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Good Words 1860
Lady Somerville's Maidens


(Continued from page 356.)

My friends, it is a small comfort to find that the third ten were Englishmen. If you ever travel into Berwickshire, (for this was one of the Border heroines.) and inquire into the localities of the withering old ditty, you will be shewn the silver Tweed as the water in question, as well as "the lang dyke-side," on the Scotch side of the Border, down which the covetous "twal" defiled, though whether a stone of Burncastle stands to this day, is altogether unknown. The tochered maiden has gone the way of her less endowed sisters, and taken nothing with her of her riches and honours, and the reader, very likely, judges her case unworthy of grave consideration. But say, poor Tibbie, was your difficulty a small matter in its little hour? You have left food for much scorn and long-resounding laughter—have you bequeathed no quaint moral also?

There is one tantalising doubt. Are Scotchmen notoriously time-serving and mercenary? Is the desire for "a penny," in addition to the gratification and consecration of their best earthly affections, very conspicuous among their good qualities? Because there is another literary laird's ironical effusion to the point—the melody and chorus echoing faintly to this day by national hearths. Well, well, doubtless the lairds were witty, and free with their wit, and attacked this weakness, along with others, offering a fair aim for the feathered shafts shot from their mischievous bent bows.

These ladies, to Euphame Napier, were merely ladies of substance and discretion, in their brown lutestring skirts, white silk bodices, and universal little lace caps, at their tatting and their domestic details. The marvels of the next century are to the present like the fine landscapes which we have never questioned, because our sheep feed here, and our deer browse yonder, and they lie hard by our door and are nothing out of the common, till a stranger appears and falls into raptures over their beauty—their pastoral simplicity, or their lofty sublimity. But Euphame saw the women with her mortal eyes, ate and drank with them, must have gathered some scraps of their peculiar experiences. Those visitors at Ormeslaw belonged mostly to the ladies of the family, or to Master George. Happily, the presence of so many women tempered what might have been the convivialities of the men, and the laird had only to take them into his own hands during the morning's farm-work or sport, and to smile a grave smile on their common sports when he descended from his fastness to compose them for the evening exercise. He was a reserved man, a rapt man, the laird, and in those days the master of a family was a little king; he might be as courteous as he choose, but he had a king's privileges of withdrawal, a private, personal life, which no one dreamt of invading. Every guest deferred to his habits—no elaborate or artificial system of being at the service of his company, and a mere caterer for their pleasure, was established to fritter away his valuable time and weighty engagements; life was a serious thing, too serious a thing for politeness to trifle with.

Lady Morriston took quite a fancy to staid Euphame, perhaps on the count that she was a lively little woman herself, and liked to instruct and amuse her quiet juniors. Lady Logan was much older than her companion, a woman well advanced in the decline of life, and you know she was always accustomed to receive attention, and, although an upright, sound-hearted woman in the main, she was therefore particular about trifles, and exacting in her requirements, particularly from her husband, lazy, humorous, humane, George Logan, whom nothing had rid of his inert sluggishness, fun, and kindness. It was a little grievous to see how Lady Logan's plain, worn, sensible face would be racked while she awaited her dues, especially the conspicuous display of her husband's implied regard. Not that George Logan minded—he was one of your philosophers, he took it as a trick in her temperament, a tarnishing effect of worldly power, or else it was a growth of pure warmth of feeling, and he simply pitied and humoured, as far as his indolence and the temptation to his jests would allow him, the flaw in the otherwise sagacious and generous-minded woman. Lady Morristou could not overlook the little scandal—she could not resist commenting on it to Euphame, but, to be sure, not unmercifully, for these were upright, cordial people, honestly charged with charity. "O Euphame," she would cry, "Lady Logan has not got over this old, old care. What for did she not cast it with the lave? Better we kept the heavy anes that break our backs, than the little foxes that eat our grapes, that sour our tempers, and distract our spirits. She's gray-headed, and she has lost bairns, yet she is still watching, lest her friends, and first of all, George Logan, should fail her! It was a sore trial for her youth, that suspicion of all who approached her, for you see she had not beauty to divide her thoughts. I've heard she was hard-favoured for a well-grown, well-disposed lass. You may look. She has a grand cast with her now. I think the good and the true aye grow bonnier in one fashion or another as they grow aulder. Her father was a fule—it is a great cross, Euphame, to have a foolish father—worse than to be an orphan. I count it one of my best blessings, that I was the daughter of Sir John; yet at the cross-roads of her destiny, she was a magnanimous woman. Yes, Mistress Euphame, yon auld lady was a magnanimous woman, and it is a vast pity, that like many another person in this world, she could take a long step, and make a mighty effort, and there her force was exhausted. She could only halt after herself, like a shadow following the original for the remainder of her life. Bairn, there is a text anent faith lifting mountains—was it spoken alone for deathbeds, and conversions, and pitched battles with the adversary—for gray beards and stately men think you? or for weak maidens, and bridal roofs, and bairnies' cradles? Still she's a most magnanimous woman. She deserves to be praised—women should praise their neighbours, Mistress Euphame, when they've won the whole sex credit for discretion and graciousness—it was written of the wise woman, ye wis, 'She shall be praised.' What think you directed Lady Logan to gift George Logan with her rowth of plenishing?"

