The Courtship Of Tammock Thackanraip, Ayrshireman by S R Crockett

Story type: Literature

The peats were brought, the fires were set,

While roared November’s gale;

With unbound mirth the neighbours met

To speed the canty tale.

A bask, dry November night at Drumquhat made us glad to gather in to the goodwife’s fire. I had been round the farm looking after the sheep. Billy Beattie, a careless loon, was bringing in the kye. He was whacking them over the rumps with a hazel. I came on him suddenly and changed the direction of the hazel, which pleased my wife when I told her.

“The rackless young vaigabond,” said she–“I’ll rump him!”

“Bide ye, wife; I attended to that mysel’.”

The minister had been over at Drumquhat in the afternoon, and the wife had to tell me what he had said to her, and especially what she had said to him. For my guidwife, when she has a fit of repentance and good intentions, becomes exceedingly anxious–not about her own shortcomings, but about mine. Then she confesses all my sins to the minister. Now, I have telled her a score of times that this is no’ bonnie, and me an elder of twenty years’ standing. But the minister kens her weakness. We must all bear with the women-folk, even ministers, he says, for he is a married man, an’ kens.

“Guidman,” she says, as soon as I got my nose by the door-cheek, “it was an awsome peety that ye werena inby this afternoon. The minister was graund on smokin’.”

“Ay,” said I; “had his brither in Liverpool sent him some guid stuff that had never paid her Majesty’s duty, as he did last year?”

“Hoots, haivers; I’ll never believe that!” said she, scouring about the kitchen and rubbing the dust out of odd corners that were clean aneuch for the Duke of Buccleuch to take his “fower-oors” off. But that is the way of the wife. They are queer cattle, wives–even the best of them. Some day I shall write a book about them. It will be a book worth buying. But the wife says that when I do, she will write a second volume about men, that will make every married man in the parish sit up. And as for me, I had better take a millstone about my neck and loup into the depths of the mill-dam. That is what she says, and she is a woman of her word. My book on wives is therefore “unavoidably delayed,” as Maxwell whiles says of his St. Mungo’s letter, and capital reading it is.

“Hoots, haivers!” said the wife again. She cannot bide not being answered. Even if she has a grooin‘ in her back, and remarks ” Ateeshoo-oo! ” ye are bound for the sake of peace to put the question, “What ails ye, guidwife?”

“I’ll never believe that the minister smokes. He never has the gliff o’ it aboot him when he comes here.”

“That’s the cunnin’ o’ the body,” said I. “He kens wha he’s comin’ to see, an’ he juist cuittles ye till ye gang aboot the hoose like Pussy Bawdrons that has been strokit afore the fire, wi’ your tail wavin’ owre your back.”

“Think shame o’ yoursel’, Saunders M’Quhirr–you an elder and a man on in years, to speak that gate.”

“Gae wa’ wi’ ye, Mary M’Quhirr,” I said. “Do ye think me sae auld? There was but forty-aught hours and twenty meenits atween oor first scraichs in this warld. That’s no’ aneuch to set ye up to sic an extent, that ye can afford to gang aboot the hoose castin’ up my age to me. There’s mony an aulder man lookin’ for his second wife.”

And with that, before my wife had time to think on a rouser of a reply (I saw it in her eye, but it had not time to come away), Thomas Thackanraip hirpled in. Thomas came from Ayrshire near forty years since, and has been called Tammock the Ayrshireman ever since. He was now a hearty-like man with a cottage of his own, and a cheery way with him that made him a welcome guest at all the neighbouring farmhouses, as he was at ours. The humours of Tammock were often the latest thing in the countryside. He was not in the least averse to a joke against himself, and that, I think, was the reason of a good deal of his popularity. He went generally with his hand in the small of his back, as if he were keeping the machinery in position while he walked. But he had a curious young-like way with him for so old a man, and was for ever pook-pook ing at the lasses wherever he went.

“Guid e’en to ye, mistress; hoo’s a’ at Drumquhat the nicht?” says Tammock.

“Come your ways by, an’ tak’ a seat by the fire, Tammock; it’s no’ a kindly nicht for auld banes,” says the wife.

