The following is a reproduction of the front page of the very first edition of The Gleaner, which was kindly transcribed by Wendy-Lee Fiset.
The Drover’s Weird, a Scotch story
Written expressly for The Gleaner by Robert Sellar
First printed in The Gleaner, September 18, 1863, and continued in the following edition, September 25.
The incident, the particulars of which I am about to relate, occurred when I was a boy. Reared in a sequestered glen in Perthshire, where events that occupy and impress the mind rarely happen, the circumstances of a story, so singular and pathetic in itself, and so interwoven with the mysterious part of human existence naturally imprinted themselves on my youthful imagination in such a manner that they can never be forgotten.
It was when I was about ten years of age that a strange drover, in pursuit of his avocation, passed through our district. He was a young man for a drover, about twenty-six I should say, tall and manly in appearance, and spoke with a broad accent that told plainly of his Border parentage. I remember very well how I, in my boyish way, was pleased by his sedate manner, and how everything he said and did was marked by a quiet simple earnestness, which contrasted strongly with the boisterous heartiness of the manners that prevailed on our part. As he gradually succeeded in forming a connection with the surrounding farmers, his visits became more and more frequent, and his company more welcome, for his was one of those characters which make little or no impression on being first introduced, but which gradually and imperceptibly grow in estimation the longer they are known.
After passing thus to and fro for over a year, a house, with some grazing land attached, became vacant by its tenant emigrating to Australia. It was a pleasant though solitary place, being indeed the only human habitation in the glen in which it was situated, we being their nearest neighbours, and distant four miles. In a hilly country like ours, fit only for rearing sheep, houses were necessarily few and widely scattered. When it was noised abroad that the low country drover had taken a lease of the house thus left tenantless, general satisfaction was expressed, mingled with a good deal of surprise, for the drover was unmarried; a circumstance which gave occasion for some sly bantering, which he took in good part, but he kept his own counsel. He left for the south with a drove he had collected and returned six weeks after – with a wife. She came from the same place as himself; in fact they had known each other from infancy, and the whole parish agreed that there could not be a better fitted couple. The days in the glen passed happily for the youthful pair. He continued to make his usual journeys, but his wife’s was not a nature to sink during these intervals, for hers was one of those patient, contented dispositions that are equable and cheerful under all circumstances; busying herself with her household duties, time passed lightly by, and as she said herself, the joy attending his return more than compensated for the loneliness she felt in his absence.
It was in the succeeding spring, after they had lived about a year this way, that she observed with alarm, on her husband’s return from one of his customary expeditions, a great change in his spirits. He was inert and melancholy, seemingly as if brooding over some secret subject of disquiet. From a sensitiveness as to seeking to know what he thought best to keep from her, she avoided any direct questioning, and tried even to suppress the fact that she noticed anything unusual in his bearing, trusting the cause of it would wear away in course of time, or that he would tell her of his own accord. He went about his usual duties and evidently strove to conduct himself in his usual manner, but it was plain that whatever the cause that discouraged him might be, it was too strong to be even outwardly disguised, far less suppressed. Months passed, but the gloom that had settled on him showed no abatement. Whatever was wrong, he did not cease on that account his preparations for a fresh journey to the southern markets.
The evening before his departure he was sitting with his wife. She had been busy all day preparing for his journey, but she had not been so busy as not to observe the changing moods of her husband, which seemed to darken and increase in intensity as the day wore on. The conversation he exerted himself to maintain for the moment flagged, when he sank into an absent fit, staring gloomily at the dying embers in the hearth, his impassive features telling, in their very blankness of expression, of the silent agony within. It was too much for the yearning nature of his wife, she rose and placing her hand on his shoulder, asked “What ails you?” in a tender tone.
“Nothing, nothing,” he replied, abruptly arousing himself.
“Aye, but you ken yoursel’ there is something: how can you no tell me?”
“There is nothing,” he said softly, as he met her affectionate gaze, “naething bodily wrong.”
“Then you ha’e na peace o’ mind: somebody has done wrong by you.”
“Na, nae man has done aught o’ to me.”
“Ye’ll ha’e lost siller, then,” she said timidly.
“I have nae lost nae siller. Diana trouble yourself about me.”
“Oh, John,” she said, “there IS something wrong wi’ you. You gang daunderin’ about wi’ your head bent, and dinna lissen to what is gangin’ on about you. Ye’ve nae heart in what you dae. You’re no your auld sel’. I am weel persuaded there is in your bosom a secret trouble. Hope it is na frae me: I will share it wi’ you and pray to God he may remove this sair weight frae aff you.”
With this affectionate outburst, delivered with all the earnestness of her nature, her husband was obviously touched. He stretched forth his arms to shove her gently away, as if he wished he could have so cast his thoughts behind him, as he answered –
“I have tauld you already there is naething wrong wi’ me. Dinna tak on as you do, for that troubles me sairly: never mind how I gang on; I am aye the same to you. I can tell you naught. When I am away dinna be sad about me. That I’ll be back again,” and he spoke slowly, his voice sinking into a solemn tone, “I have nae doubt – nae doubt.”
