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Book of Scottish Story
Black Joe o' the Bow

Part Two

The vessel was a Leith trader named ‘William and Mary’, an’ was on her passage hame frae the Island o’ Cuba.

Here, let it be remembered, Joe wasna to be blamed a’the-gither for the doonricht lee he telt the captain. He was a rinaway slave in the first place, an’ had the captain kent the truth, it’s mair than likely he wad hae delivered him up at the first port he touched at on the voyage hame. In the second place, there was nae ither witness of the fearfu’ crime binna himsel’; an’ he had the tact to see that evidence resting on the sole testimony o’ a rinaway slave, mair especially when that slave micht be reasonably suspected o’ vindictive feelings against the murderer, wad be treated wi’ scorn an’ indignation, an’ even add to the horrors o' his ain death. Therefore Joe kept his ain coonsel, and when the vessel arrived at Leith, he wandered up to Edinburgh, and resided for mony a lang year in the West Bow, makin’ his livin’ in the manner already related, and wi’ the secret carefully locked up in his breast until now.

"Aweel, Joe," said my mither, when she had heard him oot, "that’s an unco story, man. But are ye aware that the auld colonel’s aye livin’ yet, an’ that it wad be a duty to let him ken the truth?" Here Joe lookit in her face sae pitifu’ an’ imploring like, that she didna find it in her heart to press the question ony mair at that time. But when the body gaed awa’ ben, my mither sat thinkin’ and thinkin’ till the day was far spent; an’ for mony a lang day after that she hadna muckle peace o’ mind.

Ae mornin’ she put on her bannit and shawl, and said she wadna be hame till late. Although I was a bit lassie at the time, I jaloused where she was gaun, but I never let on. It wasna till late, late at nicht that she cam hame, an’ then she telt me she had been at Hawkesneb Hoose on a pretence to see if an auld servant she had kent mony a year sin’ was aye bidin’ there. As she rang the gate-bell, she said a fearfu’ sense o’ shame an’ disgrace comin’ ower an auld man made her swither; but there was the lodge-keeper’s wife comin’ to the gate, an' it was ower late noo to gang back. She then inquired for ane Jess Tamson, that had been a servant up at the big hoose three years sin’; but the woman said she didna ken o' onybody o’ that name servin' there noo. My mither said that was an unco pity, as she had cam a lang way to see her, an’ her feet were sair blistered wi’ the roads. The woman then opened the gate, an’ asked my mither into the lodge, an’ offered her a cup o’ tea, for which my mither was very thankfu’. Then, when the twa fell on the crack, my mither said the laird wad be gey far doon the brae noo, for he was an auld man in Jess’s time. My mither came oot wi' this in her ain pawky way, to hear for certain whether the colonel were dead or livin’.

"The auld colonel’s dead an’ gane a year sin’," said the woman, "but his son the major’s expected hame in a month; an’ I’m sure there has been sic a scrubbin’ an` cleanin’ an’ hammerin’, that what wi’masons, joiners, plasterers, painters, and glaziers, there hasna been muckle rest for the servants this last fortnicht."

"An’ is the major married?” asked my mither. ‘"Married! no as yet,” said the woman. "They say he’s turned unco silent and cantankerous since his brither’s death, sees naebody, an’ never gangs to sleep without wax candles burnin’ a’ nicht by his bedside.”

"The major never gangs to sleep without wax candles burnin’ a' nicht by his bedside!” said my mither, slowly comin’ ower the words after her. "Deary me, that’s strange! ”tryin’ sair to keep in her breath. "What kind o’ death was’t his brither dee’d o’, hae ye heard?”

"'What kind o’ death- was’t? It was murder, dounricht murder!” said the woman; "an’ done too by ane o’ his ain slaves through revenge. But it was a grand day for the major when his brither dee’d; for he wasna a month gane when the plantation was selt aff, an’ the major left Jamaica wi’ mony a braw thousand pound in his pouch."

