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Book of Scottish Story
The Town Drummer


By John Galt

For many a year Robin Boss been town drummer ; he was a relic of some American war fencibles, and was, to say the truth of him, a divor body, with no manner of conduct, saving a very earnest endeavour to fill himself fou as often as he could get the means ; the consequence of which was, that his face was as plooky as a curran bun, and his nose as red as a partan’s tae.

One afternoon there was need to send out a proclamation to abolish a practice that was growing into a custom, in some of the by—parts of the town, of keeping swine at large—ordering them to be confined in proper styes, and other suitable places. As on all occasions when the matter to be proclaimed was from the magistrates, Thomas, on this, was attended by the town-officers in their Sunday garbs, and with their halberts in their hands; but the abominable and irreverent creature was so drunk, that he wam’let to and fro over the drum, as if there had not been a bane in his body. He was seemingly as soople and as senseless as a bolster. Still, as this was no new thing with him, it might have passed; for James Hound, the senior officer, was in the practice, when Robin was in that state, of reading the proclamations himself. On this occasion, however, James happened to be absent on some hue and cry quest, and another of the officers (I forget which) was appointed to perform for him. Robin, accustomed to James, no sooner heard the other man begin to read than he began to curse and swear at him as an incapable nincompoop—an irnpertinent term that he was much addicted to. The grammar school was at the time skailing, and the boys seeing the stramash, gathered round the officer, and yelling and shouting, encouraged Robin more and more into rebellion, till at last they worked up his corruption to such a pitch, that he took the drum from about his neck, and made it fly like a bombshell at the officer’s head.

The officers behaved very well, for they dragged Robin by the lug and the horn to the tolbooth, and then came with their complaint to me. Seeing how the authorities had been set at nought, and the necessity there was of making an example, I forthwith ordered Robin to be cashiered from the service of the town ; and as so important a concern as a proclamation ought not to be delayed, I likewise, upon the spot, ordered the officers to take a lad that had been also a drummer in a marching regiment, and go with him to make the proclamation.

Nothing could be done in a more earnest and zealous public spirit than this was done by me. But habit had begot in the town a partiality for the drunken ne’er-do-well, Robin ; and this just act of mine was immediately condemned as a daring stretch of arbitrary power; and the consequence was, that when the council met next day, some sharp words flew among us, as to my usurping an undue authority; and the thanks I got for my pains was the mortification to see the worthless body restored to full power and dignity, with no other reward than an admonition to behave better for the future. Now, I leave it to the unbiassed judgment of posterity to determine if any public man could be more ungraciously treated by his colleagues than I was on this occasion. But, verily, the council had their reward.

The divor Robin Boss being, as I have recorded, reinstated in office, soon began to play his old tricks. In the course of the week after the Michaelmas term at which my second provostry ended, he was so insupportably drunk that he fell head foremost into his drum, which cost the town five-and-twenty shillings for a new one—an accident that was not without some satisfaction to me; and I trow I was not sparing in my derisive commendations on the worth of such a public officer. Nevertheless, he was still kept on, some befriending him for compassion, and others as it were to spite me.

But Robin’s good behaviour did not end with breaking the drum, and costing a new one. In the course of the winter it was his custom to beat, " Go to bed, Tom,” about ten o’clock at night, and the reveille at five in the morning. In one of his drunken fits he made a mistake, and instead of going his rounds as usual at ten o’clock, he had fallen asleep in a change-house, and waking about the midnight hour in the terror of some whisky dream, he seized his drum, and running into the streets, began to strike the fire-beat in the most awful manner.

It was a line clear frosty moonlight, and the hollow sound of the drum resounded through the silent streets like thunder. In a moment everybody was afoot, and the cry of "Whaur is’t? whaur’s the fir ? " was heard echoing from all sides. Robin, quite unconscious that he alone was the cause of the alarm, still went along beating the dreadful summons. I heard the noise and rose ; but while I was drawing on my stockings in the chair at the bed-head, and telling Mrs Pawkie to compose herself, for our houses were all insured, I suddenly recollected that Robin had the night before neglected to go his rounds at ten o’clock as usual, and the thought came into my head that the alarm might be one of his inebriated mistakes; so, instead of dressing myself any further, I went to the window, and looked out through the glass, without opening it, for, being in my night-clothes, I was afraid of taking cold.

The street was as throng as on a market day, and every face in the moonlight was pale with fear. Men and lads were running with their coats, and carrying their breeches in their hands ; wives and maidens were all asking questions at one another, and even lasses were fleeing to and fro, like water-nymphs with urns, having stoups and pails in their hands. There was swearing and tearing of men, hoarse with the rage of impatience, at the tolbooth, getting out the fire-engine from its stance under the stair ; and loud and terrible afar off, and over all, came the peal of alarm from drunken Robin’s drum.

I could scarcely keep my composity when I beheld and heard all this, for I was soon thoroughly persuaded of the fact. At last I saw Deacon Girdwood, the chief advocate and champion of Robin, passing down the causeway like a demented man, with a red nightcap, and his big-coat on ; for some had cried that the fire was in his yard.

"Deacon," cried I, opening the window, forgetting, in the jocularity of the moment, the risk I ran from being so naked; "whaur away sae fast, deacon?"

The deacon stopped and said, " Is’t out? is’t out?”

"Gang your ways home,” quo’ I, very coolly, " for I hae a notion that a’ this hobleshow’s but the fume of a gill in your friend Robin’s head.”

"It’s no possible!” exclaimed the deacon.

"Possible here or possible there, Mr Girdwood," quo’ I, "it’s ower cauld for me to stand talking wi' you here; we’ll learn the rights i’t in the morning, so good night ;" and with that I pulled down the window. But scarcely had I done so, when a shout of laughter came gathering up the street, and soon after poor drunken Robin was brought along by the cuff of the neck, between two of the town-officers, one of them carrying his drum. The next day he was put out of office for ever, and folk recollecting in what manner I had acted towards him before, the outcry about my arbitrary power was forgotten in the blame that was heaped upon those who had espoused Robin’s cause against me.


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