The House with the Green Shutters
Author(s): Douglas Brown, George
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THE GREEN SHUTTERS
McCLURE, PHILLIPS & Co
THE HOUSE WITH
THE GREEN SHUTTERS
THE frowsy chamber-maid of the "Red Lion" had
just finished washing the front door steps. She rose
from her stooping posture, and, being of slovenly habit,
flung the water from her pail, straight out, without
moving from where she stood. The smooth round arch
of the falling water glistened for a moment in mid-air.
John Gourlay, standing in front of his new house at the
head of the brae, could hear the swash of it when it fell.
The morning was of perfect stillness.
The hands of the clock across "the Square" were
pointing to the hour of eight. They were yellow in
Blowsalinda, of the Red Lion, picked up the big
bass that usually lay within the porch and, carrying it
clumsily against her breast, moved off round the corner
of the public house, her petticoat gaping behind. Half-way
she met the ostler with whom she stopped in amorous
dalliance. He said something to her, and she
laughed loudly and vacantly. The silly tee-hee echoed
up the street.
A moment later a cloud of dust drifting round the
corner, and floating white in the still air, shewed that
she was pounding the bass against the end of the house.
All over the little town the women of Barbie were equally
busy with their steps and door-mats. There was scarce
a man to be seen either in the Square, at the top of
which Gourlay stood, or in the long street descending
from its near corner. The men were at work; the children
had not yet appeared; the women were busy with
their household cares.
The freshness of the air, the smoke rising thin and
far above the red chimneys, the sunshine glistering on
the roofs and gables, the rosy clearness of everything
beneath the dawn, above all the quietness and peace, made
Barbie, usually so poor to see, a very pleasant place to
look down at on a summer morning. At this hour there
was an unfamiliar delicacy in the familiar scene, a freshness
and purity of aspect — almost an unearthliness — as
though you viewed it through a crystal dream. But it
was not the beauty of the hour that kept Gourlay musing
at his gate. He was dead to the fairness of the scene,
even while the fact of its presence there before him
wove most subtly with his mood. He smoked in silent
enjoyment because on a morning such as this, everything
he saw was a delicate flattery to his pride. At the beginning
of a new day to look down on the potty burgh
in which he was the greatest man, filled all his being
with a consciousness of importance. His sense of prosperity
was soothing and pervasive; he felt it all round
him like the pleasant air, as real as that and as subtle;
bathing him, caressing. It was the most secret and intimate
joy of his life to go out and smoke on summer
mornings by his big gate, musing over Barbie ere he
possessed it with his merchandise.
He had growled at the quarry carters for being late in
setting out this morning (for like most resolute dullards
he was sternly methodical), but in his heart he was
secretly pleased. The needs of his business were so
various that his men could rarely start at the same hour,
and in the same direction. Today, however, because of
the delay, all his carts would go streaming through the
town together, and that brave pomp would be a slap in
the face to his enemies."I'll show them," he thought,
proudly. "Them" was the town-folk, and what he
would shew them was what a big man he was. For, like
most scorners of the world's opinion, Gourlay was its
slave, and shewed his subjection to the popular estimate
by his anxiety to flout it. He was not great enough
for the carelessness of perfect scorn.
Through the big green gate behind him came the sound
of carts being loaded for the day. A horse, weary of
standing idle between the shafts, kicked ceaselessly and
steadily against the ground with one impatient hinder
foot, clink, clink, clink upon the paved yard. "Easy,
damn ye; ye'll smash the bricks!" came a voice. Then
there was the smart slap of an open hand on a sleek neck,
a quick start, and the rattle of chains as the horse quivered
to the blow.
"Run a white tarpaulin across the cheese, Jock, to
keep them frae melting in the heat," came another
voice." And canny on the top there wi' thae big feet o'
yours; d'ye think a cheese was made for you to dance on
your mighty brogues?" Then the voice sank to the
hoarse warning whisper of impatience; loudish in anxiety,
yet throaty from fear of being heard. "Hurry up,
man — hurry up, or he'll be down on us like bleezes for
being so late in getting off!"
Gourlay smiled, grimly, and a black gleam shot from
his eye as he glanced round to the gate and caught the
words. His men did not know he could hear them.
The clock across the Square struck the hour, eight
soft slow strokes, that melted away in the beauty of the
morning. Five minutes passed. Gourlay turned his
head to listen, but no further sound came from the
yard. He walked to the green gate, his slippers making
"Are ye sleeping, my pretty men?" he said, softly.
The "Eih" leapt like a sword, with a slicing sharpness
in its tone, that made it a sinister contrast to the
first sweet question to his "pretty men." "Eih?" he
said again, and stared with open mouth and fierce dark
"Hurry up, Peter," whispered the gaffer, "hurry up,
for Godsake. He has the black glower in his e'en."
"Ready, sir; ready now!" cried Peter Riney, running
out to open the other half of the gate. Peter was a
wizened little man, with a sandy fringe of beard beneath
his chin, a wart on the end of his long, slanting-out
nose, light blue eyes, and bushy eyebrows of a reddish
gray. The bearded red brows, close above the pale
blueness of his eyes, made them more vivid by contrast;
they were like pools of blue light amid the brownness of
his face. Peter always ran about his work with eager
alacrity. A simple and willing old man, he affected
the quick readiness of youth to atone for his insignificance.
"Hup horse; hup then!" cried courageous Peter,
walking backwards with curved body through the gate,
and tugging at the reins of a horse the feet of which
struck sparks from the paved ground as they stressed
painfully on edge to get weigh on the great waggon
behind. The cart rolled through, then another, and
another, till twelve of them had passed. Gourlay stood
aside to watch them. All the horses were brown; "he
makes a point of that," the neighbours would have told
you. As each horse passed the gate the driver left its
head, and took his place by the wheel, cracking his
whip, with many a "hup horse; yean horse; woa lad;
In a dull little country town the passing of a single
cart is an event, and a gig is followed with the eye
till it disappears. Anything is welcome that breaks
the long monotony of the hours, and suggests a topic
for the evening's talk. "Any news?" a body will
gravely enquire; "Ou aye;" another will answer with
equal gravity, "I saw Kennedy's gig going past in the
forenoon." "Aye, man, where would he be off till?
He's owre often in his gig, I'm thinking —" and then
Kennedy and his affairs will last them till bedtime.
Thus the appearance of Gourlay's carts woke Barbie
from its morning lethargy. The smith came out in his
leather apron, shoving back, as he gazed, the grimy
cap from his white-sweating brow; bowed old men stood
in front of their doorways, leaning with one hand on
short trembling staffs, while the slaver slid unheeded
along the cutties which the left hand held to their
toothless mouths; white-mutched grannies were keeking
past the jambs; an early urchin, standing wide-legged
to stare, waved his cap and shouted, "Hooray!" — and
all because John Gourlay's carts were setting off upon
their morning rounds, a brave procession for a single
town! Gourlay, standing great-shouldered in the middle
of the road, took in every detail, devoured it grimly
as a homage to his pride. "Ha! ha! ye dogs," said the
soul within him. Past the pillar of the Red Lion
door he could see a white peep of the landlord's waistcoat
— though the rest of the mountainous man was hidden
deep within his porch. (On summer mornings the
vast totality of the landlord was always inferential to
the town from the tiny white peep of him revealed.)
Even fat Simpson had waddled to the door to see the
carts going past. It was fat Simpson — might the Universe
blast his adipose — who had once tried to infringe
Gourlay's monopoly as the sole carrier in Barbie.
There had been a rush to him at first, but Gourlay set
his teeth and drove him off the road, carrying stuff for
nothing till Simpson had nothing to carry, so that the
local wit suggested "a wee parcel in a big cart" as a new
sign for his hotel. The twelve browns prancing past
would be a pill to Simpson! There was no smile about
Gourlay's mouth — a fiercer glower was the only sign of
his pride — but it put a bloom on his morning, he felt,
to see the suggestive round of Simpson's waistcoat, down
yonder at the porch. Simpson, the swine! He had
made short work o' him!
Ere the last of the carts had issued from the yard at
the House with the Green Shutters the foremost was
already near the Red Lion. Gourlay swore beneath
his breath when Miss Toddle — described in the local
records as "a spinster of independent means" — came
fluttering out with a silly little parcel to accost one of
the carriers. Did the auld fool mean to stop Andy Gow
about her petty affairs — and thus break the line of carts
on the only morning they had ever been able to go down
the brae together? But no. Andy tossed her parcel
carelessly up among his other packages, and left her
bawling instructions from the gutter, with a portentous
shaking of her corkscrew curls. Gourlay's men
took their cue from their master, and were contemptuous
of Barbie, most unchivalrous scorners of its old
Gourlay was pleased with Andy for snubbing Sandy
Toddle's sister. When he and Elshie Hogg reached
the Cross they would have to break off from the rest to
complete their loads, but they had been down Main
Street over night as usual picking up their commissions,
and until they reached the Bend o' the Brae it
was unlikely that any business should arrest them now.
Gourlay hoped that it might be so, and he had his desire,
for, with the exception of Miss Toddle, no customer
appeared. The teams went slowly down the steep side
of the Square in an unbroken line, and slowly down
the street leading from its near corner. On the slope
the horses were unable to go fast — being forced to stell
themselves hack against the heavy propulsion of the
carts behind; and thus the procession endured for a
length of time worthy its surpassing greatness. When
it disappeared round the Bend o' the Brae the watching
bodies disappeared too; the event of the day had passed
and vacancy resumed her reign. The street and the
Square lay empty to the morning sun. Gourlay alone
stood idly at his gate, lapped in his own satisfaction.
It had been a big morning, he felt. It was the first
time for many a year that all his men, quarry-men and
carriers, carters of cheese and carters of grain, had led
their teams down the brae together in the full view of
his rivals. "I hope they liked it!" he thought, and he
nodded several times at the town beneath his feet, with
a slow up and down motion of the head, like a man nodding
grimly to his beaten enemy. It was as if he said,
"See what I have done to ye!"
ONLY a man of Gourlay's brute force of character
could have kept all the carrying trade of Barbie in his
own hands. Even in these days of railways, nearly
every parish has a pair of carriers at the least, journeying
once or twice a week to the nearest town. In the
days when Gourlay was the great man of Barbie, railways
were only beginning to thrust themselves among
the quiet hills, and the bulk of inland commerce was
still being drawn by horses along the country roads.
Yet Gourlay was the only carrier in the town. The
wonder is diminished when we remember that it had
been a decaying burgh for thirty years, and that its
trade, at the best of times, was of meagre volume.
Even so, it was astonishing that he should be the only
carrier. If you asked the natives how he did it,
"Ou," they said, "he makes the one hand wash the
other, doan't ye know?" — meaning thereby that he had
so many horses travelling on his own business, that he
could afford to carry other people's goods at rates that
must cripple his rivals.
"But that's very stupid, surely," said a visitor once,
who thought of entering into competition. "It's cutting
off his nose to spite his face! Why is he so anxious
to be the only carrier in Barbie that he carries stuff for
next to noathing the moment another man tries to work
the roads? It's a daft-like thing to do!"
"To be sure is't, to be sure is't! Just the stupeedity
o' spite! Oh, there are times when Gourlay makes
little or noathing from the carrying; but then, ye see, it
gies him a fine chance to annoy folk! If you ask him to
bring ye ocht, 'Oh,' he growls, 'I'll see if it suits my
own convenience.' And ye have to be content. He has
made so much money of late that the pride of him's not
to be endured."
It was not the insolence of sudden wealth however
that made Gourlay haughty to his neighbors; it was a
repressiveness natural to the man and a fierce contempt
of their scoffing envy. But it was true that he had
made large sums of money during recent years. From
his father (who had risen in the world) he inherited a
fine trade in cheese; also the carrying to Skeighan on
the one side and Fleckie on the other. When he married
Miss Richmond of Tenshillingland, he started as
a corn broker with the snug dowry that she brought
him. Then, greatly to his own benefit, he succeeded
in establishing a valuable connection with Templandmuir.
It was partly by sheer impact of character that Gourlay
obtained his ascendancy over hearty and careless
Templandmuir, and partly by a bluff joviality which he
— so little cunning in other things — knew to affect
among the petty lairds. The man you saw trying to be
jocose with Templandmuir, was a very different being
from the autocrat who "downed" his fellows in the
town. It was all "How are ye the day, Templandmuir?"
and "How d'ye doo-oo, Mr. Gourlay?" and the
immediate production of the big decanter.
More than ten years ago now, Templandmuir gave
this fine dour upstanding friend of his a twelve-year
tack of the Red Quarry — and that was the making of
Gourlay. The quarry yielded the best building stone
in a circuit of thirty miles, easy to work and hard
against wind and weather. When the main line went
north through Skeighan and Poltandie, there was a
great deal of building on the far side, and Gourlay simply
coined the money. He could not have exhausted
the quarry had he tried — he would have had to howk
down a hill — but he took thousands of loads from it for
the Skeighan folk; and the commission he paid the
laird on each was ridiculously small. He built wooden
stables out on Templandmuir's estate — the Templar
had seven hundred acres of hill land — and it was there
the quarry horses generally stood. It was only rarely
— once in two years, perhaps — that they came into the
House with the Green Shutters. Last Saturday they
had brought several loads of stuff for Gourlay's own use;
and that is why they were present at the great procession
on the Monday following.
It was their feeling that Gourlay's success was out of
all proportion to his merits that made other great-men-in-a-small-way
so bitter against him. They were an able
lot, and scarce one but possessed fifty times his weight
of brain. Yet he had the big way of doing, though
most of them were well enough to pass. Had they not
been aware of his stupidity they would never have
minded his triumphs in the countryside, but they felt it
with a sense of personal defeat that he — the donkey, as
they thought him — should scoop every chance that was
going, and leave them, the long-headed ones, still muddling
in their old concerns. They consoled themselves
with sneers, he retorted with brutal scorn, and the feud
kept increasing between them.
They were standing at the Cross, to enjoy their Saturday
at e'en, when Gourlay's "quarriers" — as the quarry
horses had been named — came through the town last
week-end. There were groups of bodies in the streets,
washed from toil to enjoy the quiet air; dandering
slowly or gossiping at ease; and they all turned to watch
the quarriers stepping bravely up, their heads tossing
to the hill. The big-men-in-a-small-way glowered and
"I wouldn't mind," said Sandy Toddle at last, "I
wouldn't mind if he weren't such a demned ess!"
"Ess?" said the Deacon unpleasantly. He puckered
his brow and blinked, pretending not to understand.
"Oh, a cuddy, ye know," said Toddle, colouring.
"Gourlay'th stupid enough," lisped the Deacon.
"We all know that. But there'th one thing to be said
on hith behalf. He's not such a 'demned ess' as to try
and thpeak fancy English!"
When the Deacon was not afraid of a man he
stabbed him straight. When he was afraid of him
he stabbed him on the sly. He was annoyed by the
passing of Gourlay's carts, and he took it out of Sandy
"It's extr'ornar!" blurted the Provost (who was a
man of brosey speech, large-mouthed and fat of utterance).
"It's extr'ornar. Yass; it's extr'ornar! I
mean the luck of that man — for gumption he has noan.
Noan whatever! But if the railway came hereaway I
wager Gourlay would go down," he added, less in certainty
of knowledge than as prophet of the thing desired.
"I wager he'd go down, sirs."
"Likely enough," said Sandy Toddle; "he wouldn't
be quick enough to jump at the new way of doing."
"Moar than that!" cried the Provost, spite sharpening
his insight, "moar than that! He'd be owre dour
to abandon the auld way. I'm talling ye. He would
just be left entirely! It's only those, like myself, who
approach him on the town's affairs that know the full
extent of his stupeedity."
"Oh, he's a 'demned ess,'" said the Deacon, rubbing
it into Toddle and Gourlay at the same time.
"A-ah, but then, ye see, he has the abeelity that
comes from character," said Johnny Coe, who was a
sage philosopher. "For there are two kinds of abeelity,
don't ye understa-and? There's a scattered abeelity
that's of no use! Auld Randie Donaldson was good at
fifty different things, and he died in the poorhouse!
There's a dour kind of abeelity, though, that has
no cleverness, but just gangs tramping on; and
that's — "
"The easiest beaten by a flank attack," said the Deacon,
WITH the sudden start of a man roused from a daydream
Gourlay turned from the green gate and entered
the yard. Jock Gilmour, the "orra" man, was washing
down the legs of a horse beside the trough. It was Gourlay's
own cob, which he used for driving round the
countryside. It was a black — Gourlay "made a point"
of driving with a black. "The brown for sturdiness,
the black for speed," he would say, making a maxim of
his whim to give it the sanction of a higher law.
Gilmour was in a wild temper because he had been
forced to get up at five o'clock in order to turn several
hundred cheeses, to prevent them bulging out of shape
owing to the heat, and so becoming cracked and spoiled.
He did not raise his head at his master's approach.
And his head being bent, the eye was attracted to a
patent leather collar which he wore, glazed with black
and red stripes. It is a collar much affected by ploughmen,
because a dip in the horse-trough once a month
suffices for its washing. Between the striped collar
and his hair (as he stooped) the sunburned redness of
his neck struck the eye vividly — the cropped fair hairs
on it shewing whitish on the red skin.
The horse quivered as the cold water swashed about
its legs, and turned playfully to bite its groom. Gilmour,
still stooping, dug his elbow up beneath its ribs.
The animal wheeled in anger, but Gilmour ran to its
head with most manful blasphemy and led it to the
stable door. The off hind leg was still unwashed.
"Has the horse but the three legs?" said Gourlay
Gilmour brought the horse back to the trough, muttering
"Were ye saying anything?" said Gourlay."Eih?"
Gilmour sulked out and said nothing; and his master
smiled grimly at the sudden redness that swelled his
neck and ears to the verge of bursting.
A boy, standing in his shirt and trousers at an open
window of the house above, had looked down at the
scene with craning interest — big-eyed. He had been
alive to every turn and phase of it — the horse's quiver
of delight and fear, his skittishness, the groom's ill-temper,
and Gourlay's grinding will. Eh, but his
father was a caution! How easy he had downed Jock
Gilmour! The boy was afraid of his father himself,
but he liked to see him send other folk to the right
about. For he was John Gourlay, too. — Hokey, but his
father could down them!
Mr. Gourlay passed on to the inner yard, which was
close to the scullery door. The paved little court,
within its high wooden walls, was curiously fresh and
clean. A cock-pigeon strutted round, puffing his gleaming
breast and rooketty-cooing in the sun. Large clear
drops fell slowly from the spout of a wooden pump, and
splashed upon a flat stone. The place seemed to enfold
the stillness. There was a sense of inclusion and peace.
There is a distinct pleasure to the eye in a quiet brick
court where everything is fresh and prim; in sunny
weather you can lounge in a room and watch it through
an open door, in a kind of lazy dream. The boy, standing
at the window above to let the fresh air blow round
his neck, was alive to that pleasure; he was intensely
conscious of the pigeon swelling in its bravery, of the
clean yard, the dripping pump, and the great stillness.
His father on the step beneath had a different pleasure
in the sight. The fresh indolence of morning was
round him too, but it was more than that that kept him
gazing in idle happiness. He was delighting in the
sense of his own property around him, the most substantial
pleasure possible to man. His feeling, deep
though it was, was quite vague and inarticulate. If
you had asked Gourlay what he was thinking of he
could not have told you, even if he had been willing to
answer you civilly — which is most unlikely. Yet his
whole being, physical and mental (physical, indeed,
rather than mental), was surcharged with the feeling
that the fine buildings around him were his, that he
had won them by his own effort and built them large
and significant before the world. He was lapped in the
thought of it.
All men are suffused with that quiet pride in looking
at the houses and lands which they have won by their
endeavours — in looking at the houses more than at the
lands, for the house which a man has built seems to
express his character and stand for him before the
world, as a sign of his success. It is more personal than
cold acres, stamped with an individuality. All men
know that soothing pride in the contemplation of their
own property. But in Gourlay's sense of property
there was another element, an element peculiar to
itself, which endowed it with its warmest glow. Conscious
always that he was at a disadvantage among his
cleverer neighbours, who could achieve a civic eminence
denied to him, he felt nevertheless that there
was one means, a material means, by which he could
hold his own and reassert himself; by the bravery of
his business, namely, and all the appointments thereof
— among which his dwelling was the chief. That was
why he had spent so much money on the House. That
was why he had such keen delight in surveying it.
Every time he looked at the place he had a sense of
triumph over what he knew in his bones to be an adverse
public opinion. There was anger in his pleasure,
and the pleasure that is mixed with anger often gives
the keenest thrill. It is the delight of triumph in
spite of opposition. Gourlay's house was a material
expression of that delight, stood for it in stone and
It was not that he reasoned deliberately when he
built the house. But every improvement that he made
— and he was always spending money on improvements
— had for its secret motive a more or less vague desire
to score off his rivals. "That'll be a slap in the face to
the Provost!" he smiled, when he planted his great
mound of shrubs. "There's noathing like that about
the Provost's! Ha, ha!"
Encased as he was in his hard and insensitive nature
he was not the man who in new surroundings would
be quick to every whisper of opinion. But he had been
born and bred in Barbie, and he knew his townsmen —
oh, yes, he knew them. He knew they laughed because
he had no gift of the gab, and could never be Provost,
or Bailie, or Elder — or even Chairman of the Gasworks!
Oh, verra well, verra well; let Connal and Brodie and
Allardyce have the talk, and manage the town's affairs
(he was damned if they should manage his!) — he, for
his part, preferred the substantial reality. He could
never aspire to the Provostship, but a man with a house
like that, he was fain to think, could word to do without
it. Oh, yes; he was of opinion he could do without
it! It had run him short of cash to build the place so
big and braw, but, Lord! it was worth it. There wasn't
a man in the town who had such accommodation!
And so, gradually, his dwelling had come to be a
passion of Gourlay's life. It was a by-word in the
place that if ever his ghost was seen, it would be haunting
the House with the Green Shutters. Deacon Allardyce,
trying to make a phrase with him, once quoted
the saying in his presence. "Likely enough!" said
Gourlay. "It's only reasonable I should prefer my
own house to you rabble in the graveyard!"
Both in appearance and position the house was a
worthy counterpart of its owner. It was a substantial
two-story dwelling, planted firm and gawcey on a little
natural terrace that projected a considerable distance
into the Square. At the foot of the steep little bank
shelving to the terrace ran a stone wall, of no great
height, and the iron railings it uplifted were no higher
than the sward within. Thus the whole house was bare
to the view from the ground up, nothing in front to
screen its admirable qualities. From each corner, behind,
flanking walls went out to the right and left, and
hid the yard and the granaries. In front of these walls
the dwelling seemed to thrust itself out for notice. It
took the eye of a stranger the moment he entered the
Square — "Whose place is that?" was his natural question.
A house that challenges regard in that way
should have a gallant bravery in its look; if its aspect be
mean, its assertive position but directs the eye to its infirmities.
There is something pathetic about a tall,
cold, barn-like house set high upon a brae; it cannot
hide its naked shame; it thrusts its ugliness dumbly on
your notice, a manifest blotch upon the world, a place
for the winds to whistle round. But Gourlay's house
was worthy its commanding station. A little dour and
blunt in the outlines like Gourlay himself, it drew and
satisfied your eye as he did.
And its position, "cockit up there on the brae,"
made it the theme of constant remark, to men because
of the tyrant who owned it, and to women because of
the poor woman who mismanaged its affairs. "'Deed,
I don't wonder that gurly Gourlay, as they ca' him, has
an ill temper," said the gossips gathered at the pump,
with their big bare arms akimbo; "whatever led him to
marry that dishclout of a woman clean beats me! I
never could make head nor tail o't!" As for the men,
they twisted every item about Gourlay and his domicile
into fresh matter of assailment. "What's the news?"
asked one, returning from a long absence — to whom the
smith, after smoking in silence for five minutes, said,
"Gourlay has got new rones!" "Ha — aye, man, Gourlay
has got new rones!" buzzed the visitor, and
then their eves, diminished in mirth, twinkled at each
other from out their ruddy wrinkles, as if wit had volleyed
between them. In short, the House with the
Green Shutters was on every tongue — and with a scoff
in the voice if possible.
GOURLAY went swiftly to the kitchen from the inner
yard. He had stood so long in silence on the step, and
his coming was so noiseless, that he surprised a long
thin trollop of a woman, with a long thin scraggy neck,
seated by the slatternly table, and busy with a frowsy
paper-covered volume, over which her head was bent
in intent perusal.
"At your novelles?" said he."Aye, woman; will it
be a good story?"
She rose in a nervous flutter when she saw him; yet
needlessly shrill in her defence, because she was angry
"Ah, well!" she cried, in weary petulance, "it's an
unco thing if a body's not to have a moment's rest after
such a morning's darg! I just sat down wi' the book
for a little, till John should come till his breakfast!"
"So?" said Gourlay.
"God aye!" he went on, "you're making a nice job of
him. He'll be a credit to the House. Oh, it's right,
no doubt, that you should neglect your work till he consents
"Eh, the puir la-amb," she protested, dwelling on the
vowels in fatuous maternal love, "the bairn's wearied,
man! He's ainything but strong, and the schooling's
owre sore on him."
"Poor lamb, atweel," said Gourlay. "It was a
muckle sheep that dropped him."
It was Gourlay's pride in his house that made him
harsher to his wife than others, since her sluttishness
was a constant offence to the order in which he loved to
have his dear possessions. He, for his part, liked everything
precise. His claw-toed hammer always hung by
the head on a couple of nails close together near the
big clock; his gun always lay across a pair of wooden
pegs, projecting from the brown rafters, just above the
hearth. His bigotry in trifles expressed his character.
Strong men of a mean understanding often deliberately
assume, and passionately defend, peculiarities of no importance,
because they have nothing else to get a repute
for. "No, no," said Gourlay; "you'll never see a
brown cob in my gig — I wouldn't take one in a present!"
He was full of such fads, and nothing should persuade
him to alter the crotchets, which, for want of something
better, he made the marks of his dour character. He
had worked them up as part of his personality, and his
pride of personality was such that he would never consent
to change them. Hence the burly and gurly man
was prim as an old maid with regard to his belongings.
Yet his wife was continually infringing the order on
which he set his heart. If he went forward to the big
clock to look for his hammer, it was sure to be gone —
the two bright nails staring at him vacantly. "Oh," she
would say in weary complaint, "I just took it to break a
wheen coals"; — and he would find it in the coal-hole,
greasy and grimy finger-marks engrained on the handle
which he loved to keep so smooth and clean. Innumerable
her offences of the kind. Independent of these,
the sight of her general incompetence filled him with a
seething rage, which found vent not in lengthy tirades
but the smooth venom of his tongue. Let him keep the
outside of the House never so spick and span, inside was
awry with her untidiness. She was unworthy of the
House with the Green Shutters — that was the gist of it.
Every time he set eyes on the poor trollop, the fresh
perception of her incompetence which the sudden sight
of her flashed, as she trailed aimlessly about, seemed to
fatten his rage and give a coarser birr to his tongue.
Mrs. Gourlay had only four people to look after, her
husband, her two children, and Jock Gilmour, the
orra man. And the wife of Dru'cken Wabster — who
had to go charing because she was the wife of Dru'cken
Wabster — came in every day, and all day long, to help
her with the work. Yet the house was always in confusion.
Mrs. Gourlay had asked for another servant, but
Gourlay would not allow that; "one's enough," said he,
and what he once laid down, he never went back on.
Mrs. Gourlay had to muddle along as best she could,
and having no strength either of mind or body, she let
things drift and took refuge in reading silly fiction.
As Gourlay shoved his feet into his boots, and
stamped to make them easy, he glowered at the kitchen
from under his heavy brows with a huge disgust. The
table was littered with unwashed dishes, and on the corner
of it next him was a great black sloppy ring, showing
where a wet saucepan had been laid upon the bare
board. The sun streamed through the window in yellow
heat right on to a pat of melting butter. There
was a basin of dirty water beneath the table, with the
dishcloth slopping over on the ground.
"It's a tidy house!" said he.
"Ach well," she cried, "you and your kitchen-range!
It was that that did it! The masons could have redd
out the fireplace to make room for't in the afternoon
before it comes hame. They could have done't brawly,
but ye wouldna hear o't — oh, no — ye bude to have the
whole place gutted out yestreen. I had to boil everything
on the parlour fire this morning — no wonder I'm
a little tousy!"
The old fashioned kitchen grate had been removed
and the jambs had been widened on each side of the fireplace;
it yawned, empty and cold. A little rubble of
mortar, newly dried, lay about the bottom of the square
recess. The sight of the crude, unfamiliar scraps of
dropped lime in the gaping place where warmth should
have been, increased the discomfort of the kitchen.
"Oh, that's it!" said Gourlay. "I see! It was
want of the fireplace that kept ye from washing the
dishes that we used yestreen. That was terrible! However,
ye'll have plenty of boiling water when I put in
the grand new range for ye; there winna be its equal
in the parish! We'll maybe have a clean house than."
Mrs. Gourlay leaned, with the outspread thumb and
red raw knuckles of her right hand, on the sloppy table,
and gazed away through the back window of the kitchen
in a kind of mournful vacancy. Always when her first
complaining defence bad failed to turn aside her husband's
tongue, her mind became a blank beneath his
heavy sarcasms, and sought refuge by drifting far away.
She would fix her eyes on the distance in dreary contemplation,
and her mind would follow her eyes, in a
vacant and wistful regard. The preoccupation of her
mournful gaze enabled her to meet her husband's sneers
with a kind of numb unheeding acquiescence. She
scarcely heard them.
Her head hung a little to one side as if too heavy
for her wilting neck. Her hair, of a dry red brown,
curved low on either side of her brow, in a thick untidy
mass, to her almost transparent ears. As she
gazed in weary and dreary absorption her lips had fallen
heavy and relaxed, in unison with her mood; and
through her open mouth her breathing was quick, and
short, and noiseless. She wore no stays, and her slack
cotton blouse shewed the flatness of her bosom, and
the faint outlines of her withered and pendulous breasts
hanging low within.
There was something tragic in her pose, as she stood,
sad and abstracted, by the dirty table. She was scraggy
helplessness, staring in sorrowful vacancy. But Gourlay
eyed her with disgust — why, by Heaven, even now
her petticoat was gaping behind, worse than the sloven's
at the Red Lion. She was a pr-r-retty wife for John
Gourlay! The sight of her feebleness would have
roused pity in some: Gourlay it moved to a steady and
seething rage. As she stood helpless before him he
stung her with crude, brief irony.
Yet he was not wilfully cruel; only a stupid man with
a strong character, in which he took a dogged pride.
Stupidity and pride provoked the brute in him. He
was so dull — only dull is hardly the word for a man
of his smouldering fire — he was so dour of wit that
he could never hope to distinguish himself by anything
in the shape of cleverness. Yet so resolute a
man must make the strong personality of which he was
proud, tell in some way. How, then, should he assert
his superiority and hold his own? Only by affecting
a brutal scorn of everything said and done unless it
was said and done by John Gourlay. His lack of understanding
made his affectation of contempt the easier.
A man can never sneer at a thing which he really
understands. Gourlay, understanding nothing, was able
to sneer at everything. "Hah! I don't understand
that; it's damned nonsense!" — that was his attitude to
life. If "that" had been an utterance of Shakespeare
or Napoleon it would have made no difference to John
Gourlay. It would have been damned nonsense just
the same. And he would have told them so, if he had
The man had made dogged scorn a principle of life
to maintain himself, at the height which his courage
warranted. His thickness of wit was never a bar to
the success of his irony. For the irony of the ignorant
Scot is rarely the outcome of intellectual qualities. It
depends on a falsetto voice and the use of a recognized
number of catchwords. "Dee-ee-ar me, dee-ee-ar me";
"Just so-a, just so-a"; "Im-phm!" "D'ye tell me
that?" "Wonderful, serr, wonderful"; "Ah, well,
may-ay-be, may-ay-be," — these be words of potent irony
when uttered with a certain birr. Long practice had
made Gourlay an adept in their use. He never spoke to
those he despised or disliked, without "the birr." Not
that he was voluble of speech; he wasn't clever enough
for lengthy abuse. He said little and his voice was
low, but every word from the hard, clean lips was a
stab. And often his silence was more withering than
any utterance. It struck life like a black frost.
In those early days, to be sure, Gourlay had less occasion
for the use of his crude but potent irony, since the
sense of his material well-being warmed him and made
him less bitter to the world. To the substantial farmers
and petty squires around he was civil, even hearty,
in his manner — unless they offended him. For they,
belonged to the close corporation of "bien men," and
his familiarity with them was a proof to the world of
his greatness. Others, again, were far too far beneath
him already for him to "down" them. He reserved
his jibes for his immediate foes, the assertive bodies
his rivals in the town — and for his wife, who was a
constant eyesore. As for her, he had baited the poor
woman so long that it had become a habit; he never
spoke to her without a sneer. "Aye, where have you
been stravaiging to?" he would drawl, and if she answered
meekly, "I was taking a dander to the linn
owre-bye," "The linn!" he would take her up; "ye
had a heap to do to gang there; your Bible would fit
you better on a bonny Sabbath afternune!" Or it
might be: "What's that you're burying your nose in
now?" and if she faltered, "It's the Bible," "Hi!" he
would laugh, "you're turning godly in your auld age.
Weel, I'm no saying but it's time."
"Where's Janet?" he demanded, stamping his boots
once more, now he had them laced.
"Eh?" said his wife vaguely, turning her eyes from
the window. "Wha-at?"
"Ye're not turning deaf, I hope. I was asking ye
where Janet was."
"I sent her down to Scott's for a can o' milk," she
answered him wearily.
"No doubt ye had to send her," said he."What
ails the lamb that ye couldna send him? Eh?"
"Oh, she was about when I wanted the milk, and
she volunteered to gang. Man, it seems I never do a
thing to please ye! What harm will it do her to run
for a drop milk?"
"Noan," he said gravely, "noan. And it's right, no
doubt, that her brother should still be a-bed — oh, it's
right that he should get the privilege — seeing he's the
Mrs. Gourlay was what the Scotch call "browdened*
on her boy." In spite of her slack grasp on life — perhaps,
because of it — she clung with a tenacious fondness
to him. He was all she had, for Janet was a
thowless † thing, too like her mother for her mother to
like her. And Gourlay had discovered that it was one
way of getting at his wife to be hard upon the thing
she loved. In his desire to nag and annoy her, he
adopted a manner of hardness and repression to his
son — which became permanent. He was always
"down" on John. The more so because Janet was
his own favourite — perhaps, again, because her mother
seemed to neglect her. Janet was a very unlovely
child, with a long tallowy face and a pimply brow, over
which a stiff fringe of whitish hair came down almost
to her staring eyes, the eyes themselves being large,
pale blue, and saucer-like, with a great margin of unhealthy
white. But Gourlay, though he never petted
her, had a silent satisfaction in his daughter. He took
* Browdened: a Scot devoted to his children is said to be
"browdened on his bairns."
† Thowless, weak, useless.
her about with him in the gig, on Saturday afternoons,
when he went to buy cheese and grain at the outlying
farms. And he fed her rabbits when she had the fever.
It was a curious sight to see the dour silent man mixing
oatmeal and wet tea-leaves in a saucer at the dirty kitchen-table,
and then marching off to the hutch, with the
ridiculous dish in his hand, to feed his daughter's pets.
A sudden yell of pain and alarm rang through the
kitchen. It came from the outer yard.
When the boy, peering from the window above, saw
his father disappear through the scullery door; he stole
out. The coast was clear at last.
He passed through to the outer yard. Jock Gilmour
had been dashing water on the paved floor, and was
now sweeping it out with a great whalebone besom.
The hissing whalebone sent a splatter of dirty drops
showering in front of it. John set his bare feet wide
(he was only in his shirt and knickers) and eyed the
man whom his father had "downed" with a kind of
silent swagger. He felt superior. His pose was instinct
with the feeling: "My father is your master, and
ye daurna stand up till him." Children of masterful
sires often display that attitude towards dependants,
The feeling is not the less real for being subconscious.
Jock Gilmour was still seething with a dour anger
because Gourlay's quiet will had ground him to the
task. When John came out and stood there, he felt
tempted to vent on him, the spite he felt against his
father. The subtle suggestion of criticism and superiority
in the boy's pose intensified the wish. Not that
Gilmour acted from deliberate malice; his irritation
was instinctive. Our wrath against those whom we
fear is generally wreaked upon those whom we don't.
John, with his hands in his pockets, strutted across
the yard, still watching Gilmour with that silent offensive
look. He came into the path of the whalebone.
"Get out, you smeowt!" cried Gilmour, and with a
vicious shove of the brush he sent a shower of dirty
drops spattering about the boy's bare legs.
"Hallo you! what are ye after?" bawled the boy.
"Don't you try that on again, I'm telling ye. What are
you, onyway. Ye're just a servant. Hay-ay-ay, my
man, my faither's the boy for ye. He can put ye in your
Gilmour made to go at him with the head of the
whalebone besom. John stooped and picked up the
wet lump of cloth with which Gilmour had been washing
down the horse's legs.
"Would ye?" said Gilmour, threateningly.
"Would I no?" said John, the wet lump poised for
throwing, level with his shoulder.
But he did not throw it for all his defiant air. He
hesitated. He would have liked to slash it into Gilmour's
face, but a swift vision of what would happen
if he did, withheld his craving arm. His irresolution
was patent in his face; in his eyes there was both a
threat and a watchful fear. He kept the dirty cloth
poised in mid-air.
"Drap the clout," said Gilmour.
"I'll no," said John.
Gilmour turned sideways and whizzed the head of
the besom round so that its dirty spray rained in the
boy's face and eyes. John let him have the wet lump
slash in his mouth. Gilmour dropped the besom and
hit him a sounding thwack on the ear. John hullabalooed.
Murther and desperation!
Ere he had gathered breath for a second roar his
mother was present in the yard. She was passionate in
defence of her cub, and rage transformed her. Her
tense frame vibrated in anger; you would scarce have
recognised the weary trollop of the kitchen.
"What's the matter, Johnny dear?" she cried, with
a fierce glance at Gilmour.
"Gilmour hut me!" he bellowed angrily.
"Ye muckle lump!" she cried shrilly, the two
scraggy muscles of her neck standing out long and
thin as she screamed; "ye muckle lump — to strike a
defenceless wean! — Dinna greet, my lamb, I'll no let
him meddle ye. — Jock Gilmour, how daur ye lift your
finger to a wean of mine. But I'll learn ye the better
o't! Mr. Gourlay'll gie you the order to travel ere the
day's muckle aulder. I'll have no servant about my
hoose to ill-use my bairn."
She stopped, panting angrily for breath, and glared
at her darling's enemy.
"Your servant!" cried Gilmour in contempt.
"Ye're a nice-looking object to talk about servants."
He pointed at her slovenly dress and burst into a blatant
laugh: "Huh, huh, huh!"
Mr. Gourlay had followed more slowly from the
kitchen as befitted a man of his superior character.
He heard the row well enough, but considered it beneath
him to hasten to a petty squabble.
"What's this?" he demanded, with a widening look.
Gilmour scowled at the ground.
"This!" shrilled Mrs. Gourlay, who had recovered
her breath again; "this! Look at him there, the
muckle slabber," and she pointed to Gilmour who was
standing with a red-lowering, downcast face; "look
at him! A man of that size to even himsell to a
"He deserved a' he got," said Gilmour sullenly.
"His mother spoils him at ony rate. And I'm damned
if the best Gourlay that ever dirtied leather's gaun to
trample owre me."
Gourlay jumped round with a quick start of the
whole body. For a full minute he held Gilmour in the
middle of his steady glower.
"Walk," he said, pointing to the gate.
"Oh, I'll walk," bawled Gilmour, screaming now
that anger gave him courage. "Gie me time to get
my kist, and I'll walk mighty quick. And damned
glad I'll be, to get redd o' you and your hoose. The
Hoose wi' the Green Shutters," he laughed, "hi, hi, hi!
the Hoose wi' the Green Shutters!"
Gourlay went slowly up to him, opening his eyes on
him black and wide. "You swine!" he said with quiet
vehemence; "for damned little I would kill ye wi' a
glower!" Gilmour shrank from the blaze in his eyes.
"Oh, dinna be fee-ee-ared," said Gourlay quietly,
"dinna be fee-ee-ared. I wouldn't dirty my hand on
'ee! But get your bit kist, and I'll see ye off the premises.
Suspeecious characters are worth the watching."
"Suspeecious!" stuttered Gilmour, "suspeecious!
Wh-wh-whan was I ever suspeecious? I'll have the law
of ye for that. I'll make ye answer for your wor-rds."
"Imphm!" said Gourlay. "In the meantime, look
slippy wi' that bit box o' yours. I don't like daft folk
about my hoose."
"There'll be dafter folk as me in your hoose yet,"
spluttered Gilmour angrily as he turned away.
He went up to the garret where he slept and brought
down his trunk. As he passed through the scullery,
bowed beneath the clumsy burden on his left shoulder,
John, recovered from his sobbing, mocked at him.
"Hay-ay-ay," he said, in throaty derision, "my faither's
the boy for ye. Yon was the way to put ye
IN every little Scotch community there is a distinct
type known as "the bodie." "What does he do, that
man?" you may ask, and the answer will be, "Really,
I could hardly tell ye what he does — he's juist a bodie!"
The "bodie" may be a gentleman of independent
means (a hundred a year from the Funds) fussing about
in spats and light check breeches; or he may be a jobbing
gardener; but he is equally a "bodie." The chief
occupation of his idle hours (and his hours are chiefly
idle) is the discussion of his neighbour's affairs. He is
generally an "auld residenter"; great, therefore, at
the redding up of pedigrees. He can tell you exactly,
for instance, how it is that young Pin-oe's taking geyly
to the dram: for his grandfather, it seems, was a terrible
man for the drink — ou, just terrible — why, he
went to bed with a full jar of whiskey once, and when
he left it, he was dead, and it was empty. So ye see,
that's the reason o't.
The genus "bodie" is divided into two species: the
"harmless bodies" and the "nesty bodies." The
bodies of Barbie mostly belonged to the second variety.
Johnny Coe, and Tam Wylie, and the baker, were decent
enough fellows in their way, but the others were
the sons of scandal. Gourlay spoke of them as a
"wheen damned auld wives." — But Gourlay, to be sure,
was not an impartial witness.
The Bend o' the Brae was the favourite stance of the
bodies; here they foregathered every day to pass judgment
on the town's affairs. And, indeed, the place had
many things to recommend it. Among the chief it was
within an easy distance of the Red Lion, farther up
the street, to which it was really very convenient to
adjourn nows and nans. Standing at the Bend o' the
Brae, too, you could look along two roads to the left
and right, or down upon the Cross beneath, and the
three low streets that guttered away from it. Or you
might turn and look up Main Street, and past the side
of the Square, to the House with the Green Shutters,
the highest in the town. The Bend o' the Brae, you
will gather, was a fine post for observation. It had
one drawback, true; if Gourlay turned to the right
in his gig he disappeared in a moment, and you could
never be sure where he was off to. But even that
afforded matter for pleasing speculation which often
lasted half an hour.
It was about nine o'clock when Gourlay and Gilmour
quarrelled in the yard, and that was the hour when the
bodies foregathered for their morning dram.
"Good moarning, Mr. Wylie!" said the Provost. —
When the Provost wished you good morning, with
a heavy civic eye, you felt sure it was going to be
"Mornin', Provost, mornin'! Fine weather for the
fields," said Tam, casting a critical glance at the blue
dome in which a soft white-bosomed cloud floated high
above the town. "If this weather hauds, it'll be a
blessing for us poor farming bodies."
Tam was a wealthy old hunks, but it suited his humour
to refer to himself constantly as "a poor farming
bodie." And he dressed in accordance with his humour.
His clean old crab-apple face was always grinning at
you from over a white-sleeved moleskin waistcoat, as
if he had been no better than a breaker of road-mettle.
"Faith aye!" said the Provost, cunning and quick —
"fodder should be cheap" — and he shot the covetous
glimmer of a bargain-making eye at Mr. Wylie.
Tam drew himself up. He saw what was coming.
"We're needing some hay for the burgh horse," said
the Provost." Ye'll be willing to sell at fifty shillings
the ton, since it's like to be so plentiful."
"Oh," said Tam solemnly, "that's on-possible!
Gourlay's seeking the three pound! And where he
leads we maun a' gang. Gourlay sets the tune and
Barbie dances till't."
That was quite untrue so far as the speaker was concerned.
It took a clever man to make Tam Wylie dance
to his piping. But Thomas, the knave, knew that he
could always take a rise out the Provost by cracking up
the Gourlays, and that to do it now was the best way
of fobbing him off about the hay.
"Gourlay!" muttered the Provost in disgust. And
Tam winked at the baker.
"Losh!" said Sandy Toddle, "yonder's the Free
Kirk Minister going past the Cross! Where'll he be off
till, at this hour of the day? He's not often up so
"They say he sits late studying," said Johnny Coe.
"H'mph, studying!" grunted Tam Brodie, a big
heavy wall-checked man, whose little side-glancing eyes
seemed always alert for scandal amid the massive insolence
of his smooth face. "I see few signs of studying
in him. He's noathing but a stink wi' a skin on't."
T. Brodie was a very important man, look you, and
wrote "Leather Mercht." above his door, though he
cobbled with his own hands. He was a staunch Conservative,
and down on the Dissenters.
"What road'th he taking?" lisped Deacon Allardyce,
craning past Brodie's big shoulder to get a look.
"He's stoppit to speak to Widow Wallace. What will
he be saying to her?"
"She's a greedy bodie that Mrs. Wallace; I wouldna
wonder but she's spiering him for bawbees."
"Will he take the Skeighan Road, I wonder?"
"Or the Fechars?"
"He's a great man for gathering gowans and other
sic trash. He's maybe for a dander up the burn juist.
They say he's a great botanical man."
"Aye," said Brodie, "paidling in a burn's the ploy
for him. He's a weanlv gowk."
"A-a-ah!" protested the baker, who was a Burnsomaniac,
"there's waur than a walk by the bank o' a
bonny burn. Ye ken what Mossgiel said:
"'The Muse nae poet ever fand her,
Till by himsel he learned to wander,
Adown some trottin burn's meander,
And no thick lang;
Oh sweet, to muse and pensive ponder
A heartfelt sang.'"
Poetical quotations however made the Provost
uncomfortable. "Aye," he said drily in his throat;
"verra good, baker, verra good! — Whose yellow
doag's that? I never saw the beast about the town
"Nor me either. It's a perfect stranger!"
"It's like a herd's doag!"
"Man, you're right! That's just what it will be.
The morn's Fleckie lamb fair, and some herd or other'll
be in about the town."
"He'll be drinking in some public house, I'se warrant,
and the doag will have lost him."
"Imph, that'll be the way o't."
"I'm demned if he hasn't taken the Skeighan Road!"
said Sandy Toddle, who had kept his eye on the minister.
— Toddle's accent was a varying quality. When
he remembered he had been a packman in England it
was exceedingly fine. But he often forgot.
"The Skeighan Road! The Skeighan Road! Who'll
he be going to see in that airt? Will it be Templandmuir?"
"Gosh, it canna be Templandmuir. He was there
no later than yestreen!"
"Here's a man coming down the brae!" announced
Johnny Coe in a solemn voice, as if a man "coming
down the brae" was something unusual. In a moment
every head was turned to the hill.
"What's yon he's carrying on his shouther?" pondered
"It looks like a boax," said the Provost, slowly, bending
every effort of eye and mind to discover what it
really was. He was giving his profoundest cogitations
to the "boax."
"It is a boax! But who is it though? I canna
make him out."
"Dod, I canna tell either; his head's so bent with
At last the man, laying his "boax" on the ground,
stood up to ease his spine, so that his face was visible.
"Losh, it's Jock Gilmour, the orra man at Gourlay's!
What'll he be doing out on the street at this
hour of the day? I thocht he was always busy on the
premises! Will Gourlay be sending him off with something
to somebody? But no; that canna be. He would
have sent it with the carts."
"I'll wager ye," cried Johnny Coe quickly, speaking
more loudly than usual in the animation of discovery,
"I'll wager ye Gourlay has quarrelled him and put him
to the door!"
"Man, you're right! That'll just be it, that'll just
be it! Aye; aye; faith aye; and yon'll be his kist he's
carrying! Man, you're right, Mr. Coe; you have just
put your finger on't. We'll hear news this morning."
They edged forward to the middle of the road, the
Provost in front, to meet Gilmour coming down.
"Ye've a heavy burden this morning, John," said the
"No wonder, sir," said Gilmour with big-eyed solemnity,
and set clown the chest; "it's no wonder, seeing
that I'm carrying my a-all."
"Aye, man, John. How's that na?"
To be the centre of interest and the object of gracious
condescension was balm to the wounded feelings
of Gilmour. Gourlay had lowered him, but this reception
restored him to his own good opinion. He was
usually called "Jock" (except by his mother, to whom,
of course, he was "oor Johnny") but the best merchants
in the town were addressing him as "John."
It was a great occasion. Gilmour expanded in gossip
beneath its influence benign.
He welcomed, too, this first and fine opportunity of
venting his wrath on the Gourlays.
"Oh, I just telled Gourlay what I thocht of him, and
took the door ahint me. I let him have it hot and
hardy, I can tell ye. He'll no' forget me in a hurry" —
Gilmour bawled angrily, and nodded his head significantly,
and glared fiercely, to show what good cause
he had given Gourlay to remember him — "he'll no forget
me for a month of Sundays."
"Aye, man, John, what did ye say till him?"
"Na, man, what did he say to you?"
"Wath he angry, Dyohn?"
"How did the thing begin?"
"Tell us, man, John."
"What was it a-all about, John?"
"Was Mrs. Gourlay there?"
Bewildered by this pelt of questions Gilmour answered
the last that hit his ear. "There, aye; faith,
she was there. It was her was the cause o't."
"D'ye tell me that, John? Man, you surprise me. I
would have thocht the thowless trauchle * hadna the
smeddum left to interfere."
"Oh, it was yon boy of hers. He's aye swaggerin'
aboot, interferin' wi' folk at their wark — he follows his
faither's example in that, for as the auld cock craws the
young ane learns — and his mither's that daft aboot him
that ye daurna give a look! He came in my road when
I was sweeping out the close, and some o' the dirty
* Trauchle, a poor trollop who trails about; smeddum, grit.
jaups splashed about his shins; but.was I to blame for
that? — ye maun walk wide o' a whalebone besom if ye
dinna want to be splashed. Afore I kenned where I
was, he up wi' a dirty washing-clout and slashed me
in the face wi't! I hit him a thud in the ear — as wha
wadna? Out come his wither like a fury, skirling about
her hoose, and her servants, and her weans. 'Your servant!'
says I, 'your servant! You're a nice-looking
trollop to talk aboot servants,' says I."
"Did ye really, John?"
"Man, that wath bauld o' ye."
"And what did she say?"
"Oh, she just kept skirling! And then, to be sure,
Gourlay must come out and interfere! But I telled
him to his face what I thocht of him! 'The best Gourlay
that ever dirtied leather,' says I ''s no gaun to
make dirt of me,' says I."
"Aye man, Dyohn!" lisped Deacon Allardyce, with
bright and eagerly enquiring eyes. "And what did he
thay to that, na? That wath a dig for him! I'the warrant
he wath angry."
"Angry? He foamed at the mouth! But I up and
says to him, 'I have had enough o' you,' says I, 'you
and your Hoose wi' the Green Shutters,' says I, 'you're
no fit to have a decent servant,' says I. 'Pay me my
wages and I'll be redd o' ye,' says I. And wi' that I
flang my kist on my shouther and slapped the gate
"And did he pay ye your wages?" Tam Wylie probed
him slily, with a sideward glimmer in his eye.
"Ah, well, no; not exactly," said Gilmour drawing
in. "But I'll get them right enough for a' that. He'll
no get the better o' me." Having grounded unpleasantly
on the question of the wages he thought it best to
be off ere the bloom was clashed from his importance,
so he shouldered his chest and went. The bodies
watched him down the street.
"He's a lying brose, that," said the baker. "We a'
ken what Gourlay is. He would have flung Gilmour out
by the scruff o' the neck, if he had daured to set his
tongue against him!"
"Faith, that's so," said Tam Wylie and Johnny Coe
But the others were divided between their perception
of the fact and their wish to believe that Gourlay had
received a thrust or two. At other times they would
have been the first to scoff at Gilmour's swagger. Now
their animus against Gourlay prompted them to back
"Oh, I'm not so sure of tha-at, baker," cried the
Provost, in the false loud voice of a man defending a
position which he knows to be unsound. "I'm no so
sure of that, at a-all. A-a-ah, mind ye," he drawled persuasively,"
he's a hardy fallow, that Gilmour. I've no
doubt he gied Gourlay a good dig or two. Let us howp
they will do him good."
For many reasons intimate to the Scot's character,
envious scandal is rampant in petty towns such as Barbie.
To go back to the beginning, the Scot, as pundits
will tell you, is an individualist. His religion alone is
enough to make him so. For it is a scheme of personal
salvation significantly described once by the Reverend
Mr. Struthers of Barbie. "At the Day of Judgment,
my frehnds," said Mr. Struthers; "at the Day of Judgment
every herring must hang by his own tail!" Self-dependence
was never more luridly expressed. History,
climate, social conditions, and the national beverage
have all combined (the pundits go on) to make the
Scot an individualist, fighting for his own hand. The
better for him if it be so; from that he gets the grit
From their individualism, however, comes inevitably
a keen spirit of competition (the more so because Scotch
democracy gives fine chances to compete), and from
their keen spirit of competition comes, inevitably again,
an envious belittlement of rivals. If a man's success
offends your individuality, to say everything you can
against him is a recognised weapon of the fight. It
takes him down a bit. And (inversely) elevates his rival.
