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The Cottagers of Glenburnie
Chapter VIII. Family Sketches


MRS MASON, unwilling to give trouble, and anxious not to disgust her new acquaintances by the appearance of fastidiousness, gave no further directions concerning her apartment, than was barely necessary towards putting it in a habitable state. This being done, she entered cheerfully into conversation with the fanner, whom she found possessed of much plain good sense, and a greater stock of information than she could have supposed within his reach. She was struck with the force and rationality of his observations on various subjects, and almost sorry when their chat was interrupted by a call to supper, which was now upon the table. It consisted, besides the family dishes of sowens and milk, of a large trencher full of new potatoes, the first of the season, and intended as a treat for the stranger. The farmer and his three sons sat down on one side, the good wife and her two daughters on the other, leaving the arm chair at the head for Mrs Mason, and a stool at the foot for Grizzy, who sat with her back to the table, only turning round occasionally to help herself.

When all were seated, the farmer, taking off a large blue bonnet, which, on account of his bald crown, he seldom parted with through the day, and looking round to see that all were attentive, invited them to join in the act of devotion which preceded every meal, by saying, ' Let us ask a blessing.'

Mrs Mason, who had been so long accustomed to consider the standing posture as expressive of greater reverence, immediately stood up; but she was the only one that moved; all the rest of the party keeping their seats, while the farmer, with great solemnity, pronounced a short but emphatic prayer. This being finished, Mrs Mason was desired to help herself; and such was the impression made by the pious thankfulness which breathed in the devotional exercise in which she had just engaged, that viands less acceptable to her palate would at that moment have been eaten with relish. The sowens were excellent: the milk was sweet; and the fresh raised potatoes, bursting from the coats in which they had been boiled, might have feasted a queen. It is indeed ten thousand to one that any queen ever tasted of the first of vegetables in this its highest state of perfection. Mrs Mason was liberal of her praise ; and both the farmer and his wife were highly gratified by her expressions of satisfaction.

The meal concluded as it had begun, with prayer; and Mrs Mason retired to her room under a full conviction, that in the society of people who so sincerely served and worshipped God, all the materials of happiness would be within her reach.

Her bed appeared so inviting from the delicate whiteness of the linen, that she hastened to enjoy in it the sweets of repose; but no sooner had her head reached the pillow, than she became sick, and was so overcome by a feeling of suffocation that she was obliged to sit up for air. Upon examination she found, that the smell which annoyed her proceeded from new feathers put into the pillow before they had been properly dried, and when they were consequently full of the animal oil, which, when it becomes rancid, sends forth an intolerable effluvium. Having removed the annoyance, and made of her clothes a bundle to support her head, she again composed herself to sleep, but, alas ! in vain for the enemy by whom she was now attacked, she found to be sworn against sleep. The assault was made by such numbers in all quarters, and carried on with such dexterity by the merciless and agile foe, that after a few ineffectual attempts at offensive and defensive warfare, she at length resigned herself to absolute despair. The disgusting idea of want of cleanliness, which their presence excited, was yet more insufferable than the piercing of their little fangs. But, on recollecting how long the room had been filled with the fleeces, she gladly flattered herself, that they were only accidental guests, and that she might soon be able to effect their banishment.

As day advanced, the enemy retired; and poor Mrs Mason, fatigued and wearied, at length sunk to rest. Happily she was undisturbed by the light 5 for though her window, which was exactly opposite to the bed, was not shaded by a curtain, the veil of dust which it had contracted in the eighteen years it had stood unwiped, was too thick to permit the rays of the sun to penetrate. '

As the clock struck eight, she hastened out of bed, vexed at having lost so much of the day in sleep; and on perceiving, when about half dressed, that she had in her room neither water nor hand-basin to wash in,' she threw on her dimity bed-gown, and went out to the kitchen, to procure a supply of these necessary articles. She there found Meg and Jean ; the former standing at the table, from which the porridge dishes seemed to have been just removed ; the latter killing flies at the window. Mrs Mason addressed herself to Meg, and after a courteous good morrow, asked her where she should find a hand-basin? ' I dinna ken,' said Meg, drawing her finger through the milk that had been spilled upon the table. ' Where is your mother?' asked Mrs Mason. ' I dinna ken,' returned Meg, continuing to dabble her hands through the remaining fragments of the feast.

