How far the term, "A
LEVELLER," is provincial, or confined to the Borders, I am not certain;
for before I had left them, to become as a pilgrim of the earth, the
phrase had fallen into disuse, and the events, or rather the cause which
brought it into existence, had passed away. But, twenty-five, or even
twenty years ago, in these parts, there was no epithet more familiar to
the lips of every schoolboy, than that of a Leveller. The juvenile
lovers of mirth and mischief displayed their loyalty by "smeeking" the
houses, or burning the effigies of the Levellers; and he was a good
subject, and a perfect gentleman, who, out of his liberality and
patriotism, contributed a shilling to purchase powder to make the head of
the effigy go off in a rocket, and its fingers start away in squibs.
Levellers were persecuted by the young, and suspected by the old. Every
town and village in the kingdom had its coterie of Levellers. They did not
congregate together; for, as being suspected individuals, their so doing
would have been attended with danger; but there was a sympathy, and a sort
of brotherhood amongst those in the same place, and they met in twos and
threes, at the corners of the streets, in the fields, or the workshop, and
not unfrequently at the operating rooms of the barber, as though there had
been a secret understanding in the growth of their beards. Some of them
were generally seen waiting the arrival of the mail, and running across
the street, or the highway, as the case might be, eagerly inquiring of the
guard—"What news?" But if, on the approach of the vehicle, they perceived
it decorated with branches, or a flag displayed from it, away turned the
Levellers from the unwelcome symbols of national rejoicing, and condoled
one with another, in their own places of retirement. They were seldom, or
never, found amongst rosy-faced country gentlemen, who walked in the midst
of their fellow-mortals, as if measuring their acres. Occasionally they
might be found amongst tradesmen; but they were most frequently met with
at the loom, or amongst those who had learned the art and mystery of a
cordwainer. The Leveller, however, was generally a peaceful and a moral
man, and always a man of much reading, and extensive information. Many
looked upon the Leveller as the enemy of his country, and as wishing the
destruction of its institutions: I always regarded them with a more
favourable eye. Most of them I have met with were sincerely attached to
liberty, though they frequently took strange methods of showing it. They
were opposed to the war with France, and they were enthusiastic admirers,
almost worshippers, of Napoleon and his glories. They could describe the
scene of all his victories—they could repeat his speeches and his
bulletins by heart. But the old Jacobins of the last century, the
Levellers of the beginning of this, are a race rapidly becoming extinct.
I shall give the history of
one of them, who was called James Nicholson, and who resided in the
village of T—. James was by trade a weaver—a walking history of the wars,
and altogether one of the most remarkable men I ever met with. He had an
impressive and ready utterance; few could stand before him in an argument,
and of him it might have been truly said—
"In reasoning, too, the parson owned
And, though defeated, he could argue still."
He possessed also a bold
imagination, and a masculine understanding, and both had been improved by
extensive reading. With such qualifications, it is not a matter of wonder
that he was looked up to as the oracle, the head, or king, of the
Levellers in T—(if, indeed, they admitted the idea of a king). For miles
around, he was familiarly known by the designation of Jemmy the Leveller;
for though there were others of the name of James who held similar
sentiments in the village and neighbourhood, he was Jemmy par excellence.
