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Wilson's Border Tales
I Canna be Fashed

Chapter 2


But the appointed Wednesday night came, and perfectly do I recollect, that a dark, dirty, gousty night it was. I had full three miles to go to see her, and about seven o’clock I pulled out my watch and I went to the door. A sma’ drizzling rain came battering on my face. I looked a’ round about the heavens, and saw that there was nae appearance o’ the night’s clearing up, and thinks I— "Weel, she’ll ne’er think o’ coming to meet me the night. She’ll no be sae daft. It’s o’ nae use me gaun, and—I canna be fashed"

So I went into the house again, and sat down quite contented, and a night or twa after, the weather having settled I went to see her at her faither’s. The auld folk received me as usual, very kindly; and the auld man got a seat for me next the fire, and inquired if there were any news—while his good-wife asked me if I wadna hae my stockings changed, as the roads were very wet, and my feet might be damp—and I thanked her and said "No." But there sat my intended, plaiting at a cap-border, or frill, or something o’ that sort, as stiff and as silent as a stucco image, never letting on that she either saw or heard me. I spoke to her twice or thrice, and she gied a sort o’ low, half cough, half hem, but not a syllable did I get out o’ her. Never did she look to the side o’ the house I was on. Her head seemed to be fixed in a blacksmith’s vice in an opposite direction, and dear kens what sort o’ cap or frill it was she keepit plait, plait, plaiting at; but her task was never like to come to an end, and she keepit pingle, pingling, and nip, niping, at it wi’ a knife, until my patience was fairly worn out. In my opinion her fingers had discovered the perpetual motion; and when I had sat until vexation and anxiety were like to choke me, and I felt a sort o’ ha!—ha!—haing in my throat; as though I could hae burst out into a fit o’ passion or greeting, or I dinna ken what—and wi’ a great struggle I got up, and I managed to say—

"Will ye speak at the door, Isabella, dear?"

"I canna be fashed," said she.

O sir! sir! had ye experienced what I felt at that moment. The lounderings o’ my faither, my mother, and my dominie, and the slight’s o’ former sweethearts, were a mere naething to what her answer caused me to endure. I expected naething but that I would drop down upon the floor.

"Oh, ye foolish lassie, ye!" said her mother, who was sorry for me, "what do ye mean?"

"Get up!" said her faither.

"I canna be fashed!" said she again, more cuttingly than before, and half turned her een upon me as she said it, in a manner that gaed through my breast, as if ye had drawn a sharp knife across it.

Weel, sir, four names were ca’d on the Sunday following, and between the first day o’ their being published, and the day on which the marriage was to take place, I was three or four times back and forward at her father’s—but I got nae mair out o’ her. I almost thought that I ought to stop the banns; but I thought again, that that would be very unco like, and very contrary to what I wished; so I allowed them to go on, Sunday after Sunday.

I never imagined but that she was just in the pet at me having broken my tryst, and that like everybody that was in the pet, she would come out o’t when she found it necessary, and the sooner frae being left to hersel’. But, on the very day we had fixed for the wedding, and when the bestman and I went to her faither’s house, expecting to find her and the best maid, and the whole o’ them in readiness to go before the minister—to my unutterable astonishment and dismay, there was she, sitting in her morning gown, as unconcerned as a judge, just as if naething had been to happen.

"Mercy me! Isabella!" said I, "are ye no ready? where’s the women?"

"Ready!" returned she—"what for?—what do ye mean? what women?"

Oh! guid gracious! I’ll never forget the sensation that I felt at that moment. I’m surprised that I didna drop dead on the floor.

"Isabella," says I, "are ye no perfectly aware that this is our wedding day, and that we were to be at the manse at twelve o’clock precisely."

"Ay!" said she, "had ye keepit your tryst at such a time and at such a place, nae doubt this would have been the day; but ye couldna be fashed to keep it then—and I canna be fashed now."

"Oh, confound it," cried I, "Isabella, do ye want to drive me mad?"

"I dinna think there’s ony danger o’ that," replied she.

Vexation and surprise put me fairly beyont myself—I was taken in a moment.

"Weel!" exclaimed I, "ye’ll rue it, Isabella! ye’ll rue it—there shall nae woman mak a fool o’ me!"

"Nor man o’ me," said she.

