It was about two years
after his son had enlisted, that the news of the peace and the abdication
of Napoleon arrived. James was not one of those who partook of the general
joy; but while he mourned over the fall of the man whom he had all but
worshipped, he denounced the conduct of the allied sovereigns in strong
and bitter terms of indignation. The bellman went round the village,
calling upon the inhabitants to demonstrate their rejoicing by an
illumination. The Levellers consulted James upon the subject, and his
advice was, that they ought not, let the consequences be as they would,
comply with the request or command of the authorities, and which had been
proclaimed by the town-crier; on the contrary, he recommended, that at the
hour when the illumination was to commence, every man of them should
extinguish the fires in his house, and leave not a lamp or a rushlight
burning. His advice was always akin to a command, and it was implicitly
followed. The houses were lighted upthe illumination was general, save
only the windows of the Levellers, which appeared as in mourning; and soon
attracted the attention of the crowd, the most unruly amongst whom raised
the cry of "Smash them!send them in," and the cry was no sooner made than
it was obeyed; stones flew thick as hail, panes were shivered, sashes
broken, and they ran from one house to another carrying on their work of
destruction. In its turn they came to the dwelling of Jamesthey raised a
yell before ita stone was thrown, and the crash of broken glass was
heard. James opened the door, and stood before them. They yelled louder.
"Break away," said he,
contemptuously; "ye poor infatuated sauls that ye are--break away, an
dinna leave a hale pane, if its yer sovereigns will an pleasure! Ye
silly, thoughtless, senseless idiots; how mony hunder millions has it cost
this country to cram the precious Bourbons on the people o France
again?an whas to pay it, think ye?"
"No you, Jemmy," cried a
voice from the crowd.
"But I maun toil frae
mornin till night to help to do it, ye blockhead ye," answered James;
"an ye hae to do the same, an yer back has to gang bare, an yer bairns
to be hungered for! Certes, friends, ye hae great cause for an
illumination! But, as if the hunders o millions which yer assistance o
the Bourbons has added to the national debt were but a trifle, ye,
forsooth, must increase yer county burdens by breaking decent peoples
windows, for their sake, out o pure mischief. Break awa, friends, if its
yer pleasure, the damage winna come out o my pocket; and if yer siller is
sae plentifu that ye can afford to throw it awa in chucky-stanes!fling!
fling!" and, withdrawing into the house, he shut the door.
"Odd! I dinna ken," said
one of the crowd, "but theres a deal o truth in what he says."
"It was too bad to touch
his windows," said another; "his son, George, has been in the wars, an
the life o a son is o mair value than a pound o candles."
"Yere richt," cried a
"Hurra for Jemmy the
Leveller!" cried another. The crowd gave a loud cheer, and left the house
in good humour; nor was there another window in the village broken
throughout the night.
Next day, James received
the following letter from his son. It was dated
Toulouse, April 14th, 1814.
"HONOURED FATHER AND MOTHERI hope
this will find you and my dear sister well, as it leaves me, thank
Providence for it. I think this war will soon be over now; for, whatever
you may think of the French and their fighting, father, we have driven
them from pillar to post, and from post to pillar, as the saying is. Not
but that they are brave fellows, and clever fellows too; but we can beat
them, and that is everything. Soult is one of their best generals, if not
their very best; and though he was in his own country, and had his
positions all of his own choosing, I assure you, upon the word of a
soldier, that we have beaten him out and out, twice within this fortnight;
but, if you still get the newspapers, you will have seen something about
it. You must not expect me to give you any very particular accounts about
what has taken place; for a single soldier just sees and knows as much
about a battle as the spoke of a mill-wheel knows about the corn which it
causes to be ground. I may here, also, while I remember, tell you what my
notions of bravery are. Some people talk about courageous men, and braving
death, and this and that; but, so far as I have seen and felt, it is all
talknothing but talk. There are very few such cowards as to run away, or
not to do their duty (indeed, to run away from the ranks during an action
would be no easy matter), but I believe I am no cowardI daresay you think
the same thing; and the best man in all T durst not call me one; but I
will tell you how I felt when I first entered a battle. We were under
armsI saw a part of the enemys lines before uswe were ordered to
advance I knew that in ten minutes the work of death would begin, and I
feltnot faintish, but some way confoundedly like it. The first firing
commenced by the advanced wing; at the report, my knees shook (not
visibly), and my heart leaped within me. A cold sweat (a slight one) broke
over me. I remember the sensation. A second discharge took place--the work
was at handsomething seemed to crack within my ears. I felt I
dont know how; but it was not courageous, though, as to running away or
being beaten, the thought never entered my head. Only I did not feel like
what you read about heroes. Well, the word Fire was given
to our own regiment. The drum of my ear actually felt as if it were split.
