Saint Ronan's Well, by Walter Scott

Chapter 39


Here come we to our close — for that which follows

Is but the tale of dull, unvaried misery.

Steep crags and headlong linns may court the pencil,

Like sudden haps, dark plots, and strange adventures;

But who would paint the dull and fog-wrapt moor,

In its long track of sterile desolation?

Old Play.

When Mowbray crossed the brook, as we have already detailed, his mind was in that wayward and uncertain state, which seeks something whereon to vent the self-engendered rage with which it labours, like a volcano before eruption. On a sudden, a shot or two, followed by loud voices and laughter reminded him he had promised, at that hour, and in that sequestered place, to decide a bet respecting pistol-shooting, to which the titular Lord Etherington, Jekyl, and Captain MacTurk, to whom such a pastime was peculiarly congenial, were parties as well as himself. The prospect this recollection afforded him, of vengeance on the man whom he regarded as the author of his sister’s wrongs, was, in the present state of his mind, too tempting to be relinquished; and, setting spurs to his horse, he rushed through the copse to the little glade, where he found the other parties, who, despairing of his arrival, had already begun their amusement. A jubilee shout was set up as he approached.

“Here comes Mowbray, dripping, by Cot, like a watering-pan,” said Captain MacTurk.

“I fear him not,” said Etherington, (we may as well still call him so,) “he has ridden too fast to have steady nerves.”

“We shall soon see that, my Lord Etherington, or rather Mr. Valentine Bulmer,” said Mowbray, springing from his horse, and throwing the bridle over the bough of a tree.

“What does this mean, Mr. Mowbray?” said Etherington, drawing himself up, while Jekyl and Captain MacTurk looked at each other in surprise.

“It means, sir, that you are a rascal and impostor,” replied Mowbray, “who have assumed a name to which you have no right.”

“That, Mr. Mowbray, is an insult I cannot carry farther than this spot,” said Etherington.

“If you had been willing to do so, you should have carried with it something still harder to be borne,” answered Mowbray.

“Enough, enough, my good sir; no use in spurring a willing horse. — Jekyl, you will have the kindness to stand by me in this matter?”

“Certainly, my lord,” said Jekyl.

“And, as there seems to be no chance of taking up the matter amicably,” said the pacific Captain MacTurk, “I will be most happy, so help me, to assist my worthy friend, Mr. Mowbray of St. Ronan’s, with my countenance and advice. — Very goot chance that we were here with the necessary weapons, since it would have been an unpleasant thing to have such an affair long upon the stomach, any more than to settle it without witnesses.”

“I would fain know first,” said Jekyl, “what all this sudden heat has arisen about.”

“About nothing,” said Etherington, “except a mare’s nest of Mr. Mowbray’s discovering. He always knew his sister played the madwoman, and he has now heard a report, I suppose, that she has likewise in her time played the —— fool.”

“O, crimini!” cried Captain MacTurk, “my good Captain, let us pe loading and measuring out — for, by my soul, if these sweetmeats be passing between them, it is only the twa ends of a hankercher than can serve the turn — Cot tamn!”

With such friendly intentions, the ground was hastily meted out. Each was well known as an excellent shot; and the Captain offered a bet to Jekyl of a mutchkin of Glenlivat, that both would fall by the first fire. The event showed that he was nearly right; for the ball of Lord Etherington grazed Mowbray’s temple, at the very second of time when Mowbray’s pierced his heart. He sprung a yard from the ground, and fell down a dead man. Mowbray stood fixed like a pillar of stone, his arm dropped to his side, his hand still clenched on the weapon of death, reeking at the touch-hole and muzzle. Jekyl ran to raise and support his friend, and Captain MacTurk, having adjusted his spectacles, stooped on one knee to look him in the face. “We should have had Dr. Quackleben here,” he said, wiping his glasses, and returning them to the shagreen case, “though it would have been only for form’s sake — for he is as dead as a toor-nail, poor boy. — But come, Mowbray, my bairn,” he said, taking him by the arm, “we must be ganging our ain gait, you and me, before waur comes of it. — I have a bit powney here, and you have your horse till we get to Marchthorn. — Captain Jekyl, I wish you a good morning. Will you have my umbrella back to the inn, for I surmeese it is going to rain?”

Mowbray had not ridden a hundred yards with his guide and companion, when he drew his bridle, and refused to proceed a step farther, till he had learned what was become of Clara. The Captain began to find he had a very untractable pupil to manage, when, while they were arguing together, Touchwood drove past in his hack chaise. As soon as he recognised Mowbray, he stopped the carriage to inform him that his sister was at the Aultoun, which he had learned from finding there had been a messenger sent from thence to the Well for medical assistance, which could not be afforded, the Esculapius of the place, Dr. Quackleben, having been privately married to Mrs. Blower on that morning, by Mr. Chatterly, and having set out on the usual nuptial tour.

In return for this intelligence, Captain MacTurk communicated the fate of Lord Etherington. The old man earnestly pressed instant flight, for which he supplied at the same time ample means, engaging to furnish every kind of assistance and support to the unfortunate young lady; and representing to Mowbray, that if he staid in the vicinity, a prison would soon separate them. Mowbray and his companion then departed southward upon the spur, reached London in safety, and from thence went together to the Peninsula, where the war was then at the hottest.

