The groaning malt mentioned in the text was the ale brewed for the purpose of being drunk after the lady or goodwifes safe delivery. The ken-no has a more ancient source, and perhaps the custom may be derived from the secret rites of the Bona Dea. A large and rich cheese was made by the women of the family, with great affectation of secrecy, for the refreshment of the gossips who were to attend at the canny minute. This was the ken-no, so called because its existence was secret (that is, presumed to be so) from all the males of the family, but especially from the husband and master. He was, accordingly, expected to conduct himself as if he knew of no such preparation, to act as if desirous to press the female guests to refreshments, and to seem surprised at their obstinate refusal. But the instant his back was turned, the ken-no was produced; and after all had eaten their fill, with a proper accompaniment of the groaning malt, the remainder was divided among the gossips, each carrying a large portion home with the same affectation of great secrecy.
It is fitting to explain to the reader the locality described in this chapter. There is, or rather I should say there was, a little inn, called Mumps Hall,that is, being interpreted, Beggars 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 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 Elliott, but well known by his sobriquet 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 Stagshaw-bank 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 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 Ha a safe place to quarter in during the night. He tore himself away, therefore, from Megs 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 Megs 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. Dn your pistol! said the foremost robber, whom Charlie to his dying day protested he believed to have been the landlord of Mumps HaDn your pistol! I care not a curse for it.Aye, lad, said the deep voice of Fighting Charlie, but the tows 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 further molestation.
The author has heard this story told by persons who received it from Fighting Charlie himself; he has also heard that Mumps Ha was afterwards the scene of some other atrocious villany, 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.
The author may here remark, that the character of Dandie Dinmont was drawn from no individual. A dozen, at least, of stout Liddesdale yeomen with whom he has been acquainted, and whose hospitality he has shared in his rambles through that wild country, at a time when it was totally inaccessible save in the manner described in the text, might lay claim to be the prototype of the rough, but faithful, hospitable, and generous farmer. But one circumstance occasioned the name to be fixed upon a most respectable individual of this class, now no more. Mr. James Davidson of Hindlee, a tenant of Lord Douglas, besides the points of blunt honesty, personal strength, and hardihood, designed to be expressed in the character of Dandie Dinmont, had the humour of naming a celebrated race of terriers which he possessed, by the generic names of Mustard and Pepper (according as their colour was yellow, or greyish-black) without any other individual distinction, except as according to the nomenclature in the text. Mr. Davidson resided at Hindlee, a wild farm on the very edge of the Teviotdale mountains, and bordering close on Liddesdale, where the rivers and brooks divide as they take their course to the Eastern or Western seas. His passion for the chase in all its forms but especially for fox-hunting, as followed in the fashion described in the next chapter, in conducting which he was skilful beyond most men in the South Highlands, was the distinguishing point in his character.
When the tale on which these comments are written became rather popular, the name of Dandie Dinmont was generally given to him, which Mr. Davidson received with great good humour,only saying, while he distinguished the author by the name applied to him in the country, where his own is so commonthat the Sheriff had not written about him mair than about other folk, but only about his dogs. An English lady of high rank and fashion, being desirous to possess a brace of the celebrated Mustard and Pepper terriers, expressed her wishes in a letter, which was literally addressed to Dandie Dinmont, under which very general direction it reached Mr. Davidson who was justly proud of the application, and failed not to comply with a request which did him and his favourite attendants so much honour.
I trust I shall not be considered as offending the memory of a kind and worthy man, if I mention a little trait of character which occurred in Mr. Davidsons last illness. I use the words of the excellent clergyman who attended him, who gave the account to a reverend gentleman of the same persuasion:
I read to Mr. Davidson the very suitable and interesting truths you addressed to him. He listened to them with great seriousness, and has uniformly displayed a deep concern about his souls salvation. He died on the first Sabbath of the year (1820); an apoplectic stroke deprived him in an instant of all sensation, but happily his brother was at his bedside, for he had detained him from the meeting-house that day to be near him, although he felt himself not much worse than usual.So you have got the last little Mustard that the hand of Dandie Dinmont bestowed.
