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Wilson's Border Tales
Johnny Brotherton's Five Sunnry Days


I have experienced many days both of sorrow and of sadness, in the course of my life and experience, (said old John Brotherton of Peebles;) but with me my past sorrows were always like an auld almanac—a book that I never opened. Yet weel do I remember the five sunniest days of my existeonce. They were days of brightness and of joy, without a spot to cloud them. They took place, also, at very various periods of my existence. I no doubt have had, independent of them, many pleasant, warm, bonny days—days wherein I was both pleased and happy. But they passed away like any other fine day, and they werena remembered for a week. But very different from the like of these ordinary fine days, were those which I allude to as the five sunny days of my existence. They were days of pure, unadulterated, uncloyed, almost insupportable delight. They were days, the remembered sunshine of which will not set in my breast, until my life set in the grave. But I will give you an account of them.

The first occurred when I was about twenty years of age. It was a delightful evening in the month of September, on the second day of the month, and just about five minutes past six o’clock. I had just dropped work—for I was a souter, or more appropriately a cordwainer—and had thrown off my apron and washed my face, and was taking a saunter up off the Tweed abit, on the road leading down to Innerleithen. I cannot say that I had any object in view, beyond just the healthful recreation of a walk in the fields, after the labours of the day. The sun seemed to be maybe about a dozen of yards aboon the hill top; but there wasna a cloud in the whole sky, save ae wee bit yellow one, hardly broader than the brim of a Quaker’s hat, that was keeking owre the hill, as if to kep the sun. Oh, it was a glorious evening! I daresay it never was equalled at the season of the year. I am sure the leaves, poor things, that were falling here and there from the trees and hedges, if they could have thought would hae been vexed to fall frae their branches, while a’ nature was basking in such sunniness.

I met several shearers, wi’ their hooks owre their arms, just as I was gaun out o’ the town, and I spoke to them, and they spoke to me, but some o’ them nodded and laughed at me, and said—"She’s coming, Johnny."

"Wha’s coming?" said I.

And they laughed again, and said—"Gang forward and see."

So I went forward, and sure enough, who should I see standing beside a yett, with a hook owre her shouther, and picking the prickles of a day-nettle out of her hand, but bonny Kate Lowrie—not only the comeliest lass in the burgh o’ Peebles, but in all the wide county. I had long been desperately in love with Katie, but I had never ventured to say as meikle to her; though I was aware that she was conscious of the state of my feelings. We had aften walked together on an evening, and I had gien her her fairing, and the like of that, but I never could get the length of talking about love or marriage; and scores of times had her and me walked by the side of each other, for half an hour at a time, without either of us speaking a word, beyond saying—‘ Eh, but this is a fine night!’ half a dozen times owre— so ye may guess that we were a bashfu’ couple.

But on the night referred to, as I have said, I saw her standing at a yett, taking a thorn of some kind out of her hand; and I stepped forward and said to her—"What has got into your hand, Katie?"

"It’s a jaggy frae a day-nettle, I think, John," said she.

"Let me try if I can tak it oot."

She blushed, and the setting sun just streamed across her face. I’ll declare I never saw a woman look so beautiful in my born days. Ye might have lighted a candle at my heart at the moment, I am certain. But I did get her bonny soft hand in mine; and as I held it, I am certain I would not have exchanged that hand to have held the sceptre of the king that sits upon the throne. I soon got out the prickles—but I was so overjoyed at having her hand in mine that when they were out, I still held it in my left hand.; while, whither it was by accident or how, I canna tell, but I slipped my right hand round her waist; and in this fashion we sauntered away. But instead of going straight to the town, we saundered away down to Tweed-side.

Weel do I remember of pressing her to my breast in more than mortal joy, and of saying to her—"O Katie, Katie, woman, will ye be mine?—will ye marry me, and mak me the happiest man that ever put his foot in a shoe on the face of this habitable globe?"

She hung her head, and poor thing! her bosom heaved like a frighted bird’s. But, oh! what ecstasy it was to feel its heaving! For a good hour did I stand pressing her breast to mine, and always saying—"Will ye, Katie? Oh will ye, woman?"

At last, with a great effort, and her very heart bursting with pure affection, she flung her arms owre my shouthers, and said—I will, John!

Oh! of all the words that ever a human being heard, nothing could match the music of those three words to me. It was sweeter than the harp of a fairy soughing owre a moonlight sea, when the winds of heaven are sleeping.

"Oh, bless ye! bless ye!—for ever bless ye!" cried I—"Katie, ye hae made me the happiest man in a’ Peebles." "an’ I trust I shall make ye the happiest wife," said she.

I absolutely danced wi’ joy, and clapped my hands aboon my head. If ever there was a man intoxicated wi’ joy, it was me that night; and I am certain that her joy was nothing less than mine, though she did not express it so extravagantly.

