The last cloud of dust which the wheels of the carriage had raised was dissipated, when dinner, which claims a share of human thoughts even in the midst of the most marvellous and affecting incidents, recurred to those of Mrs. Gray.
“Indeed, Doctor, you will stand glowering out of the window till some other patient calls for you, and then have to set off without your dinner; — and I hope Mr. Lawford will take pot-luck with us, for it is just his own hour; and indeed we had something rather better than ordinary for this poor lady — lamb and spinage, and a veal Florentine.”
The surgeon started as from a dream, and joined in his wife’s hospitable request, to which Lawford willingly assented.
We will suppose the meal finished, a bottle of old and generous Antigua upon the table, and a modest little punch-bowl, judiciously replenished for the accommodation of the Doctor and his guest. Their conversation naturally turned on the strange scene which they had witnessed, and the Townclerk took considerable merit for his presence of mind.
“I am thinking, Doctor,” said he, “you might have brewed a bitter browst to yourself if I had not come in as I did.”
“Troth, and it might very well so be,” answered Gray; “for, to tell you the truth, when I saw yonder fellow vapouring with his pistols among the woman-folk in my own house, the old Cameronian spirit began to rise in me, and little thing would have made me cleek to the poker.”
“Hoot, hoot! that would never have done. Na, na,” said the man of law, “this was a case where a little prudence was worth all the pistols and pokers in the world.”
“And that was just what I thought when I sent to you, Clerk Lawford,” said the Doctor.
“A wiser man he could not have called on to a difficult case,” added Mrs. Gray, as she sat with her work at a little distance from the table.
“Thanks t’ye, and here’s t’ye, my good neighbour,” answered the scribe; “will you not let me help you to another glass of punch, Mrs. Gray?” This being declined, he proceeded. “I am jalousing that the messenger and his warrant were just brought in to prevent any opposition. Ye saw how quietly he behaved after I had laid down the law — I’ll never believe the lady is in any risk from him. But the father is a dour chield; depend upon it, he has bred up the young filly on the curb-rein, and that has made the poor thing start off the course. I should not be surprised that he took her abroad, and shut her up in a convent.”
“Hardly,” replied Doctor Gray, “if it be true, as I suspect, that both the father and daughter are of the Jewish persuasion.”
“A Jew!” said Mrs. Gray; “and have I been taking a’ this fyke about a Jew? — I thought she seemed to gie a scunner at the eggs and bacon that Nurse Simson spoke about to her. But I thought Jews had aye had lang beards, and yon man’s face is just like one of our ain folk’s — I have seen the Doctor with a langer beard himsell, when he has not had leisure to shave.”
“That might have been Mr. Moncada’s case,” said Lawford, “for he seemed to have had a hard journey. But the Jews are often very respectable people, Mrs. Gray — they have no territorial property, because the law is against them there, but they have a good hank in the money market — plenty of stock in the funds, Mrs. Gray, and, indeed, I think this poor young woman is better with her ain father, though he be a Jew and a dour chield into the bargain, than she would have been with the loon that wranged her, who is, by your account, Dr. Gray, baith a papist and a rebel. The Jews are well attached to government; they hate the Pope, the Devil, and the Pretender, as much as any honest man among ourselves.”
“I cannot admire either of the gentlemen,” said Gideon. “But it is but fair to say, that I saw Mr. Moncada when he was highly incensed, and to all appearance not without reason. Now, this other man Tresham, if that be his name, was haughty to me, and I think something careless of the poor young woman, just at the time when he owed her most kindness, and me some thankfulness. I am, therefore, of your opinion, Clerk Lawford, that the Christian is the worse bargain of the two.”
“And you think of taking care of this wean yourself, Doctor? That is what I call the good Samaritan.”
“At cheap cost. Clerk; the child, if it lives, has enough to bring it up decently, and set it out in life, and I can teach it an honourable and useful profession. It will be rather an amusement than a trouble to me, and I want to make some remarks on the childish diseases, which, with God’s blessing, the child must come through under my charge; and since Heaven has sent us no children”——
“Hoot, hoot!” said the Town-Clerk, “you are in ower great hurry now — you have na been sae lang married yet. — Mrs. Gray, dinna let my daffing chase you away — we will be for a dish of tea believe, for the Doctor and I are nae glass-breakers.”
