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Book of Scottish Story
The Penny Wedding

By Alex. Campbell

Part 1

If any of our readers have ever seen a Scottish penny-wedding, they will agree with us, we daresay, that it is a very merry affair, and that its mirth and hilarity is not a whit the worse for its being, as it generally is, very homely and unsophisticated. The penny-wedding is not quite so splendid an affair as a ball at Almack’s; but, from all we have heard and read of these aristocratic exhibitions, we for our own parts would have little hesitation about our preference, and what is more, we are quite willing to accept the imputation of having a horrid bad taste.

It is very well known to those who know anything at all of penny-weddings, that, when a farmer’s servant is about to be married—such an occurrence being the usual, or, at least, the most frequent occasion of these festivities—all the neighbouring farmers, with their servants, and sometimes their sons and daughters, are invited to the ceremony; and to those who know this, it is also known that the farmers so invited are in the habit of contributing each something to the general stock of good things provided for the entertainment of the wedding guests,—some sending one thing and some another, till materials are accumulated for a feast, which, both for quantity and quality, would extort praise from Dr Kitchener himself, than whom no man ever knew better what good living was. To all this a little money is added by the parties present, to enable the young couple to plenish their little domicile.

Having given this brief sketch of what is called a penny-wedding, we proceed to say that such a merry doing as this took place, as it had done a thousand times before, in a certain parish (we dare not be more particular) in the south of Scotland, about five and twenty years ago. The parties, —we name them, although it is of no consequence to our story—were Andrew Jardine and Margaret Laird, both servants to a respectable farmer in that part of the country of the name of Harrison, and both very deserving and well-doing persons.

On the wedding-day being fixed, Andrew went himself to engage the services of blind Willie Hodge, the parish fiddler, as he might with all propriety be called, for the happy occasion ; and Willie very readily agreed to attend gratuitously, adding, that he would bring his best fiddle along with him, together with an ample supply of fiddle-strings and rosin.

" An’ a wee bit box o’ elbow grease, Willie," said Andrew, slily ; " for ye’ll hae gude aught hours o’t, at the veryleast.”

" I’ll be sure to bring that too, Andrew,” replied Willie, laughing; "but it’s no aught hours that’ll ding me, I warrant. I hae played saxteen without stoppin, except to rosit.”

" And to weet your whistle, ” slipped in Andrew.

" Pho, that wasna worth coontin. It was just a mouthfu’, and at it again," said W'illie. "I just tak, Andrew,"
he went on, "precisely the time o’ a demisemiquaver to a tumbler o’ cauld ‘liquor, such as porter or ale ; and twa minims or four crochets to a tumbler o’ het drink, such as toddy ; for the first, ye see, I can tak aff at jig time, but the other can only get through wi’ at the rate o’ ‘ Roslin Castle,’ or the ‘Dead March in Saul,’ especially when its brought to me scadding het, whilk sude never be done to a fiddler."

Now, as to this very nice chromatic measurement by Willie, of the time consumed in his potations, while in the exercise of his calling, we have nothing to say. It may be perfectly correct for aught we know; but when Willie said that he played at one sitting, and with only the stoppages he mentioned, for sixteen hours, we rather think he was drawing fully a longer bow than that he usually played with. At all events, this we know, that Willie was a very indifferent, if not positively a very bad fiddler; but he was a good-humoured creature, harmless and inoffensive, and, moreover, the only one of his calling in the parish, so that he was fully as much indebted to the necessities of his customers for the employment he obtained, as to their love or charity.

