So I told them these stories—and others—to lure them to the printed book, much as carrots are dangled before the nose of the reluctant donkey. They are four average intelligent children enough, but they hold severely modern views upon storybooks. Waverley, in especial, they could not away with. They found themselves stuck upon the very threshold.
Now, since the first telling of these Red Cap Tales, the Scott shelf in the library has been taken by storm and escalade. It is permanently gap-toothed all along the line. Also there are nightly skirmishes, even to the laying on of hands, as to who shall sleep with Waverley under his pillow.
It struck me that there must be many oldsters in the world who, for the sake of their own youth, would like the various Sweethearts who now inhabit their nurseries, to read Sir Walter with the same breathless eagerness as they used to do—how many years agone? It is chiefly for their sakes that I have added several interludes, telling how Sweetheart, Hugh John, Sir Toady Lion, and Maid Margaret received my petty larcenies from the full chest of the Wizard.
At any rate, Red Cap succeeded in one case—why should he not in another? I claim no merit in the telling of the tales, save that, like medicines well sugar-coated, the patients mistook them for candies and—asked for more.
The books are open. Any one can tell Scott's stories over again in his own way. This is mine.
S. R. CROCKETT.
It was all Sweetheart's fault, and this is how it came about.
She and I were at Dryburgh Abbey, sitting quietly on a rustic seat, and looking toward the aisle in which slept the Great Dead. The long expected had happened, and we had made pilgrimage to our Mecca. Yet, in spite of the still beauty of the June day, I could see that a shadow lay upon our Sweetheart's brow.
"Oh, I know he was great," she burst out at last, "and what you read me out of the Life was nice. I like hearing about Sir Walter—but—"
I knew what was coming.
"But what?" I said, looking severely at the ground, so that I might be able to harden my heart against the pathos of Sweetheart's expression.
"But—I can't read the novels—indeed I can't. I have tried Waverley at least twenty times. And as for Rob Roy—"
Even the multiplication table failed here, and at this, variously a-sprawl on the turf beneath, the smaller fry giggled.
"Course," said Hugh John, who was engaged in eating grass like an ox, "we know it is true about Rob Roy. She read us one whole volume, and there wasn't no Rob Roy, nor any fighting in it. So we pelted her with fir-cones to make her stop and read over Treasure Island to us instead!"
"Yes, though we had heard it twenty times already," commented Sir Toady Lion, trying his hardest to pinch his brother's legs on the sly.
"Books wifout pictures is silly!" said a certain Maid Margaret, a companion new to the honourable company, who was weaving daisy-chains, her legs crossed beneath her, Turk fashion. In literature she had got as far as words of one syllable, and had a poor opinion even of them.
"I had read all Scott's novels long before I was your age," I said reprovingly.
The children received this announcement with the cautious silence with which every rising generation listens to the experiences of its elders when retailed by way of odious comparison.
"Um-m!" said Sir Toady, the licensed in speech; "we know all that. Oh, yes; and you didn't like fruit, and you liked medicine in a big spoon, and eating porridge and—"
"Oh, we know—we know!" cried all the others in chorus. Whereupon I informed them what would have happened to us thirty years ago if we had ventured to address our parents in such fashion. But Sweetheart, with the gravity of her age upon her, endeavoured to raise the discussion to its proper level.
"Scott writes such a lot before you get at the story," she objected, knitting her brows; "why couldn't he just have begun right away?"
"With Squire Trelawney and Dr. Livesey drawing at their pipes in the oak-pannelled dining room, and Black Dog outside the door, and Pew coming tapping along the road with his stick!" cried Hugh John, turning off a sketchy synopsis of his favourite situations in fiction.
"Now that's what I call a proper book!" said Sir Toady, hastily rolling himself out of the way of being kicked. (For with these unusual children, the smooth ordinary upper surfaces of life covered a constant succession of private wars and rumours of wars, which went on under the table at meals, in the schoolroom, and even, it is whispered, in church.)
As for blithe Maid Margaret, she said nothing, for she was engaged in testing the capacities of a green slope of turf for turning somersaults upon.
"In Sir Walter Scott's time," I resumed gravely, "novels were not written for little girls—"
"Then why did you give us Miss Edgeworth to read?" said Sweetheart, quickly. But I went on without noticing the interruption, "Now, if you like, I will tell you some of Sir Walter's stories over again, and then I will mark in your own little edition the chapters you can read for yourselves."
The last clause quieted the joyous shout which the promise of a story—any sort of a story—had called forth. An uncertain look crept over their faces, as if they scented afar off that abomination of desolation—"lessons in holiday time."
