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The Cottagers of Glenburnie
Chapter VII. A Peep behind the Curtain.—Hints on Gardening


WHILE Mrs MacClarty was preparing ten meals for her guests, Mrs Mason cast her exploring eye on the house and furniture. She soon saw, that the place they were in served the triple capacity of kitchen, parlour, and bed-room. Its furniture was suitably abundant. It consisted, on one side, of a dresser, over which were shelves filled with plates and dishes, which she supposed to be of pewter : but they had been so be-dimmed by the quantities of flies that sat upon them, that she could not pronounce with certainty as to the metal they were made of. On the shelf that projected immediately next the dresser, was a number of delf and wooden bowls, of different dimensions, with horn spoons, etc. These, though arranged with apparent care, did not entirely conceal from view the dirty nightcaps and other articles, that were stuffed in behind.

Opposite the fire-place were two beds, each enclosed in a sort of wooden closet, so firmly built as to exclude the entrance of a breath of air except in front, where were small folding doors, which were now open, and exhibited a quantity of yarn hung up in bunches— affording proof of the good wife's industry. The portable furniture, as chairs, tables, etc., were all, though clumsy, of good materials ; so that Mrs Mason thought the place wanted nothing but a little attention to neatness, and some more light, to render it tolerably comfortable.

Miss Mary Stewart took upon herself the trouble of making tea, and began the operation, by rinsing all the cups and saucers through warm water; at which Mrs MacClarty was so far from being offended, that the moment she perceived her intention, she stepped to a huge Dutch press, and having, with some difficulty, opened the leaves, took from a store of nice linen, which it presented to their view, a fine damask napkin, of which she begged her to make use.

'You have a noble stock of linen, cousin,' said Mrs Mason. ' Few farmers' houses in England could produce the like; but I think this is rather too fine for common use.'

'For common use!' cried Mrs MacClarty; 'na, na, we're no sic fools as put our napery to use ! I have a dizen table-claiths in that press, thretty years old, that were never laid upon a table. They are a' o' my mother's spinning. I have nine o' my ain makin' forby, that never saw the sun but at the bookin washing. Ye needna be telling us o' England !'

'It is no doubt a good thing,' said Mrs Mason, ' to have a stock of goods of any kind, provided one has a prospect of turning them to account; but I confess I think the labour unprofitably employed, which, during thirty years, is to produce no advantage, and that linen of an inferior quality would be preferable, as it would certainly be more useful. A towel of nice clean huck-a-back would wipe a cup as well, and better, than a damask napkin.'

'Towels!' cried Mrs MacClarty, 'na, na, we manna pretend to towels : we just wipe up the things wi' what comes in the gait.'

On saying this, the good woman, to show how exactly she practised what she spoke, pulled out from between the seed tub and her husband's dirty shoes (which stood beneath the bench by the fireside), a long blackened rag, and with it rubbed one of the pewter plates, with which she stepped into the closet for a roll of butter. ' There,' says she, ' I am sure ye'll say that ye never ate better butter in your life. There's no in a' Glenburnie better kye than our's. I hope ye'll eat heartily, and I am sure ye're heartily welcome.'

'Look, sister,' cried little William, ' see there are the marks of a thumb and two fingers ! Do scrape it off, it is so nasty.'

'Dear me,' said Mrs MacClarty, ' I did na mind that I had been stirring the fire, and my hands were a wee sooty; but it will soon scrape off; there's a dirty knife will take it aff in a minute.'

'Stop, stop,' cried Miss Mary, ' that knife will only make it worse ! pray let me manage it myself.'

She did so manage it, that the boys, who were very hungry, contrived to eat it to their oatcakes with great satisfaction; but though Mrs Mason made the attempt, the disgust with which she began, was so augmented by the sight of the numerous hairs which, as the butter was spread, bristled up upon the surface, that she found it impossible to proceed.