“Ay, guidwife, ‘deed and I sympathise wi’ ye,” says Tammock. “It’s what we maun a’ come to some day.”

“Doitered auld body!” exclaimed my wife, “did ye think I was meanin’ mysel’?”

“Wha else?” said Tammock, reaching forward to get a light for his pipe from the hearth where a little glowing knot had fallen, puffing out sappy wheezes as it burned. He looked slyly up at the mistress as he did so.

“Tammock,” said she, standing with her arms wide set, and her hands on that part of the onstead that appears to have been built for them, “wad hae ye mind that I was but a lassock when ye cam’ knoitin’ an’ hirplin’ alang the Ayrshire road frae Dalmellington.”

“I mind brawly,” said Tammock, drawing bravely away. “Ay, Mary, ye were a strappin’ wean. Ye said ye wadna hae me; I mind that weel. That was the way ye fell in wi’ Drumquhat, when I gied up thochts o’ ye mysel’.”

You gie up thochts o’ me, Tammock! Was there ever siccan presumption? Ye’ll no’ speak that way in my hoose. Hoo daur ye? Saunders, hear till him. Wull ye sit there like a puddock on a post, an’ listen to this–this Ayrshireman misca’ your marriet wife, Alexander M’Quhirr? Shame till ye, man!”

My married wife was well capable of taking care of herself in anything that appertained to the strife of tongues. In the circumstances, therefore, I did not feel called upon to interfere.

“Ye can tak’ a note o’ the circumstance an’ tell the minister the next time he comes owre,” said I, dry as a mill-hopper.

She whisked away into the milk-house, taking the door after her as far as it would go with a flaff that brought a bowl, which had been set on its edge to dry, whirling off the dresser on to the stone floor.

When the wife came back, she paused before the fragments. We were sitting smoking very peacefully and wondering what was coming.

“Wha whammelt my cheeny bowl?” said Mistress M’Quhirr, in a tone which, had I not been innocent, would have made me take the stable.

“Wha gaed through that door last?” said I.

“The minister,” says she.

“Then it maun hae been the minister that broke the bowl. Pit it by for him till he comes. I’m no’ gaun to be wracked oot o’ hoose an’ hame for reckless ministers.”

“But wha was’t?” she said, still in doubt.

“Juist e’en the waff o’ your ain coat-tails, mistress,” said Tammock. “I hae seen the day that mair nor bowls whammelt themsel’s an’ brak’ into flinders to be after ye.”

And Tammock sighed a sigh and shook his head at the red greesoch in the grate.

“Hoots, haivers!” said the mistress. But I could see she was pleased, and wanted Tammock to go on. He was a great man all his days with the women-folk by just such arts. On the contrary, I am for ever getting cracks on the crown for speaking to them as ye would do to a man body. Some folk have the gift and it is worth a hundred a year to them at the least.

“Ay,” said Tammock thoughtfully, “ye nearly brak’ my heart when I was the grieve at the Folds, an’ cam’ owre in the forenichts to coort ye. D’ye mind hoo ye used to sit on my knee, and I used to sing,

‘My love she’s but a lassie yet’?”

“I mind no siccan things,” said Mistress M’Quhirr. “Weel do ye ken that when ye cam’ aboot the mill I was but a wee toddlin’ bairn rinnin’ after the dyukes in the yaird. It’s like aneuch that I sat on your knee. I hae some mind o’ you haudin’ your muckle turnip watch to my lug for me to hear it tick.”

“Aweel, aweel, Mary,” he said placably, “it’s like aneuch that was it. Thae auld times are apt to get a kennin’ mixter-maxter in yin’s held.”

We got little more out of him till once the bairns were shooed off to their beds, and the wife had been in three times at them with the broad of her loof to make them behave themselves. But ultimately Tammock Thackanraip agreed to spend the night with us. I saw that he wanted to open out something by ourselves, after the kitchen was clear and the men off to the stable.

So on the back of nine we took the book, and then drew round the red glow of the fire in the kitchen. It is the only time in the day that the mistress allows me to put my feet on the jambs, which is the only way that a man can get right warmed up, from foundation to rigging, as one might say. In this position we waited for Tammock to begin–or rather I waited, for the wife sat quietly in the corner knitting her stocking.

