Chronicles of the Canongate

Contents:
Author: Walter Scott

Chapter III. Mr. Croftangry, Inter Alia, Revisits Glentanner.

Then sing of stage-coaches,
And fear no reproaches
For riding in one;
But daily be jogging,
Whilst, whistling and flogging,
Whilst, whistling and flogging,
The coachman drives on. FARQUHAR.

Disguised in a grey surtout which had seen service, a white castor on my head, and a stout Indian cane in my hand, the next week saw me on the top of a mail-coach driving to the westward.

I like mail-coaches, and I hate them. I like them for my convenience; but I detest them for setting the whole world agadding, instead of sitting quietly still minding their own business, and preserving the stamp of originality of character which nature or education may have impressed on them. Off they go, jingling against each other in the rattling vehicle till they have no more variety of stamp in them than so many smooth shillings—the same even in their Welsh wigs and greatcoats, each without more individuality than belongs to a partner of the company, as the waiter calls them, of the North Coach.

Worthy Mr. Piper, best of contractors who ever furnished four frampal jades for public use, I bless you when I set out on a journey myself; the neat coaches under your contract render the intercourse, from Johnnie Groat’s House to Ladykirk and Cornhill Bridge, safe, pleasant, and cheap. But, Mr. Piper, you who are a shrewd arithmetician, did it never occur to you to calculate how many fools’ heads, which might have produced an idea or two in the year, if suffered to remain in quiet, get effectually addled by jolting to and fro in these flying chariots of yours; how many decent countrymen become conceited bumpkins after a cattle-show dinner in the capital, which they could not have attended save for your means; how many decent country parsons return critics and spouters, by way of importing the newest taste from Edinburgh? And how will your conscience answer one day for carrying so many bonny lasses to barter modesty for conceit and levity at the metropolitan Vanity Fair?

Consider, too, the low rate to which you reduce human intellect. I do not believe your habitual customers have their ideas more enlarged than one of your coach-horses. They KNOWS the road, like the English postilion, and they know nothing besides. They date, like the carriers at Gadshill, from the death of Robin Ostler; [See Act II. Scene 1 of the First Part of Shakespeare’s Henry IV.] the succession of guards forms a dynasty in their eyes; coachmen are their ministers of state; and an upset is to them a greater incident than a change of administration. Their only point of interest on the road is to save the time, and see whether the coach keeps the hour. This is surely a miserable degradation of human intellect. Take my advice, my good sir, and disinterestedly contrive that once or twice a quarter your most dexterous whip shall overturn a coachful of these superfluous travellers, IN TERROREM to those who, as Horace says, "delight in the dust raised by your chariots."

Your current and customary mail-coach passenger, too, gets abominably selfish, schemes successfully for the best seat, the freshest egg, the right cut of the sirloin. The mode of travelling is death to all the courtesies and kindnesses of life, and goes a great way to demoralize the character, and cause it to retrograde to barbarism. You allow us excellent dinners, but only twenty minutes to eat them. And what is the consequence? Bashful beauty sits on the one side of us, timid childhood on the other; respectable, yet somewhat feeble, old age is placed on our front; and all require those acts of politeness which ought to put every degree upon a level at the convivial board. But have we time—we the strong and active of the party—to perform the duties of the table to the more retired and bashful, to whom these little attentions are due? The lady should be pressed to her chicken, the old man helped to his favourite and tender slice, the child to his tart. But not a fraction of a minute have we to bestow on any other person than ourselves; and the PRUT-PRUT—TUT-TUT of the guard’s discordant note summons us to the coach, the weaker party having gone without their dinner, and the able-bodied and active threatened with indigestion, from having swallowed victuals like a Lei’stershire clown bolting bacon.

On the memorable occasion I am speaking of I lost my breakfast, sheerly from obeying the commands of a respectable-looking old lady, who once required me to ring the bell, and another time to help the tea-kettle. I have some reason to think she was literally an OLD-STAGER, who laughed in her sleeve at my complaisance; so that I have sworn in my secret soul revenge upon her sex, and all such errant damsels of whatever age and degree whom I may encounter in my travels. I mean all this without the least ill-will to my friend the contractor, who, I think, has approached as near as any one is like to do towards accomplishing the modest wish cf the Amatus and Amata of the Peri Bathous,—

"Ye gods, annihilate but time and space,
And make two lovers happy."

