It is strange to me, Jock Calder of West Inch, to feel that though now, in th_ery centre of the nineteenth century, I am but five-and-fifty years of age,
and though it is only once in a week perhaps that my wife can pluck out _ittle grey bristle from over my ear, yet I have lived in a time when th_houghts and the ways of men were as different as though it were anothe_lanet from this. For when I walk in my fields I can see, down Berwick way,
the little fluffs of white smoke which tell me of this strange new hundred-
legged beast, with coals for food and a thousand men in its belly, for eve_rawling over the border. On a shiny day I can see the glint of the brass wor_s it takes the curve near Corriemuir; and then, as I look out to sea, ther_s the same beast again, or a dozen of them maybe, leaving a trail of black i_he air and of white in the water, and swimming in the face of the wind a_asily as a salmon up the Tweed. Such a sight as that would have struck m_ood old father speechless with wrath as well as surprise; for he was s_tricken with the fear of offending the Creator that he was chary o_ontradicting Nature, and always held the new thing to be nearly akin to th_lasphemous. As long as God made the horse, and a man down Birmingham way th_ngine, my good old dad would have stuck by the saddle and the spurs.
But he would have been still more surprised had he seen the peace an_indliness which reigns now in the hearts of men, and the talk in the paper_nd at the meetings that there is to be no more war — save, of course, wit_lacks and such like. For when he died we had been fighting with scarce _reak, save only during two short years, for very nearly a quarter of _entury. Think of it, you who live so quietly and peacefully now! Babies wh_ere born in the war grew to be bearded men with babies of their own, an_till the war continued. Those who had served and fought in their stalwar_rime grew stiff and bent, and yet the ships and the armies were struggling.
it was no wonder that folk came at last to look upon it as the natural state,
and thought how queer it must seem to be at peace. During that long time w_ought the Dutch, we fought the Danes, we fought the Spanish, we fought th_urks, we fought the Americans, we fought the Monte-Videans, until it seeme_hat in this universal struggle no race was too near of kin, or too far away,
to be drawn into the quarrel. But most of all it was the French whom w_ought, and the man whom of all others we loathed and feared and admired wa_he great Captain who ruled them.
It was very well to draw pictures of him, and sing songs about him, and mak_s though he were an impostor; but I can tell you that the fear of that ma_ung like a black shadow over all Europe, and that there was a time when th_lint of a fire at night upon the coast would set every woman upon her knee_nd every man gripping for his musket. He had always won: that was the terro_f it. The Fates seemed to be behind him. And now we knew that he lay upon th_orthern coast with a hundred and fifty thousand veterans, and the boats fo_heir passage. But it is an old story, how a third of the grown folk of ou_ountry took up arms, and how our little one-eyed, one-armed man crushed thei_leet. There was still to be a land of free thinking and free speaking i_urope.
There was a great beacon ready on the hill by Tweedmouth, built up of logs an_ar-barrels; and I can well remember how, night after night, I strained m_yes to see if it were ablaze. I was only eight at the time, but it is an ag_hen one takes a grief to heart, and I felt as though the fate of the countr_ung in some fashion upon me and my vigilance. And then one night as I looke_ suddenly saw a little flicker on the beacon hill — a single red tongue o_lame in the darkness. I remember how I rubbed my eyes, and pinched myself,
and rapped my knuckles against the stone window-sill, to make sure that I wa_ndeed awake. And then the flame shot higher, and I saw the red quivering lin_pon the water between; and I dashed into the kitchen, screeching to my fathe_hat the French had crossed and the Tweedmouth light was aflame. He had bee_alking to Mr. Mitchell, the law student from Edinburgh; and I can see him no_s he knocked his pipe out at the side of the fire and looked at me from ove_he top of his horn spectacles.
"Are you sure, Jock?" says he.
"Sure as death!" I gasped.
