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Scotch Stories and Lectures, Humorous and Amusing
Story — Non-Intervention

I am very far from thinking that the observations of a simple woman like me can have any direct effect on the policy of nations. I am, however, inclined to believe that the honest statement of the experience of an observing Scotch wife may act as a little drop of oil in sustaining the steady flame of the old-fashioned cruse of Scotch common sense; therefore it is that I presume to set forth the light within me on the rather important subject of non-intervention.

We all know that nations are just like individuals. Now, I am sure, it would have puzzled even Don Quixote himself to give a single instance of an individual who had in any way profited by interference in his neighbours’ affairs; and it would just be as difficult to point out a nation which had gained either pleasure or profit by intermeddling in the affairs of neighbouring states. I, of course, do not pretend to throw light on the national branch of the question, but merely intend, in as few words as possible, to acquaint you with the circumstances that led me to decide neither by look, word, nor action to interfere in my neighbours’ affaire. I confine my illustration to the events of a single day.

It was one forenoon last summer, after I had got my work finished, that I was waited on by an old neighbour of mine who was in great distress. Mrs. Hastie had come to consult me about the shortcomings of her only son, who, she said, was going very far wrong; indeed, she said, he was fairly breaking her heart; “ and,” quoth she, with the tears dropping over her cheeks, “ it is very ill his part, for I am sure, if ever there was an indulgent mother in this world, it has been me to that boy. I am sure he never had a desire that I did not strive to gratify. Since ever he saw the world’s light I never went a single place that I did not take him with me, and give him the first and best of everything. Yes, Mrs. Muirhead, I have been an indulgent parent. Before that boy was four years old, when other children, about the New-year time, were playing themselves with little toy bottles, he was going about with a large bottle and glass, and real whisky, “ first-footing” the neighbours, just like a little man. And I am sure he never had a fault that I did not try to hide. When he was twelve years old, and in a fit of passion flung a carving-knife at his cousin, I stood in between him and his father, and did not let him touch him. It is not in one thing, but in everything, that I have been his friend. When, last summer, he took a ten-pound note out of his father’s desk to pay the expenses of his London trip, I borrowed the money, and never let his father know; and yet, for all that, he lias no regard for my feelings; no, you would rather think he takes a pleasure in vexing me. The thing that grieves me more than all, and what I am come to consult you about, is, that I have found out that he is going with some huzzy at the other end of the town, and I would not wonder but she may get him coaxed to marry her.”

I made answer, “ I do not see how the idea of his being married should grieve you so. I think you should rather be well pleased; if he were married, he would perhaps take himself up. I think you should be much obliged to any ordinary decent woman that would take him j she, you know, will get but a very poor bargain.”

Mrs. Hastie looked at me as if she would have stared me through; the tears in her eyes seemed converted into fire as she said—“‘A poor bargain!’ and so you think my son would be ‘a poor bargain?’ Would your snivelling, two-faced, hypocritical Daniel be ‘a poor bargain? A poor bargain !* I suppose you will count everybody "a poor bargain* that is not a whited sepulchre of a Sabbath school teacher. And so, my William is "a poor bargain* because he does not groan and sigh at congregational prayer-meet-ings, because he is not an elected manager and a budding elder! ‘A poor bargain!' I will tell you what it is, Mrs. Muirhead, there is more pluck in my ‘poor bargain’ than in nine hundred and ninety-nine of your flat-footed, knock-kneed, lantern-jawed, blear-eyed, dutiful, and obedient tract-lending Daniels.”

I was quite taken by surprise. When I rallied a little, I struck in, “You make rather a long sermon on a short text; but whatever you say about my Daniel, keep mind of the fact that he never threw a carving-knife at anybody, nor yet stole a ten-pound note.”

At this Mrs. Hastie started to her feet, and vomited out a string of titles all directly applied to me, the like of which I never before heard from the mouth of either man or woman; they could not in any circumstances be repeated in the hearing of decent people, unless it were at a no-Popery meeting in the description of the Church of Rome; and even there they would certainly be accounted strong language. The indignant mother went out at my door, declaring that although she were to live a thousand years she would neither forget nor forgive my insolent abuse of William Hastie. As she went down the stair I heard her muttering to herself, “Revenge is sweet,” and “A poor bargain!” When I had shut the door, I sat down at the window to reflect on my unthinking folly in saying one disparaging word to a mother about her son, when 1 saw another of my old neighbours making as if she were going to pay me a visit: she was a Mrs. Darling. When she was my neighbour she had not got the length of mistress—she was a Miss Hunter; a very appropriate name I used to think, for sh$ was terribly on the hunt for a husband. She made no secret of this: she used to say on all occasions, “I think everybody is going to get married before it comes to my turn.” I used to tell her that far greater misfortunes might befall her than being an old maid; to which she would reply, “ It is easy for you to speak, who are married yourself: I do not know what worse could happen a person than being an old maid: it is a very queer husband that is not better than no husband at all.” One day Miss Hunter called upon me, dressed in first-rate style, and in the highest possible spirits. I asked what was in the *wind?’”

