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The last of the lairds : or, The life and opinions of Malachi Mailings, esq. of Auldbiggings online

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describing it in your book, an occasion on which
you might have given the world a fine impressive
moral lesson."

" I am very sorry to hae been sae neglectfu',
if ye think sae," replied the Laird.

" Indeed you have been much to blame ; and,
considering your talents, I must say you have
hidden your candle under a bushel, Laird.
How did your father happen to die ?"

" It's a heavy tale ; but it came to pass after


this manner : ye see he was ane of the Langsyne
Club, that some threescore Yules bygane had its
howf in a public in the town, keepit by a wife
that was by name Luckie Gawsie and he was
a man (meaning my father) o' a pleasantrie in
company, as I have often heard the late Spark-
inhawse o'Drycraigs tell; mony a sooh and sappy
night they had wi' ane anither : there was na a
blither bike o' drowthy neibours in a' the shire ;
Quaigh o' Plunkcorkie was the preses, and Lug-
gie o' Dramkegthe croupier. But mirth and me-
lancholy are the twins o' mortality walking
hand in hand, to and fro', roaring like lions seek-
ing whom they may devour heh, sirs, that night
they visited the public o' Luckie Gawsie weel
may I recollect what Sparkinhawse told me ; it
was wi' the tear in his e'e, for he was a warm-
hearted bodie. We had been squeezing the sides o'
the gardevin, and neither o' us were then fasting,
but baith jocose, the whilk, as he said, put him
in mind o' the auld langsyne. ' Laird/ quo' he
we were sitting in Luckie Gawsie's back room,
wi' her tappit hen o' claret wine on the table,
according to the use and wont o' the club, and
Luggie o' Dramkeg was singing the Gaberloonie


like a nightingale oh, he was a deacon at a
pawky sang^-I use his ain words," said the

" And what happened ?"

" What happened ! Drycraigs, in the "way of
a peradventure, some short time after the sang,
gied a glimpse out o'er the table at my father,
and seeing something no canny in his glower,
said to the preses, * Plunkcorkie,' said he, ' I'm
thinking Auldbiggings is looking unco gash.'
* Gash !' quo' Plunkcorkie, 6 nae wonder, he's
been dead this half hour ; his e'en flew up and
his lip fell down just as Dramkeg was singing
the verse about the courting at the fire-side ; and
was I to spoil a gude sang for the likes o' him ?
so when it was done, through an accidence of
memory, I forgot to tell you o' the poplexy.
But,' continued Plunkcorkie, as Drycraigs told
me, ' now that it's noticed, we, for a decency,
must get the corpse ta'en hame to its ain house.'
Whereupon they all raise frae their seats, said
Drycraigs. Was na that a moving sight ? and
they filled lippies, and in solemn silence drank
their auld frien' for the last time ; and Quaigh o'
Plunkcorkie, the preses, held a glass to my fa-


tlier's mouth, but he couldna taste, which was a
sure sign he was a dead man ; whereupon they
all fell to the greeting with the hearts o' men,
mourning in affliction."

I exerted myself to the utmost to sympathize
with the Laird during this affecting description
of the langsyne nights of claret in tappit hens,
and my endeavours were of necessity redoubled
by his moral reflections on the occasion.

" But," said he, " as one door steeks another
opens, and my father's death brought me into
the world mair than two moons afore the com-
mon course of nature ; for ye see, when my mo-
ther, through the mist o' a grey March morning,
heard a sound coming towards the house, and
lookit out at her window, she discern't the three
fou lairds bringing her dead gudeman hame
Drycraigs and Dramkeg were harling the body
through the mire by the oxsters, his head dang-
ling o'er his breast like an ill-sewed-on button
Plunkcorkie, the preses o' the club, was follow-
ing in a sorrowfu' condition, carrying my fa-
ther's wig and his hat, and one of his boots that
had come off, no man could tell how, as they
were hauling the corpse along the road; and


Drycraigs told me that poor man, Plunkcorkie,
was so demented wi' grief, that when he came
into the house he had the shank o j the very glass
in his hand he had held to his old Men's lips,
which, you must allow, was a very touching

" And when they brought home the Laird,
what was done ?"

" Done ! muckle was done does na every-
body ken I'm a seven-month's bairn, the which
is the cause of my weakliness, and has been o'
the greatest detriment to me a' my days ; because
had I no been sae defective wi' infirmity, I might
hae been walking the Parliament House o' Edin-
burgh, wi' a blue shaloon pock to baud fees
but a want is no a fault."

