Should I take aught of you? ’Tis true I begged now;
And what is worse than that, I stole a kindness;
And, what is worst of all, I lost my way in’t.
Wit Without Money.
THE face of the little boy, sole witness of Caleb’s infringement upon the laws at once of property and hospitality, would have made a good picture. He sat motionless, as if he had witnessed some of the spectral appearances which he had heard told of in a winter’s evening; and as he forgot his own duty, and allowed his spit to stand still, he added to the misfortunes of the evening by suffering the mutton to burn as black as a coal. He was first recalled from his trance of astonishment by a hearty cuff administered by Dame Lightbody, who, in whatever other respects she might conform to her name, was a woman strong of person, and expert in the use of her hands, as some say her deceased husband had known to his cost.
“What garr’d ye let the roast burn, ye ill-clerkit gude-for-nought?”
“I dinna ken,” said the boy.
“And where’s that ill-deedy gett, Giles?”
“I dinna ken,” blubbered the astonished declarant.
“And where’s Mr. Balderstone? — and abune a’, and in the name of council and kirk-session, that I suld say sae, where’s the broche wi’ the wild-fowl?” As Mrs. Girder here entered, and joined her mother’s exclamations, screaming into one ear while the old lady deafened the other, they succeeded in so utterly confounding the unhappy urchin, that he could not for some time tell his story at all, and it was only when the elder boy returned that the truth began to dawn on their minds.
“Weel, sirs!” said Mrs. Lightbody, “wha wad hae thought o’ Caleb Balderstone playing an auld acquaintance sic a pliskie!”
“Oh, weary on him!” said the spouse of Mr. Girder; “and what am I to say to the gudeman? He’ll brain me, if there wasna anither woman in a’ Wolf’‘s Hope.”
“Hout tout, silly quean,” said the mother; “na, na, it’s come to muckle, but it’s no come to that neither; for an he brain you he maun brain me, and I have garr’d his betters stand back. Hands aff is fair play; we maunna heed a bit flyting.”
The tramp of horses now announced the arrival of the cooper, with the minister. They had no sooner dismounted than they made for the kitchen fire, for the evening was cool after the thunderstorm, and the woods wet and dirty. The young gudewife, strong in the charms of her Sunday gown and biggonets, threw herself in the way of receiving the first attack, while her mother, like the veteran division of the Roman legion, remained in the rear, ready to support her in case of necessity. Both hoped to protract the discovery of what had happened — the mother, by interposing her bustling person betwixt Mr. Girder and the fire, and the daughter, by the extreme cordiality with which she received the minister and her husband, and the anxious fears which she expressed lest they should have “gotten cauld.” “Cauld!” quoted the husband, surlily, for he was not of that class of lords and masters whose wives are viceroys over them, “we’ll be cauld eneugh, I think, if ye dinna let us in to the fire.”
And so saying, he burst his way through both lines of defence; and, as he had a careful eye over his property of every kind, he perceived at one glance the absence of the spit with its savoury burden. “What the deil, woman ——”
“Fie for shame!” exclaimed both the women; “and before Mr. Bide-the-Bent!”
“I stand reproved,” said the cooper; “but —”
“The taking in our mouths the name of the great enemy of our souls,” said Mr. Bide-the-Bent —
“I stand reproved,” said the cooper.
“— Is an exposing ourselves to his temptations,” continued the reverend monitor, “and in inviting, or, in some sort, a compelling, of him to lay aside his other trafficking with unhappy persons, and wait upon those in whose speech his name is frequent.”
“Weel, weel, Mr. Bide-the-Bent, can a man do mair than stand reproved?” said the cooper; “but jest let me ask the women what for they hae dished the wild-fowl before we came.”
“They arena dished, Gilbert,” said his wife; “but — but an accident ——”
“What accident?” said Girder, with flashing eyes. “Nae ill come ower them, I trust? Uh?”
His wife, who stood much in awe of him, durst not reply, but her mother bustled up to her support, with arms disposed as if they were about to be a-kimbo at the next reply. —“I gied them to an acquaintance of mine, Gibbie Girder; and what about it now?”
Her excess of assurance struck Girder mute for an instant. “And YE gied the wild-fowl, the best end of our christening dinner, to a friend of yours, ye auld rudas! And what might HIS name be, I pray ye?”
“Just worthy Mr. Caleb Balderstone — frae Wolf’s Crag,” answered Marion, prompt and prepared for battle.
