The Elliots and Armstrongs did convene,
They were a gallant company!
Ballad of Johnnie Armstrong
Without noticing the occupations of an intervening day or two, which, as they consisted of the ordinary silvan amusements of shooting and coursing, have nothing sufficiently interesting to detain the reader, we pass to one in some degree peculiar to Scotland, which may be called a sort of salmon-hunting. This chase, in which the fish is pursued and struck with barbed spears, or a sort of long-shafted trident, called a waster, is much practised at the mouth of the Esk and in the other salmon rivers of Scotland. The sport is followed by day and night, but most commonly in the latter, when the fish are discovered by means of torches, or fire-grates, filled with blazing fragments of tar — barrels, which shed a strong though partial light upon the water. On the present occasion the principal party were embarked in a crazy boat upon a part of the river which was enlarged and deepened by the restraint of a mill-wear, while others, like the ancient Bacchanals in their gambols, ran along the banks, brandishing their torches and spears, and pursuing the salmon, some of which endeavoured to escape up the stream, while others, shrouding themselves under roots of trees, fragments of stones, and large rocks, attempted to conceal themselves from the researches of the fishermen. These the party in the boat detected by the slightest indications; the twinkling of a fin, the rising of an airbell, was sufficient to point out to these adroit sportsmen in what direction to use their weapon.
The scene was inexpressibly animating to those accustomed to it; but, as Brown was not practised to use the spear, he soon tired of making efforts which were attended with no other consequences than jarring his arms against the rocks at the bottom of the river, upon which, instead of the devoted salmon, he often bestowed his blow. Nor did he relish, though he concealed feelings which would not have been understood, being quite so near the agonies of the expiring salmon, as they lay flapping about in the boat, which they moistened with their blood. He therefore requested to be put ashore, and, from the top of a heugh or broken bank, enjoyed the scene much more to his satisfaction. Often he thought of his friend Dudley the artist, when he observed the effect produced by the strong red glare on the romantic banks under which the boat glided. Now the light diminished to a distant star that seemed to twinkle on the waters, like those which, according to the legends of the country, the water-kelpy sends for the purpose of indicating the watery grave of his victims. Then it advanced nearer, brightening and enlarging as it again approached, till the broad flickering flame rendered bank and rock and tree visible as it passed, tingeing them with its own red glare of dusky light, and resigning them gradually to darkness, or to pale moonlight, as it receded. By this light also were seen the figures in the boat, now holding high their weapons, now stooping to strike, now standing upright, bronzed by the same red glare into a colour which might have befitted the regions of Pandemonium.
Having amused himself for some time with these effects of light and shadow, Brown strolled homewards towards the farm-house, gazing in his way at the persons engaged in the sport, two or three of whom are generally kept together, one holding the torch, the others with their spears, ready to avail themselves of the light it affords to strike their prey. As he observed one man struggling with a very weighty salmon which he had speared, but was unable completely to raise from the water, Brown advanced close to the bank to see the issue of his exertions. The man who held the torch in this instance was the huntsman, whose sulky demeanour Brown had already noticed with surprise. ‘Come here, sir! come here, sir! look at this ane! He turns up a side like a sow.’ Such was the cry from the assistants when some of them observed Brown advancing.
‘Ground the waster weel, man! ground the waster weel! Haud him down! Ye haena the pith o’ a cat!’ were the cries of advice, encouragement, and expostulation from those who were on the bank to the sportsman engaged with the salmon, who stood up to his middle in water, jingling among broken ice, struggling against the force of the fish and the strength of the current, and dubious in what manner he should attempt to secure his booty. As Brown came to the edge of the bank, he called out — ‘Hold up your torch, friend huntsman!’ for he had already distinguished his dusky features by the strong light cast upon them by the blaze. But the fellow no sooner heard his voice, and saw, or rather concluded, it was Brown who approached him, than, instead of advancing his light, he let it drop, as if accidentally, into the water.
