Page images
[ocr errors]

hedges, and whose hands and clothes seemed torn by the thorns. "Poor old creature,' he said, as she dropped her courtsey in passing, you must go to my manager, and tell him I have ordered you a barrel of coals. And stay-you are hungry : call at my house as you pass, and the servants will find you something to take home with you.' The poor woman blessed him, and looked up hesitatingly in his face : she had never betrayed any one, she said ; but his honour was so good a gentleman, so very good a gentleman; and so she thought she had best tell him all she knew about the breaking of the cross. She lived in a little garret over the room of Jamie Banks, the nailer ; and having slept scarcely any all the night in which the cross was taken down, for the weather was bitterly cold, and her bed-clothes very thin, she could hear weighty footsteps traversing the streets till near inorning, when the house-door opened, and in came Jamie with a tottering, unequal step, and disturbed the whole family by stumbling over a stool into his wife's washing-tub. Besides, she had next day overheard his wife rating him for staying out to so untimeous an hour, and his remark in reply, that she would do well to keep quiet, unless she wished to see him hanged. This was the sort of clue the affair required, and in following it up, the unlucky nailer was apprehended and examined; but it was found that through a singular lapse of memory, he had forgotten every circumstance connected with the night in question, except that he had been in the very best company, and one of the happiest men in the world.

Jamie Banks was decidedly the most eccentric man of his day, in at least one parish; full of small wit and small roguery, and famous for a faculty of invention fertile enough to hav served a poet. On one occasion, when the gill of whisky had risen to three-halfpence in Cromarty, and could still be bought for a penny in Avoch, he had prevailed on a party of his acquaintance to accompany him to the latter place, that they might drink themselves rich on the strength of the old proverb; and as they actually effected a saving of two shillings in

spending six, it was clear, he said, that, had not their money failed them, they would have made fortunes apiece. Alas for the littlenesses of that great passionthe love of fame! I have observed that the trades-people, among whom one meets with most instances of eccentricity, are those whose shops, being places of general resort, furnish them with space enough on which to achieve a humble notoriety, by rendering themselves unlike everybody else. To secure to Jamie Banks due leisure for recollection, he was committed to jail.

He was sitting one evening beside the prison fire, with one of his neighbours and the jailer, and had risen to exclude the chill night-air by drawing a curtain over the open barred window of the apartment, when a man suddenly started from behind the wall outside, and discharged a large stone with tremendous force at his head. The missile almost brushed his ear as it sung past, and rebounding from the opposite wall, rolled along the floor. * That maun be Rob Williamson,' exclaimed Jamie, wanting to keep me quiet; out, neebour Jonathan, an’ after him. Neebour Jonathan, an active young fellow, sprung to the door, caught the sounds of retreating footsteps as he turned the gate, and dashing after like a greyhound, succeeded in laying hold of the coat-skirts of Rob Williamson as he strained onwards through the gate of the hemp-manufactory. He was immediately secured, and lodged in another apartment of the prison; and in the morning Jamie Banks was found to have recovered his memory.

He had finished working, he said, on the evening after the ball, and was just putting on his coat preparatory to leaving the shop, when the superintendent called him into his writing-room, where he found three persons sitting at a table half covered with bottles. Rob Williamson, the weaver, was one of these; the other two were the clerk of the brewery, and the manager of the hemp-manufactory; and they were all arguing together on some point of divinity. The manager cleared a seat for him beside himself, and filled his glass thrice in succession, by way