It is in a small place like Barbie that such malignity
is most virulent, because in a small place like Barbie
every man knows everything to his neighbour's detriment.
He can redd up his rival's pedigree, for example,
and lower his pride (if need be) by detailing the disgraces
of his kin. "I have grand news the day!" a bighearted
Scot will exclaim (and when their hearts are
big they are big to hypertrophy) — "I have grand news
the day! Man, Jock Goudie has won the C. B." — "Jock
Goudie," an envious bodie will pucker as if he had never
heard the name; "Jock Goudie? Wha's he for a Goudie?
Oh aye, let me see now. He's a brother o' — eh, a
brother o' — eh (tit-tit-titting on his brow) — oh, just a
brother o' Dru'cken Will Goudie o' Auchterwheeze!
Oo-ooh I ken him fine. His grannie keepit a sweetie-shop
in Strathbungo." — There you have the "nesty"
Even if Gourlay had been a placable and inoffensive
man, then, the malignants of the petty burgh (it was
scarce bigger than a village) would have fastened on
his character, simply because he was above them. No
man has a keener eye for behaviour than the Scot (especially,
when spite wings his intuition), and Gourlay's
thickness of wit, and pride of place, would in any case
have drawn their sneers. So, too, on lower grounds,
would his wife's sluttishness. But his repressiveness
added a hundred-fold to their hate of him. That
was the particular cause, which acting on their
general tendency to belittle a too-successful rival,
made their spite almost monstrous against him. Not
a man among them but had felt the weight of his tongue
— for edge it had none. He walked among them like
the dirt below his feet. There was no give and take in
the man; he could be verra jocose with the lairds, to be
sure, but he never dropped in to the Red Lion for a
crack and a dram with the town-folk; he just glowered
as if he could devour them! And who was he, I should
like to know? His grandfather had been noathing but
a common carrier!
Hate was the greater on both sides because it was
often impotent. Gourlay frequently suspected offence,
and seethed because he had no idea how to meet it
— except by driving slowly down the brae in his new
gig and never letting on when the Provost called to him.
That was a wipe in the eye for the Provost! The "bodies,"
on their part, could rarely get near enough Gourlay
to pierce his armour; he kept them off him by his brutal
dourness. For it was not only pride and arrogance,
but a consciousness, also, that he was no match for
them at their own game, that kept Gourlay away from
their society. They were adepts at the under stroke
and they would have given him many a dig if he had
only come amongst them. But, oh, no; not he; he was
the big man; he never gave a body a chance! Or if you
did venture a bit jibe when you met him, he glowered
you off the face of the earth with thae black e'en of his.
Oh, how they longed to get at him! It was not the least
of the evils caused by Gourlay's black pride that it perverted
a dozen characters. The "bodies" of Barbie
may have been decent enough men in their own way,
but against him their malevolence was monstrous. It
shewed itself in an insane desire to seize on every scrap
of gossip they might twist against him. That was why
the Provost lowered municipal dignity to gossip in the
street with a discharged servant. As the baker said
afterwards, it was absurd for a man in his "poseetion."
But it was done with the sole desire of hearing something
that might tell against Gourlay. Even Countesses,
we are told, gossip with malicious maids, about
other Countesses. Spite is a great leveller.
"Shall we adjourn?" said Brodie, when they had
watched Jock Gilmour out of sight. He pointed across
his shoulder to the Red Lion.
"Better noat just now," said the Provost, nodding in
slow authority; "better noat just now! I'm very anxious
to see Gourlay about yon matter we were speaking
of, doan't ye understa-and? But I'm determined not to
go to his house! On the other hand if we go into the
Red Lion the now, we may miss him on the street.
We'll noat have loang to wait, though; he'll be down
the town directly, to look at the horses he has at the
gerse out the Fechars Road. But I'm tailing ye, I simply
will noat go to his house — to put up with a wheen
damned insults!" he puffed in angry recollection.
"To tell the truth," said Wylie, "I don't like to call
upon Gourlay, either. I'm aware of his eyes on my
back when I slink beaten through his gate — and I feel
that my hurdies are wanting in dignity!"
"Huh!" spluttered Brodie, "that never affects me.
I come stunting out in a bleeze of wrath and slam the
yett ahint me!"
"Oh, well," said the Deacon," that'th one way of
"I'm afraid," said Sandy Toddle, "that he won't be
in a very good key to consider our request this morning,
after his quarrel with Gilmour."
"No," said the Provost, "he'll be blazing angry!
It's most unfoartunate. But we maun try to get his
consent be his temper what it will. It's a matter of
importance to the town, doan't ye see, and if he refuses,
we simply can-noat proceed wi' the improvement."
"It was Gilmour's jibe at the House wi' the Green
Shutters that would anger him the most — for it's the
perfect god of his idolatry. Eh, sirs, he has wasted
an awful money upon yon house!"
"Wasted's the word!" said Brodie with a blatant
laugh. "Wasted's the word! They say he has verra
little lying cash! And I shouldna be surprised at all.
For, ye see, Gibson the builder diddled him owre the
"Oh, I'se warrant Cunning Johnny would get the
better of an ass like Gourlay. But how in particular,
Mr. Brodie? Have ye heard ainy details?"
"I've been on the track o' the thing for a while back,
but it was only yestreen I had the proofs o't. It was Robin
Wabster that telled me. He's a jouking bodie, Robin,
and he was ahint a dyke up the Skeighan Road when
Gibson and Gourlay foregathered — they stoppit just
forenenst him! Gourlay began to curse at the size of
Gibson's bill, but Cunning Johnny kenned the way to
get round him brawly. 'Mr. Gourlay,' says he, 'there's
not a thing in your house that a man in your poseetion
can afford to be without — and ye needn't expect the best
house in Barbie for an oald song!' And Gourlay was
pacified at once! It appeared frae their crack, however,
that Gibson has diddled him tremendous. 'Verra
well then,' Robin heard Gourlay cry, 'you must allow
me a while ere I pay that!' I wager, for a' sae muckle
as he's made of late, that his balance at the bank's a sma'
"More thyow than thubstanth," said the Deacon.
"Well, I'm sure!" said the Provost, "he needn't have
built such a gra-and house to put a slut of a wife like
"I was surprised," said Sandy Toddle, "to hear about
her firing up. I wouldn't have thought she had the
spirit, or that Gourlay would have come to her support!"
"Oh," said the Provost, "it wasn't her he was thinking
of! It was his own pride, the brute. He leads the
woman the life of a doag. I'm surprised that he ever
"I ken fine how he married her," said Johnny Coe.
"I was acquaint wi' her faither, auld Tenshillingland
owre at Fechars — a grand farmer he was, wi' land o' his
nain, and a gey pickle bawbees. It was the bawbees,
and not the woman, that Gourlay went after! It was her
money, as ye ken, that set him on his feet, and made him
such a big man. He never cared a preen for her, and
then when she proved a dirty trollop, he couldna endure
her look! That's what makes him so sore upon her now.
And yet I mind her a braw lass, too," said Johnny the
sentimentalist, "a braw lass she was," he mused, "wi'
fine, brown glossy hair, I mind, and, — ochonee! ochonee!
— as daft as a yett in a windy day. She had a cousin,
Jenny Wabster, that dwelt in Tenshillingland than, and
mony a summer nicht up the Fechars Road, when ye
smelled the honey-suckle in the gloaming, I have heard
the two o' them tee-heeing owre the lads thegither, skirling
in the dark and lauching to themselves. They
were of the glaikit kind ye can always hear loang
before ye see. Jock Allan (that has done so well in
Embro) was a herd at Tenshillingland than, and lie
likit her, and I think she likit him, but Gourlay
came wi' his gig and whisked her away. She doesna
lauch sae muckle now, puir bodie! But a braw lass
"It's you maun speak to Gourlay, Deacon," said the
Provost, brushing aside the reminiscent Coe.
"How can it be that, Provost? It'th your place,
surely. You're the head of the town!"
When Gourlay was to be approached there was always
a competition for who should be hindmost.
"Yass, but you know perfectly well, Deacon, that I
cannot thole the look of him. I simply cannot thole
the look! And he knows it too. The thing'll gang
smash at the outset — I'm talling ye, now — it'll go smash
at the outset if it's left to me. — And than, ye see, you
have a better way of approaching folk!"
"Ith that tho?" said the Deacon drily. He shot
a suspicious glance to see if the Provost was guying
"Oh, it must be left to you, Deacon," said the baker
and Tam Wylie in a breath.
"Certainly, it maun be left to the Deacon," assented
Johnny Coe, when he saw how the others were giving
"Tho be it, then," snapped the Deacon.
"Here he comes," said Sandy Toddle.
Gourlay came down the street towards them, his chest
big, his thumbs in the armholes of his waistcoat. He
had the power of staring steadily at those whom he approached
without the slightest sign of recognition or
intelligence appearing in his eyes. As he marched
down upon the bodies he fixed them with a wide-open
glower that was devoid of every expression but courageous
steadiness. It gave a kind of fierce vacancy to
The Deacon limped forward on his thin shanks to the
middle of the road.
"It'th a fine morning, Mr. Gourlay," he simpered.
"There's noathing wrong with the morning," grunted
Gourlay, as if there was something wrong with the
"We wath wanting to thee ye on a very important
matter, Mithter Gourlay," lisped the Deacon, smiling up
at the big man's face, with his head on one side,
and rubbing his fingers in front of him. "It'th a matter
of the common good, you thee; and we all agreed
that we should speak to you, ath the foremost merchant
of the town!"
Allardyce meant his compliment to fetch Gourlay.
But Gourlay knew his Allardyce and was cautious. It
was well to be on your guard when the Deacon was complimentary.
When his language was most flowery there
was sure to be a serpent hidden in it somewhere. He
would lisp out an innocent remark and toddle away, and
Gourlay would think nothing of the matter till a week
afterwards, perhaps, when something would flash a light
— then "Damn him, did he mean 'that'?" he would
seethe, starting back and staring at the "that" while his
fingers strangled the air in place of the Deacon.
He glowered at the Deacon now till the Deacon
"You thee, Mr. Gourlay," Allardyce shuffled uneasily,
"it's for your own benefit just ath much ath ourth.
We were thinking of you ath well ath of ourthelves!
Oh, yeth, oh, yeth!"
"Aye, man!" said Gourlay, "that was kind of ye!
I'll be the first man in Barbie to get ainy benefit from
the fools that mismanage our affairs."
The gravel grated beneath the Provost's foot. The
atmosphere was becoming electric, and the Deacon hastened
to the point.
"You thee, there'th a fine natural supply of water —
a perfect reservore the Provost sayth — on the brae-face
just above your garden, Mr. Gourlay. Now, it would
be easy to lead that water down and alang through all
the gardenth on the high side of Main Street — and,
'deed, it might feed a pump at the Cross, too, to supply
the lower portionth o' the town. It would really be a
grai-ait convenience. — Every man on the high side o'
Main Street would have a running spout at his own back
door! If your garden didna run tho far back, Mr. Gourlay,
and ye hadna tho muckle land about your place" —
that should fetch him, thought the Deacon! — "if it
werena for that, Mr. Gourlay, we could easily lead the
water round to the other gardenth without interfering
with your property. But, ath it ith, we simply cannoat
move without ye. The water must come through
your garden, if it comes at a-all."
"The most o' you important men live on the high
side o' Main Street," birred Gourlay. "Is it the poor
folk at the Cross, or your ain bits o' back doors that
you're thinking o'?"
"Oh — oh, Mr. Gourlay!" protested Allardyce, head
flung back, and palms in air, to keep the thought of self-interest
away, "oh — oh, Mr. Gourlay! We're thinking
of noathing but the common good, I do assure ye."
"Aye, man! You're dis-in-ter-ested!" said Gourlay,
but he stumbled on the big word and spoiled the
sneer. That angered him, and, "it's likely," he rapped
out, "that I'll allow the land round my house to be
howked and trenched and made a mudhole of, to oblige
a wheen things like you!"
"Oh — oh, but think of the convenience to uth — eh —
eh — I mean to the common good," said Allardyce.
"I howked wells for myself," snapped Gourlay.
"Let others do the like."
"Oh, but we haven't all the enterprithe of you, Mr.
Gourlay. You'll surely accommodate the town!"
"I'll see the town damned first," said Gourlay, and
passed on his steady way.
THE bodies watched Gourlay in silence until he was
cut of ear-shot. Then, "It's monstrous!" the Provost
broke out in solemn anger; "I declare it's perfectly
monstrous! But I believe we could get Pow-ers to compel
him. Yass; I believe we could get Pow-ers. I do
believe we could get Pow-ers."
The Provost was fond of talking about "Pow-ers"
because it implied that he was intimate with the great
authorities who might delegate such "Pow-ers" to
him. To talk of "Pow-ers," mysteriously, was a tribute
to his own importance. He rolled the word on his
tongue as if he enjoyed the sound of it.
On the Deacon's cheek bones two red spots flamed,
round and big as a Scotch penny. His was the hurt
silence of the baffled diplomatist, to whom a defeat
means reflections on his own ability.
"Demn him!" he skirled, following the solid march
of his enemy with fiery eyes.
Never before had his Deaconship been heard to swear.
Tam Wylie laughed at the shrill oath till his eyes were
buried in his merry wrinkles, a suppressed snirt, a continuous
gurgle in the throat and nose, in beaming survey
the while of the withered old creature dancing in his
rage. (It was all a good joke to Tam, because, living
on the outskirts of the town, he had no spigot of his
own to feed.) The Deacon turned the eyes of hate on
him. Demn Wylie too, — what was he laughing at!
"Oh, I darethay you could have got round him!" he
"In my opinion, Allardyce," said the baker, "you
mismanaged the whole affair. Yon wasna the way to
"It'th a pity you didna try your hand, then, I'm sure!
No doubt a clever man like you would have worked
So the bodies wrangled among themselves. Somehow
or other Gourlay had the knack of setting them by
the ears. It was not till they hit on a common topic
of their spite in railing at him, that they became a band
of brothers and a happy few.
"Whisht!" said Sandy Toddle, suddenly, "here's his
John was coming towards them on his way to school.
The bodies watched him as he passed, with the fixed
look men turn on a boy of whose kinsmen they were
talking even now. They affect a stony and deliberate
regard, partly to include the new-comer in their critical
survey of his family, and partly to banish from their
own eyes any sign that they have just been running down
his people. John, as quick as his mother to feel, knew
in a moment they were watching him. He hung his
head sheepishly and blushed, and the moment he was
past he broke into a nervous trot, the bag of books
bumping on his back as he ran.
"He's getting a big boy, that son of Gourlay's," said
the Provost, "how oald will he be?"
"He's approaching twelve," said Johnny Coe, who
made a point of being able to supply such news
because it gained him consideration where he was
otherwise unheeded. "He was born the day the brig
on the Fleckie Road gaed down, in the year o' the great
flood; and since the great flood it's twelve year come
Lammas. Rab Tosh o' Fleckie's wife was heavy-footed
at the time, and Doctor Munn had been a' nicht wi' her,
and when he cam to Barbie Water in the morning it
was roaring wide frae bank to brae; where the brig
should have been there was naething but the swashing
of the yellow waves. Munn had to drive a' the way
round to the Fechars brig, and in parts o' the road the
water was so deep that it lapped his horse's bellyband.
A' this time Mrs. Gourlay was skirling in her pains and
praying to God she micht dee. Gourlay had been a
great crony o' Munn's, but he quarrelled him for being
late; he had trysted him, ye see, for the occasion, and he
had been twenty times at the yett to look for him, — ye
ken how little he would stomach that; he was ready to
brust wi' anger. Munn, mad for the want of sleep and
wat to the bane, swüre back at him; and than Gourlay
wadna let him near his wife! Ye mind what an awful
day it was; the thunder roared as if the heavens were
tumbling on the world, and the lichtnin sent the trees
daudin on the roads, and folk hid below their beds and
prayed — they thocht it was the Judgment! But Gourlay
rammed his black stepper in the shafts, and drave like
the devil o' hell to Skeighan Drone, where there was a
young doctor. The lad was feared to come, but Gourlay
swore by God that he should, and he gaired him. In a'
the countryside driving like his that day was never
kenned or heard tell o'; they were back within the hour!
I saw them gallop up Main Street; lichtnin struck the
ground before them; the young doctor covered his face
wi' his hands, and the horse nichered wi' fear and tried
to wheel, but Gourlay stood up in the gig and lashed
him on through the fire. It was thocht for lang that
Mrs. Gourlay would die; and she was never the same
woman after. Atweel aye, sirs, Gourlay has that
morning's work to blame for the poor wife he has now.
Him and Munn never spoke to each other again, and
Munn died within the twelvemonth, — he got his death
that morning on the Fleckie Road. But, for a' so
pack's they had been, Gourlay never looked near him."
Coe had told his story with enjoying gusto, and had
told it well — for Johnny, though constantly snubbed by
his fellows, was in many ways the ablest of them all.
His voice and manner drove it home. They knew, besides,
he was telling what himself had seen. For they
knew he was lying prostrate with fear in the open
smiddyshed from the time Gourlay went to Skeighan
Drone to the time that he came back; and that he had
seen him both come and go. They were silent for a
while, impressed, in spite of themselves, by the vivid
presentment of Gourlay's manhood on the day that had
scared them all. The baker felt inclined to cry out on
his cruelty for keeping his wife suffering to gratify his
wrath; but the sudden picture of the man's courage
changed that feeling to another of admiring awe; a man
so defiant of the angry heavens might do anything.
And so with the others; they hated Gourlay, but his
bravery was a fact of nature which they could not disregard;
they knew themselves smaller and said nothing
for a while. Tam Brodie, the most brutal among them,
was the first to recover. Even he did not try to belittle
at once, but he felt the subtle discomfort of the situation,
and relieved it by bringing the conversation back
to its usual channel.
"That was at the boy's birth, Mr. Coe?" said he.
"Ou, aye, just the laddie. It was a' richt when the
lassie came. It was Doctor Dandy brocht her hame, for
Munn was deid by that time, and Dandy had his place."
"What will Gourlay be going to make of him?" the
Provost asked. "A doctor or a minister or wha-at?"
"Deil a fear of that," said Brodie; "he'll take him
into the business! It's a' that he's fit for. He's an infernal
dunce, just his father owre again, and the
Dominie thrashes him remorseless! I hear my own
weans speaking o't. Ou, it seems he's just a perfect
"Ye couldn't expect ainything else from a son of
Gourlay," said the Provost.
Conversation languished. Some fillip was needed to
bring it to an easy flow, and the simultaneous scrape of
their feet turning round showed the direction of their
"A dram would be very acceptable now," murmured
Sandy Toddle, rubbing his chin.
"Ou, we wouldna be the waur o't," said Tam Wylie.
"We would all be the better of a little drope,"
smirked the Deacon.
And they made for the Red Lion for the matutinal
JOHN GOURLAY, the younger, was late for school, in
spite of the nervous trot he fell into when he shrank from
the bodies' hard stare at him. There was nothing unusual
about that; he was late for school every other day. To
him it was a howling wilderness where he played a most
appropriate rôle. If his father was not about he
would hang round his mother till the last moment,
rather than be off to old "Bleach-the-boys" — as the
master had been christened by his scholars. "Mother,
I have a pain in my heid," he would whimper, and she
would condole with him and tell him she would keep
him at home with her — were it not for dread of
her husband. She was quite sure he was ainything
but strong, poor boy, and that the schooling was bad for
him; for it was really remarkable how quickly the pain
went if he was allowed to stay at home; why, he got better
just directly! It was not often she dared to keep
him from school, however, and if she did, she had to
hide him from his father.
On school mornings the boy shrank from going out
with a shrinking that was almost physical. When he
stole through the Green Gate with his bag slithering
at his hip (not braced between the shoulders like a birkie
scholar's) he used to feel ruefully that he was in for
it now — and the Lord alone knew what he would have
to put up with ere he came home! And he always had
the feeling of a freed slave when he passed the gate on
his return, never failing to note with delight the clean
smell of the yard after the stuffiness of school, sucking
it in through glad nostrils, and thinking to himself,
"Oh, crickey, it's fine to be home!" On Friday nights,
in particular, he used to feel so happy that, becoming
arrogant, he would try his hand at bullying Jock Gilmour
in imitation of his father. John's dislike of
school, and fear of its trampling bravoes, attached
him peculiarly to the House with the Green Shutters;
there was his doting mother, and she gave him
stories to read, and the place was so big that it was
easy to avoid his father and have great times with the
rabbits and the doos. He was as proud of the sonsy
house as Gourlay himself, if for a different reason, and
he used to boast of it to his comrades. And he never
left it, then or after, without a foreboding.
As he crept along the School Road with a rueful face,
he was alone, for Janet, who was cleverer than he, was
always earlier at school. The absence of children in
the sunny street lent to his depression. He felt forlorn;
if there had been a chattering crowd marching
along, he would have been much more at his ease.
Quite recently the school had been fitted up with varnished
desks, and John, who inherited his mother's nervous
senses with his father's lack of wit, was always
intensely alive to the smell of the desks the moment
he went in; and as his heart always sank when he went
in, the smell became associated in his mind with that
sinking of the heart, — to feel it, no matter where, filled
him with uneasiness. As he stole past the joiner's on
that sunny morning, when wood was resinous and
pungent of odour, he was suddenly conscious of a varnishy
smell, and felt a misgiving without knowing
why. It was years after, in Edinburgh, ere he knew
the reason; he found that he never went past an upholsterer's
shop, on a hot day in spring, without being
conscious of a vague depression, and feeling like a boy
slinking into school.
In spite of his forebodings nothing more untoward
befell him that morning than a cut over the cowering
shoulders for being late, as he crept to the bottom of his
class. He reached "leave," the ten minutes' run at
twelve o'clock, without misadventure. Perhaps it was
this unwonted good fortune that made him boastful,
when he crouched near the pump among his cronies,
sitting on his hunkers with his back to the wall. Half
a dozen boys were about him, and Swipey Broon was in
front, making mud pellets in a trickle from the pump.
He began talking of the new range.
"Yah! Auld Gemmell needn't have let welp at me
for being late this morning," he spluttered big-eyed,
nodding his head in aggrieved and solemn protest. "It
wasna my faut! We're getting in a grand new range,
and the whole of the kitchen fireplace has been gutted
out to make room for't, and my mother couldna get my
breakfast in time this morning, because, ye see, she had
to boil everything in the parlour — and here, when she
gaed ben the house, the parlour fire was out!
"It's to be a splendid range, the new one," he went on,
with a conceited jerk of the head. "Peter Riney's
bringin'd from Skeighan in the afternune. My father
says there winna be its equal in the parish!"
The faces of the boys lowered uncomfortably. They
felt it was a silly thing of Gourlay to blow his own
trumpet in this way, but, being boys, they could not
prick his conceit with a quick rejoinder. It is only
grown-ups who can be ironical; physical violence is the
boy's repartee. It had scarcely gone far enough for
that yet, so they lowered in uncomfortable silence.
"We're aye getting new things up at our place," he
went on. "I heard my father telling Gibson the builder
he must have everything of the best! Mother says
it'll all be mine some day. I'll have the fine times when
I leave the schule, — and that winna be long now, for
I'm clean sick o't; I'll no bide a day longer than I need!
I'm to go into the business, and then I'll have the times;
I'll dash about the country in a gig wi' two dogs wallopping
akin'. I'll have the great life o't."
"Ph-tt!" said Swipey Broon, and planted a gob of
mud right in the middle of his brow.
"Hoh! hoh! hoh!" yelled the others. They hailed
Swipey's action with delight because, to their minds, it
exactly met the case. It was the one fit retort to his
Beneath the wet plunk of the mud John started back,
bumping his head against the wall behind him. The
sticky pellet clung to his brow, and he brushed it
angrily aside. The laughter of the others added to his
wrath against Swipey.
"What are you after?" he bawled. "Don't try your
tricks on me, Swipey Broon. Man, I could kill ye wi'
In a twinkling Swipey's jacket was off and he was
dancing in his shirt sleeves, inviting Gourlay to come
on and try't.
"G'way, man," said John, his face as white as the
wall; "g'way, man! Don't have me getting up to ye,
or I'll knock the fleas out of your duds!"
Now the father of Swipey — so called because he always
swiped when batting at rounders — the father of
Swipey was the rag and bone merchant of Barbie, and
it was said (with what degree of truth I know not) that
his home was verminous in consequence. John's taunt
was calculated, therefore, to sting him to the quick.
The scion of the Broons, fired for the honour of
his house, drove straight at the mouth of the insulter.
But John jouked to the side, and Swipey skinned his
knuckles on the wall.
For a moment he rocked to and fro, doubled up in
pain, crying "Ooh!" with a rueful face, and squeezing
his hand between his thighs to dull its sharper agonies.
Then, with redoubled wrath bold Swipey hurled him at
the foe. He grabbed Gourlay's head and, shoving it
down between his knees, proceeded to pummel his bent
back, while John bellowed angrily (from between
Swipey's legs), "Let me up, see!"
Swipey let him up. John came at him with whirling
arms, but Swipey jouked and gave him one on the
mouth that split his lip. In another moment Gourlay
was grovelling on his hands and knees, and triumphant
Swipey, astride his back, was bellowing "Hurroo!" —
Swipey's father was an Irishman.
"Let him up, Broon!" cried Peter Wylie. "Let him
up, and meet each other square!"
"Oh, I'll let him up," cried Swipey and leapt to his
feet with magnificent pride. He danced round Gourlay
with his fists sawing the air. "I could fight ten of him!
Come on, Gourlay!" he cried, "and I'll poultice the
road wi' your brose."
John rose, glaring. But when Swipey rushed he
turned and fled. The boys ran into the middle of the
street, pointing after the coward and shouting, "Yeh!
Yeh! Yeh!" with the infinite cruel derision of boyhood.
"Yeh! Yeh! Yeh!" the cries of execration and contempt
pursued him as he ran.
Ere he had gone a hundred yards he heard the shrill
whistle with which Mr. Gemmell summoned his scholars
from their play.
ALL the children had gone into school. The street
was lonely in the sudden stillness. The joiner slanted
across the road, brushing shavings and sawdust from his
white apron. There was no other sign of life in the
sunshine. Only from the smiddy, far away, came at
times the tink of an anvil.
John crept on up the street, keeping close to the wall.
It seemed unnatural being there at that hour; everything
had a quiet unfamiliar look. The white walls of
the houses reproached the truant with their silent
A strong smell of wall flowers oozed through the
hot air. John thought it a lonely smell and ran to
"Johnny dear, what's wrong wi' ye?" cried his
mother, when he stole in through the scullery at last.
"Are ye ill, dear?"
"I wanted to come hame," he said. It was no defence;
it was the sad and simple expression of his wish.
"What for, my sweet?"
"I hate the school," he said, bitterly; "I aye want to
be at hame."
His mother saw his cut mouth.
"Johnny," she cried in concern, "what's the matter
with your lip, dear? Has ainybody been meddling ye?"
"It was Swipey Broon," he said.
"Did ever a body hear?" she cried. "Things have
come to a fine pass when decent weans canna go to the
school without a wheen rag-folk yoking on them! But
what can a body ettle? Scotland's not what it used to
be! It's owrerun wi' the dirty Eerish!"
In her anger she did not see the sloppy dishclout
on the scullery chair, on which she sank exhausted
by her rage.
"Oh, but I let him have it," swaggered John. "I
threatened to knock the fleas off him. The other boys
were on his side, or I would have walloped him."
"Atweel, they would a' be on his side," she cried.
"But it's juist envy, Johnny. Never mind, dear; you'll
soon be left the school, and there's not wan of them has
the business that you have waiting ready to step intil."
"Mother," he pleaded, "let me bide here for the rest
o' the day!"
"Oh, but your father, Johnny? If he saw ye!"
"If you gie me some o' your novelles to look at, I'll
go up to the garret and hide, and ye can ask Jenny no
She gave him a hunk of nuncheon and a bundle of
her novelettes, and he stole up to an empty garret and
squatted on the bare boards. The sun streamed through
the skylight window and lay, an oblong patch, in the
centre of the floor. John noted the head of a nail that
stuck gleaming up. He could hear the pigeons rooketty-cooing
on the roof, and every now and then a slithering
sound, as they lost their footing on the slates and went
sliding downward to the rones. But for that, all was
still, uncannily still. Once a zinc pail clanked in the
yard, and he started with fear, wondering if that was
If young Gourlay had been the right kind of a boy he
would have been in his glory, with books to read and a
garret to read them in. For to snuggle close beneath
the slates is as dear to the boy as the bard, if somewhat
diverse their reasons for seclusion. Your garret is the
true kingdom of the poet, neighbouring the stars; side-windows
tether him to earth, but a skylight looks to the
heavens. (That is why so many poets live in garrets, no
doubt.) But it is the secrecy of a garret for him and his
books that a boy loves; there he is lord of his imagination;
there, when the impertinent world is hidden from
his view, he rides with great Turpin at night beneath
the glimmer of the moon. What boy of sense would
read about Turpin in a mere respectable parlour? A
hayloft's the thing, where you can hide in a dusty corner,
and watch through a chink the baffled minions of
Bow Street, and hear Black Bess — good jade! — stamping
in her secret stall, and be ready to descend when a
friendly ostler cries, "Jericho!" But if there is no hayloft
at hand a mere garret will do very well. And so
John should have been in his glory, — as indeed for a
while he was. But he shewed his difference from the
right kind of a boy by becoming lonely. He had inherited
from his mother a silly kind of interest in silly
books, but to him reading was a painful process, and he
could never remember the plot. What he liked best
(though he could not have told you about it) was a vivid
physical picture. When the puffing steam of Black
Bess's nostrils cleared away from the moonlit pool, and
the white face of the dead man stared at Turpin through
the water, John saw it and shivered, staring big-eyed at
the staring horror. He was alive to it all; he heard the
seep of the water through the mare's lips, and its hollow
glug as it went down, and the creak of the saddle
beneath Turpin's hip; he saw the smear of sweat roughening
the hair on her slanting neck, and the great steaming
breath she blew out when she rested from drinking,
and then that awful face glaring from the pool. — Perhaps
he was not so far from being the right kind of boy,
after all, since that was the stuff that he liked. — He
wished he had some Turpin with him now, for his
mother's periodicals were all about men with impossibly
broad shoulders and impossibly curved waists who asked
Angelina if she loved them. Once, it is true, a somewhat
too florid sentence touched him on the visual
nerve: "Through a chink in the Venetian blind a
long pencil of yellow light pierced the beautiful dimness
of the room and pointed straight to the dainty
bronze slipper peeping from under Angelina's gown; it
became a slipper of vivid gold amid the gloom." John
saw that and brightened, but the next moment they
began to talk about love and he was at sea immediately.
"Dagon them and their love!" quoth he.
To him, indeed, reading was never more than a means
of escape from something else; he never thought of a
book so long as there were things to see. Some things
were different from others, it is true. Things of the
outer world, where he swaggered among his fellows and
was thrashed, or bungled his lessons and was thrashed
again, imprinted themselves vividly on his mind, and he
hated the impressions. When Swipey Broon was hot
the sweat pores always glistened distinctly on the end
of his mottled nose — John, as he thought angrily of
Swipey this afternoon, saw the glistening sweat pores
before him and wanted to bash them. The varnishy
smell of the desks, the smell of the wallflowers at Mrs.
Manzie's on the way to school, the smell of the school
itself — to all these he was morbidly alive, and he loathed
them. But he loved the impressions of his home. His
mind was full of perceptions of which he was unconscious,
till he found one of them recorded in a book, and
that was the book for him. The curious physical
always drew his mind to hate it or to love. In summer
he would crawl into the bottom of an old hedge, among
the black mould and the withered sticks, and watch a
red-ended beetle creep slowly up a bit of wood till near
the top, and fall suddenly down, and creep patiently
again, this he would watch with curious interest and
remember always. "Johnny," said his mother once,
"what do you breenge into the bushes to watch those
nasty things for?"
"They're queer," he said musingly.
Even if he was a little dull wi' the book, she was sure
he would come to something, for, eh, he was such a noticing
But there was nothing to touch him in "The Wooing
of Angeline"; he was moving in an alien world. It was
a complicated plot, and, some of the numbers being lost,
he was not sharp enough to catch the idea of the story.
He read slowly and without interest. The sounds of the
outer world reached him in his loneliness and annoyed
him, because, while wondering what they were, he
dared not look out to see. He heard the rattle of wheels
entering the big yard; that would be Peter Riney back
from Skeighan with the range. Once he heard the birr
of his father's voice in the lobby and his mother speaking
in shrill protest, and then — oh, horror! — his father
came up the stair. Would he come into the garret?
John, lying on his left side, felt his quickened heart
thud against the boards, and he could not take his big
frighted eyes from the bottom of the door. But the
heavy step passed and went into another room. John's
open mouth was dry, and his shirt was sticking to his
The heavy steps came back to the landing.
"Whaur's my gimlet?" yelled his father down the
"Oh, I lost the corkscrew, and took it to open a
bottle," cried his mother, wearily. "Here it is, man, in
the kitchen drawer."
"Hah!" his father barked, and he knew he was infernal
angry. If he should come in!
But he went tramping down the stair, and John, after
waiting till his pulses were stilled, resumed his reading.
He heard the masons in the kitchen, busy with the
range, and he would have liked fine to watch them, but he
dared not go down till after four. It was lonely up here
by himself. A hot wind had sprung up, and it crooned
through the keyhole drearily; "oo-woo-oo," it cried,
and the sound drenched him in a vague depression.
The splotch of yellow light had shifted round to the
fireplace; Janet had kindled a fire there last winter, and
the ashes had never been removed, and now the light
lay, yellow and vivid, on a red clinker of coal, and a
charred piece of stick. A piece of glossy white paper
had been flung in the untidy grate, and in the hollow
curve of it a thin silt of black dust had gathered — the
light shewed it plainly. All these things the boy
marked and was subtly aware of their unpleasantness.
He was forced to read to escape the sense of them.
But it was words, words, words that he read; the substance
mattered not at all. His head leaned heavy on
his left hand and his mouth hung open, as his eye travelled
dreamily along the lines. He succeeded in hypnotizing
his brain at last, by the mere process of staring
at the page.
At last he heard Janet in the lobby. That meant that
school was over. He crept down the stair.
"You were playing the truant," said Janet, and she
nodded her head in accusation. "I've a good mind to
tell my faither."
"If ye wud — " he said, and shook his fist at her
threateningly. She shrank away from him. They went
into the kitchen together.
The range had been successfully installed, and Mr.
Gourlay was sheaving it to Grant of Loranogie, the foremost
farmer of the shire. Mrs. Gourlay, standing by
the kitchen table, viewed her new possession with a
faded simper of approval. She was pleased that Mr.
Grant should see the grand new thing that they had
gotten. She listened to the talk of the men with a
faint smile about her weary lips, her eyes upon the sonsy
"Dod, it's a handsome piece of furniture," said Loranogie.
"How did ye get it brought here, Mr. Gourlay?"
"I went to Glasgow and ordered it special. It came
to Skeighan by the train, and my own beasts brought
it owre. That fender's a feature," he added, complacently;
"it's onusual wi' a range."
The massive fender ran from end to end of the fireplace,
projecting a little in front; its rim, a square bar of
heavy steel, with bright sharp edges.
"And that poker, too; man, there's a history wi' that.
I made a point of the making o't. He was an ill-bred
little whalp, the bodie in Glasgow. I happened to say
till um I would like a poker-heid just the same size as
the rim of the fender! 'What d'ye want wi' a heavyheided
poker?' says he; 'a' ye need's a bit sma' thing to
rype the ribs wi'.' 'Is that so?' says I. 'How do you
ken what I want?' I made short work o' him! The
poker-heid's the identical size o' the rim; I had it made
Loranogie thought it a silly thing of Gourlay to concern
himself about a poker. But that was just like him,
of course. The moment the body in Glasgow opposed
his whim, Gourlay, he knew, would make a point o't.
The grain merchant took the bar of heavy metal in
his hand. "Dod, it's an awful weapon," he said, meaning
to be jocose. "You could murder a man wi't."
"Deed you could," said Loranogie;" you could kill
him wi' the one lick."
The elders, engaged with more important matters,
paid no attention to the children, who had pushed between
them to the front and were looking up at their
faces, as they talked, with curious watching eyes. John,
with his instinct to notice things, took the poker up
when his father laid it down, to see if it was really the
size of the rim. It was too heavy for him to raise by
the handle; he had to lift it by the middle. Janet was
at his elbow, watching him. "You could kill a man
with that," he told her, importantly, though she had
heard it for herself. Janet stared and shuddered.
Then the boy laid the poker-head along the rim, fitting
edge to edge with a nice precision.
"Mother," he cried, turning towards her in his interest,
"Mother, look here! It's exactly the same size!"
"Put it down, sir," said his father with a grim smile
at Loranogie. "You'll be killing folk next."
"ARE ye packit, Peter?" said Gourlay.
"Yes, sir," said Peter Riney, running round to the
other side of a cart, to fasten a horse's bellyband to the
shaft. "Yes, sir, we're a' ready."
"Have the carriers a big load?"
"Andy has just a wheen parcels, but Elshie's as fu'
as he can haud. And there's a gey pickle stuff waiting
at the Cross."
The hot wind of yesterday had brought lightning
through the night, and this morning there was the gentle
drizzle that sometimes follows a heavy thunderstorm.
Hints of the further blue shewed themselves in a lofty
sky of delicate and drifting grey. The blackbirds and
thrushes welcomed the cooler air with a gush of musical
piping, as if the liquid tenderness of the morning had
actually got into their throats and made them softer.
"You had better snoove away then," said Gourlay.
"Donnerton's five mile ayont Fleckie, and by the time
you deliver the meal there, and load the ironwork, it'll
be late ere you get back. Snoove away, Peter; snoove
Peter shuffled uneasily, and his pale blue eyes blinked
at Gourlay from beneath their grizzled crow nests of
"Are we a' to start thegither, sir?" he hesitated.
"D'ye mean — d'ye mean the carriers, too?"
"Atweel, Peter!" said Gourlay. "What for no?"
Peter took a great old watch, with a yellow case, from
his fob, and, "It wants a while o' aicht, sir," he volunteered.
"Aye, man, Peter, and what of that?" said Gourlay.
There was almost a twinkle in his eye. Peter Riney
was the only human being with whom he was ever really
at his ease. It is only when a mind feels secure in itself
that it can laugh unconcernedly at others. Peter was
so simple that in his presence Gourlay felt secure; and
he used to banter him.
"The folk at the Cross winna expect the carriers till
aicht, sir," said Peter, "and I doubt their stuff won't
"Aye, man, Peter!" Gourlay joked lazily, as if Peter
was a little boy. "Aye, man, Peter! You think the
folk at the Cross winna be prepared?"
"No, sir," said Peter, opening his eyes very solemnly,
"they winna be prepared."
"It'll do them good to hurry a little for once,"
growled Gourlay, humour yielding to spite at the
thought of his enemies. "It'll do them good to hurry
a little for once! Be off, the lot of ye!"
After ordering his carriers to start, to back down and
postpone their departure, just to suit the convenience
of his neighbours, would derogate from his own importance.
His men might think he was afraid of
He strolled out to the big gate and watched his teams
going down the brae.
There were only four carts this morning because the
two that had gone to Fechars yesterday with the cheese
would not be back till the afternoon; and another had
already turned west to Auchterwheeze, to bring slates
for the flesher's new house. Of the four that went down
the street two were the usual carrier's carts, the other two
were off to Fleckie with meal, and Gourlay had started
them the sooner since they were to bring back the ironwork
which Templandmuir needed for his new improvements.
Though the Templar had reformed greatly
since he married his birkie wife, he was still far from
having his place in proper order, and he had often to
depend on Gourlay for the carrying of stuff which a
man in his position should have had horses of his own to
As Gourlay stood at his gate he pondered with heavy
cunning how much he might charge Templandmuir for
bringing the ironwork from Fleckie. He decided to
charge him for the whole day, though half of it would
be spent in taking his own meal to Donnerton. In that
he was carrying out his usual policy — which was to make
each side of his business help the other.
As he stood puzzling his wits over Templandmuir's
account, his lips worked in and out, to assist the slow
process of his brain. His eyes narrowed between peering
lids, and their light seemed to turn inward as he
fixed them abstractedly on a stone in the middle of the
road. His head was tilted that he might keep his
eyes upon the stone; and every now and then, as he
mused, he rubbed his chin slowly between the thumb
and fingers of his left hand. Entirely given up to
the thought of Templandmuir's account he failed to
see the figure advancing up the street.
At last the scrunch of a boot on the wet road struck
his ear. He turned with his best glower on the man
who was approaching; more of the "Wha-the-bleezes-are-you?"
look than ever in his eyes — because he had
been caught unawares.
The stranger wore a light yellow overcoat, and he had
been walking a long time in the rain, apparently, for the
shoulders of the coat were quite black with the wet,
these black patches showing in strong contrast with the
dryer, therefore yellower, front of it. Coat and jacket
were both hanging slightly open, and between was seen
the slight bulge of a dirty white waistcoat. The newcomer's
trousers were turned high at the bottom, and
the muddy spats he wore looked big and ungainly in
consequence. In his appearance there was an air of
dirty and pretentious well-to-do-ness. It was not
shabby gentility. It was like the gross attempt at
dress of your well-to-do publican who looks down on
his soiled white waistcoat with complacent and approving
"It's a fine morning, Mr. Gourlay!" simpered the
stranger. His air was that of a forward tenant who
thinks it a great thing to pass remarks on the weather
with his laird.
Gourlay cast a look at the dropping heavens.
"Is that your opinion?" said he. "I fail to see't
It was not in Gourlay to see the beauty of that grey
wet dawn. A fine morning to him was one that burnt
the back of your neck.
The stranger laughed; a little deprecating giggle.
"I meant it was fine weather for the fields," he explained.
He had meant nothing of the kind, of course;
he had merely been talking at random in his wish to
be civil to that important man, John Gourlay.
"Imphm," he pondered, looking round on the
weather with a wise air; "Imphm; it's fine weather for
"Are you a farmer then?" Gourlay nipped him, with
his eye on the white waistcoat.
"Oh — oh, Mr. Gourlay! A farmer, no. Hi — hi! I'm
not a farmer. I daresay, now, you have no mind of me!"
"No," said Gourlay, regarding him very gravely and
steadily with his dark eyes. "I cannot say, sir, that I
have the pleasure of remembering you!"
"Man, I'm a son of auld John Wilson of Brigabee!"
"Oh, auld Wilson, the mole-catcher!" said contemptuous
Gourlay. "What's this they christened him
now? 'Toddling Johnnie,' was it noat?"
Wilson coloured. But he sniggered to gloss over the
awkwardness of the remark. A coward always sniggers
when insulted, pretending that the insult is only a joke
of his opponent, and therefore to be laughed aside. So
he escapes the quarrel which he fears a show of displeasure
But, though Wilson was not a hardy man, it was not
timidity only that caused his tame submission to
He had come back after an absence of fifteen years,
with a good deal of money in his pocket, and he had a
fond desire that he, the son of the mole-catcher, should
get some recognition of his prosperity from the most
important man in the locality. If Gourlay had said,
with solemn and fat-lipped approval, "Man, I'm glad to
see that you have done so well!" he would have swelled
with gratified pride. For it is often the favourable estimate
of their own little village — "What they'll think of
me at home" — that matters most to Scotsmen who go
out to make their way in the world. No doubt that is
why so many of them go home and cut a dash when
they have made their fortunes; they want the cronies
of their youth to see the big men they have become.
Wilson was not exempt from that weakness. As far
back as he remembered Gourlay had been the big man of
Barbie; as a boy he had viewed him with admiring awe;
to be received by him now, as one of the well-to-do, were
a sweet recognition of his greatness. It was a fawning
desire for that recognition that caused his smirking
approach to the grain merchant. So strong was the desire
that, though he coloured and felt awkward at the
contemptuous reference to his father, he sniggered and
went on talking, as if nothing untoward had been said.
He was one of the band impossible to snub, not because
they are endowed with superior moral courage, but because
their easy self-importance is so great, that an insult
rarely pierces it enough to divert them from their
purpose. They walk through life wrapped comfortably
round in the wool of their own conceit. Gourlay,
though a dull man — perhaps because he was a dull man
— suspected insult in a moment. But it rarely entered
Wilson's brain (though he was cleverer than most) that
the world could find anything to scoff at in such a fine
fellow as James Wilson. A less ironic brute than Gourlay
would never have pierced the thickness of his hide.
It was because Gourlay succeeded in piercing it that
morning, that Wilson hated him for ever — with a hate
the more bitter because he was rebuffed so seldom.
"Is business brisk?" he asked, irrepressible.
Business! Heavens, did ye hear him talking? What
did Toddling Johnny's son know about business? What
was the world coming to? To hear him setting up his
face there, and asking the best merchant in the town
whether business was brisk! It was high time to put
him in his place, the conceited upstart, shoving himself
forward like an equal!
For it was the assumption of equality implied by Wilson's
manner that offended Gourlay — as if mole-catcher's
son and monopolist were discussing, on equal terms,
matters of interest to them both.
"Business!" he said gravely. "Well, I'm not well
acquainted with your line, but I believe mole traps are
cheap — if ye have any idea of taking up the oald trade!"
Wilson's eyes flickered over him, hurt and dubious.
His mouth opened — then shut — then he decided to
speak after all. "Oh, I was thinking Barbie would be
very quiet," said he, "compared wi' places where they
have the railway! I was thinking it would need stirring
up a bit."
"Oh, ye was thinking that, was ye?" birred Gourlay,
with a stupid man's repetition of his jibe. "Well; I
believe there's a grand opening in the moleskin line, so
there's a chance for ye! My quarrymen wear out their
breeks in no time!"
Wilson's face, which had swelled with red shame,
went a dead white. "Good-morning!" he said, and
started rapidly away with a vicious dig of his stick upon
the wet road.
"Goo-ood mor-r-ning, serr!" Gourlay birred after
him;" Goo-ood mor-r-ning, serr!" He felt he had
been bright this morning. He had put the branks on
Wilson was as furious at himself as at Gourlay. Why
the devil had he said "Good morning?" It had
slipped out of him unawares, and Gourlay had taken it
up with an ironic birr that rang in his ears now, poisoning
his blood. He felt equal in fancy to a thousand
Gourlays now — so strong was he in wrath against him.
He had gone forward to pass pleasant remarks about the
weather, and why should he noat? — he was no disgrace
to Barbie, but a credit rather. It was not every working
man's son that came back with five hundred in the
bank. And here Gourlay had treated him like a doag!
Ah, well, he would maybe be upsides with Gourlay yet,
so he might!
"SUCH a rickle of furniture I never saw!" said the
"Whose is it?" said Brodie.
"Oh, have ye noat heard?" said the Head of the
Town with eyebrows in air. "It beloangs to that fellow
Wilson, doan't ye know? He's a son of oald Wilson,
the mowdie-man of Brigabee. It seems we're to have
him for a neighbour, or all's bye wi't. I declare I doan't
know what this world's coming to!"
"Man, Provost," said Brodie, "d'ye tell me tha-at?
I've been over at Fleekie for the last ten days — my
brother Rab's dead and won away, as I daresay you have
heard — oh, yes, we must all go — so, ye see, I'm scarcely
abreast o' the latest intelligence. What's Wilson doing
here? I thought he had been a pawnbroker in Embro."
"Noat he! It's whispered indeed, that he left Brigabee
to go and help in a pawnbroker's, but it seems he
married an Aberdeen lass and sattled there after awhile,
the manager of a store, I have been given to understaand.
He has taken oald Rab Jamieson's barn at the
bottom of the Cross — for what purpose it beats even me
to tell! And that's his furniture —"
"I declare!" said the astonished Brodie. "He's a
smart-looking boy that. Will that be a son of his?"
He pointed to a sharp-faced urchin of twelve who was
busy carrying chairs round the corner of the barn, to
the tiny house where Wilson meant to live. He was a
red-haired boy with an upturned nose, dressed in shirt
and knickerbockers only. The cross of his braces came
comically near his neck — so short was the space of shirt
between the top line of his breeches and his shoulders.
His knickers were open at the knee, and the black stockings
below them were wrinkled slackly down his thin
legs, being tied loosely above the calf with dirty white
strips of cloth instead of garters. He had no cap, and it
was seen that his hair had a "cow-lick" in front; it
slanted up from his brow, that is, in a sleek kind of
tuft. There was a violent squint in one of his sharp
grey eyes, so that it seemed to flash at the world across
the bridge of his nose. He was so eager at his work that
his clumsy-looking boots — they only looked clumsy because
the legs they were stuck to were so thin — skidded
on the cobbles as he whipped round the barn with a
chair inverted on his poll. When he came back for
another chair, he sometimes wheepled a tune of his own
making, in shrill disconnected jerks, and sometimes
wiped his nose on his sleeve. And the bodies watched
"Faith, he's keen," said the Provost.
"But what on earth has Wilson ta'en auld Jamieson's
house and barn for? They have stude empty since I
kenna whan," quoth Alexander Toddle, forgetting his
English in surprise.
"They say he means to start a business! He's made
some bawbees in Aiberdeen, they're telling me, and he
thinks he'll set Barbie in a lowe wi't."
"Ou, he means to work a perfect revolution," said
"In Barbie!" cried astounded Toddle.
"In Barbie e'en't," said the Provost.
"It would take a heap to revolutionize hit," said the
baker, the ironic man.
"There's a chance in that hoose," Brodie burst out,
ignoring the baker's jibe. "Dod, there's a chance, sirs.
I wonder it never occurred to me before."
"Are ye thinking ye have missed a gude thing?"
grinned the Deacon.
But Brodie's lips were working in the throes of commercial
speculation, and he stared, heedless of the jibe.
So Johnny Coe took up his sapient parable.
"Atweel," said he, "there's a chance, Mr. Brodie.
That road round to the back's a handy thing. You
could take a horse and cart brawly through an opening
like that. And there's a gey bit ground at the back,
too, when a body comes to think o't."
"What line's he meaning to purshoo?" queried
Brodie, whose mind, quickened by the chance he saw
at No. 1, The Cross, was hot on the hunt of its possibilities.
"He's been very close about that," said the Provost.
"I asked Johnny Gibson — it was him had the selling o't
— but he couldn't give me ainy satisfaction. All he
could say was that Wilson had bought it and paid it.
'But, losh!' said I, 'he maun 'a' lat peep what he
wanted the place for!' But na; it seems he was owre
auld-farrant for the like of that. 'We'll let the folk
wonder for a while, Mr. Gibson,' he had said. 'The less
we tell them, the keener they'll be to ken; and they'll
advertise me for noathing by spiering one another what
I'm up till.'"
"Cunning!" said Brodie, breathing the word low in
"Demned cute!" said Sandy Toddle.
"Very thmart!" said the Deacon.
"But the place has been falling down since ever I
have mind o't," said Sandy Toddle. "He's a very
clever man if he makes anything out of that."
"Well, well," said the Provost, "we'll soon see what
he's meaning to be at. Now that his furniture's in, he
surely canna keep us in the dark much loanger!"
Their curiosity was soon appeased. Within a week
they were privileged to read the notice here appended:
"Mr. James Wilson begs to announce to the inhabitants of
Barbie and surrounding neighbourhood that he has taken these
commodious premises, No. 1, The Cross, which he intends to
open shortly as a Grocery, Ironmongery, and General Provision
Store. J. W. is apprised that such an Emporium has long been
a felt want in the locality. To meet this want is J. W.'s intention.
He will try to do so, not by making large profits on a
small business, but by making small profits on a large business.
Indeed, owing to his long acquaintance with the trade Mr.
Wilson will be able to supply all commodities at a very little
over cost price. For J. W. will use those improved methods
of business which have been confined hitherto to the larger
centres of population. At his Emporium you will be able, as
the saying goes, to buy everything from a needle to an anchor.
Moreover, to meet the convenience of his customers, J. W. will
deliver goods at your own doors, distributing them with his
own carts either in the town of Barbie or at any convenient
distance from the same. Being a native of the district, his
business hopes to secure a due share of your esteemed patronage.
Thanking you, in anticipation, for the favour of an early
visit, Believe me, Ladies and Gentlemen,
Such was the poster with which "Barbie and surrounding
neighbourhood" were besprinkled within a
week of "J. W.'s" appearance on the scene. He was
known as "J. W." ever after. To be known by your
initials is sometimes a mark of affection, and sometimes
a mark of disrespect. It was not a mark of affection
in the case of our "J. W." When Donald Scott slapped
him on the back and cried "Hullo, J. W., how are the
anchors selling?" Barbie had found a cue which it was
not slow to make use of. Wilson even received letters
addressed to "J. W., Anchor Merchant, No. 1, The
Cross." Ours is a nippy locality.
But Wilson, cosy and cocky in his own good opinion,
was impervious to the chilly winds of scorn. His posters,
in big blue letters, were on the smiddy door and on
the sides of every brig within a circuit of five miles;
they were pasted, in smaller red letters, on the gateposts
of every farm; and Robin Tam, the bellman;
handed them about from door to door. The folk could
talk of nothing else.
"Dod!" said the Provost when he read the bill,
"we've a new departure here! This is an unco splutter,
as the oald sow said when she tumbled in the
"Aye," said Sandy Toddle, "a fuff in the pan, I'm
thinking. He promises owre muckle to last long! He
lauchs owre loud to be merry at the end o't. For the
loudest bummler's no the best bee, as my father, honest
man, used to tell the minister."
"Ah-ah, I'm no so sure o' that," said Tam Brodie.
