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Good Words 1860
Lady Somerville's Maidens


(Continued from page 399.)

"You can tell well eneugh, if you have not heard already, Mistress Euphame. You would ne'er have sat down with your kerchief at your een, and the other hand in your lap in sic a strait, and that is the reason I put this confidence in you. I am aware the facts might still draw down the vengeance of the law; but what care I? Lass, I never was feared, save for sin. They cannot harm a hair of Jock Kerr's head, and I am not ashamed of the deed; I am aye a proud woman when I think that I was counted worthy to free my father. I telled nobody. I was in Edinburgh out of my friend's sight, and I kenned that I, a woman, a young lass, would not be lightly suspected. I got out my Galloway pony that had been sic a pet at Ochiltree, and I rode off ere break of day one summer morning, as a young serving woman, journeying to see her mother who dwelt upon the Borders. I pricked on alane in the heat and the drought, for I could not eat, and I dared not stop and bid them fill up the stirrup-cup; and I only paused to bait and sleep once at a canny country inn for two long days, till I reached the bien house of my faithful auld English nurse, Betty Langton, close by Berwick. I kenned that conter me who would, Betty Langton would never inform upon her darling, and that she would aid me, if mortal would back a lass in sic an enterprise; and though English Betty grat and wrung her hands, and was hard on the unlawfulness as well as the danger of the attempt, she took me in and fed me, and what was better, she lent me the Sabbath-day clothes of the slip of a lad, her son; and I had carried pistols hidden at my holster, and a wrap-rascal rolled up and fastened to my saddle, all the way from Edinburgh. I was troubled about my height; though I'm brisk eneugh, I'm no more than a snod cummer. I have not your stature, Mistress Euphame."

"And I may not have your brave spirit, madam." "Na, never tell me that, Mistress Euphame. I've heard of the guse dub and the callant. I trusted to night, and the man's drousiness, and aboon all, to Heaven, though I was breaking the law of this poor down-trodden Scotland. I cannot say that the guilt ever sat heavily on my conscience. I spurred on again, a bonny boy, by the light of the moon, in the fashion of the old moss-troopers, and I never rested till I arrived at the change-house near Belford, where the postman from Durham took his two or three hours' sleep, poor man. Wow, but the Luckie who served me was couthie and kind, and little did she dream that she was entertaining a footpad with bloom on his cheeks, and no down on his chin. I could have spoken the hearty Luckie fair, and blinked her hawk's een; but, O Euphame, the man sleepit, and his bag was stowed safe beneath his round black head, and he had a strong arm doubled under him, gripping it all the time. The whole that I could effect with my guile was to draw the loading from his pistols, when I had sent the Luckie on an errand from the room, and start anew ere the sleeper awakened.[Scottish Traditionary Stories.] I took a turn through the ploughed land, over ditches and hedges like a witch on her broomstick, and then resumed the great road to Berwick, and drew up beneath a tree to keep my appointment and await my fellow. A mist sprang up and hid the moon, but my heart was so hot within me, that I never found the night-wind snell, only it seemed hours instead of minutes till the carrier rode in sight with the mail from the capital. There was no escort—men were otherwise engaged, and besides, some of the gentlemen of the road had been arrested in the act, and were exposed as a warning a mile further on. I but pressed my beast forward, and cried, ' stand and deliver.' The man started, and swerved, and cocked his pistol, and fired with a flash in the pan. In his wonder, he dropped the other pistol, and then in his rage, he sprang from his horse, and tried to seize me, but I dashed beyond his. reach, and I screamed, ' Do you want a bullet in your brain, you loon, from ilka side of the hedge ?' And if I had been foiled, I believe, Euphame, the very twigs and boughs would have fought for a wild thing robbed of her father, and driven to so wild a resource. And the wit was given me to, catch his horse by the bridle, and ride off with the double charge, and the mail bag strapped securely to the pack-saddle. What remained ? The hireling was faithless to his trust, and fled; and I was let carry away the spoil, black with the false witness of traitor statesmen, and fatal to the as menacing the periled existence of my dear father, whom I reverenced as the best of men.

