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Significant Scots
George Stewart


ONE of the smartest traps to be seen driving along the shell path of Mobile, Alabama, is that of Mr George Stewart, blacksmith and carriage builder. He is well-known and respected all over the place, but to his old familiar friends on Gala Water he is, and will ever be, plain “Geordie.”

I would like to tell how I came to hear about him, to have known him, and after a lapse of thirty years to re-discover him. All classes of men have their peculiar privileges and advantages; working people often think the gentry have most. No doubt the manufacturers and merchants have their Incorporations, their Chambers of Commerce, and their Michaelmas dinners, when their audience is most select: but there is one luxury, one meeting they never enjoyed, and that is the motley gathering of their own workers which takes place at their mill gates every meal hour.

It was only at dinner time I ever attended those meetings, because I was a member of the Newspaper Club, and would not miss hearing the “Scotsman” read, for the great paper had not in those days fallen from grace. I was a stranger and an “incomer,” and, of course, mostly a listener. When it came near the quarterly dividend with the rival co-operative stores there was great debating and argument with genial banter. It seemed strange to me that the two stores should show such rivalry and sometimes bitterness, while both were attempting to do the same work. So I said one day to a prominent member of the old store, “What is the reason for having two stores in this town?” “Aw’ll sune mak that plain to ye,” he answered. “It was this way, Peter, div ye see, we were getting on fine in the auld store, when a lot o’ upstarts new come to the town—folk something like yersel, Peter, div ye see—because ye didna pit them on the committee a’ at vince, gaed awa’ and started a store o’ their ain, and ca’d it the “Waverley.” My ignorance was cured, and the innocent and unintentional way in which he gave me a backhander fixed the explanation on my mind for ever.

“O, there’s Jamie Lamb!” cried one of the congregation one day; “did you hear the latest about Jamie? I knew Jamie well. He was an old pattern weaver, of which we had many in Galamills. Jamie was an antique. When you saw his back you imagined you were looking at a school-boy. When you saw his face you beheld the exact double of the Duke of Wellington, and had he sot for the portrait of that hero no man could' have challenged it. “Weel,” said the speaker, “Jamie was happy yesterday (the day after the pay). He was up the damside on business half-a-dizzen times, but he sorely wanted a chum, an’ naebody would join him. At last he got haud o’ Auld White’s loom, an’ wadna let it swing. White remonstrated, but Jamie held on. White stared at him for a moment over his spectacles, and said with great deliberation, "Lamb! if ye dinna gang awa’ an’ let me get on wi’ my wark, I’ll come aff an’ make your nose like other folks.” The town was sharply divided at this time over the Caddon water scheme, and I was standing for Council honours in the interest o’ “waitter.” Jock Rankine, one of our spinners, came to the meeting, and the first question was, “Are ye gaun to vote for Peter, Jock?” “ What!” said Jock, “vote for Peter—never—he’s nothing but a tramp.”

Then Davie Wilson, a fifteen or sixteen stone blacksmith, took up his parable and said, “Eh, d’ye ken I heard an awfu’ girn last nicht aboot R. & B.’s blacksmith, Geordie Stewart; d’ye ken he’s gotten converted, and the first thing he did was to gang to his auld cronies and tell them, an’ if they wadna’ consent to gang wi’ him, then he must bid them good-bye for ever. I hear they are making it hot for him in the smiddy. A lot o’ them were round about him the ither day chaffing him till the poor soul couldna keep up wi’ them, and they say he turned his face to the smiddy lum and prayed for them.’’

Four or five weeks after that a solemn stillness fell on the meeting. “How’s Davie?” was the question. “Awfu’ bad. Three doctors at him yesterday, an’ nae hope. Isn’t it awfu’? Sic a strong man, an’ aye sae cheerie.”

A day or two after that there was no meeting at the gate. The meeting was in Greenbank Street at Davie’s house. A solemn, serious, and sympathetic company took its way to Eastlands Cemetery, a bonnie place, and there Davie is resting till the day break and the shadows flee away.

In a few weeks thereafter George Stewart stood in Davie’s place at Davie’s hearth, and for some years I listened daily to the music of his anvil, and learned to know and love the strange, gaunt, pock-pitted rather standoffish blacksmith. Geordie was a genuine Christian, and that is the finest thing to be seen on this planet. There are so many nominal ones that people forget this. Smallpox was bad in town at this time; several cases in Huddersfield Street. Three ill in one house. Our big blacksmith went in every meal-hour and helped to turn and make them comfortable. A poor mill-girl who came to town for work also took smallpox. Geordie knew her, because she had joined the Good Templar Lodge of which he was worthy chief. He attended her like a father, and when she died saw her decently interred. Her landlady was in a great state as she oould get no one to wash the blankets. Geordie said, “Dinna vex yersel my good woman, put on the boiler fire and I’ll come alang the morn’s nicht and wash your blankets for you.” He was for some time superintendent of the first children’s church ever held in Galashiels. It met in the Town Hall, a congregation any minister might have been proud of. He was an elder in the East U.P. and I was one in the West, and we sometimes exchanged notes. There was a gentleman in the town who had grown too intimate with John Barleycorn, and his church privileges were cut away. The Good Templars got hold of him, and he became a model man. A deputation was sent to him from the church, of whom Geordie was one, to say they would willingly restore him to his old place, but the man said, “Na, no ane amang ye ever took me seriously to task for the way I was going. It’s true twa cam’ to tell me no to come to the communion again, and I said to them, *O, we’ll no cast out about that,* and I produced the bottle and we had a rare nicht.”

