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The Ayrshire Legatees

by John Galt

Chapter 9

The Marriage

   

Mr. Snodgrass was obliged to walk into Irvine one evening, to get rid of a raging tooth, which had tormented him for more than a week. The operation was so delicately and cleverly performed by the surgeon to whom he applied--one of those young medical gentlemen, who, after having been educated for the army or navy, are obliged, in this weak piping time of peace, to glean what practice they can amid their native shades--that the amiable divine found himself in a condition to call on Miss Isabella Tod.

During this visit, Saunders Dickie, the postman, brought a London letter to the door, for Miss Isabella; and Mr. Snodgrass having desired the servant to inquire if there were any for him, had the good fortune to get the following from Mr. Andrew Pringle:-

LETTER XXIX

Andrew Pringle Esq., to the Rev. Mr. Charles Snodgrass

My Dear Friend--I never receive a letter from you without experiencing a strong emotion of regret, that talents like yours should be wilfully consigned to the sequestered vegetation of a country pastor's life. But we have so often discussed this point, that I shall only offend your delicacy if I now revert to it more particularly. I cannot, however, but remark, that although a private station may be the happiest, a public is the proper sphere of virtue and talent, so clear, superior, and decided as yours. I say this with the more confidence, as I have really, from your letter, obtained a better conception of the queen's case, than from all that I have been able to read and hear upon the subject in London. The rule you lay down is excellent. Public safety is certainly the only principle which can justify mankind in agreeing to observe and enforce penal statutes; and, therefore, I think with you, that unless it could be proved in a very simple manner, that it was requisite for the public safety to institute proceedings against the queen--her sins or indiscretions should have been allowed to remain in the obscurity of her private circle.

I have attended the trial several times. For a judicial proceeding, it seems to me too long--and for a legislative, too technical. Brougham, it is allowed, has displayed even greater talent than was expected; but he is too sharp; he seems to me more anxious to gain a triumph, than to establish truth. I do not like the tone of his proceedings, while I cannot sufficiently admire his dexterity. The style of Denman is more lofty, and impressed with stronger lineaments of sincerity. As for their opponents, I really cannot endure the Attorney-General as an orator; his whole mind consists, as it were, of a number of little hands and claws--each of which holds some scrap or portion of his subject; but you might as well expect to get an idea of the form and character of a tree, by looking at the fallen leaves, the fruit, the seeds, and the blossoms, as anything like a comprehensive view of a subject, from an intellect so constituted as that of Sir Robert Gifford. He is a man of application, but of meagre abilities, and seems never to have read a book of travels in his life. The Solicitor-General is somewhat better; but he is one of those who think a certain artificial gravity requisite to professional consequence; and which renders him somewhat obtuse in the tact of propriety.

Within the bar, the talent is superior to what it is without; and I have been often delighted with the amazing fineness, if I may use the expression, with which the Chancellor discriminates the shades of difference in the various points on which he is called to deliver his opinion. I consider his mind as a curiosity of no ordinary kind. It deceives itself by its own acuteness. The edge is too sharp; and, instead of cutting straight through, it often diverges-- alarming his conscience with the dread of doing wrong. This singular subtlety has the effect of impairing the reverence which the endowments and high professional accomplishments of this great man are otherwise calculated to inspire. His eloquence is not effective--it touches no feeling nor affects any passion; but still it affords wonderful displays of a lucid intellect. I can compare it to nothing but a pencil of sunshine; in which, although one sees countless motes flickering and fluctuating, it yet illuminates, and steadily brings into the most satisfactory distinctness, every object on which it directly falls.

Lord Erskine is a character of another class, and whatever difference of opinion may exist with respect to their professional abilities and attainments, it will be allowed by those who contend that Eldon is the better lawyer--that Erskine is the greater genius. Nature herself, with a constellation in her hand, playfully illuminates his path to the temple of reasonable justice; while Precedence with her guide-book, and Study with a lantern, cautiously show the road in which the Chancellor warily plods his weary way to that of legal Equity. The sedateness of Eldon is so remarkable, that it is difficult to conceive that he was ever young; but Erskine cannot grow old; his spirit is still glowing and flushed with the enthusiasm of youth. When impassioned, his voice acquires a singularly elevated and pathetic accent; and I can easily conceive the irresistible effect he must have had on the minds of a jury, when he was in the vigour of his physical powers, and the case required appeals of tenderness or generosity. As a parliamentary orator, Earl Grey is undoubtedly his superior; but there is something much less popular and conciliating in his manner. His eloquence is heard to most advantage when he is contemptuous; and he is then certainly dignified, ardent, and emphatic; but it is apt, I should think, to impress those who hear him, for the first time, with an idea that he is a very supercilious personage, and this unfavourable impression is liable to be strengthened by the elegant aristocratic languor of his appearance.

