Rough Scan
I THINK I mentioned before that when Miss Macdonald left Thornhill I was sent to he under "the Maister" at the public schule through the Gill. This was a step that at first I dreeded, as I had got on sae brawly wi' a woman and sae much into her weys, that I was feart a man-body and me wad never agree. But my mind was sune set at rest on this point. I took to Maister Hewison the very first day I was there, and I think he took to me, for I mind o' him clappin' me on the heid when he kenned my name, and tellin' me if I was as guid a boy as my faither was a man I wad do.
I juist thocht there was everything guid and richt aboot onybody wha could appreciate and like my faither; and I tell ye this, by that wee bit clap and time few words the Maister sterted for himsel' a bit place in my hert, which, on langer acquaintance, got bigger and bigger every day.
I was quite surprised that first day when he mentioned my faither to me, as I wasna aware they were in ony wey acquaint, but I soon efterwards learned that they were in the habit o' meetin' often and haein' a confab. I've tell't you afore that my faither was forby in keepin' himsel' very much to himsel'. and that he gaed aboot ither fouk's hooses but little. Weel, the schulehoose was an exception, as it turned oot, for he veesited there frequently, takin' some o' his books to the Maister and bringin' back wi' him some o' his. Latterly I aye kenned when he had been through the Gill, for his step was lichter and his face was cheerier when he cam' back. In efter years, when readin' in the Bible aboot iron sharpenin' iron, the memory o' these veesits cam' back to me, and I read the rest o' the verse wi' an understandin' hert.
Mixin' wi' ither boys and bein' wi' a man teacher briskened me up a bit, and I sune began to feel that there was less o' the lassie and mair o' the boy aboot me. At first a fecht was what I wad rin away frae, but I sune got to seek yin, and the black een and bluided noses I got-and I say this withoot boastin'-were as nocht compared wi' what I gied to ithers.
There were some awfu' queer boys in my class, some o' them nice and ithers no'. I got on fine wi' them a', but the ain I likit best was Hughie Rorrison, or, as he was caa'd by a' the schule, "Rookie." He wasna guid at his lessons. He was what the Maister caa'd a "rabble," and he had the "Thornhill yell," and his pronunciation was of the "speedert" order, but, my faith, he could play at the bools. He rookit every sowl, big or wee, that he played wi', and sae often did this happen that we juist caa'd him "Rookie," and "Rookie" he remained till he was man-muckle and disappeared into the Gulf, by which name, in Thornhill, the toon o' Glesca is kenned by.
Rookie and me were very chief. He leeved wi' his grannie, for I dinna ken that he ever had a faither or a mither. But she was baith. Man, hoo she loved that boy. Nocht was ower guid for him, and she wad willingly hae wrocht her fingers to the bane to gie him a' he needed. She had a weel hung tongue, and was never at a loss for words to convey her meanin', but though a warrior when she got started, a sicht o' Rookie wad saften her e'e, and turn a nippy angry word to yin o' kindness and welcome.
It was in her hoose that I first tasted oatmeal cake and treackle, and when I smacked my lips and shut my een I thocht it was New Year's Day. It was in her kitchen, too, that we dookit for aipples and bit a whirlin' caunnle on Hallowe'en, and it was frae her lips that first I heard "The Braes o' Kirkmahoe" and "The Lass o' Crichope Linn." What a lot o' auld waeld sangs and stories she had, and wi' what spirit she sang and tell't them. She had her Bible aff by hert, could pray like a saint, and sweer like a trooper. Mercy me, when I think back on her and a wheen mair o' her compeers in the village and compare them wi' the fouk o' the present day, I really begin to wonder if education is daein' for us a' that some wad claim.
That may or may no' be, but certain I am that we hae nae Peggy Rorrisons noo and we're a' the puirer for it. But that has nocht to do wi' my story.