But in order that the reader may have a correct representation of James
before him, I shall describe him as I saw him, about five-and-twenty years
ago. He then appeared a man approaching to sixty years of age. His
shoulders were rather bent, his height about five feet eleven, and he
walked with his eyes fixed upon the ground. His arms were generally
crossed upon his breast, and he stalked, with a long and slow step, like a
shepherd toiling up a hill. His forehead was one that Spurzheim would have
traveled a hundred miles to finger—it was both broad and lofty; his
eyebrows were thick, of a deep brown colour, and met together; his eyes
were large, and of a dark greyish hue; his nose appertained to the Roman,
his mouth was rather large, and his hair was mixed with grey. His figure
was spare and thin. He wore a very low-crowned, and a very broad-brimmed
hat, a short brown coat, a dark striped waistcoat, with a double breast,
corduroy breeches, which buckled at the knees, coarse blue stockings, and
strong shoes, or rather brogues, neither of which articles had been new
for at least three years; and around his body he wore a coarse,
half-bleached apron, which was stained with blue, and hung loose before
him. Such was James Nicholson, as he first appeared to me. For more than
forty years, he had remained in a state of single blessedness; but whether
this arose from his heart having continued insensible to the influence of
woman’s charms—from his never having met with one whom he thought he could
safely take "for better, for worse"—or whether it arose from the maidens
being afraid to risk their future happiness, by uniting themselves with
such a strange and dangerous character as Jemmy the Jacobin, I cannot
tell. It is certain, however, that he became convinced, that a bachelor’s
life was at best a dowis one; and there was another consideration
that had considerable weight with him. He had nobody to "fill his pirus"
or "give inhis webs;" but he had to hire and pay people to do
these things, and this made a great drawback on his earnings, particularly
when the price of weaving became low. James, therefore, resolved to do as
his father had done before him, to take unto himself a wife. He cast his
eyes abroad, and they rested on a decent spinster, who was beginning to be
what is called a "stayed lass"—that is, very near approaching the
years, when the phrase, a "stayed 1ass," is about to be exchanged
for that of an old maid. In a word, the object of his choice was but a
very few years younger than himself. Her name was Peggy Purves, and it is
possible she was inclined to adopt the language of the song, and say—
"O mother, ony body!"
for when James made his
proposal, she smirked, and blushed—said she "didna ken what to say till’t"
—took the corners of her apron in her fingers—hung her head— smiled
well-pleased, and added, she "would see!" but within three months became
the wife of Jemmy the Leveller.
James became the father of
two children, a son and daughter; and we may here notice a circumstance
attending the baptism of the son. About three weeks after the birth of the
child, his mother began to inquire—
"What shall we ca’ him,
James?—do ye think we should ca’ him Alexander, after your faither and
"Haud yer tongue, woman,"
replied James, somewhat testily; "goodness me! where’s the use in
everlastingly yatter yattering about what I will ca’ him? The bairn shall
hae a name—a name that will be like a deed o’ virtue and greatness
engraven on his memory as often as he hears it."
"O James! James!" returned
Peggy, "ye’re the strangest and perversest man that ever I met wi’ in my
born days. I’m sure ye’ll ne’er think o’ gien ony o’ yer heathenish
Jacobin names to my bairn?"
"Just content yersel’,
Peggy," replied he, "just rest contented, if ye please—I’ll gie the bairn
a name that neither you nor him will ever hae cause to be ashamed o’."
Now, James was a rigid
Dissenter, and caused the child to be taken to the meeting-house; and he
stood up with him in his arms, in the midst of the congregation, that his
infant might publicly receive baptism.
The minister inquired, in a
low voice—"What is the child’s name?"
His neighbours were anxious
to hear the answer; and, in his deep, sonorous tones, he replied
There was a sort of buzz
and a movement throughout the congregation, and the minister himself
When her daughter was born,
the choice of the name was left to Peggy, and she called her Catherine, in
remembrance of her mother.
Shortly after the birth of
his children, the French revolution began to lower in the political
horizon, and James Nicholson, the weaver, with a fevered anxiety, watched
"It is a bursting forth o’
the first seed o’ the tree o’ liberty, which the Americans planted and
George Washington reared," cried James with enthusiasm; "the seeds o’ that
tree will spread owre the earth, as if scattered by the winds o’
heaven—they will cover it as the waters do the sea—they will take
root—they will spring up in every land; beneath the burning sun o’ the
West Indies, on the frozen deserts o’ Siberia, the slave and the exile
will rejoice beneath the shadow o’ its branches, an’ their hearts be
gladdened by its fruits."
