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Auld Licht Idyls by J.M. Barrie

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Early this morning I opened a window in my school-house in the glen
of Quharity, awakened by the shivering of a starving sparrow against
the frosted glass. As the snowy sash creaked in my hand, he made off
to the waterspout that suspends its "tangles" of ice over a gaping
tank, and, rebounding from that, with a quiver of his little black
breast, bobbed through the network of wire and joined a few of his
fellows in a forlorn hop round the henhouse in search of food. Two
days ago my hilarious bantam-cock, saucy to the last, my cheeriest
companion, was found frozen in his own water-trough, the corn-saucer
in three pieces by his side. Since then I have taken the hens into
the house. At meal-times they litter the hearth with each other's
feathers; but for the most part they give little trouble, roosting
on the rafters of the low-roofed kitchen among staves and fishing-rods.

Another white blanket has been spread upon the glen since I looked
out last night; for over the same wilderness of snow that has met my
gaze for a week, I see the steading of Waster Lunny sunk deeper into
the waste. The school-house, I suppose, serves similarly as a snow-mark
for the people at the farm. Unless that is Waster Lunny's grieve
foddering the cattle in the snow, not a living thing is visible. The
ghostlike hills that pen in the glen have ceased to echo to the sharp
crack of the sportsman's gun (so clear in the frosty air as to be a
warning to every rabbit and partridge in the valley); and only giant
Catlaw shows here and there a black ridge, rearing his head at the
entrance to the glen and struggling ineffectually to cast off his
shroud. Most wintry sign of all I think, as I close the window hastily,
is the open farm-stile, its poles lying embedded in the snow where they
were last flung by Waster Lunny's herd. Through the still air comes
from a distance a vibration as of a tuning-fork: a robin, perhaps,
alighting on the wire of a broken fence.

In the warm kitchen, where I dawdle over my breakfast, the widowed
bantam-hen has perched on the back of my drowsy cat. It is needless
to go through the form of opening the school to-day; for, with the
exception of Waster Lunny's girl, I have had no scholars for nine
days. Yesterday she announced that there would be no more schooling
till it was fresh, "as she wasna comin';" and indeed, though the
smoke from the farm chimneys is a pretty prospect for a snowed-up
school-master, the trudge between the two houses must be weary work
for a bairn. As for the other children, who have to come from all
parts of the hills and glen, I may not see them for weeks. Last year
the school was practically deserted for a month. A pleasant outlook,
with the March examinations staring me in the face, and an inspector
fresh from Oxford. I wonder what he would say if he saw me to-day
digging myself out of the school-house with the spade I now keep for
the purpose in my bedroom.

The kail grows brittle from the snow in my dank and cheerless
garden. A crust of bread gathers timid pheasants round me. The
robins, I see, have made the coal-house their home. Waster Lunny's
dog never barks without rousing my sluggish cat to a joyful response.
It is Dutch courage with the birds and beasts of the glen, hard
driven for food; but I look attentively for them in these long
forenoons, and they have begun to regard me as one of themselves. My
breath freezes, despite my pipe, as I peer from the door: and with a
fortnight-old newspaper I retire to the ingle-nook. The friendliest
thing I have seen to-day is the well-smoked ham suspended, from my
kitchen rafters. It was a gift from the farm of Tullin, with a load
of peats, the day before the snow began to fall. I doubt if I have
seen a cart since.

This afternoon I was the not altogether passive spectator of a
curious scene in natural history. My feet encased in stout "tackety"
boots, I had waded down two of Waster Lunny's fields to the glen
burn: in summer the never-failing larder from which, with wriggling
worm or garish fly, I can any morning whip a savory breakfast; in
the winter time the only thing in the valley that defies the ice-king's
chloroform. I watched the water twisting black and solemn through the
snow, the ragged ice on its edge proof of the toughness of the struggle
with the frost, from which it has, after all, crept only half
victorious. A bare wild rose-bush on the farther bank was violently
agitated, and then there ran from its root a black-headed rat with
wings. Such was the general effect. I was not less interested when my
startled eyes divided this phenomenon into its component parts, and
recognized in the disturbance on the opposite bank only another fierce
struggle among the hungry animals for existence: they need no professor
to teach them the doctrine of the survival of the fittest. A weasel had
gripped a water-hen (whit-tit and beltie they are called In these
parts) cowering at the root of the rose-bush, and was being dragged
down the bank by the terrified bird, which made for the water as its
only chance of escape. In less disadvantageous circumstances the weasel
would have made short work of his victim; but as he only had the bird
by the tail, the prospects of the combatants were equalized. It was the
tug-of-war being played with a life as the stakes. "If I do not reach
the water," was the argument that went on in the heaving little breast
of the one, "I am a dead bird." "If this water-hen," reasoned the
other, "reaches the burn, my supper vanishes with her." Down the
sloping bank the hen had distinctly the best of it, but after that
came a yard, of level snow, and here she tugged and screamed in vain.
I had so far been an unobserved spectator; but my sympathies were with
the beltie, and, thinking it high time to interfere, I jumped into the
water. The water-hen gave one mighty final tug and toppled into the
burn; while the weasel viciously showed me his teeth, and then stole
slowly up the bank to the rose-bush, whence, "girning," he watched me
lift his exhausted victim from the water, and set off with her for the
school-house. Except for her draggled tail, she already looks
wonderfully composed, and so long as the frost holds I shall have little
difficulty in keeping her with me. On Sunday I found a frozen sparrow,
whose heart had almost ceased to beat, in the disused pigsty, and put
him for warmth into my breast-pocket. The ungrateful little scrub bolted
without a word of thanks about ten minutes afterward, to the alarm of my
cat, which had not known his whereabouts.

I am alone in the school-house. On just such an evening as this last
year my desolation drove me to Waster Lunny, where I was storm-stayed
for the night. The recollection decides me to court my own warm
hearth, to challenge my right hand again to a game at the "dambrod"
against my left. I do not lock the school-house door at nights; for
even a highwayman (there is no such luck) would be received with open
arms, and I doubt if there be a barred door in all the glen. But it
is cosier to put on the shutters. The road to Thrums has lost itself
miles down the valley. I wonder what they are doing out in the world.
Though I am the Free Church precentor in Thrums (ten pounds a year,
and the little town is five miles away), they have not seen me for
three weeks. A packman whom I thawed yesterday at my kitchen fire
tells me that last Sabbath only the Auld Lichts held service. Other
people realized that they were snowed up. Far up the glen, after it
twists out of view, a manse and half a dozen thatched cottages that
are there may still show a candle-light, and the crumbling gravestones
keep cold vigil round the gray old kirk. Heavy shadows fade into the
sky to the north. A flake trembles against the window; but it is too
cold for much snow to-night. The shutter bars the outer world from
the school-house.



Thrums is the name I give here to the handful of houses jumbled
together in a cup, which is the town nearest the school-house. Until
twenty years ago its every other room, earthen-floored and showing
the rafters overhead, had a hand-loom, and hundreds of weavers lived
and died Thoreaus "ben the hoose" without knowing it. In those days
the cup overflowed and left several houses on the top of the hill,
where their cold skeletons still stand. The road that climbs from the
square, which is Thrums' heart, to the north is so steep and straight,
that in a sharp frost children hunker at the top and are blown down
with a roar and a rush on rails of ice. At such times, when viewed
from the cemetery where the traveller from the school-house gets his
first glimpse of the little town. Thrums is but two church-steeples
and a dozen red-stone patches standing out of a snow-heap. One of the
steeples belongs to the new Free Kirk, and the other to the parish
church, both of which the first Auld Licht minister I knew ran past
when he had not time to avoid them by taking a back wynd. He was but
a pocket edition of a man, who grew two inches after he was called;
but he was so full of the cure of souls, that he usually scudded to
it with his coat-tails quarrelling behind him. His successor, whom I
knew better, was a greater scholar, and said, "Let us see what this
is in the original Greek," as an ordinary man might invite a friend
to dinner; but he never wrestled as Mr. Dishart, his successor, did
with the pulpit cushions, nor flung himself at the pulpit door. Nor
was he so "hard on the Book," as Lang Tammas, the precentor, expressed
it, meaning that he did not bang the Bible with his fist as much as
might have been wished.

Thrums had been known to me for years before I succeeded the
captious dominie at the school-house in the glen. The dear old soul
who originally induced me to enter the Auld Licht kirk by lamenting
the "want of Christ" in the minister's discourses was my first
landlady. For the last ten years of her life she was bedridden, and
only her interest in the kirk kept her alive. Her case against the
minister was that he did not call to denounce her sufficiently often
for her sins, her pleasure being to hear him bewailing her on his
knees as one who was probably past praying for. She was as sweet and
pure a woman as I ever knew, and had her wishes been horses, she
would have sold them and kept (and looked after) a minister herself.

There are few Auld Licht communities in Scotland nowadays--perhaps
because people are now so well off, for the most devout Auld Lichts
were always poor, and their last years were generally a grim
struggle with the workhouse. Many a heavy-eyed, back-bent weaver has
won his Waterloo in Thrums fighting on his stumps. There are a score
or two of them left still, for, though there are now two factories
in the town, the clatter of the hand-loom can yet be heard, and they
have been starving themselves of late until they have saved up
enough money to get another minister.

The square is packed away in the centre of Thrums, and irregularly
built little houses squeeze close to it like chickens clustering
round a hen. Once the Auld Lichts held property in the square, but
other denominations have bought them out of it, and now few of them
are even to be found in the main streets that make for the rim of
the cup. They live in the kirk wynd, or in retiring little houses,
the builder of which does not seem to have remembered that it is a
good plan to have a road leading to houses until after they were
finished. Narrow paths straggling round gardens, some of them with
stunted gates, which it is commoner to step over than, to open, have
been formed to reach these dwellings, but in winter they are running
streams, and then the best way to reach a house such as that of
Tammy Mealmaker the wright, pronounced wir-icht, is over a broken
dyke and a pig-sty. Tammy, who died a bachelor, had been soured in
his youth by a disappointment in love, of which he spoke but seldom.
She lived far away in a town which he had wandered in the days when
his blood ran hot, and they became engaged. Unfortunately, however,
Tammy forgot her name, and he never knew the address; so there the
affair ended, to his silent grief. He admitted himself, over his
snuff-mull of an evening, that he was a very ordinary character, but
a certain halo of horror was cast over the whole family by their
connection with little Joey Sutie, who was pointed at in Thrums as
the laddie that whistled when he went past the minister. Joey became
a pedler, and was found dead one raw morning dangling over a high
wall within a few miles of Thrums. When climbing the dyke his pack
had slipped back, the strap round his neck, and choked him.

You could generally tell an Auld Licht in Thrums when you passed
him, his dull, vacant face wrinkled over a heavy wob. He wore tags
of yarn round his trousers beneath the knee, that looked like
ostentatious garters, and frequently his jacket of corduroy was put
on beneath his waistcoat. If he was too old to carry his load on his
back, he wheeled it on a creaking barrow, and when he met a friend
they said, "Ay, Jeames," and "Ay, Davit," and then could think of
nothing else. At long intervals they passed through the square,
disappearing or coming into sight round the town-house which stands
on the south side of it, and guards the entrance to a steep brae
that leads down and then twists up on its lonely way to the county
town. I like to linger over the square, for it was from an upper
window in it that I got to know Thrums. On Saturday nights, when the
Auld Licht young men came into the square dressed and washed to look
at the young women errand-going, and to laugh some time afterward to
each other, it presented a glare of light; and here even came the
cheap jacks and the Fair Circassian, and the showman, who, besides
playing "The Mountain Maid and the Shepherd's Bride," exhibited part
of the tall of Balaam's ass, the helm of Noah's ark, and the tartan
plaid in which Flora McDonald wrapped Prince Charlie. More select
entertainment, such as Shuffle Kitty's wax-work, whose motto was, "A
rag to pay, and in you go," were given in a hall whose approach was
by an outside stair. On the Muckle Friday, the fair for which
children storing their pocket-money would accumulate sevenpence
halfpenny in less than six months, the square was crammed with
gingerbread stalls, bag-pipers, fiddlers, and monstrosities who were
gifted with second-sight. There was a bearded man, who had neither
legs nor arms, and was drawn through the streets in a small cart by
four dogs. By looking at you he could see all the clock-work inside,
as could a boy who was led about by his mother at the end of a
string. Every Friday there was the market, when a dozen ramshackle
carts containing vegetables and cheap crockery filled the centre of
the square, resting in line on their shafts. A score of farmers' wives
or daughters in old-world garments squatted against the town-house
within walls of butter on cabbage-leaves, eggs and chickens. Toward
evening the voice of the buckie-man shook the square, and rival
fish-cadgers, terrible characters who ran races on horseback, screamed
libels at each other over a fruiterer's barrow. Then it was time for
douce Auld Lichts to go home, draw their stools near the fire, spread
their red handkerchiefs over their legs to prevent their trousers
getting singed, and read their "Pilgrim's Progress."

