Search just our sites by using our customised search engine
Unique Cottages | Electric Scotland's Classified Directory

Click here to get a Printer Friendly PageSmiley

Wilson's Border Tales

It is curious to contemplate the various modes by which people attempt to obtain triumphs over each other in this bad world. Some conceive that the very best way is to punish their enemies; some again, take the Christian doctrine of holding up "the other cheek;" and some are of opinion, that there is no such thing at all as the luxury of a real, bona fide, lasting, and unqualified triumph to be had by one man over another. Let us see. We think that the case of simple Walter Wylie, who was, for a long time, so well known in the town of Inverkeithing for his peculiar manner of bringing out his sage philosophy of life, after the pawky form of some packman, who, when they are satisfied they have a real good article to show, affect a simplicity and scarcity of words of laudation, the very opposite of the verbose and stately declamation by which they endeavour to dispose of their general stock. The quality of Walter’s moral and political commodities, was clearly indicated by the quantum of simple naiveté infused into his speech and countenance, while in the act of narration—his effort at the more pure degrees of simplicity being in exact proportion to the estimate—never a wrong one—which he himself made of the excellence of the communication his peculiar inspiration enabled him to produce. His shop in the High Street of Inverkeithing, in which he sold a variety of those commodities which are necessary for the sustenance of the human corporation, brought him more clearly into public notice. Directly opposed to honest Walter, (as he was styled by the people,) both in manners and locality, was William Harrison, who carried on the same kind of business, in a shop on the other side of the street. The ordinary rivalship existed between them, and they took their different modes of recommending themselves to their customers—the one, Harrison, by a most verbose and figurative signboard, and a most loquacious speech, and the other by his peculiar simplicity of enunciation and publication of the qualities of his wares. The former was both a philosophical and a practical rogue. The latter, again, was as honest as steel; and his honesty and simple humour combined, made him be beloved by all that knew him; while his rival, who bore to his simple friend a most inveterate spite, was mortally hated for his roguery throughout the whole burgh.

Now, it happened that Harrison, with a view to two objects—first, the gratification of his never-sleeping spirit of roguery; and, secondly, the ruin, or at least the inconvenience, of simple Walter—bought up, from a neighbouring rogue, a debt alleged to be due by Walter, but which the latter had truly paid, though he had neglected to get it cancelled or discharged, by a probative receipt. It amounted to about £100; and Harrison paid for it only about £5, with a condition of paying the cedent £5 more, in the event of the entire sum being wrung out of the simple Walter, by the wrenching wheel of a horning. As soon as Walter heard that his rival and enemy Harrison had bought up the false debt, he knew, by an instinct which had nothing wonderful about it, that he was committed for a tough fight; but he retained his equanimity, and even his simple naivete hung about his mouth and small twinkling eyes, in the same manner as if no horning or any such thunderbolt of Jove, had been in the act of being forged against him. One day his enemy came into his shop.

"Mr Wylie," said he, with a most pert loquacity, and holding up the horning in his hand, "I have a piece of paper here, in which there is the name of Walter Wylie, as debtor to me in the sum of £100. I think you had better pay me at present, for I do not wish to let the debt lie, and ruin you by allowing a large sum of interest to run up against you."

"I thank ye," replied simple Walter, with an obsequious bow, and then proceeded with the business in which he was engaged. Harrison waited, expecting his debt; but Walter continued his operations. "I winna tak the present o’ your interest," again said Walter; "ye needna wait. And as for your horning, it wadna row up three pounds o’ my sugar. You are as welcome to it as to the interest."

This answer produced a laugh among the customers against Harrison, who, swearing he would have a caption and apprehend Walter the next day, walked out to instruct his agent to put his threat into execution. He had scarcely gone, when several of his (Harrison’s) creditors—for he himself was great as a debtor—arrested in Walter’s hands the false debt due to Harrison, so as to secure it to themselves. The simple Walter was astonished at all this parade about a debt that he had already paid; but he never lost his simple naivete or his temper, and was determined to go to jail as meekly as a lamb. Meanwhile, the inhabitants heard of the expected incarceration of their favourite, and insisted upon his defeating the schemes of his enemy, by resisting according to law his unjust demands; but Walter, with a good-natured smile, said that he trusted all to the ways of Providence.

Next morning, Walter, altogether unconcerned about his apprehension, went forth to take his walk in the green-fields, according to his custom, although it might be to take his breakfast in the old Tolbooth, which frowned upon him as he passed. He had wandered a little way in the country, when he thought he observed two men slipping along behind a thorn hedge, as if they wished to escape detection; and, impelled by curiosity, he slipped along the other side of the same hedge upon his hands and his feet, and, having seen the men deposit something in the side of a neighbouring dike, squatted down as if he had been shot dead, and lay there as still as death until the men went away. Up then rose Walter, and, going cautiously, looking around him again and again as he crept along, he came to the hole in the dike, and having examined it, found lying there a large bundle of bank-notes, amounting to no less than £500. Putting the money into his pocket, he by one leap, got to the middle of the road, when, having folded his hands behind his back and struck up a very merry tune, he continued his walk, with a slow and comfortable composure, which was pleasant to see. Several people passed him; and as he was never heard to whistle before, they wondered mightily that simple Walter should whistle so merry a tune, and more so, on the morning of that day when he was to be put into prison. When he went a little farther, still whistling and sauntering, with a very easy and pleasant carelessness, whom does he meet? Why, no other than William Harrison, flying along the road like a madman, calling out, if any one had seen two blackguard-looking men on the way; for that his shop had been robbed during the night, and all the money he had in the world taken out of it and carried away.

