Richard Sinclair; or, the
Poor Prodigal by Thomas Aird
the calmness almost of despair, when the closing eve took away his
chance of seeing any more stray passengers that day, the poor youth
groped his way to his marble slab, and again sat down with a strange
vacuity of heart, as if it would refuse further thought of his dismal
situation. A new fear came over him, however, when daylight thickened at
the grated window of his low room, and the white marbles grew dark
around him. And not without creeping horror did he remember that from
this very aisle it was that old Johnny Hogg, a former sexton, was said
to have seen a strange vile animal issue forth one moonlight night, run
to a neighbouring stream, and after lapping a little, hurry back,
trotting over the blue graves, and slinking through beneath the table
stones, as if afraid of being shut out from its dull, fat haunt.
Hurriedly, yet with keen inspection, was young Sinclair fascinated to
look around him over the dim floor ; and while the horrid apprehension
came over him, that he was just on the point of seeing the two eyes of
the gloating beast, white and muddy from its unhallowed surfeits, he
drew up his feet on the slab on which he sat, lest it should crawl over
them. A thousand talestrue to boyish impressionscrowded on his mind;
and by this rapid movement of sympathetic associations, enough of
itself, while it lasts, to make the stoutest heart nervous, and from the
irritation of his body from other causes, so much was his mind startled
from its propriety that he thought he heard the devil ranging through
the empty pews of the church; and there seemed to flash before his eyes
a thousand hurrying shapes, condemned and fretted ghosts of malignant
aspect, that cannot rest in their wormy graves, and milky-curdled babes
of untimely birth, that are buried in twilights, never to see the sun.
Soon, however, these silly fears went off, and the tangible evil of his
situation again stood forth, and drove him to renew his cries for
assistance, and his attacks upon the door, ere he should be quite
enfeebled by hunger and disease. Again he had to sit down, after
spending his strength in vain.
By degrees, he fell into a stupor of sleep, peopled with strange dreams,
in all of which, from natural accordance with his waking conviction that
he had that day seen his mothers burial, her image was the central
figure. In danger she was with himin weariness-in captivity; and when
he seemed to be struggling for life, under delirious fever, then, too,
she was with him, with her soft assuaging kiss, which was pressed upon
his throbbing brow, till his frenzy was cooled away, and he lay becalmed
in body and in spirit beneath her love. Under the last modification of
his dream, he stood by confused waters, and saw his mother drowning in
the floods. He heard her faintly call upon his name; her arms were
outstretched to him for help, as she was borne fast away into the dim
and wasteful ocean ; and, unable to resist this appeal, he stripped off
his clothes and plunged in to attempt her rescue. So vivid was this last
part of his vision, that in actual correspondence with the impulse of
his dream, the poor prodigal in the aisle threw off his clothes to the
shirt to prepare himself for swimming to her deliverance. One or two
cold ropy drops, which at this moment fell from the vaulted roof upon
his neck, woke him distinctly, and recalled him to a recollection of his
situation as a captive. But being unable to account for his being naked,
he thought that he had lost, or was about to lose, his reason, and,
weeping aloud like a little child, he threw himself upon his knees, and
cried to God to keep fast his heart and mind from that dismal
alienation. He was yet prostrate when he heard feet walking on the
echoing pavement of the church; and at the same time a light shone round
about him, filling the whole aisle, and showing distinctly the black
letters on the white tombstones.
His first almost insane thought was that a miraculous answer was given
to his prayer, and that, like the two apostles of old, he had won an
angel from heaven to release him from his midnight prison. But the
footsteps went away again by the door, and ceased entirely; whilst at
the same time the light was withdrawn, leaving him to curse his folly,
which, under an absurd hope, had lost an opportunity of immediate
disenthralment. He was about to call aloud, to provoke a return of the
visitation, when, through the grated window of the aisle, he observed a
light among the graves, which he set himself to reconnoitre. It was one
of those raw, unwholesome nights, choked up with mists to the very
throat, which thicken the breath of old men with asthma, and fill
graveyards with gross and rotten beings; and, though probably not more
than twenty yards distant, Sinclair could not guess what the light was,
so tangled and bedimmed was it with the spongy vapours.
