‘The Thane of Fife’ by Claymore (29 September, 1860)

This retelling of Macduff’s flight from Fife received second prize in a ‘People’s Journal’ short story competition in 1860.

Second Prize Tale

It was a dark and stormy night during the reign of the usurper Macbeth, that a man, who had evidently come a long journey, wended his way up the steep and rocky ascent that leads to M’Duff’s Castle, on the Firth of Forth. The snow was falling fast and thick, when, after mounting the brae, he arrived at the gate which was used as the chief entrance to the Castle. He sought admittance from the warden, who asked loudly for what purpose he had come. “I seek an interview with the Thane,” answered the stranger. Hearing this the warden at once unfastened the ponderous bolts which secured the gates in those rude times, and admitted the messenger, for such he was. Macduff, being informed of his arrival, ordered one of his retainers to bring him into his apartment.

The servitor having left, he began pacing up and down the rough floor in a disturbed state. “If such is the case, by my father’s sword,” said he to himself, “he shall feel the weight of my revenge; but no, he would not dare!” He was interrupted by the entrance of the stranger, accompanied by a party of his retainers. “Declare thy message, fellow,” exclaimed Macduff, as he fixed his piercing eye on the person before him. “Please, my lord, I was commanded by the King to deliver this document into your hands,” uttered he, and so saying, he placed a paper into the Thane’s hand. Macduff’s brow became overclouded, and he muttered between his clenched teeth, “My surmise is then true.” He withdrew to a corner to peruse the document. It was a command from Macbeth to repair to the place where the King was residing, for the purpose of assisting in the erection of a Royal Castle. After reading it, the Thane cast it into the fire, and ordered his servitors to set food before the messenger. He then directed his steps to his wife’s room, for the purpose of consulting as to what should be done. His lady was a woman of powerful intellect, and was far better educated than her rude husband. This he himself knew, and he therefore sought her opinion on the subject on hand. Opening the door he entered her apartment, and told her that he had something for her private ear. She, therefore, dismissed her attendants, and Macduff, after seating himself on a rough bench, related what had passed. On finishing his narrative, she appeared lost in thought, but recovering herself, suddenly asked what he purposed to do?

“I have thought of disobeying the order,” replied Macduff, “and if my vassals stand by me I have little fear of the result.”

“This cannot be,” she exclaimed, “for you are now at enmity with Earl Lainge, who would, along with his dependants, surely help the King. The only thing that can be done is to despatch two of your vassals to represent you; for it is not to be thought that you would descend to serve him yourself.” Continue reading “‘The Thane of Fife’ by Claymore (29 September, 1860)”

‘Transcripts From Memory: Transcript Second—”The Poopit-Fit”‘ by James Easson (3 March, 1860)

The following is the second of James Easson’s series ‘Transcripts from Memory’, published in the ‘People’s Journal’ in 1860. In Scots the ‘poopit-fit’ literally means the foot of the pulpit, but in this context refers to the whole institution of the Church of Scotland.

Easson—or ‘the people’s poet’ as he was posthumously dubbed by a reader—wrote many short stories, sketches, essays and poems from 1858 until his death in 1865. In many ways Easson was the sort of contributor that the ‘Journal’ was founded for. He was a painter decorator from Dundee who found an audience in the paper and was loved by its readers. He died in the Royal Lunatic Asylum in Dundee after three weeks of paralysis aged just 31, his only living relative being his Grandmother Betty Easson. Readers donated money to pay for his burial and the support of Betty when his death was announced. His stone can still be visited in Dundee’s Eastern Necropolis and the inscription reads; ‘Erected by the Proprietors of “The People’s Journal” in Memory of a Working Man who had Rare Literary Gifts and Whose Writings are his Best Memorial’.  For a full collection of his work and a short biography, see ‘The Life and Works of James Easson; The Dundee People’s Poet’ by Anthony Faulks (Dundee, 2016).

