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Och, never fear, my jewel !
If I only had a notion
But first an’ last it isn't known
Myself began the night ye went,
I'm nearly fit to give it up,
An' the memory's fairly spoilt on me
BY FERGUS MACKENZIE, AUTHOR OF ‘CRUISIE SKETCHES,”
I.—THE DESPISED LEADER.
MARGET WOOD, with her face shining, a smart print wrapper on, and a basket over her arm, encountered Robbie Easton in an unexpected way. She had been along at the Co-operative Association store for her groceries, and was plodding homeward when a voice from an unknown region hailed her. ‘Ay, Marget, it's a grand day.” She looked around her in startled surprise for a moment. Then she found Robbie gazing down on her from the top of an outside stair. ‘Ou ay, what we hae haen O't ; but I dinna like to speak o' a newly-hatched chicken as a grand hen, hooever straucht it stands on its legs,' Marget replied, casting a swift, searching glance up at the speaker. It was only ten o'clock in the morning; Robbie stood on his stairhead smoking a long English clay. He never smoked anything short of a churchwarden, for anything shorter would not have suited his dignity. He stood there in his shirt-sleeves and red night-cap, covered with the dust of the weaving-shop, and enjoyed his after-breakfast pipe with intense satisfaction. Some one had once told him it was his ‘post-prandial' pipe, and Robbie was immensely taken with the word; but before his informant was well out of sight it had stolen from his memory, and he never succeeded in recalling it. He had tried the minister, but could not make his wants definitely enough known ; and he came to the conclusion ‘the minister himsel’ didna ken the word.’ So he was more anxious than ever to recover it. But in vain. ‘Ye hae the grand times o’t, Robbie, Marget said, leaning at a greater angle than the leaning tower of Pisa, and with infinitely more grace, to support the heavy load of groceries she carried. ‘Ye hae been at the Sosh, na.’ ‘Ou ay; I stappit alang to get a fyow orra trokes' (a few odds and ends). ‘Ye culd set your burden doon, Marget ; it's a' the same price, an’ ye're savin' the warld nane by luggin' that basket i' your arms, Robbie said considerately. “I’m shure I'm muckle obliged to ye, Robert, Marget said in a chill tone. But she carried the basket to the stair-foot, where she deposited it. ‘An' what's Soshie sayin' till 'd?' “Just michty little. He's terrible melancholy i' the noo. John's michty lang an’ michty melancholy. Is there ony connection atween them, wad ye think 2 Noo, there's you, ye're no to ca’ lang, an' a body wadna say ye were melancholy.” John Tosh was the “Soshie,” or head of the Co-operative Association in Glenbruar; he was also precentor in the Chapel of Ease, and presided with a certain austere dignity over the musical festivals that broke the monotony of life in that monotonous region. He was a man nearly seventy years of age, was reputed to be musical, having a fine ear and a retentive memory, which had passed in a straight line from his mother to himself; and along with the ear and the memory, a multitude of ancient songs and ballads which the old lady had picked up in her childhood. None of John Tosh's songs and melodies were under a hundred years old, and they were the evergreens of the Glen at that moment. John's melancholy, however, was getting talked about. “It's Soshie's naitur to be lang, Marget ; but it's no his naitur to be melancholy, or he wad hae been melancholy mony a year an' day since. Wad ye like to ken my opinion ?’ In his enthusiasm Robbie descended three steps of the stair, leaned over the railing, and drew diagrams in the air with the stem of his pipe as he spoke. ‘My opinion, Marget, is that it's thae ennovations that's playin' the very mischief wi' John ; an' I'm perswadit he has a burden on his mind this moment.’ ‘What ennovations, Robbie Easton P. He's no needin' to mind that three-fardin shoppie wan strae that cripple Tammy Dodd has started.’ ‘That's as ye think, Marget; but Soshie has a lot on his