At length he heard human voices, and was glad to perceive the light
approaching his window. When the men, whom he now saw were two in
number, had got within a few yards of him, he called out
I pray you
good people, be not alarmed; I have been locked up in this aisle to-day,
and must die of hunger in it if you do not get me out. You can get into
the church, and I doubt not you will find the key of this aisle-door in
the sextons closet. Now, I hope you have enough of manhood not to let
me remain in this horrid place from any silly fears on your part."
Instead of answering to this demand, the fellows took instantly to their
heels, followed by the vehement reproaches of our hero, whose heart at
the same time was smitten by the bitter reflection, that every chance of
attracting attention to his captivity was likely to be neutralized by
the superstitious fears of such as might hear him from his vault. In a
few minutes the light again approached, and after much whispering
betwixt themselves, one of the men demanded who and what the prisoner
"I can only tell you farther, replied Sinclair, "that I fell asleep in
this place during the sermon,no very creditable confession, you will
observe, and that, when I awoke, I found myself fairly entrapped.
The men retired round the church, and with joy Richard heard next minute
the rattling of the keys as they were taken from the sextons closet. In
another minute he heard the door of his dungeon tried; it opened
readily; and with a start, as if they thought it best at once to rush
upon their danger, his two deliverers, whom he recognised to be of his
native village, advanced a little into the aisle, the foremost bearing
the light, which he held forward and aloft, looking below it into the
interior, to be aware for what sort of captive they had opened. No
sooner did Sinclair stand disclosed to them, naked as he was to the
shirtfor he had not yet got on his clothesthan the sternmost man, with
something between a yell and a groan, bended on his knees, whilst his
hair bristled in the extremity of his terror, and catching hold of his
companions limbs, he looked through betwixt them upon the naked spirit
of the aisle. The foremost man lowered the light by inches, and cried
"Fear-fa me! take hand o me, Geordie Heart! Its the yellow dead
rising from their grave-s. Eh! theres the lightning! and is yon no an
auld crooked man i the corner ?
"Will Balmer I Will Balmer I whaur are ye? cried the other, from
between Wills very knees, which, knocking upon the prostrate mans
cheeks, made him chatter and quiver in his wild outcry.
"Oh! theres the lightning again! Gin we could but meet wife and bairns
ance mair ! ejaculated the foremost man.
"Lord have mercy on my widow ane sma family I " echoed the sternmost.
"Tout! its but the lairds drucken mulatto after a! " said the former,
gathering a little confidence.
"Oh, if it were! or but a man wi the jaundice, our days might be
lengthened," cried the latter.
Richard advanced to explain ; but at that moment the dull firmament in
the east, which had been lightning from time to time (as often happens
previously to very rainy weather), opened with another sheeted blaze of
white fire, the reflection of which on Richards yellow face, as he came
forward, seemed to the terrified rustics a peculiar attribute of his
nature. With a groan, he in the van tried a backward retreat ; but being
straitened in the legs, he tumbled : over his squatted companion.
Leaving his neighbour, however, to sit still upon his knees, he that was
the foremost man gathered himself up so well, that he crept away .on his
hands and feet, till, getting right below the bell-rope at the end of
the church, he ventured to rise and begin to jow it, making the bell
toll at an unusual rate. The inmates of the manse were immediately
alarmed; and first came the ministers man, who demanded the meaning of
such ill-timed ringing.
