Search just our sites by using our customised search engine
Unique Cottages | Electric Scotland's Classified Directory

Click here to get a Printer Friendly PageSmiley

Reminiscences of the Lews
Chapter V - Our Fred and his Head Nurse

AS I shall soon be taking leave of Aline and removing myself to Soval, it is only fit and proper that, before doing so, I should give some account of that distinguished firm, the joint tenants of the Aline shootings. They consisted of F. M., R. M., and myself.

I think there are few who know F. M. who will not allow (himself among the number) that Lucina, at his birth, turned into the goddess of good luck. I will give but one small instance of this, and then pass on. When a subaltern, quartered at Gibraltar, he kept a small yacht, in which he disported himself by sometimes going over to the Barbary coast to shoot wild boars or anything he could get. In one of these expeditions he was caught by a pleasant Mediterranean squall, which blew his sails, masts, and rigging anywhere, smashed his rudder, and carried his oars overboard, leaving himself and his boy sitting in his half-swamped boat, like a she-bear with, its cub. In this state he was tossed about the Mediterranean for two days, with nothing but a bottle of cherry-brandy for provision, when, fortunately, he was descried by Spanish smugglers. It was blowing still so hard that they could not take him on board, but flung him a rope, by which he managed to hold on, in imminent danger of being driven under water; and in this way he was towed into Malaga, whence he notified his safe arrival to the colonel of his regiment, thus accounting for his absence without leave. As nothing had been heard of him for a fortnight, his friends had been written to, and the untimely end of so promising a youth mourned over—the more bitterly as, at the very time of the announcement of his sad supposed death, a relation died and left him a very good property. So when our friend arrived at Gibraltar, he was. consoled for the loss of his yacht by the intelligence of his accession of fortune, and at once got leave of absence to proceed to England and console his anxious relations. Thus, then, most assuredly Fred, as he was called, was not born to be drowned, and I never cared a straw for Loch Seaforth when he was on board; for if the little Spanish yacht and the craft (the Heather Bell) he had at Aline could not drown him, what on sea could ? Besides, he was really a' first-class boatman. I never saw one steer with an oar like him ; and I verily believe that, once in particular, we should have been swamped while crossing from the Park to Aline after deer-stalking, with a very full boat, but for the manner he steered.

I have said before that our Fred was a very good sportsman, a good shot, a fine rider, and a capital fisherman. Of deer-stalking, however, he at that time had had very little experience indeed, none of the party, myself excepted, knew much about deer, and my limited experience was confined to shooting in France and Germany, where stalking, as practised in the Highlands, is not known; though waiting and watching deer, particularly shooting them from trees near their favourite feeding-places, and also driving, are. I killed a great many fallow-deer in Ireland, and was suspected of having poached a great many stags when I lived at Gheramene, on the Upper Lake of Killarney; but, on the honour of a gentleman, I never did poach, or attempt to poach, a single one, though I might many.

Fred’s first stalk was an important epoch in his life. M‘Aulay took him to a stag, but the beast shifting a little during the stalk, he could not get nearer than some two hundred yards, and the only part of the stag he could then see to shoot at was not the entire head, but the angle formed by the jaw-bone with the head. McAulay said it was useless to shoot, and proposed letting the stag feed out of the spot; but Fred raised his rifle and shot him as dead as a stone, to Mac’s wonderment—not to mine, for I am a believer in bottle-imps, and feel convinced that at that very moment Fred entered into compact with one, and that the day will arrive when the said imp will come and claim his reward. I have never doubted this, as I have often told him; and if there could be a doubt, his next stalk settled the question.

He got at a stag lying at the bottom of a steep glen, above which was some very high, rocky ground. All you could see of the stag, as he lay crouched down, was the top of the neck and shoulders—the back-bone, in short. The distance was over two hundred yards, and Fred shot him through the backbone, behind the shoulders, and he never stirred. After this the confidence between M‘Aulay and F. M. was perfect; and the latter has often told me that whenever they get at a stag, he is as certain of him as if he was already gralloched. I have stalked a great deal with him, and I remember only one instance-of his missing a stag,—and I have seen him make really marvellous shots, both standing and running.

