St Ronan’s Well by Sir Walter Scott

Sir Walter Scott
St Ronan's Well

The book looks to be nicely of its time and very descriptive, which I love, although I see Scott has written some characters' speeches in the Scottish dialect and they often use completely different words for things, which I am anticipating being a little hard to follow but hopefully, as with his other book I read, The Bride of Lammermoor, I will pick it up and get into the flow of it. I am also hopeful, again as with The Bride, that there will be some surprising and quite shocking twists and the realisation that Scott had been slowly and cleverly sowing the seeds for a really intricate bit of plotting. I remember I was very surprised at the strong themes brought into The Bride, not at all the twee happy ending I had presumed it would be, so I am wondering if that will be same with this book. I also love the thought that the Bronte sisters read Scott, and here I am today reading him.

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The book looks to be nicely of its time and very descriptive, which I love, although I see Scott has written some characters’ speeches in the Scottish dialect and they often use completely different words for things, which I am anticipating being a little hard to follow but hopefully, as with his other book I read, The Bride of Lammermoor, I will pick it up and get into the flow of it. I am also hopeful, again as with The Bride, that there will be some surprising and quite shocking twists and the realisation that Scott had been slowly and cleverly sowing the seeds for a really intricate bit of plotting. I remember I was very surprised at the strong themes brought into The Bride, not at all the twee happy ending I had presumed it would be, so I am wondering if that will be same with this book. I also love the thought that the Bronte sisters read Scott, and here I am today reading him. 

St Ronan’s village has become almost deserted due to a new road going around it. A new village and amenities and hotel have then developed around a Well nearby with supposed healing powers, this new village being called St Ronan’s Well and the old village being called St Ronan’s, or ‘Auld Town’. St Ronan’s has a ruined castle but only two other significant properties remain, the church and the inn, neither of which now gain much business. The inn is called The Clachan Inn, also known as the Cleikum Inn, and is run by Meg Dods, a feisty stern and scolding lady who speaks Scottish dialect, she calls the Well a ‘nasty (and) filthy puddle’.  I like the beautiful descriptions of the valley and countryside around. And I chuckled at Meg’s blunt description of the Well as a nasty and filthy puddle.

Francis Tyrrel has come to stay at Meg’s Inn, choosing this place over the hotel by the Well because he remembers it from a previous stay there, Meg at first doesn’t recognise him but when he says his name she then remembers he stayed with her six or seven years ago, and she reflects how changed he is now and that he looks much older than the years which have passed and notes that he now has a sarcastic and cold expression on his face which she doesn’t remember from before. He is a painter but seems low in spirits, often going out for solitary walks. The self-important society residents of St Ronan’s Well are introduced, they gather at The Fox Hotel which they call the Hotel and Tontine Inn at St Ronan’s. They are Lady Penelope Penfeather, Sir Bingo and Lady Binks, Mr Winterblossom, Dr Quackleben, and the priest Mr Chatterly. The local landowners are the ancient family of the Mowbrays, living at Shaws Castle, which include Mr Mowbray and his sister, Miss Clara Mowbray. Clara seems independent of spirit and very aware of how ridiculous these society people are, being politely sarcastic to them. Mowbray is planning a masked ball for the local society residents, this is a rare occurrence and one that causes him great stress with the preparations for this. Tee hee, I chuckled at the fact that Clara is viewed doubtfully by the others because she reads old romances! There is a nice dry humour in Scott’s writing, a slight sarcasm and mocking tone, particularly when pointing out the ridiculousness of the high society characters, mocking them a bit like Austen does, eg, a newcomer to the society at Ronan’s Well consistently pronounces Dr Quackleben’s name incorrectly as Keekerben, Cocklehen, Kittleben, Kickalpin, Kittlepin, and Kickelshin, I jotted them down as the different varieties of his name made me smile. Indeed, I read that Scott admired Austen’s work and that this book was the only one of his Waverley novels set in his present-day and was his attempt at Austen’s high society observational books. 

Tyrrel waits on the path to meet Clara on her way home to Shaws Castle, it seems that Clara and Tyrrel know each other from before, that they were lovers but that a friend of Tyrrel’s separated them, and this friend had some hold over Clara. She seems fearful of this other man still, and she asks Tyrrel if he is still alive and Tyrrel confirms he is and refers to him as ‘the wretch…who poisoned our happiness forever’ and who has the power ‘perhaps to claim you for his own’, though Tyrrel says this man now lives far away and will never visit Scotland again. Clara vows she will destroy herself rather than be forced to marry this man. She talks of sin and folly and disobedience, and mentions how her father and Tyrrel had quarrelled but that her brother was at college at the time so hadn’t met Tyrrel. She says her father is now dead. She speaks of Tyrrel being the more sensible of the two friends, and the other man being more likely to brawl and quarrel. She also questions why Tyrrel has come here again, saying that it can only make both him and her unhappy. He says he came after many years of wandering to revisit the spot where his hopes lay buried. She talks of engagements formed in youth and folly. Tyrrel is saddened by the change in her and that she shows signs of confusion and having lost her mind due to this grief and misery, and he is reluctant to talk further to her and possibly distress her more and make her more unwell. Ooooh, all this is very intriguing, and I am wondering if this other man forced himself on her.

Sir Bingo is talked into challenging Tyrrel to a duel, after an altercation between them which Sir Bingo took to be a slight to his honour. Tyrrel accepts the challenge but fails to turn up at the designated time and place, resulting in the others publishing notices of his cowardice and banning him from The Fox Hotel. However, a concerned Meg goes to her lawyer, Mr Bindloose, saying that Tyrrel has disappeared, that he set off to the duel but didn’t arrive and hasn’t been seen since, that his belongings are still at the Inn and his bill is unpaid, leaving her to conclude that he was murdered on his way to the duel by those that challenged him, as her servant heard shots nearby, although his body hasn’t been found. Meg talks about two English gentlemen who stayed at her Inn about six or seven years ago and got into trouble with the law for shooting on land they shouldn’t and that she had asked Bindloose at that time to extricate them, that they then left Scotland but no longer seemed friends, and that the eldest of the two came back a fortnight ago. Hmmm, so the eldest is Tyrrel, and I’m guessing his friend was the man who upset Clara, and Tyrrel was then no longer his friend after what happened, whatever that was.

