By Susan Edmonstone Ferrier
"Though last, not
least of nature’s 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
mother’s, 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-tempered—I can’t 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 d’oeil’ of which struck a chill to Mary’s
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 Time’s 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 e’noo? ” said she, in a quick gabbling voice; "what’s
brought you to the toun? Are ye come to spend your honest
faither’s siller, ere he’s weel cauld in his grave, puir man ? "
Mr Douglas explained,
that it was upon account of his niece’s health.
she, with a sardonic smile "it wad mak a howlet laugh to hear
the wark that’s made about young fowk’s health noo-a-days. I
wonder what ye’re a’ made o’,” grasping Mary’s arm in her great
bony hand; "a wheen puir feckless windle-straes—ye 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 e’er 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 eneugh—will 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, I’se warran’, it’s ane o’ the warld’s
wonders—it’s been unco lang o’ comin’— he! he!”
"He has begun life
under very melancholy auspices, poor fellow ! " said Mr Douglas,
in allusion to his father’s death.
"An’ wha’s faut was
that ?—I ne’er heard tell the like o’t, 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 do—a’thing’s
"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 it’s the same warld, an' if it’s my ain
head that’s 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 lady’s 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 they’re but coorse lasses ; an’
wha’ll tak ill-faured, tocherless queans, when there’s walth o’
bonny faces an’ lang purses i’ the market ?— he, he!” Then
resuming her scrutiny of Mary,—" An’ I’se warran’ ye’ll be
lookin’ for an English sweetheart too; —that’ll be what’s 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 Highlander—one 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’ she’s i’ the right there, " interrupted Mrs Mackshake,
with more complacency than she had yet shown. "They may ca’ them
what they like, but there’s nae waddin’s noo. Wha’s the better
o’ them but innkeepers and chaise-drivers? I wadna count mysel
married i' the hidlin’s way they gang aboot it noo."
Mr Douglas, who was
now rather tired of the old 1ady’s reminiscences, availed
himself of the opportunity of a fresh pinch to rise and take
"Ou, what’s 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? I’m sure it’s no cauld; but ye’re 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?
Hoo’s Grizzy, an’ Jacky, an’ Nicky?—aye working awa at the pills
and the drogs ?—he, he! I ne’er swallowed a pill, nor gaed a
doit for drogs, a’ my days, an’ see an ony of them’ll run a race
wi’ me when they’re 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 roebuck’s nae better than your last, atweel it’s no worth the
sending,—puir fushionless dirt, no worth the chewing ; weel a
wat, I begrudged my teeth on’t. Your muirfowl was no that ill,
but they’re no worth the carrying; they’re dang cheap i’ the
market e’noo, so it’s nae great compliment. Gin ye had brought
me a leg o’ good mutton, or a caller sawmont, there would hae
been some sense in’t ; but ye’re ane o’ the fowk that’ll ne’er
harry yoursel wi’ your presents; it’s but the pickle poother
they cost you, - an’ I’se warrant ye’re thinking mair o’ your
ain diversion than o' my stamack when ye’re 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 ye’re just
the auld man, Archie, —aye ready to tak the strumps, an ye dinna
get a’thing 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 ye’re 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 Mary’s hand;
"they belanged to your faither’s 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’ ye’re gaun awa the morn,
I’ll see nae mair o’ ye e’noo—so 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"