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Wilson's Border Tales
The First-Foot

Chapter 3


The reader may imagine the feelings of our disappointed genius—they were bitter as the human soul could bear. Yet he did not altogether despair; there were more booksellers in London. It is unnecessary to tell how he offered his manuscript to another and another, yea, to twenty more—how he examined what books they had published in their windows—and how he entered their shops with fear and trembling, for his hopes were becoming fainter and more faint. Some opened it, others did not, but all shook their heads and said—nobody would undertake to publish poetry, or that it was not in their way; some advised him to publish by subscription, but George Rogers did not know a soul in London; others recommended him to try the magazines. It was with a heavy heart that he abandoned the idea of publishing his epic, and with it also his fond dream of obtaining a thousand guineas. He had resolved within himself, that the moment he received the money, he would go down to Scotland and rebuild his father’s house; and all who knew him should marvel and hold up their hands at the fame and the fortune of George the Genius. But a hungry man cannot indulge in day-dreams, and his visions by night are an aggravation of his misery; he therefore had to renounce the fond delusion, that he might have bread to eat. His last resource was to try the magazines. His epic was out of the question for them, and he wrote songs, odes, essays, and short tales, on every scrap of paper, and on the back of every letter in his possession. With his bundle of "shreds and patches," he waited upon several magazine publishers. One told him he was overstocked with contributions; another, that he might leave the papers, and he should have an answer in two or three weeks. But three weeks was an eternity to a man who had not tasted food for three days. A third said "he could seldom make room for new contributors—poetry was not an article for which he gave money—essays were at a discount, and he only published tales by writers of established reputation." There was one article, however, which pleased him, and he handed George a guinea for it. The tears started into his eyes as he received it—he thought he would never be poor again—he was as proud of that guinea as if it had been a thousand! It convinced him more and more that he was a genius. I need not tell how that guinea was husbanded, and how it was doled out—but although George reckoned that it would purchase two hundred and fifty-two penny loaves--and that that was almost as many as a man need to eat in a twelvemonth—yet the guinea vanished to the last penny before a month went round.

He had frequenty called at the shop of his first patron, the publisher of the Magazine; and one day when he so called—"O Mr. Rogers," said the bookseller, "I have just I heard of a little job which will suit you. Lord L— wishes me to find him a person to write a pamphlet in defence of the war. You are just the person to do it. Make it pungent and peppery, and it will be five or ten guineas for you, and perhaps the patronage of his lordship—and you know no bookseller will look at genius without patronage."

A new light broke upon George—he discovered why his epic had been rejected. He hurried to his garret. He began the pamphlet with the eagerness of frenzy. It was both peppery and passionate. Before the afternoon of the following day it was completed, and he flew with it to the house of the nobleman. Our genius was hardly, as the reader may suppose, in a fitting garb for the drawing-room or library of a British peer, and the pampered menial who opened the door attempted to dash it back in his face. He, however, neither lacked spirit or strength, and he forced his way into the lobby.

"Inform his lordship," said George, "that Mr. Rogers has called with the pamphlet in Defence of the War!" And he spoke this with an air of consequence and authority

The man of genius was ushered into the library of the literary lord, who, raising his glass to his eye, surveyed him from head to foot with a look partaking of scorn and disgust; and there was no mistaking that its meaning was—"Stand back!" At length, he desired our author to remain where he was, and to read his manuscript. The chagrin which he felt at this reception, marred the effect of the first two or three sentences, but, as he acquired his self-possession, he read with excellent feeling and emphasis. Every sentence told. "Good! good!" said the peer, rubbing his hands—"that will do!—excellent!—give me the manuscript!"

George was stepping boldly forward to the chair of his lordship, when the latter, rising, stretched his arm at its extreme length across the table, and received the manuscript between his finger and thumb, as though he feared contagion from the touch of the author, or fancied that the plague was sewed up between the seems of his threadbare coat. The peer glanced his eye over the title-page, which George had not read—A defence of the War with France," said he; "by—by who!—the deuce!—George Rogers!— who is George Rogers?"

"I am, your lordship," answered the author.

"You are!—you!" said his lordship, "you the author of the Defence? Impertinent fool! had not you the idea from me? Am not I to pay for it? The work is mine!" So saying, he rang the bell, and addressing the servant who entered, added—"Give that gentleman a guinea."

