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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
The Reverend Mr. M’Dow: and his Courtship
By Susan Edmonstone Ferrier (1782–1854)
 
From ‘Destiny’

THE REVEREND Duncan M’Dow was a large, loud-spoken, splay-footed man, whose chief characteristics were his bad preaching, his love of eating, his rapacity for augmentations (or as he termed it, owgmentations), and a want of tact in all the bienséances of life which would have driven Lord Chesterfield frantic. His hands and feet were in everybody’s way: the former, indeed, like huge grappling-irons, seized upon everything they could possibly lay hold of; while the latter were commonly to be seen sprawling at an immeasurable distance from his body, and projecting into the very middle of the room like two prodigious moles or bastions. He dealt much in stale jokes and bad puns; he had an immense horse-laugh which nothing ever restrained, and an enormous appetite which nothing seemed to damp, and which he took care always to supply with the best things at table. He used a great quantity of snuff, and was forever handing about his mull,—an ugly cow’s-horn, with a foul dingy cairngorm set in silver on the top. To sum up his personal enormities, when he spoke he had a practice of always advancing his face as close as possible to the person he was addressing. Although a strong-bodied sturdy man, he was extremely careful of his health; and even in a fine summer’s day was to be seen in a huge wooly greatcoat that reached to his heels, trotting along on a stout dun pony just high enough to keep its master’s feet off the ground.  1
  Such were the outward man and beast; the inward man was very much of the same stamp. Mr. M’Dow’s principal object in this world was self, and his constant and habitual thoughts had naturally operated on his outward manners to such a degree as to blunt all the nicer perceptions of human nature, and render him in very truth his own microcosm. He was no dissembler; for a selfish dissembler is aware that in order to please, one must appear to think of others and forget self. This fictitious politeness he had neither the tact to acquire nor the cunning to feign; consequently he was devoid of all the means of pleasing. Not that we mean to recommend dissimulation, or to insinuate that Mr. M’Dow would in reality have been a better man had he been able and willing to form himself on the model of the Chesterfield school. He would merely have been less offensive in the ordinary intercourse of life, and would have sinned less against the common observances of society. But had he been earnest in his calling, had he sought to have his mind enlightened by the knowledge of those Divine truths which he professed to teach, their unction would have softened and refined even the ruggedness of his nature, and have rendered him an object of respect instead of a subject of ridicule….  2
  The day arrived for the long-promised visit to the manse…. It was a thin tenement, built of rough gray stone of the usual pattern, a window on each side of the door and three above. At one side was the garden, with cabbages and marigolds growing pell-mell, and in the rear was the set of condemned offices, partly thatched and partly slated. There were no attempts at neatness in the approach to the house, which was merely a rough jog-trot road, flanked on each side by a dike. Presently Mr. M’Dow was seen hurrying to the door to meet his guests, and there, as they alighted, he was ready to receive them with open hands.  3
  Great was the joy expressed at this honor, as Mr. M’Dow led the way to the interior of his mansion, which was just such as might have been expected from its outward aspect. There was a narrow stone passage with a door on each side, and there was a perpendicular wooden stair, and that was all that was to be seen at the first coup d’œil. But if little was revealed to the eye, the secrets of the house were yielded with less coy reserve to the other senses: for there was to be heard the sound of a jack, now beginning with that low, slow, mournful whine which jacks of sensibility are sure to have; then gradually rising to a louder and more grating pitch; till at length one mighty crash, succeeded as all mighty crashes are, by a momentary silence. Then comes the winding-up, which, contrary to all the rules of the drama, is in fact only a new beginning; and so on ad infinitum till the deed is done. With all these progressive sounds were mingled the sharp, shrill, loud voice and Gaelic accents of the chef de cuisine, with an occasional clash or clang, at least equal to the fall of the armor in the Castle of Otranto.  4