Girder’s wrath foamed over all restraint. If there was a circumstance which could have added to the resentment he felt, it was that this extravagant donation had been made in favour of our friend Caleb, towards whom, for reasons to which the reader is no stranger, he nourished a decided resentment. He raised his riding-wand against the elder matron, but she stood firm, collected in herself, and undauntedly brandished the iron ladle with which she had just been “flambing” (Anglice, basting) the roast of mutton. Her weapon was certainly the better, and her arm not the weakest of the two; so that Gilbert thought it safest to turn short off upon his wife, who had by this time hatched a sort of hysterical whine, which greatly moved the minister, who was in fact as simple and kind-hearted a creature as ever breathed. “And you, ye thowless jade, to sit still and see my substance disponed upon to an idle, drunken, reprobate, worm-eaten serving-man, just because he kittles the lugs o’ a silly auld wife wi’ useless clavers, and every twa words a lee? I’ll gar you as gude ——”
Here the minister interposed, both by voice and action, while Dame Lightbody threw herself in front of her daughter, and flourished her ladle.
“Am I no to chastise my ain wife?” exclaimed the cooper very indignantly.
“Ye may chastise your ain wife if ye like,” answered Dame Lightbody; “but ye shall never lay finger on my daughter, and that ye may found upon.” “For shame, Mr. Girder!” said the clergyman; “this is what I little expected to have seen of you, that you suld give rein to your sinful passions against your nearest and your dearest, and this night too, when ye are called to the most solemn duty of a Christian parent; and a’ for what? For a redundancy of creature-comforts, as worthless as they are unneedful.”
“Worthless!” exclaimed the cooper. “A better guse never walkit on stubble; two finer, dentier wild ducks never wat a feather.”
“Be it sae, neighbour,” rejoined the minister; “but see what superfluities are yet revolving before your fire. I have seen the day when ten of the bannocks which stand upon that board would have been an acceptable dainty to as many men, that were starving on hills and bogs, and in caves of the earth, for the Gospel’s sake.”
“And that’s what vexes me maist of a’,” said the cooper, anxious to get some one to sympathise with his not altogether causeless anger; “an the quean had gien it to ony suffering sant, or to ony body ava but that reaving, lying, oppressing Tory villain, that rade in the wicked troop of militia when it was commanded out against the sants at Bothwell Brig by the auld tyrant Allan Ravenswood, that is gane to his place, I wad the less hae minded it. But to gie the principal parts o’ the feast to the like o’ him ——!”
“Aweel, Gilbert,” said the minister, “and dinna ye see a high judgment in this? The seed of the righteous are not seen begging their bread: think of the son of a powerful oppressor being brought to the pass of supporting his household from your fulness.”
“And, besides,” said the wife, “it wasna for Lord Ravenswood neither, an he wad hear but a body speak: it was to help to entertain the Lord Keeper, as they ca’ him, that’s up yonder at Wolf’s Crag.”
“Sir William Ashton at Wolf’s Crag!” ejaculated the astonished man of hoops and staves.
“And hand and glove wi’ Lord Ravenswood,” added Dame Lightbody.
“Doited idiot! that auld, clavering sneckdrawer wad gar ye trow the moon is made of green cheese. The Lord Keeper and Ravenswood! they are cat and dog, hare and hound.”
“I tell ye they are man and wife, and gree better than some others that are sae,” retorted the mother-inlaw; “forbye, Peter Puncheon, that’s cooper the Queen’s stores, is dead, and the place is to fill, and ——”
“Od guide us, wull ye haud your skirling tongues!” said Girder — for we are to remark, that this explanation was given like a catch for two voices, the younger dame, much encouraged by the turn of the debate, taking up and repeating in a higher tone the words as fast as they were uttered by her mother.
“The gudewife says naething but what’s true, maister,” said Girder’s foreman, who had come in during the fray. “I saw the Lord Keeper’s servants drinking and driving ower at Luckie Sma’trash’s, ower-bye yonder.”
“And is their maister up at Wolf’s Crag?” said Girder.
“Ay, troth is he,” replied his man of confidence.
“And friends wi’ Ravenswood?”
“It’s like sae,” answered the foreman, “since he is putting up wi’ him.”
“And Peter Puncheon’s dead?”
“Ay, ay, Puncheon has leaked out at last, the auld carle,” said the foreman; “mony a dribble o’ brandy has gaen through him in his day. But as for the broche and the wild-fowl, the saddle’s no aff your mare yet, maister, and I could follow and bring it back, for Mr. Balderstone’s no far aff the town yet.”
