"Indeed, I say, dear Lady Penelope," answered Miss Digges, whose ready chatter we have already introduced to the reader, "he is a very handsome man, though his nose is too big, and his mouth too wide—but his teeth are like pearl—and he has such eyes!—especially when your ladyship spoke to him. I don't think you looked at his eyes—they are quite deep and dark, and full of glow, like what you read to us in the letter from that lady, about Robert Burns."
"Upon my word, miss, you come on finely!" said Lady Penelope.—"One had need take care what they read or talk about before you, I see—Come, Jones, have mercy upon us—put an end to that symphony of tinkling cups and saucers, and let the first act of the tea-table begin, if you please."
"Does her leddyship mean the grace?" said honest Mrs. Blower, for the first time admitted into this worshipful society, and busily employed in arranging an Indian handkerchief, that might have made a mainsail for one of her husband's smuggling luggers, which she spread carefully on her knee, to prevent damage to a flowered black silk gown from the repast of tea and cake, to which she proposed to do due honour—"Does her leddyship mean the grace? I see the minister is just coming in.—Her leddyship waits till ye say a blessing, an ye please, sir."
Mr. Winterblossom, who toddled after the chaplain, his toe having given him an alert hint to quit the dining-table, though he saw every feature in the poor woman's face swoln with desire to procure information concerning the ways and customs of the place, passed on the other side of the way, regardless of her agony of curiosity.
A moment after, she was relieved by the entrance of Dr. Quackleben, whose maxim being, that one patient was as well worth attention as another, and who knew by experience, that the honoraria of a godly wife of the Bow-head were as apt to be forthcoming, (if not more so,) as my Lady Penelope's, he e'en sat himself quietly down by Mrs. Blower, and proceeded with the utmost kindness to enquire after her health, and to hope she had not forgotten taking a table-spoonful of spirits burnt to a residuum, in order to qualify the crudities.
"Indeed, Doctor," said the honest woman, "I loot the brandy burn as lang as I dought look at the gude creature wasting itsell that gate—and then, when I was fain to put it out for very thrift, I did take a thimbleful of it, (although it is not the thing I am used to, Dr. Quackleben,) and I winna say but that it did me good."
"Unquestionably, madam," said the Doctor, "I am no friend to the use of alcohol in general, but there are particular cases—there are particular cases, Mrs. Blower—My venerated instructor, one of the greatest men in our profession that ever lived, took a wine-glassful of old rum, mixed with sugar, every day after his dinner."
"Ay? dear heart, he would be a comfortable doctor that," said Mrs. Blower. "He wad maybe ken something of my case. Is he leevin' think ye, sir?"
"Dead for many years, madam," said Dr. Quackleben; "and there are but few of his pupils that can fill his place, I assure ye. If I could be thought an exception, it is only because I was a favourite. Ah! blessings on the old red cloak of him!—It covered more of the healing science than the gowns of a whole modern university."
"There is ane, sir," said Mrs. Blower, "that has been muckle recommended about Edinburgh—Macgregor, I think they ca' him—folk come far and near to see him."[I-15]
"I know whom you mean, ma'am—a clever man—no denying it—a clever man—but there are certain cases—yours, for example—and I think that of many that come to drink this water—which I cannot say I think he perfectly understands—hasty—very hasty and rapid. Now I—I give the disease its own way at first—then watch it, Mrs. Blower—watch the turn of the tide."
"Ay, troth, that's true," responded the widow; "John Blower was aye watching turn of tide, puir man."
"Then he is a starving doctor, Mrs. Blower—reduces diseases as soldiers do towns—by famine, not considering that the friendly inhabitants suffer as much as the hostile garrison—ahem!"
Here he gave an important and emphatic cough, and then proceeded.
"I am no friend either to excess or to violent stimulus, Mrs. Blower—but nature must be supported—a generous diet—cordials judiciously thrown in—not without the advice of a medical man—that is my opinion, Mrs. Blower, to speak as a friend—others may starve their patients if they have a mind."
"It wadna do for me, the starving, Dr. Keekerben," said the alarmed relict,—"it wadna do for me at a'—Just a' I can do to wear through the day with the sma' supports that nature requires—not a soul to look after me, Doctor, since John Blower was ta'en awa.—Thank ye kindly, sir," (to the servant who handed the tea,)—"thank ye, my bonny man," (to the page who served the cake)—"Now, dinna ye think, Doctor," (in a low and confidential voice,) "that her leddyship's tea is rather of the weakliest—water bewitched, I think—and Mrs. Jones, as they ca' her, has cut the seedcake very thin?"
"It is the fashion, Mrs. Blower," answered Dr. Quackleben; "and her ladyship's tea is excellent. But your taste is a little chilled, which is not uncommon at the first use of the waters, so that you are not sensible of the flavour—we must support the system—reinforce the digestive powers—give me leave—you are a stranger, Mrs. Blower, and we must take care of you—I have an elixir which will put that matter to rights in a moment."
So saying, Dr. Quackleben pulled from his pocket a small portable case of medicines—"Catch me without my tools,"—he said; "here I have the real useful pharmacopoeia—the rest is all humbug and hard names—this little case, with a fortnight or month, spring and fall, at St. Ronan's Well, and no one will die till his day come."
Thus boasting, the Doctor drew from his case a large vial or small flask, full of a high-coloured liquid, of which he mixed three tea-spoonfuls in Mrs. Blower's cup, who, immediately afterwards, allowed that the flavour was improved beyond all belief, and that it was "vera comfortable and restorative indeed."
"Will it not do good to my complaints, Doctor?" said Mr. Winterblossom, who had strolled towards them, and held out his cup to the physician.
"I by no means recommend it, Mr. Winterblossom," said Dr. Quackleben, shutting up his case with great coolness; "your case is oedematous, and you treat it your own way—you are as good a physician as I am, and I never interfere with another practitioner's patient."
"Well, Doctor," said Winterblossom, "I must wait till Sir Bingo comes in—he has a hunting-flask usually about him, which contains as good medicine as yours to the full."
"You will wait for Sir Bingo some time," said the Doctor; "he is a gentleman of sedentary habits—he has ordered another magnum."
