Nay, let me have the friends who eat my victuals,
As various as my dishes. — The feast’s naught,
Where one huge plate predominates. John Plaintext,
He shall be mighty beef, our English staple;
The worthy Alderman, a butter’d dumpling;
Yon pair of whisker’d Cornets, ruffs and rees:
Their friend the Dandy, a green goose in sippets.
And so the hoard is spread at once and fill’d
On the same principle — Variety.
“And what brave lass is this?” said Hob Miller, as Mary Avenel entered the apartment to supply the absence of Dame Elspeth Glendinning.
“The young Lady of Avenel, father,” said the Maid of the Mill, dropping as low a curtsy as her rustic manners enabled her to make. The Miller, her father, doffed his bonnet, and made his reverence, not altogether so low perhaps as if the young lady had appeared in the pride of rank and riches, yet so as to give high birth the due homage which the Scotch for a length of time scrupulously rendered to it.
Indeed, from having had her mother’s example before her for so many years, and from a native sense of propriety and even of dignity, Mary Avenel had acquired a demeanour, which marked her title to consideration, and effectually checked any attempt at familiarity on the part of those who might be her associates in her present situation, but could not be well termed her equals. She was by nature mild, pensive, and contemplative, gentle in disposition, and most placable when accidentally offended; but still she was of a retired and reserved habit, and shunned to mix in ordinary sports, even — when the rare occurrence of a fair or wake gave her an opportunity of mingling with companions of her own age. If at such scenes she was seen for an instant, she appeared to behold them with the composed indifference of one to whom their gaiety was a matter of no interest, and who seemed only desirous to glide away from the scene as soon as she possibly could.
Something also had transpired concerning her being born on All-hallow Eve, and the powers with which that circumstance was supposed to invest her over the invisible world. And from all-these particulars combined, the young men and women of the Halidome used to distinguish Mary among themselves by the name of the Spirit of Avenel, as if the fair but fragile form, the beautiful but rather colourless cheek, the dark blue eye, and the shady hair, had belonged rather to the immaterial than the substantial world. The general tradition of the White Lady, who was supposed to wait on the fortunes of the family of Avenel, gave a sort of zest to this piece of rural wit. It gave great offence, however, to the two sons of Simon Glendinning; and when the expression was in their presence applied to the young lady, Edward was wont to check the petulance of those who used it by strength of argument, and Halbert by strength of arm. In such cases Halbert had this advantage, that although ho could render no aid to his brother’s argument, yet when circumstances required it, he was sure to have that of Edward, who never indeed himself commenced a fray, but, on the other hand, did not testify any reluctance to enter into combat in Halbert’s behalf or in his rescue.
But the zealous attachment of the two youths, being themselves, from the retired situation in which they dwelt, comparative strangers in the Halidome, did not serve in any degree to alter the feelings of the inhabitants towards the young lady, who seemed to have dropped amongst them from another sphere of life. Still, however, she was regarded with respect, if not with fondness; and the attention of the Sub-Prior to the family, not to mention the formidable name of Julian Avenel, which every new incident of those tumultuous times tended to render more famous, attached to his niece a certain importance. Thus some aspired to her acquaintance out of pride while the more timid of the feuars were anxious to inculcate upon their children the necessity of being respectful to the noble orphan. So that Mary Avenel, little loved because little known, was regarded with a mysterious awe, partly derived from fear of her uncle’s moss-troopers, and partly from her own retired and distant habits, enhanced by the superstitious opinions of the time and country.
It was not without some portion of this awe, that Mysie felt herself left alone in company with a young person so distant in rank, and so different in bearing, from herself; for her worthy father had taken the first opportunity to step out unobserved, in order to mark how the barnyard was filled, and what prospect it afforded of grist to the mill. In youth, however, there is a sort of free-masonry, which, without much conversation, teaches young persons to estimate each other’s character, and places them at ease on the shortest acquaintance. It is only when taught deceit by the commerce of the world, that we learn to shroud our character from observation, and to disguise our real sentiments from those with whom we are placed in communion.
