Wandering Davy

by H. S. Caswell

It was while I was spending a few days in the dwelling of Mr. C., a Scottish immigrant, that he received a long letter from his friends in Scotland. After perusing the letter he addressed his wife, saying: "So auld Davy's gone at last." "Puir man," replied Mrs. C. "If he's dead let us hope that he has found that rest and peace which has been so long denied him in this life." "And who was old Davy; may I enquire," said I, addressing Mr. C. "Ay, man," he replied, "'tis a sad story; but when my work is by for the night, I'll tell ye a' that I ken o' the life o' Davy Stuart." I was then young and very imaginative; and a story of any kind possessed much interest for me; and the thought that the story of Old Davy was to be a true one, rendered it doubly interesting; so I almost counted the hours of the remaining portion of the day; and when evening came I was not slow to remind Mr. C. of his promise. Accordingly he related to me the following particulars of the life of Davy Stuart; which I give, as nearly as possible, in his own words; for it seems to me that the story would lose half its interest were I to render it otherwise.

"Davy Stuart was an aul' man when I was a wee boy at the school. I had aye been used wi' him; for he often bided wi' us for days thegither; and while a boy I gave little heed to his odd ways an' wanderin' mode o' life; for he was very kind to mysel' an' a younger brither an' we thought muckle o' him; but when we had grown up to manhood my father tell'd us what had changed Davy Stuart from a usefu' an' active man to the puir demented body he then was. He was born in a small parish in the south of Scotland, o' respectable honest parents, who spared nae pains as he grew up to instruct him in his duty to baith God an' man. At quite an early age he was sent to the parish school: where he remained maist o' the time till he reached the age o' fourteen years. At that time he was apprenticed to learn the trade o' shoemaker, in a distant town. It wad seem that he served his time faithfully, an' gained a thorough knowledge o' his trade. Upon leaving his master, after paying a short visit to his native parish, he gie'd awa' to the city o' Glasgow, to begin the warld for himself. He continued steady and industrious, and was prospered accordingly; and at the age o' twenty-five he had saved considerable money. It was about this time, that he was married to a worthy young woman, to whom he had been long deeply attached. They had but one bairn, a fine boy, who was the delight o' his father's heart, and I hae heard it said by they who kenn'd them at the time, that a bonnier or mair winsome boy could 'na hae been found in the city, than wee Geordie Stuart. Time gied on till Geordie was near twelve years aul', when it began to be talked o' among Mr. Stuart's friends that he was becoming owre fond o' drink. How the habit was first formed naebody could tell; but certain it was, that during the past year he had been often seen the war o' drink. His wife, puir body, admonished an' entreated him to break awa' fra the sinfu' habit, and he often, when moved by her tears, made resolutions o' amendment, which were broken maist as soon as made; an' it was during a longer season o' sobriety than was usual wi' him, that his wife, thinkin' if he was once awa' fra the great city he would be less in the way o' temptation, persuaded him to leave Glasgow an' remove to the sma' village o' Mill-Burn, a little way frae the farm which my father rented.

