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The Ayrshire Legatees

by John Galt

Chapter 10

The Return

 
 

On Friday, Miss Mally Glencairn received a brief note from Mrs. Pringle, informing her, that she and the Doctor would reach the manse, "God willing," in time for tea on Saturday; and begging her, therefore, to go over from Irvine, and see that the house was in order for their reception. This note was written from Glasgow, where they had arrived, in their own carriage, from Carlisle on the preceding day, after encountering, as Mrs. Pringle said, "more hardships and extorshoning than all the dangers of the sea which they met with in the smack of Leith that took them to London."

As soon as Miss Mally received this intelligence, she went to Miss Isabella Tod, and requested her company for the next day to Garnock, where they arrived betimes to dine with Mr. Snodgrass. Mrs. Glibbans and her daughter Becky were then on a consolatory visit to Mr. Craig. We mentioned in the last chapter, that the crying of Mrs. Craig had come on; and that Mrs. Glibbans, according to promise, and with the most anxious solicitude, had gone to wait the upshot. The upshot was most melancholy,--Mrs. Craig was soon no more;--she was taken, as Mrs. Glibbans observed on the occasion, from the earthly arms of her husband, to the spiritual bosom of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, which was far better. But the baby survived; so that, what with getting a nurse, and the burial, and all the work and handling that a birth and death in one house at the same time causes, Mr. Craig declared, that he could not do without Mrs. Glibbans; and she, with all that Christianity by which she was so zealously distinguished, sent for Miss Becky, and took up her abode with him till it would please Him, without whom there is no comfort, to wipe the eyes of the pious elder. In a word, she staid so long, that a rumour began to spread that Mr. Craig would need a wife to look after his bairn; and that Mrs. Glibbans was destined to supply the desideratum.

Mr. Snodgrass, after enjoying his dinner society with Miss Mally and Miss Isabella, thought it necessary to dispatch a courier, in the shape of a barefooted servant lass, to Mr. Micklewham, to inform the elders that the Doctor was expected home in time for tea, leaving it to their discretion either to greet his safe return at the manse, or in any other form or manner that would be most agreeable to themselves. These important news were soon diffused through the clachan. Mr. Micklewham dismissed his school an hour before the wonted time, and there was a universal interest and curiosity excited, to see the Doctor coming home in his own coach. All the boys of Garnock assembled at the braehead which commands an extensive view of the Kilmarnock road, the only one from Glasgow that runs through the parish; the wives with their sucklings were seated on the large stones at their respective door-cheeks; while their cats were calmly reclining on the window soles. The lassie weans, like clustering bees, were mounted on the carts that stood before Thomas Birlpenny the vintner's door, churming with anticipated delight; the old men took their stations on the dike that incloses the side of the vintner's kail-yard, and "a batch of wabster lads," with green aprons and thin yellow faces, planted themselves at the gable of the malt kiln, where they were wont, when trade was better, to play at the hand-ball; but, poor fellows, since the trade fell off, they have had no heart for the game, and the vintner's half-mutchkin stoups glitter in empty splendour unrequired on the shelf below the brazen sconce above the bracepiece, amidst the idle pewter pepper-boxes, the bright copper tea-kettle, the coffee-pot that has never been in use, and lids of saucepans that have survived their principals,--the wonted ornaments of every trig change-house kitchen.

The season was far advanced; but the sun shone at his setting with a glorious composure, and the birds in the hedges and on the boughs were again gladdened into song. The leaves had fallen thickly, and the stubble-fields were bare, but Autumn, in a many-coloured tartan plaid, was seen still walking with matronly composure in the woodlands, along the brow of the neighbouring hills.

