Search just our sites by using our customised search engine
Unique Cottages | Electric Scotland's Classified Directory

Click here to get a Printer Friendly PageSmiley

Tales of the Scottish Peasantry
Jonathan Moudiwort

Chapter II.

Ways and Means Indispensable to Rising in the World.

To an author, who is writing, not "against time," but against paper, the conclusion of one chapter, and the beginning of another, is frequently a matter of no small importance. The large capitals, together with the blank spaces which are usually left above and below them, are to him what the "return carriage" is to the toil-worn wayfarer, when the driver, for a small consideration, or it may be out of pure charity, takes him up, and conveys him rapidly over several miles of the road, without the necessity of moving his feet. Even thus, at the end of a chapter, the man of letters can pass over a part of his literary journey, without being obliged to tease his jaded intellect for thoughts and sentiments-wherewith to mark the track which he leaves behind him. This seems to be the principal reason, if not the only one, for dividing so many works into "chapters," which, in most instances, are reasonably short; and we trust the mention of it will be held as a sufficient excuse for the minute subdivision of this eventful history. Indeed, it is greatly to be regretted that the ancient manner of printing books has fallen into desuetude. In these days, according to a custom greatly to the advantage of the paper makers, as well as the scribbling gentry, the author, or rather the printer, always took care to conclude his chapters with two or three lines at the top of a page; and, as the next chapter did not begin till about the middle of the following one, there was, in most instances, nearly a page and .a half with nothing upon it; and yet for this all parties were well paid, except the reader, who had to pay well for it, which was much the same—a was for a had to and an ed, being all that is awanting to make the cases the same. It should also be understood that, in the matter of book-making, the reader is to be considered as a person of very little importance, provided always that there is only a possibility of reaching his purse ; and if this can be done by a good title-page, or a picture, or any thing else, it signifies nothing though the rest of the book should be wholly composed of the beginnings and the endings of chapters, with only blank leaves between them.

But not to proceed farther with this dissertation, it must be obvious to every sensible reader, that Jonathan had now the prospect of rising in the world, and attaining to respectability and importance in the eyes of his fellow-men. But still a great deal remained to be done before the end could be secured. There was yet a wide field for his talents and ingenuity to occupy, and the ways and means were not to be neglected. In this vile world, moreover, such individuals as he must always have a great many doubts and suspicions, apart from positive envy and ill will, in the minds of others, to overcome, before they can arrive at the summit of their glory.

In the first place, the less gifted portion of the community are always loth to think that a man of humble origin, whatever his talents may be, is really rising in the world; and when they see such a one advancing steadily to respectability and fortune, they naturally console themselves with the idea that he is only speculating, and that he will be shortly overtaken by ruin, corresponding in its depth to the extent of his vanity and ambition. Then there are those who are "well to do in the world "—those who have been born "with the silver spoon in their mouths," and who are always piqued at the idea of a "wooden-ladle" man aspiring to be on a footing of equality with themselves—these are always ready to doubt, and to depreciate, and to withhold the sunlight of their countenances from the individual who is struggling upward, until it has been fairly proved, beyond the possibility of farther dispute, that he is no less an ornament to human nature than they are themselves. With all these prejudices Jonathan had to contend, as will be seen presently: so that it was not altogether "Fortune," but his own talents and perseverance which, in the end, he had to thank for his prosperity.

After he had taken possession of the elegant, blue-slated farm house of Fodderrigs, he was frequently observed casting wistful glances toward the snug habitation of his neighbour, Mr. Evergreen of Feathercot. Mr. Evergreen, it may be remarked in passing, was in a very comfortable way, being worth some five or six hundred a year, which he derived from his own hereditary property; and when they met upon the boundaries of their respective fields, or at the markets in the neighbouring towns, Jonathan was fain to inquire after his health, and that of Mrs. Evergreen, and the Misses Adaline and Arabella Evergreen, in the blandest Hand kindest manner. But upon these occasions, the only answer which he could obtain was a formal "pretty well, sir, thank 'e," or a simple "thank'e," followed by a "how d' ye do, sir?" during the latter part of which address, Mr. Evergreen, in general, walked off without waiting for a reply to his question. Jonathan knew both the cause and the cure of all this; and, instead of sitting down, as some silly people would have done, to make lamentations anent the "unfeelingness of the world," or to indite bitter things against the "exclusiveness" of the aristocracy, he set about making matters even in a scientific way, well knowing, that when he had succeeded in this great cardinal point, he was secure of success in every other.

