SMIDDY AT THE SIX ROAD ENDS
"Sworn helpers of the patriot band,
Who fight for home and fatherland,
Behold the brawny blacksmith's strike
With heavy, swift, and ringing blows,
As fierce the smiddy fire glows,
And fashion out the deadly pike." - LYTTLE.
SIX ROADS unite in the
townland of Granshaw, in the County of Down, at a point some two and a half
miles from Bangor, three miles from Donaghadee, and a like distance from
Newtownards. The place is commonly known as "The Six-Road-Ends." Within a few
hundred yards stands the palatial residence of Mr. James Knox, erected about
the year 1880, and the country around is dotted with the comfortable but
unpretentious homesteads of the industrious and thrifty farming population.
The County Down Railway passed close to the spot, having a stopping place
quite adjacent to it, called Groomsport Station. Beside it there are also a
Presbyterian Church and a Post Office.
Very few of the numerous persons who daily pass to and fro in the
vicinity of the Six Road Ends are aware that in this quiet, peaceful, and
picturesque neighbourhood, there once lived some of the bravest of the
unfortunates of 1798, and that within a stone's cast of the junction of
these roads stands the house in which was born the devoted, beautiful, and
noble-hearted Betsy Gray, who headed the patriots at the Battle of
Ballynahinch, whose beauty and bravery have been sung of by poets, whose
chivalry has been recorded by historians, and whose memory is revered by
countless thousands of the Irish people, irrespective of prejudice,
politics. or religion.*
During the stirring events now to be related, and for many years prior
thereto, there stood close to the Six Road Ends a cottier house and smiddy
occupied by a blacksmith named Mat McClenaghan. The house and smiddy have
long since disappeared, but the site upon which they stood is easily pointed
out - a small field at the end of the Bangor Road, the property of Major
Maxwell, and now occupied by a carpenter named Fletcher, and separated from
the road by a low stone wall.
Mat McClenaghan was a decent, honest, hard-working fellow, who had buried
two wives and married a third. He was a prime favourite with his neighbours,
could shoe a horse, make a harrow pin, or mend a plough with any man; nor
did his hard work debar him from joining in every local festivity, be it
wedding or funeral, dance or wake - for in those days there was pretty
nearly as much fun to be had at one of these occurrences as at the other. It
was whispered that Mat was a United Irishman, and that his smiddy turned out
more pikes than harrow pins; but Mat was a cautious fellow, and though, as
he shod a neighbour's horse, he could rattle off the gossip of the country
for miles around, he was particularly reticent when chaffed by some people
about the pikes, or when asked his opinion about the much talked of
One dark night in October, 1797, when the country people for miles around
were wrapt in slumber, Mat's smiddy was the scene of life and bustle. The
fire in his rude forge burned brightly, and. as a sturdy lad worked the huge
bellows, a fierce flame shot upwand, revealing the sinewy arms and grimy
face of Mat as he worked by his anvil, and lighting up the black sooty walls
of the interior of the building, The lurid glare of the forge fire also
discovered the presence of a visitor. Seated upon a large stone that lay
upon the damp floor, and against the wall, sat a young man dressed in the
plain working attire of a farmer. His face, as seen by the light of the smiddy fire, was singularly bold and handsome. He was of stout build, broad
shouldered, and of middle height. He wore a soft fell hat, beneath which his
long hair, of a soft brown colour, had the appearance of being neatly
trimmed and well cared for. The visitor was George Gray. Now and then he
would remove his hat, and., turning it round and round slowly between his
hands, gaze into it attentively as though reading something hidden therein;
anon his eyes would follow the movements of Mat as, drawing a piece of red
hot metal from the fire, he placed it upon his anvil, beating it out into a
flat pointed blade, some twelve inches long, and plunged it with a hissing
noise into a bucket of water that stood by his side. Mat was forging pikes.
And the work seemed a pleasant one to him, for as he held the glowing metal
in a pair of tongs by one hand and wielded his hammer with the other, a
cloud of sparks leaping upwards and big drops of sweat rolling down his face
- Mat sang away as merrily as though they were at a christening party or
wedding festivity. High above the rude music of the anvil, and the roar of
the furnace fire, was the rich bass voice of Mat McClenaghan as he carolled
forth a favourite song of the period.
