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Tales of the Scottish Peasantry
Jonathan Moudiwort

Chapter I.

Indications of Character — Small Beginnings.

Jonathan Moudiwort was born of very obscure and very poor parents. If our information is correct, his father was a weaver; and Jonathan himself was initiated, at a very early age, into all the mysteries of threads, reeds, haidles, and treadles. But this is anticipating; for it should first be told that the boy had a great deal of natural talent even in his earliest years; and, when at school, or rather before he was old enough to go there, that he frequently contrived to buy up nearly the whole of the toys of which his play-fellows were possessed. He would first give them something in exchange for a top, or a knife, or whatever they might chance to have; and then something else in exchange for that—always taking care to give an article of less value at every successive bargain, until hs had fairly bartered them out of their last farthing's worth in the most fair and honourable way. When he found them particularly stubborn he sometimes tried another expedient: upon these occasions it was his custom first to try to get "a piece" from his mother: and, if he succeeded, his next step was to engage his refractory companion upon some long excursion a little before dinner-time. When he had brought matters thus far, he scarcely ever failed of success, by pushing onward as briskly as possible with the little commercialist, under pretence of some great sight which they were to see, or some fine things which they were to get, till he had got him to a considerable distance from home; and then, when the afternoon was well advanced, and the poor boy had begun to suffer from the extreme of hunger, with still a mile or two of road between him and the prospect of any supply, he, in general, found him willing to sell whatever he might have, as Esau did his birthright—not, however, for "a mess of pottage," but for a portion of peas, or barley bannock, as the case might be. We cannot afford space to narrate more of Jonathan's boyish proceedings; but the specimens already given, it must at once be acknowledged, afforded sure indications of a wise, bargain-making, prospering man when time should have matured his intellect: and Jonathan's riper years did not belie the promise of his youth. He had tact and talent—an enterprising disposition, and an abundance of ambition; and, with such qualifications, who ever failed to get forward in the world?

As yet, however, he was surrounded by what the poets have been pleased to call "the thick mists of poverty." By his connection with threads, reeds, haidles, and treadles he could earn a bare subsistence, and very little more; but then he knew that "money makes money, as poor Richard said;" and if he could only save, or in any other way get hold of a few pounds, or even a few shillings, these, in the course of time, might make a few more; and thus he might get forward on the road to fortune and respectability; for the two are always to be found together. He had, moreover, an uncle, the worthy Mr. Mungo Moudiwort, who, from having wriggled himself into a writer's office, as an errand boy, when he was a lad, had actually risen to be factor and law-agent for the estate of Lord Crippledonky. "Blood is thicker than water," even at the thinnest: his lordship lived constantly in London; a farm might fall vacant in the course of time; and Jonathan thought chat he already saw through these same "mists of poverty."

Having saved a trifle by rising early and sitting up late— at least he had by some means or other got his hands upon a few pounds—his next proceeding was to take a grass park. It was a very small one, inasmuch as the rent for the season was only 9: but, small as it was, there were people who thought he would never be able to stock it with cattle. Jonathan, however, thought more correctly, and saw farther than they did : and, thereupon, he went to work in the following highly commendable manner.

Duncan Toddleben, an old man, and his wife, an equally old woman, who had made their living for some time past by selling milk, had a cow to dispose of. The thing had become indispensable, from the cow not being in calf, as the dealers have it. Now this was the very kind of cow which Jonathan wanted. He accordingly attended two markets to which the creature was successively taken, and, by some judicious and well timed, as well as mysterious hints about "the health of animals," and "biting not being the only fault for which a cow was commonly brought to the market," he so influenced the sagacious cow-merchants, alias, cow-coupers, that not one of them would offer poor Duncan Toddleben a single penny for his cow.

The last of these unpropitious market-days was drawing to a close, and Duncan had no prospect save that of returning home with the "beast," for whose support he was in great want of fodder, when Jonathan, who appeared to be passing the place where he stood by accident, stopped for a little to condole with him upon his ill luck; and then begged his company to the nearest ale-house, to get a "single bottle of ale," as he phrased it, "for auld acquaintance' sake." This invitation was accepted; and the "bottle of ale," was followed by "a gill," which had a wonderful effect upon the old man's spirits. Another gill was called in: who would wish to do otherwise than make an old man happy? It was succeeded by a third, which made Duncan as cheery as if he had sold his cow for twice her value; and, iu the end, he actually did sell her to his friend Jonathan for three pounds and half a crown, though, on the morning of the same day, he had confidently anticipated getting nearly three times that amount. Nor was this all; for it was stipulated that the half-crown should be returned as a luck-penny?

