St. Ronan's Well
Sir Walter Scott, Bart.
With Introductory Essay and Notes
by Andrew Lang
Dana Estes and Company Publishers ... Boston
The Standard Edition
of the Novels and Poems of Sir Walter Scott. Limited to one thousand numbered and registered sets, of which this is
Copyright, 1894. BY ESTES AND LAURIAT
LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS
ST. RONAN'S WELL
PAGE Meg Dods (p. 13) Frontispiece The Meeting in the Wood 137 Preparing for the Duel 198
* * * * *
Reappearance of Tyrrel 127 Clara entering Tyrrel's Room 307
ST. RONAN'S WELL.
"'St. Ronan's Well' is not so much my favourite as certain of its predecessors," Lady Louisa Stuart wrote to Scott on March 26, 1824. "Yet still I see the author's hand in it, et c'est tout dire. Meg Dods, the meeting" (vol. i. chap. ix.), "and the last scene between Clara and her brother, are marked with the true stamp, not to be matched or mistaken. Is the Siege of Ptolemais really on the anvil?" she goes on, speaking of the projected Crusading Tales, and obviously anxious to part company with "St. Ronan's Well." All judgments have not agreed with Lady Louisa's. There is a literary legend or fable according to which a number of distinguished men, all admirers of Scott, wrote down separately the name of their favourite Waverley novel, and all, when the papers were compared, had written "St. Ronan's." Sydney Smith, writing to Constable on Dec. 28, 1823, described the new story as "far the best that has appeared for some time. Every now and then there is some mistaken or overcharged humour—but much excellent delineation of character, the story very well told, and the whole very interesting. Lady Binks, the old landlady, and Touchwood are all very good. Mrs. Blower particularly so. So are MacTurk and Lady Penelope. I wish he would give his people better names; Sir Bingo Binks is quite ridiculous.... The curtain should have dropped on finding Clara's glove. Some of the serious scenes with Clara and her brother are very fine: the knife scene masterly. In her light and gay moments Clara is very vulgar; but Sir Walter always fails in well-bred men and women, and yet who has seen more of both? and who, in the ordinary intercourse of society, is better bred? Upon the whole, I call this a very successful exhibition."
We have seldom found Sydney Smith giving higher praise, and nobody can deny the justice of the censure with which it is qualified. Scott himself explains, in his Introduction, how, in his quest of novelty, he invaded modern life, and the domain of Miss Austen. Unhappily he proved by example the truth of his own opinion that he could do "the big bow-wow strain" very well, but that it was not his celebrare domestica facta. Unlike George Sand, Sir Walter had humour abundantly, but, as the French writer said of herself, he was wholly destitute of esprit.
We need not linger over definition of these qualities; but we must recognise, in Scott, the absence of lightness of touch, of delicacy in the small sword-play of conversation. In fencing, all should be done, the masters tell us, with the fingers. Scott works not even with the wrist, but with the whole arm. The two-handed sword, the old claymore, are his weapons, not the rapier. This was plain enough in the word-combats of Queen Mary and her lady gaoler in Loch Leven. Much more conspicuous is the "swashing blow" in the repartee of "St. Ronan's." The insults lavished on Lady Binks are violent and cruel; even Clara Mowbray taunts her. Now Lady Binks is in the same parlous case as the postmistress who dreed penance "for ante-nup," as Meg Dods says in an interrupted harangue, and we know that, to the author's mind, Clara Mowbray had no right to throw stones. All these jeers are offensive to generous feeling, and in the mouth of Clara are intolerable. Lockhart remarked in Scott a singular bluntness of the sense of smell and of taste. He could drink corked wine without a suspicion that there was anything wrong with it. This curious obtuseness of a physical sense, in one whose eyesight was so keen, who, "aye was the first to find the hare" in coursing, seems to correspond with his want of lightness in the invention of badinage. He tells us that, for a long while at least, he had been unacquainted with the kind of society, the idle, useless underbred society, of watering-places. Are we to believe that the company at Gilsland, for instance, where he met and wooed Miss Charpentier, was like the company at St. Ronan's? Lockhart vouches for the snobbishness, "the mean admiration of mean things," the devotion to the slimmest appearances of rank. All this is credible enough, but, if there existed a society as dull and base as that which we meet in the pages of "Mr. Soapy Sponge," and Surtees's other novels, assuredly it was no theme for the great and generous spirit of Sir Walter. The worst kind of manners always prevail among people whom moderns call "the second-rate smart," and these are drawn in "St. Ronan's Well." But we may believe that, even there, manners are no longer quite so hideous as in the little Tweedside watering-place. The extinction of duelling has destroyed, or nearly destroyed, the swaggering style of truculence; people could not behave as Mowbray and Sir Bingo behave to Tyrrel, in the after-dinner scene. The Man of Peace, the great MacTurk, with his harangues translated from the language of Ossian, is no longer needed, and no longer possible. Supposing manners to be correctly described in "St. Ronan's," the pessimist himself must admit that manners have improved. But it is not without regret that we see a genius born for chivalry labouring in this unworthy and alien matter.
The English critics delighted to accuse Scott of having committed literary suicide. He had only stepped off the path to which he presently returned. He was unfitted to write the domestic novel, and even in "St. Ronan's" he introduces events of romantic improbability. These enable him to depict scenes of the most passionate tragedy, as in the meeting of Clara and Tyrrel. They who have loved so blindly and so kindly should never have met, or never parted. It is like a tragic rendering of the scene where Diana Vernon and Osbaldistone encounter each other on the moonlit moor. The wild words of Clara, "Is it so, and was it even yourself whom I saw even now?... And, all things considered, I do carry on the farce of life wonderfully well,"—all this passage, with the silence of the man, is on the highest level of poetic invention, and Clara ranks with Ophelia. To her strain of madness we may ascribe, perhaps, what Sydney Smith calls the vulgarity of her lighter moments. But here the genius of Shakspeare is faultless, where Scott's is most faulty and most mistaken.
Much confusion is caused in "St. Ronan's Well" by Scott's concession to the delicacy of James Ballantyne. What has shaken Clara's brain? Not her sham marriage, for that was innocent, and might be legally annulled. Lockhart writes (vii. 208): "Sir Walter had shown a remarkable degree of good-nature in the composition of this novel. When the end came in view, James Ballantyne suddenly took vast alarm about a particular feature in the heroine's history. In the original conception, and in the book as actually written and printed, Miss Mowbray's mock marriage had not halted at the profane ceremony of the church; and the delicate printer shrank from the idea of obtruding on the fastidious public the possibility of any personal contamination having occurred to a high-born damsel of the nineteenth century." Scott answered: "You would never have quarrelled with it had the thing happened to a girl in gingham—the silk petticoat can make little difference." "James reclaimed with double energy, and called Constable to the rescue; and, after some pause, the author very reluctantly consented to cancel and re-write about twenty-four pages, which was enough to obliterate, to a certain extent, the dreaded scandal—and, in a similar degree, as he always persisted, to perplex and weaken the course of his narrative, and the dark effect of its catastrophe."
From a communication printed in the "Athenaeum" of Feb. 4, 1893, extracts from the original proof-sheets, it seems that Lockhart forgot the original plan of the novel. The mock marriage did halt at the church door, but Clara's virtue had yielded to her real lover, Tyrrel, before the ceremony. Hannah Irwin had deliberately made opportunities for the lovers' meeting, and at last, as she says, in a cancelled passage, "the devil and Hannah Irwin prevailed." There followed remorse, and a determination not to meet again before the Church made them one, and, on the head of this, the mock marriage shook Clara's reason. This was the original plan; it declares itself in the scene between Tyrrel and Clara (vol. i. chap, ix.): "Wherefore should not sorrow be the end of sin and folly?" The reviewer in the "Monthly Review" (1824) says "there is a hint of some deeper cause of grief (see the confession to the brother), but it is highly problematical." For all this the delicacy of James Ballantyne is to blame—his delicacy, and Scott's concessions to a respectable man and a bad critic.
The origin of "St. Ronan's Well" has been described by Lockhart in a familiar passage. As Laidlaw, Scott, and Lockhart were riding along the brow of the triple-peaked Eildon Hills, Scott mentioned "the row" that was going on in Paris about "Quentin Durward." "I can't but think I could make better play still with something German," he said. Laidlaw grumbled at this: "You are always best, like Helen MacGregor, when your foot is on your native heath; and I have often thought that if you were to write a novel, and lay the scene here in the very year you were writing it, you would exceed yourself." "Hame's hame," quoth Scott, smiling, "be it ever sae hamely," and Laidlaw bade him "stick to Melrose in 1823." It was now that Scott spoke of the village tragedy, the romance of every house, of every cottage, and told a tale of some horrors in the hamlet that lies beyond Melrose, on the north side of Tweed. Laidlaw and Lockhart believed that this conversation suggested "St. Ronan's Well," the scene of which has been claimed as their own by the people of Innerleithen. This little town is beautifully situated where the hills of Tweed are steepest, and least resemble the bosses verdatres of Prosper Merimee. It is now a manufacturing town, like its neighbours, and contributes its quota to the pollution of "the glittering and resolute streams of Tweed." The pilgrim will scarce rival Tyrrel's feat of catching a clean-run salmon in summer, but the scenes are extremely pleasing, and indeed, from this point to Dryburgh, the beautiful and fabled river is at its loveliest. It is possible that a little inn farther up the water, "The Crook," on the border of the moorland, and near Tala Linn, where the Covenanters held a famous assembly, may have suggested the name of the "Cleikum." Lockhart describes the prosperity which soon flowed into Innerleithen, and the St. Ronan's Games, at which the Ettrick Shepherd presided gleefully. They are still held, or were held very lately, but there will never come again such another Shepherd, or such contests with the Flying Tailor of Ettrick.
