I strolled down the avenue, between
the tall trees and on to the broad, sun-baked roadway
leading to the sleepy little village of Brammerton,
which lay so snugly down in the hollow. Swinging
my stout stick and whistling as I went, I felt at
peace with the good old world. My head was clear,
my arm was strong; rich, fresh blood was dancing in
my veins; I was young, single, free; so
what cared I?
As I walked along, I saw ahead of
me a thin line of blue-grey smoke curling up from
the roadside. As I drew nearer, I made out the
back of a ragged man, leaning over a fire. His
voice, lusty and clear as a bell, was ringing out
a strange melody. I went over to him.
I was looking over his shoulder, yet
he seemed not to have heard me, so intent was he on
his song and in his work.
He was toasting the carcass of a poached
rabbit, the wet skin of which lay at his side.
He was a dirty, ragged rascal, but he seemed happy
and his voice was good. The sentiment of his
song was not altogether out of harmony with my own
“A carter swore he’d love
A skirt, some rouge, a pair
After his vow, for days and days,
He thought himself the smarter.”
The singer bit a piece of flesh from
the leg of his rabbit, to test its tenderness, then
he resumed his toasting and his song.
“But, underneath the stays and paint
He found the usual male complaint:
A woman’s tongue, with Satan’s
A squalling, brawling tartar.
“She scratches, bites and blacks
His head hangs low; he heaves
He longs for single days, gone by.
He’s doomed to die a
The peculiar fellow stopped, opened
a red-coloured handkerchief, took out a hunk of bread
and set it down by his side with slow deliberation.
It was quite two minutes ere he started off again.
“Now, friends, beware, take my advice;
When eating sugar, think of
Before you marry, ponder twice:
Remember Ned the carter.”
From the words, it seemed to me that
he had finished the song, but, judging from the tune,
it was never-ending.
“A fine song, my good fellow,” I remarked
The rascal did not turn round.
“Oh! it’s no’
so bad. It’s got the endurin’ quality
o’ carrying a moral,” he answered.
“You seem to be clear in the conscience yourself,”
“It’ll be clearer when
I get outside o’ this rabbit,” he returned,
still not deigning to look at me.
“But you did not seem to be
startled when I spoke to you,” I remarked in
“What way should I? I
never saw the man yet that I was feart o’.
Forby, I kent you were there.”
“But, how could you know?
I did not make a noise or display my presence in
“No! but the wind
was blawin’ from the back, ye see; and when ye
came up behind the smoke curled up a bit further and
straighter than it did before; then there was just
the ghost o’ a shadow.”
I laughed. “You are an observant customer.”
“Oh, ay! I’m a’ that.
Come round and let me see ye.”
I obeyed, and he seemed satisfied with his inspection.
“Sit doon, oot o’ the smoke,”
I did so.
“You are Scotch?” I ventured.
“Ay! From Perth, awa’.
“A Scotch tinker?”
“Just that; a tinker from Perth,
and my name’s Robertson. I’m a Struan,
ye ken. The Struans, the real Struans, are
a’ tinkers or pipers. In oor family, my
elder brother fell heir to my father’s pipes,
so I had just to take to the tinkering. But we’re
joint heirs to my father’s fondness for a dram.
Ye havena a wee drop on ye?”
“Not a drop,” I remarked.
“That’s a disappointment.
I was kind o’ feart ye wouldna, when I asked
“Oh! ye don’t look like
a man that wasted your substance. More like a
seller o’ Bibles, or maybe a horse doctor.”
I laughed at the queer comparison,
and he looked out at me from under his shaggy, red
“Have a bite o’ breakfast
wi’ me. I like to crack to somebody when
I’m eatin’. It helps the digestion.”
“No, thank you,” I said. “I
have breakfasted already.”
“It’s good meat, man.
The rabbit’s fresh. I can guarantee it,
for it was runnin’ half an hour ago. Try
I refused, but, as he seemed crestfallen,
I took the drumstick in my hand and ate the meat slowly
from it; and never did rabbit taste so good.
“What makes ye smile?”
asked my tattered companion. “Do ye no’
like the taste o’ it?”
“Oh! the rabbit is all right,”
I said, “but I was just thinking that had it
lived its children might have belonged to a brother
of mine some day.”
“How’s that? Is
he a keeper? Öd sake!” he went on,
scratching his head, as it seemed to dawn on him,
“ye don’t happen to belong to the big
hoose up there?”
“I live there,” said I.
He leaned over to me quickly.
“Have another leg, man, have it; dod!
it’s your ain, anyway.”
“I haven’t finished the first yet.
Go ahead yourself.”
He ate slowly, eying me now and again through the
“So you’re a second son,
eh?” he pondered. “Man, ye have my
sympathy. I had the same ill-luck. That’s
how my brother Angus got the pipes and I’m a
tinker. Although, I wouldna mind being the second
son o’ a Laird or a Duke.”
“Well, my friend,” said
I; “that’s just where our opinions differ.
Now, I’d sooner be the second son of a rag-and-bone
man; a Perthshire piper of the name of
Robertson; ay! of the devil himself, than
the second son of an Earl.”
“Do ye tell me that now!”
he put in, with a cock of his towsled head, picking
up another piece of rabbit.
“You see, you and
these other fellows can do as you like; go where you
like when you like. An Earl’s second son
has to serve his House. He has to pave the way
and make things smooth for the son and heir.
He is supposed to work the limelight that shines on
his elder brother. He is tolerated, sometimes
spoiled and petted, because, well, because
he has an elder brother who, some day, will be an
Earl; but he counts for little or nothing in the world’s
“Be thankful, sir, you are only
the second son of a highland piper.”
