This is no pilgrim’s morning — yon grey mist
Lies upon hill, and dale, and field, and forest,
Like the dun wimple of a new-made widow;
And, by my faith, although my heart be soft,
I’d rather hear that widow weep and sigh,
And tell the virtues of the dear departed,
Than, when the tempest sends his voice abroad,
Be subject to its fury.
The Double Nuptials.
The spring was far advanced, when, after a week spent in sport and festivity at Burgh-Westra, Mordaunt Mertoun bade adieu to the family, pleading the necessity of his return to Jarlshof. The proposal was combated by the maidens, and more decidedly by Magnus himself: He saw no occasion whatever for Mordaunt returning to Jarlshof. If his father desired to see him, which, by the way, Magnus did not believe, Mr. Mertoun had only to throw himself into the stern of Sweyn’s boat, or betake himself to a pony, if he liked a land journey better, and he would see not only his son, but twenty folk besides, who would be most happy to find that he had not lost the use of his tongue entirely during his long solitude; “although I must own,” added the worthy Udaller, “that when he lived among us, nobody ever made less use of it.”
Mordaunt acquiesced both in what respected his father’s taciturnity, and his dislike to general society; but suggested, at the same time, that the first circumstance rendered his own immediate return more necessary, as he was the usual channel of communication betwixt his father and others; and that the second corroborated the same necessity, since Mr. Mertoun’s having no other society whatever seemed a weighty reason why his son’s should be restored to him without loss of time. As to his father’s coming to Burgh-Westra, “they might as well,” he said, “expect to see Sumburgh Cape come thither.”
“And that would be a cumbrous guest,” said Magnus. “But you will stop for our dinner to-day? There are the families of Muness, Quendale, Thorslivoe, and I know not who else, are expected; and, besides the thirty that were in house this blessed night, we shall have as many more as chamber and bower, and barn and boat-house, can furnish with beds, or with barley-straw — and you will leave all this behind you!”
“And the blithe dance at night,” added Brenda, in a tone betwixt reproach and vexation; “and the young men from the Isle of Paba that are to dance the sword-dance, whom shall we find to match them, for the honour of the Main?”
“There is many a merry dancer on the mainland, Brenda,” replied Mordaunt, “even if I should never rise on tiptoe again. And where good dancers are found, Brenda Troil will always find the best partner. I must trip it to-night through the Wastes of Dunrossness.”
“Do not say so, Mordaunt,” said Minna, who, during this conversation, had been looking from the window something anxiously; “go not, to-day at least, through the Wastes of Dunrossness.”
“And why not to-day, Minna,” said Mordaunt, laughing, “any more than to-morrow?”
“O, the morning mist lies heavy upon yonder chain of isles, nor has it permitted us since daybreak even a single glimpse of Fitful-head, the lofty cape that concludes yon splendid range of mountains. The fowl are winging their way to the shore, and the shelldrake seems, through the mist, as large as the scart.19 See, the very sheerwaters and bonxies are making to the cliffs for shelter.”
“And they will ride out a gale against a king’s frigate,” said her father; “there is foul weather when they cut and run.”
“Stay, then, with us,” said Minna to her friend; “the storm will be dreadful, yet it will be grand to see it from Burgh-Westra, if we have no friend exposed to its fury. See, the air is close and sultry, though the season is yet so early, and the day so calm, that not a windlestraw moves on the heath. Stay with us, Mordaunt; the storm which these signs announce will be a dreadful one.”
“I must be gone the sooner,” was the conclusion of Mordaunt, who could not deny the signs, which had not escaped his own quick observation. “If the storm be too fierce, I will abide for the night at Stourburgh.”
“What!” said Magnus; “will you leave us for the new chamberlain’s new Scotch tacksman, who is to teach all us Zetland savages new ways? Take your own gate, my lad, if that is the song you sing.”
“Nay,” said Mordaunt; “I had only some curiosity to see the new implements he has brought.”
“Ay, ay, ferlies make fools fain. I would like to know if his new plough will bear against a Zetland rock?” answered Magnus.
“I must not pass Stourburgh on the journey,” said the youth, deferring to his patron’s prejudice against innovation, “if this boding weather bring on tempest; but if it only break in rain, as is most probable, I am not likely to be melted in the wetting.”
