Joe Corrie

THE RURAL DRAMATICS

YIN nicht, juist efter the hervest, Maggie got hame frae the Rural fair flushed an excited. She teuk a wee beuk frae her bag an haunit it to me wi a flourish.

"What's this?" says I, "I've been gien a pairt in the Rural dramatics," says she. It was on the tip o my tongae to say, "At your age!", but I was waitin on her comin hame to get the price o a dram sae that I could hae a gemme at the dominoes, sae I said insteed "Isn't that grand, Maggie ; an I'm shuir you'll surpass everybody's expectations." She gae me the hauf croon' withoot me asking for it.

It was a tremendously busy time for her efter that. When she wisna at the wee hail rehearsin', she was gaun aboot the hoose speakin' to hersel. When I wanted to bide in the kitchen she went ben the room. Yince or twice I teuk aff my buits an tip-toed to the room door to put my ear to the keyhole. I heard a lot o talk aboot love sae I concluded that it was a play aboot passion.

Nae dout it haed its anxieties for her, but it was whiles very exasperatin' for me, for nae maiter hoo capable a wumman is, I defy her to read a play-beuk an cook a perfect denner at the same time. An if there's yin thing I dinna like to eat it's a burnt offerin'. But I held my wheest for mony a shillin' I wheedled oot o her by juist sayin, "I hae the feelin that you're gaun to be a great Success."

Weel, the fateful nicht arrived. She got me a sate richt at the front, an as she haed to leave a guid while before me, to get her face made-up, she said, I haed to promise to put on my best claes, which I did, because I was encouraged by a present o five shillin's, sae that I wadna have to sit in the ha' feelin inferior wi naething in my pooch.

The Rural haed been very busy sellin' tickets, for by the time I'd haed my dram - for fortification - an got to the ha' it was nearly packed. An everybody that was anybody in the toon was there. When I was shown to my alloted sate I discovered that I was sittin atween Nancy McWhannel an Kate Dalrymple. Nancy, I mey say, is very respectable, an haes nae sense o humour, an Kate is juist the opposite.

There was a wee band there playin' lively Scotch muisic, an it suin haed the folk tappin' their feet, sae everybody was in a merry mood to start wi. An as the programme said it was a rural comedy everybody was ready to lauch.

Weel, the curtain went up, or raither it didna, till Jimmy Johnstone. the plumber, brocht on a step laddder an got it oot o a fangle. Maggie was on the stage to begin wi a hoosekeeper on a ferm, an was ironin' a pair o lady's unmentionables, which she haed to haud up, to gie the audience its first lauch. "Disgracefu'!" I heard Nancy McWhannel say, "absolutely disgracefu'!" But Kate Dalrymple lauched like to burst her steys, then she leuked at me an said, "That's your Maggie, is it no?" To which Nancy replied, before I could get my tongue in. "An well mey he be ashamed o her, too !"

It wisna lang before the next character cam on, which gae me a great surprise, for it was name ither than auld Sandy Stoddard, a retired fermer, an a man I have detested a' my days. He haed tried to disguise himsel wi a black nanny goat beard, but I kent him by his flet feet, an his sneevelin' voice. It was quite evident at the start that he haed come to coort my Maggie, but it was mair evident that she wanted to hae naething adae wi him, which pleased me fine.

Noo, the fermer wha Maggie was workin' to was a daecent man, baith on an aff the stage, Wullie Marshall, wha I have admired for his uprichtness, generosity, an guid-natur. An it was a great delyte to me to see that Maggie haed made him her preference ; only he was terribly shy, while Stoddard haed a neck o brass.

I havena time to tell ye a' that happened in the play, but it turned oot that guid-herted Wullie was in sair financial difficulties, while Stoddard - sneevlin' Sandy - was prosperin' because o his greed, an dodgin' the Income Tax. An eventually Maggie was left wi the choice o aither mairryin' an honest man that was gaun to be left withoot a ferm, or yin that was gaun to hae twa by buyin' Wullie's ower his heid. An that's hoo the situation stuid at the end o the saicont act.

"I ken wha Maggie'll tak," said Kate to me. But before I could get my tongue in again respectable Nancy says, "She doesn't deserve a man at a', an she should think black-burnin shame o herself." She couldna get the unmentionables oot o her mind, ye see as if she didna wier sic things hersel. Weel, the curtain went up again, an I was leukin forrit to Maggie tellin' Stoddard what she thocht o him, an hopin' that she'd tak the rollin'-pin frae the table drawer before the end an gie him a richt hard yin on his saft bit - the heid.

But as the play went on my Maggie began to swither - a gradual change in the love atmosphere. An the mair Stoddard talked aboot his money the mair she listened to him. Puir Wullie, seein himsel on the day o his roup, haed naething to gie her but pure love, an I wadna have grudged Maggie to him, for he declared his affection wi tears in his e'en. But Stoddard wisna far awa, an cam back win' a girn on his auld face, an showing his false teeth, an started to tell Maggie a lot o dam lies aboot a devotion that haed been smoulderin' in his breest a' his days, tellin' her that as bonnie as she haed been in her young days, she was far bonnier to him at that minute - the slithery auld serpent! Then he promised her a servant sae that she wad never need to dirty her hands, an a honeymoon in Paris ; an when they got back he'd buy a new motor car sae that she'd be able to show aff in front o ither farmers' wifes. An every noo an again he'd run his hand doon his nanny goat-beard, an cackle like a hen.

I kept leukin forrit to the time when she'd open that table drawer an tak oot the rollin'-pin. Sae when Stoddard teuk the cushion aff Wullie's fireside chair an got doon on his knees on it on the fluir to mak his final proposal, I said to mysel, "Noo, Maggie, oot wi that pin an let him have it, for you'll never get a better chance!" But did she? SHE DID NOT! She hummed, an hawed. an swithered, an hung her heid as if she wanted to hide her blushes, an never seemed to see the dashed dirty trick o a man takin anither man's cushion to get doon on his knees on the man's ain fluir, to dae his ee oot, as they say nooadays. Sae, takin her silence as a sign o acceptance, the auld snake got up on his feet - an I could hear his knees crackin - an was aboot to put his airms roon' her to kiss her. Man, I was fair bleezin, an was juist aboot to get up on my feet an shout oot. "Juist you try it!" when wha should come into the play but the laird, wha haed been across the seas, an haedna kent oucht aboot Wullie's misfortune till he got back hame. An, hivin a great likin' for Wullie, he promised to see him throu his difficulties an keep him in the ferm, but only on condition that he teuk unto himsel a wife. An the laird pointed to Maggie.

Then ye Should hae heard Stoddard. Losin' baith a ferm an a wumman because a laird said sae! He wad tak it to the coort an get juistice!

Then the laird teuk a letter frae his pooch an telt Stoddard something that teuk the pea oot o his whustle. When Stoddard was a young man he'd gene to Australia, but efter a while cam back to Gallowa' but never telt onybody that he haed left a wife there. Sae the laird juist tapped the letter wi his knuckles an said "She's comin to reclaim you. Mr Stoddard, sae what - eh?"

Sae Maggie hurried ower to Wullie an he clasped her to his manly bosom, while Stoddard went oot, bent like a hauf-shut knife defeated, disgraced, an despised by the hale community. Sae that's hoo it ended, an everybody was happy.

But the next mornin when I was crossin' the brig wha should I see comin on the ither side but Stoddard. "I nearly haed her last nicht, Tam, didn't I - eh !" said he, speakin' throu his watery nose. Man, I canna understand to this day why I didna rush ower an cowp him richt into the Cree.