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Good Words 1860
Lady Sommerville's Maidens


Part Second

(Continued from page 204.)

I.

Euphame Napier seeks her, fortune. Lady Somer-ville has kept her word. The Lady of Ormeslaw is satisfied; and Euphame Napier has paid her duty to her patroness, received Mr Durie's Messing, said farewell to Mrs Jonet,—too stern to weep at so small a matter as a parting in this world,—has turned her back on the old house in Bristo Street, which henceforth shall be tinged to her with rosy morning colours, and set out, bearing the badge of her diamond rose, for her service in the Loudons—a waiting-woman's place in the family of the Laird of Ormeslaw.

Waiting-women in Anne's reign were very frequently poor gentlewomen, daughters of clergymen, of houses impoverished in the last national struggle, of the limited professional men, of merchants, like Euphame's father, more gently bred than savingly bent. They formed a peculiar class in a peculiar position, divided from their employers by a very narrow line, and, in their fairest colours, capable of filling offices of great importance in the household, and of discharging the most serious duties; excellent nurses in times of sickness, stewards on occasions of absence, second mothers to orphan families, often fixtures under the roof which had first sheltered them—firm and valuable family friends.

Thus Lady Ormeslaw, sending in horses to Edinburgh for Euphame and the spring supplies of merchandise, furnished her with a proper escort, as careful as if she had been a young lady visiting the house —the old serving-man and his wife, mounted on the same mare—very available in such a case—their son, the farm lad, on the young pack-horse, with pistols at his holster, and the black pony for Euphame. You are well aware how difficult and treacherous travelling was a hundred and fifty years ago, how the very mail-coach to London, running then for a season, was stopped and exposed to robbery at least once a month, and you perceive that Euphame was fortunate in such a mode of conveying her youthful person from one locality to another. On a June morning, then, when the dew-drops were on the corn, and the lark in the sky, Euphame and her little train rode along high-roads, by warm thatch-roofed farm-houses, and lowly clay-biggins, and squalid miners' huts— through blossoming clover, and white-budding beans, and rich plantations with the blue belt of the Forth and the hills of Fife visible from every high ground, and the green Lammermoors, in long, low swells shutting in the prospect.

Ormeslaw was strange to Euphame. The house in Bristo Street had evidently been a "land" over whose "wa'" a countess might have looked. The mansion of Lady Somerville was a decayed palace, but Ormeslaw was a peel tower, passing from the hands of border chiefs to yeoman lairds. It had a vaulted kitchen, a wool-room, and a few closets for domestics in the tower; and in the house a black wainscoted dining-room, my lady's room, which was hung with the Seasons in tapestry, the nursery for the children, and the sleeping-rooms of the family. Without were brew-house, malt-barn, and kiln, besides straw-house, cow-house, stable, and kennel.

In this Ormeslaw dwelt a devout, sedate, sagacious, silent laird, his more worldly and managing dame, their children, and retainers. Euphame came down to fill a vacancy in the household. Lady Ormeslaw was the reverse of slothful. She wanted no soft-spoken lass to tie her hair, lace her stomacher, or "cast up" her accounts; but she was reasonably ambitious,—she would have a set of worked chairs, such as we see now with straight arms and backs, and covers in faded tent-stitch, routed out of odd dusty corners, or fallen into humble cottages; she would have the little lasses learn betimes straw-work, filigree-work, and gimp-work; she would acquire the newest notion in vogue as to washing gauzes and Flanders lace; she would see the last shapes for pastry and butter-work; (which Euphame bore in her mails, as a young lady will transport credentials, in the shape of a modern Battle of Prague or an impossible song;) she would obtain the plan of boning fowls without cutting the back, as well as securing for the bairns writing-lessons in the most approved hand, and "the best end of dancing—a good carriage." What aspiring matron could resist such a catalogue of advantages, even though Euphame was a little in the way, and invested with a degree of awkwardness and peril to some of her neighbours ?