“It will not soften into rain alone,” said Minna; “see how much heavier the clouds fall every moment, and see these weather-gaws that streak the lead-coloured mass with partial gleams of faded red and purple.”
“I see them all,” said Mordaunt; “but they only tell me I have no time to tarry here. Adieu, Minna; I will send you the eagle’s feathers, if an eagle can be found on Fair-isle or Foulah. And fare thee well, my pretty Brenda, and keep a thought for me, should the Paba men dance ever so well.”
“Take care of yourself, since go you will,” said both sisters, together.
Old Magnus scolded them formally for supposing there was any danger to an active young fellow from a spring gale, whether by sea or land; yet ended by giving his own caution also to Mordaunt, advising him seriously to delay his journey, or at least to stop at Stourburgh. “For,” said he, “second thoughts are best; and as this Scottishman’s howf lies right under your lee, why, take any port in a storm. But do not be assured to find the door on latch, let the storm blow ever so hard; there are such matters as bolts and bars in Scotland,(e) though, thanks to Saint Ronald, they are unknown here, save that great lock on the old Castle of Scalloway, that all men run to see — may be they make part of this man’s improvements. But go, Mordaunt, since go you will. You should drink a stirrup-cup now, were you three years older, but boys should never drink, excepting after dinner; I will drink it for you, that good customs may not be broken, or bad luck come of it. Here is your bonally, my lad.” And so saying, he quaffed a rummer glass of brandy with as much impunity as if it had been spring-water. Thus regretted and cautioned on all hands, Mordaunt took leave of the hospitable household, and looking back at the comforts with which it was surrounded, and the dense smoke that rolled upwards from its chimneys, he first recollected the guestless and solitary desolation of Jarlshof, then compared with the sullen and moody melancholy of his father’s temper the warm kindness of those whom he was leaving, and could not refrain from a sigh at the thoughts which forced themselves on his imagination.
The signs of the tempest did not dishonour the predictions of Minna. Mordaunt had not advanced three hours on his journey, before the wind, which had been so deadly still in the morning, began at first to wail and sigh, as if bemoaning beforehand the evils which it might perpetrate in its fury, like a madman in the gloomy state of dejection which precedes his fit of violence; then gradually increasing, the gale howled, raged, and roared, with the full fury of a northern storm. It was accompanied by showers of rain mixed with hail, that dashed with the most unrelenting rage against the hills and rocks with which the traveller was surrounded, distracting his attention, in spite of his utmost exertions, and rendering it very difficult for him to keep the direction of his journey in a country where there is neither road, nor even the slightest track to direct the steps of the wanderer, and where he is often interrupted by brooks as well as large pools of water, lakes, and lagoons. All these inland waters were now lashed into sheets of tumbling foam, much of which, carried off by the fury of the whirlwind, was mingled with the gale, and transported far from the waves of which it had lately made a part; while the salt relish of the drift which was pelted against his face, showed Mordaunt that the spray of the more distant ocean, disturbed to frenzy by the storm, was mingled with that of the inland lakes and streams.
Amidst this hideous combustion of the elements, Mordaunt Mertoun struggled forward as one to whom such elemental war was familiar, and who regarded the exertions which it required to withstand its fury, but as a mark of resolution and manhood. He felt even, as happens usually to those who endure great hardships, that the exertion necessary to subdue them, is in itself a kind of elevating triumph. To see and distinguish his path when the cattle were driven from the hill, and the very fowls from the firmament, was but the stronger proof of his own superiority. “They shall not hear of me at Burgh-Westra,” said he to himself, “as they heard of old doited Ringan Ewenson’s boat, that foundered betwixt roadstead and key. I am more of a cragsman than to mind fire or water, wave by sea, or quagmire by land.” Thus he struggled on, buffeting with the storm, supplying the want of the usual signs by which travellers directed their progress, (for rock, mountain, and headland, were shrouded in mist and darkness,) by the instinctive sagacity with which long acquaintance with these wilds had taught him to mark every minute object, which could serve in such circumstances to regulate his course. Thus, we repeat, he struggled onward, occasionally standing still, or even lying down, when the gust was most impetuous; making way against it when it was somewhat lulled, by a rapid and bold advance even in its very current; or, when this was impossible, by a movement resembling that of a vessel working to windward by short tacks, but never yielding one inch of the way which he had fought so hard to gain.
