Tales of My Landlady

A Novel by Jedediah Cleishbotham.

Discovered in several instalments in May and June 2013.

Set in Oxfordshire, Glasgow, Edinburgh, Inverness and Orkney.

Waverley, by the Same Author. Photographed in the wild, on the 1806 to Gourock, 22 May 20—

Waverley, by the Same Author.
Photographed in the wild, on the 1806 to Gourock, 22 May 20—

Chapter One

It was near the end of the month of May, 20—, when a Scottish gentlewoman, who had just taken leave of absence from her duties in the south, made use of the liberty afforded her, to visit some parts of the north of Scotland; and leisure permitted her to pass a few days also in the southern regions of that country. On the day that opens our narrative, she had risen earlier than was her habit, for she intended to set out on her journey betimes. Taking a bag packed with a few necessities and wrapping herself in her travelling-cloak, she turned the key in the lock of the door and walked a few paces to reach the roadside. Here she set down her baggage and composed herself to wait; and after a very short time the sound of the approaching diligence was heard in the distance.

[Sections outlining the birth, place of birth, history of place of birth, history of events in place of birth during 1689, 1715 and 1745-6, family, upbringing, and career of gentlewoman are here omitted. Skip twenty pages.]

[Section describing the landscape and history of the country around Oxford, Birmingham, Manchester, Preston, Lancaster, the Lakes, Carlisle and the outskirts of Glasgow omitted. Skip five more pages.]

Suit of armour

Suit of armour

‘Sir,’ said she, ‘I am grateful for your kind attention and your company along the way, but it seems to me that our ways must now part.’

‘I fear it is so,’ replied her fellow traveller. ‘Yet, madam, though I have no fears for your safety in leaving you here on the steps of this commodious edifice of glass and stone, well-provided as it is with tapestries, stained-glass, suits of armour, chasubles with orphreys, a café serving tea and shortbread, and convenient public transport connections to Glasgow Central, yet it may be that as you journey further in this country your path will be less easy; and I too, perhaps, on the western roads, may encounter magnificent sea views, smugglers, gipsy prophetesses, stickit ministers, and who knows what else. By what token shall I know you if we should meet again?’

‘By these Northlink vouchers,’ said she, pressing into his hand a stout envelope of blue card, ‘take these and keep them safe – but remember, use them only in the direst need. Look for me again in the far northern town of Thurso, perhaps many days from now, perhaps as soon as this Monday.’

With these words they parted, and she stood for a moment looking after the conveyance as it drew away along the wooded road. Then, as if she had suddenly remembered about the tea and shortbread, she ran quickly up the steps to the house, and was seen no more.

22 May 2013

Chapter Eleven

[Nine chapters containing more plot per square inch than is recommended for human consumption omitted, by order of the Health and Safety Executive.]

Extract from letter:

… you will not misunderstand me, Matilda, when I tell you that to find myself kidnapped in Glasgow Central Station and carried away to the west on the scheduled 1806 departure to Gourock filled me with apprehensions of such horror that your Isabella’s* hair might have turned white not only overnight but in that instant on the very platform itself! And yet the den to which I have been carried, the chief residence of a barbarian chieftain of the tribes of this wilderness, is curiously attractive. Some culinary herbs, I am sure, grow about the door to the cave, the eldest child’s proudly-displayed adhesive gold-foil ornament is, I am told, a mark of recognition of her diligence at her studies, and even the screeching utterances of the youngest member of the tribe show some glimpses of sensibility, even, perhaps, of reason. I naturally feared at first, hearing her shrill protests, that she was rebelling against the just authority of her elders and the savage asceticism of these wastes, but further enquiry showed me that her cries emanated from but a moment’s troubled spirit and she had returned to the peaceful consumption of her morning porridge…

[*under the Geneva Convention (Historical Fiction) I have been compelled to become Isabella for the duration]

St Kessog of Luss and his warrior-monks

St Kessog of Luss and his warrior-monks

Second extract:

