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Wilson's Border Tales
The Persecuted Elector


Be not afraid, most courteous reader: you will find nothing of party politics in the following Passages from the Life of Simon Gourlay. Know, then, that Simon was a douce, respectable member of the town-council in the burgh of L----; and it was his lot or his misfortune, as he affirmed, to be a sorely persecuted elector. But we must allow Simon to narrate the history of his persecutions in his own words. "Weel," he was wont to begin, "though I verily believe I am ane o’ the most moderate men breathing, and although I seldom or never fashed my head about either Whig or Tory, I am firmly persuaded there’s no a man living that has suffered mair frae baith parties, they hae kicked me about as though I had been a sort o’ political footba’. Ye must understand that I am ane o’ the principal men in our toun-council, o’ which my faither was a distinguished member afore me. By virtue o’ my office, I had a vote for a member o’ parliament to represent our ancient burgh; and it had been the advice o’ my worthy faither to me, owre and owre again—‘Simon,’ he used to say, ‘if ye some day live to hae the honour o’ being called to the council, remember my maxim—aye vote for the winning side. Mind ye this, if ye wish yer kail to be well lithed, or to enjoy the respect o’ yer neighbours.’ Now, as I hae said, my faither was a very respectable man; he was meikle looked up to in the town, and his word, I may say, was the law o’ the council; indeed, he had a most wonderfully impressive manner o’ delivering himsel’! and when he began to speak, ye wad said it was a minister preaching; but, in the coorse o’ nature, he died, having adhered to his maxim through life, and I succeeded him in the business. Now, it was some years after this, and after I had been called to the council, there was an election took place for the burgh. There were two candidates—a Mr. Wood, and a Captain Oliver belonging to the navy. They were both remarkably pleasant weel-spoken gentlemen; as to their politics, I knew very little about them, for, as my faither used to observe, it was a very unbecoming thing for the like o’ us, that had only ae vote, to ask ony gentleman about his principles. Weel, it was at this election that my persecutions began; and sorry am I to say that they had their beginning, too, in my own family. One day I was in the shop serving some customers, and, before I was aware, Mr. Wood’s carriage stopped at the door. For onything I ken, his politics were the same as those o’ Captain Oliver; but, somehow or another, he was exceedingly popular in the toun, and the laddies had ‘Wood for ever!’ written, on the wa’s and window-shutters, wi’ bits o’ chalk. There was a crowd came rinning, and cheered round about the carriage at the shop door; for Mr. Wood generally threw awa a handful or twa o’ siller amongst them. I wad hae slipped into the parlour to been out o’ the way, had it no been that folk were in the shop, and I saw there was naething for it but to stand fire. Weel, as I’m telling ye, Mr. Wood and twa or three ither gentlemen came into the shop; and really he was a very pleasant, affable gentleman, wi’ a great deal o’ manners and condescension about him. I was much interested wi’ his look, and a good deal at a loss what to say. There was nae pride about him whatever; but he just came in, and took my hand as familiarly as if I had been his equal, and we had been acquainted for twenty years.

‘I have the honour of soliciting your vote and interest at the approaching election, Mr. Gourlay,’ says he.

‘Weel, really sir,’ says I, ‘as my faither afore me used to observe, I’ll tak the matter into consideration—it’s best no to be in a hurry; but I’ll be very happy—that is, it will afford me a great deal o’ pleasure if I can obleege ye; but—I’m rallier unprepared—ye hae taen me unawares.’

‘Well, I trust I may reckon upon you as a friend,’ said he—‘I shall be very proud of Mr. Gourlay’s support.’