By such bargains as the foregoing, Jonathan soon succeeded in stocking his grass park to great advantage. The season was a favourable one for the graziers, there being a proper modicum of both warmth and moisture; and, when the animals were well fattened, he sold them to the butchers with a goodly "percentage" of profit upon the prices at which he had bought them. With this percentage, it was an easy matter for him to "pay the rent, like a gentleman," as the factor said, and even deposit some fifteen or twenty pounds, in the Fiddlesticks' Bank.

"Maist things hae a sma' beginnin',"

says the poet: here was a beginning to Jonathan, and he did not fail to profit by it. On the following year, he took a larger grass park, for which he promised to pay 30; and, by attending regularly and carefully at a number of markets, and making the most fair and honourable bargains with all sorts of simpletons and old men, who had cows or other cattle to sell, he again stocked it in a manner as advantageous as he had done heretofore. "When the proper season arrived, the butchers were once more fain to give him good prices for his "fat cattle;" and at the end of the year, besides "paying the rent, like a gentleman," as on the former occasion, he had between sixty and seventy pounds to deposit with the money changers at Fiddlesticks. Thus did Jonathan from year to year, increase in riches, even as he was increasing in knowledge.

But, to proceed chronologically with his history : on the year following that last noticed, the harvest was rather late; in the course of it a good deal of rain had fallen, while the weather was, at the same time, "warm and smoky," as the country people called it; and much of the grain had begun to grow again before it could be got into the barn-yard. During the earlier part of this period, a considerable rise in the price of corn had been anticipated; but as the weather had at last become dry, and it was supposed that the greater part of the crop had been "secured in excellent order," speculation upon the subject had in a great measure ceased. But Jonathan knew that when grain has once been allowed to sprout, however well dried it may afterwards be, it can never again be made to produce any thing like the ordinary quantity of meal, and upon this circumstance he founded his hopes. While the wet weather lasted, and even after the dry weather had come, day after day he might have been seen wending his way through the fields which had been lately reaped, thrusting his hands into the stooks, and "rubbing out" small quantities of the grain, which he winnowed with "the breath of his nostrils," or rather his mouth, and forthwith proceeded to examine carefully. At last his resolution appeared to be taken. As yet, from the farmers being busy in securing their potato-crop, and sowing their wheat, but little of any kind of grain had been thrashed or brought to the market, the deficiency of the season was not much suspected, nor had any. rise of prices taken place; and Jonathan invested the whole of his 60 in the purchase of oats—selecting, as a matter of course, the heaviest and the best which he could find, and always buying them "reasonably cheap."

By and by, prices began to rise a little, and exactly in proportion as they rose, that degree of anxiety which, for some time past, had been visibly depicted in Jonathan's countenance, gradually disappeared. He now regretted that he had not more money to invest in the purchase of corn, and, at last, he fairly thought of availing himself of a little credit. Credit, he knew, was a desperately bad thing; but he knew also, that the danger lay principally in giving, not in taking it, and therefore his scruples were the less. It was known to all that Jonathan was a hard-working, industrious man, who rose early on every morning of the week, except Sunday; and, with a little cajoling, Mr. Flapabout, the cloth merchant, in the village of Aberdouf, consented to be his security with the Fiddlesticks' Bank for an additional 50—the whole of which was also invested in the purchase of corn as fast as possible.

This done, Jonathan's next operations were directed to the two meal-mongers of Aberdouf: by dint of argument and logical deduction, of both of which he was a great master, he succeeded in persuading one of them, that the beggar-making business was incomparably more profitable than meal-mongering. This individual, accordingly, emptied his sacks with all convenient speed, and, instead of filling them again as had been his wont, took up a beggar-maker's shop, otherwise called a public-house. The other meal-monger, from being rather a refractory character, did not come so readily into his measures; but, by buying up a debt of 20, which he had been long owing to a miller, and prosecuting for its recovery in the proper nick of time, he ruined him, and thus got quit of him also. No man could lament more deeply, or more sincerely, or more pathetically, for the unfortunate meal-monger, than Jonathan did. "But then the poor miller!" he said; "it was simply to save him from ruin, that he had advanced the money, and bought up the debt; and one man was all the same as another."

As soon as the field was thus scientifically cleared of all opposition, Jonathan commenced meal-monger himself in the village of Aberdouf; and scarcely had he done so when the farmers, who had now begun to thrash out a part of their crops, discovered that, in winnowing, at least a fourth part of the grain went away with the chaff, while that which remained was scarcely more than half the usual weight. This, though it had remained partly unknown till now, was what Jonathan had foreseen, as the legitimate consequence of its having begun to vegetate before it was brought home; and, as a farther proof of his far-seeing faculty, in a week or two after the real state of the crop was generally understood, prices rose from eighty to one hundred per cent. Great emergencies require great geniuses: Jonathan Moudiwort was a great genius, and here he prospered, while evil times appeared to have fallen upon many.