About half-past four o'clock, a movement was seen among the callans at the braehead, and a shout announced that a carriage was in sight. It was answered by a murmuring response of satisfaction from the whole village. In the course of a few minutes the carriage reached the turnpike--it was of the darkest green and the gravest fashion,-- a large trunk, covered with Russian matting, and fastened on with cords, prevented from chafing it by knots of straw rope, occupied the front,--behind, other two were fixed in the same manner, the lesser of course uppermost; and deep beyond a pile of light bundles and bandboxes, that occupied a large portion of the interior, the blithe faces of the Doctor and Mrs. Pringle were discovered. The boys huzzaed, the Doctor flung them penny-pieces, and the mistress baubees.

As the carriage drove along, the old men on the dike stood up and reverently took off their hats and bonnets. The weaver lads gazed with a melancholy smile; the lassies on the carts clapped their hands with joy; the women on both sides of the street acknowledged the recognising nods; while all the village dogs, surprised by the sound of chariot wheels, came baying and barking forth, and sent off the cats that were so doucely sitting on the window soles, clambering and scampering over the roofs in terror of their lives.

When the carriage reached the manse door, Mr. Snodgrass, the two ladies, with Mr. Micklewham, and all the elders except Mr. Craig, were there ready to receive the travellers. But over this joy of welcoming we must draw a veil; for the first thing that the Doctor did, on entering the parlour and before sitting down, was to return thanks for his safe restoration to his home and people.

The carriage was then unloaded, and as package, bale, box, and bundle were successively brought in, Miss Mally Glencairn expressed her admiration at the great capacity of the chaise. "Ay," said Mrs. Pringle, "but you know not what we have suffert for't in coming through among the English taverns on the road; some of them would not take us forward when there was a hill to pass, unless we would take four horses, and every one after another reviled us for having no mercy in loading the carriage like a waggon,--and then the drivers were so gleg and impudent, that it was worse than martyrdom to come with them. Had the Doctor taken my advice, he would have brought our own civil London coachman, whom we hired with his own horses by the job; but he said it behoved us to gi'e our ain fish guts to our ain sea-maws, and that he designed to fee Thomas Birlpenny's hostler for our coachman, being a lad of the parish. This obliged us to post it from London; but, oh! Miss Mally, what an outlay it has been!"

The Doctor, in the meantime, had entered into conversation with the gentlemen, and was inquiring, in the most particular manner, respecting all his parishioners, and expressing his surprise that Mr. Craig had not been at the manse with the rest of the elders. "It does not look well," said the Doctor. Mr. Daff, however, offered the best apology for his absence that could be made. "He has had a gentle dispensation, sir--Mrs. Craig has won awa' out of this sinful world, poor woman, she had a large experience o't; but the bairns to the fore, and Mrs. Glibbans, that has such a cast of grace, has ta'en charge of the house since before the interment. It's thought, considering what's by gane, Mr. Craig may do waur than make her mistress, and I hope, sir, your exhortation will no be wanting to egg the honest man to think o't seriously."

Mr. Snodgrass, before delivering the household keys, ordered two bottles of wine, with glasses and biscuit, to be set upon the table, while Mrs. Pringle produced from a paper package, that had helped to stuff one of the pockets of the carriage, a piece of rich plum-cake, brought all the way from a confectioner's in Cockspur Street, London, not only for the purpose of being eaten, but, as she said, to let Miss Nanny Eydent pree, in order to direct the Irvine bakers how to bake others like it.

Tea was then brought in; and, as it was making, the Doctor talked aside to the elders, while Mrs. Pringle recounted to Miss Mally and Miss Isabella the different incidents of her adventures subsequent to the marriage of Miss Rachel.

