P Hay Hunter


AN noo I'll hae to tell ye aboot a thing that landed me in sair trouble at the time, an the truith is I'm no shuir yet whether I did richt or wrang. We haed been doun to the railway ae day wi the cairts, for cake; an as we were gaun throu the toun, passin Pringle the writer's office, oot comes Pringle himsel, an stops me, an shakes hauns vera freendly. He wis a fine, free-spoken, hamely kind o man, Pringle, an I haed aye gien him credit for haein as muckle honesty as ye coud raesonably expeck o a laayer.

"An hoo are ye keepin, Maister Inwick?" says he; "an hoo's the mistress?"

"Thank ye," says I; "no that ill. An hoo are ye yersel, Maister Pringle?"

"Middlin," says he; "I hae an awfu heap on my mind, Maister Inwick. My wark's no like yours: it's never duin."

"I daursay," says I; "I'm shuir ye dinna hain yersel, sir."

"Can ye no leave yer cairts for a bit meenit or twa," says he, "an come in by to the office? I wad like to hae a wird wi ye."

"Weel," says I, "if it's no for lang, I micht"--an in I gaed wi him.

"Ye've no been in here afore, Maister Inwick?" says he; "ye've no brocht ony business my wey, as faur as I can caa to mind?"

"Na," says I; "I'm thankfu to say I hae ne'er haed ony trokins wi the laayers, aa my days. I aye mind o what my auld faither uised to tell us--Law's costly: tak a pint an 'gree."

"That's gey guid," says he, wi a lauch, "but aa trades maun live, ye ken, as the wife said whan she brunt her besom. Ye'll no ha haed yer mornin yet, Maister Inwick? Ye maun hae a bit dram, juist to show there's nae ill-wull."

Wi that he feshed a bottle an twa glesses oot o a press, an poored oot a gey stiff ane for me, an a wee drappie for himsel. "Here's t'ye, Maister Inwick," says he, "an I'm prood to see ye, sittin whaur ye are."

"Thank ye, sir," says I, "an here's to yer vera guid health, an mony days mey ye see. Man, that's grand stuff ye keep," says I.

"I'm gled ye like it," says he, "for ye'll be a juidge, I'm thinkin. Bein an elder, Maister Inwick, ye ocht to ken aboot the quality o the Auld Kirk."

"It's the king o aa drinks," says I, "whan ye get it guid, an that's no aye, mair's the peety."

"Wull ye hae ony watter?" says he.

"No, thank ye," says I, "I'll no pit the carle abuin the gentleman."

"Weel, here's success to the Leeberal cause," says he, "an a bigger win neist time nor we haed the last!"

"Wi aa my hert," says I.

"They telt me ye haed chainged yer principles," says he, "an gaen ower to the tither side, but I kent fine it wisna true. We hae aye leuked upon ye as a main stoop o the pairty up by roon' the hill-fits, Maister Inwick--oor member haes aye said that he wad raither hae you at his back nor a dizzen o the lairds--an if there wis onything in the pairty prograwm that gaed against the grain wi ye, I'm shuir he wad like to hae yer views, an wad consider them weel."

"Weel, sir," says I, "to be perfeckly honest wi ye, I'm no satisfied in my ain mind aboot this kirk business. There 's mair nor me o the same wey o thinkin--we no want to pit oot oor member, but aa the same we want to dae what 's richt by oor kirk. It' s an awfu peety that Tod-Lowrie ever set the baa rowin. What for coud he no gae on the weys he wis daein, an let the kirk a-be?"

"He coudna help himsel, Maister Inwick," says he; "ye maunna blame him: he coudna dae ither nor what he 's duin. It wisna him that set the baa rowin, as ye say--naither him, nor ony ither man. Ye see, disestaiblishment's a pairt o the Leeberal prograwm noo--it 's what they caa a plank in their platform; an if ye 're to get aa thae ither reforms cairied oot, this ane wull hae to gang wi them. Maister Tod-Lowrie haed to mak up his mind whether to keep step wi his pairty in reformin the kirk, or quit it aathegither; he pat the maiter afore his conscience, as he telt me himsel, an considered it weel; an aa that he 's duin, ye mey be shuir, he's duin because he thocht it richt, an best for the workin folk o the kintra. Ye heard him say yersel that he wis nae enemy o the kirk, an that disestaiblishment wad dae the kirk nae hairn, but guid?"

