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Chronicles of Gretna Green
Chapter XIX


Story of an Elopement from Bath to Gretna.

Children who marry heedlessly
Against their parents' will,
Bring trouble on them needlessly,
And do a grievous ill.

"What was that noise?" cried a lady, suddenly starting out of her sleep, and addressing her husband; "What was that noise?"

"What noise," said he peevishly, quite provoked at being awoke :  I heard no noise."

"I declare there are footsteps on the stairs at this time o' night; and I heard something fall like a pair of snuffers."

"Poo, stuff!—What nonsense you talk:—do go to sleep and hold your tongue."

"But I'm sure there was:—there must be thieves in the house."

"Thieves! How ridiculous you are! Women are always crying out about thieves. A mouse can't creep out of his hole after dark to find a crumb of bread for supper, but there must be hiieves in the house directly!"

"It's no good your talking,—do get up and see, and not lie there when there's danger."

"Danger! Snuffers too! I wish you wouldn't be so foolish, but just let me go to sleep."

And so he turned round and did go to sleep.—But the lady was right.

Who ever took a night-candlestick in his hand, but the chances were, that either the snuffers or the extinguisher fell down with a terrible clatter? We know not how it is, but there seems to be a kind of natural antipathy between night-candlesticks and the snuffers or extinguishers which belong to them: whether it is that these appendages are never properly .fixed into the little square holes made for them—the little square hole for the little square spike of the snuffers, being against the socket that supports the candle; and the like little square hole for the like little square spike of the extinguisher, being 011 the inside extremity of the handle: or whether there is a negative and positive electric stream, acting powerfully, yet invisibly, between the one and the other, serving to create a mutual disgust: or whether it is, that people generally take up night-candlesticks with more carelessness than any others : or whether there is any further reason tending to produce this phenomenon, we cannot take upon us to declare, being totally unable to resolve it ;—but the fact assuredly remains unquestionable, that both snuffers and extinguishers pertaining to night-candlesticks, are much given to fall over, and to make a great noise when they light upon the floor.

In the case in question, it was the snuffers and not the extinguisher; and it should seem that they rattled somewhat loudly, for the lady was aroused instantaneously from her slumbers ;—or else peradventure, it might be that the noise appeared to be very loud, because it was in the dead of night, when most sounds that disturb the universal hush, are much more audible than during the bustle of the day ; — or else again it struck very loud, (particularly on the terrified ears of those who let them fall,) because it was a clatter most alarming to the delinquents who made it, thinking that discovery, and detection, and failure to all their well-concerted plots must inevitably ensue upon this mishap, which would certainly call up the whole house, or at least papa with a brace of pistols in his hands, to see what foul play was abroach under his roof.

Snuffers make least noise when they fall point downwards—so do pairs of scissors, or penknives— because then they stick right into the floor making only a dead sound : but in this case it is necessary to be very careful of the toes, lest they get pinned incontinently to the said floor, before there is any time to jump out of the way. But if snuffers fall so as not to light on the point, they generally rattle with great vehemence; and if the spring at the hinge has been broken (which is the case in nine pairs out of ten) they generally open wide, and throw the snuff over the carpet or elsewhere.

In the instance of which we speak, we fear that the spring really had been broken, and that the snuffers did not fall upon the point; for if they had, it is quite impossible, in a philosophical view of the catastrophe, to reconcile the obstreperousness that they made. But, as we hereinbefore observed, this obstreperousness seemed so much the more loud, as it was peculiarly unwelcome to the perpetrators thereof; for if papa had only happened to open his door at that moment, a pretty discovery he would have made of a truth, and his fair daughters and their amorous juvenals would have been disappointed of a pleasant trip to the matrimonial soil of Scotland.

Every sound that we do not wish to have heard, appears much louder than it would if the contrary were the case; and if these two young ladies and their inaid had been engaged in any journey, about the discovery of which they might not have Cared, the din that the snuffers made, would scarcely have arrested their attention, and certainly not have put them into a state of extreme apprehension.

But papa scolded mamma about the thieves, and then sulkily went to sleep ; and mamma silenced, albeit not convinced, was enforced to go to sleep also.

Alas! how many dark deeds are done after the sun goes down!

The young ladies and their maid (who was in the secret, and an abettor in the crime) had allowed all the household to retire to rest ; and then, at about an hour or so after the tolling of that dismal meridian of the night, when ghosts troop home to churchyards, they stealthily arose from their couches and donned their habiliments, so quietly that no' sound was heard in the room but the drawing of stay-laces through eyelet-holes.

Some chroniclers affirm that they had never reclined at all, but had wished pa and ma good-night at the accustomed time, and had gone up stairs with very sleepy eyes, very much wondering how it was they were so drowsy.