Next morning, as the sun was slowly rising above the hills that hemmed in the little glen, streaking their brown sides with mingled bars of sunshine and shade, the drover stood at his doorway, ready for his journey. His shepherd’s plaid, without which he never travelled, was hung over his arm. In his hand he grasped the crook characteristic of his calling.
“It’s a braw morning,” he said to his wife, who was standing by his side, and a tranquil expression passed over his face, for the beauty of the morning had awoken remembrances of many such mornings past, the prelude to days of happiness. “Goodbye, gude wife,” he said, grasping her hand, “we’ll ha’e a blithe meeting to mak’ up for this. Dinna be anxious about me, and take good care o’ sayel.”
“Do so, do so,” she said warmly, “may God preserve you.”
He answered with a tighter grip and turned away. She watched him as he followed the devious footpath that led through the glen, now appearing and disappearing according to the irregularities of the ground ‘till his tall form, with the plaid dangling from his arm, was finally lost to her sight by the road taking a more decided destination. It was the last time she was ever to see him so depart.
It was a fortnight after his departure, that a stout Border drover was hustling and pushing his way through the crowded streets of Manchester on a Saturday night. While thus slowly making his way, his keen eye was caught by the waving of a plaid from the shoulders of a figure that rose above the crowd before him. “If I’m no mista’en, I ken that chiel’s swagger,” was the mental ejaculation of the Borderer, as he pushed more vigorously forward. “How’s a’ wi’ you, John,” he exclaimed, as he grasped him suddenly by the arm.
“Eh,” said he thus startled, who was none other than our old acquaintance the drover. “It’s you, Brodie, is it,” he added, as he recognized in the interrupter of his reverie an old acquaintance, and warmly shook his hand.
“Ay it’s me, man, sure enough, though I didna’ think o’ meeting you here at this time.”
“It’s onto’ my usual road, but I cam’ here to settle we’the man wha’boet my knowt at Huddenfield fair, but it’s settled now, and I leave on Monday mornin’ for home.”
“Ay for your wife, puir body; she’s woel, I hope. They’ll no forget you or her at Boughead in a hurry. An’ what kind o’ ransom got you for your knowte?” And the Borderer, keen at bargains, reverted to subjects in which he had a professional interest. The two Borderers, for John was a native of the same dale as his friend, who had known him from a child, and had watched his progress in life with something akin to paternal interest, walked along together, indulging in such desultory conversation as the crush and bustle around them permitted. It did not escape the notice of the elder drover, however, that though John answered his questions with his usual shrewdness and equanimity, that a change had come over him – that there was something weighed upon his mind. When they came to the corner of the street at which their ways separated, John seemed to make some internal effort as he said, “I wad like to see you again before I gang awa’; I ha’e something on which I wad ha’e you avise me.”
“I ken a quiet house where you can do so now,” said the elder.
“Na, no just noo , and it wadna maybe lawfu’ to speak o’ it to-morrow , for it is the Sabbath, though to be sure we are no in Scotland; but gin ye’ll meet me at the tavern at the right hand of the wood market on Monday morning, I’ll be there at 5 o’clock.”
“Aweel, John, gin it will no do now, I’se meet you on Monday mornin’ as you wish.” And with this mutual agreement they parted.
The sun was beginning to peer above the roofs of the lofty houses that line the streets of Manchester when Brodie was walking along its silent and deserted streets. On entering that which had been agreed upon for the appointment, he perceived him walking back to and fro, moodily and absorbed, waiting him. On the Border’s hearty salutation, he answered himself, and led the way up a narrow, overarched entry, which opened into a small square court, at one side of which a lantern was lighted. Early as it was, its door was open, and its interior cleaned and arranged for the day’s business. Both seemed familiar with the place, and were soon seated in a small room, the narrow window of which, closely walled in on all sides, admitted a kind of twilight.
“Hech, that fits weel sae early in the morning, though it be us so good as our north country spirit,” quoth the substantial Brodie, as he smacked his lips after a hearty sip at the measure which a trim servant-girl had placed on the table.
“Now, what ha’e you to tell me John? You soeme dull; I maun be on the road in an hour.”
“You have travelled the bye road to Perth that gangs by Callender?” commenced John abruptly, unheedful of his friend’s remarks.
“I have,” was the reply.
“And ye’ll maybe mind(?) a burn that crosses the middle of the moor before ye’ reach Balerame???
“That I do,“ again replied his companion, to whom every mile of Scotland was familiar.
“Weel what I have got to say is soon tauld; ye’ll may be laugh at me, but it has been a sair burden to me for the last eight weeks. I had been at the fair of Kelso, and was on my road homeward when I entered on that moor at nightfall. I had been away for over four weeks, and the thought of being with my wife so sune, made me forget the loneliness of the road and my sin weariness. It musta ha’e been near midnight when I reached the barn; it was pit-murk though clear, for their wasna a cloud in the heavens. Weel, I wasna thinkin’ o’ ought but what was pleasant, my spirits were as guid as ever they were and my head as clear, but the moment I put my foot across the burn (there’s a murkle grey stone at the spot), something, I ken na what, come over me, my heart sunk within me, my flesh cleaved to my bones as if it would enter them, and the conviction flashed across my mind, as distinct and sure as if an angel had thundered it in my lug, that when I crossed that barn again I would be a dead man. But I saw nothing; nor was there a sign o’ a living creature, nor a soun’ to be heard on the whole moor. Awoel, I recovered in a moment from my dream, or what you might to ca’ it ( but I wasna a dream, for I had a’ my senses and they were sharper than ordinar’), and I tried to recollect something and sought to explain it awa’ to tayed, and to shake off the awfu’ feeling that bore down my mind, but I couldna. No, nor though I’ve fought against it ever since. It’s there and winna be shaken off. The conviction that settled on me at that moment is as deep, as strang, and as certain at this moment as it was then.