Euphame was received in state by the lady, a shrewd-eyed, light-footed, fresh woman, rather brisk than dignified, but sufficiently authoritative. She melted, however, when she spoke of Lady Somerville, "My lady is owre gude for this world," she said softly. She flashed upon her waiting-woman in her brisk stomacher, apron, and mittens—so constantly going out and in, in and out of the house, and stepping about the kiln, the cows' park, the hens' nests, the herb-beds, that her train was perpetually hung over her arm, and her silk and whalebone caleche, folded back and laid on her shoulder ready for use, or, in fact, drawn over the mob-cap worn above the fly-cap, whose lace frill shaded her white but somewhat puckered brow. For Euphame, she had put aside her uniform, had strewed it with lavender, packed it with more than girlish sentiment, and stowed it away in an extreme recess of her valise. She had come out in her gentlewoman's attire, her gauze or chintz, with sleeves puckered and tight as armour, her satin pocket, in which she carried none of the snuff often found in that handy receptacle, her indispensable and innumerable knots of ribands, such as the demurest" damsel found herself compelled to sport on breast and back, shoulders and elbows, tucking up the skirt of her dress, and fastening back her little hat instead of a jewelled button, when she sallied abroad on business or for a wholesome airing—and in any guise, Euphame was tall and straight, and fair and comely, as her old mother had foreshadowed her.

Lady Ormeslaw received Lady Somerville's greeting, and presented Euphame to her charges, all stalking boldly or stealing slily across the threshold to stare at the stranger in my lady's room. "This is Primrose, (hold up your head. Primrose,) and Sybilla, (Sybbie, you hempie, where have you torn your frock?) and little Annie ; and yon is Roger, with his feet from the plough, and Sandy, who has been seeking birds' nests, (you took the spotted eggs, but spared the wee gaping birds, as I telled you, ye little loon?) and the laird will appear presently and preside at the evening exercise, and we need not disturb Master George at his books."

Euphame lived weeks at Ormeslaw before she saw the laird at other times than at meals and the morning and evening "exercise," which he conducted with great solemnity and ability. The grave, ardent Scotch lairds, on the covenanting side, had a wonderful faculty for divulging their strong religious views, and developing those of others, however quiet on other subjects, and the laird of Ormeslaw was a notably quiet man. A canny housemate the lady owned him, yet a formidable foe he had proved himself among men during the bygone political and religious troubles—far-sighted, energetic, determined, and invincible. A big, stalwart man, his ruffled shirt and his signet ring contrasting with the maud which at home he wore strapped across his broad breast, like his hinds and shepherds; a rugged, thoughtful face, with a wild gleam in the eye, answering to the fervour and the eloquence of his preaching and his prayers; in his temporal affairs, sensible, patient, and painstaking; in his personal behaviour, modest to bashfulness; the quiet laird of Ormeslaw walked through life with a still, pondering, reverent tread, and his foot had acquired its soft, prolonged fall, like a deep key-note, played gently, but which could clang with a hoarse thunder, where, after their direct fashion, many good men spent hours of their leisure, and realised what was richest, most profound, and most divine in their spiritual experience, either in their literal closets— dark, narrow dens for devotion, in Presbyterian houses specially provided for masters of families, where mighty prayers were prayed in extremities, or out in the open fields where Isaac went forth to meditate at eventide. Still, questionless, the laird of Ormeslaw had his taint of the sins of his generation.

Master George, the laird's son, was another man from his father—not a bad lad at heart, but, woe's me! he was of weaker thews and sinews, as well as of different metal; he had been in London, had seen the court, the clubs, the wits, had cultivated the pungent, half-melancholy literature of the era, and the town's foppery and affectation, and had grown ashamed of the plain profession of the Presbyterianism of his country and his youth—only of the profession, mind, he was not ashamed of his father, he had a private envy of him as well as a secret reverence for him, a longing and pining for the old laird's rod and staff, even when the Laird of Ormeslaw looked around him in trouble and distress, as if it had been they which failed him. Master George had not renounced his virtue though he had heard it suspected on every side, and was almost tempted to suspect it himself, and, smart and bitter though his tone was—and, alas, it was often the echo of his young heart—every now and then there welled from it a gush of the sweetness of domestic life, family affection, and rural occupations. Master George was infected with fastidiousness, doubt, disgust, but the disease was only in its incipient stage. The lady was very proud of Master George, proud of his learning and accomplishments, of the fine gallooned coats, and long vests, and cocked hats, he had brought home with him from England; of his studious ways; it is not known whether he played the flageolet or tried the musical glasses, but he was often to be seen walking abroad with his finger in a volume of Dryden, Pope, or among the airy fables of Mr Gay, according to the most approved literary coxcombry of the period. Now, the laird read mostly one book, in short, thoroughly-digested passages, and though, on account of his own remaining blindness and brutishness, it did not save him from all bruises, it never yet induced him to sneer, or yawn, or dally with business, or desert duty. The lady was a little uneasy about Master George, too, for a mother's instinct is very keen, and she had a pained perception that Master George, for as fine a gentleman as he had returned to Ormeslaw, for so much more refined as he had become, was neither so safe a man, nor so happy a man as his father.