As Mat finished his song he swung the ponderous hammer round his head
with a flourish, and flung it into a corner. Then turning to Gray he said
"What's the metter, Geordie? Why, there's no a word oot o' yer heid the
George smiled sadly as he answered, "I do feel a bit dull, Mat, but I'll
be all right in the morning."
"Keep up yer heart, my boy," said Mat cheerily, as he slapped George on
the back with his grimy hand, "the darkest hooer's aye afore daybrek, an'
whun' we fin' the blackbird-eh, Geordie?"
"Ay, Mat, when we find it."
Mat held up his finger and shook it reprovingly.
"Dinnae be throwin' a wat blanket on me Geordie, acause if a didnae
believe that everything wad gang right, deil tak the pike I wad mak mair."
"Well, you have made a good many, Mat," remarked George.
"Ay, ye may weel say that, if a man that a cud name seen what's hid in The
Moat' he wall tell a gie story in a certain place."
"Whom do you mean, Mat'?"
"Wha dae a mean? A'll tell ye that." He paused and looked at the bellows-lad
who stood with gaping mouth drinking in every word. Then stepping up to
Gray's side he whispered a name in his ear.
It was the name of a suspected spy, whose doings will be disclosed in this
"It's joking you are, Mat!" he exclaimed.
Mat turned to his assistant, saying - "Ye may gang awa tae yer bed, my boy;
we'll dae nae mair the nicht."
As he spoke, Mat went to the smiddy door, and took down a stout iron
cross bar which had held it fast. Then he cautiously stepped outside and
listened. It was too dark for him to see a single object, and not a sound
was heard save the sighing of the wintry wind as it swept through the
leafless branches of some bushes that grew near Mat's dwelling. He stepped
back into the smiddy, and at a sign front him the boy slipped out. Mat
closed the door, replaced the bar, and sat down upon his anvil, facing
The latter was the first to speak. "What. makes you think What you told
me just. now?" he asked.
"It's mebbe mair a noshin o' my ain nor ocht else," replied Mat. "He cums
oot an' in here, axin questins in a saft kin o' a wae, but a turn on him
quick sumtimes, whun he disnae expect me, like; an' if ye seen his e'en
then, ye wud sweer there wuz murder in his heart."
"He's a man whom I would not have suspected," said George, "but I shall
watch him in future. I say, Mat, my sister Betsy has asked a few friends for
tea next Wednesday evening, and she wants you to join us."
"Wi' a' my heart!" exclaimed Mat. "Didn't the dear lady promise tae be at
the krisnin' o' my wee boy the morrow night; ah! Mester Geordie, a wud lay
doon my life fur that bonnie sister o' yours. Tell her a'll be there. Wull a
tak the fiddle we' me?"
"Better not, Mat; it wont be a jolly tea party. Mr. Warwick will be over
to give us full particulars about poor William Orr, of Antrim."
The blacksmith clenched his huge fists. 'the fire had almost died out,
but the light emitted from a large, dirty looking tallow candle that burned
in an iron sconce driven into the wall, served to show the workings of Mat's
"Purr fella!" he groaned; "little did he deserve it. But he's in Hevin
this night, an' them that murdered him'll gang tae-."
"Hush!" whispered George, holding up his hand, "I hear a step." The next
moment there was a loud thump, as from a man's fist, upon the door.
"Wha's that?" demanded Mat.
"A friend - James Dillon," was answered from without.
Mat darted a look of full meaning at George Gray. The name which he had
whispered in George's ear was - "Jamey Dillon o' Drumawhey."
Mat removed the iron bar, and opened the door. A man buttoned up in a
huge frieze overcoat stepped into the smiddy.
* Numerous writers have erroneously stated that Betsy Gray was a
Killinchy lass, and a well-known poet, who penned some charming verses
concerning this heroine, fell into the same error. He says:
"If through Killinchy's woods and vales
You searched a summer day,
The loveliest maiden to be found
Was bonnie Betsy Gray."
The writer of this story has traced the birth-place of Betsy Gray, and
visited the house in which she lived. It stands within about two hundred
yards of the mansion recently erected by Mr. James Knox, at Granshaw,
Bangor, and is, at the period of writing, occupied by Mr. Hans Gray
Macartney, a farmer, aged 60 years, whose mother was a cousin of Betsy's.
