Wilson's Tales of the Borders and of Scotland Volume X Part 19

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But to proceed:–

“After your father’s death, I felt the most solitary of men for many months. Still I continued to do my duty as a private soldier, without taking any interest in surrounding events. About two years after my arrival, a revolt broke out in the colony: the Singaleese were aided by the Candians from the mountains; and the handful of Europeans could scarce make head against the mult.i.tudes of the natives, who had courage and ferocity more than sufficient to have exterminated us every man; but, fortunately for us, they had no discipline or other mode of warfare, but to rush on their enemy and overpower them. This they found to be a vain attempt; yet they never changed their mode until compelled to sue for peace, by the immense slaughter made of them in this war of carnage and ma.s.sacre. I had been several times the decided cause of victory to the Dutch, in preventing small detachments from being cut off, and directing the movements of the main body; for which services I was promoted to a lieutenantcy. I never rose higher, nor do I believe I would have attained this rank, had it not been to enable me to take command of small parties, for which I was qualified from my being ever on the outskirts of the army, or in the borders of the jungle. Great numbers of my men died through fatigue and fever. I, myself for several years, remained robust; but my turn came at length. I fevered and relapsed; several times my life was despaired of for whole weeks; and many wounds I had received from the Candian spears and arrows broke out afresh, and baffled the power of medicine. My const.i.tution triumphed over my malady; but I was unfit for service. I have one wound here on my side that is hurrying me to my grave; which, I hope, will be in Pennycuick churchyard. But, now that I have the happiness to find my long-lost charge, there is one more duty for me to perform when we reach Edinburgh, whither you must return with me, to consign me to the dust.

That duty I never did expect to be called to perform–it is to re-possess myself of the certificates of your father’s marriage and your baptism, which are, as I told you, concealed behind the wainscot in the house in Mary King’s Close. I trust, for your sake, they are still safe, and may be the means of placing you in your proper rank in society.”

“Dear father,” I replied–“for I must still call you so–if it is to be of any service to me alone, it is of no avail to proceed further on that errand, for fortune baffles all my undertakings, and I tell you you will not succeed; still I have no objection to return with you to Scotland, although my present object in London was to go to sea in a vessel bound for the Indian seas–the only place of all I ever visited where fortune smiled upon me, and I scorned her favours.”

After dinner I gave the lieutenant an outline of my adventures since he had left Edinburgh, at which he was much moved. When I told him of the obligation I lay under to the worthy lawyer–

“Ah, Johnnie!” said he, “we have already half-gained the victory. Mr Davidson was at college and intimate with your father, and ho knows me well as your father’s servant. Scotland does not contain a better man for our purpose. I shall fee him liberally, and fortune may yet smile upon us.” It was now late in the evening, and the lieutenant left me for the night.

Scarce was he gone, when a new pa.s.sion took entire possession of me–that of pride and ambition. I felt myself quite changed, and strange visions of imaginary importance floated before me. My present finances were now deemed low enough–eleven guineas–which at one period I would have considered an immense sum. So sanguine had a few hours made me, that I looked upon it only as so many pence. From this period I date a complete revolution in my train of thoughts. Formerly I had cared but for the pa.s.sing hour, nor heeded for to-morrow. My early education had, until now, clung to me in all my vicissitudes, being ever the outcast orphan boy, who, his belly full, his back warm, had nothing further to obtain. My contentment was now gone. But to proceed:–

For a few days I was forced to keep at home, until the marks of my Tower Hill affray had disappeared; during which, urged by my new pa.s.sion (pride), I got myself equipped in the extreme of fashion. I now smile at my folly, when I look back to these few weeks in which I was swayed by it. But no young lady, getting her first ball-dress, was ever more fidgety or hard to please than John Square. The lieutenant was pleased to see me ape the gentleman; for he really looked upon me as such, and paid me every deference, as the son of his master. The money he had saved while in Ceylon he counted as mutual; nor would he allow me to expend one farthing of my own. We both were now anxious to proceed to Edinburgh, and embarked in the first trader bound for Leith. This voyage was the most pleasant I had ever made; I was in fairyland, and the lieutenant not far behind me.