Yet, notwithstanding Mordaunt’s experience and resolution, his situation was sufficiently uncomfortable, and even precarious; not because his sailor’s jacket and trowsers, the common dress of young men through these isles when on a journey, were thoroughly wet, for that might have taken place within the same brief time, in any ordinary day, in this watery climate; but the real danger was, that, notwithstanding his utmost exertions, he made very slow way through brooks that were sending their waters all abroad, through morasses drowned in double deluges of moisture, which rendered all the ordinary passes more than usually dangerous, and repeatedly obliged the traveller to perform a considerable circuit, which in the usual case was unnecessary. Thus repeatedly baffled, notwithstanding his youth and strength, Mordaunt, after maintaining a dogged conflict with wind, rain, and the fatigue of a prolonged journey, was truly happy, when, not without having been more than once mistaken in his road, he at length found himself within sight of the house of Stourburgh, or Harfra; for the names were indifferently given to the residence of Mr. Triptolemus Yellowley, who was the chosen missionary of the Chamberlain of Orkney and Zetland, a speculative person, who designed, through the medium of Triptolemus, to introduce into the Ultima Thule of the Romans, a spirit of improvement, which at that early period was scarce known to exist in Scotland itself.
At length, and with much difficulty, Mordaunt reached the house of this worthy agriculturist, the only refuge from the relentless storm which he could hope to meet with for several miles; and going straight to the door, with the most undoubting confidence of instant admission, he was not a little surprised to find it not merely latched, which the weather might excuse, but even bolted, a thing which, as Magnus Troil has already intimated, was almost unknown in the Archipelago. To knock, to call, and finally to batter the door with staff and stones, were the natural resources of the youth, who was rendered alike impatient by the pelting of the storm, and by encountering such most unexpected and unusual obstacles to instant admission. As he was suffered, however, for many minutes to exhaust his impatience in noise and clamour, without receiving any reply, we will employ them in informing the reader who Triptolemus Yellowley was, and how he came by a name so singular.
Old Jasper Yellowley, the father of Triptolemus, (though born at the foot of Roseberry-Topping,) had been come over by a certain noble Scottish Earl, who, proving too far north for canny Yorkshire, had persuaded him to accept of a farm in the Mearns, where, it is unnecessary to add, he found matters very different from what he had expected. It was in vain that the stout farmer set manfully to work, to counterbalance, by superior skill, the inconveniences arising from a cold soil and a weeping climate. These might have been probably overcome; but his neighbourhood to the Grampians exposed him eternally to that species of visitation from the plaided gentry, who dwelt within their skirts, which made young Norval a warrior and a hero, but only converted Jasper Yellowley into a poor man. This was, indeed, balanced in some sort by the impression which his ruddy cheek and robust form had the fortune to make upon Miss Barbara Clinkscale, daughter to the umquhile, and sister to the then existing, Clinkscale of that ilk.
This was thought a horrid and unnatural union in the neighbourhood, considering that the house of Clinkscale had at least as great a share of Scottish pride as of Scottish parsimony, and was amply endowed with both. But Miss Babie had her handsome fortune of two thousand marks at her own disposal, was a woman of spirit who had been major and sui juris, (as the writer who drew the contract assured her,) for full twenty years; so she set consequences and commentaries alike at defiance, and wedded the hearty Yorkshire yeoman. Her brother and her more wealthy kinsmen drew off in disgust, and almost disowned their degraded relative. But the house of Clinkscale was allied (like every other family in Scotland at the time) to a set of relations who were not so nice — tenth and sixteenth cousins, who not only acknowledged their kinswoman Babie after her marriage with Yellowley but even condescended to eat beans and bacon (though the latter was then the abomination of the Scotch as much as of the Jews) with her husband, and would willingly have cemented the friendship by borrowing a little cash from him, had not his good lady (who understood trap as well as any woman in the Mearns) put a negative on this advance to intimacy. Indeed she knew how to make young Deilbelicket,(f) old Dougald Baresword, the Laird of Bandybrawl, and others, pay for the hospitality which she did not think proper to deny them, by rendering them useful in her negotiations with the lighthanded lads beyond the Cairn, who, finding their late object of plunder was now allied to “kend folks, and owned by them at kirk and market,” became satisfied, on a moderate yearly composition, to desist from their depredations.
