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The Cottars of the Glen
Chapter VII

Bob's adventure—Jock Cheap, the chapman—Exhortation—Revenge—Character of Jock—Mango Clark—Bob's success—Evil of avarice.

One day Bob appeared in the glen with his equipage, his blue caravan well crammed with goods, and the sturdy mule dragging the vehicle with a cautious step. He stopped at the door of Muckle Carco, where he was a welcome guest. The cottars greeted him with a hearty cheer, and no one felt envious at his prosperity. The mule crept into his old stall in the stable, and the caravan was safely lodged under cover. Since he left the glen, he had accomplished a wide circuit, which occupied nearly a whole year. In the evening, when the domestics and a number of neighbours had forgathered around the hearth in the spacious kitchen, the gudeman felt a strong curiosity to learn how matters had faired with Bob during his long absence, and what news was from beyond the hills. If the company was ready to listen, Bob was as ready to communicate; and so he rehearsed a variety of incidents that had befallen, and one in particular, which we shall here relate.

"As I was trudging along the wilds of Crawfordjohn," said he, "on my way from Douglas Water, where I have a number of customers, all good and trustworthy folk, among whom I have no scruple in distributing my wares, for they generally pay honestly and at the set time, and are kind both to myself and the mule—and so, you see, as I was coming through the wilds of Crawfordjohn, whom should I encounter but Jock Cheap, the chapman—he was loaded with a heavy pack, for he is a strong fellow, and can crouch under a weighty burden with ease; he had been showing his wares in a shepherd's house by the wayside, and he issued from the door just as I was passing.

"Ho, Bob,' he cried, 'how goes the world with you?'

"Pretty fairly," I said.

"'So I presume,' quoth he; 'for I see you are equipt in good style, with your blue caravan and your douce mule.'

"'The caravan,' I replied, 'eases one's back, and helps to carry a greater quantity of goods, and altogether makes the business much more profitable. I see,' said I, 'that ye have a heavy load on your shoulders, and if you have no objections, you may throw it on the top of the caravan it will ease you for a part of the way, as we seem to be going in the same direction.' To this he consented, and by our united efforts we tossed the burden on the roof of the machine, and so balanced it that it lay pretty solidly on the arched roof of the carriage.

"We walked on for a while in friendly chat on various matters; and from one thing to another we came to speak of the selling our wares. He affirmed that it was our plain duty to take as much as we could possibly get, and that we should feel no scruple on the ground of what some people might deem an overcharge. 'For you see,' said he, 'we don't force our goods on any person; we tell them our charges, and if they don't choose to take the articles they can let them alone.'

"'True,' I said, ' they can; but still we ought to have an honest rule by which we ought to act. Every one, to be sure, has his rule, and that rule, I fear, is avarice, pure greed and extortion, downright extortion, and this seems to be the order of .the day with not a few in our line.'

"'You hit hard,' he retorted; 'but surely common custom should be common rule? and I don't see how I should be blamed for acting just as others do. You talk of an honest rule, but what is that rule, pray?'

"'That rule,' I replied, 'is conscience, which, enlightened by the Divine law, ought to be every man's rule in all his transactions with his fellow-men. If we let this go, we become like a ship torn from its anchorage, and goes adrift on the high seas. For my part, I would rather have a penny, a single penny, small as that sum is, with a good conscience, than a pound even in a slightly dishonest way. In the one case you may expect a blessing, and in the other a blight, for, depend upon it, dishonest gain will eat like a canker at the root of all our substance, which will consume it either in our own lifetime or in that of our successors. Ill-gotten gear, they say, seldom reaches the third generation. I prize a good conscience in the way of business more than all that is in my bit caravan ten thousand times over, and I would much rather ton the whole into that dark Dnneaton stream before us there, and drive the mole to the hill, than deal dishonestly even in the mort trifling transaction/

"'Well' replied my companion, 'yon and I differ, and differ widely. I don't, it may be, approve of extortion more than yon do, bat still I affirm that we ought to take for our articles as much as we can decently finger. I don't pretend to brag of conscience as much as you do, although, I opine, I have one within my breast too; but I say again, that "common custom is common rule," and this was the law before either you or I were born, and it will be the law after we are dead, and so I don't like any hypocritical whining on the subject, and, perhaps, your transactions may not differ much from mine after all.'