When we were landed, with the earliest convenience we proceeded to Edinburgh, with far different feelings from any I had before experienced. Having arrived in the evening, it was next morning, after an early breakfast, that we proceeded from our inn in the Canongate towards the Cross, to reconnoitre the old domicile of William Square, the house in which I had first drawn breath. You may judge our horror, surprise, and grief–I cannot describe it–that loved edifice had disappeared from the earth; it no longer existed. Where it had once stood, new walls were shooting up towards the firmament. It and many others had been swept away, to make room for the site of the present Royal Exchange. A feeling of desolation, bordering on despair, took possession of my heart. The lieutenant, uttering a groan, wrung his hands, and looked upon me with a gaze that pierced me to the soul. I felt his frame leaning upon me with the weight of death. He would have sunk to the ground, had I not supported him. With, difficulty I conveyed him into Corbet’s tavern, under the Piazzas, where, after a time, he recovered, only to give vent to a burst of anguish.

“Ill-fated parent and ill-fated child!” he cried, “it was not that my heart yearned not to tell you the family from whence you sprang, but a presentiment hung heavy upon my mind that there was evil still in store for you. Alas, my poor John! are you really doomed to dree the weird a.s.signed your forebears. Your father’s father was Mr William —- of —-. Can it be possible that these canting Whigamores have the spirit of prophecy? This almost forces me to think they had–

‘For saints’ blood and saints harried, The third generation will ne’er inherit.’

“It is too true, too true!”

These last sentences he repeated to himself several times as if unconsciously, and again sunk back upon his chair in a state of stupor; nor could I rouse him by all the gentle methods I could use. At length I called a sedan-chair, and had him conveyed to the inn, and put to bed.

He seemed quite unconscious and pa.s.sive, until, disturbed by our moving him into bed, when, as if mechanically, he again said–

“‘For saints’ blood and saints harried, The third generation will ne’er inherit.’

My poor boy! my poor boy!”

At this time a physician arrived, and, having administered the remedies he thought most efficacious in my foster-parent’s case, was about to retire, when I inquired if he thought there was any immediate danger. He candidly said he thought there was; for the patient’s const.i.tution was much reduced, and he had received some violent shock, which might dash out the remaining drops from the nearly exhausted gla.s.s. He advised that he should not be left alone for any time; and, above all, that he must be kept quiet, until he called again in the afternoon.

As soon as I had recovered myself a little from the agitation this untoward event had produced, I wrote a note to Mr Davidson, requesting he would be so kind as call upon me as soon as convenient, stating that I had urgent business to consult him upon, and pleading, as my excuse for putting him to the trouble, the sudden illness of a friend. When the cadie was sent off with my card, I began to ruminate upon my prospects, which again had been so suddenly overcast. He on whom my sole dependence was placed lay in the room where I sat, in a state of prostration bordering almost upon unconsciousness. The visions of pride and consequence in which I had indulged, from the time I first heard of my gentle forefathers, began to fade from before me; a short time of sad and melancholy reasoning on probabilities had swept them away as completely as the innovating hands of the good citizens had removed the old tenement in which the testimonials of their reality had been concealed. In the midst of these reflections, the lawyer arrived. His astonishment at seeing me was equalled by my joy at meeting with one in whose judgment and shrewdness I had the utmost confidence. The sight of him renewed my hopes; and the fond clinging to self-importance, so natural, yet so foolish, when it is derived from no merit or endeavour of the individual, again returned upon me.

After mutual congratulations, we at once proceeded to business. After stating my arrival in London, and strange meeting with the lieutenant, I narrated the melancholy fate of my parents. He heard me to the end with all the imperturbability of a man of business; yet his countenance betrayed the interest he took in my recital. When I concluded, he rose to his feet; and, placing his hands behind his back, moved quickly two or three times across the room, then stopped at the side of the bed where the lieutenant lay; and, after gazing for a short time upon his altered countenance, turned to me, and gave his head an ominous shake.