"Sir Bingo is an unco name for a man o' quality, dinna ye think sae, Dr. Cocklehen?" said Mrs. Blower. "John Blower, when he was a wee bit in the wind's eye, as he ca'd it, puir fallow—used to sing a sang about a dog they ca'd Bingo, that suld hae belanged to a farmer."
"Our Bingo is but a puppy yet, madam—or if a dog, he is a sad dog," said Mr. Winterblossom, applauding his own wit, by one of his own inimitable smiles.
"Or a mad dog, rather," said Mr. Chatterly, "for he drinks no water;" and he also smiled gracefully at the thoughts of having trumped, as it were, the president's pun.
"Twa pleasant men, Doctor," said the widow, "and so is Sir Bungy too, for that matter; but O! is nae it a pity he should bide sae lang by the bottle? It was puir John Blower's faut too, that weary tippling; when he wan to the lee-side of a bowl of punch, there was nae raising him.—But they are taking awa the things, and, Doctor, is it not an awfu' thing that the creature-comforts should hae been used without grace or thanksgiving?—that Mr. Chitterling, if he really be a minister, has muckle to answer for, that he neglects his Master's service."
"Why, madam," said the Doctor, "Mr. Chatterly is scarce arrived at the rank of a minister plenipotentiary."
"A minister potentiary—ah, Doctor, I doubt that is some jest of yours," said the widow; "that's sae like puir John Blower. When I wad hae had him gie up the lovely Peggy, ship and cargo, (the vessel was named after me, Doctor Kittleben,) to be remembered in the prayers o' the congregation, he wad say to me, 'they may pray that stand the risk, Peggy Bryce, for I've made insurance.' He was a merry man, Doctor; but he had the root of the matter in him, for a' his light way of speaking, as deep as ony skipper that ever loosed anchor from Leith Roads. I hae been a forsaken creature since his death—O the weary days and nights that I have had!—and the weight on the spirits—the spirits, Doctor!—though I canna say I hae been easier since I hae been at the Wall than even now—if I kend what I was awing ye for elickstir, Doctor, for it's done me muckle heart's good, forby the opening of my mind to you."
"Fie, fie, ma'am," said the Doctor, as the widow pulled out a seal-skin pouch, such as sailors carry tobacco in, but apparently well stuffed with bank-notes,—"Fie, fie, madam—I am no apothecary—I have my diploma from Leyden—a regular physician, madam,—the elixir is heartily at your service; and should you want any advice, no man will be prouder to assist you than your humble servant."
"I am sure I am muckle obliged to your kindness, Dr. Kickalpin," said the widow, folding up her pouch; "this was puir John Blower's spleuchan,[I-16] as they ca' it—I e'en wear it for his sake. He was a kind man, and left me comfortable in warld's gudes; but comforts hae their cumbers,—to be a lone woman is a sair weird, Dr. Kittlepin."
Dr. Quackleben drew his chair a little nearer that of the widow, and entered into a closer communication with her, in a tone doubtless of more delicate consolation than was fit for the ears of the company at large.
One of the chief delights of a watering-place is, that every one's affairs seem to be put under the special surveillance of the whole company, so that, in all probability, the various flirtations, liaisons, and so forth, which naturally take place in the society, are not only the subject of amusement to the parties engaged, but also to the lookers on; that is to say, generally speaking, to the whole community, of which for the time the said parties are members. Lady Penelope, the presiding goddess of the region, watchful over all her circle, was not long of observing that the Doctor seemed to be suddenly engaged in close communication with the widow, and that he had even ventured to take hold of her fair plump hand, with a manner which partook at once of the gallant suitor, and of the medical adviser.
"For the love of Heaven," said her ladyship, "who can that comely dame be, on whom our excellent and learned Doctor looks with such uncommon regard?"
"Fat, fair, and forty," said Mr. Winterblossom; "that is all I know of her—a mercantile person."
"A carrack, Sir President," said the chaplain, "richly laden with colonial produce, by name the Lovely Peggy Bryce—no master—the late John Blower of North Leith having pushed off his boat for the Stygian Creek, and left the vessel without a hand on board."
"The Doctor," said Lady Penelope, turning her glass towards them, "seems willing to play the part of pilot."
"I dare say he will be willing to change her name and register," said Mr. Chatterly.
"He can be no less in common requital," said Winterblossom. "She has changed his name six times in the five minutes that I stood within hearing of them."
"What do you think of the matter, my dear Lady Binks?" said Lady Penelope.
"Madam?" said Lady Binks, starting from a reverie, and answering as one who either had not heard, or did not understand the question.
"I mean, what think you of what is going on yonder?"
Lady Binks turned her glass in the direction of Lady Penelope's glance, fixed the widow and the Doctor with one bold fashionable stare, and then dropping her hand slowly, said with indifference, "I really see nothing there worth thinking about."
"I dare say it is a fine thing to be married," said Lady Penelope; "one's thoughts, I suppose, are so much engrossed with one's own perfect happiness, that they have neither time nor inclination to laugh like other folks. Miss Rachel Bonnyrigg would have laughed till her eyes ran over, had she seen what Lady Binks cares so little about—I dare say it must be an all-sufficient happiness to be married."
"He would be a happy man that could convince your ladyship of that in good earnest," said Mr. Winterblossom.
"Oh, who knows—the whim may strike me," replied the lady; "but no—no—no;—and that is three times."
"Say it sixteen times more," said the gallant president, "and let nineteen nay-says be a grant."
"If I should say a thousand Noes, there exists not the alchymy in living man that could extract one Yes out of the whole mass," said her ladyship. "Blessed be the memory of Queen Bess!—She set us all an example to keep power when we have it—What noise is that?"
"Only the usual after-dinner quarrel," said the divine. "I hear the Captain's voice, else most silent, commanding them to keep peace, in the devil's name and that of the ladies."
