~CHAPTER VIII~ IN a toon like Thornhill, where ilka yin's business is a'body's business, it's nae very easy maitter to keep ocht quate, especially love-makin' and marryin' concerns, and a bonnie sang was sune made aboot my frequent veesits to Barjarg and the reasons annexed to my gaun there. I had to staun' plenty o' chaff frae my workin' mates, but I took it a' in guid pairt, and could even keep a quate sough when a' the men joined in whusslin' the chorus o' that auld kirn sang, "There's queer fouk in the Keir." Strange, man, altho' my mither kenned a' aboot it, no frae me, hooever, she never mentioned the subject; but ae nicht, when I was gaun oot, my grandmither, wi' a queer twist in her face, tell't me I wad be better employed delvin' the gairden than wearin' oot buit soles gaun to Barjarg. I made nae reply, and she juist turned her heid to the lum and pu'd away at her cutty. My mither wad be aboot forty years auld or thereby aboot this time, but she didna look it, for her hair was still as dark and shiny as ever, her cheeks were rosy and clear o' skin, and there were nae tell-tale wrinkles o' care or anxiety gathered roon' her mooth or een. She had a licht kind o' a hert, which set worry at defiance, and tho' oor breed and watter had been insecure for mony a day, there were nae evidences o' sleepless nichts or anxious, hard-wrocht days. Indeed, I dinna think she bothered her mind muckle or took ony serious thochts o' life, for she had aye a trivial word and an empty kind o' a lauch, nae maitter hoo precarious oor position was, or hoo black the ootlook micht be. Her future she evidently never considered; the present she made the maist o', and it was juist, wi' her, a case o' "Come day, go day, God bless Sunday." I had aye been o' a mair thochtfu' turn o' mind, and often o' a forenicht, when I lookit at my mither sittin' idlin' her time wi' neibor women, and my grandmither sittin' huddlin' in by the big open fireplace like a craw in a mist, I had a painfu' kind o' a feelin' that in bindin' her to me by a' that was sacred I hadna acted fairly by Grizzy, when I had sic responsibilities on my am shooders at hame, and when my chances o' a happy mairret life were sae faur ben in the future and sae uncertain and sae few. Weel, it's queer, queer indeed hoo things turn oot, and hoo yin's lines o' life are unfankled and laid strecht oot afore yin. Truly, the world's weys and the workin's o' Providence are past oor understandin'. Ae nicht I cam' in, efter haein' a turn roon' the Nithbank road, and there sittin' in the kitchen was a stranger-a wee stoot man wi' awfu' red cheeks, a white broo, and a black bushy beard. He was sittin' beside my mither wi' a kind o' a look o' proprietorship on his waxwark face, which I wasna slow to notice, and the patronisin' wey he acknowledged my presence went sair against the grain, so I sat doon at the winda table in a very unhappy frame o' mind. There were a lot o' ither women fouk in, and there was muckle banter gaun on, the maist o' which indirectly jined my mither to this stranger and had reference to the fillin' o' the airm-chair and the hingin' o' his hat up in the lobby. Man, he was enjoyin' it, and so was my mither, for they lauched weel the yin to the ither, and efter sittin' quate as lang as I could and feart to think on possibilities I couldna allo' mysel' to entertain, I raise to gang oot again. Juist then my mither raise, too, and says she, "Robert, afore ye gang oat, ye maun shake haun's wi' Maister Boosie." "Maister whae?" said I in surprise. The stranger got up and bowed in a mock kind o' a wey to me, and says he, "Maister Boosie- B-o-o-s-i-e. Boosie. Look 'e here, young man, it's mebbe no' a bonnie name, but he's a guid man wha bears it, suppose I say it wha shouldna, and mind ye a guid man had never a bad name." I said that was quite true, but I trusted a' the same he was better than his name, and in sayin' sae I meant nae disrespect. When I cam' back an oor later, a' the fouk were gane and my mither was sittin' waitin' for me at the kitchen fire. She tell't me that Maister Boosie was a brither o' her great freen, Mrs. Johnstone, that he was a baker in Auchinleck, that he had offered himsel' in mairrage wi' her, and that she had accepted. I got an awfu' surprise, and I sat doon beside her, no' kennin' very weel what to say. She went on to tell me that she understood he could gie her a guid doon-sittin', that he had been mairrit twice before, and had a family o' nine-three boys and six lassies-and that, though she had to leave Thornhill, she didna mind, as she had never liked it a' her days. She said a' this, and mair, in a dull, listless maitter o' fac' wey, which was sae much in keepin' wi' her that it didna strike me as bein' peculiar, but I couldna help tellin' her that I was surprised and vexed, and that, withoot belittlin' her intended man, I had my doots as to his makin' a happy future for her. We were baith quate f or a wee, then I said, "But, mither, what aboot your feelin's towards him? D'ye think he loves you and do you love him sufficiently to talk like this aboot mairrage between ye?" "Love! Love!" says she, "what's that to me I've never kenned a' my life what it means. Mair than that, what's love when ye hae nae butcher-meat to your denner? This is no' Barjarg, you silly cuif. Away to your bed and be aboot the morn, for Maister Boosie's comin' in to speak to you." The next day was Sunday, and I was sittin' in the gairden beside my auld tenantless rabbit-hoose when the back door opened and Maister Boosie appeared. He walked jauntily alang the walk, and noddin' guid mornin', sat doon beside me and leisurely filled his pipe. Efter lichtin' it and puffin' away for a wee, says he, "Look ye here, young man, I understaun' your mither has informed ye o' what's between us." I said, "Yes, she mentioned it to me last nicht." "Ay, then