"'I do not by any means,' said I, 'object to an honest profit even though some people may think it high, because we have, in many cases, to lie out of our money for a whole year and more, and in some instances we never see a farthing of it. But, then, we are not to rob some in our sales for the purpose of making up the deficiencies of others, the public are not to pay for our injudicious transactions; our losses, like your pack, must lie on our own shoulders, and must not be transferred to other honest people with whom we may deal.'

"'I tell you, honest Bob as you brag to be, that you are injuring our trade by your attempting to undersell us all by the rule of conscience which is an ellwand rather too long for my measurement, and the murmurings of the dealers in our line are becoming universal. Since you, with all your high pretensions, set out in this occupation, I cannot sell the one half that I used to do. The common reply when I enter a house is, we are waiting for Bob, we expect him this way very soon, his articles are good in quality, and moderate in price; and thus it is that the like of us are pushed off the ground, that upstarts like you may occupy our place. Now, I say, this is intolerable, and we must have elbow room as well as you; and so, honest Bob, I warn you to look to yourself, for there are angry fellows among us that will not spare if a suitable opportunity offer. My advice, then, is to fall in with us, and let us all have one purse.'

"'Nay,' I replied, 'rather let the trade follow my plan, and then we shall gain the confidence of the public, and consequently a better sale; and, though our profits may be small, they will be more extensive, and hence a greater benefit ia the end.'

"Just as I uttered these words the mule stumbled, the caravan shook, and Jock's pack came with a smash to the ground. The road was miry, and the heavy parcel was besmeared with mud. Jock got into a furious passion, and declared that I had done this intentionally, and seized me by the collar. We struggled; he was a powerful man, but I was nimble, and, after wrestling for a while, I extricated myself from his grasp, and kept him at arms' length, till a man coming up in the front with a loaded cart, made him desist, for the purpose of dragging his pack out of the way of the cart. I hastened after the caravan, but he followed me with loud threats.

"I had scarcely moved a mile on my way till he came up with me again, and this time armed with a heavy club which he had cut from the wood by the wayside. He now appeared in a more furious mood than before, and without ceremony he attacked, with his ponderous stick, and obviously with a murderous intent, and would, in all likelihood, have slaughtered me on the spot, had not two shepherds on the hill, unobserved by us, seen how matters stood, and hastened to the rescue. Before they arrived, however, their dogs sprang forward, and one of them, a powerful mastiff, darted with the speed of lightning on Jock, who was above me, and tore him off, dragging him into a deep ditch by the road-side. The shepherds arrived with all haste, and tossed his pack into the ditch along with him. They soused him into the stagnant water again and again. His goods were literally soaked in the water, and his mishap returned on his own pate. I wished no evil to the poor man, but the dogs and the shepherds wrought their will. How Jock will conduct himself after this remains to be seen, but I fear the worst. This occurrence befel just yesterday, and this day, as I was coming along, I met a man who told me that Jock came to the farm-house where he stays, and uttered grievous complaints against me, as having, in company with other two men, attempted to rob him, and that we misused him sorely on the road, and plunged both himself and pack into the ditch. In this way he was making the honest folk believe a falsehood, when, just at the moment, the two shepherds entered the house and explained the whole affair. He was then driven unceremoniously from the place, to tell, no doubt, his own story in other parts as best he might."

Jock was one of those characters that lived by the way. He purchased damaged goods and sold them at the best price. Cheating was his business, and it was an easy thing for him to overreach the unsuspecting servant lassies and lads in the remote farm-houses in the uplands. He always made the strongest assertions respecting the superior quality of his goods, and always left a broad margin for what was called "prigging," putting, in some cases, a double value on his articles, so that, when he was hard pushed in bargain-making, he could afford to lower the thing nearly one-half, and thus made his customers believe that they got a splendid bargain. The reason assigned by him for his dealing in this way was, that he was in want of money, and that to help himself out of a pressing difficulty in hard times, he was willing to sacrifice a good deal. It was in this way that the simple people were entrapped and swindled on every opportunity. The title which he assumed was "Jock Cheap," and this was done for the express purpose of hoodwinking the unsuspecting peasantry; and he succeeded to admiration, for he had well studied the art of popular gullibility, and fleeced both masters and servants at his will. In this discreditable practice he continued for a long time, and it was not till Bob arose that the people began to discover the cheat, and hence his assumed title was changed into "Jock Cheat, the chapman."

