Rough Scan
IT was juist aboot this time, it my memory serves me richt, that the price o' young pigs was terribly low in the south, but staunin' high in Edinbro', accordin' to the cairriers wha gaed weekly to that faur away toon. My faither had bocht freely and weel, and had, off an' on, aboot three score to sell, so, anxious to mak' a guid market, but efter great deleeberation, he made up his mind to tak' his twae cairt loads to the toon he sae often spoke o' as "Auld Reekie."
Hoo it cam' aboot that he took me, I canna weel mind, but tak' me he did, and no' only me, but the three big dugs, Caesar, Wallace, and Nap. The three o' them were o' the same breed-mastiffs-the same colour, the same size, and, like the weel-trained, weel-behaved dugs that they were, they stravaiged little or nane, but took up their position ahin' the last cairt, guairdin' the let as it were, and walkin' sedately alang wi' their noses amaist touchin' the bottom o' the hin' door.
I had got a suit o' claes for the occasion, no' made-doons o' my faither's, but split new, and Willum Sherp, the tiler, wha had been hurriedly caa'd to the job, sat for a day and a hauf on the kitchen table ower the makin' o' them. Willum was a weel-informed man, o' cheery disposition, and the very best o' company. Bein' a whup-the-cat, his wark took him to lets o' hooses, and he was, therefore, weel up in a' the news o' the countryside. He was an awfu' man to snuff, and he must hae been lavish when he was feenishin' my jacket, for was sae much spilt Kendal Broon on the collar o't that when I put it on I sneezed till I thocht the brig o' my nose was broken. I had aye up till this time worn clogs, but my faither insisted on me getting' a pair o' new buits, and so between new claes, buits, a new bonnet, and the prospect o' gaun wi' my faither to Edinbro', I didna ken whether I was on my heid or my heels, and jampt aboot juist like a new fee'd herd.
My faither had on his lang grey hat, but, insteid o' his sleeved waistcoat and corduroys, he wore a lang dark blue brass-buttoned coat, wi' square-cut tails and a pair o' tichtish ridin' breeches. He cairret nae whup-oor horses, Darlin' and Jean, didna need yin-but he had a very nice switch-a terri'l nippy yin it was-mounted wi' gold, and when he put his feet apairt, shot oot the calves o' his lang thin legs, and cam' swush wi' that switch alang the sides o' his ticht ridin' breeks, I tell ye, I wad hae gien my new bonnet to be able to cut sic a figure. I mind o' lookin' at him as he cuist his e'e ower the horse graith afore we sterted, in the grey o' the early mornin', and I juist thocht to mysel', dod, if there's a brawer man in the big toon we're gaun to I wad like to see him.
There wasna a leevin' sowl aboot the fit o' the toon when we left the stable, not a lum reekin' or a door agee, and the "clampetty-clamp" o' the weel-shod feet o' Darlin' and Jean-soundin' looder and sherper than ever I had heard it-seemed to "yerk" and crack alang the quate, deserted street, till it echoed and re-echoed among the trees o' the Cundy Wud-heid.
The wee birds had juist opened their bit blinkin' een, and were a' wishin' each ither guid morn in' most heartily and maesically, and away ower the bonnie green hills o' Durisdeer there was a glow o' licht in the sky, which tell't to the world that the sun was on his upward wey aince mair. There was a smell o' dank dewy grass, o' fresh earth, and fragrant floo'ers, which, young as I was, affected me very queerly, and made me realise, mebbe for the first time, that the beautiful works o' Nature aroon' us are gifts o' God, which we can never prize or appreciate mair than they deserve.
I walked beside my faither till we were weel past Carronbrig. The Edinbro', or the Durisdeer road, as it is kenned by, skirts the ridge o' the wudds abune the village, sae near, indeed, and sae high that frae the King's highway yin can a'maist see doon the lums o' the hooses aneath. This I had seen for the first time, and I mind it struck me what fine fun the Carronbrig boys could hae, and what graun' pranks they could play, if they had the gumption and sufficient o' the deevil in them to try it.