In my school-house, however, I seem to see the square most readily
in the Scotch mist which so often filled it, loosening the stones
and choking the drains. There was then no rattle of rain against my
window-sill, nor dancing of diamond drops on the roofs, but blobs of
water grew on the panes of glass to reel heavily down them. Then the
sodden square would have shed abundant tears if you could have taken
it in your hands and wrung it like a dripping cloth. At such a time
the square would be empty but for one vegetable-cart left in the
care of a lean collie, which, tied to the wheel, whined and shivered
underneath. Pools of water gather in the coarse sacks that have been
spread over the potatoes and bundles of greens, which turn to manure
in their lidless barrels. The eyes of the whimpering dog never leave
a black close over which hangs the sign of the Bull, probably the
refuge of the hawker. At long intervals a farmer's gig rumbles over
the bumpy, ill-paved square, or a native, with his head buried in
his coat, peeps out of doors, skurries across the way, and vanishes.
Most of the leading shops are here, and the decorous draper ventures
a few yards from the pavement to scan the sky, or note the effect of
his new arrangement in scarves. Planted against his door is the
butcher, Henders Todd, white-aproned, and with a knife in his hand,
gazing interestedly at the draper, for a mere man may look at an
elder. The tinsmith brings out his steps, and, mounting them,
stealthily removes the saucepans and pepper-pots that dangle on a
wire above his sign-board. Pulling to his door he shuts out the
foggy light that showed in his solder-strewn workshop. The square is
deserted again. A bundle of sloppy parsley slips from the hawker's
cart and topples over the wheel in driblets. The puddles in the
sacks overflow and run together. The dog has twisted his chain round
a barrel and yelps sharply. As if in response comes a rush of other
dogs. A terrified fox-terrier tears across the square with half a
score of mongrels, the butcher's mastiff, and some collies at his
heels; he is doubtless a stranger, who has insulted them by his
glossy coat. For two seconds the square shakes to an invasion of
dogs, and then again there is only one dog in sight.

No one will admit the Scotch mist. It "looks saft." The tinsmith
"wudna wonder but what it was makkin' for rain." Tammas Haggart and
Pete Lunan dander into sight bareheaded, and have to stretch out
their hands to discover what the weather is like. By-and-bye they
come to a standstill to discuss the immortality of the soul, and
then they are looking silently at the Bull. Neither speaks, but they
begin to move toward the inn at the same time, and its door closes
on them before they know what they are doing. A few minutes
afterward Jinny Dundas, who is Pete's wife, runs straight for the
Bull in her short gown, which is tucked up very high, and emerges
with her husband soon afterward. Jinny is voluble, but Pete says
nothing. Tammas follows later, putting his head out at the door
first, and looking cautiously about him to see if any one is in
sight. Pete is a U.P., and may be left to his fate, but the Auld
Licht minister thinks that, though it be hard work, Tammas is worth

To the Auld Licht of the past there were three degrees of damnation--
auld kirk, playacting, chapel. Chapel was the name always given to the
English Church, of which I am too much an Auld Licht myself to care to
write even now. To belong to the chapel was, in Thrums, to be a Roman
Catholic, and the boy who flung a clod of earth at the English minister-
-who called the Sabbath Sunday--or dropped a "divet" down his chimney
was held to be in the right way. The only pleasant story Thrums could
tell of the chapel was that its steeple once fell. It is surprising that
an English church was ever suffered to be built in such a place; though
probably the county gentry had something to do with it. They travelled
about too much to be good men. Small though Thrums used to be, it had
four kirks in all before the disruption, and then another, which split
into two immediately afterward. The spire of the parish church, known as
the auld kirk, commands a view of the square, from which the entrance to
the kirk-yard would be visible, if it were not hidden by the town-house.
The kirk-yard has long been crammed, and is not now in use, but the
church is sufficiently large to hold nearly all the congregations in
Thrums. Just at the gate lived Pete Todd, the father of Sam'l, a man of
whom the Auld Lichts had reason to be proud. Pete was an every-day man
at ordinary times, and was even said, when his wife, who had been long
ill, died, to have clasped his hands and exclaimed, "Hip, hip, hurrah!"
adding only as an afterthought, "The Lord's will be done." But midsummer
was his great opportunity. Then took place the rouping of the seats in
the parish church. The scene was the kirk itself, and the seats being
put up to auction were knocked down to the highest bidder. This
sometimes led to the breaking of the peace. Every person was present who
was at all particular as to where he sat, and an auctioneer was engaged
for the day. He rouped the kirk-seats like potato-drills, beginning by
asking for a bid. Every seat was put up to auction separately; for some
were much more run after than others, and the men were instructed by
their wives what to bid for. Often the women joined in, and as they bid
excitedly against each other the church rang with opprobrious epithets.
A man would come to the roup late, and learn that the seat he wanted had
been knocked down. He maintained that he had been unfairly treated, or
denounced the local laird to whom the seat-rents went. If he did not get
the seat he would leave the kirk. Then the woman who had forestalled him
wanted to know what he meant by glaring at her so, and the auction was
interrupted. Another member would "thrip down the throat" of the
auctioneer that he had a right to his former seat if he continued to pay
the same price for it. The auctioneer was screamed at for favoring his
friends, and at times the group became so noisy that men and women had
to be forcibly ejected. Then was Pete's chance. Hovering at the gate, he
caught the angry people on their way home and took them into his
workshop by an outside stair. There he assisted them in denouncing the
parish kirk, with the view of getting them to forswear it. Pete made a
good many Auld Lichts in his time out of unpromising material.

Sights were to be witnessed in the parish church at times that could
not have been made more impressive by the Auld Lichts themselves.
Here sinful women were grimly taken to task by the minister, who,
having thundered for a time against adultery in general, called upon
one sinner in particular to stand forth. She had to step forward
into a pew near the pulpit, where, alone and friendless, and stared
at by the congregation, she cowered in tears beneath his
denunciations. In that seat she had to remain during the forenoon
service. She returned home alone, and had to come back alone to her
solitary seat in the afternoon. All day no one dared speak to her.
She was as much an object of contumely as the thieves and smugglers
who, in the end of last century, it was the privilege of Feudal
Bailie Wood (as he was called) to whip round the square.

It is nearly twenty years since the gardeners had their last "walk"
in Thrums, and they survived all the other benefit societies that
walked once every summer. There was a "weavers' walk" and five or
six others, the "women's walk" being the most picturesque. These
were processions of the members of benefit societies through the
square and wynds, and all the women walked in white, to the number
of a hundred or more, behind the Tillie-drum band, Thrums having in
those days no band of its own.

From the northwest corner of the square a narrow street sets off,
jerking this way and that, as if uncertain what point to make for.
Here lurks the post-office, which had once the reputation of being
as crooked in its ways as the street itself.

A railway line runs into Thrums now. The sensational days of the
post-office were when the letters were conveyed officially in a
creaking old cart from Tilliedrum. The "pony" had seen better days
than the cart, and always looked as if he were just on the point of
succeeding in running away from it. Hooky Crewe was driver--so
called because an iron hook was his substitute for a right arm.
Robbie Proctor, the blacksmith, made the hook and fixed it in. Crewe
suffered from rheumatism, and when he felt it coming on he stayed at
home. Sometimes his cart came undone in a snow-drift; when Hooky,
extricated from the fragments by some chance wayfarer, was deposited
with his mail-bag (of which he always kept a grip by the hook) in a
farmhouse. It was his boast that his letters always reached their
destination eventually. They might be a long time about it, but
"slow _and_ sure" was his motto. Hooky emphasized his "slow
_and_ sure" by taking a snuff. He was a godsend to the postmistress, for
to his failings or the infirmities of his gig were charged all delays.

At the time I write of, the posting of the letter took as long and
was as serious an undertaking as the writing. That means a good
deal, for many of the letters were written to dictation by the
Thrums school-master, Mr. Fleemister, who belonged to the Auld Kirk.
He was one of the few persons in the community who looked upon the
despatch of his letters by the post-mistress as his right, and not a
favor on her part; there was a long-standing feud between them
accordingly. After a few tumblers of Widow Stables' treacle-beer--in
the concoction of which she was the acknowledged mistress for miles
around--the schoolmaster would sometimes go the length of hinting
that he could get the post-mistress dismissed any day. This mighty
power seemed to rest on a knowledge of "steamed" letters. Thrums had
a high respect for the school-master; but among themselves the
weavers agreed that, even if he did write to the Government, Lizzie
Harrison, the post-mistress, would refuse to transmit the letter.
The more shrewd ones among us kept friends with both parties; for,
unless you could write "writ-hand," you could not compose a letter
without the school-master's assistance; and, unless Lizzie was so
courteous as to send it to its destination, it might lie--or so it
was thought--much too long in the box. A letter addressed by the
schoolmaster found great disfavor in Lizzie's eyes. You might
explain to her that you had merely called in his assistance because
you were a poor hand at writing yourself, but that was held no
excuse. Some addressed their own envelopes with much labor, and
sought to palm off the whole as their handiwork. It reflects on the
post-mistress somewhat that she had generally found them out by next
day, when, if in a specially vixenish mood, she did not hesitate to
upbraid them for their perfidy.

To post a letter you did not merely saunter to the post-office and
drop it into the box. The cautious correspondent first went into the
shop and explained to Lizzie how matters stood. She kept what she
called a bookseller's shop as well as the post-office; but the supply
of books corresponded exactly to the lack of demand for them, and her
chief trade was in nick-nacks, from marbles and money-boxes up to
concertinas. If he found the post-mistress in an amiable mood, which
was only now and then, the caller led up craftily to the object of
his visit. Having discussed the weather and the potato-disease, he
explained that his sister Mary, whom Lizzie would remember, had married
a fishmonger in Dundee. The fishmonger had lately started on himself
and was doing well. They had four children. The youngest had had a
severe attack of measles. No news had been got of Mary for twelve
months; and Annie, his other sister, who lived in Thrums, had been at
him of late for not writing. So he had written a few lines; and, in
fact, he had the letter with him. The letter was then produced, and
examined by the postmistress. If the address was in the schoolmaster's
handwriting, she professed her inability to read it. Was this a _t_
or an _l_ or an _i?_ was that a _b_ or a _d?_ This was a cruel
revenge on Lizzie's part; for the sender of the letter was
completely at her mercy. The school-master's name being tabooed in
her presence, he was unable to explain that the writing was not his
own; and as for deciding between the _t_'s and _l_'s, he could not do it.
Eventually he would be directed to put the letter into the box. They
would do their best with it, Lizzie said, but in a voice that suggested
how little hope she had of her efforts to decipher it proving successful.

There was an opinion among some of the people that the letter should
not be stamped by the sender. The proper thing to do was to drop a
penny for the stamp into the box along with the letter, and then
Lizzie would see that it was all right. Lizzie's acquaintance with
the handwriting of every person in the place who could write gave
her a great advantage. You would perhaps drop into her shop some day
to make a purchase, when she would calmly produce a letter you had
posted several days before. In explanation she would tell you that
you had not put a stamp on it, or that she suspected there was money
in it, or that you had addressed it to the wrong place. I remember
an old man, a relative of my own, who happened for once in his life
to have several letters to post at one time. The circumstance was so
out of the common that he considered it only reasonable to make
Lizzie a small present.

