The Domestic Griefs of Gustavus M’Iver

by Alexander Leighton


In a little house in the Canongate of Edinburgh, there lived, not very long ago, Mr Gustavus M’Iver—(for he never would allow himself to be called Ensign M’Iver, though that was his proper professional designation),—as good a man as ever God put breath in, and as faithful a soldier as ever Lord Wellington commanded in the Peninsula. That is, doubtless, no small praise to one conceived in sin and brought forth in iniquity; and heaven knows if it were not as true as Jove’s oath, it would never have been awarded by us. But he was remarkable in other respects than being honest; for he was six feet five without the aid of sock or buskin; and, if any man were to say that he was not four feet from acromion to acromion, he would assuredly be a big liar. But it is the head and face of a man that we like to look at; for, after all, what signifies (except in a warlike view, and ours is a peaceable one) a cart-load of mere bone and muscle, bound together with thick whangs of gristle, and yielding nothing but brute force, if it be not surmounted by a good microcosm of a head, with a good dial-plate to let a man know what is going on within. Do we not see every day great clocks put on the tops of big steeples, and yet, though they are nearer the sun than the little time-piece with the deuce a body at all, they go like an intermitting fever, telling us at one time that we are hurrying to the grave, and at another, that time has nothing to do with us at all. So is it with men; and, for our part, we could never discover any proper legitimate sympathetic accordance between the trunk and cranium of mortals, any more than if (like pins) they had been made in pieces and one head clapped on a body just as the occipital condyles suited the straps to which they are attached.

The opinion now expressed is well justified by the example of the subject of our story; for, while the big limbs of him seemed to set at defiance all regular laws of motion, either horizontal or perpendicular, going, as one might say without a paradox, wherever and however they choose, his head was as methodical as that of a drill sergeant, and the like of him for regularity might not be seen from Lerwick to Berwick. Nor was his face ever known to be at fault as a faithful indicator; and verily there was no great wonder in that, for nothing short of the pulleys he carried in his brain could ever have moved a single hair-breadth up or down, to the right or to the left, the big jaw-bone which he seldom condescended to impart any living motion to, except at meal times, or when (and that occurred very seldom) he had an idea to express sufficient in size and importance to warrant such an excess of labour.

We have said that Gustavus M’Iver had been in the Peninsula; and we may be believed or not, just as suits the reader’s credulity with our credibility; but he was a luckless wight who dared to doubt that fact in the personal presence of the hero himself; better by far he had been at St Sebastian, for the never a one we ever heard of, that had the temerity to express any scepticism on the point that did not live to repent it. There can be no doubt, however, on the subject; for Gustavus was not only in the Peninsula, but he fought there very well; and no great thanks to him either, for he had the entire charge of the mess—a post of honour he had acquired from an indisputable superiority in culinary lore, and a most indefatigable perseverance as well as an unexampled adroitness in the art of carving both for himself and others. The praise he got for fighting was, in so far as regarded the immense heaps of hungry Frenchmen he hewed down with his falchion, true enough; the bulletin writer recorded the fact just as it was reported to him, that the great Goliath Gustavus did actually perform very wonderful feats of sheer killing; and we cannot help thinking, notwithstanding of the sneers of his brother officers, that it would not have become the dignity of a despatch to have made any allusion whatever to the manner in which he had kept up his body and his courage.

When the war was done, he came home filled with glory; and as, when the world speaks of a man, it is unnecessary for him to speak of himself, he seldom (for he was a sensible man) ever thought of speaking either of himself or any other person or thing. Conceit is the foundation of speech; where a man is filled to the very throat with glory, there is little occasion for him ever opening his mouth; and therefore it was that Gustavus, in addition to his other peculiarities, seldom deigned to hold converse with the creatures of the earth, unless it were in his capacity of paymaster of pensions (an office his prowess had secured to him), when he was compelled to speak, to make others hold their tongues—an operation in which he succeeded to a miracle, from the accumulated load of authority he derived from his silence.


Now, it happened that this same Gustavus, after almost all the sap of his body had been eliminated by fighting, and there seemed to be scarcely enough left to lubricate the muscles that stretched from promontory to point of his big bones, like tough hausers, took it into his head to wish for a wife. We doubt if all the physiologists or psychologists that ever hunted for traces of the spirit among the white guts of the head could tell how such an idea came into such an extraordinary place; and if his heart was as dry as the voluntary muscles of his body, nothing short of a dislocation of Cupid’s right arm could ever have sent into such a leathery organ the tickling shaft. True, however, it is as death, that Gustavus did actually fall in love, and the symptoms were just as extraordinary as the passion itself; for there never was heard in any man’s lungs before, such a rattle of sighs; and as for the length of his jaws, the never a rough wood-cut of John Bunyan’s hero in the Slough of Despond could come within many degrees of their lugubrious longitude. It is even true that the power of the tender passion reached to his stomach—a place of all others that might a priori have been considered perfectly independent of all moral impulses whatsomever. Nothing before, except hunger itself, had ever affected that organ; and, indeed, ensconced behind and between, and beneath such ribs, nothing short of death itself might have been supposed capable of reaching it, or subduing its tough hide, its viscous linings, and its gastric juice, stronger than the best gin that ever was made at Schiedam.