When we got the length o' Holestane Brig I was beginnin' to drag a wee, so my faither lifted me into the foremaist cairt, amang some strae, in a corner he had partitioned off for me. I sat there, gantin' and sleepy, lookin' for glimpses o' the Carron burn away doon in the glen, wi' heavy, blinkin' een, juist like a hoolet lookin' oot a whun buss. When we reached the Enoch, I got a wee skeicher, for there my faither pointed oot to me the ruins o' the auld castle o' Enoch, and tell't me the story o' the cruel killin' o' the last o' its lairds. Efter that, hooever, doon by degrees gaed my wee heid, and between the smell o' the fresh pea strae and the warm breath o' the clean wee piggies, I sune fell soun' asleep.
Sorry I am that I didna see wi' my boyish een the early sunlicht on Punlan' and the Waal Path, and the quate, sleepy village o' Durisdeer, wi' its square kirk tower and its clean, whitewashed hooses, lyin' on the green hillside like a washin' oot to dry. Ay, and I missed Dalveen, wi' its martyrs' monument, and the Pass wi' its thin string o' a road runnin' alang the hillside; here level with the houwm, and there circlin' the croon o' a precipice, at the bottom o' which the burn looks like a winklin' threed and the shepherd's hoose like a wee toy oot o' a Noah's ark.
Weel, weel, as it was, I waukened oot o' a twae oors' sleep wi' my faither's big coat wrappet ower me, the twae cairts staunnin' opposite the tollbar o' Traloss, and in my nostrils a smell o' fried ham and eggs which fairly made my mooth water. Here we had oor breakfast o' porridge and milk, hame-cured ham, and nice fried eggs, and, never that I mind o', did these wholesome vittals taste sweeter. Here, too, were the horses watered and fed, and the dugs got a taste o' what was gaun, and efter a halt o' aboot an oor we were on the road again, wi' the toon o' Biggar in front o' us as oor hame for the nicht.
Throughoot that lang day I never wearied a meenite. Everything was new to me, everything appealed to me, frae the bizzin' o' the bummies among the bluebells to the lilt o' the lark in the blue sky abune, and I was sairly tempted at times, oot o' sheer joy and lichtness o' hert, to leeve the hard, dry road and rin among the bonnie grassy braes wi' the daft scamperin' wee bit lammies.
And what a fine companion my faither was, to be sure! He was never dune crackin' away and tellin' me stories, and when I was aince mair in my wee corner, and when he, tired wi' walkin', was sittin' on the front door o' the cairt wi' his feet on the shaft, his airm was roon' my waist, and, snugglin' into his side, in this wey we passed Elvanfoot, Crawford, and Abington, he beguilin' the time wi' accoonts o' the new railway and its wonderfu' horse o' ern, that ran alang the valley o' the Clyde as far as we could see, and me, wi' open een and open mooth eagerly drinkin' it a' in.
We arrived in Biggar when the sun was settin', and a most by-ordinar bonnie place I mind it looket, lyin' there at the fit o' the hills in the mellow sunset licht. We steyed that nicht in an inn, the name o' which I canna mind, but it stood on the left haun' side as ye gang into the toon, and no faur frae a wee bit brig, unnerneath which a burn ran wi' a tinklin' soun', sic I had often listened to at the tin-tan brig o' Cample. A bavin o' Biggar bairns gethered roon, and followed us up the street, I mind; dootless thinkin' that, wi' twae lang cairts and three great big dugs, we were the forerinners o' a circus.
As the horses had to be seen to-my faither aye looket to them himsel'-and as the nicht was faur on, he packet me off to my bed and tell't me to fa' asleep, and he wad come beside me when his wark was dune. A big sonsie-faced servant lass took me up the stair to my bedroom, and she speir't me if I was gaun to sleep my lane. "No," said I, "my faither's sleepin' wi' me." "A weel," said she, "ye'll be a' richt then, and ye'll be the better o' him wi' ye for this room is haunted." "What's that?" said I, as I took off my jacket. "Oh," says she, "there's speerits in it."