He was, as I have already said, a very good game shot—not that Lews grouse required any very good shooting, as the birds never are too wild there. But he once killed a hundred brace of grouse to his own gun at Aline in one day, as already mentioned—a feat I would not have believed any man could have done; nor would he have done it, but for his imp. Pew men I have ever seen could fish better; but here he had a failing—he was the most inveterate fish-poacher it was ever my fortune to encounter. When at Harrow, he and a confederate dragged every pond for miles round that sacred spot. He was never happy in the fishing way but when he was getting that blessed net of his into the water somehow or other. There was a nice little loch (Georgium) about four miles from Aline, good for sea-trout and an occasional salmon, but very sulky. We caught him one day coming home in his cart, with his net and some fish, having taken a haul in this our little sanctum, and looking as pleased as a schoolboy that had successfully pillaged an orchard. He could not resist poaching, even his own loch.

As to the womankind belonging to F. M., I do not at present feel myself np to describing them. Perhaps I may gain courage hereafter; let me content myself with saying now that they were of that sort, that could safely be admitted into shooting quarters. I remember once an old gentleman who in days of yore filled his glens with his friends, and took immense pleasure in giving away all his quarters, was so particular about female influence, that he never iallowed even his own wife to come into them.

There was, however, one particular female in F. M.’s establishment, that was so quaint in her ways, and such an endless source of amusement to us all, that I cannot withstand dedicating a few lines to her. This was one Celery, Fred’s head nurse. In her vocation she was perfection. She doted on the children —they on her; and there was a conscious dignity about her which I never could make out—whether it proceeded from her idea of her importance as nurse to F. M.’s children, or the infinite privilege it was to the said children to be under the care of so sage a matron as herself. There was something in her not of the governess, but of the head of that wonderful establishment for the tuition of young ladies so graphically described in “Vanity Fair.”

“Miss Halice,” she would say to the eldest little totterer in the nursery, “you should consider the dignity and the importance of the position you hold as the eldest daughter of this house.” “Miss Minnie,” she would address the other little female, scarcely out of arms, “you should early learn to look up to Miss Halice for example and guidance.” To both, as they toddled down stairs to dessert, “Young ladies, I hope you will not forget the manners you learn here, or do discredit to my nurturing.” But it was in her care of the boy of the establishment that the grandeur of Celery’s ideas of the present and her mysterious predictions of the future were developed in all their full-blown beauty. To see her parade “Master Arry,” as she called him, up and down Prince’s Street! One morning, it being very cold, she had sensibly wrapped the little thing’s head up in a woollen nightcap, and an inquisitive young lady insisted upon stopping her, and begging to see so fine a child. “No, mem; not to-day, if you please, mem. He is not got up as such a hinfant should be—he has not got his hat and feathers on.” Another time, when he had his hat and feathers on more anxious females accosted her, and insisted on knowing whose child he was, saying he looked like a little lord. Celery cliuckled, pursed up her mouth, and answered mysteriously, “No, ma’am, he ain’t a lord yet; but there is no knowing into what he may not turn—he might become a duke some day.” Thus, you may see, Celery had ways of her own, and she expressed herself oddly. No doubt, her nursery education had been attended to, but her English had been neglected.

Mrs. Malaprop’s confusion of the Queen’s English and of ideas was not greater than Celery’s; and these, added to the mystery of her communications, rather obscured the meaning of her quaint words. She was a very excellent woman, I believe, sincerely good and religious; and thought it right to keep a missionary box, into which she was always soliciting every one to put something. She was trying R. M. very hard one day, in vain; but at last she burst forth, “ Now, dear Mr. M., do drop in something; there is no knowing where it is going to, or when it will come back to you.” No one has yet been able to fathom the profundity of this speech.

But dear old Celery had yet other accomplishments, which must not be forgotten. In the frequent little festivities that need to take place at the birth or christening day of a little F. M., she was, of course, the mistress of the ceremonies. She brewed the best, and by far the strongest, toddy I ever drank in my life; and when, in the pauses of the pipers’ strains, and after the Reel of Tulloch, perhaps she, by way of a little variation, on the earnest call of the company, sang the charming ditty, “Sweet Richmond.’Ill,” one resigned oneself to one’s fate, and, softened by her punch and beguiled by her melody, gave way to the spell, and Celery was the hour of the hour.

