Jog on, jog on, the footpath way,|
And merrily bend the stile-a,
A merry heart goes all the day,
A sad one tires in a mile-a.
Brown had parted that morning from his friend Dudley, and begun his solitary walk towards Scotland.
The first two or three miles were rather melancholy, from want of the society to which he had of late been accustomed. But this unusual mood of mind soon gave way to the influence of his natural good spirits, excited by the exercise and the bracing effects of the frosty air. He whistled as he went along, not ‘from want of thought,’ but to give vent to those buoyant feelings which he had no other mode of expressing. For each peasant whom he chanced to meet he had a kind greeting or a good-humoured jest; the hardy Cumbrians grinned as they passed, and said, ‘That’s a kind heart, God bless un!’ and the market-girl looked more than once over her shoulder at the athletic form, which corresponded so well with the frank and blythe address of the stranger. A rough terrier dog, his constant companion, who rivalled his master in glee, scampered at large in a thousand wheels round the heath, and came back to jump up on him and assure him that he participated in the pleasure of the journey. Dr. Johnson thought life had few things better than the excitation produced by being whirled rapidly along in a post-chaise; but he who has in youth experienced the confident and independent feeling of a stout pedestrian in an interesting country, and during fine weather, will hold the taste of the great moralist cheap in comparison.
Part of Brown’s view in choosing that unusual track which leads through the eastern wilds of Cumberland into Scotland, had been a desire to view the remains of the celebrated Roman Wall, which are more visible in that direction than in any other part of its extent. His education had been imperfect and desultory; but neither the busy scenes in which he had been engaged, nor the pleasures of youth, nor the precarious state of his own circumstances, had diverted him from the task of mental improvement. ‘And this then is the Roman Wall,’ he said, scrambling up to a height which commanded the course of that celebrated work of antiquity. ‘What a people! whose labours, even at this extremity of their empire, comprehended such space, and were executed upon a scale of such grandeur! In future ages, when the science of war shall have changed, how few traces will exist of the labours of Vauban and Coehorn, while this wonderful people’s remains will even then continue to interest and astonish posterity! Their fortifications, their aqueducts, their theatres, their fountains, all their public works, bear the grave, solid, and majestic character of their language; while our modern labours, like our modern tongues, seem but constructed out of their fragments.’ Having thus moralised, he remembered that he was hungry, and pursued his walk to a small public-house, at which he proposed to get some refreshment.
The alehouse, for it was no better, was situated in the bottom of a little dell, through which trilled a small rivulet. It was shaded by a large ash tree, against which the clay-built shed that served the purpose of a stable was erected, and upon which it seemed partly to recline. In this shed stood a saddled horse, employed in eating his corn. The cottages in this part of Cumberland partake of the rudeness which characterises those of Scotland. The outside of the house promised little for the interior, notwithstanding the vaunt of a sign, where a tankard of ale voluntarily decanted itself into a tumbler, and a hieroglyphical scrawl below attempted to express a promise of ‘good entertainment for man and horse.’ Brown was no fastidious traveller: he stopped and entered the cabaret.1
The first object which caught his eye in the kitchen was a tall, stout, country-looking man in a large jockey great-coat, the owner of the horse which stood in the shed, who was busy discussing huge slices of cold boiled beef, and casting from time to time an eye through the window to see how his steed sped with his provender. A large tankard of ale flanked his plate of victuals, to which he applied himself by intervals. The good woman of the house was employed in baking. The fire, as is usual in that country, was on a stone hearth, in the midst of an immensely large chimney, which had two seats extended beneath the vent. On one of these sat a remarkably tall woman, in a red cloak and slouched bonnet, having the appearance of a tinker or beggar. She was busily engaged with a short black tobacco-pipe.
At the request of Brown for some food, the landlady wiped with her mealy apron one corner of the deal table, placed a wooden trencher and knife and fork before the traveller, pointed to the round of beef, recommended Mr. Dinmont’s good example, and finally filled a brown pitcher with her home-brewed. Brown lost no time in doing ample credit to both. For a while his opposite neighbour and he were too busy to take much notice of each other, except by a good-humoured nod as each in turn raised the tankard to his head. At length, when our pedestrian began to supply the wants of little Wasp, the Scotch store-farmer, for such was Mr. Dinmont, found himself at leisure to enter into conversation.