"I foregathered wi' Wilson on Wednesday last, and I tell
ye, sirs, he's worth the watching. They'll need to stand
on a baikie that put the branks on him. He has the
considering eye in his head — yon lang far-away glimmer
at a thing from out the end of the eyebrow. He
turned it on mysell twa-three times, the cunning devil,
trying to keek into me, to see if he could use me. And
look at the chance he has! There's two stores in Barbie,
to be sure; but Kinnikum's a dirty beast, and folk have
a scunner at his goods, and Catherwood's a dru'cken
swine, and his place but sairly guided. That's a great
stroke o' policy, too, promising to deliver folk's goods
on their own doorstep to them. There's a whole jing-bang
of out-lying clachans round Barbie that he'll get
the trade of by a dodge like that. The like was never
tried hereaway before. I wadna wonder but it works
It was partly policy and partly accident that brought
Wilson back to Barbie. He had been managing a
wealthy old merchant's store for a long time in Aberdeen,
and he had been blithely looking forward to the
goodwill of it, when jink, at the old man's death, in
stepped a nephew, and ousted the poo-oor fellow. He
had bawled shrilly, but to no purpose; he had to be
travelling. When he rose to greatness in Barbie it was
whispered that the nephew discovered he was feathering
his own nest, and that this was the reason of his sharp
dismissal. But perhaps we should credit that report
to Barbie's disposition rather than to Wilson's misdemeanour.
Wilson might have set up for himself in the nippy
northern town. But it is an instinct with men who
have met with a rebuff in a place, to shake its dust from
their shoes, and be off to seek their fortunes in the larger
world. We take a scunner at the place that has ill-used
us. Wilson took a scunner at Aberdeen, and decided to
leave it and look around him. Scotland was opening
up, and there were bound to be heaps of chances for a
man like him! "A man like me," was a frequent phrase
of Wilson's retired and solitary speculation. "Aye,"
lie said, emerging from one of his business reveries,
"there's bound to be heaps o' chances for a man like me,
if I only look about me."
He was "looking about him" in Glasgow when he
foregathered with his cousin William — the borer he!
After many "How are ye, Jims's" and mutual spierings
over a "bit mouthful of yill" — so they phrased it, but
that was a meiosis, for they drank five quarts — they fell
to a serious discussion of the commercial possibilities
of Scotland. The borer was of the opinion that the
Braes of Barbie had a future yet, "for a' the gaffer was
so keen on keeping his men in the dark about the coal."
Now Wilson knew (as what Scotsman does not?) that
in the middle-fifties coal-boring in Scotland was not the
honourable profession that it now is. More than once,
speculators procured lying reports that there were no
minerals, and after landowners had been ruined by
their abortive preliminary experiments, stepped in,
bought the land and boomed it. In one notorious case
a family, now great in the public eye, bribed a laird's
own borers to conceal the truth, and then buying the
Golconda from its impoverished owner, laid the basis of
a vast fortune.
"D'ye mean — to tell — me, Weelyum Wilson," said
James, giving him his full name in the solemnity of the
moment, "d'ye mean — to tell — me, sir" — here he sank
his voice to a whisper — "that there's joukery-pawkery
"A declare to God A div," said Weelyum with equal
solemnity, and he nodded with alarmed sapience across
his beer jug.
"You believe there's plenty of coal up Barbie Valley,
and that they're keeping it dark in the meantime for
some purpose of their own?"
"I do," said Weelyum.
"God!" said James, gripping the table with both
hands in his excitement, "God, if that's so, what a
chance there's in Barbie! It has been a dead town for
twenty year, and twenty to the end o't. A verra little
would buy the hauf o't. But property 'ull rise in value
like a puddock stool at dark, serr, if the pits come round
it! It will that. If I was only sure o' your suspeecion,
Weelyum, I'd invest every bawbee I have in't. You're
going home the night, are ye not?"
"I was just on my road to the station when I met
ye," said Weelyum.
"Send me a scrape of your pen to-morrow, man, if
what you see on getting back keeps you still in the same
mind o't. And directly I get your letter, I'll run down
and look about me."
The letter was encouraging, and Wilson went forth
to spy the land, and initiate the plan of campaign. It
was an important day for him. He entered on his feud
with Gourlay, and bought Rab Jamieson's house and
barn (with the field behind it) for a trifle. He had five
hundred of his own, and he knew where more could be
had for the asking.
Rab Jamieson's barn was a curious building to be
stranded in the midst of Barbie. In quaint villages and
little towns of England you sometimes see a mellow
red-tiled barn, with its rich yard, close upon the street;
it seems to have been hemmed in by the houses round,
while dozing, so that it could not escape with the fields
fleeing from the town. There it remains and gives a
ripeness to the place, matching fitly with the great horse-chestnut
yellowing before the door, and the old inn
further down, mantled in its blood-red creepers. But
that autumnal warmth and cosiness is rarely seen in the
barer streets of the north. How Rab Jamieson's barn
came to be stuck in Barbie nobody could tell. It was
a gaunt grey building with never a window, but a bole
high in one corner for the sheaves, and a door low in
another corner for auld Rab Jamieson. There was no
mill inside, and the place had not been used for years.
But the roof was good, and the walls stout and thick,
and Wilson soon got to work on his new possession.
He had seen all that could be made of the place the
moment he clapped an eye on it, and he knew that he
had found a good thing, even if the pits should never
come near Barbie. The bole and door next the street
were walled up, and a fine new door opened in the middle,
flanked on either side by a great window. The interior
was fitted up with a couple of counters and
a wooden floor; and above the new wood ceiling
there was a long loft for a store room, lighted by
skylights in the roof. That loft above the rafters,
thought the provident Wilson, will come in braw
and handy for storing things, so it will. And there,
hey presto! the transformation was achieved, and Wilson's
Emporium stood before you. It was crammed
with merchandise. On the white flapping slant of a
couple of awnings, one over each window, you might
read in black letters, "JAMES WILSON: EMPORIUM."
The letters of "James Wilson" made a triumphal
arch, to which "Emporium" was the base. It
Now, the shops of Barbie (the drunken man's shop
and the dirty man's shop always excepted, of course)
had usually been low-browed little places with faded
black scrolls above the door, on which you might read
in dim gilt letters (or it might be, in white)
"LICENS'D TO SELL TEA & TOBACCO."
"LICENS'D" was on one corner of the ribboned scroll,
"TO SELL TEA &" occupied the flowing arch above,
with "TOBACCO" in the other corner. When you
mounted two steps and opened the door, a bell of some
kind went "ping" in the interior, and an old woman in a
mutch, with big specs slipping down her nose, would
come up a step from a dim little room behind, and wiping
her sunken mouth with her apron — she had just left
her tea — would say, "What's your wull the day, sir?"
And if you said your "wull" was tobacco, she would
answer, "Ou, sir, I dinna sell ocht now but the tape
and sweeties." And then you went away, sadly.
With the exception of the dirty man's shop and the
drunken man's shop, that kind of shop was the Barbie
kind of shop. But Wilson changed all that. One side
of the Emporium was crammed with pots, pans, pails,
scythes, gardening implements, and saws, with a big
barrel of paraffin partitioned off in a corner. The rafters
on that side were bristling and hoary with brushes of
all kinds dependent from the roof, so that the minister's
wife (who was a six-footer) went off with a brush in her
bonnet once. Behind the other counter were canisters
in goodly rows, barrels of flour and bags of meal, and
great yellow cheeses in the window. The rafters here
were heavy with their wealth of hams, brown-skinned
flitches of bacon interspersed with the white tight-corded
home-cured — "Barbie's Best," as Wilson christened
it. All along the back, in glass cases to keep them
unsullied, were bales of cloth, layer on layer to the roof.
It was a pleasure to go into the place, so big and bien
was it, and to smell it on a frosty night set your teeth
watering. There was always a big barrel of American
apples just inside the door, and their homely fragrance
wooed you from afar, the mellow savour cuddling round
you half a mile off. Barbie boys had despised the provision
trade, heretofore, as a mean and meagre occupation,
but now the imagination of each gallant youth was
fired and radiant; he meant to be a grocer.
Mrs. Wilson presided over the Emporium. Wilson
had a treasure in his wife. She was Aberdeen born and
bred, but her manner was the manner of the South and
West. There is a broad difference of character between
the peoples of East and West Scotland. The East throws
a narrower and a nippier breed. In the West they take
Burns for their exemplar, and affect the jovial and robustious
— in some cases it is affectation only, and a
mighty poor one at that. They claim to be bigger men
and bigger fools than the Eastern billies. And the
Eastern billies are very willing to yield one half of the
Mrs. Wilson, though Eastie by nature, had the jovial
manner that you find in Kyle. More jovial, indeed,
than was common in nippy Barbie, which, in general
character, seems to have been transplanted from some
sand dune looking out upon the German Ocean. She
was big of hip and bosom, with sloe-black hair and eyes,
and a ruddy cheek, and when she flung back her head
for the laugh her white teeth flashed splendid on the
world. That laugh of hers became one of the well-known
features of Barbie. "Lo'd-sake!" a startled
visitor would cry, "whatna skirl's tha-at!" "Oh,
dinna be alarmed," a native would comfort him, "it's
only Wilson's wife lauchin at the Cross!"
Her manner had a hearty charm. She had a laugh
and a joke for every customer, quick as a wink with her
answer; her jibe was in you and out again, before you
knew you were wounded. Some, it is true, took exception
to the loudness of her skirl; the Deacon, for instance,
who "gave her a good one" the first time he
went in for snuff. But "Tut!" quoth she, "a mim cat's
never gude at the mice," and she lifted him out by the
scruff of his neck, crying, "Run, mousie, or I'll catch
ye!" On that day her popularity in Barbie was assured
for ever. But she was as keen on the penny as a penurious
weaver, for all her heartiness and laughing
ways. She combined the commercial merits of the East
and West. She could coax you to the buying like a
Cumnock quean, and fleece you in the selling like the
cadgers o' Kincardine. When Wilson was abroad on his
affairs he had no need to be afraid that things were mismanaging
at home. During his first year in Barbie
Mrs. Wilson was his sole helper. She had the brawny
arm of a giantess, and could toss a bag of meal like a
baby; to see her twirl a big ham on the counter was to
see a thing done as it should be. When Dru'cken Wabster
came in and was offensive once, "Poo-oor fellow!"
said she (with a wink to a customer) "I declare he's in
a high fever," and she took him kicking to the pump
and cooled him.
With a mate like that at the helm every sail of Wilson's
craft was trimmed for prosperity. He began to
"look about" him to increase the fleet.
THAT the Scot is largely endowed with the commercial
imagination his foes will be ready to acknowledge.
Imagination may consecrate the world to a man, or it
may merely be a visualising faculty which sees that,
as already perfect, which is still lying in the raw
material. The Scot has the lower faculty in full degree;
he has the forecasting leap of the mind which
sees what to make of things — more, sees them made
and in vivid operation. To him there is a railway
through the desert where no railway exists, and mills
along the quiet stream. And his perfervidum ingenium
is quick to attempt the realising of his dreams. That
is why he makes the best of colonists. Galt is his type
— Galt, dreaming in boyhood of the fine water power a
fellow could bring round the hill, from the stream
where he went a-fishing (they have done it since),
dreaming in manhood of the cities yet to rise amid
Ontario's woods (they are there to witness to his foresight).
Indeed, so flushed and riotous can the Scottish
mind become over a commercial prospect that it sometimes
sends native caution by the board, and a man's
really fine idea becomes an empty balloon, to carry him
off to the limbo of vanities. There is a megalomaniac
in every parish of Scotland. Well, not so much as that;
they're owre canny for that to be said of them. But
in every district, almost, you may find a poor creature
who for thirty years has cherished a great scheme by
which he means to revolutionize the world's commerce,
and amass a fortune in monstrous degree. He is generally
to be seen shivering at the Cross, and (if you are
a nippy man) you shout carelessly in going by, "Good
morning, Tamson; how's the scheme?" And he would
be very willing to tell you, if only you would wait to
listen. "Man," he will cry eagerly behind you, "if I
only had anither wee wheel in my invention — she would
do, the besom! I'll sune have her ready noo." Poor
But these are the exceptions. Scotsmen, more than
other men perhaps, have the three great essentials of
commercial success — imagination to conceive schemes,
common sense to correct them, and energy to push them
through. Common sense, indeed, so far from being
wanting, is in most cases too much in evidence, perhaps,
crippling the soaring mind and robbing the idea of its
early radiance; in quieter language, she makes the average
Scotsman to be over-cautious. His combinations
are rarely Napoleonic until he becomes an American.
In his native dales he seldom ventures on a daring policy.
And yet his forecasting mind is always detecting
"possibeelities." So he contents himself by creeping
cautiously from point to point, ignoring big reckless
schemes and using the safe and small, till he arrives at
a florid opulence. He has expressed his love of festina
lente in business in a score of proverbs — "bit-by-bit's
the better horse, though big-by-big's the baulder";
"ca' canny or ye'll cowp"; "many a little makes a
mickle"; and "creep before ye gang." This mingling
of caution and imagination is the cause of his stable
prosperity. And its characteristic is a sure progressiveness.
That sure progressiveness was the characteristic
of Wilson's prosperity in Barbie. In him, too, imagination
and caution were equally developed. He was always
foreseeing "chances" and using them, gripping
the good and rejecting the dangerous (had he not
gripped the chance of auld Rab Jamieson's barn? — there
was caution in that, for it was worth the money whatever
happened, and there was imagination in the whole
scheme, for he had a vision of Barbie as a populous
centre and streets of houses in his holm). And every
"chance" he seized led to a better one, till almost
every "chance" in Barbie was engrossed by him alone.
This is how he went to work. Note the "bit-by-bit-ness"
of his great career.
When Mrs. Wilson was behind the counter, Wilson
was out "distributing." He was not always out, of
course — his volume of trade at first was not big enough
for that, but in the mornings, and the long summer
dusks, he made his way to the many outlying places of
which Barbie was the centre. There, in one and the
same visit, he distributed goods and collected orders for
the future. Though his bill had spoken of "carts,"
as if he had several, that was only a bit of splurge on
his part; his one conveyance at the first was a stout
spring cart, with a good brown cob between the shafts.
But with this he did such a trade as had never been
known in Barbie. The Provost said it was "shtupendous."
When Wilson was jogging homeward in the balmy
evenings of his first summer at Barbie no eye had he for
the large evening star, tremulous above the woods, or for
the dreaming sprays against the yellow west. It wasn't
his business — he had other things to mind. Yet Wilson
was a dreamer, too. His close musing eye, peering
at the dusky-brown nodge of his pony's hip through
the gloom, saw not that, but visions of chances, opportunities,
occasions. When the lights of Barbie twinkled
before him in the dusk he used to start from a pleasant
dream of some commercial enterprise suggested by the
country round. "Yon holm would make a fine bleaching
green — pure water, fine air, labour cheap, and everything
handy. Or the Lintie's Linn among the woods —
water power running to waste yonder — surely something
could be made of that." He would follow his idea
through all its mazes and developments, oblivious of
the passing miles. His delight in his visions was exactly
the same as the author's delight in the figments of
his brain. They were the same good company along the
twilight roads. The author, happy with his thronging
thoughts (when they are kind enough to throng) is no
happier than Wilson was on nights like these.
He had not been a week on his rounds when he saw
a "chance" waiting for development. When out "delivering"
he used to visit the upland farms to buy
butter and eggs for the Emporium. He got them
cheaper so. But more eggs and butter could be
had than were required in the neighbourhood of Barbie.
Here was a chance for Wilson! He became a collector
for merchants at a distance. Barbie, before it got the
railway, had only a silly little market once a fortnight,
which was a very poor outlet for stuff. Wilson
provided a better one. Another thing played into
his hands, too, in that connection. It is a cheese-making
countryside about Barbie, and the less butter produced
at a cheese-making place — the better for the
cheese. Still, a good many pounds are often churned
on the sly. What need the cheese merchant ken — it
keepit the gudewife in bawbees frae week to week — and
if she took a little cream frae the cheese now and than
they werena a pin the waur o't, for she aye did it wi' decency
and caution! Still it is as well to dispose of this
kind of butter quietly, to avoid gabble among ill-speakers.
Wilson, slithering up the back road with his
spring cart in the gloaming, was the man to dispose of it
quietly. And he got it dirt cheap, of course, seeing it
was a kind of contraband. All that he made in this
way was not much to be sure — threepence a dozen on
the eggs, perhaps, and fourpence on the pound of butter
— still, you know, every little makes a mickle, and
hained gear helps weel.* And more important than the
immediate profit was the ultimate result. For Wilson,
in this way, established with merchants, in far-off Fechars
and Poltandie, a connection for the sale of country
produce which meant a great deal to him in future,
when he launched out as cheese-buyer in opposition to
It "occurred" to him also (things were always occurring
to Wilson) that the "Scotch Cuddy" business had
as fine a chance in "Barbie and surrounding neighbourhood"
as ever it had in North and Middle England.
The "Scotch Cuddy" is so called because he is a beast
of burden, and not from the nature of his wits. He is
a travelling packman, who infests communities of working
men, and disposes of his goods on the credit system,
* Hained gear: saved money.
receiving payment in instalments. You go into a working
man's house (when he is away from home for preference)
and, laying a swatch of cloth across his wife's
knee, "What do you think of that, mistress?" you enquire,
watching the effect keenly. Instantly all her
covetous heart is in her eye and, thinks she to herself,
"Oh, but John would look well in that, at the Kirk on
Sunday!" She has no ready money, and would never
have the cheek to go into a draper's and order the suit,
but when she sees it lying there across her knee, she just
cannot resist it. (And fine you knew that when you
clinked it down before her!) Now that the goods are
in the house she cannot bear to let them out the door
again. But she hints a scarcity of cash. "Tut, woman!"
quoth you, bounteous and kind, "there's no obstacle
in that! — You can pay me in instalments!"
How much would the instalments be, she enquires.
"Oh, a mere trifle — half-a-crown a week, say." She
hesitates and hankers. "John's Sunday coat's getting
quite shabby, so it is, and Tam Macalister has a new
suit, she was noticing — the Macalisters are always
flaunting in their braws! And, there's that Paisley
shawl for herself, too; eh, but they would be the canty
pair, cocking down the road on Sunday in that rig! —
they would take the licht frae Meg Macalister's e'en,
thae Macalisters are always so en-vy-fu'!" Love,
vanity, covetousness, present opportunity, are all at
work upon the poor body. She succumbs. But the
half-crown weekly payments have a habit of lengthening
themselves out till the packman has made fifty per
cent by the business. And why not? — a man must
have some interest on his money! Then there's the
risk of bad debts, too — that falls to be considered. But
there was little risk of bad debts when Wilson took to
cloth-distributing. For success in that game depends on
pertinacity in pursuit of your victim and Wilson was the
man for that.
He was jogging home from Brigabee, where he had
been distributing groceries at a score of wee houses,
when there flashed on his mind a whole scheme for
cloth-distribution on a large scale — for mining villages
were clustering in about Barbie by this time, and he
saw his way to a big thing.
He was thinking of Sandy Toddle, who had been a
Scotch Cuddy in the Midlands and had retired to Barbie
on a snug bit fortune — he was thinking of Sandy
when the plan rose generous on his mind. He would
soon have more horses than one on the road — why
shouldn't they carry swatches of cloth as well as groceries?
If he had responsible men under him, it would
be their own interest, for a small commission on the
profits, to see that payments were levied correctly every
week. And those colliers were reckless with their cash,
far readier to commit themselves to buying than the
cannier country bodies round. Lord! there was money
in the scheme. No sooner thought of than put in practice.
Wilson gave up the cloth-peddling after five or
six years — he had other fish to fry by that time — but
while he was at it he made money hand over fist at
But what boots it to tell of all his schemes? He had
the lucky eye — and everything he looked on prospered.
Before he had been a week in Barbie he met Gourlay,
iust at the Bend o' the Brae. in full presence of the bodies.
Remembering their first encounter the grocer tried
to outstare him, but Gourlay hardened his glower and
the grocer blinked. When the two passed, "I declare!"
said the bodies, "did ye see yon? — they're not on speaking
terms!" And they hotched with glee to think that
Gourlay had another enemy.
Judge of their delight when they saw one day about
a month later, just as Gourlay was passing up the street,
Wilson come down it with a load of coals for a customer!
For he was often out Auchterwheeze road in the early
morning, and what was the use of an empty journey back
again, especially as he had plenty of time in the middle
of the day to attend to other folk's affairs — so here he
was, started as a carrier, in full opposition to Gourlay.
"Did you see Gourlay's face?" chuckled the bodies
when the cart went by." Yon was a bash in the eye to
him. Ha, ha! — he's not to have it all his own way
Wilson had slid into the carrying in the natural development
of business. It was another of the possibilities
which he saw and turned to his advantage. The
two other chief grocers in the place, Cunningham the
dirty, and Calderwood the drunken, having no carts or
horses of their own, were dependent on Gourlay for conveyance
of their goods from Skeighan. But Wilson
brought his own. Naturally, he was asked by his customers
to bring a parcel now and then, and naturally,
being the man he was, he made them pay for the privilege.
With that for a start the rest was soon accomplished.
Gourlay had to pay now for his years of insolence
and tyranny; all who had irked beneath his domineering
ways got their carrying done by Wilson. Ere
long that prosperous gentleman had three carts on the
road, and two men under him to help in his various
Carting was only one of several new developments in
the business of J. W. When the navvies came in about
the town and accommodation was ill to find, Wilson
rigged up an old shed in the corner of his holm as a hostelry
for ten of them — and they had to pay through the
nose for their night's lodging. Their food they obtained
from the Emporium, and thus the Wilsons bled
them both ways. Then there was the scheme for supplying
milk — another of the "possibeelities." Hitherto
in winter, Barbie was dependent for its milk supply
on heavy farm-carts that came lumbering down the
street, about half-past seven in the morning, jangling
bells to waken sleepy customers, and carrying lanterns
that carved circles of hairy yellow out the raw air.
But Mrs. Wilson got four cows, back-calvers who would
be milking strong in December, and supplied milk to
all the folk about the Cross.
She had a lass to help her in the house now, and the
red-headed boy was always to be seen, jinking round
corners like a weasel, running messages hotfoot, errand
boy to the "bisness" in general. Yet, though
everybody was busy and skelping at it, such a stress
of work was accompanied with much disarray. Wilson's
yard was the strangest contrast to Gourlay's.
Gourlay's was a pleasure to the eye, everything of the
best and everything in order, since the master's pride
would not allow it to be other. But, though Wilson's
Emporium was clean, his back yard was littered with
dirty straw, broken boxes, old barrels, stable refuse, and
the sky-pointing shafts of carts, uptilted in between.
When boxes and barrels were flung out of the Emporium
they were generally allowed to lie on the dunghill,
until they were converted into firewood. "Mistress,
you're a trifle mixed," said the Provost in grave
reproof, when he went round to the back to see Wilson
on a matter of business. But "Tut," cried Mrs.
Wilson, as she threw down a plank, to make a path
for him across a dub — "Tut," she laughed, "the
clartier the cosier!" And it was as true as she said it.
The thing went forward splendidly in spite of its confusion.
Though trade was brisker in Barbie than it had ever
been before, Wilson had already done injury to Gourlay's
business as general conveyer. But, hitherto, lie
had not infringed on the gurly one's other monopolies.
His chance came at last.
He appeared on a market day in front of the Red
Lion, a piece of pinkey-brown paper in his hand. That
was the first telegram ever seen in Barbie, and it had
been brought by special messenger from Skeighan. It
was short and to the point. It ran: "Will buy 300
stone cheese 8 shillings stone* delivery at once," and
was signed by a merchant in Poltandie.
Gourlay was talking to old Tarmillan of Irrendavie,
when Wilson pushed in and addressed Tarmillan, without
a glance at the grain-merchant.
"Have you a kane o' cheese to sell, Irrendavie?"
was his blithe salutation.
* That is for the stone of fourteen pounds. At that time
Scotch cheese was selling, roughly, at from fifty to sixty shillings
"I have," said Irrendavie, and he eyed him suspiciously.
For what was Wilson spiering for? He wasna
"How much the stane are ye seeking for't?" said
"I have just been asking Mr. Gourlay here for seven
and six," said Irrendavie, "but he winna rise a penny
on the seven!"
"I'll gi'e ye seven and six," said Wilson, and slapped
his long thin flexible bank-book far too ostentatiously
against the knuckles of his left hand.
"But — but," stammered Irrendavie, suspicious still,
but melting at the offer, "you have no means of storing
"Oh," said Wilson, getting in a fine one at Gourlay,
"there's no drawback in that! The ways o' business
have changed greatly since steam came close to our
doors. It's nothing but vanity nowadays when a country
merchant wastes money on a ramshackle of buildings
for storing — there's no need for that if he only
had brains to develop quick deliveries. Some folk,
no doubt, like to build monuments to their own pride,
but I'm not one of that kind; there's not enough sense
in that to satisfy a man like me. My offer doesna hold,
you understand, unless you deliver the cheese at Skeighan
Station. Do you accept the condition?"
"Oh, yes," said Irrendavie, "I'm willing to agree
"C'way into the Red Lion then," said Wilson, "and
we'll wet the bargain with a drink to make it hold the
Then a strange thing happened. Gourlay had a curious
stick of foreign wood (one of the trifles he fed his
pride on) the crook of which curved back to the stem
and inhered, leaving space only for the fingers. The
wood was of wonderful toughness, and Gourlay had been
known to bet that no man could break the handle of his
stick by a single grip over the crook and under it. Yet
now, as he saw his bargain whisked away from him and
listened to Wilson's jibe, the thing snapped in his grip
like a rotten twig. He stared down at the broken pieces
for a while, as if wondering how they came there, then
dashed them on the ground while Wilson stood smiling
by. And then he strode — with a look on his face that
made the folk fall away.
"He's hellish angry," they grinned to each other
when their foe was gone, and laughed when they heard
the cause of it. "Ha, ha, Wilson's the boy to diddle
him!" And yet they looked queer when told that the
famous stick had snapped in his grasp like a wormeaten
larch-twig. "Lord!" cried the baker in admiring
awe, "did he break it with the ae chirt! It's been
tried by scores of fellows for the last twenty years, and
never a man of them was up till't! Lads, there's something
splendid about Gourlay's wrath. What a man he
is when the paw-sion grups him!"
"Thplendid, d'ye ca't?" said the Deacon. "He may
thwing in a towe for his thplendid wrath yet."
From that day Wilson and Gourlay were a pair of
gladiators for whom the people of Barbie made a ring.
They pitted the protagonists against each other and
hounded them on to rivalry by their comments and
remarks, taking the side of the newcomer, less from
partialitv to him than from hatred of their ancient
enemy. It was strange that a thing so impalpable as
gossip should influence so strong a man as John Gourlay
to his ruin. But it did. The bodies of Barbie became
not only the chorus to Gourlay's tragedy, buzzing it
abroad and discussing his downfall; they became also,
merely by their maddening tattle, a villain of the piece
and an active cause of the catastrophe. Their gossip
seemed to materialize into a single entity, a something
propelling, that spurred Gourlay on to the schemes that
ruined him. He was not to be done, he said; he would
show the dogs what he thought of them. And so he
plunged headlong, while the wary Wilson watched him,
smiling at the sight.
There was a pretty hell-broth brewing in the little
"AYE man, Templandmuir, it's you!" said Gourlay,
coming forward with great heartiness, "Aye man, and
how are ye? C'way into the parlour!"
"Good evening, Mr. Gourlay," said the Templar.
His manner was curiously subdued.
Since his marriage there was a great change in the
rubicund squireen. Hitherto he had lived in sluttish
comfort on his own land, content with the little it
brought in, and proud to be the friend of Gourlay whom
everybody feared. If it ever dawned on his befuddled
mind that Gourlay turned the friendship to his own account,
his vanity was flattered by the prestige he acquired
because of it. Like many another robustious
big toper, the Templar was a chicken at heart, and "to
be in with Gourlay" lent him a consequence that covered
his deficiency. "Yes, I'm sleepy," he would yawn
in Skeighan Mart, "I had a sederunt yestreen wi' John
Gourlay," and he would slap his boot with his riding-switch,
and feel like a hero. "I know how it is, I know
how it is!" Provost Connal of Barbie used to cry;
"Gourlay both courts and cowes him — first he courts
and then he cowes — and the Templar hasn't the courage
to break it off!" The Provost hit the mark.
But when the Templar married the miller's daughter
of the Mill o' Blink (a sad come-down, said foolish
neighbours, for a Halliday of Templandmuir) there was
a sudden change about the laird. In our good Scots
proverb, "A miller's daughter has a shrill voice" and
the new leddy of Templandmuir ("a leddy she is!"
said the frightened housekeeper) justified the proverb.
Her voice went with the skirl of an East wind through
the rat-riddled mansion of the Hallidays. She was nine-and-twenty,
and a birkie woman of nine-and-twenty can
make a good husband out of very unpromising material.
The Templar wore a scared look in those days and went
home betimes. His cronies knew the fun was over when
they heard what happened to the great punch-bowl —
she made it a swine-trough. It was the heirloom of a
hundred years, and as much as a man could carry with
his arms out, a massive curio in stone; but to her husband's
plaint about its degradation, "Oh," she cried,
"it'll never know the difference! It's been used to
But she was not content with the cessation of the
old, she was determined on bringing in the new. For
a twelvemonth now she had urged her husband to be
rid of Gourlay. The country was opening up, she said,
and the quarry ought to be their own. A dozen times
he had promised her to warn Gourlay that he must yield
the quarry when his tack ran out at the end of the year,
and a dozen times he had shrunk from the encounter.
"I'll write," he said feebly.
"Write!" said she, lowered in her pride to think her
husband was a coward. "Write, indeed! Man, have
ye no spunk? Think what he has made out o' ye!
Think o' the money that has gone to him that should
have come to you! You should be glad o' the chance
to tell him o't. My certy, if I was you I wouldn't miss
it for the world — just to let him know of his cheatry!
Oh, it's very right that I" — she sounded the I big and
brave — "it's very right that I should live in this tumbledown
hole while he builds a palace from your plunder!
It's right that I should put up with this" — she
flung hands of contempt at her dwelling — "it's right
that I should put up with this, while yon trollop has a
splendid mansion on the top o' the brae! And every
bawbee of his fortune has come out of you — the fool
makes nothing from his other business — he would have
been a pauper if he hadn't met a softie like you that he
could do what he liked with. Write, indeed! I have
no patience with a wheen sumphs of men! Them do the
work o' the world! They may wear the breeks, but the
women wear the brains, I trow. I'll have it out with
the black brute myself," screamed the hardy dame, "if
you're feared of his glower. If you havena the pluck
for it, I have. Write, indeed! In you go to the meeting
that oald ass of a Provost has convened, and don't
show your face in Templandmuir till you have had it
out with Gourlay!"
No wonder the Templar looked subdued.
When Gourlay came forward with his usual calculated
heartiness, the laird remembered his wife and felt
very uncomfortable. It was ill to round on a man
who always imposed on him a hearty and hardy good-fellowship.
Gourlay, greeting him so warmly, gave
him no excuse for an outburst. In his dilemma lie
turned to the children, to postpone the evil hour.
"Aye, man, John!" he said, heavily, "you're there!"
Heavy Scotsmen are fond of telling folk that they are
where they are. "You're there!" said Templandmuir.
"Aye," said John, the simpleton, "I'm here."
In the grime of the boy's face there were large white
circles round the eyes, showing where his fists had
rubbed off the tears through the day.
"How are you doing at the school?" said the Templar.
"Oh, he's an ass!" said Gourlay. "He takes after
his mother in that! The lassie's more smart — she favours
our side o' the house! Eh, Jenny?" he enquired,
and tugged her pigtail, smiling down at her in grim
"Yes," nodded Janet, encouraged by the petting,
"John's always at the bottom of the class. Jimmy
Wilson's always at the top, and the dominie set him to
teach John his 'counts the day — after he had thrashed
She cried out, at a sudden tug on her pigtail, and
looked up, with tears in her eyes, to meet her father's
"You eediot!" said Gourlay, gazing at his son with a
savage contempt, "have you no pride to let Wilson's
son be your master?"
John slunk from the room.
"Bide where you are, Templandmuir," said Gourlay,
after a little, "I'll be back directly."
He went through to the kitchen and took a crystal
jug from the dresser. He "made a point" of bringing
the water for his whiskey. "I like to pump it up
cold," he used to say, "cold and cold, ye know, till
there's a mist on the outside of the glass like the bloom
on a plum, and then, by Goad, ye have the fine drinking!
Oh, no — ye needn't tell me, I wouldn't lip drink if the
water wasna ice-cold." He never varied from the tipple
he approved. In his long sederunts with Templandmuir
he would slip out to the pump, before every brew,
to get water of sufficient coldness.
To-night he would birl the bottle with Templandmuir
as usual, till the fuddled laird should think himself a
fine big fellow as being the intimate of John Gourlay —
and then, sober as a judge himself, he would drive him
home in the small hours. And when next they met, the
pot-valiant squireen would chuckle proudly, "Faith,
yon was a night." By a crude cunning of the kind
Gourlay had maintained his ascendancy for years, and
to-night he would maintain it still. He went out to the
pump, to fetch water with his own hands, for their first
But when he came back and set out the big decanter
Templandmuir started to his feet.
"Noat to-night, Mr. Gourlay," he stammered — and
his unusual flutter of refusal might have warned Gourlay
— "noat to-night, if you please, noat to-night, if you
please. As a matter of fact — eh — what I really came
into the town for, doan't,you see, was — eh — to attend
the meeting the Provost has convened about the railway.
You'll come down to the meeting, will ye noat?"
He wanted to get Gourlay away from the House with
the Green Shutters. It would be easier to quarrel with
him out of doors.
But Gourlay gaped at him across the table, his eyes
big with surprise and disapproval.
"Huh!" he growled, "I wonder at a man like you
giving your head to that! It's a wheen damned nonsense."
"Oh, I'm no so sure of that," drawled the Templar.
"I think the railway means to come."
The whole country was agog about the new railway.
The question agitating solemn minds was whether it
should join the main line at Fechars, thirty miles ahead,
or pass to the right, through Fleckie and Barbie, to a
junction up at Skeighan Drone. Many were the reasons
spluttered in vehement debate for one route or the
other." On the one side, ye see, Skeighan was a big
place a'readys, and look what a centre it would be, if it
had three lines of rail running out and in! Eh, my,
what at centre! Then there was Fleckie and Barbie —
they would be the big towns! Up the valley, too, was
the shortest road; it would be a daft-like thing to build
thirty mile of rail, when fifteen was enough to establish
the connection! And was it likely — I put it to ainy
man of sense — was it likely the Coal Company wouldn't
do everything in their power to get the railway up the
valley, seeing that if it didn't come that airt, they would
need to build a line of their own?" — "Ah, but then, ye
see, Fechars was a big place, too, and there was lots of
mineral up there as well! And though it was a longer
road to Fechars and part of it lay across the moors, there
were several wee towns that airt just waiting for a
chance of growth! I can tell ye, sirs, this was going
to be a close question!"
Such was the talk in pot-house and parlour, at kirk
and mart and tryst and fair, and wherever potentates
did gather and abound. The partisans on either side
began to canvass the country in support of their contentions.
They might have kept their breath to cool
their porridge, for these matters, we know, are settled
in the great Witenagemot. But petitions were prepared
and meetings were convened. In those days Provost
Connal of Barbie was in constant communion with the
"Pow-ers." "Yass," he nodded gravely — only "nod"
is a word too swift for the grave inclining of that mighty
pow — "Yass, ye know, the great thing in matters
like this is to get at the Pow-ers, doan't you see?
Oh, yass, yass; we must get at the Pow-ers!" — and he
looked as if none but he were equal to the job. He even
went to London (to interrogate the "Pow-ers"), and
simple bodies,gathered at the Cross for their Saturday at
e'en, told each other with bated breath that the Provost
was away to the "seat of Goaver'ment to see about the
railway." When he came back and shook his head,
hope drained from his fellows and left them hollow in
an empty world. But when he smacked his lips on
receiving an important letter, the heavens were brightened
and the landscapes smiled.
The Provost walked about the town nowadays with
the air of a man on whose shoulders the weight of empires
did depend. But for all his airs it was not the
Head o' the Town who was the ablest advocate of the
route up the Water of Barbie. It was that public-spirited
citizen, Mr. James Wilson of the Cross! Wilson
championed the cause of Barbie with an ardour that did
infinite credit to his civic heart. For one thing, it was
a grand way of recommending himself to his new
townsfolk, as he told his wife, "and so increasing the
circle of our present trade, don't ye understand?" — for
another, he was as keen as the keenest that the railway
should come and enhance the value of his property.
"We must agitate," he cried, when Sandy Toddle murmured
a doubt whether anything they could do would
be of much avail. "It's not settled yet what road the
line's to follow, and who knows but a trifle may turn
the scale in our behalf? Local opinion ought to be expressed!
They're sending a monster petition from the
Fechars side; we'll send the Company a bigger one from
ours! Look at Skeighan and Fleckie and Barbie — three
towns at our back, and the new Coal Company, forbye!
A public opinion of that size ought to have a great
weight — if put forward properly! We must agitate,
sirs, we must agitate — we maun scour the country for
names in our support. Look what a number of things
there are, to recommend our route. It's the shortest,
and there's no need for heavy cuttings such as are
needed on the other side; the road's there a'ready — Barbie
Water has cut it through the hills. It's the manifest
design of Providence that there should be a line up
Barbie Valley! What a position for't! — And, oh,"
thought Wilson, "what a site for building houses in my
holm! — Let a meeting be convened at wunst!"
The meeting was convened with Provost Connal in the
chair, and Wilson as general factotum.
"You'll come down to the meeting?" said Templandmuir
Go to a meeting for which Wilson had sent out the
bills! At another, Gourlay would have hurled his usual
objurgation that he would see him condemned to eternal
agonies ere he granted his request! But Templandmuir
was different. Gourlay had always flattered
this man (whom he inwardly despised) by a companionship
which made proud the other. He had always
yielded to Templandmuir in small thing, for the sake
of the quarry, which was a great thing. He yielded to
"Verra well," he said shortly, and rose to get his hat.
When Gourlay put on his hat, the shallow meanness
of his brow was hid, and nothing was seen to impair his
dark strong gravity of face. He was a man you would
have turned to look at, as he marched in silence by the
side of Templandmuir. Though taller than the laird,
he looked shorter because of his enormous breadth.
He had a chest like the heave of a hill. Templandmuir
was afraid of him. And fretting at the necessity
he felt to quarrel with a man of whom he was afraid,
he had an unreasonable hatred of Gourlay whose conduct
made this quarrel necessary at the same time that
his character made it to be feared; and he brooded on
his growing rage that, with it for a stimulus, he might
work his cowardly nature to the point of quarrelling.
Conscious of the coming row, then, he felt awkward in
the present, and was ignorant what to say. Gourlay
was silent, too. He felt it an insult to the House with
the Green Shutters that the laird should refuse its proffered
hospitality. He hated to be dragged to a meeting
he despised. Never before was such irritation between
When they came to the hall, where the meeting was
convened, there were knots of bodies grouped about the
floor. Wilson fluttered from group to group, an important
man, with a roll of papers in his hand. Gourlay,
quick for once in his dislike, took in every feature of
the man he loathed.
Wilson was what the sentimental women of the neighbourhood
called a "bonny man." His features were
remarkably regular, and his complexion was remarkably
fair. His brow was so delicate of hue that the blue
veins running down his temples could be traced distinctly
beneath the whiteness of the skin. Unluckily
for him he was so fair, that in a strong light (as now
beneath the gas) the suspicion of his unwashedness became
a certainty — "as if he got a bit idle slaik now
and than, and never a good rub," thought Gourlay in
a clean disgust. Full lips showed themselves bright
red in the middle between the two wings of a very
blonde and very symmetrical moustache. The ugly
feature of the face was the blue calculating eyes. They
were tender round the lids, so that the white lashes
stuck out in little peaks. And in conversation he had a
habit of peering out of these eyes as if he were constantly
spying for something to emerge that he might
twist to his advantage. As he talked to a man close
by, and glimmered (not at the man beside him, but far
away in the distance of his mind at some chance of gain
suggested by the other's words) Gourlay heard him say
musingly, "Imphm; imphm; imphm; there might be
something in that!" nodding his head and stroking his
moustache, as he uttered each meditative "imphm."
It was Wilson's unconscious revelation that his mind
was busy with a commercial hint which he had stolen
from his neighbour's talk. "The damned sneckdrawer!"
thought Gourlay, enlightened by his hate,
"he's sucking Tam Finlay's brains, to steal some idea
for himsell!" And still as Wilson listened he murmured
swiftly, "Imphm! I see, Mr. Finlay; imphm!
imphm! imphm!" nodding his head and pulling his
moustache and glimmering at his new "opportunity."
Our insight is often deepest into those we hate, because
annoyance fixes our thought on them to probe.
We cannot keep our minds off them — "Why do they do
it?" we snarl, and wondering why, we find out their
character. Gourlay was not an observant man, but
every man is in any man somewhere, and hate to-night
driving his mind into Wilson, helped him to read him
like an open book. He recognized with a vague uneasiness
— not with fear, for Gourlay did not know what
it meant, but with uneasy anger — the superior cunning
of his rival. Gourlay, a strong block of a man cut off
from the world by impotence of speech, could never
have got out of Finlay what Wilson drew from him in
two minutes' easy conversation.
Wilson ignored Gourlay, but he was very blithe with
Templandmuir and inveigled him off to a corner.
They talked together very briskly, and Wilson laughed
once with uplifted head, glancing across at Gourlay as
he laughed. Curse them, were they speaking of him?
The hall was crammed at last, and the important
bodies took their seats upon the front benches. Gourlay
refused to be seated with the rest, but stood near the
platform, with his back to the wall, by the side of Templandmuir.
After what the Provost described "as a few preliminary
remerks" — they lasted half an hour — he called on
Mr. Wilson to address the meeting. Wilson descanted
on the benefits that would accrue to Barbie if it got the
railway, and on the needcessity for a "long pull and a
strong pull and a pull altogether" — a phrase which he
repeated many times in the course of his address. He
sat down at last amid thunders of applause.
"There's no needcessity for me to make a loang
speech," said the Provost.
"Hear, hear!" said Gourlay, and the meeting was
unkind enough to laugh.
"Order, order!" cried Wilson perkily.
"As I was saying when I was grossly interrupted,"
fumed the Provost, "there's no needcessity for me to
make a loang speech. I had thoat we were a-all agreed
on the desirabeelity of the rileway coming in our direction.
I had thoat, after the able — I must say the very
able — speech of Mr. Wilson, that there wasn't a man in
this room so shtupid as to utter a word of dishapproval.
I had thoat we might prosheed at woance to elect a deputation.
I had thoat we would get the name of everybody
here for the great petition we mean to send the
Pow-ers. I had thoat it was all, so to shpeak, a foregone
conclusion. But it seems I was mistaken, ladies
and gentlemen — or rather, I oat to say gentlemen, for
I believe there are no ladies present. Yass, it seems I
was mistaken. It may be there are some who would
like to keep Barbie going on in the oald way which they
found so much to their advantage. It may be there are
some who regret a change that will put an end to their
chances of tyraneezin'. It may be there are some who
know themselves so shtupid that they fear the new condeetions
of trade the railway's bound to bring." — Here
Wilson rose and whispered in his ear, and the people
watched them, wondering what hint J. W. was passing
to the Provost. The Provost leaned with pompous
gravity toward his monitor, hand at ear to catch the
treasured words. He nodded and resumed. — "Now,
gentlemen, as Mr. Wilson said, this is a case that needs
a loang pull, and a stroang pull, and a pull altogether.
We must be unanimous. It will noat do to show ourselves
divided among ourselves. Therefore, I think,
we oat to have expressions of opinion from some of our
leading townsmen. That will show how far we are
unanimous. I had thoat there could be only one opinion,
and that we might prosheed at once with the petition.
But it seems I was wroang. It is best to enquire
first exactly where we stand. So I call upon Mr. John
Gourlay who has been the foremost man in the town for
mainy years — at least he used to be that — I call upon
Mr. Gourlay as the first to express an opinion on the
Wilson's hint to the Provost placed Gourlay in a fine
dilemma. Stupid as he was he was not so stupid as not
to perceive the general advantage of the railway. If he
approved it, however, he would seem to support Wilson
and the Provost whom he loathed. If he disapproved,
his opposition would be set down to a selfish consideration
for his own trade, and he would incur the anger
of the meeting, which was all for the coming of the railway.
Wilson had seized the chance to put him in a false
position. He knew Gourlay could not put forty words
together in public, and that in his dilemma he would
blunder and give himself away.
Gourlay evaded the question.
"It would be better to convene a meeting," he bawled
to the Provost, "to consider the state of some folk's
back-doors." — That was a nipper to Wilson! — " There's
a stink at the Cross that's enough to kill a cuddy!"
"Evidently not," yelled Wilson, "since you're still
A roar went up against Gourlay. All he could do
was to scowl before him, with hard-set mouth and
gleaming eyes, while they bellowed him to scorn.
"I would like to hear what Templandmuir has to say
on the subject," said Wilson getting up. "But no
doubt he'll follow his friend, Mr. Gourlay."
"No, I don't follow Mr. Gourlay," bawled Templandmuir
with unnecessary loudness. The reason of his vehemence
was twofold. He was nettled (as Wilson
meant he should) by the suggestion that he was nothing
but Gourlay's henchman. And, being eager to oppose
Gourlay, yet a coward, he yelled to supply in noise
what he lacked in resolution.
"I don't follow Mr. Gourlay at all," he roared.
"I follow nobody but myself! Every man in the district's
in support of this petition. It would be absurd
to suppose anything else. I'll be glad to
sign't among the first, and do everything I can in
"Verra well," said the Provost, "it seems we're
agreed after all. We'll get some of our foremost men
to sign the petition at this end of the hall, and then
it'll be placed in the anteroom for the rest to sign as
they go out."
"Take it across to Gourlay," whispered Wilson to
the two men who were carrying the enormous tome.
They took it over to the grain-merchant, and one of
them handed him an inkhorn. He dashed it to the
The meeting hissed like a cellarful of snakes. But
Gourlay turned and glowered at them, and somehow
the hisses died away. His was the high courage that
feeds on hate, and welcomes rather than shrinks from
its expression. He was smiling as he faced them.
"Let me pass," he said, and shouldered his way to the
door, the bystanders falling back to make room. Templandmuir
followed him out.
"I'll walk to the head o' the brae," said the Templar.
He must have it out with Gourlay at once, or else go
home to meet the anger of his wife. Having opposed
Gourlay already, he felt that now was the time to break
with him for good. Only a little was needed to complete
the rupture. And he was the more impelled to
declare himself to-night because he had just seen Gourlay
discomfited, and was beginning to despise the man
he had formerly admired. Why the whole meeting had
laughed at his expense! In quarrelling with Gourlay,
moreover, he would have the whole locality behind him.
He would range himself on the popular side. Every
impulse of mind and body pushed him forward to the
brink of speech; he would never get a better occasion
to bring out his grievance.
They trudged together in a burning silence. Though
nothing was said between them, each was in wrathful
contact with the other's mind. Gourlay blamed everything
that had happened on Templandmuir, who had
dragged him to the meeting and deserted him. And
Templandmuir was longing to begin about the quarry,
but afraid to start.
That was why he began at last with false unnecessary
loudness. It was partly to encourage himself (as a bull
bellows to increase his rage) and partly because his spite
had been so long controlled. It burst the louder for its
"Mr. Gourlay!" he bawled suddenly, when they came
opposite the House with the Green Shutters, "I've had
a crow to pick with you for more than a year!"
It came on Gourlay with a flash that Templandmuir
was slipping away from him. But he must answer him
civilly for the sake of the quarry.
"Aye man," he said quietly, "and what may
"I'll damned soon tell you what it is," said the Templar.
"Yon was a monstrous overcharge for bringing
my ironwork from Fleckie. I'll be damned if I put
up with that!"
And yet it was only a trifle. He had put up with fifty
worse impositions and never said a word. But when a
man is bent on a quarrel any spark will do for an explosion.
"How do ye make that out?" said Gourlay, still very
quietly, lest he should alienate the quarry laird.
"Damned fine do I make that out," yelled Templandmuir,
and louder than ever was the yell. He was the
brave man now, with his bellow to hearten him.
"Damned fine do I make that out. You charged me for
a whole day, though half o't was spent upon your own
concerns. I'm tired o' you and your cheatry. You've
made a braw penny out o' me in your time. But curse
me if I endure it loanger. I give you notice this verra
night that your tack o' the quarry must end at Martinmas."
He was off, glad to have it out and glad to escape the
consequence, leaving Gourlay a cauldron of wrath in the
darkness. It was not merely the material loss that
maddened him. But for the first time in his life he had
taken a rebuff without a word or a blow in return. In
his desire to conciliate he had let Templandmuir get
away unscathed. His blood rocked him where he stood.
He walked blindly to the kitchen door — never knowing
how he reached it. It was locked — at this early
hour! — and the simple inconvenience let loose the fury
of his wrath. He struck the door with his clenched fist
till the blood streamed on his knuckles.
It was Mrs. Gourlay who opened the door to him.
She started back before his awful eyes.
"John!" she cried, "what's wrong wi' ye?"
The sight of the she-tatterdemalion there before him,
whom he had endured so long and must endure forever,
was the crowning burden of his night. Damn her,
why didn't she get out of the way, why did she stand
there in her dirt and ask silly questions? He struck
her on the bosom with his great fist, and sent her spinning
on the dirty table.
She rose from among the broken dishes, and came
towards him, with slack lips and great startled eyes.
"John," she panted, like a pitiful frightened child,
"what have I been doing? . . . . Man, what did
you hit me for?"
He gaped at her with hanging jaw. He knew he was
a brute — knew she had done nothing to-night more than
she had ever done, knew he had vented on her a wrath
that should have burst on others. But his mind was at
a stick; how could he explain — to her? He gaped and
glowered for a speechless moment, then turned on his
heel and went into the parlour, slamming the door till
the windows rattled in their frames.
She stared after him a while in large-eyed stupor,
then flung herself in her old nursing chair by the fire,
and spat blood in the ribs, hawking it up coarsely — we
forget to be delicate in moments of supremer agony.
And then she flung her apron over her head and rocked
herself to and fro in the chair where she had nursed his
children, wailing: "It's a pity o' me, it's a pity o' me!
My God, aye, it's a geyan pity o' me!"
The boy was in bed, but Janet had watched the scene
with a white scared face and tearful cries. She crept
to her mother's side.
The sympathy of children with those who weep is
innocently selfish. The sight of tears makes them uncomfortable,
and they want them to cease, in the interests
of their own happiness. If the outward signs of
grief would only vanish, all would be well. They are
not old enough to appreciate the inward agony.
So Janet tugged at the obscuring apron, and whimpered,
"Don't greet, mother, don't greet. Woman, I
dinna like to see ye greetin'."
But Mrs. Gourlay still rocked herself and wailed, "It's
a pity o' me, it's a pity o' me; my God, aye, it's a geyan
pity o' me."
"Is he in himsell?" asked Gibson the builder, coming
into the Emporium.
Mrs. Wilson was alone in the shop. Since trade grew
so brisk she had an assistant to help her, but he was out
for his breakfast at present, and as it happened she was
"No," she said, "he's no in! We're terribly driven
this twelvemonth back, since trade grew so thrang, and
he's aye hunting business in some corner. He's out the
now after a carrying affair. Was it ainything particular?"
She looked at Gibson with a speculation in her eyes
that almost verged on hostility. Wives of the lower
classes who are active helpers in a husband's affairs,
often direct that look upon strangers who approach him
in the way of business. For they are enemies whatever
way you take them; come to be done by the husband or
to do him — in either case, therefore, the object of a
sharp curiosity. You may call on an educated man,
either to fleece him or be fleeced, and his wife, though
she knows all about it, will talk to you charmingly of
trifles, while you wait for him in her parlour. But a
wife of the lower orders, active in her husband's affairs,
has not been trained to dissemble so prettily — though
her face be a mask, what she is wondering comes out in
her eye. There was suspicion in the big round stare
that Mrs. Wilson directed at the builder. What was he
spiering for "himsell" for? What could he be up to?
Some end of his own, no doubt. Anxious curiosity
forced her to enquire.
"Would I do instead?" she asked.
"Well, hardly," said Gibson, clawing his chin, and
gazing at a corded round of "Barbie's Best" just above
his head."Dod, it's a fine ham that," he said, to turn
the subject. "How are ye selling it the now?"
"Tenpence a pound retail, but ninepence only if ye
take a whole one. Ye had better let me send you one,
Mr. Gibson, now that winter's drawing on! It's a
heartsome thing, the smell of frying ham on a frosty
morning —" and her laugh went skelloching up the
"Well, ye see," said Gibson with a grin, "I expect
Mr. Wilson to present me with one, when he hears the
news that I have brought him."
"Aha!" said she, "it's something good, then," and
she stuck her arms akimbo. "James!" she shrilled,
"James!" — and the red-haired boy shot from the back
"Run up to the Red Lion, and see if your father has
finished his crack wi' Templandmuir. Tell him Mr.
Gibson wants to see him on important business."
The boy squinted once at the visitor, and scooted, the
red head of him foremost.
While Gibson waited and clawed his chin she examined
him narrowly. Suspicion as to the object of his
visit fixed her attention on his face.
He was a man with mean brown eyes. Brown eyes
may be clear and limpid as a mountain pool, or they may
have the fine black flash of anger and the jovial gleam,
or they may be mean things — little and sly and oily.
Gibson's had the depth of cunning, not the depth of
character, and they glistened like the eyes of a lustful
animal. He was a reddish man, with a fringe of sandy
beard, and a perpetual grin which showed his yellow
teeth, with green deposit round their roots. It was
more than a grin, it was a rictus, semicircular from
cheek to cheek, and the beady eyes, ever on the watch
up above it, belied its false benevolence. He was not
florid, yet that grin of his seemed to intensify his reddishness
(perhaps because it brought out and made
prominent his sandy valance and the ruddy round of his
cheeks) so that the baker christened him long ago "the
man with the sandy smile." "Cunning Johnny" was
his other nickname. Wilson had recognized a match
in him the moment he came to Barbie, and had resolved
to act with him if he could, but never to act against him.