The drover paused: his narrative had added a terrible earnestness to his speech, which needed not the solemnity of his manner and countenance to convince one of his sincerity and strength of belief in the mysterious visitation of that night. His brother-drover, hard-headed and practical in the business of life, shared in the then general belief of the supernatural. “God save us, “he ejaculated, “I never heard o’ the like this. And have you seen anything connected with the forecast since, or felt ye ever anything like it before?”
“No; nor did I ever think o’ sic things.”
“It’s fearsome, and ye saw nothing? But ye’ll tak’ the warning and not tempt the spirits by crossing the barn as long as you live.”
“I winna do that; what’s foreordained maun come to pass. I dinna ken that I ever did anything why my life should be shortened by mair than other folks. The warning may have been sent to me in mercy, that I might prepare myself in earthly and spiritual matters. And I am prepared. I’ve tauld no body aboot this, but when I met you on Saturday night I thought it my duty to do so, for you is last friend’s face I will likely ever see. I didna tell my wife, for it wad ha’e grieved her to nae purpose; I thought o’ tellin’ the minister, but he could ease mair than any other mortal, put back the hands’ o’ time. Gla I meet my death before my wife see me,” and here the observer might have marked a quaver in his voice, “ye’ll tell her what I have told you, and see that she get her rights- there’s no a bodle due me – and tell her it was of her I thought last.”
With all his solicitude and compassion for his young friend, the Borderer knew not how to advise him. “Woel, John,” he said, “I hope you may be mista’en as to what the forecast means, and I wad ha’e ye tak’ anither road; but if so be it wull, I’ll do your bidding, though I trust in Providence there may ne’er be cause to do it.”
With that they rose and re-entered the street. The factory bells were ringing, and groups of artisans and mill-girls were passing to resume their monotonous labour. The paths of the two drovers here separated, and with a strength of grasp that indicated the depth of attachment on the one side and affection on the other, and the conviction that it might be for the last time, they silently shook hands and each took his respective way.
It was on the beginning of the week succeeding that on which he had held his conference with Brodie in the Manchester tavern, that the drover reached, on his way homeward, the inn that stood on the verge of that moor associated in his mind with such terrible anticipation. The moor, a vast bleak expanse, formed the barrier at that point between the Lowlands and the Highlands. On the one side, the diversified country of the south, rich and cultivated, rose gradually until it melted into the tableland of the moor, which in its turn extended northward until it was broken abruptly by a range of lofty mountains, that sprang almost perpendicularly from its marshy level. Openings here and there could be detected in this formidable rampart, being the passes or glens by which access was had to the country beyond. To one of these openings, which lay obliquely to the little inn (the last habitation the traveller would meet till he reached the dwellings of the store farmers buried among the hills beyond), the drover’s road lay. It was nightfall when he had reached the inn, but some inner impulse urged him to continue his journey: by walking all night it was possible for him to reach his own home by daybreak. The public rooms of the inn were crowded, there was to be some fair or gathering at a neighbouring village the next day, so that a confused gathering of shepherds and farmers filled the little room, banishing quiet and comfort from its walls by their ceaseless talking and restlessness. He recognised none of the assemblage, and was in no mood to be interested by their notions or conversation. He sat down in a retired nook by the fire that blazed in the wide chimney, and there, unnoticed, he rested himself and took some refreshment to prepare himself for his further exertion. On the opposite side of the fireplace, crouched on a low settle, was a woman whose brow still bore traces of youthful prime and whose dark hair and full saturnine features told of gypsy blood, hushing a child to sleep. She was apparently as occupied with her own thoughts and as indifferent to the tumult around as himself. In her expression the drover had perhaps discovered some kindred resemblance to his own and thoughts, or more probably her presence reminded him of her who was at that moment, in the solitary glen, waiting for him at his own lonely fireside. When he rose to depart, and had adjusted his plaid, he approached the woman as she hung over her child and dropped a shilling in her lap. She raised her head, for the first time that he had observed, and fixing her large liquid black eyes on his face for a moment, she said, as she resumed her old position, “Tak’ it back, sir; I canna tak’ the silver o’ a doomed man.” The words seemed a confirmation of his own forebodings. He said nothing, but took the money she held towards him, and left the house.
The day that had closed had been a fine one, and the evening was serene and beautiful. The moon rode high in the unclouded expanse. Resolutely the drover bent his steps towards the moor of so dreadful omen to him, determined to brave his fate, and was lost to sight as he strode rapidly on his solitary course.
