A Wee Story for Hogmanay (by Effie)

 

Summary:   Dedicated to all the Scottish and English drovers and cattleman who went to the west to found their own kingdoms   A story written in “border speak”  (glossary provided).
Category:  Laramie
Genre:  Western
Rated:  PG
Word Count:  5958


 

IT’S  NO MA SPELLIN; IT’S BORDER SPEAK !

A glossary to help ye aw.

 

Aw…all deil….devil Oot….out
Awa…away deid….dead oor….our
Afor…away fae/frae….from SLAINTHE…cheers
Anither…another fer….for Sgian dhub….knife
Alane….alone fash….worry tak….take
Ashet….serving dish heid….head thang….thing
Aine…one hame….home tha’….that
braw….strong hae….have wrang….wrong
bide….stay ken….know wi….with
cauld….cold mair….more yissel….yourself
doon….down Ower….over Yon….those
dinna/dinny….don’t Ol/ould….old

 

Jess and Slim sprang backwards and jostled each other as the door of the big rambling ranch house was flung open; a pack of dogs came hurtling out in full pack song. A large piece of fire wood came sailing after them through the wide door, and a roaring voice rose above the howling of the dogs and the north easterly gale.

‘AWA YE  STINKIN’  varmints, I’LL  slit yis gizzards fae  ye .”

“Whose there, Hamish?” another raucous voice called from inside.

“It’s yon Englishman fae ower Laramie way. The yin afta yis young bull, and he has got his man wi’ him.”

“Well, hae them come awa in. It’d freeze the horns offa goat oot there.”

“Come away in, laddies, an’ welcome!”

Jess and Slim took their Stetsons off as they entered the big, cavernous room of the sprawling farm house.

Jess looked around in amazement; he had never been inside such a huge indoor space belonging to a ranch. The first thing that he noticed was how his throat closed up because of the pungent smoke-reeked atmosphere. There were animal skins hanging off nails which been hammered into the wooden walls; he was not sure if they were for outdoor wear or decorations, but there were so many. There were racks of rifles of every kind, an arsenal which he would have loved to have examined, because Jess loved a beautiful gun, and he could see that there were some fine pieces on show. He blinked as his eyes began to run from the reek, but also from the heat which came from the fire place, which was as monumental as the rest of the room. It was a magnificent open hearth place. Its dressed stone stretched upwards through the raftered ceiling to warm the sleeping spaces to be found up the wooden stairs which filled one corner of the huge room. On each side of the inglenook there was a crane, the arms of which hung over the glowing logs. At the end of one arm there was a huge roundish cast iron pot, and at the end of the other a very large copper kettle, with an acorn decoration forming the lifting device on its lid. The copper shone and glowed in the fire light, and Jess thought it was some ones pride and joy; as the copper glistened like gold in the flickering light.

Slim walked forward towards the ancient-looking man who twinkled. His face was like a walnut, wind weathered until it was like tooled leather. He was hunched in a huge chair which had a high back and seemed to surround and wrap him up in its wooden arms. Slim extended his hand in greeting as he approached him.

“Slim Sherman……. Mr. Donald Jardine, sir…….and this is my ranch hand Jess Harper. Thanks for taking us in. We were expecting to spend the night out in the weather; we misjudged how this ice-bound ground would slow us up.”

“Last night of the ol’ year, ye couldna be in a better place. Agnes……” the old man called out, “get these lads some soup, and break oot the whisky, afor they die o’ cauld. Come away closer tae the fire lads, an tell me what yis aw think o’ my young bull. He’s a braw beast.”

“Tell you the truth, Mr. Jardine, I‘ve not clapped eyes on the animal yet. I think you are hiding him from me, or maybe you’ve sold him?”

