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Scotch Stories and Lectures, Humorous and Amusing
Story — Ordination in Marriage


A person is never so apt to make a gross mistake as when, without thinking, one makes a random observation with a view to please. I experienced this very decidedly the other evening, in a conversation I happened to have with my friend, Miss McCracken. You know, Miss McCracken is not young—anything but young—and there is no appearance of a “man” turning up. It rather seems to me as if Miss M‘Cracken had missed her matrimonial turn. So, somehow, in the course of a rather rambling talk, we happened to touch on that very interesting subject—matrimony; when, thinking it would be acceptable, I said, “Marriages above all things puzzle me. You will see,” quoth I, “young girls married long before they know anything like the proper way to conduct themselves; and wiselike, mature, sensible women, and never a man asking their price. Marriages,” quoth I, “seem to me a chance affair altogether.”

Quoth Miss M'Cracken, “I hold an entirely different opinion. Whatever ordination there may be in other matters, I do believe there is a decided ordination in marriages. There are, no doubt, many foolish marriages; for it seems a natural law that the silliest people are married first. This is philosophically accounted for,” quoth she, with a face as long as my arm, “ from the fact that the humbler the organization the greater necessity for multiplication.”

From this starting-point she went on—“There are, no doubt, as I said, many foolish marriages; but they are not chance affairs for all that. Just look how simply and unexpectedly marriages come about. Look, for instance, how our friend Miss Mary Smith fell in with her husband;—and a very decent husband he is, although he does happen to be a beadle. Mary is far from being a beauty, and yet you could not call her ill-looking either. She has a kind of comfortable look: she is rather of the dumpy order—there is a good deal of what they call the Dutch build about her; but Mary happens to have remarkably neat feet, and like all the folk that ever I knew that have neat feet, Mary weal’s ridiculously thin shoes both summer and winter. Well, it was one Sunday forenoon last winter, in the church, that Mary felt her feet so cold that she was afraid she was going to faint; and, to prevent a scene, Mary thought she would just go out and take a walk in the church lobby, to see if the exercise would bring back the natural heat to her feet. So, out she went; but just as she was closing the door the beadle was at her heels (it was just about four months since the beadle’s wife had died). The church-officer, of course, very politely asked Mary if she was poorly. Mary said there was very little the matter with her, only her feet were remarkably cold. * We will soon cure that,’ quoth the beadle; ‘ there’s a first-rate fire in the vestry.’ With this, he showed Mary into the minister’s room, where there was really a most comfortable fire. He placed a chair, set Mary down upon it, and in a very kindly, cozy manner, put up Mary’s feet to the fire. In doing so, he happened to take notice, and made the remark, ‘ Dear me, lass, ye have uncommonly neat feet!’

“Mary had known the beadle a little when he was a boy, so she put him in mind of this, and asked him how he liked to be a beadle.

“He said, *Just middling; it was a very bare job.’

“Mary said, ‘There would be a few perquisites, of course.’

“'Very little of that/ quoth the beadle; *sometimes at a christening, if it happens to be a decent working-man’s wife, I may get the matter of a shilling or eighteenpence; but if it is any of your gentry dirt, I am just told that they will see me again—and it is perfectly true; for when there is another child to christen I see them then, and then it is the same old story.’

“Mary said she was not so shabby as that. She just carried one child, and the folk, being rather near the ‘wind/ gave her nothing to give the beadle, so she just slipped him a half-crown that she happened to have of her own. The beadle said there were not many people so ready with their half-crowns. The beadle and Mary got on to a real comfortable chat; so much so that Mary, without thinking, said, ‘Is it not a pity that it is Sunday? this would be a first-rate place for courting.*

“‘What about Sunday? ’ quoth the beadle; ‘the better day the better deed; but/ quoth he, ‘you should come to the Wednesday evening meeting; there is a veiy interesting meeting in the church on Wednesday evening.*

“Mary needed no great coaxing to attend the Wednesday meeting: she was present at the first one. As it was dismissing, the beadle whispered Mary that if she would slip in behind the door till he got the church secured, he would take a walk with her. Mary did as she was told. Where do you think they took their first walk? Hound and round the passes of the church! Among other things that the beadle entertained Mary with during their walk was his telling her that if his talents had not been neglected in his youth, in place of being a beadle, he would veiy likely have been a very popular minister, for he had first-rate talents for the preaching business: indeed, he said, with the cultivation he had, he could preach nearly as well as the most of the ministers that came to their church. He said if Mary liked to go into a pew, and be the congregation, he would go up to the pulpit and let her hear what he could do. Mary was perfectly agreeable to act the part of the ‘beloved brethren/ so in she went into a pew, while he went into the vestry and put on the gown to give his ministrations full effect. He was not long in the pulpit until the sweat was breaking on him as he rattled away about ‘ the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart*

“Mary listened very attentively for a good while; at last, quoth she, ‘I am tired of hearing this kind of sermons; could you not give us a touch at some of the sins of the present time—perhaps The Sunday Cab Question, or The Drinking Customs?*

“‘No, no,* quoth the beadle; ‘I understand the preaching ' business better than that; the minister who, in a city like Glasgow, would keep together a wealthy and respectable congregation must keep clear of all allusion to any sins, unless it be the sins of the antediluvians: he may occasionally come down the length of Pharaoh, but never farther.

