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THE VILLAGE CLUB-1830.
"Ye powers wha mak' mankind yer care,
But if ye wish her gratefu' pray'r
Gie her a haggis!"
In the days of which I write there were no daily newspapers published out of London, public libraries were few and far between, and reading-rooms in the country were entirely unknown. Hence the establishment of "Village Clubs," at whose periodical meetings were reciprocated the general and political news of the week. I do not mean it to be understood that every hamlet or village had its literary or political Club; on the contrary, very few of the country parishes in Scotland could boast of having anything even approaching to the semblance of such institutions. People then were either content with the perusal of the weekly paper of the district at their own individual expense, or shared the coveted pleasure with others, each in his turn transmitting the precious treasure throughout its prescribed and charmed circle.
The village Club of Glamis was neither wholly literary nor wholly political. True, it partook somewhat of both in its compound elements, but essentially its objects and aims were of an entirely different character. In a word, the tie that bound the members of this little village Club together was
trusty friendship, and the end they had in view-the cultivation of good brotherhood.
"As iron sharpeneth iron, so a man sharpeneth the countenance of his friend." Acting on this principle, the subjects discussed at the meetings of this small and rather select society embraced the literature, politics, and current news of the day, together with every social and Christian topic which might have a tendency to amuse and instruct. Fettered by no creed of faith, guided by no rules of debate, the conversation flowed on in an easy, off-hand manner, with a sense of intellectual freedom quite exhilarating and delightful. Removed on the one hand from the prim-starched, hypocritical, "unco gude," and on the other from the openly licentious, profane, or ribald winebibber, the happy, versatile members occupied an enviable position between, enjoying in this vantage-ground a thorough appreciation, if not of lofty converse or elevated thought, at least of candour, truthfulness, straightforward independency of purpose, and intuitively inhaling an innate horror of all that was mean and selfish, artful or untrue.
Delighting in odd numbers, the Club was composed of five members only-viz, the dominie, the laird, the student, the miller, and the smith. Another odd feature in connection with the Club was that the blanks which might be occasioned by change of residence or death were never to be filled up on any pretence whatever, and that when four were removed by death the surviving member was bound to visit the Clubroom in the village hostelrie every Auld Yule evening thereafter so long as he was able, and drink a bumper in solemn silence to the memory of those who were gone.
I shall now attempt to sketch the portraitures of the members of the Club, premising that there was such diversity in their moral and physical features, so much of that changeful light and shade so tantalising to the painter that it need not excite surprise if I should comparatively fail in bringing them fully in propria persona before my indulgent readers.
At the outset of my sketch I feel considerably relieved in regard to the first, and in many respects the most important member of the Club, having already in chapter xi., entitled "Will o' the wisp," given a portraiture of the "Dominie;" for, be it observed, it was he of Kinnettles, and not the dominie of the parish, that was the leading member in the Club of Glamis. When Daniel, however, sat last for his portrait, under the roof-tree of Foffarty, he was getting stricken in years, and considerably past the prime of life, whereas at this time he was in the full vigour of manhood, and at the height of his fame as a popular and successful teacher. Not a hair of grey yet silvered his raven locks, not a wrinkle had furrowed his colourless cheek. His air was light and jaunty, and his little, trig figure full of pompous agility. Always particular as to his dress, he was peculiarly sensitive as to the adornment of his person in this the heyday of his life. His quiet elegance was never more persuasive nor his pawky smile more potent and powerful. Yet with all his eccentricities and peculiarities there lay beneath a pedantic exterior a warm and generous heart, to the ripe fruitage of which, clustering around the future pathways of his favourite pupils, I have elsewhere and more than once most cheerfully and gratefully borne the most ample testimony.
The Laird of Rochel-hill was of an entirely different character, being in every respect the very antipodes of the worthy Dominie of Kinnettles. Tall, muscular, and firmlyknit, his iron frame seemed to have been formed in a Herculean mould. If the faculties of his mind did not bear the same proportion to the gigantic powers of his body that might have been wished, the difference between the two was considerably modified by a quiet, pawky humour peculiarly his own, and an enviable gift of repartee, which stood him in good stead when opposed to the merciless fire of his opponents more lavishly gifted with the faculty of speech than himself. Like the small lairds of Fife, he wore the gude auld blue bonnet, in preference to the modern beaver, then coming into
general use; his hodden grey coat, corduroy knee-breeches, strong wide-ribbed hose, and steel-heeled, tackety brogues being all in perfect keeping the one with the other. Farming his own land, the Laird was a practical agriculturist of the old school, admitting no novelty of any kind on his lands, until forced by the greater gain or ridicule of his more progressive neighbours to adopt it, which he would do quietly, and "under the rose," and so gradually as scarcely to be perceptible, except in the results that prospectively might follow. Exposed to all weathers, his complexion was as brown as a nut, which set forth in greater relief his small, twinkling hazel eyes, certainly by far the most intelligent part of the external physique of the Laird.
To sketch the Student is a much more difficult task. I do not mean that there was anything so peculiar or extraordinary in his external appearance that the art of the limner would be thoroughly baffled in its attempt to pourtray his features, and catch his expression, and give the general contour of his presence. The youth was fair to look upon; and, with a deeply-benevolent and contemplative expression in his eye, a fresh spring-flush of bloom on his delicate cheek, and a winning smile playing ever around his coral lips, would, had there been nothing else to attract and absorb the attention, have presented little difficulty to the experienced sketcher of the "human face divine." But like the puzzled painter in a wood full of ever-changing light and shade, the limner here no sooner caught the expression of the moment than it vanished in an instant, to give place to an entirely different expression, and so on, ad infinitum, until, bewildered and perplexed beyond the possibility of escape, he had to throw away his otherwise faithful pencil in despair. Doubtless the reason of this ever-changing light and shade was the inward workings of the soul developing themselves outwardly, in alternate night, alternate day; now, golden sunshine, rife with beauty and melodious sounds; anon, dark tempests sweeping harsh the mountain pines, in weird-like music wild; this moment,
the sobbing rain beating mournfully on the window-panes; the next, the rainbow breaking through the murky clouds in all the gorgeous colours of animating hope, and holy, peaceful love!
The Miller was a jolly-looking, portly, broad-shouldered personage, of middle height, of a sonsie, florid complexion, with a sleek smile on his cheek, and a waggish expression in his eye, which betokened extreme contentment and good fellowship. Indeed, you could scarcely ever see him—in the mill, at market, in the field, or seated at his cottage door on a fine summer evening-without imagining he was singing, like his great prototype, the Miller o' Dee
"I care for nobody-no, not I,
If nobody cares for me!"
A well-to-do farmer's son in the glen, the Miller had received a liberal education, and, being well posted up in the current literature of the day, he was a formidable antagonist for any village disputant who had the temerity to break a lance with him in vain-glorious rivalry. Amongst his many good qualities, that of the piety of a learned and douce divine most certainly did not constitute one of the brightest
For if my mind be spoken true,
He slept each diet the sermon through,
The Smith, stalwart, lank, sallow in complexion, with a thoughtful countenance and keen, black, piercing eye, formed a marked contrast to the Miller. Unlike the latter, he could not boast of having received a very liberal education, but in lieu of which he had inherited acute powers of observation, a considerable fund of mother wit, indomitable industry and perseverance, and a large amount of good, unvarnished common sense. An advanced Liberal of the extreme Radical type, he was the oracle of the village on all political subjects; and while delivering his ultimatum on the estates of the realm, or on things in general, he exhibited considerable knowledge