OF FOUR MINISTERS WHO AFTERWARDS BOASTED THAT THEY HAD KNOWN TOMMY
Bursary examination time had come, and to the siege of Aberdeen marched
a hungry half-dozen--three of them from Thrums, two from the Glenuharity
school. The sixth was Tod Lindertis, a ploughman from the Dubb of
Prosen, his place of study the bothy after lousing time (Do you hear the
klink of quoits?) or a one-roomed house near it, his tutor a dogged
little woman, who knew not the accusative from the dative, but never
tired of holding the book while Tod recited. Him someone greets with the
good-natured jeer, "It's your fourth try, is it no, Tod?" and he answers
cheerily, "It is, my lathie, and I'll keep kick, kick, kicking away to
the _n_th time."
"Which means till the door flies open," says the dogged little woman,
who is the gallant Tod's no less gallant wife, and already the mother of
two. I hope Tod will succeed this time.
The competitors, who were to travel part of the way on their shanks, met
soon after daybreak in Cathro's yard, where a little crowd awaited them,
parents trying to look humble, Mr. Duthie and Ramsay Cameron thinking
of the morning when they set off on the same errand--but the results
were different, and Mr. Duthie is now a minister, and Ramsay is in the
middle of another wob. Both dominies were present, hating each other,
for that day only, up to the mouth, where their icy politeness was a
thing to shudder at, and each was drilling his detachment to the last
moment, but by different methods; for while Mr. Cathro entreated Joe
Meldrum for God's sake to mind that about the genitive, and Willie
Simpson to keep his mouth shut and drink even water sparingly, Mr.
Ogilvy cracked jokes with Gav Dishart and explained them to Lauchlan
McLauchlan. "Think of anything now but what is before you," was Mr.
Ogilvy's advice. "Think of nothing else," roared Mr. Cathro. But though
Mr. Ogilvy seemed outwardly calm it was base pretence; his dickie
gradually wriggled through the opening of his waistcoat, as if bearing a
protest from his inward parts, and he let it hang crumpled and
conspicuous, while Grizel, on the outskirts of the crowd, yearned to put
Grizel was not there, she told several people, including herself, to say
good-by to Tommy, and oh, how she scorned Elspeth, for looking as if
life would not be endurable without him. Knowing what Elspeth was, Tommy
had decided that she should not accompany him to the yard (of course she
was to follow him to Aberdeen if he distinguished himself--Mr. McLean
had promised to bring her), but she told him of her dream that he headed
the bursary list, and as this dream coincided with some dreams of his
own, though not with all, it seemed to give her such fortitude that he
let her come. An expressionless face was Tommy's, so that not even the
experienced dominie of Glenquharity, covertly scanning his rival's lot,
could tell whether he was gloomy or uplifted; he did not seem to be in
need of a long sleep like Willie Simpson, nor were his eyes glazed like
Gav Dishart's, who carried all the problems of Euclid before him on an
invisible blackboard and dared not even wink lest he displaced them, nor
did he, like Tod Lindertis, answer questions about his money pocket or
where he had stowed his bread and cheese with
"After envy, spare, obey,
The dative put, remember, pray."
Mr. Ogilvy noticed that Cathro tapped his forehead doubtfully every time
his eyes fell on Tommy, but otherwise shunned him, and he asked "What
are his chances?"
"That's the laddie," replied Mr. Cathro, "who, when you took her
ladyship to see Corp Shiach years ago impersona--"
"I know," Mr. Ogilvy interrupted him hastily, "but how will he stand,
Mr. Cathro coughed. "We'll see," he said guardedly.
Nevertheless Tommy was not to get round the corner without betraying a
little of himself, for Elspeth having borne up magnificently when he
shook hands, screamed at the tragedy of his back and fell into the arms
of Tod's wife, whereupon Tommy first tried to brazen it out and then
kissed her in the presence of a score of witnesses, including Grizel,
who stamped her foot, though what right had she to be so angry? "I'm
sure," Elspeth sobbed, "that the professor would let me sit beside you;
I would just hunker on the floor and hold your foot and no say a word."
