The affection which these
twenty nephews and nieces showed to Uncle George was remarkable; but,
somehow or another, the good uncle hated them mortally, and the bitterer
he became, the more loving they waxed—so that it was very wonderful to see
so much human love and sympathy thrown away upon an old churl who could
have seen all the devoted creatures at the devil.
It was indeed alleged that
this crabbed miser had no love for any one, all his affection being
expended upon his moneybags; but we are bound to say that this is not
quite the truth; for there was a neighbour of the name of Saunders
Gibbieson, a bachelor, for whom the laird really felt some small twinges
of human kindness. Saunders Gibbieson was as true a Scotchman as ever
threw the pawky glamour of a twinkling gray eye over the open face of an
English victim. He was, as already said, a bachelor; but, unlike his
friend Geordie, he loved the fair sex, and vowed he would marry the
bonniest lass o’ Maybole the moment he was able to sustain her "in bed,
board, and washing." He had scraped together a few pounds, maybe to the
extent of a hundred or two, and looked forward to making himself happy at
no very distant period. He was a famous hand at a political argument; and
there was not a man in Maybole who could touch him at driving a bargain.
As already said, Geordie
had a kind of feeling towards Saunders, and there can be no doubt that
Saunders had as strong an affection for the "auld rich grub," as he called
him in his throat, as ever had any one of the twenty nephews and nieces
already alluded to. In the evenings he often went in and sat with him;
and, by dint of curious jokes, "humorous lees," and political anecdotes,
he contrived to wile, for a few minutes, the creature’s heart from his
money-bags, and unbend his puckered cheeks and lips into a species of
compromise between a laugh and a grin. It was no wonder, then, that
Geordie had a kind of liking for Saunders—seeing he got value in amusement
from him, without so much cost as even a piece of old dry cheese, or a
waught of thin ale. On the other hand, it was difficult to see how
Saunders could love the laird; and, indeed, it was a matter of gossip what
could induce a man so much in request as Saunders Gibbieson to take so
much pains in pouring into the "leather lugs" of an old miser the precious
joke that would have set the biggest table in Maybole in a roar.
Now the time came when
Laird Rorieson began to feel the first touches of that big black angel who
loves to hug so fondly the sons of men. He was ill—he was indeed very
ill—and it would have done any man’s heart good to see the kindness and
sympathy which his twenty nephews and nieces paid him. Every hour one or
other of them was calling at his house; and his ears were regaled by the
sympathetic tones which their love for their dear uncle wrung from their
tender hearts. Oh, it was beautiful to behold! Such things do credit to
our fallen nature. But the old grub loved it not; and it was even said he
cursed and swore in the very faces of the kind creatures, just as if they
had had an eye on the heavy coffers of gold that lay in his house. This
kindness on the part of his nephews and nieces was thus converted into a
kind of poison; for every time they called, their uncle got into such a
passion that his remaining strength was well-nigh worn out. But he had
still enough left to sign his name; and the ungrateful creature resolved
upon leaving all his gold to found an hospital. He sent for a man of the
law, and had a consultation with locked doors, and all things seemed in a
fair way for the poor nephews and nieces being sacrificed for ever.
This circumstance came to
the ears of Saunders Gibbieson, who had not been an unattentive spectator
of the extraordinary proceedings going on in the house of his neighbour.
As soon as he heard the news, he retired and meditated, and communed with
himself three hours on matters of deep concernment to him and the
generations that might descend from him. The result of all this study was
a resolution alike remarkable for its eccentricity and sagacity; but
Saunders’ spirit dipped generally so deep in the wells of wisdom, that
there was no wonder it should come forth drunk, as it were, with the
golden policy of cunning.
Now, all of a sudden,
Saunders grew (as he said) very ill—as ill indeed, or nearly as ill, as
Laird Rorieson himself; but, so full was he of brotherly love towards his
neighbour, that his sudden illness did not prevent him calling upon the
latter, one night, when there seemed to be no great chance of their being
disturbed by any of the sympathetic nephews and nieces. He found Geordie
very weakly, and sat down by the bedside, to pour the balm of his
friendship and consolation into the sick man’s ear. The Laird received him
kindly, and, as was his custom, Saunders got him into a pleasant humour,
by telling him something of a curious nature that had occurred, or had
been supposed by Saunders to have occurred, during the day. He then began
the more important part of his work.
"You are ill, Laird," said
he; "but I question muckle if ye’re sae ill as I am myself. For a long
time I’ve been in a dwinin way, and, though I hae kept up a fair
appearance and good spirits, I’ve been gradually getting thinner and
weaker. I fear I’m in a fair way for anither warld."
"I’m sorrow to hear’t,"
replied the Laird. "It’s a sad thing to dee." And he shook as he uttered
"Ay, an’ it’s a sad thing,"
said Saunders, "to be tormented in your illness, wi’ they cursed corbies
o’ puir relations. The moment I began to complain, I’ve been tormented wi’
a host o’ nephews and nieces, wha come and stare into my hollow een, as if
they would count the draps o’ blude that are yet left in my heart."
"Ay, ay, are you in that
plight too, Saunders," groaned the Laird. "The ravens have been croaking
owre me for twa lang years. They come and perch on the very bedposts; they
croak, they whet their nebs, they look into my face, and peer into my very
heart. It’s dreadful—and there’s nae remedy. I’ve tried to terrify them
awa; but they come aye back again. They’ve worn me fairly out."
"I’ve had many a meditation
on the subject, Laird," said Saunders; "and, between you and me, if
there’s a goose quill in a’ Scotland, I’ll hae a shot at them. I haena
muckle i’ the warld—a thousand or twa maybe, hard won Geordie, as a’ gowd
is in thae hard times: but the deil a plack o’t they’ll ever touch."
