Let them have meat enough, woman — half a hen;
There be old rotten pilchards — put them off too;
’Tis but a little new anointing of them,
And a strong onion, that confounds the savour.
THE thunderbolt, which had stunned all who were within hearing of it, had only served to awaken the bold and inventive genius of the flower of majors-domo. Almost before the clatter had ceased, and while there was yet scarce an assurance whether the castle was standing or falling, Caleb exclaimed, “Heaven be praised! this comes to hand like the boul of a pint-stoup.” He then barred the kitchen door in the face of the Lord Keeper’s servant, whom he perceived returning from the party at the gate, and muttering, “How the deil cam he in? — but deil may care. Mysie, what are ye sitting shaking and greeting in the chimney-neuk for? Come here — or stay where ye are, and skirl as loud as ye can; it’s a’ ye’re gude for. I say, ye auld deevil, skirl — skirl — louder — louder, woman; gar the gentles hear ye in the ha’. I have heard ye as far off as the Bass for a less matter. And stay — down wi’ that crockery ——”
And with a sweeping blow, he threw down from a shelf some articles of pewter and earthenware. He exalted his voice amid the clatter, shouting and roaring in a manner which changed Mysie’s hysterical terrors of the thunder into fears that her old fellow-servant was gone distracted. “He has dung down a’ the bits o’ pigs, too — the only thing we had left to haud a soup milk — and he has spilt the hatted hit that was for the Master’s dinner. Mercy save us, the auld man’s gaen clean and clear wud wi’ the thunner!”
“Haud your tongue, ye b ——!” said Caleb, in the impetuous and overbearing triumph of successful invention, “a’s provided now — dinner and a’thing; the thunner’s done a’ in a clap of a hand!”
“Puir man, he’s muckle astray,” said Mysie, looking at him with a mixture of pity and alarm; “I wish he may ever come come hame to himsell again.”
“Here, ye auld doited deevil,” said Caleb, still exulting in his extrication from a dilemma which had seemed insurmountable; “keep the strange man out of the kitchen; swear the thunner came down the chimney and spoiled the best dinner ye ever dressed — beef — bacon — kid — lark — leveret — wild-fowl — venison, and what not. Lay it on thick, and never mind expenses. I’ll awa’ up to the la’. Make a’ the confusion ye can; but be sure ye keep out the strange servant.”
With these charges to his ally, Caleb posted up to the hall, but stopping to reconnoitre through an aperture, which time, for the convenience of many a domestic in succession, had made in the door, and perceiving the situation of Miss Ashton, he had prudence enough to make a pause, both to avoid adding to her alarm and in order to secure attention to his account of the disastrous effects of the thunder.
But when he perceived that the lady was recovered, and heard the conversation turn upon the accommodation and refreshment which the castle afforded, he thought it time to burst into the room in the manner announced in the last chapter.
“Willawins! — willawins! Such a misfortune to befa’ the house of Ravenswood, and I to live to see it.”
“What is the matter, Caleb?” said his master, somewhat alarmed in his turn; “has any part of the castle fallen?”
“Castle fa’an! na, but the sute’s fa’an, and the thunner’s come right down the kitchen-lum, and the things are a’ lying here awa’, there awa’, like the Laird o’ Hotchpotch’s lands; and wi’ brave guests of honour and quality to entertain (a low bow here to Sir William Ashton and his daughter), and naething left in the house fit to present for dinner, or for supper either, for aught that I can see!”
“I very believe you, Caleb,” said Ravenswood, drily. Balderstone here turned to his master a half-upbraiding, half-imploring countenance, and edged towards him as he repeated, “It was nae great matter of preparation; but just something added to your honour’s ordinary course of fare — petty cover, as they say at the Louvre — three courses and the fruit.”
“Keep your intolerable nonsense to yourself, you old fool!” said Ravenswood, mortified at his officiousness, yet not knowing how to contradict him, without the risk of giving rise to scenes yet more ridiculous.
