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A tale of dialect told by Mr. Berkeley Hights, holder of the twelfth ball
The words rang out derisively on the cold frosty air of Drumtochty, as Lang Tammas walked slowly along the street, looking for the residence of Drumsheugh. The effect was electrical. Tammas stopped short, and turning about, scanned the street eagerly to see who it was that had spoken. But the highway was deserted, and the old man shook his stick, as if at an imaginary foe.
“I’ll hoot-mon the dour eediot that’s eensoolted a veesitor to Drumtochty!” he shouted. “I haena brought me faithfu’ steck for naething!” he added.
He glared about, now at this closed window, now at that, as if inviting his enemy to come forth and be punished, but seeing no signs of life, turned again to resume his walk, muttering angrily to himself. It was indeed hardly to be tolerated that he, one of the great characters of fiction, should be thus jeered at, as he thought, while on a friendly pilgrimage from Thrums to Drumtochty, the two rival towns in the affections of the consumers of modern letters; and having walked all the way from his home at Thrums, Lang Tammas was tired, and therefore in no mood to accept even a mild affront, much less an insult.
He had scarcely covered ten paces, however, when the same voice, with a harsh cackling laugh, again broke the stillness of the street:
“Gang awa’, gang awa’—ha, ha, ha!”
Tammas rushed into the middle of the way and picked up a stone.
“Pit your bogie pate oot o’ your weendow, me gillie!” he cried. “I’ll gie it a garry crack. Pit it oot, I say! Pit it oot!”
And the old man drew himself back into an attitude which would have defied the powers of Phidias to reproduce in marble, the stone poised accurately and all too ready to be hurled.
“Ye ramshackle macloonatic!” he cried. “Standin’ in a weendow, where nane may see, an’ heepin’ eensoolts on deecint fowk. Pit it oot—pit it oot—an’ get it crackit!”
The reply was instant:
“Gang awa’, gang awa’—ha, ha, ha!”
Had Lang Tammas been a creation of Lever, he would at this point have removed his coat and his hat and thrown them down violently to earth, and then have whacked the walk three times with the stout stick he carried in his right hand, as a preliminary to the challenge which followed. But Tammas was not Irish, and therefore not impulsive. He was Scotch—as Scotch as ever was. Wherefore he removed his hat, and, after dusting it carefully, hung it up on a convenient hook; took off his coat and folded it neatly; picked up his “faithfu’ steck,” and observed:
“I hae naething to do that’s of eemportance. Drumsheugh can wait, an’ sae can ee. Pit it oot, pit it oot! Here I am, an’ here I stay until ye pit it oot to be crackit.”
“Gang awa’, gang awa’—ha, ha, ha!” came the reply.
Lang Tammas turned on the instant to the sources of the sound. He fixed his eyes sternly on the very window whence he thought the words had issued.
“Number twanty-three, saxth floor,” he muttered to himself. “I will call, and then we shall see what we shall see; and if what we see gets off wi’oot a thorough ‘hootin’,’ then I dinna ken me beezniss.”
Hastily discarding his outward wrath, and assuming such portions of his garments as went with his society manner, Tammas walked into the lobby of the apartment-house in which his assumed insulter lived. He pushed the electric button in, and shortly a sweet-faced nurse appeared.
“Who are you?” she asked.
“Me,” said Lang Tammas, somewhat abashed. “I’ve called too see the head o’ the hoose.”
“I am sorry,” said the trained nurse, bursting into tears, “but the head of the house is at the point of death, sir, and cannot see you until to-morrow. Call around about ten o’clock.”
“Hoots an’ toots!” sighed Lang Tammas. “Canna we Scuts have e’er a story wi’oot somebody leein’ at the point o’ death! It’s most affectin’, but doonricht wearin’ on the constitootion.”
“Was there anything you wished to say to him?” asked the nurse.
“Oh, aye!” returned Lang Tammas. “I dinna ken hoo to deny that I hed that to say to him, an’ to do to him as weel. I’m a vairy truthfu’ mon, young lady, an’ if ye must be told, I’ve called to wring his garry neck for dereesively gee’in an unoffending veesitor frae Thrums by yelling deealect at him frae the hoose-tops.”
