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Book the First - Chapter I.
My Advent on this Sublunary Scene.—Six Years' Despotic Nursery Reign.—My Deposition

I was an only son.

If my father had only been the same, he would have succeeded to the title and estates of "our family."

But not having been imbued with the proper appreciation of the value of these in this world, he allowed himself to be born the youngest of the family, one of fourteen too, and with such a large proportion of brothers that for him to look forward to succeed to the title through such a vista of male heirs as kept cropping up in the shape of nephews, would have been as hopeless a task as trying to see to the end of time list of his own Scotch cousins!

My forefathers for nearly three hundred years had been baronets, and lived in an old baronial castle on the borders of the Highlands. For as many more years previously I believe my ancestors could be traced as being very worthy gentlemen indeed. But beyond that period I always steadfastly set my face against, making too minute inquiries "anent my forebears," because when a boy I remembered to have read in the Tales of a Grandfather, certain stories concerning Highland raids into the Lowlands for the purpose of "lifting" cattle, that in these operations the vile savages of the Lowlands sometimes used to kidnap their more civilised mountain neighbours, and ruthlessly consign them to a branch of the nearest tree.

Now I had always a very distinct aversion to look any of my ancestors in the face in that exalted position, and not being at all sure but that I should require to do so, if I penetrated into a too remote antiquity of my family, I wisely accepted the story of it as told in the Peerage, and burked everything antecedent.

My father, as I have said, was the youngest of fourteen. My grandfather had had two wives—of course I don't mean at the same time. The consequence was that before my father saw the light the children of his eldest sister—step-sister—did so, and I had nephews and nieces who used to dandle their uncle on their knees. I merely tell this fact to prove that in the prolific increase of the thirteen there was as legitimate a hope that "our family" would never die but for want of male heirs, as there was a legitimate excuse for my grandfather getting head over ears into debt. The hospitality of the old castle that had to be extended to the direct members of the family— not to mention "Hielan" cousins and retainers—was enough to drain a heavier purse than the old gentleman's, so he got very handsomely indeed into debt, and, being an honest man, he foolishly sold off all the unentailed portion of the fine old family estate to make himself square with the world and his own conscience. And so it fell out that the old castle and the barony lands were all that were left, and, in fine, to tell a sad story in a few words, my grand- faither died having only as many hundreds a year as his father had thousands, and sic transit gloria of old families!

You may think all this has little to do with me, but it has, for inasmuch as it affected my father's fortunes and obliged him to go forth and do battle with the world on his own account, with little to help hum in the shape of hard cash, so it happened that when my time came I had e'en to go and do likewise.

My dear worthy father's idea of starting in the world was after this fashion: he fell in love and married when he was only a boy of four-and-twenty. He certainly was not guilty of his father's inprudence, that of numbering his progeny by a dozen and one or two extra, but marrying at four-and-twenty was just about as fatal to his worldly prospects. But if fatal to worldly prosperity I am bound to record that his imprudence secured an amount of happiness rarely attained in this world. Never was there a happier union. After seven-and-fifty years of wedded life my mother passed away at the mature age of seventy-seven, and two years later—at eighty-three—my father was laid by her side. If their end was peaceful and happy, and surrounded by the comforts of this life, they had their early struggles. Of course they had, have I not already said he was the youngest of fourteen, son of a father with an exchequer at zero, whose children for inheritance had only the best of educations; but marrying at four-and-twenty, what other than early struggles could await him?

He began life with a wife and seven-and-sixpence a day as a surgeon in the Army, when the whole world was gazing with fear and wonder at that fiery meteor Napoleon the First, whose after-consignment to St. Helena disbanded my fathers regiment and sent him afloat on the world with his young wife and two young children, and no seven-and-sixpence a day to help them.

Now pray do not be impatient and think that all I have been telling is irrelevant. I flatter myself I have condensed into a marvellously small space what might have been spun out into quite a long story, merging to a point coeval with my own appearance on this world's stage, the whole scope of what has been previously written being none other than to usher myself into your presence with just that necessary introduction to enable you to understand my position when I became the "only son," as announced in the words first herein written of these my memoirs.

My earliest reminiscences of nursery life are worthy an "only brother." I remember enacting the small tyrant in a manner worthy the "only son" of a duke, let alone that of a metropolitan physician, which my father was when I appeared upon the scene. l ought rather to say that he was a family physician in a. metropolis, as he was still too young to claim the more easily earned fees of a consulting physician. Indeed, when I was enacting the nursery tyrant my father was only pushing his way into "family practice," and had difficulty in making the two ends meet.

My early years were fast ripening me into a most intolerable nuisance, as lorded it over all the women-kind in a manner that ought to have brought. down condign punishment on my young understanding. My worthy mother would have been equal to the occasion, but my father was the soft one who did the spoiling, and it was only when his organ of combativeness was direfully roused that he invoked that horribly cruel Scriptural adage, "He that spareth the rod hateth his son."

I shall only chronicle one sample of the manners and customs of the young savage I then was, to prove how well I earned the opprobrious epithet I have just given myself.

When in a particularly abominable humour I well remember I insisted, when being put to bed, that I should sit stridelegs on the neck of one of my sisters, and so have my ablutions performed. I have not the slightest doubt in my own mind that I should have grown up an unmitigated pest in the house, and perhaps afterwards in the world, if Providence had not most mercifully stepped in after I had tyrannised six years over my three sisters in the manner already described, and deposed me from my perilous reign of "only son" and youngest Child in making me no longer the latter, and giving me a fourth sister. This auspicious and happy event, all unlooked for, in the nursery in particular, and household in general, was my salvation.

How in after years, when I have pondered over the matter, have I not thanked that dear sister's arrival in true heartfelt thankfulness; showered down blessings on that singleness of purpose which caused her to appear on the family scene, and take upon herself the parental spoiling which had hitherto been my monopoly.

The transfer, fortunately for me, was complete. A very short time had elapsed ere I ceased my gambols on my sisters' necks at bedtime, and was to be found instead consigned to the tub in a summary manner, the best-behaved and most exemplary "only son" that ever got soused in soapsuds!

In justice to the new arrival I am bound to state that when in course of years she ripened into womanhood her nature had resisted all paternal indulgences, and she came through the ordeal of being the youngest of the family in a manner I am certain would have put me to shame had I remained in her position.

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