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Scotch Stories and Lectures, Humorous and Amusing
Story — The Stair-Head Battle


It is wonderful the fuss that men make about their battles, their glorious victories, their immortal heroes, and what not; and it is not only their battles that are famous,—there is a great fracas made about their descriptions of battles, from old Homer all the way down to the last warlike correspondent of the Times, Every ready writer that has favoured the world with the description of a battle has got an undisputed niche in the temple of fame. To this I have no objection; I merely allude to the fact, as a simple hint that I would like an odd corner in the same edifice for my loquacious acquaintance, Mrs. Monro; for I.am sure her descriptions of the battles that it has been her privilege to see are just as true to nature as those of any of the famous authors of either ancient or modern times. And then she has this certain characteristic of genius: she pours forth her immortal words perfectly unconscious that she is saying anything remarkable. I met her the other forenoon as I was going down the front street for a pennyworth of vegetables. I knew by her face that she had something of importance to communicate. Ere I could get a word out, she said, “Woman, I have news to tell you!”

I said, “If it is good, we cannot hear it too soon.”

“I don’t know,” quoth she, “whether to call it good or ill; but what do you think, when Mrs. Meiklejohn, Mrs. Carmichael, and Mrs. M‘Farlane, have had a regular pitched battle on the Stair-head no farther gone than yesterday?”

“That is news,” quoth I. “It is news,” quoth she, “that I have been looking for this some time. Oh, woman, yon friendship could not last; they were perfectly ‘scunnersome’— a complete nuisance to the whole tenement—Carmichael in the one end, Meiklejohn in the other, and M‘Farlane in the mid-room. Well, from morning till night their doors stood to the wall, and they went ‘but* and they went ‘ben,* and they cried ‘but* and they cried ‘ben,’ and there could not a creature come up the stair but they were all to their doors gaping and staring at them; and M‘Farlane, who has no children of her own, she was the humble servant of the other two; for she had always some of their ‘brats* in her arms. But I never saw much good come of such over-intimacy, nor did I ever see it last long. So I was wondering when it would come to a head; but I never thought it would come so very simply about. It seems the two Johnnies, Johnnie Carmichael and Johnnie Meiklejohn, had been playing on the stair, and they had found a ball, and the one would have the ball, and the other would have the ball, and none of them would give it up, so they took to fighting; and the boys are about one age, you know, and were making a rather tough tussle. But Johnnie Meiklejohn being rather bigger at his age, he was like to get the best of it, when out came Mrs. Carmichael, and gave him a slap on the side of the head. But oh, woman, she had better held her hands, for Mrs. Meiklejohn saw her, and she never said a single word, but came out and knocked Johnnie Carmichael’s head to the wall, and the row began in earnest. Mrs. Carmichael said ‘She wondered Mrs. Meiklejohn could encourage the big lump to strike the child.*

“‘The child!* quoth Mrs. Meiklejohn, ‘I am thinking he is as old as him; and if he were putting his meat in as good a skin he might be as big; but,’ quoth she, ‘he is come of a diminutive race anyway.*

“‘A diminutive race!* quoth Mrs. Carmichael.

"‘Ay, a diminutive race" quoth Mrs. Meiklejohn; ‘for what is his father, I am sure, but a poor, shambling, insignificant, diminutive body?’

‘“Better be little/ quoth Mrs. Carmichael, ‘and all there, than big, and want any of his faculties; thank goodness, he is not deaf.’

“ This was an awful blow to Mrs. Meiklejohn; for it seems Mr. Meiklejohn is very dull of hearing, and it is kept a great secret. It is hard to say-how far they might have gone, but Mrs. M‘Farlane came out and said, ‘I wonder to see you two stupid women fighting about children’s disputes. I really thought you had more sense. The children will be going with their arms round one another’s necks when you will be keeping up the spite; but if ye were doing as ye should do, and keeping them in the house, as ye should do, there would be fewer disturbances.’

“‘You have a deal of impudence,’ quoth Mrs. Meiklejohn. “‘I see very little business that you have to interfere,’ quoth Mrs. Carmichael; ‘ but I am thinking it is very easy keeping all yours in the house.’