While the head of the household was talking, the room was quietly filling with the rest of the household. They were all young men, from three generations who all had the same look. They had strong faces with deep set blue eyes, strong jaws and wavy wiry hair. All had a look of being outdoors men, lean and whipcord strong, and Slim thought they had a look of his pard Jess; he knew that they would all be horse men. He also knew that they would be like many of the Scottish incomers — strongly clannish, very attached still to the ways of their old country of which he knew they were immensely proud. Slim’s thoughts were interrupted by a steaming bowl of soup being thrust into his hands. A large loaf was placed in the hearth along with a stone jar full of butter; the bread knife would have slit the throat of a bear, if you managed to get close enough to one without getting torn apart.

“What kind of soup is this sir?” Jess politely asked

“Some   thang wrang wi’ it; is there son?”

“Oh no sir, it is delicious. Just wondered what was in it.”

“Well, ye’d best no be knowing; we call it Game Soup. Ye can guess what’s in it, laddie. Here I’ll mak it royal for ye.” With that, the old Jardine leaned forward, and with expert ease, he slurped some golden liquid into Jess’s soup from a large stoneware crock. Jess took another spoonful of it; the whiskey-tasting soup hit the back of his throat, and he could feel it slowly warming him through. He glanced across at his boss and smiled as he saw Slim’s face begin to redden as the strong tasting soup worked its magic on him.

“Angus, did ye see tae th’ laddies’ horses?”

“Aye, gran’paw, and I brought their stuff in. The horses are fed, watered and I’ve left young Duncan giving them a rub down. They were well content.”

Jess looked up at Angus. “Thanks, I owe you one.” said Jess.

“So do I,” said his boss.

Slim then leaned forward and cut two large slabs of bread, which he spread with the softened butter, and offered Jess one, which his pard took with a grateful wee smile.

“So, you’re Jess Harper.” Angus growled.

Jess felt the hairs on his neck begin to stand up as he heard the threat in the deep-throated whisky voice. He was caught off-guard as he had a bowl of soup in the one hand, a spoon in the other, and his face was full of the fresh bread; and butter.

He did not say a thing; he just looked up into the cold pale blue eyes and the hardening face and nodded. He was aware of the rest of the clan beginning to take up positions behind their father, uncle, brother, cousin –.Jess was not sure — but he just could feel the aggression and tension in the air.

At last he said, “Yeah, do I know you?”

“Maybe! Ya dinna remember breaking a chair o’er ma heid at the yearling sale, back in the summer.”

“No, I don’t recall.” Jess said quietly.

“NO! Ah ken ye hav’ a reputation fer being free wi’ yis fists; some o’ us dinny want tae stand fer tha’ onny mare. You want to come oot side and we’ll ‘ae anither go?” Angus growled.

“Hamish, get in here. Yis young pup is wantin’ tae smash oor quest o’er the heid wi’ the furniture.”

“Sorry for causing this, Mr. Jardine; we’ll go outside,” Jess said quietly in a low sickened voice.

“No lad, ye’ll be gan nowhere. He kens better than aht; he kens fine we dinna fight wi oor guests. Yis under my roof and ye can rest safe; he’ll be sleeping in the stables this night. Hamish, throw him oot; he’s shamed us aw.”

Douglas Jardine, with surprising agility for a man of his years, sprang forward and brought his knobbled stick down upon his grandson’s back. Even as he did so, Hamish grabbed his son by the back of his shirt, and dragged him towards the door. Angus, who was used to being dragged out of the house, grabbed his sheepskin off a nail behind the door, and allowed his father to throw him outside.

“Jamie, you and Ewan gan an’ tak Slim here and show him the young bull Percy. Lead it aroond. Tak care noo. We dinna want to get onywan hurt this neight. Get on wi’ it.”

Jess stood up to follow Slim, who was in the midst of the Scots cattlemen as they headed across the room towards the door.

“NO, Jess, you come bide wi’ me. Sit yissel doon and get warm; ye dinny carry a pick o’ meat on your bones. Am getting the same — am all bones and ah feel the cauld something fearful. Ah was no bred to live on these high windswept places; my hame is in the rich valleys and long grasses of the Nith and Annan valleys. Frae yer talk yis noo frae roond here. Where were yer blown in frae, if ye dinny mind an old man asking?”

