Chapter 17

 Duncan had affected the wag on the late occasion with the manufacturer and his wife, and had like to have suffered some alloy of pain from the blows which were inflicted, or were meditated. But at the public house, in a village, a little way ahead this day, where they halted about noon, a circumstance happened which changed his view a little, and disposed him to sadness, rather than to play the wag with his neighbours on the road. While the Captain had reclined, and was asleep on a sofa, a constable had apprehended Duncan with a warrant commanding this officer to take the prisoner before a justice of the peace, by whom it had been issued. Duncan had taken for granted, that it was the weaver’s wife who had made complaint, and sent after him, on account of the threats he had made to chastise her. The bustle in apprehending him, had made a noise in the porch, and awakened the Captain. Duncan, said he, what is the matter?

Lord deliver me, said he, if I ken. They say I am a prisoner. The bailiff here has ta’en me wi’ a warrant. It maun be that witch the weaver’s wife, that has made a complaint, just because I was jesting a wee, about her husband gaeing to the legislature; and she did na take it weel, but amaist brake my back wi’ her spurtle; and now she has ga’en awa and sworn belike that I strak her; for this is the way o’ these witches, that they turn states evidence, and swear for themselves against honest people.

Duncan, said the Captain, this is what comes of your meddling with politics. You must undertake to say forsooth, who is qualified to be a representative of the United States; you must insist upon an industrious mechanic to relinquish his occupation; and this not from any opinion of his fitness for such appointment, or any principle of love for the public good; but merely for your pastime, and in ridicule of a republican government in this country. For though there have been instances of choosing weavers for the legislature, and coblers, and coopers, why make a burlesque of this? Have not the people a right to make such a choice? yet because these things are not common in Scotland, it must be a subject of a laugh here. Had you been serious, there could have been no fault found; but the insult lies in your making a jest of it, which was evident from your manner, in turning aside from the highway to address a weaver through the window of a cellar; and in an abrupt manner, to introduce an expostulation with him on the subject of election. No wonder that the termagant and his wife, who did not relish the proposition, even in a serious point of view, was offended, and disposed to inflict blows; and, on the resistance made on your part, and threats probably thrown out, has applied to a justice of the peace, and obtained a warrant to commit you to the custody of the law.

What can they make o’ it? said Duncan.

I do not know, said the Captain, what a strict judge might make it, I should think it could not be made a hanging matter. However let us see the warrant, and enquire what the justice of the peace has made of it.

I shall not show the warrant to any man, said the constable, but to his worship, justice Underchin, to whom I must carry the prisoner immediately. So come along; come along; the justice will show you the warrant.

There being no help for it, Duncan was obliged to go along, the Captain accompanying him. Being brought before the justice, Ah, have ye nabbed him? said his worship: I am glad ye have got him; a great rascal.

There is no question, said the Captain, stepping forward, and addressing the justice, but the young man has acted with considerable imprudence; but ignorance of the world, and especially of the laws and customs of America, has been the principal cause of his intrusion. Though he has not been long in my service, yet I am disposed to speak with some confidence of his civility in general. But may it please your worship, in what shape have your brought the charge. Is it an assault and battery, or what?

I make it bastardy, said the justice; what else would I make it?

Bastardy! said the Captain. It might be fornication, or adultery; but how can it be bastardy in so short a time? It cannot be a rape, that your worship means. There was no rape, or fornication, or adultery in the case, I will engage that. And how can there be bastardy? some very hot words passed between him and the woman, and strokes might have been given; but there was certainly no disposition, as far as I could see, to beget bastards; nor was there time for it. They were not in such a very loving humour, when I left them; nor did he stay behind me above twenty minutes on the road.

The justice was a little swarthy man, of a corpulent habit, seated in an elbow chair, with pen, ink, and paper on a stand by him. He threw himself back, as he spoke; leaned his head alternately on the right and left shoulder, and bridled his lips, as the phrase is, discovering in the affectation of his manner, great pride of office, and apparent satisfaction in having caught a criminal. Endeavouring to be witty at the embarrassment of the present culprit, and the expressions of the Captain,-- why Mr. said he, addressing himself to this last, though I do not know who you are, that are so willing to assist me in the examination of this vagrant, yet I will observe to you, that I make no doubt that some hot, or at least warm words, have passed between them; and strokes as you call it might have been given; but as to the time of twenty minutes, or a longer period, it is of no consideration in the law; provided the woman swears, as this one has done, that she is with child by him. Nor will his ignorance of the customs of America excuse him; we must commit him, or bind him over, if he can find security, to appear at the sessions, to take his trial for the fornication.

Wi’ bairn! said Duncan. She might just as well have ta’en an oath, that I was wi' bairn to her. Was na her man Traddle, sitting on his loom looking at us a' the time? O the false jade! I get her wi’ bairn! I wad get a witch wi’ bairn as soon.

It is extraordinary, said the Captain, that she could be certain of her pregnancy in so short a time?

So short a time! said the justice; do you call six months a short time?

It is not six hours, said the Captain, nor the half of it, since the fracas happened.

Guid guide us! said Duncan, who was standing on the back ground, making his soliloquy; Guid guide us, that I should come to America, to be tri’d for getting a woman wi’ bairn. What will Mr. Dougal, our minister, think o’ this? after ha’ing the Confession o’ Faith wi’ me, and sae mony guid bukes. Standing on the stool, is bad enough; but naething to the way they hae I’ this kintra, o’ taking a man wi’ a bum, and bringing him before a magistrate; just the same thing as he ware a sheep stealer. O the false jade, to swear a bairn upon me; what will my ain folks say, when they hear o’ it in Scotland? It will be a stain upon my kin to the third generation. It was the deel himsel put it in my head, to stand talking wi’ a fool weaver about his election. I wish I ware in Perth again, and out o’ a’ this trouble.