I think that you once told me you had some knowledge of the Marquis of Lansdowne, when he was Lord Henry Petty. I can hardly hope that, after an interval of so many years, you will recognise him in the following sketch:- His appearance is much more that of a Whig than Lord Grey--stout and sturdy--but still withal gentlemanly; and there is a pleasing simplicity, with somewhat of good-nature, in the expression of his countenance, that renders him, in a quiescent state, the more agreeable character of the two. He speaks exceedingly well--clear, methodical, and argumentative; but his eloquence, like himself, is not so graceful as it is upon the whole manly; and there is a little tendency to verbosity in his language, as there is to corpulency in his figure; but nothing turgid, while it is entirely free from affectation. The character of respectable is very legibly impressed, in everything about the mind and manner of his lordship. I should, now that I have seen and heard him, be astonished to hear such a man represented as capable of being factious.

I should say something about Lord Liverpool, not only on account of his rank as a minister, but also on account of the talents which have qualified him for that high situation. The greatest objection that I have to him as a speaker, is owing to the loudness of his voice--in other respects, what he does say is well digested. But I do not think that he embraces his subject with so much power and comprehension as some of his opponents; and he has evidently less actual experience of the world. This may doubtless be attributed to his having been almost constantly in office since he came into public life; than which nothing is more detrimental to the unfolding of natural ability, while it induces a sort of artificial talent, connected with forms and technicalities, which, though useful in business, is but of minor consequence in a comparative estimate of moral and intellectual qualities. I am told that in his manner he resembles Mr. Pitt; be this, however, as it may, he is evidently a speaker, formed more by habit and imitation, than one whom nature prompts to be eloquent. He lacks that occasional accent of passion, the melody of oratory; and I doubt if, on any occasion, he could at all approximate to that magnificent intrepidity which was admired as one of the noblest characteristics of his master's style.

But all the display of learning and eloquence, and intellectual power and majesty of the House of Lords, shrinks into insignificance when compared with the moral attitude which the people have taken on this occasion. You know how much I have ever admired the attributes of the English national character--that boundless generosity, which can only be compared to the impartial benevolence of the sunshine-- that heroic magnanimity, which makes the hand ever ready to succour a fallen foe; and that sublime courage, which rises with the energy of a conflagration roused by a tempest, at every insult or menace of an enemy. The compassionate interest taken by the populace in the future condition of the queen is worthy of this extraordinary people. There may be many among them actuated by what is called the radical spirit; but malignity alone would dare to ascribe the bravery of their compassion to a less noble feeling than that which has placed the kingdom so proudly in the van of all modern nations. There may be an amiable delusion, as my Lord Castlereagh has said, in the popular sentiments with respect to the queen. Upon that, as upon her case, I offer no opinion. It is enough for me to have seen, with the admiration of a worshipper, the manner in which the multitude have espoused her cause.

But my paper is filled, and I must conclude. I should, however, mention that my sister's marriage is appointed to take place to- morrow, and that I accompany the happy pair to France.--Yours truly, ANDREW PRINGLE.

"This is a dry letter," said Mr. Snodgrass, and he handed it to Miss Isabella, who, in exchange, presented the one which she had herself at the same time received; but just as Mr. Snodgrass was on the point of reading it, Miss Becky Glibbans was announced. "How lucky this is," exclaimed Miss Becky, "to find you both thegither! Now you maun tell me all the particulars; for Miss Mally Glencairn is no in, and her letter lies unopened. I am just gasping to hear how Rachel conducted herself at being married in the kirk before all the folk--married to the hussar captain, too, after all! who would have thought it?"

