A Christmas Garland/Beside the Bonnie Mark

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We are a sober, duty-seeking people in the Brompton Road, which I will call the Rood tae Brompton, as being more convenient to the ear. Folk say there’s “nae a mickle feck o’ Romaunce in our composeesh'n,” and may be they are not in error, for we have such a deal to mind for the temporal welfare of us that we have not heart for the rest. But for all that the Lord prospers our goings and our comings, and lets us take our chance of thanking Him, knowing we are pressed at the most times.

Therefore we live at peace one with the other and indulge ourselves neighbourly on occasion. And if you are reflectfully-minded you’ll not be considering that a justification of wrath, inasmuch as a soul cannot dispense with friendliness all the while. As we say in the Rood tae Brompton, “Let a mon peckit (finish) his saxteen thoos’n wairds i' the day an’ spen’ a bit prackle wi' hiss likes the sundoon an’ trust tae the morn to feg the dickalecht (put in the dialect).” But what I am telling is one of those bits of sunshine that are granted us in spite of our own selves to give light to our tasks and labours.

The shop I live over above is a wee tobacco store, much favoured by smokers for their edification. It is kept by one Mrs. Jones, a Southron, clean and orderly, but with too much flint to the heart of her for some tastes. Here I came to dwell by reason of the braw laddie that stands before her door. My heart assured me there could be no lack of grace in his companionship for a’. You have noticed him yourselves in passing, may be, but I cannot help myself from enlarging on him. A man of the medium height, bearing his bonnet well up, as is becoming to a Clansman, and looks you straight out of shrewd, gray eyes. His red coat is not so bonnie as it once was, owing to the rain, for he stands out stoutly and hardily in all weathers; he knows that rain is sent down from Heaven, so does not seek to shelter his finery. He has a snuff-horn in his hand, but is a lesson to some of us in abstemiousness, though he is but a poor wooden image made in the likeness of a man, as you may be guessing.

Now whensoever I am at a loss for a profitable word in my writing, my habit is to look down out window at this laddie for my inspiration. He is a trusty vessel of help to my toiling. And it chanced (as folk say, meaning Providence) that one day as I looked down at him, needful of some aid in the ordering of an important deathbed-farewell, I spied a lassie gazing at him with eyes of approval and a bonny blush to her cheek. She was but a wee bairn, not wise enough to know he was an image, and presently she began to address him softly with a “Will ye no hecht the wha’ wi' hagger fro’ the puir freckie (orphan) the noo?” and a “Gin yir pouk spunner the day a ken dune me aild fa’ the awfu saptit wi' a!” I took down all that she said and put it into the mouth of my dying man, Hamish Domferrar, peace be to him!

Thereafter I saw her most days, standing in the cold wintry street with a great growing love in her wee blue eyes. And now or again I would spare a moment from my toil to go down and hold converse with her. She told me her name was Elspeth Macintosh (Waterproof) and that she came from Kirkochry. And she would pour out to me the great love she had for the braw Clansman, being confidentially-minded, as is the way of those stricken in love. Insomuch that my heart was fulfilled with the balm of affliction, and I was not for undeceiving her that the Clansman was made of the wood of trees, Heaven forgive me for my deceitfulness! And every morn she would stand there trying to coax him to be her ain mon. “Am a nae bonnie ka spune sic ilka mysel’ na siller ma hert awa’?” she would say with the tears rolling down her cheeks like the waters of Gildech Nimshi.

Christmas Tide came, filling the hearts of us with peace and kindness, and Christmas morn found the bairn still standing disconsolate on the causeway. For you must know that the shop is kept open even on that Day. The poor in substance must needs serve at all times, which is the Will of Providence. And as I passed out on my way to Kirk, my heart was mightily uplifted with a great compassion for the puir freckie. And when I heard the words of love she was speaking to the dumb image, “A’m nau forrit (forward) wi' ma pucklie gran’ pecktic o' gude me verra ane cud mair hoots to dunner syne frae haggis!” I could not contain my own emotions at the sound. “I’ll mek her joyfu’ the day,” I whispered. Warily I peeped round to see if Mrs. Jones was at the counter, and I thanked Providence she was not there to see, but in the wee parlour at back. Then I beckoned the bairn to come near and I lifted the Clansman with my own arms, saying to her, “His hert is yir awe, to be yir ane mon. D’yir mind yir can tek him awa’ wi' yir the noo?”

And the bairn, being braw and strapping, caught him in her embrace and dragged him away along the street, as fast as fast as she could, for all he was heavy to the touch. "I ha bided mickle fa' my breedal," she called back to me, "an' I'm na ingrat, bu' my hert is chocksome the noo an' I'm a' for spicklin' my ain man frae'--" I never heard the rest, for at that moment a braW constable laid his hand on her and took her ain mon from her arms. "Yir mus' een him along wi' me tae the Steesh'n," he said.

And the bairn, being braw and strapping, caught him in her embrace and dragged him away along the street, as fast as fast as she could, for all he was heavy to the touch. “I ha bided mickle fa’ my breedal,” she called back to me, “an’ I’m na ingrat, bu’ my hert is chocksome the noo an I’m a’ for spicklin’ my ain mon frae'—.” I never heard the rest, for at that moment a braw constable laid his hand on her and took her ain mon from her arms. “Yir mus' een kim along wi' me tae the Steesh’n,” he said.

We are a law-loving people in the Rood tae Brompton, though our hearts be soft at whiles. I was called as a witness at the Court the morrow and I was made to tell the evidence of my eyes, how I saw the bairn remove the image and did not interfere, thinking she had come to fetch it away to the renovators. And so the puir lassie was cast into the prison-house. I ha’ nae doot she deed i’ her plankit-beddie, wi' the ould Chaplain sayin’ the wairds o’ Comfort fa’ the deein’ an’ the sun sheenin’ doon on her wan coont'nance an’—but there, I ha’ writ eno’ an I musna scarrut (waste) ma materrial. I*n M*cl*r*n.