"The young folk," said she, "having gone to Brighton, we followed them in a few days, for we were told it was a curiosity, and that the king has a palace there, just a warld's wonder! and, truly, Miss Mally, it is certainly not like a house for a creature of this world, but for some Grand Turk or Chinaman. The Doctor said, it put him in mind of Miss Jenny Macbride's sideboard in the Stockwell of Glasgow; where all the pepper-boxes, poories, and teapots, punch- bowls, and china-candlesticks of her progenitors are set out for a show, that tells her visitors, they are but seldom put to use. As for the town of Brighton, it's what I would call a gawky piece of London. I could see nothing in it but a wheen idlers, hearing twa lads, at night, crying, "Five, six, seven for a shilling," in the booksellers' shops, with a play-actor lady singing in a corner, because her voice would not do for the players' stage. Therefore, having seen the Captain and Mrs. Sabre off to France, we came home to London; but it's not to be told what we had to pay at the hotel where we staid in Brighton. Howsomever, having come back to London, we settled our counts,--and, buying a few necessars, we prepared for Scotland,--and here we are. But travelling has surely a fine effect in enlarging the understanding; for both the Doctor and me thought, as we came along, that everything had a smaller and poorer look than when we went away; and I dinna think this room is just what it used to be. What think ye o't, Miss Isabella? How would ye like to spend your days in't?"

Miss Isabella reddened at this question; but Mrs. Pringle, who was as prudent as she was observant, affecting not to notice this, turned round to Miss Mally Glencairn, and said softly in her ear,-- "Rachel was Bell's confidante, and has told us all about what's going on between her and Mr. Snodgrass. We have agreed no to stand in their way, as soon as the Doctor can get a mailing or two to secure his money upon."

Meantime, the Doctor received from the elders a very satisfactory account of all that had happened among his people, both in and out of the Session, during his absence; and he was vastly pleased to find there had been no inordinate increase of wickedness; at the same time, he was grieved for the condition in which the poor weavers still continued, saying, that among other things of which he had been of late meditating, was the setting up of a lending bank in the parish for the labouring classes, where, when they were out of work, "bits of loans for a house-rent, or a brat of claes, or sic like, might be granted, to be repaid when trade grew better, and thereby take away the objection that an honest pride had to receiving help from the Session."

Then some lighter general conversation ensued, in which the Doctor gave his worthy counsellors a very jocose description of many of the lesser sort of adventures which he had met with; and the ladies having retired to inspect the great bargains that Mrs. Pringle had got, and the splendid additions she had made to her wardrobe, out of what she denominated the dividends of the present portion of the legacy, the Doctor ordered in the second biggest toddy-bowl, the guardevine with the old rum, and told the lassie to see if the tea- kettle was still boiling. "Ye maun drink our welcome hame," said he to the elders; "it would nae otherwise be canny. But I'm sorry Mr. Craig has nae come." At these words the door opened, and the absent elder entered, with a long face and a deep sigh. "Ha!" cried Mr. Daff, "this is very droll. Speak of the Evil One, and he'll appear";--which words dinted on the heart of Mr. Craig, who thought his marriage in December had been the subject of their discourse. The Doctor, however, went up and shook him cordially by the hand, and said, "Now I take this very kind, Mr. Craig; for I could not have expected you, considering ye have got, as I am told, your jo in the house"; at which words the Doctor winked paukily to Mr. Daff, who rubbed his hands with fainness, and gave a good-humoured sort of keckling laugh. This facetious stroke of policy was a great relief to the afflicted elder, for he saw by it that the Doctor did not mean to trouble him with any inquiries respecting his deceased wife; and, in consequence, he put on a blither face, and really affected to have forgotten her already more than he had done in sincerity.

Thus the night passed in decent temperance and a happy decorum; insomuch, that the elders when they went away, either by the influence of the toddy-bowl, or the Doctor's funny stories about the Englishers, declared that he was an excellent man, and, being none lifted up, was worthy of his rich legacy.

At supper, the party, besides the minister and Mrs. Pringle, consisted of the two Irvine ladies, and Mr. Snodgrass. Miss Becky Glibbans came in when it was about half over, to express her mother's sorrow at not being able to call that night, "Mr. Craig's bairn having taken an ill turn." The truth, however, was, that the worthy elder had been rendered somewhat tozy by the minister's toddy, and wanted an opportunity to inform the old lady of the joke that had been played upon him by the Doctor calling her his jo, and to see how she would relish it. So by a little address Miss Becky was sent out of the way, with the excuse we have noticed; at the same time, as the night was rather sharp, it is not to be supposed that she would have been the bearer of any such message, had her own curiosity not enticed her.

