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
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 man?
'But he knows my age, mother.'
'I'm glad of that, but maybe he wouldna like you when he saw you.'
'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
'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
'Yes, that is just what you would do, you cunning woman! But if he
has no family?'
'I would say what great men editors are!'
'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 them.'
'Ah, I'm sure there are better ways of getting round an editor than
'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
'Pooh!' says my mother brazenly.
'I can see the reason why you are so popular with men.'
'Ay, you can see it, but they never will.'
'Well, how would you dress yourself if you were going to that
'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 ten.'
'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
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 before, mother.'
'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
'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 in, too.'
'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 you?'
''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 scoundrels.'
'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 with chaff.'
'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 for dinner.'
'And a gey black price, I'm thinking.'
'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 club?'
No, it was not that kind of club.
'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 them.