“No I don’t. I’m from the south — Texas — and yeah, I feel the cold. I don’t think that I will ever get used to it,” Jess replied, shaking his head and holding his hands out towards the fire.

“Well? What keeps ye here, lad? Are you running frae the reputation ye’v got yissel? Ah wouldna let it trouble ye; ye ken men, always talking and making themselves bigger than they are. My grandson ha made you into a berserker who, if he can beat you, will make him feel ten feet tall. You and ah ken that it winny ‘appen. He’ll end up on his back for weeks or deid. But dinny ye fash yissel, Yer under ma roof, and it’s Hogmanay. We’re gan tae feast, tell tall tales, drink, sing and dance, so get warm, dinny worry and enjoy yissels. Oh aye! Leave ma women alane.”

And with that the old yin threw his head back and laughed, sounding just like a braying mule. He even had a mouth full of huge square, well worn chipped yellow teeth, just like a jack.

“Can I ask you, how did you fetch up out here at the back of beyond? “ Jess asked, his curiosity overcoming the western way of not prying into another man’s background. It could prove dangerous, even on occasion fatal.

The old Scotsman looked sideways at the thin youngster who still gave an occasional shudder as his half-starved, cold body leaned in towards the fire. Jess’s head was turned towards him and the ancient saw the brilliant, intelligent, startling blue eyes looking at him with respect and awe.

“Well laddie, not much of a tale, but the truth. Ma families are frae the border ‘tween Scotland and England. We ‘ae fought across it for well over 400 years. It is supposed to be settled noo — many of the castles have been pulled doon — but beneath the quiet surface, we still raid, gae on the trot, and rustle each other’s cattle. We hunt, trespassing on each other’s demesnes, and parks, aye, and we hold illegal races, testing oor horses agin’ theirs and doing a bit o’ horse trading into the bargain.

        “Oor laird is the mighty Bucclech, a Douglas, a family who has fought for Scotland since the time o’ Wallace. He called fae us tae ride and raid wi him. The Johnstons, Armstrongs, Grahams and the feckless Lindsays aw went, but ma faither wouldna ride wi’ him. So we had tae flee. So here we be. We run horses, cattle and aw’, just like at hame, but the weather is oor enemy noo. Ay, I still rue the leaving o’ the border tae this day.“

Jess listened to the old man’s story which was common enough, and was aware that the room was suddenly busy with women of all ages, scurrying from what must be a kitchen in the rear, carrying bowls and laden ashets. They were laying out the coming feast.

“Here ye ar’, lad, get this doon yerself — and slainthe.” An old glass with chipped hand-cut facets, caught jewel-like in the firelight, was thrust into his hand.

“Your good health, sir.” Jess said as he returned the toast and then sipped the golden liquor, which brought tears to his eyes and ran like a warming fire almost down to his feet. He felt a long warm languor seep into his bones and thought, and knew that he was well on his way to becoming senseless with what the Scots called ‘the water o’ life.’

He knew he must try and keep sober, because as much as he liked the old man’s craic, and warmed to his story, he would not trust the ancient’s aggressive clan as far as he could throw them.

Just then, as Jess was beginning to brood over the situation, the old door was flung back on its hinges and a gaggle of huge bewhiskered men pushed into the room. With easy familiarity, they grabbed some of the now shrieking women and swung them around. Jess, ever the perfect knight, began to pull himself up from the warmth of the battered armchair that cuddled him. He felt a hand with a grip of steel hold his arm in a vise-like hold and keep him in his seat.

“Be still, laddie; these are heiland drovers’ frae ‘oer the hill. There is a pack o’ ’em wi’ land frae here tae Billings and up tae the border wi’ Canada. They are well intae their cups au ready, but they aw can dance.”

With that, the ancient called out to them in a voice that would have carried well over 10 acres. “Welcome, big Jamie, Hector Cameron. Ah see you Dougall Mac Leod. Got all the brood wi’ye?” At that, they all came across and shook hands with the old man. They had brought all kinds of food stuffs with them and many stone jars, which Jess saw with a sinking heart, because he knew if he refused their offers of drink, that would be like slapping one of these red-haired giants in the face. He did not want to do battle with them; he had seen them in their tartan go from a happy drunken, singing group of friends to a wild eyed, punching, gouging, biting machine which could break your bones and change your life forever.

