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Chronicles of Gretna Green
Chapter II


Gretna Green : its Toll-gate keeper and Marrying-houses.

Some good advice is here conseribed
For those who stand in need :
The Toll-gate keeper is described
For those who choose to read.

Although in the last chapter we said we were not paving the way to Gretna Green by writing these pages, and although we said that we would lose no opportunity of appending a wholesome moral to each anecdote which it will be our province to record, yet let it not be concluded that we are therefore one of that Axctfpix of modern philosophers, who go about decrying matrimony altogether, as a state into which the rising generation had better not think of entering, and which ought to be looked on by those who do venture into it, at best but as a necessary evil.

That which is natural cannot be wrong: and that compact between the sexes which is of divine origin, .must be right from its very origin. If, therefore, there is anything whereof to complain, the fault lies in ourselves, and not in the institution. The institution, in itself, is purposed to ensure our happiness, and where it does not achieve this, it is not referable to the divine framer of the condition, but to our own weaknesses, petulancies, and devilish evil passions.

We hold matrimony to be necessary; the only thing is, to enter upon it advisedly, wisely, and discreetly. Thus, then, when we say that we are not now paving the way to Gretna Green, we mean what we say—videlicet, that we are not paving the way to Gretna Green, or persuading people to go thitherward, but are by no means counselling against marriage in other more creditable places. Let all marry, so be they do it considerately;. and let them do it before the altar in the midst of Mother Church, with well-approving friends and neighbours around them; and if, after having done our best to obtain a peaceful life, we discover that we have been deceived in our judgments of the partners we have selected, why, the misfortune must be considered in the same light as other appointments in this world are considered, that is, as one of the trials which it has pleased Providence to lay upon us. It is an after-satisfaction to reflect that we took the step to the best of our reason, and with the best concurrence of our relations ; but such after-satisfaction cannot alleviate those who have to remember that they ran away to Gretna Green against the wishes, counsel, or consent of their parents, guardians, or whomsoever it might have been.

There is no sting so bitter as that of remorse ; and to be angry with ourselves for having done a .foolish thing, cuts ten times sharper than the anger of all the whole world else. The anger of another against us may fire our resentment for a moment, and enkindle our rage against that other; but remorse for our own misdeeds is a never-dying worm, which gnaws the heart in secret, corrodes it like acid eating into metal, and dives deep, like the canker grub that creeps into the centre of the rose-bud. Compared with this, the outburst of rage is almost a noble passion. Rage against another, where we have justice on our side, is a swelling, an inspiring, an expanding passion; but remorse is a humiliating, self-degrading, lessening, compressing passion: and where we feel little in our own eyes, painful indeed is the sensation. Wherefore, good reader, eschew Gretna Green for fear of this remorse, and have rectitude on your side by repairing properly to church.

Immediately after the way-farer has passed the Sark, he will perceive a toll-gate just beyond the bridge on the right-hand side ; this is the first building over the border, and is situated close thereunto, as the reader will conceive. Now, this is a right excellent situation for business : as it lies at the very entrance of the Sister Kingdom; it is on the chief road of the country, over which everybody journeying into western Scotland' must pass; in fine, it is there like the open mouth of a net set against the stream.

The advantageous site of this toll-gate was too valuable to be neglected, and herein dwells one Simon Beatie, collector of tolls, tribute, and so forth, and a man who may be described as being "wide awake." He is a knowing and shrewd personage, well to do in the world, and knows "what's what," which, as we take it, is a praise far above common.

