Saint Ronan's Well, by Walter Scott

Chapter 13


Evans. I pray you now, good Master Slender’s serving-man, and friend Simple by your name, which way have you looked for Master Caius?

Slender. Marry, sir, the City-ward, the Park-ward, every way; Old Windsor way, and every way.

Merry Wives of Windsor.

Sir Bingo Binks received the Captain’s communication with the same dogged sullenness he had displayed at sending the challenge; a most ungracious humph, ascending, as it were, from the very bottom of his stomach, through the folds of a Belcher handkerchief, intimating his acquiescence, in a tone nearly as gracious as that with which the drowsy traveller acknowledges the intimation of the slipshod ostler, that it is on the stroke of five, and the horn will sound in a minute. Captain MacTurk by no means considered this ejaculation as expressing a proper estimate of his own trouble and services. “Humph?” he replied; “and what does that mean, Sir Bingo? Have not I here had the trouble to put you just into the neat road; and would you have been able to make a handsome affair out of it at all, after you had let it hang so long in the wind, if I had not taken on myself to make it agreeable to the gentleman, and cooked as neat a mess out of it as I have seen a Frenchman do out of a stale sprat?”

Sir Bingo saw it was necessary to mutter some intimation of acquiescence and acknowledgment, which, however inarticulate, was sufficient to satisfy the veteran, to whom the adjustment of a personal affair of this kind was a labour of love, and who now, kindly mindful of his promise to Tyrrel, hurried away as if he had been about the most charitable action upon earth, to secure the attendance of some one as a witness on the stranger’s part.

Mr. Winterblossom was the person whom MacTurk had in his own mind pitched upon as the fittest person to perform this act of benevolence, and he lost no time in communicating his wish to that worthy gentleman. But Mr. Winterblossom, though a man of the world, and well enough acquainted with such matters, was by no means so passionately addicted to them as was the man of peace, Captain Hector MacTurk. As a bon vivant, he hated trouble of any kind, and the shrewd selfishness of his disposition enabled him to foresee, that a good deal might accrue to all concerned in the course of this business. He, therefore, coolly replied, that he knew nothing of Mr. Tyrrel — not even whether he was a gentleman or not; and besides, he had received no regular application in his behalf — he did not, therefore, feel himself at all inclined to go to the field as his second. This refusal drove the poor Captain to despair. He conjured his friend to be more public-spirited, and entreated him to consider the reputation of the Well, which was to them as a common country, and the honour of the company to which they both belonged, and of which Mr. Winterblossom was in a manner the proper representative, as being, with consent of all, the perpetual president. He reminded him how many quarrels had been nightly undertaken and departed from on the ensuing morning, without any suitable consequences — said, “that people began to talk of the place oddly; and that, for his own part, he found his own honour so nearly touched, that he had begun to think he himself would be obliged to bring somebody or other to account, for the general credit of the Well; and now, just when the most beautiful occasion had arisen to put every thing on a handsome footing, it was hard — it was cruel — it was most unjustifiable — in Mr. Winterblossom, to decline so simple a matter as was requested of him.”

Dry and taciturn as the Captain was on all ordinary occasions, he proved, on the present, eloquent and almost pathetic; for the tears came into his eyes when he recounted the various quarrels which had become addled, notwithstanding his best endeavours to hatch them into an honourable meeting; and here was one, at length, just chipping the shell, like to be smothered, for want of the most ordinary concession on the part of Winterblossom. In short, that gentleman could not hold out any longer. “It was,” he said, “a very foolish business, he thought; but to oblige Sir Bingo and Captain MacTurk, he had no objection to walk with them about noon as far as the Buck-stane, although he must observe the day was hazy, and he had felt a prophetic twinge or two, which looked like a visit of his old acquaintance podagra.”

“Never mind that, my excellent friend,” said the Captain, “a sup out of Sir Bingo’s flask is like enough to put that to rights; and by my soul, it is not the thing he is like to leave behind him on this sort of occasion, unless I be far mistaken in my man.”

“But,” said Winterblossom, “although I comply with your wishes thus far, Captain MacTurk, I by no means undertake for certain to back this same Master Tyrrel, of whom I know nothing at all, but only agree to go to the place in hopes of preventing mischief.”