Now the petit bel chose that had thus produced such an effect upon the moral and physical economy of this big son of Mars, was no other than a mere toy of a thing—a little milliner called Julia Briggs—scarcely so big, when divested of the padding and stuffing with which her art enabled her to supply her deficiency of natural size, as one of his huge limbs. But this may be no manner of marvel to those who are versant in the mysteries of love, who, being himself a small creature, seems to delight in throwing into the smallest of his victims the greatest portion of his power. It is difficult to see philosophically any final cause in the curious fact in nature; but surely, the never a man, who has any observation in him, will deny, that pigmy beauties and colossal swains (and vice versa) have a singular power of producing in each other the tender passion. It may be owing to nature’s love of the juste milieu, that thus induces her to take this mode of keeping up a reasonable mean size among human creatures, or it may be any one of a thousand other speculations; but what care we for such theories, when we have the fact to state as an undoubted truth, that Gustavus fell in love with Julia Briggs, as standing like a mighty Anak, in the Canongate of Edinburgh, he saw the little creature skipping along, twisting her little limbs as if she would have dislocated her joints in her efforts to appear graceful, in the eyes of mankind generally, and in those of the gigantic Gustavus, whom she had often seen looking after her, in particular! Successful beyond any prior example of her wriggling evolution of her graces, the little baggage—as quick in her eye as ever were Pip, Trip, or Skip, the maids of honour (according to Drayton) of Queen Mab—saw at once that she had hit the proper twirl and twinkle, at last, that would subdue the involuntary muscle that had so long been useless beneath the ribs of the great Gustavus. The moment the effect was produced, the sinews of his body began to move, and away he stalked after her, with strides as long as the whole height a capite ad calcem of the quarry upon which he intended to pounce. It spoke well of the power of “her harness of gossamer,” that it stood the tug of so huge a victim; and, as she turned her twinkling eye to observe the triumph of her power, she did not fail to rivet the chains by some higher displays of graceful contortion, that made his eyeballs roll in the large sockets, as if he had seen a hobgoblin, in place of Julia Briggs, the petite marchande de modes.

This was just as good a beginning as ever a sly man-catcher essayed in the world of love, since the days of Helen; and the arch kidnapper knew very well how to follow up her wile; for, after displaying, by a proper caper, as much of her ancle as would do the business, she skipped away, as nimbly as Nymphidia in the service of Oberon’s queen, and was not again seen till she opened the window of her mother’s house, and displayed herself, capless and coifless, to her staring admirer. The capture was now completed. Jove himself was never more completely entoiled by the chains of the little baggage Iynge; and, during the whole of that day, Gustavus strode along the pavement, opposite the window of his charmer, as if he had been on duty before a besieged city. He had just as little power to walk away as he had to circumscribe his step to the ordinary measure of God’s creatures; every stride occupying, at least, four feet of pavement, and being executed so regularly and methodically, that one step did not differ from another by a single inch. But it is a mere bagatelle to describe these pendulous movements, produced, for the first time, by the spirit of love; while, to execute with truth a faithful picture of the painful contortions of a countenance originally formed a wood-cut of extraordinary dimensions, and now under the soft, melting influence of the tenderest of passions, would require a goose-quill, owning no less an influence than the spirit of an immortal genius. As the loves of some of the inferior animals are expressed by sounds and signs that seem to indicate nothing but fierce war, so might the demonstrations of this extraordinary affair of the heart, exhibited through the grotesque motions of muscles that had been as rigid as dried leather for twenty years, be looked upon as anything rather than signs of the languishing passion which, as Augustin says, will make a musician out of an ass. Yet, doubtless, there was, both in his goggle-eyes and lengthened face, an expression that was intended for softness and languishment; and it is not impossible, that, if one had been apprized a priori of the intention, he might have discovered in the ludicrous gesticulations some resemblance to at least a burlesque of what is only a very ridiculous exhibition at the very best.

Love that is long a-coming, comes at last with a terrible onset—overturning all sense and prudence, kicking up the heels of all forms of etiquette, and removing every impediment to its progress. It is but a very small matter to say, that Gustavus could not sleep under the hug or embrace of the new customer that had taken such a violent hold of his heart, though we do not deem it an equally insignificant announcement, that a man who could swallow a couple of pounds of flesh at a down-sitting, should lose his gustative and digestive powers to such an extent that the knocking of his heart sounded audibly through his empty stomach, as if it had been a whispering gallery. But love is a leveller in more senses than the vulgar one; and the only circumstance about the matter of this particular case at all remarkable, was, that such effects, upon a body iron-bound as it was, and of such gigantic proportions, should have been produced by an agent of such truly insignificant dimensions. A resolute disciplinarian, however, at all points, without a single qualm of fear or doubt, and accustomed to attack a city or a haunch of beef with equal sang froid, the love-smitten victim, on the third day after his seizure, drew up his huge limbs to their full extent, till he seemed like the Colossus of Rhodes, and settled the whole affair by one resolute gnash of his under maxillary bone. Two strides took him to the door, one or two more brought him down stairs to the street, and the never a man that stalked off ground that was to be his own, went along with such strides as he used in making his way to the house of Julia Briggs. With one solitary idea in his head, and one word on his tongue—though there was room for a thousand—he went direct up to the door, knocked, like one of Froissard’s warriors at the barricades, was admitted, turned off the momentous question of marriage by one heavy lurch of his jaw, and settled a matter that danglers take years about in the space of time that a thirsty Bacchanalian would occupy in taking a long pull of jolly good ale.


In the week afterwards, the couple were united in the holy bands of matrimony; and, surely, to say that there was any ceremony about such a union, would be a burlesque of the mysteries of Hymen. Yet, rapid as were the movements, and wholesale the conclusion, no man ever put his neck in the noose with such imperturbable gravity, for, during the whole period occupied by the feast, which was in the form of a supper, no man could have observed in his gaunt face any one of the three laughs, Ionic, Megaric, or Sardonic, with which the face is usually convulsed; the only indication approaching to a cachination in the midst of the whoops and yells of the feasters, being a grin in the shape of a risus Ajacis, that defied all power of analysis. But even this caricature of a display of good humour, insignificant as it may seem, shewed to those who knew the man that he was labouring under the influence of some extraordinary emotion, as nothing of the kind had ever been seen in his countenance since the day on which he hewed down so unmercifully the French at St Sebastian. Nor, on the following day, when he had fairly entered upon the supreme happiness of the married state, was there seen any palpable sign of the joy that, of course, penetrated through all his well-mailed thoracic viscera—unless it were, perhaps, that his face had even increased in length, and the leathery aspect of all the “celestial index” of the soul was, if possible, more grim than ever.

