‘Lord Tam’s Wife: A Penicuik Story’ by James L. Black (18 July, 1891)

This story by James L. Black of 35 Concrete Buildings, Penicuik, netted a prize of one guinea by winning ‘The People’s Journal’ local story competition.

“Man, Andrew, you that’s been born and brocht up here aboot, can ye gie me the richt meaning o’ the saying ‘As braw as Lord Tam’s wife?’”

“Ay, brawly that, she wis a great lady, heiress o’ hundreds and thousands, and guidness kens what a’ besides. My faither wis at Howgate Schule wi’ Lord Tam, and mony a time I’ve heard the auld folk tell the story.”

“But whaur did she come frae, and whaur did she get the siller?”

“Hooly, hooly, Jamie, ca’ cannie and I’ll gie ye the haill shots o’t.” Andrew then told the story as follows:—

Ye maun understand Lord Tam’s faither farmed Wast Haugh ower in the muirs there. The place is doon noo, but ye can see some o’ the ruins and the auld hedge that grew roond the steadin’, but the land is divided. Some gangs with Kingside Edge Farm and some to Fa’ Hills; but in Lord Tam’s time they keepit a fell guid stock o’ beast and a pair o’ horse.

Weel, Eppie Paton, Lord Tam’s mither, ye ken, wis as grippie a woman as ye wid hae met wi’ in a day’s journey, slaving and toiling frae morning tae night, keeping puir auld Rob and the callant working three men’s work onywey. And even in the haytime and harvest time when the diel’s buckie o’ a crater wid hae breeked her coats and wrocht wi’ the scythe or forked and bund [?] till she wis hardly able to gang aff the field.

And what wis a’ this for, think ye, but to mak’ their muckle sumph o’ a son a gentleman. “Tam,” for he wisnae ca’ed “Lord” at this time, wis kept at the schule till he was man muckle, and then sent into the toon to be a clerk. Hech, howie, afore the twelve months were oot he wis hame tae Wast Haugh again. Effie said his health couldnae staund the confinement; but a’body kent Tam wis hame because Tam wis nae use awa’ frae hame. And dae ye think he wis noo putten atween the stilts o’ a ploo and gaured work for his brose? Na, na; my fine gentleman walked aboot as croose as ye like wi’ his braw toon’s claes, and Effie and Rob worked harder than ever.

But noo I’m gaun to tell ye aboot Lord Tam’s wife. He wisnae lang hame frae Edinburgh when Eppie turned no weel, and Rob had to hire a servant; but deil a ane wid bide ower a week or sae—they couldnae stand Eppie’s tongue. Hooever, at the back end o’ hairst Rob managed to engage a lassie wha had been working at Auchindenny Mill, and for a while things got on better. Nelly Baxter they ca’ed the cummer; and my certy she wis a game yin—never tired, but aye workin’ and workin’, till even Eppie wis in love wi’ her and took the lassie into her confidence, telling her a’ the grand things she was gaun to dae for Tam, and hoo rich he wid be, and hoo clever he wis, and it wis Tam this, and Tam that. Weel, Nelly sune saw hoo the land lay, and got into the crack o’ the whip, and began to sing Tam’s praises as loud as Eppie hersel’.

This gaed on for awhile, and then the lassie began to get letters, big letters in blue envelopes, and sealed wi’ wax. Aye when she read them she lauched and looked unco weel pleased, but never said a cheep o’ what the letters were aboot; but baith Eppie and Rob noticed she wis as cheerie as a cricket after getting ane o’ the big letters. Weel this gaed on till Eppie was fair deein’ wi’ curiosity to ken a’ aboot it, so ae day she sends the lassie into Penicuik, and ransacks her kist, gets the letters and reads them. When Nelly cam’ back she never kent what had been dune, but Eppie and her son had a long confab that nicht, and after that Tam began to mak’ love to Nelly.

“Dod, Nelly,” he wid say, “ye’re a bonnie lassie, ye’re faur ower fine to be a servant.”

