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Chapter 13

Should I take aught of you? 'Tis true I begged now;
And what is worse than that, I stole a kindness;
And, what is worst of all, I lost my way in't.

Wit Without Money.

THE face of the little boy, sole witness of Caleb's infringement upon
the laws at once of property and hospitality, would have made a good
picture. He sat motionless, as if he had witnessed some of the spectral
appearances which he had heard told of in a winter's evening; and as he
forgot his own duty, and allowed his spit to stand still, he added to
the misfortunes of the evening by suffering the mutton to burn as black
as a coal. He was first recalled from his trance of astonishment by
a hearty cuff administered by Dame Lightbody, who, in whatever other
respects she might conform to her name, was a woman strong of person,
and expert in the use of her hands, as some say her deceased husband had
known to his cost.

"What garr'd ye let the roast burn, ye ill-clerkit gude-for-nought?"

"I dinna ken," said the boy.

"And where's that ill-deedy gett, Giles?"

"I dinna ken," blubbered the astonished declarant.

"And where's Mr. Balderstone?--and abune a', and in the name of council
and kirk-session, that I suld say sae, where's the broche wi' the
wild-fowl?" As Mrs. Girder here entered, and joined her mother's
exclamations, screaming into one ear while the old lady deafened the
other, they succeeded in so utterly confounding the unhappy urchin, that
he could not for some time tell his story at all, and it was only when
the elder boy returned that the truth began to dawn on their minds.

"Weel, sirs!" said Mrs. Lightbody, "wha wad hae thought o' Caleb
Balderstone playing an auld acquaintance sic a pliskie!"

"Oh, weary on him!" said the spouse of Mr. Girder; "and what am I to
say to the gudeman? He'll brain me, if there wasna anither woman in a'
Wolf''s Hope."

"Hout tout, silly quean," said the mother; "na, na, it's come to muckle,
but it's no come to that neither; for an he brain you he maun brain me,
and I have garr'd his betters stand back. Hands aff is fair play; we
maunna heed a bit flyting."

The tramp of horses now announced the arrival of the cooper, with the
minister. They had no sooner dismounted than they made for the kitchen
fire, for the evening was cool after the thunderstorm, and the woods wet
and dirty. The young gudewife, strong in the charms of her Sunday gown
and biggonets, threw herself in the way of receiving the first attack,
while her mother, like the veteran division of the Roman legion,
remained in the rear, ready to support her in case of necessity. Both
hoped to protract the discovery of what had happened--the mother, by
interposing her bustling person betwixt Mr. Girder and the fire, and the
daughter, by the extreme cordiality with which she received the minister
and her husband, and the anxious fears which she expressed lest they
should have "gotten cauld." "Cauld!" quoted the husband, surlily, for he
was not of that class of lords and masters whose wives are viceroys
over them, "we'll be cauld eneugh, I think, if ye dinna let us in to the
fire."

And so saying, he burst his way through both lines of defence; and, as
he had a careful eye over his property of every kind, he perceived at
one glance the absence of the spit with its savoury burden. "What the
deil, woman----"

"Fie for shame!" exclaimed both the women; "and before Mr.
Bide-the-Bent!"

"I stand reproved," said the cooper; "but--"

"The taking in our mouths the name of the great enemy of our souls,"
said Mr. Bide-the-Bent--

"I stand reproved," said the cooper.

"--Is an exposing ourselves to his temptations," continued the reverend
monitor, "and in inviting, or, in some sort, a compelling, of him to lay
aside his other trafficking with unhappy persons, and wait upon those in
whose speech his name is frequent."

"Weel, weel, Mr. Bide-the-Bent, can a man do mair than stand reproved?"
said the cooper; "but jest let me ask the women what for they hae dished
the wild-fowl before we came."

"They arena dished, Gilbert," said his wife; "but--but an accident----"

"What accident?" said Girder, with flashing eyes. "Nae ill come ower
them, I trust? Uh?"

His wife, who stood much in awe of him, durst not reply, but her mother
bustled up to her support, with arms disposed as if they were about to
be a-kimbo at the next reply.--"I gied them to an acquaintance of mine,
Gibbie Girder; and what about it now?"

Her excess of assurance struck Girder mute for an instant. "And YE gied
the wild-fowl, the best end of our christening dinner, to a friend of
yours, ye auld rudas! And what might HIS name be, I pray ye?"

"Just worthy Mr. Caleb Balderstone--frae Wolf's Crag," answered Marion,
prompt and prepared for battle.