Caleb saw his advantage, and resolved to improve it. But first, observing that the Lord Keeper’s servant entered the apartment and spoke apart with his master, he took the same opportunity to whisper a few words into Ravenswood’s ear: “Haud your tongue, for heaven’s sake, sir; if it’s my pleasure to hazard my soul in telling lees for the honour of the family, it’s nae business o’ yours; and if ye let me gang on quietly, I’se be moderate in my banquet; but if ye contradict me, deil but I dress ye a dinner fit for a duke!”
Ravenswood, in fact, thought it would be best to let his officious butler run on, who proceeded to enumerate upon his fingers —“No muckle provision — might hae served four persons of honour — first course, capons in white broth — roast kid — bacon with reverence; second course, roasted leveret — butter crabs — a veal florentine; third course, blackcock — it’s black eneugh now wi’ the sute — plumdamas — a tart — a flam — and some nonsense sweet things, adn comfits — and that’s a’,” he said, seeing the impatience of his master —“that’s just a’ was o’t — forbye the apples and pears.”
Miss Ashton had by degrees gathered her spirits, so far as to pay some attention to what was going on; and observing the restrained impatience of Ravenswood, contrasted with the peculiar determination of manner with which Caleb detailed his imaginary banquet, the whole struck her as so ridiculous that, despite every effort to the contrary, she burst into a fit of incontrollable laughter, in which she was joined by her father, though with more moderation, and finally by the Master of Ravenswood himself, though conscious that the jest was at his own expense. Their mirth — for a scene which we read with little emotion often appears extremely ludicrous to the spectators — made the old vault ring again. They ceased — they renewed — they ceased — they renewed again their shouts of laughter! Caleb, in the mean time, stood his ground with a grave, angry, and scornful dignity, which greatly enhanced the ridicule of the scene and mirth of the spectators.
At length, when the voices, and nearly the strength, of the laughers were exhausted, he exclaimed, with very little ceremony: “The deil’s in the gentles! they breakfast sae lordly, that the loss of the best dinner ever cook pat fingers to makes them as merry as if it were the best jeest in a’ George Buchanan. If there was as little in your honours’ wames as there is in Caleb Balderstone’s, less caickling wad serve ye on sic a gravaminous subject.”
Caleb’s blunt expression of resentment again awakened the mirth of the company, which, by the way, he regarded not only as an aggression upon the dignity of the family, but a special contempt of the eloquence with which he himself had summed up the extent of their supposed losses. “A description of a dinner,” as he said afterwards to Mysie, “that wad hae made a fu’ man hungry, and them to sit there laughing at it!”
“But,” said Miss Ashton, composing her countenance as well as she could, “are all these delicacies so totally destroyed that no scrap can be collected?”
“Collected, my leddy! what wad ye collect out of the sute and the ass? Ye may gang down yoursell, and look into our kitchen — the cookmaid in the trembling exies — the gude vivers lying a’ about — beef, capons, and white broth — florentine and flams — bacon wi’ reverence — and a’ the sweet confections and whim-whams — ye’ll see them a’, my leddy — that is,” said he, correcting himself, “ye’ll no see ony of them now, for the cook has soopit them up, as was weel her part; but ye’ll see the white broth where it was spilt. I pat my fingers in it, and it tastes as like sour milk as ony thing else; if that isna the effect of thunner, I kenna what is. This gentleman here couldna but hear the clash of our haill dishes, china and silver thegither?”
The Lord Keeper’s domestic, though a statesman’s attendant, and of course trained to command his countenance upon all occasions, was somewhat discomposed by this appeal, to which he only answered by a bow.
“I think, Mr. Butler,” said the Lord Keeper, who began to be afraid lest the prolongation of this scene should at length displease Ravenswood —“I think that, were you to retire with my servant Lockhard — he has travelled, and is quite accustomed to accidents and contingencies of every kind, and I hope betwixt you, you may find out some mode of supply at this emergency.”
“His honour kens,” said Caleb, who, however hopeless of himself of accomplishing what was desirable, would, like the high-spirited elephant, rather have died in the effort than brooked the aid of a brother in commission —“his honour kens weel I need nae counsellor, when the honour of the house is concerned.”
