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THE CHIMNEY CORNER., Ashburton Guardian, Volume 1, Issue 154, 18 September 1880
THE CHIMNEY CORNER.
the disruption A TALE OF IKYING TIMES.
__ X talk of dreams, Which are the children of an idle brain, Begot of nothing but vain fantasy. SHAKESPEARE.
After Mrs. Renshaw had had a night to digest her dram of fly-water, she awoke most distressingly well, and unlike a person about to die of love. She angrily upbraided Jean Brown for turning what was intended, if not for a tragedy, at least to verge on the tragic, into a farce. “ How durst ye tak’ upon ye, ye impudent gipsy ?” she exclaimed, “ to bring me ought but w'hat I sent you for ?”
“Just for your ain sake, mistress,” replied Jean. “ It’s no to be thocht that me, or ony body that wishes weel to you, would put puzyon intil your hand.”
“ Puzyon ! what ado had ye to judge what ye should bring me or should no bring? Your business was just to bring wliat ye were bidden. When I w r anted the lodomy (laudanum), be’t puzyon or no puzyon, nae body had a richt to keep it frae me; far less you that gets bed, board, and fee for your service.”
The storm ended with a peremptory order to Jean to pack up her things and quit the house, which was no sooner given than recalled, on condition that she would never divulge what had passed the night before, and thenceforward obey all her directions, without presuming to judge wliether they be right or wrong. “ And be sure,” added Mrs. Renshaw', “if Stiffriggs comes to speer for me the day, to say I canna be seen. Tell him, I’m far frae being weel, and, for onything ye ken, may be dangerous. Or, I daur say, ye may tell him frae me that he needna concern himsel’,”
“ Surely, mistress, ye dinna want me to gi’e Mr. Stimpenon an answer like that?”
“ But I dive though ! Ye’ve begun again to judge for me, but I’ll no staund it; so mind ye that.” “ And what will I say is like the matter wi’ you, if he should want to ken?”
“ It’s nae business o’ yours what’s the matter wi’ me, and ye can tell him it’s nae business o’ his neither, if he happen to speer. But stop; ye may tie this napkin aboot my head tie’t licht, and ha’e the room wiselike in case Ringan should force himsel’ in whether I will or no ; and get Griselda to gang and tell my nevoye that I’m ill and want to see him instantly, but don’t steer owre the door the day yoursel’. And, Jean ! tell Miss Stimperton to come ben and speak to me; but, for the life o’ ye, don’t say a word to her about lodoray, or the words I had vestreen wi’ her brither.” The drift of some of these directions will not be understood till it is explained that Mrs. Renshaw, who had not yet given up her designs on honest Stiffriggs, conceived that his sister’s dependence on him was one of his secret and perhaps strongest reasons against marrying. This obstacle she was determined if possible to remove, by doing her best to bring about an engagement between her nephew and Miss Stimperton. That James Duncanson might be inclined to transfer his affections from Miss Montgomery to “Saft Shusie,” she thought not unlikely, all appearances and probabilities considered ; and supposing this should be the case, she was disposed to be as liberal to the young man as Stiffriggs could desire, for she thought that she might thereby carry the point on which she had set her heart, and escape from the woes of single womanhood. But in order to make her late attempt at poison-taking assume a serious instead of a ridiculous aspect, and produce in the honest farmer’s mind a feeling of compassion favorable to the success of her new scheme, she thought it necessary to feign sickness for the time—a task which, from her active habits and robust health, she was ill quallified to perform. When Miss Stimperton came, she plied the