Joe Corrie


WHEN I sat doon at oor fire the ither nicht to read the Gazette. I couldna help but remark to mysel that oor wee kitchen was the very pictur o contentment. It was true that I haedna haed much peace a' day wi Maggie washin, an scrubbin' an dustin', an polishin', an duntin me in the ribs to keep oot o her road, but noo that the battle was ower, an the fire was lowin bonnily, the cheenie dugs glistenin on the dresser, a spotless claith on the table, an the aroma o furniture polish still in the air, an Maggie knittin'-wi her mooth shut-man, it was cosy an peacefu. An as I put my feet on the weel-polished "Hame Sweet Hame" on the fender, an lay back to read my paper, I was divinely content.

But the atmosphere didna prevail lang. Maggie saw me lift my e'en frae the peper an leuk up to the ceilin' givin' my heid a shake o annoyance.

"What's wrang wi ye noo?" says Maggie. "Oh." says I, "a letter in the Gazette, here, wantin the Editor to solve that auld conundrum to settle an argument." "What conundrum ?" says she. "That man's faither," says I. "What aboot him ?" says she. "Ye must be losin' your memory," says I. "Sisters an brithers have I nane, but that man's faither is my faither's son. Sae if I was leukin at a pictur," I went on, "an said that, wha's pictur wad I be leukin at ?" "Your ain, o course," says she, "I'm shuir I've telt ye that a hunner times."

"Beggin' your pardon, Maggie," says I, "it's aye me that haes telt you, an you're wrang again; he's leukin at his faither's pictur." She stopped her knittin'. "What is it in you that mak's ye aye sae contrary?" says she. "In the name a mercy!" says I, "can a man no speak his mind in a free country withoot bein accused o bein nesty." "I never uttered sic a wird!" says she. "No," says I, "but that's what ye were thinkin-I ken by the wey ye curl up that nose o yours."

"The man was leukin at his ain pictur," says she., "an that's it settled!" an her needles flashed in the lamplicht like forkit lichtnin'.

Noo, there's only yin wey o convincin' a wumman that she's wrang, an that's by concrete example. Sae ben the room I went an come back wi a photo enlargement a' my ain faither.

"What's that in here for?" says she. "Will ye put doon that knittin' an gie me your attention ?" says I. She didna put doon the knittin', but she gae me her exasperated attention.

"I said that the man was leukin at the pictur o his faither, didn't I," says I. "An because you say a thing haes the hale warld to believe it?" says she. "Will ye leuk here ?" says I. "I'm leukin," says she. "Am I leukin at my faither's pictur or am I no ?" says I. "Aye, but you're no him !" "No wha?" says I. "The man that was leukin at the pictur o his faither's son, o coorse," says she.

Sae I thocht I'd start a' ower again. "Sisters an brithers have I nane ..." "What are ye talkin aboot, ye hae twa brithers an three sisters, haven't ye ?" says she. "I'm talkin aboot the conundrum," says I. "Weel, talk aboot it an no stand leukin at your faither like a cuddy!" Mony a man wad hae lost his temper at that but I juist clenched my teeth, an said, "When a wife tells her man that he's a cuddy she's admittin' that she's wrang," says I. "What I said was," says she, "that the man was leukin at his ain pictur." "An what I'm sayin," said I, "was that my faither's son is leukin at the pictur o his faither !" "An if you're no your faither's son," says she, "wha's pictur are ye leukin at ?"

"My grandfaither's step-uncle," says I. An, wantin to feeninish the argument at that, I made to tak the pictur ben to the parlour. "I'm gled you're admittin' you're wrang for yince." says she. Man, I turned roon' on yin heel an stamped my ither fit on the fluir wi a thump, then rapped on the gless o the pictur wi my knuckles. "That's man's faither," says I, "was my faither's son, an if ye say 'No,' I'll tak baith this pictuie an you up to the Editor o the Gazette an ask him to prove it !"

"Richt!" says she, throwin' doon her knittin' an jumpin' to her feet. Noo, I didna expect that, sae I said quite raesonably. "Leuk here, Maggie, this haes got to be settled at some time or anither, an settled for ever, for it comes up every year in this hoose. Let me start a' ower again. Sisters an brithers have I nane . . ." "Have I no telt ye, ye hae twa brithers . . ." " But this man's faither is my faither's son," said I, very firmly. "Can I hae that pictur?" says she. "What for ?" says I. "Sae that I can prove that you're no leukin at wha ye think you're leukin at."

She teuk the pictur frae me an held it up level wi ma face. "Noo, wha are ye leukin at ?" I could see my faither shakin his heid, but I said, "I'm leukin at the pictur o my faither." "Then if you're leukin at your faither hoo can ye be leukin at yoursel ?" "What are ye talkin aboot ?" says I. "If you're leukin at your faither's pictur hoo can ye be leukin at your faither's son?" says she. "When I want to leuk at my faither's son," says I, "I'll leuk in the leukin-gless." "I wadna. If I was you," says she, "for you'll only gie yoursel a fricht."

When a wumman says a thing like that to the man wha haes fed her, sheltered her, an protected her frae the storms o life to the auld age pension era it's certain admission that she's wrang but'll no admit it. But I wisna gaun to let it rest at that. This was a maiter that haed to be settled definitely, yince an for a'. Sae I said "Very weel, then, I'll leuk in the leukin-gless an prove it tae ye there." Sae ower I went an spak to her reflection which I could see ower my shouther. "Forgettin aboot your brithers an sisters, Tam," says I to mysel . . ."

"I you're gaun to leive oot your brithers an sisters," says she, "you'll be an orphan." I didna reply to that idiotic remark, but juist went on, "but that man's faither s as my faither's son." Then I turned roan' an fair shouted at her- "ME !" "An isn't that what I've been tellin' ye a' the time," says she. "You've been tryin' to tell me that when I was leukin at that pictur o my faither that I wisna leukin at his son ava-wasna' ye ?" "Naither ye was," says she, "ye was supposed to be leukin at your faither." "What d'ye mean-supposed to be ?" says I. "Well," says she, "if ye wisna your faither's son, hoo could he be your faither?"

Noo, I ask ye? You hae seen that I hae pruived her wrang withoot the shadow o a dout, an yet she says a thing like that. Sae I juist said, "Maggie, if ye will be essert iust be essert, but let me warn ye-ye mey drive me to the drink but never to the asylum." Sae I teuk the pictur o my faither-dacent man-back to the parlour an hung him up again in peace an quiet.

An I didna gae back to the kitchen. I teuk hauf a croon oot o her purse that was on the sideboard, an went oot, bangin' the door wi sic force that she haed to rush to the mantelpiece to save Rabbie Burns an Heilan' Mary frae committin' suicide on her polished "Hame Sweet Hame" fender.