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Raiderland, All about Grey Galloway
Chapter 12


 

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 superiority .

  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 contempt.

  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 White."

  Clang—cling! Clang—cling! Clang—cling!  went the sledge and small hammer on the anvil 35 the smith and his assistant forged a coulter.

  Clang-cling! Clank-a-clink-cling-cling-cling!

  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 the fire.

  “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 Ac White.

  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 – also elders.

  "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 that nicht."

  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 glass himself."

  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 quality.

  ”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 face.

  " '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 creed.

  "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 Kirk,"

  "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 left o't."

  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 than that!'

  "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 dictatit to.'

  "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 smiddy.

  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."


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