Perhaps the post-mistress was belied; but if she did not "steam" the
letters and confide their titbits to favored friends of her own sex,
it is difficult to see how all the gossip got out. The school-master
once played an unmanly trick on her, with the view of catching her
in the act. He was a bachelor who had long been given up by all the
maids in the town. One day, however, he wrote a letter to an
imaginary lady in the county-town, asking her to be his, and going
into full particulars about his income, his age, and his prospects.
A male friend in the secret, at the other end, was to reply, in a
lady's handwriting, accepting him, and also giving personal
particulars. The first letter was written; and an answer arrived in
due course--two days, the school-master said, after date. No other
person knew of this scheme for the undoing of the post-mistress, yet
in a very short time the school-master's coming marriage was the
talk of Thrums. Everybody became suddenly aware of the lady's name,
of her abode, and of the sum of money she was to bring her husband.
It was even noised abroad that the school-master had represented his
age as a good ten years less than it was. Then the school-master
divulged everything. To his mortification, he was not quite
believed. All the proof he could bring forward to support his story
was this: that time would show whether he got married or not.
Foolish man! this argument was met by another, which was accepted at
once. The lady had jilted the school-master. Whether this explanation
came from the post-office, who shall say? But so long as he lived the
school-master was twitted about the lady who threw him over. He took
his revenge in two ways. He wrote and posted letters exceedingly
abusive of the post-mistress. The matter might be libellous; but then,
as he pointed out, she would incriminate herself if she "brought him
up" about it. Probably Lizzie felt his other insult more. By publishing
his suspicions of her on every possible occasion he got a few people to
seal their letters. So bitter was his feeling against her that he was
even willing to supply the wax.

They know all about post-offices in Thrums now, and even jeer at the
telegraph-boy's uniform. In the old days they gathered round him
when he was seen in the street, and escorted him to his destination
in triumph. That, too, was after Lizzie had gone the way of all the
earth. But perhaps they are not even yet as knowing as they think
themselves. I was told the other day that one of them took out a
postal order, meaning to send the money to a relative, and kept the
order as a receipt.

I have said that the town is sometimes full of snow. One frosty
Saturday, seven years ago, I trudged into it from the school-house,
and on the Monday morning we could not see Thrums anywhere.

I was in one of the proud two-storied houses in the place, and could
have shaken hands with my friends without from the upper windows. To
get out of doors you had to walk upstairs. The outlook was a sea of
snow fading into white hills and sky, with the quarry standing out
red and ragged to the right like a rock in the ocean. The Auld Licht
manse was gone, but had left its garden-trees behind, their lean
branches soft with snow. Roofs were humps in the white blanket. The
spire of the Established Kirk stood up cold and stiff, like a
monument to the buried inhabitants.

Those of the natives who had taken the precaution of conveying
spades into their houses the night before, which is my plan at the
school-house, dug themselves out. They hobbled cautiously over the
snow, sometimes sinking into it to their knees, when they stood
still and slowly took in the situation. It had been snowing more or
less for a week, but in a commonplace kind of way, and they had gone
to bed thinking all was well. This night the snow must have fallen
as if the heavens had opened up, determined to shake themselves free
of it for ever.

The man who first came to himself and saw what was to be done was
young Henders Ramsay. Henders had no fixed occupation, being but an
"orra man" about the place, and the best thing known of him is that
his mother's sister was a Baptist. He feared God, man, nor the
minister; and all the learning he had was obtained from assiduous
study of a grocer's window. But for one brief day he had things his
own way in the town, or, speaking strictly, on the top of it. With a
spade, a broom, and a pickaxe, which sat lightly on his broad
shoulders (he was not even back-bent, and that showed him no
respectable weaver), Henders delved his way to the nearest house,
which formed one of a row, and addressed the inmates down the
chimney. They had already been clearing it at the other end, or his
words would have been choked. "You're snawed up, Davit," cried
Henders, in a voice that was entirely business-like; "hae ye a
spade?" A conversation ensued up and down this unusual channel of
communication. The unlucky householder, taking no thought of the
morrow, was without a spade. But if Henders would clear away the
snow from his door he would be "varra obleeged." Henders, however,
had to come to terms first. "The chairge is saxpence, Davit," he
shouted. Then a haggling ensued. Henders must be neighborly. A plate
of broth, now--or, say, twopence. But Henders was obdurate. "I'se
nae time to argy-bargy wi' ye, Davit. Gin ye're no willin' to say
saxpence, I'm aff to Will'um Pyatt's. He's buried too." So the
victim had to make up his mind to one of two things: he must either
say saxpence or remain where he was.

If Henders was "promised," he took good care that no snowed-up
inhabitant should perjure himself. He made his way to a window
first, and, clearing the snow from the top of it, pointed out that
he could not conscientiously proceed further until the debt had been
paid. "Money doon," he cried, as soon as he reached a pane of glass;
or, "Come awa wi' my saxpence noo."

The belief that this day had not come to Henders unexpectedly was
borne out by the method of the crafty callant. His charges varied
from sixpence to half-a-crown, according to the wealth and status of
his victims; and when, later on, there were rivals in the snow, he
had the discrimination to reduce his minimum fee to threepence. He
had the honor of digging out three ministers at one shilling, one
and threepence, and two shillings respectively.

Half a dozen times within the next fortnight the town was re-buried
in snow. This generally happened in the night-time; but the
inhabitants were not to be caught unprepared again. Spades stood
ready to their hands in the morning, and they fought their way above
ground without Henders Ramsay's assistance. To clear the snow from
the narrow wynds and pends, however, was a task not to be attempted;
and the Auld Lichts, at least, rested content when enough light got
into their workshops to let them see where their looms stood. Wading
through beds of snow they did not much mind; but they wondered what
would happen to their houses when the thaw came.

The thaw was slow in coming. Snow during the night and several
degrees of frost by day were what Thrums began to accept as a
revised order of nature. Vainly the Thrums doctor, whose practice
extends into the glens, made repeated attempts to reach his distant
patients, twice driving so far into the dreary waste that he could
neither go on nor turn back. A ploughman who contrived to gallop ten
miles for him did not get home for a week. Between the town, which
is nowadays an agricultural centre of some importance, and the
outlying farms communication was cut off for a month; and I heard
subsequently of one farmer who did not see a human being, unconnected
with his own farm, for seven weeks. The school-house, which I managed
to reach only two days behind time, was closed for a fortnight, and
even in Thrums there was only a sprinkling of scholars.

On Sundays the feeling between the different denominations ran high,
and the middling good folk who did not go to church counted those
who did. In the Established Church there was a sparse gathering, who
waited in vain for the minister. After a time it got abroad that a
flag of distress was flying from the manse, and then they saw that
the minister was storm-stayed. An office-bearer offered to conduct
service; but the others present thought they had done their duty and
went home. The U.P. bell did not ring at all, and the kirk-gates
were not opened. The Free Kirk did bravely, however. The attendance
in the forenoon amounted to seven, including the minister; but in
the afternoon there was a turn-out of upward of fifty. How much
denominational competition had to do with this, none can say; but
the general opinion was that this muster to afternoon service was a
piece of vainglory. Next Sunday all the kirks were on their mettle,
and, though the snow was drifting the whole day, services were
general. It was felt that after the action of the Free Kirk the
Established and the U.P.'s must show what they too were capable of.
So, when, the bells rang-at eleven o'clock and two, church-goers
began to pour out of every close. If I remember aright, the victory
lay with, the U.P.'s by two women and a boy. Of course the Auld
Lichts mustered in as great force as ever. The other kirks never
dreamed of competing with them. What was regarded as a judgment on
the Free Kirk for its boastfulness of spirit on the preceding Sunday
happened during the forenoon. While the service was taking place a
huge clod of snow slipped from the roof and fell right against the
church door. It was some time before the prisoners could make up
their minds to leave by the windows. What the Auld Lichts would have
done in a similar predicament I cannot even conjecture.

That was the first warning of the thaw. It froze again; there was
more snow; the thaw began in earnest; and then the streets were a
sight to see. There was no traffic to turn the snow to slush, and,
where it had not been piled up in walls a few feet from the houses,
it remained in the narrow ways till it became a lake. It tried to
escape through doorways, when it sank, slowly into the floors.
Gentle breezes created a ripple on its surface, and strong winds
lifted it into the air and flung it against the houses. It
undermined the heaps of clotted snow till they tottered like
icebergs and fell to pieces. Men made their way through, it on
stilts. Had a frost followed, the result would have been appalling;
but there was no more frost that winter. A fortnight passed before
the place looked itself again, and even then congealed snow stood
doggedly in the streets, while the country roads were like newly
ploughed fields after rain. The heat from large fires soon
penetrated through roofs of slate and thatch; and it was quite a
common thing for a man to be flattened to the ground by a slithering
of snow from above just as he opened his door. But it had seldom
more than ten feet to fall. Most interesting of all was the novel
sensation experienced as Thrums began to assume its familiar aspect,
and objects so long buried that they had been half forgotten came
back to view and use.

Storm-stead shows used to emphasize the severity of a Thrums winter.
As the name indicates, these were gatherings of travelling booths in
the winter-time. Half a century ago the country was overrun by
itinerant showmen, who went their different ways in summer, but
formed little colonies in the cold weather, when they pitched their
tents in any empty field or disused quarry, and huddled together for
the sake of warmth, not that they got much of it. Not more than five
winters ago we had a storm-stead show on a small scale; but nowadays
the farmers are less willing to give these wanderers a camping-place,
and the people are less easily drawn to the entertainments provided,
by fife and drum. The colony hung together until it was starved out,
when it trailed itself elsewhere. I have often seen it forming. The
first arrival would be what was popularly known as "Sam'l Mann's
Tumbling-Booth," with its tumblers, jugglers, sword-swallowers, and
balancers. This travelling show visited us regularly twice a year:
once in summer for the Muckle Friday, when the performers were gay
and stout, and even the horses had flesh on their bones; and again
in the "back-end" of the year, when cold and hunger had taken the
blood from their faces, and the scraggy dogs that whined at their
side were lashed for licking the paint off the caravans. While the
storm-stead show was in the vicinity the villages suffered from an
invasion of these dogs. Nothing told more truly the dreadful tale of
the showman's life in winter. Sam'l Mann's was a big show, and half
a dozen smaller ones, most of which were familiar to us, crawled in
its wake. Others heard of its whereabouts and came in from distant
parts. There was the well-known Gubbins with his "A' the World in a
Box," a halfpenny peep-show, in which all the world was represented
by Joseph and his Brethren (with pit and coat), the bombardment of
Copenhagen, the Battle of the Nile, Daniel in the Den of Lions, and
Mount Etna in eruption. "Aunty Maggy's Whirligig" could be enjoyed
on payment of an old pair of boots, a collection of rags, or the
like. Besides these and other shows, there were the wandering
minstrels, most of whom were "Waterloo veterans" wanting arms or a
leg. I remember one whose arms had been "smashed by a thunderbolt at
Jamaica." Queer, bent old dames, who superintended "lucky bags" or
told fortunes, supplied the uncanny element, but hesitated to call
themselves witches, for there can still be seen near Thrums the pool
where these unfortunates used to be drowned, and in the session book
of the Glen Quharity kirk can be read an old minute announcing that
on a certain Sabbath there was no preaching because "the minister
was away at the burning of a witch." To the storm-stead shows came
the gypsies in great numbers. Claypots (which is a corruption of
Claypits) was their headquarters near Thrums, and it is still sacred
to their memory. It was a clachan of miserable little huts built
entirely of clay from the dreary and sticky pit in which they had
been flung together. A shapeless hole on one side was the doorway,
and a little hole, stuffed with straw in winter, the window. Some
of the remnants of these hovels still stand. Their occupants, though
they went by the name of gypsies among themselves, were known to the
weavers as the Claypots beggars; and their King was Jimmy Pawse. His
regal dignity gave Jimmy the right to seek alms first when he chose
to do so; thus he got the cream of a place before his subjects set
to work. He was rather foppish in his dress; generally affecting a
suit of gray cloth with showy metal buttons on it, and a broad
blue bonnet. His wife was a little body like himself; and when they
went a-begging, Jimmy with a meal-bag for alms on his back, she
always took her husband's arm. Jimmy was the legal adviser of his
subjects; his decision was considered final on all questions, and
he guided them in their courtships as well as on their death-beds.
He christened their children and officiated at their weddings,
marrying them over the tongs.

The storm-stead show attracted old and young--to looking on from the
outside. In the day-time the wagons and tents presented a dreary
appearance, sunk in snow, the dogs shivering between the wheels, and
but little other sign of life visible. When dusk came the lights
were lit, and the drummer and fifer from the booth of tumblers were
sent into the town to entice an audience. They marched quickly
through, the nipping, windy streets, and then returned with two or
three score of men, women, and children, plunging through the snow
or mud at their heavy heels. It was Orpheus fallen from his high
estate. What a mockery the glare of the lamps and the capers of the
mountebanks were, and how satisfied were we to enjoy it all without
going inside. I hear the "Waterloo veterans" still, and remember
their patriotic outbursts:

On the sixteenth day of June, brave boys, while cannon loud did
We being short of cavalry they pressed on us full sore;
But British steel soon made them yield, though our numbers was but
And death or victory was the word on the plains of Waterloo.