Imagine, reader, that you wander over the wide plains, and through the deep green groves of Canada West; that you feel home-sick and weary, and that roaming there you have chanced to meet with a stranger of European aspect. How high you heart leaps with joy as this thought flashes across your mind—“Perhaps he is a Scotchman, and may have some feelings in common with myself!” Gladly you solute him with words of friendly greeting, and forthwith begin to converse. You go on to speak of many places and about many things, till at length your conversation chances to run upon the church of your fathers. But the stranger turns out to be an Englishman; he knows nothing of the “kirk,” though he recalls with true feeling the memory of the aged curate of his native place, the beautiful prayers of the liturgy; of its old, but to him familiar chaunts, as they used to swell though the ancient chancel, and of the steady, golden voice of the organ. All this is very sweet and very beautiful; but he cannot talk to you of “puir auld Scotland,” of her children, her homes, her pulpits, her ministers, or her “household words.” Again, your yearning heart feels disappointed and charged with chagrin; so, you give vent to a tremulous sigh, and with a faltering “God speed,” you part from you fellow-sojourner, who soon pursues his onward way.

You also wander along till evening approaches, and the fiery Canadian sunset floods all the landscape with burning red—a radiance that causes the lakes to blaze like sheets of bright gold, whilst the woods look black and solemn. Then you see a log-house in the distance, thatched like a Scotch cottar house; a train of blueish reek ascends from it, and latterly your eye can discern a sonsy Scotch gudewife pottering about the door, her broad face florid with the ruddy light. The stalwart gudeman sits at the door-cheek of his log-cabin, and little pawky Johnny, seated on his knee, is pulling away at his father’s beard, or trying vainly to untie his neckerchief. Betimes they notice you; they herald your approach with an earnest welcome, somewhat like this—“Losh, man, but ye are tired-like; ye’ve surely come a far road—sit doon an’ rest ye—sae, sit doon here i’ the arm-chair, an ‘mak’ yersel’ at hame!” When the conversation has advanced so far, the gudewife thinks of supper, and the gudeman suggests the propriety of having a little tea for “a dentis.” It may be that you are no fellow-townsman of your host; but you are a Scotchman, so you speak of the latest news from the old country, and from that you ramble on till you speak to him of the old churches and the old ministers at home. By-and-bye the table is set, the gudewife’s presence graces the homely board, and she also takes up the subject in hand. She laments that they are so far away from Scotland, for she would have “liket the bairns bapteezed at hame,” where she was baptized, and where her “forebears” lived, died, and are buried. Then they talk of the baptisms of their brothers and sisters, and of the beloved pastors who administered the ordnance, and who are also left behind. These and such like memories are all recalled, and recollection lingers in fondest retrospect around them still.

Yes, and it were strange did any emotion, save that of affection, like the affection of those poor emigrants, attach to that familiar “poopit-fit.” As parents, some think, at its mention, of sinless cherubs—upon whom the dew of morning scarce fell, when Death, like a thief, stole silently in, laid his frozen hand upon the young one’s heart, and carried t away, smiling spitefully at their agony, and his own fell triumph; whilst others of us have there received those names which have since become as pleasant to our friends, as they are familiar to ourselves. Continue reading “‘Transcripts From Memory: Transcript Second—”The Poopit-Fit”‘ by James Easson (3 March, 1860)”

‘A Stranger’s Glimpse of Dundee’ by A.S. (29 September, 1860)

The following is a sketch story about a steamship journey from Edinburgh to Dundee. The author, A.S., had several stories published in the ‘Journal’ around this time.