Apart from the tragedy of Clara, doubtless the better parts of "St. Ronan's Well" are the Scotch characters. Even our generation remembers many a Meg Dods, and he who writes has vividly in his recollection just such tartness, such goodness of heart, such ungoverned eloquence and vigour of rebuke as made Meg famous, successful on the stage, and welcome to her countrymen. These people, Mrs. Blower and Meg, are Shakspearean, they live with Dame Quickly and Shallow, in the hearts of Scots, but to the English general they are possibly caviare. In the gallant and irascible MacTurk we have the waning Highlander: he resembles the Captain of Knockdunder in "The Heart of Mid Lothian," or an exaggerated and ill-educated Hector of "The Antiquary." Concerning the women of the tale, it may be said that Lady Binks has great qualities, and appears to have been drawn "with an eye on the object," as Wordsworth says, and from the life. Lady Penelope seems more exaggerated now than she probably did at the time, for the fashion of affectation changes. The Winterblossoms and Quacklebens are accurate enough in themselves, but are seen through a Blackwoodian atmosphere, as it were, through a mist of the temporary and boisterous Scotch humour of the day. The author occasionally stoops to a pun, and, like that which Hood made in the hearing of Thackeray, the pun is not good. Indeed the novel, in its view of the decay of the Border, the ruined Laird, the frivolous foolish society of the Well, taking the place of sturdy William of Deloraine, and farmers like Scott's grandfather, makes a picture of decadence as melancholy as "Redgauntlet." "Not here, O Apollo, are haunts meet for thee!" Strangely enough, among the features of the time, Scott mentions reckless borrowings, "accommodation," "Banks of Air." His own business was based on a "Bank of Air," "wind-capital," as Cadell, Constable's partner, calls it, and the bubble was just about to burst, though Scott had no apprehension of financial ruin. A horrid power is visible in Scott's second picture of la mauvaise pauvre, the hag who despises and curses the givers of "handfuls of coals and of rice;" his first he drew in the witches of "The Bride of Lammermoor." He has himself indicated his desire to press hard on the vice of gambling, as in "The Fortunes of Nigel." Ruinous at all times and in every shape, gambling, in Scott's lifetime, during the Regency, had crippled or destroyed many an historical Scottish family. With this in his mind he drew the portrait of Mowbray of St. Ronan's. His picture of duelling is not more seductive; he himself had lost his friend, Sir Alexander Boswell, in a duel; on other occasions this institution had brought discomfort into his life, and though he was ready to fight General Gourgaud with Napoleon's pistols, he cannot have approved of the practices of the MacTurks and Bingo Binkses. A maniac, as his correspondence shows, challenged Sir Walter, insisting that he was pointed at and ridiculed in the character of MacTurk. (Abbotsford MSS.) It is interesting to have the picture of contemporary manners from Scott's hand—Meg Dods remains among his immortal portraits; but a novel in which the absurd will of fiction and the conventional Nabob are necessary machinery can never be ranked so high as even "The Monastery" and "Peveril." In Scotland, however, it was infinitely more successful than its admirable successor "Redgauntlet."
ANDREW LANG. December 1893.
ST. RONAN'S WELL.
The novel which follows is upon a plan different from any other that the author has ever written, although it is perhaps the most legitimate which relates to this kind of light literature.
It is intended, in a word—celebrare domestica facta—to give an imitation of the shifting manners of our own time, and paint scenes, the originals of which are daily passing round us, so that a minute's observation may compare the copies with the originals. It must be confessed that this style of composition was adopted by the author rather from the tempting circumstance of its offering some novelty in his compositions, and avoiding worn-out characters and positions, than from the hope of rivalling the many formidable competitors who have already won deserved honours in this department. The ladies, in particular, gifted by nature with keen powers of observation and light satire, have been so distinguished by these works of talent, that, reckoning from the authoress of Evelina to her of Marriage, a catalogue might be made, including the brilliant and talented names of Edgeworth, Austin, Charlotte Smith, and others, whose success seems to have appropriated this province of the novel as exclusively their own. It was therefore with a sense of temerity that the author intruded upon a species of composition which had been of late practised with such distinguished success. This consciousness was lost, however, under the necessity of seeking for novelty, without which, it was much to be apprehended, such repeated incursions on his part would nauseate the long indulgent public at the last.
The scene chosen for the author's little drama of modern life was a mineral spring, such as are to be found in both divisions of Britain, and which are supplied with the usual materials for redeeming health, or driving away care. The invalid often finds relief from his complaints, less from the healing virtues of the Spa itself, than because his system of ordinary life undergoes an entire change, in his being removed from his ledger and account-books—from his legal folios and progresses of title-deeds—from his counters and shelves,—from whatever else forms the main source of his constant anxiety at home, destroys his appetite, mars the custom of his exercise, deranges the digestive powers, and clogs up the springs of life. Thither, too, comes the saunterer, anxious to get rid of that wearisome attendant himself, and thither come both males and females, who, upon a different principle, desire to make themselves double.
The society of such places is regulated, by their very nature, upon a scheme much more indulgent than that which rules the world of fashion, and the narrow circles of rank in the metropolis. The titles of rank, birth, and fortune, are received at a watering-place without any very strict investigation, as adequate to the purpose for which they are preferred; and as the situation infers a certain degree of intimacy and sociability for the time, so to whatever heights it may have been carried, it is not understood to imply any duration beyond the length of the season. No intimacy can be supposed more close for the time, and more transitory in its endurance, than that which is attached to a watering-place acquaintance. The novelist, therefore, who fixes upon such a scene for his tale, endeavours to display a species of society, where the strongest contrast of humorous characters and manners may be brought to bear on and illustrate each other with less violation of probability, than could be supposed to attend the same miscellaneous assemblage in any other situation.
In such scenes, too, are frequently mingled characters, not merely ridiculous, but dangerous and hateful. The unprincipled gamester, the heartless fortune-hunter, all those who eke out their means of subsistence by pandering to the vices and follies of the rich and gay, who drive, by their various arts, foibles into crimes, and imprudence into acts of ruinous madness, are to be found where their victims naturally resort, with the same certainty that eagles are gathered together at the place of slaughter. By this the author takes a great advantage for the management of his story, particularly in its darker and more melancholy passages. The impostor, the gambler, all who live loose upon the skirts of society, or, like vermin, thrive by its corruptions, are to be found at such retreats, when they easily, and as a matter of course, mingle with those dupes, who might otherwise have escaped their snares. But besides those characters who are actually dangerous to society, a well-frequented watering-place generally exhibits for the amusement of the company, and the perplexity and amazement of the more inexperienced, a sprinkling of persons called by the newspapers eccentric characters—individuals, namely, who, either from some real derangement of their understanding, or, much more frequently, from an excess of vanity, are ambitious of distinguishing themselves by some striking peculiarity in dress or address, conversation or manners, and perhaps in all. These affectations are usually adopted, like Drawcansir's extravagances, to show they dare; and I must needs say, those who profess them are more frequently to be found among the English, than among the natives of either of the other two divisions of the united kingdoms. The reason probably is, that the consciousness of wealth, and a sturdy feeling of independence, which generally pervade the English nation, are, in a few individuals, perverted into absurdity, or at least peculiarity. The witty Irishman, on the contrary, adapts his general behaviour to that of the best society, or that which he thinks such; nor is it any part of the shrewd Scot's national character unnecessarily to draw upon himself public attention. These rules, however, are not without their exceptions; for we find men of every country playing the eccentric at these independent resorts of the gay and the wealthy, where every one enjoys the license of doing what is good in his own eyes.
It scarce needed these obvious remarks to justify a novelist's choice of a watering-place as the scene of a fictitious narrative. Unquestionably, it affords every variety of character, mixed together in a manner which cannot, without a breach of probability, be supposed to exist elsewhere; neither can it be denied that in the concourse which such miscellaneous collections of persons afford, events extremely different from those of the quiet routine of ordinary life may, and often do, take place.
It is not, however, sufficient that a mine be in itself rich and easily accessible; it is necessary that the engineer who explores it should himself, in mining phrase, have an accurate knowledge of the country, and possess the skill necessary to work it to advantage. In this respect, the author of Saint Ronan's Well could not be termed fortunate. His habits of life had not led him much, of late years at least, into its general or bustling scenes, nor had he mingled often in the society which enables the observer to "shoot folly as it flies." The consequence perhaps was, that the characters wanted that force and precision which can only be given by a writer who is familiarly acquainted with his subject. The author, however, had the satisfaction to chronicle his testimony against the practice of gambling, a vice which the devil has contrived to render all his own, since it is deprived of whatever pleads an apology for other vices, and is founded entirely on the cold-blooded calculation of the most exclusive selfishness. The character of the traveller, meddling, self-important, and what the ladies call fussing, but yet generous and benevolent in his purposes, was partly taken from nature. The story, being entirely modern, cannot require much explanation, after what has been here given, either in the shape of notes, or a more prolix introduction.
It may be remarked, that the English critics, in many instances, though none of great influence, pursued Saint Ronan's Well with hue and cry, many of the fraternity giving it as their opinion that the author had exhausted himself, or, as the technical phrase expresses it, written himself out; and as an unusual tract of success too often provokes many persons to mark and exaggerate a slip when it does occur, the author was publicly accused, in prose and verse, of having committed a literary suicide in this unhappy attempt. The voices, therefore, were, for a time, against Saint Ronan's on the southern side of the Tweed.
In the author's own country, it was otherwise. Many of the characters were recognised as genuine Scottish portraits, and the good fortune which had hitherto attended the productions of the Author of Waverley, did not desert, notwithstanding the ominous vaticinations of its censurers, this new attempt, although out of his ordinary style.
1st February, 1832.
ST. RONAN'S WELL.
AN OLD-WORLD LANDLADY.
But to make up my tale, She breweth good ale, And thereof maketh sale.