“I should be unjust if I denied it, Caleb,” said his master; “but your art lies chiefly in making apologies, upon which we can no more dine than upon the bill of fare of our thunder-blasted dinner. Now, possibly Mr. Lockhard’s talent may consist in finding some substitute for that which certainly is not, and has in all probability never been.”
“Your honour is pleased to be facetious,” said Caleb, “but I am sure that, for the warst, for a walk as far as Wolf’s Hope, I could dine forty men — no that the folk there deserve your honour’s custom. They hae been ill advised in the matter of the duty eggs and butter, I winna deny that.”
“Do go consult together,” said the Master; “go down to the village, and do the best you can. We must not let our guests remain without refreshment, to save the honour of a ruined family. And here, Caleb, take my purse; I believe that will prove your best ally.”
“Purse! purse, indeed!” quoth Caleb, indignantly flinging out of the room; “what suld I do wi’ your honour’s purse, on your ain grund? I trust we are no to pay for our ain?”
The servants left the hall; and the door was no sooner shut than the Lord Keeper began to apologise for the rudeness of his mirth; and Lucy to hope she had given no pain or offence to the kind-hearted faithful old man.
“Caleb and I must both learn, madam, to undergo with good humour, or at least with patience, the ridicule which everywhere attaches itself to poverty.”
“You do yourself injustice, Master of Ravenswood, on my word of honour,” answered his elder guest. “I believe I know more of your affairs than you do yourself, and I hope to show you that I am interested in them; and that — in short, that your prospects are better than you apprehend. In the mean time, I can conceive nothing so respectable as the spirit which rises above misfortune, and prefers honourable privations to debt or dependence.”
Whether from fear of offending the delicacy or awakening the pride of the Master, the Lord Keeper made these allusions with an appearance of fearful and hesitating reserve, and seemed to be afraid that he was intruding too far, in venturing to touch, however lightly, upon such a topic, even when the Master had led to it. In short, he appeared at once pushed on by his desire of appearing friendly, and held back by the fear of intrusion. It was no wonder that the Master of Ravenswood, little acquainted as he then was with life, should have given this consummate courtier credit for more sincerity than was probably to be found in a score of his cast. He answered, however, with reserve, that he was indebted to all who might think well of him; and, apologising to his guests, he left the hall, in order to make such arrangements for their entertainment as circumstances admitted.
Upon consulting with old Mysie, the accommodations for the night were easily completed, as indeed they admitted of little choice. The Master surrendered his apartment for the use of Miss Ashton, and Mysie, once a person of consequence, dressed in a black satin gown which had belonged of yore to the Master’s grandmother, and had figured in the court-balls of Henrietta Maria, went to attend her as lady’s-maid. He next inquired after Bucklaw, and understanding he was at the change-house with the huntsmen and some companions, he desired Caleb to call there, and acquaint him how he was circumstanced at Wolf’s Crag; to intimate to him that it would be most convenient if he could find a bed in the hamlet, as the elder guest must necessarily be quartered in the secret chamber, the only spare bedroom which could be made fit to receive him. The Master saw no hardship in passing the night by the hall fire, wrapt in his campaign-cloak; and to Scottish domestics of the day, even of the highest rank, nay, to young men of family or fashion, on any pinch, clean straw, or a dry hayloft, was always held good night-quarters.
For the rest, Lockhard had his master’s orders to bring some venison from the inn, and Caleb was to trust to his wits for the honour of his family. The Master, indeed, a second time held out his purse; but, as it was in sight of the strange servant, the butler thought himself obliged to decline what his fingers itched to clutch. “Couldna he hae slippit it gently into my hand?” said Caleb; “but his honour will never learn how to bear himsell in siccan cases.”
Mysie, in the mean time, according to a uniform custom in remote places in Scotland, offered the strangers the produce of her little dairy, “while better meat was getting ready.” And according to another custom, not yet wholly in desuetude, as the storm was now drifting off to leeward, the Master carried the Keeper to the top of his highest tower to admire a wide and waste extent of view, and to “weary for his dinner.”
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:00