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Autobiographical Reminiscences of David Johnston
Chapter V


"Friendship mysterious cement of the soul!
Sweet'ner of life, and solder of society!
I owe thee much "—Blair.

T this momentous period our little community seemed to lose all its wonted simplicity. Instead of that quiet, social kindness which characterized the inhabitants of this fruitful valley in my early day, there sprang up a restless desire to get speedily rich. The inflated price of the bountiful products of the rich surrounding fields had the baneful effect of fostering the change. The hideous deformity of war is ofttimes eclipsed by the spirit of selfishness. Still, bad as war is, it sometimes presents a whimsical phase, as in the case of Jamie Nicol. Jamie, though a carpenter and maker of the best saddle-tree in all that equestrian country, was not overladen with brains. Jamie had heard the good King George III panegyrized at the cross of the royal and loyal burgh of Haddington by the magistrates on the 4th of June, the birthday of that king of pious memory, which use and wont had molded into a duty. To witness this annual solemnity the lieges were duly summoned by the town band, consisting of bagpipes and a drum. Jamie never failed of this annual treat of seeing the vine when it was red gurgling down the throats of the chosen few to the health of the great king, and the eloquence of this occasion aroused his patriotic feelings to such a degree that he became military mad on the spot.

"Nae doot," said Jamie, "but the guid king's illness is a' owing tae sae mony o' his folk being just like masel'," and added: "Frae this time forth I'll serve my king and country." But it was well known among his neighbors that Jamie, like his namesake king of old, preferred the sword in the scabbard to the same weapon drawn, and this was made manifest by his enlisting in the local militia, whose ready commissary rigged him up in such a way as to "scare his auld mither nearly oot o' her wits " when he "cam hame tae his four hours." The gibes of his risible friends were chiefly at the expense of the unknown tailor who made his red coat. Jamie's military career was abbreviated by a serious-comic incident He appeared, as instructed, to drill on the Haugh nearly opposite to his own cottage, the Tyne, which is deep at that part, running between. In military parlance, the place for raw recruits is the awkward squad, the drilling of which fell to Peter Faulkener, an old soldier of the American war, and an old rival of Jamie in business, nicknamed "The Pack," from his having, a few years before, sold portable goods round the country. Jamie was greatly mortified at the fact of being under the control of a man he utterly despised, and, on imparting the news to his mother, she trembled in the fear of a collision. On the second day's drill Jamie had forgotten part of his previous day's instruction. and the small cane of Peter came in contact with Jamie's knuckles. "Damn ye, sir!" said Jamie, throwing down his musket; "dae ye think I could pit up wi' sic an insult at the hands o' 'The Pack?'" and leaped into the river, swam across, and like a drookit craw astonished the auld body just as she was preparing the tatties an' the herrin' for dinner. The corporal's guard detailed to apprehend the deserter having to take the bridge, gave the fugitive time to prepare for a siege. They found the old lady in tears and the invisible delinquent fortifying his stronghold inside of his shop. The officer in command demanded Jamie's surrender " in the king's name," but found him proof to all entreaties. At length when they threatened to tear down the building, his mother, knowing his passion for flowers, spoke to him through the keyhole, thus: " My man, Jamie, come awa oot. 'Gin ye stay there thae sodger bodies wull pu' doon the hoose, an' a' thae bonny floor-beds that ye hae ta'en sae muckle pains wi' will be trampit on by their unhallowit feet. Come oot, ma dear Jamie, for your mither's sake. They daur na' harm a hair o' yer h'eid." This proved the successful battering-ram against Jamie's castle, and out came the garrison, placing itself at the mercy of the conquerors, and never were conquerors more merciful. Most of the officers of the local militia were gentlemen of the neighborhood who had been beholden to Jamie for an easy seat in the saddle in hunting.

Jamie was discharged from his Majesty's service with the letter "D" attached to the document of his release, which deprived him of the privilege of doing business in any corporate burgh of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, which he laughed at, as the Nungate was field enough for him, particularly as the renowned reformer John Knox was born in the Giffordgate, within a few doors of his mother's cottage ; and that, with plenty of flowers, was glory enough for Jamie.

When my brother arrived he was fourteen, and in order to retain fifteen pounds per annum in the family, which, in addition to a handsome legacy was left by the will of Mr. Nisbet as what was termed an apprentice fee for seven years, Jamie was bound to our father for that term. I soon found that, being the stronger of the two boys, and there not being work enough for both, I expressed a wish to work in Edinburgh. My dear father was loth to part with me, and procrastinated for eighteen months; at length, when I arrived at my fourteenth year, I desired to leave more emphatically, and steps were taken to comply with my request. George More, of South Richmond street, Edinburgh, was a second cousin of my mother's, with whom (Mr. M.) I was bound for two years. Now, there never was in the galleys, nor in the West Indies, in the palmiest days of human slavery, a human being so infamously treated as was the Edinburgh journeyman baker of that day. Nor was Mr. More any more cruel than his fellow tradesmen. It was simply fashionable to ostracise the class, and I had to share the consequences. My father walked (as was his wont) into town just as I had finished the first year of my apprenticeship, and I can never forget the aspect of that tall, handsome figure gazing with astonishment down on his poor, crippled, stunted, emaciated offspring. That was the closing scene of my apprenticeship. That year's work made me the dwarf of a shapely family. Pride, with twelve months' manipulation, assisted in half straightening my fivey limbs, so that in time I escaped the finger of scorn pointed by my old schoolfellows at my ungainly shape. The reader may be informed that the principal cause of this distorting influence was (I speak of the past) to be found in the mode of carrying the bread to the customers, which was in oblong boards bound with iron, so dangerous to pedestrians that a fine was imposed on any one so laden using the foot sidewalk. Several events of importance transpired during 1817. The return of the 42d regiment from Waterloo, their entrance into the capital of their country after two years' detention in England, to be reviewed by the Prince Regent, was an ovation to be remembered: the exposure of the Regalia of Scotland, which had been by consent concealed from the public view since the union of the two kingdoms up to this date; the laying of the foundation of the Regent Bridge by Prince Leopold; the building of the new jail on Calton Hill, and the death of Princess Charlotte, daughter of George TV, and his ill-used Queen Caroline. The death of this princess caused a deep and lasting melancholy to the English people, by whom she was beloved dearly. She was married to Prince Leopold, who became afterward King of Belgium and subsequently married a daughter of Louis Philippe of France.


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