Dod, the lassie was richt. There were speerits in the room, particeelarly in the bed, but I had never before heard them caa'd by that name, nor did I ken that speerits were wee, an' black, an' jooky, and guid at a staunin' jump. I said my prayers and asked God to look efter my twae rabbits, for I had forgotten to tell my mither aboot them, and then I got into my bed, but I juist towned aboot, scartin' here and clawin' there, till, fairly tired cot, at last I fell asleep.
I wad hae been sleepin' for an oor, or mebbe twae, when I was waukened wi' my faither comin' in, an' he wasna alane, for there was a lang thin man wi' him, dressed in black, and very nicely spoken. I didna juist catch the drift o' his crack when he was comin' in, for I was kind o' doverin', and my faither, on comin' to my bed, "hushed" him, and he stoppet speakin'.
When they were sure that a' was quate they sat doon at the side o' the winda, and in a wee the stranger says, "Ay, Robin, you're right, this is a better place for a quiet chat. Well, well, old man, I can't get over the surprise of seeing you here. Fancy, meeting you after all these years."
I had never heard my faither caa'd "Robin" afore, and I wunnered what was comin' next, so I lay quate an' gleg-eared.
"Yes, Lorimer," says my faither, "I dare say you are surprised. Strange, man, when I cam' within sight o' Biggar, I remembered you had settled down to practise here, and, after weighing the matter in my own mind, I decided that if you didn't by accident meet me, I wouldn't put myself in the way o' meeting you."
My faither said this very earnestly, and I noticed at aince that his wey o' speakin' had changed.
"Why did you decide to do that?" asked the stranger my faither addressed as Lorimer.
"Ach, well, every why," replied my faither.
"Well, well, Robin, after four years' chumship at college, and after all-"
"Wheest!" says my faither, and I knew he was pointin' to the bed where I was lyin'.
"I thought the wee fellow was asleep," said the stranger.
My faither cam' ower to the bed and listened to my breathin' for a wee, but he evidently satisfied himsel' that I was ower, for he shortly resumed his seat.
"Seems to be sleeping soundly," he said, noddin' towards the bed.
"That's all right then," says the stranger.
"Imphm! Is it the case then, Robin, as you told me outside, that you're bound for Edinburgh? If it is, do you think you are wisely advised in taking such a step?"
"Well, Lorimer, it's a case of 'needs must when the devil drives.' Things, as you know, are not with me as once they were. I've the wee callant lying there to provide for-God bless his wee curly pow. I tell you honestly, Lorimer, till he came into my life I had no idea of the hold a bairn can take of the strings o' a father's heart. Man, he's the apple of my eye, and a wonderful compensation for all I've endured. Then, there's his mother in Thornhill, and her mother at Enterkin. Responsibilities, my boy, must not be evaded. Trade, too, in the swine pig line "-and here my faither gaed a wee bit lauch-" has not been good o' late; but things are looking up. If there's a chance of making a ten pound note in Auld Reekie, then to Auld Reekie I go. It's an auld saying, 'Them that will to Cupar maun to Cupar.'"
"Well, well, Robin, you know your own business best. From what you told me downstairs, I'm relieved to know that you are happy enough. All the same, when I reflect on your former life, you tax my credulity. To me an existence such as yours would be hell on earth. But then-well-imphm! By the way, Robin, tell me this. Of course I know all about the accident to the stage coach and your illness thereafter, and your being nursed at the old Woman's cottage. I heard all about that at the time. Was it the daughter who is now your wife who nursed you?"
"Yes, that is so."
"And you married her, not for love, Robin, for a man can only love once, neither was it to recompense her, for money could have done that. Then why, Robin, in God's name, why did you marry her?"
"Sense of honour, I suppose," said my faither, withoot a moment's reflection.
"Oh," said the Doctor, and he blew pipe reek slowly in a cloud in front o' him.
"Then, Robin, having married her, why did you not afterwards pick up the thread ends and go on as you began? Why did you remain in Thornhill and vegetate there?"
"Well, Lorimer," said my faither wearily, "I felt it easier to adapt myself to their circumstances than to raise them to mine. I felt mean and cowardly and had no heart to face the old life."