of making up for the time he had lost-nothing could be more untrue than that the manager was proud! They then all began to speak about morals and Mr Ross; the clerk was certain, that, with his harbour and his piggery, and his heathen temples and his lace-women, he would not leave a ray of morality in the place; and Rob was quite as sure he was no friend to the Gospel. He a builder of Gaelic kirks, forsooth ! had he not, yesterday, put up a Popish Dagon of a cross, and made the silly mason bodies worship it for the sake o' a dram? And then, how common ale-drinking had become in the place-in his young days they drank naething but gin-and what would their grandfathers have said to a whigmaleerie of a ball ! 'I sipped and listened, continued Jamie, "and thought the time could not have been better spent at an elder's meeting in the kirk; and as the night wore later, the conversation became still more edifying, until at length all the bottles were emptied, when we sallied out in a body, to imitate the old reformers by breaking the cross. “ We may suffer, Jamie, for what we have done,” said Rob to me, as we parted for the night; “ but remember it was duty, Jamie—it was duty; we have been testifying wi' our hands, an' when the hour o' trial comes, we maunna be slow in testifying wi' our tongues too." He wasna slack, the deceitfu' bodie !' concluded Jamie, 'in trying to stop mine.' And thus closed the evidence. The Agent was no vindictive man: he dismissed his two managers and the clerk, to find for themselves a more indulgent master; but the services of Jamie Banks he still retained; and the first employment which he found for him after his release, was the fashioning of four iron bars for the repair of the cross.

The Agent, in the closing scene of his life, was destined to experience the unhappiness of blighted hope. He had an only son, a weak and very obstinate young man, who, without intellect enough to appreciate his well-calculated schemes, and yet conceit enough to sit in judgment on them, was ever shewing his spirit by opposing a sort of selfish nonsense, that aped the semblance

[ocr errors]

of common sense, to the expensive and benevolent philosophy of his father. But the old man bore patiently with his conceit and folly. Like the great bulk of the class who attain to wealth and influence through their own exertions, he was anxiously ambitious to live in his posterity, and be the founder of a family; and he knew it was quite as much according to the nature of things, that a fool might be the father, as that he should be the son, of a wise man. He secured, therefore, his lands to his posterity, by the law of entail; did all that education and example could do for the young man; and succeeded in getting him married to a sweet amiable Englishwoman, the daughter of a bishop. But, asas! his precautions, and the hopes in which he indulged, proved equally vain. The young man, only a few months after his marriage, was piqued when at table by some remark of his father regarding his mode of carving--some slight allusion, it is said, to the maxim, that little men cannot afford to neglect little matters; and rising with much apparent coolness from beside his wife, he stepped into an adjoining room, and there blew out his brains with a pistol. The stain of his blood was long observed in two large brownish-coloured blotches on the floor.

George Ross survived his son for several years, and he continued, though a sadder and a graver man, to busy himself with all his various speculations as before. It was observed, however, that he seemed to care less than formerly for whatever was exclusively his own-for his fine house and his beautiful lands—and that he chiefly employed himself in maturing his several projects for the good of his country folks. Time at length began to set its seal on his labours, by discovering their value; though not until death had first affixed his to the character of the wise and benevolent projector. He died full of years and honour, mourned by the poor, and regretted by every one; and even those who had opposed his innovations with the warmest zeal, were content to remember him, with all the others, as 'the good laird.'

[The story of George Ross, the Scotch Agent, appears

to us not only qualified, as the writer remarks, to teach a lesson of charity and moderation, but also to furnish to the numerous individuals who retire from business with independences, a hint as to the best means of employing and enjoying the vacant evening of life. The majority of such persons make the mistake of supposing, that mere exemption from the business which has occupied their early and middle years, will make their latter days pleasant; not reflecting that, in the breakingup of all their habits, and the removal of all those objects which have hitherto furnished the stimulus of life, they are bringing about a revolution in their own system fraught with the greatest dangers. They commence, in fact, a life of leisure, without having, at any period of their lives, cultivated those tastes, or practised those habits, or formed those connections, which alone render a life of leisure agreeable; and generally fall to pieces, like empty barrels, before they have been gentlemen for half-a-dozen years.

Now, if these individuals could contrive, like George Ross, to take an interest in any neglected village or district, or in any other way find an employment which, while free from compulsion and responsibility, would yet afford them as much occupation as they could desire, there cannot be the least doubt that they would make the latter part of life that real remuneration for an age of toil which it is at present only fable to be. In the very nature of such an employment, they would find a compensation for the nature of the other; and a long period of close application to a set of objects in which the good sought is in a great measure concentrated in self, would be rewarded by the privilego of applying to a totally different set, in which the good would be diffusive — they would be enabled to exercise their benevolence, and in that would find the sweetest of all the joys which life has to bestow.]

« PreviousContinue »