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Wilson's Border Tales
The Greatcoat

There was not, in all Annandale, the quarter of the country to which he belonged, a decenter man than Andrew Rutherford. A simple, good-hearted, inoffensive creature he was, and one who would much sooner do himself an injury than his neighbour.

It happened once, that Andrew had occasion to go to Edinburgh on some particular business. After he had arrived in the city, Andrew, in going to his lodgings, had to pass through St Mary’s Wynd, a well-known mart in the Scottish metropolis for second-hand wearing apparel. In passing down this wynd, Andrew chanced to see a huge dreadnought greatcoat, with manifold capes, and immense horn buttons, hanging at a door for sale; and, as it was winter time, Andrew conceived a fancy for the coat, and began to contemplate it with a look which said, as plainly as ever a look said anything—"That’s a comfortable lookin’ article. I wadna care though it were mine. I wunner what they’ll be seekin’ for’t!" Then, after a pause—"Odd! if they’re no very unconscionable, I’ll hae’t;" and he dashed boldly into the shop—found the price not far beyond his expectation—struck a bargain, paid down the money, and took possession of the greatcoat. This done, he clapped the coat on, as being the most convenient way to carry it, and stalked down the street, not a little proud of his new acquisition. The coat, although certainly a comfortable looking article, as Andrew had conjectured it to be, was a marked, and somewhat singular-looking habiliment.

He had not proceeded many yards down the street with his new purchase, when a person suddenly made up to him, and, clapping him on the shoulder, exclaimed, "Aha, friend, so I’ve caught you at last! Come now," he went on, "are you going to pay me that money or not?"

Andrew stared at the man for a moment in speechless surprise—then, with a slight smile of utter unconsciousness—"I’m thinkin’ ye’re mista’en, frien’," he said.

"Oh, not at all," replied the stranger. "No mistake whatever—so none of your blarney. I’m not to be done that way. I know your tricks too well for that. So tell me at once whether you mean to pay me the balance on the brown mare." And the stranger waxed fiercer and fiercer as he spoke.

"Wull ye be sae gude, sir, as tell me, preceesely, what ye mean?" inquired Andrew, in a slow, deliberate tone, but with a face in which consternation was very strongly, and somewhat ludicrously expressed.

"Oh, I see it’s no use bothering with you," replied the man, passionately, "so, hang me, if I can’t have my money from you, you swindler, I’ll have pennyworths out of your skin." And with that the fellow approached Andrew, a la Belcher, and, gave him two or three severe hits on his face, one of which stretched him in the kennel; where, after giving him two or three parting kicks, his merciless assailant left him.

Much did poor Andrew marvel what could be the reason of his being thus abused by a person whom he had never injured; but what availed his marvelling. He could make nothing of it? So, battered and bruised as he was, he hasted, as fast as his damaged legs would carry him, to his quarters, where he had to confine himself for a week till his face had recovered something of its original shape and complexion.

Well, one night as Andrew was sitting in the kitchen as usual, two drovers or cattle-dealers came in, and ordered some drink to be brought them. These persons, however, had not been seated a moment, when they began to eye Andrew with very suspicious and very offensive looks. Andrew observed the circumstance, and was greatly at a loss to comprehend what it meant; but thinking it possible that he might be mistaken, he endeavoured to enter into conversation with them; but all advances of this kind were repelled in the most uncourteous manner, and with such unequivocal expressions of dislike and impatience, that Andrew finally left the kitchen, and retired to his own apartment. Here, however, he had not been many minutes when his landlord entered, and gruffly intimated to him his desire, that he should pay his bill and instantly quit the house.

Andrew stared with surprise at the abruptness, incivility, and strangeness of this communication, and begged an explanation of it.

"I don’t choose to explain," replied the man, saucily; "but perhaps I know something more of some folks than some folks are aware of, and I only wish I had known it a little sooner. So I say no more, sir, but request you will settle your bill, and leave the premises as quick as you like."

It was in vain that poor Andrew entreated his landlord to speak to him in plain English; and to tell him at once, and in language which he could understand, what he meant by such singular conduct. All explanation was refused him.

Finding he could elicit no information regarding the cause of his landlord’s sudden and strangely altered conduct towards him, Andrew, whose pride began to take an interest in the matter, threw down the amount of his bill, and instantly left the house; but not before he had been told, that it was as well he shewed a disposition to walk off quietly, since, if he had not, it would have been worse for him.

If Andrew was at a loss to comprehend, for what reason he had been so unmercifully threshed, by the person who attacked him for the balance of the brown mare, he was no less puzzled to understand, why he had been thus unceremoniously thrust into the streets, by his landlord, whom he was as unconscious of having offended, as the other, having succeeded, though not without some difficulty, as he was a stranger in the town, in finding another lodging for the night, Andrew, agreeably to a determination, which he had some time previously come to, set off, on the following morning, by the coach, for Glasgow, where he had also some business to transact, before he returned home.

When the coach, on the top of which Andrew was mounted, had proceeded a little way, the guard tapped him on the shoulder, and said—giving him, at the same time, a knowing look, and clapping his finger on his nose—"I say, friend, are you going to try your hand in the west? eh! Some good things done there, in your way, occasionally; but I’m afraid you’ll find it rather hot quarters, as there’s a special sharp look-out kept there, just now, for birds of passage—you understand me—eh?"