This eminent success reconciled Jasper to the dominion which his wife began to assume over him; and which was much confirmed by her proving to be — let me see — what is the prettiest mode of expressing it? — in the family way. On this occasion, Mrs. Yellowley had a remarkable dream, as is the usual practice of teeming mothers previous to the birth of an illustrious offspring. She “was a-dreamed,” as her husband expressed it, that she was safely delivered of a plough, drawn by three yoke of Angus-shire oxen; and being a mighty investigator into such portents, she sat herself down with her gossips, to consider what the thing might mean. Honest Jasper ventured, with much hesitation, to intimate his own opinion, that the vision had reference rather to things past than things future, and might have been occasioned by his wife’s nerves having been a little startled by meeting in the loan above the house his own great plough with the six oxen, which were the pride of his heart. But the good cummers20 raised such a hue and cry against this exposition, that Jasper was fain to put his fingers in his ears, and to run out of the apartment.
“Hear to him,” said an old whigamore carline —“hear to him, wi’ his owsen, that are as an idol to him, even as the calf of Bethel! Na, na — it’s nae pleugh of the flesh that the bonny lad-bairn — for a lad it sall be — sall e’er striddle between the stilts o’— it’s the pleugh of the spirit — and I trust mysell to see him wag the head o’ him in a pu’pit; or, what’s better, on a hill-side.”
“Now the deil’s in your whiggery,” said the old Lady Glenprosing; “wad ye hae our cummer’s bonny lad-bairn wag the head aff his shouthers like your godly Mess James Guthrie,(g) that ye hald such a clavering about? — Na, na, he sall walk a mair siccar path, and be a dainty curate — and say he should live to be a bishop, what the waur wad he be?”
The gauntlet thus fairly flung down by one sibyl, was caught up by another, and the controversy between presbytery and episcopacy raged, roared, or rather screamed, a round of cinnamon-water serving only like oil to the flame, till Jasper entered with the plough-staff; and by the awe of his presence, and the shame of misbehaving “before the stranger man,” imposed some conditions of silence upon the disputants.
I do not know whether it was impatience to give to the light a being destined to such high and doubtful fates, or whether poor Dame Yellowley was rather frightened at the hurly-burly which had taken place in her presence, but she was taken suddenly ill; and, contrary to the formula in such cases used and provided, was soon reported to be “a good deal worse than was to be expected.” She took the opportunity (having still all her wits about her) to extract from her sympathetic husband two promises; first, that he would christen the child, whose birth was like to cost her so dear, by a name indicative of the vision with which she had been favoured; and next, that he would educate him for the ministry. The canny Yorkshireman, thinking she had a good title at present to dictate in such matters, subscribed to all she required. A man-child was accordingly born under these conditions, but the state of the mother did not permit her for many days to enquire how far they had been complied with. When she was in some degree convalescent, she was informed, that as it was thought fit the child should be immediately christened, it had received the name of Triptolemus; the Curate, who was a man of some classical skill, conceiving that this epithet contained a handsome and classical allusion to the visionary plough, with its triple yoke of oxen. Mrs. Yellowley was not much delighted with the manner in which her request had been complied with; but grumbling being to as little purpose as in the celebrated case of Tristram Shandy, she e’en sat down contented with the heathenish name, and endeavoured to counteract the effects it might produce upon the taste and feelings of the nominee, by such an education as might put him above the slightest thought of sacks, coulters, stilts, mould-boards, or any thing connected with the servile drudgery of the plough.
Jasper, sage Yorkshireman, smiled slyly in his sleeve, conceiving that young Trippie was likely to prove a chip of the old block, and would rather take after the jolly Yorkshire yeoman, than the gentle but somewhat aigre blood of the house of Clinkscale. He remarked, with suppressed glee, that the tune which best answered the purpose of a lullaby was the “Ploughman’s Whistle,” and the first words the infant learned to stammer were the names of the oxen; moreover, that the “bern” preferred home-brewed ale to Scotch twopenny, and never quitted hold of the tankard with so much reluctance as when there had been, by some manoeuvre of Jasper’s own device, a double straik of malt allowed to the brewing, above that which was sanctioned by the most liberal recipe, of which his dame’s household thrift admitted. Besides this, when no other means could be fallen upon to divert an occasional fit of squalling, his father observed that Trip could be always silenced by jingling a bridle at his ear. From all which symptoms he used to swear in private, that the boy would prove true Yorkshire, and mother and mother’s kin would have small share of him.