Girder's wrath foamed over all restraint. If there was a circumstance
which could have added to the resentment he felt, it was that this
extravagant donation had been made in favour of our friend Caleb,
towards whom, for reasons to which the reader is no stranger, he
nourished a decided resentment. He raised his riding-wand against the
elder matron, but she stood firm, collected in herself, and undauntedly
brandished the iron ladle with which she had just been "flambing"
(Anglice, basting) the roast of mutton. Her weapon was certainly the
better, and her arm not the weakest of the two; so that Gilbert thought
it safest to turn short off upon his wife, who had by this time hatched
a sort of hysterical whine, which greatly moved the minister, who was in
fact as simple and kind-hearted a creature as ever breathed. "And you,
ye thowless jade, to sit still and see my substance disponed upon to
an idle, drunken, reprobate, worm-eaten serving-man, just because he
kittles the lugs o' a silly auld wife wi' useless clavers, and every twa
words a lee? I'll gar you as gude----"

Here the minister interposed, both by voice and action, while Dame
Lightbody threw herself in front of her daughter, and flourished her
ladle.

"Am I no to chastise my ain wife?" exclaimed the cooper very
indignantly.

"Ye may chastise your ain wife if ye like," answered Dame Lightbody;
"but ye shall never lay finger on my daughter, and that ye may found
upon." "For shame, Mr. Girder!" said the clergyman; "this is what I
little expected to have seen of you, that you suld give rein to your
sinful passions against your nearest and your dearest, and this night
too, when ye are called to the most solemn duty of a Christian parent;
and a' for what? For a redundancy of creature-comforts, as worthless as
they are unneedful."

"Worthless!" exclaimed the cooper. "A better guse never walkit on
stubble; two finer, dentier wild ducks never wat a feather."

"Be it sae, neighbour," rejoined the minister; "but see what
superfluities are yet revolving before your fire. I have seen the day
when ten of the bannocks which stand upon that board would have been an
acceptable dainty to as many men, that were starving on hills and bogs,
and in caves of the earth, for the Gospel's sake."

"And that's what vexes me maist of a'," said the cooper, anxious to get
some one to sympathise with his not altogether causeless anger; "an the
quean had gien it to ony suffering sant, or to ony body ava but that
reaving, lying, oppressing Tory villain, that rade in the wicked troop
of militia when it was commanded out against the sants at Bothwell Brig
by the auld tyrant Allan Ravenswood, that is gane to his place, I wad
the less hae minded it. But to gie the principal parts o' the feast to
the like o' him----!"

"Aweel, Gilbert," said the minister, "and dinna ye see a high judgment
in this? The seed of the righteous are not seen begging their bread:
think of the son of a powerful oppressor being brought to the pass of
supporting his household from your fulness."

"And, besides," said the wife, "it wasna for Lord Ravenswood neither,
an he wad hear but a body speak: it was to help to entertain the Lord
Keeper, as they ca' him, that's up yonder at Wolf's Crag."

"Sir William Ashton at Wolf's Crag!" ejaculated the astonished man of
hoops and staves.

"And hand and glove wi' Lord Ravenswood," added Dame Lightbody.

"Doited idiot! that auld, clavering sneckdrawer wad gar ye trow the moon
is made of green cheese. The Lord Keeper and Ravenswood! they are cat
and dog, hare and hound."

"I tell ye they are man and wife, and gree better than some others that
are sae," retorted the mother-in-law; "forbye, Peter Puncheon, that's
cooper the Queen's stores, is dead, and the place is to fill, and----"

"Od guide us, wull ye haud your skirling tongues!" said Girder,--for
we are to remark, that this explanation was given like a catch for two
voices, the younger dame, much encouraged by the turn of the debate,
taking up and repeating in a higher tone the words as fast as they were
uttered by her mother.

"The gudewife says naething but what's true, maister," said Girder's
foreman, who had come in during the fray. "I saw the Lord Keeper's
servants drinking and driving ower at Luckie Sma'trash's, ower-bye
yonder."

"And is their maister up at Wolf's Crag?" said Girder.

"Ay, troth is he," replied his man of confidence.

"And friends wi' Ravenswood?"

"It's like sae," answered the foreman, "since he is putting up wi' him."

"And Peter Puncheon's dead?"

"Ay, ay, Puncheon has leaked out at last, the auld carle," said the
foreman; "mony a dribble o' brandy has gaen through him in his day. But
as for the broche and the wild-fowl, the saddle's no aff your mare yet,
maister, and I could follow and bring it back, for Mr. Balderstone's no
far aff the town yet."

