The young gentleman paused for a few minutes—filled a bumper, and pushed the bottle to the senior—then said abruptly, "Do you believe in luck, Mick?"
"In luck?" answered the attorney; "what do you mean by the question?"
"Why, because I believe in luck myself—in a good or bad run of luck at cards."
"You wad have mair luck the day, if you had never touched them," replied his confident.
"That is not the question now," said Mowbray; "but what I wonder at is the wretched chance that has attended us miserable Lairds of St. Ronan's for more than a hundred years, that we have always been getting worse in the world, and never better. Never has there been such a backsliding generation, as the parson would say—half the country once belonged to my ancestors, and now the last furrows of it seem to be flying."
"Fleeing!" said the writer, "they are barking and fleeing baith.—This Shaws-Castle here, I'se warrant it flee up the chimney after the rest, were it not weel fastened down with your grandfather's tailzie."
"Damn the tailzie!" said Mowbray; "if they had meant to keep up their estate, they should have entailed it when it was worth keeping: to tie a man down to such an insignificant thing as St. Ronan's, is like tethering a horse on six roods of a Highland moor."
"Ye have broke weel in on the mailing by your feus down at the Well," said Meiklewham, "and raxed ower the tether maybe a wee bit farther than ye had ony right to do."
"It was by your advice, was it not?" said the Laird.
"I'se ne'er deny it, St. Ronan's," answered the writer; "but I am such a gude-natured guse, that I just set about pleasing you as an auld wife pleases a bairn."
"Ay," said the man of pleasure, "when she reaches it a knife to cut its own fingers with.—These acres would have been safe enough, if it had not been for your d——d advice."
"And yet you were grumbling e'en now," said the man of business, "that you have not the power to gar the whole estate flee like a wild-duck across a bog? Troth, you need care little about it; for if you have incurred an irritancy—and sae thinks Mr. Wisebehind, the advocate, upon an A. B. memorial that I laid before him—your sister, or your sister's goodman, if she should take the fancy to marry, might bring a declarator, and evict St. Ronan's frae ye in the course of twa or three sessions."
"My sister will never marry," said John Mowbray.
"That's easily said," replied the writer; "but as broken a ship's come to land. If ony body kend o' the chance she has o' the estate, there's mony a weel-doing man would think little of the bee in her bonnet."
"Harkye, Mr. Meiklewham," said the Laird, "I will be obliged to you if you will speak of Miss Mowbray with the respect due to her father's daughter, and my sister."
"Nae offence, St. Ronan's, nae offence," answered the man of law; "but ilka man maun speak sae as to be understood,—that is, when he speaks about business. Ye ken yoursell, that Miss Clara is no just like other folk; and were I you—it's my duty to speak plain—I wad e'en gie in a bit scroll of a petition to the Lords, to be appointed Curator Bonis, in respect of her incapacity to manage her own affairs."
"Meiklewham," said Mowbray, "you are a"——and then stopped short.
"What am I, Mr. Mowbray?" said Meiklewham, somewhat sternly—"What am I? I wad be glad to ken what I am."
"A very good lawyer, I dare say," replied St. Ronan's, who was too much in the power of his agent to give way to his first impulse. "But I must tell you, that rather than take such a measure against poor Clara, as you recommend, I would give her up the estate, and become an ostler or a postilion for the rest of my life."
"Ah, St. Ronan's," said the man of law, "if you had wished to keep up the auld house, you should have taken another trade, than to become an ostler or a postilion. What ailed you, man, but to have been a lawyer as weel as other folk? My auld Maister had a wee bit Latin about rerum dominos gentemque togatam, whilk signified, he said, that all lairds should be lawyers."
"All lawyers are likely to become lairds, I think," replied Mowbray; "they purchase our acres by the thousand, and pay us, according to the old story, with a multiplepoinding, as your learned friends call it, Mr. Meiklewham."
"Weel—and mightna you have purchased as weel as other folk?"
"Not I," replied the Laird; "I have no turn for that service, I should only have wasted bombazine on my shoulders, and flour upon my three-tailed wig—should but have lounged away my mornings in the Outer-House, and my evenings at the play-house, and acquired no more law than what would have made me a wise justice at a Small-debt Court."
"If you gained little, you would have lost as little," said Meiklewham; "and albeit ye were nae great gun at the bar, ye might aye have gotten a Sheriffdom, or a Commissaryship, amang the lave, to keep the banes green; and sae ye might have saved your estate from deteriorating, if ye didna mend it muckle."
"Yes, but I could not have had the chance of doubling it, as I might have done," answered Mowbray, "had that inconstant jade, Fortune, but stood a moment faithful to me. I tell you, Mick, that I have been, within this twelvemonth, worth a hundred thousand—worth fifty thousand—worth nothing, but the remnant of this wretched estate, which is too little to do one good while it is mine, though, were it sold, I could start again, and mend my hand a little."
"Ay, ay, just fling the helve after the hatchet," said his legal adviser—"that's a' you think of. What signifies winning a hundred thousand pounds, if you win them to lose them a' again?"
"What signifies it?" replied Mowbray. "Why, it signifies as much to a man of spirit, as having won a battle signifies to a general—no matter that he is beaten afterwards in his turn, he knows there is luck for him as well as others, and so he has spirit to try it again. Here is the young Earl of Etherington will be amongst us in a day or two—they say he is up to every thing—if I had but five hundred to begin with, I should be soon up to him."
"Mr. Mowbray," said Meiklewham, "I am sorry for ye. I have been your house's man-of-business—I may say, in some measure, your house's servant—and now I am to see an end of it all, and just by the lad that I thought maist likely to set it up again better than ever; for, to do ye justice, you have aye had an ee to your ain interest, sae far as your lights gaed. It brings tears into my auld een."
"Never weep for the matter, Mick," answered Mowbray; "some of it will stick, my old boy, in your pockets, if not in mine—your service will not be altogether gratuitous, my old friend—the labourer is worthy of his hire."
"Weel I wot is he," said the writer; "but double fees would hardly carry folk through some wark. But if ye will have siller, ye maun have siller—but, I warrant, it goes just where the rest gaed."
"No, by twenty devils!" exclaimed Mowbray, "to fail this time is impossible—Jack Wolverine was too strong for Etherington at any thing he could name; and I can beat Wolverine from the Land's-End to Johnnie Groat's—but there must be something to go upon—the blunt must be had, Mick."
"Very likely—nae doubt—that is always provided it can be had," answered the legal adviser.
"That's your business, my old cock," said Mowbray. "This youngster will be here perhaps to-morrow, with money in both pockets—he takes up his rents as he comes down, Mick—think of that, my old friend."
"Weel for them that have rents to take up," said Meiklewham; "ours are lying rather ower low to be lifted at present.—But are you sure this Earl is a man to mell with?—are you sure ye can win of him, and that if you do, he can pay his losings, Mr. Mowbray?—because I have kend mony are come for wool, and gang hame shorn; and though ye are a clever young gentleman, and I am bound to suppose ye ken as much about life as most folk, and all that; yet some gate or other ye have aye come off at the losing hand, as ye have ower much reason to ken this day—howbeit"——
"O, the devil take your gossip, my dear Mick! If you can give no help, spare drowning me with your pother.—Why, man, I was a fresh hand—had my apprentice-fees to pay—and these are no trifles, Mick.—But what of that?—I am free of the company now, and can trade on my own bottom."
"Aweel, aweel, I wish it may be sae," said Meiklewham.
"It will be so, and it shall be so, my trusty friend," replied Mowbray, cheerily, "so you will but help me to the stock to trade with."
"The stock?—what d'ye ca' the stock? I ken nae stock that ye have left."
"But you have plenty, my old boy—Come, sell out a few of your three per cents; I will pay difference—interest—exchange—every thing."
"Ay, ay—every thing or naething," answered Meiklewham; "but as you are sae very pressing, I hae been thinking—Whan is the siller wanted?"
"This instant—this day—to-morrow at farthest!" exclaimed the proposed borrower.
"Wh—ew!" whistled the lawyer, with a long prolongation of the note; "the thing is impossible."
"It must be, Mick, for all that," answered Mr. Mowbray, who knew by experience that impossible, when uttered by his accommodating friend in this tone, meant only, when interpreted, extremely difficult, and very expensive.
"Then it must be by Miss Clara selling her stock, now that ye speak of stock," said Meiklewham; "I wonder ye didna think of this before."
"I wish you had been dumb rather than that you had mentioned it now," said Mowbray, starting, as if stung by an adder—"What, Clara's pittance!—the trifle my aunt left her for her own fanciful expenses—her own little private store, that she puts to so many good purposes—Poor Clara, that has so little!—And why not rather your own, Master Meiklewham, who call yourself the friend and servant of our family?"
"Ay, St. Ronan's," answered Meiklewham, "that is a' very true—but service is nae inheritance; and as for friendship, it begins at hame, as wise folk have said lang before our time. And for that matter, I think they that are nearest sib should take maist risk. You are nearer and dearer to your sister, St. Ronan's, than you are to poor Saunders Meiklewham, that hasna sae muckle gentle blood as would supper up an hungry flea."
"I will not do this," said St. Ronan's, walking up and down with much agitation; for, selfish as he was, he loved his sister, and loved her the more on account of those peculiarities which rendered his protection indispensable to her comfortable existence—"I will not," he said, "pillage her, come on't what will. I will rather go a volunteer to the continent, and die like a gentleman."
He continued to pace the room in a moody silence, which began to disturb his companion, who had not been hitherto accustomed to see his patron take matters so deeply. At length he made an attempt to attract the attention of the silent and sullen ponderer.
"Mr. Mowbray"—no answer—"I was saying, St. Ronan's"—still no reply. "I have been thinking about this matter—and"——
"And what, sir?" said St. Ronan's, stopping short, and speaking in a stern tone of voice.
"And, to speak truth, I see little feasibility in the matter ony way; for if ye had the siller in your pocket to-day, it would be a' in the Earl of Etherington's the morn."