Meanwhile, and within a year after the birth of Triptolemus, Mrs. Yellowley bore a daughter, named after herself Barbara, who, even in earliest infancy, exhibited the pinched nose and thin lips by which the Clinkscale family were distinguished amongst the inhabitants of the Mearns; and as her childhood advanced, the readiness with which she seized, and the tenacity wherewith she detained, the playthings of Triptolemus, besides a desire to bite, pinch, and scratch, on slight, or no provocation, were all considered by attentive observers as proofs, that Miss Babie would prove “her mother over again.” Malicious people did not stick to say, that the acrimony of the Clinkscale blood had not, on this occasion, been cooled and sweetened by that of Old England; that young Deilbelicket was much about the house, and they could not but think it odd that Mrs. Yellowley, who, as the whole world knew, gave nothing for nothing, should be so uncommonly attentive to heap the trencher, and to fill the caup, of an idle blackguard ne’er-do-weel. But when folk had once looked upon the austere and awfully virtuous countenance of Mrs. Yellowley, they did full justice to her propriety of conduct, and Deilbelicket’s delicacy of taste.
Meantime young Triptolemus, having received such instructions as the Curate could give him, (for though Dame Yellowley adhered to the persecuted remnant, her jolly husband, edified by the black gown and prayer-book, still conformed to the church as by law established,) was, in due process of time, sent to Saint Andrews to prosecute his studies. He went, it is true; but with an eye turned back with sad remembrances on his father’s plough, his father’s pancakes, and his father’s ale, for which the small-beer of the college, commonly there termed “thorough-go-nimble,” furnished a poor substitute. Yet he advanced in his learning, being found, however, to show a particular favour to such authors of antiquity as had made the improvement of the soil the object of their researches. He endured the Bucolics of Virgil — the Georgics he had by heart — but the Æneid he could not away with; and he was particularly severe upon the celebrated line expressing a charge of cavalry, because, as he understood the word putrem,21 he opined that the combatants, in their inconsiderate ardour, galloped over a new-manured ploughed field. Cato, the Roman Censor was his favourite among classical heroes and philosophers, not on account of the strictness of his morals, but because of his treatise, de Re Rustica. He had ever in his mouth the phrase of Cicero, Jam neminem antepones Catoni. He thought well of Palladius, and of Terentius Varro, but Columella was his pocket-companion. To these ancient worthies, he added the more modern Tusser, Hartlib, and other writers on rural economics, not forgetting the lucubrations of the Shepherd of Salisbury Plain, and such of the better-informed Philomaths, who, instead of loading their almanacks with vain predictions of political events, pretended to see what seeds would grow and what would not, and direct the attention of their readers to that course of cultivation from which the production of good crops may be safely predicted; modest sages, in fine, who, careless of the rise and downfall of empires, content themselves with pointing out the fit seasons to reap and sow, with a fair guess at the weather which each month will be likely to present; as, for example, that if Heaven pleases, we shall have snow in January, and the author will stake his reputation that July proves, on the whole, a month of sunshine. Now, although the Rector of Saint Leonard’s was greatly pleased, in general, with the quiet, laborious, and studious bent of Triptolemus Yellowley, and deemed him, in so far, worthy of a name of four syllables having a Latin termination, yet he relished not, by any means, his exclusive attention to his favourite authors. It savoured of the earth, he said, if not of something worse, to have a man’s mind always grovelling in mould, stercorated or unstercorated; and he pointed out, but in vain, history, and poetry, and divinity, as more elevating subjects of occupation. Triptolemus Yellowley was obstinate in his own course: Of the battle of Pharsalia, he thought not as it affected the freedom of the world, but dwelt on the rich crop which the Emathian fields were likely to produce the next season. In vernacular poetry, Triptolemus could scarce be prevailed upon to read a single couplet, excepting old Tusser, as aforesaid, whose Hundred Points of Good Husbandry he had got by heart; and excepting also Piers Ploughman’s Vision, which, charmed with the title, he bought with avidity from a packman, but after reading the two first pages, flung it into the fire as an impudent and misnamed political libel. As to divinity, he summed that matter up by reminding his instructors, that to labour the earth and win his bread with the toil of his body and sweat of his brow, was the lot imposed upon fallen man; and, for his part, he was resolved to discharge, to the best of his abilities, a task so obviously necessary to existence, leaving others to speculate as much as they would, upon the more recondite mysteries of theology.