"I saw the blackguards," replied Walter. "They’re awa doun by Gibson’s Loan yonder, as fast as if a messenger wi’ a hornin and caption was at their heels."

And he again whistled his tune—a circumstance that struck Harrison, who had never heard him whistle before, with as much surprise as his announcement; but he had no time to wonder or reply, and away he shot like a pursuing messenger, while Walter walked into the town, and opened his shop, wherein he deposited the £500, and proceeded to serve his customers with as much simplicity and good humour as ever.

The news of the loss sustained by Harrison went like wild-fire throughout the burgh; and every one wondered that a man who owed so much money should have had so large a sum as £500 in the house at one time; and it was suspected that he intended to fly the country with the money as soon as he could wring the false debt out of simple Watty. Every inquiry was made after the robbers, but they could not be traced; and now Harrison, made savage by his loss and the allusion made by Watty about the messenger, got his caption frae Edinburgh by a special messenger, and sent to apprehend Walter for the false debt.

"I have a caption against you, Mr Wylie," said the messenger, as he entered. "Will you pay the debt, or go with me?"

"If you’ll wait," replied Watty, with the greatest: simplicity, "till I weigh this pound o’ sugar to Jenny Gilchrist, I’ll tak a step wi’ ye as far as the jail."

And proceeding to serve his customer, he indulged in some of his dry jokes in the very same way he used to do; and, when he had finished, called up his wife to serve the shop, and walked with great composure away with the messenger to that place of squalor and squalid misery. He was, in due form, entered in the jailor’s books, and deposited in the old black building, as a jail-bird, where, if he chose, he might whistle as gaily as he did in the morning when he went out to hear the larks singing in the clouds, to which celestial residence he had so unexpectedly accompanied them. The news now spread far and wide that Walter Wylie was in prison, and many efforts were made to get him to pay the debt at once and gain his liberty; but Walter knew himself what he was about; and, having thus ascertained how far Harrison would go, he sent for a writer, and having given him instructions and a part of the £500 to pay his expense, got out in a few days on what the honest men of the law call a suspension and liberation.

Some time afterwards, Harrison himself having lost all his money, was put into jail at the instance of one of his creditors, who was enraged at the scheme he had resorted to for defrauding them; and there he lay in the very same room in which Watty had been deposited. Harrison’s creditor was a good and godly man, and, like Walter, was an elder of the church; and the people pitied him greatly for the loss he was likely to sustain through the rogue who had thus cheated so many poor people. His debt was £50; and, to the wonder and amazement of all the inhabitants, he got full payment from Walter Wylie, whereupon Harrison was immediately let out of prison.

No sooner was it known that Walter had paid one debt of Harrison’s, than another creditor apprehended the rogue, and lodged him again in jail. He was allowed to lie there for a considerable time, when Watty again came forward and paid this debt also—whereupon he was again allowed to escape. A third creditor followed the example of the two others, and the rogue was again committed to durance but this time Watty allowed him to remain for a longer time, and then paid the debt, that he might deal out his punishment in due proportions. A fourth time the rogue was apprehended, and a fifth and a sixth time, and upon each of these occasions he was allowed to remain for as long a time as Watty thought might produce as much pain as it was his intention to inflict. Altogether Harrison had thus lain about eight months in prison. His debts were now all paid, and the whole sum of £500 exhausted—having been honestly divided among those creditors whose debts were just, and who required them for the support of their wives and children. No part of the £500 was kept to answer the false debt claimed against Watty, because he had secured himself against that demand by getting assignations to the debts he paid, whereby he might plead compensation against his persecutor. Thus had he, in his own quiet way, saved himself, punished a rogue, and brought peace and comfort to the homes of a number of deserving men, whose debts otherwise would never have been paid.

The wonder produced by this extraordinary proceeding, on the part of Watty, was unparalleled; and what nobody could comprehend, they were surely entitled to wonder at. Some thought the simple creature mad, and his friends tried to interfere to prevent so reckless a squandering of his means.

"I am surprised, Mr Wylie," said his clergyman to him, one day, in the presence of a number of people who were collected in the shop—"I am surprised at this proceeding of yours, which has spread far and wide throughout the country. If your motive be a secret, I will not ask it from thee; but, if it is a fair and legitimate question, I would make bold to put it to thee, as one of my flock and an elder of our church."

"There is nae secret about it, sir," replied Watty, with his accustomed simplicity. "We are told to do guid to them wha hate us, and pay for them wha despitefully persecute us." And he leered a grotesque look of simple cajolery in the face of the godly man.

"I fear thou misquotest the holy book, Mr Wylie," replied the minister. "We are asked to pray for our enemies; but not to pay for them."

"Ay! Ay!" ejaculated Watty, in surprise. "Is it possible that that single letter ‘r’ should hae cost a puir, simple body £500?"

The minister stared and the people wondered; but, up to this day, none ever knew why simple Walter Wylie paid the debts of his enemy Harrison.

Return to Book Index Page


This comment system requires you to be logged in through either a Disqus account or an account you already have with Google, Twitter, Facebook or Yahoo. In the event you don't have an account with any of these companies then you can create an account with Disqus. All comments are moderated so they won't display until the moderator has approved your comment.

comments powered by Disqus