Although few, if any, of the countries of Europe, have increased so rapidly in wealth and cultivation as Scotland during the last half century, Sultan Mahmoud's owls might nevertheless have found in Caledonia, at any term within that flourishing period, their dowery of ruined villages. Accident or local advantages have, in many instances, transferred the inhabitants of ancient hamlets, from the situations which their predecessors chose with more respect to security than convenience, to those in which their increasing industry and commerce could more easily expand itself; and hence places which stand distinguished in Scottish history, and which figure in David M'Pherson's excellent historical map,[I-A][I-1] can now only be discerned from the wild moor by the verdure which clothes their site, or, at best, by a few scattered ruins, resembling pinfolds, which mark the spot of their former existence.
The little village of St. Ronan's, though it had not yet fallen into the state of entire oblivion we have described, was, about twenty years since, fast verging towards it. The situation had something in it so romantic, that it provoked the pencil of every passing tourist; and we will endeavour, therefore, to describe it in language which can scarcely be less intelligible than some of their sketches, avoiding, however, for reasons which seem to us of weight, to give any more exact indication of the site, than that it is on the southern side of the Forth, and not above thirty miles distant from the English frontier.
A river of considerable magnitude pours its streams through a narrow vale, varying in breadth from two miles to a fourth of that distance, and which, being composed of rich alluvial soil, is, and has long been, enclosed, tolerably well inhabited, and cultivated with all the skill of Scottish agriculture. Either side of this valley is bounded by a chain of hills, which, on the right in particular, may be almost termed mountains. Little brooks arising in these ridges, and finding their way to the river, offer each its own little vale to the industry of the cultivator. Some of them bear fine large trees, which have as yet escaped the axe, and upon the sides of most there are scattered patches and fringes of natural copsewood, above and around which the banks of the stream arise, somewhat desolate in the colder months, but in summer glowing with dark purple heath, or with the golden lustre of the broom and gorse. This is a sort of scenery peculiar to those countries, which abound, like Scotland, in hills and in streams, and where the traveller is ever and anon discovering in some intricate and unexpected recess, a simple and silvan beauty, which pleases him the more, that it seems to be peculiarly his own property as the first discoverer.
In one of these recesses, and so near its opening as to command the prospect of the river, the broader valley, and the opposite chain of hills, stood, and, unless neglect and desertion have completed their work, still stands, the ancient and decayed village of St. Ronan's. The site was singularly picturesque, as the straggling street of the village ran up a very steep hill, on the side of which were clustered, as it were, upon little terraces, the cottages which composed the place, seeming, as in the Swiss towns on the Alps, to rise above each other towards the ruins of an old castle, which continued to occupy the crest of the eminence, and the strength of which had doubtless led the neighbourhood to assemble under its walls for protection. It must, indeed, have been a place of formidable defence, for, on the side opposite to the town, its walls rose straight up from the verge of a tremendous and rocky precipice, whose base was washed by Saint Ronan's burn, as the brook was entitled. On the southern side, where the declivity was less precipitous, the ground had been carefully levelled into successive terraces, which ascended to the summit of the hill, and were, or rather had been, connected by staircases of stone, rudely ornamented. In peaceful periods these terraces had been occupied by the gardens of the Castle, and in times of siege they added to its security, for each commanded the one immediately below it, so that they could be separately and successively defended, and all were exposed to the fire from the place itself—a massive square tower of the largest size, surrounded, as usual, by lower buildings, and a high embattled wall. On the northern side arose a considerable mountain, of which the descent that lay between the eminence on which the Castle was situated seemed a detached portion, and which had been improved and deepened by three successive huge trenches. Another very deep trench was drawn in front of the main entrance from the east, where the principal gateway formed the termination of the street, which, as we have noticed, ascended from the village, and this last defence completed the fortifications of the tower.
In the ancient gardens of the Castle, and upon all sides of it excepting the western, which was precipitous, large old trees had found root, mantling the rock and the ancient and ruinous walls with their dusky verdure, and increasing the effect of the shattered pile which towered up from the centre.
Seated on the threshold of this ancient pile, where the "proud porter" had in former days "rear'd himself,"[I-2] a stranger had a complete and commanding view of the decayed village, the houses of which, to a fanciful imagination, might seem as if they had been suddenly arrested in hurrying down the precipitous hill, and fixed as if by magic in the whimsical arrangement which they now presented. It was like a sudden pause in one of Amphion's country-dances, when the huts which were to form the future Thebes were jigging it to his lute. But, with such an observer, the melancholy excited by the desolate appearance of the village soon overcame all the lighter frolics of the imagination. Originally constructed on the humble plan used in the building of Scotch cottages about a century ago, the greater part of them had been long deserted; and their fallen roofs, blackened gables, and ruinous walls, showed Desolation's triumph over Poverty. On some huts the rafters, varnished with soot, were still standing, in whole or in part, like skeletons, and a few, wholly or partially covered with thatch, seemed still inhabited, though scarce habitable; for the smoke of the peat-fires, which prepared the humble meal of the indwellers, stole upwards, not only from the chimneys, its regular vent, but from various other crevices in the roofs. Nature, in the meanwhile, always changing, but renewing as she changes, was supplying, by the power of vegetation, the fallen and decaying marks of human labour. Small pollards, which had been formerly planted around the little gardens, had now waxed into huge and high forest trees; the fruit-trees had extended their branches over the verges of the little yards, and the hedges had shot up into huge and irregular bushes; while quantities of dock, and nettles, and hemlock, hiding the ruined walls, were busily converting the whole scene of desolation into a picturesque forest-bank.
Two houses in St. Ronan's were still in something like decent repair; places essential—the one to the spiritual weal of the inhabitants, the other to the accommodation of travellers. These were the clergyman's manse, and the village inn. Of the former we need only say, that it formed no exception to the general rule by which the landed proprietors of Scotland seem to proceed in lodging their clergy, not only in the cheapest, but in the ugliest and most inconvenient house which the genius of masonry can contrive. It had the usual number of chimneys—two, namely—rising like asses' ears at either end, which answered the purpose for which they were designed as ill as usual. It had all the ordinary leaks and inlets to the fury of the elements, which usually form the subject of the complaints of a Scottish incumbent to his brethren of the presbytery; and, to complete the picture, the clergyman being a bachelor, the pigs had unmolested admission to the garden and court-yard, broken windows were repaired with brown paper, and the disordered and squalid appearance of a low farm-house, occupied by a bankrupt tenant, dishonoured the dwelling of one, who, besides his clerical character, was a scholar and a gentleman, though a little of a humourist.
Beside the manse stood the kirk of St. Ronan's, a little old mansion with a clay floor, and an assemblage of wretched pews, originally of carved oak, but heedfully clouted with white fir-deal. But the external form of the church was elegant in the outline, having been built in Catholic times, when we cannot deny to the forms of ecclesiastical architecture that grace, which, as good Protestants, we refuse to their doctrine. The fabric hardly raised its grey and vaulted roof among the crumbling hills of mortality by which it was surrounded, and was indeed so small in size, and so much lowered in height by the graves on the outside, which ascended half way up the low Saxon windows, that it might itself have appeared only a funeral vault, or mausoleum of larger size. Its little square tower, with the ancient belfry, alone distinguished it from such a monument. But when the grey-headed beadle turned the keys with his shaking hand, the antiquary was admitted into an ancient building, which, from the style of its architecture, and some monuments of the Mowbrays of St. Ronan's, which the old man was accustomed to point out, was generally conjectured to be as early as the thirteenth century.
These Mowbrays of St. Ronan's seem to have been at one time a very powerful family. They were allied to, and friends of the house of Douglas, at the time when the overgrown power of that heroic race made the Stewarts tremble on the Scottish throne. It followed that, when, as our old naif historian expresses it, "no one dared to strive with a Douglas, nor yet with a Douglas's man, for if he did, he was sure to come by the waur," the family of St. Ronan's shared their prosperity, and became lords of almost the whole of the rich valley of which their mansion commanded the prospect. But upon the turning of the tide, in the reign of James II., they became despoiled of the greater part of those fair acquisitions, and succeeding events reduced their importance still farther. Nevertheless, they were, in the middle of the seventeenth century, still a family of considerable note; and Sir Reginald Mowbray, after the unhappy battle of Dunbar, distinguished himself by the obstinate defence of the Castle against the arms of Cromwell, who, incensed at the opposition which he had unexpectedly encountered in an obscure corner, caused the fortress to be dismantled and blown up with gunpowder.
After this catastrophe the old Castle was abandoned to ruin; but Sir Reginald, when, like Allan Ramsay's Sir William Worthy, he returned after the Revolution, built himself a house in the fashion of that later age, which he prudently suited in size to the diminished fortunes of his family. It was situated about the middle of the village, whose vicinity was not in those days judged any inconvenience, upon a spot of ground more level than was presented by the rest of the acclivity, where, as we said before, the houses were notched as it were into the side of the steep bank, with little more level ground about them than the spot occupied by their site. But the Laird's house had a court in front and a small garden behind, connected with another garden, which, occupying three terraces, descended, in emulation of the orchards of the old Castle, almost to the banks of the stream.
The family continued to inhabit this new messuage until about fifty years before the commencement of our history, when it was much damaged by a casual fire; and the Laird of the day, having just succeeded to a more pleasant and commodious dwelling at the distance of about three miles from the village, determined to abandon the habitation of his ancestors. As he cut down at the same time an ancient rookery, (perhaps to defray the expenses of the migration,) it became a common remark among the country folk, that the decay of St. Ronan's began when Laird Lawrence and the crows flew off.
The deserted mansion, however, was not consigned to owls and birds of the desert; on the contrary, for many years it witnessed more fun and festivity than when it had been the sombre abode of a grave Scottish Baron of "auld lang syne." In short, it was converted into an inn, and marked by a huge sign, representing on the one side St. Ronan catching hold of the devil's game leg with his Episcopal crook, as the story may be read in his veracious legend, and on the other the Mowbray arms. It was by far the best frequented public-house in that vicinity; and a thousand stories were told of the revels which had been held within its walls, and the gambols achieved under the influence of its liquors. All this, however, had long since passed away, according to the lines in my frontispiece,
"A merry place, 'twas said, in days of yore; But something ail'd it now,—the place was cursed."