My heart gave one terrible bound, and I felt it no more. For a few moments
all was ringing of the ears, smoke, and confusion. I forgot everything
about death. The roar of the action had become generalthrough its din I
at intervals heard the sounds of the drum and the fife. But my ears
instantly became, as it were, cased. I could hear nothing but the
word of command, save a hum, hum, something like a swarm of bees about to
settle round my head. I saw nothing, and I just loaded as I was ordered,
and fired firedfired!as insensible, for all the world, as if I had been
on a parade. Two or three of my neighbours were shot to the right and
left; but the ranks were filled up in a twinkling, and it was not every
time that I observed whether they were killed or wounded. But, as I say,
after the third firing or so, I hardly knew whether I was dead or living;
I acted in a kind of way mechanically, as it were, through a sort of
dumfoundered desperation, or anything else ye like to call it; and if this
be courage, its not the sort of courage that Ive heard and read
aboutbut its the only kind of courage I felt on entering on my first
engagement, and, as I have said, there are none that would dare to call me
coward! But, as I was telling ye, we have twice completely beaten
Soult within these fourteen days. We have driven them out of Spain; and,
but for the bad winter weather, we would have driven them through France
before now. But we have driven them into France; and, as I said, even in
their own country, we have beaten them twice. Soult and his army all drawn
up and ready, upon a rising ground, before a town they call Orthies. I
have no doubt but ye have some idea of what sort of winter it has been,
and that may lead you to judge of what sort of roads we have had to wade
through in a country like this; and that weve come from where nobody ever
had to complain of being imprisoned for the destroying of toll-bars! I
think that was the most foolish and diabolical action ever any person in
our country was guilty of. But, besides the state of the roads, we had
three rivers to cross before we could reach the bench. However, we did
cross them. General Picton, with the third division of the army, crossed
or forded what they call the Gave de Pau on the 26th of last month,
and we got over the river on the following day. Our army completed their
positions early in the afternoon, and Lord Wellington (for he is a prompt
man) immediately began to give Soult notice that he must seek different
quarters for the night. Well, the action began, and a dreadful and
sanguinary battle it was. Our third division suffered terribly. But we
drove the French from their heightswe routed them. We thus obtained
possession of the navigation of the Adour, one of the principal commercial
passages in France; and Soult found there was nothing left but to retreat,
as he best might, to Toulouse (from whence I write this letter), and there
we followed him; and from here, too, though after hard fighting, we forced
him to run for it. You may say what you like, father, but Lord Wellington
is a first-rate general though none of us over and above like him, for he
is terribly severe; he is a disciplinarian, soul and body of him, and a
rigid one. We have beaten all Buonapartes generals; and I should like to
meet with him, just to see if we can beat him too. You used to talk so
much about him, that if I live to get to Paris, I shall see him, though I
give a shilling for it. What I mean by that is, that I think the game is
up with him; and four or five Irish soldiers, of my acquaintance, have
thought it an excellent speculation to club together, and to offer the
Emperor Alexander and the rest of them (who, I dare say, will be very glad
to get rid of him on cheap terms) a price for him, and to bring him over
to Britain, and exhibit him round the country, at so much a-head"----
cried James, rising in a fury, and flinging the letter from him"Oh, that
a bairn o mine should be capable o pennin sic disgracefu language!"
