THE MINISTER'S MAN ARMS FOR CONQUEST
Saunders Mowdiewort, minister's man and grave-digger, was going a sweethearting. He took off slowly the leathern ‘breeks’ of his craft, sloughing them as an adder casts his skin. They collapsed upon the floor with a hideous suggestion of distorted human limbs, as Saunders went about his further preparations. Saunders was a great, soft-bodied, fair man, of the chubby flaxen type so rare in Scotland—the type which looks at home nowhere but along the south coast of England. Saunders was about thirty-five. He was a widower in search of a wife, and made no secret of his devotion to Margaret Kissock, the ‘lass’ of the farm town of Craig Ronald.
Saunders was slow of speech when in company, and bashful to a degree. He was accustomed to make up his mind what he would say before venturing within the range of the sharp tongue of his well-beloved—an excellent plan, but one which requires for success both self-possession and a good memory. But for lack of these Saunders had made an excellent courtier.
Saunders made his toilet in the little stable of the manse above which he slept. As he scrubbed himself he kept up a constant sibilant hissing, as though he were an equine of doubtful steadiness with whom the hostler behooved to be careful. First he carefully removed the dirt down to a kind of Plimsoll load-line midway his neck; then he frothed the soap-suds into his red rectangular ears, which stood out like speaking trumpets; there he let it remain. Soap is for putting on the face, grease on the hair. It is folly then to wash either off. Besides being wasteful. His flaxen hair stood out in wet strands and clammy tags and tails. All the while Saunders kept muttering to himself:
‘An' says I to her: 'Meg Kissock, ye're a bonny woman,' says I. 'My certie, but ye hae e'en like spunkies [will-o'-the-wisps] or maybes,’ said Saunders in a meditative tone. ‘I had better say 'like whurlies in a sky-licht.' It micht be considered mair lovin' like!’
‘Then she'll up an' say: 'Saunders, ye mak' me fair ashamed to listen to ye. Be mensefu' [polite], can ye no?'’
This pleased Saunders so much that he slapped his thigh so that the pony started and clattered to the other side of his stall.
‘Then I'll up an' tak' her roun' the waist, an' I'll look at her like this—’ (here Saunders practised the effect of his fascinations in the glass, a panorama which was to some extent marred by the necessary opening of his mouth to enable the razor he was using to excavate the bristles out of the professional creases in his lower jaw. Saunders pulled down his mouth to express extra grief when a five-foot grave had been ordered. His seven-foot manifestations of respect for the deceased were a sight to see. He held the opinion that anybody that had no more 'conceit o' themsel' than to be buried in a three-foot grave, did not deserve to be mourned at all. This crease, then, was one of Saunders's assets, and had therefore to be carefully attended to. Even love must not interfere with it.)
‘Sae after that, I shall tak' her roun' the waist, juist like this—’ said he, insinuating his left arm circumferentially. It was an ill-judged movement, for, instead of circling Meg Kissock's waist, he extended his arm round the off hindleg of Birsie, the minister's pony, who had become a trifle short tempered in his old age. Now it was upon that very leg and at that very place that, earlier in the day, a large buzzing horse-fly had temporarily settled. Birsie was in no condition, therefore, for argument upon the subject. So with the greatest readiness he struck straight out behind and took Saunders what he himself called a ‘dinnle on the elbuck.’ Nor was this all, for the razor suddenly levered upwards by Birsie's hoof added another and entirely unprofessional wrinkle to his face.
Saunders uprose in wrath, for the soap was stinging furiously in the cut, and expostulated with Birsie with a handful of reins which he lifted off the lid of the corn-chest.
‘Ye ill-natured, thrawn, upsettin' blastie, ye donnart auld deevil!’ he cried.
‘Alexander Mowdiewort, gin ye desire to use minced oaths and braid oaths indiscriminately, ye shall not use them in my stable. Though ye be but a mere Erastian and uncertain in yer kirk membership, ye are at least an occasional hearer, whilk is better than naething, at the kirk o' the Marrow; and what is more to the point, ye are my own hired servant, and I desire that ye cease from makin' use o' any such expressions upon my premises.’
‘Weel, minister,’ said Saunders, penitently, ‘I ken brawly I'm i' the wrang; but ye ken yersel', gin ye had gotten a dinnle i' the elbuck that garred ye loup like a troot i' Luckie Mowatt's pool, or gin ye had cuttit yersel' wi' yer ain razor, wad 'Effectual Callin',' think ye, hae been the first word i' yer mooth? Noo, minister, fair Hornie!’
‘At any rate,’ said the minister, ‘what I would have said or done is no excuse for you, as ye well know. But how did it happen?’
‘Weel, sir, ye see the way o't was this: I was thinkin' to mysel', 'There's twa or three ways o' takin' the buiks intil the pulpit— There's the way consequential—that's Gilbert Prettiman o' the Kirkland's way. Did ever ye notice the body? He hauds the Bibles afore him as if he war Moses an' Aaron gaun afore Pharaoh, wi' the coat-taillies o' him fleein' oot ahint, an' his chin pointin' to the soon'in'-board o' the pulpit.’
‘Speak respectfully of the patriarchs,’ said Mr. Welsh sententiously. Saunders looked at him with some wonder expressed in his eyes.
‘Far be it frae me,’ he said, ‘to speak lichtly o' ony ane o' them (though, to tell the truth, some o' them war gye boys). I hae been ower lang connectit wi' them, for I hae carriet the buiks for fifteen year, ever since my faither racket himsel' howkin' the grave o' yer predecessor, honest man, an' I hae leeved a' my days juist ower the wa' frae the kirk.’
‘But then they say, Saunders,’ said the minister, smilingly, ‘'the nearer the kirk the farther frae grace.'’
‘'Deed, minister,’ said Saunders, ‘Grace Kissock is a nice bit lassie, but an' Jess will be no that ill in a year or twa, but o' a' the Kissocks commend me till Meg. She wad mak' a graund wife. What think ye, minister?’
Mr. Welsh relaxed his habitual severe sadness of expression and laughed a little. He was accustomed to the sudden jumps which his man's conversation was wont to take.
‘Nay,’ he said, ‘but that is a question for you, Saunders. It is not I that think of marrying her.’
‘The Lord be thankit for that! for gin the minister gaed speerin', what chance wad there be for the betheral?’
‘Have you spoken to Meg herself yet?’ asked Mr. Welsh.
‘Na,’ said Saunders; ‘I haena that, though I hae made up my mind to hae it oot wi' her this verra nicht—if sae it micht be that ye warna needin' me, that is—’ he added, doubtfully, ‘but I hae guid reason to hope that Meg—’
‘What reason have you, Saunders? Has Margaret expressed a preference for you in any way?’
‘Preference!’ said Saunders; ‘'deed she has that, minister; a maist marked preference. It was only the last Tuesday afore Whussanday [Whitsunday] that she gied me a clout i' the lug that fair dang me stupid. Caa that ye nocht?’
‘Well, Saunders,’ said the minister, going out, ‘certainly I wish you good speed in your wooing; but see that you fall no more out with Birsie, lest you be more bruised than you are now; and for the rest, learn wisely to restrain your unruly member.’
‘Thank ye, minister,’ said Saunders; ‘I'll do my best endeavours to obleege ye. Meg's clours are to be borne wi' a' complaisancy, but Birsie's dunts are, so to speak, gratuitous!’
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the lilac sunbonnet
First serialised in The Christian Leader, 1894.