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Book of Scottish Story
My First and Last Play

The time of Tammie Bodkin’s apprenticeship being nearly worn through, it behoved me, as a man attentive to business and the interests of my family, to cast my een around me in search of a callant to fill his place, as it is customary in our trade for our young men, when their time is out, taking a year’s journeymanship in Edinburgh to perfect them in the mair intricate branches of the business, and learn the newest manner of the French and London fashions, by cutting claith for the young advocates, the college students, and the rest of the principal tip-top bucks.

Having, though I say it myself, the word of being a canny maister, mair than ane brought their callants to me, on reading the bill of "An Apprentice Wanted " plaistered on my shop window. Offering to bind them for the regular time, yet not wishing to take but ane, I thocht best no to fix in a hurry, and make choice of him that seemed mair exactly cut out for my purpose. In the course of a few weeks three or four cast up, among whom was a laddie of Ben Aits, the mealmonger, and a son of William Burlings, the baker ; to say little of Saunders Broom, the sweep, that wad fain hae putten his blackit-looking bit creature with the ae ee under my wing ; but I aye lookit to respectability in these matters, so glad was I when I got the offer of Mungo Glen.—But more of this in half a minute.

I must say I was glad of any feasible excuse to make to the sweep, to get quit of him and his laddie,-—the father being a drucken ne'er-do-weel, that I wonder didna fa’ lang ere this time of day from some chumley-head, and get his neck broken; so I tell’t him at lang and last, when he came papping into the shop, plaguing me every time he passed, that I had fittit mysel, and that there would be nae need of his taking the trouble to call again. Upon which he gaed his blackit neeve a desperate thump on the counter, making the observe, that out of respect for him I might have given his son the preference. Though I was a wee puzzled for an answer, I said to him, for want of a better, that having a timber leg, he couldna weel crook his hough to the labroad for our trade.

"Hout, tout," said Saunders, giving his lips a smack—"crook his hough, ye body you! Do ye think his timber leg canna screw off? That’ll no pass.”

I was a wee dumbfoundered at this cleverness; so I said, mair on my guard, "True, true, Saunders; but he’s ower little.”

"Ower little, and be hanged to ye!" cried the disrespectful fellow, wheeling about on his heel, as he graspit the sneck of the shop door, and gaed a grin that showed the only clean pairts of his body-—to wit, the whites o’ his een, and his sharp teeth,-"Ower little!—Pu, pu!—He’s like the blackamoor’s pig, then, Maister Wauch,-he’s like the blackamoor’s pig-he may be ver’ little, but he be tam ould ;” and with this he showed his back, clapping the door at his tail without wishing a good day; and I am scarcely sorry when I confess that I never cuttit claith for either father or son from that day to this ane, the losing of such a customer being no great matter at best, and amaist clear gain, compared with saddling mysel wi’ a callant with only ae ee and ae leg, the tane having fa’en a victim to the dregs of the measles, and the ither having been harled aff wi’ a farmer’s threshing-mill. However, I got rnysel properly suited.—But ye shall hear.

Our neighbour, Mrs Grassie, a widow woman, unco intimate wi’ our wife, and very attentive to Benjie when he had the chincough, had a far-away cousin, o’ the name o’ Glen, that haddit out amang the howes of the Lammermoor hills-—a distant part of the country, ye observe. Auld Glen, a decent-looking body of a creature, had come in wi’ his sheltie about some private matters of business—such as the buying of a horse, or something to that effect, where he could best fa' in wi’t, either at our fair, or the Grassmarket, or sic like; so he had up-pitting free of expense from Mrs Grassie, on account of his relationship, Glen being second cousin to Mrs Grassie’s brother’ s wife, wha is deceased. I might, indeed, have mentioned, that our neighbour hersel had been twice married, and had the misery of seeing out baith her gudemen ; but sic was the will of fate, and she bore up with perfect resignation.