'If you are going to clean that table,' said Mrs Mason, ' you will give yourself more work than you need, by daubing it all over with the porridge ; bring your cloth, and I shall show you how I learned to clean our tables when I was a girl like you.'

Meg continued to make lines with her fore finger.

'Come,' said Mrs Mason, ' shall I teach you?'

'Na,' said Meg, ' I sal dight nane o't. I'm ga'an' to the schule.'

'But that need not hinder you to wipe up the table before you go,' said Mrs Mason. ' You might have cleaned it up as bright as a looking-glass in the time that you have spent in spattering it and dirtying your fingers. Would it not be pleasanter for you to make it clean than to leave it dirty?'

'I'll no be at the fash,' returned Meg, making off to the door as she spoke.

Before she got out, she was met by her mother, who, on seeing her, exclaimed, 'Are ye no awa yet bairns ! I never saw the like. Sic a fecht to get you to the schule ! Nae wonner ye learn little, when you're at it. Gae awa like good bairns; for there's nae schulin' in the morn, ye ken; it's the fair day.'

Meg set off after some farther parley, but Jean continued to catch the flies at the window, taking no notice of her mother's exhortations, though again repeated in pretty nearly the same terms.

'Dear me!' said the mother, 'what's the matter wi' the bairn ! what for winna ye gang, when Meg's gane ? Rin, and ye'll be after her or she wins to the end o' the loan.'

I'm no ga'an the day,' says Jean, turning away her face.

'And whatfore are no ye ga'an, my dear?' says her mother.

'Cause I hinna got my questions,' replied Jean.'

'O, but ye may gang for a' that,' said her mother; ' the maister will no be angry. Gang, like a gude bairn.'

'Na,' said Jean, ' but he will be angry, for I didna get them the last time either.'

'And whatfor didna ye get them, my dear?' said Mrs MacClarty, in a soothing tone.

'Cause they were kittle, and I couldna be fashed ;' replied the hopeful girl, catching, as she spoke, another handful of flies.

Her mother, finding that entreaties were of no avail, endeavoured to speak in a more peremptory accent; and even laid her commands upon her daughter to depart immediately; but she had too often permitted her commands to be disputed, to be surprised at their being now treated with disrespect. Jean repeated her determined purpose of not going to school that day; and the firmer she became in opposition, the authoritative tone of the mother gradually weakened ; till at length by saying, that 'if she did nagang to the schule, she suldna stand there,' she acknowledged herself to be defeated, and the point to be given up.

Mrs Mason, who had stood an unobserved spectator of this scene, was truly shocked at such a dereliction of the parental authority, which she believed must inevitably produce consequences of the most deplorable nature. She came forward, and stopping the little girl, as she was slinking out at the door, asked her, ' if she really meant to disobey her mother, by staying from school?' Jean made no answer, but the indulgent mother, unwilling that any one should open her eyes to that to which she resolved to be blind, instantly made her spoilt child's apology, by observing, that ' the poor thing had na' gotten her questions, and didna like to gang, for fear o' the maister's anger.'

'But ought she not to have got her questions, as her master enjoined, instead of idling here all the morning?' said Mrs Mason.

'Ou ay,' returned Mrs MacClarty, ' she shu'd ha' gotten her questions, nae doubt; but it was unco fashious, and ye see she hasna a turn that gait, poor thing ! but in time she'll do weel eneugh.'

'Those who wait till evening for sunrise,' said Mrs Mason, ' will find that they have lost the day. If you permit your daughter, while a child, to disobey her parent and her teacher, she will never learn to obey her God. But, perhaps I interfere too far. If I do, you must forgive me ; for, with the strong impression which I have upon my mind of the consequences o a right education, I am tempted to forget that my advice may sometimes be unacceptable.'