Then the lassie wid lauch, but peyed nae attention till him, and the mair Tam pressed her the mair she keepit him aff, till he cam’ oot wi’ the words—

“Nelly, woman, I want ye for my wife.”

“Yer wife, Tam? Ye’re surely fey. What wid the mistress say if she heard ye. Na, na, ye maunnae haver that wey.”

But efter Nelly had haen a crack wi’ Eppie, the lassie wis mair plausible wi’ Tam, an’ gaed to the kirk wi’ him and his mither, and the twa couldna mak’ enough fraca’ aboot the lassie afore folk, so when Nelly got anither letter Eppie gaured Tam settle the marriage richt aff loof, and the twa were cried three times and married on the Monday. Eppie gied Tam as muckle siller as he could spend, and the twa set aff to see a’ her friends aboot Galashiels and round that quarter, but they were hardly oot the door when Eppie began to let the cat oot o’ the bag, and tellt first the minister and them that were at the denner “that Tam had got a braw wife, nae less than an heiress o’ ninety thoosand pounds, besides a big sugar plantation, wi’ hundreds o’ servants.” Of course, the news sune spread, and I can tell ye there wis a wheen o’ oor young farmers like to bite their fingers for letting sic a chance slip them, and, man, it wis astonishing what a wonderful lassie Nelly Baxter turned oot to be when the news spread she was heir to sic a lot o’ money. This ane wid be sayin’—” Weel, I aye thocht yon lassie was cut oot for something better,” or “It was easy seen yon wisna a common body,” and so on the clash gaed, while some wid be misca’in Eppie for the “sleekit wey she had got roond the lassie,” for naebody that kent Tam ever gae him credit for as muckle gumption. Weel, on the Saturday following the wedding, the twa cam’ hame to Wast Haugh. Tam was gie hum-drum looking, but Nelly was as cheerie as fou o’ deevilment as an egg’s fou o’ meat.

Eppie took the first chance to draw Tam hoo he had come on, and what Nelly had said to him aboot the siller.

“Weel, mither, a’ she said to me aboot the siller efter we pairted wi’ ye wis to speir hoo muckle siller I had, and when I telt her she said I wid better let her keep it, as men jist spent richt and left, and women should aye hae the spendin’ o’t, as they kent best what to dae wi’ it. Men wid jist fill and fetch mair, and scatter the bawbees like hayseed.”

“Eh, Tam, did she say that?”

“Ay did she, and a hantle sicht mair. I’m thinking if we thocht Nelly wis a simple ane we’ve made a mistake. She’ll hae her ain way, come what will,” and the muckle sumph wis near greetin’ to his mither when he wis tellin’ her.

“Hoots, Tam, nae fear, ye’ll be a’ richt yet, and her takin’ charge o’ the siller shows she’s some sense.”

Weel, they a’ turned oot on Sabbath to the kirk, and I daursay Howgate Kirk was never as thrang since it was a kirk. A’body cam’ for miles aroond to see Tam Paton’s braw wife. They expected to see the twa drive up in a carriage and four onywey; but behold the Wast Haugh folk cam’ on fit as usual. Eppie saw the folk, and kent fine what they were looking for, but she just lauched to hersel’, thinking what a surprise the folk wad get when Nelly liked.

Well, Monday cam’, and Nelly was up first as usual, and then the collieshangie began. She roused Tam, and ordered him to turn oot to the stable and gie the laddie a hand. Eppie heard the ongauns, and cam’ slippin’ ben wi’ her coatie on.

“What’s wrang, Nelly?”

“What’s wrang? There’s naething wrang; but Tam has got a wife noo, and it’s no to be thocht that his faither and mither are gaun to work for him a’ his days. Na, na; he’s sat ower lang in the breechin.”

“But Nelly, what’s the use o’ either him or you working when ye hae sae muckle siller?”

“Muckle siller? Ye crack aboot the twa three hunder pounds ye’ve raked thegither as if it wis a fortune, and hoo lang wid it lest? My certy, aye takin’ oot o’ the meal poke and never pittin’ in ill sune bring yer haund to the bottom o’ it.”