On the second day succeeding the evening on which the drover had set forth on his journey across the moor, an old man, accompanied by a white pony as ancient as himself, on whose back were slung two panniers, was slowly making his way over it. He was not a peddler, though to judge from the goods with which the baskets were filled he did a little in that way too, but rather a kind of irregular carrier, who executed the little commissions of the farmers of the district; keeping up a communication between them in their solitary retreats and the villages of the low-country. This simple, though useful, service he had performed for nearly thirty years. He was now on his way north to deliver to his patrons their respective parcels, letters, or messages as the case might be. The day was beautiful; bright and warm. Even the moor, in all its dreary sterility, was pleasant in the sunshine that warmed its brown surface into life. But what part of nature can be called ugly or unpleasant? Does not the heather-bell bloom amidst the quagmires of the moss, and where can the sense of everlasting repose (of which man in this world can form at best so poor a conception) be more strongly felt than in the stony wilderness of the gaunt shapeless mountains? On trudged the old man, keeping pace with the sober step of his laden companion, picking a devious path among the bogs that, in parts, honeycombed the surface of the moor; the only sign of life that crossed his way, being the cry of the moorfowl that was startled from its covert by his approach.
As the day wore on fatigue and appetite suggested a halt. The sun had reached its meridian, when he finally stopped by a small stream that oozed, rather than flowed, over its spongy bed, and which afforded along its margin some tufts of grass for his pony. The girths were loosened, and the faithful animal began, by the side of his master, to patiently crop his scanty feed, while the old man himself munched his oaten-cake and bite of cheese. It was thus engaged that his eye, roving idly around, was caught by the sight of a recumbent figure stretched beside a grey stone on the other side of the burn, and wrapped in a plaid. Though surprised at such a choice of lodging, he thought it was some shepherd who had fallen asleep, and so cried out. But no response came. Urged by curiosity he crossed the stream, and as he approached the figure he saw that it was that of a young man, tall and well made, the face inclined to the ground. He shook him, and then he gently turned his face up – it was the face of a dead man. It was John, the drover. Even the old man, too accustomed from infancy to the sorrows and privations of poverty to be startled by any incident, was rendered motionless with surprise and horror at the ghastly sight. As he recovered his usual equanimity, his first idea was that the unfortunate man had been murdered, but he could find no mark of violence, and the features were placid as if he had fallen asleep. He thrust his hand into his bosom, where he knew such men carried their money, and pulled out a pocketbook well stuffed with banknotes.
“He hasna’ been robbed and he hasna’ been murdered,” soliloquized the old man, “then how has he cam by his death? He is young, tae, and got siller, so neither is it age or poortith that has killed him. Comely tae and weel-faured; frae his brown haire and blue een I’d say he was frae the South. Nae doubt some heart will be wae when they hear o’ his misfortune.”
When the old man had exhausted his stock of conjectures as to the cause of his fate, the question suddenly struck him as how he was to dispose of the body. It puzzled him. He was more than halfway across the moor, the nearest habitation to him being the little inn on its south border, but which as it lay obliquely from him, was at least nine miles distant.
“I might tak him there,”said the old man to himself, “for it wad be unchristian to leave him here streekit, by himsel’, a nicht langer, but it wad tak me out o’ my way and it wad be near dark gin I reached it, and then they mightna ken aught about him. I’ll tak him,” he said, at length, after musing a while,” to Auchleck, the road I’ve got to gang. It’s no muckle farther than the inn, and they are as likely to ken wha he is.”
So deciding he prepared for his journey. With some difficulty he succeeded in getting the corpse upon his pony’s back, where he secured it as well as he could, and began, with his mournful load, to slowly traverse the moor. Burdened with the additional load, twilight was beginning to steal upon the day when the old man and his pony entered the glen in which Auchleck was situated. Auchleck, the abode of a considerable sheep-owner, was a farm-steading of some extent.
Those familiar with the mode of life in such houses, will know how, in the summer evenings, when the men return from the hill and the lasses from milking the kye, it is usual to pass the hour of gloaming in noisy frolic and out-door games, before going to rest. The fun was at its height, their shouts and laughter echoing through the glen, when the old man, with his pony, appeared in their midst. Very different was their mood when they learned the ghastly nature of his pony’s extra burden. The features were at once recognized as those of the drover, for he had often been at Auchleck in pursuit of his calling; and the old carrier found that he was the new man he had so often heard about but had never chanced to meet. The body was carried into the house and treated with all respect.
As the old man had been troubled as to how he would dispose of the corpse, when he found it, so now the goodman of Auchleck was equally puzzled as to how he would act. “It wadna do,” he said, ” to keep him, puir chiel, till we sent his wife word, and I canna spare the men this being sic a gran’ spell of weather for the shearing, to tak him till her.” So after more debate, it was settled that it would be best for the old man to conclude his journey as he had begun it.
Next morning, ere the dew had left the grass, he set forth with his sad load, slowly threading his way through the passes and glens that intervened between Auchleck and the now desolate home of the dead man.