"Aye free, aff ham' yer story tell
When wi' a boson crony;
But still keep something tae yersel'
Ye winnae tell tae ony!" - Burns
DURING the brief moment which elapsed between the knock at the smiddy door
and the opening of it by Mat McClenaghan, George Gray had taken the
precaution of spreading an old sack over a. quantity of pike heads that lay
on the floor, where they had been thrown one by one as fashioned out at
The midnight visitor, dimly visible in the unsteady flare of the big
tallow candle, was not prepossessing in appearance. He was a tall, thin man;
with hair, whiskers, and bushy eyebrows of a "sandy" or reddish colour. His
visage was long, his nose broad, flat, and w ide-nostrilled; his lips thick
and slightly protruding. His face, taken as a whole, while not absolutely
ugly, had something repulsive about it, and the quick, ferret-like movements
of his small grey watery eyes, as they goggled about beneath his shaggy
beetling eyebrows, caused a feeling of unaccountable distrust or
apprehension in the minds of most people with whom he associated.
As Dillon entered the smiddy he looked keenly at Mat, and remarked drily
"You are late at work to-night, Mat."
"That's naethin' new," was the quick reply; "a hadnae as thrang a saison
this mony a year; an' forbye that, a maun hae a' red up afore the krisnin,
fur a daur say a'll have a wheen days idle set efter that."
Dillon darted a rapid glance around the smiddy, and, seeing George Gray
standing against the wall, saluted him.
"Ah, Mr. Gray," lie said cordially, "is this where you are?" "Yes,"
answered George; "Mat has a job on hands for me, and if I don't get it
finished before this famous christening comes off, I needn't expect it
sooner than Christmas. Like yourself, Mr. Dillon, I was out late, and
hearing the sound of Mat's anvil I stepped in to see how he was
"Ay, Geordie," he said, "you an' sum ither boys that a cud name it oot
late gie and affen. A ken what yer efter. That curlyheided lass at the
Cottown wull lead ye a dance sum day. Man but t'e'll mak the purty pair.
Mister Dillon, isn't it weel fur you an' me that haes oor coortin' days ower?"
"I suppose it is." answered Dillon; "but, Mat, you have had somewhat more
than your share of courting."
"Am no badly aff," laughed Mat; "this wife's the third yin, an' a might
hae twa or three mair afore a dee."
Dillon turned to George Gray, and said
"You have heard the news confirmed about Orr, of Antrim?" "I have,"
replied George, in a grave voice; "he was a worthy man, and has been
"Executed!" exclaimed Mat, as he tugged at the strings of his leather
apron to loose them, "murdered, ye mean!"
Dillon gave a low whistle.
"Strong language, Mat," he said; "you are a rash man, and that tongue of
yours will get you into trouble some day. Take care, Mat, take care!"
"A cannae help speekin' what a think," was the surly answer.
"It's cummin' moo that nae man's life wull be safe at the han's o' his
nixt daur neibor."
"I hope it will never come to that," put in George.
"I trust not," said Dillon; "but take my word for it, we live in stirring
times, and before we are much older the hangman's office will be a paying
"Heaven help the oppressed, Mr. Dillon," he said; "this old country of ours
would be the happiest, the brightest, and the most contented spot in all
God's universe, if our rulers would but do her just and treat her fairly."
"An' ye'll niver get jistis till ye fecht fur it wi' pike an' gun," cried
the impetuous and hot-headed blacksmith.
George threw him a warning look.
"And in my opinion," said Dillon, "the pike and gun will only serve to
make matters worse than they are. Agitate and petition as you will, but if
you rise up in armed rebellion you will find it to be a black day for
"An' a bluidy yin," laughed Mat, nothing daunted. "Yes and a bloody one,"
George Gray evidently did not relish the turn which the conversation had
taken. He made a motion as though about to leave, and addressing Mat, said
"I'll be over at the christening in good time, Mat."
"I had quite forgotten that affair," said Dillon; "when does it come
"The morrow nicht," replied Mat.
"I suppose you'll have a big gathering," said Dillon.
