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THE CHIMNEY CORNER., Ashburton Guardian, Volume 1, Issue 152, 14 September 1880
THE CHIMNEY CORNER.
A TALE OF TRYING TIMES,
CHAPTER XX— continued.
“ It’s just this—lf ye’ll draw your purse, and advance ae fifty pound to help Mr. Jimes through wi’ his learnin’, I’ll put anither fifty till’t, though, gude kens, it’s but little I ha’e to spare.” “Na, na; I’ll no do that. It’s verra gude o’ you, nae doot, to mak’ sic an offer, seeing ye’re no a drap o’ blude to the lad ; but it’ll no answer for me to pairt wi’ my siller that way, though I be his auntie —as lang as least as I’m a single woman. If ye were my gudeman like, the case wad be verra different, for then we wad just ha’e ae purse and ae mind in everything-~at least I houp there wad ne’er be the least difference between us; and if I saw you bent on making Jimes like a son o’ oor ain, it’s no to be thocht I could raise ony objections, since he’s my sister’s son at ony rate. If it were the case that we were man and wife, I canna tell ye the pleasure it wad gie me to study your will on a’ points, and just let ye do as ye likit wi’ me and mine. Bnt since that’s the case, nor like to be (for, as far as I can see, Bingan, you and me’s to be single to the end of the chapter), I maun just pickle in my ain pock neuk, and tak’ care o’ mysel’.” “ I wad like to do the young man a gude turn, for I think he weel deserves’t, but I ha’e nae thocht o’ marry in’ for the purpose.” “ O Mr. Stimperton ! wha wad ever expeck you to do that? Na, na, it’s oot o’ the question. But if ye’re against marryin’ for onything but pure luve, ye’re jus; the liker me ; for I am shure it’s mony’s the time I micht ha’e been marry’t if I hadna been ill to please. Indeed I’ll ne’er consent to change my way o’ leevin’ unless it be to be the wife o’ somebody I can think as muckle o’ as mysel’. Bnt if I was happenin’ to be sought by sic a man, I’m sure I dinna ken what I micht do. Folk can ne’er tell till theyre try’t.” “Deed, neighbor, I wad advise ye no to refuse him.” “ It’ll be time eneuch to refuse when he seeks me.” “ But wha is the he and the him that ye’re aye hint hinting at ? ”
“Me ! I’m hinting at naebody in particular, only it’s a mercy, Ringan, ye didna think it was yoursel’.” “ Flow could it possibly be me?” “ If it had been ony body ava, it would just ffia’e been as likely to be you as anither, I’m thinking. Maybe likelier. Ye see folk are beginning to speak o’ us already as marrows.” Nonsense! ”
“ Ay, but it’s true though. Ye heard what Dr. Snapperdudgeon said; and though he spoke oot o’ spite, and said mair than he thocht, he’s no the only person that expects us to mak’ a match o’t.”
“ That’s strange. I’m sure I’ve gi’en nae occasion for ony sic notion.” “No, indeed, ye have not; ye’re a bushfu’ man, Ringan, I’ll say that o’ ye. It’s the greatest failing I see aboot ye, that ye’re no a wee thoct mair forward to see your mind, for I’m shure if ye ever meant ony thing particular wi’ me, ye’re ne’er the man that has said it yet.” “ But I never meant ony thing o’ the kind. I wish to be on neighborly terms wi’ you and a’ my neighbors, but beyond that, Mrs. Renshaw, I never had a thocht aboot you.” “ O Ringan, Ringan ! hoo can ye put sic a slight on me ? ” “Slight on ye! there’s nre slight in the matter. Slights, like insults, are just as they’re ta’en, and ye’ll be the mair fule if ye tak’ ane when there’s nane intended.”
“It wad be far debater if ye wad just tell me at ance that ye hate me, than to treat me sae cruelly and speak fair to me a’ the time.” “The woman’s in creel! I hate nane o’ ye, though 1 canna pretend I’m eaten up wi’ love for you eitherens.” “Ay, that’s what vexes me.” “ And what for should it vex you ? I’m no in the way of fa’ing in luve wi’ onybody. Trowth, I ha’e something else to fash me.”