"Be it sae," said I; "yet, guidness me! you’re no in earnest?"

"Earnest!" said she, "I tell you I canna be fashed."

At the sound o’ the terrible words, I banged out o’ the house. I never stopped till I came to Dunbar, and there, at the very moment that I arrived, I took the coach for Edinburgh; and there I stopped but two days till I set off for London, for my heart was in such a terrible state o’ perturbation, that I could have gone to the world’s end, ay, and round it, and round it again, if I had had the means, in order that I might have found rest.

It seems that poor Isabella thought that I would come back—and the best man persuaded her that I would—and she went to dress hersel’, and sent for the best maid. But little did she understand the character she had to deal wi’. I was either a’ laziness, or a’ desperation. I knew no medium; and I have no doubt, that, before she got her hair dressed, and her gown fairly on, I was half way to Edinburgh—for I flew to Dunbar as though furies had pursued me.

But, sir, the upshot was, that Isabella died a spinster, and I am a bachelor until this day, and will be, until the last day o’ my existence; and thus did the four never-enough-to-be-detested wards, "I canna be fashed," place eternity, yea, an infinite chasm, between me and the only woman for whose sake I could have laid down my life, as cheaply as though it hadna been worth a sixpence.

Ye may think that the few instances I have related to ye and their consequences, would have been enough to have cured me o’ ever making use o’ the words again—but ye shall see.

Now, you’ll observe, that, before the time I’m speaking o’ my faither and mother were both dead, as well as two o’ their family, so that there were but three o’ us left, and we sold the property, and divided the money amongst us in equal shares. Therefore, when I got to London, I was not altogether bare-handed. Now, to my shame, I must confess that I had not been long there, till the remembrance of Isabella, and the cause that had provoked me to come to desert her, were almost forgotten; for ye must remember, that absence makes many changes—and there is many a bonny face in London. So, after I had looked about me for a week or two, I thought to myself, that I saw nobody doing better than the keepers o’ wine and spirit vaults. It seemed a’ ready money—it was just nipper after nipper—that is, glass after glass, owre the counter—the money down, and done wi’ it. I resolved to be a wine-vault keeper, and I looked around to see where such premises were to let. At length I pitched upon a shop that I thought would suit me exactly, on the north side of Clerkenwell Street, and nearly facing Jerusalem passage. There was a very great number o’ compositors and pressmen, and bookbinders and gold-beaters, and other trades in the immediate neighbourhood; and I understand that they were in the habit o’ making the vaults I was about to take, their pay-house and house-o’-call. So I took the house, and entered upon the business, and in a very short time, I thought very little about Isabella, or the grief she had caused me. I hadna long opened the house until the compositors and the pressmen, the bookbinders and the gold-beaters, and others, a’ come back to it. They were weel-spoken, civil lads. They spent a good deal o’ money, and I certainly tried to be as civil and obliging to them as I could; and, in short, they called me ‘a fine chap,’ and ‘the best Scotchman out of all sorts they had ever met with.’

Weel, in a week or two, some o’ them began to get on to my slates—not by name—for I didna like to ask it; it was impudent; and, thought I, oh, it might spoil their custom at any rate—and I canna be fashed—it would be an awfu’ trouble writing names upon a slate, especially the names o’ so many. But I knew them a’ by head-mark, and I thought there was no need for it.

However, one got into my books, and another got into my books; but, no, I am wrong there again, for they only got on to the slates—I couldna be fashed to carry them into the books; I thought there was nae need for it; they generally paid upon the Saturday night, and there was nae fear o’ me forgettin’.

But, in a short time, there never was a Saturday night but there was always some of my debtor customers amissing; and when I inquired for any o’ them, the reply was—

"Oh, you’re one of his ghosts, are you? well, I wish you may get it—he’s got the bag."

"So, so," I would say, "and he is off with his finger in my bag too."