… escaping, dearest Matilda, from this rough-hewn hermit of the lochside, surrounded by warrior-monks in curiously-wrought wire habits, we took ship. Across the billows we sped, for the loch was moderately choppy although the sun shone. Killer whales, my youthful guide explained to me, would be far in the depths of the loch, and we in our vessel were necessarily on the surface, so we would be safe. Yet peril lurked above us, for there, soaring above its nest, was the mighty Osprey! We might all of us have been snatched, in turn, from the deck and carried away to its sylvan eyrie, had the plot required this, but it did not; nor, strange to relate, were we shipwrecked, run aground, set on fire, spirited away to the Low Countries and brought up by worthy Dutch merchants as orphans ignorant of our true parentage; and we were able to continue our voyage to land on the further side of the loch and seek refreshment in a crowded hostelry.

24 May 2013

Addendum to Chapter Eleven

Evie's Gold and Silver Awards

Evie’s Gold and Silver Awards

In this woodcut we see depicted the certificates of diligence in study awarded to the young scholars of the tribes by their tutelary druids.

24 May 2013

Chapter Thirteen

[Relatively brief and efficient section in which the heroine travels to Edinburgh quite straight-forwardly by pony-trap omitted anyway.]

Bannocks with tales of battles long ago

At length the musicians’ bows swept for a last time across the strings; there was silence for an instant; and then the company signified its pleasure with smiles and compliments, many clapping their hands and some even tapping their feet genteelly on the resounding wooden floor of the kirk. She rose from her seat and began to pace about the building, wondering at its many banners with their tale of battles long ago, of bloody encounters in dark and desperate times, so strange a contrast to the cool elegance of the walls where they now hung in peace.

‘Staun’ tae the side, noo, mistress, staun’ tae the side here!’

‘I beg your pardon, sir?’

‘Tae the side! The Governor’s tae be here any minute and ye maunna be plantit there in his gait like a great puddock. Beggin’ yer pardon, mistress, as ye say yersel’.’

‘Why,’ she said, ‘I do not know who you mean by the Governor, but -‘

‘The Governor o’ the Castle! Him that could clap ye in irons in his dungeons and niver a kindly soul tae ken whaur ye were, nor a scone tae yer tea, nor tea neither! If ye lived at a’ – if he didnae hae his freen’ the Captain-General spit ye through wi’ his arrows like the popinjay on the Meadows, straw leaking frae every seam! But it wadna’ be straw. Bluid. Aye, bluid it must be gin ye cross the Governor o’ the Castle and the Captain-General o’ the Bodyguard.’

‘Blood!’ Quite overcome, she sank upon a nearby bench and fanned herself with the programme of the concert.

The Captain General and the Governor

‘No’ there! ‘Tis his ain seat!’ Her agitated interlocutor seized her hand and drew her out again into the aisle. ‘See now,’ and he indicated the blazons affixed to each seat: ‘thon copper jeely-pan wrang-side-up’s the Governor’s helmet, and by him the Captain-General wi’ a wheen feathers tae his cap like an ostrich in his sinfu’ pride. Ay, well it is said in the guid book, a pride o’ ostriches. And by him on the ither side, the Royal Bannock Bearer.’

‘The Bannock Bearer?’

‘Ay. ‘Tis an office o’ ancient days.’

‘I have heard,’ she said, hesitantly, ‘of the great Scone of Stone -‘

‘Pay no heed to Jock, my dear madam. His wits are sadly confused by his ailment.’ It was a composed young female who now addressed her, a contrast indeed to the tall gangling unshaven youth who had uttered his warnings peering from behind a fringe of unkempt hair.

‘Dinnae mention my ailment. Ye swore niver tae mention my ailment.’

‘It is the Royal Banner Bearer he means, of course. You see his blazon here. And beside it -‘

‘Nae!’ said the shaggy youth, and with a sudden violence he thrust his lengthy person bodily between the two women and the bench, screening it from their view. ‘She maunna see that. Naebody deserves sae ill as tae see that.’

