The groaning malt mentioned in the text was the ale brewed for the purpose of being drunk after the lady or goodwife's safe delivery. The ken-no has a more ancient source, and perhaps the custom may be derived from the secret rites of the Bona Dea. A large and rich cheese was made by the women of the family, with great affectation of secrecy, for the refreshment of the gossips who were to attend at the 'canny' minute. This was the ken-no, so called because its existence was secret (that is, presumed to be so) from all the males of the family, but especially from the husband and master. He was accordingly expected to conduct himself as if he knew of no such preparation, to act as if desirous to press the female guests to refreshments, and to seem surprised at their obstinate refusal. But the instant his back was turned the ken-no was produced; and after all had eaten their fill, with a proper accompaniment of the groaning malt, the remainder was divided among the gossips, each carrying a large portion home with the same affectation of great secrecy.
It is fitting to explain to the reader the locality described in chapter xxii. There is, or rather I should say there WAS, a little inn called Mumps's Hall, that is, being interpreted, Beggar's Hotel, near to Gilsland, which had not then attained its present fame as a Spa. It was a hedge alehouse, where the Border farmers of either country often stopped to refresh themselves and their nags, in their way to and from the fairs and trysts in Cumberland, and especially those who came from or went to Scotland, through a barren and lonely district, without either road or pathway, emphatically called the Waste of Bewcastle. At the period when the adventures described in the novel are supposed to have taken place, there were many instances of attacks by freebooters on those who travelled through this wild district, and Mumps's Ha' had a bad reputation for harbouring the banditti who committed such depredations.
An old and sturdy yeoman belonging to the Scottish side, by surname an Armstrong or Elliot, but well known by his soubriquet of Fighting Charlie of Liddesdale, and still remembered for the courage he displayed in the frequent frays which took place on the Border fifty or sixty years since, had the following adventure in the Waste, which suggested the idea of the scene in the text:--
Charlie had been at Stagshawbank Fair, had sold his sheep or cattle, or whatever he had brought to market, and was on his return to Liddesdale. There were then no country banks where cash could be deposited and bills received instead, which greatly encouraged robbery in that wild country, as the objects of plunder were usually fraught with gold. The robbers had spies in the fair, by means of whom they generally knew whose purse was best stocked, and who took a lonely and desolate road homeward,--those, in short, who were best worth robbing and likely to be most easily robbed.
All this Charlie knew full well; but he had a pair of excellent pistols and a dauntless heart. He stopped at Mumps's Ha', notwithstanding the evil character of the place. His horse was accommodated where it might have the necessary rest and feed of corn; and Charlie himself, a dashing fellow, grew gracious with the landlady, a buxom quean, who used all the influence in her power to induce him to stop all night. The landlord was from home, she said, and it was ill passing the Waste, as twilight must needs descend on him before he gained the Scottish side, which was reckoned the safest. But Fighting Charlie, though he suffered himself to be detained later than was prudent, did not account Mumps's Ha' a safe place to quarter in during the night. He tore himself away, therefore, from Meg's good fare and kind words, and mounted his nag, having first examined his pistols, and tried by the ramrod whether the charge remained in them.
He proceeded a mile or two at a round trot, when, as the Waste stretched black before him, apprehensions began to awaken in his mind, partly arising out of Meg's unusual kindness, which he could not help thinking had rather a suspicious appearance. He therefore resolved to reload his pistols, lest the powder had become damp; but what was his surprise, when he drew the charge, to find neither powder nor ball, while each barrel had been carefully filled with TOW, up to the space which the loading had occupied! and, the priming of the weapons being left untouched, nothing but actually drawing and examining the charge could have discovered the inefficiency of his arms till the fatal minute arrived when their services were required. Charlie bestowed a hearty Liddesdale curse on his landlady, and reloaded his pistols with care and accuracy, having now no doubt that he was to be waylaid and assaulted. He was not far engaged in the Waste, which was then, and is now, traversed only by such routes as are described in the text, when two or three fellows, disguised and variously armed, started from a moss-hag, while by a glance behind him (for, marching, as the Spaniard says, with his beard on his shoulder, he reconnoitred in every direction) Charlie instantly saw retreat was impossible, as other two stout men appeared behind him at some distance. The Borderer lost not a moment in taking his resolution, and boldly trotted against his enemies in front, who called loudly on him to stand and deliver; Charlie spurred on, and presented his pistol. 'D--n your pistol,' said the foremost robber, whom Charlie to his dying day protested he believed to have been the landlord of Mumps's Ha','d--n your pistol! I care not a curse for it.' 'Ay, lad,' said the deep voice of Fighting Charlie, 'but the TOW'S out now.' He had no occasion to utter another word; the rogues, surprised at finding a man of redoubted courage well armed, instead of being defenceless, took to the moss in every direction, and he passed on his way without farther molestation.