Well, in this way I lost more money than I can tell. But I lost it in another way also, and from the same cause. You know that in London every public-house has a porter-walk, or a beer-walk, as they call it, the same as the rounds of a milk woman here, and they go round twice a day, at dinner-time and supper-time. Well, to my surprise, in a few months I got the best beer-walk in all London. I couldna think howit was. I was almost rivalling the Alderney dairy which was at my very hand, for I had to engage two pot-boys to carry out my supply. But I gave credit, I trusted to the lads to keep an account of what they took out, and they trusted to me. I said, "I couldna be fashed wi’ the like o’ that;" but they said they gave me the names and number of the individuals with whom they had intrusted porter and pewter pots; and if I did not mark it down and see after it, it was my look out and not theirs. In this way, I believe I lost five butts of porter within twelve months. Yet, sir, these were not the only griefs and the only losses that the four words which are the subject of my story, have brought upon me. Not only did I frequently neglect to insert in my own books what I had sent out on credit, but I frequently delayed to mark down what had been sent to me by the brewer or distiller, and said, "Hoot, I haena time—I canna be fashed to enter it to-day, I will do it the morn, or the next day." But the next day and the next came, and I could be less fashed than ever, and the entry remained untouched. Many a heavy loss I am sensible this has caused me and often has it made me appear as a rogue when my intentions were honest.

Sir, what I have told ye is but a sample o’ what "I canna be fashed" has cost me. I could relate to you a thousand o’ its consequences: but half a dozen are as good, and perhaps better, than a thousand, by way o’ example.

I had been about fifteen years in business, when I became bond for a friend that I thought I could have trusted as my own brother, to the extent o’ three thousand pounds. I was certain he was perfectly solvent, and from the acquaintance I had had o’ him, I could nae mair hae doubted him than I could hae doubted that I was the son o’ my mother. But a few weeks after I had signed the bond, a mutual acquaintance called upon me, and, says he—-

"Grant, you have acted like a fool."

"I dinna doubt," says I, for I was perfectly aware that I often had; "but what do you mean to be at?"

"Why," says he, "So-and-so has taken you in. He is preparing to be off, bag and baggage, for America, and you will be left to pay the piper."

"Oh, ye are a suspicious wretch," says I; "man, I couldna believe the like o’ that if ye were to swear it to me."

"Believe it nor not," says he, "if you don’t see after it instantly, your three thousand pounds are gone."

"Hoot! babbles!" said I, "the man’s daft—do ye think I dinna ken him better than that? The man is as sure as the bank. I would be the last man he would injure a farthing—I ken that weel enough. But, at ony rate, I am particularly busy, and I canna be fashed wi’ ony nonsence o’ the kind; so ye may keep yoursel easy, and I am only sorry that ye should hae such an opinion o’ ony friend o’ mine."

"Canna be fashed!" cried my acqaintance, hurrying from the shop; "what a deuced fool! Grant, you’ll repent it."

I laughed at the man, for I had perfect confidence in my friend, and I knew that he had property worth three times the money that I was bond for him.

On the very next day, the same acquaintance came into my house very hastily, and, says he—

"Grant, if you don’t look after your money, and that very sharply, you will find your friend’s property is no go, and you are in for paying your three thousand."

"Ye dinna mean to say the like o’ that?" said I.

"Say that, you blockhead!" returned my acquaintance—"wherefore wouldn’t you believe me yesterday?" And placing his arm through mine, he dragged me out of the house. We reached the habitation of the worthy gentleman for whom I was surety in the sum of three thousand precious pounds sterling. But he was off—off like a bird whose nest has been robbed of its eggs. Twelve hours before he had sailed for America, or some other quarter of the globe; but where I never knew.

"Come home, Grant," said my friend, "don’t distress yourself now."

"Oh, dinna speak to me," says I—"I canna be fashed; my three thousand pounds!—my poor three thousand pounds!"

We went into a tavern, and I drank out o’ pure desperation until I could hardly stand; and as we were going home, I fell, and I dislocated my arm, or I broke it; at ony rate, I did something to it, and it never was like to get better; and my friends advised me to send for a surgeon—but—

"What to do wi’ a surgeon?" says I—"I canna be fashed wi’ them. The arm will get better itsel’."

But from that day until the present hour, I have never had the right use o’ it. It made me useless, in a great measure, in the way o’ business. Therefore, I sold the good-will o’ my house, and wi’ the other little remains o’ what I had saved, I came down here, just to live as easy and as cheap as possible. And now, sir, as ye have seen what a great gainer I have been by the words "I canna be fashed," I hope and implore ye will never use them again, but take a warning by the example o’ Willie Grant."


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