But nobody ever saw or thought anything about the
beauty of Catherine M'Leod, except it might be some of the growing young
men in the neighbouring cottages, several of whom began, at times, to
look at her with a sort of wonder, and seemed to feel a degree of awe in
her company; while her family took an involuntary pride in her beyond
all the others; and her eldest sister somehow imitated her in every
thing, and continually quoted her talk, and trumpeted about among the
neighbours what was said and done by "my sister Kate."
Things continued in this way as Kate grew to
womankind; and she was the liveliest little body about the place, and
used to sing so divertingly at the house-end, as she busied herself
about her father's fishing gear, and ran up and down "among the brekans
on the brae," behind the cottages, or took her wanderings off all the
way to the Clough lighthouse at the point I say things continued in this
way until a gentleman, who, it turned out, was all the way from London,
came to lodge in Greenock, or Gourock, or Inverkip, or somewhere not
very far distant; and, being a gentleman, and, of course, at liberty to
do every sort of out-of-the-way thing that he-pleased, he got a manner
of coming down and wandering about among the cottages,and asking
questions concerning whatever he chose of the fishermen; and then it was
not long until he got his eyes upon Kate.
"The gentleman," as her sister used to tell
afterwards, "was perfectly ill, and smitten at once about our Kate. He
was not able," she said, "to take the least rest, but was down
constantly about us for weeks; and then he got to talking to and walking
with Kate, she linking her arm in his beneath the hill, just as it had
been Sir Michael Stewart and my lady; and then such presents as he used
to bring for her, bought in the grand shop of Bailie Macnicol, at
Greenock; gowns, and shawls, and veils, and fine chip hats, never
speaking of ribbons, and lace edging, and mob caps—perfectly beautiful."
The whole of the fishermen's daughters became mad
with envy of poor Kate, and admiration of her new dress, which some said
was mostly bought by her father after all, who wanted to have his
daughter made a lady of; and now nothing was heard in the hamlet but
rnurmurings and discontented complaints; every girl looking at herself
in the little cracked glass that her father used to shave by, to see if
she were pretty, and wishing and longing, not only for a lover of her
own, but even for a gentleman. So, as matters grew serious, and the
gentleman was surly in love, old Martin M'Leod, who looked sharply after
Kale, behoved to have sundry conversations with the gentleman about her;
and masters being appointed to teach her right things, which the fisher
folks never heard of, but which were to turn her into a lady, Kate and
the gentleman, after a time, were actually married in Greenock new
church, and set off for London.
During all this time, there were various opinions
among the fisher people, how that Kate never was particularly in love
with the gentleman; and some even said that she was in love with
somebody else (for pretty maidens must always be in love), or, at least,
that some of the youths of the neighbourhood were in love with her; but
then the old folks said, that love was only for gentle people who could
afford to pay for it; and that when a gentleman was pleased to fall in
love, no one had a right to say him nay, or pretend to set up against
him. Some of the young women, to be sure, ventured to contest this
doctrine, and cited various cases from the authority of printed ballads
bought at the Greenock fair, at a halfpenny each; and also from the
traditionary literature of Argyleshire, which was couched in the
mellifluous numbers of the Gaelic language; but, however this might be,
the fame of Catherine M'Leod's happy marriage and great fortune was
noised abroad exceedingly, among the fisher people throughout these
coasts, as well as about Gourock and all the parts adjacent.
As to the gentleman, it was found out that his name
was Mr Pounteney, and that little Kate M'Lcod was now Mrs Pounteney, and
a great London lady, but what quality of a gentleman Mr Pounteney really
was, was a matter of much controversy and discussion. Some said that he
was a great gentleman, and others thought that, from various symptoms,
he was not a very great gentleman; some went so far as to say he was a
lord or a prince, while others maintained that he was only a simple
Nothing, therefore, could be talked ot wherever Flora
M'Lcod went, but about "my sister Kate;" and she was Quite in request
everywhere, because she could talk of the romantic history and happy
fortune of her lucky sister. Mrs Pounteney's house in London, therefore,
Mrs Pounteney's grand husband, and Mrs Pounteney's coach, excited the
admiration and the discontent of all the fishermen's daughters, for many
miles round this romantic sea-coast, and these quiet cottages under the
hills, where the simple people live upon their fish, and did not know
that they were happy. Many a long summer's day, as the girls sat working
their nets on a knoll towards the sea, the sun that shone warm upon
their indolent limbs on the grass, and the breeze that blew from the
firth, or swept round from the flowery woods of Ardgowan, seemed less
grateful and delicious, from their discontented imaginings about the
fortune of Mrs Pounteney; and many a sweet and wholesome supper of fresh
boiled fish was made to lose its former relish, or was even embittered
by obtrusive discourse about the fine wines and the gilded grandeur of
"my sister Kate." Even the fisher lads in the neighbourhood—fine
fearless youths—found a total alteration in their sweethearts; their
discourse was not relished, their persons were almost despised; and
there was now no happiness found for a fisherman's daughter, but what
was at least to approach to the state of grandeur and felicity so
fortunately obtained by "my sister Kate."