Miss M‘Cracken cut her story short at this point, saying,

“I need not trouble you with all the outs and ins of the courtship: Mary’s thin shoes and cold feet led her direct to matrimony; for it was but a short time until she and the beadle were married.”

I said, “If the history of Mary’s courtship were generally known, it would make thin shoes even more fashionable^than they are.”

“The thin shoes,” quoth Miss M‘Cracken, “were but one liuk in the chain of predestinated circumstances: the first links between Mary and the beadle were, no doubt, welded when they were boy and girl.”

“And yet,” quoth Miss M‘Cracken, starting on another tack, “ that early association is in no way an essential link in the matrimonial chain was very clearly proven in the case of Jessie Watson. Jessie was Mary Smith’s bride-maid, and, before a month thereafter had gone over her head, she was married to a most respectable man that she had never spoken to until the night of the beadle’s wedding. You will be thinking she got the beadle’s ‘best-man*? No; he was none of the marrying sort. He went home with Jessie, to be sure, on the night of the wedding; but Jessie says he was the most lukewarm wooer that it was ever her misfortune to be paired with. In walking home he kept the most gingerly distance; and when the wind blew Jessie’s gown across his pantaloons it evidently made him nervous. He was a geological student, and his entire conversation was devoted to his favourite science, by which, he said, we shall ultimately be able to ascertain precisely the form and structure of all the creatures who inhabited this world before the creation of man. Jessie said, ‘It must be a very interesting study;’ but when she shook hands with the geologist, whose petrified paw had no more feeling in it than the hand of a mummy, she thought within herself that, in her ignorance of science, for all practical purposes she would prefer a companion whose studies had been chiefly devoted to those creatures who have inhabited the world since the creation of man. Well, when Jessie had parted with the ‘Fossil,* as she called him, and arrived at her own door, she discovered that, in the bustle of preparation for the wedding, she had forgotten to put her latch-key in her pocket; and, there being nobody in the house, she, of course, was locked out. What was she to do? She had seen, in coming up the stair, that there was light in the lobby below, so she thought she would just step down and see if Mrs. Murray’s latch-key would open her door; and yet she hesitated a little in calling at Mrs. Murray’s at that time of night (it was half-past eleven); for although Mrs. Murray herself was a real neighbourly body, she had a stubborn, sulky, bachelor son, who, if he were to come to the door, might shut it in Jessie’s face. Jessie had never spoken to him, but had heard from his mother more than once that he in a manner hated the women: his mother said she dare not for her very life allow a young woman to come about the house. Mrs. Murray did not know how it was, but her William had no notion of the lasses. Jessie, however, thinking that there was no fear but Mrs. Murray would answer the door herself, knocked gently with the old-fashioned knocker, and in a moment, as if by magic, the door opened, and Jessie stood face to face with Mrs. Murray’s sulky son. Jessie’s breath fairly left her.

“The young man said, ‘I thought you were my mother.’

‘“Did you?’ quoth Jessie, in a timorous kind of way.

“‘I meant to say,* quoth the young man, with a humorous smile on his face, ‘ that when I heard you knock I thought it was my mother.*

“‘She is not in then?’ quoth Jessie.

“‘No,’ quoth the young man; ‘but I expect her immediately: just step in.* This was said in such a soft, pleasant, and yet confident tone, that Jessie instinctively obeyed, and before she had time to think whether it was right or wrong, she was sitting in a cozy easy chair in Mrs. Murray’s parlour, her sole companion Mrs. Murray’s reputed sulky son. The young man seemed anything but sulky. Jessie was at home with him at once. She told him of her dilemma regarding the latch-key.

“He said his mother had her latch-key in her pocket. He then very pleasantly asked if there had been much fun at the wedding.

“Jessie said it had been a very sober wedding, but it was rather a funny courtship. She then, in her own lively way, told Mary’s first interview with the beadle in the vestry, and how speedily the wedding had come about. Mr. Murray said it was a very natural love story: he said groves and glens did very well for the children of imagination to court in; but for real flesh and blood drawing cozily together, there was no place like a comfortable room with a good blazing fire.

