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Book of Scottish Story
Daniel Cathie, Tobacconist


Daniel Cathie was a reputable dealer in snuff, tobacco, and candles, in a considerable market town in Scotland. His shop had, externally, something neat and enticing about it. In the centre of one window glowed a transparency of a ferocious-looking Celt, bertneted, plaided, and kilted, with his unsheathed claymore in one hand, and his ram’s-horn mull in the other; intended, no doubt, to emblem to the spectator, that from thence he recruited his animal spirits, drawing courage from the titillation of every pinch. Around him were tastefully distributed jars of different dimensions, bearing each the appropriate title of the various compounds within, from Maccuba and Lundy Foot down to Beggar’s Brown and Irish Blackguard. In the other, one half was allotted to tobacco pipes of all dimensions, tastefully arranged, so as to form a variety of figures, such as crosses, triangles, and squares; decorated at intervals with rolls of twist, serpentinings of pigtail, and monticuli of shag. The upper half displayed candles, distributed with equal exhibition of taste, from the prime four in the pound down to the halfpenny dip; some of a snowy whiteness, and others of an aged and delicate yellow tinge; enticing to the eyes of experienced housewives and spectacled cognoscenti. Over the door rode a swarthy son of Congo, with broad nostrils, and eyes whose whites were fearfully dilated,—astride on a tobacco hogshead,—his woolly head bound with a coronal of feathers, a quiver peeping over his shoulder, and a pipe in his cheeks blown up for the eternity of his wooden existence, in the ecstasy of inhalation.

Daniel himself, the autocrat of this domicile, was a little squat fellow, five feet and upwards, of a rosy complexion, with broad shoulders, and no inconsiderable rotundity of paunch. His eye was quick and sparkling, with something of an archness in its twinkle, as if he loved a joke occasionally, and could wink at any one who presumed so far in tampering with his shrewdness. His forehead was bald, as well as no small portion of either temple ; and the black curls, which projected above his ears, gave to his face the appearance of more than its actual breadth, which was scantily relieved by a slight blue spotted handkerchief, loosely tied around a rather apoplectic neck.

His dress was commonly a bottle-green jacket, single-breasted, and square in the tails ; a striped cotton waistcoat ; velveteen breeches, and light blue ridge-and-furrow worsted stockings. A watch-chain, of a broad steel pattern, hung glittering before him, at which depended a small gold seal, a white almond-shaped shell, and a perforated Queen Anne’s sixpence. Over all this lower display, suppose that you fasten a clean, glossy linen apron, and you have his entire portrait and appearance.

From very small beginnings he had risen, by careful industry, to a respectable place in society, and was now the landlord of the property he had for many years only rented.

Matters prospered, and he got on by slow but steady paces. Business began to extend its circle around him, and his customers became more respectable and genteel.

In a short time Daniel opened accounts with his banker. His establishment became more extensive; and after the lapse of a few not unimproved years, he took his place in the first rank of the merchants of a populous burgh.

His lengthening purse and respectable character pointed him out as a fit candidate for city honours, and the town-council pitched upon him as an eligible person to grace their board. This was a new held opened for him. His reasoning powers were publicly called into play; and he had, what he had never before been accustomed to, luxurious eating and drinking, and both without being obliged to put his hand into his breeches-pocket. Daniel was a happy man—

‘No dolphin ever was so gay
Upon the tropic sea.’

He now cogitated with his own mighty mind on the propriety of entering upon the matrimonial estate, and of paying his worship to the blind god. With the precision of a man of business, he took down in his notebook a list of the ladies who, he thought, might be fit candidates for the honour he intended them, the merits of the multitude being settled, in his mind, in exact accordance with the supposed extent of their treasures. Let not the reader mistake the term. By treasure he neither meant worth nor beauty, but the article which can be paid down in bullion or in bank-notes, possessing the magic properties of adding field to field, and tenement to tenement.

