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Book of Scottish Story
A Passage of My Life


Maiden aunts are very tough. Their very infirmities seem to bring about a new term of life. They are like old square towers—nobody knows when they were built, and nobody knows when they will tumble down. You may unroof them, unfloor them, knock in their casements, and break down their doors, till the four old black walls stand, and stand through storm and sunshine year after year, till the eye, accustomed to contemplate the gradual decay of everything else, sickens to look at this anomaly in nature. My aunt, dear good soul, seemed resolved never to die,—at least to outlive her hopeful nephew. I thought she was to prove as perdurable as a dried mummy, —she was by this time equally yellow and exsiccated as any of the daughters of Pharaoh.

I had run myself quite aground. But my extravagances, as well as my distresses, I had the policy to conceal from my aged relative. She, honest lady, occasionally had pressed me to accept of some slight pittances of two or three £50’s at different times. which, after much difficulty and entreaty, I made a merit of accepting, stoutly asserting that I only received them to avoid hurting her feelings—that my own income was amply sufficient for the limited wants of a scholar, or to any one who could put in practice the rules of wholesome economy; but this trifle certainly would enable me to purchase a few rather expensive publications which I could not otherwise have hoped to do, and which would prove of essential use in furthering the progress of the two great works I had commenced while at college, and had been busy with ever since, viz.: "A History of Antediluvian Literature, Arts, and Sciences," and "A Dissertation on the Military Tactics of the Assyrians," which I intended should appear along with the last volume of Valpy’s Greek Dictionary, or the first of Sir James Mackintosh’s History of Great Britain.

Fortune at last grew tired of persecuting me ; she fairly turned her wheel, and put me on the brightest spoke. My aunt’s factor called one day, and let me know that he thought I should make my visits at Broadcroft more frequent—take a little interest in looking over the ditching and draining of the estate (short-sighted man, he little knew how much I had ditched and drained it by anticipation !) –walk through the woods and plantations, and bestow my opinion as to thinning them (they were long ago, in my own mind, transferred to the timber-yard)—apply myself a little to master the details of business connected with agricultural affairs, such as markets, green and white crops, manure, &c. &c. ; and concluded by telling me that his son was a remarkably clever lad, knew country matters exceedingly well, and would be a most valuable acquisition as factor or land grieve to any gentleman of extensive landed property. The drift of this communication I perfectly understood. I listened with the most profound attention, lamented my own ignorance of the subjects wherein his clever son was so much at home, and wished only that I had an estate, that I might entrust it to the care of so intelligent a steward. After dispatching a bottle or two of claret, we parted mutually pleased.

He had seen my aunt’s will, and, in the fulness of his heart, ran over the legal jargon which constituted me the owner of Broadcroft, Lilliesacre, Kittieford, Westerha’, Cozieholm, Harperston, and Oxgang, with hale parts and pendicles, woods and fishings, mills and mill-lands, muirs and mosses, rights of pasturage and commonty. I never heard more delightful music all my days than the hour I spent hearkening to this old rook cawing over the excellent lands that were mine in prospective. My aunt’s letters, after this, I found assumed a querulous tone, and became strongly impregnated with religious commonplaces—a sure sign to me that she herself was now winding up her earthly affairs—and generally concluded with some such sentence as this: "I am in a comfortable frame of spirit, but my fleshly tabernacle is sorely decayed—great need hath it of a sure prop in the evening of its days.” These epistles I regularly answered, seasoning them with scriptural texts as well as I could. Some, to be sure, had no manner of connection or application whatsoever; but I did not care for that if they were there. I stuck them thick and threefold, for I knew my aunt was an indulgent critic, provided she got plenty of matter. I took the precaution also of paying the postage, for I learned, with something like satisfaction, that of late she had become rather parsimonious in her habits. I also heard that she daily took much comfort in the soul-searching and faith-fortifying discourses of Mr Samuel Salmasius Sickerscreed, a migratory preacher of some denomination or other, who had found it convenient for some months to pitch his tent in the Broadcroft. Several of my aunt’s letters told me, in no measured terms, her high opinion of his edifying gifts. With these opinions, as a matter of course, I warmly coincided. Sheet after sheet now poured in from Broadcroft. I verily thought all the worthy divines, from the Reformation downwards, had been put in requisition to batter me to pieces with choice and ghostly counsel.