'Hoot,' said Mrs MacClarty, who did not perfectly comprehend the speech, ' maiden's bairns are aye weel-bred, ye ken, cousin j but I fear ye hinna sleepit weel, that ye have been sae lang o' rising. Its a lang time since the kettle has been boiling for your breakfast.'

'I shall be ready for it very soon,' said Mrs Mason ; ' but I came in search of a basin and water, which Grizzy has forgot to put in my room, and until I wash, I can proceed no further in dressing myself.'

'Dear me,' replied Mrs MacClarty, ' I'm sure you're weel eneugh. Your hands ha' nae need of washing, I trow. Ye ne'er do a turn to file them.'

'You can't surely be in earnest,' replied Mrs Mason. ' Do you think I could sit down to breakfast with unwashed hands ? I never heard of such a thing, and never saw it done in my life.'

'I see nae gude o' sic nicety,' returned her friend ; ' but it is easy to gie ye water eneugh, though I am sure I dinna ken what to put it in, unless ye tak ane o' the parridge plates : or may be the calf's luggie may do better, for it 'ill gie you eneugh o' room.'

'Your own bason will do better than either,' said Mrs Mason. ' Give me the loan of it for this morning, and I shall return it immediately, as you must doubtless often want it through the day.'

'Na, na,' returned Mrs MacClarty, ' I dinna fash wi' sae mony fykes. There's ay water standing in something or other, for ane to ca' their hands through when they're blacket. The gudeman indeed is a wee conceity like yoursel,' an' he coft a brown bason for his shaving in on Saturdays, but it's in use a' the week haudin' milk,' or I'm sure ye'd be welcome to it. I shall see an get it ready for the morn.'

Poor Mrs Mason, on whose nerves the image presented by this description of the alternate uses of the utensil in question, produced a sensible effect, could scarcely command voice to thank her cousin for the civil offer. Being, however, under the necessity of choosing for the present, she without hesitation preferred the calf's luggie to the porridge plate; and indeed considered the calf as being so much the cleanlier animal than his mistress, that she would in every way have preferred him for an associate.

Mrs Mason was not ill-pleased to find that she was to breakfast by herself; the rest of the family, having long ago finished their morning repast, were now engaged in the several occupations of the day.

The kail-pot was already on the fire to make broth for dinner, and Mrs MacClarty busied in preparing the vegetables which were to be boiled in it. When her guest, on hearing her desire Grizzel to make haste, and sit down to her wheel, thought it time to remind her, that her bed was still to make, and her room to be put in order; and that Grizzel's assistance would be necessary for both.

It was not easy to persuade the good woman that it would not be time enough in the dusk of the evening; but as Mrs Mason declared it essential to her comfort, Grizzy was ordered to attend her, and to do whatever she desired. By her directions, the stout girl fell to work, and hoisted out the bed and bed-clothes, which she carried to the barn-yard; the only place about the house where there was a spot of green grass. The check curtains followed, and in their removal effected the sudden ruin of many a goodly cobweb, which had never before met with the smallest molestation. When the lower valance was removed, it displayed a scene still more extraordinary; a hoard of the remains of the old shoes that had ever been worn by any member of the family; staves of broken tubs, ends of decayed rope, and a long etcetera of useless articles, so covered with blue mould and dust, that it seemed surprising the very spiders did not quit the colony in disgust.

Mrs Mason sickened at the sight. Perceiving what an unpleasant task she should be obliged to impose on her assistant, she deemed herself in justice bound to recompense her for the trouble; and, holding up a half-crown piece, told her, that if she performed all she required of her on the present occasion, it should be her own. No sooner was Grizzy made certain of the reward, which had till now been promised in indefinite terms, than she began in such good earnest, that Mrs Mason was glad to get out of the room. After three large buckets full of dirt and trumpery had been carried out, she came to Mrs Mason for fresh instructions. She then proceeded to wash the bedposts with soap and water, after which, the chairs, the tables, the clock-case, the very walls of the room, as well as everything it contained, all underwent a complete cleaning.