As the office of marrying in Scotland is not restricted to a certain privileged few, but is open to all,' to be performed by every one whom it may concern, and as he who thus accommodates the needy does not do so there for nothing, any more than elsewhere, why it follows that this trade may be made not an unprofitable one, if the self-ordained priest can only procure customers. Well, now, we have said that Simon lives on the great thoroughfare—this was a wise choice for locality; but then, scores of candidates for matrimony might come over the bridge on foot, (as they often do to lull suspicion,) and pass through the gate on their way to the Green, for foot passengers have no excuse for tarrying at toll-gates, having no tribute to pay. Be it so : but we have said that Simon was " wide awake," and so he determined to give them an excuse for stopping. He set up a large and attractive sign-board over his door, whereon is notified, in bright paint, that he is the vender of " ale, porter, and spirituous liquors," so that the weary and the thirsty may now enter his dwelling, in order to rest their bones and moisten their clay. This was considerate. But dost thou think, right courteous reader, that Simon reared up this huge emblazonment solely and simply to decoy the parched over his threshold ? Oh, no! Simon is a shrewd man, as aforesaid, and can look as far into an oak plank as most men. He intended it as an excuse for the shy and diffident, who might not at first have courage to declare the true object of their coming. All persons whatsoever, let their motive for journeying this way be what it may, have, under the authority of this board, an allege-able reason for stepping in. and asking after his health; this is just the very thing he intended. It is the plea of the thirsty, and the cloak of the modest ; they allege the first, being stricken with fear through the power of the second.

Touching this enterprising individual, there are many witty and waggish anecdotes current in the parish, ay, and beyond the bounds of the parish, too ;' these, for the most part are, peradventure, set abroach by the villagers, rather through envy and jealousy of a thriving rival in the trade, than as being broadly based on' truth; yet, it is certain, that in much falsehood spoken, some truth will ever be found to run astray. Not a being passes the bridge but Simon searchingly scans him with his eye, first through the little diagonal window which flanks and commands the road, such as all toll-gates possess, and then from his front door, at- greater advantage, for he is anxious to secure him ere he can get to the other marrying-shops. If there be anything in the stranger's appearance that looks like wedlock, or as if bent on wedlock, Simon  courteously, but bluntly, (for such is his manner,) bid him welcome over the border by coming to the threshold, as if to receive toll or, if the stranger be on foot, so as to be wholly exempt from paying scot, he will then come, merely prompted by a feeling of philanthropy, which he should appear to bear towards every fellow-creature, and inquire how matters speed in the south country.

Some say that he is somewhat of an inquisitive turn, because he is wont to be very loquacious to those who cross the bridge.

"How now, traveller " he will say to him, as he approaches, "I ken ye find the roads dusty," (or heavy, or wet, or dry, or rough, or pleasant, or unpleasant, as the case may be,) "how far gang ye? 'tis a far cry to Annan."

"I am not going to Annan," the wayfarer may answer.

"And right too, for ye'll na get there till ye are tired. Ye ken not the distance to Annan; ye are a stranger in these parts by your talk."

"I know this country but imperfectly," is the likely reply; "and if I had never come thus far, I should have known still less."

"Aweel, aweel, now, and that's true; and those that coom here, pick up knowledge that they'll na learn anywhere else."

"Every locality has its own peculiar history, and each place we journey to furnishes something new. It is not strange, therefore, that this neighbourhood should be the home of facts, or traditions, or legends, that are not to be met with elsewhere."

"Right; and facts, too, as no other parish in her majesty's dominions ever contained the like. Why, ken ye what parish ye have stepped into, now that ye have passed yon river ?"

"What parish? I know nothing of the divisions of your parishes in Scotland, or where their boundary lines begin and end; but, if I am not mistaken, the village of Gretna Green is somewhere about here, though I don't mean to say I can tell how far off."

"And that's the name of the parish ! the most celebrated parish in all the whole earth; and this toll-gate is the most famous toll-gate that ever was built, not because I take so many bawbees from passers by, but for reasons much more important, as I ken."

"Certainly," the peregrinator will observe, as he gives a glance at the white-washed house ; "I should not have been particularly struck with the external appearance of the building, for it looks much like most others of the same class."