The storm-stead shows often found it easier to sink to rest in a
field than to leave it. For weeks at a time they were snowed up,
sufficiently to prevent any one from Thrums going near them, though
not sufficiently to keep the pallid mummers indoors. That would in
many cases have meant starvation. They managed to fight their way
through storm and snowdrift to the high road and thence to the town,
where they got meal and sometimes broth. The tumblers and jugglers
used occasionally to hire an out-house in the town at these times--you
may be sure they did not pay for it in advance--and give performances
there. It is a curious thing, but true, that our herd-boys and others
were sometimes struck with the stage-fever. Thrums lost boys to the
show-men even in winter.

On the whole, the farmers and the people generally were wonderfully
long-suffering with these wanderers, who I believe were more honest
than was to be expected. They stole, certainly; but seldom did they
steal anything more valuable than turnips. Sam'l Mann himself
flushed proudly over the effect his show once had on an irate
farmer. The farmer appeared in the encampment, whip in hand and
furious. They must get off his land before nightfall. The crafty
showman, however, prevailed upon him to take a look at the acrobats,
and he enjoyed the performance so much that he offered to let them
stay until the end of the week. Before that time came there was such
a fall of snow that departure was out of the question; and it is to
the farmer's credit that he sent Sam'l a bag of meal to tide him and
his actors over the storm.

There were times when the showmen made a tour of the bothies, where
they slung their poles and ropes and gave their poor performances to
audiences that were not critical. The bothy being strictly the
"man's" castle, the farmer never interfered; indeed, he was
sometimes glad to see the show. Every other weaver in Thrums used to
have a son a ploughman, and it was the men from the bothies who
filled the square on the muckly. "Hands" are not huddled together
nowadays in squalid barns more like cattle than men and women, but
bothies in the neighborhood of Thrums are not yet things of the
past. Many a ploughman delves his way to and from them still in all
weathers, when the snow is on the ground; at the time of "hairst,"
and when the turnip "shaws" have just forced themselves through the
earth, looking like straight rows of green needles. Here is a
picture of a bothy of to-day that I visited recently. Over the door
there is a waterspout that has given way, and as I entered I got a
rush of rain down my neck. The passage was so small that one could
easily have stepped from the doorway on to the ladder standing
against the wall, which was there in lieu of a staircase. "Upstairs"
was a mere garret, where a man could not stand erect even in the
centre. It was entered by a square hole in the ceiling, at present
closed by a clap-door in no way dissimilar to the trap-doors on a
theatre stage. I climbed into this garret, which is at present used
as a store-room for agricultural odds and ends. At harvest-time,
however, it is inhabited--full to overflowing. A few decades ago as
many as fifty laborers engaged for the harvest had to be housed in
the farm out-houses on beds of straw. There was no help for it, and
men and women had to congregate in these barns together. Up as early
as five in the morning, they were generally dead tired by night;
and, miserable though this system of herding them together was, they
took it like stoics, and their very number served as a moral
safeguard. Nowadays the harvest is gathered in so quickly, and
machinery does so much that used to be done by hand, that this
crowding of laborers together, which was the bothy system at its
worst, is nothing like what it was. As many as six or eight men,
however, are put up in the garret referred to during "hairst"-time,
and the female laborers have to make the best of it in the barn.
There is no doubt that on many farms the two sexes have still at
this busy time to herd together even at night.

The bothy was but scantily furnished, though it consisted of two
rooms. In the one, which was used almost solely as a sleeping
apartment, there was no furniture to speak of, beyond two closet
beds, and its bumpy earthen floor gave it a cheerless look. The
other, which had a single bed, was floored with wood. It was not
badly lit by two very small windows that faced each other, and,
besides several stools, there was a long form against one of the
walls. A bright fire of peat and coal--nothing in the world makes
such a cheerful red fire as this combination--burned beneath a big
kettle ("boiler" they called it), and there was a "press" or
cupboard containing a fair assortment of cooking utensils. Of these
some belonged to the bothy, while others were the private property
of the tenants. A tin "pan" and "pitcher" of water stood near the
door, and the table in the middle of the room was covered with

Four men and a boy inhabited this bothy, and the rain had driven
them all indoors. In better weather they spend the leisure of the
evening at the game of quoits, which is the standard pastime among
Scottish ploughmen. They fish the neighboring streams, too, and have
burn-trout for supper several times a week. When I entered, two of
them were sitting by the fire playing draughts, or, as they called
it, "the dam-brod." The dam-brod is the Scottish laborer's billiards;
and he often attains to a remarkable proficiency at the game. Wylie,
the champion draught-player, was once a herd-boy; and wonderful
stories are current in all bothies of the times when his master
called him into the farm-parlor to show his skill. A third man, who
seemed the elder by quite twenty years, was at the window reading a
newspaper; and I got no shock when I saw that it was the _Saturday
Review_, which he and a laborer on an adjoining farm took in weekly
between them. There was a copy of a local newspaper--the _People's
Journal_--also lying about, and some books, including one of
Darwin's. These were all the property of this man, however, who did
the reading for the bothy.

They did all the cooking for themselves, living largely on milk. In
the old days, which the senior could remember, porridge was so
universally the morning meal that they called it by that name
instead of breakfast. They still breakfast on porridge, but often
take tea "above it." Generally milk is taken with the porridge; but
"porter" or stout in a bowl is no uncommon substitute. Potatoes at
twelve o'clock--seldom "brose" nowadays--are the staple dinner dish,
and the tinned meats have become very popular. There are bothies
where each man makes his own food; but of course the more satisfactory
plan is for them to club together. Sometimes they get their food in
the farm-kitchen; but this is only when there are few of them and the
farmer and his family do not think it beneath them to dine with the
men. Broth, too, may be made in the kitchen and sent down to the bothy.
At harvest time the workers take their food in the fields, when great
quantities of milk are provided. There is very little beer drunk, and
whiskey is only consumed in privacy.

Life in the bothies is not, I should say, so lonely as life at the
school-house, for the hands have at least each other's company. The
hawker visits them frequently still, though the itinerant tailor,
once a familiar figure, has almost vanished. Their great place of
congregating is still some country smiddy, which is also their
frequent meeting-place when bent on black-fishing. The flare of the
black-fisher's torch still attracts salmon to their death in the
rivers near Thrums; and you may hear in the glens on a dark night
the rattle of the spears on the wet stones. Twenty or thirty years
ago, however, the sport was much more common. After the farmer had
gone to bed, some half-dozen ploughmen and a few other poachers from
Thrums would set out for the meeting-place.

The smithy on these occasions must have been a weird sight; though
one did not mark that at the time. The poacher crept from the
darkness into the glaring smithy light; for in country parts the
anvil might sometimes be heard clanging at all hours of the night.
As a rule, every face was blackened; and it was this, I suppose,
rather than the fact that dark nights were chosen, that gave the
gangs the name of black-fishers. Other disguises were resorted to;
one of the commonest being to change clothes or to turn your
corduroys outside in. The country-folk of those days were more
superstitious than they are now, and it did not take much to turn
the black-fishers back. There was not a barn or byre in the district
that had not its horseshoe over the door. Another popular device for
frightening away witches and fairies was to hang bunches of garlic
about the farms. I have known a black-fishing expedition stopped
because a "yellow yite," or yellow-hammer, hovered round the gang
when they were setting out. Still more ominous was the "peat" when
it appeared with one or three companions. An old rhyme about this
bird runs--"One is joy, two is grief, three's a bridal, four is
death." Such snatches of superstition are still to be heard amidst
the gossip of a north-country smithy.

Each black-fisher brought his own spear and torch, both more or less
home-made. The spears were in many cases "gully-knives," fastened to
staves with twine and resin, called "rozet." The torches were very
rough-and-ready things--rope and tar, or even rotten roots dug from
broken trees--in fact, anything that would flare. The black-fishers
seldom journeyed far from home, confining themselves to the rivers
within a radius of three or four miles. There were many reasons for
this: one of them being that the hands had to be at their work on
the farm by five o'clock in the morning: another, that so they
poached and let poach. Except when in spate, the river I specially
refer to offered no attractions to the black-fishers. Heavy rains,
however, swell it much more quickly than most rivers into a turbulent
rush of water; the part of it affected by the black-fishers being
banked in with rocks that prevent the water's spreading. Above these
rocks, again, are heavy green banks, from which stunted trees grow
aslant across the river. The effect is fearsome at some points where
the trees run into each other, as it were, from opposite banks.
However, the black-fishers thought nothing of these things. They
took a turnip lantern with them--that is, a lantern hollowed out of
a turnip, with a piece of candle inside--but no lights were shown
on the road. Every one knew his way to the river blindfold; so that
the darker the night the better. On reaching the water there was a
pause. One or two of the gang climbed the banks to discover if any
bailiffs were on the watch; while the others sat down, and with the
help of the turnip lantern "busked" their spears; in other words,
fastened on the steel--or, it might be, merely pieces of rusty iron
sharpened into a point at home--to the staves. Some had them busked
before they set out, but that was not considered prudent; for of
course there was always a risk of meeting spoil-sports on the way,
to whom the spears would tell a tale that could not be learned from
ordinary staves. Nevertheless little time was lost. Five or six of
the gang waded into the water, torch in one hand and spear in the
other; and the object now was to catch some salmon with the least
possible delay, and hurry away. Windy nights were good for the sport,
and I can still see the river lit up with the lumps of light that a
torch makes in a high wind. The torches, of course, were used to
attract the fish, which came swimming to the sheen, and were then
speared. As little noise as possible was made; but though the men
bit their lips instead of crying out when they missed their fish,
there was a continuous ring of their weapons on the stones, and every
irrepressible imprecation was echoed up and down the black glen. Two
or three of the gang were told off to land the salmon, and they had
to work smartly and deftly. They kept by the side of the spears-man,
and the moment he struck a fish they grabbed at it with their hands.
When the spear had a barb there was less chance of the fish's being
lost; but often this was not the case, and probably not more than
two-thirds of the salmon speared were got safely to the bank. The
takes of course varied; sometimes, indeed, the black-fishers returned
home empty-handed.

Encounters with the bailiffs were not infrequent, though they seldom
took place at the water's edge. When the poachers were caught in the
act, and had their blood up with the excitement of the sport, they
were ugly customers. Spears were used and heads were broken. Struggles
even took place in the water, when there was always a chance of
somebody's being drowned. Where the bailiffs gave the black-fishers an
opportunity of escaping without a fight it was nearly always taken;
the booty being left behind. As a rule, when the "water watchers," as
the bailiffs were sometimes called, had an inkling of what was to take
place, they reinforced themselves with a constable or two and waited
on the road to catch the poachers on their way home. One black-fisher,
a noted character, was nicknamed the "Deil o' Glen Quharity." He was
said to have gone to the houses of the bailiffs and offered to sell
them the fish stolen from the streams over which they kept guard. The
"Deil" was never imprisoned--partly, perhaps, because he was too
eccentric to be taken seriously.



One Sabbath day in the beginning of the century the Auld Licht minister
at Thrums walked out of his battered, ramshackle, earthen-floored kirk
with a following and never returned. The last words he uttered in it
were: "Follow me to the commonty, all you persons who want to hear the
Word of God properly preached; and James Duphie and his two sons will
answer for this on the Day of Judgment." The congregation, which
belonged to the body who seceded from the Established Church a hundred
and fifty years ago, had split, and as the New Lights (now the U.P.'s)
were in the majority, the Old Lights, with the minister at their head,
had to retire to the commonty (or common) and hold service in the open
air until they had saved up money for a church. They kept possession,
however, of the white manse among the trees. Their kirk has but a
cluster of members now, most of them old and done, but each is equal
to a dozen ordinary churchgoers, and there have been men and women
among them on whom memory loves to linger. For forty years they have
been dying out, but their cold, stiff pews still echo the Psalms of
David, and the Auld Licht kirk will remain open so long as it has one
member and a minister.

