Rough Scan
"KEEPIN' step mak's easy mairchin'" is an auld Scotch sayin', the truth of which is easily proved. There's something in the rhythm that mak's the foot lift easy and the swingin' step free, and when a' gang thegither in unison the largest mairch is a lichtsome yin.
And, dod, man, this auld sayin' applies, wi' equal truth, to the mairch o' mairrit life. If man and wife keep step they'll aye hae ae common interest, ae aim in view, and a' the surer will the goal o' their desires be attained.
Weel, in a' this lang crack we've had, I have told ye little o' the inward workin' o' my hame life, or aboot my weans and their ploys and concerns, but ye ken a', and may tak' the guid for granted, when I tell ye that Grizzy and me aye tried to keep in step.
There were times when we lost it for a wee. It's nature no' in human to keep it steadily, but we kenned at aince when the wrong foot was oot, and we made it richt at aince and withoot delay. A wee bit difference noo and again detracts nocht frae the happiness o' mairrit life, provided it's no' allooed to stey ower lang to tak' root and sproot again. I used to think at ae time that there was nae reason why a mairrit pair shouldna live a' their lives withoot a tirr, but I dinna think that noo, and when I hear some fouk boastin' o' perpetual peace and happiness I either put them doon as liars or conclude that yin o' them has a weakness either mental or physical, or baith.
I aye mind o' bein' cornered ae cauld nicht in Tammas Birse's shop, and deaved past a' endurance wi' accoonts o' the dove-like life that he and Leezie had, and the very next mornin' Tammas had a six-inch scart alang his cheek, which keepit him oot a' his shop for three days, and Leezie had a nice black e'e, which she accoonted for to sixteen different fouk in sixteen different weys, and no' yin o' the sixteen was the true yin.
But, guidsake, tho' I'm tellin' ye this, ye maunna run away wi' the idea that Grizzy and me condescended to siclike actions. Far frae that. A mutual respect and a love that comes but aince in a lifetime prevented ony sic lapses as that. What I want to tell ye is this: that we didna aye see eye to eye, but that, tho' a wee bit rift appeared noo and again, it was recognised as sic by baith o' us, and the langer we looked at it and faced it oot thegither the sma'er it became, till it disappeared and left nae trace behind.
When the weans began to grow quickly oot o' their claes, and when the auldest yin could tak' a denner like a grown-up, we thocht it wad be a guid plan to keep a coo, so that we wad aye be assured o' a drap o' milk and a bit butter o' oor ain. So we flitted to anither hoose that had a byre at the gairden heid and a yett frae the back road. I rented frae the Duke the field o' Railin Dubs door the coo road, bocht a coo, and oor troubles began.
Dod, man, I aye thocht I kenned a coo till I gaed to the market to buy, and I had nae idea o' the depths o' moral depravity a dealer can fa' to till efter I had bocht yin.
It may be that I'm gifted wi' ower great a conceit o' mysel', that I over-value the worth o' my ain judgment, or that I lippered ower much to Alec Ashplant, the dealer; that I canna tell, but I cairrit oot the bargain withoot ony ootside advice, and I bocht a coo-a lang-legged thin-ribbit jade, that didna yield as muckle at a milkin' as wad fill a penny bowl. But, lovanenty, she was a grand rinner, and for a louper o' yetts and hedges there wasna her marra in the shire o' Dumfries.
Ye talk aboot racin'-dod, man, d'ye ken, she ran frae the heid o' the coo road to the fit o't in three meenites and a hauf, and I canna say for certain, as the stoor was fleein' like mad, but I think she tumbled a somersault at every yett she gaed by, juist as it were to vary the programme and show what she could do. Tho' I ken there's sic a thing as a blood horse, I never heard tell o' a blood coo. But it wasna blood we wanted; it was milk.
I trued everything possible to get her to stey in her gang. I put her in the meadow when I should hae saved it for hay, where there was grass o' the best and sweetest and sourocks and daisies-juist sic a gang as wad hae delighted the hert o' ony ordinary sensible coo. But it was nae use. She sniffed aboot like a discontented, ill-natured wean, then she trotted aboot wi' a starein' e'e and a cockit tail, and finally took a rinnin' loup at a six-feet hawthorn hedge and cleared it as if Auld Nick was at her rump. I lost sicht o' her among some nowt beas' or Drumcork brae-heid, and I gaed hame a sad, wise man.