The worthy couple (servants and favourites of the Mowbray family) who first kept the inn, had died reasonably wealthy, after long carrying on a flourishing trade, leaving behind them an only daughter. They had acquired by degrees not only the property of the inn itself, of which they were originally tenants, but of some remarkably good meadow-land by the side of the brook, which, when touched by a little pecuniary necessity, the Lairds of St. Ronan's had disposed of piecemeal, as the readiest way to portion off a daughter, procure a commission for the younger son, and the like emergencies. So that Meg Dods, when she succeeded to her parents, was a considerable heiress, and, as such, had the honour of refusing three topping-farmers, two bonnet-lairds, and a horse-couper, who successively made proposals to her.
Many bets were laid on the horse-couper's success, but the knowing ones were taken in. Determined to ride the fore-horse herself, Meg would admit no helpmate who might soon assert the rights of a master; and so, in single blessedness, and with the despotism of Queen Bess herself, she ruled all matters with a high hand, not only over her men-servants and maid-servants, but over the stranger within her gates, who, if he ventured to oppose Meg's sovereign will and pleasure, or desire to have either fare or accommodation different from that which she chose to provide for him, was instantly ejected with that answer which Erasmus tells us silenced all complaints in the German inns of his time, Quaere aliud hospitium;[I-3] or, as Meg expressed it, "Troop aff wi' ye to another public." As this amounted to a banishment in extent equal to sixteen miles from Meg's residence, the unhappy party on whom it was passed, had no other refuge save by deprecating the wrath of his landlady, and resigning himself to her will. It is but justice to Meg Dods to state, that though hers was a severe and almost despotic government, it could not be termed a tyranny, since it was exercised, upon the whole, for the good of the subject.
The vaults of the old Laird's cellar had not, even in his own day, been replenished with more excellent wines; the only difficulty was to prevail on Meg to look for the precise liquor you chose;—to which it may be added, that she often became restiff when she thought a company had had "as much as did them good," and refused to furnish any more supplies. Then her kitchen was her pride and glory; she looked to the dressing of every dish herself, and there were some with which she suffered no one to interfere. Such were the cock-a-leeky, and the savoury minced collops, which rivalled in their way even the veal cutlets of our old friend Mrs. Hall, at Ferrybridge. Meg's table-linen, bed-linen, and so forth, were always home-made, of the best quality, and in the best order; and a weary day was that to the chambermaid in which her lynx eye discovered any neglect of the strict cleanliness which she constantly enforced. Indeed, considering Meg's country and calling, we were never able to account for her extreme and scrupulous nicety, unless by supposing that it afforded her the most apt and frequent pretext for scolding her maids; an exercise in which she displayed so much eloquence and energy, that we must needs believe it to have been a favourite one.[I-4]
We have only further to commemorate, the moderation of Meg's reckonings, which, when they closed the banquet, often relieved the apprehensions, instead of saddening the heart, of the rising guest. A shilling for breakfast, three shillings for dinner, including a pint of old port, eighteenpence for a snug supper—such were the charges of the inn of St. Ronan's, under this landlady of the olden world, even after the nineteenth century had commenced; and they were ever tendered with the pious recollection, that her good father never charged half so much, but these weary times rendered it impossible for her to make the lawing less.[I-5]
Notwithstanding all these excellent and rare properties, the inn at Saint Ronan's shared the decay of the village to which it belonged. This was owing to various circumstances. The high-road had been turned aside from the place, the steepness of the street being murder (so the postilions declared) to their post-horses. It was thought that Meg's stern refusal to treat them with liquor, or to connive at their exchanging for porter and whisky the corn which should feed their cattle, had no small influence on the opinion of those respectable gentlemen, and that a little cutting and levelling would have made the ascent easy enough; but let that pass. This alteration of the highway was an injury which Meg did not easily forgive to the country gentlemen, most of whom she had recollected when children. "Their fathers," she said, "wad not have done the like of it to a lone woman." Then the decay of the village itself, which had formerly contained a set of feuars and bonnet-lairds, who, under the name of the Chirupping Club, contrived to drink twopenny, qualified with brandy or whisky, at least twice or thrice a-week, was some small loss.
The temper and manners of the landlady scared away all customers of that numerous class, who will not allow originality to be an excuse for the breach of decorum, and who, little accustomed perhaps to attendance at home, loved to play the great man at an inn, and to have a certain number of bows, deferential speeches, and apologies, in answer to the G—d d—n ye's which they bestow on the house, attendance, and entertainment. Unto those who commenced this sort of barter in the Clachan of Saint Ronan's, well could Meg Dods pay it back, in their own coin; and glad they were to escape from the house with eyes not quite scratched out, and ears not more deafened than if they had been within hearing of a pitched battle.
Nature had formed honest Meg for such encounters; and as her noble soul delighted in them, so her outward properties were in what Tony Lumpkin calls a concatenation accordingly. She had hair of a brindled colour, betwixt black and grey, which was apt to escape in elf-locks from under her mutch when she was thrown into violent agitation—long skinny hands, terminated by stout talons—grey eyes, thin lips, a robust person, a broad, though flat chest, capital wind, and a voice that could match a choir of fishwomen. She was accustomed to say of herself in her more gentle moods, that her bark was worse than her bite; but what teeth could have matched a tongue, which, when in full career, is vouched to have been heard from the Kirk to the Castle of Saint Ronan's?
These notable gifts, however, had no charms for the travellers of these light and giddy-paced times, and Meg's inn became less and less frequented. What carried the evil to the uttermost was, that a fanciful lady of rank in the neighbourhood chanced to recover of some imaginary complaint by the use of a mineral well about a mile and a half from the village; a fashionable doctor was found to write an analysis of the healing waters, with a list of sundry cures; a speculative builder took land in feu, and erected lodging-houses, shops, and even streets. At length a tontine subscription was obtained to erect an inn, which, for the more grace, was called a hotel; and so the desertion of Meg Dods became general.[I-6]
She had still, however, her friends and well-wishers, many of whom thought, that as she was a lone woman, and known to be well to pass in the world, she would act wisely to retire from public life, and take down a sign which had no longer fascination for guests. But Meg's spirit scorned submission, direct or implied. "Her father's door," she said, "should be open to the road, till her father's bairn should be streekit and carried out at it with her feet foremost. It was not for the profit—there was little profit at it;—profit?—there was a dead loss; but she wad not be dung by any of them. They maun hae a hottle,[I-7] maun they?—and an honest public canna serve them! They may hottle that likes; but they shall see that Lucky Dods can hottle on as lang as the best of them—ay, though they had made a Tamteen of it, and linkit aw their breaths of lives, whilk are in their nostrils, on end of ilk other like a string of wild-geese, and the langest liver bruick a', (whilk was sinful presumption,) she would match ilk ane of them as lang as her ain wind held out." Fortunate it was for Meg, since she had formed this doughty resolution, that although her inn had decayed in custom, her land had risen in value in a degree which more than compensated the balance on the wrong side of her books, and, joined to her usual providence and economy, enabled her to act up to her lofty purpose.
She prosecuted her trade too with every attention to its diminished income; shut up the windows of one half of her house, to baffle the tax-gatherer; retrenched her furniture; discharged her pair of post-horses, and pensioned off the old humpbacked postilion who drove them, retaining his services, however, as an assistant to a still more aged hostler. To console herself for restrictions by which her pride was secretly wounded, she agreed with the celebrated Dick Tinto to re-paint her father's sign, which had become rather undecipherable; and Dick accordingly gilded the Bishop's crook, and augmented the horrors of the Devil's aspect, until it became a terror to all the younger fry of the school-house, and a sort of visible illustration of the terrors of the arch-enemy, with which the minister endeavoured to impress their infant minds.
Under this renewed symbol of her profession, Meg Dods, or Meg Dorts, as she was popularly termed, on account of her refractory humours, was still patronised by some steady customers. Such were the members of the Killnakelty Hunt, once famous on the turf and in the field, but now a set of venerable grey-headed sportsmen, who had sunk from fox-hounds to basket-beagles and coursing, and who made an easy canter on their quiet nags a gentle induction to a dinner at Meg's. "A set of honest decent men they were," Meg said; "had their sang and their joke—and what for no? Their bind was just a Scots pint over-head, and a tappit-hen to the bill, and no man ever saw them the waur o't. It was thae cockle-brained callants of the present day that would be mair owerta'en with a puir quart than douce folk were with a magnum."
Then there was a set of ancient brethren of the angle from Edinburgh, who visited Saint Ronan's frequently in the spring and summer, a class of guests peculiarly acceptable to Meg, who permitted them more latitude in her premises than she was known to allow to any other body. "They were," she said, "pawky auld carles, that kend whilk side their bread was buttered upon. Ye never kend of ony o' them ganging to the spring, as they behoved to ca' the stinking well yonder.—Na, na—they were up in the morning—had their parritch, wi' maybe a thimblefull of brandy, and then awa up into the hills, eat their bit cauld meat on the heather, and came hame at e'en with the creel full of caller trouts, and had them to their dinner, and their quiet cogue of ale, and their drap punch, and were set singing their catches and glees, as they ca'd them, till ten o'clock, and then to bed, wi' God bless ye—and what for no?"