“Mr Square,” said he, “this is a strange business. I myself have not a doubt of the truth of all the circ.u.mstances, some of which I have a distinct recollection of–more especially the quarrel and duel; but how to obtain the necessary evidence I at present cannot divine. The loss of the papers is a very material point; and the sudden illness of your foster-parent is very unfortunate. But there is also another difficulty, even were we so fortunate, as I hope we will be, as to restore him to health and consciousness: his testimony could not be taken in any court of justice; he is an outlaw, tainted by actual rebellion, and liable to be apprehended and executed as a traitor. His mildest punishment, if not pardoned after sentence, would be banishment; and, what is not the least worthy of serious consideration, the object to be attained, unless your friend is very rich, may not be worth the expense and trouble. That foolish rhyme has been fulfilled, in the meantime, so far. Your great-grandfather was a zealous partisan of the Lauderdale administration in Scotland; and, I believe, rather rigorous with the adherents of the Covenant. At the Revolution, he fell into disgrace with the powers that a.s.sumed the reins of government, and so turned his hopes upon the restoration of the exiled family, and impoverished himself in aiding the intrigues to restore them. Your grandfather had been bred in, and adhered to, the same politics, now a losing game. He still farther reduced the rent-roll by sales and bonds; and, at his death, your two uncles, who remained at home, changed their party. The older died young, without having married; and the younger succeeded to what remained of the estate of his ancestors–a mere wreck, soon spent in dissipation.

Not one furr of land that once owned your ancestors as lord now owns their sway. With the sum produced by the last sale, your uncle bade adieu to Scotland; and you are the last of the race. I would advise no farther proceedings than to endeavour, if possible, to recover the doc.u.ments relating to your birth and legitimacy, if they have not been destroyed in pulling down the old walls.”

Why should I dwell on my disappointment. Mr Davidson used every effort, by inquiries and offers of reward; but the papers never were recovered, although we got from one of the workmen the bra.s.s Dutch box in which they had been placed. He had purchased it from one of the labourers who picked it up in the ruins, and had destroyed the papers as of no importance. I had now the knowledge of the family from whom I was descended, but no proof to establish my claim, even though my right to property to any amount would have been the consequence.

As for my foster-parent, he gradually recovered from the stupor that had overwhelmed him, but never regained his wonted energies. He was possessed of a few hundred pounds, besides his half-pay from the Dutch Government, which was regularly paid. He never could endure me for any length of time out of his sight; and I remained with him until his death, a few years afterwards. I know that I was wasting my time; yet I could not desert the old man, whose whole happiness was concentrated in me; and, shall I confess, I felt a strange happiness in his society–for he alone of all mankind treated the beggar-boy of former years as an individual of rank; and our conversation was generally about the traditions of my ancestors. When the weather would permit, it was our wont to leave our house at Clock Mill, to wander over the scenes he loved–the spots in and around the bosom of Arthur Seat, where he had first won the affections of his departed Mary–and point out the favourite haunts which my father and mother used to sit in or walk. On these we would gaze, until our imagination seemed vested with the power of calling the personages before us. Thus pa.s.sed on the time until the lieutenant’s death, which happened suddenly.

I was thus once more alone in the world, without a tie to bind me to it, save the natural love of life inherent in man.