Accordingly, the two young women were soon engaged in such objects of interest as best became their age. They visited Mary Avenel’s pigeons, which she nursed with the tenderness of a mother; they turned over her slender stores of finery, which yet contained some articles that excited the respect of her companion, though Mysie was too good-humoured to nourish envy. A golden rosary, and some female ornaments marking superior rank, had been rescued in the moment of their utmost adversity, more by Tibb Tacket’s presence of mind, than by the care of their owner — who was at that sad period too much sunk in grief to pay any attention to such circumstances. They struck Mysie with a deep impression of veneration; for, excepting what the Lord Abbot and the convent might possess, she did not believe there was so much real gold in the world as was exhibited in these few trinkets, and Mary, however sage and serious, was not above being pleased with the admiration of her rustic companion.
Nothing, indeed, could exhibit a stronger contrast than the appearance of the two girls — the good-humoured laughter-loving countenance of the Maid of the Mill, who stood gazing with unrepressed astonishment on whatever was in her inexperienced eye rare and costly, and with an humble, and at the same time cheerful acquiescence in her inferiority, asking all the little queries about the use and value of the ornaments, while Mary Avenel, with her quiet composed dignity and placidity of manner, produced them one after another for the amusement of her companion.
As they became gradually more familiar, Mysie of the Mill was just venturing to ask, why Mary Avenel never appeared at the May-pole, and to express her wonder when the young lady said she disliked dancing, when a trampling of horses at the gate of the tower interrupted their conversation.
Mysie flew to the shot-window in the full ardour of unrestrained female curiosity. “Saint Mary! sweet lady! here come two well-mounted gallants; will you step this way to look at them?”
“No,” said Mary Avenel, “you shall tell me who they are.”
“Well, if you like it better,” said Mysie —“but how shall I know them? —— Stay, I do know one of them, and so do you, lady; he is a blithe man, somewhat light of hand, they say, but the gallants of these days think no great harm of that. He is your uncle’s henchman, that they call Christie of the Clinthill; and he has not his old green jerkin and the rusty blackjack over it, but a scarlet cloak, laid down with silver lace three inches broad, and a breast-plate you might see to dress your hair in, as well as in that keeking-glass in the ivory frame that you showed me even now. Come, dear lady, come to the shot-window and see him.”
“If it be the man you mean, Mysie,” replied the orphan of Avenel, “I shall see him soon enough, considering either the pleasure or comfort the sight will give me.”
“Nay, but if you will not come to see gay Christie,” replied the Maid of the Mill, her face flushed with eager curiosity, “come and tell me who the gallant is that is with him, the handsomest, the very lovesomest young man I ever saw with sight.”
“It is my foster-brother, Halbert Glendinning,” said Mary, with, apparent indifference; for she had been accustomed to call the sons of Elspeth her foster-brethren, and to live with them as if they had been brothers in earnest.
“Nay, by Our Lady, that it is not,” said Mysie; “I know the favour of both the Glendinnings well, and I think this rider be not of our country. He has a crimson velvet bonnet, and long brown hair falling down under it, and a beard on his upper lip, and his chin clean and close shaved, save a small patch on the point of the chin, and a sky-blue jerkin slashed and lined with white satin, and trunk-hose to suit, and no weapon but a rapier and dagger — Well, if I was a man, I would never wear weapon but the rapier! it is so slender and becoming, instead of having a cartload of iron at my back, like my father’s broad-sword with its great rusty basket-hilt. Do you not delight in the rapier and poniard, lady?”
“The best sword,” answered Mary, “if I must needs answer a question of the sort, is that which is drawn in the best cause, and which is best used when it is out of the scabbard.”
“But can you not guess who this stranger should be?” said Mysie.
“Indeed, I cannot even attempt it; but to judge by his companion, it is no matter how little he is known,” replied Mary.
“My benison on his bonny face,” said Mysie, “if he is not going to alight here! Now, I am as much pleased as if my father had given me the silver earrings he has promised me so often — nay, you had as well come to the window, for you must see him by and by whether you will or not.” I do not know how much sooner Mary Avenel might have sought the point of observation, if she had not been scared from it by the unrestrained curiosity expressed by her buxom friend; but at length the same feeling prevailed over her sense of dignity, and satisfied with having displayed all the indifference that was necessary in point of decorum, she no longer thought herself bound to restrain her curiosity.
