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.
A Triumph in Diplomacy
By John Watson (Ian Maclaren) (1850–1907)
From ‘Days of Auld Lang Syne’

FARMS were held on lease in Drumtochty, and according to a good old custom descended from father to son; so that some of the farmers’ forbears had been tenants as long as Lord Kilspindie’s ancestors had been owners. If a family died out, then a successor from foreign parts had to be introduced; and it was in this way Milton made his appearance, and scandalized the Glen with a new religion. It happened also in our time that Gormack, having quarreled with the factor about a feeding-byre he wanted built, flung up his lease in a huff; and it was taken at an enormous increase by a guileless tradesman from Muirtown, who had made his money by selling “pigs” (crockery-ware), and believed that agriculture came by inspiration. Optimists expected that his cash might last for two years, but pessimists declared their belief that a year would see the end of the “merchant’s” experiment; and Gormack watched the course of events from a hired house at Kildrummie.  1
  Jamie Soutar used to give him “a cry” on his way to the station, and brought him the latest news.  2
  “It’s maybe juist as weel that ye retired frae business, Gormack, for the auld fairm’s that spruced up ye wud hardly ken it wes the same place.  3
  “The merchant’s put ventilators intae the feedin’ byre, and he’s speakin’ aboot glass windows tae keep the stots frae wearyin’; an’ as for inventions, the place is fair scatted up wi’ them. There’s ain that took me awfu’: it’s for peelin’ the neeps tae mak them tasty for the cattle beasts.  4
  “Ye hed nae method, man; and a’ dinna believe ye hed an inspection a’ the years ye were at Gormack. Noo, the merchant is up at half eicht, and goes ower the hale steadin’ wi’ Robbie Duff at his heels,—him ’at he’s got for idle grieve,—an’ he tries the corners wi’ his handkerchief tae see that there’s nae stoor” (dust).  5
  “It wud dae ye gude tae see his library: the laist day I saw him he wes readin’ a book on ‘Comparative Agriculture’ afore his door, and he explained hoo they grow the maize in Sooth Ameriky: it wes verra interestin’; ’a never got as muckle information frae ony fairmer in Drumtochty.”  6
  “A’m gled ye cam in, Jamie,” was all Gormack said, “for I wes near takin’ this hoose on a three-year lease. Ae year ’ill be eneuch noo, a’m thinkin’.”  7
  Within eighteen months of his removal Gormack was again in possession at the old rent, and with a rebate for the first year to compensate him for the merchant’s improvements.  8
  “It ’ill tak the feck o’ twa years,” he explained in the kirkyard, “tae bring the place roond an’ pit the auld face on it.  9
  “The byres are nae better than a pair o’ fanners wi’ wind, and if he hesna planted the laighfield wi’ berry bushes; an’ a’ve seen the barley fifty-five pund wecht in that very field.  10
  “It’s a doonricht sin tae abuse the land like yon, but it ’ill be a lesson, neeburs, an’ a’m no expeckin’ anither pig merchant ’ill get a fairm in Drumtochty.”  11
  This incident raised Gormack into a historical personage, and invested him with an association of humor for the rest of his life; so that when conversation languished in the third, some one would ask Gormack “what he hed dune wi’ his ventilators,” or “hoo the berry hairst wes shapin’ this year.”  12
  One could not expect a comedy of this kind twice in a generation; but the arranging of a lease was always an event of the first order in our commonwealth, and afforded fine play for every resource of diplomacy. The two contracting parties were the factor, who spent his days in defending his chief’s property from the predatory instincts of enterprising farmers, and knew every move of the game,—a man of shrewd experience, imperturbable good-humor, and many wiles,—and on the other side, a farmer whose wits had been sharpened by the Shorter Catechism since he was a boy; with the Glen as judges. Farms were not put in the Advertiser on this estate, and thrown open to the public from Dan to Beersheba; so that there was little risk of the tenant losing his home. Neither did the adjustment of rent give serious trouble; as the fair value of every farm—down to the bit of hill above the arable land and the strips of