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Book of Scottish Story
The Battle of the Breeks


A PASSAGE IN THE LIFE OF A M M'GEE, WEAVER IN HAMILTON
by Robert MacNish, LL.D.

I often wonder when I think of the tribulations that men bring upon them-sels, through a want of gumption and common independence of speerit. There now was I, for nae less than eighteen years as henpeckit a man as ever wrocht at the loom. Maggie and me, after the first week of our marriage, never forgathered weel thegither. There was something unco dour and imperious about her temper, although, I maun say, barring this drawback, she was nae that ill in her way either,— that is to say, she had a sort of kindness about her, and behaved in a truly mitherly way to the bairns, giein them a' things needfu' in the way of feeding and claithing, so far as our means admitted. But, oh, man, for a' that, she was a dour wife. There was nae pleasing her ae way or anither; and whenever I heard the bell ringing for the kirk, it put me in mind of her tongue— aye wag, wagging, and abusing me beyond bounds. In ae word, I was a puir, broken-hearted man, and often wished myself in Abraham's bosom, awa frae the cares and miseries of this sinfu' world.

I was just saying that folk often rin their heads into scrapes for want of a pickle natural spunk. Let nae man tell me that gude nature and simpleecity will get on best in this world; na—faith na. I hae had ower muckle experience that way; and the langer I live has proved to me that my auld maister, James Currie (him in the Quarry Loan), wasna sae far wrang when he alleged, in his droll, gude-humoured way, that a man should hae enough o' the deil about him to keep the deil frae him. That was, after a', ane of the wisest observes I hae heard of for a lang time. Little did I opine that I would ever be obligated to mak use o't in my ain particular case:—but, bide a wee, and ye shall see how it was brocht about between me and Maggie.

It was on a wintry night when she set out to pick a quarrel wi' Mrs Todd, the huckster's wife, anent the price of a pickle Hour which I had bought some days before, for making batter of, but which didna turn out sae weel as I expeckit, considering what was paid for't. Had I been consulted, I would hae tell't her to bide at hame, and no fash her thumb about the matter, which after a' was only an affair of three-ha'pence farthing, and neither here nor there. But, na; Maggie was nane o' the kind to let sic an object stan' by; so out she sets, wi' her red cloak about her, and her black velvet bonnet—that she had just that day got hame frae Miss Lorimer, the milliner—upon her head. But I maun first tell what passed between her and me on this wonderful occasion.

"And now, my dear,"quo' I, looking as couthy and humble as 1 could, and pu'ing my Kilmarnock nicht-cap a wee grain aff my brow in a kind of half re-spectfu' fashion, "what's this ye're ganging to be about? Odds, woman, I wadna gie a pirn for a' that has happened. What signifies a ruckle flour, scrimp worth half a groat?

Faith, I would better hae held my tongue, for nae sooner was the word uttered, than takin' haud of a can, half fu' o' ready-made dressing, which I was preparing to lay on a wab of blue check I was working for Mr Andrew Treddles, the Glasgow manufacturer— I say, taking haud of this, she let flee at my head like a cannon-ball. But Providence was kind, and instead of knocking out my brains, as I had every reason to expeck, it gaed bang against our ain looking-glass, and shattered it into five hunder pieces. But I didna a'thegither escape scaith—the dressing having flown out as the can gaed by me, and plaistered a' my face ower in a manner maist extraordinar to behold. By jingo! my spirit was roused at this deadly attempt, and gin she hadna been my wife, I wad hae thrawn about her neck, like a tappit-hen's. But na— I was henpeckit, and she had sic a mastery ower me as nae persuasions of my ain judgment could owercome, Sae I could do naething but stan' glowering at her like a moudiewart, while she poured out as muckle abuse as if I had been her flunkey, instead of her natural lord and master. Ance or twice I fand my nieves yeuking to gie her a clour by way of balancing accounts, but such was the power of influence she had obtained, that I durstna cheep for my very heart's blude. So awa she gaed on her errand, leaving me sittin' by the fire to mak the best of my desperate condition.

"O, Nancy," said I to my dochter, as she sat mending her brither's sark, opposite to me, "is na your mither an awfu' woman?"

"I see naething awfu' about her," quo' the cratur; "I think she servit ye richt; and had I a man, I would just treat him in the same way, if he danced to set his nose against onything I wanted."

I declare to ye, when I heard this frae my ain flesh and blude, I was perfectly dumfoundered. The baim I had brought up on my knee—that used, when a wee thing, to come and sit beside me at the loom, and who was in the custom of wheeling my pirns wi' her ain hand— odds, man, it was desperate. I couldna say anither word, but I faund a big tear come hap-happing ower my rankled checks, the first that had wet them sin' I was a bit laddie rumin' about before the schule door. What was her mither's abusiveness to this? A man may thole muckle frae his wife, but, oh, the harsh words of an undutifu' bairn gang like arrows to his heart, and he weeps tears of real bitterness. I wasna angry at the lassie—I was ower grieved to be angered ; and for the first time I fand that my former sufferings were only as a single thread to a hate hank of yarn, compared to them I suffered at this moment.

