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Chapter 6

CHAPTER VI.

MR. CROFTANGRY'S ACCOUNT OF MRS. BETHUNE BALIOL.

The moon, were she earthly, no nobler. CORIOLANUS.

When we set out on the jolly voyage of life, what a brave fleet
there is around us, as, stretching our finest canvas to the
breeze, all "shipshape and Bristol fashion," pennons flying,
music playing, cheering each other as we pass, we are rather
amused than alarmed when some awkward comrade goes right ashore
for want of pilotage! Alas! when the voyage is well spent, and
we look about us, toil-worn mariners, how few of our ancient
consorts still remain in sight; and they, how torn and wasted,
and, like ourselves, struggling to keep as long as possible off
the fatal shore, against which we are all finally drifting!

I felt this very trite but melancholy truth in all its force the
other day, when a packet with a black seal arrived, containing a
letter addressed to me by my late excellent friend Mrs. Martha
Bethune Baliol, and marked with the fatal indorsation, "To be
delivered according to address, after I shall be no more." A
letter from her executors accompanied the packet, mentioning that
they had found in her will a bequest to me of a painting of some
value, which she stated would just fit the space above my
cupboard, and fifty guineas to buy a ring. And thus I separated,
with all the kindness which we had maintained for many years,
from a friend, who, though old enough to have been the companion
of my mother, was yet, in gaiety of spirits and admirable
sweetness of temper, capable of being agreeable, and even
animating society, for those who write themselves in the vaward
of youth, an advantage which I have lost for these five-and-
thirty years. The contents of the packet I had no difficulty in
guessing, and have partly hinted at them in the last chapter.
But to instruct the reader in the particulars, and at the same
time to indulge myself with recalling the virtues and agreeable
qualities of my late friend, I will give a short sketch of her
manners and habits.

Mrs. Martha Bethune Baliol was a person of quality and fortune,
as these are esteemed in Scotland. Her family was ancient, and
her connections honourable. She was not fond of specially
indicating her exact age, but her juvenile recollections
stretched backwards till before the eventful year 1745, and she
remembered the Highland clans being in possession of the Scottish
capital, though probably only as an indistinct vision. Her
fortune, independent by her father's bequest, was rendered
opulent by the death of more than one brave brother, who fell
successively in the service of their country, so that the family
estates became vested in the only surviving child of the ancient
house of Bethune Baliol. My intimacy was formed with the
excellent lady after this event, and when she was already
something advanced in age.

She inhabited, when in Edinburgh, where she regularly spent the
winter season, one of those old hotels which, till of late, were
to be found in the neighbourhood of the Canongate and of the
Palace of Holyrood House, and which, separated from the street,
now dirty and vulgar, by paved courts and gardens of some extent,
made amends for an indifferent access, by showing something of
aristocratic state and seclusion when you were once admitted
within their precincts. They have pulled her house down; for,
indeed, betwixt building and burning, every ancient monument of
the Scottish capital is now likely to be utterly demolished. I
pause on the recollections of the place, however; and since
nature has denied a pencil when she placed a pen in my hand, I
will endeavour to make words answer the purpose of delineation.

Baliol's Lodging, so was the mansion named, reared its high stack
of chimneys, among which were seen a turret or two, and one of
those small projecting platforms called bartizans, above the mean
and modern buildings which line the south side of the Canongate,
towards the lower end of that street, and not distant from the
Palace. A PORTE COCHERE, having a wicket for foot passengers,
was, upon due occasion, unfolded by a lame old man, tall, grave,
and thin, who tenanted a hovel beside the gate, and acted as
porter. To this office he had been promoted by my friend's
charitable feelings for an old soldier, and partly by an idea
that his head, which was a very fine one, bore some resemblance
to that of Garrick in the character of Lusignan. He was a man
saturnine, silent, and slow in his proceedings, and would never
open the PORTE COCHERE to a hackney coach, indicating the wicket
with his finger as the proper passage for all who came in that
obscure vehicle, which was not permitted to degrade with its
ticketed presence the dignity of Baliol's Lodging. I do not
think this peculiarity would have met with his lady's
approbation, any more than the occasional partiality of Lusignan,
or, as mortals called him, Archie Macready, to a dram. But Mrs.
Martha Bethune Baliol, conscious that, in case of conviction, she
could never have prevailed upon herself to dethrone the King of
Palestine from the stone bench on which he sat for hours knitting
his stocking, refused, by accrediting the intelligence, even to
put him upon his trial, well judging that he would observe more
wholesome caution if he conceived his character unsuspected, than
if he were detected, and suffered to pass unpunished. For after
all, she said, it would be cruel to dismiss an old Highland
soldier for a peccadillo so appropriate to his country and
profession.