Neither the one nor the other of us heard the town clock chap nine. Three hours flew owre our heads as if they hadna been three minutes. I set her to her faither’s door, and just as she was putting her hand upon the sneck—"Eh, John!" whispered she, "where can I hae left my hook?"

"That’s weel minded," said I; "I remember I took it off yer shouther, and put it owre the yett, when I was takin’ the prickles oot o’ yer finger."

Ye may think of what baith of us had been thinking about, when neither of us missed the hook, or remembered leaving it till that moment. We went to seek it, with her arm through mine (and close to my side I pressed it), and. there, accordingly, did we find the hook upon the yett where I had placed it.

She was rather feared to gang into the house, on account of her being out so late, for her faither and mother were strict sort o’ folk. Therefore, I volunteered to go in wi’ her and explain at once how matters stood. For, bashful as I was before telling my mind to her, I had broken the ice now, and was as bold as brass.

She hesitated for some time; but I urged the thing, and she consented, and into her faither’s I went wi’ her. I wasna long in making the auld man acquainted wi’ the nature of my visit, and frankly asked him if he had any sort of objection to taking me for a son-in-law.

"I watna," said he, "but I daresay no. I dinna see ony reasonable objection that I ought to hae. What do ye say Tibbie?" added he to his wife.

"Me?" added she; "what would ye hae me to say? Johnny is a decent lad and a guid tradesman; and if he likes Katie, and Katie likes him, I dinna see that you or I can do onything in the matter, but just leave it to their twa sells."

"Weel, John," said her faither to me, "as Tibbie says, I suppose it will just have to rest between yoursels. If ye are baith agreeable, we are agreeable."

I wonder I didna jump through the roof of the house. Joy almost deprived me of my specific gravity. Never since I was born, had I experienced such sensations of ecstacy bofore.

Now, this was what I call my first real sunny day. It was a day of memorable joy—and joy, too, of a particular description, and which a man can feel but once in the course of his existence.

I can say, without vanity, that I had always been a saving lad, and, therefore, in the course of two or three weeks, I took a house, which I furnished very respectably. And my second sunny day, was that on which Katie, and her faither, and her mother, and a lass that was an intimate acquaintance of hers, came a’ to my new house together—Katie never to leave it again—for the minister just came in after them. Oh! when I heard the minister pronounce us one, and gie us his benediction as man and wife—and, aboon all, when I thought that she was now mine—mine for ever—that nothing upon earth could separate us—I almost wondered that poor sinful mortals such as we are, should be permitted to enjoy such unspeakable happiness on this side of time. The very tears stood in my eyes wi’ perfect ecstacy, and I could not forbear, before the minister and them a’, of squeezing her hand, and saying—"My ain Katie!"

It was October, but a very mild day, and a very sunny day—indeed it might, in all respects, have passed for a day in August. After dinner, the room became rather warm, and the window was drawn down from the top. There was a lark singing its autumn song right aboon the house, and its loud sweet notes came pouring in by the window.

"Poor thing," thought I, "your joys are ending, and mine are only beginning; but, I trust, in the autumn of my days, to sing as blithely as ye do now."

I gied another glance at my ain Katie, and as I contemplated her lovely countenance, I felt as a man that was never to know sorrow; for I didna see how it was possible for sorrow to be where such angel sweetness existed.

That was my second sunny day; and my third followed after it in the natural course of time; for the event that rendered it memorable was neither more nor less than the birth of my first-born—my only son. I was walking out in the fields when the tidings were brought to me; and when I found that I had cause to offer thanks for a living mother and a living child, wi’ perfect joy the tears ran down my cheeks. I silently prayed for my Katie and for "my bairn." When I thought that a man-son was born unto me, and that I was indeed a faither, the pride and the joy of my heart were almost too great for me to bear. I would not have exchanged the natural and honourable title of faither, to have been made Emperor of Russia and King of Madagascar.

It was a glorious day in the height of summer, and as I hurried home to see, to kiss, my bairn and its mother, I believe the very flowers by the roadside were conscious that it was a faither, a new made faither, that trampled on them, I did it so quickly and so lightly. But great as my joy then was, it was nothing to be compared with what I felt when I saw my Katie and our bairn, and when my lips touched theirs. O man! I then did feel the full, the overflowing ecstasy of a faither’s heart. Never shall I forget it. That was the third of my five sunny days.

The fourth was of a different description, but gied me unmingled satisfaction, and perhaps I may say, was in some sort the foundation of the one which succeeded.

Now, I must make you sensible that Katie made a very notable wife. In her household affairs, she set an example that was worthy of imitation by every wife in Peebles. There was naething wasted in her house, and the shadow of onything extravagant was never seen within her door.