There was one gentleman in the district, I say gentleman, for with all his failings he was still so. His own business furnished his besetting sin, and he went so far that at times he drank himself into deliriums. When he was at his worst he would have nobody near him except Geordie. Of course, Geordie could only go in the evenings after his day’s work was over. '‘Come away, Mr Stewart,” he said one night, “I’ve had a fearful day. The enemy of mankind has stood there all day, and he pointed to the foot of the bed. He told me I was his. Showed me a true list of all my sins, and said I should submit.” “And what did you say?” said Stewart. “Say!” said the man, “I just said, oh Satan, Satan, you may be the accuser, but you are not the judge.”

Geordie was one of the neatest writers I have known, and his general education was fair. When the first School Board advertised for an officer and clerk combined; he applied and was appointed.

A few years after he emigrated to America and all trace of him vanished. After a silence of thirty years I received the following letter:

Mobile Ala'. U.S.A.,

April 27th, 1903.

To my dear and valued friend,—

A week or so ago I received a copy of the “Border Record,” dated April 3rd, containing a short summary of the autobiography of “Peter Taylor.” I read the column and half with the greatest interest, and all the more knowing so well many of the surroundings. It carried me back to those days thirty years ago, as I went to work at the Travellers’ Rest in 1869. I remember so well as my father died January 18th, 1870. One Saturday afternoon as I was working overtime my sister came for me. Time rolls on apace. Those days are as fresh in my memory as if but yesterday. I have never had any pleasanter associations than those working under you. I remember often going home at twelve o'clock on Saturday night after we had been working overtime. I have always held to my religious convictions, and intend doing so, God helping me, till my final dissolution. I got the “Border Advertiser” for about twenty-five years, always keeping in touch with local affairs. Most of the old worthies are dead, and many changes have taken place. You have often been in my thoughts these past years. I have often wanted to write to you, but kept putting off from day to day and year to year. I remember you starting your business in the garret, which I see from the article in your book has grown to large proportions. I wish you God-speed in its highest sense in every undertaking.

I have made nothing so far as money goes. I have made a living, have a comfortable home of my own. raised a family of seven children. Three I have buried. I am running a shop of my own. some of my boys help me; I am getting too old now for hard work, but can do fairly well yet. I am sixty-two years of age, already numbered .among the old men, as the saying goes, but I have been ready since 1866 to go when the Master calls— as to that part of it. I have never had a doubt all these years. The blood of Jesus Christ, God's Son, cleanses me from all sin. I have been an elder of the church here for twenty years; teach a Bible class as best I can, but my best is poor. 1 am willing to slip down and out when any one feels like taking my place. I will gladly be a door-keeper in the House of God.

I would like to pay you a visit; have been looking to that end for some time. I hope I shall in the providence of God be permitted to do so. Nothing would be a greater pleasure than to visit the old familiar places in the Border country.

Would you kindly send me one of your books. It would be much appreciated and valued in remembrance of the happy years we spent together.

Yours sincerely,

Geo. Stewart.

This letter gives a fair indication of the man. When George was converted it was a revolution, not that he was in any way notoriously wicked, but everything which savoured of the world, the devil or the flesh, had to go, and his pipe went with the rest. He told me himself the latter was one of the stillest parts of the fight, and took him twelve months to gain the victory, but he won it.

Another passage or two from his letters will suffice for this sketch of my friend. On May 25th, 1903, he wrote:—

I received yours, dated 13th instant, on the 23rd, ten days from Paisley. I also received the book to-day. Have not had time to read much of it. Have looked over the illustrations. Took a look at the Travellers' Rept—a long look for old days' sake.

If your surprise was great to receive a letter from me, my pleasure was no less when your letter arrived. I cannot for the life of me tell why I have, as you say, been sitting away down here “in Alabama with my banjo on my knee," and never thought of writing to you. Well, I hope it won't be thirty years again before you hear from me. . . . Three years ago my health broke completely down, but I went to the Mountains of North Carolina for two months, and have been well ever since. Can eat and sleep like a youngster. I wish you could enjoy our mild winters. They are simply lovely—no frost or snow. Thermometer seldom below 60 degs., once in a while down to freezing, but only for a day or two. I like the climate; could not stand the winters in the old country. Summer is pretty hot, 90 and 100 degs. in the shade, but we have always a delightful breeze from the Gulf of Mexico. We have a fine bay, with a large home and foreign trade. Very large vessels come into port from all parts. The flowers are lovely all the winter. We have fig and orange trees in the garden. I keep a horse and vehicle, and drive to my place of business. My house is about two miles from it. I also drive to church, also two miles' distant. We have a lovely drive made of crushed oyster shells. It is six miles along a beautiful bay, and I only wish I could have the pleasure of driving you down. I have a pretty fast horse—I like something that can go—and have had some pretty speedy ones. I am not a racehorse man; only like to keep in sight of my friends who can pass me.

This year he writes to me:—-Have been receiving the Border Magazine regularly, and enjoy reading the articles, being familiar with many of the places, if not with the people. The Scotchman retains his old sturdy nature, no matter where he goes. A Scotch story fires his bluid, and brings to memory many scenes of old. There is more reference to Scotchmen and Scotland by public lecturers than to any other nation. He ought never to disgrace its fair name, but, alas, many of them do. Some keep calling on me. I have been fooled with them often, and they keep fooling me still. We have few Scotchmen, but plenty of Irishmen.

There are more secret organisations in this city than in any place I know, but I belong to none. The church is all I can attend to. I see there are great Revivals going on in Scotland, England, and Wales. It's wonderful that American preachers have to go to the old country to wake the people up. There is as much need for them here as anywhere. . . . O for a wave of His Spirit, to move from the Atlantic to the Pacific; faith connects the wire to the great dynamo that moves heaven and earth, and millions shall be lit up with the light of God's love.

Well, well! America has different kinds of millionaires, but if I had my choice I would rather be one of Geordie’s kind.

Peter Taylor.


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