P Hay Hunter

THESE DEGENERATE DAYS

IT wis weel on to the darkenin or I wan hame, for it wis a sair road up to Cauldshiel for laden't beas'; an whan I gaed into the stable, the first thing I saw wis Archie Howden's grey powny staunin in ane o the stalls. An whan I haed bedded an suppered my horse, an cam yont to the hoose, there I fand Archie himsel, sittin at the ingle-neuk haein a twa-handit crack wi the wife, that wis thrang bakin scones. Archie an Jess were aye awfu chief; she said he wis a raal wice body, wi an unco droll wey o expressin himsel; an it's my belief she thocht mair o his opeenion on some things nor she did o my ain. Ye ken what the weemen are: born Tories, ilka mither's dochter o them. If ever the weemen folk get the vote, I'm thinkin it wull be an ill browst for the Leeberal pairty.

"Weel, Archie," I says to him, "what's brocht ye here the nicht, no but what ye're walcome?"

"I cam up aboot bushin a pair o wheels for Britherston," says he, "an I thocht I wad gie ye a caa; an the mistress here wad hae me bide or ye cam hame."

"An she did vera richt," says I; "an noo ye maun sit doun an tak a bite wi us, gin ye'll mak the best o what's gaun."

"I'm no feared to tak pat-luck in yer wife's hoose, Jims," says he; "an hunger's guid kitchen: I haena brak breid sin denner-time."

"WeeI," says I, "I'll awa but, an gie mysel a clean up, an be wi ye in a meenit."

A' the time I wis saipin mysel, I heard the twasome crackin thegither; their tongues never lay; an it wis aa aboot the ill days we were leevin in, an aathing bein chainged for the waur, an the hale kintra gaun to the bad place. "Gae!" thinks I to mysel, "gin Pringle heard ye, he wadna ken he wis in a Leeberal hoose!"

"There's nae respeck in the preesent generation," says Archie, "naither for the laird, nor the minister, nor the dominie. In oor young days, Mistress Inwick, we were feared for the minister--ye mind hoo he uised to gae roon' catecheezin us?--but noo, the lads an lasses dae juist what they like; their ain faithers an mithers hae nae control ower them, an as for what the minister mey say, they dinna care a bodle!"

"Ay, that's true," says Jess, in the middle o settin the table; "an what's mair, they hae nae respeck for theirsels. I hae seen the day whan a body wad ha dee'd o hunger an cauld, suiner nor crave a bawbee frae the Buird; but noo they think nae shame o't ava--ye'll see them waste their siller on drink or dress, an syne thig aa they can get aff the pairish, as if it wis nae business o theirs to hae onything laid by for their auld days."

"That's the ill lesson oor lawmakers hae lairnt them, Mistress Inwick," says Archie; "they hae lairnt the cat the wey to the kirn. Wi their free this, an free that, they hae taen awa the auld independent speerit, an gart the folk think they hae nae mair a-dae nor souk an wag their tails."

"Deed, that's raal true," says Jess.

"An what's mair," says he, "the breed's faain aff. The men haena the same stuff in them noo-a-days. There wis nane o that influenza whan I wis a laddie."

"I daursay no," says she; "I no mind o my mither ever keepin drugs in the hoose, unless it micht be castor ile an camovine; but noo, they hae as mony complents as there's pairts o the body, an they're aye dosin theirsels: ye canna gae intil a hind's hoose withoot seem a raw o medicine bottles an pawtent drugs staunin on the chimley-piece."

"It's thae foreign yirbs that's spilin folk's stamacks," says he. "Whan I wis a callant, I ne'er saw flour breid in my faither's hoose. My mither wis gey frail, an she got tea, whiles; but unco wake she made it--folk wadna drink the like o't noo: they wad say it wis the syndins o the maskin-pat. There wis nae jeely pieces an fried meat, an nae tea on the Sunday efternuins than. We got oor parritch in the mornin, an a drink o milk an a daud o bannock if we likit, afore we gaed awa to the kirk; an whan we cam hame we haed oor denner--kail, an the flesh that wis biled in't, an pitaties. Syne we haed the kail het up again to oor supper, afore we gaed to oor beds; an if we didna like to tak it, we juist got leave to hunger. That wis the wey my faither an mither brocht up eleeven o us to be men an weemen; an for mysel, tho I hae haed my bits o towts whiles, I've ne'er taen to my bed excep' to sleep, an ne'er peyed awa saxpence to a doctor, aa the days I've seen."

