Reference > Fiction > Nonfiction > Warner, et al., eds. > The Library

C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
Ensamples to the Flock
By Samuel Rutherford Crockett (1860–1914)
From ‘The Stickit Minister’

THE FAMILY of the late Tyke M’Lurg consisted of three loons and a lassie. Tyke had never done anything for his children except share with a short-lived and shadowy mother the responsibility of bringing them into the world. The time that he could spare from his profession of poacher he had systematically devoted to neglecting them. Tyke had solved successfully for many years the problem of how to live by the least possible expenditure of labor. Kind ladies had taken him in hand time and again. They had provided clothes for his children, which Tyke had primarily converted into coin of the realm, and indirectly into liquid refreshment, at Lucky Morgan’s rag store in Cairn Edward. Work had been found for Tyke, and he had done many half-days of labor in various gardens. Unfortunately, however, before the hour of noon it was Tyke’s hard case to be taken with a “grooin’ in his inside” of such a nature that he became rapidly incapacitated for further work.  1
  “No, mem, I canna tak’ it. It’s mony a year since I saw the evil o’t. Ye’ll hae to excuse me, but I really couldna. Oh, thae pains! O sirce, my inside! Weel, gin ye insist, I’ll juist hae to try a toothfu’ to obleege ye, like.”  2
  But Tyke’s toothfu’s were over for this world, and his shortcomings were lying under four feet of red mold. Half a dozen kindly folk who pitied his “three loons and a lassie” gathered a few pounds and gave him a decent burial,—not for his own sake, but in order that the four little scarecrows might have a decent start in life. It is the most fatal and indestructible of reproaches in the south of Scotland to have a father buried by the parish.  3
  The lassie was the eldest of the children. She was thirteen, and she hardly remembered what it was to have a mother or a new frock. But ever since she was eleven she had never had a dirty one. The smith’s wife had shown her how to wash, and she had learned from the teacher how to mend. “Leeb” had appeared on the books of the school as Elizabeth M’Lurg, and she had attended as often as she could—that is, as often as her father could not prevent her; for Tyke, being an independent man, was down on the compulsory clause of the Education Act, and had more than once got thirty days for assaulting the School Board officer.  4
  When he found out that Leeb was attending school at the village he lay in wait for her on her return, with a stick, and after administering chastisement on general principles he went on to specify his daughter’s iniquities:—  5
  “Ye upsettin’ blastie, wad ye be for gangin’ to their schule, learnin’ to look doon on yer ain faither that has been at sic pains to rear ye?”—(a pause for further correction, to which poor Leeb vocalized an accompaniment). “Let me see gin ye can read! Hae, read that!” he said, flinging a tattered lesson-book, which the teacher had given her, to his daughter. Leeb opened the book, and punctuating the lesson with her sobs, she read in the high and level shriek of a locomotive engine, “And so brave Bobby, hav-ing sa-ved the tr-r-r-em-bling child, re-turn-ed with the res-cu-ed one in his mouth to the shore.”  6
  “Davert! but ye can read!” said her father, snatching the book and tearing it up before her eyes. “Noo, listen; I’ll hae nane o’ my bairns teached to despise their faither by no Schule Boards. Look you here, Leeb M’Lurg, gin ever I catch you within a mile o’ the schule, I’ll skin ye!”  7
  But for all this tremendous threat, or maybe all the more because of it, and also because she so much desired to be able to do a white seam, Leeb so arranged it that there were few days when she did not manage to come along the mile and half of lochside road which separated her from the little one-roomed, whitewashed schoolhouse on the face of the brae. She even brought one of the “loons” with her pretty often; but as Jock, Rab, and Benny (otherwise known as Rag, Tag, and Bobtail) got a little older, they more easily accommodated themselves to the wishes of their parent; and in spite of Leeb’s blandishments they went into “hidie holes” till the School Board officer had passed by.  8
  M’Lurg’s Mill where the children lived was a tumble-down erection, beautiful for situation, set on the side of the long loch of Kenick. The house had once been a little farm-house, its windows brilliant with geraniums and verbenas; but in the latter days of the forlorn M’Lurgs it had become betrampled as to its doorsteps by lean swine, and bespattered as to its broken floor by intrusive hens. It was to M’Lurg’s Mill that the children returned after the funeral. Leeb had been arrayed in the hat and dress of a neighbor’s daughter for the occasion, but the three loons had played “tig” in the intervals of watching their father’s funeral from the broomy knoll behind the mill. Jock, the eldest, was nearly eleven, and had been taken in hand by the kind neighbor wife at the same time as Leeb. At one time he looked as though he would even better repay attention, for he feigned a sleek-faced submission and a ready compliance which put Mistress Auld of the Arkland off her guard. Then as soon as his sister, of whom Jock stood much in awe, was gone out, he snatched up his ragged clothes and fled to the hill. Here he was immediately joined by the other two loons. They caught the Arkland donkey grazing in the field beside the mill-dam, and having made a parcel of the good black trousers and jacket, they tied them to the donkey and drove him homeward with blows and shoutings. A funeral was only a dull procession to them, and the fact that it was their father’s made no difference.  9