The getting of a wife is, after all, but a very small matter in comparison of the ruling of her; and sure, if ever there was a man in the world, since the days of the grim Hercules, who bungled the matter out and out, that had any chance of subjecting his wife to the requisite thraldom and subordination, Gustavus was that man; for a look of him was enough to tame a Bucephalus any day; and it was evident that he cogitated mighty achievements in that way, if one might have judged from the marshalling character of his step as he paraded the house; his taciturnity, deeper than the wells of truth; and the air of a resolute importance that was enthroned among the deep furrows of his extraordinary countenance. The first fruits of his study—and verily he must have been a man of no common nerve that could study during the honeymoon—was the important conclusion, that the sooner his Julia was entoiled in the multifarious affairs of domestic economy, and the imperative duties of ministering to his every want and comfort, the better chance he enjoyed of subjecting her thoroughly to the power of his stern discipline. So straight began he, accordingly, upon the instant, and, by the aid of a small douceur, got quit of his servant—an act that savoured of extraordinary sagacity and wisdom, in so much as it involved the additional advantages of saving her wages, and keeping and turning his wife into a source of profit, as she would doubtless be the fountain of much delectation. It is not unlikely that the maxim, when the devil finds a man or woman idle, he straightway sets them aworking—or, as Erasmus expresses it, Ocium ad omnem nequitiam impellit—had a large share in this determination; for, as to the opinion of Shakspeare, that idleness is the source of love, he despised it hepatically, and calculated with certainty that love’s sweetest labour—the contributing to the comfort of her lord—would be diligently pursued by his beloved and most adorable Julia Briggs.

All this was just as fair a piece of human calculation, and as probable a conclusion, as could ever be found beyond the regions of pure mathematics; and so, placing every fibre of his big body, excepting some portion of the heart, under the rigid authority of the genius of command, he issued, with an air a deuced deal more martial than marital, his stern orders, which were as recondite as they were energetic—going into the very medullary penetralia of the matter of cooking and housekeeping with a knowledge and consideration that would have done honour to Mrs Margaret Dods of the Cleikum Inn herself. Nor was this to be much wondered at; for, had he himself not washed and dressed in the Peninsula, and had he not there also foraged, and cooked, and swallowed as no bon vivan ever did before, since the days of the three Apicii? The never a man had ever doubted it; and if he had, it would just have been as safe for the unhappy wretch to have disputed his courage as to have expressed one word of scepticism on a subject that so nearly concerned his honour—for, in either case, he would have been knocked down.

It would be a libel on womankind to say, that the polite Julia, who had been a standing toast among the small men of fashion connected with the depots of millinery wares about the town, had any affection for the bare-boned Colossus she had wedded on a week’s notice; and it would have been an insult to her spirit to have said that she feared him, though he was at least three times the size of any of her former lovers. She had married him, as all women of her stamp do, just for a living and protection—the one to be afforded from his pay, and the other from his bones and sinews—a very fair calculation for a woman of so small a calibre to make; and, accordingly, she would have declared war against him at once, big and terrible as he was, if she could have seen any good to come of it; for, as to the fearful expression of his leather-bound jaws, when he issued the order for work, she cared no more for it than if it had been a smile of mawkish love-doting. It is not likely that she had ever heard of Omphale, who ruled the biggest man of the world by her slipper; but she had not thrown away the needle, which had been used on the linens of fair, personable men, to take it up again to sew for a husband that never was intended by nature to be loved; and, as for supplying its place with the spit, she looked upon the proposition with as much contempt as she would have bestowed on a proposal that she should love the gigantic caricature she had married for nothing else in the world but her own convenience. All that was as plain as noon-day; but open war was not her tact, any more than it is the tact of Puck to fight the regular Goliaths of the earth at a fair stand-up or monomachy; and it is scarcely necessary to say, that the open duellum is no more relished by the women of her class generally, than it was by the “eel or deil” of a creature that Gustavus had raised to the high station of his wife. Nor had she any difficulty in fixing on her plans; for nature was just as kind to her as to the rest of her sex in suggesting the means of perplexing her lord, though it is not improbable that, if she had known that his intention in making her work was to keep her out of all that species of devilry that comes to women out of idleness, she might have been inclined to vindicate the nobility of her kind, by some more devilish trick than mere unaided nature might at first have prompted.

The sharp, vixen eye of the pigmy sempstress had not been slow in perceiving that the two grand sine quibus non of her husband’s comfort, were pure linens and well-cooked victuals; and she knew, moreover—doubtless in the way by which the sex come to their secret knowledge of men’s ways—that he had been in the habit of securing these grand objects by the labour of his own hands. The antipodes of each other in everything, they were as unlike each other in respect of these domestic duties, as they were in the sizes of their bodies; for while, as has been already hinted, there never was a man since the days of Pope Joan that excelled more in the mysteries of washing, dressing, and cooking than Gustavus, there never was a woman that knew less of these recondite arts than Mrs Julia M’Iver. The sexes of the two should, therefore, clearly have been reversed—he should have been the wife, and she the husband; and Julia knew this just as well as we or any other individual who presumes to question the excellence of the laws that regulate matrimonial matches, when she resolved to bring about a state of matters that would just be the same as if the potentiality we have mentioned had just in fact been a reality. She accordingly began by spoiling every piece of domestic labour to which she applied her hands; his linens being as much of the tint of saffron as ever were those of a gareteer, who enjoys the luxury of a pole and rope put forth from a skylight; and his victuals as wretchedly dressed as ever a devil-sent cook in the kingdom could have mangled out of the fair gifts of nature. Nothing in the way of destruction could have been more skilfully managed; and it is not too much to say, that, though the fair Julia had lifted her delicate hand, and attempted to knock him down, or performed any of the other culpć gravissimć that appertain to the privileges of the sex, she could not have more effectually roused the wrath, of the mighty Gustavus.


Had Gustavus been a reasonable man, he might have begun supplying, in a rational way, the deficiency of domestic lore which his Julia thus lamentably discovered; but, unfortunately, his pride of the perfectibility of his own knowledge of these occult mysteries was called in question at the very time that his anger was roused by a fault the most heinous of any beyond the pale of the decalogue. With a look of terrible scorn, in which, all the gristly muscles of his grim face were called into a grotesque, convulsive motion, he announced, in as much of a paucity of vocables, and as loud a sound as ever the stentorian Cycloborus, expressed his settled determination to take the sovereignty of the kitchen on his own shoulders; and no one could have heard the sound and seen his countenance without believing that it was just as sure as death or sin that he would do as he said he would do. At least, there can be no manner of doubt that Mrs Julia M’Iver believed him, and it was equally doubtless that she did not fear him. She smiled at the success of her scheme, and the smile itself would have done the business of confirmations, if there had been any need of such aid in the matter. So, accordingly, the apparition was soon afterwards exhibited, of the great bibbed Gustavus striding about in the kitchen, and performing manibus suis all the operations of the culinary department of his domestic economy; and we would tell a big untruth, or be guilty of misprision itself, if we attempted to conceal the fact, that he washed and dressed his own linens as well as, if not a deuced deal better, than any washerwoman that ever danced in a trough in the village of Duddingstone.