"Upon my word, dearest Lady Binks, this is too bad of that lord and master of yours, and of Mowbray, who might have more sense, and of the rest of that claret-drinking set, to be quarrelling and alarming our nerves every evening with presenting their pistols perpetually at each other, like sportsmen confined to the house upon a rainy 12th of August. I am tired of the Peace-maker—he but skins the business over in one case to have it break out elsewhere.—What think you, love, if we were to give out in orders, that the next quarrel which may arise, shall be bona fide fought to an end?—We will all go out and see it, and wear the colours on each side; and if there should a funeral come of it, we will attend it in a body.—Weeds are so becoming!—Are they not, my dear Lady Binks? Look at Widow Blower in her deep black—don't you envy her, my love?"
Lady Binks seemed about to make a sharp and hasty answer, but checked herself, perhaps under the recollection that she could not prudently come to an open breach with Lady Penelope.—At the same moment the door opened, and a lady dressed in a riding-habit, and wearing a black veil over her hat, appeared at the entry of the apartment.
"Angels and ministers of grace!" exclaimed Lady Penelope, with her very best tragic start—"my dearest Clara, why so late? and why thus? Will you step to my dressing-room—Jones will get you one of my gowns—we are just of a size, you know—do, pray—let me be vain of something of my own for once, by seeing you wear it."
This was spoken in the tone of the fondest female friendship, and at the same time the fair hostess bestowed on Miss Mowbray one of those tender caresses, which ladies—God bless them!—sometimes bestow on each other with unnecessary prodigality, to the great discontent and envy of the male spectators.
"You are fluttered, my dearest Clara—you are feverish—I am sure you are," continued the sweetly anxious Lady Penelope; "let me persuade you to lie down."
"Indeed you are mistaken, Lady Penelope," said Miss Mowbray, who seemed to receive much as a matter of course her ladyship's profusion of affectionate politeness:—"I am heated, and my pony trotted hard, that is the whole mystery.—Let me have a cup of tea, Mrs. Jones, and the matter is ended."
"Fresh tea, Jones, directly," said Lady Penelope, and led her passive friend to her own corner, as she was pleased to call the recess, in which she held her little court—ladies and gentlemen curtsying and bowing as she passed; to which civilities the new guest made no more return, than the most ordinary politeness rendered unavoidable.
Lady Binks did not rise to receive her, but sat upright in her chair, and bent her head very stiffly; a courtesy which Miss Mowbray returned in the same stately manner, without farther greeting on either side.
"Now, wha can that be, Doctor?" said the Widow Blower—"mind ye have promised to tell me all about the grand folk—wha can that be that Leddy Penelope hauds such a racket wi'?—and what for does she come wi' a habit and a beaver-hat, when we are a' (a glance at her own gown) in our silks and satins?"
"To tell you who she is, my dear Mrs. Blower, is very easy," said the officious Doctor. "She is Miss Clara Mowbray, sister to the Lord of the Manor—the gentleman who wears the green coat, with an arrow on the cape. To tell why she wears that habit, or does any thing else, would be rather beyond doctor's skill. Truth is, I have always thought she was a little—a very little—touched—call it nerves—hypochondria—or what you will."
"Lord help us, puir thing!" said the compassionate widow.—"And troth it looks like it. But it's a shame to let her go loose, Doctor—she might hurt hersell, or somebody. See, she has ta'en the knife!—O, it's only to cut a shave of the diet-loaf. She winna let the powder-monkey of a boy help her. There's judgment in that though, Doctor, for she can cut thick or thin as she likes.—Dear me! she has not taken mair than a crumb, than ane would pit between the wires of a canary-bird's cage, after all.—I wish she would lift up that lang veil, or put off that riding-skirt, Doctor. She should really be showed the regulations, Doctor Kickelshin."
"She cares about no rules we can make, Mrs. Blower," said the Doctor; "and her brother's will and pleasure, and Lady Penelope's whim of indulging her, carry her through in every thing. They should take advice on her case."
"Ay, truly, it's time to take advice, when young creatures like her caper in amang dressed leddies, just as if they were come from scampering on Leith sands.—Such a wark as my leddy makes wi' her, Doctor! Ye would think they were baith fools of a feather."
"They might have flown on one wing, for what I know," said Dr. Quackleben; "but there was early and sound advice taken in Lady Penelope's case. My friend, the late Earl of Featherhead, was a man of judgment—did little in his family but by rule of medicine—so that, what with the waters, and what with my own care, Lady Penelope is only freakish—fanciful—that's all—and her quality bears it out—the peccant principle might have broken out under other treatment."
"Ay—she has been weel-friended," said the widow; "but this bairn Mowbray, puir thing! how came she to be sae left to hersell?"
"Her mother was dead—her father thought of nothing but his sports," said the Doctor. "Her brother was educated in England, and cared for nobody but himself, if he had been here. What education she got was at her own hand—what reading she read was in a library full of old romances—what friends or company she had was what chance sent her—then no family-physician, not even a good surgeon, within ten miles! And so you cannot wonder if the poor thing became unsettled."
"Puir thing!—no doctor!—nor even a surgeon!—But, Doctor," said the widow, "maybe the puir thing had the enjoyment of her health, ye ken, and, then"——
"Ah! ha, ha!—why then, madam, she needed a physician far more than if she had been delicate. A skilful physician, Mrs. Blower, knows how to bring down that robust health, which is a very alarming state of the frame when it is considered secundum artem. Most sudden deaths happen when people are in a robust state of health. Ah! that state of perfect health is what the doctor dreads most on behalf of his patient."
"Ay, ay, Doctor?—I am quite sensible, nae doubt," said the widow, "of the great advantage of having a skeelfu' person about ane."
Here the Doctor's voice, in his earnestness to convince Mrs. Blower of the danger of supposing herself capable of living and breathing without a medical man's permission, sunk into a soft pleading tone, of which our reporter could not catch the sound. He was, as great orators will sometimes be, "inaudible in the gallery."
