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Scotch Stories and Lectures, Humorous and Amusing
Story — Mrs. Gallacher

It is a very safe advice that my friend Mrs. Armstrong gives on all occasions—that is, If you can say no good of a person, say nothing about them. That is the policy that I am going to adopt in reference to my acquaintance Mrs. Gallacher; but there can be no harm in my giving you a slight sketch of what she said to me the other day, and leaving you to form your own opinion of her ladyship.

I chanced to meet Mrs. Gallacher in the house of a mutual acquaintance, and in the course of conversation I asked Mrs. Gallacher if she had read that wonderful book, Uncle Tom's Cabin.

“No,” said she, “nor never intend to read it: if everybody had been as much annoyed as I have been with that abominable book there would be less fuss about it.”

“Bless me!” said I, “I cannot see how you can have received annoyance from such a source.”

“It may be,” said she, “but I can soon give you proof positive of the fact. The first time I heard of Uncle Tom's Cabin was about four months since, when a cripple cousin of mine, who lives in the country, and spends his time in reading books and feeding birds, sent our children a pair of pigeons, a black one and a white one, with strict injunctions that they were to be taken great care of, as they were rare specimens, and he had christened them Eva and Topsy, after those wonderful characters in that wonderful book, Uncle Tom's Cabin. Now, you see, I neither knew nor cared anything about either Eva or Topsy, but I always knew it was the height of nonsense wasting good meat in feeding fat ‘ doos,’ so I very quietly twisted the necks, of both Eva and Topsy, and made them into a nice bit pie for Mr. Gallacher’s supper and mine, for I am not one of those people that believe in living on potatoes and salt when they are by themselves, and keeping all bits of niceties to make a show at a party. I think if you are to have anything nice in the cookery way, you should have it when you are by yourselves, when you can get the good of it. So, when I had my pie prepared, I went to the baker with it myself, and gave strict injunctions that it was to be done a beautiful brown. Well,—would you believe it?—when the pie came home it was burned to a perfect cinder—perfectly uneatable! And when I went to the baker to make my complaint, he just laughed in my face, and said, 'You must really excuse us on this occasion, for every one’s head seems turned with that wonderful book. I intrusted your pie to my oldest apprentice—a very careful young man in general; but it being in the evening, he got so absorbed in Uncle Tom!8 Cabin that he quite forgot your pie till the smell of it burning awakened the youngest apprentice who chanced to be sleeping on the baking table.’ That was my introduction to that abominable book, Uncle Tom!8 Cabin. Well, the next of it was this. Mr. Gallacher and I were invited to the examination of a Sunday school. Not that we take any interest in anything of that kind : Mr. Gallacher and I are both of opinion that the dark places of the earth have been and will be the habitations of cruelty, for all that simple folk may think they can do for them. But there was a number of our customers interested in this school, so we had to give them a subscription. Of course we rubbed them off with as little as possible but still we had to subscribe. So, when the examination of the school came on, we were both invited. Mr G«llachei was not for going, but seeing that we had given the money, I thought it best to go and let ourselves be seen. So we went to the examination, and a very tiresome affair it was. Well, after all the classes had been examined, the teacher said that any of the patrons present might, if they pleased, put a few questions to the scholars. So I wanted Mr. Gallacher to put a question or two, but he said he would do nothing of the sort. He said he did not mind anything of the ‘Questions.’ Indeed, he said he did not mind what they were about at all; so I just stepped forward myself, and I asked a big, wiselike lump of a boy if he could answer me the simple question, ‘Who made him?’ And with that the boy folded his hands, and turning up the white of his eyes, in a droll, snivelling tone answered me, ‘Nobody as I knows—I ’spect I grow’d.’ Well, in place of being any way ashamed of the boy’s ignorance, both teacher and scholars, and all the visitors, burst out into a roar of vulgar laughter, as if they were laughing at me. And what do you think? The teacher told me when I was leaving the school that the boy I had questioned was one of the most advanced scholars in the school, and had been so indignant at the simplicity of my question, that he had answered me in the language of that wonderful book, Unde Tom'8 Cabin. Advanced scholars!—I’m thinking they’ll be considerably further advanced before they get another subscription from me !