"No, no, no," Simon will answer hastily; "no, ye'll na say there's anything aboot it; and no more there is, barring the inside. I ken ye're tired;— we sell home-brewed beer, ale, porter, cider, foreign wines, whiskey, and other spirituous liquors; and though, as ye say, there's nothing striking outside —except the board that bears those words of course —the inside is one of the neatest insides ye ever went into, especially the parlour with, the corner window that looks down the road."

"No doubt, no doubt. How far is it to the nearest public?"

"Oh! now, I ken it's a far cry, and ye'll be overmuch tired an ye go further till ye've rested awhile, and filled your painch with a farl of bread, or a bannock, and a mutchkin of berry-brown."

"No," I am neither tired nor hungry: and if I stand in need of no rest, nor require any of your berry-brown or heather-dew, why should I tarry here and dally by the way-side?"

"Ye are na in sieh a hurry as that. There's a braw big hoose up at the Green, where they will charge ye for just looking into the gateway : an if ye gang into the door, ye'll na coom oot again till your bawbees are a' gone. He who goes in there will change weight between his heart and his purse ; and when he comes away he will find his purse as light as his heart might ha' been when he went in, but yet not nearly so full: and his heart will be as heavy as his purse might have been, but not with gold though—so tahk that for a truth."

"And pray what is the name of this ' braw big hoose,' against which you warn ipe?" - " Oh, they cahl it the hahl." "The hall?—Gretna Hall? " "May be ye've heard on it afore." "I have heard the name."

"Aweel sir, ye've na coom to Scotland for nothing—have ye?"

"I never go or come anywhere for nothing; if I did, I should be wasting time and strength to very little purpose."

"That's true ; and may be ye've not coom to Gretna for nothing neither."

"Of course not. I should be spending time and strength uselessly if I had—just as I said before." "Perhaps you would. Any information . that you want about the customs of this parish I can give you better than any man on the border, and you will do well to inquire here before you go further, for you know not whom you meet or how they will try to persuade you."

"You speak as if I had entered a region of difficulties, temptations, and perplexities, wherein I am to be tried, and sounded as to my motives, and watched and dogged and questioned as to the object of my coming amongst you. Surely I may pass through Gretna Green unnoticed, 'or tarry as long as I like, and go when I like, without being subject to such scrutiny ?"

"Oh Lor, sir, this is the land o' liberty as far as that goes, and ye be welcome over the Sark; but when we see a stranger on the Moss cooming this way, we like to know what is the news that he brings along with him ; for it is a true saying, that no two men possess the same knowledge—not if they both came from the same place, and had lived there all their days among the same people—and so ye ken that every one, whoever he is, always brings some thing different?

"Very good, that is like enough."

Thus Simon will feel his way, and probe the unsuspecting who travel thitherward. He will appear particularly anxious to welcome him — no matter whom or from whence emanating—to the land of cakes and ale ; he will ask the news south at Carlisle, how business speeds, whether the traveller has succeeded in the undertaking he had heard he was engaged in, when it is likely to be completed, whether he is not wearied after his walk, and indeed, whether he will not come in for five minutes and crush a cup or so? These and such like wary questions, judiciously urged, will sometimes elicit from the visitor the purport of his coming, yet if the said visitor, when he has discovered wherefore he is thus catechised, wholly disclaims being bent on a matrimonial adventure, Simon is so suspicious lest he may be deceived, and so fearful lest the rival priesthood in the village should take the job from him, that the strongest asseverations to the contrary, will rarely satisfy him that no wedlock is contemplated.

Thus it is, that his neighbours merrily relate how he one day forcibly waylaid an old woman and her nephew as they were returning from Carlisle market, and well nigh constrained them to enter into the holy estate, in spite of all their protestations against the proceeding. It was in vain they declared that they were actual aunt and nephew, and repudiated the very idea ; it was in vain they swore they were only two innocent relations returning quietly to their homes after a day of traffic and toil; it was in vain the old woman called her nephew, "boy," and "child," and "lad" (for he was forty years younger than herself), Simon was deaf to all argu-ments.andall expostulations ; he had taken the notion into his imagination, and he was headstrong and determined. These boisterous words reverberated widely through the valley, until they accosted the ears of certain of the villagers at a distance; aud this served to attract them hastily to the spot, where their assistance was verily in request. Gentle entreaty and mild persuasion wholly failed to achieve their deliverance ; and it was not until more decided measures were taken that they succeeded in rescuing these victims from Simon and from matrimony.