“Are you sure it was here?” asked the nurse, anxiously, the old gentleman seemed so deeply in earnest.
“Sure? Oh, aye—pairfectly,” replied Lang Tammas; but even as he spoke, the falsity of his impression was proved by the same strident voice that had so offended before, coming from the other side of the street:
“What a crittur ye are, ye cow! What a crittur ye are!”
“Soonds are hard to place, ma’am,” said Lang Tammas, jerking about as if he had been shot. It was a very hard position for the old man, for, with the immediate need for an apology to the nurse, there rushed over him an overwhelming wave of anger. Hitherto it was merely a suspicion that he was being made sport of that had irritated him, but this last outburst—“What a crittur ye are, ye cow!”—was convincing evidence that it was to him that the insults were addressed; for in Thrums it is history that Hendry and T’nowhead and Jim McTaggart frequently greeted Lang Tammas’s jokes with “Oh, ye cow!” and “What a crittur ye are!” But the old man was equal to the emergency, and fixing one eye upon the house opposite and the other upon the sweet-faced nurse, he darted glances that should kill at his persecutor, and at the same time apologized for disturbing the nurse. The latter he did gracefully.
“Ye look aweary, ma’am,” he said. “An’ if the head o’ the hoose maun dee, may he dee immejiately, that ye may rest soon.”
And with this, pulling his hat down over his forehead viciously, he turned and sped swiftly across the way. The nurse gazed anxiously after him, and in her secret soul wondered if she would not better send for Jamie McQueen, the town constable. Poor Tammas’s eye was really so glaring, and his whole manner so manifestly that of a man exasperated to the verge of madness, that she considered him somewhat in the light of a menace to the public safety. She was not at all reassured, either, when Tammas, having reached the other side of the street, began gesticulating wildly, shaking his “faithfu’ steck” at the façade of the confronting flat-house. But an immediate realization of the condition of the sick man above led her to forego the attempt to protect the public safety, and closing the door softly to, she climbed the weary stairs to the sixth floor, and soon forgot the disturbing trial of the morning in reading to her patient certain inspiring chapters from the Badminton edition of Haggert’s Chase of Heretics, relieved with the lighter Rules of Golf; or, Auld Putt Idylls, by the Rev. Ian McCrockett, one of the most exquisitely confusing humorous works ever published in the Highlands.
Lang Tammas meanwhile was addressing an invisible somebody in the building over the way, and in no uncertain tones.
“If I were not a geentlemon and a humorist,” he said, impressively, agitating his stick nervously at the building front, “I could say much that nae Scut may say. But were I nae Scut, I’d say this to ye: ‘Ye have all the eelements of a confairmed heeritic. Ye’ve nae sense of deecint fun. Ye’re not a man for a’ that, as most men air—ye’re an ass, plain and simple, wi’ naether the plainness nor the simpleecity o’ the individual that Balaam rode. Further—more—’”
What Lang Tammas would have said furthermore had he not been a Scot the world will never know, for from the other side of the street—farther along, however—came the squawking voice again:
“Gang awa’, gang awa’, ye crittur, ye cow! Hoot mon—hoot mon—hoot mon! Gang awa’, gang awa’!” And this was followed by a raucous cry, which might or might not have been Scottish, but which was, in any event, distinctly maddening. And even as the previous insults had electrified poor Tammas, so this last petrified him, and he stood for an appreciable length of time absolutely transfixed. His mind was a curious study. His coming had been prompted entirely by the genial spirit which throbbed beneath his stony Scottish exterior. For a long time he had been a resident of the most conspicuous Scotch town in all literature, and he was himself its accepted humorist. Then on a sudden Thrums had a rival. Drumtochty sprang forth, and in the matter of pathos, if not humor, ran Thrums hard; and Lang Tammas, attracted to Drumsheugh, had come this distance merely to pay his respects, and to see what manner of man the real Drumsheugh was.
