IN the fine summer of the year 1788, as Mr Stewart of Gowan Brae, and his two daughters, were one morning sitting down to breakfast, they were told by the servant, that a gentlewoman was at the door, who desired to speak with Mr Stewart on business. 'She comes in good time,' said Mr Stewart; ' but do you not know who she is?' No, sir,' returned the servant, ' she is quite a stranger, and speaks Englified, and is very lame, but has a wondrous pleasant countenance.' Mr Stewart, without further inquiry, hastened to the door, while the young ladies continued the interrogations.
'Did she come in her own carriage, or in a hack?' asked Miss Stewart. ' She came riding on a double horse,' replied the lad. ' Riding double !' cried Miss Stewart, resuming her seat, ' I thought she had been a lady. Come, Mary, let us have our breakfast. My goodness! I hope papa is not bringing the woman here.'
As she spoke, the door opened, and Mr Stewart entered with the stranger leaning on his arm. Her respectful salute was returned by Miss Stewart with that sort of reserve which young ladies, who are anywise doubtful of being entitled to all that they assume, are apt to put on when addressing themselves to strangers, of whose rank they are uncertain ; but, by her sister Mary, it was returned with a frankness natural to those who do not fear being demeaned by an act of courtesy.
'Indeed, you must breakfast with us, my good Mrs Mason,' said Mr Stewart, placing a chair; 'my daughters have often heard of you from their mother. They are no strangers either to your name or character ; and therefore must be prepared to show you esteem and respect'
Miss Stewart coloured, and drew up her head very scornfully; of which Mrs Mason took no notice, but humbly thanking the good gentleman for his kindness, added, ' that he could scarcely imagine how much pleasure it gave her, to see the children of one whom she had so loved and honoured; and she was loved and honoured by all who knew her,' continued she. 1 Both the young ladies resemble her : may they be as like her in their minds as in their persons !'
'God grant they may,' said the father, sighing, ' and I hope her friends will be theirs through life.'
Miss Stewart, who had been all this time looking out of the window, began her breakfast, without taking any notice of what was said; but Mary, who never heard her mother spoken of without sensible emotion, bowed to Mrs Mason, with a look expressive of her gratitude; and observing, with compassion, how much she appeared exhausted by the fatigue of travelling, urged the necessity of her taking refreshment and repose. Mr Stewart warmly seconded his daughter's invitation, who, having learned that Mrs Mason had travelled night and day in the stage coach, and only stopped at-, until a horse could be prepared to bring her forward to Gowan Brae, was anxious that she should devote the remainder of the day to rest. The weary stranger thankfully acceded to the kind proposal ; and Mary, perceiving how lame she was, offered her assistance to support her to her room, and conducted her to it with all that respectful kindness, which age or indisposition so naturally excite in an artless mind.
When Mary returned to the parlour, she found her father at the door, going out; he gave her a smile of approbation as he passed, and kindly tapping her on the neck, said, 'she was a dear good lassie, and a comfort to his heart.'
Miss Stewart, who thought that every praise bestowed on her sister, conveyed a reproach to her, now broke silence, in evident displeasure with all the party. 'She was sure, for her part, she did not know what people meant by paying such people so much attention. But she knew well enough it was all to get their good word; but for her part, she scorned such meanness. She scorned to get the good word of any one, by doing what was so improper.'
'And what, my dear Bell, is improper in what I have now done?' said Mary, in a mild tone of expostulation.
'Improper!' returned her sister, ' I don't know what you call improper, if you think it proper to keep company with a servant, and to make as much fuss about her too, as if she were a lady. Improper, indeed ! And when you know too, that Captain Mollins was to come here to-day; and that I had hoped my father would ask him to dinner: but my friends are never to be minded—they are to be turned out to make room for every trumpery person you choose to pick up !'
'Indeed, sister, you do me injustice,' said Mary; ' you know I did not bring Mrs Mason here; but when I heard her name, I recollected all that our dear mother had often told us of her extraordinary worth ; and I thought, if it had pleased God to have spared her, how glad she would have been to have seen one she so much esteemed; for though my mother was born in a higher station, and bred to higher views than we have any right to, she had no pride, and treated all who were worthy of her notice with kindness.'
'Yes,' replied Miss Stewart, ' it was her only fault. She was a woman of family: and with her connexions, if she had held her head a little higher, and never taken notice of people because of their being good, and such stuff, she might have lived in a genteeler style. I am sure she gave as much to poor people every year as might have given handsome dinners to half the gentry in the country; and, to curry favour with my father, you encourage him in the same mean ways. But I see through your mean arts, Miss, and I despise them.'
'Indeed, sister, I have no arts,' said Mary, ' I wash to follow the example that was set us by the best of mothers, and I am sure we cannot have a better model for our conduct.'
'Do as you please, Miss !' cried her sister, choking with rage; and, leaving the room, slapped the door after her with a violence which awaked their guest, and brought their father up from his study to see what was the matter. He found Mary in tears, and instantly conjectured the cause of the uproar. ' I see how it is.' said he : ' Jlell has been giving vent to the passion which I saw brewing in her breast, from the moment that I brought this worthy woman into the room. The ridiculous notions that she has got about gentility, seem to have stifled every good feeling in her mind. But it is my own fault. This is the effect of sending her, on account of these accomplishments, to that nursery of folly and impertinence, where she learned nothing but vanity and idleness.'
'Indeed, sir,' said Mary, ' my sister is very accomplished, and very genteel; and it is natural that she should wish to get into genteel company, to which she thinks our taking notice of people in an inferior station presents an obstacle.'
