THE WEARYFUL WOMAN.

BY JOHN GALT.

[MAGA. May 1821.]

It happened,” said Mr M’Waft, “that there were in the smack many passengers, and among others a talkative gentlewoman of no great capacity, sadly troubled with a weakness of parts about her intellectuals. She was indeed a real weak woman; I think I never met with her like for weakness, just as weak as water. Oh but she was a weak creature as ever the hand of the Lord put the breath of life in, and from morning to night, even between the bockings of the sea-sickness, she was aye speaking; na, for that matter, it’s a God’s truth, that at the dead hour of midnight, when I happened to be wakened by a noise on the decks, I heard her speaking to herself for want of other companions; and yet for all that, she was vastly entertaining, and in her day had seen many a thing that was curious, so that it was no wonder she spoke a great deal, having seen so much; but she had no command of her judgment, so that her mind was always going round and round and pointing to nothing, like a weathercock in a squally day.

“‘Mrs M’Adam,’ quoth I to her one day, ‘I am greatly surprised at your ability in the way of speaking.’ But I was well afflicted for the hypocritical compliment, for she then fastened upon me, and whether it was at meal-time or on the deck, she would come and sit beside me, and talk as if she was trying how many words her tongue could utter without a single grain of sense. I was for a time as civil to her as I could be, but the more civility I showed, the more she talked, and the weather being calm, the vessel made but little way. Such a prospect in a long voyage as I had before me!

“Seeing that my civility had produced such a vexatious effect, I endeavoured to shun the woman, but she singled me out, and even when I pretended to be overwhelmed with the sickness, she would sit beside me, and never cease from talking. If I went below to my bed, she would come down and sit in the cabin, and tell a thousand stories about remedies for the sea-sickness, for her husband had been a doctor, and had a great reputation for skill. ‘He was a worthy man,’ quoth she, ‘and had a world of practice, so that he was seldom at home, and I was obliged to sit by myself for hours in the day, without a living creature to speak to, and obliged to make the iron tongs my companions, by which silence and solitude I fell into low spirits; in the end, however, I broke out of them, and from that day to this, I have enjoyed what the doctor called a cheerful fecundity of words; but when he, in the winter following, was laid up with the gout, he fashed at my spirits, and worked himself into such a state of irritation against my endeavours to entertain him, that the gout took his head, and he went out of the world like a pluff of pouther, leaving me a very disconsolate widow; in which condition, it is not every woman who can demean herself with the discretion that I have done. Thanks be and praise, however, I have not been tempted beyond my strength; for when Mr Pawkie, the seceder minister, came shortly after the interment to catch me with the tear in my e’e, I saw through his exhortations, and I told him upon the spot that he might refrain, for it was my intent to spend the remainder of my days in sorrow and lamentation for my dear deceased husband. Don’t you think, sir, it was a very proper rebuke to the first putting forth of his cloven foot? But I had soon occasion to fear that I might stand in need of a male protector; for what could I, a simple woman, do with the doctor’s bottles and pots, pills and other doses, to say nothing of his brazen pestle and mortar, which of itself was a thing of value, and might be coined, as I was told, into a firlot of farthings; not however that farthings are now much in circulation, the pennies and new bawbees have quite supplanted them, greatly, as I think, to the advantage of the poor folk, who now get the one or the other, where, in former days, they would have been thankful for a farthing; and yet, for all that, there is a visible increase in the number of beggars, a thing which I cannot understand, and far less thankfulness on their part than of old, when alms were given with a scantier hand; but this, no doubt, comes of the spreading wickedness of the times. Don’t you think so, sir? It’s a mystery that I cannot fathom, for there was never a more evident passion for church-building than at present; but I doubt there is great truth in the old saying, “The nearer the kirk, the farther from grace,” which was well exemplified in the case of Provost Pedigree of our town, a decent man in his externals, and he keepit a hardware shop; he was indeed a merchant of “a’ things,” from a needle and a thimble down to a rattle and a spade. Poor man! he ran at last a ram-race, and was taken before the session; but I had always a jealousy of him, for he used to say very comical things to me in the doctor’s lifetime; not that I gave him any encouragement farther than in the way of an innocent joke, for he was a jocose and jocular man, but he never got the better of that exploit with the session, and dwining away, died the year following of a decay, a disease for which my dear deceased husband used to say no satisfactory remedy exists in nature, except gentle laxatives, before it has taken root: but although I have been the wife of a doctor, and spent the best part of my life in the smell of drugs, I cannot say that I approve of them, except in a case of necessity, where, to be sure, they must be taken, if we intend the doctor’s skill to take effect upon us; but many a word me and my dear deceased husband had about my taking of his pills, after my long affliction with the hypochondriacal affection, for I could never swallow them, but always gave them a check between the teeth, and their taste was so odious that I could not help spitting them out. It is indeed a great pity, that the Faculty cannot make their nostrums more palatable, and I used to tell the doctor, when he was making up doses for his patients, that I wondered how he could expect sick folk, unable to swallow savoury food, would ever take his nauseous medicines, which he never could abide to hear, for he had great confidence in many of his prescriptions, especially a bolus of flour of brimstone and treacle for the cold, one of the few of his compounds I could ever take with any pleasure.’