"Ye’ll be to found an
hospital?" said the Laird.
"Na, na," answered
Saunders. "I’ll found nae beggar’s palace. I’ve studied political economy
owre lang to be ignorant o’ the bad effects o’ public charities. They
relax the sinews o’ industry, and mak learned mendicants. Besides, wha
thanks the founder o’ an hospital for his charity? Nane !—nane! A puff or
twa in the newspapers about Gibbieson’s mortification would be the hail
upshot o’ my reward; and sensible folk would set me doun as an auld
curmudgeon, wha hadna heart to love and benefit a friend."
"There’s some truth in
that," muttered the Laird. "It’s a pity a body canna tak his gear wi’ him.
Sair hae I toiled for it, and, Oh! it’s miserable! cruel! cruel! that I
should be obliged to leav’t to a thankless warld! But what are ye to do
"Indeed, I’m just to leave
it a’ to you, Laird," said Saunders. "I have lang liked ye wi’ a’ the luve
o’ honest, leal friendship; and, after muckle meditation, I canna fix on a
mortal creature wha is mair deservin o’t than you, my guid auld freend.
You have a fair chance o’ recovering; I have nane. Ye may enjoy my gear
lang after the turf has grown thegither owre my grave; and God bless the
"Kind, guid man!" cried the
Laird, in a voice evincing strong emotion, either of love or greed. "That
is kindness—ay, very different frae the friendship o’ my sisters’ and
brothers’ bairns. After a’ I believe yer right, Saunders— an hospital has
nae gratitude; and what have we to do wi a cauld and heartless warld?"
"There’s just ae difficulty
I hae," said Saunders. "The will’s written and signed; but I dinna weel
ken whar to lay it; for, when I’m dead, thae deevils o’ corbies may smell
the bit paper and put it in the fire. Maybe you would tak the charge o’t
for me, Laird."
"Ou ay," answered the
Laird. "I’ll keep it. The deil o’ ane o’ them will get it oot o’ my
"Weel, weel, my dear
friend," said Saunders. "I’ll put it into a tin box; the key ye’ll find,
after my breath’s out, in the little cupboard that’s at the foot o’ my
bed—ye ken the place. They can mak naething o’ the key without the box
and, if you canna find the key, you can force the box open. Oh, I would
like to see you reading the will in the midst o’ the harpies!"
"That’s weel arranged,
Saunders; ye can set about it as soon as you like."
"I intend to do it
instantly, Laird," replied the man. "I’ll about it this moment." And he
rose and went out of the house.
In a short time, Saunders
returned, holding in his hand a small tin box. He laid it down upon the
table, and, taking out a small key, opened it, and took out a paper,
entitled—"Last Will and Testament."
"There it is, my good
friend," he said; and, replacing the paper in the box, he locked it and
placed it in an escrutoire pointed out by the Laird. He then went away.
Next day, the lawyer came
to carry into effect the charitable resolution of Laird Ronieson; but he
found that a great change had taken place upon the old man’s sentiments.
He was now adverse to a mortification, and said he was resolved upon
leaving his fortune to one whom he considered to be a real friend,
and, indeed, the only real friend he had upon earth. The lawyer was
surprised when he ascertained that this friend was Saunders Gibbieson; but
it was not his province to object—so he departed straightway to carry into
effect the new resolution of the testator.
Two days afterwards, the
Laird sent a messenger to Saunders to come and speak with him. Saunders
obeyed; walking in to him slowly, and apparently with great effort, as if
he had been labouring under a strong disease.
"I have been thinking again
and again, Saunders," said the Laird, "o’ your great kindness. You are the
first man that ever left me a farthing. The warld has rugged aff me, since
ever I had a feather to pick. Nane has ever offered me either a bite or a
sup. You are the only friend I’ve ever met upon earth."
"I hae only obeyed the
dictates o’ my heart," replied Saunders; "and I’m glad I have dune it, for
I feel mysel very weakly, and fear the clock o’ this warld’s time will be
wound up wi’ me in a very short period."
"Maybe no so sune as ye
think, Saunders," replied the Laird. "But my purpose is executed.
Saunders, you are my heir. Hand me that box there."
Saunders took up a small
mahogany box that lay on the table, and handed it to him.
"Here," continued the laird
taking out a paper; "here is my will. It’s a’ in your favour,
Saunders—lands, houses, guids, and chattels, heritable and moveable. Say
naething; you are my heir. Ha! ha! let the corbies croak. You’ve dune me a
guid service; I winna be ahint ye. Tak the box into yer ain keeping. I’ll
keep the key. Awa wi’t this instant. Ha! ha! let the corbies croak."
Saunders obeyed. He carried
the box into his own house, placed it in his cupboard, locked the door,
and put the key into his pocket.
In about a month
afterwards, old Laird Rorieson departed this life. On the day of his
death, his nephews and nieces were in great commotion, and there was a
terrible running to and fro, and much whispering, and wondering, and
gossiping—all on the great subject of the death of Uncle Geordie. On the
day of his funeral, they were all collected, to see whether there was any
will. They, of course, wished that there should be none, because they,
being his heirs, would succeed to all, if there was no disposition of the
old man’s effects. The little box was broken open in their haste, and, lo!
there was indeed a paper, bearing the fearful word "Will," and the faces
of the heirs turned as pale as the paper itself. It was opened; but it was
a fair, clean sheet of paper, and not a drop of ink had stained its
purity. "All safe, all safe," muttered the heirs.