Tae the meenister’s hinmaist ‘Amen’, twa three dizzen bowler hats, wi unco hurry, wis clappit on caulrif heids, some beld as a hen’s egg, some wi a fyeow straiglie wisps o hair, some grizzlet, bit still weel thackit, an some heids, far the trauchles o life hid, as yet, left nae a mark. Syne, kwite collars wis ruggit up roun lugs, for a snell ween wi a smirr o rain in’t wis soughin doon the howe, garrin the aul kirkyaird trees girn, an the murners hodge fae fit tae fit, as they ettled tae get a bit heat in their taes. Fowk wis caul, throu an throu, an fae their kweets doon, lumps o leed hid taen the place o feet. Fit wey hid fowk aye tae be beeriet on a caul day? Wist sae’s the kirkyaird cwid be fullt aa the seener?
Ah weel, the servis wis as by wi noo, an aabody cwid haud awa hame tae a lowin fire, wi mebbe a thochtie o the craitur — for gweed kitchie. Fegs, that nicht accoont for the meenister’s steer tae get hame tae the manse for he didna dauchle tae tak ony een on!
Wi sic thochts, a bittock irreverent ye micht say, Rab Souter o Burnside took his last look intae the grunn far his aul frien o mair gin fifty eer, Jock Donald, noo, late fermer o Bogside, lay streekit in a braw oak kist that, I’se warran, hid cost a bonny penny: ahin im, aa his wordly cares, an afore im, – weel, that wis kept bit tae the Gweed Lord Imsel. A spadfu o caul, clay yird thumpit doon ower the coffin lid. A gravedigger, like Death, is nae respecter o persons, an mebbe ye’d nae be far vrang in thinkin they vrocht haun in haun.
Rab gyaa a shiver. It wis as gin Death’s icy haun hid brushed ower him. He pullt his kwite tichter aboot im, turnt fae the graveside, noddet tae his sin, Sandy, huggerin in the lithe o a tree, that it wis tine tae be makin for hame. In bourachies o twas an threes the murners wis heidin for the gate. Some o the younger chiels wis already skelpin ben the road, nae doot, howpin tae mast Donnie Mac’s afore the pub door wis shut, nae that that wid hae made muckle odds, as Donnie’s back door wis aye open tae a needy customer wi a drooth; auler men took the stey brae wi little baather, bit ithers not a staff an a frienly, comfortin airm as they crochelt tae the ootgang, an some, mair ower in eers hirplet an tchaavt, gey sair commat, an oot o win, aa the time winnerin gin ‘twis wirth the baather o gyaan hame ata. They war geelt tae the been, their legs gey fushionless an eessless, an hame wis afa far awa. Wist wirth aa the tchaave fin mebbe they’d seen be back?
Watchin their aul bodies fechtin the howtherin ween, Rab fun imself kin o playin God in decidin fa he thocht wud be the neist tae gyang his lang road hame. Wud it be Sam Stewart? Sam hid been pyocherin aa throu the servis. Dod, aye, it wis a rail kirkyaird hoast, nae twa doots; or fit aboot Dod Petrie? a peer breathless craitur, fozzlin like a fat kittlin; an of coorse there wis Wull Ritchie, thin as a rake an an awfu yalla colour. He’d been like that for eers tho, an wisna deid yet! It eest tae be said, “The squeakin gate aye hings langest.” Mebbe Wull ‘ill ootlives aa, ye niver ken. Mair taen up wi sic uncharitable thochts than in lookin far he wis pitten his feet, Rab barkit his shins on a fit-iron contraption yarkit intae the grunn an meant, like eneuch, for haudin a vase wi floo’ers, an gaed hyterin up agin a great muckle fite steen advertisin the last dwallin place o the Aul Laird.
As Rab strachent up fae rubbin his scartit shins, his ee lichtet on the nyaakit angels, or fitiver they war, fleein roun about an up an doon the stane wi nae a care in the worl. A wee bit lach curlt roun Rab’s moo as he glowert at the bare doups o the shameless craiturs, winnerin far their warmth cam fae fin his hurdies, that wis weal happit wi hame-wivven wirset drawers, kersey breeks, an a tweed kwite, wis steen caul. Noo, Rab wisna affen gaen tae orra thochts, na, na, nae a bit o’t. Truth tae tell, he wis a gweed livin cowl, niver hid an ill wird tae say aboot ony o his neepors, in fac, he wis jist ower ready tae say nithing fan it cam tae haudin his ain in an argyment:- “Say little, bit, timmer up the thinkin”, wis his philosophy.