‘Why, sir,’ says I, ‘as my worthy faither’—And just as I said this, some o’ the youngsters about the door set up a titter and a hiss. It was very provoking for a magistrate to be laughed at in his ain shop, by a parcel o’ idle blackguard, half-grown laddies; an’, ‘Ye young scoundrels, says I, ‘I’ll put half-a-dizen o’ ye in the blackhole. And, wi’ this, the young persecutors hissed and tittered the mair, and set up a shout o’ derision. It was vexatious beyound measure; and, as I was saying, I didna ken weel what to do, for there were folk in the shop; and, as Mr. Wood and the gentlemen that were wi’ him, pressed me to say definitely whether I wad gae him a vote, I observed Persecution also shaking its nieve at me frae the parlour! For, ye’ll observe, that it was also my misfortune to be plagued wi’ ane o’ the sairest trials o’ Job—an ill-tempered, domineering woman for a wife. She was my second wife, and mony a time hae I said, when she vexed me beyond what my spirit could bear, that I could gang to the kirkyard, and pick the remains o’ my dear first partner frae the cauld grave, bane by bane, could it restore her to my bosom again, or free me frae the persecution o’ her that had succeeded her. Weel, as I was saying, while Mr. Wood and his friends were pressing me, I threw a glent at the parlour door, which was half glass, wi’ a curtain ahint it, and got a glance o’ Mrs. Gourlay standing shaking her head and her nieve, as meikle as to say, ‘Gie him a vote at your peril, Simon!’ Whether my face betrayed ony visible tokens o’ my inward agony or no, I canna say, but it so happened that the confounded callants had got a peep at Mrs. Gourlay ahint the parlour door, as weel as me, and the young rascals, having seen her manoeuvres, cried out— ‘Three cheers for Mrs. Gourlay!" The cheers gaed through my ears like a knife—weel did I ken that they would be rung through them for a week to come! I can hardly tell you how Mr. Wood and the gentlemen left the shop! but their backs werena weel turned till a quick rap cam upon the glass at the parlour window; and a quicker voice cried—‘Gourlay, ye’re wanted.’ I desired the lads to attend to the customers, and I slipped awa ben to the parlour. There sat her leddyship, just like a tempest ready to burst.

‘Ay, man!—ye simpleton!—ye nosiewax!’ cried she; ‘and ye’ll hae the impudence to gie a vote without consulting me!—ye’ll say, as yer silly auld faither said’----

‘Come, Mrs. Gourlay,’ says I, ‘ye may carry yer cantrips upon me as far as ye like, but ye shanna, in my hearing, breathe a word against the memory o’ my worthy faither.’

‘And ye sha’na vote for Wood,’ cried she—‘or I’ll keep ye in het water to the end o’ yer days.’

‘Really, my dear,’ says I, ‘I think ye keep me in het water as it is. But I hae gien nae vote as yet; and, as my worthy faither used to observe’—

‘The mischief tak ye and yer faither!’ cried she; ‘can ye no speak without aye bleth’rin’ aboot him!’

‘Mrs. Gourlay!’ says I, ‘I’ve warned ye’—

‘Simon Gourlay!’ cried she, ‘I’ve cautioned ye’—

And just as the altercation was like to run very high, and to become very unseemly, another carriage drew up to the door, and out came Captain Oliver and his friends. The Captain was a pleasant gentleman, also, and very honest like. My wife flew and opened the parlour door; and in an instant she put on such a hypocritical, weel-pleased look. ‘Mercy!’ thinks I, ‘what’s that o’t?—a woman can change her countenance quicker than a northern light, which glimmers and vanishes before you can say Jack Robinson!’ Weel, I hastily rubbed my face wi’ my pocket handkerchief, and made a step foward to the glass to see how I looked; for I thought it would be very unbecoming in a member o’ the council, and a magistrate o’ the burgh, to be seen in a flurry, or as if he had been flytin’. I watna whether the Captain had heard that ‘the grey mare was the better horse,’ in my house or no; for there were evil-disposed persons malicious enough to say such a thing; but he came straight forward to Mrs. Gourlay; and—

‘I am most happy to see you, Mrs. Gourlay,’ said he; ‘I trust I shall have the honour of your interest. I know I have nothing to fear if I have the good wishes of the ladies upon my side; and, without vanity, Ma’am, I believe I have them.

My termagant smiled and curtsied to the very floor. ‘Pray, step in, Captain,’ said she—step in, gentlemen; Mr. Gourlay is within. I am sure you have our vote; I answer for that.’

My blood boiled; I felt indignation warm upon my face. I was stepping forward to pull her by the gown, when the Captain and his friends entered.

‘I am very much obliged to you, Mr. Gourlay,’ said he, ‘for the very handsome manner in which you have given me your support.’

‘Not all obliged to me, sir,’ said I; ‘but—but’—

Mrs. Gourlay gave me a look; and its meaning needed no words to interpret it.

‘Thank you, sir—thank you,’ said the Captain; I am indeed obliged, very much obliged, for the frank and handsome manner in which you have given me your’—

‘Excuse me, Captain,’ says I; ‘but I would wish a little time just to consider—to mak up my mind, as it were; for, as my faither’—

‘Dinna detain the Captain,’ interrupted my wife; ‘he didna ken your faither: ye must not mind my goodman, gentlemen,’ said she; he wad aye be considering and considering—but just put down his name, and nae mair about it. He daurna but vote for ye.’