They had made advances to each other. Birds of a
feather, in short.
The grocer came in hurriedly, white-waistcoated today,
and a perceptibly bigger bulge in his belly than
when we first saw him in Barbie, four years ago now.
"Good morning, Mr. Gibson," he panted. "Is it
private that ye wanted to see me on?"
"Verra private," said the sandy smiler.
"We'll go through to the house then," said Wilson,
and ushered his guest through the back premises. But
the voice of his wife recalled him. "James!" she cried.
"Here for a minute just!" and he turned to her, leaving
Gibson in the yard.
"Be careful what you're doing," she whispered in his
ear." It wasna for nothing they christened Gibson
'Cunning Johnny.' Keep the dirt out your e'en."
"There's no fear of that," he assured her pompously.
It was a grand thing to have a wife like that, but her
advice nettled him now just a little, because it seemed
to imply a doubt of his efficiency — and that was quite
onnecessar. He knew what he was doing. They would
need to rise very early that got the better o' a man like
"You'll take a dram?" said Wilson when they
reached a pokey little room where the most conspicuous
and dreary object was a large bare flowerpot of red
earthenware, on a green woollen mat, in the middle of a
round table. Out of the flowerpot rose gauntly a three-sticked
frame, up which two lonely stalks of a climbing
plant tried to scramble, but failed miserably to reach the
top. The round little ricketty table with the family
album on one corner (placed at what Mrs. Wilson considered
a beautiful artistic angle to the window), the
tawdry cloth, the green mat, the shiny horsehair sofa,
and the stuffy atmosphere, were all in a perfect harmony
of ugliness. A sampler on the wall informed the world
that there was no place like home.
Wilson pushed the flowerpot to one side, and "You'll
take a dram?" he said blithely.
"Oh, aye," said Gibson with a grin, "I never refuse
drink when I'm offered it for nothing."
"Hi! hi!" laughed Wilson at the little joke, and produced
a cut decanter and a pair of glasses. He filled
the glasses so brimming full that the drink ran over on
"Canny, man, for God's sake canny!" cried Gibson
starting forward in alarm. "Don't ye see you're spilling
the mercies?" He stooped his lips to the rim of
his glass, and sipped, lest a drop of Scotia's nectar
should escape him.
They faced each other, sitting. "Here's pith!" said
Gibson — "Pith!" said the other in chorus, and they
nodded to each other in amity, primed glasses up and
ready. And then it was eyes heavenward and the little
Gibson smacked his lips once and again when the fiery
spirit tickled his uvula.
"Ha!" said he, "that's the stuff to put heart in
"It's no bad whiskey," said Wilson complacently.
Gibson wiped the sandy stubble round his mouth with
the back of his hand, and considered for a moment.
Then, leaning forward, he tapped Wilson's knee in whispering
"Have you heard the news?" he murmured, with a
watchful glimmer in his eyes.
"No!" cried Wilson glowering, eager and alert. "Is't
ocht in the business line? Is there a possibeelity for
"Oh, there might," nodded Gibson, playing his man
for a while.
"Aye man!" cried Wilson briskly, and brought his
chair an inch or two forward. Gibson grinned and
watched him with his beady eyes. — "What green teeth
he has!" thought Wilson who was not fastidious.
"The Coal Company are meaning to erect a village
for five hundred miners a mile out the Fleckie Road,
and they're running a branch line up the Lintie's
Burn, that'll need the building of a dozen brigs. I'm
happy to say I have nabbed the contract for the
"Man, Mr. Gibson, d'ye tell me that! I'm proud to
hear it, sir; I am that!" Wilson was hotching in his
chair with eagerness. For what could Gibson be wanting
with him if it wasna to arrange about the carting?
"Fill up your glass, Mr. Gibson, man; fill up your glass!
You're drinking nothing at all. Let me help you!"
"Aye, but I havena the contract for the carting," said
Gibson. "That's not mine to dispose of. They mean
to keep it in their own hand."
Wilson's mouth forgot to shut, and his eyes were big
and round as his mouth in staring disappointment.
Was it this he was wasting his drink for?
"Where do I come in?" he asked blankly.
Gibson tossed off another glassful of the burning
heartener of men, and leaned forward with his elbows
on the table.
"D'ye ken Goudie, the Company's Manager? He's
worth making up to, I can tell ye. He has complete
control of the business, and can girt you the road of a
good thing. I made a point of helping him in everything,
ever since he came to Barbie, and I'm glad to say
that he hasna forgotten't. Man, it was through him I
got the building contract — they never threw't open to
the public. But they mean to contract separate for
carting the material. That means that they'll need the
length of a dozen horses on the road for a twelvemonth
to come; for it's no only the building — they're launching
out on a big scale, and there's lots of other things
forbye. Now Goudie's as close as a whin and likes to
keep everything dark till the proper time comes for
sploring o't. Not a whisper has been heard so far about
this village for the miners — there's a rumour, to be
sure, about a wheen houses going up, but nothing near
the reality. And there's not a soul, either, that kens
there's a big contract for carting to be had 'ceptna Goudie
and mysell. But or a month's bye, they'll be advertising
for estimates for a twelvemonth's carrying. I
thocht a hint aforehand would be worth something to
you, and that's the reason of my visit."
"I see," said Wilson briskly. "You're verra good,
Mr. Gibson. You mean you'll give me an inkling in
private of the other estimates sent in, and help to arrange
"Na," said Gibson. "Goudie's owre close to let me
ken! I'll speak a word in his ear on your behalf, to be
sure, if you agree to the proposal I mean to put before
you. But Gourlay's the man you need to keep your eye
on. It's you or him for the contract there's nobody
else to compete wi' the two o' ye."
"Imphm, I see," said Wilson, and tugged his moustache
in meditation. All expression died out of his face
while his brain churned within. What Brodie had christened
"the considering keek" was in his eyes; they were
far away, and saw the distant village in process of erection;
busy with its chances and occasions. Then an uneasy
thought seemed to strike him and recall him to the
man by his side. He stole a shifty glance at the sandy
"But I thought you were a friend of Gourlay's," he
"Friendship!" said Gibson. "We're speaking of business!
And there's sma-all friendship atween me and
Gourlay. He was nebby owre a bill I sent in the other
day; and I'm getting tired of his bluster. Besides,
there's little more to be made of him. Gourlay's bye
wi't. But you're a rising man, Mr Wilson, and I think
that you and me might work thegither to our own advantage,
don't ye see? Yes; just so; to the advantage
of us both. Oom?"
"I hardly see what you're driving at," said Wilson.
"I'm driving at this," said Gibson. "If Gourlay kens
you're against him for the contract, he'll cut his estimate
down to a ruinous price, out o' sheer spite — yes,
out o' sheer spite — rather than be licked by you in public
competition. And if he does that, Goudie and I may
do what we like, but we canna help you. For it's the
partners that decide the estimates sent in, d'ye see?
Imphm, it's the partners. Goudie has noathing to do wi'
that. And if Gourlay once gets round the partners,
you'll be left out in the cold for a very loang time.
Shivering, sir, shivering! You will that!"
"Dod, you're right. There's a danger of that. But
I fail to see how we can prevent it!"
"We can put Gourlay on a wrong scent," said Gibson.
"But how though?"
Gibson met one question by another.
"What was the charge for a man and a horse and a
day's carrying when ye first came hereaway?" he asked.
"Only four shillings a day," said Wilson promptly.
"It has risen to six now," he added.
"Exactly!" said Gibson; "and with the new works
coming in about the town it'll rise to eight yet! I have
it for a fact that the Company's willing to gie that!
Now if you and me could procure a job for Gourlay at
the lower rate, before the news o' this new industry
gets scattered — a job that would require the whole of
his plant, you understand, and prevent his competing
for the Company's business — we would clear" — he
clawed his chin to help his arithmetic — "we would clear
three hundred and seventy-four pounds o' difference on
the twelvemonth. At least you would make that," he
added, "but you would allow me a handsome commission
of course — the odd hundred and seventy, say — for
bringing the scheme before ye! I don't think there's
ocht unreasonable in tha-at! For it's not the mere
twelvemonth's work that's at stake, you understand, it's
the valuable connection for the fee-yuture! Now, I
have influence wi' Goudie; I can help you there. But if
Gourlay gets in there's just a chance that you'll never
be able to oust him."
"I see," said Wilson. "Before he knows what's coming,
we're to provide work for Gourlay at the lower rate,
both to put money in our own pocket and prevent him
competing for the better business."
"You've summed it to the nines," said Gibson.
"Yes," said Wilson blankly, "but how on earth are
we to provide work for him?"
Gibson leaned forward a second time and tapped
Wilson on the knee.
"Have you never considered what a chance for building
there's in that holm of yours?" he asked. "You've
a fortune there, lying undeveloped!"
That was the point to which Cunning Johnny had
been leading all the time. He cared as little for Wilson
as for Gourlay; all he wanted was a contract for covering
Wilson's holm with jerry-built houses, and a good
commission on the year's carrying. It was for this he
evolved the conspiracy to cripple Gourlay.
Wilson's thoughts went to and fro like the shuttle of a
weaver. He blinked in rapidity of thinking, and stole
shifty glances at his comrade. He tugged his moustache
and said "Imphm" many times. Then his eyes
went off in their long preoccupied stare; and the sound
of the breath, coming heavy through his nostrils, was
audible in the quiet room. Wilson was one of the men
whom you hear thinking.
"I see," he said slowly. "You mean to bind Gourlay
to cart building material to my holm, at the present
price of work. You'll bind him in general terms so
that he canna suspect, till the time comes, who in particular
he's to work for. In the meantime I'll be free
to offer for the Company's business at the higher price."
"That's the size o't," said Gibson.
Wilson was staggered by the rapid combinations of
the scheme. But Cunning Johnny had him in the toils.
The plan be proposed stole about the grocer's everyweakness,
and tugged his inclinations to consent. It was very
important, he considered, that he, and no other, should
obtain this contract, which was both valuable in itself
and an earnest of other business in the future. And
Gibson's scheme got Gourlay, the only possible rival,
out the way. For it was not possible for Gourlay to
put more than twelve horses on the road, and if he
thought he had secured a good contract already, he
would never dream of applying for another. Then,
Wilson's malice was gratified by the thought that Gourlay,
who hated him, should have to serve. as helper and
underling, in a scheme for his aggrandizement. That
would take down his pride for him! And the commercial
imagination, so strong in Wilson, was inflamed by
the vision of himself as a wealthy house-owner which
Gibson put before him. Cunning Johnny knew all this
when he broached the scheme — he foresaw the pull of it
on Wilson's nature. Yet Wilson hesitated. He did not
like to give himself to Gibson quite so rapidly.
"You go fast, Mr. Gibson," said he. "Faith, you go
fast! This is a big affair, and needs to be looked at for
"Fast!" cried Gibson." Damn it, we have no time
to waste. We maun act on the spur of the moment."
"I'll have to borrow money," said Wilson slowly,
"and it's verra dear at the present time."
"It was never worth more in Barbie than it is at the
present time. Man, don't ye see the chance you're neglecting?
Don't ye see what it means? There's thousands
lying at your back door if ye'll only reach to pick
them up! Yes, thousands! Thousands, I'm telling ye!
Wilson saw himself provost and plutocrat. Yet was
"You'll do well by the scheme," he said tartly, "if
you get the sole contract for building these premises of
mine, and a fat commission on the carrying forbye!"
"Can you carry the scheme without me?" said
Gibson. "A word from me to Goudie means a heap."
There was a veiled threat in the remark.
"Oh, we'll come to terms," said the other." But
how will you manage Gourlay?"
"Aha!" said Gibson, "I'll come in handy for that,
you'll discover! There's been a backset in Barbie for
the last year — things went owre quick at the start and
were followed by a wee lull; but it's only for a time, sir,
it's only for a time. Hows'ever, it and you thegither
have damaged Gourlay — he's both short o' work and
scarce o' cash, as I found to my cost when I asked him
for my siller! So when I offer him a big contract for
carting stones atween the quarry and the town foot, he'll
swallow it without question. I'll insert a clause that he
must deliver the stuff at such places as I direct within
four hundred yards of the Cross, in ainy direction — for
I've several jobs near the Cross, doan't ye see, and how's
he to know that yours is one o' them? Man, it's easy to
bamboozle an ass like Gourlay! Besides, he'll think
my principals have trusted me to let the carrying to
ainyone I like, and, as I let it to him, he'll fancy I'm on
his side, doan't ye see? — he'll never jalouse that I mean
to diddle him. In the meantime we'll spread the news
that you're meaning to build on a big scale upon your
own land — we'll have the ground levelled, the foundations
dug, and the drains and everything seen
to. Now, it'll never occur to Gourlay, in the present
slackness o' trade, that you would contract wi'
another man to cart your material, and go hunting for
other work yoursell. That'll throw him off the scent
till the time comes to put his nose on't. When the Company
advertise for estimates he canna compete wi' you,
because he's preëngaged to me, and he'll think you're
out o't, too, because you're busy wi' your own woark.
You'll be free to nip the eight shillings. Then we'll
force him to fulfill his bargain and cart for us at six!"
"If he refuses?" said Wilson.
"I'll have the contract stamped and signed in the
presence of witnesses," said Gibson. "Not that that's
necessary, I believe, but a double knot's aye the safest."
Wilson looked at him with admiration.
"Gosh, Mr. Gibson," he cried, "you're a warmer!
Ye deserve your name. Ye ken what the folk ca' you?"
"Oh, yes," said Gibson complacently. "I'm quite
proud o' the description."
"I've my ain craw to pick wi' Gourlay," he went on.
"He was damned ill-bred yestreen when I asked him to
settle my account, and talked about extortion. But
bide a wee, bide a wee! I'll enjoy the look on his face
when he sees himself forced to carry for you, at a rate
lower than the market price."
When Gibson approached Gourlay on the following
day he was full of laments about the poor state of trade.
"Aye," said he, "the grand railway they boasted o'
hasna done muckle for the town!"
"Atweel aye," quoth Gourlay with pompous wisdom;
"they'll maybe find; or a's bye, that the auld way wasna
the warst way. There was to be a great boom, as they
ca't, but I see few signs o't."
"I see few signs o't, either," said Gibson, "it's the
slackest time for the last twa years."
Gourlay grunted his assent.
"But I've a grand job for ye, for a' that," said Gibson,
slapping his hands. "What do ye say to the feck
of a year's carting tweesht the quarry and the town
"I might consider that," said Gourlay, "if the terms
"Six shillins," said Gibson, and went on in solemn
protest: "In the present state o' trade, doan't ye see, I
couldna give a penny more." Gourlay, who had denounced
the present state of trade even now, was prevented
by his own words from asking for a penny more.
"At the town foot, you say?" he asked.
"I've several jobs thereaway," Gibson explained hurriedly;
"and you must agree to deliver stuff ainy place
I want it within four hundred yards o' the Cross! — It's
all one to you, of course," he went on, "seeing you're
paid by the day."
"Oh, it's all one to me," said Gourlay.
Peter Riney and the new "orra" man were called in
to witness the agreement. Cunning Johnny had made
it as cunning as he could.
"We may as well put a stamp on't," said he."A
stamp costs little, and means a heap."
"You're damned particular the day," cried Gourlay
in a sudden heat.
"Oh, nothing more than my usual, nothing more
than my usual," said Gibson blandly. — "Good morning,
Mr. Gourlay," and he made for the door, buttoning
the charter of his dear revenge in the inside pocket
of his coat. Gourlay ignored him.
When Gibson got out he turned to the House with the
Green Shutters, and "Curse you!" said he, "you may
refuse to answer me the day, but wait till this day eight
weeks. You'll be roaring than."
On that day eight weeks Gourlay received a letter
from Gibson requiring him to hold himself in readiness
to deliver stone, lime, baulks of timber, and iron girders
in Mr. Wilson's holm, in terms of his agreement, and in
accordance with the orders to be given him from day to
day. He was apprised that a couple of carts of lime and
seven loads of stone were needed on the morrow.
He went down the street with grinding jaws, the letter
crushed to a white pellet in his hand. It would have
gone ill with Gibson had he met him. Gourlay could
not tell why, or to what purpose, he marched on and on
with forward staring eyes. He only knew vaguely that
the anger drove him.
When he came to the Cross a long string of carts was
filing from the Skeighan Road, and passing across to
the street leading Fleckie-ward. He knew them to be
Wilson's. The Deacon was there of course, hobbling
on his thin shanks, and cocking his eye to see everything
"What does this mean?" Gourlay asked him, though
he loathed the Deacon.
"Oh, haven't ye heard?" quoth the Deacon blithely.
"That's the stuff for the new mining village out the
Fleckie Road. Wilson has nabbed the contract for the
carting. They're saying it was Gibson's influence wi'
Goudie that helped him to the getting o't!"
Amid his storm of anger at the trick, Gourlay was
conscious of a sudden pity for himself, as for a man most
unfairly worsted. He realized for a moment his own
inefficiency as a business man, in conflict with cleverer
rivals, and felt sorry to be thus handicapped by nature.
Though wrath was uppermost, the other feeling was revealed,
shewing itself by a gulping in the throat and a
rapid blinking of the eyes. The Deacon marked the
signs of his chagrin.
"Man!" he reported to the bodies, "but Gourlay was
cut to the quick. His face showed how gunkit he was.
Oh, but he was chawed. I saw his breist give the great
"Were ye no sorry?" cried the baker.
"Thorry, hi!" laughed the Deacon." Oh, I was
thorry, to be sure," he lisped, "but I didna thyow't.
I'm glad to thay I've a grand control of my emotionth.
Not like thum folk we know of," he added slily, giving
the baker a "good one."
All next day Gibson's masons waited for their building
material in Wilson's holm. But none came. And
all day seven of Gourlay's horses champed idly in their
Barbie had a weekly market now, and, as it happened,
that was the day it fell on. At two in the afternoon
Gourlay was standing on the gravel outside the Red
Lion, trying to look wise over a sample of grain which
a farmer had poured upon his great palm. Gibson approached
with false voice and smile.
"Gosh, Mr. Gourlay!" he cried protestingly; "have
ye forgotten whatna day it is? Ye havena gi'en my
men a ton o' stuff to gang on wi'!"
To the farmer's dismay his fine sample of grain was
scattered on the gravel by a convulsive movement of
Gourlay's arm. As Gourlay turned on his enemy, his
face was frightfully distorted; all his brow seemed gathered
in a knot above his nose, and he gaped on his words,
yet ground them out like a labouring mill, each word
solid as plug shot.
"I'll see Wilson . . . . and Gib-son . . . . and
every other man's son . . . . frying in hell," he said
slowly, "ere a horse o' mine draws a stane o' Wilson's
property. Be damned to ye, but there's your answer!"
Gibson's cunning deserted him for once. He put his
hand on Gourlay's shoulder in pretended friendly remonstrance.
"Take your hand off my shouther!" said Gourlay
in a voice the tense quietness of which should have
warned Gibson to forbear.
But he actually shook Gourlay with a feigned playfulness.
Next instant he was high in air; for a moment the
hobnails in the soles of his boots gleamed vivid to the
sun; then Gourlay sent him flying through the big window
of the Red Lion, right on to the middle of the
great table where the market-folk were drinking.
For a minute he lay stunned and bleeding among. the
broken crockery, in a circle of white faces and startled
Gourlay's face appeared at the jagged rent, his eyes
narrowed to fiercely gleaming points, a hard, triumphant
devilry playing round his black lips. "You damned
treacherous rat!" he cried, "that's the game John
Gourla can play wi' a thing like you."
Gibson rose from the ruin on the table and came
bleeding to the window, his grin a rictus of wrath, his
green teeth wolfish with anger.
"By God, Gourlay," he screamed, "I'll make you pay
for this; I'll fight you through a' the law courts in Breetain,
but you'll implement your bond."
"Damn you for a measled swine, would you grunt at
me," cried Gourlay, and made to go at him through the
window. Though he could not reach him Gibson
quailed at his look. He shook his fist in impotent wrath,
and spat threats of justice through his green teeth.
"To hell wi' your law-wers!" cried Gourlay, "I'd
throttle ye like the dog you are on the floor o' the House
But that day was to cost him dear. Ere six months
passed he was cast in damages and costs for a breach of
contract aggravated by assault. He appealed, of course.
He was not to be done; he would shew the dogs what he
thought of them.
IN those days it came to pass that Wilson sent his son
to the High School of Skeighan, even James, the red-haired
one, with the squint in his eye. Whereupon
Gourlay sent his son to the High School of Skeighan,
too, of course, to be upsides with Wilson. If Wilson
could afford to send his boy to a distant and expensive
school, then, by the Lord, so could he! And it also came
to pass that James, the son of James, the grocer, took
many prizes. But John, the son of John, took no prizes.
Whereat there were ructions in the House of Gourlay.
Gourlay's resolve to be equal to Wilson in everything
he did was his main reason for sending his son to the
High School of Skeighan. That he saw his business
decreasing daily was a reason, too. Young Gourlay was
a lad of fifteen now, undersized for his age at that time,
though he soon shot up to be a swaggering youngster.
He had been looking forward with delight to helping his
father in the business — how grand it would be to drive
about the country and see things! — and he had irked at
being kept for so long under the tawse of old Bleach-the-boys.
But if the business went on at this rate there
would be little in it for the boy. Gourlay was not without
a thought of his son's welfare when he packed him
off to Skeighan. He would give him some book-lear,
he said; let him make a kirk or a mill o't.
But John shrank, chicken-hearted, from the prospect.
Was he still to drudge at books? Was he to go out
among strangers whom he feared? His imagination
set to work on what he heard of the High School of
Skeighan and made it a bugbear. They had to do
mathematics — what could he do wi' thae whigmaleeries?
They had to recite Shakespeare in public — how could
he stand up and spout, before a whole jing-bang o' them?
"I don't want to gang," he whined.
"Want?" flamed his father. "What does it matter
what you want? Go you shall."
"I thocht I was to help in the business," whimpered
"Business! " sneered his father. "A fine help you
would be in business."
"Aye man, Johnnie," said his mother, maternal fondness
coming out in support of her husband, "you
should be glad your father can allow ye the opportunity.
Eh, but it's a grand thing, a gude education!
You may rise to be a minister."
Her ambition could no further go. But Gourlay
seemed to have formed a different opinion of the sacred
calling. "It's a' he's fit for," he growled.
So John was put to the High School of Skeighan,
travelling backwards and forwards night and morning
by the train, after the railway had been opened. And
he discovered, on trying it, that the life was not so bad
as he had feared. He hated his lessons, true, and avoided
them whenever he was able. But his father's pride
and his mother's fondness saw that he was well-dressed
and with money in his pocket; and he began to grow important.
Though Gourlay was no longer the only "big
man" of Barbie, he was still one of the "big men," and
a consciousness of the fact grew upon his son. When
he passed his old classmates (apprentice-grocers now
and carters and ploughboys) his febrile insolence led
him to swagger and assume. And it was fine to mount
the train at Barbie on the fresh cool mornings, and be
off past the gleaming rivers and the woods. Better still
was the home-coming — to board the empty train at Skeighan
when the afternoon sun came pleasant through the
windows, to loll on the fat cushions, and read the novelettes.
He learned to smoke too, and that was a source
of pride. When the train was full on market days he
liked to get in among the jovial farmers who encouraged
his assumptions. Meanwhile Jimmy Wilson would be
elsewhere in the train, busy with his lessons for the morrow
— for Jimmy had to help in the Emporium of nights
— his father kept him to the grindstone. Jimmy had no
more real ability than young Gourlay, but infinitely
more caution. He was one of the gimlet characters
who, by diligence and memory, gain prizes in their
schooldays — and are fools for the remainder of their
The bodies of Barbie, seeing young Gourlay at his
pranks, speculated over his future, as Scotch bodies do
about the future of every youngster in their ken.
"I wonder what that son o' Gourlay's 'ull come till,"
said Sandy Toddle, musing on him with the character-reading
eye of the Scots peasant.
"To no good — you may be sure of that," said ex-Provost
Connal. "He's a regular splurge! When
Drunk Dan Kennedy passed him his flask in the train
the other day he swigged it, just for the sake of showing
off! And he's a coward, too, for all his swagger. He
grew ill-bred when he swallowed the drink, and Dan,
to frighten him, threatened to hang him from the window
by the heels! He didn't mean it, to be sure; but
young Gourlay grew white at the very idea o't — he shook
like a dog in a wet sack. 'Oh! ' he cried, shivering,
'how the ground would go flying past your eyes; how
quick the wheel opposite ye would buzz — it would blind
ye by its quickness — how the grey slag would flash below
ye!' Those were his very words. He seemed to
see the thing as if it were happening before his eyes, and
stared like a fellow in hysteerics, till Dan was obliged
to give him another drink! 'You would spue with
the dizziness,' said he, and he actually bocked himsell."
Young Gourlay seemed bent on making good the
prophecy of Barbie. Though his father was spending
money he could ill afford on his education, he fooled
away his time. His mind developed a little, no doubt,
since it was no longer dazed by brutal and repeated
floggings. In some of his classes he did fairly well.
But others he loathed. It was the rule at Skeighan
High School to change rooms every hour, the classes
tramping from one to another through a big lobby.
Gourlay got a habit of stealing off at such times — it was
easy to slip out — and playing truant in the bye-ways of
Skeighan. He often made his way to the station, and
loafed in the waiting room. He had gone there on a
summer afternoon, to avoid his mathematics and read
a novel, when a terrible thing befell him.
For a while he swaggered round the empty platform
and smoked a cigarette. Milk-cans clanked in a shed,
mournfully. Gourlay had a congenital horror of eerie
sounds — he was his mother's son for that — and he fled
to the waiting room, to avoid the hollow clang. It was
a June afternoon, of brooding heat, and a band of yellow
sunshine was lying on the glazed table, showing every
scratch in its surface. The place oppressed him — he
was sorry he had come. But he plunged into his novel
and forgot the world.
He started in fear when a voice addressed him. He
looked up — and here it was only the baker! — the baker
smiling at him with his fine grey eyes, the baker with
his reddish fringe of beard and his honest grin, which
wrinkled up his face to his eyes in merry and kindly
wrinkles. He had a wonderful hearty manner with
"Aye man, John; it's you, said the baker. "Dod,
I'm just in time. The storm's at the burstin!"
"Storm!" said Gourlay. He had a horror of lightning
since the day of his birth.
"Aye, we're in for a pelter. What have you been
doing that you didna see't? "
They went to the window. The fronting heavens
were a black purple. The thunder, which had been
growling in the distance, swept forward and roared
above the town. The crash no longer rolled afar, but
cracked close to the ear, hard, crepitant. Quick lightning
stabbed the world in vicious and repeated hate.
A blue-black moistness lay heavy on the cowering earth.
The rain came — a few drops at first, sullen, as if loth
to come, that splashed on the pavement wide as a
crown-piece — then a white rush of slanting spears. A
great blob shot in through the window, open at the top,
and spat wide on Gourlay's cheek. It was lukewarm.
He started violently — that warmth on his cheek brought
the terror so near.
The heavens were rent with a crash and the earth
seemed on fire. Gourlay screamed in terror.
The baker put his arm round him in kindly protection.
"Tuts, man, dinna be feared," he said. "You're
John Gourlay's son, ye know. You ought to be a
"Aye, but I'm no," chattered John, the truth coming
out in his fear. "I just let on to be."
But the worst was soon over. Lightning, both sheeted
and forked, was vivid as ever, but the thunder slunk
"The heavens are opening and shutting like a man's
eye," said Gourlay; "oh, it's a terrible thing the
world — " and he covered his face with his hands.
A flash shot into a mounded wood far away. "It
stabbed it like a dagger!" stared Gourlay.
"Look, look, did ye see yon? It came down in a
broad flash — then jerked to the side — then ran down to
a sharp point again. It was like the coulter of a
Suddenly a blaze of lightning flamed wide, and a fork
shot down its centre.
"That," said Gourlay, "was like a red crack in a
white-hot furnace door."
"Man, you're a noticing boy," said the baker.
"Aye," said John, smiling in curious self-interest, "I
notice things too much. They give me pictures in my
mind. I'm feared of them, but I like to think them
over when they're bye."
Boys are slow of confidence to their elders, but Gourlay's
terror and the baker's kindness moved him to speak.
In a vague way he wanted to explain.
"I'm no feared of folk," he went on, with a faint
return to his swagger. "But things get in on me. A
body seems so wee compared with that —" he nodded to
the warring heavens.
The baker did not understand. "Have you seen your
faither?" he asked.
"My faither! " John gasped in terror. If his father
should find him playing truant!
"Yes; did ye no ken he was in Skeighan? We come
up thegither by the ten train, and are meaning to gang
hame by this. I expect him every moment."
John turned to escape. In the doorway stood his
When Gourlay was in wrath he had a widening glower
that enveloped the offender — yet his eye seemed to stab
— a flash shot from its centre to transfix and pierce.
Gaze at a tiger through the bars of his cage, and you will
see the look. It widens and concentrates at once.
"What are you doing here?" he asked, with the wild-beast
glower on his son.
"I — I — I," John stammered and choked.
"What are you doing here?" said his father.
John's fingers worked before him; his eyes were large
and aghast on his father; though his mouth hung open
no words would come.
"How lang has he been here, baker? "
There was a curious regard between Gourlay and the
baker. Gourlay spoke with a firm civility.
"Oh, just a wee whilie," said the baker.
"I see! You want to shield him. — You have been
playing the truant, have 'ee? Am I to throw away
gude money on you for this to be the end o't?"
"Dinna be hard on him, John," pleaded the baker.
"A boy's but a boy. Dinna thrash him."
"Me thrash him! " cried Gourlay. "I pay the High
School of Skeighan to thrash him, and I'll take damned
good care I get my money's worth. I don't mean to
hire dowgs and bark for mysell! "
He grabbed his son by the coat-collar and swung him
out the room. Down High Street he marched, carrying
his cub by the scruff of the neck as you might carry a
dirty puppy to an outhouse. John was black in the
face; time and again in his wrath Gourlay swung him off
the ground. Grocers coming to their doors, to scatter
fresh yellow sawdust on the old, now trampled black
and wet on the sills, stared sideways, chins up and
mouths open, after the strange spectacle. But Gourlay
splashed on amid the staring crowd, never looking to
the right or left.
Opposite The Fiddler's Inn whom should they meet
but Wilson! A snigger shot to his features at the sight.
Gourlay swung the boy up — for a moment a wild impulse
surged within him to club his rival with his
He marched into the vestibule of the High School,
the boy dangling from his great hand.
"Where's your gaffer?" he roared at the janitor.
"Gaffer?" blinked the janitor.
"Gaffer, dominie, whatever the damn you ca' him,
the fellow that runs the business."
"The Headmaster!" said the janitor.
"Heid-maister, aye!" said Gourlay in scorn, and
went trampling after the janitor down a long wooden
corridor. A door was flung open showing a class-room
where the Headmaster was seated teaching Greek.
The sudden appearance of the great-chested figure in
the door, with his fierce gleaming eyes, and the rain-beads
shining on his frieze coat, brought into the close
academic air the sharp strong gust of an outer world.
"I believe I pay you to look after that boy," thundered
Gourlay; "is this the way you do your work? "
And with the word he sent his son spinning along the
floor like a curling-stone, till he rattled, a wet huddled
lump, against a row of chairs. John slunk bleeding
behind the master.
"Really!" said MacCandlish, rising in protest.
"Don't 'really' me, sir! I pay you to teach that boy,
and you allow him to run idle in the streets! What have
you to seh?"
"But what can I do?" bleated MacCandlish, with a
white spread of deprecating hands. The stronger man
took the grit from his limbs.
"Do? Do? Damn it, sir, am I to be your dominie?
Am I to teach you your duty? Do! Flog him, flog
him, flog him — if you don't send him hame wi' the welts
on him as thick as that forefinger, I'll have a word to
say to you-ou, Misterr MacCandlish! "
He was gone — they heard him go clumping along the
Thereafter young Gourlay had to stick to his books.
And, as we know, the forced union of opposites breeds
the greater disgust between them. However, his schooldays
would soon be over, and meanwhile it was fine to
pose on his journeys to and fro as Young Hopeful of
the Green Shutters.
He was smoking at Skeighan Station on an afternoon,
as the Barbie train was on the point of starting. He was
staying on the platform till the last moment, in order
to shew the people how nicely he could bring the smoke
down his nostrils — his "Prince of Wales's feathers" he
called the great curling puffs. As he dallied, a little
aback from an open window, he heard a voice which he
knew mentioning the Gourlays. It was Templandmuir
who was speaking.
"I see that Gourlay has lost his final appeal in that
law-suit of his," said the Templar.
"D'ye tell me that?" said a strange voice. Then —
"Gosh, he must have lost infernal!"
"Atweel has he that," said Templandmuir. "The
costs must have been enormous, and then there's the
damages. He would have been better to settle't and be
done wi't, but his pride made him fight it to the hindmost!
It has made touch the boddom of his purse, I'll
wager ye. Weel, weel, it'll help to subdue his pride a
bit, and muckle was the need o' that."
Young Gourlay was seized with a sudden fear. The
prosperity of the House with the Green Shutters had
been a fact of his existence; it had never entered his
boyish mind to question its continuance. But a weakening
doubt stole through his limbs. What would become
of him, if the Gourlays were threatened with disaster?
He had a terrifying vision of himself as a lonely atomy,
adrift on a tossing world, cut off from his anchorage.
"Mother, are we ever likely to be ill off?" he asked
his mother that evening.
She ran her fingers through his hair, pushing it back
from his brow fondly. He was as tall as herself now.
"No, no, dear; what makes ye think that? Your
father has always had a grand business, and I brought
a hantle money to the house."
"Hokey!" said the youth, "when Ah'm in the business,
Ah'll have the times!"
GOURLAY was hard up for money. Every day of his
life taught him that he was nowhere in the stress of
modern competition. The grand days — only a few years
back, but seeming half a century away, so much had
happened in between — the grand days when he was the
only big man in the locality, and carried everything
with a high hand, had disappeared for ever. Now all
was bustle, hurry, and confusion, the getting and sending
of telegrams, quick despatches by railway, the
watching of markets at a distance, rapid combinations
that bewildered Gourlay's duller mind. At first he was
too obstinate to try the newer methods; when he did, he
was too stupid to use them cleverly. When he plunged
it was always at the wrong time, for he plunged at random,
not knowing what to do. He had lost heavily of
late both in grain and cheese, and the law-suit with Gibson
had crippled him. It was well for him that property
in Barbie had increased in value; the House with
the Green Shutters was to prove the buttress of his fortune.
Already he had borrowed considerably upon that
security. He was now dressing to go to Skeighan and
"Brodie, Gurney, and Yarrowby," of Glasgow were
the lawyers who financed him, and he had to sign some
papers at Goudie's office ere he touched the cash.
He was meaning to drive of course; Gourlay was
proud of his gig, and always kept a spanking roadster.
"What a fine figure of a man!" you thought, as you saw
him coming swiftly towards you, seated high on his
driving cushion. That driving cushion was Gourlay's
pedestal from which he looked down on Barbie for many
A quick step, yet shambling, came along the lobby.
There was a pause, as of one gathering heart for a venture;
then a clumsy knock on the door.
"Come in," snapped Gourlay.
Peter Riney's queer little old face edged timorously
into the room. He only opened the door the width of
his face, and looked ready to bolt at a word.
"Tam's deid!" he blurted.
Gourlay gashed himself frightfully with his razor, and
a big red blob stood out or his cheek.
"Deid!" he stared.
"Yes," stammered Peter. "He was right enough
when Elshie gae him his feed this morning, but when I
went in enow, to put the harness on, he was lying deid
in the loose-box. The batts — it's like."
For a moment Gourlay stared with the open mouth of
an angry surprise, forgetting to take down his razor.
"Aweel, Peter," he said at last, and Peter went away.
The loss of his pony touched Gourlay to the quick.
He had been stolid and dour in his other misfortunes,
had taken them as they came, calmly; he was not the
man to whine and cry out against the angry heavens.
He had neither the weakness, nor the width of nature,
to indulge in the luxury of self-pity. But the sudden
death of his gallant roadster, his proud pacer through
the streets of Barbie, touched him with a sense of quite
personal loss and bereavement. Coming on the heels of
his other calamities it seemed to make them more poignant,
more sinister, prompting the question if misfortune
would never have an end.
"Damn it, I have enough to thole," Gourlay muttered;
"surely there was no need for this to happen."
And when he looked in the mirror to fasten his stock,
and saw the dark strong clean-shaven face, he stared at
it for a moment, with a curious compassion for the man
before him, as for one who was being hardly used. The
hard lips could never have framed the words, but the
vague feeling in his heart, as he looked at the dark vision,
was: "It's a pity of you, sir."
He put on his coat rapidly, and went out to the stable.
An instinct prompted him to lock the door.
He entered the loose-box. A shaft of golden light,
aswarm with motes, slanted in the quietness. Tam
lay on the straw, his head far out, his neck unnaturally
long, his limbs sprawling, rigid. What a
spanker Tam had been! What gallant drives they had
had together! When he first put Tam between the
shafts five years ago, he had been driving his world
before him, plenty of cash and a big way of doing. —
Now Tam was dead, and his master netted in a mesh
"I was always gude to the beasts at any rate," Gourlay
muttered, as if pleading in his own defence.
For a long time he stared down at the sprawling carcass;
musing. "Tam the powney," he said twice, noding
his head each time he said it; "Tam the powney";
and he turned away.
How was he to get to Skeighan? He plunged at his
watch. The ten o'clock train had already gone, the express
did not stop at Barbie; if he waited till one o'clock
he would be late for his appointment. There was a
brake, true, which ran to Skeighan every Tuesday. It
was a downcome, though, for a man who had been proud
of driving behind his own horseflesh to pack in among
a crowd of the Barbie sprats. And if he went by the
brake, he would be sure to rub shoulders with his stinging
and detested foes. It was a fine day; like enough
the whole jing-bang of them would be going with the
brake to Skeighan. Gourlay, who shrank from nothing,
shrank from the winks that would be sure to pass when
they saw him, the haughty, the aloof, forced to creep
among them cheek for jowl. Then his angry pride
rushed towering to his aid. Was John Gourlay to turn
tail for a wheen o' the Barbie dirt? Damn the fear o't!
It was a public conveyance; he had the same right to use
it as the rest o' folk!
The place of departure for the brake was the "Black
Bull," at the Cross, nearly opposite to Wilson's. There
were winks and stares and elbow-nudgings when the folk
hanging round saw Gourlay coming forward; but he
paid no heed. Gourlay, in spite of his mad violence
when roused, was a man at all other times of a grave and
orderly demeanour. He never splurged. Even his
bluster was not bluster, for he never threatened the
thing which he had not it in him to do. He walked
quietly into the empty brake, and took his seat in the
right-hand corner, at the top, close below the driver.
As he had expected, the Barbie bodies had mustered
in strength for Skeighan. In a country brake it is the
privilege of the important men to mount beside the
driver, in order to take the air and show themselves off
to an admiring world. On the dickey were ex-Provost
Connal and Sandy Toddle, and between them the Deacon,
tightly wedged. The Deacon was so thin (the
bodie) that though he was wedged closely, he could
turn and address himself to Tam Brodie, who was
seated next the door.
The fun began when the horses were crawling up the
The Deacon turned with a wink to Brodie, and dropping
a glance on the crown of Gourlay's hat, "Tummuth"
he lisped, "what a dirty place that ith!" pointing
to a hovel by the wayside.
Brodie took the cue at once. His big face flushed
with a malicious grin. "Aye," he bellowed, "the owner
o' that maun be married to a dirty wife, I'm thinking!"
"It must be terrible," said the Deacon, "to be married
to a dirty trollop."
"Terrible," laughed Brodie; "it's enough to give ainy
man a gurly temper."
They had Gourlay on the hip at last. More than arrogance
had kept him off from the bodies of the town;
a consciousness also, that he was not their match in malicious
innuendo. The direct attack he could meet
superbly, downing his opponent with a coarse birr of the
tongue; to the veiled gibe he was a quivering hulk, to
be prodded at your ease. And now the malignants were
around him (while he could not get away); talking to
each other, indeed, but at him, while he must keep
quiet in their midst.
At every brae they came to (and there were many
braes) the bodies played their malicious game, shouting
remarks along the brake, to each other's ears, to his
The new house of Templandmuir was seen above
"What a splendid house Templandmuir has built!"
cried the ex-Provost.
"Splendid!" echoed Brodie. "But a laird like the
Templar has a right to a fine mansion such as that!
He's no' like some merchants we ken o' who throw
away money on a house for no other end but vanity.
Many a man builds a grand house for a show-off, when
he has verra little to support it. But the Templar's
different. He has made a mint of money since he took
the quarry in his own hand."
"He's verra thick wi' Wilson, I notice," piped the
Deacon,turning with a grin, and a gleaming droop of the
eye on the head of his tormented enemy. The Deacon's
face was alive and quick with the excitement of the
game, his face flushed with an eager grin, his eyes glittering.
Decent folk in the brake behind, felt compunctious
visitings when they saw him turn with the
flushed grin, and the gleaming squint on the head of his
enduring victim. "Now for another stab!" they
"You may well say that," shouted Brodie. "Wilson
has procured the whole of the Templar's carterage. Oh,
Wilson has become a power! Yon new houses of his
must be bringing in a brave penny. — I'm thinking, Mr.
Connal, that Wilson ought to be the Provost!"
"Strange!" cried the former Head of the Town,
"that you should have been thinking that! I've just
been in the same mind o't. Wilson's by far and away
the most progressive man we have. What a business
he has built in two or three years!"
"He has that!" shouted Brodie. "He goes up the
brae as fast as some other folk are going down't. And
yet they tell me he got a verra poor welcome from some
of us the first morning he appeared in Barbie!"
Gourlay gave no sign. Others would have shown by
the moist glisten of self-pity in the eye, or the scowl of
wrath, how much they were moved; but Gourlay stared
calmly before him, his chin resting on the head of his
staff, resolute, immobile, like a stone head at gaze in the
desert. Only the larger fulness of his fine nostril betrayed
the hell of wrath seething within him. And
when they alighted in Skeighan an observant boy said
to his mother, "I saw the marks of his chirted teeth
through his jaw."
But they were still far from Skeighan, and Gourlay
had much to thole.
"Did ye hear?" shouted Brodie, "that Wilson is
sending his son to the College at Embro' in October?"
"D'ye tell me that?" said the Provost. "What a
successful lad that has been! He's a credit to moar
than Wilson, he's a credit to the whole town."
"Aye," yelled Brodie, "the money wasna wasted on
him! It must be a terrible thing when a man has a
splurging ass for his son, that never got a prize! "
The Provost began to get nervous. Brodie was going
too far. It was all very well for Brodie who was at the
far end of the waggonette, and out of danger; but if he
provoked an outbreak, Gourlay would think nothing of
tearing Provost and Deacon from their perch, and tossing
them across the hedge.
"What does Wilson mean to make of his son?" he
enquired — a civil enough question surely.
"Oh, a minister. That'll mean six or seven years at
"Indeed!" said the Provost. "That'll cost an enormous
"Oh," yelled Brodie, "but Wilson can afford it! It's
not everybody can! It's all verra well to send your son
to Skeighan High School, but when it comes to sending
him to College, it's time to think twice of what you're
doing — especially if you've little money left to come
and go on."
"Yeth," lisped the Deacon, "if a man canna afford
to College his son he had better put him in hith business
— if he hath ainy business left to thpeak o', that
The brake swung on through merry cornfields where
reapers were at work, past happy brooks flashing to the
sun, through the solemn hush of ancient and mysterious
woods, beneath the great white-moving clouds and blue
spaces of the sky. And amid the suave enveloping
greatness of the world, the human pismires stung each
other and were cruel, and full of hate and malice and a
"Oh, damn it, enough of this!" said the baker at last.
"Enough of what?" blustered Brodie.
"Of you and your gibes," said the baker with a wry
mouth of disgust. "Damn it, man, leave folk alone!"
Gourlay turned to him quietly. "Thank you, baker,"
he said slowly. "But don't interfere on my behalf!
John Gourla" — he dwelt on his name in ringing pride
— "John Gourla can fight for his own hand — if so, there
need, to be. And pay no heed to the thing before ye.
The mair ye tramp on a dirt it spreads the wider!"
"Who was referring to you?" bellowed Brodie,
Gourlay looked over at him in the far corner of the
brake, with the wide open glower that made people
blink. Brodie blinked rapidly, trying to stare fiercely
"Maybe ye werna referring to me," said Gourlay
slowly. "But if I had been in your end o' the brake
ye would have been in hell or this!"
He had said enough. There was silence in the brake
till it reached Skeighan. But the evil was done.
Enough had been said to influence Gourlay to the most
disastrous resolution of his life.
"Get yourself ready for the College in October," he
ordered his son that evening.
"The College!" cried John, aghast.
"Yes! Is there ainything in that to gape at?"
snapped his father, in sudden irritation at the boy's
"But I don't want to gang!" John whimpered
"Want! What does it matter what you want? You
should be damned glad of the chance! I mean to make
ye a minister — they have plenty of money and little to
do — a grand easy life o't. MacCandlish tells me you're
a stupid ass, but have some little gift of words. You
have every qualification!"
"It's against my will," John bawled angrily.
"Your will!" sneered his father.
To John the command was not only tyrannical, but
treacherous. There had been nothing to warn him of
a coming change, for Gourlay was too contemptuous of
his wife and children to inform them how his business
stood. John had been brought up to go into the business,
and now, at the last moment he was undeceived,
and ordered off to a new life, from which every instinct
of his being shrank afraid. He was cursed with an imagination
in excess of his brains, and in the haze of the
future he saw two pictures with uncanny vividness —
himself in bleak lodgings raising his head from Virgil,
to wonder what they were doing at home tonight, and,
contrasted with that loneliness, the others, his cronies,
laughing along the country roads beneath the glimmer
of the stars. They would be having the fine ploys while
he was mewed up in Edinburgh. Must he leave loved
Barbie and the House with the Green Shutters, must he
still drudge at books which he loathed, must he venture
on a new life where everything terrified his mind?
"It's a shame!" he cried. "And I refuse to go. I
don't want to leave Barbie! I'm feared of Edinburgh"
— and there he stopped in conscious impotence of
speech. How could he explain his forebodings to a
rock of, a man like his father?
"No more o't!" roared Gourlay, flinging out his
hand. "Not another word! You go to College in
"Aye man, Johnny," said his mother, "think o' the
future that's before ye!"
"Aye!" howled the youth in silly anger, "it's like to
be a braw future!"
"It's the best future you can have!" growled his
For while rivalry, born of hate, was the propelling
influence in Gourlay's mind, other reasons whispered
that the course suggested by hate was a good one on its
merits. His judgment, such as it was, supported the impulse
of his blood. It told him that the old business
would be a poor heritage for his son and that it would
be well to look for another opening. The boy gave no
sign of aggressive smartness to warrant a belief that he
would ever pull the thing together. Better make him
a minister. Surely there was enough money left about
the House for tha-at! It was the best that could befall
Mrs. Gourlay, for her part, though sorry to lose her
son, was so pleased at the thought of sending him to
College, and making him a minister, that she ran on in
foolish maternal gabble to the wife of Drucken Wabster.
Mrs. Webster informed the gossips and they discussed
the matter at the Cross.
"Dod," said Sandy Toddle, "Gourlay's better off
than I supposed!"
"Huts!" said Brodie, "it's just a wheen bluff to
"It would fit him better," said the Doctor, "if he
spent some money on his daughter. She ought to pass
the winter in a warmer locality than Barbie. The lassie
has a poor chest! I told Gourlay, but he only gave
a grunt. And 'oh,' said Mrs. Gourlay, 'it would be a
daft-like thing to send her away, when John maun be
weel-provided for the College.' D'ye know, I'm beginning
to think there's something seriously wrong with
yon woman's health! She seemed anxious to consult me
on her own account, but when I offered to sound her,
she wouldn't hear of it — 'Na,' she cried, 'I'll keep it
to mysell!' — and put her arm across her breast as
if to keep me off. I do think she's hiding some complaint!
Only a woman whose mind was weak with
disease could have been so callous as yon about her
"Oh, her mind's weak enough," said Sandy Toddle.
"It was always that! But it's only because Gourlay has
tyraneezed her verra soul. I'm surprised, however, that
he should be careless of the girl. He was aye said to be
browdened upon her."
"Men-folk are often like that about lassie-weans,"
said Johnny Coe. "They like well enough to pet them
when they're wee, but when once they're big they never
look the road they're on! They're a' very fine when
they're pets, but they're no sae fine when they're pretty
misses. — And, to tell the truth, Janet Gourlay's ainything
Old Bleach-the-boys, the bitter dominie (who rarely
left the studies in political economy which he found a
solace for his thwarted powers) happened to be at the
Cross that evening. A brooding and taciturn man, he
said nothing till others had their say. Then he shook
"They're making a great mistake," he said gravely,
"they're making a great mistake! Yon boy's the last
youngster on earth who should go to College."
"Aye man, dominie, he's an infernal ass, is he noat?"
they cried, and pressed for his judgment.
At last, partly in real pedantry, partly, with humourous
intent to puzzle them, he delivered his astounding
"The fault of young Gourlay," quoth he, "is a sensory
perceptiveness in gross excess of his intellectuality."
They blinked and tried to understand.
"Aye man, dominie!" said Sandy Toddle. "That
means he's an infernal caddy, dominie! Does it na,
But Bleach-the-boys had said enough. "Aye," he
said drily, "there's a wheen gey cuddies in Barbie!" —
and he went back to his stuffy little room to study The
Wealth of Nations.
THE scion of the house of Gourlay was a most untravelled
sprig when his father packed him off to the
University. Of the world beyond Skeighan he had no
idea. Repression of his children's wishes to see something
of the world was a feature of Gourlay's tyranny,
less for the sake of the money which a trip might cost
(though that counted for something in his refusal) than
for the sake of asserting his authority. "Wants to
gang to Fechars, indeed! Let him bide at home," he
would growl, and at home the youngster had to bide.
This had been the more irksome to John since most of
his companions in the town were beginning to peer out,
with their mammies and daddies to encourage them.
To give their cubs a "cast o' the world" was a rule
with the potentates of Barbie; once or twice a year
young Hopeful was allowed to accompany his sire to
Fechars or Poltandie, or — oh, rare joy! — to the city on
the Clyde. To go farther, and get the length of Edinburgh,
was dangerous, because you came back with a
halo of glory round your head which banded your fellows
together in a common attack on your pretensions.
It was his lack of pretension to travel, however, that
banded them against young Gourlay. "Gunk" and
"chaw " are the Scots for a bitter and envious disappointment
which shows itself in face and eyes. Young
Gourlay could never conceal that envious look when
he heard of a glory which he did not share; and the
youngsters noted his weakness with the unerring precision
of the urchin to mark simple difference of character.
Now the boy presses fiendishly on an intimate
discovery in the nature of his friends, both because it
gives him a new and delightful feeling of power over
them, and also because he has not learned charity from
a sense of his deficiencies, the brave ruffian having none.
He is always coming back to probe the raw place, and
Barbie boys were always coming back to "do a gunk"
and "play a chaw" on young Gourlay by boasting their
knowledge of the world, winking at each other the
while to observe his grinning anger. They were large
on the wonders they had seen and the places they had
been to, while he grew small (and they saw it) in envy
of their superiority. Even Swipey Broon had a crow
at him. For Swipey had journeyed in the company of
his father to far-off Fechars, yea even to the groset-fair;
and came back with an epic tale of his adventures. He
had been in fifteen taverns, and one hotel (a Temperance
Hotel where old Brown bashed the proprietor for
refusing to supply him gin); one Pepper's Ghost; one
Wild Beasts' Show; one Exhibition of the Fattest
Woman on the Earth; also in the precincts of one gaol,
where Mr. Patrick Brown was cruelly incarcerate for
wiping the floor with the cold refuser of the gin.
"Criffens! Fechars!" said Swipey for a twelvemonth
after, stunned by the mere recollection of that home of
the glories of the earth. And then he would begin to
expatiate for the benefit of young Gourlay — for Swipey,
though his name was the base Teutonic Brown, had a
Celtic contempt for brute facts that cripple the imperial
mind. So well did he expatiate that young Gourlay
would slink home to his mother and say, "Yah, even
Swipey Broon has been to Fechars, though my faither
'ull no allow me!" "Never mind, dear," she would
soothe him, "when once you're in the business, you'll
gang a'where. And nut wan o' them has sic a business
to gang intill!"