“ I reckon ye think I wad mak’ nae great wife to you because I wadna pet and spoil my nevoye.” “Wife II never passed a thocht on the subject. The fact is I dinna want a wife be she gude or ill; and if I did I’m no sure if I would be justified in taking ony woman I had a respect for, for I ken I would be nae great catch.” “ Ay, ye’re making fun o’ me noo, after I’ve been sae simple as to speak sae free to you.” Saying this, Mrs. Renshaw sighed deeply, and abandoned the argument in a sulky melancholy mood. She and Stiffriggs had been walking, during the conversation above recorded, along the most retired walks of the garden, and only occasionally meeting or seeing at a distance Mr. Duncanson and Miss Stimperton. Now, however, they met these young people, and were about to leave the gardens with them, when another party entered and met them just at the gate. This party consisted of Mr. and Mrs. Calmsough, and Miss Montgomeiy and her aged lather. The meeting was unexpected and not a little embarrassing. Friendly salutations were however exchanged even between the old man and the student, for the frankness of the la"' m, the natural good manners of Stiffriggs, and the kind politeness of Mr. Calmsough took the edge off all awkwardness and constraint. Gideon Montgomery’s countenance even relaxed from its usual sternness into a milder expression when he saw Miss Stimperton at the student’s arm, for he inferred from the circumstance that the attachment between his daughter and Mr. Duncanson was at an end. The lovers, however, understood each other better. A glance of mutual intelligence passed between them that set both their minds at rest; and though Agnes was puzzled to understand how James and his aunt had become reconciled, as they appeared to be, she was at no loss to account for his gallantry to Miss Stimperton, neither was she offended at it, knowing the friendly footing on which he stood with that young lady’s brother. With true feminine tact and discrimination, she perceived at once that she had no rivalry to fear from Miss Stimperton, even had she not had the most perfect reliance on the steadiness of her lover’s affections. Mr. Duncanson gazed with intense concern on the face
of Agnes Montgomery, for she seemed heart-sore and unwell. He did not, however, attempt to enter into conversation with her knowing that he might thereby arouse her father’s wrath anew, and expose her to aggravated sufferings; but he was spared the pang of again parting with her without hope of meeting soon, by the kindness of Mr. and Mrs. Calmsough, who invited the party to spend the evening at the lodgings they occupied. Mrs. Renshaw took it upon herself to decline for herself and Stiffriggs, on pretence of a previous engagement, of which Stiffriggs himself knew nothing, but Miss Stimperton and Mr. Duncanson accepted the invitation readily.
In returning to Nicholson Street, the little party took a wide circuit and happened to pass the windows of Mr. Bacon. That gentleman was airing himself in the narrow balcony in front of his upper windows, and seeing them approach, beckoned to the student and his fair companion to come in. They did so, and here parted for the day with Stiffriggs and Mrs. Renshaw, who pursued their homeward walk almost in total silence.
Stiffriggs had now began to understand the lady’s drift sufficiently to be on his guard, for he had no notion of being entrapped into a connection with one whose nature was so little in harmony with his own. He therefore jogged on in a mood of taciturnity not natural to him ; but he was embarrassed, and wist not what to say. She was equally silent, and not inclined to speak, but her .sighs were deepfetched and frequent, and her sadness was unfeigned. She was, in good earnest, grieved to find, with all her arts, she had failed to make any impression on the heart of her bachelor neighbor. But she was determined not to give up the game, for she had still another card or two to play. Accordingly when they had nearly arrived at Mrs. M'Glunchagain’s lodgings, she proposed to prolong their walk, by taking a turn through the Meadows, intimating that she had something very particular to speak of. Stiffriggs made no objections, so there they went and promenaded round till both were weary. It was long before Mrs. Renshaw would come to the point, and say what she had to say. She was profuse of hints, all of a dark, mysterious nature. She spoke of dying, but not very precisely or intelligibly. One thing, however, she affirmed roundly, and often repeated —namely, that she did not care what became of her, now when she saw herself dispised and slighted. “ And wha the mischiefs dispising or slighting you, I wonder ? ” said Stiffriggs, rather impatient of her pertinaceous and unreasonable coraplaining. “Just yoursel’ Ringan,” was her reply; “ just yoursel,’ and naebody but you; at least I dinna care wha else ; but after the way ye’ve slightit me I canna leeve—I dinna want to leeve.”