  Then there issued forth with resistless might a smell which defied all human control, and to which doors and windows were but feeble barriers or outlets; till like the smoke in the ‘Arabian Nights,’ which resolved itself into a genie, it seemed as if about to quit its aerial form and assume a living and tangible substance.  5
  Lucy would fain have drawn back as she crossed the threshold, and quitting the pure precincts of sunshine and fresh air, found herself in the power of this unseen monster,—this compound of fish, fat, peats, burnt grease, kail, leeks, and onions, reveling, too, amid such scenes and beneath such a sky!  6
  “You see I have brought my sketch-book, Mr. M’Dow,” said she; “so I must make the most of my time, and be busy out of doors…. A noted sketcher, as papa calls me, minds neither heat nor cold, and I shall easily find either a shady spot or a cool breeze.”  7
  “Well, then, since you will go out, trust yourself to me, and I’ll take you where you’ll find both, and the most beautiful prospect into the bargain.”  8
  At that moment the door opened, and a thick yellow man, with no particular features, dressed in a short coat, tartan trews, and a very large ill-colored neckcloth, entered the room and was introduced by the minister as his cousin and brother-in-law, Mr. Dugald M’Dow, from Glasgow, then on a visit at the manse.  9
  “We’re just going to take a turn in the garden, Mr. Dugald,” said his host: “will you get your hat and join us?”  10
  “With the greatest pleasure,” replied Mr. Dugald with a strong accent and a stiff conceited bow; then, popping down a sealskin cap from a peg in the passage, he was instantly accoutred, and the party set forth.  11
  “I wish it had been earlier in the season, Miss Lucy,” said Mr. M’Dow, as he ushered her into his kail-yard by a narrow slimy path, overrun with long sprawling bushes; “a month ago I could have treated you to as fine berries as perhaps you ever tasted. They were uncommonly large and jisey, and at the same time extremely high-flavored. I have a little red hairy berry that’s very deleeshus; and there’s the honey-blobs, an uncommon fine berry—a great deal of jise in it. I was rather unlucky in my rasps this season; they were small and wormy, and a very poor crop: but my currins were amazingly prolific and uncommonly jisey. In fact, I couldn’t use the half of them, and it was really vexatious to see them absolutely rotting on the bushes. The want of a lady at the berry season is a great want, and one that’s sorely felt; for though my lass is an exceeding good plain cook, yet she’s not mistress of the higher branches of cookery, such as the making of jams and jeellies, and these things; but I would fain flatter myself, by the time the berry season comes round again, I may have a fair lady to manage them for me. Do you think I may venture to hope so, Miss Lucy?”…  12
  Again she attempted to rid herself of the assiduities of Mr. M’Dow, and was gliding away, as she hoped unperceived, when, striding after her like a seven-league ogre, he called:—“Miss Lucy—Miss Lucy! you’re not running away from us, I hope? This is just about the time I ordered a slight refreshment to be ready,” pulling out his watch: “you’ll do me the honor to partake of it, I hope?”  13
  Lucy declined, on the plea of having already had ample refreshment, and being much more inclined to sketch than to eat; but Lucy must have been made of stone and lime to have been able to withstand the importunities of Mr. M’Dow: he was as urgent as though his very existence had depended upon her partaking of his “slight refreshment,” and she was at length compelled, much against her inclination, to return to the salle à manger.  14
  During their absence a table had been covered; but the arrangements were not finally concluded, for a stout, ruddy, yellow-haired damsel was rattling away amongst knives and forks as though she had been turning over so many down feathers.  15
  “I expected to have found everything ready by this time,” said Mr. M’Dow: “what have you been about, Jess?” But Jess continued to stamp and clatter away without making any reply.  16