This infliction I bore up against with wonderful fortitude, and repaid with my weightiest metal. To supply the extraordinary drafts thus made on my stores of devout phraseology, I had to call in my worthy friend Tom ——. He had been a regularly-bred theologian, but finding the casque more fitting for his hot head than the presbyter’s cowl, he now lived in elegant starvation as a dashing cornet in the —— Dragoons, and a better fellow never breathed. His assistance was of eminent service : when we exhausted our own invention, we immediately transcribed the sermon of some forgotten divine of last century, and sent it thundering off These we denominated ‘shells’. At this time Tom’s fortune and mine were hanging on the same pin ; we were both up to the chin in debt ; we had stretched our respective personal credits, as far as they would go, for each other. We were involved in such a beautiful multitude and labyrinth of mutual obligations, that we could neither count them nor see our way out of them. In the holy siege of Broadcroft citadel we therefore joined heart and hand.

In this manner things went on smoothly. My aunt was becoming daily weaker, seldom left her own bedroom, and permitted no person to see her save the Rev. S. S. Sickerscreed. Indeed, every letter I received from my aunt intimated more plainly than its predecessor that I might make up my mind for a great and sudden change, and prepare myself for afllictions. As in duty bound, my answers breathed of sorrow and resignation—lamented the mutability of this world—its nothingness—the utter vanity of all earthly joys. I really loved the good old lady ; but I was hampered most villanously. I knew not a spot where I could put the sole of my foot, without some legal mine blowing me up a shivered rag into the azure firmament,—a fate a thousand times more picturesque than pleasant. I may therefore be excused for confessing that I looked upon my aunt’s release from this world as the dawn of my own deliverance. Yet, even then, I felt shame when I looked into the chambers of my heart, and found that every feeling of grief I had there for my aunt’s illness was beautifully edged with a gleam of satisfaction. The cypresses and yews, and other mournful trees that threw their pensive shadows around me, were positively resting above a burning volcano of joy. No; it was not in human nature for a desperate man like me to exclude from his contemplation the bills, bonds, moneys, and manors that had accumulated for years under her thrifty and prudent management.

One morning, while musing in this indescribable state of feeling, a little ragged boy, besmeared with dust and sweat, whom I recognised as turnspit and running footman of the establishment at Broadcroft, thrust a crumpled greasy-like billet in my hand.

"Come awa, laird, come awa, gin ye would like to see your auld auntie afore she gangs aff a’thegither.”

I started up, threw down the Sporting Magazine and instinctively snatched up my hat.

"When did it happen, wee Jamie?"

"This morning, nae far’er gane—but come awa; everything’s gaun tapsalteerie at Braidcraft—sae unexpected by us a’ ! Has your horse been fed yet? Dinna put aff but come awa. We’re a’ dementit ower the way, and ye’re muckle wanted, and sair missed.”

With this wee Jamie darted away; I roared after him to obtain further particulars, but wee Jamie shot off like an arrow, only twisting his head over his shoulder, notwithstanding his trot, he screamed - " Gerss maunna grow under my heels, if I care for my lugs. But it’s a’ by noo, and there`s nae gude in granin’.”

With which sapient remark the kitchen boy got out of hearing, and soon out of sight.