There remains little more to be told. Mr. Touchwood is still alive, forming plans which have no object, and accumulating a fortune, for which he has apparently no heir. The old man had endeavoured to fix this character, as well as his general patronage, upon Tyrrel, but the attempt only determined the latter to leave the country; nor has he been since heard of, although the title and estates of Etherington lie vacant for his acceptance. It is the opinion of many, that he has entered into a Moravian mission, for the use of which he had previously drawn considerable sums.

Since Tyrrel’s departure, no one pretends to guess what old Touchwood will do with his money. He often talks of his disappointments, but can never be made to understand, or at least to admit, that they were in some measure precipitated by his own talent for intrigue and manoeuvring. Most people think that Mowbray of St. Ronan’s will be at last his heir. That gentleman has of late shown one quality which usually recommends men to the favour of rich relations, namely, a close and cautious care of what is already his own. Captain MacTurk’s military ardour having revived when they came within smell of gunpowder, the old soldier contrived not only to get himself on full pay, but to induce his companion to serve for some time as a volunteer. He afterwards obtained a commission, and nothing could be more strikingly different than was the conduct of the young Laird of St. Ronan’s and of Lieutenant Mowbray. The former, as we know, was gay, venturous, and prodigal; the latter lived on his pay, and even within it — denied himself comforts, and often decencies, when doing so could save a guinea; and turned pale with apprehension, if, on any extraordinary occasion, he ventured sixpence a corner at whist. This meanness, or closeness of disposition, prevents his holding the high character to which his bravery and attention to his regimental duties might otherwise entitle him. The same close and accurate calculation of pounds, shillings, and pence, marked his communications with his agent Meiklewham, who might otherwise have had better pickings out of the estate of St. Ronan’s, which is now at nurse, and thriving full fast; especially since some debts, of rather an usurious character, have been paid up by Mr. Touchwood, who contented himself with more moderate usage.

On the subject of this property, Mr. Mowbray, generally speaking, gave such minute directions for acquiring and saving, that his old acquaintance, Mr. Winterblossom, tapping his morocco snuff-box with the sly look which intimated the coming of a good thing, was wont to say, that he had reversed the usual order of transformation, and was turned into a grub after having been a butterfly. After all, this narrowness, though a more ordinary modification of the spirit of avarice, may be founded on the same desire of acquisition, which in his earlier days sent him to the gaming-table.

But there was one remarkable instance in which Mr. Mowbray departed from the rules of economy, by which he was guided in all others. Having acquired, for a large sum of money, the ground which he had formerly feued out for the erection of the hotel, lodging-houses, shops, &c., at St. Ronan’s Well, he sent positive orders for the demolition of the whole, nor would he permit the existence of any house of entertainment on his estate, except that in the Aultoun, where Mrs. Dods reigns with undisputed sway, her temper by no means improved either by time, or her arbitrary disposition by the total absence of competition.

Why Mr. Mowbray, with his acquired habits of frugality, thus destroyed a property which might have produced a considerable income, no one could pretend to affirm. Some said that he remembered his own early follies; and others, that he connected the buildings with the misfortunes of his sister. The vulgar reported, that Lord Etherington’s ghost had been seen in the ball-room, and the learned talked of the association of ideas. But it all ended in this, that Mr. Mowbray was independent enough to please himself, and that such was Mr. Mowbray’s pleasure.

The little watering-place has returned to its primitive obscurity; and lions and lionesses, with their several jackals, blue surtouts, and bluer stockings, fiddlers and dancers, painters and amateurs, authors and critics, dispersed like pigeons by the demolition of a dovecot, have sought other scenes of amusement and rehearsal, and have deserted ST. RONAN’S WELL.35

35 Note III. — Meg Dods.

Non omnis moriar. Saint Ronan’s, since this veracious history was given to the public, has revived as a sort of alias, or second title, to the very pleasant village of Inverleithen upon Tweed, where there is a medicinal spring much frequented by visitors. Prizes for some of the manly and athletic sports, common in the pastoral districts around, are competed for under the title of the Saint Ronan’s Games. Nay, Meg Dods has produced herself of late from obscurity as authoress of a work on Cookery, of which, in justice to a lady who makes so distinguished a figure as this excellent dame, we insert the title-page:

“The Cook and Housewife’s Manual: A Practical System of Modern Domestic Cookery and Family Management.

————’Cook, see all your sawces

Be sharp and poynant in the palate, that they may

Commend you: look to your roast and baked meats handsomely,

And what new kickshaws and delicate made things.‘


By Mistress Margaret Dods, of the Cleikum Inn, St. Ronan’s.”

Though it is rather unconnected with our immediate subject, we cannot help adding, that Mrs. Dods has preserved the recipes of certain excellent old dishes which we would be loath should fall into oblivion in our day; and in bearing this testimony, we protest that we are no way biassed by the receipt of two bottles of excellent sauce for cold meat, which were sent to us by the said Mrs. Dods, as a mark of her respect and regard, for which we return her our unfeigned thanks, having found them capital.

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