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Reminiscences of Old Scots Folk
An Old Coaching Inn


"Riftam tiftam, try my porter,
'Twill make your road a great deal shorter;
And if you chance to return this way,
You'll find here plenty of corn and hay."

IT STANDS TO-DAY, ON THE GREAT LONDON road, beaking in the sun, with its step gables and many chimneys, its ekes and its entry, its red-tiled roofs and range of stables—the old coaching inn of Fairshiels. No longer do the post-boys wind their horns at the door, or the many-coated drivers of the "Flying Scotsman" or the "Royal Mail" gather up the reins of their teams and make a brave show as they start out in summer sunshine or winter snows. The coaching days and the old ways are all gone, and a solitary hen walks across the grass-grown courtyard to-day in the sun, croaking and scratching between the cobblestones for one seed of the farmer's grain.

But this same old inn of Fairshiels has known great days. Being the first stage from Edinburgh on the east road to London town, many a famous man has paid the lawing to the host after a royal night in the great parlour and a sound sleep between the lavender-scented sheets.

There is a sough of Queen Mary about the whole countryside, with Borthwick Castle just over the hill yonder, and Cakemuir Castle with its Queen Mary room in the keep hard by. Prince Charlie himself passed up the road, after his brave but tarry-fingered highlanders had stolen cream and honey, down by at Ford, to make Atholl brose. King James hunted over the moor, but a step or two from the inn, where there still stands the gable end of the royal hunting box which we call now The Luggie. And it is a hard thing for a Scotsman to believe that any of the dram-drinking Stuarts could give the old coaching inn at Fairshiels the go-by without passing the time of day with mine host.

In olden times, when men and maids were hastier in love than they are now, many a young couple arrived at Fairshiels inn and clamoured for blacksmith or host to tie the knot.

It was on a dull, quiet November day—the nineteenth of the month—of the year 1772, that a coach-and-four swept over Soutra Hill and came thundering down the road to the inn door. With a shout for the ostler, a fair young man of twenty-one, dressed in a claret-coloured coat with ruffles at neck and wrists, thrust out his head at the coach window and called for James Fairbairn the innkeeper.

"How far are we, landlord, from the royal town of Edinburgh?"

"Fifteen miles, sir, if you please."

"Ha! Bessie, my love," said he, looking round at a pretty girl who was listening to every word in the dark interior of the coach, "it is too far to risk it. Let us get out here and send for a parson to weld the golden chain, my dear, for I've heard that at Fairshiels they have tied some bonny knots ere this."

"Certainly, my lord—we have a guid repute for making young folks happy here!" chimed in the wily landlord, with a wink.

And with that the young lady got out.

He was plain John Scott in those days, but he was already an Oxford scholar, and had been born in Love Lane, Newcastle—surely a right appropriate place for one whose heart was hot with romance. And she, the beautiful Elizabeth Surtees, at John Scott's bidding and with her own heart in the great ploy, had escaped by a ladder from her father's house in England, and made off across the Border in a coach-and-four with her lover, young John Scott of University College, Oxford. Twenty-one and eighteen, youth and beauty, with nothing but true love and a dooms empty purse between them—they laughed at to-morrow, and galloped up with a laugh to Fairshiels inn that day.

"Jack Scott," said a friend on hearing it, "has run off with Bessie Surtees, and the poor lad is undone."

No fear of that. For after James Fairbairn, the land-lord of the inn at Fairshiels, had sent for the parson at Haddington, because the parish minister bogled at the job, John Scott and Elizabeth Surtees were married in the inn parlour, James and William Fairbairn, the innkeeper and the smith, being the witnesses and signing the certificate. Then, returning quietly to Oxford, they lived for a year on his scholar's pay.

They were, from the first, a well-matched, happy pair; but after a year at tutoring, John Scott took to the Law. From one step of the ladder to another the lad climbed up, until, as Solicitor-General, Attorney-General, Chief Justice, and last of all Lord Chancellor, the world knew him as Lord Eldon with the pretty wife Lady Bess.

He had found it hard enough to pay for the hired coach-and-four when he galloped off at twenty-one with his bonny bride. But when he died, an old man of eighty-seven, he left behind him half a million pounds; and the folk said that his lifelong devotion to Bessie was the most beautiful thing in his siccar life.

Fairshiels was a thrang place in those days, and no mistake. For scarcely had Jack Scott and his bride left, on the 20th of November, when Samuel Johnson and James Boswell arrived from Sir John Dalrymple's castle of Oxenford on the 23rd!

