It wis late yae
winter's nicht when oor beadle Patie Blaurt cam wallochin an whazzling in at my
gate an' drapping exhausted intae a chair, he says, "Oh, I canna keep it frae ye
ony longer I hae wrestled wi' a gulity conscience for weeks noo, and the thocht
o't's fair killing me. So cam oot wi' me an ye'll hear the terrible scandal. The
meenister - aye, I'll say it supposin it should choke me – the meenister has got
a fiddle. He has got a fiddle, an' he plays on it till the latest hoors o' the
nicht. Noo I only hope ye'll be merciful wi' him for he has been like an auld
freen to me. Noo, them's his breeks ah've on, an' they fit me better than the
last minister's did."
Ah, but this was news indeed. A special meeting o' the kirk session was at once
convened and fower o' us wis appointed tae visit the offender, the Reverend Mr
Slytext and demand from him an explanation o' his heathenish conduct and wis
telt tae report progress at a meeting held on the Monday nicht following. Ah
weel, the next nicht we merched in solemn procession towards the manse, an never
yince spoke until we wis nearby the gate.
"Ah but here," says I, "Hae ye been thinkin aboot whit we're gaun tae say, an'
who's gaun tae say it?" "That's weel-minded," says Elder Howison, "We'll need
tae mak' some arrangement aboot the speakin'. We canna a' speak at yince, an' we
mauna staund roond like a lot o' dumb stirks as if we dinna ken what we've come
aboot." Weel it wis resolved that Elder Tamson would act as spokesman to the
deputation, and that Elder Howison should act as a sort of flank support to him.
Now we hadna gone faur when auld Elder Tamson stops an says, "I'm maist shair
tae brak doon an' mak a fuil o'mysel. I never wis used tae yer nice, gabbit
mealie-moothed way o'speakin, an' I'm thinkin' that plain, broad Scots wad
hardly dae in this case. An' anither thing is, should I address him as Sir, or,
or Yer Reverance, or jist as plain Mr Slytext think ye?" The difficulty wis
deftly solved by Deacon Splint's suggestion, "No' tae ca' him onything, but jist
fur tae state the object of the deputation in as few words as possible."
Noo, although we had nae idea, the minister kent we were comin' tae the manse,
an' whit aboot, an' he wis weel prepared tae meet us. In fact we hadna got ower
the initial perplexity as tae whether we should staund with oor hats in oor
haunds or hing them on the lobby flair, when he banged intae the room an' he
says in his speacial "sale of work" manner, "Ah, this is friendly indeed! I had
almost despaired of any of you ever coming to see us! My good lady, however, has
continued to say that you would give is a pleasant surprise some evening, and I
am glad to see that she has proved so true a prophet in the matter. Yes."He'll
no' be sae pleased in five minutes, for Elder Tamson wis shapin' his mooth ready
tae stert on the minister. But the tongue o' the minister gaed yitter yatterin'
on, and I'll be hanged if ye could get a word in edgeways. By and by the
minister's wife an' her guid sister cam ben, an' the crack gaed on frae this tae
that, till at last the minister says, "We will proceed to the dining room and
partake of a little supper. "Well, we were a' a bit dumbfoonert, an' jist
wandert in ahint the minister like a wheen o' young deuks at the tail o' a
cluckin' hen. Yon wis a supper! There wis some things on thon table I'd never
tasted in my life before, an' some I hope I'll never taste again. An' then there
wis a hearty bowl o' toddy made. "It is a cold night," said the minister, "and
we would be the better of something to keep the genial current warm." Ah weel,
we warmt it! We wad hae aboot twa glesses o'toddy apiece, or maybe seeven - I'll
no' argue the point - when the minister proposed we should hae some music. It
wis Martyrdom we led aff wi', an' we sand like a wheen o' linties on a boannie
Sabbath moarnin'. During the lang singin' the minister slippit quietly oot the
room, an' a meenit later we suddenly became conscious that a new and richer
voice wis jining the sang, an' lookin' roond we sees the minister sitting ahint
the curtains playin' on whit he telt me wis a "violent sello," but whit appeared
tae me tae be a full-grown fiddle's great-great-grandfaither. Then he played
some psalm tunes on't, in a manner that raised the devotional speerit high in
the breast o' every yin o' us. Syne he wandered on among some o' the mair
plaintive o' oor auld Scots sangs the which he played wi' sic tender pathos that
mair than yin haund raised an’ dichted awa' the fallen tear.
An' the croonin' triumph o' the nicht wis reached when to the stirrin' strains
o' a merry strathspey the twa auld Elders simultaneously jumpit tae their feet
an' the yin grippin' the minister's wife, the tither grippit the sister, then
makin their thooms an' hoochin' like a pair o'kilted gillies ower the tap o' a
wasp bike, broke intae a fowersome reel in the middle o' the dining room flair.
We'd be aboot hauf way hame that nicht when Elder Howison stopped suddenly in
the middle o' the road an' says, "Are we no' a paircel o'born idiots? Sent in a
deputation to reprove the minister for fiddle-playin', an' hang the hale lot o'
us if we hadna bin fiddlin' an' fuddlin' the hale nicht! Whit...whit sort o'
report are we tae gi' the meeetin' on Monday nicht?" "The thing's a'richt," says
Deacon Splint, wha by the way had taken the minister's hat instead o' his ain,
an' wis keekin' oot frae below the brim like a wee moose oot a rabbit's hole,
"The thing's a'richt. I'm satisfied, an' I'm sure that th'ither members o' the
deputation...where are they? Whaur are ye Tamson? I see you. Cam oot o' the
ditch. Ye're whit? Ye're no' in yer bed at a'. Cam oot o' that! I'm satisfied,
an' I'm sure that th'ither members are thoroughly satisfied an entirely wrong
impression his gane abroad against a decent man. The beadle is a haverin' ,
claverin', cat-witted auld fuil! Yon's no' a wee skirlin' cock-a-bendy
tuppeny-ha'penny sinfu' fiddle. No, yon's a big gossy, soncy...my...yon's a
beadle \A Presbyterian church caretaker, also called a church officer
cat-wittit \hare-brained, unbalanced
claverin \to talk foolishly or gossip
crack \talk or conversation
deacon \A Presbyterian who is ordained to manage temporal affairs of a
deputation \an individual or group assigned to undertake a task
dumb stirks \dumb oxen
elder \A Presbyterian ordained as a Ruling Elder to take part in church
government and church courts but not to teach which is the responsibility of the
Teaching Elder or minister.
gossy \familiar form of address... friend
guid sister \respectable sister
haverin \to talk nonsense
linties \sprightly or merry girls
makin their thooms \snapping their fingers (and thumbs)
mealie-mouthed \devious or not straightforward
paircel \a small company or a collection of people
soncy \fine, handsome, impressive
syne \thereupon or next
wasp bike \ a swarm of wasps
wallachin \staggering or stumbling
wheen \a small group
to the Minister was written by someone called Ford. It was later performed on
the stage and recorded in the 1920’s and 1930’s by William (Willy) McCulloch.
The recording was by Columbia Records. I am grateful to Nigel Gatherer of Crief,
Scotland for transcribing for me this piece from the record in his collection.
The glossary is my work to help readers with words that may not be familiar even
to current speakers of Modern Scots. – Robin Hallam, Duncan, British Columbia.