nine o'clock on a summer evening four Beild worthies forgathered in Bawbie
Windrum's public, and there sat down to have a nip and a crack. Bawbie
herself, a fearsome-looking old hag, with a big, clean, white mutch which
made her coarse, large-featured face seem even less comely than usual, sat
knitting in her corner of the bar, hard by the till, which was her chief
concern in this world, whatever it might be in the next.
It was a
poor sort of bar, though many a
Beild body got " fou" standing in it; the whole hostelry
indeed was unpretentious in the extreme. It consisted of a but and ben, the
" but" being Bawbie's living room, the " ben" a taproom provided with a long
table and wooden benches on either side of it. The stone floor was sanded,
and though fairly clean smelled evilly, very doubtful tobacco being smoked
perpetually 7 therein. It had no decorations, unless two china dogs on the
mantelpiece could be called such ; and it had one picture on the yellow-ochred
wall—a highly coloured likeness of Burns' Highland Mary with four lines of
poetry beneath. The window was very small, the panes of that knotted
greenish glass which you never see anywhere but in the Beild and places like
it.; on this account no blind was required, as it would have taken a very
sharp-eyed person to see through it. It had been tried often by Leeby
Morison looking for her man, before she actually went in to fetch him out.
He was there that night, one of the four ; but I shall return to the company
presently, when I have told you about the house.
was converted out of a closet between the two rooms, and had a wide bole, as
they called it—that is, an open1-ing over a little counter into
the passage. Between the narrow counter and the back shelves, on which stood
sundry bottles and a glass barrel, of which Bawbie was particularly proud,
there was just sufficient space for Bawbie's stool; and there she sat from
morn till night knitting for dear life, when not drawing in the coppers, and
ready for all the gossip of the countryside. She had a fine vantage-ground
on her stool, as it was just opposite the door ; she saw everything that
passed, and some things that didn't. She would not have sat so constantly in
one spot perhaps, being of an
active temperament, only she was a hopeless cripple, and it took her all her
time to hirple from her kitchen to the bar and back again. But don't think
because Bawbie was a cripple that she was not a capable and exacting
manager. What she lacked in bodily activity was made up in mental; some went
the length of saying she was not canny. She was assisted in her management
of the public by a cousin of her own, a middle-aged woman, of no particular
parts, physical or mental, which perhaps was quite as well, it being certain
no small house could have held two beings of Bawbie's type.
was wont to allude to Kirsty Todd as " donert," and never spared her tongue
over her, but she knew very well that she was a patient, honest, painstaking
creature, who served her purpose well. Kirsty's appearance was as colourless
as her character and lot; she was a long limp person, of cadaverous aspect,
with black hair plastered smoothly over her temples and screwed into a tight
knot behind. She invariably wore a short wincey gown and a blue check apron,
tied loosely round her waist with a cotton tape. She did all the work of the
establishment and got no thanks, but appeared to be contented with her lot.
There was no other open to her anyhow— as she had no relative in the world
besides Bawbie, whose constant fault-finding had never been known to ruffle
her in the smallest degree.
It was an
extraordinary wet night, which perhaps accounted for the unusually slack
time Bawbie was having in the public, and her grim face momentarily
brightened when the four worthies crossed the step.
Kirsty, fower hauf pints!" she cried out. "Stap in, neebors—it's a fell
nicht o' rain, but it'll gar the neeps grow. Kirsty, whaur are ye? Deil tak'
the 'ooman ; she's never here when she's wanted. Screw up the lamp yersel',
Sandy, an' mak' yersel's at hame."