The stately gate for carriages, or the humble accommodation for
foot-passengers, admitted into a narrow and short passage running
between two rows of lime-trees, whose green foliage during the
spring contrasted strangely with the swart complexion of the two
walls by the side of which they grew. This access led to the
front of the house, which was formed by two gable ends, notched,
and having their windows adorned with heavy architectural
ornaments. They joined each other at right angles; and a half
circular tower, which contained the entrance and the staircase,
occupied the point of junction, and rounded the acute angle. One
of other two sides of the little court, in which there was just
sufficient room to turn a carriage, was occupied by some low
buildings answering the purpose of offices; the other, by a
parapet surrounded by a highly-ornamented iron railing, twined
round with honeysuckle and other parasitical shrubs, which
permitted the eye to peep into a pretty suburban garden,
extending down to the road called the South Back of the
Canongate, and boasting a number of old trees, many flowers, and
even some fruit. We must not forget to state that the extreme
cleanliness of the courtyard was such as intimated that mop and
pail had done their utmost in that favoured spot to atone for the
general dirt and dinginess of the quarter where the premises were
situated.

Over the doorway were the arms of Bethune and Baliol, with
various other devices, carved in stone. The door itself was
studded with iron nails, and formed of black oak; an iron rasp,
as it was called, was placed on it, instead of a knocker, for the
purpose of summoning the attendants. [See Note 3.--Iron Rasp.]
He who usually appeared at the summons was a smart lad, in a
handsome livery, the son of Mrs. Martha's gardener at Mount
Baliol. Now and then a servant girl, nicely but plainly dressed,
and fully accoutred with stockings and shoes, would perform this
duty; and twice or thrice I remember being admitted by Beauffet
himself, whose exterior looked as much like that of a clergyman
of rank as the butler of a gentleman's family. He had been
valet-de-chambre to the last Sir Richard Bethune Baliol, and was,
a person highly trusted by the present lady. A full stand, as it
is called in Scotland, of garments of a dark colour, gold buckles
in his shoes and at the knees of his breeches, with his hair
regularly dressed and powdered, announced him to be a domestic of
trust and importance. His mistress used to say of him,--

"He is sad and civil,
And suits well for a servant with my fortunes."

As no one can escape scandal, some said that Beauffet made a
rather better thing of the place than the modesty of his old-
fashioned wages would, unassisted, have amounted to. But the man
was always very civil to me. He had been long in the family, had
enjoyed legacies, and lain by a something of his own, upon which
he now enjoys ease with dignity, in as far as his newly-married
wife, Tibbie Shortacres, will permit him.

The Lodging--dearest reader, if you are tired, pray pass over the
next four or five pages--was not by any means so large as its
external appearance led people to conjecture. The interior
accommodation was much cut up by cross walls and long passages,
and that neglect of economizing space which characterizes old
Scottish architecture. But there was far more room than my old
friend required, even when she had, as was often the case, four
or five young cousins under her protection; and I believe much of
the house was unoccupied. Mrs. Bethune Baliol never, in my
presence, showed herself so much offended as once with a meddling
person who advised her to have the windows of these supernumerary
apartments built up to save the tax. She said in ire that, while
she lived, the light of God should visit the house of her
fathers; and while she had a penny, king and country should have
their due. Indeed, she was punctiliously loyal, even in that
most staggering test of loyalty, the payment of imposts. Mr.
Beauffet told me he was ordered to offer a glass of wine to the
person who collected the income tax, and that the poor man was so
overcome by a reception so unwontedly generous, that he had well-
nigh fainted on the spot.