‘Daurna! Mrs. Goorlay,’ says I; ‘that’s very improper language to use to the like o’ me.’

‘Ay, help us! the like o’ you, indeed, Simon!’ said she. Just put down his name, as I’m telling ye, gentlemen.’

I kenned it would be imprudent in a man o’ my respectability to flee into a passion, and so held my tongue; and the Captain, turning to me, said—

‘Good morning, sir; and I assure you I am much obliged to you.’ And, turning round to my wife and shaking her hand, he added—‘And many thanks to you, Ma’am.’

‘You are welcome, sir,’ said she; ‘very welcome to half a dozen votes; if we had them.’

What took place between us after the Captain and his party left, I will not relate to ye, for it was very disgracefu’—I’m ashamed o’t until this day; indeed, I carried the marks o’ her nails upon my face for the space o’ a fortnight, which looked particularly ill upon the countenance o’ a magistrate. Weel, it was in the afternoon o’ the same day, ane o’ the gentlemen belonging to Mr. Wood’s party, called again at the shop; and, me being in the haberdashery line, he wished to purchase a quantity o’ ribbons for election favours. To the best o’ my recollection, he bought to the amount o’ between twa and three pounds worth; and, to my surprise, he pulled out a fifty pound bank note to pay for them.

‘I fear, sir,’ says I, ‘I’m short o’ change; an ye can pay for the ribbons ony day as ye’re passing.’

‘Oh, no,’ says he, ‘don’t talk about the change--it can be got at any time.’ And he laid the fifty pound note upon the counter. ‘I trust,’ added he, ‘we may now reckon upon Mr. Gourlay’s support.’

‘Really, sir,’ says I, ‘I have not had time to weigh--that is, to turn over the subject in my mind properly; but I will consider of it. I am sure Mr. Wood has my good wishes.’

‘Thank you, sir,’ said the gentleman, leaving the shop, ‘I shall inform Mr. Wood that he may reckon upon you.’

Now, I would have called after him, that he was by no means to reckon upon onything o’ the sort, for I had not made up my mind; but I thought it would look ill, and I suffered him to leave with the impression that I was a supporter o’ his party. I couldna think for a moment that he proposed onything to a man like me by no taking the change o’ the note; and I intended to send it to the inn in the morning as soon as the Bank opened; but I happened to say, in the course o’ conversation, to a neebor that dropped into the shop a short while after, that I thought Mr. Wood was very liberal and flush o’ siller; and I unthinkingly mentioned the circumstance o’ the fifty pound note, and the change, and the ribbons. Weel, the person left the shop without making any particular remark upon the circumstance that I observed; but what was my horror, I may say my confusion and astonishment, when, just on the edge o’ the evening (for it was in the summer time,) and just as we were shutting up the shop, here’s a great gilravishing and a shouting at the end o’ the street, and alang comes twa or three hundred callants, and some young chields that were never out o’ mischief, wi’ the effigy o’ a man tied to a pole; and they had the odious thing dressed as like me as possible; but what was worse than a’. they had a great label on its breast, wi’ the words, ‘Fifty pounds for a pirn o’ ribbons!’ written on it, and they had the audacity to stand shouting and yelling, and to burn it afore my door. Me! a magistrate, and ane o’ the principal men o’ the town-council, to be thought guilty o’ takin’ a bribe! It was horrible! horrible! I first seized the yardwand, and I rushed into the crowd, and laid round me right and left, until it was shivered to pieces! and then I ran into the shop, while the mob kept hissing and yelling; and I took the fifty pound note, and gied it to ane o’ the shop-lads—‘Rin,’ says I, ‘rin wi’ that to Mr. Wood, or to the gentleman that brought it, and tell them I neither wish to see their money nor their custom.