When Hercules laid down his club, and took off his lion’s skin, and received from the hands of his mistress the spindle and distaff, the big warrior did no more than many a better man has done when he resigns himself to the dominion of love; but no love on earth would ever have made Gustavus M’Iver take upon himself the duties of a woman. He did it from a sheer love of good eating and clean linens—ay, and he persevered in it too, though he saw, as plain as palpable physics, that (what he dreaded) his petite Julia would become a prey to the harpies of indolence. And, to be sure, the ordinary consequences very soon began to shew themselves; for where there was no love and no work to occupy the mind, and plenty of well-dressed victuals to fill the stomach, Mrs M’Iver was, in every respect, a lady at large, and, a lady at large being synonymous with a lady in danger, she fell into habits of going abroad, and calling, and gossiping, and sipping, and tasting, till she became as big a drunkard as ever was seen out of the county town of Horrestia. Yet, still true to her character, she feared Gustavus nothing—no more than she did the good whisky which she swallowed in choppins; and this fortitude made the mischief ten times greater than it would otherwise have been; for, terror being the fulcrum of law and amendment, there might have been some hope of her if she had not ensconced herself behind the noblest of all the cardinal virtues—true blue courage. Though a petite marchande de modes, and unable or unwilling to cook a dinner or dress a shirt, Mrs Julia M’Iver knew the rights of her sex just as well as the “guid wife of Auchtermuchty” herself—she knew that Gustavus had no right to turn her away without supporting her, and he could not beat her without subjecting himself to the horn of a summons of separation and aliment; so, upon the whole, she had grounds for her fearlessness, which would have supported her though she had had never a particle of true heroism from the mother of every one of us.

Few women whom fame has immortalized, have done so much as was achieved by this little heroine; for she had already made a giant her cook and servant, and now she forced him to become her nurse, when she chose to be sick from the effects of intemperance. A more complete reversal of all the reciprocal duties of husband and wife, had never been achieved by woman; and it was in vain that Gustavus looked more grim and gaunt than ever—that he even condescended to argue upon the subject—a thing he had never before done in his life, and of which, in truth, he was deemed totally incapable. He still loved the wicked imp, and she knew he loved her—and what more was required to account for the fearless perverseness on the one side, and the submission on the other? But what was he now to do? It was comparatively mere pastime to cook or to wash, or even to nurse the sick Julia, when her illness overcame his resentment; but the thought that the grand qualities and faculties of a man who had commanded and killed in his day, and whose very look spread terror around him, were to be brought down to subserve the mere purpose of ministering to one of the smallest of women that ever drew breath, and one of the greatest drunkards that ever drank whisky, was surely enough to make an ordinary man mad. If the difficulty was to be resolved at all, it could be only by cogitation; and so straightway he set about a process of thinking—an operation of marvellous difficulty to him, as might have been manifestly seen by the length of his stride and of his face, as he paced backwards and forwards—his apron, a species of mail he donned every morning before he began his operations, shaking and rattling among his huge limbs like a mainsail in a gale of wind.

And, to be sure, his was not altogether a barren cogitation, as might have been both seen and heard in the loud thunder of his hand on the table, as he muttered his resolution to stop the supplies. He never failed to act upon a thought; for the thing was too difficult to be got, to be lost for want of use, and, accordingly, the supplies were stopped; but what was that to Julia Briggs, so long as he had any credit in the town, or she had any clothes on her back? Julia got intoxicated as regularly as ever she had done before, and demanded imperiously his ministrations as nurse, with the same sang froid, or rather pertness, that formed a part of her cardinal courage. His cogitations had gone for nothing; and again the painful duty of pondering and devising, was forced upon the thick intestines of his gigantic head.

Again he perambulated the house from room to kitchen, sometimes brandishing like a sword a spit or skewer, in the mental absence produced by the effort to think; and he caught at last—what he laboured for—a cure for Julia’s habits of drinking; and he acted upon it again as manfully as before; for he locked her up, and the devil a chum, or gossip, or pot-companion could approach her; but he forgot that there was such an aperture as a window in a house, or a mouth in a woman, and the first thing that assailed his ears was the cry of Julia for constables to give her the liberty that our great country has awarded as a boon to all natural-born subjects of the realm. Nor was so just an appeal vain; for authorities and neighbours interfered in behalf of the prisoner; and Gustavus was told to his teeth that he had not a jot of right to imprison his wife; whereupon she was released, and the evening of the same day saw her, under the effects of the jubilee of her emancipation, more intoxicated than he had yet ever beheld her.

Again was the rusty machinery of his intellect set in motion, and the result was a device that distanced the former experiments, as well for its ingenuity as its chance of success. He had heard of women being satiated with liquor; and so he put in her power ten times more than ever it was in the capability of woman to swallow—an act that was accompanied by something in the shape of an argument, to the effect that, if she became disgusted with it, she would give it up, and if she died of it, the consequence would be the same. The result in the one case would be an achievement that would bring him comparative happiness, and the consequence in the other would, he was now satisfied (such was the misery he had suffered, and was still suffering), be anything but a misfortune. But Julia took no more than was good for her, and thanked Gustavus heartily for his extreme kindness, while every day she applied herself to the big measure; and every night, while the supply lasted, went to bed with the assistance of Gustavus’ own hands.


