THE SMIDDY PARLIAMENT
PARLIAMENT was in session. It met in the smiddy, and the smith was the
Speaker. He differed from the other Speaker at Westminster in this, that he
really did most of the speaking. Rob Affleck of the Craig, was the only man
who disrupted the floor with him. But then to listen to Rob was generally
held to be as good as a play.
There were a dozen of men from the neighbouring farms who
had come in with their plough gear to get sorted, and a sprinkling of the
village folk who found no place so bright and heartsome in the long winter
nights as the smithy by the burnside. The very door was blocked up with boys
who dared not come any farther. At these Whaupneb Jock. the smith's
apprentice, occasionally threw a Ladleful of water from the cooling
cauldron, by way of keeping them in their place and asserting his own
The Whinnyliggate House of Commons was discussing matters
seriously. It had four subjects–ministers in the abstract, ministers, women,
and Mr. Gladstone. Women was the only one of these which they discussed
philosophically. But upon all topics the smith prevented any accidents from
over-emphatic tongues. As soon as he heard anything unparliamentary, he
protruded a fist, solid as a ham, an inch beneath the speaker's nose.
“Smell that," he said.
This was called in Whinnyliggate the cloture.
“It's as easy to choose a minister as it is to sup yer
porridge, man," said Rob Affleck of the Craig, with great assurance and some
As he spoke he hefted a coal from the smiddy hearth between
his finger and thumb and dropped it dexterously into the bowl of his pipe,
turning it with a rapid rotary movement as he did so. All the boys of the
vicinity watched him with admiration and awe. To be able to do this was to
be a great man. Each of them would rather have been able to lift a coal with
Rob's unconcern than get a good conduct prize at school. Which was only a
two-shilling book at any rate. But in the meantime it was worth while trying
for both distinctions. The master of the village school, Duncan Duncanson,
wondered why so many of his pupils had blisters on their thumbs and second
fingers when they came to write. One day he found out. It was Fred Mill whom
he caught practising lighting a pipe in Rob Affleck's way, After this
blisters were not confined to the finger and thumb of those caught with the
brand of Tubal Cain upon their hands.
"As easy as suppin' your porridge, man!" he repeated more
emphatically than before, though in reality no one had contradicted him.
"I dinna haud wi' ministers!" interjected the budding
freethinker of Whinnyliggate, Alexander White, generally known as "Ac
Clang—cling! Clang—cling! Clang—cling! went the sledge and
small hammer on the anvil 35 the smith and his assistant forged a coulter.
The foreman dropped the sledge and stood leaning on it.
The smith himself elaborated the red cooling metal with his
smaller hammer, turning it about briskly with his pincers.
“Ay, man, Ac White, an' what said ye?” he asked, as he
gave the dull red mass the final touches before thrusting it back again into
“I was sayin' –" began Ac the Agnostic.
But he was interrupted. The foreman at the other side had
extracted out of his fire another coulter, and in a moment the smith was
swinging the sledge and the journeyman in his turn moulding the iron with
the small hammer, turning it about deftly in his pincers as the blows fell.
Clang-cling! Clang-cling! Clang-cling!
“I was sayin' that I dinna haud wi' ministers ava',” said
The smith cast down the heavy coulter. It fell on Ac
White's toes. That is what is called a dispensation in the Whinnyliggate
smiddy, where the smith sometimes acted instead of Providence. Ac White's
language came in a burst.
“Smell that!" said the smith, turning sternly and suddenly.
Ac White smelt it, but apparently he did not think much of the perfume,
which was that of iron, grime, and newly-shod horse-hoofs-a scent
particularly wholesome and vIgorous.
His words were dammed back within him.
