« PreviousContinue »
the first week, I was permitted to be an idler, Charles and Ellen Gray also relaxing in their usual studies, that they might contribute to my amusement. But there was a manly gravity about the one, a modest bashfulness about the other, and the style of speech in both was so different from all that I had heard or seen, that, even in idleness, my hours seemed of interminable length. However, there was such uniform kindness displayed by every member of the family, that although I might be unhappy, it was impossible to be displeased.
When I began my studies, the good minister seemed astonished at my ignorance, but contented himself with calling forth the most brilliant qualifications of his own children in my presence. Charles, although only about two years my senior, read Latin and Greek with ease and fluency; he was now studying hard, preparing for College, and I should have looked upon him as a phenomenon, had not Ellen so far outshone me: she read English with that graceful propriety which indicated that she understood and felt what she read, whether prose or verse; compared with mine, her hand-writing was copperplate, and executed with a facility to which I had no pretensions; in arithmetic, she was equally my superior, being not only much farther advanced, but in what I had learned, she put me to shame, for she understood principles, while I only recollected rules: in fact, she was a sentient, reflecting being, while I was merely an automaton. Her father rightly conjectured that this would arouse my pride, although he did not anticipate the consequences correctly; for I considered them so far in advance, that I despaired of ever overtaking them, and therefore looked on the attempt as hopeless. Mr Gray was not ignorant of the human heart; he saw my mortification, and took the most effectual means to remove it, by praising my efforts, predicting my future success, and more especially in permitting the gentle Ellen to be come my teacher, while she pretended to be only my play-fellow; and she possessed the art of making herself agreeable in such a degree, that
her lessons soon made a deeper impression than those of her father. Still there was a monotony in my present life which was irksome, and many privations to which I felt it painful to submit. It was true, I liked the company of Ellen; but I would have liked it much better had she been less worthy of esteem, and borne a greater resemblance to those of her sex with whom I had formerly associated. Although I had seldom participated in the delicacies of the table, with which my brothers were pampered, and although I could endure hunger and thirst in no ordinary degree, yet I had learned to riot in the luxuries supplied by the dairy-maid, and even felt a delight in drinking strong liquors. here, although our table was abundantly supplied, our food was plain, and it required air and exercise to give it a proper relish; our pleasures and amusements were equally simple; no cards, no fowling-pieces, no dogs, no horses, except the minister's grey poney, as staid and formal as himself. I had attempted to romp with Ellen, but she burst from me, and when I repeated the freedom, she left me, and came not in my sight for the day. We were seldom permitted to enter the kitchen, and on no account to pass our time there, which I considered as not one of the lightest of my privations; for I still recollected the companions with whom I had associated, and longed to enjoy a little of that ease and freedom, both in speaking and acting, to which I had long been accustomed; and although I could have wished that Matty, the servant-maid, had had a companion, to give a greater zest to our frolics, I imagined that even her company would be a relief from the restraint and dull formality which pervaded the mansion, and had at different times contrived to introduce myself into the kitchen. Matty was cheerful, seemed goodnatured, and rather pleased with my company, as she was generally alone. I talked freely, and she would sometimes laugh at my drolleries, till one evening, that the minister, his wife and daughter, were out walking, and Charles retired to study, I was left to con over a lesson, but soon stole down to the kitchen, for the sake of
Matty's company; and as she seemed in a pleasant mood, I began to exercise some practical jokes, similar to those which I had frequently practised, to the amusement and apparent satisfaction of my former associates, when Matty slapped me in the face, till the blood sprung from its most prominent part-told me never to enter the kitchen again-and pushing me out, bolted the door behind me.
I had thus been foiled in finding a companion to my liking, after having tried every one except the cow-boy, and I found him equally formal and intractable with the others. Hence, although every one was civil, indeed kind, yet all was so different from what I had ever known, that although there was nothing of which I could complain, all was weariness and insipidity. Mr Gray, I have no doubt, saw this, and his unremitted endeavours so far succeeded in removing my ennui. No effort was spared to inspire me with a love of learning; and my progress, if not equal to the good man's wishes, was at least commensurate to his expectations. Had I known how to avail myself of the instructions now daily set before me, both in precept and example, I should, in all human probability, have been a very different man from what I now am. This was, if not the only, at least the best opportunity I ever had for intellectual improvement; but I was ignorant of its value, a giddy, unthinking fool, which I have often since vainly deplored; for although, in the first years of my life, circumstances over which I had no control influenced my fortune, yet, in my after years, I must acknowledge with Cowley, that
"Tis our own wisdom moulds our state, Our faults and virtues make our fate.
