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Wilson's Border Tales
The Recollections of the Village Patriarch

Chapter 1


There is no feeling more strongly or more generally implanted in the human breast, than man’s love for the place of his nativity. The shivering Icelander sees a beauty, that renders them pleasant, in his mountains of perpetual snow; and the sun-burnt Moor discovers a loveliness in his sultry and sandy desert. The scenes of our nativity become implanted on our hearts like the memory of undying dreams; and with them the word home is for ever associated, and

"Through pleasures and palaces though we may roam,
Be it ever so humble, there’s no place like home."

We cannot forget the place where our eyes first looked upon the glorious sun; where the moon was a thing of wonder, the evening companion of our childish gambols, joining with us in the race, and flying through the heavens as we ran! where we first listened to the song of the lark, received the outpouring of a mother’s love upon our neck, or saw a father’s eyes sparkle with joy as he beheld his happy children around him; where we first breathed affection’s tale or heard its vows, and perchance were happy, wretched, blest, or distracted, within a short hour. There is a magic influence about nativity that the soul loves to cherish. Its woods, its rivers, its hills, its old memories fling their shadows and associations after us and over us, even to the ends of the earth; and while these whisper of our early joys, or of what we fancied to be care ere we knew what care was—its churchyard tells us we have a portion there—that there our brethren and kindred sleep. We may be absent from it until our very name is forgotten; yet we love it not the less. The man who loves it not, hath his affections "dark as Erebus." It is a common wish, and it hath patriotism in it too, that where we drew our first breath, there also we should breathe our last. Yet in this world of changes and vicissitudes, such is not the love of many. Wille I thus moralise, however, I detain the reader from the Recollections of the Village Patriarch; and as some of the individuals mentioned in his reminiscences may be yet living, I will speak of the place in which he dwelt, as the village of A—.

The name of the patriarch was Roger Rutherford—he was in many respects a singular old man. He was the proprietor of three or four cottages, and of some thirty acres of arable land adjoining to them. He was a man of considerable reading, of some education, and much shrewdness. His years at the period we speak of, were fourscore and four. By general consent, he was a sort of home-made magistrate in the village, and the umpire in all the disputes which arose among his neighbours. It was common with them to say, instead of going to law—"We will leave the matter to old Roger;" and the patriarch so managed or balanced his opinions that he generally succeeded in pleasing both parties. He was also the living or walking history, or chronicle of the village. He could record all the changes that had taken place in it for more than seventy years; and he could speak of all the ups and downs of its inhabitants. What Byron beautifully says of the ocean—

"Time writes no wrinkles on thine azure brow,"

might have been said of the memory and intellect of the patriarch. He had also a happy art of telling his village tales, which rendered it pleasant to listen to the old man.

It was in the month of August, 1830, and just before the crops were ready for the sickle, old Roger was sitting, as his custom was (when the weather permitted), enjoying his afternoon pipe on a stone seat at the door, when a genteel looking stranger, who might be about fifty years of age, approached him, and entered into conversation with him. The stranger asked many questions concerning the village and its old inhabitants, and Roger, eyeing him attentively for the space of a minute, said—"Weel, ye seem to ken something about the town, but I cannot charge my memory with having the smallest recollection o’ ye; however, sit down, and I will inform ye concerning whatever ye wish to hear."

So the stranger sat down beside the patriarch, on the stone seat by the door, and he mentioned to him the circumstances respecting which he wished to be informed, and the individual concerning whom he wished to learn tidings. And thus did the old man narrate his recollections, and the tales of

THE VILLAGE.

"I have often thought, sir," he began, "that A—is one of the bonniest towns on all the Borders—indeed I may say in all broad Scotland. I dinna suppose ye will find its marrow in England; and I dinna say this through any prejudice in its favour, or partiality towards it, because I was born in it, and have lived in it now for the better part o’ fourscore and four years; but I will leave your own eyes to be the judge. It is as clean as the hearth-stane o’ a tidy wife—and there certainly is a great improvement in it, in this respect, since I first knew it. There is the bit garden before almost every door, wi’ vegetables in the middle, flowers alang the edges, a pear or cherry tree running up the side o’ the house, and the sweet, bonny brier mixing wi’ the hedges round about. It lies just in the bosom of the woods, too, in the centre of a lovely haugh, where the river soughs along, like the echo of the cooing of the cushats in the plantations. The population is four times what it was when I remember it first, and there are but few of the old, original residenters left. There have been a great many alterations, changes and improvements in it, since I first kenned it; but young folk will have young fashions, and it is of no use talking to them. The first inroad upon our ancient and primitive habits, was made by one Lucky Riddle taking out a licence to sell whisky and tippeny, and other liquors. She hadna carried on the trade for six months, until a great alteration was observable in the morals o’ several in the parish. It was a sad heart-sore to our worthy minister. He once spoke to me of having Lucky Riddle summoned before the session. But says I to him—‘Sir, I am afraid it is a case in which the session cannot interfere. Ye see she has out a king’s license, and she is contributing to what they call the revenue o’ the country; therefore, if she be only acting up to her regulations, I doubt we canna interfere, and that we would only bring ourselves into trouble if we did.’