  “I’ll just show you the way to my study, till the refreshment’s put upon the table,” said Mr. M’Dow; and finding all remonstrance in vain, his guests submitted with a good grace, and were conducted to a very tolerable room up-stairs, where were a few shelves of books, a backgammon board, a fowling-piece, and a fishing-rod, with shot, lines, and flies scattered about. There was also a sofa with a dirty crumpled cover, where Mr. Dugald seemed to have been lounging with a flute and a music-book. In one corner stood a table with a pile of books, some of them in bindings very unlike the rest of the furniture….  17
  “Allow me in the mean time to lead the way to something more substantial, Miss Lucy,” cried Mr. M’Dow, seizing her hand, as Jess put her head in at the door; and having given a glare with her eyes, and wide opened her mouth, emitting a sort of guttural sound, importing that “aw’s ready,” galloped downstairs again as hard and fast as she could.  18
  “Give me leave, Miss Lucy; but the stair’s rather narrow for two; you know the way; turn to the left hand of my trance. It’s very easy for these poets to preach; but it’s not so easy always for us preachers to practice—hoch, ho!”  19
  This sentiment uttered, a grace was hurried over; and the company seated themselves at table, which was literally covered with dishes, all close huddled together. In the middle was a tureen of leek soup, alias cocky-leeky, with prunes; at one end, a large dish of innumerable small, clammy, fresh-water trouts; at the other, two enormous fat ducks, stuffed to the throat with onions, and decorated with onion rings round their legs and pinions. At the corners were minced collops and tripe, confronted with a dish of large old pease, drowned (for they could not swim) in butter; next, a mess of mashed potatoes, scored and rescored with the marks of the kitchen knife—a weapon which is to be found in all kitchens, varying in length from one to three feet, and in uncivilized lands used indiscriminately to cut meat, fish, fowl, onions, bread, and butter. Saucers filled with ill-colored pickles filled up the interstices.  20
  “I ordered merely a slight refreshment,” said Mr. M’Dow, surveying his banquet with great complacency; “I think it preferable to a more solid mail in this weather. Of all good Scotch dishes, in my opinion, there’s none equal to cocky-leeky; as a friend of mine said, it’s both nectar and ambrosia. You’ll find that uncommonly good, Miss Lucy, if you’ll just try it; for it’s made by a receipt of my mother’s, and she was always famous for cocky-leeky: the prunes are a great improvement; they give a great delicacy to the flavor: my leeks are not come to their full strength yet, but they are extremely sweet; you may help me to a few more of the broth, captain, and don’t spare the leeks. I never see cocky-leeky without thinking of the honest man who found a snail in his: ‘Tak ye that snack, my man,’ says he, ‘for looking sae like a plum-damy’; hoch, hoch, ho! There’s a roasted hare coming to remove the fish, and I believe you see your refreshment; there’s merely a few trifles coming.”  21
  Lucy had accepted one of Mr. Dugald’s little muddy trouts, as the least objectionable article of the repast; and while Mr. M’Dow’s mouth was stuffed with prunes and leeks, silence ensued. But having dispatched a second plateful and taken a bumper of wine, he began again:—“I can answer for the ducks, Miss Lucy, if you’ll do me the favor to try them. A clean knife and fork, Jess, to Mr. Dugald to cut them. I prefer ducks to a goose; a goose is an inconvenient sort of bird, for it’s rather large for one person, and it’s not big enough for two. But my stars, Jess! what is the meaning of this? the ducks are perfectly raw!” in an accent of utter despair. “What is the meaning of it? You must take it to the brander, and get it done as fast as you can. How came Eppy to go so far wrong, I wonder!”  22
  Jess here emitted some of her guttural sounds, which being translated amounted to this: that the jack had run down and Eppy couldn’t get it set going again.  23
  “That’s most ridiculous!” exclaimed Mr. M’Dow indignantly; “when I was at the pains to show her myself how to manage her. She’s the Auchnagoil jack, which I bought, and a most famous goer. But you see how it is, Miss Lucy; you must make allowance for a bachelor’s house: there’s a roasted hare coming. Jess, take away the fish, and bring the hare to me.” The hare was herewith introduced, and flung, rather than placed, before her master. “Oh, this is quite intolerable! There’s really no bearing this! The hare’s burnt to a perfect stick! The whole jise is out of its body!”  24
