As I have said, eight years
had passed; it was again the last night of the year, and a very dark and
stormy night it was. Mr. Rogers, his wife, their son George, and the rest
of their family, had again seen the old year out and the new year in, and
exchanged with each other the compliments of the season, when the
cuckoo-clock again announced the hour of twelve. Nelly had "happed
up the fire" with her own hands—a thing that she always did on the last
night of the old year, that it might not be out on a New Year’s morning.
She was again wondering who would be their first-foot, and expressing a
hope that it would be a lucky one, when a chaise drew up before the house,
and the driver, dismounting and knocking at the window, begged that they
would favour him with a light, as the roads were exceedingly dark, and the
lamps of the chaise had been blown out by the wind.
"A light!" exclaimed Nelly,
half petrified at the request; "preserve us! is the man beside himsel!—do
ye imagine that onybody is gaun to gie ye out a light the first thing in a
New Year’s morning! Gae awa!—gae awa!"
In vain the driver
expostulated—he had met with similar treatment at other houses at which he
had called. "Ye hae nae business to travel at siccan a time o’ night,"
replied Nelly to all his arguments. Her husband said little, for he
entertained some of his wife’s scruples against giving a light at such a
time. George mildly ridiculed the absurdity of the refusal; but—"I am
mistress o’ my ain house," answered his mother, "and I’ll gie a light out
o’t when I please, and only when I please. Wi’ a’ yer learnin’, George, ye
wad be a great fool sometimes."
The voice of a lady was now
heard at the window with the driver, saying—"Pray, good people, do permit
us to light the lamps, and you shall have any recompense." No sooner did
George hear the lady’s voice, than, in dispite of his mother’s frowns, he
sprang to the door and unlocked it. With an awkward sort of gallantry he
ushered in the fair stranger. She was, indeed, the loveliest first-foot
that had ever crossed the threshold of Mrs. Rogers. She had no sooner
entered, than Nelly saw and felt this, and, with a civility which formed a
strange contrast to her answers to the driver, she smoothed down for her
the cushioned arm-chair by the side of the fire. The young lady (for she
hardly appeared to exceed seventeen) politely declined the proffered
hospitality. "Sit down, my sweet young leddy; now, do sit down just to
oblige me," said Nelly. "Ye are our first-foot, and I hope—I’m sure ye’ll
be a lucky ane; and ye wadna, ye canna gaun out without tasting wi’ us on
a New Year’s morning."
The young lady sat down;
and Nelly hastened to spread upon the table little mountains of short
bread (of which she was a notable maker) with her spice loaf, milk-scones,
and her best ewe-cheese, and her cream-cheese, which was quite a fancy!
And while his mother was so occupied, George produced three or four sorts
of home-made wine of his own manufacture; for, in his catalogue of
capabilities as a genius, it must be admitted that he had some which might
be said to belong to the useful.
"Now, make yoursel at hame,
my dear leddy," said Nelly; "need nae pressing. Or if ye wad like it
better, I’ll get ye ready a cup o’ tea in a minute or twa; the kettle’s
boiling; and it’s only to mask, so dinna say no. Indeed, if ye’ll only
consent to stop a’ night, ye shall hae the best bed in the house, and
we’ll put the horses in the stable; for it’s no owre and aboon lucky to
gie or tak a light on a New Year’s morning."
A faint smile played across
the lips of the fair stranger, at the mixture of Nelly’s kindness and
credulity; and she thanked her for her hospitality, but stated that she
must proceed on her journey, as she was hastening to the deathbed of a
near and only relative. The young lady, however, sat longer than she wist,
for she had entered in conversation with George—how, she knew not, and he
knew not; but they were pleased with each other; and there were times
(though it was only at times) that George could talk like an inspired
being; and this was one of those times. The knowledge, the youth, the
beauty of the lovely stranger, had kindled all the fires of his genius
within him. Even his father was surprised, and his mother forgot that the
chaise-driver was lighting the lamps; and how long the fair lady might
have listened to George, we cannot tell, had not the driver hinted, "All’s
ready, Ma’am; the horses will get no good in the cold." She arose and took
leave of her entertainers; and George accompanied her to the chaise and
shook her hand and bade her farewell, as though she had been an old and a
very dear friend. He even thought, as she replied, "Farewell," that
there was a sadness in her tone, as if she were sorry to say it.
Richard and his spouse
retired to rest; but still the thought of having given a light out of her
house on a New Year’s morning troubled her, and she feared that, after
all, her lovely first-foot would prove an unlucky one. George laid his
head upon his pillow to dream dreams, and conjure up visions of the fair
A short week had not
passed, however—Richard was returning from Kelso market, the roads were
literally a sheet of ice—it is said that bones are most easily broken in
frosty weather—his horse fell and rolled over him, and he was carried home
bruised, and with his leg broken. Nelly was loud in her lamentations, and
yet louder in her upbraidings against George and against herself, that she
permitted a light to be carried out of her house on a New Year’s morning.