Four years after this conversation took place, the event happened, at the possibility of which the Town-Clerk had hinted; and Mrs. Gray presented her husband with an infant daughter. But good and evil are strangely mingled in this sublunary world. The fulfilment of his anxious longing for posterity was attended with the loss of his simple and kind-hearted wife; one of the most heavy blows which fate could inflict on poor Gideon, and, his house was made desolate even by the event which had promised for months before to add new comforts to its humble roof. Gray felt the shock as men of sense and firmness feel a decided blow, from the effects of which they never hope again fully to raise themselves. He discharged the duties of his profession with the same punctuality as ever, was easy, and even to appearance, cheerful in his intercourse with society; but the sunshine of existence was gone. Every morning he missed the affectionate charges which recommended to him to pay attention to his own health while he was labouring to restore that blessing to his patients. Every evening, as he returned from his weary round, it was without the consciousness of a kind and affectionate reception from one eager to tell, and interested to hear, all the little events of the day. His whistle, which used to arise clear and strong so soon as Middlemas steeple was in view, was now for ever silenced, and the rider’s head drooped, while the tired horse, lacking the stimulus of his master’s hand and voice, seemed to shuffle along as if it experienced a share of his despondency. There were times when he was so much dejected as to be unable to endure even the presence of his little Menie, in whose infant countenance he could trace the lineaments of the mother, of whose loss she had been the innocent and unconscious cause. “Had it not been for this poor child”— he would think; but, instantly aware that the sentiment was sinful, he would snatch the infant to his breast, and load it with caresses — then hastily desire it to be removed from the parlour.
The Mahometans have a fanciful idea, that the true believer, in his passage to Paradise, is under the necessity of passing barefooted over a bridge composed of red-hot iron. But on this occasion, all the pieces of paper which the Moslem has preserved during his life, lest some holy thing being written upon them might be profaned, arrange themselves between his feet and the burning metal, and so save him from injury. In the same manner, the effects of kind and benevolent actions are sometimes found, even in this world, to assuage the pangs of subsequent afflictions.
Thus, the greatest consolation which poor Gideon could find after his heavy deprivation, was in the frolic fondness of Richard Middlemas, the child who was in so singular a manner thrown upon his charge. Even at this early age he was eminently handsome. When silent or out of humour, his dark eyes and striking countenance presented some recollections of the stern character imprinted on the features of his supposed father; but when he was gay and happy, which was much more frequently the case, these clouds were exchanged for the most frolicsome, mirthful expression, that ever dwelt on the laughing and thoughtless aspect of a child. He seemed to have a tact beyond his years in discovering and conforming to the peculiarities of human character. His nurse, one prime object of Richard’s observance, was Nurse Jamieson, or, as she was more commonly called for brevity, and par excellence, Nurse. This was the person who had brought him up from infancy. She had lost her own child, and soon after her husband, and being thus a lone woman, had, as used to be common in Scotland, remained a member of Dr. Gray’s family. After the death of his wife, she gradually obtained the principal superintendence of the whole household; and being an honest and capable manager, was a person of very great importance in the family.
She was bold in her temper, violent in her feelings, and, as often happens with those in her condition, was as much attached to Richard Middlemas, whom she had once nursed at her bosom, as if he had been her own son. This affection the child repaid by all the tender attentions of which his age was capable.
Little Dick was also distinguished by the fondest and kindest attachment to his guardian and benefactor Dr. Gray. He was officious in the right time and place, quiet as a lamb when his patron seemed inclined to study or to muse, active and assiduous to assist or divert him whenever it seemed to be wished, and, in choosing his opportunities, he seemed to display an address far beyond his childish years.
As time passed on, this pleasing character seemed to be still more refined. In everything like exercise or amusement, he was the pride and the leader of the boys of the place, over the most of whom his strength and activity gave him a decided superiority. At school his abilities were less distinguished, yet he was a favourite with the master, a sensible and useful teacher.
“Richard is not swift,” he used to say to his patron, Dr. Gray, “but then he is sure; and it is impossible not to be pleased with a child who is so very desirous to give satisfaction.”
