"Have you heard anything
of the apparition which has been seen about Wineholm-place?"' said the
"Na, I never heard o’ sic a thing, as yet," quoth the smith; "but I
wadna wonder muckle that the news should turn out to be true."
The dominie shook his head, and muttered, "h’m—h’m—h’m," as if he knew
more than he was at liberty to tell.
"Weel, that beats the world,” said the smith, as he gave up blowing the
bellows, and looked over the spectacles at the dominie’s face.
The dominie shook his head again.
The smith was now in the most ticklish quandary; eager to learn
particulars, and spread the astounding news through the whole village,
and the rest of the parish to boot, but yet afraid to press the inquiry,
for fear the cautious dominie should take the alarm of being reported as
a tattler, and keep all to himself. So the smith, after waiting till the
windpipe of the great bellows ceased its rushing noise, and he had
covered the gloss neatly up with a mixture of small coals, culm, and
cinders; and then, perceiving that nothing more was forth coming from
the dominie, he began blowing again with more energy than before—changed
his hand—put the other sooty one into his breeches-pocket—leaned to the
horn—looked in a careless manner towards the window, or rather gazed on
vacancy, and always now and then stole a sly look at the dominie’s face.
It was quite immovable. His cheek was leaned upon his open hand, and his
eyes fixed on the glowing fire.
It was very teasing for poor Clinkum, the smith. But what could he do?
He took out his glowing iron, and made a shower of fire sweep through
the whole smithy, whereof a good part, as intended, sputtered upon the
dominie, but he only shielded his face with his elbow, turned his
shoulder half round and held his peace. Thump-thump! clink—clink! went
the hammer for a space; and then, when the iron was returned to the
fire, "Weel, that beats the world!" quoth the smith.
"What is this that beats the world, Mr Clinkum?” said the dominie, with
the most cool and provoking indifference.
"This story about the apparition,” quoth the smith.
"What story?" said the dominie.
Now, really this insolence was hardly to be borne, even from the learned
dominie, who, with all his cold indifference of feeling, was sitting
toasting himself at a good smithy fire. The smith felt this, for he was
a man of acute feeling, and therefore he spit upon his hand and fell
a-clinking and pelting at the stithy with both spirit and resignation,
saying within himself, "These dominie bodies just beat the world!”
"What story?" reiterated the dominie. "For my part I related no story,
nor have ever given assent to a belief in such story that any man has
heard. Nevertheless, from the results of ratiocination, conclusions may
be formed, though not algebraically, yet corporately by constituting a
quantity, which shall be equivalent to the difference, subtracting the
less from the greater, and striking a balance in order to get rid of any
ambiguity or paradox."
At the long adverb, ‘nevertheless’, the smith gave over blowing, and
pricked up his ears, but the definition went beyond his comprehension.
"Ye ken that just beats the whole world for deepness," said the smith,
and again began blowing the bellows.
"You know, Mr Clinkum,” continued the dominie, "that a proposition is an
assertion of some distinct truth, which only becomes manifest by
demonstration. A corollary is an obvious, or easily inferred consequence
of a proposition; while a hypothesis is a supposition, or concession
made, during the process of demonstration. Now, do you take me along
with you? Because, if you do not, it is needless to proceed." .
"Yes, yes, I understand you middling weel; but I wad like better to hear
what other folks say about it than you."
"And why so? Wherefore would you rather hear another man’s demonstration
than mine?” said the dominie, sternly.
"Because, ye ken, ye just beat the world for words," quoth the smith.
"Ay, ay! that is to say, words without wisdom,” said the dominie, rising
and stepping away. "Well, well, every man to his sphere, and the smith
to his bellows."
"Ye’re quite wrang, maister” cried the smith after him. "It isna the
want o’ wisdom in you that plagues me; it is the owerplush o’t."
This soothed the dominie, who returned, and said mildly, "By-the-by,
Clinkum, I want a leister of your making, for I see no other tradesman
makes them so well. A five-grained one make it; at your own price.”
"Very weel, sir. When will you be needing it?"
"Not till the end of the close time."
"Ay, ye may gar the three auld anes do till then."
"What do you wish to insinuate, sir? Would you infer, because I have
three leisters, that therefore I am a breaker of the laws? That I, who
am placed here as a pattern and monitor of the young and rising
generation, should be the first to set them an example of
“Ye ken, that just beats a’ in words; but we ken what we ken, for a’
"You had better take a little care what you say, Mr Clinkum; just a
little care. I do not request you to take particular care, for of that
your tongue is incapable, but a very little is a correlative of
consequences, And mark you—don’t go to say that I said this or that
about a ghost, or mentioned such a ridiculous story."