"Ay, man, James, that’s
noble!" exclaimed some brother Leveller, who retailed the sayings of the
weaver at second hand—"Losh! if ye hadna a head-piece that wad astonish a
But, when the storm burst,
and the sea of blood gushed forth like a deluge, when the innocent and the
guilty were butchered together, James was staggered, his eyes became
heavy, and his countenance fell. At length, he consoled his companions,
"Weel, it’s a pity—it’s a
great pity—it is bringing disgrace and guilt upon a glorious cause. But
knives shouldna be put into the hands o’ bairns till they ken how to use
them. If the sun were to rise in a flash o’ unclouded glory and dazzling
brightness in a moment, succeeding the heavy darkness o’ midnight, it wad
be nae wonder if, for a time, we groped more blindly than we did in the
dark! Or, if a blind man had his sight restored in a moment, and were set
into the street, he would strike upon every object he met more readily
than he did when he was blind; for he had neither acquired the use o’ his
eyes, nor the idea o’ distance. So is it wi’ our neighbours in France; an
instrument has been put into their hands before they ken how to use it—the
sun o’ liberty has burst upon them in an instant, without an intermediate
dawn. They groaned under the tyranny o’ blindness; but they hae acquired
the power o’ sight without being instructed in its use. But hae patience a
little--the storm will gie place to sunshine, the troubled waters will
subside into a calm, and liberty will fling her garment o’ knowledge and
mercy owre her now uninstructed worshippers."
"Weel! that’s grand,
James!—that’s really famous!" said one of the coterie of Levellers to whom
it was delivered; "odd! ye beat a’thing—ye’re a match for Wheat-bread
"James," said another,
"without meaning to flatter ye, if Billy Pitt had ye to gie him a
dressing, I believe he wad offer ye a place the very next day, just to
keep yer tongue quiet."
James was one of those who
denounced, with all the vehemence and indignation of which he was capable,
Britain’s engaging in a war with France. He raised up his voice against
it. He pronounced it to be an unjust and an impious attempt to support
oppression, and to stifle freedom in its cradle.
"But in that freedom they
will find a Hercules," cried he, "which in its very cradle will grip
tyranny by the throat, an’ a’ the kings in Europe winna be able to slacken
When the star of Napoleon
began to rise, and broke forth with a lustre which dazzled the eyes of a
wondering world, the Levellers of Britain, like the Republicans of France,
lost sight of their love of liberty, in their admiration of the military
glories and rapid triumphs of the hero. James Nicholson was one of those
who became blinded with the fame, the splendid success, and the daring
genius of the young Corsican. Napoleon became his idol. His deeds, his
capacity, his fame, were his daily theme. They became the favourite
subject of every Leveller. They neither saw in him one who laughed at
liberty, and who made it his plaything, who regarded life as stubble,
whose ambition circled the globe, and who was the enemy of Britain—they
saw in him only a hero, who had burst from obscurity as a meteor from the
darkness of night—whose glory had obscured the pomp of princes, and his
word consumed their power.
The threatened invasion,
and the false alarm, put the Leveller’s admiration of Napoleon, and
his love of his native land, to a severe trial; but we rejoice to say, for
the sake of James Nicholson, that the latter triumphed, and he accompanied
a party of volunteers ten miles along the coast, and remained an entire
night, and the greater part of a day, under arms, and even he was then
ready to say—
"Let foe come on foe, like wave upon
We’ll gie them a welcome, we’ll gie them a grave."
But, as the apprehension of
the invasion passed away, his admiration of Napoleon’s triumphs, and his
reverence for what he termed his stupendous genius, burned with redoubled
"Princes are as
grasshoppers before him," said James; "nations are as spiders’ webs. The
Alps became as a highway before his spirit—he looked upon Italy, and the
land was conquered."