He paid unremitting attention to the cultivation of his fields; and in the matter of bargains he was as careful that no one should have the advantage of him as he had been heretofore. It was even whispered that he had bought another cow from Duncan Todleben, as reasonably as upon the former occasion, albeit the latter was ashamed to acknowledge the circumstance. Even things which others would have been inclined to regard as disasters the genius of Jonathan enabled him to turn to his own advantage; and thus, in the matter of "servants' wages," he rarely failed to effect a considerable saving every year. But as his management in this respect deserves to be recorded for the benefit of those who would wish to rise in the world, the reader will, no doubt, be pleased to have an opportunity of contemplating it more in detail.

Here, it must be acknowledged, that in the choice of his servants he was sometimes a little unfortunate or so. He seldom engaged them till the stock in the market had been "o'er-waled" by others; but then, as in other cases of the same kind, the inferior article always sells cheap, and he got them for less money. The fellows, however, were not unfrequently such mixtures of stupidity and arrogance, that scarcely any other master could have known how to manage them. But, when it was for his own interest to do so, Jonathan could command the virtue of patience in as great perfection as ever it was exhibited by Job, or any of the other patriarchs. Whatever was to be done, he kept an eye upon the work constantly himself, and thus he was enabled to prevent the dunces from either idling or falling into serious blunders. At one time he stimulated them to do their duty by promising, if they behaved in an orderly and becoming manner, to give them such recommendations at the end of the year as would procure them the very best situations in the country; and at another, he terrified them into obedience by threatening to withhold these recommendations. Occasionally, by bestowing a little praise upon a vain young man, or rather by merely telling him that he was very strong, and very wise, and likely to attract general attention, if he could only regulate his conduct in such a manner as to give satisfaction to his employers, he secured his best exertions for a time; and when the "water began to wax light" upon the "motive wheel," and the oil to dry upon the machinery of his actions, he either repeated the dose or had recourse to some new expedient. In a number of ways, none of which would have occurred to any one except a true genius he succeeded in getting his servants to do a great deal of hard work in the course of the season.

But then it is altogether contrary to the economy of Nature that crimes, or bad conduct, or stupidity, or arrogance—more particularly if the individual chances to be poor—should go unpunished; in short, the order of things is such that delinquencies of all kinds,, when committed by serving-men and serving-maidens, must necessarily draw disagreeable circumstances after them; and Jonathan's mind was so constituted as to afford a beautiful illustration of this principle. Patient and forbearing as he certainly was, it generally happened that toward the end of the season—that is to say, after the crops of all kinds had been secured, and the greater part of the wheat for the succeeding year sown, the arrogance and presumption of one or more of these bumpkins became altogether unbearable, or it so happened that they were guilty of some misconduct which could not be pardoned; and, in both cases, it became a matter of conscience, and a duty owing to society at large, either to turn them off without their "wages," or to reprehend them so sharply as to make them glad to run off, without taking time to ask anything for their past services. The latter, it is believed, was the course most frequently adopted, and it was certainly that which best became a humane and honest man; for to run off at once implies a willingness to depart; and a consciousness of guilt upon the part of the fugitive servant; while turning off is always supposed—however erroneously— to convey the idea of harshness on the part of the employer. A little experience, aided no doubt by extensive observation, had taught Jonathan the utility of trying to avoid, as much as possible, giving ground for this idea; and so prudently did he manage these matters, that when the dunderheads summoned him before the "Justices," for the fulfilment of his part of the bargain, he was almost always able to bring forward such evidences of their misconduct, and such good and substantial reasons for the course which he had adopted, that these "interpreters of the law," instead of sentencing him to pay "wages," not unfrequently awarded him "damages." Thus were these stupid clowns punished for their misdeeds and disobedience, with empty pockets and the loss of character, while Jonathan was rewarded for his patience and forbearance with as many pounds as he had promised to give them for their year's labour.

