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THE CHIMNEY CORNER., Ashburton Guardian, Volume 1, Issue 160, 2 October 1880
THE CHIMNEY CORNER.
❖ 1 THE DISRUPTION: i A TAIE OF TRYING TIMES. CHAPTER XXVl— continued. Just as he reached the street, he met Mother Meredith, and was about to 1 pass her without speaking, when she stopped him, and peering [closely in his face, asked if he was not the Whinnyside ploughman. “Me !” said Robin, “ what gars ye tak’ me for a plewman, gudewife ? Am I >,the least like a plewman, think ye ?” “ If ye are not the lad I took ye for, I have no more to say,” said the crone “ but still I think you areJHker him than anybody else.” “ And suppose I be him, what ha’e ye to say to me.” “ Something of importance, not as to yoursel’, but to somebody ye are concerned with ; so if ye be the man (and I know you are) follow me and ask no questions here.” Saying this she began to move away. “ Stop, stop ! Luckie; we maun ha’e twa words aboot that. I’m a simple chiel’, to be shure; but I’m no sae green-horned as to tak’ a jump in the dark that gate. Whaur is’t ye want me to gang ?—tell me that, or I’ll no steer a fit after ye.” “ Please yoursel’; either come or not as ye like, but ye’ll get no explanation here; and ye don’t follow where I lead ye’ll repent your obstinacy, when it’s too late. Shame on a strong young man like you to be afraid of a frail auld woman.” This remark touched Robin to the quick ; and impelled by pride and curiosity, he followed her at the distance of a few steps, without any demur. At a smart pace for a person of her years, she took her way into the Cowgate, thence into the Grassmarket, and from that to the West Port, to a house not far from the scene of Burke and Hare’s atrocities. She had cautioned Robin not to appear as if he were following her, but to keep her in sight till he saw what close she should go into, and delay entering it for a few minutes afterwards, in case of being observed. Robin acted accordingly, till he saw her fairly housed, and then he loitered about the windows of some of the neighboring shops before venturing into the dingy entry where Mother Meredith disappeared. But here his courage almost failed him, and might have altogether given way had he not observed, on looking towards the house, the old woman leaning out at an open window at a great height from the street, with a pipe in her mouth, smoking with an air of unconcern, but all the time watching his motions. Robin would have turned and fled, having the apprehension of murder and other indefinite horrors before his eyes, but for the fear that Jean Brown might hear of his cowardice, and this he could not brook. Setting all danger at defiance, then, he manfully approached the house, and stepping into the cavern-like entry, groped his way up dark dilapidated stairs, covered with dirt and rubbish, and smelling nauseously with unnamable abominations. The spaewife stood at the top of the last flight which he ascended, with a flickering lamp of the most wretched description in her hand, to guide him to one of several doors which all opened from the same landing-place. She showed him into an apartment low in the ceiling, without a whole pane of glass in the windows, and the floor broken, uneven, and cracking under every step. Where any plaster remained on the walls or ceiling, which was only here and there, it was black with smoke and dust; and the few articles of furniture which this miserable abode contained were in perfect keeping with the place. Robin saw not a living creature in it but the old woman herself, who nevertheless signified, in a low whisper, that the mistress of the house was “ mortal drunk” in bed. She pointed to an obscure corner of the room as the place of her repose ; and there it was barely possible to see, on a heap of dirty straw, something like a human figure, partially covered with a tattered blanket.
