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Wilson's Border Tales
The Dominie's Class
Chapter 2


I remarked that Sandy was an extraordinary callant, and that he would turn out a character that would be heard tell o’ in the world; though that he would ever rise in it, as some term it, or become rich in it, I did not believe. I dinna think that e’er I had to raise the taws to Sandy in my life. He had always his task as ready by heart as he could count his fingers. Ye ne’er saw Sandy looking over his book, or nodding wi’ it before his face. He and his lessons were like twa acquaintances—fond o’ each other’s company. I hae observed frae the window, when the rest o’ ye would hae been driving at the hand ba’, cleeshin’ your perrie-taps, or endangerin’ your legs wi’ the duck stane, Sandy wad been sitting on his hunkers in the garden, looking as earnestly on a daisy or ony bit flower, as if the twa creatures could hae held a crack wi’ ane anither, and the bonny leaves o’ the wee silent things which pered to Sandy how they got their colours, how they peeped forth to meet the kiss o’ spring, and how the same Power that created the lowly daisy, called man into existence, and fashioned the bright sun and the glorious firmament. He was once dux, and aye dux. From the first moment he got to the head o’ the class, there he remained as immovable as a mountain. There was nae trapping him; for his memory was like clock-wark. I canna say that he had a great turn for mathematics; but ye will remember, as weel as me, that he was a great Grecian; and he had screeds o’ Virgil as ready aff by heart as the twenty-third psalm. Mony a time hae I said concerning him, in the words o’ Butler—

‘Latin to him’s no more difficil,
Than for a blackbird ‘tis to whistle.’

The classics, indeed, were his particular hobby; and, though I was proud o’ Sandy, I often wished that I could direct his bent to studies o’ greater practical utility. His exercises showed that he had an evident genius for poetry, and that o’ a very high order; but his parents were poor, and I dinna see what poetry was to put in his pocket. I, therefore, by no means encouraged him to follow out what I conceived to be a profitless though a pleasing propensity; but, on the contrary, when I had an opportunity o’ speakin’ to him by himsel’, I used to say to him—

‘Alexander, ye have a happy turn for versification, and there is both boldness and originality about your ideas— though no doubt they would require a great deal of pruning before they could appear in a respectable shape before the world. But you must not indulge in verse-writing. When you do it, let it only be for an exercise, or for amusement when you have nothing better to do. It may make rhyme jingle in your ears, but it will never make sterling coin jink in your pockets. Even the immortal Homer had to sing his own verses about the streets; and ye have heard the epigram—

‘Seven cities now contend for Homer dead,
Through which the living Homer begged his bread.’

Boethius, like Savage in our own days, died in a prison; Terrence was a slave, and Plautus did the work of a horse. Cervantes perished for lack of food, on the same day that our great Shakspeare died; but Shakspeare had worldly wisdom as well as heavenly genius. Camoens died in an alms-house. The magical Spenser was a supplicant at Court for years for a paltry pension, till hope deferred made his heart sick, and he vented his disappointment in these words—

‘I was promised, on a time,
To have reason for my ryhme:
From that time unto this season,
I received not rhyme nor reason.’

Butler asked for bread, and they gave him a stone. Dryden lived between the hand and the mouth. Poor Otway perished through penury; and Chatterton, the inspired boy, terminated his wretchedness with a pennyworth of poison. But there is a more striking example than these, Sandy. It was but the other day, that our immortal countryman, Robbie Burns—the glory o’ our age—sank, at our very door neglected and in poverty, wi’ a broken heart, into the grave. ‘Sandy,’ added I, ‘never think o’ being a poet. If ye attempt it, ye will embark upon an ocean where, for every one that reaches their desired haven, ninety and nine become a wreck.’

On such occasions, Sandy used to listen most attentively an’ crack to me very auld-farrantly. Well, sir, it was just after ye went to learn to be a doctor, that I resolved to try an’ do something to push him forward mysel, as his parents were not in ability; and I had made application to a gentleman on his behalf, to use his influence to procure him a bursary in ane e’ the universities, when Sandy’s faither died, and, puir man, left hardly as meikle behind him as would pay the expenses o’ his funeral. This was a death-blow to Sandy’s prospects an’ my hopes. He wasna seventeen at the time, and his widowed mother had five bairns younger. He was the only ane in the family that she could look up to as a bread-winner. It was about harvest; an’, when the shearing commenced, he went out wi’ ithers an’ took his place on the rig. As it was his first year, an’ he was but a learner, his wages were but sma’; but, sma’ as they were, at the end o’ the season he brought them hame, an’ my puir blighted scholar laddie thought himsel’ a man, when he placed his earnings, to a farthing, in his mother’s hand.