"Must we read the chapters?" said Hugh John, unhopefully.
"Tell us the stories, anyway, and leave it to our honour!" suggested Sir Toady Lion, with a twinkle in his eye.
"Is it a story—oh, don't begin wifout me!" Maid Margaret called from behind the trees, her sturdy five-year-old legs carrying her to the scene of action so fast that her hat fell off on the grass and she had to turn back for it.
"Well, I will tell you, if I can, the story of 'Waverley,'" I said.
"Was he called after the pens?" said Toady Lion the irreverent, but under his breath. He was, however, promptly kicked into silence by his peers—seriously this time, for he who interferes with the telling of a story is a "Whelk,"—which, for the moment, is the family word for whatever is base, mean, unprofitable, and unworthy of being associated with.
But first I told them about the writing of Waverley, and the hand at the Edinburgh back window which wrote and wrote. Only that, but the story as told by Lockhart had affected my imagination as a boy.
"Did you ever hear of the Unwearied Hand?" I asked them.
"It sounds a nice title," said Sir Toady; "had he only one?"
"It was in the early summer weather of 1814," I began, "after a dinner in a house in George Street, that a young man, sitting at the wine with his companions, looked out of the window, and, turning pale, asked his next neighbour to change seats with him.
"'There it is—at it again!' he said, with a thump of his fist on the table that made the decanters jump, and clattered the glasses; 'it has haunted me every night these three weeks. Just when I am lifting my glass I look through the window, and there it is at it—writing—writing—always writing!'
"So the young men, pressing about, looked eagerly, and lo! seen through the back window of a house in a street built at right angles, they saw the shape of a man's hand writing swiftly, steadily, on large quarto pages. As soon as one was finished, it was added to a pile which grew and grew, rising, as it were, visibly before their eyes.
"'It goes on like that all the time, even after the candles are lit,' said the young man, 'and it makes me ashamed. I get no peace for it when I am not at my books. Why cannot the man do his work without making others uncomfortable?'
"Perhaps some of the company may have thought it was not a man at all, but some prisoned fairy tied to an endless task—Wizard Michael's familiar spirit, or Lord Soulis's imp Red Cap doing his master's bidding with a goose-quill.
"But it was something much more wonderful than any of these. It was the hand of Walter Scott finishing Waverley, at the rate of a volume every ten days!"
"Why did he work so hard?" demanded Hugh John, whom the appearance of fifty hands diligently writing would not have annoyed—no, not if they had all worked like sewing-machines.
"Because," I answered, "the man who wrote Waverley was beginning to have more need of money. He had bought land. He was involved in other people's misfortunes. Besides, for a long time, he had been a great poet, and now of late there had arisen a greater."
"I know," cried Sweetheart, "Lord Byron—but I don't think he was."
"Anyway Fitzjames and Roderick Dhu is ripping!" announced Hugh John, and, rising to his feet, he whistled shrill in imitation of the outlaw. It was the time to take the affairs of children at the fulness of the tide.
"I think," I ventured, "that you would like the story of Waverley if I were to tell it now. I know you will like Rob Roy. Which shall it be first?"
Then there were counter-cries of "Waverley" and "Rob Roy"—all the fury of a contested election. But Sweetheart, waiting till the brawlers were somewhat breathed, indicated the final sense of the meeting by saying quietly, "Tell us the one the hand was writing!"
On a certain Sunday evening, toward the middle of the eighteenth century, a young man stood practising the guards of the broadsword in the library of an old English manor-house. The young man was Captain Edward Waverley, recently assigned to the command of a company in Gardiner's regiment of dragoons, and his uncle was coming in to say a few words to him before he set out to join the colours.
Being a soldier and a hero, Edward Waverley was naturally tall and handsome, but, owing to the manner of his education, his uncle, an high Jacobite of the old school, held that he was "somewhat too bookish" for a proper man. He must therefore see a little of the world, asserted old Sir Everard.
His Aunt Rachel had another reason for wishing him to leave Waverley-Honour. She had actually observed her Edward look too often across at the Squire's pew in church! Now Aunt Rachel held it no wrong to look at Squire Stubbs's pew if only that pew had been empty. But it was (oh, wickedness!) just when it contained the dear old-fashioned sprigged gown and the fresh pretty face of Miss Cecilia Stubbs, that Aunt Rachel's nephew looked most often in that direction. In addition to which the old lady was sure she had observed "that little Celie Stubbs" glance over at her handsome Edward in a way that—well, when she was young! And here the old lady bridled and tossed her head, and the words which her lips formed themselves to utter (though she was too ladylike to speak them) were obviously "The Minx!" Hence it was clear to the most simple and unprejudiced that a greater distance had better be put between the Waverley loft and the Squire's pew—and that as soon as possible.
