WEEL, that's anither yin awa to his last lair ; big Rob McWhannel. An noo that I'm sittin at the fire wi my funeral buits aff, thank the Lord, an my dickie as weel, thank the Lord again, I hae the peace o mind an body to reflect - till Maggie comes in. Funerals aye gie me cause for reflection for it's my opeenion that folk dinna juist dee because their end haes come, but as a lesson to them still leivin', aither as a guid example to follow, or the opposite. Nae dout it's the wey o leukin at daith that haes made me the exceptional man I am.
Noo, when I kent Big Rob McWhannel first he was a fine handsome chap ; no juist as handsome as I was then but gey near it. He was workin' at the wids at Bargaly at that time, an a grand man wi the axe ; to watch him was a sheer joy, an he was sae much in love wi life thae days that the lauchter was never oot o his een, an the sang never awa frae his lips.
I used to envy him his happiness, for I haed gotten Maggie by that time, an haed lost a lot o my fantastic notions. But the thing I admired maist aboot him was his guid-heartedness. Man, he wad hae gien the very bite oot o his mooth to onybody that was doon in their luck-God rest his sowel!
Weel, there was a lass workin' at the wids wi him at that time, a Leezie Smeddum, frae the Ferry toon o Cree, a wee insignificant slip o a jaud wi a thin, sherp nose, an a mooth like the slot o a pirly-pig; an when she spak it was, for a' the warld, like the tootin' o a penny trumpet. An, bless my sowel, if Rob didna fa' in love wi her. She didna come up to his oxters, an he haed to leuk doon every time he wanted to see her. But she got him, somewey or anither she got him-as they a' get us. Eventually they were mairried an settled doon in a wee thatched hoose alang the Wigtown road.
It turned oot that she haed a terrible cravin' for money, oh, a real grab-a', an as Rab was dain' weel at the time she must hae been in her glory. An before they haed been mairried a year we began to notice that Rob wisna as generous as he used to be. Before he was mairried if he went into a public hoose an saw a wheen o the auld yins playin' dominoes he used to tell them to drink up, then he wad get their glesses replenished. But he changed his habits, an when he wanted a dram leuked for some place wham he could be himsel.
But the first I noticed o the big change in him was yin Setterday nicht when I was gaun up the street wi wee Maggie Morrison, an auntie o Rob's, wha was cairryin' an empty basket. Rob haed aye been very guid to the auld body, slippin' a ten shillin' note in her hand every Setterday nicht when she went to the toon, sae that she could fill her basket wi the necessities o life. She aye waited for him hauf-wey up the street. This nicht when 'we were walkin thigither I saw Rob comin doon, an I was juist aboot to say, 'Here he comes noo, Maggie,' when he turned smertly up a close.
Noo, he saw her, there was nae mistak aboot that. Sae Maggie stopped at her uisual place, an I juist went on, wondering. When I cam doon the street an 'oor later, the auld body was still waitin wi her empty basket, an Rob was on his wey hame. Magg'e dee'd no lang efter that, but Rob wisna at the funeral-he was ower busy makkin money.
He started takin contracts, became a bit o a bully, got every ounce o wark he could oot o his men, an prospered like the green bay tree an when Sam Shaw, wha haed the mill at that time, got into financial difficulties because a' his unnacoontable thirst. Rob haed eneuch money to buy the business. An efter that he never leuked back.
But he didna leave his wee thatched hoose, which was juist fa'in' doon aboot him, the rent was only hauf a croon a week, ye see, an that pleased them baith. Before his mairiage he was yin o the best dressed men in the toon, aye juist as if he'd cam oot o a ban-box, but as time went on ony auld claes was guid eneuch for him, an we never saw him wi a pair o breeks that didna hae twa big patches on the backside. He forgot hoo to lauch an hoo to sing, an his face teuk on a different shape a'thigither. An when he went to the bank wi his notes an his cheques he used to stand on the step before gaun in to leuk up the street, then doon the street, an across the street sae that everybody could see him-foolish man. He leived a' for himsel an lost a' his auld freen's, but he became richer an richer, an that was a' that maittered to him.
Yin day years efter he was mairried, my Maggie happened to be crossin' the Cree brig when a wumman stopped her an said, "Hullo Mrs Lowrie." Maggie leuked at the body but couldna mak oot where she haed seen her before, sae she haed to say, "I'm sorry, my wumman, but I dinna ken ye."
"I'm Mrs McWhannel," she said. "Leezie Smeddum, before I was mairried." Maggie couldna believe her een, for she was leukin at an auld wumman, dressed mair like a tinker than onything, her white face pinched, an nae mair than a rickle o banes.
"Guid sakes, lassie, what's come ower ye ?" said Maggie, "hae ye been badly?" "No, I'm a' richt, but. . ." the tears started to come into her een, an she gripped Maggie by the airm wi her wee thin hand. "It's my man," she said. Sae Maggie broucht her back to oor hoose, an made her a cup o tea, an as shuir as I'm sittin here, she was ravenously hungry. An, bit by bit, we got the story oot o her.
Rob was sae greedy that it was like drawin bluid oot o a stane to get a penny frae him to keep the hoose. A' the claes she haed were on her back, an the shuin on her feet were throu at the sole. Her hair was white, an she was fair up in the shouthers, an when she rowed up the sleeve o her auld blouse to let us see her airm, man, it was nae thicker than a spurtle. An mairried to yin o the richest men in the toon!
We were baith very sorry for her, but there was naething we could dae to help her, altho she used to come to see us noo an again to get a bite to eat. But every time she cam we saw that her condition was gettin' worse. Sae it was nae surprise to us to hear yin' mornin that she haed dee'd throu the nicht. But Rob even haggled ower the cost o her funeral.
We a' wondered what difference it wad mak to Rob, but we needna hae wondered, for when yinca greed gets into the banes there's nae hope. He kept makkin money, an stuffin' it in the bank, an kept bidin' in his hovel, leukin efter himsel, an grudgin' every bite that went into his mooth. An him that was sic a big, handsome young man, became a lang thin rake o a tattie-bogle that haed naither ony love for himsel or onybody else. In fact, mony a time he was cursed by his workers, for there wisna an ounce o juistice or compassion in him. By a strange irony he drappit doon deid on the steps o the bank when he was lettin' the toon hae anither leuk at him.
An noo I'm sittin here, hale an he'rty, wha haes never been in a bank, an I can still hear the soond o the muils clatterin on his coffin, an I'm sayin to mysel, "We should be gey carefu' when we tak a pairtner for life no to try an maister each ither an bend them to oor will, for it's very dangerous-for them baith. Jean Smeddum was the greedy yin, an big Rob haed to change his natur to get peace in life-there's nae dout aboot that. An never a blink o the warm sunshine was alloued to enter their herts."
Sae mibbie you'll see what I mean when I say that folk dinna juist dee because their end haes ccme, but to gie us a' something to think aboot.
When I tell Maggie that she tells me to stop bletherin for I ken naething aboot onything. But if some yin, some day, meets his doom because his wife forced him to wier ticht buits an a ticht dickie at a funeral...