So the lad ran wi’ the note to the inn, and did as I ordered him. But, oh! I had an awfu’ nicht wi’ Mrs. Gourlay. There wasna an ill name that she could get her tongue about that she didna ca’ me. ‘Silly Simon!’ and ‘Simple Simon!’ were the gentlest terms that she used. I was ashamed to show my face at the door, for I was the toun’s talk. But, still, notwithstanding a’ the persecution I was sufferin’, I was in a swither hoo to act, for I wqas determined, if possible, to abide by my worthy faither’s advice, an’ vote wi’ the winning side. However, it was hard to say which would be the winning side; for, though Mr. Wood was a great favourite wi’ a majority o’ the working-classes, and even wi’ a number o’ the council, an’ though he was very liberal an’ lavish wi’ his money, as I have said, yet there was a great number o’ respectable folk took a very warm interest for Captain Oliver. There were a vast o’ my best customers on baith sides, and it was really a very delicate matter for me to decide hoo to act—for ye will observe, I am the last man in the world that would offend onybody, and especially a person that I’m obliged to. Wed, just while I was pondering the matter, and considering in which way my worthy faither would have acted under similar circumstances, I received a letter in the name o’ three or four leddies, from whom I had, first and last, received a great deal o’ siller—and who, at the same time, were gey deeply in my books--and they plainly informed, that, unless I voted for Captain Oliver, they never, while they lived, would buy a sixpence worth o’ goods in my shop again. I thought it was very hard for a respectable merchant and a toun-councillor to be so persecuted and beset; and just while I was sitting very sair perplexed, in comes the postman wi’ another letter. It was frae a Glasgow manufacturer that I had lang had dealings wi’; and he trusted that I would oblige him by voting for his friend, Mr. Wood; or, if not, that I would make it convenient to pay off his bill within three days, or that he would find it necessary to adopt means to obtain payment. This was worse and worse; and I must inform you that the account which he had against me never would have been due but for the extravagance o’ my second Mrs. Gourlay. I was in a state o’ misery indescribable. I wished frae the bottom o’ my heart that I had been a hand-loom weaver, workin’ for a shilling a-day, rather than toun-councillor; for then I micht hae been independent. However, my wife seemed determined to tak the mastership in the business a’thegither; an’, what wi’ the talkin’ o’ the toun, the threatening o’ customers and creditors, and her everlasting scolding, I really was greatly to be pitied. The youngsters had bonfires round the toun in honour o’ the different candidates, and I had an excellent peat-stack behind the house. Weel, when I gaed out in the morning, what should be the first thing I observed, but that the half o’ my peat-stack was carried off bodily! ‘Confound ye for a parcel o’ persecuting thieves,’ said I to mysel, ‘but some o’ ye shall get transportation for this, as sure as I’m a magistrate!’ However, upon second thoughts, and as I had nae doubt but they had been carried off for the bonfires, and as it was likely that they wad be kindling them that night again—‘Sorrow tak ye,’ thinks I, ‘but I’ll gie some o’ ye a snifter!’ So what does I do, but sends the shop-laddie awa to an ironmonger’s for a pound o’ pouther! ‘Mortal man canna stand it!’ says I; ‘I’ll blaw up the scoundrels!’ I acknowledge it wasna just becoming the dignity o’ the leading man in the toun-council to tak sic revenge. But I slipped awa round to the back o’ the house wi’ a big gimlet in my hand, and I bores holes in a dozen or twa o’ the peats, on the north side o’ the stack, and filled them wi’ pouther; and having closed the holes, I was just gaun to tell them in the house no to tak ony peats off the north side o’ the stack, when a circumstance occurred that drove it completely out o’ my memory. Mrs. Gourlay had an idle, worthless, half-gentleman sort o’ a brother, and, to my utter astonishment and dismay, I found him sitting in the parlour when I went in. ‘Brother Simon,’ said he, stretching out his hand, ‘I shall never forget your kindness.’

‘My kindness!’ says I—‘what do you mean?’

‘Mean!’ said my wife, in her usual snappy, disdainful manner; ‘on account of our vote—which, it is believed, will be the casting vote—think o’ that, Simon Gourlay—Captain Oliver has promised my brother a place under government!’

‘My stars!’ says I, ‘a place under government!our vote!—I think, ma’am, ye micht hae consulted me before ye bought a place for your brother wi’ my vote; and, as my worthy faither used to observe, I maun be sure about the winning side before I promise onything o’ the sort.’

‘Consult you!’ cried she, like a flrebrand—‘consult you, indeed!—I’ll tell ye what, Councillor Gourlay, if ye had a spark o’ natural affection, as you ought to have, for your lawful wife, ye wad scorn to stand higgling about a paltry vote. But allow me to tell ye, sir, the thing is settled— ye shall vote for Captain Oliver; and, mair than that, I expect him and his friends to dine here this afternoon!’

‘Dine here!’ says I, and was perfectly dumfoundered, as if a clap o’ thunder had burst on my head. I felt I really was becoming a cipher in my ain house.

‘Yes, sir—dine here.’ continued she; ‘and see that ye mak them welcome, and be proud o’ the honour.’

