Read Wilson’s Tales of the Borders and of Scotland Volume XXIII Part 7

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“A woman!” cried Maule; “then to heaven as fast as your wings will carry you.”

And this man, who braved G.o.d, shook with terror before a weak woman; and so did all these brave baccha.n.a.ls, who, on hearing the horn when no more remained to be condemned, thought their false G.o.d had called them, and had returned to witness the object of their new-born fear. Hurrying into the hea.r.s.e, the party were in a few minutes posting to Dundee in solemn silence, where they arrived about two o’clock, not to resume their orgies, but to separate each for his home, with the elements in him of a sense of retribution, not forgotten for many a day. At the long run the story finishes, and the chronicler, lifting up his hands to heaven, cries, “Is there no end, Lord, is there no end to the profanity of man?

Lord, why stayeth the hand of vengeance?”

If guidman Aminadab had known these things–which he couldn’t do, because, like Sir James Colquhoun’s last day (of the session), which he wanted the judges to abolish, this last day (of the world) happened after the said Aminadab was in the habit of seeking Mrs. M’Pherson’s parlour–he would have had greater deductions from his pleasure; for Aminadab read his Bible, and belonged to the first Secession. And so it was better he didn’t, especially on that night when Mrs. M’Pherson had been so extraordinarily condescending to her henchman as to set before him a fine piece of pork, in recognition of his adherence to the resolution of leaving the flesh-pots of Egypt–the old Church. It was a dark night in January. There was a cheerful fire in the neat parlour, and Janet was communicative, if not chatty, in good English, got in George’s kitchen at Kew.

“I would like all this better,” said Aminadab, “if I had not that churchyard to come through; and then there’s that fearful-looking Cradle in the hollow, with four lums like the stumpt posts of a child’s rocking-bed. What is it, Janet?–it’s not a cow-house, nor a henhouse, but a pure dungeon, fearful to free men, who might shudder to be confined in it.”

“What more?” said Janet. “Do you know anything more, Aminadab?”

“Yes; but I am eating Logie’s pork, and don’t like to say much.”

“Never mind the pork, man; speak out. Do the folks down in the town say anything, or shake their heads, or point their fingers?”

“Well, they say there’s a human being confined in it,” replied Aminadab.

“And so they may, for sounds have been heard coming from the dark hole–ay, and I have heard them myself–deep moans and weeping. I would like to know if there’s a secret.”

“Hush, hush, Aminadab. There is a secret, and you’re the only man I would speak of it to.”

And Mrs. McPherson rose solemnly and locked the door upon herself and her henchman.

“You know, Aminadab, that my master came from Bombay some years ago, and brought home with him a black wife. Dear, good soul–so kind, so timid, so cheerful too; but, Heaven help me, what could I do?–for you know Mr.

Fletcher is a terrible man. He does not fear the face of clay; and the scowl upon his face when he is in his moods is terrible. I am bound to obey.”

“But what of her?” said Aminadab. “It’s no surely she who is in the horrid hole?”

“Never you mind that, but eat your bacon, you fool for stopping me. When I’m stopped, I seldom begin again for a day and night at least.”

“Something like your master, Janet.”

“No, Aminadab; I have _a heart_, lad.”

“That I know, Janet,” said Aminadab, with a lump of pork in his mouth; “and–and–it–is–fat–la.s.s.”

“And the easier swallowed,” said she

“I meant your heart, Mrs. McPherson.

“And I must swallow that too, as it seems to come up my throat and choke me, even as the pork seems to do you. Take time, Aminadab. There’s no hurry, man. Ah well, then, we have it all among the servants how Mr.

Fletcher got my lady. He was a great man in Bombay–governor, I think, or something near that–and my lady was the only daughter of the Nawab or Nabob of some kingdom near Bombay–I forget the strange Indian name.

She was the very petted child of her father; and when Mr. Fletcher saw her, she was running about the palace like a wild, playful creature–I may say, our bonny little roes of the Highland hills, or maybe another creature she used to speak about, I think they call it gazelle, with such wonderful eyes for shining, that you cannot look into them no more you could at the sun. For, oh, Aminadab! they have strange things in these places, which are much nearer the sun than we are here in this old country. But the mighty Nabob was unwilling to give her to the white-faced lover, even though he was the governor of Bombay, forbye having Balinsloe and Lindertes in Scotland too. Maybe he thought a Scotsman could not like a black Indian princess, though she was with her grand shawls about her, and her jewelled turban, and diamonds and pearls, and all that; and maybe, Aminadab, he thought”–and here Janet lowered her husky voice–“that it was just for these fine things he wanted her, rich though he was himself. Yet, strange enough too, the Nabob had promised the man who should marry his daughter the weight of herself in fine Indian gold, weighed in a balance, as her tocher. Heard ye ever the like of a tocher, man?”

