Rough Scan
IT was early in 1858 that Grizzy and me were mairret, and it was in the same year that a terrible calamity befell the country.
We were workin', I mind, at Closeburn Hall, when the news was brocht to us that the Western Bank had failed, and kennin' that John M'Andra was baith a shareholder and investor in it, and bein' noo, through Grizzy, kith and kin o' his, as it were, I gaed away up to Thornhill to see what I could do for him in this sair dispensation.
Puir body, he was in an awfu' state, and he was walkin' aboot the hoose wi' starein' een, juist like yin distracted.
When I gaed in I could see that Mrs. M'Andra bad been greetin', and she had brichtened up and she was daein' a' she could to comfort and console her puir, ruined man. He couldna eat and he wadna sit doon, for, as he said, there wasna a bite o' breed or a chair in the hoose that belanged to him. It was a peetifu' sicht, and my hert gaed oot to them baith but I could do little or naething to help them beyond assuring them o' my sympathy, so I gaed awa' hame wi' the sad news to Grizzy.
John M'Andra had been a hard-workin', thrifty man, and it was reckoned by a' in the toon that he had mair laid by than he was ever likely to need. He had never been a socially-minded man, and had nae concerns or pleesures ootside his business, and this had led fouk to consider him staun'-offish and reserved. He was by-ordinar strong minded and maisterfu', and altho' he aye took his ain weys in things and often in opposition to ithers, he had a great desire to staun' weel in the estimation o' the public and to be considered a man o' substance by a' the countryside.
I wadna say he was prood. I aye speak o' fouk as I meet them, and John M'Andra had been a guid freen to me, and was aye by-ordinar nice and affable at a' times; but he had a habit o' referrin' to his investments which made yin chawed when yin had nane o' their ain, and a wey o' lookin' at you and jinglin' his siller in his pouch which sent you away hame wi' the impression that this world's gear is ill divided.
And in these circumstances the blow was a' the mair severe, for mony, mony wad craw ower him noo, and it was desperate hard to think that he had come frae plenty to poverty, and that in ae nicht he had been knocked doon frae off a pedestal he had lang occupied, and was staunin' noo, as he had come into the world, as bare as birkie. He, very shortly efter, left Thornhill, a broken-herted, humiliated man, and the business, which was purely personal fell by degrees to the share o' the ither builders in the locality.
This, you can weel understaun', was also a serious blow to me, for I lost my job and my foremanship, and as ither employers had their ain men, and as wark was scarce, I was forced to seek it faur afield. Efter gaun idle for aboot three weeks, I got wind o' a job in Sanquhar, which I applied for and got, and I was steadily employed there for aboot three months. I walked doon to Thornhlll every Setterday nicht, and back again on the Sunday, so that I wad be ready for my wark on Monday mornin'. I thocht at ae time o' flittin', as my lodgin's ate a hole in my wages, but at the end o' three months I got wark at Gatelawbrig Quarry, and was thus saved a' this fash and expense.
Dod, d'ye ken, man, a year before I was mairrit, coortin' was a' my concern, and, exactly a year after, it was the price o' patatties. No' that there was less love between us after mairrage - ah, no, there was mair, and o' a better quality too - but yin has to consider weys and means wi' a young faim'ly and a sma' wage, and I tell ye it juist took us a' oor time.
Aboot six months after the birth o oor first-born, Robert-we named him after my faither-and juist when we were beginnin' to find oor feet, we had anither look at the cauld cheek o' misfortune.
Ae mornin' a black-edged letter bearin' the Auchinleck post-mark cam' to haun', intimatin' the death of my mither. I was grieved beyond measure, no less at her removal by death than because of the fact that we had pairted at enmity, at least on her side, and withoot a word o' regret or good-bye, and I had aye been livin' in hope that maitters micht yet be adjusted between us.
Surely, I thocht to mysel', I micht hae been advised o' her illness and the opportunity gi'en me o' seein' her in life, makin' up oor differences, and receivin' her blessin', and then when I reflected that since she left no interest had been taen in my welfare, no notice taen o' my mairrage, or no reply sent to my letter o' that time, I juist closed my reason against a' speculation and conjecture and accepted the situation withoot any thochts, kindly or otherwise.
I attended the funeral, and after a' was by my stepfaither took me aside, and in a corner o' the kirkyaird he asked me what I intended to do aboot my grandmither. Withoot giein' me time to reply he added I wad hae to do something and that at aince, and that if I didna he would put her on the pairish o' Morton.
I tell't him that there wad be no occasion for that as her future wad be my concern, and that if convenient I wad juist tak' her hame wi' me.
Grizzy and me had talked this ower before I left Thornhill, and had made up oor minds that it was only oor duty in the circumstances.