Here, thought she, is a home in which peace and plenty seems to reign, and yet these blessings, which
I thought invaluable, will not be sufficient to afford me any comfort, from the mere want of attention to the article of cleanliness. But may I not remedy this ? She looked at Mrs MacClarty, and in the mild features of a face, which, notwithstanding all the disadvantages of slovenly dress, and four days' soil (for this was Thursday), was still handsome, she thought she perceived a candour that might be convinced, and a good nature that would not refuse to act upon conviction. Of the countenances of the two girls she could not judge so favourably. The elder appeared morose and sullen, and the younger stupid and insensible. She was confirmed in her opinion by observing, that though their mother had several times desired them to go to the field for their father, neither of them stirred a step.

'Do you not hear your mother speaking to you?' said Mr Stewart, in a tone of authority. The eldest coloured, and hung down her head ; the younger girl looked in his face with a stupid stare, but neither of them made any answer.

'Y'll gang, I ken, my dear,' said Mrs MacClarty, addressing herself to the younger; ' O ay, I ken ye'll gang, like a good bairn, Jean.

Jean looked at her sister; and Mrs MacClarty, ashamed of their disobedience, but still willing to palliate the faults which her own indulgence had created, said, ' that indeed they never liked to leave her, poor things ! they were so bashful; but that in time they would do weel eneugh.'

'They will never do well if they disobey their mother,' said Mr Stewart; ' you ought to teach your children to obey you, Mrs MacClarty, for their sakes as well as for your own. Take my word for it, that if you don't, they, as well as you, will suffer from the consequences. But come, boys, we shall go to the field ourselves, and see how the farmer's work goes on.'

Mrs MacClarty, glad of his proposal, went to the door to point the way. Having received her directions, Mr Stewart, pointing to the pool at the threshold, asked her how she could bear to have such dirty doors. ' Why does not your husband fetch a stone from the quarry?' said he. 'People, who are far from stones and from gravel, may have some excuse; but you have the materials within your reach, and by half-a-day's labour could have your door made clean and comfortable. How then can you have gone on so long with it in this condition?'

'Indeed, I kenna, sir,' said Mrs MacClarty; ' the gudeman just canna be fash'd.'

'And cannot you be fash'd to go to the end of the house to throw out your dirty water? Don't you see how small a drain would from that carry it down to the river, instead of remaining here to stagnate, and to suffocate you with intolerable stench !'

'O, we're just used to it,' said Mrs MacClarty, ' and we never mind it. We cou'dna be fash'd to gang sae far wi' a' the slaistery.'

'But what,' returned Mr Stewart, ' will Mrs Mason think of all this dirt? She has been used to see things in a very different sort of order; and if you will be advised by her, she will put you upon such a method of doing everything about your house, as will soon give it a very different appearance.'

'Ay,' said Mrs MacClarty, ' I aye feared she would be owre nice for us. She has been sae lang amang the Englishers, that she maun hae a hantel o' outlandish notions. But we are owre auld to learn, and we just do weel eneugh.'

Mr Stewart shook his head, and followed his sons, who had by this time disengaged the gate from the posts, to which it had been attached by an old cord of many knots.

While Mr Stewart had been engaging the farmer's wife in conversation at the door, his daughter had been earnestly exhorting Mrs Mason to return to Gowan Brae, and to give up all thoughts of remaining in a situation in which she could not probably enjoy any degree of comfort; but her arguments made no impression. Mrs Mason adhered inflexibly to her resolution of making a trial of the place; and, on Mrs MacClarty's entrance, begged to see the room she was to occupy.

'That you sal,' said Mrs MacClarty; ' but, indeed, it's no in sic order as I could wish, for it's cram fou o' woo'; it was put in there the day of the sheep-shearing, and we have never ta'en the fash to put it by; for, as I said before, we did not expect ye till after the fair.' She then opened the door that was placed in the middle, exactly between the two beds, the recesses of which formed the entry of the dark passage, through which they groped their way to the spence, or inner apartment, which was nearly of the same size as the kitchen. Mrs Mason was prepared for seeing the fleeces, which were piled up in the middle of the floor; but was struck with dismay at the fusty smell, which denoted the place to be without any circulation of air. She immediately advanced to the window, in the intension of opening it for relief. But, alas! it was not made to open; and she heard for her comfort, that it was the same with all the other windows in the house. The bed, which was opposite to it, was shut up on three sides, like those in the kitchen. At the foot was a dark closet, in which Mrs Mason's trunks were already placed. Between the window and the fire-place was a large chest of drawers of mahogany; and on the other side of the window an eight day clock in a mahogany case. The backs of the chairs were of the same foreign wood, betokening no saving of expense; yet, upon the whole, all had a squalid and gloomy aspect.