“Well, it was not many days after this fine examination, till I made arrangements to go to the coast to look for a house. I always like to go pretty early in the season, for if you go early, and meet with a timorous . person who is afraid their house will not be let, and if you can persuade them that it is likely to stand empty, and make a judicious bargain, sometimes, by sub-letting the house, you can have your own salt water for nothing, and profit besides. This year I had made up my mind that I was to go to Kilcreggan, for I always like to go to the most fashionable place. So I had to take Nelly with me, to take charge of the child.—I am sure that girl Nelly is a puzzle to me. For all that I have done for her, taking her out of the poor-house, and what not, and for all the blows that lie on her body, she has no more respect for me than if I was not her mistress.-—At any rate, I had to take Nelly down the water with me, to take charge of the child. Well, when we were coming near to Greenock, there was a gentleman, an acquaintance of Mr. Gallacher's, who had been nodding several times on the way down, came up to me, and asked me if I would go down to the steward’s cabin and get a refreshment—(Catch me buying anything in the shape of drink on board of a steamboat myself—I know too well the way they charge; but it was costing me nothing.) So I agreed to go down; but before going I gave Nelly strict injunctions that she was to keep a sharp look-out for Kilcreggan, and to call me up before we came to the quay. Well, Nelly promised faithfully, and down we went. The gentleman was very genteel: he called for brandy. So I sat what I thought was a very few minutes, but it is wonderful how time slips by in such circumstances. At last I am called up, and landed on the quay, and the boat away, and all right, as I thought. Well, when I looked about, where do you think I am, but all the way at Strone Point—fairly on the other side of the water. I was so provoked that I just closed my fist and gave Nelly two or three blows on the side of the head, and she took to the roaring and crying. So an old lady that had come down in the boat came up and asked what she had done; so I told her, and the old lady said—

“‘Poor thing! you must just excuse her for this time, for she got so interested in her story that she quite forgot till she was past the place.*

“What story?" quoth I. And what do you think Nelly told me with her own lips? That after hearing of the burning of my pie, she had gone direct, and borrowed Uncle Tom's Cabin from the baker’s apprentice; and it was by reading that abominable book that she had landed me at Strone Point! I was so provoked that I just shut my other fist, and gave Nelly just as much on the other side of the head. So a lump of a lad that was standing looking on came forward and said— “Wife, were you going to Kilcreggan to look for a house?" “I said I was."

“‘Well,* quoth he, ‘you need not care much for being taken past the place; for there are no houses there for common folk like you: all the houses at Kilcreggan are for the gentry.’

“‘Gentry,* quoth I, ‘and common folk! You impudent monkey, how do you know whether I am gentry or common folk?*

“Quoth he, ‘A person might be a little puzzled with some folk, but it is easy knowing the like of you.’

“‘What do you think,* quoth I, ‘if I could perhaps buy some of your gentry?*

“‘Ay,’ quoth the boy, ‘ you are just like a wife that would buy folk, and sell them too; but it does not happen to be the fashion in this country, Mrs. Legree.*

“Well, for all I had given her, Nelly was so well pleased with the boy’s impudence to me, that she roared and laughed till I thought she would have fallen over the quay. It is my opinion she would have fallen over the quay if the boy had not happened to notice her, and cried, ‘Hold on, Topsy! for suppose you are a duck, I ’specs you would sink.’ The last thing the boy cried over his shoulder to me, as he took his departure, was, that I ought never to go past Greenock when I was going to the salt water. So I had just to come away home with my finger in my mouth, all in and through that abominable book, Uncle Tom's Cabin.