I might describe to you the
exultation and the rejoicings of James and his brethren, when they heard
of the victories of Marengo, Ulm, and Austerlitz; and how, in their little
parties of two and three, they walked a mile farther together in the
fields, or by the sides of the Tweed, or peradventure indulged in an extra
pint with one another, though most of them were temperate men; or, I might
describe to you, how, upon such occasions, they would ask eagerly—"But
what is James saying to it?" I, however, shall dwell only upon his
conduct when he heard of the battle of Jena. He was standing with a
brother Leveller at a corner of the village, when the mail arrived, which
conveyed the important tidings. I think I see him now, as he appeared at
that moment. Both were in expectation of momentous information—they ran to
the side of the coach together. "What news?—what news?" they inquired of
the guard at once. He stooped down, as they ran by the side of the coach,
and informed them. The eyes of James glowed with delight—his nostrils were
"Oh! the great, the
glorious man!" he exclaimed, rubbing his hands in ecstacy, and turning
away from the coach; "the matchless! — the wonderful! — the great
Napoleon!—there is none like him—there never was—he a sun among the
stars—they cannot twinkle in his presence."
He and his friends received
a weekly paper amongst them—it was the day on which it arrived; they
followed the coach to the post-office to receive it—and I need not tell
you with what eagerness the contents of that paper were read. James was
the reader; and after he had read an account of the battle, he gave his
hearers a dissertation upon it.
He laid his head upon his pillow,
with his thoughts filled with Napoleon and the battle of Jena; and, when
on the following morning, he met two or three of his companions at the
corner of the village, where they were wont to assemble for ten minutes
after breakfast, to discuss the affairs of Europe, James, with a look of
even more than his usual importance and sagacity, thus began:—
"I hae dreamed a marvellous dream. I saw the battle o’ Jena—I beheld the
Prussians fly with dismay before the voice of the conqueror. Then did I
see the great man, arrayed in his robes of victory, bearing the sword of
power in his hand, ascend a throne of gold and of ivory. Over the throne
was a gorgeous canopy of purple, and diamonds bespangled the tapestry as a
firmament. The crowns of Europe lay before him, and kings, and princes,
and nobles, heeled at his feet. At his nod, he made kings and exalted
nations. Armies fled and advanced at the moving of his finger—they were
machines in his hand. The spirits of Alexander and of Caesar—all the
heroes of antiquity— gazed in wonder upon his throne; each was surrounded
by the halo of his victories and the fame of ages; but their haloes became
dim before the flash of his sword of power, and the embodiment of their
spirits became as a pale mist before the majesty of his eyes, and the
magnificence of his triumphs. The nations of the earth were also gathered
around the throne, and as with one voice, in the same language, and at the
same moment, they waived their hands, and cried, as peals of thunder
mingle wi’ each other—‘Long live the great Emperor!’ But, while my soul
started within me at the mighty shout, and my eyes gazed with wonder and
astonishment on the glory and the power of the great man, darkness fell
upon the throne, troubled waters dashed around it, and the vision of might
and vastness—the Emperor, the kneeling kings, the armies, and the people,
were encompassed in the dark waves—swallowed as though they had not been;
and, with the cold perspiration standing on my forehead, I awoke, and
found that I had dreamed."
"It is a singular dream,"
"Sleeping or waking, James
is the same man," said another, "aye out o’ the common run. You and me wad
hae sleeped a twelvemonth before we had dreamed the like o’ that."
But one circumstance arose
which troubled James much, and which all his admiration, yea, all his
worship of Napoleon could not wholly overcome. James, as we have hinted,
was a rigid Presbyterian, and the idea of a man putting away his wife, he
could not forgive. When, therefore, Napoleon divorced the gentle
Josephine, and took the daughter of Austria to his bed— "He hath done
wrong," said James; "he has erred grievously. He has been an instrument in
humbling the Pope, the instrument foretold in the Revelation; and he has
been the glorious means o’ levelling and destroying the Inquisition—but
this sin o’ putting away his wife, and pretending to marry another, casts
a blot upon a’ his glories; and I fear that humiliation, as a punishment,
will follow the foul sin. Yet, after a’, as a man, he was subject to
temptation; and, as being no common man, we maunna judge his conduct by
"Really, James," said the
individual he addressed, ‘wi’ a’ my admiration o’ the great man, and my
respect for you. I’m no just clear upon your last remark—when the
Scripture forbade a man to put away his wife, there was nae exception made
for kings or emperors."