I intend to give Mr. P. his full revenge when I come to discuss the more recent enormity of steamboats; meanwhile, I shall only say of both these modes of conveyance, that—

"There is no living with them or without them."

I am, perhaps, more critical on the—mail-coach on this particular occasion, that I did not meet all the respect from the worshipful company in his Majesty’s carriage that I think I was entitled to. I must say it for myself that I bear, in my own opinion at least, not a vulgar point about me. My face has seen service, but there is still a good set of teeth, an aquiline nose, and a quick, grey eye, set a little too deep under the eyebrow; and a cue of the kind once called military may serve to show that my civil occupations have been sometimes mixed with those of war. Nevertheless, two idle young fellows in the vehicle, or rather on the top of it, were so much amused with the deliberation which I used in ascending to the same place of eminence, that I thought I should have been obliged to pull them up a little. And I was in no good-humour at an unsuppressed laugh following my descent when set down at the angle, where a cross road, striking off from the main one, led me towards Glentanner, from which I was still nearly five miles distant.

It was an old-fashioned road, which, preferring ascents to sloughs, was led in a straight line over height and hollow, through moor and dale. Every object around me; as I passed them in succession, reminded me of old days, and at the same time formed the strongest contrast with them possible. Unattended, on foot, with a small bundle in my hand, deemed scarce sufficient good company for the two shabby-genteels with whom I had been lately perched on the top of a mail-coach, I did not seem to be the same person with the young prodigal, who lived with the noblest and gayest in the land, and who, thirty years before, would, in the same country, have, been on the back of a horse that had been victor for a plate, or smoking aloof in his travelling chaise-and-four. My sentiments were not less changed than my condition. I could quite well remember that my ruling sensation in the days of heady youth was a mere schoolboy’s eagerness to get farthest forward in the race in which I had engaged; to drink as many bottles as —; to be thought as good a judge of a horse as —; to have the knowing cut of —’s jacket. These were thy gods, O Israel!

Now I was a mere looker-on; seldom an unmoved, and sometimes an angry spectator, but still a spectator only, of the pursuits of mankind. I felt how little my opinion was valued by those engaged in the busy turmoil, yet I exercised it with the profusion of an old lawyer retired from his profession, who thrusts himself into his neighbour’s affairs, and gives advice where it is not wanted, merely under pretence of loving the crack of the whip.

I came amid these reflections to the brow of a hill, from which I expected to see Glentanner, a modest-looking yet comfortable house, its walls covered with the most productive fruit-trees in that part of the country, and screened from the most stormy quarters of the horizon by a deep and ancient wood, which overhung the neighbouring hill. The house was gone; a great part of the wood was felled; and instead of the gentlemanlike mansion, shrouded and embosomed among its old hereditary trees, stood Castle Treddles, a huge lumping four-square pile of freestone, as bare as my nail, except for a paltry edging of decayed and lingering exotics, with an impoverished lawn stretched before it, which, instead of boasting deep green tapestry, enamelled with daisies and with crowsfoot and cowslips, showed an extent of nakedness, raked, indeed, and levelled, but where the sown grasses had failed with drought, and the earth, retaining its natural complexion, seemed nearly as brown and bare as when it was newly dug up.

The house was a large fabric, which pretended to its name of Castle only from the front windows being finished in acute Gothic arches (being, by the way, the very reverse of the castellated style), and each angle graced with a turret about the size of a pepper-box. In every other respect it resembled a large townhouse, which, like a fat burgess, had taken a walk to the country on a holiday, and climbed to the top of all eminence to look around it. The bright red colour of the freestone, the size of the building, the formality of its shape, and awkwardness of its position, harmonized as ill with the sweeping Clyde in front, and the bubbling brook which danced down on the right, as the fat civic form, with bushy wig, gold-headed cane, maroon-coloured coat, and mottled silk stockings, would have accorded with the wild and magnificent scenery of Corehouse Linn.

