Saint Ronan's Well, by Walter Scott

Chapter 8

After Dinner.

They draw the cork, they broach the barrel,

And first they kiss, and then they quarrel.


If the reader has attended much to the manners of the canine race, he may have remarked the very different manner in which the individuals of the different sexes carry on their quarrels among each other. The females are testy, petulant, and very apt to indulge their impatient dislike of each other’s presence, or the spirit of rivalry which it produces, in a sudden bark and snap, which last is generally made as much at advantage as possible. But these ebullitions of peevishness lead to no very serious or prosecuted conflict; the affair begins and ends in a moment. Not so the ire of the male dogs, which, once produced and excited by growls of mutual offence and defiance, leads generally to a fierce and obstinate contest; in which, if the parties be dogs of game, and well-matched, they grapple, throttle, tear, roll each other in the kennel, and can only be separated by choking them with their own collars, till they lose wind and hold at the same time, or by surprising them out of their wrath by sousing them with cold water.

The simile, though a currish one, will hold good in its application to the human race. While the ladies in the tea-room of the Fox Hotel were engaged in the light snappish velitation, or skirmish, which we have described, the gentlemen who remained in the parlour were more than once like to have quarrelled more seriously.

We have mentioned the weighty reasons which induced Mr. Mowbray to look upon the stranger whom a general invitation had brought into their society, with unfavourable prepossessions; and these were far from being abated by the demeanour of Tyrrel, which, though perfectly well-bred, indicated a sense of equality, which the young Laird of St. Ronan’s considered as extremely presumptuous.

As for Sir Bingo, he already began to nourish the genuine hatred always entertained by a mean spirit against an antagonist, before whom it is conscious of having made a dishonourable retreat. He forgot not the manner, look, and tone, with which Tyrrel had checked his unauthorized intrusion; and though he had sunk beneath it at the moment, the recollection rankled in his heart as an affront to be avenged. As he drank his wine, courage, the want of which was, in his more sober moments, a check upon his bad temper, began to inflame his malignity, and he ventured upon several occasions to show his spleen, by contradicting Tyrrel more flatly than good manners permitted upon so short an acquaintance, and without any provocation. Tyrrel saw his ill humour and despised it, as that of an overgrown schoolboy, whom it was not worth his while to answer according to his folly.

One of the apparent causes of the Baronet’s rudeness was indeed childish enough. The company were talking of shooting, the most animating topic of conversation among Scottish country gentlemen of the younger class, and Tyrrel had mentioned something of a favourite setter, an uncommonly handsome dog, from which he had been for some time separated, but which he expected would rejoin him in the course of next week.

“A setter!” retorted Sir Bingo, with a sneer; “a pointer I suppose you mean?”

“No, sir,” said Tyrrel; “I am perfectly aware of the difference betwixt a setter and a pointer, and I know the old-fashioned setter is become unfashionable among modern sportsmen. But I love my dog as a companion, as well as for his merits in the field; and a setter is more sagacious, more attached, and fitter for his place on the hearth-rug, than a pointer — not,” he added, “from any deficiency of intellects on the pointer’s part, but he is generally so abused while in the management of brutal breakers and grooms, that he loses all excepting his professional accomplishments, of finding and standing steady to game.”

“And who the d —— l desires he should have more?” said Sir Bingo.

“Many people, Sir Bingo,” replied Tyrrel, “have been of opinion, that both dogs and men may follow sport indifferently well, though they do happen, at the same time, to be fit for mixing in friendly intercourse in society.”

“That is for licking trenchers, and scratching copper, I suppose,” said the Baronet, sotto voce; and added, in a louder and more distinct tone — “He never before heard that a setter was fit to follow any man’s heels but a poacher’s.”

“You know it now then, Sir Bingo,” answered Tyrrel; “and I hope you will not fall into so great a mistake again.”