One night, about six weeks after our marriage, she and I were sitting at the fireside, by our two sells (for we never made our house a howff for neighbours and their clashes), when she said to me very seriously—"John, I’ve often heard it said that the first hundred pounds is worse to make than the next five hundred. Do ye no think it possible for you and me to save a hundred?"

"I watna, my dear," said I, "though I say it myself, there are none belonging to the craft that can make better wages than I can, and if it is your desire to make the endeavour—wi’ all my heart, say I."

So the thing was agreed upon, and we set about it the very next day. I got a strong wooden box made, wi’ a hole on the top, just about long enough and broad enough to let in a penny-piece edgeways; and I caused a bit leather, like a tongue, to be nailed owre the inside of the hole, so that whatever was put in, cauldun be taken out again till the box was broken open.

For many a day, both her and me wrought hard, both late and early, to accomplish it. We neither allowed the back to gang bare or shabby, nor did we scrimp our cogie, during our endeavours, but we avoided every sixpence, every farthing of unnecessary expense.

At length Katie says to me one day, just after dennertime—"John, I daresay we will have the hundred pounds now. If ye have nae objection we will open the box and see."

It was the very thing which I had been wishing her to propose for months; and up I banged upon the kist, and put my hand on the head on the bed, where the box was kept. It was terrible heavy, and it required both my hands to lift it down.

I forced up the lid, and having locked the door, I placed the box upon the table. The sun was streaming in at the window sae bright that ye would have said it was aware of the satisfaction of Katie and mysel, as we saw it streaming upon the heap of treasure which our own industry had gathered together. It took us from two in the afternoon until six at night to count it; for it consisted of gold, silver, and copper; and we counted it thrice over, before we made it come twice to the same sum. At last we were satisfied that it amounted to one hundred and fifteen pounds, seven shillings and eightpence halfpenny.

When I ascertained that the object of my desire, and of my late and early savings, was accomplished, I was that happy that I almost knocked owre the table where it was all spread out, counted into parcels of twenty shillings. I threw my arms round Katie, wi’ as meikle rapture as I did on my first sunny day, when she said—"I will, John;" for the object was of her proposing, and she had the entire merit of the transaction. It was a grand sight to see the sinking sun throwing the shadow of the hundred and odd, twenty shilling towers across the table, and to the far side of the floor. Folk talk of the beauty of rainbows, but there never was a rainbow to be compared wi’ the appearance of our floor that evening, wi’ a’ the shadows of the piles of siller running across it. That was my fourth sunny day.

Finding that I was now a man of capital, I took a shop in the front street, and commenced business as a maister boot and shoe-maker. Katie was remarkably civil in the shop, and I always tried to put good stuff into the hands of customers, so that in a very short time I carried on a very prosperous concern. I also rose very high in the opinion of my fellow-craftsmen; and, wonderful to relate! I heard that it was their determination to elect me to the high and honourable office of deacon of the corporation of our ancient and respectable trade, in the ancient burgh of Peebles.

This was a height to which my ambition never could have aspired, and when I heard of the intention of the brethren, it really made me that I couldna sleep. It made me not only dream that I was a deacon, but a king, a prince, a bashaw—a dear kens what—but anything but plain John Brotherton, I thought it was a hoax that some of the craft were wishing to play off on me; therefore, I spoke of the subject with great caution. But when it was put into my head, there was nothing on the earth that I so much desired. I thought what an honour it would be when I was dead and gone, for my son to be able to say—"My father was deacon of the ancient company of cordwainers in Peebles!"

"What a sound that will have!" thought I. On the morning of the election I awoke fearing, believing, hoping, trembling. I could hardly put on my clothes. However, the choosing of office bearers began, and I was declared duly elected deacon of the company of cordwainers. It was with difficulty that I refrained from clapping my hands in the court, and I am positive that I would not have been able to do it, had it not been that the brethren came crowding round me to shake hands wi’ me.

I went home in very high glee, as ye may well suppose, and Katie met me wi’ great joy in her looks. When the supper was set upon the table—"Katie, my dear," said I, "send out for a bottle of strong ale."

"A bottle of strong ale, John?" quoth she, in surprise; "remember that though ye hae been appointed deacon o’ the shoemakers ye are but a mortal man! Remember, John, that it was by drinking wholesome water, wi’ pickles of oatmeal in it, that enabled you to save a hundred pounds and so to become deacon of the trade. But had ye sent for bottles of strong ale to your supper, ye would neither have saved the one, nor been made the other. Na, na, John, think nae mair about ale."

"Weel, weel," said I, "ye are right, Katie—I canna deny it."

That was what I call my fifth sunny day—a remarkable day in my existence, standing out from among the rest, and crowned wi’ happiness."


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