The church stands round the corner from the square, with only a
large door to distinguish it from the other buildings in the short
street. Children who want to do a brave thing hit this door with
their fists, when there is no one near, and then run away scared.
The door, however, is sacred to the memory of a white-haired old
lady who, not so long ago, used to march out of the kirk and remain
on the pavement until the psalm which had just been given out was
sung. Of Thrums' pavement it may here be said that when you come,
even to this day, to a level slab you will feel reluctant to leave
it. The old lady was Mistress (which is Miss) Tibbie McQuhatty, and
she nearly split the Auld Licht kirk over "run line." This
conspicuous innovation was introduced by Mr. Dishart, the minister,
when he was young and audacious. The old, reverent custom in the
kirk was for the precentor to read out the psalm a line at a time.
Having then sung that line he read out the next one, led the singing
of it, and so worked his way on to line three. Where run line holds,
however, the psalms is read out first, and forthwith sung. This is
not only a flighty way of doing things, which may lead to greater
scandals, but has its practical disadvantages, for the precentor
always starts singing in advance of the congregation (Auld Lichts
never being able to begin to do anything all at once), and,
increasing the distance with every line, leaves them hopelessly
behind at the finish. Miss McQuhatty protested against this change,
as meeting the devil half way, but the minister carried his point,
and ever after that she rushed ostentatiously from the church the
moment a psalm was given out, and remained behind the door until the
singing was finished, when she returned, with a rustle, to her seat.
Run line had on her the effect of the reading of the Riot Act. Once
some men, capable of anything, held the door from the outside, and
the congregation heard Tibbie rampaging in the passage. Bursting
into the kirk she called the office-bearers to her assistance,
whereupon the minister in miniature raised his voice and demanded
the why and wherefore of the ungodly disturbance. Great was the
hubbub, but the door was fast, and a compromise had to be arrived
at. The old lady consented for once to stand in the passage, but not
without pressing her hands to her ears. You may smile at Tibbie, but
ah! I know what she was at a sick bedside. I have seen her when the
hard look had gone from her eyes, and it would ill become me to
smile too.

As with all the churches in Thrums, care had been taken to make the
Auld Licht one much too large. The stair to the "laft" or gallery,
which was originally little more than ladder, is ready for you as
soon as you enter the doorway, but it is best to sit in the body of
the kirk. The plate for collections is inside the church, so that
the whole congregation can give a guess at what you give. If it is
something very stingy or very liberal, all Thrums knows of it within
a few hours; indeed, this holds good of all the churches, especially
perhaps of the Free one, which has been called the bawbee kirk,
because so many halfpennies find their way into the plate. On
Saturday nights the Thrums shops are besieged for coppers by
housewives of all denominations, who would as soon think of dropping
a threepenny bit into the plate as of giving nothing. Tammy Todd had
a curious way of tipping his penny into the Auld Licht plate while
still keeping his hand to his side. He did it much as a boy fires a
marble, and there was quite a talk in the congregation the first
time he missed. A devout plan was to carry your penny in your hand
all the way to church, but to appear to take it out of your pocket
on entering, and some plumped it down noisily like men paying their
way. I believe old Snecky Hobart, who was a canty stock but
obstinate, once dropped a penny into the plate and took out a
halfpenny as change, but the only untoward thing that happened to
the plate was once when the lassie from the farm of Curly Bog
capsized it in passing. Mr. Dishart, who was always a ready man,
introduced something into his sermon that day about women's dress,
which every one hoped Christy Lundy, the lassie in question, would
remember. Nevertheless, the minister sometimes came to a sudden stop
himself when passing from the vestry to the pulpit. The passage
being narrow, his rigging would catch in a pew as he sailed down the
aisle. Even then, however, Mr. Dishart remembered that he was not as
other men.

White is not a religious color, and the walls of the kirk were of a
dull gray. A cushion was allowed to the manse pew, but merely as a
symbol of office, and this was the only pew in the church that had a
door. It was and is the pew nearest to the pulpit on the minister's
right, and one day it contained a bonnet, which Mr. Dishart's
predecessor preached at for one hour and ten minutes. From the
pulpit, which was swaddled in black, the minister had a fine sweep
of all the congregation except those in the back pews downstairs,
who were lost in the shadow of the laft. Here sat Whinny Webster, so
called because, having an inexplicable passion against them, he
devoted his life to the extermination of whins. Whinny for years ate
peppermint lozenges with impunity in his back seat, safe in the
certainty that the minister, however much he might try, could not
possibly see him. But his day came. One afternoon the kirk smelt of
peppermints, and Mr. Dishart could rebuke no one, for the defaulter
was not in sight. Whinny's cheek was working up and down in quiet
enjoyment of its lozenge, when he started, noticing that the
preaching had stopped. Then he heard a sepulchral voice say "Charles
Webster!" Whinny's eyes turned to the pulpit, only part of which was
visible to him, and to his horror they encountered the minister's
head coming down the stairs. This took place after I had ceased to
attend the Auld Licht kirk regularly; but I am told that as Whinny
gave one wild scream the peppermint dropped from his mouth. The
minister had got him by leaning over the pulpit door until, had he
given himself only another inch, his feet would have gone into the
air. As for Whinny he became a God-fearing man.

The most uncanny thing about the kirk was the precentor's box
beneath the pulpit. Three Auld Licht ministers I have known, but I
can only conceive one precentor. Lang Tammas' box was much too small
for him. Since his disappearance from Thrums I believe they have
paid him the compliment of enlarging it for a smaller man, no doubt
with the feeling that Tammas alone could look like a Christian in
it. Like the whole congregation, of course, he had to stand during
the prayers--the first of which averaged half an hour in length. If
he stood erect his head and shoulders vanished beneath funereal
trappings, when he seemed decapitated, and if he stretched his neck
the pulpit tottered. He looked like the pillar on which it rested,
or he balanced it on his head like a baker's tray. Sometimes he
leaned forward as reverently as he could, and then, with his long,
lean arms dangling over the side of his box, he might have been a
suit of "blacks" hung up to dry. Once I was talking with Cree Queery
in a sober, respectable manner, when all at once a light broke out
on his face. I asked him what he was laughing at, and he said it was
at Lang Tammas. He got grave again when I asked him what there was
in Lang Tammas to smile at, and admitted that he could not tell me.
However, I have always been of opinion that the thought of the
precentor in his box gave Cree a fleeting sense of humor.

Tammas and Hendry Munn were the two paid officials of the church,
Hendry being kirk-officer; but poverty was among the few points they
had in common. The precentor was a cobbler, though he never knew it,
shoemaker being the name in those parts, and his dwelling-room was
also his workshop. There he sat in his "brot," or apron, from early
morning to far on to midnight, and contrived to make his six or
eight shillings a week. I have often sat with him in the darkness
that his "cruizey" lamp could not pierce, while his mutterings to
himself of "ay, ay, yes, umpha, oh ay, ay man," came as regularly
and monotonously as the tick of his "wag-at-the-wa'" clock. Hendry
and he were paid no fixed sum for their services in the Auld Licht
kirk, but once a year there was a collection for each of them, and
so they jogged along. Though not the only kirk-officer of my time
Hendry made the most lasting impression. He was, I think, the only
man in Thrums who did not quake when the minister looked at him. A
wild story, never authenticated, says that Hendry once offered Mr.
Dishart a snuff from his mull. In the streets Lang Tammas was more
stern and dreaded by evil-doers, but Hendry had first place in the
kirk. One of his duties was to precede the minister from the
session-house to the pulpit and open the door for him. Having shut
Mr. Dishart in he strolled away to his seat. When a strange minister
preached, Hendry was, if possible, still more at his ease. This will
not be believed, but I have seen him give the pulpit-door on these
occasions a fling to with his feet. However ill an ordinary member
of the congregation might become in the kirk he sat on till the
service ended, but Hendry would wander to the door and shut it if he
noticed that the wind was playing irreverent tricks with the pages
of Bibles, and proof could still be brought forward that he would
stop deliberately in the aisle to lift up a piece of paper, say,
that had floated there. After the first psalm had been sung it was
Hendry's part to lift up the plate and carry its tinkling contents
to the session-house. On the greatest occasions he remained so calm,
so indifferent, so expressionless, that he might have been present
the night before at a rehearsal.

When there was preaching at night the church was lit by tallow
candles, which also gave out all the artificial heat provided. Two
candles stood on each side of the pulpit, and others were scattered
over the church, some of them fixed into holes on rough brackets,
and some merely sticking in their own grease on the pews. Hendry
superintended the lighting of the candles, and frequently hobbled
through the church to snuff them. Mr. Dishart was a man who could do
anything except snuff a candle, but when he stopped in his sermon to
do that he as often as not knocked the candle over. In vain he
sought to refix it in its proper place, and then all eyes turned to
Hendry. As coolly as though he were in a public hall or place of
entertainment, the kirk-officer arose and, mounting the stair, took
the candle from the minister's reluctant hands and put it right.
Then he returned to his seat, not apparently puffed up, yet perhaps
satisfied with himself; while Mr. Dishart, glaring after him to see
if he was carrying his head high, resumed his wordy way.

Never was there a man more uncomfortably loved than Mr. Dishart.
Easie Haggart, his maid-servant, reproved him at the breakfast
table. Lang Tammas and Sam'l Mealmaker crouched for five successive
Sabbath nights on his manse-wall to catch him smoking (and got him).
Old wives grumbled by their hearths when he did not look in to
despair of their salvation. He told the maidens of his congregation
not to make an idol of him. His session saw him (from behind a
haystack) in conversation with a strange woman, and asked grimly if
he remembered that he had a wife. Twenty were his years when he came
to Thrums, and on the very first Sabbath he knocked a board out of
the pulpit. Before beginning his trial sermon he handed down the big
Bible to the precentor, to give his arms free swing. The
congregation, trembling with exhilaration, probed his meaning. Not a
square inch of paper, they saw, could be concealed there. Mr.
Dishart had scarcely any hope for the Auld Lichts; he had none for
any other denomination. Davit Lunan got behind his handkerchief to
think for a moment, and the minister was on him like a tiger. The
call was unanimous. Davit proposed him.

Every few years, as one might say, the Auld Licht kirk gave way and
buried its minister. The congregation turned their empty pockets
inside out, and the minister departed in a farmer's cart. The scene
was not an amusing one to those who looked on at it. To the Auld
Lichts was then the humiliation of seeing their pulpit "supplied" on
alternate Sabbaths by itinerant probationers or stickit ministers.
When they were not starving themselves to support a pastor the Auld
Lichts were saving up for a stipend. They retired with compressed
lips to their looms, and weaved and weaved till they weaved another
minister. Without the grief of parting with one minister there could
not have been the transport of choosing another. To have had a
pastor always might have made them vain-glorious.

They were seldom longer than twelve months in making a selection,
and in their haste they would have passed over Mr. Dishart and mated
with a monster. Many years have elapsed since Providence flung Mr.
Watts out of the Auld Licht kirk. Mr. Watts was a probationer who
was tried before Mr. Dishart, and, though not so young as might have
been wished, he found favor in many eyes. "Sluggard in the laft,
awake!" he cried to Bell Whamond, who had forgotten herself, and it
was felt that there must be good stuff in him. A breeze from Heaven
exposed him on Communion Sabbath.

On the evening of this solemn day the door of the Auld Licht kirk
was sometimes locked, and the congregation repaired, Bible in hand,
to the commonty. They had a right to this common on the Communion
Sabbath, but only took advantage of it when it was believed that
more persons intended witnessing the evening service than the kirk
would hold. On this day the attendance was always very great.