 Jess had watched and ducked as he saw them demolish a saloon bar when one of their numbers took offense at being accused of wearing a skirt.

Suddenly they all quieted as old Jardine shouted out. “This is Jess Harper; he and his boss ar’ stayin’ o’er fae Hogmanay, and his glass is empty.”

Jess felt he was being buried, as the smell of whisky breath choked the air around him. His hand was wrung until he felt as if the bones were broken. The empty whisky glass was wrenched from his hand to be replaced by a horn shaped drinking vessel, and Jess watched with horror as they each slopped a generous measure of whiskey into it. He felt his jeans becoming wet with whiskey the way they had poured with such enthusiasm.

Jess felt all their eyes were on him as, after lifting the drinking horn to their health, he began to drink the strong brew down. He could feel his stomach rebel but he steeled himself as he broke out into a cold sweat. At last he had quaffed the liquor and felt as if his tongue was swollen; he felt all numb. He slowly pulled himself out of the chair and staggered through the crowd that seemed to swarm around him, their big faces swelling up and receding in front of him.

 He was aware that someone was holding on to his belt to stop him from falling flat on his face, and then finally he felt a blast of icy air as the door was opened in front of him –just in time as Jess lost the soup, bread and the contents of his stomach. It spewed out in front of him; he did not even have time to bend over on to the dirt in front of the stoop.

*****

“See you’ve been enjoying yourself.”

Jess vaguely heard his friend’s voice from what seemed far away, as it was drowned out with the laughter of the north men. He felt himself being dragged back inside and he felt the warmth of the armchair enfold around him once more. He shuddered and felt his eyes closing as someone called out in a voice full of laughter.

“Them English canna hoad a man’s’ drink. Only happy wi’ cats’ piss and red wine.”

Jess groaned and closed his eyes and began to snore.

*****

Jess was woken by a raven-haired beauty with dancing eyes and a wide warm smile.

“My Dad said to get this down you; it will give you something to throw up.” She giggled and thrust a tin plate into his hand.

“Come on Jess, get it down ye; it’ll make you feel better.”

Jess picked up the small plate-sized pie; it was still quite warm, straight from the oven. He sank his teeth into the crisp pastry and closed his eyes as he relished the peppery and strong taste of mutton. The rich juices ran down his chin and stained the front of his shirt. He didn’t notice; he just enjoyed the wonderful tasting mutton pie, the likes of which he had never tasted before. They never ever ate lamb or mutton, as sheep were alien creatures as yet in Wyoming since they carried the reputation for destroying grassland.

Slim grinned down at his new ranch hand; he never thought that he would have to look after him as if he were Andy, since he was handling the whisky like a tenderfoot. He wondered how much Jess had drunk. He finally got Jess to his feet and managed to help him to sit at the table. Slim sat at the very end with Jess alongside him; he was near the door and he did not know how many times he would have to drag his young ranch hand outside to throw up.

Jess’ head was in turmoil; he was trying to hold on and join in the feasting, and he ate whatever was put in front of him. He did not recognize much of the food; he only knew it was greasy and rich. He did recognize the baron of beef, which was perfectly cooked by his tastes, with blood running out of the center and the fat well done and crisped. Over in the big pot slowly simmering over the logs was a huge cauldron of venison stew. The fish had been fried in oatmeal, one of his grandmother’s favorites, and served with a strong mustard sauce. There were more mutton pies, piles of bowls with potatoes mixed with cabbage, more mixed with onions and then fried. There was also black and white puddings, a haunch of ham, various sizes of fowl some stuffed with skerlie. There was butter by the mountain with fresh bread. There also was a concoction of whipped up cream, dusted with toasted oats and laced with whisky and raspberry jam.

 Jess also saw the Haggis, which he eyed with suspicion as he had heard how they were made. He remembered being half asleep as old Donald described to Slim how the Haggis was caught.