And this was his reception! To be laughed at—he, a Scotch humorist! Had any one ever laughed at a Scotch humorist before? Never. Was not the test of humor in Scotland the failure to laugh of the hearer of the jest? Would Scotch humor ever prove great if not taken seriously? Oh, aye! Hendry never laughed at his jokes, and Hendry knew a joke when he saw one. McTaggart never smiled at Lang Tammas; and as for the little Minister—he knew what was due to the humorist of Thrums, as well as to himself, and enjoyed the exquisite humor of Tammas with a reserve well qualified to please the Presbytery and the Congregation.
How long Lang Tammas would have stood petrified no man may say; but just then who should come along but the person he had come to call upon—Drumsheugh himself.
“Knox et præterea nihil!” he exclaimed. “What in Glasgie hae we here?”
Lang Tammas turned upon him.
“Ye hae nowt in Glasgie here,” he said, sternly. “Ye hae a vairy muckle pit-oot veesitor, wha hae coom on an airand o’ good-will to be gret wi’ eensoolts.”
“Eensoolts?” retorted Drumsheugh. “Eensoolts, ye say? An’ wha hae bin eensooltin’ ye?”
“That I know nowt of, save that he be a doonricht foo’ a-heepin’ his deealect upon me head,” said Lang Tammas.
“And wha are ye to be so seensitive o’ deealect?” demanded Drumsheugh.
“My name is Lang Tammas—”
“O’ Thrums?” cried Drumsheugh.
“Nane ither,” said Tammas.
Drumsheugh burst into an uproarious fit of laughter.
“The humorist?” he cried, catching his sides.
“Nane ither,” said Tammas, gravely. “And wha are ye?”
“Me? Oh, I’m—Drumsheugh o’ Drumtochty,” he replied. “Come along hame wi’ me. I’ll gie ye that to make the eensoolt seem a compliment.”
And the two old men walked off together.
An hour later, on their way to the kirk, Drumsheugh observed that after the service was over he would go with Lang Tammas and seek out the man who had insulted him and “gie” him a drubbing, which invitation Tammas was nothing loath to accept. Reverently the two new-made friends walked into the kirk and sat themselves down on the side aisle. A hymn was sung, and the minister was about to read from the book, when the silence of the church was broken by a shrill voice:
“Hoot mon! Hoot mon!”
Tammas clutched his stick. The voice was the same, and here it had penetrated the sacred precincts of the church! Nowhere was he safe from insult. Drumsheugh looked up, startled, and the voice began again:
“Gang awa’ a-that, a-that, a-that—gang awa’! Oh, ye crittur! oh, ye cow!”
And then a titter ran through that solemn crowd; for, despite the gravity of the situation, even John Knox himself must have smiled. A great green parrot had flown in at one of the windows, and had perched himself on the pulpit, where, with front undismayed, he addressed the minister:
“Gang awa’, gang awa’!” he cried, and preened himself. “Hoot mon, gang awa’!”
“Knox nobiscum!” ejaculated Drumsheugh. “It’s Moggie McPiggert’s pairrut,” and he chuckled; and then, as Lang Tammas realized the situation, even he smiled broadly. He had been insulted by a parrot only, and the knowledge of it made him feel better.
The bird was removed and the service proceeded; and later, when it was over, as the two old fellows walked back to Drumsheugh’s house in the gathering shades of the night, Lang Tammas said:
“I acquet Drumtochty o’ its eensoolts, Drumsheugh, but I’ve lairnt a lesson this day.”
“What’s that?” asked Drumsheugh.
“When pairruts speak Scutch deealect, it’s time we Scuts gae it oop,” said Tammas.
“I think so mysel’,” agreed Drumsheugh. “But hoo express our thochts?”
“I dinna ken for ye,” said Lang Tammas, “but for me, mee speakee heathen Chinee this timee on.”
“Vairy weel,” returned Drumsheugh. “Vairy weel; I dinna ken heathen Chinee, but I hae some acqueentance wi’ the tongue o’ sairtain Amairicans, and that I’ll speak from this day on—it’s vairy weel called the Bowery eediom, and is a judeecious mixture o’ English, Irish, and Volapeck.”
And from that time on Lang Tammas and Drumsheugh spoke never another word of Scotch dialect; and while Tammas never quite mastered pidgin-English, or Drumsheugh the tongue of Fadden, they lived happily ever after, which in a way proves that, after all, the parrot is a useful as well as an ornamental bird.
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