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The Narrative of Gordon Sellar
Chapter II


Hating to be a burden on the family I was eager to work. Too weak for farm duties, I helped about the house and came, in course of time, to earn a good word from grannie. Tho of the same age, there was a great difference between Allan and myself. He could lift weights I could not move, did not get tired as I did, and as the stronger took care of me. We were all happy and getting-on well when trouble came from an unlooked for quarter. The master got notice from the factor that, on his lease running out the following year, the rent would be raised. He did not look for this. During his lease he had made many improvements at his own cost and thought they would more than count against any rise in the value of farm lands. He remonstrated with the factor, who said he could do nothing, his lordship wanted more revenue from his estate and there was a man ready to take the farm at the advanced rent. He was sorry but the master had to pay the rent asked, or leave the place. If I go, what will be allowed me for the improvements I have made? Not a shilling; he had gone on making them without the landlord’s consent. You saw me making them and encouraged me, said the master, and I made them in the belief I would be given another tack to get some of the profit out of them. The factor replied, Tut, tut, that’s not the law of Scotland. The master felt very sore at the injustice done him. On his lordship’s arrival from London, accompanied by a party of his English friends, for the shooting, the master resolved to see him. On the morning he left to interview him we wished him good luck, confident the landlord would not uphold the factor, and we wearied for his return. The look on his face as he came into the kitchen showed he had failed. He told us all that passed.

On getting to the grand house and telling the flunkey he had come to see his master, the flunkey regarded him with disdain, and replied his lordship was engaged and would not see him. Persisting in refusing to leave the door and telling that he was a tenant, the flunkey left and returned with a young gentleman, who asked what was his business, saying he was his lordship’s secretary. On being told, the young man shook his head, saying his lordship left all such matters to his factor, and it would do no good to see him. Just then a finely dressed lady swept into the hall. Pausing, she cried, ‘Tompkins, what does that common-looking man want here? Tell him to go to the servants’ entry.’ ‘He wants to see his lordship,’ was the reply. ‘The idea!’ exclaimed the lady as she crossed the floor and disappeared by the opposite door. The master could hear the sounds of laughter and jingle of glasses. ‘My good man,’ said the secretary, ‘you had better go: his lordship will not see you today.’ ‘When will he be at liberty to see me?’ asked the master, ‘I will come when it suits his pleasure. I must have his word of mouth that what the factor says is his decision.’ The secretary looked perplexed, and after putting a few questions, among them that he had paid his rent and wanted no favor beyond renewal of his lease on the old terms, he told my master to wait a minute and left. It might be half an hour or more when a flunkey beckoned the master to follow him. Throwing open a door he entered what he took to be the library, for it had shelves of books. His lordship was alone, seated by the fireplace with a newspaper on his lap. ‘Now, say what you have to say in fewest words,’ said the nobleman. Standing before him the master told how he had taken the farm 19 years ago, had observed every condition of the lease, and had gone beyond them in keeping the farm in good heart, for he had improved it in many ways, especially during the past few years when he had ditched and limed and levelled a boggy piece of land, and changed it from growing rushes into the best pasture-field on the farm. ‘Gin the farm is worth more, it is me who has made it and I crave your lordship to either give me another tack at the same rent or pay me what my betterments are worth.’ His lordship turned and touched a bell.

On the flunkey appearing, he said to him, ‘Show this fellow to the door' and took up his newspaper. As the master finished, he said to us, ‘Dear as every acre of the farm is to me, I will leave it and go where the man who works the land may own it and where there are no lords and dukes, nor baronets. I am a man and never again will I ask as a favor what is my due of any fellow-mortal with a title.’ We went to bed that night sorrowful and fearing what was before us.