“Aye, Slim, ony o’ us will tell ye. The wee diels run roond the mountains, their up legs are a might shorter than the down slope aines. Aye, and they can feight like a wolverine if ye trap ‘um. Ye can only kill ‘em with a sgian dubh. Show him yours, Hamish.” Jess dimly remembered seeing a long bladed knife being brought from Hamish’s stocking; it had a blackened hilt with a bright yellowish stone at the top of the shaft.

“We take the fur and the legs off, and boil the wee varmints, aye, grand and tasty.”

“I’ve heard that you boil them in sheep innards and add things to them,” Slim said in his usual interested way.

“Aye, yer right there. Dinny ask, man; ye dinny want to ken, not if yer goin’ to eat ‘em. Let’em cool af a wee bit first, afor ye et ‘em.” The old yin smiled as he told the story.

After that, Jess was careful that he didn’t end up with one of the wee creatures on his plate. He did eat a plate full of an oaty mixture of liver, steak, onions and spices which came with what the young girl with the laughing eyes called neeps and tatties. Jess had thought it tasty and not too greasy.

“See you, Harper. Ye like oor haggis,” a voice had called out. Jess had fought his stomach and this time had won.

Jess and Slim were amazed as they began to notice that the men were now all wearing the kilt. Jess shook his befuddled head and thought it must be hellish cold to wear such garb in this climate.

Another toast was called for — something about whisky is arm in arm with freedom — and Jess and Slim drank to that. Jess groaned as his drinking horn was quickly refilled, and the tousled-headed highlander waited till Jess had tasted his special reserve.

By now the toasts were coming thick and fast. There was one for the king over the water. Slim and Jess had never heard of any king over water, but they drank to him never the less.

There were calls for lang may yer lum reek, which caused much cheering, and then Slim put his head back and closed his eyes as he heard the drone of the pipes being squeezed into life. It got worse, as there were two fiddlers tuning up as well, and a giant with a bohran began beating a rhythm.

Three of the younger men then pushed into the center of the room; they were carrying two swords each. These they placed crossed on the floor. By now the music was loud and like nothing that Slim and Jess had ever heard of before.

The men were on their tip-toes and they danced slowly at first in and out of the spaces between the blades. The tuneless music began to get faster and faster, and on the men danced, now and again catching their feet on the razor sharp edges of the broadswords. Their dancing shoes were made of the finest leather, very supple and thin to mould to the foot and allow for fast and intricate steps, but did little to protect them from the sharp blades. Soon the floor boards were flecked with blood, but they danced on. It was obviously a test to find the bravest who could dance the fastest and the longest. They danced with their hands raised above their heads and they never looked down. Jess shook his head and wondered what else these men did for fun, as so far all their stories and games were stories of violence and hunting danger.

The best story which the Laramie men heard involved a man called Tam, who had got himself trapped in fairyland. Jess could not follow much of it because of the guttural voice which seemed to only use the back of his throat to make any sound. It seemed that Tam relied on his fast horse to get him over the bridge back into the world before midnight, but he was chased by a witch who could run as fast as the wind. She wore a short shirt as long skirts would slow her down; her name was Cutty Sark and she almost caught Tam. His horse got to the bridge with the witch catching up with him; she raced on with them until Tam’s horse was on the bridge. She shouted out in triumph as she stretched forward and grabbed the stallion’s tail, but her triumphant screeching turned to screams of anger as the horses tail came away in her hand, and Tam showed her a pair of clean heels.

Jess shuddered as this valiant tale called for more toasts; this time it was horses that came in for praise, and the friends lost count how many there were. Slim managed to drag himself outside, put his fingers down his throat and managed to empty his stomach, while eyeing up some of the others. It was the norm, as he was not the only one losing his innards round the side of the barn.

At last Slim staggered back into the large living space; the music was loud — and to his ear discordant — and the heat of the room made breathing difficult. The dancing now included the women and it looked a little familiar, as they danced their sets around the floor. Slim was aware that the floor seemed to be bouncing in time to the music.

