Now, I never can think of
these lines but they remind me of the tender, delicate, living, breathing,
and neglected flowers that bud, blossom, shed their leaves, and die, in
cold, unsunned obscurityflowers that were formed to shed their fragrance
around a mans heart, and to charm his eyebut which, though wandering
melancholy and alone in the wilderness where they grow, he passeth by with
neglect, making a companion of his loneliness. But, to drop all
metaphorwhere will you find a flower more interesting than a spinster of
threescore and ten, of sixty, of fifty, or of forty? They have, indeed,
"wasted their sweetness on the air." Some call them "old maids;" but it is
a malicious appellation, unless it can be proved that they have refused to
be wives. I would always take the part of a spinster: they are a peculiar
people, far more "sinned against than sinning." Every blockhead thinks
himself at liberty to crack a joke upon them; and when he says something
that he conceives to be wondrous smart about Miss Such-an-one and her cat
and poodle dog, he conceives himself a marvellous fellow; yea, even those
of her own sex who are below what is called a "certain age," (what that
age is, I cannot tell) think themselves privileged to gigle at the expense
of their elder sister. Now, though there may be a degree of peevishness
(and it is not to be woundered at) amongst the sisterhood, yet with them
you will find the most sensitive tenderness of heart, a delicacy that
quivers the aspen leaf at a breadth, and a kindliness of soul that a
mother might envyor rather, for envy, shall I not write imitate?
But, ah! if their history were told, what a chronicle would it exhibit of
blighted affections, withered hearts, secret tears, and midnight sighs.
The first spinster of whom
I have a particular remembrance, as belonging to her castle, was Diana
Darling. It is now six and twenty years since Diana paid the debt of
nature, up to which period, and for a few years before, she rented a room
in Chirnside. It was only a year or two before her death that I became
acquainted with her; and I was then very young. But I never shall forget
her kindness towards me. She treated me as though I had been her own
child, or rather her grandchild, for she was then very little under
seventy years of age. She had always an air of gentility about her; people
called her "a betterish sort o body." And, although Miss and
Mistress are becoming general appellations now, twenty or thirty years
ago, upon the Borders, those titles were only applied to particular
persons, or on particular occasions; and whether their more frequent use
now is to be attributed to the schoolmaster abroad or the dancing-master
being abroad, I cannot tell, but Diana Darling, although acknowledged to
be a "betterish sort o body," never was spoken of by any other term but
"auld Diana," or "auld Die." Well do I remember her flowing chintz gown,
with short sleeves, her snow-white apron, her whiter cap, and old kid
gloves reaching to her elbows; and as well do I remember how she took one
of the common blue cakes which washerwomen use, and tying it up in
a piece of woollen cloth, dipped it in water, and daubed it round and
round the walls of her room, to give them the appearance of being papered.
I have often heard of and seen stenciling since; but, rude as the
attempt was, I am almost persuaded that Diana was the first who put it in
practice. To keep up gentility putteth people to strange shifts, and often
to ridiculous onesand to both of these extremites she was driven. But I
have hinted that she was a kind-hearted creature; and above all, do I
remember her for the fine old ballads which she sang to me. But there was
one that was an especial favourite with her, and a verse of which, if I
remember correctly, ran thus
"Fie, Lizzy Lindsay!
Sae lang in the morning ye lie
Mair fit ye was helping yer minny
To milk a the ewes and the kye."
Diana, however, was a woman
of some education; and to a relative she left a sort of history of her
life, from which the following is an extract:
"My faither died before I
was eighteen (so began Dianas narrative), and he left five of usthat is
my mother, two sisters, a brother, and myselffive hundred pounds a-piece.
My sisters were both younger than me; but, within six years after our
faithers death, they both got married; and my brother, who was only a year
older than myself, left the house also, and took a wife, so that there was
nobody but me and my mother left. Everybody thought there was something
very singular in this: for it was not natural that the youngest should be
taken and the auldest left; and, besides, it was acknowledged that I was
the best faured and the best-tempered in the family; and there could be no
dispute but that my siller was as good as theirs.
I must confess, however,
that, when I was but a lassie o sixteen, I had drawn up wi one James
Laidlawbut I should score out the word one, and just say
that I had drawn up wi James Laidlaw. He was a year, or
maybe three, aulder than me, and I kenned him when he was just a laddie at
Mr. Whs school in Dunse; but I took no notice o him then in particular,
and, indeed, I never did, until one day that I was an errand down by
Kimmerghame, and I met James just coming out frae the gardens. It was the
summer season, and he had a posie in his hand, and a very bonny posie it
was. Heres a fine day, Diana, says he. Yes it is, says I.