“Never fash your beard about that, Mr. Winterblossom,” replied the Captain; “for a little mischief, as you call it, is become a thing absolutely necessary to the credit of the place; and I am sure, whatever be the consequences, they cannot in the present instance be very fatal to any body; for here is a young fellow that, if he should have a misfortune, nobody will miss, for nobody knows him; then there is Sir Bingo, whom every body knows so well, that they will miss him all the less.”

“And there will be Lady Bingo, a wealthy and handsome young widow,” said Winterblossom, throwing his hat upon his head with the grace and pretension of former days, and sighing to see, as he looked in the mirror, how much time, that had whitened his hair, rounded his stomach, wrinkled his brow, and bent down his shoulders, had disqualified him, as he expressed it, “for entering for such a plate.”

Secure of Winterblossom, the Captain’s next anxiety was to obtain the presence of Dr. Quackleben, who, although he wrote himself M.D., did not by any means decline practice as a surgeon, when any job offered for which he was likely to be well paid, as was warranted in the present instance, the wealthy baronet being a party principally concerned. The Doctor, therefore, like the eagle scenting the carnage, seized, at the first word, the huge volume of morocco leather which formed his case of portable instruments, and uncoiled before the Captain, with ostentatious display, its formidable and glittering contents, upon which he began to lecture as upon a copious and interesting text, until the man of war thought it necessary to give him a word of caution.

“Och,” says he, “I do pray you, Doctor, to carry that packet of yours under the breast of your coat, or in your pocket, or somewhere out of sight, and by no means to produce or open it before the parties. For although scalpels, and tourniquets, and pincers, and the like, are very ingenious implements, and pretty to behold, and are also useful when time and occasion call for them, yet I have known the sight of them take away a man’s fighting stomach, and so lose their owner a job, Dr. Quackleben.”

“By my faith, Captain MacTurk,” said the Doctor, “you speak as if you were graduated! — I have known these treacherous articles play their master many a cursed trick. The very sight of my forceps, without the least effort on my part, once cured an inveterate toothache of three days’ duration, prevented the extraction of a carious molendinar, which it was the very end of their formation to achieve, and sent me home minus a guinea. — But hand me that great-coat, Captain, and we will place the instruments in ambuscade, until they are called into action in due time. I should think something will happen — Sir Bingo is a sure shot at a moorcock.”

“Cannot say,” replied MacTurk; “I have known the pistol shake many a hand that held the fowlingpiece fast enough. Yonder Tyrrel looks like a teevilish cool customer — I watched him the whole time I was delivering my errand, and I can promise you he is mettle to the backbone.”

“Well — I will have my bandages ready secundum artem,” replied the man of medicine. “We must guard against hæmorrhage — Sir Bingo is a plethoric subject. — One o’clock, you say — at the Buck-stane — I will be punctual.”

“Will you not walk with us?” said Captain MacTurk, who seemed willing to keep his whole convoy together on this occasion, lest, peradventure, any of them had fled from under his patronage.

“No,” replied the Doctor, “I must first make an apology to worthy Mrs. Blower, for I had promised her my arm down to the river-side, where they are all to eat a kettle of fish.”

“By Cot! and I hope we shall make them a prettier kettle of fish than was ever seen at St. Ronan’s,” said the Captain, rubbing his hands.

“Don’t say we, Captain,” replied the cautious Doctor; “I for one have nothing to do with the meeting — wash my hands of it. No, no, I cannot afford to be clapt up as accessory. — You ask me to meet you at the Buck-stane — no purpose assigned — I am willing to oblige my worthy friend, Captain MacTurk — walk that way, thinking of nothing particular — hear the report of pistols — hasten to the spot — fortunately just in time to prevent the most fatal consequences — chance most opportunely to have my case of instruments with me — indeed, generally walk with them about me — nunquam non paratus — then give my professional definition of the wound and state of the patient. That is the way to give evidence, Captain, before sheriffs, coroners, and such sort of folk — never commit one’s self — it is a rule of our profession.”

“Well, well, Doctor,” answered the Captain, “you know your own ways best; and so you are but there to give a chance of help in case of accident, all the laws of honour will be fully complied with. But it would be a foul reflection upon me, as a man of honour, if I did not take care that there should be somebody to come in thirdsman between Death and my principal.”