But though he longed to go here and there for a day,
that he might be able to boast of it at home, young
Gourlay felt that leaving Barbie for good would be a
cutting of his heart-strings. Each feature of it, town
and landward, was a crony of old years. In a land like
Barbie of quick hill and dale, of tumbled wood and fell,
each facet of nature has an individuality so separate and
so strong, that if you live with it a little it becomes
your friend, and a memory so dear that you kiss the
thought of it in absence. The fields are not similar
as pancakes; they have their difference; each leaps to
the eye with a remembered and peculiar charm. That
is why the heart of the Scot dies in flat Southern lands;
he lives in a vacancy; at dawn there is no Ben Agray to
nod recognition through the mists. And that is why
when he gets north of Carlisle he shouts with glee as
each remembered object sweeps on the sight; yonder's
the Nith with a fisherman hip-deep jigging at his rod,
and yonder's Corsoncon with the mist on his brow. It
is less the totality of the place than the individual feature
that pulls at the heart, and it was the individual
feature that pulled at young Gourlay. With intellect
little or none, he had a vast sensational experience, and
each aspect of Barbie was working in his blood and
brain. Was there ever a Cross like Barbie Cross; was
there ever a burn like the Lintie? It was blithe and
heartsome to go birling to Skeighan in the train; it was
grand to jouk round Barbie on the nichts at e'en! Even
people whom he did not know he could locate with warm
sure feelings of superiority. If a poor workman
slouched past him on the road he set him down in his
heart as one of that rotten crowd from the Weaver's
Vennel or the Tinker's Wynd. Barbie was in subjection
to the mind of the son of the important man. To
dash about Barbie in a gig with a big dog walloping
behind, his coat-collar high about his ears, and the reek
of a meerschaum pipe floating white and blue many yards
behind him, jovial and sordid nonsense about home —
that had been his ideal. His father, he thought angrily,
had encouraged the ideal, and now he forbade it, like
the brute he was. From the earth in which he was
rooted so deeply his father tore him, to fling him on a
world he had forbidden him to know. His heart presaged
Old Gourlay would have scorned the sentimentality
of seeing him off from the station, and Mrs. Gourlay
was too feckless to propose it for herself. Janet had
offered to convoy him, but when the afternoon came she
was down with a racking cold. He was alone as he
strolled on the platform; a youth well-groomed and well-supplied,
but for once in his life not a swaggerer —
though the chance to swagger was unique. He was
pointed out as "Young Gourlay off to the College."
But he had no pleasure in the rôle, for his heart was in
He took the slow train to Skeighan, where he boarded
the express. Few sensational experiences were unknown
to his too-impressionable mind, and he knew the
animation of railway travelling. Coming back from
Skeighan in an empty compartment on nights of the
past, he had sometimes shouted and stamped and banged
the cushions till the dust flew, in mere joy of his rush
through the air; the constant rattle, the quick-repeated
noise, getting at his nerves, as they get at the nerves of
savages and Englishmen on Bank Holidays. But any
animation of the kind which he felt to-day was soon
expelled by the slow uneasiness welling through his
blood. He had no eager delight in the unknown country
rushing past; it inspired him with fear. He thought
with a feeble smile of what Mysie Monk said when they
took her at the age of sixty (for the first time in her
life) to the top of Milmannoch Hill. "Eh," said Mysie,
looking round her in amaze, "Eh, sirs, it's a lairge place
the world when you see it all!" Gourlay smiled because
he had the same thought, but feebly, because he
was cowering at the bigness of the world. Folded nooks
in the hills swept past, enclosing their lonely farms;
then the open straths where autumnal waters gave a pale
gleam to the sky. Sodden moors stretched away in vast
patient loneliness. Then a grey smear of rain blotted
the world, penning him in with his dejection. He
seemed to be rushing through unseen space, with no
companion but his own foreboding. "Where are you
going to?" asked his mind, and the wheels of the train
repeated the question all the way to Edinburgh, jerking
it out in two short lines and a long one: "Where are
you going to? Where are you going to? Ha, ha, Mr.
Gourlay, where are you going to?"
It was the sane sensitiveness to physical impression
which won him to Barbie that repelled him from the
outer world. The scenes round Barbie, so vividly impressed,
were his friends because he had known them
from his birth; he was a somebody in their midst and
had mastered their familiarity; they were the ministers
of his mind. Those other scenes were his foes because,
realising them morbidly in relation to himself, he was
cowed by their big indifference to him, and felt puny,
a nobody before them. And he could not pass them like
more manly and more callous minds; they came burdening
in on him whether he would or no. Neither
could he get above them. Except when lording it at
Barbie he had never a quick reaction of the mind on
what he saw; it possessed him, not he it.
About twilight, when the rain had ceased, his train
was brought up with a jerk between the stations. While
the rattle and bang continued it seemed not unnatural
to young Gourlay (though depressing) to be whirling
through the darkening land; it went past like a panorama
in a dream. But in the dead pause following the
noise he thought it "queer"' to be sitting here in the
intense quietude and looking at a strange and unfamiliar
scene — planted in its midst by a miracle of speed and
gazing at it closely through a window! Two ploughmen
from the farmhouse near the line were unyoking at
the end of the croft; he could hear the muddy noise
("splorroch" is the Scotch of it) made by the big hoofs
on the squashy head-rig. "Bauldy" was the name of
the shorter ploughman, so yelled to by his mate, and two
of the horses were "Prince and Rab" just like a pair in
Loranogie's stable. In the curtainless window of the
farmhouse shone a leaping flame, not the steady glow of
a lamp, but the tossing brightness of a fire, and thought
he to himself, "They're getting the porridge for the
men!" He had a vision of the woman stirring in the
meal, and of the homely interior in the dancing firelight.
He wondered who the folk were, and would have
liked to know them. Yes, it was "queer," he thought,
that he who left Barbie only a few hours ago should be
in intimate momentary touch with a place and people
he had never seen before. The train seemed arrested
by a spell that he might get his vivid impression.
When ensconced in his room that evening, he had a
brighter outlook on the world. With the curtains
drawn, and the lights burning, its shabbiness was unrevealed.
After the whirling strangeness of the day he
was glad to be in a place that was his own; here at least
was a corner of earth of which he was master; it reassured
him. The firelight dancing on the tea things was
pleasant and homely, and the enclosing cosiness shut
out the black roaring world that threatened to engulf
his personality. His spirits rose, ever ready to jump at
The morrow, however, was the first of his lugubrious
If he had been an able man he might have found a
place in his classes to console him. Many youngsters
are conscious of a vast depression when entering the portals
of a University; they feel themselves inadequate to
cope with the wisdom of the ages garnered in the solid
walls. They envy alike the smiling sureness of the
genial charlatan (to whom Professors are a set of fools),
and the easy mastery, of the man of brains. They have
a cowering sense of their own inefficiency. But the
feeling of uneasiness presently disappears. The first
shivering dip is soon forgotten by the hearty breaster
of the waves. But ere you breast the waves you must
swim; and to swim through the sea of learning was more
than heavy-headed Gourlay could accomplish. His
mind, finding no solace in work, was left to prey upon
If he had been the ass total and complete he might
have loafed in the comfortable haze which surrounds
the average intelligence, and cushions it against the
world. But in Gourlay was a rawness of nerve, a sensitiveness
to physical impression, which kept him fretting
and stewing, and never allowed him to lapse on a sluggish
Though he could not understand things, he could
not escape them; they thrust themselves forward on
his notice. We hear of poor genius cursed with
perceptions which it can't express; poor Gourlay was
cursed with impressions which he couldn't intellectualize.
With little power of thought, he had a vast power
of observation; and as everything he observed in Edinburgh
was offensive and depressing, he was constantly
depressed — the more because he could not understand.
At Barbie his life, though equally void of mental interest,
was solaced by surroundings which he loved. In
Edinburgh his surroundings were appalling to his timid
mind. There was a greengrocer's shop at the corner of
the street in which he lodged, and he never passed it
without being conscious of its trodden and decaying
leaves. They were enough to make his morning foul.
The middle-aged woman, who had to handle carrots with
her frozen fingers, was less wretched than he who saw
her, and thought of her after he went by. A thousand
such impressions came boring in upon his mind, and
made him squirm. He could not toss them aside like
the callous and manly; he could not see them in their
due relation, and think them unimportant, like the able;
they were always recurring and suggesting woe. If he
fled to his room, he was followed by his morbid sense of
an unpleasant world. He conceived a rankling hatred
of the four walls wherein he had to live. Heavy Biblical
pictures, in frames of gleaming black like the splinters
of a hearse, were hung against a dark ground.
Every time Gourlay raised his head he scowled at them
with eyes of gloom. It was curious that, hating his
room, he was loth to go to bed. He got a habit of sitting
till three in the morning, staring at the dead fire
in sullen apathy.
He was sitting at nine o'clock one evening, wondering
if there was no means of escape from the wretched life
he had to lead, when he received a letter from Jock
Allan, asking him to come and dine.
THAT dinner was a turning-point in young Gourlay's
career. It is lucky that a letter describing it has fallen
into the hands of the patient chronicler. It was sent
by young Jimmy Wilson to his mother. As it gives an
idea — which is slightly mistaken — of Jock Allan, and an
idea — which is very unmistakable — of young Wilson, it
is here presented in the place of pride. It were a pity
not to give a human document of this kind all the honour
in one's power.
"Dear mother," said the wee sma' Scoatchman — so
the hearty Allan dubbed him — "Dear mother, I just
write to inform you that I've been out to a grand dinner
at Jock Allan's. He met me on Prince's Street, and
made a great how-d'ye-do. 'Come out on Thursday
night, and dine with me,' says he, in his big way. So
here I went out to see him. I can tell you he's a
warmer! I never saw a man eat so much in all my born
days — but I suppose he would be having more on his
table than usual, to shew off a bit, knowing us Barbie
boys would be writing home about it all. And drink!
D'ye know? — he began with a whole half tumbler of
whiskey, and how many more he had I really should
not like to say! And he must be used to it, too, for it
seemed to have no effect on him whatever. And then
he smoked and smoked — two great big cigars after we
had finished eating, and then 'damn it' says he — he's
an awful man to swear — 'damn it' he says, 'there's no
satisfaction in cigars; I must have a pipe,' and he actually
smoked four pipes before I came away! I noticed
the cigars were called 'Estorellas — Best Quality,' and
when I was in last Saturday night getting an ounce of
shag at the wee shoppie round the corner, I asked the
price of 'these Estorellas.' 'Ninepence a piece!'
said the bodie. Just imagine Jock Allan smoking
eighteenpence — and not being satisfied! He's up in
the world since he used to shaw turnips at Loranogie for
sixpence a day! But he'll come down as quick if he
keeps on at yon rate. He made a great phrase with me,
but though it keeps down one's weekly bill to get a
meal like yon — I declare I wasn't hungry for two days —
for all that I'll go very little about him. He'll be the
kind that borrows money very fast — one of those harum-scarum
Criticism like that is a boomerang that comes back to
hit the emitting skull with a hint of its kindred woodenness.
It reveals the writer more than the written of.
Allan was a bigger man than you would gather from
Wilson's account of his Gargantuan revelry. He had a
genius for mathematics — a gift which crops up, like
music, in the most unexpected corners — and from
ploughboy and herd he bad become an actuary in Auld
Reekie. Wilson had no need to be afraid, the meagre
fool, for his host could have bought him and sold him.
Allan had been in love with young Gourlay's mother
when she herself was a gay young fliskie at Tenshillingland,
but his little romance was soon ended when Gourlay
came and whisked her away. But she remained the
one romance of his life. Now in his gross and jovial
middle-age he idealized her in memory (a sentimentalist,
of course — he was Scotch); he never saw her in her
scraggy misery to be disillusioned; to him she was still
the wee bit lairdie's dochter, a vision that had dawned
on his wretched boyhood, a pleasant and pathetic memory.
And for that reason he had a curious kindness to
her boy. That was why he introduced him to his boon
companions. He thought he was doing him a good
It was true that Allan made a phrase with a withered
wisp of humanity like young Wilson. Not that he failed
to see through him, for he christened him "a dried
washing-clout." But Allan, like most great-hearted
Scots far from their native place, saw it through a veil
of sentiment; harsher features that would have been
ever-present to his mind if he had never left it, disappeared
from view, and left only the finer qualities bright
within his memory. And idealizing the place he idealized
its sons. To him they had a value not their own,
just because they knew the brig and the burn and the
brae, and had sat upon the school benches. He would
have welcomed a dog from Barbie. It was from a like
generous emotion that he greeted the bodies so warmly
on his visits home — he thought they were as pleased to
see him, as he was to see them. But they imputed false
motives to his hearty greetings. Even as they shook
his hand the mean ones would think to themselves:
"What does he mean by this, now? What's he up till?
No doubt he'll be wanting something off me! " They
could not understand the gusto with which the returned
exile cried "Aye man, Jock Tamson, and how are ye?"
They thought such warmth must have a sinister intention.
— A Scot revisiting his native place ought to walk
very quietly. For the parish is sizing him up.
There were two things to be said against Allan, and
two only — unless, of course, you consider drink an objection.
Wit with him was less the moment's glittering
flash than the anecdotal bang; it was a fine old
crusted blend which he stored in the cellars of his mind
to bring forth on suitable occasions, as cob-webby as his
wine. And it tickled his vanity to have a crowd of
admiring youngsters round him to whom he might
retail his anecdotes, and play the brilliant raconteur.
He had cronies of his own years and he was lordly and
jovial amongst them — yet he wanted another entourage.
He was one of those middle-aged bachelors who like a
train of youngsters behind them, whom they favour in
return for homage. The wealthy man who had been a
peasant lad delighted to act the jovial host to sons of
petty magnates from his home. Batch after batch as
they came up to College were drawn around him — partly
because their homage pleased him and partly because
he loved anything whatever that came out of Barbie.
There was no harm in Allan — though when his face was
in repose you saw the look in his eye at times of a man
defrauding his soul. A robustious young fellow of sense
and brains would have found in this lover of books and
a bottle not a bad comrade. But he was the worst of
cronies for a weak swaggerer like Gourlay. For Gourlay,
admiring the older man's jovial power, was led on
to imitate his faults, to think them virtues and a credit
— and he lacked the clear cool head that kept Allan's
faults from flying away with him.
At dinner that night there were several braw braw lads
of Barbie Water. There was Tarmillan the doctor (a
son of Irrendavie), Logan the cashier, Tozer the Englishman,
old Partan — a guileless and enquiring mind —
and half-a-dozen students raw from the West. The students
were of the kind that goes up to College with the
hay-seed sticking in its hair. Two are in a Colonial
Cabinet now, two are in the poor-house. So they go.
Tarmillan was the last to arrive. He came in sucking
his thumb into which he had driven a splinter while
conducting an experiment.
"I've a morbid horror of lockjaw," he explained.
"I never get a jag from a pin but I see myself in the
shape of a hoop, semicircular, with my head on one end
of a table my heels on the other, and a doctor standing
on my navel trying to reduce the curvature."
"Gosh!" said Tartan, who was a literal fool," is that
the treatment they purshoo? "
"That's the treatment!" said Tarmillan, sizing up his
man. "Oh, it's a queer thing, lockjaw! I remember
when I was gold-mining in Tibet, one of our carriers
who died of lockjaw had such a circumbendibus in his
body, that we froze him and made him the hoop of a
bucket to carry our water in. You see he was a thin
bit man, and iron was scarce."
"Aye man!" cried Partan, "you've been in Tibet?"
"Often," waved Tarmillan, "often! I used to go
there every summer."
Partan, who liked to extend his geographical knowledge,
would have talked of Tibet for the rest of the evening
— and Tarmie would have told him news — but Allan
"How's the book, Tarmillan?" he enquired.
Tarmillan Was engaged on a treatise which those who
are competent to judge consider the best thing of its
kind ever written.
"Oh, don't ask me," he writhed. "Man, it's an irksome
thing to write, and to be asked about it makes you
squirm. It's almost as offensive to ask a man when his
book will be out, as to ask a woman when she'll be delivered.
I'm glad you invited me — to get away from
the confounded thing. It's become a blasted tyrant.
A big work's a mistake; it's a monster that devours the
brain. I neglect my other work for that fellow of mine;
he bags everything I think. I never light on a new
thing, but 'Hullo!' I cry, 'here's an idea for the book!'
If you are engaged on a big subject all your thinking
works into it or out of it."
"M' yes," said Logan, "but that's a swashing way of
"It's the danger of the aphorism," said Allan, "that
it states too much in trying to be small. Tozer, what do
"I never was engaged on a big subject," sniffed Tozer.
"We're aware o' that!" said Tarmillan.
Tozer went under, and Tarmillan had the table.
Allan was proud of him.
"Courage is the great thing," said he. "It often
succeeds by the mere show of it. It's the timid man
that a dog bites. Run at him and he runs."
He was speaking to himself rather than the table,
admiring the courage that had snubbed Tozer with a
word. But his musing remark rang a bell in young
Gourlay. By Jove he had thought that himself, so he
had! He was a hollow thing, he knew, but a buckram
pretence prevented the world from piercing to his
hollowness. The son of his courageous sire (whom
he equally admired and feared) had learned to play the
game of bluff. A bold front was half the battle. He
had worked out his little theory, and it was with a shock
of pleasure the timid youngster heard great Allan give
it forth. He burned to let him know that he had
thought that, too.
To the youngsters, fat of face and fluffy of its circling
down, the talk was a banquet of the gods. For the first
time in their lives they heard ideas (such as they were)
flung round then royally. They yearned to show that
they were thinkers, too. And Gourlay was fired with
"I heard a very good one the other day from old
Bauldy Johnston," said Allan, opening his usual wallet
of stories when the dinner was in full swing. — At a
certain stage of the evening "I heard a good one" was
the invariable keynote of his talk. If you displayed
no wish to hear the "good one" he was huffed." —
"Bauldy was up in Edinburgh," he went on, "and I
met him near the Scott Monument and took him to
Lockhart's for a dram. You remember what a friend
he used to be of old Will Overton. I wasn't aware, by
the bye, that Will was dead till Bauldy told me. 'He
was a great fellow my friend Will' he rang out in yon
deep voice of his. 'The thumb mark of his Maker was
wet in the clay of him.' Man, it made a quiver go down
"Oh, Bauldy has been a kenned phrase-maker for the
last forty year," said Tarmillan. "But every other
Scots peasant has the gift. To hear Englishmen talk,
you would think Carlyle was unique for the word that
sends the picture home — they give the man the credit
of his race. But I've heard fifty things better than 'willowy
man,' in the stable a-hame on a wat day in hairstfifty
things better! — from men just sitting on the cornkists
and chowing beans."
"I know a better one than that," said Allan. Tarmillan
had told no story, you observe, but Allan was so
accustomed to saying "I know a better one than that,"
that it escaped him before he was aware. "I remember
when Bauldy went off to Paris on the spree. He
kept his mouth shut when he came back, for he was
rather ashamed o' the outburst. But the bodies were
keen to hear. 'What's the incense like in Nôtre Dame?'
said Johnny Coe with his e'en big. 'Burning stink!'
"I can cap that with a better one, still," said TarmilIan,
who wasn't to be done by any man. "I was with
Bauldy when he quarrelled Tam Gibb of Hoochan-doe.
Hoochan-doe's a yelling ass, and he threatened Bauldy
— oh, he would do this, and he would do that, and he
would do the other thing. 'Damn ye, would ye threaten
me?' cried Bauldy. 'I'll gar your brains jaup red to the
heavens!' And, I 'clare to God, sirs, a nervous man
looked up to see if the clouds werena spattered with
Tozer cleared a sarcastic windpipe.
"Why do you clear your throat like that?" said Tarmillan
— "like a craw with the croup, on a bare branch,
against a grey sky in November! If I had a throat like
yours, I'd cut it and be done wi't."
"I wonder what's the cause of that extraordinary
vividness in the speech of the Scotch peasantry? " said
Allan — more to keep the blades from bickering than
from any wish to know.
"It comes from a power of seeing things vividly inside
your mind," said a voice, timorous and wheezy,
away down the table.
What cockerel was this crowing?
They turned and beheld the blushing Gourlay.
But Tarmillan and Tozer were at it again, and he
was snubbed. Jimmy Wilson sniggered, and the other
youngsters enjoyed his discomfiture. Huh! What
right has he to set up his pipe?
His shirt stuck to his back. He would have liked the
ground to open and swallow him.
He gulped a huge swill of whiskey to cover his vexation
— and, oh, the mighty difference! A sudden courage
flooded his veins. He turned with a scowl on Wilson,
and, "What the devil are you sniggering at?" he
growled. Logan, the only senior who marked the byplay,
thought him a hardy young spunkie.
The moment the whiskey had warmed the cockles of
his heart, Gourlay ceased to care a rap for the sniggerers.
Drink deadened his nervous perception of the critics
on his right and left, and set him free to follow his idea
undisturbed. It was an idea he had long cherished —
being one of the few that ever occurred to him. He
rarely made phrases himself — though, curiously enough,
his father often did without knowing it — the harsh
grind of his character producing a flash. But Gourlay
was aware of his uncanny gift of visualization — or of
"seeing things in the inside of his head," as he called it
— and vanity prompted the inference, that this was the
faculty that sprang the metaphor. His theory was now
clear and eloquent before him. He was realizing for the
first time in his life (with a sudden joy in the discovery)
the effect of whiskey to unloose the brain; sentences
went hurling through his brain with a fluency that
thrilled. If he had the ear of the company, now he had
the drink to hearten him, he would show Wilson and the
rest that he wasn't such a blasted fool! In a room by
himself he would have spouted to the empty air.
Some such point he had reached in the hurrying jumble
of his thoughts, when Allan addressed him.
Allan did not mean his guest to be snubbed. He was
a gentleman at heart, not a cad like Tozer; and this boy
was the son of a girl whose laugh he remembered in the
gloamings at Tenshillingland.
"I beg your pardon, John," he said in heavy benevolence
— he had reached that stage — "I beg your pardon.
I'm afraid you was interrupted."
Gourlay felt his heart a lump in his throat, but he
rushed into speech.
"Metaphor comes from the power of seeing things
in the inside of your head," said the unconscious disciple
of Aristotle — "seeing them so vivid that you see the
likeness between them. When Bauldy Johnston said
'the thumb-mark of his Maker was wet in the clay of
him,' he saw the print of a thumb in wet clay, and he
saw the Almighty making a man out of mud, the way He
used to do in the Garden of Eden langsyne — so Bauldy
flashed the two ideas together and the metaphor sprang!
A man'll never make phrases unless he can see things
in the middle of his brain. I can see things in the middle
of my brain," he went on cockily — "anything I want
to! I don't need to shut my eyes, either. They just
come up before me."
"Man, you're young to have noticed these things,
John," said Jock Allan. "I never reasoned it out before,
but I'm sure you're in the right o't."
He spoke more warmly than he felt, because Gourlay
had flushed and panted and stammered (in spite of inspiring
bold John Barleycorn) while airing his little
theory, and Allan wanted to cover him. But Gourlay
took it as a tribute to his towering mind. Oh, but he
was the proud mannikin. "Pass the watter!" he said.
to Jimmy Wilson, and Jimmy passed it meekly.
Logan took a fancy to Gourlay on the spot. He was
a slow sly cosy man, with a sideward laugh in his eye, a
humid gleam. And because his blood was so genial and so
slow, he liked to make up to brisk young fellows, whose
wilder outbursts might amuse him. They quickened
his sluggish blood. No bad fellow, and good-natured
in his heavy way, he was what the Scotch call a "slug
for the drink." A "slug for the drink" is a man who
soaks and never succumbs. Logan was the more dangerous
a crony on that account. Remaining sober while
others grew drunk, he was always ready for another
dram, always ready with an oily chuckle for the sploring
nonsense of his satellites. He would see them home in
the small hours, taking no mean advantage over them,
never scorning them because they "couldn't carry it,"
only laughing at their daft vagaries. And next day he
would gurgle: " So-and-so was screwed last night, and,
man, if you had heard his talk!" Logan had enjoyed it.
He hated to drink by himself, and liked a splurging
youngster with whom to go the rounds.
He was attracted to Gourlay by the manly way he
tossed his drink, and by the false fire it put into him.
But he made no immediate advance. He sat smiling in
creeshy benevolence, beaming on Gourlay but saying
nothing. When the party was ended, however, he made
up to him going through the door.
"I'm glad to have met you, Mr. Gourlay," said he.
"Won't you come round to the Howff for a while?"
"The Howff? " said Gourlay.
"Yes," said Logan, "haven't ye heard o't! It's a
snug bit house, where some of the West Country billies
foregather for a nicht at e'en. Oh, nothing to speak of,
ye know — just a dram and a joke to pass the time now
and then! "
"Aha!" laughed Gourlay, "there's worse than a
drink, by Jove. It puts smeddum in your blood!"
Logan nipped the guard of his arm in heavy playfulness,
and led him to the Howff.
YOUNG Gourlay had found a means of escaping from
his foolish mind. By the beginning of his second session
he was as able a toper as a publican could wish.
The somewhat sordid joviality of Allan's ring, their wit-combats
that were somewhat crude, appeared to him the
very acme of social intercourse. To emulate Logan and
Allan was his aim. But drink appealed to him in many
ways, besides. Now when his too-apprehensive nerves
were frightened by bugbears in his lonely room he could
be off to the Howff and escape them. And drink inspired
him with false courage to sustain his pose as a
hardy rollicker. He had acquired a kind of prestige
since the night of Allan's party, and two of the fellows
whom he met there, Armstrong and Gillespie, became his
friends at College and the Howff. He swaggered before
them as he had swaggered at school both in Barbie and
Skeighan — and now there was no Swipey Broon to cut
him over the coxcomb. Armstrong and Gillespie —
though they saw through him — let him run on, for he
was not bad fun when he was splurging. He found, too,
when with his cronies that drink unlocked his mind, and
gave a free flow to his ideas. Nervous men are often
impotent of speech from very excess of perception — they
realize not merely what they mean to say, but with the
nervous antennæ of their minds they feel the attitude
of every auditor. Distracted by lateral perceptions from
the point ahead, they blunder, where blunter minds
would go forward undismayed. That was the experience
of young Gourlay. If he tried to talk freely when
sober, he always grew confused. But drink deadened
the outer rim of his perception and left it the clearer in
the middle for its concentration. In plainer language,
when he was drunk, he was less afraid of being laughed
at, and free of that fear he was a better speaker. He
was driven to drink, then, by every weakness of his character.
As nervous hypochondriac, as would-be swaggerer,
as a dullard requiring stimulus, he found that
drink, to use his own language, gave him "smeddum!"
With his second year he began the study of philosophy,
and that added to his woes. He had nerves
to feel the Big Conundrum, but not the brains to solve
it — small blame to him for that since philosophers have
cursed each other black in the face over it for the last
five thousand years. But it worried him. The strange
and sinister detail of the world, that had always been a
horror to his mind, became more horrible, beneath the
stimulus of futile thought. But whiskey was the mighty
cure. He was the gentleman who gained notoriety on a
memorable occasion, by exclaiming — "Metaphysics be
damned: let us drink!" Omar and other bards have
expressed the same conclusion in more dulcet wise.
But Gourlay's was equally sincere. How sincere is
Curiously, an utterance of "Auld Tam," one of his
professors, half confirmed him in his evil ways.
"I am speaking now," said Tam, "of the comfort of
a true philosophy, less of its higher aspect than its comfort
to the mind of man. Physically, each man is highest
on the globe; intellectually, the philosopher alone
dominates the world. To him are only two entities that
matter, himself and the Eternal; or, if another, it is his
fellow-man, whom serving he serves the ultimate of
being. But he is master of the outer world. The mind,
indeed, in its first blank outlook on life is terrified by
the demoniac force of nature and the swarming misery
of man; by the vast totality of things, the cold remoteness
of the starry heavens and the threat of the devouring
seas. It is puny in their midst."
Gourlay woke up, and the sweat broke on him. Great
Heaven, had Tam been through it, too!
"At that stage," quoth the wise man, "the mind is
dispersed in a thousand perceptions and a thousand
fears; there is no central greatness in the soul. It is
assailed by terrors which men sunk in the material never
seem to feel. Phenomena, uninformed by thought, bewilder
"Just like me!" thought Gourlay, and listened with
a thrilling interest because it was "just like him."
"But the labyrinth," said Tam, with a ring in his
voice as of one who knew — "the labyrinth cannot appal
the man who has found a clue to its windings. A mind
that has attained to thought lives in itself, and the world
becomes its slave. Its formerly distracted powers rally
home; it is central, possessing not possessed. The world
no longer frightens, being understood. Its sinister features
are accidents that will pass away, and they gradually
cease to be observed. For real thinkers know the
value of a wise indifference. And that is why they are
often the most genial men; unworried by the transient,
they can smile and wait, sure of their eternal aim. The
man to whom the infinite beckons is not to be driven.
from his mystic quest by the ambush of a temporal fear
— there is no fear; it has ceased to exist. That is the
comfort of a true philosophy — if a man accepts it not
merely mechanically, from another, but feels it in
breath and blood and every atom of his being. With
a warm surety in his heart, he is undaunted by the
outer world. That, gentlemen, is what thought can
do for a man."
"By Jove," thought Gourlay, "that's what whiskey
does for me!"
And that, on a lower level, was what whiskey did.
He had no conception of what Tam really meant — there
were people indeed who used to think that Tam never
knew what he meant himself. They were as little able as
Gourlay to appreciate the mystic, through the radiant
haze of whose mind thoughts loomed on you sudden and
big, like mountain tops in a sunny mist, the grander for
their dimness. But Gourlay, though he could not understand,
felt the fortitude of whiskey was somehow akin
to the fortitude described. In the increased vitality it
gave, he was able to tread down the world. If he walked
on a wretched day in a wretched street, when he happened
to be sober, his mind was hither and yon in a
thousand perceptions and a thousand fears, fastening to
(and fastened to) each squalid thing around. But with
whiskey humming in his blood, he paced onward in a
happy dream. The wretched puddles by the way, the
frowning rookeries where misery squalled, the melancholy
noises of the street, were passed unheeded by,
His distracted powers rallied home; he was concentrate,
his own man again, the hero of his musing mind. For,
like all weak men of a vivid fancy, he was constantly
framing dramas of which he was the towering lord. The
weakling who never "downed" men in reality, was
always "downing" them in thought. His imaginary
triumphs consoled him for his actual rebuffs. As he
walked in a tipsy dream, he was "standing up" to somebody,
hurling his father's phrases at him, making short
work of him! If imagination paled, the nearest tavern
supplied a remedy, and flushed it to a radiant glow.
Whereupon he had become the master of his world, and
not its slave.
"Just imaigine," he thought, "whiskey doing for me
what philosophy seems to do for Tam. It's a wonderful
thing, the drink!"
His second session wore on, and when near its close,
Tam gave out the subject for the Raeburn.
The Raeburn was a poor enough prize, a few books for
an "essay in the picturesque," but it had a peculiar
interest for the folk of Barbie. Twenty years ago it was
won four years in succession by men from the valley; and
the unusual run of luck fixed it in their minds. Thereafter
when an unsuccessful candidate returned to his
home, he was sure to be asked very pointedly, "Who won
the Raeburn the year?" to rub into him their perception
that he at least had been a failure. A bodie would
dander slowly up, saying, "Aye, man, ye've won hame!"
then, having mused awhile, would casually ask, "By-the-bye,
who won the Raeburn the year? — Oh, it was a
Perthshire man! It used to come our airt, but we seem
to have lost the knack o't! Oh, yes, sir, Barbie bred
writers in those days, but the breed seems to have
decayed" Then he would murmur dreamily. as if talking
to himself, "Jock Goudie was the last that got it
hereaway. But he was a clever chap."
The caustic bodie would dander away with a grin,
leaving a poor writhing soul. When he reached the
Cross, he would tell the Deacon blithely of the "fine one
he had given him," and the Deacon would lie in wait to
give him a fine one, too. In Barbie, at least, your returning
student is never met at the station with a brass
band, whatever may happen in more emotional districts
of the North, where it pleases them to shed the tear.
"An Arctic Night" was the inspiring theme which
Tam set for the Raeburn.
"A very appropriate subject!" laughed the fellows;
"quite in the style of his own lectures." For Tam,
though wise and a humourist, had his prosy hours. He
used to lecture on the fifteen characteristics of Lady
Macbeth (so he parcelled the unhappy Queen), and he
would announce quite gravely, "We will now approach
the discussion of the eleventh feature of the lady."
Gourlay had a shot at the Raeburn. He could not
bring a radiant fulness of mind to bear upon his task
(it was not in him to bring), but his morbid fancy set to
work of its own accord. He saw a lonely little town far
off upon the verge of Lapland night, leagues and leagues
across a darkling plain, dark itself and little and lonely
in the gloomy splendour of a Northern sky. A ship put
to sea, and Gourlay heard in his ears the skirl of the man
who went overboard — struck dead by the icy water on
his brow, which smote the brain like a tomahawk.
He put his hand to his own brow when he wrote that,
and, "Yes," he cried eagerly, "it would be the cold
would kill the brain! Ooh-ooh. how it would go in!"
A world of ice groaned round him in the night; bergs
ground on each other and were rent in pain; he heard
the splash of great fragments tumbled in the deep, and
felt the waves of their distant falling lift the vessel beneath
him in the darkness. To the long desolate night
came a desolate dawn, and eyes were dazed by the encircling
whiteness; yet there flashed green slanting chasms
in the ice, and towering pinnacles of sudden rose, lonely
and far away. An unknown sea beat upon an unknown
shore, and the ship drifted on the pathless waters, a
white dead man at the helm.
"Yes, by Heaven," cried Gourlay, "I can see it all,
I can see it all — that fellow standing at the helm, frozen
white and as stiff's an icicle!"
Yet, do what he might, he was unable to fill more
than half a dozen small pages. He hesitated whether
he should send them in, and held them in his inky fingers,
thinking he would burn them. He was full of pity
for his own inability. "I wish I was a clever chap," he
"Ach, well, I'll try my luck," he muttered at last,
" though Tam may guy me before the whole class, for
doing so little o't."
The Professor, however (unlike the majority of
Scotch Professors), rated quality higher than quantity.
"I have learned a great deal myself," he announced
on the last day of the session, "I have learned a great
deal myself from the papers sent in on the subject of
an 'Arctic Night'"
"Hear, hear!" said an insolent student at the back.
"Where, where?" said the Professor, "stand up,
A gigantic Borderer rose blushing into view, and
was greeted with howls of derision by his fellows. Tam
eyed him, and he winced.
"You will apologize in my private room at the end of
the hour," said Aquinas, as the students used to call
him. "Learn that this is not a place to bray in."
The giant slunk down, trying to hide himself.
"Yes," said Tam, "I have learned what a poor sense
of proportion some of you students seem to have. It
was not to see who could write the most, but who could
write the best, that I set the theme. One gentleman —
he has been careful to give me his full name and address
—" twinkled Tam, and picking up a huge manuscript
he read it from the outer page — "Mr. Alexander
MacTavish, of Benmacstronachan, near Auchnapeterhoolish,
in the island of South Uist, has sent me in no
less than a hundred and fifty-three closely written pages!
I daresay it's the size of the adjectives he uses that makes
the thing so heavy," quoth Tam, and dropped it thudding
on his desk. "Life is short, the art of the MacTavish
long, and to tell the truth, gentlemen" — he
gloomed at them humorously — "to tell the truth, I
stuck in the middle o't!" (Roars of laughter, and a
reproving voice, "Oh, ta pold MacTa-avish!" whereat
there was pandemonium). MacTavish was heard to
groan, "Oh, why tid I leave my home!" to which a
voice responded in mocking antiphone, "Why tid you
cross ta teep? " The noise they made was heard at
When the tumult and the shouting died, Tam resumed
with a quiver in his voice, for "ta pold MacTavish " had
tickled him too. "Now, gentlemen," he said, "I don't
judge essays by their weight, though I'm told they
sometimes pursue that method in Glasgow!"
(Groans for the rival University, cries of "Oh-oh-oh!"
and a weary voice, "Please sir, don't mention that
place — it makes me feel quite ill.")
The Professor allayed the tumult with dissuasive
"I believe," he said drily, "you call that noise of
yours 'the College Tramp,' in the Senatus we speak o't
as 'the Cuddies' Trudge.' — Now, gentlemen, I'm not
unwilling to allow a little noise on the last day of the
session, but really you must behave more quietly. — So
little does that method of judging essays commend itself
to me, I may tell you, that the sketch which I consider
the best barely runs to half a dozen short pages."
Young Gourlay's heart gave a leap within him; he
felt it thudding on his ribs. The skin crept on him,
and he breathed with quivering nostrils. Gillespie wondered
why his breast heaved.
"It's a curious sketch," said the Professor. "It contains
a serious blunder in grammar, and several mistakes
in spelling, but it shows, in some ways, a wonderful
"Ho, ho!" thought Gourlay.
"Of course there are various kinds of imagination,"
said Tam. "In its lowest form it merely recalls something
which the eyes have already seen, and brings it
vividly before the mind. A higher form pictures something
which you never saw, but only conceived as a possible
existence. Then there's the imagination which
not only sees but hears — actually hears what a man
would say on a given occasion, and entering into his
blood, tells you exactly why he does it. The highest
form is both creative and consecrative, if I may use the
word, merging in diviner thought. It irradiates the
world. Of that high power there is no evidence in the
essay before me. To be sure there was little occasion
for its use."
Young Gourlay's thermometer went down.
"Indeed," said Aquinas, "there's a curious want of
bigness in the sketch — no large nobility of phrase. It
is written in gaspy little sentences, and each sentence
begins 'and' — 'and' — 'and,' like a schoolboy's narrative.
It's as if a number of impressions had seized the
writer's mind, which he jotted down hurriedly, lest they
should escape him. But, just because it's so little wordy,
it gets the effect of the thing — faith, sirs, it's right on to
the end of it every time! The writing of some folk is
nothing but a froth of words — lucky if it glistens without,
like a blobber of iridescent foam. But in this
sketch there's a perception at the back of every sentence.
It displays, indeed, too nervous a sense of the
"Name, name!" cried the students, who were being
deliberately worked by Tam to a high pitch of curiosity.
"I would strongly impress on the writer," said the
shepherd, heedless of his bleating sheep, "I would
strongly impress on the writer, to set himself down for a
spell of real, hard solid, and deliberate thought. That
almost morbid perception, with philosophy to back it,
might create an opulent and vivid mind. Without philosophy,
it would simply be a curse. With philosophy, it
would bring thought the material to work on. Without
philosophy, it would simply distract and irritate the
"Name, name!" cried the fellows.
"The winner of the Raeburn," said Thomas Aquinas,
"is Mr. John Gourlay."
Gourlay and his friends made for the nearest public
house. The occasion, they thought, justified a drink.
The others chaffed Gourlay about Tam's advice.
"You know, Jack," said Gillespie, mimicking the
sage, "what you have got to do next summer is to set
yourself down for a spell of real, hard, solid and deliberate
thought. That was Tam's advice, you know."
"Him and his advice!" said Gourlay.
THERE were only four other passengers dropped by
the eleven o'clock express at Skeighan station, and, as
it happened, young Gourlay knew them all. They were
petty merchants of the neighbourhood whom he had
often seen about Barbie. The sight of their remembered
faces, as he stepped on to the platform, gave him
a delightful sense that he was nearing home. He had
passed from the careless world where he was nobody at
all, to the familiar circle where he was a somebody, a
mentioned man, and the son of a mentioned man — young
He had a feeling of superiority to the others, too, because
they were mere local journeyers while he had
travelled all the way from mighty Edinburgh by the late
express. He was returning from the outer world while
they were bits of bodies who had only been to Fechars.
As Edinburgh was to Fechars so was he to them. Round
him was the halo of distance and the mystery of night-travelling.
He felt big.
"Have you a match, Robert?" he asked very graciously
of Robin Gregg, one of the porters whom he
knew. Getting his match, he lit a cigarette; and when
it was lit, after one quick puff, turned it swiftly round
to examine its burning end. "Rotten!" he said, and
threw it away to light another. The porters were watching
him, and he knew it. When the station-master appeared
yawning from his office, as he was passing
through the gate, and asked who it was, it flattered his
vanity to hear Robin's answer, that it was "young Mr.
Gourlay of Barbie, just back from the Univ-ai-rsity!"
He had been so hot for home that he had left Edinburgh
at twilight, too eager to wait for the morrow.
There was no train for Barbie at this hour of the night;
and, of course, there was no gig to meet him. Even if
he had sent word of his coming: "There's no need for
travelling so late," old Gourlay would have growled —
"let him shank it! We're in no hurry to have him
He set off briskly, eager to see his mother and tell her
he had won the Raeburn. The consciousness of his
achievement danced in his blood, and made the road
light to his feet. His thoughts were not with the country
round him, but entirely in the moment of his entrance,
when he should proclaim his triumph, with
proud enjoyment of his mother's pride. His fancy
swept to his journey's end, and took his body after, so
that the long way was as nothing, annihilate by the leap
forward of his mind.
He was too vain, too full of himself and his petty
triumph, to have room for the beauty of the night. The
sky was one sea of lit cloud, foamy ridge upon ridge
over all the heavens, and each wave was brimming with
its own whiteness, seeming unborrowed of the moon.
Through one peep-hole, and only one, shone a distant
star, a faint white speck far away, dimmed by the nearer
splendours of the sky. Sometimes the thinning edge of
a cloud brightened in spume, and round the brightness
came a circle of umber, making a window of fantastic
glory for Dian the queen; there her white vision peeped
for a moment on the world — and the next she was hid
behind a fleecy veil, witching the heavens. Gourlay
was alone with the wonder of the night. The light from
above him was softened in a myriad boughs, no longer
mere light and cold, but a spirit indwelling as their soul,
and they were boughs no longer but a woven dream. He
walked beneath a shadowed glory. But he was dead to
it all. One only fact possessed him. He had won the
Raeburn, he had won the Raeburn! The road flew
Almost before he was aware, the mean grey streets of
Barbie had clipped him round. He stopped, panting
from the hurry of his walk, and looked at the quiet
houses, all still among the gloom. He realized with a
sudden pride that he alone was in conscious possession
of the town. Barbie existed to no other mind. All
the others were asleep; while he had a thrilling consciousness
of them, and of their future attitude to him,
they did not know that he, the returning great one, was
present in their midst. They all knew of the Raeburn,
however, and ere long they would know that it was his.
He was glad to hug his proud secret in presence of the
sleeping town, of which he would be the talk to-morrow.
How he would surprise them! He stood for
a little, gloating in his own sensations. Then a desire
to get home tugged him, and he scurried up the
He stole round the corner of the House with the
Green Shutters. Roger, the collie, came at him with a
bow-wow-wow. "Roger!" he whispered, and cuddled
him, and the old loyalist fawned on him and licked his
hand. The very smell of the dog was couthie in his
The window of a bedroom went up with a crash.
"Now, then, who the devil are you?" came the voice
of old Gourlay.
"It's me faither," said John.
"Oh, it's you, is it? This is a fine time o' night to
"Faither, I have — I have won the Raeburn!"
"It'll keep, my mannie, it'll keep" — and the window
Next moment it was up.
"Did young Wilson get onything?" came the eager
"Nut him!" said John.
"Fine, man! Dam'd, sir, I'm proud o' ye!"
John went round the corner treading on air. For the
first time in his life his father had praised him.
He peeped through a kink at the side of the kitchen-blind,
where its descent was arrested by a flowerpot, in
the corner of the window-sill. As he had expected,
though it was long past midnight, his mother was not
yet in bed. She was folding a white cloth over her
bosom, and about her, on the backs of chairs, there were
other such cloths, drying by the fire. He watched her
curiously — once he seemed to hear a whimpering moan.
When she buttoned her dress above the cloth, she gazed
sadly at the dying embers, the look of one who has
gained short respite from a task of painful tendance on
the body, yet is conscious that the task and the pain are
endless, and will have to be endured, to-morrow and tomorrow,
till she dies. It was the fixed gaze of utter
weariness and apathy. A sudden alarm for his mother
made John cry her name.
She flew to the door, and in a moment had him in her
arms. He told his news, and basked in her adoration.
She came close to him, and "John," she said in a
smiling whisper, big-eyed, "John," she breathed,
"would ye like a dram?" It was as if she was propounding
a roguish plan in some dear conspiracy.
He laughed. "Well," he said, "seeing we have won
the Raeburn, you and I, I think we might!"
He heard her fumbling in the distant pantry. He
smiled to himself as he listened to the clinking glass,
and, "By Jove," said he, "a mother's a fine thing!"
"Where's Janet?" he asked when she returned. He
wanted another worshipper.
"Oh, she gangs to bed the moment it's dark," his
mother complained, like one aggrieved. "She's always
saying that she's ill! I thocht when she grew up that
she might be a wee help, but she's no use at all. And
I'm sure, if a' was kenned, I have more to complain o'
than she has. Atweel aye," she said, and stared at the
It rarely occurs to young folk who have never left
their homes that their parents may be dying soon;
from infancy they have known them as established facts
of nature like the streams and hills; they expect them
to remain. But the young who have been away for
six months are often struck by a tragic difference in
their elders on returning home. To young Gourlay
there was a curious difference in his mother. She was
almost beautiful to-night. Her blue eyes were large
and glittering; her ears waxen and delicate; and her
brown hair swept low on her blue-veined temples.
Above and below her lips there was a narrow margin of
the purest white.
"Mother," he said anxiously, "you're not ill, are ye?
What do ye need so many wee clouts for?"
She gasped and started. "They're just a wheen
clouts I was sorting out," she faltered. — "No, no, dear,
there's noathing wrong wi' me."
"There's one sticking in your blouse," said he, and
pointed to her slack breast.
She glanced nervously down and pushed it further in.
"I daresay I put it there when I wasna thinking," she
But she eyed him furtively to see if he were still
THERE IS nothing worse for a weakling than a small
success. The strong man tosses it beneath his feet, as a
step to rise higher on. He squeezes it into its proper
place as a layer in the life he is building. if his memory
dwells on it for a moment it is only because of its
valuable results, not because in itself it is a theme for
vanity. And if he be higher than strong he values not
it, but the exercise of getting it, viewing his actual
achievement, he is apt to reflect: "Is this pitiful thing,
then, all that I toiled for?" Finer natures often experience
a keen depression and sense of littleness in the
pause that follows a success. But the fool is so swollen
by thought of his victory that he is unfit for all healthy
work till somebody jags him and lets the gas out. He
never forgets the great thing he fancies he did thirty
years ago, and expects the world never to forget it either.
The more of a weakling he is, and the more incapable of
repeating his former triumph, the more he thinks of it;
and the more he thinks of it the more it satisfies his
meagre soul and prevents him essaying another brave
venture in the world. His petty achievement ruins him.
The memory of it never leaves him, but swells to a huge
balloon that lifts him off his feet and carries him heavens-high
— till it lands him on a dunghill. Even from
that proud eminence he oft cock-a-doodles his former
triumph to the world. "Man, you wouldn't think to see
me here that I once held a great position! Thirty year
back, I did a big thing. It was like this, ye see." And
then follows a recital of his faded glories — generally
ending with a hint that a drink would be very acceptable.
Even such a weakling was young Gourlay. His success
in Edinburgh, petty as it was, turned his head, and
became one of the many causes working to destroy him.
All that summer at Barbie he swaggered and drank on
the strength of it.
On the morning after his return he clothed himself
in fine raiment (he was always well-dressed till the end
came), and sallied forth to dominate the town. As he
swaggered past the Cross, smoking a cigarette, he seemed
to be conscious that the very walls of the houses watched
him with unusual eyes, as if even they felt that yon was
John Gourlay whom they had known as a boy, proud
wearer now of the academic wreath, the conquering
hero returned to his home. So Gourlay figured them.
He, the disconsidered, had shed a lustre on the ancient
walls. They were tributaries to his new importance —
somehow their attitude was different from what it had
ever been before. It was only his self-conscious bigness,
of course, that made even inanimate things seem the
feeders of his greatness. As Gourlay; always alive to
obscure emotions which he could never express in words,
mused for a moment over the strange new feeling that
had come to him, a gowsterous voice hailed him from
the Black Bull door. He turned, and Peter Wylie,
hearty and keen like his father, stood him a drink in
honour of his victory — which was already buzzed about
Drucken Wabster's wife had seen to that. "Ou,"
she cried, "his mother's daft about it, the silly auld
thing; she can speak o' noathing else. Though Gourlay
gies her very little to come and go on, she slipped him
a whole sovereign this morning, to keep his pouch!
Think o' that, kimmers; heard ye ever sic extravagance!
I saw her doin'd wi' my own eyes. It's wince wud and
aye waur* wi' her, l'm thinking. But the wastefu' wife's
the waefu' widow, she should keep in mind. She's far
owre browdened upon yon boy. I'm sure I howp good
may come o't, but — " and with an ominous shake of the
head she ended the Websterian harangue.
When Peter Wylie left him Gourlay lit a cigarette and
stood at the Cross, waiting for the praises yet to be.
The Deacon toddled forward on his thin shanks.
"Man Dyohn, you're won hame, I thee! Aye man!
And how are ye?"
Gourlay surveyed him with insolent, indolent eyes.
"Oh, I'm all rai-ight, Deacon," he swaggered, "how are
ye-ow?" and he sent a puff of tobacco-smoke down
through his nostrils.
"I declare!" said the Deacon. "I never thaw onvbody
thmoke like that before! That'll be one of the
thingth ye learn at College, no doubt."
"Ya-as," yawned Gourlay; "it gives you the full
flavour of the we-eed."
The Deacon glimmered over him with his eyes. "The
weed," said he. "Jutht tho! Imphm. The weed."
Then worthy Mister Allardyce tried another opening.
"But, dear me!" he cried, "I'm forgetting entirely. I
* "Aince wud and aye waur": silly for once and silly for
must congratulate ye! Ye've been doing wonderth,
they tell me, up in Embro."
"Just a little bit," swaggered Gourlay, right hand on
outshot hip, left hand flaunting a cigarette in air most
delicate, tobacco-smoke curling from his lofty nose. He
looked down his face at the Deacon. "Just a little bit,
Mr. Allardyce, just a little bit. I tossed the thing off
in a twinkling."
"Aye man, Dyohn," said the Deacon with great solicitude,
"but you maunna work that brain o' yours too
hard, though. A heid like yours doesna come through
the hatter's hand ilka day o' the week; you mutht be
careful not to put too great a thtrain on't. Aye, aye;
often the best machine's the easiest broken and the
warst to mend. You should take a rest and enjoy yourself.
But there! what need I be telling you that? A
College-bred man like you kenth far better about it than
a thilly auld country bodie! You'll be meaning to have
a grand holiday and lots o' fun — a dram now and then,
eh? and mony a rattle in the auld man's gig? "
At this assault on his weak place Gourlay threw away
his important manner with the end of his cigarette. He
could never maintain the lofty pose for more than five
minutes at a time.
"You're right, Deacon," he said, nodding his head
with splurging sincerity. "I mean to have a dem'd
good holiday. One's glad to get back to the old place
after six months in Edinburgh."
"Atweel," said the Deacon. "But, man, have you
tried the new whiskey at the Black Bull — I thaw ye
in wi' Pate Wylie? It'th extr'ornar gude — thaft as the
thang o' a mavis on a nicht at e'en, and fiery as a Highland
charge." — It was not in character for the Deacon
to say such a thing, but whiskey makes the meanest
of Scots poetical. He elevates the manner to the matter,
and attains the perfect style. — "But no doubt," the
cunning old pryer went on, with a smiling suavity in
his voice, "but no doubt a man who knowth Edinburgh
tho well as you, will have a favourite blend of hith own.
I notice that University men have a fine taste in
"I generally prefer 'Kinblythmont's Cure,'" said
Gourlay with the air of a connoisseur. "But 'Anderson's
Sting o' Delight' 's very good, and so's 'Balsillie's
Brig o' the Mains.'"
"Aye," said the Deacon. "Aye, aye! 'Brig o' the
Mains' ith what Jock Allan drinks. He'll pree noathing
else. I dare thay you thee a great deal of him in
"Oh, every week," swaggered Gourlay. "We're
always together, he and I."
"Alwayth thegither! " said the Deacon.
It was not true that Allan and Gourlay were together
at all times. Allan was kind to Jean Richmond's son
(in his own ruinous way) but not to the extent of being
burdened with the cub half a dozen times a week.
Gourlay was merely boasting — as young blades are apt
to do of acquaintance with older roisterers. They think
it makes them seem men of the world. And in his desire
to vaunt his comradeship with Allan, John failed
to see that Allardyce was scooping him out like an
"Aye man," resumed the Deacon; "he's a hearty fellow,
Jock. No doubt you have the great thprees?"
"Sprees!" gurgled Gourlay, and flung back his head
with a laugh. "I should think we have. There was a
great foy at Allan's the night before I left Edinburgh.
Tarmillan was there — d'ye know, yon's the finest fellow
I ever met in my life! — and Bauldy Logan — he's another
great chap. Then there was Armstrong and Gillespie —
great friends of mine — and damned clever fellows they
are, too, I can tell you. Besides us three there were half
a dozen more from the College. You should have heard
the talk! And every man-jack was as drunk as a lord.
The last thing I remember is some of us students dancing
round a lamp-post while Logan whistled a jig."
Though Gourlay the elder hated the Deacon, he had
never warned his son to avoid him. To have said
"Allardyce is dangerous" would have been to pay the
old malignant too great a compliment; it would have
been beneath John Gourlay to admit that a thing like
Allardyce could harm him and his. Young Gourlay,
therefore, when once set a-going by the Deacon's deft
management, blurted everything without a hanker.
Even so, however, he felt that he had gone too far. He
glanced anxiously at his companion. "Mum's the word
about this, of course," he said with a wink. "It would
never do for this to be known about the 'Green
"Oh, I'm ath thound ath a bell, Dyohn, I'm ath
thound ath a bell," said the Deacon. "Aye man! You
jutht bear out what I have alwavth underthood about the
men o' brainth. They're the heartiest devilth after a'.
Burns, that the baker raves so muckle o', was jutht
another o' the thame. Jutht another o' the thame!
We'll be hearing o' you boys — Pate Wylie and you and a
wheen mair — having rare ploys in Barbie through the
"Oh, we'll kick up a bit of a dust," Gourlay sniggered,
well-pleased. Had not the Deacon ranked him in the
robustious great company of Burns! "I say, Deacon,
come in and have a nip."
"There's your faither," grinned the Deacon.
"Eh? What? " cried Gourlay in alarm, and started
round, to see his father and the Rev. Mr. Struthers advancing
up the Fechars Road. "Eh — eh — Deacon — I
— I'll see you again about the nip."