“Very true, Nelly, ye’re quite richt; but ye ken ye’ve plenty.”

“Me? Whaur dae I hae ony except my sma’ wages.”

“Hoots, Nelly; and you heir to ninety thousand and a sugar plantation and a’ the grand servants; ye maun tak’ up a higher position for yer man than let him work wi’ the common folk on a farm.”

“Ninety thousand? Sugar plantation? Grand servants? Oh! Mrs Paton, this is awfu’. When did ye see Bob?”

“What Bob?”

“Jist my daft cousin Bob, that’s a clerk in some office in Edinburgh and sends his sister May and me grand letters oot o’ his ain heid, the daft fule.”

“Dae ye mean to say it’s a lee?”

“I mean to say it’s jist nonsense, a’ oot o’ Bob’s ain head. What did he say to you?”

“I never saw him.”

“Then hoo did ye ken, for I never spoke aboot sic fulishness to onybody?”

“I read the letters!”

“What! Ye broke open my kist!” and Nelly pretended to be awfu’ angry, and puir Eppie wis fairly crushed up, and yet she could hardly believe but what Nelly was jist trying her. But Nelly sune pit her richt awa to her bed again. “I’ll manage the kye mysel’. Dinna let Tam’s faither rise yet, it’s time you twa were getting mair rest, and it’s time Tam wis daeing his share.”

“Oh, is’t true, can it be true, that my puir laddie maun jist hing at the ploo’s tail a’ his days?”

“Weel, yer laddie wis for nae use a’ his days for the wey ye spoiled him, but he is my man noo, and he’ll hae to turn oot different claith or he’ll ken aboot it.”

“Ye’ve cheated him, ye’ve cheated him,” cried Eppie, fair mad, “the marriage ‘ll no staund. It’s a’ on false pretences. I’ll hae it a’ broken up.”

“Eppie Paton,” said Nelly, “jist let us settle this and be dune wi’t. Wha cheated him? Wis it me? Did I no refuse him ower and ower again, and baith him and you prigged on me to tak’ him.”

“Aye, but the siller wis a’ a lee,” burst oot Effie, ready to tear Nelly’s hair.

“And wha tellt the lees? I never spoke aboot it, and if ye had dune what was richt, neither you nor Tam wid hae kent onything aboot my cousin’s blethers. But noo the thing’s done, and if I hear a word aboot it, either frae you or Tam, I’ll ha’e the law o’ ye, so that the folk’ll ken wha wis in the wrang.”

Man, the lassie fairly bowled Eppie oot. Of course, there wis a fine lauch at the time, for Eppie, efter she had tellt the minister and the waddin’ folk aboot the grand rich wife Tam had gotten, began to engage servants richt and left. Some were to be gamekeepers, some coachmen; and, man, even the coachbuilders and saddlers were oot at Wast Haugh trying to get orders, and I suppose some of them did get a promise, but efter a woe folk began to think that Tam had got a braw wife efter a’.

Nelly managed sae weel, and wis that saving and held Tam at his work that when the lease o’ Wast Haugh was oot they were able to tak’ a bigger farm. Eppie lived long enough to see Tam driving in his ain gig to the market, but among the farmers the ninety thousand wi a sugar plantation and grand servants wis never for gotten, and Tam wis ca’ed “Lord Tam” as lang as he lived; but a’body agreed he had got a braw wife, and the saying “Like Lord Tam’s braw wife” means the thing may do, but no the wey it’s intended.

“And dae ye think Nelly laid her plans to catch Tam?” asked Jamie.

“Weel, there’s nae doot aboot that; but, man, she wis a game yin, and wrocht her pirn sae weel that no ane could point the finger till her; and mind ye she wis clever, and wis a better match for Tam than ony ither yin he could hae gotten. She made a man o’ him, although jist no the wey he wis expecting; so if Tam did nae get a braw wife, Nelly sune made Tam a guid man.”

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