natural grass along the burns—was known to a pound. There were skirmishes over the rent, of course; but the battle-ground was the number of improvements which the tenant could wring from the landlord at the making of the lease. Had a tenant been in danger of eviction, then the Glen had risen in arms, as it did in the case of Burnbrae; but this was a harmless trial of strength, which the Glen watched with critical impartiality. The game was played slowly between seedtime and harvest, and each move was reported in the kirk-yard. Its value was appreciated at once; and although there was greater satisfaction when a neighbor won, yet any successful stroke of the factor’s was keenly enjoyed,—the beaten party himself conceding its cleverness. When the factor so manipulated the conditions of draining Netherton’s meadow land that Netherton had to pay for the tiles, the kirkyard chuckled; and Netherton admitted next market that the factor “wes a lad,”—meaning a compliment to his sharpness, for all things were fair in this war; and when Drumsheugh involved the same factor in so many different and unconnected promises of repairs that it was found cheaper in the end to build him a new steading, the fathers had no bounds to their delight; and Whinnie, who took an hour longer than any other man to get a proper hold of anything, suddenly slapped his leg in the middle of the sermon.  13
  No genuine Scotchman ever thought the less of a neighbor because he could drive a hard bargain; and any sign of weakness in such encounters exposed a man to special contempt in our community. No mercy was shown to one who did not pay the last farthing when a bargain had been made, but there was little respect for the man who did not secure the same farthing when the bargain was being made. If a Drumtochty farmer had allowed his potatoes to go to “Piggie” Walker at that simple-minded merchant’s first offer, instead of keeping “Piggie” all day, and screwing him up ten shillings an acre every second hour, we would have shaken our heads over him as if he had been drinking; and the well-known fact that Drumsheugh had worsted dealers from far and near at Muirtown market for a generation, was not his least solid claim on our respect. When Mrs. Macfadyen allowed it to ooze out in the Kildrummie train that she had obtained a penny above the market price for her butter, she received a tribute of silent admiration, broken only by an emphatic “Sall” from Hillocks; while Drumsheugh expressed himself freely on the way up:—  14
  “Elspeth’s an able wumman: there’s no a slack bit aboot her. She wud get her meat frae among ither fouks’ feet.”  15
  There never lived a more modest or unassuming people; but the horse couper that tried to play upon their simplicity did not boast afterwards, and no one was known to grow rich on his dealings with Drumtochty.  16
  This genius for bargaining was of course seen to most advantage in the affair of a lease; and a year ahead, long before lease had been mentioned, a “cannie” man like Hillocks would be preparing for the campaign. Broken panes of glass in the stable were stuffed with straw after a very generous fashion; cracks in a byre door were clouted over with large pieces of white wood; rickety palings were ostentatiously supported; and the interior of Hillocks’s house suggested hard-working and cleanly poverty struggling to cover the defects of a hovel. Neighbors dropping in during those days found Hillocks wandering about with a hammer, putting in a nail here and a nail there, or on the top of the barn trying to make it water-tight before winter, with the air of one stopping leaks in the hope of keeping the ship afloat till she reaches port. But he made no complaint, and had an air of forced cheerfulness.  17
  “Na, na, yir no interruptin’ me; a’m rael gled tae see ye; a’ wes juist doin’ what a’ cud tae keep things thegither.  18
  “An auld buildin’s a sair trachle, an’ yir feared tae meddle wi’ ’t, for ye micht bring it doon aboot yir ears.  19
  “But it’s no reasonable tae expeck it tae last for ever: it’s dune weel and served its time; ’a mind it as snod a steadin’ as ye wud wish tae see, when ’a wes a laddie saxty year past.  20
  “Come in tae the hoose, and we ’ill see what the gude wife hes in her cupboard. Come what may, the ’ill aye be a drop for a freend as lang as a ’m leevin.  21
