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Autobiographical Reminiscences of David Johnston
Chapter IX

Oh! bonnie Tweed, so glorious in thy sheen,
Of all the northern rivers thou 'rt the queen.
In ages yet to come thy crystal tide,
To beautify will flow, nor to divide.

Nor will your hills and gently sloping braes
Lack those to sing in anthems to thy praise;
Each, shore with shore, in harmony combine,
Eschewing scenes that marked a darker time.

May ne'er again high-handed war prevail
To mar the beauty of thy fruitful vale.
Your classic stream evokes the sacred nine,
To bless your sons with happiness divine.

LIKE all good mercantile firms we paused to take stock. We chose the middle arch of Berwick bridge whereon to overhaul our exchequer, and found ourselves in possession of one shilling and ninepence wherewith to do the hardest part of our journey, without any budget to fall back on. We were now in England, and though the Northumbrian is famed for hospitality, we began to feel lonely and dispirited, and a keen sense of our folly and wickedness took possession of our souls. We knelt in the mud, and prayed to be forgiven of the giver of every good gift. How could we use such good, kind parents as we both had so heartlessly cruel? But the die was cast. The twin necessities were upon us. Proceed and suffer, or return to disgrace. By the time we reached Alnwick our last penny had found its way into unknown coffers, so that in the future the distension of our stomachs had to depend upon corresponding shrinkage of our wardrobe. The sale of a shirt supplied the wants of Sunday, which we decently spent in the ancient town of Alnwick, the noble and princely seat of Percy, Duke of Northumberland. Recuperated, both in mind and body, and weather improving, the old sea-mania returned with ten-fold force. It would never do for us to keep the straight road through Morpeth to North Shields. The thought of walking all that distance without one glance at our darling element was preposterous. We directed our steps eastward to the coast. The good and evil resulting from this idiotic whim, were first, viewing the beautiful country lying between Alnwick and the barren waste which for many miles lines the Northumbrian shore; the chance of viewing the Coquet Island and Warkworth Castle, the most ancient stronghold of the Percys in the early Plantagenet and Tudor times, and the endurance of the pangs of an empty stomach for a longer period than we had hitherto experienced. Our chosen path led through a sandy rabbit warren, destitute of the semblance of humanity. About mid-day we spied a house, a mile off in the interior, to which hunger prompted us to approach and make known to the lady of the house our hapless condition. We offered her a shirt for eighteen pence, half the price in bread and milk. "Na, lads, I dunna want your shirt, but thou'lt get some bread and milk and welcome," was her kind reply, and suiting the action to the word, placed before our ravenous vision a large wooden platter, heaped with wheaten and oaten bread, and abundance of milk, which we devoured with such a gusto as must have astonished the kind-hearted Samaritan. With our blessing and many thanks for her hospitable entertainment, we rose and departed, with the blush of shame mantling on our cheek at the greedy-like manner in which we cleaned out her bountiful supply. About dusk we reached the harbor of Blythe, and the town being on the south bank of the river, how to get across became a question of some moment. Bridge there was none, and the fare per head by boat, one penny. Our pennies had all departed to be the slaves of others. We offered a pair of good braces to row us over the ferry. The hoary-headed Charon laughed us to scorn. Nothing but the hard cash for him. My companion, on exposing the braces he wore, was reminded that he had long worn as brace buttons four farthings, perforated to receive the thread. "I will take these four farthings," said the boatman, "and keep them in remembrance of the poverty-stricken Scotch, and row you over the ferry." The bargain struck, off came the farthings, pocketing the affront, and we were in due time safely landed on the southern shore of the river. Being a fair day the town was crowded with people from the surrounding country, and all the beds bespoken. However, a bed was by a kind lady improvised on the floor of her clean little cottage, and on the following morning with a diminished bundle, we set out in rain to finish our tedious journey in quest of slavery on the trackless deep. We arrived at the conflux of the teeming, busy Tyne with the German ocean. Here, on a high hill, stands the celebrated Tynemouth Castle, from the beautiful esplanade, of which you have a commanding view of one of the richest scenes in England. The thriving towns of North and South Shields, the river, covered with ships and keels employed in coal-carrying to all parts of the known world, together with the coast view as far south as Flamborough Head, embracing Sunderland, Whitby, Scarborough and other busy marts of trade—a panorama well worth a week's march to see. Here we received a lesson in economy which has proved valuable to me through life. In the middle of the road lay a lump of good bread, covered with mud, and nearly saturated with rain, which we carefully cleansed and nicely divided, and dropped it into our respective internal membranes, which were writhing to be employed.' From that day to this I am pained to see the blessing of bread wasted. This morsel was like manna from heaven, sweetened by the need. Previous to descending the hill we sat down to take stock of our diminishing store of worldly goods, and soon perceived that my Sunday trousers were destined to depart from their wonted usefulness to meet a more urgent exigency. The difference between buying and selling I had become pretty familiar with, but parting with that garment for one shilling and sixpence, which had cost seven shillings, and was very little the worse for wear, I confess gave me a heavy pang. But go they must, and they went. The price of them sufficed to carry us over the first night in North Shields. It will be seen by this humble narrative that all through this wild, reckless breach of propriety our consequent self-inflicted condition was wonderfully relieved by acts of kindness on the part of others, making more poignant the sense of shame for our too palpable misconduct. My nether garment disposed of, and one-third of the proceeds thereof consumed, we had picked up another boy who was worse off than ourselves. He had neither money nor clothes, so he came under the shadow of our wing and shared with us all the benefits of the firm, because he was of the same name as myself (at least he said so) and on the same scapegrace errand. (Misery loves company.) Providence now directed our steps to the door of one of the most angelic women on this globe. It required but one glance of Mrs. Cookson to read the character of the three scamps who stood on her threshold in quest of shelter for this drizzly night. "Only on one condition can I take you into my house. Sit down and write each to your mother," which we did.

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