“ That’s the mistress of the house,” said Mother Meredith; “ and if she had not taken such a dose of drink, I durst not have brought you here,” Saying this, she put up her hand to a broken part of the ceiling, and took out from a hole between the lathing and the rafters a green leather pocketbook, and asked Robin if he had everseen it before. “ I could tell you better if I saw the inside o’t,” replied Robin ; “ but if I’m no mista’en, I’ve seen’t fifty times —ay, and fifty to the bargain.” The old woman opened the book, and pointed significantly to the gilt letters of Mr. Duncanson’s name with which it was marked, and a letter addressed to him and a bunch of notes which it contained. “An’ hoo cam’ this intil your hands, mistress, if I may speer ?” “ By pocket-picking, which is not my ordinar trade; for though I am pinched eneuch, to get a through-bearing, and try mony a strange shift, and though I am treated as a worthless vagrant, I despise flat dishonesty, an’ abune a', I never was a thief. But this book I have stolen frae the blackguards who took it last night in the crowd from the young man it belonged to; and as I had some hand in getting it filled for him, and have met with kindness at his hand when he did not know I kent him, I have been at some pains and risk to get it back to its proper owner.” “ But ye hae’na said yet hoo ye got your harms on’t.” “I have told you I robbed the robbers. They cam’ here last night—twa strangers —dyvers —baith the waur o’ drink. They never saw me nor knew I was in the house; for I was in the bed there, and oot o’ sight. Weel, they sat drinking at the fire the whole night, till they fell sound asleep, just as grey daylight came in. This randy, the mistress here, had her ain share wi them, and fully mair, I think, for she hasna opened an e’e yet; but the twa villains got up and awa’, after sleeping only a few hours. But they did not go till I had eased them of this, and maybe something mair, that was as little their ain. When I heard them snoring, I slippit from my corner, took what I wanted, and hid it in that hole, and lay doun again till they went awa’, each of them supposing the other had the prize I took from them,”
“But .what for did ye leave it here, and bring me intil the very craw’s nest to get the pocket-book, when ye micht have had it wi’ you when ye met wi’ me ? ”
“I was not so simple as rin sich a risk. If I had been taken up as a vagrant (as I have often been), and such an article been found on me, I would have been convicted as a thief, whatever I might have said about my innocence and honest intentions. No, no; I have lived ower lang, suffered ower much on mere suspicion, to venture to carry stown gear back to- its owner.” “ And do you think it’s nae danger for me to do the same ? ”
“N o, none whatever; but gae wa’ wi’t, and stop to ask nae mair questions, for ye’re in danger eve r y minute ye remain here. If that drucken limmer waken, or if the twa unhanged thieves come back and find you here, baith you and me will suffer. And there’s nae doubt but they’ll be back whenever they miss their prize and begin to think they’ve left it here. They will likely have quarrelled, and come to blows about it, or they would have been here before this time. So if you value your life, stop not another moment here.” Robin needed no repetition of this advice. He buttoned up the pocket book, and gasping with terror, left the den of guilt and wretchedness, with a haste almost as dangerous as delay.
CHAPTER XVII. Ah ! who can tell how hard it is to climb The steep where Fame’s proud temple shines afar : Ah ! who can tell how many a soul sublime Has felt the in iluence of malignant star, And waged with fortune an eternal war. BEATTIE. Mr. Bacon was resolved to make Monday, the sth of September a day memorable in history. He said so repeatedly, and made preparations commensurate to the importance of the occasion. He had previously and in good time, applied at the proper quarter for tickets of admission for himself and Miss Stimperton to the Queen’s Draw-ing-Room. which was to be held that day ; and with much difficulty and after considerable delay obtained them. The nobleman who had promised to introduce him to Ministers had attached such a. condition to the promise that he never expected to be called upon to fulfil it, for he supppsed Mr. Bacon’s aversion to the fair sex so insurmountable that he would rather forego any project than appear in female company. But his Lordship was mtstaken, and felt very uneasy when he found this was the case. Some friends, however, with whom he consulted, waggishly insisted that he was bound to redeem his word to Mr. Bacon, since that gentleman was ready to comply with the stipulation under which it was pledged, It was, moreover, thought that the eccentric bachelor of Auchterbardie’s presentation at Court might infuse a little amusement into a ceremony otherwise very stiff and dull; and, care being no doubt taken that the royal lady should be prepared for the joke, the arrangements were made with all the due forms accordingly. Whoever might think of joking, Mr. Bacon was in dead earnest ; and, in one of his gravest and most lofty moods, he drove off, along with Robin Afleck, at the appointed time, to Nicolson street. There they took up Miss Stimperton and her attendant for the nonce, Jean Brown. Mrs. Renshaw’s presents to the Queen were also received into the carriage, with a strict