Tommy gave Tod's wife an imploring look, and she managed to comfort
Elspeth with predictions of his coming triumph and the reunion to
follow. Grateful Elspeth in return asked Tommy to help Tod when the
professors were not looking, and he promised, after which she had no
more fear for Tod.
And now, ye drums that we all carry in our breasts, beat your best over
the bravest sight ever seen in a small Scotch town of an autumn morning,
the departure of its fighting lads for the lists at Aberdeen. Let the
tune be the sweet familiar one you found somewhere in the Bible long
ago, "The mothers we leave behind us"--leave behind us on their knees.
May it dirl through your bones, brave boys, to the end, as you hope not
to be damned. And now, quick march.
A week has elapsed, and now--there is no call for music now, for these
are but the vanquished crawling back, Joe Meldrum and--and another. No,
it is not Tod, he stays on in Aberdeen, for he is a twelve-pound tenner.
The two were within a mile of Thrums at three o'clock, but after that
they lagged, waiting for the gloaming, when they stole to their homes,
ducking as they passed windows without the blinds down. Elspeth ran to
Tommy when he appeared in the doorway, and then she got quickly between
him and Aaron. The warper was sitting by the fire at his evening meal,
and he gave the wanderer a long steady look, then without a word
returned to his porridge and porter. It was a less hearty welcome home
even than Joe's; his mother was among those who had wept to lose her
son, but when he came back to her she gave him a whack on the head with
Aaron asked not a question about those days in Aberdeen, but he heard a
little about them from Elspeth. Tommy had not excused himself to
Elspeth, he had let her do as she liked with his head (this was a great
treat to her), and while it lay pressed against hers, she made remarks
about Aberdeen professors which it would have done them good to hear.
These she repeated to Aaron, who was about to answer roughly, and then
suddenly put her on his knee instead.
"They didna ask the right questions," she told him, and when the warper
asked if Tommy had said so, she declared that he had refused to say a
word against them, which seemed to her to cover him with glory. "But he
doubted they would make that mistake afore he started, she said
brightly, so you see he saw through them afore ever he set eyes on
Corp would have replied admiringly to this "Oh, the little deevil!"
(when he heard of Tommy's failure he wanted to fight Gav Dishart and
Willie Simpson), but Aaron was another kind of confidant, and even when
she explained on Tommy's authority that there are two kinds of
cleverness, the kind you learn from books and a kind that is inside
yourself, which latter was Tommy's kind, he only replied,
"He can take it wi' him to the herding, then, and see if it'll keep the
cattle frae stravaiging."
"It's no that kind of cleverness either," said Elspeth, quaking, and
quaked also Tommy, who had gone to the garret, to listen through the
"No? I would like to ken what use his cleverness can be put to, then,"
said Aaron, and Elspeth answered nothing, and Tommy only sighed, for
that indeed was the problem. But though to these three and to Cathro,
and to Mr. and Mrs. McLean and to others more mildly interested, it
seemed a problem beyond solution, there was one in Thrums who rocked her
arms at their denseness, a girl growing so long in the legs that twice
within the last year she had found it necessary to let down her
parramatty frock. As soon as she heard that Tommy had come home
vanquished, she put on the quaint blue bonnet with the white strings,
in which she fondly believed she looked ever so old (her period of
mourning was at an end, but she still wore her black dress) and
forgetting all except that he was unhappy, she ran to a certain little
house to comfort him. But she did not go in, for through the window she
saw Elspeth petting him, and that somehow annoyed her. In the evening,
however, she called on Mr. Cathro.
Perhaps you want to know why she, who at last saw Sentimental Tommy in
his true light and spurned him accordingly, now exerted herself in his
behalf instead of going on with the papering of the surgery. Well, that
was the reason. She had put the question to herself before--not, indeed,
before going to Monypenny but before calling on the Dominie--and decided
that she wanted to send Tommy to college, because she disliked him so
much that she could not endure the prospect of his remaining in Thrums.
