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Book of Scottish Story
The Minister's Beat


Chapter II

The day was advancing. These two scenes had encroached deeply on theprivileged hours for visiting, and the minister, partly to turn the account of our thoughts into a less agitating channel, partly to balance the delights of the last hour with their due counterpoise of alloy, suggested the propriety of going next to pay, at the house of his patron, the laird of the parish, the visit of duty and ceremony, which his late return, and a domestic affliction in the family, rendered indispensable. There were reasons which made my going equally proper and disagreeable; and formal calls being among the many evils which are lightened by participation, I gladly availed myself of the shelter of the minister’s name and company.

Mr Morison, of Castle Morison, was one of those spoiled childrenof fortune, whom in her cruel kindness she renders miserable. He had never known contradiction, and a straw across his path made him chafe like a resisted torrent; he had never known sorrow, and was, consequently, but half acquainted with joy; he was a stranger to compassion, and consequently himself an object of pity to all who could allow for the force of early education in searing and hardening the human heart. He had, as a boy, made his mother tremble; it is little to be wondered that in manhood he was the tyrant of his wife and children. Mrs Morison’s spirit, originally gentle, was soon broken; and if her heart was not equally so, it was because she learned reluctantly to despise her tyrant, and found compensation in the double portion of affection bestowed on her by her son and daughters. For the latter, Mr Morison manifested only contempt. There was not a horse in his stable, nor a dog in his kennel, which did not engross more of his attention; but like the foxes and hares which it was the business of these favourite animals to hunt down, girls could be made to afford no bad sport in a rainy day. It was no wonder, that with them fear usurped the place of reverence for such a parent. If they did not hate him, they were indebted to their mother’s piety and their own sweet dispositions; and if they neither hated nor envied their only brother, it was not the fault of him, who, by injudicious distinctions nd blind indulgence, laid the foundation for envy and all uncharitableness in their youthful bosoms. In that of his favourite, they had the usual effect of generating self-will and rebellion; and while Jane and Agnes, well knowing nothing they did would be thought right, rarely erred from the path of duty, Edmund, aware that he could scarce do wrong, took care his privileges should not rust for want of exercise.

But though suffered in all minor matters to follow the dictates of caprice, to laugh at his tutor, lame the horse, and break rules (to all others those of the Medes and Persians), with impunity, he found himself suddenly reined up in his headlong career by an equally capricious parent, precisely at the period when restraint was nearly forgotten, and peculiarly irksome. It was tacitly agreed by both parties, that the heir of Castle Morison could only go into the army; but while the guards or a dragoon regiment was the natural enough ambition of Edmund, Morison was suddenly seized with a fit of contradiction, which he chose to style economy, and talked of a marching regiment, with perhaps an extra £100 per annum to the undoubted heir of nearly ten thousand a-year. Neither would yield—the one had taught, the other learned, stubbornness; and Edmund, backed by the sympathy of the world, and the clamours of his companions, told his father he had changed his mind, and was going to India with a near relation, about to proceed to Bombay in a high official character. Morison had a peculiar prejudice against the East, and a personal pique towards the cousin to whose patronage Edmund had betaken himself. His rage was as boundless as his former partiality, and the only consolation his poor wife felt when her darling son left his father’s house, alike impenitent and unblest, was, that her boy’s disposition was originally good, and would probably recover the ascendant; and that it was out of the power of her husband to make his son a beggar as well as an exile. The estate was strictly entailed, and the knowledge of this, while it embittered Morison’s sense of his son’s disobedience, no doubt strengthened the feeling of independence so natural to headstrong youth.

While Morison was perverting legal ingenuity, in vain hopes of being able to disinherit his refractory heir, his unnatural schemes were anticipated by a mightier agent. An epidemic fever carried off, in one short month (about two years after his quitting England), the unreconciled, but no longer unconciliatory exile, and his young and beautiful bride, the daughter of his patron, his union with whom had been construed, by the causeless antipathy of his father, into a fresh cause of indignation. Death, whose cold hand loosens this world’s grasp, and whose deep voice stills this world’s strife, only tightens the bonds of nature, and teaches the stormiest spirits to "part in peace." Edmund lived to write to his father a few lines of undissembled and unconditional penitence; to own, that if the path of duty had been rugged, he had in vain sought happiness beyond it, and to entreat that the place he had forfeited in his father’s favour might be transferred to his unoffending child.