With a spirit so much narrowed and limited to the concerns of rural life, it may be doubted whether the proficiency of Triptolemus in learning, or the use he was like to make of his acquisitions, would have much gratified the ambitious hope of his affectionate mother. It is true, he expressed no reluctance to embrace the profession of a clergyman, which suited well enough with the habitual personal indolence which sometimes attaches to speculative dispositions. He had views, to speak plainly, (I wish they were peculiar to himself,) of cultivating the glebe six days in the week, preaching on the seventh with due regularity, and dining with some fat franklin or country laird, with whom he could smoke a pipe and drink a tankard after dinner, and mix in secret conference on the exhaustless subject,
Quid faciat lætas segetes.
Now, this plan, besides that it indicated nothing of what was then called the root of the matter, implied necessarily the possession of a manse; and the possession of a manse inferred compliance with the doctrines of prelacy, and other enormities of the time. There was some question how far manse and glebe, stipend, both victual and money, might have outbalanced the good lady’s predisposition towards Presbytery; but her zeal was not put to so severe a trial. She died before her son had completed his studies, leaving her afflicted spouse just as disconsolate as was to be expected. The first act of old Jasper’s undivided administration was to recall his son from Saint Andrews, in order to obtain his assistance in his domestic labours. And here it might have been supposed that our Triptolemus, summoned to carry into practice what he had so fondly studied in theory, must have been, to use a simile which he would have thought lively, like a cow entering upon a clover park. Alas, mistaken thoughts, and deceitful hopes of mankind!
A laughing philosopher, the Democritus of our day, once, in a moral lecture, compared human life to a table pierced with a number of holes, each of which has a pin made exactly to fit it, but which pins being stuck in hastily, and without selection, chance leads inevitably to the most awkward mistakes. “For how often do we see,” the orator pathetically concluded — “how often, I say, do we see the round man stuck into the three-cornered hole!” This new illustration of the vagaries of fortune set every one present into convulsions of laughter, excepting one fat alderman, who seemed to make the case his own, and insisted that it was no jesting matter. To take up the simile, however, which is an excellent one, it is plain that Triptolemus Yellowley had been shaken out of the bag at least a hundred years too soon. If he had come on the stage in our own time, that is, if he had flourished at any time within these thirty or forty years, he could not have missed to have held the office of vice-president of some eminent agricultural society, and to have transacted all the business thereof under the auspices of some noble duke or lord, who, as the matter might happen, either knew, or did not know, the difference betwixt a horse and a cart, and a cart-horse. He could not have missed such preferment, for he was exceedingly learned in all those particulars, which, being of no consequence in actual practice, go, of course, a great way to constitute the character of a connoisseur in any art, and especially in agriculture. But, alas! Triptolemus Yellowley had, as we already have hinted, come into the world at least a century too soon; for, instead of sitting in an arm-chair, with a hammer in his hand, and a bumper of port before him, giving forth the toast — “To breeding, in all its branches,” his father planted him betwixt the stilts of a plough, and invited him to guide the oxen, on whose beauties he would, in our day, have descanted, and whose rumps he would not have goaded, but have carved. Old Jasper complained, that although no one talked so well of common and several, wheat and rape, fallow and lea, as his learned son, (whom he always called Tolimus,) yet, “dang it,” added the Seneca, “nought thrives wi’ un — nought thrives wi’ un!” It was still worse, when Jasper, becoming frail and ancient, was obliged, as happened in the course of a few years, gradually to yield up the reins of government to the academical neophyte.