At the awful hour of one afternoon, there arrived upon the appointed spot Captain MacTurk, leading to the field the valorous Sir Bingo, not exactly straining like a greyhound in the slips, but rather looking moody like a butcher’s bull-dog, which knows he must fight since his master bids him. Yet the Baronet showed no outward flinching or abatement of courage, excepting, that the tune of Jenny Sutton, which he had whistled without intermission since he left the Hotel, had, during the last half mile of their walk, sunk into silence; although, to look at the muscles of the mouth, projection of the lip, and vacancy of the eye, it seemed as if the notes were still passing through his mind, and that he whistled Jenny Sutton in his imagination. Mr. Winterblossom came two minutes after this happy pair, and the Doctor was equally punctual.

“Upon my soul,” said the former, “this is a mighty silly affair, Sir Bingo, and might, I think, be easily taken up, at less risk to all parties than a meeting of this kind. You should recollect, Sir Bingo, that you have much depending upon your life — you are a married man, Sir Bingo.”

Sir Bingo turned the quid in his mouth, and squirted out the juice in a most coachman-like manner.

“Mr. Winterblossom,” said the Captain, “Sir Bingo has in this matter put himself in my hands, and unless you think yourself more able to direct his course than I am, I must frankly tell you, that I will be disobliged by your interference. You may speak to your own friend as much as you please; and if you find yourself authorized to make any proposal, I shall be desirous to lend an ear to it on the part of my worthy principal, Sir Bingo. But I will be plain with you, that I do not greatly approve of settlements upon the field, though I hope I am a quiet and peaceable man. But here is our honour to be looked after in the first place; and moreover, I must insist that every proposal for accommodation shall originate with your party or yourself.”

My party?” answered Winterblossom; “why really, though I came hither at your request, Captain MacTurk, yet I must see more of the matter, ere I can fairly pronounce myself second to a man I never saw but once.”

“And, perhaps, may never see again,” said the Doctor, looking at his watch; “for it is ten minutes past the hour, and here is no Mr. Tyrrel.”

“Hey! what’s that you say, Doctor?” said the Baronet, awakened from his apathy.

“He speaks tamned nonsense,” said the Captain, pulling out a huge, old-fashioned, turnip-shaped implement, with a blackened silver dial-plate. “It is not above three minutes after one by the true time, and I will uphold Mr. Tyrrel to be a man of his word — never saw a man take a thing more coolly.”

“Not more coolly than he takes his walk this way,” said the Doctor; “for the hour is as I tell you — remember, I am professional — have pulses to count by the second and half-second — my timepiece must go as true as the sun.”

“And I have mounted guard a thousand times by my watch,” said the Captain; “and I defy the devil to say that Hector MacTurk did not always discharge his duty to the twentieth part of the fraction of a second — it was my great grandmother, Lady Killbracklin’s, and I will maintain its reputation against any timepiece that ever went upon wheels.”

“Well, then, look at your own watch, Captain,” said Winterblossom, “for time stands still with no man, and while we speak the hour advances. On my word, I think this Mr. Tyrrel intends to humbug us.”

“Hey! what’s that you say?” said Sir Bingo, once more starting from his sullen reverie.

“I shall not look at my watch upon no such matter,” said the Captain; “nor will I any way be disposed to doubt your friend’s honour, Mr. Winterblossom.”

My friend?” said Mr. Winterblossom; “I must tell you once more, Captain, that this Mr. Tyrrel is no friend of mine — none in the world. He is your friend, Captain MacTurk; and I own, if he keeps us waiting much longer on this occasion, I will be apt to consider his friendship as of very little value.”

“And how dare you, then, say that the man is my friend?” said the Captain, knitting his brows in a most formidable manner.

“Pooh! pooh! Captain,” answered Winterblossom, coolly, if not contemptuously —“keep all that for silly boys; I have lived in the world too long either to provoke quarrels, or to care about them. So, reserve your fire; it is all thrown away on such an old cock as I am. But I really wish we knew whether this fellow means to come — twenty minutes past the hour — I think it is odds that you are bilked, Sir Bingo?”

“Bilked! hey!” cried Sir Bingo; “by Gad, I always thought so — I wagered with Mowbray he was a raff — I am had, by Gad. I’ll wait no longer than the half hour, by Gad, were he a field-marshal.”

“You will be directed in that matter by your friend, if you please, Sir Bingo,” said the Captain.

“D—— me if I will,” returned the Baronet —“Friend? a pretty friend, to bring me out here on such a fool’s errand! I knew the fellow was a raff — but I never thought you, with all your chaff about honour, such a d —— d spoon as to bring a message from a fellow who has fled the pit!”

