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Wilson's Border Tales
The Recollections of the Village Patriarch

Chapter 5

Johnny Grippy

The Grippys were a very remarkable family, and it was a common saying, that they were weel named. There were originally three brothers of them; and when I first kenned them they were ragged, bare-legged callants, but every one of them as keen as a Jew, and as hard as a flinty rock. Two of them were in the cattle line; and through stinginess, cheatery, and such like means, they amassed a power of money. But both of them died, and being unmarried, their brother Johnny became sole heir to the property. He was a man that would have walked ten miles to pick up a farthing. He keepit a shop, or what the Americans would call a store in the village, for he sold everything, new and auld, good, bad, and indifferent—eatable and wearable, or for whatever purpose it was wanted; for everything ye could think about was to be had for money at the shop of Johnny Grippy. Of late years, it was weel ascertained that he dealt extensively in sending whisky into England, and in such a way, too, that neither the dirdum, the risk, nor the loss could land at his door. But he had dealings in many concerns, both here and elsewhere. Wherever he heard of anything by which there was money to be made, he always endeavoured to get his finger in. It was affirmed that he was connected wi’ some wealthy trading companies about London, and that he had ships upon the sea. I know for a positive fact, that he went up to the great city every year, and that he actually begged his way there and back again. But it is my opinion that he made the greater part of his wealth by lending out money to usury. By this means, a great deal of property fell into his possession, for he was as cruel as a starving tiger. He was a despiser of both justice and mercy, and all he cared about was—’I maun hae my bargain.’ That was always his answer, if onybody offered to intercede wi’ him him for ony poor creature that he was distressing.

The auld knave endeavoured to cover his avarice wi’ the cloak o’ religion, and, as I have already informed ye, sought to be made an elder; and, as ye have been made aware, he never forgave our late worthy minister for the slight and disappointment, but, even against his nature, parted wi’ money to obtain a cruel revenge. It would tire you, if I were to inform you of the one thousandth part of Johnny’s meanness, and the instances of his ravening avariciousness, or the misery which he caused in the habitations of both high and low. Indeed I may say, that he grew rich through the ruin of others; and he sought the objects of misery on which he might fix his devouring talons, even as a vulture seeketh out a dead carcass.

At an enormous interest, he lent money to the auld laird; and he cunningly permitted the interest to accumulate, year after year, until the laird’s death. He also advanced sums to the young laird, at a rate even more unsurious, and got the entire title deeds of the estate into his hands as security; and when the laird fell in the duel wi’ Alexander Elliot, he seized and took possession of the Ha’ estate, and all that was thereon, claiming them as his! The whole parish was thunderstruck wi’ astonishment.

The next kin to the young laird threatened to throw the case into the Court of Chancery.

‘Let them,’ said Johnny, laughing in his sleeve, ‘they will live lang that live to see it settled there—and ‘I will hae my bargain.’

Weel, the case was thrown into Chancery, and Johnny did not live to see it settled, for settled it is not until this day, and what some one said of eternity might be said of it—it is ‘beginning to begin.’

I think ye heard that John had acquired a habit of slipping owre to Luckie Riddle’s, on the edge of his foot, for a dram before breakfast. He took a strong liking for her strong bottle, and, by way of saving the expense of the dram, he left off the practice of taking a breakfast; and when the single dram increased to two and three in the day, he confined himself to one meal,and that of the poorest and scantiest kind—a potatoe and salt, or maybe a herring as a luxury. But it was more than suspected that the potatoes on which he lived were not all honestly come by; for I myself have seen him in a field amongst other folks, stooping down and fingering at the drills, and slipping the potatoes into his coat pocket; and when asked what he was doing, he would have said (quite collectedly, for there was no possibility of confusing him), ‘Ou I am just looking what sort of a crop such a one is going to have this year.’

But the miser’s love of drink increased upon him, and the more he spent on liquor the more he hungered himself. He became a living skeleton, and in the depth of a severe winter, he was found sitting dead behind his desk, with the copy of a letter before him, in which he had instructed his man of business to sell off immediately, the husband of Peggy Lilly."

"The husband of Peggy Lilly!" interrupted the stranger, who had hitherto listened to the records of the patriarch in silence—"who was he?"

"That," resumed the old man, "seems to interest you, and wherefore I cannot divine, as I have no recollection of your face; but, if ye have patience and hearken ye shall hear all that I can tell ye of the history of---

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