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Wilson's Border Tales
The Miser's Will


The following tale is in substance absolutely true. The individual who performed the feat is still living; and, while we cannot wish him much joy of his ill-won gear, we cannot but admire the dexterity with which it was acquired. In the little town of Maybole there lived, some fifty years ago or more, an old man of the name of George Rorieson, more commonly called Laird Rorieson. He had been a kind of general merchant, or trafficker in any kind of commodities which he thought would yield him a profit; and, by dint of great sagacity, had made some very fortunate hits, and realised a large sum of money. Having begun the world with a penny, he was emphatically the maker of his own fortunes—a circumstance he was very proud of and loved to sound in the ears of certain individuals who envied him his riches. Having amassed his money by an accumulation of small sums, for a long course of years, he had gradually become narrower and narrower, as his wealth increased; and, by the time he arrived at the age of sixty, his penurious feelings had become so strong and deep-rooted that he could scarcely afford himself the means of a comfortable subsistence.

It is almost needless to say that Laird Rorieson never had courage or liberality of sentiment sufficient to give him an impulse towards matrimony; and, truly, it was alleged that he never even looked on womankind with any feelings different from those with which he contemplated his fellow-creatures generally; and these had always some connection, one way or another, with making profit of them. But, though he had no wife, he had a good store of nephews and nieces— somewhere about twenty—all poor enough, God knows! but all as hopeful as brides and bridegrooms of a great store of wealth and bless being awaiting them on the death of Uncle Geordie.

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 the word.

"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 wi’t, Saunders?"

"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 gift!"

"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 clutches."

"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.

"Here is another box," said Saunders Gibbieson, holding up the mahogany one; "let us try it." And he opened it, and took out Geordie’s will. The writer read it aloud. Saunders was sole heir to all the old miser’s possessions, amounting to 20,000 pounds. No one could tell the reason why there were two papers marked "will," and one of them a blank sheet; and Saunders, simple man, did not trouble himself to give any explanation.


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