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an' fa'in' I hae' haen sin' I left Kirry! Ye may be glad an' thankfu', gudewife, that the Lord, in His great mercy, has spared me to meet you and the weans again, for mony a time this nicht o' nichts I had gien up a' houps o' ever seein' you in the flesh again."
"Losh me, gudeman," rejoined his wife, "ye set my blude a' creepin', and my puir heart gaes pitty-patty in sic a manner as I never kent afore. Noo, Robert," she coaxingly continued, at the same time easing him of his greatcoat, "tell's far ye've been, and if thae mischievous spunkies hae dune ony evil tae you on your way hame?"
"Spunkies and fiddlesticks," interrupted the Dominie. "It's all imagination-a mere chimera."
"Fat dis the body say?" hastily interposed the farmer in his turn, and who was now "himself again." "I'll tell you what it is, Maister Dominie-ye ken naething aboot it ava. Wi' a' your buke learnin'-an' ye're a gey learned body, I maun admit-ye canna explain the antics and mischievous doings o' thae spunkies an' fairlies an' witchies an' waterkelpies. I wish ye had only been wi' me this winter nicht, an' ye wad hae seen wi' yer ain een if it was a mere keemera or no. But, gudewife, lat's hae our supper. Na, na, nane o' yer slops for me the nicht. Tak' awa' thae tea dishes, and fry some nice bacon and eggs; and, lassies, assist yer mither, and bring forrit the bannocks, and the flour scones, and the sweetest butter ye hae in the dairy, for I canna begin to argue thae matters wi' Maister Robertson on an empty stamach."
"Well thought of, and well said," quietly remarked the worthy Dominie to the obedient gudewife. "It is a laudible and wise precaution to line well the inner man with substantial realities before commencing a learned discussion on visionary topics of imaginative theories which evade the grasp of solid judgment and common sense, even as the gossamer mists on the hills evaporate and collapse when the golden beams of the god of day break forth in all their splendour to diffuse light, purity, and joy over the fair face
of Nature, and the remoter recesses of the sympathetic heart of man.”
Whether the plain, honest gudewife sufficiently caught in her perplexity the full meaning of this grandiloquent speech, I am not quite certain. All I know is, that she looked as if she understood every word of it, which comes, I daresay, pretty much to the same thing.
The table was profusely spread, in a wonderfully short space of time, with all the substantial viands so heartily commanded by our warm-hearted host; and, after grace had been solemnly said by the Dominie, the serious work of mastication and demolition commenced in right earnest, during which process, except the clatter of knives and forks, no other sound was heard but a faint monosyllable now and then, pronounced as if ashamed of itself for causing any interruption to such a thoroughly enjoyable feast.
“Bring the bottle, gudewife,” at last said mine host, wipiag off at the same time with his spotted handkerchief the big drops of perspiration that stood conspicuous on his brow; “ we'll be a' the better o' a dram aifter the bacon and the eggs; but, Martha, ye've forgotten the cheese, lassie. . Bring the kebbit oot o' the pantry—the mooldy ane, made frae sweet milk, I mean—and Kitty, put on the kettle on the swcy, and bring the auld punch-bowl that's claspit a' owre wi' silver to keep it thaegither for the use o' future generations, for I intend to fill it ance the nicht, at ony rate. Ye ken, gudewife, it's no ilka nicht we hae Maister Robertson o' Kinnettles under the auld roof o' Faffarty.”
While the necessary preparations for the bowl of punch are proceeding, we may take a passing glance at the physique of the two principal characters in the little domestic scene we are now describing.
To begin with mine host. The tenant of Foffarty was a hale, hearty yeoman of sixty; strong and well formed, of middle size ; of a ruddy cheerful countenance, and a warm and generous nature withal.
Superstitious he was to an intense degree, and as fully believed in the veritable existence
of Will-o'-the-wisps, waterkelpies, brownies, and fairies, as he did of the being of his own boys and girls, or of the sheep and cattle which browsed on the hill-sides of his farm. He was careful, if not proud, of his personal appearance, wearing always at kirk and market a full dress suit of dark brown ; knee-breeches corded, but somewhat of a lighter colour; with bright polished top-boots, of the true hunting size
The Dominie, again, seemed to be considerably younger, and of a form and type entirely different from that of the worthy farmer. Although rather below the middle size, his carriage and bearing were so erect and dignified that his small stature was not so observable as it otherwise would have been. His countenance was pale and colourless, as became the scholar and philosopher; and his brow capacious and high, betokening the possession of faculties of no common order ; while his small, grey, twinkling eye glistened brightly with kindly feeling and benevolent affection. Like the silver lining to the ebon cloud, his dark raven hair was being whitened thickly o'er with grey, deepening the expressive contour of his thoughtful yet congenial face. He had a warm and couthy way of speaking to his old pupils, but in general his manner was somewhat formal and pedantic, and his speech slow, measured, and pompous withal.
