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Book of Scottish Story
The Death of a Prejudice


At a late hour one Saturday evening, as I was proceeding homewards along one of the crowded streets of our metropolis I felt myself distinctly tapped on the shoulder, and, on looking round, a bareheaded man, dressed in a nightgown, thus abruptly questioned me—

"Did you ever, sir, thank God for preserving your reason?"

On my answering in the negative—

"Then do it now," said he, "for I have lost mine."

Notwithstanding the grotesque accompaniments of the man's dress, and his undignified face, disfigured by a large red nose, the above appeal to me was striking and sublimely pathetic ; and when he bowed to me with an unsteady fervour and withdrew immediately, I could not resist following him, which I was the more inclined to do, as he seemed to be labouring under some frenzy, and might need to be looked after.

There was another reason for my being particularly interested in him: I had seen him before; and his appearance and interruption had once before given me great disgust. It was thus;— On my return to Scotland, after an absence of five years, which I had passed in the West Indies, I found the one beloved dead, for whom had been all my hopes and all my good behaviour through those long years. When all the world, with the hard severity of truth and prudence, frowned on the quick reckless spirit of my youth, she alone had been my gentle prophetess, and sweetly told that my better heart should one day, and that soon, give the lie to the cold prudential foreboders. For her sweet sake, I tried to be as a good man should be; and when I returned to my native land, it was all for her, to bring her by that one dearest, closest tie, near to the heart which (I speak not of my own vanity, but to her praise) she had won to manly bearing.

O God! O God! I found her in the dust,—in her early grave; no more to love me, no more to give me her sweet approval. It was then my melancholy pleasure to seek the place where last we parted by the burn in the lonely glen. As I approached the place, to throw myself down on the very same green spot on which she had sat when last we met, I found it occupied by a stranger; I withdrew, but to return the following evening. I found the sacred spot again preoccupied by the same stranger, who, independent of his coarse red face, his flattened, ill-shaped, bald head (for he sat looking into his hat), and the undignified precaution of his coat-skirts carefully drawn aside, to let him sit on his outspread handkerchief, disgusted me by the mere circumstance of his unseasonable appearance in such a place, which had thus twice interrupted the yearning of my heart, to rest me there one hour alone. This second night also I hastily withdrew. I came a third night, and found a continuance of the interruption. The same individual was on the same spot, muttering to himself, and chucking pebbles into a dark pool of the burn immediately before him, I retired, cursing him in my heart, and came no more back to the place.

Now, in the frenzied man who accosted me, as above-mentioned, on the street by night. I recognized at once the individual who had so interrupted me some months before, in the lonely glen by the side of the burn; and, in addition to the reason already given for my wish now to follow him, there was the superadded anxiety to be kind to a man in such distress, whom, perhaps in the very beginning of his sorrows, I had heartily and unreasonably cursed. I was still following him, when a woman, advanced in life, rushed past me, and, laying hold of him, cried loudly for assistance. This was easily found in such a place; and the poor man was, without delay, forcibly carried back to her house, where, on my following, I learned that he was a lodger with the woman, that he was sick of a brain fever, and that, during a brief interval in her watching of him, he had made his escape down-stairs, and had got upon the street. I was now deeply interested in the poor fellow, and determined to see him again the following morning, which I did, and found him much worse. On making inquiry at the woman of the house respecting him. she told me that he had no relatives in this country, though he was a Scotchman; that he was a half-pay officer in his Majesty's service; that he did not seem to want money; that he was a noble - hearted, generous man. She added, moreover, that he had lodged in her house two months; and that, previous to his illness, he had spoken of a friend whom he expected every day to visit him from a distant part of the country, to make arrangements for their going together to the continent.

In two days more, poor Lieutenant Crabbe (such, I learned, was his name and commission) died; and, by a curious dispensation of Providence, I ordered the funeral, and laid in the grave the head of the man whom, only a few months before, I had cursed as a disgusting, impertinent fellow. The alien-mourners had withdrawn from the sodded grave, and I had just paid the sexton for this last office to poor Crabbe, when the woman in whose house he had died advanced with a young man, apparently an officer, in whose countenance haste and unexpected affliction were strongly working. "That's the gentleman, sir," said the woman, pointing to myself.

"Very well, good woman," said the stranger youth, whose tones bespoke him an Englishman, and whose voice, as he spoke, seemed broken with deep sorrow. "I will see you again, within an hour, at your house, and settle ail matters." The woman, who had doubtless come to show him the churchyard, hereupon retired; and the young Englishman, coming up to me, grasped me kindly by the hand, whilst his eyes glistened with tears.

"So, sir," said he, "you have kindly fulfilled my office here, which would to God I had been in time to do myself for poor Crabbe! You did not know him, I believe?"