"The crabbitness o’ that body beats the world!” said the smith to
himself as the dominie went halting homeward.
The very next man who entered the smithy door was no other than John
Broadcast, the new laird’s hind, who had also been hind to the late
laird for many years, and who had no sooner said his errand, than the
smith addressed him thus:—
"Have you ever seen this ghost that there is such a noise about?"
"Ghost? Na, goodness be thankit! I never saw a ghost in my life, save
ance a wraith, What ghost do you mean?”
"So you never saw nor heard tell of any apparition about Wineholm place,
"No, I hae reason to be thankfu’ I have not.”
"Weel, that beats the world! Wow, man, but ye are sair in the dark! Do
you no think there are siccan things in nature, as folk no coming fairly
to their ends, John?"
"Goodness be wi’ us! Ye gar a’ the hairs o’ my head creep, man. What`s
that you’re saying?"
"Had ye never ony suspicious o’ that kind, John?"
"No; I canna say that I had."
"None in the least? Weel, that beats the world!”
"O, haud your tongue—haud your tongue! We hae great reason to be thankfu’
that we are as we are!"
"How as you are?"
"That we are nae stocks or stanes, or brute beasts, as the minister o’
Traquair says. But I hope in God there is nae siccan a thing about my
master’s place as an unearthly visitor."
The smith shook his head, and uttered a long hem! hem! hem! He had felt
the powerful effect of that himself, and wished to make the same appeal
to the feelings and longings after information of John Broadcast. The
bait took; for the latent spark of superstition was kindled in the heart
of honest John, and there being no wit in the head to counteract it, the
portentous hint had its full sway. John’s eyes stelled in his head, and
his visage grew long, assuming meanwhile something of the hue of dried
clay in winter.
"Hech, man! but that’s an awesome story,” exclaimed he. “Folks hae great
reason to be thankfu’ that they are as they are. It is truly an awsome
"Ye ken, it just beats the world for that," rejoined the smith.
"And is it really thought that this laird made away wi’ our auld maister?
" said John.
The smith shook his head again, and gave a straight wink with his eyes.
"Weel, I hae great reason to be thankfu’ that I never heard siccan a
story as that! " said John. "Wha was it tauld you a' about it?”
"It was nae less a man than our mathewmatical dominie," said the smith,
"he that kens a’ things, and can prove a proposition to the nineteenth
part of a hair. But he is terrified lest the tale should spread; and
therefore ye maunna say a word about it."
"Na, na; I hae great reason to be thankfu’ I can keep a secret as weel
as the maist part of men, and better than the maist part of women. What
did he say? Tell us a’ that he said."
“It is not so easy to repeat what he says, for he has sae mony
lang-nebbit words. But he said, though it was only a supposition, yet it
was easily made manifest by positive demonstration."
"Did you ever hear the like o’ that? Now, have we no reason to be
thankfu’ that we are as we are? Did he say it was by poison that he was
taken off, or that he was strangled?"
"Na; I thought he said it was by a collar, or collary, or something to
"Then it wad appear there is no doubt of the horrid transaction? I think
the doctor has reason to be thankfu’ that he’s no taken up. Is no that
"O, ye ken, it just beats the world.”
"He deserves to be torn at young horses’ tails," said the ploughman.
"Ay, or nippit to death with red-hot pinchers," quoth the smith.
"Or harrowed to death, like the children of Ammon," said the ploughman.
"Na, I’ll tell you what should be done wi’ him-—he should just be
docked, and fired like a farcied horse," quoth the smith. "’Od help ye,
man, I could beat the world for laying on a proper punishment!"
John Broadcast went home full of terror and dismay. He told his wife the
story in a secret—she told the dairymaid with a tenfold degree of
secrecy; and as Dr Davington, or the New Laird, as he was called,
sometimes kissed the pretty dairymaid for amusement, it gave her a great
deal of freedom with her master, so she went straight and told him the
whole story to his face. He was unusually affected at hearing such a
terrible accusation against himself and changed colour again and again;
and as pretty Martha, the dairymaid, supposed it was from anger, she
fell to abusing the dominie without mercy—for he was session-clerk, and
had been giving her some hints about her morality of which she did not
approve. She therefore threw the whole blame upon him, assuring her
master that he was the most spiteful and malicious man on the face of
the earth; "and to show you that, sir," added Martha, wiping her eyes,
"he has spread it through the hale parish that you and I baith deserve
to sit wi’ the sacking-gown on us."