The locals are looking forward to the Earl of Etherington, also called Lord Etherington, visiting the area. However, he has been shot in the shoulder by a highwayman on his way to St Ronan’s Well, it seems these were the shots that Meg’s servant heard. Etherington refuses to have a search made for the highwayman who shot him. He recuperates at The Fox Hotel, and Mowbray becomes friendly with him and they gamble together, Mowbray borrowing Clara’s fortune to do so. Mowbray soon gambles away all his money and will face disaster if he loses the next game, but by a slight ungentlemanly blurring of the rules of the game, Mowbray wins and Etherington loses a large sum of money instead. Etherington makes Mowbray feel a little guilty with his win by mentioning the ungentlemanly rule and by saying it was obvious to him that Mowbray had gambled everything and would be destroyed if he lost and that this concern for his friend distracted Etherington’s play, and also that he had something else as well on his mind which also distracted his play, therefore making Mowbray feel less confident in his skill and feeling that his victory was more due to Etherington’s pity and distraction, and that he himself is less of a gentleman because he won by taking advantage of a blurring of the rules. With Mowbray then feeling a little beholden to Etherington’s generosity, Etherington goes on to share what was on his mind which distracted him. He says his family’s property Nettlewood has been left to him by his great-uncle, missing out his father and uncle, but this inheritance is on condition that he marries a Mowbray, particularly a Mowbray of the branch of St Ronan’s Well, and he needs to marry before the age of 25, which is only a month away. This is because his great-uncle had money from trade but always desired to have a great family name, so took his mother’s maiden name of Mowbray and made a tenuous link on his family tree to the Mowbrays of St Ronan’s Well, but his own son, ie Etherington’s uncle, didn’t share this eagerness for a great name and so refused to take the name Mowbray himself and kept his surname Scrogie, therefore Etherington’s great-uncle wrote into his will that the name must be secured by marriage and made it a condition of inheritance that his great-nephew Etherington must do this by marrying a Mowbray. Mowbray queries why Etherington has left it so late before attempting to meet and marry Clara, Etherington explains that he has spent several years employing lawyers to break the will but they couldn’t, and he’s also been recovering from his shooting wound since he arrived at St Ronan’s Well so hasn’t been able to mix in society and meet people. Mowbray suspects something slightly strange about it all, and is uncomfortable with the thought that Etherington perhaps let him win in order to make him feel beholden to him and sympathetic to his story, but he can see no disadvantage to his family and fortunes for Clara to be married to Etherington, and he likes Etherington. He tells Etherington that he gives his blessing for the marriage and will use his influence with Clara to try and encourage her to accept the proposal, but he says it is Clara’s choice and he will not force her. It is agreed that Etherington will come to Mowbray’s masked ball and he will meet Clara, though without Mowbray telling her yet about the proposal. Ooooh, I am feeling that Etherington is a conniving man and engineered the win for Mowbray so he would feel guilty and eager to please, I think there is more to Etherington than meets the eye. And that is quite a convoluted story about the will and the need to marry Clara, is that true, I wonder, or a fabrication? And I’m beginning to also wonder if Etherington is Tyrrel’s ex-friend who upset Clara.

Etherington writes to his friend, Harry Jekyl, recounting his arrival in the area and the scene with Mowbray in a slightly different way, and presumably a more accurate way. He says he wished to avoid being seen in the Old Town on his way to St Ronan’s Well so walked through the woods on his own, while his carriage and servants took the main road, he then came across his cousin Tyrrel who questioned why Etherington had broken his promise to not return to Scotland. He says he in his turn questioned why Tyrrel was here in Scotland and therefore breaking his own promise, and Tyrrel said he’d only come there as he had heard that Etherington was on his way to St Ronan’s. In his letter, Etherington questions Jekyl how Tyrrel could have heard of him coming to the area, given he had only told Jekyl about his plans. Etherington says that Tyrrel then proposed that they both withdraw from St Ronan’s, which Etherington refused to do, and he then challenged Tyrrel to a duel and this was how Etherington was shot and injured, rather than the story of the attempted robbery by a highwayman. He says there was no sign of Tyrrel afterwards so he presumed that Tyrrel was also injured, as he’s since learnt of the duel appointment with Sir Bingo which Tyrrel didn’t attend and that Tyrrel has been missing ever since. He says he presumes Tyrrel wasn’t killed, as no body has been found, but he’s not been able to search the area for Tyrrel due to recovering from his own injury. He says he is therefore keen for Jekyl to come to the area in order to conduct this search himself, and also to help support him if Clara refuses to marry him or if Mowbray turns against him. He also tells Jekyl that there is fun for him in St Ronan’s with the chance to win money gambling with Sir Bingo and the chance to win Sir Bingo’s pretty wife, and that if Jekyl doesn’t come then he himself will take advantage of both these things. He also implies in the letter that there is more to the marriage story than he’s told Mowbray, and refers to his and Jekyl’s plan to tempt Mowbray into gambling by having Jekyl spread the story that Etherington was a keen gambler, before he arrived in the area. Etherington also implies in his letter that Francis Tyrrel is an assumed name of Tyrrel’s. Oooh, a lot of information here. So Etherington really isn’t a nice man at all, he is talking about trying to attract Sir Bingo’s wife at the same time as he’s talking about trying to marry Clara, and confirmation that he did deliberately fool Mowbray with the gambling win. And curious about Tyrrel’s assumed name, but Clara called him Francis Tyrrel and Meg recognises him with this name, so this must be the name he took when he was there before. And Etherington must have gone through the woods as he didn’t want to be recognised in the Old Town by Meg. I wonder if Tyrrel was previously supporting Etherington in his aim to marry Clara and their earlier visit was to try and achieve this but then Tyrrel and Clara fell in love themselves. And surely Clara will tell her brother that she knows Etherington from before and hates him and it is he who has played on her mind and made her unwell ever since. The book is getting really good now, with a nicely complicated plot and hints of dastardly deeds planned and potential confusions and back stories that will be revealed. 