Master George scarcely deigned to notice Mrs Euphame, his mother's waiting-woman, after he saw how sedately she sat at her worsted work, and how unimpressed she was by his airs and quotations. And here the Lady of Ormeslaw felt greatly relieved, for there was but a shadowy barrier between Master George and Mrs Euphame, unless their inclinations built it up a mountain, and it was a somewhat rash act to bring them together. Scores of waiting-women besides Abigail Hill, climbed into their mistress's seat and ended by being my lady; and Lady Ormeslaw was not so disinterested as to wish Master George to find a wife without fortune or available connexions. Lady Ormeslaw irked herself a little with doubtful precautions, she nailed herself to Euphame's side under the vague smiles of the faded females who represented the Seasons, when the lady and her waiting-woman were not wanted in the still-room or the kitchen, and when Master George chose to display his book in my lady's room, and she always carefully qualified her approval of Euphame Napier's personal and mental attractions, by a few drawbacks, "a blooming madam, but unco big;" "a solid lass, only a thought self-contained and dull." "With every pleasing, every prudent part, Say, what does Chloe want? She wants a heart," declared Master George; and, alack for female nature! his lady mother's bosom was sensibly lightened, though she might live to regret the day that Master George had not appreciated one of the noblest lasses she had ever counted in her acquaintance, and she now felt herself forced to exclaim, with tart majesty, " I should think so! what would a waiting-woman want with a heart? A heart is not in her orders. Would you have the lass that has to work for her bread, a silly, vain coquette?"

II.

Euphame liked Ormeslaw. She was not of the temper of Master George, she was neither fastidious, nor exacting, nor restless—she stood on a rock. She had a clear, benevolent, patient spirit. She formed her observations, not remarkably accurate, and felt her own prejudices, tolerably strenuous and defined, but they did not greatly interfere with her general philanthropy, activity, and intelligence. She was drawn to the laird, but she was decidedly repelled by Master George, and she censured the busy, quick, hot-tempered, cumbered lady. The foolish girl, sitting so calmly at her canvas or her ruffles, was not great enough to fail to sit in judgment on the harassed, tried house-mother. She called her covetous and crafty, she lost sight of her self-denial, her self-sacrifices, and her mild accents, when she would be musing in the silver gray of the gloaming, and would break out about Lady Somerville—"Lady Somerville is ower gude for this world—oh, that saint, Mrs Euphame! I have kenned but two, and I would be blythe to see the sweetest een on earth again—they would calm the like of me that is for ever fevered and fashed with bairns, and beasts, and country markets. But I have had my refreshment, too, Mrs Euphame, I will never deny it, I am bound to be thankful, I have coft a coin that has never failed me by the way—the Lord forgive me for my ingratitude and misimprovement of my talents—gude, sterling gold, lass; I would not have been put off as a wife with aught less." The beam was in our girl's eye when she would remove the mote from the lady's; but let that unwearied foot be stilled, and that watchful eye be closed, and Euphame would acknowledge with remorse, what Christian worth was in the wheel which, "broken at the cistern," rendered heavy and helpless the whole surrounding machinery.