Having made a bit warm dinner ready—for she was a tidy body, and kent what was what—she thought she couldna do better than ask in a reputable neighbour to help her friend to eat it, and take a cheerer wi’ him; as, maybe, being a stranger here, he wouldna like to use the freedom of drinking by himsel—a custom which is at the best an unsocial ane—especially wi’ nane but women—folk near him, so she did me the honour to make choice of me, though I say’t, wha shouldna ‘say’t; and when we got our jug filled for the second time, and began to grow better acquainted, ye would just wonder to see how we became merry, and crackit away just like twa pen-guns. I asked him, ye see, about sheep and cows, and corn and hay, and ploughing and thrashing, and horses and carts, and fallow land, and lambing-time, and har’st, and making cheese and butter, and selling eggs, and curing the sturdie, and the snifters, and the batts, and sic like ; and he, in his turn, made enquiry regarding broad and narrow claith, Kilmarnock cowls, worsted comforters, Shetland hose, mittens, leather caps, stuffing and padding, metal and mule-buttons, thorls, pocket—linings, serge, twist, buckram, shaping, and sewing, back-splaying, rund-gooseing, measuring, and all the ither particulars belanging to our trade, which he said, at lang and last, after we had jokit thegither, was a power better ane than the farmimg.

"Ye should mak yer son ane, then, " said I, " if ye think sae. Have ye ony bairns ?"

"Ye’ve het the nail on the head. ’Od, man, if ye wasna sae far away, I would bind our auldest callant to yersel, I’m sae weel pleased wi’ yer gentlemanly manners. But I’m speaking havers."

"Havers here or havers there; what," said I, "is to prevent ye boarding him, at a cheap rate, either wi’ our friend Mrs Grassie, or wi’ the wife? Either of the twa wad be a sort of mother till him."

"Deed, I daursay they would,” answered Maister Glen, stroking his chin, which was gey rough, and hadna got a clean sin’ Sunday, having had four days of sheer growth—our meeting, ye’ll observe by this, being on the Thursday afternoon—"’Deed would they. ’Od, I maun speak to the mistress about it."

On the head of this we had anither jug, three being cannie, after which we were baith a wee tozy-mozy; so I daursay Mrs Grassie saw plainly that we were getting into a state where we wad not easily make a halt; so, without letting on, she brought in the tea things before us, and showed us a play-bill, to tell us that a company of strolling play-actors had come in a body in the morning, with a hale cartful of scenery and grand dresses, and were to make an exhibition at seven o’clock, at the ransom of a shilling a head, in Laird Wheatley’s barn.

Mony a time and often had I heard of play-acting, and of players making themselves kings and queens, and saying a great many wonderful things ; but I had never before an opportunity of making mysel a witness to the truth of these hearsays. So Maister Glen being as fu’ o’ nonsense, and as fain to have his curiosity gratified as mysel, we took upon us the stout resolution to gang out thegither, he offering to treat me, and I determined to rin the risk of Maister Wiggie our minister’s rebuke for the transgression, hoping it would make no lasting impression on his mind, being for the first and only time. Folks shouldna at a’ times be ower scrupulous.

After paying our money at the door, never, while I live and breathe, will I forget what we saw and heard that night; it just looks to me by all the world, when I think on’t, like a fairy dream. The place was crowded to the full; Maister Glen and me having nearly got our ribs dung in before we fand a seat, and them behint were obliged to mount the back benches to get a sight. Right to the forehand of us was a large green curtain, some five or six ells wide, a guid deal the waur of the wear, having seen service through twa three simmers; and, just in the front of it, were eight or ten penny candles stuck in a board fastened to the ground, to let us see the players' feet like, when they came on the stage,—and even before they came on the stage,—for the curtain being scrimpit in length, we saw legs and feet moving behind the scenes very neatly; while twa blind fiddlers they had brought with them played the bonniest ye ever heard. ’Od, the very music was worth a sixpence of itsel.

