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The Cottagers of Glenburnie
Chapter XX. Extract of a Letter addressed to the Author


ADAM,—It appears very surprising, that, well acquainted as you evidently are with the past and present state of the families about Glenburnie, you should nevertheless be so ignorant of the history of Jean MacClarty, as not to know that she some years ago married a cousin of her own, and that they keep a well-known inn on the-road. As their circumstances are, I fear, in a declining state, and as it may be in your power to avert their utter ruin, by inducing travellers to give a preference to their house, at which none, alas ! now stop but from dire necessity, I shall be at pains to furnish you with such an exact description of it, as cannot fail to be instantly recognised.

I might begin by mentioning the slovenliness apparent about the entrance, the dirty state of the doorsteps, etc.; but as it is not altogether peculiar to this inn, it might serve to mislead you. I shall, therefore, conduct you into the passage, the walls of which seem to have been painted at the time the colour called Paris mud was so much in fashion. The pavement and the stairs have a still blacker groundwork, over which lies a coat of sand, which answers the purpose of a register, and enables them to measure the size of every foot that treads the carpets of the adjoining rooms, as you will perceive on entering the best dining-room, into which you will of course be conducted.

You will imagine on entering it, that you have immediately succeeded to a company who have been regaling themselves with rum-punch and tobacco; but you need not scruple to occupy the room on that account, as I assure you the smell is perennial, and has been so carefully preserved in its original purity, that you will find it at all seasons of the year the same. The floor is completely covered with carpet, but what that carpet covers can only be conjectured, the nails with which it is fastened to the floor having never been removed : and this circumstance, together with the black dust which lies in heaps round the edges, and works up through the thinner part of the fabric, has led many to suppose that a manufactory of charcoal is carried on below !

The tables you will find still more worthy your attention. On those that have been much in use you will observe many curious figures traced in ale, etc., bearing a striking resemblance to the Lichen Geographicus, well known to botanists. The chairs you will probably find it advisable to dust before sitting down, and this will be done with great alacrity by the sturdy lass, who, bare-legged and with untied nightcap and scanty bed gown, will, soon after your arrival, hurry into the room with a shovelful of coals as a kindling for your fire. As there will, on this occasion, be an absolute necessity for removing at least part of the immense pile of white ashes with which the grate is filled, and which have remained undisturbed since the room was last in use, I would hint the propriety of keeping at a due distance from the scene of action; but when the bars have been raked, I would recommend you not to suffer the farther removal of the ashes, as, if you are any way squeamish, I can assure you they will be of use as a covering to the hearth, especially if your immediate predecessors have been fond of tobacco.

In the article of attendance you will find this inn to be no less remarkable than in the particulars above described. The waiters are of both sexes, and all are equally ingenious in delay. It is a rule of the house that your bell shall never be answered twice by the same person ; and this is attended with many advantages. It in the first place gives you time to know your own mind, and affords you an opportunity, in repeating your orders to so many different people, of making any additions that may in the interim have occurred. It in the next place keeps up the character of the house by making you believe it to be full of company; and lastly, it provides an excuse for all the mistakes that may be made in obeying your directions.

If you dine at Mrs MacClarty's I shall not anticipate the pleasure of your meal, farther than to assure you that you may depend on having here the largest and fattest mutton of its age that is anywhere to be met with, and that though it should be roasted to rags, the vegetables will not be more than half boiled. I cannot forbear warning you on the subject of the salt, which you will conclude from its appearance to be mixed with pepper, but I am well informed that it is free from all such mixture. As to the knives and forks, spoons, plates, etc., it is needless to tell you that they are in excellent order, as you will at a glance perceive them to have been recently wiped.

In order to obtain a complete notion of the comforts of this excellent inn, you must not only dine but sleep there : in which case you must of necessity breakfast before leaving it, as, at whatever hour you rise the carriage will not be got ready till you have taken that meal. Nor must you expect that breakfast will be on the table in less than an hour from the time from your ordering it, even though all the forementioned waiters should in succession have told you it would be up in five minutes. At length, one bustles in with the tea equipage and toast swimming in butter. After this has had half an hour to cool, another appears armed with the huge tea kettle, which he places on the hearth, while he goes in search of the tea. Another half hour passes, during which you repeatedly ring the bell, but to no purpose. By this time you are in despair—the bare-legged wench runs in, bearing the tea caddie in her black hand, and saying, that she has been but this moment able to get it from her mistress. Her mistress you need not expect to see; as she makes a point of never appearing to ladies, not being in a dress to be seen by them; and being, moreover, greatly troubled with weak nerves.

If you are so unfortunate as not to have a travelling carriage, I hope you will not travel this road in rainy weather; as the glasses of Mr MacClarty's chaises were all broken at an election, about two years ago, and have not been yet repaired. This will account for the heap of wet straw at the bottom of the carriage, which, as it is never changed, must of course smell somewhat fusty. The linings are likewise in a very bad condition ; but on the stuffing of the cushions time has made little alteration; and as you may be curious to know of what materials it is composed, I am happy to be able to inform you, having been at the trouble to dissect one on purpose; when, to my great astonishment, I found, instead of the usual quantity of tow and horsehair, an assemblage of old ropes, every piece of which was so ingeniously knotted, as to evince in how many useful purposes they have been employed before they reached their destined state of preferment.

My earnest desire of rendering an essential service to the daughter of my old friend Mrs MacClarty, has, I am afraid, led me to trespass too long upon your patience; but the preference shown by travellers for the inn at the next stage, will be a sufficient apology for my partiality, and account for the dread I entertain of the impending ruin which threatens to overwhelm this last branch of the old and respectable stock of the MacClartys. When I inform you that the rival inn is kept by a scholar of Mrs Mason's, you will quickly perceive that my fears are not without foundation; and yet I must own the reason of the preference given to it by the public appears to me to imply a contradiction. Why are people of fortune so fond of travelling but on account of the variety it affords ? And when one finds at an inn, as at that which I now speak of, the same neatness, cleanness, regularity, and quiet, as at one's own house, the charm of variety must be surely wanting.

Yet these innkeepers seem to thrive amazingly. They indeed trust nothing entirely to the discretion of servants. They superintend all that is done in every department with their own eyes; and as any injury that happens to furniture, carriages, etc., etc., is instantly repaired, the saving in tear and wear must be considerable. Add to this, what is saved in the article of attendance by method, and in the article of food by good cookery, and you will not wonder that they should prosper. Alas ! I fear they will continue to prosper, and that their example will soon be too generally followed, and complete the ruin of my unfortunate friends.

I remain, etc.


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