“That would depend upon her size and weight, Janet, la.s.s. Now, had you a tocher like that, it would be a gey business, I think,–fourteen potato-stones at the very least, I would say, eh?”–and he must get quit of the mouthful before he could finish–“Eh, Janet?”

“And if you go on at that rate with my pork, you will not, by-and-by, be much behind me. But, guid faith, Aminadab, I’m not ashamed, lad, of my size. A poor, smoke-dried, shrivelled cook shames her guid savoury dishes, intended to fatten mankind and make them jolly. But you are right about the offer of the Nabob. The creature was small, and light, and lithe, and could not weigh much. But then, think of the jewels!

These did not depend upon her weight, but upon their own light. Oh, what diamonds, and rubies, and pearls as big as marbles! I have looked at them till my eyes reeled with the light of them; and no wonder, when I have heard them valued at a hundred thousand guineas–and to think of all that being held in a little box! There is one necklace worth fifteen thousand itself.”

“And yet a small neck, too, maybe?–‘And thou shalt make a necklace to fit her neck,’ said the Lord. It would not be half the girth of yours, Mrs. M’Pherson?”

“Ay, Aminadab; not a half, nor anything like it. But don’t stop me again, lad, or I’ll stop the pork. (A pause.) Ah, well, I fear it was the shining jewels, and not the black face, did the business on my master’s side. And, of course, he would be all smiles at the Nabob’s court; for, Aminadab, my lad, there never was on the face of G.o.d’s earth a man who could so soon change the horrid dark scowl into the very light of sunshine as Mr. Fletcher. I have seen him, when in company with Kincaldrum, and Dudhope, and Gleneagles, and the rest, laughing till his face was as red as the sun, then, all of a sudden, when some of his moods came over him, turn just like a fiend new come out of–oh, I’ll just say it out, Aminadab, though ye be of the Seceders–just h.e.l.l, lad.”

“But, good mother Janet–“

“Mother your own mother, man, till you be a father, Aminadab. Have I not told you to let me go on? There’s no honour in a mother: that sow you are eating was the mother six times of thirteen at each litter; and I think that’s about seventy-eight. Mother, forsooth! Ay, and yet you’ll see a beggar wretch, clad in tanterwallops–rags is owre guid a word–coming to Logie door, and looking as if she had the right to demand meal from me, merely because she has two at her feet and one in her arms. Such honourable gaberlunzies get no meal from me. My master was keen for the match; but the Nabob was shy of the white face. And here’s a curious thing–I got it from my lady herself. She said the Nabob, her papa, as she called him–for, just like us here, they have kindly words and real human feelings–made a bargain with my master, that if he took her away out of India to where the big woman they call the Company lives, he would be kind to her, and ‘_treat her as he would do a child which is rocked in a cradle_.'”

“Better than Naomi’s wish,” said Aminadab; “‘And the Lord grant ye find rest in the house of thy husband.'”

“That bargain they made him sign with blood drawn just right over his heart; and the Nabob signed, too, for the weight of gold and the jewels.

Then came the marriage. Such a day had not been witnessed in Bombay for years, if ever, when a great son of the big woman was to be married to the daughter of a Nawab. All the great men of Bombay, and the rich Pa.r.s.ees, she called them, were at the king’s court, and the little princes round about for hundreds of miles, and all the ministers of Indian state,–for you must know that the marriage was in the English fashion, as the Nawab thought he could bind the bridegroom best in that way. Then the grand feast, and such dancing, and deray, and firing of cannons, and waving of flags, was never seen!”

“‘And all Israel shouted with a great shout, so that the earth rang again.'”

“Just so, guid auld Burgher lad,” rejoined Mrs. M’Pherson.

“They had only been a few months married, when Mr. Fletcher’s health having failed him,–and surely his liver is rotten to this day, if not his heart too,–he came home with his wife, and bought this bonnie place. She brought with her a squalling half-and-half thing,–there he’s at the door this moment.” By-and-by, “My little prince (she cried), go to Aditi–Ady, we call her–that’s the black ayah my lady brought home with her.”