From the outshot or projecting window, she could perceive that Christie of the Clinthill was attended on the present occasion by a very gay and gallant cavalier, who, from the nobleness of his countenance and manner, his rich and handsome dress, and the showy appearance of his horse and furniture, must, she agreed with her new friend, be a person of some consequence.
Christie also seemed conscious of something, which made him call out with more than his usual insolence of manner, “What, ho! so ho! the house! Churl peasants, will no one answer when I call? — Ho! Martin — Tibb — Dame Glendinning — a murrain on you, must we stand keeping our horses in the cold here, and they steaming with heat, when we have ridden so sharply?”
At length he was obeyed, and old Martin made his appearance. “Ha!” said Christie, “art thou there, old Truepenny? here, stable me these steeds, and see them well bedded, and stretch thine old limbs by rubbing them down; and see thou quit not the stable till there is not a turned hair on either of them.”
Martin took the horses to the stable as commanded, but suppressed not his indignation a moment after he could vent it with safety. “Would not any one think,” he said to Jasper, an old ploughman, who, in coming to his assistance, had heard Christie’s imperious injunctions, “that this loon, this Christie of the Clinthill, was laird or lord at least of him? No such thing, man! I remember him a little dirty turnspit boy in the house of Avenel, that every body in a frosty morning like this warmed his fingers by kicking or cuffing! and now he is a gentleman, and swears, d — n him and renounce him, as if the gentlemen could not so much as keep their own wickedness to themselves, without the like of him going to hell in their very company, and by the same road. I have as much a mind as ever I had to my dinner, to go back and tell him to sort his horse himself, since he is as able as I am.”
“Hout tout, man!” answered Jasper, “keep a calm sough; better to fleech a fool than fight with him.”
Martin acknowledged the truth of the proverb, and, much comforted therewith, betook himself to cleaning the stranger’s horse with great assiduity, remarking, it was a pleasure to handle a handsome nag, and turned over the other to the charge of Jasper. Nor was it until Christie’s commands were literally complied with that he deemed it proper, after fitting ablutions, to join the party in the spence; not for the purpose of waiting upon them, as a mere modern reader might possibly expect, but that he might have his share of dinner in their company.
In the meanwhile, Christie had presented his companion to Dame Glendinning as Sir Piercie Shafton, a friend of his and of his master, come to spend three or four days with little din in the tower. The good dame could not conceive how she was entitled to such an honour, and would fain have pleaded her want of every sort of convenience to entertain a guest of that quality. But, indeed, the visiter, when he cast his eyes round the bare walls, eyed the huge black chimney, scrutinized the meagre and broken furniture of the apartment, and beheld the embarrassment of the mistress of the family, intimated great reluctance to intrude upon Dame Glendinning a visit, which could scarce, from all appearances, prove otherwise than an inconvenience to her, and a penance to himself.
But the reluctant hostess and her guest had to do with an inexorable man, who silenced all expostulations with, “such was his master’s pleasure. And, moreover,” he continued, “though the Baron of Avenel’s will must, and ought to prove law to all within ten miles around him, yet here, dame,” he said, “is a letter from your petticoated baron, the lord-priest yonder, who enjoins you, as you regard his pleasure, that you afford to this good knight such decent accommodation as is in your power, suffering him to live as privately as he shall desire. — And for you, Sir Piercie Shafton,” continued Christie, “you will judge for yourself, whether secrecy and safety is not more your object even now, than soft beds and high cheer. And do not judge of the dame’s goods by the semblance of her cottage; for you will see by the dinner she is about to spread for us, that the vassal of the kirk is seldom found with her basket bare.” To Mary Avenel, Christie presented the stranger, after the best fashion he could, as to the niece of his master the baron.
While he thus laboured to reconcile Sir Piercie Shafton to his fate, the widow, having consulted her son Edward on the real import of the Lord Abbot’s injunction, and having found that Christie had given a true exposition, saw nothing else left for her but to make that fate as easy as she could to the stranger. He himself also seemed reconciled to his lot by some feeling probably of strong necessity, and accepted with a good grace the hospitality which the dame offered with a very indifferent one.
In fact, the dinner, which soon smoked before the assembled guests, was of that substantial kind which warrants plenty and comfort. Dame Glendinning had cooked it after her best manner; and, delighted with the handsome appearance which her good cheer made when placed on the table, forgot both her plans and the vexations which interrupted them, in the hospitable duty of pressing her assembled visiters to eat and drink, watching every trencher as it waxed empty, and loading it with fresh supplies ere the guest could utter a negative.