They had at all events found time to pack up such needments, whether of vesture or other paraphernalia, as the necessities of the journey might require; for when they were all stealing their way breathlessly down stairs, and when the abominable snuffers made such a terrific noise upon the landing just outside papa's door—nt should seem that they were laden with sundry huge bundles ;—a circumstance that was quite sufficient to so cumber their hands and arms, as to cause them to hold the candlestick a little on one side and tip them over, particularly as we say, that the little spike of the one is rarely ever properly fixed into the little square hole of the other.

Besides the annoyance of the snuffers, the stairs creaked dreadfully as they crept down towards the front door; but even this did not bring papa out with pistols to see who had broke into the house at such a time,— and so they reached the hall unimpeded. Most people who come home from parties late,—who let themselves into the house with a night-key,—and who wish to steal quietly up to their room without disturbing the. inmates, generally know that the stairs creak ten times louder then, than they ever do at any other period whatsoever. It may be, that the person coming home, may wish to go up silently, out of a kind and considerate feeling towards the sleepers, not liking to disturb them, knowing that it is a very unpleasant thing to be awoke uselessly; for it often is the means of making us lie awake for half the night afterwards, and thereby wantonly robbing us of our due share of rest, without any reason ; or again, it may be, that the person coming home—especially if he be a bachelor son in his father's house, who has been spending a jolly evening at a later hour than he is proud to own—will be desirous to let the dwellers dream on, as much out of consideration to himself as to them, not exactly wanting to let them know what a rake he has been. And then at breakfast next morning he will pretend that he has been long up and waiting for his coffee before the others were down, having had quite sleep enough, (however heavy he might really feel about the eyes,) that the party met early in order to break up early, and that forsooth, being very slow and stupid, " he was the first to come away."

The opening of the front-door was excruciating.What with drawing back of bolts and bars and chains, the latter with round knobs at their ends running in sliders, there was the most torturing din it is possible to conceive; and then the paint of the door stuck to the paint of the door-frame, so that when they were pulled apart, they made a noise like that of screwing up a fiddle key, or that of a heavy person getting into bed. The hinges of the said door were just as bad; so that when they had at last removed all obstacles between themselves and the breezes of night, they might well have stepped forth with the momentary dread, lest divers smoky bullets should pour down stairs after them just as they were crossing the mat.

When they had descended three steps, they found themselves in one of the streets of King Bladud's beautiful freestone city of Bath. Here they were met by two personages, apparently a coachman and a footman, doubtless sent there by the expectant bridegrooms, who were not far off, that the ladies might be conducted to some pre-concerted place of meeting. One of these personages was a middle-aged man, somewhat stout, and might have been mistaken for a widower by his external; his coachman's livery did not fit to an admirable nicety somehow, but this circumstance did not seem to annoy him much, or his young mistress either. The other was taller and less stout in figure, and evidently younger in years: his footman's livery set passable well, but it is difficult to say whether he was proud of it or not.

When they met the ladies, they appear entirely to have forgotten all the deference which is due from servants to their superiors; instead of keeping at a proper distance and respectfully shewing them the way, they approached with all the glee and intimacy imaginable, just as if they were on a most perfect equality ! If they did not know their places better than that, they were not fit to be servants. The wonder is, that the ladies endured it—that they did not repel them with indignation—and that they suffered them to be their escort at all. The most confiding reader will scarcely credit us when we say that this coachman and footman each took a lady under his arm, and in that reprehensible way, walked off down the street, whilst the maid with the bundles brought up the rear.

Thus they traversed the pavement of this fairest of England's cities — a city whose inhabitants are always in hot water, and yet who do not quarrel any more than the inhabitants of any other city of the kingdom.

They had not gone far ere they came to a carriage all ready horsed and harnessed as if for a journey; and having stopped beside this, the footman threw down the steps, and assisted the fair peregrinators to enter. The bundles were stowed away, — the coachman was on the box, reins and whip in hand,— the footman having turned up the steps and shut the door, mounted on his dickey, and \ away they went on the first stage of their eventful enterprize.

But where are the gentlemen all this time ! The two bridegrooms, neat, trimly dressed, with chins new-reaped, shewing like a stubble-land at harvest-home, perfumed like milliners with pouncet-boxes in hand, and using holiday and lady terms. Where, forsooth, are they? We have seen nothing of this sort: — we have seen nought but a coachman and footman vestured in uniforms, 'who did not know how to demean themselves with such becoming deference as is generally looked for from servitors of their degree.