I now hastily broke the black wax of the billet. The note was subscribed by Mr S. S. Sickerscreed, and was written in his most formal small-text hand. He had been a schoolmaster in his youth, and could write legibly, which no gentleman who regards his caste should do. The three big S S S were dearer to me than a collar of knighthood. It required my immediate presence at Broadcroft to talk over certain serious and impressive matters. So had Mr Samuel Salmasius Sickerscreed penned his billet, and in the fulness of my heart I gave the poor man credit for an excess of delicacy more than I ever noticed had belonged to him before. Poor dear man, he, too, has lost a valuable friend. Judging of the exquisiteness of my feelings by the agony of his own, he has kindly delayed the fatal announcement of my aunt’s demise, till my heart has been prepared to meet the shock with becoming fortitude. How considerate—how very compassionate he has been ! Worthy man—would I could repay his kindness with a benifice! Thus did I soliloquise over the dispatch from Broadcroft ; but notwithstanding the tumult which it and its bearer raised in my bosom, I did not omit communicating to Tom the unexpected change which a few hours had produced in our destinies, and charging him at the same time to moderate his transports till I returned with a confirmation of our hopes.

Then backing my stoutest hunter, and taking a crow’s flight across the country, I spared not her heaving flanks, nor drew bridle, till I reached the long, straight, dusky avenue that led to the tall, narrow slip of a house yclept Broadcroft Place. Here I slackened my pace, and left my wearied and panting brute to crawl as lazily as she liked along the avenue. I, too, lengthened my visage to the requisite degree necessary for the melancholy purpose on which I came. The very trees had a lugubrious and sepulchral aspect. I took them in fancy to be so many ‘Sawlies’ waiting the time for heading the funeral procession of my lamented aunt. They seemed to mourn for her in sincere sorrow, and, in fact, walking under their shadows disposed my mind very much to melancholy. Now a green leaf, now a withered one, dropped on my beaver as I passed, and in the deep silence that reigned around me, I could not, despite my constitutional recklessness, be wholly insensible to the appeals these mute emblems of man’s mortality made to reflection.

But a pleasanter train of feelings arose when I looked at the stately trunks or the venerable oaks, their immense girth, and (with a glow of patriotic virtue, quite common now-a-days) pictured forth to myself how admirably they were suited to bear Britannia’s thunders triumphantly across the wave. Yes, every tree of them shall be devoted to the service of my country. Perish the narrow thought, that for its own gratification would allow them to vegetate in unprofitable uselessness, when they can be so beneficially employed for the state. Every old, druidical-looking oak which my eye scanned was, of course, devoted to the axe. I already saw the timber yards piled with Broadcroft oak, and the distant sea my imagination soon whitened with a fleet of noble barks wholly built of them. Thus did I speculate till I reached the end of the avenue, where, to my surprise, I found a travelling post-chaise and four drawn up before the door of the mansion. This vehicle, an apparition of rare occurrence in so secluded a part of the country, and at the residence of so retired a lady as my departed aunt, was literally crushed with trunks, and boxes, and bags, and packages of one kind or another, strapped above, behind, and before it.

Being never unfertile in surmises, I immediately guessed that the equipage I saw must, of necessity, belong to the clerk to the signet, my aunt’s city lawyer, who had trundled himself into the country with the whole muniments of my estate, for the mere purpose of welcoming me, and regulating my deceased relative’s affairs. His prompt appearance, I attributed, with my usual goodness of heart, to the kindly foresight of Mr Samuel. I really did not know how l could sufficiently recompense him for the warm, disinterested, and valuable services he had rendered in this season ’of affliction. But my aunt must have remembered him in her testament. She was ever grateful. She cannot possibly have overlooked him. As the d—l would have it, I then asked myself now, if your aunt has forgotten Mr Samuel Salmasius Sickerscreed altogether, how will you act? At first, I said he must have £100 at least ; then as I looked on my own necessities, the uncertainty of rents, the exorbitance of taxes, this sum speedily subsided into half the amount. And by the time I fairly reached my aunt’s door, I found my mind reconciling itself to the handsome duty of presenting Mr Sickersereed with a snuff-box, value £2, 10s., a mourning ring worth 30s., a new coat, and ten guineas; in all, some twenty pieces of gold or thereby.

