P Hay Hunter

IN THE POLLIN BOOTH

THE election got aye the nearer. I'm no gaun to rehearse to ye aa I gaed throu thae weary weeks: I hae nae wush to caa it back to mind. Jess said nae mair on the subjeck, for she wisna ane o the canglin kind; aince she haed got her say oot, she wis duin wi't. But I coud see it wis maist aye in her thochts, an whiles I catched her takkin a bit greet to hersel, whan she no jalouzed I wis watchin her. An syne I got into an awfu rage at Pringle, an the ill trick he haed played me, for ye coud caa it naethin else.

I coudna gae back on what I haed duin withoot makkin a muckle fuil o mysel. Folk wad ha said that Jims Inwick wis a puir, feckless, harum-scarum cratur, wi nae mair stabeelity nor a weather-cock. That wis what Tam Arnott, an An'ra Wabster, an the rest o them were aye threepin to me; they said I wad loss aa credit wi the tae side, an no win ony wi the tither, if I didna ack up to what I haed said in public. An I minded that auld Liddell o Wedderlairs haed telt me the same thing.

There wis juist ae wey oot o the mess that I coud see, an that wis no to vote at aa. It gaed sair against the grain wi me to staun oot o the fecht, an no to hae my share in the work o governin the nation. But whan I saw the wife gaun throu the hoose leukin sae cuist doun an speeritless, it gart me seek aboot for what I coud dae to please her. I no said a wird to onybody, but as guid as made up my mind that whan the pollin day cam, I wad bide at hame.

Weel, the pollin day cam, an Britherston gied us leave to lowse twa hoors afore oor time, at fower o'clock. The chaps were aa in an unco hurry to get their horse sorted, an themsels cleaned up, an be aff doun by to vote an see the fun.

"Are ye no ready yet, Jim's?"--An'ra Wabster cries in to me, as he gaed by the door; "come on, man--ye'll miss the best o't if ye're no quick."

"No," says I, "I'm no ready yet, An'ra. Ye needna wait on me. I'm juist sittin doun to my tea."

I heard them aa gae aff thegither, crackin an lauchin, an in unco speerits, for an election disna come roon' that aften, an it's a rare ploy whan it comes. Syne, efter we haed haed oor tea, I gaed ootby, an teuk a bit turn roon' the mains. There wisna a body aboot the place, an no a soond but the horses stampin in the stable an the kye mooin in the byre. I felt kind o dowie an no like mysel. An whan I thocht o aa the steer an the on-gauns at Snawdon, an the chaps aa troopin in to vote, an the bills on the waas, an the croud at the toun cross, an the meetin in wi auld acquentance, an the daffin an cheerin--I wis sair temptit to tak a daunder doun, an hae a glisk o't. I said to mysel that I didna need to vote; I wad juist staun an leuk on. Sae I telt the wife I wadna be late o comin hame, , an aff I gaed.

Doun by, I met in wi a heap o chaps I wis acquent wi, frae the ferm touns roon' aboot. They were aa for Tod-Lowrie, an they said his voters were comin forrat fine. The Tories haed maist aa polled in the fore pairt o the day, an they haed been coonted; an wi Snawdon bein the pollin place for three pairishes, it wis possible to hae a notion o hoo the thing wad gang. There wis little dout that Tod-Lowrie wad win in.

The time I wis hearin their news, an crackin ower election prospecks wi them, my steps were aye takkin me in the direction o the public schuil, whaur the pollin wis gaun on. An the nearer I got to the place, the mair it teuk haud o me that I buid to gae in. I canna tell ye hoo it wis, but that wis the kind o feelin that cam ower me--that it wad be a bairnly-like thing, an a cooardly-like thing forby, no to gae in wi the lave, an record my vote aither on the tae side or the tither. Ye can respeck a man that taks the wrang side, sae lang as he believes it richt; but hoo can ye respeck a man that refuizes to tak ony side, aither because he haesna the spunk to staun forrat an say what he thinks, or because he haesna the sense to ken his ain mind? In aa the contests afore this ane, I haed duin my pairt an taen my share: an noo I wis like the war-horse that we're telt aboot in the Beuk o Job, that smells the battle afaur aff, an hears the shoutin an the horns blawin, an, pou as ye like, ye canna haud the beas' back--he maun be in to the thick o't!

Whan we got up to the schuil, the first I saw amang the croud at the door were the vera twa I wad raither no ha seen--Archie Howden, an Pringle the writer. They baith cam up an sheuk hauns wi me, an askit me hoo wis I, an hoo wis the wife. Syne Archie says to me,

"Ye're gaun in to vote, Jims, an I hope for yer ain sake, as weel as ithers', that ye'll be guidit richt. There haesna been sic anither day as this for auld Scotland, no in three hunder years. Ye're at the pairtin o the weys. Ye're like Balaam's cuddy--ye're in a narrow place, whaur there's nae turnin. Dinna let yersel be cheated wi a wheen wirds an names. It's no a question o Whig or Tory the day. It's a question o Kirk or nae Kirk, an the hale future o the folk o this kintra hings on the wey ye answer it--you, an the likes o ye."

"Maister Inwick haes aye been on the side o progress," says Pringle; "an noo that his pairty's on the eve o a glorious victory, that wull pit the croun to the wark o saxty years, an gie the labourin folk o this kintra aa they've been seekin for--it's no likely he'll turn tail at the eleeventh hoor, an gang an vote for ane o his naiteral enemies!"

"Progress!" says Archie; "ay, that's ane o yer rants. Naiteral enemies!--that's hoo ye saw ill-wull atween class an class o the community. Dinna let yersel be taen in wi ony sic puishionous nonsense, Jims. Think for yersel. There's twa kinds o progress in this warld, an ane o the twa wull bring ye unco low doun. Mind what ye heard frae the minister--'Wull a man rob God? '"

"Come, come, Maister Howden," says Pringle; "nae tamperin wi the voters! Nae intimidation!"