I was sorry for Sandy. It pained me to see one by whom I had had so much credit, and who, I was conscious, would make ane o’ the brightest ornaments o’ the pu’pit that ever entered it, throwing his learning and his talents awa, an’ doomed to be a labouring man. I lost mony a night’s sleep on his account; but I was determined to serve him if I could, and I at last succeeded in getting him appointed tutor in a gentleman’s family o’ the name o’ Crompton, owre in Cumberland. He was to teach twa bits o’ laddies English and arithmetic, Latin and Greek. He wasna out eighteen when he entered upon the duties o’ his office; and great cause had I to be proud o’ my scholar, an’ satisfied wi’ my recommendation; for, before he had been six months in his situation, I received a letter from the gentleman himself, intimating his esteem for Sandy, the great progress his sons had made under his tuition, and expressin’ his gratitude to me for recommending such a tutor. He was, in consequence, kind and generous to my auld scholar, and he doubled his wages, and made him presents beside; so that Sandy was enabled to assist his mother and his brethren.

But we ne’er hae a sunny day, though it be the langest day in summer, but, sooner or later, a rainy ane follows it. Now, Mr. Crompton had a daughter about a year younger than Sandy. She wasna what people would ca’ a pretty girl, for I hae seen her; but she had a sonsy face and intelligent een. She also, forsooth, wrote sonnets to the moon, and hymns to the rising sun. She, of a’ women was the maist likely to bewitch him. A strong liking sprang up between them. They couldna conceal their partiality for ane anither. He was everything that was perfect in her een, an’ she was an angel in his. Her name was Ann; and he had celebrated it in every measure, from the hop-and-step line of four syllables to that o’ fourteen, which rolleth like the echoing o’ a trumpet.

Now, her faither, though a ceevil, an’ a kind man, was also a shrewd, sharp-sighted, and determined man; an’ he saw the flutter that had risen up in the breasts o’ his daughter and the young tutor. So he sent for Sandy, and without seeming to be angry wi’ him, or even hinting at the cause—

‘Mr. Rutherford," said he, ‘you are aware that I am highly gratified with the manner in which you have discharged the duties of tutor to my boys; but I have been thinking that it will be more to their advantage that their education, for the future, be a public one, and to-morrow I intend sending them to a boarding-school in Yorkshire.’

‘To-morrow!’ said Sandy, mechanically, scarce knowing what he said, or where he stood.

‘To-morrow,’ added Mr. Crompton, ‘and I have sent for you, sir, in order to settle with you, respecting your salary.’

This was bringing the matter home to the business and the bosom of the scholar somewhat suddenly. Little as he was versed in the ways of the world, something like the real cause for the hasty removal of his pupils to Yorkshire, began to dawn upon his mind. He was stricken with dismay and with great agony, and he longed to pour out his soul upon the gentle bosom of Ann. But she had gone on a visit, with her mother, to a friend in a different part of the country, and Mr. Crompton was to set out with his sons for Yorkshire on the following day. Then, also, would Sandy have to return to the humble roof of his mother. When he retired to pack up his books and his few things, he wrung his hands—yea, there were tears upon his cheeks; and, in the bitterness of his spirit, he said—

‘My own sweet Ann! and I shall never see thee again— never hear thee—never hope!’ And he laid his hand upon his forehead, and pressed it there, repeating as he did s0— ‘never! oh, never!’

I was surprised beyond measure when Sandy came back to Annan, and, wi’ a wo-begone countenance called upon me. I thought that Mr. Crompton was not a man of the discernment and sagacity that I had given him credit to be, and I desired Sandy not to lay it so sair to heart, for that something else would cast up. But, in a day or two, I received a letter from the gentleman himself, showing me how matters stood, and giving me to understand the why and the wherefore.