The author has heard this story told by persons who received it from Fighting Charlie himself; he has also heard that Mumps's Ha' was afterwards the scene of some other atrocious villainy, for which the people of the house suffered. But these are all tales of at least half a century old, and the Waste has been for many years as safe as any place in the kingdom.
The author may here remark that the character of Dandie Dinmont was drawn from no individual. A dozen, at least, of stout Liddesdale yeomen with whom he has been acquainted, and whose hospitality he has shared in his rambles through that wild country, at a time when it was totally inaccessible save in the manner described in the text, might lay claim to be the prototype of the rough, but faithful, hospitable, and generous farmer. But one circumstance occasioned the name to be fixed upon a most respectable individual of this class, now no more. Mr. James Davidson of Hindlee, a tenant of Lord Douglas, besides the points of blunt honesty, personal strength, and hardihood designed to be expressed in the character of Dandie Dinmont, had the humour of naming a celebrated race of terriers which he possessed by the generic names of Mustard and Pepper (according as their colour was yellow or greyish-black), without any other individual distinction except as according to the nomenclature in the text. Mr. Davidson resided at Hindlee, a wild farm on the very edge of the Teviotdale mountains, and bordering close on Liddesdale, where the rivers and brooks divide as they take their course to the Eastern and Western seas. His passion for the chase in all its forms, but especially for fox-hunting, as followed in the fashion described in chapter xxv, in conducting which he was skilful beyond most men in the South Highlands, was the distinguishing point in his character.
When the tale on which these comments are written became rather popular, the name of Dandie Dinmont was generally given to him, which Mr. Davidson received with great good-humour, only saying, while he distinguished the author by the name applied to him in the country, where his own is so common--'that the Sheriff had not written about him mair than about other folk, but only about his dogs.' An English lady of high rank and fashion, being desirous to possess a brace of the celebrated Mustard and Pepper terriers, expressed her wishes in a letter which was literally addressed to Dandie Dinmont, under which very general direction it reached Mr. Davidson, who was justly proud of the application, and failed not to comply with a request which did him and his favourite attendants so much honour.
I trust I shall not be considered as offending the memory of a kind and worthy man, if I mention a little trait of character which occurred in Mr. Davidson's last illness. I use the words of the excellent clergyman who attended him, who gave the account to a reverend gentleman of the same persuasion:--
'I read to Mr. Davidson the very suitable and interesting truths you addressed to him. He listened to them with great seriousness, and has uniformly displayed a deep concern about his soul's salvation. He died on the first Sabbath of the year (1820); an apoplectic stroke deprived him in an instant of all sensation, but happily his brother was at his bedside, for he had detained him from the meeting-house that day to be near him, although he felt himself not much worse than usual. So you have got the last little Mustard that the hand of Dandie Dinmont bestowed.
'His ruling passion was strong even on the eve of death. Mr. Baillie's fox-hounds had started a fox opposite to his window a few weeks ago, and as soon as he heard the sound of the dogs his eyes glistened; he insisted on getting out of bed, and with much difficulty got to the window and there enjoyed the fun, as he called it. When I came down to ask for him, he said, "he had seen Reynard, but had not seen his death. If it had been the will of Providence," he added, "I would have liked to have been after him; but I am glad that I got to the window, and am thankful for what I saw, for it has done me a great deal of good." Notwithstanding these eccentricities (adds the sensible and liberal clergyman), I sincerely hope and believe he has gone to a better world, and better company and enjoyments.'