He reached out his hand for the Bible upon the table, and opened it upon hi_nee as though he meant to read to us; but he shut it again in silence, an_urried out. We went too, the law student and I, and followed him down to th_ate which opens out upon the highway. From there we could see the red ligh_f the big beacon, and the glimmer of a smaller one to the north of us a_yton. My mother came down with two plaids to keep the chill from us, and w_ll stood there until, morning, speaking little to each other, and that littl_n a whisper. The road had more folk on it than ever passed along it at nigh_efore; for many of the yeomen up our way had enrolled themselves in th_erwick volunteer regiments, and were riding now as fast as hoof could carr_hem for the muster. Some had a stirrup cup or two before parting, and _annot forget one who tore past on a huge white horse, brandishing a grea_usty sword in the moonlight. They shouted to us as they passed that the Nort_erwick Law fire was blazing, and that it was thought that the alarm had com_rom Edinburgh Castle. There were a few who galloped the other way, courier_or Edinburgh, and the laird's son, and Master Clayton, the deputy sheriff,
and such like. And among others there was one a fine built, heavy man on _oan horse, who pulled up at our, gate and asked some question about the road.
He took off his hat to ease himself, and I saw that he had a kindly long-draw_ace, and a great high brow that shot away up into tufts of sandy hair.
"I doubt it's a false alarm," said he. "Maybe I'd ha' done well to bide wher_ was; but now I 've come so far, I 'll break my fast with the regiment."
He clapped spurs to his horse, and away he went down the brae.
"I ken him weel," said our student, nodding after him. "He's a lawyer i_dinburgh, and a braw hand at the stringin' of verses. Wattie Scott is hi_ame."
None of us had heard of it then; but it was not long before it was the bes_nown name in Scotland, and many a time we thought of how he speered his wa_f us on the night of the terror.
But early in the morning we had our minds set at ease. It was grey and cold,
and my mother had gone up to the house to mask a pot of tea for us, when ther_ame a gig down the road with Dr. Horscroft of Ayton in it and his son Jim.
The collar of the doctor's brown coat came over his ears, and he looked in _eadly black humour; for Jim, who was but fifteen years of age, had troope_ff to Berwick at the first alarm with his father's new fowling piece. Al_ight his dad had chased him, and now there he was, a prisoner, with th_arrel of the stolen gun sticking out from behind the seat. He looked as sulk_s his father, with his hands thrust into his sidepockets, his brows draw_own, and his lower lip thrusting out.
"It 's all a lie!" shouted the doctor as he passed. "There has been n_anding, and all the fools in Scotland have been gadding about the roads fo_othing."
His son Jim snarled something up at him on this, and his father struck him _low with his clenched fist on the side of his head, which sent the boy's chi_orward upon his breast as though he had been stunned. My father shook hi_ead, for he had a liking for Jim; but we all walked up to the house again,
nodding and blinking, and hardly able to keep our eyes open now that we kne_hat all was safe, but with a thrill of joy at our hearts such as I have onl_atched once or twice in my lifetime.
Now all this has little enough to do with what I took my pen up to tell about;
but when a man has a good memory and little skill, he cannot draw one though_rom his mind without a dozen others trailing out behind it. And yet, now tha_ come to think of it, this had something to do with it after all; for Ji_orscroft had so deadly a quarrel with his father, that he was packed off t_he Berwick Academy, and as my father had long wished me to go there, he too_dvantage of this chance to send me also.
But before I say a word about this school, I shall go back to where I shoul_ave begun, and give you a hint as to who I am; for it may be that these word_f mine may be read by some folk beyond the border country who never heard o_he Calders of West Inch.
It has a brave sound, West Inch, but it is not a fine estate with a braw hous_pon it, but only a great hard-bitten, wind-swept sheep run, fringing off int_inks along the sea-shore, where a frugal man might with hard work just pa_is rent and have butter instead of treacle on Sundays. In the centre there i_ grey-stoned slate-roofed house with a byre behind it, and "1703" scrawled i_tonework over the lintel of the door. There for more than a hundred years ou_olk have lived, until, for all their poverty, they came to take a good plac_mong the people; for in the country parts the old yeoman is often bette_hought of than the new laird.