When he took anything in hand the master went through with it. Before the week was out he had given up the farm, arranged for an auction sale, and for going to Canada. My heart was filled with misgivings as to what would become of me. I knew crops had been short for two years, and, though he was even with the world, the master had not a pound to spare, and depended on the auction-sale for the money to pay for outfit and passage to Canada. I had no right to expect he would pay for me, and all the more that he would have no use for a lad such as I was in his new home. It was not so much of what might happen to myself after they were gone that I thought about, as of parting with the family, for I loved every one of them. I knew they were considering what to do with me, and one day, on the master getting me alone, he seemed relieved on telling me the new tenant of the farm was going to keep me on for my meat. I thanked him, for it was better than I looked for. These were busy days getting ready. Alice noticed that, in all the making of clothes, there were none for me, and I overheard her ask her mother, who answered in a whisper, that they had not money enough to take me along with them. Alice was more considerate than ever with me. To their going grannie proved an obstacle. She would not leave Scotland, she declared, she would be buried in it, she would go to no strange country let alone a cold one like Canada, nor cross the sea. Her favorite of the family was Robbie, on whom she doted. ‘You will not leave him?’ asked the mistress. ‘Ou, he’ll gang with me to Mirren’s,’ the name o£ her daughter in Glasgow. ‘Oh, no; Robbie goes with us to Canada.’ It was a struggle with the dear old soul, and in the end she decided she would brave the Atlantic rather than part with the boy.

The last day came. The chests, and plenishing for the home they looked forward to in Canada, had gone the day before and been stowed in the ship at Troon, and the carts stood at the door to receive-the family and their hand-bags. The children and all were seated and the master turned to me before taking his place. He shook my hand, and tried to say something, but could not, for his voice failed. Pressing half a crown in my little fist he moved to get beside the driver, when Robbie cheeped out astonished, ‘Is Gordie no to go wi’ us?’ 'Whist, my boy; we will send for him by-and-by.’ At this Robbie set up a howl, and his brothers and sisters joined in his weeping. The master was sorely moved and whispered with his wife. ‘His passage-money will make me break my last big note,’ I heard him say to her. ‘Trust in the Lord,’ she answered, ‘I canna thole the thought of leaving the mitherless bairn to that hard man, John Stoddart; he’ll work the poor weak fellow to death.’ Without another word, the master hoisted me on top of the baggage, the carts moved on, and Robbie looked up into my face with a smile. We were driven alongside the ship as she lay at the quay. She was a roomy brig, and was busy taking on cargo. Our part of the hold was shown to us, and the mistress at once began to unpack the bedding, and to make the best of everything. ‘Is it not an awful black hole to put Christians into?’ asked a woman who was taking her first survey. ‘Well, no, I do not think so; it is far better than I expected.’ She had a gracious way, the mistress, of looking at everything in the best light.

In the afternoon a man came on board to see the captain about taking passage, and they agreed. He had no baggage, and as the ship only supplied part of the provisions he had to go and buy what he needed for the voyage. He asked the master to let me go with him to help to carry back his bedding and parcels. We went from shop to shop until he had got everything on his list; last of all he visited a draper and bought cloth. On getting back to the ship he was tapped on the shoulder by a seedy looking fellow who was waiting for him, and who said, ‘You are my prisoner.’ The man started and his face grew white. I thought it strange he did not ask what he was a prisoner for. ‘Will you go quietly or will I put these on?’ asked the man, showing a pair of handcuffs in his coat pocket. ‘I will give you no trouble,’’ was the answer, ‘only allow the boy to stow these parcels and bags in my berth.’

‘I think the boy had better come with you; I will wait till he is ready.’ I wondered what he could want with me. He led us up the street to a large building where he placed us in charge of a man even more greasy and with a worse look than himself. It was quite a while before he returned and led us into a large room. There was a long table, at its head sat two well-dressed gentlemen, and at each side men with papers before them. ‘May it please your lordship and Bailie McSweem, the prisoner being present we will now proceed.’ He went on to explain that the prisoner was a member of one of those political associations that were plotting to subvert the government of the country, even thinking they could organize a revolution and drive his majesty from the throne. He need not dwell on the danger State and Church were in from the plottings of those desperate men, and the need of all upholders of the Crown and Constitution suppressing them with a firm hand.

The gentleman who was addressed as his lordship nodded in approval and said, ‘There is no need, Mr Sheriff, of referring to those unhappy matters as we are fully cognizant of them. What about the prisoner?’

‘He is a member of the Greenock union, proceedings were about to be taken for his arrest on a charge of sedition, when somehow he got wind of what was about to take place and, knowing he was guilty, attempted to flee the country. I can produce, if ycu say so, witnesses to prove that he skulked into Troon by back streets and secured passage to Canada on the Heatherbell, which sails in a few hours. I have one witness now present.