"The hoose disnae haud mony folk, but it wull be gic an' fu' ye may be
shair," was Mat's answer.
"I don't think you sent me an invitation," said Dillon, in a bantering
A frown gathered on Mat's grimy face; it was momentary. however, and
escaped Dillon's eye. Then he said, with a strong effort to appear cordial
"Weel, Mester, a dinnae ken hoo a cud forget you. Come wi' the rest o'
the fowk an' mak yersel' welkim."
"Thank you, Mat," said Dillon; "who will be the clergyman'?"
"His reverince Mister Steele Dickson" was the quick. reply.
"Steele Dickson" exclaimed Dillon, with a look of astonishment; "what on
earth do you bring him to baptise your child for'?"
"Acause a like him," said Mat.
"But he is not your minister; you go to the Rev. James McCullough, of
Newtownards; and look at the distance you bring Mr. Dickson - from
Portaferry all the way."
"A had a sittin' frae him whim he preeched in Ballyhalbert," said Mat,
"an a niver likit ony meinister sae well. He krisined a' my waens."
Dillon gave a short, dry cough, and fixed his ferret eyes sharply on
Mat's face. There was a moment's silence, and then Dillon said "I confess I
don't admire your choice."
"He's a cliver man," said Mat sharply.
"He is," said Dillon, "and he's more than that. People say he's a rebel
and a Papist at heart!"
Mat fired up, heedless of the warning looks of George Gray. "A Papist!"
he shouted; "that's aye the cry. A wush a wuz as guid as sum of them; it wud
be tellin' me. A dinnae care a thraneen what a man's religion is sae as he
is honest an' his heart in the richt place. A suppoas sum fowk wud only let
Presbyterians intil Heaven.
" Mat was fast getting angry, and George Gray was growing decidedly
uneasy. Dillon alone seemed happy and at ease. He appeared determined to
follow up the subject, as he said -
"Mat, you're a shrewd, sensible fellow: you have heard Dickson preach;
you have heard his speeches, and you know the sort of man he is. He took the
United Irishman's oath seven years ago; some people say that he's a rebel,
and that hanging is too good for him." At this juncture George Gray
"Mr. Dillon," he said, "the hour is late and we should alt be in our
beds. Discussions of this kind are unpleasant and your remarks are evidently
displeasing to Mat's kindly nature."
"I am sorry if I have said a word to offend you, Mat," said Dillon, with
an assumed frankness.
"Oh, it's a' richt," said Mat; "a'm mebbe no as near Heaven as ither fowk,
but a'll aye tak a freen's pert. It's six-an'-twenty year since a first seen
Mister Dickson at Ballyhalbert, an' a niver knowed him tae be ocht else but
a God-fearin' man an' a gentleman."
"Well, well, Mat, I didn't say anything against him."
"Ye did", said Mat fiercely; "ye ca'd him a Papish all' a rebel!"
"No, Mat, you wrong me; I merely remarked that people said so. Am I not
correct, Mr. Gray?"
"I dare say you are," said George drily. "And possibly yon are aware what
gave rise to the rumour on idle gossips' tongues that Mr. Dickson was a
Papist at heart?"
"No, I am not aware", said Dillon.
"Then I'll tell you," said Gray; "the maiden name of the parish priest's
mother was Dickson. That fact furnished a peg sufficiently strong for some
people to hang their hats on."
What more might have followed it is hard to say, had not the candle
burned down close to its iron socket, and now spluttered and flared in its
expiring efforts. Mat opened the door of the smiddy, and the three stepped
out into the cold, moist air. The blacksmith placed the hasp of the door
upon the iron staple which was driven into the door post; then he adjusted
the padlock and turned the key.
"Well, Mat, good-night," said Dillon.
"Good-night," said Mat.
"Good-night, Mr. Dillon."
The next moment Dillon was walking towards his home in Drumawhey. When
his footsteps died in the distance, George said to Mat-
"Be on your guard, Mat; I share your opinions now regarding that man."