" Very true, Laird," said I ; " what you say
is a most sagacious remark but if by reason of
any innate weakliness of faculty you have been
kept from the bar, the world may have no cause
to rue the loss of you as a lawyer, since we are
so likely to profit by you as an author."

" No, man," was his emphatic answer " no,
man I was going to make an observe in the


way of philosophy, but let that pass, and do
something for the good o' the house."

I had by this time sipped unconsciously the
entire contents of my toddy tumbler, and ac-
cordingly, upon the Laird's suggestion, I began
to replenish.



AFTER the account which Malachi had given
of his birth and parentage, I was curious to see
what he had said of his education ; but on lifting
and opening the first volume, (for he dignified
his books with that title,) I found nothing what-
ever recorded respecting it, nor of anything
which had befallen him till he reached his eigh-
teenth year.

" Dear me, Laird," said I, " how is this ?
You have omitted what is even more important
than the account of your family all the happy
days of your childhood."

" Happy days ! that's a* ye ken o' them. Oh,
if ye but knew what I suffered in the tender
years of my childhood ! I was persecuted like a
martyr the blains o' Dominie Skelp's tawse ye
may yet discern by an inspection a' the week


there was nothing for me but read, read, read
your lesson write, write, write your copy
add, subtract, multiply, and divide ; and on the
Sabbath day, when man and beast and spin-
ning-wheel got leave to rest, I was buffetted by
Satan ten times waur in the shape o' the Psalms
o' David The deevil hae his will o' them, mony
a time thought I, that begat the Question-book."

" But, Laird, pains are pleasant in the recol-
lection, and I should have expected, from the
manner in which you of course passed your
youth, that there would have been a vernal
freshness in the description, such a dewy blos-
soming in the memory of your sports and re-
creations, as would have moved the world to re-
veries of innocence and delight."

" Poo, poo ! what is't to be a slave, a nigger
slave, but to be flogged on the back wi' a whip ?
well do I know a tenderer part than the back,
and a whip has but ae scourge, our schoolmais-
ter's tawse had seven neither intemperance nor
old age hae in gout or rheumatic an agony to
compare wi' a weel-laid-on whack o' the tawse
on a part that for manners shall be nameless."

" Well, Laird, though there is some truth in
what you say, yet I never should have thought


you were likely to have required any excessive
degree of admonition a posteriori"

" But I was hated by the master he had a
pleasure and satisfaction in gripping me by the
coat-neck and shaking me wi' a gurl, because I
had no instinct for learning. It's my opinion,
had I been a justice of the peace at that time, I
would hae prosecuted him to the utmost rigour
of the law. Do you know, that once in his tan-
trams he flew on me like a mad dog, and nippit
my twa lugs till he left the stedt o' his fingers
as plainly upon them as the mark o' Peter's fin-
ger and thumb can be seen on the haddock's
back. There was na a day I did na get a pawmy
but ane, and on it I got twa, the whilk was ca'd
in derision a double morning."

" He appears to have been indeed a most
irascible dominie ; but all was no doubt made up
to you, when the blessed hours of play and sun-
shine came round buoyant and bounding with
your school-fellows "

" Haud your hand ! nane o' your parleyvoo-
ing, ye loon that ye are," exclaimed the Laird,
half slyly half earnestly, " for the laddies at our
school werena like ither laddies the thought o'
the usage they gied me gars me grind my teeth


to this day. The master infectit them wi' his
hatred against me, and they never divaul't wi'
their torments sure am I, if there be a deevil
that's called Legion, that deevil was the hundred
and thirteen laddies at Dominie Skelp's school -
for though many in number, they were but ane
in nature. Now just think o' what they did
they ance liftit me o'er the minister's dyke and
gart me steal his apples !"

" But you were rewarded with a share of the
spoil ?"

" Ay, yes I was rewardit that's nae lee
but how ? tell me that ? They made me gie
them my hatfu', and when they got it, they a*
set up a shout and a cry o' a thief in the yard,
which brought out Gilbert the minister's man
like a raging bear. He was a contemptuous

" What did he do to you ?"