"How, have you heard of the marriage already?" said Miss Isabella. "Oh, it's in the newspapers," replied the amiable inquisitant,-- "Like ony tailor or weaver's--a' weddings maun nowadays gang into the papers. The whole toun, by this time, has got it; and I wouldna wonder if Rachel Pringle's marriage ding the queen's divorce out of folk's heads for the next nine days to come. But only to think of her being married in a public kirk. Surely her father would never submit to hae't done by a bishop? And then to put it in the London paper, as if Rachel Pringle had been somebody of distinction. Perhaps it might have been more to the purpose, considering what dragoon officers are, if she had got the doited Doctor, her father, to publish the intended marriage in the papers beforehand."

"Haud that condumacious tongue of yours," cried a voice, panting with haste as the door opened, and Mrs. Glibbans entered. "Becky, will you never devawl wi' your backbiting. I wonder frae whom the misleart lassie takes a' this passion of clashing."

The authority of her parent's tongue silenced Miss Becky, and Mrs. Glibbans having seated herself, continued,--"Is it your opinion, Mr. Snodgrass, that this marriage can hold good, contracted, as I am told it is mentioned in the papers to hae been, at the horns of the altar of Episcopalian apostacy?"

"I can set you right as to that," said Miss Isabella. "Rachel mentions, that, after returning from the church, the Doctor himself performed the ceremony anew, according to the Presbyterian usage." "I am glad to heart, very glad indeed," said Mrs. Glibbans. "It would have been a judgment-like thing, had a bairn of Dr. Pringle's- -than whom, although there may be abler, there is not a sounder man in a' the West of Scotland--been sacrificed to Moloch, like the victims of prelatic idolatry."

At this juncture, Miss Mally Glencairn was announced: she entered, holding a letter from Mrs. Pringle in her hand, with the seal unbroken. Having heard of the marriage from an acquaintance in the street, she had hurried home, in the well-founded expectation of hearing from her friend and well-wisher, and taking up the letter, which she found on her table, came with all speed to Miss Isabella Tod to commune with her on the tidings.

Never was any confluence of visitors more remarkable than on this occasion. Before Miss Mally had well explained the cause of her abrupt intrusion, Mr. Micklewham made his appearance. He had come to Irvine to be measured for a new coat, and meeting by accident with Saunders Dickie, got the Doctor's letter from him, which, after reading, he thought he could do no less than call at Mrs. Tod's, to let Miss Isabella know the change which had taken place in the condition of her friend.

Thus were all the correspondents of the Pringles assembled, by the merest chance, like the dramatis personae at the end of a play. After a little harmless bantering, it was agreed that Miss Mally should read her communication first--as all the others were previously acquainted with the contents of their respective letters, and Miss Mally read as follows:-

LETTER XXX

Mrs. Pringle to Miss Mally Glencairn

Dear Miss Mally--I hav a cro to pik with you conserning yoor comishon aboot the partickels for your friends. You can hav no noshon what the Doctor and me suffert on the head of the flooring shrubs. We took your Nota Beny as it was spilt, and went from shop to shop enquirin in a most partiklar manner for "a Gardner's Bell, or the least of all flowering plants"; but sorrow a gardner in the whole tot here in London ever had heard of sic a thing; so we gave the porshoot up in despare. Howsomever, one of Andrew's acquaintance--a decent lad, who is only son to a saddler in a been way, that keeps his own carriage, and his son a coryikel, happent to call, and the Doctor told him what ill socsess we had in our serch for the gardner's bell; upon which he sought a sight of your yepissle, and read it as a thing that was just wonderful for its whorsogroffie; and then he sayid, that looking at the prinsipol of your spilling, he thought we should reed, "a gardner's bill, or a list of all flooring plants"; whilk being no doot your intent, I have proqurt the same, and it is included heerin. But, Miss Mally, I would advize you to be more exac in your inditing, that no sic torbolashon may hippen on a future okashon.