The window, in which were nine tolerably large panes of glass, was no sooner rendered transparent, than Grizzy cried out in ecstasy, 'that she couldna' have thought it would have made sic a change. Dear me ! how heartsome it looks now, to what it us't!' said the girl, her spirit rising in proportion to the exertion of her activity.

'And in how short a time has it been cleaned !' said Mrs Mason. ' Yet, had it been regularly cleaned once a week, as it ought to have been, it would have cost far less trouble. By the labour of a minute or two, we may keep it constantly bright; and surely few days pass in which so much time may not be spared. Let us now go to the kitchen window, and make it likewise clean.' Grizzy with alacrity obeyed. But before the window could be approached, it was found necessary to remove the heap of dusty articles piled up in the window sill, which served the purpose of family library, and repository of what is known by the term odds and ends.

Mrs MacClarty, who had sat down to spin, did not at first seem willing to take any notice of what was going forward; but on perceiving her maid beginning to meddle with the things in the window, she could no longer remain a neutral spectator of the scene. Stopping her wheel, she, in a voice indicating the reverse of satisfaction, asked what she was about? Mrs Mason took it upon her to reply. ' We are going to make your window bright and clean for you, cousin,' said she. ' If you step into my room, and take a look at mine, you will see what a difference there is in it; and this, if these broken panes were mended, would look every bit as well.'

'It does weel enough] returned Mrs MacClarty ;' it wants nae cleanin'. It does just weel eneugh. What's the guid o' takin' up the lassie's time wi' nonsense ? she'll break the window too, and the bairns hae broken eneugh o' it already.'

'But if these panes were mended, and the window cleaned, without and within,' said Mrs Mason, ' you cannot think how much more cheerful the kitchen would appear.'

'And how long will it bide clean, if it were ?' said Mrs MacClarty. ' It would be as ill as ever in a month, and wha cou'd be at the fash o' ay cleanin' at it.'

'Even once a month would keep it tolerable, but once a week would keep it very nice; your little girls might rub it bright of a morning, without the least trouble in the world. They might learn, too, to whiten the window-sill, and to keep it free from rubbish, by laying the books, and all these articles, in their proper places, instead of letting them remain here covered with dust. You cannot imagine what good it would do your young people, did they learn betimes to attend to such matters; for, believe me cousin, habits of neatness, and of activity, and of attention, have a greater effect upon the temper and disposition than most people are aware of.'

'If my bairns do as weel as I hae done, they'll do weel eneugh,' said Mrs MacClarty, turning her wheel with great speed.

Mr MacClarty's voice was just at that moment heard calling on Grizzy to drive the fowls out of the corn-field, which necessarily put a stop to all further proceedings against the window. Mrs Mason therefore returned to her own apartment; and greatly pleased with the appearance which it now assumed, cheerfully sat down to her accustomed labours of the needle, of which she was such complete mistress, that it gave no interruption to the train of her reflections. On taking a view of her present situation, and comparing it with the past, she carefully suppressed every feeling that could lead to discontent. Instead of murmuring at the loss of those indulgences, which long habit had almost converted into necessaries of life, she blessed God for the enjoyment ol such a state of health as none of the luxuries of wealth could purchase ; and for which those who possessed them so often sighed in vain. Considering all the events of her life as ordered under the wise dispensation of Providence, she looked to the subordinate situation in which she had been placed, as a school in which it was intended that she should learn the important lesson of humility ; and when she looked back, it was for the purpose of inquiring how she had fulfilled the duties of the lot assigned her.