It was the Covenanters come back to life. To the summit of the slope
a wooden box was slowly hurled by Hendry Munn and others, and round
this the congregation quietly grouped to the tinkle of the cracked
Auld Licht bell. With slow, majestic tread the session advanced upon
the steep common with the little minister in their midst. He had the
people in his hands now, and the more he squeezed them the better
they were pleased. The travelling pulpit consisted of two
compartments, the one for the minister and the other for Lang
Tammas, but no Auld Licht thought that it looked like a Punch and
Judy puppet show. This service on the common was known as the "tent
preaching," owing to a tent's being frequently used instead of the

Mr. Watts was conducting the service on the commonty. It was a fine,
still summer evening, and loud above the whisper of the burn from
which the common climbs, and the labored "pechs" of the listeners,
rose the preacher's voice. The Auld Lichts in their rusty blacks
(they must have been a more artistic sight in the olden days of blue
bonnets and knee-breeches) nodded their heads in sharp approval, for
though they could swoop down on a heretic like an eagle on carrion,
they scented no prey. Even Lang Tammas, on whose nose a drop of
water gathered when he was in his greatest fettle, thought that all
was fair and above-board. Suddenly a rush of wind tore up the
common, and ran straight at the pulpit. It formed in a sieve, and
passed over the heads of the congregation, who felt it as a fan, and
looked up in awe. Lang Tammas, feeling himself all at once grow
clammy, distinctly heard the leaves of the pulpit Bible shiver. Mr.
Watts' hands, outstretched to prevent a catastrophe, were blown
against his side, and then some twenty sheets of closely written
paper floated into the air. There was a horrible, dead silence. The
burn was roaring now. The minister, if such he can be called, shrank
back in his box, and as if they had seen it printed in letters of
fire on the heavens, the congregation realized that Mr. Watts, whom
they had been on the point of calling, read his sermon. He wrote it
out on pages the exact size of those in the Bible, and did not
scruple to fasten these into the Holy Book itself. At theatres a
sullen thunder of angry voices behind the scene represents a crowd
in a rage, and such a low, long-drawn howl swept the common when Mr.
Watts was found out. To follow a pastor who "read" seemed to the
Auld Lichts like claiming heaven on false pretences. In ten minutes
the session alone, with Lang Tammas and Hendry, were on the common.
They were watched by many from afar off, and (when one comes to
think of it now) looked a little curious jumping, like trout at
flies, at the damning papers still fluttering in the air. The
minister was never seen in our parts again, but he is still
remembered as "Paper Watts."

Mr. Dishart in the pulpit was the reward of his upbringing. At ten
he had entered the university. Before he was in his teens he was
practising the art of gesticulation in his father's gallery pew.
From distant congregations people came to marvel at him. He was
never more than comparatively young. So long as the pulpit trappings
of the kirk at Thrums lasted he could be seen, once he was fairly
under way with his sermon, but dimly in a cloud of dust. He
introduced headaches. In a grand transport of enthusiasm he once
flung his arms over the pulpit and caught Lang Tammas on the
forehead. Leaning forward, with his chest on the cushions, he would
pommel the Evil One with both hands, and then, whirling round to the
left, shake his fist at Bell Whamond's neckerchief. With a sudden
jump he would fix Pete Todd's youngest boy catching flies at the
laft window. Stiffening unexpectedly, he would leap three times in
the air, and then gather himself in a corner for a fearsome spring.
When he wept he seemed to be laughing, and he laughed in a paroxysm
of tears. He tried to tear the devil out of the pulpit rails. When
he was not a teetotum he was a windmill. His pump position was the
most appalling. Then he glared motionless at his admiring listeners,
as if he had fallen into a trance with his arm upraised. The
hurricane broke next moment. Nanny Sutie bore up under the shadow of
the windmill--which would have been heavier had Auld Licht ministers
worn gowns--but the pump affected her to tears. She was stone-deaf.

For the first year or more of his ministry an Auld Licht minister
was a mouse among cats. Both in the pulpit and out of it they
watched for unsound doctrine, and when he strayed they took him by
the neck. Mr. Dishart, however, had been brought up in the true way,
and seldom gave his people a chance. In time, it may be said, they
grew despondent, and settled in their uncomfortable pews with all
suspicion of lurking heresy allayed. It was only on such Sabbaths as
Mr. Dishart changed pulpits with another minister that they cocked
their ears and leaned forward eagerly to snap the preacher up.

Mr. Dishart had his trials. There was the split in the kirk, too,
that comes once at least to every Auld Licht minister. He was long
in marrying. The congregation were thinking of approaching him,
through the medium of his servant, Easie Haggart, on the subject of
matrimony; for a bachelor coming on for twenty-two, with an income
of eighty pounds per annum, seemed an anomaly--when one day he took
the canal for Edinburgh and returned with his bride. His people
nodded their heads, but said nothing to the minister. If he did not
choose to take them into his confidence, it was no affair of theirs.
That there was something queer about the marriage, however, seemed
certain. Sandy Whamond, who was a soured man after losing his
eldership, said that he believed she had been an "Englishy"--in
other words, had belonged to the English Church; but it is not
probable that Mr. Dishart would have gone the length of that. The
secret is buried in his grave.

Easie Haggart jagged the minister sorely. She grew loquacious with
years, and when he had company would stand at the door joining in
the conversation. If the company was another minister, she would
take a chair and discuss Mr. Dishart's infirmities with him. The
Auld Lichts loved their minister, but they saw even more clearly
than himself the necessity for his humiliation. His wife made all
her children's clothes, but Sanders Gow complained that she looked
too like their sister. In one week three of the children died, and
on the Sabbath following it rained. Mr. Dishart preached, twice
breaking down altogether and gaping strangely round the kirk (there
was no dust flying that day), and spoke of the rain as angels' tears
for three little girls. The Auld Lichts let it pass, but, as Lang
Tammas said in private (for, of course, the thing was much discussed
at the looms), if you materialize angels in that way, where are you
going to stop?

It was on the fast-days that the Auld Licht kirk showed what it was
capable of, and, so to speak, left all the other churches in Thrums
far behind. The fast came round once every summer, beginning on a
Thursday, when all the looms were hushed, and two services were held
in the kirk of about three hours' length each. A minister from
another town assisted at these times, and when the service ended the
members filed in at one door and out at another, passing on their
way Mr. Dishart and his elders, who dispensed "tokens" at the foot
of the pulpit. Without a token, which was a metal lozenge, no one
could take the sacrament on the coming Sabbath, and many a member
has Mr. Dishart made miserable by refusing him his token for
gathering wild-flowers, say, on a Lord's Day (as testified to by
another member). Women were lost who cooked dinners on the Sabbath,
or took to colored ribbons, or absented themselves from church
without sufficient cause. On the fast-day fists were shaken at Mr.
Dishart as he walked sternly homeward, but he was undismayed. Next
day there were no services in the kirk, for Auld Lichts could not
afford many holidays, but they weaved solemnly, with Saturday and
the Sabbath and Monday to think of. On Saturday service began at two
and lasted until nearly seven. Two sermons were preached, but there
was no interval. The sacrament was dispensed on the Sabbath.
Nowadays the "tables" in the Auld Licht kirk are soon "served," for
the attendance has decayed, and most of the pews in the body of the
church are made use of. In the days of which I speak, however, the
front pews alone were hung with white, and it was in them only the
sacrament was administered. As many members as could get into them
delivered up their tokens and took the first table. Then they made
room for others, who sat in their pews awaiting their turn. What
with tables, the preaching, and unusually long prayers, the service
lasted from eleven to six. At half-past six a two hours' service
began, either in the kirk or on the common, from which no one who
thought much about his immortal soul would have dared (or cared) to
absent himself. A four hours' service on the Monday, which, like
that of the Saturday, consisted of two services in one, but began at
eleven instead of two, completed the programme.

On those days, if you were a poor creature and wanted to acknowledge
it, you could leave the church for a few minutes and return to it,
but the creditable thing was to sit on. Even among the children
there was a keen competition, fostered by their parents, to sit each
other out, and be in at the death.

The other Thrums kirks held the sacrament at the same time, but not
with the same vehemence. As far north from the school-house as
Thrums is south of it, nestles the little village of Quharity, and
there the fast-day was not a day of fasting. In most cases the
people had to go many miles to church. They drove or rode (two on a
horse), or walked in from other glens. Without "the tents,"
therefore, the congregation, with a long day before them, would have
been badly off. Sometimes one tent sufficed; at other times rival
publicans were on the ground. The tents were those in use at the
feeing and other markets, and you could get anything inside them,
from broth made in a "boiler" to the firiest whiskey. They were
planted just outside the kirk-gate--long, low tents of dirty white
canvas--so that when passing into the church or out of it you
inhaled their odors. The congregation emerged austerely from the
church, shaking their heads solemnly over the minister's remarks,
and their feet carried them into the tent. There was no mirth, no
unseemly revelry, but there was a great deal of hard drinking.
Eventually the tents were done away with, but not until the services
on the fast-days were shortened. The Auld Licht ministers were the
only ones who preached against the tents with any heart, and since
the old dominie, my predecessor at the school-house, died, there has
not been an Auld Licht permanently resident in the glen of Quharity.

Perhaps nothing took it out of the Auld Licht males so much as a
christening. Then alone they showed symptoms of nervousness, more
especially after the remarkable baptism of Eppie Whamond. I could
tell of several scandals in connection with the kirk. There was, for
instance, the time when Easie Haggart saved the minister. In a fit
of temporary mental derangement the misguided man had one Sabbath
day, despite the entreaties of his affrighted spouse, called at the
post-office, and was on the point of reading the letter there
received when Easie, who had slipped on her bonnet and followed him,
snatched the secular thing from his hands. There was the story that
ran like fire through Thrums and crushed an innocent man, to the
effect that Pete Todd had been in an Edinburgh theatre countenancing
the play-actors. Something could be made, too, of the retribution
that came to Charlie Ramsay, who woke in his pew to discover that
its other occupant, his little son Jamie, was standing on the seat
divesting himself of his clothes in presence of a horrified
congregation. Jamie had begun stealthily, and had very little on
when Charlie seized him. But having my choice of scandals I prefer
the christening one--the unique case of Eppie Whamond, who was born
late on Saturday night and baptized in the kirk on the following

To the casual observer the Auld Licht always looked as if he were
returning from burying a near relative. Yet when I met him hobbling
down the street, preternaturally grave and occupied, experience
taught me that he was preparing for a christening. How the minister
would have borne himself in the event of a member of his congregation's
wanting the baptism to take place at home it is not easy to say; but I
shudder to think of the public prayers for the parents that would
certainly have followed. The child was carried to the kirk through
rain, or snow, or sleet, or wind; the father took his seat alone in the
front pew, under the minister's eye, and the service was prolonged far
on into the afternoon. But though the references in the sermon to that
unhappy object of interest in the front pew were many and pointed, his
time had not really come until the minister signed to him to advance
as far as the second step of the pulpit stairs. The nervous father
clenched the railing in a daze, and cowered before the ministerial
heckling. From warning the minister passed to exhortation, from
exhortation to admonition, from admonition to searching questioning,
from questioning to prayer and wailing. When the father glanced up,
there was the radiant boy in the pulpit looking as if he would like
to jump down his throat. If he hung his head the minister would ask,
with a groan, whether he was unprepared; and the whole congregation
would sigh out the response that Mr. Dishart had hit it. When he
replied audibly to the minister's uncomfortable questions, a pained
look at his flippancy travelled from the pulpit all round the pews;
and when he only bowed his head in answer, the minister paused sternly,
and the congregation wondered what the man meant. Little wonder that
Davie Haggart took to drinking when his turn came for occupying that
front pew.

If wee Eppie Whamond's birth had been deferred until the beginning
of the week, or humility had shown more prominently among her
mother's virtues, the kirk would have been saved a painful scandal,
and Sandy Whamond might have retained his eldership. Yet it was a
foolish but wifely pride in her husband's official position that
turned Bell Dundas' head--a wild ambition to beat all baptismal

Among the wives she was esteemed a poor body whose infant did not
see the inside of the kirk within a fortnight of its birth. Forty
years ago it was an accepted superstition in Thrums that the ghosts
of children who had died before they were baptized went wailing and
wringing their hands round the kirk-yard at nights, and that they
would continue to do this until the crack of doom. When the Auld
Licht children grew up, too, they crowed over those of their fellows
whose christening had been deferred until a comparatively late date,
and the mothers who had needlessly missed a Sabbath for long
afterward hung their heads. That was a good and creditable birth
which took place early in the week, thus allowing time for suitable
christening preparations; while to be born on a Friday or a Saturday
was to humiliate your parents, besides being an extremely ominous
beginning for yourself. Without seeking to vindicate Bell Dundas'
behavior, I may note, as an act of ordinary fairness, that, being
the leading elder's wife, she was sorely tempted. Eppie made her
appearance at 9:45 on a Saturday night.

In the hurry and skurry that ensued, Sandy escaped sadly to the
square. His infant would be baptized eight days old--one of the
longest deferred christenings of the year. Sandy was shivering under
the clock when I met him accidentally, and took him home. But by that
time the harm had been done. Several of the congregation had been
roused from their beds to hear his lamentations, of whom the men
sympathized with him, while the wives triumphed austerely over Bell
Dundas. As I wrung poor Sandy's hand, I hardly noticed that a bright
light showed distinctly between the shutters of his kitchen-window;
but the elder himself turned pale and breathed quickly. It was then
fourteen minutes past twelve.