Now, are you satisfied?
She could scarcely take time to say good-evening to Mr. Cathro before
telling him the object of her visit. "The letters Tommy has been writing
for people are very clever, are they not?" she began.
"You've heard of them, have you?"
"Everybody has heard of them," she said injudiciously, and he groaned
and asked if she had come to tell him this. But he admitted their
cleverness, whereupon she asked, "Well, if he is clever at writing
letters, would he not be clever at writing an essay?"
"I wager my head against a snuff mull that he would be, but what are you
"I was wondering whether he could not win the prize I heard Dr. McQueen
speaking about, the--is it not called the Hugh Blackadder?"
"My head against a buckie that he could! Sit down, Grizel, I see what
you mean now. Ay, but the pity is he's not eligible for the Hugh
Blackadder. Oh, that he was, oh, that he was! It would make Ogilvy of
Glenquharity sing small at last! His loons have carried the Blackadder
for the last seven years without a break. The Hugh Blackadder
Mortification, the bequest is called, and, 'deed, it has been a sore
mortification to me!"
Calming down, he told her the story of the bequest. Hugh Blackadder was
a Thrums man who made a fortune in America, and bequeathed the interest
of three hundred pounds of it to be competed for yearly by the youth of
his native place. He had grown fond of Thrums and all its ways over
there, and left directions that the prize should be given for the best
essay in the Scots tongue, the ministers of the town and glens to be the
judges, the competitors to be boys who were going to college, but had
not without it the wherewithal to support themselves. The ministers took
this to mean that those who carried small bursaries were eligible, and
indeed it had usually gone to a bursar.
"Sentimental Tommy would not have been able to compete if he had got a
bursary," Mr. Cathro explained, "because however small it was Mr. McLean
meant to double it; and he can't compete without it, for McLean refuses
to help him now (he was here an hour since, saying the laddie was
obviously hopeless), so I never thought of entering Tommy for the
Blackadder. No, it will go to Ogilvy's Lauchlan McLauchlan, who is a
twelve-pounder, and, as there can be no competitors, he'll get it
without the trouble of coming back to write the essay."
"But suppose Mr. McLean were willing to do what he promised if Tommy won
"It's useless to appeal to McLean. He's hard set against the laddie now
and washes his hands of him, saying that Aaron Latta is right after all.
He may soften, and get Tommy into a trade to save him from the herding,
but send him to college he won't, and indeed he's right, the laddie's
"Not at writing let--"
"And what is the effect of his letter-writing, but to make me
ridiculous? Me! I wonder you can expect me to move a finger for him, he
has been my torment ever since his inscrutable face appeared at my
"Never mind him," said Grizel, cunningly. "But think what a triumph it
would be to you if your boy beat Mr. Ogilvy's."
The Dominie rose in his excitement and slammed the table, "My certie,
lassie, but it would!" he cried, "Ogilvy looks on the Blackadder as his
perquisite, and he's surer of it than ever this year. And there's no
doubt but Tommy would carry it. My head to a buckie preen he would carry
it, and then, oh, for a sight of Ogilvy's face, oh, for--" He broke off
abruptly. "But what's the good of thinking of it?" he said, dolefully,
"Mr. McLean's a firm man when he makes up his mind."
Nevertheless, though McLean, who had a Scotchman's faith in the verdict
of professors, and had been bitterly disappointed by Tommy's failure,
refused to be converted by the Dominie's entreaties, he yielded to them
when they were voiced by Ailie (brought into the plot _vice_ Grizel
retired), and Elspeth got round Aaron, and so it came about that with
his usual luck, Tommy was given another chance, present at the
competition, which took place in the Thrums school, the Rev. Mr. Duthie,
the Rev. Mr. Dishart, the Rev. Mr. Gloag of Noran Side, the Rev. Mr.
