The Provost

Author: John Galt

Chapter XXVII—The Plainstones

The first question that changed the bark of Mr Hickery, was my proposal for the side plainstones of the high street. In the new paving of the crown of the causey, some years before, the rise in the middle had been levelled to an equality with the side loans, and in disposing of the lamp-posts, it was thought advantageous to place them halfway from the houses and the syvers, between the loans and the crown of the causey, which had the effect at night, of making the people who were wont, in their travels and visitations, to keep the middle of the street, to diverge into the space and path between the lamp-posts and the houses. This, especially in wet weather, was attended with some disadvantages; for the pavement, close to the houses, was not well laid, and there being then no ronns to the houses, at every other place, particularly where the nepus-gables were towards the streets, the rain came gushing in a spout, like as if the windows of heaven were opened. And, in consequence, it began to be freely conversed, that there would be a great comfort in having the sides of the streets paved with flags, like the plainstones of Glasgow, and that an obligation should be laid on the landlords, to put up ronns to kepp the rain, and to conduct the water down in pipes by the sides of the houses;—all which furnished Mr Hickery with fresh topics for his fasherie about the lamps, and was, as he said, proof and demonstration of that most impolitic, corrupt, and short-sighted job, the consequences of which would reach, in the shape of some new tax, every ramification of society;- -with divers other American argumentatives to the same effect. However, in process of time, by a judicious handling and the help of an advantageous free grassum, which we got for some of the town lands from Mr Shuttlethrift the manufacturer, who was desirous to build a villa-house, we got the flagstone part of the project accomplished, and the landlords gradually, of their own free-will, put up the ronns, by which the town has been greatly improved and convenienced.

But new occasions call for new laws; the side pavement, concentrating the people, required to be kept cleaner, and in better order, than when the whole width of the street was in use; so that the magistrates were constrained to make regulations concerning the same, and to enact fines and penalties against those who neglected to scrape and wash the plainstones forenent their houses, and to denounce, in the strictest terms, the emptying of improper utensils on the same; and this, until the people had grown into the habitude of attending to the rules, gave rise to many pleas, and contentious appeals and bickerings, before the magistrates. Among others summoned before me for default, was one Mrs Fenton, commonly called the Tappit-hen, who kept a small change-house, not of the best repute, being frequented by young men, of a station of life that gave her heart and countenance to be bardy, even to the bailies. It happened that, by some inattention, she had, one frosty morning, neglected to soop her flags, and old Miss Peggy Dainty being early afoot, in passing her door committed a false step, by treading on a bit of a lemon’s skin, and her heels flying up, down she fell on her back, at full length, with a great cloyt. Mrs Fenton, hearing the accident, came running to the door, and seeing the exposure that perjink Miss Peggy had made of herself, put her hands to her sides, and laughed for some time as if she was by herself. Miss Peggy, being sorely hurt in the hinder parts, summoned Mrs Fenton before me, where the whole affair, both as to what was seen and heard, was so described, with name and surname, that I could not keep my composure. It was, however, made manifest, that Mrs Fenton had offended the law, in so much, as her flags had not been swept that morning; and therefore, to appease the offended delicacy of Miss Peggy, who was a most respectable lady in single life, I fined the delinquent five shillings.

"Mr Pawkie," said the latheron, "I’ll no pay’t. Whar do ye expeck a widow woman like me can get five shillings for ony sic nonsense?"

"Ye must not speak in that manner, honest woman," was my reply; "but just pay the fine."

"In deed and truth, Mr Pawkie," quo she, "it’s ill getting a breek off a highlandman. I’ll pay no sic thing—five shillings—that’s a story!"

I thought I would have been constrained to send her to prison, the woman grew so bold and contumacious, when Mr Hickery came in, and hearing what was going forward, was evidently working himself up to take the randy’s part; but fortunately she had a suspicion that all the town-council and magistrates were in league against her, on account of the repute of her house, so that when he enquired of her where she lived, with a view, as I suspect, of interceding, she turned to him, and with a leer and a laugh, said, "Dear me, Mr Hickery, I’m sure ye hae nae need to speer that!"

The insinuation set up his birses; but she bamboozled him with her banter, and raised such a laugh against him, that he was fairly driven from the council room, and I was myself obliged to let her go, without exacting the fine.

Who would have thought that this affair was to prove to me the means of an easy riddance of Mr Hickery? But so it turned out; for whether or not there was any foundation for the traffickings with him which she pretended, he never could abide to hear the story alluded to, which, when I discerned, I took care, whenever he showed any sort of inclination to molest the council with his propugnacity, to joke him about his bonny sweetheart, "the Tappit-hen," and he instantly sang dumb, and quietly slipped away; by which it may be seen how curiously events come to pass, since, out of the very first cause of his thwarting me in the lamps, I found, in process of time, a way of silencing him far better than any sort of truth or reason.


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Chicago: John Galt, "Chapter XXVII— The Plainstones," The Provost, trans. Garnett, Constance Black, 1862-1946 in The Provost (London: Effingham Wilson, Royal Exchange, 1831), Original Sources, accessed July 21, 2024,

MLA: Galt, John. "Chapter XXVII— The Plainstones." The Provost, translted by Garnett, Constance Black, 1862-1946, in The Provost, London, Effingham Wilson, Royal Exchange, 1831, Original Sources. 21 Jul. 2024.

Harvard: Galt, J, 'Chapter XXVII— The Plainstones' in The Provost, trans. . cited in 1831, The Provost, Effingham Wilson, Royal Exchange, London. Original Sources, retrieved 21 July 2024, from