In Edinburgh I had formed no acquaintance; a continual soreness haunted me as to the dignity of birth, yet I never a.s.sumed even the name of my parent. I only heard it p.r.o.nounced by my foster-father, who urged me to adopt my family honours. The conversation of the lieutenant had given my mind a military bias. I was weary of Edinburgh, which recalled to my mind too many sad reflections; and I mentioned to Mr Davidson the resolution I had formed. After winding up the affairs of the lieutenant, I found that I was possessed of one hundred and seventy pounds. Mr Davidson, who still insisted that the money I had left as a gift in his hands was at my disposal, generously offered to advance the amount required to purchase me an ensigncy; but this I would on no account allow. My pride revolted at a pecuniary obligation, as a derogation from my family dignity, which still hung heavy upon me. By his advice, and through his a.s.sistance, I sunk in the hands of the magistrates one hundred and fifty pounds, as the most profitable way I could invest it–the interest to acc.u.mulate until my return in person to claim it. It was about the year 1775, when the troubles in America had commenced.

Accounts had just arrived that blood had been shed at Lexington and Concord; and the bootless victory at Boston was announced, but not confirmed. It was the month of August, and the utmost excitement reigned among the people in the city: every means, both legal and scarcely legal, being employed to raise troops. The comprehending act was pa.s.sed, by which the justices of the peace were empowered to impress and send to the army all idle or immoral characters: an engine of great tyranny and oppression in their hands; for every person who was in the least obnoxious to them was hurried to the army, whatever his character might be. Without informing my friend Mr Davidson, I bade him farewell, and proceeded to Glasgow, where I entered as a private into the Fraser Highlanders, resolved to carve out my own fortune with my sword. This I did through my foolish pride, so little had I learned by my former experience. During my short stay with the party, before I joined the regiment, my mind became disgusted by the modes I saw practised to augment the army, by trepanning and actual violence. The landed gentlemen and magistrates appeared to have lost, in their zeal, every sense of justice. The most disgusting modes were resorted to: such as putting a shilling into a drinking jug, and causing the king’s health to be pledged; while the soldier, in plain clothes, sitting in company as a tradesman, or a person from the country, was ready to seize the person whom he had pitched upon, the moment he drank the royal toast. If he resisted, nothing could save him from prison; enlist, and attest he must. So prevalent, indeed, was this mode, that the publicans were under the necessity of getting pewter jugs with gla.s.s bottoms to drink from, or their houses would have been deserted. This gave security to the customer that there was not a shilling in the bottom; and allowed him to watch through the gla.s.s the motions of the persons with whom he drank.

The only redress the kidnapped individual got was, that he might choose the regiment he would join; and he in general fixed upon some other one than the one to which his betrayer belonged. One instance disgusted me beyond endurance. It happened to a good-looking young lad, belonging to Hamilton. An intimate acquaintance of his had been enlisted, whether voluntarily or not I do not recollect, but he was still without any marks of his new profession. Several of the old soldiers were also with him, prowling about for recruits, when he recognised his former friend in the Briggate, accompanied by his intended bride and their mothers, who had come to Glasgow with the young people to purchase their plenishing. Rejoiced to meet an old acquaintance in the city, the party, being fatigued with their walk and the heat of the weather, retired to a neighbouring public-house to rest and refresh themselves. The companions of the betrayer, to avoid suspicion, had pa.s.sed on, as if they were not of his party, but entered the house a short time after. As those from the country had business to transact, they refused to tarry, and the new-made soldier insisted to pay for the entertainment, which, after a good-natured dispute, he was allowed to do. By design, or otherwise, he sat at the far end of the table, and when the landlady was called, he said, handing forward a shilling–

“Here, George, is a shilling; be so good as hand it to the landlady.”

“The reckoning is one and sixpence,” said she.

“Oh, I have plenty of the king’s coin. Here is another for you, George.”

To the alarm and grief of the bridal party, when they were at the door to proceed on the business they had come to town upon, the soldiers in waiting seized the young man, and declared him one of the king’s men.

The betrayer shrunk back, not yet hardened to the trade; but his a.s.sociates compelled the victim to go with them to the jail. Fortunately for them and the young man, they had respectable friends in the city, who waited upon some of the magistrates. An investigation took place.