"True," said James—"but"—
James never finished his "but." His conscience told him that his idol had
sinned; and when the disastrous campaign to Russia shortly after followed,
he imagined that he beheld in its terrible calamities the punishment he
had predicted. The sun of Napoleon had reached its meridian, the fires of
Moscow raised a cloud before it, behind which it hastened to its setting.
In the events of that memorable invasion and retreat, James Nicolson took
an eager aud mournful interest. Thoughts of it haunted him in his sleep;
and he would dream of Russian deserts which presented to the eye an
unbounded waste of snow; or start, exclaiming, "The Cossacks!--the
Cossacks!" His temper too, became irritable, and his family found it hard
to bear with it.
This, however, was not the
only cause which increased the irritability, and provoked the indignation,
of James the Leveller; for, as the glory of Napoleon began to wane, and
the arms of the British achieved new victories in the Peninsula, he and
his brethren in principle became the objects of almost nightly
persecution. Never did the mail arrive, bearing tidings of the success of
the British or their allies, but as surely was a figure, intended to
represent one or another of the Levellers, paraded through the village,
and burned before the door of the offender, amidst the shouts, the groans,
and laughter, of some two or three hundred boys and young men. The reader
may be surprised to hear that one of the principal leaders of these young
and mischief-loving loyalists was no other than George Washington,
the only son of our friend James Nicolson. To turn him from conduct, and
the manifestation of a principle, so unworthy of his name, James spared
neither admonition, reproof, nor the rod of correction. But George was now
too old for his father to apply the latter, and his advice and reproof in
this matter was like throwing water in the sea. The namesake of the great
President never took a part in such exhibitions of his father, and in
holding his principles up to execration and contempt; on the contrary, he
did all in his power to prevent them, and repeatedly did he prevent
them—but he entered with his whole heart, into every proposal to make a
mock spectacle of others. The young tormentors knew little or nothing of
the principles of the men they delighted to persecute—it was enough for
them to know that they were Levellers, that they wished the
French to win; and although James Nicolson was known to be, as I have
already said, the very king and oracle of the levelling party in the
neighbourhood, yet, for his son’s sake, he frequently escaped the
persecution intended for him, and it was visited upon the heads of more
One evening, James beheld
his son heading the noisy bands in a crusade against the peace of a
particular friend; moreover, George bore a long pole over his shoulder, to
the top of which an intended resemblance of his father’s friend was
attached. James further saw his hopeful son and the crowd reach his
friend’s house, he beheld him scale the walls (which were but a single
storey in height), he saw him stand upon the roof—the pole, with the
effigy attached to it, was again handed to him, and, amidst the shouts of
his companions, he put the pole down the chimney, leaving the figure as a
smoke-doctor on its top.
James could endure no more.
"Oh, the villain!—the scoundrel!" he cried—"the-the"—but he could add no
more from excess of indignation. He rushed along the street—he dashed
through the crowd—he grasped his son by the throat, at the moment of his
springing from the roof. He shook with rage. He struck him violently. He
raised his feet and kicked him.
"What is a’ this for!"’
said George, sullenly, while he suffered even more from shame than his
"What is it for!" cried
James, half choked with passion "ye rascal!—ye disgrace!—ye
profligate!—how can ye ask what is it for?" and he struck him again.
"Faither," said George,
more sullenly than before, "I wad advise ye to keep yer hands to yersel’—at
least on the street and before folk."
"Awa wi’ ye! ye reprobate!"
exclaimed the old man "and never enter my door again—never while ye
breathe —ye thankless!"—
"Be it sae," said George.