'Then she thinks very foolishly, and very absurdly,' replied Mr Stewart. ' My father was an honest man, and therefore I am not ashamed of my origin; but, were I ashamed of it, could I by that make any one forget it? Does not all the country know that I am but a farmer's son? and though, by being factor on the estate of Longlands, I have been brought into the company of higher people, it is by my character, and not by my situation, that I have gained a title to their respect. Depend upon it, Mary, that as long as people in our private station rest their claims to respect upon the grounds of upright conduct and unblemished virtue, they will not fail to meet with the attention they deserve ; and, that the vain ambition of being esteemed richer or greater than we really are, is a contemptible meanness, and will not fail to expose us to many mortifications. What in reality can be more mean than to be ashamed of noticing a deserving person, because they are poor?—unless,.indeed, it be the meanness of courting the favour of one who is rich and wicked.'
Mary expressed her assent; and Mr Stewart proceeded. ' As to Mrs Mason,' said he, ' she was, it is true, but a servant in the house of Lord Longlands; and was brought up by the old lady from a child to be a servant. Your mother was then in the house, in a state of dependence, as a poor relation; and would have found her situation miserable, had it not been alleviated by the kind attentions of this good girl, Betty Mason, who performed for her many friendly offices essential to her comfort ; and was, in sickness, her sole support and consolation. For the old lady, though pride made her treat my wife as a relation, so far as to give her a seat at her table, was a woman of a coarse and selfish mind, and gave herself little trouble about the feelings or comforts of any one. What my poor dear angel suffered while she was in that great house, was well known to me, and went to my heart. Then, seized with a fever at a time the house was full of company, she was so neglected, that she would inevitably have lost her life, but for the care of Mason, who watched her night and day. She always called her her preserver : and can we, my dear Mary, forget the obligation? No, no. Never shall one who showed kindness to her, find aught but kindness at Gowan Brae. Tell your sister that I say so ; and that if she does not choose to treat Mrs Mason as my guest ought to be treated, she had better keep her room.—But who comes here? A fine gentleman, I think. Do you know who he is?' 'I never saw him, sir,' returned Mary; 'but I suppose it is a Captain Mollins, whom my sister met with when she went to the ball with Mrs Flinders.'
'Mrs Flinders is a vain giddy woman,' said Mr Stewart, 'and I do not like any one the better for being of her acquaintance; but I will not prejudge the merits of the gentleman.' Captain Mollins was then shown in, and was received by Mr Stewart with a grave civility, which might have embarrassed some people— but the captain was not so easily abashed; saying, that he had the honour of bringing a message for Miss Stewart from Mrs Flinders. He took his seat, and began talking of the weather with all the ease of an old acquaintance.
Miss Stewart, who, in expectation of the captain's visit, had changed her dress, walked into the room, with a smile, or rather simper, on her countenance ; through which an acute observer would, however, have seen the remains of the recent storm. Her eyes sparkled, but her eyebrows were not yet unbent to the openness of good humour: her voice was, however, changed to the tone of pleasure; and so much wit did she find in the captain's conversation, that every sentence he uttered produced a laugh. They had, indeed, all the laugh to themselves ; for, as they only spoke about the ball, and as neither Mr Stewart or Mary had be ;n there, they could have no clue to the meaning of the many brilliant things that were said. But when the old gentleman heard the captain ask his daughter whether she was not acquainted with some of the quizzes whom he had seen speak to her, and saw his daughter blush indignant at the charge, he thought it time to ask for an explanation ; and begged the captain to inform him of whom he spoke.
The captain turned off the question with a laugh —saying, ' he was only rallying Miss Stewart about a gentleman in a green coat, who had the assurance to ask her to dance—one of the town's people—and you know, sir, what a vulgar set they are, he, he, he!'
'O shockingly vulgar indeed,' said Miss Stewart; ' but we have no acquaintance with them, I assure you we visit none but the families in the country.'
'Then you have no remorse for your cruelty to that poor Mr Fraser,' cried the captain. ' He looked so mortified when you refused him—I shall never forget it, he, he, he !'
'Ha, ha, ha—Well you are so comical,' said Miss Stewart, endeavouring to prevent her father, who was about to speak; but the old gentleman would be heard. 'Was it Mr Fraser, did you say, sir, that asked my daughter?'
'Yes, Fraser, Fraser, that was his name, I think —a little squat vulgar fellow—one you probably don't know.'
'But I do know him, sir,' returned Mr Stewart ' that little fat vulgar fellow is my nephew, sir—my daughter's cousin-german ! A man of whose notice she ought to be proud, for he is respected as a benefactor to the whole neighbourhood. Were she to be ashamed to acknowledge her relationship to such a man, because he wears plain manners and a plain coat, I should be ashamed of her. Had my nephew been less successful in business than he has been, he would have still merited esteem; for though of no high birth, he possesses the heart, and soul, and spirit, of a gentleman.'
' Very true, sir—very true, indeed,' said the captain, with undaunted assurance. ' Mr Fraser is a very worthy man; he gives excellent dinners; I have the honour of knowing him intimately; have dined with him twice a week ever since I have been at-; a very worthy man, indeed. I believe he dines with Mrs Flinders to-day, and will probably see Miss Stewart home for I hope she won't mortify her friend, by refusing her invitation.'
Miss Stewart looked at her father, who was exceedingly averse from the proposal. At length, however, she carried her point, as she generally did; for Mr Stewart, though he saw, and hourly felt, the consequence of his indulgence, wanted the firmness that was necessary to enforce obedience, and to guide the conduct of this forward and self-willed child.