The happy day which was to see the humble destinies of Andrew Jardine and Margaret Laird united having arrived, Willie attired himself in his best, popped his best fiddle—which was, after all, but a very sober article, having no more tone than a salt-box—into a green bag, slipped the instrument thus secured beneath the back of his coat, and proceeded towards the scene of his impending labours. This was a large barn, which had been carefully swept and levelled for the " light fantastic toes " of some score of ploughmen and dairymaids, not formed exactly after the Chinese fashion. At the further end of the barn stood a sort of platform, erected on a couple of empty herring-barrels ; and on this again a chair was placed. This distinguished situation, we need hardly say, was designed for Willie, who from that elevated position was to pour down his heel-inspiring strains amongst the revellers below. When Willie, however, came first upon the ground, the marriage party had not yet arrived. They were still at the manse, which was hard by, but were every minute expected. In these circumstances, and it being a fine summer afternoon, Willie seated himself on a stone at the door, drew forth his fiddle, and struck up with great vigour and animation, to the infinite delight of some half-dozen of the wedding guests, who, not having gone with the others to the manse, were now, like himself, waiting their arrival. These immediately commenced footing it to Willie’s music on the green before the door, and thus presented a very appropriate prelude to the coming festivities of the evening.

While Willie was thus engaged, an itinerant brother in trade, on the look-out for employment, and who had heard of the wedding, suddenly appeared, and stealing up quietly beside him, modestly undid the mouth of his fiddle-bag, laid the neck of the instrument bare, and drew his thumb carelessly across the strings, to intimate to him that a rival was near his throne. On hearing the sound of the instrument, Willie stopped short.

“I doubt, frien, ye hae come to the wrang market," he said, guessing at once the object of the stranger. "An’ ye hae been travellin too, I daresay ? ” he continued, good-naturedly, and not at all offended with the intruder, for whom and all of his kind he entertained a fellow feeling.

" Ay," replied the new Orpheus, who was a tall, good-looking man of about eight-and-twenty years of age, but very poorly attired, " I hae been travellin, as ye say, neebor, an’ hae came twa or three miles out o' my way to see if I could pick up a shilling or twa at this weddin."

"I am sorry now, man, for that," said Willie, sympathisingly. "I doot ye’ll be disappointed, for I hae been
engaged for’t this fortnight past. But I’ll tell ye what : if ye’re onything guid o’ the fiddle, ye may remain, jist to relieve me now an’ then, an’ I’ll mind ye when a’s ower ; an’ at ony rate ye’ll aye pick up a mouthfu’ o’ guid meat and drink-an’ that ye ken’s no to be fand at every dyke-side."

" A bargain be’t,” said the stranger, "an’ much obliged to you, frien. I maun just tak pat-luck and be thankfu. But isna your waddin folks lang o’ comin? " he added.

"They’ll be here belyve,” replied Willie, and added, " Ye’ll no be blin, frien ? ”

" Ou, no," said the stranger ; " thank goodness I hae my sight; but I am otherwise in such a bad state o’ health, that I canna work, and am obliged to tak the fiddle for a subsistence?

While this conversation was going on, the wedding folks were seen dropping out of the manse in twos and threes, and making straight for the scene of the evening’s festivities, where they all very soon after assembled. Ample justice having been done to all the good things that were now set before the merry party, and Willie and his colleague having had their share, and being thus put in excellent trim for entering on their labours, the place was cleared of all encumbrances, and a fair and open field left for the dancers. At this stage of the proceedings, Willie was led by his colleague to his station, and helped up to the elevated chair which had been provided for him, when the latter handed him his instrument, while he himself took up his position, fiddle in hand, on his principal’s left, but standing on the ground, as there was no room for him on the platform.

Everything being now ready, and the expectant couples ranged in their respective places on the floor, Willie was called upon to begin, an order which he instantly obeyed by opening in great style.

On the conclusion of the first reel, in the musical department of which the strange fiddler had not interfered, the latter whispered to his coadjutor, that if he liked he would relieve him for the next.

"Weel," replied the latter, "if ye think ye can gae through wi’t onything decently, ye may try your hand.

"I’ll no promise much,” said the stranger, now for the first time drawing his fiddle out of its bag; “but, for the credit o’ the craft, I’ll do the best I can.”

Having said this, Willie’s colleague drew his bow across the strings of his fiddle, with a preparatory flourish, when instantly every face in the apartment was turned towards him with an expression of delight and surprise. The tones of the fiddle were so immeasurably superior to those of poor Willie’s salt-box, that the dullest and most indiscriminating ear amongst the revellers readily distinguished the amazing difference. But infinitely greater still was their surprise and delight when the stranger began to play. Nothing could exceed the energy, accuracy, and beauty of his performances. He was, in short, evidently a perfect master of the instrument, and this was instantly perceived and acknowledged by all, including Willie himself, who declared, with great candour and goodwill, that he had never heard a better fiddler in
his life.