James returned to his
house, in sorrow and in anger. He was out of humour with everything. He
found fault with his daughter—he spoke angrily to his wife. Chairs stools,
tables, and crockery, he kicked to the right and left. He flung his supper
behind the fire when it was set before him. He was grieved at his son’s
conduct; but he was also angry with himself for his violence towards him.
A sergeant of a Highland
regiment had been for some time in the village, on the recruiting service.
He was to leave with his recruits, and proceed to Leith, where they were
immediately to embark on the following morning. Amongst the recruits, were
many of the acquaintances of George and his companions. After the affair
of the effigy they went to have a parting glass with them. George was then
about nineteen. He had not yet forgiven his father for the indignity he
had openly offered to him—he remembered he had forbidden him his house.
One of his companions jestingly alluded to the indignation of the old
man—he "wondered how George stood it." The remark made his feelings more
bitter. He felt shame upon his face. Another of his companions enlisted;
in the excitement of the moment, George followed his example, and, before
sunrise on the following morning, was on his road to Leith with the
Old James arose and went to
his loom, unhappy and troubled in his spirit. He longed for a
reconciliation with his son—to tell him he was sorry for the length to
which his temper had led him, and also calmly to reason with him on the
folly, the unreasonableness, and the wickedness, of his own conduct in
running, with a crowd at his heels about the street, persecuting honest
men, and endangering both the peace of the town. and the safety of
property. But he had been an hour at the loom, and George took not his
place at his (for he had brought him up to his own trade); another hour
passed and breakfast time arrived, but the shuttle which had been driven
by the hand of his son, sent forth no sound.
"Where is George?" inquired
he, as he entered the house; "wherefore has he no been ben at his wark?"
"Ye ken best," returned
Peggy, who thought it her time to be out o humour "for it lies between ye;
but ye’ll carry on yer rampaging fits o’ passion till ye drive baith the
bairns an’ me frea ‘bout the house. Ye may seek for George whar ye saw him
last; but there is his bed untouched, as I made it yesterday morning, and
ye see what ye’ve made o’ yer handy-wark."
"Oh, haud yer tongue, ye
wicked woman, ye," said James, "for it wad clip clouts. Had Job
been afflicted wi’ yer tongue, he wad needed nae other trial!"
"My tongue!" retorted she;
"ay, gude truly! but if ony woman but mysel’ had to put up wi’ yer temper,
they wad ken what it is to be tried."
"Puir woman! ye dinna ken
yer born!" replied James and, turning to his daughter, added, "rin awa
out, Katie an’ see if yer brother is wi’ ony o’ his acquaintances—he’ll
hae been sleeping wi’ some o’ them. Tell him to come hame to his
She left the house, and
returned in about ten minutes, weeping, sobbing, wringing her hands, and
"George is listed and awa!—he’s
listed and awa my poor George!"
"Listed!" exclaimed James,
and he fell back against the wall, as though a bullet had entered his
"Listed! my bairn—my
darling bairn listed!" cried Peggy; "O James! James!—ye cruel man! See
what ye’ve done!—ye hae driven my bairn to destruction!"
"Woman! woman!" added he, "dinna
torment me beyond what I am able to endure; do ye no think I am suffering
enough, and muir than enough, without you aggravating my misery? Oh! the
rash, the thoughtless callant! Could he no forgie his faither for ae
fault?—a faither that could lay down his life for him. Haste ye, Katie,
get me my stick and my Sunday coat, and I’ll follow him—he canna be far
yet—I’ll bring him back. Wheesht now, Peggy," he added, "let us hae nae
muir reflections— just compose yersel’—George shall be hame the night, and
we’ll let byganes be byganes."
"Oh, then, James, rin every
foot," said Peggy, whose ill-humour had yielded to her maternal anxiety;
"bring him back whether he will or no; tell him how ill Katie is, and that
if he persists in being a sodger, he will be the death o’ his mother?"