“And that was not the last of it; for I got into more than one scrape through that abominable volume that very same day. You see, the sunk flat of our tenement has been let for the last two years to a black man, a cook in one of the steamboats. Some say he is married, and some say he is not married, but at any rate he lives with a woman, and there are two or three whity-brown children that there can be no mistake about. Well, it seems our Tommy had been playing in the close with one of the whity-brown boys, and it seems our Tommy had taken a top from the boy, and he made an awful roaring and crying about it; and our Tommy is rather quick in the temper (his father says he takes it of me). So it seems Tommy had flung the top down the back stair, and when the little boy ran down after it, Tommy, it seems, had flung a bit brick down after him, and it seems the bit brick had rather scared his heel, and he had gone in roaring to his mother. So up the stair she comes, and just as I am coming in the close, there is the black prince’s lady standing at the head of the stair shaking her fist at our Tommy, and saying, ‘O my poor boy, if that passion of yours is not curbed in your young days, it will bring you to an untimely end.’ These were the very words that met me as I went into the close. So I just made answer, ‘ Go down the stair with you, you impudent huzzy; go down the stair with you! An untimely end! it will surely be long before anybody is brought to an untimely end for flinging a bit brick at a blackamoor. Go down the stair with you, and see in your excitement and not make such a mistake as to curl your hair with your marriage lines !*

‘“I care no more,’ quoth she, ‘for your vulgar insinuations than for the wind blowing: they just indicate the rotten state of your own black heart. * And down the stairs she went, and up the stairs I went, and dressed myself, and went straight away to the landlord, to see if decent tenants were to be annoyed with a parcel of trash like that in a sunk flat.

“Our landlord, you know, passes for being a real good man in the eyes of the world,—‘as wise as a serpent, and as harmless as a dove.9 I could swear for the serpent part of the business, at any rate. The landlord received me very blandly, and listened to all I had to say. He then sat back in his chair, put up his spectacles on his brow, and said very quietly, ‘I am glad you have called, Mrs. Gallacher; I am glad you have called. Your visit gives me an opportunity of stating a matter that I felt some difficulty in mentioning. I have always been of opinion that the part of my property that you occupy has been let rather under its value, but felt reluctant to raise your rent. Now, however, that you talk of removing, I must make a new bargain: so you will know this, Mrs. Gallacher, whether you remain or remove, there will be three pounds added to the rent of the house you ocoupy. And as for the dark people, you certainly have not read that wonderful book, Unde Toms Cabin, or you would know that that great lady, Mrs. Stowe, has drawn a magic circle around all that poor unhappy race which it would be perfect sacrilege to think of crossing. For my own part, I would not only rather part with you, but with all my tenants, than be compelled in any way to touch one stick of poor Unde Tom!8 Cabin. He knew perfectly well that, circumstanced as I was, I could not remove; so there was I with three pounds added to my rent, all in and through that abominable book, Uncle Tom's Cabin.

“Well, on my way home from the landlord’s, I thought I would call in and see how a dozen of shirts that I had given out to make were getting on. I had given them to a poor creature who lives in one of the closes in the High street—one of those proud-spirited creatures, too independent to take anything off the parish, and who slaves herself night and day working for herself and a sister’s son, a little blind boy that lives with her. I was recommended to her by a Mrs. Scrubber, who knows pretty well where to get anything of that kind done. You see, it was a charity to put work in the creature’s way, and more than that, she made the shirts for thirteenpence halfpenny, and that was three halfpence cheaper than I got the last ones done in Bridewell. Well, when I had climbed the long stair, of course I knocked at the door, and getting no answer I thought I would try the latch. So I opened the door and walked in, and what do you think I saw in the poor miserable garret but the poor starved-look-ing creature sitting over a miserable bit of fire; and what do you think she was doing)—reading Uncle Tom's Cabin to the little blind boy, the tears coming dropping over both their noses! I stood for awhile and said nothing. Some how, at the first, I felt a little to disturb them, but at last I said, ‘It will be a long time before that puts much in your pocket."