Lorrimer of Glenquharity (these on hair-bottomed chairs), and Mr. Cathro
and Mr. Ogilvy (cane); present also to a less extent (that is to say,
their faces at the windows), Corp and others, who applauded the local
champion when he entered and derided McLauchlan. The subject of the
essay was changed yearly, this time "A Day in Church" was announced,
and immediately Lauchlan McLauchlan, who had not missed a service since
his scarlet fever year (and too few then), smote his red head in agony,
while Tommy, who had missed as many as possible, looked calmly
confident. For two hours the competitors were put into a small room
communicating with the larger one, and Tommy began at once with a
confident smirk that presently gave way to a most holy expression; while
Lauchlan gaped at him and at last got started also, but had to pause
occasionally to rub his face on his sleeve, for like Corp he was one of
the kind who cannot think without perspiring. In the large room the
ministers gossiped about eternal punishment, and of the two dominies one
sat at his ease, like a passenger who knows that the coach will reach
the goal without any exertion on his part, while the other paced the
floor, with many a despondent glance through the open door whence the
scraping proceeded; and the one was pleasantly cool; and the other in a
plot of heat; and the one made genial remarks about every-day matters,
and the answers of the other stood on their heads. It was a familiar
comedy to Mr. Ogilvy, hardly a variation on what had happened five times
in six for many years: the same scene, the same scraping in the little
room, the same background of ministers (black-aviced Mr. Lorrimer had
begun to bark again), the same dominies; everything was as it had so
often been, except that he and Cathro had changed places; it was Cathro
who sat smiling now and Mr. Ogilvy who dolefully paced the floor.
To be able to write! Throughout Mr. Ogilvy's life, save when he was
about one and twenty, this had seemed the great thing, and he ever
approached the thought reverently, as if it were a maid of more than
mortal purity. And it is, and because he knew this she let him see her
face, which shall ever be hidden from those who look not for the soul,
and to help him nearer to her came assistance in strange guise, the loss
of loved ones, dolour unutterable; but still she was beyond his reach.
Night by night, when the only light in the glen was the school-house
lamp, of use at least as a landmark to solitary travellers--who miss it
nowadays, for it burns no more--she hovered over him, nor did she deride
his hopeless efforts, but rather, as she saw him go from black to gray
and from gray to white in her service, were her luminous eyes sorrowful
because she was not for him, and she bent impulsively toward him, so
that once or twice in a long life he touched her fingers, and a heavenly
spark was lit, for he had risen higher than himself, and that is
He knew that oblivion was at hand, ready to sweep away his pages almost
as soon as they were filled (Do we not all hear her besom when we pause
to dip?), but he had done his best and he had a sense of humor, and
perhaps some day would come a pupil of whom he could make what he had
failed to make of himself. That prodigy never did come, though it was
not for want of nursing, and there came at least, in succession most
maddening to Mr. Cathro, a row of youths who could be trained to carry
the Hugh Blackadder. Mr. Ogilvy's many triumphs in this competition had
not dulled his appetite for more, and depressed he was at the prospect
of a reverse. That it was coming now he could not doubt. McLauchlan, who
was to be Rev., had a flow of words (which would prevent his perspiring
much in the pulpit), but he could no more describe a familiar scene with
the pen than a milkmaid can draw a cow. The Thrums representatives were
sometimes as little gifted, it is true, and never were they so well
exercised, but this Tommy had the knack of it, as Mr. Ogilvy could not
doubt, for the story of his letter-writing had been through the glens.
"Keep up your spirits," Mr. Lorrimer had said to Mm as they walked
together to the fray, "Cathro's loon may compose the better of the two,
but, as I understand, the first years of his life were spent in London,
and so he may bogle at the Scotch."
But the Dominie replied, "Don't buoy me up on a soap bubble. If there's
as much in him as I fear, that should be a help to him instead of a
hindrance, for it will have set him a-thinking about the words he uses."
