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Chapter II. Big Sandy Loses

"SPEAKIN' aboot matrimony" said Big Sandy Morison, "d'ye no think it a peety that a sociable body like Dod shouldna get a sonsy wife ? Dod man, is there naebody in the Beild fit enough for the honour o' becomin' Mrs. Dod Aitken ? "

"Oo ay, maybe there's ane or twa, but I'm no in a hurry. I'll wale cannily, syne I'll mak' nae mistak'."

Big Sandy gave a wink to Wee Sandy ar.d Jeems. Dod was getting into the talkative stage, and some fun might be extracted from him.

"Ye see," said Dod wisely, "matrimony's no like ony ither seetuation—ye canna quit if ye're no pleased, though there's some that we've heard tell o' that speak o'd whiles."

He alluded to Big Sandy, who sometimes, in the heat of a domestic broil, had threatened to leave his spouse and fend for himself.

"If it's me ye're meanin', Dod, speak out like a man," said Big Sandy, with dignity. " I hev said I wad gang back to my ain IS

fireside when Leeby was extra thrawn, but it's easier said than dune. But come, Dod, tell's wha in the Beild ye wad think guid enough to speir ? "

Dod, however, declined to be drawn, and then Big Sandy, who had a plot in his head, threw out a suggestion.

" I ken a leddy that wadna hae to be speirt twice," he said. " But I'll mention nae names."

" Will ye no ? " inquired Dod. " Then ye can haud your tongue," said Dod calmly, and proceeded to chap on the table again. Kirsty was rather longer coming this time, and there were some mysterious sounds proceeding from Bawbie's corner which indicated that she was at the mixing process. She was interrupted, however, by a baker's man stopping his van at the door, to get a nip to keep him warm in his wet clothes till he got home.

" I'll bet ye half a sovereign, Dod," said Big Sandy, " that there's wan 'ooman in the Beild wad pull yer nose till ye, if ye said marriage till her."

" I dinna ken her," said Dod, anxiously regarding the door for the entrance of Kirsty. " An' I dinna believe either there's a wummin born in the Beild or out o' it that wadna jump at a man like a cock at a berry."

" Wad ye tried, Dod ?" queried Big Sandy slily. " Supposin' I mentioned names, wad ye prove yer word ? "

" I wadna be feart," said Dod, and Kirsty entering then he took another dram.

" But she's a leddy o' property this, a relation o' mine by marriage."

"Are ye meanin' Marget Broon, Leeby's sister ? " queried Jeems mildly; and at that Dod Aitken broke into a derisive laugh.

" Marget Broon ! oh, I could 'a' haen her for the speirin' lang syne. She's no that ill-faured, but they say she has a deil o' a temper; though she has siller, hasn't she, Sandy ? "

" Ay, plenty. I'll lay that half-sovereign an' a dram on tap o't that she'd chase ye out o' the door, an' gie ye a dishcloot aboot yer legs. She biles her dishcloot though, so she micht think mair o' it than cloot Dod's lugs wi' it. Will ye tak' it up ? "

" Oo ay, I'll speir her the morn ; but if she tak's me, I'll no mairy her mind—I'll rin awa' first."

" If Marget says ay to you, Dod, we may a' rin awa', for the Judgment Day'll no be faur off! " said Sandy. " But I dinna think ye should wait or the mornin'; ye see I hev the hauf-soverin' in my pooch the day—I took my wab back to Cairndrum an' kept hauf a sovereign to mysel'. Tak' my advice an' gang the nicht."

"A' richt," said Dod, rising a trifle unsteadily to his feet. "An' if she tak's me mind, Sandy, ye'll explain that it was only a joke. I'm 110 gaunna be tied to Marget Broon."

" Oh, I'll explain," said Sandy readily; and the trio, entering into the joke, got up, ready to accompany the wooer to his destination. He was a sorry-looking object in his old moleskin trousers and ragged jacket, minus a collar, and an old tartan scarf knotted round his scraggy neck. The three worthies promised themselves some fun if he actually carried out his present purpose and offered himself to Marget Broon, who owned her own croft and cottage, and was a person of strong character, who thought no end of herself. It still rained heavily when they got out of doors, and it was pitch dark, a stray gleam here and there from an uncurtained cottage window occasionally relieving the gloom. The Beild ran east and west in a straggling fashion, and had some by-ways, which would lead to a solitary house, with maybe its byre and pigstye attached, and would there stop; streets it had none, though its denizens spoke of it as " the toon." The peat moss was the starting-point. If you walked away from it, you went east; if towards, west.