" Do ! he laughed me to scorn wi' a gaffaw,
and said he thought I had na spunk for sic a
spree and then out came Mrs Glebanteinds the
minister's wife, knocking her nieves at me as if
I had been an unrighteous malefactor, till I waa


sae terrify 't that I terrify 't them wi' my cries
o' dread. It has been said, indeed, I ne'er got
the better o' that fright ; and I hae some cause
to think no without reason, for I grue wi* the
thought o' an apple to this day, like Adam and
Eve, when they had begotte ntheir sons and
daughters. But I had my satisfaction o 7 that
finger o' scorn, Gilbert, though it was mair than
fifteen years after."

Well as I was aware of the Laird's disposition
to treasure and cherish resentment, this con-
fession of satisfaction at enjoying revenge so
many years after the school-boy prank, made me
say in a tone very different from that in which
I usually addressed him,

" Is it possible that a man could harbour an-
ger so long?" My indignation was, however, soon
bridled, for I presently recollected to whom I
was speaking : his answer was characteristic.

" Had ye felt my provocation, ye would hae
been angry at him a' your days, though ye had
lived to the age of Methusalem and yet I was
na very austere either."

" What did you to him ?"

" I'll fell you, if ye'll thole and listen like a


man o' jurisprudence. Ye see, it cauie to pa**
that the minister, being weel stricken in years,
stretched out his legs on the bed of sickness and
departed this life ; whereupon his wife, Mrs Gle-
bantiends, being sequestrated from the stipend,
left the manse and went' to live in the town on
Sir Hairy's Fond,* which is, as you know, a
grand provision for the like o' her. Thus it
came to pass, that auld Gilbert was ordained to
earn his bread by the sweat of his brow, which
is the portion of man that is born of a woman,
and his lot was to howk ditches. When he had
laboured at that some dozen years or the like,
after the death of his master, he was afflicted
wi' an income, and no being able to handle spade
or pick, he was constrained to beggary ; and so
it happened that on the very first morning that
he took up the meal-pock for eikrie o j life, as
the folk called it, I was standing at the yett
looking to see wha might be going to the town,

The Laird would seem to have forgotten that the
" Widows' Fund" was not, at the time of which he was
speaking, under the able management of the Rev. Sir
Harry Moncrieff.


and wha coming frae't, when, lo and behold ! I
saw an auld beggar-man, wi' a grey head and a
cleaner pock than usual, and it was toom ye
see it was his first morning at the trade hirp-
ling wi' a stilt towards the avenue ; and so hirp-
ling, when he saw me he stoppit, and s wither 't,
and turned round, and was blate to come, the
which made me wonder; but belyve, he took
off his bonnet and cam to me wi't in his hand,
wi' his bald head bare ; and when I was mar-
velling wha this new-set-up beggar could be,
(for I had no thought o' Gilbert,) he said,
* Laird, will ye hansel my pock ?' for he was
aye a jocose body, ' Will ye hansel my pock,
for auld langsyne, Laird?' ' For auld lang-
syne !' quo' I, ' a hansel in the jougs would
better serve ybu than an almous gae awa wi'
you, ye fause loon ! an ye come within the bounds
o' Auldbiggings, I'll set the dog on you, for
what ye did to me in the manse garden that's
the auld langsyne I keep in memento.' "

" And did he knock you down with his

" Na, na, he durstna do that but I trow he



was dauntit, for he turn't on his heel and put on
his bonnet wi' a splurt like a Highlandman in a
pet, and powled himsel awa wi' his stilt.

" But," continued the Laird after a pause,
during which he looked somewhat doubtfully at
me " but I see ye think I didna do right,"
adding, " I'm no, however, so hard-hearted as I
let wot for when I saw that I had made an
impression, I ran after him and touched him on
the shoulder, and putting my hand in my pouch,
I gave him a whole penny twa new bawbees,
gude weight, for it was then the days o' the
tumbling Tarns."

" And what said he ?"

" Ye'll aiblins think he was full o' thanks-
giving nae sic thing, but as proud as when he
was the minister's man he took the penny
twa beautiful bawbees it was, and he looked at
them, and what do you think he said ? ' I'm a
beggar noo, and I oughtna to refuse God's cha-
rity !' so, withouten a be thank, he hobbled on
his way, leaving me standing in the middle of
the road wi' my finger in my mouth."

