Subscribe for ad free access & additional features for teachers. Authors: 267, Books: 3,607, Poems & Short Stories: 4,435, Forum Members: 71,154, Forum Posts: 1,238,602, Quizzes: 344

Chapter 4

CHAPTER IV.

MR. CROFTANGRY BIDS ADIEU TO CLYDESDALE.

Alas, how changed from what it once had been!
'Twas now degraded to a common inn. GAY.

An hour's brisk walking, or thereabouts, placed me in front of
Duntarkin, which had also, I found, undergone considerable
alterations, though it had not been altogether demolished like
the principal mansion. An inn-yard extended before the door of
the decent little jointure-house, even amidst the remnants of the
holly hedges which had screened the lady's garden. Then a broad,
raw-looking, new-made road intruded itself up the little glen,
instead of the old horseway, so seldom used that it was almost
entirely covered with grass. It is a great enormity, of which
gentlemen trustees on the highways are sometimes guilty, in
adopting the breadth necessary for an avenue to the metropolis,
where all that is required is an access to some sequestered and
unpopulous district. I do not say anything of the expense--that
the trustees and their constituents may settle as they please.
But the destruction of silvan beauty is great when the breadth of
the road is more than proportioned to the vale through which it
runs, and lowers, of course, the consequence of any objects of
wood or water, or broken and varied ground, which might otherwise
attract notice and give pleasure. A bubbling runnel by the side
of one of those modern Appian or Flaminian highways is but like a
kennel; the little hill is diminished to a hillock--the romantic
hillock to a molehill, almost too small for sight.

Such an enormity, however, had destroyed the quiet loneliness of
Duntarkin, and intruded its breadth of dust and gravel, and its
associations of pochays and mail-coaches, upon one of the most
sequestered spots in the Middle Ward of Clydesdale. The house
was old and dilapidated, and looked sorry for itself, as if
sensible of a derogation; but the sign was strong and new, and
brightly painted, displaying a heraldic shield (three shuttles in
a field diapre), a web partly unfolded for crest, and two stout
giants for supporters, each one holding a weaver's beam proper.
To have displayed this monstrous emblem on the front of the house
might have hazarded bringing down the wall, but for certain would
have blocked up one or two windows. It was therefore established
independent of the mansion, being displayed in an iron framework,
and suspended upon two posts, with as much wood and iron about it
as would have builded a brig; and there it hung, creaking,
groaning, and screaming in every blast of wind, and frightening
for five miles' distance, for aught I know, the nests of thrushes
and linnets, the ancient denizens of the little glen.

When I entered the place I was received by Christie Steele
herself, who seemed uncertain whether to drop me in the kitchen,
or usher me into a separate apartment, as I called for tea, with
something rather more substantial than bread and butter, and
spoke of supping and sleeping, Christie at last inducted me into
the room where she herself had been sitting, probably the only
one which had a fire, though the month was October. This
answered my plan; and as she was about to remove her spinning-
wheel, I begged she would have the goodness to remain and make my
tea, adding that I liked the sound of the wheel, and desired not
to disturb her housewife thrift in the least.

"I dinna ken, sir," she replied, in a dry, REVECHE tone, which
carried me back twenty years, "I am nane of thae heartsome
landleddies that can tell country cracks, and make themsel's
agreeable, and I was ganging to put on a fire for you in the Red
Room; but if it is your will to stay here, he that pays the
lawing maun choose the lodging."

I endeavoured to engage her in conversation; but though she
answered, with a kind of stiff civility, I could get her into no
freedom of discourse, and she began to look at her wheel and at
the door more than once, as if she meditated a retreat. I was
obliged, therefore, to proceed to some special questions; that
might have interest for a person whose ideas were probably of a
very bounded description.

