P Hay Hunter
A MEETIN O SESSION
THIS wis on the Wednesday, an aa the rest o the week I gaed aboot in a kind o unsettled condeetian, no bein at ease in my ain mind. Ilka nicht, whan I cam hame frae my wark, I expeckit to finnd that Jess haed got wird o the opera doun by; but by guid luck naebody lat on to her, an, as I needna say, I wis carefu to keep wide o the subjeck mysel.
O coorse there wis nae truith in what An'ra Wabster said, that I wisna maister in my ain hoose. I kent better, an sae did the wife. It haedna been aa hinny an jo wi us; we haed haed oor bits o cast-oots, whiles, like ither folk. But aa oor mairit days, we haed ne'er haed what ye micht caa a saerious difference: no that aither o the twa o us haed the upper-haun o the tither, or socht it, but that we ettled to pou thegither like ony sensible, weel-matched pair. In the maiter o keepin the hoose, an layin oot the siller, an aa the like o that, Jess haed her ain wey; she teuk chairge o the bawbees, an I never thocht o interferin. But as for things ootside, sic as the politics, she left me to gang my ain gait. She micht pit in her wird whiles, bein unco free wi her tongue; but as for layin daun the law to me, it wis the last thing she wad ha dreamt o; she haed ower muckle sense no to ken that thae things maun be left to men bodies, an the weemen hae nae business to mell wi them. It wisna till this weary question o the kirk cam up that there haed been ony trouble atween us; in fack it wis the first time I haed ever seen her show ony interest in what the papers caa "topics aa the day."
On the Sunday mornin we gaed doun to the kirk thegither, as we aye did. As suin as the minister gied oot his text, I kent fine what wis comin. It wis frae ane o the wee prophets, an unco kittle to fin'. I ken the wey the beuks rin, no to say perfeck, but middlin weel; an as faur yont as Daniel, I coont it what ye micht caa solid grund. But tak me aff Daniel, an set me amang thae wee prophets, an it's mair or less a maiter o chance wi me whether I land at the bit or no. Onyway the text wis ane ye werena likely to forget, aince ye haed heard it; it wis: Wull a man rob God? Ye can juidge frae the text what the sermon wis aboot: it wis a nailer, an nae mistak. He warmed us up that day, an himsel into the bargain. He gart the weemen greet an the men grue; an I saw puir Dave Daagleish, that wis sittin in the pew afore me, shiverin an shakin like a man wi the trem'lin aixies. To tell ye the truith, I no wanted muckle mair o't mysel, an I wisna sorry whan he shut the Beuk, gied oot the psalm, an sat doun.
There wis to be a meetin o session that day--I no mind what aboot: naethin o muckle consequence--an efter the kirk skailled, I gaed awa roon' to the session-hoose, an the wife set aff hame, leavin me to come efter her. As suin as I got into the session-hoose, I saw there wis somethin brewin. The minister sheuk hauns wi me, an said hoo are ye, but kind o stiff, I thocht; no in his uisual free wey. An Archie Howden sheuk hauns wi me; but as for Durie o Boghaa an Liddell o Wedderlairs, they ne'er lat on they saw me. The twa o them keepit their hauns ahint their backs, an stuid crackin thegither, an wadna let their een rest on me, nae mair nor if I haedna been there.
Weel, the minister constituted the meetin, but afore he coud get ony further, Liddell brak in--ye coud see he wis in a Hielant passion, crinchin his teeth an mutterin to himsel--an, "Moderawtor," says he, "afore we proceed to business, I wad like to ask ye by what richt dis that man"--pintin at me--"by what richt dis that man sit here?"
I think I see the minister's face yet, as he leukit first at Liddell, an syne at me. His broo got black, an his lips blae; but he sat as steedy as a rock, an his vice sheuk nane. "I caa ye to order, Maister Liddell," he says; "that man sits here bi the same richt as you or me. Let us gae on wi oor business."