mind. It’s thae jauds o' women that are at the boddom o't, especially thae young anes. Soshie's no gude eneuch to teach them singin' noo; he's auld-fashioned ; he hasna theory—in fact, to hear some o' them, John's naething ava. But I could tell them, since I mind there wasna the like o' John Tosh for a singer a' roond an’ roond. Crack aboot theory; he didna need theory; he was born wi' a' the theory he ever needed. I've seen them come to him wi' their bars an’ quavers, a lot o' scartins, for a’ the warld like sparrows' fitmarks on a sandy hillock, an’ I’ve heard him say, “Awa wi' ye an' your sharps an' flats; let me hear your tune.” Weel, I’ve heard them souff a tune aince ower to him, an’ as fack's I’m livin', he kent it better than they did. Noo, what need has a man like that o' theory P’ ‘Name ava, Robbie.” ‘I’m no thinkin' 't. Na, he's a born genius, wi' mair music under his bonnet than ony cadger's dizzen o' them ; but that 'll no keep them frae worryin' the life oot o' him. Yet he's partly to blame himsel’ in ever openin' the door to ennovations.” ‘We hinna ennovations i' the Glen, Robbie ; ye dinna mean that l’ Marget Wood said, startled. ‘Ennovations ! What ither ca' ye yon pitchfork that they hae bummin' i' the kirk ilka Sunday afore they begin the singin’?” ‘I never heard ony pitchfork bummin'. Ou ay!' Marget added in a tone high pitched, but slow. Had she been a man she would have whistled to convey the notion of dawning intelligence and the feeling of surprise that followed in its wake. “I hae heard the thing, but I aye thocht o' a wasp aboot me, an’ got unco fidgety. An' that's their pitchfork An' they mak’ yon ongodly noise themsel’s 1 Little wonder than John Tosh's melancholy, I wad think he'll be fell feared to dee. ‘Yon's the pitchfork, Marget; but ye maunna be ower hard on John, puir stock. It was nane o' his doin’. He stood oot lang, I can ashure ye; but it wadna do. At first they were to be content if he started the first tune wi' the fork ; but it ended, as I kent it wad, by his usin' the fork to ilka ane o' them.’ ‘I had nae idea o' sic ongain's, Marget said in a depressed tone, shaking her head. “But I wadna free John Tosh a'thegither.’ ‘John's no to blame; he wad see that pitchfork i' the boddom o' the Bruar burn wi' great satisfaction ; for, as he has telt me,
he has nae confidence in himsel’ ava noo; an' that thing hummin' at his lug drives the tune clean oot o' his heid. An', puir man that he is, he has to stuff his lugs no' to hear it, or he wad never get begun. “It’s awfu' wark,” I tell him sometimes. “But what can I do?” he spiers onytime I mention it.’ “It's a' on to that choir, Robbie ; an' I never could abide it,' Marget said decidedly. ‘Ye hae hit the nail on the heid, Marget; but when John wad be withoot it the minister says ye maun hae something to interest the young fouk. So they're worryin' the life oot o' him for four pound i' the year; nae wonder than he's melancholy I’ ‘It’s a michty sma’ sum to be melancholy on, Robbie.' ‘Meeserably sma'. I wadna do ’t juist.’ ‘I maun be stappin' yont the moor though, I houp naething serious 'll happen to John, for he's a decent stock;" and Marget as she spoke hoisted her basket on her arm. “Gin he got Auld Yule by he'll be a' richt, but he'll hae a lot o' trials afore that time, Robbie replied ; and the two parted. ‘I maun tak’ a stap alang to John this very nicht an' hearten him up a bit,” Robbie Easton said to himself as he deposited his pipe on the mantelpiece before sitting down to his loom. At eight o'clock, when Robbie Easton sauntered out of doors, it was frosty and the stars shone brightly down on him. When he surveyed them from his observatory, the stair-head, he Sighed ; he never looked at the stars without sighing, he could not tell why. The street was silent and the only token of life was the lighted houses with the shadows of active inmates moving across the window-blinds. As he moved leisurely along he heard the Co-operative Association shutters going up ; and arriving five minutes later he found John Tosh sitting over the fire with bent head, wretched. ‘I ken your trouble, John ; it's that singin', Robbie Easton said abruptly, settling into an easy-chair on the opposite side of the fire. “It's makin' me an auld man, Robbie,’ John said sadly. ‘I culd weel believe 't, John ; but what's the use o' you fashin' yoursel’ ower a lot o' senseless hizzies P. Man, a the bawbees ye get ’s neyther here nor there. Afore I wad be troubled wi' them I wad throw the business at my heels an’ be a free man.’ “If it were only the bawbees, Robbie | I hae been at the