Efter I had taen my tea and cooled doon a wee, I gaed doon the length o' Alec Ashplant's and tell't him, as reasonably as I could, that what I wanted wasna a greyhound but a common everyday coo, that I was terribly disappointed wi' my bargain, and that I wad juist bring her back. Alec juist lauched and said I micht bring the coo back, but that "yon"-clappin' his pooch-was a' away, and when I saw his face in a guid licht and got a whiff o' his breath I believed him.
There's nae experience like bocht experiences and, in the next deal I made, I socht advice o' my auld freer Tammas Porteous, a better judge o' kye beas' than whom never scartit an elbo', and we sure had a sonsie braw ledy wi' nae ambitions in the hurdle jumpin' line, but yin that soberly and decently did her best to fulfil the end for which she was created.
Oor occupancy o' a. bigger boose necessitated a deal of new plenishin's, and we bocht at this time six stuffed-bottom chairs and a dooble-leafed table for the parlour, forby a beautiful coloured picter o' "The Death o' Abel," which was a decided offset to the mantelpiece. We also got a thief's bargain o' a second-band fender at Nathan Neilson's roup, and this we put in the kitchen. It was a cheery lookin' article o' burnished steel, and "God bless our home" in letters o' brass in the centre. At the time I wad as sure hae had yin withoot the text, as I had the feelin' when I put my feet on it that I was staunin' on a Bible, but I got ower that as the days wore on.
Yin by yin the years passed ower us, bringin' in their train joys and sorrows, pleesures and pain. Grey hairs began to mix wi' the black, and tell-tale wrinkles cam' to cheeks that were aince smooth and fair. In truth, life to us wasna a' a fair day, but we joggit on, aye keepin' step, and, a' ower, takin' the guid wi' the bad, we had nae reason to repine.
The sairest trial we were caa'd upon to bear was the death o' oor first born, Robert. Scarlet fever brake oot in the toon, and oor dear wee laddie was amang the first to be taen away. That's lang syne noo, and I'll tell ye little aboot it here, as it is a private grief o' Grizzy's and mine; but I wad only say, that there's a wee gird hingin' on the waa beside the echt day clock which has never been off the nail he hung it on, and there's a drawerfu' o' wee boy's claes in oor chiffonier which nae een ever licht upon but Grizzy's and mine.
I had aye haen guid regular employment, and tho' my wages werena big, wi' eident care on the pairt o' Grizzy I had managed to add a wee, noo and again, to my bank accoont. It surprised me beyond measure to find oot hoo interest and compound interest swalled oot the original amount. I aye believed in lettin' weel-do alane, and tho' I was sairly tempted at times to lift some o't and put it in the new Gas Company that was bein' formed in Thornhill, I held back, and glad I am to this day that I did sae, for it turned oot but a feckless venture, and tho' the interest was sma'er, Dr. Russel's money vaults were the best and safest in the end.
It may be that the smell o' gas was against it, or that the cost was prohibitive, but certain I am that it didna tak' on at first as was expected o't.
I mind ae nicht o' ca'in in on Lawyer Hepburn on same maitter relatin' to the Oddfellows, o' which society I was secretary at the time. He was an unmairrit man, and was lodgin' wi' auld Mrs. Kellock, the draper's weeda, and when we had got though oor business be took a ceegar oot o' his pooch which some Insurance man had gien him, and he lichted it and puffed away most beautifully.
In a wee the door opened, quately and gently, and Mrs. Kellock's heid peeped by.
"Is the gas escapin', Maister Hepburn?" she asked wi' concern.
"Gas escapin'?" said he, and he sniffed aboot. "Gas es- Ah no! It's a ceegar I'm smokin'."
"Oh, that's a' richt," said she, "for my pairt I never kens ony difference," and she steekit the door, calmed and reassured.
If the gas had the smell o' ceegars, there's nae wonder the company didna pey, and if the ceegar had the smell a' Thornhill gas, there's nae wander the Insurance man gied it away.
Weel, weel, that's a' richt eneuch, but ye'll be wearyin' to hear aboot that signboards so in order to lead up to it and tell ye a' aboot it I maun hark back on Sandy Rae, for when a's said and done it was thra' his speech and actions that I arrived at it.