The soldiers scrupled not to maintain that he was enlisted, and were willing to swear that he had taken the second shilling in the king’s name–the usual words of voluntary enlistment. They even produced the landlady, who, either leaning towards the soldiers (her good customers), or not paying much attention at the time, declared that she heard, when the second shilling was given, distinctly the words “king and coin.” So powerful was the feeling at this time, that he was declared duly enlisted, and only escaped by paying to the party a round sum of smart-money.

After pa.s.sing the winter at drill, I was embarked with a numerous body, to reinforce the army besieged in Quebec, where we arrived in the month of May. I was now on the field where I was to reap the fruits of my ambition; but I found it unpromising, and strewed with thorns. Still I had an object to attain, however distant it might be, and my oppression left me. I was most a.s.siduous in my duties, and was soon made a corporal. My heart leaped for joy. This was the first step to my ambition; my hopes began to brighten, and I submitted to our privations without a murmur. At the storming of St John’s, I was made a serjeant; and here I stuck. In vain was all my daring and good conduct. At the descent upon Long Island, I was as conspicuous as I dared to be by the rules of strict discipline, and, in consequence, often had the charge of small picquets upon dangerous service, and was twice slightly wounded.

Once I led the company, and took several prisoners, after both the captain and ensign were carried to the rear dangerously wounded. The ensign died in a few days of his wound; and it was generally believed by the men of the regiment that I would have been promoted to his rank. At length, in the month of August, 1781, I was made paymaster-serjeant; which rank I did not long retain; for the army was not long after completely surrounded by the Americans, besieged in Yorktown and at Gloucester, and, after suffering the extreme of hardships for twelve days, from sickness, famine, and the fire of the enemy, Lord Cornwallis, hopeless of being relieved, surrendered himself and army prisoners of war. This put an extinguisher upon all my hopes. I was now a prisoner, sick, and looked upon for death, and must have perished, had it not been for one of the captains of the American army, to whom the sick prisoners were delivered over. He proved to have been one of the palantines–an Aberdeen lad–who had been my companion in early misfortune, now an extensive proprietor in New England. To him I was indebted for much kindness during my imprisonment until the peace. When I returned to Britain, I was discharged with a pension of one shilling per day, being what is called the king’s letter, which, with the acc.u.mulation of my annuity, enables me to finish my chequered career in competence, and wander as I list amidst these scenes of wo and pleasure, lovely by nature, and endeared by former recollections.


[Footnote 14: The author of this tale, John Bethune, was one of the two brothers, self-educated labourers, referred to in the Editor’s note appended to “The Young Laird.”–ED.]

Fifty years ago, the roads in many parts of Scotland were so bad that they could only be travelled on with safety in broad daylight. The dangers which the tourist had to encounter did not arise from the lawless dispositions of the people; for Scotland was then a highly moral and highly hospitable country. But, ere the genius of road-making had visited it, the benighted wanderer had more reason to apprehend destruction from the delusive light of the “moss-traversing s.p.u.n.kie,”

than from the sudden flash of the robber’s pistol. Vast undrained marshes were common in every part of the country. From these marshes many a goodly peat-stack had been delved, and the holes were soon filled up with stagnant water–covered with zoophytes and other aquatic plants, and surrounded by tall rushes, which concealed from the eye those dangerous pits, where a whole regiment of soldiers might have found an inglorious grave.

The roads, in many places, pa.s.sed so close to these unwholesome bogs, that a false step in the dark was often equal to stepping out of this world. Nor was this the only risk that a traveller had to calculate upon, when settling the propriety of making his will before he undertook a journey; for the highways–properly so called, at that period–frequently ascended in the most abrupt manner from the swampy valley to the rocky hill-side, where they winded along the edges of precipices, which afforded admirable facilities for despairing lovers to take the _loup_ without being suspected of suicide.

