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- Beside the Bonnie Brier Bush - 20/34 -
o' an English bag-man at Muirtown Station. A' doot he hed bin meddlin' wi' speerits, and they were wheelin' him tae his kerridge in a luggage barrow. It wes a fearsome sicht, and eneugh tae keep ony man frae speakin' aboot intoxicat in yon louse wy."
Archie Moncur fought the drinking customs of the Glen night and day with moderate success, and one winter's night he gave me a study in his subject which, after the lapse of years, I still think admirable for its reserve power and Dantesque conclusion.
"They a' begin in a sma' wy," explained Archie, almost hidden in the depths of my reading chair, and emphasising his points with a gentle motion of his right hand; "naethin' tae mention at first, juist a gless at an orra time--a beerial or a merridge--and maybe New Year. That's the first stage; they ca' that moderation. Aifter a whilie they tak a mornin' wi' a freend, and syne a gless at the public-hoose in the evenin', and they treat ane anither on market days. That's the second stage; that's 'tastin'.' Then they need it reg'lar every day, nicht an' mornin', and they'll sit on at nicht till they're turned oot. They 'ill fecht ower the Confession noo, and laist Sabbath's sermon, in the Kildrummie train, till it's clean reediklus. That's drammin', and when they've hed a year or twa at that they hae their first spatie (spate is a river flood), and that gies them a bit fricht. But aff they set again, and then comes anither spatie, and the doctor hes tae bring them roond. They ca' (drive) cannie for a year or sae, but the feein' market puts the feenishin' titch. They slip aff sudden in the end, and then they juist gang plunk--ay," said Archie in a tone of gentle meditation, looking, as it were, over the edge, "juist plunk."
Nothing ever affected my imagination more powerfully than the swift surprise and gruesome suggestion of that "plunk."
But the literary credit of Drumtochty rested on a broad basis, and no one could live with us without having his speech braced for life. You felt equal to any emergency, and were always able to express your mind with some degree of accuracy, which is one of the luxuries of life. There is, for instance, a type of idler who exasperates one to the point of assault, and whom one hungers to describe after a becoming manner. He was rare in the cold air of the North, but we had produced one specimen, and it was my luck to be present when he came back from a distant colony, and Jamie Soutar welcomed him in the kirkyard.
"Weel, Chairlie," and Jamie examined the well-dressed prodigal from top to toe, "this is a prood moment for Drumtochty, and an awfu' relief tae ken yir safe. Man, ye hevna wanted meat nor claithes; a' tak it rael neeburly o' ye tae speak ava wi' us auld-fashioned fouk.
"Ye needna look soor nor cock yir nose in the air, for you an' me are auld freends, and yir puir granny wes na mair anxious aboot ye than a' wes.
"A'm feared that laddie o' Bell's 'ill kill himsel' oot in Ameriky' were ma verra words tae Hillocks here; 'he 'ill be slavin' his flesh aff his banes tae mak a fortune and keep her comfortable'
"It was a rael satisfaction tae read yir letter frae the backwoods--or was't a public-hoose in New York? ma memory's no what it used to be--tellin' hoo ye were aye thinkin' o' yer auld granny, and wantin' tae come hame and be a comfort tae her if she wud send ye out twenty pund.
"The bit that affeckit me maist wes the text frae the Prodigal Son--it cam in sae natural. Mony a broken hert hes that story bund up, as we ken weel in this Glen; but it's dune a feck o' mischief tae--that gude word o' the Maister. Half the wastrels in the warld pay their passage hame wi' that Parable, and get a bran new outfit for anither start in the far country.
"Noo dinna turn red, Chairlie, for the neeburs ken ye were tae work yir wy hame hed it no been for yir health. But there's a pack of rascals 'ill sorn on their father as lang as he's livin', and they 'ill stairve a weedowed mither, and they 'ill tak a sister's wages, and if they canna get ony better a dune body o' eighty 'ill serve them.
"Man, Chairlie, if a' hed ma wull wi' thae wawfies, I wud ship them aff tae a desert island, wi' ae sack o' seed potatoes and anither o' seed corn, and let them work or dee. A' ken yir wi' me there, for ye aye hed an independent spirit, and wesna feared tae bend yir back.
"Noo, if a' cam across ane o' thae meeserable objects in Drumtochty, div ye ken the advice I wud gie him?
"A wud tell the daidlin', thowless, feckless, fushionless wratch o' a cratur tae watch for the first spate and droon himsel' in the Tochty."