Meanwhile, Lady Penelope overwhelmed Clara Mowbray with her caresses. In what degree her ladyship, at her heart, loved this young person, might be difficult to ascertain,—probably in the degree in which a child loves a favourite toy. But Clara was a toy not always to be come by—as whimsical in her way as her ladyship in her own, only that poor Clara's singularities were real, and her ladyship's chiefly affected. Without adopting the harshness of the Doctor's conclusions concerning the former, she was certainly unequal in her spirits; and her occasional fits of levity were chequered by very long intervals of sadness. Her levity also appeared, in the world's eye, greater than it really was; for she had never been under the restraint of society which was really good, and entertained an undue contempt for that which she sometimes mingled with; having unhappily none to teach her the important truth, that some forms and restraints are to be observed, less in respect to others than to ourselves. Her dress, her manners, and her ideas, were therefore very much her own; and though they became her wonderfully, yet, like Ophelia's garlands, and wild snatches of melody, they were calculated to excite compassion and melancholy, even while they amused the observer.
"And why came you not to dinner?—We expected you—your throne was prepared."
"I had scarce come to tea," said Miss Mowbray, "of my own freewill. But my brother says your ladyship proposes to come to Shaws-Castle, and he insisted it was quite right and necessary, to confirm you in so flattering a purpose, that I should come and say, Pray do, Lady Penelope; and so now here am I to say, Pray, do come."
"Is an invitation so flattering limited to me alone, my dear Clara?—Lady Binks will be jealous."
"Bring Lady Binks, if she has the condescension to honour us"—[a bow was very stiffly exchanged between the ladies]—"bring Mr. Springblossom—Winterblossom—and all the lions and lionesses—we have room for the whole collection. My brother, I suppose, will bring his own particular regiment of bears, which, with the usual assortment of monkeys seen in all caravans, will complete the menagerie. How you are to be entertained at Shaws-Castle, is, I thank Heaven, not my business, but John's."
"We shall want no formal entertainment, my love," said Lady Penelope; "a dejeuner a la fourchette—we know, Clara, you would die of doing the honours of a formal dinner."
"Not a bit; I should live long enough to make my will, and bequeath all large parties to old Nick, who invented them."
"Miss Mowbray," said Lady Binks, who had been thwarted by this free-spoken young lady, both in her former character of a coquette and romp, and in that of a prude which she at present wore—"Miss Mowbray declares for
'Champagne and a chicken at last.'"
"The chicken without the champagne, if you please," said Miss Mowbray; "I have known ladies pay dear to have champagne on the board.—By the by, Lady Penelope, you have not your collection in the same order and discipline as Pidcock and Polito. There was much growling and snarling in the lower den when I passed it."
"It was feeding-time, my love," said Lady Penelope; "and the lower animals of every class become pugnacious at that hour—you see all our safer and well-conditioned animals are loose, and in good order."
"Oh, yes—in the keeper's presence, you know—Well, I must venture to cross the hall again among all that growling and grumbling—I would I had the fairy prince's quarters of mutton to toss among them if they should break out—He, I mean, who fetched water from the Fountain of Lions. However, on second thoughts, I will take the back way, and avoid them.—What says honest Bottom?—
'For if they should as lions come in strife Into such place, 'twere pity of their life.'"
"Shall I go with you, my dear?" said Lady Penelope.
"No—I have too great a soul for that—I think some of them are lions only as far as the hide is concerned."
"But why would you go so soon, Clara?"
"Because my errand is finished—have I not invited you and yours? and would not Lord Chesterfield himself allow I have done the polite thing?"
"But you have spoke to none of the company—how can you be so odd, my love?" said her ladyship.
"Why, I spoke to them all when I spoke to you and Lady Binks—but I am a good girl, and will do as I am bid."
So saying, she looked round the company, and addressed each of them with an affectation of interest and politeness, which thinly concealed scorn and contempt.
"Mr. Winterblossom, I hope the gout is better—Mr. Robert Rymar—(I have escaped calling him Thomas for once)—I hope the public give encouragement to the muses—Mr. Keelavine, I trust your pencil is busy—Mr. Chatterly, I have no doubt your flock improves—Dr. Quackleben, I am sure your patients recover—These are all the especials of the worthy company I know—for the rest, health to the sick, and pleasure to the healthy!"
"You are not going in reality, my love?" said Lady Penelope; "these hasty rides agitate your nerves—they do, indeed—you should be cautious—Shall I speak to Quackleben?"
"To neither Quack nor quackle, on my account, my dear lady. It is not as you would seem to say, by your winking at Lady Binks—it is not, indeed—I shall be no Lady Clementina, to be the wonder and pity of the spring of St. Ronan's—No Ophelia neither—though I will say with her, Good-night, ladies—Good night, sweet ladies!—and now—not my coach, my coach—but my horse, my horse!"
So saying, she tripped out of the room by a side passage, leaving the ladies looking at each other significantly, and shaking their heads with an expression of much import.
"Something has ruffled the poor unhappy girl," said Lady Penelope; "I never saw her so very odd before."
"Were I to speak my mind," said Lady Binks, "I think, as Mrs. Highmore says in the farce, her madness is but a poor excuse for her impertinence."
"Oh fie! my sweet Lady Binks," said Lady Penelope, "spare my poor favourite! You, surely, of all others, should forgive the excesses of an amiable eccentricity of temper.—Forgive me, my love, but I must defend an absent friend—My Lady Binks, I am very sure, is too generous and candid to
'Hate for arts which caused herself to rise.'"
"Not being conscious of any high elevation, my lady," answered Lady Binks, "I do not know any arts I have been under the necessity of practising to attain it. I suppose a Scotch lady of an ancient family may become the wife of an English baronet, and no very extraordinary great cause to wonder at it."
"No, surely—but people in this world will, you know, wonder at nothing," answered Lady Penelope.
"If you envy me my poor quiz, Sir Bingo, I'll get you a better, Lady Pen."
"I don't doubt your talents, my dear, but when I want one, I will get one for myself.—But here comes the whole party of quizzes.—Joliffe, offer the gentlemen tea—then get the floor ready for the dancers, and set the card-tables in the next room."
[I-15] The late Dr. Gregory is probably intimated, as one of the celebrated Dr. Cullen's personal habits is previously mentioned. Dr. Gregory was distinguished for putting his patients on a severe regimen.
[I-16] A fur pouch for keeping tobacco.
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 diablerie, 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 dejeuner a 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.
We meet as shadows in the land of dreams, Which speak not but in signs.
