Uncle Tom


"It's no' verra easy makin' oot whit some folk means whan they come intae the shope an' speir for things: a buddy gets a heap o' droll demands frae the public" - an' Mrs Blane went on tae tell about her occasional customers an' the queer things they noo an' then askit for. "It's jist a fortnicht come Tuesday that a muckle stoot man, wi' a rid face an' a blue reefer-jaiket like a ship's captain wi' brass buttons cam in an' askit for a pair o' troosers for a steamboat.

"My, I didna ken whaur tae look, bit the man seemed a daecent-lookin' man, an' sober enough, wi' a printit poaket-naepyin stickin' oot o' his breest-poaket."

"'An' whit did ye say till um?' says Mistress Bardie, the tinsmith's wife, wha oaften lookit in at the shope tae ask if eggs wis droppin' in price.

"'Oh, I jist said that a' the troosers we keepit in stoke micht be barely roomy enough for a rowin'-boat, no' tae speak o' a steamboat, bit the captain-if he wis a captain-wis onything bit pleased, an' stalkit oot the door wi' a winderfu' breenge.

"'But before he gaed oot he turned roond an' glowered at me mair like a wild teegar than a ship's captain, an' said something that I couldna richt mak' oot. It micht 'a been Gallic for something, bit it soondid mair like jam than ony ither word that we can get in a directry. The public's no' easy pitten up wi'; evry shopekeeper kens that, an' that's a fac'. Bit whit can I dae for ye the day, Mistress Bardie?'

"'Oh, jist a happny's worth o' lickery-stick for the bits o' weans; it keeps the weans chow-chowin' a' day, an' it's a fine thing lickery-stick for keepin' awa the appetite noo that preveeshuns has gotten up tae sic an extorbitant feegar. Bit me an' you can ca' the crack whiles yer servin' this wee lassie that's drappit in.'

"'Weel, ma bonnie wee hen,' I says, 'an' whit are ye sayin' tilt this mornin'? Wis it a wee doal ye wid like tae buy? Here's a nice rid-cheekit yin wi' bits o' claes that comes aff an' on, an' it shuts its blue een whan ye haud it flet like this, dae ye see?

"'An' did ye ever see ony een mair like the leevin' doals that their mithers sings tae in their creddles? An' wid ye no' jist like tae kiss that sweet wee mooth that's jist the colour o' the ripe aipples in yer maw's gairden?'

"'No,' says the wee lassie. 'It wisnae a doal I wis tae buy, bit I'll tell ma maw that I saw wan that could shut an' open its een jist like wee Betty. Ma maw sent me tae see if ye hiv ony black men's ties,' says the wee lassie, aye lookin' at the doal.

"'An' whit kind div they weer?' I says. 'Ye're no' verra shair are ye no'? Weel, jist ask yer maw whan ye gang hame. Bit ony black man I ever saw in picturs or ever heard tell o' didna weer collars, no' tae speak o' ties.'

"'But maybe,' says Mistress Bardie, 'whit the wee lassie is askin' for is a black tie for a white man. But it could hardly be that aythers. I widna winder if it'll no' be a white tie for a black man that her maw's lookin' for. It's jist like a dream tae me that I've come across a black man wi' a white tie.'

"'Weel, ma wee lassie,' I says, 'jist tell yer maw that I'm verra soary no' to hiv ony kin' o' ties unless some weel-knitted wursit grawvats, that can go fower times roond onybuddy's neck, whether it's black or white. An' that's a conseederation whan ye hivna a coaler tae pit on.

"'An' tell yer maw,' says I, 'that a knittet grawvat wid be faur mair comfortabler than a string o' beads on a cauld nicht, for they say that it can be cauld in places whaur black men leeves as weel as warm.'

"'I'll tell ma maw,' says the wee lassie. 'Bit I wis tae ask whit's the price o' the wurstit stoakins that ye can weer for fifteen year rinnin'.'

"'I hivnae heppent tae hear o' that kin' o' stoakin',' I says. 'It seems a thrifty kin' o' wursit. An' whaur hiv ye seen stoakin's like that, ma wee hen?'