“ What ye say about being slightit by me is just havers—perfect havers. But if naething will do but deeing, ye jnaun just dee then an’ nae mair aboot it.” “ O Ringan, Ringan, ye’re a cruel man ! Ye wadna speak that way to me if I was as young as Jean Broun or as bonnie as Miss Miggummery.” “ Maybe no.” “ And yet I’m no sae very auld, and I’ve been thocht no that ill-fa’ured.”
“ I never thocht ye were either auld or ugly.” “ What ails you at me, then ? ” “ Sorrow’s in the woman ? I’m finding nae faut wi’ ye.” “ Ay. nae faut to be sure; but despise me for a’ that. But answer me this, Ringan ”
“ What is’t ? ” “ Will ye think on me after I’m dead ? ”
“ That depends a gude deal on whan ye may dee. If ye should happen to be a lang leaver and see me oot (and that’s likely eneuch), it’s no to be expeckit that I can.” “ No, Ringan, I’ll no be a long leever. Ye’ll soon be quat o’ me — sooner maybe than ye’ll believe till ye see’t. And supposing I shouldna see the morn, what wad ye say ?” “Say! I would just say there’s ae decent woman awa. I would maybe say too, though she wasna an ill body, she set her heart rather muckle on the world.”
“ I’ve dune naething o’ the kind; but I’ve fa’en intil a greater faut; I’ve thocht owre muckle o’ them wha ha’e thocht naething o’ me.” “If that be the case, then, ye’ve just been the mair fule.” “ Ay, ay; I may dee when 1 like, I see, for ought ye care, and ye’ll maybe see the finish o’ me sooner than ye think.”
“ Ye’re no the least deeing like, the noo ; that’s a’ that I’ll say.” Talking in this manner, the illassorted pair spent the time till the hour was long passed at which they were expected at Mrs. M’Glunchagain’s to dine. When they arrived there, they had again almost ceased to exchange words, and Stiffriggs heartily 'wished himself anywhere rather than in such an awkward position. At dinner, Mrs. Renshaw tasted little, and said nothing except a few words pressing her guest to eat. But she continued to sigh awfully. When the repast was over, and Mr. Stimperton was engaged in mixing a tumbler of toddy, she left him for an instant, and going into an adjoining apartment, called Jean Brown, and directed her to go to a druggist’s shop and purchase for her sixpence worth of laudanum ! When Jean received this command, she looked at her mistress scrutinisingly, and remarked her excitement. Indeed she had observed before that there was something wrong, and had been puzzling herself to discover what it was. She now comprehended the whole case in a moment, and set off on her errand without delay. She returned very soon and delivered to Mrs. Renshaw a small phial seemingly about half full of some brownish liquid. Stiffriggs took little notice of this, blit proceeded to help his hostess to a glass of his toddy which she declined, saying she would take something else, and laying considerable emphasis on the words. Still the honest man paid little attention to what she said or did, till he saw her, with a tragical expression of countenance, empty the phial in her glass, raise it in her hand and pledge him in solemn and half-reproachful words—- “ Here’s to you Ringan,” she said; “ here’s to you in a dram that’ll gi’e us baith relief; and may you get a gude
wife yet, though ye couldna think on me.”
“ I dinna want a wife ; but stop ! what’s that ye’re drinking ? ” As he said this, he seized the glass and struggled with her to get it out of her hands. But she held it fast to her lips, and before he could wrest it from her she had managed to swallow a considerable portion of its contents. As he forced it from her grasp, she sank on the sofa, and said in moaning tones I’ve gotten plenty to settle me.” Stiffriggs rushed out of the roorn in search of Jean Brown, and having found her, vociferated in great alarm—- “ Jean ; what was yon ye brought to your mistress ? ” “ Tuts ! ” she replied, without discomposing herself, or making much effort to repress a rising laugh, “ tuts ye needna alarm yoursel, she’ll be nane the waur o’t; it’s just quassia deewater.”