Mrs Gray displayed a far greater degree of maternal kindness towards me than I had ever before experienced, and I began to regard her with an affection which I had never before felt; it had some resemblance to that which I entertained for the dairy-maid, who flattered, fonlled, and pampered me with delicacies, but was mingled with a respect which that girl had never inspired; it was more like the fondness with
which I had once regarded my mother, but was far more equal, and less interrupted by my resentments and angry passions. The pastor continued to avail himself of the proficiency of his own children, to stimulate me in my education; and his duty, as my preceptor, was more than faithfully, it was fondly discharged. Charles, in the prosecution of his studies, had little leisure for being my companion; but this was more than compensated by the gentle Ellen, in whose company I rambled over the valleys, and climbed the brown hills that rose around our dwelling. Nothing but the presence of this amiable girl could in any degree have fixed my attention on the objects to which it was directed by her; she was a philosopher in petticoats, yet so modest and unassuming, that she appeared utterly unconscious of the knowledge she possessed. I then thought her acquirements wonderful, but have since found that they only appeared so to my ignorance, with which she never upbraided me, but was every day endeavouring to remove, by informing me of something hitherto unknown, and which, from her manner of introducing it, had peculiar attractions. A year had passed away, and I was now not only reconciled to my situation, but often imagined it pleasant; yet there was a calmness and want of sensual excitement in every thing which I saw, heard, and felt, which did not altogether accord with the ardour of my disposition; my former habits were weakened, but not eradicated; and although, in my present situation, I might have been compared to the Israelites with their manna, feeding on food from Heaven, had I known how to appreciate it, yet, like them, I did at times long for the flesh pots of Egypt, that is to say, the company of my former associates of both sexes.
This vitiated appetite was gradually weakening, when fate interposed a powerful obstruction to my reformation. The small-pox appeared in the village in which the manse was situate, and as I had never had that disorder, I was instantly sent home till the contagion should pass away. Although doubtful about my reception from my parents, yet I had
many friends, from whom I anticipated a hearty welcome, and reckoned upon passing many delightful hours in their company. I was, however, received with a semblance of kindness beyond my expectations, and complimented by both father and mother, that my manners and behaviour were now such as could be to lerated. Although this was but negative praise, I felt its value, and endeavoured to put the best foot foremost, by exhibiting my various improvements in the most advantageous light. I had seen and talked with my friends below stairs, but found my reception from my parents so novel and agreeable, that I passed most of my time in their company. Unfortunately for me, my brother David, who had been at the academy, came home at the vacation, a few days after my arrival. Although his absence had been much shorter, his welcome was so much warmer than mine, that the filial affection which had just sprung up in my heart was blighted in the bud. When I compared my reception with his, the one was cold civility, and the other extravagant, doting fondness. When he first entered, my mother clasped him in her arms, and kissed him; the embrace shot a pang through my heart, for she had only taken my hand when I appear ed before her. This partiality was too evident not to have an effect, and it certainly tended to make my eye evil, because that of my parent's was good; making me to behold my brother with jealousy and dislike, and awakening the unkind feelings of former days, which a more prudent conduct on the part of my parents might have taken the present opportunity to annihilate. I soon felt, with bitterness of heart, my own insignificance in his presence; all the attentions of our parents were directed to him, and an infinite number of nameless trifles shewed that they had not a thought to bestow on me, except when my mother began to make invidious comparisons between us, in which I was always exhibited as the foil, to make him shine with superior lustre. My father, when he walked out, often asked David to accompany him, but left me always at home, as if I had been