There was one queer thing about the house of West Inch. It has been reckone_y engineers and other knowing folk that the boundary line between the tw_ountries ran right through the middle of it, splitting our second-bes_edroom into an English half and a Scotch half. Now the cot in which I alway_lept was so placed that my head was to the north of the line and my feet t_he south of it. My friends say that if I had chanced to lie the other way m_air might not have been so sandy, nor my mind of so solemn a cast. This _now, that more than once in my life, when my Scotch head could see no way ou_f a danger, my good thick English legs have come to my help, and carried m_lear away. But at school I never heard the end of this, for they would cal_e "Half-and-half" and "The Great Britain," and sometimes "Union Jack." Whe_here was a battle between the Scotch and English boys, one side would kick m_hins and the other cuff my ears, and then they would both stop and laugh a_hough it were something funny.
At first I was very miserable at the Berwick Academy. Birtwhistle was th_irst master, and Adams the second, and I had no love for either of them. _as shy and backward by nature, and slow at making a friend either amon_asters or boys. It was nine miles as the crow flies, and eleven and a half b_oad, from Berwick to West Inch, and my heart grew heavy at the weary distanc_hat separated me from my mother; for, mark you, a lad of that age pretend_hat he has no need of his mother's caresses, but ah, how sad he is when he i_aken at his word! At last I could stand it no longer, and I determined to ru_way from school and make my way home as fast as I might. At the very las_oment, however, I had the good fortune to win the praise and admiration o_very one, from the headmaster downwards, and to find my school life made ver_leasant and easy to me. And all this came of my falling by accident out of _econd-floor window.
This was how it happened. One evening I had been kicked by Ned Barton, who wa_he bully of the school; and this injury coming on the top of all my othe_rievances, caused my little cup to overflow. I vowed that night, as I burie_y tear-stained face beneath the blankets, that the next morning would eithe_ind me at West Inch or well on the way to it. Our dormitory was on the secon_loor, but I was a famous climber, and had a fine head for heights. I used t_hink little, young as I was, of swinging myself with a rope round my thig_ff the West Inch gable, and that stood three-and-fifty feet above the ground.
There was not much fear then but that I could make my way out of Birtwhistle'_ormitory. I waited a weary while until the coughing and tossing had die_way, and there was no sound of wakefulness from the long line of wooden cots;
then I very softly rose, slipped on my clothes, took my shoes in my hand, an_alked tiptoe to the window. I opened the casement and looked out. Underneat_e lay the garden, and close by my hand was the stout branch of a pear tree.
An active lad could ask no better ladder. Once in the garden I had but a five-
foot wall to get over, and then there was nothing but distance between me an_ome. I took a firm grip of a branch with one hand, placed my knee upo_nother one, and was about to swing myself out of the window, when in a momen_ was as silent and as still as though I had been turned to stone.
There was a face looking at me from over the coping of the wall. A chill o_ear struck to my heart at its whiteness and its stillness. The moon shimmere_pon it, and the eye-balls moved slowly from side to side, though I was hi_rom them behind the screen of the pear tree. Then in a jerky fashion thi_hite face ascended, until the neck, shoulders, waist, and knees of a ma_ecame visible. He sat himself down on the top of the wall, and with a grea_eave he pulled up after him a boy about my own size, who caught his breat_rom time to time as though to choke down a sob. The man gave him a shake,
with a few-rough whispered words, and then the two dropped together down int_he garden. I was still standing balanced with one foot upon the bough and on_pon the casement, not daring to budge for fear of attracting their attention,
for I could hear them moving stealthily about in the shadow of the house.
Suddenly, from immediately beneath my feet, I heard a low grating noise an_he sharp tinkle of falling glass.
"That's done it," said the man's eager whisper. "There is room for you."
"But the edge is all jagged!" cried the other in a weak quaver.
The fellow burst out into an oath that made my skin pringle.
"In with you, you cub," he snarled, "or ——"
I could not see what he did, but there was a short, quick gasp of pain.
"I'll go! I 'll go!" cried the little lad.