“Do sae, Will; and come here, I’ll tell ye what to do when ye owertake him.”
He relieved the females of his presence, and gave Will his private instructions.
“A bonny-like thing,” said the mother-inlaw, as the cooper re-entered the apartment, “to send the innocent lad after an armed man, when ye ken Mr. Balderstone aye wears a rapier, and whiles a dirk into the bargain.”
“I trust,” said the minister, “ye have reflected weel on what ye have done, lest you should minister cause of strife, of which it is my duty to say, he who affordeth matter, albeit he himself striketh not, is in no manner guiltless.”
“Never fash your beard, Mr. Bide-the-Bent,” replied Girder; “ane canna get their breath out here between wives and ministers. I ken best how to turn my ain cake. Jean, serve up the dinner, and nae mair about it.”
Nor did he again allude to the deficiency in the course of the evening.
Meantime, the foreman, mounted on his master’s steed, and charged with his special orders, pricked swiftly forth in pursuit of the marauder Caleb. That personage, it may be imagined, did not linger by the way. He intermitted even his dearly-beloved chatter, for the purpose of making more haste, only assuring Mr. Lockhard that he had made the purveyor’s wife give the wild-fowl a few turns before the fire, in case that Mysie, who had been so much alarmed by the thunder, should not have her kitchen-grate in full splendour. Meanwhile, alleging the necessity of being at Wolf’s Crag as soon as possible, he pushed on so fast that his companions could scarce keep up with him. He began already to think he was safe from pursuit, having gained the summit of the swelling eminence which divides Wolf’s Crag from the village, when he heard the distant tread of a horse, and a voice which shouted at intervals, “Mr. Caleb — Mr. Balderstone — Mr. Caleb Balderstone — hollo — bide a wee!”
Caleb, it may be well believed, was in no hurry to acknowledge the summons. First, he would not heart it, and faced his companions down, that it was the echo of the wind; then he said it was not worth stopping for; and, at length, halting reluctantly, as the figure of the horseman appeared through the shades of the evening, he bent up his whole soul to the task of defending his prey, threw himself into an attitude of dignity, advanced the spit, which is his grasp might with its burden seem both spear and shield, and firmly resolved to die rather than surrender it.
What was his astonishment, when the cooper’s foreman, riding up and addressing him with respect, told him: “His master was very sorry he was absent when he came to his dwelling, and grieved that he could not tarry the christening dinner; and that he had taen the freedom to send a sma’ runlet of sack, and ane anker of brandy, as he understood there were guests at the castle, and that they were short of preparation.”
I have heard somewhere a story of an elderly gentleman who was pursued by a bear that had gotten loose from its muzzle, until completely exhausted. In a fit of desperation, he faced round upon Bruin and lifted his cane; at the sight of which the instinct of discipline prevailed, and the animal, instead of tearing him to pieces, rose up upon his hind-legs and instantly began to shuffle a saraband. Not less than the joyful surprise of the senior, who had supposed himself in the extremity of peril from which he was thus unexpectedly relieved, was that of our excellent friend Caleb, when he found the pursuer intended to add to his prize, instead of bereaving him of it. He recovered his latitude, however, instantly, so soon as the foreman, stooping from his nag, where he sate perched betwixt the two barrels, whispered in his ear: “If ony thing about Peter Puncheon’s place could be airted their way, John [Gibbie] Girder wad mak it better to the Master of Ravenswood than a pair of new gloves; and that he wad be blythe to speak wi’ Maister Balderstone on that head, and he wad find him as pliant as a hoop-willow in a’ that he could wish of him.”
Caleb heard all this without rendering any answer, except that of all great men from Louis XIV. downwards, namely, “We will see about it”; and then added aloud, for the edification of Mr. Lockhard: “Your master has acted with becoming civility and attention in forwarding the liquors, and I will not fail to represent it properly to my Lord Ravenswood. And, my lad,” he said, “you may ride on to the castle, and if none of the servants are returned, whilk is to be dreaded, as they make day and night of it when they are out of sight, ye may put them into the porter’s lodge, whilk is on the right hand of the great entry; the porter has got leave to go to see his friends, sae ye will met no ane to steer ye.”
The foreman, having received his orders, rode on; and having deposited the casks in the deserted and ruinous porter’s lodge, he returned unquestioned by any one. Having thus executed his master’s commission, and doffed his bonnet to Caleb and his company as he repassed them in his way to the village, he returned to have his share of the christening festivity.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:00