“In this way,” said Mr M’Waft, “did that endless woman rain her words into my ear, till I began to fear that something like a gout would also take my head; at last I fell on a device, and, lying in bed, began to snore with great vehemence, as if I had been sound asleep, by which, for a time, I got rid of her; but being afraid to go on deck lest she should attack me again, I continued in bed, and soon after fell asleep in earnest. How long I had slept I know not, but when I awoke, there was she chattering to the steward, whom she instantly left the moment she saw my eye open, and was at me again. Never was there such a plague invented as that woman; she absolutely worked me into a state of despair, and I fled from her presence as from a serpent; but she would pursue me up and down, back and fore, till everybody aboard was like to die with laughing at us, and all the time she was as serious and polite as any gentlewoman could well be.

“When we got to London, I was terrified she would fasten herself on me there, and therefore, the moment we reached the wharf, I leapt on shore, and ran as fast as I could for shelter to a public-house, till the steward had despatched her in a hackney. Then I breathed at liberty—never was I so sensible of the blessing before, and I made all my acquaintance laugh very heartily at the story; but my trouble was not ended. Two nights after, I went to see a tragedy, and was seated in an excellent place, when I heard her tongue going among a number of ladies and gentlemen that were coming in. I was seized with a horror, and would have fled, but a friend that was with me held me fast; in that same moment she recognised me, and before I could draw my breath, she was at my side, and her tongue rattling in my lug. This was more than I could withstand, so I got up and left the play-house. Shortly after, I was invited to dinner, and among other guests, in came that afflicting woman, for she was a friend of the family. Oh Lord! such an afternoon I suffered—but the worst was yet to happen.

“I went to St James’s to see the drawing-room on the birthday, and among the crowd I fell in with her again, when, to make the matter complete, I found she had been separated from her friends. I am sure they had left her to shift for herself; she took hold of my arm as an old acquaintance, and humanity would not allow me to cast her off; but although I staid till the end of the ceremonies, I saw nothing; I only heard the continual murmur of her words, like the sound of a running river.

“When I got home to my lodging, I was just like a demented man; my head was bizzing like a bee-skep, and I could hear of nothing but the birr of that wearyful woman’s tongue. It was terrible; and I took so ill that night, and felt such a loss of appetite and lack of spirit the next day, that I was advised by a friend to take advice; and accordingly, in the London fashion, I went to a doctor’s door to do so, but just as I put up my hand to the knocker, there within was the wearyful woman in the passage, talking away to the servant-man. The moment I saw her I was seized with a terror, and ran off like one that has been bitten by a wud dog, at the sight and the sound of running water. It is indeed no to be described what I suffered from that woman; and I met her so often, that I began to think she had been ordained to torment me; and the dread of her in consequence so worked upon me, that I grew frightened to leave my lodgings, and I walked the streets only from necessity, and then I was as a man hunted by an evil spirit.

“But the worst of all was to come. I went out to dine with a friend that lives at a town they call Richmond, some six or eight miles from London, and there being a pleasant company, and me no in any terror of the wearyful woman, I sat wi’ them as easy as you please, till the stage-coach was ready to take me back to London. When the stage-coach came to the door, it was empty, and I got in; it was a wet night, and the wind blew strong, but, tozy wi’ what I had gotten, I laid mysel up in a corner, and soon fell fast asleep. I know not how long I had slumbered, but I was awakened by the coach stopping, and presently I heard the din of a tongue coming towards the coach. It was the wearyful woman; and before I had time to come to mysel, the door was opened, and she was in, chatting away at my side, the coach driving off.

“As it was dark, I resolved to say nothing, but to sleep on, and never heed her. But we hadna travelled half a mile, when a gentleman’s carriage going by with lamps, one of them gleamed on my face, and the wearyful woman, with a great shout of gladness, discovered her victim.

“For a time, I verily thought that my soul would have leapt out at the croun of my head like a vapour; and when we got to a turn of the road, where was a public-house, I cried to the coachman for Heaven’s sake to let me out, and out I jumped. But O waes me! that deevil thought I was taken ill, and as I was a stranger, the moment I was out and in the house, out came she likewise, and came talking into the kitchen, into which I had ran, perspiring with vexation.

“At the sight, I ran back to the door, determined to prefer the wet and wind on the outside of the coach to the clatter within. But the coach was off, and far beyond call. I could have had the heart, I verily believe, to have quenched the breath of life in that wearyful woman; for when she found the coach was off without us, her alarm was a perfect frenzy, and she fastened on me worse than ever—I thought my heart would have broken.

“By-and-by came another coach, and we got into it. Fortunately twa young London lads, clerks or siclike, were within. They endured her tongue for a time, but at last they whispered each other, and one of them giving me a nodge or sign, taught me to expect they would try to silence her. Accordingly the other broke suddenly out into an immoderate doff-like laugh that was really awful. The mistress paused for a minute, wondering what it could be at; anon, however, her tongue got under way, and off she went; presently again the younker gave another gaffaw, still more dreadful than the first. His companion, seeing the effect it produced on Madam, said, ‘Don’t be apprehensive; he has only been for some time in a sort of deranged state; he is quite harmless, I can assure you.’ This had the desired effect, and from that moment till I got her safe off in a hackney-coach from where the stage stoppit, there was nae word out of her head; she was as quiet as pussy, and cowered in to me in terrification o’ the madman breaking out. I thought it a souple trick o’ the Londoners. In short,” said Mr M’Waft, “though my adventures with the wearyful woman is a story now to laugh at, it was in its time nothing short of a calamity.”