"That’s a bit bonnie
beastie, callant," said Walter Greenlaw, approaching a country lad, who
was carrying a cock under his arm, and proceeding with it towards the
village of Greystone; Walter being himself at the moment employed in
taking his morning saunter on the Dumfries road, a recreation in which he
always indulged in the summer time previous to opening his shop—a
well-filled and thriving one, in the village above named.
Walter was in the grocery
and spirit-dealing line, in which line he had done well. He was easy—easy
in temper and circumstances; but, with regard to the former, just a trifle
obstinate or so. Walter, in fact, notwithstanding his other good
qualities, was as positive as a mule, and would never give in, when he
once took a notion that he was right—and he did this in ninty-nine
cases out of every hundred.
"A bit bonny beastie that,
callant," said Walter Greenlaw, stopping the lad, and beginning to examine
the bird’s feet, spurs, comb, and other personal qualifications—for Walter
was a bit of a connoisseur in such matters. He was a great cock fancier,
and, though in other respects a sedate, regular, and humane sort of man,
entertained something like a prediliction for cock-fighting. It was, in
truth, rather a hobby of his; and was the only sort of pastime, if a thing
so cruel can be called by that name, in which he indulged.
"Are ye gaun to sell him,
laddie?" now inquired Walter who found the cock a bird of promise.
"I dinna ken, sir," replied
the boy, stratching his head. "What wad ye gie’s for him?"
"What wad ye be seekin?"
The boy thought a moment;
"He’s weel wordy o’ twa shillings," he at length said.
"I’ll gie ye aughteenpence,"
replied Walter, who was a dead hand at a bargain.
"Hae, tak him, then," said
the boy, holding out the bird to the purchaser. Walter plunged his hand
into his pocket, drew out one shilling and sixpence sterling money of this
realm, put it into the boy’s hand, took the cock under his arm, and
retraced his steps homewards with his prize.
Ah, little did Walter know
what mischief that unhappy cock was to breed him. Little did the
unsuspecting man dream, that, in carrying it home, as he was now doing
rejoicingly, he was carrying home ruin and distraction of mind. Who would
have thought it more than Walter?! Who would have thought that a thing so
apparently simple should contain within it the germs of great events? Yet,
so it was; and it adds another to the many instances already extant, of
mighty endings proceeding from small beginnings. We need not add, we
suppose, that if Walter had known to what that morning’s work was to lead,
he would as soon have taken a dose of prussic acid, as have bought the
unlucky cock, of which he was now, in his ignorance, so vain.
Having brought his cock
home, Walter carried him straight into his back shop, where it was his
intention to keep him for a few days, that he might have him always under
his immediate eye, and be thus enabled to bestow upon him all the due
attention, without absenting himself for an instant from the duties of his
shop. He was thus situated, too, in the most convenient place for
undergoing such processes of training as might be deemed desirable.
For several days,
everything went on well with Walter and the cock: the former discovering
every day new points of excellence in the bird, and the latter every day
exhibiting new and promising traits of character, and being apparently
perfectly satisfied with his quarters. The cock and Walter were,
therefore, on the best of terms with each other, and so they continued for
about the time above-mentioned. At the end of this period, however, an
unlucky circumstance occurred to disturb the pleasing harmony.
One day, while Walter was
standing at his shop door looking listlessly around him, for lack of
customers, he was suddenly startled by hearing a crash on the floor, first
of one bottle, and then of another bottle, and then of a third and a
fourth, in rapid succession, and, lastly, of a whole shower of them. The
ruinous sounds proceeded from the back shop, where the cock was. Walter
knew it, and rushed into the apartment; and when he did so, what a seen
presented itself to his eyes. The floor was swimming six inches deep in
his best strong ale, and was covered with the fragments of the bottles
which had once contained it. Walter cast his eyes up to the shelf on which
the ale formerly stood, to the amount of some twelve or fifteen dozen and,
to his unspeakable horror, found the cock boldly planted right in the
middle of those that remained. Walter looked at the cock in silence for a
instant; for he dare not make the slightest motion towards displacing him,
as such attempt would only have insured the entire demolition of what
He, therefore, as we said,
looked in silence and for some time on the ruthless destroyer of his
property. Walter’s look was one of unmitigated wrath. The cock returned it
with one of bold defiance; chuckling and gluggering angrily the while, as
if to say that, if his conduct was any way resented he would do yet ten
times more mischief. He seemed, in truth, perfectly conscious that
he had still several dozens of ale at his entire disposal, and that a few
more flaps of his wings was all that was necessary to send them down
amongst the rest. Walter perfectly knew this too, and by his caution
acknowledged himself to be completely in the power of the mischievous
bird. Fore some time, then the two looked at each other without making the
slightest motion—Walter thinking of how he should proceed, and the cock
evidently waiting to see what that proceeding should be, as if, whatever
it was, he should thereby regulate his own conduct.