Sandy was a kind o' an evergreen, and tho' be wad be aboot fifty year auld, his jaunty, conceited airs and his youthfu' wey o' dressin' made him look younger and mair like his auldest boy's brither than his faither.
As I've said before, be had a wonderfu' gift o' the gab, and aboot this time he was usin' it for a' it was worth in tryin' to show warkin' men in general, and Tharnhill masons in particeelar, that they werena gettin' wages in proportion to the worth o' their labours. When we were gaun to oor wark o' a marnin', at oor denner oor, or an the road gaun hame, Sandy was aye at it, talkin' like a book-canvasser, backin' up his arguments wi' flo'ery words and beautifully perted picters o' the milk and honey which wad flaw ower the land, o' the contentment and happiness, and the routh o' gear which would be the result o' a rise o' a penny an oor in oor weekly wage.
"Ah, boys," he wad say, "we're a' walkin' in Egyptian darkness, we're staunin' on the brink o' a yawnin' abyss, and ruination and the puirhoose is starein' us atween the een. We're warkin' oor haun's till they've a skin like a hippopotamus, and raisin' a humph on oor shooders like that o' a dromedary's. We're gettin' auld, grey, grizzled, monkey-faced men afore oor time, and a' for what? A meeserable fivepence an oor-ten wee broon bawbees, five dirty bronze pennies. Juist think a't! And, boys, oor maisters are a' waxin' fat, wearin' their saft felt hats and their 'lastic-sided buits, buyin' their wives split new dolmans every back-end, and sittin' doon to their tea and till't every nicht o' the week as regular as the clock chaps five. And a' this, mind ye, on the profits they mak' oot o' you and me. It's eneuch, boys, to bring the blush o' shame to the cheek o' every faither among us, and to mak' us hide oor heids whenever the glorious wards o' 'Scots Wha Hae' are sung in oor ears.
"When, boys, when, I ask ye, will ye arise in your wrath and your strength and demand redress? You'll no' get it by keepin' a quate sough or a mim moath. You'll no' get it by ae man's askin' for it, or by individual action, but it will came by united representation and a bold, determined front. And when we've arisen, when we've proved oor strength, and when it has come, we'll hae smilin', weel-fed bairns, we'll hae happy, contented guidwives, we'll hae the wherewithal to buy oor 'backy and yill withoot a grudgin' thocht; the mountains will rejoice wi' us, the wee hills will clap their haun's, and the desert will rejoice and blossom as the rose.
"It's no' the Almichty's faut that this world's gear is ill divided. No, boys, it's no' His faut. We were a' barn naked, and we a' gang to oor lang hame in a similar attire. But He gied us the capabilities o' warkin' oot oor ain advancement-the steady e'e, the Chisel thoom, the love o' oor tred for oor tred's sake, and be it to oor shame if we dinna mak' the best use o' these and tak' them to the best peyin' market. Remove this stain, staun' up for oor richts, quit us like men, and oor children's children will rise up and call us blessed."
Dod, mind ye, the effect o' this and siclike speechifyin', regularly and vehemently delivered, soon began to be felt, and to tak' root and spread. A spirit of discontent was in evidence in the toon, and there was feelin' o' distrust and enmity between maisters and men that had never existed in the locality before.
Ae nicht a wheen masons, baith hewers and builders, forgethered at the Cross, whether prearranged or by chance I canna tell, but Sandy was there wi' a' the pooder in the horn, and efter a deal o' talk it was decided to hae a meetin' in the Back Street Schule to consider what had best be dune.
Sandy, of coorse, was to caa' the meetin', and get Billy also to bell it weel thro' the toon.
The next nicht but yin I got the followin' letter: -
"DEAR Sir, - The time is at hand, yea, as a matter of fact, it has arrived, when the question of an inadequate rate of wages has to be faced and considered, and your presence is requested at a meeting to be held for that purpose in the Back Street Schoolroom on Friday evening first at eight o'clock.
Secretary pro tem."
That "pro tem." bothered me. I looked it up in Johnstone, but it wasna there, so I put it doon for yin o' Sandy's ain yins. John Crawford was an aulder man than me, and I gied him the letter withoot any remark, but it wasna on the "pro tem." he burked. He put an his specs, and efter readin' it a' carefully through, he handed it back to me, and said he, "Wha's the Alexander Rae?"