"A 'can see as far through a milestone as my neibors," replied
Then they parted; George to revolve in his mind certain plans for the
future, and Mat to kiss the sleeping babe which was to be lionised on the
morrow, and to enjoy the repose which he had earned by his heavy labour. For
him the future had no dread of danger. The land in which he dwelt was about
to be deluged in blood: deeds were on the eve of perpetration the bare
mention of which would appal the stoutest heart. Mat reeked not of these
things; his only concern just now was lest the "krisnin" might not prove the
jolliest one ever held at the Six-Road-Ends. He had done his best to make it
a success, and I shall now invite all my readers to the interesting ceremony
of a County Down christening in the olden time.
Sair, sair ye keep yer mammy back frae daein' mony a turn!
"My ain pet! my honey doo! my troutie o' the burn!
O fond's the look yer daddy tak's, as guiless ye lie there,
Chasin' frae his honest broo mony a dowic care!
Baloo! nay bairnie fa' asleep! O hushy, husky, ba!" - Smith
A HUGE turf fire blazed upon the broad, pleasant hearth of Mat
McClenaghan. Turf was plenty in those days, and the Granshaw moss gave
promise of holding out for centuries to come. Mat's good wife Isabel, or
"Bet" as she was called, was alive to the fact that nothing contributes more
to the cheerful aspect of a home than a bright fire; and so, thrifty and
frugal though she was, she built up the peats with unsparing hand upon the
glowing pile until the atmosphere of the kitchen was like that of a
bakehouse. The earthen floor, smooth, hard and shining, was clean as heather
besom could make it; every article of tinware upon the walls might have
served as a looking glass; the wooden dresser was fresh and white;
everything in the house had the appearance of absolute cleanliness.
A clumsy wooden cradle stood in one corner, near to the fire, and in it
there reposed the youngest of the McClenaghan's. Ever and anon would the
kindly mother pause in her household duties to gaze upon the face of her
little one, and murmur a blessing upon the sleeping infant.
"A'm sayin', Bel, wuz onybuddy tuchin' my razor?"
It was the voice of Mat, strong and sonorous, from the adjoining room,
where he was preparing his outward man for the approaching ceremony.
"Wheest, man, or ye'll wauken up the waen!" was the woman's reply, as
she hurried to the room door.
Mat was in a temper. His face was plentifully lathered with soap; from
one side of his chin the blood was flowing freely, and he held up the razor
so that his wife might examine the condition of its edge.
"Waen, dear, ye hae cut yersel'," she murmured sympathetically. "Cut
mysel'! Weel, a think a hae; mebbe a'll bleed till daith. Get me a cobweb,
Darting her hand under a table, Bel fumbled about the corners of it, and
straightway produced a supply of cobwebs which she deftly clapped upon Mat's
Mat was a good soul, but easily put out of sorts. Some of his young
people had evidently been whittling sticks with his razor - not too good a
one at the best - and he sat down to have a look at it before resuming
"Wull a get ye the strap, dear?" asked his wife.
"Wull ye get the the strap?" echoed Mat, half angrily, Half jestingly; "A
may tak it oat tae the anvil an' pit an edge on it wi' the sledge, an' efter
that mebbe a rub on a scythe-stane micht be usefu' tae it."
While he was talking Bel had drawn a big jar from under the bed. A
twinkle of Mat's eye and a droll twitching of the corners of his mouth
showed that lie understood her intentions fully, but he kept rattling away
until the good woman handed him a tumbler containing a liberal glass of
liquor drawn from the jar.
"What's that'?" demanded Mat, as yet in a very bad humour.
"Jest a wee taste o' what a niver seen ye refusin' yit," replied Bel "Tak
it up, dear; it'll studdy yer han' an' mebbe stap the bleedin'."
Mat needed no pressing. He laid down the offending razor, and look the
tumbler from his wife's hand.
"Here's tae ye, Bel," lie cried, laughingly, and tossed off the whiskey.
"It'll tak a lang time tae owertak the first yin, Mat," said Bel.
"Ay, wuman, ye niver spauk a truer wurd," he answered. "A hae drunk as
muckle whusky as wud fill the big dam."
"Deed, Mat, ye maun quat it," said his wife. -A wud rether see ye bringin'
in a bag o' Inglis's flooer than a jar o' whusky ony day.'
"Blethers, wuman!." laughed Mat; "why, there's mair fun in yin jur o'
whusky than in a kert load o' Inglis's flooer!"