"Quite so, imphm, and does she - excuse the question, Robin-does she make you a good wife?"
"Yes, she is a good wife," replied my faither- and I loved him a' the mair, if that were possible, for sayin' that. "At first," he continued, "everything went against the grain, and was so totally different from what I had been used to. Then I expected too much at her hand, and-and-well, Doctor, we have all our limitations, so there you are."
There was silence for a meenite or twae, and baith puffed away at their pipes.
"Yes, yes, that is so, Robin, we've all got our limitations. By the way, I mustn't forget to tell you that Elsie's in town. What if you should meet her when you're there?"
My faither's breath cam' quick. "We'll meet- we'll meet, I dare say, as two well-bred people should meet," he jerked oot. "We're good friends. Besides, the past is dead, Lorimer, for both Elsie and me."
"Is it, Robin-is it, my old boy?" the Doctor asked, and he leaned forrit, puttin' his haun' lovingly, as yin micht say, on my faither's knee, and lookin' through the fast fadin' licht earnestly into his face. "Is the past dead for both of you?" he repeated.
"Ach! here now, Doctor, that's hardly a fair question," said my faither wi' a dry lauch. Then he raise up, drawin' his lang lithe frame to its full heicht, and put his haun' to his mooth, as if he was gantin'.
"Sit down, man, Robin, sit down for a minute. I want to talk to you, God knows I do. When did you see her-"
But my faither wadna listin ony langer. Walkin' ower to him, he put his haun' on his shooder and says he, "Doctor, this conversation must cease. I'm getting unnerved. I have put it all behind me, and kept it there so long that a resurrection of the old story is positively unmanning me. May I change the subject, Lorimer, old man, and inquire how you are and how the practice is doing?"
"Both getting along all right," and the Doctor struck a match and re-lit his pipe. "And, now that the subject has been changed, I would like to know how long you have had that cough, Robin?"
"Oh, it's nothing," said my faither lauchingly. "I got wet to the skin, away up Scaur Glen last October, and I was off my usual for a week or two, but not in bed, you know. But when you have mentioned it I may as well tell you that I've never been without that hacking cough since. No need to worry, is there?"
"I don't know about that, but now's the time for cheap advice," and in spite o' muckle protest on my faither's pairt, the Doctor got him stripped, and a caunnle was lichted. Man, I think I see yet his big, white, broad shooders, in that yellow gutterin' caunnle licht, and his thick-set neck and his finely shaped heid, ootlined against the winda blind. Efter what seemed to me a lang, lang time, they baith sat doon, and the Doctor spoke awfu' low, and my faither seemed to be kind o' quate and surprised like. Then, in a wee, the Doctor got up, and, efter tellin' my faither no' to tak' leeberties wi' himsel', he cam' across to my bed, but I had quately turned my face to the waa', and he, thinkin' I was sleepin', and dootless no' wantin' to disturb me, gaed oot o' the room, and doon the stair, followed by my faither.
When my faither cam' back he raxed ower the bed and made my pillow easy for my heid, sayin' to himsel' as he did sae, "The wee man, the wee sonnie, God bless him." Then he cam' to his bed and was sune soun' asleep. But for lang I lay waukin', turnin' ower in my mind a' I had heard. I couldna juist mak' much oot o' it at the time, but I minded it a', and the day cam' when I saw daylicht through it.
It was rainin' the next mornin' when we left Biggar, and I sat coorin' aneath my faither's big coat maist o' the wey up to Edinbro'. There were nae stories gaun that day. My faither, dootless, was thinkin' ower his crack o' the previous nicht wi' his freen the Doctor, for he walked alang his lane wi' his heid doon, and wi' ae haun' gruppin' the shaft o' the cairt on Darlin's near side. The rain quat, and the sun shone oot when we were leavin' the Pentlands behind us, and the nearer we got to where the toon lay the livelier-I should say, raither, the mair excited-my faither became. When we tappit a lang stey brae at a place I mind he caa'd Allermuir, he stoppit the horses to gain their breath an' he bade me come oot o' the cairt and helped me on to the tap o' a drystane dyke. "Look, Robert, my wee man," said he, "saw ye ever a sicht sae fair?"
