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ter, and eight shillings sterling yearly, is not too much ?”
Mr Mertoun agreed to terms so moderate, and from thenceforward resided chiefly at the solitary mansion which we have described in the beginning of this chapter, conforming not only without complaint, but, as it seemed, with a sullen pleasure, to all the privations which so wild and desolate a situation necessarily imposed on its inhabitant.
. 'Tis not alone the scene the man, Anselmo,
The few inhabitants of the township of Jarlshof had at first heard with alarm that a person of rank superior to their own, was come to reside in the ruinous tenement which they still called the castle. In those days, (for the present times are greatly altered for the better, the presence of a superior, in such a situation, was almost certain to be attended with additional burthens and exactions, for which, under one pretext or another, feudal customs furnished a thousand apologies. By each of these, a part of the tenants' hard won and precarious profits was diverted for the use of their powerful neighbour and superior, the tacksman as he was called. But the sub-tenants speedily found that no oppression of this kind was to be apprehended at the hands of Basil Mertoun. His own means, whether large or small, were at least fully adequate to his expenses, which, so far as regarded his habits of life, were of the most frugal description. The luxuries of a few books, and some philosophical instruments, with which he was supplied from London as occasion offered, seemed to indicate a degree of wealth unusual in these islands; but, on the other hand, the table and the accommodations at Jarlshof did not exceed what was maintained by a Zetland proprietor of the most inferior description.
The tenants of the hamlet troubled themselves very little about the quality of their superior, as soon as they found that their situation was rather to be mended than rendered worse by his
presence; and once relieved from the apprehension of his tyrannizing over them, they laid their heads together to make the most of him by various petty tricks of overcharge and extortion, which for a while the stranger submitted to with the most philosophic indifference. An incident, however, occurred, which put his character in a new light, and effectually checked all future efforts at extravagant imposition.
A dispute arose in the kitchen of the Castle betwixt an old governante, who acted as housekeeper to Mr Mertoun, and Sweyn Erickson, as good a Zetlander as ever rowed a boat to the haaf fishing *: which dispute, as is usual in such cases, was maintained with such increasing heat and vociferation as to reach the ears of the master, (as he was called,) who, secluded in a solitary turret, was deeply employed in examining the contents of a new package of books from London, which, after long expectation, had found its way to Hull, from thence by a whaling vessel to Lerwick, and so to Jarlshof. With more than the usual thrill of indignation which indolent people always feel when roused into action on some unpleasant occasion, Mertoun descended to the scene of contest, and so suddenly, peremptorily, and strictly inquired into the cause of dispute, that the parties, notwithstanding every evasion
* i. e. The deep-sea fishing, in distinction to that which is practised along shore.
which they attempted, became unable to disguise from him that their difference respected the several interests to which the honest governante, and no less honest fisherman, were respectively entitled, in an overcharge of about one hundred per cent. on a bargain of rockcod, purchased by the former from the latter, for the use of the family at Jarlshof.
When this was fairly ascertained and confessed, Mr Mertoun stood looking upon the culprits with eyes in which the utmost scorn seemed to contend with awakening passion. “ Hark you, ye old hag,” said he at length to the housekeeper,
“ avoid my house this instant; and know that I disiniss you, not for being a liar, a thief, and an ungrateful quean, for these are qualities as proper to you as your náme of woman, but for daring, in my house, to scold above your breath. And for you, you rascal, who suppose you may cheat a stranger as you would flinch* a whale, know that I am well acquainted with the rights which, by
* The operation of slicing the blubber from the bones of the whale, is called, technically, flinching,