"I bore my booty ayont the first hill, and there I struck a light in my lantern, and slit the wallet and searched as for life—life? it was death—and here was the official paper commanding to hang and quarter the rogue Sir John Cochrane of Ochiltree. Soon I had the fell thing in my hands, and I tore it with my fingers, and I bit it with my teeth, and I crushed it under my nails, and I befouled the fragments with clay, though they showed the handwriting of a king.

"Euphame, I hope no innocent man was afflicted by the detention of the mail that night, no careful woman doomed to mourn, no hapless unconscious bairn wronged, for I was a happy woman when my nurse Betty Langton, with trembling haste, exchanged her lad's suit for my woman's gear, and I jogged back to Edinburgh very weary in body, but greatly lightened in spirit; and ere the next mail fell due, Sir John was a pardoned man. Now, Mrs Euphame, do you not marvel that Jock Kerr, so alert in limb and ready at the call of honour, friendship, and religion, though he be slow in parts—I would rather have a gallant dullard like my braw Jock Kerr, than a heckler and a laggard like learned George Logan—natheless, I do not question his honesty, and I hope I can admire and vaunt my ain bird without plucking the plumes of my neighbours; but anent Jock Kerr and me, do you not ask yourself at this moment, if he did not fear to offer me the perch of his house-dove ? Say, ' Ay,' frankly, Euphame, not 'I cannot tell, madam,' doucely."

"But I can tell—that is, I would not have been feared, Lady Morriston, if I had been he."

"Bide you, lass, you must be feigning, or else I doubt you must have a bauld spirit yoursel'. But mind, Mistress Euphame, he has never half forgiven me that I did not employ him on the business, though I vow, Mistress, at that hour of our regard we had niffered no more than a bow and a curtsey, and maybe a backward look and a secret sigh."

PART III.

I.

A day's events brought an end to Euphame Napier's sojourn at Ormeslaw, as any day's circle may alter the current of our lives. Lady Ormeslaw's chairs were not completed, and she was planning how Euphame was to reel to her dame's wheel during the long winter nights, and conclude her tent-stitch in the summer days, when a courier came down from London to summon Master George to a post under an influential statesman, whose acquaintance he had made, and whose good graces he had won in the course of his famous visit to town. It was a transition period; Anne, stout in form, childless, weak of will, and breaking up both in body and mind, a very pitiable spectacle—an oppressed, misled, bewildered, wellnigh betrayed woman, had escaped from the snares laid for her, suddenly, at last; and suddenly George of Hanover was proclaimed—the provinces were surprised into acknowledging their German King—discontent was only muttering in the distance. The appointment was a great honour to Master George, and it quite upset the equilibrium of the laird's household. The lady was divided between pride in her son's gifts, and grief to part with him. Master George solicited his father's blessing that night, and afterwards spoke aside to Euphame gracefully enough. "Mistress Euphame," he said, "I leave my mother and the bairns to your care. I can rely upon it, for I have to thank your integrity for a free course, and the being saved the toils and perplexities forged by idleness and sealed by guile." He finished with a blush that was not unbecoming in a diplomat, however the great lord about court might have esteemed it. And it was very touching that night to listen to the laird's supplication, out of the fulness of his heart. How pathetically he petitioned that his lad, having been delivered from the grossness which beset his predecessors, might use his freedom nobly, and might not enter in another fool's paradise to have his limbs bound with new ropes and fresh withs, until at last his hair was shorn, and his strength had departed from him!

But in the end the laird resolved to go up with his son to London, to satisfy himself regarding his prospects, and to introduce him to his own political party. The lady and the children must accompany them; and on account of this strange episode in their history, Euphame parted from them with goodwill on each side, and vain promises of future intercourse. Euphame soon learnt that she was to have Katie Crichton's company to Edinburgh, for Katie was also out of place; not from Master Ludovic's Heedlessness, but because upon one excuse and another the Wintoun family were suddenly getting rid of many retainers and hangers-on at Setoun, especially those who were in connexion with the capital, and were only preserving and concentrating round them trusty old adherents of the house. Katie bore the loss even more patiently than Euphame; she feared the country would be dull in the depth of winter; she was sure Master Ludovic would call upon her in the High Street; Mark would not dare to control her, after she had been an independent woman, out in the world on her own footing; and it was a change, and the "good town" again to one who was altogether the denizen of a town.