A Mr Touchwood comes to stay at Meg’s Inn, and gets to know the local priest, Josiah Cargill. Touchwood hears a rumour that Clara is due to be married, and he speaks of this to Cargill, who is distressed by this news and eager to speak with Clara. Cargill then speaks to a masked woman at Mowbray’s ball, who he believes to be Clara, to remind her that he knows her secret and she must not go through with this marriage, but it seems it was not Clara he was speaking to. Cargill then sees Etherington and is relieved he is there ‘in time’, he calls Etherington by the name of Valentine Bulmer, which name Etherington denies. Cargill is then confused and doubts himself. Oooh, this is all very mysterious!

Lady Penelope sits next to Cargill later that evening, trying to bring the conversation round to Clara and saying she has Clara’s confidence. Hmmm, so I’m guessing it was Lady Penelope that Cargill mistook for Clara. And I’m wondering now if Clara and Etherington/Bulmer are actually already married. Eeek, this is all deliciously confused and intricate and involved, I love it, Scott is such a great storyteller!

Etherington doesn’t formally meet Clara at the masked ball, he wears his mask when in the same room as her, and then leaves the ball before the dinner when he would have been obliged to remove his mask. He explains this later to Mowbray by saying he didn’t want to have the first meeting with Clara while in company, and suggests he be presented to Clara the following morning. Mowbray agrees and tells Clara the following morning that Etherington admires her and is on his way to propose to her. She is distressed and refuses to meet with him. Mowbray then threatens to withdraw his protection of her as her brother, and says that she could then be committed to a lunatic asylum due to the signs of distress and misery and loss of mind that people have witnessed from her in the past. He also mentions the freedom that their father let her have and that she roamed in the woods more than was proper, and asks if she formed an attachment during that time which now prevents her receiving other proposals. He does however then relent in the face of her horror and distress and her appeals to him, and says he will not force her to marry someone she doesn’t want to, and asks just that she meets with Etherington, adding that she can politely refuse his offer of marriage if she wishes, which Clara agrees to do but states she will definitely refuse his offer. Omg, I was getting a bit alarmed for poor Clara then, thinking her brother was going to force her into marriage, and I had liked Mowbray up to that point, although I remember now he was willing to gamble away Clara’s fortune so I guess he’s not totally a good man, although I have to remember it’s a very different time and women then had no rights and were governed by the men in their life.

Mowbray receives an anonymous letter recommending he check Etherington’s fortune and rank, as he may be in possession of an estate and title to which he has no right. Mowbray runs after the deliverer of the letter but loses him in the woods. Oooh, what can this all mean, can Etherington be even more duplicitous than we already suspect him to be? Scott does do fantastic baddies, so conniving and double-crossing.

In the meantime, Etherington has arrived and is shown into the room where Clara is. She is horrified to see him and says he had promised to keep away, and he says that Tyrrel had also promised to keep away and yet he knows she has seen Tyrrel so she should therefore also see him. He calls himself her ‘Fate’ and says that she must be his wife, he tells her he now has fortune and rank and can give her a good life, although implying there was a time that she would have accepted someone with none of these things, he even promises that she can live in a separate establishment unharassed by him until she can be convinced of his devoted love, and he also says that he is now the friend of her brother, and that he is a much-injured man and that his rights have been unjustly withheld from him. She continues to refuse him, saying she detests his treachery, that he abuses a power most treacherously obtained, and that if the law forces her to marry him then he will only get a corpse. He prepares to leave, saying there is another encounter before him and he must seek out and extinguish the rival who has dared to interfere with his plans. Clara guesses that he is referring to Tyrrel and begs that he will not commit murder, and Etherington states that Tyrrel is safe from him if she agrees to continue to see him as a friend of her brother. She agrees, but says she only submits to his presence as an unavoidable evil to prevent a greater and more desperate evil. He says he will therefore keep the ‘secret’ unless forced to reveal it in self-defence. Oooh, that was an intense scene, lots of passion and anger and challenges of power and references to secrets, phew! And I wonder what the ‘secret’ is.

Etherington meets Mowbray outside and says Clara was surprised and flustered when he was introduced to her, so he will meet with her again before continuing with his marriage proposal. Mowbray shows Etherington the anonymous letter, stating he doesn’t believe its contents but that he knows Etherington won’t mind providing proof of his rank. Etherington agrees to provide proof and says the letter comes from his illegitimate brother, Francis Tyrrel, whose real name is Martigny. Eeek, what does this all mean, so Tyrrel is actually called Martigny?

Etherington goes on to tell Mowbray that Tyrrel is obsessively insane in regards to his own dignity and grandeur, though he says they used to be close to each other and that he prefers to think of Tyrrel as ill rather than as evil. Mowbray believes this claim of Tyrrel’s insanity, having heard that Tyrrel hid from the duel with Sir Bingo. Mowbray asks if it was actually Tyrrel who shot at Etherington, and Etherington says he’s not sure as he hadn’t seen Tyrrel for some time but that he did wonder afterwards if it was him, and says he is keen to find Tyrrel as he also shot back at the man in the woods. Mowbray later wonders at Etherington cooly shooting at, and probably injuring, his half-brother, and wonders just what else Etherington may be capable of. Hmmm, yes indeed, I suspect Etherington is capable of all kinds of dastardly deeds!