He would allow no more of
the letter to be readhe said his son had turned a mere reprobate; he
would never own him more.
A few weeks after this,
Catherine, the daughter of our old Leveller, was married to a young
weaver, named William Crawford, who then wrought in the neighbourhood of
Sterling. He was a man according to James own heart; for he had wrought
in the same shop with him, and, when a boy, received his principles from
him. James therefore, rejoiced in his daughters marriage; and he said
"there was ane o his familywhich wasna large that hadna disgraced him."
Yet he took the abdication and the exile of Napoleon to heart grievously.
Many said that, if he could have raised the money, he would have gone to
Elba to condole with the exiled Emperor, though he should have begged for
the remainder of his days. He went about mourning for his fate; but, as
the proverb says, they who mourn for trifles or strangers may soon have
more to mourn forand so it was with James Nicholson. His son was
abroadhis daughter had left his house, and removed to another part of the
countryand his wife fell sick and died. He felt all the solitariness of
being left alonehe became fretful and unhappy. He said, that now he "hadna
ane to do onything for him." His health also began to fail, and to him
peace brought neither plenty nor prosperity. The weaving trade grew worse
and worse every day. James said he believed that prices would come to
nothing. He gradually became less able to work, and his earnings were less
and less. He was evidently drooping fast. But the news arrived that
Napoleon had left Elbathat he had landed in France--that he was now on
his way to Paristhat he had entered itthat the Bourbons had fled; and
the eyes of James again sparkled with joy, and he went about rubbing his
hands, and again exclaiming"Oh, the greatthe godlike man!the beloved of
the people!the conqueror of hearts as well as countries! he is
returned!he is returned! Everything will go well again!"
During "the hundred days,"
James forgot all his sorrow and all his solitariness; like the eagle, he
seemed to have renewed his youth. But the tidings of Waterloo arrived.
treachery!" cried the old man, when he heard them; and he smote his hand
upon his breast. But he remembered that his son was in that battle. He had
not heard from himhe knew not but that he was numbered with the slainhe
feared it, and he became tenfold more unhappy and miserable than before.
A few months after the
battle, a wounded soldier arrived at T, to recruit his health amongst his
friends. He had enlisted with George, he had served in the same regiment,
and seen him fall at the moment the cry of "The Prussians!" was raised.
"My son!my poor son!"
cried the miserable father, "and its my doingit is a mineI drove him to
list; and how can I live wi the murder o my poor George upon my head?"
His distress became deeper and more deep; his health and strength more
rapidly declined; he was unable to work, and he began to be in want. About
this period, also, he was attacked with a paralytic stroke, which deprived
him of the use of his right arm; and he was reluctantly compelled to
remove to Stirlingshire, and become an inmate in the house of his
It was a sad grief to his
proud spirit to feel himself a burden upon his child; but she and her
husband strove anxiously to soothe him, and to render him happy. He was
still residing with them when the Radical meetings took place in various
parts of the country, and especially in the west of Scotland, in 1819.
James contemplated them with delight. He said the spirit of liberty was
casting its face upon his countrymenthey were beginning to think like
men, and to understand the principles which he had gloried in, through
good report and through bad reportyea, and through persecution, for more
than half a century
A meeting was to take place
near Stirling, and James was sorrowful that he was unable to attend; but
his son-in-law was to be present, and James charged him, that he would
bring him a faithful account of all the proceedings. Catherine knew little
about the principles of her father, or her husband, or the object of the
meeting. She asked if it would make wages any higher; but she had heard
that the military would be called out to disperse itthat government would
punish those who attended it, and her fears were excited.