George withdrew in rage and bewilderment, and his poverty, not his will, consented to accept the insulting remuneration. Within two days, he saw at the door of every bookseller, a placard with the words—"Just Published, A DEFENCE OF THE WAR WITH FRANCE, by the Right Hon. Lord L—." George compared himself to Esau, birthright for a mess of pottage—he had bartered his name, his fame, and the fruits of his genius, for a paltry guinea.

He began to be ashamed of the shabbiness of his garments—the withering meaning of the word clung round him—he felt it as a festering sore eating into his very soul, and he appeared but little upon the streets. He had been several weeks without a lodging, and though now it was summer, the winds of heaven afford but a comfortless blanket for the shoulders when the midnight dews fall upon the earth. He had slept for several nights in a hayfield in the suburbs, on the Kent side of the river; and his custom was, to lift a few armfulls aside on a low rick, and laying himself down in the midst of it, gradually placing the hay over his feet, and the rest of his body, until the whole was covered. But the hay season did not last forever; and one morning, when fast asleep in the middle of the rick, he was roused by a sudden exclamation of horror and astonishment. He looked up, and beside him stood a countryman, with his mouth open, and his eyes gazing wistfully. In his hand he held a hayfork, and on the prongs of the fork was one of the skirts of poor George’s coat! He gazed angrily at the countryman, and ruefully at the fragment of his unfortunate coat; and, rising, he drew round the portion of it that remained on his back, to view "the rent the envious hayfork made."

"By goam! chap," said the countryman, when he gained his speech, "I have made thee a spencer; but I might have run the fork through thee, and it would have been no blame of mine."

They were leading the hay from the field, and the genius was deprived of his lodging. It was some nights after this, he was wandering in the neighbourhood of Poplar, fainting and exhausted—sleeping, starting, dreaming—as he dragged his benumbed and wearied limbs along; and, as he was crossing one of the bridges over the canal, he saw one of the long fly-boats, which ply with goods to Birmingham and Manchester, lying below it. George climbed over the bridge and dropped into the boat, and finding a quantity of painted sailcloth near the head of the boat, which was used as a covering for the goods, to protect them from the weather, he wrapped himself up in it, and lay down to sleep. How long he lay he knew not, for he slept most soundly; and when he awoke, he felt more refreshed than he had been for many nights. But he started as he heard the sound of voices near him; and, cautiously withdrawing the canvass from over his face, he beheld that the sun was up; and, to increase his perplexity, fields, trees, and hedges were gliding past him. While he slept, the boatmen had put the horses to the barge, and were now on their passage to Birmingham, and several miles from London; but though they had passed and repassed the roll of canvass, they saw not, and they suspected not that they "carried Caesar and his fortunes." George speedily comprehended his situation; and extricating his limbs from the folds of the canvass as quietly as he could, he sprang to his feet, stepped to the side of the boat, and, with a desperate bound, reached the bank of the canal.

"Hollo!" shouted the astonished boatmen. "Hollo! what have you been after?"

George made no answer, but ran with his utmost speed down the side of the canal.

"Hollo! stop thief!—stop thief!" bellowed the boatmen; and, springing to the ground, they gave chase to the genius. The boys, also, who rode the horses that dragged the boat, unlinked them and joined in the pursuit. It was a noble chase! But when George found himself pursued, he left the side of the canal, and took to the fields, clearing hedge, ditch, fence, and stonewall, with an agility that would have done credit to a first-rate hunter. The horses were at fault in following his example, and the boys gave up the chase; and when the boatmen had pursued him for the space of half a mile, finding they were losing ground at every step, they returned, panting and breathless to their boat. George, however, slackened his pace but little until he arrived at the Edgeware road, and there he resumed his wonted slow and melancholy saunter, and sorrowfully returned towards London. He now, poor fellow, sometimes shut his eyes to avoid the sight of his own shadow, which he seemed to regard as a caricature of his forlorn person; and, in truth, he now appeared miserably forlorn—I had almost said ludicrously so. His coat has been already mentioned, with its wounded elbows, and imagine it now with the skirts which had been torn away with the hayfork, when the author of an epic was nearly forked upon a cart as he reposed in a bundle of hay—imagine now the coat with that skirt awkwardly pinned to it—fancy also that the button-holes had become useless, and that all the buttons, save two, had taken leave of his waistcoat—his trousers, also, were as smooth at the knees as though they had been glazed and hot-pressed, and they were so bare, so very bare, that the knees could almost be seen through them without spectacles. Imagine, also, that this suit had once been black, and that it had changed colours with the weather, the damp hay, the painted canvass, and the cold earth on which he slept; and, add to this, a hat, the brim of which was broken, and the crown fallen in—with shoes, the soles of which had departed, and the heels involuntarily bent down, as if ready to perform the service of slippers. Imagine these things, and you have a personification of George Rogers,as he now wended his weary way towards London.

