A devout lady, to whom some
friend had presented one of my
books, used to say when asked
how she was getting on with it,
'Sal, it's dreary, weary, uphill
work, but I've wrastled through
with tougher jobs in my time,
and, please God, I'll wrastle
through with this one.' It was
in this spirit, I fear, though
she never told me so, that my
mother wrestled for the next
year or more with my leaders,
and indeed I was always genuinely
sorry for the people I saw reading
them. In my spare hours I was
trying journalism of another
kind and sending it to London,
but nearly eighteen months elapsed
before there came to me, as unlooked
for as a telegram, the thought
that there was something quaint
about my native place. A boy
who found that a knife had been
put into his pocket in the night
could not have been more surprised.
A few days afterwards I sent
my mother a London evening paper
with an article entitled 'An
Auld Licht Community,' and they
told me that when she saw the
heading she laughed, because
there was something droll to
her in the sight of the words
Auld Licht in print. For her,
as for me, that newspaper was
soon to have the face of a friend.
To this day I never pass its
placards in the street without
shaking it by the hand, and she
used to sew its pages together
as lovingly as though they were
a child's frock; but let the
truth be told, when she read
that first article she became
alarmed, and fearing the talk
of the town, hid the paper from
all eyes. For some time afterwards,
while I proudly pictured her
showing this and similar articles
to all who felt an interest in
me, she was really concealing
them fearfully in a bandbox on
the garret stair. And she wanted
to know by return of post whether
I was paid for these articles
as much as I was paid for real
articles; when she heard that
I was paid better, she laughed
again and had them out of the
bandbox for re-reading, and it
cannot be denied that she thought
the London editor a fine fellow
but slightly soft.
When I sent off that first
sketch I thought I had exhausted
the subject, but our editor wrote
that he would like something
more of the same, so I sent him
a marriage, and he took it, and
then I tried him with a funeral,
and he took it, and really it
began to look as if we had him.
Now my mother might have been
discovered, in answer to certain
excited letters, flinging the
bundle of undarned socks from
her lap, and 'going in for literature';
she was racking her brains, by
request, for memories I might
convert into articles, and they
came to me in letters which she
dictated to my sisters. How well
I could hear her sayings between
the lines: 'But the editor-man
will never stand that, it's perfect
blethers' - 'By this post it
must go, I tell you; we must
take the editor when he's hungry
- we canna be blamed for it,
can we? he prints them of his
free will, so the wite is his'
- 'But I'm near terrified. -
If London folk reads them we're
done for.' And I was sounded
as to the advisability of sending
him a present of a lippie of
shortbread, which was to be her
crafty way of getting round him.
By this time, though my mother
and I were hundreds of miles
apart, you may picture us waving
our hands to each other across
country, and shouting 'Hurrah!'
You may also picture the editor
in his office thinking he was
behaving like a shrewd man of
business, and unconscious that
up in the north there was an
elderly lady chuckling so much
at him that she could scarcely
scrape the potatoes.
I was now able to see my mother
again, and the park seats no
longer loomed so prominent in
our map of London. Still, there
they were, and it was with an
effort that she summoned up courage
to let me go. She feared changes,
and who could tell that the editor
would continue to be kind? Perhaps
when he saw me -
She seemed to be very much
afraid of his seeing me, and
this, I would point out, was
a reflection on my appearance
or my manner.
No, what she meant was that
I looked so young, and - and
that would take him aback, for
had I not written as an aged
'But he knows my age, mother.'
'I'm glad of that, but maybe
he wouldna like you when he saw
'Oh, it is my manner, then!'
'I dinna say that, but - '
Here my sister would break
in: 'The short and the long of
it is just this, she thinks nobody
has such manners as herself.
Can you deny it, you vain woman?'
My mother would deny it vigorously.
'You stand there,' my sister
would say with affected scorn,
'and tell me you don't think
you could get the better of that
man quicker than any of us?'
'Sal, I'm thinking I could
manage him,' says my mother,
with a chuckle.
'How would you set about it?'
Then my mother would begin
to laugh. 'I would find out first
if he had a family, and then
I would say they were the finest
family in London.'
'Yes, that is just what you
would do, you cunning woman!
But if he has no family?'
'I would say what great men
'He would see through you.'
'You don't understand that
what imposes on common folk would
never hoodwink an editor.'
'That's where you are wrong.
Gentle or simple, stupid or clever,
the men are all alike in the
hands of a woman that flatters
'Ah, I'm sure there are better
ways of getting round an editor
'I daresay there are,' my mother
would say with conviction, 'but
if you try that plan you will
never need to try another.'
'How artful you are, mother
- you with your soft face! Do
you not think shame?'
'Pooh!' says my mother brazenly.