I'll never forget Grizzy for the pairt she played at this time. God alone kens we had little need to voluntarily increase oor responsibilities and hoose expenses, but she willingly-ay, gladly, consented to bear her pairt o' this new and unexpected burden. I'll no' again mak' any reference to my grandmither, but I wad juist say here that, for the seven years she was under oor roof, and till her e'e closed in her last lang sleep, Grizzy nursed her and cared for her wi' a' the attentiveness o' a dochter, and tho' she got no a word o' thanks, or a single look o' gratitude, her lovin' interest and timely service bound her mair closely than I can tell ye to my heart's affection; and certain I am when that great Book is opened what she did then will be recorded and staun' weel to her credit.
The dry summer o' 1860 was followed by a winter the severity o' which in my lang lifetime I have never seen equalled. It began wi' a snawstorm in November and was followed by a black frost which lasted till February, and durin' a' that time not a single day's wark could oot-bye workers get to do.
Distress in country was universal and hert rendin'. Every family felt the pinch, mine wi' the lave, and, even yet, when I look back an it, I shudder and thank God that it's a' bye and that I've never been called on to undergo a similar experience. You'll mebbe no' believe it, but I'm tellin' you the truth when I say that I ken what it is to hear my ain bairns greetin' thro' an empty stomach. Many a time I steyed oot a' day and did withoot my denner, so that there wad be a' the mair to divide at hame, and when I tell ye this dinna think I am takin' credit to mysel', for it's juist what any faithfu' faither wad do and what hundreds forby me did at this time.
Mony a prayer did Grizzy and me put up and mony a nicht did we lie waukin' consolin' yin anither and plannin' hoo best to eke oot oor slender store. And when we were juist aboot oor wab's end, when efter a' oor trustin' and prayin' the cloud was still ower us and I was beginning to question the existence o' a Gad o' love and mercy and oversicht a very strange thing happened.
In the forenicht o' the 25th o' January I was sittin' wi' a heavy faithless hert thinkin' o' a' the hardships that puir workin' fouk have to undergo, and I bethocht me o' my favourite poem o' Burns. his "Epistle to Davie." Dootless the fact o' the date bein' his birthricht influenced the thocht, and airted me to tak' doon my faither's weel-thoomed volume, at ony rate I turned to that poem wi' a mair than usual receptive mind, and this is what read-
"It's hardly in a body's pow'r
To keep, at times, frae being sour,
To see how things are shared;
How best o' chiels are whyles in want,
While coofs on countless thousands rant,
And kenna' how to ware't.
But, Davie lad, ne'er fash your heid
Tho' we hae little gear,
We're fit to win our daily breid
As lang's we're hale and fier.
Mair spier na', nor fear na',
Auld age ne'er mind a feg,
The last o't, the warst o't
Is only but to beg.
"To lye in kilns and barns at e'en
When banes are craz'd and bluid is thin,
Is, doubtless, great distress!
Yet then content could make us blest,
Ev'n then, sometimes, we'd snatch a taste
Of truest happiness.
The honest heart that's free frae a'
Intended fraud or guile.
However Fortune kick the ba',
Has aye some cause io smile;
An' mind still, you'll find still,
A comfort this nae sma':
Nae mair then we'll care then,
Nae farther we can fa'."
I shut my een for a meenit and then I gaed away ben the hoose to be ma lane. It's no' the first time Robert Burns has sent me away to examine mysel', and airted me to paur my sorrows and troubles into an ear glegger and keener than ony yin human. It was his heaven-sent message to speak o' sympathy and charity and patient endurance, and he never spoke to me but he did me guid.
When I was sittin' there in the darkness I heard a chappin' at the ooter door, and in a wee a strange voice and step in the lobby. I gaed ben to the kitchen and there staunin' on the flaer was a short thin man wi' a sharp keen face, and clad frae neck to heel in a thick ulster wi' a tippit.
I asked him to sit dean and to name his business, and he began by askin' me if I was the son of the late Robert Dow, the pig dealer. I said I was, but that the name was "Doo" not "Dow." He said that was all right and asked me a lot o' ither questions, which appeared to me to be trivial. Then he referred to the visit I had made to Edinbro' wi' my faither. My mind was quite clear on a' the points he introduced, and he said he was quite satisfied I was the man he wanted, that he was a lawyer frae Edinbro', and that he had a letter which a client on her death-bed had instructed him to put into my hand.
He gave me a sealed letter, which wi' tremblin' hands I took and opened, and this is what I read-
"You will doubtless be surprised to receive a communication from me, and I question much if you will know my identity from the signature as below.
"I was a very dear friend of your late father in days long past, and I said good-bye for the last time on earth in your presence at the Braid Burn brig in Morningside many years ago.
"In remembrance of that meeting and parting, and the good-bye kiss you gave me, I beg of you to accept from me, and through the bearer of this letter, a small memento of the occasion.
