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Chapter 19

THE VERDICT OF THRUMS

On a mild Saturday evening in the following May, Sandersy Riach, telegraph boy, emerged from the Thrums post-office, and, holding his head high, strutted off towards the Tenements. He had on his uniform, and several other boys flung gutters at it, to show that they were as good as he was.

'Wha's deid, Sandersy?' housewives flung open their windows to ask.

'It's no a death,' Sandersy replied. 'Na, na, far frae that. I daurna tell ye what it is, because it's agin' the regalations, but it'll cause a michty wy doin' in Thrums this nicht.'

'Juist whisper what it's aboot, Sandersy, my laddie.'

'It canna be done, Easie; na, na. But them 'at wants to hear the noos, follow me to Tammas Haggart's.'

Off Sandersy went, with some women and a dozen children at his heels, but he did not find Tammas in.

'I winna hae't lyin' aboot here,' Chirsty, the wife of Tammas, said, eyeing the telegram as something that might go off at any moment; 'ye'll better tak it on to 'imsel. He's takkin a dander through the buryin' ground wi' Snecky Hobart.'

Sandersy marched through the east town end at the head of his following, and climbed the steep, straight brae that leads to the cemetery. There he came upon the stone-breaker and the bellman strolling from grave to grave. Silva McQuhatty and Sam'l Todd were also in the burying-ground for pleasure, and they hobbled toward Tammas when they saw the telegram in his hand.

'"Thomas Haggart,"' the stone-breaker murmured, reading out his own name on the envelope, '"Tenements, Thrums."' Then he stared thoughtfully at his neighbours to see whether that could be looked upon as news. It was his first telegram.

'Ay, ay, deary me,' said Silva mournfully.

'She's no very expliceet, do ye think?' asked Sam'l Todd.

Snecky Hobart, however, as an official himself, had a general notion of how affairs of state are conducted.

'Rip her open, Tammas,' he suggested. 'That's but the shell, I'm thinkin'.'

'Does she open?' asked Tammas, with a grin.

He opened the telegram gingerly, and sat down on a prostrate tombstone to consider it. Snecky's fingers tingled to get at it.

'It begins in the same wy,' the stone-breaker said deliberately; '"Thomas Haggart, Tenements, Thrums."'

'Ay, ay, deary me,' repeated Silva.

'That means it's to you,' Snecky said to Tammas.

'Next,' continued Tammas, 'comes, "Elizabeth Haggart, 101, Lower Fish Street, Whitechapel, London."'

'She's a' names thegether,' muttered Sam'l Todd, in a tone of remonstrance.

'She's a' richt,' said Snecky, nodding to Tammas to proceed. 'Elizabeth Haggart—that's wha the telegram comes frae.'

'Ay, ay,' said the stone-breaker doubtfully, 'but I ken no Elizabeth Haggart.'

'Hoots,' said Snecky; 'it's your ain dochter Lisbeth.'

'Keep us a',' said Tammas, 'so it is. I didna un'erstan' at first; ye see we aye called her Leeby. Ay, an' that's whaur she bides in London too.'

'Lads, lads,' said Silva, 'an' is Leeby gone? Ay, ay, we all fade as a leaf; so we do.'

'What!' cried Tammas, his hand beginning to shake.

'Havers,' said Snecky, 'ye hinna come to the telegram proper yet, Tammas. What mair does it say?'

The stone-breaker conned over the words, and by and by his face wrinkled with excitement. He puffed his cheeks, and then let the air rush through his mouth like an escape of gas.

'It's Rob Angus,' he blurted out.

'Man, man,' said Silva, 'an' him lookit sae strong an' snod when he was here i' the back-end o' last year.'

'He's no deid,' cried Tammas, 'he's mairit. Listen, lads, "The thing is true Rob Angus has married the colonel's daughter at a castle Rob Angus has married the colonel."'

'Losh me!' said Sam'l, 'I never believed he would manage't.'

'Ay, but she reads queer,' said Tammas. 'First she says Rob's mairit the dochter, an' neist 'at he's mairit the colonel.'

'Twa o' them!' cried Silva, who was now in a state to believe anything.

Snecky seized the telegram, and thought it over.

'I see what Leeby's done,' he said admiringly. 'Ye're restreected to twenty words in a telegram, an' Leeby found she had said a' she had to say in fourteen words, so she's repeated hersel to get her full shilling's worth.'