All this had been conveyed to Mr Monteith and myself by the voice of rumour some days before, and we had been more shocked than surprised to learn that Morison’s resentment had survived its object, and that he disclaimed all intention of ever seeing or receiving the infant boy who, it was gall to him to reflect, must inherit his estate. Mrs Morison had exerted, to soften his hard heart, all the little influence she now possessed. Her tender soul yearned towards her Edmund’s child ; and sometimes the thought of seeking a separation, and devoting herself to rear it, crossed her despairing mind. But her daughters were a tie still more powerful to her unhappy home. She could neither leave them, unprotected, to its discomforts, nor conscientiously advise their desertion of a parent, however unworthy; so she wandered, a paler and sadder inmate than before of her cold and stately mansion; and her fair, subdued-looking daughters shuddered as they passed the long-locked doors of their brother’s nursery and schoolroom.

The accounts of young Morison’s death had arrived since the good pastor’s departure, and it was with feelings of equal sympathy towards the female part of the family, and sorrow for the unchristian frame of its head, that he prepared for our present visit. As we rode up the old straight avenue, I perceived a postchaise at the door, and instead of shrinking from this probable accession of strangers, felt that any addition to the usually constrained and gloomy family circle must be a relief. On reaching the door, we were struck with a very unusual appendage to the dusty and travel-stained vehicle, in the shape of an ancient, venerable-looking Asiatic, in the dress of his country, beneath whose ample muslin folds he might easily have been mistaken for an old female nurse, a character which, in all its skill and tenderness, was amply sustained by this faithful and attached Oriental. His broken English and passionate gestures excited our attention, already awakened by the singularity of his costume and appearance; and as we got close to him, the big tears which rolled over his sallow and furrowed cheeks, powerfully called forth our sympathy, and told, better than words, his forcible exclusion from the splendid mansion which had reluctantly admitted within its precincts the child dearer to him than country and kindred!

Our visit (had it borne less of a pastoral character) had all the appearance of being very ill-timed. There were servants running to and fro in the hall, and loud voices in the dining-room; and from a little parlour on one side the front door, issued female sobs, mingled with infant wailings in an unknown dialect.

"Thank God!” whispered the minister, "the bairn is fairly in the house. Providence and nature will surely do the rest.”

It was not a time to intrude abruptly, so we sent in our names to Mr Morison, and during our pretty long detention on horseback, could not avoid seeing in at the open window of the parlour before-mentioned, a scene which it grieved us to think was only witnessed by ourselves.

Mrs Morison was sitting in a chair (on which she had evidently sunk down powerless), with her son’s orphan boy on her knee, the bright dark eyes of the little wild unearthly-looking creature fixed in steadfast gaze on her pale matronly countenance. "No cry, Mama Englise,” said the child, as her big tears rolled unheeded on his bosom - "Billy Edmund will be welly welly good.” His youngest aunt, whose keen and long-repressed feelings found vent in sobs of mingled joy and agony, was covering his little hands with showers of kisses, while the elder (his father’s favourite sister) was comparing behind him the rich dark locks that clustered on his neck with the locket which, since Edmund’s departure, had dwelt next her heart.

A message from the laird summoned us from this affecting sight, and, amid the pathetic entreaties of the old Oriental, that we would restore his nursling, we proceeded to the dining-room, made aware of our approach to it by the still-storming, though half-suppressed imprecations of its hard-hearted master. He was pacing in stern and moody agitation through the spacious apartment. His welcome was evidently extorted, and his face (to use a strong Scripture expression) set as a hint against the voice of remonstrance and exhortation, for which he was evidently prepared. My skilful coadjutor went quite another way to work.

