I WAS leukin forrit to Hogmanay, I was that. Maggie haed been behavin' hersel uncommonly weel for a week back, an me hivin less mental annoyance, wisna sae much tormented wi the rheumatics. But when she said that we wad first-fit Rob Kiltyre an his wife, an her widowed sister wha bides wi them noo, I wisna sae awfu keen. Ye see, ye never ken hoo the dram's gaun to tak Rab, if he disna gae daft wi sheer joy, he gaes sae miserable that he haes ye sittin leukin doon at the fluir throu your knees as if ye was listenin to a minister in a hoose o daith. But when Maggie says, "Aye," an I say "No," ye can depend on sparks fleein, an Hogmanay's no the time for that. Sae I juist said, "Very weel, my auld sweethe'rt, an we'll hope for the best." An if that wisna gi'in her her ain wey an a bittock what was?
Apairt frae the official dram, which stuid on the dresser, wrapped in tissue paper, a wee yin o port, an a hale yin o John Haig, I haed a secret dram o my ain ben the room. Sae frae aboot eleeven o'clock I haed three or fower excuses to tak me there, an by a quarter to twelve, when we put on oor coats to gae, I was fairly weel fortified for ony emergency.
Sae Maggie teuk chairge o the port, an I gripped the whisky wi a firm hand, an aff we went ower the brig.
Noo, there wisna a leivin' sowel on the street, a' sittin at their wireless or TV, sets waitin on the time comin frae London. In the ald days, I thocht . . . But I stopped thinkin aboot that for I micht get my share o misery before lang frae Rob. Sae I juist teuk an angrier grip o my bottle, an walked a wee bit mair warily, for the roads were slippy.
We reached Rob's door juist as the toon clock was strikin', sae I knocked loodly for I could hear Rob singin his favourite. "Drivin' into Glesga wi the Soor Milk Cairt." An I whispered to Maggie, "He's in guid fettle, thank the Lord."
Jean, his wife, opened the door, an when she saw wha it was she pou'd us baith in wi twa hands. Then Rob got his airms roon' Maggie's neck an kissed her, then he got his airms roon' my neck an kissed me, tae- a thing which I mortally detest, sae I kissed him back-for spite. Jean's sister, Betsy, no leukin very happy because her man hadnae been sae lang deid, was sittin at the fire. But she did try to be as cheerie as she could when she wished us a happy new year.
We teuk oor coats aff, an Rob poored us oot a dram, no forgettin to gie himsel a liberal helpin'. An we sat doon at the fire wi oor glesses in yin hand, an a bit o Jean's curran' bun in the ither. Jean is a very cheery wee sowel, wi e'en that are aye lit wi lauchter; an whatever she saw in Rob I dinna ken for he's oucht but a beauty, an will haud on to his black moustache that sticks straucht oot like a claiths-brush. But there's nae accountin' for love.
We got crackin aboot the auld days, an were lauchin he'rtily aboot some o the sets we'd experienced at previous Hogmanays, an were gettin' on fine, when Betsy started to greet a' at yince, an hurried into the room to shut the door an hae her greet oot in plaesur. Sae that kinna damped oor spirits a bit. "It's juist naitral," said Rob, "for her an her man first-fitted us last year, an he was in the pink o health. Aye, aye, but that's life, Tam-here the day an awa the morn." Jean telt him to cheer up a bit, sae he went ower to the dresser an broucht back the bottle. He said he'd gie us a sang, an if we didna mind he'd treat us later to the Sword Dance-Rob's a bit o an expert at this ower the poker an tangs. We didna mind ava, an telt him that.
But juist then wha should come in but Chairlie Shaw, the gravedigger. The first thing he said was that he was as cauld as daith, sae we let him get near the fire, while Rob saw to the heatin' o his interior. Chairlie is a man that leives for his work, the mair graves he gets to dig the better, an efter years o disposin' o the depairted his' face haes got lang an narrow, an there's aye a teir in his ee. Sae before he'd even lifted his gless he started to tell us aboot a funeral he'd haed that day. "Aye, aye, yin the day, an yin the morn', a bad end to the year an a bad beginning' to the next." An leukin at us a' in turn he wondered wha wad be awa before next Hogmanay. An Rob said, "Aye, aye, I wonder that mysel, Chairlie, for there's nane o us as young as we was." Jean telt him to cheer up a bit, an got a gey sherp answer, sae I could see that the dram was hivin an adverse effect on Rob.
