~CHAPTER I~ I DAURSAY there are very few fouk in Thornhill at the present time wha mind o' the auld laigh smiddy at the fit o' the toon. Man, I've guid reason to remember it, for I was born next door, and, as a wean and callant, played aboot its aye-open door and its toosie gable end. It's strange hoo queer ideas enter the heid o' a bairn, for, when my mither was tellin' me aboot the "ill bit," as she caa'd it, I juist thocht, within my ain mind, that it wad be like a thoosand smiddy fires, and that the bad man wad be like the smith, only bigger and mair bleezy-like, staunin', wi' a black sweatin' face, blaa'in' great big bellows like mad, and porkin' bad weans into the flamin' lowes, as he wad pork a horse shae, wi' his pinchers. And, when I grew up a bit, and got to ken the smith better, and what a big tender hert he had, I juist wished to guidness that Auld Nick wad be hauf like him, for if he was I wad gang to the "ill bit," willingly, kennin' I was to be in sic cheery, kindly keepin'. My faither, Robert Doo-I was caa'd efter him-was a tall, weel set-up man wi' a grey lum hat and a sleeved waistcoat. He keepit twae horses and rade the country for miles aroon', in the pig trade. In thae days, every wife in the village had a soo crae at the heid o' the gairden, and aye yin or twae pigs, as she had feedin' to keep them. Sanitary maitters were little thocht o' then, and, as every gairden heid in tne country had, like Thornhill, its soo crae, yin can quite understand that there was a big tred to be dune in this line. My faither was a forby man in mony weys. He keepet himsel' very much to himsel', and had few acquaintances ootside his business. He rarely lauched, except when he was his lane, wi' me, and at ither times he gaed aboot as if a' the cares o' the warld were on his ain shooders. He was a great reader, had books in every press and kist in the hoose, and never did I ken him tak' the road to the country wi' his cairt but he had a volume o' some kind in his pooch, to beguile the time as he rade alang. And what a man he was aboot dugs-no' wee yelpin' critters wi' lang hair and boowlie legs, but great big massive chiels wi' sleek, clean skins, strong buirdly frames, and big tender een. Mony a row I've heard between my mither and hiw aboot thae dugs, and often she used to say that she wad raither feed and keep six kye than three o' thae big hungry hingin' lugged deevils. But my faither heeded her little. When she wad be flytin' at her warst, makin' hair flee in a' airts, as it were, he wad gi'e a bit quate lauch-mair like a sigh-and daunner away oot, and doon the gairden to the stable wi' his haun's in his pooches, a queer far-away look in his big black een, and three or fower o' thae "hingin' lugged deevils" walkin' soberly and majestically at his heel. My mither, like my faither, was bigly made, but, unlike him, was inclined to stootishness. She was weel-faured beyond a doot, wi' a gaucie face, a clean rosy skin and a tremendous wealth o' bonnie glossy broon hair. She was awfu' prood o' her hair, and so weel she micht, for, when she was sittin' on an ordinary chair, brushin' it oot, I tell ye a fac' when I say that the ends o't were touchin' the stane flags o' the kitchen flaer. She was kindly inclined in a wey, but she hadna what yin wad caa' the drawin' hert o' my faither, and, when ocht gaed wrang wi' me, when my wee bairnie hert was sair aboot something, it was aye on the briest o' my faither's rough corduroy waistcoat I wanted to lay my heid, and richt I wasna till I faun' his lang thin fingers gaun through my broon curly hair. On lookin' back, I canna' juist mind o' ever seein' signs o' much affection between my faither and my mither, and, certain I am, that in mony weys their lines o' life ran in different directions, for, when the day's wark was ower and opportunities present then o' speakin' hert to hert as only man and wife can, my mither wad be away in some neibor's hoose caa'in' the crack, and my faither, shut up in his wee back room, wi' a book in his haun', and a broon curly held restin' again' his knee. Often I've faun' asleep there beside him, my wee airms roon' his leg, my nose snugglin' into the lirks o' his moleskins, and to this day, when I grup and smell a bit o' that hamely material, my mind gangs back to that