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Reminiscences of Old Scots Folk
The Village Parliament


"If there's a hole in a' your coats I rede you tent it:
A chield's amang you taking notes,
And faith, he'll prent it."

THE FAIRSHIELS PARLIAMENT MEETS at a stile, and there are only three members—Andrew Brockie the road-mender, Tamson the smith, and Weary Willie the publican.

These three men stood every evening for an hour together at a point on the main road which commanded a view of all the roads in Fairshiels. Anyone standing at the stile beneath a spreading beech tree can see a stranger entering the village from any quarter of the compass—from East Lothian, from the moor, from the city, and from the south over Soutra. Tamson the smith, being a widower, stood the whole evening, and on Sundays the whole day, only going home for meals; Andrew Brockie, the road-mender, who had the best of wives at home, joined him for an hour because, as he expressed it, he had "muckle sympathy wi' Jock in his weedowhood"; and Weary Willie the publican, who had been born tired, was glad to take an airing after his hard day's work.

It happened, at this time, that a lonely house on Fairshiels Moor called Solvendy Lodge had found a tenant. The house had stood empty for so long, and the villagers had been so often befooled with rumours of a new lease-holder, that this time they only smiled. When, however, first a mason, then a plumber, and finally a paper-hanger came out from town under orders from the factor, the new tenant of Solvendy became a possibility and no mere myth.

Then indeed the three members of parliament began to keep late hours.

"I hear the new tenant's going to keep a pair o' horse," said the smith, casting his eye over the sky.

He was the weather prophet in Fairshiels and the premier gossip. As a matter of fact, he had heard nothing whatever. That troubled him. So it became all the more necessary for him to state dogmatically that he had heard something. This is Fairshiels logic. For to know nothing is to be disqualified.

But Andrew Brockie the road-mender knew without looking at him that the smith's eye was really on a possible order for horseshoes even while it was scanning the evening sky.

"Then,"said the road-mender, following his leader, "if that's the case, he'll be having the Solvendy road redd up."

And he in turn began calculating to a rakeful the metal that would be required to repair the two miles of road between Fairshiels and Solvendy. And as he worked out the mathematics of the business, Andrew Brockie tilted his cap over his eye and scratched the back of his head.

"For my ain pairt," observed Weary Willie the publican, "I'm no' minding very much so lang's he's no' a beegoted teetotaller. I canna stand folk that's a-bune takin' a dram."

"That's nae doot the reason why ye aye like to sit them doon to their drams when they come to you," said the road-mender," for there's aye mair made oot o' folk that sit and drink than oot o' folk that stand and drink." "I'll no' argue the pint wi' ye, Andrew, seeing yeare sic a fractious body, but Jock here is no' abune takin' a dram."

"I can tak' it and I can leave it," replied the smith, with his eye suddenly fixed on the road before him, as if he had just noticed something, "but I dinna sell drink. I'm thinking there's a difference there, Andrew. Eh?"

"Ay—there's a great difference. You and me's no' Weary Willie. That's the difference. And, Tamson— when it comes to the bit, I'm no' you neither in the matter o' taking drink."

"Hoots, man, Andrew—you, a breaker o' stanes on the roadside! My certy, ye hae surely come as far doon as a man can come in this worl'," nipped out the nettled publican.

"No, Willie lad. Ye're wrang. I micht tak' to sellin' drams yet. And as for breakin' stanes on the roadside, I wad rather mak' an honest bawbee breakin' stanes than hunners o' pounds breakin' my neebours. There's a difference."

The publican, who was a small man with no power of repartee, cast about in his mind for some excuse to change the subject, but finding none, he took out his pipe and lit it.

"But, aboot the new tenant, Jock," continued the road-mender.

"Ay—what aboot him? It's no' easy sayin'. But I'll gang this length—he's no' here yet. He couldna be here and me no' ken."

"That's true," said the road-mender, turning round and winking solemnly at the invisible. It was his way.

"No' very likely," echoed the publican, whose ambition it was to be able to understand things like the smith, and say things like the road-mender. "But here comes the minister."

All three turned and looked at the minister coming round the corner of the moor road.

"Good evening, sir," said Weary Willie glibly.

"Good evening, men."

"Hae ye heard tell aught o' the new tenant o' Solvendy, sir? We would like to be prepared, as it were, fornent his arrival. Andrew here maintains that he is no' like to come for a whilie, seein' there's been nae word o' mendin' the green road. Jock says he's a gentleman o' means wi' a great wheen o' horses."