You entered by a matted anteroom into the eating-parlour, filled
with old-fashioned furniture, and hung with family portraits,
which, excepting one of Sir Bernard Bethune, in James the Sixth's
time, said to be by Jameson, were exceedingly frightful. A
saloon, as it was called, a long, narrow chamber, led out of the
dining-parlour, and served for a drawing-room. It was a pleasant
apartment, looking out upon the south flank of Holyrood House,
the gigantic slope of Arthur's Seat, and the girdle of lofty
rocks called Salisbury Crags; objects so rudely wild, that the
mind can hardly conceive them to exist in the vicinage of a
populous metropolis. [The Rev. Mr. Bowles derives the name of
these crags, as of the Episcopal city in the west of England,
from the same root, both, in his opinion, which he very ably
defends and illustrates, having been the sites of Druidical
temples.] The paintings of the saloon came from abroad, and had
some of them much merit. To see the best of them, however, you
must be admitted into the very PENETRALIA of the temple, and
allowed to draw the tapestry at the upper end of the saloon, and
enter Mrs. Martha's own special dressing-room. This was a
charming apartment, of which it would be difficult to describe
the form, it had so many recesses which were filled up with
shelves of ebony and cabinets of japan and ormolu--some for
holding books, of which Mrs. Martha had an admirable collection,
some for a display of ornamental china, others for shells and
similar curiosities. In a little niche, half screened by a
curtain of crimson silk, was disposed a suit of tilting armour of
bright steel inlaid with silver, which had been worn on some
memorable occasion by Sir Bernard Bethune, already mentioned;
while over the canopy of the niche hung the broadsword with which
her father had attempted to change the fortunes of Britain in
1715, and the spontoon which her elder brother bore when he was
leading on a company of the Black Watch at Fontenoy. [The well-
known original designation of the gallant 42nd Regiment. Being
the first corps raised for the royal service in the Highlands,
and allowed to retain their national garb, they were thus named
from the contrast which their dark tartans furnished to the
scarlet and white of the other regiments.]

There were some Italian and Flemish pictures of admitted
authenticity, a few genuine bronzes, and other objects of
curiosity, which her brothers or herself had picked up while
abroad. In short, it was a place where the idle were tempted to
become studious, the studious to grow idle where the grave might
find matter to make them gay, and the gay subjects for gravity.

That it might maintain some title to its name, I must not forget
to say that the lady's dressing-room exhibited a superb mirror,
framed in silver filigree work; a beautiful toilette, the cover
of which was of Flanders lace; and a set of boxes corresponding
in materials and work to the frame of the mirror.

This dressing apparatus, however, was mere matter of parade.
Mrs. Martha Bethune Baliol always went through the actual duties
of the toilette in an inner apartment, which corresponded with
her sleeping-room by a small detached staircase. There were, I
believe, more than one of those TURNPIKE STAIRS, as they were
called, about the house, by which the public rooms, all of which
entered through each other, were accommodated with separate and
independent modes of access. In the little boudoir we have
described, Mrs. Martha Baliol had her choicest meetings. She
kept early hours; and if you went in the morning, you must not
reckon that space of day as extending beyond three o'clock, or
four at the utmost. These vigilant habits were attended with
some restraint on her visitors, but they were indemnified by your
always finding the best society and the best information which
were to be had for the day in the Scottish capital. Without at
all affecting the blue stocking, she liked books. They amused
her; and if the authors were persons of character, she thought
she owed them a debt of civility, which she loved to discharge by
personal kindness. When she gave a dinner to a small party,
which she did now and then, she had the good nature to look for,
and the good luck to discover, what sort of people suited each
other best, and chose her company as Duke Theseus did his
hounds,--

"Matched in mouth like bells,
Each under each,"
[Shakespeare's Midsummer Night's Dream, Act IV. Sc. I.]

so that every guest could take his part in the cry, instead of
one mighty Tom of a fellow, like Dr. Johnson, silencing all
besides by the tremendous depth of his diapason. On such
occasions she afforded CHERE EXQUISE; and every now and then
there was some dish of French, or even Scottish derivation,
which, as well as the numerous assortment of VINS
EXTRAORDINAIRES produced by Mr. Beauffet, gave a sort of antique
and foreign air to the entertainment, which rendered it more
interesting.

