Old Mortality, by Sir Walter Scott


I had determined to waive the task of a concluding chapter, leaving to the reader’s imagination the arrangements which must necessarily take place after Lord Evandale’s death. But as I was aware that precedents are wanting for a practice which might be found convenient both to readers and compilers, I confess myself to have been in a considerable dilemma, when fortunately I was honoured with an invitation to drink tea with Miss Martha Buskbody, a young lady who has carried on the profession of mantua-making at Ganderscleugh and in the neighbourhood, with great success, for about forty years. Knowing her taste for narratives of this description, I requested her to look over the loose sheets the morning before I waited on her, and enlighten me by the experience which she must have acquired in reading through the whole stock of three circulating libraries, in Ganderscleugh and the two next market-towns. When, with a palpitating heart, I appeared before her in the evening, I found her much disposed to be complimentary.

“I have not been more affected,” said she, wiping the glasses of her spectacles, “by any novel, excepting the ‘Tale of Jemmy and Jenny Jessamy’, which is indeed pathos itself; but your plan of omitting a formal conclusion will never do. You may be as harrowing to our nerves as you will in the course of your story, but, unless you had the genius of the author of ‘Julia de Roubignd,’ never let the end be altogether overclouded. Let us see a glimpse of sunshine in the last chapter; it is quite essential.”

“Nothing would be more easy for me, madam, than to comply with your injunctions; for, in truth, the parties in whom you have had the goodness to be interested, did live long and happily, and begot sons and daughters.”

“It is unnecessary, sir,” she said, with a slight nod of reprimand, “to be particular concerning their matrimonial comforts. But what is your objection to let us have, in a general way, a glimpse of their future felicity?”

“Really, madam,” said I, “you must be aware that every volume of a narrative turns less and less interesting as the author draws to a conclusion — just like your tea, which, though excellent hyson, is necessarily weaker and more insipid in the last cup. Now, as I think the one is by no means improved by the luscious lump of half-dissolved sugar usually found at the bottom of it, so I am of opinion that a history, growing already vapid, is but dully crutched up by a detail of circumstances which every reader must have anticipated, even though the author exhaust on them every flowery epithet in the language.”

“This will not do, Mr. Pattieson,” continued the lady; “you have, as I may say, basted up your first story very hastily and clumsily at the conclusion; and, in my trade, I would have cuffed the youngest apprentice who had put such a horrid and bungled spot of work out of her hand. And if you do not redeem this gross error by telling us all about the marriage of Morton and Edith, and what became of the other personages of the story, from Lady Margaret down to Goose-Gibbie, I apprise you that you will not be held to have accomplished your task handsomely.”

“Well, madam,” I replied, “my materials are so ample that I think I can satisfy your curiosity, unless it descend to very minute circumstances indeed.”

“First, then,” said she, “for that is most essential — Did Lady Margaret get back her fortune and her castle?”

“She did, madam, and in the easiest way imaginable, as heir, namely, to her worthy cousin, Basil Olifant, who died without a will; and thus, by his death, not only restored, but even augmented, the fortune of her, whom, during his life, he had pursued with the most inveterate malice. John Gudyill, reinstated in his dignity, was more important than ever; and Cuddie, with rapturous delight, entered upon the cultivation of the mains of Tillietudlem, and the occupation of his original cottage. But, with the shrewd caution of his character, he was never heard to boast of having fired the lucky shot which repossessed his lady and himself in their original habitations. ‘After a’,’ he said to Jenny, who was his only confidant, ‘auld Basil Olifant was my leddy’s cousin and a grand gentleman; and though he was acting again the law, as I understand, for he ne’er showed ony warrant, or required Lord Evandale to surrender, and though I mind killing him nae mair than I wad do a muircock, yet it ‘s just as weel to keep a calm sough about it.’ He not only did so, but ingeniously enough countenanced a report that old Gudyill had done the deed — which was worth many a gill of brandy to him from the old butler, who, far different in disposition from Cuddie, was much more inclined to exaggerate than suppress his exploits of manhood. The blind widow was provided for in the most comfortable manner, as well as the little guide to the Linn; and —”

“But what is all this to the marriage — the marriage of the principal personages?” interrupted Miss Buskbody, impatiently tapping her snuff-box.

“The marriage of Morton and Miss Bellenden was delayed for several months, as both went into deep mourning on account of Lord Evandale’s death. They were then wedded.”

“I hope not without Lady Margaret’s consent, sir?” said my fair critic. “I love books which teach a proper deference in young persons to their parents. In a novel the young people may fall in love without their countenance, because it is essential to the necessary intricacy of the story; but they must always have the benefit of their consent at last. Even old Delville received Cecilia, though the daughter of a man of low birth.”

“And even so, madam,” replied I, “Lady Margaret was prevailed on to countenance Morton, although the old Covenanter, his father, stuck sorely with her for some time. Edith was her only hope, and she wished to see her happy; Morton, or Melville Morton, as he was more generally called, stood so high in the reputation of the world, and was in every other respect such an eligible match, that she put her prejudice aside, and consoled herself with the recollection that marriage went by destiny, as was observed to her, she said, by his most sacred Majesty, Charles the Second of happy memory, when she showed him the portrait of her grand-father Fergus, third Earl of Torwood, the handsomest man of his time, and that of Countess Jane, his second lady, who had a hump-back and only one. eye. This was his Majesty’s observation, she said, on one remarkable morning when he deigned to take his disjune —”

“Nay,” said Miss Buskbody, again interrupting me, “if she brought such authority to countenance her acquiescing in a misalliance, there was no more to be said. — And what became of old Mrs. What’s her name, the housekeeper?”

“Mrs. Wilson, madam?” answered I. “She was perhaps the happiest of the party; for once a year, and not oftener, Mr. and Mrs. Melville Morton dined in the great wainscotted chamber in solemn state, the hangings being all displayed, the carpet laid down, and the huge brass candlestick set on the table, stuck round with leaves of laurel. The preparing the room for this yearly festival employed her mind for six months before it came about, and the putting matters to rights occupied old Alison the other six, so that a single day of rejoicing found her business for all the year round.”

“And Niel Blane?” said Miss Buskbody.

“Lived to a good old age, drank ale and brandy with guests of all persuasions, played Whig or Jacobite tunes as best pleased his customers, and died worth as much money as married Jenny to a cock laird. I hope, ma’am, you have no other inquiries to make, for really —”

“Goose-Gibbie, sir?” said my persevering friend — “Goose-Gibbie, whose ministry was fraught with such consequences to the personages of the narrative?”

“Consider, my dear Miss Buskbody, (I beg pardon for the familiarity) — but pray consider, even the memory of the renowned Scheherazade, that Empress of Tale-tellers, could not preserve every circumstance. I am not quite positive as to the fate of Goose-Gibbie, but am inclined to think him the same with one Gilbert Dudden, alias Calf-Gibbie, who was whipped through Hamilton for stealing poultry.”

Miss Buskbody now placed her left foot on the fender, crossed her right leg over her knee, lay back on the chair, and looked towards the ceiling. When I observed her assume this contemplative mood, I concluded she was studying some farther cross-examination, and therefore took my hat and wished her a hasty good-night, ere the Demon of Criticism had supplied her with any more queries. In like manner, gentle Reader, returning you my thanks for the patience which has conducted you thus far, I take the liberty to withdraw myself from you for the present.


Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:00