"Thaet may a' be, dear," was Bel's reply; "like iverything else,
whuskey's very guid sae long as ye keep it in its richt place an' dinnae
"An' a'm the very boy kens its richt place, an' pits it intil it,"
laughed Mat. Then, as he held out his tumbler, lie added in a wheedling
"Here, Bel, jest gie me anither, an' then it'll quit."
But the jar had been replaced under the bed, and the frugal housewife was
unwilling to replenish file tumbler.
"Ye hae got eneuch the noo," she urged.
"Just yin mair tae keep the tither company," said Mat, "a'm shair a bird
cannae flee wi' yin wing."
It is needless to say that Bel yielded, as every dutiful wife should, to
her husband's wishes. Mat forgot his bleeding face; a few strokes upon his
hone made the razor all right; his face was soon cleanly shaven; he donned
his Sunday attire, and half-an-Hour later stood at the door of his cottage
ready to bid welcome to his expected guests. Mat had a quick eye and a
far-seeing one. That keen eye of his swept the various roads that branched
off from his dwelling, and as certain human figures came in view, lie turned
to his wife, crying merrily -
"They're cumin,' Bel; here they ir! Is the glesses ready? An the boilin'
water an' the whuskey, and sumthin' saft for the lasses, to wit, that
world-famed beverage, 'Sedna,' prepared by Deans. Logan & Co. Ltd., Belfast.
Oh, powers o' war, but this will be a day an' a nicht! Shair it's mebbe the
last krisnin we'll hae, wuman, so the deil tak expense!"
It was astonishing how many people Mat McClenaghan was able to pack into
that small house of his. Young and old were there, but the latter
predominated. They sat in the kitchen and in the sleeping apartment also, or
"doon the hoose," as it was then and still is termed in County Down. The
guests began to arrive in the early part of the afternoon, but these were
chiefly the elder of the females, who came to give Mrs. McClenagltan a hand
at making the needful preparations, and to attend to the wants and
necessities of the younger people.
Mat was in his glory, and one to see and hear him might have supposed him
to be the owner of broad acres, instead of the poor, hard-working,
hard-fisted blacksmith of the Six-Road-Ends. But in his heart happiness
reigned supreme, and he would not have changed lots with the proudest in the
Close to the blazing turf fire sat Biddy Brown, who filled the dual
office of nurse and midwife for miles around. Her white cap and blue and
white checked apron were spotlessly clean, and her face wore that look of
quiet contentment and grave responsibility so often to be seen with persons
of her profession. On her knee slept the infantile McClenaghan, robed in a
snow-white dress, neatly embroidered, decked out for its baptismal
Mat attended to one duty and that alone. It was the distribution of the
whiskey. Every one had a tumbler either in hand or near at hand, and as Mat
every now and then replenished a jug from the big jar, before referred to,
and went from one to another tendering a fresh supply, it was amusing to
hear the various remarks made to and by his guests.
"Noo, Mistress McCallister," Mat would say, "divil the drap ye hac tuk
frae yer gless since a pit the first hauf yin in it.
"Agh Mat dear, this is twa or three times ye hae helpit me; it is, as
true as daith, an' a maun not tak any mair."
"Launey, launey, Mat clear," another would exclaim, "dinnae offer me ony
mair; that's Cruiskeen Lawn a'm shair, fur a fin' it ill my heid already."
And thus it went round. Some protested, yet, even as they did so, field
out their glasses for a fresh supply; others really meant what they said and
refused to indulge further.
"Agh, Biddy, we manna forget you." exclaimed Mat, as lie approached the
nurse and replenished her glass; "what dae ye think o' that waen, Biddy?"
"A nicer yin niver cuninied intae the wurl," replied Biddy, as she softly
kissed the sleeping baby. "An' may it be a blissin' till its da and ma, an'
a credit tae the auld cuntry."
"Sae be it," responded nearly all present.
"Weel, Biddy, ye oclit tae be a judge," cried the proud parent, "acause ye
liae pit a guid wheen o' them throo yer hall's this last fifty years, an noo
it'll tell ye yin an' a' what a'm gaun tae mak o' that boy ye see there "
What Mat would have said remained unspoken, for at that moment a hand was
laid upon the latch, the door opened, and he who had been chosen to bestow
upon the child its name entered the humble habitation.