Edward's uncle, Sir Everard, had wished him to travel abroad in company with his tutor, a staunch Jacobite clergyman by the name of Mr. Pembroke. But to this Edward's father, who was a member of the government, unexpectedly refused his sanction. Now Sir Everard despised his younger brother as a turncoat (and indeed something little better than a spy), but he could not gainsay a father's authority, even though he himself had brought the boy up to be his heir.
"I am willing that you should be a soldier," he said to Edward; "your ancestors have always been of that profession. Be brave like them, but not rash. Remember you are the last of the Waverleys and the hope of the house. Keep no company with gamblers, with rakes, or with Whigs. Do your duty to God, to the Church of England, and—" He was going to say "to the King," when he remembered that by his father's wish Edward was going to fight the battles of King George. So the old Jacobite finished off rather lamely by repeating, "to the Church of England and all constituted authorities!"
Then the old man, not trusting himself to say more, broke off abruptly and went down to the stables to choose the horses which were to carry Edward to the north. Finally, he delivered into the hands of his nephew an important letter addressed as follows:—
"To Cosmo Comyne Bradwardine, Esquire of Bradwardine, at his principal mansion of Tully-Veolan in Perthshire, North Britain,—These.—"
For that was the dignified way in which men of rank directed their letters in those days.
The leave-taking of Mr. Pembroke, Edward's tutor, was even longer and more solemn. And had Edward attended in the least to his moralisings, he might have felt somewhat depressed. In conclusion, the good clergyman presented him with several pounds of foolscap, closely written over in a neat hand.
"These," he said, handling the sheets reverently, "are purposely written small that they may be convenient to keep by you in your saddle-bags. They are my works—my unpublished works. They will teach you the real fundamental principles of the Church, principles concerning which, while you have been my pupil, I have been under obligation never to speak to you. But now as you read them, I doubt not but that the light will come upon you! At all events, I have cleared my conscience."
Edward, in the quiet of his chamber, glanced at the heading of the first: A Dissent from Dissenters or the Comprehension Confuted. He felt the weight and thickness of the manuscript, and promptly confuted their author by consigning the package to that particular corner of his travelling trunk where he was least likely to come across it again.
On the other hand, his Aunt Rachel warned him with many head-shakings against the forwardness of the ladies whom he would meet with in Scotland (where she had never been). Then, more practically, she put into his hand a purse of broad gold pieces, and set on his finger a noble diamond ring.
As for Miss Celie Stubbs, she came to the Waverley church on the last day before his departure, arrayed in all her best and newest clothes, mighty fine with hoops, patches, and silks everywhere. But Master Edward, who had his uniform on for the first time, his gold-laced hat beside him on the cushion, his broadsword by his side, and his spurs on his heels, hardly once looked at the Squire's pew. At which neglect little Celie pouted somewhat at the time, but since within six months she was married to Jones, the steward's son at Waverley-Honour, with whom she lived happy ever after, we may take it that her heart could not have been very deeply touched by Edward's inconstancy.
[As a suitable first taste of the original I now read to my audience from a pocket Waverley, Chapter the Sixth, "The Adieus of Waverley." It was listened to on the whole with more interest than I had hoped for. It was an encouraging beginning. But Sir Toady, always irrepressible, called out a little impatiently: "That's enough about him. Now tell us what he did!" And this is how I endeavoured to obey.]
Edward Waverley found his regiment quartered at Dundee in Scotland, but, the time being winter and the people of the neighbourhood not very fond of the "red soldiers," he did not enjoy the soldiering life so much as he had expected. So, as soon as the summer was fairly come, he asked permission to visit the Castle of Bradwardine, in order to pay his respects to his uncle's friend.
It was noon of the second day after setting out when Edward Waverley arrived at the village of Tully-Veolan to which he was bound. Never before had he seen such a place. For, at his uncle's house of Waverley-Honour, the houses of villagers, all white and neat, stood about a village green, or lurked ancient and ivy-grown under the shade of great old park trees. But the turf-roofed hovels of Tully-Veolan, with their low doors supported on either side by all too intimate piles of peat and rubbish, appeared to the young Englishman hardly fit for human beings to live in. Indeed, from the hordes of wretched curs which barked after the heels of his horse, Edward might have supposed them meant to serve as kennels—save, that is, for the ragged urchins who sprawled in the mud of the road and the old women who, distaff in hand, dashed out to rescue them from being trampled upon by Edward's charger.