Young Middlemas’s grateful affection to his patron seemed to increase with the expanding of his faculties, and found a natural and pleasing mode of displaying itself in his attentions to little Menie 7 Gray. Her slightest hint was Richard’s law, and it was in vain that he was summoned forth by a hundred shrill voices to take the lead in hye-spye, or at foot-ball, if it was little Menie’s pleasure that he should remain within, and build card-houses for her amusement. At other times he would take the charge of the little damsel entirely under his own care, and be seen wandering with her on the borough common, collecting wild flowers, or knitting caps made of bulrushes. Menie was attached to Dick Middlemas, in proportion to his affectionate assiduities; and the father saw with pleasure every new mark of attention to his child on the part of his protege.
During the time that Richard was silently advancing from a beautiful child into a fine boy, and approaching from a fine boy to the time when he must be termed a handsome youth, Mr. Gray wrote twice a-year with much regularity to Mr. Moncada, through the channel that gentleman had pointed out. The benevolent man thought, that if the wealthy grandfather could only see his relative, of whom any family might be proud, he would be unable to persevere in his resolution of treating as an outcast one so nearly connected with him in blood, and so interesting in person and disposition. He thought it his duty, therefore, to keep open the slender and oblique communication with the boy’s maternal grandfather, as that which might, at some future period, lead to a closer connexion. Yet the correspondence could not, in other respects, be agreeable to a man of spirit like Mr. Gray. His own letters were as short as possible, merely rendering an account of his ward’s expenses, including a moderate board to himself, attested by Mr. Lawford, his co-trustee; and intimating Richard’s state of health, and his progress in education, with a few words of brief but warm eulogy upon his goodness of head and heart. But the answers he received were still shorter. “Mr. Moncada,” such was their usual tenor, “acknowledges Mr. Gray’s letter of such a date, notices the contents, and requests Mr. Gray to persist in the plan which he has hitherto prosecuted on the subject of their correspondence.” On occasions where extraordinary expenses seemed likely to be incurred, the remittances were made with readiness.
That day fortnight after Mrs. Gray’s death, fifty pounds were received, with a note, intimating that it was designed to put the child R. M. into proper mourning. The writer had added two or three words, desiring that the surplus should be at Mr. Gray’s disposal, to meet the additional expenses of this period of calamity; but Mr. Moncada had left the phrase unfinished, apparently in despair of turning it suitably into English. Gideon, without farther investigation, quietly added the sum to the account of his ward’s little fortune, contrary to the opinion of Mr. Lawford — who, aware that he was rather a loser than a gainer by the boy’s residence in his house, was desirous that his friend should not omit an opportunity of recovering some part of his expenses on that score. But Gray was proof against all remonstrances.
As the boy advanced towards his fourteenth year, Dr. Gray wrote a more elaborate account of his ward’s character, acquirements, and capacity. He added that he did this for the purpose of enabling Mr. Moncada to judge how the young man’s future education should be directed. Richard, he observed, was arrived at the point where education, losing its original and general character, branches off into different paths of knowledge, suitable to particular professions, and when it was therefore become necessary to determine which of them it was his pleasure that young Richard should be trained for; and he would, on his part, do all he could to carry Mr. Moncada’s wishes into execution, since the amiable qualities of the boy made him as dear to him, though but a guardian, as he could have been to his own father.
The answer, which arrived in the course of a week or ten days, was fuller than usual, and written in the first person. —“Mr. Gray,” such was the tenor, “our meeting has been under such circumstances as could not make us favourably known to each other at the time. But I have the advantage of you, since, knowing your motives for entertaining an indifferent opinion of me, I could respect them, and you at the same time; whereas you, unable to comprehend the motives — I say, you, being unacquainted with the infamous treatment I had received, could not understand the reasons that I have for acting as I have done. Deprived, sir, by the act of a villain, of my child, and she despoiled of honour, I cannot bring myself to think of beholding the creature, however innocent, whose look must always remind me of hatred and of shame. Keep the poor child by you — educate him to your own profession, but take heed that he looks no higher than to fill such a situation in life as you yourself worthily occupy, or some other line of like importance. For the condition of a farmer, a country lawyer, a medical practitioner, or some such retired course of life, the means of outfit and education shall be amply supplied. But I must warn him and you, that any attempt to intrude himself on me further than I may especially permit, will be attended with the total forfeiture of my favour and protection. So, having made known my mind to you, I expect you will act accordingly.”