He had reached the head of Oxford Street, and he was standing irresolute whether to go into the city or turn into the Park, to hide himself from the eyes of man, and to lie down in solitude with his misery, when a lady and a gentleman crossed the street to where he stood. Their eyes fell upon him—the lady started—George beheld her, and he started too—he felt his heart throb, and a blush burn over his cheek. He knew her at the first glance—it was the fair stranger—his mother’s first-foot! He turned round—he hurried towards the Park—he was afraid—he was ashamed to look behind him. A thousand times had he wished to meet that lady again, and now he had met her, and he fled from her—the shame of his habiliments entered his soul. Still he heard footsteps behind him, and he quickened his pace. He had entered the Park, but yet he heard the sound of the footsteps following.

"Stop, young man!" cried a voice from behind him. But George walked on as though he heard it not. The word "stop!" was repeated; but, instead of doing so, he was endeavouring to hurry onward, when, as we have said, one of the shoes which had become slippers, and which were bad before, but worse from his flight across the ploughed fields, came off, and he was compelled to stop and stoop, to put it again upon his foot, or to leave his shoe behind him. While he stopped, therefore, to get the shoe again upon his foot, the person who followed him came up—it was the gentleman whom he had seen with the fair unknown. With difficulty he obtained a promise from George that he would call upon him at his house in Pimlico in the afternoon; and when he found our genius too proud to accept of money, he thrust into the pocket of the memorable skirt, which the hayfork had torn from the parent cloth, all the silver which he had upon his person.

When the gentleman had left him, George burst into tears. They were tears of pride, of shame, and of agony.

At length, he took the silver from the pocket of his skirt; he counted it in his hand—it amounted to nearly twenty shillings. Twenty shillings will go farther in London than in any city in the world with those who know how to spend it--but much depends upon that. By all the by-ways he could find, George winded his way down to Rosemary Lane, where the "Black and Blue Reviver" worketh miracles, and where the children of Israel are its high priests. Within an hour, wonderful was the metamorphosis upon the person of George Rogers. At eleven o’clock he was clothed as a beggar—at twelve he was shabby genteel. The hat in ruins was replaced by one of a newer shape, and that had been brushed and ironed till it was as clear as a looking-glass. The skirtless coat was thrown aside for an olive-coloured one of metropolitan cut, with a velvet collar, and of which, as the Israelite who sold it said, "de glosh was not off." The buttonless vest was laid aside for one of a light colour, and the place of the decayed trousers was supplied by a pair of pure white; yea, his feet were enclosed in sheep-skin shoes, which, he was assured, had never been upon foot before. Such was the change produced upon the outer man of George Rogers through twenty shillings; and, thus arrayed, with a beating and an anxious heart, he proceeded in the afternoon to the home of the beautiful stranger who had been the eventful first-foot in his father’s house. As he crossed the Park by the side of the Serpentine, he could not avoid stopping to contemplate, perhaps I should say admire, the change that had been wrought upon his person, as it was reflected in the water as in a mirror. When he had arrived at Pimlico, and been ushered into the house, there was surprise on the face of the gentleman as he surveyed the change that had come over the person of his guest; but in the countenance of the young lady there was more of delight than of surprise. When he had sat with them for some time, the gentleman requested that he would favour them with his history and his adventures in London. George did so from the days of his childhood, until the day when the fair lady before him became his mother’s first-foot; and he recounted also his adventures and his struggles in London, as we have related them; and, as he spoke, the lady wept. As he concluded, he said—" And, until this day, I have ever found an expression, which my uncle made in a letter, verified, that ‘the moment the elbows of my coat opened, every door would shut.’

"Your uncle!" said the gentleman, eagerly; "who is he?—what is his name?"

"He commands a vessel of his own in the merchant service," replied George, "and his name is John Rogers."

"John Rogers!" added the gentleman; "and your father’s name?"

"Richard Rogers," answered George.

The young lady gazed upon him anxiously; and words seemed leaping to her tongue, when the gentleman prevented her, saying, "Isabel, love, I wish to speak with this young man in private," and she withdrew. When they were left alone, the gentleman remained silent for a few minutes, at times gazing in the face of George, and again placing his hand upon his brow. At length he said—"I know your uncle, and I am desirous of serving you—he also will assist you if you continue to deserve it. But you must give up book-making as a business; and you must not neglect business for book-making. You understand me. I shall give you a letter to a gentleman in the city, who will take you into his counting-house; and if, at the expiration of three months, I find your conduct has been such as to deserve my approbation, you shall meet me here agam."

