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A Romance of Lake Wakatipu

Chapter XII

page 45

Chapter XII.

The Portioner, or Bonnet Laird—The Kirk and the Covenant—The Family Disgrace—A Provincial Practitioner—Kirk and Market—A bit Burky Callant.

We will explain more fully what was meant when Josiah Begg spoke about his "devotion to the dead" in the more faithful discharge of his duty to the living.

A life and a death have been already referred to. Enough has been said to show the close relations which existed between the latter and the isolated grave in Crossford churchyard.

About the birth, just enough has been told to prove that such an event took place under circumstances not considered auspicious. Despite these unfavourable circumstances, the outcome of the birth throve well. It was pronounced a bonnie lassie118—and there is no reason for supposing the pronunciation was incorrect. Its only recognised parent being dead, its nursing and up-bringing devolved upon the grandparents by the mother's side.

These were an aged couple, who themselves had reared a large family, which, like many other large families similarly circumstanced, had come to be scattered far and wide, until even "the graves of a household," would fail to account for all its branches.

The grandfather's position in life was that known in Lowland Scotch as a portioner,119 otherwise a bonnet laird.120 Besides the house and kailyard he lived in he owned sundry houses and kailyards, all situated, as the infeoffments121 thereunto set forth, in the Mailing of Crossford122 and Barony of Bothwell.123 Between his weaving-loom and his landed estate he managed to eke out a comfortable livelihood, and his family were known in the neighbourhood as bien bodies.

Respecting his worldly affairs he was altogether reticent.

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Not so respecting spiritual matters. It was his proud boast that his forebears had taken part in the battle of Drumclog,124 when the bloody Clavers* and his fierce dragoons125 were put to the rightabout, and also in the disastrous engagement for Kirk and Covenant126 at the Brig o' Bothwell.127 Students of Scottish history know that the affairs in question took place consequent on the indiscreet zeal of the last crowned heads in the Stuart line128 to thrust the Articles of the Church of England down the throats of the Lowland Scots.

Many were the tales told by the old gentleman of the hairbreadth escapes made by his greatgrandsire in his flight from the disastrous field, and his subsequent wanderings amongst the mountains.

It is easy to understand how a man of that nature felt keenly the disgrace cast on his family name by the indiscretion of his daughter. Such a thing never happened in his family before, and the old man refused to be comforted. To him the poor child was a living and moving testimony of the family's disgrace, and for a time it had to be kept well out of his sight.

Living under the same roof, complete seclusion was not at all times possible. In time the child came to get immensely interested in the treadles129 of the old man's loom, and, despite all efforts made to the contrary, succeeded in eluding the old lady's vigilance, and crept in unperceived amongst the old man's feet. In these excursions the child was more successful in disclosing its presence than in dissecting the mysteries of the treadles. After a few encounters of this kind the old gentleman's aversion became less pronounced, and gradually it disappeared altogether.

He saw in the lineaments and outlines of its face an exact image of his dead child, now come to be regarded as a sinner who had sinned more against the laws of man than of her Creator. These friendly relations remained undisturbed until the day of the old man's death, and no one deplored the loss more bitterly than the grandchild, who had now attained to years of discretion. The old lady, as she had been accustomed to do nearly all her life, followed the old man's example, and as in life so in death—they were not divided.

Josiah Begg lost no time in acting up to his resolution of page 47proving his devotion to the dead in a faithful discharge of his duty to the living. With that object in view he had recourse to his lawyer.

It is wonderful the number and variety of occasions upon which recourse is had to one's lawyer. When the man becomes so poor he is unable to pay his just dues he has recourse to his lawyer. When he grows so rich that he is unable to dispose of his wealth in his own lifetime he has recourse to his lawyer. If there be a birth, a death, or a marriage in the family its reputation of being a well-regulated family can only be maintained by and with the advice and counsel of the family lawyer. Be it love or be it war, good or evil, the situation can only be secure in a recourse to the lawyer.

The lawyer had recourse to on this occasion was a certain David Barclay, residing in the royal borough of Hamilton, and who, as Bailie Nicol Jarvie130 would have expressed it, lived there as his feyther, the lawyer, had done before him. Mr. Barclay inhabited a two-story tenement, which, like the business or profession, came down to him by inheritance from his father. In the days of the latter it was a kind of suburban residence. With easy access to the Borough Chambers or Town Hall on the one hand, it had the elements of rural felicity—green fields and hedgerows—on the other.

The royal borough, however, had in the meantime participated in the transformations brought about by the mineral developments of the neighbourhood, and in lieu of green fields and hedgerows, houses and buildings had sprung up on all sides. Still, the tenement inhabited by the lawyer retained certain of its original surroundings. Situated a few feet back from the main line of buildings, as if disdaining to be placed on equal footing with its more modern associates, a grass-plot, sheltered by a stately ash-tree, occupied the ground in front. This plot was enclosed by a railed fence, so that, while the house itself did not come up to the street-line, its accessories, with less seeming reserve, fronted the thoroughfare.