The great lumbering man rolled in at the inn door, with a laugh to Boswell about Lady Hungry's seven-year-old sheep and the spoiled dinner.

And that Sabbath night, when Samuel Johnson called for his thirteenth cup of tea, the landlord slyly remarked, "So ye have been to sup with Lady Bess doon by?"

"Why, yes—we had that honour. But,do you know her ladyship?"

"Eh, sirs! Surely we a' ken Lady Bess hereaboots —for she was oor ain auld Laird's only bairn, and she made a run-away match wi' Sir John mony years syne."

"Do you have many irregular Scots weddings here, then?" asked the great man, with a touch of sarcasm in his voice.

"Ay—but they are maistly English bodies," replied James Fairbairn, with a look out of the corner of one eye at Samuel Johnson. "We had one but three or four days syne in this very parlour—John Scott, an Oxford scholar,and a bonny bit English lass called Elizabeth Surtees."

"Is it possible?" cried Johnson. "I know Jack Scott very well!"

So after drinking a fourteenth cup of tea that Sunday night he went to bed. But Boswell remained in the parlour writing in his portfolio, and James Fairbairn brought him something in a greybeard that was not tea.

On the Monday morning, Johnson left Scotland in the Royal Mail coach, and never again returned to the country or people that he could not understand. And the Monday following he went down to Oxford and drank a dish of tea—or was it more?—with young John Scott and his wife, and held a close collogue with them about Fairshiels inn and irregular Scots weddings.

The very last to put up an old family coach, with a dickey and rumble, at Fairshiels inn, was another of the Scott clan—Lady John Scott of Spottiswood, in the parish of Westruther. The slight, jimp girl, who had inherited the fair curly hair and the heavy-lidded blue eyes of the Wauchopes of Niddry from her mother, married Lord John Scott, the only brother of the Duke of Buccleuch. Guid gear gangs in wee buik, and this denty Scots gentlewoman was full of music and poetry and that sough of old romance which gars the thought of ancient times and things bring tears to the eyes in the sunset or the gloaming. It was this same Lady John who wrote the song of "Bonnie Annie Laurie," and put a tune to it out of her own romantic soul, as she sat with her fingers drawing music from the strings of her harp.

She was a stout Jacobite, hated English ways, and would not travel in a railway train. Many a time she stood in a dwam of delight at Spottiswood, watching the London coaches rolling up and down the Great North Road two miles away—but that was before the present woods were planted. From her wedding day till her burial she was always out in the shine or storm of her beloved Lammermoors. For her bridal trip was a drive from Spottiswood to Bowhill on the afternoon of 16th March 1836, and the coach ran into a drift of snow. When her last song had been sung, and they carried her shoulder-high to the Auld Kirk of West-ruther,on the sixty-fourth anniversary of her wedding day, the little black procession was caught in a blinding snowstorm. It was what she would have liked best of all, for she once said to her grandniece at Spottiswood," Heaven won't seem heaven if I don't see those benty fields and tufts of rushes there!" The wind of the Lammermoors was the breath of her soul.

But she was old and done when she crossed Soutra for the last time, and put up her antique family coach at Fairshiels inn for a change of horses. There are those living this very day who heard the clatter of her horses on the cobbles of the yard, and saw my Lady John set out again for the palace of the Duke at Dalkeith; and yet she herself had spoken to those who had often held converse with Prince Charlie. So much good Scots history had passed before the blue eyes of this auld-farrant gentlewoman!
And as we look at the old deserted inn to-day, beaking in the lown, we seem to see a little old lady with peach-bloom cheeks, dressed in a scarlet shawl and wearing doeskin gloves with Vandyke gauntlets, walking up and down the pleasaunces at Spottiswood.

We hear, too, the thin, quavering voice singing this "Song of Durrisdeer," which she wrote so long ago in the old kirkyard where her lover-lord was buried— and both voice and song are set most sweetly to the tinkle of the harp which she loved all her life—

"We'll meet nae mair at sunset, when the weary day is dune,
Nor wander hame thegither, by the lee-licht o' the mune!
I'll hear your step nae longer amang the dewy corn,
For we'll meet nae mair, my bonniest, either at eve or morn.

The yellow broom is waving abune the sunny brae,
And the rowan berries dancing where the sparkling waters play.
Tho' a' is bright and bonny, it's an eerie place to me,
For we'll meet nae mair, my dearest, either by burn or tree.

Far up into the wild hills, there's a kirkyard auld and still,
Where the frosts lie ilka morning, and the mists hang low and chill,
And there ye sleep in silence, while I wander here my lane,
Till we meet ance mair in heaven, never to part again."


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