Apart from the tendency which they might have to increase his worldly possessions, these prudential measures were not without their effect in softening the hearts of his aristocratic neighbours. Even Mr. Evergreen and Mrs. Evergreen were not wholly uninfluenced by them. This worthy couple were strict disciplinarians: they were rigorous, with a wholesome rigour, in enforcing the duties of servants, as far as circumstances would permit; and they had frequently been heard lamenting most pathetically over the impotency of the law, and those imperfections in its administration, which allowed so many refractory servants to go unpunished; but when at last they saw Jonathan standing boldly forth as the champion of their rights, and successfully wielding the civil authority against disobedience, and all manner of misdeeds, they could not help regarding him with a sort of involuntary respect. By degrees this feeling ripened into an acknowledgment that he was certainly "a well disposed man," and that his firmness might, in time, be expected to work a great regeneration in the conduct of servants.

What cannot patience and perseverance in a good cause accomplish? Jonathan had now been five years in the farm of Fodderrigs, and every year he had reaped therefrom a more abundant crop than on the preceding one. During the whole of this period his respectability had been steadily increasing, and it was now observed that Mr. Evergreen had begun to eke out his wonted "pretty well, sir, thank'e," with the additional words, "I hope you're quite well, Mr. Moudiwort!" Here let the reader note the important revolution which had taken place in Mr. Evergreen's mind. But a few years ago and his neighbour was simply "Jonathan," or "the body Jonathan," or "that creature Jonathan!" But now, without a single cubit having been added to his stature, or a single hair of his head changed—through the sheer force of genius, and moral and intellectual enterprise—he had come to be Mr. Moudi-wort! Surely there is an important moral in all this, which youthful aspirants after fame, would do well carefully to consider.

Contemporaneously with this change of sentiment, Mr. Evergreen had also begun to take Mr. Moudiwort's advice anent some matters of agricultural import, and to question him, in the most condescending manner, concerning the growth of his crops, and the best modes of cultivation. Nor were these the only triumphs which the latter had achieved ; for by this time it was also remarked that Miss Adaline and Miss Arabella Evergreen, had begun occasionally to steal a most modest and maidenly glance towards his seat in the- church, when he happened to occupy it on a Sunday. Some even went so far as to say, that he was most ready to return these glances with a look indicative of all true devotion. For the dignity of history, however, it must be stated, that the thing altogether, was perhaps no better than a mere surmise, originating in that disposition to indulge in scandal, which prevails in most towns, and in not a few countries. Or it might take its rise from the circumstance of the Misses Evergreen having discovered, that the side of the family seat in the church, upon which Mr. Evergreen was wont to sit, had now become so frail, that there was much risk of its giving way beneath his weight—in consequence whereof, like dutiful daughters, as they certainly were, they insisted upon resigning their own side of the seat—which by the way, fronted the wall—to their father, and encountering the whole of the danger which might result from a "break down," themselves! This, furthermore, was not the only disinterested sacrifice which they laid upon the alter of filial affection; for, as has been already hinted, the side of the seat which they were now to occupy, from being opposite to that which fronted the wall, must unavoidably front the whole congregation; and in taking possession of it, they incurred the very great inconvenience, not to mention the positive risk, of exposing their own most attractive countenances, which, during the singing of the psalms, and the reading of the text, were of necessity unveiled, to the vulgar gaze of all and sundry there assembled; or at least to that of as many of them as might happen to prefer those paragraphs which may sometimes be read in the eyes of young ladies, to the pages of their psalm books and bibles, or to the melody which the precentor was no doubt doing his best to make.

Had the congregation consisted exclusively of Mr. Moudiworts, or of young men, who, like him, though they had been once poor, were now rising rapidly in the world, the conduct of these young ladies would have hardly been worth mentioning; because the mere circumstance of accumulating money, has a wonderful effect in divesting even vulgar things of their vulgarity, and purifying and exalting them to a higher standard : so that any contamination which might have previously been about them, soon ceases to exist. But when it is known that the church of Aberdouf, like most other churches, was, to a great extent, filled with poor men, who had to throw off their coats every day and toil hard for their daily bread, without the prospect of ever being richer—and that the Misses Evergreen were the daughters of Geoffrey Evergreen, Esq. of Feathercot; who was the son of Mr. Abel Evergreen, a cow-doctor; who was the son of some other great man—an Evergreen no doubt— whose titles and distinctions were never distinctly understood, —then the filial affection of these young ladies, and the amount of the sacrifice which they were willing to make for the safety and comfort of their father, will be better comprehended.

