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The Broad Highway(Book1,Chapter28)

2006-08-28 22:46

  Book One Chapter XXVIII. The Highland Piper

  "Who are you?" said I, in no very gentle tone.

  "Donal's my name, sir, an' if ye had an e'e for the tartan, ye'd ken I was a Stuart."

  "And what do you want here, Donald Stuart?"

  "The verra question she'd be askin' ye'sel'——wha' gars ye tae come gowkin' an' spierin' aboot here at sic an hour?"

  "It is my intention to live here, for the future," said I.

  "Hoot toot! ye'll be no meanin' it?"

  "But I do mean it," said I.

  "Eh, man! but ye maun ken the place is no canny, what wi' pixies, an' warlocks, an' kelpies, forbye——"

  "Indeed, they told me it was haunted, but I determined to see for myself."


  "Well, I am glad to find it haunted by nothing worse than a wandering Scots piper."

  The Highlander smiled his wry smile, and taking out a snuff-box, inhaled a pinch, regarding me the while.

  "Ye're the first as ever stayed——after they'd heard the first bit squeakie, tae find out if 't were a real bogle or no."

  "But how in the world did you make such awful sounds?"

  "I'm thinkin' it's the bit squeakie ye'll be meanin'?" he inquired.

  "Yes; how did you do it?"

  "Oh, it's juist the pipes!" he answered, patting them affectionately, "will I show ye the noo?"

  "Pray do," said I. Hereupon he set the mouthpiece to his lips, inflated the bag, stopped the vents with his fingers, and immediately the air vibrated with the bubbling scream I have already attempted to describe.

  "Oh, man!" he exclaimed, laying the still groaning instrument gently aside, "oh, man! is it no juist won'erful?"

  "But what has been your object in terrifying people out of their wits in this manner?"

  "Sir, it's a' on account o' the snuff."

  "Snuff!" I repeated.

  "Juist that!" he nodded.

  "Snuff," said I again; "what do you mean?"

  The Piper smiled again——a slow smile, that seemingly dawned only to vanish again; it was, indeed, if I may so express it, a grave and solemn smile, and his nearest approach to mirth, for not once in the days which followed did I ever see him give vent to a laugh. I here also take the opportunity to say that I have greatly modified his speech in the writing, for it was so broad that I had much ado to grasp his meaning at times.

  The Piper smiled, then, and, unwinding the plaid from his shoulder, spread it upon the floor, and sat down.

  "Ye maun ken," he began, "that I hae muckle love for the snuff, an' snuff is unco expenseeve in these parts."

  "Well?" said I.

  "Ye maun ken, in the second place, that ma brither Alan canna' abide the snuff."

  "Your brother Alan!" said I wondering.

  "Ma brither Alan," he nodded gravely.

  "But what of him, what has he to do with——"

  "Man, bide a wee. I'm comin' tae that."

  "Go on, then," said I, "I'm listening."

  "Weel, I'd hae ye tae ken I'm a braw, bonnie piper, an' ma brither Alan, he's a bonnie piper too——no sic a fair graund piper as me, bein' somewhat uncertain wi' his 'warblers,' ye ken, but a bonnie piper, whateffer. Aweel, mebbe a year syne, I fell in love wi' a lassie, which wad ha' been a' richt if ma brither Alan hadna' fallen in love wi' her too, so that she, puir lassie, didna' ken which tae tak'. 'Donal,' says Alan, 'can ye no love anither lassie; she can no marry the twa o' us, that's sure!' 'Then, Alan,' says I, 'we'll juist play for her.' Which I think ye'll own was a graund idee, only the lassie couldna' juist mak' up her mind which o' us piped the best. So the end of it was we agreed, ma brither Alan an' I, to pipe oor way through England for a year, an' the man wha came back wi' the maist siller should wed the lassie."

  "And a very fair proposal," said I, "but——"

  "Wheest, man! juist here's where we come to the snuff, for, look ye, every time I bought a paper o' snuff I minded me that ma brither Alan, not takkin' it himself, was so much siller tae the gude——an'——oh, man! it used tae grieve me sair——till, one day, I lighted on this bit hoosie."

  "Well?" said I.

  "What, d'ye no see it?"

  "No, indeed," I answered.

  "Eh, man! ma brither Alan doesna' buy the snuff, but he must hae a roof tae shelter him an' a bed tae lie in o' nights, an' pay for it too, ye ken, fourpence, or a bawbee, or a shillin', as the case may be, whiles here I hae baith for the takkin'. An', oh, man! many's the nicht I've slept the sweeter for thinkin' o' that saxpence or shillin' that Alan's apartin' wi' for a bed little better than mine. So, wishfu' tae keep this bit hoosie tae mysel'——seein' 't was haunted as they ca' it——I juist kep' up the illusion on account o' trampers, wanderin' gypsies, an' sic-like dirty tykes. Eh! but 'twas fair graund tae see 'em rinnin' awa' as if the de'il were after them, spierin' back o'er their shoulders, an' a' by reason of a bit squeakie o' the pipes, here. An' so, sir, ye hae it."

