BY the terms of his father's will, Robert, on his brother's leaving the kingdom, became the legal possessor of the farm. He wanted three years of one-and-twenty; but as his mother agreed to assist him in its management, it was thought for the interest of the family that he should succeed to it without delay.
No sooner was this point settled than the young man, who had ever shown a sulky antipathy to Mrs Mason, began to treat her with a rudeness that was too marked to be overlooked; nor did he receive any check from his mother for his bearish behaviour, except when she now and then, in a feeble tone, exclaimed, ' Hoot, Robby, that's no right.' The girls, too, who had just begun to appear sensible of the advantage of those habits of diligence and decorum to which Mrs Mason had introduced them, were no sooner under their mother's directions than they relaxed into indolence, and became as pert and obstreperous as ever. Mrs Mason saw that the reign of anarchy was fast approaching. She likewise saw that her presence, which retarded it, was considered by all the family a restraint; she therefore determined to come to an explanation on the subject, and as soon as possible to change her quarters.
In pursuance of her design, Mrs Mason took the very first opportunity of speaking to Robert and his mother; and after reminding them that the term agreed on between her and the late farmer, as a trial of her plan, had nearly expired, she informed them that, for reasons on which she should not now enter, she thought it best for both parties that her stay should not extend beyond it. Robert looked surprised, and even vexed; but it was the vexation of pride. He, however, remained silent. His mother, though much at a loss in what way to take Mrs Mason's notice, thought it necessary to speak for both; but she did not speak much to the purpose. Jealous of Mrs Mason's superior sense, and at the same time conscious of the obligations she owed to her unwearied benevolence, she felt her presence as a burthen ; but not being able to trace the cause of this feeling to its true and real source, which was no other than her own ignorance and pride, she durst not, even to herself, own that she disliked her.
'I'm sure,' said she, 'I hope—I'm sure—for my part—I say, I'm sure—that, as far as I ken, we have done a' in oor poo'er to make ye comfortable; but to be sure I ay thought it was nae place for you. Our ways were a' sae different, though I am sure ye ha' been very kind: I'm sure we're a' sensible o' that; but young folk dinna like to be contradickit; they're no ay sae wise as ane wad wish them; but they're just neebor-like. I'm sure if it's onything they have said that gars ye think o' leaving us, I canna help't; but I hope ye'll no blame me, for I'm sure Robby kens how often I have said, that they ought a' to be civil to you.'
'What need ye be clashing sae mickle about it,' cried Robert, interrupting her; ' we did weel eneugh before she cam, and we'll do weel eneugh when she's gane.' So saying, he went away, banging the door after him with even more than usual violence.
Mrs Mason took no notice of his behaviour; but, unwilling to continue a conversation so little agreeable, she went to her own room, which she had for the last ten days seldom quitted but at the hour of meals. Disappointed in the hopes she had formed, of finding a home in the house of a kinswoman, and mortified by the seeming neglect of the family at Gowan Brae, on whose friendship she had depended with undoubting confidence, her spirits were inclined to sadness; but she would not give way to the depression. Recollecting how mercifully all the events of her life had hitherto been ordered, she chased away despondency by trust in God; and, resolving to act to the best of her judgment, fearlessly left the consequences to His disposal.
After some consideration, she resolved to apply to William Morison and his wife to take her as a lodger. They were poor; and therefore the small sum she could afford to pay might to them be particularly useful. They were humble, and therefore would not refuse to be instructed in matters which they had never before had any opportunity to learn. She might then do good to them and to their children; and where she could do most good, there did Mrs Mason think it would be most for her happiness to go.
No sooner did she give a hint of her intention to Morison and his wife, than she perceived, from their brightened looks, that she had judged truly in imagining that her offer would be received with joy.—These poor people had been sorely visited by affliction; but their good principles and good sense had taught them to make a proper use of the visitation, in checking the spirit of pride and presumption. Their resignation to the will of God was cheerful and unfeigned, and therefore led to redoubled efforts of industry; but their exertions had not as yet effectually relieved them from the extreme poverty to which they had been reduced. After gratefully acknowledging their sense of Mrs Mason's kindness, in giving their house a preference, and declaring how much they deemed themselves honoured by having her beneath their roof, they looked at each other and paused, as if struck by the recollection of some invincible obstacle. Mrs Mason perceived their embarrassment, and asked the cause.