The tramp reflected for a while.
“Ay, ay!” he philosophised
at last, “no doot, maybe, just
that. I can see you have your ain troubles and
I’m thinkin’, maybe, I’m just as
weel the way I am. But it’s a queer thing;
we aye think the other man is gettin’ the best
o’ what’s goin’. It’s
the way o’ the world.”
He was quiet a while. He negotiated
the rabbit’s head and I watched him with interest
as he extracted every bit of meat from the maze of
“And you would be the Earl when
your father dies, if it wasna for your brother?”
“Yes!” I answered.
“Man, it must be a dreadful temptation.”
“What must be?”
“Och! to keep from puttin’
something in his whisky; to keep from flinging him
ower the window or droppin’ a flower pot on his
heid, maybe. If my ain father had been an Earl,
Angus Robertson would never have lived to blow the
pipes. As it was, it was touch and go wi’
Angus; for they were the bonny pipes, the
grand, bonny pipes.”
“Do you mean to tell me, you
would have murdered your brother for a skirling, screeching
bagpipes?” I asked in horror.
“Och! hardly that, man.
Murder is no’ a bonny name for it. I would
just kind o’ quietly have done awa’ wi’
him. It’s maybe a pity my conscience was
so keen, for he’s no’ much good, is Angus;
he’s a through-other customer: no’
steady and law-abidin’ like mysel’.”
“Well, my friend,” I said finally
“Donald! that’s my name.”
“Well, Donald, I must be on my way.”
“What’s a’ the hurry, man?”
“Oh! weel; give me your hand
on it. You’ve a fine face. The face
o’ a man that, if he had a dram on him, he would
give me a drop o’ it.”
“That I would, Donald.”
“It’s a pity. But ye don’t
happen to have the price o’ the dram on ye?”
“Maybe I have, Donald.”
I handed him a sixpence.
“Thank ye. I’m never wrong in the
readin’ o’ face character.”
As I made to go from him, he started off again.
“You don’t happen to be a married man,
wi’ a wife and bairns?” he asked.
“No, Donald. Thank goodness! What
made you ask that?”
“Oh! I thought maybe you
were and that was the way you liked the words o’
my bit song.”
I left the tinker finishing his belated
breakfast and hurried down the road toward the village.
The sun was getting high in the heavens,
birds were singing and the spring workers were busy
in the fields. I took the side track down the
rough pathway leading to Modley Farm.
My good friend, big, brawny, bluff
Tom Tanner, who was standing under the
porch, hailed me from a distance, with his
usual merry shout.
“Where away, George? Feeling
fit for our trip?” he asked as I got up to him.
“I am sorry, old boy, but, so
far as I am concerned, the trip is off. I just
hurried down to tell you and Jim.
“You see, Tom, there is going
to be a House Party up there this week-end and my
dad’s mighty anxious to have me at home; so much
so, that I would offend him if I went off. Being
merely George Brammerton, I must bow to the paternal
commands, although I would rather, a hundred times,
be at the games.”
Tom’s face fell, and I could
see he was disappointed. I knew how much he
enjoyed those week-end excursions of ours.
“The fact is,” I explained,
“there is going to be a marriage up there pretty
soon, and, naturally, I am wanted to meet the lady.”
“Great Scott! George, you
are not trying to break it gently to me? You
are not going to get married, are you?” he asked
I laughed loudly. “Lord,
no! Not for a kingdom. It is my big brother
Tom seemed relieved. He even sighed.
“I’m glad to hear you
say it, George, for there’s a lot of fine athletic
meetings coming on during the next three or four months
and it would be a pity to miss them for, for,
Oh! hang it all! you know what I mean. You’re
such a queer, serious, determined sort of customer,
that it’s hard to say what you will do next.”
He looked so solemn over the matter
that I laughed again.
His kind-hearted old mother, who had
been at work in the kitchen and had overheard our
conversation, came to the doorway and placed her arms
lovingly around our broad shoulders.
“Lots of time yet to think about
getting married. And, let me whisper something
into your ears. It’s an old woman’s
advice, and it’s good: when you do
think of marrying, be sure you get a wife with a pleasant
face and a good figure; a wife that other wives’
men will turn round and admire; for, you know, you
can never foretell what kind of temper a woman has
until you have lived with her. A maid is always
on her best behaviour before her lover. And,
just think what it would mean if you married a plain,
shapeless lass and she proved to have a temper like
a termagant! Now, a handsome lass, even if she
has a temper, is always a handsome lass
and something to rouse envy of you in other men.
And, after all, we measure and treasure what we have
in proportion as other people long for it. So,
whatever you do, young men, make sure she is handsome!”
“Good, sensible advice, Mrs.
Tanner; and I mean to take it,” said I.
“But I would be even more exacting. In
addition to being sweet tempered and fair of face
and form, she must have curly, golden hair and golden
brown eyes to match.”
“And freckles?” put in Mrs. Tanner with
a wry face.
“No! freckles are barred,” I added.
“But, golden hair and brown
eyes are mighty rare to find in one person,”
said Tom innocently.
“Of course they are; and the
combination such as I require is so extremely rare
that my quest will be a long one. I am likely
therefore to enjoy my bachelorhood for many days to
“Good-bye, Mrs. Tanner.
Good-bye, Tom; I am going down to the smithy to see
I strolled away from my happy, contented
friends, on to the main road again and down the hill
to the village, little dreaming how long it would
be ere I should have an opportunity of talking with