"No," I answered.

"But I did," returned the youth; "and a braver, nobler heart never beat in the frame of a man. He has been most unhappy, poor fellow, in his relatives."

"I am sorry to hear it," I could only reply.

"If I could honour you in any way, sir," rejoined the youth, "which your heart cares for, beyond its own noble joy, in acting the manly and humane part which you have acted towards my poor friend, I would delight to honour you. You are at least entitled to some information about the deceased, which I may give you in a way which will best show the praise and the heart of poor Crabbe. I have some letters here in my pocket, which I brought with me, alas ! that he might explain something to me, which they all, more or less contain, relative to a piece of special business; from one of them I shall read an extract, relative to his early history, and the miserable occasion on which he found his long-lost father, whom, after long and patient efforts to trace his parents, he was at length directed to seek in one of your villages in the south of Scotland."

The particular letter was selected, and the young Englishman, over the grave of his friend, read as follows:—

"I could have wept tears of blood, on finding things as they are with the unhappy old man who is indeed my father. I shall speak to you now as I would commune with my own heart; but yet it must be in mild terms, lest I be wickedly unfilial. Is not this awful? From the very little which I knew of myself ere I came to this country, and from information which I have gathered within these two weeks from the old clergyman of this village, it appears that my mother had died a few days after giving me birth, and that my uncle, who had never been satisfied with the marriage, took me, when very young, from my father, whose unhappy peculiarities led him readily to resign me; gave me my mother's name, and carried me with him to Holland, where he was a merchant He was very kind to me in my youth; and, when I was of proper age, bought me a commission in the British army, in which I have served, as you know, for nearly ten years, and which, you also know, I was obliged to leave, in consequence of a wound in one of my ankles, which, subject to occasional swelling, has rendered me quite unfit for travel. My uncle died about three years ago, and left me heir to his effects, which were considerable. Nothing in his papers led me to suppose that my father might yet be living, but I learned the fact from a confidential friend of his, who communicated it to me, not very wisely, perhaps, since he could not tell me even my real name. Bitterly condemning my uncle's cruel policy, which had not allowed him to hold any intercourse whatever with my father, and which had cut me off from the natural guardian of my life, I hasted over to this country, with no certain hope of success in finding out whose I was, beyond what my knowledge that I bore my mother's name led me to entertain. I had my own romance connected with the pursuit. I said to myself, that I might have little sisters, who should be glad to own me, unworthy though I was; I might bring comfort to a good old man, whose infirmities of age were canonized by the respect due to his sanctity; who, in short, had nothing of age but its reverence; and who, like another patriarch, was to fall upon my neck, and weep for joy like a little child. Every night I was on board, hasting to this country, I saw my dream-sisters, so kind, so beautiful: they washed my feet; they looked at the scars of my wounds; they were proud of me for having been a soldier, and leaned on my arm as we went to church, before all the people, who were lingering in the sunny churchyard; and the good old man went before, looking oft back to see that we were near behind, accommodating his step to show that he too was one of the party, though he did his best to appear self-denied.

"After getting the clue, as mentioned in my last letter to you, I took a seat in the mail, which I was told would pass at a little distance from the village whither I was bound. Would to God I had set out the day before, that so I might have prevented a horrid thing ! The coach was stopped for me at a little bridge, that I might get out ; the village, about a mile off, was pointed out to me; and I was advised to follow a small foot-path, which led along by a rivulet, as being the nearest way to the place in question. Twilight was now beginning to deepen among the elms that skirted the path into which I had struck; and in this softest hour of nature, I had no other thought than that I was drawing near a home of peace. I know not whether the glen which I was traversing could have roused such indescribable emotions within me, had I not guessed that scenes were before me which my childhood must have often seen; but every successive revelation of the pass up which I was going,—pool after pool ringed by night insects, and shot athwart on the surface by those unaccountable diverging lines, so fine, so rapid, which may be the sport too of invisible insects,— stream after stream, with its enamelled manes of cool green velvet, which anon twined themselves out of sight beneath the rooted brakes,—one shy green nook in the bank after another, overwaved by the long pensile boughs of trees, and fringed with many a fairy mass of blent wild flowers;—all these made me start, as at the melancholy recurrence of long-forgotten dreams. And when the blue heron rose from the stream where he had been wading, and with slow lagging wing crossed and re-crossed the water, and then went up the darkened valley to seek his lone haunt by the mountain spring, I was sure I had seen the very same scene, and the very same bird, some time in my life before. My dear Stanley, you cannot guess why I dwell so long on these circumstances ! For it enters my very heart with anguish, to tell the moral contrast to my hopes, and to these peaceful accompaniments of outward nature. It must be told. Listen to what follows "I had not walked more than a quarter of a mile up the valley, when I heard feeble cries for assistance, as of some one in the last extremity, drowning in the stream. I made what haste I could, and, on getting round a sloping headland of the bank, which shot forward to the edge of the rounding water, I found myself close upon a company of fellows, habited like Christmas mummers, apparently amusing themselves with the struggles of a person in the water who, even as he secured a footing, and got his head above, was again pushed down by his cruel assailants. I was upon them ere they were aware, and reached one fellow, who seemed particularly active, an excellent thwack with my ratan, from which, however, recovering, he took to his heels, followed by his associates. My next business was to relieve the object of their cruelly; but this was no easy task; for, being probably by this time quite exhausted, he had yielded to the current; and, ere I could leach him, was rolled down into a large black pool. He was on the point of sinking for ever, when I caught hold of him—good God! an old man—by his gray hair, and hauled him out upon the bank, where he lay to all appearance quite dead. Using such means as were in my power to assist in restoring suspended animation, I succeeded so well, that ere long the poor old man showed symptoms of returning life. I looked round me in this emergency, but there was neither house nor living person to be seen; so what could I do, but take the old, bare headed man on my back, and carry him to the village, which I knew was not far off. And there, God in heaven! who should I find him to be, but my own father!