Besides the actual danger which attended travelling in those days, there were many inconveniences, which, though less appalling, were even more perplexing to a forward spirit, than the risk of tumbling from a rock-head, or plunging into a peat-bog. The roads in many places branched out in different directions upon lonely muirs, where no information could be obtained concerning the places to which they led; and the consequence was, that many a weary wight, after cogitating half-an-hour upon the propriety of turning to the right hand or the left, dashed into one of the doubtful paths, and proceeded for another hour at his utmost speed, to no better purpose than simply to receive information that he had walked four miles out of his way. Inns, too, were almost unknown, except in the towns and upon the most frequented roads; and even there the accommodation was so meagre, that equestrians had often the greatest difficulty in finding lodgings for themselves and horses. Steam-waggons and stage-coaches, as yet, lay packed up in the heads of their inventors; and the traveller, though otherwise in comfortable circ.u.mstances, had no other means of conveyance but his own two legs, and an oaken or hazel staff, with which he urged them onward when ascending, and prevented them running away with him when descending the hill-side. Thus equipped, he could find lodgings in the first cottage which he came to; and, if his mind was not too refined for the conversation of simple, social, warm-hearted men, nor his taste too delicate for the “halesome parritch, chief o’ Scotia’s food,” he could generally pa.s.s the night with tolerable comfort, and very little expense. In this way, many of the most eminent men of the time became acquainted with the humble homes and virtuous habits of the peasantry of their native land; and the information which they thus acquired formed a link of connection between the different cla.s.ses of society, which the prejudices of fashion could never afterwards wholly destroy. But we have a simple story to narrate, which will sufficiently ill.u.s.trate the kindly hospitality which characterised the poorest of our rural population, and the generous feeling with which the greatest could remember and requite the little services which inclination _induced_, or necessity _forced_, them to accept.

Upon the banks of one of the most beautiful little lakes which is to be found in the Lowlands of Scotland, and not far from the ancient and now half-forgotten village of Lindores, stand four humble cottages, which are still the abodes of men; though, to the eyes of a modern traveller, their low walls and moss-covered roofs would present the idea of sheep-cots or cattle-sheds, rather than that of human habitations. The fields around them are now in the highest state of cultivation; and the gentle hills with which they are on all sides surrounded, where inaccessible to the plough, are, for the most part, covered with thriving plantations, which give a sheltered and picturesque appearance to the little world in which they are situated. These simple shielings seem to have outlasted many of their humble contemporaries, the sites of which are now only indicated by two or three decaying trees, which, in the greenness of youth, must have beautified the little gardens of sober old men, who are long ago in their graves, and shaded the sports of children, who are now, perhaps, tottering with bleached locks through the crowded streets of some smoky town, forgetful alike of the quiet fields upon which they danced away the innocent morning of existence, and the spreading trees beneath whose branches they had imitated the voice of the cuckoo, and listened to the song of birds, with spirits as light and musical as their own.

About fifty years ago, one of these cottages was occupied by James W—- and his wife, a most respectable and industrious pair, whose humble virtues are still remembered with esteem by the elderly part of the community in the neighbourhood where they lived. James was a weaver, and, like most of his craft at that time, he manufactured his own yarn, and sold his own cloth. But, besides this little business, which he carried on for himself, he was often employed by the country people in what was called customer work. He also farmed a small piece of ground, which afforded him a healthful occupation in the spring months, and supported a cow, whose produce, to use his own language, “keepit a fu’

house a’ the year round.”