During supper the conversation was very lively. Many "pickant jokes," as Miss Becky described them, were cracked by the Doctor; but, soon after the table was cleared, he touched Mr. Snodgrass on the arm, and, taking up one of the candles, went with him to his study, where he then told him, that Rachel Pringle, now Mrs. Sabre, had informed him of a way in which he could do him a service. "I understand, sir," said the Doctor, "that you have a notion of Miss Bell Tod, but that until ye get a kirk there can be no marriage. But the auld horse may die waiting for the new grass; and, therefore, as the Lord has put it in my power to do a good action both to you and my people,--whom I am glad to hear you have pleased so well,--if it can be brought about that you could be made helper and successor, I'll no object to give up to you the whole stipend, and, by and by, maybe the manse to the bargain. But that is if you marry Miss Bell; for it was a promise that Rachel gar't me make to her on her wedding morning. Ye know she was a forcasting lassie, and, I have reason to believe, has said nothing anent this to Miss Bell herself; so that if you have no partiality for Miss Bell, things will just rest on their own footing; but if you have a notion, it must be a satisfaction to you to know this, as it will be a pleasure to me to carry it as soon as possible into effect."

Mr. Snodgrass was a good deal agitated; he was taken by surprise, and without words the Doctor might have guessed his sentiments; he, however, frankly confessed that he did entertain a very high opinion of Miss Bell, but that he was not sure if a country parish would exactly suit him. "Never mind that," said the Doctor; "if it does not fit at first, you will get used to it; and if a better casts up, it will be no obstacle."

The two gentlemen then rejoined the ladies, and, after a short conversation, Miss Becky Glibbans was admonished to depart, by the servants bringing in the Bibles for the worship of the evening. This was usually performed before supper, but, owing to the bowl being on the table, and the company jocose, it had been postponed till all the guests who were not to sleep in the house had departed.

The Sunday morning was fine and bright for the season; the hoarfrost, till about an hour after sunrise, lay white on the grass and tombstones in the churchyard; but before the bell rung for the congregation to assemble, it was exhaled away, and a freshness, that was only known to be autumnal by the fallen and yellow leaves that strewed the church-way path from the ash and plane trees in the avenue, encouraged the spirits to sympathise with the universal cheerfulness of all nature.

The return of the Doctor had been bruited through the parish with so much expedition, that, when the bell rung for public worship, none of those who were in the practice of stopping in the churchyard to talk about the weather were so ignorant as not to have heard of this important fact. In consequence, before the time at which the Doctor was wont to come from the back-gate which opened from the manse- garden into the churchyard, a great majority of his people were assembled to receive him.

At the last jingle of the bell, the back-gate was usually opened, and the Doctor was wont to come forth as punctually as a cuckoo of a clock at the striking of the hour; but a deviation was observed on this occasion. Formerly, Mrs. Pringle and the rest of the family came first, and a few minutes were allowed to elapse before the Doctor, laden with grace, made his appearance. But at this time, either because it had been settled that Mr. Snodgrass was to officiate, or for some other reason, there was a breach in the observance of this time-honoured custom.