This, however, was a state
of matters which could not be allowed to continue. The cock must be
displaced—Walter both felt and saw that he must; and he finally resolved
on attempting it. Approaching him cautiously, and with coaxing and
wheedling air, he aimed at closing with him but it wouldn’t do. The cock
wasn’t to be so taken in. The moment he saw Walter advancing upon
him, he bridled up, gluggered fiercely, retreated into a thicket of
bottles, and canted over another half-dozen in the operation. Rendered
desperate by this continued destruction of his property, Walter, now
losing all temper and prudence, seized a stick that lay at hand, and,
regardless of consequences rushed upon the destroyer, and, by his bold and
decisive measure, cleared the shelf at once of the cock and of almost
every remaining bottle that was on it. And thus ended the first exploit of
Walter’s new acquisition in the feathered line. The destruction was
horrible; but there was no help for it—no remedy. To revenge it on the
cock, was out of the question; so that all that befell him in consequence,
was his removal to an out-house, where it was determined he in future
We have already said that
cock-fighting was one of Walter Greenlaw’s hobbies. It was so; and there
were two or three persons in the village, and in the country around, who
were addicted to the pastime also. These persons, and Walter along with
them, used frequently to meet for the purpose of enjoying their favourite
recreation, the scene of which was a certain barn in the neighbourhood;
and, on these occasions, bets went frequently pretty high amongst them.
To these lovers of the
main, it was soon known that their friend Mr. Greenlaw had laid his hands
upon a choice bird, game every inch of it, including the feathers; and
much anxiety was expressed amongst them to see how he would conduct
himself in battle; and not a little vain of this anxiety was the happy
owner of the gallant bird, which was, in truth, a stately animal. His
spurs were like two heckle pins, long and sharp, and most murderous
looking; while his bold strut and lofty bearing shewed that he was worthy
of his weapons, by giving assurance of his being both able and willing to
make use of them.
Frequent, then, were the
calls of the different members of the cock-fighting fraternity of
Greystone on Mr. Green-law, to see his bird, and to admire his proportions
and combative capabilities—one and all declaring that he was a perfect
paragon, a nonpareil, on which any sum might be safely staked. Walter
thought so too, and felt rather anxious that some one would take him up.
He would at once have gone a five pound note upon him; taking care,
however, that his wife knew nothing about it.
At length, however, the
desired event came round. Another of the fraternity, a farmer, lighted
upon a cock, which both he and some of the others of the corps thought
superior to Mr. Greenlaw’s; and the consequence was, a wager to the extent
not of five but of ten pounds, so convinced was each of the merits of
their respective cocks. A day of trial was appointed; the barn, the usual
scene of the exhibitions, was the placed fixed on. The parties and their
friends met. The cocks were pitted against each other, and a deadly combat
ensued. For a time Mr. Greenlaw’s cock fully maintained the character
attributed to him, and shewed such a decided superiority over his
antagonist, both in severity of stroke and quickness of eye, that his
owner, in the enthusiasm of the moment, doubled his bet, and made it
twenty pounds instead of ten. In the meantime, the battle raged with
unabated ardour; victory hovering with doubtful wing between the
combatants. At this interesting crisis, Walter, not seeing any doubt at
all in the matter, felt as sure of his neighbour’s twenty pounds as if he
already had them in his breeches pocket. What, then, was his amazement,
what his mortification, when he saw his redoubted cock all at once sport
the white feather! He could scarcely believe his own eyes; but it was a
fact, a melancholy fact. Walter’s cock all at once drooped tail, and
sought safety in disgraceful flight. The victorious cock gave chase, and
pecked the fugitive round the ring. After this exhibition, there could be
no doubt how the wagers were to go; and a nudge on the elbow from the
winner awakened Mr. Greenlaw to a sense of his particular position as
regarded this matter. Mr. Greenlaw took the hint, and, with slow hand and
heavy heart, counted over his stake in good bank notes to the owner of the
victorious bird. Shortly after this, Mr. Greenlaw took his battered and
crestfallen cock under his arm, and, nearly as crest-fallen himself,
commenced his march homewards; and as he did so— that is, while he walked
home—he bestowed a good deal of thought on the general conduct of his
cock; took a retrospective review, as it were, of his behaviour; and the
result was an impression that he had got rather an unlucky sort of animal;
for the debit of his account was swelling rapidly up, while there was not
a single item at his credit. At this debit, there was his first cost,
eighteenpence; then there was his keep, and the trouble therewith; then
there was nearly a gross of Younger’s best ale, bottles and all; then, and
lastly—that is, so far as matters had yet gone— there were twenty pounds
sterling money lost, gone forever, through the cowardly spirit of the
craven bird. All this was bad enough; but Walter still hoped matters might
mend, and that the cock, by a little more judicious training, might be
brought to refund in some shape or other; and, under this impression,
Walter again took him in hand, and began a course of feeding, together
with a series of other proceedings, all secundum artem, which he
trusted would end in leading himself to cash, and his cock to glory.