simple girl with questions regarding Mr. Duncanson’s attentions to-her, in the hope of eliciting something that would give a color of feasibility to her project. But in this she was disappointed, Nothing of the kind could be drawn from “ Saft Shusie; ” for the very good reason that she had nothing to communicate. She, however, intimated her expectation of a visit in the course of the day from Mr Bacon, but mentioned it as an indifferent matter; and such it was indeed to her, for she took everything with an equanimity approaching indifference ; and in this case she was not tempted out of her usual state of mind, for Mr. Bacon had made no disclosure of his feelings to her. That eccentric gentleman, however, did not keep the promise he had made, to honour her that day with a call. Hotv he failed to do so requires some explanation. He had been employed, as already mentioned, along with Robin Afleck in making preparations for the illumination which was to take place that evening, and, at this work had remained up till a late hour the night before. He had painted in the slap-dash style, of which he was a perfect master, a series of transparencies for his windows. All the subj ects were allegorical, but so obscure and absurd that it was impossible to guess their meaning; but no doubbMr. Bacon had a deep meaning of his own in them. Robin Afleck had assisted the best way he could in getting up these extraordinary productions, though he never tronbled himself to inquire what any of them was intended to represent. He took the credit, however, of making a horse in one of them “ something like a horse;” but his chief performances, on this occasion, lay in the lighting and cleaning department. With considerable pains he had cut about a peck of potatoes into temporary candlesticks, •and scraped the rough dirt off the windows, for he wisely considered that unless they could be made in some measure transparent, the effect of the pictures would be lost. When Robin called the next day to assist in completing the preparations, he found Mr. Bacon still in bed, but awake and smoking as usual. He, however, wore a more than commonly abstracted, air, and seemed ill at ease. He scarcely observed Robin’s entrance,
but at length brightened up and gave him a hearty welcome. “ Come away, Mr. Afleck,” “he said ; “ I am glad to see you; the fact is I have been very anxious for your arrival.” “ I houp there’s naething wrang, sir ? ” said Robin in an inquiring tone. “Oh no; not precisely anything wrong—that is, if neither Mr. Duncanson nor you have mentioned to any one what I told you yesterday regarding my feelings towards Miss Stimperton.”
“ Ye’re perfectly safe on that score, Mr. Bacon,” said Robin, “ for Mr. Duncanson is sae close minded he never mentions onything to onybody, and as for me I hav’na said a word to a leeving sowl. But that’s just by chance though, for ye ken ye dinna tell me to mak’ a secret o’ your love for Miss Shusie. Have ye changed your mind aboot her already?” “ Why, no, not at all; but the fact is, I have had a fearful night of dreaming, and have now a strong impression on my mind that my admiration for Miss Stimperton has led me to the very edge of a precipice.” “ Pegs, sir, ye had better tak’ care o’ your fittin’ then ; but it’s queer for the like o’ you to fash yoursel’ aboot dreams. I thocht aye they w'ere just a kind o’ nonsense no worth heeding.” “So they are, sir, in general ; indeed, I may say almost always nonsense. But the dreams I had last night were so peculiar in character, and had such strongly marked though shadowy reference to my individual case —present and actual and possible—that I cannot help looking on them as very significant and widely different from common dreams. But you shall hear what they w'ere, as far as I can recollect them.