"Mr Morison," said he, apparently unconscious of the poor man’s pitiable state of mind, "I came to condole, but I find it is my lot to congratulate. The Lord hath taken away with the one hand, but it has been to give with the other. His blessing be with you and your son’s son, whom He hath sent to be the staff and comfort of your age!” This was said with his usual benign frankness, and the hard heart, which would have silenced admonition, and scorned reproof, scarce knew how to repulse the voice of Christian congratulation. He walked about, muttering to himself--"No son of mine—bad breed! Let him go to those who taught his father disobedience, and his mother artifice !—anywhere they please; there is no room for him here."

"Have you seen your grandchild yet, Mr Morison?" resumed the minister, nothing daunted by the continued obduracyof the proud laird. "Let me have the joy of putting him into your arms. You must expect to be a good deal overcome; sweet little fellow, there is a strong likeness!”

A shudder passed across the father’s hard frame, and he recoiled as from an adder, when worthy Mr Monteith, gently grasping his arm, sought to draw him, still sullen, though more faintly resisting, towards the other room. A shrill cry of infant agony rose from the parlour as we crossed the hall, and nature never perhaps exhibited a stronger contrast than presented itself between the cruel old man, struggling to escape from the presence of his grandchild, and the faithful ancient domestic shrieking wildly to be admitted into it.

As I threw open the door for the entrance of the former, little Edmund, whose infant promises of good behaviour had soon given way before the continued society of strangers, was stamping in all the impotence of baby rage (and in this unhallowed mood too faithful a miniature of both father and grandfather), and calling loudly for the old Oriental. With the first glance at the door his exclamations redoubled. We began to fear the worst effect from this abrupt introduction; but no sooner had the beautiful boy (beautiful even in passion) cast a second bewildered glance on his still erect and handsome grandfather, than, clapping his little hands, and calling out, "My Bombay papa!” he flew into his arms!

The servants, concluding the interdict removed by their master’s entrance into the apartment, had ceased to obstruct the efforts of the old Hindoo to fly to his precious charge; and while the astonished and fairly overwhelmed Morison’s neck was encircled by the infant grasp of his son’s orphan boy, his knees were suddenly embraced by that son’s devoted and gray-haired domestic.

One arm of little Edmund was instantly loosened from his grandfather’s shoulder, and passed round the neck of the faithful old Oriental, who kissed alternately the little cherub hand of his nursling, and the hitherto iron one of the proud laird. It softened, and the hard heart with it ! It was long since love—pure unsophisticated love, and spontaneous reverence—had been Morison’s portion, and they were proportionally sweet. He buried his face in his grandson’s clustering ringlets. We heard a groan deep as when rocks are rending, and the earth heaves with long pent-up fires. It was wildly mingling with childish laughter and hysteric bursts of female tenderness, as, stealing cautiously and unheeded from the spot, we mounted our horses and rode away.

"God be praised!” said the minister, with a deep-drawn sigh, when, emerging from the gloomy avenue, we regained the cheerful beaten track. “This has been a day of strange dispensations, Mr Francis—we have seen much together to make us wonder at the, ways of Providence, to soften, and, I hope, improve our hearts. But, after such solemn scenes, mine (and yours, I doubt not, also) requires something to cheer and lighten it; and I am bound where, if the sight of virtuous happiness can do it, I am sure to succeed. Do let me persuade you to be my companion a little longer, and close this day’s visitation at the humble board of, I’ll venture to say, the happiest couple in Scotland I am engaged to christen the first-born of honest Willie Meldrum and his bonnie Helen, and to dine, of course, after the ceremony. Mrs Monteith and the bairns will be there to meet me; and, as my friend, you’ll be ‘welcome as the flowers in May’ ”

After some slight scruples about intruding on this scene of domestic enjoyment, easily overruled by the hearty assurances of the divine, and my own natural relish for humble life, we marched towards the farmhouse of Blinkbonnie; and during our short ride the minister gave me, in a few words, the history of
its inmates.

END OF CHAPTER II


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