Weel, as I say, "Rookie" and me were the best o' freens, but this was only efter we had focht each ither into what yin micht caa' a mutual respect. He was a left-haunded fechter, and could come a cunning yin when and where ye were least expectin' it, but at a time when fechts were daily, yin sune got to ken his fancy weys. Ay, man, "Rookie" was a champion. It was he wha first took me to the tin-tan brig o' Cample and thro' the Barrel Pen at the Cundy. It was under his direction that I first gaed ower the Rash Brig Moss, and it was at his biddin' that I made my only veesit to Pepper Tam's shop for a pennyworth o' strap oil. I got something I couldna pit in a bottle, and later, wi' the cause o' nicht on my side, I was enabled to gie "Rookie" mair than Pepper Tam had gien me.
He was an awfu' chiel for airtin' ither boys into scrapes and steerin' clear himsel'. Aince he borrowed my faither's big horse pail, and sent wee Tammie M'Lauchrie into Betty Broon's for a pennyworth o' tripe, and to tell her if the pail wadna haud it a' he wad come back for the rest. Betty was weel kenned for scrimp measure, and she took this as an awfu' affront, and, there and then, gied Tammie a ticht clash on the lug. When he cam' oot, greetin' sairly, the first yin he met was "Rookie," but a' Rookie's sympathy didna mak' the tinglin' in Tammie's heid ony less.
Ae Setterday efternoon "Rookie" was in oor gairden, helpin' me to mak' a new rabbit hoose. Some farmer frien' o' my faither's had gien him a black and white jeuk, and "Rookie," efter eyin' it waddlin' aboot, says to me, "Have ye ever noticed, Robbie, that that jeuk's feet are no' made like a hen's?"
I said I had, and asked what aboot it.
"Oh," says he, "that beast's a soomer. Its taes are a' jined, and it's a perfect deevil for the watter. Did ye ever gie't a dook?"
"No," says I, "I've never gien it a dook, but, noo that ye speak o' that, I've often seen it waddlin' across the road into the Cundy Burn and paiddlin' aboot among the watt stanes, and I juist thocht it was a thirsty kind o' a beast. But we can easily gie't a dook. I'll fill yin o' my mither's big tubs and we'll gie't a treat."
Pailfu' efter pailfu' we poored into the tub, and I was aye expectin' the jeuk to come up and watch its chance to jump in-eager, as yin micht say, for a taste o' its natural element. But no, man, no, jeukie showed nae interest whatever. When we had got haud o't, efter shooin' it into a corner, "Rookie" gied it to me, and says he, "Noo juist show it the watter and it'll settle doon a' richt."
Wed, I cairret it ower to the tub and tried my best to get it to look at the watter, but it juist flapped its wings in my face, streeket oot its neck, like an india-rubber thing, and quack, quacked for a' it was worth. At last I got it into the watter, and, contrary to "Rookie's" idea, it wanted oot. But I held it there till I was wat to the skin.
"Haud it away doon to the bottom, Robbie," says "Rookie"; "it hasna seen watter for a lang time, and ye maun mak' up for lost time. Haud its heid doon too." Wi' baith haun's I held it doon to the bottom o' the tub, and an awfu' job it was. Eften a wee, hooever, it seemed to like it a' richt, for it stoppit flappin' its wings and was quite quate.
"D'ye think that'll dae noo?" says I.
"I think it wull," says "Rookie," walkin' oot o' the gairden gate. And he left me staunin' beside the tub wi' a deid jeuk in my haun's.
Eh, what a weltin' I got frae my mitber! And "Rookie"-weel, he dootless got a bit oak cake and treackle frae his grannie.
It's queer hoo a' thae early ploys stick to yin's memory. Dod, I mind o' mair that happened then than I do o' what took place the year afore last. The feck o' auld fouk are the same, I think, in this respect, and, bearin' this in mind, I think that a' faithers and mithers should do their very best to gie their weans, when they're young, as guid and happy a time as they can. There's plenty o' sorrows and cares to come their wey when they grow up, and it micht be that the remembrance o' early joys will, in the lang hinner-en', oot-balance the memory o' later quachts and worries.