“I was thinkin’ o’ takin’ a wife gin I could get a guid, faceable-like yin,” said Tammock, thumbing the dottle down.

“Ay?” said I, and waited.

“Ye see, I’m no’ as young as I yince was, and I need somebody sair.”

“But I thocht aye that ye were lookin’ at Tibby o’ the Hilltap,” said the mistress.

“I was,” said Thomas sententiously. He stroked his leg with one hand softly, as though it had been a cat’s back.

Now, Tibby o’ the Hilltap was the farmer’s daughter, a belle among the bachelors, but one who had let so many lads pass her by, that she was thought to be in danger of missing a down-sefting after all. But Tammock had long been faithful.

“I’ll gang nae mair to yon toun,” said Tammock.

“Hoots, haivers!” (this was Mistress M’Quhirr’s favourite expression); “an’ what for no’? What said she, Tammock, to turn you frae the Hilltap?”

“She said what settled me,” said Tammock a little sadly. “I’m thinkin’ there’s nocht left for’t but to tak’ Bell Mulwhulter, that has been my housekeeper, as ye ken, for twenty year. But gin I do mak’ up my mind to that, it’ll be a heartbreak that I didna do it twenty year since. It wad hae saved expense.”

“‘Deed, I’m nane so sure o’ that,” said the goodwife, listening with one ear cocked to the muffled laughter in the boys’ sleeping-room.

“Thae loons are no’ asleep yet,” said she, lifting an old flat-heeled slipper and disappearing.

There was a sharp slap-slapping for a minute, mixed with cries of “Oh, mither, it was Alec!” “No, mither, it was Rob!”

Mary appeared at the door presently, breathing as she did when she had half done with the kirning. She set the slipper in the corner to be ready to her hand in case of further need.

“Na, na, Ayrshireman,” she said; “it’s maybe time aneuch as it is for you to marry Bell Mulwhulter. It’s sma’ savin’ o’ expense to bring up a rachle o’ bairns.”

“Dod, woman, I never thocht a’ that,” said Tammock. “It’s maybe as weel as it is.”

“Ay, better a deal. Let weel alane,” said the mistress.

“I doot I’ll hae to do that ony way noo,” said Tammock.

“But what said Tibby o’ the Hilltap to ye, Tammock, that ye gied up thochts o’ her sae sudden-like?”

“Na, I can tell that to naebody,” he said at last.

“Hoots, haivers!” said the wife, who wanted very much to know. “Ye ken that it’ll gang nae farder.”

“Aweel,” said Tammock, “I’ll tell ye.”

And this he had intended to do from the first, as we knew, and he knew that we knew it. But the rules of the game had to be observed. There was something of a woman’s round-the-corner ways about Tammock all his days, and that was the way he got on so well with them as a general rule–though Tibby o’ the Hilltap had given him the go-by, as we were presently to hear.

“The way o’t was this,” began Tammock, putting a red doit of peat into the bowl of his pipe and squinting down at it with one eye shut to see that it glowed. “I had been payin’ my respects to Tibby up at the Hilltap off and on for a year or twa–“

“Maistly on,” said my wife. Tammock paid no attention.

“Tibby didna appear to mislike it to ony extent. She was fond o’ caa’in’ the crack, an’ I was wullin’ that she should miscaa’ me as muckle as she likit–for I’m no’ yin o’ your crouse, conceity young chaps to be fleyed awa’ wi’ a gibe frae a lassie.”

“Ye never war that a’ the days o’ ye, Tammock!” said the mistress.

“Ay, ye are beginnin’ to mind noo, mistress,” said Tammas dryly. “Weel, the nicht afore last I gaed to the Hilltap to see Tibby, an’ as usual there was a lad or twa in the kitchen, an’ the crack was gaun screevin’ roond. But I can tak’ my share in that,” continued Tammas modestly, “so we fell on to the banter.