But the wheels of the vehicle are spinning round at a dizzy rate, and they are contending with the whirlwinds of Heaven as to which shall fly with the greatest rapidity. Somewhere in the commencement of this veritable history, we did say why it is that persons drive quickly when they are bound for the amorous soil of Caledonia ; and if it would not be to the disparagement of the coachman now on the box, with whip in one hand and reins in the other, we would not hesitate to repeat the words again. Certainly we might be forgiven if we did repeat them, because, as we do declare that, when we then wrote these words, we were in nowise thinking of the subject of this present chapter, and therefore could not have been trying to cast their applicability upon the worthy coachman, and so he could not charge us with any personal affront. Without taking the trouble to turn back to find the passage, we think we were reprebending the practice of thus going to Scotland at all, seeing that it is always done without the advice, con-sentment, and sanction of parents, guardians, or other wise and fitting counsellors; that the spirit which instigates persons to do so, is a bad spirit; that it is the spirit of disobedience, rebellion, turbulence, and sin ; and that those disgracious children who are evil enough to do so on their own responsibilities, have no right to grieve, whatever troubles, vexations, remorse, or stings of conscience may embitter their days afterwards.

The words to which we allude, constitute the essence and body of an old English proverb, and therefore could in no way have been coined for those who have just rushed out of the fair city and steaming waters, since it had become a chimney-corner apothegm in the mouths of our grannies, long before they were born or thought of.

All sinful enterprises are hurried over with extreme speed ; and the reason for this is manifest; videlicet — the fear of detection. Sinful enterprises are, furthermore, usually carried forward at night, when even the bat and the owl can scarcely guard their heads from butting against a post; and this, too, for the same reason, and because evil doers are ever afraid of looking at the noon-day sun. It is not wondrous, therefore, that he who drives toward Scotland, bent upon a journey so foul, should hasten himself and his party over the roads with all the expedience whereof he is master, for the most ancient proverb, above alluded to, says:—"One must needs go fast when the devil driveth."

The two ladies who sat in the carriage, and who were, enforced to go as fast as their coachman chose to drive, were of very different dispositions. The eldest being high-spirited, endowed with a will of her own, and therewithal a whit indomitable now and then if thwarted in her desires. The other, her sister, was of a nature wholly dissimilar ;— she was quieter of manner, not so voluble in speech, not so determined, and rather disposed to timidity than to rash and headlong daring. It is said that this bold project was not so readily embraced by the younger sister as by the elder; that the elder entered into it with goodly gree, as a matter of infinite disport; but that the other was talked into it, and persuaded to listen to it, and yield to such enormity, much against her better judgment. Her natural timidity, notwithstanding that it would have kept her out of mischief had she been let alone, was still the very weakness that brought about her fall when she was urged to do that which was wrong. It is a mistaken notion which some good people of this world have entertained that, the most retiring, modest, shy, and timid, are the least likely to commit error. They would be the least likely most assuredly, if they were suffered to adopt that retirement which their placid, natures might direct, and" above all, if they could be kept from tempters and evil counsellors; but they are the least safe when wicked advisers come in their way with persuasive words, snares, and allurements ; and for this reason, that they have not strength, resolution, or presence of mind sufficient to make them resist temptation, A high-spirited girl, whose morals have been well grounded, whose perception and estimation of that which is right, are just and correct, and whose religious principles have been properly implanted, is she who will brave the greatest temptations with the greatest safety. She is the woman to go through the world unscathed.

It is not for us to record here how papa and mamma thought, and felt, and looked in each other's faces, when they came down stairs in the morning, and found no girls to make breakfast for them — an operation which young ladies usually do, and very rightly too, when they are approaching towards woman's estate, and are being initiated into the domestic cares of housekeeping. Suffice it to say, that papa was so regularly done — any colour the reader likes—that his preaching was completely stopped the next Sunday ; and not only the next Sunday forsooth, but for several Sundays after, when he had removed to that pleasant watering-place ycleped Sidmouth in Devon.

The two sisters had not proceeded very far on their journey, when the timid one began to look into herself, and to reflect on what she had been doing; and the more she reflected, and the more she turned the matter over in her mind, the less was she satisfied with her position, her conduct, and her prospects.

She had suffered herself to be beguiled away from her parents' roof by the arguments of others, because, being mild of nature, she had not had enough of firmness at the moment of temptation, to resist the persuasions of those around her; urged by the same means, she had also consented to take a step which she now knew would give no small trouble to her father and mother, through anxiety and vexation of spirit; and she had, lastly, assented to tie a stronger than Gordian knot betwixt herself and another, lacking the approvance of those, and of others, to whom she might owe allegiance and submission and duteous observance.