In the meanwhile, the company attentively regarded each other’s motions, and seemed endeavouring to form a judgment of each other’s character. Sir Piercie Shafton condescended to speak to no one but to Mary Avenel, and on her he conferred exactly the same familiar and compassionate, though somewhat scornful sort of attention, which a pretty fellow of these days will sometimes condescend to bestow on a country miss, when there is no prettier or more fashionable woman present. The manner indeed was different, for the etiquette of those times did not permit Sir Piercie Shafton to pick his teeth, or to yawn, or to gabble like the beggar whose tongue (as he says) was cut out by the Turks, or to affect deafness or blindness, or any other infirmity of the organs. But though the embroidery of his conversation was different, the groundwork was the same, and the high-flown and ornate compliments with which the gallant knight of the sixteenth century inter-larded his conversation, were as much the offspring of egotism and self-conceit, as the jargon of the coxcombs of our own days.
The English knight was, however, something daunted at finding that Mary Avenel listened with an air of indifference, and answered with wonderful brevity, to all the fine things which ought, as he conceived, to have dazzled her with their brilliancy, and puzzled her by their obscurity. But if he was disappointed in making the desired, or rather the expected impression, upon her whom he addressed, Sir Piercie Shafton’s discourse was marvellous in the ears of Mysie the Miller’s daughter, and not the less so that she did not comprehend the meaning of a single word which he uttered. Indeed, the gallant knight’s language was far too courtly to be understood by persons of much greater acuteness than Mysie’s.
It was about this period, that the “only rare poet of his time, the witty, comical, facetiously-quick, and quickly-facetious, John Lylly — he that sate at Apollo’s table, and to whom Phoebus gave a wreath of his own bays without snatching” 38 — he, in short, who wrote that singularly coxcomical work, called Euphues and his England, was in the very zenith of his absurdity and his reputation. The quaint, forced, and unnatural style which he introduced by his “Anatomy of Wit,” had a fashion as rapid as it was momentary — all the court ladies were his scholars, and to parler Euphuisme, was as necessary a qualification to a courtly gallant, as those of understanding how to use his rapier, or to dance a measure.
It was no wonder that the Maid of the Mill was soon as effectually blinded by the intricacies of this erudite and courtly style of conversation, as she had ever been by the dust of her father’s own meal-sacks. But there she sate with her mouth and eyes as open as the mill-door and the two windows, showing teeth as white as her father’s bolted flour, and endeavouring to secure a word or two for her own future use out of the pearls of rhetoric which Sir Piercie Shafton scattered around him with such bounteous profusion.
For the male part of the company, Edward felt ashamed of his own manner and slowness of speech, when he observed the handsome young courtier, with an ease and volubility of which he had no conception, run over all the commonplace topics of high-flown gallantry. It is true the good sense and natural taste of young Glendinning soon informed him that the gallant cavalier was speaking nonsense. But, alas! where is the man of modest merit, and real talent, who has not suffered from being outshone in conversation and outstripped in the race of life, by men of less reserve, and of qualities more showy, though less substantial? and well constituted must the mind be, that can yield up the prize without envy to competitors more worthy than himself.
Edward Glendinning had no such philosophy. While he despised the jargon of the gay cavalier, he envied the facility with which he could run on, as well as the courtly tone and expression, and the perfect ease and elegance with which he offered all the little acts of politeness to which the duties of the table gave opportunity. And if I am to speak truth, I must own that he envied those qualities the more as they were all exercised in Mary Avenel’s service, and, although only so far accepted as they could not be refused, intimated a wish on the stranger’s part to place himself in her good graces, as the only person in the room to whom he thought it worth while to recommend himself. His title, rank, and very handsome figure, together with some sparks of wit and spirit which flashed across the cloud of nonsense which he uttered, rendered him, as the words of the old song say, “a lad for a lady’s viewing;” so that poor Edward, with all his real worth and acquired knowledge, in his home-spun doublet, blue cap, and deerskin trowsers, looked like a clown beside the courtier, and, feeling the full inferiority, nourished no good-will to him by whom he was eclipsed.