The wife of the drover was now expecting his return daily; and as each day passed without his appearing, the recollection of his moody humour, when he left, more than once recurred to her, giving rise to more than one passing pang of anxiety. But hers was not a mind to give way to imaginary fears, and she still looked forward to his return hopefully and cheerfully, continuing to perform her daily round of labour in her lonely retreat with unabated contentment and equanimity. On the evening of the day on which the old man left Auchleck, all unconscious of what was approaching, she spread the table, and made such preparations for her husband as affection suggested, and then sat down at the door to watch for his appearance. The evening, a beautiful and calm one, wore slowly on, but still she could discern no figure on the winding footpath she scanned so eagerly. Every Scotchman knows the exceeding beauty of a Highland summer’s evening. How the light so slowly dies away as to be almost imperceptible; how the waning sun-shine lingers lovingly on the bosoms of the lone, heathy hills; and how they, and the still more deserted moors, gather additional solemnity and majesty in those weird hours! Slowly, however, as the twilight dies, it had almost become imperceptible when she entered the house for a moment to see if everything was right; for she had not yet given up all hopes of her husband’s return that evening. While thus engaged, she casually turned her head, and was startled by the appearance of an old man, dressed in hodden grey, standing at the door.
“Gude e’en” was the old man’s salutation.
“Good e’en, she returned, “ye travel late, frien’.”
” The Brotach road is a sair ane to travel.”
” You came by that gate, did you; then ye’ll no ha’e seen my gudeman?”
“Were you expectin’ him,” he asked.
“I ha’e been expectin’ him these four nichts past, and to-nicht I was sure he wad come,” and as she said so, she cast an eager look down the glen, as if she could perceive him she so ardently desired through the gloom that had now settled on all around.
The old man seemed uncertain for a moment as to how he should act; he feared the consequence of his fatal news, yet he wished to unburden his mind.
“Well, my dear,” he said, his voice involuntarily trembling with emotion, “you expectit him, and he has come.”
“Come! What! Whare is he?” the unfortunate wife exclaimed, starting up.
“Tak it easy, my bonny doo; submit to the dispensations o’ a gracious Providence. Ye’re gude-man is dead, and is on my powny’s back out by.”
The blow was too much; a half-suppressed shriek of agony escaped her lips, and she sunk senseless into a settle.
“Noo, God hae pity on her, puir shorn lamb,” the old man said as he raised her head, and pressed a cup of water to her lips.
She had not altogether fainted, however, though the shock had been too severe and unexpected for her admirably disciplined nature to bear. As the first effects of the news passed away, and she became conscious of the full extent and bitterness of her loss, above all rose that strong sense of duty that was ever present to her mind, – her duty towards God and her fellow creatures; which, if it subtracted not from the poignancy of her feelings, at least enabled her to confine them in her own bosom, and subdue their manifestations, and bear them patiently.
They bore the body between them, and laid it on the bed. When she uncovered the face, the unfortunate wife seemed to again lose her self-possession, but it was only for a moment. The old man’s pony found a bed by the side of the cow, the patient companion of the newly-made widow, and he himself was soon seated at the supper she had prepared for her husband.
After he had finished, and as they sat by the fire, he told her how he had found her husband lying dead on the moor; how he had borne him to the farm-house of Auchleck; had there learned his name, and how he had then taken him to her that day. The old man, wearied as he was, would have sitten up with her all night, but she persuaded him to lie down. For herself, she sat by the lifeless remains of her late husband, but what her sorrow or her feelings were during that long vigil we seek not to intrude upon or to know. As had been agreed upon the previous night, the old man arose with the first dawn of morn, and set forth over the hills to our house, as being the nearest neighbours, to get assistance. By the time he had reached it, all the men had gone to the hill for the day, but my mother, who was greatly moved at the old man’s tidings, at once set forth, with a servant and myself, then a stripling, for the house of sorrow. The news of the calamity that had fallen on the humble cottage of the glen soon spread, and universal commiseration was expressed.
The funeral took place the following day, and although it was in the midst of the busiest season, every farmer, shepherd, and hind within a wide circuit was present. It was the largest funeral within our district, I heard old men say, for thirty years. The impressive nature of the mournful procession, as it slowly wound its way among the glens and over the hills to the churchyard, which was at a considerable distance, I shall never forget.
Many kind offers were made by the neighbours to the widow, but she thankfully declined them all; nor would she return to her native district though several of her relatives (she had no near ones), on hearing of her misfortune, had come to take her away with them. She lived in the house where she had known so much of joy and sorrow, till the lease expired in the fall, when she removed to a little village not far from the churchyard where her husband was buried. There she passed her life unobtrusively, eking out her little income by spinning, beloved by many for her acts of kindness, and known and respected by all.
The Story of an Adventurer
Midwinter at St. Petersburgh, two centuries ago. A man, thinly clad for that inclement season of the year, paced with brisk steps before the cathedral dedicated to St. Alexander of Neski, ever and anon plucking a handful of loose snow from the earth and applying it to his nose. A novel substitute for snuff, you will say. It is a necessary precaution. In that severe climate a man rubs his nose every five minutes, or it freezes. If he neglects this simple precaution he loses his nose. Remember this, if you ever visit St, Petersburgh.
The bells were jingling merrily, and the sleighs dashing along the thoroughfare at lightning speed. The solitary and thinly clad pedestrian gazed wistfully at the splendid equipages of the nobles, sighed enviously, stopped for a moment in an abstraction of thought, then gathered more snow and rubbed his nose more vigorously than before.
A sleigh, drawn by two fiery steeds of the Ukraine breed, driven by a serf and containing a single occupant wrapped in rich furs, came dashing up the street. It surged with a noise like the report of a pistol against the sidewalk, the noble plunged into a snowbank, and the frightened horses dashed madly down the street, dragging after them the wreck of the sleigh.