Efter this, as ye mey weel believe, there wisna muckle attention gien to the business, an the minister didna keep us lang. At the kirk yett he left us staunin, an gaed awa ower to the manse; an nae suiner wis his back tae us, nor Liddell turned an yokit on me like a teeger. He wis an auld man, weel on in his seeventies; a muckle buirdly chiel he haed been in his day, sax feet twa in his stockin soles, an they say he coud lift a tip an fling it ower his shouther; but noo he wis aa faan in an cruppen thegither: juist a ruckle o banes. It wis kind o grewsome to see an auld, grey-heidit man loss aa comman' o himsel an cairy on like a body dementit--shakin like ane wi the palsy, an his runkled skin pouin aa weys, an his een lowin like gleids. I needna come ower what he said, but he abuized me up hill an doun dale, an the names he caad me were mair fit for a cattle-close nor a kirk-yaird. He haed a muckle crummie-staff in his haun, an at ae time I thocht he wis gaun to strike me wi't, he wis in sic a blin' fury. I made ready to jink him, for I coudna ha strucken him back: no to speak o the scawndal o't, the man wis auld eneuch to be my faither.
Durie gruppit him by the airm, an did his best to päcify him. "Come awa, Wedderlairs," he said; "ye hae gien him eneuch; leave the man alane."
"No," says he, "I haena gien him eneuch; it's a lounderin wi my staff I wad ha gien him, gin I haed been a score o years younger, an we haedna been whaur we are! That's the man that caas himsel an elder o the kirk, an stauns up amang her enemies, an leads the howl to ding her doun! That's ane o yer Leeberal Churchmen--the mawks that the Kirk haes bred in her belly, an her no deid! An he haes the face to come here, an tak his sate in the session, rubbin shouthers wi honest men--feegh! The vera sicht o him scunners me!"
"Houts, Maister Liddell," says Archie, "ye're ower hard on Jims aathegither. I grant ye he's made a mistak, but ye needna caa him waur nor he is. It's no ower late for him to tak back his arles to the tither side. He'll come aa richt yet, if ye let him a-be; but it's no the wey to grup a bird to fling yer bannet at it!"
"I wonder to hear ye, Howden," says he; "wad ye hae the man sell his pairty, efter sellin his kirk? Na, na, let him kythe in his ain colours, that folk mey ken him. Little as I think o him noo, I wad think even less o him than--the dooble-dyed traitor!"
"Come awa, Wedderlairs," says Durie; "for ony sake, come awa. Ye hae said eneuch. Nae need to jaw watter on a drouned moose."
"A' richt, Durie," says he, "I'm comin. But if the man taks my coonsel, he'll keep oot o my sicht. If he bides in the session, I leave it. But he mey ha some shame left aboot him somewhaur, an if he haes, he'll no thrust himsel amang us here ony main. We want nae scabbit sheep in oor hirsel!"--An wi that the twa o them gaed awa thegither, doun to the inn stables, an left us staunin.
My braith wis fair taen awa wi the wey he haed opened oot upon me, an I gaed doun the street alang wi Archie Howden, no able yet to tak it aa in.
"Weel, Jims," says Archie efter a bit, "ye've got yer fairin the day, an I maun say I think ye're cheap o't."
"What div ye mean?" says I, "d'ye think I fash my heid for what an auld doitit earle like yon says? A'body kens Liddell o Wedderlairs an naebody heeds him. He's juist ane o the bitterest Tories that's gaun."
"Na, na," says he, "that'lI no dae. Ye'll no get leave to ride aff on that horse, Jims. I dinna approve o aa he said, but ye ken fine he wisna thinkin o the politics--he wis thinkin o the kirk, an naethin else. An there's plenty mair o us feel every bit as keen aboot it as auld Wedderlairs, tho we dinna uise the same kind o language. My wird, yon wis a proper dressin he gied ye!--an, as I said afore, I canna but think it served ye richt."
"Ye mey think what ye like for me, Archie," says I, "but ye'll no see me at ony mair o yer session meetins. Liddell needna be feared. I'm no gaun back yonder to get naethin but ill tongue."
"Weel," says he, "efter what ye've duin, an if ye mean to cairy on as ye've begun, I think ye micht mebbe be better to bide awa. Ye micht finnd yersel kind o oot o place on the session. I hae heard a souch aboot yer trokins wi Pringle, Jims."
"Ay?" says I; "an whae micht ye ha heard that frae?"
"Oh, it's nae secret," says he; "Wullie Herkis an Dave Daagleish watched ye gang into his office, an a body disna need to be a spaeman to pit twa an twa thegither. Weel, for a man that prides himsel on haein mair wit nor ither folk, ye walkit into the trap unco simple, I maun say."