I well mind, said my father, o' the time when they first cam' among us, an' how kin' was a' the neebors to his pale sad-lookin' wife and the bonny light-hearted Geordie, who was owre young at the time, to realize to its fu' extent the sad habit into which his father had fa'n. When Mr. Stuart first came to our village he again took up his aul' habits o' industry, an' for a long time would'na taste drink ava; but when the excitement o' the sudden change had worn off, his aul' likin' for strong drink cam' back wi' fu' force, an' he, puir weak man—had'na the strength o' mind to withstand it. He soon became even war than before; his money was a' gane, he did'na work, so what was there but poverty for his wife an' child. But it is useless for me to linger o'er the sad story. When they had lived at Mill-Burn a little better than a twelve month, his wife died, the neebors said o' a broken heart. A wee while afore her death she ca'd Davie to her bedside, an' once mair talked lang an earnestly to him o' the evil habit which had gotten sic a hold o' him, an' begged him for the sake o' their dear' Geordie, who, she reminded him, would soon be left without a mither to care for him, to make still anither effort to free himself fra the deadly habit. I believe Davie was sincere when he promised the dyin' woman that he wad gie up drink. Wi' a' his faults, he had tenderly loved his wife, an' I hae nae doubt fully intended keepin' the promise he made her. For a lang time after her death, he was n'er seen to enter a public house ava', an' again he applied himsel' to his wark wi' much industry. After the death o' Mrs. Stuart, Geordie an' his father bided a' their lane. Their house was on the ither side o' the burn which crossed the high-road, a wee bit out o' the village. Time gie'd on for some time wi' them in this way. Davy continued sober and industrious, an' the neebors began to hae hopes that he had gotten the better o' his evil habit; he had n'er been kenned to taste strong drink o' ony kin' sin' the death o' his wife. One evening after he an' Geordie had ta'en their suppers, he made himsel' ready to gang out, saying to Geordie that he was gaun' doon to the village for a wee while, and that he was to bide i' the house an' he would'na be lang awa'. The hours wore awa' till ten o'clock, an' he had'na cam' hame. It was aye supposed that the boy, becoming uneasy at his father's lang stay, had set out to look for him, when by some mishap, it will n'er be kenned what way, he lost his footin', an' fell frae the end o' the narrow brig which crossed the burn. The burn was'na large, but a heavy rain had lately fa'n, an' there was aye a deep bit at one end o' the brig. He had fa'n head first into the water in sic a way that he could'na possibly won 'oot. It was a clear moonlicht night, an' when Davy reached the brig, the first thing he saw was his ain son lyin' i' the water. I hae often been told that a sudden shock o' ony kind will sober a drunken man. It was sae wi' Davy; for the first neebor who, hearin' his cries for assistance, ran to the spot, found him standin i' the middle o' the brig, perfectly sober, wi' the drooned boy in his arms; although it was weel kenned that he was quite drunk when he left the village. Every means was used for the recovery o' the boy, but it was a' useless, he was quite deed an' caul'. "Ah" said Davy, when tell'd by the doctor that the boy was indeed dead, "my punishment is greater than I can bear." Geordie had aye been as "the apple o' his een"; never had he been kenned to ill use the boy, even when under the influence o' drink; and the shock was too much for his reason. Many wondered at his calmness a' the while the body lay i' the house afore the burial; but it was the calmness o' despair; he just seemed to me like ane turned to stane. The first thing that roused him was the sound o' the first earth that fell on puir Geordie's coffin. He gie'd ae bitter groan, an' wad hae fa'n to the earth had'na a kind neebor supported him. His mind wandered fra that hour; he was aye harmless, but the light o' reason never cam' back to his tortured mind. Sometimes he wad sit for hours by Geordie's grave, an' fancy that he talked wi' him. On these occasions nothing wad induce him to leave the grave till some ither fancy attracted his mind. As I hae before said he was never outrageous, but seemed most o' the time, when silent, to be in deep thought; but his reason was quite gone, and the doctors allowed that his case was beyond cure. Many questioned them as to whether it were safe to allow him his liberty, lest he might do some deed o' violence; but they gave it as their opinion that his disease was'na a' ta' likely to tak' that turn wi' him, an' so was left to wander on. He never bided verra lang in a place, but wandered frae house to house through a' the country-side: and every one treated him wi' kindness. The sight o' a bonny fair-haired boy aye gave him muckle pleasure, an' he wad whiles hae the idea that Geordie had cam' back to him. From the day o' Geordie's death to that o' his ain', which took place a month sine, he was n'er kenned to taste strong drink; he could'na bear even the sight o' it. He lived to a verra great age, an' for many years they who did'na ken the story o' his early life ha'e ca'd him Wanderin' Davy. "I hae noo tell'd you his story," said Mr. C. addressing me; "an I hope it may prove a warnin' to you an' ithers o' the awfu' evils o' intemperance; an' I think it's high time my story was finished, for I see by the clock that it's growin' unco late." When the evening psalm had been sung, Mr. C. read a portion of the Scriptures and offered the usual nightly prayer, and soon after we all sought repose; but it was long ere I slept. The story I had listened to still floated through my mind, and when sleep at length closed my eyes it was to dream of "Wandering Davy," and the poor drowned boy.