'Ye've hit it, Snecky,' said Tammas. 'It's juist what Leeby would do. She was aye a michty thrifty, shrewd crittur.'

'A shilling's an awfu' siller to fling awa, though,' said Sam'l.

'It's weel spent in this case,' retorted Tammas, sticking up for his own; 'there hasna been sic a startler in Thrums since the English kirk steeple fell.'

'Ye can see Angus's saw-mill frae here,' exclaimed Silva, implying that this made the affair more wonderful than ever.

'So ye can,' said Snecky, gazing at it as if it were some curiosity that had been introduced into Thrums in the night-time.

'To think,' muttered Tammas, ''at the saw-miller doon there should be mairit in a castle. It's beyond all. Oh, it's beyond, it's beyond.'

'Sal, though,' said Sam'l suspiciously, 'I wud like a sicht o' the castle. I mind o' readin' in a booky 'at every Englishman's hoose is his castle, so I'm thinkin' castle's but a name in the sooth for an ord'nar hoose.'

'Weel a wat, ye never can trust thae foreigners,' said Silva; 'it's weel beknown 'at English is an awful pretentious langitch too. They slither ower their words in a hurried wy 'at I canna say I like; no, I canna say I like it.'

'Will Leeby hae seen the castle?' asked Sam'l.

'Na,' said Tammas; 'it's a lang wy frae London; she'll juist hae heard o' the mairitch.'

'It'll hae made a commotion in London, I dinna doot,' said Snecky, 'but, lads, it proves as the colonel man stuck to Rob.'

'Ay, I hardly expected it.'

'Ay, ay, Snecky, ye 're richt. Rob'll hae manage't him. Weel, I will say this for Rob Angus, he was a crittur 'at was terrible fond o' gettin' his ain wy.'

'The leddy had smoothed the thing ower wi' her faither,' said Tammas, who was notorious for his knowledge of women; 'ay, an' there was a brither, ye mind? Ane o' the servants up at the Lodge said to Kitty Wobster 'at they were to be mairit the same day, so I've nae doot they were.'

'Ay,' said Sam'l, pricking up his ears, 'an' wha was the brither gettin'?'

'Weel, it was juist gossip, ye understan'. But I heard tell 'at the leddy had a tremendous tocher, an' 'at she was called Meredith.'

'Meredith!' exclaimed Silva McQuhatty, 'what queer names some o' thae English fowk has; ay, I prefer the ord'nar names mysel.'

'I wonder,' said Snecky, looking curiously at the others, 'what Rob has in the wy o' wages?'

'That's been discuss't in every hoose in Thrums,' said Sam'l, 'but there's no doubt it's high, for it's a salary; ay, it's no wages.'

'I dinna ken what Rob has,' Silva said, 'but some o' thae writers makes awfu' sums. There's the yeditor o' the Tilliedrum Weekly Herald noo. I canna tell his income, but I have it frae Dite Deuchars, wha kens, 'at he pays twa-an'-twenty pound o' rent for's hoose.'

'Ay, but Rob's no a yeditor,' said Sam'l.

'Ye're far below the mark wi' Rob's salary,' said Tammas. 'My ain opeenion is 'at he has a great hoose in London by this time, wi' twa or three servants, an' a lad in knickerbuckers to stan' ahent his chair and reach ower him to cut the roast beef.'

'It may be so,' said Snecky, who had heard of such things, 'but if it is it'll irritate Rob michty no to get cuttin' the roast 'imsel. Thae Anguses aye likit to do a'thing for themsels.'

'There's the poseetion to think o',' said Tammas.

'Thrums'll be a busy toon this nicht,' said Sam'l, 'when it hears the noos. Ay, I maun awa an' tell the wife.'

Having said this, Sam'l sat down on the tombstone.

'It'll send mair laddies on to the papers oot o' Thrums,' said Tammas. 'There's three awa to the printin' trade since Rob was here, an' Susie Byars is to send little Joey to the business as sune as he's auld eneuch.'

'Joey'll do weel in the noospaper line,' said Silva; 'he writes a better han' than Rob Angus already.'

'Weel, weel, that's the main thing, lads.'

Sam'l moved off slowly to take the news into the east town end.