Thirdly, we may commemorate some ranting blades, who also came from the metropolis to visit Saint Ronan's, attracted by the humours of Meg, and still more by the excellence of her liquor, and the cheapness of her reckonings. These were members of the Helter Skelter Club, of the Wildfire Club, and other associations formed for the express purpose of getting rid of care and sobriety. Such dashers occasioned many a racket in Meg's house, and many a bourasque in Meg's temper. Various were the arts of flattery and violence by which they endeavoured to get supplies of liquor, when Meg's conscience told her they had had too much already. Sometimes they failed, as when the croupier of the Helter Skelter got himself scalded with the mulled wine, in an unsuccessful attempt to coax this formidable virago by a salute; and the excellent president of the Wildfire received a broken head from the keys of the cellar, as he endeavoured to possess himself of these emblems of authority. But little did these dauntless officials care for the exuberant frolics of Meg's temper, which were to them only "pretty Fanny's way"—the dulces Amaryllidis irae. And Meg, on her part, though she often called them "drunken ne'er-do-weels, and thoroughbred High-street blackguards," allowed no other person to speak ill of them in her hearing. "They were daft callants," she said, "and that was all—when the drink was in, the wit was out—ye could not put an auld head upon young shouthers—a young cowt will canter, be it up-hill or down—and what for no?" was her uniform conclusion.
Nor must we omit, among Meg's steady customers, "faithful amongst the unfaithful found," the copper-nosed sheriff-clerk of the county, who, when summoned by official duty to that district of the shire, warmed by recollections of her double-brewed ale, and her generous Antigua, always advertised that his "Prieves," or "Comptis," or whatever other business was in hand, were to proceed on such a day and hour, "within the house of Margaret Dods, vintner in Saint Ronan's."
We have only farther to notice Meg's mode of conducting herself towards chance travellers, who, knowing nothing of nearer or more fashionable accommodations, or perhaps consulting rather the state of their purse than of their taste, stumbled upon her house of entertainment. Her reception of these was as precarious as the hospitality of a savage nation to sailors shipwrecked on their coast. If the guests seemed to have made her mansion their free choice—or if she liked their appearance (and her taste was very capricious)—above all, if they seemed pleased with what they got, and little disposed to criticise or give trouble, it was all very well. But if they had come to Saint Ronan's because the house at the Well was full—or if she disliked what the sailor calls the cut of their jib—or if, above all, they were critical about their accommodations, none so likely as Meg to give them what in her country is called a sloan. In fact, she reckoned such persons a part of that ungenerous and ungrateful public, for whose sake she was keeping her house open at a dead loss, and who had left her, as it were, a victim to her patriotic zeal.
Hence arose the different reports concerning the little inn of Saint Ronan's, which some favoured travellers praised as the neatest and most comfortable old-fashioned house in Scotland, where you had good attendance, and good cheer, at moderate rates; while others, less fortunate, could only talk of the darkness of the rooms, the homeliness of the old furniture, and the detestable bad humour of Meg Dods, the landlady.
Reader, if you come from the more sunny side of the Tweed—or even if, being a Scot, you have had the advantage to be born within the last twenty-five years, you may be induced to think this portrait of Queen Elizabeth, in Dame Quickly's piqued hat and green apron, somewhat overcharged in the features. But I appeal to my own contemporaries, who have known wheel-road, bridle-way, and footpath, for thirty years, whether they do not, every one of them, remember Meg Dods—or somebody very like her. Indeed, so much is this the case, that, about the period I mention, I should have been afraid to have rambled from the Scottish metropolis, in almost any direction, lest I had lighted upon some one of the sisterhood of Dame Quickly, who might suspect me of having showed her up to the public in the character of Meg Dods. At present, though it is possible that some one or two of this peculiar class of wild-cats may still exist, their talons must be much impaired by age; and I think they can do little more than sit, like the Giant Pope, in the Pilgrim's Progress, at the door of their unfrequented caverns, and grin at the pilgrims over whom they used formerly to execute their despotism.
[I-1] See Editor's Notes at the end of the Volume. Wherever a similar reference occurs, the reader will understand that the same direction applies.
[I-2] See the old Ballad of King Estmere, in PERCY'S Reliques.
[I-3] In a colloquy of Erasmus, called Diversaria, there is a very unsavoury description of a German inn of the period, where an objection of the guest is answered in the manner expressed in the text—a great sign of want of competition on the road.
[I-4] This circumstance shows of itself, that the Meg Dods of the tale cannot be identified with her namesake Jenny Dods, who kept the inn at Howgate,[I-B] on the Peebles road; for Jenny, far different from our heroine, was unmatched as a slattern.
[I-5] This was universally the case in Scotland forty or fifty years ago; and so little was charged for a domestic's living when the author became first acquainted with the road, that a shilling or eighteenpence was sufficient board wages for a man-servant, when a crown would not now answer the purpose. It is true the cause of these reasonable charges rested upon a principle equally unjust to the landlord, and inconvenient to the guest. The landlord did not expect to make any thing upon the charge for eating which his bill contained; in consideration of which, the guest was expected to drink more wine than might be convenient or agreeable to him, "for the good," as it was called, "of the house." The landlord indeed was willing and ready to assist, in this duty, every stranger who came within his gates. Other things were in proportion. A charge for lodging, fire, and candle, was long a thing unheard of in Scotland. A shilling to the housemaid settled all such considerations. I see, from memorandums of 1790, that a young man, with two ponies and a serving-lad, might travel from the house of one Meg Dods to another, through most parts of Scotland, for about five or six shillings a-day.
[I-6] Note I.—Building-Feus in Scotland.
[I-7] This Gallic word (hotel) was first introduced in Scotland during the author's childhood, and was so pronounced by the lower class.
Quis novus hic hospes? Dido apud Virgilium.
Ch'am-maid! The Gemman in the front parlour!
BOOTS'S free Translation of the AEneid.
It was on a fine summer's day that a solitary traveller rode under the old-fashioned archway, and alighted in the court-yard of Meg Dods's inn, and delivered the bridle of his horse to the humpbacked postilion. "Bring my saddle-bags," he said, "into the house—or stay—I am abler, I think, to carry them than you." He then assisted the poor meagre groom to unbuckle the straps which secured the humble and now despised convenience, and meantime gave strict charges that his horse should be unbridled, and put into a clean and comfortable stall, the girths slacked, and a cloth cast over his loins; but that the saddle should not be removed until he himself came to see him dressed.
The companion of his travels seemed in the hostler's eye deserving of his care, being a strong active horse, fit either for the road or field, but rather high in bone from a long journey, though from the state of his skin it appeared the utmost care had been bestowed to keep him in condition. While the groom obeyed the stranger's directions, the latter, with the saddle-bags laid over his arm, entered the kitchen of the inn.
Here he found the landlady herself in none of her most blessed humours. The cook-maid was abroad on some errand, and Meg, in a close review of the kitchen apparatus, was making the unpleasant discovery, that trenchers had been broken or cracked, pots and saucepans not so accurately scoured as her precise notions of cleanliness required, which, joined to other detections of a more petty description, stirred her bile in no small degree; so that while she disarranged and arranged the bink, she maundered, in an under tone, complaints and menaces against the absent delinquent.
The entrance of a guest did not induce her to suspend this agreeable amusement—she just glanced at him as he entered, then turned her back short on him, and continued her labour and her soliloquy of lamentation. Truth is, she thought she recognised in the person of the stranger, one of those useful envoys of the commercial community, called, by themselves and the waiters, Travellers, par excellence—by others, Riders and Bagmen. Now against this class of customers Meg had peculiar prejudices; because, there being no shops in the old village of Saint Ronan's, the said commercial emissaries, for the convenience of their traffic, always took up their abode at the New Inn, or Hotel, in the rising and rival village called Saint Ronan's Well, unless when some straggler, by chance or dire necessity, was compelled to lodge himself at the Auld Town, as the place of Meg's residence began to be generally termed. She had, therefore, no sooner formed the hasty conclusion, that the individual in question belonged to this obnoxious class, than she resumed her former occupation, and continued to soliloquize and apostrophize her absent handmaidens, without even appearing sensible of his presence.
"The huzzy Beenie—the jaud Eppie—the deil's buckie of a callant!—Another plate gane—they'll break me out of house and ha'!"
The traveller, who, with his saddle-bags rested on the back of a chair, had waited in silence for some note of welcome, now saw that, ghost or no ghost, he must speak first, if he intended to have any notice from his landlady.
"You are my old acquaintance, Mrs. Margaret Dods?" said the stranger.
"What for no?—and wha are ye that speers?" said Meg, in the same breath, and began to rub a brass candlestick with more vehemence than before—the dry tone in which she spoke, indicating plainly how little concern she took in the conversation.
"A traveller, good Mistress Dods, who comes to take up his lodgings here for a day or two."
"I am thinking ye will be mista'en," said Meg; "there's nae room for bags or jaugs here—ye've mista'en your road, neighbour—ye maun e'en bundle yoursell a bit farther down hill."
"I see you have not got the letter I sent you, Mistress Dods?" said the guest.
"How should I, man?" answered the hostess; "they have ta'en awa the post-office from us—moved it down till the Spa-well yonder, as they ca'd."
"Why, that is but a step off," observed the guest.
"Ye will get there the sooner," answered the hostess.
"Nay, but," said the guest, "if you had sent there for my letter, you would have learned"——
"I'm no wanting to learn ony thing at my years," said Meg. "If folk have ony thing to write to me about, they may gie the letter to John Hislop, the carrier, that has used the road these forty years. As for the letters at the post-mistress's, as they ca' her, down by yonder, they may bide in her shop-window, wi' the snaps and bawbee rows, till Beltane, or I loose them. I'll never file my fingers with them. Post-mistress, indeed!—Upsetting cutty! I mind her fu' weel when she dree'd penance for ante-nup"——
Laughing, but interrupting Meg in good time for the character of the post-mistress, the stranger assured her he had sent his fishing-rod and trunk to her confidential friend the carrier, and that he sincerely hoped she would not turn an old acquaintance out of her premises, especially as he believed he could not sleep in a bed within five miles of Saint Ronan's, if he knew that her Blue room was unengaged.
"Fishing-rod!—Auld acquaintance!—Blue room!" echoed Meg, in some surprise; and, facing round upon the stranger, and examining him with some interest and curiosity,—"Ye'll be nae bagman, then, after a'?"