The four worthies walked east, Marget Broon's cottage being at the extreme end of the Beild, close by the smiddy and across the road from Morison's dairy. They did not meet a soul as they walked, and by the time they reached the east end were pretty wet; but what did that matter with such a ploy on. They did not believe Dod would ever do it—indeed, Big Sandy quite expected him to slink into his own house, which they had to pass on their way; but Dod had no such intention. He meant to win the half-sovereign, and to prove the truth of his assertion that any woman could be had for the asking. Big Sandy began to get a little nervous as they approached Marget's abode, but Dod was quite composed.

" Wull we come in, Dod ? " inquired Wee Sandy, hugely enjoying the joke.

" Na, na; I'm for nae wutnesses, but I winna lee. Ye can shelter in a beildy bit o' the dyke or the byre till I come oot. I'll no bide."

They crossed the road, and while the three, not yet believing Dod would really do it, hesitated at the end of the little lane which led past the byre to the door, he walked boldly up, and after giving a loud rat-tat, lifted the sneck and walked in.

" Michty me, he's in !" said Big Sandy, giving his damp brow a wipe; " we'd better get oot the road. If he does dae't, I'm no answerable for the consequences. Marget wad think naethin' o' fellin' him wi' a besom shank. We'd better gwa hame."

" No me," said Wee Sandy; " I'll see the end o't if she sud fells a'. Certes, Sandy, ye've potten the vera deil intil Dod the nicht! There maun hae been mair vitrol than ordinar' in Bawbie's bottle. Did ye see the cratur's e'en ? "

Sandy gave a grunt uncommonly like a groan. Marget Broon was his own wife's sister, and if it ever leaked out that he had set on Dod to such a night's work it was all up with him.

They stood still, sheltering themselves as well as they could under the overhanging thatch of the byre, and for a minute or two nothing could be heard but their breathing and the steady drip of the rain on the thatch.

" She's vera tidy aboot the doors," said Jeems Tamson admiringly; his soul loved order, and his own place was often an eyesore to him.

" Wheesht! " said Big Sandy excitedly, " I'm sure I heard Meg flightin'. I think I'll awa' hame."

" Deil a fut will ye, Sandy," said his kinsman firmly. " What are ye feart for, ye saft lump ? We maun see the fun oot. I'll jist slip up to the windy an' see if I can see onything."

Wee Sandy was short of stature and had a light foot. He crept up to the window as noiselessly as a mouse and peered over the window-blind, which was of thick spotted muslin drawn full on a string and reaching up to the middle half, where a white cotton blind met it; fortunately for Sandy, Marget had not drawn it down, and there was a space quite six inches wide between the two, through which he obtained a splendid view of the interior. He had to stretch on tip-toes to accomplish this, but it was worth the trouble. There was not a cleaner, cosier spot in the Beild than Marget Broon's kitchen; it had a stone floor, but was covered all over with rag carpet, and a little round table with a red-and-white dambrod cloth on it. It likewise had one easy-chair covered in Turkey red, and a footstool for the feet. There was a wag-at-the-wa' clock close by the door, its sonsy face ablaze with painted red roses and blue forget-me-nots, and a grand dresser with an array of "ashets" and "joogs" such as raised envy in every female breast. You see, Marget had no bairns to break things, and was so exceeding careful herself that she hoarded everything that came into her possession. The dambrod cloth and the rag carpet were only put out when all the day's traffic in the kitchen was over; during the day the arms and the back of the Tur-key-red chair were carefully happed with newspapers to keep the dust from spoiling it; but at that hour the place wore its cosiest aspect, and presented an inviting contrast to the cheerless aspect of things out of doors.

Wee Sandy stood absolutely still staring straight before him, with his nose jammed against the window-pane. His two comrades, peering anxiously from their shelter, could not see the expression of his face, but it was evident that he was deeply interested.

" He's stannin' like a stooky image, Jeems," said Big Sandy at last. "What's he seein'?"

In about ten minutes Wee Sandy suddenly turned round, stuffing his fists into his mouth to keep down a laugh, and crept back to his chums.

" Weel," said Big Sandy excitedly, " what can ye see—onything ? "

"Ay, a heap," said Wee Sandy, spluttering with his mirth; " he's sittin' in the muckle chair, wi' his feet on the stule, an' he's gotten his buits aff", an' the bottle's on the table. I'll lay ye a fiver, Sandy, ye've lost your hauf-sovereign!" And he had.

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