  “Your cook’s not a good hare-dresser; that’s all that can be said,” quoth Mr. Dugald.  25
  “Very well said—extremely good,” said Mr. M’Dow, trying to laugh off his indignation; “and after all, I believe, it’s only a little scowthered. Do me the favor to try a morsel of it, Miss Lucy, with a little jeelly. Jess, put down the jeelly. Oh, have you nothing but a pig to put it in?” demanded he, in a most wrathful accent, as Jess clapped down a large native jelly-pot upon the table. “Where’s the handsome cut-crystal jeelly-dish I bought at the Auchnagoil roup?”  26
  Jess’s face turned very red, and a downcast look of conscious guilt told that the “handsome cut-crystal jeelly-dish” was no more.  27
  “This is really most provoking! But if you’ll not taste the hare, Miss Lucy, will you do me the kindness to try the minced collops? or a morsel of tripe? It’s a sweet, simple dish—a great favorite of my mother’s; both you and the captain are really poor eaters, so you and I, Mr. Dugald, must just keep each other in countenance.”  28
  And another pause ensued, till at last an order was given to take everything away. “And bring the few trifles—but will you make less noise? there’s no hearing ourselves speak for you;” but Jess rattled away, nevertheless, till she vanished, leaving the door wide open. A few minutes elapsed before she reappeared, with the greasy apparition of Eppy at her back, standing on the threshold with her hands full.  29
  “Now take the pigeon pie to Mr. Dugald; bring the puddin’ to me; put the puffs and cheesecakes at the sides, and the cream in the middle. I’m sorry I’ve no jeellies and blaw mangys for Miss Lucy. If you won’t taste the pie, do me the favor to take a bit of this puddin’; it’s quite a simple puddin’, made from a recipe of my mother’s.”  30
  Lucy accepted a bit of the “simple puddin’,” which, as its name implied, was a sort of mawkish squash, flavored with peat-reek whisky.  31
  “I’m afraid the puddin’s not to your taste, Miss Lucy, you’re making no hand of it; will you try a jam puff? I’m sure you’ll find them good; they come from Glasgow, sent by my good mother; I must really taste them, if it were only out of respect to her. Oh! Miss Lucy, will you not halve a puff with me?”  32
  The minister and his friend having now ate and drank copiously of all that was upon the table, Captain Malcolm said:—“My daughter has not yet accomplished the object of her visit here, and we must soon be returning home; so you have no time to lose, my dear,” to Lucy, who started up from the table like a bird from its cage; “if indeed it is not lost already,” he added, as Lucy and he walked to the window. The bright blue sky had now changed to one of misty whiteness, showers were seen drifting along over the scattered isles, and even while they spoke, a sudden gust of wind and rain came sweeping along, and all the beauteous scenery was in an instant blotted from the sight.  33
  Captain Malcolm was not a person to be disconcerted by trifles; but on the present occasion he could not refrain from expressing his regret, as he every moment felt an increasing repugnance to the company of Mr. M’Dow and his friend, and still more on Lucy’s account than his own,—it seemed like contamination for so fair and pure a creature to be seated between two such coarse barbarians. Mr. M’Dow affected to sympathize in the disappointment; but it was evident he was exulting in the delay.  34
  Shower after shower followed in such quick succession that Lucy found the object of her visit completely defeated. At length the clouds rolled away, but the day was too far advanced to admit of further tarriance; and besides, both the father and daughter were impatient to extricate themselves from the overpowering hospitalities of Mr. M’Dow.  35
  “I hope you will have many opportunities of taking drawings here,” said he, with a significant tenderness of look and manner, as he assisted Lucy to mount her pony; “and when the manse is harled, and I get my new offices, the view will be much improved.”  36
  Lucy bowed as she hastily took the bridle into her own hands, and gladly turned her back on the manse and the minister.  37
 
 
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