wee back room, and I think I feel thae kindly taperin' fingers workin' their wey lovingly alang my croon. Strange it is that, couthie as we were-and this, in some wey, I have often regretted and deplored-my earliest recollections are no' o' my faither or ony of oor splores, for among the farest back things I mind o' was gaun wi' ocr next door neibor, the smith, to a roup in the Cuddy Lane. He, puir body, was an auld man at this time, and tho' he wasna' workin' he gaed aboot, frae Monday till Setterday, wi' his serk sleeves rolled up, and his thick leather apron on. I mind he wore clogs and that his breeks were a' brunt yella frae his shins to his knee, frae lang and near exposure to the fireside o' a nicht. Auld age hadna come to him its lane, for he was terribly bothered wi' a twitchin' o' his face and a shakiness o' his heid. The auctioneer was a stranger frae Dumfries, and he, no kennen ocht aboot the smith's infirmities, took him for a capital guid customer, and knocked ae thing efter anither doon to him till he began himsel' to jaloose there was something wrang. Odd man, there was a terrible squarin' up at the feenish. Oot o' sheer decency oor auld neibor took a kitchen dresser and a wag-at-the-waa' clock, but he drew the line at a cradle and a cork-framed picter o' the Pope, and they had to be selled ower again. Dauvid Hotson was the smith's name. In his young days he had been a shoer in the airmy. A graund haun' he was at his tred, and even when I mind o' him, and he wad be over seeventy then, there were few could clap a shae to a horse huif quicker or better than he could. Man, he was at Waterloo wi' the Greys, and nocht pleased my faither better than to get Dauvid in o' a forenicht and get him sterted on the stirrin' scenes he had gane through. Mony and mony a time has he keepit my faither sittin', breathless and spellbound, and sent me dirlin' wi' excitement to a bed on which I lay and dreamed the feck o' the nicht o' Proossians and Frenchies, and the kilties and bayonet chairges, and gun shot fusilades. Thornhill was aye a stoppin' place wi' the sodgers when they were mairchin' frae Maryhill barracks to the Sooth, and when we had a regiment billited in the toon Dauvid aye put on his medals, and gaed away up to the stables and gaed roon a' the horses. And when they were a' rawed up on the street o' a mornin' prepared again for the mairch, Dauvid was aye there, staunin' at attention and as strecht as his rheumatics wad alloo him, and when they rade away he was at the salute; and d'ye ken this, the very officers whan they passed him put up their haun' and gi'ed him the time o' day. Of coorse the sodgers didna often come oor wey, and it was mebbe juist as weel, for aye when the last o' them had disappeared roon the end o' the toon Dauvid wad hover aboot the Cross for a wee-no' apeakin' to onnybody, and lookin' what yin micht say kind o' orphan weys. He cam' up the street, prood like, wi' his heid in the air, but he gaed hame slowly, and lookin' at the grun', and tho' a bavin o' boys followed him, aye runnin' up in front o' him and lookin' roon' to get a guid sicht o' the medals, Dauvid peyed no attention. Then he wad sit doon on the auld cog at the gable end, and moralise, and tell ony yin that happened to be aboot that this world was for young fouk-young fouk wi' the bluid rinnin' warm within them, and their banes strecht and their muscles hard and supple-no' for auld dune bodies like him wi' gaspin' breaths, crased banes, and sluggish bluid. "Ay, ay, wae's me," he wad say, "I've seen the day when I could loup on a horse and cairry my heid and swagger aboot like thae strappin' chiels that hae juist left us. And it's no' sae lang syne that there sou'd be sic a change-not mair than fifty years-a lang time to look forrit to, but no' lang to look back on." Puir body, wi' his gaspin' breath and crased banes, he leeved to be eichty-three, and deed on the mornin' o' the 18th o' June, the anniversary o' the great fecht he was aye sae prood to say he had been in. Oor neibor abune, or on the sooth side o' us, was yin Nancy Grierson. Nancy was never mairrit, and keepit twa kye for a profit and a weeda sister, Mrs. Tamson, as a duty. Mrs. Tamson, efter her man's death, took it into her heid that she wasna weel. She gaed to her bed, and