Six hours! said the justice answering to the Captain. Is it not six months, Sampson, referring to the constable, since this pedlar left this settlement?

Pedlar! said the Captain; he never was a pedlar; nor is it six months since he left Scotland. He was recommended to me by a gentleman whom I knew very well, Mr. M’Donald, as a lad just come over. So that it is impossible he could have been here six months ago.

I am no sax months frae Perth, said Duncan.

Is not your name Ryburn, said the justice, and are you not that Scotch pedlar that was in this settlement two or three months? Can there be any mistake? referring to the constable; is not this Niel Ryburn, for whom the warrant calls?

It is the very man, said the constable. I knew him by his dialect the moment I saw him in the porch at the public house, talking with the hostler. He has the same brogue upon his tongue, and says Guid guide us, just in the same manner: only at that time he used to say also, by my fa’th, and by my sa’l, more than he does at present. He has become religious since, or pretends to be so, in order to deceive your worship. But at that time, he had not much religion about him, and had no guid bukes as he calls them, in his pocket; but could damn his sa’l, and swear like a devil.

Niel Ryburn! said the Captain, that is not the name of my valet. It is that of Duncan Ferguson. But pray who is the woman that he is said to have got with child? The weaver’s wife is the only one that he has had a conversation with to my knowledge; and as I said before, they were not much in the way of making love when I left them.

A weaver’s wife! said the justice; not, Mr. M’Radin, or whatever else they may call you; it is no weaver’s wife; it is Kate Maybone, that has made oath against him. He had carnal knowledge of her about six months ago, when he was in this settlement peddling, and got her with child.

I perceive, said the Captain, we are all at cross purposes, and under a mistake in this business. This North Briton--

Stop, said the justice, if you are to give your testimony, Mr. with the cocked hat, speaking to the Captain, we shall take it by yourself; and not let the pedlar hear it, to enable him to frame his story to the same purpose.

Accordingly Duncan being withdrawn in the custody of the constable, the Captain was examined, and related the particulars on oath of all that he knew respecting the prisoner; and now being ordered to withdraw, the prisoner was called in and interrogated.

His story was to the same effect with that of the Captain, and would seem to distinguish him from his countryman named in the warrant; but his Scottish dialect founded the presumption of identity so strongly, that it was difficult, if not impossible, to get over it.

I see, said the justice, that they have framed their stories by collusion. They are a couple of ingenious rascals; though the one of them, the pedlar, affects great simplicity; and the other vouches for him that he is ignorant. I believe I must commit them both; the one for bastardy, and the other for horse-stealing. For the circumstance of having but one horse between them, is extremely suspicious, and renders it probable that they must have stolen that one. The story which they tell, of having come in company with a revenue officer, whom they have sent ahead onfoot, is absurd, especially when you add what the one who is called Captain tells, of this officer having been once his servant, or passed for such, under the name of Teague O’Regan, and bog-trotting as he calls it, in the manner that this Duncan, which he pretends is the name, does now; and yet even then being likely to be taken from him to preach, to go to Congress, and the Lord knows what: It is impossible; it must be a falsehood; and the probability is, that this fellow, this Captain, is the head of a gang of horse-thieves; and this Scotch pedlar, and the Irish revenue officer, are understrappers, with him, in the trade.

This being signified to the Captain, who was now called in, he addressed the justice to the following effect: Mr. Justice, said he, what I have related to you upon oath, however improbable it may appear, is the fact; and as to your surmises of horse-stealing, they are groundless; and you may commit, if you think proper, but you shall answer for the consequences. It is no small matter to deprive a citizen of his liberty, and I am not so much unknown to the government, as not to obtain redress against an ignoramus like you, who disgrace the commission by your stupidity, as many of the same office do. The utmost of your power is to commit; but it may come in my turn to impeach for your abuse of power. What proof, or presumption have you, that I have stolen horses? Is it that of having a servant on foot, rather than having one mounted? If I had stolen one horse, could I not as well have stolen two? The presumption is the reverse of what your worship states. As to the North Briton, who is charged with bastardy, by the name of Niel Ryburn, with a certain Kate Maybone, where is the woman? cannot she be brought face to face with the man and confronted? Let her then say if this is Niel Ryburn; and that this simple lad is the person who begot a child with her, six or eight months ago. I am persuaded he was on the east of the Atlantic at that time, and if she could become pregnant by him, she must have been on that side also. Let this matter be examined.

From the sedate and firm manner with which the Captain had expressed himself, the justice began to be apprehensive of having been mistaken, and was intimidated. He was willing therefore to send for the woman who had made the oath. Being in the village, she was in a short time brought before his worship, by the constable who had been despatched for that purpose.

Kate, said the magistrate, is not this the Scotch pedlar, the father of your child, and against whom you have made oath?

The father of my child! said Kate; does your worship think I would let such a servant looking son of a b---h as that get me with child? does your worship mean to affront me, by having him taken up in the place of the moving merchant, Mr. Ryburn? no, no; he is not the father of my child. I never saw the clumsy looking dunce in my life before.

Duncan was well pleased to be relieved from the charge of bastardy; but at the same time a little hurt, at the undervaluing of the witness.

Young lady, said he, I wish you muckle joy o’ your big belly, but I dinna envy the pedlar o’ his guid luck, o’haeing you wi’ bairn. If I was to stand i’ the stool, it should be for anither sort o' luking lassie; and no sik a brazen fac’d ane as ye are.

Kate was about to make reply; but the justice not thinking it comported with the dignity of office, to suffer an altercation in his presence, and being chagrined at not finding this to be the real culprit, released the arrest, with ill humour, desiring Captain, prisoner, Kate, and constable, to be gone about their business.