What I hav to say for the present is, that you will, by a smak, get a bocks of kumoddities, whilk you will destraboot as derekit on every on of them, and you will before have resievit by the post- offis, an account of what has been don. I need say no forther at this time, knowin your discreshon and prooduns, septs that our Rachel and Captain Sabor will, if it pleese the Lord, be off to Parish, by way of Bryton, as man and wife, the morn's morning. What her father the Doctor gives for tocher, what is settlt on her for jontor, I will tell you all aboot when we meet; for it's our dishire noo to lose no tim in retorning to the manse, this being the last of our diplomaticals in London, where we have found the Argents a most discrit family, payin to the last farding the Cornal's legacy, and most seevil, and well bred to us.

As I am naterally gretly okypt with this matteromoneal afair, you cannot expect ony news; but the queen is going on with a dreadful rat, by which the pesents hav falen more than a whole entirr pesent. I wish our fonds were well oot of them, and in yird and stane, which is a constansie. But what is to become of the poor donsie woman, no one can expound. Some think she will be pot in the Toor of London, and her head chappit off; others think she will raise sic a stramash, that she will send the whole government into the air, like peelings of ingons, by a gunpoother plot. But it's my opinion, and I have weighed the matter well in my understanding, that she will hav to fight with sword in hand, be she ill, or be she good. How els can she hop to get the better of more than two hundred lords, as the Doctor, who has seen them, tells me, with princes of the blood- royal, and the prelatic bishops, whom, I need not tell you, are the worst of all.

But the thing I grudge most, is to be so long in Lundon, and no to see the king. Is it not a hard thing to come to London, and no to see the king? I am not pleesed with him, I assure you, becose he does not set himself out to public view, like ony other curiosity, but stays in his palis, they say, like one of the anshent wooden images of idolatry, the which is a great peety, he beeing, as I am told, a beautiful man, and more the gentleman than all the coortiers of his court.

The Doctor has been minting to me that there is an address from Irvine to the queen; and he, being so near a neighbour to your toun, has been thinking to pay his respecs with it, to see her near at hand. But I will say nothing; he may take his own way in matters of gospel and spiritualety; yet I have my scroopols of conshence, how this may not turn out a rebellyon against the king; and I would hav him to sift and see who are at the address, before he pits his han to it. For, if it's a radikol job, as I jealoos it is, what will the Doctor then say? who is an orthodox man, as the world nose.

In the maitre of our dumesticks, no new axsident has cast up; but I have seen such a wonder as could not have been forethocht. Having a washin, I went down to see how the lassies were doing; but judge of my feelings, when I saw them triomphing on the top of pattons, standing upright before the boyns on chairs, rubbin the clothes to juggins between their hands, above the sapples, with their gouns and stays on, and round-cared mutches. What would you think of such a miracle at the washing-house in the Goffields, or the Gallows-knows of Irvine? The cook, howsomever, has shown me a way to make rice- puddings without eggs, by putting in a bit of shoohet, which is as good--and this you will tell Miss Nanny Eydent; likewise, that the most fashionable way of boiling green pis, is to pit a blade of spearmint in the pot, which gives a fine flavour. But this is a long letter, and my pepper is done; so no more, but remains your friend and well-wisher, JANET PRINGLE.

"A great legacy, and her dochtir married, in ae journey to London, is doing business," said Mrs. Glibbans, with a sigh, as she looked to her only get, Miss Becky; "but the Lord's will is to be done in a' thing;--sooner or later something of the same kind will come, I trust, to all our families." "Ay," replied Miss Mally Glencairn, "marriage is like death--it's what we are a' to come to."

"I have my doubts of that," said Miss Becky with a sneer. "Ye have been lang spair't from it, Miss Mally."

"Ye're a spiteful puddock; and if the men hae the e'en and lugs they used to hae, gude pity him whose lot is cast with thine, Becky Glibbans," replied the elderly maiden ornament of the Kirkgate, somewhat tartly.

Here Mr. Snodgrass interposed, and said, he would read to them the letter which Miss Isabella had received from the bride; and without waiting for their concurrence, opened and read as follows:-

LETTER XXXI

Mrs. Sabre to Miss Isabella Tod

My Dearest Bell--Rachel Pringle is no more! My heart flutters as I write the fatal words. This morning, at nine o'clock precisely, she was conducted in bridal array to the new church of Mary-le-bone; and there, with ring and book, sacrificed to the Minotaur, Matrimony, who devours so many of our bravest youths and fairest maidens.