It was a great thing to be asked to such parties; and not less so
to be invited to the early CONVERSAZIONE, which, in spite of
fashion, by dint of the best coffee, the finest tea, and CHASSE
CAFE that would have called the dead to life, she contrived now
and then to assemble in her saloon already mentioned, at the
unnatural hour of eight in the evening. At such time the
cheerful old lady seemed to enjoy herself so much in the
happiness of her guests that they exerted themselves in turn to
prolong her amusement and their own; and a certain charm was
excited around, seldom to be met with in parties of pleasure, and
which was founded on the general desire of every one present to
contribute something to the common amusement.

But although it was a great privilege to be admitted to wait on
my excellent friend in the morning, or be invited to her dinner
or evening parties, I prized still higher the right which I had
acquired, by old acquaintance, of visiting Baliol's Lodging upon
the chance of finding its venerable inhabitant preparing for tea,
just about six o'clock in the evening. It was only to two or
three old friends that she permitted this freedom; nor was this
sort of chance-party ever allowed to extend itself beyond five in
number. The answer to those who came later announced that the
company was filled up for the evening, which had the double
effect of making those who waited on Mrs. Bethune Baliol in this
unceremonious manner punctual in observing her hour, and of
adding the zest of a little difficulty to the enjoyment of the
party.

It more frequently happened that only one or two persons partook
of this refreshment on the same evening; or, supposing the case
of a single gentleman, Mrs. Martha, though she did not hesitate
to admit him to her boudoir, after the privilege of the French
and the old Scottish school, took care, as she used to say, to
prescribe all possible propriety, by commanding the attendance of
her principal female attendant, Mrs. Alice Lambskin, who might,
from the gravity and dignity of her appearance, have sufficed to
matronize a whole boarding-school, instead of one maiden lady of
eighty and upwards. As the weather permitted, Mrs. Alice sat
duly remote from the company in a FAUTEUIL behind the projecting
chimney-piece, or in the embrasure of a window, and prosecuted in
Carthusian silence, with indefatigable zeal, a piece of
embroidery, which seemed no bad emblem of eternity.

But I have neglected all this while to introduce my friend
herself to the reader--at least so far as words can convey the
peculiarities by which her appearance and conversation were
distinguished.

A little woman, with ordinary features and an ordinary form, and
hair which in youth had no decided colour, we may believe Mrs.
Martha when she said of herself that she was never remarkable for
personal charms; a modest admission, which was readily confirmed
by certain old ladies, her contemporaries, who, whatever might
have been the youthful advantages which they more than hinted had
been formerly their own share, were now in personal appearance,
as well as in everything else, far inferior to my accomplished
friend. Mrs. Martha's features had been of a kind which might be
said to wear well; their irregularity was now of little
consequence, animated, as they were, by the vivacity of her
conversation. Her teeth were excellent, and her eyes, although
inclining to grey, were lively, laughing, and undimmed by time.
A slight shade of complexion, more brilliant than her years
promised, subjected my friend amongst strangers to the suspicion
of having stretched her foreign habits as far as the prudent
touch of the rouge. But it was a calumny; for when telling or
listening to an interesting and affecting story, I have seen her
colour come and go as if it played on the cheek of eighteen.

Her hair, whatever its former deficiencies was now the most
beautiful white that time could bleach, and was disposed with
some degree of pretension, though in the simplest manner
possible, so as to appear neatly smoothed under a cap of Flanders
lace, of an old-fashioned but, as I thought, of a very handsome
form, which undoubtedly has a name, and I would endeavour to
recur to it, if I thought it would make my description a bit more
intelligible. I think I have heard her say these favourite caps
had been her mother's, and had come in fashion with a peculiar
kind of wig used by the gentlemen about the time of the battle of
Ramillies. The rest of her dress was always rather costly and
distinguished, especially in the evening. A silk or satin gown
of some colour becoming her age, and of a form which, though
complying to a certain degree with the present fashion, had
always a reference to some more distant period, was garnished
with triple ruffles. Her shoes had diamond buckles, and were
raised a little at heel, an advantage which, possessed in her
youth, she alleged her size would not permit her to forego in her
old age. She always wore rings, bracelets, and other ornaments
of value, either for the materials or the workmanship; nay,
perhaps she was a little profuse in this species of display. But
she wore them as subordinate matters, to which the habits of
being constantly in high life rendered her indifferent; she wore
them because her rank required it, and thought no more of them as
articles of finery than a gentleman dressed for dinner thinks of
his clean linen and well-brushed coat, the consciousness of which
embarrasses the rustic beau on a Sunday.