“The two sons got into a real cozy, comfortable talk, for which they had ample opportunity, for Mrs. Murray did not return until nearly five o’clock in the morning. When she did return, and saw at a glance that Jessie Watson had, by mere accident, at one swoop scaled all the fortifications of fictitious sulky stubbornness with which she had so long defended her son from all feminine artillery, she wept with perfect spite. In her indignation she told her son that he had ruined the young woman’s character. The old woman did not calculate the effect that this ill-natured remark would produce, or she would have been more guarded in her commentaries; for whenever William Murray saw that it was possible that Jessie’s innocently sitting all night at the fireside with him might make her the subject of vulgar scandal, he at once proposed marriage; and in less than a month the beadle and his wife, and their petrified ‘best-man,' all danced at Jessie Watson’s wedding. So,” quoth Miss M‘Crackenf “if that wedding was not brought about by circumstances over which the parties concerned had no control, I am no judge of the dispensations of Providence.”

I said there was certainly something in the idea of matrimonial ordination.

“Something in it!” quoth Miss M‘Cracken; “it is a simple fact, of which we have the very clearest demonstration. I could give you illustration upon illustration of the providential ways in which. I have known people brought together. A very curious one occurred last season at the ‘salt water.’ The lady, in this instance, was one that by general consent was written down an old maid,—Miss Janet Salmond they called her. She was a shrinking, bashful creature, that was very retiring in the company of men; so much so, that she was ‘left blooming alone’ long after her schoolmates were all married and had families. Well, last summer Miss Salmond, being complaining a little, was recommended to try the effect of sea-bathing; so, with this intention, she took up her quarters in a small cottage near the sea-side at Dunoon. The first day or two Miss Salmond did not tiy the bathing, having no companion, and being afraid to go into the sea by herself: she just sat at the window watching to see if she could observe anybody bathing that she could take the liberty of going in beside. After due consideration, she came to the conclusion that she would go in along with a stout lady that bathed regularly from the adjoining cottage. This stout lady was a first-rate bather, and seemed, so far as Miss Salmond could judge, in no way ceremonious. So the day after Miss Salmond had made up her mind to bathe, she was dressed in her bathing-gown, and sitting at the window, looking out for the appearance offthe stout lady. Little did * modest Miss Salmond think of thfe step she was about to take. Well, the stout lady was, as usual, punctual. So, whenever she was in the water, Miss Salmond stepped in beside her, and modestly hoped the stout lady woiild excuse the liberty she had taken in bathing, as it were, under her protection. The stout lady nodded her head, and laughed, and after plunging three times over the head, was going out, when Miss Salmond, who was standing chittering, asked (as she was an awful coward) if the stout lady would dip her? The stout lady, without speaking a word, took hold of both Janet’s hands, and put her over the head; then, pointing to the shore, directed Janet out; and after taking two or three good plunges herself, came out at her leisure. This seemed a very simple affair, not likely, one would say, to lead to any peculiar results; but wait a little. Miss Salmond had just got herself dressed when she received a note from her bathing companion, which ran thus:—‘ Mr. Turbot, the gentleman who had the honour of bathing Miss Salmond, will take the liberty of waiting upon Miss Salmond in the course of the afternoon, to apologize for the circumstance of his bathing in the space set apart by courtesy to the fair sex.’ “‘Mr. Turbot, the gentleman’ Poor, modest Miaa Salmond grew blind as she read the words. And so the stout lady was a man!' Miss Salmond’s good judgment informed her that the man had acted like a gentleman, yet how was she to face him ! She grew crimson always when she thought that she, bashful to a fault all her days, had actually gone into the sea and asked a man to dip her! She wished he would not come; but he did come, and a jolly gentleman he was. The first thing he did was to assure Miss Janet that their having bathed together was a secret in their own keeping; for, during all the time she had been in the water he was quite sure no one observed her. Janet felt this a very considerable consolation. Mr. Turbot’s apology for bathing on the ladies' beach was, that being troubled a little with rheumatism, he was really unable to walk to the distant region to which false delicacy had banished the lords of the creation; he had therefore adopted the innocent artifice of assuming a feminine bathing-gown and cap; although, he said, he would much rather bathe without them.

“To change the subject, Janet asked if he had nothing but bathing recommended for his rheumatism.

“‘Yes,' he said, ‘I have often been recommended to take a wife.’ He then asked if Miss Salmond knew any one that would suit him.

“Miss Janet blushed, and said he should know best him-' self who would suit him.

“Mr. Turbot called again on the following day, and in the course of a bantering crack, he said, with a knowing look—

‘Would it not be a capital joke if it could be truly told that Turbot and Salmond met in the Frith of Clyde, and swam ever after in the Sea of Matrimony V

“It was truly told, for in six weeks they were man and wife."

I told Miss M'Cracken that I had had various opinions during the course of her illustrations. I first thought thin shoes and cold feet would come greatly in vogue; and then

I thought there would be nothing, amongst girls who had the chance, but their forgetting their latch-keys, and so locking themselves out; but the story of Mr. Turbot and Miss Salmond would, I feared, when it became known, set all the girls a-drowning themselves, in their eagerness to be introduced to their future husbands; for, said I, ordination or no ordination, there are very few feminine wanters who sit idly still in regard to their matrimonial affairs: they are all willing to give themselves a helping hand, to bring about the consummation so devoutly wished!


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