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Book of Scottish Story
The Laird of Wineholm, Part 1 of 2

The “Ettrick Shepherd”

"Have you heard anything of the apparition which has been seen about Wineholm-place?"' said the dominie.

"Na, I never heard o’ sic a thing, as yet," quoth the smith; "but I wadna wonder muckle that the news should turn out to be true."

The dominie shook his head, and muttered, "h’m—h’m—h’m," as if he knew more than he was at liberty to tell.

"Weel, that beats the world,” said the smith, as he gave up blowing the bellows, and looked over the spectacles at the dominie’s face.

The dominie shook his head again.

The smith was now in the most ticklish quandary; eager to learn particulars, and spread the astounding news through the whole village, and the rest of the parish to boot, but yet afraid to press the inquiry, for fear the cautious dominie should take the alarm of being reported as a tattler, and keep all to himself. So the smith, after waiting till the windpipe of the great bellows ceased its rushing noise, and he had covered the gloss neatly up with a mixture of small coals, culm, and cinders; and then, perceiving that nothing more was forth coming from the dominie, he began blowing again with more energy than before—changed his hand—put the other sooty one into his breeches-pocket—leaned to the horn—looked in a careless manner towards the window, or rather gazed on vacancy, and always now and then stole a sly look at the dominie’s face. It was quite immovable. His cheek was leaned upon his open hand, and his eyes fixed on the glowing fire.

It was very teasing for poor Clinkum, the smith. But what could he do? He took out his glowing iron, and made a shower of fire sweep through the whole smithy, whereof a good part, as intended, sputtered upon the dominie, but he only shielded his face with his elbow, turned his shoulder half round and held his peace. Thump-thump! clink—clink! went the hammer for a space; and then, when the iron was returned to the fire, "Weel, that beats the world!" quoth the smith.

"What is this that beats the world, Mr Clinkum?” said the dominie, with the most cool and provoking indifference.

"This story about the apparition,” quoth the smith.

"What story?" said the dominie.

Now, really this insolence was hardly to be borne, even from the learned dominie, who, with all his cold indifference of feeling, was sitting toasting himself at a good smithy fire. The smith felt this, for he was a man of acute feeling, and therefore he spit upon his hand and fell a-clinking and pelting at the stithy with both spirit and resignation, saying within himself, "These dominie bodies just beat the world!”

"What story?" reiterated the dominie. "For my part I related no story, nor have ever given assent to a belief in such story that any man has heard. Nevertheless, from the results of ratiocination, conclusions may be formed, though not algebraically, yet corporately by constituting a quantity, which shall be equivalent to the difference, subtracting the less from the greater, and striking a balance in order to get rid of any ambiguity or paradox."

At the long adverb, ‘nevertheless’, the smith gave over blowing, and pricked up his ears, but the definition went beyond his comprehension.

"Ye ken that just beats the whole world for deepness," said the smith, and again began blowing the bellows.

"You know, Mr Clinkum,” continued the dominie, "that a proposition is an assertion of some distinct truth, which only becomes manifest by demonstration. A corollary is an obvious, or easily inferred consequence of a proposition; while a hypothesis is a supposition, or concession made, during the process of demonstration. Now, do you take me along with you? Because, if you do not, it is needless to proceed." .

"Yes, yes, I understand you middling weel; but I wad like better to hear what other folks say about it than you."

"And why so? Wherefore would you rather hear another man’s demonstration than mine?” said the dominie, sternly.

"Because, ye ken, ye just beat the world for words," quoth the smith.

"Ay, ay! that is to say, words without wisdom,” said the dominie, rising and stepping away. "Well, well, every man to his sphere, and the smith to his bellows."

"Ye’re quite wrang, maister” cried the smith after him. "It isna the want o’ wisdom in you that plagues me; it is the owerplush o’t."

This soothed the dominie, who returned, and said mildly, "By-the-by, Clinkum, I want a leister of your making, for I see no other tradesman makes them so well. A five-grained one make it; at your own price.”

"Very weel, sir. When will you be needing it?"

"Not till the end of the close time."

"Ay, ye may gar the three auld anes do till then."

"What do you wish to insinuate, sir? Would you infer, because I have three leisters, that therefore I am a breaker of the laws? That I, who am placed here as a pattern and monitor of the young and rising generation, should be the first to set them an example of insubordination ?"

“Ye ken, that just beats a’ in words; but we ken what we ken, for a’ that, maister."

"You had better take a little care what you say, Mr Clinkum; just a little care. I do not request you to take particular care, for of that your tongue is incapable, but a very little is a correlative of consequences, And mark you—don’t go to say that I said this or that about a ghost, or mentioned such a ridiculous story."