The receipt of this letter determined Gideon to have some explanation with the boy himself, in order to learn if he had any choice among the professions thus opened to him; convinced at the same time, from his docility of temper, that he would refer the selection to his (Dr. Gray’s) better judgment.
He had previously, however, the unpleasing task of acquainting Richard Middlemas with the mysterious circumstances attending his birth, of which he presumed him to be entirely ignorant, simply because he himself had never communicated them, but had let the boy consider himself as the orphan child of a distant relation. But though the Doctor himself was silent, he might have remembered that Nurse Jamieson had the handsome enjoyment of her tongue, and was disposed to use it liberally.
From a very early period, Nurse Jamieson, amongst the variety of legendary lore which she instilled into her foster-son, had not forgotten what she called the awful season of his coming into the world — the personable appearance of his father, a grand gentleman, who looked as if the whole world lay at his feet — the beauty of his mother, and the terrible blackness of the mask which she wore, her een that glanced like diamonds, and the diamonds she wore on her fingers, that could be compared to nothing but her own een, the fairness of her skin, and the colour of her silk rokelay, with much proper stuff to the same purpose. Then she expatiated on the arrival of his grandfather, and the awful man, armed with pistol, dirk, and claymore, (the last weapons existed only in Nurse’s imagination,) the very Ogre of a fairy tale — then all the circumstances of the carrying off his mother, while bank-notes were flying about the house like screeds of brown paper, and gold guineas were as plenty as chuckie-stanes. All this, partly to please and interest the boy, partly to indulge her own talent for amplification, Nurse told with so many additional circumstances, and gratuitous commentaries, that the real transaction, mysterious and odd as it certainly was sunk into tameness before the Nurse’s edition, like humble prose contrasted with the boldest nights of poetry.
To hear all this did Richard seriously incline, and still more was he interested with the idea of his valiant father coming for him unexpectedly at the head of a gallant regiment, with music playing and colours flying, and carrying his son away on the most beautiful pony eyes ever beheld; Or his mother, bright as the day, might suddenly appear in her coach-and-six, to reclaim her beloved child; or his repentant grandfather, with his pockets stuffed out with banknotes, would come to atone for his past cruelty, by heaping his neglected grandchild with unexpected wealth. Sure was Nurse Jamieson, “that it wanted but a blink of her bairn’s bonny ee to turn their hearts, as Scripture sayeth; and as strange things had been, as they should come a’thegither to the town at the same time, and make such a day as had never been seen in Middlemas; and then her bairn would never be called by that Lowland name of Middlemas any more, which sounded as if it had been gathered out of the town gutter; but would be called Galatian 8, or Sir William Wallace, or Robin Hood, or after some other of the great princes named in story-books.”
Nurse Jamieson’s history of the past, and prospects of the future, were too flattering not to excite the most ambitious visions in the mind of a boy, who naturally felt a strong desire of rising in the world, and was conscious of possessing the powers necessary to his advancement. The incidents of his birth resembled those he found commemorated in the tales which he read or listened to; and there seemed no reason why his own adventures should not have a termination corresponding to those of such veracious histories. In a word, while good Doctor Gray imagined that his pupil was dwelling in utter ignorance of his origin, Richard was meditating upon nothing else than the time and means by which he anticipated his being extricated from the obscurity of his present condition, and enabled to assume the rank, to which, in his own opinion, he was entitled by birth.
So stood the feelings of the young man, when, one day after dinner, the Doctor snuffing the candle, and taking from his pouch the great leathern pocketbook in which he deposited particular papers, with a small supply of the most necessary and active medicines, he took from it Mr. Moncada’s letter, and requested Richard Middlemas’s serious attention, while he told him some circumstances concerning himself, which it greatly imported him to know. Richard’s dark eyes flashed fire — the blood flushed his broad and well-formed forehead — the hour of explanation was at length come. He listened to the narrative of Gideon Gray, which, the reader may believe, being altogether divested of the gilding which Nurse Jamieson’s imagination had bestowed upon it, and reduced to what mercantile men termed the needful, exhibited little more than the tale of a child of shame, deserted by its father and mother, and brought up on the reluctant charity of a more distant relation, who regarded him as the living though unconscious evidence of the disgrace of his family, and would more willingly have paid for the expenses of his funeral, than that of the food which was grudgingly provided for him. “Temple and tower,” a hundred flattering edifices of Richard’s childish imagination, went to the ground at once, and the pain which attended their demolition was rendered the more acute, by a sense of shame that he should have nursed such reveries. He remained while Gideon continued his explanation, in a dejected posture, his eyes fixed on the ground, and the veins of his forehead swoln with contending passions.