The smith was coaxing the fire into a whiter heat by taking
up little shovelfuls of small coal and letting them trickle upon the cracked
red volcano above the coulter he was heating. With his left hand upon the
polished handle of the bellows, he kept up a mild equable blowing with short
light strokes. Rob Affleck's pipe was now going fine. The smith looked over
at him, which was a signal that there was an interval in the hammering, long
enough for Rob to utilise by treating
further on his subject, which was ministers in the abstract –
"It’s easy aneuch gettin' a minister," repeated Rob, who,
like all Whinnyliggate talkers, had to make a fair fresh start "each time:
"but it's quite another thing to get half-a-dizen o’ guid elders_fair to
middlin', that is. Theyre easy aneuch to elect, but then your wark's no
dune. Ye hae to get them to accept, ye see! Noo, it's no juist every man
that likes to bind hissel' to come hame straught up on end in his gig every
Monday nicht, as all elder is expectit to do. Na, lads, it's a deal to ask
o' ony man, year in an' year oot"
“Was that what keepit you frae takin' the eldership last
year, Rob ~" said the smith, over the handle of the bellows.
"Na., smith, it wasna that. I'm a man, as ye micht say,
under authority_in ither words, I'm weel marriet. An' Kirsty disna encourage
Monday nicht ploys. It wad be tellin' you gin ye had sic a throughgaun wife,
an’ yin that was as handy wi' the tawtie-beetle1 as my wife."
"Is that what gars ye gang so regularly to the kirk, Rob?"
said Ac White, the professional scoffer.
Rob Affleck turned towards the bench where Ac sat.
Apparently he saw a toad upon it.
When he spoke it was after a moment of silent
contemplation, and in a voice weighty with unutterable sarcasm .
"I gang sat regularly to the kirk, my man Ac, juist for the
self-same reason that ye gang sae regularly to the Blue Bell– because I like
what I get there an' because I like the company. Gin I dinna gang to the
Blue Bell, I hae the grace 0' God to thank for that–an' my wife's wullin'
airm. I'm a man that has great mercies!" Rob concluded, with feeling.
“We a' hae muckle to be thankfu' for," said the smith, who
also had a wife at home with coercive methods of her own.
This was, indeed, clearly the general sense of the meeting.
"No but what I say," said Rob Affleck, "that a man may be a
verra respectable man, an' yel by -whiles hae a bit accident. Consider for a
meenit," he added, laying a finger on the palm of his other hand judicially;
"a man may hae been sellin' his sheep, an' we'll say it has been a wat day –
weel, it may hae been a positeeve needcessity for him to bide a kennin' late
aboot the Commercial.”
1 a heavy wooden mallet for bruising potatoes.
“What wad yer Cameronian minister say to that, Rob?” asked
the smith, who was a Free.
“Hoot, hoot, nane o' yer lowse Free Kirk doctrine, smith,"
said Rob Affleck; “what's the like o' that to any man's minister? Gin
there's nae hairm dune, that is! If a man can settle it wi' his ain
mistress, I uphaud that it’s nae minister's business, sae lang as he disna
mak' a practice o't – as the Quaker lass said when her lad kissed her."
“But ye maun admit, Rob,” said the smith, after an interval
of active hammering, “that there's a prejudice again drinkin' in an elder
amang ither denominations as weel as you Cameronians?"
“Dod. noo, smith, I'm no sae sure o' that!" said Rob
argumentatively. “Tak', for example, the pairish kirk o' Kirkmawhurr–gin ye
can caa' siclike a denomination" – (here spoke Rob the Cameronian). “Weel do
I mind when for twenty year there wasna an elder in a' Kirkmawhurr. First
Rabin Tamson flittit, an' syne Nether Patie gaed ower to the Seceder folk,
smith, joist because the Kirkmawhurr minister spoke to Nether Patie's
mistress aboot copyin' his wife's bonnets.
“Noo," continued Rob Meek, “what I'm gaun to tell ye is
neither' he said' nor' she said,' but what I, Rob Affleck, saw wi' my ain
e'en. The minister o' Kirkmawhurr was a man that was weel kenned to be fond
o' a bit glass–"
“ Like a' the rest o' them!" said Ac White, from the
scoffer's platform of superiority.
“Smell that! " shouted the smith, instantly reaching over
and taking Ac’s nose between his finger and thumb.