she's dune my biddin'. I tell't her to dae sae, -and, -what think ye o't?" "Oh," says 1, "that's nane o' your business. Everything's settled, it seems, and it's a maitter o' sma' importance what I think o't." "Imphm," says he, "smertly spoken for a country yokel. Ay, ay. Weel, you're richt sae far. Everything is settled. I'm a man o' action. When I mak' up my mind to do a thing it's dune there and then. Nae hanker-slidin' wi' me. I juist wanted to hae a word wi' ye the day for I'm away in the mornin', and I'll no' see ye again till it comes off. I juist want to tell ye to keep your mind easy aboot your mither. She'll be a' richt wi' me. Dootless you'll miss her, for she's guid cheery company, but you'll aye hae your grandmither wi' ye, and she'll be a mither to ye. When we were thinkin' oot oor ain happiness we were mindfu', ye see, o' whae we were leavin' ahin' us, and I've decided to leave pairt o' the furniture wi' you, so that you and your grannie can set up hoose on a sma' scale and still keep your hame thegither, as it were." I looked at the smilin', smug-faced body for a meenit, then says I, "You're a very consideratc kind o' a man, and you're quick at makin' arrangements to suit yoursel'. What mak's ye think I'm deein' for my grandmither's company, and what business hae ye wi' the furniture?" And before he could answer I turned roon' and faced him and, sav' I, "Bear this in mind, if you tak' my mither to Auchinleck you've to tak' her mither wi' her." Oh, what a state he got into, and he swore and argue-bargied away, and tell't me I was lackin' in love and affection for my ain bluid - my ain kith and kin - but I sat lookin' strecht at him and no' sayin' a word. When he had got a lot off his chest, and when he saw I wasna to be budged he calmed doon, and in a mair conciliatory tone a' voice he says- "Look 'e here noo, young man, I'll strike a bargain wi' you. I'll let ye keep a' the furniture and gie ye five pounds into the bargain if ye let your grannie stey on here wi' you." "Look 'e here noo, auld man," says I, mimicking him, "I'll no' strike a bargain wi' you, but I'll strike you if you dinna tak' that black physog oot o' that gairden gate." He got up quickly frae his seat, and says he, "Look 'e here, dinna get angry or excited, and say things you'll efterwards be sorry for. I assure you I've settled maitters o' this kind afore noo, and a' cam' oot richt. Think o' this, noo. I'll mak' it ten pounds and send ye a side o' Ayrshire bacon every New Year's Day. Your grannie's an awfu' nice kindly auld woman, and it wad gie me the greatest pleesure to hae her aye beside me. but I've nae room for her at my fireside, and your mither will hae a freer haun' withoot her." Man, a' at aince, juist in a flash, it cam' to me that my mither was behind a' this. But no-surely no! Never wad she want to leave her auld helpless mither ahint her, and still-I thocht for a wee, then says I, "Did my mither ask you to speak o' this, and ask this o' me?" "Yes," says he, " she did." And a' at aince my hert was hardened and embittered against them a'. "Weel," says I, "let me tell you that my grandmither is no' an auld coo, to be sold and raised five pounds at every bid, and if my mither was staunin' here I wad tell her that if she considers the claims o' bluid, she'll juist tak' her mither wi' her to Auchenleck. As for the furniture, it belanged to my faither, and I'm his son. The back door is open; gang and shut it frae the inside." He stood for a meenit lookin' at me as if he could knock me doon. Then he turned on his heel, walked up the gairden, and banged the back door ahint him. I was sairly puttin' aboot and pained at hert, for this had revealed to me a side o' my mnither's character I had only hauf guessed before, and I felt degraded in my ain sicht and deeply ashamed for her sake. I sat doon again, and wi' my heid in my haun' s I gaed back-back into the past, and saut tears cam' to my een when I failed to mind o' a kindly look frae her e'e or a lovin', endearin' word frae her lips. What a sunless, loveless auld langsyne was mine. Nocht o' a mither's holy love to brichten it; nae memory o' a saft, warm kiss or a lovin' embrace. And then a' at aince I felt my faither's presence wi' me, and I gaed away into the empty stable where Darlin' and Jean used to staun', and where the big dugs used to sleep o' nichts, and I touched the corn bin lid he had sae often raised, and I stroked the manger chains his dear, thin haun's had sae often gruppit. And a peace cam' to me which I canna explain, but it was sic as I had felt, sittin' my lane, in the breist o' the laft on a Sacrament Sabbath day. That nicht I gaed thro' the Gill to the Maister-led thither I felt by my faither-and I tell't him a'. God bless his warm hert and his kindly blue e'e. I'll never forget him, for he spoke to me as my faither wad hae dune, and he advised me to act as he knew my faither wad hae wished me. And I gaed back that Sabbath evenin' wi' a humbled spirit to a roof-tree which three oors before I had made up my mind to enter nae mair. Durin' the next fower weeks my mither naether spoke to me nor looked at me. My meals were put doon to me as if I were a dug, and what I suffered in spirit naebody will ever ken. My mither sell't a' the furniture before she left Thornhill, and, actin' on the Maister's advice, I made nae demur. A' that I took withoot peyin' for't and withoot my mither's knowledge was my faither's ridin' switch, and in this I didna think I was actin' dishonestly, and I juist couldna bide the idea o' it fallin' into fremit haun's. The Maister bocht back for me my faither's airm-chair, and it sits in an honoured place in my parlour to this day, empty to every e'e, but, aye to mine, filled by yin the memory o' whose love will live side by side wi' that o' Grizzy's "till the day breaks and the shadows flee away."