So we said nae Mair for
some time; but he keepit walking by my side, and at last he saidWhat do
ye think o this posie? It is very bonny, James, said I. I think sae,
quoth he; and if ye will accept it, there should naebody be mair welcome
to it. Ou, I thank ye, said I, and I blushed in a waywhy should ye
gie me it? Never mind, says he, tak it for old aquaintance sakewe
were at the school together.
So I took the flowers, and
James keepit by my side, and cracked to me a the way to my mothers door,
and I cracked to himand I really wondered that the road between
Kimmerghame and Dunse had turned sae short. It wasna half the length that
it used to be, or what I thought it ought to be.
But I often saw James
Laidlaw after this; and somehow or other I aye met him just as I was
coming out o the kirk, and weel do I recollect that, one Sabbath in
particular, he said to meDiana, will ye no come out and tak a walk after
ye get your dinner? I dinna ken, James, says I; I doubt I daurna, for
our folk are very particular, and baith my faither and my mother are
terribly against onything like gaun about stravaigin on the Sundays. Oh,
they need never ken where yere gaun, says he. Weel, Ill try, says I,
for by this time I had a sort o liking for James. Then, said he, "Ill
be at the Penny Stane at four o clock. Very weel, quoth I.
And, although baith my
faither and mother said to me, as I was gaun outWhere are ye gaun,
lassie?Oh, no very far, said I; and, at four oclock, I met
James at the Penny Stane. I shall never forget the grip that he gied my
hand when he took it in his, and said Ye hae been as good
as your word, Diana.
We wandered awa doun by
Wedderburn dyke, till we came to the Blackadder, and then we sauntered
down by the river side, till we were opposite Kelloeand, oh, it was a
pleasant afternoon. Everything round about us, aboon us, and among our
feet, seemed to ken it was Sundayeverything but James and me. The
laverock was singing in the blue liftthe blackbirds were whistling in the
hedgesthe mavis chaunted its loud sang frae the bushes on the braesthe
lennerts were singing and chirming among the whinsand the shelfa
absolutely seemed to follow ye wi its three notes over again, in order
that ye might learn them.
It was the happiest
afternoon I ever spent. James grat, and I grat. I got a scolding frae my
faither and my mother when I gaed hame, and they demanded to ken where I
had been; but the words that James had spoken to me bore me up against
Weel, it was very shortly
(I daresay not six months after my faithers death), that James called at
my mothers, and as he said, to bid us fareweel! He took my
mothers hand I mind I saw him raise it to his lips, while the tears were
on his cheeks; and he was also greatly put about to part wi my sisters;
but to me he said
"Yell set me down a bit,
He was to take the coach
for Liverpoolor, at least, a coach to take him on the road to that town,
the next day; and from there he was to proceed to the West Indies, to meet
an uncle who was to make him his heir.
I went out wi him, and we
wandered away down by our auld walks; but, oh, he said little, and he
sighed often, and his heart was sad. But mine was as sad as his, and I
could say as little as him. I winna, I canna write a the words and the
vows that passed. He took the chain frae his watch, and it was o the best
gold, and he also took a pair o Bibles frae his pocket, and he put the
watch chain and the Bibles into my hand, andDiana, said he, take
these, dearkeep them for the sake o your poor James, and, as often as ye
see them, think on him. I took them, and wi the tears running down my
cheeksO James, cried I, this is hard!hard!
Twice, ay thrice, we bade
each other fareweel, and thrice, after he had parted frae me, he
cam running back again, and, throwing his arms around my neck, cried
Diana! I canna leave
ye!promise me that ye will never marry onybody else!
And thrice I promised him
that I wouldna.
But he gaed awa, and my
only consolation was looking at the Bibles, on one o the white leaves o
the first volume o which I found written, by his own hand, James
Laidlaw and Diana Darling vowed that, if they were spared, they would
become man and wife; and that neither time, distance, nor circumstances,
should absolve their plighted troth. Dated, May 25th, 17.
These were cheering words
to me; and I lived on them for years, even after my younger sisters were
married, and I had ceased to hear from him. And, during that time, for his
sake, I had declined offers which my friends said I was waur than foolish
to reject. At least half a dozen good matches I let slip through my hands,
and a for the love o James Laidlaw, who was far awa, and the vows he had
plighted to me by the side o the Blackaddrr. And, although he hadna
written to me for some years, I couldna think that ony man could be so
wicked as to write words o falsehood and bind them up in the volume o
But, about ten years after
he had gane awa, James Laidlaw came back to our neighbourhood; but he
wasna the same lad he leftfor he was now a dark-complexioned man, and he
had wi him a mulatto woman and three bairns that called him faither!