“And now, my dear Richard,” said the good surgeon, “you must think what you can do for yourself, since your grandfather leaves you the choice of three honourable professions, by any of which, well and wisely prosecuted, you may become independent if not wealthy, and respectable if not great. You will naturally desire a little time for consideration.”
“Not a minute,” said the boy, raising his head, and looking boldly at his guardian. “I am a free-born Englishman, and will return to England if I think fit.”
“A free-born fool you are,”— said Gray; “you were born, as I think, and no one can know better than I do, in the blue room of Stevenlaw’s Land, in the Town-head of Middlemas, if you call that being a free-born Englishman.”
“But Tom Hillary,”— this was an apprentice of Clerk Lawford, who had of late been a great friend and adviser of young Middlemas —“Tom Hillary says that I am a free-born Englishman, notwithstanding, in right of my parents.”
“Pooh, child! what do we know of your parents? — But what has your being an Englishman to do with the present question?”
“Oh, Doctor!” answered the boy bitterly, “you know we from the south side of Tweed cannot scramble so hard as you do. The Scots are too moral, and too prudent, and too robust, for a poor pudding-eater to live amongst them, whether as a parson, or as a lawyer, or as a doctor — with your pardon, sir.”
“Upon my life, Dick,” said Gray, “this Tom Hillary will turn your brain. What is the meaning of all this trash?”
“Tom Hillary says that the parson lives by the sins of the people, the lawyer by their distresses, and the doctor by their diseases — always asking your pardon, sir.”
“Tom Hillary,” replied the Doctor, “should be drummed out of the borough. A whipper-snapper of an attorney’s apprentice, run away from Newcastle! If I hear him talking so, I’ll teach him to speak with more reverence of the learned professions. Let me hear no more of Tom Hillary whom you have seen far too much of lately. Think a little, like a lad of sense, and tell me what answer I am to give to Mr. Moncada.”
“Tell him,” said the boy, the tone of affected sarcasm laid aside, and that of injured pride substituted in its room, “Tell him that my soul revolts at the obscure lot he recommends to me. I am determined to enter my father’s profession, the army, unless my grandfather chooses to receive me into his house, and place me in his own line of business.”
“Yes, and make you his partner, I suppose, and acknowledge you for his heir?” said Dr. Gray; “a thing extremely likely to happen, no doubt, considering the way in which he has brought you up all along, and the terms in which he now writes concerning you.”
“Then, sir, there is one thing which I can demand of you,” replied the boy. “There is a large sum of money in your hands belonging to me; and since it is consigned to you for my use, I demand you should make the necessary advances to procure a commission in the army — account to me for the balance — and so, with thanks for past favours, I will give you no trouble in future.”
“Young man,” said the Doctor, gravely, “I am very sorry to see that your usual prudence and good humour are not proof against the disappointment of some idle expectations which you had not the slightest reason to entertain. It is very true that there is a sum, which, in spite of various expenses, may still approach to a thousand pounds or better, which remains in my hands for your behoof. But I am bound to dispose of it according to the will of the donor; and at any rate, you are not entitled to call for it until you come to years of discretion; a period from which you are six years distant, according to law, and which, in one sense, you will never reach at all, unless you alter your present unreasonable crotchets. But come, Dick, this is the first time I have seen you in so absurd a humour, and you have many things, I own, in your situation to apologize for impatience even greater than you have displayed. But you should not turn your resentment on me, that am no way in fault. You should remember that I was your earliest and only friend, and took charge of you when every other person forsook you.”
“I do not thank you for it,” said Richard, giving way to a burst of uncontrolled passion. “You might have done better for me had you pleased.”