keepit it a' the time we neibored them, and even at this time o' day I can shut my een and see her sittin' up in the box-bed in the kitchen, wi' twae bousters at her back, dividin' her time between the prophecies of Isaiah and Harvey's Meditations among the Tombs. She juist wadna be weel, and was quite angry-weys and hurt in feelin's when onybody tell't her she was lookin' fine. Ae day my faither gaed in and speired hoo she was. "Oh, Maister Doo," said she, "I'm juist haudin' my ain, but I'm dootin' sair I'm on the brink o' Jordan." "Not at all," said my faither. "You're lookin' weel." "Ay, ay! tbat may be," said she, "but my complaint's a queer yin, for when I look best I'm warst." Nancy, as was to be expected, had little sympathy for her hypochondriac sister. On the ither haun', she had at times nae little illwill towards her, and often, oot o' pure deevilment, she wad refuse to gie her her meat in bed. "If you're hungry, kep' this; if you're no', let it gang bye," she wad sometimes say frae the table, and she wad shie a tattie or a shave o' breed, or ocht else solid she was eatin', into the bed, and in Mary Ann's direction. Dod, d'ye ken, Mrs. Tamson was the best kepper I ever kenned. Nocht gaed by her; so she maun aye hae been hungry. Nancy, as I've said, kept twae kye, and sometimes a cauf or a stirk. She never was dune workin' among them, and better fed and better keepit beas' werena to be seen on Thornhill Common. Never havin' been mairret, she had a great lot o' stored-up affection, which she lavished on her young beas'. Ae day my mither, frae the ither side o' the hedge, saw her kissin' her cauf. "Megstie me, Nancy," she cried, "was that you kissin' that cauf?" "It was, Mrs. Doo," said Nancy, drawin' the back of her haun' across her mooth, "and when you're as auld in the horn as I am, you'll find oot that ye maun juist kiss them that'll kiss you." I was a great favourite vi' Nancy, and was little away frae her gairden or byre. And often on a Sunday efternoon she wad come in, askin' the lend o' me, as she used to say, and tak' me a walk to Nithbank Cottages, where there leeved an auld freen o' hers yin Sara Watt-a gey auld body, bent nearly dooble wi' the rheumaticks, and terribly keen on the millennium. She had proved, frae Daniel's ten horned kingdoms, that the end o' the warld micht be expected ony meenite, and ae spring, when she was extra sure, she didna get her gairden delved. When ither fouk had routh o' kail and cabbage and tatties and she had nane, she was in nae wey put aboot, nor was her faith in Daniel shaken, for I mind, among the last times we veesited her, she tell'd Nancy she was gittin' short o' coal, and asked if she thocht it was worth while gettin' mair. Nancy was a practically-minded woman, and had nae brew o' Daniel and his ten horns. "Weel, Sara," says she, "if ye do get in coals, I wad advise you no' to get a ton; get a hunnerweicht, for if the end comes afore they're dune, what ye've left ower will be o' little use where you're gaun." Nancy was a hale, healthy woman, and seldom complained o' aches or pains, but ae day on gittin' some fodder for the kye frae the byre laft, she missed her fit on the ladder and fell to the grun', hurting hersel' aboot the back on the milkin' stule. She made licht o't at the time, but, faith, later she had to tak' to her bed, for she couldna walk but wi' great pain, and Doctor Mounsey tell't her she wad be a' richt in a day or twae if she wad only rest. So she lay up in the box-bed in the kitchen, next to Mary Ann. Faith, that was a great time for Mary Ann. She made the maist o' Nancy's illness-magnified it oot o' a' boonds, and wrocht hersel' into sic a state o' mind that she thocht Nancy was deein', and, what is mair, made Nancy think that too. My mither looket efter things at her odd times, and keepet the hoose gaun. I was aye wi' her, to do odd jobs and gang messages, and, I tell ye, a divertin' time it was. Ae day Nancy was lyin' moanin'-like, mair wi' inconvenience than pain, and said she: "Mrs. Doo, if I'm keepit lang lyin' here thae leeks 'll never be sheuched, an' what'll come o' my puir kye guidness only kens. Wae's me, it's an awfu' dispensation this." "Shame on ye, Nancy," cried Mary Ann frae the ither bed, "shame on ye, woman; it's time ye were thinkin' less