"Pshaw! you are a fool," answered Mowbray.
"That is not unlikely," said Meiklewham; "but so is Sir Bingo Binks, and yet he's had the better of you, St. Ronan's, this twa or three times."
"It is false!—he has not," answered St. Ronan's, fiercely.
"Weel I wot," resumed Meiklewham, "he took you in about the saumon fish, and some other wager ye lost to him this very day."
"I tell you once more, Meiklewham, you are a fool, and no more up to my trim than you are to the longitude.—Bingo is got shy—I must give him a little line, that is all—then I shall strike him to purpose—I am as sure of him as I am of the other—I know the fly they will both rise to—this cursed want of five hundred will do me out of ten thousand!"
"If you are so certain of being the bangster—so very certain, I mean, of sweeping stakes,—what harm will Miss Clara come to by your having the use of her siller? You can make it up to her for the risk ten times told."
"And so I can, by Heaven!" said St. Ronan's. "Mick, you are right, and I am a scrupulous, chicken-hearted fool. Clara shall have a thousand for her poor five hundred—she shall, by ——. And I will carry her to Edinburgh for a season, or perhaps to London, and we will have the best advice for her case, and the best company to divert her. And if they think her a little odd—why, d—— me, I am her brother, and will bear her through it. Yes—yes—you're right; there can be no hurt in borrowing five hundred of her for a few days, when such profit may be made on't, both for her and me.—Here, fill the glasses, my old boy, and drink success to it, for you are right."
"Here is success to it, with all my heart," answered Meiklewham, heartily glad to see his patron's sanguine temper arrive at this desirable conclusion, and yet willing to hedge in his own credit; "but it is you are right, and not me, for I advise nothing except on your assurances, that you can make your ain of this English earl, and of this Sir Bingo—and if you can but do that, I am sure it would be unwise and unkind in ony ane of your friends to stand in your light."
"True, Mick, true," answered Mowbray.—"And yet dice and cards are but bones and pasteboard, and the best horse ever started may slip a shoulder before he get to the winning-post—and so I wish Clara's venture had not been in such a bottom.—But, hang it, care killed a cat—I can hedge as well as any one, if the odds turn up against me—so let us have the cash, Mick."
"Aha! but there go two words to that bargain—the stock stands in my name, and Tam Turnpenny the banker's, as trustees for Miss Clara—Now, get you her letter to us, desiring us to sell out and to pay you the proceeds, and Tam Turnpenny will let you have five hundred pounds instanter, on the faith of the transaction; for I fancy you would desire a' the stock to be sold out, and it will produce more than six hundred, or seven hundred pounds either—and I reckon you will be selling out the whole—it's needless making twa bites of a cherry."
"True," answered Mowbray; "since we must be rogues, or something like it, let us make it worth our while at least; so give me a form of the letter, and Clara shall copy it—that is, if she consents; for you know she can keep her own opinion as well as any other woman in the world."
"And that," said Meiklewham, "is as the wind will keep its way, preach to it as ye like. But if I might advise about Miss Clara—I wad say naething mair than that I was stressed for the penny money; for I mistake her muckle if she would like to see you ganging to pitch and toss wi' this lord and tither baronet for her aunt's three per cents—I ken she has some queer notions—she gies away the feck of the dividends on that very stock in downright charity."
"And I am in hazard to rob the poor as well as my sister!" said Mowbray, filling once more his own glass and his friend's. "Come, Mick, no sky-lights—here is Clara's health—she is an angel—and I am—what I will not call myself, and suffer no other man to call me.—But I shall win this time—I am sure I shall, since Clara's fortune depends upon it."
"Now, I think, on the other hand," said Meiklewham, "that if any thing should chance wrang, (and Heaven kens that the best-laid schemes will gang ajee,) it will be a great comfort to think that the ultimate losers will only be the poor folk, that have the parish between them and absolute starvation—if your sister spent her ain siller, it would be a very different story."
"Hush, Mick—for God's sake, hush, mine honest friend," said Mowbray; "it is quite true; thou art a rare counsellor in time of need, and hast as happy a manner of reconciling a man's conscience with his necessities, as might set up a score of casuists; but beware, my most zealous counsellor and confessor, how you drive the nail too far—I promise you some of the chaffing you are at just now rather abates my pluck.—Well—give me your scroll—I will to Clara with it—though I would rather meet the best shot in Britain, with ten paces of green sod betwixt us." So saying, he left the apartment.
Nearest of blood should still be next in love; And when I see these happy children playing, While William gathers flowers for Ellen's ringlets, And Ellen dresses flies for William's angle, I scarce can think, that in advancing life, Coldness, unkindness, interest, or suspicion, Will e'er divide that unity so sacred, Which Nature bound at birth.
When Mowbray had left his dangerous adviser, in order to steer the course which his agent had indicated, without offering to recommend it, he went to the little parlour which his sister was wont to term her own, and in which she spent great part of her time. It was fitted up with a sort of fanciful neatness; and in its perfect arrangement and good order, formed a strong contrast to the other apartments of the old and neglected mansion-house. A number of little articles lay on the work-table, indicating the elegant, and, at the same time, the unsettled turn of the inhabitant's mind. There were unfinished drawings, blotted music, needlework of various kinds, and many other little female tasks; all undertaken with zeal, and so far prosecuted with art and elegance, but all flung aside before any one of them was completed.
Clara herself sat upon a little low couch by the window, reading, or at least turning over the leaves of a book, in which she seemed to read. But instantly starting up when she saw her brother, she ran towards him with the most cordial cheerfulness.
"Welcome, welcome, my dear John; this is very kind of you to come to visit your recluse sister. I have been trying to nail my eyes and my understanding to a stupid book here, because they say too much thought is not quite good for me. But, either the man's dulness, or my want of the power of attending, makes my eyes pass over the page, just as one seems to read in a dream, without being able to comprehend one word of the matter. You shall talk to me, and that will do better. What can I give you to show that you are welcome? I am afraid tea is all I have to offer, and that you set too little store by."
"I shall be glad of a cup at present," said Mowbray, "for I wish to speak with you."
"Then Jessy shall make it ready instantly," said Miss Mowbray, ringing, and giving orders to her waiting-maid—"but you must not be ungrateful, John, and plague me with any of the ceremonial for your fete—'sufficient for the day is the evil thereof.' I will attend, and play my part as prettily as you can desire; but to think of it beforehand, would make both my head and my heart ache; and so I beg you will spare me on the subject."
"Why, you wild kitten," said Mowbray, "you turn every day more shy of human communication—we shall have you take the woods one day, and become as savage as the Princess Caraboo. But I will plague you about nothing if I can help it. If matters go not smooth on the great day, they must e'en blame the dull thick head that had no fair lady to help him in his need. But, Clara, I had something more material to say to you—something indeed of the last importance."
"What is it?" said Clara, in a tone of voice approaching to a scream—"in the name of God, what is it? You know not how you terrify me!"
"Nay, you start at a shadow, Clara," answered her brother. "It is no such uncommon matter neither—good faith, it is the most common distress in the world, so far as I know the world—I am sorely pinched for money."
"Is that all?" replied Clara, in a tone which seemed to her brother as much to underrate the difficulty, when it was explained, as her fears had exaggerated it before she heard its nature.
"Is that all? Indeed it is all, and comprehends a great deal of vexation. I shall be hard run unless I can get a certain sum of money—and I must e'en ask you if you can help me?"
"Help you?" replied Clara; "Yes, with all my heart—but you know my purse is a light one—more than half of my last dividend is in it, however, and I am sure, John, I shall be happy if it can serve you—especially as that will at least show that your wants are but small ones."
"Alas, Clara, if you would help me," said her brother, half repentant of his purpose, "you must draw the neck of the goose which lays the golden eggs—you must lend me the whole stock."
"And why not, John," said the simple-hearted girl, "if it will do you a kindness? Are you not my natural guardian? Are you not a kind one? And is not my little fortune entirely at your disposal? You will, I am sure, do all for the best."
"I fear I may not," said Mowbray, starting from her, and more distressed by her sudden and unsuspicious compliance, than he would have been by difficulties, or remonstrance. In the latter case, he would have stifled the pangs of conscience amid the manoeuvres which he must have resorted to for obtaining her acquiescence; as matters stood, there was all the difference that there is between slaughtering a tame and unresisting animal, and pursuing wild game, until the animation of the sportsman's exertions overcomes the internal sense of his own cruelty.[I-E] The same idea occurred to Mowbray himself.
"By G—," he said, "this is like shooting the bird sitting.—Clara," he added, "I fear this money will scarce be employed as you would wish."
"Employ it as you yourself please, my dearest brother," she replied, "and I will believe it is all for the best."
"Nay, I am doing for the best," he replied; "at least, I am doing what must be done, for I see no other way through it—so all you have to do is to copy this paper, and bid adieu to bank dividends—for a little while at least. I trust soon to double this little matter for you, if Fortune will but stand my friend."
"Do not trust to Fortune, John," said Clara, smiling, though with an expression of deep melancholy. "Alas! she has never been a friend to our family—not at least for many a day."
"She favours the bold, say my old grammatical exercises," answered her brother; "and I must trust her, were she as changeable as a weathercock.—And yet—if she should jilt me!—What will you do—what will you say, Clara, if I am unable, contrary to my hope, trust, and expectation, to repay you this money within a short time?"
"Do?" replied Clara; "I must do without it, you know; and for saying, I will not say a word."
"True," replied Mowbray, "but your little expenses—your charities—your halt and blind—your round of paupers?"
"Well, I can manage all that too. Look you here, John, how many half-worked trifles there are. The needle or the pencil is the resource of all distressed heroines, you know; and I promise you, though I have been a little idle and unsettled of late, yet, when I do set about it, no Emmeline or Ethelinde of them all ever sent such loads of trumpery to market as I shall, or made such wealth as I will do. I dare say Lady Penelope, and all the gentry at the Well, will purchase, and will raffle, and do all sort of things to encourage the pensive performer. I will send them such lots of landscapes with sap-green trees, and mazareen-blue rivers, and portraits that will terrify the originals themselves—and handkerchiefs and turbans, with needlework scallopped exactly like the walks on the Belvidere—Why, I shall become a little fortune in the first season."
