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Scotch Stories and Lectures, Humorous and Amusing
Story — Looking for a House

It was just the other morning That I met Mrs. Mack,

“Good-dav,” qnoth I; “Good-day,” quoth she,

And thus began her crack.

“I was telling you the last time I saw you that I was thinking to remove; but I have given up the idea entirely; for although I trailed about for several days, looking for a house, I could not see a place the least like the thing. Oh, woman, if you saw the miserable holes of “rooms and kitchens” that they were seeking seven pounds for—just perfect cages, with generally nothing to look out to but a dirty back court! They must have awful consciences that can seek such ransoms for such places; but they are not so much to be wondered at as those that give it to them. For my part, I will sit still where I am; and although I had a great deal of trouble, and came little speed, I do not in the least regret looking for a house, for I am sure I got more diversion on my tour than ever I did in the playhouse all my days; and I have been in it as often as the most of people. I declare, woman, it is worth anybody’s while, whether they are wanting a house or not, just to take a tour through among the houses to let, for the knowledge it gives one of the ‘manners and customs.' Our minister speaks of the ‘manners and customs of the Jews,’ the Ancients, and the Orientals; but I am sure the customs of the Glasgow wives beat all the Jews or Orientals that ever were, or ever will be,

“I set out shortly after ten o’clock, and the first house that I called at was one presently occupied by one Meiklewham, a moulder. You see, I happened to have a slight acquaintance with Mrs. Meiklewham before she was Mrs. Meikle-wham, and a dandy lass she was. Nay, she was the perfect brag of the front street : never went out but she was dressed in the extreme fashion, her waist drawn like a wasp’s; and she wore a bustle that, without a word of a lie, might have done for a cradle pillow; and she was a wonderfully taken out lass, to all kinds of balls, soirees, and all that kind of nonsense; and I’ll warrant, when the moulder got her, he thought he had a great prize;—but I wish him luck of his bargain. When I went up the stair, of course I knocked at the door, and was bidden come in. When I opened the door, there was Mrs. Meiklewham, and a pretty like dear she was! She was sitting right before the fire on what had once been a beautiful stuff-bottomed chair—but it had got disgraceful usage—and she was just as black as a sweep. You see, she had a cap on her head that, I am sure, would clear her at the bar any day, if she happened to be summoned by the Glasgow Water Company. She was busy making ready what I took to be about half a pound of ham, and I could not say how many eggs. It seems this was all for her own cheek, for there was a very nice child—although you could not have told the colour of its skin—sitting on the floor playing itself with the bowl that his father—decent man!— had got his porridge out of;—not that I would take notice of what I saw in anybody’s house, only a person cannot shut their eyes. Mrs. Meiklewham’s house would never do for me; not that it was a bad house—far from that—but I am sure it would take the bulk of an ordinary rent to clean it; so I bade her good day.

“ I could not help thinking, as I came down the stair, what a useless wife the dandy lass had turned out. Now, you see, they miscall mill-lasses, servant-lasses, warehouse-lasses, and dressmakers; but you see she was neither a mill-lass, a servant-lass, a warehouse-lass, nor a dressmaker, but just a decent man*s daughter that was kept at home doing nothing.

“Mrs. Meiklewham told me of an aunt of hers that was thinking to remove-—a Mrs. Macintyre—so, out of perfect curiosity, I thought I would take a peep at Mrs. Macintyre’s house. Mrs. Macintyre is a woman that has no family;— I am sure she is well off, if she thought it—and yet I do not know. Our John sometimes says, when the children are requiring various things involving the disbursement of cash, there is a difficulty with them; and there is a difficulty wanting them; and there are very few perfectly happy that are not troubled with any of them. Be that as it may, Mrs. Macintyre has no family. She is a Highland woman, and keeps four lodgers;—they are awful folk those Highland folk for keeping lodgers and swine—anything that brings in the “ bawbees!” Mrs. Macintyre’s house was very clean; so she and I fell on a conversation. I said she would have a great deal of work: she said she had a ‘creat teal of work."

“I said, You will need to take in a woman sometimes.