‘The deil’s in Gabriel!’ said the spearman, as the fragments of glowing wood floated half-blazing, half-sparkling, but soon extinguished, down the stream. ‘The deil’s in the man! I’ll never master him without the light; and a braver kipper, could I but land him, never reisted abune a pair o’ cleeks.’13 Some dashed into the water to lend their assistance, and the fish, which was afterwards found to weigh nearly thirty pounds, was landed in safety.
The behaviour of the huntsman struck Brown, although he had no recollection of his face, nor could conceive why he should, as it appeared he evidently did, shun his observation. Could he be one of the footpads he had encountered a few days before? The supposition was not altogether improbable, although unwarranted by any observation he was able to make upon the man’s figure and face. To be sure the villains wore their hats much slouched, and had loose coats, and their size was not in any way so peculiarly discriminated as to enable him to resort to that criterion. He resolved to speak to his host Dinmont on the subject, but for obvious reasons concluded it were best to defer the explanation until a cool hour in the morning.
The sportsmen returned loaded with fish, upwards of one hundred salmon having been killed within the range of their sport. The best were selected for the use of the principal farmers, the others divided among their shepherds, cottars, dependents, and others of inferior rank who attended. These fish, dried in the turf smoke of their cabins or shealings, formed a savoury addition to the mess of potatoes, mixed with onions, which was the principal part of their winter food. In the meanwhile a liberal distribution of ale and whisky was made among them, besides what was called a kettle of fish, — two or three salmon, namely, plunged into a cauldron and boiled for their supper. Brown accompanied his jolly landlord and the rest of his friends into the large and smoky kitchen, where this savoury mess reeked on an oaken table, massive enough to have dined Johnnie Armstrong and his merry-men. All was hearty cheer and huzza, and jest and clamorous laughter, and bragging alternately, and raillery between whiles. Our traveller looked earnestly around for the dark countenance of the fox-hunter; but it was nowhere to be seen.
At length he hazarded a question concerning him. ‘That was an awkward accident, my lads, of one of you, who dropped his torch in the water when his companion was struggling with the large fish.’
‘Awkward!’ returned a shepherd, looking up (the same stout young fellow who had speared the salmon); ‘he deserved his paiks for’t, to put out the light when the fish was on ane’s witters! I’m weel convinced Gabriel drapped the roughies in the water on purpose; he doesna like to see ony body do a thing better than himsell.’
‘Ay,’ said another, ‘he’s sair shamed o’ himsell, else he would have been up here the night; Gabriel likes a little o’ the gude thing as weel as ony o’ us.’
‘Is he of this country?’ said Brown.
‘Na, na, he’s been but shortly in office, but he’s a fell hunter; he’s frae down the country, some gate on the Dumfries side.’
‘And what’s his name, pray?’
‘But Gabriel what?’
‘Oh, Lord kens that; we dinna mind folk’s afternames muckle here, they run sae muckle into clans.’
‘Ye see, sir,’ said an old shepherd, rising, and speaking very slow, ‘the folks hereabout are a’ Armstrongs and Elliots,14 and sic like — two or three given names — and so, for distinction’s sake, the lairds and farmers have the names of their places that they live at; as, for example, Tam o’ Todshaw, Will o’ the Flat, Hobbie o’ Sorbietrees, and our good master here o’ the Charlie’s Hope. Aweel, sir, and then the inferior sort o’ people, ye’ll observe, are kend by sorts o’ by — names some o’ them, as Glaiket Christie, and the Deuke’s Davie, or maybe, like this lad Gabriel, by his employment; as, for example, Tod Gabbie, or Hunter Gabbie. He’s no been lang here, sir, and I dinna think ony body kens him by ony other name. But it’s no right to rin him doun ahint his back, for he’s a fell fox-hunter, though he’s maybe no just sae clever as some o’ the folk hereawa wi’ the waster.’