  Next morning Leeb sat down on the “stoop” or wooden bench by the door, and proceeded to cast up her position. Her assets were not difficult to reckon. A house of two rooms, one devoted to hens and lumber; a mill which had once sawn good timber, but whose great circular saw had stood still for many months; a mill-lade broken down in several places, three or four chairs and a stool, a table, and a wash-tub. When she got so far she paused. It was evident that there could be no more school for her, and the thought struck her that now she must take the responsibility for the boys, and bring them up to be useful and diligent. She did not and could not so express her resolve to herself, but a still and strong determination was in her sore little heart not to let the boys grow up like their father.  10
  Leeb had gone to Sabbath school every week, when she could escape from the tyranny of home, and was therefore well known to the minister, who had often exercised himself in vain on the thick defensive armor of ignorance and stupidity which encompassed the elder M’Lurg. His office-bearers and he had often bemoaned the sad example of this ne’er-do-weel family which had intrenched itself in the midst of so many well-doing people. M’Lurg’s Mill was a reproach and an eyesore to the whole parish, and the M’Lurg “weans” a gratuitous insult to every self-respecting mother within miles. For three miles round the children were forbidden to play with, or even to speak to, the four outcasts at the mill. Consequently their society was much sought after.  11
  When Leeb came to set forth her resources, she could not think of any except the four-pound loaf, the dozen hens and a cock, the routing wild Indian of a pig, and the two lean and knobby cows on the hill at the back. It would have been possible to sell all these things, perhaps, but Leeb looked upon herself as the trustee for the rest of the family. She resolved therefore to make what use of them she could, and having most of the property under her eye at the time, there was the less need to indite an inventory of it.  12
  But first she must bring her brothers to a sense of their position. She was a very Napoleon of thirteen, and she knew that now that there was no counter authority to her own, she could bring Jock, Rab, and Benny to their senses very quickly. She therefore selected with some care and attention a hazel stick, using a broken table-knife to cut it with a great deal of deftness. Having trimmed it, she went out to the hill to look for her brothers.  13
  It was not long before she came upon them engaged in the fascinating amusement of rooting for pignuts in a green bank-side. The natural Leeb would instantly have thrown down her wand of office and joined them in the search, but the Leeb of to-day was a very different person. Her second thought was to rush among them and deal lusty blows with the stick, but she fortunately remembered that in that case they would scatter, and that by force she could only take home one, or at most two. She therefore called to her assistance the natural guile of her sex.  14
  “Boys, are ye hungry?” she said. “There’s sic a graun’ big loaf come frae the Arkland!” By this time all her audience were on their feet. “An’ I’ll milk the kye, an’ we’ll hae a feast.”  15
  “Come on, Jock,” said Rab, the second loon, and the leader in mischief, “I’ll race ye for the loaf.”  16
  “Ye needna do that,” said Leeb calmly; “the door’s lockit.”  17
  So as Leeb went along, she talked to her brothers as soberly as though they were models of good behavior and all the virtues, telling them what she was going to do and how she would expect them to help her. By the time she got them into the mill-yard she had succeeded in stirring their enthusiasm, especially that of Jock, to whom with a natural tact she gave the wand of the office of “sairgint,” a rank which on the authority of Sergeant M’Millan, the village pensioner, was understood to be very much higher than that of general. “Sairgint” Jock foresaw much future interest in the disciplining of his brothers, and entered with eagerness into the new ploy. The out-of-doors live stock was also committed to his care. He was to drive the cows along the roadside and allow them to pasture on the sweetest and most succulent grasses, while Rab scouted in the direction of the village for supposititious “poalismen” who were understood to take up and sell for the Queen’s benefit all cows found eating grass on the public highway. Immediately after Jock and Rab had received a hunch of the Arkland loaf and their covenanted drink of milk, they went off to drive the cows to the loch road, so that they might at once begin to fill up their lean sides. Benny, the youngest, who was eight past, she reserved for her own assistant. He was a somewhat tearful but willing little fellow, whose voice haunted the precincts of M’Lurg’s mill like a wistful ghost. His brothers were constantly running away from him, and he pattering after them as fast as his fat little legs could carry him, roaring with open mouth at their cruelty, the tears making clean watercourses down his grimy cheeks. But Benny soon became a new boy under his sister’s exclusive care.  18