Christie, on the other hand, as soon as he had satisfied to the full a commodious appetite, by means of which persons of his profession could, like the wolf and eagle, gorge themselves with as much food at one meal as might serve them for several days, began also to feel himself more in the back-ground than he liked to be. This worthy had, amongst his other good qualities, an excellent opinion of himself; and, being of a bold and forward disposition, had no mind to be thrown into the shade by any one. With an impudent familiarity which such persons mistake for graceful ease, he broke in upon the knight’s finest speeches with as little remorse as he would have driven the point of his lance through a laced doublet. Sir Piercie Shafton, a man of rank and high birth, by no means encouraged or endured this familiarity, and requited the intruder either with total neglect, or such laconic replies as intimated a sovereign contempt for the rude spearman, who affected to converse with him upon terms of equality.
The Miller held his peace; for, as his usual conversation turned chiefly on his clapper and toll-dish, he had no mind to brag of his wealth in presence of Christie of the Clinthill, or to intrude his discourse on the English cavalier.
A little specimen of the conversation may not be out of place, were it but to show young ladies what fine things they have lost by living when Euphuism is out of fashion.
“Credit me, fairest lady,” said the knight, “that such is the cunning of our English courtiers, of the hodiernal strain, that, as they have infinitely refined upon the plain and rusticial discourse of our fathers, which, as I may say, more beseemed the mouths of country roisterers in a May-game than that of courtly gallants in a galliard, so I hold it ineffably and unutterably impossible, that those who may succeed us in that garden of wit and courtesy shall alter or amend it. Venus delighted but in the language of Mercury, Bucephalus will stoop to no one but Alexander, none can sound Apollo’s pipe but Orpheus.”
“Valiant sir,” said Mary, who could scarcely help laughing, “we have but to rejoice in the chance which hath honoured this solitude with a glimpse of the sun of courtesy, though it rather blinds than enlightens us.”
“Pretty and quaint, fairest lady,” answered the Euphuist. “Ah, that I had with me my Anatomy of Wit — that all-to-be-unparalleled volume — that quintessence of human wit — that treasury of quaint invention — that exquisitively-pleasant-to-read, and inevitably-necessary-to-be-remembered manual, of all that is worthy to be known — which indoctrines the rude in civility, the dull in intellectuality, the heavy in jocosity, the blunt in gentility, the vulgar in nobility, and all of them in that unutterable perfection, of human utterance, that eloquence which no other eloquence is sufficient to praise, that art which, when we call it by its own name of Euphuism, we bestow on it its richest panegyric.”
“By Saint Mary,” said Christie of the Clinthill, “if your worship had told me that you had left such stores of wealth as you talk of at Prudhoe Castle, Long Dickie and I would have had them off with us if man and horse could have carried them; but you told us of no treasure I wot of, save the silver tongs for turning up your mustachoes.”
The knight treated this intruder’s mistake — for certainly Christie had no idea that all these epithets which sounded so rich and splendid, were lavished upon a small quarto volume — with a stare, and then turning again to Mary Avenel, the only person whom he thought worthy to address, he proceeded in his strain of high-flown oratory, “Even thus,” said he, “do hogs contemn the splendour of Oriental pearls; even thus are the delicacies of a choice repast in vain offered to the long-eared grazer of the common, who turneth from them to devour a thistle. Surely as idle is it to pour forth the treasures of oratory before the eyes of the ignorant, and to spread the dainties of the intellectual banquet before those who are, morally and metaphysically speaking, no better than asses.”
“Sir Knight, since that is your quality,” said Edward, “we cannot strive with you in loftiness of language; but I pray you in fair courtesy, while you honour my father’s house with your presence, to spare us such vile comparisons.”
“Peace, good villagio,” said the knight, gracefully waving his hand, “I prithee peace, kind rustic; and you, my guide, whom I may scarce call honest, let me prevail upon you to imitate the laudable taciturnity of that honest yeoman, who sits as mute as a mill-post, and of that comely damsel, who seems as with her ears she drank in what she did not altogether comprehend, even as a palfrey listening to a lute, whereof, howsoever, he knoweth not the gamut.”
“Marvellous fine words,” at length said Dame Glendinning, who began to be tired of sitting so long silent, “marvellous fine words, neighbour Happer, are they not?”