He then wrote a letter, which, having sealed, he put it, with a purse, into the hands of George, who sat speechless with gratitude and astonishment.

On the following day, George delivered the letter to the merchant, and was immediately admitted as a clerk into his counting-house. He was ignorant of the name of his uncle’s friend; and when he ventured to inquire at the merchant respecting him, he merely told him, he was one whose good opinion he would not advise him to forfeit. In this state of suspense, George laboured day by day at the desk; and although he was most diligent, active, and anxious to please, yet, frequently, when he was running up figures, or making out an invoice, his secret thoughts were of the fair Isabel—the daughter of his uncle’s friend, and his mother’s first-foot. He regretted that he did not inform her father that he was his uncle’s heir—he might then have been admitted to his house, and daily seen her on whom his thoughts dwelt. His situation was agreeable enough—it was paradise to what he had experienced; yet the three months of his probation seemed longer than twelve.

He had been a few weeks employed in the counting-house, when he received a letter from his parents. His father informed him that they had received a letter from his uncle, who was then in London; but, added he, "he has forgotten to give us his direction, where we may write to him, or where ye may find him." His mother added an important postscript, in which she informed him, that, "She was sorry she was right after a’, that there wasna luck in a squintin’ first-foot; for he would mind o’ the sailor that brought the letter, that said he was to be his uncle’s heir; and now it turned out that his uncle had found an heir o’ his ain."

It was the intention of George, when he had read the letter, to go to the house of his benefactor, and inquire for his uncle’s address, or the name of the ship; but when he reflected that he might know neither—that he was not to return to his house for three months, nor until he was sent for—and, above all, when he thought that he was no longer his uncle’s heir, and that he now could offer up no plea for looking up to the lovely Isabel—he resumed his pen with a stifled sigh, and abandoned the thought of finding out his uncle for the present.

He had been rather more than ten weeks in the office, when the unknown Isabel entered and inquired for the merchant. She smiled upon George as she passed him— the smile entered his very soul, and the pen shook in his hand. It was drawing towards evening, and the merchant requested George to accompany the young lady home. Joy and agitation raised a tumult in his breast—he seized his hat—he offered her his arm—but he scarce knew what he did. For half an hour he walked by her side without daring or without being able to utter a single word. They entered the Park; the lamps were lighted amidst the trees along the Mall, and the young moon shone over them. It was a lovely and an imposing scene, and with it George found a tongue. He dwelt upon the effect of the scenery—he quoted passages from his own epic—and he spoke of the time when his fair companion was his mother’s first-foot. She informed him that she was then hastening to the deathbed of her grandfather, whom she believed to be the only relative that she had in life—that she arrived in time to receive his blessing, and that, with his dying breath, he told her her father yet lived—and, for the first time, she heard his name, and had found him. George would have asked what that name was, but when he attempted to do so he hesitated, and the question was left unfinished. They spoke of many things, and often they walked in silence; and it was not until the watchman called—"Past nine o’clock," that they seemed to discover that instead of proceeding towards Pimlico, they had been walking backward and forward upon the Mall. He accompanied her to her father’s door, and left her with his heart filled with unutterable thoughts.

The three months had not quite expired, when the anxiously-looked-for invitation arrived, and George Rogers was to dine at the house of his uncle’s friend—the father of the fair Isabel. I shall not describe his feelings as he hastened along the streets towards Pimlico. He arrived at the house, and his hand shook as he reached it to the rapper. The door was opened by a strange-looking footman. George thought that he had seen him before—it was indeed a face that, if once seen, was not easily forgotten—the footman had not such large whiskers as Bill Somers, but they were of the same colour, and they certainly were the same eyes that had frightened his mother in the head of her first-foot. He was shown into a room where Isabel and her father waited to receive him. "When I last saw you, sir," said the latter, "you informed me you were the nephew of John Rogers. He finds he has no cause to be ashamed of you. George, my dear fellow, your uncle Jack gives you his hand! Isabel, welcome your cousin!" "My cousin!" cried George. "My cousin!" said Isabel. What need we say more--before the New Year came, they went down to Scotland a wedded pair, to be his mother’s first-foot in the farm-house which had been rebuilt.


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