“And in what manner, you ungrateful boy?” said Gray, whose composure was a little ruffled.
“You might have flung me under the wheels of their carriages as they drove off, and have let them trample on the body of their child, as they have done on his feelings.”
So saying, he rushed out of the room, and shut the door behind him with great violence, leaving his guardian astonished at his sudden and violent change of temper and manner.
“What the deuce can have possessed him? Ah, well. High-spirited, and disappointed in some follies which that Tom Hillary has put into his head. But his is a case for anodynes, and shall be treated accordingly.”
While the Doctor formed this good-natured resolution, young Middlemas rushed to Nurse Jamieson’s apartment, where poor Menie, to whom his presence always gave holyday feelings, hastened to exhibit, for his admiration, a new doll, of which she had made the acquisition. No one, generally, was more interested in Menie’s amusements than Richard; but at present, Richard, like his celebrated namesake, was not i’the vein. He threw off the little damsel so carelessly, almost so rudely, that the doll flew out of Menie’s hand, fell on the hearth-stone, and broke its waxen face. The rudeness drew from Nurse Jamieson a rebuke, even although the culprit was her darling.
“Hout awa’, Richard — that wasna like yoursell, to guide Miss Menie that gate. — Haud your tongue, Miss Menie, and I’ll soon mend the baby’s face.”
But if Menie cried, she did not cry for the doll; and while the tears flowed silently down her cheeks, she sat looking at Dick Middlemas with a childish face of fear, sorrow, and wonder. Nurse Jamieson was soon diverted from her attention to Menie Gray’s distresses, especially as she did not weep aloud, and her attention became fixed on the altered countenance, red eyes, and swoln features of her darling foster-child. She instantly commenced an investigation into the cause of his distress, after the usual inquisitorial manner of matrons of her class. “What is the matter wi’ my bairn?” and “Wha has been vexing my bairn?” with similar questions, at last extorted this reply:
“I am not your bairn — I am no one’s bairn — no one’s son. I am an outcast from my family, and belong to no one. Dr. Gray has told me so himself.”
“And did he cast up to my bairn that he was a bastard? — troth he was na blate — my certie, your father was a better man than ever stood on the Doctor’s shanks — a handsome grand gentleman, with an ee like a gled’s, and a step like a Highland piper.”
Nurse Jamieson had got on a favourite topic, and would have expatiated long enough, for she was a professed admirer of masculine beauty, but there was something which displeased the boy in her last simile; so he cut the conversation short, by asking whether she knew exactly how much money his grandfather had left with Dr. Gray for his maintenance. “She could not say — didna ken — an awfu’ sum it was to pass out of ae man’s hand — She was sure it wasna less than ae hundred pounds, and it might weel be twa.” In short, she knew nothing about the matter; “but she was sure Dr. Gray would count to him to the last farthing; for everybody kend that he was a just man where siller was concerned. However, if her bairn wanted to ken mair about it, to be sure the Town-clerk could tell him all about it.”
Richard Middlemas arose and left the apartment, without saying more. He went immediately to visit the old Town-clerk, to whom he had made himself acceptable, as, indeed, he had done to most of the dignitaries about the burgh. He introduced the conversation by the proposal which had been made to him for choosing a profession, and, after speaking of the mysterious circumstances of his birth, and the doubtful prospects which lay before him, he easily led the Town-clerk into conversation as to the amount of the funds, and heard the exact state of the money in his guardian’s hands, which corresponded with the information he had already received. He next sounded the worthy scribe on the possibility of his going into the army; but received a second confirmation of the intelligence Mr. Gray had given him; being informed that no part of the money could be placed at his disposal till he was of age; and then not without the especial consent of both his guardians, and particularly that of his master. He therefore took leave of the Town-clerk, who, much approving the cautious manner in which he spoke, and his prudent selection of an adviser at this important crisis of his life, intimated to him, that should he choose the law, he would himself receive him into his office, upon a very moderate apprentice-fee, and would part with Tom Hillary to make room for him, as the lad was “rather pragmatical, and plagued him with speaking about his English practice, which they had nothing to do with on this side of the Border — the Lord be thanked!”
Middlemas thanked him for his kindness, and promised to consider his kind offer, in case he should determine upon following the profession of the law.
