P Hay Hunter


EFTER hearin this I set aff hame, feelin onything but comfortable; an whan I got up to Cauldshiel, as suin as I haed crossed the door-stap, I saw what it wis gaun to be. The table wis set, an the denner cookin on the fire; but insteid o Jess steerin aboot the hoose in her uisual cheery wey, there she wis, sittin on her creepie stule at the chimley corner, wi her apron flung ower her heid, an greetin like to brak her hert.

I mind my auld faither haed a sayin: It's nae mair to see a wumman greet nor to see a guise gae barefit. It's aa vera fine to say sic things; but whan the wumman's yer wife, an whan she haes been a guid wife to ye forby, an whan ye're no aathegither shuir that ye're free o blame for vexin her--it maks an unco difference. Nae dout, wi the maist feck o the weemen folk, it disna need muckle to bring the watter to their een; but Jess wisna ane o yer greetin kind, an it wis nae trifle, ye micht be shuir, that gart her tak to her pocket-napkin.

She no teuk ony notice o me whan I cam in, an I stuid leukin at her for a while, gey troubled in my ain mind. It's an awfu-like thing to cast oot wi yer wife; for what's a body to dae if he haesna peace at hame, an sees naethin but cross leuks an hears naethin but flytin at his ain fireside? I coud ha wushed Tod-Lowrie an his Bill, an Pringle an his fair-caain tongue, an the hale Leeberal pairty, at the bottom o the sea.

"Jess," I says to her efter a bit, "Jess, my wumman, what ails ye?"--but she never lat on she heard me, nor teuk the apron aff her heid. I wad raither ha been face to face wi auld Wedderlairs, an him shakin his staff at me, an caain me for aa the rascals that ever were, nor ha seen the wife sittin greetin like that. It wisna like her, no haein a wird to say.

"Jess," I says to her again, "ye micht speak to a body. What's vexin ye? Tell us aa aboot it, wumman."--But no, she wadna speak: there she sat, rockin hersel back an forrat, an as onybody coud see, sair fashed in her mind.

"Jess," I says to her at last, gey near the end o my wits, "am I no to get ony denner the day? Ye micht gie a body his denner."

That brocht her to hersel. Up she got, an teuk the brat aff her heid, an I coud see that her een were unco reid, an her face wis aa begrutten. "Ou, ay, ye'll get yer denner," says she; an withoot ony mair wirds, she whups the lid aff the pat, an dishes the kail, an sets it on the table.

It wis a puir meal we made atween us. I haedna my uisual guid gae-doun, an as for Jess, she juist made a show o eatin, an sat an ploutered wi her spuin. Efter we were duin,--

"See here, guid wife," I says til her, "this'll no dae. What hae they been sayin to ye doun by, that's pitten ye that muckle aboot ye canna tak yer denner?"

"I hae heard that said to me the day, Jims," says she, "that haes sent me hame wi a sair hert. To think that my faither wis an elder o the kirk for forty year in the pairish o Lempockshaws, an his faither afore him for hoo lang I dinna ken--an me to hear the day that my man haes turned against the kirk, an set tae his haun to pou her doun!"

"Houts, wumman," says I, "that's no the wey o't ava. Ye maunna believe aa ye hear doun by. A' cracks is no to be trowed."

"Little did I think"--on she gaed as if she haedna heard me--"whan I set aff to the kirk wi ye this mornin, an sat aside ye hearin the sermon, that aa the time ye were ane o thae vera robbers an spilers o the sanctuary that the minister wis speakin o! It wis ill duin o ye, Jims, no to tell me the truith. I thocht I coud lippen to ye. I thocht whan we pat oor names to yon paper at the meetin, it meant that ye were gaun to vote against them that wad tak awa oor kirk frae us--"

"Naethin o the kind!" says I; "there wis naethin aboot votin in the paper!"

"An insteid o that," says she, "bi what I hear, ye've been speakin for them, an ye're gaun to vote for them. Ye micht ha been mair honest wi yer wife, shuirly."

"There's nae dout I shoud ha telt ye, Jess," says I; "it wis a faut, an I'll no hide it. But I did it wi the best intentions. I wis feared ye michtna understaun my poseetion, an that wis what wey I said naethin at the time."

"An what'n kind o a poseetion are ye in," says she, gettin mair speerity-like, "that ye canna mak it plain to yer wife? I'm no withoot some wits, for aa I'm a wumman; an I'll tak on haun to tell ye what yer poseetion is, if ye canna dae't for yersel. Yer poseetion is that ye're gaun to vote for Tod-Lowrie, an Tod-Lowrie's gaun to whummle doun the kirk!"

"That's no it ava!" says I; "it's juist as I said--the wey wi aa the weemen--they're aye in sic a hurry, they'll raither guess the length o the piece, nor fash to bring oot the tape an measure it. Tod-Lowrie's no gaun to hairm the kirk. If his Bill wan throu the morn, the kirk wad gae on the same as it's daein the noo. Naebody wad be a preen the waur, an a wheen o us wad be a heap the better."