The place, as I said before, was choke-full, just to excess, so that one could scarcely breathe. Indeed, I never saw ony part sae crowded, not even at a tent-preaching, when the Rev. Mr Roarer was giving his discourses on the building of Solomon’s Temple. We were obligated to have the windows opened for a mouthful of fresh air, the barn being as close as a baker’s oven, my neighbour and me fanning our red faces wi’ our hats, to keep us cool; and, though all were half stewed, we certainly had the worst o’t,—the toddy we had ta’en having fermented the blood of our bodies into a perfect fever.

Just at the time that the twa blind fiddles were playing "The Downfall of Paris," a handbell rang, and up goes the green curtain; being hauled to the ceiling, as I observed wi’ the tail of my ee, by a birkie at, the side, that had haud of a rope. So, on the music stopping, and all becoming as still as that you might have heard a pin fall, in comes a decent old gentleman at his leisure, weel powthered, wi’ an auld fashioned coat on, waistcoat with flap-pockets, brown breeches with buckles at the knees, and silk stockings with red gushets on a blue ground. I never saw a man in sic distress; he stampit about, cladding the end of his staff on the ground, and imploring all the powers of heaven and yearth to help him to find out his runawa’ daughter, that had decampit wi’ some ne’er-do-weel of a half-pay captain, that keppit her in his arms frae her bedroom window, up twa pair o’ stairs. Every father and head of a family maun hae felt for a man in his situation, thus to be rubbit of his dear bairn, and an only daughter too, as he tell’t us ower and ower again, as the saut, saut tears ran gushing down his withered face, and he aye blew his nose on his clean calendered pocket napkin. But, ye ken, the thing was absurd to suppose that we should ken onything about the matter, having never seen either him or his daughter between the een afore, and no kenning them by headmark; so though we sympathised with him, as folks ought to do wi’ a fellow-creature in affliction, we thought it best to haud our tongues, to see what might cast up better than he expected. So out he gaed stumping at the ither side, determined, he said, to find them out, though he should follow them to the world’s end, Johnny Groat’s House, or something to that effect.

Hardly was his back turned, and amaist before ye could cry jack Robinson, in comes the birkie and the very young leddy the auld gentleman described, arm-in-arm thegither, srnoodging and lauching like daft. Dog on it! It was a shameless piece of business. As true as death, before all the crowd of folk, he pat his arm round her waist, and ca'ed her his sweatheart, and love, and dearie, and darling, and everything that is sweet. If they had been courting in a close thegither on a Friday night, they couldna hae said mair to ane anither, or gaen greater lengths. I thought sic shame to be an ee-witness to sic ongoings, that I was obliged at last to haud up my hat afore my face, and look down; though, for a’ that, the young lad, to be sic a blackguard as his conduct showed, was weel enough faured, and had a gude coat to his back, wi' double-gilt buttons, and fashionable lapells, to say little of a very weel-made pair of buckskins, a little the waur o’ the wear to be sure, but which, if they had been weel cleaned, would hae lookit amaist as gude as new. How they had come we never could learn, as we neither saw chaise nor gig; but, from his having spurs on his boots, it is mair than likely they had lightit at the back-door of the barn frae a horse, she riding on a pad behint him, maybe with her hand round his waist.

The faither lookit to be a rich auld bool, baith from his manner of speaking and the rewards he seemed to offer for the apprehension of his daughter; but, to be sure, when so many of us were present, that had an equal right to the spulzie, it wadna be a great deal a thousand pounds when divided, still it was worth the looking after; so we just bidit a wee.

Things were brought to a bearing, howsomever, sooner than either themsels, I daursay, or anybody else present, seemed to hae the least glimpse of ; for, just in the middle of their fine goings-on, the sound of a coming fit was heard, and the lassie taking guilt to her, cried out, "Hide me, hide me, for the sake of gudeness, for yonder comes my auld faither! "

Nae sooner said than done. In he stappit her into a closet ; and after shutting the door on her, he sat down upon a chair, pretending to be asleep in a moment. The auld faither came bouncing in, and seeing the fellow as sound as p a tap, he ran forrit and gaed him sic a shake, as if he wad hae shooken him a’ sundry, which sune made him open his een as fast as he had steekit them.

