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Book of Scottish Story
Black Joe o' the Bow


Part Three

Three weeks had passed away, when Joe, unable ony langer to control the wild tumult that reigned in his breast, gaed awa oot to Hawkesneb Hoose, carryin’ his drum an’ pan-pipes wi’ him as usual. It had been a drizzly sma’ rain a’ day; an’ when he reached his journey’s end, as nicht set in, he was wet through an’ through. The place was a’ in darkness, and as he stood at the gate, an’ looked up the lang dusky avenue, He half resolved to gang back, an’ trust to time an’ the retributive justice o’ Heaven to prove his innocence. But an impulse he couldna resist chained him to the spot, an’ he rang the gatebell. Nae answer was returned; a second time he rang, but still wi’ the same result. Then he pushed the gate forward, and to his surprise it swung heavily back on its hinges. Wi’ an unsteady, tremblin’ step, he advanced up the dark avenue till he reached the mansion. The hoose seemed silent an’ deserted, binna a sma’ licht that twinkled in ane o’ the lower windows, an’ as he drew nearer, the sound o’ voices reached his ear. Then the resolve to gang back again took possession o’ him; but the strange impulse to advance gained the mastery, an’ he lifted the kitchen knocker. A lass wasna lang in makin’ her appearance at the door wi’ a lichtit candle in her hand; an’ nae sooner did she see the black man stannin’ oot in the dark than she gied a roar as if Joe had been the very deevil himsel’. This brocht ben a’ the rest o’ the servants; an’ a bonnie hurly-burly was set up as this ane an’ the ither ane wondered hoo he had got in.

"That’s your negligence, Willie Johnston,” said an auld leddy dressed in black, that appeared to be the hoose-keeper; "I’m sure ye needna hae been sa thochtless as that, particularly at a time when the major’s lookit for every minute.”

This was addressed to the keeper o’ the lodge, that had come up to the big hoose wi’ his wife at the hoosekeeper’s invitation, to while awa the nicht wi’ a cup o’ tea an’ a dram. Willie Johnston fell a swearin’, an’ was aboot to lay violent hands on Joe, when the butler, a wee fat birsy body, but no bad-hearted, ordered him to desist; and seeing the nicht was sae cauld an, wat, he brocht Joe into the kitchen, and thinkin' him a cadger, he set doun baith bread, meat, an’ beer before him, tellin’ him to look alive, for it wadna do to stay lang there. The hoosekeeper didna offer ony objection to this, as mony a ane wad hae dune: but to tell the truth., it seems that the twa were unco gracious, for when the tane took whisky, the tither took yill—sae that settles that. When Joe had sat for a while preein’ the mercies set before him, ane o’ them—the laundry-maid—gien a wistfu’ look at Joe’s drum an’ pan-pipes, said she hadna haen a dance since gude kens the time, an’ the cook, an’ the kitchen-maid, an’ a young crater o’ a flunkey, expressed themsel’s in a similar manner.

"A dance!" cried the hoosekeeper, makin’ a pretence o’ being angry. "A bonnie daft-like thing it wad be to welcome hame the laird wi’ a drum an’ pan-pipes, as if he were the keeper o’ a wild-beast show. A fiddle michtna be sae bad."

Joe saw what was wanted. It was only a quiet invitation to play for naething ; sae he took a lang heavy pull at the beer-jug, an’ syne struck up a lilt that set them a’ up on their feet thegither. An’ sae on he played, tune after tune, until a breathin’ time was ca’ed; an’ the whisky an’ beer in plenty were again gaun round, when the gatebell was rung wi’ great violence.

"Flee for yer life to the gate, Willie Johnston,” cried the hoosekeeper, "an’ stop that skirlin’. I’m sure I never expected him the nicht noo, when it’s sae late. What’s to be dune? Haste ye, Sally, to the major’s room, an’ on wi’ a fire like winkin’!" and in an instant a’ was confusion, an’ every ane stannin’ in each ither’s road.

The soond o’ carriage wheels was heard comin’ up the avenue, and the lood gruff voice o’ Major Gilroy cursing the carelessness o’ the lodge-keeper startled every ane there, but nane mair sae than Joe; for that voice brocht back the past in a’ its terrible reality, an’ he kent the crisis was comin’ wi’ a crash either for him or his auld relentless oppressor. But him and his pan-pipes were then as completely forgotten by the servants as if they had never been there. But as quietness was at last restored, an’ the major had shut himsel’ up in his room, wi’ a stern injunction to the butler that he wasna to be disturbed wi’ supper or onything else that nicht, an' threatenin’ instant dismissal to the first that gied him ony cause o’ annoyance, Joe asked the hoosekeeper, wi’ a palpitatin’ heart, if he micht gang noo.