"An if that's true," says she, "can ye tell me what wey the minister--"

"Ou, the minister!" says I; "noo, Jess, ye maunna lippen ower muckle to what the minister says--I mean whan he gets on to this kirk business: he's sensible eneuch aboot ither things, I grant ye. A' yon aboot robbin the sanctuary is nae mair nor a blast o wirds; it haes a braw soond, but it no means muckle. Noo, leuk here--lay yer mind to what I'm sayin--an I'll mak it plain to ye. Supposin Jude Punton's mill wis my property, an supposin I gaed doun to Jude some mornin an said til him, 'Jude, I'm wantin the mill for mysel; you clear oot o here in dooble quick time '--weel, that wad be the north side o fair play. But supposin I gaed to the miller an said til him, 'Jude, I'm gaun to mak ye a present o the mill; frae this day, it wull be aa yer ain, stanes, hopper, an wheel, staunin graith an gangin graith: aa I'm gaun to dae is to cut aff yer watter, but I'll show ye whaur to rin anither lade, that wull gie ye dooble the pouer ye hae the noo--there wad be nae ill-uisage there, wad there?"

"No," says she, "I canna see he wad hae ony reason to complain."

"Weel," says I, "that's exackly what we're gaun to dae wi the kirk. The ministers are to keep their kirks, an manses, an gairdens; an aa that's taen frae them is the steepen' an the glebe."

"An syne hoo are the bodies to live?" says she.

"Aff the free-will offerins o the folk they preach til," says I.

"Then Lord peety them!" says she; "hoo muckle o a collection haed ye the day, Jims? There wis naethin but bawbees in the ladle whan it gaed by me, but mebbe the white money wis pitten in efter? Freewill offerins?--haud yer tongue! If that's aa the pey they're to get, they'll no be muckle made up wi't! They'll no fatten ower quick on oor hauns, puir craturs!"

"Juist as I said!" says I; "I kent hoo it wad be. Nae maiter hoo plain ye mak it, ye'll no ding sense into the heid o a wilfu wumman!"

"Ay?" says she--she wis faur past the greetin stage noo, an gettin on to her hiech horse--"ye think a wumman haes nae sense, div ye? Ye think we're born withoot een in oor heids, an ony lee's guid eneuch to cheat us? I can see throu you, onyway, Jims, my man, an ye needna try to come ower me wi ony o the trash that ye bring awa wi ye frae yer poleetical meetins! Jude Punton's mill's no your property, an nae mair is the steepen's an glebes; an if ye lay hauns on a saxpence that belangs the kirk, you mey caa't what ye like, but I caa't thievin!"

"It's naethin o the kind," says I; "it's oor ain, to dae what we like wi."

"It's no yer ain," says she, "an fine ye ken it. That's what Pringle the laayer telt ye--ou, ay, I hae heard aa aboot the paction him an you made atween ye! A bonny man you, to cast up to ony wumman that she haesna her wits aboot her! I hae wit eneuch to see throu a blichan o a laayer, onyway! Naither Pringle nor ony ither laayer wad ha turned me inside oot, like a flyped stockin! To hear ye, a body micht think ye haed been brocht up in a knife-box, ye're that shairp--an yet ye wad let a cratur like Pringle tak ye in, an flatter ye up to the nines, an lay saut to yer tail! Man, I think shame o ye! To gang an sell yer kirk for a dram!"

"It's a lee!" says I; "a maist notor'ous lee, I dinna care whae telt ye!"

"An you an elder!" she gaes on, no heedin me; "eh, boo prood I wis yon day ye were ordained! An ilka time I saw ye takkin roon' the ladle, or gaun in to the session hoose, or sittin up beside the minister at Sacrament times, wi yer bonny white collar an tie that I haed bleached an stairched for ye mysel--eh, but my hert wis fll, to think that my man wis an elder o the kirk! An noo, what hae ye duin? Ye hae made yersel a byword in the pairish! Ye hae lowered yersel as low as Esau, that selt his birthricht for a bowle o brose! Ye hae made me think shame to cross the doorstap o the hoose o prayer whaur we were kirked thegither, whaur aa oor weans were kirsened, an whaur I hae worshipped wi ye for fower-an-thretty year!"

"Wumman!" says I, pittin on a fearsome coontenance--"hae a care! Tak thocht what ye're sayin! Mind what's written in the Beuk--'Rebuke not an elder'; first Timothy fifth an first!"

"You an elder!" says she--"a bonny-like elder! I'll gae oot to the roads, an finnd a better elder nor you at ony dyke side. I'll tak the first cadger I come to, an he'll be mair worthier o the office nor you! Leave Timothy alane--a man that wad disestaiblish the Kirk haes nae business to be comin ower what's written in the Bible!"

That wis the wey she cairrit on, an what wis the uise o me speakin? She haed fairly taen the bit in her teeth an startit aff, an there wis nae man leevin coud ha stoppit her. As my auld faither uised to say--ye mey drive the deil into a wife, but ye'll never ding him oot o her. The best I coud dae wis to win as quick as I coud to the tither side o the door.

At the back o the steadin I fand An'ra Wabster, sittin on the tap o the flakes, smokin his pipe, an watchin Ecky Blair the herd, that wis thrang cuttin neeps for his sheep. He made room for me to sit doun aside him, an I got oot my pipe an lichted it; an efter I haed taen twa-three draws, I begoud to feel mair composed, like.

"It's fine growthy wather, Jims," says An'ra, efter a bit.

"Ay," says I, "there's no muckle faut to fin' wi the wather the noo."

"But I canna help thinkin," says he, "there's a kind o feelin o thunder in the air the day--what the papers caa 'disturbed condeetions, ' ye ken. Are ye no sensible o't, Jims?"

I leukit at An'ra, an I thocht I saw him gie a wink in the direction o Ecky Blair. But whether he meant it for impidence, or wis juist passin the remark, I coudna be shuir.