Etherington writes again to his friend Jekyl, as Jekyl has asked for more details of the history of the situation. Etherington says his father, Francis Tyrrel, also known as Lord Etherington, had a relationship with an orphan, Marie de Martigny, when younger during his travels in France, and they conceived a child they called Francis Tyrrel. His father then came to England and married rich Ann Bulmer and they conceived Etherington who they named Francis Valentine Bulmer Tyrrel, also known as Lord Oakendale. His father’s relationship with Ann was a fractious one and often during arguments he would mention Marie de Martigny to Ann and hint that they’d actually been married, in order to hurt Ann by hinting she therefore wasn’t actually a duchess and their child was illegitimate, but he always backed down with this hint because it would therefore make him guilty of bigamy. Etherington says he doubts the legitimacy of Tyrrel and refuses to even recognise him as a brother, he even doubts if his father is actually Tyrrel’s father. Hmmm, I’m tempted to think that Tyrrel being named after their father implies that the father did recognise him as his son and also potentially as his legitimate elder son, and being the elder son then Tyrrel would therefore surely then have the right to inherit over Etherington if he could be proved legitimate. I wonder if their father genuinely loved Marie de Martigny and favoured their son of the two boys, particularly as his first-born, but realised he had to marry Ann for money, either for his own choice of lifestyle or under pressure from his parents. And I do like the use of letters to give the back-story.

Etherington continues in his letter to explain that their father had his elder son, Tyrrel, live with them in England, and educated both boys to the same standard, saying to both that they needed to have the knowledge and skills to get on in the world no matter what happens to them, and hinting particularly to Etherington that his current title could be taken away and that Tyrrel could be officially recognised as the first-born son if their father chose to do this. Etherington says he himself was then discovered in an intrigue with a girl, and their father sent him away in disgrace to Edinburgh, accompanied by Tyrrel, and said they were to be educated there and instructed them both to not become entangled in any more intrigues. Etherington says their father also instructed him that he was not to be known there by his title of Lord Oakendale but was to be known by his regular name Valentine Bulmer, as Francis was known by his name of Francis Tyrrel, and also that they would be known there as cousins rather than as brothers. Etherington admits he was jealous that Tyrrel took their father’s name of Tyrrel, instead of his mother’s name of Martigny, whereas he himself was punished by being known by his mother’s name of Bulmer, but when he questioned their father on why he couldn’t be known as Tyrrel and Francis be known as Martigny, their father got angry and threatened that he could be made to keep the name Bulmer all his life. They gained permission from their father for a shooting holiday and chose to go to St Ronan’s. They wrote to their father to inform him of where they were staying, but his reply to them was delayed due to going to the wrong address. Etherington said he himself enjoyed the shooting, but that Tyrrel didn’t and preferred walking in the woods, that Tyrrel met 16 year old Clara walking in the woods, she had a lot of freedom to roam the countryside with her cousin, Hannah Irwin, due to Clara’s father being an invalid and her brother being away at college. Tyrrel then rescued Clara from a potential attack by a local man and they fell in love, but Clara’s father heard rumours of this relationship and banned Tyrrel from the house, as he didn’t approve of an English student being the admirer of his daughter, and he then accused Tyrrel of illegally hunting on his land in order to drive him from the area. Tyrrel and Clara plotted to marry secretly, and Tyrrel asked Etherington for help with this. Etherington said he then often carried messages between the two, and due to his closeness with Clara began to fall in love with her himself but resisted trying to woo her as he knew their father would disapprove of this intrigue, and he was also pleased to contemplate how Tyrrel would be punished by their father for his secret marriage to Clara and how he himself would then be the favoured son. Etherington said he appealed to Cargill to marry Tyrrel and Clara secretly, alleging that Clara had already slept with Tyrrel so they had to be married, and that Cargill agreed on this basis, although reluctantly. Etherington says that their father’s letter eventually reached him and in it their father expressed his surprise at their choosing St Ronan’s as a location and urged them to try to cultivate the acquaintance of old Mr Mowbray and to reveal their proper names to him due to the condition in the will that his eldest son must marry a Mowbray in order to gain the fine estate of Nettlewood. Etherington says he then realised that, as the eldest son, though supposedly illegitimate, Tyrrel was about to do this very thing and therefore instead of being punished by their father would actually probably be praised by him for bringing the Nettlewood estate to the family, and would probably also then be rewarded by their father by him officially recognising him as the eldest son and giving him the title. Etherington says he couldn’t see any way that he could break off Tyrrel and Clara’s relationship and convince her to accept him as her suitor instead, so he decided to tell Cargill that he was actually the man in a relationship with Clara and having to marry her, he knew that he and Tyrrel looked similar so hoped that in the dark gloom of the church Clara wouldn’t realise it was him and not Tyrrel who stood beside her at the altar. He says it all occurred as he had hoped and Clara said her wedding vows and married him thinking he was Tyrrel. He said he hoped that his close relationship with Clara would ultimately convince her to love him, once married. Omg, omg, omg! Wow, Scott is such an amazing storyteller, I am constantly amazed at the twists and plots he comes up with, I always have in my head that he is a wonderful writer but then I read one of his stories and am amazed all over again!

Etherington continues in his letter, saying that Tyrrel had somehow discovered Etherington’s plot to deviously marry Clara himself, though he found out too late to stop the wedding. Tyrrel intercepted their carriage coming away from the church, they began to duel but Etherington fell and the wheels of the carriage went over him and he was unconscious and severely injured. Etherington says he awoke on a sick-bed to find out that Tyrrel had sent Clara home, that she had disowned the marriage with Etherington and stated she detested him, and was ill with the mental turmoil of it all. Etherington says that Tyrrel suggested to him that for the good of Clara they should both never see her again or see each other again, that Tyrrel also pointed out how angry their father would be if he learned of what Etherington had done, and how Clara’s father would probably bring the law onto Etherington and revenge himself on him, Tyrrel also told Etherington that it was doubtful if the marriage to Clara was actually legal as she was fooled into marrying the wrong person. Etherington says he agreed but demanded of Tyrrel that he told their father that the breach in their brotherly relationship was his doing rather than Etherington’s doing, which Tyrrel agreed to do, due to his wish for peace and for the whole episode to be ended and to ensure that Etherington agreed to keep away from Clara. Etherington says that their father was angry at Tyrrel when he was told this and so made Etherington his sole heir when he died. Omg, my head is spinning a little with this. So Etherington is actually married to Clara but can’t announce this and gain the estate as he did it sneakily, and also isn’t sure he is actually legally married to her hence why he is trying now to convince her to marry him properly, no doubt hoping she will be tempted to do so in order to avoid the slur on her name if Etherington reveals she was actually secretly married to him, and also for the reason that she can marry no-one else while potentially married to him. Phew!