My heart sank within me on the following forenoon, when Sandy
Whamond walked, with a queer twitching face, into the front pew
under a glare of eyes from the body of the kirk and the laft. An
amazed buzz went round the church, followed by a pursing up of lips
and hurried whisperings. Evidently Sandy had been driven to it
against his own judgment. The scene is still vivid before me: the
minister suspecting no guile, and omitting the admonitory stage out
of compliment to the elder's standing; Sandy's ghastly face; the
proud godmother (aged twelve) with the squalling baby in her arms;
the horror of the congregation to a man and woman. A slate fell from
Sandy's house even as he held up the babe to the minister to receive
a "droukin'" of water, and Eppie cried so vigorously that her shamed
godmother had to rush with her to the vestry. Now things are not as
they should be when an Auld Licht infant does not quietly sit out
her first service.

Bell tried for a time to carry her head high; but Sandy ceased to
whistle at his loom, and the scandal was a rolling stone that soon
passed over him. Briefly it amounted to this: that a bairn born
within two hours of midnight on Saturday could not have been ready
for christening at the kirk next day without the breaking of the
Sabbath. Had the secret of the nocturnal light been mine alone all
might have been well; but Betsy Mund's evidence was irrefutable.
Great had been Bell's cunning, but Betsy had outwitted her. Passing
the house on the eventful night, Betsy had observed Marget Dundas,
Bell's sister, open the door and creep cautiously to the window, the
chinks in the outside shutters of which she cunningly closed up with
"tow." As in a flash the disgusted Betsy saw what Bell was up to,
and, removing the tow, planted herself behind the dilapidated dyke
opposite and awaited events. Questioned at a special meeting of the
office-bearers in the vestry, she admitted that the lamp was
extinguished soon after twelve o'clock, though the fire burned
brightly all night. There had been unnecessary feasting during the
night, and six eggs were consumed before breakfast-time. Asked how
she knew this, she admitted having counted the eggshells that Marget
had thrown out of doors in the morning. This, with the testimony of
the persons from whom Sandy had sought condolence on the Saturday
night, was the case for the prosecution. For the defence, Bell
maintained that all preparations stopped when the clock struck
twelve, and even hinted that the bairn had been born on Saturday
afternoon. But Sandy knew that he and his had got a fall. In the
forenoon of the following Sabbath the minister preached from the
text, "Be sure your sin will find you out;" and in the afternoon
from "Pride goeth before a fall." He was grand. In the evening Sandy
tendered his resignation of office, which was at once accepted. Webs
were behind-hand for a week, owing to the length of the prayers
offered up for Bell; and Lang Tammas ruled in Sandy's stead.



With the severe Auld Lichts the Sabbath began at six o'clock on
Saturday evening. By that time the gleaming shuttle was at rest,
Davie Haggart had strolled into the village from his pile of stones
in the Whunny road; Hendry Robb, the "dummy," had sold his last
barrowful of "rozetty (resiny) roots" for firewood; and the people,
having tranquilly supped and soused their faces in their water-pails,
slowly donned their Sunday clothes. This ceremony was common to all;
but here divergence set in. The gray Auld Licht, to whom love was not
even a name, sat in his high-backed arm-chair by the hearth, Bible or
"Pilgrim's Progress" in hand, occasionally lapsing into slumber.
But--though, when they got the chance, they went willingly three
times to the kirk--there were young men in the community so flighty
that, instead of dozing at home on Saturday night, they dandered
casually into the square, and, forming into knots at the corners,
talked solemnly and mysteriously of women.

Not even, on the night preceding his wedding was an Auld Licht ever known
to stay out after ten o'clock. So weekly conclaves at street-corners came
to an end at a comparatively early hour, one Coelebs after another
shuffling silently from the square until it echoed, deserted, to the
town-house clock. The last of the gallants, gradually discovering that
he was alone, would look around him musingly, and, taking in the
situation, slowly wend his way home. On no other night of the week was
frivolous talk about the softer sex indulged in, the Auld Lichts being
creatures of habit, who never thought of smiling on a Monday. Long
before they reached their teens they were earning their keep as herds
in the surrounding glens or filling "pirns" for their parents; but they
were generally on the brink of twenty before they thought seriously of
matrimony. Up to that time they only trifled with the other sex's
affections at a distance--filling a maid's water-pails, perhaps, when
no one was looking, or carrying her wob; at the recollection of which
they would slap their knees almost jovially on Saturday night. A wife
was expected to assist at the loom as well as to be cunning in the
making of marmalade and the firing of bannocks, and there was
consequently some heartburning among the lads for maids of skill and
muscle. The Auld Licht, however, who meant marriage seldom loitered
in the streets. By-and-bye there came a time when the clock looked
down through its cracked glass upon the hemmed-in square and saw him
not. His companions, gazing at each other's boots, felt that
something was going on, but made no remark.

A month ago, passing through the shabby, familiar square, I brushed
against a withered old man tottering down the street under a load of
yarn. It was piled on a wheelbarrow, which his feeble hands could
not have raised but for the rope of yarn that supported it from his
shoulders; and though Auld Licht was written on his patient eyes, I
did not immediately recognize Jamie Whamond. Years ago Jamie was a
sturdy weaver and fervent lover, whom I had the right to call my
friend. Turn back the century a few decades, and we are together on
a moonlight night, taking a short cut through the fields from the
farm of Craigiebuckle. Buxom were Craigiebuckle's "dochters," and
Jamie was Janet's accepted suitor. It was a muddy road through damp
grass, and we picked our way silently over its ruts and pools. "I'm
thinkin'," Jamie said at last, a little wistfully, "that I micht hae
been as weel wi' Chirsty." Chirsty was Janet's sister, and Jamie had
first thought of her. Craigiebuckle, however, strongly advised him
to take Janet instead, and he consented. Alack! heavy wobs have
taken all the grace from Janet's shoulders this many a year, though
she and Jamie go bravely down the hill together. Unless they pass
the allotted span of life, the "poors-house" will never know them.
As for bonny Chirsty, she proved a flighty thing, and married a
deacon in the Established Church. The Auld Lichts groaned over her
fall, Craigiebuckle hung his head, and the minister told her sternly
to go her way. But a few weeks afterward Lang Tammas, the chief
elder, was observed talking with her for an hour in Gowrie's close;
and the very next Sabbath Chirsty pushed her husband in triumph into
her father's pew. The minister, though completely taken by surprise,
at once referred to the stranger, in a prayer of great length, as a
brand that might yet be plucked from the burning. Changing his text,
he preached at him; Lang Tammas, the precentor, and the whole
congregation (Chirsty included) sang at him; and before he exactly
realized his position he had become an Auld Licht for life.
Chirsty's triumph was complete when, next week, in broad daylight,
too, the minister's wife called, and (in the presence of Betsy Munn,
who vouches for the truth of the story) graciously asked her to come
up to the manse on Thursday, at 4 P.M., and drink a dish of tea.
Chirsty, who knew her position, of course begged modestly to be
excused; but a coolness arose over the invitation between her and
Janet--who felt slighted--that was only made up at the laying-out of
Chirsty's father-in-law, to which Janet was pleasantly invited.

When they had red up the house, the Auld Licht lassies sat in the
gloaming at their doors on three-legged stools, patiently knitting
stockings. To them came stiff-limbed youths who, with a "Blawy nicht,
Jeanie" (to which the inevitable answer was, "It is so, Cha-rles"),
rested their shoulders on the doorpost, and silently followed with
their eyes the flashing needles. Thus the courtship began--often to
ripen promptly into marriage, at other times to go no farther. The
smooth-haired maids, neat in their simple wrappers, knew they were
on their trial, and that it behoved them to be wary. They had not
compassed twenty winters without knowing that Marget Todd lost Davie
Haggart because she "fittit" a black stocking with brown worsted,
and that Finny's grieve turned from Bell Whamond on account of the
frivolous flowers in her bonnet: and yet Bell's prospects, as I
happen to know, at one time looked bright and promising. Sitting
over her father's peat-fire one night gossiping with him about
fishing-flies and tackle, I noticed the grieve, who had dropped in
by appointment with some ducks' eggs on which Bell's clockin' hen
was to sit, performing some sleight-of-hand trick with his coat-sleeve.
Craftily he jerked and twisted it, till his own photograph (a black
smudge on white) gradually appeared to view. This he gravely slipped
into the hands of the maid of his choice, and then took his departure,
apparently much relieved. Had not Bell's light-headedness driven him
away, the grieve would have soon followed up his gift with an offer
of his hand. Some night Bell would have "seen him to the door," and
they would have stared sheepishly at each other before saying
good-night. The parting salutation given, the grieve would still
have stood his ground, and Bell would have waited with him. At last,
"Will ye hae's, Bell?" would have dropped from his half-reluctant
lips; and Bell would have mumbled, "Ay," with her thumb in her mouth.
"Guid nicht to ye, Bell," would be the next remark--"Guid nicht to
ye, Jeames," the answer; the humble door would close softly, and Bell
and her lad would have been engaged. But, as it was, their attachment
never got beyond the silhouette stage, from which, in the ethics of
the Auld Lichts, a man can draw back in certain circumstances without
loss of honor. The only really tender thing I ever heard an Auld Licht
lover say to his sweetheart was when Gowrie's brother looked softly
into Easie Tamson's eyes and whispered, "Do you swite (sweat)?" Even
then the effect was produced more by the loving cast in Gowrie's eye
than by the tenderness of the words themselves.

The courtships were sometimes of long duration, but as soon as the
young man realized that he was courting he proposed. Cases were not
wanting in which he realized this for himself, but as a rule he had
to be told of it.

There were a few instances of weddings among the Auld Lichts that
did not take place on Friday. Betsy Munn's brother thought to assert
his two coal-carts, about which he was sinfully puffed up, by
getting married early in the week; but he was a pragmatical feckless
body, Jamie. The foreigner from York that Finny's grieve after
disappointing Jinny Whamond took, sought to sow the seeds of strife
by urging that Friday was an unlucky day; and I remember how the
minister, who was always great in a crisis, nipped the bickering in
the bud by adducing the conclusive fact that he had been married on
the sixth day of the week himself. It was a judicious policy on Mr.
Dishart's part to take vigorous action at once and insist on the
solemnization of the marriage on a Friday or not at all, for he best
kept superstition out of the congregation by branding it as heresy.
Perhaps the Auld Lichts were only ignorant of the grieve's lass'
theory because they had not thought of it. Friday's claims, too,
were incontrovertible; for the Saturday's being a slack day gave the
couple an opportunity to put their but and ben in order, and on
Sabbath they had a gay day of it--three times at the kirk. The
honeymoon over, the racket of the loom began again on the Monday.

The natural politeness of the Allardice family gave me my invitation
to Tibbie's wedding. I was taking tea and cheese early one wintry
afternoon with the smith and his wife, when little Joey Todd in his
Sabbath clothes peered in at the passage, and then knocked primly at
the door. Andra forgot himself, and called out to him to come in by;
but Jess frowned him into silence, and, hastily donning her black
mutch, received Willie on the threshold. Both halves of the door
were open, and the visitor had looked us over carefully before
knocking; but he had come with the compliments of Tibbie's mother,
requesting the pleasure of Jess and her man that evening to the
lassie's marriage with Sam'l Todd, and the knocking at the door was
part of the ceremony. Five minutes afterward Joey returned to beg a
moment of me in the passage; when I, too, got my invitation. The lad
had just received, with an expression of polite surprise, though he
knew he could claim it as his right, a slice of crumbling
shortbread, and taken his staid departure, when Jess cleared the
tea-things off the table, remarking simply that it was a mercy we
had not got beyond the first cup. We then retired to dress.

About six o'clock, the time announced for the ceremony, I elbowed my
way through the expectant throng of men, women, and children that
already besieged the smith's door. Shrill demands of "Toss, toss!"
rent the air every time Jess' head showed on the window-blind, and
Andra hoped, as I pushed open the door, "that I hadna forgotten my
bawbees." Weddings were celebrated among the Auld Lichts by showers
of ha'pence, and the guests on their way to the bride's house had to
scatter to the hungry rabble like housewives feeding poultry. Willie
Todd, the best man, who had never come out so strong in his life
before, slipped through the back window, while the crowd, led on by
Kitty McQueen, seethed in front, and making a bolt for it to the
"'Sosh," was back in a moment with a handful of small change. "Dinna
toss ower lavishly at first," the smith whispered me nervously, as
we followed Jess and Willie into the darkening wynd.