“And then the thin, pale, skinny-looking face was turned up to me so very quietly, and she said, ‘A person should not do everything in this world with a direct view to their pocket.’

“‘Them that have plenty,’ quoth I, ‘in their pocket do not need to be so particular.’

“‘It is not what one has,’ quoth she, ‘it is how they are satisfied with what they have. There are some people that are contented with very little, and there are others that would not be satisfied although they had the whole world.*

“‘You will be one of the satisfied kind,’ quoth I.

“‘I cannot take much credit to myself for that,’ quoth she; ‘I must say I never had any great anxiety to be possessed of much of that heart-hardening substance, money: if I had a wish,’ quoth she, ‘ I would rather have given to the world such a book as Uncle Tom's Cabin than be mistress of all the gold found in California or Australia.*

“There was a pretty speech for you! I thought I would just cut it short by asking how she was getting on with niy shirts?

“‘There is not a wrong stitch in them yet,’ quoth she.

“‘What do you mean?* quoth I. ‘Do you mean to say that you have not begun to them yet?’

“‘No' quoth she, ‘I have not begun to them; I was astonished to see the way in which the cloth was cut.’

“‘Were you not pleased with the cutting of them?* quoth I.

“‘No,' quoth she; ‘ they are at least a dozen of years behind the fashion of the present time. I was astonished at your cutting the cloth.’

“‘Well" quoth I, ‘I will be very plain with you: I will tell you how I cut the cloth. I have seen when shirts were given out to make, that there were pieces of cloth went amiss-ing; so I thought if ye had every bit cut for its own proper place you could be in no danger of being blamed. That is the way the cloth was cut.’

“‘Oh,’ quoth she, ‘ I understand now;* and away she went, with all the dignity of a queen, and brought down the parcel of linen, and opening the parcel, quoth she, ‘ There, I think? are all the pieces just as you brought them—the bodies, the sleeves, the necks, the wristbands, and gussets.’

“I said they were all there as I brought them.

“‘That’s well,’ quoth she, and folded up the parcel very carefully, and putting it into my hands, she said, ‘I would be obliged by your getting some other person to make your shirts. I don’t know what I may be reduced to; but, as yet, I am under no necessity of doing work to any one who takes precautions with me as if I were a common thief.’ And, before you would have said six, she was sitting reading Unde Tom's Cabin as if I had not been in the world.

“I could have twisted the neck of the impudent, ungrateful creature. So as I am coming down the stair, thinking to myself, this is, no doubt, a lesson to me on the ‘dignity of labour,’ as it is called—the dignity of abominable impudence !—as I am coming out of the close, there is a big lump of a boy comes up to me and says, ‘Wife, I’ll carry your bundle to you for twopence.’

“‘Go away with you,’ quoth I, ‘you big lump!’ and as I am getting clear of him, there’s a little white-headed boy says, ‘Leddie, I’ll carry your parcel to you for a bawbee. The bundle had a terrible weight, so I gave it to the little white-headed boy. As we were going along Trongate Street I saw a crowd of people looking into a window. I asked at the boy if he knew what they were looking at.

“The boy said he thought they were looking at Uncle Tom's Cabin.

“So, when I came forward, this was a draper’s window, with a lot of beautiful boxes in it, and on the lids of the boxes there are beautiful pictures of ‘Eliza crossing the ice,* ‘ Uncle Tom writing his letter,’ ‘Master George,’ ‘Eva and Topsy,* and all the like of that. So I stood for some time admiring the pictures, when I bethinks myself to look if the little boy was all right;—and, would you believe it?—I had seen the last sight of that little white-headed boy and my dozen of good linen shirts! Is it any wonder that I hate the sight of that abominable book, Uncle Tom's Cabin?'

And so, you see, I have said nothing about Mrs. Gallacher. It is not what is said or done about anybody that makes them up or down. No. It is by what they say or do themselves that they stand or fall.

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