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THOMAS A' THING.
AMONG the Scottish peasantry, one very often meets with what is called " a character.' Traits of individuality, whether personal or national, are more apt to be rubbed off among the trading ranks, their outward deportment and speech being so much borrowed from each other.
The Scotch peasant, feeling himself perfectly independent of every one, except his laird, is not very lavish Indeed, his manner is
of his courtesy towards strangers. often far more surly than he intends; but whatever civility he does yield is pretty sure to come from the heart. Any one accustomed to speak much with these people must be very unlucky if he does not often meet with something original, and the following is barely an average specimen of what may be expected.
Thomas a' Thing (all things) was a native of Perthshire, and when very young came to settle upon my father's estate. He had a code of honesty which, I have heard it pretty broadly asserted, was a convenient one for himself, as he allowed no law or licence except to No. 1, while his uncompromising conduct to Nos. 2, 3, and 4, gained him many enemies, as well as my father's protection. But, after a few threats from his neighbours of putting the bodie i' the loch," he was left to take his own course. Thomas's face is no bad index of his temper.
A long drooping nose and peaked chin, small fixed eyes, and thick heavy eyelids. In stature, he is much below the middle height, and his very walk, like Venus's, makes known the man. It is neither fast nor slow, and seems to say, "I'll no neglec' my business, but for a' that there 's nae thrift in a hurry."
The avocations of Thomas a' Thing, as his title imports, are manifold. He can turn his hand to most things, without being very skilful in any. Mason, plumber, painter, glazier, rat and mole catcher, vermin-killer, with many other et ceteras, are all alike to Thomas; but, from his love of natural history, the latter pursuits are more congenial to his taste. A chat with Thomas on these subjects was a sure specific against the spleen, and, if his conclusions were often wrong, he sometimes related from his own observation facts both curious and interesting. In winter he was always employed as one of the gamewatchers, and, although he used openly to admit he was nae great soger," yet he often showed more pluck than those who pretended they were.
Thomas returned one morning from the islands with a prisoner in the stern of his boat, and his quaint grave relation of the particulars, in presence of his captive, was truly comical. He had with his enormous telescope discovered four Leven printers, poaching flappers. They had lighted a fire, and begun to cook some of their spoil. He rowed to the other side of the island, and then, winding round, got between them and their boat. He then cocked his pistol, and, like another Robinson Crusoe, dashed single-handed into the midst of the four. They all sprang to their legs and ran different ways; but Thomas, choosing out the man who took the least
direct line to their boat, endeavoured to cut him off from his companions. The fellow, however, had good wind, and by sundry doubles managed to reach the shore where the boat was. But his faithful allies, thinking it prudent to throw a sop to this terrible Cerberus, had left their companion and pulled away. The printer's heart now completely failed, so, wading into the water, as the stag at bay, awaited his pursuer's approach. Thomas, with his pistol still on full cock, and carefully selecting the nearest point on the shore, took deadly aim, and commanded him instantly to surrender. The fellow, now fancying that death was staring him in the face, fell down on his knees in the water, and begged for mercy. This was granted him, on condition of immediately shipping himself on board Thomas's craft. He then uncocked and replaced his formidable weapon, which, he afterwards told me, had never been loaded!
But it is only in calm clear weather that trespassers have anything to fear from Thomas's prowess. He has a perfect horror of winds and waves, and would not trust his "frail bark" upon the loch in a storm for any guerdon that could be offered him. We had been after wild swans one day, when unfortunately the wind rose a little. He became so paralyzed with terror as to be useless at the oar, so we placed him at the helm. His great object then was to steer in for the shore, so that we were in continual danger of being stranded on some sunken rock. We ordered him peremptorily to put out a little, when he answered in a perfect agony, "Gentlemen, gentlemen, I'll gang up as high as ever ye like, but oh! keep me frae the water." In justice to Thomas, I must say, that I have seen him in a situation on the roof of a house
which I would not have exchanged with him for a good deal.
Thomas has a great opinion of his own powers of reasoning. He will not succumb even to the minister, certainly not to the schoolmaster; but he has always tact enough not to get beyond his depth, and, if driven to give an opinion on any point where he is not quite sure, he generally evades the difficulty by saying, "Weel, gentlemen, ye maun jist consult yer ain raison." There is at these times a grotesque assumption of dignity, as he measures out his reply; and, indeed, at all times a certain air of innate pomposity, that prevents one from addressing him otherwise than by his full designation, however tempted by wind or distance to call out "Tom." As to his wardrobe, it is certainly not very smart, with the exception of an old weather-beaten tarpaulin, which is rather gaudy than becoming. He always gives it a fresh coat of paint, to keep out the November rain, when he is painting a door or rail, so that it constantly changes from yellow to pea-green, and from pea-green to sky-blue. Thomas meanwhile changes little himself. He is philosopher enough to be contented with his lot, thoroughly enjoying his book on a winter evening; the more so, if it "trates of nateral history." He continues to plod on his way, and even John Sly, who has the reputation of being a wag, and is a tailor to boot, whose quick grey eye looks as if winking at the sun, to take the shine out of him, has ceased to exchange a banter, having often found to his cost that there was more point and sarcasm in Thomas's wisdom than in his wit.
THE BASS ROCK.
THIS singular cliff of the sea has been the subject of many pages and many prints; but no description can lessen the amazement felt on beholding it for the first time. I had been familiar with much of our sternest coast scenery, had shot sea-fowl on the Clet of Caithness, and stalked seals under the savage and perpendicular rocks of Morayshire; but there is a grandeur about this solitary giant of the deep which is different from any of the wildest scenes I had gazed upon before.
When nearing the Bass, the ochre-coloured lichen which covers many of the rocks, contrasted with the white guano of the sea-fowl, and the white feathers of the solans, has, what painters call, a "fine pictorial effect." But when the boatmen pull slowly under the beetling cliff, studded from top to bottom with rank upon rank of living fowl, one is rather paralyzed than impressed with the stupendous
At the time I was there, a raven's nest was fixed near the top of the western side. Three of the young, in appearance no bigger than blackbirds, were peering over the side. I could scarcely believe they were not jackdaws. The Peregrine falcon had also built outside the tower, and was wheeling aloft in company with the geese. I pointed him out as a sparrow hawk, and was equally