"Tak my advice, Willie,"
said she to her husband, as he went towards the door, "tak a wifes advice
for ance, and dinna gang near it. There will nae gude come out ot. Ye can
mak naething by it; but will lose bath time and money; and I understand
that it is likely great danger will attend it, and ye may be brought into
trouble. Sae dinna gang, Willie, like a gude ladif ye hae ony regard for
me, dinna gang."
"Really, Katie," said
Willie, who was a good-natured man, "ye talk very silly; but yere just
like a the women, hinnytheir outcry is aye about expense and danger. But
dinna ye trouble yourselits o nae use to be put about for the death
yell neer die. Ill be hame to my four-hours."
"The lassies silly," said
her father, "wherefore should he no gang?It is the duty of every man to
gang that is able; and sorry am I that I am not, or I wad hae rejoiced to
hae stood forth this day, as a champion, in the great cause of liberty."
So, William Crawford,
disregarding the remonstrances of his wife, went to the meeting. But while
the people were yet assembling, the military were called outthe riot act
was readand the soldiers fired at or over the multitude. Instant
confusion took placethere was a running to and fro, and the soldiers
pursued. Several were wounded, and some seriously.
The news that the meeting
had been dispersed, and that were wounded were brought to James Nicholson
and his daughter as they sat waiting the return of her husband.
"Oh! I trust in goodness,
that naething has happened to William!" she exclaimed. "But what can be
stopping him? Oh! had he but taen my advicehad ye no persuaded him,
faither; but ye was waur than him."
James made no reply. A
gloomy apprehension, that "something had happened," was stealing over his
mind.. He took his staff and walked forward, as far as he was able, upon
the road; but, after waiting for two hours, and after fruitless inquiries
at every one he met, he returned, having heard nothing of his son-in-law.
His daughter, with three children around her, sat weeping before the fire.
He endeavoured to comfort her, and to inspire her with hopes which he did
not himself feel, and to banish fears from her breast which he himself
entertained. Night set in, and, with its darkness, their fears and their
anxiety increased. The children wept more bitterly as the distress of
their mother became strongerthey raised their little hands, they pulled
her gown, and they called for their father. A cart stopped at the door,
and William Crawford, with his arm bound up, was carried into the house by
strangers. Catherine screamed when she beheld him, and the children cried
wildly. Old James met them at the door, and said "O William!"
He had been found by the
side of a hedge, fainting from loss of blood. A bullet had entered his arm
below the shoulderthe bone was splinteredand, on a surgeon being sent
for, he declared that immediate amputation was necessary. Poor Catherine
and her little ones were taken into the house of a neighbour while the
operation was to be performed, and even her father had not nerve to look
on it. William sat calmly, and beheld the surgeon and his assistant make
their preparations, and when the former took the knife in his hand, the
wounded man thought not of bodily pain, but the feelings of the father and
the husband gushed forth.
"Oh!" he exclaimed, "had it
been my leg, it wad hae been naething; but my armI will be helpless for
life What am I to do now for my poor Katie and my bits o bairns? Guid
gracious! I canna beg!and auld James poor body, what will come owre him?
O, Sir!" added he addressing the surgeon, "I could bear to hae my arm cut
through in twenty different places, were it not that it deprives me o the
power o working for bread for my family."
"Keep a stout heart, my
good fellow," said the surgeon as he began his task; "they will be
provided for in some way."
"Grant it may be sae!"
answered William; "but I see naething for us but to beg."
I must here, however, take
back my reader to 1815, and, from the neighbourhood of Stirling direct
their attention to Brussels and Waterloo. George Washington Nicholson,
after the battle of Toulouse, had been appointed to the rank of Sergeant.
For several months he was an inmate in the house of a thriving merchant in
Brussels; he had assisted him in his business; he, in fact, acted as his
chief clerk and his confident; he became as one of the family, and nothing
was done by the Belgian trader without consulting Sergeant Nicholson.
