Abbotsford And Dryburgh
( Originally Published 1912 )
" AY, you may have the motor for the very same price as the horses," the old landlady was assuring Mrs. Pitt. " We've had that many tourists this week, my horses are quite worn out, and I'd sooner have you take the motor, which can't get tired, you know. The price is reasonable enough in any case." And Mrs. Pitt knew that it was.
" Bully ! " cried John, when he heard of the change in plan. " We'll do it in half the time ! "
As soon as Barbara had brought down her mother's motor-veil and pongee dust-coat, they were off in the gayest of spirits. Not since leaving London had they ridden in such a grand motor car! Their pride had a slight fall when some accident befell the engine of the landaulet and, leaving them stranded by the roadside, the chauffeur had to walk back for another car ; but in the red touring car which he brought, they finally arrived at Abbotsford.
" What a funny little back way we go in ! " said Betty, going ahead along the steep path which runs from the road, past some formal, walled-in gardens, to a small door near the kitchens of the beautiful house, for many years Sir Walter Scott's beloved home.
" Abbotsford is associated with some of the brightest as well as the darkest years of Scott's life," said Mrs. Pitt. They were now waiting, with a number of others, in the entry, until the guide should finish with an earlier party he was showing through the house. " When Scott was thirty-four and was living with his wife and five children at Ashestiel, not far from here, he wrote ' The Lay of the Last Minstrel ' which made his reputation. ' Marmion ' and
The Lady of the Lake ' soon followed, and it was then that Scott bought this land at Abbots-ford and built the fine house. Here he had a very happy life with his family, his friends, and his pets, He had two dogs, 'Maida,' a stag-hound, and ` Camp,' a terrier, who were always with him. It is said that Maida grew so tired of publicity that she would calmly leave the spot when any one appeared with a sketch-book. Scott was very fond of his horses, too, and never allowed them to be taken out on Sun-day. His steward, Willie Laidlaw, and Tom Purdie, his forester, were also his devoted friends; he became rich and famous. George IV made him a baronet in 1820.
" But, later on there was a panic,- during which his publishers failed and Scott lost everything. The rest of his life was one pitiable struggle to make enough money to pay his creditors. Lady Scott died at Abbotsford, and then Tom Purdie died very suddenly; Scott's little grandson, John Hugh Lockhart, (whom he calls ` Little John in ` Tales of a Grand-father '), was pronounced incurable. Scott him-self had a severe illness, but pluckily went on with his work, his creditors showing their gratitude for his efforts by giving him back most of his possessions and allowing him to live here. But gradually the. poor man's mind failed, and soon he could no longer write. It was sad, very sad. His son and daughter took him to Italy, but he begged to be brought home to Abbots-ford, where he died."
No sooner had Mrs. Pitt finished than the door opened and out poured a company of enthusiastic, chattering tourists, of whose conversation they caught bits here and there.
" That fat woman would stand right in my way, and I couldn't see one thing in the round case by the window! " This from a brisk little woman with short skirts, a business-like air, and sharp gray eyes peering through their spectacles.
" Mean old thing! He wouldn't let me take a snapshot of the hall with all that dandy armor ! " cried a loud-voiced American girl, her arm through that of a showily-dressed friend.
Pas moil Jamais! " A round Frenchman and his stouter wife swept haughtily past the meek guide, who was standing by the door to collect his tips from any one who felt sufficient gratitude to make a return for his efforts.
Suddenly they all flocked back to their coaches on the road above, and the guide, with a resigned air, once more led the way upstairs, Mrs. Pitt and the others following.
" This, ladies and gentlemen, was Scott's study where he wrote. See? That's his own desk and chair, the desk made from wood of one of the ships of the Spanish Armada. Ay, all his books that he worked with are up there on the balcony running around the room; there's a small staircase to reach it. See? In the corner of the balcony, there is a private door which led into Scott's bedroom. He could get in and out with no one knowing it. See? In this little anteroom here, Scott received any casual visitors, you might say. It's called ` Speak a bit.' See? "
Very, very devoted to Scott is this quaint old guide, and very anxious that they should miss no smallest thing of interest in connection with the great man. He showed them the old library, with its many shelves of books, still as the poet arranged them to suit his fancy; he pointed out the beautiful portrait of Scott by Sir Henry Raeburn, the well-known one in which Scott is seated by a ruined wall with the dog, Camp," at his feet, and another dog, a greyhound, looking into his master's face; he showed them the richly carved ceiling of the library, the design copied from the roof of Rosslyn Chapel, and the fantastic Chinese wall-paper of the drawing-room, of which its owner was very proud.
They lingered long over the glass case in the library bow-window, which contains many things of unusual value and interest.
" Here's Tom Purdie's knife ! " exclaimed John. " See how big it is! "
" And a lock of Prince Charlie's hair," said Barbara.
" Napoleon's blotting-book, found in his carriage after Waterloo ! "
" And Rob Roy's purse, and a piece of Queen Mary's dress, and her ivory crucifix which she may have carried at her execution." Betty was beside herself! There was so much to see in this case alone!
" Here's Prince Charlie's own quaich, Betty. See, it has a glass bottom ! And here are others, too, one made from Queen Mary's yew tree at Craigmillar Castle."
" You might steal one of these to send your mother for her birthday, Betty ! " put in Barbara.
John was already in the armory, examining the swords and spurs, pistols, and weapons of all sorts and from all countries. Some are there because of their beauty of workmanship; others have great historic interest as well, such as Rob Roy's gun and the great Montrose's sword, with its royal arms and its Latin inscriptions.
Thinking of the original keys from the " Heart of Midlothian," which she had seen in the entrance hall, Mrs. Pitt mused, I wonder if Scott built some of his novels around these treasures, or did he collect the treasures because he had written the novels? "
But this question it is impossible for any one to answer, and Mrs. Pitt turned to listen to the guide's explanation of two old sketches which hang on the armory wall.