The result of this discovery was, that the former was not allowed to lift a bow during the remainder of the night, the whole burden of its labours being deposited on the shoulders, or perhaps we should rather say the finger-ends, of the stranger, who fiddled away with an apparently invincible elbow.

For several hours the dance went on without interruption, and without any apparent abatement whatever of vigour on the part of the performers; but, at the end of this period, some symptoms of exhaustion began to manifest themselves, which were at length fully declared by a temporary cessation of both the mirth and music.

It was at this interval in the revelries that the unknown fiddler, who had been, by. the unanimous voice of the party, installed in Willie’s elevated chair, while the latter was reduced to his place on the floor, stretching himself over the platform, and tapping Willie on the hat with his bow, to draw his attention, inquired of him, in a whisper, if he knew who the lively little girl was that had been one of the partners in the last reel that had been danced.

" Is she a bit red-cheeked, dark-ee’d, and dark-haired lassie, about nineteen or twenty?” inquired Willie, in his turn.

" The same,” replied the fiddler.

"Ou, that’s Jeanie Harrison,” said Willie, " a kind-hearted, nice bit lassie. No a better nor a bonnier in a’ the parish. She’s a dochter o’ Mr Harrison o’ Todshaws, the young couple’s maister, an’ a very respectable man. He’s here himsel, too, amang the lave."

"Just so,” replied his colleague. And he began to rosin his bow, and to screw his pegs anew, to prepare for the second storm of merriment, which he saw gathering, and threatening to burst upon him with increased fury. Amongst the first on the floor was Jeanie Harrison.

" Is there naebody’ll tak me out for a reel ? ” exclaimed the lively girl ; and without waiting for an answer, " Weel, then, I’ll hae the fiddler." And she ran towards the platform on which the unknown performer was seated. But he did not wait her coming. He had heard her name her choice, laid down his fiddle, and sprang to the floor with the agility of a harlequin, exclaiming, "Thank ye, my bonny lassie, thank ye for the honour. I’m your man at a moment’s notice, either for feet or fiddle."

It is not quite certain that Jeanie was in perfect earnest when she made choice of the musician for a partner, but it was now too late to retract, for the joke had taken with the company, and, with one voice, or rather shout, they insisted on her keeping faithful to her engagement, and dancing a reel with the fiddler ; and on this no one insisted more stoutly than the fiddler himself. Finding that she could do no better, the good-natured girl put the best face on the frolic she could, and prepared to do her partner every justice in the dance. Willie having now taken bow in hand, his colleague gave him the word of command, and away the dancers went like meteors; and here again the surprise of the party was greatly excited by the performances of our friend the fiddler, who danced as well as he played. To say merely that he far surpassed all in the room would not, perhaps, be saying much ; for there were none of them very great adepts in the art. But, in truth, he danced with singular grace and lightness, and much did those who witnessed it marvel at the display. Neither was his bow to his partner, nor his manner of conducting her to her seat on the conclusion of the reel, less remarkable. It was distinguished by an air of refined gallantry certainly not often to be met with in those in his humble station in life. He might have been a master of ceremonies ; and where the beggarly-looking fiddler had picked up these accomplishments every one found it difficult to conjecture.

On the termination of the dance, the fiddler—as we shall call him, ‘par excellence’, and to distinguish him from Willie—resumed his seat and his fiddle, and began to drive away with even more than his former spirit; but it was observed by more than one that his eye was now almost constantly fixed, for the remainder of the evening, as, indeed, it had been very frequently before, on his late partner, Jeanie Harrison. This circumstance, however, did not prevent him giving every satisfaction to those who danced to his music, nor did it in the least impair the spirit of his performances; for he was evidently too much practised in the use of the instrument, which he managed with such consumate skill, to be put out, either by the contemplation of any chance object which might present itself, or by the vagaries of his imagination.


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