This enraged the doctor still farther, and he forthwith dispatched
Martha to desire the dominie to come up to the Place to speak with her
master, as he had something to say to him. Martha went, and delivered
her message in so insulting a manner, that the dominie suspected there
was had blood a-brewing against him ; and as he had too much
self-importance to think of succumbing to any man alive, he sent an
impertinent answer to the laird’s message, bearing that if Dr Davington
had any business with him, he would be so good as attend at his
classroom when he dismissed his scholars. And then he added, waving his
hand towards the door, "Go out. There is contamination in your presence.
What hath such a vulgar fraction ado to come into the halls of
uprightness and science?"
When this message was delivered, the doctor, being almost beside himself
with rage, instantly dispatched two village constables with a warrant to
seize the dominie, and bring him before him, for the doctor was a
justice of the peace. Accordingly, the poor dominie was seized at the
head of his pupils, and dragged away, crutch and all, up before the new
laird, to answer for such an abominable slander. The dominie denied
everything anent it, as indeed he might, save having asked the smith the
simple question, "if he had heard aught of a ghost at the Place?" But he
refused to tell why he had asked that question. He had his own reasons
for it, he said, and reasons that to him were quite sufficient; but as
he was not obliged to disclose them, neither would he.
The smith was then sent for, who declared that the dominie had told him
of the ghost being seen, and a murder committed, which he called a rash
assassination, and said it was obvious and easily inferred that it was
done by a collar.
How the dominie did storm! He even twice threatened to knock down the
smith with his crutch; not for the slander,—he cared not for that nor
the doctor a pin, but for the total subversion of his grand illustration
from geometry ; and he, therefore, denominated the smith’s head the
‘logarithm to number one’, a reproach of which I do not understand the
gist, but the appropriation of it pleased the dominie exceedingly, made
him chuckle, and put him in better humour for a good while. It was in
vain that he tried to prove that his words applied only to the
definition of a problem in geometry,—he could not make himself
understood ; and the smith maintaining his point firmly, and apparently
with conscientious truth, appearances were greatly against the dominie,
and the doctor pronounced him a malevolent and dangerous person.
"O, ye ken, he just beats the world for that,” quoth the smith.
"I a malevolent and dangerous person, sir !” said the dominie, fiercely,
and altering his crutch from one place to another of the floor, as if he
could not get a place to set it on. "Dost thou call me a malevolent and
dangerous person, sir? what, then, art thou? If thou knowest not, I will
tell thee. Add a cipher to a ninth figure, and what does that make?
Ninety you will say. Ay, but then put a cipher ‘above’ a nine, and what
does that make? Ha—ha—ha—I have you there ! Your case exactly in higher
geometry ! For say the chord of sixty degrees is radius, then the sine
of ninety degrees is equal to the radius, so the secant of 0 (that is
nihil-nothing, as the boys call it), is radius, and so is the co-sine of
0. The versed sine of mnety degrees is radius (that is nine with a
cipher added, you know), and the versed sine of 180 degrees is the
diameter; then, of course, the sine increases from nought (that is,
cipher or nothing) till it becomes radius, and then it decreases till it
becomes nothing. After this you note it lies on the contrary side of the
diameter, and consequently, if positive before, is negative now; so that
it must end in 0, or a cipher above a nine at most."
"This unintelligible jargon is out of place here, Mr Dominie; and if you
can show no better reasons for raising such an abominable falsehood, in
representing me as an incendiary and murderer, I shall procure you a
lodging in the house of correction."
"Why, sir, the long and the short of the matter is this :—I only asked
at that fellow there—that logarithm of stupidity—if he had heard aught
of a ghost having been seen about Wineholm Place. I added nothing
farther, either positive or negative. Now, do you insist on my reasons
for asking such a question?”
"I insist on having them."
"Then what will you say, sir, when I inform you, and declare my
readiness to depone to the truth of it, that I saw the ghost myself?
Yes, sir, that I saw the ghost of your late worthy father-in-law myself,
sir; and though I said no such thing to that decimal fraction, yet it
told me, sir,—yes, the spirit of your father-in-law told me, sir, that
you are a murderer."
"Lord, now, what think ye o’ that?" quoth the smith. "Ye had better hae
letten him alane; for, ’od, ye ken, he’s the deevil of a body as ever
was made. He just beats the world!"
The doctor grew as pale as death, but whether from fear or rage, it was
hard to say.
"Why, sir," said he, "you are mad ! stark, raving mad; therefore, for
your own credit, and for the peace and comfort of my wife and myself,
and our credit among our retainers, you must unsay every word that you
have now said."
"I’ll just as soon say that the parabola and the ellipsis are the same,"
said the dominie; "or that the diameter is not the longest line that can
be drawn in the circle. And now, sir, since you have forced me to
divulge what I was much in doubt about, I have a great mind to have the
old laird’s grave opened to-night, and have the body inspected before