o' leeks and mair o' salvation. You've been a careless, Godless woman, Nancy, an' your conscience tells ye what I say is true. Your byre has been your kirk, and your highest thochts and biggest concern hae been your kye." "Ay, ay, Mary Ann, you're richt," moaned poor Nancy, "but the Lord kens I canna attend to baith Him and you at the same time and dae justice to baith o' ye. You've keepit me frae grace, and a sair haundlin' you've been to me a' thae years." This was yin for Mary Ann which she didna expect, and which she didna like. She thocht for a wee, then says she, "But, Nancy, mebbe you've been entertainin' an angel unawares." "An angel! D'ye hear that, Mrs. Doo? An angel! My faith, a bonnie flee'r ye wad mak' noo, Mary Ann. There's deevelish little o' the angel aboot you noo, especially at denner time. Your decent man, Robert Tamson, that's deid and gane, often in my hearin' caa'd ye a deevil; and Robert wasna a man wha was gien to leein' 'twas he no'." "There ye go noo, rakin' up the deid," and Mary Ann thrust aside the curtain that divided the twae beds and keeket through, wi' fechtin' in her e'e. "Shame on ye, Nancy, shame on ye, and you on your last legs. Hoo can ye look forrit to a blessed state o' immortality wi' wicked thochts like thae in your heid? Fix your mind on things abune, and dinna forget the chillin' waters o' Jordan ye've to gang through. It's no' blame I'm heepin' on ye noo, Nancy; it's comfort I wad gie you. Listen to the words o' consolation that Mattha gies in the 23rd chapter at the 41st verse. 'Then shall he say unto them on the left baund'-are ye listenin,' Nancy? I said on the left haund; tak' tent like a lass. I'll repeat it. 'Then shall he say to them on the left haund, depart from Me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels,' and faurer on, Nancy-where is that passage noo?-it's juist beautifu'-dear me, where is it noo? It's no' far frae here, I ken, and it says something ahoot bein' cast into outer darkness, where there is weepin' and wailin' and gnashin' o' teeth. What think ye o' that noo, Nancy?" "Think o' that," and Nancy turned herself on to her ither side. "What think I o' that? I think there's deevelish little consolation and comfort there, if ye ask me. But I canna be bothered wi' ye, Mary Ann. I want to sleep." "Ay, ye want to sleep. and some day you'll sleep and no' waukin', and where will ye be - Mercy me, is that twal o'clock chappin? Mrs. Doo, if that stew's ready I'll tak' a spunefu'. Fling a taet saut and pepper into't, for I like it tastey; an' juist gie me a wee bit breed, for I'm sae hungry that I canna wait till the tatties are sypet," and Mary Ann flung the Bible to the fit o' the bed, and made a flat place aside her amang the blankets for her plate. Nancy winket at my mither and gied a wee bit lauch, and I was sent up to the grocer's to get a bawbee's worth o' pepper to mak' Mary Ann's stew tastey. Nancy and me were, as I've said, the best o' freens till a ploy o' mine fairly ousted me frae her favour. This, I may say, happened a while efter the time I've telt ye o'; but as I'm in haun's wi' Nancy I may as weel tell ye o't the noo. Ae mornin' my mither gaed away up to Enterkinfit to see her mither, that was, like, my Grannie. She got the chance o' a lift wi' Hairstanes, the grocer, and, efter giein' me my parritch, she sent me in next door to spend the time till she cam' back wi' Nancy and Mary Ann. Mary Ann, as usual, was in her bed, girnin' for her breakfast, and Nancy was boilin' some fish in a pot on the fire. In a wee she dished oot twae saut herrin', yin a decent size, and the ither no' much bigger than a claes-pin. The big yin she keepit to hersel', and the wee yin she put on a plate and gied to me to haun' in to Mary Ann. Mary Ann locked at hers, lyin' on the plate, and then she eyed the big yin Nancy was beginning to tackle. "Weel, Nancy," says she, "I caa' that the heicht o' bad breedin'." "What's wrang noo?" said Nancy, wi' a "hask," for a herrin' bane had tickled her thrapple. "What's wrang! Look at this; you've gien me the wee yin and keepit the big yin to yoursel'." "Weel, what aboot that?" queried Nancy. "What aboot it? Hm-If I had been servin' oot that fish noo, and had you been lyin' here, I Wad hae gien you the big yin and keepit the wee yin to