On alighting, I gave my horse to the servant to walk and cool. John was old as his late mistress—a very good, foolish, gray-headed domestic, marvellously fond of the family he served with, and marvellously fond of conversation. He looked profoundly melancholy when he took my reins.

"It’ll be a sair dispensation to you, Maister William,” quoth John, "this morning’s news. Ye wud be wonderfully struck and put about when ye heard it. ”

"It is, indeed," said I, throwing as much of mournfulness as possible into the tones of my voice. " Heavy news indeed, and most unexpected. Great cause have I to grieve. My poor dear aunt to be thus lost to me for ever ! "

"Nae doubt, nae doubt, Maister William, ye mann hae a heavy heartfu’. We were a’ jalousing as muckle,—that`s me, Souple Rab, and wee Jamie; however, it’ll no do to be coosten down a’thegither,—a rainy night may bring a blithe morrow. Every thing is uncertain in this world but death! But come on, Kate;" and John and my reeking jade disappeared in the direction towards the stable; John, no doubt, bursting with impatience till he could communicate to his select cabinet, Souple Rab and wee Jamie, the awesome and doncie looks of the young laird.

I was yet lingering on the threshold in a most comfortable frame of mind, when the door was thrown open. Imagine my horror when the first figure I saw was my aunt herself, not in the drapery of the grave, but bedizzened with ribbons from head to heel, and leaning her withered hand on the arm of the Reverend Mr Sickerscreed. I gasped for breath—my tongue swelled and clung to the roof of my mouth—my eyes literally started from their sockets as if they would leave their bony casements altogether. Had I not caught hold of the porch, down I should have dropped.

"Am I in my senses, aunt? Do I see you really alive? Is this no unreal mockery—no cruel hallucination? Resolve me, for Heaven’s sake, else I go mad."

"Dear me, nephew," said the old lady, "what agitates you so ? I feel so glad that you have paid me this visit ere I set off on my marriage jaunt with the elect of my heart, your worthy connection, Mr Sickerscreed."

"Marriage!” thundered I, "marriage!—I came to mourn over your bier, not to laugh at your bridal. O, the infernal cruelty, Mr What’s-your-name, to despatch your pharisaical letter sealed with black wax."

"Young wrathful," meekly rejoined Mr Samuel, "it was dark green wax, most emblematic, as I said to your aunt, my dear spouse, of the unfading verdure of our harmonious affections?

"Black and green fiends dog you to Satan," roared I. "What an ass you have made of me ! Farewell, a long farewell, to all my greatness. Oh! Broadcroft, Lilliesacre, Kittleford, Cozieholm, and Oxgang, perished in the clap of a hand, and for ever ! The churchman’s paw is upon you, and a poor fellow has no chance now of a single rood !"

With some more stuff of this kind, I parted with my venerable aunt and her smooth-tongued spouse. These petrifactions of humanity had the charity, I suppose, to consider me moon-struck. I heard Mr Samuel sweetly observe, that verily the young lad’s scholarship had driven him mad. I wished the rogue at the bottom of the Red Sea, or in the farthest bog of Connaught, paring turf and cultivating potatoes – anywhere but where I now saw him. I could have eaten him up raw and unsodden, without salt or pepper, where he stood—ground his bones to dust, or spit upon him till he was drowned in the flood of my spite. I did neither; but throwing myself again on the back of Kate, off I scampered home, more like a fury than a man.

In my way there was not a rascal I met but seemed to my heated imagination to know my misfortunes, and enjoy, with sly satisfaction, their fearful consummation. Two fellows I cut smartly across the cheek; they were standing coolly by the wayside, with their hands in their pockets, interchanging winks, and thrusting their tongues provokingly out like hounds on a hot day. They did not relish the taste of my thong, and one of them made an awkward squelsh into a ditch on receipt, head over heels, immensely to my heart’s content.