I looked round the apartment, being the same in which I had last
seen my poor mother. The author of the family history, formerly
mentioned, had taken great credit to himself for the improvements
he had made in this same jointure-house of Duntarkin, and how,
upon his marriage, when his mother took possession of the same as
her jointure-house, "to his great charges and expenses he caused
box the walls of the great parlour" (in which I was now sitting),
"empanel the same, and plaster the roof, finishing the apartment
with ane concave chimney, and decorating the same with pictures,
and a barometer and thermometer." And in particular, which his
good mother used to say she prized above all the rest, he had
caused his own portraiture be limned over the mantlepiece by a
skilful hand. And, in good faith, there he remained still,
having much the visage which I was disposed to ascribe to him on
the evidence of his handwriting,--grim and austere, yet not
without a cast of shrewdness and determination; in armour, though
he never wore it, I fancy; one hand on an open book, and one
resting on the hilt of his sword, though I dare say his head
never ached with reading, nor his limbs with fencing.

"That picture is painted on the wood, madam," said I.

"Ay, sir, or it's like it would not have been left there; they
look a' they could."

"Mr. Treddles's creditors, you mean?" said I.

"Na," replied she dryly, "the creditors of another family, that
sweepit cleaner than this poor man's, because I fancy there was
less to gather."

"An older family, perhaps, and probably more remembered and
regretted than later possessors?"

Christie here settled herself in her seat, and pulled her wheel
towards her. I had given her something interesting for her
thoughts to dwell upon, and her wheel was a mechanical
accompaniment on such occasions, the revolutions of which
assisted her in the explanation of her ideas.

"Mair regretted--mair missed? I liked ane of the auld family
very weel, but I winna say that for them a'. How should they be
mair missed than the Treddleses? The cotton mill was such a
thing for the country! The mair bairns a cottar body had the
better; they would make their awn keep frae the time they were
five years auld, and a widow wi' three or four bairns was a
wealthy woman in the time of the Treddleses."

"But the health of these poor children, my good friend--their
education and religious instruction--"

"For health," said Christie, looking gloomily at me, "ye maun ken
little of the warld, sir, if ye dinna ken that the health of the
poor man's body, as well as his youth and his strength, are all
at the command of the rich man's purse. There never was a trade
so unhealthy yet but men would fight to get wark at it for twa
pennies a day aboon the common wage. But the bairns were
reasonably weel cared for in the way of air and exercise, and a
very responsible youth heard them their Carritch, and gied them
lessons in Reediemadeasy ["Reading made Easy," usually so
pronounced in Scotland.] Now, what did they ever get before?
Maybe on a winter day they wad be called out to beat the wood for
cocks or siclike; and then the starving weans would maybe get a
bite of broken bread, and maybe no, just as the butler was in
humour--that was a' they got."

"They were not, then, a very kind family to the poor, these old
possessors?" said I, somewhat bitterly; for I had expected to
hear my ancestors' praises recorded, though I certainly despaired
of being regaled with my own.

"They werena ill to them, sir, and that is aye something. They
were just decent bien bodies; ony poor creature that had face to
beg got an awmous, and welcome--they that were shamefaced gaed
by, and twice as welcome. But they keepit an honest walk before
God and man, the Croftangrys, and, as I said before, if they did
little good, they did as little ill. They lifted their rents,
and spent them; called in their kain and ate them; gaed to the
kirk of a Sunday; bowed civilly if folk took aff their bannets as
they gaed by, and lookit as black as sin at them that keepit them
on."

"These are their arms that you have on the sign?"

"What! on the painted board that is skirling and groaning at the
door? Na, these are Mr. Treddles's arms though they look as like
legs as arms. Ill pleased I was at the fule thing, that cost as
muckle as would hae repaired the house from the wa' stane to the
rigging-tree. But if I am to bide here, I'll hae a decent board
wi' a punch bowl on it."

"Is there a doubt of your staying here, Mrs. Steele?"

"Dinna Mistress me," said the cross old woman, whose fingers were
now plying their thrift in a manner which indicated nervous
irritation; "there was nae luck in the land since Luckie turned
Mistress, and Mistress my Leddy. And as for staying here, if it
concerns you to ken, I may stay if I can pay a hundred pund
sterling for the lease, and I may flit if I canna, and so gude
e'en to you, Christie,"--and round went the wheel with much
activity.

