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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
The Home-Coming
By Norman Macleod (1812–1872)
 
From ‘The Old Lieutenant and his Son’

THERE lived in the old burgh one of that class termed “fools” to whom I have already alluded, who was called “daft Jock.” Jock was lame, walked by the aid of a long staff, and generally had his head and shoulders covered up with an old coat. Babby had a peculiar aversion to Jock; why, it was difficult to discover, as her woman’s heart was kindly disposed to all living things. Her regard was supposed to have been partially alienated from Jock from his always calling her “Wee Babbity,” accompanying the designation with a loud and joyous laugh. Now, I have never yet met a human being who was not weak on a point of personal peculiarity which did not flatter them. It has been said that a woman will bear any amount of abuse that does not involve a slight upon her appearance. Men are equally susceptible of similar pain. A very tall or very fat hero will be calm while his deeds are criticized or his fame disparaged, but will resent with bitterness any marked allusion to his great longitude or latitude. Babby never could refuse charity to the needy, and Jock was sure of receiving something from her as the result of his weekly calls; but he never consigned a scrap of meat to his wallet without a preliminary battle. On the evening of the commemoration of the “Melampus” engagement, Babby was sitting by the fire watching a fowl which twirled from the string roasting for supper, and which dropped its unctuous lard on a number of potatoes that lay basking in the tin receiver below. A loud rap was heard at the back door; and to the question, “Who’s there?” the reply was heard of “Babbity, open! Open, wee Babbity! Hee, hee, hee!”  1
  “Gae wa wi’ ye, ye daft cratur,” said Babby. “What right hae ye to disturb folk at this time o’ nicht? I’ll let loose the dog on you.”  2
  Babby knew that Skye shared her dislike to Jock; as was evident from his bark when he rose, and with curled tail began snuffing at the foot of the door. Another knock, louder than before, made Babby start.  3
  “My word,” she exclaimed, “but ye hae learned impudence!” And afraid of disturbing “the company,” she opened as much of the door as enabled her to see and rebuke Jock. “Hoo daur ye, Jock, to rap sae loud as that?”  4
  “Open, wee, wee, wee Babbity!” said Jock.  5
  “Ye big, big, big blackguard, I’ll dae naething o’ the kind,” said Babby as she shut the door. But the stick of the fool was suddenly interposed. “That beats a’!” said Babby: “what the sorrow d’ye want, Jock, to daur to presume—”  6
  But to Babby’s horror the door was forced open in the middle of her threat, and the fool entered, exclaiming, “I want a kiss, my wee, wee, bonnie Babbity!”  7
  “Preserve us a’!” exclaimed Babby, questioning whether she should scream or fly, while the fool, turning his back to the light, seized her by both her wrists, and imprinted a kiss on her forehead.  8
  “Skye!” half screamed Babby; but Skye was springing up, as if anxious to kiss Jock. Babby fell back on a chair, and catching a glimpse of the fool’s face, she exclaimed, “O my darling, my darling! O Neddy, Neddy, Neddy!” Flinging off her cap, as she always did on occasions of great perplexity, she seized him by the hands, and then sunk back, almost fainting, in the chair.  9
  “Silence, dear Babby!” said Ned, speaking in a whisper; “for I want to astonish the old couple. How glad I am to see you! and they are all well, I know; and Freeman here, too!” Then seizing the dog, he clasped him to his heart, while the brute struggled with many an eager cry to kiss his old master’s face.  10
  Ned’s impulse from the first was to rush into the parlor; but he was restrained by that strange desire which all have experienced in the immediate anticipation of some great joy,—to hold it from us, as a parent does a child, before we seize it and clasp it to our breast.  11
  The small party, consisting of the captain, his wife, and Freeman, were sitting round the parlor fire; Mrs. Fleming sewing, and the others keeping up rather a dull conversation, as those who felt, though they did not acknowledge, the presence of something at their hearts which hindered their usual freedom and genial hilarity.  12
  “Supper should be ready by this time,” suggested the captain, just as the scene between Ned and Babby was taking place in the kitchen. “Babby and Skye seem busy: I shall ring, may I not?”  13
  “If you please,” said Mrs. Fleming; “but depend upon it, Babby will cause no unnecessary delays.”  14
  Babby speedily responded to the captain’s ring. On entering the room she burst into a fit of laughing. Mrs. Fleming put down her work and looked at her servant as if she was mad.  15
  “What do you mean, woman?” asked the captain with knit brows: “I never saw you behave so before.”  16
  “Maybe no. Ha! ha! ha!” said Babby; “but there’s a queer man wishing to speak wi’ ye.” At this moment a violent ring was heard from the door-bell.  17
  “A queer man—wishing to speak with me—at this hour,” muttered the captain, as if in utter perplexity.  18
  Babby had retired to the lobby, and was ensconced, with her apron in her mouth, in a corner near the kitchen. “You had better open the door yersel’,” cried Babby, smothering her laughter.  19
  The captain, more puzzled than ever, went to the door, and opening it was saluted with a gruff voice, saying, “I’m a poor sailor, sir,—and knows you’re an old salt,—and have come to see you, sir.”  20
  “See me, sir! What do you want?” replied the captain gruffly, as one whose kindness some impostor hoped to benefit by.  21
  “Wants nothing, sir,” said the sailor, stepping near the captain.  22
  A half-scream, half-laugh from Babby drew Mrs. Fleming and Freeman to the lobby.  23
  “You want nothing? What brings you to disturb me at this hour of the night? Keep back, sir!”  24
  “Well, sir, seeing as how I sailed with Old Cairney, I thought you would not refuse me a favor,” replied the sailor in a hoarse voice.  25
  “Don’t dare, sir,” said the captain, “to come into my house one step farther, till I know more about you.”  26
  “Now, captain, don’t be angry; you know as how that great man Nelson expected every man to do his duty: all I want is just to shake Mrs. Fleming by the hand, and then I go; that is, if after that you want me for to go.”  27
  “Mrs. Fleming!” exclaimed the captain, with the indignation of a man who feels that the time has come for open war as against a house-breaker. “If you dare—”  28
  But Mrs. Fleming, seeing the rising storm, passed her husband rapidly, and said to the supposed intruder, whom she assumed to be a tipsy sailor, “There is my hand, if that’s all you want: go away now as you said, and don’t breed any disturbance.”  29
  But the sailor threw his arms around his mother, and Babby rushed forward with a light; and then followed muffled cries of “Mother!” “Father!” “Ned!” “My own boy!” “God be praised!” until the lobby was emptied, and the parlor once more alive with as joyous and thankful hearts as ever met in “hamlet or in baron’s ha’!”  30
 
 
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