Behind one of the old oaks which we have described in the preceding chapter, shrouding himself from observation like a hunter watching for his game, or an Indian for his enemy, but with different, very different purpose, Tyrrel lay on his breast near the Buck-stane, his eye on the horse-road which winded down the valley, and his ear alertly awake to every sound which mingled with the passing breeze, or with the ripple of the brook.
"To have met her in yonder congregated assembly of brutes and fools"—such was a part of his internal reflections,—"had been little less than an act of madness—madness almost equal in its degree to that cowardice which has hitherto prevented my approaching her, when our eventful meeting might have taken place unobserved.—But now—now—my resolution is as fixed as the place is itself favourable. I will not wait till some chance again shall throw us together, with an hundred malignant eyes to watch, and wonder, and stare, and try in vain to account for the expression of feelings which I might find it impossible to suppress.—Hark—hark!—I hear the tread of a horse—No—it was the changeful sound of the water rushing over the pebbles. Surely she cannot have taken the other road to Shaws-Castle!—No—the sounds become distinct—her figure is visible on the path, coming swiftly forward.—Have I the courage to show myself?—I have—the hour is come, and what must be shall be."
Yet this resolution was scarcely formed ere it began to fluctuate, when he reflected upon the fittest manner of carrying it into execution. To show himself at a distance, might give the lady an opportunity of turning back and avoiding the interview which he had determined upon—to hide himself till the moment when her horse, in rapid motion, should pass his lurking-place, might be attended with danger to the rider—and while he hesitated which course to pursue, there was some chance of his missing the opportunity of presenting himself to Miss Mowbray at all. He was himself sensible of this, formed a hasty and desperate resolution not to suffer the present moment to escape, and, just as the ascent induced the pony to slacken its pace, Tyrrel stood in the middle of the defile, about six yards distant from the young lady.
She pulled up the reins, and stopped as if arrested by a thunderbolt.—"Clara!"—"Tyrrel!" These were the only words which were exchanged between them, until Tyrrel, moving his feet as slowly as if they had been of lead, began gradually to diminish the distance which lay betwixt them. It was then that, observing his closer approach, Miss Mowbray called out with great eagerness,—"No nearer—no nearer!—So long have I endured your presence, but if you approach me more closely, I shall be mad indeed!"
"What do you fear?" said Tyrrel, in a hollow voice—"What can you fear?" and he continued to draw nearer, until they were within a pace of each other.
Clara, meanwhile, dropping her bridle, clasped her hands together, and held them up towards Heaven, muttering, in a voice scarcely audible, "Great God!—If this apparition be formed by my heated fancy, let it pass away; if it be real, enable me to bear its presence!—Tell me, I conjure you, are you Francis Tyrrel in blood and body, or is this but one of those wandering visions, that have crossed my path and glared on me, but without daring to abide my steadfast glance?"
"I am Francis Tyrrel," answered he, "in blood and body, as much as she to whom I speak is Clara Mowbray."
"Then God have mercy on us both!" said Clara, in a tone of deep feeling.
"Amen!" said Tyrrel.—"But what avails this excess of agitation?—You saw me but now, Miss Mowbray—Your voice still rings in my ears—You saw me but now—you spoke to me—and that when I was among strangers—Why not preserve your composure, when we are where no human eye can see—no human ear can hear?"
"Is it so?" said Clara; "and was it indeed yourself whom I saw even now?—I thought so, and something I said at the time—but my brain has been but ill settled since we last met—But I am well now—quite well—I have invited all the people yonder to come to Shaws-Castle—my brother desired me to do it—I hope I shall have the pleasure of seeing Mr. Tyrrel there—though I think there is some old grudge between my brother and you."
"Alas! Clara, you mistake. Your brother I have scarcely seen," replied Tyrrel, much distressed, and apparently uncertain in what tone to address her, which might soothe, and not irritate her mental malady, of which he could now entertain no doubt.
"True—true," she said, after a moment's reflection, "my brother was then at college. It was my father, my poor father, whom you had some quarrel with.—But you will come to Shaws-Castle on Thursday, at two o'clock?—John will be glad to see you—he can be kind when he pleases—and then we will talk of old times—I must get on, to have things ready—Good evening."
She would have passed him, but he took gently hold of the rein of her bridle.—"I will walk with you, Clara," he said; "the road is rough and dangerous—you ought not to ride fast.—I will walk along with you, and we will talk of former times now, more conveniently than in company."
"True—true—very true, Mr. Tyrrel—it shall be as you say. My brother obliges me sometimes to go into company at that hateful place down yonder; and I do so because he likes it, and because the folks let me have my own way, and come and go as I list. Do you know, Tyrrel, that very often when I am there, and John has his eye on me, I can carry it on as gaily as if you and I had never met?"
"I would to God we never had," said Tyrrel, in a trembling voice, "since this is to be the end of all!"
"And wherefore should not sorrow be the end of sin and of folly? And when did happiness come of disobedience?—And when did sound sleep visit a bloody pillow? That is what I say to myself, Tyrrel, and that is what you must learn to say too, and then you will bear your burden as cheerfully as I endure mine. If we have no more than our deserts, why should we complain?—You are shedding tears, I think—Is not that childish?—They say it is a relief—if so, weep on, and I will look another way."
Tyrrel walked on by the pony's side, in vain endeavouring to compose himself so as to reply.
"Poor Tyrrel," said Clara, after she had remained silent for some time—"Poor Frank Tyrrel!—Perhaps you will say in your turn, Poor Clara—but I am not so poor in spirit as you—the blast may bend, but it shall never break me."
There was another long pause; for Tyrrel was unable to determine with himself in what strain he could address the unfortunate young lady, without awakening recollections equally painful to her feelings, and dangerous, when her precarious state of health was considered. At length she herself proceeded:—
"What needs all this, Tyrrel?—and indeed, why came you here?—Why did I find you but now brawling and quarrelling among the loudest of the brawlers and quarrellers of yonder idle and dissipated debauchees?—You were used to have more temper—more sense. Another person—ay, another that you and I once knew—he might have committed such a folly, and he would have acted perhaps in character.—But you, who pretend to wisdom—for shame, for shame!—And indeed, when we talk of that, what wisdom was there in coming hither at all?—or what good purpose can your remaining here serve?—Surely you need not come, either to renew your own unhappiness or to augment mine?"
