April 1849-December 1849

The Collected Letters, Volume 24


JWC TO JOHN A. CARLYLE; 28 July 1849; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18490728-JWC-JAC-01; CL 24: 152-154


Auchtertool Manse / Saturday [28 July 1849]

Thanks, dearest John, for your note and for your kind “anxiety”! I have had my humour out, and no harm done. It was very sorrowful—in fact I can imagine nothing more sorrowful than that inspection of poor old Haddington all alone, and unknown, undreamt of by any one! but it was a sorrow more satisfactory to me than any pleasures could be at this date— And after all it was no worse than what I am in the habit of dreaming at Chelsea every time there is a headach in the wind! If I was to go there at all it was much the best way of going; to have had almost irrecognisable people receiving me with kisses and tears and “all that sort of thing” would have upset me altogether; as it was, I played my part of Stranger at the Inn very well, and got thro the whole business with wonderfully little crying

But mercy of Heaven how changed is everybody and everything! The town is ruined—the railway has ruined it they say—almost all the names I knew had disappeared from the signs and I found them on the tombstones of the Church yard—my Fathers tombstone was grown over with moss—the inscription illegible, except the first two lines that somebody had quite recently cleared! who? who was there still caring for him besides myself?

Forster came to Morpeth with me on Tuesday—and we stayed there till Wednesday at 2 o'clock—that I might not get in to Haddington till evening, when few people would be about— I went to the George Inn (where the people were all strangers—had been there ONLY twenty years—) and settled my things for the night, and had some tea— I then told the Landlord I should like to “look at the old church there,” if the key could be got—and immediately the man who kept the key was sent for— When he had opened the outer gate I told him to wait for me—that I only wished to walk thro' the church yard— But when I had to come back with my face swelled with crying, he was sure I was no stranger—and after a fruitless question or two which I staved off by questioning him, when I asked if he lived far from the Inn (I was thinking how I should get into the Churchyard again before breakfast) he answered looking sharply at me—“just next door to the House that was Dr Welsh's”! then he said “Excuse me mentioning that but since ever I set my eyes on you, I have had a notion it was her we used all to look after when she went up or down”! I gave him half a crown not to tell anyone, and to leave the gate open for me next morning, and then I walked two hours all about the places I remembered best, and returned to my Inn after dark—and sat up till one in the morning writing to Mr C (and tore up the letter next morning and wrote a brief business-like note instead) and I should actually have slept—so worn out I was!—if it had not been for a cat-soiree on the opposite roofs— Then at six I was up and out again Examined the outside of our own house—while its occupant young Thomas Howden1 was still asleep and all his servants asleep—found iron stanchions on all the cellar and closet windows!—and the garden-door locked!—innovations indicating a new and worse state of morality in the town—left silent salutations at the doors of the few people I knew to be still alive—then back to the Church yard—but the man had not yet come to open the gate—and I had no time to wait, for I wanted to clear all the inscription before I went on my way—so—I recollected that I had often enough climbed the wall—(some ten feet high I should think) and thought what I had done I might do again— when the man came at eight he found me inside the gate—“God preserve me, he said how have you got there?”—“Over the wall.”—“Hear to that! Will there never be an end to you?”— After this feat however I could not have remained long in the place unknown— It had been seen from a distance by a gentleman2 taking his morning walk—when I got into the railway carriage at eleven, this gentleman sat in it alone—and I recognised him at once; tho very old, his expression was the same—my veil (a thick black one) was down and the instant I saw him I turned away my face, then taking hold of his arm I said “thank God here is one person that I know at the first glance”—“I don't know you, said he—(he was always a very blunt man) who are you?”—“Guess”! I said with my head still turned away— “Are you the Lady that climbed the Church yard wall this morning? If it was you that did that—then you must be Jeanie Welsh—I thought to myself at the time it could enter no womans head but Jeanie Welsh's to get over the Wall instead of going in at the gate”! What a charming scene followed you may figure—but I must keep my other adventures till another opportunity—the post leaves as early as three—and I have two other letters to write

Love to them all—you see I am not knocked up—a little excited still—thats all! your affectionate J W C