And the satisfaction on Tommy's face when the subject of the essay was
given out, with the business-like way in which he set to work, had
added to the Dominie's misgivings; if anything was required to
dishearten him utterly it was provided by Cathro's confident smile. The
two Thrums ministers were naturally desirous that Tommy should win, but
the younger of them was very fond of Mr. Ogilvy, and noticing his
unhappy peeps through the door dividing the rooms, proposed that it
should be closed. He shut it himself, and as he did so he observed that
Tommy was biting his pen and frowning, while McLauchlan, having ceased
to think, was getting on nicely. But it did not strike Mr. Dishart that
this was worth commenting on.
"Are you not satisfied with the honors you have already got, you greedy
man?" he said, laying his hand affectionately on Mr. Ogilvy, who only
sighed for reply.
"It is well that the prize should go to different localities, for in
that way its sphere of usefulness is extended," remarked pompous Mr.
Gloag, who could be impartial, as there was no candidate from Noran
Side. He was a minister much in request for church soirees, where he
amused the congregations so greatly with personal anecdote about himself
that they never thought much of him afterwards. There is one such
minister in every presbytery.
"And to have carried the Hugh Blackadder seven times running is surely
enough for any one locality, even though it be Glenquharity," said Mr.
Lorrimer, preparing for defeat.
"There's consolation for you, sir," said Mr. Cathro, sarcastically, to
his rival, who tried to take snuff in sheer bravado, but let it slip
through his fingers, and after that, until the two hours were up, the
talk was chiefly of how Tommy would get on at Aberdeen. But it was
confined to the four ministers and one dominie. Mr. Ogilvy still hovered
about the door of communication, and his face fell more and more, making
Mr. Dishart quite unhappy.
"I'm an old fool," the Dominie admitted, "but I can't help being cast
down. The fact is that--I have only heard the scrape of one pen for
nearly an hour."
"Poor Lauchlan!" exclaimed Mr. Cathro, rubbing his hands gleefully, and
indeed it was such a shameless exhibition that the Auld Licht minister
said reproachfully, "You forget yourself, Mr. Cathro, let us not be
unseemly exalted in the hour of our triumph."
Then Mr. Cathro sat upon his hands as the best way of keeping them
apart, but the moment Mr. Dishart's back presented itself, he winked at
Mr. Ogilvy. He winked a good deal more presently. For after all--how to
tell it! Tommy was ignominiously beaten, making such a beggarly show
that the judges thought it unnecessary to take the essays home with them
for leisurely consideration before pronouncing Mr. Lauchlan McLauchlan
winner. There was quite a commotion in the school-room. At the end of
the allotted time the two competitors had been told to hand in their
essays, and how Mr. McLauchlan was sniggering is not worth recording, so
dumfounded, confused, and raging was Tommy. He clung to his papers,
crying fiercely that the two hours could not be up yet, and Lauchlan
having tried to keep the laugh in too long it exploded in his mouth,
whereupon, said he, with a guffaw, "He hasna written a word for near an
"What! It was you I heard!" cried Mr. Ogilvy gleaming, while the unhappy
Cathro tore the essay from Tommy's hands. Essay! It was no more an essay
than a twig is a tree, for the gowk had stuck in the middle of his
second page. Yes, stuck is the right expression, as his chagrined
teacher had to admit when the boy was cross-examined. He had not been
"up to some of his tricks," he had stuck, and his explanations, as you
will admit, merely emphasized his incapacity.
He had brought himself to public scorn for lack of a word. What word?
they asked testily, but even now he could not tell. He had wanted a
Scotch word that would signify how many people were in church, and it
was on the tip of his tongue but would come no farther. Puckle was
nearly the word, but it did not mean so many people as he meant. The
hour had gone by just like winking; he had forgotten all about time
while searching his mind for the word.
When Mr. Ogilvy heard this he seemed to be much impressed, repeatedly he
nodded his head as some beat time to music, and he muttered to himself,
"The right word--yes, that's everything," and "'the time went by like
winking'--exactly, precisely," and he would have liked to examine
Tommy's bumps, but did not, nor said a word aloud, for was he not there
in McLauchlan's interest?