He was no longer my James!
My mother was by this time
dead, and I expected naething but that the knowledge o his faithfulness
would kill me toofor I had clung to hope till the last straw was broken.
I met him once during his stay in the country, and, strange to tell, it
was within a hundred yards o the very spot where I first foregathered wi
him, when he offered me the posie.
Ha! Die! said he, my old
girl are you still alive? Im glad to see you. Is the old woman, your
mother, living yet? I was ready to faint, my heart throbbed as though it
would have burst. A the trials I had ever had were naething to
this; and he continuedWhy, if I remember right, there was once something
like an old flame between you and me. O James! James! said I, do ye
remember the words ye wrote in the Bible, and the vows that ye made me by
the side of the Blackadder? Ha! ha! said he, and he laughed, you are
there, are you? I do mind something of it. But, Die, I did not think that
a girl like you would have been such a fool as to remember what a boy said
I would have spoken to him
again; but I remembered he was the husband of another womanthough she was
a mulattoan I hurried away as fast as my fainting heart would
permit. I had but one consolation, and that was, that, though he had
married another, naebody could compare her face wi mine.
But it was lang before I
got the better o this sair slightay, I may say it was ten years and mair;
and I had to try to pingle and find a living upon the interest o my five
hundred pounds, wi ony other thing that I could turn my hand to in a
genteel sort o way.
I was now getting on the
wrang side o eight and thirty; and that is an age when it isna prudent in
a spinster to be throwing the pouty side o her lip to any decent lad that
hauds out his hand, and saysJenny, will ye tak me? Often and often,
baith by day and by night, did I think o the good bargains I had lost,
for the sake o my fause James Laidlaw; and often when I saw some o them
that had come praying to me, pass me on a Sunday, wi their wives wi
their hands half round their waist on the horse behint themO James!
fause James! I have said, but for trusting to you, and it would hae been
me that would this day been riding behint Mr.
But I had still five
hundred pounds, and sic fend as I could make, to help what they brought to
me. And, about this time, there was one that had the character of being a
very respectable sort o lad, one Walter Sanderson; he was a farmer, very
near about my own age, and altogether a most prepossessing and intelligent
young man. I first met wi him at my youngest sisters goodmans kirn, and
I must say, a better or a more gracefu dancer I never saw upon a floor.
He had neither the jumping o a mountebank, nor the sliding o a
play-actor, but there was an ease in his carriage which I never saw
equalled. I was particularly struck wi him, and especially his dancing;
and it so happened that he was no less struck wi me. I thought he looked
even better than James Laidlaw used to do--but at times I had doubts about
it. However he had stopped all the night at my brother-in-laws as weel as
mysel; and when I got up to gang hame the next day, he said he would bear
me company. I thanked him, said I was obliged to him, never thinking that
he would attempt such a thing. But, just as the powny was brought for me
to ride on (and the callant was to come up to Dunse for it at night), Mr.
Walter Sanderson mounted his horse, and says he
Now, wi your permission,
Miss Darling, I will see you hame.
It would hae been very rude
o me to hae saidNo, I thank you, sir, and especially at my time o
life, wi twa younger sisters married that had families; so I blushed as
it were, and giein my powny a twitch, he sprang on to his saddle, and came
trotting on by my side. He was very agreeable company; and when he said I
shall be most happy to pay you a visit, Miss Darling, I didna think o
what I had said, until after that I had answered him, I shall be very
happy to see you, sir. And when I thought o it, my very cheek bones
burned wi shame.
But, howsoever, Mr.
Sanderson was not long in calling againand often he did call, and my
sisters and their guid men began to jeer me about him. Weel, he called and
called, for I daresay as good as three quarters of a year; and he was sae
backward and modest a the time that I thought him a very remarkable man;
indeed, I began to think him every way superior to James Laidlaw.
But at last he made
proposalsI consentedthe wedding-day was set, and we had been cried in
the kirk. It was the fair day, just two days before we were to be married,
and he came into the house, and, after he had been seated a while, and
cracked in his usual kind way
Oh, says he, what a
bargain I hae missed the day! There are four lots a cattle in the market,
and I might hae cleared four hundred pounds cent, per cent., by them.
Losh me! Walter, then,
says I, why didna ye do it? How did ye let sic a bargain slip through
Woman, said he, I dinna
ken; but a man that is to be married within eight and forty hours is
excusable. I came to the Fair without any thought o either buying or
sellingbut just to see you, Dianaand I kenned there wasna meikle siller
necessary for that.