“That will be another wife, I fancy,” said Aminadab. “They have all two or three wives in the East, haven’t they? Guid faith, ane’s mair than eneugh here, if the Nawab’s daughter’s in her cradle.”

“No, no, no, ye fool.”

“‘And I shall cut off the mult.i.tude of No,’ Ezekiel thirtieth, fifteen.”

“An ayah is a servant; and Ady’s a good black soul as ever foolishly washed her face when there’s no occasion for the trouble. And yet these black creatures are for ever washing themselves. They wash before breakfast and after breakfast, before dinner and after dinner, before supper and after supper, but the never a bit whiter they are that ever I could see.”

“Yea, they might save themselves a great deal of trouble,” said Aminadab.

“But they won’t,” rejoined Janet. “We have been tortured with their washings. Sometimes, when angry, I say to Ady, Can’t you go down to the _Scouring Burn_?”

“‘And wash thyself in the brook Cherith, which is before Jordan.'”

“But she says it’s Brahma that bids her–that’s their biggest G.o.d; and this Brahma is a trouble to us too. It seems he is everywhere; and Ady seeks him on Balgay Hill and in the churchyard o’ nights, when the moon’s out; thereafter coming in with those eyes of hers like flaming coals, darting them on us, who don’t believe in Brahma, as if we were the real heathens, and not she and her mistress.”

“‘And thou shalt not erect a temple to Dagon, but cut him down to the stumps,'” said Amimadab.

“Hush, hush, man. Our servants are all in terror. They say that Ady is right, for that they have seen him in about the skirts of Balgay woods, and down in the hollow of the ravine, moving about like a spirit of darkness, with something white round his head, and a wide cloak wrapped about him.”

Aminadab had just taken up a large tankard of ale, wherewith he intended to make a clean sweep of his hearty supper down his throat; but he paused, laid down the tankard, turned pale, shook, and looked wistfully into the face of his chieftainess. Nor did he speak a word, because some idea had probably magnetized his tongue at the wrong end, and the other would not move.

“Ady says, and so do the servants, that he has no shadow; and we should think he shouldn’t, because our ghosts hereaway have none that ever I heard of. But that’s a lie of their foolish religion; for I could swear I one night saw his shadow flit like that of a sun-dial, when the sun’s in a hurry to get the curtains round his head, away past the east end of the house, and disappear in a moment. But I’ll tell you what, Aminadab, he may, like our spirits, be a shadow himself. I could hardly speak for fear, though five minutes before I had as good a tankard of that Logie-brewed as you have before you; but I got my tongue through the ale at the other end o’t, and cried out with Zechariah, wherein I was something like you, Aminadab, ‘Ho, ho, come forth, and flee from the land of the north.'”

“That would stump his Dagonship,” said Aminadab, with an effort to be cheerful in spite of the foresaid idea, whatever it was. “Ay,” he continued, after drinking off the tankard, and getting courage and wit at same time, “a line from the Bible is just like a rifle-shot in the hinder-end of these false G.o.ds. They can’t stand it nohow.”

“And you’ve stumpt me,” replied the cook, “with the chopping-knife of your folly, so that I don’t know where to find my legs again. It was a year after he came to Logie before another half-and-half was born–a boy too; and then there came a change over Mr. Fletcher’s mind. There’s something strange about those English that live long in India. I’ve noticed it when I was in London, in George’s house; but it’s all from the liver,” continued the cook. “First grilled upon the ribs, then cooled with champagne, then healed up with curry, chiles, and ginger. No wonder the devil gets into the kitchen, where a dish like that is waiting him. Then they’re so proud and selfish, and fond of themselves and their worthless lives.”

“‘Skin for skin, yea, all that they have, will they give for their lives.’ So the devil said of him of Uz.”

“But you see it’s all in the liver,” continued the cook. “Aditi came to me one day, and said, ‘De ‘Gyptians in India tink body divided into sixteen parts, with G.o.d to each part! he! he! Janette!’ and the black creature laughed. Then I say, the liver of an Englishman, after he comes from India, is the devil’s part; and so it was with Mr. Fletcher. He began first to interfere with Kalee’s religion. ‘Oh, terrible, Janette!’

cried Ady, on another day; ‘master cut off head of Kartekeya’s peac.o.c.k, and smashed de tail of Garoora.’ On another day, ‘Right eye of elephant head of Ganeso knocked into de skull.’ Another day, this time in tears, weeping awfully, ‘Oh, Janette! tail of holy cow clean snapt over de rump!'”

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