As if Nature had meant him a spite, he had got one of the dourest and most intractable farms in the Mearns, to try conclusions withal, a place which seemed to yield every thing but what the agriculturist wanted; for there were plenty of thistles, which indicates dry land; and store of fern, which is said to intimate deep land; and nettles, which show where lime hath been applied; and deep furrows in the most unlikely spots, which intimated that it had been cultivated in former days by the Peghts, as popular tradition bore. There was also enough of stones to keep the ground warm, according to the creed of some farmers, and great abundance of springs to render it cool and sappy, according to the theory of others. It was in vain that, acting alternately on these opinions, poor Triptolemus endeavoured to avail himself of the supposed capabilities of the soil. No kind of butter that might be churned could be made to stick upon his own bread, any more than on that of poor Tusser, whose Hundred Points of Good Husbandry, so useful to others of his day, were never to himself worth as many pennies.22
In fact, excepting an hundred acres of infield, to which old Jasper had early seen the necessity of limiting his labours, there was not a corner of the farm fit for any thing but to break plough-graith, and kill cattle. And then, as for the part which was really tilled with some profit, the expense of the farming establishment of Triptolemus, and his disposition to experiment, soon got rid of any good arising from the cultivation of it. “The carles and the cart-avers,” he confessed, with a sigh, speaking of his farm-servants and horses, “make it all, and the carles and cart-avers eat it all;” a conclusion which might sum up the year-book of many a gentleman farmer.
Matters would have soon been brought to a close with Triptolemus in the present day. He would have got a bank-credit, manoeuvred with wind-bills, dashed out upon a large scale, and soon have seen his crop and stock sequestered by the Sheriff; but in those days a man could not ruin himself so easily. The whole Scottish tenantry stood upon the same level flat of poverty, so that it was extremely difficult to find any vantage ground, by climbing up to which a man might have an opportunity of actually breaking his neck with some eclat. They were pretty much in the situation of people, who, being totally without credit, may indeed suffer from indigence, but cannot possibly become bankrupt. Besides, notwithstanding the failure of Triptolemus’s projects, there was to be balanced against the expenditure which they occasioned, all the savings which the extreme economy of his sister Barbara could effect; and in truth her exertions were wonderful. She might have realized, if any one could, the idea of the learned philosopher, who pronounced that sleeping was a fancy, and eating but a habit, and who appeared to the world to have renounced both, until it was unhappily discovered that he had an intrigue with the cook-maid of the family, who indemnified him for his privations by giving him private entrée to the pantry, and to a share of her own couch. But no such deceptions were practised by Barbara Yellowley. She was up early, and down late, and seemed, to her over-watched and over-tasked maidens, to be as wakerife as the cat herself. Then, for eating, it appeared that the air was a banquet to her, and she would fain have made it so to her retinue. Her brother, who, besides being lazy in his person, was somewhat luxurious in his appetite, would willingly now and then have tasted a mouthful of animal food, were it but to know how his sheep were fed off; but a proposal to eat a child could not have startled Mistress Barbara more; and, being of a compliant and easy disposition, Triptolemus reconciled himself to the necessity of a perpetual Lent, too happy when he could get a scrap of butter to his oaten cake, or (as they lived on the banks of the Esk) escape the daily necessity of eating salmon, whether in or out of season, six days out of the seven.
But although Mrs. Barbara brought faithfully to the joint stock all savings which her awful powers of economy accomplished to scrape together, and although the dower of their mother was by degrees expended, or nearly so, in aiding them upon extreme occasions, the term at length approached when it seemed impossible that they could sustain the conflict any longer against the evil star of Triptolemus, as he called it himself, or the natural result of his absurd speculations, as it was termed by others. Luckily at this sad crisis, a god jumped down to their relief out of a machine. In plain English, the noble lord, who owned their farm, arrived at his mansion-house in their neighbourhood, with his coach and six and his running footmen, in the full splendour of the seventeenth century.
This person of quality was the son of the nobleman who had brought the ancient Jasper into the country from Yorkshire, and he was, like his father, a fanciful and scheming man.23 He had schemed well for himself, however, amid the mutations of the time, having obtained, for a certain period of years, the administration of the remote islands of Orkney and Zetland, for payment of a certain rent, with the right of making the most of whatever was the property or revenue of the crown in these districts, under the title of Lord Chamberlain. Now, his lordship had become possessed with a notion, in itself a very true one, that much might be done to render this grant available, by improving the culture of the crown lands, both in Orkney and Zetland; and then having some acquaintance with our friend Triptolemus, he thought (rather less happily) that he might prove a person capable of furthering his schemes. He sent for him to the great Hallhouse, and was so much edified by the way in which our friend laid down the law upon every given subject relating to rural economy, that he lost no time in securing the co-operation of so valuable an assistant, the first step being to release him from his present unprofitable farm.