The minds of Kate's family were so carried by her
great fortune, that vague wishes and discontented repinings followed
their constant meditations upon her lucky lot. Flora had found herself
above marrying a fisherman; and a young fellow called Bryce Cameron, who
had long waited for her, and whose brother, Allan, was once a sweetheart
or Kate's herself, being long ago discarded; and she, not perceiving any
chances of a gentleman making his appearance to take Bryce's place,
became melancholy and thoughtful; she began to fear that she was to have
nobody, and her thoughts ran constantly after London and Mrs Pounteney.
With these anxious wishes, vague hopes began to mix of some lucky turn
to her own fortune, if she were only in the way of getting to be a lady;
and at length she formed the high wish, and even the adventurous
resolve, of going all the way to London, just to get one peep at her
When this ambition seized Flora M'Leod, she let the
old people have no rest, nor did she spare any exertion to get the means
of making her proposed pilgrimage to London. In the course of a
fortnight from its first serious suggestion, she, with a gold guinea in
her pocket, and two one-pound notes of the Greenock Bank, besides other
coins and valuables, and even a little old-fashioned Highland brooch,
with which the quondam lover of her sister, Allan Cameron, had the
temerity to intrust to her, to be specially returned into the hand of
the great lady when she should see her, besides a hundred other charges
and remembrances from the neighbours, she set off one dewy morning in
summer, carrying her shoes and stockings in her hand, to make her way to
London, to get a sight of everything great, and particularly of her
happy sister Kate.
Many a weary mile did Flora M'Leod walk, and ride,
and sail, through unknown places, and in what she called foreign parts;
for strange things and people met her eye, and long dull regions of
country passed her like a rapid vision, as she was wheeled towards the
great capital, and proper centre of England. After travelling to a
distance that was to her perfectly amazing, she was set down in London,
and inquired her way, in the best English she could command, into one of
those long brick streets, of dark and dull gentility, to which she was
directed; and after much trouble and some expense, at length found the
door of her sister's house. She stood awhile considering, on the steps
of the mansion, and felt a sort of fear of lifting the big iron knocker
that seemed to grin down upon her; for she was not in the habit of
knocking at great folk's doors, and almost trembled lest somebody from
within would frown her into nothing, even by their high and lofty looks.
And yet she thought the house was not so dreadfully
grand after all;—not at all such as she had imagined, for she had passed
houses much bigger and grander than this great gentleman's; it was not
even the largest in its own street, and looked dull and dingy, and shut
up with blinds and rails, having a sort of melancholy appearance.
But she must not linger, but see what was inside. She
lifted up the iron knocker, and as it fell the very clang of it, and its
echo inside, smote upon her heart with a sensation of strange
apprehension. A powdered man opened it, and stared at her with an
inquisitive and impertinent look, then saucily asked what she wanted.
Flora courtesied low to the servant from perfect terror, saying she
wanted to see Mrs Pountency.
"And what can you want with Mrs
Pounteney, young woman, I should like to know?" said the fellow; for
Flora neither looked like a milliner's woman nor any other sort of
useful person likely to be wanted by a lady.
Flora had laid various pretty plans in her own mind,
about taking her sister by surprise, and seeing how she would look at
her before she spoke, and so forth; at least she had resolved not to
affront her by making herself known as her sister before the servants;
but the man looked at her with such suspicion, and spoke so insolently,
that she absolutely began to fear, from the interrogations of this
fellow, that she would be refused admittance to her own sister, and was
forced to explain and reveal herself before the outer door was fully
opened to her. At length she was conducted, on tiptoe, along a passage,
and then upstairs, until she was placed in a little back dressing-room.
The servant then went into the drawing-room, where sat two ladies at
opposite sides of the apartment, there to announce Flora's message.
On a sofa, near the window, sat a neat youthful
figure, extremely elegantly formed, but petite, with a
face that need not be described, further than that the features were
small and pretty, and that, as a whole, it was rich in the nameless
expression of simple beauty. Her dress could not have been plainer, to
be of silk of the best sort; but the languid discontent, if not
melancholy, with which the female, yet quite in youth, gazed towards the
window, or bent over a little silk netting with which she carelessly
employed herself, seemed to any observer strange and unnatural at her
time of life. At a table near the fire was seated a woman, almost the
perfect contrast to this interesting figure, in the person of Mr
Pounteney's eldest sister, a hard-faced, business-like person, who, with
pen and ink before her, seemed busy among a parcel of household
accounts, and the characteristic accompaniment of a bunch of keys
occasionally rattling at her elbow.