James was rather an intelligent man for his station. Besides being deeply versed in all that Biblical knowledge which was then so happily cultivated by the labouring cla.s.s in Scotland, he had read Josephus and some other old historians, whose writings he quoted with so much promptness and propriety, that many of his simple listeners believed him to be almost inspired, and some of them went even so far as to say that his speech wanted only a little polishing to make him a match for the minister. But, though James really possessed a greater amount of knowledge than most of those with whom he mingled, he never exhibited that arrogant, overbearing manner, which is too often allied to superior abilities. His good-nature was equal to his other acquirements, and he was a special favourite with all who knew him. He could explain an abstruse doctrine to the satisfaction of the old gudemen, and enlarge with great animation on the merits of good housewifery, not forgetting, in the course of discussion, to pay a delicate compliment to the thrifty dames who intrusted him with the manufacturing of their linen. Nor was he less admired by the younger part of the community; for, while the old and sober a.s.serted that James was a _canny_ man, and a learned man, the young and frolicsome a.s.sured one another that he was a droll man, and a funny man. On the harvest field he was the very “soul of all;” for he never wanted a queer story or a witty jest, to cheer the spirits of his fellow-labourers, when they began to flag under the heat and toil of the day. His wit, however, was of that quiet, inoffensive kind, which delights those who listen, without wounding the feelings of those upon whom it is exercised. He possessed a happy turn, too, for settling the disputes which frequently arose among the young and fiery spirits composing the little army of reapers with whom he was engaged. When a compet.i.tion, or _campe_, as it was called, occurred, James’s mediation was often necessary to reconcile the contending parties to the results of the contest; and his talent was seldom exerted in vain. While the pride of the vanquished brought forth charges of unfair play to cover the shame of defeat, and while these charges were repelled by the boasting of the victors, James stepped forward with some humorous remark, or displayed some piece of ludicrous mimicry, which overpowered the spirit of contention, and united both parties in a harmonious roar of laughter. He was not only umpire in their quarrels, and master of the ceremonies at their feasts, but chaplain in ordinary at their common breakfasts and dinners among the stooks. Upon these occasions, it was pleasing to remark the solemnity which prevailed in the usually noisy a.s.sembly, when James took off his old dimpled hat, and, with a devotional gravity, which contrasted finely with the cheerful expression of his ordinary countenance, solicited the blessing of G.o.d upon the simple repast of which they were about to partake. If at any time the sly winks of some mischievous wag succeeded in raising a t.i.tter among the younger part of the company, it was suppressed in a moment; for, though James was extremely good-natured, he was always severe in rebuking the conduct of those who showed the least disrespect to religion.

Having thus given a general account of James’s character, we must now proceed to narrate a simple anecdote in his life, which we consider worthy of being known, not only on account of the generosity of feeling which it exhibits, but also on account of the opportunity which it affords for displaying the genuine simplicity of manners prevailing among the cla.s.s to which he belonged at the period when it occurred.

One fine afternoon, in the beginning of the winter of 1776, as James was busily employed at his occupation in the shop, Nanny, his wife, entered with a handful of pirns, and a countenance which betokened something of importance. She was evidently in a hurry, and needed her husband’s a.s.sistance; but hesitated about the propriety of asking it.

“When Jamie’s aff the loom,” said she to herself, “neither beam-traddles nor bore-staff’ll budge a single bit; and, if he fa’s in wi’ onybody by the gate, wha kens when he may come back again?–for the greatest faut that oor Jamie has, is just that he likes a crack owre weel.”

Notwithstanding of these prudential considerations, Nanny did broach the subject in a most becoming and delicate manner, by asking her husband’s advice in her present perplexity.

“What are we to do noo, Jamie?” said she, in a rather depressed tone.

“There’s no a pickle meal i’ the barrel; and I hae the cow’s supper to get in, and the b.u.t.ter to mak, and the bed to mak, and the milk to ‘earn, forby mony a ither thing that _maun_ be done–sae, ye see, I hae nae time to gang for meal the nicht.”

“Hout, la.s.sie!” said James, with a smile; “I’ll tell ye what we’ll do.

I’ll just get a pock, and set up by to Sandy Laing’s for a peck or twa to keep oor teeth gaun till oor ain melder come frae the mill.”

“Weel, aweel, Jamie,” said the guidwife, glad to find such a ready remedy for all her difficulties. “If ye’ll bring the meal, I’ll mak the parritch, lad; but it wad hae been a braw thing if we had haen a bit cratur o’ oor ain to gang an errant like this, and we micht hae been makin something at oor wark i’ the time.”

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