'Tis also pleasantly told, that a man travelling along the road, whereon he had never been before, being a stranger in these parts, did by a mere chance meet a woman of whom he inquired the way; and how Simon pounced upon them both as they were holding converse ; and how he desired to make them forthwith swear hymeneal faith and love to each other till death should them part; and forsooth, how it was that none could persuade him that they were strangers and had never met before ; and even if that were true, he saw no reason, nevertheless, why he should not wed them. Surely these be witty conceits, and right merrily set forth.

We have not told our friends by what chance it was that we were suddenly stirred up to repair to Gretna Green, and when there, to tarry several days in the parish for the purpose of collecting, "interesting materials," such as should serve for this authentic history—but it can be done in a few lines.

It so befel for our pleasant recreation, we had been making a peregrination round the Highlands, and were returning homeward toward the dew-dropping south—ay, and had even crossed the Debateable Land, and arrived in the ancient city of Carlisle.

By another chance also, we here became acquainted with a funny, laughing specimen of hu-inanity, who had himself taken a wife to his bosom at Gretna, and who was full of anecdote touching the adventure, so soon as he saw how curious and amused we were. He eloquently narrated how impatiently his lady-love and himself sped over the border in the carriage, and never saw one bit of Solway Moss or the country, for the reasons before given ;—how he found " the blacksmith" so called, infinitely drunk, and fast asleep;-—how he shook him by the shoulders to arouse him to life and to duty imperative — how the said blacksmith rubbed his maudlin eyes, and cried out for another noggin;— and how he could have been married for a shilling, only he came in a chaise, and so he paid half a guinea.

Such words were not without their effect; the man was stirred up within us; we repented us- of our sin, and incontinently girding up our loins for the journey, we forthwith hastened back over the Sark, and took up our lodgment in the mansion hard by the Green.

There are several marrying-shops in this most remarkable and interesting parish, by the proprietors of which the trade is pretty much monopolized to the exclusion of many others who would set up for themselves in so profitable a line, if they could contrive it; but when strangers rush hastily into the place, they must of necessity repair to some hotel or inn, there to abide whilst the ceremony is being perpetrated ; and thus the proprietors of such establishments possess advantages in monopoly which no private persons can cope with, although any inhabitant may have equal right to marry the strangers, just as much as the innkeepers. Thus a kind of understanding has been set up, and entered into between the inn-keepers of Carlisle and the inn-keepers of Gretna : the former sending customers to the latter, their friends, and the latter playing back into the hands of the former by sharing the rich proceeds; —and in this manner they reciprocally carry on a right slashing business. .

The wisdom of such a situation as that of Simon Beatie close to the bridge over which every one must pass, will now manifestly be perceived ; for he knew how many rivals, enemies, and monopolizers prowled about the village; and hence, by getting just within the border, he was determined to secure the first chance, and to forestal them as much as possible.

Gretna Hall,—before mentioned—or simply, "the hall," as it is there designated — is now the principal aristocratic and fashionable resort, since the new road has been made ; but formerly, when .the great thoroughfare lay through Springfield, a little inn ycleped "The King's Head," situated in the centre of that village, was the temple whereunto the noble and the gentle repaired, as we shall soon take upon ourselves to set forth.

Besides these, and Simon Beatie, it is true there are one or two other minor beer-shops in which a man may ruin himself; but these do not require especial mention now, though they may be touched upon incidentally as occasion may suggest; yet friend Simon at the toll-gate must on no consideration be slighted; and, to be candid, we think we cannot do better than commence with him.