a child. I felt this as an insult, forgetting that my brother was older, although I had my doubts if he was wiser; but David seemed to feel this as keenly as I did, and gave himself not a few airs on the preference thus shewn to him, behaving to me, even in his very best moods, with a formal civility, far from like fraternal feeling. In consequence of all this, before I was two weeks at home, I had quarrelled with my brother, been scolded by my mother, and threatened by my father; and as I was too proud to attempt a reconciliation with my brother, or even to make concessions to my parents, we continued to give just cause of offence to each other, till I became disgusted with my situation up stairs, and again sought, with avidity, my friends below, into whose society I now entered with renewed delight. They were overjoyed when I joined them, but quizzed me on my altered style of speech and modest behaviour, which I began to relax daily. My stay at home was nearly two months, of which two-thirds were spent in the company I have just mentioned; and before my departure, the groom had said, there was yet hope I would turn out a lad of spunk; and my friend, the dairy-maid, affirmed I would be a dear delightful devil in a few years. My brother and I again quarrelled, a pitched battle took place, and we fought, not as a trial of strength, but with irrascibility, unbecoming in men, and disgraceful to brothers; both were bleeding when my mother saw us, and throwing herself between us, led David away, leaving me to shift for myself. A court-martial was held, but there was no evidence except ourselves, and we most roundly contradicted each other, so that my father, although leaning to the side of his first-born, did not venture to administer corporal punishment to me. A letter arrived from Mr Gray, announcing that I might return without danger; and my mother raised her hands, devoutly thanking Heaven for the deliverance from my pre
When I took my departure for Balwhinny, there was no display of either filial or parental affection; and I felt more regret at parting with
the groom and dairy-maid than all my relations put together. Mr Gray had no small trouble, at my first entering under his charge, to clear the soil for the reception of the seed which he wished to sow; he had, however, succeeded so far, and had seen some springing up in fair promise; but when I now returned, he found that his work had almost to be begun de novo, for many of his good principles had been withered, or torn up by the roots, and those that remained were in a languishing state, or nearly choked with luxuriant weeds, which shewed they had found a congenial soil. The good man saw what had happened, reproved me with the affection of a father rather than the severity of a tutor, and set himself to the task of my reformation with most unwearied assiduity. The wish which I still felt to please Ellen Gray produced wonderful effects, and I was again improving, when she was sent to Aberdeen for the sake of her education; Charles went to College, and I was left without a companion.
Whatever might be the minister's feelings towards me, the more important duties of his office prevented him from associating with me except at regular and stated periods; and, unless when engaged in my lessons, I was entirely without society, a state most unsuitable to the vivacity of my disposition. In this sequestered situation, I formed an acquaintance with Hugh Todd, the sexton and grave-digger. He was (if I may be permitted to employ the anachronism) the prototype of the sexton in Blair's Grave: so close was the resemblance, that, had the pastor of Athelstoneford really intended to pourtray Hugh Todd's character, it could not have been done in terms more strictly true, or more appropriate language, for he was, in fact, an old hoary debauchee, but with no inconsiderable share of low humour, or rather vulgar drollery, which, however, too often degenerated into buffoonery, profaneness, and obscenity. In my present scarcity of associates, one with fewer attractions would have been welcome; but after a short acquaintance, I found him an acquisition which I would have hailed with delight in my happier days;
for, to disclose the truth at once, I felt the restrictions imposed upon my conduct by the worthy Mr Gray as peculiarly irksome. I have already mentioned that I was an adept in the art of dissimulation; and the good man, although he perceived my errors, was not aware how deeply they were rooted in the heart: I had the address to make him believe they were eradicated, when, in fact, I was nursing them with secret delight. My tutor had been at some pains to furnish my mind with general knowledge, and, if possible, to excite in me a love for reading; and for this purpose, he supplied me with books of voyages and travels, to be perused as a relaxation from study. I had quick perceptions, which, when I was inclined to exercise them, left me many vacant hours. Mr Gray's higher studies prevented him from making the discovery of how my leisure time was employed; and he often relied on my own report of having been walking, of which he approved, as necessary for my health. But I deceived him; for much of that leisure was spent in the company of Hugh Todd, who, to the occupation of making graves, added that of cutting monumental stones for those previously made; and when not in the village ale-house, I was most generally to be found at one or other of these kindred employments. I have stood beside him digging a grave, and not only heard him whistling, but venting vile and indecent jests, either upon those whose bones he threw up, or those who were to occupy the silent chamber which he was preparing. When cutting grave-stones, he would entertain me with vile, profane, and obscene parodies, on the epitaphs he was inscribing; yet, so well did he disguise all this, that Mr Gray was ignorant of his real character, and merely imagined him a cheerful old