The Peace-maker here seemed to think his interference necessary, and, surmounting his tactiturnity, made the following pithy speech:—“By Cot! and do you see, as you are looking for my opinion, I think there is no dispute in the matter — because, by Cot! it occurs to me, d’ye see, that ye are both right, by Cot! It may do fery well for my excellent friend Sir Bingo, who hath stables, and kennels, and what not, to maintain the six filthy prutes that are yelping and yowling all the tay, and all the neight too, under my window, by Cot! — And if they are yelping and yowling there, may I never die but I wish they were yelping and yowling somewhere else. But then there is many a man who may be as cood a gentleman at the bottom as my worthy friend Sir Bingo, though it may be that he is poor; and if he is poor — and as if it might be my own case, or that of this honest gentleman, Mr. Tirl — is that a reason or a law, that he is not to keep a prute of a tog, to help him to take his sports and his pleasures? and if he has not a stable or a kennel to put the crature into, must he not keep it in his pit of ped-room, or upon his parlour hearth, seeing that Luckie Dods would make the kitchen too hot for the paist — and so, if Mr. Tirl finds a setter more fitter for his purpose than a pointer, by Cot, I know no law against it, else may I never die the black death.”

If this oration appear rather long for the occasion, the reader must recollect that Captain MacTurk had in all probability the trouble of translating it from the periphrastic language of Ossian, in which it was originally conceived in his own mind.

The Man of Law replied to the Man of Peace, “Ye are mistaken for ance in your life, Captain, for there is a law against setters; and I will undertake to prove them to be the ‘lying dogs,’ which are mentioned in the auld Scots statute, and which all and sundry are discharged to keep, under a penalty of”——

Here the Captain broke in, with a very solemn mien and dignified manner —“By Cot! Master Meiklewham, and I shall be asking what you mean by talking to me of peing mistaken, and apout lying togs, sir — because I would have you to know, and to pelieve, and to very well consider, that I never was mistaken in my life, sir, unless it was when I took you for a gentleman.”

“No offence, Captain,” said Mr. Meiklewham; “dinna break the wand of peace, man, you that should be the first to keep it. — He is as cankered,” continued the Man of Law, apart to his patron, “as an auld Hieland terrier, that snaps at whatever comes near it — but I tell you ae thing, St. Ronan’s, and that is on saul and conscience, that I believe this is the very lad Tirl, that I raised a summons against before the justices — him and another hempie — in your father’s time, for shooting on the Spring-well-head muirs.”

“The devil you did, Mick!” replied the Lord of the Manor, also aside; —“Well, I am obliged to you for giving me some reason for the ill thoughts I had of him — I knew he was some trumpery scamp — I’ll blow him, by”——

“Whisht — stop — hush — haud your tongue, St. Ronan’s — keep a calm sough — ye see, I intended the process, by your worthy father’s desire, before the Quarter Sessions — but I ken na — The auld sheriff-clerk stood the lad’s friend — and some of the justices thought it was but a mistake of the marches, and sae we couldna get a judgment — and your father was very ill of the gout, and I was feared to vex him, and so I was fain to let the process sleep, for fear they had been assoilzied. — Sae ye had better gang cautiously to wark, St. Ronan’s, for though they were summoned, they were not convict.”

“Could you not take up the action again?” said Mr. Mowbray.

“Whew! it’s been prescribed sax or seeven year syne. It is a great shame, St. Ronan’s, that the game laws, whilk are the very best protection that is left to country gentlemen against the encroachment of their inferiors, rin sae short a course of prescription — a poacher may just jink ye back and forward like a flea in a blanket, (wi’ pardon)— hap ye out of ae county and into anither at their pleasure, like pyots — and unless ye get your thum-nail on them in the very nick o’ time, ye may dine on a dish of prescription, and sup upon an absolvitor.”

“It is a shame indeed,” said Mowbray, turning from his confident and agent, and addressing himself to the company in general, yet not without a peculiar look directed to Tyrrel.

“What is a shame, sir?” said Tyrrel, conceiving that the observation was particularly addressed to him.

“That we should have so many poachers upon our muirs, sir,” answered St. Ronan’s. “I sometimes regret having countenanced the Well here, when I think how many guns it has brought on my property every season.”

“Hout fie! hout awa, St. Ronan’s!” said his Man of Law; “no countenance the Waal? What would the country-side be without it, I would be glad to ken? It’s the greatest improvement that has been made on this country since the year forty-five. Na, na, it’s no the Waal that’s to blame for the poaching and delinquencies on the game. We maun to the Aultoun for the howf of that kind of cattle. Our rules at the Waal are clear and express against trespassers on the game.”

