"I dinna want to disturb
the craws, the only freends I hae on earth," was the only answer that was
vouchsafed to the offer.
Andrew’s attention was
drawn more narrowly to this subject in consequence of a circumstance which
took place some time afterwards. One morning, when up early at work, he
was surprised to see Gibbie sprawling down from the elm of means of a
ladder which he had brought from the house. As he descended, he looked
suspiciously around him, as if afraid he should be discovered; and having
satisfied himself that no person saw him, hobbled his way into his house,
dragging, with great difficulty, the ladder after him. Having watched him
several mornings afterwards, Andrew discovered that he ascended the tree
once every day at the same early hour—going through the same operation,
without a change in any respect, even in the motion of his limbs, or the
putting of one leg before the other.
"Ye rise early, Gibbie,"
said Andrew to him one day.
"Do I?" answered Gibbie
cautiously, eyeing his interrogator with intense curiosity and fear.
"There’s nae apples on oor
Scotch elms, Gibbie, are there—eh?"
"No; but there’s sometimes
craws," answered Gibbie, with increased terror, mixed with some
satisfaction at his prompt reply.
"Do ye breakfast on the
young rooks, or, as we ca’ them, branchers, Gibbie?"
"No, but I gie them
their breakfast sometimes," replied Gibbie; who saw that it was better
to give a reason for his ascending the tree, than to deny what was clearly
"Ye had better tak care o’
Jamie’s act o’ parliament," replied Andrew, with reference to a curious
statute which had recently been passed in regard to rookeries.
"There’s nae act o’
Parliament can prevent me frae feedin my ain birds," replied Gibbie, who
knew nothing of the statute.
"The shirra may tell ye
anither tale," said Andrew, as he went to resume the work he had left for
the purpose of his interrogation.
The reference made by
Andrew to an act of Parliament was strictly applicable to the subject of
the conversation. In the first Parliament held by James, it was enacted,
for the preservation of the corn, that "the proprietors of trees in
kirkyards, orchards, and other places, shall, by every method in their
power, prevent rooks or crows from bigging their nests thereon; and, if
this cannot be accomplished, they shall at least take special care that
the young rooks or branchers shall not be suffered to take wing, under the
penalty that all trees upon whilk the nests are found at beltine, and from
whilk it can be established by good evidence that the young birds have
escaped, shall be forfeited to the crown, and forthwith cut down and sold
by warrant of the sheriff."
This strange statute was
acted upon, soon after it was passed, with the greatest vigour; so much so
that even the solitary elm of Gibbie, which had been proved "habit and
repute" an old offender, in harbouring the outlawed birds, came under its
sweeping range. It was distinctly proved that the nests had been allowed
to be built, and that the young branchers had been allowed to take
wing—the two tests of the contravention of the statute. Unknown to the
proprietor, the stately elm was condemned by the sheriff, after being sat
upon by an inquest; and, at an early hour one morning, Gibbie heard the
axes of the men of the law resounding from the trunk of his favourite
tree. Alarmed by the noise, he ran out half naked, and observed with
consternation a crowd of people standing round the condemned elm, while
two or three officers, with red necks on their coats, were superintending
the work of its destruction.
"What are ye aboot, ye men
o’ the law?" ejaculated the miser, as he rushed forward to seize the arm
of one of the men engaged in using the axe. "What richt hae ye to meddle
wi’ my property!"
"It is forfeited to the
crown, old man," said the sheriff-clerk, who stood aside.
"I’ll redeem it, I’ll
redeem it, wi’ three times its value," cried Gibbie, holding out money to
"The time of redemption is
past," answered the clerk. "It must now be sold, but not till it is cut
down. You can bid for it along with the rest."
This answer in some degree
pacified Gibbie, who sat down on a stone alongside of the tree, shivering
with cold, and eyeing, with intense agony, the operations of the men.
The tree was cut down and
exposed to public roup. The auctioneer entered it at half a merk. The sum
was immediately offered by Gibbie, who looked wistfully round, as if
imploring his neighbours not to bid against him.
"A shilling mair," cried
Andrew Garland, with a voice which shook Gibbie to the soul.
"An’ a saxpence abune
that," cried Gibbie, with an expression of grief.
"An’ ane mair to that,"
cried Gibbie, with great perturbation. "Shame! shame! to bid against a man
wantin his ain." And he groaned deeply, lowering his head to his knees,
and lifting it again, apparently in great agony.
Andrew, however, continued
to bid; and Gibbie, after waiting till the hammer was about to fall, bade
against him, until, by their alternate additions, the sum bid was twice
the value of the elm. At this stage, Andrew went round to the clerk and
whispered something in his ear, which produced a look of great curiosity
at Gibbie, whose state of mental agitation was now such that he had rolled
off his seat, and lay on the ground clutching the grass and groaning
bitterly. The bidding went on; Andrew kept up his bodes, and Gibbie
followed him with groans and imprecations. Five merks had now been bid,
and Andrew’s spirit was not in any degree subdued. The crowd was filled
with amazement—the scene was in the 1ast degree strange—the attitude of
Gibbie, and the serious countenance of Andrew, the looks of the clerk, and
the whispers of the people, all conspired to lend it an extraordinary
The scene continued. The
bidding, which had now lasted for an hour, was in no degree abated. Ten
merks—fifteen merks—twenty merks--thirty merks, were successively
attained. The affair had now assumed a most serious aspect. Some people
thought Andrew mad; others attributed his conduct to spite against Gibbie;
and some thought it was a scheme between Andrew and the clerk to rouse the
feelings of the old miser for the purpose of producing amusement. But
everything bore so serious an aspect that the interest still continued to
increase. The sufferings of Gibbie, in the meantime, were indescribable.
Convulsive shakings took possession of him, and every successive bode
produced a paroxysm; nature became exhausted; and having called out, with
an unnatural voice "Fifty-one merks!" he uttered a scream and expired.
The crowd collected round
the old man, as he lay dead on the ground. Andrew Garland felt he had
proceeded too far. He had rendered himself guilty of the death of a fellow
creature, and an explanation was demanded on the spot. He told them
honestly the whole state of the case: that he suspected the tree to
contain a sum of money—that the clerk had humoured the excessive bidding
to see what effect it would produce on the miser—and that he had had no
object to gratify beyond mere amusement. The people were satisfied, and
the tree was searched. In a hole in the side of the trunk was found a
leather bag, containing £300 Scots. The last bode having been given by
Gibbie, the tree and its pose belonged to his heir; who afterwards came
forward and claimed the prize.