A'thegither, the thing was mair than I could stand, so rising up, I betaks mysel to my but*an-ben neighbour, Andrew Brand. Andrew was an uncommon sagacious chiel, and, like mysel, a weaver to his trade. He was beuk-learned, and had read a hantle on different subjects, so that he was naturally looked up to by the folks round about, on account of his great lear. When onything gaed wrang about the Leechlee Street, where we lived, we were a' glad to consult him ; and his advice was reckoned no greatly behint that of Mr Meek, the minister. He was a great counter, or 'rithmetishian, as he ca'd it; and it was thocht by mony gude judges that he could handle a pen as weel as Mr Dick, the writing-master, himsel. So, as I was saying, I stappit ben to Andrew's, to ask his advice, but. odds! if ye ever saw a man in sic a desperate passion as he was in when I tauld him how I had been used by my wife and dochter.

"William M'Gee," said he, raising his voice,—it was a geyan strong ane, — "ye're an absolute gomeril. Oh, man, but ye're a henpeckit sumph! I tell ye, ye're a gawpus and a lauching-stock, and no worth the name of a man. Do ye hear that?"

"O ay, I hear't very weel," quo' I, no that pleased at being sae spoken to, even by Andrew Brand, who was a man I could stamach a gude deal frae, in the way of reproof—'"I hear't a' weel eneuch, and am muckle obleeged to ye, nae doubt, for your consolation.'-

"Hooly and fairly, William," said he in a kinder tone, for he saw I was a degree hurt by his speech. "Come, I was only joking ye, man, and ye maunna tak onything amiss I hae said. But. really, William, I speak to ye as a frien', and tell ye that ye are submitting to a tyranny which no man of common understanding ought to submit to. Is this no the land of liberty? Are we no just as free as the Duke in his grand palace down by; and has onybody a richt—tell me that, William M'Gee— to tyranneeze ower anither as your wife does ower you! I'll no tell ye what to do, but I'll just tell ye what I would do if my wife and dochter treated me as yours have treated you: losh, man, I would ding their harns about, and knock their heads thegither like twa curling-stanes. I would aye be master in my ain house."

This was Andrew's advice, and I thocht it sounded geyan rational, only no very easy to be put in practice. Hon. somever, thinks 1 to mysel, I'll consider about it, and gin I could only bring mysel to mak the experiment, wha kens but I micht succeed to a miracle? On stapping back to my ain house, the first thing I did was to tak a thimblefu' of whisky, by way of gie-ing me a pickle spunk, in case of ony fresh rumpus wi' the wife, and also to clear up my ideas; for I hae fand, that after a lang spell at the loom, the thochts, as weel as the body, are like to get stupid and dozey. So I taks a drappie, and sits down quietly by the fireside, waiting for the return of Maggie frae scolding Mrs Todd about the flour.

In she comes, a' in a flurry. Her face was as red as a peony rose, her breathing cam last, and she lookit a'thegither like ane that has had a sair warsle wi' the tongue. But she was far frae being downcast. On the contrair, she lookit as proud as a Turkey cock ; and I saw wi' the tail o' my ee that she had gained a gran' victory ower puir Mrs Todd, who was a douce, quiet woman, and nae match for the like of her in randying. So she began to stump and mak a great phrase about the way she had outcrawed the puir body ; and was a'thegither as upset about it as if Duke Hamilton had made her keepe-of his palace. Losh! I was mad to hear't, and twa or three times had a gude mind to put in a word, to sic a degree was my courage raised by the drap speerits; but aye as the words were rising to my mouth, the thocht of the can and the dressing sent them back again, till they stuck like a bane in my throat. Very likely I micht hae said ne'er a word, and Andrew Brand's advice micht hae gone for naething, had it no been for the cratur Nancy, who was sae lifted up about her mither's dispute, that naething would sair her but to ae the hale affair mentioned cut and dry.

"And did ye cast up to Mrs Todd, mither," quo' the little cutty, "that she was fat?"

"Ay, that I did," said Maggie. "I tcll't her she was like a barn-door. I tell't her she was like the side of a house. 'Ye're a sow.' quo' I ; 'ye get fou every hour of the day, wi' your lump of a gudeman!'"

But this wasna a'—for nae sooner had Maggie answered her dochter's first question, than the cratur was ready wi' anither: "And, mither, did ye cast up to her that her faither was a meeser?"

"Atweel did I, Nancy," answered the gudewife. "I tell't' her a' that. I coost up to her that her faither was a meeser, and would ride to Lunnon on a louse, and mak breeks of its skin, and candles of its tallow."