There was one care which approached Euphame, and that was a sense—now dim, now vivid—that she remained apart from the family, that she did not bridge over the gulf between them; that working in the lady's room, or walking in the in-fields, or lying on her bed remembering her mother and Lady Somerville, and Mrs Jonet, and flighty Katie Crichton, and taking out and gazing upon her diamond rose, and recalling her vow to feed and clothe the destitute, fancying how she would dwell among them like Mrs Jonet,—but not their matron—no, the strong, faithful daughter of her old women, rather than the anxious, disregarded mother of a flock of giddy maidens,—she did not win spontaneous regard in the house of Ormeslaw. The laird took her readily under his patriarchal protection; but he did not begin to speak to her with simple trust and fondness, as he addressed the lady and Master George and the other bairns, and even sometimes the old nurse Mause, his own man Steenie's wife, who had brought Euphame on her road to Ormeslaw. The lady respected and praised her, but she never forgot that Euphame was Mrs Euphame, her waiting-woman. Master George somewhat pointedly ignored her existence; and the young bairns, they came to her to have their strings tied and their " pieces spread" with butter or honey, but they did not loiter near her or hang about her as they did round their fault-finding or caressing mother. Euphame seemed to elude the grasp of the whole household like a ghost, or a woman made of snow, though her cheeks were warm and rosy, and the framework of her bones was covered with full, fine flesh and blood. Euphame was conscious how the children troubled her when they broke her reveries by irrelevant questions, and delayed her progress by bold, mischievous little fingers. It was not that Euphame grudged any amount of trouble, but she tasked herself in her set employments as pertinaciously and devotedly as any Roman Catholic building up her salvation. She said, "I must please my Lady Ormeslaw, or she will not retain me; and then if I please her heartily, she may raise my wages, and I will save more crowns, and sooner fulfil my engagement. A solitary lass like me is set aside for such a work, and sanctioned in its attainment. He setteth the solitary in families; and this is a way of accomplishing His word, like the fire, hail, and snow, and stormy vapour, and the whole grand creation." And Euphame was absorbed, like all castle-builders, great and small, and blind and deaf to other interests, and provoked by any interference with her efforts, or disturbance of her economy, till she awoke scandal, and got the word in the house of Ormeslaw of being "a proud peat, for all her diligence—a hantle haughtier than the very lady hersel'."

The consciousness pained Euphame with an uncertain, flitting pain, when it smote upon her as she listened to the young birds fluttering and chirping among the ivy of the orchard, when she stood watching the sheep inclosed in the fank, and the weaned lambs driven to the hills, when the lady kissed the child she had chidden, and allowed it to sob itself to sleep with its head against her knee. Even at the tent-preaching, when a black cloud drifted across the sky, and forked lightning played about the preacher and his awed congregation, and torrents of rain scattered them for a season, when mothers tucked up their little ones, and old men threw their plaids over their young daughters, and young men sheltered infirm mothers, before they ran after swift-footed maidens; and Euphame was pushed aside, lost sight of, and forgotten, under the dripping churchyard wall; then a cold mantle seemed to wrap Euphame round, and she shivered at the heart, while her jewel and her hospital retreated into the far distance, whence they loomed, figures at once disproportioned and spectral. Then Euphame felt it was not so with her poor old mother, and cried for that mother's simple kindliness as the greatest boon she could possess.

Perhaps, poor Euphame, pure, sympathetic abandonment is the most enjoyable earthly feeling to the good, honest heart; but there is more than enjoyment to be sought and bought in this daily round, and Euphame soon recovered herself, and bethought her with shame of her free pledge to my Lady Somer-ville, and her many prayers, resolutions, and hopes, and how nothing great is ever done without voluntary steadfastness and sacrifice. There was no Excelsior in Euphame's day; no verse—

"In happy homes he saw the light
Of household fires gleam warm and bright;
Above, the spectral glaciers shone,
And from his lips escaped a groan—
'Excelsior!'"