"The crabbitness o’ that body beats the world!” said the smith to himself as the dominie went halting homeward.

The very next man who entered the smithy door was no other than John Broadcast, the new laird’s hind, who had also been hind to the late laird for many years, and who had no sooner said his errand, than the smith addressed him thus:—

"Have you ever seen this ghost that there is such a noise about?"

"Ghost? Na, goodness be thankit! I never saw a ghost in my life, save ance a wraith, What ghost do you mean?”

"So you never saw nor heard tell of any apparition about Wineholm place, lately?"

"No, I hae reason to be thankfu’ I have not.”

"Weel, that beats the world! Wow, man, but ye are sair in the dark! Do you no think there are siccan things in nature, as folk no coming fairly to their ends, John?"

"Goodness be wi’ us! Ye gar a’ the hairs o’ my head creep, man. What`s that you’re saying?"

"Had ye never ony suspicious o’ that kind, John?"

"No; I canna say that I had."

"None in the least? Weel, that beats the world!”

"O, haud your tongue—haud your tongue! We hae great reason to be thankfu’ that we are as we are!"

"How as you are?"

"That we are nae stocks or stanes, or brute beasts, as the minister o’ Traquair says. But I hope in God there is nae siccan a thing about my master’s place as an unearthly visitor."

The smith shook his head, and uttered a long hem! hem! hem! He had felt the powerful effect of that himself, and wished to make the same appeal to the feelings and longings after information of John Broadcast. The bait took; for the latent spark of superstition was kindled in the heart of honest John, and there being no wit in the head to counteract it, the portentous hint had its full sway. John’s eyes stelled in his head, and his visage grew long, assuming meanwhile something of the hue of dried clay in winter.

"Hech, man! but that’s an awesome story,” exclaimed he. “Folks hae great reason to be thankfu’ that they are as they are. It is truly an awsome story."

"Ye ken, it just beats the world for that," rejoined the smith.

"And is it really thought that this laird made away wi’ our auld maister? " said John.

The smith shook his head again, and gave a straight wink with his eyes.

"Weel, I hae great reason to be thankfu’ that I never heard siccan a story as that! " said John. "Wha was it tauld you a' about it?”

"It was nae less a man than our mathewmatical dominie," said the smith, "he that kens a’ things, and can prove a proposition to the nineteenth part of a hair. But he is terrified lest the tale should spread; and therefore ye maunna say a word about it."

"Na, na; I hae great reason to be thankfu’ I can keep a secret as weel as the maist part of men, and better than the maist part of women. What did he say? Tell us a’ that he said."

“It is not so easy to repeat what he says, for he has sae mony lang-nebbit words. But he said, though it was only a supposition, yet it was easily made manifest by positive demonstration."

"Did you ever hear the like o’ that? Now, have we no reason to be thankfu’ that we are as we are? Did he say it was by poison that he was taken off, or that he was strangled?"

"Na; I thought he said it was by a collar, or collary, or something to that purpose."

"Then it wad appear there is no doubt of the horrid transaction? I think the doctor has reason to be thankfu’ that he’s no taken up. Is no that strange?”

"O, ye ken, it just beats the world.”

"He deserves to be torn at young horses’ tails," said the ploughman.

"Ay, or nippit to death with red-hot pinchers," quoth the smith.

"Or harrowed to death, like the children of Ammon," said the ploughman.

"Na, I’ll tell you what should be done wi’ him-—he should just be docked, and fired like a farcied horse," quoth the smith. "’Od help ye, man, I could beat the world for laying on a proper punishment!"

John Broadcast went home full of terror and dismay. He told his wife the story in a secret—she told the dairymaid with a tenfold degree of secrecy; and as Dr Davington, or the New Laird, as he was called, sometimes kissed the pretty dairymaid for amusement, it gave her a great deal of freedom with her master, so she went straight and told him the whole story to his face. He was unusually affected at hearing such a terrible accusation against himself and changed colour again and again; and as pretty Martha, the dairymaid, supposed it was from anger, she fell to abusing the dominie without mercy—for he was session-clerk, and had been giving her some hints about her morality of which she did not approve. She therefore threw the whole blame upon him, assuring her master that he was the most spiteful and malicious man on the face of the earth; "and to show you that, sir," added Martha, wiping her eyes, "he has spread it through the hale parish that you and I baith deserve to sit wi’ the sacking-gown on us."