'I can see the reason why you
are so popular with men.'
'Ay, you can see it, but they
'Well, how would you dress
yourself if you were going to
that editor's office?'
'Of course I would wear my
silk and my Sabbath bonnet.'
'It is you
who are shortsighted now, mother.
I tell you, you
would manage him better if you
just put on your old grey shawl
and one of your bonny white mutches,
and went in half smiling and
half timid and said, "I am the
mother of him that writes about
the Auld Lichts, and I want you
to promise that he will never
have to sleep in the open air."'
But my mother would shake her
head at this, and reply almost
hotly, 'I tell you if I ever
go into that man's office, I
go in silk.'
I wrote and asked the editor
if I should come to London, and
he said No, so I went, laden
with charges from my mother to
walk in the middle of the street
(they jump out on you as you
are turning a corner), never
to venture forth after sunset,
and always to lock up everything
(I who could never lock up anything,
except my heart in company).
Thanks to this editor, for the
others would have nothing to
say to me though I battered on
all their doors, she was soon
able to sleep at nights without
the dread that I should be waking
presently with the iron-work
of certain seats figured on my
person, and what relieved her
very much was that I had begun
to write as if Auld Lichts were
not the only people I knew of.
So long as I confined myself
to them she had a haunting fear
that, even though the editor
remained blind to his best interests,
something would one day go crack
within me (as the mainspring
of a watch breaks) and my pen
refuse to write for evermore.
'Ay, I like the article brawly,'
she would say timidly, 'but I'm
doubting it's the last - I always
have a sort of terror the new
one may be the last,' and if
many days elapsed before the
arrival of another article her
face would say mournfully, 'The
blow has fallen - he can think
of nothing more to write about.'
If I ever shared her fears I
never told her so, and the articles
that were not Scotch grew in
number until there were hundreds
of them, all carefully preserved
by her: they were the only thing
in the house that, having served
one purpose, she did not convert
into something else, yet they
could give her uneasy moments.
This was because I nearly always
assumed a character when I wrote;
I must be a country squire, or
an undergraduate, or a butler,
or a member of the House of Lords,
or a dowager, or a lady called
Sweet Seventeen, or an engineer
in India, else was my pen clogged,
and though this gave my mother
certain fearful joys, causing
her to laugh unexpectedly (so
far as my articles were concerned
she nearly always laughed in
the wrong place), it also scared
her. Much to her amusement the
editor continued to prefer the
Auld Licht papers, however, as
was proved (to those who knew
him) by his way of thinking that
the others would pass as they
were, while he sent these back
and asked me to make them better.
Here again she came to my aid.
I had said that the row of stockings
were hung on a string by the
fire, which was a recollection
of my own, but she could tell
me whether they were hung upside
down. She became quite skilful
at sending or giving me (for
now I could be with her half
the year) the right details,
but still she smiled at the editor,
and in her gay moods she would
say, 'I was fifteen when I got
my first pair of elastic-sided
boots. Tell him my charge for
this important news is two pounds
'Ay, but though we're doing
well, it's no' the same as if
they were a book with your name
on it.' So the ambitious woman
would say with a sigh, and I
did my best to turn the Auld
Licht sketches into a book with
my name on it. Then perhaps we
understood most fully how good
a friend our editor had been,
for just as I had been able to
find no well-known magazine -
and I think I tried all - which
would print any article or story
about the poor of my native land,
so now the publishers, Scotch
and English, refused to accept
the book as a gift. I was willing
to present it to them, but they
would have it in no guise; there
seemed to be a blight on everything
that was Scotch. I daresay we
sighed, but never were collaborators
more prepared for rejection,
and though my mother might look
wistfully at the scorned manuscript
at times and murmur, 'You poor
cold little crittur shut away
in a drawer, are you dead or
just sleeping?' she had still
her editor to say grace over.
And at last publishers, sufficiently
daring and far more than sufficiently
generous, were found for us by
a dear friend, who made one woman
very 'uplifted.' He also was
an editor, and had as large a
part in making me a writer of
books as the other in determining
what the books should be about.
Now that I
was an author I must get into
a club. But you
should have heard my mother on
clubs! She knew of none save
those to which you subscribe
a pittance weekly in anticipation
of rainy days, and the London
clubs were her scorn. Often I
heard her on them - she raised
her voice to make me hear, whichever
room I might be in, and it was
when she was sarcastic that I
skulked the most: 'Thirty pounds
is what he will have to pay the
first year, and ten pounds a
year after that. You think it's
a lot o' siller? Oh no, you're
mista'en - it's nothing ava.