Bawbie, a' richt; we're no in a hurry," said Sandy soothingly, and they
passed into the room—Sandy first, with his lumbering figure, his red head
and large soft face, which had no particular expression and generally looked
rather vacant. Sandy, however, was by no means vacant, though easy-minded
and inclined to " idle-set," as Beild folk had it. His lack of energy was,
however, supplemented by the fierce activity of Leeby his wife, who was
never at her ease five minutes at a time and could hardly take time to sleep
in her bed at night.
were two Sandy Morisons in the Beild, cousins, and they were very chief;
Leeby's man was usually called Big Sandy, and his cousin, who was unmarried,
and abode with his father and mother, who had a dairy, Wee Sandy. Wee Sandy
drove the milk-cart twice a day on a long round right down to the sea, and
was never free till after milking-time at night. Everybody employed at
Morison's dairy had to work for dear life and be content with small pay. In
addition to the cows, the Morisons kept several pauper lunatics, who
considerably added to their income. And terrible stories went through the
Beild as to how the poor creatures were treated, having to work harder than
any hired person would do, and being fed but jimply. But the Beild was so
full of gossip and scandal, that though everybody repeated and believed the
tales, they treated the Morisons civilly, for they had siller, and were
rather big folk all round.
Sandy, being sole heir to all the gear, was considered rather a catch by
Beild lassies, though he was ill conditioned in body and mind, besides being
eaten up with conceit of himself. Besides the two Morisons there were Jeems
Tamson, a weaver from the head of the Raw—a sociable, genial soul, an old
bachelor, and fell fond of a glass, but good company always when under its
influence; and Dod Aitken, another weaver, though precious little he wove,
being a ne'er-do-weel in every sense of the word, and considered by the
majority to be wanting in gumption. He certainly had the look of a wandered
soul, but had sufficient sense to manage his own concerns, and some even
said he had money laid by in a stocking-foot and had been seen counting it
out at night like a miser. He lived quite alone, as so many bachelor men did
in the Beild, and made his own porridge and his kale and tea, even cleaning
up his own house when it was cleaned, which was seldom. In his way Dod was a
character, godless, graceless, and forlorn; yet he had some redeeming
points, and was sought after by sociable souls because of his good-nature
and his joking turn, which enlivened the company he happened to be in. He
was not much given to drink, and when he visited Bawbie's never paid for
lit the lamp and set it down in the middle of the table, and presently
Kirsty Todd appeared with a big jug of beer and four mugs, which she set
down on the table without saying a word. She never spoke to customers, even
if she had known them for years—by some considered a virtue, by others a
were in a rollicking mood, and ready for a joke at anybody's expense, but
Kirsty Todd, with her yellow face and lank hair, acted as a kind of wet
blanket on them, and they suffered her to depart in silence.
said Big Sandy. "A man micht dae waur than tak' Kirsty Todd. There wad be
peace in the house at least."
was a shade of regret in his face as he recollected sundry cutting phrases
with which Leeby his spouse had driven him that night from the fireside; and
all because he, being a weaver also, would not start that very night to the
new web he had carried all the way from Cairndrum on his shoulder.
michty," said Dod Aitken, as he took a long draught from his mug, " I wadna
like to tackle Kirsty Todd. As weel a'maist be tied till a corp, an' bide in
sally of course provoked a roar of laughter; and presently Wee Sandy,
looking earnestly at Dod, with rather a mischievous gleam in his small
bleared eyes, asked a question,—
" I say,
Dod, ye've never yet telt us what way ye hinna mairret. Had ye ever a lass ?
his greasy old bonnet a push back to the angle of his head, and his ill-favoured
face assumed a particularly knowing look.
guid wheen—mair than ye wad think. But I'm no to be drawn on that pint.
There's some things a man keeps to himsel'."
tell's what way ye hinna mairret," pursued Wee Sandy, and gave a chap on the
table which indicated to Kirsty Todd that the beer was done, and she could
fetch in the whisky.
ask Jeems Tamson as me," said Dod rather slily; but nobody did ask Jeems,
and they even felt, rude and uncouth though they were, that it was a
perfectly uncalled-for remark, which nobody but a daft gomeril like Dod
would have made. For everybody in the Beild knew Jeems Tamson's early
love-story—how he had been engaged to Katie Christie, and how she had died
before she was twenty ; also how true he had been to her memory, never
looking at another woman.
on for a ploy, lads? " said Big Sandy presently. "Tak' anither dram, Dod—as
langs it's guid. Bawbie's bottle hasna touched it yet."
an allusion to Bawbie's reported habit of adulterating her whisky with
vitriol when her customers were too far gone to recognise it.
admonished Dod took a particularly big dram, and then inquired in a voice
already growing a trifle thick what was the nature of the " ploy."