“I can’t think,” said the Squire, “what made my father sell the property of the old change-house yonder, to the hag that keeps it open out of spite, I think, and to harbour poachers and vagabonds! — I cannot conceive what made him do so foolish a thing!”

“Probably because your father wanted money, sir,” said Tyrrel, dryly; “and my worthy landlady, Mrs. Dods, had got some. — You know, I presume, sir, that I lodge there?”

“Oh, sir,” replied Mowbray, in a tone betwixt scorn and civility, “you cannot suppose the present company is alluded to; I only presumed to mention as a fact, that we have been annoyed with unqualified people shooting on our grounds, without either liberty or license. And I hope to have her sign taken down for it — that is all. — There was the same plague in my father’s days, I think, Mick?”

But Mr. Meiklewham, who did not like Tyrrel’s looks so well as to induce him to become approver on the occasion, replied with an inarticulate grunt, addressed to the company, and a private admonition to his patron’s own ear, “to let sleeping dogs lie.”

“I can scarce forbear the fellow,” said St. Ronan’s; “and yet I cannot well tell where my dislike to him lies — but it would be d —— d folly to turn out with him for nothing; and so, honest Mick, I will be as quiet as I can.”

“And that you may be so,” said Meiklewham, “I think you had best take no more wine.”

“I think so too,” said the Squire; “for each glass I drink in his company gives me the heartburn — yet the man is not different from other raffs either — but there is a something about him intolerable to me.”

So saying, he pushed back his chair from the table, and — regis ad exemplar — after the pattern of the Laird, all the company arose.

Sir Bingo got up with reluctance, which he testified by two or three deep growls, as he followed the rest of the company into the outer apartment, which served as an entrance-hall, and divided the dining-parlour from the tea-room, as it was called. Here, while the party were assuming their hats, for the purpose of joining the ladies’ society, (which old-fashioned folk used only to take up for that of going into the open air,) Tyrrel asked a smart footman, who stood near, to hand him the hat which lay on the table beyond.

“Call your own servant, sir,” answered the fellow, with the true insolence of a pampered menial.

“Your master,” answered Tyrrel, “ought to have taught you good manners, my friend, before bringing you here.”

“Sir Bingo Binks is my master,” said the fellow, in the same insolent tone as before.

“Now for it, Bingie,” said Mowbray, who was aware that the Baronet’s pot-courage had arrived at fighting pitch.

“Yes!” said Sir Bingo aloud, and more articulately than usual —“The fellow is my servant — what has any one to say to it?”

“I at least have my mouth stopped,” answered Tyrrel, with perfect composure. “I should have been surprised to have found Sir Bingo’s servant better bred than himself.”

“What d’ye mean by that, sir?” said Sir Bingo, coming up in an offensive attitude, for he was no mean pupil of the Fives-Court —“What d’ye mean by that? D——n you, sir! I’ll serve you out before you can say dumpling.”

“And I, Sir Bingo, unless you presently lay aside that look and manner, will knock you down before you can cry help.”

The visitor held in his hand a slip of oak, with which he gave a flourish, that, however slight, intimated some acquaintance with the noble art of single-stick. From this demonstration Sir Bingo thought it prudent somewhat to recoil, though backed by a party of friends, who, in their zeal for his honour, would rather have seen his bones broken in conflict bold, than his honour injured by a discreditable retreat; and Tyrrel seemed to have some inclination to indulge them. But, at the very instant when his hand was raised with a motion of no doubtful import, a whispering voice, close to his ear, pronounced the emphatic words —“Are you a man?”

Not the thrilling tone with which our inimitable Siddons used to electrify the scene, when she uttered the same whisper, ever had a more powerful effect upon an auditor, than had these unexpected sounds on him, to whom they were now addressed. Tyrrel forgot every thing — his quarrel — the circumstances in which he was placed — the company. The crowd was to him at once annihilated, and life seemed to have no other object than to follow the person who had spoken. But suddenly as he turned, the disappearance of the monitor was at least equally so, for, amid the group of commonplace countenances by which he was surrounded, there was none which assorted to the tone and words, which possessed such a power over him. “Make way,” he said, to those who surrounded him; and it was in the tone of one who was prepared, if necessary, to make way for himself.