"And you like the trade of keeping a public-house?"

"I can scarce say that," she replied. "But worthy Mr.
Prendergast is clear of its lawfulness; and I hae gotten used to
it, and made a decent living, though I never make out a fause
reckoning, or give ony ane the means to disorder reason in my
house."

"Indeed!" said I; "in that case, there is no wonder you have not
made up the hundred pounds to purchase the lease."

"How do you ken," said she sharply, "that I might not have had a
hundred punds of my ain fee? If I have it not, I am sure it is
my ain faut. And I wunna ca' it faut neither, for it gaed to her
wha was weel entitled to a' my service." Again she pulled
stoutly at the flax, and the wheel went smartly round.

"This old gentleman," said I, fixing my eye on the painted panel,
"seems to have had HIS arms painted as well as Mr. Treddles--that
is, if that painting in the corner be a scutcheon."

"Ay, ay--cushion, just sae. They maun a' hae their cushions--
there's sma' gentry without that--and so the arms, as they ca'
them, of the house of Glentanner may be seen on an auld stane in
the west end of the house. But to do them justice; they didna
propale sae muckle about them as poor Mr. Treddles did--it's like
they were better used to them."

"Very likely. Are there any of the old family in life,
goodwife?"

"No," she replied; then added; after a moment's hesitation, "Not
that I know of"--and the wheel, which had intermitted, began
again to revolve.

"Gone abroad, perhaps?" I suggested.

She now looked up, and faced me. "No, sir. There were three
sons of the last laird of Glentanner, as he was then called.
John and William were hopeful young gentlemen, but they died
early--one of a decline brought on by the mizzles, the other lost
his life in a fever. It would hae been lucky for mony ane that
Chrystal had gane the same gate."

"Oh, he must have been the young spendthrift that sold the
property? Well, but you should you have such an ill-will against
him; remember necessity has no law. And then, goodwife, he was
not more culpable than Mr. Treddles, whom you are so sorry for."

"I wish I could think sae, sir, for his mother's sake. But Mr.
Treddles was in trade, and though he had no preceese right to do
so, yet there was some warrant for a man being expensive that
imagined he was making a mint of money. But this unhappy lad
devoured his patrimony, when he kenned that he was living like a
ratten in a Dunlap cheese, and diminishing his means at a' hands.
I canna bide to think on't." With this she broke out into a
snatch of a ballad, but little of mirth was there either in the
tone or the expression:--

"For he did spend, and make an end
Of gear that his forefathers wan;
Of land and ware he made him bare,
So speak nae mair of the auld gudeman."

"Come, dame," said I, "it is a long lane that has no turning. I
will not keep from you that I have heard something of this poor
fellow, Chrystal Croftangry. He has sown his wild oats, as they
say, and has settled into a steady, respectable man."

"And wha tell'd ye that tidings?" said she, looking sharply at
me.

"Not, perhaps, the best judge in the world of his character, for
it was himself, dame."

"And if he tell'd you truth, it was a virtue he did not aye use
to practise," said Christie.

"The devil!" said I, considerably nettled; "all the world held
him to be a man of honour."

"Ay, ay! he would hae shot onybody wi' his pistols and his guns
that had evened him to be a liar. But if he promised to pay an
honest tradesman the next term-day, did he keep his word then?
And if he promised a puir, silly lass to make gude her shame, did
he speak truth then? And what is that but being a liar, and a
black-hearted, deceitful liar to boot?"

My indignation was rising, but I strove to suppress it; indeed, I
should only have afforded my tormentor a triumph by an angry
reply. I partly suspected she began to recognize me, yet she
testified so little emotion that I could not think my suspicion
well founded. I went on, therefore, to say, in a tone as
indifferent as I could command, "Well, goodwife, I see you will
believe no good of this Chrystal of yours, till he comes back and
buys a good farm on the estate, and makes you his housekeeper."