Years passed on, and one fine day, long after I had taken to Soval, I got a letter to say that C. was getting odd, and falling into a species of religious melancholy, and doing queer things. The only point on which there was no variation was her love and care for the missionary-box. I could make nothing of her, excepting that she had grown much more mysterious. She also was in a melancholy state about her young charges—her awful responsibility as to the future if the young ladies did not turn out so many young "Miss Frys;” if her young gentlemen were not fit and willing to carry her missionary-box cause throughout all heathendom. We began all to entertain the most serious fear that some fine morning, out of the sincerest love and anxiety for their spiritual welfare, and to secure the future salvation of her young charges, she might cut their throats and throw th6m into Loch Sea-forth.

Pending these anxious fears, news came that rendered it necessary for both Fred and myself to go to England. It was all very well saying "go;” but how were we to go? It was winter, and during the winter time there was but one weekly steamer, and, unfortunately, just at this-time this steamer was wrecked. A temporary one, it is true, was put on; but there was an interregnum of irregularity which put us both much out.

There was at that time a revenue cutter, a fine boat, commanded by a lieutenant in the navy, a very good officer and seaman, who had seen and done much good service. He is dead now, poor fellow! and, though de mortuis nil nisi bonum, still one may be allowed to allude to some of his peculiarities. He was a very neat-made, gentlemanlike-looking fellow, but not a giant, certainly; yet in no specimen of mortality I ever beheld did there exist such elements of noise. As if there was not din enough in the elements in those wild climes, he trained certain of his sailors to play upon some of the noisiest instruments, of all kinds, I ever heard : there was not one, but several, Bones. When in harbour, at Stornoway or elsewhere, he was perpetually scaling his guns. Then he never came ashore in his gig but accompanied by his band, and he was perpetually scaring the slumbers of the poor Stornowegians. A friend of mine was once inveigled into going on board the cutter to dine and sleep. He was nearly deafened by the band during the dinner and the evening; and all night, whenever there was the slightest chance of sleep, his host jumped into the cabin to know how he was getting on, or called out from his berth, with his speaking-trumpet, to inquire after the comfort of his bed. It is odd that, after this slight warning, my friend -was rash enough to dine with him again, and induce me to do so, one Christmas Eve; and I do not think we shall either of us easily forget it. Of course the usual noises went on; but after dinner it came on to blow, as it can in those latitudes—so hard that, though we were in the harbour of Stornoway and not far from the shore, our skipper either would not or could not land us; at least, he said his boat could not get back, and he would not risk it. The gale was really frightful, and during the evening the mate came down to say we were dragging our anchors. There was no doubt of the fact. Chain cables and all sorts of things were to be let go and hauled upon all night, and I think that night was the origin of a deafness that has been a great discomfort to me since. But above the roaring of the wind, the creaking of cables and chains, and steam getting up and steam letting off, rose that little skipper’s voice, and he outnoised everything. I was glad when morning came; and sure enough we had dragged, for we were all but on shore on the islands in the harbour.

This skipper had heard of the strait in which Fred and I were, and he sent us word that, if we would be in readiness, he would bring his cutter round into Loch Seaforth and take us all over the Minch to the mainland; and, in due course of time, in came the cutter and anchored opposite Aline—whether with the intention of really taking us away, I never could tell; but he said so, and he was a British seaman and a gentleman. The wind was awkward at all times for getting out of Loch Seaforth, and it would not do, as he said, for the week he passed there. And what a week ! As for the band, it was always going, either on board or on shore. We were startled from our beds every morning with his guns to notify his readiness to sail, and by constant boats, always attended with part of the crew’s band, to say he would not sail. Of course he always dined with us every day, and, though we were tired, stupefied—crushed, in short—his powers of noise seemed to increase in proportion to our prostration. At last, one night, he invented a new species of torture. He took two plates with rough borders, and rubbed and clattered them together, producing so excruciatingly painful and discordant an uproar—I can give, it no other name—that some of our party rushed out of the room to preserve their senses. I think one day more would have sent us all to the nearest lunatic asylum, when, fortunately, the next morning—a bright, clear, frosty morning—a small steamer came into the loch, Fred having sent to Stornoway to beg the agent to send round the first steamer that turned up for us, and rescued us from our tormentor’s grasp; and we steamed away most gladly, leaving him nothing, but the high hills to awaken with his noises.