After blackguarding the chield at no allowance, cursing him up hill and down dale, and ca’ing him every name but a gentleman, he held his staff ower his crown, and gripping him by the cuff o’ the neck, askit him what he had made o’ his daughter. Never since I was born did I ever see sic brazen-faced impudence. The rascal had the brass to say at ance, that he hadna seen word or wittens of his daughter for a month, though mair than a hundred folks sitting in his company had seen him dauting her with his arm round her jimpy waist not five minutes before. As a man, as a father, as an elder of our kirk, my corruption was raised,—for I aye hated leeing, as a puir cowardly sin, and an inbreak on the ten commandments; and I found my neebour, Mr Glen, fidgeting on the seat as well as me, so I thocht that whaever spoke first wad hae the best right to be entitled to the reward; whereupon, just as he was in the act of rising up, I took the word out of his mouth, saying, "Dinna believe him, auld gentleman—dinna believe him, friend; he’s telling a parcel of lees. Never saw her for a month! It’s no worth arguing, or ca’ing witnesses; just open that press door, and ye’ll see whether I’m speaking truth or no.”

The auld man stared, and lookit dumfoundered ; and the young man, instead of rinnin’ forrit wi’ his doubled nieves to strike me—the only thing I was feared for—began a lauching, as if I had dune him a gude turn. But never since I had abeing, did ever I witness sic an uproar and noise as immediately took place. The hale house was sae glad that the scoundrel had been exposed, that they set up siccan a roar o’ lauchter, and they thumpit away at siccan a rate at the boards wi’ their feet, that at lang and last, wi’ pushing and tidgeting, clapping their hands, and hadding their sides, down fell the place they ca’ the gallery, a’ the folk in’t being hurled tapsy-turvy, head foremost amang the sawdust on the floor below ; their guffawing sune being turned to howling, ilka ane crying louder than anither at the tap of their voices, "Murder! Murder ! haud aff me. Murder, my ribs are in. Murder! I'm killed—I’m speechless!" and ither lamentations to that effect; so that a rush to the door took place, in which everything was overturned—the door-keeper being wheeled away like wildfire ; the furms strampit to pieces; the lights knockit out; and the twa blind fiddlers dung head foremost ower the stage, the bass fiddle cracking like thunder at every bruise. Siccan tearing and swearing, and tumbling and squealing, was never witnessed in the memory of man, since the building of Babel ; legs being likely to be broken, sides staved in, een knocked out, and lives lost; there being only one door, and that a sma’ ane; so that, when we had been carried aff our feet that length, my wind was fairly gane, and a sick dwalm cam ower me, lights of a' manner of colours, red, blue, green, and orange, dancing before me, that entirely deprived me o’ my common sense, till on opening my een in the dark, I fand myself leaning wi’ my braid side against the wa’ on the opposite side of the close. It was some time before I mindit what had happened; so, dreading scaith, I fand first the ae arm, and then the ither, to see if they were broken—syne my head—and syne baith o’ my legs; but a’ as weel as I could discover was skin—hale and scart-free ; on perceiving which, my joy was without bounds, having a great notion that I had been killed on the spot. So I reached round my hand very thankfully to tak out my pocket napkin, to gie my brow a wipe, when, lo and behold, the tail of my Sunday’s coat was fairly aff an’ away—dockit by the hench buttons.

Sae muckle for plays and play-actors —the first and last, I trust in grace, that I shall ever see. But indeed I could expect nae better, after the warning that Maister Wiggie had mair than ance gien us frae the pulpit on the subject; sae, instead of getting my grand reward for finding the auld man’s daughter, the hale covey o’ them, nae better than a set of swindlers, took leg-bail, and made that very night a moonlight flitting, and Johnny Hammer, honest man, that had wrought frae sunrise to sunset, for twa days, fitting up their place for contract, instead of being well paid for his trouble, as he deserved, got naething left him but a rackle of his own gude deals, a’ dung to shivers.

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