His ruling passion was strong even on the eve of death. Mr. Baillies foxhounds had started a fox opposite to his window a few weeks ago, and as soon as he heard the sound of the dogs his eyes glistened; he insisted on getting out of bed, and with much difficulty got to the window, and there enjoyed the fun, as he called it. When I came down to ask him, he said he had seen Reynard, but had not seen his death. If it had been the will of Providence, he added, I would have liked to have been after him;but I am glad that I got to the window, and am thankful for what I saw, for it has done me a great deal of good. Notwithstanding these eccentricities, adds the sensible and liberal clergyman, I sincerely hope and believe he has gone to a better world, and better company and enjoyments.
If some part of this little narrative may excite a smile, it is one which is consistent with the most perfect respect for the simpleminded invalid, and his kind and judicious religious instructor, who, we hope, will not be displeased with our giving, we trust, a correct edition of an anecdote which has been pretty generally circulated. The race of Pepper and Mustard are in the highest estimation at this day, not only for vermin-killing, but for intelligence and fidelity. Those who, like the author, possess a brace of them, consider them as very desirable companions.
The cleek here intimated is the iron hook, or hooks, depending from the chimney of a Scottish cottage, on which the pot is suspended when boiling. The same appendage is often called the crook. The salmon is usually dried by hanging it up, after being split and rubbed with salt, in the smoke of the turf fire above the cleeks, where it is said to reist, that preparation being so termed. The salmon, thus preserved, is eaten as a delicacy, under the name of kipper, a luxury to which Dr. Redgill has given his sanction as an ingredient of the Scottish breakfast.See the excellent novel entitled Marriage.
The distinction of individuals by nicknames, when they possess no property, is still common on the Border, and indeed necessary, from the number of persons having the same name. In the small village of Lustruther, in Roxburghshire, there dwelt, in the memory of man, four inhabitants, called Andrew, or Dandie, Oliver. They were distinguished as Dandie Eassil-gate, Dandie Wassil-gate, Dandie Thumbie, and Dandie Dumbie. The two first had their names from living eastward and westward in the street of the village; the third from something peculiar in the conformation of his thumb; the fourth from his taciturn habits.
It is told as a well-known jest, that a beggar-woman, repulsed from door to door as she solicited quarters through a village of Annandale, asked, in her despair, if there were no Christians in the place. To which the hearers, concluding that she inquired for some persons so surnamed, answered, Na, na, there are nae Christians here; we are a Johnstones and Jardines.
The mysterious rites in which Meg Merrilies is described as engaging, belong to her character as a queen of her race. All know that gipsies in every country claim acquaintance with the gift of fortune-telling; but, as is often the case, they are liable to the superstitions of which they avail themselves in others. The correspondent of Blackwood, quoted in the Introduction to this Tale, gives us some information on the subject of their credulity.
I have ever understood, he says, speaking of the Yetholm gipsies, that they are extremely superstitiouscarefully noticing the formation of the clouds, the flight of particular birds, and the soughing of the winds, before attempting any enterprise. They have been known for several successive days to turn back with their loaded carts, asses, and children, on meeting with persons whom they considered of unlucky aspect: nor do they ever proceed on their summer peregrinations without some propitious omen of their fortunate return. They also burn the clothes of their dead, not so much from any apprehension of infection being communicated by them, as the conviction that the very circumstance of wearing them would shorten the days of their living. They likewise carefully watch the corpse by night and day till the time of interment, and conceive that the deil tinkles at the lykewake of those who felt in their dead-thraw the agonies and terrors of remorse.