Jock is now entirely forgotten, but we well remember in our boyish days hearing the old people speak of "Jock Cheap, the chapman." He left his successor in the person of the well-known Mungo Clark, who traversed the upper parts of Nithsdale in the capacity of a pedlar, of whom some curious things are still retailed. When he was on his death-bed, his conscience seemed to grip him a little for his over-charges in the way of his business. "But," said he, in his strong nasal twang, to a friend who had been speaking seriously to him, "I believe there are large allowances to people in trade." It is to be feared that not a few in trade are inclined to act on Mungo's principle. It is now many a long year since Mungo was laid to sleep in the old churchyard of Kirk-bride, in Nithsdale, on the sunny slope of the hill which overlooks an immense stretch of country to the south. His body was conveyed to the burying-place in a hearse, a thing not common in those days except in the case of the more wealthy people. Among the attendants there were sundry people under the influence of liquor, and one person in particular was so drunk, that in order to convey him home some wags thrust him into the hearse. The boy who drove the hearse descended the hill with some degree of consequence, as being a conspicuous personage on the occasion; and, proceeding somewhat hilariously along in the direction of Drumlanrig toll-bar, heard a rumbling within the conveyance and then a human voice. He was struck with terror, supposing that either the veritable chapman himself had returned bodily, or that his restless ghost was making a mournful ado within. He sprang from the box, and exclaimed, u that Mungo was come back; that he was speaking and knocking in the place where the coffin had lain. When the hearse was opened, there lay the drunk man, whom the bystanders restored once more to the light of day.

Bob was now fully installed in the good graces of the cottars of the glen. They found in him an honest man, one who was in every way trustworthy. His caravan was packed to the roof with a great assortment of soft goods of all fabrics worthy of the price asked for them. The cottars recognised at once the difference between Bob's articles and the damaged pieces which Jock was in the habit of vending, and then the price was nearly the one-third less than what Jock Cheat usually demanded. With Bob there was no prigging. There was the article with its veritable price attached, and if it pleased, good and well, but if not, no matter, no higgling was permitted, take or not take, just as you please. "I have," said Bob, "in my transactions, two parties whom it is my endeavour to please—my customers and my conscience —and if I cannot please my customers but with the displeasure of my conscience, then I just let them alone."

Bob's sales now began to be general in the glen, and he soon became a great favourite, so that, with a few exceptions, the cottars would purchase from no one else. None rejoiced more heartily in the success of Bob than the worthy Saunders. He saw in him the principle of a sterling honesty which, though it might have some difficulties to struggle with at first, would overcome at last. "Honesty," said Saunders, "is the best policy, keep by that, Bob." "My wish," said Bob, "is not to make what the world calls a fortune, through foul means or fair, but simply an honest livelihood. I admit that. we chapmen have much in our power, and could quietly cheat on a lesser or a greater scale without any of our customers having the least discernment of the fraud. I have had many opportunities of this kind in the way of my calling among simple people, which it required an effort to resist, but I did resist and overcame, and now I have the satisfaction of it. Of this I am fully convinced, that if a person once take the advantage even in the smallest matter, that he is in danger of doing the same again and again, and will come in time to stifle the voice of conscience altogether. Solomon says ' that the beginning of sin is like letting out of water;1 so that sinning in any particular direction just needs a commencement; and just as drinking becomes step by step an acquired habit, so avarice, beginning by a small gratification, conducts to cheating, extortion, theft. And what is extortion but theft; it is just a secret way of stealing, and the money acquired in this manner is put into a bag with holes. It is my daily prayer that I may be kept upright in my dealings, though I should never accumulate a single pound beyond my daily necessities."

Such were the views of honest Bob, and if all men in their transactions were to adopt his principles, the world of commerce would soon exhibit a different aspect. The reigning sin of our nation seems to be the greed of gain. The very vitals of the community are prayed on by extortion. It-is fearful to think of the amount of crime that is committed in this way. And were avarice confined to the world it were less, but it has crept into the very church, and professedly religious men are not exempted from this vice. There is no idol more universally worshipped than Mammon.

We shall see more of Bob in his future career as an honest man of business, who pursued his calling with a good conscience, giving heed to the law of the Lord as his rule, and repudiating Jock's maxim, "common custom common rule."

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