  I now proceeded to build and relight the fire, during which the Scot drew a packet of bread and cheese from his sporran, together with a flask which, having uncorked, he held out to me with the one word, "Whuskey!"

  "Thank you, Donald, but I rarely drink anything stronger than ale," said I.

  "Aweel!" said he, "if ye winna', ye winna', an' there's but a wee drappie left, tae be sure." Whereupon, after——two or three generous gulps, he addressed himself to his bread and cheese, and I, following his example, took out the edibles Simon had provided.

  "An' ye're minded tae bide here, ye tell me?" he inquired after a while.

  "Yes," I nodded, "but that need not interfere with you——two can live here as easily as one, and, now that I have had a good look at you, I think we might get along very well together."

  "Sir," said he solemnly, "my race is royal——I am a Stuart——here's a Stuart's hand," and he reached out his hand to me across the hearth with a gesture that was full of a reposeful dignity. Indeed, I never remember to have seen Donald anything but dignified.

  "How do you find life in these parts?" I inquired.

  "Indeefferent, sir——vera indeefferent! Tae be sure, at fairs an' sic-like I've often had as much as ten shillin' in 'ma bonnet at a time; but it's juist the kilties that draw em; they hae no real love for the pipes, whateffer! A rantin' reel pleases 'em well eneugh, but eh! they hae no hankerin' for the gude music."

  "That is a question open to argument, Donald," said I; "can any one play real music on a bagpipe, think you?"

  "Sir," returned the Scot, setting down the empty flask and frowning darkly at the fire, "the pipes is the king of a' instruments, 'tis the sweetest, the truest, the oldest, whateffer!"

  "True, it is very old," said I thoughtfully; "it was known, I believe, to the Greeks, and we find mention of it in the Latin as 'tibia utricularia;' Suetonius tells us that Nero promised to appear publicly as a bagpiper. Then, too, Chaucer's Miller played a bagpipe, and Shakespeare frequently mentions the 'drone of a Lincolnshire Bagpipe.' Yes, it is certainly a very old, and, I think, a very barbarous instrument."

  "Hoot toot! the man talks like a muckle fule," said Donald, nodding to the fire.

  "For instance," I continued, "there can be no comparison between a bagpipe and a——fiddle, say."

  "A fiddle!" exclaimed Donald in accents of withering scorn, and still addressing the fire. "Ye can juist tell him tae gang tae the de'il wi' his fiddle."

  "Music is, I take it, the expression of one's mood or thought, a dream translated into sound," said I thoughtfully, "therefore——"

  "Hae ye ever heard the pipes?"

  "Why, yes, but long ago."

  "Then," said Donald, "ye shall juist hear 'em again." So saying, he wiped his mouth, took up his instrument, and began slowly inflating it.

  Then, all at once, from drones and chanter there rushed forth such a flood of melody as seemed to sweep me away upon its tide.

  First I seemed to hear a roar of wind through desolate glens, a moan of trees, and a rush of sounding waters; yet softly, softly there rises above the flood of sound a little rippling melody which comes, and goes, and comes again, growing ever sweeter with repetition. And now the roar of wind is changed to the swing of marching feet, the tread of a mighty host whose step is strong and free; and lo! they are singing, as they march, and the song is bold and wild, wild, wild. Again and again, beneath the song, beneath the rhythm of marching feet, the melody rises, very sweet but infinitely sad, like a silver pipe or an angel's voice tremulous with tears. Once again the theme changes, and it is battle, and death, sudden, and sharp; there is the rush and shock of charging ranks, and the surge and tumult of conflict, above whose thunder, loud and clear and shrill, like some battle-cry, the melody swells, one moment triumphant, and the next lost again.

  But the thunder rolls away, distant and more distant——the day is lost, and won; but, sudden and clear, the melody rings out once more, fuller now, richer, and complete; the silver pipe has become a golden trumpet. And yet, what sorrow, what anguish unspeakable rings through it, the weeping and wailing of a nation! So the melody sinks slowly, to die away in one long-drawn, minor note, and Donald is looking across at me with his grave smile, and I will admit both his face and figure are sadly blurred.

  "Donald," said I, after a little, "Donald, I will never speak against the pipes again; they are indeed the king of all instruments——played as you play them."

  "Ou ay, I'm a bonnie piper, I'll no deny it!" he answered. "I'm glad ye like it, for, Sassenach though ye be, it proves ye hae the music. 'Tis a bit pibroch I made tae Wullie Wallace——him as the damned Sassenach murtiered——black be their fa'. Aweel! 'twas done afore your time or mine——so——gude-nict tae ye, Southeron!" Saying which, he rose, saluted me stiffly, and stalked majestically to bed.

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