“If you regret so much having come here to no purpose,” said the Captain, in a very lofty tone, “and if you think I have used you like a spoon, as you say, I will have no objection in life to take Mr. Tyrrel’s place, and serve your occasion, my boy!”

“By ——! and if you like it, you may fire away, and welcome,” said Sir Bingo; “and I’ll spin a crown for first shot, for I do not understand being brought here for nothing, d —— me!”

“And there was never man alive so ready as I am to give you something to stay your stomach,” said the irritable Highlander.

Preparing for the Duel
Preparing for the Duel

“Oh fie, gentlemen! fie, fie, fie!” exclaimed the pacific Mr. Winterblossom —“For shame, Captain — Out upon you, Sir Bingo, are you mad? — what, principal and second! — the like was never heard of — never.”

The parties were in some degree recalled to their more cool recollections by this expostulation, yet continued a short quarter-deck walk to and fro, upon parallel lines, looking at each other sullenly as they passed, and bristling like two dogs who have a mind to quarrel, yet hesitate to commence hostilities. During this promenade, also, the perpendicular and erect carriage of the veteran, rising on his toes at every step, formed a whimsical contrast with the heavy loutish shuffle of the bulky Baronet, who had, by dint of practice, very nearly attained that most enviable of all carriages, the gait of a shambling Yorkshire ostler. His coarse spirit was now thoroughly kindled, and like iron, or any other baser metal, which is slow in receiving heat, it retained long the smouldering and angry spirit of resentment that had originally brought him to the place, and now rendered him willing to wreak his uncomfortable feelings upon the nearest object which occurred, since the first purpose of his coming thither was frustrated. In his own phrase, his pluck was up, and finding himself in a fighting humour, he thought it a pity, like Bob Acres, that so much good courage should be thrown away. As, however, that courage after all consisted chiefly in ill humour; and as, in the demeanour of the Captain, he read nothing deferential or deprecatory of his wrath, he began to listen with more attention to the arguments of Mr. Winterblossom, who entreated them not to sully, by private quarrel, the honour they had that day so happily acquired without either blood or risk.

“It was now,” he said, “three quarters of an hour past the time appointed for this person, who calls himself Tyrrel, to meet Sir Bingo Binks. Now, instead of standing squabbling here, which serves no purpose, I propose we should reduce to writing the circumstances which attend this affair, for the satisfaction of the company at the Well, and that the memorandum shall be regularly attested by our subscriptions; after which, I shall farther humbly propose that it be subjected to the revision of the Committee of Management.”

“I object to any revision of a statement to which my name shall be appended,” said the Captain.

“Right — very true, Captain,” said the complaisant Mr. Winterblossom; “undoubtedly you know best, and your signature is completely sufficient to authenticate this transaction — however, as it is the most important which has occurred since the Spring was established, I propose we shall all sign the procès-verbal, as I may term it.”

“Leave me out, if you please,” said the Doctor, not much satisfied that both the original quarrel and the by-battle had passed over without any occasion for the offices of a Machaon; “leave me out, if you please; for it does not become me to be ostensibly concerned in any proceedings, which have had for their object a breach of the peace. And for the importance of waiting here for an hour, in a fine afternoon, it is my opinion there was a more important service done to the Well of St. Ronan’s, when I, Quentin Quackleben, M.D., cured Lady Penelope Penfeather of her seventh attack upon the nerves, attended with febrile symptoms.”

“No disparagement to your skill at all, Doctor,” said Mr. Winterblossom; “but I conceive the lesson which this fellow has received will be a great means to prevent improper persons from appearing at the Spring hereafter; and, for my part, I shall move that no one be invited to dine at the table in future, till his name is regularly entered as a member of the company, in the lists at the public room. And I hope both Sir Bingo and the Captain will receive the thanks of the company, for their spirited conduct in expelling the intruder. — Sir Bingo, will you allow me to apply to your flask — a little twinge I feel, owing to the dampness of the grass.”

Sir Bingo, soothed by the consequence he had acquired, readily imparted to the invalid a thimbleful of his cordial, which, we believe, had been prepared by some cunning chemist in the wilds of Glenlivat. He then filled a bumper, and extended it towards the veteran, as an unequivocal symptom of reconciliation. The real turbinacious flavour no sooner reached the nose of the Captain, than the beverage was turned down his throat with symptoms of most unequivocal applause.

