Gateway to the Classics: Good Stories for Great Holidays by Frances Jenkins Olcott
Good Stories for Great Holidays by  Frances Jenkins Olcott

The Champion Stone-Cutter


David Fraser was a famous Scotch hewer. On hearing that it had been remarked among a party of Edinburgh masons that, though regarded as the first of Glasgow stone-cutters, he would find in the eastern capital at least his equals, he attired himself most uncouthly in a long-tailed coat of tartan, and, looking to the life the untamed, untaught, conceited little Celt, he presented himself on Monday morning, armed with a letter of introduction from a Glasgow builder, before the foreman of an Edinburgh squad of masons engaged upon one of the finer buildings at that time in the course of erection.

The letter specified neither his qualifications nor his name. It had been written merely to secure for him the necessary employment, and the necessary employment it did secure.

The better workmen of the party were engaged, on his arrival, in hewing columns, each of which was deemed sufficient work for a week; and David was asked somewhat incredulously, by the foreman, if he could hew.

"Oh, yes, he thought  he could hew."

"Could he hew columns such as these?"

"Oh, yes, he thought  he could hew columns such as these."

A mass of stone, in which a possible column lay hid, was accordingly placed before David, not under cover of the shed, which was already occupied by workmen, but, agreeably to David's own request, directly in front of it, where he might be seen by all, and where he straightway commenced a most extraordinary course of antics.

Buttoning his long tartan coat fast around him, he would first look along the stone from the one end, anon from the other, and then examine it in front and rear; or, quitting it altogether for the time, he would take up his stand beside the other workmen, and, after looking at them with great attention, return and give it a few taps with the mallet, in a style evidently imitative of theirs, but monstrously a caricature.

The shed all that day resounded with roars of laughter; and the only thoroughly grave man on the ground was he who occasioned the mirth of all the others.

Next morning David again buttoned his coat; but he got on much better this day than the former. He was less awkward and less idle, though not less observant than before; and he succeeded ere evening in tracing, in workmanlike fashion, a few draughts along the future column. He was evidently greatly improving!

On the morning of Wednesday he threw off his coat; and it was seen that, though by no means in a hurry, he was seriously at work. There were no more jokes or laughter; and it was whispered in the evening that the strange Highlander had made astonishing progress during the day.

By the middle of Thursday he had made up for his two days' trifling, and was abreast of the other workmen. Before night he was far ahead of them; and ere the evening of Friday, when they had still a full day's work on each of their columns, David's was completed in a style that defied criticism; and, his tartan coat again buttoned around him, he sat resting himself beside it.

The foreman went out and greeted him. "Well," he said, "you have beaten us all. You certainly can  hew!"

"Yes," said David, "I thought  I could hew columns. Did the other men take much more than a week to learn?"

"Come, come, David Fraser,"  replied the foreman, "we all guess who you are. You have had your week's joke out; and now, I suppose, we must give you your week's wages, and let you go away!"

"Yes," said David, "work waits for me in Glasgow; but I just thought it might be well to know how you hewed on this east side of the country."

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