The Minister’s Loon by S R Crockett
Story type: Literature
Saw ye ae flour in a fair garden,
Where the lilac blossom blooms cheerily;
“Fairest and rarest ever was seen,”
Sing the merle and laverock merrily.
Watered o’ dew i’ the earliest morn,
Lilac blossom blooms cheerily;
Bield aboot wi’ a sweet hawthorn,
Where the merle and lark sing merrily.
Wha shall pu’ this flour o’ the flours?
Lilac blossom blooms cheerily;
Wha hae for aye to grace their booers,
Where the merle and lark sing merrily ?
This is the note that came for me this morning. It was the herd of Hanging Shaws that brought it. He had been down at the smiddy getting the horses shod; and Mr. Marchbanks, the minister, handed it to him himself as he was passing the manse on his way home. The herd said that it was “bound to be something pressing, or the minister wadna hae been so soon oot o’ his bed.” So he waited till I had opened it to hear what it was about, for the wife of Hanging Shaws would be sure to be asking. I read it to him, but he did not seem to be much the wiser. Here is the letter, written in an ill, crabbed hand-of-write, like all ministers’ writings:–
“DEAR MR. M’QUHIRR,– I made strict inquiry subsequent to my return from your hospitable dwelling last evening regarding the slight accident which happened to my son, Archibald, whilst I was engaged in suitable converse with your like-minded partner. I am of opinion that there is no necessity for proceeding to extreme measures in the case of your son, Alexander–as in my first natural indignation, I urged somewhat strongly upon your good wife. It may not ultimately be for the worse, that the lads were allowed to settle their own differences without the intervention of their parents. I may say, in conclusion, that the application of a portion of uncooked beef to the protuberance has considerably reduced the swelling upon my son’s nose during the night. I intend (D.V.) to resume the visitation of my congregation on Thursday next, unaccompanied either by my own son or yours.–Believe me, dear sir, to remain your most obedient servant,
Now, Mr. Marchbanks is not my own minister, but there is not a better respected man in the countryside, nor one whom I would less allow any one belonging to me to make light of. So it behoved me to make inquiry. Of the letter itself I could make neither head nor tail; but two things were clear–that that loon of a boy, my son Alec, was in it, and also that his mother was “accessory after the fact,” as the Kirkcudbright lawyers say. In the latter case it was necessary to act with circumspection. In the other case I should probably have acted instantly with a suitable hazel rod.
I went into the house. “Where’s Alec?” I asked, maybe a kenning sharper than ordinary.
“What may ye be wantin’ wi’ Alec?” said my wife, with a sting in her accent which showed that she was deep in the ploy, whatever it had been. It now came to my mind that I had not seen Alec since the day before, when I sent him out to play with the minister’s son, till Maister Marchbanks had peace to give us his crack before I went out to the hill sheep.
So I mentioned to Mrs. M’Quhirr that I had a letter from the minister about the boy. “Let us hear it,” says she. So I read the letter word for word.
“What does he mean by a’ that screed?” she asked. “It’s like a bit o’ a sermon.”
Now, my wife takes the general good out of a sermon, but she does not always trouble to translate pulpit language into plain talk.
“He means that there’s six o’ yin an’ half a dizzen o’ the ither,” I explained, to smooth her down.
“Na, they’re no’ that,” said Mrs. M’Quhirr; “my laddie may be steerin’, I’m no’ denyin’; but he’s no’ to be named in the same day as that misleered hound, the minister’s loon!”
It was evidently more than ever necessary to proceed with circumspection.
“At any rate, let us hear what the laddie has to say for himsel’. Where is he?” I said.
“He’s in the barn,” said his mother shortly.
To the barn I went. It is an old building with two doors, one very large, of which the upper half opens inwards; and the other gives a cheery look into the orchard when the sugar-plums are ripening. One end was empty, waiting for the harvest, now just changing into yellow, and the other had been filled with meadow hay only the week before.
“Alec!” I cried, as I came to the door.
There was an answer like the squeaking of a rat among the hay, and I thought, “Bless me, the boy’s smothered!” But then again I minded that in his times of distress, after a fight or when he had been in some ploy for which he dared not face his father, Alec had made himself a cave among the hay or corn in the end of the barn. Like all Lowland barns, ours has got a row of three-cornered unglazed windows, called “wickets.” Through one of these I have more than once seen Alec vanish when hard pressed by his mother, and have been amused even under the sober face of parental discipline. For, once through, no one could follow the boy. There was no one about the farm slender enough to scramble after. I had not the smallest doubt that the scapegrace was now lying snugly in his hole, impregnable behind the great hay-mow, provisioned with a few farls of cake from his mother, and with his well-beloved Robinson Crusoe for sole companion of the solitary hours.
I went round to the opening and peered in, but could see nothing. “Alec,” says I, “come oot this moment!”
“Nae lickin’, then, faither?” says a voice out of the wicket.
“No, if ye come oot an’ tell the truth like a man.”
So I took him ben to the “room” to be more solemn-like, and bade him tell the whole story from the start. This he did fairly on the whole, I am bound to confess, with sundry questions and reminders here and there from his mother and me.
“Weel, mither, the way o’ it was this. We had only a half-day yesterday at the schule,” he began, “for the maister was gaun to a funeral; an’ when I cam’ oot at denner-time I saw Airchie Marchbanks, an’ he said that his faither was gaun up the lochside veesitin’, that he was gaun, too, an’ if I likit I could hing on ahint. So I hid my buiks aneath a stane–“
“Ye destructionfu’ vagabond, I’ll get yer faither to gie ye a guid–“
“But, mither, it was a big braid stane. They’re better there than cadgin’ them hame an’ maybe lossin’ them. An’ my faither promised that there was to be nae lickin’ if I telt the truth.”