But the fearful night of
the 15th of June arrived, when the sounds of the pibroch rang through the
streets of Brussels, startling soldier and citizen, and the raven and the
owl were invited to a feast. The name of Napoleon was pronounced by
tongues of every nation. "He comes!he comes!" was the cry. George
Nicholson was one of the first to array himself for battle, and rush forth
to join his regiment. He bade a hurried farewell to his host; but there
was one in the house whose hand trembled when he touched it, and on whose
lips he passionately breathed his abrupt adieu. It was the gentle Louise,
the sole daughter of his host.
The three following days
were dreadful days in Brussels, confusion, anxiety, dismay, prevailed in
every street; theywere pictured in every countenance. On one hand
were crowded the wounded from the battle, on the other were citizens
flying from the town to save their goods and themselves, and, in their
general eagerness to escape, blocking up their flight. Shops were shut,
houses deserted, and churches turned into hospitals. But, in the midst of
all every hour, and more frequentlythere went a messenger from the house
of the merchant with whom Sergeant Nicholson had lodged, to the Porte
de Namar, to inquire how fared it with the Highlanders, to examine the
caravans with the wounded as they arrived, and to inquire at the hospitals
if one whom Louise named, had been brought there.
Never was a Sabbath spent
in a more unchristian manner than that of the 18th June 1815, on the
plains of Waterloo. At night the news of the success of the British
arrived in Brussels, and before sunrise on the following morning the
merchant in whose house George Nicholson had been lodged, drove through
the Porte de Namur, with his daughter Louise by his side. At every
step of their journey appalling spectacles presented themselves before
them; and, as they proceeded, they became more and more horrible. They
were compelled to quit their vehicle, for the roads were blocked up, and
proceeded through the forest deSoignes, into which many of
the wounded had crawled to die, or to escape being trampled on by the
pain-. maddened horses. On emerging from the forest, the disgusting
shambles of war, with its human carcasses, its blood, its wounded, and its
dying, spread all its horrors before them. From the late rains, the field
was as a morass. Conquerors, and the conquered, were covered with mud.
Here lay heaps of deadthere, soldier and citizen dug pits to bury them in
crowds, and they were hurled into a common grave,
"Unknelled, uncoffined, and
Let the eyes turn where
they would, there the ghastly sight of the wounded met them; nor could the
ear be rendered deaf to the groans of the dying, and the cry from every
quarter, and in every tongue, of"Water!water!"for the wounded were
perishing from thirst, and their throats were parched, and their tongues
dry. There, too, prowled the plunderer, robbing the deadthe new-made
widow sought her husband, and the mother her son. To and fro rushed
hundreds of war-horses, in foam, and in agony, without curb or
riderothers lay kicking and snorting on the ground, their broad chests
heaving with the throes of departing life, and struggling as though they
thought themselves stronger than death.
Louise and her father were
shown to the positions that had been occupied by the Highland regiments.
They inquired of every one whom they met, and who wore the garb of old
Scotland, if they could tell them ought of the fate of Sergeant Nicholson;
but they shook their heads, and answered, "No."
Louise was a beautiful and
interesting girl, and the bloom of nineteen summers blushed on her cheeks;
but they were now pale, and her dark eyes were bedimmed with tears. She
leaned upon her fathers arm, and they were passing near a field of rye,
which was trodden down as though a scythe had been passed over it. Many
dead and dying Highlanders lay near it. Before them lay a wounded man,
whose face was covered, and disfigured with bloodhe was gasping for
water, and his glazed eyes were unconscious of the earnestness and
affection with which they gazed on him.
"It is he!it is he!" cried
It was indeed George
"He lives!he breathes!"
she continued. She bent over himshe raised his headshe applied a cordial
to his lips. He swallowed it eagerly. His eyes began to movea glow of
consciousness kindled in them. With the assistance of her father, she
washed, and bound up his wounds, and the latter having procured a litter,
he had him conveyed to his house at Brussels, and they accompanied him by
the way. Louise watched over him; and, in a few days, his wounds were
pronounced to be no longer dangerous, though he recovered slowly, and he
acknowledged the affection of his gentle deliverer with the tears of
gratitude, and the glance of love.