Thus did matters continue for a long period of time; and all the efforts, and threats, and devices of Gustavus had no more effect in preventing Julia from taking her pleasure, than the restraint of a husband generally has over the irregularities of a wife of true courage, who knows her inalienable rights derived from the just laws of a free land. If his brain seemed to be exhausted in devising remedies, his patience fell a victim before his continued wretchedness—and no marvel either, when it is considered that while other men only bring in the means of supporting a drunken wife, whom the equitable and wise ordinances of the country will not allow him to get quit of except for a crime not a tithe so bad as that of Julia M’Iver, he kept her in means, and cooked for and dressed for her, and nursed her, and all the good he got out of her was the liberty of doing these things for her benefit. By a happy chance, however, Gustavus’ brains were not yet exhausted. Space and time he had taken to ruminate upon his evils, and to hit upon one expedient more for the envied cure; and he resolved to carry his Julia off to the country, where, in some secluded cottage, he might exercise such an authority over her as would prevent her from following her usual courses. So accordingly he did just as he had resolved; and, in a small domicile in a part of the north, he took up his habitation, for no other purpose in the world than to cure Julia of her heart-engrained propensity. The place he had chosen seemed the very choicest that could have been found in all Scotland—ay, or England or Ireland either; for there was no house where a gossip might live, or a whisky-vender hang board, for miles; while a carrier that passed daily brought him everything that was necessary for human sustenance; and he himself could cook and wash unseen by the eyes of mortal.

For six weeks was Julia M’Iver as sober as the Chief Justice of England, or the President of the Supreme Court, and it was manifest that never a drop of anything stronger than river water had got beyond her parched lips.

Now, Gustavus triumphed as no man ever triumphed under less than an ovation itself; and Julia was forced to be contented with the limited tyranny of making him continue his domestic duties; for the more sober she was kept, the less she would do, and her time was chiefly occupied in reading novels, which Gustavus was glad to give her as an inadequate surrogation for whisky. But all this was too good to last, though how it should be interrupted, no man with less than the spirit of one Davo versatior could possibly tell. Jove’s greatness is, however, no less true, than the fact that Gustavus came in one night and found, and staggered with perfect amazement as he found, Mrs Julia M’Iver lying on the floor, more perfectly obnubilated, speechless, and senseless, from the effects of the liquid enemy, than he had ever seen her in his life. Yet there was no one near; the carrier had not called for a week; she could not have been absent from the house for more than half-an-hour; and he himself had been out stalking for exercise, and rejoicing in his triumph for no more than three full quarters. The matter seemed a mystery as deep as any that ever was covered by the Eleusinian veil; and having put her to bed, as he had done a thousand times before, he set about an investigation and search through all the premises, which ended in a look of gaunt amazement, and an ineffectual striding backwards and forwards, till he threw himself on a seat, and gave up the task in despair. Nor, after he had nursed her into sobriety, could he make a jot more of the inexplicable subject; for Julia had too much good sense to tell where she got the treasure, and only smiled at him as his heavy lips twisted themselves into a question, where, in the name of the author of all evil himself, she had fallen upon that infernal element.

No light was to be thrown upon the subject from any of the quarters from which evidence could have been looked for, and the circumstance might have remained as one of those mystical wonders that have perplexed mankind from the beginning of the world, and been passed over in despair, if Julia had afterwards remained sober, but she had scarcely recovered, and Gustavus had only begun to hope once more, when she was found again in the same state; and, every two days, or at farthest three, she repeated the habit, till at last she was as bad, if not worse, than she had ever been in the midst of dram shops in the city of Edinburgh. Never a word of explanation would she give on the subject; the carrier was watched, and found to deposit nothing; the inhabitants at the distance of miles were interrogated in vain; the house was again searched—no one had been seen to call, and all was as obscure as the numbers of Pythagoras, the Bćotic enigma, or the poems of Carcinus; the deuce a beam of light could Gustavus get for love or money, to clear up the dark mystery.


He had now retreated from a bad position to one a mighty deal worse; for, in the midst of a town, he could sometimes see a friend, and smoke a pipe, in the fumes of which all his cares were, for a time, enveloped, and kept from the eyes of his haunted fancy; but now, in the midst of a comparative wilderness, he had no associate, but that very limb of Satan herself, that was the source and origin of the misery to which he was enslaved. He was, besides, rolled up in a cloud of mystery, in which the wicked enchantress sat and mocked him, like some of those eastern genii, that love to look and speak through thick vapours which increase the mystic character of their power. Still she contrived to get intoxicated; and, so vain had been his efforts to trace the source of the evil, that he verily believed the imp was possessed of some charm whereby she realized a compact with the enemy of mankind. If he went out to stalk round the house and brood over his misfortunes, he found that she had, in the meantime, got herself made perfect in insensibility; and if she, by any means, got to a short distance from the house unobserved, she returned in a condition no less lamentable. It was a big, crying evil, fronted with shame, and adminicled with devilries of every degree and colour that ever came from the box of Pandora. It was impossible that man could stand it; and necessity, the mother of invention, stung the obtuse brain of Gustavus to something like the ingenium perfervidum of genius itself. He knew very well that he had terrified men; and, indeed, as love is said to be inspired by a look, so one glance of him was, of a surety, sufficient to have produced fear in any one but Julia, who valued his fierce looks no more than if they had been smiles. But he could do more than look—he could threaten; and the question that troubled him, for a time, was, what he should threaten; for he had made up his mind to terrify her in some way; and the sheer necessity of projecting something worthy of himself, was the parent of one of the most extraordinary expedients that ever came from the brain of genius.

The expedient was this: He told her, with a big oath, and a face at which the walls of St Sebastian might have trembled to their foundations, that, the first time he found her intoxicated, he would put her in a coffin, and actually bury her in the earth, as deep and sure as ever Jonah was buried in the belly of the biggest monster of the deep. Nor was the threat a sheer gust of breath, for he immediately set about making a real coffin—a performance which he executed very well, painting it as black as fashion requires, and studding it with a goodly portion of white buttons, which he tore from a mass of old regimentals; and, having finished it, he placed it in his bedroom, as a grim indication of the reality of his intentions. But the woman who could defy the terrors of such a face as that of Gustavus M’Iver, had nothing to fear from the sight of a coffin; and so, of a surety, it turned out—for the determined baggage not only laughed broad in his countenance, but told him to it, that, so long as he was cowardly enough to have any fear of the gallows, she had not a jot of reason to be afraid of being buried alive.