  “Dinna put yir hat there, for the plaister’s been fallin’, an’ it micht white it. Come ower here frae the window: it’s no very fast, and the wind comes in at the holes. Man, it’s a pleesure tae see ye; and here’s yir gude health.”  22
  When Hillocks went abroad to kirk or market he made a brave endeavor to conceal his depression, but it was less than successful.  23
  “Yon’s no a bad show o’ aits ye hae in the wast park the year, Hillocks; a ’m thinkin’ the ’ill buke weel.”  24
  “Their lukes are the best o’ them, Netherton; they’re thin on the grund an’ sma’ in the head: but ’a cudna expeck better, for the land’s fair worn oot; it wes a gude farm aince, wi’ maybe thirty stacks in the yaird every hairst, and noo a ’m no lookin’ for mair than twenty the year.”  25
  “Weel, there’s nae mistak aboot yir neeps, at ony rate: ye canna see a dreel noo.”  26
  “That wes guano, Netherton: ’a hed tae dae something tae get an ootcome wi’ ae crap, at ony rate; we maun get the rent some road, ye ken, and pay oor just debts.”  27
  Hillocks conveyed the impression that he was gaining a bare existence, but that he could not maintain the fight for more than a year; and the third became thoughtful.  28
  “Div ye mind, Netherton,” inquired Drumsheugh on his way from Muirtown station to the market, “hoo mony years Hillocks’s tack (lease) hes tae rin?”  29
  “No abune twa or three at maist; a ’m no sure if he hes as muckle.”  30
  “It’s oot Martinmas a year, as sure yir stannin’ there: he’s an auld farrant (far-seeing) lad, Hillocks.”  31
  It was known within a week that Hillocks was setting things in order for the battle.  32
  The shrewdest people have some weak point; and Drumtochty was subject to the delusion that old Peter Robertson, the land steward, had an immense back-stairs influence with the factor and his Lordship. No one could affirm that Peter had ever said as much, but he never denied it; not having been born in Drumtochty in vain. He had a habit of detaching himself from the fathers, and looking in an abstracted way over the wall when they were discussing the factor or the prospects of a lease, which was more than words,—and indeed was equal to a small annual income.  33
  “Ye ken mair o’ this than ony o’ us, a ’m thinkin’, Peter, if ye cud open yir mooth: they say naebody’s word gaes farther wi’ his Lordship.”  34
  “There’s some fouk say a lot of havers, Drumsheugh, an’ it’s no a’ true ye hear,” and after a pause Peter would purse his lips and nod. “A ’m no at leeberty tae speak, an’ ye maunna press me.”  35
  When he disappeared into the kirk his very gait was full of mystery; and the fathers seemed to see his Lordship and Peter sitting in council for nights together.  36
  “Didna ’a tell ye, neeburs?” said Drumsheugh triumphantly: “ye ’ill no gae far wrang gin ye hae Peter on yir side.”  37
  Hillocks held this faith, and added works also; for he compassed Peter with observances all the critical year, although the word lease never passed between them.  38
  “Ye wud be the better o’ new seed, Peter,” Hillocks remarked casually, as he came on the land steward busy in his potato patch. “A ’ve some kidneys ’a dinna ken what tae dae wi’; ’a ’ll send ye up a bag.”  39
  “It’s rael kind o’ ye, Hillocks; but ye were aye neeburly.”  40
  “Dinna speak o’t; that’s naething atween auld neeburs. Man, ye micht gie’s a look in when yir passin’ on yir trokes. The gude wife hes some graund eggs for setting.”  41
  It was considered a happy device to get Peter to the spot, and Hillocks’s management of the visit was a work of art.  42
  “Maister Robertson wud maybe like tae see thae kebbocks (cheeses) yir sending aff tae Muirtown, gude wife, afore we hae oor tea.  43
  “We canna get intae the granary the richt way, for the stair is no chancy noo, an’ it wudna dae tae hae an accident wi’ his Lordship’s land steward,” and Hillocks exchanged boxes over the soothing words.  44
  “We ’ill get through the corn-room, but Losh sake, tak care ye dinna trip in the holes o’ the floor. ’A canna mend mair at it, an’ it’s scandalous for wastin’ the grain.  45
  “It’s no sae bad a granary if we hedna tae keep the horses’ hay in it, for want o’ a richt loft.  46