‘But surely there can be nothing ill in so fine a kirk? Her Majesty herself attends here.’

‘Ay,’ said the youth, his brows lowering, ‘the Governor o’ the jeely-pans an’ the Captain a’ birslin’ wi’ his wee prickle-arrows, an’ the Bannock, a’ marching afore her.’

‘And the Great Master of the Household,’ said the young woman, indicating the other end of the bench, ‘who sits here beside the Keeper of Holyrood House.’

‘No’ beside him. The pair o’ them ay bickerin’ an’ caterwauling over the scourin’ an’ the reddin’-up an’ wha’s tae rin the messages! No, no, they maun sit apart, ilka side o’ the Lord High Constable, honest man, tae keep the peace.’

‘And all these fine gentlemen attend Her Majesty? What a noble sight.’

‘A bonnie sicht indeed,’ muttered the youth. ‘A sicht for sair een. Sair, sair!’

‘But who is the seventh, the one you have not named to me? Who is it who sits in the middle?’

‘Dinnae say! Dinnae say!’ cried the youth; but his horror was so great that he was almost deprived of speech, and was only able to whisper his continued warnings; so that it was against a background of muttered ‘Doomed – a’ doomed!’ that she heard at last the answer to her inquiry:

‘The Lord Lyon King of Arms!’

25 May 2013

Illustrated Plate to Chapter Fourteen

The Stagecoach to Scrabster

The Stagecoach to Scrabster

[Chapter Fourteen itself is hidden in some straw in a crofter’s rude hut, while some carousing smugglers, armed to the teeth, divide the spoils of their crimes.]

26 May 2013

Chapter Fifteen

Orkney Herald Extraordinary surveyed the crowded room. He seemed haughty, yet ill at ease; he drew himself away from the hungry cyclists, the seafaring men in rubber boots and the ferry passengers uneasily eyeing, through the salt-stained windows, the yeasty Frith; yet when any one of these seemed likely to accost or even to draw near him in the press of company, he started, less like a pickpocket feeling the constable’s hand on his shoulder than like a respectable burgess waking suddenly in the middle of the sermon.

‘He must come soon,’ he thought, ‘unless – has the gipsy prophetess warned him? Has he found the missing heir? Has he confused himself with someone of the same name? No, surely that is impossible, unless he is a slow-witted but villainous lawyer in the south-west. And, if I have understood the plot correctly, he is a travelling Englishman of military antecedents who has been residing temporarily in the north-west. But have I understood the plot correctly?’

He sighed. He had not been prepared for this when he dwelt in Edinburgh, snug with his books and his wine, his nib scratching over the paper, his thoughts circling round the tenement house of his wig, his clients ascending and descending the stair. Secure in his hebdomadal round, at his books, giving counsel, on his feet before the Fifteen, douce and powdered at the kirk of a Sunday morning or with vine-leaves in his hair on Saturday at e’en, he had known what to expect. He had known then the workings of the law – who better? – but he had not known these dark by-ways.

‘I cannot arrest him,’ he thought, ‘I cannot serve him a writ of avisandum or hamesucken, of infangthief or outfangthief. Here is no assoilzie, no excambion, no multiplepoinding. It will be wrongous imprisonment.’ And he glanced out of the window at the lugger moored at the end of the pier, the barrels still tumbling innocently into her hold. He shuddered.

‘But it must be done. Otherwise Lyon will -’

His thoughts halted abruptly. The door of the ferry terminal had swung open and closed once more. An Englishman of military antecedents had stepped into the room; and a gentlewoman wrapped in a travelling-cloak, who had been writing a novel quietly in the corner, had set down her pen and risen to meet him.

Orkney Herald Extraordinary straightened his tie, crossed to the counter, and ordered a cup of coffee and a scone. It was the signal.

