Read CHAPTER II - Another Second Son of My Brave and Gallant Gentleman, free online book, by Robert Watson, on ReadCentral.com.

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 feelings.

“A carter swore he’d love always
A skirt, some rouge, a pair of stays.
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 taint;
A squalling, brawling tartar.

“She scratches, bites and blacks his eye.
His head hangs low; he heaves a sigh;
He longs for single days, gone by.
He’s doomed to die a martyr.”

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 spice;
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 from behind.

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,” said I.

“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 surprise.

“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 any way.”

“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,” he said.

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 ye.”

“How so?”

“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 eyebrows.

“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 a leg.”

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 smoke.

“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 affairs.

“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 bone.

“And you would be the Earl when your father dies, if it wasna for your brother?” he added.

“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?”

“Business.”

“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 in consternation.

I laughed loudly. “Lord, no! Not for a kingdom. It is my big brother Harry.”

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 come.”

“Good-bye, Mrs. Tanner. Good-bye, Tom; I am going down to the smithy to see Jim.”

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 them again.