To this modest mansion Josiah Begg directed his steps.

The lawyer—or, as the Scottish practitioner is designated, the writer—was deeply engrossed in a perfect litter of parchment scrolls. To Josiah's salutation the lawyer returned a page 48short nod, and, without looking up, invited him to be seated. The seats being otherwise engaged, Josiah remained standing, and an awkward pause ensued.

At length the lawyer caught a glimpse of his visitor still standing. "Dear me, can ye no find a seat?" said he; and, so saying, he took hold of a chair and unceremoniously deposited its contents on the floor.

Handing the disengaged chair to Josiah, he and the lawyer were now seated opposite each other, and it was then for the first time the latter caught sight of his visitor's features. Looking over his spectacles in astonishment, not unmixed with the emotional, he exclaimed, "Can it possibly be you, Josiah Begg? Man, hoo very like ye have grown to your auld feyther. A decent man was your feyther. Both me and my feyther before me did many canny131 bits o' business wi' him."

Each of these propositions having been assented to, the lawyer and Mr. Begg shook hands heartily, and were soon on the most amicable terms.

"I hear," continued the lawyer, "that in a warldly sense ye ha' thriven weel, and that ye're noo at the tap o' the tree oot bye in California. I hope its true."

Josiah admitted it was not wide of the truth; and the lawyer, on his part, expressed the pleasure it afforded him; "For," said he, "the Beggs o' Crossford were aye kent to be decent bodies, wha stood weel both at kirk and market."

Josiah would have relished the reference to his ancestral virtues all the better if the reference to the Kirk had been left out, seeing the connection already established between the Kirk and the business on hand was not amongst the happiest of his home reminiscences. It was perhaps a trifling coincidence; still, it served to show how easily a sore, once inflicted on the more tender parts, can be made to smart, even although it be an old sore.

The preliminaries being thus adjusted, Josiah Begg proceeded to unfold the purport of his mission—his desire that the lawyer should search out the whereabouts of the unfortunate child, and make such arrangements for its up-bringing as would I prepare it for inheriting at his death the wealth he had accumulated in life.

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"I can see what ye want," said David Barclay, "but I'm no sure the job wid quite suit ma time o' life; but there's a bit burky callant,132 ma ain sister's son, wha' served his indentures wi me. He's since been tae Edinbro and Glasco, and has noo' come back to practice here. He was a thruither133 kind o' a fellow when young, bit has noo cam to settle doun, and gets on wi his wark pretty well. I think I can certa he'll suit ye. I'll send for him."

To that arrangement Josiah assented, and in a few minutes the callant was in attendance to answer for himself.

A few words of explanation sufficed for his purpose, and he undertook to set about the work at once. He was as good as his undertaking. He traced the girl, who since the death of her grand-relatives, resided as a domestic in the home of an aged clergyman in an adjoining parish.

The facts of the case were stated to the clergyman, who, besides being master, rated the girl as one of his flock, and, in view of that relationship, constituted himself a kind of guardian or preceptor. Having satisfied himself as to the bona fides of the proposal, he readily assented thereto, and in due course the girl was removed to a boarding establishment in the north of England, the explanation of the transaction given to her being that she was to be provided for by a distant relative.

118 A pretty girl.

[Note added by Danny Bultitude as annotator]

119 The proprietor of a small portion from a larger piece of land.

[Note added by Danny Bultitude as annotator]

120 A rural landowner, one of a society below lairds yet above farmers.

[Note added by Danny Bultitude as annotator]

121 The process of transferring ownership of real estate.

[Note added by Danny Bultitude as annotator]

122 Presumably Crossford’s post-office.

[Note added by Danny Bultitude as annotator]

123 The ownership of Bothwell Castle in Lanarkshire.

[Note added by Danny Bultitude as annotator]

124 A battle fought in Lanarkshire in 1679 between the Covenanters and Claverhouse’s forces.

[Note added by Danny Bultitude as annotator]

125 A class of horse-mounted infantry.

[Note added by Danny Bultitude as annotator]

126 The Kirk Party and the Covenanters – two Scottish Presbyterian movements.

[Note added by Danny Bultitude as annotator]

127 Referring to the Battle of Bothwell Bridge, in which Covenanters fought government troops in 1679.

[Note added by Danny Bultitude as annotator]

128 The Scottish royal family who reigned from 1603 to 1714.

[Note added by Danny Bultitude as annotator]

129 Levers activated by foot.

[Note added by Danny Bultitude as annotator]

130 A character from Walter Scott’s novel Rob Roy, Jarvie is a Glasgow magistrate.

[Note added by Danny Bultitude as annotator]

131 Pleasant.

[Note added by Danny Bultitude as annotator]

132 An idiotic young man.

[Note added by Danny Bultitude as annotator]

133 Disorganised, untidy, or confused.

[Note added by Danny Bultitude as annotator]

* See Appendix, Note 23.