“What would you think?” quoth she.

“You are perhaps going to be married?” quoth L “Just that,” quoth she.

“Who are you getting?” quoth I.

“Could you not guess?” quoth she.

“Is he a tradesman or a shopkeeper?” quoth I.

“Do you think,” quoth she, “that I would take a tradesman, or even a shopkeeper? No, it is none of your common scrubs. What would you think of a gentleman—or the very next thing to a gentleman? What would you think of a commission agent?”

My thought had been that Miss Hunter, in her haste to get married, would have taken anything that had offered in the shape of a man, but I said nothing, but asked what the intended commissioned in? Miss Hunter said she did not know, only he had an office like Pollok &c Gilmour—there was nothing in it but a desk and three stools; but that was the way, she said, with all the offices where things were done on a large scale. I said I hoped he was a decent man, whether his business was done on a large or small scale. Miss Hunter said he was that decent a man that he had taken her to the Paisley races in a chaise and pair; and that all the grand ladies in their coaches and four nodded to him, just as if he bad beep ap old acquaintance. There was no mistake of his being a decent man, and rather more,—he was a man of rank and station. Well, Miss Hunter was married in great style. She had £300 of her own—in which I could learn there was a good hole made furnishing the house and putting past the wedding. It was not long till I heard that Mrs. Darling had occasion to rue her bargain; but she had not come near me, so I got none of the particulars. It was more than a year since the wedding, and this was the first time I had been honoured with a visit When she came in, the first thing I noticed was that she wore the grand brocaded marriage gown, so scuffed and spotted that it seemed quite a different pattern. When Mrs. Darling put up her vail I could scarcely believe my eyes, she was so altered; her eyes were red and swollen, evidently with crying; .her lip was swollen and cut; and her liair was hanging in loose tangles about her face. I could not help thinking that she was a darling in earnest. I asked what was the matter, which seemed at once to open the floodgates of her grief; for she sobbed until her heart seemed at the bursting. When she spoke, her words were—“It is that man,—that cruel, wicked man,—that unprincipled scoundrel; he is a liar, a swindler, and a thief, and he will finish his career with murder, for he will certainly take my life.” After this, and a lot more of the same sort, I learned from Mrs. Darling that her husband of rank and station was nothing else but a dodging impostor. He had spent every farthing of her £300, and had run her into a bag of debt iu all directions; he came home drunk every night that he did come home, but far oftener did not come home at all; he had twice lifted a knife to stab her, and had kicked her with his feet times without number;—he was constantly, in his abuse, threatening to finish her, though he should “swing for it.” She had come to me to ask what I thought she should do in the circumstances. I had no hesitation in telling her that I saw nothing for it but just to leave him at once* “Many a one,” quoth I, “has had far more to do than to bring up one child by their own exertions.” I said that she should not hesitate in her decision, but just leave him at once, for there was no saying what a ruffian like that might do.

Mrs. Darling took a good long hearty cry. She then dried her eyes and said, “And so, you would advise me to leave him! That is just like the consolation I might have expected from you; you would advise me to leave my own man? I suppose it would do your heart good ta see me begging from door to door with my child in my arms; or perhaps to see me on a summer morning sitting cowering at a warehouse door, waiting my turn for yarn, when you were going past in a carriage on your way to the ‘salt water.* It is just like you to advise me to leave my lawful husband. He has his faults, no doubt, and they are well known, thanks to his long-tongued wife; but with all his faults, if I had my bargain to make over again, I would rather take him yet than some of the well-doing husbands I see. My husband, thank goodness! is like a man; he is not a thing that people turn and look after; he is not an oddity that a person thinks shame to be seen with in the street. No; Mr. Darling is like a man; he is not a guttapercha-looking scarecrow, like your own pattern husband, Mrs. Muirhead. I always thought there was a good deal of the wolf in sheep’s clothing about you; but I know you now, you good Christian, to try to part husband and wife! ”

I seemed to have lost my power of speech. I was silenced, I suppose, by the thought that, in my simplicity, I had twice in one day fallen into an error that a very small amount of reflection might have forewarned me of. When I found my tongue I made short work of Mrs. Darling, by telling her to go away home, and stay with her lying, swindling thief of a husband, until he killed her, as he threatened; and, when I heard the “speech-criers” announcing the feet, I said I would treat myself to a halfpenny worth of the full, true, and particular account.