"To augment yours—God forbid!" answered Tyrrel. "No—I came hither only because, after so many years of wandering, I longed to revisit the spot where all my hopes lay buried."
"Ay—buried is the word," she replied, "crushed down and buried when they budded fairest. I often think of it, Tyrrel; and there are times when, Heaven help me! I can think of little else.—Look at me—you remember what I was—see what grief and solitude have made me."
She flung back the veil which surrounded her riding-hat, and which had hitherto hid her face. It was the same countenance which he had formerly known in all the bloom of early beauty; but though the beauty remained, the bloom was fled for ever. Not the agitation of exercise—not that which arose from the pain and confusion of this unexpected interview, had called to poor Clara's cheek even the momentary semblance of colour. Her complexion was marble-white, like that of the finest piece of statuary.
"Is it possible?" said Tyrrel; "can grief have made such ravages?"
"Grief," replied Clara, "is the sickness of the mind, and its sister is the sickness of the body—they are twin-sisters, Tyrrel, and are seldom long separate. Sometimes the body's disease comes first, and dims our eyes and palsies our hands, before the fire of our mind and of our intellect is quenched. But mark me—soon after comes her cruel sister with her urn, and sprinkles cold dew on our hopes and on our loves, our memory, our recollections, and our feelings, and shows us that they cannot survive the decay of our bodily powers."
"Alas!" said Tyrrel, "is it come to this?"
"To this," she replied, speaking from the rapid and irregular train of her own ideas, rather than comprehending the purport of his sorrowful exclamation,—"to this it must ever come, while immortal souls are wedded to the perishable substance of which our bodies are composed. There is another state, Tyrrel, in which it will be otherwise—God grant our time of enjoying it were come!"
She fell into a melancholy pause, which Tyrrel was afraid to disturb. The quickness with which she spoke, marked but too plainly the irregular succession of thought, and he was obliged to restrain the agony of his own feelings, rendered more acute by a thousand painful recollections, lest, by giving way to his expressions of grief, he should throw her into a still more disturbed state of mind.
"I did not think," she proceeded, "that after so horrible a separation, and so many years, I could have met you thus calmly and reasonably. But although what we were formerly to each other can never be forgotten, it is now all over, and we are only friends—Is it not so?"
Tyrrel was unable to reply.
"But I must not remain here," she said, "till the evening grows darker on me.—We shall meet again, Tyrrel—meet as friends—nothing more—You will come up to Shaws-Castle and see me?—no need of secrecy now—my poor father is in his grave, and his prejudices sleep with him—my brother John is kind, though he is stern and severe sometimes—Indeed, Tyrrel, I believe he loves me, though he has taught me to tremble at his frown when I am in spirits, and talk too much—But he loves me, at least I think so, for I am sure I love him; and I try to go down amongst them yonder, and to endure their folly, and, all things considered, I do carry on the farce of life wonderfully well—We are but actors, you know, and the world but a stage."
"And ours has been a sad and tragic scene," said Tyrrel, in the bitterness of his heart, unable any longer to refrain from speech.
"It has indeed—but, Tyrrel, when was it otherwise with engagements formed in youth and in folly? You and I would, you know, become men and women, while we were yet scarcely more than children—We have run, while yet in our nonage, through the passions and adventures of youth, and therefore we are now old before our day, and the winter of our life has come on ere its summer was well begun.—O Tyrrel! often and often have I thought of this!—Thought of it often? Alas, when will the time come that I shall be able to think of any thing else!"
The poor young woman sobbed bitterly, and her tears began to flow with a freedom which they had not probably enjoyed for a length of time. Tyrrel walked on by the side of her horse, which now prosecuted its road homewards, unable to devise a proper mode of addressing the unfortunate young lady, and fearing alike to awaken her passions and his own. Whatever he might have proposed to say, was disconcerted by the plain indications that her mind was clouded, more or less slightly, with a shade of insanity, which deranged, though it had not destroyed, her powers of judgment.
At length he asked her, with as much calmness as he could assume—if she was contented—if aught could be done to render her situation more easy—if there was aught of which she could complain which he might be able to remedy? She answered gently, that she was calm and resigned, when her brother would permit her to stay at home; but that when she was brought into society, she experienced such a change as that which the water of the brook that slumbers in a crystalline pool of the rock may be supposed to feel, when, gliding from its quiet bed, it becomes involved in the hurry of the cataract.
"But my brother Mowbray," she said, "thinks he is right,—and perhaps he is so. There are things on which we may ponder too long;—and were he mistaken, why should I not constrain myself in order to please him—there are so few left to whom I can now give either pleasure or pain?—I am a gay girl, too, in conversation, Tyrrel—still as gay for a moment, as when you used to chide me for my folly. So, now I have told you all,—I have one question to ask on my part—one question—if I had but breath to ask it—Is he still alive?"
"He lives," answered Tyrrel, but in a tone so low, that nought but the eager attention which Miss Mowbray paid could possibly have caught such feeble sounds.
"Lives!" she exclaimed,—"lives!—he lives, and the blood on your hand is not then indelibly imprinted—O Tyrrel, did you but know the joy which this assurance gives to me!"
"Joy!" replied Tyrrel—"joy, that the wretch lives who has poisoned our happiness for ever?—lives, perhaps, to claim you for his own?"
"Never, never shall he—dare he do so," replied Clara, wildly, "while water can drown, while cords can strangle, steel pierce—while there is a precipice on the hill, a pool in the river—never—never!"
"Be not thus agitated, my dearest Clara," said Tyrrel; "I spoke I know not what—he lives indeed—but far distant, and, I trust, never again to revisit Scotland."
He would have said more, but that, agitated with fear or passion, she struck her horse impatiently with her riding-whip. The spirited animal, thus stimulated and at the same time restrained, became intractable, and reared so much, that Tyrrel, fearful of the consequences, and trusting to Clara's skill as a horsewoman, thought he best consulted her safety in letting go the rein. The animal instantly sprung forward on the broken and hilly path at a very rapid pace, and was soon lost to Tyrrel's anxious eyes.