"Jutht tho!" grinned the Deacon. "We'll postpone
the drink to a more convenient opportunity."
He toddled away, having no desire that old Gourlay
should find him talking to his son. If Gourlay suspected
him of pulling the young fellow's leg, likely as
not he would give an exhibition of his dem'd unpleasant
Gourlay and the minister came straight towards the
student. Of the Rev. Mr. Struthers it may be said with
truth that he would have cut a remarkable figure in any
society. He had big splay feet, short stout legs, and a
body of such bulging bulbosity, that all the droppings of
his spoon — which were many — were caught on the round
of his black waistcoat, which always looked as if it had
just been spattered by a grey shower. His eye-brows
were bushy and white, and the hairs slanting up and out
rendered the meagre brow even narrower than it was.
His complexion, more especially in cold weather, was a
dark crimson. The purply colour of his face was intensified
by the pure whiteness of the side whiskers projecting
stiffly by his ears, and in mid-week, when he was
unshaven, his redness revealed more plainly, in turn,
the short gleaming stubble that lay like rime on his
chin. His eyes goggled, and his manner at all times
was that of a staring and earnest self-importance.
"Puffy Importance" was one of his nicknames.
Struthers was a man of lowly stock who, after a ten
years' desperate battle with his heavy brains, succeeded
at the long last of it in passing the examinations required
for the ministry. The influence of a wealthy patron
then presented him to Barbie. Because he had taken so
long to get through the University himself, he constantly
magnified the place in his conversation, partly to excuse
his own slowness in getting through it, partly that the
greater glory might redound on him who had conquered
it at last, and issued from its portals a fat and
prosperous alumnus. Stupid men who have mastered
a system, not by intuition but by a plodding effort of
slow years, always exaggerate its importance — did it not
take them ten years to understand it? — whoso has
passed the system, then, is to their minds one of a close
corporation, of a select and intellectual few, and entitled
to pose before the uninitiate. Because their stupidity
made the thing difficult, their vanity leads them to exalt
it. Woe to him that shall scoff at any detail! To
Struthers the Senatus Academicus was an august assemblage
worthy of the Roman Curia, and each petty academic
rule was a law sacrosanct and holy. He was forever
talking of the "Univairsity." "Mind ye," he
would say, "it takes a loang time to understand even the
workings of the Univairsity — the Senatus and suchlike;
it's not for everyone to criticise." He implied, of
course, that he had a right to criticise, having passed triumphant
through the mighty test. This vanity of his
was fed by a peculiar vanity of some Scots peasants, who
like to discuss Divinity Halls, and so on, because to talk
of these things shews that they, too, are intelligent men,
and know the awful intellectual ordeal required of a
"Meenister." When a peasant says "He went through
his Arts course in three years, and got a kirk the moment
he was licensed," he wants you to see that he's a
smart man himself, and knows what he's talking of.
There were several men in Barbie who liked to talk in
that way, and among them Puffy Importance, when graciously
inclined, found ready listeners to his pompous
blether about the "Univairsity." But what he liked
best of all was to stop a newly-returned student in full
view of the people, and talk learnedly of his courses —
dear me, aye — of his courses, and his matriculations,
and his lectures, and his graduations, and his thingumbobs.
That was why he bore down upon our great essayist.
"Allow me to congratulate you, John," he said, with
heavy solemnity — for Struthers always made a congregation
of his listener, and droned as if mounted for a
sermon. "Ye have done excellently well this Session;
ye have indeed. Ex-cellently well! Ex-cellently well!"
Gourlay blushed and thanked him.
"Tell me now," said the cleric, "do you mean to take
your Arts course in three years or four? A loang Arts
course is a grand thing for a clairgyman. Even if he
spends half a dozen years on't he won't be wasting his
Gourlay glanced at his father. "I mean to try't in
three," he said. His father had threatened him that he
must get through his Arts in three years — without
deigning, of course, to give any reason for the threat.
"We-ell," said Mr. Struthers, gazing down the Fechars
Road, as if visioning great things, "it will require a
strenuous and devoted application — a strenuous and devoted
application — even from the man of abeelity you
have shown yourself to be. Tell me now," he went on,
"have ye heard ainything of the new Professor of Exegesis?
D'ye know how he's doing?"
Young Gourlay knew nothing of the new Professor of
Exegesis, but he answered, "Very well, I believe," at a
"Oh, he's sure to do well, he's sure to do well! He's
one of the best men we have in the Church. I have
just finished his book on the Epheesians. It's most profound!
It has taken me a whole year to master it."
("Garvie on the Ephesians" is a book of a hundred and
eighty pages.) "And, by the way," said the parson,
stooping to Scotch in his ministerial jocoseness,
"how's auld Tam, in whose class you were a prize-winner?
He was appointed to the Professoriate the same
year that I obtained my license. I remember to have
heard him deliver a lecture on German philosophy, and
I thought it excellently good. But perhaps," he added,
with solemn and pondering brows, "perhaps he was a
little too fond of Hegel. — Yess, I am inclined to think
that he was a little too fond of Hegel." Mrs. Eccles,
listening from the Black Bull door, wondered if Hegel
was a drink.
"He's very popular," said young Gourlay.
"Oh, he's sure to be popular, he merits the very
greatest popple-arity. And he would express himself as
being excellently well pleased with your theme? What
did he say of it, may I venture to enquire?"
Beneath the pressure of his father's presence young
Gourlay did not dare to splurge. "He seemed to think
there was something in it," he answered, modestly
"Oh, he would be sure to think there was something
in it," said the minister, staring, and wagging his pow.
"Not a doubt of tha-at, not a doubt of tha-at! There
must have been something in it, to obtain the palm of
victory in the face of such prodigious competeetion.
It's the see-lect intellect of Scotland that goes to the
Univairsity, and only the ee-lect of the see-elect win the
palm. And it's an augury of great good for the future.
Abeelity to write is a splendid thing for the Church.
Good-bye, John, and allow me to express once moar my
great satisfaction that a pareeshioner of mine is a la-ad
of such brilliant promise! "
Though the elder Gourlay disconsidered the Church,
and thought little of Mr. Struthers, he swelled with
pride to think that the minister should stop his offspring
in the Main Street of Barbie, to congratulate him on his
prospects. They were close to the Emporium; and with
the tail of his eye he could see Wilson peeping from the
door, and listening to every word. This would be a
hair in Wilson's neck! There were no clerical compliments
for his son! The tables were turned at last.
His father had a generous impulse to John for the
bright triumph he had won the Gourlays. He fumbled
in his trouser-pocket, and passed him a sovereign.
"I'm kind o' hard-up," he said with grim jocosity,
"but there's a pound to keep your pouch. — No nonsense
now!" he shot at the youth with a loaded eye. "That's
just for use if you happen to be in company. A Gourlay
maun spend as much as the rest o' folk."
"Yes, faither," said the youngster, and Gourlay went
That grimly-jocose reference to his poverty was a feature
of Gourlay's talk now, when he spoke of money to
his family. It excused the smallness of his doles, yet
led them to believe that he was only joking, that he had
plenty of money if he would only consent to shell it out.
And that was what he wished them to believe. His
pride would not allow him to confess, even to his nearest,
that he was a failure in business, and hampered with
financial trouble. Thus his manner of warning them to
be careful had the very opposite effect. "He has heaps
o' cash," thought the son, as he watched the father up
the street; "there's no need for a fellow to be mean."
Flattered (as he fondly imagined) by the Deacon, flattered
by the minister, tipped by his mother, tipped by
his father, hale-fellow-well-met with Pate Wylie — Lord,
but young Gourlay was the fine fellow! Symptoms of
swell-head set in with alarming rapidity. He had a
wild tendency to splurge. And, that he might show
in a single afternoon all the crass stupidity of which
he was capable, he immediately allowed himself a
veiled insult towards the daughters of the ex-Provost.
They were really nice girls, in spite of their parentage,
and, as they came down the street, they glanced
with shy kindness at the student, from under their
broad-brimmed hats. Gourlay raised his in answer
to their nod. But the moment after, and in their hearing,
he yelled blatantly to Swipey Broon, to come on
and have a drink of beer. Swipey was a sweep now,
for Brown the ragman had added chimney-cleaning to
his other occupations — plurality of professions, you observe,
being one of the features of the life of Barbie.
When Swipey turned out of the Fleckie Road, he was as
black as the ace of spades, a most disreputable phiz.
And when Gourlay yelled his loud welcome to that
grimy object, what he wanted to convey to the two girls
was: "Ho, ho, my pretty misses; I'm on bowing terms
with you, and yet when I might go up and speak to ye,
I prefer to go off and drink with a sweep, d'ye see?
That shows what I think o' ye!" All that summer
John took an oblique revenge on those who had disconsidered
the Gourlays — but would have liked to make
up to him now when they thought he was going to do
well — he took a paltry revenge by patently rejecting
their advances and consorting instead, and in their presence,
with the lowest of low company. Thus he vented
a spite which he had long cherished against them for
their former neglect of Janet and him. For, though the
Gourlay children had been welcome at well-to-do houses
in the country, their father's unpopularity had cut them
off from the social life of the town. When the Provost
gave his grand spree on Hogmanay there was never an
invitation for the Gourlay youngsters. The slight had
rankled in the boy's mind. Now, however, some of the
local bigwigs had an opinion (with very little to support
it) that he was going to be a successful man, and
they shewed a disposition to be friendly. John, with a
rankling memory of their former coldness, flouted every
overture, by letting them see plainly that he preferred to
their company — that of Swipey Broon, Jock McCraw,
and every ragamuffin of the town. It was a kind of backhanded
stroke at them. That was the paltry form
which his father's pride took in him. He did not see
that he was harming himself rather than his father's
enemies. Harm himself he did, for you could not associate
with Jock McCraw and the like, without drinking
in every howff you came across.
When the bodies assembled next day for their "morning,"
the Deacon was able to inform them that young
Gourlay was back from the College, dafter than ever, and
that he had pulled his leg as far as he wanted it. "Oh,"
he said, "I played him like a kitten wi' a cork and found
out ainything and everything I wished. I dithcovered
that he's in wi' Jock Allan and that crowd — I edged the
conversation round on purpoth! Unless he wath blowing
his trump — which I greatly doubt — they're as thick
as thieveth. Ye ken what that meanth. He'll turn
hith wee finger to the ceiling oftener than he puts hith
forefinger to the pen, I'm thinking. It theemth he
drinkth enormuth! He took a gey nip last thummer,
and this thummer I wager he takes mair o't. He
avowed his plain intention! 'I mean to kick up a bit of
a dust,' thays he. Oh, but he's the splurge!"
"Aye, aye," said Sandy Toddle; "thae students are
a gey squad. Especially the young ministers."
"Ou," said Tam Wylie, "dinna be hard on the ministers.
Ministers are just like the rest o' folk. They
mind me o' last year's early tatties. They're grand
when they're gude, but the feck o' them's frostit."
"Aye," said the Deacon, "and young Gourlay's frostit
in the shaw already. I doubt it'll be a poor ingathering.
"Weel, weel," said Tam Wylie, "the mair's the pity o'
"Oh, it'th a grai-ait pity," said the Deacon, and he
bowed his body solemnly with outspread hands. "No
doubt it'th a grai-ait pity!" and he wagged his head
from side to side, the picture of a poignant woe.
"I saw him in the Black Bull yestreen," said Brodie,
who had been silent hitherto in utter scorn of the
lad they were speaking of — too disgusted to open his
mouth. "He was standing drinks to a crowd that were
puffing him up about that prize o' his."
"It's alwayth the numskull hath the most conceit,"
said the Deacon.
"And yet there must be something in him too, to get
that prize," mused the ex-Provost.
"A little ability's a dangerous thing," said Johnny
Coe, who could think at times. "To be safe you should
be a genius winged and flying, or a crawling thing that
never leaves the earth. It's the half-and-half that hell
gapes for. And owre they flap."
But nobody understood him. "Drink and vanity'll
soon make end of him," said Brodie curtly, and snubbed
Before the summer holiday was over (it lasts six
months in Scotland) young Gourlay was a habit-and-repute
tippler. His shrinking abhorrence from the
scholastic life of Edinburgh flung him with all the
greater abandon into the conviviality he had learned to
know at home. His mother (who always seemed to sit
up now, after Janet and Gourlay were in bed) often let
him in during the small hours, and, as he hurried past
her in the lobby, he would hold his breath lest she
should smell it. "You're unco late, dear," she would
say wearily, but no other reproach did she utter. "I
was taking a walk," he would answer thickly; "there's
a fine moon!" It was true that when his terrible depression
seized him, he was sometimes tempted to seek
the rapture and peace of a moonlight walk upon the
Fleckie Road. In his crude clay there was a vein of
poetry; he could be alone in the country, and not lonely;
had he lived in a green quiet place, he might have
learned the solace of nature for the wounded when eve
sheds her spiritual dews. But the mean pleasures to be
found at the Cross satisfied his nature, and stopped him
midway to that soothing beauty of the woods and
streams, which might have brought healing and a wise
quiescence. His success — such as it was — had gained
him a circle — such as it was — and the assertive nature
proper to his father's son gave him a kind of lead
amongst them. Yet even his henchmen saw through
his swaggering. Swipey Broon turned on him one night,
and threatened to split his mouth, and he went as white
as the wall behind him.
Among his other follies, he assumed the pose of a man
who could an he would, who had it in him to do great
things, if he would only set about then. In this, he was
partly playing up to a foolish opinion of his more ignorant
associates; it was they who suggested the pose to
him. "Devilish clever!" he heard them whisper one
night as he stood in the door of a tavern; "he could do
it if he liked, only he's too fond o' the fun." Young
Gourlay flushed where he stood in the darkness, flushed
with pleasure at the criticism of his character which was,
nevertheless, a compliment to his wits. He felt that he
must play up at once to the character assigned him.
"Ho, ho, my lads!" he cried, entering with a splurge,
"let's make a night o't. I should be working for my
degree to-night, but I suppose I can get it easy enough
when the time comes." "What did I tell ye?" said
McCraw, nudging an elbow — and Gourlay saw the
nudge. Here at last he had found the sweet seduction
of a proper pose — that of a grand homme manqué, of a
man who would be a genius were it not for the excess of
his qualities. Would he continue to appear a genius,
then he must continue to display that excess which —
so he wished them to believe — alone prevented his brilliant
achievements. It was all a curious vicious inversion.
"You could do great things if you didn't drink,"
crooned the fools. "See how I drink," Gourlay seemed
to answer — "that is why I don't do great things. But,
mind you, I could do them, were it not for this." Thus
every glass he tossed off seemed to hint in a roundabout
way at the glorious heights he might attain if he didn't
drink it. His very roystering became a pose, and his
vanity made him royster the more, to make the pose
ON a beautiful evening in September, when a new
crescent moon was pointing through the saffron sky like
the lit tip of a finger, the City Fathers had assembled
at the corner of the Fleckie Road. Though the moon
was peeping, the dying glory of the day was still upon
the town. The white smoke rose straight and far in
the golden mystery of the heavens, and a line of dark
roofs, transfigured against the west, wooed the eye to
musing. But though the bodies felt the fine evening
bathe them in a sensuous content, as they smoked and
dawdled, they gave never a thought to its beauty. For
there had been a blitheness in the town that day, and
every other man seemed to have been preeing the demi-john.
Drucken Wabster and Brown the ragman came round
the corner, staggering.
"Young Gourlay's drunk!" blurted Wabster — and
reeled himself as he spoke.
"Is he a wee fou?" said the Deacon eagerly.
"Wee be damned," said Wabster; "he's as fou as the
Baltic Sea! If you wait here, you'll be sure to see him!
He'll be round the corner directly."
"De-ar me, is he so bad as that?" said the ex-Provost,
raising his hands in solemn reprobation. He raised
his eyes to heaven at the same time, as if it pained them
to look on a world that endured the burden of a young
Gourlay. "In broad daylight, too!" he sighed.
"De-ar me, has he come to this?"
"Yis, Pravast," hiccupped Brown, "he has! He's as
phull of drink as a whelk-shell's phull of whelk. He's
nearly as phull as meself. — And begorra, that's mighty
phull," he stared suddenly, scratching his head solemnly
as if the fact had just occurred to him. Then he winked.
"You could set fire to his braith!" cried Wabster.
"A match to his mouth would send him in a lowe."
"A living gas jet! " said Brown.
They staggered away, sometimes rubbing shoulders
as they lurched together, sometimes with the road between
"I kenned young Gourlay was on the fuddle when I
saw him swinging off this morning in his greatcoat,"
cried Sandy Toddle. "There was debauch in the flap
o' the tails o't.''
"Man, have you noticed that, too!" cried another
eagerly. "He's aye warst wi' the coat on!"
"Clothes undoubtedly affect the character," said
Johnny Coe. "It takes a gentleman to wear a lordly
coat without swaggering."
"There's not a doubt o' tha-at!" approved the baker,
who was merry with his day's carousal; "there's not a
doubt o' tha-at! Claes affect the disposeetion. I mind
when I was a young chap I had a grand pair o' breeks —
Wull I ca'ed them — unco decent breeks they were, I
mind, lang and swankie like a ploughman — and I aye
thocht I was a tremendous honest and hamely fallow
when I had them on! And I had a verra disreputable
hat," he added — "Rab I christened him for he was a
perfect devil — and I never cocked him owre my lug on
nichts at e'en but 'Baker!' he seemed to whisper,
'Baker! Let us go out and do a bash!' — And we generally
"You're a wonderful man!" piped the Deacon.
"We may as well wait and see young Gourlay going
bye," said the ex-Provost. "He'll likely be a sad spectacle."
"Ith auld Gourlay on the thtreet the nicht?" cried
the Deacon eagerly. "I wonder will he thee the youngster
afore he gets hame! Eh, man —" he bent his knees
with staring delight — "eh, man, if they would only
meet forenenst uth! Hoo! "
"He's a regular waster," said Brodie. "When a silly
young blood takes a fancy to a girl in a public house
he's always done for — I've observed it times without
number. At first he lets on that he merely gangs in
for a drink; what he really wants, however, is to see the
girl. Even if he's no great toper to begin with, he must
show himself fond o' the dram, as a means of getting to
his jo. Then, before he kens where he is, the habit
has gripped him. That's a gate mony a ane gangs."
"That's verra true — now that ye mention't," gravely
assented the ex-Provost. His opinion of Brodie's sagacity,
high already, was enhanced by the remark. "Indeed,
that's verra true. But how does't apply to young
Gourlay in particular, Thomas? Is he after some damsel
o' the gill-stoup? "
"Ou aye — he's ta'en a fancy to yon bit shilp in the
barroom o' the Red Lion. He's always hinging owre
the counter talking till her, a cigarette dropping from
his face, and a half-fu' tumbler at his elbow. When a
young chap takes to hinging round bars, ae elbow on
the counter and a hand on his other hip, I have verra
bad brows o' him always; verra bad brows, indeed. Oh
— oh, young Gourlay's just a goner! a goner, sirs; a
"Have ye heard about him at the Skeighan Fair?"
said Sandy Toddle.
"No, man!" said Brodie, bowing down and keeking
at Toddle in his interest; "I hadna heard about tha-at!
Is this a new thing?"
"Oh, just at the fair; the other day, ye know!"
"Aye, man, Sandy!" said big Brodie, stooping down
to Toddle to get near the news; "and what was it,
"Ou, just drinking, ye know; wi' — wi' Swipey Broon
— and, eh, and that McCraw, ye know — and Sandy Hull
— and a wheen mair o' that kind — ye ken the kind; a
verra bad lot!" said Sandy, and wagged a disapproving
pow. "Here they all got as drunk as drunk could be, and
started fighting wi' the colliers! Young Gourlay got a
bloodied nose! Then nothing would serve him but he
must drive back wi' young Pin-oe, who was even drunker
than himsell. They drove at sic a rate that when they
dashed from this side o' Skeighan Drone, the stour o'
their career was rising at the far-end. They roared and
sang till it was a perfect affront to God's day, and frae
sidie to sidie they swung till the splash-brods were
skreighing on the wheels. At a quick turn o' the road
they wintled owre; and there they were, sitting on their
dowps in the atoms o' the gig, and glowering frae them!
When young Gourlay slid hame at dark, he was in such
a state that his mother had to hide him frae the auld
man. She had that, puir body! The twa women were
obliged to carry the drunk lump to his bedroom — and
yon lassie far ga'en in consumption, too, they tell me!
On, he was in a perfectly awful condition; perfectly
"Aye, man," nodded Brodie. "I hadna heard o't. —
Curious that I didna hear o' that!"
"It was Drucken Wabster's wife that telled it.
There's not a haet that happens at the Gourlays but she
clypes. I spiered her mysell, and she says young Gourlay
has a black eye."
"Aye, aye; there'th thmall hope for the Gourlayth in
him!" said the Deacon.
"How do you ken?" cried the baker. "He's no the
first youngster I've seen the wiseacres o' the world wagging
their sagacious pows owre; and, eh, but he was this
waster! — according to their way of it — and, oh, but he
was the other waster! and, ochonee, but he was the wild
fellow! — and a' the while they werena fit to be his door
mat; for it was only the fire in the ruffian made him
seem sae daft."
"True!" said the ex-Provost; "true! Still there's
a decency in daftness. And there's no decency in young
Gourlay. He's just a mouth! 'Start canny and you'll
steer weel,' my mother used to say; but he has started
unco ill, and he'll steer to ruin."
"Dinna spae ill-fortune!" said the baker, "dinna
spae ill-fortune! And never despise a youngster for a
random start. It's the blood makes a breenge."
"Well, I like young men to be quiet," said Sandy
Toddle. "I would rather have them a wee soft than
"Not I!" said the baker. "If I had a son, I would
rather an ill deil sat fornenst me at the table, than parratch
in a poke. Burns (God rest his banes!) struck
the he'rt o't. Ye mind what he said o' Prince Geordie:
"Yet mony a ragged cowte's been known
To mak a noble aiver;
And ye may doucely fill a Throne,
For a' their clishmaclaver;
There Him at Agincourt wha shone,
Few better were or braver;
And yet wi' funny queer Sir John
He was an unco shaver
For monie a day.'
"Dam't, but Burns is gude."
"Huts man, dinna sweer sae muckle!" frowned the
"On, there's waur than an oath now and than," said
the baker. "Like spice in a bun it lends a briskness.
But it needs the hearty manner wi't. The Deacon there
couldna let blatter wi' a hearty oath to save his withered
sowl. I kenned a trifle o' a fellow that got in among
a jovial gang lang-syne that used to sweer tremendous,
and he bude to do the same the bit bodie — so he used
to say 'Dim it!' in a wee sma voice that was clean
rideec'lous. — He was a lauchable dirt, that."
"What was his name?" said Sandy Toddle.
"Your ain," said the baker. (To tell the truth, he
was gey fou.) "Alexander Toddle was his name: 'Dim
it!' he used to squeak, for he had been a Scotch cuddy
in the Midlands, and whiles he used the English. 'Dim
it!' said he. I like a man that says 'Dahm't.'"
"Aye, but then, you thee, you're an artitht in wordth,"
said the Deacon.
"Ye're an artist in spite," said the baker.
"Ah, well," said the ex-Provost, "Burns proved to be
wrang in the end o't, and you'll maybe be the same.
George the Fort' didna fill the throne verra doucely for
a' their cleishmaclaver, and I don't think young Gourlay'll
fill the pulpit verra doucely for a' ours. For he's
saftie and daftie baith — and that's the deidly combination.
At least, that's my opinion," quoth he, and
smacked his lips, the important man.
"Tyuts," said the baker, "folk should be kind to
folk. There may be a possibeelity for the Gourlays in
the youngster yet!"
He would have said more, but at that moment his
sonsy big wife came out, with oh! such a roguish and
kindly smile, and "Tom, Tom," said she, "what are
ye havering here for? C'way in, man, and have a dish
o' tea wi' me!"
He glanced up at her with comic shrewdness from
where he sat on his hunkers — for fine he saw through
her — and "Ou aye," said he, "ye great muckle fat
hotch o' a dacent bodie, ye — I'll gang in and have a dish
o' tea wi' ye." And away went the fine fuddled fellow.
"She's a wise woman, that," said the ex-Provost looking
after them. "She kenned no to flyte, and he went
like a lamb."
"I believe he'th feared o' her," snapped the Deacon,
"or he wudny-un went thae lamb-like!"
"Leave him alone!" said Johnny Coe, who had been
drinking too. "He's the only kind heart in Barbie.
And Gourlav's the only gentleman."
"Gentleman!" cried Sandy Toddle. "Lord save us!
Auld Gourlay a gentleman!"
"Yes, gentleman!" said Johnny, to whom the drink
gave a courage. "Brute, if ye like, but aristocrat frae
scalp to heel. If he had brains, and a dacent wife, and
a bigger field — oh, man," said Johnny, visioning the
possibility, "Auld Gourla could conquer the world, if
he swalled his neck till't."
"It would be a big conquest that! " said the Deacon.
— "Here comes his son taking his ain share o' the earth
at ony rate."
Young Gourlay came staggering round the corner,
"a little sprung" (as they phrase it in Barbie), but not
so bad as they had hoped to see him. Webster and the
ragman had exaggerated the condition of their fellow-toper.
Probably their own oscillation lent itself to
everything they saw. John zig-zagged, it is true, but
otherwise he was fairly steady on his pins. Unluckily,
however, failing to see a stone before on the road, he
tripped and went sprawling on his hands and knees.
A titter went.
"What the hell are you laughing at?" he snarled,
leaping up; quick to feel the slight, blatant to resent it.
"Tyuts man!" Tam Wylie rebuked him in a careless
With a parting scowl he went swaggering up the
"Aye!" said Toddle drily, "that's the Gourlay possibeelity."
"AH, ha, Deacon, my old cock, here you are!" The
speaker smote the Deacon between his thin shoulder-blades,
till the hat leapt on his startled cranium. "No,
not a lengthy stay — just down for a flying visit to see
my little girl. Dem'd glad to get back to town againBarbie's
too quiet for my tastes. No life in the place,
no life at all!"
The speaker was Davie Aird, draper and buck. "No
life at all," he cried, as he shot down his cuffs with a
jerk, and swung up and down the barroom of the Red
Lion. He was dressed in a long fawn overcoat reaching
to his heels, with two big yellow buttons at the waist
behind, in the most approved fashion of the horsey.
He paused in his swaggering to survey the backs of his
long white delicate hands, holding them side by side
before him, as if to make sure they were the same size.
He was letting the Deacon see his ring. Then pursing
his chin down, with a fastidious and critical regard, he
picked a long fair hair off his left coat-sleeve. He held
it high as he had seen them do on the stage of the Theatre
Royal. "Sweet souvenir!" he cried, and kissed it,
"most dear remembrance!"
The Deacon fed on the sight. The richness of his
satiric perception was too great to permit of speech.
He could only gloat and be dumb.
"Waiting for Jack Gourlay," Aird rattled again.
"He's off to College again, and we're driving in his
father's trap to meet the express at Skeighan Station.
Wonder what's keeping the fellow. I like a man to be
punctual. Business training, you see — yes, by Gad, two
thousand parcels a week go out of our place, and all of
'em up to time! Ah, there he is," he added, as the
harsh grind of wheels was heard on the gravel at the
door. "Thank God, we'll soon be in civilisation."
Young Gourlay entered great-coated and lordly,
through the two halves of that easy-swinging door.
"Good!" he cried. "Just a minute, Aird, till I get
my flask filled."
"My weapon's primed and ready," Aird ha-ha'd, and
slapped the breast pocket of his coat.
John birled a bright sovereign on the counter, one of
twenty old Gourlay had battered his brains to get together
for the boy's expenses. The young fellow rattled
the change into his trouser-pocket like a master of millions.
The Deacon, and another idler or two, gathered about
the steps in the darkness, to see that royal going off.
Peter Riney's bunched-up little old figure could be seen
on the front seat of the gig; Aird was already mounted
behind. The mare (a worthy successor to Spanking
Tam) pawed the gravel and fretted in impatience; her
sharp ears, seen pricked against the gloom, worked to
and fro. A widening cone of light shone out from the
leftward lamp of the gig, full on a glistering laurel,
which Simpson had growing by his porch. Each
smooth leaf of the green bush gave back a separate
gleam, vivid to the eye in that pouring yellowness.
Gourlay stared at the bright evergreen, and forgot for
a moment where he was. His lips parted, and — as they
saw in the light from the door — his look grew dreamy
The truth was that all the impressions of a last day at
home were bitten in on his brain as by acid, in the very
middle of his swaggering gusto. That gusto was
largely real, true, for it seemed a fine thing to go
splurging off to College in a gig; but it was still more
largely assumed, to combat the sorrow of departure.
His heart was in his boots at the thought of going back
to accursed Edinburgh — to those lodgings, those dreary,
damnable lodgings. Thus his nature was reduced to
its real elements in the hour of leaving home; it was
only for a swift moment he forgot to splurge, but for
that moment the cloak of his swaggering dropped away
and he was his naked self, morbidly alive to the impressions
of the world, afraid of life, clinging to the familiar
and the known. That was why he gazed with wistful
eyes at that laurel clump, so vivid in the pouring rays.
So vivid there, it stood for all the dear country round
which was now hidden by the darkness; it centred his
world among its leaves. It was a last picture of loved
Barbie that was fastening on his mind. There would be
fine gardens in Edinburgh, no doubt, but, oh, that
couthie laurel by the Red Lion door! It was his
friend; he had known it always.
The spell lasted but a moment, one of those moments
searching a man's nature to its depths, yet flitting like
a lonely shadow on the autumn wheat. But Aird was
already fidgetting. "Hurry up, Jack," he cried, "we'll
need to pelt if we mean to get the train."
Gourlay started. In a moment he had slipped from
one self to another, and was the blusterer once more.
"Right!" he splurged, "hover a blink till I light my
He was not in the habit of smoking cigars, but he had
bought a packet on purpose, that he might light one
before his admiring onlookers ere he went away. Nothing
like cutting a dash.
He was seen puffing for a moment with indrawn
cheeks, his head to one side, the flame of the flickering
vesta lighting up his face, his hat pushed back till it
rested on his collar, his fair hair hanging down his
brow. Then he sprang to the driving seat and gathered
up the reins. "Ta-ta, Deacon; see and behave
yourself!" he flung across his shoulder, and they were
off with a bound.
"Im-pidenth!" said the outraged Deacon.
Peter Riney was quite proud to have the honour of
driving two such bucks to the station. It lent him a
consequence; he would be able to say when he came
back that he had been "awa wi' the young mester " —
for Peter said "mester," and was laughed at by the
Barbie wits who knew that "maister" was the proper
English. The splurging twain rallied him and drew
him out in talk, passed him their flasks at the Brownie's
Brae, had him tee-heeing at their nonsense. It was a
full-blooded night to the withered little man.
That was how young Gourlay left Barbie for what was
to prove his last session at the University.
All Gourlay's swankie chaps had gone with the going
of his trade; only Peter Riney, the queer little oddity,
remained. There was a loyal simplicity in Peter which
never allowed him to question the Gourlays. He had
been too long in their service to be of use to any other;
while there was a hand's turn to be done about the
House with the Green Shutters, he was glad to have
the chance of doing it. His respect for his surly tyrant
was as great as ever; he took his pittance of a wage and
was thankful. Above all he worshipped young Gourlay;
to be in touch with a College-bred man was a reflected
glory; even the escapades noised about the little
town, to his gleeful ignorance, were the signs of a man
of the world. Peter chuckled when he heard them
talked of. "Terr'ble clever fallow, the young mester! "
the bowed little man would say, sucking his pipe of an
evening, "terr'ble clever fallow, the young mester —
and hardy, too; infernal hardy!" Loyal Peter believed
But ere four months had gone, Peter was discharged.
It was on the day after Gourlay sold Black Sally, the
mare, to get a little money to go on with.
It was a bright spring day, of enervating softness, a
fosie day, a day when the pores of everything seemed
opened. People's brains felt pulpy, and they sniffed
as with winter's colds. Peter Riney was opening a pit
of potatoes in the big garden, shovelling aside the foot-deep
mould, and tearing off the inner covering of yellow
straw — which seemed strange and unnatural, somehow,
when suddenly revealed in its glistening dryness, beneath
the moist dark earth. Little crumbles of mould
trickled down, in among the flattened shining straws.
In a tree near Peter, two pigeons were gurgling and
rookety-cooing, mating for the coming year. He fell to
sorting out the potatoes, throwing the bad ones on a
heap aside — "tattie-walin," as they call it in the north.
The enervating softness was at work on Peter's head,
too, and from time to time, as he waled, he wiped his
nose on his sleeve.
Gourlay watched him for a long time without speaking.
Once or twice he moistened his lips, and cleared
his throat, and frowned — as one who would broach unpleasant
news. It was not like him to hesitate. But the
old man, encased in senility, was ill to disturb; he was
intent on nothing but the work before him; it was mechanical
and soothing and occupied his whole mind.
Gourlay, so often the trampling brute without knowing
it, felt it brutal to wound the faithful old creature
dreaming at his toil. He would have found it much
easier to discharge a younger and a keener man.
"Stop, Peter," he said at last; "I don't need you ainy
Peter rose stiffly from his knees and shook the mould
with a pitiful gesture from his hands. His mouth was
fallen slack, and showed a few yellow tusks.
"Eh?" he asked vaguely. The thought that he must
leave the Gourlays could not penetrate his mind.
"I don't need you ainy more," said Gourlay again, and
met his eye steadily.
"I'm gey auld," said Peter, still shaking his hands
with that pitiful gesture, "but I only need a bite and a
sup. Man, I'm willin' to tak onything."
"It's no that," said Gourlay sourly, "it's no that.
But I'm giving up the business."
Peter said nothing, but gazed away down the garden,
his sunken mouth forgetting to munch its straw, which
dangled by his chin. "I'm an auld servant," he said
at last, "and mind ye," he flashed in pride, "I'm a
"Oh, you're a' that," Gourlay grunted; "you have
been a good servant."
"It'll be the poorhouse, it's like," mused Peter.
"Man, have ye noathing for us to do?" he asked pleadingly.
Gourlay's jaw clamped. " Noathing, Peter," he said
sullenly, "noathing"; and slipped some money into
Peter's heedless palm.
Peter stared stupidly down at the coins. He seemed
dazed. "Aye, weel," he said; "I'll feenish the tatties at
"No, no, Peter," and Gourlay gripped him by the
shoulder as he turned back to his work, "no, no; I have
no right to keep you. Never mind about the money —
you deserve something, going so suddenly after sic a long
service. It's just a bit present to mind you o' — to mind
you o' — " he broke off suddenly and scowled across the
Some men, when a feeling touches them, express
their emotion in tears; others by an angry scowl — hating
themselves inwardly, perhaps, for their weakness in being
moved, hating, too, the occasion that has probed
their weakness. It was because he felt parting with
Peter so keenly that Gourlay behaved more sullenly
than usual. Peter had been with Gourlay's father in
his present master's boyhood, had always been faithful
and submissive; in his humble way was nearer the grain
merchant than any other man in Barbie. He was the
only human being Gourlay had ever deigned to joke
with; and that, in itself, won him an affection. More,
the going of Peter meant the going of everything. It
cut Gourlay to the quick. Therefore he scowled.
Without a word of thanks for the money, Peter
knocked the mould off his heavy boots, striking one
against the other clumsily, and shuffled away across the
bare soil. But when he had gone twenty yards, he
stopped, and came back slowly. "Good-bye, sir," he
said with a rueful smile, and held out his hand.
Gourlay gripped it. "Good-bye, Peter! good-bye;
damn ye, man, good-bye! "
Peter wondered vaguely why he was sworn at. But
he felt that it was not in anger. He still clung to his
master's hand. "I've been fifty year wi' the Gourlays,"
said he. "Aye, aye; and this, it seems, is the end o't."
"Oh, gang away!" cried Gourlay, "gang away,
man!" And Peter went away.
Gourlay went out to the big green gate where he had
often stood in his pride, and watched his old servant
going down the street. Peter was so bowed that the
back of his velveteen coat was half-way up his spine, and
the bulging pockets at the corners were mid-way down
his thighs. Gourlay had seen the fact a thousand tines,
but it never gripped him before. He stared till Peter
disappeared round the Bend o' the Brae.
"Aye, aye," said he "aye, aye. There goes the last
It was a final run of ill-luck that brought Gourlay to
this desperate pass. When everything seemed to go
against him, he tried several speculations, with a gambler's
hope that they might do well, and retrieve the
situation. He abandoned the sensible direction of
affairs, that is, and trusted entirely to chance, as men are
apt to do when despairing. And chance betrayed him.
He found himself of a sudden at the end of his resources.
Through all his troubles his one consolation was the
fact that he had sent John to the University. That was
something saved from the wreck at any rate. More and
more, as his other supports fell away, Gourlay attached
himself to the future of his son. It became the sheet-anchor
of his hopes. If he had remained a prosperous
man John's success would have been merely incidental,
something to disconsider in speech, at least, however
pleased he might have been at heart. But now it was
the whole of life to him. For one thing, the son's success
would justify the father's past and prevent it being
quite useless; it would have produced a minister, a successful
man, one of an esteemed profession. Again,
that success would be a salve to Gourlay's wounded
pride; the Gourlays would show Barbie they could flourish
yet, in spite of their present downcome. Thus, in
the collapse of his fortunes, the son grew all-important
in the father's eyes. Nor did his own poverty seem to
him a just bar to his son's prosperity. "I have put him
through his Arts," thought Gourlay; "surely he can do
the rest himsell. Lots of young chaps, when they
warstle through their Arts, teach the sons of swells to
get a little money to gang through Diveenity. My boy
can surely do the like!" Again and again, as Gourlay
felt himself slipping under in the world of Barbie, his
hopes turned to John in Edinburgh. If that boy would
only hurry up and get through, to make a hame for the
lassie and the auld wife!
YOUNG Gourlay spent that winter in Edinburgh
pretty much as he had spent the last. Last winter, however,
it was simply a weak need for companionship that
drew him to the Howff. This winter it was more, it
was the need of a formed habit that must have its
wonted satisfaction. He had a further impulse to conviviality
now. It had become a habit that compelled
The diversions of some men are merely subsidiary to
their lives, externals easy to be dropped; with others
they usurp the man. They usurp a life when it is never
happy away from them, when in the midst of other occupations
absent pleasures rise vivid to the mind, with
an irresistible call. Young Gourlay's too-seeing imagination,
always visioning absent delights, combined with
his weakness of will, never gripping to the work before
him, to make him hate his lonely studies and long for
the jolly company of his friends. He never opened his
books of an evening but he thought to himself: "I wonder
what they're doing at the Howff to-night?" At
once he visualized the scene, imagined every detail, saw
them in their jovial hours. And, seeing them so happy,
he longed to be with them. On that night, long ago,
when his father ordered him to College, his cowardly
and too vivid mind thought of the ploys the fellows
would be having along the Barbie roads, while he was
mewed up in Edinburgh. He saw the Barbie rollickers
in his mind's eye, and the student in his lonely rooms,
and contrasted them mournfully. So now, every night,
he saw the cosy companions in their Howff, and shivered
at his own isolation. He felt a tugging at his
heart to be off and join them. And his will was so weak
that, nine times out of ten, he made no resistance to the
He had always a feeling of depression when he must
sit down to his books. It was the start that gravelled
him. He would look round his room and hate it, mutter
"Damn it, I must work" — and then, with a heavy
sigh, would seat himself before an outspread volume on
the table, tugging the hair on a puckered forehead.
Sometimes the depression left him, when he buckled to
his work; as his mind became occupied with other things
the vision of the Howff was expelled. Usually, however,
the stiffness of his brains made the reading drag
heavily, and he rarely attained the sufficing happiness
of a student eager and engrossed. At the end of ten
minutes he would be gaping across the table, and wondering
what they were doing at the Howff. "Will Logan
be singing 'Tam Glen?' Or is Gillespie fiddling
Highland tunes, by Jing, with his elbow going it merrily?
Lord! I would like to hear Miss Drummond o'
Perth' or 'Gray Daylicht' — they might buck me up a
bit. I'll just slip out for ten minutes, to to see what
they're doing, and be back directly. "He came back at
two in the morning, staggering.
On a bleak spring evening, near the end of February,
young Gourlay had gone to the Howff, to escape the
shuddering misery of the streets. It was that treacherous
spring weather which blights. Only two days ago,
the air had been sluggish and balmy; now an easterly
wind nipped the grey city, naked and bare. There was
light enough, with the lengthening days, to see, plainly,
the rawness of the world. There were cold yellow
gleams in windows fronting a lonely west. Uncertain
little puffs of wind came swirling round corners, and
made dust, and pieces of dirty white paper, gyrate on
the roads. Prosperous old gentlemen pacing home, rotund
in their buttoned-up coats, had clear drops at
the end of their noses. Sometimes they stopped — their
trouser-legs flapping behind them — and trumpetted
loudly into red silk handkerchiefs. Young Gourlay
had fled the streets. It was the kind of night that
made him cower.
By eight o'clock, however, he was merry with the barley-bree,
and making a butt of himself to amuse the
company. He was not quick-witted enough to banter
a comrade readily, nor hardy enough to essay it unprovoked;
on the other hand his swaggering love of notice
impelled him to some form of talk that would attract
attention. So he made a point of always coming with
daft stories of things comic that befell him — at least, he
said they did. But if his efforts were greeted with too
loud a roar, implying not only appreciation of the
stories, but also a contempt for the man who could tell
them of himself, his sensitive vanity was immediately
wounded, and he swelled with sulky anger. And the
moment after he would splurge and bluster to reassert
"I remember when I was a boy," he hiccuped, "I had
a pet goose at home."
There was a titter at the queer beginning.
"I was to get the price of it for myself, and so when
Christmas drew near, I went to old MacFarlane, the
poulterer in Skeighan. ''Will you buy a goose?' said I.
'Are ye for sale, my man?' was his answer."
Armstrong flung back his head and roared, prolonging
the loud ho-ho! through his big nose and open mouth
long after the impulse to honest laughter was exhausted.
He always laughed with false loudness, to indicate his
own superiority, when he thought a man had been
guilty of a public silliness. The laugh was meant to
show the company how far above such folly was Mr.
Gourlay scowled. "Damn Armstrong!" he thought,
"what did he yell like that for? Does he think I didn't
see the point of the joke against myself? Would I have
told it if I hadn't? This is what comes of being sensitive.
I'm always too sensitive! I felt there was an
awkward silence, and I told a story against myself to
dispel it in fun, and this is what I get for't. Curse the
big brute, he thinks I have given myself away. But
I'll show him!"
He was already mellow, but he took another swig to
hearten him, as was his habit.
"There's a damned sight too much yell about your
laugh, Armstrong," he said, truly enough, getting a
courage from his anger and the drink. "No gentleman
laughs like that."
"'Risu inepto res ineptior nulla est,'" said Tarmillan,
who was on one of his rare visits to the Howff. He was
too busy and too wise a man to frequent it greatly.
Armstrong blushed; and Gourlay grew big and brave,
in the backing of the great Tarmillan. He took another
swig on the strength of it. But his resentment was
still surging. When Tarmillan went, and the three
students were left by themselves, Gourlay continued to
nag and bluster, for that blatant laugh of Armstrong's
rankled in his mind.
"I saw Hepburn in the street to-day," said Gillespie,
by way of a diversion.
"Who's Hepburn?" snapped Gourlay.
"Oh, don't you remember? He's the big Border
chap who got into a row with auld Tam on the day you
won your prize essay." (That should surely appease
the fool, thought Gillespie.) "It was only for the fun
of the thing Hepburn was at College, for he has lots of
money; and, here, he never apologized to Tam! He said
he would go down first."
"He was damned right," spluttered Gourlay. "Some
of these Profs. think too much of themselves. They
wouldn't bully me! There's good stuff in the Gourlays,"
he went on with a meaning look at Armstrong;
"they're not to be scoffed at. I would stand insolence
from no man."
"Aye, man," said Armstrong," would you face up to
a professor? "
"Wouldn't I?" said the tipsy youth, "and to you,
too, if you went too far."
He became so quarrelsome as the night went on that
his comrades filled him up with drink, in the hope of
deadening his ruffled sensibilities. It was "Yes, yes,
Jack; but never mind about that! Have another drink,
just to show there's no ill-feeling among friends."
When they left the Howff they went to Gillespie's and
drank more, and, after that, they roamed about the
town. At two in the morning the other two brought
Gourlay to his door. He was assuring Armstrong he
was not a gentleman.
When he went to bed the fancied insult he had suffered
swelled to monstrous proportions in his fevered
brain. Did Armstrong despise him? The thought was
poison! He lay in brooding anger, and his mind was
fluent in wrathful harangues in some imaginary encounter
of the future, in which he was a glorious victor.
He flowed in eloquent scorn of Armstrong and his ways.
If I could talk like this always, he thought, what a fellow
I would be! He seemed gifted with uncanny insight
into Armstrong's character. He noted every
weakness in the rushing whirl of his thoughts, set them
in order one by one, saw himself laying bare the man
with savage glee when next they should encounter. He
would whiten the big brute's face by shewing he had
probed him to the quick. Just let him laugh at me
again, thought Gourlay, and I'll analyse each mean
quirk of his dirty soul to him!
The drink was dying in him now, for the trio had
walked for more than an hour through the open air
when they left Gillespie's rooms. The stupefaction of
alcohol was gone, leaving his brain morbidly alive. He
was anxious to sleep, but drowsy dullness kept away.
His mind began to visualise of its own accord, independent
of his will; and, one after another, a crowd of pictures
rose vivid in the darkness of his brain. He saw
them as plainly as you see this page — but with a different
clearness — for they seemed unnatural, belonging to
a morbid world. Nor did one suggest the other; there
was no connection between them; each came vivid of
its own accord.
First it was an old pit-frame on a barren moor, gaunt
against the yellow west. Gourlay saw bars of iron, left
when the pit was abandoned, reddened by the rain; and
the mounds of rubbish, and the scattered bricks, and the
rusty clinkers from the furnace, and the melancholy
shining pools. A four-wheeled old trolley had lost two
of its wheels, and was tilted at a slant, one square end
of it resting on the ground.
"Why do I think of an old pit?" he thought angrily;
"curse it, why can't I sleep?"
Next moment he was gazing at a ruined castle, its
mouldering walls mounded atop with decaying rubble;
from a loose crumb of mortar, a long, thin film of the
spider's weaving stretched bellying away, to a tall weed
waving on the crazy brink — Gourlay saw its glisten in
the wind. He saw each crack in the wall, each stain of
lichen; a myriad details stamped themselves together on
his raw mind. Then a constant procession of figures
passed across the inner curtain of his closed eyes. Each
figure was cowled; but when it came directly opposite,
it turned and looked at him with a white face. "Stop,
stop!" cried his mind, "I don't want to think of you.
I don't want to think of you, I don't want to think of
you! Go away!" But as they came of themselves, so
they went of themselves. He could not banish them.
He turned on his side, but a hundred other pictures
pursued him. From an inland hollow he saw the great
dawn flooding up from the sea, over a sharp line of
cliff, wave after wave of brilliance surging up the heavens.
The landward slope of the cliff was gray with
dew. The inland hollow was full of little fields, divided
by stone walls, and he could not have recalled
the fields round Barbie with half their distinctness.
For a moment they possessed his brain. Then an autumn
wood rose on his vision. He was gazing down a
vista of yellow leaves; a long, deep slanting cleft, framed
in lit foliage. Leaves, leaves; everywhere yellow leaves,
luminous, burning. He saw them falling through the
lucid air. The scene was as vivid as fire to his brain,
though of magic stillness. Then the foliage changed
suddenly to great serpents twined about the boughs.
Their colours were of monstrous beauty. They glistened
as they moved.
He leapt in his bed with a throb of horror. Could
this be the delirium of drink? But no; he had often
had an experience like this when he was sleepless; he
had the learned description of it pat and ready; it was
only automatic visualisation.
Damn! Why couldn't he sleep? He flung out of
bed, uncorked a bottle with his teeth, tilted it up, and
gulped the gurgling fire in the darkness. Ha! that was
His room was already gray with the coming dawn.
He went to the window and opened it. The town was
stirring uneasily in its morning sleep. Somewhere in
the distance a train was shunting; clank, clank, clank
went the waggons. What an accursed sound! A dray
went past the end of his street rumbling hollowly, and
the rumble died drearily away. Then, the footsteps of
an early workman going to his toil were heard in the
deserted thoroughfare. Gourlay looked down and saw
him pass far beneath him on the glimmering pavement.
He was whistling. Why did the fool whistle? What
had he got to whistle about? It was unnatural that
one man should go whistling to his work, when another
had not been able to sleep the whole night long.
He took another vast glut of whiskey, and the moment
after was dead to the world.
He was awakened at eight o'clock by a monstrous
hammering on his door. By the excessive loudness of
the first knock he heard on returning to consciousness,
he knew that his landlady had lost her temper in trying
to get him up. Ere he could shout she had thumped
again. He stared at the ceiling in sullen misery. The
middle of his tongue was as dry as bark.
For his breakfast there were thick slabs of rancid
bacon, from the top of which two yellow eggs had
spewed themselves away among the cold gravy. His
gorge rose at them. He nibbled a piece of dry bread
and drained the teapot; then shouldering into his greatcoat
he tramped off to the University.
It was a wretched morning. The wind had veered
once more, and a cold drizzle of rain was falling through
a yellow fog. The reflections of the street lamps in the
sloppy pavement, went down through spiral gleams, to
an infinite depth of misery. Young Gourlay's brain was
aching from his last night's debauch, and his body was
weakened with the want both of sleep and food. The
cold yellow mist chilled him to the bone. What a fool
I was to get drunk last night, he thought. Why am I
Here? Why am I trudging through mud and misery
to the University? What has it all got to do with me?
Oh, what a fool I am, what a fool!
"Drown dull care," said the Devil in his ear.
He took a sixpence from his trouser pocket, and looked
down at the white bit of money in his hand, till it was
wet with the falling rain. Then he went into a flashy
tavern, and, standing by a sloppy bar, drank sixpenny-worth
of cheap whiskey. It went to his head at once,
owing to his want of food, and with a dull warm feeling
in his body, he lurched off to his first lecture for the
day. His outlook on the world had changed. The
fog was now a comfortable yellowness. "Freedom and
whiskey gang thegither, Tak aff your dram," he quoted
to his own mind. "That stuff did me good. Whiskey's
the boy to fettle you."
He was in his element the moment he entered the
classroom. It was a bear garden. The most moral individual
has his days of perversity when a malign fate
compels him to show the worst he has in him. A
Scotch University class — which is many most moral individuals
— has a similar eruptive tendency when it gets
into the hands of a weak professor. It will behave well
enough for a fortnight, then a morning comes when
nothing can control it. This was a morning of the
kind. The lecturer, who was an able man but a weakling,
had begun by apologising for the condition of his
voice, on the ground that he had a bad cold. Instantly
every man in the class was blowing his nose. One fellow,
of a most portentous snout, who could trumpet
like an elephant, with a last triumphant snort sent his
handkerchief across the room. When called to account
for his conduct, "Really, sir," he said, "er-er-oom —
bad cold!" Uprose a universal sneeze. Then the
"roughing" began, to the tune of "John Brown's body
lies a-mouldering in the grave" — which no man seemed
to sing, but every man could hear. They were playing
the tune with their feet.
The lecturer glared with white repugnance at his tormentors.
Young Gourlay flung himself heart and soul into the
cruel baiting. It was partly from his usual love of
showing off, partly from the drink still seething within
him; but largely, also, as a reaction from his morning's
misery. This was another way of drowning reflection.
The morbidly gloomy one moment, often shout madly
on the next.
At last the lecturer plunged wildly at the door and
flung it open. "Go!" he shrieked, and pointed in superb
A hundred and fifty barbarians sat where they
were, and laughed at him; and he must needs come
back to the platform, with a baffled and vindictive
He was just turning, as it chanced, when young Gourlay
put his hands to his mouth, and bellowed "Cock-a-doodle-do!"
Ere the roar could swell, the lecturer had leapt to the
front of the rostrum with flaming eyes. "Mr. Gourlay,"
he screamed furiously, "you there, sir; you will apologise
humbly to me for this outrage at the end of the
There was a womanish shrillness in the scream, a
kind of hysteria on the stretch, that (contrasted with his
big threat) might have provoked them at other times to
a roar of laughter. But there was a sincerity in his rage
to-day that rose above its faults of manner, and an
immediate silence took the room — the more impressive
for the former noise. Every eye turned to Gourlay.
He sat gaping at the lecturer.
If he had been swept to the anteroom there and
then, he would have been cowed by the suddenness of
his own change, from a loud tormentor in the company
of others, to a silent culprit in a room alone. And
apologies would have been ready to tumble out, while
he was thus loosened by surprise and fear.
Unluckily he had time to think, and the longer he
thought the more sullen he became. It was only an
accident that led to his discovery, while the rest escaped,
and that the others should escape, when they
were just as much to blame as he was, was an injustice
that made him furious. His anger was equally divided
between the cursed mischance itself, the teacher who
had "jumped" on him so suddenly, and the other rowdies
who had escaped to laugh at his discomfiture; he
had the same burning resentment to them all. When
he thought of his chuckling fellow-students they seemed
to engross his rage; when he thought of the mishap he
damned it and nothing else; when he thought of the
lecturer he felt he had no rage to fling away upon others
— the Snuffler took it all. As his mind shot backwards
and forwards in an angry gloom, it suddenly encountered
the image of his father. Not a professor of the lot,
he reflected, could stand the look of black Gourlay. And
he wouldn't knuckle under, either, so he wouldn't. He
came of a hardy stock. He would show them! He
wasn't going to lick dirt for any man. Let him punish
all or none, for they had all been kicking up a row —
why big Cunningham had been braying like an ass only
a minute before.