  “Man, there’s times in winter a ’m at ma wits’ end wi’ a’ the cattle in aboot, an’ naethin’ for them but an open reed (court), an’ the wife raging for a calves’ byre;—but that’s no what we cam here for, tae haver aboot the steadin’.  47
  “Ay, they’re bonnie kebbocks; and when yir crops fail, ye’re gled eneuch tae get a pund or twa oot o’ the milk.”  48
  And if his Lordship had ever dreamt of taking Peter’s evidence, it would have gone to show that Hillocks’s steading was a disgrace to the property.  49
  If any one could inveigle Lord Kilspindie himself to visit a farm within sight of the new lease, he had some reason for congratulation; and his Lordship, who was not ignorant of such devices, used to avoid farms at such times with carefulness. But he was sometimes off his guard; and when Mrs. Macfadyen met him by accident at the foot of her garden, and invited him to rest, he was caught by the lure of her conversation, and turned aside with a friend to hear again the story of Mr. Pittendriegh’s goat.  50
  “Well, how have you been, Mrs. Macfadyen?—as young as ever, I see, eh? And how many new stories have you got for me? But bless my soul, what’s this?” and his Lordship might well be astonished at the sight.  51
  Upon the gravel walk outside the door, Elspeth had placed in a row all her kitchen and parlor chairs; and on each stood a big dish of milk, while a varied covering for this open-air dairy had been extemporized out of Jeems’s Sabbath umbrella, a tea-tray, a copy of the Advertiser, and a picture of the battle of Waterloo Elspeth had bought from a packman. It was an amazing spectacle, and one not lightly to be forgotten.  52
  “A ’m clean ashamed that ye sud hae seen sic an exhibition, ma lord, and gin a ’d hed time it wud hae been cleared awa’.  53
  “Ye see oor dairy’s that sma’ and close that ’a daurna keep the mulk in ’t a’ the het days, an’ sae ’a aye gie it an airin’; ’a wud keep it in anither place, but there’s barely room for the bairns an’ oorsels.”  54
  Then Elspeth apologized for speaking about household affairs to his Lordship, and delighted him with all the gossip of the district, told in her best style, and three new stories, till he promised to build her a dairy and a bedroom for Elsie, to repair the byres, and renew the lease at the old terms.  55
  Elspeth said so at least to the factor; and when he inquired concerning the truth of this foolish concession, Kilspindie laughed, and declared that if he had sat longer he might have had to rebuild the whole place.  56
  As Hillocks could not expect any help from personal fascinations, he had to depend on his own sagacity; and after he had labored for six months creating an atmosphere, operations began one day at Muirtown market. The factor and he happened to meet by the merest accident, and laid the first parallels.  57
  “Man, Hillocks, is that you? I hevna seen ye since last rent time. I hear ye’re githering the bawbees thegither as usual: ye ’ill be buying a farm o’ yir own soon.”  58
  “Nae fear o’ that, Maister Leslie: it’s a’ we can dae tae get a livin’; we’re juist fechtin’ awa’; but it comes harder on me noo that a ’m gettin’ on in years.”  59
  “Toots, nonsense, ye’re makin’ a hundred clear off that farm if ye mak a penny;” and then, as a sudden thought, “When is your tack out? it canna hae lang tae run.”  60
  “Well,” said Hillocks, as if the matter had quite escaped him also, “’a believe ye’re richt: it dis rin oot this verra Martinmas.”  61
  “Ye ’ill need tae be thinkin’, Hillocks, what rise ye can offer: his Lordship ’ill be expeckin’ fifty pund at the least.”  62
  Hillocks laughed aloud, as if the factor had made a successful joke.  63
  “Ye wull hae yir fun, Maister Leslie; but ye ken hoo it maun gae fine. The gude wife an’ me were calculatin’, juist by chance, this verra mornin’: and we baith settled that we cudna face a new lease comfortable wi’ less than a fifty-pund reduction; but we micht scrape on wi’ forty.”  64
  “You and the wife ’ill hae tae revise yir calculations then; an’ a’ll see ye again when ye’re reasonable.”  65
  Three weeks later there was another accidental meeting, when the factor and Hillocks discussed the price of fat cattle at length, and then drifted into the lease question before parting.  66
  “Weel, Hillocks, what aboot that rise? will ye manage the fifty, or must we let ye have it at forty?”  67