Upon a certain morning during our sojourn, we idly, but designedly, directed our steps down towards the bridge; and whether we were thirsty when we read the sign-board over the door, or whether we had any other motives for approaching Simon's abode, making this one the cloak, or whether we came for the purpose of collecting historical and traditionary notes, or whether we had any other reason whatsoever, but so it was, somehow we entered in and besought the tapster for a stoup of the best by way of preliminary. Simon Beatie himself, at that identical moment was seated upon a stool before a table, on which stood a looking-glass, a mug of hot water, and a circular pewter box: his chin, his lips, and his cheeks up to his ears, were covered with a fine white lather, and in his right hand he held a brush, which, on our entering, he was laying down in order, to take from a red case a well stropped razor:—in short, he was just about to commence the cursed operation of shaving. Whatever ills the disobedience of Adam and Eve have entailed upon the softer sex, surely we may say that the curse of shaving has lighted grievously upon their masters. This, however, is not the curse of ancient Adam, but the curse of modern fashion. Ye gods ! every morning in summer — ay, and even twice in one day, upon occasion of a very select evening party, and in winter perhaps a little less often, (for, an you be a lady, gentle reader, we will tell you that the beard does not grow so fast in cold weather as in hot,) imperatively and assuredly does the task come round, even as regularly as the sun rises above the horizon. Simon, howbeit, shaved away in silence, as a martyr endures the rack without a murmur, when he knows that nothing can ward off his doom.

He called a deputy to perform the honours of his house, and, although he ceased not his occupation until it was completed, he was evidently wide awake as to the possible unrevealed motive for this visit. He appeared to think that the stranger had only come to negotiate, or arrange preliminaries — a thing he always does think whenever a stranger comes in—and that there was some nice girl concealed behind the hedge, or in the nearest cottage, who in five minutes would be produced, so soon as such preliminaries might be satisfactorily made out.

He soon started the subject which was near and dear to him, (because'it was one of the most lucrative in which he dabbled,) and he readily entered fully and freely into it, wherever he might do so without revealing too many of the state secrets connected with the trade.

"So, Simon," we observed, "you carry on two occupations at the same time ; you collect tribute on her majesty's highway, and you sell strong waters under royal licence?"

"You are right, sir," said he; "but I should soon starve upon those, if I did not carry on a third that pays better than both the others put together.''

"Assuredly, then, that third trade must be an excellent one."

"Right again, sir. Do you want to be married?" "Want what?"

"To be married. You know you are in Gretna parish, and that's the trade I mean." " Stay, stay; you are too precipitate." "I only thought that the young lady who is waiting for you whilst you spoke to me, would be tired."

"Oh ! she is much indebted to you, indeed. But you really do marry?"

"No doubt of it; and I do more business than any priest in the village. Perhaps you have a wife already?"

"Perhaps not."

"Well, that may be; I canna say for certain. Once I thought you looked like a married man." "Once, ay ? and how did I look that once?" "Why, sir, a married man has always got a different sort of look upon him to what another has; I canna say exactly what it is, but it's a something." "What gay and happy, I suppose?" "Oh no, sir, more to other." "And pray what is ' more t' other?" "Why, grave and thoughtful like, sad and broken down in spirit."

"Ha, ha, ha ! that is admirable." "Now, sir, you look for all the world like a bachelor."

"If,, then, I really am a bachelor, as you say I look when I laugh, methinks you do not give me much encouragement to change my state."

"You may safely change it here; Gretna weddings always turn out well."

"Do they, indeed? Well, that is more cheering."

"If you are married, you have not been married at Gretna Green, I would venture a bawbee or two."

"True, I have not been married at Gretna Green. You say that weddings achieved here always turn out well: now, I think I know one couple, at least, who came here as fast, as four horses could carry them, who now sometimes scratch each other's faces."