27 May 2013

Chapter Seventeen

[Chapter Sixteen and parts of Chapter Seventeen lost at sea]

Extract from letter

… having escaped from the lugger with remarkable ease, dearest Matilda, which I attribute to the hours I spent in our schoolroom learning knitting, netting and especially knotting, so that I was able not only to untie the bonds of myself and my companion but also to attach our erstwhile captor to the cabin table with stoutly-woven cords, we rowed towards the shore in the moonlight and ran the boat up the beach. The dim light glimmered on the breaking waves, and on the land, guiding us towards some rude dwellings where we took shelter. These proved to be furnished entirely in stone, with no more than a few sheepskins thrown artlessly over the stone beds. However, I was able within a few moments to spin these into woollen threads and knit these, together with some seaweed, into warm blankets, and, sheltering under these, we survived the chill of the night air and were protected from the falling damps, whiling away the hours until dawn in telling each other tales of the perfidy of the Bar. We breakfasted on limpets and set out again on our interrupted journey.

29 May 2013

Chapter Twenty-One, the first part

[Chapters Eighteen to Twenty illegible because of beak-marks and nibbling.]

‘But how came you here?’ asked the stranger, indicating with a gesture their present vertiginious refuge on the narrow gallery encircling the cathedral spire. As he spoke, the gale began to blow still more strongly, and he hastily resumed his grasp on the parapet.

Not the lugger in question

Not the lugger in question

‘Why, by lugger,’ she replied.

‘That is,’ said the Colonel, ‘there was some inadvertence in our arrangements. A miscreant lawyer seized us and carried us away, but we overcame him and escaped to the shore. After a sojourn in a rude hut -‘

‘It was remarkably well provided, and I knitted a blanket.’

‘ You knitted it in the continental manner, however, and you became entangled. By daylight we discovered that the rude hut lay within the policies of a gentleman’s house. This proved to be the residence of the Lord Lieutenant, one Dandie Dinmont. He was so good as to shelter us from the stormy winds -‘

‘It was a very fine day.’

‘ – in his library, and there it was that we happened upon the underground passage concealed behind the revolving bookcases.’

‘But you cannot have climbed up here by underground passage,’ said the stranger. ‘It is twenty fathoms high.’

The lighthouse

The lighthouse

‘Why, no. The underground passage was littered with empty casks that had held rum, discarded cutlasses, old boat-cloaks, and the like. I suspect it to have been used by smugglers. Making our way along it by the light of a guttering candle -‘

‘It was a perfectly good candle. I held it.’

‘It threatened to gutter, and the flame flickered in the icy gusts that met us as the underground passage twisted and turned.’

‘I was quite warm in my blanket. You should have taken one of the boat-cloaks.’

‘They smelt disagreeably of rum.’

‘You were making your way along the passage?’ said the stranger.

‘Why, yes. We emerged at length in a cave by the seashore, at the base of a cliff. Here we were befriended by puffins, who showed us the way to climb up to the lighthouse.’

‘Befriended by puffins?’ said the stranger. He took a firmer grasp of the parapet.

The Colonel gazing out to sea

The Colonel gazing out to sea

31 May 2013

Chapter Twenty-One, the second part

‘Then I take it,’ said the stranger, ‘that the puffins assisted you to make your way from the lighthouse to this present precipitous perch?’

‘They did not,’ she said. ‘Puffins are sadly lacking in any sense of direction. We set out, following their directions, but we turned left when we should have turned right, and right when we should have turned left.’

‘However,’ said the Colonel, ‘we were proceeding along a narrow spit of land between two extensive bodies of water, and although our path did indeed twist and turn unreasonably, we could not err too far from the true direction without falling into the loch.’

‘Which loch?’

‘Either,’ said the Colonel.

‘Both,’ said the gentlewoman.

‘Let it suffice,’ said the stranger, ‘that you are here. Time is short and our adversary is almost upon us. Conceal yourselves here in this corner of the belfry until -‘

‘But, sir,’ broke in the Colonel, ‘who are you? What is going on?’