One morning in the latter end of last April, a large steamboat, crowded from stem to stern with a goodly company of men and women, young lads and lasses, belonging principally to the working-classes of Edinburgh, sailed from Leith harbour, bound on a cheap pleasure trip to a certain city in the North. The day was clear and bright, scarce a cloud obscured the sky, the sun shone brightly from above, and its reflection dazzled the eye from the rippling billows below. We were all in the best of spirits, light-hearted, social, and merry. The paddle-wheels, impelled by the powers of steam, churned the waters into milk-white foam, and urged the crowded vessel onward at a glorious rate. We were not long in passing the Bass Rock and the Isle of May on our right; Largo Law, Largo Bay, and the East Neuk of Fife, with its pleasant slopes dotted with white cottages and farm steadings, on our left. We soon doubled Fife Ness, and steered northward past St Andrews Bay, until at last we entered the Frith of Tay, and beheld, many of us for the first time, a dense cloud of smoke and a forest of tall chimneys, beneath which throbbed the hearts of the denizens of Dundee. We were but four hours on our voyage. We had two or three to wait before we started home, and we resolved to make the most of our time by scampering about the streets and seeing whatever was to be seen. We saw a large, prosperous city, full of life and activity, like a hive of busy, busy bees; full of people intent—as all Scotch folks are—on making, not honey, but that which rhymes to it and buys it, namely, money; a city full of shops that seem to drive a good trade; large factories where the inventions of Watt and Arkwright create a deafening sound, and convert the Russian flax into fine linen. We saw few idle people, either rich or poor , in Dundee; everybody seemed to have something to do, and to be doing it. There were no ridiculously dressed ladies, rustling in silks and satins, glittering with rings and jewels, such as may be seen any sunny day parading along Princess Street, Edinburgh—ladies as idle as they are useless, as proud as they are contemptible, who seem to imagine this world was made for no other purpose than to be trod under their feet, who have never done anything in their lives but eat and drink and create work for others. But then there were plenty of real ladies, neatly and tastily dressed, who did not go idle, but were out at the butcher’s, the baker’s, the grocer’s, or the linen draper’s, purchasing household necessaries, and making themselves useful and their homes happy by their frugal and industrious habits. These are the ladies we admire and honour, not those mincing votaries of fashion made up, for the most part, of millineries, sparkling jewels, and self-conceit. And then, oh ye gods are little fishes (as Robert Nicoll used to say), did we not see in that city a number of the prettiest girls that ever we saw! Bless their sweet eyes. Have we not dreamed of them every blessed night since, and do we not count ever day and hour between us and the next holiday when we may get back to see them once more! Of the male portion of Dundee folks, we have little to say. Sam Slick’s description of Scotchmen in America may be applied to them:—“Them ere fellars cut their eye-teeth afore they set foot on this country, I expect. When they get a bawbee they know what to do with it—that’s a fact;—they open their pouch and drop it in, and its got a spring like a fox-trap, it holds fast to all it gets like the grim death to a dead nigger.” Ditto with Scotchmen and their pouches everywhere. Continue reading “‘A Stranger’s Glimpse of Dundee’ by A.S. (29 September, 1860)”

‘Auld Granny—A Right-of-Way Story’ by J.A. (10 November, 1860)

This short story by J.A. from Baldovan touches on the issue of rights-of-way which was somewhat contentious at the time, with access to the Dundee Law being made difficult for locals. It is also interesting to note that the antagonist is a wealthy East India merchant, new money taking the place of the old aristocracy.

Near a pleasantly situated village in the south of Scotland, there is an old church-yard, which, at the time we allude to, had been shut up for a considerable number of years; but it was still the favourite resort of the villagers during the long evenings in the summer months. The path which led to it was about three-quarters of a mile in length, and was kept in good order by the villagers, who cut the grass, and carried it home for food to their cows. One morning they were surprised to see the small estate, on which part of the path and the church-yard was situated, advertised for sale. Various offers were handed in, and at last it was sold to a wealthy East India merchant, who was possessed of more money than brains, and a heart as cold as Greenland ice. A few days after the purchase, he made his appearance, accompanied by his wife, and two proud haughty daughters. During the first two months of the residence there, they were little seen, it being the depth of winter; but spring came with its cheering influences, and the youngsters of the village began to turn out to cull the wild flowers, and search the woods for the earth nuts that were thickly scattered over them. One morning their sports were suddenly put a stop to by the appearance of the new Laird amongst them. He ordered them to begone! warning them if ever he caught them there again he would horse-whip them. They needed no second telling, but quickly scampered off to the village, and breathlessly told their friends all that had happened. These ominously shook their heads, and said one to another—”I doot the new Laird winna fill the auld ane’s shoes.” Things went on smoothly for another month, and during that time workmen had been employed to carry out some alterations on the house and grounds, and, amongst others, a new carriage-drive. The villagers saw, with consternation, by the stakes which had been driven in to mark its course, that it would cross, and consequently shut up their favourite path. A meeting was called, and three of the village worthies were appointed to wait upon the Laird, and learn his intentions of the matter. They did so, at the earliest opportunity; but he only laughed them to scorn, and told them he could do with his own as he chose. They answered him firmly, but civilly, that the path had belonged to their forefathers for generations, and they could not stand quietly by and see their rights trampled on with impunity. The Laird, seeing he was to meet with determined opposition, promised to make another to them equally good, if he were allowed to make his drive. The drive was accordingly made, a fancy wire-fence was run along each side of it, entirely shutting up the ancient path to the church-yard. True, another had been substituted in its place, but care was taken to make it as circuitous as possible, with the view of driving them from it altogether. Continue reading “‘Auld Granny—A Right-of-Way Story’ by J.A. (10 November, 1860)”