But Euphame had read hundreds of times of that wise woman in Proverbs, how she rose ere it was yet day, how her candle went not out by night, and thought how often she must have said to herself, " A little more sleep, a little more slumber;" or, "Push aside the distaff, lay by the merchandise;" "day is for mortal care; let us rest now, and be thankful." "Tell the tale, sing the song, call out the blythe laugh of youth, and the slow smile of age. Others have their delights, and they thrive upon them; why should I thus stint myself, and be styled an earthworm by common rumour, ere my children rise up and call me blessed, or my husband praise me ? The field and the vineyard, the scarlet, the tapestry, the silk and the purple, may be but mocking rainbow delusions, and I may be giving my strength for nought—for nought, in the moping, mournful end;" and how the wise woman must have stood stanchly by her banner still, and stifled the pleading, passionate, unbelieving voices.

Then Euphame wondered that she could have felt lonely and weak, treading the path which pale, slight Lady Somerville had walked before her, and was the braver and more determined in her allegiance, because she had swerved from it for a moment, and listened to natural voices and natural warnings.

Euphame and her diamond rose—if they had been seen together half a century before, and even yet there was some danger—they might have founded a tale of witchcraft or fairy power. A certain glass-slipper had not more effect on the fortunes of its mistress, than Euphame's crystal blossom (but drops of fossil gum. if a great philosopher does not err) played with the luck of Lady Somerville's maiden.

Perhaps old Mause measured Euphame most exactly, as she twirled her thread and leant her head, with its peculiar, high-cauled curch and black riband, to one side, and blinked half shrewdly, half pathetically with her old eyes, and maundered half in her defence, half in her condemnation. "She's of gentle-degree, our Mrs Euphame, and she has grand principles and parts, (she would work, billies, till she would dee,) and she's very helpful to the lady. May be, if ever she meet wi' any great sickness or misfortune, or wed some dour or vehement man, or be the mother of wild or silly bairns, she '11 grow open and tender, and have a gentle word to every thoughtless speerer, and a soft touch to every aching bane. But she 'a like a Miriam e'en now—and though they were strapping women the Miriams and queens of Sheba, I think their common neighbour men and women would not take to them so kindly as to the patriarchs' wives,—Rebecca brodent on her peaceful lad, Leah and Rachel contesting about their gudeman, or the poor lass Dinah, whom the prince of Shechem lo'ed so wildly, or the gude lassie Ruth, who clave to her fremyt gude-mither." If Mause had seen into Euphame's heart, and beheld the elves of old women in its secret recesses, would it have altered her judgment?

III.

Euphame's immobility was twice put to the test. On a harvest afternoon, Euphame sat working in my lady's room, and an angular, insipid, lazy symbol was the tapestry woman, with the sheaf of pale, straw-coloured corn in one hand, and the leaden sickle in the other, confronting Euphame within, as the representative of the autumn without—the vivid blue sky, the golden oats, the busy, buxom, vigorous men and women in striped jackets and shirt-sleeves, deep-coloured petticoats, and olive knee-breeches, and scarlet or green gartered stockings, and heavy shoes, and bare feet stained with the brown soil of labour. But what says the poet?—

"Green is the colour of faith and truth,
And rose is the colour of love and youth,
And brown of the fruitful clay;"

and all. these tints met amongst the rich gold of the oats, and the unsullied hue of the vault above, and a flavour of the salt sea was in the wind, and the voices, though boisterous, were fresh and hearty withal, and when the Laird of Ormeslaw moved among his people, if these rough Scotchmen did not hail each other, even in those days of quaint religious converse, with, "The Lord be with you," and "The Lord bless thee" of gentle Boaz and his reapers — a bandster, not "lyart, runkled, and gray," but in his manly prime, at the hour of the second meal since breakfast—"the four-hours," when long shadows were on the stubble, would quit the tubs of harvest beer and heaps of harvest bread, and draw aside the Laird, and put to him, with the simplicity of intense earnestness, a spiritual doubt, or a Scripture difficulty, or crave his approval of the last action sermon, and the Laird would answer him as man encounters man on a topic where there is no respect of persons.

So enticing was the scene, that even the lady was attracted from her post of weary observation and watchful guard, the bairns were gathering the dropped ears of corn, the servant-women had hurried through with their work, eager to exert their skill and hear the news on the next rigg to their companions from Cockenzie and Tranent. Euphame sat almost alone in the house, save that Master George stood before her, twisting between his long fingers one of the pale, creamy pink roses, whose petals droop as if they were sick at heart, yet long survive the blush of the red, red rose of June, the purple pride of the damask rose of July, the fair innocence of the white rose—the saint of the roses.