"It was born in upon me," said she, "the leddy wadna be lucky, that
something would come out o’ the ge’in the light!" But this was not all;
before two months elapsed, and just as her husband was beginning to set
his foot to the ground again, from friction and negligence together, the
thrashing machine took fire. It was still a severe frost, there was scarce
a drop of water to be procured about the place, and, in spite of the
exertions of all the people on the farm, and their neighbours who came to
their assistance, the fierce flames roared, spread and rushed from stack
to stack, until the barn, the stables, the stack-yard, and the
dwelling-house, presented a heap of smouldering ashes and smoking ruins.
Yet this was not the worst evil which had that day fallen upon Richard
Rogers. He was one of those individuals who have an aversion to the very
name of a bank, and he had the savings and the profits of twenty years—in
fifty pound notes, and in five pound notes, and crown pieces—locked away
in a strong drawer in his bedroom. In the confusion of the fire, and as he
bustled, halting about, with the hope of saving some of his wheat-stacks
(for wheat was selling high at the time), he forgot the strong drawer and
his twenty-years’ savings, until flames were seen bursting from the window
of his bedroom. The window had been left open, and some of the burning
materials having been blown into the room, it was the first part of the
house which caught fire.
"Oh! I’m ruined!—I’m
ruined!" cried Richard; "my siller!—my siller!—my hard won siller!"
A rush was made to the
bedroom; but before they reached it, the stairs gave way, the floor fell
in, and a thick flame and suffocating smoke buried the fruits of poor
Richard’s industry—the treasure which he had laid up for his children.
"Now, I am a beggar!"
groaned he, lifting up his hands, while the flames almost scorched his
"Oh, black sorrow take that
leddy!" cried Nelly, wringing her hands; "what tempted her to be my
first-foot!— or what tempted me to gie her a light! George! George!
it was a’ you! We gied fire out o’ the house, and now we’ve brought it
about us! Waes me! waes me! I’m a ruined woman! O Richard! what will we
do! what was ye thinking about that ye didna mind the siller?"
Richard knew nothing of the
number of his notes, and his riches had, indeed, vanished in a flash of
fire. He was now obliged to take shelter with his family in an out-house,
which had been occupied by a cotter. He had not heard from Captain Rogers
for more than twelve months, and he knew not where he was, therefore he
could expect no immediate assistance from him. It was now necessary that
George should bring his genius into action—his father could no longer
support him in idleness, and, as it had always been said, that he had only
to exert his genius to make a fortune, George resolved that he would exert
it, and he was pleased with the thought of setting his father on his feet
again by the reward of his talents. He had read somewhere in the writings
of Dr Johnson (and the Doctor had a good deal of experience in the
matter), that "genius was sure to meet with its reward in London,"
and, if the Doctor was sure of that, George was as sure that he was
a genius, and therefore he considered the reward as certain. So George
determined, as his uncle might live many years, that he would go to London
and make a fortune for himself, and to assist his father in the meantime.
A cow was taken to Kelso market and sold for eight pounds and, the
money was given to George to pay his expenses to the metropolis, and to
keep him there until his genius should put him in the way of making the
anticipated fortune. His coat was not exactly such a one as his uncle
desired he should be sent out into the world in—not that it was positively
a bad coat, but it was beginning to be rather smooth and clear about the
elbows, a lighter shade ran up on each side of the seams at the back, and
his hat was becoming bare round the edges on the crown. To be sure, as his
mother said, "he would aye hae ink beside him, and a dip o’ ink would help
to hide that." These, however, were things that could not be mended—the
wardrobe of the whole family had been consumed at the fire; but these
things did not distress George, for he did not consider it necessary for a
genius to appear in a new coat. There were many tears shed on both sides
when George bade adieu to his father, his mother, and his brethren, and
took his journey towards London.
It was about the middle of March
when he arrived in the metropolis; and, having spent two days wandering
about and wondering at all he saw, without once thinking how his genius
was to make the long-talked-of fortune, on the third day he delivered a
letter of introduction, which he had received, to a broker in the city.
Now, it so happened, that in this letter poor George was spoken of as an
"So you are a great
genius, young man, my friend informs me," said the broker; "what have
you a genius for?"
George blushed and look
confused; he almost said—"for everything;" but he hung down his
head and said nothing.
"Is it a genius for making
machines—or playing the fiddle—or what?" added the broker.
George looked more and more
confused; he replied— "that he could neither make machines, nor did he
know anything of music."
"Then I hope it’s not a
genius for making ballads, is it?" continued the other.
"I have written ballads,"
answered George, hesitatingly.
"Oh, then you must try the
west end—you wont do for the city," added the broker; "your genius is an
article that’s not in demand here."