The guests were packed hot and solemn in Johnny Allardice's "room:"
the men anxious to surrender their seats to the ladies who happened
to be standing, but too bashful to propose it; the ham and the fish
frizzling noisily side by side but the house, and hissing out every
now and then to let all whom it might concern know that Janet Craik
was adding more water to the gravy. A better woman never lived; but,
oh, the hypocrisy of the face that beamed greeting to the guests as
if it had nothing to do but politely show them in, and gasped next
moment with upraised arms over what was nearly a fall in crockery.
When Janet sped to the door her "spleet new" merino dress fell, to
the pulling of a string, over her home-made petticoat, like the
drop-scene in a theatre, and rose as promptly when she returned to
slice the bacon. The murmur of admiration that filled the room when
she entered with the minister was an involuntary tribute to the
spotlessness of her wrapper and a great triumph for Janet. If there
is an impression that the dress of the Auld Lichts was on all
occasions as sombre as their faces, let it be known that the bride
was but one of several in "whites," and that Mag Munn had only at
the last moment been dissuaded from wearing flowers. The minister,
the Auld Lichts congratulated themselves, disapproved of all such
decking of the person and bowing of the head to idols; but on such
an occasion he was not expected to observe it. Bell Whamond,
however, has reason for knowing that, marriages or no marriages, he
drew the line at curls.

By-and-bye Sam'l Todd, looking a little dazed, was pushed into the
middle of the room to Tibbie's side, and the minister raised his
voice in prayer. All eyes closed reverently, except perhaps the
bridegroom's, which seemed glazed and vacant. It was an open
question in the community whether Mr. Dishart did not miss his
chance at weddings; the men shaking their heads over the comparative
brevity of the ceremony, the women worshipping him (though he never
hesitated to rebuke them when they showed it too openly) for the
urbanity of his manners. At that time, however, only a minister of
such experience as Mr. Dishart's predecessor could lead up to a
marriage in prayer without inadvertently joining the couple; and the
catechizing was mercifully brief. Another prayer followed the union;
the minister waived his right to kiss the bride; every one looked at
every other one as if he had for the moment forgotten what he was on
the point of saying and found it very annoying; and Janet signed
frantically to Willie Todd, who nodded intelligently in reply, but
evidently had no idea what she meant. In time Johnny Allardice, our
host, who became more and more and doited as the night proceeded,
remembered his instructions, and led the way to the kitchen, where
the guests, having politely informed their hostess that they were
not hungry, partook of a hearty tea. Mr. Dishart presided, with the
bride and bridegroom near him; but though he tried to give an
agreeable turn to the conversation by describing the extensions at
the cemetery, his personality oppressed us, and we only breathed
freely when he rose to go. Yet we marvelled at his versatility. In
shaking hands with the newly married couple the minister reminded
them that it was leap-year, and wished them "three hundred and
sixty-six happy and God-fearing days."

Sam'l's station being too high for it, Tibbie did not have a penny
wedding, which her thrifty mother bewailed, penny weddings starting
a couple in life. I can recall nothing more characteristic of the
nation from which the Auld Lichts sprang than the penny wedding,
where the only revellers that were not out of pocket by it were the
couple who gave the entertainment. The more the guests ate and drank
the better, pecuniarily, for their hosts. The charge for admission
to the penny wedding (practically to the feast that followed it)
varied in different districts, but with us it was generally a
shilling. Perhaps the penny extra to the fiddler accounts for the
name penny wedding. The ceremony having been gone through in the
bride's house, there was an adjournment to a barn or other
convenient place of meeting, where was held the nuptial feast; long
white boards from Rob Angus' saw-mill, supported on trestles, stood
in lieu of tables; and those of the company who could not find a
seat waited patiently against the wall for a vacancy. The shilling
gave every guest the free run of the groaning board; but though
fowls were plentiful, and even white bread too, little had been spent
on them. The farmers of the neighborhood, who looked forward to
providing the young people with drills of potatoes for the coming
winter, made a bid for their custom by sending them a fowl gratis
for the marriage supper. It was popularly understood to be the oldest
cock of the farmyard, but for all that it made a brave appearance in
a shallow sea of soup. The fowls were always boiled--without
exception, so far as my memory carries me; the guid-wife never having
the heart to roast them, and so lose the broth. One round of
whiskey-and-water was all the drink to which his shilling entitled
the guest. If he wanted more he had to pay for it. There was much
revelry, with song and dance, that no stranger could have thought
those stiff-limbed weavers capable of; and the more they shouted and
whirled through the barn, the more their host smiled and rubbed his
hands. He presided at the bar improvised for the occasion, and if
the thing was conducted with spirit his bride flung an apron over
her gown and helped him. I remember one elderly bridegroom who,
having married a blind woman, had to do double work at his penny
wedding. It was a sight to see him flitting about the torch-lit
barn, with a kettle of hot water in one hand and a besom to sweep
up crumbs in the other.

Though Sam'l had no penny wedding, however, we made a night of it at
his marriage.

Wedding-chariots were not in those days, though I know of Auld
Lichts being conveyed to marriages nowadays by horses with white
ears. The tea over, we formed in couples, and--the best man with the
bride, the bridegroom with the best maid, leading the way--marched
in slow procession in the moonlight night to Tibbie's new home,
between lines of hoarse and eager onlookers. An attempt was made by
an itinerant musician to head the company with his fiddle; but
instrumental music, even in the streets, was abhorrent to sound Auld
Lichts, and the minister had spoken privately to Willie Todd on the
subject. As a consequence, Peter was driven from the ranks. The last
thing I saw that night, as we filed, bareheaded and solemn, into the
newly married couple's house, was Kitty McQueen's vigorous arm, in a
dishevelled sleeve, pounding a pair of urchins who had got between
her and a muddy ha'penny.

That night there was revelry and boisterous mirth (or what the Auld
Lichts took for such) in Tibbie's kitchen. At eleven o'clock Davit
Lunan cracked a joke. Davie Haggart, in reply to Bell Dundas'
request, gave a song of distinctly secular tendencies. The bride
(who had carefully taken off her wedding-gown on getting home and
donned a wrapper) coquettishly let the bridegroom's father hold her
hand. In Auld Licht circles, when one of the company was offered
whiskey and refused it, the others, as if pained even at the offer,
pushed it from them as a thing abhorred. But Davie Haggart set
another example on this occasion, and no one had the courage to
refuse to follow it. We sat late round the dying fire, and it was
only Willie Todd's scandalous assertion (he was but a boy) about his
being able to dance that induced us to think of moving. In the
community, I understand, this marriage is still memorable as the
occasion on which Bell Whamond laughed in the minister's face.



Arms and men I sing: douce Jeemsy Todd, rushing from his loom, armed
with a bed-post; Lisbeth Whamond, an avenging whirlwind: Neil
Haggart, pausing in his thank-offerings to smite and slay; the
impious foe scudding up the bleeding Brae-head with Nemesis at their
flashing heels; the minister holding it a nice question whether the
carnage was not justified. Then came the two hours' sermons of the
following Sabbath, when Mr. Dishart, revolving like a teetotum in
the pulpit, damned every bandaged person present, individually and
collectively; and Lang Tammas in the precentor's box with a plaster
on his cheek, included any one the minister might have by chance
omitted, and the congregation, with most of their eyes bunged up,
burst into psalms of praise.

Twice a year the Auld Lichts went demented. The occasion was the
fast-day at Tilliedrum; when its inhabitants, instead of crowding
reverently to the kirk, swooped profanely down in their scores and
tens of scores on our God-fearing town, intent on making a day of
it. Then did the weavers rise as one man, and go forth to show the
ribald crew the errors of their way. All denominations were
represented, but Auld Lichts led. An Auld Licht would have taken no
man's blood without the conviction that he would be the better
morally for the bleeding; and if Tammas Lunan's case gave an impetus
to the blows, it can only have been because it opened wider Auld
Licht eyes to Tilliedrum's desperate condition. Mr. Dishart's
predecessor more than once remarked that at the Creation the devil
put forward a claim for Thrums, but said he would take his chance of
Tilliedrum; and the statement was generally understood to be made on
the authority of the original Hebrew.

The mustard-seed of a feud between the two parishes shot into a tall
tree in a single night, when Davit Lunan's father went to a tattie
roup at Tilliedrum and thoughtlessly died there. Twenty-four hours
afterward a small party of staid Auld Lichts, carrying long white
poles, stepped out of various wynds and closes and picked their
solemn way to the house of mourning. Nanny Low, the widow, received
them dejectedly, as one oppressed by the knowledge that her man's
death at such an inopportune place did not fulfil the promise of his
youth; and her guests admitted bluntly that they were disappointed
in Tammas. Snecky Hobart's father's unusually long and impressive
prayer was an official intimation that the deceased, in the opinion
of the session, sorely needed everything of the kind he could get;
and then the silent driblet of Auld Lichts in black stalked off in
the direction of Tilliedrum. Women left their spinning-wheels and
pirns to follow them with their eyes along the Tenements, and the
minister was known to be holding an extra service at the manse. When
the little procession reached the boundary-line between the two
parishes, they sat down on a dyke and waited.

By-and-bye half a dozen men drew near from the opposite direction,
bearing on poles the remains of Tammas Lunan in a closed coffin. The
coffin was brought to within thirty yards of those who awaited it,
and then roughly lowered to the ground. Its bearers rested morosely
on their poles. In conveying Lunan's remains to the borders of his
own parish they were only conforming to custom; but Thrums and
Tilliedrum differed as to where the boundary-line was drawn, and not
a foot would either advance into the other's territory.

For half a day the coffin lay unclaimed, and the two parties sat
scowling at each other. Neither dared move. Gloaming had stolen into
the valley when Dite Deuchars, of Tilliedrum, rose to his feet and
deliberately spat upon the coffin. A stone whizzed through the air;
and then the ugly spectacle was presented, in the gray night, of a
dozen mutes fighting with their poles over a coffin. There was blood
on the shoulders that bore Tammas' remains to Thrums.

After that meeting Tilliedrum lived for the fast-day. Never,
perhaps, was there a community more given up to sin, and Thrums felt
"called" to its chastisement. The insult to Lunan's coffin, however,
dispirited their weavers for a time, and not until the suicide of
Pitlums did they put much fervor into their prayers. It made new men
of them. Tilliedrum's sins had found it out. Pitlums was a farmer in
the parish of Thrums, but he had been born at Tilliedrum; and Thrums
thanked Providence for that, when it saw him suspended between two
hams from his kitchen rafters. The custom was to cart suicides to
the quarry at the Galla pond and bury them near the cairn that had
supported the gallows; but on this occasion not a farmer in the
parish would lend a cart, and for a week the corpse lay on the
sanded floor as it had been cut down--an object of awestruck
interest to boys who knew no better than to peep through the
darkened window. Tilliedrum bit its lips at home. The Auld Licht
minister, it was said, had been approached on the subject; but,
after serious consideration, did not see his way to offering up a
prayer. Finally old Hobart and two others tied a rope round the
body, and dragged it from the farm to the cairn, a distance of four
miles. Instead of this incident's humbling Tilliedrum into attending
church, the next fast-day saw its streets deserted. As for the
Thrums Auld Lichts, only heavy wobs prevented their walking erect
like men who had done their duty. If no prayer was volunteered for
Pitlums before his burial, there was a great deal of psalm-singing
after it.

By early morn on their fast-day the Tilliedrummers were straggling
into Thrums, and the weavers, already at their looms, read the
clattering of feet and carts aright. To convince themselves, all
they had to do was to raise their eyes; but the first triumph would
have been to Tilliedrum if they had done that. The invaders--the men
in Aberdeen blue serge coats, velvet knee-breeches, and broad blue
bonnets, and the wincey gowns of the women set off with hooded
cloaks of red or tartan--tapped at the windows and shouted
insultingly as they passed; but, with pursed lips, Thrums bent
fiercely over its wobs, and not an Auld Licht showed outside his
door. The day wore on to noon, and still ribaldry was master of the
wynds. But there was a change inside the houses. The minister had
pulled down his blinds; moody men had left their looms for stools by
the fire; there were rumors of a conflict in Andra Gowrie's close,
from which Kitty McQueen had emerged with her short gown in rags;
and Lang Tammas was going from door to door. The austere precentor
admonished fiery youth to beware of giving way to passion; and it

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