‘Transcripts from Memory: Transcript First’ by James Easson (11 February, 1860)

The following is the first of James Easson’s series ‘Transcripts from Memory’, published in the ‘People’s Journal’ in 1860. Easson—or ‘the people’s poet’ as he was posthumously dubbed by a reader—wrote many short stories, sketches, essays and poems from 1858 until his death in 1865. In many ways Easson was the sort of contributor that the ‘Journal’ was founded for. He was a painter decorator from Dundee who found an audience in the paper and was loved by its readers. He died in the Royal Lunatic Asylum in Dundee after three weeks of paralysis aged just 31, his only living relative being his Grandmother Betty Easson. Readers donated money to pay for his burial and the support of Betty when his death was announced. His stone can still be visited in Dundee’s Eastern Necropolis and the inscription reads; ‘Erected by the Proprietors of “The People’s Journal” in Memory of a Working Man who had Rare Literary Gifts and Whose Writings are his Best Memorial’.  For a full collection of his work and a short biography, see ‘The Life and Works of James Easson; The Dundee People’s Poet’ by Anthony Faulks (Dundee, 2016).

In a corner of the most of houses there is a pile of old dusty volumes, into which few ever think it worth while to look; they repose there from year in to year out, and, except to be dusted, and put back for a while into their old place, they may truly be said to have been “laid on the shelf.” Nevertheless, they are dear familiar friends; they have done their work in their day; for, upon inspection, we find among their number our first Bible, and our first “Course of Reading.” Dog-eared and greasy are the leaves of the latter book, with blotches of ink on the outside, whilst on the fly-leaves and margins there are all sorts of caricatures, figures, and names, every one of which, to a stranger, would be as unintelligible as the hieroglyphics on the Egyptian pyramids.

But in the twilight of a calm afternoon, what object more suggestive of pensive, pleasing thought than this same discarded “Collection,” and the queer-looking illustrations therein contained? It assists in plunging us back into the shadowy past, and thus delights us with emotions very sweet and very wholesome. We gaze upon its faded covers and time-worn binding until, by a species of mental magic, we are launched upon the stream of fancy, and glide smoothly back again to the bright shores of early youth. At such times we behold faces and forms we once knew and loved—images long lost to use in the mist of years. Every figure, every name, every shape serves to waken up some tender and happy remembrance, beautiful with the rosy effulgence of life’s morning! The name upon which our eye first falls, may be that of one who, in those peaceful times, was our bosom-friend;—where is he now! He sleeps, it may be, in the narrow house, and the long, rank grass, perhaps, conceals his honoured resting place. The next name belongs to one who prosecuted his studies with a worthy ardour, was made an assistant-teacher in the school where he began to learn, and was at length rewarded with a Queen’s scholarship. The third is the name of a youth who unwisely forsook his honest trade to become a lazy publican; and a fourth, alas! went off to sea, a lively and comely youth, and was drowned in the wild, remorseless waters while on his first voyage! All those well-known forms pass before our mind, and to each and all of them we give the tribute of a tear!

Turning to another page, we see the name of some whose ideal fills the mind with different thoughts—memories of a somewhat light and humorous complexion. Continue reading “‘Transcripts from Memory: Transcript First’ by James Easson (11 February, 1860)”

‘All’s Well That Ends Well’ by R.M.K. (11 February, 1860)

Chapter I

Mr George Attwood was, at the time of our story, an extensive landed proprietor, a little past the middle period of life. His hair was slightly frosted with silver, his eyebrows firm, and his countenance one of mingled resolution and kindness. Yet, despite a certain sternness of deportment and marked decision of manner, backed up by strong conservative leanings, and more particularly by a great love of field sports, and an accompanying detestation of poachers, he was, as all his tenants and all the poor of the parish well knew, a most philanthropic and honourable man. He made it his study to do everything for the interests of his tenantry, and was a praise to all that did well, and also by his scorn and detestation of wrong, a terror to evil doers. It must be told, however, that our landlord had a superlative hatred of the crime of poaching, not that he cared for the loss of his game, but he decidedly objected to the practice. Mr Attwood kept no gamekeeper, and was of course duly taken advantage of. Ultimately, he became determined to put a stop to this illegal traffic on his grounds, and was not long in discovering three fellows, loaded with rabbits and hares, returning from a poaching expedition. He had them immediately apprehended, and two of them—Dick Holden and Ralph Ripon—suffered three months’ imprisonment. These two gentlemen took it into their heads that they were cruelly ill-used, and vowed, as soon as released, that the hard landlord should share the fate of his game.