I slipped awa into the shop, and I took out the Glasgow manufacturer’s letter, and I thought it was a terrible thing to be in debt, but still warse to be henpecked; but to be baith henpecked and in debt, was warse than death itsel’. I remained in a state of stupefaction until about three o’clock, when I was ordered to dress for dinner. Between four and five o’clock, Captain Oliver and several of his friends made their appearance. How I conducted mysel’, I’m sure I canna say—I was dowie enough, but I tried to put the best face upon it that I could. Everything passed ower weel enough until after the cloth was withdrawn; and then wine was set upon the table, and speerits for them that preferred them, and the kettle was put upon the fire to keep boiling for the toddy. The servant lassie put twa or three peats on the fire; and just as she was gaun out o’ the room, I remembered about the pouther! Never was human being in such a mortal state o’ perturbation before. The sweat broke a’ ower me. I rose and intended to rin down stairs, just to say that ‘I hoped, in the name o’ safety, she hadna taen the peats off the north side o’ the stack!’ However, I had hardly reached the stair-head, and the sneck o’ the door was still in my hand, when—good gracious!—sic an explosion!—sic a shout o’ terror!—sic a tumblin’ o’ chairs and a breakin’ o’ glasses! I banged into the room; it was full o’ smoke, and the smell o’ sulphur was dreadfu’. ‘Are ony o’ ye hurt?’ says I. There was groanin’ and swearin’ on ilka hand; and some o’ them cried ‘Seize him!’—‘Seize me!’ cried I—‘goodness, sirs, wad ye seize a magistrate in his ain house!’ The lid o’ the kettle was blawn up the chimney, the kettle itsel’ was driven across the table, wi’ its boiling contents scattered right and left, and nae small portion o’ them poured ower the precious person o’ Captain Oliver! Oh! it was terrible!—terrible!—sic a dilemma as I never witnessed in my born days. I was in a situation that was neither to be explained nor described. Some o’ them were fearfully scalded an’ scorched, too; an’ naething would satisfy them, but that I intended to blow up the Captain an’ the company! It was a second ‘Gunpouther Plot’ to secure the election o’ Mr. Wood! ‘How did I answer,’ said they ‘for the pouther being in the peats at all? and why did I leave the room in confusion, at the very moment it was about to take place?’ ‘Oh!’ thought I, as they put the questions, ‘what a lamentable situation is mine for ony man, but especially a magistrate, to be in!’ As for Mrs. Gourlay, instead of sympathising for my distress, she fled at me like a teeger, an’ seized me by the hair o’ the head before them a’. Weel, the upshot was, that I was taen before my brother magistrates; and, sinking wi’ shame as I was, I tauld the naked truth, an’ was very severely admonished. I admitted that I had acted very indiscreetly, an’ very unbecoming a member o’ the council; but I assured them, on my solemn oath, that I hadna dune sae wi’ malice in my heart. They a’ kenned me to be a very quiet, inoffensive man’ an’ the Captain’s party agreeing that, if I voted for him the next day, they would push the matter no farther, I gied him my hand an’ promised, an’ the business was dropped. But the next day, the great day of election, came. Until I had promised, the numbers o’ the candidates were equal; and, sure enough, mine was the important—the casting vote. Wed, just as I was stepping down to the tounhouse, wi’ my een fixed upon the ground—for I was certain that everybody was looking at me—some person tapped me upon the shoulder, an’ I looked up an’ there was a sheriff’s officer! A kind o’ palsy ran ower me frae head to foot in a moment! Mr. Gourlay,’ said the man, ‘I am sorry to inform ye that ye are my prisoner.’

‘Is it possible?’ said I. ‘Weel, if ye’ll just allow me to gang up an’ vote, I’ll see about bail.’

‘Ye may come into the public-house here,’ said he; ‘but I canna allow ye to vote, nor to go out o’ my sicht.’

Weel, I was arrested for the debt that I owed to the manufacturer. It was gey heavy, and during an election though it was, I found bail wasna to be had. I voted nane that day, an’ that night I went to jail. I lay there about three months, an’, when I got free, I found that I was also freed from the persecution o’ Mrs. Gourlay, who had broken a blood-vessel in a fit o’ passion, an’ during my imprisonment, was buried by the side o’ her ain relations; an’ such are the particulars o’ my persecutions during an election; an’, certainly, every reasonable an’ feeling man will admit I had just enough o’ it, an’ mair than I deserved."

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