The Abbot, by Walter Scott

Chapter the Twenty-Sixth.

Room for the master of the ring, ye swains,

Divide your crowded ranks — before him march

The rural minstrelsy, the rattling drum,

The clamorous war-pipe, and far-echoing horn.

Rural Sports. — Somerville.

No long space intervened ere Roland Graeme was able to discover among the crowd of revellers, who gambolled upon the open space which extends betwixt the village and the lake, a person of so great importance as Dr. Luke Lundin, upon whom devolved officially the charge of representing the lord of the land, and who was attended for support of his authority by a piper, a drummer, and four sturdy clowns armed with rusty halberds, garnished with party-coloured ribbons; myrmidons who, early as the day was, had already broken more than one head in the awful names of the Laird of Lochleven and his chamberlain.29

As soon as this dignitary was informed that the castle skiff had arrived, with a gallant, dressed like a lord’s son at the least, who desired presently to speak to him, he adjusted his ruff and his black coat, turned round his girdle till the garnished hilt of his long rapier became visible, and walked with due solemnity towards the beach. Solemn indeed he was entitled to be, even on less important occasions, for he had been bred to the venerable study of medicine, as those acquainted with the science very soon discovered from the aphorisms which ornamented his discourse. His success had not been equal to his pretensions; but as he was a native of the neighbouring kingdom of Fife, and bore distant relation to, or dependence upon, the ancient family of Lundin of that Ilk, who were bound in close friendship with the house of Lochleven, he had, through their interest, got planted comfortably enough in his present station upon the banks of that beautiful lake. The profits of his chamberlainship being moderate, especially in those unsettled times, he had eked it out a little with some practice in his original profession; and it was said that the inhabitants of the village and barony of Kinross were not more effectually thirled (which may be translated enthralled) to the baron’s mill, than they were to the medical monopoly of the chamberlain. Wo betide the family of the rich boor, who presumed to depart this life without a passport from Dr. Luke Lundin! for if his representatives had aught to settle with the baron, as it seldom happened otherwise, they were sure to find a cold friend in the chamberlain. He was considerate enough, however, gratuitously to help the poor out of their ailments, and sometimes out of all their other distresses at the same time.

Formal, in a double proportion, both as a physician and as a person in office, and proud of the scraps of learning which rendered his language almost universally unintelligible, Dr. Luke Lundin approached the beach, and hailed the page as he advanced towards him. —“The freshness of the morning upon you, fair sir — You are sent, I warrant me, to see if we observe here the regimen which her good ladyship hath prescribed, for eschewing all superstitious observances and idle anilities in these our revels. I am aware that her good ladyship would willingly have altogether abolished and abrogated them — But as I had the honour to quote to her from the works of the learned Hercules of Saxony, omnis curatio est vel canonica vel coacta — that is, fair sir, (for silk and velvet have seldom their Latin ad unguem,) every cure must be wrought either by art and induction of rule, or by constraint; and the wise physician chooseth the former. Which argument her ladyship being pleased to allow well of, I have made it my business so to blend instruction and caution with delight — fiat mixtio, as we say — that I can answer that the vulgar mind will be defecated and purged of anile and Popish fooleries by the medicament adhibited, so that the primae vice being cleansed, Master Henderson, or any other able pastor, may at will throw in tonics, and effectuate a perfect moral cure, tuto, cito, jucunde.”

“I have no charge, Dr. Lundin,” replied the page —

“Call me not doctor,” said the chamberlain, “since I have laid aside my furred gown and bonnet, and retired me into this temporality of chamberlainship.”

“Oh, sir,” said the page, who was no stranger by report to the character of this original, “the cowl makes not the monk, neither the cord the friar — we have all heard of the cures wrought by Dr. Lundin.”

“Toys, young sir — trifles,” answered the leech with grave disclamation of superior skill; “the hit-or-miss practice of a poor retired gentleman, in a short cloak and doublet — Marry, Heaven sent its blessing — and this I must say, better fashioned mediciners have brought fewer patients through — lunga roba corta scienzia, saith the Italian — ha, fair sir, you have the language?”

