Rob Roy, by Walter Scott

Chapter Tenth.

Far as the eye could reach no tree was seen,

Earth, clad in russet, scorned the lively green;

No birds, except as birds of passage flew;

No bee was heard to hum, no dove to coo;

No streams, as amber smooth-as amber clear,

Were seen to glide, or heard to warble here.

Prophecy of Famine.

It was in the bracing atmosphere of a harvest morning, that I met by appointment Fairservice, with the horses, at the door of Mr. Jarvie’s house, which was but little space distant from Mrs. Flyter’s hotel. The first matter which caught my attention was, that whatever were the deficiencies of the pony which Mr. Fairservice’s legal adviser, Clerk Touthope, generously bestowed upon him in exchange for Thorncliff’s mare, he had contrived to part with it, and procure in its stead an animal with so curious and complete a lameness, that it seemed only to make use of three legs for the purpose of progression, while the fourth appeared as if meant to be flourished in the air by way of accompaniment. “What do you mean by bringing such a creature as that here, sir? and where is the pony you rode to Glasgow upon?” were my very natural and impatient inquiries.

“I sell’t it, sir. It was a slink beast, and wad hae eaten its head aff, standing at Luckie Flyter’s at livery. And I hae bought this on your honour’s account. It’s a grand bargain — cost but a pund sterling the foot — that’s four a’thegither. The stringhalt will gae aff when it’s gaen a mile; it’s a weel-ken’d ganger; they call it Souple Tam.”

“On my soul, sir,” said I, “you will never rest till my supple-jack and your shoulders become acquainted, If you do not go instantly and procure the other brute, you shall pay the penalty of your ingenuity.”

Andrew, notwithstanding my threats, continued to battle the point, as he said it would cost him a guinea of rue-bargain to the man who had bought his pony, before he could get it back again. Like a true Englishman, though sensible I was duped by the rascal, I was about to pay his exaction rather than lose time, when forth sallied Mr. Jarvie, cloaked, mantled, hooded, and booted, as if for a Siberian winter, while two apprentices, under the immediate direction of Mattie, led forth the decent ambling steed which had the honour on such occasions to support the person of the Glasgow magistrate. Ere he “clombe to the saddle,” an expression more descriptive of the Bailie’s mode of mounting than that of the knights-errant to whom Spenser applies it, he inquired the cause of the dispute betwixt my servant and me. Having learned the nature of honest Andrew’s manoeuvre he instantly cut short all debate, by pronouncing, that if Fairservice did not forthwith return the three-legged palfrey, and produce the more useful quadruped which he had discarded, he would send him to prison, and amerce him in half his wages. “Mr. Osbaldistone,” said he, “contracted for the service of both your horse and you — twa brutes at ance — ye unconscionable rascal! — but I’se look weel after you during this journey.”

“It will be nonsense fining me,” said Andrew, doughtily, “that hasna a grey groat to pay a fine wi’— it’s ill taking the breeks aff a Hielandman.”

“If ye hae nae purse to fine, ye hae flesh to pine,” replied the Bailie, “and I will look weel to ye getting your deserts the tae way or the tither.”

To the commands of Mr. Jarvie, therefore, Andrew was compelled to submit, only muttering between his teeth, “Ower mony maisters — ower mony maisters, as the paddock said to the harrow, when every tooth gae her a tig.”

Apparently he found no difficulty in getting rid of Supple Tam, and recovering possession of his former Bucephalus, for he accomplished the exchange without being many minutes absent; nor did I hear further of his having paid any smart-money for breach of bargain.

We now set forward, but had not reached the top of the street in which Mr. Jarvie dwelt, when a loud hallooing and breathless call of “Stop, stop!” was heard behind us. We stopped accordingly, and were overtaken by Mr. Jarvie’s two lads, who bore two parting tokens of Mattie’s care for her master. The first was conveyed in the form of a voluminous silk handkerchief, like the mainsail of one of his own West-Indiamen, which Mrs. Mattie particularly desired he would put about his neck, and which, thus entreated, he added to his other integuments. The second youngster brought only a verbal charge (I thought I saw the rogue disposed to laugh as he delivered it) on the part of the housekeeper, that her master would take care of the waters. “Pooh! pooh! silly hussy,” answered Mr. Jarvie; but added, turning to me, “it shows a kind heart though — it shows a kind heart in sae young a quean — Mattie’s a carefu’ lass.” So speaking, he pricked the sides of his palfrey, and we left the town without farther interruption.