“Brave words — very brave words — very exceeding pyet words,” answered the Miller; “nevertheless, to speak my mind, a lippy of bran were worth a bushel of them.”
“I think so too, under his worship’s favour,” answered Christie of the Clinthill. “I well remember that at the race of Morham, as we call it, near Berwick, I took a young Southern fellow out of saddle with my lance, and cast him, it might be, a gad’s length from his nag; and so, as he had some gold on his laced doublet, I deemed he might ha’ the like on it in his pocket too, though that is a rule that does not aye hold good — So I was speaking to him of ransom, and out he comes with a handful of such terms as his honour there hath gleaned up, and craved me for mercy, as I was a true son of Mars, and such like.”
“And obtained no mercy at thy hand, I dare be sworn,” said the knight, who deigned not to speak Euphuism excepting to the fair sex.
“By my troggs,” replied Christie, “I would have thrust my lance down his throat, but just then they flung open that accursed postern-gate, and forth pricked old Hunsdon, and Henry Carey, and as many fellows at their heels as turned the chase northward again. So I e’en pricked Bayard with the spur, and went off with the rest; for a man should ride when he may not wrestle, as they say in Tynedale.”
“Trust me,” said the knight, again turning to Mary Avenel, “if I do not pity you, lady, who, being of noble blood, are thus in a manner compelled to abide in the cottage of the ignorant, like the precious stone in the head of the toad, or like a precious garland on the brow of an ass. — But soft, what gallant have we here, whose garb savoureth more of the rustic than doth his demeanour, and whose looks seem more lofty than his habit; even as —”
“I pray you, Sir Knight,” said Mary, “to spare your courtly similitudes for refined ears, and give me leave to name unto you my foster-brother, Halbert Glendinning.”
“The son of the good dame of the cottage, as I opine,” answered the English knight; “for by some such name did my guide discriminate the mistress of this mansion, which you, madam, enrich with your presence. — And yet, touching this juvenal, he hath that about him which belongeth to higher birth, for all are not black who dig coals —”
“Nor all white who are millers,” said honest Happer, glad to get in a word, as they say, edgeways.
Halbert, who had sustained the glance of the Englishman with some impatience, and knew not what to make of his manner and language, replied with some asperity, “Sir Knight, we have in this land of Scotland an ancient saying, ‘Scorn not the bush that bields you’— you are a guest of my father’s house to shelter you from danger, if I am rightly informed by the domestics. Scoff not its homeliness, nor that of its inmates — ye might long have abidden at the court of England, ere we had sought your favour, or cumbered you with our society. Since your fate has sent you hither amongst us, be contented with such fare and such converse as we can afford you, and scorn us not for our kindness; for the Scots wear short patience and long daggers.”
All eyes were turned on Halbert while he was thus speaking, and there was a general feeling that his countenance had an expression of intelligence, and his person an air of dignity, which they had never before observed. Whether it were that the wonderful Being with whom he had so lately held communication, had bestowed on him a grace and dignity of look and bearing which he had not before, or whether the being conversant in high matters, and called to a destiny beyond that of other men, had a natural effect in giving becoming confidence to his language and manner, we pretend not to determine. But it was evident to all, that, from this day, young Halbert was an altered man; that he acted with the steadiness, promptitude, and determination, which belonged to riper years, and bore himself with a manner which appertained to higher rank.
The knight took the rebuke with good humour. “By my mine honour,” he said, “thou hast reason on thy side, good juvenal — nevertheless, I spoke not as in ridicule of the roof which relieves me, but rather in your own praise, to whom, if this roof be native, thou mayst nevertheless rise from its lowliness; even as the lark, which maketh its humble nest in the furrow, ascendeth towards the sun, as well as the eagle which buildeth her eyry in the cliff.”
This high-flown discourse was interrupted by Dame Glendinning, who, with all the busy anxiety of a mother, was loading her son’s trencher with food, and dinning in his ear her reproaches on account of his prolonged absence. “And see,” she said, “that you do not one day get such a sight while you are walking about among the haunts of them that are not of our flesh and bone, as befell Mungo Murray when he slept on the greensward ring of the Auld Kirkhill at sunset, and wakened at daybreak in the wild hills of Breadalbane. And see that, when you are looking for deer, the red stag does not gall you as he did Diccon Thorburn, who never overcast the wound that he took from a buck’s horn. And see, when you go swaggering about with a long broadsword by your side, whilk it becomes no peaceful man to do, that you dinna meet with them that have broadsword and lance both — there are enow of rank riders in this land, that neither fear God nor regard man.”