As the ringing of the bell ceased, the gate unclosed, and the Doctor came forth. He was of that easy sort of feather-bed corpulency of form that betokens good-nature, and had none of that smooth, red, well-filled protuberancy, which indicates a choleric humour and a testy temper. He was in fact what Mrs. Glibbans denominated "a man of a gausy external." And some little change had taken place during his absence in his visible equipage. His stockings, which were wont to be of worsted, had undergone a translation into silk; his waist- coat, instead--of the venerable Presbyterian flap-covers to the pockets, which were of Johnsonian magnitude, was become plain--his coat in all times single-breasted, with no collar, still, however, maintained its ancient characteristics; instead, however, of the former bright black cast horn, the buttons were covered with cloth. But the chief alteration was discernible in the furniture of the head. He had exchanged the simplicity of his own respectable grey hairs for the cauliflower hoariness of a PARRISH {3} wig, on which he wore a broad-brimmed hat, turned up a little at each side behind, in a portentous manner, indicatory of Episcopalian predilections. This, however, was not justified by any alteration in his principles, being merely an innocent variation of fashion, the natural result of a Doctor of Divinity buying a hat and wig in London.

{3} See the Edinburgh Review, for an account of our old friend, Dr. Parr's wig, and Spital Sermon.

The moment that the Doctor made his appearance, his greeting and salutation was quite delightful; it was that of a father returned to his children, and a king to his people.

Almost immediately after the Doctor, Mrs. Pringle, followed by Miss Mally Glencairn and Miss Isabella Tod, also debouched from the gate, and the assembled females remarked, with no less instinct, the transmutation which she had undergone. She was dressed in a dark blue cloth pelisse, trimmed with a dyed fur, which, as she told Miss Mally, "looked quite as well as sable, without costing a third of the money." A most matronly muff, that, without being of sable, was of an excellent quality, contained her hands; and a very large Leghorn straw bonnet, decorated richly, but far from excess, with a most substantial band and bow of a broad crimson satin ribbon around her head.

If the Doctor was gratified to see his people so gladly thronging around him, Mrs. Pringle had no less pleasure also in her thrice- welcome reception. It was an understood thing, that she had been mainly instrumental in enabling the minister to get his great Indian legacy; and in whatever estimation she may have been previously held for her economy and management, she was now looked up to as a personage skilled in the law, and particularly versed in testamentary erudition. Accordingly, in the customary testimonials of homage with which she was saluted in her passage to the church door, there was evidently a sentiment of veneration mingled, such as had never been evinced before, and which was neither unobserved nor unappreciated by that acute and perspicacious lady.

The Doctor himself did not preach, but sat in the minister's pew till Mr. Snodgrass had concluded an eloquent and truly an affecting sermon; at the end of which, the Doctor rose and went up into the pulpit, where he publicly returned thanks for the favours and blessings he had obtained during his absence, and for the safety in which he had been restored, after many dangers and tribulations, to the affections of his parishioners.

Such were the principal circumstances that marked the return of the family. In the course of the week after, the estate of Moneypennies being for sale, it was bought for the Doctor as a great bargain. It was not, however, on account of the advantageous nature of the purchase that our friend valued this acquisition, but entirely because it was situated in his own parish, and part of the lands marching with the Glebe.

The previous owner of Moneypennies had built an elegant house on the estate, to which Mrs. Pringle is at present actively preparing to remove from the manse; and it is understood, that, as Mr. Snodgrass was last week declared helper, and successor to the Doctor, his marriage with Miss Isabella Tod will take place with all convenient expedition. There is also reason to believe, that, as soon as decorum will permit, any scruple which Mrs. Glibbans had to a second marriage is now removed, and that she will soon again grace the happy circle of wives by the name of Mrs. Craig. Indeed, we are assured that Miss Nanny Eydent is actually at this time employed in making up her wedding garments; for, last week, that worthy and respectable young person was known to have visited Bailie Delap's shop, at a very early hour in the morning, and to have priced many things of a bridal character, besides getting swatches; after which she was seen to go to Mrs. Glibbans's house, where she remained a very considerable time, and to return straight therefrom to the shop, and purchase divers of the articles which she had priced and inspected; all of which constitute sufficient grounds for the general opinion in Irvine, that the union of Mr. Craig with Mrs. Glibbans is a happy event drawing near to consummation.

 

 

 

 

 
 

 

 
 

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