Losh, Walter, man, said
I, but that is a pityand ye say ye could mak cent. per cent. by the
Deed could I, quoth
heI am sure o that.
Then, Walter, says I,
what is mine the day is to be yours the morn, I may say; and it would be
a pity to lose sic a bargain.
Therefore I put into his
hands an order on a branch bank that had been established in Dunse, for
every farthing that I was worth in the world, and Walter kissed me, and
went out to get the money frae the Bank, and buy the cattle.
But he hadna been out an
hour, when one o my brothers-in-law called, and I thought he looked unco
dowie. So I began to tell him about the excellent bargain that Walter had
made, and what I had done. But the man started frae his seat as if he were
crazed, and without asking me any questions, he only criedGracious!
Diana! hae ye been sic an idiot? and,rushing out o the
house, ran to the bank.
He left me in a state that
I canna describe: I neither kenned what to do nor what to think. But
within half an hour he returned, and he cried out as he enteredDiana, ye
are ruined! He has taken in you and everybody else. The villain broke
yesterday. He is off! Ye may bid fareweel to your siller. Wha is off?
cried I, and I was in sic a state I was hardly able to speak. Walter
Sanderson! answered my brother-in-law.
I believe I went into
hysterics; for the first thing I mind o after his saying so, was a dozen
people standing round about mesome slapping at the palms o my hands, and
others laying water on my breast and temples until they had me as wet as
if they had douked me in Pollocks Well.
I canna tell how I stood up
against this clap o misery. It was near getting the better o me. For a
time I really hated the very name and the sight o man, and I said, as the
song says, that
"Men are a deceivers."
But this was not the worst
o itI had lost my all, and I was now forced into the acquaintanceship of
poverty and dependence. I first went to live under the roof o my youngest
sister, who had always been my favourite; but, before six months went
around, I found that she began to treat me just as though I had been a
servant, ordering me to do this and do the other; and sometimes my dinner
was sent ben to me into the kitchen; and the servant lassies, seeing how
their mistress treated me, considered that they should be justified in
doing the sameand they did the same. Many a weary time have I lain upon
my bed, and wished never to rise again, for my spirit was weary o this
world. But I put up wi insult after insult, until flesh and blood could
endure it no longer. Then did I go to my other sister, and she hardly
opened her mouth to me as I entered her house. I saw that I might gang
where I likedI wasna welcome there. Before I had been a week under her
roof, I found that the herds dog led a ladys life to mine. I was forced
to leave her too.
And, as a sort o last
alternative, just to keep me in existence, I began a bit shop in a
neighbouring town, and took in sewing and washing; and after I had tried
them awhile, and found that they would hardly do, I commenced a bit
school, at the advice of the ministers wife, and learned bairns their
letters and the catechism, and knitting and sewing. I also taught them
(for they were a girls) how to work their samplers, and to write, and to
cast accounts. But what vexed and humbled me more than all I had suffered,
was, that one night, just after I had let my scholars away, an auld hedger
and ditcher body, almost sixty years o age, came into the house, and
Hows a wi ye the nicht? says he, though I had never spoken to the man
before. But he took off his bonnet, and, pulling in a chair, drew a seat
to the fire. I was thunderstruck! But I was yet mair astonished and
ashamed, when the auld body, sleeking down his hair and his chin, had the
assurance to make love to me!
"There is the door, sir!"
cried I. And when he didna seem willing to understand me, I gripped him by
the shouthers, and shewed him what I meant.
Yet quite composedly he
turned round to me and said, I dinna see what is the use o the like o
thisit is true I am aulder than you, but you are at a time o life now
that ye canna expect ony young man to look at ye. Therefore, ye had better
think twice before ye turn me to the door. Ye will find it just as easy a
life being the wife o a hedger as keeping a schoolrather mair sae I
apprehend, and mair profitable too. I had nae patience wi the man. I
thought my sisters had insulted me; but this offer o the hedgers wounded
me mair than a that they had done.
O James Laidlaw! cried I,
when I was left to mysel, what hae ye brought me to! My sisters dinna
look after me. My parting wi them has gien them an excuse to forget that
I exist. My brother is far frae me, and he is ruled by a wife; and I hae
been robbed by another o the little that I had. I am like a withered tree
in a wilderness, standing by its laneI will fa and naebody will miss me.
I am sick, and there are none to haud my head. My throat is parched, and
my lips dry, and there are none to bring me a cup o water. There is nae
living thing that I can ca mine. And some day I shall be found a
stiffened corpse in my bed, with no one near me to close my eyes in death,
or perform the last office of humanity! For I am aloneI am by myselfI am
forgotten in the world; and my latter years, if I have a long life, will
be a burden to strangers."