While we paced easily forward, by a road which conducted us north-eastward from the town, I had an opportunity to estimate and admire the good qualities of my new friend. Although, like my father, he considered commercial transactions the most important objects of human life, he was not wedded to them so as to undervalue more general knowledge. On the contrary, with much oddity and vulgarity of manner — with a vanity which he made much more ridiculous by disguising it now and then under a thin veil of humility, and devoid as he was of all the advantages of a learned education, Mr. Jarvie’s conversation showed tokens of a shrewd, observing, liberal, and, to the extent of its opportunities, a well-improved mind. He was a good local antiquary, and entertained me, as we passed along, with an account of remarkable events which had formerly taken place in the scenes through which we passed. And as he was well acquainted with the ancient history of his district, he saw with the prospective eye of an enlightened patriot, the buds of many of those future advantages which have only blossomed and ripened within these few years. I remarked also, and with great pleasure, that although a keen Scotchman, and abundantly zealous for the honour of his country, he was disposed to think liberally of the sister kingdom. When Andrew Fairservice (whom, by the way, the Bailie could not abide) chose to impute the accident of one of the horses casting his shoe to the deteriorating influence of the Union, he incurred a severe rebuke from Mr. Jarvie.

“Whisht, sir! — whisht! it’s ill-scraped tongues like yours, that make mischief atween neighbourhoods and nations. There’s naething sae gude on this side o’ time but it might hae been better, and that may be said o’ the Union. Nane were keener against it than the Glasgow folk, wi’ their rabblings and their risings, and their mobs, as they ca’ them now-a-days. But it’s an ill wind blaws naebody gude — Let ilka ane roose the ford as they find it — I say let Glasgow flourish! whilk is judiciously and elegantly putten round the town’s arms, by way of by-word. — Now, since St. Mungo catched herrings in the Clyde, what was ever like to gar us flourish like the sugar and tobacco trade? Will onybody tell me that, and grumble at the treaty that opened us a road west-awa’ yonder?”

Andrew Fairservice was far from acquiescing in these arguments of expedience, and even ventured to enter a grumbling protest, “That it was an unco change to hae Scotland’s laws made in England; and that, for his share, he wadna for a’ the herring-barrels in Glasgow, and a’ the tobacco-casks to boot, hae gien up the riding o’ the Scots Parliament, or sent awa’ our crown, and our sword, and our sceptre, and Mons Meg,58 to be keepit by thae English pock-puddings in the Tower o’ Lunnon.

What wad Sir William Wallace, or auld Davie Lindsay, hae said to the Union, or them that made it?”

The road which we travelled, while diverting the way with these discussions, had become wild and open, as soon as we had left Glasgow a mile or two behind us, and was growing more dreary as we advanced. Huge continuous heaths spread before, behind, and around us, in hopeless barrenness — now level and interspersed with swamps, green with treacherous verdure, or sable with turf, or, as they call them in Scotland, peat-bogs — and now swelling into huge heavy ascents, which wanted the dignity and form of hills, while they were still more toilsome to the passenger. There were neither trees nor bushes to relieve the eye from the russet livery of absolute sterility. The very heath was of that stinted imperfect kind which has little or no flower, and affords the coarsest and meanest covering, which, as far as my experience enables me to judge, mother Earth is ever arrayed in. Living thing we saw none, except occasionally a few straggling sheep of a strange diversity of colours, as black, bluish, and orange. The sable hue predominated, however, in their faces and legs. The very birds seemed to shun these wastes, and no wonder, since they had an easy method of escaping from them; — at least I only heard the monotonous and plaintive cries of the lapwing and curlew, which my companions denominated the peasweep and whaup.

At dinner, however, which we took about noon, at a most miserable alehouse, we had the good fortune to find that these tiresome screamers of the morass were not the only inhabitants of the moors. The goodwife told us, that “the gudeman had been at the hill;” and well for us that he had been so, for we enjoyed the produce of his chasse in the shape of some broiled moor-game — a dish which gallantly eked out the ewe-milk cheese, dried salmon, and oaten bread, being all besides that the house afforded. Some very indifferent two-penny ale, and a glass of excellent brandy, crowned our repast; and as our horses had, in the meantime, discussed their corn, we resumed our journey with renovated vigour.