One after another the pen was drawn through their names, as occasion offered of scrutinising their means more clearly, or as lack-success obliged him, until the candidates were reduced to a couple; to wit—Miss Jenny Drybones, a tall spinster, lean and ill-looking, somewhat beyond her grand climacteric ; and Mrs Martha Bouncer, a brisk widow, fat, fair, and a few years on the better side of forty.

Miss Jenny, from her remote youth upwards, had been housekeeper to her brother, a retired wine merchant, who departed this life six years before, without occasioning any very general lamentation ; having been a man of exceedingly strict habits of business, according to the jargon of his friends ; that is to say, in plain English, a keen, dull, plodding, avaricious old knave.

But he was rich, that was one felicity; therefore he had friends. It is a great pity that such people ever die, as their worth, or, in other words. their wealth, cannot gain currency in the other world ; but die he did, in spite of twenty thousand pounds and the doctor, who was not called in till death had a firm grip of the old miser’s windpipe, through which respiration came scant and slow, almost like the vacant yawns of a broken bellows.

Expectant friends were staggered, as by a thunder-stroke, when the read will, too legal for their satisfaction, left Miss Jenny in sure and undivided possession of goods and chattels all and sundry.

For the regular period she mourned with laudable zeal, displaying black feathers, quilled ruffles, crape veils, and starched weepers, in great and unwonted prodigality, which no one objected to, or cavilled about, solely because no one had any business to do so.

It was evident that her views of life from that era assumed a new aspect, and the polar winter of her features exhibited something like an appearance of incipient thaw ; but the downy chin, wrinkled brow, and pinched nose, were still, alas! too visible. Accordingly, it is more than probable that, instead of renewing her youth like the eagles, she had only made a bold and laudable attempt to ‘rifaciamente’, in thus lighting up her features with a more frequent and general succession of smiles.

No one can deny that, in as far as regards externals, Miss Jenny mourned lugubriously and well, not stinting the usually allotted number of calendar months. These passed away, and so did black drapery ; garments brightening by progressive but rapid strides. Ere the twelve months expired, Miss Jenny flaunted about in colours as gaudy as those of "the tiger-moth’s deep damasked wings,"—the counterpart of the bird of paradise, the rival of the rainbow.

Widow Martha Bouncer was a lady of a different stamp. Her features still glowed in the freshness of youthful beauty, though the symmetry of her person was a little destroyed by a tendency to corpulency. She dressed well ; and there was a liveliness and activity about her motions, together with an archness in her smile, which captivated the affections of the tobacconist, rather more than was compatible with his known and undisguised hankering after the so-called good things of this life, the flesh-pots of Egypt.

Mrs Bouncer was the widow of a captain in a marching regiment ; consequently she had seen a good deal of the world, and had a budget of adventures ever open for the admiration of the listening customer. Sometimes it might even be objected, that her tongue went a little too glibly ; but she had a pretty face and a musical voice, and seldom failed in being attended to.

The captain did not, as his profession might lead us to surmise, decamp to the other world, after having swallowed a bullet, and dropped the death-dealing blade from his blood-besmeared hand on the field of battle, but quietly in his bed, with three pairs of excellent blankets over him, not reckoning a curiously quilted counterpane. Long anticipation lessens the shock of fate ; consequently the grief of his widow was not of that violent and overwhelming kind which a more sharply-wound-up catastrophe is apt to occasion ; but, having noticed the slow but gradual approaches of the grim tyrant, in the symptoms of swelled ankles, shrivelled features, troublesome cough, and excessive debility, the event came upon her as an evil long foreseen; and the sorrow occasioned by the exit of the captain was sustained with becoming fortitude.

Having been fully as free of his sacrifices to Bacchus as to the brother of Bellona, the captain left his mate in circumstances not the most flourishing ; but she was enabled to keep up appearances, and to preserve herself from the gulf of debt, by an annuity bequeathed to her by her father, and by the liberality of the widows’ fund.