A crowd gathered around the noble and released him from the snow. The thinly clad man alone assisted the driver. The noble was raised to his feet and approached the serf.
“Is he hurt?” he inquired of the man, who was bending over the prostrate form of his late driver.
“He is, worthy sir,” was the reply. “His leg is broken.”
An imprecation burst from the lips of the noble, and he stamped his heel angrily upon the ground.
“Malediction on the slave’s carelessness! The dog was valuable, and now his services are lost to me!” muttered the noble.
“Not so, your excellency,” answered the man, who had overheard the exclamation of the noble.
“I am a surgeon, and I can set the broken limb. In a short time he will again be at your excellency’s service, and as useful as ever.”
This suggestion seemed to please the noble. He immediately summoned one of the public sleighs and had his wounded serf placed within it, while he invited the surgeon to a place beside him in another. It was evident from the readiness with which his commands were obeyed that he was a personage of some consideration in the city.
The party were driven to a palace that stood upon the banks of the Neva. The serf was conveyed within by the attendants, who flocked instantly to the portal at their master’s summons. The noble and the surgeon followed. The serf was placed on a low table in the centre of the apartment, and the surgeon proceeded to examine the fracture.
“Shall I send for your instruments?” inquired the noble.
“I have them all here,” answered the surgeon, drawing a small leathern case from the breast pocket of his furry coat. “I never stir a step without them – so, you see, I am always prepared for accidents like this.”
“Your forethought is excellent,” returned the noble, nodding his head approvingly. “Call for whatever you require. My servants will attend you. When you have performed the operation, come to me for a few moments.”
He turned to one of the servants, saying: “Stroloff, you will conduct the gentlemen to my cabinet at his good pleasure.” And with a slight bend of the head, he withdrew.
“Evidently a person of distinction,” thought the surgeon, as he proceeded, with much skill, to render his professional aid to the serf.
The fracture was a compound one, and the operation of resetting the broken limb necessarily a painful one. With all his skill and care the surgeon knew he must be inflicting great pain. He could see the large drops of perspiration ooze from the pale brow of the poor serf, yet no cry of anguish, not even a moan, broke from his lips.
“You are a brave fellow!” cried the surgeon, with admiration, when the operation was successfully performed.
“Did anybody catch the horses, Blazek?” demanded the serf, one of his companions.
“Yes,” returned Blazek, “Lapoukin, the horses have been caught, and are now in the master’s stable.”
The surgeon gazed curiously at his patients. His abnegation of self was something new to him.
“I shall see you again, my brave fellow,” said the surgeon.
“If you do not,” returned Lapoukin, “I shall never forget you. Even dogs are grateful.”
The surgeon followed Stroloff and was soon ushered into the cabinet of the master of the serf. He found the noble disencumbered of his furs and wearing a rich robe, beneath which, upon his embroidered white waistcoat, was the insignia of several orders.
He motioned the surgeon to a chair and desired him to be seated. The surgeon did so, with the air of a man who could adapt himself to any place or circumstance.
“You do not know me, I presume?” began the noble. “The preliminary of all conversation should be an introduction. Permit me, I am Count Goloffkin, Minister of Police, and Member of the Council of Regenev.”
The surgeon arose, bowed profoundly, and said:
“I am called Lestoq – born in Moldavia, but lately from the surgical school of Paris. Here is my stock in trade.”
He pulled out the leathern case and opened it so that the count might see its contents. It contained a SINGLE LANCET! With another profound bow, Lestoq resumed his seat.
Goloffkin smiled pleasantly, crossed his left leg over his right, nursed his knee gently, and all the while looked fixedly at Lestoq, who bore the scrutiny unflinchingly. Each felt that he had encountered a kindred spirit. Craftiness was as equally personified in the yellow eyes, hooked nose, and thick lips of Goloffkin, as in the broad forehead, long straight nose, clear gray eye and thin lips of Lestoq.
“When did you arrive in St. Petersburgh?” asked Goloffkin.
“Your object in coming hither?”
“To make my fortune.”
“Umph! Foreigners have ever done well in Russia, since first they were induced to visit our bleak climate by Peter the Great. You depend upon your wits to work your way to profit and renown?”
“I have nothing else to depend upon.”
“You have come to a good field. Our Russians are sluggish. Like most of your class the opportunity meets you halfway. Some people call this fate. We will not debate it. I was looking for just such a man as you, when lo! accident throws you in my path.”
“I felt assured that your excellency would find a use for me.”
“You are shrewd and skillful – a master of your profession, that I saw at once. You have talents beyond that profession. Your fortune is before you: shall I show you the way to it?”
“If you will condescend to favor me so much?”
“The Princess Elizabeth requires a physician – that office shall be yours.”
“The Princess Elizabeth, the daughter of Peter the Great?”
“Yes. When Elizabeth was offered the throne she refused, and Anne of Courtland was crowned empress. Elizabeth retired to Neuski, where she now resides. There are ever discontented men who seek to foment disturbances. The name of Elizabeth is a strong rallying cry for conspirators. As the daughter of Peter the Great, she is idolized by the people. Anne of Courtland has resigned the throne in favor of her infant son, Prince Ivan, and formed a Council of Regency, consisting of herself, Osterman, Munich and myself. Now we do not know that Elizabeth conspires, but she may. It is, therefore, necessary that a strict watch should be kept upon her actions. I send you to her as her physician – you understand?”