At this stage of the
history of Walter Greenlaw and his cock, we find it necessary to introduce
another person on the stage; and this person is little Jamie Greenlaw, the
son and heir of Walter—a wild, young scamp, and as fond of cock-fighting
as his father. Now, this little rogue had long secretly desired to see a
battle between his father’s cock and the schoolmaster’s, but had never
been able to bring about the desirable event. At length, however, he
accomplished it. He got up one morning very early, before any one was
stirring; stole away his father’s cock; carried him straight to the
schoolmaster’s; scaled the wall of his back yard; and, in a minute after,
had the satisfaction of seeing the two cocks engaged in mortal strife. It
was a joust a’ outrance. Now, it happened, through that
perversity which sometimes mark circumstances as well as conduct, that
Walter Greenlaw’s cock, on this occasion, fought nobly—that is, he fought
well when it was of no consequence whether he did so or not. Yes, he
fought well; so well that, in less than five minutes, he laid the
schoolmaster’s cock dead at his feet. This being a much more serious
result than Jamie had anticipated, Jamie, in great alarm and perturbation,
seized his own cock, placed him under his arm, and commenced a hurried
retreat. This retreat, however, he did not effect without being seen.
Standing in his shirt and red Kilmarnock nightcap, at a back window, the
schoolmaster saw him; saw Jamie with his father’s cock under his arm, and
saw his own lying dead in the yard beneath the window—circumstances which
at once conducted him to a knowledge of the facts of the case. On that
very day, that fatal day, Walter Greenlaw received a written demand from
the schoolmaster for the value of his cock; which value the said demand
set forth to be three shillings and sixpence sterling money. Now, Walter
demurred, nay, absolutely refused to pay, alleging that the schoolmaster’s
cock had fallen in fair fight. The schoolmaster insisted. Walter held out.
The schoolmaster summoned. Walter appeared and stated his case; but
judgment went against him. The schoolmaster was found, under all the
circumstances of the case, entitled to the value of his cock, and Walter
was therefore decerned against in the full amount, with expenses.
Now, at this point in the
affair, or, perhaps, a little before, the very marked quality of Walter’s
nature, formerly hinted at, came into play—namely, his obstinacy. Walter
protested against the decision now given against him, and brought his case
under the revision of the Sheriff. It was again given against him, with
additional expenses, a circumstance this, however, which only tended to
convince Walter that he was right, and to confirm him in his
determination to keep the flag of defiance and resistance, which he had
hoisted, boldly flying; nay, he may be said to have now nailed it to the
mast. In less than a month after, Walter’s, or the gamecock case, was
before the Court of Session. It became a question of costs; the judgment
of the inferior courts was confirmed, and Walter was again cast, with the
addition of a tail of expenses as long as a comet’s. Never mind. "Do or
die," was Walter’s motto. He was still right, and they were all
wrong—magistrates, sheriffs, and judges; and Walter determined on shewing
them and the world that it was so. Walter carried his case into the House
of Peers— where, O shade of Justinian, it was again given against him.
Walter could do no more. He had done all that man could do to establish
the fact that he was right, and that everybody else was wrong. But there
was evidently a conspiracy against him. There was no justice to be had;
so, consoling himself with the idea that he was a martyr to an iniquitous
system of jurisprudence, Walter paid, with the best grace he could, the
last shilling of the law charges which he had incurred in the game-cock
case, and which amounted altogether, to several hundred pounds.
On this being done—"What,"
said Walter, with a very long and a very grave face, to his better half,
"what’ll we do noo wi’ the cursed brute?"—meaning the cock, which was at
the moment strutting and crowing before the window as boldly and
confidently as if he had never cost his owner a sixpence.
"What’ll ye do wi’ him,"
replied Mrs. Greenlaw, sharply, "but thraw his neck, the confounded
"Feth, I believe ye’re
richt, gudwife," replied her husband, with a dismal smile.
The sentence of death thus
passed on the cock was forthwith put in execution; and, on the following
day, his mortal remains were served up at Walter’s table, along with a
tureen full of cocky-leekie.
"That’s guid-lookin cocky-leekie,
gudwife," said Mr. Greenlaw, as he stirred with his spoon a reaming plate
of the nutritious broth; "but nae better than it should be, considering
the cost o’t. Every spoonfu’ o’t cost me a pound note, if it cost a
"Weel, I hope it’s cured ye
o’ cock-fechtin, Walter."
"As lang’s I leeve,"
replied he. And he kept his word.