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and she, on her part, had brought her mind to bear upon the fact that she still held Flora's letter open in her hand, and was now folding it up and putting it into its place with a care which drew down upon her a fresh shower of laughing and teazing from the boy.
“ Is he a laird or a lord? or, may be, an airle?" suggested Jock, grinning—most diabolically, Alice thought, as she tried to get rid of him.-" The lassockquean in the ballant was married on the bonnie
young Airle o' Aboyne — an' mairover had a canny little babie
“Behave yourself, Jock! or I shall tell your mother," said Alice, quite aware however of the futility of the threat. “I am on my way to Lady Libberton's, and cannot stay a minute."
“ It will be the airle then,” said Jock, with an air of profound conviction, " for ye are grown as cauld and crouse as pride can make ye, and havena a word to throw to a tyke, Madam Alice. My mither breaks her heart for ye—it's a gey tough ane too—and Neil ! Neil's just deein' wi' love. Eh, Alice ! Heaven forgie ye! ye hae muckle to answer for !"
"Oh, Jock! do let me away!" said Alice, with a vexed laugh at the boy's solemn absurdity, and perhaps a ridiculous consciousness of having been the object of some undeveloped machinations on the part of Neil's shrewd mother. "I'll come and see them all another day."
They'll be dead before ye can win back,” replied Jock, gripping her tighter than ever; “ my brither
Neil is nae mair than a ghaist wi' dwining—the sort that's a' banes. Whiles he flits round about like a bogleman' whiles he granes and sighs, sitting in the ingle neuk like a pelican in the wilderness—and whiles he gangs saftly like ane that mourneth for his mother, as auld King Davie says in the Psawms. I havena seen ashes on his head yet; but I doubtna he wad strew them there if they could get leave to stayforby that his grey sark is no that unlike sack-cloth. It's just awfu'.”
“Oh, Jock, you false wicked boy! when you ken that in six weeks your brother is to marry Eppie Fleming,” said Alice, trying to look angry.
Eppie Fleming is but a cutty-quean compared to you, Elsie, and if I had a jo— but I havena yet-I would take you, and never anither lassie in Edinburgh."
“Many thanks !--now, perhaps, you will let me go?"
“Bide a wee till I speak to ye, woman! Winna ye come and see the gathering? There's routh o' fine company."
“ That is nothing uncommon, is it?” said Alice.
" It is and it isna; this is something by ordinar, ye ken.”
"Eh, eh! I hear what I hear, and I see what I see. A’ they gentles and cavaliers are no sittin' wi' closed doors, neither eatin' nor drinkin', nor playing at dice, and cards, and shovelboard, for naething. And there's folk here the night that's no used to come for pleasure.”
“What for are they come then, and of whom speak
ye, Jock?” asked Alice, not attempting to leave him, although in the boy's eagerness to impress upon her the magnitude of his own discoveries he had released her, and was standing with his forefinger on his nose, looking inimitably sagacious and discreet.
“ There's wark brewing for the Whig bodies, or my name's no Jock-hard wark and het brose. There's mair than thretty o' the gret folk, young an' auld, in the muckle oak room--talk, talk, talk, and jaw, jaw, jaw_ilka man wi' rapier and pistols, and dark brow and wild e'en, as if they were met for a council o' war, sic as my daddy, puir creature! has telled me o'.”
“You have been spying, Jock! how dared you?” said Alice, reproachfully.
“ Hoots, woman! what's a man's e'en and his lugs gi'en him for, if it isna to speir after ilka thing that comes in his gate? It'll be a sorry day and an unco' ane when Jock shuts his. The mither flytes at me, and screighs like a night-owl because I'm aye on the tramp, and winna bide at hame, and rin and serve like Neil; by token, I was just now sitting my lane up in a mirk little tod's hole under the stair, and I only stole awa' doun to get a keek at the new comers' horses. I'm looking out for my Lord Dundee's, he has
aye the grandest beasts in Edinburgh.” “ Is he not here?” said Alice, with a beating heart.
Na, but he'll be coming anon, for I heard Maister Patrick Johnstone (that's his ain serving man) tell my mither sae half an hour syne. Aweel, Alice, I was saying how I sat up in a bit closet under the stair, there's a vizzy-hole intillt, nae bigger than my hand,
that's ower the muckle clock-and whenever ye keek thro’ it ye can see ilka nook and corner o' the oak room, and hear something forbye. It maun ha' been made for a hiding place in the ill times, I'm thinking; and there's naebody kens the gate of it but me. The auld mither's gleg e'en havena found that yet, and mony's the time I hae lain there, and laughed till the tears ran ower my cheeks at the braw sights I could see below, while mammy rampaged up and doun the stair, crying upon me frae rooftree to cellar-Hark till her, noo!"
In point of fact an irate female voice had several times become disagreeably prominent through the combined sounds of the street noises and Jock's voluble chatter; it now ascended more imperative than ever from some lower region.
"Jock, ye deevil ! come ben instanter ! div'ye hear?”
- Na, mither!" replied Jock, at the top of his voice, b6 I dinna !”
"Come ben, I tell ye!"
- Come and fetch me!” shouted the incorrigible Jock, laughing all the louder at Alice's mild remonstrances on his impertinence.
“ Fetch ye, ay! wait till I fetch ye! I'll learn ye to be daidlin' aboot-leaving me and Neil to destroy wersels wi' labour, and you never doing a hand's turn, but aye glaikering an' sniggling wi' limmer lasses at
auld mither's vera door-stane, ye precocious cheat the wuddie!"
This objurgatory oration, originally commenced in some basement story, the entrance to which was ob
scured by the growing dusk (although it was still quite light without), was continued upon the ascent, concluded in the entry, and neatly finished off by the enraged rhetorician twisting one hand in Jock's collar, and administering with the other a succession of cuffs, of which the concluding one or finale sent that impenitent delinquent staggering against the wall. “ Take yersel aff! trot! march ! awa' wi’ ye
doun the stair, and dinna let me come to speech o'ye again the night or I'll gar ye howl for it!”
“ The deil's in ye, mither!" remonstrated the culprit, hastily shielding his head with his elbow from the descent of another annihilating attack.
66 Ye're no that ceevil!
didna see Elsie Scott whenever ye spake o'limmer lassies !”
The buxom hostess, who had hitherto been so intent upon
the chastisement of her vagrant offspring as to have bestowed no consideration upon the innocent occasion of his offence, being thus recalled to a sense of social propriety, stared round in great
“ Mistress Alice! my certie, lassie, I'm surprised to see ye! I've no clapped e'en on ye since Yule-tide! Eh, dearie, I beg your pardon, I'm sure!” And the good-natured woman kissed her heartily.
“I wadna ha’ skelpit him that gate if I had minded to look wha ye were; but ou, he's a vex! I canna live in peace the day, nor sleep in my bed nights, for his wild ways, and his rampaging and stravaguing aboot wi' rapscallions and blackguards, never lifting sae muckle as a finger to do a stroke;