(Masterpieces of British Fiction)

John Gourlay was proud of his twelve wagons and his many business successes, but mostly he was proud of his House with the Green Shutters. Into it he had put all the frustration he felt for his lack of friends, his slovenly wife, and his weakling son. Gourlay’s was a pride of insolence. He would have more than his neighbors, his betters; he would make them acknowledge him as their superior. Gourlay had not found a golden touch. He had simply worked hard, turning every shilling into pounds by any method open to him. In the process, he became mean, stingy, boastful, and evil.

His son John had inherited all of his characteristics except his courage. As a schoolboy, he was constantly ridiculed by his mates and took refuge in boasting of his father’s wealth and power. He was no good with his fists, and his only revenge after a sound drubbing was to tell his father. Gourlay hated his son almost as much as he hated everyone else, but he could not let his son be laughed at by the sons of his enemies. Therefore, John was avenged by the father who despised him.

Gourlay also hated his wife. She had once been a laughing, pretty lass but had become a slattern and a bore whose son was her only reason for living. On him she lavished all the love denied her by her husband. There was one daughter. She was ignored by her mother and favored by her father, each parent taking the opposite point of view from the other.

The whole village bowed to Gourlay, even while they prayed that he would one day meet his match. They were not to be disappointed. James Wilson returned to the village with money he had earned during his fifteen years’ absence. One of the first to meet Wilson was Gourlay. When Wilson had left years before, Gourlay had been then, as now, the big man in the town. Had Gourlay said a kind word or given one bit of praise for the success of his former acquaintance, Wilson would have been flattered and would have become his friend; but Gourlay was not such a man. He immediately ridiculed Wilson and laughed at the idea that he could be a success at anything. Wilson developed a hatred that was to bring the insolent Gourlay to ruin.

Wilson used his money to set up a general store, which he stocked with many items the villagers had formerly had to send away for and pay Gourlay to haul for them. He also delivered items to neighboring towns and farms. Then he started a regular carting service, cutting prices to get business from Gourlay, just as Gourlay had done to his competitors. The townspeople were glad to patronize Wilson in order to get back at Gourlay for his years of dominance and insolence. Indeed, they even gave Wilson new suggestions for expanding his trade. Gourlay’s downfall started slowly, but soon it became a landslide. The peasants began to stand up to the old man and...

(The entire section is 1151 words.)