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Good Words 1860
Lady Somerville's Maidens


(Continued from page 316)

It does strike an observer that our ancestors were kindlier than we are, in their narrower spheres, and more practical and less metaphysical natures. A neighbour was a neighbour then, let him be what he might. They took him as they found him; if necessary, opposed him to their heart's content, but even while at feud with him, condemning him unscrupulously, and giving exceedingly little licence to his foibles, thy retained a good many of the charities of life at his command. People were not cosmopolitan then, and men of the world, instead of men of nations, counties, "parochins." No doubt they were far too confined in their ideas, but still the overplus of benevolence was in favour of the neighbour.

Katie did not look as if she needed forbearance; Katie stood her ground, a very well satisfied, triumphant woman. "What brought me here? aiblins my feet, Euphame"—and Katie shewed those preposterous little shoes—"and they had not far to come. Do you not ken, have you not heard, that I 'm one of the gentlewomen to my Lady Wintoun, a baron's lady, Euphame, and you only serve a laird's wife? But it is no fault of yours, Euphame."

"A Papist, Katie! Can it be that you serve a born and bred Papist?"

"What for should I not serve her? Is that the way to open her een? Not that we have any traffic thegither about beads and masses, and pulpits and bands; she's a frail, silly woman, Euphame. I 'm more likely to ill-treat her than she is to misuse me, although I 'm sure I never speak above my breath in her chamber."

"But to live under the roof with Papists, Katie, to Bee their bowings and crossings, and hear the idolatry of their mass!"

"I tell you, Euphame, I see and hear none of them; I could go' to the parish kirk of Tranent or Cockenzie if I liked, for Master Ludovic got me leave. But it is a long gate, and you mind I was aye sleepy-headed in the kirk, and I might be challenged by the minister. What is to hinder me from reading a chapter at hame?"

"What does hinder you, and who is depriving you of the blessing that lies in the obligation to assemble ourselves together, lass?"

"But, Euphame, who sent me to Setoun? Who among your good folk would have taken me in after I had to quit Lady Somerville's?"

"Oh, Katie, Katie! what drove you to fly from Lady Somerville's?"

"And my mother is a widow, too, Euphame, as well as yours, that you made sic a fracas about, and she is poor enough also, though she's rich in love to me."

"Katie, I would have bidden at hame and helped her."

"Tout, Euphame, you do not ken. Would you, with Mark glowering over you, and finding fault every minute? Mind Mark is at home now, Euphame, and he is a clever workman, and helps to keep my mother."

"I am glad to hear it, Katie," said Euphame, decidedly.

"Well, then she has Mark and Mysie, though poor Jean is no more to be spoken of. I do not want to renew old quarrels with you, Euphame Napier; I 'm not reflecting; I 'm very well off and attended to at Setoun. The Earl is thrang with his politics. They whisper that he has a bee in his bannet, and that he'll burn his fingers; but never you leet, Euphame, it is no business of ours. And there's Helen Lindesay; she's only half a Setoun, and a lady, but I maun say she's very condescending to me; and there's Master Ludovic would divert me from morning to night if I liked."

"Na, Katie, you should not listen to the young gentleman; it is not becoming your place; it is a default in your trust; ill will come of it."

"Now, that is so like you, Euphame Napier; and Helen Lindesay would lecture me, for as slight a footing as she has in the great house; she enters into the dining-room after they 're all seated, and lakes her place below the priest, who's either shut up or abroad with my lord, save at meal-times, or during chapel hours, and she's no more a Papist than I am. I would not thole such indignity from the grandest king that ever breathed. Helen Lindesay would persuade me that Master Ludovic's saucy; maybe he was saucy lang syne to Helen, for as careless as they are now; and for as humble as she pretends to be, wanting to work like you, Euphame, —only my lord would be mad—and protesting, with her white face and her lips parting in straight lines, that she would rather have been born a herd's daughter, and toiled in honest poverty among the friends who might have thought much of her, than lived a noble house's dependant. But about Master Ludovic, Euphame; idle, graceless, good-natured Master Ludovic; he's all that, Euphame. I can take care of myself; yes, Euphame, after Jean, I can take care of myself."

"But who is to take care of him?"