“ Be thankfu’, Ac,” he said, slowly waggling the
freethinker's head backwards and forwards between his fingers, as it were
testing the way that it was jointed on to the neck, with a view to
improvements in the mechanism, “be thankfu', my man,
that ye hae a nose ava', The next time ye say a word again
ministers in my smiddy," (here an emphatic shake) “ye'll no hae eneuch nose
to tak' haud o' wi' a pair o' pliers!”
The scorner's chair was decidedly an uncomfortable seat in
the smiddy of Whinnyliggate. But Rob Affleck had something also to say to Ac
White, when the smith had done fingering his nose. The scoffer tried an
unhappy laugh, as though these indignities were the merest jests to him.
“Ye needna nicher an' laugh, Alexander White – I saw you
camin' hame frae the Blue Bell on Saturday nicht. And what’s mair, I heard
what Jean said till ye when ye got hame. 0 man, ye were but the sma’ man
Clank-cling! Clank-cling! Cling-clang – went the smith and
his foreman, shutting down discussion with a riot of melodious din.
When the shower of sparks was abated, “Tell us about your
seein' a Session," said some one who had heard Rob's tale before, and had a
respect for it.
Rob Affleck performed his usual sleight-of-hand with the
live coal in a leisurely manner, to the admiration of the assembled boys,
who again realised what it was to be a great man. It was to put a coal in
your pipe like Rob Affleck. When he had it half-way up, he stopped to say a
word to the smith upon the price of wool, all the while twirling the red
coal between his finger and thumb. That pause nearly canonised him. Even the
juvenile Ac White of the party (aged ten) believed in miracles from that
time forth. There were more blisters than ever on their writing fingers when
Duncan Duncanson bade them “show hands" next morning. After the cause had
been made sufficiently clear, several of these experimental philosophers sat
down with difficulty and circumspection for about the space of a week.
“As I was sayin' ," began Rob, while the audience in the
smiddy settled itself to listen with unfeigned pleasure to the recital, “as
I was sayin', the minister o' Kirkmawhurr was considered to be fond o’ a
Here Rob paused, and the smith gazed with a stem severity
at Ac White, who rubbed his nose and was silent. The smith turned half
disappointedly away. He had hoped that Ac might be moved to say something:
more. It was indeed a Christian duty, besides bring a pleasure, to pull Ac
While's nose in the interests of the faith .
"Noo," continued Rob," it was but yae gless, an' it never
did him ony hairm that I ever heard of, but as I said, he had no elders in
his ain pairish. He had to borrow a couple, or maybes three, frae the
pairish o' the Dullarg, an', ye see, the puir man didna aye get first
”Noo, the burrowed elders stoppit at the Manse o' Kirk-mawhurr
frae the Saturday till the Monday, an', as they had their wull o' meal-ark
an' decanter, Maister Fergus had sma' difficulty, in borrowin' elders within
his ain denomination."
Ac White gave a kind of grunt, but the smilh turned on him
an eye so glad and terrible, and his fingers twitched so obviously with
desire, that Ac changed the grunt instantly into a cough.
“It was aye understood that the borrowed elders were to
gang ham" on the Monday on that ain feet, gin they could, an' on Tuesday in
a cairt – when they war, as it micht be, incapacitated for foot-traveL"
"Tell us nae lees!" said the smitb, casually, hammering the
coulter on the point of the anvil as if he had an ill-will at it.
"It's fae' as daith, I'm tellin' ye," asserted Rob; "I mind
it weel. I was but a lump o' a callant in thae days–the size o' three
scrubbers, as ye micht say. Weel, yae day (it was a Tuesday, I mind, because
we kimed that day an' I had to help in the dairy), my faither cam' up the
loanin' and he lookit that queer, I thocht it was the Sabbath when I saw his
" 'Saw ye ever the Session o' a pairish?' says he, as if he
had trampit on a taed.
“Na, faither, I never saw a Session’ says I, fell keen to
sae yin-me thinkin' that it was some kind o' menagerie.
"’Come doon to the loanin' fit. then, Rob, my lad, an' l”ll
show ye a Session,' says he.