This enraged the doctor still farther, and he forthwith dispatched Martha to desire the dominie to come up to the Place to speak with her master, as he had something to say to him. Martha went, and delivered her message in so insulting a manner, that the dominie suspected there was had blood a-brewing against him ; and as he had too much self-importance to think of succumbing to any man alive, he sent an impertinent answer to the laird’s message, bearing that if Dr Davington had any business with him, he would be so good as attend at his classroom when he dismissed his scholars. And then he added, waving his hand towards the door, "Go out. There is contamination in your presence. What hath such a vulgar fraction ado to come into the halls of uprightness and science?"

When this message was delivered, the doctor, being almost beside himself with rage, instantly dispatched two village constables with a warrant to seize the dominie, and bring him before him, for the doctor was a justice of the peace. Accordingly, the poor dominie was seized at the head of his pupils, and dragged away, crutch and all, up before the new laird, to answer for such an abominable slander. The dominie denied everything anent it, as indeed he might, save having asked the smith the simple question, "if he had heard aught of a ghost at the Place?" But he refused to tell why he had asked that question. He had his own reasons for it, he said, and reasons that to him were quite sufficient; but as he was not obliged to disclose them, neither would he.

The smith was then sent for, who declared that the dominie had told him of the ghost being seen, and a murder committed, which he called a rash assassination, and said it was obvious and easily inferred that it was done by a collar.

How the dominie did storm! He even twice threatened to knock down the smith with his crutch; not for the slander,—he cared not for that nor the doctor a pin, but for the total subversion of his grand illustration from geometry ; and he, therefore, denominated the smith’s head the ‘logarithm to number one’, a reproach of which I do not understand the gist, but the appropriation of it pleased the dominie exceedingly, made him chuckle, and put him in better humour for a good while. It was in vain that he tried to prove that his words applied only to the definition of a problem in geometry,—he could not make himself understood ; and the smith maintaining his point firmly, and apparently with conscientious truth, appearances were greatly against the dominie, and the doctor pronounced him a malevolent and dangerous person.

"O, ye ken, he just beats the world for that,” quoth the smith.

"I a malevolent and dangerous person, sir !” said the dominie, fiercely, and altering his crutch from one place to another of the floor, as if he could not get a place to set it on. "Dost thou call me a malevolent and dangerous person, sir? what, then, art thou? If thou knowest not, I will tell thee. Add a cipher to a ninth figure, and what does that make? Ninety you will say. Ay, but then put a cipher ‘above’ a nine, and what does that make? Ha—ha—ha—I have you there ! Your case exactly in higher geometry ! For say the chord of sixty degrees is radius, then the sine of ninety degrees is equal to the radius, so the secant of 0 (that is nihil-nothing, as the boys call it), is radius, and so is the co-sine of 0. The versed sine of mnety degrees is radius (that is nine with a cipher added, you know), and the versed sine of 180 degrees is the diameter; then, of course, the sine increases from nought (that is, cipher or nothing) till it becomes radius, and then it decreases till it becomes nothing. After this you note it lies on the contrary side of the diameter, and consequently, if positive before, is negative now; so that it must end in 0, or a cipher above a nine at most."

"This unintelligible jargon is out of place here, Mr Dominie; and if you can show no better reasons for raising such an abominable falsehood, in representing me as an incendiary and murderer, I shall procure you a lodging in the house of correction."

"Why, sir, the long and the short of the matter is this :—I only asked at that fellow there—that logarithm of stupidity—if he had heard aught of a ghost having been seen about Wineholm Place. I added nothing farther, either positive or negative. Now, do you insist on my reasons for asking such a question?”

"I insist on having them."

"Then what will you say, sir, when I inform you, and declare my readiness to depone to the truth of it, that I saw the ghost myself? Yes, sir, that I saw the ghost of your late worthy father-in-law myself, sir; and though I said no such thing to that decimal fraction, yet it told me, sir,—yes, the spirit of your father-in-law told me, sir, that you are a murderer."

"Lord, now, what think ye o’ that?" quoth the smith. "Ye had better hae letten him alane; for, ’od, ye ken, he’s the deevil of a body as ever was made. He just beats the world!"

The doctor grew as pale as death, but whether from fear or rage, it was hard to say.

"Why, sir," said he, "you are mad ! stark, raving mad; therefore, for your own credit, and for the peace and comfort of my wife and myself, and our credit among our retainers, you must unsay every word that you have now said."

"I’ll just as soon say that the parabola and the ellipsis are the same," said the dominie; "or that the diameter is not the longest line that can be drawn in the circle. And now, sir, since you have forced me to divulge what I was much in doubt about, I have a great mind to have the old laird’s grave opened to-night, and have the body inspected before witnesses.”


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