"What's he aff through the graves for in sic a hurry?" and Jamie followed Charlie's retreating figure with a glance of admirable amazement; "thae's no very gude mainners he's learned in Americky."
"Thank ye, Jeemes, thank ye; we're a' obleeged tae ye," said Drumsheugh. "A' wes ettlin' tae lay ma hands on the whup-ma-denty (fop) masel, but ma certes, he's hed his kail het this mornin'. Div ye think he 'ill tak yir advice?"
"Nae fear o' him; thae neer-dae-weels haena the spunk; but a'm expeckin' he 'ill flee the pairish."
Which he did. Had you called him indolent or useless he had smiled, but "daidlin', thowless, feckless, fushionless wratch," drew blood at every stroke, like a Russian knout.
We had tender words also, that still bring the tears to my eyes, and chief among them was "couthy." What did it mean? It meant a letter to some tired townsman, written in homely Scotch, and bidding him come to get new life from the Drumtochty air; and the grip of an honest hand on the Kildrummie platform whose warmth lasted till you reached the Glen; and another welcome at the garden-gate that mingled with the scent of honeysuckle, and moss-roses, and thyme, and carnations; and the best of everything that could be given you; and motherly nursing in illness, with skilly remedies of the olden time; and wise, cheery talk that spake no ill of man or God; and loud reproaches if you proposed to leave under a month or two; and absolute conditions that you must return; and a load of country dainties for a bachelor's bare commons; and far more, that cannot be put into words, of hospitality, and kindness, and quietness, and restfulness, and loyal friendship of hearts now turned to dust in the old kirkyard.
But the best of all our words were kept for spiritual things, and the description of a godly man. We did not speak of the "higher life," nor of a "beautiful Christian," for this way of putting it would not have been in keeping with the genius of Drumtochty. Religion there was very lowly and modest--an inward walk with God. No man boasted of himself, none told the secrets of the soul. But the Glen took notice of its saints, and did them silent reverence, which they themselves never knew. Jamie Soutar had a wicked tongue, and, at a time, it played round Archie's temperance schemes, but when that good man's back was turned Jamie was the first to do him justice.
"It wud set us better if we did as muckle gude as Archie; he's a richt livin' man and weel prepared."
Our choicest tribute was paid by general consent to Burnbrae, and it may be partiality, but it sounds to me the deepest in religious speech. Every cottage, strangers must understand, had at least two rooms--the kitchen where the work was done, that we called the "But," and there all kinds of people came; and the inner chamber which held the household treasures, that we called the "Ben," and there none but a few honoured visitors had entrance. So we imagined an outer court of the religious life where most of us made our home, and a secret place where only God's nearest friends could enter, and it was said of Burnbrae, "He's far ben." His neighbours had watched him, for a generation and more, buying and selling, ploughing and reaping, going out and in the common ways of a farmer's life, and had not missed the glory of the soul. The cynic of Drumtochty summed up his character: "There's a puckle gude fouk in the pairish, and ane or twa o' the ither kind, and the maist o' us are half and between," said Jamie Soutar, "but there's ae thing ye may be sure o', Burnbrae is 'far ben.'"
A WISE WOMAN
OUR SERMON TASTER
A Drumtochty man, standing six feet three in his boots, sat himself down one day in the study of a West-end minister, and gazed before him with the countenance of a sphinx.
The sight struck awe into the townsman's heart, and the power of speech was paralysed within him.
"A'm frae Drumtochty," began a deep solemn voice. "Ye 'ill hae heard of Drumtochty, of coorse. A've jined the polis; the pay is no that bad, and the work is naethin' tae an able-bodied man."
When these particulars had been digested by the audience--
"It's a crooded place London, and the fouks aye in a tiravie (commotion), rinnin' here an' rinnin' there, and the maist feck o' them dinna ken whar they're gaein.
"It's officer this and officer that frae mornin' till nicht. It's peetifu' tae see the helplessness o' the bodies in their ain toon. And they're freevolous," continued the figure, refreshing itself with a reminiscence.
"It wes this verra mornin' that a man askit me hoo tae get tae the Strand.
"'Haud on,' I says, 'till ye come tae a cross street, and dinna gang doon it, and when ye see anither pass it, but whup roond the third, and yir nose 'ill bring ye tae the Strand.'
"He was a shachlin bit cratur, and he lookit up at me.
"'Where were you born, officer?' in his clippit English tongue.
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