His lordship remarked the Sheriff deserved credit for his vigilance and the promptitude with which he acted. ‘I suppose,’ he added ‘we have nothing more to do than order his being sent to Greenock for examination and trial?’

‘That is all we need do' answered the Sheriff. Just then a loud voice was heard in the hall demanding admission, a sound as if the door-keeper was pulled aside, and a sharp featured man came in. ‘What business have you to enter here?’ demanded the Sheriff.

‘I will soon show you. What are you doing with that man?’ pointing to the prisoner,

‘Leave at once, or I will order you to be ejected.’ The man, who was quite composed, said to the prisoner, ‘Mr Kerr do you authorize me to act as your attorney?’

‘Yes' he answered. ‘Very well, then, I am here by right. Now, Mr Sheriff, hand me over the papers in the case.’

The Sheriff, who was red in the face, ‘I shall not, you have no right here; you’re not a lawyer.’

Addressing the magistrates the man said he was a merchant, a burgess of the city of Glasgow, had been chosen by the accused as his attorney and was acting within his rights in demanding to see the papers. The magistrates consulted in a whisper and his lordship remarked there could be no objection. The Sheriff, however, continued to clutch them. ‘You ask him,’ was the order of the stranger to Kerr, ‘he dare not refuse you.’ Reluctantly the, Sheriff handed them to the stranger, who quickly glanced over them. ‘Is this all? he demanded. ‘Yes, that is all,’ snapped the Sheriff.

‘Where is the warrant for Kerr’s arrest?’

‘None of your business where, it is.’

Speaking to the bench, the stranger said there was neither information nor warrant among the papers he held in his hand. The only authority they had for holding Kerr was a letter from a clerk at Greenock, stating one Robert Kerr, accused of sedition, had fled before the papers could be made out for his arrest, and that, if he was found trying to take ship at Troon, to hold him. ‘I warn you,’ said the stranger, shaking his list, ‘that you have made yourselves liable to heavy penalties in arresting Robert Kerr on the strength of a mere letter. There is no deposition whatever, no warrant, and yet a peaceable man, going about in his lawful business, has been seized by your thief-takers and male prisoner. If you do not release him at once I go forthwith to Edinburgh and you will know what will happen you by Monday.’ He went on with much more I do not recall, but it was all threats and warnings of what would befall all concerned if Kerr was not released. The Sheriff at last got in a word.

'The charge is sedition and ordinary processes of procedure do not apply.'

‘You might have said that 30 years ago when you infernal Tories sent Thomas Muir of Huntershill to his death, and William Skirving and others to banishment for seeking reform in representation and upholding the right of petition, but you are not able now to make the law to suit your ends. You are holding this man without shadow of law or justice, and I demand his being set at liberty.'

‘Quite an authority in law!’ sneered the Sheriff. ‘Yes, I have been three times before the court of session and won each time. I knew your father, who was a decent shoemaker in Cupar, and when he sent you to learn to be a lawyer he little thought he was making a tool for those he despised. Pick a man from the plow, clap on his back a black coat, send him to college, and in five years he is a Conservative, and puckers his mouth at anything so vulgar as a Reformer, booing and clawing to the gentry and nobility. God, set a beggar on horseback and he will ride over his own father, and your father was no lick-the-ladle like you, but a Liberal who stood up for his rights.’ The bitterness and force with which the stranger spoke cowed his hearers. ‘These insults are too much/ stammered the Bailie. The stranger at once turned upon him. ‘O, this is you, McSweem, to whom I have sold many a box of soap and tea when you wore an apron and kept a grocer s shop. Set you up and push you forward, indeed. You have got a bit of an estate with your wife's money and call yourself a laird! The grand folk having taken you under their wing, you forget that you once sat, cheek-by-jowl, with Joseph Gerrald, and now you sit in judgment on a better man than a dozen like you.'

‘Mr Sheriff', shouted his lordship, ‘Remove this man to the cells.’

‘I dare you to put a finger on me,’ and he grasped a chair ready to knock down the officer who advanced to obey the order. ‘I am within my lawful rights. God, wee Henderson would ask nothing better than to prosecute you before the lords of session were you to keep me in jail even for an hour. Release this innocent man Kerr, and let us go.’

‘You are a vulgar bully,’ exclaimed his lordship haughtily.

