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Wilson's Border Tales
The Dominie's Class
Chapter 4


He was the queerest laddie that ever I had at my school. He had neither talent nor cleverness; but he made up for both, and I may say more than made up for both, by method and application. Ye would have said that nature had been in a miserly humour when it made his brains; but, if it had been niggardly in the quantity, it certainly had spared no pains in placing them properly. He was the very reverse o’ Solitary Sandy. I never could get Watty to scan a line or construe a sentence right in my days. He did not seem to understand the nature o’ words—or, at least, in so far as applied to sentiment, idea, or fine writing. Figures were Watty’s alphabet; and, from his earliest years, pounds, shillings, and pence were the syllables by which he joined them together. The abstruser points of mathematics were beyond his intellect; but he seemed to have a liking for the certainty of the science, and he manifested a wish to master it. My housekeeper that then was, has informed me, that, when a’ the rest o’ ye wad hae been selling your copies as waste paper, for taffy, or what some ca’ treacle-candy, Watty would only part wi’ his to the paper purchaser for money down; and when ony o’ ye took a greenin’ for the sweet things o’ the shopkeeper, without a halfpenny to purchase one, Watty would volunteer to lend ye the money until a certain day, upon condition that ye would then pay him a penny for the loan o’ his halfpenny. But he exhibited a grand trait o’ this disposition when he cam’ to learn the rule o’ Compound Interest. Indeed, I need not say he learned it, for he literally devoured it. He wrought every question in Dilworth’s Rule within two days, and, when he had finished it, (for he seldom had his slate away from my face, and I was half tired wi’ saying to him, ‘That will do, sir,’) he came up to my desk, and says he, wi’ a face as earnest as a judge—

‘May I go through this rule again, sir?’

‘I think ye understand it, Watty,’ said I, rather significantly.

‘But I would like to be perfect in it, sir,’ answered he.

‘Then go through it again, Watty,’ said I ‘and I have nae doubt but ye will be perfect in it very quickly.’

I said this wi’ a degree o’ irony which I was not then, and which I am not now, in the habit of exhibiting before my scholars; but from what I had observed and heard o’ him, it betrayed to me a trait in human nature that literally disgusted me. But I have no pleasure in dwelling upon his history. Shortly after leaving the school, he was sent up to London to an uncle; and, as his parents had the means o’ setting him up in the world, he was there to make a choice o’ a profession.

After looking about the great city for a time, it was the choice and pleasure o’ Cautious Watty to be bound as an apprentice to a pawnbroker. He afterwards commenced business for himself and every day in his life indulging in his favourite study, Compound Interest, and, as far as he durst, putting it in practice, he, in a short time, became rich. But, as his substance increased, he did not confine himself to portable articles, or such things as are usually taken in pledge by the members of his profession; but he took estates in pledge, receiving the title-deeds as his security, and in such cases he did exact his Compound Interest to the last farthing to which he could stretch it. He neither knew the meaning of generosity nor mercy. Shakspeare’s beautiful apostrophe to the latter godlike attribute in the Merchant of Venice, would have been flat nonsense in the estimation of Watty. He had but one answer to every argument and to every case, and which he laid to his conscience in all his transactions (if he had a conscience), and that was—‘A bargain’s a bargain!’ This was his ten times repeated phrase every day. It was the doctrine by which he swore; and Shylock would have died wi’ envy, to have seen Watty exacting his ‘pound o’ flesh.’ I have only to tell ye that he has been twice married. The first time was to a widow four year older than his mother, wi’ whom he got ten thousand. The second time was to a maiden lady who had been a coquette and flirt in her day, but who, when the deep crow-feet upon her brow began to reflect sermons from her looking-glass, became a patroniser of piety and religious institutions. Watty heard o’ her fortune, and o’ her disposition and habits. He turned an Episcopalion because she was one. He became a sitter and a regular attender in the same pew in the church. He began his courtship by opening the pew door to her when he saw her coming, before the sexton reached it. He next sought her out the services for the day in the prayer-book—he had it always open and ready to put in her hand. He dusted the cushion on which she was to sit, with his handkerchief, as she entered the pew. He, in short, showed her a hundred little pious attentions. The sensibility of the converted flirt was affected by them. At length he offered her his arm from the pew to the hackney coach, or sedan chair which waited for her at the church door; and eventually, he led her to the altar in the seventy-third year of her age; when, to use his own words, he married her thirty thousand pounds, and took the old woman before the minister as a witness. Such, sir, is all I know concerning Cautious Watty.

"The next o’ your auld class-mates that I have to notice-(continued Mr. Grierson), is Leein’ Peter.

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