And noo I maun tell you o' the keenest grief I ever kenned, and the ae event in my life that even yet looms blackest in my memory.
The Maister and my faither, as I've tell't ye, were by-ordinar freendly, and I noticed that the chiefer they got the mair interest the Maister took in me. Sometimes o' a mornin' he wad caa' me up and quately ask hoo my faither was, and I aye said, "Fine, sir," but I wunnered a' the same what be meant, as my faither seemed to be in his usual health. True, be hoasted a lot, and seemed to be mair aboot the fire-side than he used to be, but be never compleened, and I thocht nocht aboot it.
Ae nicht he cam' bame, efter a twae days' journey, wi' only ae cairt, and when I met him at the fit o' the back road be tell't me a' aboot it. It turned oot that Darlin' had been put into a gress park for the nicht amang ither horses, and had got a kick that broke her leg, and, of coorse, she had to be shot. This was a terrible blow to him, I or trade had been bad for a lang time, and Darlin's death was a loss o' twenty pounds or mair.
It micht, or it micht no', be that this loss had ony effect on my faither's health, but I'm juist mentioning it, as I noticed efter this that he began to ail mair and mair, and his journeys aboot the country grew less and less. Then they drappit a'thegither, and efter he had been aboot three weeks in the hoose, we had to sell Jean and pit away the dugs.
I didna ken then, but I ken noo, that poverty was at the door. Nocht else wad hae painted my faither frae thae auld freens, for his dugs were aye wi' him wherever he went, and had been his companions lang afone I was born. The pain o' separation, I was glad to ken, was lessened by the fact that they were gaun to Edinbro', to some guid hame, where nocht but kindness wad be showed them. My faither had gaed doon awfu' quickly, and couldn't attend to their way-gaun, but the Maister saw to the correspondence aboot them. He never tell't me ony particeelars, and I never axed ony, so to this day I kenna where they were sent.
John Boyes, the Edinbro' cairrier, caa'd for them ae dark October mornin' aboot three o'clock. I mind o' my faither waukenin' me aboot an oor before that-I was juist at haun', lyin' on a wee bed beside him, in his back room-and asked me to gang doon to the stable and bring them up, wi' their collars and chains on.
And I see thae three big heids on that bedside yet.
Hoo he clappit them, and spoke to them, juist like a mither croonin' to her wean, and hoo their big lovin' een responded to every kindly look he gied them.
He fell into a dover wi' his haun' on Wallace's heid, but he waukened when the cairrier chappit at the door. He lookit at each yin in turn, caa'd them by name to his bedside, clappit them, and whispered something in their ear. Then he pointed to the door and turned his face wearily to the waa'.
When the rumblin' o' the cairt was oot o' ear-soun' he turned roon'.
"Robbie, my son," he said, "I've nothing left noo to connect me wi' a life o' long ago. The three o' them are two years aulder than you are, and they're a' brithers o' the yin you saw wi' the lady on the Braid Burn brig. When I feel a wee stronger I'll tell ye mair."
Then he asked me to blaa oot the caunnle, and when I got into my bed at his side I felt his haun' raxed oot to fin' if the blankets were happin' me.
Oh, the dreich, dreary days that followed! Oh, the lang, lang oors I sat beside him, wi' a nameless dreid lyin' at my hert like a stane! And when the Doctor cam' in, wi' a cheery word and a kindly look, hoo my spirits raise, and when he left, and when I lookit at my dear faither's thin face on the pillow, hoo they fell-fell-fell.
I dinna want to say a word against my mither. I am no' her judge. Dootless she kenned her ain ken best, and it may happen she had reasons o' her ain for actin' as she did. I canna, hooever, help thinkin' that she micht hae dune mair to help my faither at this time, and in this his last illness. She tended him in a wey-mebbe as a landlady wad tend to a lodger, mair as a duty or as wark to be peyed for, than what should hae been a labour o' love.