“I do – thoroughly.”
“You will report to me at stated periods all that takes place at Neuski. Be faithful, and your reward shall be ample, dare to breathe a whisper of your true mission, and Siberia shall be your doom.”
“It is colder there than here,” returned Lestoq, pleasantly; “Your excellency knows that it is not a desirable residence, and, therefore, I need not assure you that I shall endeavor to abstain from visiting that extreme portion of the Russian empire.”
Goloffkin nodded his head, approvingly.
“You are the very man I need. Be true to me, and rich honors are before you. Take this purse, furnish yourself with all things needful for your new situation. In a fortnight be prepared to depart for Neuski.”
“I will be ready.”
Goloffkin summoned a serf, and Lestoq was conducted from the palace.
“I have found a capital tool for my purpose,” mused Goloffkin.
“Be true to him”, exclaimed Lestoq, mentally. “I will be true to myself. I came to St. Petersburg to win honor and wealth, and the threat of Siberia shall not deter me from my purpose. I have risen one step, let me see what will be the next.”
At the expiration of the fortnight, he departed for Neuski, and was installed as physician to the Princess Elizabeth. Time passed on. Lestoq had found favour in the eyes of the Princess Elizabeth, and Goloffkin was more than satisfied with him. Let us look in upon him in Castle Neuski. You would hardly recognize him now. His long black hair is combed back from his forehead, powdered, and tied in a cue upon his neck. His shabby, furry coat has been changed for one of velvet, richly embroidered, and his waistcoat and small clothes are of satin. A jeweled sword hangs by his side, more for ornament than use.
He sits at a table, writing. He throws down the pen and reads aloud what he has written. It is but a line.
“The princess does not conspire!
“… My usual despatch to Goloffkin,” says Lestoq, communing with his own thoughts. “The princess does not conspire – but she shall! It is time to take another step upward. I will sound the princess today.”
He rang a bell upon the table, and a courier entered the apartment. Lestoq folded up the dispatch, sealed and directed it, and gave it to the courier, who instantly departed.
Lestoq remained at the table absorbed in thought. A distant door opened, and the rustling of silk proclaimed the approach of a female. These sounds were lost upon Lestoq; absorbed in meditation he heeded them not.
The lady, for so her dress proclaimed her, approached him cautiously, a mischievous look quivering in her eye. She was true Muscovite, you could see that at a glance. Petite in figure, with a fair complexion, auburn hair, and light blue eyes. Her age could not have been over twenty. The most casual observer would have pronounced her pretty. She was more than this – she was shrewd, witty, and intelligent. Such was Rozetsky Potemkin, the favorite maid of honour to the Princess Elizabeth.
The young surgeon, Lestoq, could not fail to be attracted by the wit and pleasantry of the sprightly Rozetsky. An acquaintance had sprung up between them which soon ripened into a warm feeling. You will not wonder then that Rozetsky rested her plump, dimpled arms upon Lestoq’s shoulder and peering mischievously in his face, exclaimed:
“Dreaming, in broad daylight, Lestoq! Are you in love, or are you conspiring?”
“Both – faith!’ cried Lestoq, rousing from his abstraction, and with a quick movement catching Rozetsky around the waist and forcing her to a seat upon his knee. “You know, Rozetsky, that I love you dearly, and I shall even be obliged to conspire to make you mine.”
“You have not asked my consent yet,” said Rozetsky, demurely.
“Nor do I intend to do so, until I have won title that will make me worthy to claim the heiress of Potemkin.”
“Have you ever been to Siberia, Lestoq?” asked Rozetsky, looking with a mocking expression on his face.
“No, bah! That cold ghost cannot frighten me, I will be something or nothing. This little hand is one of the prizes I seek. If within six months I become the first man in the empire, shall it be mine?”
He held that fair, plump hand in his own firm grasp as he spoke, and he felt a gentle pressure in answer to his question. He tried to catch Rozetsky’s eye, but her head was averted, and a radiant blush overspread her cheek. She suddenly untwined herself from his embrace and stood before him, placing her hand upon his shoulder and gazing earnestly into his face, saying:
“Be careful, Lestoq – O, be careful for my sake!”
“Fear nothing, Rozetsky; I have too much at stake to be careless.”
A few more words and they parted. The bold schemer went sedulously to work. His eloquent pleadings induced the Princess Elizabeth to make an effort for the throne of her father – that effort was successful, and in the six months that Lestoq had given himself, the princess was made czarina, and he, as her prime minister, was, indeed “the first man in the empire.”
He was created a count by the grateful Elizabeth, and Rozetsky gladly shared his coronet.
We have not been dealing in fiction: this is a true chapter from Russian history.
The Registrar General’s Return: The Registrar Generals’ quarterly returns for England contain some interesting facts. The birth rate of the quarter was a fraction under 36 to a thousand of the population. The number of births was 189,611, exceeding the deaths by 71,236. This gave for each day of the three months an annual increase to the population of 783 souls. Emigration, however, modifies this increase, for during the quarter, the emigration from Great Britain reached the high figure 83,290; the number of emigrants to the United States was 56,436. The number of marriages reported was 35,454. Of these there has been an increase in the metropolis and in seven out of the eleven Lancashire districts.
