Page images


The bride was to be conducted home at three o'clock the strangers bad begun to arrive long before that hour, and I was set to sing, Willie accompanying me. I was singing If I had a wife was round as a Plum

when a shout arose from the

eign music I have no taste for: but name there; The Bride came in frae the Byre; any tune, reel or strathspey, or any lilt from Screw up your Pipes; Johnny Cooper, and Johnnie's Gray Breeks to Logie o' Buchan, my other wedding-songs. I was feasted, and and I will give you them in true Scottish got pence besides. It was far in the forestyle." Surch was his opinion of himself; noon before my master awoke out of a deathand, I must own, he had a wild melody in like sleep, sick and oppressed with head-ache; his playing that charmed his hearers, àl- but I got him breakfast, and he began to though a taught ear might have found many recover. faults. At wedding, kirn, or banquet, Willie would have been preferred by the guests to a more correct performer without his spirit. These displays of temper took place only when circumstances compelled us to stop at night in the low haunts of vagrants, where audience of "The bride! the bride!" I I witnessed the same scenes as in our garret. took my master's hand, and led him forward Many of them were lazy impostors; others a few paces, when we struck up Fy, let us were objects of charity, aged or maimed, un-a' to the Bridal, for there will be lilting there, fit for work; but all were improvident, for and advanced until we reached the front of to-morrow seldom found them possessed of the procession. Close behind us came the any part of what they had obtained the day cart with the bride's plenishing, laden high, before. Meal in the country, their chief and on the top of all was her spinningalms, they found means to dispose of to the wheel, decorated with gaudy ribbons streamindustrious poor, who scorned to beg, but ing in the breeze: the horse was also decowere pinched by want: in the towns, they rated. Next followed the bride, led by her got in general money; but all complained maidens and relatives. When the procession that the begging-trade had much fallen off reached the door of the bridegroom, his since they first knew it. mother broke the bridal-cake over the head of the bride, kissed and welcomed her home, amidst loud huzzas and the firing of fowlingpieces.

One day we got scent of a wedding that was to take place in a village a few miles from where we were performing. This was an occasion not to be let slip; so away we The tables were soon loaded with the feast, went, and arrived in the village the day be- and the guests sat down after grace was fore its occurrence, and were fortunate said; and a long one it was, for the aged enough to be engaged. It was a pay or pen- elder who spoke it touched on many subny wedding- -a golden harvest for Willie, jects. At length Amen came, and the clatas well as for the young couple- for the obter of spoons, knives and forks, was the only ject of a pay-wedding is to raise a sum of money for the bride and bridegroom. The admission to the wedding-feast was two shillings, the dancers paying the fiddler, and anybody who chose to come on these terms was made welcome.

We reached the place on a Thursday afternoon; all was prepared, and a large barn fitted up with benches and tables for the guests, a space being cleared before the barn for the dancers. Here, as the evening came on, Willie began; he fiddled vigorously, for he was in high spirits, and the dancers seemed never to tire. The ale and whisky were not spared until it was growing late; I dare say they would have danced all night, but for the eccentricity of Willie's fiddle, which gradually began to emit strange sounds a mixture of discords, without tune or time. Willie, however, was in general a strictly sober man.

Next morning I was up betimes; all the village dames were in full employment, cooking the wedding-feast or preparing for it. All was joy and gladness, and my vocal powers were in full requisition. I sang, Fy, let us a' to the Bridal, for there will be lilting

sound heard for a time. Willie and I were not overlooked. We sat in a corner, and had of the best as soon as the company were satisfied; and that was very speedily, for everybody ate as if it had been for a wager. The tables were then cleared, and preparations for the dance commenced; while the old people retired to another house, to enjoy themselves over their cups.

Willie and I were perched upon a tabletop, and the dancing began with vigor two reels on the floor at once. It was a stirring scene; such shouts, such whoops, such cracking of fingers, such noisy beating of time and stamping of feet, can only be heard at a harvest-home or a penny-wedding. towards the termination, as the drink began to take effect, jealousies arose, and high words, and even blows, were exchanged; so Willie and I slipped off, and left the tumult behind.