She was now, for the first time in her life, completely her own mistress; but she was already sensible, that the idea of a life completely independent of the will of others is merely visionary, and that in all situations, some portion of one's own will must necessarily be sacrificed. She saw that the more nearly people approached each other in their habits and opinions, the less would the sacrifice be felt; but while she entertained a hope of being able to do more good in her present situation than she could in any other, she resolved to remain where she was. ' Surely,' said she to herself, ' I must be of some use to the children of these good people. They are ill brought up, but they do not seem deficient in understanding; and if I can once convince them of the advantage they will derive from listening to my advice, I may make a lasting impression on their minds.'

While engaged by these reflections, as she busily pursued her work, she was startled by a sudden noise, followed by an immediate diminution of light; and on looking up, perceived her window all over bespattered with mud. A tittering laugh betrayed the aggressors, and directed her attention to the side where they stood, and from which she knew they could not retreat without being seen. She therefore continued quietly on the watch, and in a little time saw Jean and her younger brother issue from the spot, and hastily run down the bank that led to the river.

Mrs Mason had been for above twenty years employed in studying the tempers and dispositions of children ; but as she had never before seen an instance of what appeared to be unprovoked malignity in the youthful mind, she was greatly shocked at the discovery \ and thought it incumbent on her to inform their mother of the incident, and to give her opinion of it in the plainest terms.

Mrs MacClarty perceiving that Mrs Mason had something extraordinary to communicate, stopped her wheel to listen ; and when the window was mentioned, asked, with great anxiety, whether it was broken?' ' No,' said Mrs Mason, ' the mud they threw at it was too soft to break the glass ; it is not to the injury done the windows that I wish to call your attention, but to the dispositions of your children ; for what must the dispositions be that lead them to take pleasure in such an act ?'

'Hoot,' said Mrs MacClarty, 'is that it a'? ane wou'd ha' thought the window had been a' to shivers, by the way you spoke. If its but a wee clarted, there's nae sae muckle ill done. I told ye it was nonsense to be at sae muckle fash aboot it; for that it would na' get leave to bide clean lang.'

'But if your children were better taught,' said Mrs Mason, ' it might get leave to bide clean long enough. If the same activity which they have displayed in dirtying it, had been directed into proper channels, your cottage might have been kept in order by their little hands, and your garden, and all about your doors, made neat and beautiful. Children are naturally active; but unless their activity be early bent to useful purposes, it will only lead them into mischief. Were your children'—

'Hoot,' said Mrs MacClarty, peevishly, ' my bairns are just like other folks. A' laddies are full o' mischief. I'm sure there's no a yard i' the town where they can get a flower or apple keepit for them. I wonder what ye would ha' said if ye had seen the minister's yetts the day after they were painted, slacked and blacketa' owre wi' dirt, by the laddies frae the schule ?'

'I would have said,' returned Mrs Mason, 'what I said before, that all that bent to mischief in the children arises from the neglect of the parents, in not directing their activity into proper channels. Do you not think that each of these boys would, if properly trained, find as much amusement in works that would tend to ornament the village, or in cultivating a few shrubs and flowers to adorn the walls of their own cottages, as they now appear to find in mischief and destruction? Do you not think, that that girl of yours might have been so brought up as to have had more pleasure in cleaning a window of her father's house, than in bedaubing it with mud? Allowing the pleasure of being mis-chieviously active, and the pleasure of being usefully active, to be at present equal; do you think that the consequences will not be different? " Train up a child in the way he should go," says Solomon, and depend upon it, that in the way you train him he will go, whether you desire it or not. If you permit a child to derive all his pleasure from doing ill to others, he Świll not, when he is grown up, be inclined to do much good. He will, even from his youth, be conscious of deserving the ill will of his neighbours, and must of course have no good will to them. His temper will thus be soured. If he succeeds in life he will be proud and overbearing; if he does not, he will become sulky, and morose, and obdurate.'

'Weel,' said the farmer, who had been listening to the latter part of the conversation, ' it's a' true that ye say, but how is it to be helpit ? Do you think corrupt nature can be subdued in ony other way than by the grace of God?'

'If I read my Bible right,' returned Mrs Mason, ' the grace of God is a gift which, like all the other gifts of divine love, must be sought by the appointed means. It is the duty of a parent to put his children upon the way of thus seeking it; and, as far as it is in his power, to remove the obstacles that would prevent it.'

