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Chapter 13

SHOWS HOW TOMMY TOOK CARE OF ELSPETH


Thus the first day passed, and others followed in which women, who had
known Jean Myles, did her children kindnesses, but could not do all they
would have done, for Aaron forbade them to enter his home except on
business though it was begging for a housewife all day. Had Elspeth at
the age of six now settled down to domestic duties she would not have
been the youngest housekeeper ever known in Thrums, but she was never
very good at doing things, only at loving and being loved, and the
observant neighbors thought her a backward girl; they forgot, like most
people, that service is not necessarily a handicraft. Tommy discovered
what they were saying, and to shield Elspeth he took to housewifery with
the blind down; but Aaron, entering the kitchen unexpectedly, took the
besom from, him, saying:

"It's an ill thing for men folk to ken ower muckle about women's work."

"You do it yoursel'," Tommy argued.

"I said men folk," replied Aaron, quietly.

The children knew that remarks of this sort had reference to their
mother, of whom he never spoke more directly; indeed he seldom spoke to
them at all, and save when he was cooking or giving the kitchen a
slovenly cleaning they saw little of him. Monypenny had predicted that
their presence must make a new man of him, but he was still unsociable
and morose and sat as long as ever at the warping-mill, of which he
seemed to have become the silent wheel. Tommy and Elspeth always dropped
their voices when they spoke of him, and sometimes when his mill stopped
he heard one of them say to the other, "Whisht, he's coming!" Though he
seldom, spoke sharply to them, his face did not lose its loneliness at
sight of them. Elspeth was his favorite (somewhat to the indignation of
both); they found this out without his telling them or even showing it
markedly, and when they wanted to ask anything of him she was deputed to
do it, but she did it quavering, and after drawing farther away from him
instead of going nearer. A dreary life would have lain before them had
they not been sent to school.

There were at this time three schools in Thrums, the chief of them ruled
over by the terrible Cathro (called Knuckly when you were a street away
from him). It was a famous school, from which a band of three or four or
even six marched every autumn to the universities as determined after
bursaries as ever were Highlandmen to lift cattle, and for the same
reason, that they could not do without.

A very different kind of dominie was Cursing Ballingall, who had been
dropped at Thrums by a travelling circus, and first became familiar to
the town as, carrying two carpet shoes, two books, a pillow, and a
saucepan, which were all his belongings, he wandered from manse to manse
offering to write sermons for the ministers at circus prices. That
scheme failing, he was next seen looking in at windows in search of a
canny calling, and eventually he cut one of his braces into a pair of
tawse, thus with a single stroke of the knife, making himself a
school-master and lop-sided for life. His fee was but a penny a week,
"with a bit o' the swine when your father kills," and sometimes there
were so many pupils on a form that they could only rise as one. During
the first half of the scholastic day Ballingall's shouts and pounces
were for parents to listen to, but after his dinner of crowdy, which is
raw meal and hot water, served in a cogie, or wooden bowl, languor
overcame him and he would sleep, having first given out a sum in
arithmetic and announced:

"The one as finds out the answer first, I'll give him his licks."

Last comes the Hanky School, which was for the genteel and for the
common who contemplated soaring. You were not admitted to it in
corduroys or bare-footed, nor did you pay weekly; no, your father called
four times a year with the money in an envelope. He was shown into the
blue-and-white room, and there, after business had been transacted, very
nervously on Miss Ailie's part, she offered him his choice between
ginger wine and what she falteringly called wh-wh-whiskey. He partook in
the polite national manner, which is thus:

"You will take something, Mr. Cortachy?"

"No, I thank you, ma'am."

"A little ginger wine?"

"It agrees ill with me."

"Then a little wh-wh-whiskey?"

"You are ower kind."

"Then may I?"

"I am not heeding."

"Perhaps, though, you don't take?"

"I can take it or want it."

"Is that enough?"

"It will do perfectly."

"Shall I fill it up?"

"As you please, ma'am."

Miss Ailie's relationship to the magerful man may be remembered; she
shuddered to think of it herself, for in middle-age she retained the
mind of a young girl, but when duty seemed to call, this school-mistress
could be brave, and she offered to give Elspeth her schooling free of
charge. Like the other two hers was a "mixed" school, but she did not
want Tommy, because she had seen him in the square one day, and there
was a leer on his face that reminded her of his father.

Another woman was less particular. This was Mrs. Crabb, of the Tappit
Hen, the Esther Auld whom Jean Myles's letters had so frequently sent
to bed. Her Francie was still a pupil of Miss Ailie, and still he wore
the golden hair, which, despite all advice, she would not crop. It was
so beautiful that no common boys could see it without wanting to give it
a tug in passing, and partly to prevent this, partly to show how high
she had risen in the social scale, Esther usually sent him to school
under the charge of her servant lass. She now proposed to Aaron that
this duty should devolve on Tommy, and for the service she would pay his
fees at the Hanky School.

"We maun all lend a hand to poor Jean's bairns," she said, with a gleam
in her eye. "It would have been well for her, Aaron, if she had married
you."

"Is that all you have to say?" asked the warper, who had let her enter
no farther than the hallan.

"I would expect him to lift Francie ower the pools in wet weather; and
it might be as well if he called him Master Francie."

"Is that all?"

"Ay, I ask no more, for we maun all help Jean's bairns. If she could
only look down, Aaron, and see her little velvets, as she called him,
lifting my little corduroys ower the pools!"

Aaron flung open the door. "Munt!" he said, and he looked so dangerous
that she retired at once. He sent Tommy to Ballingall's, and accepted
Miss Ailie's offer for Elspeth, but this was an impossible arrangement,
for it was known to the two persons primarily concerned that Elspeth
would die if she was not where Tommy was. The few boys he had already
begun to know were at Cathro's or Ballingall's, and as they called Miss
Ailie's a lassie school he had no desire to attend it, but where he was
there also must Elspeth be. Daily he escaped from Ballingall's and hid
near the Dovecot, as Miss Ailie's house was called, and every little
while he gave vent to Shovel's whistle, so that Elspeth might know of
his proximity and be cheered. Thrice was he carried back, kicking, to
Ballingall's by urchins sent in pursuit, stern ministers of justice on
the first two occasions; but on the third they made him an offer: if he
would hide in Couthie's hen-house they were willing to look for him
everywhere else for two hours.

Tommy's behavior seemed beautiful to the impressionable Miss Ailie, but
it infuriated Aaron, and on the fourth day he set off for the parish
school, meaning to put the truant in the hands of Cathro, from whom
there was no escape. Vainly had Elspeth implored him to let Tommy come
to the Dovecot, and vainly apparently was she trotting at his side now,
looking up appealingly in his face. But when they reached the gate of
the parish school-yard he walked past it because she was tugging him,
and always when he seemed about to turn she took his hand again, and he
seemed to have lost the power to resist Jean Myles's bairn. So they came
to the Dovecot, and Miss Ailie gained a pupil who had been meant for
Cathro. Tommy's arms were stronger than Elspeth's, but they could not
hare done as much for him that day.

Thus did the two children enter upon the genteel career, to the
indignation of the other boys and girls of Monypenny, all of whom were
commoners.

James M. Barrie