Jekyl has asked in his letter why Etherington is running the risk to himself of bringing all this up. Etherington explains that he heard a rumour that Tyrrel was challenging his title and possession of the Oakendale property, so he hopes that by threatening the happiness of Clara, he can then bargain with Tyrrel to give up his challenge against Etherington’s title and property in exchange for Etherington giving up his pursuit of Clara. Etherington adds that he also wants the Nettlewood property which he feels he is entitled to by being married to Clara, as well as keeping the Oakendale property which Tyrrel is challenging, and if he does gain Nettlewood and Clara he also hopes that Tyrrel then will be so distraught and broken-hearted that he will disappear and no longer bother or challenge Etherington in the future. Etherington also mentions to Jekyl that he fears someone is spying on him as he says there was a rumour sent round about him and Clara marrying before he had even spoken to Mowbray about it. Hmmm, this was Touchwood, wasn’t it, didn’t he mention to Meg and Cargill about Clara marrying? So does he possibly know Etherington from before? And omg, Etherington really is a nasty piece of work! 

Jekyl replies to Etherington’s letter, saying he will come and help Etherington, and he also suggests that he be the one to deal further with Tyrrel, thereby saving Etherington risking getting into further trouble by losing his temper with Tyrrel and possibly being violent towards him. Hmmm, Jekyl seems more sensible than Etherington, I am hoping he may perhaps dissuade Etherington from his plans.

Touchwood improves the chaos at Cargill’s neglected house, and also in the town, spending money to improve facilities and tidy things. He falls into a stream walking home from Cargill’s house late at night, however, and is rescued by Tyrrel who helps him back to the Inn. Meg and her staff are firstly frightened to see Tyrrel, believing he is a ghost. Meg is then angry at Tyrrel for not letting her know that he was safe after she feared he had been murdered, and she tells him that his name has been blackened by not turning up to the duel. Tyrrel explains that he was injured and had recovered in the next town, and that he has partly come back in order to clear his name. Tyrrel and Touchwood then realise that they know one another, as Touchwood lent money to Tyrrel when they met in Smyrna after he had been cheated by an agent. Tyrrel is keen to take the chance to pay back the money to Touchwood, while Touchwood is keen to learn more about Tyrrel’s situation, remembering he had talked in Smyrna of a lawsuit. Touchwood tells Tyrrel that he believes he could help him better than a lawyer could, with him being a man of the world with age and experience and a keenness to help, but Tyrrel says his affairs involve the secrets of others which means he cannot share the details, and he is keen to put off further offers of help from Touchwood. Hmmm, I wonder how crucial a character Touchwood is going to be. And he seems well-meaning, I hope that is genuinely the case as I feel Tyrrel needs someone on his side.

Jekyl arrives in the area. He speaks to Tyrrel and tells him he has cleared his name at The Fox Inn regarding the duel, which Tyrrel is grateful for. Jekyl also confirms that Etherington acknowledges that Tyrrel was not to blame for him being shot, and that Etherington regrets his impulsivity and aims to avoid being so impulsive in the future. Jekyl questions why Tyrrel is challenging Etherington’s title and property, Tyrrel answers that he has proof that he himself is legitimate, that this proof was left to him by their father when he died and includes their father’s marriage certificate to Marie de Martigny and Tyrrel’s birth certificate, as well as letters between their father and his mother, and a signed declaration regarding this from their father. Tyrrel also says he has sent copies of these to Etherington. This annoys Jekyl, as he realises that Etherington hasn’t been strictly truthful with him as he hadn’t mentioned these proofs. Jekyl says Etherington is pursuing a ‘second’ marriage to Clara because he wants to protect her name and honour, as there is a signed marriage certificate proving the marriage took place between them of her own free consent so she would have to admit this if brought to court. Jekyl also tells Tyrrel that Etherington is potentially going to claim that he and Clara were secretly in a relationship behind Tyrrel’s back and that Clara did actually want to marry Etherington but then felt ashamed when Tyrrel discovered them so she lied to Tyrrel about what had happened, and Jekyl says that Clara would struggle to disprove this claim by Etherington and he suspects a jury wouldn’t believe her version of events. Jekyl says that Clara’s brother consents to the marriage to Etherington, and Clara has given permission for Ethertington to visit the house, and Jekyl believes Clara has consented to Etherington’s visits because of her wish to prevent exposure of the past. He also says that Etherington would probably be happy to agree with Clara that they live separate lives once married, so Etherington then gets the large Nettlewood estate he wants and Clara is protected from exposure. Jekyl urges Tyrrel to accept that this is thought by Etherington to be fair to him, and also in Clara’s best interests. Tyrrel says he cannot trust Etherington to adhere to an agreement such as keeping separate from Clara if he married her, and Tyrrel then suggests that if Etherington’s main motive for marrying Clara is to gain a large estate then he will stop with his lawsuit and leave Etherington in possession of his title and fortune and the estate of Oakendale, on his agreeing to no longer molest and disturb Clara and to abandon his plan to marry her. Tyrrel is torn with this though, as he is eager to clear his mother’s name and this would go against the commands of his father. Tyrrel also points out to Jekyl that Clara’s cousin, Hannah Irwin, was present at the wedding and could testify to the circumstances of it, and could testify to Tyrrel and Clara’s relationship and intention to marry, although he acknowledges that no-one seems to know where Hannah currently is. Tyrrel also says he is keen to save Clara any distress, he says he has no hopes now of marrying Clara himself but that he knows that he has been the cause of all the evil she sustained by persuading her to secretly marry him in the first place so he feels he needs to protect her from the misery and guilt of becoming Etherington’s wife, he cannot believe she would wish to marry Etherington but he knows her mind is fragile and she could perhaps be played upon by Etherington with threats of exposure and be made to agree to it, or it would cause her to commit suicide. Tyrrel says that if Etherington agrees to keep his title and the Oakdendale estate and leave Clara alone, then he himself will then leave Britain rather than be any more cause of further evil to Clara. Jekyl says he will go back to Etherington with Tyrrel’s suggestion, but asks that Tyrrel bring the proofs of his title and legitimacy out of safekeeping at his bank to show him first, and he will then advise Etherington to resign his matrimonial plans. Tyrrel later muses alone with a picture of Clara, and determines it is worthwhile sacrificing rank and station and fortune and fame and revenge to his mortal enemy, in order to gain her tranquillity. Wow, it’s so intense and involved, Scott really does come up with a good plot. When I read Scott’s books, it makes me think his are the only books I want to read, they just give the reader so much. And Tyrrel and Etherington are such contrasting figures, Tyrrel willing to sacrifice his rights and his love for Clara and his hopes of marrying her, all for her benefit, and Etherington determined to fraudulently get what he wants no matter who he hurts in the process. It’s interesting to consider how they could be so different in character when they have been brought up by the same father and educated in the same way, I wonder if Scott believed that some people are just born bad, or maybe it was their father breeding jealousy in Etherington by making him feel that he wasn’t the favoured son and it is this which has sent him on his path of wrong. And I’m a bit nervous about Tyrrel agreeing to take the proofs out of the bank to show Jekyl, I really hope Jekyl’s plan isn’t to try and destroy them.