"Suppose you do, sir, there is no harm in that—"

"Oh ! good morning—"

"Besides, I take it, they went up into the village, to the Hall, or the King's Head, instead of coming to me ; so that, if they do fall out now and then, why surely it is more their fault than mine."

"Certainly, it is not yours if you had no hand in the matter."

"You Southrons are too long about these matters ; you ponder over them too much, and that makes you hesitate, and hesitation brings mistrust; and when people begin to mistrust, it is all up with their happiness. They have no time here to ponder, to hesitate, or to mistrust; the thing is done as soon as thought of, and then they have only to set about making themselves as comfortable as they can."

"' Marry in haste and repent at leisure,' saith the proverb."

"I respect proverbs in most cases, because they are founded upon truth and experience ; but proverbs are not gospel, although you will find several chapters of them in the Bible."

"Just so, just so."

"By my position close to the bridge, you see, sir, I have the first chance of those who come over : those who come on foot are my own for certain ; but those who come in carriages generally make for the Hall, and drive so furiously I can't stop them. When, however, I see anything coming over the Moss at a fair round pace, I go and shut the gate. Whilst I am pulling back the bolts to let them through, I have time to find out what they are, and try if I canna get the job out of the hands of my neighbours. Now, sir, I tell you that during the first three years I kept this gate, I married two thousand couple.1 What think you?"

"That thou carriest on a slashing trade."

"Ay, and they have turned out well and happy. I have done more for the happiness of this world than any other man under the blue sky."

"Truly, then, the universe is much beholden unto you."

"I canna deny it, and I woona try: I married five couplc only yesterday morning ; first two couple came in with their friends, and then the other three."

These facts are honourably presented unto the reader even as Simon Beatie delivered them ; and despite the jealousy which the villagers cherish towards this all-potent rival, many of them afterwards confessed to the truth of his assertions.

Simon Beatie is a large stalwart man, taller than many, and fatter than most; he speaks by short, rapid, and detached sentences, like one having a nervous and mercurial temperament; and furthermore, his speech is a rough comminglement of the Cumberland and Scotch dialects; facts which, added together, render it very difficult for a southerner to comprehend him.

"We did try by various innuendos, and even by more decided questions, to elicit from him what the "damage" might be for being wedded? but these questions he civilly combatted and eschewed, manifestly thinking, with Shakspere, that "two can keep counsel putting one away: "so he preferred the policy of keeping his own counsel in this matter to himself, and not sharing it with another. He answered by crying out against the exorbitant demands of his fellows in trade, and concluded by saying that, "he would do it just as well and effectually as they could if wc would only produce the lady, and he would do it much cheaper, too."

This "brawny Scot" is discreet and wary as it should seem, and will not let his tongue cut his head off, as such unruly members have in aforetime done for their wearers: nevertheless, notwithstanding Simon was cautious to maintain his secret for obvious reasons, yet there were plenty of others, his neighbours, who had not the same interest or inclination for doing so, but who, on being questioned, divulged all they knew of Simon and his practices. They said that neither he nor any other " priest" in the parish "had any fixed charge, nor was there any settled demand established whether by law or custom; that the great aim was by them all, " to get as much as possible;" that when a stranger made application, he judged by the appearance or manner of the party, and asked accordingly ; that the ignorance of the party making application, gave both him and his brothers in office the opportunity for undue exaction ; that if his demand is preposterous, (as it often is,) he may be beat down ; but that rather than miss a chance, and allow others to reap the spoil, he has been known to unite man and wife in the bands of holy matrimony for the most particular sum of one shilling!

These facts apply more or less to all the functionaries in the place, it being the object of each and all to drive bargains as lucrative to themselves as they possibly can; and for having enlightened the reader on these matters, we consider that we are entitled to some acknowledgment, seeing that if he now goes to Gretna in haste and precipitancy, he will not go ignorant of what concerns his interest, but will be able, through his knowledge, to save more money in his negotiations than will pay for this work twenty times over.


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