“He took me by the hand, an' we gaed oor ways doon the
loanin' an, lookit ower a dyke. I wad brawly hae likit to hae asked him some
quastions, but by the way the comers o' his mooth was workin', I judged I
had better no.
" When we first lookit ower the dyke, therte was nocht to
be seen but a red cart gaun by middlin' slow. 'Castor-oil Geordi,' the
miler's boy was drivin' it, wi' his fleet hingin' over the edge, and
whustlin' as weel as he could for a strae atween his teeth. In the corner o'
the cairt there was twa or three men Iyin' tangled up in a knot, legs an'
airms a' through-ither. It "'as the Dullarg borrowed Session gaun hame on
the Tuesday frae the Kirkmawhurr sacrement.
“My faither pointit wi' his fingter. 'Noo, mind, Rob,' he
Soars., verra slow, It hae seen a pairish-kirk session!'"
"Was that what made ye a Cameronian, Rob?" said the smith,
anxious in his interest for the common good to keep Rob Affleck going. For
to hear him in good fettle was better than a Fast Day preaching,
"Na," said Rob cautiously, "I'll tell ye what made me a
Cameronian, when thae bairns hae been cried hame to their beds. "
The smith turned to the dark semicircle of Peris at the
gates of Paradise, each glowering in with all his might and all desiring to
hear every word,
"Gae hame wi' ye," he said, "yer mithers are wantin' you.
They'll pay ye weel for bidin' sae late frae hame."
Not a boy moved: there was no power in a mere threat. The
smith drew out of the forge a bar of iron hissing hot, vicious white sparks
spitting off it. This he waved in the direction of the door, and the white
shower pelting like shooting stars, beat back the circle of boys for a
moment; but they soon closed in again, however, as thick as before, like
wolves around a camp-fire.
"But what's this about the election for precentor, Rob?"
said the smith, to keep the saga-man going, The smith claimed the right to
ask leading questions, and any man who usurped his privilege generally got a
spark in his eye that
kept him rubbing: (or some time-even if, like Ac White, he
did not get a heavy coulter flung on his toes, accidentally,
"Weel, as I was saying," said Rob Affleck, "to find a
minister is as easy as to sup your porridge. To get an elder is as easy as
to find a second wife. But to choose a precentor is the verra de'il an' a'!
It's as camsteery a job as to set seven dochters a' weel married,"
"Gae' 'way, man," said the smith, "I could choose a
precentor that's a guid singer in five meenites.”
"That's the verra point, smith," returned Rob Affleck
triumphantly. "There's no man or woman in the congregation – though deaf,
and dumb, halt, maimed and blind – that disna either think that they could
lead the singin themselves, or that they hae a sister's son's cousin twice
removed, that wad be the verra man for the poseetion. There was Daft Dawvid
Todd o' the Shirmers, him that had been deaf frae his cradle, an' he
actually proposed his brither-in-law, though the craitur could do naething
but skraich, . 'Deed, he learned a' the singin' that he kens, herdin' the
Shirmers craws aff the com."
"Is't true," said the smith significantly, "that you
Cameronian folk hae split the kirk ower your new precentor?"
"Wed, no exactly that," said Rob, hesitating. It was not
easy for him in a mixed company to speak concerning the inner secrets of his
"Ye see, it's this way. There's mair nor yin has left the
Kirk for a Sabbath or twa, I'm no denyin'; but they're a' soond Cameronians,
an' after the dirdum's by, they’ll come back, no a hair the waur."
" I dinna ken aboot that," said the smith, shaking his
head; I saw Maister Duguid o' the Established Kirk gang intil Jamie
MacVane's this foreday."
“James MaeVane was all weel grounded by his faither in the
faith, as I was by mine, There's nae fear o' James – na, Maisler Duguid may
scart his fit."
Thus confidently, Rob Affleck.
"What faut hae ye till the new man, Rob?" said the smith.
"I hear that he's a graund reader o' the music, an' that he writes the words
o' the tune in the air afore him as he gangs alang."