My mither then asked if the major cam hame at that time. The woman said, "No, he had gane to Italy, and aye kept sendin’ letters to his faither every noo and then, makin’ apologies about his health being in a delicate state, and declaring his resolution to abide by the advice o’ his doctors to remain in a warmer climate, in spite o’ the auld laird’s anxious entreaties for him to come hame. I often used to wonder at the major’s continued absence; an’ it lookit strange that he didna come to lay his faither’s head in the grave, though he’s comin’ hame noo. As for the slave that did the deed, they raised a hue an’ cry after him for a while; but the murderer was never gotten, an’ it’s not likely he ever will be noo. It seems the major had been gi’en his brither an airing in a gig, when they were attacked by the slave frae behind, wha fired a pistol at his brither oot o’ revenge, and then fled, wounding him mortally. The major pursued, but when he had gane a lang distance and fand he couldna mak up to him, he cam back to the spot where the murder had been committed, expecting to see the body; but, astonishing to relate, the body had disappeared. And the man that did the deed, as I said before, was never gotten; nor is it very likely he ever will be, after sic a lang lapse o’ time. It seems he fled awa to the mountains among the Maroons, as they ca’ them."

"That’s hard, hard to say," said my mither; "but God has his ain ways o’ workin’, lass, an' maybe the deed’ll be brocht to licht in a way that you an’ me little dream o’." Then she rose up, an’ spoke o’ gaun hame; but the woman wadna hear o’t, sayin’ the nicht was ower far gane, an’ she wad mak her very welcome to a bed beside the bairns. At that moment the gudeman himsel’ cam in, an' seeing her anxiety to gang awa, he said the mailscoach wad be gaun by in half an hour, an’ he had nae doot the guard wad gie her a lift into the toun. Sae she waited till the coach cam by, an’ fortunately got a ride in.

Aweel, when my mither had composed hersel’ a bit, after she had telt this, she filled her cutty-pipe, an’ begoud to blaw. "Lassie," says she to me, after a wee, "fetch doun yer faither’s Bible frae the shelf." It aye got the name o’ my faither’s Bible, though he had been deid an’ gane mony a year. Sae I gied her the Bible; an’ then I heard her slowly readin’ ower thae verses frae the Book o’ Proverbs—"Be not afraid of sudden fear, neither of the desolation of the wicked when it cometh; for the Lord shall be thy confidence, and shall keep thy foot from being taken." This she read ower twa-three times to hersel’, t an’ syne put a mark at the place, and gaed awa to her bed. And lang after that, as the puir body lay half doverin’, I heard her comin’ ower and ower thae bonnie verses, till she was fast asleep. The first thing she did, when the mornin’ cam in, was to tell Joe o' her journey an’ its result. The puir African lifted up his hands in astonishment when she telt him the murder had been laid to his charge. But she took doun the Bible again, an’ read ower the verses that had sae powerfully arrested her attention the nicht before; and as she read them, a gleam o’ triumphant exultation shone in the e’e o’ the puir nigger—a look o’ conscious innocence, that dispelled every vestige o’ doot in my mither’s mind, if she ever had ony, an’ made her sympathise a’ the mair wi' the lingerin’ agony he had endured since the murder was committed. He noo declared his readiness to lodge an accusation against Major Gilroy ; for the fear o’ his word being misdooted vanished as if by magic frae his mind, mair especially when my mither led him to understand that, being in a free country, nae slave-owner could touch him, and that his word would be ta’en wi’ the best white man among them a’. Hooever, my mither advised him no to be rash, but to bide a wee till the major’s arrival, as an accusation preferred against him in his absence micht be construed into an evidence o’ guilt on the part o’ the accuser ; for the wily, lang-headit bodies o' lawyers were lit for onything, an’ siller could do an awfu’ lot, an’ mak black look white ony day. Besides, Great Britain was at this time deeply engaged in the Slave Trade, and micht be ower glad to tak the major’s part. Sae Joe took her advice, an’ prayed that Job wad teach him patience.


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