Here her eye “in a fine frenzy rolling,” fell full upon that of Christie of the Clinthill, and at once her fears for having given offence interrupted the current of maternal rebuke, which, like rebuke matrimonial, may be often better meant than timed. There was something of sly and watchful significance in Christie’s eye, an eye gray, keen, fierce, yet wily, formed to express at once cunning, and malice, which made the dame instantly conjecture she had said too much, while she saw in imagination her twelve goodly cows go lowing down the glen in a moonlight night, with half a score of Border spearsmen at their heels.
Her voice, therefore, sunk from the elevated tone of maternal authority into a whimpering apologetic sort of strain, and she proceeded to say, “It is no that I have ony ill thoughts of the Border riders, for Tibb Tacket there has often heard me say that I thought spear and bridle as natural to a Borderman as a pen to a priest, or a feather-fan to a lady; and — have you not heard me say it, Tibb?”
Tibb showed something less than her expected alacrity in attesting her mistress’s deep respect for the freebooters of the southland hills; but, thus conjured, did at length reply, “Hout ay, mistress, I’se warrant I have heard you say something like that.”
“Mother!” said Halbert, in a firm and commanding tone of voice, “what or whom is it that you fear under my father’s roof? — I well hope that it harbours not a guest in whose presence you are afraid to say your pleasure to me or my brother? I am sorry I have been detained so late, being ignorant of the fair company which I should encounter on my return. — I pray you let this excuse suffice: and what satisfies you, will, I trust, be nothing less than acceptable to your guests.”
An answer calculated so jistly betwixt the submission due to his parent, and the natural feeling of dignity in one who was by birth master of the mansion, excited universal satisfaction. And as Elspeth herself confessed to Tibb on the same evening, “She did not think it had been in the callant. Till that night, he took pets and passions if he was spoke to, and lap through the house like a four-year-auld at the least word of advice that was minted at him, but now he spoke as grave and as douce as the Lord Abbot himself. She kendna,” she said, “what might be the upshot of it, but it was like he was a wonderfu’ callant even now.”
The party then separated, the young men retiring to their apartments, the elder to their household cares. While Christie went to see his horse properly accommodated, Edward betook himself to his book, and Halbert, who was as ingenious in employing his hands as he had hitherto appeared imperfect in mental exertion, applied himself to constructing a place of concealment in the floor of his apartment by raising a plank, beneath which he resolved to deposit that copy of the Holy Scriptures which had been so strangely regained from the possession of men and spirits.
In the meanwhile Sir Piercie Shafton sate still as a stone, in the chair in which he had deposited himself, his hands folded on his breast, his legs stretched straight out before him and resting upon the heels, his eyes cast up to the ceiling as if he had meant to count every mesh of every cobweb with which the arched roof was canopied, wearing at the same time a face of as solemn and imperturbable gravity, as if his existence had depended on the accuracy of his calculation.
He could scarce be roused from his listless state of contemplative absorption so as to take some supper, a meal at which the younger females appeared not. Sir Piercie stared around twice or thrice as if he missed something; but he asked not for them, and only evinced his sense of a proper audience being wanting, by his abstraction and absence of mind, seldom speaking until he was twice addressed, and then replying, without trope or figure, in that plain English which nobody could speak better when he had a mind.
Christie, finding himself in undisturbed possession of the conversation, indulged all who chose to listen with details of his own wild and inglorious warfare, while Dame Elspeth’s curch bristled with horror, and Tibb Tacket, rejoiced to find herself once more in the company of a jackman, listened to his tales, like Desdemona to Othello’s, with undisguised delight. Meantime the two young Glendinnings were each wrapped up in his own reflections, and only interrupted in them by the signal to move bedward.
38 Such, and yet more extravagant, are the compliments paid to this author by his editor, Blount. Notwithstanding all exaggeration, Lylly was really a man of wit and imagination, though both were deformed by the most unnatural affectation that ever disgraced a printed page.
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