He spied Armstrong and Gillespie glinting across at
him with a curious look — they were wondering whether
he had courage enough to stand to his guns with a professor.
He knew the meaning of the look, and resented
it. He was on his mettle before them, it seemed. The
fellow who had swaggered at the Howff last night about
"what he would do if a professor jumped on him,"
mustn't prove wanting in the present trial, beneath the
eyes of those on whom he had imposed his blatancy.
When we think of what Gourlay did that day, we must
remember that he was soaked in alcohol; not merely
with his morning's potation, but with the dregs of previous
carousals. And the dregs of drink, a thorough
toper will tell you, never leave him. He is drunk on
Monday with his Saturday's debauch. As "Drucken
Wabster" of Barbie put it once, "When a body's
hard-up, his braith's a consolation." If that be so — and
Wabster, remember, was an expert whose opinion on
this matter is entitled to the highest credence — if that
be so, it proves the strength and persistence of a thorough
alcoholic impregnation, or as Wabster called it, of
"a good soak." In young Gourlay's case, at any rate,
the impregnation was enduring and complete. He was
like a rag steeped in fusel oil.
As the end of the hour drew near, he sank deeper in
his dogged sullenness. When the class streamed from
the large door on the right, he turned aside to the little
anteroom on the left, with an insolent swing of the
shoulders. He knew the fellows were watching him
curiously — he felt their eyes upon his back. And,
therefore, as he went through the little door, he stood
for a moment on his right foot, and waggled his left,
on a level with his hip behind, in a vulgar derision of
them, the professor, and the whole situation. That
was a fine taunt flung back at them!
There is nothing on earth more vindictive than a
weakling. When he gets a chance he takes revenge
for everything his past cowardice forced him to endure.
The timid lecturer, angry at the poor figure he had cut
on the platform, was glad to take it out of young Gourlay
for the wrong-doing of the class. Gourlay was their
scapegoat. The lecturer had no longer over a hundred
men to deal with, but one lout only, sullen yet
shrinking in the room before him. Instead of coming
to the point at once, he played with his victim. It was
less from intentional cruelty than from an instinctive
desire to recover his lost feeling of superiority. The
class was his master, but here was one of them he could
cowe at any rate.
"Well?" he asked, bringing his thin finger-tips together,
and flinging one thigh across the other.
Gourlay shuffled his feet uneasily.
"Yes?" enquired the other, enjoying his discomfiture.
Gourlay lowered. "Whatna gate was this to gang
on? Why couldn't he let a blatter out of his thin
mouth, and ha' done wi't?"
"I'm waiting!" said the lecturer.
The words "I apologize" rose in Gourlay, but refused
to pass his throat. No, he wouldn't, so he wouldn't!
He would see the lecturer far enough, ere he gave an
apology before it was expressly required.
"Oh, that's the line you go on, is it?" said the lecturer,
nodding his head as if he had sized up a curious
animal. "I see, I see! You add contumacy to insolence,
do you? . . . . Imphm."
Gourlay was not quite sure what contumacy meant,
and the uncertainty added to his anger.
"There were others making a noise besides me," he
blurted. "I don't see why I should be blamed for
"Oh, you don't see why you should be had up, indeed?
I think we'll bring you to a different conclusion. Yes,
I think so."
Gourlay, being forced to stand always on the one
spot, felt himself swaying in a drunken stupor. He
blinked at the lecturer like an angry owl — the blinking
regard of a sodden mind, yet fiery with a spiteful rage.
His wrath was rising and falling like a quick tide. He
would have liked one moment to give a rein to the
Gourlay temper, and let the lecturer have it hot and
strong — the next, he was quivering in a cowardly horror,
of the desperate attempt he had so nearly made. Curse
his tormentor! Why did he keep him here, when his
head was aching so badly? Another taunt was enough
to spring his drunken rage.
"I wonder what you think you came to College for?"
said the lecturer. "I have been looking at your records
in the class. They're the worst I ever saw. And you're
not content with that, it seems. You add misbehaviour
to gross stupidity."
"To Hell wi' ye!" said Gourlay.
There was a feeling in the room as if the air was
stunned. The silence throbbed.
The lecturer, who had risen, sat down suddenly as if
going at the knees, and went white about the gills.
Some men would have swept the ruffian with a burst of
generous wrath, a few might have pitied in their anger
— but this young Solomon was thin and acid, a vindictive
rat. Unable to cowe the insolent in present and
full-blooded rage, he fell to thinking of the great machine
he might set in motion to destroy him. As he
sat there in silence, his eyes grew ferrety, and a sleek
revenge peeped from the corners of his mouth. "I'll
show him what I'll do to him for this!" is a translation
of his thought. He was thinking, with great satisfaction
to himself, of how the Senatus would deal with
Gourlay grew weak with fear the moment the words
escaped him. They had been a thunderclap to his own
ears. He had been thinking them, but — as he pleaded
far within him now — had never meant to utter them;
they had been mere spume off the surge of cowardly
wrath seething up within him, longing to burst but
afraid. It was the taunt of stupidity that fired his
drunken vanity to blurt them forth.
The lecturer eyed him sideways where he shrank in
fear. "You may go," he said at last. "I will report
your conduct to the University."
Gourlay was sitting alone in his room when he heard
that he had been expelled. For many days he had
drunk to deaden fear, but he was sober now, being newly
out of bed. A dreary ray of sunshine came through the
window, and fell on a wisp of flame, blinking in the
grate. As Gourlay sat, his eyes fixed dully on the faded
ray, a flash of intuition laid his character bare to him.
He read himself ruthlessly. It was not by conscious
effort; insight was uncanny and apart from will. He saw
that blatancy had joined with weakness, morbidity with
want of brains; and that the results of these, converging
to a point, had produced the present issue, his expulsion.
His mind recognised how logical the issue was, assenting
wearily as to a problem proved. Given those qualities,
in those circumstances, what else could have happened?
And such a weakling as he knew himself to be, could
never — he thought — make effort sufficient to alter his
qualities. A sense of fatalism came over him, as of one
doomed. He bowed his head, and let his arms fall by
the sides of his chair, dropping them like a spent swimmer
ready to sink. The sudden revelation of himself
to himself had taken the heart out of him. "I'm a
waster!" he said aghast. And then, at the sound of his
own voice, a fear came over him, a fear of his own nature,
and he started to his feet and strode feverishly, as
if by mere locomotion, to escape from his clinging and
inherent ill. It was as if he were trying to run away
He faced round at the mirror on his mantel, and
looked at his own image with staring and startled eyes,
his mouth open, the breath coming hard through his
nostrils. "You're a gey ill ane," he said: "You're a
gey ill ane! My God, where have you landed yourself!"
He went out to escape from his thoughts. Instinctively
he turned to the Howff for consolation.
With the panic despair of the weak, he abandoned
hope of his character at its first collapse, and plunged
into a wild debauch, to avoid reflecting where it would
lead him in the end. But he had a more definite reason
for prolonging his bout in Edinburgh. He was afraid
to go home and meet his father. He shrank, in visioning
fear, before the dour face, loaded with scorn, that
would swing round to meet him as he entered through
the door. Though he swore every night in his cups
that he would "square up to the Governor the morn,
so he would!" always, when the cold light came, fear
of the interview drove him to his cups again. His
courage zigzagged, as it always did; one moment
he towered in imagination, the next he grovelled in
Sometimes, when he was fired with whiskey, another
element entered into his mood, no less big with destruction.
It was all his father's fault for sending him
to Edinburgh, and no matter what happened, it would
serve the old fellow right! He had a kind of fierce satisfaction
in his own ruin, because his ruin would show
them at home what a mistake they had made in sending
him to College. It was the old man's tyranny, in forcing
him to College, that had brought all this on his miserable
head. Well, he was damned glad, so he was, that
they should be punished at home by their own foolish
scheme — it had punished him enough, for one. And
then he would set his month insolent and hard, and
drink the more fiercely, finding a consolation in the
thought that his tyrannical father would suffer through
his degradation, too.
At last he must go home. He drifted to the station
aimlessly; he had ceased to be self-determined. His
compartment happened to be empty; so, free to behave
as he liked, he yelled music-hall snatches in a tuneless
voice, hammering with his feet on the wooden floor.
The noise pleased his sodden mind which had narrowed
to a comfortable stupor — outside of which his troubles
seemed to lie, as if they belonged not to him but to
somebody else. With the same sodden interest he was
staring through the window, at one of the little stations
on the line, when a boy, pointing, said, "Flat white
nose!" and Gourlay laughed uproariously, adding at the
end: "He's a clever chield, that; my nose would look
fiat and white against the pane." But this outbreak of
mirth seemed to break in on his comfortable vagueness;
it roused him by a kind of reaction to think of home,
and of what his father would say. A minute after he
had been laughing so madly, he was staring sullenly in
front of him. Well, it didn't matter; it was all the
old fellow's fault, and he wasn't going to stand any
of his jaw. "None of your jaw, John Gourlay!"
he said, nodding his head viciously, and thrusting
out his clenched fist, "none of your jaw, d'ye
He crept into Barbie through the dusk. It had been
market day and knots of people were still about the
streets. Gourlay stole softly through the shadows, and
turned his coat-collar high about his ears. He nearly
ran into two men who were talking apart, and his heart
stopped dead at their words.
"No, no, Mr. Gourlay," said one of them, "it's quite
impossible. I'm not unwilling to oblige ye, but I cannot
take the risk."
John heard the mumble of his father's voice.
"Well," said the other reluctantly, "if ye get the
baker and Tam Wylie for security? I'll be on the
street for another half hour."
"Another half hour!" thought John with relief.
He would not have to face his father the moment he
went in. He would be able to get home before him.
He crept on through the gloaming to the House with
the Green Shutters.
THERE had been fine cackling in Barbie, as Gourlay's
men dropped away from him one by one; and now it was
worse than ever. When Jimmy Bain and Sandy Cross
were dismissed last winter, "He canna last long now,"
mused the bodies, and then when even Riney got the
sack, "Lord!" they cried, "this maun be the end o't!"
The downfall of Gourlay had an unholy fascination for
his neighbours. And that not merely because of their
dislike to the man. That was a whet to their curiosity,
of course, but, over and above it, they seemed to be
watching, with bated breath, for the final collapse of an
edifice that was bound to fall. Simple expectation held
them. It was a dramatic interest — of suspense, yet
certainty — that had them in its grip. "He's bound to
come down," said Certainty — "Yes, but when, though?"
cried Curiosity, all the more eager because of its instinct
for the coming crash. And so they waited for the great
catastrophe which they felt to be so near. It was as if
they were watching a tragedy near at hand, and noting
with keen interest every step in it that must lead to
inevitable ruin. That invariably happens when a family
tragedy is played out in the midst of a small community.
Each step in it is discussed with a prying interest, that
is neither malevolent nor sympathetic, but simply curious.
In this case it was chiefly malevolent, only because
Gourlav had been such a brute to Barbie.
Though there were thus two reasons for public interest,
the result was one and the same, a constant tittle-tattling.
Particular spite and a more general curiosity
brought the grain merchant's name on to every tongue.
Not even in the gawcey days of its prosperity had the
House with the Green Shutters been so much talked of.
"Pride will have a downcome," said some, with a gleg
look and a smack of the lip, trying to veil their
personal malevolence in a common proverb. "He's
simply in debt in every corner," goldered the keener
spirits; "he never had a brain for business. He's had
money for stuff he's unable to deliver! Not a day gangs
by but the big blue envelopes are coming. How do I
ken? say ye! How do I ken, indeed? Oh-ooh, I ken
perfectly. Perfectly! It was Postie himsell that tolled
Yet all this was merely guesswork. For Gourlay had
hitherto gone away from Barbie for his monies and accommodations,
so that the bodies could only surmise;
they had nothing definite to go on. And through it all,
the gurly old fellow kept a brave front to the world.
He was thinking of retiring, he said, and gradually
drawing in his business. This offhand and lordly, to
hide the patent diminution of his trade.
"Hi-hi!" said the old Provost, with a cruel laugh,
when he heard of Gourlay's remark, "drawing in his
business, aye! It's like Lang Jean Lingleton's waist,
I'm thinking. It's thin-eneugh drawn a'readys!"
On the morning of the last market day he was ever
to see in Barbie, old Gourlay was standing at the green
gate, when the postman came up with a smirk, and put
a letter in his hand. He betrayed a wish to hover in
gossip, while Gourlay opened his letter, but "Less lip!"
said surly John, and the fellow went away.
Ere he had reached the corner, a gowl of anger and
grief struck his ear, and he wheeled eagerly.
Gourlay was standing with open mouth and outstretched
arm, staring at the letter in his clenched fist
with a look of horror, as if it had stung him.
"My God!" he cried, "had I not enough to
"Aha!" thought Postie, "yon letter Wilson got this
morning was correct, then! His son had sent the true
story. That letter o' Gourlay's had the Edinburgh postmark
— somebody has sent him word about his son. —
Lord! What a tit-bit for my rounds."
Mrs. Gourlay, who was washing dishes, looked up to
see her husband standing in the kitchen door. His face
frightened her. She had often seen the blaze in his
eye, and often the dark scowl, but never this bloodless
pallor in his cheek. Yet his eyes were flaming.
"Aye, aye," he birred, "a fine job you have made of
"Oh, what is it?" she quavered, and the dish she
was wiping clashed on the floor.
"That's it!" said he, "that's it! Breck the dishes
next; breck the dishes! Everything seems gaun to
smash. If ye keep on long enough, ye'll put a bonny
end till't or ye're bye wi't — the lot o' ye."
The taunt passed in the anxiety that stormed her.
"Tell me, see!" she cried, imperious in stress of appeal.
"Oh, what is it, John?" She stretched out her
thin, red hands, and clasped them tightly before her.
"Is it from Embro? Is there ainything the matter
with my boy? Is there ainything the matter with
The hard eye surveyed her a while in grim contempt
of her weakness. She was a fluttering thing in his grip.
"Every thing's the matter with your boy," he
sneered slowly, "every thing's the matter with your boy.
— And it's your fault, too, damn you, for you always
With sudden wrath he strode over to the famous
range and threw the letter within the great fender.
"What is it?" he cried, wheeling round on his wife.
"The son you were so wild about sending to College
has been flung in disgrace from its door! That's what
it is!" He swept from the house like a madman.
Mrs. Gourlay sank into her old nursing chair and
wailed, "Oh, my wean, my wean; my dear; my poor
dear!" She drew the letter from the ashes, but could
not read it for her tears. The words "drunkenness"
and "expulsion" swam before her eyes. The manner
of his disgrace she did not care to hear; she only knew
her first-born was in sorrow.
"Oh, my son, my son," she cried; "my laddie; my
wee laddie!" She was thinking of the time when he
trotted at her petticoat.
It was market day, and Gourlay must face the town.
There was interest due on a mortgage which he could
not pay; he must swallow his pride and try to borrow it
in Barbie. He thought of trying Johnny Coe, for
Johnny was of yielding nature, and had never been
He turned, twenty yards from his gate, and looked
at the House with the Green Shutters. He had often
turned to look back with pride at the gawcey building
on its terrace; but never as he looked to-day. All that
his life meant, was bound up in that house, it had been
the pride of the Gourlays; now it was no longer his, and
the Gourlays' pride was in the dust — their name a byword.
As Gourlay looked, a robin was perched on the
quiet rooftree, its breast vivid in the sun. One of his
metaphors flashed at the sight. "Shame is sitting
there, too," he muttered — and added with a proud angry
snarl, "on the riggin' o' my hoose!"
He had a triple wrath to his son. He had not only
ruined his own life, he had destroyed his father's hope
that by entering the ministry he might restore the Gourlay
reputation. Above all he had disgraced the House
with the Green Shutters. That was the crown of his
offending. Gourlay felt for the house of his pride
even more than for himself — rather the house was himself;
there was no division between them. He had built
it bluff to represent him to the world. It was his character
in stone and lime. He clung to it, as the dull,
fierce mind, unable to live in thought, clings to a material
source of pride. And John had disgraced it.
Even if fortune took a turn for the better, Green Shutters
would be laughed at the country over, as the home
of a prodigal.
As he went by the Cross, Wilson (Provost this long
while) broke off a conversation with Templandmuir,
to yell "It's gra-and weather, Mr. Gourlay!" The
men had not spoken for years. So to shout at poor
Gourlay in his black hour, from the pinnacle of civic
greatness, was a fine stroke; it was gloating, it was rubbing
in the contrast. The words were innocent, but
that was nothing; whatever the remark, for a declared
enemy to address Gourlay in his shame, was an insult:
that was why Wilson addressed him. There was something
in the very loudness of his tones that cried plainly:
"Aha, Gourlay! Your son has disgraced you, my man!"
Gourlay glowered at the animal and plodded dourly.
Ere he had gone ten yards a coarse laugh came bellowing
behind him. They saw the colour surge up the
back of his neck, to the roots of his hair.
He stopped. Was his son's disgrace known in Barbie
already? He had hoped to get through the market day
without anybody knowing. But Wilson had a son in
Edinburgh; he had written, it was like. The salutation,
therefore, and the laugh, had both been uttered in derision.
He wheeled, his face black with the passionate
blood. His mouth yawed with anger. His voice had
a moan of intensity.
"What are 'ee laughing at?" he said, with a mastering
quietness . . . . "Eh? . . . . Just tell me, please,
what you're laughing at."
He was crouching for the grip, his hands out like a
gorilla's. The quiet voice, from the yawing mouth,
beneath the steady flaming eyes, was deadly. There is
something inhuman in a rage so still.
"Eh?" he said slowly, and the moan seemed to come
from the midst of a vast intensity rather than a human
being. It was the question that must grind an answer.
Wilson was wishing to all his gods that he had not insulted
this awful man. He remembered what had happened
to Gibson. This, he had heard, was the very
voice with which Gourlay moaned: "Take your hand
off my shouther!" ere he hurled Gibson through the
window of the Red Lion. Barbie might soon want a
new Provost, if he ran in now.
But there is always one way of evading punishment
for a veiled insult, and of adding to its sting by your
evasion. Repudiate the remotest thought of the protester.
Thus you enjoy your previous gibe, with the
additional pleasure of making your victim seem a fool,
for thinking you referred to him. You not only insult
him on the first count, but send him off with an additional
hint, that he isn't worth your notice. Wilson was
an adept in the art.
"Man!" he lied blandly — but his voice was quivering
— "Ma-a-an, I wasn't so much as giving ye a thoat!
It's verra strange if I cannot pass a joke with my o-old
friend, Templandmuir, without you calling me to book.
It's a free country, I shuppose! Ye weren't in my mind
at a-all. I have more important matters to think of,"
he ventured to add, seeing he had baffled Gourlay.
For Gourlay was baffled. For a directer insult, an
offensive gesture, one fierce word, he would have hammered
the road with the Provost. But he was helpless
before the bland quivering lie. Maybe they werena referring
to him, maybe they knew nothing of John in
Edinburgh, maybe he had been foolishly suspeecious.
A subtle yet baffling check was put upon his anger.
Madman as he was in wrath, he never struck without
direct provocation; there was none in this pulpy gentleness.
And he was too dull of wit, to get round the common
ruse and find a means of getting at them.
He let loose a great breath through his nostrils, as
if releasing a deadly force which he had pent within
him, ready should he need to spring. His mouth opened
again, and he gaped at them with a great, round, unseeing
stare. Then he swung on his heel.
But wrath clung round him like a garment. His anger
fed on its uncertainties. For that is the beauty of the
Wilson method of insult; you leave the poison in your
victim's blood, and he torments himself. "Was Wilson
referring to me, after all?" he pondered slowly; and his
body surged at the thought. "If he was, I have let
him get away unkilled" — and he clutched the hands
whence Wilson had escaped. Suddenly a flashing
thought stopped him dead in the middle of his walk,
staring hornily before him. He had seen the point at
last, that a quicker man would have seized on at the first.
Why had Wilson thrust his damned voice on him on this
particular morning of all days in the year, if he was not
gloating over some news which he had just heard about
the Gourlays? It was as plain as daylight.; his son had
sent word from Edinburgh. That was why he brayed
and ho-ho-ho'ed when Gourlay went by. Gourlay felt
a great flutter of pulses against his collar; there was a
pain in his throat, an ache of madness in his breast.
He turned once more. But Wilson and the Templar
had withdrawn discreetly to the Black Bull; the street
wasna canny. Gourlay resumed his way, his being a
dumb gowl of rage. His angry thought swept to John.
Each insult, and fancied insult, he endured that day, was
another item in the long account of vengeance with his
son. It was John who had brought all this flaming
round his ears — John whose colleging he had lippened
to so muckle. The staff on which he leaned had
pierced him. By the eternal heavens he would tramp
it into atoms. His legs felt John beneath them.
As the market grew busy, Gourlay was the aim of
innumerable eyes. He would turn his head to find himself
the object of a queer considering look — then the
eyes of the starer would flutter abashed, as though detected
spying the forbidden. The most innocent look
at him was poison. "Do they know?" was his constant
thought: "Have they heard the news? What's
Loranogie looking at me like that for?"
Not a man ventured to address him about John — he
had cowed them too long. One man, however, shewed
a wish to try. A pretended sympathy, from behind the
veil of which you probe a man's anguish at your ease,
is a favourite weapon of human beasts anxious to wound.
The Deacon longed to try it on Gourlay. But his courage
failed him. It was the only time he was ever
worsted in malignity. Never a man went forth, bowed
down with a recent shame, wounded and wincing from
the public gaze, but that old rogue hirpled up to him,
and lisped with false smoothness: "Thirce me, neebour,
I'm thorry for ye! Thith ith a terrible affair! It'th on
everybody'th tongue. But ye have my thympathy, neebour
— ye have tha-at. My warmetht thympathy" —
and, all the while, the shifty eyes above the lying mouth
would peer and probe, to see if the soul within the other
was writhing at his words.
Now, though everybody was spying at Gourlay in the
market, all were giving him a wide berth; for they knew
that he was dangerous. He was no longer the man
whom they had baited on the way to Skeighan; then he
had some control, now three years' calamities had
fretted his temper to a raw wound. To flick it was
perilous. Great was the surprise of the starers, therefore,
when the idle old Deacon was seen to detach himself,
and hail the grain merchant. Gourlay wheeled, and
waited with a levelled eye. All were agog at the sight —
something would be sure to come o' this — here would be
an encounter worth the speaking o'. But the Deacon,
having toddled forward a bittock on his thin shanks,
stopped half-roads, took snuff, trumpeted into his big
red handkerchief, and then, feebly waving, "I'll thee
ye again, Dyohn!" clean turned tail and toddled back
to his cronies.
A roar went up at his expense.
"God!" said Tam Wylie, "did ye see yon? Gourlay
stopped him wi' a glower."
But the laugh was maddening to Gourlay. Its readiness,
its volume, shewed him that scores of folk had
him in their minds, were watching him, considering his
position, cognisant of where he stood. "They ken,"
he thought. "They were a' waiting to see what would
happen. They wanted to watch how Gourlay tholed the
mention o' his son's disgrace. I'm a kind o' show to
Johnny Coe, idle and well-to-pass, though he had
no business of his own to attend to, was always present
where business men assembled. It was a gra-and
way of getting news. To-day, however, Gourlay could
not find him. He went into the cattle mart to see
if he was there. For two years now, Barbie had
a market for cattle, on the first Tuesday of the
The auctioneer, a jovial dog, was in the middle of his
roaring game. A big, red bullock, the coat of which
made a rich colour in the ring, came bounding in, scared
at its surroundings — staring one moment and the next
"There's meat for you," said he of the hammer; "see
how it runs! How much am I offered for this fine
bullock?" He sing-songed, always saying "this fine
bullock" in exactly the same tone of voice. "Thirteen
pounds for this fine bullock, thirteen-five; thirteen-ten;
thirteen-ten for this fine bullock; thirteen-ten; any
further bids on thirteen-ten? — why, it's worth that for
the colour o't; thank ye, sir — thirteen-fifteen; fourteen
pounds; fourteen pounds for this fine bullock; see how
the stot stots* about the ring; that joke should raise him
another half sovereign; ah, I knew it would — fourteen-five;
fourteen-five for this fine bullock; fourteen-ten; no
more than fourteen-ten for this fine bullock; going at
fourteen-ten; gone — Irrendavie."
Now that he was in the circle, however, the mad, big,
handsome beast refused to go out again. When the
cattlemen would drive him to the yard, he snorted and
galloped round, till he had to be driven from the ring
with blows. When at last he bounded through the
door, he flung up his heels with a bellow, and sent the
sand of his arena showering on the people round.
"I seh!" roared Brodie in his coarsest voice, from the
side of the ring opposite to Gourlay. "I seh, owctioner!
That maun be a College-bred stot, from the
way he behaves. He flung dirt at his masters and had
to be expelled."
"Put Brodie in the ring and rowp him!" cried Irrendavie.
"He roars like a bill at ony rate."
There was a laugh at Brodie, true; but it was at Gour*
a bullock; to stot, to bound.
lay that a hundred big red faces turned to look. He
did not look at them, though. He sent his eyes across
the ring at Brodie.
"Lord!" said Irrendavie, "it's weel for Brodie that
the ring's acqueesh them! Gourlay'll murder somebody
yet. Red hell lap out o' his e'en when he looked
Gourlay's suspicion that his son's disgrace was a matter
of common knowledge, had now become a certainty.
Brodie's taunt shewed that everybody knew it. He
walked out of the building very quietly, pale but resolute;
no meanness in his carriage, no cowering. He
was an arresting figure of a man as he stood for a moment
in the door, and looked round for the man whom
he was seeking. "Weel, weel," he was thinking, "I
maun thole, I suppose. They were under my feet for
many a day, and they're taking their advantage now."
But though he could thole, his anger against John
was none the less. It was because they had been under
his feet for many a day that John's conduct was the
more heinous. It was his son's conduct that gave Gourlay's
enemies their first opportunity against him, that
enabled them to turn the tables. They might sneer at
his trollop of a wife, they might sneer at his want of
mere cleverness; still he held his head high amongst
them. They might suspect his poverty; but so far, for
anything they knew, he might have thousands behind
him. He owed not a man in Barbie. The appointments
of Green Shutters were as brave as ever. The
selling of his horses, the dismissal of his men, might
mean the completion of a fortune, not its loss. Hitherto,
then, he was invulnerable — so he reasoned. It was
his son's disgrace that gave the men he had trodden
under foot the first weapon they could use against him.
That was why it was more damnable in Gourlay's eyes
than the conduct of all the prodigals that ever lived.
It had enabled his foes to get their knife into him at
last — and they were turning the dagger in the wound.
All owing to the boy on whom he had staked such hopes
of keeping up the Gourlay name! His account with
John was lengthening steadily.
Coe was nowhere to be seen. At last Gourlay made up
his mind to go out and make enquiries at his house, out
the Fleckie Road. It was a quiet big house, standing
by itself, and Gourlay was glad there was nobody to
It was Miss Coe herself who answered his knock at the
She was a withered old shrew, with fifty times the
spunk of Johnny. On her thin wrists and long hands
there was always a pair of bright red mittens, only her
finger-tips showing. Her far-sunken and toothless
mouth was always working, with a sucking motion of
the lips; and her round little knob of a sticking out
chin munched up and down when she spoke, a long stiff
whitish hair slanting out its middle. However much
you wished to avoid doing so, you could not keep your
eyes from staring at that solitary hair while she was
addressing you. It worked up and down so, keeping
time to every word she spoke.
"Is your brother in?" said Gourlay. He was too near
reality in this sad pass of his to think of "mistering."
"Is your brother in?" said he.
"No-a!" she shrilled — for Miss Coe answered questions
with an old-maidish scream, as if the news she was
giving must be a great surprise, both to you and her.
"No-a!" she skirled; "he's no-a in-a! Was it ainything
"No," said Gourlay heavily; "I — I just wanted to see
him," and he trudged away.
Miss Coe looked after him for a moment ere she closed
the door. "He's wanting to barrow money," she cried;
"I'm nearly sure o't! I maun caution Johnny when he
comes back frae Fleckie, afore he gangs east the toon.
Gourlay could get him to do ocht! He always admired
the brute — I'm sure I kenna why. Because he's siccan
a silly body himsell, I suppose!"
It was after dark when Gourlay met Coe on the street.
He drew him aside in the shadows, and asked for a loan
of eighty pounds.
Johnny stammered a refusal. "Hauf the bawbees is
mine," his sister had skirled, "and I daur ye to do ony
siccan thing, John Coe!"
"It's only for a time," pleaded Gourlay — "and, by
God," he flashed, "it's hell in my throat to ask from any
"No, no, Mr. Gourlay," said Johnny, "it's quite impossible.
I've always looked up to ye, and I'm not
unwilling to oblige ye, but I cannot take the risk."
"Risk!" said Gourlay, and stared at the darkness.
By hook or by crook he must raise the money to save the
House with the Green Shutters. It was no use trying
the bank; he had a letter from the banker in his desk,
to tell him that his account was overdrawn. And yet
if the interest were not paid at once, the lawyers in
Glasgow would foreclose, and the Gourlays would be
flung upon the street. His proud soul must eat dirt,
if need be, for the sake of eighty pounds.
"If I get the baker, or Tam Wylie, to stand security,"
he asked, "would ye not oblige me? I think they would
do it. I have always felt they respected me."
"Well," said Johnny slowly, fearing his sister's anger,
"if ye get the baker and Tam Wylie for security? I'll
be on the street for another half hour.
A figure, muffled in a great coat, was seen stealing off
through the shadows.
"God's curse on whoever that is!" snarled Gourlay,
"creeping up to listen to our talk."
"I don't think so," said Johnny; "it seemed a young
chap trying to hide himself."
Gourlay failed to get his securities. The baker,
though a poor man, would have stood for him, if Tam
Wylie would have joined; but Tam would not budge.
He was as clean as gray granite, and as hard.
So Gourlay trudged home through the darkness,
beaten at last, mad with shame and anger and foreboding.
The first thing he saw on entering the kitchen was
his son — sitting muffled in his coat by the great fender.
JANET and her mother saw a quiver run through
Gourlay, as he stood and glowered from the threshold.
He seemed of monstrous bulk and significance, filling
the doorway in his silence.
The quiver that went through him was a sign of his
contending angers, his will struggling with the tumult
of wrath that threatened to spoil his revenge. To fell
that huddled oaf with a blow would be a poor return for
all he had endured because of him. He meant to sweat
punishment out of him drop by drop, with slow and
vicious enjoyment. But the sudden sight of that living
disgrace to the Gourlays woke a wild desire to leap on
him at once, and glut his rage, a madness which only a
will like his could control. He quivered with the effort
to keep it in.
To bring a beaten and degraded look into a man's
face, rend manhood out of him in fear, is a sight that
makes decent men wince in pain; for it is an outrage
on the decency of life, an offence to natural religion, a
violation of the human sanctities. Yet Gourlay had
done it once and again. I saw him "down" a man at
the Cross once, a big man with a viking beard, dark
brown, from which you would have looked for manliness.
Gourlay, with stabbing eyes, threatened, and
birred, and "downed" him, till he crept away with a
face like chalk, and a hunted. furtive eye. Curiously
it was his manly beard that made the look such a pain,
for its contrasting colour shewed the white face of the
coward — and a coward had no right to such a beard. A
grim and cruel smile went after him as he slunk away.
"Ha!" barked Gourlay, in lordly and pursuing scorn,
and the fellow leapt where he walked, as the cry went
through him. To break a man's spirit so, take that
from him which he will never recover while he lives,
send him slinking away animo castrato — for that is what
it comes to — is a sinister outrage of the world. It is as
bad as the rape of a woman, and ranks with the sin
against the Holy Ghost — derives from it, indeed. Yet
it was this outrage that Gourlay meant to work upon his
son. He would work him down and down, this son of
his, till he was less than a man, a frightened, furtive
animal. Then, perhaps, he would give a loose to his
other rage, unbuckle his belt, and thrash the grown man
like a wriggling urchin on the floor.
As he stood glowering from the door Mrs. Gourlay
rose, with an appealing cry of "John!" — but Gourlay
put his eye on her, and she sank into her chair, staring
up at him in terror. The strings of the tawdry cap she
wore seemed to choke her, and she unfastened them with
nervous fingers, fumbling long beneath her lifted chin
to get them loose. She did not remove the cap, but let
the strings dangle by her jaw. The silly bits of cloth
waggling and quivering, as she turned her head repeatedly
from son to husband and from husband to son,
added to her air of helplessness and inefficiency. Once
she whispered with ghastly intensity, "God have
For a length of time there was a loaded silence.
Gourlay went up to the hearth, and looked down on
his son from near at hand. John shrank down in his
great-coat. A reek of alcohol rose from around him.
But when Gourlay spoke, it was with deadly quietude.
The moan was in his voice. So great was his controlled
wrath that he drew in great shivering breastfuls of air
between the words, as if for strength to utter them; and
they quavered forth on it again. He seemed weakened
by his own rage.
"Aye man!" he breathed . . . . "Ye've won hame,
I observe! Dee-ee-ar me! Im-phm!"
The contrast between the lowness of his voice and his
steady breathing anger that possessed the air (they felt
it coming as on waves) was demoniac, appalling.
John could not speak; he was paralysed by fear. To
have this vast hostile force touch him, yet be still,
struck him dumb. Why did his father not break out
on him at once? What did he mean? What was he
going to do? The jamb of the fireplace cut his right
shoulder as he cowered into it, to get away as far as
"I'm saying . . . . ye've won hame!" quivered
Gourlay in a deadly slowness, and his eyes never left
And still the son made no reply. In the silence, the
ticking of the big clock seemed to fill their world. They
were conscious of nothing else. It smote the ear.
"Aye," John gulped at last from a throat that felt
closing. The answer seemed dragged out of him by the
"Just so-a!" breathed his father, and his eyes opened
in wide flame. He heaved with the great breath he
drew . . . . "Im-phm!" he drawled.
He went through to the scullery at the back of the
kitchen to wash his hands. Through the open door
Janet and her mother — looking at each other with
affrighted eyes — could hear him sneering at intervals,
"Aye man!" . . . . "Just that, now!" . . . .
"Im-phm!" And again, "Aye, aye! Dee-ee-ar
me!" in grim, falsetto irony.
When he came back to the kitchen, he turned to
Janet, and left his son in a suspended agony.
"Aye woman, Jenny; ye're there!" he said, and
nipped her ear as he passed over to his chair. "Were
ye in Skeighan the day?"
"Aye, faither," she answered.
"And what did the Skeighan doctor say?"
She raised her large pale eyes to his with a strange
look. Then her head sank low on her breast.
"Nothing!" she said at last.
"Nothing!" said he. "Nothing for nothing, then.
I hope you didna pay him?"
"No, faither," she answered. "I hadna the bawbees."
"When did ye get back?" he asked.
"Just after — just after — " her eyes flickered over to
John, as if she were afraid of mentioning his name.
"Oh, just after this gentleman! But there's noathing
strange in tha-at; you were always after him! You
were born after him; and considered after him; he aye
had the best o't! — I howp you are in good health?"
he sneered, turning to his son. "It would never do for
a man to break down at the outset o' a great career!
. . . . For ye are at the outset o' a great career; are
His speech was as soft as the foot of a tiger, and
sheathed as rending a cruelty. There was no escaping
the crouching stealth of it. If he had leapt with a
roar, John's drunken fury might have lashed itself to
rage. But the younger and weaker man was fascinated
and helpless before the creeping approach of so monstrous
"Eh?" asked Gourlay softly, when John made no
reply, "I'm saying you're at the outset o' a great career,
are ye not? Eh?"
Soft as his "Eh" was in utterance, it was insinuating,
pursuing; it had to be answered.
"No," whimpered John.
"Well, well; you're maybe at the end o't! Have ye
been studying hard?"
"Yes," lied John.
"That's right!" cried his father with great heartiness.
"There's my brave fellow! Noathing like studying!
. . . And no doubt" — he leaned over suavely —
"and no doubt ye've brought a wheen prizes home wi'
ye as usual? Eh?"
There was no answer.
"No," gulped the cowerer.
"Nae prizes!" cried Gourlay, and his eyebrows went
up in a pretended surprise. "Nae-ae prizes! Aye, man!
Fow's that, na?"
Young Gourlay was being reduced to the condition
of a beaten child, who, when his mother asks if he has
been a bad boy, is made to sob "Yes," at her knee.
"Have you been a good boy?" she asks — "No," he
pants; and "Are you sorry for being a bad boy?" —
"Yes," he sobs; and "Will you be a good boy now,
then?" — "Yes," he almost shrieks, in his desire to be
at one with his mother. Young Gourlay was being
equally beaten from his own nature, equally battered
under by another personality. Only he was not asked
to be a good boy. He might gang to hell for anything
auld Gourlay cared — when once he had bye with
Even as he degraded his son to this state of unnatural
cowardice, Gourlay felt a vast disgust swell
within him that a son of his should be such a coward.
"Damn him!" he thought, glowering with big-eyed
contempt at the huddled creature, "he hasna the pluck
o' a pig! How can he stand talk like this without showing
he's a man? When I was a child on the brisket,
if a man had used me, as I'm using him, I would have
flung mysell at him. He's a pretty-looking object to
carry the name o' John Gourla! My God, what a ke-o
of my life I've made — that auld trollop for my wife,
that sumph for my son, and that dying lassie for my
dochter! Was it I that bred him? That!"
He leapt to his feet in devilish merriment.
"Set out the spirits, Jenny!" he cried; "set out the
spirits! My son and I must have a drink together — to
celebrate the occeesion; ou aye," he sneered, drawling
out the word with sharp, unfamiliar sound, "just to
celebrate the occeesion!"
The wild humour that seized him was inevitable, born
of a vicious effort to control a rage that was constantly
increasing, fed by the sight of the offender. Every
time he glanced across at the thing sitting there, he was
swept with fresh surges of fury and disgust. But his
vicious constraint curbed them under, and refused them
a natural expression. They sought an unnatural. Some
vent they must have, and they found it in a score of
wild devilries he began to practise on his son. Wrath
fed and checked, in one, brings the hell on which man
is built to the surface. Gourlay was transformed. He
had a fluency of speech, a power of banter, a readiness
of tongue, which he had never shewn before. He was
beyond himself. Have you heard the snarl with which
a wild beast arrests the escaping prey which it has just
let go in enjoying cruelty? Gourlay was that animal.
For a moment he would cease to torture his son, feed
his disgust with a glower; then the sight of him huddled
there would wake a desire to stamp on him; but his will
would not allow that, for it would spoil the sport he had
set his mind on; and so he played with the victim which
he would not kill.
"Set out the speerits, Jenny," he birred, when she
wavered in fear. "What are ye shaking for? Set out
the speerits — just to shelebrate the joyful occeesion, ye
know — aye, aye, just to shelebrate the joyful occeesion!"
Janet brought a tray, with glasses, from the pantry.
As she walked, the rims of the glasses shivered and
tinkled against each other, from her trembling. Then
she set a bottle on the table.
Gourlay sent it crashing to the floor. "A bottle!"
he roared. "A bottle for huz twa! To Hell wi' bottles!
The jar, Jenny, the jar; set out the jar, lass, set out the
jar. For we mean to make a night of it, this gentleman
and me. Aye," he yawed with a vicious smile, "we'll
make a night o't — we two. A night that Barbie'll remember
"Have ye skill o' drink?" he asked, turning to his
"No," wheezed John.
"No!" cried his father. "I thought ye learned
everything at College! Your education's been neglected.
But I'll teach ye a lesson, or this nicht's bye.
Aye, by God," he growled, "I'll teach ye a lesson."
Curb his temper as he might, his own behaviour was
lashing it to frenzy. Through the moaning intensity
peculiar to his vicious rage, there leapt at times a wild-beast
snarl. Every time they heard it, it cut the veins
of his listeners with a start of fear — it leapt so suddenly.
"Ha'e, Sir!" he cried.
John raised his dull, white face and looked across at
the bumper which his father poured him. But he felt
the limbs too weak beneath him to go and take it.
"Bide where ye are!" sneered his father, "bide where
ye are! I'll wait on ye; I'll wait on ye. Man, I waited
on ye the day that ye were bo-orn! The heavens were
hammering the world as John Gourla rode through the
storm for a doctor to bring hame his heir. The world
was feared, but he wasna feared," he roared in Titanic
pride, "he wasna feared; no, by God, for he never met
what scaured him! . . . Aye, aye," he birred softly
again, "aye, aye, ye were ushered loudly to the world,
serr! Verra appropriate for a man who was destined to
make such a name! . . . Eh? . . . Verra appropriate,
serr; verra appropriate! And you'll be ushered just as
loudly out o't. Oh, young Gourlay's death maun make
a splurge, ye know — a splurge to attract folk's attention!"
John's shaking hand was wet with the spilled whiskey.
"Take it off," sneered his father, boring into him
with a vicious eye; "take it off, serr; take off your
dram! — Stop! Somebody wrote something about that —
some poetry or other. Who was it? "
"I dinna ken," whimpered John.
"Don't tell lies now. You do ken. I heard you
mention it to Loranogie. Come on now — who was it?"
"It was Burns," said John.
"Oh, it was Burns, was it? And what had Mr. Burns
to say on the subject? Eh?"
"'Freedom and whiskey gang thegither, Tak aff
your dram,'" stammered John.
"A verra wise remark," said Gourlay gravely.
"'Freedom and whiskey gang thegither,'" he turned
the quotation on his tongue, as if he were savouring a
tit-bit. "That's verra good," he approved. "You're
a great admirer of Burns, I hear. Eh?"
"Yes," said John.
"Do what he bids ye, then. Take off your dram!
It'll show what a fine free fellow you are!"
It was a big, old-fashioned Scotch drinking glass, containing
more than half-a-gill of whiskey, and John
drained it to the bottom. To him it had been a deadly
thing at first, coming thus from his father's hand. He
had taken it into his own, with a feeling of aversion,
that was strangely blended of disgust and fear. But the
moment it touched his lips, desire leapt in his throat
to get at it.
"Good!" roared his father in mock admiration.
"God, ye have the thrapple! When I was your age that
would have choked me. I must have a look at that
throat o' yours. Stand up! . . . Stand up when I
John rose swaying to his feet. Months of constant
tippling, culminating in a wild debauch, had shattered
him. He stood in a reeling world. And the fear weakening
his limbs changed his drunken stupor to a heart-heaving
sickness. He swayed to and fro, with a cold
sweat oozing from his chalky face.
"What's ado wi' the fellow?" cried Gourlay. "Oom?
He's swinging like a saugh-wand. I must wa-alk round
this, and have a look!"
John's drunken submissiveness encouraged his father
to new devilries. The ease with which he tortured him
provoked him to more torture; he went on more and
more viciously, as if he were conducting an experiment,
to see how much the creature would bear before he
turned. Gourlay was enjoying the glutting of his own
He turned his son round with a finger and thumb
on his shoulder, in insolent inspection, as you turn an
urchin round to see him in his new suit of clothes.
Then he crouched before him, his face thrust close to
the other, and peered into his eyes, his mouth distent
with an infernal smile. "My boy, Johnny," he said
sweetly, "my boy, Johnny," and patted him gently on
the cheek. John raised dull eyes and looked into his
father's. Far within him a great wrath was gathering
through his fear. Another voice, another self, seemed
to whimper, with dull iteration, "I'll kill him; I'll kill
him; by God, I'll kill him — if he doesna stop this — if he
keeps on like this at me!" But his present and material
self was paralysed with fear.
"Open your mouth!" came the snarl — "wider, damn
"Im-phm! " said Gourlay, with a critical drawl,
pulling John's chin about to see into him the deeper.
"Im-phm! God, it's like a furnace! That's the Latin
for throat? "
"Guttur," said John.
"Gutter!" said his father. "A verra appropriate
name! Yours stinks like a cesspool! What have you been
doing till't? I'm afraid ye aren't in very good health,
after a-all. . . . Eh? . . . Mrs. Gourla, Mrs. Gourla!
He's in verra bad case, this son of yours, Mrs. Gourla!
Fine I ken what he needs, though. Set out the brandy,
Jenny, set out the brandy," he roared; "whiskey's not
worth a damn for him! Stop; it was you gaed the last
time; it's your turn now, auld wife, it's your turn now!
Gang for the brandy to your twa John Gourlas. We're
a pair for a woman to be proud of!"
He gazed after his wife as she tottered to the pantry.
"Your skirt's on the gape, auld wife," he sang; "your
skirt's on the gape; as use-u-al," he drawled; "as use-u-al.
It was always like that; and it always scunnered
me, for I aye liked things tidy — though I never got
them. However, I maunna compleen when ye bore sic
a braw son to my name. He's a great consolation!
Imphm, he is that — a great consolation!"
The brandy-bottle slipped from the quivering fingers
and was smashed to pieces on the floor.
"Hurrah!" yelled Gourlay.
He seemed rapt and carried by his own devilry. The
wreck and ruin strewn about the floor consorted with
the ruin of his fortunes; let all go smash — what was the
use of caring? Now in his frenzy, he, ordinarily so
careful, seemed to delight in the smashings and the
breakings; they suited his despair.
He saw that his spirit of destruction frightened them,
too, and that was another reason to indulge it.
"To Hell with everything," he yelled, like a mock-bacchanal.
"We're the hearty fellows! We'll make a
red night now we're at it!" And with that he took the
heel of a bottle on his toe and sent it flying, among the
dishes on the dresser. A great plate fell, split in two.
"Poor fellow!" he whined, turning to his son;
"poo-oor fellow! I fear he has lost his pheesic. For
that was the last bottle o' brandy in my aucht; the last
John Gourlay had, the last he'll ever buy. What am
I to do wi' ye, now? . . . Eh? . . . I must do something;
it's coming to the bit, now, Sir."
As he stood in a heaving silence the sobbing of the
two women was heard through the room. John was still
swaying on the floor.
Sometimes Gourlay would run the full length of the
kitchen, and stand there glowering on a stoop; then he
would come crouching up to his son on a vicious little
trot, pattering in rage, the broken glass crunching and
grinding beneath his feet. At any moment he might
"What do ye think I mean to do wi' ye now?" he
moaned. . . . "Eh? . . . What do ye think I mean to
do wi' ye now?"
As he came grinning in rage his lips ran out to their
full width, and the tense slit shewed his teeth to their
roots. The gums were white. The stricture of the lips
had squeezed them bloodless.
He went back to the dresser once more and bent low
beside it, glancing at his son across his left shoulder,
with his head flung back sideways, his right fist clenched
low and ready from a curve of the elbow. It swung
heavy as a mallet by his thigh. Janet got to her knees
and came shuffling across the floor on them, though her
dress was tripping her, clasping her outstretched hands,
and sobbing in appeal, "Faither, faither; oh, faither;
for God's sake, faither!" She clung to him. He unclenched
his fist and lifted her away. Then he came
crouching and quivering across the floor, slowly, a
gleaming devilry in the eyes that devoured his son.
His hands were like outstretched claws, and shivered
with each shiver of the voice that moaned, through set
teeth, "What do ye think I mean to do wi' ye now? . . .
What do ye think I mean to do wi' ye now? . . . Ye
damned sorrow and disgrace that ye are — what do ye
think I mean to do wi' ye now?"
"Run, John!" screamed Mrs. Gourlay, leaping to her
feet. With a hunted cry young Gourlay sprang to the
door. So great had been the fixity of Gourlay's wrath, so
tense had he been in one direction, as he moved slowly
on his prey, that he could not leap to prevent him. As
John plunged into the cool, soft darkness, his mother's
"Thank God!" rang past him on the night.
His immediate feeling was of coolness and width and
spaciousness, in contrast with the hot grinding hostility,
that had bored so closely in on him, for the last hour.
He felt the benignness of the darkened heavens. A
tag of some forgotten poem he had read came back to his
mind, and, "Come kindly night and cover me," he
muttered, with shaking lips; and felt how true it was.
My God, what a relief to be free of his father's eyes!
They had held him till his mother's voice broke the
spell. They seemed to burn him now.
What a fool he had been to face his father when
empty both of food and drink. Every man was downhearted
when he was empty. If his mother had had
time to get the tea, it would have been different, — but
the fire had been out when he went in. "He wouldn't
have downed me so easy, if I had had anything in me,"
he muttered, and his anger grew, as he thought of all he
had been made to suffer. For he was still the swaggerer.
Now that the incubus of his father's tyranny
no longer pressed on him directly, a great hate rose
within him for the tyrant. He would go back and have
it out when he was primed. "It's the only hame I
have," he sobbed angrily to the darkness; "I have no
other place to gang till! Yes, I'll go back and have it
out with him when once I get something in me, so I
will." It was no disgrace to suck courage from the
bottle, for that encounter with his father, for nobody
could stand up to black Gourlay; nobody. Young Gourlay
was yielding to a peculiar fatalism of minds diseased:
all that affects them seems different from all that affects
everybody else; they are even proud of their separate
and peculiar doom. Young Gourlay not thought, but
felt it — he was different from everybody else. The
heavens had cursed nobody else with such a terrible sire.
It was no cowardice to fill yourself with drink before
you faced him.
A drunkard will howl you an obscene chorus the moment
after he has wept about his dead child. For a
mind in the delirium of drink is no longer a coherent
whole, but a heap of shattered bits, which it shows one
after the other to the world. Hence the many transformations
of that semi-madness, and their quick variety.
Young Gourlay was shewing them now. His had always
been a wandering mind, deficient in application and control,
and as he neared his final collapse, it became more
and more variable, the prey of each momentary thought.
In a short five minutes of time, he had been alive to the
beauty of the darkness, cowering before the memory of
his father's eyes, sobbing in self-pity and angry resolve,
shaking in terror — indeed he was shaking now. But his
vanity came uppermost. As he neared the Red Lion,
he stopped suddenly, and the darkness seemed on fire
against his cheeks. He would have to face curious eyes,
he reflected. It was from the Red Lion he and Aird
had started so grandly in the autumn. It would never
do to come slinking back like a whipped cur; he must
carry it off bravely in case the usual busybodies should
be gathered round the bar. So with his coat flapping
lordly on either side of him, his hands deep in his
trouser-pockets, and his hat on the back of his head,
he drove at the swing-doors with an outshot chest, and
entered with a "breenge." But for all his swagger he
must have had a face like death, for there was a cry
among the idlers. A man breathed, "My God! What's
the matter?" With shaking knees Gourlay advanced
to the bar, and, "For God's sake, Aggie," he whispered,
"give me a Kinblythmont!"
It went at a gulp.
"Another!" he gasped, like a man dying of thirst,
whom his first sip maddens for more. "Another! Another!"
He had tossed the other down his burning throat,
when Deacon Allardyce came in.
He knew his man the moment he set eyes on him, but,
standing at the door, he arched his hand above his
brow, as you do in gazing at a dear unexpected friend,
whom you pretend not to be quite sure of, so surprised
and pleased are you to see him there.
"Ith it Dyohn?" he cried. "It ith Dyohn!" And
be toddled forward with outstretched hand. "Man
Dyohn!" he said again, as if he could scarce believe the
good news, and he waggled the other's hand up and
down, with both his own clasped over it. "I'm proud
to thee you, thir; I am that. And tho you're won hame,
aye! Im-phm! And how are ye tummin on?"
"Oh, I'm all right, Deacon," said Gourlay with a silly
laugh. "Have a wet?" The whiskey had begun to
"A wha-at?" said the Deacon, blinking in a puzzled
fashion with his bleary old eyes.
"A dram — a drink — a drop o' the Auld Kirk," said
Gourlay, with a stertorous laugh down through his nostrils.
"Hi! Hi!" laughed the Deacon in his best falsetto.
"Ith that what ye call it up in Embro? A wet, aye!
Ah, well, maybe I will take a little drope — theeing
you're tho ready wi' your offer."
They drank together.
"Aggie, fill me a mutchkin when you're at it," said
Gourlay to the pretty barmaid with the curly hair. He
had spent many an hour with her last summer in the
bar. The four big whiskies he had swallowed in the
last half hour, were singing in him now, and he blinked
at her drunkenly.
There was a scarlet ribbon on her dark curls, coquettish,
vivid, and Gourlay stared at it dreamily, partly in
a drunken daze, and partly because a striking colour
always brought a musing and self-forgetting look within
his eyes. All his life he used to stare at things dreamily,
and come to himself with a start when spoken to. He
forgot himself now.
"Aggie," he said, and put his hand out to hers clumsily
where it rested on the counter; "Aggie, that ribbon's
infernal bonny on your dark hair! "
She tossed her head, and perked away from him on
her little high heels. Him, indeed! — the drunkard!
She wanted none of his compliments!
There were half a dozen in the place by this time, and
they all stared with greedy eyes. "That's young Gourlay
— him that was expelled," was heard, the last an emphatic
whisper, with round eyes of awe at the offence
that must have merited such punishment. "Expelled,
mind ye!" — with a round shake of the head. "Watch
Allardyce. We'll see fun."
"What's this 'expelled' is, now?" said John Toodle,
with a very considering look and tone in his uplifted
face — "properly speaking, that is," he added — implying
that of course he knew the word in its ordinary sense,
but was not sure of it "properly speaking."
"Flung oot," said Drucken Wabster, speaking from
the fulness of his own experience.
"Whisht!" said a third. "Here's Tam Brodie.
Watch what he does."
The entrance of Brodie spoiled sport for the Deacon.
He had nothing of that malicious finesse that made Allardyce
a genius at flicking men on the raw. He went
straight to his work, stabbing like an awl.
"Hal-lo!" he cried, pausing with contempt in the
middle of the word, when he saw young Gourlay. "Hallo!
You here! — Brig o' the Mains, Miss, if you please.
— Aye man! God, you've been making a name up in Embro.
I hear you stood up till him gey weel" — and he
winked openly to those around.
Young Gourlay's maddened nature broke at the insult.
"Damn you," he screamed, "leave me alone, will
you? I have done nothing to you, have I?"