Roland Graeme did not think it necessary to expound to this learned Theban whether he understood him or no; but, leaving that matter uncertain, he told him he came in quest of certain packages which should have arrived at Kinross, and been placed under the chamberlain’s charge the evening before.

“Body o’ me!” said Doctor Lundin, “I fear our common carrier, John Auchtermuchty, hath met with some mischance, that he came not up last night with his wains — bad land this to journey in, my master; and the fool will travel by night too, although, (besides all maladies from your tussis to your pestis, which walk abroad in the night-air,) he may well fall in with half a dozen swash-bucklers, who will ease him at once of his baggage and his earthly complaints. I must send forth to inquire after him, since he hath stuff of the honourable household on hand — and, by our Lady, he hath stuff of mine too — certain drugs sent me from the city for composition of my alexipharmics — this gear must be looked to. — Hodge,” said he, addressing one of his redoubted body-guard, “do thou and Toby Telford take the mickle brown aver and the black cut-tailed mare, and make out towards the Kerry-craigs, and see what tidings you can have of Auchtermuchty and his wains — I trust it is only the medicine of the pottle-pot, (being the only medicamentum which the beast useth,) which hath caused him to tarry on the road. Take the ribbons from your halberds, ye knaves, and get on your jacks, plate-sleeves, and knapskulls, that your presence may work some terror if you meet with opposers.” He then added, turning to Roland Graeme, “I warrant me, we shall have news of the wains in brief season. Meantime it will please you to look upon the sports; but first to enter my poor lodging and take your morning’s cup. For what saith the school of Salerno?

Poculum, mane haustum,

Restaurat naturam exhaustam.“

“Your learning is too profound for me,” replied the page; “and so would your draught be likewise, I fear.”

“Not a whit, fair sir — a cordial cup of sack, impregnated with wormwood, is the best anti-pestilential draught; and, to speak truth, the pestilential miasmata are now very rife in the atmosphere. We live in a happy time, young man,” continued he, in a tone of grave irony, “and have many blessings unknown to our fathers — Here are two sovereigns in the land, a regnant and a claimant — that is enough of one good thing — but if any one wants more, he may find a king in every peel-house in the country; so if we lack government, it is not for want of governors. Then have we a civil war to phlebotomize us every year, and to prevent our population from starving for want of food — and for the same purpose we have the Plague proposing us a visit, the best of all recipes for thinning a land, and converting younger brothers into elder ones. Well, each man in his vocation. You young fellows of the sword desire to wrestle, fence, or so forth, with some expert adversary; and for my part, I love to match myself for life or death against that same Plague.”

As they proceeded up the street of the little village towards the Doctor’s lodgings, his attention was successively occupied by the various personages whom he met, and pointed out to the notice of his companion.

“Do you see that fellow with the red bonnet, the blue jerkin, and the great rough baton in his hand? — I believe that clown hath the strength of a tower — he has lived fifty years in the world, and never encouraged the liberal sciences by buying one penny-worth of medicaments. — But see you that man with the facies hippocratica?” said he, pointing out a thin peasant, with swelled legs, and a most cadaverous countenance; “that I call one of the worthiest men in the barony — he breakfasts, luncheons, dines, and sups by my advice, and not without my medicine; and, for his own single part, will go farther to clear out a moderate stock of pharmaceutics, than half the country besides. — How do you, my honest friend?” said he to the party in question, with a tone of condolence.

“Very weakly, sir, since I took the electuary,” answered the patient; “it neighboured ill with the two spoonfuls of pease-porridge and the kirnmilk.”

“Pease-porridge and kirnmilk! Have you been under medicine these ten years, and keep your diet so ill? — the next morning take the electuary by itself, and touch nothing for six hours.”— The poor object bowed, and limped off.

The next whom the Doctor deigned to take notice of, was a lame fellow, by whom the honour was altogether undeserved, for at sight of the mediciner, he began to shuffle away in the crowd as fast as his infirmities would permit.