Both parties, in this way, seemed equally determined. Gustavus took his usual mighty strides along the room, and set the pulleys of his facial muscles in rapid play; and Julia, the pert minx, indulged in her laughing mockery, that seemed to set him and his coffin at defiance. That she was as serious as Socrates in her disbelief of his intentions, was very soon made manifest—for the coffin had not been three days old, when she got as drunk as Midas; and that he was apparently as determined as Draed, he very soon gave suitable demonstrations—for, in place of lifting her into bed according to his usual practice, he placed her into the grim chest, and, putting a mattock on the top of it, he hoisted it on his shoulders, and strode away forth to a wood as dark as the recesses of the Cumćan witch, that stood at some distance from his habitation. There, as good fortune would have it, he found, already dug to his hand, a deep hole, round the edges of which grew a profusion of bushes and furze, sufficient to make the pit as grim and frightful as the very grave itself; and there, having deposited his charge, with plenty of room for breath through the holes he had made in the lid, he turned him round, and stalked away home to cook his dinner.


Now, it happened that honest Angus M’Guire and Donald M’Nair, two brawny Highlanders, were that day busily occupied in distilling a drop of good whisky, in a subterraneous distillery, to which the hole wherein Gustavus had laid his wife, led by a covered and concealed passage; and it was in no other than this very place that Julia had been so plentifully supplied with the liquor by which she was so often inebriated. Sitting by the mouth of the worm or serpent, which gave forth drop by drop the poison, stronger and more hurtful than ever came from the mouth of the Snake of Lerna, they heard a strange noise on the ground over their heads, as Gustavus was busy about the details of his interment, and shook with unfeigned terror, as if they had been on the point of being discovered in their illicit operations. By and by they heard a rumbling in the mouth of the cavern, as if some one had been in the act of descending, and, rising and seizing each a pistol and a sword, they stood on the defensive, prepared to slay the first gauger that should set his face into their subterraneous dominions. But the never an exciseman appeared: in place of that, to them, most fearful of all mortal beings, they saw the identical coffin in which Julia M’Iver had been laid, fall with a heavy sound upon the floor of their dark habitation.

Terror-struck, twenty times more than if they had seen the ghost of a murdered exciseman, they stood with their hair forcing up their bonnets on their head, and stared till their eyes seemed ready to burst from the sockets, at the dreadful object of their fears. A faint light glimmered through the cave, and was reflected from the rows of white buttons with which the black vision was studded; and all the horrid features of the grim apparition were displayed by that kind of dim light by which they could be seen to advantage. They could speak not a word to each other; and their mutual looks excited by sympathy a greater mutual fear than ever; and so they still stood and looked, and wondered, and would have moved their bodies to take a closer survey, but could not for very nervousness—albeit any one of them would have knocked a gauger on the head in an instant. But it was clear, even to themselves, that they could not thus stand staring at a coffin for ever; and it is not unlikely that this prospective impossibility supplied the place of courage; and so, Donald being the less timid of the two, gradually approached and surveyed their extraordinary visiter. Beckoning his friend Angus forward, he proceeded to force open the lid.

“The corpse o’ Julia M’Iver, our goot customer,” said he, “as sure as my name’s Tonald M’Nair!” And Angus, bending his head down, and holding his hands up, acknowledged the apparent truth. “Murtered py Custaphus, py Cot!” added he, “and puried here to hide the plack, purning shame!”

And they sat down by the coffin, and stared at each other and at the dead beauty, lost in deep cogitation as to what they should do. Their thoughts both took the same direction.

“What is to pe done?” muttered they both at the same instant.

“We cannot inform, and we cannot take the pody to Custaphus,” again said Donald; “for that would tiscover us.”

“To pe surely na,” said Angus; “put we can pury her, cannot we, Tonald?”

“Ay, that we can,” answered the latter; “and that we will, too, as surely as my grandmother was puried in the houf o’ Kepplemechan.”

“Ay, or as mine was puried in Fochapers kirkyard,” rejoined Angus; “but we maun let the nicht fa’ first, or it may pe said that we were the murterers o’ the puir cratur. Ochone! put this is a tam pad world. We maun hae a quaich to keep up oor courage.”

And so they set about preparing themselves for the work they had in prospect, by drinking of their own spirits by the side of the coffin; every now and then looking in the face of Julia, and lamenting the unhappy fate of their former visiter, with whom they had drunk many a good bumper, and enjoyed much good fun and frolic.

In this occupation, and exchanging many a comely sentiment on the wickedness of man, and the shortness and uncertainty of human life, they passed several hours, until it should be dark enough for the purpose of interring Julia in reality, which they would execute as surely as ever mortal was consigned to dust. They had drunk till their eyes began to reel in their heads, and till tears of mawkish and drunken sentimentality were dropping on the face of their merry boon companion, as she lay in her bier. A toast of exquisite pathos—“Here’s to the good cratur’s soul then!” had just escaped from Donald’s lips, when Julia opened her eyes, and, altogether unconscious where she lay, obeyed the first impulse of her wakening heart, by holding out her hand, and asking for a glass of the whisky which she saw them drinking with so much good will. Twenty ghosts in their winding sheets could not have produced a greater sensation; for the two Highlanders threw from them their quaichs, and, starting to their feet, flew, with a scream of terror that might have been heard upon the surface of the earth itself, into the farthest recesses of the dark abode.

“Heaven pe merciful to us!” they both muttered, as they crouched down beside the stove, and eyed fearfully the moving corpse, through the dim light that came from the half-concealed fire; and their fears had a small chance of being removed or alleviated by what they farther heard and saw; for, as they watched and trembled, they witnessed the rising terrors of Julia herself, who, looking around her, and seeing herself placed in the coffin, had never a shadow of doubt that she was actually buried, and that she was in the region appointed for the wicked daughters of men. She began to groan piteously; and, being yet only half sober, mixed up her thoughts of the lower regions with the feelings she cherished on earth, in such a grotesque manner, that it would have been impossible for an ordinary person to have heard her without at once trembling and laughing.