After some further desultory conversation, the superior sportsmen retired to conclude the evening after their own manner, leaving the others to enjoy themselves, unawed by their presence. That evening, like all those which Brown had passed at Charlie’s Hope, was spent in much innocent mirth and conviviality. The latter might have approached to the verge of riot but for the good women; for several of the neighbouring mistresses (a phrase of a signification how different from what it bears in more fashionable life!) had assembled at Charlie’s Hope to witness the event of this memorable evening. Finding the punch-bowl was so often replenished that there was some danger of their gracious presence being forgotten, they rushed in valorously upon the recreant revellers, headed by our good mistress Ailie, so that Venus speedily routed Bacchus. The fiddler and piper next made their appearance, and the best part of the night was gallantly consumed in dancing to their music.
An otter-hunt the next day, and a badger-baiting the day after, consumed the time merrily. I hope our traveller will not sink in the reader’s estimation, sportsman though he may be, when I inform him that on this last occasion, after young Pepper had lost a fore-foot and Mustard the second had been nearly throttled, he begged, as a particular and personal favour of Mr. Dinmont, that the poor badger, who had made so gallant a defence, should be permitted to retire to his earth without farther molestation.
The farmer, who would probably have treated this request with supreme contempt had it come from any other person, was contented in Brown’s case to express the utter extremity of his wonder. ‘Weel,’ he said, ‘that’s queer aneugh! But since ye take his part, deil a tyke shall meddle wi’ him mair in my day. We ‘ll e’en mark him, and ca’ him the Captain’s brock; and I’m sure I’m glad I can do ony thing to oblige you, — but, Lord save us, to care about a brock!’
After a week spent in rural sport, and distinguished by the most frank attentions on the part of his honest landlord, Brown bade adieu to the banks of the Liddel and the hospitality of Charlie’s Hope. The children, with all of whom he had now become an intimate and a favourite, roared manfully in full chorus at his departure, and he was obliged to promise twenty times that he would soon return and play over all their favourite tunes upon the flageolet till they had got them by heart. ‘Come back again, Captain,’ said one little sturdy fellow, ‘and Jenny will be your wife.’ Jenny was about eleven years old; she ran and hid herself behind her mammy.
‘Captain, come back,’ said a little fat roll-about girl of six, holding her mouth up to be kissed, ‘and I’ll be your wife my ainsell.’
‘They must be of harder mould than I,’ thought Brown, ‘who could part from so many kind hearts with indifference.’ The good dame too, with matron modesty, and an affectionate simplicity that marked the olden time, offered her cheek to the departing guest. ‘It’s little the like of us can do,’ she said, ‘little indeed; but yet, if there were but ony thing — ’
‘Now, my dear Mrs. Dinmont, you embolden me to make a request: would you but have the kindness to weave me, or work me, just such a grey plaid as the goodman wears?’ He had learned the language and feelings of the country even during the short time of his residence, and was aware of the pleasure the request would confer.
‘A tait o’ woo’ would be scarce amang us,’ said the goodwife, brightening, ‘if ye shouldna hae that, and as gude a tweel as ever cam aff a pirn. I’ll speak to Johnnie Goodsire, the weaver at the Castletown, the morn. Fare ye weel, sir! and may ye be just as happy yoursell as ye like to see a’ body else; and that would be a sair wish to some folk.’
I must not omit to mention that our traveller left his trusty attendant Wasp to be a guest at Charlie’s Hope for a season. He foresaw that he might prove a troublesome attendant in the event of his being in any situation where secrecy and concealment might be necessary. He was therefore consigned to the care of the eldest boy, who promised, in the words of the old song, that he should have
A bit of his supper, a bit of his bed,
and that he should be engaged in none of those perilous pastimes in which the race of Mustard and Pepper had suffered frequent mutilation. Brown now prepared for his journey, having taken a temporary farewell of his trusty little companion.