“There is an ungrateful hound for you,” said Doctor Lundin; “I cured him of the gout in his feet, and now he talks of the chargeableness of medicine, and makes the first use of his restored legs to fly from his physician. His podagra hath become a chiragra, as honest Martial hath it — the gout has got into his fingers, and he cannot draw his purse. Old saying and true,

Praemia cum poscit medicus, Sathan est.

We are angels when we come to cure — devils when we ask payment — but I will administer a purgation to his purse I warrant him. There is his brother too, a sordid chuff. — So ho, there! Saunders Darlet! you have been ill, I hear?”

“Just got the turn, as I was thinking to send to your honour, and I am brawly now again — it was nae great thing that ailed me.”

“Hark you, sirrah,” said the Doctor, “I trust you remember you are owing to the laird four stones of barleymeal, and a bow of oats; and I would have you send no more such kain-fowls as you sent last season, that looked as wretchedly as patients just dismissed from a plague-hospital; and there is hard money owing besides.”

“I was thinking, sir,” said the man, more Scotico, that is, returning no direct answer on the subject on which he was addressed, “my best way would be to come down to your honour, and take your advice yet, in case my trouble should come back.”

“Do so, then, knave,” replied Lundin, “and remember what Ecclesiasticus saith —‘Give place to the physician-let him not go from thee, for thou hast need of him.’”

His exhortation was interrupted by an apparition, which seemed to strike the doctor with as much horror and surprise, as his own visage inflicted upon sundry of those persons whom he had addressed.

The figure which produced this effect on the Esculapius of the village, was that of a tall old woman, who wore a high-crowned hat and muffler. The first of these habiliments added apparently to her stature, and the other served to conceal the lower part of her face, and as the hat itself was slouched, little could be seen besides two brown cheek-bones, and the eyes of swarthy fire, that gleamed from under two shaggy gray eyebrows. She was dressed in a long dark-coloured robe of unusual fashion, bordered at the skirts, and on the stomacher, with a sort of white trimming resembling the Jewish phylacteries, on which were wrought the characters of some unknown language. She held in her hand a walking staff of black ebony.

“By the soul of Celsus,” said Doctor Luke Lundin, “it is old Mother Nicneven herself — she hath come to beard me within mine own bounds, and in the very execution of mine office! Have at thy coat, Old Woman, as the song says — Hob Anster, let her presently be seized and committed to the tolbooth; and if there are any zealous brethren here who would give the hag her deserts, and duck her, as a witch, in the loch, I pray let them in no way be hindered.”

But the myrmidons of Dr. Lundin showed in this case no alacrity to do his bidding. Hob Anster even ventured to remonstrate in the name of himself and his brethren. “To be sure he was to do his honour’s bidding; and for a’ that folks said about the skill and witcheries of Mother Nicneven, he would put his trust in God, and his hand on her collar, without dreadour. But she was no common spaewife, this Mother Nicneven, like Jean Jopp that lived in the Bricrie-baulk. She had lords and lairds that would ruffle for her. There was Moncrieff of Tippermalloch, that was Popish, and the laird of Carslogie, a kend Queen’s man, were in the fair, with wha kend how mony swords and bucklers at their back; and they would be sure to make a break-out if the officers meddled with the auld Popish witch-wife, who was sae weel friended; mair especially as the laird’s best men, such as were not in the castle, were in Edinburgh with him, and he doubted his honour the Doctor would find ower few to make a good backing, if blades were bare.”

The doctor listened unwillingly to this prudential counsel, and was only comforted by the faithful promise of his satellite, that “the old woman should,” as he expressed it, “be ta’en canny the next time she trespassed on the bounds.”

“And in that event,” said the Doctor to his companion, “fire and fagot shall be the best of her welcome.”

This he spoke in hearing of the dame herself, who even then, and in passing the Doctor, shot towards him from under her gray eyebrows a look of the most insulting and contemptuous superiority.

“This way,” continued the physician, “this way,” marshalling his guest into his lodging — “take care you stumble not over a retort, for it is hazardous for the ignorant to walk in the ways of art.”