  “Dinna speak like that, for it’s no jokin’ maitter tae me: we micht dae wi’ five-and-twenty aff, or even twenty, but ’a dinna believe his Lordship wud like to see ain o’ his auldest tenants squeezed.”  68
  “It’s no likely his Lordship ’ill take a penny off when he’s been expecting a rise: so I’ll just need to put the farm in the Advertiser—‘the present tenant not offering’; but I’ll wait a month to let ye think over it.”  69
  When they parted, both knew that the rent would be settled, as it was next Friday, on the old terms.  70
  Opinion in the kirk-yard was divided over this part of the bargain,—a minority speaking of it as a drawn battle, but the majority deciding that Hillocks had wrested at least ten pounds from the factor; which on the tack of nineteen years would come to £190. So far Hillocks had done well, but the serious fighting was still to come.  71
  One June day Hillocks sauntered into the factor’s office, and spent half an hour in explaining the condition of the turnip “breer” in Drumtochty; and then reminded the factor that he had not specified the improvements that would be granted with the new lease.  72
  “Improvements!” stormed the factor. “Ye’re the most bare-faced fellow on the estate, Hillocks: with a rent like that ye can do yir own repairs,”—roughly calculating all the time what must be allowed.  73
  Hillocks opened his pocket-book,—which contained in its various divisions a parcel of notes, a sample of oats, a whip-lash, a bolus for a horse, and a packet of garden seeds,—and finally extricated a scrap of paper.  74
  “Me and the wife juist made a bit note o’ the necessaries that we maun hae, and we’re sure ye’re no the gentleman tae refuse them.  75
  “New windows tae the hoose, an’ a bit place for dishes, and maybe a twenty-pund note for plastering and painting: that’s naething.  76
  “Next, a new stable an’ twa new byres, as weel as covering the reed.”  77
  “Ye may as well say a new steadin’ at once and save time. Man, what do you mean by coming and havering here with your papers?”  78
  “Weel, if ye dinna believe me, ask Peter Robertson, for the condeetion o’ the oot-houses is clean reediklus.”  79
  So it was agreed that the factor should drive out to see for himself; and the kirk-yard felt that Hillocks was distinctly holding his own, although no one expected him to get the reed covered.  80
  Hillocks received the great man with obsequious courtesy, and the gude wife gave him of her best; and then they proceeded to business. The factor laughed to scorn the idea that Lord Kilspindie should do anything for the house; but took the bitterness out of the refusal by a well-timed compliment to Mrs. Stirton’s skill, and declaring she could set up the house with the profits of one summer’s butter. Hillocks knew better than try to impress the factor himself by holes in the roof, and they argued greater matters; with the result that the stable was allowed and the byres refused, which was exactly what Hillocks anticipated. The reed roof was excluded as preposterous in cost, but one or two lighter repairs were given as a consolation.  81
  Hillocks considered that on the whole he was doing well; and he took the factor round the farm in fair heart, although his face was that of a man robbed and spoiled.  82
  Hillocks was told he need not think of wire fencing, but if he chose to put up new palings he might have the fir from the Kilspindie woods; and if he did some draining, the estate would pay the cost of tiles. When Hillocks brought the factor back to the house for a cup of tea before parting, he explained to his wife that he was afraid they would have to leave in November,—the hardness of the factor left no alternative.  83
  Then they fought the battle of the cattle reed up and down, in and out, for an hour; till the factor, who knew that Hillocks was a careful and honest tenant, laid down his ultimatum.  84
  “There’s not been a tenant in my time so well treated; but if ye see the draining is well done, I’ll let you have the reed.”  85
  “’A suppose,” said Hillocks, “a’ll need tae fall in.” And he reported his achievement to the kirk-yard next Sabbath in the tone of one who could now look forward to nothing but a life of grinding poverty.  86

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