It was evening when I reached the little village where my headquarters for some weeks had been established. To add to my miseries, I found that Tom had, in my absence, with his usual volatility of temperament. been entertaining a numerous party in the Cross Keys, on the faith of my accession of property. When I rode past the tavern, my ears were assailed with most extraordinary sounds of festivity, and my head endangered by a shower of bottles and glasses that his reckless boon companions were discharging from the windows. Some of these windows, too, were illuminated with multitudes of ‘dips’: —the extravagant dog !—three to the pound. And some coarse transparencies were flaunting in my face pithy sentences, such as—"A Glorious Revolution," "Splendid Victory," "Jubilee to Hopeless Creditors,” "Intelligence Extraordinary!!" &c. Then, at every pause of the maddening din, the explosion of another bottle of champagne smote my ear like a death- knell. Cork after cork popped against the ceiling-crack, crack, they went like a running fire along a line of infantry, while loud above the storm rose the vociferations of my jolly friend, as he cheered them on to another bumper, with all the honours, or volunteered his own song. Poor Tom, he had only one song, which he wrote himself and never failed to sing to the deafening of every one when he was drunk. It was never printed, and here you have as much of it as I remember, to vary the melancholy texture of my story :-—

SONG.

Fill a can, let us drink,
For ’tis nonsense to think
Of the cares that may come with to-morrow;
And ’tis folly as big
As the Chancellor’s wig,
To dash present joy with dull sorrow.
Hip ! hip ! hip ! fill away;
Our life’s but a day,
And ’twere pity that it proved a sad one ;
'Twas in a merry pin
Our life did begin,
And we’ll close it, brave boys, in a mad one!
Hip! hip! hip! &c.

Never shrink, boys, but stand,
With a can in each hand,
Like a king with his globe and his Sceptre ;
And though slack in your joints,
Yet thus armed at all points,
The devil himself can’t you capture.
Hip ! hip ! hip I Fill aright,
Should he seek us tonight,
We'll toss off the old rogue as a whetter ;
When the hot cinder's down,
Take my oath on’t, you’ll own,
That good luck could not furnish a better.
Hip! hip! hip! &c.

Dull sophists may say,
Who have ne’er wet their clay,
That merry old wine gives no bliss,
But the flasks sparkling high, •
Gives the dotards the lie,
Crying, kiss me, my roaring lads, kiss !
Hip! hip ! hip! jolly boys !
He who quarrels with those joys,
Which the longer they’re sipped of grow sweeter,
May he live to be wise,
And then when he sighs
For a smack, let him choke with this metre.
Hip! hip! hip! &c.

This was followed with what Tom emphatically styled a grand crash of melody ; that is, overturning the table, and burying in one indiscriminate ruin, bowls, bottles, glasses, and all things brittle.

My heart sickened at the riot, and, broken in spirit and penniless, I retreated to my lodgings.

Here I had at least peace to ruminate over my prostrate fortunes ; but as meditation would not mend them, and next morning would assuredly bring the dire intelligence of my aunt’s marriage, I, that same night, made a forced march, anxious to secure a convenient spot for rustication and retirement, till fortune should again smile, or the ferocity of my creditors be somwhat tamed. Poor Tom ! I had the savage satisfaction of breaking up his carousal by a few cabalistic words written in a strong half-text hand: "Stole away! Done up.--Fooled and finished,—Run, if you love freedom, and hate stone walls. You will find me earthed in the old hole."

Next evening I was joined by my luckless shadow. He had a hard run for it; the scent lay strong, and the pack were sure-nosed and keen as razors. But he threw them out from his superior knowledge of localities. After this we both became exceedingly recluse and philosophical in our habits. We had the world to begin anew, and we had each our own very particular reasons for not making a noise about it. —Paisley Magazine.


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