"No, Clara," said John, gravely, for a virtuous resolution had gained the upperhand in his bosom, while his sister ran on in this manner,—"We will do something better than all this. If this kind help of yours does not fetch me through, I am determined I will cut the whole concern. It is but standing a laugh or two, and hearing a gay fellow say, D—— me, Jack, are you turned clodhopper at last?—that is the worst. Dogs, horses, and all, shall go to the hammer; we will keep nothing but your pony, and I will trust to a pair of excellent legs. There is enough left of the old acres to keep us in the way you like best, and that I will learn to like. I will work in the garden, and work in the forest, mark my own trees, and cut them myself, keep my own accounts, and send Saunders Meiklewham to the devil."
"That last is the best resolution of all, John," said Clara; "and if such a day should come round, I should be the happiest of living creatures—I should not have a grief left in the world—if I had, you should never see or hear of it—it should lie here," she said, pressing her hand on her bosom, "buried as deep as a funereal urn in a cold sepulchre. Oh! could we not begin such a life to-morrow? If it is absolutely necessary that this trifle of money should be got rid of first, throw it into the river, and think you have lost it amongst gamblers and horse-jockeys."
Clara's eyes, which she fondly fixed on her brother's face, glowed through the tears which her enthusiasm called into them, while she thus addressed him. Mowbray, on his part, kept his looks fixed on the ground, with a flush on his cheek, that expressed at once false pride and real shame.
At length he looked up:—"My dear girl," he said, "how foolishly you talk, and how foolishly I, that have twenty things to do, stand here listening to you! All will go smooth on my plan—if it should not, we have yours in reserve, and I swear to you I will adopt it. The trifle which this letter of yours enables me to command, may have luck in it, and we must not throw up the cards while we have a chance of the game.—Were I to cut from this moment, these few hundreds would make us little better or little worse—so you see we have two strings to our bow. Luck is sometimes against me, that is true—but upon true principle, and playing on the square, I can manage the best of them, or my name is not Mowbray. Adieu, my dearest Clara." So saying, he kissed her cheek with a more than usual degree of affection.
Ere he could raise himself from his stooping posture, she threw her arm kindly over his neck, and said with a tone of the deepest interest, "My dearest brother, your slightest wish has been, and ever shall be, a law to me—Oh! if you would but grant me one request in return!"
"What is it, you silly girl?" said Mowbray, gently disengaging himself from her hold.—"What is it you can have to ask that needs such a solemn preface?—Remember, I hate prefaces; and when I happen to open a book, always skip them."
"Without preface, then, my dearest brother, will you, for my sake, avoid those quarrels in which the people yonder are eternally engaged? I never go down there but I hear of some new brawl; and I never lay my head down to sleep, but I dream that you are the victim of it. Even last night"——
"Nay, Clara, if you begin to tell your dreams, we shall never have done. Sleeping, to be sure, is the most serious employment of your life—for as to eating, you hardly match a sparrow; but I entreat you to sleep without dreaming, or to keep your visions to yourself.—Why do you keep such fast hold of me?—What on earth can you be afraid of?—Surely you do not think the blockhead Binks, or any other of the good folks below yonder, dared to turn on me? Egad, I wish they would pluck up a little mettle, that I might have an excuse for drilling them. Gad, I would soon teach them to follow at heel."
"No, John," replied his sister; "it is not of such men as these that I have any fear—and yet, cowards are sometimes driven to desperation, and become more dangerous than better men—but it is not such as these that I fear. But there are men in the world whose qualities are beyond their seeming—whose spirit and courage lie hidden, like metals in the mine, under an unmarked or a plain exterior.—You may meet with such—you are rash and headlong, and apt to exercise your wit without always weighing consequences, and thus"——
"On my word, Clara," answered Mowbray, "you are in a most sermonizing humour this morning! the parson himself could not have been more logical or profound. You have only to divide your discourse into heads, and garnish it with conclusions for use, and conclusions for doctrine, and it might be preached before a whole presbytery, with every chance of instruction and edification. But I am a man of the world, my little Clara; and though I wish to go in death's way as little as possible, I must not fear the raw-head and bloody-bones neither.—And who the devil is to put the question to me?—I must know that, Clara, for you have some especial person in your eye when you bid me take care of quarrelling."
Clara could not become paler than was her usual complexion; but her voice faltered as she eagerly assured her brother, that she had no particular person in her thoughts.
"Clara," said her brother, "do you remember, when there was a report of a bogle[I-17] in the upper orchard, when we were both children?—Do you remember how you were perpetually telling me to take care of the bogle, and keep away from its haunts?—And do you remember my going on purpose to detect the bogle, finding the cow-boy, with a shirt about him, busied in pulling pears, and treating him to a handsome drubbing?—I am the same Jack Mowbray still, as ready to face danger, and unmask imposition; and your fears, Clara, will only make me watch more closely, till I find out the real object of them. If you warn me of quarrelling with some one, it must be because you know some one who is not unlikely to quarrel with me. You are a flighty and fanciful girl, but you have sense enough not to trouble either yourself or me on a point of honour, save when there is some good reason for it."
Clara once more protested, and it was with the deepest anxiety to be believed, that what she had said arose only out of the general consequences which she apprehended from the line of conduct her brother had adopted, and which, in her apprehension, was so likely to engage him in the broils that divided the good company at the Spring. Mowbray listened to her explanation with an air of doubt, or rather incredulity, sipped a cup of tea which had for some time been placed before him, and at length replied, "Well, Clara, whether I am right or wrong in my guess, it would be cruel to torment you any more, remembering what you have just done for me. But do justice to your brother, and believe, that when you have any thing to ask of him, an explicit declaration of your wishes will answer your purpose much better than any ingenious oblique attempts to influence me. Give up all thoughts of such, my dear Clara—you are but a poor manoeuvrer, but were you the very Machiavel of your sex, you should not turn the flank of John Mowbray."
He left the room as he spoke, and did not return, though his sister twice called upon him. It is true that she uttered the word brother so faintly, that perhaps the sound did not reach his ears.—"He is gone," she said, "and I have had no power to speak out! I am like the wretched creatures, who, it is said, lie under a potent charm, that prevents them alike from shedding tears and from confessing their crimes—Yes, there is a spell on this unhappy heart, and either that must be dissolved, or this must break."
[I-17] Bogle—in English, Goblin.
A slight note I have about me, for the delivery of which you must excuse me. It is an office which friendship calls upon me to do, and no way offensive to you, as I desire nothing but right on both sides.
King and No King.
The intelligent reader may recollect, that Tyrrel departed from the Fox Hotel on terms not altogether so friendly towards the company as those under which he entered it. Indeed, it occurred to him, that he might probably have heard something farther on the subject, though, amidst matters of deeper and more anxious consideration, the idea only passed hastily through his mind; and two days having gone over without any message from Sir Bingo Binks, the whole affair glided entirely out of his memory.
The truth was, that although never old woman took more trouble to collect and blow up with her bellows the embers of her decayed fire, than Captain MacTurk kindly underwent for the purpose of puffing into a flame the dying sparkles of the Baronet's courage; yet two days were spent in fruitless conferences before he could attain the desired point. He found Sir Bingo on these different occasions in all sorts of different moods of mind, and disposed to view the thing in all shades of light, except what the Captain thought was the true one.—He was in a drunken humour—in a sullen humour—in a thoughtless and vilipending humour—in every humour but a fighting one. And when Captain MacTurk talked of the reputation of the company at the Well, Sir Bingo pretended to take offence, said the company might go to the devil, and hinted that he "did them sufficient honour by gracing them with his countenance, but did not mean to constitute them any judges of his affairs. The fellow was a raff, and he would have nothing to do with him."
Captain MacTurk would willingly have taken measures against the Baronet himself, as in a state of contumacy, but was opposed by Winterblossom and other members of the committee, who considered Sir Bingo as too important and illustrious a member of their society to be rashly expelled from a place not honoured by the residence of many persons of rank; and finally insisted that nothing should be done in the matter without the advice of Mowbray, whose preparations for his solemn festival on the following Thursday had so much occupied him, that he had not lately appeared at the Well.
In the meanwhile, the gallant Captain seemed to experience as much distress of mind, as if some stain had lain on his own most unblemished of reputations. He went up and down upon the points of his toes, rising up on his instep with a jerk which at once expressed vexation and defiance—He carried his nose turned up in the air, like that of a pig when he snuffs the approaching storm—He spoke in monosyllables when he spoke at all; and—what perhaps illustrated in the strongest manner the depth of his feelings—he refused, in face of the whole company, to pledge Sir Bingo in a glass of the Baronet's peculiar cogniac.
At length, the whole Well was alarmed by the report brought by a smart outrider, that the young Earl of Etherington, reported to be rising on the horizon of fashion as a star of the first magnitude, intended to pass an hour, or a day, or a week, as it might happen, (for his lordship could not be supposed to know his own mind,) at St. Ronan's Well.
This suddenly put all in motion. Almanacks were opened to ascertain his lordship's age, enquiries were made concerning the extent of his fortune, his habits were quoted, his tastes were guessed at; and all that the ingenuity of the Managing Committee could devise was resorted to, in order to recommend their Spa to this favourite of fortune. An express was dispatched to Shaws-Castle with the agreeable intelligence, which fired the train of hope that led to Mowbray's appropriation of his sister's capital. He did not, however, think proper to obey the summons to the Spring; for, not being aware in what light the Earl might regard the worthies there assembled, he did not desire to be found by his lordship in any strict connexion with them.