Slim looked at Jess who was still sitting at the table, but now his head was on his folded arms and Slim, smiled wryly as he thought that the young tough drover was asleep. He was just about to slide along the bench to sit beside Jess, when Hamish Jardine came up to him and taking his arm drew him aside.

“Slim, ye need to get Jess on his feet and outside. We need him to first foot.”

“I thought that trouble between him and your son was over, Jess is in no fit state to defend himself, and I’ll not stand around and watch you pound his face into a lump of raw steak. No, he’ll not be going anywhere tonight except to bed.”

“Ye dinny understand. We need a stranger wi’ dark hair to be the first over the door step. He’ll bring in the New Year; he’ll bring us gifts and luck. It’s an honor; he’ll nae be harmed.”

Slim followed Hamish back into the feasting; by now, he could hardly see across the room, as the old folk were all puffing away on their long clay pipes and was swallowing the baccy down with the whisky. The rest, with younger knees, still bounded about the room in time to the frenetic, discordant music, howling and yahooing. Others were all sitting around the long table, determinedly sipping away at the whisky as toasts were still called for. Everyone’s face was shiny with sweat as the whisky and heat began to take its toll.

Slim looked to where Jess had been snoozing and was shocked to see that his place was now filled with an old croon, whose ancient face was lined and worn with work and weather, but her deep-set eyes were brilliant blue and they sparkled with merriment. She had no teeth and clasped her pipes stem with her old withered gums.

“Where’s the cowboy who sat where you are sitting, mother?” Slim asked with some foreboding.

“I’m sure ah dinny ken. Been carried awa’ with the wee folk.” She started to cackle so much that her eyes disappeared into the folds of yellow flesh.

Slim cursed under his breath. His Dad had never trusted the Scots, as they always seemed to be too good to be true. He pushed his way through the burling dancers and made his way towards the kitchen though the back. He pushed the door open and got a fright, as there was Jess being cleaned up by a group of Donald’s granddaughters. The old man was there amongst them directing them in what he wanted them to do.

Slim saw that they had changed Jess’s shirt. It was not his, as it drowned him, but it was tartan and that seemed to be more important than fit. He had had a wash and Slim shook his head and wondered how he had managed that, because the last time he had seen him he had been asleep. He could not believe that Jess would allow these young girls to wash his face unless he was unconscious, but then his young ranch hand was always surprising him.

“Come on then, up ye get. Ye ken what ye ‘ave tae say?”

“Yeah, something like ‘lang may yer lump rake and a Good New Year to yerselves’,” Jess mumbled.

“No lad, ferget aboot lums. Just wish us au a Guid New Year, and many o’ them. That will dae; it’ll get us aw started. Now, dae ye think ye can stand?” the old Jardine said.

“Yeah, I think so. We’ll find out,” Jess said sourly and swallowed whatever had rushed up to his throat end.

“See you, Slim. Come and gae us aw a hand to get him roond tae the front door,” Jardine called out when he caught sight of Slim filling the doorway with Hamish at his back.

Jess dragged himself unsteadily to his feet, with a violent belch.

“I’m sorry; must have been all the water they poured down me.” He shamefacedly grinned.

“Water! Huh! That’s the best I have heard all day,” Slim growled as he watched his young ranch hand sway in front of them all.

“Come on then. Hamish, have ye got th’ whisky, black bun and a log of wood? Remember he has tae had on tae that as he crosses in tae the hoose. Ye’ll not let him ferget. he ‘s foo (drunk), ye ken.”

Slim did not understand what was being said, and he knew that Jess did not know much of what was expected of him. But he knew the young drover rarely came up short.

Jess was escorted around the side of the ranch house by the old man, his son, and his grand daughters, who could not keep their hands of Jess, and Slim who was now getting to be quite sober was beginning to show his disapproval at the outlandish behavior of the alien Scots. He wondered at how Jess seemed so at ease and at home with the wild crew.