Every one rose in respectful silence as the Rev. William Steele Dickson
stepped into the cottage. He was a man of fine physique and commanding
presence: a clergyman whose fame as a preacher and orator had reached the
remotest parts of County Down, and who was beloved for his genial manner,
his high character, and his remarkable benevolence.
"Good evening to you all," he said, as he stepped forward to shake the
hand of Mrs. McClenaghan; and then he had a warm grasp and a kindly word for
Half an hour was passed in general conversation, and then preparations
were made for the christening. Poor Mat was in a condition far from suitable
to the occasion. His frequent applications to 'the brown jug were beginning
to tell upon him. There was a glitter in his eye and an unsteadiness in his
gait which were not in keeping with his position and the duties which he
would be called upon to discharge.
Mr. Dickson read a portion of Scripture and offered up a prayer. Then he
asked to have the child brought forward. At this stage a series of nudges
went round the company, and not a few had difficulty in restraining their
laughter as they noted the tremendous efforts made by Mat to appear sober
and solemn. His condition did not escape the keen, observant eye of the
clergyman, and there was just the faintest sign of twitching about the
corners of his mouth as he lifted the babe, and placing it in the arms of
its father, said -
"Are you able to hold up your child, Matthew?"
"Am a what?" said Mat; "able tae haud it up! Ay, Mister Dickson, that a
em, if it wuz the wecht o' a twa year auld stirk!" This was more than the
assembly could stand; there was a titter of laughter, and then the
merriment, which could not be restrained, burst forth. Even the clergyman
could not refrain from smiling, and it was evident that he had much
difficulty in maintaining the solemnity befitting the occasion.
All went well until Mr. Dickson sprinkled some drops of cold water upon
the face of the sleeping infant. The effect was electrical. The sleeper
awoke instantly and uttered a piercing wail. Mat turned fiercely on Biddy
the nurse, and once more utterly upset the gravity of all present by saying,
in a deep whisper -
"Dang saze ye, Biddy, why didn't ye tak the deid cauld aff the water!"
It was all over at last. Mr. Dickson delivered his charge to the parents,
after the custom of the Church to which he belonged; and, apologising for
his inability to remain and partake of their hospitality, he took his leave
and turned his steps towards the resithere's a meinister in the hoose. Come,
Bel, toss up thee taythings, dence of Betsy Gray.
"God gang wi' ye!" cried Mat, as soon as his reverence was beyond
earshot. "God gang wi' ye! A niver feel richt at mysel whun there's a
meinister in the hoose. Come, Bel, toss up the taythings, an' let us hae
sumthin tae eat."
Bel did as she was desired. A large table, drawn into the centre of the
kitchen, was quickly laden with home-baked bread of various kinds, oat-cake,
potato cake, pancakes, soda-cake, and other manufactures. Cheese, butter,
eggs, and jam were in abundance, and such as could obtain a seat were soon
at work. It was impossible to accommodate all the company at the table, so
many of them were obliged to hold their teacups in their hands, much after
the fashion of a drawing-room tea at the present day.
Many were the subjects touched on in conversation, but chief among them
were the condition of the country and the probability of an early "rising".
"Did ye hear about Jock Smiley bein' feered tae join the United
Irishmen?" asked Mat.
"Na," cried several; "dae tell us a' aboot it."
"Weel, ye ken Jock's no jist a' there," said Mat, putting his finger
significantly to his forehead, "so sumbuddy shewed him a pike yin day an'
tell't him that wuz the waipin the boys wud hae to fecht wi' yin o' these
days. Weel, Jock cummed forrit tae tak the oath, as wuz thocht; but he stud
a wee minit, an' sez he - 'A cannae dae it.' 'Ye cannae dae what?' they
asked him. 'A cannae join ye,' sez Jock, 'fur a hae seen them pikes yer gaun
tae fecht, wi', an' a jag frae yin o' them would be hell'."
There was a shout of laughter at this which drowned the rattling of cups
and the clatter of spoons. But above the din was heard the voice of Mat's
wife, as she exclaimed -
"Haud ye tongues, waens' here's Miss Betsy Gray."