"I cannot tell, madam."

"Then I will inform you, lass, and lay the lesson to heart, it is the interpretation of the verse, 'Better are the wounds of a friend than the kisses of an enemy.' You do not take me—bide a wee, and I will make it clear. All the world was fleeching and fawning on Tibbie Fowler till she was sick of their sycophancy, for she was s wise lass in her generation, though she was hard-favoured, and had a foolish father. Then George Logan writes the merry song, and aye comes down on her at the end of ilka verse—

"Silly elf, it's for her pelf,
That a' the lads are wooing at her;"

and it finds its way fast enough into her hands, and she reads it from end to end, and she goes right up to him, and she says sweetly enough, ' Sir, you never wrote a truer word. Sir, in that you are not false and do not flatter me, I proffer you my thanks; but I pray you, be more merciful to a plain, rich wight, in time to come.' And what says George Logan in reply, Euphame—tell me that ? What says lounging, glib-tongued Geordie Logan to that gentle set down?

"I cannot tell, madam—that he thought shame of himself, I dare say."

"Not so far amiss, Mrs Euphame. The tears came into George Logan's dreamy, sly een, and he vowed she was the most gracious woman that had ever given him a word, and he became her fast friend from that hour, and he would fain have suppressed his idle song, and threatened to draw on every man that sung it, (I trow that would have filled his hands, and compelled him to exert himself,) but she forbade it, and joined in the laugh, and ca'd it a charming diversion, (a magnanimous, menseful woman, Lady Logan!) He was no more than her friend for a time, for he was landless as well as thriftless, and sprung of a house that would meet no favour. It is gude, Mrs Euphame, when equals in fortune treat as principals in a purpose of marriage—but what do I say ? love owns no inequalities, cummer—there are but three things that bridge all obstacles, Mrs Euphame, love, and death, and grace. Well-a-day! he soon saw she had no lover as trusty and tried as he, so he gaed in and speered the lady, and spoke the foolish father.

"I believe that first my Lady Logan's heart gave a great stound of joy at her victory, and wonder that she had gained proud, fastidious George Logan—and then when she was blithe as any, the poisoned suspicion crossed her inward vision, that George Logan was no better than the lave—yes, far, far better and far more honourable, but even his virtues bore a smack of the flavour of the twa-and-f orty knaves whom we all agree to despise."

"Did she not believe in her gudeman, madam?"