The excitement of preparation, the preconcerting of plans for escape, the tying up of bundles, the-engrossment of thought attendant on getting to the carriage undiscovered, and the noise of voices mingled with the noise of wheels, had, up to this period, so drawn her away from herself, that she had had no time to look into the complexion of her deeds, or to hold her actions up to deliberate scrutiny. But the first bewilderment over, a re-action came on ; and her thoughts, from having been hitherto wholly external, and busied about the movements of others, as much as busied about her own, now rushed home to the centre of her heart, and recalled her to reason. So sorely perplexed did she at last become, that she could refrain no longer, but began to repent vehemently at the wicked step she had taken, and begged she might be allowed to return ere too late. Her sister, who, as we said, had a good deal of determination about her, and, as we may add, not so much discretion as she ought to have had, laughed heartily at her fears,— thought it was one of the best jokes in the world,— harped on the fact that they were actually going to be married—a consummation they had both long looked forward to,—and declared that it would be mighty funny, so it would, when they discovered at home, that the cage door was open, and the birds had flown!

Doubtless all this was passing comic and amusing— but it did not do ; she laughed again, and pinehed her sister's knees as she sat opposite her, to arouse her from her sinking fit, and brighten her up into the sunshine of mirth,—quizzed her apprehensions, ridiculed her terrors, and turned her evil bodings into derision.

Ridicule and derision are the strongest arguments in the world to the weak or hesitating, or to those who are halting between two opinions; people very often can be shamed into doing a foolish action — an action which, in fact, they ought rather to be ashamed of committing,—when sober rhetoric wholly fails to move them.

In the present instance, it may be said, that sober rhetoric would have been the least effective artillery that could have been brought to bear, because the most skilled artillerist could scarcely have addueed any sound reason in justification of their elopement; and, therefore, nothing remained but to deracinate whatever amount of fear had rooted itself in the mind of this young damsel, and seek to destroy it altogether, by turning the entire affair into merriment and burlesque.

Ridiculed, therefore, out of her fears, she sighed, hemmed, looked out of the carriage window, sighed again, reseated herself in her seat, looked in her sister's face, again out of window, and without giving a very decisive acquiescence, allowed herself to be whirled on towards the land of blacksmiths, and such like marriers-general.

It was now broad daylight; the birds were singing upon the waving sprays, even as if they themselves had been on the wing for Gretna; of course, supposing that they may not be flying thitherward lacking the approval of their papas and mammas, or else supposing that they were so callous of conscience as to receive no stings therefrom, like one of the fair journeyers in the vehicle. The people were all abroad at their various avocations, some bent on honest work, and others on cheating their neighbours; and the garish disc of the morning, which shines alike upon the just and upon the unjust, was climbing onwards toward the meridian, and daring sinners to look him in the face.

If this coachman and footman could so culpably forget their respect to the ladies when it was dark, as to offer them their arms to escort them through the city, just as we have previously and above' related, they now, when the eyes of the world were upon them in the various towns through which they passed held it discreet to demean themselves in a more deferential fashion. Wherefore, when they arrived at the termination of any stage, the footman, with great ardour in the performance of his duties, as if fearful of losing a good place, descended from his dickey, came to the carriage door whilst the horses were changing, touched his hat with much reverenee, asked the ladies whether they would like to get out and take any refreshment, and when all was right for the next start, touched his hat again, and then, with infinite legerity, mounted once more to his seat. On these occasions, also, the more portly coachman would come to the open, window, and hope that the ladies were not fatigued; he would peradventure make some observation on the roads whilst the ostlers of the inn were hooking on the traces, or buckling up the reins : and on one of these occasions, whilst he was standing by the window, and pretending to tie another knot at the end of the lash of his whip,- it is averred, that he looked in the face of the elder of the ladies, and absolutely smiled ! But it is impossible that such an atrocity as this could be perpetrated by i a coachman, without his being indignantly turned away at a moment's notice. It is not credible that the admired daughter of a wealthy clergyman, moving in the elite circles of Bath, and also of Sidmouth, when the Grand Duchess of Russia, Helene Paulowna, sister-in-law to the Emperor Nicholas, was not occupying their house in the latter place, should so forget the duties and the respect which she owed to herself, as to suffer her coachman to bear himself in this reprehensible way, especially as there were no gentlemen in the carriage to take their parts, their only male attendants being these two persons in livery.

The reader is doubtless much stricken in wonderment, that no fresh, spruce, and trim bridegrooms have yet appeared, who could claim to themselves, by their equality of rank and privileges as accepted lovers, the happiness of exchanging smiles, and significant glances, and sweet looks with the lovely fugitives, instead of abandoning them to be insulted by these base menials. But however strange this may appear, such, according to the veracious historian, was the fact,—no escort, besides what we have mentioned, being of the party.