As he stood pondering whether he ought not to follow Miss Mowbray towards Shaws-Castle, in order to be satisfied that no accident had befallen her on the road, he heard the tread of a horse's feet advancing hastily in the same direction, leading from the hotel. Unwilling to be observed at this moment, he stepped aside under shelter of the underwood, and presently afterwards saw Mr. Mowbray of St. Ronan's, followed by a groom, ride hastily past his lurking-place, and pursue the same road which had been just taken by his sister. The presence of her brother seemed to assure Miss Mowbray's safety, and so removed Tyrrel's chief reason for following her. Involved in deep and melancholy reflection upon what had passed, nearly satisfied that his longer residence in Clara's vicinity could only add to her unhappiness and his own, yet unable to tear himself from that neighbourhood, or to relinquish feelings which had become entwined with his heart-strings, he returned to his lodgings in the Aultoun, in a state of mind very little to be envied.
Tyrrel, on entering his apartment, found that it was not lighted, nor were the Abigails of Mrs. Dods quite so alert as a waiter at Long's might have been, to supply him with candles. Unapt at any time to exact much personal attendance, and desirous to shun at that moment the necessity of speaking to any person whatever, even on the most trifling subject, he walked down into the kitchen to supply himself with what he wanted. He did not at first observe that Mrs. Dods herself was present in this the very centre of her empire, far less that a lofty air of indignation was seated on the worthy matron's brow. At first it only vented itself in broken soliloquy and interjections; as, for example, "Vera bonny wark this!—vera creditable wark, indeed!—a decent house to be disturbed at these hours—Keep a public—as weel keep a bedlam!"
Finding these murmurs attracted no attention, the dame placed herself betwixt her guest and the door, to which he was now retiring with his lighted candle, and demanded of him what was the meaning of such behaviour.
"Of what behaviour, madam?" said her guest, repeating her question in a tone of sternness and impatience so unusual with him, that perhaps she was sorry at the moment that she had provoked him out of his usual patient indifference; nay, she might even feel intimidated at the altercation she had provoked, for the resentment of a quiet and patient person has always in it something formidable to the professed and habitual grumbler. But her pride was too great to think of a retreat, after having sounded the signal for contest, and so she continued, though in a tone somewhat lowered.
"Maister Tirl, I wad but just ask you, that are a man of sense, whether I hae ony right to take your behaviour weel? Here have you been these ten days and mair, eating the best, and drinking the best, and taking up the best room in my house; and now to think of your gaun doun and taking up with yon idle harebrained cattle at the Waal—I maun e'en be plain wi' ye—I like nane of the fair-fashioned folk that can say My Jo and think it no; and therefore"——
"Mrs. Dods," said Tyrrel, interrupting her, "I have no time at present for trifles. I am obliged to you for your attention while I have been in your house; but the disposal of my time, here or elsewhere, must be according to my own ideas of pleasure or business—If you are tired of me as a guest, send in your bill to-morrow."
"My bill!" said Mrs. Dods; "my bill to-morrow! And what for no wait till Saturday, when it may be cleared atween us, plack and bawbee, as it was on Saturday last?"
"Well—we will talk of it to-morrow, Mrs. Dods—Good-night." And he withdrew accordingly.
Luckie Dods stood ruminating for a moment. "The deil's in him," she said, "for he winna bide being thrawn. And I think the deil's in me too for thrawing him, sic a canny lad, and sae gude a customer;—and I am judging he has something on his mind—want of siller it canna be—I am sure if I thought that, I wadna care about my small thing.—But want o' siller it canna be—he pays ower the shillings as if they were sclate stanes, and that's no the way that folk part with their siller when there's but little on't—I ken weel eneugh how a customer looks that's near the grund of the purse.—Weel! I hope he winna mind ony thing of this nonsense the morn, and I'll try to guide my tongue something better.—Hegh, sirs! but, as the minister says, it's an unruly member—troth, I am whiles ashamed o't mysell."
Come, let me have thy counsel, for I need it; Thou art of those, who better help their friends With sage advice, than usurers with gold, Or brawlers with their swords—I'll trust to thee, For I ask only from thee words, not deeds.
The Devil hath met his Match.
The day of which we last gave the events chanced to be Monday, and two days therefore intervened betwixt it and that for which the entertainment was fixed, that was to assemble in the halls of the Lord of the Manor the flower of the company now at St. Ronan's Well. The interval was but brief for the preparations necessary on an occasion so unusual; since the house, though delightfully situated, was in very indifferent repair, and for years had never received any visitors, except when some blithe bachelor or fox-hunter shared the hospitality of Mr. Mowbray; an event which became daily more and more uncommon; for, as he himself almost lived at the Well, he generally contrived to receive his companions where it could be done without expense to himself. Besides, the health of his sister afforded an irresistible apology to any of those old-fashioned Scottish gentlemen, who might be too apt (in the rudeness of more primitive days) to consider a friend's house as their own. Mr. Mowbray was now, however, to the great delight of all his companions, nailed down, by invitation given and accepted, and they looked forward to the accomplishment of his promise, with the eagerness which the prospect of some entertaining novelty never fails to produce among idlers.
A good deal of trouble devolved on Mr. Mowbray, and his trusty agent Mr. Meiklewham, before any thing like decent preparation could be made for the ensuing entertainment; and they were left to their unassisted endeavours by Clara, who, during both the Tuesday and Wednesday, obstinately kept herself secluded; nor could her brother, either by threats or flattery, extort from her any light concerning her purpose on the approaching and important Thursday. To do John Mowbray justice, he loved his sister as much as he was capable of loving any thing but himself; and when, in several arguments, he had the mortification to find that she was not to be prevailed on to afford her assistance, he, without complaint, quietly set himself to do the best he could by his own unassisted judgment or opinion with regard to the necessary preparations.