If some part of this little narrative may excite a smile, it is one which is consistent with the most perfect respect for the simple-minded invalid and his kind and judicious religious instructor, who, we hope, will not be displeased with our giving, we trust, a correct edition of an anecdote which has been pretty generally circulated. The race of Pepper and Mustard are in the highest estimation at this day, not only for vermin-killing, but for intelligence and fidelity. Those who, like the author, possess a brace of them, consider them as very desirable companions.
The cleek here intimated is the iron hook, or hooks, depending from the chimney of a Scottish cottage, on which the pot is suspended when boiling. The same appendage is often called the crook. The salmon is usually dried by hanging it up, after being split and rubbed with salt, in the smoke of the turf fire above the cleeks, where it is said to 'reist,' that preparation being so termed. The salmon thus preserved is eaten as a delicacy, under the name of kipper, a luxury to which Dr. Redgill has given his sanction as an ingredient of the Scottish breakfast.--See the excellent novel entitled MARRIAGE.
The distinction of individuals by nicknames when they possess no property is still common on the Border, and indeed necessary, from the number of persons having the same name. In the small village of Lustruther, in Roxburghshire, there dwelt, in the memory of man, four inhabitants called Andrew, or Dandie, Oliver. They were distinguished as Dandie Eassil-gate, Dandie Wassilgate, Dandie Thumbie, and Dandie Dumbie. The two first had their names from living eastward and westward in the street of the village; the third from something peculiar in the conformation of his thumb; the fourth from his taciturn habits.
It is told as a well-known jest, that a beggar woman, repulsed from door to door as she solicited quarters through a village of Annandale, asked, in her despair, if there were no Christians in the place. To which the hearers, concluding that she inquired for some persons so surnamed, answered, 'Na, na, there are nae Christians here; we are a' Johnstones and Jardines.'
The mysterious rites in which Meg Merrilies is described as engaging belong to her character as a queen of her race. All know that gipsies in every country claim acquaintance with the gift of fortune-telling; but, as is often the case, they are liable to the superstitions of which they avail themselves in others. The correspondent of Blackwood, quoted in the Introduction to this Tale, gives us some information on the subject of their credulity.
'I have ever understood,' he says, speaking of the Yetholm gipsies,' that they are extremely superstitious, carefully noticing the formation of the clouds, the flight of particular birds, and the soughing of the winds, before attempting any enterprise. They have been known for several successive days to turn back with their loaded carts, asses, and children, upon meeting with persons whom they considered of unlucky aspect; nor do they ever proceed on their summer peregrinations without some propitious omen of their fortunate return. They also burn the clothes of their dead, not so much from any apprehension of infection being communicated by them, as the conviction that the very circumstance of wearing them would shorten the days of their living. They likewise carefully watch the corpse by night and day till the time of interment, and conceive that "the deil tinkles at the lyke-wake" of those who felt in their dead-thraw the agonies and terrors of remorse.'
These notions are not peculiar to the gipsies; but, having been once generally entertained among the Scottish common people, are now only found among those who are the most rude in their habits and most devoid of instruction. The popular idea, that the protracted struggle between life and death is painfully prolonged by keeping the door of the apartment shut, was received as certain by the superstitious eld of Scotland. But neither was it to be thrown wide open. To leave the door ajar was the plan adopted by the old crones who understood the mysteries of deathbeds and lykewakes. In that case there was room for the imprisoned spirit to escape; and yet an obstacle, we have been assured, was offered to the entrance of any frightful form which might otherwise intrude itself. The threshold of a habitation was in some sort a sacred limit, and the subject of much superstition. A bride, even to this day, is always lifted over it, a rule derived apparently from the Romans.
Sorry, no summary available yet.