Saint Ronan's Well

by Sir Walter Scott

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"Fair, Fat And Forty"

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Last Updated on January 19, 2017, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 384

Context: The inhabitants of the new hotel at the watering place of St. Ronan's Well are so devoured by curiosity about the artist, Francis Tyrrel, a lodger at Meg Dods' inn a few miles away from St. Ronan's, that they invite him to dinner and the postprandial activities that enliven the evenings and the resort. After dinner, during the serving of tea and cake, various conversations take place; one recorded at considerable length is between the bachelor Dr. Quackleben and a newcomer to the establishment, Mrs. Blower, the widow of a sea captain. The doctor adds a bit of elixir he carries with him in a flask to Mrs. Blower's tea; the addition of his remedy both improves the taste of the tea and elevates Mrs. Blower's spirits. After the two have discussed the methods of various doctors, Mrs. Blower confides to Dr. Quackleben, to whom she applies a variety of names, that she is a lonely widow whose former husband had left her in very comfortable financial circumstances. The doctor's interest in the fair lady is perceptibly quickened. Scott's expression is an inversion of John O'Keeffe's earlier "fat, fair, and forty." (A carrack is a large ship, or galleon.)

. . . Lady Penelope, the presiding goddess of the region, watchful over all her circle, was not long of observing that the Doctor seemed to be suddenly engaged in close communication with the widow, and that he had even ventured to take hold of her fair plump hand, with a manner which partook at once of the gallant suitor, and of the medical adviser.
"For the love of Heaven," said her ladyship, "who can that comely dame be, on whom our excellent and learned Doctor looks with such uncommon regard?"
"Fair, fat, and forty," said Mr. Winterblossom; "that is all I know of her,–a mercantile person."
"A carrack, Sir President," said the chaplain, "richly laden with colonial produce, by name the Lovely Peggy Bryce–no master–the late John Blower of North Leith having pushed off his boat for the Stygian Creek, and left the vessel without a hand on board."
"The Doctor," said Lady Penelope, turning her glass towards them, "seems willing to play the part of pilot."
"I dare say he will be willing to change her name and register," said Mr. Chatterly.

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