‘I am the Royal Bannock Bearer. Quickly! conceal yourselves here behind these fragments of clock machinery and spare stained-glass saints, and wait until you hear me say “The hour and the man are both come”.’

They heard steps below them on the wooden staircase. Glancing at each other, they hastened to the corner he had indicated and hid themselves from sight. Through the stained-glass they could still see the stranger, standing resolute in the centre of the room awaiting his foe, his only weapon the bannock he held.

2 June 2013

Chapter Twenty-five

[Chapter Twenty-Two confiscated by the Coastguard. Chapter Twenty-Three, composed in runes, purchased by the Orkney Rural Crafts Association to be knitted into sweaters. Chapter Twenty-Four sent to bed early.]

About to squawk

About to squawk

She sat upon a broken corner-stone in the angle of a paved apartment, part of which she had swept clean to afford a smooth space for the evolutions of her laptop. A strong sunbeam through a lofty and narrow window fell upon her wild travelling-cloak and features, and afforded her light for her occupation; the rest of the apartment was very gloomy. A seagull squawked, and, hearing it, she lifted her head and saw the waiting Colonel.

‘How came you here, sir?’

‘I obtained a key to this ruined church from the municipal offices, and unlocked the gate. How came you here, madam?’

‘I climbed in over the wall during the confusion when the smugglers had set fire to the adjacent customs-house, but I am not sure that I could repeat the exercise from this side.’

‘Are you ready? It is almost time to depart.’

‘I think so. I have given an account of the machinations of the Lord Lyon King of Arms to usurp the Earldom of Orkney and unite with it the Mormaerdom of Caithness, and I have described his downfall at the hands of the Bannock Bearer. I have written a touching description of their last words to each other, as the Coastguard lowered them on stretchers down within the bell tower towards the constabulary waiting below, when the prophecy inscribed upon the bells at last made the Bannock Bearer’s true identity clear. I have even included the bere-harvesting song we first heard from the puffins which contained the clue to the prophecy. See!’

‘By heaven!’ said the Colonel, ‘it is the very ballad.’

‘And I have shown how Orkney Herald Extraordinary, rescued by the Coastguards from the captivity in which we left him on the lugger, warned them of Lyon’s plotting and thus redeemed his own character. I am ready.’

‘Then let us set out for the south,’ he said, opening the gate for her. ‘The diligence is waiting for us around the corner.’

The End

2 June 2013

Notes

No novel by Jedediah Cleishbotham is complete without extensive Notes. These, like his novel itself, have been pre-abridged.

  1. this commodious edifice of glass and stone, well-provided as it is with tapestries, stained-glass, suits of armour, chasubles with orphreys, a café serving tea and shortbread, and convenient public transport connections to Glasgow Central: the Burrell Collection
  2. we took ship… to land on the further side of the loch and seek refreshment in a crowded hostelry: the water bus across Loch Lomond and the Oak Tree Inn in Balmaha
  3. the kirk… its many banners with their tale of battles long ago: the Canongate Kirk
  4. some rude dwellings… furnished entirely in stone: Skara Brae
  5. the residence of the Lord Lieutenant: Skaill House (complete with revolving bookcases)
  6. the lighthouse: the Brough of Birsay
  7. their present vertiginious refuge on the narrow gallery encircling the cathedral spire: St Magnus Cathedral, where the visitor may make a tour of the upper levels
  8. this ruined church: Old St Peter’s, Thurso
  9. magnificent sea views, smugglers, gipsy prophetesses, stickit ministers, shipwrecks, abduction to the Low Countries to be brought up by worthy Dutch merchants, missing heirs, slow-witted but villainous lawyers in the south-west, travelling Englishmen of military antecedents, cutlasses, boat-cloaks: readers requiring more of this sort of thing are referred to Guy Mannering.
14 June 2013

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