Sometimes she wad come ben and sit doon for a meenit, keepin' her haun's below her apron, and her face, no' toward the bed, but to the winda. When she spoke she didna look at him, and her conversation was aye aboot something or somebody ootbye, in which he had naither interest nor concern. I often used to wonder if he wad hae liked her to come beside him and sort his pillow, and see that he was keepin' happit and warm.
I couldna bring mysel' to compare my mither unfavourably wi' ony ither woman, but was it dishonourable o' me, think ye, to let my mind wander to that angel-faced lady I had seen, and to think, wi' assurance, that had she been at my faither's bedside she wad hae put her haun' lovingly on his broo, brushin' tenderly the thin hair back frae his temples, and then, wi' her cheek beside his, whisper into his ear welcome words o' comfort and consolation?
Mebbe sic a thocht was dishonourable, but it cam' a' the same, and sae much was I impressed wi' this that I juist tried my very best to do for him what I thocht she wad hae dune. As for my faither, he never complained, and seemed to be quite content wi' my attempts to nurse and tend him. Sometimes I wad read to him; at ither times I wad tell him a' aboot the schule and hoo I was gettin' on wi' my lessons. But he spoke little to me-juist lay lookin' at me or oot o' the winda, wi' my haun' clasped in his.
Sometimes the minister cam' in, but he didna stey lang, for he was hard o' hearin' and spoke very lood, and my faithen was so weak and useless that he couldna cairry on a conversation. Every Friday nicht the Maisten cam' doon. When he cam' into the back room I aye gaed oot, and I've nae notion o' what he said to my faither, but it was something to his likin', for he was aye happier and main resigned-like efter the Maister had been.
It was on a Friday nicht that the end, suddenly and unexpectedly, cam'. We had got in a lamp insteid o' a caunnle, and I had lit it early, as the days were gettin' short and darkness cam' on sune. I was sittin' beside him, no' speakin', but watchin' him. A' at aince he sat up withoot help-what he hadna dune for days back-and asked me to turn doon the licht. Then he lay doon again and shut his een wearily, as if he were tired oot. In a wee he began to speak, but no' to me. "Must it be good-bye?" he asked, and he raised his eyelids quickly and looked at the ceilin'. "It's hard, hard," he said at length, "but what is done, is done. Sorry, sorry, I cannot come back. I've made an awful mistake of life- Good-bye- Elsie."
He raised his haun' as if sayin' fareweel, and his lang fingers twitched and trembled. Then he sighed, and settled himsel' doon as if to sleep.
In a wee I spoke to him, but he didna answer. I went up to the bedside and touched his cheek, but he took nae heed. Then my knees got weak as watter, and my throat becam' ticht and dry. "Mither! Mither!" I cried, as I sank to the flaer at the side o' the bed.
My mither cam' in, and she lookit at me on my knees on the flaer, and then she lookit in the bed. She stood for a meenit scared-like and surprised. Then she took a lookin'-gless off the waa' and held it to my faither's face. "Ay, it's a' bye," she said huskily, and wi' mair feelin' than ever I heard her speak. "Ay, it's a' bye noo."
And I knew I was a faitherless bairn.
I was stunned, turned like into a stane. But for the awfu' tuggin' at my hert I had nae feelin's, and I could hardly draw my breath. It was juist as if the bottom o' the warld had tummled oot and left me my leave-a-lane, wi' nocht to grup by or nocht to lean on. Then a sense o' my loss and calamity cam' to me, and I grat-grat as I had never grat before. And my mither left me kneelin' there, sabbin' by the bedside o' my sacred deid, and withoot a word went ben to the kitchen.
Oh, mither! mither! if ye had only kenned hoo much I needed ye then; if ye had only thocht hoo empty my hert was, and hoo sair, and crushed, and broken it was, and that your airms aroon my neck and your breist to lay my heid on was what I was wantin' and waitin' for-ah! God alone kens hoo much ye wad, I am sure, hae cooried doon beside me, and wi' your face against mine ye wad hae grieved and sorrowed wi' me. But ye didna, for mebbe ye didna think, and, certain I am, ye didna understaun'.