'The minister himsel' could speak nae better,' returned the farmer. ' But when folks gi' their bairns the best education in their power, what mair can they do?'

'In answer to your question,' replied Mrs Mason, ' I will put one to you. Suppose you had a field which produced only briers and thorns, what method would you take to bring it into heart?'

'I would nae doubt rate out the briers and thorns, as weel as I could,' returned the farmer.

'And after you had opened the soil by ploughing, and enriched it by the proper manure, you would sow good seed in it, and expect, by the blessing of heaven, to reap, in harvest, the reward of your labours,' said Mrs Mason.

'To be sure I would,' said the farmer.

'And do you imagine,' said Mrs Mason, ' that the human soul requires less care in culturing it than is neccssary to your field? Is it merely by teaching them to say their questions, or even teaching them to read, that the briers and thorns of pride and self-will will be rooted up from your children's minds?'

'We maun trust a' to the grace of God,' said the fanner.

'God forbid that we should put trust in aught beside,' returned Mrs Mason; ' but if we hope for a miraculous interposition of divine grace, in favour of ourselves or of our children, without taking the means that God has appointed, our hope does not spring from faith but from presumption. It is just as if you were neither to plough nor sow your fields, and yet expect that Providence would bless you with an abundant crop.'

'But what means ought we to use that we do not use?' said the farmer. 'We send our bairns to the schule, and we take them to the kirk, and we do our best to set them a good example. I ken na what we could do mair.'

'You are a good man,' said Mrs Mason, with complacency ; 'and happy will it be for your children if they follow your example. But let us drop all allusion to them in particular, and speak only of training up youth to virtue, as a general principle. By what you say, you think it sufficient to sow the seed; I contend for the necessity of preparing the soil to receive it ; and say, that without such preparation, it will never take root, nor vegetate.'

'I canna' contradict you,' returned the farmer; 'but I wish you to explain it better. If you mean that we ought to give our bairns lessons at hame, I can tell you that we have not time for it, nor are we book-learned eneugh to make fine speeches to them, as the like of you might do; and if we were, I fear it wad do little gude.'

'Believe me,' replied Mrs Mason, 'set lessons, and fine harangues, make no part of my plan of preparation, which consists of nothing else than a watchful attention to the first appearances of what is in its nature evil, and whether it comes in the shape of self-will, passion, or perverseness, nipping it in the very bud; while, on the other hand, I would tenderly cherish every kindly affection, and enforce attention to the feelings of others; by which means I would render children kind-hearted, tractable, and obedient. This is what I call the preparation of the soil: now let us see the consequences.—When a child, who has been accustomed to prompt and cheerful obedience, learns to read the commandment, honour thy father and thy mother, will he not be more apt to practise the duty then inculcated than one who had from infancy indulged in contrary habits? And what doth the gospel teach ? doth it not urge us to subdue all selfish and vindictive passions, in order that we may cherish the most perfect love to God and man? Now, if we have permitted our children to indulge these passions, how do we prepare them for practising the gospel precepts? Their duty to God and man requires, that they should make the best use of every power of mind and body : the activity natural to youth is a power included in this rule; and if we permit them to waste it in effecting mischief, and in destroying or disturbing the happiness of others, can we say that we are not counteracting the express will of our divine Master? How can we flatter ourselves, that with such habits the divine precepts will make much impression on their minds.'

Before Mrs Mason had finished her speech, her voice was drowned in the noise of a violent quarrel that had taken place between the farmer's two elder sons. Perceiving that the dispute would not be easily settled, she retired to her room ; but was overtaken in the passage by Mrs MacClarty, who said in a whisper, ' I hope ye'll say naething o' Jenny's playing the truant frae the schule. Her father mauna ken o't, he wad be sae angry.'—' Alas !' said Mrs Mason, ' you know not how much you are your child's enemy ! but I shall be silent'


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