  “Noo, Benny,” she said, “you an’ me’s gaun to clean the hoose. Jock an’ Rab will no’ be kennin’ it when they come back!” So, having filled the tub with water from the mill-lade, and carried every movable article of furniture outside, Leeb began to wash out the house and rid it of the accumulated dirt of years. Benny carried small bucketfuls of water to swill over the floor. Gradually the true color of the stones began to shine up, and the black incrustation to retreat towards the outlying corners.  19
  “I’m gaun doon to the village,” she said abruptly. “Benny, you keep scrubbin’ alang the wa’s.”  20
  Leeb took her way down rapidly to where Joe Turner, the village mason, was standing by a newly begun pig-stye or swine-ree, stirring a heap of lime and sand.  21
  “G’ye way oot o’ that!” he said instantly, with the threatening gesture which every villager except the minister and the mistress of Arkland instinctively made on seeing a M’Lurg. This it is to have a bad name.  22
  But Leeb stood her ground, strong in the consciousness of her good intentions.  23
  “Maister Turner,” she said, “could ye let me hae a bucketfu’ or twa o’ whitewash for the mill kitchen? an’ I’ll pey ye in hen’s eggs. Oor hens are layin’ fine, an’ your mistress is fond o’ an egg in the mornin’.”  24
  Joe stopped and scratched his head. This was something new, even in a village where a good deal of business is done according to the rules of truck or barter.  25
  “What are ye gaun to do wi’ the whitewash?” he inquired, to get time to think. “There was little whitewash in use about M’Lurg’s Mill in yer faither’s time!”  26
  “But I’m gaun to bring up the boys as they should,” said Leeb, with some natural importance, sketching triangles on the ground with her bare toe.  27
  “An’ what’s whitewash got to do wi’ that?” asked Joe, with some asperity.  28
  Leeb could not just put the matter into words, but she instinctively felt that it had a good deal to do with it. Whitewash was her badge of respectability both inside the house and out, in which Leeb was at one with modern science.  29
  “I’ll gie three dizzen o’ eggs for three bucketfu’s,” she said.  30
  “An’ hoo div I ken that I’ll ever see ane o’ the eggs?” asked Joe.  31
  “I’ve brocht a dizzen wi’ me noo!” said Leeb, promptly, producing them from under her apron.  32
  Leeb got the whitewash that very night, and the loan of a brush to put it on with. Next morning the farmer of the Crae received a shock. There was something large and white down on the loch-side, where ever since he came to the Crae he had seen naething but the trees which hid M’Lurg’s mill.  33
  “I misdoot it’s gaun to be terrible weather. I never saw that hoose o’ Tyke M’Lurg’s aff our hill afore!” he said.  34
  The minister came by that day, and stood perfectly aghast at the new splendors of the M’Lurg mansion. Hitherto when he had strangers staying with him he took them another way, in order that his parish might not be disgraced. Not only were the walls of the house shining with whitewash, but the windows were cleaned, a piece of white muslin curtain was pinned across each, and a jug with a bunch of heather and wild flowers looked out smiling on the passers-by. The minister bent his steps to the open door. He could see the two M’Lurg cows pasturing placidly with much contented head-tossing on the roadside, while a small boy sat above, laboring at the first rounds of a stocking. From the house came the shrill voice of singing. Out of the firwood over the knoll came a still smaller boy, bent double with a load of sticks.  35
  In the window, written with large sprawling capitals on a leaf of a copy-book under the heading “Encourage Earnest Endeavor,” appeared the striking legend:—
  The minister stood regarding, amazement on every line of his face. Leeb came out singing, a neatly tied bundle of chips made out of the dry débris of the saw-mill in her hand.  37
  “Elizabeth,” said he, “what is the meaning of this?”  38
  “Will ye be pleased to step ben?” said Leeb. The minister did so, and was astonished to find himself sitting down in a spotless kitchen, the walls positively painfully white, the wooden chairs scoured with sand till the very fibre of the wood was blanched, and on a floor so clean that one might have dined off it, the mystic whorls and crosses of whiting which connect all good Galloway housekeepers with Runic times.  39
  Before the minister went out of M’Lurg’s Mill he had learned the intentions of Leeb to make men of her brothers. He said, “You are a woman already, before your time, Elizabeth!” which was the speech of all others best fitted to please Leeb M’Lurg. He had also ordered milk and eggs for the manse to be delivered by Benny, and promised that his wife would call upon the little head of the house.  40
  As he went down the road by the loch-side he meditated, and this was the substance of his thought:—“If that girl brings up her brothers like herself, Tyke M’Lurg’s children may yet be ensamples to the flock.”  41
  But as to this we shall see.  42

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