‘A bonny terrier that, sir, and a fell chield at the vermin, I warrant him; that is, if he’s been weel entered, for it a’ lies in that.’
‘Really, sir,’ said Brown, ‘his education has been somewhat neglected, and his chief property is being a pleasant companion.’
‘Ay, sir? that’s a pity, begging your pardon, it’s a great pity that; beast or body, education should aye be minded. I have six terriers at hame, forbye twa couple of slow-hunds, five grews, and a wheen other dogs. There’s auld Pepper and auld Mustard, and young Pepper and young Mustard, and little Pepper and little Mustard. I had them a’ regularly entered, first wi’ rottens, then wi’ stots or weasels, and then wi’ the tods and brocks, and now they fear naething that ever cam wi’ a hairy skin on’t.’
‘I have no doubt, sir, they are thoroughbred; but, to have so many dogs, you seem to have a very limited variety of names for them?’
‘O, that’s a fancy of my ain to mark the breed, sir. The Deuke himsell has sent as far as Charlie’s Hope to get ane o’ Dandy Dinmont’s Pepper and Mustard terriers. Lord, man, he sent Tam Hudson2 the keeper, and sicken a day as we had wi’ the foumarts and the tods, and sicken a blythe gae-down as we had again e’en! Faith, that was a night!’
‘I suppose game is very plenty with you?’
‘Plenty, man! I believe there’s mair hares than sheep on my farm; and for the moor-fowl or the grey-fowl, they lie as thick as doos in a dookit. Did ye ever shoot a blackcock, man?’
‘Really I had never even the pleasure to see one, except in the museum at Keswick.’
‘There now! I could guess that by your Southland tongue. It’s very odd of these English folk that come here, how few of them has seen a blackcock! I’ll tell you what—ye seem to be an honest lad, and if you’ll call on me, on Dandy Dinmont, at Charlie’s Hope, ye shall see a blackcock, and shoot a blackcock, and eat a blackcock too, man.’
‘Why, the proof of the matter is the eating, to be sure, sir; and I shall be happy if I can find time to accept your invitation.’
‘Time, man? what ails ye to gae hame wi’ me the now? How d’ ye travel?’
‘On foot, sir; and if that handsome pony be yours, I should find it impossible to keep up with you.’
‘No, unless ye can walk up to fourteen mile an hour. But ye can come ower the night as far as Riccarton, where there is a public; or if ye like to stop at Jockey Grieve’s at the Heuch, they would be blythe to see ye, and I am just gaun to stop and drink a dram at the door wi’ him, and I would tell him you’re coming up. Or stay—gudewife, could ye lend this gentleman the gudeman’s galloway, and I’ll send it ower the Waste in the morning wi’ the callant?’
The galloway was turned out upon the fell, and was swear to catch.—‘Aweel, aweel, there’s nae help for’t, but come up the morn at ony rate. And now, gudewife, I maun ride, to get to the Liddel or it be dark, for your Waste has but a kittle character, ye ken yoursell.’
‘Hout fie, Mr. Dinmont, that’s no like you, to gie the country an ill name. I wot, there has been nane stirred in the Waste since Sawney Culloch, the travelling-merchant, that Rowley Overdees and Jock Penny suffered for at Carlisle twa years since. There’s no ane in Bewcastle would do the like o’ that now; we be a’ true folk now.’
‘Ay, Tib, that will be when the deil’s blind; and his een’s no sair yet. But hear ye, gudewife, I have been through maist feck o’ Galloway and Dumfries-shire, and I have been round by Carlisle, and I was at the Staneshiebank Fair the day, and I would like ill to be rubbit sae near hame, so I’ll take the gate.’
‘Hae ye been in Dumfries and Galloway?’ said the old dame who sate smoking by the fireside, and who had not yet spoken a word.
‘Troth have I, gudewife, and a weary round I’ve had o’t.’
‘Then ye’ll maybe ken a place they ca’ Ellangowan?’
‘Ellangowan, that was Mr. Bertram’s? I ken the place weel eneugh. The Laird died about a fortnight since, as I heard.’