"Oh! Tam Jaffray! Tam Jaffray ! sic a nights in this kirkyard ! If sae
be its ordeened that I may ring an live, Ill haud to the tow. Oh! Tam
Jaffrey ! Tam Jaffray! whats become o puir Geordie Heart? If the
Wandering Jew o Jerusalem, or the Yellow Fever frae Jamaica, is no
dancing mother-naked in the aisle, then it behoves to be the dead rising
frae their graves. I trust well a be found prepared! Rin for a
lantern, Tam.Eh ! look to that lightning l"
A light was soon brought from the manse; and a number of people from the
village having joined the original alarmists, a considerable muster
advanced to the aisle door just as Sinclair was stepping from it. Taking
the light from one of the countrymen, he returned to the relief of the
poor villager, who was still upon his knees, and who, with great
difficulty, was brought to comprehend an explanation of the whole
affair. The crowd made way as Sinclair proceeded to leave the graveyard;
but whether it was that they were indignant because the neighbourhood
had been so much disturbed, or whether they considered that proper game
was afoot for sportive insolence, they began to follow and shout after
"Come back, ye yellow neegur! well no send ye !stop him! Come back, ye
squiff, and well gie ye a dead subject ! Stop the resurrectionist ! --
After him, gie him a paik, and see if hes but a batch o badger skins
dyed yellowhurrah ! "
Sinclair wishing, for several reasons, to be clear at once of the mob,
was in the act of springing over the dyke into the plantation already
mentioned, when he was struck by a stick on the head, which brought him
back senseless to the ground. The crowd was instantly around the
prostrate youth, and in the caprice or better pity of human nature,
began to be sorry for his pale condition.
"It was a pity to strike the puir lad that gate," said one. "Some folk
shouldna been sae rash the day, I think, remarked another. " Stand
back," cried Tam Jaffray, pushing from right to left ; "stand back, and
gie the puir fallow air. Back, Jamieson, wi your shauchled shins; it
was you that cried first that he was a resurrectionist.
The clergyman now advanced and asked what was the matter.
"Its only a yellow yorlin weve catched in the aisle, cried an
insolent clown, who aspired to be the prime wit of the village; "he was
a bare gorblin .a few minutes syne, and now hes full feathered? This
provoked a laugh from groundlings of the same stamp, and the fellow,
grinning himself was tempted to try another bolt," And hes gayan weel
tamed by this time.
"Peace, fellow, said the minister, who had now seen what was wrong;
"peace, sir, and do not insult the unfortunate. I am ashamed of all
By the directions of the clergyman, the poor prodigal was carried into
the manse, where he soon recovered from the immediate stunning effects
of the blow he had received.
"How is all this ? was his first question of surprise, addressed to his
host. "May I request to know, sir, why I am here ?
"In virtue of a rash blow, which we all regret," answered the minister.
"I crave your pardon, sir, returned the youth. " I can now guess that
I am much indebted to your kindness.
"May we ask you, young man," said the clergyman, "how it has happened
that you have so alarmed our peaceful neighbourhood ? "
The poor prodigal succinctly stated the way of his imprisonment in the
aisle; and with this explanation the charitable old clergyman seemed
perfectly satisfied. Not so, however, was his ruling elder, who, deeming
his presence and authority indispensable in any matter for which the
parish bell could be rung, had early rushed to the scene of alarm, and
was now in the manse, at the head of a number of the villagers. He, on
the contrary, saw it necessary to remark (glancing at his superior for
"Sae, mind, young man, in times future, what comes of sleeping in the
time of two peeous and yedifying discoorses."
"A good caution, John," said the mild old minister ; " but we must make
Was it you that struck me down ?" said Richard eagerly to an old man,
who, with evident sorrow working in his hard muscular face, stood
watching this scene with intense interest; and who, indeed, was his own
Smitten to the heart by this sudden question of the youth, ashamed of
his own violent spirit on such a night, and grieved, after the
explanation given, for the condition of the poor lad before him, old
Sinclair groaned, turned quickly half round, shifted his feet in the
agony of avowal,then seizing his unknown prodigal boy by the hand, he
wrung it eagerly, and said,
"Theres my hand, young man, in the first place ; and now, it was me
indeed that struck you down, but I thought
"Oh! my prophetic conscience ! interrupted the poor prodigal, whilst he
looked his father ruefully in the face, and returned fervently the
squeeze of his hand. " Make no apologies to me, thou good old man; thy
blow was given under a most just dispensation.