But we must leave the two worthies for a little, and introduce our readers to the hero and heroine of our tale.

Henry Lee rented a cottage and an acre or two of Mr Attwood’s land, which he laid out to the best advantage as market garden. Henry went three times a week to the next village, about three miles distant, and disposed of his wares, which were always first-class, returning in the evening, sitting upon his vehicle, sometimes whistling some favourite air, and sometimes smoking. None more happy and contented in Attwoodland than the industrious gardener. Next to his wife and children, he declared he loved his pipe, and occasionally one or other of his neighbours would playfully chide with him on his ardent love of tobacco. “Smoking again, Harry?” “Oh, yes,” good-naturedly answered he; “just helping the Queen.” Henry was well liked in his neighbourhood, but the poor gardener had an enemy he was not aware of. Continue reading “‘All’s Well That Ends Well’ by R.M.K. (11 February, 1860)”

‘The Black Bridge’ by W.R.M. (30 June, 1860)

The following is a dark, atmospheric tale about the creation of a bridge over the River Ugie, which flows into the north sea at Stonehaven. About the author: as far as I can tell they had one other story published in ‘The People’s Journal’, ‘The Peasant Poet’ from May of 1860.

When I was a child—my chin is still quite downy—I entertained a great love for dark things, and eagerly sought after them for the gratification of my childish mind. This, as well as the heading hereof, will lead you to suppose that the present subject is a dark one; amen! I shall respond, Hoc moda.

I do not exactly remember the very hour, or even year, in which my eyes first formed acquaintance with the subject of my rumination; but well do I remember how exceedingly intimate we became, as the silent tide of years rolled more heavily over my head, and the purling tide of Ugie flowed more familiarity beneath its gloomy parapets. Well do I remember that in morning’s rosy hours, in the sunny hours of noon, in the shady hours of twilight, and in the sombre hours of evening, mine eyes might have been seen beholding it; half-wept tears nestling in their brightness; for the sight of it brought many sad associations into mind. Dark indeed was its aspect, and the memoirs connected with it are likewise far from fair.

At a farmhouse, two or three hundred yards from where the Bridge still is, lived a man accounted by the parish wondrous clever; but what its reasons were for so judging I cannot conceive. All I know of his skill is that he was his own master, his own doctor, and probably would have been his own sexton, had permission been granted by “the powers that be.” These were the only peculiarities that marked his worldly career, and if any one of them is more worthy than the other of the epithet—clever, I know not; bearing this in mind, he died, through caprice, a terrible death; he died a self-destroyer.

He leased a small farm, capable of giving work to a couple of horses, and the said farm was conscientiously reputed to be the best kept in the laird’s whole estate; for its “dear, dear, dead and gone husband”-man took great pains and spared no attention in making it worthy of notice, both for the benefit of his own coffer, and because of the wish he had to excel everybody, in every place, in everything relating to agriculture. Withal, he kept for hire a very useful vehicle of four wheels, a vehicle—in one word, a hearse. I have never discovered why the valuable machine was not employed as a conveyance in the transferring of its owner’s remains from the top of the closet drawers—no, not that—from the court of the now dilapidated steading to the grave in—no!—to the gateway of the village churchyard, a few miles off. There is a mystery hanging about that hearse besides the cottsey-woolsey drapery; and although I have sought all that I thought eligible means of giving light to the sable mystery, I have failed in extracting one single glint of the sunshine of information. All people of whom I enquired merely shook their heads, and assumed, with due gravity, what is called a Sunday’s face; raised a hand, shook it; and if they raised their voice at all, shook it also. Oh! would I not like to hear something believable of that dismal matter? Some person knows, and yet I may die unenlightened. Continue reading “‘The Black Bridge’ by W.R.M. (30 June, 1860)”