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Wilson's Border Tales
Diamond Cut Diamond


It is said that there is honour amongst thieves; and, for the credit of the corps, we would willingly believe it; but the following story, we think, will show that instances of bad faith have been sometimes known to occur even amongst them, to the great scandal of the profession generally.

At the period when the lucrative trade of thieving was in its high and palmy state on the Borders, there flourished a certain pair of gentlemen of the road, called Walter Laidlaw, or Watty o’ the Dykes, and Richard Armstrong, or Halting Dick—a sobriquet this, which he derived from a slight lameness in one of his legs. These two worthies were sworn brothers; yet neither of them would trust the other the length of a stirrup leather. They knew each other too well for that; but, as this was a mutual understanding, it was no cause of quarrel; and they got on remarkably well, in defiance of political economists, without the smallest particle of confidence being between them. The business they did in the way hinted at—for we feel a delicacy in employing broader terms in speaking of Walter and his friend Dick—was rather of a small kind; somewhere about fourth or fifth-rate, perhaps; although they certainly did sometimes make hits that would have done credit to the proudest chieftain on the Borders. What trade, however, they did carry on, whether great or small, was, as often as possible, done jointly; that is, their depredations—we find we must use these ugly terms after all— regularly divided, and appropriated by each separately; and, as they acted on all occasions with perfect unanimity; were extremely active and industrious, and rarely called in any of the other brethren to assist in their operations, their gains were considerable. Over and above all this, so loving were this worthy couple, that whenever the one heard of a promising thing, or had hit upon a good idea, he always gave notice of it to the other; and the two generally set out together to see what could be made of it.

On one occasion, however, it happened that Walter found it inconvenient to accompany Dick on a certain predatory expedition of high promise, of which the latter had given him the hint; and Dick was therefore under the necessity of going alone. This he did; and the result, after all, was most satisfactory. He secured a score of excellent, well-conditioned sheep. These, Dick drove homewards during the night, from a distance of a good many miles; but, notwithstanding all the expedition he could use, morning threatened to break upon him before he could reach his own house; and in this dilemma, he determined, though not without much reluctance, to quarter them with his friend Walter, whose domicile lay in the way, until the following evening.

It was with great reluctance, as we have said, that Dick came to this resolution; for he had sore misgivings with regard to their safety in Walter’s possession—in other words, he by no means felt sure that he would ever get them out of his hands again, as he had the highest opinion of his friend’s ingenuity in appropriating other people’s goods, and of his tenacity in holding them when once in his grasp, whether they belonged to friend or foe. But on this occasion, there was no other course left him; so he deposited the sheep with Walter, who congratulated him on his success, and promised to keep them snug and safe for him till he came for them on the following night.

On the following night, Dick came and demanded his sheep.

"Sheep!" exclaimed Walter, with well-affected astonishment. "What sheep, Dicky, my man, do ye mean?"

"What sheep, Watty, do I mean?" said Dick, in real amazement. "The sheep I left wi’ ye last night, to be sure."

"Sheep ye left wi’ me, Dicky!" replied Walter. "The deil a cloot o’ sheep o’ yours ever I saw. The man’s gite!"

"Are ye in jest or earnest, Watty?" inquired Dick, with increased amazement.

"Never was mair in earnest in my life," said Watty, coolly.

"Do you mean to deny that I left a score o’ sheep wi’ ye last night, and that ye promised to keep them safe for me till I cam for them? Do ye mean to deny that?" said Dick, emphatically.

"Most stoutly," replied Watty, with the utmost composure. "I canna confess to what’s no true. My conscience forbids me to do that. I haena now, nor ever had a tail belanging to ye, Dick."

"And ye mean to stan’ by that, through thick and thin?" said Dick, with one of the blankest looks imaginable; for he saw that his sheep were gone gear.

"That I do," replied the other. "Tak my word for that. The deil a sheep yese get frae me on ony sic silly pretence as that ye hae mentioned."

By this time, Dick had recovered a little; and, moreover, by this time, also, a bright idea had struck him.

"Vera weel, Watty—vera weel," he said with a sudden cheerfulness of manner, that not a little surprised Watty himself: "you and I’ll no quarrel about twa or three sheep. Keep them, in gude’s name, and muckle grid may they do ye!" And during the short time that the friends remained together, subsequently, Dick made no further allusion to the sheep, but spoke on indifferent matters, as if nothing whatever had happened.

For some weeks after this, matters went on with the two friends precisely as before. They went on several expeditions together, and were, to all appearance, on as friendly terms as ever; neither of them making the slightest allusion to the small matter of the sheep that was between them. About the end of this period, however, Dick again appeared, one morning early, at Walter’s door, with another score of sheep, and besought a similar favour with that he had asked on the former occasion—namely, that Walter would quarter them till the following night. With this request, the latter readily complied. But, on this occasion, Dick was accompanied by two or three assistants of the same kidney with himself, who counted over the sheep in Walter’s presence, and saw them delivered to him.

On the following evening, Dick called for, and at once obtained his sheep, for there had been witnesses to the delivery; and Watty, aware of this, did not attempt a denial, as he had done before, as he felt such a proceeding would endanger his reputation with the craft.

Having got possession of his sheep, Dick bade his friend good night, and went rejoicing on his way.

Next night, however, Dick again called on his friend, Watty, and carefully concealing all expression of consciousness of having been there on the preceding evening, demanded his sheep over again.

"Your sheep, Dick!" said Watty, in amazement. "Did ye no get them a’, every tail, last night?"

"Sheep ye delivered to me, Watty!" said Dick, with imperturbable gravity. "Deil a cloot ye gae me, last night. The man’s gite."

"Come now, ye’re jokin’, Dicky," exclaimed Walter, with a most rueful expression of countenance.

"Never was mair in earnest in my life," replied Dick.

"What! do ye mean to deny that I gied ye a score o’ sheep, last night?"

"Most stoutly," answered his persevering, immovable, and determined assailant. "I canna confess to what’s no true. It would gang against my conscience. Whar’s yer witnesses that I got the sheep? Ye’ve nane; while I can prove that I put a score under yer charge, last night, and ye canna shew that they’ve been returned to me. Thae sheep, therefore, Watty, I still claim; and if ye refuse them, I’ll expose ye, and ye’ll lose a’ credit wi’ the craft. Sae, freen, just gie me up another score, without mair ado, and then you and I’ll be quits, and no a bit waur freens than ever we war."

Wat o’ the Dykes saw at once that he was in a dilemma—that Dick’s ingenuity had fairly reversed their relative positions, and that he must refund. On this fact becoming evident to him, he thought for a moment, then burst out a laughing, in his friend’s face, and confessed that he was "clean dune for." This admission he followed up by restoring Dick’s sheep to him, and it was never understood that this little breach of confidence had the slightest injurious effect on the sincere friendship which subsisted between the two worthies.


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