"No," said the traveller; "not since I have laid the saddle-bags out of my hand."
"Weel, I canna say but I am glad of that—I canna bide their yanking way of knapping English at every word.—I have kent decent lads amang them too—What for no?—But that was when they stopped up here whiles, like other douce folk; but since they gaed down, the hail flight of them, like a string of wild-geese, to the new-fashioned hottle yonder, I am told there are as mony hellicate tricks played in the travellers' room, as they behove to call it, as if it were fu' of drunken young lairds."
"That is because they have not you to keep good order among them, Mistress Margaret."
"Ay, lad?" replied Meg, "ye are a fine blaw-in-my-lug, to think to cuittle me off sae cleverly!" And, facing about upon her guest, she honoured him with a more close and curious investigation than she had at first designed to bestow upon him.
All that she remarked was in her opinion rather favourable to the stranger. He was a well-made man, rather above than under the middle size, and apparently betwixt five-and-twenty and thirty years of age—for, although he might, at first glance, have passed for one who had attained the latter period, yet, on a nearer examination, it seemed as if the burning sun of a warmer climate than Scotland, and perhaps some fatigue, both of body and mind, had imprinted the marks of care and of manhood upon his countenance, without abiding the course of years. His eyes and teeth were excellent, and his other features, though they could scarce be termed handsome, expressed sense and acuteness; he bore, in his aspect, that ease and composure of manner, equally void of awkwardness and affectation, which is said emphatically to mark the gentleman; and, although neither the plainness of his dress, nor the total want of the usual attendants, allowed Meg to suppose him a wealthy man, she had little doubt that he was above the rank of her lodgers in general. Amidst these observations, and while she was in the course of making them, the good landlady was embarrassed with various obscure recollections of having seen the object of them formerly; but when, or on what occasion, she was quite unable to call to remembrance. She was particularly puzzled by the cold and sarcastic expression of a countenance, which she could not by any means reconcile with the recollections which it awakened. At length she said, with as much courtesy as she was capable of assuming,—"Either I have seen you before, sir, or some ane very like ye?—Ye ken the Blue room, too, and you a stranger in these parts?"
"Not so much a stranger as you may suppose, Meg," said the guest, assuming a more intimate tone, "when I call myself Frank Tyrrel."
"Tirl!" exclaimed Meg, with a tone of wonder—"It's impossible! You cannot be Francie Tirl, the wild callant that was fishing and bird-nesting here seven or eight years syne—it canna be—Francie was but a callant!"
"But add seven or eight years to that boy's life, Meg," said the stranger gravely, "and you will find you have the man who is now before you."
"Even sae!" said Meg, with a glance at the reflection of her own countenance in the copper coffee-pot, which she had scoured so brightly that it did the office of a mirror—"Just e'en sae—but folk maun grow auld or die.—But, Maister Tirl, for I mauna ca' ye Francie now, I am thinking"——
"Call me what you please, good dame," said the stranger; "it has been so long since I heard any one call me by a name that sounded like former kindness, that such a one is more agreeable to me than a lord's title would be."
"Weel, then, Maister Francie—if it be no offence to you—I hope ye are no a Nabob?"
"Not I, I can safely assure you, my old friend;—but what an I were?"
"Naething—only maybe I might bid ye gang farther, and be waur served.—Nabobs, indeed! the country's plagued wi' them. They have raised the price of eggs and pootry for twenty miles round—But what is my business?—They use amaist a' of them the Well down by—they need it, ye ken, for the clearing of their copper complexions, that need scouring as much as my saucepans, that naebody can clean but mysell."
"Well, my good friend," said Tyrrel, "the upshot of all this is, I hope, that I am to stay and have dinner here?"
"What for no?" replied Mrs. Dods.
"And that I am to have the Blue room for a night or two—perhaps longer?"
"I dinna ken that," said the dame.—"The Blue room is the best—and they that get neist best, are no ill aff in this warld."
"Arrange it as you will," said the stranger, "I leave the whole matter to you, mistress.—Meantime, I will go see after my horse."
"The merciful man," said Meg, when her guest had left the kitchen, "is merciful to his beast.—He had aye something about him by ordinar, that callant—But eh, sirs! there is a sair change on his cheek-haffit since I saw him last!—He sall no want a good dinner for auld lang syne, that I'se engage for."
Meg set about the necessary preparations with all the natural energy of her disposition, which was so much exerted upon her culinary cares, that her two maids, on their return to the house, escaped the bitter reprimand which she had been previously conning over, in reward for their alleged slatternly negligence. Nay, so far did she carry her complaisance, that when Tyrrel crossed the kitchen to recover his saddle-bags, she formally rebuked Eppie for an idle taupie, for not carrying the gentleman's things to his room.
"I thank you, mistress," said Tyrrel; "but I have some drawings and colours in these saddle-bags, and I always like to carry them myself."
"Ay, and are you at the painting trade yet?" said Meg; "an unco slaister ye used to make with it lang syne."
"I cannot live without it," said Tyrrel; and taking the saddle-bags, was formally inducted by the maid into a snug apartment, where he soon had the satisfaction to behold a capital dish of minced collops, with vegetables, and a jug of excellent ale, placed on the table by the careful hand of Meg herself. He could do no less, in acknowledgment of the honour, than ask Meg for a bottle of the yellow seal, "if there was any of that excellent claret still left."
"Left?—ay is there, walth of it," said Meg; "I dinna gie it to every body—Ah! Maister Tirl, ye have not got ower your auld tricks!—I am sure, if ye are painting for your leeving, as you say, a little rum and water would come cheaper, and do ye as much good. But ye maun hae your ain way the day, nae doubt, if ye should never have it again."
Away trudged Meg, her keys clattering as she went, and, after much rummaging, returned with such a bottle of claret as no fashionable tavern could have produced, were it called for by a duke, or at a duke's price; and she seemed not a little gratified when her guest assured her that he had not yet forgotten its excellent flavour. She retired after these acts of hospitality, and left the stranger to enjoy in quiet the excellent matters which she had placed before him.
But there was that on Tyrrel's mind which defied the enlivening power of good cheer and of wine, which only maketh man's heart glad when that heart has no secret oppression to counteract its influence. Tyrrel found himself on a spot which he had loved in that delightful season, when youth and high spirits awaken all those flattering promises which are so ill kept to manhood. He drew his chair into the embrasure of the old-fashioned window, and throwing up the sash to enjoy the fresh air, suffered his thoughts to return to former days, while his eyes wandered over objects which they had not looked upon for several eventful years. He could behold beneath his eye, the lower part of the decayed village, as its ruins peeped from the umbrageous shelter with which they were shrouded. Still lower down, upon the little holm which formed its church-yard, was seen the Kirk of Saint Ronan's; and looking yet farther, towards the junction of Saint Ronan's burn with the river which traversed the larger dale or valley, he could see whitened, by the western sun, the rising houses, which were either newly finished, or in the act of being built, about the medicinal spring.
"Time changes all around us," such was the course of natural though trite reflection, which flowed upon Tyrrel's mind; "wherefore should loves and friendships have a longer date than our dwellings and our monuments?" As he indulged these sombre recollections, his officious landlady disturbed their tenor by her entrance.
"I was thinking to offer you a dish of tea, Maister Francie, just for the sake of auld lang syne, and I'll gar the quean Beenie bring it here, and mask it mysell.—But ye arena done with your wine yet?"
"I am indeed, Mrs. Dods," answered Tyrrel; "and I beg you will remove the bottle."
"Remove the bottle, and the wine no half drank out!" said Meg, displeasure lowering on her brow; "I hope there is nae fault to be found wi' the wine, Maister Tirl?"
To this answer, which was put in a tone resembling defiance, Tyrrel submissively replied, by declaring "the claret not only unexceptionable, but excellent."
"And what for dinna ye drink it, then?" said Meg, sharply; "folk should never ask for mair liquor than they can make a gude use of. Maybe ye think we have the fashion of the table-dot, as they ca' their newfangled ordinary down-by yonder, where a' the bits of vinegar cruets are put awa into an awmry, as they tell me, and ilk ane wi' the bit dribbles of syndings in it, and a paper about the neck o't, to show which of the customers is aught it—there they stand like doctor's drogs—and no an honest Scottish mutchkin will ane o' their viols haud, granting it were at the fouest."
"Perhaps," said Tyrrel, willing to indulge the spleen and prejudice of his old acquaintance, "perhaps the wine is not so good as to make full measure desirable."
"Ye may say that, lad—and yet them that sell it might afford a gude penniworth, for they hae it for the making—maist feck of it ne'er saw France or Portugal. But as I was saying—this is no ane of their newfangled places, where wine is put by for them that canna drink it—when the cork's drawn the bottle maun be drank out—and what for no?—unless it be corkit."
"I agree entirely, Meg," said her guest; "but my ride to-day has somewhat heated me—and I think the dish of tea you promise me, will do me more good than to finish my bottle."
"Na, then, the best I can do for you is to put it by, to be sauce for the wild-duck the morn; for I think ye said ye were to bide here for a day or twa."
"It is my very purpose, Meg, unquestionably," replied Tyrrel.
"Sae be it then," said Mrs. Dods; "and then the liquor's no lost—it has been seldom sic claret as that has simmered in a saucepan, let me tell you that, neighbour;—and I mind the day, when, headache or nae headache, ye wad hae been at the hinder-end of that bottle, and maybe anither, if ye could have gotten it wiled out of me. But then ye had your cousin to help you—Ah! he was a blithe bairn that Valentine Bulmer!—Ye were a canty callant too, Maister Francie, and muckle ado I had to keep ye baith in order when ye were on the ramble. But ye were a thought doucer than Valentine—But O! he was a bonny laddie!—wi' e'en like diamonds, cheeks like roses, a head like a heather-tap—he was the first I ever saw wear a crap, as they ca' it, but a' body cheats the barber now—and he had a laugh that wad hae raised the dead!—What wi' flyting on him, and what wi' laughing at him, there was nae minding ony other body when that Valentine was in the house.—And how is your cousin Valentine Bulmer, Maister Francie?"