“‘Oh no/ said she, ‘I take in no woman, and no woman takes me in.*

“But it came out how the lady gets her work done. It seems that there are young lasses living above, and young lasses living below: and it seems they are wonderfully anxious to come about Mrs. Macintyre, for the sake of an introduction to her lodgers; and it seems they are wonderfully willing to do a turn, and she is wonderfully willing to let them. This is the way the lady gets her work done; but I did not miss to tell her that I thought very little of her indeed, for bringing a number of light-headed huzzies about her lodgers; but she just laughed at me, and said, ‘It was fery nat’ral for the lasses to be whaur the lads was. And for my part/ said she, ‘I excuse them; for when I was like them

I had my notions like them: and indeed I have my notions yet; for if I was a wanter the day before to-morrow, I would do all that was in my power to get another husband —for a husband is a great comfort; there is no use in denying it.*

“It was perfectly ‘scunnersome’ to hear the old chattering Highland idiot. No wonder though men are conceited when they hear the like of yon. The most of them that I know are conceited enough without hearing the like of yon. I do not know but I might have taken Mrs. Macintyre’s house, but she told me, in confidence, that she had no intention of removing: she only gave it up to see if she could get the landlord to take a pound off the rent. She admitted it was a comfortable, cheap house; but, said she, ‘If I can get it a pound cheaper, it will be all that the better.’ Mrs. Macintyre very kindly directed me to what she thought was a very good house, that an acquaintance of hers was leaving—a Miss Skinner. Mrs. Mac. said if I would just use her name Miss Skinner would tell me all that was good or bad about the house; and it was just as she said; for whenever I had presented Mrs. Macintyre’s compliments I was taken in and let see through every nook and comer.

“Miss Skinner was a little like myself in some respects. She seemed, by her remarks, to have rather a turn for observation; so she and I discussed all the merits and demerits of the house at very considerable length: but I will trouble you with but one branch of our conversation. I happened to remark that there was nothing to be seen from the window—that is, that there was no view.

“Miss Skinner made answer—‘Well, the house may have a thousand faults, but certainly the view from the window is not one of them. It is true,’ said she, ‘there is no great extent of prospect, and you neither see hills nor trees, nor sheep nor cows; but it is a very interesting window for all that. Come here,’ said she, leading me direct to the window, and turning up the corner of the blind; t there,’ said she,

‘If you look out right before you, you see right into all the houses on the opposite side. Many a curious sight I have seen from this same corner when I should have been sleeping And indeed I have sat at that window till I was shivering with cold, watching a new married couple that came there about a twelvemonth ago. Oh, but they were a treat! She was so fond, and he was so fond. They were not like living folk at all: they were just like folk in a novel. I used to wonder how long such billing and cooing would last; but however long it lasted, it was no doubt very good in passing. There was one thing that I noticed particularly about the young wife. As regularly as the clock struck twelve she came to the room press, and opened the door and went in. The press door, you see, folded back on the window; so I could not see what she did in the press, but I could observe that she always came out licking her lips and wiping her mouth. I was thinking there was a moral to be learned from such a sight—a grand moral: that is, always when you are taking your “twal-hour’s,” be sure and draw down the blind.’

“‘There was another natural curiosity in the very next window, in the shape of a young gentleman who was in the full enjoyment of single blessedness, and likely to remain so, I would say, if his lady friends had seen his silly vanity as it has been exhibited to me. I am sure that creature was a conceit. It took him at least an hour every morning to perform his toilet, as they call it. Such a decking, and stroking, and brushing, and staring there was! They speak of the vanity of young women; yon beat all the exhibitions of feminine silliness that ever I saw. The finishing touch of the personal decoration was this. You see, the creature’s nose had rather a tendency to the pug, with which circumstance its owner seemed very much dissatisfied. Well, when he had got his hat on, his gloves on and buttoned, and hif

Coat folded back in an easy way, to show off his waistcoat, he would stand back at a respectable distance from the looking-glass, and catch hold of his nose and pull it out to what he thought its proper length; and there he would grin and squint at himself in all directions, calculating, no doubt, what would have been his irresistible attractions if his nose had just been a little bit longer!

"‘But,’ quoth Miss Skinner, with a very philosophic air, ‘that body and his short nose is a very fair specimen of mankind in general. He would have liked a longer nose. It was no doubt very silly; but I do believe the great majority of men and women have some favourite notion just as silly— some fond desire that their hearts cling to, that has no more chance of being gratified than my conceited friend’s pug nose had of being converted into a perfect Grecian. Whatever fault the house may have,’ quoth Miss Skinner, ‘there is nothing wrong with the view from the window.*

“This window would, no doubt, have been a great temptation, had I been in Miss Skinner’s circumstances, with little to do but to watch my neighbours; but the thought at once struck me that, fighting as I am among a swarm of children, I was far more likely to afford diversion to my neighbours than to get diversion watching them; so I did not take the house.

“Many a house I was in, and many a sight I saw; but the more I saw of other people’s houses the more I thought of my own; so I am determined to sit still for another twelvemonth, although I should sit to some disadvantage. But if I am spared till the next removal time comes round, I will have another tour among the houses to let, just for the knowledge it gives one of the ‘ manners and customs.’”

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