What a surprise I got. I didna think we were sae near oor journey end, and, in wonder and a by-ordinar pleased feelin', I cast my een away doon in the hollow, and there, bleared and blurred through the haze and smoke, lay the famous toon I had heard sae much aboot.
For a while my faither stood quate, wl' his heid uncovered, drinkin' in wi' greedy een a' that lay stretched oot afore him, and then, puttin' oot his haun' to me, but withoot lookin' at me, he says, "Robert, when you're a man, and when I am moulderin' among the mools, you'll some day come back to this spot, and you'll remember it was here I first tell't ye that this here," pointin' toward the city, "was where I was born. Some day, when you're aulder and it I'm spared, I'll tell ye a lang queer story. Staunin' here on this, what is to me, sacred grun', I am sairly tempted to tell ye now, but no-no, no. Through it a', hooever, and in spite o' what onybody should say to the contrary, aye remember that your faither was an honourable man and a gentleman-a gentleman by nature as weel as by birth. You'll no' forget that I told ye this myself?"
He put his airm roon' me-I was sittin' on the dyke. my heid on a level with his, and he lookit into my face for a wee, and, says he, "Folks say that you're very like me, Robert, that you have my eyes, my nose, my ways, and my nature. God grant ye may be a better man, Robert. Kiss me, my wee man." I kissed him, and I was nearly greetin', but I hid my face in his neck, and he didna ken.
We were baith silent, and in a wee, and in a quate voice, my faither pointed oot the different places a' aroon' us. "There," said he, "is Arthur's Seat, lyin' like a lion guardin' the toon, there's the Firth o' Forth glimmerin' through the haze, and beyond is Fife and the Ochil Hills. To the right there is Blackford Hill, which later you'll read aboot in 'Marmion,' and there, away to the left, is Craiglockhart and Corstorphine. There's the Castle in the middle there perched on a rock, and past it to the right is the Calton. Morningside is doon there in the hollow, and when I was a wee boy I've bird-nested in every hole and corner o't. Ay, ay, it seems but yesterday, and how much has come and gane sin' then. But we maun be daunnerin', my boy. Gee-up, Darlin', lass, come on, Jean," and off we went again on our way, nor did we stop till we were at oor journey end and at the "Three Sheaves" Inn in the Grass-market.
Efter seein' to the horses and the pigs and arrangin' aboot a stance in a narra contracted place, caa'd Market Street, we cam' back to the inn, and efter a bit o' supper we gaed to oor beds. But sleep to baith o' us was dreich in comin', and between the strangeness o' the bed and the noise o' the traffic ootside, which, even at nicht, was something awfu', naether o' us steekit an e'e till weel on in the mornin'. Hooever, we did manage to get a bit glauff o' sleep, and got up again aboot six o'clock ready for the day's wark.
Weel, as it turned oot, my faither had dune wisely in bringin' his pigs to an Edinbro' market, for the three score averaged, I mind, 14s. 9d. He cleared the lot, binna yin, a wee scraggy hurkle-backit thing that had chummed up wi' "Wallace." It was the queerest thing ye ever saw. Wallace on his pairt was quite ta'en wi't-played wi't in fac' like a cat wi' a kitlin', and my faither was sae terribly diverted that he refused an offer o' seven and threppence for the wee sowl, and we brocht it hame again wi' us.
I wad fain hae seen the sichts o' the toon, for the heicht o' the booses and the length o' the streets and the cairt and cairrage traffic had fairly surprised me, but my faither, noo that his business was feenished, was anxious to be off, and as he had promised to bring me back sune and had bocht me a hummin' peerie and a plumper glessy bool, we sterted on oor hameward journey wi' richt guidwill.