'What makes you hesitate?' said she, ' I am afraid you think seven shillings a week too little for my board and lodging; but you know I am to find my own wheaten bread, and my own tea, and'-
'O Madam, you are o'er generous,' cried Peggy, interrupting her; ' you give o'er mickle by a great deal; but still I fear, that in winter we may not be able to make things comfortable to you. Were it in summer we should do weel eneugh.'
'Then why not in winter?' said Mrs Mason; ' I shall advance money to buy coals if that be all.'
'Don't speak of it, Peggy,' said William, gently pulling his wife's sleeve; ' though it be winter, we shall do weel eneugh, there's nae fear.'
'Na, na, gudeman,' returned Peggy, 'you're no sae strong yet as to be able to sleep without a bed through the winter in this cauld house; it mauna be.'
' Without a bed !' cried Mrs Mason; ' why should he be without a bed?'
'Why, Madam,' said William, ' since my wife has let the cat out o' the bag, as the saying is, it's as weel to tell you the truth. We have not a bed in the house but one; and that was bought for us by gude Mr Stewart of Gowan Brae, at the time that a' our furniture was rouped aff frae our house at-'
'Had we been now as we were then,' cried Peggy, ' how comfortable could we have made Mrs Mason ! She should have had no more to do but just to speak her wishes.'
'I don't fear being comfortable enough as it is,' said Mrs Mason; ' but what is become of the bed I slept on for so many weeks, and which you so kindly offered for my accommodation during all the time of Mrs MacClarty's illness?'
'O the want o' a bed was naething then,' returned Peggy; ' the weather was warm, and some weel-laid straw did us vastly weel; for my own part I could put up with it all the year through; but my gudeman has been sae weakly since he had the rheumatism, that I would be feared for his being the waur o't.'
'And did you really put yourselves to such a shift in order to oblige me ?' said Mrs Mason. ' What kindness ! what delicacy in concealing the extent of the obligation ! it grieves me to learn that hearts so warm should have experienced misfortune; and by the hint you gave of selling off your furniture on leaving-, I fear your circumstances have not been so prosperous as I heartily wish them.'
'Since my misfortunes have been in some measure brought on by my own indiscrei on, I ought not to complain,' said William.
' Indeed, Madam, he does himself wrang,' cried Peggy, ' he never was guilty o' ony indiscretion in his days ; but just only trusted o'er far to the honesty and discretion of a fau'se-hearted loon, that cheated mony a man that ken'd mair o' business than he did. It was nae fau't o' William's that the man was a rogue; yet he blames himsel in a way that vexes me to hear him.'
'I do blame myself/ said William ; ' for had I been contented to go on with my business, as my father did before me, on a scale within my means, my profits, though small, would have been certain. But I wished to raise my wife and bairns above their station ; and God, who saw the pride of my heart, has punished me.'
'If you only risked your own,' said Mrs Mason, ' your ambition was blameless, and your exertions laudable.
'Alas ! Madam,' returned William, ' no man that enters into what they call speculations in business can say that he risks only his own : he risks the money of his friends, and of his neighbours, and of all who, from confidence in his honesty, give him trust or credit. Grant that neither friend nor neighbour had suffered— and I hope to God that in the end none will suffer a farthing's loss by me—yet how can I answer to my conscience for the ruin I have brought upon my wife and children ? Nay, Peggy, you must not hinder me to speak. You ken that had your honest father seen what has happened, it would ha' brought his grey hairs wi' sorrow to the grave. He told me that he gi'ed ye to me wi' better will than to a richer man, because he ken'd I loved ye weel, and would ay be kind to ye, and that the siller he had gathered wi' mickle care and toil, I wouldna lightly spend upon my pleasure— O I canna bear to think on't! When I look round these bare wa's, and see what I have reduced you to, I think mysel' little better than a villain !'
Peggy hastily brushing away a falling tear, held out her hand to her husband, saying with a smile, ' Ye maun be an unco sort o' villain, William, for I would rather beg my bread wi' you through the warld than be the greatest lady in the land ! But what will Mrs Mason think of us?'