‘O the gowk!’ said I, ‘what business had he to fa’ in love, when he had the bairns an’ his books to mind.’

So I determined to rally him a wee thought on the subject, in order to bring him back to his senses; for, when a haffins laddie is labouring under the first dizziness o’ a bonny lassie’s influence, I dinna consider that he is capable o’ either seeing, feeling, hearing, or acting wi’ the common-sense discretion o’ a reasonable being. It is a pleasant heating and wandering o’ the brain. Therefore, the next time I saw him—

‘Sandy,’ says I, ‘wha was’t laid Troy in ashes?’ He at first started and stared at me, rather vexed like, but at last, he answered, wi’ a sort o’ forced laugh—

‘A woman.’

‘A woman, was it?’ says I; ‘an’ wha was the cause o’ Sandy Rutherford losing his situation as tutor, an’ being sent back to Annan?’

‘Sir!’ said he, and he scowled down his eye-brows, and gied a look at me that would hae spained a ewe’s lamb. I saw that he was too far gone, and that his mind was in a state that it would not be safe to trifle wi’; so I tried him no more upon the subject.

Weel, as his mother, puir woman, had enough to do, and couldna keep him in idleness, and as there was naething for him in Annan, he went to Edinburgh to see what would cast up, and what his talents and education would do for him there. He had recommendations from several gentlemen, and also from myself. But month after month passed on, and he was like to hear of nothing. His mother was becoming extremely unhappy on his account, and the more so because he had given up writing, which astonished me a great deal, for I could not divine the cause of such conduct as not to write to his own mother, to say that he was well or what he was doing; and I was the more surprised at it because of the excellent opinion I had entertained of his character and disposition. However, I think it would be about six months after he had left, I received a letter from him; and, as that letter is of importance in giving you an account of his history, I shall just step along to the school for it, where I have it carefully placed in my desk, and shall bring it and any other papers that I think may be necessary in giving you an account of your other schoolfellows."

Thus saying, Dominie Grierson, taking up his three-cornered hat and silver-mounted walking-stick, stalked out of the room. And, as people generally like to have some idea of the sort of person who is telling them a story, I shall here describe to them the appearance of Mr. Grierson. He was a fine-looking old man, about five feet nine inches high—his age might be about threescore and fifteen, and he was a bachelor. His hair was as white as the driven snow, yet as fresh and as thick as though he had been but thirty. His face was pale. He could not properly be called corpulent, but his person had an inclination that way. His shoes were fastened with large silver buckles; he wore a pair of the finest black lambs’-wool stockings; breeches of the same colour, fastened at the knees by buckles similar to those in his shoes. His coat and waistcoat were also black, and both were exceedingly capacious; for the former, with its broad skirts, which descended almost to his heels, would have made a greatcoat now-a-days; and in the kingly flaps of the latter, which defended his loins, was cloth enough and to spare to have made a modern vest. This, with the broad-brimmed, round-crowned, three-cornered hat, already referred to, a pair of spectacles, and the silver-mounted cane, completed the outward appearance of Dominie Grierson, with the exception of his cambric handkerchief, which was whiter than his own locks, and did credit to the cleanliness of his housekeeper, and her skill as a laundress.

In a few moments he returned with Sandy’s letter and other papers in his hand, and helping himself to another glass of wine, he rubbed the glass of his spectacles with his handkerchief, and said—

‘Now, doctor, here is poor Sandy’s letter; listen and ye shall hear it.’

‘Edinburgh, June 10, 17—.