My mind is too agitated to allow me to describe the scene. The office of handmaid to the victim, which, in our young simplicity, we had fondly thought one of us would perform for the other, was gracefully sustained by Miss Argent.

On returning from church to my father's residence in Baker Street, where we breakfasted, he declared himself not satisfied with the formalities of the English ritual, and obliged us to undergo a second ceremony from himself, according to the wonted forms of the Scottish Church. All the advantages and pleasures of which, my dear Bell, I hope you will soon enjoy.

But I have no time to enter into particulars. The captain and his lady, by themselves, in their own carriage, set off for Brighton in the course of less than an hour. On Friday they are to be followed by a large party of their friends and relations; and, after spending a few days in that emporium of salt-water pleasures, they embark, accompanied with their beloved brother, Mr. Andrew Pringle, for Paris; where they are afterwards to be joined by the Argents. It is our intention to remain about a month in the French capital; whether we shall extend our tour, will depend on subsequent circumstances: in the meantime, however, you will hear frequently from me.

My mother, who has a thousand times during these important transactions wished for the assistance of Nanny Eydent, transmits to Miss Mally Glencairn a box containing all the requisite bridal recognisances for our Irvine friends. I need not say that the best is for the faithful companion of my happiest years. As I had made a vow in my heart that Becky Glibbans should never wear gloves for my marriage, I was averse to sending her any at all, but my mother insisted that no exceptions should be made. I secretly took care, however, to mark a pair for her, so much too large, that I am sure she will never put them on. The asp will be not a little vexed at the disappointment. Adieu for a time, and believe that, although your affectionate Rachel Pringle be gone that way in which she hopes you will soon follow, one not less sincerely attached to you, though it be the first time she has so subscribed herself, remains in RACHEL SABRE.

Before the ladies had time to say a word on the subject, the prudent young clergyman called immediately on Mr. Micklewham to read the letter which he had received from the Doctor; and which the worthy dominie did without delay, in that rich and full voice with which he is accustomed to teach his scholars elocution by example.

LETTER XXXII

The Rev. Z. Pringle, D.D., to Mr. Micklewham, Schoolmaster and Session-Clerk, Garnock--LONDON.

Dear Sir--I have been much longer of replying to your letter of the 3rd of last month, than I ought in civility to have been, but really time, in this town of London, runs at a fast rate, and the day passes before the dark's done. What with Mrs. Pringle and her daughter's concernments, anent the marriage to Captain Sabre, and the trouble I felt myself obliged to take in the queen's affair, I assure you, Mr. Micklewham, that it's no to be expressed how I have been occupied for the last four weeks. But all things must come to a conclusion in this world. Rachel Pringle is married, and the queen's weary trial is brought to an end--upon the subject and motion of the same, I offer no opinion, for I made it a point never to read the evidence, being resolved to stand by THE WORD from the first, which is clearly and plainly written in the queen's favour, and it does not do in a case of conscience to stand on trifles; putting, therefore, out of consideration the fact libelled, and looking both at the head and the tail of the proceeding, I was of a firm persuasion, that all the sculduddery of the business might have been well spared from the eye of the public, which is of itself sufficiently prone to keek and kook, in every possible way, for a glimpse of a black story; and, therefore, I thought it my duty to stand up in all places against the trafficking that was attempted with a divine institution. And I think, when my people read how their prelatic enemies, the bishops (the heavens defend the poor Church of Scotland from being subjected to the weight of their paws), have been visited with a constipation of the understanding on that point, it must to them be a great satisfaction to know how clear and collected their minister was on this fundamental of society. For it has turned out, as I said to Mrs. Pringle, as well as others, it would do, that a sense of grace and religion would be manifested in some quarter before all was done, by which the devices for an unsanctified repudiation or divorce would be set at nought.

As often as I could, deeming it my duty as a minister of the word and gospel, I got into the House of Lords, and heard the trial; and I cannot think how ever it was expected that justice could be done yonder; for although no man could be more attentive than I was, every time I came away I was more confounded than when I went; and when the trial was done, it seemed to me just to be clearing up for a proper beginning--all which is a proof that there was a foul conspiracy. Indeed, when I saw Duke Hamilton's daughter coming out of the coach with the queen, I never could think after, that a lady of her degree would have countenanced the queen had the matter laid to her charge been as it was said. Not but in any circumstance it behoved a lady of that ancient and royal blood, to be seen beside the queen in such a great historical case as a trial.