There was something in this story, which at
the moment damped my curiosity, and, notwith-


standing the Laird's earnest entreaties to pro-
long my visit, made me rise abruptly : a little
more hastily, too, than was quite consistent with
good manners, I hade him for that afternoon
farewell. But as 1 walked homeward, I reflected
on the singular circumstance of such a being
attempting a history of himself, and soon settled
it to my own contentment, that if his book was
not likely to furnish many materials for amuse-
ment, there was yet enough in his recollections
and observations worthy of being a little further
sifted ; accordingly, although I had left Auld-
biggings half resolved never again to pass the
threshold, it so happened that before I reached
home, my determination was formed to visit him
again on the following day.


I HAVE a notion that the auto-biography of
an idiot might not only be interesting, but
prove an acquisition of no inconsiderable value
to the most philosophical thinkers ; and it seem-
ed to me, upon reflection, that the Laird's under-
taking was less preposterous than I had at first
imagined. It was possible that although always
regarded by the neighbours as a mere rumina-
ting animal, he might yet, in the course of his
time, have observed, in the passing current of
things, something worthy of notice which had
escaped the attention of men reputed wiser.
This idea changed in some degree the estima-
tion I had formed of his labour ; I could not,
indeed, refrain from thinking even of himself
with feelings of augmented consideration.

In this speculative frame of mind I took my


hat and stick next day, and walked saunteringly
across the fields towards Auldbiggings, keeping
a path which trended towards the house at some
distance from the high-road, in order that I
might not be disturbed in my reveries by any
accidental encounter with those sort of friends
who are ever socially disposed to inflict their
company upon you, especially when you most
desire to walk alone.

This path winded over the Whinny Knowes,
an untenanted and unrentable portion of the
Laird's domain, famed from time immemorial
among the school-boys of the town for nests and
brambleberries, and for which they, as regu-
larly as the equinoxial gales, waged a vernal
and autumnal war with Jock the Laird's man.
For his master, by some peculiar and squire-like
interpretation of the spirit and principles of the
game laws, claimed and asserted a right of pro-
perty over them, as sacred and lawful as that
which he possessed to his own dove-cot, or the
fruit of his garden. Accordingly, as soon as the
gowans began to open the silvery lids of their
golden eyes in the spring, Jock was posted
among the blooming furze and broom, particu-


larly on the Saturday's blessed afternoon, to
herd the nests. And in like manner, and as
periodically as the same play-hallowed day of
the week returned, as soon as the celebrated
ruddy apples began to blush on the boughs, he
was again sent thither to defend the berries, nor
were the oranges of the Hesperides guarded of
old by a more indomitable griffon.

It happened on the occasion of which I am
speaking, that the warder had taken post for the
first or second time for the season to watch the
nests I am not sure if the day, however, was
a Saturday, but if it was not, the weather was
so bland and bright that it ought to have been.
Jock was sitting in a niche of golden broom, and,
inspirited by the influence of the birds and
blossoms around him, was gaily whistling, it
might be for the want of thought, or from the
enjoyment of happiness, as he tapered a fishing-
rod with an old table-knife of the true Margaret
Nicholson edge and pattern. Oil seeing me ap-
proaching, he rose, leaving his task and imple-
ment on the grass, and in a style I had never
remarked in him before, he raised his hand to
his hat, and held it there till I requested him to


use no new ceremony. I said, however, to my-
self, this is another effect of the King's visit ;
but as Jock did not accompany the Laird on
the occasion to Athens, I became a little pryish
to ascertain whether this debonair touching of
the hat was derived from the special tuition of
his master, or had been acquired from some
compeer's authority. Before I had time, how-
ever, to ask any question, Jock inquired if I
was for " The Place," as the house of Auldbig-
gings was commonly called by the servants and

" Ye'll fin' the Laird," said he, "a busy

" Indeedand what is he doing ?"
" Doing ? what should he be doing, but sit-
ting on his ain louping-on stane, glowring frae

" And call ye that being busy, John ?"
" And is't no sae ? Is na idleset the wark o'
a gentleman and what more would ye hae him
to be doing in that way? what could he do
more ?"

" Then he has given, up writing his book,
has he ?"


'* He Miami think o' what to put in't King
David made his Psalms in the watches of the

" 'Tis my opinion, John," said I, " that the
Laird might do worse than consult you on the
subject, considering how long and how well you
have been acquainted with himself and all his

" Fm thinking," replied Jock, casting his
eyes on the ground, " he would come but little
speed without the help and counsel o* some-
body, living sic a lonely life as he has done ;
till he gaed to the King's coming hame, it could
na be said in a sense that he had cast an ee on
the world."