“And am I, of a surety, here at the long run,” she muttered, “among devils and devils’ dams, who will have never a qualm of mercy for me any more than they have for their other victims, who have broken the laws of the upper world?” And, sighing as deep as her stomach, she paused and again soliloquised:—“But did I not see my good friends, Angus M’Guire and Donald M’Nair, drinking by my side, even at this moment? There cannot be a doubt on’t, and they will be dead and damned too for a certainty; but, faith, I care not if I should be here after all, if I fare as they were faring even now, when I saw them with the quaichs in their very hands, as I have seen before in the distillery in the wood of Balmaclallan, so often when I was in the body. Ho! there! Donald M’Nair, it is no other than Julia Briggs that calls you, and she is as thirsty as fire can make her.”

The truth now began to dawn on the minds of the Highlanders. “She is no more tead than I am, or any living pody,” cried Donald, as he began to move from his dark hole. “I am coming, my tarling Julia; and, py te Holy Virgin, you shall not want what ye are now asking for!” And, pulling Angus along with him, he again approached the coffin, where he saw his old friend looking up from her prostrate position with a pair of as clear eyes as whisky ever illuminated. “Are ye tead or living, Julia?” cried Angus.

“I cannot tell you till I get a quaich,” answered Julia; and the medicine was on the instant administered by Donald, when all doubt on the mysterious subject having been dispelled, her friends lifted her from the coffin, and they set to work after their usual manner, which was no other than indulging in numerous potations. The recollection of Gustavus’s threat enabled her to explain everything; and as they sat carousing and singing in great glee, they laughed heartily at the circumstance of Gustavus having buried his wife in a distillery, with the view of curing her of a love of whisky.


While they were thus as happy as drink and frolic could make any of the sons or daughters of Adam, Gustavus was meditating on the probable effects of his extraordinary remedy for drunkenness, and enjoying already the triumph he anticipated, as the fruits of his ingenuity. He had cooked for himself a good dinner, and, being thus also in good spirits, he counted the hours as they passed, every moment of which was worth to him a grain of gold, in so far as they would purchase a relief from the thraldom and misery in which he had been so long held. He had given her four hours of the grave, and the increasing length of his stride seemed to indicate that he was fast approaching some resolution, which was probably to go and see how his Julia was faring in her dark habitation. He had left the ropes by which she had been let down, in such a position that he could draw her out again with the greatest certainty, so that he was perfectly at ease on the score of her ultimate safety; but all his efforts, he knew, would be worse than endeavouring to make iron swim, to hold an eel by the tail, to dissect cheese mites, or make a cod warble, or any other opera inanis, if she were taken out before she awoke and experienced all the terrors of her situation. He therefore gave her an hour or two more, and then sallied forth as grim as Hercules when he went a bull-baiting, to reconnoitre, and ascertain if any indications of her being awake came from the grave (as he expected it would be) of her bad habits and the womb of her regeneration. A very few movements of his immense limbs brought him to the spot; but not an inch of the rope he could find; and, though he pulled aside the bushes, and stared with goggle eyes into the pit, not a glimpse of the coffin could he discover. The affair was marvellous and unfathomable as the wells of Agamemnon; and he stood and stared with mute wonder, at what appeared to be nothing else in the world than bewitched devilry. He looked around him to see if he could find any traces of either the coffin or Julia Briggs; but all was still and hazy, and nothing could he see or hear; so he tried the pit again, and, to search the bottom of it, he took a long stick from a neighbouring tree, and plunged it in, and groped, and sounded; but it was clear that he never struck on wood, nor indeed upon anything but the soft brush stuff with which the Highlanders had again closed up the aperture. He even descended into the hole, as far as he could reach his limbs, while he held on by the bushy side; and he thus ascertained to a dead certainty that the never a bit of a coffin was there, or indeed anything but furze, among which his feet became entangled. Having got out again with difficulty, he fell to roaring and shouting—“Julia M’Iver! Julia M’Iver!” But no answer was returned, save by the echoing wood, which mocked him like the American bird of many voices that laughs at the eloquence of man. No other conclusion could he come to, but that Julia, coffin and all, had been carried off by the prime minister of Oberon, or some other power, that had determined to punish her for her intemperance, or him for his cruelty; and his former love returning, now that he had, perhaps for ever, lost the object of it, he grew frantic as the lover of Briseis, and stamped and strode about the wood, accusing himself as the murderer of his wife, and trembling for his neck, which he had put in a position of jeopardy. To add to his terrors, he sometimes thought he heard strange shouts of mirth, coming from under the ground; and his mind still straying to the land of the court of the pigmy king, he fancied that the thieves were rejoicing in their subterranean abodes, over the triumph they had achieved over a mortal creature. The strength or weakness of superstition has nothing to do with the size of the bones, or the strength of thews and sinews of the individuals over whom it exercises its control; and there was no marvel at all that Gustavus felt undefined terrors laying hold of him, as the darkness of the night increased, and the blackness of the mystery enveloped his brain. He had faced cannon in his day, and hewn down warriors as gigantic as himself without a qualm; but that was no reason why he should not quail before the powers of infernal or subterranean agency; and so to be sure it was well proved by what followed; for he marched home as if he had been on a retreat, with, perhaps, more ideas in his head than ever could have been supposed to find an entry into the impenetrable fortress which, in spite of rockets, he had so long carried on his shoulders.

He passed the night in pacing his apartment, expecting every moment that Julia, who was occupied according to her heart’s desire, would return to her home—but no Julia came; and in the morning he was saluted by the carrier, who asked him, with a knowing look, what had become of Mrs M’Iver, and to what use he had applied the coffin he (the carrier) had seen through the window when he last passed the house. Gustavus stared at him in amazement, without deigning one word of reply; but, the man being gone, he saw, with as much light as his brain was capable of reflecting, something like a foundation for a charge of murder against him, in the event of his wife not making her appearance. This conclusion wound up the evils that he had entailed upon himself by entering into the fearful state of matrimony; and there can be little doubt that, if he had known the Greek of the woman-hater, Simonides, of which of course he knew never a syllable, he would have thundered forth the whole epithets of his poem in a voice of thunder. Another day passed, and no Julia was yet to be seen; and on the second day, straggling individuals began to pry about the house, just as if a murder had been committed there, and they were looking for blood-spots. He grew every moment more terrified, was unable to cook, or even to eat, and roamed about with the muscles of his face hanging over the maxillary bones like flaps of leather, and sunken eyes that seemed to look inwards, where there was in fact nothing to be seen worth looking at. Every step frightened him, and every sound startled him, from reveries of trials and interrogations, and hanging and dissecting; for he looked every hour for a visit from the authorities. He had sense enough to see that everything was against him—the disappearance of Julia—their endless quarrels—the coffin—all arrayed against a drivelling, idiot statement about trying to wean his wife from the quaich by pretending to bury her alive.