Then, to my great surprise, Chairlie said that he'd like to favour the company wi a sang. We a' agreed to that unanimously, an Jean went ben the room to bring in her sister. She haed got her greet by an was smilin an apology. Sae she sat doon while Chairlie got up on his feet to sing. Chairlie aye sings wi his heid to the yin side, an a hand held to his ear, sae aff he started. "We shall meet, but we ha' miss him. There will be a vacant chair. . . ." He didna get ony further when Jean's sister started to howl again an rushed back to the room. Then jean said to Chairlie, "You that's a grave-digger micht hae kent better."
"A man can only sing the yin sang he kens," said he, "but seein I'm no Wanted I'll gae."
But Rob wadna have that in his hoose, if onybody haed to gae it wad be Jean. Sae Jean put on her coat an was ready to gae oot when Maggie intervened an gae Rob a bit o her mind. An for this Rob got on to me-"What kind o man was I that wad let ony wife behave like that in anither man's hoose."
Jean's sister cam back again, an to spite Jean, Rob put his airms roon' her an started to sympathise wi her, then he tickled her face wi his moustache which she seemed to like for she giggled. Then ye should hae heard Jean-"But she jalouzed she jalouzed that something haed been gaun on between them a' the time !" Then Chairlie started on Rob, which gae me the impression that he haed a notion o the weedie himsel, an in twa meenits the hoose was in an uproar. Jean orderin' her sister frae her hoose, an the sister breenchin' ben the room to pack her things, an Chairlie wi his nose up against Rob's nose tellin' him that he could bury him withoot the slightest compunction. An dear kens what micht hae happened but wha cam steppin' in but my brither Wull, wi his fiddle alow his oxter, an his bunnet on back to front, a shuir sign that he'd been imbibing liberally. An withoot ,a wird to ony o us he elbowed Rob an Chairlie oot his road, teuk the fiddle frae its box, an drew the bow doon the strings. He clenched his teeth an wi his e'en staring in his heid, an his fit bangin' on the fluir he played the "East Neuk o Fife" as I'd never heard him play it afore. Then he asked for a dram, which Jean gae him very willin'ly. It went ower in yin braith.
Sae I said to Wull, "Can ye play a sword dance, Wull ?" "If there's onything I canna play that somebody else can bring him here." said Wull. "An if there's onybody that can dance the sword dance better than me bring him here, tae," said Rob, takin aff his collar an tie, his jaikit, an his weskit, an his buits. Then he tore the
rug frae the fireside, threw it ower the bed, an put doon the poker an tongs. "Richt !" says he to Wull. "Get oot my road !" says Wull to Chairlie. Then when he got Rob to leuk at him he said "Richt!"
Man, ye talk aboot the dance o the Zulus! Whiles I was feart that his heid was gaun to gae throu the ceilin', an whiles feart that he'd tie his legs in a knot in mid air. Jean's greetin sister cam back again, but when she saw Rob she started to lauch an couldna stop. Chairlie thocht her conduct was disgracefu' wi her man hardly cauld in his grave. But at the mention o grave Wull got a haud o him by the neck an the sate o his troosers an flung him oot the hoose, to which the weedie said "Hear! Hear !"
Then Rob tied his gallowses roon' his waist, an drew oot his skirt, an gae us as nice an exhibition o the Heilan' Fling as I hae seen in a kitchen. An the weedie lauched an clappit her hands. Then we a' got a turn to sing. Wull playin' to us wi a guid deal o intoxicated feelin. An we feenished up wi hivin the best Hogmanay I've haed for years.
But, man, it was touch an gae till Wull cam on the scene.