For more than two years, I led blind Willie, and was happy and content, singing in the streets of my native city in winter and spring, and wandering in the country during the summer months: yet our gains were not great. We never wanted, but we never had

much to fall back upon. It was in the second winter after our return from our wanderings, poor Willie sickened and died; and Margaret, his wife, aged and frail, was removed to the workhouse. Poor Willie Scott, he was always kind to me, and I loved him and Margaret for their kindness; but not as I loved Annie. He taught me to sing for his own sake; Annie taught me for mine. He was not religious, neither was he profane: like thousands of others, he neither believed nor disbelieved; his mind was a blank as dark as his eyes, stored only with songs and ballads, which he sang unconscious of their beauties.

some articles, on pretence of selling them at the doors of gentlemen's houses, where she imposed upon the servant-girls. She was improvident and dissipated, and, with all her gains, was often as poor as any inmate of the garret. Her boys were without education; they could not read, and scrupled not to pilfer. Their mother never checked them for anything they either did or said: she had been herself well instructed in all the branches of female education, and was well connected; but, having made a foolish and ill-assorted marriage, against the wishes of her parents and relations, had gradually sunk, along with her husband, from stage to stage, at each stage leaving behind them a little of any good principle they had. After her husband's death, she became quite debased.

I was again alone in the world, and felt my destitute condition more keenly than at Annie's death. I had more knowledge of the world; yet I knew not how to earn a morsel of bread. I was averse to return to There were other two aged widows, basthe gathering-indeed, the thing was hope-ket-women, struggling with honest pride less; for it could not possibly do more than through the last scenes of life. The earlier sustain me in life, and I had now no home period of their life, although not wealthy, to sleep in, and no means of procuring had been calm and happy-sad reverse! clothing. The dress I had received from yet I never heard them murmur at their the lady was greatly worn; but this was not the worst. I had outgrown it much: it stuck to me, and hampered all my motions. My cuffs did not reach my wrists by more than an inch, and my trousers had long bidden my ankles farewell. Stockings or shoes I had none; a shirt I did not possess; neither did I miss it. Such, at this period, was poor Charlie.

I lurked about the old garret, and must have starved, had it not been for some of the inmates, who at night gave me a small portion of their scanty fare. Miss Jane had gone; so had Tom; but where they were I did not know, nor was it of much importance, for slender are the ties that bind the poor: their sympathies are strong when in contact; but when dispersed, their own ne⚫cessities absorb all their cares.

present lot: they were sober and pious. They were my friends, and gave me shelter, for the weather was very severe. One fire in the evening served them both; for they could not afford two. There was another shared the same fire with me; I may say he was in the garret, but not of it. Poor man! he had mistaken his calling. He was about fifty years of age, tall and thin; his hair, scanty and grizzled, fast verging to gray; his clothes, of an antique fashion, clean and threadbare; he was humble and mild in address, but his figure was uncouth. His father was a small farmer, whose ambition was to see his son a minister, and while he lived, he had with great difficulty contrived to get him educated and passed: but the poor dominie had not the least talent for oratory, and his voice was thin and weak. What his abilities were as a scholar, I cannot say; but for years he had obtained a scanty living by private teaching, though latterly, even this had nearly failed him, and he must have starved, save for the dinners and suppers he got from old acquaintances. He was not dissipated; he was sinking fast to his grave through heart-sickness, brought on by want and blighted hopes.

I felt this could not last long. The new inmates of the garret were strangers to me. The one that occupied the Mournful Lady's room, the best in the front, was a woman at the furthest verge of middle life. She had two sons about my own age, and gained a livelihood by fortune-telling; living well, in general, upon the credulity of others. Among her visitors were many well-dressed females; in appearance far above the rank of the low and ignorant: she read their tea- I could not be a burden on the poor widcups, cut the cards, and interpreted their ows, for I could aid them in nothing: I often dreams. I never was present, neither were wished I had had only five shillings, to buy her sons, at any of these consultations: when a box and furnish a small pack. I had a knock at the door was heard, we disap- heard of small beginnings; but where was I peared until the visitors took their depart- to get one?- how was I to earn it?