"No, for a thoosand pound I wadna open that door," said the hoosekeeper; "ye had better bide awhile yet till he’s asleep. I never saw sic a savage-lookin’ man in my life, as he cam in at the front door. He’s completely changed since I mind o’ him, when he wasna muckle rnair than a laddie. An’ sic a restless, suspicious e’e as he’s got! I dinna like it—I positively dinna like it. But I’ll never pit up wi’ sic a man—I’ll tak to drink, as sure’s I’m a livin’ woman. An’ what the deil brocht you here?—makin’ things fifty times waur! Ye’ll never get oot o’ here this nicht—I’m certain o’ that. An’ yet there’s that brute,” pointing to Pincher, that a’ this time had been keepin’ quiet under the table, thrang worryin’ at a big bane—"what’s to be dune if it barks?”

But Joe gied her to understand there was nae fear o’ that, for he had him ower weel trained to mak ony disturbance; but oh! he was anxious—anxious to be off. The woman, hooever, remained inexorable. There was therefore nae help for’t but to sit doun on a chair by the kitchen iireside, an’ be slippit oot cannily in the mornin’ before the major was up. Sae they a’ gaed awa to their beds, an joe was left alane in the kitchen, wi’ Pincher snockerin’ at his side. But Joe couldna close an e’e, wi’ the intensity o’ his thocht ; for here, at last, had the providence o’ God brocht the murderer and his accuser beneath the same roof. Joe lay doverin’ an’ waitin’ wearily for the mornin’ comin’ in. The weather had cleared up, an’ the moon was streamin’ in through the kitchen windows. The fire had gane oot, an’ the air felt cauld an’ chill; an’ gradually a feeling o’ horror took possession o’ Joe that he couldna shake off. At last Pincher gaed ‘a low growl, as if he had heard somebody comin’. Joe could hear naething at first, but by degrees he became sensible that a step was advancin’, saft, an’ almost noiseless, doun the kitchen stair; an' slowly the door opened as a figure dressed in a lang dressin’-goun, an’ a lichtit wax candle in its hand, entered the kitchen. Speechless and unable to move, Joe saw his mortal enemy, the major, starin’ him in the face; but as he silently returned the gaze, he became sensible that it was void o’ consciousness. The major was walkin’ in his sleep, that was evident, for he kept on movin’ up an’ doun the kitchen, mutterin’ to himsel’. He laid doun the candle on the floor in ane o’ his rounds, an’ said in a tone sae distinct that Joe could hear every word—

"Will the sea give up its dead? No, no. Why does his face always turn up amid the roaring waves, as if to taunt me with the crime, and drag me to eternal perdition? Pshaw! it’s but a fancy after all. But the slave who eluded my vengeance—curses on him!—where is he? Wandering over the face of the earth, to confront me at last, perhaps, and accuse me as my brother’s murderer. But will they believe him? They will not—nay, they dare not—they dare not. Yet oh ! the black countenance of that infernal fiend dogs me wherever I go, and will not give me peace—peace—peace!"

Then he took up the candle an’ made for the door, drew back, an' again cam into the kitchen ; then left the kitchen a second time, an’ opened the door. The sudden rush o’ the nicht air put oot the candle, an’ he again entered the kitchen. At that moment he stumbled over a chair, an’ Pincher gaed a loud bark, as the major started to his feet, restored to consciousness. And as the moon’s rays revealed every surrounding object wi’ a ghastly distinctness, the first sicht that met his e’e was Joe—Joe stannin’ before him, rigid and motionless—an auld rusty pistol in his richt hand presented at him, an’ a wild glare o’ rage an’ defiance flashin’ in his unearthly-lookin’ e’en. The suddenness o’ the appearance o’ this apparition—for apparition he thocht Joe to be—completely paralysed him for the moment. His knees gaed knock, knockin’ thegither, as Joe cried—

"Murderer! murderer! murderer! Me tell truth—me no tell lie. You dam rascal—you villain—me hear to speak truth, and truth me speak spite of everything. Ha! what you say now?"

