MRS MASON had not been many months in her employment of schoolmistress, when she received a great addition to her consequence in the eyes of her neighbours, by the accession of Mr Merriton to the estate and title of Long-lands, on the sudden decease of his elder brother. The amiable disposition of this young nobleman left no room to doubt of his gratitude to the preserver of his life, and the instructress of his infancy. The friendship of Mrs Mason was therefore considered of great importance by those who in any way depended on the favour or protection of their superior lord. But even where there was no interested motive, the use which she had already made of his bounty, and the certainty that she would have the means of doing still farther good, had a wonderful effect in increasing the opinion of her wisdom.
Of all the people in the village, it was to poor Mrs MacClarty alone that this opinion came too late to be of any use. When she observed the thriving appearance of the Morisons, and how fast they were rising into notice and respect, her heart was torn between envy and regret. Far was she, however, from imputing to herself any blame; she, on the contrary, believed all the blame to rest with Mrs Mason, who was so unnatural as to leave her own relations, ' and to tak up wi' strangers, who were neither kith nor kin to her;' nor did she omit any opportunity of railing at the pride of the schoolmaster's wife and daughters, who, she said, ' were now sae saucy as to pretend that they couldna sit doon in comfort in a hoose that wasna' clean soopit.'
She for a time found many among the neighbours who readily acquiesced in her opinions, and joined in her expressions of contempt; but by degrees the strength of her party visibly declined. Those who had their children at school were so sensible of the rapid improvement that had been made in their tempers and manners, as well as in their learning, that they could not help feeling some gratitude to their instructors; and Mrs Mason having instructed the girls in needle-work, without any additional charge, added considerably to their sense of obligation. Even the old women, who, during the first summer, had most bitterly exclaimed against the pride of innovation, were by mid-winter inclined to alter their tone. How far the flannel waistcoats and petticoats distributed among them contributed to this change of sentiment cannot be positively ascertained; but certain it is, that as the people were coming from Church the first fine day of the following spring, all stopped a few moments before the school-house to inhale the fragrance of the sweetbrier, and to admire the beauty of the crocuses, primroses, and violets, which embroidered the borders of the grass-plots. Mrs MacClarty, who, in great disdain, asked auld John Smith's wife ' what a' the folk's were glowering at ?' received for answer that they were ' lookin' at the bonniest sight in a' the town,' pointing at the same time to the spot.
'Eh!' returned Mrs MacClarty, ' I wonder what the warld will come to at last, since naething can serve the pride o' William Morison, but to hae a flower garden whar' gude Mr Brown's midden-stead stood sappy for mony a day! he's a better man than will ever stand on William Morison's shanks.'
'The flowers are a hantle bonnier than the midden tho,' and smell a hantle sweeter too, I trow,' returned Mrs Smith.
This striking indication of a change of sentiment in the most sturdy stickler for the gude auld gaits, foreboded the improvements that were speedily to take place in the village of Glenburnie. These had their origin in the spirit of emulation excited among the elder school-boys, for the external appearance of their respective homes. The girls exerted themselves with no less activity to effect a reformation within doors; and so successful were they in their respective operations, that by the time the Earl of Longlands came to take possession of Hill Castle, when he, accompanied by his two sisters, came to visit Mrs Mason at Glenburnie, the village presented such a picture of neatness and comfort, as excelled all that in the course of their travels they had seen. The carts, which used formerly to be stuck up on end before every door, were now placed in wattled sheds attached to the gable end of the dwelling, and which were rendered ornamental from their coverings of honeysuckle or ivy. The bright and clear glass of the windows was seen to advantage peeping through the foliage of the rose trees and other flowering shrubs that were trimly nailed against the walls. The gardens on the other side were kept with equal care. There the pot-herb flourished. There the goodly rows of bee-hives evinced the effects of the additional nourishment afforded their inhabitants, and showed that the flowers were of other use besides regaling the sight or smell.
Mrs Mason, at the request of her noble benefactors, conducted them into several of the cottages, where, merely from the attention paid to neatness, all had the air of cheerfulness and contentment. She was no less pleased than were the cottagers at the expressions of approbation which were liberally bestowed by her admiring friends; who particularly noticed the dress of the young women, which, equally removed from the slovenliness in which so many indulge on working days, as from the absurd and preposterous attempt at fashion, which is on Sundays so generally assumed, was remarkable for neatness and simplicity.
Great as was Mrs Mason's attachment to the family of Longlands, she would not consent to relinquish her employment and go to reside at Hill Castle, as they proposed she should immediately do. She continued for some years to give her assistance to Morison in conducting the school, which was now increased by scholars from all parts of the country; and was amply repaid for her kindness by the un-deviating gratitude of the worthy couple and their children, from whom she experienced a constant increase of friendship and affection.
The happy effects of their joint efforts in improving the hearts and dispositions of the youth of both sexes, and in confirming them in habits of industry and virtue, were so fully displayed, as to afford the greatest satisfaction to their instructors. To have been educated at the school of Glenburnie was considered as an ample recommendation to a servant, and implied a security for truth, diligence, and honesty. And fortunate was the lad pronounced, whose bride could boast of the tokens of Mrs Mason's favour and approbation; for never did these fail to be followed by a conduct that insured happiness and prosperity.
The events that took place among her friends while Mrs Mason remained at Glenburnie, shall now be briefly noticed. The first of these was Rob MacClarty's taking to wife the daughter of a smuggler, a man of notoriously bad character, who, it was said, tricked him into the marriage. Mrs MacClarty's opposition was violent, but abortive, and ended in an irreconcilable quarrel between her and her son. On being turned out of his house, she went with her daughters to reside at a country town in the neighbourhood, where the latter were employed by a manufacturer in flowering muslin. Their gains were considerable; but as all they earned was laid out on finery, it only added to their vanity and pride. Meg was in her seventeenth year detected in an intrigue with one of the workmen, and as her seducer refused to marry her, she was exposed to disgrace. Leaving to her mother the care of her infant, she went to Edinburgh to look for service, and was never heard of more. Jean's conduct was in some respects less culpable ; but her notions of duty were not such as to afford much comfort to her mother's heart.
At Gowan Brae all went on prosperously. Mr Stewart had the happiness of seeing his daughter Mary united to an excellent young man, who had a handsome property in the immediate neighbourhood, and farmed his own estate. His sons turned out as well as he could possibly have expected. And Mr and Mrs Mollins, though not all he could have wished, were more reasonable and happy than he had at one time any grounds to expect they would ever be.
In the second year of his keeping school, Morison had the heart-felt happiness of paying to his creditors the full amount of all he owed them; and from that moment he seemed to enjoy the blessings of life with double relish. Mrs Mason, perceiving that his daughters were now qualified to succeed her in the charge of the school, at length acceeded to the wishes of her friends, and took possession of the pretty cottagc which had been built for her by Lord Longlands, in the midst of the pleasure grounds at Hill Castle. In that sweet retreat she tranquilly spent the last days of a useful life; looking to the past with gratitude, and to the future with the full assurance of the hope which is mingled with peace and joy.