"It grieved me very much to learn that through speculation your grandfather, the late Dr. Dow, lost his all. I presume same little monetary legacy would have come to you but for this unfortunate occurrence, and what I now bequeath to you will, I trust, be some little compensation for the loss you have thus suffered.
"When you read this letter I will have crossed that bourne whence no traveller returns. For your dear father's sake I wish I could have seen and spoken with you once more. But this has been denied me, and I would only now assure you I am carrying with me to the end the memory of your earnest boyish face, your kiss on my lips, and that tear-drop of sympathy on your cheek.
"The bearer of this will give you one hundred pounds, which please accept with my very best wishes.
"May God bless you throughout life.-Very sincerely yours,
I canna juist weel explain to you what my feelin's were when I read that letter. It was indeed a voice from the grave wi' a message sic as I never had expected, and when I lookit to the lawyer I hadna a word to say.
I lichted anither caunnle and I signed to Grizzy to follow me ben the hoose. I read the letter through, and when I had finished she slippit to her knees and buried her face in her haun's. And I knelt doon on the flaer beside her, and at oor humble altar we gave thanks to God, and wi' humbled gratefu' hearts renewed oor vows.
I gaed up the road wi' Maister fleming-sic was the lawyer's name-for the streets were dangerously slippery wi' the lang frost and badly lichted into the bargain. When we got the length o' the Buccleuch Hotel, where he was bidin' for the nicht, he asked me to come in for a meenit. Dod, man, I was terribly anxious to be hame to Grizzy and the weans, so that we micht a' joy thegither in oor guid fortune, but I thocht it was the least I could do to mense him after his lang, cauld journey in my interest, so we gaed in, no' by the stalls but by the front door.
Ower a tumbler o' toddy he made me aware o' much o' my faither's history that I never kenned before, and o' this I could tell ye, far it was a' to his credit; but mebbe ye wad juist think that I was blaain' the family horn. I mind, before we pairted, he tell't me I should alter my name to Dow, far in it I had nocht to be ashamed o'; but I juist said in reply that a Doo I bad been born and a Doo I wad live and die.
When I got hame, efter bein' oot aboot an oor, I found what yin micht caa' a regal feast awaitin' me. The weans were a' bedded when the lawyer caa'd, but they were a' up noo, sittin' in their nichtgoons roon' the fire, and Grizzy was beetlin' a potfu' o' tatties. And, man, d'ye ken this, they were the best champers I ever tasted in a' my life. I slippet yin o' the last sixpenny bits I bad left into the pot where wee Robbie was workin', and where he was likely to get it. Dod, man, he nearly swallowed it, and when he took it oot o' his mooth and saw the glint o' the silver he was amaist as pleased wi' the coin as I was wi' my hunner pounds.
Juist when we were in the midst o't, oor next door neibor, Mrs. Mairchbank, cam' in to see what time o' nicht it was. William Stott, the watchmaker, had had her clock for weel an for twae years. He had promised it, sure, the next day efter he got it, and keepit on prmmisin' since, so she was obleeged to consult oor knock when the wind wasna cairryin' frae Morton Kirk, or when it was ower dark to see that length. As we had plenty and to spare, Grizzy invited her and her twae bairns to partake o' oor champers, and I tell ye it did my hert guid to see the twae families roon' that pot. As arranged between Grizzy and me, we said not a word aboot oor legacy to ony yin, and sae pressin' were we wi' oor champers on Mrs. Mairchbank that I'm sure she thocht we were gettin' utterly regairdless in oor wey o' livin', or that we had mair laid bye than we let an.
Weel, efter oor guests had gane and oor ain bairns were aince mair in their beds, Grizzy and me sat doon at the fire to let oor minds simmer ower the great guid news and to gie oorsel's a chance o' understaun'in' its meanin' and takin' it a' in. The wanderfu' letter was again praduced-(I've got it carefully preserved to this day)-and I read it slowly and carefully a' ower, and I had to tell Grizzy aince mair-for I had tell't her before-a' aboot the meetin' at the Braid Burn brig. She had been interested eneuch when first I tell't her, but mair sae noo than ever, and not a single point or incident did she miss.
Efter talkin' ower the ootstaun'in' heids o' my story, as, for instance, my peculiar feelin's and unusual behaviour for sic a young boy, and the by-ordinar tryin' circumstances in which the twa auld sweetherts had been placed, Grizzy asked me what the lady had on, and was very surprised that I didna mind.
There are some faces which, as yin micht say, concentrate the attention and rivet yin's look, so that inspection can gang nae faurer. This was a case in point. And even yet, efter a' the years that hae come and gane, when I cast my e'e back through the mists o' time her face appears to me as if framed in a halo and in a settin' o' sunshine and glory which, in retainin' her in my memory as my angel o' the Revelations, mak's her mair o' anither world than this.