I hope, in the part I have taken, my people will be satisfied; but whether they are satisfied or not, my own conscience is content with me. I was in the House of Lords when her majesty came down for the last time, and saw her handed up the stairs by the usher of the black-rod, a little stumpy man, wonderful particular about the rules of the House, insomuch that he was almost angry with me for stopping at the stair-head. The afflicted woman was then in great spirits, and I saw no symptoms of the swelled legs that Lord Lauderdale, that jooking man, spoke about, for she skippit up the steps like a lassie. But my heart was wae for her when all was over, for she came out like an astonished creature, with a wild steadfast look, and a sort of something in the face that was as if the rational spirit had fled away; and she went down to her coach as if she had submitted to be led to a doleful destiny. Then the shouting of the people began, and I saw and shouted too in spite of my decorum, which I marvel at sometimes, thinking it could be nothing less than an involuntary testification of the spirit within me.

Anent the marriage of Rachel Pringle, it may be needful in me to state, for the satisfaction of my people, that although by stress of law we were obligated to conform to the practice of the Episcopalians, by taking out a bishop's license, and going to their church, and vowing, in a pagan fashion, before their altars, which are an abomination to the Lord; yet, when the young folk came home, I made them stand up, and be married again before me, according to all regular marriages in our national Church. For this I had two reasons: first, to satisfy myself that there had been a true and real marriage; and, secondly, to remove the doubt of the former ceremony being sufficient; for marriage being of divine appointment, and the English form and ritual being a thing established by Act of Parliament, which is of human ordination, I was not sure that marriage performed according to a human enactment could be a fulfilment of a divine ordinance. I therefore hope that my people will approve what I have done; and in order that there may be a sympathising with me, you will go over to Banker M-y, and get what he will give you, as ordered by me, and distribute it among the poorest of the parish, according to the best of your discretion, my long absence having taken from me the power of judgment in a matter of this sort. I wish indeed for the glad sympathy of my people, for I think that our Saviour turning water into wine at the wedding, was an example set that we should rejoice and be merry at the fulfilment of one of the great obligations imposed on us as social creatures; and I have ever regarded the unhonoured treatment of a marriage occasion as a thing of evil bodement, betokening heavy hearts and light purses to the lot of the bride and bridegroom. You will hear more from me by and by; in the meantime, all I can say is, that when we have taken our leave of the young folks, who are going to France, it is Mrs. Pringle's intent, as well as mine, to turn our horses' heads northward, and make our way with what speed we can, for our own quiet home, among you. So no more at present from your friend and pastor,

Z. PRINGLE.

Mrs. Tod, the mother of Miss Isabella, a respectable widow lady, who had quiescently joined the company, proposed that they should now drink health, happiness, and all manner of prosperity, to the young couple; and that nothing might be wanting to secure the favourable auspices of good omens to the toast, she desired Miss Isabella to draw fresh bottles of white and red. When all manner of felicity was duly wished in wine to the captain and his lady, the party rose to seek their respective homes. But a bustle at the street-door occasioned a pause. Mrs. Tod inquired the matter; and three or four voices at once replied, that an express had come from Garnock for Nanse Swaddle the midwife, Mrs. Craig being taken with her pains. "Mr. Snodgrass," said Mrs. Glibbans, instantly and emphatically, "ye maun let me go with you, and we can spiritualise on the road; for I hae promis't Mrs. Craig to be wi' her at the crying, to see the upshot--so I hope you will come awa."

It would be impossible in us to suppose, that Mr. Snodgrass had any objections to spiritualise with Mrs. Glibbans on the road between Irvine and Garnock; but, notwithstanding her urgency, he excused himself from going with her; however, he recommended her to the special care and protection of Mr. Micklewham, who was at that time on his legs to return home. "Oh! Mr. Snodgrass," said the lady, looking slyly, as she adjusted her cloak, at him and Miss Isabella, "there will be marrying and giving in marriage till the day of judgment." And with these oracular words she took her departure.

 

 

 

 

 
 

 

 
 

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