"An I can say the same o mysel, Maister Howden," says Jess; "whan I wis a lassock, we got oor parritch fourteen times in the week; but noo the bairns winna leuk at them, they're that denty, set them up! As for the lasses, what they're comin to, I dinna ken. They read faur ower mony o thae novels, an get their silly heids turned wi aa kind o nonsense. Maist o their wages gangs on their backs, an it's eneuch to scunner a body to see the wey they cairy on--rakin the roads, wi their hair pou'd doun ower their een, an their sleeves hotched up ower their shouthers, plaistered aa ower wi cheap lace an ribbons, an their coats trauchlin in the glaur ahint them. What their mithers are thinkin aboot, I canna tell, but it's no the wey we were brocht up: we werna spil't an dawtit that gait. An what the senseless hizzies are to dae whan they come to hae a hoose an bairns o their ain, guid kens! I'm shuir I peety ony man that gets ane o the thowless, haunless tawpies!"

"An weel ye mey, Mistress Inwick," says Archie; "ye mind the auld by-wird--he haes faut o a wife that mairries mam's pet. But it's the wey wi them aa noo-a-days. There's nae contentment wi things as they are. A'body maun rax abuin his station, an copy his betters. An they're that keen o a chainge, they canna bide lang in ae place; they maun be aye on the move frae toun to toun, mair like tinklers nor dacent workin folk. Weel, they say chainges are lichtsome, but they're no aye for the better, I'm thinkin."

"Deed they are no," says she; "mony's the time I hae said it to Jims, Better rue sittin nor rue flittin."

"An ye see boo mony o the young lads get tired o drivin horse," says he, "an maun awa to the toun, whaur they see mair, nae dout, but aiblins dinna fare sae weel."

"Deed no," says Jess; "I wis ne'er in the toun but aince--ae Hansel Monday I gaed in wi Jims, to veesit a cuisin o his an see the shop windaes. Hech, sirs, but I wis gled whan it cam roon' to train time! What wi trailin ower thae weary stane streets, atween thae muckle raws o hooses, an the racket, an the pushin an drivin, an the jundies ye got frae the folk gin ye stoppit for a meenit to see aboot ye, I wis fair forjeskit. I haed my fill o the toun that day, an I've ne'er socht back again, as Jims can tell ye. He coft me a bonny hizzy to mind me o the day, but I no needed onything to mind me o't. Na, na; let me bide amang kent faces, an breathe caller air!"

"Ay, but that's juist what folk want noo, racket an steer," says he; "you an me's ahint the times, Mistress Inwick. I can see't fine in my ain line o business. Lang syne, whan there wis a daith, the freends uised to pou doun the blinnds an sit still in the hoose; they wadna cross the door-stap or aince the funeral wis by. But noo, the wey they cairy on, gallivantin aboot, an fleein here an fleein there--dod, ye wad think that naebody bides at hame noo but the corp."

"Houts, Archie," says I, comin ben the hoose at this pint, "ye're gaun ower faur aathegither. Man, hae ye nae belief in progress? Can ye no see ony guid in the spreid o knowledge an yeddication? Ye shuirly dinna think the folk o this kintra are aa rinnin doun a steep place intil the sea, like the herd o swine we're telt aboot in the Bible?"

"That's juist exackly what I think," says he.

"Ye wadna think it," says I, "gin it chanced that a Tory Government wan in."

"Gin a Tory Government wan in," says he, "they wadna disestaiblish oor kirk."

"Than I'm shuir I hope they'll win in," says Jess, "an no be lang aboot it; an aince they are in, I hope they'll bide."--I no made ony remark on this; for I ken better nor speak aboot the politics to a wumman, mair especially whan ye're mairit on her. Sae aa I said wis, "C'wa, guidwife, an get us oor supper."