I mentioned my wish to the fortune-teller's When visitors were few and far between, sons; they urged me to join with them, and she used to go out with a basket containing go a-pilfering, and I would soon get more

time, I was in a sullen tone desired by the
woman to come in and warm myself. How
genial it felt; I had not been near such a
fire for weeks. In a short time dinner was
prepared; and after the two were done, a
plentiful portion was given to me.
All my
misery was forgotten; I felt as if transported
into another world; and the fear of being
turned out was the only thought that damped
my joy.


than five shillings. The temptation was great; but there was something within me that made me revolt at the thought of dishonesty it must, doubtless, have been the result of good Annie's teachings. I went out for a few days, and sung in the streets; but all I received barely kept me in life. I was too young, however, to despair. Even now I remember how eagerly I looked forth through our dingy window as soon as daylight came in, to ascertain what kind of When dinner was over, I was desired to weather it was; and if the frost was gone, sing. I sung several songs, and gave satisand the day looked mild, I felt a thrill of faction to my listeners: they then inquired gladness. At present, I look back upon this if I could dance as well as I sang, or if ever period of my life as an unpleasant dream. I had been with show-people. I said I could I had offered myself as a drum-boy to all read and write, but I could not dance. "As the recruiting-parties in town: I had gone for reading or writing," said they, we have to the seaport, and offered myself as a ship- little use for it; but if you had been a good boy; but my size, for I was small of my dancer, it would have suited us better." age, and my youth, caused me to be rejected. They then inquired after my parents: I told I would have sold myself as a slave to any them my sad tale, and that I never had had one, had I had an offer-anything to escape a friend in the world but good Annie and my present misery. The month of February blind Willie; and they were both dead. found me singing in the streets; there was The young woman shed tears, and said: a biting wind that blew through me when I" Poor fellow, your lot has been very hard; did not strain my voice; my teeth chattered but if you behave well and will stay with us, in my head; my fingers and toes ached so as we are in want of a singing boy, we will be much that I could not restrain my tears, good to you." My heart filled; I could not which stole silently down my face. I had speak; but tears of joy burst forth as I gave not tasted food that morning; it was now consent. past mid-day; I was almost in a sinking state. I had no ballads to give for half pence; but still I sang. No one stopped to hear me; it was far too cold. Still, I exerted my voice to the utmost; for, had I slackened my efforts, I should have broken down. It was Up among yon Cliffy Rocks. I was on the point of giving over in despair, for I felt my strength failing fast, when a shabby-genteel dressed man stopped for a minute to listen. I looked piteously at him when I ended the song; he gave me a penny, and said: " Boy, sing that song again. O what an effect that had! penny -a dinner in its train, and perhaps a second penny! My spirits rose; sang it with vigor. When I concluded, he inquired if I could sing any others. I sang Ca' the Ewes to the Knowes. At the conclusion, I did not hold out my hand- I never begged. I thought he was going away; but he gave me another penny, and inquired if I could sing many others.



[ocr errors]

Yes, sir," I replied; any one you please, from Child Morris to Logie o' Buchan." He smiled, and bade me follow him; and this I did with pleasure, until we came to one of the low neighborhoods of the city.

In a short time, Leonora gave me soap and water, and made me wash myself, for I was sorely begrimed; cleanliness had never been urged upon me, even by Annie, save on the Sabbath-mornings, for cleanliness amongst the very poor ill suits their squalid misery. After my ablution, she trimmed and combed my long yellow hair, that hung in ringlets over my shoulders; and I remember she gazed upon me, and kissed me as if by impulse.

My new protector laughed, and said: "Leonora, have I not made a good hit? We must clothe the boy."

[ocr errors]

"Not so fast," she replied; "I must hear him again. Do you take me for a fool, Bellino? (This was the name he at present went by.) I must hear him again."

[ocr errors]

"You jade, do you not believe me? Up Charlie, and let her hear you again.”

I struck up and sang Coming through the Rye.