Mrs MacClarty tossed down the bed to show the fineness of the ticking, and the abundance of the blankets, which she took care to tell were all of her own spinning. She received the expected tribute of applause for her good housewifery, though Mrs Mason could not help observing to her what a risk she ran of having it all lost for want of air. ' See the proof of what I say,' said she, 'in that quantity of moths ! they will soon leave you little to boast of your blankets.'

'Moths !' repeated Mrs MacClarty, ' there never was sic a sight o' moths as in this room; we are just eaten up wi' them, and I am sure I kenna how they can win in, for no ae breath o' wind ever blew here !'

'That is just the thing that induces them to breed in this place,' returned Mrs Mason. ' Plenty of air would soon rid you of the grievance; since the window is unfortunately fast, I must beg to have a fire kindled here as soon as your maid comes from the hay-field.'

'A fire !' repeated Mrs MacClarty, ' I thought you had found it owre warm.'

'It is not to increase the heat that I ask for a fire,' returned Mrs Mason, ' but to increase the circulation of air. If the doors are left open, the air will come sweeping in to feed the fire, and the room will by that means be ventilated, which it greatly stands in need of. I can at present breathe in it no longer.'

By the help of Miss Mary's arm, Mrs Mason got out into the open air, and gladly assented to her friend's proposal of taking a view of the garden, which lay at the back of the house. On going to the wicket by which it entered, they found it broken, so that they were obliged to wait until the stake which propped it was removed : nor was this the only difficulty they had to encounter; the path, which was very narrow, was damp, by sippings from the dirty pool : and on each side of it the ground immediately rose, and the docks and nettles which covered it, consequently grew so high, that they had no alternative but to walk sideways, or to separate.'

'Ye'll see a bonny garden if ye gang on,' said Mrs MacClarty. ' My son's unco proud o't.'

'I wonder your son can let these weeds grow here so rank,' said Miss Mary; ' I think if he is proud of the garden he should take some pains to make the entrance to it passable ?'

'Oh, it does weel eneugh for us,' returned the contented mother. 'But saw ye ever sic fine suthern wood ? or sic a bed of thyme ? we have twa rosebushes down yonder too, but we canna get at them for the nettles. My son gets to them by speeling the wa,' but he would do ony thing for flowers. His father's often angry at the time he spends on them.'

'Your husband then has not much taste for the garden, I suppose,' said Mrs Mason; ' and indeed so it appears, for here is ground enough to supply a large family with fruit and vegetables all the year round ; but I see scarcely any thing but cabbages and weeds.'

'Na, na, we have some leeks too,' said Mrs MacClarty, ' and green kail in winter in plenty. We dinna pretend to kick-shaws; green kail's gude eneugh for us.'

'But,' said Miss Mary, ' any one may pretend to what they can produce by their own labour. Were your children to dress and weed this garden, there might be a pretty walk; there you might have a plot of green peas ; there another of beans and under your window you might have a nice border of flowers to regale you with their sweet smell. They might do this too at very little trouble.'

'Ay, but they canna be fashed,' said Mrs MacClarty ; ' and it does just weel eneugh.'

Mr Stewart now appeared, and with him the farmer, who saluted Mrs Mason with a hearty welcome, and pressed all the party to go in and taste his whisky, to prevent, as he said, the tea from doing them any harm. As the car was now ready, Mr Stewart begged to be excused from accepting the invitation ; and after laying a kind injunction on Mrs Mason, to consider no place so much her home as Gowan Brae, he set off with his family on their return homewards.


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