Still an on, there wis something silly aboot the angel beins that made ye wint tae lauch, an the wee grin roun Rab’s moo spread ower his face, his een twinkled, an a chuckle o a lauch jist aboot burst fae his thrapple when a vision o Jean, his wife, rose afore his een, her hair kaimed straucht back tae a ticht bun, ferrety blue een eneuch tae gar the bleed geel, a neb tae split hailsteens, an a grippit moo herberin a wheeplash tongue, an, fa ‘twis said, wi nae bit o a lee, wore the breeks at Burnies. Burnside an the Kirkyaird wis twa mile apairt, yet, plain as ye like, in his min’s ee, Rab cwid see Jean, an hear her as she pintet an accusin finger an skirlt, “Rab Souter, I’m black affrontit o ye. Jist ye wyte!”
Nae for mony a lang day hid Rab gotten sic a begeck. He kept, if he pat aff muckle mair time, he’d be deeved aa nicht wi Jean’s speirin, an gin onybody hid the knack o’t, it wis Jean. She’d speir the hin legs aff a donkey an syne speir at the beastie far it tint them. He’d best be gyaa’n. He made a sudden breenge tae pit distance atween himsel an the angels that hid been gey near the weirs o him faa’in fae grace, fin fa shid bump intae him, an sen him stitterin back anent the Laird’s memorial, bit Geordie Petterson fae Wastside.
“Weel, weel, if it isna ma aul frien, Burnies”, cried Geordie. “I some thocht I’d rin intae ye, bit I hardly expeckit tae fin ye pickin yer steen.”
Noo, gin there wis ae body in as the country roun aboot that Rab cwidna thole, it wis Wasties. As a bairn at the skweel he’d been a coorse vratch, takin efter his mither, an orra ill-tongued cyaard. Rab glowert at Geordie, gey ill-riggit for a funeral, an, ice-caul contert, “It’s mair like I shid be here than you. Jock an me hae been friens sin afore we gaed tae the skweel. As for you, Wasties, ye’ve niver been a frien tae onybody bit yersel”.
Bit Wasties wisna tae be pitten oot. He’d got his feerin set up an wis hell bent on ploo’in on, till he’d ca’d tae the rig. “Aye”, he conteenit, “Jock maun hae come doonhill gey quick. I saw him a month or two back at Cornhill Mart an’ there didna seem muckle vrang wi ‘im, bit, I suppose his ill-daein weys an roch essage o ‘imsel in his younger days catcht up wi him in the hinner ine. Fin a loon, there wisna a Setterday nicht bit he got foo, mair affen or no, didna win hame tae the chaumer bit sleepit in a ditch. An it wisna him ‘at peyed the drink for he niver hid twa bawbees tae rub thegither. Na, na, it wis aa borrowt an nae peyed back. Syne he fell in wi Muggie Tosh, a domineerin beezum, kitchie deem at Clortydubs. Gae Muggie her due tho’, she sortet Jock oot, an gin an eer wis by, they war mairriet an cottared at Dykies, Jock caa’in the seycont pair, till, wi a bit help fae the wife’s faither, he leased Bogside. Oh, bit Jock wis nae fermer. He didna ken a gweed beast fae a sharger. An sweir? Ye niver saw his like! Bit for Muggie, the ferm wud hae gueen tae wrack an ruin lang syne, be aa accoonts. An as for his faimily, a loon, ilka bit as sweir as his faither, yet noo a droguist in Steenhive, believe that gin ye like, an the quine, as pentit nails an pouthert face learnin tae be a teacher, nae less! Jock wis aye a bittie bigsy, aye thocht himsel better than the lave o’s. Oh, aye, I wis far aneth him. Aye, bit hid he jaloost that I kent aa aboot the wifie he aye veesited fin at the mart in Aiberdeen, he michtna hae craa’d sae croose. She bade at Kittybrewster, fell haundy, widn’t ye say? An in time, wi little atween them, she gyaa birth tae twa loons, as like Jock as can be, I’m tellt. Na, Jock wisna sweir fan it cam tae the weemin. Forby, there wis some wird” ……
This wis mair than a weel-daein sowl like Rab cwid stammack. Jock’s fauts wis naebody’s business bit his ain, an Rab wisna gyaan tae listen tae his frien bein miscaa’d bi an ignorant, nesty minded tink like Geordie Petterson. For aince, Rab’s birse wis up: “Ye fool-moo’d leein cyaard, that ye are,” he roart, “the gyaan-aboot bodies on the road hae mair decency aboot them than the likes o you. I’m warnin you”, he threatened in a fusper tae mak the bleed rin caul, “Gin I hear o you mentionin tae onyeen jist een o the lees ye hae tellt here this forenicht, I’ll brak ilka been in yer rotten carcass. Gin ye canna fin gweed tae say aboot a body, keep yer tongue atween yer teeth, aye, an bite it hard. It’ll be nae great loss”.
Wi that Rab turnt tae Sandy, grinnin fae ear tae ear like a crafter’s lease, sae prood wis he o this faither he’d niver seen afore; “Come, laddie, lat’s get some caller air. There’s an awfu stink here!”