The old woman dropped her thread, folded her hands, as she looked
up to heaven with a face of apprehension. "The Lord," she
exclaimed, "forbid! The Lord in His mercy forbid! O sir! if
you really know this unlucky man, persuade him to settle where
folk ken the good that you say he has come to, and dinna ken the
evil of his former days. He used to be proud enough--O dinna let
him come here, even for his own sake. He used once to have some
pride."

Here she once more drew the wheel close to her, and began to pull
at the flax with both hands. "Dinna let him come here, to be
looked down upon by ony that may be left of his auld reiving
companions, and to see the decent folk that he looked over his
nose at look over their noses at him, baith at kirk and market.
Dinna let him come to his ain country, to be made a tale about
when ony neighbour points him out to another, and tells what he
is, and what he was, and how he wrecked a dainty estate, and
brought harlots to the door-cheek of his father's house, till he
made it nae residence for his mother; and how it had been
foretauld by a servant of his ain house that he was a ne'er-do-
weel and a child of perdition, and how her words were made good,
and--"

"Stop there, goodwife, if you please," said I; "you have said as
much as I can well remember, and more than it may be safe to
repeat. I can use a great deal of freedom with the gentleman we
speak of; but I think, were any other person to carry him half of
your message, I would scarce ensure his personal safety. And
now, as I see the night is settled to be a fine one, I will walk
on to --, where I must meet a coach to-morrow as it passes to
Edinburgh."

So saying, I paid my moderate reckoning, and took my leave,
without being able to discover whether the prejudiced and hard-
hearted old woman did, or did not, suspect the identity of her
guest with the Chrystal Croftangry against whom she harboured so
much dislike.

The night was fine and frosty, though, when I pretended to see
what its character was, it might have rained like the deluge. I
only made the excuse to escape from old Christie Steele. The
horses which run races in the Corso at Rome without any riders,
in order to stimulate their exertion, carry each his own spurs
namely, small balls of steel, with sharp, projecting spikes,
which are attached to loose straps of leather, and, flying about
in the violence of the agitation, keep the horse to his speed by
pricking him as they strike against his flanks. The old woman's
reproaches had the same effect on me, and urged me to a rapid
pace, as if it had been possible to escape from my own
recollections. In the best days of my life, when I won one or
two hard walking matches, I doubt if I ever walked so fast as I
did betwixt the Treddles Arms and the borough town for which I
was bound. Though the night was cold, I was warm enough by the
time I got to my inn; and it required a refreshing draught of
porter, with half an hour's repose, ere I could determine to give
no further thought to Christie and her opinions than those of any
other vulgar, prejudiced old woman. I resolved at last to treat
the thing EN BAGATELLE, and calling for writing materials, I
folded up a cheque for L100, with these lines on the envelope:--

"Chrystal, the ne'er-do-weel,
Child destined to the deil,
Sends this to Christie Steele."

And I was so much pleased with this new mode of viewing the
subject, that I regretted the lateness of the hour prevented my
finding a person to carry the letter express to its destination.

"But with the morning cool reflection came."

I considered that the money, and probably more, was actually due
by me on my mother's account to Christie, who had lent it in a
moment of great necessity, and that the returning it in a light
or ludicrous manner was not unlikely to prevent so touchy and
punctilious a person from accepting a debt which was most justly
her due, and which it became me particularly to see satisfied.
Sacrificing, then, my triad with little regret (for it looked
better by candlelight, and through the medium of a pot of porter,
than it did by daylight, and with bohea for a menstruum), I
determined to employ Mr. Fairscribe's mediation in buying up the
lease of the little inn, and conferring it upon Christie in the
way which should make it most acceptable to her feelings. It is
only necessary to add that my plan succeeded, and that Widow
Steele even yet keeps the Treddles Arms. Do not say, therefore,
that I have been disingenuous with you, reader; since, if I have
not told all the ill of myself I might have done, I have
indicated to you a person able and willing to supply the blank,
by relating all my delinquencies as well as my misfortunes.

In the meantime I totally abandoned the idea of redeeming any
part of my paternal property, and resolved to take Christie
Steele's advice, as young Norval does Glenalvon's, "although it
sounded harshly."

Sir Walter Scott

Sorry, no summary available yet.