At last they were at the main door, with some haste as the house was silent waiting for the first footer of the New Year. The old Jardine hammered on the door with his cudgel. The door swung open immediately, and Jess, who was now holding the black bun, whisky and log close to his chest, was unceremoniously pushed forward into the glaring light.

“HAPPY NEW YEAR TO ONE AND ALL AND MANY MAY YOU SEE!” Jess called out; his last words were lost, as they all start to sing. Slim was astounded at Jess perfect performance; he never let Slim down, not even with such weird nonsense.

The old man then called out a toast which brought roars from the gathering. “Whae’s like us? Damned few and aw deid.”

They all shouted out the response. “Aye and second tae none.”

They’ll want to fight now, thought Slim, but he was proved wrong, as then the pipes were squeezed into life, and the dancing started again.

 Slim watched in amazement as Jess was in the center of the burling group, but even has he watched, he saw the young drover began to stagger and the girls steered him towards the kitchen in at the back.

Slim began to make his way towards the back room where he found Jess stretched out on the bags of bedding straw which had been covered with furs and rugs. He had had his boots removed, and was lying on his side, one arm flung wide, and his gentle snores could just be heard. Slim knew that Jess would be dead to the world, and he was relieved, because he knew that Jess would be kept out of any trouble. Slim knew that there was some fighting to do before the night was over.

Slim spoke quietly to the young girls, who finally left them, and Slim finally hunkered down in the skins. With the fire light flickering against the walls, he was soon asleep.

Slim never heard the fighting that brought the evening to a joyous end. He had drunk more than he had ever done before, and a herd of buffalo could have thundered through the house and he would never have heard a thing.

He woke up to the noise of rattling pots and the smell of bacon cooking. He looked across and saw that Jess had gone. He ran his fingers through his hair, and then threw the rugs of himself and looked around for his boots. Finally he was up and went through into the living room to find his pard sitting between two of the lasses at the long pine dining table.

“Don’t tell me you have the stomach to eat?” Slim asked his young ranch hand.

“What do you mean? Nothing’s wrong with my stomach. I’m eating porridge with salt — real tasty — and I’ve got some eggs and bacon promised. You don’t want to eat?” Jess said as he looked up questioning, and squinting through a fringe of hair that was shrouding his eyes.

“Jess, has no one ever told you that you are like a wild animal? Ready to eat anything. After what you ate and drank, I’d have thought that you’d not want to eat for a week.”

“Maybe you, not me. Any more tea, Moira?” Jess lifted his head and called to the girl with the raven hair.

Slim shook his head; he toyed and chased the porridge around the wooden bowl which had been put in front of him, but he could not face eating the grayish, gluttonous lumpy mess which filled it.

At last, the meal was over. Their horses were brought around to the front of the house. As Slim and Jess prepared to leave, Hamish, old Jardine, Angus and Martha appeared with some of the others to wish them well and safe journey.

“Here ye ar, laddie; the wife has put you some pies, and a ham and a few bits and pieces to see you on your way.” Old Jardine nodded to the old wife and she handed Slim a large sack.

“Angus has got you a bag o’ haggis, Jess; he says ye’v a likin’ fer the wee beasts.” With that the youngster — who had a black eye now as he had obviously found someone to fight — shoved a bag into Jess’s hands.

As Jess took the sack of Angus, the bottom split and the haggis rolled under the table.

“Willy, get in here quick, the haggis are awa’. They’re under the table,” Hamish called out to his brother.

Jess watched in horror, as the stoic old man bent over and peered under the table and called out to the Haggis.

“Chuch, chuch, chuch….” He snapped his fingers towards them.

Slim and Jess had seen enough; they fought each other to get first through the door.

Slim tied the sack to his saddle, and listened to the howls of laughter, the calls of Sassenach sounding above the shrieks. Darned Scotsmen; his Dad was right. Strange folk, treacherous, Slim thought as he swung himself into the saddle.

Meanwhile Jess frowned as he turned Traveler towards the trail, and vowed, first thing I am going to buy is a sgian dubh.

***The End***

‘A Guid New Year to yin and aw and mony may ye see.’

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