Mr. Mowbray of St. Ronan’s stepped forward. “Come, sir,” said he, “this will not do — you have come here, a stranger among us, to assume airs and dignities, which, by G— d, would become a duke, or a prince! We must know who or what you are, before we permit you to carry your high tone any farther.”

This address seemed at once to arrest Tyrrel’s anger, and his impatience to leave the company. He turned to Mowbray, collected his thoughts for an instant, and then answered him thus:—“Mr. Mowbray, I seek no quarrel with any one here — with you, in particular, I am most unwilling to have any disagreement. I came here by invitation, not certainly expecting much pleasure, but, at the same time, supposing myself secure from incivility. In the last point, I find myself mistaken, and therefore wish the company good-night. I must also make my adieus to the ladies.”

So saying, he walked several steps, yet, as it seemed, rather irresolutely, towards the door of the card-room — and then, to the increased surprise of the company, stopped suddenly, and muttering something about the “unfitness of the time,” turned on his heel, and bowing haughtily, as there was way made for him, walked in the opposite direction towards the door which led to the outer hall.

“D—— me, Sir Bingo, will you let him off?” said Mowbray, who seemed to delight in pushing his friend into new scrapes —“To him, man — to him — he shows the white feather.”

Sir Bingo, thus encouraged, planted himself with a look of defiance exactly between Tyrrel and the door; upon which the retreating guest, bestowing on him most emphatically the epithet Fool, seized him by the collar, and flung him out of his way with some violence.

“I am to be found at the Old Town of St. Ronan’s by whomsoever has any concern with me.”— Without waiting the issue of this aggression farther than to utter these words, Tyrrel left the hotel. He stopped in the court-yard, however, with the air of one uncertain whither he intended to go, and who was desirous to ask some question, which seemed to die upon his tongue. At length his eye fell upon a groom, who stood not far from the door of the inn, holding in his hand a handsome pony, with a side-saddle.

“Whose”—— said Tyrrel — but the rest of the question he seemed unable to utter.

The man, however, replied, as if he had heard the whole interrogation. —“Miss Mowbray’s, sir, of St. Ronan’s — she leaves directly — and so I am walking the pony — a clever thing, sir, for a lady.”

“She returns to Shaws-Castle by the Buck-stane road?”

“I suppose so, sir,” said the groom. “It is the nighest, and Miss Clara cares little for rough roads. Zounds! She can spank it over wet and dry.”

Tyrrel turned away from the man, and hastily left the hotel — not, however, by the road which led to the Aultoun, but by a footpath among the natural copsewood, which, following the course of the brook, intersected the usual horse-road to Shaws-Castle, the seat of Mr. Mowbray, at a romantic spot called the Buck-stane.

In a small peninsula, formed by a winding of the brook, was situated, on a rising hillock, a large rough-hewn pillar of stone, said by tradition to commemorate the fall of a stag of unusual speed, size, and strength, whose flight, after having lasted through a whole summer’s day, had there terminated in death, to the honour and glory of some ancient baron of St. Ronan’s, and of his stanch hounds. During the periodical cuttings of the copse, which the necessities of the family of St. Ronan’s brought round more frequently than Ponty would have recommended, some oaks had been spared in the neighbourhood of this massive obelisk, old enough perhaps to have heard the whoop and halloo which followed the fall of the stag, and to have witnessed the raising of the rude monument by which that great event was commemorated. These trees, with their broad spreading boughs, made a twilight even of noon-day; and, now that the sun was approaching its setting point, their shade already anticipated night. This was especially the case where three or four of them stretched their arms over a deep gully, through which winded the horse-path to Shaws-Castle, at a point about a pistol-shot distant from the Buck-stane. As the principal access to Mr. Mowbray’s mansion was by a carriage-way, which passed in a different direction, the present path was left almost in a state of nature, full of large stones, and broken by gullies, delightful, from the varied character of its banks, to the picturesque traveller, and most inconvenient, nay dangerous, to him who had a stumbling horse.

