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Book of Scottish Story
My Sister Kate


There is a low road (but it is not much frequented, for it is terribly round about) that passes at the foot of the range of hills that skirt the long and beautiful gut or firth ot the Clyde, in the west of Scotland; and as you go along this road, either up or down, the sea or firth is almost at your very side, the hills rising above you; and you arc just opposite to the great black and blue mountains on the other side of the gut, that sweep in heavy masses, or jut out in bold capes, at the mouth of the deep lochs that run up the firth into the picturesque highlands of Argyle-shire.

You may think of the scene what you please, because steam-boating has, of late years, profaned it somewhat into commonness, and defiled its pure air with filthy puffs of coal smoke; and because the Comet and all her unfortunate passengers were sunk to the bottom of this very part of the firth; and because, a little time previous, a whole boatful of poor Highland reaper girls were all run down in the night-time, while they were asleep, and drowned near the Clough lighthouse hard by; but if you were to walk this road by the seaside any summer afternoon, going towards the bathing village of Gourock, you would say, as you looked across to the Highlands, and up the Clyde towards the rocks of Dumbarton Castle, that there are few scenes more truly magnificent and interesting.

There is a little village exactly opposite to you, looking across the firth, which is called Dunoon, and contains the burying-place of the great house of Argyle; and which, surrounded by a patch of green cultivated land, sloping pleasantly from the sea, and cowering snugly by itself, with its picturesque cemetery, under the great blue hills frowning behind, looks, from across the firth, absolutely like a tasteful little haunt of the capricious spirit of romance.

Well, between this road on the lowland side of the firth, and the water's-edge, and before it winds off round by the romantic seat of Sir Michael Shaw Stewart, farther up, there stand, or stood, two or three small fishing cottages which, from the hills nearly over them, looked just like white shells, of a large size, dropped fancifully down upon the green common between the hills and the road. In these cottages, it was observed, the fishermen had numerous families, who, while young, assisted them in their healthful employment; and that the girls, of which there were a number, were so wild in their contented seclusion, that if any passenger on the road stopped to observe them, as they sat in groups on the green mending their father's nets, they would take alarm, and rise and run off like fawns, and hide among the rocks by the sea, or trip back into the cottages. Now it happened, once on a time, that a great event took place to one of the cottager's daughters, which, for a long period, deranged and almost destroyed the happy equality in which they had hitherto lived; and becoming the theme of discourse and inquiry concerning things beyond the sphere of the fisher people and all their neighbours as far as Gourock, introduced among them no small degree of ambition and discontent.

There was one of the fishermen, a remarkably decent, well disposed Highlandman, from the opposite shore of Argyleshire, named Martin M'Leod, and he had two daughters, the youngest of which, as was no uncommon case, turned out to be remarkably and even delicately beautiful.

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 esquire.

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 sister's happiness.

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 particularly."

"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 me."

"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 Argyleshire.

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 water."

"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.

It was observed in the hamlet that the unhappy Mrs Pounteney was never named after this by any but with a melancholy shake of the head; the ambition of the girls to get gentlemen seemed quite extinguished, and Flora in time began to nurse children of her own in humble and pious contentment. — The Dominie's Legacy.


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