masel'." "Weel, ye've got the wee yin, haven't ye? What are ye kraikin' aboot? I declare there's nae pleasin' some fouk," and Nancy poured oot, for hersel', a cup o' strong tea, with the air o' a martyr. Mary Ann didna view it in that licht, so I left them to fecht it oot, and gaed away doon to the byre, where I played aboot on the laft among the strae till I tired o' my ain company, and bein' hungry a wee, I daunnered back into the kitchen. "Eh, Robbie, my wee boy," said Nancy, "you're the very wee man I'm Iookin' for. Will ye tak' this potstick in your haun' and stir the broth till I gang doon and feed the soo? and I'll gie ye a peppermint drap when I come back. Keep stirrin' noo, like a man, and dinna let them scouder, and, Mary Ann," this to her sister in the bed, "keep your e'e on him, if ye can tak' it off Harvey, and see that he doesna mislippen them noo." Away she went wi' the soo's denner, and I keepet stir, stirrin', and watchin' the bits o' carrot and turnip and kail that cam' bubblin' up. Doon at the bottom o' the pot was something roon' and hard, which was aye, noo and again, comin' up against the potstick, and wi' a boy's curiosity, I jammed it against the side o' the pot and eased it up wi' the spurtle. Dod, it was a sheepheid, and there was the jawbane shinin' white, and the twae raws o' teeth girnin' in its mooth. I had juist got it balanced on the rim o' the pot to see doon the eenholes, when, lo and behold, doon it fell wi' a clash beside the tender, and away it rolled into the ashpit. Nancy's ash-hole was a deep yin and on the slope, so that the shunners wad gang slick doon and no' get scattered ower the hearth stane, and when I saw the sheep-heid gaun oot o' sicht, I tell ye, I got a glauf. I expected a gousterin' frae Mary Ann, but when I keeket roon' I saw she had faun asleep suddenly, as fat, idle fouk often do, so doon I got on my knees and got haud o' the tangs, but between the heat o' the fire and the deepness o' the ash-hole I couldna get near the dashed thing. Efter mony a try, I gied it up and yoket to my stirrin'. But there was nocht to come up again' the potstick noo, and the pot felt empty like, and, thinks I, Nancy will miss her heid whenever she tak's the stick in her haun'. Then a happy thocht struck me. An auld buit, wi' taekets in the sole o't, was lyin' aneath the table, so I got haud o't and drapt it into the pot. Gosh, ye wad never hae kenned the difference; it did fine; and when Nancy cam' in I was stirrin' for dear life and whusslin', as if the potstick had never been oot o' my haun'. "My word, Robbie," said she, "you're a fell boy. You're the best wee stirrer in the hale countryside. There's a peppermint drap, and come back in hauf-an-oor and get some graun' sheepheid broth." I never was so thankfu' to get oot o' ony hoose. I didna come back for the broth, and for twae oors I wunnered, lyin' hidden in the stable, hoo they were gettin' on wi' their denner. I found oot later. Efter a terrible skelpin' frae my mither, and when I was sittin' on the cauld stane flaer o' oor back kitchen coolin' my bit hurdles, I heard Nancy tellin' my mither that Mary Ann, efter the first spunefu', began to greet and to say she was pushioned. "Then," said Nancy, "I tasted them masel', and when I was wunnerin' what the queer taste could be, I felt the awfullest smell o' burnin' banes comin' oot o' the ashhole, and there, Mrs. Doo, as I tell't ye, was my guid sheepheid, and in the pot among my guid veegetables was that auld bauchled buit, that has been aboot the hoose since my brither Andra deid. The wee scoundrel that he is, he richly deserves a' ye gied him." Poor Nancy, she too has lang, lang gaen, but to her dyin' day she neither forgot nor forgi'ed me. Bein' an only wean, and brocht up in the company o' groun-ups, I got to be, what yin micht caa', auld for my years. No' bein' used among ither bairns, I missed the blessed joys o' joinin' in ploys wi' wee minds like my ain. I never chappit sand or made mudpies, or waded on wat days in the syver. Truth to tell, between my faither, and the three dugs and twae horses, Nancy and Mary Ann, and the kye, Smith Hotson and the big bellows and the bleezin' fire, I had ample to tak' up my wee mind, and, dod, man, on lookin' back I'm sure I was as happy as the day was lang.