We hasten, notwithstanding, to assure the reader, that in a very few moments, it will be our pleasant task to unravel this obscure mystery; and to satisfy his or her mind of every circumstance, accessory, and corollary, touching so knotty a transaction.

It must be unhesitatingly conceded, that bridegrooms who could, by their indifference and neglect, suffer their lady-loves to undertake a journey so long, only accompanied by such servitors, were not worthy their hands and hearts : and it must still farther be conceded, that if the intended brides could endure such remissness from their gentle juvenals, they were much more considerate and condescending than the said juvenals deserved. But idle speculation is vain : —they will all be in Scotland shortly, and then we will exert every literary power of which we are possessed, to lay the whole matter bare to the world.

On they journeyed, encountering such haps and hazards both by land and water, as most way-farers are liable to experience when they issue forth of their quiet homes, and roam through distant territories. It may be, that they encountered other haps and hazards besides those attendant on ordinary travelling; for as their passage and progress was not of an ordinary kind, it were not strange should they meet with scapes and ventures not being ordinary.

We have elsewhere remarked, that lovers hastening this way to the border, never see one bit of the ground out of the carriage over which they are hurrying ; because, instead of looking out of the windows to enjoy the country, they are intently and passionately gazing into each other's eyes as they are both sitting on the same seat: but in the present case this could not be, and for this reason, which is already obvious, namely, that there were no doting swains in the vehicle along with the ladies, and consequently no long-drawn, untiring gazements could take place. Wherefore, be it noted, that this party most probably saw more of the country through which they passed, than any other party that ever embarked on a similar journey.

A strange occurrence befel some space after they quitted Bath, and that was, that the coachman and footman threw aside their liveries, and dared to exchange them for plain clothes. This would appear as much as to infer, that they intended no longer to continue in the service of these ladies; and yet it is a fact, that they did positively remain in their service most entirely, and have actually continued to do so ever since, up to the writing of this narrative. It is remarkable, again, that their mistresses should allow them to be so rebellious: — but poor unprotected creatures, we have above said that they had no male protectors but these menials. Supposing any officer in the army or navy, were to throw away his livery and come on duty in plain clothes! What would be the consequence? Why, he would receive his warning to quit very soon : and yet we here have an instance of the very same thing, without their being turned away, or even so much as receiving a reprimand.

In short, dear reader, this is the most puzzling, mysterious, contradictory, and unaccountable affair that it ever fell to our lot to describe: we are totally bewildered with speculations, surmises, and doubts, and so are you—of that we feel certain.

But they are now landed in Scotland ; and here the most wondrous part of this wondrous business occurred. The disclosure must be made—there is no escaping it—the historian, you know, cannot eschew truth. Prepare to faint — or rather, prepare yourself with preventatives from fainting : we cannot prescribe them, for as we ourselves never fainted in all our life, we know nothing about its symptoms or its best restoratives. Howbeit, throw open the windows for fresh air ; ring for cold water ; have eau-de-Cologne at hand, as well as salts ; and do not forget the salvolatile.

These t^vo beauteous young ladies married no other than the aforesaid coachman and footman ! But the real truth is, when these servitors threw off their liveries, they turned out to be two gentlemen of goodly families, who were, indeed, the proper and pre-ordained bridegrooms!

Was there ever such disguise in the "'varsal 'orld" assumed by mortal man since the fashion of wearing habiliments first came into vogue? Of a truth, we should scarcely think so.

It is not the stole or the vestal veil,

That will make the monk or the frigid nun : As much would an o'crcast sky avail, To prove that at noon there were no sun.

And if the stole does not make the monk, or the veil the nun, since any person whatsoever can assume these habits for the nonce; neither, by a parity of reasoning, will laced and tagged liveries make the intrinsic coachman and footman ;—and neither, again, can we aver that at noon-day there is no sun shining in the heavens, because he is hidden and covered by a thick vesture of clouds.

Papa and Mamma were not so obdurate but that they could forgive these crimes in due time after the fair rebels had returned home with their bridegrooms —dressed now, not in glaring coats and plush smalls, but rather in soberlmed Saxonv.

Alas for runaway matches, and for our admirable motto on the title-page—"Marry in haste, and repent. at leisure." We have said that one of the ladies had a good spirit, and also a will of her own. Some scandal-mongers do say that her husband has since made this discovery—but we abhor giving any credence to scandal. We know what Byron says of high-spirited ladies:—

"I've seen your stormy seas and stormy women,
And pity lovers rather more than seamen."


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