"Why, nobody—my lord is full of his plots, and my lady of her ailments, and Master Ludovic is not like the son and heir, only the cousin who might be the heir; and when he's standing before my frame, or behind my chair, or teaching me the last country dance, or strolling with me in the woods, some day, perchance, love will get the upper hand, and wit and worldly wisdom be crushed out of sight and hearing—-and he'll make me a lady, Euphame; I'll not say but I'll be Lady Wintoun yet." And Katie crossed her white arms and bridled with vanity. "And you'll all stand out of my gate, and my mother will be a proud woman when little Katie will bring her honour and not scorn;" and Katie commenced to sing with tenfold shrillness,

"My soger laddie is over the sea An' he will bring gold and money to me; An' when he comes hame he'll mak me a lady; My blessing gang wi' my soger laddie;" and then varying the measure, she trilled—

"Now wat ye wha I met yestreen, Coming down the street, my jo ? My mistress in her tartan screen, Sae bonny, braw, and sweet, my jo.

The young wigmaker had already written the song while he was wooing lovely Ross,—who stooped to him from the higher circles of Edinburgh, and whom he never ceased to pet fondly,—though he had not yet published it, in the little bookseller's shop whose ballads and broad-sheets made his fortune; and Katie added explanatory notes of her own,—"That is Edinburgh Katie, like me, Euphame; and the lad is a young laird or lord like—aha, Euphame, brokener ships have come to land."

Euphame stood dumb and rigid, and she positively seemed to grow and expand in stature and stateliness, while she looked down on Katie, blushing, laughing, and singing at her elbow.'

"And so, Katie, you mean to entice and delude the young man? O Katie, I 'm bitterly ashamed of you and your upbringing, though you were aye an ill bairn among Lady Somerville's maidens."

Katie, always as variable as a child, began to pout and fire up, and cry all at once, "You've a sharp tongue, Euphame Napier—where got you that weapon? Was it a part of your upbringing? and how dare you disparage me? I 'm fond of gallant Master Ludovic, and he's fond enough of me, and only the world stands between us; and who but you would say I did wrong to gar him speak out and wed a loving bride? Will he be the better or the worse of it? Will he be the happier or the sorrier man? I will obey my gudeman and tend him in a way that no proud lady would ever devise. What can you say to that, Euphame?"

"Katie, Katie, I would rather want a man than commit a default of trust. I would die before I would seek a man."

"I do not seek him, woman," protested Katie, passionately; "he seeks me to while away his idle moments ilka day, when he's not shooting or fishing, or riding, or gossiping at the change-house, or trying to learn the flute, and write verses—but he's no scholar, no half so great a scholar as our Mark, though he's my lord's nephew, and a braw, braw man in his blue velvet suit. The painter who is to paint the summer-house, is to take my likeness for a nymph,—(Euphame, will you tell me what a nymph means? for I 'm not a scholar myself). They pay me homage up at the grand house, Master Ludovic and the servants, (my lord and my lady pursue their owe paths and never meddle,) and even Helen Lindesay is kind though she's grave and thoughtful, and it is not her part to object. I'll only take the wind when it blaws in my barn door, and who, save a saint, would blame me—and not all the saints that I've heard tell of—a true saint out of a book, like you and Helen; but you are very disagreeable, Euphame."

"Katie, Katie," repeated Euphame for the third time, sorrowfully, "to deign to divert a man for your own ends!"

"But, Euphame, you do not think. I would make an ill puir man's wife, and how am I to get a man out of my degree? For you, I believe you dinna want a man, you 're so denk and stour, Euphame Napier."

"I cannot say I want a man," replied Euphame, modestly, her opinion extorted from her; "a married life may be my portion, but I cannot say that I see clearly how it would all tally."

"Eh! Euphame, would you be a wanter, a lone woman—you that never kenned a father, would you never be fended for or dawted by a gudeman? You that has trowed how single women are hidden and dung, and passed over, and forgotten, and mocked, and lichtlied, until they shrink out of sight in their still, dull, eerie houses—for single women are aye frighted for highwaymen, and mad dogs, and evil spirits; I've wondered at you often, Euphame, but I wonder sair the day."

Euphame looked up faithfully and heartily. "'He setteth the solitary in families,' and I have not been used to families, Katie. He maketh her to rejoice more than she that has borne seven. The single woman belongeth to the Lord. Katie, what should we want with a man, whose breath is in his nostrils, when we've the Lord, the Lord's work, the Lord's praise, the Lord's blessing ? He may send us a grand man, if it be His will, and for our benefit, only we maun be sure where he comes from—then, good and well; but without him—listen, lass — the single woman 'is still more the Lord's.'"

Katie's countenance was restless. "I cannot mount with you, Euphame. I'm just a simple lass, needing a helpmeet. I do not think that text is for me. But, Euphame, how plain you're busked. Is that for religion?"

"It is for the occasion, Katie; and I think what is suitable is religious."

"And, Euphame, have you aye the crystal rose you got from my Lady Somerville?"

"Oh yes, Katie."

"And I'll wager you've never pinned it in your breast, and sported it before my Lady Ormeslaw?"