The footpath to the Buck-stane, which here joined the bridle-road, had been constructed, at the expense of a subscription, under the direction of Mr. Winterblossom, who had taste enough to see the beauties of this secluded spot, which was exactly such as in earlier times might have harboured the ambush of some marauding chief. This recollection had not escaped Tyrrel, to whom the whole scenery was familiar, who now hastened to the spot, as one which peculiarly suited his present purpose. He sat down by one of the larger projecting trees, and, screened by its enormous branches from observation, was enabled to watch the road from the Hotel for a great part of its extent, while he was himself invisible to any who might travel upon it.

Meanwhile his sudden departure excited a considerable sensation among the party whom he had just left, and who were induced to form conclusions not very favourable to his character. Sir Bingo, in particular, blustered loudly and more loudly, in proportion to the increasing distance betwixt himself and his antagonist, declaring his resolution to be revenged on the scoundrel for his insolence — to drive him from the neighbourhood — and I know not what other menaces of formidable import. The devil, in the old stories of diàblerie, was always sure to start up at the elbow of any one who nursed diabolical purposes, and only wanted a little backing from the foul fiend to carry his imaginations into action. The noble Captain MacTurk had so far this property of his infernal majesty, that the least hint of an approaching quarrel drew him always to the vicinity of the party concerned. He was now at Sir Bingo’s side, and was taking his own view of the matter, in his character of peace-maker.

“By Cot! and it’s very exceedingly true, my goot friend, Sir Binco — and as you say, it concerns your honour, and the honour of the place, and credit and character of the whole company, by Cot! that this matter be properly looked after; for, as I think, he laid hands on your body, my excellent goot friend.”

“Hands, Captain MacTurk!” exclaimed Sir Bingo, in some confusion; “no, blast him — not so bad as that neither — if he had, I should have handed him over the window — but, by — — the fellow had the impudence to offer to collar me — I had just stepped back to square at him, when, curse me, the blackguard ran away.”

“Right, vara right, Sir Bingo,” said the Man of Law, “a vara perfect blackguard, a poaching sorning sort of fallow, that I will have scoured out of the country before he be three days aulder. Fash you your beard nae farther about the matter, Sir Bingo.”

“By Cot! but I can tell you, Mr. Meiklewham,” said the Man of Peace, with great solemnity of visage, “that you are scalding your lips in other folk’s kale, and that it is necessary for the credit, and honour, and respect of this company, at the Well of St. Ronan’s, that Sir Bingo goes by more competent advice than yours upon the present occasion, Mr. Meiklewham; for though your counsel may do very well in a small debt court, here, you see, Mr. Meiklewham, is a question of honour, which is not a thing in your line, as I take it.”

“No, before George! it is not,” answered Meiklewham; “e’en take it all to yoursell, Captain, and meikle ye are likely to make on’t.”

“Then,” said the Captain, “Sir Binco, I will beg the favour of your company to the smoking room, where we may have a cigar and a glass of gin-twist; and we will consider how the honour of the company must be supported and upholden upon the present conjuncture.”

The Baronet complied with this invitation, as much, perhaps, in consequence of the medium through which the Captain intended to convey his warlike counsels, as for the pleasure with which he anticipated the result of these counsels themselves. He followed the military step of his leader, whose stride was more stiff, and his form more perpendicular, when exalted by the consciousness of an approaching quarrel, to the smoking-room, where, sighing as he lighted his cigar, Sir Bingo prepared to listen to the words of wisdom and valour, as they should flow in mingled stream from the lips of Captain MacTurk.

Meanwhile the rest of the company joined the ladies. “Here has been Clara,” said Lady Penelope to Mr. Mowbray; “here has been Miss Mowbray among us, like the ray of a sun which does but dazzle and die.”

“Ah, poor Clara,” said Mowbray; “I thought I saw her thread her way through the crowd a little while since, but I was not sure.”

“Well,” said Lady Penelope, “she has asked us all up to Shaws-Castle on Thursday, to a déjeûner à la fourchette — I trust you confirm your sister’s invitation, Mr. Mowbray?”