I thocht he was jokin' till I looked into his serious face.
"Tuts, man, John," said I, "that's Sandy Rae."
"Oh, it's Sandy, is it? That's surely a new name for him. Deil be lickit, if ever I heard him caa'd that afore."
Weel, I wasna muckle on for a meetin', as I was under the impression that a rise was possible withoot sic palavers, but as a big meetin' was wanted and everyyin seemed to be in earnest, I made up my mind to attend. And a very divertin' proceedin' it turned oot to be.
Auld Willum Turner had never got an invitation to a meetin' in his life before, and he gaed aboot wi' his heid in the air like a cat wi' a herrin'. He wasna very sure wbat kind o' claes to put on, and he didna like to ask; but he dootless thocht to himsel' that he wadna shame the getherin', so he turned oot in his Sabbath day surtoo and a greeny-black lum bat. When he cam' through the Bow Entry and saw a' the ithers in their ordinarys he turned, angry and disgusted, gaed hame and changed, and cam' back soored and angry wi' himsel' and everybody else.
Sandy, of coorse, was the man o' the oor, and he was jumpin' aboot, juist like a flea on a blanket, wi' a pencil stuck behin' his lug and a lot o' papers in his haun'.
There was a big turnoot o' the tred, same nineteen or twenty all told, and when I arrived ae hauf were staunin' at the door smokin', and the ither hauf sittin' quate as cheetie-pussy, squeezed a' thegither on a backless bink that was made to haud six or seven wee weans wi' ease and comfort. Wi' the exception o' Sandy, there was naebody very sure what to do first, or hoo to open the proceedin's, and it turned oot that even he was in doots, for, when I cam' in he sidel'd up to me and asked hoo I thocht sic a meetin' should be tackled.
Willum Turner, wha was sittin' beside me, ventured the opinion that it should be opened wi' prayer, and tho' I thocht we wad be nane the waur o' a petition, I said itherwise to Sandy, and advised him to first get in a' the smokers at the door, then elect a chairman, and a secretar' to tak' a note o' the ongauns.
Weel, of coorse, there was only ae possible chairman, and efter Sandy had been duly elected he sat doon on John Black, the schulemaister's chair, and hosted and wipit his broo wi' a big red pocket-napkin. Then he took oot a lang sheet o' paper, on which he had written a speech, and he began by sayin' that this was the proodest oor o' his life, that he was surprised beyond articulation that the honour o' chairmanship had been conferred upon him, that he was unworthy o' this high office and lackin' in education to adequately fulfil its duties, but he was willin', not only willin' but eager, jumpin' in fact, to do his utmost to promote the interest o' every man before him.
It was a tremendous rigmarole aboot the richts o' the workin' man and the oppressive tyranny o' the employers in general, and the Thornhill yin in particeelar, and he feenished it up wi' the last verse o' "Scots Wha Hae."
There was a wee creistin' mason sittin' on the front bink, yin Dannie Kennedy by name, wi' a heid as narra as a hen and a disgust at whusky and yill that had been the means o' giein' him a high position amang the Good Templars. He couldna for his life think oot a proposition or mak' an original remark or suggestion and gie it utterance at a meetin', but he bood be seen and heard, and he was the best seconder o' a motion that ever catched a chairman's e'e.
When Sandy had delivered his oration and resumed his seat, this body suddenly popped up, and said be- "Chief Templar, Brothers and Sisters,-I've much pleesure in secondin' Brother Rae's motion," efter which remark he jerked himsel' to his seat on the bink like a loose jointed fit-rule.
Then Sandy got up and said he had dune nocht to deserve bein' caa'd "Chief Templar," and that as there was nae motion before the meetin', there was nae use o' a seconder. He was prepared hooever, to receive ony motion and to submit the same to the meetin's consideration. But naebody spoke, and when there had been silence for some time, Willum Turner stood kind o' haul up and said that something wad hae to be done to keep up the fun, and as he considered the meetin' a very dry yin, he thocht we should a' club thegither and send oot for a few quarts o' yill, and that efter it had been brocht in mebbe Jamie Muir wad sing "The Bonnie Lass a' Ballochmyle." Willum's motion was a popular yin, but it was resented by Sandy, wha in a stern kind o' a voice asked us to hae dune wi' levity, and, for the sake o' the tred we belanged to, to come at aince to business. If, he continued, naebody else was prepared to mak' a motion be himsel' wad move the followin': -
"That this meetin' o' Thornhill masons elect a committee to confer with the different employers of labour with a view to the raising of the present wage from 5d. to 6d. per hour, and with power to intimate to the said employers that in the event of this rise not being granted a general strike would immediately follow."