Things were fast progressing to being just as bad as there is any occasion for them to be when a sinful man is the victim; for, some time afterwards, the mother of Julia herself, with two friends from the Canongate, came to see the married pair. Now, Gustavus saw them at a long distance, and, knowing that he could not account for his wife, he resolved upon sneaking away into the woods, after locking the door; and this accordingly he did in double quick time; but he had not got far away, when, upon turning to look behind him, he saw the carrier again returning, and very soon stop at his door, and enter into conversation with the three women. He watched all their motions, and it was apparent to him that the very affair of the murder they supposed he had committed was alone the subject of their conversation.

Nay, he saw them begin to try to force open the door and able to contain himself no longer, he said to himself—

“Shall Gustavus M’Iver, who has killed a dozen of Frenchmen in one day, be afraid of three women? The never will he, by Saint Sebastian!”

So he went back to the house; and when the three women and the carrier saw him coming out of the planting, they set up such a loud scream as had never been heard in these woods since the reign of the wolves, and ran up to him, crying out, that he was a base and a bloody murderer, and demanding to see the body of the sacrificed Julia, who, as her mother ejaculated, was never intended by nature to be the wife of such a fearful ogre.

“Give me the body of my daughter,” she said, “dead or alive. Where is the coffin that the carrier saw standing in the house? It is gone, and Julia is in it—buried, no doubt, in some hole of the woods. Why will you not speak, Gustavus M’Iver?”

Now, the very best reason on earth could be assigned for Gustavus saying nothing—and that was, that he had of a real truth nothing in the wide extent of his brain to say, that any one in the world, far less the mother of his wife, would believe for one instant of time. So he stood and rolled over the three women his large eyes, just, as the mother said, as if he would have eaten them all three, as she suspected he had done her daughter; but the never a vocable escaped from his lips.

“Why will you not speak, Gustavus?” cried the mother.

“Why will you not speak, man?” cried another of the women.

“Why will you not speak?” cried they all together in one question, so loud that no question since the time when all the Barons of England asked, in one cry, King John to give them their rights, had ever exceeded it in intensity and vociferation.

But it was clear this could last no longer than the patience of the women; and every one knows that the time comprehended by the longevity of that feminine virtue, is not so long as the life of Methuselah; so, in a minute, they fell on him with their nails, and rugged his hair, and scratched his face, and pulled him to the earth, and trampled upon him, till he who had fought in the Peninsula began to think that it was time for him to call up his old courage, and fight once again in his advanced years. So, rising up, he placed himself in an attitude which he knew had produced terrible effects in former times; and, to be sure, so it might, for he gnashed his teeth, and held out his yard-long arms, and rolled his eyes in such a manner, yet saying not a word all the while, that the women got alarmed, and cried to the carrier to assist them; but the man was off the moment he saw there was a chance of battle. So the women gave in, and began to try the soothing system with him—an effort in which they were as successful as their sex ever is when a man is to be humbugged; and Gustavus was on the instant mollified into softness, and even lugubrious sentimentality.


There was a pause, after which Gustavus, offering two of the women an arm each, leaving the other to bring up the rear, he began a solemn march to the scene of his grief—the mysterious spot, where he threw down his long, lank body upon the ground, and muttered his sorrows between his lubber lips, in accents that would have put to flight the ugliest satyr that ever sported in a wood. He took up his station close by the mouth of the deceptive grave, to mitigate his sorrow and fear by a little sentiment—a coarse commodity, that might have made another laugh, but sufficient to make him weep. That day he might be in prison and ruined for ever; and, as for Julia M’Iver, he would never see her again. “She has been in this hole three days,” said he, pointing to the grave.

“Ochone! ochone!” roared the three women, crying bitterly.

Meanwhile, his heavy eye was fixed on the ground; he heard a noise, and, looking up, what on earth should he see but the head of Julia herself above the ground, and all the rest of her body below it? She leered at him and the women knowingly, and laughed till the woods rang; and, rising up out of the very hole where she had been interred, she ran, or rather staggered to him—for she was fresh from the still—flung herself around his neck, and hugged him with a grasp of embrace that many a husband would give a hundred pounds for any day. Nor was Gustavus insensible to its efficacy; for he returned the embrace, and even cried and blubbered like (as all sentimental writers say when they wish to express great sensibility—that is, babyism) a child—and a very pretty child to be sure he was. We cannot tell how long the embrace lasted. Everything in nature has been measured but love embraces. Writers are chary on the subject; and very knowingly, too, because they know that it is what is called “a kittle point;” but we have no such qualms, and so boldly assert, that Mr and Mrs M’Iver’s embrace lasted at least three minutes.

This new apparition transcended all they had yet seen or experienced; for how she could have lain three days and nights in the cold earth, and risen on the fourth as drunk as she was when she was interred, puzzled them beyond any conjuration they had ever heard of. But Gustavus was glad to see her on any condition, and took her straight home, to get an account from her, when she was sober of all the wonders she had seen in the bowels of the earth; where, in the midst of Hop and Mop, Pip and Trip, Fib and Tib, and Jill and Jin, and all the other imps of Mab’s court, she had doubtless been since the day on which she was let down into the pit. Whether he or the women ever got this information or not, we cannot say; but it is certain that he attempted no further cure of Julia’s irregular habits, contenting himself with the evil lot of a bad wife, which is, perhaps, the only one on earth that it is utterly impossible to get quit of by any other means than death.