The publican laughed at his own humour, which was invariably second-hand.

"And what say you yourself, Willie?" inquired the minister, looking at him with a pair of solemn, innocent eyes.

"He says, minister," interrupted the road-mender, "that it's a' ane to him so lang as the new tenant kens hoo to empty bottles—the wish o' Weary Willie being faither to his muckle thochts, his unco wise words, and the very siller in his till."

"Me!"

"Ay—you."

And the minister noticed, with a perfectly stolid face, the withering contempt that shot from the road-mender's eye as he glanced sideways at the publican.

"Well, men, what I say is that you are, after all, poor hands at putting two and two together. For the tenant of Solvendy arrived last night. I've just been there. Good evening all."

The minister had the dramatic soul in him, and knew when to speak and when to keep silent. So he passed on, leaving them confounded beyond all speech.

"God bless my soul!" gasped the publican at last.

"It bates a'," said Andrew Brockie, looking after his minister, who, he knew, was laughing at them in his heart.

"I thocht that a' the time," exclaimed the smith, slapping his leg with his hand.

"Thocht what a' the time?"

"That the new man had come."

"Explain yersel'."

"I hae thocht it this last half-hour, because o' thae braid wheel-marks on the road there. See! Thae's no' ordinar' wheel marks. Thae's the braid wheel tracks o' a furniture van. My grief! did I no' hear an awfu' rumblin' o' heavy wheels at twae or three o'clock this mornin'? I was clean aff my sleep wi' thinkin' o' Solvendy. Gosh ! To think o' what we hae missed, when we were a' lyin' in our beds like eediots! But I canna thole to think o't. I'm aff for my supper."

The smith was evidently cut to the quick at the loss of his reputation.

"Frien's," cried the road-mender, taking his hands slowly from his pockets, "the Solvendy road'll no' be dune under a hunner and fifty rake o' rough and twenty-five rake o' sma'. But it's time we were a' hame. This is awfu' sudden news. But news is aye sudden when it comes frae ither folk."

So the three veterans went home, each with a burning appetite for news—not for supper. They tried to blind each other with a reference to the evening meal. But they soon found each other out. For an hour after sundown, three men stumbled across one another in the dark on the road opposite Solvendy Lodge. Each had taken a different road, leaving a supper untouched at home. Each had now discovered the others trying to avoid detection on the moorland road. But in vain.

"Can that be you, Andrew?"

"I'll no' deny but it micht be me, Jock."

"Then whaur's Weary Willie?"

"He's hunkering ower there at the dyke. He thinks we dinna see him."

"I'm no'. I'm juist tying my shoe lace."

"Oh, man! Ye haena brains eneuch to tell lees. Come oot o' that."

And the three men were glad for once that it was dark.

"Weel, Tamson—what news? I saw ye striking a match when I was ower there."

"Ye did? Weel, the road's a' wet here. There hae been twae furniture wagons wi' a pair o' horse the piece —besides a dog cairt wi' a cob. But I'll hear mair afore lang, for the shoe on the cob's near forefit is lowse. Hae ye onything to add, Andrew?"

The smith was proud of his detective work, but the road-mender took no notice.

"Let Willie speak first," he only said.

"Oh, me! I hae nae great hopes o' the new tenant, for I found this at the back door. They hae evidently brocht their ain supplies wi' them, the scoondrels— and nae great thing at that."

Here the publican held up a lemonade bottle.

"Noo, Andrew."

"Hoots, ye hae baith been takin' up your attention wi' mere trifles. I'll tell ye something if ye'll only haud your tongues."

And the road-mender held up a luggage label!

"What's that? Did ye read it?" whispered the smith hoarsely.

"Ay did I."

"In the dark, man?"

"No. I'm gey clever in my ain wey, but I'm no' that clever. I struck a licht like yersel'—and yet, no' juist like yersel' either."

"Hoo could that be? I never saw your licht, and I hae been here for half an 'oor!"

"I daursay no', for I sat doon wi' my back to the Lodge, and did it atween my legs."

"Megsty me! You for a heepocrite!" exclaimed the publican.

"But oot wi' your news, man! What's on the paper?" said the smith, with a sinking heart.

The road-mender waved his hand in a deprecating manner against the summer afterglow.

"The new tenant's name is Mr. John Cunninghame —he comes frae London—and he spells Fairshiels wi' a D. Frien's, I'm for hame."


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