Euphame looked slightly vexed in her turn. "No, I Lave not worn it, Katie. It's aboon me, and I have not told my Lady Ormeslaw, because—because she might not credit me, or approve my will. She's a good woman, but in some things she's more unbelieving than Mrs Jonet; and besides, she might tell the laird, and there would be a phrase about it, and I would like that ill."

"I do not ken why you make sic a mystery about your crystal rose, since it was fairly come by, unless you've a taste for secrets—not me, Euphame. And let me tell you, lass," finished Katie, defiantly, " they are unchancy ware. Now, I must be going, Euphame. I suppose you'll not come to speer after me among the Catholics of Setoun? Eh! lass, you're feared for having your orthodoxy soiled, and I dare say you're not at liberty to bid me to Ormeslaw, or you've your doubts of shewing the auld laird and the wise lady so bad an example; but we'll forgather sometimes in the fields, or at the kirk preachings or the Tranent market, if you dare countenance a ploy; and, Euphame, I maun have some of these big, black brambles on the bank at your back. I am not hot, but there's dust in my throat, and I can never pass a bramble."

"No, no," opposed Euphame; "the lady is keeping them for tarts and jam."

"There is enough to preserve into conserves for an army, Euphame."

"The bairns have never got among them yet. The lady is to wale the finest, and then the bairns are to be let pull and eat. I've never touched one myself— not that I care for brambles."

"No, I ken, Euphame. But I could not pass even a green bramble," persisted Katie, pressing forward against the resistance, tearing her flying ribands and laces on the thorns, and staining her ruby mouth black. "I'll wash my face belyve in the burn. They are such fine big brambles! There is one half the size of a plum. I've been picking the hips as I travelled along, but they are sickrife, they are not a treat like the ripe brambles. The bairns will never miss them, Euphame, or yon may sing them a song, or tell them a story, or screw up your grave face drolly, and they'll forget their loss; but you cannot do that, Euphame, though you would convert yourself into a dragon, guarding their fruit, and accounting for every berry, like the bairn made to whistle as he pulled the miser's cherries."

The old Katie — plucking rose-buds while she might, snatching even at the smallest gratification of her appetite—not acquainted with self-denial—never rising above, or looking out of herself; like the French philosopher, lapped in enjoyment, as he saunters along the sunny road to the bold mountain landscape, his pockets full of chestnuts, some of which he munches at intervals, while he carves others into grotesque absurdities and glimpses of the beautiful, and when his mouth is empty, recites the gloomy stanzas of a frenzied national poet, as an admirable and agreeable contrast to his own lazy position. Fancy the lounging attitudes, the half-gipsy face,—but of no Zingarri cast, rather of a half-African, tropical type,—the rich voice cadencing the poetry of doom. (He need not resent being compared to foolish, cunning little Katie; for in likening the deliberate animalism of the man, however graceful and jovial, to the instinctive animalism of the little girl, it is evident the latter has the worst of it.)

Euphame and Katie parted. Euphame very much impressed with the meeting, and interested in further encounters. Katie—in her exultation, as that character which the good Vicar so unhesitatingly condemned, "a female fortune-hunter"—much pleased with the ease of the indifferent, engrossed great house, and very proud of Master Ludovic's negligent, undesirable notice. (Well for Katie, and greatly more than she deserved, that it was no worse,—that Master Ludovic would not trouble himself to propose a borrowed coach-and-six, a mock marriage, villainy, and ruin,— that though in practice indefinitely more hardened, his original constitution did not depress him deep below Katie's scale; he was merely a fopling whom the Spectator would have castigated for the simple impudence of "staring" in public places, to whom one of the smart professed females who wrote the letters published in the essays would have recommended a lesson in "knotting" as an employment for his vacant time. He was no worse than a vapid young fellow, who cared less for sport than—as those were the days of unexampled coxcombery in dress— the contemplation of "the long pocket," "the frosted button," "the scallop flap," "the clouded cane," and the last new snuff-box.) Katie, for her part, was not inclined to make a great matter of a talk with Euphame Napier, and quite determined to deride and set at naught her wishes, when Euphame took up the burden of the poor, sickly, Papist great lady, and would have urged on Katie to be more tender in her attention to her wants, and to speak a word in season to lighten her spiritual darkness, and would have read to her in illustration the passage so delightful to Euphame, concerning the great Syrian captain and his sympathetic wife and servants, and the little Hebrew maid who was to cut the Gordian knot of his sore and humbling disease.

VI.

