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Comic Tales
Lothian Tom


TOM being grown up to years and age of man, thought himself wiser and slyer than his father: and there were several things about the house which he liked better than to work; so he turned to be a dealer amongst brutes, a cowper of horses and cows, etc., and even wet ware, amongst the brewers and brandy shops, until he cowped himself to the toom [empty] halter, and then his parents would supply him no more. He knew his grandmother had plenty of money, but she would give him none; but the old woman had a good black cow of her own, which Tom went to the fields one evening and catches, and takes her to an old waste house which stood at a distance from any other, and there he kept her two or three days, giving her meat and drink at night when it was dark, and made the old woman believe somebody had stolen the cow for their winter’s mart, which was grief enough to the old woman, for the loss of her cow. However, she employs Tom to go to a fair that was near by, and buy her another; she gives him three pounds, which Tom accepts of very thankfully, and promises to buy her one as like the other as possibly he could get; then he takes a piece of chalk, and brays it as small as meal, and steeps it in a little water, and therewith rubs over the cow’s face and back, which made her baith brucket and rigget [spotted on body and face].

So Tom in the morning takes the cow to a public-house within a little of the fair, and left her till the fair was over, and then drives her home before him; and as soon as they came home, the cow began to rout as it used to do, which made the old woman to rejoice, thinking it was her own cow; but when she saw her white, sighed and said, "Alas! thou’ll never be like the kindly brute my Black Lady, and yet ye rout as like her as ony ever I did hear." But says Tom to himself "Tis a mercy you know not what she says, or all would be wrong yet". So in two or three days the old woman put forth her bra’ rigget cow in the morning with the rest of her neighbours’ cattle, but it came on a sore day of heavy rain, which washed away all the white from her face and back; so the old woman’s Black Lady came home at night, and her rigget cow went away with the shower, and was never heard of. But Tom’s father having some suspicion, and looking narrowly into the cow’s face, found some of the chalk not washed away, and then he gave poor Tom a hearty beating, and sent him away to seek his fortune with a skin full of sore bones.

II.

Tom being now turned to his own shifts, considered with himself how to raise a little more money; and so gets a string as near as he could guess to be the length of his mother, and to Edinburgh he goes, to a wright who was acquainted with his father and mother. The wright asked him how he did; he answered him, very soberly, he had lost a good dutiful mother last night, and there’s a measure for the coffin. Tom went out and stayed for some time, and then comes in again, and tells the wright he did not know what to do, for his father had ordered him to get money from such a man, whom he named, and he that day was gone out of town. . . . The wright asked him how much he wanted. To which he answered, a guinea and a half. Then Tom gave him strict orders to be out next day against eleven o’clock with the coffin, and he should get his money altogether. So Tom set off to an ale-house with the money, and lived well while it lasted. Next morning the wright and his two lads went out with the coffin; and as they were going into the house they met Tom’s mother, who asked the master how he did, and where he was going with that fine coffin? Not knowing well what to say, being surprised to see her alive, at last he told her that her son brought in the measure the day before, and had got a guinea and a half from him, with which he said he was to buy some necessaries for the funeral "Oh, the rogue!" said she, "has he play’d me that?" So the wright got his lent money, and so much for his trouble, and had to take back his coffin with him again.

III.

Tom being short of money, began to think how he could raise a fresh supply; so he went to the port among the shearers, [reapers] and there he hired about thirty of them, and agreed to give them a whole week’s shearing at tenpence a-day, which was two pence higher than any had got that year; this made the poor shearers think he was a very honest, generous, and genteel master, as ever they met with; for he took them all into an ale-house, and gave them a hearty breakfast "Now," says Tom, "when there is so many of you together, and perhaps from very different parts, and being unacquainted with one another, I do not know but there may be some of you honest men and some of you rogues; and as you are all to lie in one barn together, any of you who has got money, you will be surest to give it to me, and I’ll mark it down in my book with your names, and what I receive from each of you, and you shall have it all again on Saturday night, when you receive your wages." "Oh, very well, good-man, there’s mine; take mine," said every one faster than another. Some gave him five, six, seven, and eight shillings—even all that they had earn’d thro’ the harvest, which amounted to near seven pounds sterling. So Tom, having got all their money, he goes on with them till about three miles out of town, and coming to a field of standing corn, though somewhat green, yet convenient for his purpose, as it lay at some distance from any house—so he made them begin work there, telling them he was going to order dinner for them, and send his own servants to join them. Then he sets off with all the speed he could, but takes another road into the town lest they should follow and catch him. Now when the people to whom the corn belonged saw such a band in their field, they could not understand the meaning of it: so the farmer whose corn it was went off, crying always as he ran to them to stop; but they would not, until he began to strike at them, and they at him, he being in a great passion, as the com was not fully ripe. At last, by force of argument, and other people coming up to them, the poor shearers were convinced they had got the bite, which caused them to go away sore lamenting their misfortune.