There was a general expression of wonderment and admiration
at this from the corners of the smiddy where the young fellows sat,
attentive and silent in the face of the privileged wisdom of their seniors.
The smith was pleased.
He took it as a compliment to his powers of description.
"Noo, smith," continued Rob, "that's juist whaur the faut
comes in. It was for that verra reason that Betty Carmichael, the grieve's
wife at Staneybyres, a member o' forty years' guid standin', thocht him
haith gesturin' and feckless. She says – an' faith there's some sense in't –
that he canna haith hae his mind on the words o’ King Dawvid, an' on his
whigmaleeries an' ingrydoories,1
"Then there's the guid man o' Carsewall says that he's no
gaun back to the kirk ony mair, because the new precentor hasna sung'
Coleshill' for a maitter o' three Sabbaths an' mair. An' even for myself, I
canna say that I like the way he has wi' the names o' the psalm tunes. It
was bonny to watch oor auld yin shiftin' them like playin' cairds frae hand
to hand when the minister was geein' oot the psalm, an' then juist afore he
raise to sing, stickin' the right yin in the wee dip afore him, an' turnin'
it aboot so that a' fowk could see him, It showed maist amazin' presence o'
mind. A man what could do that was fit to he a precentor in a Cameronian
"An' what else does the new precentor do?" asked the smith,
though he knew very well.
"He has the names o' the tunes a' strung up on a board at
the side o' the pulpIt, for a' the world like saut herrin' that has been
steepit an' hung up to dreep."
"But, Rob." said the smith, pausing argumentatively to lean
on his forehammer, "is't no unco weak-like to mak' a' this disturbance aboot
a precentor? You Hill Folk are awfu' clannish, but for a' that ye fecht
amang yin anither like a wheen herds' tykes."
1 Rings and pictures which children make in the dark with the
red end of a burnt stick.
"Ah, smith," said Rob Affleck compassionately, "it's easy
seen that ye’re nocht but a Free, or ye wadna haiver like that. You Frees
wadna care gin yer psalms were turned on by water poo'er on a puggy's whurly
organ,1 sae lang as the bell on yer steeple gaed 'Ratan,
C’lection C’lection!"' But us o' the Cameronian persuasion, we' think sae
muckle o' oor speeritual Zion that we are aye walkin' roond aboot her,
tellin' the too'ers o' her, that she may be perfect, throughly furnished to
every good work-aye, even to the verra precentor! "
Rob lifted his hat as he spoke with a Covenanter's
instinctive reverence for his own scanty communion – a hard-featured and
lonely, but not untender mother.
Gradually the congregation outside the smiddy door had been
growing smaller. One after another the boys remembered that if they went
home now their porridge would be ready for them, but that if they delayed
they would find something quite different awaiting them. So they quietly
withdrew themselves. finally only Michael Tweedie was left, who stayed on
till his mother came after him, bearing in her hand an old slipper, of which
only the heel was serviceable. Michael retired hurriedly from the smiddy
door, amid the tumult of his mother's reproofs, the slipper heel tap-tapping
on the more solid portions of his person much like the smith's smaller
hammer on the, anvil.
"Noo, Rob, tell us aboot hoo ye became a Cameronian.” Rob
looked out of the smiddy door. There was not a boy to be seen outside. All
within were breeched into manhood.
"It was a maitter o' a lass."
"I was jaloosin' [suspecting] sae!" said the smith. In this
parish, lasses often decided church connection. But though all present were
fond of talking about the lasses, they did not do it when either the too
elderly or the over-youthful elements of society were present.
1 An organ-grinder’s instrument with a monkey.
“Aye, it was a lass," Said Rob Affleck.
He spoke thoughtfully, and all the company respected his
musing mood .
" I took a notion o' a bit lass that gaed up to the U.P.'s.
Dod, but she was a snod bit daisy – for a U.P.," added Rob guardedly. "We'll
say that her name was Katie Semple."
“No yin o' the Semples o' Milnthird?" asked the smith.