Tyrrel looked down, and only answered with a sigh.
"Ay—and is it even sae?" said Meg; "and has the puir bairn been sae soon removed frae this fashious warld?—Ay—ay—we maun a' gang ae gate—crackit quart stoups and geisen'd barrels—leaky quaighs are we a', and canna keep in the liquor of life—Ohon, sirs!—Was the puir lad Bulmer frae Bu'mer bay, where they land the Hollands, think ye, Maister Francie?—They whiles rin in a pickle tea there too—I hope that is good that I have made you, Maister Francie?"
"Excellent, my good dame," said Tyrrel; but it was in a tone of voice which intimated that she had pressed upon a subject that awakened some unpleasant reflections.
"And when did this puir lad die?" continued Meg, who was not without her share of Eve's qualities, and wished to know something concerning what seemed to affect her guest so particularly; but he disappointed her purpose, and at the same time awakened another train of sentiment in her mind, by turning again to the window, and looking upon the distant buildings of Saint Ronan's Well. As if he had observed for the first time these new objects, he said to Mistress Dods in an indifferent tone, "You have got some gay new neighbours yonder, mistress."
"Neighbours!" said Meg, her wrath beginning to arise, as it always did upon any allusion to this sore subject—"Ye may ca' them neighbours, if ye like—but the deil flee awa wi' the neighbourhood for Meg Dods!"
"I suppose," said Tyrrel, as if he did not observe her displeasure, "that yonder is the Fox Hotel they told me of?"
"The Fox!" said Meg: "I am sure it is the fox that has carried off a' my geese.—I might shut up house, Maister Francie, if it was the thing I lived by—me, that has seen a' our gentlefolk bairns, and gien them snaps and sugar-biscuit maist of them wi' my ain hand! They wad hae seen my father's roof-tree fa' down and smoor me before they wad hae gien a boddle a-piece to have propped it up—but they could a' link out their fifty pounds ower head to bigg a hottle at the Well yonder. And muckle they hae made o't—the bankrupt body, Sandie Lawson, hasna paid them a bawbee of four terms' rent."
"Surely, mistress, I think if the Well became so famous for its cures, the least the gentlemen could have done was to make you the priestess."
"Me priestess! I am nae Quaker, I wot, Maister Francie; and I never heard of alewife that turned preacher, except Luckie Buchan in the west.[I-8] And if I were to preach, I think I have mair the spirit of a Scottishwoman, than to preach in the very room they hae been dancing in ilka night in the week, Saturday itsell not excepted, and that till twal o'clock at night. Na, na, Maister Francie; I leave the like o' that to Mr. Simon Chatterly, as they ca' the bit prelatical sprig of divinity from the town yonder, that plays at cards, and dances six days in the week, and on the seventh reads the Common Prayer-book in the ball-room, with Tam Simson, the drunken barber, for his clerk."
"I think I have heard of Mr. Chatterly," said Tyrrel.
"Ye'll be thinking o' the sermon he has printed," said the angry dame, "where he compares their nasty puddle of a Well yonder to the pool of Bethseda, like a foul-mouthed, fleeching, feather-headed fule as he is! He should hae kend that the place got a' its fame in the times of black Popery; and though they pat it in St. Ronan's name, I'll never believe for one that the honest man had ony hand in it; for I hae been tell'd by ane that suld ken, that he was nae Roman, but only a Cuddie, or Culdee,[I-C] or such like.—But will ye not take anither dish of tea, Maister Francie? and a wee bit of the diet-loaf, raised wi' my ain fresh butter, Maister Francie? and no wi' greasy kitchen-fee, like the seedcake down at the confectioner's yonder, that has as mony dead flees as carvy in it. Set him up for a confectioner!—Wi' a penniworth of rye-meal, and anither of tryacle, and twa or three carvy-seeds, I will make better confections than ever cam out of his oven."
"I have no doubt of that, Mrs. Dods," said the guest; "and I only wish to know how these new comers were able to establish themselves against a house of such good reputation and old standing as yours?—It was the virtues of the mineral, I dare say; but how came the waters to recover a character all at once, mistress?"
"I dinna ken, sir—they used to be thought good for naething, but here and there for a puir body's bairn, that had gotten the cruells,[I-9] and could not afford a penniworth of salts. But my Leddy Penelope Penfeather had fa'an ill, it's like, as nae other body ever fell ill, and sae she was to be cured some gate naebody was ever cured, which was naething mair than was reasonable—and my leddy, ye ken, has wit at wull, and has a' the wise folk out from Edinburgh at her house at Windywa's yonder, which it is her leddyship's wull and pleasure to call Air-castle—and they have a' their different turns, and some can clink verses, wi' their tale, as weel as Rob Burns or Allan Ramsay—and some rin up hill and down dale, knapping the chucky stanes to pieces wi' hammers, like sae mony road-makers run daft—they say it is to see how the warld was made!—and some that play on all manner of ten-stringed instruments—and a wheen sketching souls, that ye may see perched like craws on every craig in the country, e'en working at your ain trade, Maister Francie; forby men that had been in foreign parts, or said they had been there, whilk is a' ane, ye ken; and maybe twa or three draggletailed misses, that wear my Leddy Penelope's follies when she has dune wi' them, as her queans of maids wear her second-hand claithes. So, after her leddyship's happy recovery, as they ca'd it, down cam the hail tribe of wild-geese, and settled by the Well, to dine thereout on the bare grund, like a wheen tinklers; and they had sangs, and tunes, and healths, nae doubt, in praise of the fountain, as they ca'd the Well, and of Leddy Penelope Penfeather; and, lastly, they behoved a' to take a solemn bumper of the spring, which, as I'm tauld, made unco havoc amang them or they wan hame; and this they ca'd picknick, and a plague to them! And sae the jig was begun after her leddyship's pipe, and mony a mad measure has been danced sin' syne; for down cam masons and murgeon-makers, and preachers and player-folk, and Episcopalians and Methodists, and fools and fiddlers, and Papists and pie-bakers, and doctors and drugsters; by the shop-folk, that sell trash and trumpery at three prices—and so up got the bonny new Well, and down fell the honest auld town of Saint Ronan's, where blithe decent folk had been heartsome eneugh for mony a day before ony o' them were born, or ony sic vapouring fancies kittled in their cracked brains."
"What said your landlord, the Laird of Saint Ronan's, to all this?" said Tyrrel.
"Is't my landlord ye are asking after, Maister Francie?—the Laird of Saint Ronan's is nae landlord of mine, and I think ye might hae minded that.—Na, na, thanks be to Praise! Meg Dods is baith landlord and landleddy. Ill eneugh to keep the doors open as it is, let be facing Whitsunday and Martinmas—an auld leather pock there is, Maister Francie, in ane of worthy Maister Bindloose the sheriff-clerk's pigeon-holes, in his dowcot of a closet in the burgh; and therein is baith charter and sasine, and special service to boot; and that will be chapter and verse, speer when ye list."
"I had quite forgotten," said Tyrrel, "that the inn was your own; though I remember you were a considerable landed proprietor."
"Maybe I am," replied Meg, "maybe I am not: and if I be, what for no?—But as to what the Laird, whose grandfather was my father's landlord, said to the new doings yonder—he just jumped at the ready penny, like a cock at a grosert, and feu'd the bonny holm beside the Well, that they ca'd the Saint-Well-holm, that was like the best land in his aught, to be carved, and biggit, and howkit up, just at the pleasure of Jock Ashler the stane-mason, that ca's himsell an arkiteck—there's nae living for new words in this new warld neither, and that is another vex to auld folk such as me.—It's a shame o' the young Laird, to let his auld patrimony gang the gate it's like to gang, and my heart is sair to see't, though it has but little cause to care what comes of him or his."
"Is it the same Mr. Mowbray," said Mr. Tyrrel, "who still holds the estate?—the old gentleman, you know, whom I had some dispute with"——
"About hunting moorfowl upon the Spring-well-head muirs?" said Meg. "Ah, lad! honest Mr. Bindloose brought you neatly off there—Na, it's no that honest man, but his son John Mowbray—the t'other has slept down-by in Saint Ronan's Kirk for these six or seven years."
"Did he leave," asked Tyrrel, with something of a faltering voice, "no other child than the present Laird?"
"No other son," said Meg; "and there's e'en eneugh, unless he could have left a better ane."
"He died then," said Tyrrel, "excepting this son, without children?"
"By your leave, no," said Meg; "there is the lassie Miss Clara, that keeps house for the Laird, if it can be ca'd keeping house, for he is almost aye down at the Well yonder—so a sma' kitchen serves them at the Shaws."
"Miss Clara will have but a dull time of it there during her brother's absence?" said the stranger.
"Out no!—he has her aften jinketing about, and back and forward, wi' a' the fine flichtering fools that come yonder; and clapping palms wi' them, and linking at their dances and daffings. I wuss nae ill come o't, but it's a shame her father's daughter should keep company wi' a' that scauff and raff of physic-students, and writers' prentices, and bagmen, and siclike trash as are down at the Well yonder."
"You are severe, Mrs. Dods," replied the guest. "No doubt Miss Clara's conduct deserves all sort of freedom."