" But your experience in that way, John, has
been great ; and if he consults his own renown,
he will take your advice in every sentence." I
had in this my mind's eye on Moliere's Old

" I'll no deny that I hae had a finger in the
pie already; but I was telling him yestreen,
after ye went away, when he gied me an ac-
count of your applauses, that I thought the
book would be better if he would saw it here


and there wi' twa three bonny kittle words out
o j the dictioner. If it has a fault, (and what
has na ?) it's a want o j gentility."

That Jock had long heen viceroy over the
Laird, was well known to the whole parish ;
but that he was so deep in his literary counsels,
and so participant in his lucubrations, I had
not suspected. I felt, therefore, that to indulge
curiosity further, by leading him on to the
unconscious disclosure of his master's secrets,
would be as little consonant to gentility, as the
want of kittle words in the Memoirs. Accord-
ingly, partly to appease my own compunctions,
and partly to soothe him into an oblivion of the
impertinence of which I had been so guilty, I
complimented him on his long and faithful at-
tachment to the Laird, and on the confidence
which he enjoyed, and which he merited.

" And he weel deserves to be weel servit,"
was the answer. " Is na he come o' a paren-
tage o' pedigree, and born wi' a silver spoon in
his mouth to an heritage o' parks and pastures,
woods and waters, and a' the other commodi-
ties that mak blood gentle ?"

Hitherto I had known little more of Jock than


by sight; but I discovered by this accidental
conversation that he was worthy of all the cele-
brity he enjoyed among the neighbours for the
sagacity of his remarks, and the singularity of
his sayings, many of the latter having acquired
the currency of proverbs ; but whether owing
to the value of the bullion, or to the peculiari-
ties of the mintage, might perhaps admit of
some controversy. It was clear, however, that
Jock was worthy of his master; nor in the
sequel will it be questioned, that the Laird
deserved such a man. But as it is both fit and
expedient that the courteous reader should also
become a little more acquainted with Jock, it
may be as well to mention a few particulars of
his personal history and character, while the
scene of my own role in the drama is changing
from the Whinny Knowes to the parlour of

Jock, or John Dabbler, as he ought to be
called, when we quit the free vernacular of our
colloquial pen, and indite with the recondite
dignity of history, was the son of one of the
Laird's cotters. For some four or five years
after his birth, it was the unshaken opinion of


his mother that he was born to distinction, in-
asmuch as he had, according to her account of
him, always showed a greater inclination to
eat than to work ; hut increase of years, which
expanded his capacity for the former, brought
no compensating alacrity for the latter ; and in
consequence, as he would neither learn a town-
trade, nor help his father in the labour of dykes
and ditches, she obtained for him, about the age
of seven, a sort of ashypet office in the Laird's
kitchen, where, in course of time, he acquired
a grey duffle coat with a red collar, and was
regarded as the helper and successor of an old
man, who had spent his whole life in the honour-
able vocation of flunkie to three generations of
the Auldbiggings.

At the era of which we are treating, Jock,
though far advanced into the wane of man-
hood, still retained the familiar callant abbre-
viation of his baptismal epithet, and still as
devoutly believed, as on the first day when he
entered the house, that the whole earth con-
tained but two men worthy of worship the
King and the Laird but to which the prime
honour and the firstlings of homage were due,


lie had never determined to his own satisfac-
tion. The leaning certainly, however, was in
favour of the Laird; for, never having seen
the King, he justly remarked, when sometimes
drawn into controversy on the subject, that far-
off fowls had fair feathers thereby intimating,
that upon a nearer inspection, and closer com-
parison, the difference would be found less be-
tween them than in the alleged disparity of the
pomp and circumstance of their respective con-

Besides this personal opinion of the supe-
riority of his master, Jock had as strong a feel-
ing of property in everything belonging to the
Laird as the Laird had himself, and probably
considered himself as much an integral portion
of the estate as the time-honoured holly-bush
on the green, of which I have already spoken.
But in this feeling there was none of that per-
suasion of a community of goods, which is some-
times discovered among the domestics of the best-
regulated families. On the contrary, Jock was
as faithful to his menial trusts as the key or the
mastiff; as true as the one, and not less vigilant
than the other. It was owing to the impulse of


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Online LibraryJohn GaltThe last of the lairds : or, The life and opinions of Malachi Mailings, esq. of Auldbiggings → online text (page 2 of 16)