Andrew looked steadily, for some time, at the person who thus familiarly and mysteriously addressed him, to discern whether he was in jest or earnest; but, not being able to make this out-—.

"How, frien’," said he, "should the wast be owre het for me, mair than ither folk?—What do ye mean?"

"Ah! ha! ha!—very well, very well," said the guard, laughing, heartily—"Come, now, that’s a capital one—you dont know anything about it. Oh, no, not you. And you dont know me either, I warrant?"

Andrew, with the utmost gravity of countenance, declared that he did not. "Better and better," shouted out the guard. Then stretching himself over the top of the coach towards Andrew, and, clapping his finger again, significantly, to his nose—"I say," he whispered, "do you recollect anything, then, of a certain score of blackfaced sheep, that you once drove into Morpeth, under an erroneous impression, that they were your own?—and do you recollect of the owner and I convincing you of your mistake, and of your feelings being so much hurt on the occasion, that you could not stand it, but took your heels, as if the old one himself had been after you? Dont recollect that, either, I suppose, eh?"

Poor simple Andrew gravely protested that he did not; and this he did with a steadiness and composure of countenance, that seemed to impress the guard with a very high opinion of his powers of deception.

"That’s right," he said, on Andrew’s denying not only all knowledge of the sheep he alluded to, but of his ever having been in Morpeth in his life. "That’s right," he said, slapping him on the shoulder. "My eye, but you’re a rare one. They’ll be devillish clever that make anything of you, friend, with that simple-looking face of yours, unless their evidence be all the weightier. Only take care of yourself, my lad, when you go west, that’s all, or they’ll bother you, for there’s some folks there on the look out for you."

Having said this, the guard dropped the conversation, and resumed his place and his attention to his duties, without taking any more notice of his passenger.

On arriving at Glasgow, Andrew proceeded to a tavern, to which he had been recommended by a friend, before leaving home; and here he was just about sitting down to a comfortable dinner, which he had ordered, when two persons abruptly entered the apartment, and inquired if his name was not "Harry Thomson, alias, alias," said the man who spoke, at the same time looking at a paper which he held in his hand—"alias Crichton, alias Johnston, alias Aitkin, alias Walkinshaw, alias Dowie, alias Ewin, alias Willoughby;" and here the man, fairly run out of breath with his aliases, stopped short; and looking Andrew stoutly in the face, inquired if he knew any of these gentlemen? "The ne’er a ane o’ them ever I saw, to my knowledge, atween the twa een," quoth Andrew, at a loss to conjecture what the meaning of this intrusion could be. "And my name’s no Harry Thomson," he added, "but Andrew Rutherford."

"Exactly," said one of the men, "All right, my man, nothing like a stout denial. But, in the meantime, you’ll please to come along with us."

"Wi’ you?" said Andrew, in amazement. "For what? And wha are ye?" "We’ll let you know all that, by and by," said one of the men. "In the meantime, Andrew, or whatever else your name is, we apprehend you on a charge of sheep-stealing. Have you had any hand in any small job of that kind lately?" And, without waiting for a reply, he went on—"and here’s a description of your person that fits you to a nicety;" and he read several particulars from a hand-bill, which certainly might apply to Andrew; but there was one which was altogether undeniable. This was a description of Andrew’s singular looking greatcoat. To a very button, to a single cape, this part of the picture was correct. So correct indeed was it, that Andrew himself could not deny it. He attempted, however, to do away with the effect of this evidence against him, by explaining how he came by the coat; but the officers, for such they were, merely gave an incredulous smile, on his stating that he had bought it a few days before in St. Mary’s Wynd, in Edinburgh, and repeated their commands that he should instantly go along with them. Conscious of his innocence, Andrew immediately complied, and in a few minutes, found himself snugly entombed in one of the criminal cells in Glasgow jail.

On the following day, Andrew was brought before the sheriff for examination, anent the crime of sheep-stealing, with which he was charged, when the well-known and fatal greatcoat was again urged against him, in proof of his identity; and again Andrew related how he came by it. This being a point which it was indispensably necessary to have cleared up, the prisoner was remanded, and the coat sent to Edinburgh, that the police there might make the necessary inquiries on the subject. The result was, that Andrew’s statement regarding the greatcoat was found to be correct—a circumstance which, added to the evidence of some acquaintances he had in Glasgow, and whom, in his extremity, he had called upon to bear witness that he was Andrew Rutherford, miller at Broomyknowes, in Annandale, and no other person whatever, finally procured his liberation. And it was now, for the first time, that Andrew learnt the history of his greatcoat—a history this which he obtained from one of the officers who apprehended him. The coat, it appeared from this account, had belonged to a notorious vagabond, for whom the police had been long on the look-out, who went about the country in the character of a horse-jockey or drover—swindling, cheating, and robbing, whenever opportunities presented themselves; and, in this simple and single fact, Andrew found at once a complete and most satisfactory solution of the mysterious occurrences which had lately befallen him. He had been taken for the original owner of the coat, and hence all his sufferings.

How the coat had come to St Mary’s Wynd, it was not so easy to conjecture; but it was supposed that the original proprietor, finding, from its singularity, that it was rather an inconvenient wear for a gentleman of his profession, had disposed of it there, and provided himself with a less remarkable garment. However this might be, Andrew determined never to buy a greatcoat in St Mary’s Wynd again, without being better informed of its history. We need scarcely add, that he resolved, at the same time, never again to put on the one which he had already bought there.

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