‘HONOURED SIR,—I fear that, on account of my not having written to you, you will, ere now, have accused me of ingratitude; and when I tell you that, until the other day, I have not for months even written to my mother, you may think me undutiful as well as ungrateful. But my own breast holds me guiltless of both. When I arrived here I met with nothing but disappointments, and those I found at every hand. For many weeks I walked the streets of this city in despair; hopeless as a fallen angel. I was hungry, and no one gave me to eat; but they knew not that I was in want. Keen misery held me in its grasp—ruin caressed me, and laughed at its plaything. I will not pain you by detailing a catalogue of the privations I endured, and which none but those who have felt and fathomed the depths of misery, can imagine. Through your letter of recommendation, I was engaged to give private lessons to two pupils, but the salary was small, and that was only to be paid quarterly. While I was teaching them, I was starving, living on a penny a-day. But this was not all. I was frequently without a lodging; and being expelled from one for lack of the means of paying for it, it was many days before I could venture to inquire for another. My lodging was on a common stair, or on the bare sides of the Calton; and my clothes from exposure to the weather, became unsightly. They were no longer fitting garments for one who gave lessons in a fashionable family. For several days I observed the eyes of the lady of the house where I taught, fixed with a most supercilious and scrutinizing expression upon my shabby and unfortunate coat. I saw and felt that she was weighing the shabbiness of my garments against my qualifications, and I trembled for the consequence. In a short time, my worst fears were realized; for, one day, calling as usual, instead of being shown into a small parlour, where I gave my lessons, the man-servant, who opened the door, permitted me to stand in the lobby, and, in two minutes, returned with two guineas upon a small silver plate, intimating, as he held them before me, that ‘the services of Mr. Rutherford were no longer required.’ The sight of the two guineas took away the bitterness and mortification of the abrupt dismissal. I pocketed them, and engaged a lodging; and never, until that night did I know or feel the exquisite luxury of a deep, dreamless sleep. It was bathing in Lethe, and rising refreshed, having no consciousness, save the grateful feeling of the cooling waters of forgetfulness around you. Having, some weeks ago, translated an old deed which was written in Latin, for a gentleman who is what is called an in-door advocate, and who has an extensive practice, he has been pleased to take me into his office, and has fixed on me a liberal salary. He advises me to push my way to the bar, and kindly promises his assistance. I shall follow his advice, and I despair not but that I may one day solicit the hand of the only woman I ever have loved, or can love, from her father, as his equal.—I am, Sir, yours indebtedly,


Now, sir (continued the dominie), about three years after I had received this letter, my old scholar was called to the bar, and a brilliant first appearance he made. Bench, bar, and jury, were lost in wonder at the power o’ his eloquence. A Demosthenes had risen up amongst them. The half o’ Edinburgh spoke o’ naething but the young advocate. But it was on the very day that he made his first appearance as a pleader, that I received a letter from Mr. Crompton, begging to know if I could gie him ony information respecting the old tutor o’ his family, and stating, in the language of a broken-hearted man, that his only daughter was then upon her death-bed, and that before she died she begged she might be permitted to see and to speak with Alexander Rutherford. I enclosed the letter, and sent it off to the young advocate. He was sitting at a dinner-party, receiving the homage of beauty, and the congratulations of learned men, when the fatal letter was put into his hands. He broke the seal—his hand shook as he read—his cheeks grew pale—and large drops of sweat burst upon his brow. He rose from the table. He scarce knew what he did. But, within half-an-hour, he was posting on his way to Cumberland. He reached the house, her parents received him with tears, and he was conducted into the room where the dying maiden lay. She knew his voice as he approached.

‘He is come!—he is come!—he loves me still!’ cried the poor thing, endeavouring to raise herself upon her elbow.

Sandy approached the bedside—he burst into tears—he bent down and kissed her pale and wasted cheeks, over which death seemed already to have cast its shadow.

‘Ann! my beloved Ann!’ said he, and he took her hand in his, and pressed it to his lips; ‘do not leave me; we shall yet be happy!’

Her eyes brightened for a moment—in them joy struggled with death and the contest was unequal. From the day that he had been sent from her father’s house, she had withered away as a tender flower that is transplanted to an unkindly soil. She desired that they would lift her up, and she placed her hand upon his shoulder, and, gazing anxiously in his face, said—

‘And Alexander still loves me—even in death!’

‘Yes dearest—yes!’ he replied. But she had scarce heard his answer, and returned it with a smile of happiness, when her head sank upon his bosom, and a deep sigh escaped from hers. It was her last. Her soul seemed only to have lingered till her eyes might look on him. She was removed a corpse from his breast; but on that breast the weight of death was still left. He became melancholy—his ambition died—she seemed to have been the only object that stimulated him to pursue fame and to seek for fortune. In intense study he sought to forget his grief—or rather he made them companions—till his health broke under them; and, in the thirtieth year of his age, died one who possessed talents and learning that would have adorned his country, and rendered his name immortal. Such, sir is the brief history o’ yer auld class-fellow, Solitary Sandy.

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