Touchwood catches up to Jekyl on his walk back to the Well and hints heavily to him that he knows about Etherington’s family history of the great-uncle being keen to gain the name of Mowbray and his son refusing to adopt it, of Etherington’s father marrying a Frenchwoman in secret then an English woman in public, and that the present Mowbray is foolish to want his sister to marry Etherington and Etherington is foolish to want her. Hmmm, what is Touchwood playing at here? He seems to know an awful lot, how does he know it?

Jekyl updates Etherington on his meeting with Tyrrel, he urges him to accept Tyrrel’s proposal that he keep the title and estate of Oakendale but gives up Clara, and also advises him that he believes Tyrrel has a good case proving the title and estate are rightfully his, and says Tyrrel told him that Etherington had seen these proofs. Etherington says he isn’t interested in Tyrrel’s offer, he doesn’t believe in these proofs, he states he has not seen them though vaguely recalls his agent saying something about copies of papers but the originals never appeared. He also says he wishes to continue with his plan to marry Clara in order to spite her for trying to oppose him and for being obviously resistant to him infront of her brother when he visited her at Shaws Castle and dressing in unattractive clothing and refusing to speak to him, as well as wanting the fortune that comes with Nettlewood. Omg, he just gets nastier and nastier, he is just vindictive and wanting to use this opportunity to punish Clara! I think Tyrrel is right not to trust him.

Etherington goes to the Post Office over the next few days and finally sees a package on the shelf addressed to Francis Tyrrel, he guesses this is from Tyrrel’s bank and contains the proofs. Etherington debates risking stealing the package himself, when the Post Mistress is distracted, but instead pays his valet, Solmes, to intercept it. Etherington opens Tyrrel’s parcel that Solmes has brought him but finds it contains only copies of the originals. He reflects on the likelihood of losing his title and fortune and on the little money he would then have, and determines to arrange the marriage to Clara swiftly in order to gain Nettlewood while still a Lord, and of triumphing over Tyrrel and causing him lifelong unhappiness. He sends Solmes back to the Post Office with the parcel saying it had been given to him in error. Omg, I was really worried then that Etherington was going to destroy Tyrrel’s proof and this would then leave Tyrrel with nothing, thank goodness the parcel only contained copies rather than the originals.

Hannah Irwin is secretly in the area under an assumed name, but is dying and in poverty. On her deathbed she asks to speak to Mowbray in order to repent of something she has done. Lady Penelope and Etherington are also present when she is dying, Lady Penelope through her acts of charity and the hope of gossip, and Etherington through being a Justice of the Peace and wondering if this is anything to do with Clara. Hannah mentions Clara’s name and talks of tempting her into ruin, as she herself has been ruined, but she then faints without saying anything further. Etherington tries to convince Lady Penelope not to share this gossip or to shun Clara, at first trying to dissuade her of it being Clara Mowbray who Hannah was referring to and then suggesting it could be a secret marriage rather than ruin, but Lady Penelope tells him what she had gleaned of Cargill’s determination to prevent a future marriage of Clara’s and her certainty that Clara has been ruined. She is persuaded to hold her tongue, however, by Etherington’s reminder that Mowbray could sue her for slander. Etherington asks Solmes to deal with Hannah Irwin again, it appears that Solmes had previously arranged for Hannah to go to the West Indies with a friend of his with money supplied by Etherington, and both he and Etherington are surprised at her return to the area. Solmes promises to get her out of the country within 24 hours and to a place she will never think of returning from. Omg, I am just permanently on edge reading this! There’s just tension and intrigue in every chapter, and I’m just reminded again and again of what a wonderful writer Scott is. Etherington’s sneakiness and deviousness just gets worse and worse, he has no qualms about hurting anyone in order to get what he wants. I am fearful that Tyrrel will not be able to defeat him. 

Etherington invites Mowbray to dinner and gambles with him causing him to lose heavily to the point of ruin. In frustration, Mowbray starts demanding answers from Etherington about his intentions towards his sister, after he has been seen frequently flirting with Lady Binks. Etherington says the delay is due to Clara not receiving his addresses in a positive way, so Mowbray promises he will have Clara’s agreement within 24 hours. At that evening’s gathering, Mowbray becomes aware that Lady Penelope is gossiping about his family, he demands to know from her maid what has been said and learns it is about his sister being ruined. He races off to Shaws Castle in a passion and angrily speaks to Clara, telling her they are now facing poverty as all their money is gone and that she has destroyed any chances of their salvation by letting herself be ruined, and he says her marrying Etherington before word gets out about her ruin is the only way to save them. She refuses to do this, saying she’d rather face poverty. Mowbray then strikes her and is close to killing her, then close to killing himself, so in desperation to calm him she agrees to marry Etherington. Mowbray then promises that he will do his best to protect her from any hurt from Etherington, saying that she has earned a brother’s protection through agreeing to do this as he will be her brother again now she has agreed to marry Etherington. He says he hates Etherington and takes pleasure in getting one over on him knowing he is getting a ruined woman for a bride. He also says that now Clara has submitted to marrying Etherington, he himself will not demand any more answers from her about her possible guilt and ruin. Phew, I don’t think I breathed through that passage with Mowbray’s anger and violence! And I am despairing now that Clara will have no choice but to marry evil Etherington, omg, this just gets more and more dramatic and tense!