The other five were furious; even Mr. Lorrimer, though his man had won,
could not smile in face of such imbecility. "You little tattie doolie,"
Cathro roared, "were there not a dozen words to wile from if you had an
ill-will to puckle? What ailed you at manzy, or--"
"I thought of manzy," replied Tommy, woefully, for he was ashamed of
himself, "but--but a manse's a swarm. It would mean that the folk in the
kirk were buzzing thegither like bees, instead of sitting still."
"Even if it does mean that," said Mr. Duthie, with impatience, "what was
the need of being so particular? Surely the art of essay-writing
consists in using the first word that comes and hurrying on."
"That's how I did," said the proud McLauchlan, who is now leader of a
party in the church, and a figure in Edinburgh during the month of May.
"I see," interposed Mr. Gloag, "that McLauchlan speaks of there being a
mask of people in the church. Mask is a fine Scotch word."
"Admirable," assented Mr. Dishart. "I thought of mask," whimpered Tommy,
"but that would mean the kirk was crammed, and I just meant it to be
"Flow would have done," suggested Mr. Lorrimer.
"Flow's but a handful," said Tommy.
"Curran, then, you jackanapes!"
"Curran's no enough."
Mr. Lorrimer flung up his hands in despair.
"I wanted something between curran and mask," said Tommy, dogged, yet
almost at the crying.
Mr. Ogilvy, who had been hiding his admiration with difficulty, spread a
net for him. "You said you wanted a word that meant middling full. Well,
why did you not say middling full--or fell mask?"
"Yes, why not?" demanded the ministers, unconsciously caught in the net.
"I wanted one word," replied Tommy, unconsciously avoiding it.
"You jewel!" muttered Mr. Ogilvy under his breath, but Mr. Cathro would
have banged the boy's head had not the ministers interfered.
"It is so easy, too, to find the right word," said Mr. Gloag.
"It's no; it's as difficult as to hit a squirrel," cried Tommy, and
again Mr. Ogilvy nodded approval.
But the ministers were only pained.
"The lad is merely a numskull," said Mr. Dishart, kindly.
"And no teacher could have turned him into anything else," said Mr.
"And so, Cathro, you need not feel sore over your defeat," added Mr.
Gloag; but nevertheless Cathro took Tommy by the neck and ran him out of
the parish school of Thrums. When he returned to the others he found the
ministers congratulating McLauchlan, whose nose was in the air, and
complimenting Mr. Ogilvy, who listened to their formal phrases solemnly
and accepted their hand-shakes with a dry chuckle.
"Ay, grin away, sir," the mortified dominie of Thrums said to him
sourly, "the joke is on your side."
"You are right, sir," replied Mr. Ogilvy, mysteriously, "the joke is on
my side, and the best of it is that not one of you knows what the joke
And then an odd thing happened. As they were preparing to leave the
school, the door opened a little and there appeared in the aperture the
face of Tommy, tear-stained but excited. "I ken the word now," he cried,
"it came to me a' at once; it is hantle!"
The door closed with a victorious bang, just in time to prevent Cathro--
"Oh, the sumph!" exclaimed Mr. Lauchlan McLauchlan, "as if it mattered
what the word is now!"
And said Mr. Dishart, "Cathro, you had better tell Aaron Latta that the
sooner he sends this nincompoop to the herding the better."
But Mr. Ogilvy giving his Lauchlan a push that nearly sent him
sprawling, said in an ecstasy to himself, "He _had_ to think of it till
he got it--and he got it. The laddie is a genius!" They were about to
tear up Tommy's essay, but he snatched it from them and put it in his
oxter pocket. "I am a collector of curiosities," he explained, "and this
paper may be worth money yet."
"Well," said Cathro, savagely, "I have one satisfaction, I ran him out
of my school."
"Who knows," replied Mr. Ogilvy, "but what you may be proud to dust a
chair for him when he comes back?"
Sorry, no summary available yet.