"I am saying naething against her conduct," said the dame; "and there's nae ground to say onything that I ken of—But I wad hae like draw to like, Maister Francie. I never quarrelled the ball that the gentry used to hae at my bit house a gude wheen years bygane—when they came, the auld folk in their coaches, wi' lang-tailed black horses, and a wheen galliard gallants on their hunting horses, and mony a decent leddy behind her ain goodman, and mony a bonny smirking lassie on her pownie, and wha sae happy as they—And what for no? And then there was the farmers' ball, wi' the tight lads of yeomen with the bran new blues and the buckskins—These were decent meetings—but then they were a' ae man's bairns that were at them, ilk ane kend ilk other—they danced farmers wi' farmers' daughters, at the tane, and gentles wi' gentle blood, at the t'other, unless maybe when some of the gentlemen of the Killnakelty Club would gie me a round of the floor mysell, in the way of daffing and fun, and me no able to flyte on them for laughing—I am sure I never grudged these innocent pleasures, although it has cost me maybe a week's redding up, before I got the better of the confusion."
"But, dame," said Tyrrel, "this ceremonial would be a little hard upon strangers like myself, for how were we to find partners in these family parties of yours?"
"Never you fash your thumb about that, Maister Francie," returned the landlady, with a knowing wink.—"Every Jack will find a Jill, gang the world as it may—and, at the warst o't, better hae some fashery in finding a partner for the night, than get yoked with ane that you may not be able to shake off the morn."
"And does that sometimes happen?" asked the stranger.
"Happen!—and is't amang the Well folk that ye mean?" exclaimed the hostess. "Was it not the last season, as they ca't, no farther gane, that young Sir Bingo Binks, the English lad wi' the red coat, that keeps a mail-coach, and drives it himsell, gat cleekit with Miss Rachel Bonnyrigg, the auld Leddy Loupengirth's lang-legged daughter—and they danced sae lang thegither, that there was mair said than suld hae been said about it—and the lad would fain hae louped back, but the auld leddy held him to his tackle, and the Commissary Court and somebody else made her Leddy Binks in spite of Sir Bingo's heart—and he has never daured take her to his friends in England, but they have just wintered and summered it at the Well ever since—and that is what the Well is good for!"
"And does Clara,—I mean does Miss Mowbray, keep company with such women as these?" said Tyrrel, with a tone of interest which he checked as he proceeded with the question.
"What can she do, puir thing?" said the dame. "She maun keep the company that her brother keeps, for she is clearly dependent.—But, speaking of that, I ken what I have to do, and that is no little, before it darkens. I have sat clavering with you ower lang, Maister Francie."
And away she marched with a resolved step, and soon the clear octaves of her voice were heard in shrill admonition to her handmaidens.
Tyrrel paused a moment in deep thought, then took his hat, paid a visit to the stable, where his horse saluted him with feathering ears, and that low amicable neigh, with which that animal acknowledges the approach of a loving and beloved friend. Having seen that the faithful creature was in every respect attended to, Tyrrel availed himself of the continued and lingering twilight, to visit the old Castle, which, upon former occasions, had been his favourite evening walk. He remained while the light permitted, admiring the prospect we attempted to describe in the first chapter, and comparing, as in his former reverie, the faded hues of the glimmering landscape to those of human life, when early youth and hope have ceased to gild them.
A brisk walk to the inn, and a light supper on a Welsh rabbit and the dame's home-brewed, were stimulants of livelier, at least more resigned thoughts—and the Blue bedroom, to the honours of which he had been promoted, received him a contented, if not a cheerful tenant.
[I-8] The foundress of a sect called Buchanites; a species of Joanna Southcote, who long after death was expected to return and head her disciples on the road to Jerusalem.
[I-9] Escrouelles, King's Evil.
There must be government in all society— Bees have their Queen, and stag-herds have their leader; Rome had her Consuls, Athens had her Archons, And we, sir, have our Managing Committee.
The Album of St. Ronan's.
Francis Tyrrel was, in the course of the next day, formally settled in his old quarters, where he announced his purpose of remaining for several days. The old-established carrier of the place brought his fishing-rod and travelling-trunk, with a letter to Meg, dated a week previously, desiring her to prepare to receive an old acquaintance. This annunciation, though something of the latest, Meg received with great complacency, observing it was a civil attention in Maister Tirl; and that John Hislop, though he was not just sae fast, was far surer than ony post of them a', or express either. She also observed with satisfaction, that there was no gun-case along with her guest's baggage; "for that weary gunning had brought him and her into trouble—the lairds had cried out upon't, as if she made her house a howff for common fowlers and poachers; and yet how could she hinder twa daft hempie callants from taking a start and an ower-loup?[I-10] They had been ower the neighbour's ground they had leave on up to the march, and they werena just to ken meiths when the moorfowl got up."
In a day or two, her guest fell into such quiet and solitary habits, that Meg, herself the most restless and bustling of human creatures, began to be vexed, for want of the trouble which she expected to have had with him, experiencing, perhaps, the same sort of feeling from his extreme and passive indifference on all points, that a good horseman has for the over-patient steed, which he can scarce feel under him. His walks were devoted to the most solitary recesses among the neighbouring woods and hills—his fishing-rod was often left behind him, or carried merely as an apology for sauntering slowly by the banks of some little brooklet—and his success so indifferent, that Meg said the piper of Peebles[I-11] would have caught a creelfu' before Maister Francie made out the half-dozen; so that he was obliged, for peace's sake, to vindicate his character, by killing a handsome salmon.
Tyrrel's painting, as Meg called it, went on equally slowly: He often, indeed, showed her the sketches which he brought from his walks, and used to finish at home; but Meg held them very cheap. What signified, she said, a wheen bits of paper, wi' black and white scarts upon them, that he ca'd bushes, and trees, and craigs?—Couldna he paint them wi' green, and blue, and yellow, like the other folk? "Ye will never mak your bread that way, Maister Francie. Ye suld munt up a muckle square of canvass, like Dick Tinto, and paint folks ainsells, that they like muckle better to see than ony craig in the haill water; and I wadna muckle objeck even to some of the Wallers coming up and sitting to ye. They waste their time waur, I wis—and, I warrant, ye might make a guinea a-head of them. Dick made twa, but he was an auld used hand, and folk maun creep before they gang."
In answer to these remonstrances, Tyrrel assured her, that the sketches with which he busied himself were held of such considerable value, that very often an artist in that line received much higher remuneration for these, than for portraits or coloured drawings. He added, that they were often taken for the purpose of illustrating popular poems, and hinted as if he himself were engaged in some labour of that nature.
Eagerly did Meg long to pour forth to Nelly Trotter, the fishwoman,—whose cart formed the only neutral channel of communication between the Auld Town and the Well, and who was in favour with Meg, because, as Nelly passed her door in her way to the Well, she always had the first choice of her fish,—the merits of her lodger as an artist. Luckie Dods had, in truth, been so much annoyed and bullied, as it were, with the report of clever persons, accomplished in all sorts of excellence, arriving day after day at the Hotel, that she was overjoyed in this fortunate opportunity to triumph over them in their own way; and it may be believed, that the excellences of her lodger lost nothing by being trumpeted through her mouth.
"I maun hae the best of the cart, Nelly—if you and me can gree—for it is for ane of the best of painters. Your fine folk down yonder would gie their lugs to look at what he has been doing—he gets gowd in goupins, for three downright skarts and three cross anes—And he is no an ungrateful loon, like Dick Tinto, that had nae sooner my good five-and-twenty shillings in his pocket, than he gaed down to birl it awa at their bonny hottle yonder, but a decent quiet lad, that kens when he is weel aff, and bides still at the auld howff—And what for no?—Tell them all this, and hear what they will say till't."
"Indeed, mistress, I can tell ye that already, without stirring my shanks for the matter," answered Nelly Trotter; "they will e'en say that ye are ae auld fule, and me anither, that may hae some judgment in cock-bree or in scate-rumples, but mauna fash our beards about ony thing else."
"Wad they say sae, the frontless villains! and me been a housekeeper this thirty year!" exclaimed Meg; "I wadna hae them say it to my face! But I am no speaking without warrant—for what an I had spoken to the minister, lass, and shown him ane of the loose skarts of paper that Maister Tirl leaves fleeing about his room?—and what an he had said he had kend Lord Bidmore gie five guineas for the waur on't? and a' the warld kens he was lang tutor in the Bidmore family."
"Troth," answered her gossip, "I doubt if I was to tell a' this they would hardly believe me, mistress; for there are sae mony judges amang them, and they think sae muckle of themsells, and sae little of other folk, that unless ye were to send down the bit picture, I am no thinking they will believe a word that I can tell them."
"No believe what an honest woman says—let abee to say twa o' them?" exclaimed Meg; "O the unbelieving generation!—Weel, Nelly, since my back is up, ye sall tak down the picture, or sketching, or whatever it is, (though I thought sketchers[I-12] were aye made of airn,) and shame wi' it the conceited crew that they are.—But see and bring't back wi' ye again, Nelly, for it's a thing of value; and trustna it out o' your hand, that I charge you, for I lippen no muckle to their honesty.—And, Nelly, ye may tell them he has an illustrated poem—illustrated—mind the word, Nelly—that is to be stuck as fou o' the like o' that, as ever turkey was larded wi' dabs o' bacon."
Thus furnished with her credentials, and acting the part of a herald betwixt two hostile countries, honest Nelly switched her little fish-cart downwards to St. Ronan's Well.
In watering-places, as in other congregated assemblies of the human species, various kinds of government have been dictated, by chance, caprice, or convenience; but in almost all of them, some sort of direction has been adopted, to prevent the consequences of anarchy. Sometimes the sole power has been vested in a Master of Ceremonies; but this, like other despotisms, has been of late unfashionable, and the powers of this great officer have been much limited even at Bath, where Nash once ruled with undisputed supremacy. Committees of management, chosen from among the most steady guests, have been in general resorted to, as a more liberal mode of sway, and to such was confided the administration of the infant republic of St. Ronan's Well. This little senate, it must be observed, had the more difficult task in discharging their high duties, that, like those of other republics, their subjects were divided into two jarring and contending factions, who every day eat, drank, danced, and made merry together, hating each other all the while with all the animosity of political party, endeavouring by every art to secure the adherence of each guest who arrived, and ridiculing the absurdities and follies of each other, with all the wit and bitterness of which they were masters.