This was not, at present, so easy a task as might be supposed: for Mowbray was ambitious of that character of ton and elegance, which masculine faculties alone are seldom capable of attaining on such momentous occasions. The more solid materials of a collation were indeed to be obtained for money from the next market-town, and were purchased accordingly; but he felt it was likely to present the vulgar plenty of a farmer's feast, instead of the elegant entertainment, which might be announced in a corner of the county paper, as given by John Mowbray, Esq. of St. Ronan's, to the gay and fashionable company assembled at that celebrated spring. There was likely to be all sorts of error and irregularity in dishing, and in sending up; for Shaws-Castle boasted neither an accomplished housekeeper, nor a kitchenmaid with a hundred pair of hands to execute her mandates. All the domestic arrangements were on the minutest system of economy consistent with ordinary decency, except in the stables, which were excellent and well kept. But can a groom of the stables perform the labours of a groom of the chambers? or can the gamekeeper arrange in tempting order the carcasses of the birds he has shot, strew them with flowers, and garnish them with piquant sauces? It would be as reasonable to expect a gallant soldier to act as undertaker, and conduct the funeral of the enemy he has slain.
In a word, Mowbray talked, and consulted, and advised, and squabbled, with the deaf cook, and a little old man whom he called the butler, until he at length perceived so little chance of bringing order out of confusion, or making the least advantageous impression on such obdurate understandings as he had to deal with, that he fairly committed the whole matter of the collation, with two or three hearty curses, to the charge of the officials principally concerned, and proceeded to take the state of the furniture and apartments under his consideration.
Here he found himself almost equally helpless; for what male wit is adequate to the thousand little coquetries practised in such arrangements? how can masculine eyes judge of the degree of demi-jour which is to be admitted into a decorated apartment, or discriminate where the broad light should be suffered to fall on a tolerable picture, where it should be excluded, lest the stiff daub of a periwigged grandsire should become too rigidly prominent? And if men are unfit for weaving such a fairy web of light and darkness as may best suit furniture, ornaments, and complexions, how shall they be adequate to the yet more mysterious office of arranging, while they disarrange, the various movables in the apartment? so that while all has the air of negligence and chance, the seats are placed as if they had been transported by a wish to the spot most suitable for accommodation; stiffness and confusion are at once avoided, the company are neither limited to a formal circle of chairs, nor exposed to break their noses over wandering stools; but the arrangements seem to correspond to what ought to be the tone of the conversation, easy, without being confused, and regulated, without being constrained or stiffened.
Then how can a clumsy male wit attempt the arrangement of all the chiffonerie, by which old snuff-boxes, heads of canes, pomander boxes, lamer beads, and all the trash usually found in the pigeon-holes of the bureaus of old-fashioned ladies, may be now brought into play, by throwing them, carelessly grouped with other unconsidered trifles, such as are to be seen in the windows of a pawnbroker's shop, upon a marble encognure, or a mosaic work-table, thereby turning to advantage the trash and trinketry, which all the old maids or magpies, who have inhabited the mansion for a century, have contrived to accumulate. With what admiration of the ingenuity of the fair artist have I sometimes pried into these miscellaneous groups of pseudo-bijouterie, and seen the great grandsire's thumb-ring couchant with the coral and bells of the first-born—and the boatswain's whistle of some old naval uncle, or his silver tobacco-box, redolent of Oroonoko, happily grouped with the mother's ivory comb-case, still odorous of musk, and with some virgin aunt's tortoise-shell spectacle-case, and the eagle's talon of ebony, with which, in the days of long and stiff stays, our grandmothers were wont to alleviate any little irritation in their back or shoulders! Then there was the silver strainer, on which, in more economical times than ours, the lady of the house placed the tea-leaves, after the very last drop had been exhausted, that they might afterwards be hospitably divided among the company, to be eaten with sugar, and with bread and butter. Blessings upon a fashion which has rescued from the claws of abigails, and the melting-pot of the silversmith, those neglected cimelia, for the benefit of antiquaries and the decoration of side-tables! But who shall presume to place them there, unless under the direction of female taste? and of that Mr. Mowbray, though possessed of a large stock of such treasures, was for the present entirely deprived.
This digression upon his difficulties is already too long, or I might mention the Laird's inexperience in the art of making the worse appear the better garnishment, of hiding a darned carpet with a new floor-cloth, and flinging an Indian shawl over a faded and threadbare sofa. But I have said enough, and more than enough, to explain his dilemma to an unassisted bachelor, who, without mother, sister, or cousin, without skilful housekeeper, or experienced clerk of the kitchen, or valet of parts and figure, adventures to give an entertainment, and aspires to make it elegant and comme il faut.
The sense of his insufficiency was the more vexatious to Mowbray, as he was aware he would find sharp critics in the ladies, and particularly in his constant rival, Lady Penelope Penfeather. He was, therefore, incessant in his exertions; and for two whole days ordered and disordered, demanded, commanded, countermanded, and reprimanded, without pause or cessation. The companion, for he could not be termed an assistant, of his labours, was his trusty agent, who trotted from room to room after him, affording him exactly the same degree of sympathy which a dog doth to his master when distressed in mind, by looking in his face from time to time with a piteous gaze, as if to assure him that he partakes of his trouble, though he neither comprehends the cause or the extent of it, nor has in the slightest degree the power to remove it.
At length when Mowbray had got some matters arranged to his mind, and abandoned a great many which he would willingly have put in better order, he sat down to dinner upon the Wednesday preceding the appointed day, with his worthy aide-de-camp, Mr. Meiklewham; and after bestowing a few muttered curses upon the whole concern, and the fantastic old maid who had brought him into the scrape, by begging an invitation, declared that all things might now go to the devil their own way, for so sure as his name was John Mowbray, he would trouble himself no more about them.
Keeping this doughty resolution, he sat down to dinner with his counsel learned in the law; and speedily they dispatched the dish of chops which was set before them, and the better part of the bottle of old port, which served for its menstruum.
"We are well enough now," said Mowbray, "though we have had none of their d——d kickshaws."
"A wamefou' is a wamefou'," said the writer, swabbing his greasy chops, "whether it be of the barleymeal or the bran."
"A cart-horse thinks so," said Mowbray; "but we must do as others do, and gentlemen and ladies are of a different opinion."
"The waur for themselves and the country baith, St. Ronan's—it's the jinketing and the jirbling wi' tea and wi' trumpery that brings our nobles to nine-pence, and mony a het ha'-house to a hired lodging in the Abbey."