Perhaps it was unbecoming the hour and season, unsuitable to her age and sex, that Euphame should sit thus in a misty, breathless dream of work, almost "till benumbed the weary hand." But Master George had penetrated to one discovery—he had been in error in despising Euphame Napier, as she carried his mother's keys, and plied her needle. There was a harmony in that completeness of life—narrow as it was —that assiduity, that courage, that faith, as there was great harmony in the tall, fine figure, in the youthful, blooming face, grave, but cheerful in its ruddiness and roundness, with the full, peaceful lips, and the rich chestnut hair. Kind reader, have you ever learnt the solemnity of youth and strength in warm, bright colours, and comprehended why the old Roman Catholics and the early Italian painters rendered the orange marigold the Virgin Mary's flower?

Euphame Napier was working a green cloth cover for the parish session-room table, [See the old table-cover in the session-room of St Cuthbert's, Edinburgh.] sewing round the border, in antique letters—

"The Lord is only my support,
And He that doth me feed;
How can I then lack aniething
Whereof I stand in need?

"He doth me fold in cotes most safe,
The tender grasse fast by,"

and repeating, with lingering pleasure,

"He doth me fold in cotes most safe,
The tender grasse fast by,"

when Master George interrupted her with a remonstrance on her ill-timed, nay, rather unremitting industry. Master George twisted his rose, and argued, though he was not such a student of John Milton as of Mr Pope, much in the style of the evil spirit in "Comus," that it was

"For homely features to keep home,
They had their name thence;"

and anon, in the temper of Herrick, that old, old heathen story,

"Gather ye rose-buds while ye may,
For time is still a-flying,"

as if time were the end! as if the rose-buds would not perish in the using, yea, leave ashes in the reluctant hand!

Had Master George said bluntly that Euphame's application was ill-timed, that all God's gifts are to be reverently and thankfully accepted and enjoyed; had he undertaken to beg his mother to grant her a holiday with the others, then he would have read her a manly, brotherly lesson; but he spoke stale treason against earnestness, obedience, truth—counselled Euphame to amuse herself, dissipate the vapours, bask in the sunshine—suggested that she should avail herself of the lady's absence, and break off from her confinement and drudgery—and concluded with a hollow profession that he had no personal end to serve, that he was indifferent and impartial in the matter—never hinted that he was weary of himself, that he panted for change, excitement, and diversion, that the fever goaded him on to interest himself with Euphame, to interfere with Euphame, to enter himself, and decoy her to follow him, upon a labyrinth, very easy to trace for the first few yards, but whose further windings might be very steep, very slippery, and very dark, and capable of filling them both with perplexity and wretchedness, for anything Master George cared to ascertain beforehand.

Euphame was startled, and she stared at Master George, twisting his rose, and speaking hurriedly and with perturbation, for he was not a bad lad designedly, and he was uncomfortable when he talked folly approaching to wickedness; and Euphame seemed to see her own little diamond rose sparkling on in secret for years and years in its box, as bright a thousand years ago in the black mine, as bright the day she would draw it last forth as that on which she received it, as bright in other hands than hers, continuing to exist, shining still as ever, next in lustre to a star in the blue sky, when her body was mouldering in the grave, and her spirit translated to heavenly habitations ; and the girl said to herself, "That is duty, and this withering rose of a day is pleasure;" and when Master George offered his flower to her, she declined it, not in the fluttered tone which he had used, but quietly, though with a long breath. " I'm much obliged to you, sir; but the blossom is faint, and the leaves would fall fast on my work. I'm free to pluck a posy for myself when I am not throng. I thank you, all the same. My lady bade me make speed, that the table might be covered come Sabbath; and, indeed, I'm fain to be done as she intended. If you please, Master George, don't trouble yourself any longer about me." And Master George flushed with shame, and tossed the powder out of his hair by the abruptness with which he turned on his heel—and, convinced of Mrs Euphame's bad taste, or converted to her good sense, from this day onwards he slighted her, as he had done in the beginning.

(To be continued.)


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