After you left me last night I went to bed with my mind very much filled with the allegories I had been painting, and thoughts of Miss Stimperton and my approaching interview with her Majesty’s Ministers. All these subjects were turned over and over in my mind before I fell asleep, and when at last I did so, they recurred to me in strange shapes and curious combinations. First, I thought I was walking with rapid steps towards- a steep hill, on which the sun shone' so brightly that it looked like an immense cone of burnished gold. Just as I was about to commence the ascent, I saw a beautiful flower on the other side of a smooth still lake, which spread out before me. I felt so desirous'to have the flower that I threw off my clothes, and began to wade across the lake. I accomplished my purpose, but not having a .button hole to carry the flower in, I put it in my mouth. I had no sooner done this than I found myself immersed, not in water, but in a flood of molasses! This, sir, was no joke, I can tell you-; and so thick was the treacle, that I could scarcely drag one leg after another through it. I struggled resolutely till I got on the grassy margin; but this was no escape, for a swarm of wasps, bees, and all kinds of flying insects settled on me immediately; and when I tried to brush them off they stung me so severely that I was glad to plunge over head and ears into the treacle. My mortification was increased when I saw a troop of apes and monkeys come down the hill and scramble for my clothes before my face. One put on one thing, and another another, till they had all some valuable article either for use or ornament. They then scampered up the hill again, and the most powerful of the gang, a large pot-bellied animal of the most tricky species, placed himself on the very summit, and sat chattering there with my cap on his head and looking through my spectacles. Now, Mr. Afleck, can you interpret that ? ” “Nofegs! it’s owre deep for me. If I had been Joseph, I trow baith the butler and the baker would ha’e been bang’d before I could ha’e read their dreams; and I don’t think ony o’ theirs was a bit kittlier than yours.” “ Well, sir, here is my own interpretation of it. The hill which I was about to ascend is what one of our poets calls
. . . * The slippery steep, Where fame and honor lofty shine/ the beautiful flower is Miss i-'timper-ton ”
“ It’ll be a cabbitch rose, then, I jalouse,” replied Robin aside. “ The lake of treacle I take to be the cloying sweets of conjugal endearments, which clog the movements of the most energetic natures who ever get into the slough; the stinging insects are meddling busybodies who fasten at once on any man who tries to escape from it; the apes and the monkeys stealing my clothes are the mean creatures who have no ideas of their own, but snatch at all they can pilfer from other people, and who would be particularly ready to make off with mine if ever I should lay them aside ; and the large pot-bellied ape with my spectacles, is Sir Robert Peel, assuming all the honors due to me, and availing himself of my profoundest views. Do you understand ?” , “ Yes, yes, I see plain eneuch. Really the dream reads like the openin’ o’ a stockin’.”
“ Nay, it is surprising, sir; perfectly marvellous in its coincidence with realities and probabilities. But there is more to come. I next dreamt I was the leader of a great army. Its immense masses of foot soldiers, clouds of cavalry, and squadrons of flying artillery covered all the ground as far as eye could see; and I, as Com-mander-in-Chief, was mounted on a superb charger, and riding at the head of tens of thousands. Well, just in my way, I saw a fountain of the purest water, and was tempted to slake my thirst at it. The very first drop I tasted acted like magic in transforming everything about me. Why, what do you think ray high-mettled warhorse at once became ? ”
“ Maybe a ass.” “No sir, but a mushroom, a toadstool, a rotten fungus; and my magnificent army was converted into a wilderness of worthless weeds—hemlock, burdocks, and nettles. Now, the interpretation of this is also perfectly clear. The glittering hosts which I was leading on to victory were my theories, projects, and discoveries in morals, politics, and physical science—destined, I doubt not, to achieve many a triumph, if I only persevere till I have their full powers developed and brought into action; the charger I rode on is my love of speculation (vulgarly denominated my hobby-horse); and the
pure fountain in the way is Miss Stimperton. Do you comprehend ?” “ Ou ay, I see what ye mean ; but I dinna weel understand what way your habby-horse grew a puddock stool.” “ Don’t you, I think it is as clear as daylight. By stooping to the fountain (Miss Stimperton) and tasting the tempting beverage (domestic felicity), my mind would become so enervated as to forget its high aspirings ; my habit of speculation would appear foolish; and all my great projects lose their charm in my eyes, and seem barren and extravagant. That is the plain reading of the dream, Mr. Afleck •, and an ominous dream it is.”