‘But, Roger,’ quoth he, ‘her strong drink is making weak vessels of some of my parishioners. There is Thomas Elliot, and William Archbold, or Blithe Willie, as some call him for a by-word; those lads, and a dozen o’ others, I am creditably informed, are there, drinking, singing, swearing, fighting, or dancing, night after night; and even Johny Grippy, the miser, that I would have made an elder last year but on account o’ his penuriousness, is said to slip in on the edge o’ his foot every morning, to swallow his dram before breakfast! I tell, ye, Roger, she is bringing them to ruin faster than I can bring them to a sense o’ sin—or whatever impression I may make her liquor is washing away. She has brought a plague amongst us, and it is entering our habitations, it is thinning the sanctuary, striking down our strong men and making mothers miserable. Therefore, unless Lucky Riddle will in the meantime relinquish her traffic, I think we ought in duty to prohibt her from coming forward on the next half yearly occasion.’

I was perfectly aware that there was a vast deal o’ truth in what the minister said, but I thought he was carrying the case to a length that couldna be justified; and I advised him to remember that he was a minister o’ the gospel, but not of the law. So all proceedings against Mrs. Riddle were stopped and her business went on, doing much injury to the minds, bodies, purses, and families, of many in the village.

It was nae great secret that there were folk, both in and about the town, that had small stills concealed and working about their premises, and that there wasna a night but they sent gallons o’ spirits owre the hills into England; but, by some means or other, government got wit of these clandestine transactions, and the consequence was, that a gauger was sent to live in the village, and three armed soldiers were billetted on the inhabitants, who had to provide beds for them week about. Naebody cared for having men wi’ swords and fire arms in the house, and they preferred paying for their bed at Luckie Riddle’s. They were regarded as spies, and their appearance caused a great commotion amongst young and old. I often feared that the spirit of murmuring would break out into open rebellion; and one morning the soldiers came down from the hills, carrying the gauger covered wi’ blood and in a state that ye could hardly ken life in him. One of the soldiers also was dreadfully bruised about the head, and his sword was broken through the middle. They acknowledged that they had had a terrible battle wi’ a party of smugglers, and rewards were offered for their apprehension. But, though many of our people were then making rapid strides towards depravity, there was none of them so depraved as to sell his neighbour, as Judas did his master, for a sum of money. None o’ us had any great doubt as to who had been in the ploy, and some o’ our folk werena seen for months after; and, when inquiries were made concerning them, their friends said they were in England, or the dear kens where— places where they could have no more business than wi’ the man o’ the moon—but when they came back, some o’ them were lamiters for life.

The next improvement, as they called it, was the building of a strong, square, flat-roofed house, like a castle in miniature, wi’ an iron-stancheled window, and an oak door that might have resisted the attack o’ a battering-ram. This was intended to be a place of confinement for disorderly persons. A constable was appointed to take care of it, and it often furnished some of Luckie Riddle’s customers with a night’s lodgings. Persons guilty of offences were also confined there, until they could be removed to the county jail.

The next thing that followed, certainly was an improvement, but it had its drawbacks. It was the erection of a woollen manufactory, in which a great number o’ men, women, and bairns, were employed. But they were mostly strangers; for our folk were ignorant of the work, and the proprietor of the factory brought them someway from the west of England. The auld residenters were swallowed up in the influx of new comers. But it caused a great stir about the town, and gave the street quite a new appearance. The factory hadna commenced three months, when a rival establishment was set up in opposition to Luckie Riddle, and one public-house followed upon the back of another, until now we have ten of them. As a matter of course, there was a great deal more money spent in the village; and several young lads belonging to it, that had served their time as shopkeepers in the country town, came and commenced business in it, some of them beneath their father’s roof, and enlarging the bit window o’ six panes —where their mother had exposed thread, biscuits, and gingerbread for sale—into a great bow-window that projectecl into the street, they there exhibited for sale all that the eye could desire for dress, or the palate to pet it. Yet with an increase of trade and money, there also came an increase of crime and a laxity of morals, and vices became common among both sexes that were unheard of in my young days. Nevertheless the evil did not come without a degree of good to counter balance it; and in course of time, besides the kirk, the handsome dissenting meeting house that ye would observe at the foot of the town was built. Four schools, besides the parish school, also sprang up, so that every one had education actually brought to their door; but opposition at that time (which was very singular), instead o’ lowering, raised the price of schooling, and he that charged highest got the genteelest school. Then both the kirk and the meeting-house got libraries attached to them, and Lucky Riddle found the libraries by far the most powerful opposition she had had to contend with. Some of the youngsters, also, formed what they called a Mechanics’ Institution, and they also got a library, and met for instruction after work hours; and I declare to ye that even callants, in a manner become so learned, that I often had great difficulty to keep my ground wi’ them; and I have actually heard some of them have the impudence to tell the dominie that taught them their letters, that he was utterly ignorant of all useful learning, and that he knew nothing of the properties of either chemistry or mechanics. When I was a youth also I dinna ken if there was a person in the village, save the minister, kenned what a newspaper was. Politics never were heard tell of until about the year ‘seventy five or ‘eighty, but, ever since then, they have been more and more discussed until now they have divided the whole town into parties, and keep it in a state of perpetual ferment; and now there are not less than five newspapers come from London by the post every day, besides a score of weekly ones on the Saturday. Ye see, sir, that even in my time, very great changes and improvements have taken place; and I am free to give it as my opinion, that society is more intellectual now, than it was when I first kenned it; and, upon the whole, I would say that mankind, instead of degenerating, are improving. I recollect, that even the street there, ye couldna get across it in the winter season, without lairing knee-deep in a dub; and now ye see it is all what they call Macadamized, and as firm, dry, and durable as a sheet of iron. In fact, sir, within the last forty years, the improvements and changes in this village alone are past all belief--and the alterations in the place are nothing to what I have seen and heard of the ups and downs, and vicissitudes of its inhabitants."

The patriarch having finished his account of the village, thus proceeded with the history of the individuals after whom the stranger had inquired.


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