“I shall have some hope of the young fellows of this day,” he said, “now that they begin to give up their Dutch and French distilled waters, and stick to genuine Highland ware. By Cot, it is the only liquor fit for a gentleman to drink in a morning, if he can have the good fortune to come by it, you see.”

“Or after dinner either, Captain,” said the Doctor, to whom the glass had passed in rotation; “it is worth all the wines in France for flavour, and more cordial to the system besides.”

“And now,” said the Captain, “that we may not go off the ground with any thing on our stomachs worse than the whisky, I can afford to say, (as Captain Hector MacTurk’s character is tolerably well established,) that I am sorry for the little difference that has occurred betwixt me and my worthy friend, Sir Bingo, here.”

“And since you are so civil, Captain,” said Sir Bingo, “why, I am sorry too — only it would put the devil out of temper to lose so fine a fishing day — wind south — fine air on the pool — water settled from the flood — just in trim — and I dare say three pairs of hooks have passed over my cast before this time!”

He closed this elaborate lamentation with a libation of the same cordial which he had imparted to his companions; and they returned in a body to the Hotel, where the transactions of the morning were soon afterwards announced to the company, by the following program:—


“Sir Bingo Binks, baronet, having found himself aggrieved by the uncivil behaviour of an individual calling himself Francis Tyrrel, now or lately a resident at the Cleikum Inn, Aultoun of St. Ronan’s; and having empowered Captain Hector MacTurk to wait upon the said Mr. Tyrrel to demand an apology, under the alternative of personal satisfaction, according to the laws of honour and the practice of gentlemen, the said Tyrrel voluntarily engaged to meet the said Sir Bingo Binks, baronet, at the Buck-stane, near St. Ronan’s Burn, upon this present day, being Wednesday —— August. In consequence of which appointment, we, the undersigned, did attend at the place named, from one o’clock till two, without seeing or hearing any thing whatever of the said Francis Tyrrel, or any one in his behalf — which fact we make thus publicly known, that all men, and particularly the distinguished company assembled at the Fox Hotel, may be duly apprized of the character and behaviour of the said Francis Tyrrel, in case of his again presuming to intrude himself into the society of persons of honour.

“The Fox Inn and Hotel, St. Ronan’s Well — August 18 —.


A little lower followed this separate attestation:

“I, Quentin Quackleben, M.D., F.R.S., D.E., B.L., X.Z., &c. &c., being called upon to attest what I know in the said matter, do hereby verify, that being by accident at the Buck-stane, near St. Ronan’s Burn, on this present day, at the hour of one afternoon, and chancing to remain there for the space of nearly an hour, conversing with Sir Bingo Binks, Captain MacTurk, and Mr. Winterblossom, we did not, during that time, see or hear any thing of or from the person calling himself Francis Tyrrel, whose presence at that place seemed to be expected by the gentlemen I have just named.”

This affiche was dated like the former, and certified under the august hand of Quentin Quackleben, M.D., &c. &c. &c.

Again, and prefaced by the averment that an improper person had been lately introduced into the company of St. Ronan’s Well, there came forth a legislative enactment, on the part of the Committee, declaring, “that no one shall in future be invited to the dinners, or balls, or other entertainments of the Well, until their names shall be regularly entered in the books kept for the purpose at the rooms.” Lastly, there was a vote of thanks to Sir Bingo Binks and Captain MacTurk for their spirited conduct, and the pains which they had taken to exclude an improper person from the company at St. Ronan’s Well.

These annunciations speedily became the magnet of the day. All idlers crowded to peruse them; and it would be endless to notice the “God bless me’s”— the “Lord have a care of us”— the “Saw you ever the like’s” of gossips, any more than the “Dear me’s” and “Oh, laa’s” of the titupping misses, and the oaths of the pantalooned or buck-skin’d beaux. The character of Sir Bingo rose like the stocks at the news of a dispatch from the Duke of Wellington, and, what was extraordinary, attained some consequence even in the estimation of his lady. All shook their heads at the recollection of the unlucky Tyrrel, and found out much in his manner and address which convinced them that he was but an adventurer and swindler. A few, however, less partial to the Committee of Management, (for whenever there is an administration, there will soon arise an opposition,) whispered among themselves, that, to give the fellow his due, the man, be he what he would, had only come among them, like the devil, when he was called for; and honest Dame Blower blessed herself when she heard of such bloodthirsty doings as had been intended, and “thanked God that honest Doctor Kickherben had come to nae harm amang a’ their nonsense.”

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