Leonora, a taught singer, found great fault with the time and cadence; and I told her that was the time and manner in which I had sung when I accompanied Willie's fiddle. My new master now brought a violin from the next room, and played; I accomwas here led by him into a room where panying him for some time in quick and a comely young woman was seated at a table slow airs, for every one of which I had a in the window; she looked at me in surprise song. Leonora was satisfied, and in any of as I stood close by the door, shivering with the songs she knew, sung along with me. cold. After whispering together for some Bellino was in raptures again. I cheerfully

agreed to abide with them. I assisted Leonora in her household duties, and became a great favorite; and, although my clothes were tight and tattered, she made me strictly clean in my person, feet, face, and hands, and I felt a comfort I had never dreamed of until now.

"Charlie," said Bellino to me next forenoon, "your old songs and ballads will do well enough at times, but I must teach you other songs; such as this." He gave me an Italian song, and bade me read it to him. I did my best to pronounce the words, but knew not the meaning of one of them; neither do I think he did so himself, for he did not translate it to me, and said if I got the words by heart, we could smother the pronunciation in the music to hide my Scottish accent. It was not long ere I could repeat it correctly; he playing the air over two or three times before I began to accompany him. Thus was I occupied for many days, rehearsing and learning, happy and


My mind was stored with songs and ballads; but since Annie's death, I had not learned one verse of a psalm, nor been in church, so feeble was the impression Annie's training had made upon my young mind. At times I even swore a little, so contagious is bad example. Ever since her death, I had become more and more remiss. I was too young to be vicious, even in the midst of vice; fearful of losing the favor of my protectors, I was diligent and submissive. Bellino told Leonora I sung Italian songs like a native, and that my name must be Signor Carlino.


THUS matters went on for some time; I learning, and singing as often as required by their visitors: but my dress was not improved. I never went out but when sent a short message by Leonora. One afternoon, Bellino came home rather earlier than usual, in great spirits.

[merged small][ocr errors]

I sat mute, and gazed timidly: Leonora sat silent, in deep thought. At length, raising her head

"Where can we go," said she, "but to our Uncle? Your watch he has already in his keeping; I have two gowns, and a few other articles; I will give them into his charge until better times." Bellino started, and embraced her, shouting, "Glorious Apollo! Bellino is himself again! Look brisk, my beauty; next to you, our Uncle is my only friend. Let us despatch, for golden prospects rise before me. You shall a lady be, my pretty one."

A bundle was soon made up, and Leonora went out with it, and returned with money. I was sent for liquor and victuals; the evening was spent in feasting and singing, and anticipations of success. They, for that night, were the happiest of the happy, and I shared their felicity, for I was to get a new dress, to enable me to perform my part in the adventure, and appear before an audience. For the first time in my life I retired to my shake-down in the corner, in joyous. anticipation of the morrow.

I was awakened through the night by their wrangling and abusing one another; I feared they were going to fight: they had sat and continued their potations until the liquor, which at first made them jovial and loving, had at length sown discord. Gradually their voices died away in sleep. When daylight enabled me to look round, Bellino sat on his chair, his head and arms resting on the table, sound asleep; and Leonora, dressed as I saw her when I went to bed, lay asleep across the bed-the wrecks of their debauch covering the table and floor.

it with their tea, and in a short time rallied; but during the whole forenoon they were very heavy and dull.

It was late before they awoke, sick and feverish: I had got the room in order, all traces of the debauch removed, breakfast ready, and the kettle boiling. They were as "Leonora, my love," said he, "I have loving as if no squabbling had happened the got it arranged; our party is made up, and night before; but their heads ached, and we must prepare for our campaign. But their stomachs were sick; they loathed food. how are we to raise the needful, my pretty I was sent for more liquor, and they mixed one?" There was a pause. "Come, put me on the plan, my girl; for my last shilling is chilled in my purse from want of a companion, and my heart feels heavy in my breast." Another pause. "What? not one word of consolation to your poor Bellino?" Leonora looked very grave. Then, pointing to me-"There is my hope," continued he," the leader to my ambition, Signor Carlino, as like a painted post as a gentleman. He cannot appear as he is; he would not even make a scarecrow, his clothes fit so tight."