'It's to Rob's creedit,' said Tammas to the two men remaining, ''at he wasna at all prood when he came back. Ay, he called on me very frank like, as ye'll mind, an' I wasna in, so Chirsty dusts a chair for 'im, and comes to look for me. Lads, I was fair ashamed to see 'at in her fluster she'd gien him a common chair, when there was hair-bottomed anes in the other room. Ye may be sure I sent her for a better chair, an' got him to change, though he was sort o' mad like at havin' to shift. That was his ind'pendence again.'

'I was aye callin' him Rob,' said Snecky, 'forgettin' what a grand man he was noo, an', of coorse, I corrected mysel, and said Mr. Angus. Weel, when I'd dune that mebbe a dozen times he was fair stampin's feet wi' rage, as ye micht say. Ay, there was a want o' patience aboot Rob Angus.'

'He slippit a gold sovereign into my hand,' said Silva, 'but, losh, he wudna lat me thank 'im. "Hold yer tongue," he says, or words to that effec', when I insistit on't.'

At the foot of the burying-ground road Sam'l Todd could be seen laying it off about Rob to a little crowd of men and women. Snecky looked at them till he could look no longer.

'I maun awa wi' the noos to the wast toon end,' he said, and by and by he went, climbing the dyke for a short cut.

'Weel, weel, Rob Angus is mairit,' said Silva to Tammas.

'So he is, Silva,' said the stone-breaker.

'It's an experiment,' said Silva.

'Ye may say so, but Rob was aye venturesome.'

'Ye saw the leddy, Tammas?'

'Ay, man, I did mair than that. She spoke to me, an' speired a lot aboot the wy Rob took on when little Davy was fund deid. He was fond o' his fowk, Rob, michty fond.'

'What was your opeenion o' her then, Tammas?'

'Weel, Silva, to tell the truth I was oncommon favourably impreesed. She shook hands wi' me, man, an' she had sic a saft voice an' sic a bonny face I was a kind o' carried awa; yes, I was so.'

'Ay, ye say that, Tammas. Weel, I think I'll be movin'. They'll be keen to hear aboot this in the square.'

'I said to her,' continued Tammas, peering through his half-closed eyes at Silva, ''at Rob was a lucky crittur to get sic a bonny wife.'

'Ye did!' cried Silva. 'An' hoo did she tak that?'

'Ou,' said Tammas complacently, 'she took it weel.'

'I wonder,' said Silva, now a dozen yards away, ''at Rob never sent ony o' the papers he writes to Thrums juist to lat's see them.'

'He sent a heap,' said Tammas, 'to the minister, meanin' them to be passed roond, but Mr. Dishart didna juist think they were quite the thing, ye un'erstan', so he keeps them lockit up in a press.'

'They say in the toon,' said Silva, ''at Rob would never hae got on sae weel if Mr. Dishart hadna helpit him. Do you think there's onything in that?'

Tammas was sunk in reverie, and Silva at last departed. He was out of sight by the time the stone-breaker came to.

'I spoke to the minister aboot it,' Tammas answered, under the impression that Silva was still there, 'an' speired at him if he had sent a line aboot Rob to the London yeditors, but he wudna say.'

Tammas moved his head round, and saw that he was alone.

'No,' he continued thoughtfully, addressing the tombstones, 'he would neither say 'at he did nor 'at he didna. He juist waved his han' like, to lat's see 'at he was at the bottom o't, but didna want it to be spoken o'. Ay, ay.'

Tammas hobbled thoughtfully down one of the steep burying-ground walks, until he came to a piece of sward with no tombstone at its head.

'Ay,' he said, 'there's mony an Angus lies buried there, an' Rob's the only are left noo. I hae helpit to hap the earth ower five, ay, sax o' them. It's no to be expeckit, no, i' the course o' natur' it's no to be expeckit, 'at I should last oot the seventh: no, but there's nae sayin'. Ay, Rob, ye wasna sae fu' o' speerits as I'll waurant ye are the noo, that day ye buried Davy. Losh, losh, it's a queer warld.'

'It's a pretty spot to be buried in,' he muttered, after a time; and then his eyes wandered to another part of the burying-ground.

'Ay,' he said, with a chuckle, 'but I've a snod bit cornery up there for mysel. Ou ay.'

THE END.

James M. Barrie

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