Never shall affliction’s scowl Or its touch divide us ; Though fortune frown, And men look down, And evil days betide us ! CHAKLI2S MACKAY. Mr. Bacon welcomed Miss Stimperton and Mr. Duncanson with great cordiality. He seemed surprised to see them together, and even a little uneasy at the circumstance, but he was evidently glad that chance had thrown them in his way, and was not long in explaining the reason. He told the lady that she was the very person he wished most to see, and that he had sent Robin Afleck to invite her and Jean Brown to another rehearsal of state ceremonies that very day, for he had got some new light on the subject. “ You are earlier,” said he, “ than the hour I named, but all the better. You must take a bit of dinner with me. Hilloa, Neddie !” he shouted, at the same time knocking with his warning hammer on the wall. “ Hilloa, Neddie! get some steaks and fish ready instantly, and do the fish the way I showed you yesterday. Mind it is not the steaks that are boiled but the fish; and take care and don’t.melt the butter in the pan I made the varnish in. Off; be quick ! And, I say, get a head of cauliflower, a pound of onions, and two pints of ripe gooseberries in the shop at the corner; but bring the woman’s pint dish with you that I may measure the berries myself.” It would be needless to dwell on this extempore dinner, for it was prepared so much in Mr. Bacon’s usual style that the description of it would lead to repetition. All that need be said is, that it was partaken of very heartily by Mr. Bacon himself, Miss Stimperton, and Robin Afleck, who returned just in time to make one of the party, and was not very fastidious with regard to cookery. As for Mr. Duncanson, he could eat of nothing but the fruit, aud even that had no great attractions for him, after he saw it handled by Mr. Bacon’s not very delicate fingers, and set forth in a basket usually employed to hold letters, sealing wax, pens, lucifer matches, and sometimes half-consumed cigars. Robin Afleck had delivered his message at Nicholson Street before Mrs. Renshaw and Stiffriggs had returned to dinner, and of course he knew nothing of the extraordinary scene which occurred on that occasion. Neither had he succeeded in his errand, for of course he had not seen Miss Stimperton, and jean Brown could not leave the house without the permission of her mistress, which it was impossible to say when she might obtain. But this was of little consequence, seeing that “ Saft Shusie,” who was the only person Mr. Bacon wished to see, had so opportunely come in the way. The truth is, the worthy gentleman had a considerable dread of Jean Brown’s love of fun, and was rather relieved when he learned that she was not to be present at his new exhibition of absurdities, though he had invited her in case Miss Stimperton should have demurred to come alone.
This young lady did the honors of the table, if not with much grace or refinement, at least with perfect ease of manner, for she had the happy faculty of taking everything easy. Her complexion wss in its highest bloom, and the placidity of her mind, unruffled out of its almost stagnant calmness by a single feeling or idea, was expressed in the perfect composure of her air and features. Mr. Bacon was remarkably grave at dinner, and found a use for his lungs to which they had never been accustomed —namely, fetching sighs. Yes, the truth must be told—the philosophic bachelor, the proud contemner of female influence, the confirmed woman-hater, sighed like a furnace when he looked on the unsophisticated charms of “ Salt Shusie Stimperton.” He spoke little, but that little indicated much. It betrayed a remarkable revolution of feeling, and could not be mistaken by an observer of ordinary acuteness. Miss Stimperton, however, never perceived it, and this extreme simplicity was perhaps the chief secret of her power over him. Robin Afleck, however, was not so obtuse. He whispered into Mr. Duncanson’s ear when he had an opportunity of doing so unobserved —“ Mr. Bacon is growing daft; I mean far dafter than ever. He is owrc the lugs in luve wi’ Shusie.”
(To be continued—commenced on July 26.)
THE CHIMNEY CORNER., Ashburton Guardian, Volume 1, Issue 152, 14 September 1880
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