Sir Bingo Binks was in a different situation. The bravery with which he had endured the censure of the place began to give way, when he considered that a person of such distinction as that which public opinion attached to Lord Etherington, should find him bodily indeed at St. Ronan's, but, so far as society was concerned, on the road towards the ancient city of Coventry; and his banishment thither, incurred by that most unpardonable offence in modern morality, a solecism in the code of honour. Though sluggish and inert when called to action, the Baronet was by no means an absolute coward; or, if so, he was of that class which fights when reduced to extremity. He manfully sent for Captain MacTurk, who waited upon him with a grave solemnity of aspect, which instantly was exchanged for a radiant joy, when Sir Bingo, in a few words, empowered him to carry a message to that d——d strolling artist, by whom he had been insulted three days since.
"By Cot," said the Captain, "my exceedingly goot and excellent friend, and I am happy to do such a favour for you! And it's well you have thought of it yourself; because, if it had not been for some of our very goot and excellent friends, that would be putting their spoon into other folk's dish, I should have been asking you a civil question myself, how you came to dine with us, with all that mud and mire which Mr. Tyrrel's grasp has left upon the collar of your coat—you understand me.—But it is much better as it is, and I will go to the man with all the speed of light; and though, to be sure, it should have been sooner thought of, yet let me alone to make an excuse for that, just in my own civil way—better late thrive than never do well, you know, Sir Bingo; and if you have made him wait a little while for his morning, you must give him the better measure, my darling."
So saying, he awaited no reply, lest peradventure the commission with which he was so hastily and unexpectedly charged, should have been clogged with some condition of compromise. No such proposal, however, was made on the part of the doughty Sir Bingo, who eyed his friend as he hastily snatched up his rattan to depart, with a dogged look of obstinacy, expressive, to use his own phrase, of a determined resolution to come up to the scratch; and when he heard the Captain's parting footsteps, and saw the door shut behind him, he valiantly whistled a few bars of Jenny Sutton, in token he cared not a farthing how the matter was to end.
With a swifter pace than his half-pay leisure usually encouraged, or than his habitual dignity permitted, Captain MacTurk cleared the ground betwixt the Spring and its gay vicinity, and the ruins of the Aultoun, where reigned our friend Meg Dods, the sole assertor of its ancient dignities. To the door of the Cleikum Inn the Captain addressed himself, as one too much accustomed to war to fear a rough reception; although at the very first aspect of Meg, who presented her person at the half opened door, his military experience taught him that his entrance into the place would, in all probability, be disputed.
"Is Mr. Tyrrel at home?" was the question; and the answer was conveyed, by the counter-interrogation, "Wha may ye be that speers?"
As the most polite reply to this question, and an indulgence, at the same time, of his own taciturn disposition, the Captain presented to Luckie Dods the fifth part of an ordinary playing card, much grimed with snuff, which bore on its blank side his name and quality. But Luckie Dods rejected the information thus tendered, with contemptuous scorn.
"Nane of your deil's play-books for me," said she; "it's an ill world since sic prick-my-dainty doings came in fashion—It's a poor tongue that canna tell its ain name, and I'll hae nane of your scarts upon pasteboard."
"I am Captain MacTurk, of the —— regiment," said the Captain, disdaining further answer.
"MacTurk?" repeated Meg, with an emphasis, which induced the owner of the name to reply, "Yes, honest woman—MacTurk—Hector MacTurk—have you any objections to my name, goodwife?"
"Nae objections have I," answered Meg; "it's e'en an excellent name for a heathen.—But, Captain MacTurk, since sae it be that ye are a captain, ye may e'en face about and march your ways hame again, to the tune of Dumbarton drums; for ye are ganging to have nae speech of Maister Tirl, or ony lodger of mine."
"And wherefore not?" demanded the veteran; "and is this of your own foolish head, honest woman, or has your lodger left such orders?"
"Maybe he has and maybe no," answered Meg, sturdily; "and I ken nae mair right that ye suld ca' me honest woman, than I have to ca' you honest man, whilk is as far frae my thoughts as it wad be from heaven's truth."
"The woman is deleerit!" said Captain MacTurk; "but coom, coom—a gentleman is not to be misused in this way when he comes on a gentleman's business; so make you a bit room on the door-stane, that I may pass by you, or I will make room for myself, by Cot! to your small pleasure."
And so saying he assumed the air of a man who was about to make good his passage. But Meg, without deigning farther reply, flourished around her head the hearth-broom, which she had been employing to its more legitimate purpose, when disturbed in her housewifery by Captain MacTurk.
"I ken your errand weel eneugh, Captain—and I ken yoursell. Ye are ane of the folk that gang about yonder setting folk by the lugs, as callants set their collies to fight. But ye sall come to nae lodger o' mine, let a-be Maister Tirl, wi' ony sic ungodly errand; for I am ane that will keep God's peace and the King's within my dwelling."
So saying, and in explicit token of her peaceable intentions, she again flourished her broom.
The veteran instinctively threw himself under Saint George's guard, and drew two paces back, exclaiming, "That the woman was either mad, or as drunk as whisky could make her;" an alternative which afforded Meg so little satisfaction, that she fairly rushed on her retiring adversary, and began to use her weapon to fell purpose.
"Me drunk, ye scandalous blackguard!" (a blow with the broom interposed as parenthesis,) "me, that am fasting from all but sin and bohea!" (another whack.)
The Captain, swearing, exclaiming, and parrying, caught the blows as they fell, showing much dexterity in single-stick. The people began to gather; and how long his gallantry might have maintained itself against the spirit of self-defence and revenge, must be left uncertain, for the arrival of Tyrrel, returned from a short walk, put a period to the contest.
Meg, who had a great respect for her guest, began to feel ashamed of her own violence, and slunk into the house; observing, however, that she trewed she had made her hearth-broom and the auld heathen's pow right weel acquainted. The tranquillity which ensued upon her departure, gave Tyrrel an opportunity to ask the Captain, whom he at length recognised, the meaning of this singular affray, and whether the visit was intended for him; to which the veteran replied very discomposedly, that "he should have known that long enough ago, if he had had decent people to open his door, and answer a civil question, instead of a flyting madwoman, who was worse than an eagle," he said, "or a mastiff-bitch, or a she-bear, or any other female beast in the creation."
Half suspecting his errand, and desirous to avoid unnecessary notoriety, Tyrrel, as he showed the Captain to the parlour, which he called his own, entreated him to excuse the rudeness of his landlady, and to pass from the topic to that which had procured him the honour of this visit.
"And you are right, my good Master Tyrrel," said the Captain, pulling down the sleeves of his coat, adjusting his handkerchief and breast-ruffle, and endeavouring to recover the composure of manner becoming his mission, but still adverting indignantly to the usage he had received—"By Cot! if she had but been a man, if it were the King himself—However, Mr. Tyrrel, I am come on a civil errand—and very civilly I have been treated—the auld bitch should be set in the stocks, and be tamned!—My friend, Sir Bingo—By Cot! I shall never forget that woman's insolence—if there be a constable or a cat-o'-nine-tails within ten miles"——
"I perceive, Captain," said Tyrrel, "that you are too much disturbed at this moment to enter upon the business which has brought you here—if you will step into my bedroom, and make use of some cold water and a towel, it will give you the time to compose yourself a little."
"I shall do no such thing, Mr. Tyrrel," answered the Captain, snappishly; "I do not want to be composed at all, and I do not want to stay in this house a minute longer than to do my errand to you on my friend's behalf—And as for this tamned woman Dods"——
"You will in that case forgive my interrupting you, Captain MacTurk, as I presume your errand to me can have no reference to this strange quarrel with my landlady, with which I have nothing to"——
"And if I thought that it had, sir," said the Captain, interrupting Tyrrel in his turn, "you should have given me satisfaction before you was a quarter of an hour older—Oh, I would give five pounds to the pretty fellow that would say, Captain MacTurk, the woman did right!"
"I certainly will not be that person you wish for, Captain," replied Tyrrel, "because I really do not know who was in the right or wrong; but I am certainly sorry that you should have met with ill usage, when your purpose was to visit me."
"Well, sir, if you are concerned," said the man of peace, snappishly, "so am I, and there is an end of it.—And touching my errand to you—you cannot have forgotten that you treated my friend, Sir Bingo Binks, with singular incivility?"
"I recollect nothing of the kind, Captain," replied Tyrrel. "I remember that the gentleman, so called, took some uncivil liberties in laying foolish bets concerning me, and that I treated him, from respect to the rest of the company, and the ladies in particular, with a great degree of moderation and forbearance."
"And you must have very fine ideas of forbearance," replied the Captain, "when you took my good friend by the collar of the coat, and lifted him out of your way as if he had been a puppy dog! My good Mr. Tyrrel, I can assure you he does not think that you have forborne him at all, and he has no purpose to forbear you; and I must either carry back a sufficient apology, or you must meet in a quiet way, with a good friend on each side.—And this was the errand I came on, when this tamned woman, with the hearth-broom, who is an enemy to all quiet and peaceable proceedings"——
"We will forget Mrs. Dods for the present, if you please, Captain MacTurk," said Tyrrel—"and, to speak to the present subject, you will permit me to say, that I think this summons comes a little of the latest. You know best as a military man, but I have always understood that such differences are usually settled immediately after they occur—not that I intend to baulk Sir Bingo's inclinations upon the score of delay, or any other account."
"I dare say you will not—I dare say you will not, Mr. Tyrrel," answered the Captain—"I am free to think that you know better what belongs to a gentleman.—And as to time—look you, my good sir, there are different sorts of people in this world, as there are different sorts of fire-arms. There are your hair-trigger'd rifles, that go off just at the right moment, and in the twinkling of an eye, and that, Mr. Tyrrel, is your true man of honour;—and there is a sort of person that takes a thing up too soon, and sometimes backs out of it, like your rubbishy Birmingham pieces, that will at one time go off at half-cock, and at another time burn priming without going off at all;—then again pieces that hang fire—or I should rather say, that are like the matchlocks which the black fellows use in the East Indies—there must be some blowing of the match, and so forth, which occasions delay, but the piece carries true enough after all."
"And your friend Sir Bingo's valour is of this last kind, Captain—I presume that is the inference. I should have thought it more like a boy's cannon, which is fired by means of a train, and is but a pop-gun after all."