We were amaist clear o' the toon and gaun doon a lang steep hill into Morningside when my faither noticed that Darlin's off hin' shae was a bit loose, so we had to stop at a smiddy at the Toll-bar to get it made siccar. The smith was an auldish man, wi' a waddle in his walk, and when he cam' oot and lookit at my faither he put his haun' to his broo, and said, "Sir," to him. My faither sat ootside on the cairt shaft till the job was feenished, and when he sent me in to pey't, I heard the smith tell ain o' his men that he had shod for that man's faither for five and fifty years. I mentioned it to my faither when I got oot, but he just said, "Ay, ay, is that so?"
When we were crossin' a brig ower what's caa'd the Braid Burn-a bonnie wimplin' stream it was, I mind-my faither, wha was walkin' by the front cairt wheel, had juist dune tellin' me aboot a thief wha had been publicly hanged near that spot, when, on lookin' up, we baith saw a great big mastiff comin' doon the brae in front o' us. I thocht it was "Wallace," and so did my faither, for we baith lookit roon' to where the dugs were, but the three o' them were there a' richt. Sae taen up were we wi' the appearance o' the big chap and its likeness to oor ain, that we took nae particeelar notice o' a lady comin' doon the brae ahint the dug, and she wad be nae mair than ten yairds frae us when we saw her suddenly stop and turn richt roon' aboot. She put her haun' oot to the parapet o' the brig as if to steady hersel', and when I looked frae her to my faither he was watchin' her, and his face was set and white, and there was a look in his e'e I never had seen before. He drew Darlin's rein wi' a sherp jerk and the cairts cam' to a sudden staun'still. Then, lookin' up at me wi' a wee bit smile on his white face and tuggin' the cravat at his throat, he walked up to the lady, and takin' off his lang grey hat he said, "Elsie."
And a face turned slowly towards him sic as I had never seen af ore, nor the like o' which I have never since syne. It was juist what I had pictured an angel to hae that I had read aboot in the Revelations, and I took off my wee bit bonnet, for I felt as if I was in the presence o' some yin sacred.
"Robin," I heard her say, and she turned facin' my faither, but they stood apairt, and didna shake haun's. Her big dug cam' to her side, and she put her haun' on its heid. Then, withoot bein' bid, Wallace left the end o' the cairt and walkin' ower to my faither, licked the haun' that was hingin' at his side. It was a queer, queer sicht, and a bonnie yin, and there must hae been something forby aboot me, for, as I looked at them, I had a feelin' that I had nae pairt in what was gaun on, sae much sae that I lay doon among the pea strae in the bottom o' the cairt, and I felt as if my wee hert was gaun to break.
What they said to yin anither I dinna ken, but in a wee the lady cam' ower to the cairt and spoke to me. I raised my face and she clappit me on the heid. "You're very like your father, my wee man," she said, efter lookin' lang at me. "Will you shake hands, good-bye, and give me a kiss?" I put my airms roon' her neck and I kissed her, not aince but twice and thrice, and when she saw the tear drap on my cheek her lip fell and she turned suddenly away frae me. My faither's heid was still uncovered. She held oot her haun' to him, and he took it quickly, yet reverently, and held it for a mennit. Then he bowed his heid and kissed it, and withoot anither word she turned and walked slowly across the brig and up the brae. He watched her, staunin' hat in haun', till she disappeared roon' the turn, and then, walkin' up to Darlin's heid, he took the leadin' rein, and wi' a salf, quate-spoken, "Come, Darlin' lass," we set oot aince mair for hame.
When we were fairly into the country, among the green fields and the ripenin' corn, he cam' into the cairt aside me, and I noticed his face was drawn and haggart, and his lang thin fingers were twitchin' as he held the rein. I asked him if his heid was sair, and he said it was, so I put up my haun' to his broo, as I had often dune at hame. My haun' was cauld, but his broo was caulder. He gied a wee bit lauch and, says he, "Your haun's cauld, Robert, my wee laddie, but that means a warm hert, and there again you and me are like each ither. What made ye greet when the lady was speak in' to me?"
I tell't him I didna ken, I juist couldna help it. He looked at me and I looked at him, and I think oor herts spoke to each ither in that look, for what had juist passed was never spoken o' between us again, and never did I hear him mention the name o' "Elsie" but aince, and it was in a darkened room, when the quiverin' lips that spoke it were being sealed for ever.