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Book of Scottish Story
The French Spy


By John Galt

One day—in the month of August it was—I had gone on some private concernment of my own to Kilmarnock, and Mr Booble, who was then oldest bailie, naturally ofliciated as chief magistrate in my stead.

There had been, as the world knows, a disposition, on the part of the grand monarque of that time, to invade and conquer this country, the which made it a duty incumbent on all magistrates to keep a vigilant eye on the incornings and outgoings of aliens and other suspectable persons. On the said day, and during my absence, a Frenchman, that could speak no manner of English, somehow was discovered in the Cross Key Inn. What he was, or where he came from, nobody at the time could tell, as I was informed; but there he was, having come into the house at the door, with a bundle in his hand, and a portmanteau on his shoulder, like a traveller out of some vehicle of conveyance. Mrs Drammer, the landlady, did not like his looks ; for he had toozy black whiskers, was lank and wan, and moreover deformed beyond human nature, as she said, with a parrot nose, and had no cravat, but only a bit black riband drawn through two button-holes, fastening his ill-coloured sark-neck, which gave him altogether something of an unwholesome, outlandish appearance.

Finding he was a foreigner, and understanding that strict injunctions were laid on the magistrates by the
king and government anent the egressing of such persons, she thought, for the credit of her house, and the safety of the community at large, that it behoved her to send word to me, then provost, of this man’s visibility among us; but as I was not at home, Mrs Pawkie, my wife, directed the messenger to Bailie Booble’s. The bailie was, at all times, overly ready to claught at an alarm; and when he heard the news, he went straight to the council-room, and sending for the rest of the council, ordered the alien enemy, as he called the forlorn Frenchman, to be brought before him. By this time the suspicion of a spy in the town had spread far and wide ; and Mrs Pawkie told me, that there was a pallid consternation in every countenance when the black and yellow man—for he had not the looks of the honest folks of this country—was brought up the street between two of the town officers, to stand an examine before Bailie Booble.

Neither the bailie, nor those that were then sitting with him, could speak any French language, and "the alien enemy” was as little master of our tongue. I have often wondered how the bailie did not jalouse that he could be no spy, seeing how, in that respect, he wanted the main faculty. But he was under the enchantment of a panic, partly thinking also, perhaps, that he was to do a great exploit for the government in my absence.

However, the man was brought before him, and there was he, and them all, speaking loud out to one another as if they had been hard of hearing, when I, on coming home from Kilmarnock, went to see what was going on in the council. Considering that the procedure had been at hand some time before my arrival, I thought it judicious to leave the whole business with those present, and to sit still as a spectator; and really it was very comical to observe how the bailie was driven to his wits’ end by the poor lean and yellow Frenchman, and in what a pucker of passion the panel put himself at every new interlocutor, none of which he could understand. At last, the bailie getting no satisfaction — how could he? — he directed the man’s portmanteau and bundle to be opened; and in the bottom of the forementioned package, there, to be sure, was found many a mystical and suspicious paper, which no one could read ; among others, there was a strange map, as it then seemed to all present.

"I’ gude faith," cried the bailie, with a keckle of exultation, "here’s proof enough now. This is a plain map o’ the Frith o’ Clyde, all the way to the Tail of the Bank at Greenock. This muckle place is Arran; that round ane is the Craig of Ailsa; the wee ane between is Pladda. Gentlemen, gentlemen, this is a sore discovery; there will be hanging and quartering on this.” So he ordered the man to be forthwith committed as a king’s prisoner to the tolbooth; and turning to me said— "My Lord Provost, as ye have not been present throughout the whole of this troublesome affair, I’ll e’en gie an account mysel to the Lord Advocate of what we have done." I thought, at the time, there was something fey and overly forward in this, but I assented; for I know not what it was that seemed to me as if there was something neither right nor regular; indeed, to say the truth, I was no ill pleased’t at the bailie took on him what he did ; so I allowed him to write himself to the Lord Advocate; and, as the sequel showed, it was a blessed prudence on my part that I did so. For no sooner did his lordship receive the bailie’s terrifying letter, than a special king’s messenger was sent to take the spy into Edinburgh Castle ; and nothing could surpass the great importance that Bailie Booble made of himself on the occasion, on getting the man into a coach, and two dragoons to guard him into Glasgow.

But oh ! what a dejected man was the miserable Bailie Booble, and what a laugh rose from shop and chamber, when the tidings came out from Edinburgh that "the alien enemy" was but a French cook coming over from Dublin, with the intent to take up the trade of a confectioner in Glasgow, and that the map of the Clyde was nothing but a plan for the outset of a fashionable table—the bailie’s island of Arran being the roast beef, and the Craig of Ailsa the plum-pudding, and Pladda a butter-boat. Nobody enjoyed the jocularity of the business more than myself; but I trembled when I thought of the escape that my honour and character had with the Lord Advocate. I trow, Bailie Booble never set himself so forward from that day to this. —"THE PROVOST”


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