Time passed on at its usual careless jog-trot; and animal spirits, being a gift of nature, like all strong natural impulses, asserted their legitimate sway. Mrs Martha began to smile and simper as formerly. Folks remarked, that black suited her complexion; and Daniel Cathie could not help giving breath to the gallant remark, as he was discharging her last year’s account, that he never before had seen her looking half so well.

On this hint the lady wrought. Daniel was a greasy lubberly civilian to be sure, and could not escort her about with powdered collar, laced beaver, and glittering epaulettes ; but he was a substantial fellow, not amiss as to looks, and with regard to circumstances, possessing everything to render a wife comfortable and snug. Elysian happiness, Mrs Martha was too experienced a stager to expect on this side of the valley of death. Moreover, she had been tossed about sufficiently in the world, and was heartily tired of a wandering life. The height of her wise ambition, therefore, reached no higher than a quiet settlement and a comfortable domicile. She knew that the hour of trial was come, and sedulously set herself to work, directing against Daniel the whole artillery of her charms. She passed before his door every morning in her walk ; and sometimes stood with her pretty face directed to the shop window, as if narrowly examining some article in it. She ogled him as he sat in church ; looking as if she felt happy at seeing him seated with the bailies ; and Daniel was never met abroad, but the. lady drew off her silken glove, and yielded a milk-white delicate hand to the tobacconist, who took a peculiar pleasure in shaking it cordially. A subsequent rencontre in a stage coach, where they enjoyed a delightful ‘tete-a-tete’ together for some miles told with a still deeper effect; and everything seemed in a fair way of being amicably adjusted.

Miss Jenny, undismayed by these not unmarked symptoms of ripening intimacy, determined to pursue her own line of amatory politics, and set her whole enginery of attack in readiness for operation. She had always considered the shop at the cross as the surest path for her to the temple of Bona Fortuna. Thence driven, she was lost in hopeless mazes, and knew not where to turn.

She flaunted about, and flashed her finery in the optical observers of Daniel, as if to say, ‘This is a specimen,—thousands lie under this sample’. Hope and fear swayed her heart by turns, though the former passion was uppermost ; yet she saw a snake, in the form of Mrs Bouncer, lurking in her way ; and she took every lawful means, or such as an inamorata considers such, to scotch it.

Well might Daniel be surprised at the quantity of candles made use of in Miss Jenny’s establishment. It puzzled his utmost calculation ; for though the whole house had been illuminated from top to bottom, and fours to the pound had been lighted at both ends, no such quantity could be consumed. But there she was, week after week, with her young vassal with the yellow neck behind her, swinging a large wicker-basket over his arm, in which were deposited, layer above layer, the various produce of Miss Jenny’s marketing.

On Daniel, on these occasions, she showered her complaisance with the liberality of March rains; inquiring anxiously after his health; cautioning him to wear flannel, and beware of the rheumatics ; telling him her private news, and admiring the elegance of his articles, while all the time her shrivelled features "grinned horrible a ghastly smile," which only quadrupled the “ fold upon fold innumerable ” of her wrinkles, and displayed gums innocent of teeth,—generosity not being able to elevate three rusty stumps to that honour and dignity.

There was a strong conflict in Daniel’s mind, and the poor man was completely " bamboozled.” Ought he to let nature have its sway for once, take to his arms the blushing and beautiful widow, and trust to the success of his efforts for future aggrandisement? Or must strong habit still domineer over him, and Miss Jenny’s hook, baited with twenty thousand pounds, draw him to the shores of wedlock, "a willing captive?" Must he leave behind him sons and daughters with small portions, and "the world before them, where to choose ;" or none—and his name die away among the things of the past, while cousins ten times removed alike in blood and regard, riot on his substance? The question was complicated, and different interrogatories put to the oracle of his mind afforded different responses …..

TO BE CONTINUED


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