I went up to the house. It was in that state of desertion which is perhaps the most unpleasant to look on, for the place was going to decay without having been inhabited. There were about the mansion, though deserted, none of the slow mouldering touches of time, which communicate to buildings, as to the human frame, a sort of reverence, while depriving them of beauty and of strength. The disconcerted schemes of the Laird of Castle Treddles had resembled fruit that becomes decayed without ever having ripened. Some windows broken, others patched, others blocked up with deals, gave a disconsolate air to all around, and seemed to say, "There Vanity had purposed to fix her seat, but was anticipated by Poverty."

To the inside, after many a vain summons, I was at length admitted by an old labourer. The house contained every contrivance for luxury and accommodation. The kitchens were a model; and there were hot closets on the office staircase, that the dishes might not cool, as our Scottish phrase goes, between the kitchen and the hall. But instead of the genial smell of good cheer, these temples of Comus emitted the damp odour of sepulchral vaults, and the large cabinets of cast-iron looked like the cages of some feudal Bastille. The eating room and drawing-room, with an interior boudoir, were magnificent apartments, the ceiling was fretted and adorned with stucco-work, which already was broken in many places, and looked in others damp and mouldering; the wood panelling was shrunk and warped, and cracked; the doors, which had not been hung for more than two years, were, nevertheless, already swinging loose from their hinges. Desolation, in short, was where enjoyment had never been; and the want of all the usual means to preserve was fast performing the work of decay.

The story was a common one, and told in a few words. Mr. Treddles, senior, who bought the estate, was a cautious, moneymaking person. His son, still embarked in commercial speculations, desired at the same time to enjoy his opulence and to increase it. He incurred great expenses, amongst which this edifice was to benumbered. To support these he speculated boldly, and unfortunately; and thus the whole history is told, which may serve for more places than Glentanner.

Strange and various feelings ran through my bosom as I loitered in these deserted apartments, scarce hearing what my guide said to me about the size and destination of each room. The first sentiment, I am ashamed to say, was one of gratified spite. My patrician pride was pleased that the mechanic, who had not thought the house of the Croftangrys sufficiently good for him, had now experienced a fall in his turn. My next thought was as mean, though not so malicious. "I have had the better of this fellow," thought I. "If I lost the estate, I at least spent the price; and Mr. Treddles has lost his among paltry commercial engagements."

"Wretch!" said the secret voice within, "darest thou exult in thy shame? Recollect how thy youth and fortune was wasted in those years, and triumph not in the enjoyment of an existence which levelled thee with the beasts that perish. Bethink thee how this poor man’s vanity gave at least bread to the labourer, peasant, and citizen; and his profuse expenditure, like water spilt on the ground, refreshed the lowly herbs and plants where it fell. But thou! Whom hast thou enriched during thy career of extravagance, save those brokers of the devil—vintners, panders, gamblers, and horse-jockeys?" The anguish produced by this selfreproof was so strong that I put my hand suddenly to my forehead, and was obliged to allege a sudden megrim to my attendant, in apology for the action, and a slight groan with which it was accompanied.

I then made an effort to turn my thoughts into a more philosophical current, and muttered half aloud, as a charm to lull any more painful thoughts to rest,—

"NUNC AGER UMBRENI SUB NOMINE, NUPER OFELLI
DICTUS ERIT NULLI PROPRIUS; SED CEDIT IN USUM
NUNC MIHI, NUNC ALII. QUOCIRCA VIVITE FORTES,
FORTIAQUE ADVERSIS OPPONITE PECTORA REBUS."

[Horace Sat.II Lib.2. The meaning will be best conveyed to the English reader in Pope’s imitation:—

"What’s property, dear Swift? You see it alter
From you to me, from me to Peter Walter;
Or in a mortgage prove a lawyer’s share;
Or in a jointure vanish from the heir.