“Weel, never mind the buiks,” said I, for this had nothing to do with the minister’s letter. “Gae on wi’ your story.”
“The minister startit aboot twa o’clock wi’ the auld meer in the shafts, Airchie on the front seat aside his faither, an’ me sittin’ on the step ahint.”
“Did the minister ken ye war there?” asked his mother.
“Nae fears!” said Alexander M’Quhirr the younger, unabashed. It is a constant wonder to his mother whom he takes after. But it is no great wonder to me. It had been indeed a greater wonderment to me that Alec should so readily promise to accompany the minister; for whenever either a policeman or a minister is seen within miles of Drumquhat, my lad takes the shortest cut for the fastnesses of Drumquhat Bank, there to lie like one of his hunted forebears of the persecution, till the clear buttons or the black coat have been carefully watched off the premises.
“The first place where the minister gaed,” continued my son, “was the clauchan o’ Milnthird. He was gaun to see Leezie Scott, her that has been ill sae lang. He gaed in there an’ bade a gey while, wi’ Airchie haudin’ ae side o’ the horse’s heid an’ me the ither–no’ that auld Jess wad hae run away if ye had tied a kettle to her tail–“
“Be mair circumspect in yer talk,” said his mother; “mind it’s a minister’s horse!”
“Weel, onyway, I could see through the wundy, an’ the lassie was haudin’ the minister’s haun’, an’ him speakin’ an’ lookin’ up at somebody that I didna see, but maybe the lassie did, for she lay back in her bed awfu’ thankfu’-like. But her mither never thankit the minister ava’, juist turned her back an’ grat into her peenie. Mr. Marchbanks cam’ oot; but I saw nae mair, for I had to turn an’ rin, or he wad hae seen me, an’ maybe askit me to hae a ride!”
“An’ what for wad ye no’ be prood to ride wi’ the godly man?” asked my wife.
“He micht ask me my quaistions, an’ though I’ve been lickit thirteen times for Effectual Callin’, I canna get mair nor half through wi’t. [‘Yer faither’s wi’ ye there, laddie,’ said I, under my breath.] Gin Mr. Marchbanks wad aye look like what he did when he cam oot o’ Leezie Scott’s, I wadna rin for the heather when he comes. Then he had a bit crack in twa-three o’ the hooses wi’ the auld wives that wasna at the wark, though he has nae mair members in the clauchan, them bein’ a’ Auld Kirkers. But Mr. Marchbanks didna mind that, but ca’ed on them a’, an’ pat up a prayer standin’ wi’ his staff in his hand and wi’ his hair owre his shoother.”
“Hoo div ye ken?” I asked, curious to know how the boy had sketched the minister so exactly.
“I juist keekit ben, for I likit to see’t.”
“The assurance o’ the loon!” cried his mither, but not ill-pleased. (O these mothers!)
“Then we cam’ to the auld mill, an’ the minister gaed in to see blin’ Maggie Affleck, an’ when he cam’ oot I’m sure as daith that he left something that jingled on the kitchen table. On the doorstep he says, wi’ a bricht face on him, ‘Marget, it’s me that needs to thank you, for I get a lesson frae ye every time that I come here.’ Though hoo blind Mag Affleck can learn a minister wi’ lang white hair, is mair nor me or Airchie Marchbanks could mak’ oot. Sae we gaed on, an’ the minister gied every ragged bairn that was on the road that day a ride, till the auld machine was as thrang as it could stick, like a merry-go-roon’ at the fair. Only, he made them a’ get oot at the hills an’ walk up, as he did himsel’. ‘Deed, he walkit near a’ the road, an’ pu’ed the auld meer efter him insteed o’ her drawin’ him. ‘I wish my faither wad lend me the whup!’ Airchie said, an’ he tried to thig it awa’ frae his faither. But the minister was mair gleg than ye wad think, and Airchie got the whup, but it was roon the legs, an’ it garred him loup and squeal!”
My wife nodded grim approval.
“When we got to Drumquhat,” continued Alec, “it was gey far on in the efternune, an’ the minister an’ my mither lowsed the powny an’ stabled it afore gaun ben. Then me an’ Airchie were sent oot to play, as my mither kens. We got on fine a while, till Airchie broke my peerie an’ pooched the string. Then he staned the cats that cam’ rinnin’ to beg for milk an’ cheese–cats that never war clodded afore. He wadna be said ‘no’ to, though I threepit I wad tell his faither. Then at the hinner-en’ he got into my big blue coach, and wadna get oot. I didna mind that muckle, for I hadna been in ‘t mysel’ for six months. But he made faces at me through the hole in the back, an’ that I couldna pit up wi’–nae boy could. For it was my ain coach, minister’s son or no’ minister’s son. Weel, I had the cross-bow and arrow that Geordie Grier made me–the yin that shoots the lumps o’ hard wud. So I let fire at Airchie, just when he was makin’ an awfu’ face, and the billet took him fair atween the een. Into the hoose he ran to his faither, ba-haain‘ wi’ a’ his micht; an’ oot cam’ the minister, as angry as ye like, wi’ my mither ahint him like to greet.”
‘”Deed, I was that!” said Mrs. M’Quhirr.
“‘What for did ye hit my son’s nose wi’ a billet of wood through the hole in your blue coach?’ the minister asked me.
“‘Because your son’s nose was at the hole in my blue coach!’ says I, as plain as if he hadna been a minister, I was that mad. For it was my coach, an’ a bonny-like thing gin a boy couldna shoot at a hole in his ain blue coach! Noo, faither, mind there was to be nae lickin’ gin I telt ye the truth!”
There was no licking–which, if you know my wife, you will find no difficulty in believing.