Touchwood then arrives at Shaws Castle, to Mowbray’s surprise. He says his name is Peregrine Scrogie Touchwood and he is the son of the man who wished to become a gentleman and adopt the name of Mowbray. Omg, sooooo many twists! Scott just doesn’t let the reader relax for a moment! And so this makes Touchwood Etherington’s uncle, doesn’t it?

Touchwood tells Mowbray that he had refused to continue with his father’s aim of adopting the name Mowbray and was therefore disinherited, he then worked hard in business and made money running a bank and has travelled extensively, and he met Tyrrel on his travels and learnt of his and Etherington’s history. Touchwood tells Mowbray that Etherington is actually the illegitimate son and will shortly be stripped of his title and estate due to the proofs their father left regarding this, and that Etherington is also a scoundrel and Clara should not marry him. Mowbray says it has now gone too far and Clara is now promised to Etherington and he owes lots of money to Etherington. Touchwood says he will lend Mowbray the money to pay back Etherington. Mowbray then mentions the gossip about Clara that Lady Penelope has broadcast, and says that Clara needs to marry in order to protect her from this scandal. Touchwood scorns the gossip of Lady Penelope, and goes on to tell Mowbray that Clara did actually secretly marry Etherington because she thought at the time that he was Tyrrel, he says that Cargill only performed this marriage as he had been told it would save Clara’s reputation and it is this false gossip that has currently been revived by Lady Penelope. Touchwood explains how Etherington first aided Tyrrel and Clara in their secret courtship and marriage plans as he had hoped it would create a breach between their father and Tyrrel, and then altered his plans when he learnt about their father’s hopes of marriage to Clara to gain the Nettlewood estate and then substituted himself as the groom. Touchwood says he can produce evidence for all this, as Etherington’s valet Solmes is in his power, as Solmes once tried to present a forged cheque at Touchwood’s bank apparently signed by Etherington’s father, as Solmes had felt he hadn’t been sufficiently rewarded for his service on his death, this forgery was detected and Touchwood saved Solmes from prison on condition that he give him all the details of what Etherington had done, and it was in this way that he learnt of Etherington’s plan to come again to St Ronan’s and he therefore anonymously hinted this fact to Tyrrel to ensure he also went to St Ronan’s. Touchwood also says he eavesdropped on Jekyl’s conversation with Tyrrel which had been engineered by Etherington, so was able to sufficiently hint to Jekyl of Etherington’s duplicity and therefore ensure that Jekyl would no longer do Etherington’s bidding and so ensure that Etherington could only then rely on Solmes, who was in Touchwood’s power. He adds that Solmes has taken Hannah to Cargill’s house, on Touchwood’s instructions. Touchwood promises to help the Mowbrays out of their current difficulties, providing Mowbray promises not to duel with Etherington as this would be playing into Etherington’s hands and giving him just what he wants. Omg, omg, omg, I can barely keep up with the twists and turns in this book! I know I keep heaping praise on him but I honestly think Scott must be the best storywriter ever. I never had a hint who Touchwood was and how he had acted behind the scenes to expose Etherington, and actually had Solmes in his power. Solmes and Etherington seem to deserve each other! But I am relieved that Hannah is safe. However, I have a dreadful fear that while this discussion is going on, and freedom from marriage is shortly to be granted to Clara, she could have committed suicide while she’s been left alone, I do hope not, I just fear that Scott won’t let Clara have a happy and safe ending. 

Mowbray says that although he is extremely grateful to Touchwood for enlightening him and for his help, he wishes he had spoken earlier and saved him and Clara weeks of misery and stress. Touchwood said he is more aware than Mowbray, due to his experience of travelling and living in the world, that art and dexterity and patience is needed in order to gain information and form plans. Touchwood also says he hopes to help and guide Mowbray in life, as he feels that Mowbray has been spoiled by staying at home and from keeping bad company, he says that this is the reason why he is telling all this to Mowbray rather than to Tyrrel, as he offered to help and guide Tyrrel in life but that Tyrrel hesitated to accept the help and thought he could do things better on his own, though Touchwood says he will still help Tyrrel when he has had enough time to realise he needs help and guidance. Mowbray agrees to accept Touchwood’s help and guidance. Tee hee, I bet he does, who wouldn’t really?! Touchwood is a very determined and powerful man, luckily on the side of right rather than of wrong.

Hannah Irwin confesses on her deathbed to Cargill that Etherington took her fortune and married her to a friend of his who abused her, and that Etherington and his friend had earlier convinced her to help Etherington secretly marry Clara. Hannah says she bitterly regretted her part in this so was determined to reach St Ronan’s in order to confess to Mowbray and to try and save Clara from Etherington, as she had heard of his later plan. However, she said when she eventually reached St Ronan’s, she was too ill and ashamed to do all this. Oh dear, I can feel sorry for Hannah with her efforts to try and put things right and to admit her mistakes, and she has been conned and abused too.

Mowbray finds that Clara has run away in the night before he can tell her what Touchwood has revealed and offers to do for them. In a delirious state and exhausted from her nightly walk through the rain and from the terror she has gone through with her brother, she sees the light in Cargill’s house and enters and hears Hannah’s confession. Clara then tells Hannah that she forgives her, and Hannah then dies. Clara goes back out into the night and goes to Tyrrel, telling him to run away with her as her brother is coming to kill them. She then has a fit and dies later that night, although the doctor says even if she had survived she would have lost her reason completely. Oh noooo! I feared Scott wouldn’t let Clara have a happy ending, I feel so sad about this.