"I cannot allow of such comparisons, sir," said the Captain; "you will understand that I come here as Sir Bingo's friend, and a reflection on him will be an affront to me."
"I disclaim all intended offence to you, Captain—I have no wish to extend the number of my adversaries, or to add to them the name of a gallant officer like yourself," replied Tyrrel.
"You are too obliging, sir," said the Captain, drawing himself up with dignity. "By Cot! and that was said very handsomely!—Well, sir, and shall I not have the pleasure of carrying back any explanation from you to Sir Bingo?—I assure you it would give me pleasure to make this matter handsomely up."
"To Sir Bingo, Captain MacTurk, I have no apology to offer—I think I treated him more gently than his impertinence deserved."
"Och, Och!" sighed the Captain, with a strong Highland intonation; "then there is no more to be said, but just to settle time and place; for pistols I suppose must be the weapons."
"All these matters are quite the same to me," said Tyrrel; "only, in respect of time, I should wish it to be as speedy as possible.—What say you to one, afternoon, this very day?—You may name the place."
"At one, afternoon," replied the Captain deliberately, "Sir Bingo will attend you—the place may be the Buck-stane; for as the whole company go to the water-side to-day to eat a kettle of fish,[I-18] there will be no risk of interruption.—And who shall I speak to, my good friend, on your side of the quarrel?"
"Really, Captain," replied Tyrrel, "that is a puzzling question—I have no friend here—I suppose you could hardly act for both?"
"It would be totally, absolutely, and altogether out of the question, my good friend," replied MacTurk. "But if you will trust to me, I will bring up a friend on your part from the Well, who, though you have hardly seen him before, will settle matters for you as well as if you had been intimate for twenty years—and I will bring up the Doctor too, if I can get him unloosed from the petticoat of that fat widow Blower, that he has strung himself upon."
"I have no doubt you will do every thing with perfect accuracy, Captain. At one o'clock, then, we meet at the Buck-stane—Stay, permit me to see you to the door."
"By Cot! and it is not altogether so unnecessary," said the Captain; "for the tamned woman with the besom might have some advantage in that long dark passage, knowing the ground better than I do—tamn her, I will have amends on her, if there be whipping-post, or ducking-stool, or a pair of stocks in the parish!" And so saying, the Captain trudged off, his spirits ever and anon agitated by recollection of the causeless aggression of Meg Dods, and again composed to a state of happy serenity by the recollection of the agreeable arrangement which he had made between Mr. Tyrrel, and his friend Sir Bingo Binks.
We have heard of men of undoubted benevolence of character and disposition, whose principal delight was to see a miserable criminal, degraded alike by his previous crimes, and the sentence which he had incurred, conclude a vicious and wretched life, by an ignominious and painful death. It was some such inconsistency of character which induced honest Captain MacTurk, who had really been a meritorious officer, and was a good-natured, honourable, and well-intentioned man, to place his chief delight in setting his friends by the ears, and then acting as umpire in the dangerous rencontres, which, according to his code of honour, were absolutely necessary to restore peace and cordiality. We leave the explanation of such anomalies to the labours of craniologists, for they seem to defy all the researches of the Ethic philosopher.
[I-18] A kettle of fish is a fete-champetre of a particular kind, which is to other fetes-champetres what the piscatory eclogues of Brown or Sannazario are to pastoral poetry. A large caldron is boiled by the side of a salmon river, containing a quantity of water, thickened with salt to the consistence of brine. In this the fish is plunged when taken, and eaten by the company fronde super viridi. This is accounted the best way of eating salmon, by those who desire to taste the fish in a state of extreme freshness. Others prefer it after being kept a day or two, when the curd melts into oil, and the fish becomes richer and more luscious. The more judicious gastronomes eat no other sauce than a spoonful of the water in which the salmon is boiled, together with a little pepper and vinegar.
Evans. I pray you now, good Master Slender's serving-man, and friend Simple by your name, which way have you looked for Master Caius?
Slender. Marry, sir, the City-ward, the Park-ward, every way; Old Windsor way, and every way.
Merry Wives of Windsor.
Sir Bingo Binks received the Captain's communication with the same dogged sullenness he had displayed at sending the challenge; a most ungracious humph, ascending, as it were, from the very bottom of his stomach, through the folds of a Belcher handkerchief, intimating his acquiescence, in a tone nearly as gracious as that with which the drowsy traveller acknowledges the intimation of the slipshod ostler, that it is on the stroke of five, and the horn will sound in a minute. Captain MacTurk by no means considered this ejaculation as expressing a proper estimate of his own trouble and services. "Humph?" he replied; "and what does that mean, Sir Bingo? Have not I here had the trouble to put you just into the neat road; and would you have been able to make a handsome affair out of it at all, after you had let it hang so long in the wind, if I had not taken on myself to make it agreeable to the gentleman, and cooked as neat a mess out of it as I have seen a Frenchman do out of a stale sprat?"
Sir Bingo saw it was necessary to mutter some intimation of acquiescence and acknowledgment, which, however inarticulate, was sufficient to satisfy the veteran, to whom the adjustment of a personal affair of this kind was a labour of love, and who now, kindly mindful of his promise to Tyrrel, hurried away as if he had been about the most charitable action upon earth, to secure the attendance of some one as a witness on the stranger's part.
Mr. Winterblossom was the person whom MacTurk had in his own mind pitched upon as the fittest person to perform this act of benevolence, and he lost no time in communicating his wish to that worthy gentleman. But Mr. Winterblossom, though a man of the world, and well enough acquainted with such matters, was by no means so passionately addicted to them as was the man of peace, Captain Hector MacTurk. As a bon vivant, he hated trouble of any kind, and the shrewd selfishness of his disposition enabled him to foresee, that a good deal might accrue to all concerned in the course of this business. He, therefore, coolly replied, that he knew nothing of Mr. Tyrrel—not even whether he was a gentleman or not; and besides, he had received no regular application in his behalf—he did not, therefore, feel himself at all inclined to go to the field as his second. This refusal drove the poor Captain to despair. He conjured his friend to be more public-spirited, and entreated him to consider the reputation of the Well, which was to them as a common country, and the honour of the company to which they both belonged, and of which Mr. Winterblossom was in a manner the proper representative, as being, with consent of all, the perpetual president. He reminded him how many quarrels had been nightly undertaken and departed from on the ensuing morning, without any suitable consequences—said, "that people began to talk of the place oddly; and that, for his own part, he found his own honour so nearly touched, that he had begun to think he himself would be obliged to bring somebody or other to account, for the general credit of the Well; and now, just when the most beautiful occasion had arisen to put every thing on a handsome footing, it was hard—it was cruel—it was most unjustifiable—in Mr. Winterblossom, to decline so simple a matter as was requested of him."
Dry and taciturn as the Captain was on all ordinary occasions, he proved, on the present, eloquent and almost pathetic; for the tears came into his eyes when he recounted the various quarrels which had become addled, notwithstanding his best endeavours to hatch them into an honourable meeting; and here was one, at length, just chipping the shell, like to be smothered, for want of the most ordinary concession on the part of Winterblossom. In short, that gentleman could not hold out any longer. "It was," he said, "a very foolish business, he thought; but to oblige Sir Bingo and Captain MacTurk, he had no objection to walk with them about noon as far as the Buck-stane, although he must observe the day was hazy, and he had felt a prophetic twinge or two, which looked like a visit of his old acquaintance podagra."
"Never mind that, my excellent friend," said the Captain, "a sup out of Sir Bingo's flask is like enough to put that to rights; and by my soul, it is not the thing he is like to leave behind him on this sort of occasion, unless I be far mistaken in my man."
"But," said Winterblossom, "although I comply with your wishes thus far, Captain MacTurk, I by no means undertake for certain to back this same Master Tyrrel, of whom I know nothing at all, but only agree to go to the place in hopes of preventing mischief."
"Never fash your beard about that, Mr. Winterblossom," replied the Captain; "for a little mischief, as you call it, is become a thing absolutely necessary to the credit of the place; and I am sure, whatever be the consequences, they cannot in the present instance be very fatal to any body; for here is a young fellow that, if he should have a misfortune, nobody will miss, for nobody knows him; then there is Sir Bingo, whom every body knows so well, that they will miss him all the less."
"And there will be Lady Bingo, a wealthy and handsome young widow," said Winterblossom, throwing his hat upon his head with the grace and pretension of former days, and sighing to see, as he looked in the mirror, how much time, that had whitened his hair, rounded his stomach, wrinkled his brow, and bent down his shoulders, had disqualified him, as he expressed it, "for entering for such a plate."
Secure of Winterblossom, the Captain's next anxiety was to obtain the presence of Dr. Quackleben, who, although he wrote himself M.D., did not by any means decline practice as a surgeon, when any job offered for which he was likely to be well paid, as was warranted in the present instance, the wealthy baronet being a party principally concerned. The Doctor, therefore, like the eagle scenting the carnage, seized, at the first word, the huge volume of morocco leather which formed his case of portable instruments, and uncoiled before the Captain, with ostentatious display, its formidable and glittering contents, upon which he began to lecture as upon a copious and interesting text, until the man of war thought it necessary to give him a word of caution.
"Och," says he, "I do pray you, Doctor, to carry that packet of yours under the breast of your coat, or in your pocket, or somewhere out of sight, and by no means to produce or open it before the parties. For although scalpels, and tourniquets, and pincers, and the like, are very ingenious implements, and pretty to behold, and are also useful when time and occasion call for them, yet I have known the sight of them take away a man's fighting stomach, and so lose their owner a job, Dr. Quackleben."
"By my faith, Captain MacTurk," said the Doctor, "you speak as if you were graduated!—I have known these treacherous articles play their master many a cursed trick. The very sight of my forceps, without the least effort on my part, once cured an inveterate toothache of three days' duration, prevented the extraction of a carious molendinar, which it was the very end of their formation to achieve, and sent me home minus a guinea.—But hand me that great-coat, Captain, and we will place the instruments in ambuscade, until they are called into action in due time. I should think something will happen—Sir Bingo is a sure shot at a moorcock."