Having no "competition"—that everlasting pest to all speculators in the matter of money-making—wherewith to contend, Jonathan did not fail to make the most of it. "His meal," he said, "was better than other people's: and, therefore, he must have some additional profits to remunerate him for the very great risk which he had run in buying up so much good corn, and the very great price which he had paid therefore; and these additional profits he rigorously, or rather religiously charged. The people of Aberdouf, it is true, grumbled a little thereat; but he pacified them with an assurance, that there would have been not only a great scarcity, but an actual dearth, if he had not provided the necessary supply; and then he proceeded to draw a comparison between himself and the patriarch Joseph, who saved the whole land of Egypt, and half the world beside, from the scourge of famine, by the same sort of foresight. These, it must be allowed, were conclusive arguments, though the people to whom they were addressed, did not seem fully to comprehend their force, nor to be so ready as they should have been to thank Heaven for having sent a second Joseph among them.

How much he saved by this speculation was never exactly known; but, as Andrew Tetherend, the bellman of Aberdouf, observed, "it must have been a gey penny."

When the whole of the meal was sold, and a plentiful crop next year had brought down the prices to their ordinary level, it was said that Jonathan had serious thoughts of taking unto himself a wife, and running her in the meal-selling way, by which he supposed a little might still be made; while he was to attend to the grazing, and other et ceteras, as he had done before. But somehow, upon mature consideration, it had appeared to him that there were objections to this important step, which counterbalanced the advantages to be expected therefrom; and, to the great dismay of those who were most deeply interested in the "replenishing of the earth," the thing went no farther. What these objections were was not clearly explained; for Jonathan was a cautious man, and had the good sense, when it was necessary, to conceal his sentiments upon such subjects; but our friend, Andrew Tetherend, who, upon these occasions, sometimes served as a sort of guesser-master-general to the community, said, that "he believed the great obstacle to their being honoured with the presence of a Mrs. Moudiwort was the circumstance of there not being a weel tochered lass in the market at the time."

Shortly after the period at which we have now arrived, the lease of Fodderrigs, one of Lord Crippledonky's largest farms, expired. Does the reader suppose that Jonathan would immediately succeed to it? No such thing. Had he done so, it might have subjected Mr. Mungo Moudiwort, the factor, to the somewhat scowry charge of being more ready to consult the interest of his friends than that of his master—a charge which, in the case of such a gentleman, would have certainly been very unfounded. And here, be it remarked, that a great part of the character and respectability of a certain sort of honest gentlemen depends, in a great measure, upon their taking care not to give public grounds for bringing such charges against them.

At the end of the lease which had just expired, the whole of the lands of Fodderrigs had been "laid down in grass," which was forthwith to be let for pasture. The greater, however, and by far the most productive, part of the farm was almost perfectly level, having been, at a very considerable expense, reclaimed from a swamp by the previous tenant; and now, to quote from the advertisement, "Contractors" were ''wanted to clear out the large drain into which the small ones emptied themselves." This sort of work was entirely out of Jonathan's way, inasmuch as he had never attempted anything of the kind before; yet he, too, "gave in his estimate," and, by offering to perform the work cheaper than any one else, strange to say he got the job. Early in the spring he commenced his labours; and the people of the neighbourhood were much amazed at the conscientious, or rather super-conscientious, manner in which he performed his work. He not only cleared out the large open drain, according to his agreement, but the mouths of the whole of the small ones, which, as is common in these cases, had been partly filled with stones, and then covered up with earth, so as to allow the plough to pass over them without interruption. The lower extremity of the whole of these, as already said, he opened up for a yard or two, apparently with the disinterested intention of taking out any mud which might have collected in their bottoms; and then, laying in the stones again, he left them, to all appearance, in a most efficient state for keeping the land perfectly dry. The whole of these operations he performed without any assistance; and, so great was his modesty, it was remarked, that he never interfered with any of the small drains, if any one chanced to be beside him.

The "large drain" was cleared out, and the whole of the work done before the season for "letting the grass parks" came on; but, notwithstanding this care on the part of the factor and Jonathan to improve the pasture by keeping it dry, the land appeared to be a thousand times wetter than it had been before. The moisture kept up to the very surface of the ground, in the furrows long pools of clear water were seen standing, and nothing like vegetation had made its appearance after the spring was far advanced. The day of auction, however, arrived, the graziers had been called together by advertisement, and the auctioneer bawled himself hoarse in calling out, "Gentlemen, don't deceive yourselves—once, twice—just agoing—who bids more? once, twice;" but, in consequence of there being no appearance of grass, none of the "gentlemen" would "bid'' anything worth mentioning for any of the lower fields of Fodderriggs; and Jonathan might have had the whole of them for a mere trifle, had he been so minded. But he, like a prudent and cautious man, satisfied himself with one of the largest of them. Here, however, his far-sighted genius again manifested itself in a manner which might have well arrested the attention of the most unthinking; for, in a very few days after it became his, it was as dry as it had been for several years before, and shortly thereafter, it was clothed with the most luxuriant herbage; while the others remained wet, sour, and stunted throughout the season.