We have been the more particular in noticing all the circumstances connected with this part of our history, lest the reader should fall into the same scandalous mistake with the people of Aberdouf, by supposing that the Misses Evergreen were making unmaidenly advances to the hand of Mr. Moudiwort; or that Mr. Moudiwort was anxious for a union with so distinguished a family, for selfish purposes. The truth seemed to be, that the young ladies, as yet, had nbthing in view beyond a most commendable wish to improve their minds, by the friendship and conversation of so intelligent a man; while he, on his part, was willing to afford them the little advantages which they desired. Such being the case, it was hard indeed to have their disinterested care for the safety and comfort of their father misconstrued, in the manner already noticed. The blind goddess, however, if it were fair to judge from her conduct upon this occasion, must have had some little regard for her own father, and some little respect for those among her worshippers who entertained the same feeling; for she was now on the point of rewarding the Misses Evergreen, for their filial affection, with the full consummation of their wishes, as will be seen by and by.

After these things had supplied the people of Aberdouf, and the country thereabouts, with a subject of conversation for a time, an accident occurred, which at once placed Mr. Moudiwort high in the estimation of the whole family at Feathercot; and thus took away any awkwardness which there might have been in either party making advances to the other, in the absence of such an accident. It has been already said that the farm of Fodderrigs was bounded on one side by a large open drain : this drain separated it from the property of Mr. Evergreen; and it so happened that as Mr. Moudiwort was passing along upon its bank, engaged in deep meditation upon the luxuriance of the crops, with which his fields were crowned, he met Miss Adaline Evergreen, who, after the manner of romantic young ladies, had come forth to enjoy "the beauties of Nature " upon the other side of the drain. Had there been any of that bold and striking scenery, which Lord Byron haf. so majestically described—any "steeps. and foaming falls" over which she could have "leaned," or any "trackless mountains," which she could have "climbed all unseen, with the wild flock which never needs a fold !" or any "forest's shadowy scene," which she could have " traced," she would have, doubtless, done all these sublime things! But neither "foaming falls," "trackless mountains," nor "forests," chanced to be within a convenient distance; of "flocks,'' whether "wild'' or tame, none were within view—not even a single sheep; and thus it seemed that, on the present occasion, she had been forced to content herself with a walk by the side of a field of "blooming clover," which skirted "the Big Drain," as it was called.

Here, indeed, there was not much either of that "awful grandeur," or " enchanting loveliness," which has such incomprehensible charms for the whole race of poets, and poetesses, and romantic young persons of both sexes. The foresaid field of clover, which might yield, perhaps, about two hundred stones of hay per acre—another field of most unpoetical turnips—and a third of very promising oats, upon the opposite bank, with a lazy stream of water flowing over a dead level, which left its surface as smooth as that of glass, save where it was disturbed by a water rat, who had been basking on its side, "plumping in,"—these were the principal features of the landscape. But then the immaterial mind is not fettered by matter, or time; or place. It may soar away from coarse and vulgar things, and dwell in the regions of imagination and romance, and enjoy visions of all supposable sorts at pleasure! So, at least, the poets tell us, and we can do no less than believe them; for what could possibly be made by telling lies about such matters?

Thus it very probably was with Miss Adaline Evergreen, as she came slowly onward, musing, or endeavouring to muse, most romantically upon all that was, and all that was not around her. So absorbing, at last, were her musings, that she had forgotten to look up for some time; and it so happened that she was almost close upon Mr. Moudiwort, with only "the big drain " between them, before she observed him. Her delicacy, however, immediately took the alarm; but she was too late to think of flying in a contrary direction, which, moreover, might have looked a little silly, if not uncivil, as she was pleased to suppose. As a more becoming way of managing the matter, she endeavoured to make off, in pursuit of a butterfly—which came most opportunely to her assistance— through the field of clover; but she had only taken a few steps, when she discovered that there was dew, or moisture of some sort or other upon the grass, and that she would get her shoes and stockings, both of which were of a very fine texture, irreparably damaged if she persisted. Mr. Moudiwort, moreover, did not attempt to call after her; and, as a last resource, she returned to the footpath, and, casting her eyes on the ground in a very modest manner, walked slowly forward, indulging the hope, no doubt, that he might pass without noticing her.