“ Pegs, I think if there’s ony chance o’ your sodgers turning oot dockens, the sooner ye ken what they are the better; and if ye really be ridin’ on a puddock stool, ye canna come doon in owre great a hurry,” “ No, sir ; I won’t dismount. My speculations are sound, and well deserving the devotion of my wliole life to them. Still lam sensible of the truth which is shadowed forth in these visions—the incompatiblity of matrimony with the ambitious hopes of fame. But I have not yet told all my dreams. I thought next I was some glorious bird, brighter than the peacock and more powerful than the eagle.” “ A kind of bubbley-jock, like ? ” “ No, nothing of the turkey kind, but a bird more magnificent than any known to naturalists. Well, while I was sailing through the middle sky I saw', in a pool of w-ater far beneath me, a beautiful white cygnet, and was tempted to pounce on it as a prey. But I no sooner did this than I was transformed into —what do you think ? ”
“ Ou, maybe intil a guse.” “ No, not a goose nor a gander either, but a swan; and I was chained as you see the swan often painted on tavern sign-boards chained in a gardenpond too small for boys to sail their tiny fleets in, condemned to the perpetual company of the little cygnet, some frogs and a tame perch or two ! The dullest mind may understand what all this means. But the worst is still to come. My last dream was this; —I thought I had at length obtained an audience of Sir Robert Peel, and, just as I began to address him on national affairs, a drop scene such as is used in theatres, fell down between us, and immediately I found myself in my own house at Auchterbardie. But the house was strangely changed. The sitting parlor was crowded, not as usual, with books and philosophical apparatus, but with pots of jam, jelly, honey, and marmalade, all covered with shreds of my most valuable manuscripts, and Miss Stimperton sat at the fireside with a child upon her knee. While I stood gazing with astonishment at all I saw, my whole frame became rigid, my legs and arms were extended, and I was covered all over with half-wet baby clothes. I discovered, in fact that I had become (by Jupiter !) a clotheshorse, or what in some parts of the country is called a pair of winter dykes, and in my horror I awoke i ” “ Pegs, Mr. Bacon, that’s the best dream ye’ve had ava ; and it’s an easy read ane. I can see through the babby clouts fine.”
“ I don’t like it, though, and that’s enough. What ! should I be content to forego my long-cherished schemes of greatness, and sink my talents in the quagmire of family occupations ? No; not even for Miss Stimperton, lovely and aimable as she is, will I do this—nor for any created woman. What I may do some time after this, when I shall have got my views promulgated, and have brought the nation out of the peril into which it has been plunged by the incapacity and ignorance of statesmen—mere red-tape functionaries—what I may do then I cannot say; but in the meantime I’ll step aside for no flower, however beautiful; I’ll stop at no fountain, however tempting; but pursue right onwards my arduous way ! ” “ And div ye mean to gang to the Palace withoot Miss Stimperton, after a’ her practeesing at coort manners for the purpose ?” “By no means. I can’t do that, you know, but I’ll not trust myself again in her presence till the Drawing-room day, and then just as little as possible.” “ But you promised to see her this vera day.” “ I know I did, but as I see matters now, I can’t. You must go over to Nicholson Street and make the best excuse you can for me. It will be necessary too, for you to tell her to be ready to go with me at eleven o’clock on Monday, at which hour I will be at her lodgings for her with a carraige. And be sure to remind her that she must study to be in proper costume —showy, flowing robe, and no head dress but a few ostrich feathers.” As Robin 'traversed the town on this errand, he was struck with the bustle of preparation that seemed to be going on for the illumination. _ Gasfitters and painters were working in front of the public offices and places of business of every description, with a vigor such as only men preparing to resist some imminent danger could be expected to display. Crowns, stars, and the initials of the Queen and Prince Consort, in tin piping, were multiplying with the rapidity of icicles in a sudden frost after a thaw; and Queen, Princes, and Britannias in varnish colors, were executed with a bold recklessness that might be said to amount to a species of petty treason. Robin gazed agape at all this as he passed along, but concluded in his own mind that none of the devices he had seen were so striking as Mr. Bacon’s transparencies, particularly the one with the improved horse; neither did he deem any of the modes of lighting (not excepting even that with colored lamps), half so ingenious as his own cut-potato method. He therefore resolved that these special wonders should be witnessed by Jean Brown. (To be continued —commenced on yuly 26. )
THE CHIMNEY CORNER., Ashburton Guardian, Volume 1, Issue 154, 18 September 1880
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