The stranger dropped his bitter tone, and asked smoothly, ‘May I ask your lordship a question? Will you condescend to say how many of your lordship’s relatives are in government offices, and is it true your wife’s mother draws a pension, all of them living out of taxes paid by the commonalty whom you despise?’

His lordship affected not to hear him, and beckoned the Sheriff to draw near who conferred with the magistrates in whispers. I overheard Bailie McSweem say, ‘I know him, he’s a perfect devil to fight; better to have nothing to do with him,’ and the Sheriff’s remark, ‘He has got a legal catch to work on.’ When the Sheriff went back to his seat, his lordship said curtiy, ‘The accused is discharged’, and he and McSweem hurriedly left. The stranger gripped Kerr by the shoulder and pushed him before him until he reached the street. ‘Now, I must leave you, for I must see what my customers are out of.’ ‘Tell me your name?’ asked Kerr, ‘that I may know who has done me such service.’

‘Never mind; you are under no obligation to me. A wee bird told me you were in trouble and I am glad to have been in time to serve you.’

‘You do not know all the service you have done. You have saved more than myself from jail, and an innocent wife and children from poverty. Do let me know your name that I may remember it as long as I live.’

‘Daniel M’Farlane, and my advice is to quit Scotland right off, for these devils are mad angry at your giving them the slip. They will get the papers they need from Greenock and have you in jail if you are here tomorrow.’ A grip of the hand, and the stranger was gone. The whole scene was such a surprise, so novel to me, that every part of it fastened on my memory.

On reaching the brig we found the sailors stowing away casks of water. Kerr and myself had been given the same berth, and Allan and Robbie had the next one. Saying he was dead tired, for he had been on his feet since leaving Greenock, Kerr turned in though the sun had not set. An hour or so after, a number of men came to the wharf to see him. I found him asleep. They asked if I was the lad the officer took along with him to be a witness. Gathering in a quiet corner they had me repeat all that took place. They said they were Liberals and glad to hear the black nebs had won.

The noise overhead of washing the deck awoke me, and I knew by the motion of the ship we were sailing. On getting up I saw Troon several miles behind and Ailsa Craig drawing near. Allan and myself, with Robbie between us, were snuggled on the lee side of the longboat when Kerr appeared. He was interested on hearing of the men who came to visit him and said it was hard to be hounded out of Scotland, which he did not wish to leave, for saying constitutional reforms were called for. ‘I am no worse used,’ he added, ‘than the man whom that county we are looking at starved when he was among them and built monuments to him when he was dead.’ The town of Ayr was in sight and he named several of the points Burns had named in his songs. ‘Think, my laddies, of a man like Burns being told by the officials over him to keep his Liberal views to himself, that it was not for him to think but to be silent and obedient. And he had to swallow their order to prevent his losing the petty office which stood between his children and starvation.'

The breeze that taken the brig so far down the firth soon died away, and we rocked gently south of Ailsa Craig. In the hold folk were busy getting things in some sort of order, while on deck the sailors were putting everything in shipshape. This breathing spell was fortunate, for at dark the wind came in squalls, and on rounding the Mull of Cantyre the ocean swells sent most of the passengers to their berths seasick. I escaped and was able to help the family and Mr Kerr, who almost collapsed, and was not himself for a week. His first sign of recovery was his craving for a red herring. The mistress was early up and bustling round to find she had to face an entire change in the methods of housekeeping to which she had been used. There was a little house between the two masts named the galley, and here the cooking was done. The cook was an old man, gruff and crusty, who had spent most of his life in a Dundee whaler. In the Arctic region his good nature had got frozen and was not yet thawed out He would allow nobody near and got angry when suggestions were tendered. He made good porridge and tasty soup, anything else he spoiled. As these alone were cooked in bulk and measured out, the passengers took to the galley the food they wished to be cooked. That each family get back what they gave in, the food was placed in bags of netted twine and then slipped into the coppers of boiling water. The mistress was a famous hand at roley-poley, and for the first Sunday after sea-sickness had gone, she prepared a big one as a treat. It looked right and smelled good, but the first spoonful showed it had a wonderful flavor. In the boiler the net beside it held a nuckle of smoked ham. The laughter and jokes made us forget the taste of the ham and not a scrap of the roley-poley was left. Our greatest lack was milk for the children, and we all resented being scrimped in drinking-water, though before the voyage ended we became reconciled to that, for the water grew bad.


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