Mrs. Darling took her departure, saying, “That she would perhaps see day about with me yet. I could,” she said, “be thinking what I would say for myself when Mr. Darling called on me; for as sure as she had the door-latch in her hand, she would tell him that I had advised her to leave him, and if he gave me a hot skin, I could just take it.”

The sound of Mrs. Darling’s parting words were still ringing in my ears when I heard a rap, ring, or rustle at the door,—it was a kind of compound noise,—that indicated a demand for admission. When I opened the door, there was my veiy oldest neighbour, Mrs. M‘Corquodale,—she lived on the stair-head with me when I first took up house. I had heard of late that Mrs. M'Corquodale had become very fond of a dram. I took no heed to the rumour; but when I saw Mrs. M‘Corquodale standing leaning up against the wall, I saw at once that there was something wrong. When she had got the length of the middle of the floor, it was easy seen that she was “fou” to the neck. The first words that she spoke were, “You must excuse me, Mrs. Muirhead, you must excuse me; for, I do declare, at this very moment, I find myself just like a person the worse of drink. 1 will tell you what it was that did if. I am perfectly sensible what it was that did it. You see, Mrs. Muirhead, I went out this morning to call upon several decent old acquaintances of mine—old neighbours like yourself, Mrs. Muirhead. Well, after I had got my visits past, I thought I would just come over and see you, Mrs. Muirhead —just for ‘auld langsyne.' Well, as I am coming down Portland Street, I chanced to have a halfpenny in my hand, and I happened to get my eye on that grand new suspension bridge that we have got, so I thought there would be no harm in my taking a halfpenny worth of the bridge. Well, I paid my halfpenny, and in I goes through yon whirligig thing; and, before I knew where I was, I was going reeling away over to the other side of the bridge. Oh, woman, I never thought they would have put up a high-fly, perpetual motion kind of a thing like yon for the permanent accommodation of the public. Well, would you believe it, Mrs. Muirhead, it was as much as I could do, by hanging on by the railings, to get over to the other side; and, before I had arrived on terra firma, it had fairly taken my head, and I do declare I am like a drunk person yet. As I was coming up Maxwell Street I was reading yon grand ticket of the magistrates about keeping the 1 right hand to the wall/ and I was once thinking, in the innocent simplicity of my heart, to try to obey orders, till I began to think it would be the height of nonsense for the one half of the population to be going backwards to please them; so I came on my way rejoicing, with whatever hand to the wall Providence pleased. And now, Mrs. Muirhead, whether ye believe me or not, I am real glad to see you. There has been many an up and down to many a one since you and I fell acquainted; but you and I are neither much up nor down; for which we have great reason to be thankful. Many a thing we have cause to be thankful for. I am sure that, in the first place, we have both to be thankful for as good men as there is in all broad Scotland. 1 am sure Mr. M'Corquodale is just as good a husband as any woman could wish, although she had him of her own making; and it’s only myself that knows how that poor man adores me; but yet, for all that, Mr. M‘Corquodale has his faults. We have all our faults. A wife, perhaps, should not tell her husband’s faults; but Mr. M‘Corquodale is very unreasonable at times” (Mrs. M'Corquodale continued with pathos, which gradually accumulated till it found vent in tears)— “very unreasonable. You know, Mrs. Muirhead, we have had the misfortune to have three bits of girls all running— although many a time I say a far greater misfortune might happen people than having a few daughters. There is luck with the girls; and many a one is far more indebted to their daughters than to their sons. Well, Mrs. Muirhead, would you believe it? for as sensible a man as Mr. M'Corquodale is, when the last girl was bom he was so much disappointed that he did not speak to me for a whole fortnight—the same as if I could help it! And when at long and last he did open his mouth, what do you think he said ?—it just showed what his foolish imagination had been running on all the time,—he said he hoped it would be a boy next!”