"To you, Stanley, I can say everything which I dare whisper to my own heart; but this is a matter which even my own private bosom tries to eschew. It seems—it seems that the unhappy old man is narrow-hearted—a miser, as they term it here; and that for some low petty thefts he was subjected by some fellows of the village to the above ducking. I know well, Stanley, you will not despise me for all this, nor because I must now wear my own name of Crabbe,

which I am determined, in justice to that unhappy old father, henceforth to do. On the contrary, you will only advise me well how to win upon his harder nature, and bring him round to more liberal habits. Listen to the following scheme of my own for the same purpose, which struck me one evening as I sat chewing the cud of sweet and bitter fancy, beside the pool whence I rescued the poor old man. For indeed —indeed, I must grapple with the realities of the moral evil, however painful or disgusting. That being is my father; and no one can tell how much his nature may have been warped and kept perverse by the loss of the proper objects of natural affection. It it not my bound en duly, then, to be found to him, and by my constant presence, to open his heart, which had been too much const ringed by his lonely situation? I shall hedge him round, in the first place, from insults; I shall live with him, in his own house, all at my expense; and our household economy shall be as liberal as my finances will permit. I shall give much money in charily, and make him the dispenser of it; for our best feelings are improved by outward practice. Whenever I may be honoured by an invitation to a good man's table, the slightest hint to bring him with me shall be taken advantage of; and he shall go, that the civilities of honourable men may help his self-respect, and thereby his virtue. Now, may God aid me in this moral experiment to try it with discretion, to make the poor old man doubly mine own!" "From this extract, said the young Englishman, carefully folding up his deceased friend's letter, "you will see something of the exalted nature of poor Ramsay—Crabbe, I should say, according to his own decided wish. I may here mention, that the death of the old man, which look place not many weeks after the above brutalities were inflicted upon him, and which, in all likelihood was hastened by the unhappy infliction, never allowed his son to put in practice those noble institutes of moral discipline, which he had devised, to repair and beautify the degraded fountain of his life. I doubt not that this miserable end of his old parent, and the sense of his own utter loneliness, in respect of kindred, preyed upon the generous soldier, and helped to bring on that frenzy of fever, which so soon turned his large, his noble heart, into dust and oblivion. Peace be with his ashes; and everlasting honour wait upon his name!—To-morrow morning, sir," continued the youth, "I set out again for England, and I should like to bear your name along with me, coupled with the memory which shall never leave me, of your disinterested kindness towards my late friend. I talk little of thanks; for I hold you well repaid, by the consciousness of having done the last duties of humanity for a brave and good man."

According to the Englishman's request, I gave him my name, and received his in return; and, shaking hands over the grave of poor Crabbe, we parted.

"Good God!" said I to myself, as I left the churchyard, "it appears, then, that at the very moment when this generous soldier was meditating a wise and moral plan to win his debased parent to honour and salvation—at that very moment I was allowing my heart to entertain a groundless feeling of dislike to him." My second more pleasing reflection was, that this unmanly prejudice had easily given way. How could it last, under the awful presence of Death, who is the great apostle of human charity? Moreover, from the course of incidents above mentioned, I have derived this important lesson for myself :—Never to allow a hasty opinion, drawn from a man's little peculiarities of manner or appearance, particularly from the features of his face, or the shape of his head, as explained by the low quackeries of Lavater and Spurzheim, to decide unfavourably against a man, who, for aught I truly know, may be worthy of unqualified esteem.


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