Albeit it hath been said that "hopes beguile maidens," in this she was not so far wrong; for at the precise moment to which we now refer, he was so deeply engaged in computing the amount of money which every field might be expected to produce, that—unusual as the phenomenon would have been— an angel might have passed him on the wing, if the thing had been done noiselessly, without attracting any share of his attention! Save an unfortunate cough, which she could not suppress, but which, fortunately, he did not hear, Miss Adaline Evergreen passed him in silence and in safety; and thus far fortune favoured her up to the summit of her most maidenly wishes. The goddess, however, is almost as well known for her fickleness as her favours; and after having been blessed in no ordinary degree with the latter, it was perhaps but reasonable that Adaline should be left to learn a little of the former. At all events, she had only passed Mr. Moudiwort by a very few yards, when her foot slipped upon the grassy bank and she fell into the drain! uttering, as she did so, a very well bred and most lady-like scream, which had the effect of at once awakening him from his dream of bank notes and golden guineas; and, when he looked round, he saw her standing upon a place in the bottom of it, which the lessening stream had left nearly dry, and struggling violently, but without any appearance of success, to extricate her foot—with the shoe upon it as a matter of course—which was sticking about half-an-inch deep in the mud.

It has been said that a momentary smile dawned upon Mr. Moudiwort's countenance at seeing this event. Perhaps it was the benevolent contemplation, of how much good he would be able to do at a small expense to himself, which gave it birth ; or, it might be, some remote idea ahout young ladies with great fortunes always falling in love with the gentlemen who rescued them from robbers, or from drowning in tempestuous rivers, though the last is not very likely, on account of its being too sinister an idea to pass through the mind of so honourable a man, as well as from the circumstance of his seldom condescending to read any of the fashionable histories in which these events are principally recorded. Be the matter as it may, in a moment he had jumped over the "big drain," which might be about four or five feet wide, and had actually taken Miss Adaline Evergreen in his arms—a thing to which necessity compelled her to submit,—and had lifted her from this "Slough of Despond!" and set her down on terra-firma, with as much dexterity and courtesy, as if he had been the most valorous knight whose name ever graced the historic page.

The young lady, as might have been expected, felt a great deal of gratitude, but could not by any means find words sufficient to express it. She was, however, so much frightened, and so much out of breath, from her recent struggles to get out of the drain, that Mr. Moudiwort could do no less than offer to accompany her home—an offer which served both to increase her gratitude, and her difficulty of expressing it. Indeed, to have heard her straining her invention for fitting terms, wherein to thank him for his "unbounded generosity," one would have thought that Mr. Moudiwort had saved, not merely a single individual, but the whole world, from being drowned by a second Deluge! By the time they got home, however, she had so far recovered from the effects of her fright, as to be able to introduce her deliverer to her "papa" and her "mamma;" and to tell the whole story in so circumstantial a manner, that it appeared quite "an adventure;" while it also appeared pretty evident to all, that Mr. Moudiwort had been the means of saving her from being either drowned or devoured by the water-rats! In short, the thing seemed to have been altogether providential; and Mr. Evergreen and Mrs. Evergreen at once acknowledged that it was such, while they expressed their unbounded thankfulness to their much respected neighhour for the kindly part which he had acted toward their beloved daughter; and hoped that he would honour them and the Misses Evergreen with his company as often as he could find a moment to spare.

Such thanks, and such an invitation, must have been highly gratifying to Mr. Moudiwort. Indeed, the whole occurrence was most favourable for him, inasmuch as he got nearly half his victuals at Feathercot for several years after; along with the still greater privilege of as much of the company of the young ladies as he might choose. For a time these seemed to vie with each other in their devotion to him; Adaline out of pure personal gratitude, and Arabella out of respect for the prompt assistance which he had rendered her beloved sister. Great, too, was the labour, and great the cost, bestowed upon every dinner, or tea-party, or other entertainment, at which Mr. Moudiwort was present, and these were not a few.

Return to Book Index Page


This comment system requires you to be logged in through either a Disqus account or an account you already have with Google, Twitter, Facebook or Yahoo. In the event you don't have an account with any of these companies then you can create an account with Disqus. All comments are moderated so they won't display until the moderator has approved your comment.

comments powered by Disqus