This was seconded at once by Dannie Kennedy, and cairried by a show o' haun's.
I never cared in a' my life to show mysel' in public or try to bask in the sunshine o' the public smile, as someane has so beautifully put it; but I couldna let that motion pass withoot question, so I got up and asked if in the event o' us a' gaun oot on strike there wad be any possibility a' oor places bein' taen by ither masons frae Dumfries, or Sanquhar, or Campleslacks, or any ither big important industrial centre.
Dannie Kennedy got up, probably to second this, but he subsided under the Chairman's irate e'e.
Then Sandy asked me it I thocht that brither masons frae ither toons wad interfere between us and oor employers, nip oor ambitions in the bud, and frustrate oor plans a' self-advancement; and I replied that whan it cam' to a question o' pounds, shillin's, and pence there was deevilish little britherhood gaun, and I strongly advised the meetin' to instruct the committee to say nocht aboot the possibility o' a strike, but to gie the employers to understaun' we were in earnest and determined to mak' the best possible bargain for oorsel's.
This was seconded by Dannie Kennedy, but the Chairman ruled that Dannie couldna second baith motions, so as naebody else spoke my amendment fell through.
Then a committee o' ten was appointed to act as a deputation to wait on the employers, and when the names were called oot Willum Turner again stood hauf up, and said that he thocht it a peety the meetin' should make fish o' yin and flesh o' anther, and he proposed that we should a' act on this committee, and this was again seconded by Dannie Kennedy.
But Sandy lost his temper wi' Dannie, and tell't him for Godsake to keep his seat and to raither rin a chance o' a corn on his hip than yin on his tongue. This raised a tremendous lauch against Dannie, and the clappin' o' haun's and the knockin' o' the feet on the flaer was sae deafenin' that the Chairman caa'd, "Order, order."
Wi' that Willum Turner reminded Sandy that his order for yill had received nae attention, and that raised anither lauch. But, dod, man, Sandy keepit us a' weel in haun', and managed his job as to the manner born, as it were. Mind you, when he was addressin' us be didna caa' us Robbie, or Tammas, or Willum, as the case micht be, but be "Maistered" everyyin o' us. At ae stage o' the proceedin's, when Robert M'Scabblin was argien' a point, he said, "But look here, Sandy." Man, Sandy caa'd him up at wance. "Maister Chairman, please," said he, wi' his heid to the side, and he sat back in his chair, steekit his een, and crossed his legs like a minister.
Weel, everything gaed like clockwork till Sandy was makin' his closin' speech, and it was then that the meetin' lost its chairman, and afterwards skailed withoot mair ado.
He was exhortin' us a' to stick to oor guns, to be men, not slaves, to staun' shooder to sbooder, and never to look back aince we had put oor haun's on the plough. "Strike when the ern is hot," was the owercome o' his remarks, and he was at yin o' the" strikes" when the door opened and Mary Carson's face appeared. Somebody, ye see, had gien her an inklin' o' what was gaun on, and as she had lived thro' a miner's strike when she was a servant lass in Cumlick, and kenned what it a' meant, she was resolved that Sandy wad be oot o' this yin.
"Ay, Sandy," said she, "what's that ye were sayin' aboot strikin' the ern when it is hot? When I'm in a strikin' mood it's generally something safter than ern I strike. Ye're ower wee bookit to fill that big chair. Ca'way hame, like a wee mannie, and get your saps and gang to your bed."
Sandy's face was a study. Dod, man, I was sorry for him. He pointed to the door wi' an ootstretched finger. "Begone, woman!" was on the tip o' his tongue, but he hadna the courage to say it, and under his wife's steady Carronbrig glower his airm gaed lower and lower till his fingers pointed to the flaer.