‘Died!’ said the old woman, dropping her pipe, and rising and coming forward upon the floor—‘died? are you sure of that?’
‘Troth, am I,’ said Dinmont, ‘for it made nae sma’ noise in the country-side. He died just at the roup of the stocking and furniture; it stoppit the roup, and mony folk were disappointed. They said he was the last of an auld family too, and mony were sorry; for gude blude’s scarcer in Scotland than it has been.’
‘Dead!’ replied the old woman, whom our readers have already recognised as their acquaintance Meg Merrilies—‘dead! that quits a’ scores. And did ye say he died without an heir?’
‘Ay did he, gudewife, and the estate’s sell’d by the same token; for they said they couldna have sell’d it if there had been an heir-male.’
‘Sell’d!’ echoed the gipsy, with something like a scream; ‘and wha durst buy Ellangowan that was not of Bertram’s blude? and wha could tell whether the bonny knave-bairn may not come back to claim his ain? wha durst buy the estate and the castle of Ellangowan?’
‘Troth, gudewife, just ane o’ thae writer chields that buys a’ thing; they ca’ him Glossin, I think.’
‘Glossin! Gibbie Glossin! that I have carried in my creels a hundred times, for his mother wasna muckle better than mysell—he to presume to buy the barony of Ellangowan! Gude be wi’ us; it is an awfu’ warld! I wished him ill; but no sic a downfa’ as a’ that neither. Wae’s me! wae’s me to think o’t!’ She remained a moment silent but still opposing with her hand the farmer’s retreat, who betwixt every question was about to turn his back, but good-humouredly stopped on observing the deep interest his answers appeared to excite.
‘It will be seen and heard of—earth and sea will not hold their peace langer! Can ye say if the same man be now the sheriff of the county that has been sae for some years past?’
‘Na, he’s got some other birth in Edinburgh, they say; but gude day, gudewife, I maun ride.’ She followed him to his horse, and, while he drew the girths of his saddle, adjusted the walise, and put on the bridle, still plied him with questions concerning Mr. Bertram’s death and the fate of his daughter; on which, however, she could obtain little information from the honest farmer.
‘Did ye ever see a place they ca’ Derncleugh, about a mile frae the Place of Ellangowan?’
‘I wot weel have I, gudewife. A wild-looking den it is, wi’ a whin auld wa’s o’ shealings yonder; I saw it when I gaed ower the ground wi’ ane that wanted to take the farm.’
‘It was a blythe bit ance!’ said Meg, speaking to herself. ‘Did ye notice if there was an auld saugh tree that’s maist blawn down, but yet its roots are in the earth, and it hangs ower the bit burn? Mony a day hae I wrought my stocking and sat on my sunkie under that saugh.’
‘Hout, deil’s i’ the wife, wi’ her saughs, and her sunkies, and Ellangowans. Godsake, woman, let me away; there’s saxpence t’ ye to buy half a mutchkin, instead o’ clavering about thae auld-warld stories.’
‘Thanks to ye, gudeman; and now ye hae answered a’ my questions, and never speired wherefore I asked them, I’ll gie you a bit canny advice, and ye maunna speir what for neither. Tib Mumps will be out wi’ the stirrup-dram in a gliffing. She’ll ask ye whether ye gang ower Willie’s Brae or through Conscowthart Moss; tell her ony ane ye like, but be sure (speaking low and emphatically) to tak the ane ye dinna tell her.’ The farmer laughed and promised, and the gipsy retreated.
‘Will you take her advice?’ said Brown, who had been an attentive listener to this conversation.
‘That will I no, the randy quean! Na, I had far rather Tib Mumps kenn’d which way I was gaun than her, though Tib’s no muckle to lippen to neither, and I would advise ye on no account to stay in the house a’ night.’
In a moment after Tib, the landlady, appeared with her stirrup-cup, which was taken off. She then, as Meg had predicted, inquired whether he went the hill or the moss road. He answered, the latter; and, having bid Brown good-bye, and again told him, ‘he depended on seeing him at Charlie’s Hope, the morn at latest,’ he rode off at a round pace.