In the afternoon I was taken to a secondhand clothes-shop by Leonora, and fitted from shoe to cap; and when we came home, Bellino was much pleased with my appearance, but not more than I was with myself. My clothes were showy; a broad-frilled shirt covered my shoulders, my neck and breast were bare, and my hair hung in ringlets down my back. I had a genteel, boyish

appearance; Signor Carlino graced his new spirits at our success. I got supper, and was title, and was no more called by his patrons sent to bed-Leonora still in the sulks at Charlie. me. They continued their carousal until far In the evening visitors arrived; they were in the night. For several evenings the perthree in number, and much better dressed formances were given with various success; than my master. They were all younger at length the audiences became so thin that men none of them above thirty years of they did not pay the expenses. Nevertheless, age. I was introduced, and highly praised Bellino had made for his share a good sum by Leonora and Bellino. After a display of of money; his watch, and all the other my powers I was so fortunate as to meet their articles that were in pledge, had been reapproval. The evening was spent in consult- deemed, and they both got new dresses: their ations and matters of business: at length way seemed to be to square their wants to all was arranged. They appeared to be bet- their incomes, their wants being oftenest in ter supplied with money than Bellino, who advance. bargained hard with them for my share of the profits, which were to be his own. The whole went out together, and I was left alone when they came home, I know not.

Next day the printer was set to work to print the bills. It had been resolved to begin the adventure in my native town. I was surprised at the number of the bills, but much more so when I saw, posted upon the walls and corners, a different one from any that had come home. How my young heart fluttered! There, in large letters, after the notice of the concerts, were the names of Signor Bellino, Madame Leonora, and Signor Carlino Bellino. Here was a rise in the world for poor Charlie! I felt very proud; I appeared all at once to have become somebody. In the notice I was described as the "Infant Prodigy," and I was called by Bellino, when he talked of me, "an Artist," as they called themselves.

Next evening the concert was to come off; the forenoon was spent in rehearsal, and in the afternoon Leonora was busy washing, starching, and ironing our scanty wardrobe, and arranging her dress during the time my shirt was drying- my only one. She did my hair in ringlets; my thin, pale cheeks were rouged; Leonora's and Bellino's, which inclined to red rather much, were whitened with flour. In due time all of us were ready, and made up for stage-effect; and when the other three came, we set off, with no little anxiety as regarded our failure or success.

A large and elegant room had been engaged, and all things arranged in the most approved order. The doors were opened, and our spirits rose as the room began to fill with an audience large and respectable. The entertainment commenced; and I had the pleasure to be encored, although it was an Italian song. I got through the evening with the greatest applause. Leonora sang several songs without an encore; she must have been much hurt at my success, for she became cool, and spoke snappishly to me during the whole evening; but I was to her as humble and obedient as I had ever been.

Bellino and his companions were in great

A consultation was held with the others, when it was resolved to court fortune in the other towns. We were too poor to pay for our conveyance by coach, so we set off on foot, each carrying his own instrument, and Leonora her bundle of dresses. I had a good share of the burthen myself-all the bills that were to be posted up when we made a halt at any place where we hoped to collect an audience, and the little linen my master and mistress had; these were made into a bundle, which I carried on my back like a knapsack, and towards the evening I was often ready to sink under it. We were ever in difficulties, for our expenses were certain, and our audiences very uncertain—oftener yielding but little more than a profit than otherwise.

During the summer months, we visited several towns with various success. As we journeyed along from town to town, when we came to a gentleman's estate, if the family were there, we stopped at the nearest village until Bellino went to the gentleman and offered our services; and at times they were accepted: these were the bright days in our weary pilgrimage, for we were well fed and well paid. At times, we would remain for a day or two; I often got a few shillings to myself from the company, but this did me no good, for Bellino always took it from me: he was, in this respect, as bad as Blind Willie, my last master.

Towards the end of summer, discord began to disturb the harmony that had cheered us in all our fatigues and privations. One of the young men on such occasions took the part of Leonora, and this led to taunts and bickerings among all three these became more bitter every day; and at length they broke out into an open quarrel, and death and blood were threatened on both sides. The other two men looked on with indifference, as if they enjoyed the brawl; while I stood trembling, and Leonora weeping, or pretending to do so. These noisy threats ended one day in apparent reconciliation, and all retired to bed as if nothing had occurred; Bellino and the two others a good deal the

« PreviousContinue »