The page found all reason for the caution; for besides stuffed birds, and lizards, and snakes bottled up, and bundles of simples made up, and other parcels spread out to dry, and all the confusion, not to mention the mingled and sickening smells, incidental to a druggist’s stock in trade, he had also to avoid heaps of charcoal crucibles, bolt-heads, stoves, and the other furniture of a chemical laboratory.

Amongst his other philosophical qualities, Doctor Lundin failed not to be a confused sloven, and his old dame housekeeper, whose life, as she said, was spent in “redding him up,” had trotted off to the mart of gaiety with other and younger folks. Much chattering and jangling therefore there was among jars, and bottles, and vials, ere the Doctor produced the salutiferous potion which he recommended so strongly, and a search equally long and noisy followed, among broken cans and cracked pipkins, ere he could bring forth a cup out of which to drink it. Both matters being at length achieved, the Doctor set the example to his guest, by quaffing off a cup of the cordial, and smacking his lips with approbation as it descended his gullet. — Roland, in turn, submitted to swallow the potion which his host so earnestly recommended, but which he found so insufferably bitter, that he became eager to escape from the laboratory in search of a draught of fair water to expel the taste. In spite of his efforts, he was nevertheless detained by the garrulity of his host, till he gave him some account of Mother Nicneven.

“I care not to speak of her,” said the Doctor, “in the open air, and among the throng of people; not for fright, like yon cowardly dog Anster, but because I would give no occasion for a fray, having no leisure to look to stabs, slashes, and broken bones. Men call the old hag a prophetess — I do scarce believe she could foretell when a brood of chickens will chip the shell — Men say she reads the heavens — my black bitch knows as much of them when she sits baying the moon — Men pretend the ancient wretch is a sorceress, a witch, and, what not — Inter nos, I will never contradict a rumour which may bring her to the stake which she so justly deserves; but neither will I believe that the tales of witches which they din into our ears are aught but knavery, cozenage, and old women’s fables.”

“In the name of Heaven, what is she then,” said the page, “that you make such a stir about her?”

“She is one of those cursed old women,” replied the Doctor, “who take currently and impudently upon themselves to act as advisers and curers of the sick, on the strength of some trash of herbs, some rhyme of spells, some julap or diet, drink or cordial.”

“Nay, go no farther,” said the page; “if they brew cordials, evil be their lot and all their partakers!”

“You say well, young man,” said Dr. Lundin; “for mine own part, I know no such pests to the commonwealth as these old incarnate devils, who haunt the chambers of the brain-sick patients, that are mad enough to suffer them to interfere with, disturb, and let, the regular process of a learned and artificial cure, with their sirups, and their julaps, and diascordium, and mithridate, and my Lady What-shall-call’um’s powder, and worthy Dame Trashem’s pill; and thus make widows and orphans, and cheat the regular and well-studied physician, in order to get the name of wise women and skeely neighbours, and so forth. But no more on’t — Mother Nicneven 30 and I will meet one day, and she shall know there is danger in dealing with the Doctor.”

“It is a true word, and many have found it,” said the page; “but under your favour, I would fain walk abroad for a little, and see these sports.”

“It is well moved,” said the Doctor, “and I too should be showing myself abroad. Moreover the play waits us, young man-today, totus mundus agit histrionem.”— And they sallied forth accordingly into the mirthful scene.

29 At Scottish fairs, the bailie, or magistrate, deputed by the lord in whose name the meeting is held, attends the fair with his guard, decides trifling disputes, and punishes on the spot any petty delinquencies. His attendants are usually armed with halberds, and sometimes, at least, escorted by music. Thus, in the “Life and Death of Habbie Simpson,” we are told of that famous minstrel —

“At fairs he play’d before the spear-men,

And gaily graithed in their gear-men; —

Steel bonnets, jacks, and swords shone clear then,

Like ony bead;

Now wha shall play before sic weir-men,

Since Habbie’s dead!

30 This was the name given to the grand Mother Witch, the very Hecate of Scottish popular superstition. Her name was bestowed, in one or two instances, upon sorceresses, who were held to resemble her by their superior skill in “Hell’s black grammar.”

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Last updated Wednesday, March 5, 2014 at 22:29