"Aboot thae disestaiblishers," says Archie, efter we haed lichted oor pipes, an Jess haed taped us oot oor allooance--"did ye ever, in aa yer life, ken sic dirty wark duin in sic a dirty wey? There they are, gaun up an doun the face o the yirth, like the enemy o aa mankind, stappin the lugs o the folk wi lees, an threepin that disestaiblishment wull dae the kirk nae hairm: an aa the time, no a wird o what they mean to dae; naethin that ye can tak a haud o, an say whether it's guid or ill."

"What wad ye hae them dae?" says I.

"Bring in their Bill," says he: "come oot, an fecht us in the open. Deal wi us like statesmen, an no like thimble-riggers at a fair. If yer Leeberal Government means to tak the job on haun, what wey div they no say sae, an gie us a wheen parteec'lars? But deil a fear o them; they ken better; an ye'll ne'er get a glisk o their Bill or aince they hae gotten a grup o yer votes."

Eh, my man, thinks I to mysel, ye're aff yer eggs an on cauld chuckie-stanes noo! If ye kent what I ken, it wad gar ye chainge yer tune. I wis sair temptit to tell him aboot the Bill, but I minded what Pringle haed said--that what he haed telt me wis in strick confidence, as atween man an man, an I maun clap my thoum on't. Sae I no said onything, an juist let him bayer on.

"I'm hopin Tod-Lowrie winna get in," he says; "I ken twa-three o his auld supporters that's made up their minds to quit him, forby yersel, Jims."--Noo, I haedna made up my mind to quit Tod-Lowrie; in fack, I haedna made it up aither the tae wey or the tither. I wis waitin for rnair Iicht, as ony sensible man wad ha duin. If Archie an me haed been by oorsels, I wad ha telt him sae, an argied the maiter oot wi him; but Jess bein by, an hearin aa that wis said, what wis I to dae? I haed nae great goo o discussin public questions wi her at ony time, for the less the weemen folk tak to dae wi sic things the better, in my opeenion; an aboot this kirk business, mair especially, she wad herken to naither rhyme nor reason, an the vera mention o Tod-Lowrie's name wis eneuch to gar her fuff up like a ploy.

"Eh, the scoondrel!" says she; "it's mony a lang day sin I saw throu him, an ower an ower again hae I, said it to Jims, Hoo can ye finnd it in yer conscience to vote for a man like yon, that caresna wha be tirred gin he be theekit, an disna believe ae single wird o aa he says til ye?"--I no mind o ever hearin her say onything o the sort, afore this kirk question crappit up. But I didna think it warth while to correck her; it's aye best to let a wumman pit oot her barm in her ain wey.

"It's his speakin, Mistress Inwick," says Archie; "I hae heard him for mysel, an I no wonder that folk were taen in wi him. There's nae dout he haes the gift o phrasin; he wad wyle the laverocks oot o the lift, as ane micht say. He aye minded me o that verse in the Bible--'The wirds o his mooth were smoother than butter, but war wis in his hert; his wirds were safter than ile, yet were they drawn swerds. ' But he's drawn his swerd aince ower aften, I'm thinkin, whan he teuk on haun to stick the kirk. He'll finnd ye canna cowp a kirk juist as easy as ye cowp a cairt. An it's mebbe aa for the best, Mistress Inwick; wha kens? For gin he haedna shown his cloven cloots, Jims here micht ha gaen on believin in him an votin for him to the end o his days."

That wis the wey the twa o them cairied on, flingin the baa frae the tane to the tither; an me sittin by an hearin them, an no sayin ony mair nor I coud help. I wis naither sad nor sorry whan it chappit nine on the knock, an Archie got up an said he maun be gaun, or they wad be wonderin doun by what haed come ower him. I wis fine pleased to see his back turned, I can tell ye; no but what I likit his company, but I wis never shuir o what I micht be drawn into sayin; an I minded o what Pringle haed gart me promise, that I wadna pledge mysel or aince I haed seen the Bill.