The plan of letting Fodderrigs, annually, in separate lots, for pasture, was soon discovered to be untenable, it having been found that, in this way, it would scarcely yield as much as would satisfy the respective claims of the dominie, the minister, and his majesty! and Lord Crippledonky accordingly instructed his factor to advertise the farm to be let again, as it had been before. The thing was done as his lordship desired; and a number of agriculturists from different parts of the country "looked over the grounds," with the intent of making up their minds as to what rent they could afford to give for Fodderrigs. One and all of them saw, however, that the whole of the lower fields, except that which had been tenanted by Jonathan, were "deluged with water!" and that they would require to be drained anew before anything could be expected from them. Formerly they had constituted the best part of the farm. The last occupant was known to have been very particular in the matter of drains, and had expended a very considerable sum of money in this species of improvement, to very little purpose, as it now appeared. Such being the case, some of the intended "offerers" seemed to think that the land was "undrainable," while they all agreed in the opinion that "it could not be effectually drained without an enormous additional outlay of capital." At the period to which we now allude, capitalists, whether agricultural or commercial, could not afford to throw away their money for nothing, any more than they can do now; and thus it came to pass that the rents which the whole of them proposed to give were of a most conveniently trifling description. This was a most favourable state of things for Jonathan, who, accordingly, stepped forward, and by offering five pounds more than "the highest bidder" was promoted to the farmer of Foderrigs. Should any reader be inclined to ask how the landlord deported himself anent these matters, we must confess that we cannot exactly tell; but perhaps the best answer to the question would be to say at once that he was Lord Crippledonky, and that he lived constantly in London.

Here we must digress a little to remark, that, but for "the superfluous moisture," Jonathan would have commenced his career under the most favourable auspices. "When a tenant comes to a farm, which has been previously cropped in the ordinary manner, he must either purchase a great deal of manure, or a great deal of unthrashed corn, and likewise cattle wherewith to convert the straw into manure for the succeeding crop; but Jonathan had only to "till and sow," while there was every reason to expect that the ground, from having been previously "rested," would produce an abundant return.

The "superfluous moisture," however, and the draining of the lower fields, still rode, like a nightmare, if we may be allowed the metaphor, upon the neek of his prosperity; and many doubted if the new tenant would ever be able to get over these enormous stumbling-blocks, which lay in the way of*his making a fortune. The blind goddess, however, it has been laid, "favours the brave." Jonathan had already shown his bravery by the boldness of his speculations; and here the good lady stepped in to favour him, in a way which, to say the least of it, was altogether miraculous ! Shortly after the bargain was concluded, the whole of those fields which, for the last two years, had been little better than a hog, became as dry as they had ever been before, without a single yard of new drain having been put into them! How was the thing to be accounted for \ It was a perfect mystery, and a wonder to everybody except our old friend, Andrew Tetherend, who said that "doubtless it had been the work either of the brownies or the fairies!" In support of this theory, he told a story about his dog hunting a rabbit into the mouth of one of the drains, as he was returning home one evening with his spade on his shoulder; and thinking " that the creature might mak' a patfu' o' guid kail," he set about digging it out, when, to his utter surprise, he found only a few stones on the outside, and behind them a bank of earth, which kept the water as high as if no drain had ever been dug. To satisfy his own euriosity as to whether the whole of the drain had been filled up in the same manner, he bored a hole at the bottom of the bank with his staff, and presently the water issued from it in a jet, which he had much difficulty in stopping. He said farther that "he would cared little about stappin' up the hole had it no been that the fairies were kenned to be queer bodies! and, if he had destroyed ony o' their handiwarks; the least he could expect was, that they would stap his lum, if they didna rive up his early tatties, and his pickle cabbage-kail; and sae he thought it best aye to leave things as he fand them."

From this it would appear that Andrew did not consider himself a great favourite of Fortune, and that the "fairies," like everybody else, are under her direction; for had it been .otherwise, that is to say, had he been on good terms with the blind lady, and had she instructed them so to do, these perverse creatures might have certainly done him a better turn than "riving up his early tatties and his cabbage-kail." In short, they might have "delved his yard" for him, or stolen seeds and manure for him from those who had these things to spare, or they might have made his crops grow without seed, or manure, or "delving," had they been so inclined; but it was evident that their tricky mistress, Fortune, had not commanded them to do any of these things, and as evident that Andrew did not expect to be benefited by their labours.

In descanting upon these matters, we had nearly forgotten to state the conclusion to which he came respecting the drains, which was simply this,—"That the fairies had stappit them up to be avenged on the laird for some ill he had done them; and then redd them out again for some guid they expected to get from Jonathan Moudiwort." And with this sapient observation let us conclude our first chapter.

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