"Cannot say," replied MacTurk; "I have known the pistol shake many a hand that held the fowlingpiece fast enough. Yonder Tyrrel looks like a teevilish cool customer—I watched him the whole time I was delivering my errand, and I can promise you he is mettle to the backbone."
"Well—I will have my bandages ready secundum artem," replied the man of medicine. "We must guard against haemorrhage—Sir Bingo is a plethoric subject.—One o'clock, you say—at the Buck-stane—I will be punctual."
"Will you not walk with us?" said Captain MacTurk, who seemed willing to keep his whole convoy together on this occasion, lest, peradventure, any of them had fled from under his patronage.
"No," replied the Doctor, "I must first make an apology to worthy Mrs. Blower, for I had promised her my arm down to the river-side, where they are all to eat a kettle of fish."
"By Cot! and I hope we shall make them a prettier kettle of fish than was ever seen at St. Ronan's," said the Captain, rubbing his hands.
"Don't say we, Captain," replied the cautious Doctor; "I for one have nothing to do with the meeting—wash my hands of it. No, no, I cannot afford to be clapt up as accessory.—You ask me to meet you at the Buck-stane—no purpose assigned—I am willing to oblige my worthy friend, Captain MacTurk—walk that way, thinking of nothing particular—hear the report of pistols—hasten to the spot—fortunately just in time to prevent the most fatal consequences—chance most opportunely to have my case of instruments with me—indeed, generally walk with them about me—nunquam non paratus—then give my professional definition of the wound and state of the patient. That is the way to give evidence, Captain, before sheriffs, coroners, and such sort of folk—never commit one's self—it is a rule of our profession."
"Well, well, Doctor," answered the Captain, "you know your own ways best; and so you are but there to give a chance of help in case of accident, all the laws of honour will be fully complied with. But it would be a foul reflection upon me, as a man of honour, if I did not take care that there should be somebody to come in thirdsman between Death and my principal."
At the awful hour of one afternoon, there arrived upon the appointed spot Captain MacTurk, leading to the field the valorous Sir Bingo, not exactly straining like a greyhound in the slips, but rather looking moody like a butcher's bull-dog, which knows he must fight since his master bids him. Yet the Baronet showed no outward flinching or abatement of courage, excepting, that the tune of Jenny Sutton, which he had whistled without intermission since he left the Hotel, had, during the last half mile of their walk, sunk into silence; although, to look at the muscles of the mouth, projection of the lip, and vacancy of the eye, it seemed as if the notes were still passing through his mind, and that he whistled Jenny Sutton in his imagination. Mr. Winterblossom came two minutes after this happy pair, and the Doctor was equally punctual.
"Upon my soul," said the former, "this is a mighty silly affair, Sir Bingo, and might, I think, be easily taken up, at less risk to all parties than a meeting of this kind. You should recollect, Sir Bingo, that you have much depending upon your life—you are a married man, Sir Bingo."
Sir Bingo turned the quid in his mouth, and squirted out the juice in a most coachman-like manner.
"Mr. Winterblossom," said the Captain, "Sir Bingo has in this matter put himself in my hands, and unless you think yourself more able to direct his course than I am, I must frankly tell you, that I will be disobliged by your interference. You may speak to your own friend as much as you please; and if you find yourself authorized to make any proposal, I shall be desirous to lend an ear to it on the part of my worthy principal, Sir Bingo. But I will be plain with you, that I do not greatly approve of settlements upon the field, though I hope I am a quiet and peaceable man. But here is our honour to be looked after in the first place; and moreover, I must insist that every proposal for accommodation shall originate with your party or yourself."
"My party?" answered Winterblossom; "why really, though I came hither at your request, Captain MacTurk, yet I must see more of the matter, ere I can fairly pronounce myself second to a man I never saw but once."
"And, perhaps, may never see again," said the Doctor, looking at his watch; "for it is ten minutes past the hour, and here is no Mr. Tyrrel."
"Hey! what's that you say, Doctor?" said the Baronet, awakened from his apathy.
"He speaks tamned nonsense," said the Captain, pulling out a huge, old-fashioned, turnip-shaped implement, with a blackened silver dial-plate. "It is not above three minutes after one by the true time, and I will uphold Mr. Tyrrel to be a man of his word—never saw a man take a thing more coolly."
"Not more coolly than he takes his walk this way," said the Doctor; "for the hour is as I tell you—remember, I am professional—have pulses to count by the second and half-second—my timepiece must go as true as the sun."
"And I have mounted guard a thousand times by my watch," said the Captain; "and I defy the devil to say that Hector MacTurk did not always discharge his duty to the twentieth part of the fraction of a second—it was my great grandmother, Lady Killbracklin's, and I will maintain its reputation against any timepiece that ever went upon wheels."
"Well, then, look at your own watch, Captain," said Winterblossom, "for time stands still with no man, and while we speak the hour advances. On my word, I think this Mr. Tyrrel intends to humbug us."
"Hey! what's that you say?" said Sir Bingo, once more starting from his sullen reverie.
"I shall not look at my watch upon no such matter," said the Captain; "nor will I any way be disposed to doubt your friend's honour, Mr. Winterblossom."
"My friend?" said Mr. Winterblossom; "I must tell you once more, Captain, that this Mr. Tyrrel is no friend of mine—none in the world. He is your friend, Captain MacTurk; and I own, if he keeps us waiting much longer on this occasion, I will be apt to consider his friendship as of very little value."
"And how dare you, then, say that the man is my friend?" said the Captain, knitting his brows in a most formidable manner.
"Pooh! pooh! Captain," answered Winterblossom, coolly, if not contemptuously—"keep all that for silly boys; I have lived in the world too long either to provoke quarrels, or to care about them. So, reserve your fire; it is all thrown away on such an old cock as I am. But I really wish we knew whether this fellow means to come—twenty minutes past the hour—I think it is odds that you are bilked, Sir Bingo?"
"Bilked! hey!" cried Sir Bingo; "by Gad, I always thought so—I wagered with Mowbray he was a raff—I am had, by Gad. I'll wait no longer than the half hour, by Gad, were he a field-marshal."
"You will be directed in that matter by your friend, if you please, Sir Bingo," said the Captain.
"D—— me if I will," returned the Baronet—"Friend? a pretty friend, to bring me out here on such a fool's errand! I knew the fellow was a raff—but I never thought you, with all your chaff about honour, such a d——d spoon as to bring a message from a fellow who has fled the pit!"
"If you regret so much having come here to no purpose," said the Captain, in a very lofty tone, "and if you think I have used you like a spoon, as you say, I will have no objection in life to take Mr. Tyrrel's place, and serve your occasion, my boy!"
"By ——! and if you like it, you may fire away, and welcome," said Sir Bingo; "and I'll spin a crown for first shot, for I do not understand being brought here for nothing, d—— me!"
"And there was never man alive so ready as I am to give you something to stay your stomach," said the irritable Highlander.
"Oh fie, gentlemen! fie, fie, fie!" exclaimed the pacific Mr. Winterblossom—"For shame, Captain—Out upon you, Sir Bingo, are you mad?—what, principal and second!—the like was never heard of—never."
The parties were in some degree recalled to their more cool recollections by this expostulation, yet continued a short quarter-deck walk to and fro, upon parallel lines, looking at each other sullenly as they passed, and bristling like two dogs who have a mind to quarrel, yet hesitate to commence hostilities. During this promenade, also, the perpendicular and erect carriage of the veteran, rising on his toes at every step, formed a whimsical contrast with the heavy loutish shuffle of the bulky Baronet, who had, by dint of practice, very nearly attained that most enviable of all carriages, the gait of a shambling Yorkshire ostler. His coarse spirit was now thoroughly kindled, and like iron, or any other baser metal, which is slow in receiving heat, it retained long the smouldering and angry spirit of resentment that had originally brought him to the place, and now rendered him willing to wreak his uncomfortable feelings upon the nearest object which occurred, since the first purpose of his coming thither was frustrated. In his own phrase, his pluck was up, and finding himself in a fighting humour, he thought it a pity, like Bob Acres, that so much good courage should be thrown away. As, however, that courage after all consisted chiefly in ill humour; and as, in the demeanour of the Captain, he read nothing deferential or deprecatory of his wrath, he began to listen with more attention to the arguments of Mr. Winterblossom, who entreated them not to sully, by private quarrel, the honour they had that day so happily acquired without either blood or risk.
"It was now," he said, "three quarters of an hour past the time appointed for this person, who calls himself Tyrrel, to meet Sir Bingo Binks. Now, instead of standing squabbling here, which serves no purpose, I propose we should reduce to writing the circumstances which attend this affair, for the satisfaction of the company at the Well, and that the memorandum shall be regularly attested by our subscriptions; after which, I shall farther humbly propose that it be subjected to the revision of the Committee of Management."
"I object to any revision of a statement to which my name shall be appended," said the Captain.
"Right—very true, Captain," said the complaisant Mr. Winterblossom; "undoubtedly you know best, and your signature is completely sufficient to authenticate this transaction—however, as it is the most important which has occurred since the Spring was established, I propose we shall all sign the proces-verbal, as I may term it."
"Leave me out, if you please," said the Doctor, not much satisfied that both the original quarrel and the by-battle had passed over without any occasion for the offices of a Machaon; "leave me out, if you please; for it does not become me to be ostensibly concerned in any proceedings, which have had for their object a breach of the peace. And for the importance of waiting here for an hour, in a fine afternoon, it is my opinion there was a more important service done to the Well of St. Ronan's, when I, Quentin Quackleben, M.D., cured Lady Penelope Penfeather of her seventh attack upon the nerves, attended with febrile symptoms."