Tyrrel is distraught at the death of Clara, and heads out to kill Etherington. Touchwood then arrives saying that Mowbray has already killed Etherington, having met him in the woods during his search for Clara, that Mowbray accused Etherington of being an imposter and called him by the name Valentine Bulmer instead of Earl of Etherington, which resulted in Etherington challenging Mowbray to a duel, and Etherington was then shot through the heart and died instantly. Omg, such drama! So Etherington has been found out and disgraced, and then killed as well. I guess that is just desserts for such a baddie, it is hard to imagine he could have ever repented or come good. 

Mowbray goes abroad to fight in the Peninsula War, in order to avoid imprisonment for killing Etherington, and when he later came back he lived soberly and thriftily and demolished the hotel at St Ronan’s Well which was on his land. Tyrrel joined a monastery and never claimed the title and estates of Etherington. Oh, so there was no happy ending for anyone really, everyone is either dead or unhappy. Scott increasingly reminds me of Thomas Hardy with his determination not to give the reader a happy ending! Well, I thoroughly thoroughly enjoyed all the drama of that book and the intensity and plotting and intricacy and twists of it all, I am full of admiration for the wonderful storyteller Scott was and his ability to keep the reader on the edge of their seat and unable to breathe. I just wish he could have given us a little bit of a happy ending.

I read that Scott’s original intention with the story was that Etherington had seduced Hannah and then abandoned her in preference for Clara, so Hannah decided in bitterness and jealousy to encourage Clara’s seduction by Tyrrel in order to spite Etherington by having him unknowingly marry a ruined woman, so Hannah therefore frequently brought Clara and Tyrrel together allowing them to be tempted to sleep together which they eventually did. However Scott was persuaded by his publisher to take out Clara’s seduction and ruin, but the original story’s hints of Clara’s guilt are still obvious in the scene with her brother when he accuses her of being ruined, and also with Clara’s talk of sin and folly in her early scene with Tyrrel, and this also perhaps accounts for her madness and low spirits throughout the novel. I also read that St Ronan’s is thought to be the town of Innerleithen.

There were so many beautiful passages and descriptions in the book which I couldn’t help jotting down:

‘This is a sort of scenery peculiar to these countries, which abound, like Scotland, in hills and in streams, and where the traveller is ever and anon discovering in some intricate and unexpected recess a simple and silvan beauty, which pleases him the more that it seems to be peculiarly his own property as the first discoverer’.
‘The site was singularly picturesque, as the straggling street of the village ran up a very steep hill, on the side of which were clustered, as it were, upon little terraces, the cottages which composed the place, seeming, as in the Swiss towns on the Alps, to rise above each other towards the ruins of an old castle’.
‘The decayed village, the houses of which, to a fanciful imagination, might seem as if they had been suddenly arrested in hurrying down the precipitous hill, and fixed as if by magic in the whimsical arrangement in which they now presented’.
‘While quantities of dock and nettles and hemlock, hiding in the ruined walls, were busily converting the whole scene of desolation into a picturesque forest-bank’.
‘The fair company began to collect around at hearing the word ‘dear’ so often repeated in the same brief dialogue, which induced them to expect sport, and, like the vulgar on a similar occasion, to form a ring for the expected combatants’.
‘He assumed the air of a man who was about to make good his passage. But Meg, without deigning further reply, flourished around her head the hearth-broom, which she had been employing to its more legitimate purpose, when disturbed in her housewifery by Captain MacTurk…in explicit token of her peaceable intentions, she again flourished her broom’.
‘Wheels were laid aside, needles left sticking in the half-finished seams, and many a nose, spectacled and unspectacled, was popped out of the adjoining windows’.
‘Meg was a person of all others most averse to leave her home, where, in her opinion at least, nothing went on well without her immediate superintendence. Limited, therefore, as was her sphere, she remained fixed in the centre thereof, and few as were her satellites, they were under the necessity of performing their revolutions around her, whilst she herself continued stationary”.
‘The knowledge which is unimparted, is necessarily a barren talent, and is lost to society, like the miser’s concealed hoard, by the death of the proprietor’.
‘From the same absence of mind which…when preaching before a party of criminals condemned to death, to break off by promising the wretches, who were to suffer next morning “the rest of the discourse at the first proper opportunity”.’
Etherington ‘feeling somewhat perhaps like that of the spider when he perceives his deceitful web is threatened with injury, and sits balanced in the centre, watching every point, and uncertain which he may be called upon first to defend. Such is one part, and not the slightest part, of the penance which never fails to wait on those who, abandoning the ‘fair play of the world’, endeavour to work out their purposes by a process of deception and intrigue’.
‘The leaves of the ash trees detached themselves from the branches and, without an air of wind, fell spontaneously on the path’.
‘The robin redbreast was chirping his best, to atone for the absence of all other choristers’.
‘The fine foliage of autumn was seen in many a glade, running up the sides of each ravine, russet-hued and golden-specked’.
‘The mists still laid lazily upon the heights, and the huge old tower of St Ronan’s was entirely shrouded with vapour, except where a sunbeam, struggling with the mist, penetrated into its wreath so far as to show a projecting turret upon one of the angles of the old fortress’.
‘Here and there a huge old fir, the native growth of the soil, flung his broad shadow over the rest of the trees, and seemed to exult in the permanence of his dusky livery over the more showy but transitory brilliance by which he was surrounded’.
‘Lord Etherington’s delight in the exercise of charity, kindness, and generosity was not so exuberant as to prevent his devising some means for evading Lady Penelope’s request’.

It’s all just such wonderful writing! And now I am tempted to immediately go and seek out another Scott book to read, he is just so brilliant. I have Ivanhoe and Rob Roy and The Monastery on my shelves waiting to be read so I will dive straight into one of those. I’m also reminded again how wonderful The Bride of Lammermoor was, so am tempted to re-read that. And with this book being Scott’s attempt to write a high society book in the style of Austen, I am reminded how wonderful her books are and that it is high time I re-read some of hers, Persuasion and Pride & Prejudice being my favourites.

St Ronan’s Well by Sir Walter Scott available on Amazon
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