I was an only son.
If my father had only been
the same, he would have succeeded to the title and estates of "our family."
But not having been imbued
with the proper appreciation of the value of these in this world, he allowed
himself to be born the youngest of the family, one of fourteen too, and with
such a large proportion of brothers that for him to look forward to succeed
to the title through such a vista of male heirs as kept cropping up in the
shape of nephews, would have been as hopeless a task as trying to see to the
end of time list of his own Scotch cousins!
My forefathers for nearly
three hundred years had been baronets, and lived in an old baronial castle
on the borders of the Highlands. For as many more years previously I believe
my ancestors could be traced as being very worthy gentlemen indeed. But
beyond that period I always steadfastly set my face against, making too
minute inquiries "anent my forebears," because when a boy I remembered to
have read in the Tales of a Grandfather, certain stories concerning Highland
raids into the Lowlands for the purpose of "lifting" cattle, that in these
operations the vile savages of the Lowlands sometimes used to kidnap their
more civilised mountain neighbours, and ruthlessly consign them to a branch
of the nearest tree.
Now I had always a very
distinct aversion to look any of my ancestors in the face in that exalted
position, and not being at all sure but that I should require to do so, if I
penetrated into a too remote antiquity of my family, I wisely accepted the
story of it as told in the Peerage, and burked everything antecedent.
My father, as I have said,
was the youngest of fourteen. My grandfather had had two wives—of course I
don't mean at the same time. The consequence was that before my father saw
the light the children of his eldest sister—step-sister—did so, and I had
nephews and nieces who used to dandle their uncle on their knees. I merely
tell this fact to prove that in the prolific increase of the thirteen there
was as legitimate a hope that "our family" would never die but for want of
male heirs, as there was a legitimate excuse for my grandfather getting head
over ears into debt. The hospitality of the old castle that had to be
extended to the direct members of the family— not to mention "Hielan"
cousins and retainers—was enough to drain a heavier purse than the old
gentleman's, so he got very handsomely indeed into debt, and, being an
honest man, he foolishly sold off all the unentailed portion of the fine old
family estate to make himself square with the world and his own conscience.
And so it fell out that the old castle and the barony lands were all that
were left, and, in fine, to tell a sad story in a few words, my grand-
faither died having only as many hundreds a year as his father had
thousands, and sic transit gloria of old families!
You may think all this has
little to do with me, but it has, for inasmuch as it affected my father's
fortunes and obliged him to go forth and do battle with the world on his own
account, with little to help hum in the shape of hard cash, so it happened
that when my time came I had e'en to go and do likewise.
My dear worthy father's idea
of starting in the world was after this fashion: he fell in love and married
when he was only a boy of four-and-twenty. He certainly was not guilty of
his father's inprudence, that of numbering his progeny by a dozen and one or
two extra, but marrying at four-and-twenty was just about as fatal to his
worldly prospects. But if fatal to worldly prosperity I am bound to record
that his imprudence secured an amount of happiness rarely attained in this
world. Never was there a happier union. After seven-and-fifty years of
wedded life my mother passed away at the mature age of seventy-seven, and
two years later—at eighty-three—my father was laid by her side. If their end
was peaceful and happy, and surrounded by the comforts of this life, they
had their early struggles. Of course they had, have I not already said he
was the youngest of fourteen, son of a father with an exchequer at zero,
whose children for inheritance had only the best of educations; but marrying
at four-and-twenty, what other than early struggles could await him?
He began life with a wife and
seven-and-sixpence a day as a surgeon in the Army, when the whole world was
gazing with fear and wonder at that fiery meteor Napoleon the First, whose
after-consignment to St. Helena disbanded my fathers regiment and sent him
afloat on the world with his young wife and two young children, and no
seven-and-sixpence a day to help them.
Now pray do not be impatient
and think that all I have been telling is irrelevant. I flatter myself I
have condensed into a marvellously small space what might have been spun out
into quite a long story, merging to a point coeval with my own appearance on
this world's stage, the whole scope of what has been previously written
being none other than to usher myself into your presence with just that
necessary introduction to enable you to understand my position when I became
the "only son," as announced in the words first herein written of these my
My earliest reminiscences of
nursery life are worthy an "only brother." I remember enacting the small
tyrant in a manner worthy the "only son" of a duke, let alone that of a
metropolitan physician, which my father was when I appeared upon the scene.
l ought rather to say that he was a family physician in a. metropolis, as he
was still too young to claim the more easily earned fees of a consulting
physician. Indeed, when I was enacting the nursery tyrant my father was only
pushing his way into "family practice," and had difficulty in making the two
My early years were fast
ripening me into a most intolerable nuisance, as lorded it over all the
women-kind in a manner that ought to have brought. down condign punishment
on my young understanding. My worthy mother would have been equal to the
occasion, but my father was the soft one who did the spoiling, and it was
only when his organ of combativeness was direfully roused that he invoked
that horribly cruel Scriptural adage, "He that spareth the rod hateth his
I shall only chronicle one
sample of the manners and customs of the young savage I then was, to prove
how well I earned the opprobrious epithet I have just given myself.
When in a particularly
abominable humour I well remember I insisted, when being put to bed, that I
should sit stridelegs on the neck of one of my sisters, and so have my
ablutions performed. I have not the slightest doubt in my own mind that I
should have grown up an unmitigated pest in the house, and perhaps
afterwards in the world, if Providence had not most mercifully stepped in
after I had tyrannised six years over my three sisters in the manner already
described, and deposed me from my perilous reign of "only son" and youngest
Child in making me no longer the latter, and giving me a fourth sister. This
auspicious and happy event, all unlooked for, in the nursery in particular,
and household in general, was my salvation.
How in after years, when I
have pondered over the matter, have I not thanked that dear sister's arrival
in true heartfelt thankfulness; showered down blessings on that singleness
of purpose which caused her to appear on the family scene, and take upon
herself the parental spoiling which had hitherto been my monopoly.
The transfer, fortunately for
me, was complete. A very short time had elapsed ere I ceased my gambols on
my sisters' necks at bedtime, and was to be found instead consigned to the
tub in a summary manner, the best-behaved and most exemplary "only son" that
ever got soused in soapsuds!
In justice to the new arrival
I am bound to state that when in course of years she ripened into womanhood
her nature had resisted all paternal indulgences, and she came through the
ordeal of being the youngest of the family in a manner I am certain would
have put me to shame had I remained in her position.