As Joe said this, he advanced nearer an’ nearer, till the pistol touched the major’s breast. But there he stood, powerless to resist; for his belief still was that Joe was a phantom, till the growlin’ o’ the doggie brocht him to himsel’ rnair than onything else; and, fired by the energy o’ desperation, he made a snatch at the pistol. But the nigger was ower quick for him; tor he sprang past the major, and oot at the kitchen door that the major had providentially opened in his sleep, darted doun the avenue and oot at the gate, syne awa at full speed on his lang journey hame which he reached by nine o’clock in the mornin’, mair deid than alive. He cam into my mither’s just as she sat doun to her tea, an’ gaed her the history o’ his last nicht’s adventure, as already related. My mither’s advice to him was to gang directly to the authorities, an’ lodge an accusation. Joe did sae, and the result was that Captain S——, accompanied by half a dozen constables, immediately took the coach for Hawkesneb Hoose, which they reached about seven o’clock.

When they arrived there, the butler, hoosekeeper, an’ a’ the lave o’ them cam out, wonderin’ at seein’ the police authorities, accompanied by the black man. But when Captain S—— asked, in a stern manner, if he could see the major, an’ telling the men to watch the hoose, baith back and front, their surprise was turned into consternation. The major wasna up yet, the butler said; and his orders the nicht before were that naebody was to disturb him unless his bell rang. And it was neither his business nor onybody else’s to intrude where they werena wanted. On hearing this, the captain peremptorily demanded to see his maister, otherwise it wad be necessary to force an entrance into his room. At this the hoosekeeper and butler baith gaed up, an’ cried the major’s name; but nae answer cam. Then they tried to open the door, but the door was evidently locked frae the inside, for it wadna open. When the captain heard this, he gaed up himsel’ an’ burst open the door. On entering the room, he lookit round, but could see naething. The bed lay untouched; there had been naebody there, that was evident. But there was a sma’ dressing-room that opened frae the bedroom, and on lookin’ there he saw the major lyin’ in a doubled-up position on the carpet, wi’ his hands clenched, an’ his e’en starin’ wide open. An empty phial lay beside him, that telt, ower surely, what he had been after. The captain placed his hand on his face, but it was quite cauld; an’ there wasna the least doot that he had been dead for a lang time. When the captain cam doun and communicated the news, there was sair wonder an’ astonishment, but no muckle grief, ’od knows. The major had been a perfect stranger to them a’, except the auld hoosekeeper; an’ to do the body justice, she shed a tear or twa; but it’s my belief a third never made its appearance, for a’ she tried.

Naething farther could be done in the matter. The major had anticipated the demands o’ justice by takin’ justice on himsel’, an’ the wuddy had been cheated o’ a victim, an’ a multitude o’ morbid sightseers rightly ungratified. But oh, the joy o’ Joe’s heart when he cam into my mither’s next mornin’ ! for it seems they had remained in the hoose a’ that nicht, till the coach cam by on the Edinburgh journey. The fear that had hung ower him like a nichtmare was dispelled for ever, an’ his innocence triumphantly established beyond the least shadow o’ a doot. Kindly my mither shook him by the hand, as she said—
“It’s the hand o’ God’s been in’t, Joe, my man; an’ praise be to his name for sendin’ a bonnie glint o’ sunshine oot o’ the lang dreary darkness that’s encompassed ye. An’ never forget the verses that gaed ye sic blessed con-solation;" an’ saftly an’ solemnly she cam ower them again——"Be not afraid of sudden fear, neither of the desolation of the wicked when it cometh; for the Lord shall be thy confidence, an’ shall keep thy foot from being taken." An’ Joe looked happy an’ contented, an’ never forgot my mither’s kindness.

Joe gaed aboot the streets o’ Edinburgh mony a lang day after this. He never taen up the show again, that I mind o’; but mony a bonnily riggit ship he selt at Heriot’s Wark, and on the Earthen Mound, amang the panoramas and the wild-beast shows, and doun at the stairs at bonnie auld Shakespeare Square, that’s noo awa; an’ mony a time hae I heard his drum an’ pan-pipes when I was baith a young quean an’ a married wife. He dee’d a short time before the richt-hand side o’ the West Bow was taen doun, an’ there’s no a single vestige noo to be seen o’ the auld land where the show used to be, wi’ the lichtit paper-lantern at the door, an’ the pan-pipes p1ayin’ "Tooraladdy," that cheered sae mony young hearts in the days that are noo past an' gane.

FROM PEGGY PINKERTON’S RECOLLECTIONS


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