In the third year of my residence at Balwhinny, I got a companion, a fellow-boarder, Hector Jarvis, a West Indian. He was in his sixteenth year, twelve of which had been passed in Jamaica, but his father having purchased a small estate, about thirty miles from Balwhinny, sent the son to Mr Gray,
to prepare him for the University. Hector was tall, and stout made; in appearance a man, but, for lack of a better, made me his companion. I soon discovered, that, compared with him, I sunk into insignifi cance My address, which some thought approached to impudence, compared with Hector's was mere awkward bashfulness; my courage seemed cowardice; my liveliest sallies of wit and freedoms of speech downright modesty. The blood in his veins seemed still to partake of the fervours of a tropical sun, which appeared also to influence every feeling and passion of his mind. In scholastic education, he was nearly on a par with myself; but in the indulgence of the passions, and what he termed a knowledge of the world, he left me at an immeasurable distance behind him, although with a most eager desire to follow. I had hitherto considered myself as only a boy, but he taught me, what I was very willing to be lieve, and now imagined myself a man. I need not be more explicit. Through me he soon became intimate with the sexton, and we made such a trio, that had Mr Gray known our conduct, every one of us would have been expelled from his presence for ever. I continued, however, to give application to my studies, and was assured by my teacher, that, by assiduity, I might be ready to enter the College with Hector. My wish had been for a military life; but I was ignorant of my father's intentions respecting my future destination. However, I could not now think, without regret, of parting from Hector, for he had taught me much which was agreeable to the early habits I had acquired; he had found me an apt scholar, and having always a command of money, by the aid of Hugh Todd we soon discovered haunts of pleasure, scarcely to be expected, and, I still hope, rarely to be found in a country village.
I had indulged resentful feelings against Matty, ever since she had expelled me from the kitchen vi et armis, and my invention had been racked for a scheme of revenge. At last I hit upon a plan. Having discovered that she was very credulous
and superstitious, one day, when Mr and Mrs Gray were from home, I arranged with Hector, in her hearing, to go a-fishing, and we departed accordingly. Matty was in the garden, and saw us set out; but turning a corner, I entered the house unobserved, secreting myself in a closet adjoining to the kitchen, through which I had observed the bell-wire to pass; and from a cranny in the door, I could see all that passed in the kitchen. As the day was calm and still, and the garden quite near, I rung the bell violently. Matty entered, apparently in great alarm. Running over the house, and finding no person within, her agitation was increased. While she sat staring wildly around her, I gave the wire a sudden jerk, that made her spring from the chair with a loud scream. Before she had in any degree recovered, I attempted to imitate the tolling of the church-bell at a funeral, till her horror became so excessive, that she ran out of the house; and I embraced the opportunity of slipping out by a back-door, and soon made my escape in such a way as to avoid the possibility of detection. Returning a bout two hours after, accompanied by Hector, we found Matty in bed, and attended by a bevy of village matrons, whom she would not permit to leave her till the return of her master and mistress.
No effort of the minister could reason the affrighted girl out of the fixed belief of what she had so distinctly heard; and as there was no other evidence to corroborate her assertions, the good man persuaded himself that it must have been some illusion of the senses; but she positively refused to sleep alone, and they were under the necessity of procuring a girl from the village for her nightly companion. This trick was attended with more serious consequences than I had wished or anticipated, for the poor girl's mind had received such a shock, that she became hysterical, to which hapless disease I understand she continued subject for life.
Another of my pranks at the manse produced a more laughable result. Joseph Dickson, a newly-licensed probationer, came to reside for some time at the manse of Balwhinny; he was an affected puppy,