By-the-bye, it is worthy of remark that next summer, as we all steamed back again into. Loch Seaforth joyfully, but a little subdued with two or three nights on board the steamer—as we were all standing on deck and nearing joyfully our beloved Aline, all of a sudden I saw Fred’s countenance change. “Bless that fellow ! there he is again! ” he remarked; and, true enough, there lay the cutter, dressed, as they say, with her flags and signals, and yards manned, welcoming our arrival with band, and salutes, and cheers, among which there was no mistaking the skipper’s. It was, however, his last torment. He was on his way to Greenock to give up the command of the cutter, the term of his service being out. Well, peace be to his ashes; but I do not think anything so mischievously noisy could be at peace. If he went aloft, I think he must have destroyed the equilibrium of Heaven itself. If he went below, I think he must have tired out the devils themselves, who would have returned him to earth, not by their sovereign’s commands out of jealousy for Madame Pluto, but from inability to bear him among them.

It was during this memorable epoch that poor Celery’s malady reached its climax. When the little steamer hove in sight, everybody commenced doing the last things to the carpet-bags. Celery, making rapturous allusions to her responsibility, disappeared into the nursery, from which, in due time, she emerged with her charges, some of whom she delivered up to her subordinate; and then, seating herself at the end of the pier, on her own particular carpet-bag, of which she never for a second lost sight, with her little white terrier at her side, and holding “Master Arry” tight by the hand, she threw up her eyes to the bright blue sky above, and said, majestically, “ My duties is performed, and you will find all is *right; and now I resigns myself trustfully to a gracious Providence.”

I always liked teasing her a little, and could not help saying I thought it would be fine to Portree, at any rate. She retorted rather spitefully, and practically enough, too, that “these frostes sometimes turned into bad weather,” and she solemnly adjured me to go back into the house, and see if all was as it ought to be in her department. I could not help doing as she bade, and, going up to her nursery, found it arranged and in order as if her charges were coming in that night, not leaving it that morning. This struck us all as odd, and we kept our eye on her till we were all safely on board the little steamer.

We had a beautiful sail to Portree; there was not a ripple on the water; and one must have seen that country on a bright, clear, frosty day, when you could discern a midge almost on the top of Cliesham, to know how beautiful it can be. We slept at Portree, where a gentleman—or, at least, a well-dressed man—distinguished himself by a feat of chivalrous disregard of self I have seldom seen equalled. There were many passengers, and but scant accommodation at the hotel. The individual in question, then, on our landing, made the best use of his legs, and, arriving first, selected the largest and best room in the house, and secured his own possession, to the exclusion of all others, by locking the room up and putting the key in his pocket.

The next morning was as fine as the preceding, and we steamed on to Oban, where we arrived happily in the evening, and here poor Celery’s mystery was solved. She had been more than usually careful of her charges, her white terrier, and particularly her carpet-bag. She had been more than ever awfully enigmatical in her views of the past and the future. We had all retired to our apartments, when sounds seem to issue from the sufferer’s room. We all rushed to see what could the matter be. We opened the door, when lo ! full-dressed and cross-legged like a Turk, sat Celery on her bed, the immortal carpet-bag by her side, her dog looking wistfully in her face; while his mistress, flourishing an empty whisky-bottle over her head, trolled out, not in the soft strains of “ Sweet Richmond ’111,” but in a deep, rich, almost bass voice:—

“Old King Cole was a merry old soul,
And a merry old soul was he.
He called for his pipe, he called for his bowl,
And he called for his fiddlers three.”

Poor O! from that time all was over with her. To the regret of all who knew that establishment, she had to go; but even in her fall, Celery was dignified, and she delivered over her missionary box, with all its contents, to her mistress, accounting for every farthing received, and begging her to remit the funds to their proper destination. So much of sympathy was felt by all for her misfortune—which turned out to be only that temporary giving way to whisky’s charms that so often overtakes Southerners on their first acquaintance with the North —that she was very soon well placed again, and acquired, as she so well deserved it, the entire confidence of her new employers. I never heard of any whisky relapse, or another chant of “ Old King Cole.” In one thing, indeed, she showed her great good sense and good feeling.

She left off her missionary box, on the ground that “kimparisons was hodious.” She still keeps up a close connection with F. M.’s family, and it is gala day when old Celery comes to pass a day with her “young charges" as she still persists in calling them.

Return to our Book Index Page


This comment system requires you to be logged in through either a Disqus account or an account you already have with Google, Twitter, Facebook or Yahoo. In the event you don't have an account with any of these companies then you can create an account with Disqus. All comments are moderated so they won't display until the moderator has approved your comment.

comments powered by Disqus