"I sent two neighbours, said the old man, still anxious to explain, "
to see that all was right about the grave. I heard the alarm, and came
off wi my stick in my hand. I heard them crying to stop ye, for ye were
a resurrectionist. I saw ye jumping suspiciously into the planting. Ye
maun forgie me the rest, young man, for I thought ye had been violating
the grave of a beloved wife."
"My own poor mother! sobbed forth the prodigal.
Old Sinclair startedhis strong chest heavedthe recollection of his
rash blow, together with the circumstance that it had been dispensed on
such a solemn night, and near the new grave of one whose gentle spirit
had been but too much troubled by the harshness and waywardness of both
husband and son, came over his heart with the sudden conviction that his
boy and himself were justly punished by the same blow, for their mutual
disrespect in former years. Yearning pity over that sons unhappy
appearance, and the natural flow of a fathers heart, long subdued on
behalf of his poor lost prodigal, were mingled in the old mans deep
emotion; and he sought relief by throwing himself in his boy's arms, and
weeping on his neck.
His sturdy nature soon recovered itself a little ; yet the bitter spray
was winked from his compressed eyes as he shook his head; and the lower
part of his face quivered with unusual affliction, as he said in a
"My own Richard ! my man, has your father lived to strike you to the
ground like a brute beast, and you sae ill? -on the very day, too, o
your mothers burial, that loved ye aye sae weel ! But come away wi me
to your fathers house, for ye are sick as death, and the auld man that
used ye ower ill is sair humbled the night, Richard !"
The prodigals heart could not stand this confession of a father. His
young bosom heaved as if about to be rent to pieces ; the mother, and
hysterica passio of old Lear, rose in his straitened throat,
overmastering the struggling respiration, and he fell back in a violent
fit. His agonized parent ran to the door, as if seeking assistance, he
knew not what or where; then checking himself in a moment, and hastening
back, yet without looking on his son, he grasped the clergyman strongly
by the hand, crying out, " ls he gone?is my callant dead?"
Ordering the people to withdraw from around the prostrate youth, whose
head was now supported by the clergymans beautiful and compassionate
daughter, the kind old pastor led forward the agonised father, and
pointing to his reviving son, told him that all would soon be well
again. With head depressed upon his bosom, his hard hands slowly
wringing each other, while they were wetted with the tears which rained
from his glazed eyes, old Sinclair stood looking down upon the ghastly
boy, whose eye was severely swollen, whilst his cheek was stained with
the clotted blood which had flowed from the wound above the temples,
inflicted by his own father.
After standing a while in this position, the old man drew a white napkin
from his pocket, and, as if himself unable for the task, he gave it to
one of his neighbours, and pointed to the blood on the face of his
prodigal boy, signifying that he wished it wiped away. This was done
accordingly; and, in a few moments more, Richard rose, recovered from
his fit, and modestly thanking the clergyman and his beautiful daughter
for their attentions to him, he signified his resolve to go home
immediately with his father. The kind old minister would fain have kept
him all night, alleging the danger of exposing himself in such a state
to the night air ; but the youth was determined in his purpose ; and old
Sinclair cut short the matter by shaking the hand of his pastor, whilst,
without saying a word, he looked him kindly in the face to express his
thanks, and then by leading his son away by the arm.
The villagers, who had crowded into the manse, judging this one of those
levelling occasions when they might intrude into the best parlour,
allowed the father and son to depart without attempting immediately to
follownature teaching them that they had no right to " intermeddle with
the sacred communings of the son and fathers repentance and
forgiveness, or with the sorrow of their common bereavement. Yet the
rude throng glanced at the minister, as if surprised and disappointed
that the thing had ended so simply; then slunk out of the room,
apprehensive, probably, of some rebuke from him. The ruling elder,
however, remained behind, and wherefore not?