"No disparagement to your skill at all, Doctor," said Mr. Winterblossom; "but I conceive the lesson which this fellow has received will be a great means to prevent improper persons from appearing at the Spring hereafter; and, for my part, I shall move that no one be invited to dine at the table in future, till his name is regularly entered as a member of the company, in the lists at the public room. And I hope both Sir Bingo and the Captain will receive the thanks of the company, for their spirited conduct in expelling the intruder.—Sir Bingo, will you allow me to apply to your flask—a little twinge I feel, owing to the dampness of the grass."
Sir Bingo, soothed by the consequence he had acquired, readily imparted to the invalid a thimbleful of his cordial, which, we believe, had been prepared by some cunning chemist in the wilds of Glenlivat. He then filled a bumper, and extended it towards the veteran, as an unequivocal symptom of reconciliation. The real turbinacious flavour no sooner reached the nose of the Captain, than the beverage was turned down his throat with symptoms of most unequivocal applause.
"I shall have some hope of the young fellows of this day," he said, "now that they begin to give up their Dutch and French distilled waters, and stick to genuine Highland ware. By Cot, it is the only liquor fit for a gentleman to drink in a morning, if he can have the good fortune to come by it, you see."
"Or after dinner either, Captain," said the Doctor, to whom the glass had passed in rotation; "it is worth all the wines in France for flavour, and more cordial to the system besides."
"And now," said the Captain, "that we may not go off the ground with any thing on our stomachs worse than the whisky, I can afford to say, (as Captain Hector MacTurk's character is tolerably well established,) that I am sorry for the little difference that has occurred betwixt me and my worthy friend, Sir Bingo, here."
"And since you are so civil, Captain," said Sir Bingo, "why, I am sorry too—only it would put the devil out of temper to lose so fine a fishing day—wind south—fine air on the pool—water settled from the flood—just in trim—and I dare say three pairs of hooks have passed over my cast before this time!"
He closed this elaborate lamentation with a libation of the same cordial which he had imparted to his companions; and they returned in a body to the Hotel, where the transactions of the morning were soon afterwards announced to the company, by the following program:—
"Sir Bingo Binks, baronet, having found himself aggrieved by the uncivil behaviour of an individual calling himself Francis Tyrrel, now or lately a resident at the Cleikum Inn, Aultoun of St. Ronan's; and having empowered Captain Hector MacTurk to wait upon the said Mr. Tyrrel to demand an apology, under the alternative of personal satisfaction, according to the laws of honour and the practice of gentlemen, the said Tyrrel voluntarily engaged to meet the said Sir Bingo Binks, baronet, at the Buck-stane, near St. Ronan's Burn, upon this present day, being Wednesday —— August. In consequence of which appointment, we, the undersigned, did attend at the place named, from one o'clock till two, without seeing or hearing any thing whatever of the said Francis Tyrrel, or any one in his behalf—which fact we make thus publicly known, that all men, and particularly the distinguished company assembled at the Fox Hotel, may be duly apprized of the character and behaviour of the said Francis Tyrrel, in case of his again presuming to intrude himself into the society of persons of honour.
"The Fox Inn and Hotel, St. Ronan's Well—August 18—.
(Signed) "BINGO BINKS, HECTOR MACTURK, PHILIP WINTERBLOSSOM."
A little lower followed this separate attestation:
"I, Quentin Quackleben, M.D., F.R.S., D.E., B.L., X.Z., &c. &c., being called upon to attest what I know in the said matter, do hereby verify, that being by accident at the Buck-stane, near St. Ronan's Burn, on this present day, at the hour of one afternoon, and chancing to remain there for the space of nearly an hour, conversing with Sir Bingo Binks, Captain MacTurk, and Mr. Winterblossom, we did not, during that time, see or hear any thing of or from the person calling himself Francis Tyrrel, whose presence at that place seemed to be expected by the gentlemen I have just named."
This affiche was dated like the former, and certified under the august hand of Quentin Quackleben, M.D., &c. &c. &c.
Again, and prefaced by the averment that an improper person had been lately introduced into the company of St. Ronan's Well, there came forth a legislative enactment, on the part of the Committee, declaring, "that no one shall in future be invited to the dinners, or balls, or other entertainments of the Well, until their names shall be regularly entered in the books kept for the purpose at the rooms." Lastly, there was a vote of thanks to Sir Bingo Binks and Captain MacTurk for their spirited conduct, and the pains which they had taken to exclude an improper person from the company at St. Ronan's Well.
These annunciations speedily became the magnet of the day. All idlers crowded to peruse them; and it would be endless to notice the "God bless me's"—the "Lord have a care of us"—the "Saw you ever the like's" of gossips, any more than the "Dear me's" and "Oh, laa's" of the titupping misses, and the oaths of the pantalooned or buck-skin'd beaux. The character of Sir Bingo rose like the stocks at the news of a dispatch from the Duke of Wellington, and, what was extraordinary, attained some consequence even in the estimation of his lady. All shook their heads at the recollection of the unlucky Tyrrel, and found out much in his manner and address which convinced them that he was but an adventurer and swindler. A few, however, less partial to the Committee of Management, (for whenever there is an administration, there will soon arise an opposition,) whispered among themselves, that, to give the fellow his due, the man, be he what he would, had only come among them, like the devil, when he was called for; and honest Dame Blower blessed herself when she heard of such bloodthirsty doings as had been intended, and "thanked God that honest Doctor Kickherben had come to nae harm amang a' their nonsense."
Clown. I hope here be proofs.—
Measure for Measure.
The borough of —— lies, as all the world knows, about fourteen miles distant from St. Ronan's, being the county town of that shire, which, as described in the Tourist's Guide, numbers among its objects of interest that gay and popular watering-place, whose fame, no doubt, will be greatly enhanced by the present annals of its earlier history. As it is at present unnecessary to be more particular concerning the scene of our story, we will fill up the blank left in the first name with the fictitious appellation of Marchthorn, having often found ourselves embarrassed in the course of a story, by the occurrence of an ugly hiatus, which we cannot always at first sight fill up, with the proper reference to the rest of the narrative.
Marchthorn, then, was an old-fashioned Scottish town, the street of which, on market-day, showed a reasonable number of stout great-coated yeomen, bartering or dealing for the various commodities of their farms; and on other days of the week, only a few forlorn burghers, crawling about like half-awakened flies, and watching the town steeple till the happy sound of twelve strokes from Time's oracle should tell them it was time to take their meridian dram. The narrow windows of the shops intimated very imperfectly the miscellaneous contents of the interior, where every merchant, as the shopkeepers of Marchthorn were termed, more Scotico, sold every thing that could be thought of. As for manufactures, there were none, except that of the careful Town-Council, who were mightily busied in preparing the warp and woof, which, at the end of every five or six years, the town of Marchthorn contributed, for the purpose of weaving the fourth or fifth part of a member of Parliament.
In such a town, it usually happens, that the Sheriff-clerk, especially supposing him agent for several lairds of the higher order, is possessed of one of the best-looking houses; and such was that of Mr. Bindloose. None of the smartness of the brick-built and brass-hammered mansion of a southern attorney appeared indeed in this mansion, which was a tall, thin, grim-looking building, in the centre of the town, with narrow windows and projecting gables, notched into that sort of descent, called crow-steps, and having the lower casements defended by stancheons of iron; for Mr. Bindloose, as frequently happens, kept a branch of one of the two national banks, which had been lately established in the town of Marchthorn.
Towards the door of this tenement, there advanced slowly up the ancient, but empty streets of this famous borough, a vehicle, which, had it appeared in Piccadilly, would have furnished unremitted laughter for a week, and conversation for a twelvemonth. It was a two-wheeled vehicle, which claimed none of the modern appellations of tilbury, tandem, dennet, or the like; but aspired only to the humble name of that almost forgotten accommodation, a whiskey; or, according to some authorities, a tim-whiskey. Green was, or had been, its original colour, and it was placed sturdily and safely low upon its little old-fashioned wheels, which bore much less than the usual proportion to the size of the carriage which they sustained. It had a calash head, which had been pulled up, in consideration either to the dampness of the morning air, or to the retiring delicacy of the fair form which, shrouded by leathern curtains, tenanted this venerable specimen of antediluvian coach-building.
But, as this fair and modest dame noway aspired to the skill of a charioteer, the management of a horse, which seemed as old as the carriage he drew, was in the exclusive charge of an old fellow in a postilion's jacket, whose grey hairs escaped on each side of an old-fashioned velvet jockey-cap, and whose left shoulder was so considerably elevated above his head, that it seemed, as if, with little effort, his neck might have been tucked under his arm, like that of a roasted grouse-cock. This gallant equerry was mounted on a steed as old as that which toiled betwixt the shafts of the carriage, and which he guided by a leading rein. Goading one animal with his single spur, and stimulating the other with his whip, he effected a reasonable trot upon the causeway, which only terminated when the whiskey stopped at Mr. Bindloose's door—an event of importance enough to excite the curiosity of the inhabitants of that and the neighbouring houses. Wheels were laid aside, needles left sticking in the half-finished seams, and many a nose, spectacled and unspectacled, was popped out of the adjoining windows, which had the good fortune to command a view of Mr. Bindloose's front door. The faces of two or three giggling clerks were visible at the barred casements of which we have spoken, much amused at the descent of an old lady from this respectable carriage, whose dress and appearance might possibly have been fashionable at the time when her equipage was new. A satin cardinal, lined with grey squirrels' skin, and a black silk bonnet, trimmed with crape, were garments which did not now excite the respect, which in their fresher days they had doubtless commanded. But there was that in the features of the wearer, which would have commanded Mr. Bindloose's best regard, though it had appeared in far worse attire; for he beheld the face of an ancient customer, who had always paid her law expenses with the ready penny, and whose accompt with the bank was balanced by a very respectable sum at her credit. It was, indeed, no other than our respected friend, Mrs. Dods of the Cleikum Inn, St. Ronan's, Aultoun.