I could thole this nae langer. I fand the hale man working within me, and was moved to a pitch of daring, mair like madness than onything else. Faith, the whisky was of gude service now, and so was Andrew Brand's advice. I accordingly steekit my nieves wi' desperation, threw awa my cowl, tucked up my sark sleeves,—for my coat happened to be aff at the time,—and got up frae the three-fooled stool I had been sitting upon in the twinkling of an ee. I trumbled a' ower, but whether it was wi' fear, or wi' anger, or wi' baith put thegither, it would be diffi-cult to say. I was in an awfu' passion, and as fairce as a papist.

"And so," said I, "ye coost up sic things to the honest woman, Mrs Todd! O, Maggie M'Gee, Maggie M'Gee, are ye no ashamed of yoursel?"

'Od it would hae dune your heart gude to see how she glowered at me. She was bewildered, and lookit as if to see whether I was mysel, and no some ither body. But her evil speerit didna lie lang asleep; it soon broke out like a squib on the king's birthday, and 1 saw that I maun now stand firm, or be a dead man for ever.

"Has your faither been at the whisky bottle?" said she to her dochter. "He looks as if he was the waur of drink."

"He had a glass just before ye cam in," answered the wicked jimpey; and scarcely had she spoken the word, when Maggie flew upon me like a teeger, and gied me a skelp on the cheek wi' her open loof, that made me turn round tapwise on the middle of the floor. Seeing that affairs were come to this pass, I saw plainly that I maun go on, no forgetting in sae doing my frien' Andrew's advice, as also my auld master Tammas Currie's observe, anent a ' man ha'eing aneuch of the deil in his temper to keep the deil awa frae him. So I picked up a' the spunk I had in me, besides what I had frae the drap whisky ; and fa'ing to, I gied her sic a leathering as never woman got in her born days.. In ae word, she met wi' her match, and roared aloud for mercy; but this I would on nae account grant, till she promised faithfully that, in a' time coming, she would acknowledge me as her lord and maister, and obey me in everything as a dutiful wife should her husband.

As soon as this was settled, in stappit Andrew Brand. At the sight of my wife greeting, and me sae fairce, he held up his hands wi' astonishment.

"William M'Gee," quo' he, "it's no possible that ye're maister in this house!"

"It's no only possible, but it's true, Andrew," was my answer; and, taking me by the hand, he wished me joy for my speerit and success.

Sae far, sae weel; the first grand stroke was made, but there was something yet to do. I had discharged a' outstanding debts wi' my wife, and had brocht her to terms; but I had yet to reduce my bairns to their senses, and show them that I was their lord and maister, as weel as their mithcr's. Puir things! my heart was wae for them, for they were sairly miseducated, and held me in nae mair estimation, than if I had been ane of my ain wabster lads. So, just wi' a view to their gude, I took down a pair of teuch ben-leather taws, weel burnt at the finger-ends, and gied Nancy as mony cracks ower the bare neck, as set her squeeling beyond a' bounds. It was pitifu' to see the cratur, how she skipped about the room, and ran awa to her mither, to escape my faitherly rage. But a' assistance frae that quarter was at an end now; and she was fain to fa' down on her knees, and beg my forgiveness, and promise to conduct hersel as became my dochter, in a' time coming.

Just at this moment, in comes wee Geordie. greeting for his parritch. He kent naething of what had taken place in the house; and, doubtless, expeckit to mak an idiot of me, his faither, as he had been accustomed to do, almost frae his very cradle. I saw that now was the time to thresh the corruption out of him; and brandishing the taws ower my head, I made a stap forrit to lay hand upon him, and treat him like the lave. He looked as if he had an inkling of what was forthcoming, and ran whinging and craiking to his mither, who stood wiping her ecu wi' her striped apron in a corner of the room. The terrified laddie clang to her knees, but she never offered to lend a helping hand, sae great was the salutary terror wi' which I had inspired her. So I pu'd him awa frae her coats, to which he was clinging; and, laying him ower my knee, I gied him hipsie-dipsie in the presence of his mither, his sister, and Andrew Brand, who were looking on.

And thus hae I, who for eighteen years was ruled by my wife, got the upper hand; and ony man who is hen-peckit as I hae been, should just tak the same plan, and his success will be as sure as mine. Andrew Brand aye said to me that a man should wear his ain breeks; and I can maintain, frae present experience, that a wiser saying is no to be found in the Proverbs of Solomon, the son of David. No that Maggie hasna tried nows and thans to recover her lost power, but I hae on thae occasions conduckit mysel wi' sic firmness, that she has at last gien it up as a bad job, and is now as obedient a wife as ye'll meet wi' between this and Bothwell. The twa bairns, too, are just wonderfully changed, and are as raisonable as can be expeckit, a' things considered. Let men, therefore, whether gentle or simple, follow my plan, and the word "henpeckit," as Andrew Brand says, will soon slip out of the dictionair.


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