"Do sae, Will; and come here, I'll tell ye what to do when ye owertake
him."

He relieved the females of his presence, and gave Will his private
instructions.

"A bonny-like thing," said the mother-in-law, as the cooper re-entered
the apartment, "to send the innocent lad after an armed man, when ye ken
Mr. Balderstone aye wears a rapier, and whiles a dirk into the bargain."

"I trust," said the minister, "ye have reflected weel on what ye have
done, lest you should minister cause of strife, of which it is my duty
to say, he who affordeth matter, albeit he himself striketh not, is in
no manner guiltless."

"Never fash your beard, Mr. Bide-the-Bent," replied Girder; "ane canna
get their breath out here between wives and ministers. I ken best how to
turn my ain cake. Jean, serve up the dinner, and nae mair about it."

Nor did he again allude to the deficiency in the course of the evening.

Meantime, the foreman, mounted on his master's steed, and charged with
his special orders, pricked swiftly forth in pursuit of the marauder
Caleb. That personage, it may be imagined, did not linger by the way. He
intermitted even his dearly-beloved chatter, for the purpose of making
more haste, only assuring Mr. Lockhard that he had made the purveyor's
wife give the wild-fowl a few turns before the fire, in case that
Mysie, who had been so much alarmed by the thunder, should not have her
kitchen-grate in full splendour. Meanwhile, alleging the necessity of
being at Wolf's Crag as soon as possible, he pushed on so fast that his
companions could scarce keep up with him. He began already to think he
was safe from pursuit, having gained the summit of the swelling eminence
which divides Wolf's Crag from the village, when he heard the distant
tread of a horse, and a voice which shouted at intervals, "Mr.
Caleb--Mr. Balderstone--Mr. Caleb Balderstone--hollo--bide a wee!"

Caleb, it may be well believed, was in no hurry to acknowledge the
summons. First, he would not heart it, and faced his companions down,
that it was the echo of the wind; then he said it was not worth stopping
for; and, at length, halting reluctantly, as the figure of the horseman
appeared through the shades of the evening, he bent up his whole soul
to the task of defending his prey, threw himself into an attitude of
dignity, advanced the spit, which is his grasp might with its burden
seem both spear and shield, and firmly resolved to die rather than
surrender it.

What was his astonishment, when the cooper's foreman, riding up and
addressing him with respect, told him: "His master was very sorry he was
absent when he came to his dwelling, and grieved that he could not tarry
the christening dinner; and that he had taen the freedom to send a sma'
runlet of sack, and ane anker of brandy, as he understood there were
guests at the castle, and that they were short of preparation."

I have heard somewhere a story of an elderly gentleman who was pursued
by a bear that had gotten loose from its muzzle, until completely
exhausted. In a fit of desperation, he faced round upon Bruin and lifted
his cane; at the sight of which the instinct of discipline prevailed,
and the animal, instead of tearing him to pieces, rose up upon his
hind-legs and instantly began to shuffle a saraband. Not less than the
joyful surprise of the senior, who had supposed himself in the extremity
of peril from which he was thus unexpectedly relieved, was that of our
excellent friend Caleb, when he found the pursuer intended to add to
his prize, instead of bereaving him of it. He recovered his latitude,
however, instantly, so soon as the foreman, stooping from his nag, where
he sate perched betwixt the two barrels, whispered in his ear: "If
ony thing about Peter Puncheon's place could be airted their way, John
[Gibbie] Girder wad mak it better to the Master of Ravenswood than
a pair of new gloves; and that he wad be blythe to speak wi' Maister
Balderstone on that head, and he wad find him as pliant as a hoop-willow
in a' that he could wish of him."

Caleb heard all this without rendering any answer, except that of all
great men from Louis XIV. downwards, namely, "We will see about it"; and
then added aloud, for the edification of Mr. Lockhard: "Your master has
acted with becoming civility and attention in forwarding the liquors,
and I will not fail to represent it properly to my Lord Ravenswood. And,
my lad," he said, "you may ride on to the castle, and if none of the
servants are returned, whilk is to be dreaded, as they make day and
night of it when they are out of sight, ye may put them into the
porter's lodge, whilk is on the right hand of the great entry; the
porter has got leave to go to see his friends, sae ye will met no ane to
steer ye."

The foreman, having received his orders, rode on; and having deposited
the casks in the deserted and ruinous porter's lodge, he returned
unquestioned by any one. Having thus executed his master's commission,
and doffed his bonnet to Caleb and his company as he repassed them in
his way to the village, he returned to have his share of the christening
festivity.

Sir Walter Scott