“Tibby was knitting at a reid pirnie[1] for her faither; but, of course, I let on that it was for her guidman, and wanted her to tak’ the size o’ my held so that she micht mak’ it richt.

[Footnote 1: Night-cap.]

“‘It’ll never be on the pow o’ an Ayrshire drover,’ says she, snell as the north wind.

“‘An’ what for that?’ says I.

“‘The yairn ‘s owre dear,’ says Tibby. ‘It cost twa baskets o’ mushrooms in Dumfries market!’

“‘An’ what price paid ye for the mushrooms that the airn should be owre dear?’ said I.

“‘Ou, nocht ava,’ says Tibby. ‘I juist gat them whaur the Ayrshire drover gat the coo. I fand them in a field!’

“Then everybody haa-haa ed with laughing. She had me there, I wull alloo–me that had been a drover,” said Tammas Thackanraip.

“But that was naething to discourage ye, Tammock,” said I. “That was juist her bit joke.”

“I ken–I ken,” said Tammock; “but hand a wee–I’m no’ dune yet. So after they had dune laughin’, I telled them o’ the last man that was hangit at the Grassmarket o’ Edinburgh. There was three coonts in the dittay against him: first, that he was fand on the king’s highway withoot due cause; second, he wan’ered in his speech; and, thirdly, he owned that he cam’ frae Gallowa’.

“This kind o’ squared the reckoning, but it hadna the success o’ the Ayrshireman and the coo, for they a’ belonged to Gallowa’ that was in the kitchen,”

“‘Deed, an’ I dinna see muckle joke in that last mysel’,” said my wife, who also belonged to Galloway.

“And I’ll be bound neither did the poor lad in the Grassmarket!” I put in, edgeways, taking my legs down off the jambs, for the peats had burned up, and enough is as good as a feast.

Then Tammas was silent for a good while, smoking slowly, taking out his pipe whiles and looking at the shank of it in a very curious manner.

I knew that we were coming to the kernel of the story now.

“So the nicht slippit on,” continued the narrator, “an’ the lads that had to be early up in the morning gaed awa yin by yin, an’ I was left my lane wi’ Tibby. She was gaun aboot here an’ there gey an’ brisk, clatterin’ dishes an’ reddin’ corners.

“‘Hae a paper an’ read us some o’ the news, gin ye hae nocht better to say,’ said she.

“She threw me a paper across the table that I kenned for Maxwell’s by the crunkle o’ the sheets.

“I ripit a’ my pooches, yin after the ither.

“‘I misdoot I maun hae comed awa’ withoot my specs, Tibby,’ says I at last, when I could come on them nowhere.

“So we talked a bit langer, and she screeved aboot, pittin’ things into their places.

“‘It’s a fine nicht for gettin’ hame,’ she says, at the hinder end.

“This was, as ye may say, something like a hint, but I was determined to hae it oot wi’ her that nicht. An’ so I had, though no’ in the way I had intended exactly.

“‘It is a fine nicht,’ says I; ‘but I ken by the pains in the sma’ o’ my back that it’s gaun to be a storm.’

“Wi’ that, as if a bee had stang’d her, Tibby cam’ to the ither side o’ the table frae whaur I was sittin’–as it micht be there–an’ she set her hands on the edge o’t wi’ the loofs doon (I think I see her noo; she looked awsome bonny), an’ says she–

“‘Tammas Thackanraip, ye are a decent man, but ye are wasting your time comin’ here coortin’ me,’ she says. ‘Gin ye think that Tibby o’ the Hilltap is gaun to marry a man wi’ his een in his pooch an’ a weather-glass in the sma’ o’ his back, ye’re maist notoriously mista’en,’ says she.”

There was silence in the kitchen after that, so that we could hear the clock ticking time about with my wife’s needles.

“So I cam’ awa’,” at last said Tammock, sadly.

“An’ what hae ye dune aboot it?” asked my wife, sympathetically.

“Dune aboot it?” said Tammas; “I juist speered Bell Mulwhulter when I cam’ hame.”

“An’ what said she?” asked the mistress.

“Oh,” cried Tammas, “she said it was raither near the eleeventh ‘oor, but that she had nae objections that she kenned o’.”

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