The servant approached, as if fearful of being
noticed by "the old one," ashe was accustomed to call Miss Pounteney,
and in a half whisper intimated to the little figure that a female
wanted to see her.
"Eh! what !—what is it you say, John?" cried the lady
among the papers, noticing this manoeuvre of the servant.
"Nothing, Madam; it is a person that wants my lady."
"Your lady, sirrah; it must be me! —Eh! what! "
"No, Madam; she wants to see Mrs Pountenev
"Ah, John!" said ihe little lady on the sofa; "just
refer her to Miss Pounteney. There is nobody can want me."
"Wants to see Mrs Pounteney particularly!" resumed
the sister-in-law: "how dare you bring in such a message, sirrah? Mrs
Pounteney particularly, indeed! Who is she, sirrah! Who comes here with
such a message while I am in the house?"
"You must be mistaken, John," said the little lady
sighing, who was once the lively Kate M'Leod of the fishing cottage in
Scotland; "just let Miss Pounteney speak to her, you need not come to
"No, madam," said the servant, addressing Miss
Pounteney, the natural pertness of his situation now returning to
overcome his dread of "the old one." "This young person wants to see my
mistress directly, and I have put her into her dressing-room; pray,
ma'am, go," he added, respectfully, to the listless Kate.
"Do you come here to give your orders, sirrah?"
exclaimed Miss Poun-teney, rising like a fury, and kicking the footstool
half way. across the room, ''and to put strange people of your own
accord into any dressing-room in this house! and to talk of your
mistress. and wanting to speak to her directly, and privately, while
I am here! I wonder what sister Becky would say, or Mr Pounteney, if he
were at home! "
"Who is it, John? Do just bring her here, and put an
end to this!" said Kale, imploringly, to the man.
"Madam," said John at last to his trembling mistress,
"it is your sister!"
"Who, John?" cried Kate, starting to her feet; "my
sister Flora—my own sister, from Clyde side! Speak, John, are you sure?
"Yes, Madam, your sister from Scotland."
"Oh, where is she, where is she? Let me go!"
"No, no; you must be mistaken, John," said the lady
with the keys, stepping forward to interrupt the anxious Kate. "John,
this is all a mistake," she added, smoothly; "Mrs Pounteney has no
sister! John, you may leave the room;" and she gave a determined look to
the other sister, who stood astonished.
The moment the servant left the room, Miss Pounteney
came forward, and stood in renewed rage over the fragile, melancholy
Kate, and burst out with What is this, Kate? Is it really possible,
after what you know of my mind, and all our minds, that you have dared
to bring your poor relations into my brother's house? That it is not
enough that we are to have the disgrace of your mean connections, but we
are to have your sisters and brothers to no end coming into the very
house, and sending up their beggarly names and designations by the very
servants! Kale, I must not permit this. I will not—I shall not; and she
stamped with rage.
"Oh, Miss Pountcncy," said Kate, with clasped hands,
"will yon not lei me go and see my sister? Will you just let me go and
weep on the neck of my poor Flora? I will go to a private place—I will
go to another house, if you please; I will do anything when I return to
you, if I ever return, for I care not if I never come into this unhappy
house more!" and, uttering this, almost with a shriek, she burst past
the two women, and ran through the rooms to seek her sister.
Meantime, Flora had sat so long waiting, without
seeing her sister, that she began to feel intense anxiety; and, fancying
her little Kale wished to forget her, because she was poor, had worked
herself up into a resolution of assumed coldness, when she heard a
hurried step, and the door was instantly opened. Kate paused for a
moment after her entrance, and stood gazing upon the companion of her
youth, with a look of such passionate joy, that Flora's intended
coldness was entirely subdued; and the two sisters rushed into each
other's arms in all the ecstacy of sisterly love.
"Oh, Flora, Flora! my dear happy Flora!" cried Kate,
when she could get words, after the first burst of weeping; "have you
really come all the way to London to see me?—poor me!" and her tears and
sobs were again like to choke her. "Kate—my dear little Kate!" said
Flora, "this is not the way I expected to find you. Do not greet so
dreadfully; surely you are not happy, Kate?"
"But you are happy," said Kate,
weeping. "And how is my good Highland father, and mother, and my brother
Daniel? Ah! I think, Flora, your clothes have the very smell of the
sea-shore, and of the bark of the nets, and of the heather hills of
Alas the happy days you remind me of, Flora!"