injunction that they should be delivered into her Majesty’s own hand. Miss Stimperton was dressed as nearly as possible according to the directions she had received, and really looked remarkably well. Mr. Bacon seemed to think so too; for, though on his guard to avoid temptation, still he could not help taking a peep over his green spectacles occasionally at the face of his inamorata. But he had. a much better protection than the preset ves in his abstraction while revolving the deep schemes of policy which he intended to submit to Sir Robert Peel, and in this he took refuge. _ Jean Brown had taken care to provide herself with an ample veil under which she could conceal the risibility which she saw it would be utterly impossible for her to suppress in the midst of so much absurdity. And she soon found her precaution was not needless, for the first glance she got of Robin Afleck, as he gallantly handed Miss Stimperton and her into the coach, proved too much for her gravity. Robin, in spite of all her remonstrances, had come arrayed in what Mr. Bacon pronounced thevproper Court costume ; for he thought it became him wondrous we ll—especially the cocked hat—and he looked rather disappointed and sulky when he saw that it only excited Jean’s merriment. The carriage containing this strangely assorted party whirled off at a swift rate, soon reached the Sheriff Hall gate of Dalkeith Park, and there took up a place not far from that containing the worshipful Provost and Bailies of Edinburgh. Others followed in great numbers, and fell in behind in the order of arrival. The whole distance between the gate and the house was also occupied by a line of carriages, which, from time to time, advanced a few yards as those in front delivered their cargoes, and turned off into another avenue. Advancing in this tardy manner, Mr. Bacon’s comparatively shabby equipage was closely scrutinised by various functionaries stationed along the approach; and though it was by no means the only hackney vehicle in the glittering line, there was something in its appearance or in the company it carried, which drew on it many suspicious looks, and some danger of its being turned. To all this Mr. Bacon was insensible, and good reason why. Pie was bound on a high mission, and knew himself to be of infinitely more importance than any of the titled or coronetted people who were flocking to court like so many moths fluttering round a candle. When at length he was set down in front of the house, he took Miss Stimperton gallantly by the hand, and led her to the door, where the company before them were crowding for entrance. The vestibule, entrance halls, and grand stairs were lined with the Royal Scottish Archers; and these courtly gentleman kindly whispered directions how to behave, in her Majesty’s presence, to all such as were pressing towards the Reception, and seemed overwhelmed with trepidation. Many of the gay and fashionable were in this
predicament, and numbers even of the sterner sex were palsied with agitation, and bewildered as owls in broad day-
light. Not so, however, were Miss Stimperton and Mr. Bacon. They advanced, if not with perfect self-pos-session, at least without any apprehension of making themselves ridiculous, and happily engrossed otherwise than in over-anxiety about points of form. She was all alive to the splendor of the scene—the display of sparkling jewels, waving plumes, tulle, gold net, satins, velvets, and artificial flowers; while he was taken up with nothing but the contemplations of his own importance. To them the gentlemen, of the Queen’s Body Guard had nothing to say. The appearance of the outre pair was too remarkable not to attract special attention, mixed largely with surprise and a disposition to challenge them right to set a foot in silch a place. Nevertheless, they reached the landing-place (an ample space adorned with works of art) without interruption, and were -just about to deliver their cards to the page in waiting at the door of the ThroneRoom, when Mr. Bacon was touched on the shoulder, and a note, signed by the nobleman who had engaged to present him, was put into his hand. The note ran to the following effect—- “ Mr. Bacon, —Dear Sir,—Special circumstances connected with your presentation, render it necessary that you and the lady along with you should remain where you are till the close of the Reception. You will then be called in and presented in due form. — Yours, etc., etc.” Mr, Bacon was at first disposed to resent this as an indignity; but after a moment’s reflection, self-esteem soothed him by suggesting that the special circumstances referred to arose from the consequence attached to him, and were in some way connected with the interview he was to have with the Ministers. He accordingly acquiesced with great complacency, when he and Miss Stimperton were requested to stand aside from the door, and wait behind the line of Archers till called for. Here, almost hidden from view by the guard, several bronze statues, and tall china jars, which were crowded into the same corner, stood the philosophic bachelor, wrapped up in: dreamy contemplation of the part he was about to perform, and “ Saft Shusie ” gloating with distended eyes upon the moving mass of finery before her. (To be continued—commenced on 7 uly 26. )
THE CHIMNEY CORNER., Ashburton Guardian, Volume 1, Issue 160, 2 October 1880
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