'I think,' said Mrs Mason, ' that you are a worthy couple, and that you deserve to be happy, and will be happy too, in the end—not the less so, perhaps, for having known misfortune.'
' O that you could gar my gudeman think sae !' cried Peggy; 1 I'm ay telling him that if he wouldna tine heart we ha' tint naething. We are yet but young, we ha' promising bairns, gude health, and the warld for the winning; what should we desire mair ! Could we but contrive to make the house fit to receive you, I should have no fears for the future. You would bring a blessing with you ; I'm sure you would.'
Mrs Mason obviated every difficulty, by saying, that she meant to furnish her own apartment; and after a little further conversation, in which everything was arranged to mutual satisfaction, she set out on her return to the farm, animated by the delightful hope of having it in her power to dispense a degree of happiness to her fellow creatures. As she slowly proceeded homeward, an elderly man, mounted on a good horse, prepared for carrying double, passed her on the road, and having stopped a minute at Mrs MacClarty's door, turned again to meet her. On coming up, he said he was sent by Mr Stewart of Gowan Brae, with his and Miss Mary's compliments, to beg that she would do them the favour of going there to dinner, and that they should send her back in a few days. Observing that Mrs Mason hesitated concerning what answer she should give, the faithful old servant proceeded to enforce the message, by telling her he was sure it would do them good to see her, 'for I am far mista'en, madam/ said he, ' if they dinna stand in need o' comfort.'
'Has any misfortune befallen the family?' asked Mrs Mason, anxiously.
'1 kenna, madam,' returned the servant, 'whether it can be weel called a misfortune; for a marriage may be vexatious to ane's friends that's nae misfortune in the end.'
'And Miss Stewart has occasioned this vexation, I suppose?' said Mrs Mason.
'Ye guess right,' returned the old man ; ' she has made a match to please hersel', and as she has brewed sae she maun drink \ but my poor master taks it sair to heart; and it is e'en hard eneugh that the bairn should cross him maist that he never crossed in his life.'
Mrs Mason made no reply; but directing him to the stable to put up his horse for half an hour, said she should then be ready to accompany him. Having informed her cousin, in friendly terms, of the arrangements she had made with the Morisons, and assured her of the continuance of her kindness and goodwill, she quickly made what little preparations were necessary for her departure, and was on the road to Gowan Brae before Mrs MacClarty had recovered her astonishment.
As Mrs Mason rode from the door, Robert made his appearance. His mother, on seeing him, burst into a violent flood of tears, and accused him as the cause of her losing the best friend that she ever had in the world—' one who,' she said, ' was a credit to her family, and an honour and a credit to them all.' She reminded him of all that she had done for them in sickness—how she had attended his dying father— what exertions she had made to save his brother's life—what care she had taken of the family—how little trouble she had given, and how generously she had paid for the little trouble she occasioned. ' And now,' cried she, 'she'll be just the same friend to the Morisons she has been to us ! I wou'dna wonder that they got every farthing she has in the warld. Scores o' fine silk goons, and grand petticoats and stockings; and sic a sight o' mutches and laces as wad fill twa o' Miss Tweedy's shop ! Ay, ay, the Morisons will get it a', and a' her money foreby! They'll no be the fools to part wi' her that we ha' been; they're o'er cunning for that!'
Robert, who, in his treatment of Mrs Mason, had had no other end in view than the immediate gratification of his own bad temper, was enraged at this representation of the advantages which his neighbour's family were likely to derive from the event. Far, however, from acknowledging that he had been to blame, he insolently retorted on his mother, and poured on her a torrent of abuse. The poor woman attempted to speak in her own justification; but her voice was drowned in the louder and more vehement accents of her hopeful son. She had then no other resource but tears, and bitterly did sheweep—bitterly did she lament. Her tears and lamentations aggravated the stings of conscience in Robert's heart; but where the passions are habitually uncontrolled, the stings of conscience have no other effect than to increase the irritation.
Had Mrs MacClarty been capable of reasoning, how would her soul have been wrung with remorse, had she then said to herself—There was a time when this boy's passions might have been subdued; when, with a little care, he might have learned to control them.