"And so, Kate, you are not so very
happy, after all," said Flora, looking incredulously in her face; "and
you are so thin, and pale, and your eyes are so red; and yet you have
such a grand house, Kate! Tell me if you are really not happy."
"I have no house, Flora," said Kate, after a little,
"and, I may say, no husband. They are both completely ruled by his two
vixen sisters, who kept house for him before he married me, and still
have the entire ascendancy over him. My husband, too, is not naturally
good tempered; yet he once loved me, and I might enjoy some little
happiness in this new life, if he had the feeling, or the spirit, to
treat me as his wife, and free himself and the house from the dominion
of his sisters, especially the eldest. But I believe he is rather
disappointed in his ambitious career, and in the hopes he entertained of
matches for his sisters, and he is somewhat sour and unhappy; and I have
to bear it all, for he is afraid of these women; and I, the youngest in
the family, and the only one who has a chance of being good tempered,
am, on account of my low origin, forced to bear the spleen of all in
this unhappy house."
"But, Kate, surely your husband would not behave so
baa as to cast up to you that your father was a fisherman, when he took
you from the bonnie seaside himself, and when he thought himself once so
happy to get you?"
"Alas! he docs indeed!—too often—too often—when he is
crossed abroad, and when his sisters set him on; and it so humbles me.
Flora, when I am sitting at his table, that I cannot lift my head; and I
am so sad, and so heart-broken among them all!"
"Bless me! and can people be really so miserable,"
said Flora, simply, "who have plenty of money, and silk dresses to wear
every day they rise?"
"It is little you know, my happy Flora, of artificial
life here in London," said Kate, mournfully. "As for dress, I cannot
even order one but as my sister-in-law chooses; and as for happiness, I
have left it behind me on the beautiful banks of the Clyde. O that I
were there again !"
"Poor little Kate!" said Flora, wistfully looking
again in her sister's face; "and is that the end of all your grand
marriage, that has set a' the lasses crazy, from the Fairlie Roads to
Gourock Point? I think I'll gang back and marry Bryce Cameron after a'."
"Is Allan Cameron married yet?" said Kate, sadly.
"When did you see blithe and bonnie Allan Cameron?— Alas the day!"
"He gave me this brooch to return to you, Kate," said
Flora, taking the brooch out of her bosom. "I wish he had not gien it to
me for you, for you're vexed enough already."
"Ah! well you may say I am vexed enough," said she,
weeping and contemplating the brooch. "Tell Allan Cameron that I am
sensible I did not use him well—that my vain heart was lifted up; but I
have suffered for it; many a sad and sleepless night I have lain in my
bed, and thought of the delightful days I spent near my father's happy
cottage in Scotland, and about you, and about Allan. Alas! just tell him
not to think more of me; for I am a sad and sorry married woman, out of
my own sphere, and afraid to speak to my own people, panting my heart
out and dying by inches, like the pretty silver fish that floundered on
the hard stones, after my father had taken them out of their own clear
"God help you. Kate!" said Flora, rising; "you will
break my heart with grief about you. Let me out of this miserable house!
Let me leave you and all your grandeur, since I cannot help you; and I
will pray for you, my poor Kaie, every night at my bedside, when I get
back to the bonnie shore of Argyleshire."
Sad was the parting of the two weeping sisters, and
many a kiss of fraternal affection embittered, yet sweetened, the hour;
and anxious was Flora M'Leod to turn her back upon the great city of
London, and to journey northwards to her own home in Scotland.
It was a little before sundown, on a Saturday
evening, shortly after this, that a buzz of steam let off at the Mid
Quay of Greenock, indicated that a steamboat had come in; and it proved
to be from the fair seaport of Liverpool, having on board Flora M'Leod,
just down from London. The boat as it passed had been watched by the
cottagers where she lived up the Firth; and several of them, their day's
work being over, set out towards the Clough to see if there was any
chance of meeting Flora.
Many were the congratulations, and more the
inquiries, when they met Flora, lumbering homewards with her bundle and
her umbrella, weary and looking anxiously out for her own sweet cottage
by Clyde side. "Ah, Flora! is this you!" cried the whole at once; "and
are you really here again! And how is your sister, and all the great
people in London? And, indeed, it is very good of you not to look the
least proud, after coming from such a grand place!"
With such congratulations was Flora welcomed again
among the light-hearted fisher people in the West of Scotland. But it
was observed that her tone was now quite altered, and her own humble
contentment had completely returned. In short, to bring our story to a
close, she was shortly after married to Bryce Cameron, and various other
marriages soon followed; for she gave such an account of what she had
seen with her eyes, that a complete revolution took place in the
sentiments of the whole young people of the neighbourhood.