There is an odd prejudice in these hills in favour of riding. Every farmer rides well, and rides the whole day. Probably the extent of their large pasture farms, and the necessity of surveying them rapidly, first introduced this custom; or a very zealous antiquary might derive it from the times of the ‘Lay of the Last Minstrel,’ when twenty thousand horsemen assembled at the light of the beacon-fires.15 But the truth is undeniable; they like to be on horseback, and can be with difficulty convinced that any one chooses walking from other motives than those of convenience or necessity. Accordingly, Dinmont insisted upon mounting his guest and accompanying him on horseback as far as the nearest town in Dumfries-shire, where he had directed his baggage to be sent, and from which he proposed to pursue his intended journey towards Woodbourne, the residence of Julia Mannering.
Upon the way he questioned his companion concerning the character of the fox-hunter; but gained little information, as he had been called to that office while Dinmont was making the round of the Highland fairs. ‘He was a shake-rag like fellow,’ he said, ‘and, he dared to say, had gipsy blood in his veins; but at ony rate he was nane o’ the smaiks that had been on their quarters in the moss; he would ken them weel if he saw them again. There are some no bad folk amang the gipsies too, to be sic a gang,’ added Dandie; ‘if ever I see that auld randle-tree of a wife again, I ‘ll gie her something to buy tobacco. I have a great notion she meant me very fair after a’.’
When they were about finally to part, the good farmer held Brown long by the hand, and at length said, ‘Captain, the woo’s sae weel up the year that it’s paid a’ the rent, and we have naething to do wi’ the rest o’ the siller when Ailie has had her new gown, and the bairns their bits o’ duds. Now I was thinking of some safe hand to put it into, for it’s ower muckle to ware on brandy and sugar; now I have heard that you army gentlemen can sometimes buy yoursells up a step, and if a hundred or twa would help ye on such an occasion, the bit scrape o’ your pen would be as good to me as the siller, and ye might just take yer ain time o’ settling it; it wad be a great convenience to me.’ Brown, who felt the full delicacy that wished to disguise the conferring an obligation under the show of asking a favour, thanked his grateful friend most heartily, and assured him he would have recourse to his purse without scruple should circumstances ever render it convenient for him. And thus they parted with many expressions of mutual regard.
13 The cleek here intimated is the iron hook, or hooks, depending from the chimney of a Scottish cottage, on which the pot is suspended when boiling. The same appendage is often called the crook. The salmon is usually dried by hanging it up, after being split and rubbed with salt, in the smoke of the turf fire above the cleeks, where it is said to ‘reist,’ that preparation being so termed. The salmon thus preserved is eaten as a delicacy, under the name of kipper, a luxury to which Dr. Redgill has given his sanction as an ingredient of the Scottish breakfast. — See the excellent novel entitled Marriage.
14 The distinction of individuals by nicknames when they possess no property is still common on the Border, and indeed necessary, from the number of persons having the same name. In the small village of Lustruther, in Roxburghshire, there dwelt, in the memory of man, four inhabitants called Andrew, or Dandie, Oliver. They were distinguished as Dandie Eassil-gate, Dandie Wassilgate, Dandie Thumbie, and Dandie Dumbie. The two first had their names from living eastward and westward in the street of the village; the third from something peculiar in the conformation of his thumb; the fourth from his taciturn habits.
It is told as a well-known jest, that a beggar woman, repulsed from door to door as she solicited quarters through a village of Annandale, asked, in her despair, if there were no Christians in the place. To which the hearers, concluding that she inquired for some persons so surnamed, answered, ‘Na, na, there are nae Christians here; we are a’ Johnstones and Jardines.’
15 It would be affectation to alter this reference. But the reader will understand that it was inserted to keep up the author’s incognito, as he was not likely to be suspected of quoting his own works. This explanation is also applicable to one or two similar passages, in this and the other novels, introduced for the same reason.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:00