But I heard no more, for my head suddenly swam. My heel shot off the branch, _ave a dreadful yell, and came down, with my ninety-five pounds of weight,
right upon the bent back of the burglar. If you ask me, I can only say that t_his day I am not quite certain whether it was an accident or whether _esigned it. It may be that while I was thinking of doing it Chance settle_he matter for me. The fellow was stooping with his head forward thrusting th_oy through a tiny window, when I came down upon him just where the neck join_he spine. He gave a kind of whistling cry, dropped upon his face, and rolle_hree times over, drumming on the grass with his heels. His little companio_lashed off in the moonlight, and was over the wall in a trice. As for me, _at yelling at the pitch of my lungs and nursing one of my legs, which felt a_f a red-hot ring were welded round it.
It was not long, as may be imagined, before the whole household, from th_eadmaster to the stable boy, were out in the garden with lamps and lanterns.
The matter was soon cleared: the man carried off upon a shutter, and I born_n much state and solemnity to a special bedroom, where the small bone of m_eg was set by Surgeon Purdie, the younger of the two brothers of that name.
As to the robber, it was found that his legs were palsied, and the doctor_ere of two minds as to whether he would recover the use of them or no; bu_he Law never gave them a chance of settling the matter, for he was hange_fter Carlyle assizes, some six weeks later. It was proved that he was th_ost desperate rogue in the North of England, for he had done three murders a_he least, and there were charges enough against him upon the sheet to hav_anged him ten times over.
Well now, I could not pass over my boyhood without telling you about this,
which was the most important thing that happened to me. But I will go off o_o more side tracks; for when I think of all that is coming, I can see ver_ell that I shall have more than enough to do before I have finished. For whe_ man has only his own little private tale to tell, it often takes him all hi_ime but when he gets mixed up in such great matters as I shall have to spea_bout, then it is hard on him, if he has not been brought up to it, to get i_ll set down to his liking. But my memory is as good as ever, thank God, and _hall try to get it all straight before I finish.
It was this business of the burglar that first made a friendship between Ji_orscroft, the doctor's son, and me. He was cock boy of the school from th_ay he came; for within the hour he had thrown Barton, who had been coc_efore him, right through the big black-board in the class-room. Jim alway_an to muscle and bone, and even then he was square and tall, short of speec_nd long in the arm, much given to lounging with his broad back against walls,
and his hands deep in his breeches pockets. I can even recall that he had _rick of keeping a straw in the corner of his mouth, just where he use_fterwards to hold his pipe. Jim was always the same for good and for ba_ince first I knew him.
Heavens, how we all looked up to him! We were but young savages, and had _avage's respect for power. There was Tom Carndale of Appleby, who could writ_lcaics as well as mere pentameters and hexameters, yet nobody would give _nap for Tom and there was Willie Earnshaw, who had every date, from th_illing of Abel, on the tip of his tongue, so that the masters themselve_ould turn to him if they were in doubt, yet he was but a narrow-chested lad,
over long for his breadth; and what did his dates help him when Jack Simons o_he lower third chivied him down the passage with the buckle end of a strap?
But you didn't do things like that with Jim Horscroft. What tales we used t_hisper about his strength! How he put his fist through the oak-panel of th_ame-room door; how, when Long Merridew was carrying the ball, he caught u_erridew, ball and all, and ran swiftly past every opponent to the goal. I_id not seem fit to us that such a one as he should trouble his head abou_pondees and dactyls, or care to know who signed Magna Charta. When he said i_pen class that King Alfred was the man, we little boys all felt that ver_ikely it was so, and that perhaps Jim knew more about it than the man wh_rote the book.
Well, it was this business of the burglar that drew his attention to me; fo_e patted me on my head, and said that I was a spunky little devil, which ble_e out with pride for a week on end. For two years we were close friends, fo_ll the gap that the years had made between us, and though in passion or i_ant of thought he did many a thing that galled me, yet I loved him like _rother, and wept as much as would have filled an ink bottle when at last h_ent off to Edinburgh to study his father's profession. Five years after tha_id I bide at Birtwhistle's, and when I left I had become cock myself, for _as as wiry and as tough as whalebone, though I never ran to weight and sine_ike my great predecessor. It was in Jubilee Year that I left Birtwhistle's,
and then for three years I stayed at home learning the ways of the cattle; bu_till the ships and the armies were wrestling, and still the great shadow o_onaparte lay across the country. How could I guess that I too should have _and in lifting that shadow for ever from our people?