Saint Ronan's Well, by Walter Scott

Chapter 2

The Guest.

Quis novus hic hospes?

Dido apud Virgilium.

Ch’am-maid! The Gemman in the front parlour!

BOOTS’S free Translation of the Æneid.

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-inmy-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 today 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.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,E3 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,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 land_lord and land_leddy. 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.

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.

9 Escrouelles, King’s Evil.

E3 p. 33. “He was nae Roman, but only a Cuddie, or Culdee.” Some Scottish Protestants took pride in believing that their Kirk descended from Culdees, who were not of the Roman Communion. The Culdees have given rise to a world of dispute, and he would be a bold man who pretended to understand their exact position. The name seems to be Cele De, “servant [gillie] of God.” They were not Columban monks, but fill a gap between the expulsion of the Columbans by the Picts, and the Anglicising and Romanising of the Scottish Church by St. Margaret and her sons. Originally solitary ascetics, they clustered into groups, and, if we are to believe their supplanters at St. Andrews, the Canons Regular, they were married men, and used church property for family profit. Their mass they celebrated with a rite of their own, in their little church. They were gradually merged in, and overpowered at St. Andrews, for example, by the Canons Regular, and are last heard of in prosecuting a claim to elect the Bishop, at the time of Edward the First’s interference with Scottish affairs. The points on which they differed from Roman practice would probably have seemed very insignificant to such a theologian as Meg Dods. — A.L.

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