Two or three days thereafter, as Tom was going down Canongate in Edinburgh, he meets one of his shearers, who knew and kept fast by him, demanding back his money, and also satisfaction for the rest. "Whisht, whisht," says Torn, "and you’ll get yours and something else beside." So Tom takes him into the gaol, and calls for a bottle of ale and a dram, then takes the gaoler aside, as if he had been going to borrow some money from him, and says to the gaoler, "This man is a great thief. I and other two have been in search of him these three days, and the other two men have the warrant with them; so if you keep this rogue here till I run and bring them, you shall have a guinea in reward." "Yes," says the gaoler, "go, and I’ll secure the rogue for you." So Tom got off leaving the poor innocent fellow and the gaoler struggling together, and then sets out for England directly.

IV.

Tom having now left his own native country, went into the county of Northumberland, where he hired himself to an old miser of a farmer, where he continued for several years, performing his duty in his service very well, though sometimes playing tricks on those about him. But his master had a naughty custom, he would allow them no candle at night, to see with when at supper. So Tom one night sets himself next his master, and as they were all about to fall on, Tom puts his spoon into the heart of the dish, where the crowdy was hottest, and claps a spoonful into his master’s mouth. "A pox on you for a rogue," cried his master, "for my mouth is all burnt" "A pox on you for a master," says Tom, "for you keep a house as dark as Purgatory, for I was going to my mouth with the soup and missed the way, it being so dark. Don’t think, master, that I am such a big fool as to feed you while I have a mouth of my own." So from that night that Tom burnt his master’s mouth with the hot crowdy, they always got a candle to show them light at supper, for his master would feed no more in the dark while Tom was present.

There was a servant girl in the house, who always when she made the beds neglected to make Tom’s, and would have him do it himself. "Well, then," says Tom, "I have harder work to do, and I shall do that too." So next day when Tom was at the plough, he saw his master coming from the house towards him. He left the horses and the plough standing in the field, and goes away towards his master, who cried, "What is wrong? or is there anything broke with you?" "No, no," said Tom; "but I am going home to make my bed; it has not been made these two weeks, and now it is about the time the maid makes all the rest, so I’ll go and make mine too." "No, no," says his master, "go to your plough, and I’ll cause it to be made every night." "Then," says Tom, "I’ll plough two or three furrows more in the time." So Tom gained his end.

V.

One day a butcher came and bought a fine fat calf from Tom’s master, and Tom laid it on the horse’s neck, before the butcher. When he was gone, "Now," says Tom, "what will you hold, master, but I’ll steal the calf from the butcher before he goes two miles off?" Says his master, "I’ll hold a guinea you don’t" "Done," says Tom. Into the house he goes, and takes a good shoe of his master’s, and runs another way across a field, till he got before the butcher, near the corner of a hedge, where there was an open and turning of the way; here Tom places himself behind the hedge, and throws the shoe into the middle of the highway; so, when the butcher came up riding, with his calf before him, "Hey," said he to himself, "there’s a good shoe! if I knew how to get on my calf again, I would light for it; but what signifies one shoe without its neighbour?" So on he rides and lets it lie. Tom then slips out and takes up the shoe and runs across the fields until he got before the butcher, at another open of a hedge, about half-a-mile distant, and throws out the shoe again on the middle of the road; then up comes the butcher, and seeing it, says to himself: "Now I shall have a pair of good shoes for the lifting;" and down he comes, lays the calf on the ground, and tying his horse to the hedge, runs back thinking to get the other shoe, in which time Tom whips up the calf and shoe, and home he comes demanding his wager, which his master could not refuse, being so fairly won. The poor butcher not finding the shoe, came back to his horse and missing the calf, knew not what to do; but thinking it had broke the rope from about its feet, and had run into the fields, the butcher spent the day in search of it amongst the hedges and ditches, and returned to Tom’s master’s at night, intending to go in search again for it next day, and gave them a tedious relation how he came to lose it by a cursed pair of shoes, which he believed the devil had dropped in his way and taken the calf and shoes along with him, but he was thankful he had left his old horse to carry him home. Next morning Tom set to work, and makes a fine white face on the calf with chalk and water; then brings it out and sells it to the butcher, which was good diversion to his master and other servants, to see the butcher buy his own calf again. No sooner was he gone with it, but Tom says, "Now, master, what will you hold but I’ll steal it from him again ere he goes two miles off?" "No, no," says his master, "I’ll hold no more bets with you; but I’ll give you a shilling if you do it" "Done" says Tom, "it shall cost you no more;" and away he runs through the fields, until he came before the butcher, hard by the place where he stole the calf from him the day before; and there he lies down behind the hedge, and as the butcher came past, he put his hand on his mouth and cries baw, baw, like a calf. The butcher hearing this, swears to himself that there was the calf he had lost the day before: down he comes, and throws the calf on the ground, gets through the hedge in all haste, thinking he had no more to do but to take it up; but as he came in at one part of the hedge, Tom jumped out at another, and gets the calf on his back; then goes over the hedge on the other side, and through the fields he came safely home, with the calf on his back, while the poor butcher spent his time and labour in vain, running from hedge to hedge, and hole to hole, seeking the calf. So the butcher returning to his horse again, and finding his other calf gone, he concluded that it was done by some invisible spirit about that spot of ground, and so went home lamenting the loss of his calf. When Tom got home he washed the white face off the stolen calf, and his master sent the butcher word to come and buy another calf, which he accordingly did in a few days after, and Tom sold him the same calf a third time, and then told him the whole affair as it was acted, giving him his money again. So the butcher got fun for his trouble.


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