The first picture is called " The Dish of Spurs," and it shows what is said to be an ancient border custom. A housewife, finding that her larder is quite empty, places a dish of spurs upon the table as a suggestion to the men of her family that they had better start off on a raid and capture some of their neighbors' cattle. The young Laird of Harden, Walter Scott's ancestor, apparently took this hint, and, on the lands of the Laird of Elibank, was captured and sentenced to be hanged for stealing cattle. But Lady Elibank interposed and persuaded her husband to give the prisoner his choice of a hanging or a marriage with his Muckle-Mouthed Meg, who was or her beauty, as the next pie-daughter, " M not celebrated picture shows us. Riever's Wedding," young man chose attractive lady excellent wife and beef."
" Oh," cried Betty, all at once remembering the connection. " It's Smailholm Tower, where Scott lay and watched the thunderstorm ! "
" You're right again, Betty," laughed Mrs. Pitt. " The boy Scott was very much attached to this old Border peel, or watch-tower. Here he used to come very often and here it was that his aunt found him during a severe thunderstorm. He was lying on his back on this hilltop, enjoying himself to the full, and, after a particularly loud burst of thunder, they heard him cry, Bonnie ! Bonnie ! ' Scott several times wrote of this tower about which his love and imagination grouped many tales. The vicinity is described in his ` Eve of St. John ' and in ` Marmion,' too, Scott tells of his boyhood here."
The old tower is very picturesque, square and tall, with four stories and a gabled roof; but, best of all, are its beautiful views of the varied country where, as Scott truly said,
"... naked cliffs were rudely piled;
Through tiny villages, along high, dusty roads, through cool, dark valleys they sped until the chauffeur stopped near a lodge, from which a young girl was already emerging to sell them tickets for Dryburgh Abbey. Taking the money from Mrs. Pitt, she pointed out their way along a shady path, crossed here and there by the roots of great beech trees.
Next to my favorite Fountains Abbey in Yorkshire," said Mrs. Pitt, as she sauntered along, I think that Dryburgh has the loveliest situation. Here, among the old yews and the cedars of Lebanon, in this spot remote from all except the river, there is surely a wonderful charm about the ruins of church, refectory, chapter-house, and cloisters. And then, there's Scott's tomb, you know. He was buried here by virtue of rights held by his ancestors, the Haliburtons, at one time owners of the abbey."
And they found it all quite as delightful as Mrs. Pitt had intimated. First of all they stood by Scott's tomb, beneath a fragment of a transept, where the great man was laid in the year 1832, and where other members of his family are now beside him; they gazed and admired, and gazed again, at the delicate tracery of St. Catherine's rose-window peeping out from its covering of green ivy, and at the exquisite grace of the ancient Saxon door which divides the church from what were once the cloisters; they explored the refectory and the domestic buildings and the Abbot's parlor, with its damp walls and ceiling still intact. Quietly they moved about, and quietly they walked back to the thumping motor car, which they could almost have hated for the moment because it dared to intrude upon the beauty, the peace of Dryburgh Abbey.
They were a long distance away before any one spoke ; then it was John who said, " Well, I can't see why a lot of monks should want to go off and live all by themselves, but if they were bound to do it, they certainly chose a bully place ! "
The return drive to Melrose took them along a road which wound high above the silvery Tweed; at a point which commanded an en-chanting view of distant hills and of the nearer deep green valley through which winds the river, in its " horseshoe curve," the chauffeur stopped his motor car, jumped out, and, coming to their side, said: " This is Sir Walter Scott's view, lady. He often drove to Dryburgh Abbey by this very road, and each time he would pause just here for the view. Finally the horses would stop of themselves, you might say, and that's just what they did on the day of the funeral when they were taking Scott's body to the abbey. They say the coachman had hard work getting the horses to start again."
Delaying long enough to say farewell to the landlady at the hotel and to pick up their suitcases, they were carried on in the motor car to the station in time for the Edinburgh train. They were in good time but the train was not. Forty impatient minutes they waited on that platform, and the time would have seemed long indeed had not a station official afforded them much amusement by his efforts to paste one of the railway company's new timetables on the big bulletin-board.
John stood looking on, a mixture of fun and disgust upon his face. " If we had such things in America, a fellow would stick on about two dozen in the time this man needs for one. My, but he's slow ! "
" Yes," said Betty, " and his fingers are all thumbs! "
The clumsy Scotchman would measure the space with a careful eye, then cover it with the limp timetable, one side covered with paste. Apparently satisfied, he would press it lightly along the top edge, and all the spectators would be thinking how well it was going, when he would jerk the whole thing off. There had been a wrinkle somewhere. Patiently moistening his great brush, he would slowly begin all over again, the station-master, who stood by, occasionally giving a word of advice, —a tall caricature of a station-master who, for some reason best known to himself, wore a silk hat with his rough, brownish trousers and shirtsleeves. The two were still at work when the belated train appeared.
Trains in Great Britain may not look as substantial and capable as those in America, but they can run fast, and with less danger of accidents. This especial one seemed to be trying to make up its lost time. On through towns and between fields of grain it hurried them. They whirled through Lauder, where Archibald Douglas, or " Bell the Cat," of Tantallon Castle, seized and promptly hanged Cochrane, a worthless favorite of King James III; they caught sight of the fifteenth-century keep of Crichton Castle on the right and, on their left, of Borthwick Castle, with a room in which Queen Mary and Bothwell once passed the night. Then it seemed but a very short time until familiar Arthur's Seat appeared before them, and they left the train at the Waverley Station. It was very good to be riding up Princes Street once more and to find all quite as they had left it.