Brodie stared at him across his suspended whiskey-glass,
an easy and assured contempt curling his lip.
"Don't greet owre't, my bairn," said he — and even as
he spoke John's glass shivered on his grinning teeth.
Brodie leapt on him, lifted him, and sent him flying.
"That's a game of your father's, you damned dog," he
roared. "But there's mair than him can play the
"Canny, my freendth, canny!" piped Allardyce, who
was vexed at a fine chance for his peculiar craft, being
spoiled by mere brutality of handling. All this was
most inartistic. Brodie never had the fine stroke.
Gourlay picked himself bleeding from the floor, and
holding a handkerchief to his mouth, plunged headlong
from the room. He heard the derisive roar that came
after him, stop — strangled by the sharp swing-to of the
door. But it seemed to echo in his burning ears as he
strode madly on through the darkness. He uncorked
his mutchkin and drank it like water. His swollen lip
smarted at first, but he drank till it was a mere dead
lump to his tongue, and he could not feel the whiskey
on the wound.
His mind at first was a burning whirl through drink
and rage; with nothing determined and nothing definite.
But thought began to shape itself. In a vast
vague circle of consciousness his mind seemed to sit
in the centre and think with preternatural clearness.
Though all around was whirling and confused, drink
had endowed some inner eye of the brain with unnatural
swift vividness. Far within the humming circle of his
mind he saw an instant and terrible revenge on Brodie,
acted it and lived it now. His desires were murderers,
and he let them slip, gloating in the cruelties that hot
fancy wreaked upon his enemy. Then he suddenly remembered
his father. A rush of fiery blood seemed to
drench all his body, as he thought of what had passed
between them. "But, by Heaven," he swore, as he
threw away his empty bottle, "he won't use me like that
another time; I have blood in me now." His maddened
fancy began building a new scene, with the same actors,
the same conditions, as the other, but an issue gloriously
diverse. With vicious delight he heard his father use the
same sneers, the same gibes, the same brutalities — then
he turned suddenly and had him under foot, kicking,
bludgeoning, stamping the life out. He would do it, by
Heaven, he would do it! The memory of what had happened
came fierily back, and made the pressing darkness
burn. His wrath was brimming on the edge, ready
to burst, and he felt proudly that it would no longer ebb
in fear. Whiskey had killed fear, and left a hysterical
madman, all the more dangerous because he was so
weak. Let his father try it on now! He was ready for
And his father was ready for him; for he knew what
had happened at the inn. Mrs. Webster, on her nightly
hunt for the man she had sworn to honour and obey,
having drawn several public houses blank, ran him to
earth at last, in the barroom of the Red Lion. "Yes,
yes, Kirsty," he cried, eager to prevent her tongue,
"I know I'm a blagyird — but, oh the terrible thing that
has happened!" He so possessed her with his graphic
tale that he was allowed to go chuckling back to his
potations, while she ran hot-foot to the Green Shutters.
"Eh, poo-oor Mrs. Gourlay; and oh, your poo-oor boy,
too; and eh, that brute, Tam Brodie! —" even as she
came through the door the voluble clatter was shrilling
out the big tidings, before she was aware of Gourlay's
presence. She faltered beneath his black glower.
"Go on!" he said, and ground it out of her.
"The damned sumph!" he growled, "to let Brodie
hammer him!" For a moment, it is true, his anger was
divided, stood in equipoise, even dipped 'Brodie-ward.'
"I've an account to sattle wi' him!" he thought grimly.
"When I get my claw on his neck, I'll teach him better
than to hit a Gourlay! I wonder," he mused, with a
pride in which was neither doubt nor wonder, "I wonder
will he fling the father as he flang the son!" But that
was the instinct of his blood, not enough to make him
pardon John. On the contrary here was a new offence
of his offspring. On the morrow Barbie would be burning
with another affront which he had put upon the
name of Gourlay. He would waste no time when he
came back, be he drunk or be he sober; he would strip
the flesh off him.
"Jenny," he said, "bring me the step-ladder."
He would pass the time till the prodigal came back —
and he was almost certain to come back, for where could
he go in Barbie? — he would pass the time, by trying to
improve the appearance of the House. He had spent
money on his house till the last, and even now, had the
instinct to embellish it. Not that it mattered to him
now, still he could carry out a small improvement he had
planned before. The kitchen was ceiled in dark timber,
and on the rich brown rafters there were wooden pegs
and bars, for the hanging of Gourlay's sticks and fishing
rods. His gun was up there, too, just above the hearth.
It had occurred to him about a month ago, however, that
a pair of curving steel rests, that would catch the glint
from the fire, would look better beneath his gun than
the dull pegs, where it now lay against a joist. He might
as well pass the time by putting them up.
The bringing of the steps, light though they were, was
too much for Janet's weak frame, and she stopped in a fit
of coughing, clutching the ladder for support, while it
shook to her spasms.
"Tuts, Jenny, this'll never do," said Gourlay, not unkindly.
He took the ladder away from her and laid his
hand on her shoulder. "Away to your bed, lass! You
maunna sit so late."
But Janet was anxious for her brother, and wanted to
sit up till he came home. She answered, "Yes," to her
father, but idled discreetly, to consume the time.
"Where's my hammer?" snarled Gourlay.
"Is it no by the clock?" said his wife wearily. "Oh,
I remember, I remember! I gied it to Mrs. Webster to
break some brie-stone, to rub the front door-step wi'.
It'll be lying in the porch!"
"Oh, aye, as usual," said Gourlay; "as usual!"
"John!" she cried in alarm, "you don't mean to take
down the gun, do ye? "
"Huts, you auld fule, what are you skirling for?
D'ye think I mean to shoot the dog? Set back on your
creepie, and make less noise, will ye?"
Ere he had driven a nail in the rafter John came in,
and sat down by the fire, taking up the great poker,
as if to cover his nervousness. If Gourlay had been on
the floor he would have grappled with him there and
then. But the temptation to gloat over his victim
from his present height was irresistible. He went up
another step, and sat down on the very summit of the
ladder, his feet resting on one of the lower rounds. The
hammer he had been using was lying on his thigh, his
hand clutched about its haft.
"Aye man, you've been taking a bit walk, I hear!"
John made no reply, but played with the poker. It
was so huge, owing to Gourlay's whim, that when it
slid through his fingers, it came down on the muffled
hearthstone with a thud like a paviour's hammer.
"I'm told you saw the Deacon on your rounds? Did
he compliment you on your return?"
At the quiet sneer a lightning-flash shewed John
that Allardyce had quizzed him, too. For a moment
he was conscious of a vast self-pity. "Damn them,
they're all down on me," he thought. Then a vindictive
rage against them all took hold of him, tense, quivering.
"Did you see Thomas Brodie when you were out?"
came the suave enquiry.
"I saw him," said John, raising fierce eyes to his
father's. He was proud of the sudden firmness in his
voice. There was no fear in it, no quivering. He was
beyond caring what happened to the world or him.
"Oh, you saw him," roared Gourlay, as his anger leapt
to meet the anger of his son. "And what did he say
to you, may I spier? . . . Or may be I should spier what
he did . . . Eh?" he grinned.
"By God, I'll kill ye," screamed John, springing to
his feet, with the poker in his hand. The hammer went
whizzing past his ear. Mrs. Gourlay screamed and tried
to rise from her chair, her eyes goggling in terror. As
Gourlay leapt, John brought the huge poker with a crash
on the descending brow. The fiercest joy of his life was
the dirl that went up his arm, as the steel thrilled to its
own hard impact on the bone. Gourlay thudded on the
fender, his brow crashing on the rim.
At the blow there had been a cry as of animals, from
the two women. There followed an eternity of silence,
it seemed, and a haze about the place, yet not a haze,
for everything was intensely clear, only it belonged to
another world. One terrible fact had changed the Universe.
The air was different now; it was full of murder.
Everything in the room had a new significance, a sinister
meaning. The effect was that of an unholy spell.
As through a dream Mrs. Gourlay's voice was heard
crying on her God.
John stood there, suddenly weak in his limbs, and
stared, as if petrified, at the red poker in his hand. A
little wisp of grizzled hair stuck to the square of it,
severed, as by scissors, between the sharp edge and the
bone. It was the sight of that bit of hair that roused
him from his stupor — it seemed so monstrous and horrible,
sticking all by itself to the poker. "I didna
strike him so hard," he pleaded, staring vaguely, "I
didna strike him so hard." Now that the frenzy had
left him, he failed to realise the force of his own blow.
Then with a horrid fear on him, "Get up, faither," he
entreated, "get up, faither; oh man, you micht get up!"
Janet, who had bent above the fallen man, raised an
ashen face to her brother, and whispered hoarsely, "His
heart has stopped, John; you have killed him!"
Steps were heard coming through the scullery. In the
fear of discovery Mrs. Gourlay shook off the apathy that
held her paralysed. She sprang up, snatched the poker
from her son, and thrust it in the embers.
"Run, John; run for the doctor," she screamed. —
"Oh, Mrs. Webster, Mrs. Webster, I'm glad to see ye.
Mr. Gourlay fell from the top o' the ladder, and smashed
his brow on the muckle fender."
"MOTHER!" came the startled whisper, "Mother!
Oh, woman, waken and speak to me!"
No comforting answer came from the darkness to tell
of a human being close at hand: the girl, intently listening,
was alone with her fear. All was silent in the room
and the terror deepened. Then the far-off sound in the
house was heard once more.
"Mother — mother, what's that?"
"What is it, Janet?" came a feebly complaining
voice, "what's wrong wi' ye, lassie?"
Janet and her mother were sleeping in the big bedroom,
Janet in the place that had been her father's. He
had been buried through the day, the second day after his
murder. Mrs. Gourlay had shown a feverish anxiety to
get the corpse out the house as soon as possible. And
there had been nothing to prevent it. "Oh," said Doctor
Dandy to the gossips, "it would have killed any man
to fall from such a height on to the sharp edge of yon
fender. — No; he was not quite dead when I got to him.
He opened his eyes on me, once — a terrible look — and
then life went out of him with a great quiver."
Ere Janet could answer her mother, she was seized
with a racking cough, and her hoarse bark sounded hollow
in the silence. At last she sat up and gasped fearfully,
"I thocht — I thocht I heard something moving!"
"It would be the wind," plained her mother; "it
would just be the wind. John's asleep this strucken
hour and mair. I sat by his bed for a lang while, and he
prigged and prayed for a dose o' the whiskey ere he won
away. He wouldna let go my hand till he slept, pair
fallow. There's an unco fear on him — an unco fear.
But try and fa' owre," she soothed her daughter. "That
would just be the wind ye heard."
"There's nae wind! " said Janet.
The stair creaked. The two women clung to each
other, gripping tight fingers, and their hearts throbbed
like big separate beings in their breasts. There was a
rustle, as of something coming, then the door opened,
and John flitted to the bedside with a candle in his
hand. Above his night shirt his bloodless face looked
"Mother!" he panted, "there's something in my
"What is it, John?" said his mother in surprise and
"I — I thocht it was himsell! Oh, mother, I'm feared,
I'm feared! Oh, mother, I'm feared!" He sang the
words in a hysterical chant, his voice rising at the end.
The door of the bedroom clicked. It was not a
slamming sound, only the door went to gently, as if
someone closed it. John dropped the candle from his
shaking hand, and was left standing in the living darkness.
"Save me!" he screamed, and leaped into the bed,
burrowing down between the women till his head was
covered by the bed clothes. He trembled so violently
that the bed shook beneath them.
"Let me bide wi' ye!" he pleaded with chattering
jaws. "Oh, let me bide wi' ye! I daurna gang back to
that room by mysell again."
His mother put her thin arm round him. "Yes,
dear," she said; "you may bide wi' us. Janet and me
wouldna let anything harm you." She placed her hand
on his brow caressingly. His hair was damp with a cold
sweat. He reeked of alcohol.
Someone went through the Square playing a concertina.
That sound of the careless world came
strangely in upon their lonely tragedy. By contrast the
cheerful silly noise, out there, seemed to intensify their
darkness and isolation here. Occasional far-off shouts
were heard from roysterers going home.
Mrs. Gourlay lay staring at the darkness with intent
eyes. What horror might assail her she did not know,
but she was ready to meet it for the sake of John. "Ye
brought it on yoursell," she breathed once, as if defying
an unseen accuser.
It was hours ere he slept, but at last a heavy sough
told her he had found oblivion. "He's won owre," she
murmured thankfully. At times he muttered in his
sleep. And, at times, Janet coughed hoarsely at his ear.
"Janet, dinna hoast sae loud, woman! You'll waken
Janet was silent. Then she choked — trying to stifle
"Woman!" said her mother complainingly, "that's
surely an unco hoast ye hae!"
"Aye," said Janet, "it's a gey hoast."
Next morning Postie came clattering through the
paved yard in his tacketty boots, and handed in a blue
envelope at the back door with a business-like air, his
ferretty eyes searching Mrs. Gourlay's face, as she took
the letter from his hand. But she betrayed nothing to
his curiosity since she knew nothing of her husband's
affairs, and had no fear, therefore, of what the letter
might portend. She received the missive with a vacant
unconcern. It was addressed to "John Gourlay, Esquire."
She turned it over in a silly puzzlement, and,
"Janet!" she cried, "what am I to do wi' this?"
She shrank from opening a letter addressed to her
dead tyrant, unless she had Janet by her side. It was so
many years since he had allowed her to take an active
interest in their common life (indeed he never had) that
she was as helpless as a child.
"It's to faither," said Janet, "shall I waken John?"
"No, puir fellow, let him sleep," said his mother. "I
stole in to look at him enow, and his face was unco wan
lying down on the pillow. I'll open the letter mysell,
though, as your faither used to tell me, I never had a
heid for business."
She broke the seal and Janet, looking over her shoulder,
read aloud to her slower mind:
"March 12th 18—
"We desire once more to call your attention to the
fact that the arrears of interest on the mortgage of your
house have not been paid. Our client is unwilling to proceed
to extremities, but unless you make some arrangement
within a week, he will be forced to take the necesstary
steps to safeguard his interests.
"Brodie, Gurney & Yarrowby."
Mrs. Gourlay sank into a chair, and the letter slipped
from her upturned palm, lying slack upon her knee.
"Janet," she said appealingly; "what's this that has
come on us? Does the house we live in, the House with
the Green Shutters, not belong to us ainy more? Tell
me, lassie. What does it mean?"
"I don't ken," whispered Janet with big eyes. "Did
faither never tell ye of the bond? "
"He never telled me about anything," cried Mrs.
Gourlay with a sudden passion. "I was aye the one to
be keepit in the dark — to be keepit in the dark and sore
hadden doon. Oh! are we left destitute, Janet — and
us was aye sae muckle thocht o'! And me, too, that's
come of decent folk, and brought him a gey pickle bawbees!
Am I to be on the parish in my auld age? — Oh,
my faither, my faither!"
Her mind flashed back to the jocose and well-to-do
father who had been but a blurred thought to her for
twenty years. That his daughter should come to a pass
like this was enough to make him turn in his grave.
Janet was astonished by her sudden passion in feebleness.
Even the murder of her husband had been met
by her weak mind with a dazed resignation. For her
natural horror at the deed was swallowed by her anxiety
to shield the murderer; and she experienced a vague relief
— felt, but not considered — at being freed from the
incubus of Gourlav's tyranny. It seemed, too, as if she
was incapable of feeling anything poignantly, deadened
now by these quick calamities. But that she, that Tenshillingland's
daughter, should come to be an object of
common charity, touched some hidden nerve of pride,
and made her writhe in agony.
"It mayna be sae bad," Janet tried to comfort her.
"Waken John," said her mother feverishly, "waken
John and we'll gang through his faither's dask. There
may be something gude amang his papers. There may
be something gude!" she gabbled nervously; "yes, there
may be something gude! In the dask; in the dask; there
may be something gude in the dask!"
John staggered into the kitchen five minutes later.
Half way to the table where his mother sat, he reeled and
fell over on a chair, where he lay with an ashen face, his
eyes mere slits in his head, the upturned whites sheaving
through. They brought him whiskey, and he drank
and was recovered. And then they went through to the
parlour, and opened the great desk that stood in the
corner. It was the first time they had ever dared to
raise its lid. John took up a letter lying loosely on the
top of the other papers, and, after a hasty glance, "This
settles it!" said he. It was the note from Gourlay's
banker, warning him that his account was overdrawn.
"God help us!" cried Mrs. Gourlav, and Janet began
to whimper. John slipped out of the room. He was
still in his stocking-feet, and the women, dazed by this
sudden and appalling news, were scarcely aware of his
He passed through the kitchen, and stood on the step
of the back door, looking out on the quiet little paved
yard. Everything there was remarkably still and bright.
It was an early spring that year, and the hot March sun
beat down on him, paining his bleared and puffy eyes.
The contrast between his own lump of a body, drink-dazed,
dull-throbbing, and the warm bright day, came
in on him with a sudden sinking of the heart, a sense
of degradation and personal abasement. He realised,
however obscurely, that he was an eyesore in nature, a
blotch on the surface of the world, an offence to the
sweet-breathing heavens. And that bright silence was
so strange and still. He could have screamed to escape
The slow ticking of the kitchen clock seemed to beat
upon his raw brain. Damn the thing, why didn't it stop
— with its monotonous tick-tack; tick-tack; tick-tack?
— he could feel it inside his head where it seemed to
strike innumerable little blows, on a strained chord it
was bent on snapping.
He tiptoed back to the kitchen on noiseless feet, and
cocking his ear to listen, he heard the murmur of
women's voices in the parlour. There was a look of
slyness and cunning in his face; and his eyes glittered
with desire. The whiskey was still on the table. He
seized the bottle greedily, and, tilting it up, let the raw
liquid gurgle into him like cooling water. It seemed to
flood his parched being with a new vitality.
"Oh, I doubt we'll be gey ill-off!" he heard his
mother's whine, and, at that reminder of her nearness,
he checked the great satisfied breath he had begun to
blow. He set the bottle on the table, bringing the glass
noiselessly down upon the wood, with a tense, unnatural
precision possible only to drink-steadied nerves — a
steadiness like the humming top's whirled to its fastest.
Then he sped silently through the courtyard and locked
himself into the stable, chuckling in drunken triumph
as he turned the key. He pitched forward on a litter
of dirty straw, and in a moment, sleep came over his
mind in a huge wave of darkness.
An hour later he woke from a terrible dream, flinging
his arms up, to ward off a face that had been pressing on
his own. Were the eyes that had burned his brain still
glaring above him? He looked about him in drunken
wonder. From a sky-window a shaft of golden light
came slanting into the loose-box, living with yellow
motes in the dimness. The world seemed dead; he was
alone in the silent building, and from without there
was no sound. Then a panic terror flashed on his mind,
that those eyes had actually been here — and were here
with him still — where he was locked up with them
alone. He strained his eyeballs in a horrified stare at
vacancy. Then he shut them in terror, for why did he
look? If he looked, the eyes might burn on him out of
nothingness. The innocent air had become his enemy
— pregnant with unseen terrors to glare at him. To
breathe it stifled him; each draught of it was full of
menace. With a shrill cry he dashed at the door, and
felt in the clutch of his ghostly enemy when he failed
to open it at once, breaking his nails on the baffling
lock. He mowed and chattered and stamped, and tore
at the lock, frustrate in fear. At last he was free! He
broke into the kitchen where his mother sat weeping —
she raised her eyes to see a dishevelled thing, with bits
of straw scattered on his clothes and hair.
"Mother!" he screamed, "Mother!" and stopped
suddenly, his starting eyes seeming to follow something
in the room.
"What are ye glowering at, John?" she wailed.
"Thae damned e'en," he said slowly, "they're burning
my soul! Look, look!" he cried, clutching her thin
wrist, "see, there, there! — coming round by the dresser!
A-ah!" he screamed in hoarse execration. "Would ye,
then?" — and he hurled a great jug from the table at the
The jug struck the yellow face of the clock, and the
glass jangled on the floor.
Mrs. Gourlay raised her arms, like a gaunt sibyl, and
spoke to her Maker, quietly, as if He were a man before
her in the room. "Ruin and murder," she said
slowly; "and madness; and death at my nipple like a
child! When will Ye be satisfied?"
Drucken Wabster's wife spread the news, of course,
and that night it went humming through the town that
young Gourlay had the horrors, and was throwing tumblers
at his mother!
"Puir body!" said the baker, in the long-drawn tones
of an infinite compassion; "puir body!"
"Aye," said Toddle drily, "he'll be wanting to put an
end to her next, after killing his faither."
"Killing his faither?" said the baker with a quick
look, "what do you mean?"
"Mean? Ou, I just mean what the doctor says!
Gourlay was that mad at the drucken young swine that
he got the 'plexies, fell aff the ladder, and felled himsell
deid! That's what I mean, no less!" said Toddle, nettled
at the sharp question.
"Aye man! That accounts for't," said Tam Wylie.
"It did seem queer Gourlay's dying the verra nicht the
prodigal cam hame. He was a heavy man, too; he would
come down with an infernal thud. It seems uncanny,
though, it seems uncanny."
"Strange!" murmured another, and they looked at
each other in silent wonder.
"But will this be true, think ye?" said Brodie.
"About the horrors, I mean. Did he throw the tumbler
at his mother?"
"Lord, it's true!" said Sandy Toddle. "I gaed into
the kitchen, on purpose, to make sure o' the matter with
my own eyes. I let on I wanted to borrow auld Gourlay's
key-hole saw — I can tell ye he had a' his orders —
his tool-chest's the finest I ever saw in my life! I mean
to bid for some o' yon when the rowp comes. Weel, as
I was saying, I let on I wanted the wee saw, and went
into the kitchen one end's errand. The tumbler
(Johnny Coe says it was a bottle, however; but I'm no
avised o' that — I spiered Webster's wife, and I think
my details are correct) — the tumbler went flying past
his mother, and smashed the face o' the eight-day. It
happened about the mid-hour o' the day. The clock had
stoppit, I observed, at three and a half minutes to the
"Hi!" cried the Deacon, "it'th a pity auld Gourlay
wathna alive thith day!"
"Faith, aye," cried Wylie. "He would have sorted
him! He would have trimmed the young ruffian!"
"No doubt," said the Deacon gravely; "no doubt.
But it wath scarcely that I wath thinking of. Yah!"
he grinned, "thith would have been a thlap in the face
Wylie looked at him for awhile with a white scunner
in his face. He wore the musing and disgusted look of
a man whose wounded mind retires within itself, to
brood over a sight of unnatural cruelty. The Deacon
grew uncomfortable beneath his sideward, estimating
"Deacon Allardyce, your heart's black-rotten," he
said at last.
The Deacon blinked and was silent. Tam had
summed him up. There was no appeal.
"John, dear," said his mother that evening, "we'll
take the big sofa into our bedroom, and make up a grand
bed for ye, and then we'll be company to one another.
Eh, dear?" she pleaded. "Winna that be a fine way?
When you have Janet and me beside you, you winna
be feared o' ainything coming near you. You should
gang to bed early, dear. A sleep would restore your
"I don't mean to go to bed," he said slowly. He
spoke staringly, with the same fixity in his voice and
gaze. There was neither rise nor fall in his voice, only
a dull level of intensity.
"You don't mean to go to bed, John! What for, dear?
Man, a sleep would calm your mind for ye."
"Na-a-a!" he smiled, and shook his head like a cunning
madman, who had detected her trying to get round
him. "Na-a-a! No sleep for me — no sleep for me! I'm
feared I would see the red e'en," he whispered, "the red
e'en; coming at me out o' the darkness — the darkness!"
he nodded, staring at her and breathing the word, "the
darkness! the darkness! The darkness is the warst,
mother," he added in his natural voice, leaning forward
as if he explained some simple curious thing of every
day. "The darkness is the warst, you know. I've seen
them in the broad licht, but in the lobby," he whispered
hoarsely; "in the lobby when it was dark; in the
lobby they were terrible. Just twa e'en, and they aye
keep thegither, though they're aye moving. That's why
I canna pin them. And it's because I ken they're aye
watching me, watching me, watching me, that I get
so feared. They're red," he nodded and whispered,
"they're red . . . they're red." His mouth gaped in
horror, and he stared as if he saw them now.
He had boasted long ago of being able to see things
inside his head; in his drunken hysteria he was to see
them always. The vision he beheld against the darkness
of his mind, projected itself, and glared at him. He was
pursued by a spectre in his own brain, and for that
reason there was no escape. Wherever he went it followed
"Oh man, John," wailed his mother, "what are ye
feared for your faither's e'en for? He wouldna persecute
"Would he no?" he said slowly. "You ken yoursell
that he never liked me! And naebody could stand his
glower. Oh, he was a terrible man, my faither! You
could feel the passion in him when he stood still. He
could throw himsel at ye without moving. And he's
throwing himsel at me frae beyond the grave."
Mrs. Gourlay beat her desperate hands. Her feeble
remonstrance was a snowflake on a hill, to the dull intensity
of this conviction. So colossal was it that it
gripped herself, and she glanced dreadfully across her
shoulder. But, in spite of her fears, she must plead
with him to save.
"Johnnie dear," she wept passionately, "there's no
e'en! It's just the drink gars you think sae."
"No," he said dully; "the drink's my refuge. It's a
kind thing, drink. It helps a body."
"But, John, nobody believes in these things now-a-days.
It's just fancy in you. I wonder at a college-bred
man like you giving heed to a wheen nonsense!"
"Ye ken yoursell it was a by-word in the place that he
would haunt the House with the Green Shutters."
"God help me!" cried Mrs. Gourlay; "what am I to
She piled up a great fire in the parlour, and the three
poor creatures gathered round it for the night. (They
were afraid to sit in the kitchen of an evening, for even
the silent furniture seemed to talk of the murder it had
witnessed.) John was on a carpet stool by his mother's
feet, his head resting on her knee.
They heard the rattle of Wilson's brake as it swung
over the town-head from Auchterwheeze, and the laughter
of its jovial crew. They heard the town clock chiming
the lonesome passage of the hours. A dog was barking
in the street.
Gradually all other sounds died away.
"Mother," said John, "lay your hand alang my
shouther, touching my neck. I want to be sure that
you're near me."
"I'll do that, my bairn," said his mother. And soon
he was asleep.
Janet was reading a novel. The children had their.
mother's silly gift, a gift of the weak-minded, of forgetting
their own duties and their own sorrows, in a
vacant interest which they found in books. She had
wrapped a piece of coarse red flannel round her head
to comfort a swollen jaw, and her face appeared from
within like a tallowy oval.
"I didna get that story finished," said Mrs. Gourlay
vacantly, staring at the fire open-mouthed, her mutch-strings
dangling. It was the remark of a stricken mind
that speaks vacantly of anything. "Does Herbert Montgomery
marry Sir James's niece?"
"No," said Janet, "he's killed at the war. It's a gey
pity of him, isn't it? — Oh, what's that?"
It was John talking in his sleep.
"I have killed my faither," he said slowly, pausing
long between every phrase: "I have killed my faither
. . . I have killed my faither. And he's foll-owing me,
... he's foll-owing me . . . he's foll-owing me." It
was the voice of a thing, not a man. It swelled and
dwelt on the "follow," as if the horror of the pursuit
made it moan. "He's foll-owing me . . . he's following
me . . . he's foll-owing me. A face like a dark
mist — and e'en like hell. Oh, they're foll-owing me
. . . they're foll-owing me . . . they're foll-owing
me!" His voice seemed to come from an infinite distance.
It was like a lost soul moaning in a solitude.
The dog was barking in the street. A cry of the
night came from far away.
That voice was as if a corpse opened its lips, and told
of horrors beyond the grave. It brought the other world
into the homely room, and made it all demoniac. The
women felt the presence of the unknown. It was their
own flesh and blood that spoke the words, and by their
own quiet hearth. But hell seemed with them in the
Mrs. Gourlay drew back from John's head on her
lap, as from something monstrous and unholy. But
he moaned in deprivation, craving her support, and she
edged nearer to supply his need. Possessed with a devil
or no, he was her son.
"Mother!" gasped Janet suddenly, the white circles
of her eyes staring from the red flannel, her voice hoarse
with a new fear, "Mother, suppose — suppose he said
that before anybody else!"
"Don't mention't," cried her mother with sudden passion;
"how daur ye, how daur ye? My God!" she broke
down and wept, "they would hang him, so they would;
they would hang my boy; they would take and hang
They stared at each other wildly. John slept, his
head twisted over on his mother's knee, his eyes sunken,
his mouth wide open.
"Mother," Janet whispered, "you must send him
"I have only three pounds in the world," said Mrs.
Gourlay — and she put her hand to her breast where it
was, but winced as if a pain had bitten her.
"Send him away wi't," said Janet. "The furniture
may bring something. And you and me can aye thole."
In the morning Mrs. Gourlay brought two greasy
notes to the table, and placed them in her son's slack
hand. He was saner now; he had slept off his drunken
madness through the night.
"John," she said in pitiful appeal, "you maunna stay
here, laddie. Ye'll gie up the drink when you're away
— will ye na? — and then thae e'en ye're sae feared of
'll no trouble you ony mair. Gang to Glasgow and see
the lawyer folk about the bond. And, John dear," she
pleaded, "if there's nothing left for us, you'll try to
work for Janet and me, will ye no? You've a grand education,
and you'll surely get a place as a teacher or something;
I'm sure you would make a grand teacher. Ye
wouldna like to think of your mother trailing every
week to the like of Wilson for an awmous, streeking
out her auld hand for charity. The folk would stand
in their doors to look at me, man — they would that —
they would cry ben to each other to come oot and see
Gourlay's wife gaun slinkin doon the brae. Doon the
brae it would be," she repeated, "doon the brae it would
be" — and her mind drifted away on the sorrowful future
which her fear made so vivid and real. It was only
John's going that roused her.
Thomas Brodie, glowering abroad from a shop door
festooned in boots, his leather apron in front, and his
thumbs in the armholes of his waistcoat, as befitted an
important man, saw young Gourlay pass the Cross with
his bag in his hand, and dwindle up the road to the
"Where's he off to now?" he muttered, "there's something
at the boddom o' this, if a body could find it out!"
WHEN John had gone his mother roused herself to a
feverish industry. Even in the early days of her
strength, she had never been so busy in her home. But
her work was aimless and to no purpose. When tidying
she would take a cup without its saucer from the table,
and set off with it through the room, but stopping suddenly
in the middle of the floor, would fall into a muse
with the dish in her hand; coming to herself long afterwards
to ask vaguely, "What's this cup for? . . . Janet,
lassie, what was it I was doing?" Her energy, and its
frustration, had the same reason. The burden on her
mind constantly impelled her to do something to escape
from it — and the same burden paralysed her mind in
everything she did. So with another of her vacant
whims. Every morning she rose at an unearthly hour,
to fish out of old closets rag-bags bellied big with
the odds and ends of thirty years' assemblage. "I'll
make a patch-work quilt o'thir!" she explained with
a foolish, eager smile — and she spent hours snatching
up rags and vainly trying to match them. But the
quilt made no progress. She would look at a patch
for a while, with her head on one side, and pat it all
over with restless hands; then she would turn it round,
to see if it would look better that way, only to tear
it off when it was half sewn, to try another and yet
another. Often she would forget the work on her lap,
and stare across the room, open-mouthed; her fingers
plucking at her withered throat. Janet became afraid
of her mother.
Once she saw her smiling to herself, when she thought
nobody was watching her, an uncanny smile as of
one who hugged a secret to her breast — a secret that,
eluding others, would enable its holder to elude them
"What can she have to laugh at?" Janet wondered.
At times, the haze that seemed gathering round Mrs.
Gourlay's mind would be dispelled by sudden rushes of
fear, when she would whimper lest her son be hanged,
or herself come on the parish in her old age. But that
was rarely. Her brain was mercifully dulled, and her
days were passed in a restless vacancy.
She was sitting with the rags scattered round her
when John walked in on the evening of the third day.
There were rags everywhere; on the table, and all
about the kitchen; she sat in their midst like a witch
among the autumn leaves. When she looked towards
his entrance the smell of drink was wafted from the
"John!" she panted in surprise, "John, did ye not
go to Glasgow, boy?"
"Aye," he said slowly. "I gaed to Glasgow."
"And the bond, John? — did ye speir about the
"Aye," he said, "I spiered about the bond. The
whole house is sunk in't."
"Oh!" she gasped, and the whole world seemed to
go from beneath her, so weak did she feel through her
"John," she said after a while, "did ye no try to get
something to do, that you might help me and Janet now
"No," he said, "for the e'en wouldna let me. Nicht
and day they follow me a'where; nicht and day."
"Are they following ye yet, John?" she whispered,
leaning forward seriously. She did not try to disabuse
him now; she accepted what he said. Her mind was
on a level with his own. "Are they following ye yet?"
she asked with large eyes of sympathy and awe.
"Aye, and waur than ever, too. They're getting redder
and redder. It's not a dull red," he said, with a
faint return of his old interest in the curious physical;
"it's a gleaming red. They lowe. A' last nicht they
wouldna let me sleep. There was nae gas in my room,
and when the candle went out I could see them everywhere.
When I looked to one corner o' the room, they
were there; and when I looked to another corner, they
were there, too; glowering at me; glowering at me in the
darkness; glowering at me. Ye mind what a glower he
had! I hid from them ablow the claes, but they followed
me — they were burning in my brain. So I gaed
oot and stood by a lamp-post for company. But a constable
moved. me on; he said I was drunk because I muttered
to mysell. But I wasna drunk then, mother; I
wa-as not. So I walkit on. and on, and on, the whole
nicht — but I ave keepit to the lamp-posts for company.
And than when the public houses opened, I gaed in
and drank and drank. I didna like the drink, for whiskey
has no taste to me now. But it helps ye to forget.
"Mother?" he went on complainingly, "is it no
queer that a pair of e'en should follow a man? Just a
pair of e'en! It never happened to onybody but me,"
he said dully; "never to onybody but me."
His mother was panting open-mouthed, as if she
choked for air, both hands clutching at her bosom.
"Aye," she whispered, "it's queer," and kept on gasping
at intervals with staring eyes, "it's gey queer; it's
gey queer; it's gey queer."
She took up the needle once more and tried to sew,
but her hand was trembling so violently that she pricked
the left forefinger which upheld her work. She was
content thereafter to make loose stabs at the cloth, with
a result that she made great stitches which drew her
seam together in a pucker. Vacantly she tried to smooth
them out, stroking them over with her hand, constantly
stroking and to no purpose. John watched the aimless
work with dull and heavy eyes.
For a while there was silence in the kitchen. Janet
was coughing in the room above.
"There's just ae thing'll end it!" said John. "Mother,
give me three shillings."
It was not a request, and not a demand; it was the
dull statement of a need. Yet the need appeared so relentless,
uttered in the set fixity of his impassive voice,
that she could not gainsay it. She felt that this was not
merely her son making a demand; it was a compulsion
on him greater than himself.
"There's the money!" she said, clinking it down on
the table, and flashed a resentful smile at him, close
upon the brink of tears.
She had a fleeting anger. It was scarcely at him,
though; it was at the fate that drove him. Nor was it
for herself, for her own mood was, "Well, well; let it
gang." But she had a sense of unfairness, and a flicker
of quite impersonal resentment, that fate should wring
the last few shillings from a poor being. It wasna fair.
She had the emotion of it; and it spoke in the strange
look at her son, and in the smiling flush with the tears
behind it. Then she sank into apathy.
John took up the money and went out, heedless of
his mother where she sat by the table — he had a doom
on him and could see nothing, that did not lie within
his path. Nor did she take any note of his going; she
was callous. The tie between them was being annulled
by misery. She was ceasing to be his mother, he to be
her son; they were not younger and older, they were
the equal victims of necessity. Fate set each of them
apart to dree a separate weird.
In a house of long years of misery, the weak become
callous to their dearest's agony. The hard strong characters
are kindest in the end; they will help while their
hearts are breaking. But the weak fall asunder at the
last. It was not that Mrs. Gourlay was thinking of herself,
rather than of him. She was stunned by fate — as
was he — and could think of nothing.
Ten minutes later John came out of the Black Bull
with a bottle of whiskey.
It was a mellow evening, one of those evenings when
Barbie, the mean and dull, is transfigured to a gem-like
purity, and catches a radiance. There was a dreaming
sky above the town, and its light less came to the earth
than was on it, shining in every path with a gracious
immanence. John came on through the glow with his
burden undisguised, wrapped in a tissue paper which
chewed its outlines. He stared right before him like
a man walking in his sleep, and never once looked to
either side. At word of his coming the doors were filled
with mutches and bald heads, keeking by the jambs to
get a look. Many were indecent in their haste, not waiting
till he passed ere they peeped — which was their
usual way. Some even stood away out in front of their
doors to glower at him advancing, turning slowly with
him as he passed, and glowering behind him as he went.
They saw they might do so with impunity; that he did
not see them, but walked like a man in a dream. He
passed up the street and through the Square, beneath a
hundred eyes, the sun shining softly round him. Every
eye followed till he disappeared through his own door.
He went through the kitchen, where his mother sat,
carrying the bottle openly, and entered the parlour
without speaking. He came back and asked her for the
corkscrew, but when she said "Eh?" with a vague
wildness in her manner, and did not seem to understand,
he went and got it for himself. She continued making
stabs at her cloth and smoothing out the puckers in her
John was heard moving in the parlour. There was
the sharp plunk of a cork being drawn, followed by
a clink of glass. And then came a heavy thud like a
To Mrs. Gourlay the sounds meant nothing; she
heard them with her ear, not her mind. The world.
around her had retreated to a hazy distance, so that it
had no meaning. She would have gazed vaguely at a
shell about to burst beside her.
In the evening, Janet, who had been in bed all the
afternoon, came down and lit the lamp for her mother.
It was a large lamp which Gourlay had bought, and it
shed a rich light through the room.
"I heard John come in," she said, turning wearily
round; "but I was too ill to come down and ask what
had happened. Where is he?"
"John?" questioned her mother, "John? . . . Ou,
aye!" she panted, vaguely recalling, "Ou, aye! I think
— I think . . . he gaed ben the parlour."
"The parlour!" cried Janet, "but he must be in the
dark! And he canna thole the darkness!"
"John!" she cried, going to the parlour door,
There was a silence of the grave.
She lit a candle, and went into the room. And then
she gave a squeal like a rabbit in a dog's jaws.
Mrs. Gourlay dragged her gaunt limbs wearily across
the floor. By the wavering light, which shook in Janet's
hand, she saw her son lying dead across the sofa. The
whiskey-bottle on the table was half empty, and of a
smaller bottle beside it he had drunk a third. He
had taken all that whiskey that he might deaden his
mind to the horror of swallowing the poison. His legs
had slipped to the floor when he died, but his body was
lying back across the couch, his mouth open, his eyes
staring horridly up. They were not the eyes of the
quiet dead, but bulged in frozen fear, as if his father's
eyes had watched him from aloft while he died.
"There's twa thirds of the poison left," commented
"Mother!" Janet screamed, and shook her. "Mother,
John's deid! John's deid. Don't ye see John's
"Aye, he's deid," said Mrs. Gourlay, staring. "He
winna be hanged now!"
"Mother!" cried Janet, desperate before this apathy,
"what shall we do? What shall we do? Shall I run
and bring the neebours?"
"The neebours!" said Mrs. Gourlay, rousing herself
wildly. "The neebours! What have we to do with the
neebours? We are by ourselves — the Gourlays whom
God has cursed; we can have no neebours. Come ben
the house and I'll tell ye something," she whispered
wildly. "Aye," she nodded, smiling with mad significance,
"I'll tell ye something . . . I'll tell ye something,"
and she dragged Janet to the kitchen.
Janet's heart was rent for her brother, but the frenzy
on her mother killed sorrow with a new fear.
"Janet!" smiled Mrs. Gourlay, with insane soft interest,
"Janet! D'ye mind yon nicht langsyne when
your faither came in wi' a terrible look in his e'en, and
struck me in the breist? Aye," she whispered hoarsely,
staring at the fire, "he struck me in the breist. But I
didna ken what it was for, Janet . . . No," she shook
her head, "he never telled me what it was for."
"Aye, mother," whispered Janet, "I have mind o't."
"Weel, an abscess o' some kind formed — I kenna weel
what it was — but it gathered and broke, and gathered
and broke, till my breist's near eaten awa wi't. Look!"
she cried, tearing open her bosom, and Janet's head
flung back in horror and disgust.
"Oh, mother!" she panted, "was it that that the
wee clouts were for?"
"Aye, it was that," said her mother. "Mony a clout
I had to wash, and mony a nicht I sat lonely by mysell,
plaistering my withered breist. But I never let onybody
ken," she added with pride; "na-a-a; I never let
onybody ken. When your faither nipped me wi' his
tongue, it nipped me wi' its pain, and, woman, it consoled
me. 'Aye, aye,' I used to think; 'jibe awa, jibe
awa; but I hae a freend in my breist that'll end it some
day.' I likit to keep it to mysell. When it bit me it
seemed to whisper I had a freend that nane o' them
kenned o' — a freend that would deliver me! The mair
he badgered me, the closer I hugged it; and when my
he'rt was br'akin I enjoyed the pain o't."
"Oh, my poor, poor mother!" cried Janet with a
bursting sob, her eyes raining hot tears. Her very body
seemed to feel compassion; it quivered and crept near,
as though it would brood over her mother and protect
her. She raised the poor hand and kissed it, and fondled
it between her own.
But her mother had forgotten the world in one of her
wild lapses, and was staring fixedly.
"I'll no lang be a burden to onybody," she said to
herself. "It should sune be wearing to a heid now. But
I thought of something the day John gaed away. Aye,
I thought of something," she said vaguely. "Janet,
what was it I was thinking of?"
"I dinna ken," whispered Janet.
"I was thinking of something!" her mother mused.
Her voice all through was a far-off voice, remote from
understanding. "Yes, I remember. Ye're young, Jenny,
and you learned the dressmaking — do ye think ye
could sew, or something, to keep a bit garret owre my
heid till I dee? Aye, it was that I was thinking of —
though it doesna matter much now. — Eh, Jenny? I'll
no bother you for verra lang. But I'll no gang on
the parish," she said in a passionless voice, "I'll no
gang on the parish. — I'm Miss Richmond o' Tenshillingland."
She had no interest in her own suggestion. It was an
idea that had flitted through her mind before, which
came back to her now in feeble recollection. She
seemed not to wait for an answer, to have forgotten what
"Oh, mother," cried Janet, "there's a curse on us
all! I would work my fingers raw for ye if I could, but
I canna," she screamed, "I canna, I canna! My lungs
are bye wi't. On Tuesday in Skeighan the doctor telled
me I would soon be deid — he didna say't, but fine I
saw what he was hinting. He advised me to gang to
Ventnor in the Isle o' Wight," she added wanly, "as if I
could gang to the Isle o' Wight. I cam hame trembling
and wanted to tell ye, but when I cam in ye were ta'en
up wi' John, and, 'Oh, lassie,' said you, 'dinna bother
me wi' your complaints enow.' I was hurt at that, and
'Well, well,' I thocht, 'if she doesna want to hear, I'll
no tell her!' I was huffed at ye. And then my faither
came in, and ye ken what happened. I hadna the heart
to speak o't after that; I didna seem to care. I ken
what it is to nurse daith in my breist wi' pride, too,
mother," she went on. "Ye never cared verra much
for me, it was John was your favourite. I used to be
angry because you neglected my illness, and I never
felled you how heavily I hoasted blood. 'She'll be sorry
for this when I'm deid,' I used to think — and I hoped
you would be. I had a kind of pride in saying nothing.
But, oh, mother, I didna ken you were just the same, I
didna ken you were just the same." She looked. Her
mother was not listening.
Suddenly Mrs. Gourlay screamed with wild laughter,
and, laughing, eyed with mirthless merriment, the look
of horror with which Janet was regarding her. "Ha,
ha, ha!" she screamed, "it's to be a clean sweep o'
the Gourlays! Ha, ha, ha! it's to be a clean sweep o' the
There is nothing uglier in life than a woman's cruel
laugh, but Mrs. Gourlay's laugh was more than cruel,
it was demoniac; the skirl of a human being carried by
misery beyond the confines of humanity. Janet stared
at her in speechless fear.
"Mother," she whispered at last, "what are we to
"There's twa thirds of the poison left," said Mrs.
"Mother!" cried Janet.
"Gourlay's dochter may gang on the parish if she
likes, but his wife never will. You may hoast yourself
to death in a garret in the poorhouse, but I'll follow my
The sudden picture of her own lonely death as a
pauper among strangers, when her mother and brother
should be gone, was so appalling to Janet, that to die
with her mother seemed pleasanter. She could not bear
to be left alone.
"Mother," she cried in a frenzy, "I'll keep ye company!"
"Let us read a Chapter," said Mrs. Gourlay.
She took down the big Bible, and "the thirteent'
Chapter o' first Corinthians." she announced in a loud
voice, as if giving it out from the pulpit, "the thirteent'
— o' the first Corinthians":
"Though I speak with the tongues of men and of
angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding
brass, or a tinkling cymbal.
"'And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand
all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I
have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and
have not charity, I am nothing.'"
Mrs. Gourlay's manner had changed; she was in the
high exaltation of madness. Callous she still appeared,
so possessed by her general doom that she had no
sense of its particular woes. But she was listless no
more. Willing her death, she seemed to borrow its
greatness and become one with the law that punished
her. Arrogating the Almighty's function to expedite
her doom, she was the equal of the Most High. It was
her feebleness that made her great. Because in her
feebleness she yielded entirely to the fate that swept her
on, she was imbued with its demoniac power.
"'Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth
not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up.
"'Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own,
is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil;
"Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth;
"'Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all
things, endureth all things.
"Charity never faileth: but whether there be prophecies,
they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall
cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away.
"'For we know in part, and we prophesy in part.
"'But when that which is perfect is come, then that
which is in part shall be done away.'"
Her voice rose high and shrill as she read the great
verses. Her large blue eyes shone with ecstasy. Janet
looked at her in fear. This was more than her mother
speaking, it was more than human, it was a voice from
beyond the world. Alone, the timid girl would have
shrunk from death, but her mother's inspiration held
"'And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three:
but the greatest of these is charity.'"
Janet had been listening with such strained attention
that the "Amen" rang out of her loud and involuntary,
like an answer to a compelling Deity. She had
clung to this reading as the one thing left to her before
death, and out of her nature thus strained to listen the
"Amen" came, as sped by an inner will. She scarcely
knew that she said it.
They rose, and the scrunt of Janet's chair on the
floor, when she pushed it behind her, sent a thrilling
shiver through her body, so tense was her mood. They
stood with their hands on their chair-backs, and looked
at each other, in a curious palsy of the will. The first
step to the parlour door would commit them to the
deed; to take it was to take the poison, and they paused,
feeling its significance. To move was to give themselves
to the irrevocable. When they stirred at length they
felt as if the ultimate crisis had been passed; there could
be no return. Mrs. Gourlay had Janet by the wrist.
She turned and looked at her daughter, and for one
fleeting moment she ceased to be above humanity.
"Janet," she said wistfully, "I have had a heap to
thole! Maybe the Lord Jesus Christ'll no' be owre sair
"Oh, mother!" Janet screamed, yielding to her terror
when her mother weakened. "Oh, mother, I'm
feared! I'm feared! Oh, mother, I'm feared!"
"Come!" said her mother; "Come!" and drew her
by the wrist. They went into the parlour.
The post was a square-built, bandy-legged little man,
with a bristle of grizzled hair about his twisted mouth,
perpetually cocking up an ill-bred face in the sight of
Heaven. Physically and morally he had in him something
both of the Scotch terrier and the London sparrow
— the shagginess of the one, the cocked eye of the other,
the one's snarling temper, the other's assured impudence.
In Gourlay's day he had never got by the gateway
of the yard, much as he had wanted to come farther.
Gourlay had an eye for a thing like him. "Damn
the gurly brute!" Postie complained once; "when I
passed a pleasand remark about the weather the other
morning, he just looked at me and blew the reek of his
pipe in my face. And that was his only answer!"
Now that Gourlay was gone, however, Postie clattered
through the yard every morning, right up to the back
"A heap o' correspondence thir mornins!" he would
simper — his greedy little eye trying to glean revelations
from the women's faces, as they took the letters from his
On the morning after young Gourlay came home for
the last time, Postie was pelting along with his quick
thudding step near the head of the Square, when
whom should he meet but Sandy Toddle, still unwashed
and yawning from his bed. It was early and the streets
were empty, except where in the distance the bent figure
of an old man was seen hirpling off to his work, first
twisting round stiffly to cock his eye right and left at
the sky, to forecast the weather for the day.
From the chimneys the fair white spirlies of reek were
rising in the pure air. The Gourlays did not seem to be
stirring yet; there was no smoke above their rooftree to
show that there was life within.
Postie jerked his thumb across his shoulder at the
House with the Green Shutters.
"There'll be chynges there the day," he said, chirruping.
"Wha-at!" Toddle breathed in a hoarse whisper of
astonishment, "sequesteration?" and he stared, big-eyed,
with his brows arched.
"Something o' that kind," said the post carelessly.
"I'm no' weel acquaint wi' the law-wers' lingo."
"Will't be true, think ye?" said Sandy.
"God, it's true," said the post. "I had it frae Jock
Hutchison, the clerk in Skeighan Goudie's. He got fou
yestreen on the road to Barbie and blabbed it — he'll
lose his job, yon chap, if he doesna keep his mouth shut.
— True, aye! It's true! There's damn the doubt o'
Toddle corrugated his mouth to whistle. He turned
and stared at the House with the Green Shutters, gawcey
and substantial on its terrace, beneath the tremulous
beauty of the dawn. There was a glorious sunrise.
"God!" he said, "what a downcome for that hoose!"
"Is it no'?" chuckled Postie.
"Whose account is it on?" said Toddle.
"Oh, I don't ken," said Postie, carelessly. "He had
creditors a' owre the country. I was aye bringing the
big blue envelopes from different airts. Don't mention
this, now," he added, his finger up, his eye significant.
"It shouldn't be known at a-all." He was unwilling
that Toddle should get an unfair start, and spoil his own
market for the news.
"Nut me!" Toddle assured him grandly, shaking his
head as who should conduct of that kind a thousand
miles off. "Nut me, post! I'll no breathe it to a living
The post clattered in to Mrs. Gourlay's back-door.
He had a heavy under-stamped letter on which there
was threepence to pay. He might pick up an item or
two while she was getting him the bawbees.
He knocked, but there was no answer.
"The sluts!" said he, with a humph of disgust;
"they're still on their backs, it seems."
He knocked again. The sound of his knuckles on the
door rang out hollowly, as if there was nothing but
emptiness within. While he waited he turned on the
step, and looked idly at the courtyard. The enwalled
little place was curiously still.
At last in his impatience he turned the handle, when
to his surprise the door opened, and let him enter.
The leaves of a Bible fluttered in the fresh wind from
the door. A large lamp was burning on the table. Its
big yellow flame was unnatural in the sunshine.
"H'mph!" said Postie, tossing his chin in disgust,
"little wonder everything gaed to wreck and ruin in this
house! The slovens have left the lamp burning the
whole nicht lang. But less licht'll serve them now, I'm
A few dead ashes were sticking from the lower bars
of the range. Postie crossed to the fireplace and looked
down at the fender. That bright spot would be the
place, now, where auld Gourlay killed himself. The
women must have rubbed it so bright in trying to get
out the blood. It was an uncanny thing to keep in the
house, that. He stared at the fatal spot till he grew
eerie in the strange stillness.
"Guidwife!" he cried, "Jennet! Don't ye
They did not hear, it seemed.
"God!" said he, "they sleep sound after all their
At last — partly in impatience, and partly from a wish
to pry — he opened the door of the parlour. "Oh, my
God!" he screamed, leaping back, and with his bulky
bag got stuck in the kitchen door, in his desperate hurry
to be gone.
He ran round to the Square in front, and down to
Sandy Toddle, who was informing a bunch of unshaven
bodies that the Gourlays were "sequestered."
"Oh, my God, post, what have you seen, to bring
that look to your eyes? What have you seen, man?
Speak for God's sake! What is it?"
The post gasped and stammered — then "Ooh!" he
shivered in horror, and covered his eyes, at a sudden
picture in his brain.
"Speak!" said a man solemnly.
"They have — they have — they have a' killed themselves,"
stammered the postman, pointing to the Gourlays'.
Their loins were loosened beneath them. The scrape
of their feet on the road, as they turned to stare,
sounded monstrous in the silence. No man dared to
speak. They gazed with blanched faces at the House
with the Green Shutters, sitting dark there and terrible,
beneath the radiant arch of the dawn.
Cite this Document
The House with the Green Shutters. 2022. In The Corpus of Modern Scottish Writing. Glasgow: University of Glasgow. Retrieved November 2022, from http://www.scottishcorpus.ac.uk/cmsw/document/?documentid=130.
"The House with the Green Shutters." The Corpus of Modern Scottish Writing. Glasgow: University of Glasgow, 2022. Web. November 2022. http://www.scottishcorpus.ac.uk/cmsw/document/?documentid=130.
The Corpus of Modern Scottish Writing, s.v., "The House with the Green Shutters," accessed November 2022, http://www.scottishcorpus.ac.uk/cmsw/document/?documentid=130.
If your style guide prefers a single bibliography entry for this resource, we recommend:
The Corpus of Modern Scottish Writing. 2022. Glasgow: University of Glasgow. http://www.scottishcorpus.ac.uk/cmsw/.
The House with the Green Shutters
|Title||The House with the Green Shutters|
|Year of publication||1902|
Author information: Douglas Brown, George
|Year of birth||1869|
|Place of birth||Ochiltree, Ayrshire, Scotland|
|Mother's occupation||Farm servant|
|Locations where resident||London|
|Other languages spoken||Greek|