"Whisht! Euphame, dinna be indignant, you are but a silly chit; she believed and yet she didna believe—incredulity, dogged credulity, she was smitten with a disease that attacks many in high places—the king feel3 its touch in the burden of his crown, the fair woman cowers under it when her beauty is on the wane, the sister entertains it against the sister, the mother against the child; it is the scum of much love, lass, the dregs of inordinate affection—it is whiles inveterate, whiles intermittent. I'll not deny that I've groaned from it myself, when I was heavy and unable to arouse and occupy Jock Kerr as I was wont, and he aff anon to some other playfellow. But, Mrs Euphame, we are safe to escape its misery, when we learn betimes to set no store on ourselves, and when we have our conversation—friends and foes, carping cares and fond delights—lifted up and laid down in heaven.

"Thus Tibbie Fowler wedded the heir of the ruined Logans of Restalrig, and they dwelt in state and bounty in the town of Leith—and there now George Logan enters, and there again she geeks her head and screws her face to find what has detained him, and he bows low and presents her with the white feathers of a sea-gull for her knitting-sheath, which she may pin to her side. 0 George Logan, when will you cease to be pawky and provoking. Oh! leeze me rather on a hundred quiet lairds of Ormeslaw, and simple Jock Kerrs, if I am to preserve my patience. And hark! she's pressing him to stop for the Whig gathering tomorrow—that will interfere with her housewifeskep, and she is fluttering her mother's wings to be hame to her bairns—but she would not have him slip a duty or miss a pleasure for any cross of hers, if it lay in her will—truly, they are a worthy, loving couple, only they have their trials that a maiden like you is not expected to comprehend, Euphame Napier—and she is a magnanimous woman, my Lady Logan. But, lassie, never be so mad as to envy a fine duchess, or a great queen."

VII.

At another time Lady Morriston would pity Euphame for her solitary state, and dwell tenderly on her father, Sir John, "whose comrade I was, Euphame, from my tenth to my twentieth year. I had brothers and sisters, but I was his favourite, his Joseph or his Benjamin. Many a fox-hunt I have ridden to in his company; many a water I've forded behind him, with my bit feet tucked laughingly into one of his brown hands, lest they should be wet on the cork soles. Many a black cock we started, and hare we rode down. Ah, these were merry games! But, Euphame, I saw other sights, with Lady Cardross, and Lady Semple, and Lady Buchanan, in the Highlands,—conventicles among hills and glens, in the East and the West. Sir John concerned himself with politics, and moved here and there, and he was wont to carry me with him to bear him company, and lull suspicion, till his last fell journey to London. We've ridden to the next moss-hag, or we've traversed three counties —we've sat double on the black horse at the edge of the assembly, and the beast would not paw the turf, or snort once, till the preacher had ended—or we've tied him to a stake and stepped into the front ring; it might be near the roar of a linn, and under the white moonlight—it might be among the routing of cattle not so well trained as the Black Prince, and sometimes it was by the flare of crazies and fir torches beneath the brown cupples of the barn of some farm town; but we aye hearkened at intervals, with our hearts in our mouths, for the tramp of armed men, and the pistol shots, and huzzas and curses of our foes. We heard the Cock of the Conscience, and the Gudeman, and the Prophet, and many mair; and if we were not gude it was not their wyte.

"I had parted with my father when he went up to London, whence, with Argyle and Sir Patrick Hume, and other honest patriots, he was forced to take refuge in Holland. We had word one bonny month of May, that they were coming back to their ain again— they had landed in the North, and were marching southwards; but, woes me! their gathering was soon scaled: and the next news, they were fleeing for their lives, and Sir John—betrayed by the fause wife of Craigmuir, because her brother Clellan was slain in the first tulzie between Sir John's men and the militia — was taken and led through Edinburgh streets, with his dear head bare to the winds, and lodged in the Tolbooth to await his trial for treason. My grandfather, auld Dundonald, had spoken for him. in vain,—we were certified that the death warrant was to be whipped down from London ere another stroke could be struck in his favour. His sons were forbidden to see him. My mother but to comfort the bairns, and I -----  Did I sit down and greet, Euphame?"

"I cannot tell, madam."

(To be continued)


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