"Aye, I heard him," says I, "but I canna juist say I teuk it in. Ye see, oor minister tells us the vera opposite. He says aa yon aboot the kirk sufferin frae bein conneckit wi the state is naethin but an impident makup o her enemies. He says whan there 's onything wrang wi a man's inside, the man himsel is commonly the first to ken o't; an even supposin he wisna feelin up to the mark, he wadna like some coorse tyke o a horse-doctor to grup a haud o him in the street, an shove a nesty stinkin bolus doun his throat withoot ever askin his leave. An as for disestaiblishment makkin nae difference, he says we canna sell the coo an sup the milk, an if we let the kirk gang we'll finnd oot the warth o't by the want o't."

"Weel, Maister Inwick," says he, "I wad be the last man to breathe a wird against yer minister. I ken the respeck ye hae for him, an there 's nae man whase opeenion I wad suiner lippen to, on ony question forby this o the kirk. But ye ken he's but human, efter aa--we aa hae oor bits o wakenesses, Maister Inwick--an there's naethin sets the juidgment ajee like the thocht o oor ain interests bein affeckit. I 'in no sayin, mind ye, that he means it, an vera likely he 's no aware o't; but for aa that, bein an interested pairty, he 's no fit to haud the scales level, like you an me. He 's leukin at the maiter throu specs, as ane micht say, an no wi his ain een."

"There mey be somethin in that," says I.

"Noo," says he, "I'm gaun to say somethin til ye, that I haena said yet to anither leevin saul; an I say't to you, because ye're a man to be trusted, an a man whase opeenion is warth the haein. Ye ken oor member haes been shamefully misrepresentit on this question: the ministers an ithers hae held him up as an enemy o releegion, an an ill-wusher to the kirk, an a robber o her patrimony. Ye'll ha heard sic things said aboot him, at some o yer kirk defence meetins?"

"Weel," says I, "I'll no say but I've been by whan he got it gey shairp ower the fingers."

"Juist as I thocht," says he; "weel, it's no true, no a wird o't; an to prove it's no true--an this is what I want to say til ye, Maister Inwick, in strick confidence, as atween man an man--they're gaun to bring in a Bill in the parliament."

"A Bill?" says I; "what 'n kind o Bill?"

"A disestaiblishment Bill," says he, "that winna dae the kirk ony kind o hairm whatever. A Bill that winna touch the kirks an manses an gairdens, an winna rnak yer minister a penny the puirer. A Bill to let the kirk doun sae saft, she'll ne'er finnd the difference'; an at the same time, Maister Inwick, I mey say to ye, aye in strick confidence, a Bill that wull confer immense benefits on the workin clesses o the kintra."

"Ay?" says I; "an whae's gaun to bring it in? Is't the Government?"

"No," says he, "it 's no juist exackly the Government. It 's Maister Tod-Lowrie, an a wheen mair Leeberal members, that's pitten their names til't; but there 's nae dout the Government wull tak it up an see that it wins throu. Wait or ye see the Bill, Maister Inwick; ye'll ken than whether or no oor member's an enemy o the kirk. I'm thinkin some o them that hae been clattin aa the roads o the coonty for dirt to throw at him wull be ashamed o theirsels, aince this is made public, an they see what 'n an injuistice they hae duin him."

"D 'ye tell me?" says I.

"Ay," says he, "but ye maun keep it to yersel for a bit. There's juist ae thing I'm no shuir aboot. I dout the Free Kirk folk wull no be ower weel pleased wi't."

"That's guid hearin," says I.

"Noo, I want ye to promise me this, Maister Inwick," says he, "no to pledge yersel to the tither side, or aince ye hae seen the Bill, an heard oor member explain it for himsel. That's but fair, shuirly."

"Ou ay, I'll promise ye that," says I; "I'm no awfu fond o pledgin mysel at ony rate, aither to the tae side or the tither."

"An ye'll move the vote o confidence in oor member, wull ye no?" says he; "I mean, o coorse, gin ye're satisfied, as I'm shuir ye wull be, wi this Bill, an wi what Maister Tod-Lowrie haes to say aboot it? The last time he wis up at the hills, 'Whaur's my auld freend Inwick? ' says he,'the soondest politeecian o them aa? The meetin's no the same wantin him. ' That wis what he said, an I ken he wad be awfu pleased to see ye get up an mak the motion."

"D'ye think sae?" says I; "weel, we'll see aboot it. I'll be at his meetin, onyway, an gie him my best attention; an if he can show me a wey o daein what's richt as an elder o the kirk, withoot haein to vote Tory, I'll be muckle behauden til him, an mair nor me."

He said he wis weel pleased wi this, an he wadna press me ony further; sae awa I gaed my weys, thinkin to mysel what a fine, ceevil-spoken man Pringle wis, an what grand whusky he keepit; an what a grand Bill this maun be, that wis to disestaiblish the kirk withoot daein her ony hairm.