As soon as he had acquired
strength to use a pen, he wrote a letter to his father, but he received no
answera second time he wrote, and the result was the same. He now
believed, that, because he had been an humble instrument in contributing
to the fall of a man, in whose greatness his fathers soul was wrapt up,
he had cast him off, and disowned him.
The father of Louise
obtained his discharge, and entrusted him with the management of his
business. He knew that his daughters heart was attached, with all womans
devotedness, to the young Scotchman, and he knew that his affection for
her was not less ardent. He knew also his worth; he had profited by his
integrity and activity in business; and when the next anniversary of
Waterloo came, he bade them be happy and their hands were united.
There was now but one cloud
which threw a shade over the felicity of George Nicholson, and that was,
that he had never heard from his parents, and that his father would not
acknowledge his letters; yet he suspected not the cause. Almost six years
had passed since he became the husband of Louise, yet his heart yearned
after the place of his birth, and in the dreams of the night his spirit
revisited it. He longed once more to hear his mothers voice, to grasp his
fathers hand, to receive a sisters welcome. But, more than these, he was
now rich, and he wished to remove them from penury, to crown their
declining years with ease and with plentynor could a son entertain a more
honourable ambition, or one more meriting the blessing of Heaven.
Taking Louise with him,
they sailed from Antwerp, and in a few days arrived in London, from thence
they proceeded towards the Borders, and the place of his birth. They had
reached Alnwick, where they intended to remain for a few hours, and they
went out to visit the castle. They had entered the square in front of the
proud palace of the Percys, and, in the midst of the square, they
observed a one-handed flute-player, with a young wife, and three ragged
children, by his side, and the poor woman was soliciting alms for her
The heart of Louise was
touched; she had drawn out her purse, and the wife of the flute-player,
with her children in her hand, modestly, and without speaking, curtsied
George shookhe startedhe
raised his hands
own sister!" he exclaimed, grasping the hand of the supplicant.
"Oh George!my brother!"
cried Catherine, and wept. The flute-player looked around. The instrument
fell from his hand.
an arm, too!"added George, extending his hand to the musician.
Louise took the hand of her
new found sister, and smiled, and wept, and bent down, and kissed the
cheeks of her children.
"My fathermy mother,
Catherine?"inquired George, in a tone that told how he trembled to
ask the question.
She informed him of their
mothers death, of their fathers infirmities, and that he was then an
out-door pauper in T.
He relieved his sisters
wants; and, with Louise, hastened to his birth-place. He found his father
almost bed-riddena boarder at half-a-crown a-week, in a miserable hovel,
the occupants of which were as poor as their parish lodger. Old James was
sitting reading a newspaper, which he had borrowed, when they entered; for
his ruling passion remained strong in the midst of his age and
infirmities. The rays of the setting sun were falling on his grey hairs.
Tears had gathered in the eyes of his son, and he inquired "Do you know
James suddenly raised his
eyesthey flashed with eager joyhe dropped the paper
"Ken ye! ken ye!my son! my
son!mylost George!"and he sank on his sons bosom.
When the first burst of joy had subsided
"And wha is this sweet
leddy?"inquired James gazing fondly at Louise.
George, placing her hand in his. I need not further dwell upon the history
of the Leveller. From that hour he ceased to be a pauperhe accompanied
his son to Brussels, and spent the remainder of his days in peace, and
amidst many of the scenes which he had long before read of with
But, some reader may ask,
what became of poor Catherine and her flute-player? A linen-drapers shop
was taken and stocked for them by her brother, and in it Prosperity became
a constant customer. Such is the history of James Nicholson, the Leveller,
and his children.
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