"'Ma maw jist heard aboot them yestreen, an' thocht she wid maybe buy a pair if ye had them tae sell, an' no' too dear.'

"'Oh,' says Mistress Bardie, 'that wid be the kind that ma grannie wore for sae long. She pit new feet in them every year an' new legs every secont year. It wis winderfu' hoo long ma grannie's stoakin's lastit. Nooadays it seems tae be naething bit shoddy that the verra sheep grows on their backs, an' there's naething like the same weer in whit ye buy for wursit.'

"'Times are-' An' here the shope door wis flung open an' a growin' laddie as white's a pantymine ghost cam' totterin' in like an auld man an' as oot o' braith as a burstit bledder.

"'Dear me,' I says, 'whit's like the maitter wi' the cullin, an' whit a sair face wi' nae cloot on't! Whit in aw the woarl can be wrang wi' onybody?'

"'Oh, come quick, quick!' gasped the boy, 'a thrupny-bit's gaen doon wee Alick's thrapple an' there's no' a doakter aboot the toon tae bring it up. They're aw oot on the panel holiday.'

"'Ach! doakter fiddlesticks!' I says. That's naething,' I says. 'It'll no' pit wee Alick up nor doon. Jist tak yer wee brither roon tae the meenister's, if he's no' oot on a holyday tae. Yer mither cannae hae forgotten whit everybuddy kens, an' his kent aw their days, that if the meenister canna tak money oot & onybody naebody else need try. Nae doot they've had a heap o' practice at that job, an' practice maks perfection, as the copy-books says, an' forby it's every man tae his tred.

"'Noo, my bonny boy,' I says, 'gae this oranger tae wee Alick: the juice o't should sine doon ony ill effects o' yer wee brither's capers, an' here's wan tae yersel'. An' tell yer wee brither no' tae forget that it's safer tae pit odd threpeny bits intae the pig on the brace rayther than try hoo mony ye can pit intae yer insides withoot takin' a drink.'

"'Thenk ye kindly, Mistress Blane,' says the laddie, quite polite.

"'I doot I'll need tae rin noo,' says Mistress Bardie. 'I've left five wee weans in the kitchen an' a big fire on. Jist pit the happny's-worth o' lickery-stick in a percel an' yer message-boy can bring it alang. But noo that I think on't, an' we're sich auld freens, an' jist tae obleege ye, I'll jist pit the percel ablow ma brat an' tak' it wi' me. That'll be anither bawbee tae pit doon aganest ma account. An' noo I'm awa.'

"'But, Mrs Bardie,' I says, 'before ye go in sich a hurry I've a craw tae pick wi' you. Hoo did ye no' tell me yesterday that it wis Mistress Dawpit had tell't ye tae tell me that aw the ither shopes in the toun gied evrybody thirteen eggs tae the dizzen?'

"'But, Mistress Blane,' says Mistress Bardie, 'hoo could I ever tell ye she had tell't me tae tell ye whan the rale truth is that she tell't me no' tae tell ye that she had tell't me tae tell ye?'

"An' oot she bounced, wi' her heid in the air. But nayther me nor ma man can mak' oot whether Mistress Bardie wis richt or wrang. Whether she wis or wisnae, the public's no' easy pitten up wi', so they're no. But folk canna very weel leeve withoot them, an' that's a conseederation whan ye hiv tae staund behin' a coonter a' day frae mornin' till nicht an' keep a shope."

"That's a rale truth, so it is," says Mister Goudie. "We've aw been listenin' tae yer vairet experiences, an' verra interestin' tae listen tae. If I had heppent tae be a pairish cooncillor, like oor guid freend across the table, I wid 'a said 'Hear, hear!' efter every word o't."

"An' whit's like the maitter, Mrs Smeddum, wi' Georgie, yer second laddie?" asked Mrs Beekie. "I was hearin' that he was rayther badly."

"Oh, he's gien himsel' a nesty twist," says Mrs Smeddum.