The Crops: The Mark Lane express thus speaks of the harvest in Great Britain: “With another week of splendid weather, a large proportion of the fine crop of wheat may be considered gathered or safe. It would appear that it will be no difficulty this season to find samples weighing 66 pounds per bushel. Barley must vary much, and but a small yield of oats will be gathered on the light soil. Peas also turn out less than expected, and beans will be very partial. Potatoes are good, but not abundant, and the west and south-west of Ireland are now beginning to complain of disease, while in Prussia [the crop] is very deficient. The north of Europe, it would appear, has not had weather equal to our own, the harvest having been impeded by rain, which has affected the condition of much of the new corn brought to market; but prices have generally been pointing downward from the want of encouragement from England. France continues to take the lead in a lower scale of prices, the liberal offers and fine quality of the new wheat giving millers a full assurance of plenty. The same state of things has obtained here. With but little showing at the several country markets, there has been less disposition to buy, and prices for old wheat must be quoted fully as under last week; where new has appeared in quantity, a still greater reduction must be noted, with a conviction that rates have not yet reached their lowest.”
Mexico: It is at last officially stated that the Austrian Archduke Maximillan has definitively accepted the throne of Mexico for himself and his descendants. This announcement takes no one by surprise, for it has long been perfectly manifest that there could be no other sequel. Every French act in Mexico has betokened a systematic carrying out of a programme thoroughly settled in advance. Even so long ago as when the French Emperor put forward the Necker claims as his pretext for invading Mexico to secure indemnity, it was morally certain that his real object was the establishment of a throne, and that necessarily involved a previous selection of some fit person to occupy it.
The Queen, it is said, will be several weeks in Germany, and will afterwards spend part of the autumn at Balmoral. These tours, it is to be hoped, will finish the protracted and melancholy exclusion of the royal mourner.
A GLASGOW NOTORIETY: The name of Madeline Smith has almost passed from the recollection of a sensation-loving public. We happen to know, however, upon unexceptionable authority, that this young lady, after having resided for several years in the family of a Shropshire clergyman, and having won golden opinions, was recently married to an artist, who is devotedly attached to her. (WEEKLY PAPER)
A granite stone, says the PETERHEAD SENTINAL, has been successfully cut from the Cairngall Granite Quarry at Peterhead, which is to form a tomb for Prince Albert – on a smaller scale, but on the same principle as the tomb of Napolean at Paris – being placed on the floor of the vault, and not underground. The stone is ten feet long, by about seven feet broad and three and a half feet deep; and is to be cut into a sort of sarcophagus, to rest on a pedestal. Two cysts are to be cut in the stone for the insertion of coffins and lids left to be cemented down. The body of the late Prince is to occupy the one cyst; and we believe it is the express wish of her Majesty that her own remains shall be deposited in the other. The obtaining of this stone has been a work of extreme difficulty, one or two fine blocks having been already rejected for flaws. The stone weighs above eighteen tons and will at once be conveyed to Mr. Macdonald’s establishment in Aberdeen, to be dressed and polished.
Mr. Alexander Smith, the Glasgow poet, is preparing a new edition of Burns’ Poems, carefully edited throughout by himself, and having prefixed to it a criticism and a biography.
The Aberdonian in London: We are assured that the following actually took place not many days ago: A countryman from Aberdeenshire, who was in London as a witness on a Railway Bill, was one afternoon walking through Regent Street, when he felt the desire for enjoying a smoke gaining upon him. On examining his pipe, however, he found it choked, so that he had no alternative but to want his smoke or get the pipe cleared. He determined to adopt the latter, and after looking right and left, he thought of trying his luck in one of those magnificent shops for which Regent Street is famous. Entering one devoted to ladies, and after waiting for a few minutes, one of the assistants came up and politely asked what he could do to serve him, when something like the following colloquy ensued: – Aberdonian: There’s a braw day. Assistant: A very fine day, Sir; very warm. Aberdonian: Ay, its gay bet. Man, ye’ve a gran shop here. There’s nae the like o’this atween Fittie and the back of beyont. Keep ye ony tibaccy? Assisant: Sir? Aberdonian: I’m spearing gin ye keep siccan a thing as tibaccy? Assisant: I don’t know what ye mean! Aberdonian: Dinna ken fat I’m saying; I’m needin’ a fuff o’ my cuttie, that’s a’. Assistant: Really don’t understand you. Aberdonian (laughing): Weel, that blocks that. Maybe ye wid be sayin’ ye dinna understan’ me gin I was to spear for the lain o’ a preen? Assistant: Sir? Aberdonian (indignantly): Man ye’re a nout. An this is Lunnan, and a man canna get twa blaws o’ his pipe for want o’ a preen. And with this he left the shop. There was, however, a Scotch shopman present, who had heard the colloquy, and who followed the indignant Aberdonian to the door, where he presented him with a pin, drawing forth the remark that he was glad there was one in the shop who could understand good Queen’s English. (NORTHERN ENSIGN)