I had need of all the spirits a good dinner could give, to resist the dejection which crept insensibly on my mind, when I combined the strange uncertainty of my errand with the disconsolate aspect of the country through which it was leading me. Our road continued to be, if possible, more waste and wild than that we had travelled in the forenoon. The few miserable hovels that showed some marks of human habitation, were now of still rarer occurrence; and at length, as we began to ascend an uninterrupted swell of moorland, they totally disappeared. The only exercise which my imagination received was, when some particular turn of the road gave us a partial view, to the left, of a large assemblage of dark-blue mountains stretching to the north and north-west, which promised to include within their recesses a country as wild perhaps, but certainly differing greatly in point of interest, from that which we now travelled. The peaks of this screen of mountains were as wildly varied and distinguished, as the hills which we had seen on the right were tame and lumpish; and while I gazed on this Alpine region, I felt a longing to explore its recesses, though accompanied with toil and danger, similar to that which a sailor feels when he wishes for the risks and animation of a battle or a gale, in exchange for the insupportable monotony of a protracted calm. I made various inquiries of my friend Mr. Jarvie respecting the names and positions of these remarkable mountains; but it was a subject on which he had no information, or did not choose to be communicative. “They’re the Hieland hills — the Hieland hills — Ye’ll see and hear eneugh about them before ye see Glasgow Cross again — I downa look at them — I never see them but they gar me grew. It’s no for fear — no for fear, but just for grief, for the puir blinded half-starved creatures that inhabit them — but say nae mair about it — it’s ill speaking o’ Hielandmen sae near the line. I hae ken’d mony an honest man wadna hae ventured this length without he had made his last will and testament — Mattie had ill-will to see me set awa’ on this ride, and grat awee, the sillie tawpie; but it’s nae mair ferlie to see a woman greet than to see a goose gang barefit.”

I next attempted to lead the discourse on the character and history of the person whom we were going to visit; but on this topic Mr. Jarvie was totally inaccessible, owing perhaps in part to the attendance of Mr. Andrew Fairservice, who chose to keep so close in our rear that his ears could not fail to catch every word which was spoken, while his tongue assumed the freedom of mingling in our conversation as often as he saw an opportunity. For this he occasionally incurred Mr. Jarvie’s reproof.

“Keep back, sir, as best sets ye,” said the Bailie, as Andrew pressed forward to catch the answer to some question I had asked about Campbell. —“ye wad fain ride the fore-horse, an ye wist how. — That chield’s aye for being out o’ the cheese-fat he was moulded in. — Now, as for your questions, Mr. Osbaldistone, now that chield’s out of ear-shot, I’ll just tell you it’s free to you to speer, and it’s free to me to answer, or no — Gude I canna say muckle o’ Rob, puir chield; ill I winna say o’ him, for, forby that he’s my cousin, we’re coming near his ain country, and there may be ane o’ his gillies ahint every whin-bush, for what I ken — And if ye’ll be guided by my advice, the less ye speak about him, or where we are gaun, or what we are gaun to do, we’ll be the mair likely to speed us in our errand. For it’s like we may fa’ in wi’ some o’ his unfreends — there are e’en ower mony o’ them about — and his bonnet sits even on his brow yet for a’ that; but I doubt they’ll be upsides wi’ Rob at the last — air day or late day, the fox’s hide finds aye the flaying knife.”

“I will certainly,” I replied, “be entirely guided by your experience.”

“Right, Mr. Osbaldistone — right. But I maun speak to this gabbling skyte too, for bairns and fules speak at the Cross what they hear at the ingle-side. — D’ye hear, you, Andrew — what’s your name? — Fairservice!”

Andrew, who at the last rebuff had fallen a good way behind, did not choose to acknowledge the summons.

“Andrew, ye scoundrel!” repeated Mr. Jarvie; “here, sir here!”

“Here is for the dog.” said Andrew, coming up sulkily.

“I’ll gie you dog’s wages, ye rascal, if ye dinna attend to what I say t’ye — We are gaun into the Hielands a bit”—

“I judged as muckle,” said Andrew.

“Haud your peace, ye knave, and hear what I have to say till ye — We are gaun a bit into the Hielands”—

“Ye tauld me sae already,” replied the incorrigible Andrew.

“I’ll break your head,” said the Bailie, rising in wrath, “if ye dinna haud your tongue.”

“A hadden tongue,” replied Andrew, “makes a slabbered mouth.”

It was now necessary I should interfere, which I did by commanding Andrew, with an authoritative tone, to be silent at his peril.

“I am silent,” said Andrew. “I’se do a’ your lawfu’ bidding without a nay-say. My puir mother used aye to tell me,

Be it better, be it worse,

Be ruled by him that has the purse.

Sae ye may e’en speak as lang as ye like, baith the tane and the tither o’ you, for Andrew.”