Now her arrival intimated matter of deep import. Meg was a person of all others most averse to leave her home, where, in her own opinion at least, nothing went on well without her immediate superintendence. Limited, therefore, as was her sphere, she remained fixed in the centre thereof; and few as were her satellites, they were under the necessity of performing their revolutions around her, while she herself continued stationary. Saturn, in fact, would be scarce more surprised at a passing call from the Sun, than Mr. Bindloose at this unexpected visit of his old client. In one breath he rebuked the inquisitive impertinence of his clerks, in another stimulated his housekeeper, old Hannah—for Mr. Bindloose was a bluff bachelor—to get tea ready in the green parlour; and while yet speaking, was at the side of the whiskey, unclasping the curtains, rolling down the apron, and assisting his old friend to dismount.
"The japanned tea-caddie, Hannah—the best bohea—bid Tib kindle a spark of fire—the morning's damp—Draw in the giggling faces of ye, ye d——d idle scoundrels, or laugh at your ain toom pouches—it will be lang or your weeldoing fill them." This was spoken, as the honest lawyer himself might have said, in transitu, the rest by the side of the carriage. "My stars, Mrs. Dods, and is this really your ain sell, in propria persona?—Wha lookit for you at such a time of day?—Anthony, how's a' wi' ye, Anthony?—so ye hae taen the road again, Anthony—help us down wi' the apron, Anthony—that will do.—Lean on me, Mrs. Dods—help your mistress, Anthony—put the horses in my stable—the lads will give you the key.—Come away, Mrs. Dods—I am blithe to see you straight your legs on the causeway of our auld borough again—come in by, and we'll see to get you some breakfast, for ye hae been asteer early this morning."
"I am a sair trouble to you, Mr. Bindloose," said the old lady, accepting the offer of his arm, and accompanying him into the house; "I am e'en a sair trouble to you, but I could not rest till I had your advice on something of moment."
"Happy will I be to serve you, my gude auld acquaintance," said the Clerk; "but sit you down—sit you down—sit you down, Mrs. Dods—meat and mess never hindered wark. Ye are something overcome wi' your travel—the spirit canna aye bear through the flesh, Mrs. Dods; ye should remember that your life is a precious one, and ye should take care of your health, Mrs. Dods."
"My life precious!" exclaimed Meg Dods; "nane o' your whullywhaing, Mr. Bindloose—Deil ane wad miss the auld girning alewife, Mr. Bindloose, unless it were here and there a puir body, and maybe the auld house-tyke, that wadna be sae weel guided, puir fallow."
"Fie, fie! Mrs. Dods," said the Clerk, in a tone of friendly rebuke; "it vexes an auld friend to hear ye speak of yourself in that respectless sort of a way; and, as for quitting us, I bless God I have not seen you look better this half score of years. But maybe you will be thinking of setting your house in order, which is the act of a carefu' and of a Christian woman—O! it's an awfu' thing to die intestate, if we had grace to consider it."
"Aweel, I daur say I'll consider that some day soon, Mr. Bindloose; but that's no my present errand."
"Be it what it like, Mrs. Dods, ye are right heartily welcome here, and we have a' the day to speak of the business in hand—festina lente, that is the true law language—hooly and fairly, as one may say—ill treating of business with an empty stomach—and here comes your tea, and I hope Hannah has made it to your taste."
Meg sipped her tea—confessed Hannah's skill in the mysteries of the Chinese herb—sipped again, then tried to eat a bit of bread and butter, with very indifferent success; and notwithstanding the lawyer's compliments to her good looks, seemed in reality, on the point of becoming ill.
"In the deil's name, what is the matter!" said the lawyer, too well read in a profession where sharp observation is peculiarly necessary, to suffer these symptoms of agitation to escape him. "Ay, dame? ye are taking this business of yours deeper to heart than ever I kend you take ony thing. Ony o' your banded debtors failed, or like to fail? What then! cheer ye up—you can afford a little loss, and it canna be ony great matter, or I would doubtless have heard of it."
"In troth, but it is a loss, Mr. Bindloose; and what say ye to the loss of a friend?"
This was a possibility which had never entered the lawyer's long list of calamities, and he was at some loss to conceive what the old lady could possibly mean by so sentimental a prolusion. But just as he began to come out with his "Ay, ay, we are all mortal, Vita incerta, mors certissima!" and two or three more pithy reflections, which he was in the habit of uttering after funerals, when the will of the deceased was about to be opened,—just then Mrs. Dods was pleased to become the expounder of her own oracle.
"I see how it is, Mr. Bindloose," she said; "I maun tell my ain ailment, for you are no likely to guess it; and so, if ye will shut the door, and see that nane of your giggling callants are listening in the passage, I will e'en tell you how things stand with me."
Mr. Bindloose hastily arose to obey her commands, gave a cautionary glance into the Bank-office, and saw that his idle apprentices were fast at their desks—turned the key upon them, as if it were in a fit of absence, and then returned, not a little curious to know what could be the matter with his old friend; and leaving off all further attempts to put cases, quietly drew his chair near hers, and awaited her own time to make her communication.
"Mr. Bindloose," said she, "I am no sure that you may mind, about six or seven years ago, that there were twa daft English callants, lodgers of mine, that had some trouble from auld St. Ronan's about shooting on the Springwell-head muirs."
"I mind it as weel as yesterday, Mistress," said the Clerk; "by the same token you gave me a note for my trouble, (which wasna worth speaking about,) and bade me no bring in a bill against the puir bairns—ye had aye a kind heart, Mrs. Dods."
"Maybe, and maybe no, Mr. Bindloose—that is just as I find folk.—But concerning these lads, they baith left the country, and, as I think, in some ill blude wi' ane another, and now the auldest and the doucest of the twa came back again about a fortnight sin' syne, and has been my guest ever since."
"Aweel, and I trust he is not at his auld tricks again, goodwife?" answered the Clerk. "I havena sae muckle to say either wi' the new Sheriff or the Bench of Justices as I used to hae, Mrs. Dods—and the Procurator-fiscal is very severe on poaching, being borne out by the new Association—few of our auld friends of the Killnakelty are able to come to the sessions now, Mrs. Dods."
"The waur for the country, Mr. Bindloose," replied the old lady—"they were decent, considerate men, that didna plague a puir herd callant muckle about a moorfowl or a mawkin, unless he turned common fowler—Sir Robert Ringhorse used to say, the herd lads shot as mony gleds and pyots as they did game.—But new lords new laws—naething but fine and imprisonment, and the game no a feather the plentier. If I wad hae a brace or twa of birds in the house, as every body looks for them after the twelfth—I ken what they are like to cost me—And what for no?—risk maun be paid for.—There is John Pirner himsell, that has keepit the muir-side thirty year in spite of a' the lairds in the country, shoots, he tells me, now-a-days, as if he felt a rape about his neck."
"It wasna about ony game business, then, that you wanted advice?" said Bindloose, who, though somewhat of a digresser himself, made little allowance for the excursions of others from the subject in hand.
"Indeed is it no, Mr. Bindloose," said Meg; "but it is e'en about this unhappy callant that I spoke to you about.—Ye maun ken I have cleiket a particular fancy to this lad, Francis Tirl—a fancy that whiles surprises my very sell, Mr. Bindloose, only that there is nae sin in it."
"None—none in the world, Mrs. Dods," said the lawyer, thinking at the same time within his own mind, "Oho! the mist begins to clear up—the young poacher has hit the mark, I see—winged the old barren grey hen!—ay, ay,—a marriage-contract, no doubt—but I maun gie her line.—Ye are a wise woman, Mrs. Dods," he continued aloud, "and can doubtless consider the chances and the changes of human affairs."
"But I could never have considered what has befallen this puir lad, Mr. Bindloose," said Mrs. Dods, "through the malice of wicked men.—He lived, then, at the Cleikum, as I tell you, for mair than a fortnight, as quiet as a lamb on a lea-rig—a decenter lad never came within my door—ate and drank eneugh for the gude of the house, and nae mair than was for his ain gude, whether of body or soul—cleared his bills ilka Saturday at e'en, as regularly as Saturday came round."
"An admirable customer, no doubt, Mrs. Dods," said the lawyer.
"Never was the like of him for that matter," answered the honest dame. "But to see the malice of men!—some of thae landloupers and gill-flirts down at the filthy puddle yonder, that they ca' the Waal, had heard of this puir lad, and the bits of pictures that he made fashion of drawing, and they maun cuitle him awa doun to the bottle, where mony a bonny story they had clecked, Mr. Bindloose, baith of Mr. Tirl and of mysell."
"A Commissary Court business," said the writer, going off again upon a false scent. "I shall trim their jackets for them, Mrs. Dods, if you can but bring tight evidence of the facts—I will soon bring them to fine and palinode—I will make them repent meddling with your good name."
"My gude name! What the sorrow is the matter wi' my name, Mr. Bindloose?" said the irritable client. "I think ye hae been at the wee cappie this morning, for as early as it is—My gude name!—if ony body touched my gude name, I would neither fash counsel nor commissary—I wad be down amang them, like a jer-falcon amang a wheen wild-geese, and the best amang them that dared to say ony thing of Meg Dods by what was honest and civil, I wad sune see if her cockernonnie was made of her ain hair or other folk's. My gude name, indeed!"
"Weel, weel, Mrs. Dods, I was mista'en, that's a'," said the writer, "I was mista'en; and I dare to say you would haud your ain wi' your neighbours as weel as ony woman in the land—But let us hear now what the grief is, in one word."
"In one word, then, Clerk Bindloose, it is little short of—murder," said Meg, in a low tone, as if the very utterance of the word startled her.
"Murder! murder, Mrs. Dods?—it cannot be—there is not a word of it in the Sheriff-office—the Procurator-fiscal kens nothing of it—there could not be murder in the country, and me not hear of it—for God's sake, take heed what you say, woman, and dinna get yourself into trouble."
"Mr. Bindloose, I can but speak according to my lights," said Mrs. Dods; "you are in a sense a judge in Israel, at least you are one of the scribes having authority—and I tell you, with a wae and bitter heart, that this puir callant of mine that was lodging in my house has been murdered or kidnapped awa amang thae banditti folk down at the New Waal; and I'll have the law put in force against them, if it should cost me a hundred pounds."