* * * * * * *

"Shades, that to Bacon could retreat afford,
Become the portion of a booby lord;
And Helmsley, once proud Buckingham’s delight,
Slides to a scrivener and city knight.
Let lands and houses have what lords they will,
Let us be fix’d, and our own masters still."]

In my anxiety to fix the philosophical precept in my mind, I recited the last line aloud, which, joined to my previous agitation, I afterwards found became the cause of a report that a mad schoolmaster had come from Edinburgh, with the idea in his head of buying Castle Treddles.

As I saw my companion was desirous of getting rid of me, I asked where I was to find the person in whose hands were left the map of the estate, and other particulars connected with the sale. The agent who had this in possession, I was told, lived at the town of —, which I was informed, and indeed knew well, was distant five miles and a bittock, which may pass in a country where they are less lavish of their land for two or three more. Being somewhat afraid of the fatigue of walking so far, I inquired if a horse or any sort of carriage was to be had, and was answered in the negative.

"But," said my cicerone, "you may halt a blink till next morning at the Treddles Arms, a very decent house, scarce a mile off."

"A new house, I suppose?" replied I.

"No, it’s a new public, but it’s an auld house; it was aye the Leddy’s jointure-house in the Croftangry folk’s time. But Mr. Treddles has fitted it up for the convenience of the country, poor man, he was a public-spirited man when he had the means."

"Duntarkin a public-house!" I exclaimed.

"Ay!" said the fellow, surprised at my naming the place by its former title; "ye’ll hae been in this country before, I’m thinking?"

"Long since," I replied. "And there is good accommodation at the what-d’ye-call-’em arms, and a civil landlord?" This I said by way of saying something, for the man stared very hard at me.

"Very decent accommodation. Ye’ll no be for fashing wi’ wine, I’m thinking; and there’s walth o’ porter, ale, and a drap gude whisky" (in an undertone)—"Fairntosh—if you call get on the lee-side of the gudewife—for there is nae gudeman. They ca’ her Christie Steele."

I almost started at the sound. Christie Steele! Christie Steele was my mother’s body-servant, her very right hand, and, between ourselves, something like a viceroy over her. I recollected her perfectly; and though she had in former times been no favourite of mine, her name now sounded in my ear like that of a friend, and was the first word I had heard somewhat in unison with the associations around me. I sallied from Castle Treddles, determined to make the best of my way to Duntarkin, and my cicerone hung by me for a little way, giving loose to his love of talking—an opportunity which, situated as he was, the seneschal of a deserted castle, was not likely to occur frequently.

"Some folk think," said my companion, "that Mr. Treddles might as weel have put my wife as Christie Steele into the Treddles Arms; for Christie had been aye in service, and never in the public line, and so it’s like she is ganging back in the world, as I hear. Now, my wife had keepit a victualling office."

"That would have been an advantage, certainly," I replied.

"But I am no sure that I wad ha’ looten Eppie take it, if they had put it in her offer."

"That’s a different consideration."

"Ony way, I wadna ha’ liked to have offended Mr. Treddles. He was a wee toustie when you rubbed him again the hair; but a kind, weel-meaning man."

I wanted to get rid of this species of chat, and finding myself near the entrance of a footpath which made a short cut to Duntarkin, I put half a crown into my guide’s hand, bade him good-evening, and plunged into the woods.

"Hout, sir—fie, sir—no from the like of you. Stay, sir, ye wunna find the way that gate.—Odd’s mercy, he maun ken the gate as weel as I do mysel’. Weel, I wad Iike to ken wha the chield is."

Such were the last words of my guide’s drowsy, uninteresting tone of voice and glad to be rid of him, I strode out stoutly, in despite of large stones, briers, and BAD STEPS, which abounded in the road I had chosen. In the interim, I tried as much as I could, with verses from Horace and Prior, and all who have lauded the mixture of literary with rural life, to call back the visions of last night and this morning, imagining myself settled in same detached farm of the estate of Glentanner,—

"Which sloping hills around enclose—
Where many a birch and brown oak grows,"

when I should have a cottage with a small library, a small cellar, a spare bed for a friend, and live more happy and more honoured than when I had the whole barony. But the sight of Castle Treddles had disturbed all my own castles in the air. The realities of the matter, like a stone plashed into a limpid fountain, had destroyed the reflection of the objects around, which, till this act of violence, lay slumbering on the crystal surface, and I tried in vain to re-establish the picture which had been so rudely broken. Well, then, I would try it another way. I would try to get Christie Steele out of her PUBLIC, since she was not striving in it, and she who had been my mother’s governante should be mine. I knew all her faults, and I told her history over to myself.