"Na, no yin o’ them," replied Rob drily. "I dinna think ony
o' ye kens the Semples that I'm speakin' aboot the noo. Weel, Katie was a
bonny lass – feat an' trig as a denty white birk by the water-side."
The young men nodded at one another all round the smiddy in
approbation of the excellence of the companion.
"I trysted wi' her ae fair-day an' spent my last shillin'
buyin' her a fairin'. I saw her hame an' when I came hame to the Craig the
door was lockit, so I sleepit in the barn a' that nicht, or raither what was
Again the circle looked intelligent. Their experience
squared with Rob's on this point. He was an enticing speaker, Rob Affleck.
He awakened memories and quickened anticipations.
"Sae I trysted to meet her at the kirk on the Sabbath – her
being as she was– a U.P."
Rob's hearers quite appreciated the extent of the sacrifice
he thus made of his principles to the tender passion. A treatise could not
better have expressed the depth of the impression made that fatal fair-night
upon his heart.
"Sae on the Sabbath morning I gat oot a' my best ties, an'
it was maybe half-an-'oor afore I could mak' up my mind whatna yin to pit
on. But at the hinder end, I took a plain scarlet yin wi’ green spots that
had been considered by some raither effective–ye mind o't, smith?"
The smith nodded.
"That was a tie!" he said impressively. Evidently he had in
his mind a great many ties of which as much could not be said.
"We're a'saft in spots," said Rob Affleck, "an' my soft
spots a nice bit lass–I dinna mind tellin' ye."
There was a movement of sympathy throughout the smiddy.
“Ye are far frae singular in that, my man, in this pairish!"
said the smith, as one who speaks of what he does know.
"I had gotten me ready for the kirk an' I was daunerin' awa'
quaitly, so as no to be obtrusive in my devotions, as ye micht say. At the
waterin'-stane wha micht I meet but my faither. He had a look o' meditation
on his face, an’ a braw big whup in his hand.
"’Ye are gaun to the kirk?’ says my faither, as pleased
like as if new-kimed butter wadna melt in his mooth.
'"Aye,’ says I, 'I was a-thinkin' o' gaun ower to the
U.P.'s the day!’
'" Ye'll gang farther than that!' says he.
"’Weel, faither,' says I, '’I’ll maybe gang as far as the
Frees at the Cross Roads '–me thinkin' that the Frees, feckless bodies, were
aye sune oot, an' that I could see the lass weel eneuch on my road back.
"’Na, na, Rob,' says my faither, 'ye’lI gang a deal farther
"Then I flew up on a passion. For I used to be a passionate
man afore I fell under grace."
"Just like me," said the smith, looking round hopefully to
see if Ac White felt inclined to dispute it. But Ac's place was empty.
“’I'll no gang a step farther for you or ony man, though
ye be my faither,' says I. 'I'd hae ye ken that I'm no a wean to be
"Wi' that my faither's whup crackil round my legs an'
garred me jump, like a wasp settlin' tail foremost on the back o' yer
neck–as yin might say.
“’ Ye hae maist uncommon ticht breeks on, Rob, my man,'
said my faither, ‘an' this is a guid stark bit whup, though it has been
yince or tw ice mendit. An' this mornin' ye are gaun doon to Maister
Gilchrist at Cairn Edward to hear !he fundamentals soondly laid doon, as
behoves the son o' a Cameronian. We are frail creatures, but I maun see that
ye get the gospel o' grace properly" preached as lang as it's in my poo'er,'
says he. 'Man's life is but in his lip!' says he."
Here there was a lung pause in the smiddy. Even the stolid
journeyman did not blow upon his bellows.
"An' that's the way I became a Cameronian!" said Rob, with
a very significant hiatus in his argument .
"And the lass?" queried one from the back parts of the
Bob Affleck was silent for a long moment.
"The lass gaed awa' to America," he said, "and I heard nae
mair o' her!
“But," he added with a sigh, rising to take his leave,
"whiles I think on her yet."
"I'se warrant you do that," said the smith, who had a
poet's heart deep down under that rough husk of his; "mony a nicht ye will
be thinkin' on her, when your ain guidwife lies soond by you."