These notions are not peculiar to the gipsies; but having been once generally entertained among the Scottish common people, are now only found among those who are the most rude in their habits, and most devoid of instruction. The popular idea, that the protracted struggle between life and death is painfully prolonged by keeping the door of the apartment shut, was received as certain by the superstitious eld of Scotland. But neither was it to be thrown wide open. To leave the door ajar was the plan adopted by the old crones who understood the mysteries of deathbeds and lykewakes. In that case, there was room for the imprisoned spirit to escape; and yet an obstacle, we have been assured, was offered to the entrance of any frightful form which might otherwise intrude itself. The threshold of a habitation was in some sort a sacred limit, and the subject of much superstition. A bride, even to this day, is always lifted over ita rule derived apparently from the Romans.
I have seen one of these formidable stoups at Provost Haswells, at Jedburgh, in the days of yore. It was a pewter measure, the claret being in ancient days served from the tap, and had the figure of a hen upon the lid. In later times, the name was given to a glass bottle of the same dimensions. These are rare apparitions among the degenerate topers of modern days.
NOTE 8.CONVIVIAL HABITS OF THE SCOTTISH BAR, p. 316
The account given by Mr. Pleydell, of his sitting down in the midst of a revel to draw an appeal case, was taken from a story told me by an aged gentleman, of the elder President Dundas of Arniston (father of the younger President, and of Lord Melville). It had been thought very desirable, while that distinguished lawyer was Kings counsel, that his assistance should be obtained in drawing an appeal case, which, as occasion for such writings then rarely occurred, was held to be matter of great nicety. The Solicitor employed for the appellant, attended by my informant acting as his clerk, went to the Lord Advocates chambers in the Fishmarket Close, as I think. It was Saturday at noon, the Court was just dismissed, the Lord Advocate had changed his dress and booted himself, and his servant and horses were at the foot of the close to carry him to Arniston. It was scarcely possible to get him to listen to a word respecting business. The wily agent, however, on pretence of asking one or two questions, which would not detain him half an hour, drew his Lordship, who was no less an eminent bon vivant than a lawyer of unequalled talent, to take a whet at a celebrated tavern, when the learned counsel became gradually involved in a spirited discussion of the law points of the case. At length it occurred to him, that he might as well ride to Arniston in the cool of the evening. The horses were directed to be put in the stable, but not to be unsaddled. Dinner was ordered, the law was laid aside for a time, and the bottle circulated very freely. At nine oclock at night, after he had been honouring Bacchus for so many hours, the Lord Advocate ordered his horses to be unsaddled,paper, pen, and ink were broughthe began to dictate the appeal caseand continued at his task till four oclock the next morning. By next days post, the solicitor sent the case to London, a chef-dôuvre of its kind, and in which, my informant assured me, it was not necessary on revisal to correct five words. I am not, therefore, conscious of having overstepped accuracy in describing the manner in which Scottish lawyers of the old time occasionally united the worship of Bacchus with that of Themis. My informant was Alexander Keith, Esq., grandfather to my friend, the present Sir Alexander Keith of Ravelstone, and apprentice at the time to the writer who conducted the cause.
To the admirers of good eating, gipsy cookery seems to have little to recommend it. I can assure you, however, that the cook of a nobleman of high distinction, a person who never reads even a novel without an eye to the enlargement of the culinary science, has added to the Almanach des Gourmands a certain Potage á la Meg Merrilies de Derncleugh, consisting of game and poultry of all kinds, stewed with vegetables into a soup, which rivals in savour and richness the gallant messes of Camachos wedding; and which the Baron of Bradwardine would certainly have reckoned among the Epulae lautiores.
It is probably true, as observed by Counsellor Pleydell, that a lawyers anxiety about his case, supposing him to have been some time in practice, will seldom disturb his rest or digestion. Clients will, however, sometimes fondly entertain a different opinion. I was told by an excellent judge, now no more, of a country gentleman, who, addressing his leading counsel, my informer, then an advocate in great practice, on the morning of the day on which the case was to be pleaded, said, with singular bonhomie, Weel, my lord, (the counsel was Lord Advocate) the awful day is come at last. I have nae been able to sleep a wink for thinking of itnor, I dare say, your lordship either.