"What div ye mean?" says I; "what's that ye're sayin aboot a trap, I wad like to ken?"
"Weel, Jims," says he, "I'll tell ye, an mind, I'm speakin to ye as a freend. They wanted yer vote, nae dout; but ae vote wadna ha been eneuch to sate Tod-Lowrie in the saidle. An that wis what wey they got a haud o ye to propose the vote at the meetin--no because ye are Jims Inwick, pleuchman, but because ye are Jims Inwick, elder o the kirk. An noo it 's bein tootit ower aa the coonty that Tod-Lowrie haes the office-bearers o the kirk far him, an that the kirk folk themsels hae nae objection to his Bill; an yer motion wull turn mebbe saxty or a hunder votes--no because ye are onybody worth speakin o yersel, but because ye are what the kirk haes made ye. Ye 've been a rare decoy-deuk to them, Jims, an that's the truith!"
"Naethin o the kind!" says I; "I dinna believe a single wird o what ye 're sayin!"--But aa the same I haed my douts; there wis nae denyin that the wey he pat it wis gey like the thing, an it gart me feel middlin queer.
"Believe it or no, it 's as I say," says he; "man, they hae taen the measure o yer fit brawly! Hoo is't ye canna see it for yersel? Ye 've been in the gled's claws, an they hae pluckit ye clean! Ye 've been made gemme o by that tricky body Pringle--the laayer haes been ane ower mony for ye, Jims, clever as ye think yersel. Ye 've been in his hauns like a bairn's Souple Tam--he haes pou'd the strings, an gart ye jump ony gait he wanted. An as for this Bill that ye're aa sae built up aboot--"
"Noo, Archie," says I, "let the Bill alane. I ken mair aboot it nor you, for I hae heard Tod-Lowrie explain it. The Bill's a guid Bill, an if the kirk disna tak it an mak the best o't, she'll get waur terms at the hinner end. Sae aabody says that kens onything aboot it."
"Sae that's what they 're sayin, is't?" says he; "weel, let waur come upon ill's back, if sae it maun be. But I'll tell ye what Tod-Lowrie's daein wi this Bill o his--he's juist creishin yer luif, naither less nor mair. Hech me, but we live in queer times an under droll laws! They hae legislated plenty aboot what they caa corrup' practices; an if a man stauns ye a nip, or sends ye his phottygraph, or gies ye a hurl in a hired machine, he losses his sate. But as lang as ye bribe wi ither folk's siller, an no yer ain, ye're aa richt, an the law canna touch ye. That 's aboot what it comes til, as I leuk at it."
"Ye hae nae richt to say that," says I; "Tod-Lowrie's as honest a man as ony o yer Tories, that wull dae naethin for the workin folk or aince they are driven til't at the pint o the graip, an syne tak it doun like soor dook, an mak believe to like it."
"I 'm no gaun to quarrel wi ye, Jims," says he, "an I'm no wantin to argy aboot politics the day. I can see fine hoo it is. Ye're aa efter this Bill o Tod-Lowrie's, like flees to the hinny-pig--I wush ye mey ever get a lick aat! An as for yer ain conduck, tak this frae a man that 's aulder than yersel: ye canna sair twa maisters. Ye canna ettle to sit on twa stules, withoot landin on the fluir atween them. Ye've been tryin it on, Jims, an a sair tummle it haes cost ye! Mind, I'm sayin this to ye oot o kindness."
"I think mair o yer kindness nor it's aa worth," says I.
"Ye needna tak it ill oot," says he; "faithfu, ye ken, are the woun's o a freend. This haes been a bad business for ye, Jims, my man. Ye'll rue it but aince, an that wull be aye!"
"I'll say guidbye wi ye the noo," says I; "it's time I wis awa hame."
"Ay," says he, "gang yer weys hame, Jims; ye coudna dae better. Ye'll get yer kail throu the reek the day, or I'm cheated."
"What div ye mean bi that?" says I.
"Ou, nae hairm," says he; "but I saw your wife gaun by the kirk yett wi some o the neebors, an I heard what they were sayin til her. They appeared to be tellin her aa aboot the grand speech ye made at Tod-Lowrie's meetin."