Scottish Story A Scottish Gentlewoman of
the Last Century
By Susan Edmonstone Ferrier
"Though last, not
least of natures works, I must now introduce you to a friend of
mine, said Mr Douglas, as they bent their steps towards the
Castle-hill of Edinburgh. "Mrs Violet Macshake is an aunt of my
mothers, whom you must often have heard of, and the last
remaining branch of the noble race of Girnachgowl.
"I am afraid she is
rather a formidable person, then?" said Mary.
Her uncle hesitated.
formidable,only rather particular, as all old people are; but
she is very good-hearted.
"I understand; in
other words, she is very disagreeable. All ill-tempered people,
I observe, have the character of being good-hearted, or else all
good-hearted people are ill-temperedI cant tell which."
"It is more than
reputation with her," said Mr Douglas, somewhat angrily; "for
she is, in reality, a very good-hearted woman, as I experienced
when a boy at college. Many a crown-piece and half-guinea I used
to get from her. Many a scold, to be sure, went along with them;
but that, I daresay, I deserved. Besides, she is very rich, and
I am her reputed heir; therefore gratitude and self-interest
combine to render her extremely amiable in my estimation?
They had now reached
the airy dwelling where Mrs Macshake resided, and having rung,
the door was at length most deliberately opened by an ancient,
sour-visaged, long-waisted female, who ushered them into an
apartment, the coup doeil of which struck a chill to Marys
heart. It was a good-sized room, with a bare sufficiency of
small-legged dining-tables, and lank hair-cloth chairs, ranged
in high order round the walls. Although the season was advanced,
and the air piercing cold, the grate stood smiling in all the
charms of polished steel; and the mistress of the mansion was
seated by the side of it in an arm-chair, still in its summer
position. She appeared to have no other occupation than what her
own meditations afforded; for a single glance sufliced to show
that not a vestage of book or work was harboured there. She was
a tall, large-boned woman, whom even Times iron hand had
scarcely bent, as she merely stooped at the shoulders. She had a
drooping snuffy nose, a long turned-up chin, small, quick, gray
eyes, and her face projected far beyond her figure, with an
expression of shrewd, restless curiosity. She wore a mode (not
a la-mode) bonnet, and cardinal of the same; a pair of clogs
over her shoes, and black silk mittens on her arms.
As soon as she
recognized Mr Douglas, she welcomed him with much cordiality,
shook him long and heartily by the hand,patted him on the back,
looked into his face with much seeming satisfaction; and, in
short, gave all the demonstrations of gladness usual with
gentlewomen of a certain age. Her pleasure, however, appeared to
be rather an impromptu than a habitual feeling ; for as the
surprise wore off her visage resumed its harsh and sarcastic
expression, and she seemed eager to efface any agreeable
impression her reception might have excited.
"An wha thought o
seein you enoo? said she, in a quick gabbling voice; "whats
brought you to the toun? Are ye come to spend your honest
faithers siller, ere hes weel cauld in his grave, puir man ? "
Mr Douglas explained,
that it was upon account of his nieces health.
she, with a sardonic smile "it wad mak a howlet laugh to hear
the wark thats made about young fowks health noo-a-days. I
wonder what yere a made o, grasping Marys arm in her great
bony hand; "a wheen puir feckless windle-straesye maun awa to
England for yer healths. Set ye up! I wonder what came o the
lasses i my time, that but to hide hame? And whilk o ye, I sud
like to ken, will eer live to see ninety-sax, like me? Health
! he! he!"
"You have not asked after any of your
Glenfern friends, said Mr Douglas, hoping to touch a more
"Time eneughwill ye
let me draw my breath, man ?fowk canna say a thing at ance.
An ye but to hae an English wife, too ? A Scotch lass wadna
ser ye. An yer wean, Ise warran, its ane o the warlds
wondersits been unco lang o comin he! he!
"He has begun life
under very melancholy auspices, poor fellow ! " said Mr Douglas,
in allusion to his fathers death.
"An whas faut was
that ?I neer heard tell the like ot, to hae the bairn
kirsened an its grandfather deein! But fowk are neither born,
nor kirsened, nor do they wad or dee as they used to doathings
"You must indeed have witnessed many
changes," observed Mr Douglas, rather at a loss how to utter
anything of a conciliatory nature.
"Changes!weel a wat,
I sometimes wonder if its the same warld, an' if its my ain
head thats upon my shouthers."
"But with these
changes you must also have seen many improvements? said Mary,
in a tone of diffidence.
turning sharply round upon her, " what ken ye about impruvements,
bairn? A bonnie impruvement to see tylors and sclaters leevin
whaur I mind Jukes and Yerls. An that great glowerin New Town
there," pointing out of her windows, " whaur I used to sit and
look at bonnie green parks, and see the kye milket, and the bits
o bairnies rowin an tumblin, an the lasses trampin" in
their tubs;what see I noo, but stane and lime, and stour and
dirt, and idle chiels, and dunket-out madams prancing. Impruvements,
Here a long pinch of snuff caused a pause
in the old ladys harangue; but after having duly wiped her nose
with her coloured handkerchief, and shook off all the particles
that might be presumed to have lodged upon her cardinal, she
"An nae word o' ony o your sisters gaun
to get men yet? They tell me theyre but coorse lasses ; an
whall tak ill-faured, tocherless queans, when theres walth o
bonny faces an lang purses i the market ? he, he! Then
resuming her scrutiny of Mary," An Ise warran yell be
lookin for an English sweetheart too; thatll be whats takin
ye awa to England!