The company within Ormeslaw were old friends of the family, come for a little quiet gaiety when the summer and harvest toils were over, and the November leisure, after the mart was killed, afforded holidays in anticipation of the new year. In these family parties Euphame had her full share. Lady Blarney found it necessary that her gentlewoman should not only be a well-bred girl who could read and write, but that she should be able to behave in company.

It does not seem, in reality, that in the general family life of even strict Covenanters there was any powerful objection to harmless mirth and sober pleasure. Public merry-making they opposed austerely, but private entertainment fared better. The habits of the world were so utterly dissipated, that virtue was prudery, and temperance abstinence, in its criticism. Those who worked and studied of a morning, and had a family concert of an evening—who kept a chaplain, and were punctual in the ritual of devotion—reckoned themselves fulfilling all pious and chastened excellence in the sister kingdom; and it is probable that in Scotland the charge of moroseness and harshness in domestic circles was frequently applied on hardly greater provocation. It is quoted as a disparaging fact, by an avowed enemy, that a Covenanting divine, about the time of the Union, while preaching against "cock-ups"—a style of female head-dress opposed to his taste and judgment—stopped short in the middle of his harangue, and admitted (with mingled humour and indignation) that his daughter at that moment sat crowned with the offence in his own seat in the church. "Who does not remember the benign Vicar and his parallel strait, some score of years later ? If mere memory can be trusted, the daughter of the maiden of Polwarth looked back to her venerable father and mother, with the cheerful indulgence of benevolent old age, sitting together at the head of the room to view their children and grandchildren dancing together before them. As a testimony against the mad gambling of the period, cards were forbidden; but there is small reason to suppose that the fireside groups had not their forfeits, their "questions and commands," their jests, their freaks. Undoubtedly they had their proverbs, songs, and stories; and it does not impair the interest of the latter, while it gives the deeper tint of truth, and the loftier form of heroism, and the subtle life of the spirit, that these were not so much of "the Buck of Beveland" and "the patient Grizel," as of the sufferers and wanderers in the "Scotch Worthies" and the "Cloud of "Witnesses: how Guthrie's blood dropped from the grizzly head, fixed on the "iron prin," down on the Duke of Hamilton's coach, and could never be wiped out; how Peden rested with his head in his hands by Ritchie's peaceful grave; how Donald Cargill leapt the linn at Ericht; how Habbie Nisbet lay among the meadow grass when the dragoons rode by; how Marion Arnot's child was carried forty miles concealed in a web of blue cloth to be baptized by a godly, prescribed man; how bravely Margaret Maclauchlan and Margaret Wilson died in the waves of the Solway; and how—eh, sirs! eh, sirs!—the provost of "Whithorn, who cried savagely, "Give the cummers another dip!" was seized on the moment by a quenchless thirst, and was followed continually by a frightened domestic bearing an oft-replenished bicker of water, for wine or ale would not pacify him; but, drink as he would, draught after draught, his pangs were not slaked until the agonies of death got hold of him. Mingled with the tragedies arose the stern mirth of the escapes from martial law, the resistance of the persecution, the triumph of the Revolution settlement; and, blending with the fascination of the discourse, awoke the old pathetic, chivalrous strains of "Johnny Armstrong's Lament," and "The Bloody Battle of Harlaw," and "The Dowie Dens of Yarrow."

The guests at Ormeslaw were two honest men, old and young, George Logan of Leith, and John Kerr of Morriston, and their gentle dames were Isabel Fowler of Burncastle, and Grizel Cochrane of Ochiltree. We have no record of the men, save that they were "undaunted and successful chields" in their fellows' estimation, during the spring-time of their romance. Logan, indeed, was the descendant of an unhappy race, but he was no nearer than grandson to the banished man, and he had retrieved his fortunes by prosaic prosperity; but with the women, not Euphame Napier alone claimed the honour of an acquaintance, nor Euphame's generation.

"With weeping and with laughter, Still is the story told," how young Grizel Cochrane played the man to save her father from the gallows-tree, to which knight and noble, preacher and priest, trooped in one dreary, never-ending procession; and old men still strike their staffs on the floor with ineffable glee, and quaver forth the cutting satire, which declares that the greed of gain is the product of all countries and of all ages, and that, fired with the ignoble passion, those dour, serious Scotchmen beleaguered the heiress of the Glen, and strove for her broad lands and her red and white money, until all Scotland rang with the base melee of their wooing. Not Portia was more beset, and Portia had rules appointed for her guidance—but this poor-rich Scotch lass was left to her own discretion amidst the multitude of her suitors, and by what talisman was she to elect her champion, and proclaim her victor? Only Penelope endured so mean a concourse for so selfish an end.

"Ten came east, and ten came west, And ten came rowin' ower the water."

(To be continued.)


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