1. It is fitting to explain to the reader the locality described in chapter xxii. There is, or rather I should say there was, a little inn called Mumps’s Hall, that is, being interpreted, Beggar’s Hotel, near to Gilsland, which had not then attained its present fame as a Spa. It was a hedge alehouse, where the Border farmers of either country often stopped to refresh themselves and their nags, in their way to and from the fairs and trysts in Cumberland, and especially those who came from or went to Scotland, through a barren and lonely district, without either road or pathway, emphatically called the Waste of Bewcastle. At the period when the adventures described in the novel are supposed to have taken place, there were many instances of attacks by freebooters on those who travelled through this wild district, and Mumps’s Ha’ had a bad reputation for harbouring the banditti who committed such depredations.
An old and sturdy yeoman belonging to the Scottish side, by surname an Armstrong or Elliot, but well known by his soubriquet of Fighting Charlie of Liddesdale, and still remembered for the courage he displayed in the frequent frays which took place on the Border fifty or sixty years since, had the following adventure in the Waste, which suggested the idea of the scene in the text:—
Charlie had been at Stagshawbank Fair, had sold his sheep or cattle, or whatever he had brought to market, and was on his return to Liddesdale. There were then no country banks where cash could be deposited and bills received instead, which greatly encouraged robbery in that wild country, as the objects of plunder were usually fraught with gold. The robbers had spies in the fair, by means of whom they generally knew whose purse was best stocked, and who took a lonely and desolate road homeward,—those, in short, who were best worth robbing and likely to be most easily robbed.
All this Charlie knew full well; but he had a pair of excellent pistols and a dauntless heart. He stopped at Mumps’s Ha’, notwithstanding the evil character of the place. His horse was accommodated where it might have the necessary rest and feed of corn; and Charlie himself, a dashing fellow, grew gracious with the landlady, a buxom quean, who used all the influence in her power to induce him to stop all night. The landlord was from home, she said, and it was ill passing the Waste, as twilight must needs descend on him before he gained the Scottish side, which was reckoned the safest. But Fighting Charlie, though he suffered himself to be detained later than was prudent, did not account Mumps’s Ha’ a safe place to quarter in during the night. He tore himself away, therefore, from Meg’s good fare and kind words, and mounted his nag, having first examined his pistols, and tried by the ramrod whether the charge remained in them.
He proceeded a mile or two at a round trot, when, as the Waste stretched black before him, apprehensions began to awaken in his mind, partly arising out of Meg’s unusual kindness, which he could not help thinking had rather a suspicious appearance. He therefore resolved to reload his pistols, lest the powder had become damp; but what was his surprise, when he drew the charge, to find neither powder nor ball, while each barrel had been carefully filled with TOW, up to the space which the loading had occupied! and, the priming of the weapons being left untouched, nothing but actually drawing and examining the charge could have discovered the inefficiency of his arms till the fatal minute arrived when their services were required. Charlie bestowed a hearty Liddesdale curse on his landlady, and reloaded his pistols with care and accuracy, having now no doubt that he was to be waylaid and assaulted. He was not far engaged in the Waste, which was then, and is now, traversed only by such routes as are described in the text, when two or three fellows, disguised and variously armed, started from a moss-hag, while by a glance behind him (for, marching, as the Spaniard says, with his beard on his shoulder, he reconnoitred in every direction) Charlie instantly saw retreat was impossible, as other two stout men appeared behind him at some distance. The Borderer lost not a moment in taking his resolution, and boldly trotted against his enemies in front, who called loudly on him to stand and deliver; Charlie spurred on, and presented his pistol. ‘D—n your pistol,’ said the foremost robber, whom Charlie to his dying day protested he believed to have been the landlord of Mumps’s Ha’, ‘D—n your pistol! I care not a curse for it.’ ‘Ay, lad,’ said the deep voice of Fighting Charlie, ‘but the tow’s out now.’ He had no occasion to utter another word; the rogues, surprised at finding a man of redoubted courage well armed, instead of being defenceless, took to the moss in every direction, and he passed on his way without farther molestation.
The author has heard this story told by persons who received it from Fighting Charlie himself; he has also heard that Mumps’s Ha’ was afterwards the scene of some other atrocious villainy, for which the people of the house suffered. But these are all tales of at least half a century old, and the Waste has been for many years as safe as any place in the kingdom. [back]