Mr. Jarvie took the advantage of his stopping after quoting the above proverb, to give him the requisite instructions. “Now, sir, it’s as muckle as your life’s worth — that wad be dear o’ little siller, to be sure — but it is as muckle as a’ our lives are worth, if ye dinna mind what I sae to ye. In this public whar we are gaun to, and whar it is like we may hae to stay a’ night, men o’ a’ clans and kindred — Hieland and Lawland — tak up their quarters — And whiles there are mair drawn dirks than open Bibles amang them, when the usquebaugh gets uppermost. See ye neither meddle nor mak, nor gie nae offence wi’ that clavering tongue o’ yours, but keep a calm sough, and let ilka cock fight his ain battle.”

“Muckle needs to tell me that,” said Andrew, contemptuously, “as if I had never seen a Hielandman before, and ken’d nae how to manage them. Nae man alive can cuitle up Donald better than mysell — I hae bought wi’ them, sauld wi’ them, eaten wi’ them, drucken wi’ them”—

“Did ye ever fight wi’ them?” said Mr. Jarvie.

“Na, na,” answered Andrew, “I took care o’ that: it wad ill hae set me, that am an artist and half a scholar to my trade, to be fighting amang a wheen kilted loons that dinna ken the name o’ a single herb or flower in braid Scots, let abee in the Latin tongue.”

“Then,” said Mr. Jarvie, “as ye wad keep either your tongue in your mouth, or your lugs in your head (and ye might miss them, for as saucy members as they are), I charge ye to say nae word, gude or bad, that ye can weel get by, to onybody that may be in the Clachan. And ye’ll specially understand that ye’re no to be bleezing and blasting about your master’s name and mine, or saying that this is Mr. Bailie Nicol Jarvie o’ the Saut Market, son o’ the worthy Deacon Nicol Jarvie, that a’ body has heard about; and this is Mr. Frank Osbaldistone, son of the managing partner of the great house of Osbaldistone and Tresham, in the City.”

“Eneueh said,” answered Andrew —“eneueh said. What need ye think I wad be speaking about your names for? — I hae mony things o’ mair importance to speak about, I trow.”

“It’s thae very things of importance that I am feared for, ye blethering goose; ye maunna speak ony thing, gude or bad, that ye can by any possibility help.”

“If ye dinna think me fit,” replied Andrew, in a huff, “to speak like ither folk, gie me my wages and my board-wages, and I’se gae back to Glasgow — There’s sma’ sorrow at our parting, as the auld mear said to the broken cart.”

Finding Andrew’s perverseness again rising to a point which threatened to occasion me inconvenience, I was under the necessity of explaining to him, that he might return if he thought proper, but that in that case I would not pay him a single farthing for his past services. The argument ad crumenam, as it has been called by jocular logicians, has weight with the greater part of mankind, and Andrew was in that particular far from affecting any trick of singularity. He “drew in his horns,” to use the Bailie’s phrase, on the instant, professed no intention whatever to disoblige, and a resolution to be guided by my commands, whatever they might be.

Concord being thus happily restored to our small party, we continued to pursue our journey. The road, which had ascended for six or seven English miles, began now to descend for about the same space, through a country which neither in fertility nor interest could boast any advantage over that which we had passed already, and which afforded no variety, unless when some tremendous peak of a Highland mountain appeared at a distance. We continued, however, to ride on without pause and even when night fell and overshadowed the desolate wilds which we traversed, we were, as I understood from Mr. Jarvie, still three miles and a bittock distant from the place where we were to spend the night.

58 Mons Meg was a large old-fashioned piece of ordnance, a great favourite with the Scottish common people; she was fabricated at Mons, in Flanders, in the reign of James IV. or V. of Scotland. This gun figures frequently in the public accounts of the time, where we find charges for grease, to grease Meg’s mouth withal (to increase, as every schoolboy knows, the loudness of the report), ribands to deck her carriage, and pipes to play before her when she was brought from the Castle to accompany the Scottish army on any distant expedition. After the Union, there was much popular apprehension that the Regalia of Scotland, and the subordinate Palladium, Mons Meg, would be carried to England to complete the odious surrender of national independence. The Regalia, sequestered from the sight of the public, were generally supposed to have been abstracted in this manner. As for Mons Meg, she remained in the Castle of Edinburgh, till, by order of the Board of Ordnance, she was actually removed to Woolwich about 1757. The Regalia, by his Majesty’s special command, have been brought forth from their place of concealment in 1818, and exposed to the view of the people, by whom they must be looked upon with deep associations; and, in this very winter of 1828-9, Mons Meg has been restored to the country, where that, which in every other place or situation was a mere mass of rusty iron, becomes once more a curious monument of antiquity.

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