Passing gardens as full of nettles as of pot-herbs, and entering between a couple of gate-posts, each crowned by the image of a rampant bear, the young soldier at last saw before him, at the end of an avenue, the steep roofs and crow-stepped gable ends of Bradwardine, half dwelling-house, half castle. Here Waverley dismounted, and, giving his horse to the soldier-servant who had accompanied him, he entered a court in which no sound was to be heard save the plashing of a fountain. He saw the door of a tall old mansion before him. Going up he raised the knocker, and instantly the echoes resounded through the empty house. But no one came to answer. The castle appeared uninhabited, the court a desert. Edward glanced about him, half expecting to be hailed by some ogre or giant, as adventurers used to be in the fairy tales he had read in childhood. But instead he only saw all sorts of bears, big and little, climbing (as it seemed) on the roof, over the windows, and out upon the ends of the gables—while over the door at which he had been vainly knocking he read in antique lettering the motto, "BEWAR THE BAR." But all these bruins were of stone, and each one of them kept as still and silent as did everything else about this strange mansion—except, that is, the fountain, which, behind him in the court, kept up its noisy splashing.
Feeling, somehow, vaguely uncomfortable, Edward Waverley crossed the court into a garden, green and pleasant, but to the full as solitary as the castle court. Here again he found more bears, all sitting up in rows on their haunches, on parapets and along terraces, as if engaged in looking at the view. He wandered up and down, searching for some one to whom to speak, and had almost made up his mind that he had found a real enchanted Castle of Silence, when in the distance he saw a figure approaching up one of the green walks. There was something uncouth and strange about the way the newcomer kept waving his hands over his head—then, for no apparent reason, flapping them across his breast like a groom on a frosty day, hopping all the time first on one foot and then on the other. Tiring of this way of getting over the ground, he would advance by standing leaps, keeping both feet together. The only thing he seemed quite incapable of doing was to use his feet, one after the other, as ordinary people do when they are walking. Indeed, this strange guardian of the enchanted castle of Bradwardine looked like a gnome or fairy dwarf. For he was clad in an old-fashioned dress of grey, slashed with scarlet. On his legs were scarlet stockings and on his head a scarlet cap, which in its turn was surmounted by a turkey's feather.
He came along dancing and singing in jerks and snatches, till, suddenly looking up from the ground, he saw Edward. In an instant his red cap was off, and he was bowing and saluting, and again saluting and bowing, with, if possible, still more extravagant gestures than before. Edward asked this curious creature if the Baron Bradwardine were at home, and what was his astonishment to be instantly answered in rhyme:
"The Knight's to the mountain
His bugle to wind;
The Lady's to greenwood
Her garland to bind.
The bower of Burd Ellen
Has moss on the floor,
That the step of Lord William,
Be silent and sure."
This was impressive enough, surely; but, after all, it did not tell young Captain what he wanted to know. So he continued to question the strange wight, and finally, after eliciting many unintelligible sounds, was able to make out the single word "butler."
Pouncing upon this, Edward commanded the Unknown to lead him instantly to the butler.
Nothing loath, the fool danced and capered on in front, and, at a turning of the path, they found an old man, who seemed by his dress to be half butler, half gardener, digging diligently among the flower beds. Upon seeing Captain Waverley, he let drop his spade, undid his green apron, frowning all the time at Edward's guide for bringing his master's guest upon him without warning, to find him digging up the earth like a common labourer. But the Bradwardine butler had an explanation ready.
His Honour was with the folk, getting down the Black Hag (so he confided to Edward). The two gardener lads had been ordered to attend his Honour. So in order to amuse himself, he, the majordomo of Bradwardine, had been amusing himself with dressing Miss Rose's flower beds. It was but seldom that he found time for such like, though personally he was very fond of garden work.
"He cannot get it wrought in more than two days a week, at no rate whatever!" put in the scarecrow in the red cap and the turkey feather.
"Go instantly and find his Honour at the Black Hag," cried the majordomo of Bradwardine, wrathful at this interference, "and tell him that there is a gentleman come from England waiting him at the Hall."
"Can this poor fellow deliver a letter?" Edward asked doubtfully.
"With all fidelity, sir," said the butler, "that is, to any one whom he respects. After all, he is more knave than fool. We call the innocent Davie Dolittle, though his proper name is Davie Gellatley. But the truth is, that since my young mistress, Miss Rose Bradwardine, took a fancy to dress him up in fine clothes, the creature cannot be got to do a single hand's turn of work. But here comes Miss Rose herself. Glad will she be to welcome one of the name of Waverley to her father's house!"