With a heavy and an anxious
heart, James set out in pursuit of his son; but the sergeant and his
recruits had taken the road six hours before him. On arriving at Dunbar,
where he expected they would halt for the night, he was informed, that the
sergeant, being ordered to push forward to Leith with all possible
expedition, as the vessel in which they were to embark was to sail with
the morning tide, had, with his recruits, taken one of the coaches, and
would then be within a few miles of Edinburgh. This was another blow to
James. But after resting for a space, not exceeding five minutes, he
hastened forward to Leith.
It was midnight when he
arrived, and he could learn nothing of his son, or the vessel in which he
was to embark; but, weary as he was, he wandered along the shore and the
pier till morning. Day began to break—the shores of the Firth became dimly
visible; the Bass, like a fixed cloud, appeared on the distant horizon; it
was more than half-tide, and, as he stood upon the pier, he heard the
yo-heave-o! of seamen, proceeding from a smack which lay on the south
side of the harbour, by the lowest bridge. He hastened towards the
vessel—but, before he approached it, and while the cry of the seamen yet
continued, a party of soldiers and recruits issued from a tavern on the
shore. They tossed their caps in the air, they huzzaed, and proceeded
towards the smack. With a throbbing heart, James hurried forward, and in
the midst of them, through the grey light, he beheld his son.
"O George!" cried the
anxious parent, "what a journey ye hae gien yer faither!"
George started at his
father’s voice and for a moment he was silent and sullen, as though he had
not yet forgiven him.
"Come, George," said the
old man, affectionately, "let us forget and forgie—come awa hame again, my
man, an’ I’ll pay the smart money. Dinna persist in bringing yer
mother to her grave—in breaking yer sister’s heact, puir thing, and in
making me miserable."
"O faither! Faither!"
groaned George, grasping his father’s hand, "its owre late—its owre late
now. What’s done canna be undone!"
"Why for no, bairn?" cried
James, "an’ how is it owre late? The ship’s no sailed, and I’ve the
smart-money in my pocket."
"But I’ve ta’en the bounty,
faither—I’m sworn in!" replied the son.
"Sworn in!" exclaimed the
unhappy father, "Oh mercy me! what’s this o’t!" My happiness is destroyed
for ever. "O George! George, man! what is this that ye’ve done? How shall
I meet yer poor wretched mother without ye?"
George laid his head upon
his father’s shoulder and wrung his hand. He was beginning to experience
what hours, what years of misery may proceed from the want of a minute’s
calm reflection. The thought of buying him off could not be entertained.
The vessel was to sail within an hour—men were needed; but even had no
other obstacles attended the taking of such a step, there was one that was
insurmountable—James Nicholson had never in his life been possessed of
half the sum necessary to accomplish it, nor could he have raised it by
the sale of his entire goods and chattels; and his nature forbade him to
solicit a loan from others, even to redeem a son.
They were beginning to haul
off the vessel; and poor George, who now felt all the bitterness of
remorse, added to the anguish of parting from a parent, thrust his hand
into his pocket, and, as he bade him farewell, attempted to put his
bounty-money in his father’s hand. The old man sprung back, as if a
poisonous snake had touched him. The principles of the Leveller rose
superior to the feelings of the father.
"George!" he cried,
"George! can my ain son insult me, an’ in a moment like this? Me tak yer
blood-money!—me!—me! Ye dinna ken yer faither! Before I wad touch money
gotten in such a cause, I wad starve by a dyke-side. Fling it into the
sea, George!—fling it into the sea!—that’s the only favour ye can confer
upon yer faither." But, again, the parent gained the ascendancy in his
heart, and he added—"But, poor chield, ye meant it kindly. Fareweel, then,
my man!—Oh, fareweel, George! Heaven be wi’ my misguided bairn! Oh! what
shall I say to yer poor mother? Fareweel, lad!—fareweel!"
The vessel was pulled
off—and thus parted the father and his son. I shall not describe the
feelings of James on his solitary journey homewards, nor dwell upon the
grief of his wife and daughter, when they beheld that he returned alone,
and that George "was not."