From Tom Hillary’s master, Richard went to Tom Hillary himself, who chanced then to be in the office. He was a lad about twenty, as smart as small, but distinguished for the accuracy with which he dressed his hair, and the splendour of a laced hat and embroidered waistcoat, with which he graced the church of Middlemas on Sundays. Tom Hillary had been bred an attorney’s clerk in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, but, for some reason or other, had found it more convenient of late years to reside in Scotland, and was recommended to the Town-clerk of Middlemas, by the accuracy and beauty with which he transcribed the records of the burgh. It is not improbable that the reports concerning the singular circumstances of Richard Middlemas’s birth, and the knowledge that he was actually possessed of a considerable sum of money, induced Hillary, though so much his senior, to admit the lad to his company, and enrich his youthful mind with some branches of information, which in that retired corner, his pupil might otherwise have been some time in attaining. Amongst these were certain games at cards and dice, in which the pupil paid, as was reasonable, the price of initiation by his losses to his instructor. After a long walk with this youngster, whose advice, like the unwise son of the wisest of men, he probably valued more than that of his more aged counsellors, Richard Middlemas returned to his lodgings in Stevenlaw’s Land, and went to bed sad and supperless.
The next morning Richard arose with the sun, and his night’s rest appeared to have had its frequent effect, in cooling the passions and correcting the understanding. Little Menie was the first person to whom he made the amende honorable; and a much smaller propitiation than the new doll with which he presented her would have been accepted as an atonement for a much greater offence. Menie was one of those pure spirits, to whom a state of unkindness, if the estranged person has been a friend, is a state of pain, and the slightest advance of her friend and protector was sufficient to regain all her childish confidence and affection.
The father did not prove more inexorable than Menie had done. Mr. Gray, indeed, thought he had good reason to look cold upon Richard at their next meeting, being not a little hurt at the ungrateful treatment which he had received on the preceding evening. But Middlemas disarmed him at once, by frankly pleading that he had suffered his mind to be carried away by the supposed rank and importance of his parents, into an idle conviction that he was one day to share them. The letter of his grandfather, which condemned him to banishment and obscurity for life, was, he acknowledged, a very severe blow; and it was with deep sorrow that he reflected, that the irritation of his disappointment had led him to express himself in a manner far short of the respect and reverence of one who owed Mr. Gray the duty and affection of a son, and ought to refer to his decision every action of his life. Gideon, propitiated by an admission so candid, and made with so much humility, readily dismissed his resentment, and kindly enquired of Richard, whether he had bestowed any reflection upon the choice of profession which had been subjected to him; offering, at the same time, to allow him all reasonable time to make up his mind.
On this subject. Richard Middlemas answered with the same promptitude and candour. —“He had,” he said, “in order to forming his opinion more safely, consulted with his friend, the Town-clerk.” The Doctor nodded approbation. “Mr. Lawford had, indeed, been most friendly, and had even offered to take him into his own office. But if his father and benefactor would permit him to study, under his instructions, the noble art in which he himself enjoyed such a deserved reputation, the mere hope that he might by-and-by be of some use to Mr. Gray in his business, would greatly overbalance every other consideration. Such a course of education, and such a use of professional knowledge when he had acquired it, would be a greater spur to his industry than the prospect even of becoming Town-clerk of Middlemas in his proper person.”
As the young man expressed it to be his firm and unalterable choice, to study medicine under his guardian, and to remain a member of his family, Dr. Gray informed Mr. Moncada of the lad’s determination; who, to testify his approbation, remitted to the Doctor the sum of L100 as apprentice fee, a sum nearly three times as much as Gray’s modesty had hinted at as necessary.
Shortly after, when Dr. Gray and the Town-clerk met at the small club of the burgh, their joint theme was the sense and steadiness of Richard Middlemas.
“Indeed,” said the Town-clerk, “he is such a friendly and disinterested boy, that I could not get him to accept a place in my office, for fear he should be thought to be pushing himself forward at the expense of Tam Hillary.”
“And, indeed, Clerk,” said Gray, “I have sometimes been afraid that he kept too much company with that Tam Hillary of yours; but twenty Tam Hillarys would not corrupt Dick Middlemas.”
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:00