"On the contrary,"
said Mr Douglas, seeing Mary was too much frightened to answer
for herself"on the contrary, Mary declares she will never marry
any but a true Highlanderone who wears the dirk and plaid, and
has the second sight. And the nuptials are to be celebrated
with all the pomp of feudal times; with bagpipes and bonfires,
and gatherings of clans, and roasted sheep, and barrels of
a wat an shes i the right there, " interrupted Mrs Mackshake,
with more complacency than she had yet shown. "They may ca them
what they like, but theres nae waddins noo. Whas the better
o them but innkeepers and chaise-drivers? I wadna count mysel
married i' the hidlins way they gang aboot it noo."
Mr Douglas, who was
now rather tired of the old 1adys reminiscences, availed
himself of the opportunity of a fresh pinch to rise and take
"Ou, whats takin ye awa, Archie, in sic
a hurry? Sit doon there, laying her hand upon his arm, "an
rest ye, and tak a glass o wine; or maybe, turning to Mary,
"ye wad rather hae a drap broth to warm ye. What gars ye look
sae blae, my bairn? Im sure its no cauld; but yere just like
the lave; ye gang a skiltin about the streets half-naked, an
then ye maun sit and birsle yersels afore the fire at hame.
The wine being drunk,
and the cookies discussed, Mr Douglas made another attempt to
withdraw, but in vain.
"Canna ye sit still a
wee, man, an let me speir after my auld freens at Glenfern?
Hoos Grizzy, an Jacky, an Nicky?aye working awa at the pills
and the drogs ?he, he! I neer swallowed a pill, nor gaed a
doit for drogs, a my days, an see an ony of themll run a race
wi me when theyre naur five score."
Mr Douglas here paid
her some compliments upon her appearance, which were pretty well
received; and added that he was the bearer of a letter from his
aunt Grizzy, which he would send along with a roebuck and a
brace of moor game.
"Gin your roebucks nae better than your last, atweel its no worth the
sending,puir fushionless dirt, no worth the chewing ; weel a
wat, I begrudged my teeth ont. Your muirfowl was no that ill,
but theyre no worth the carrying; theyre dang cheap i the
market enoo, so its nae great compliment. Gin ye had brought
me a leg o good mutton, or a caller sawmont, there would hae
been some sense int ; but yere ane o the fowk thatll neer
harry yoursel wi your presents; its but the pickle poother
they cost you, - an Ise warrant yere thinking mair o your
ain diversion than o' my stamack when yere at the shooting o
them, puir beasts."
Mr Douglas had borne
the various indignities levelled against himself and his family
with a philosophy that had no parallel in his life before; but
to this attack upon his game he was not proof. His colour rose,
his eyes flashed fire, and something resembling an oath burst
from his lips, as he strode indignantly towards the door.
His friend, however,
was too nimble for him. She stepped before him, and breaking
into a discordant laugh, as she patted him on the back,
"So, I see yere just
the auld man, Archie, aye ready to tak the strumps, an ye dinna
get athing yer ain way. Mony a time I had to fleech ye oot o
the dorts when ye was a callant. Div ye mind hoo ye was
affronted because I set ye doon to a cauld pigeon pie an a
tanker o tippenny, ae night to yer four-hours, afore some
leddies? he, he, he! Weel a wat, your wife maun hae her ain
adoos to manage ye, for yere a cumstarie chield, Archie.
Mr Douglas still
looked as if he was irresolute whether to laugh or be angry.
"Come, come, sit ye doon there till I speak to this bairn," said she, as she pulled
Mary into an adjoining bed-chamber, which wore the same aspect
of chilly neatness as the one they had quitted. Then pulling a
large bunch of keys from her pocket, she opened a drawer, out of
which she took a pair of diamond ear-rings.
"Hae, bairn," said she, as she stuffed them into Marys hand;
"they belanged to your faithers grandmother. She was a good
woman, an had four and twenty sons and dochters, an I wuss ye
nae waur fortin than just to hae as mony. But mind ye, shaking
her bony linger, "they maun a be Scots. Gin I thocht ye wad
marry ony pock-puddin, fient hait wad ye gotten frae me. Noo,
haud yer tongue, and dinna deave me wi thanks, almost pushing
her into the parlour again; and sin yere gaun awa the morn,
Ill see nae mair o ye enooso fare ye weel. But, Archie, ye
maun come an tak your breakfast wi me. I hae muckle to say to
you;but ye maunna be sae hard upon my baps as ye used to be,
with a facetious grin to her mollified favourite, as they shook
hands and parted."Marriage: a Novel"
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