She was grand-daughter, I believe—at least some relative—of the famous Covenanter of the name, whom Dean Swift’s friend, Captain Creichton, shot on his own staircase in the times of the persecutions; [See Note 2.—Steele a Covenanter, shot by Captain Creichton.] and had perhaps derived from her native stock much both of its good and evil properties. No one could say of her that she was the life and spirit of the family, though in my mother’s time she directed all family affairs. Her look was austere and gloomy, and when she was not displeased with you, you could only find it out by her silence. If there was cause for complaint, real or imaginary, Christie was loud enough. She loved my mother with the devoted attachment of a younger sister; but she was as jealous of her favour to any one else as if she had been the aged husband of a coquettish wife, and as severe in her reprehensions as an abbess over her nuns. The command which she exercised over her was that, I fear, of a strong and determined over a feeble and more nervous disposition and though it was used with rigour, yet, to the best of Christie Steele’s belief, she was urging her mistress to her best and most becoming course, and would have died rather than have recommended any other. The attachment of this woman was limited to the family of Croftangry; for she had few relations, and a dissolute cousin, whom late in life she had taken as a husband, had long left her a widow.

To me she had ever a strong dislike. Even from my early childhood she was jealous, strange as it may seem, of my interest in my mother’s affections. She saw my foibles and vices with abhorrence, and without a grain of allowance; nor did she pardon the weakness of maternal affection even when, by the death of two brothers, I came to be the only child of a widowed parent. At the time my disorderly conduct induced my mother to leave Glentanner, and retreat to her jointure-house, I always blamed Christie Steele for having influenced her resentment and prevented her from listening to my vows of amendment, which at times were real and serious, and might, perhaps, have accelerated that change of disposition which has since, I trust, taken place. But Christie regarded me as altogether a doomed and predestinated child of perdition, who was sure to hold on my course, and drag downwards whosoever might attempt to afford me support.

Still, though I knew such had been Christie’s prejudices against me in other days, yet I thought enough of time had since passed away to destroy all of them. I knew that when, through the disorder of my affairs, my mother underwent some temporary inconvenience about money matters, Christie, as a thing of course, stood in the gap, and having sold a small inheritance which had descended to her, brought the purchase money to her mistress, with a sense of devotion as deep as that which inspired the Christians of the first age, when they sold all they had, and followed the apostles of the church. I therefore thought that we might, in old Scottish phrase, "let byganes be byganes," and begin upon a new account. Yet I resolved, like a skilful general, to reconnoitre a little before laying down any precise scheme of proceeding, and in the interim I determined to preserve my incognito.

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Chicago: Walter Scott, "Chapter III. Mr. Croftangry, Inter Alia, Revisits Glentanner.," Chronicles of the Canongate, ed. Macaulay, G. C. (George Campbell), 1852-1915 and trans. Martin, Theodore in Chronicles of the Canongate Original Sources, accessed August 8, 2022, http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=3W9HI4VE8C6JEYK.

MLA: Scott, Walter. "Chapter III. Mr. Croftangry, Inter Alia, Revisits Glentanner." Chronicles of the Canongate, edited by Macaulay, G. C. (George Campbell), 1852-1915, and translated by Martin, Theodore, in Chronicles of the Canongate, Original Sources. 8 Aug. 2022. http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=3W9HI4VE8C6JEYK.

Harvard: Scott, W, 'Chapter III. Mr. Croftangry, Inter Alia, Revisits Glentanner.' in Chronicles of the Canongate, ed. and trans. . cited in , Chronicles of the Canongate. Original Sources, retrieved 8 August 2022, from http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=3W9HI4VE8C6JEYK.