to see if he was aye there
after supper-time, but he was gone."
Jamie was never again seen in Thrums.