“‘Yes,’ quoth Mrs. Meiklejohn, ‘there are not many disturbed with them, poor things!’

“Now, you know, Mrs. M‘Farlane is a woman that has nothing to say in a row; so she just turned on her heel, and went in and shut the door, and the other two did the same.

“But this was not the last of it; for it seems Mrs. Carmichael had the loan of a pot from Mrs. Meiklejohn; so her door was no sooner closed than she banged it open, and then banged open Mrs. Meiklejohn’s door; pitching in the pot, she cried, ‘There’s your pot;’ and in her hurry she cracked it.

“But it seems Mrs. Meiklejohn was to be upsides with her; for she had the loan of a pair of fire-screens from Mrs. Carmichael; so she was rattling the fire-screens across the stair-head, with the intention of pitching them in as the pot had lben pitched, when one of the legs of the fire-screens caught the aide of the door, and came away. So this in a manner balanced the thing: the broken fire-screens did for the cracked pot.

"So the doors were once more shut, and yon would have thought it was past; and so it was, until the three husbands, Mr. Carmichael, Mr. Meiklejohn, and Mr. M'Farlane, coming home from their work, halted a little on the stairhead, to settle some theological difficulty which they had under discussion. The knotty point was just about mastered, when Mrs. Meiklejohn put her head out at the door, and cried passionately—‘John Meiklejohn, come in to your porridge, and don*t stand talking nonsense there; I am sure you are not very nice with your company.'

The three men were turning round with a look of amazement, when Mrs. Carmichael commanded their attention, saying in a calm distinctness, ‘Yes, Mr. Carmichael, come into your tea, and let John Meiklejohn into his porridge—porridge, porridge, everlasting porridge; no wonder the poor man is deaf; liis naturally thick head cannot but be stuffed with jjorridge.

“Mrs. Meiklejolins reply was (and she, too, now took plenty of time to make every word tell), ‘Yes, John Meiklejohn, come into your porridge, and let Mr. Carmichael into his tea; the poor man is new-fangled about his tea; he is the first one of the seed, breed, or generation that ever tasted tea: his old father, Daniel, that carried home the poor-house coffins, did not get much tea.’

“Mrs. Carmichael was replying with some allusion to some of the Meiklejohn ancestry that had been eminent in the scavenger line, when both the husbands demanded to know what all this outrageous nonsense was about. Each antagonist at once charged the other with the murderous abuse of her Johnnie; and both the husbands seeming to fail in a speedy comprehension of the row, Mr. M‘Farlane, who has a very jeering tongue, said, ‘Pshaw! it is just two old cats fighting about their kittens.’

“This brought the row to a climax; for the antagonists at once lost sight of their own dispute in their mutual indignation at M‘Farlane’s audacity in using such terms to them and their offspring. What they called him it would not be decent for me to repeat. You may guess that the circumstance of his not being troubled with any ‘kittens’ at all, was a fact exhibited in a variety of lights. I am sure Mr. M‘Farlane wishes by this time that he had kept a bridle on his tongue, for he may live to be a very old man and not hear the last of the ‘cats and their kittens.’ At any rate, the gracious neighbours’ doors are shut, and I think we shall get peace to go up and down the stair for some time to come, without so many prying eyes upon us.”

Such was Mrs. Monro’s story, word for word, as she gave it to me; so I will leave it to you to say if the decent woman is not worth a place among the most eminent of our “word painters ” of famous battles. I will tell you a thought that has often struck me concerning Mrs. Munro:—If old Homer were to revisit this world, and take, as of old, to singing and spouting for his livelihood, Mrs. Munro would be a very fit and proper person to accompany him! She could not only be useful in going round with the hat; but when the old man was taking his breath, after some glorious burst about the doings of his ancient heroes, Mrs. Homer (as she would then be) could give the company a bit touch about the encounters of some of the modem heroines. I feel perfectly certain that there would be a considerable rattle in the hat when she had finished in style the “Glasgow Stairhead Battle.”


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