"Come, come, Maister Pringle," says Archie; "nae tamperin yersel!--nae treatin!"--an wi that Pringle sheered aff gey quick, as if he haedna gotten the best o't; an I gaed awa into the schuil.

Weel, I gied the man my name, an he gied me my paper, an syne I gaed awa into ane o the places they haed parteetioned aff for the folk votin. I canna tell ye hoo lang I stuid leukin at the paper, wi the stump o a leid pincil in my haun--in a dreidfu state o mind. There I saw the twa names afore me: the name o the man I haed aye voted for, that spak aa my thochts, an kent aa my wants--an the name o the man I caredna the wag o a sheep's tail for, the laird's son, whase interests were aa the direck opposite o my ain. First I pat the cross at Tod-Lowrie's name--in the air; an syne I heard the minister's vice cryin into my lug, "Wull a man rob God? Yer faithers gied the best bluid in their veins for the Kirk o Scotland, an wull ye no gie her yer votes?" Syne I pat the cross at the tither name--aye in the air; an I thocht I heard Tam Arnott sayin, "Hae nae mair a-dae wi Jims Inwick! He's a lost man. He's gaen an voted for a Tory!" Wi that I back again, an wis on the pint o markin the paper for Tod-Lowrie, whan I heard as if it wis Jess whisperin to me, "Eh, Jims, ye'll shuirly no vote for them that wad tak awa oor kirk frae us? An you an elder, an me sae prood o ye!" Lordsake, thinks I, this is no canny! There maun be gaists aboot!--an I wis gaun to pit the cross at the Tory chiel's name, whan aa at aince it cam to my mind what Pringle haed said--"He'll no turn tail at the eleeventh boor, an vote for his naiteral enemy!" That brocht me to a deid stop, an I wis at my wits' end what to dae. I no mind awnin to ye, I wis in a maist peetiable condeetion. I thocht my heid wad gae in twa, an the sweat brak on me; I canna think o't yet withoot a kind o groosin comin ower me.

Syne I heard the man that gies oot the papers--the pollin clerk, or whatever they caa him--speakin to Duncan Fraser the polissman, that wis inside the booth. "Officer," says he, "gang an see what that man's daein wi himsel ower there. He's been in that box the best pairt o ten meenutes, an there's folk waitin. Ask him if he's spil't his paper, or faan asleep, or what."

Wi that I heard Duncan's muckle feet comin trampin ower the fluir to whaur I wis staunin, an thinks I to mysel, "Doun wi yer cross, Jims. Ye canna staun switherin here aa nicht. Whatever ye dae, there'll be somebody to fin' faut wi ye an mak yer life a burden; dree oot the inch whan ye've tholed the span, an be duin wi't!" Sae juist as the polissman cam up to me, I scarted doun my cross whaur I haed aye been uised to pit it--against Tod-Lowrie's name; an faulded the paper, an teuk it ower to the clerk's table.

"Ye're shuirly new to the votinn," says he, as I drappit the paper in the box; "ye've taen an awfu time to mak yer cross, man!"

"No," says I, "I'm no juist aathegither new til't. But I'm no vera gleg at thae kind o jobs."

There maun ha been somethin queer aboot my leuks whan I cam oot--An'ra Wabster telt me efter that I haed aa the appearance o a chowed moose--for they aa seemed to mak shuir that I haedna voted the richt wey, as they coonted it.

"Sae ye've gaen an voted for the destroyer o yer kirk!" says Archie Howden, mair raised-like nor I haed ever seen him--"ye've bit the haun that haes fed ye, like an ill-condeetioned cur! Ye're nae mair a freend o mine's, Jims! I'll hae nae dealins wi a man that haes brocht disgrace upon the eldership, an betrayed the kirk o his faithers!"

"Sae ye've voted Tory!" says An'ra Wabster; "ye hae left yer auld billies--ye hae separated yersel frae yer ain flesh an bluid-to draw up wi the lairds an maisters! Weel, we're duin wi ye, Jims. We'll weesh oor hauns o ye. Keep ony kind o company ye like, but ye needna seek oors!"

"Gentlemen, gentlemen!" says Pringle; "respeck the secrecy o the ballot! Leave Maister Inwick alane. I hae nae dout he haes voted accordin to his conscience an his convictions, an nane o us haes ony business to question him."

But I saw fine I wis gaun to be in bad breid wi baith sides, if I didna let them ken what wey I haed voted. Sae I ups an says to them,

"I'm no ashamed o what I hae duin, an I'm no feared to tell ye whae I hae voted for, ballot or nae ballot. I hae voted for oor auld member, Maister Tod-Lowrie--a guid Leeberal, an a true freend o the workin folk!"

At this Archie Howden turned his back on me, an gaed awa withoot anither wird. But An'ra Wabster cried "H ooray!" an gruppit me bi the haun.

"Weel duin, Jims!" he says; "I aye said ye wad turn up heids, whan it cam to the bit! An noo ye maun awa wi me to Jenny's--the rest o the chaps is aa there bi this time, an they'll be blythe to see ye, an to hear that ye hae voted richt, efter aa! ... Ou, ye needna be in twa minds aboot comin"--I wis kind o hingin back, like, an him pouin me bi the airm--"ye're as guid as duin win' the session noo, an as for the wife, ye'll get a hearin frae her onyway. As weel be hanged for a sheep as a lamb!"

I thocht there wis some sense in what he said, an I felt the want o a dram gey bad; sae I no raised ony mair objections, but gaed awa wi him.