Then he smiled in a seikly kind o' a wey and tried to wheedle her wi' promises and assurances o' speedy attention to her request, but Mary was ower auld a bird to be catched wi' chaff.
Then he tried to fling sand in oor een.
"Is't-is't the minister that's caa'in and wantin' me, Mary?" And withoot waitin' on an answer, he said, "Imphm! Well, gentlemen, a maitter o' great importance demands my immediate return to my domicile. All our business, however, has been carried to a successful conclusion, and I thank you for your attendance and wish you good-night. There is only one other-"
A whustle frae between Mary's twae front teeth and the sicht o' a curled forefinger cut short his remarks, and he hurriedly left the meetin'.
This circumstance put what yin micht caa' a damper on the proceedin's, and left an uncommon nasty taste in oor palates. Oor leader-the man o' vim and protestations o' doughty deeds had been, as it were, blawn oot by the whiff o' a woman's whustle, and ta'en hame to his saps and his bed. It was-it was-eh--- The fact is I dinna ken hoo to express it forcibly eneuch, but whatever it was, it was and no mistake.
Weel, we were a' pledged, hooever, and there was to be nae drawin' back. As arranged, the committee met the maisters the followin' nicht, and maitters were duly discussed, and oor overtures unanimously refused. Then followed the first strike I ever had ocht to do wi', and the last, I may add.
It turned oot as I expected and foretold. Oor places were sune filled up by ithers, for wark was scarce in ither toons, and the maisters' contracts gaed on as usual.
I daunnered aboot idle for a wee, much to Grizzy's concern and my ain disgust, but aboot the end o' the second week I met Doctor Grierson, and he, efter hearin' hoo I cam' to be idle, asked me to fix some chumbly cans on his lumheids. That bit job keepit me gaun for a wee; then Hugh Youdal gied me the ootside o' his hoose to cement, and I got busy. I soon faun oot I could mak' a very decent day's wage, and something forby-not much certainly, but a penny or twae-by workin' or my ain; so ae day when Bailie M'Caig, the joiner, was gaun to pey me for the layin' o' some flags in front o' his hoose, I said to him that I thocht on strikin' oot for mysel', and that as I wad need a signboard, he could juist mak' yin, and the price o' the flag layin' wad be a contra accoont. The Bailie said there was nocht in business like giff-gaff, and be sterted and made for me the board which to this day is awer my yaird gate.
It's lang since that day, the vernish is a' peeled off, and the letters are no' sae easily made oot as aince they were; but, fortunately, they're no' needed noo to direct my customers to me, as I'm weel kenned in the toon, and jobs come in wi' surprisin' regularity. Tho' I've never succeeded in gettin' any biggish contracts, I've aye had what keepit my beid and haun' busy. I've sometimes a man durin' the stirr o' the simmer-time, and, of coorse, an apprentice a' the year through, and ye wadna believe the quantity o' wark that gangs through oor haun's. I've built a guid wheen dykes door the back road, and yin or twae faceable oothooses, forby makin' richt mony a bad drawin' lum in the toon, a' o' which will staun', I hope, as a monument to my carefu' workmanship, lang efter my heid is laid to rest in Morton Auld Kirkyaird.
I'm the auldest Thornhill-born man in the toon, but it's a distinction I'm in nae wey prood o'. Amang a' the boys that were at the schule wi' me, or the young men wha were wi' me in my 'prentice days, not one, so far as I ken, is alive. I've followed, at ae time or anther, wi' slow step and a sair hert, the feck o' them to their last restin'-place through the Gill, and ye wad be astonished to ken hoo mony names which were aince familiar on signboards abune shop doors are noo cut deep in stane in the Auld Kirkyaird.
The thocht is a sad and solemn yin to me, and it is at a' times a sermon which I canna ignore. Lanely and thochtfu' at times I am, but, tho' I have lost sae mony freens o' my youth, I've Grizzy still beside me, and that's compensation and consolation mair to me than I can tell. Haun' in haun' we've come through the storm and stress, and haun' in haun' we're sittin' noo in the loune, and the poet's prayer is oors when he says-
"God grant his circlin' wings will hap
==Auld hirplin' age until,
 Wi' quate stilled herts and faulded haun's,
==We're cairrit thro' the Gill."