“Certainly, Lady Penelope,” replied Mowbray; “and I am truly glad Clara has had the grace to think of it — How we shall acquit ourselves is a different question, for neither she nor I are much accustomed to play host or hostess.”

“Oh! it will be delightful, I am sure,” said Lady Penelope; “Clara has a grace in every thing she does; and you, Mr. Mowbray, can be a perfectly well-bred gentleman — when you please.”

“That qualification is severe — Well — good manners be my speed — I will certainly please to do my best, when I see your ladyship at Shaws-Castle, which has received no company this many a day. — Clara and I have lived a wild life of it, each in their own way.”

“Indeed, Mr. Mowbray,” said Lady Binks, “if I might presume to speak — I think you do suffer your sister to ride about a little too much without an attendant. I know Miss Mowbray rides as woman never rode before, but still an accident may happen.”

“An accident?” replied Mowbray —“Ah, Lady Binks! accidents happen as frequently when ladies have attendants as when they are without them.”

Lady Binks, who, in her maiden state, had cantered a good deal about these woods under Sir Bingo’s escort, coloured, looked spiteful, and was silent.

“Besides,” said John Mowbray, more lightly, “where is the risk, after all? There are no wolves in our woods to eat up our pretty Red-Riding Hoods; and no lions either — except those of Lady Penelope’s train.”

“Who draw the car of Cybele,” said Mr. Chatterly.

Lady Penelope luckily did not understand the allusion, which was indeed better intended than imagined.

“Apropos!” she said; “what have you done with the great lion of the day? I see Mr. Tyrrel nowhere — Is he finishing an additional bottle with Sir Bingo?”

“Mr. Tyrrel, madam,” said Mowbray, “has acted successively the lion rampant, and the lion passant: he has been quarrelsome, and he has run away — fled from the ire of your doughty knight, Lady Binks.”

“I am sure I hope not,” said Lady Binks; “my Chevalier’s unsuccessful campaigns have been unable to overcome his taste for quarrels — a victory would make a fighting-man of him for life.”

“That inconvenience might bring its own consolations,” said Winterblossom, apart to Mowbray; “quarrellers do not usually live long.”

“No, no,” replied Mowbray, “the lady’s despair, which broke out just now, even in her own despite, is quite natural — absolutely legitimate. Sir Bingo will give her no chance that way.”

Mowbray then made his bow to Lady Penelope, and in answer to her request that he would join the ball or the card-table, observed, that he had no time to lose; that the heads of the old domestics at Shaws-Castle would be by this time absolutely turned, by the apprehensions of what Thursday was to bring forth; and that as Clara would certainly give no directions for the proper arrangements, it was necessary that he should take that trouble himself.

“If you ride smartly,” said Lady Penelope, “you may save even a temporary alarm, by overtaking Clara, dear creature, ere she gets home — She sometimes suffers her pony to go at will along the lane, as slow as Betty Foy’s.”

“Ah, but then,” said little Miss Digges, “Miss Mowbray sometimes gallops as if the lark was a snail to her pony — and it quite frights one to see her.”

The Doctor touched Mrs. Blower, who had approached so as to be on the verge of the genteel circle, though she did not venture within it — they exchanged sagacious looks, and a most pitiful shake of the head. Mowbray’s eye happened at that moment to glance on them; and doubtless, notwithstanding their hasting to compose their countenances to a different expression, he comprehended what was passing through their minds; — and perhaps it awoke a corresponding note in his own. He took his hat, and with a cast of thought upon his countenance which it seldom wore, left the apartment. A moment afterwards his horse’s feet were heard spurning the pavement, as he started off at a sharp pace.

“There is something singular about these Mowbrays to-night,” said Lady Penelope. —“Clara, poor dear angel, is always particular; but I should have thought Mowbray had too much worldly wisdom to be fanciful. — What are you consulting your souvenir for with such attention, my dear Lady Binks?”

“Only for the age of the moon,” said her ladyship, putting the little tortoise-shell-bound calendar into her reticule; and having done so, she proceeded to assist Lady Penelope in the arrangements for the evening.

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