For the third part of thirty
pounds you could rent a four-roomed
house, but what is a four- roomed
house, what is thirty pounds,
compared to the glory of being
a member of a club? Where does
the glory come in? Sal, you needna
ask me, I'm just a doited auld
stock that never set foot in
a club, so it's little I ken
about glory. But I may tell you
if you bide in London and canna
become member of a club, the
best you can do is to tie a rope
round your neck and slip out
of the world. What use are they?
Oh, they're terrible useful.
You see it doesna do for a man
in London to eat his dinner in
his lodgings. Other men shake
their heads at him. He maun away
to his club if he is to be respected.
Does he get good dinners at the
club? Oh, they cow! You get no
common beef at clubs; there is
a manzy of different things all
sauced up to be unlike themsels.
Even the potatoes daurna look
like potatoes. If the food in
a club looks like what it is,
the members run about, flinging
up their hands and crying, "Woe
is me!" Then this is another
thing, you get your letters sent
to the club instead of to your
lodgings. You see you would get
them sooner at your lodgings,
and you may have to trudge weary
miles to the club for them, but
that's a great advantage, and
cheap at thirty pounds, is it
no'? I wonder they can do it
at the price.'
My wisest policy was to remain
downstairs when these withering
blasts were blowing, but probably
I went up in self-defence.
'I never saw you so pugnacious
'Oh,' she would reply promptly,
'you canna expect me to be sharp
in the uptake when I am no' a
member of a club.'
'But the difficulty is in becoming
a member. They are very particular
about whom they elect, and I
daresay I shall not get in.'
'Well, I'm but a poor crittur
(not being member of a club),
but I think I can tell you to
make your mind easy on that head.
You'll get in, I'se uphaud -
and your thirty pounds will get
'If I get in it will be because
the editor is supporting me.'
'It's the first ill thing I
ever heard of him.'
'You don't think he is to get
any of the thirty pounds, do
''Deed if I did I should be
better pleased, for he has been
a good friend to us, but what
maddens me is that every penny
of it should go to those bare-faced
'What bare-faced scoundrels?'
'Them that have the club.'
'But all the members have the
club between them.'
'Havers! I'm no' to be catched
'But don't you believe me?'
'I believe they've filled your
head with their stories till
you swallow whatever they tell
you. If the place belongs to
the members, why do they have
to pay thirty pounds?'
'To keep it going.'
'They dinna have to pay for
their dinners, then?'
'Oh yes, they have to pay extra
'And a gey black price, I'm
'Well, five or six shillings.'
'Is that all? Losh, it's nothing,
I wonder they dinna raise the
Nevertheless my mother was
of a sex that scorned prejudice,
and, dropping sarcasm, she would
at times cross-examine me as
if her mind was not yet made
up. 'Tell me this, if you were
to fall ill, would you be paid
a weekly allowance out of the
No, it was not that kind of
'I see. Well, I am just trying
to find out what kind of club
it is. Do you get anything out
of it for accidents?'
Not a penny.
'Anything at New Year's time?'
Not so much as a goose.
'Is there any one mortal thing
you get free out of that club?'
There was not one mortal thing.
'And thirty pounds is what
you pay for this?'
If the committee elected me.
'How many are in the committee?'
About a dozen, I thought.
'A dozen! Ay, ay, that makes
two pound ten apiece.'
When I was elected I thought
it wisdom to send my sister upstairs
with the news. My mother was
ironing, and made no comment,
unless with the iron, which I
could hear rattling more violently
in its box. Presently I heard
her laughing - at me undoubtedly,
but she had recovered control
over her face before she came
downstairs to congratulate me
sarcastically. This was grand
news, she said without a twinkle,
and I must write and thank the
committee, the noble critturs.
I saw behind her mask, and maintained
a dignified silence, but she
would have another shot at me.
'And tell them,' she said from
the door, 'you were doubtful
of being elected, but your auld
mother had aye a mighty confidence
they would snick you in.' I heard
her laughing softly as she went
up the stair, but though I had
provided her with a joke I knew
she was burning to tell the committee
what she thought of them.
Money, you see, meant so much
to her, though even at her poorest
she was the most cheerful giver.
In the old days, when the article
arrived, she did not read it
at once, she first counted the
lines to discover what we should
get for it - she and the daughter
who was so dear to her had calculated
the payment per line, and I remember
once overhearing a discussion
between them about whether that
sub-title meant another sixpence.
Yes, she knew the value of money;
she had always in the end got
the things she wanted, but now
she could get them more easily,
and it turned her simple life
into a fairy tale. So often in
those days she went down suddenly
upon her knees; we would come
upon her thus, and go away noiselessly.
After her death I found that
she had preserved in a little
box, with a photograph of me
as a child, the envelopes which
had contained my first cheques.
There was a little ribbon round