"Now for our bowl of punch, Maister Robertson," kindly said mine host. “I'll just mix it the auld way-naething
— but the pure Glenlivet, the lump sugar, an' the boilin' water. I dinna like your new-fangled mixtures ava, ava. I really think, Maister Daniel—do ye mind, by the by, what a skirmish ye kicket up at the examination o' your schule, in presence o' a' the Presbytery and the big folks, when I ca'ad ye Maister Donald- eh! eh! eh !” and the jolly farmer langhed, and laughed until the tears stood in his twinkling, mirth-provoking eyes ; his self-created merriment causing him completely to forget the termination of his sentence, whatever that might have been.
“A few thin slices of lemon," observed the Dominie, entirely ignoring the latter remark of our host, “I am of opinion, very much improves the punch, at least to my taste. Besides, the rancid acidity of the fruit serves in a great measure to counteract the evil consequences of the inflammable alcohol.”
“But it destroys the flavour, man," impetuously rejoined the farmer. "I widna gie the gran'smell o' the peat reek for a' your furrin scents; and as for taste, commend me, Maister Robertson, to the pure, unadulterated, sma' still mountain dew."
“But you are forgettin', Robert, to tell us the story o' your mishaps on your way frae Kirry,” gently interrupted his better half, who had now cozily seated herself beside him. “We're a' waitin' to hear fu' ye got through a' thae clamjamfries i' the moss, an' fa' it was that bedraggled a' your claes i’ that awfu' fashion, gudeman."
“Very pertinent remark," chimed in the Dominie; "we are all impatience to hear the particulars of this, to you, eventful night, Mr Guthrie."
The very natural reminder by his wife of the indirect promise he had given to recount the circumstances of his somewhat erratic and mysterious journey that night from Kirry produced at once a strange effect on mine host. All his glee and hilarity had, in an instant, vanished, and his hitherto cheerful countenance assumed a sad thoughtful expression. Throwing back his coat on his shoulders, planting firmly his two thumbs in his waistcoat pockets, and thrusting out his legs with great force towards the blazing fire, he looked with a furtive, enquiring glance around the room, taking, apparently, particular notice that the door was properly shut, and that there was none in the house except those on whom he could with all confidence thoroughly rely. He gave at last some ominous “heme," followed in quick succession by several rather suspicious coughs, which certainly did not strengthen the belief of his hearers in the truth of the
revelations he had indirectly promised to make, and which he was now about to give.
Evidently he had failed to bring his courage "to the sticking place;" and so, after desperately snuffing the only candle on the table, and taking off another glass of punch, he fixed his eyes for a few moments on the smoke-begrimed wooden rafters above, as if invoking the aid of his good angel to come to the rescue.
Then, as if nothing unusual had occurred, he filled himself another glass from the punch-bowl, politely handing one, at the same time, to the wondering dominie, and thus began the long-expected narration:
"Aifter finishin' a' my business i' the market, Benshie, and Glassell, and Redford, and Dragonha', and mysel' adjourned to the inn aff the cross to get a snack and some refreshment afore takin' the road hame. Aifter we had had our dinner, we had a glass or twa to keep oot the cauld-there micht hae been ane, maybee twa mair, but that's neither here nor there, for Benshie and Glassell had selt a' their knout, an', bein' michty big ower their pouchfu's o' siller, they were uncommon leeberal wi' their drink, payin' a' the lawin' atween their twa selves. By this time is was gettin' gey dark, and no onywise oot o' fear, ye ken-I began to think o' the lang road I had to gae hame, an' o' the dangerous spunkies and waterkelpies that micht beset my path fan threadin' my way through the peat mosses and swampy marshes that lay atween me an' Faffarty. Whether my freends read my thochts or no, I couldna be quite certain; but, at a' events, they a' wi' ane accord, began to ragg and banter me aboot the spunkies i' the moss, and insinuated, rather undeservedly, as I thocht, that I was nae match for thae warlocks, bein' somewhat deficient in the bravery necessar' for a successfu' encounter wi' them. So, by way o' keepin' up my coorage, as far as that was possible, I ordered in some mair Glenlivet, to drink 'Deuchan doris' afore we took our several ways hame. This bein' dune, we each rose, as sober an' weel-conduckit as ony o' his Majesty's judges o' the land.