George left the office of
the London citizen mortified and humiliated. For a dozen long years
everybody had told him he was a genius; and now, when the question was put
to him—"What had he a genius for?" he could not answer it. This rebuff
rendered him melancholy for several days, and he wandered from street to
street, sometimes standing, unconscious of what he was doing, before the
window of a bookseller, till, jostled by the crowd, he moved on, and again
took his stand before the window of the printseller, the jeweller, or the
vendor of caricatures. Still he believed that he was a genius, and he was
conscious that that genius might make him a fortune; only he knew not how
to apply it—he was puzzled where to begin. Yet he did not despair. He
thought the day would come--but how it was to come, he knew not. He took
out his uncle’s letter, which his father put into his hands when he left
him, and he read it again, and said, it was all very good, but what was he
the better of it?—it was all very true—too true, for he understood every
word of it now; and he turned round his arm and examined his coat with a
sigh, and beheld that the lining was beginning to show its unwelcome face
through the seams of the elbows. I should have told you that he was then
sitting in a coffee-house, sipping his three halfpence worth of coffee,
and kitchening his pennyworth of bread which was but half a slice,
slightly buttered—and a thin slice, too, compared with those of his
mother’s cutting. He was beginning to feel one of the first rewards of
genius—eating by measure! To divert the melancholy of his
feelings, and the gloom of his prospects, he took up a magazine
which lay on the table before him. His eyes fell upon the review of a poem
which had been lately published, and for which the author was said to have
received a thousand guineas! "A thousand guineas!" exclaimed
George, dropping the magazine—"A thousand guineas! I shall make a
fortune yet!" He had read some of the extracts from the poem—he was sure
he could write better lines—his eyes flashed with ecstacy—his very
nostrils distended with delight--a thousand guineas seemed already in
his pocket! Though, alas! out of the eight pounds which he had
received as the price of his father’s cow, with all his management and
with all his economy, he had but eight shillings left. But his resolution
was taken—he saw fortune hovering over him with her golden wings—he
purchased a quire of paper and half a dozen quills, and hurried to his
garret—for his lodging was a garret, in which there was nothing but
an old bed and an older chair—not even an apology for a table--but
sometimes the bed served the purpose of one, and at other times he sat
upon the floor like a Turk, and wrote upon the chair. He was resolved to
write an epic—for the idea of a thousand guineas had taken possession of
all his faculties. He made a pen—he folded the paper—he rubbed his hands
across his brow for a subject. He might have said with Byron (had Byron
then said it),
"I want a hero!"
He thought of a hundred
subjects, and with each the idea of his mother’s beautiful but most
unlucky first-foot was mingled! At length he fixed upon one, and began to
write. He wrote most industriously—in short, he wrote for a thousand
guineas! He tasked himself to four hundred lines a day, and, in a
fortnight, he finished a poem containing about five thousand. It was
longer than that for which the thousand guineas had been given; but George
thought, though he should get no more for his, that even a thousand
guineas was very good payment for a fortnight’s labour. Of the eight
shillings which we mentioned his being in possession of when he began the
epic, he had now but threepence, and he was in arrears for the week’s rent
of his garret. The landlady began to cast very suspicious glances at her
lodger—she looked at him with the sides of her eyes. She did not know
exactly what a genius meant, but she had proof positive it did not mean a
gentleman. At times, also, she would stand with his garret-door in her
hand, as if she intended to say—"Mr. Rogers, I would thank you for last
Scarce was the ink dry upon
the last page of his poem, when George, folding up the manuscript, put it
carefully into his coat pocket, and hurried to the bookseller of whom he
had read that he had given a thousand guineas for a shorter work, and one
too that, he was satisfied in his own mind, was every way inferior to his.
We do not say that he exactly expected the publisher to fall down and
worship him the moment he read the first page of his production, but he
did believe that he would regard him as a prodigy, and at once offer terms
for the copyright. He was informed by a shopman, however, that the
publisher was engaged, and he left the manuscript, stating that he would
call again. George did call again, and yet again trembling with hope and
anxiety; and he began to discover that a great London publisher was as
difficult of access as his imperial mightiness the Emperor of China. At
length, by accident, he found the Bibliopole in his shop. He gave a glance
at George—it was a withering glance—a glance at his coat and at his
elbows. The unfortunate genius remembered, when it was too late, the
passage in his uncle’s letter—"the moment the elbows of your coat open,
every door shuts." We have already mentioned that the lining was beginning
to peer through them, and, during the fervour of inspiration, or the
furor of excitement in composing the epic, he had not observed that
the rent had become greater, that the lining too had given way, and that
now his linen (which was not of a snow colour) was visible. He inquired
after his manuscript. "What is it?" asked the publisher.
"A poem," answered
George—"an epic!" The man of books smiled—he gave another look at the
forlorn visage of the genius—it was evident he measured the value of his
poetry by the value of his coat. "A poem!" replied he—"poetry’s a drug!"
It is of no use for such as you to think about writing poetry. Give the
young man his manuscript," said he to the shopman, and walked away.