Now and then, however, if a gem or ornament chanced to be noticed
for its beauty or singularity, the observation usually led the
way to an entertaining account of the manner in which it had been
acquired, or the person from whom it had descended to its present
possessor. On such and similar occasions my old friend spoke
willingly, which is not uncommon; but she also, which is more
rare, spoke remarkably well, and had in her little narratives
concerning foreign parts or former days, which formed an
interesting part of her conversation, the singular art of
dismissing all the usual protracted tautology respecting time,
place, and circumstances which is apt to settle like a mist upon
the cold and languid tales of age, and at the same time of
bringing forward, dwelling upon, and illustrating those incidents
and characters which give point and interest to the story.

She had, as we have hinted, travelled a good deal in foreign
countries; for a brother, to whom she was much attached, had been
sent upon various missions of national importance to the
Continent, and she had more than once embraced the opportunity of
accompanying him. This furnished a great addition to the
information which she could supply, especially during the last
war, when the Continent was for so many years hermetically sealed
against the English nation. But, besides, Mrs. Bethune Baliol
visited different countries, not in the modern fashion, when
English travel in caravans together, and see in France and Italy
little besides the same society which they might have enjoyed at
home. On the contrary, she mingled when abroad with the natives
of those countries she visited, and enjoyed at once the advantage
of their society, and the pleasure of comparing it with that of
Britain.

In the course of her becoming habituated with foreign manners,
Mrs. Bethune Baliol had, perhaps, acquired some slight tincture
of them herself. Yet I was always persuaded that the peculiar
vivacity of look and manner--the pointed and appropriate action
with which she accompanied what she said--the use of the gold and
gemmed TABATIERE, or rather, I should say, BONBONNIERE (for she
took no snuff, and the little box contained only a few pieces of
candled angelica, or some such ladylike sweetmeat), were of real
old-fashioned Scottish growth, and such as might have graced the
tea-table of Susannah, Countess of Eglinton, the patroness of
Allan Ramsay [See Note 4.--Countess of Eglinton.], or of the
Hon. Mrs. Colonel Ogilvy, who was another mirror by whom the
Maidens of Auld Reekie were required to dress themselves.
Although well acquainted with the customs of other countries, her
manners had been chiefly formed in her own, at a time when great
folk lived within little space and when the distinguished names
of the highest society gave to Edinburgh the ECLAT which we now
endeavour to derive from the unbounded expense and extended
circle of our pleasures.

I was more confirmed in this opinion by the peculiarity of the
dialect which Mrs. Baliol used. It was Scottish--decidedly
Scottish--often containing phrases and words little used in the
present day. But then her tone and mode of pronunciation were as
different from the usual accent of the ordinary Scotch PATOIS, as
the accent of St. James's is from that of Billingsgate. The
vowels were not pronounced much broader than in the Italian
language, and there was none of the disagreeable drawl which is
so offensive to southern ears. In short, it seemed to be the
Scottish as spoken by the ancient Court of Scotland, to which no
idea of vulgarity could be attached; and the lively manners and
gestures with which it was accompanied were so completely in
accord with the sound of the voice and the style of talking, that
I cannot assign them a different origin. In long derivation,
perhaps the manner of the Scottish court might have been
originally formed on that of France, to which it had certainly
some affinity; but I will live and die in the belief that those
of Mrs. Baliol, as pleasing as they were peculiar, came to her by
direct descent from the high dames who anciently adorned with
their presence the royal halls of Holyrood.

Sir Walter Scott

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