I got Mrs. M'Corquodale persuaded to lie down in my bed a little, until the swinging of the bridge would go out of her head. She had just laid down when Mr. M'Corquodale called, inquiring for his better half. I said she was a little poorly, so I had advised her to lie down in my bed a little, where I thought she would soon be better.

“Poorly!” quoth Mr. M'Corquodale, “we know too well what is the matter with her; not that I would grudge any woman a dram in moderation. No!” (the tears came in a manner hissing over his long red nose as he added)—“far from that. I think we are all the better of a little drop; but she goes fairly over the score.”

With some little judicious management I got Mr. and Mrs. M'Corquodale started on their road home, without getting any harm between them. But I in a manner caught it for all that; for that night I had a dream that made such a vivid impression on my mind that 1 somehow look upon it as an accomplished fact. I thought, in my dream, I got a note from Mr. M'Corquodale, announcing that Mrs. M'Corquodale had got a little boy, and inviting me to get “ blithe meat.” So away I went to see the no doubt much-thought-of boy. When I went in, the first thing that took my eye was the table perfectly loaded with all sorts of drink, and every corner of the house crammed full of worthless drunken women; and there was Mr. M‘Corquodale going about amongst them, bottle in hand, pouring out trayful after trayful, handing it round, and forcing them to take it. I stood looking on (as I thought) until 1 could stand it no longer, so I touched Mr. M'Corquodale on the shoulder, to make him conscious of my presence, and said, “ I am astonished to see you, sir; you complain of your wife going over the score, but what else can you expect when that is the sort of company you encourage to come about her?” Mr. M'Corquodale said Dothing; but an old wife, whom I had noticed drink five glasses of one kind of drink or another,—at every glass she drank “ to the very good health of the pretty little boy,” who, she invariably added, was liker his father than any child she had ever seen, and she had seen, she was sure, a thousand;—well, this old wife, sorting her spectacles, took a good stare at me, and said, “I never saw you before, and you are a very decent-like woman; but I will tell you what it is, if you were coming into my house, and setting up any such impudence to me, or any of my friends, I would just take and kick you down the stair!” Mr. M'Corquodale needed no further hint: he turned on me like a bear; and, after he had vented his wrathful indignation, he thought he was very witty when he said—“ If you, Mrs. Muirhead, mean to preach a temperance sermon, you should reserve your eloquence for the Sunday night in the City Hall, where you will have the advantage of an audience worthy of your powers, and the benefit of the accompaniment of the grand organ.” I thought that, in reply to this witty sally, I gave him an imitation of himself, when he said, rubbing his long red nose, “ Not that I would grudge any woman a dram in moderation: we are all the better of a little drop; but she goes fairly over the score.” This so roused Mr. M‘Corquodale that I thought he at onoe acted on the old wife’s suggestion, and in right good earnest kicked me down the stair. It is curious the thoughts that come into a person’s head in a dream. I thought it took me two years to come down Eglinton Street,

and that when I arrived at the Jamaica Street Bridge it wad the dead hour of midnight. When I had got to near about the centre of the bridge, whom did I meet but Mr. M‘Corquo-dale. He was walking terribly lonely and sad-like, and always looking over into the dark water. He seemed inclined to shun me; but I went up to him and said, “ What are you doing here, goodman, at such an hour as this?” His voice had the tones of hopeless sorrow as he answered, “ If it was not for that little boy I would not be long here; she is fairly breaking my heart”

“Well, goodman,” quoth I, “you are like many a ono more; you are reaping the bitter fruits of your own folly. You are like Mrs. Hastie and her son; she has her son as she trained him, and must take the consequences. You are like Mrs. Darling and her husband; she has him as she took him, with her eyes open, and must take the consequences; and you have your wife what by precept and example you have made her, and must take the consequences. I rather fear there is no cure for you, unless you could make up your mind to do without your own little drop, and so set your wife a sober example.”

This was all I said, and yet it so roused the old rascal that, without giving me the slightest warning, he sprang upon me like a tiger, lifted me bodily, and threw me right over the bridge. I awakened just as I was falling into the water!

Now, although all this was but a dream, it was so like what might have happened, that it, combined with my actual experience, has firmly decided me neither, as I said, by look, word, or action, to interfere in my neighbours’ affairs. Whatever light I have, I will try to spread by the enunciation of general principles; but when consulted about the shortcomings of friends, my motto is—Non-intervention.

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