The terms were arranged much to the mind of Triptolemus, who had already been taught, by many years’ experience, a dark sort of notion, that without undervaluing or doubting for a moment his own skill, it would be quite as well that almost all the trouble and risk should be at the expense of his employer. Indeed, the hopes of advantage which he held out to his patron were so considerable, that the Lord Chamberlain dropped every idea of admitting his dependent into any share of the expected profits; for, rude as the arts of agriculture were in Scotland, they were far superior to those known and practised in the regions of Thule, and Triptolemus Yellowley conceived himself to be possessed of a degree of insight into these mysteries, far superior to what was possessed or practised even in the Mearns. The improvement, therefore, which was to be expected, would bear a double proportion, and the Lord Chamberlain was to reap all the profit, deducting a handsome salary for his steward Yellowley, together with the accommodation of a house and domestic farm, for the support of his family. Joy seized the heart of Mistress Barbara, at hearing this happy termination of what threatened to be so very bad an affair as the lease of Cauldacres.
“If we cannot,” she said, “provide for our own house, when all is coming in, and nothing going out, surely we must be worse than infidels!”
Triptolemus was a busy man for some time, huffing and puffing, and eating and drinking in every changehouse, while he ordered and collected together proper implements of agriculture, to be used by the natives of these devoted islands, whose destinies were menaced with this formidable change. Singular tools these would seem, if presented before a modern agricultural society; but every thing is relative, nor could the heavy cartload of timber, called the old Scots plough, seem less strange to a Scottish farmer of this present day, than the corslets and casques of the soldiers of Cortes might seem to a regiment of our own army. Yet the latter conquered Mexico, and undoubtedly the former would have been a splendid improvement on the state of agriculture in Thule.
We have never been able to learn why Triptolemus preferred fixing his residence in Zetland, to becoming an inhabitant of the Orkneys. Perhaps he thought the inhabitants of the latter Archipelago the more simple and docile of the two kindred tribes; or perhaps he considered the situation of the house and farm he himself was to occupy, (which was indeed a tolerable one,) as preferable to that which he had it in his power to have obtained upon Pomona (so the main island of the Orkneys is entitled). At Harfra, or, as it was sometimes called, Stourburgh, from the remains of a Pictish fort, which was almost close to the mansion-house, the factor settled himself, in the plenitude of his authority; determined to honour the name he bore by his exertions, in precept and example, to civilize the Zetlanders, and improve their very confined knowledge in the primary arts of human life.
19 The cormorant; which may be seen frequently dashing in wild flight along the roosts and tides of Zetland, and yet more often drawn up in ranks on some ledge of rock, like a body of the Black Brunswickers in 181.
e p. 39. “Bolts and bars in Scotland.” There are still places so innocent — in Galloway, at least — that doors and windows may be, and are, left open all night. — A.L.
f p. 45. “Deilbelicket.” This is the name of an old Scotch dish, of which goose and gooseberries are component parts. The recipe occurs in Gait’s “Ayrshire Legatees.”— A.L.
20 i. e. Gossips.
g p. 46. “James Guthrie.” An account of this martyr of the Covenant will be found in the Editor’s Notes to “Old Mortality.”— A.L.
21 Quadrupedumque putrem sonitu quatit ungula campum.
22 This is admitted by the English agriculturist:—
“My music since has been the plough,
Entangled with some care among;
The gain not great, the pain enough,
Hath made me sing another song.”
23 Government of Zetland.— At the period supposed, the Earls of Morton held the islands of Orkney and Zetland, originally granted in 1643, confirmed in 1707, and rendered absolute in 1742. This gave the family much property and influence, which they usually exercised by factors, named chamberlains. In 1766 this property was sold by the then Earl of Morton to Sir Lawrence Dundas, by whose son, Lord Dundas, it is now held.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:00