Agreeing to ride into Edinburgh in the same cavalcade with Katie, Euphame was to proceed with her to the lodging-house in the High Street, and it was settled by Lady Somerville that Euphame should dwell with Mrs Crichton, maintaining herself by her handiwork until she should find another situation. There was no incongruity in this arrangement; it proceeded partly from necessity, but largely from that old bond of neighbourly regard which has been commented upon. Lady Somerville had long ago forgiven Mrs Crichton, and she did not see herself warranted in depriving her of any natural advantage and emolument. Euphame could neither be with my Lady Somerville nor with Mistress Jonet; and so she was commended to her old companion's mother, Mrs Crichton. Mrs Crichton was careless and improvident, but she was far from dishonest and disreputable, as the times went; and probably her failings would not have been improved, had she been deprived of her resources, and curtailed of her custom. Euphame was a well-principled, staid girl, and could take care of herself. The Vicar might not stand alone in his theory, that the excellence which requires a constant sentinel, and is rather hedged about than sent out to leaven, salt, and cure the vice of the world, is not much worth the care wasted on its preservation.

Thus Euphame once more rode by Pinkey House, but on a winter's day, when the hoarfrost was glittering on bough and bush, as if all the world was a—flower, with diamond roses. Euphame went quite cheerfully to the stirring house in the High Street, although she was distinct from its inmates. She found herself installed there without any tribulation in her own mind, or in the minds of her friends on her behalf. She sat at her frame, or she practised her womanly performances with application and steadfastness, unharmed by the rout around her, perhaps in some degree tending to compose it, like Jacob when he served Laban, or Joseph finding favour in his Egyptian master's house. If she had experienced any dangers too great for her strength, she might have risen and fled ; but that would have been an extreme case with a character like Eupharne's. This maiden of my Lady Somerville's inspired respect wherever she went, and to excite that feeling even among careless, irreverent, sceptical people, was to confer one invaluable benefit.

So the first small, round hail drops of December falling trustfully among the soot and smoke, and scarcely dried blood stains of old Edinburgh—Euphame watched the shower from one of those many square windows which look barefacedly, and sometimes at such adjoining angles into each other, that facetious lodgers, hob-nobbed, drank their claret, and took their snuff in company. It was a change from rural Ormeslaw—its ivy and orchard, its turf dyke and birch trees, and its farm-yard, and its country folks all looking out at this white shower, if they were not to be supposed beflouered with the best, in the fields— and predicting a severe or a mild winter from such simple aphorisms as

"A hawey year's a snawey year;"

or, anticipating time in their saws, looking forward with the promise,

"Gin Candlemas day be foul,
The half of winter's gane at Yule."

Euphame was a conspicuous figure in the family-room, with its faded and dilapidated furniture, relics of Mrs Crichton's better days, and its incredible accumulation of the nick-nacks, toys, pets, and pests which fascinated the women of the eighteenth century. The Crichtons had their ambition; they would not be behind their neighbours in what indicated a genteel taste; they ran up a bill with a china merchant, and they had even their books, though none of the females of the family pretended to be scholars; still, it gave a mighty fine air to the whole to have an approved volume or two among the details. They, too, had their folio, with "great jars of china placed one above another in a very noble piece of architecture," their quarto separated from their octavo by a pile of smaller vessels, which rose in a delightful pyramid, besides their tea dishes of all shapes, colours, and sizes, so disposed on a wooden frame that they looked like one continued pillar indented with the finest strokes of sculpture, and stained with the greatest variety of dyes, and their grotesque square filled up with "scaramoucheslions, monkeys, mandarines, trees, and hills, and a thousand odd figures in china ware." Among the books might possibly be found "Sherlock on Death," and "Ogilby's Virgil"—"Locke on the Human Understanding, with a paper of patches in it" —"The Academy of Compliments," and La Ferte's " Instructions for Country-dances," and certainly ''A Spelling Book," and "A Dictionary" for explanation of hard words. Well might the visitor wonder whether he were "in a grotto or in a library." [Spectator, No. 37.] But if he had been told he was in a sitting-room, surely he would have commiserated the penance done by the habitual occupants, and the incessant expense incurred to supply unwitting breakages ; and if he had learned that Madam Crichton and her daughters, in addition to their dead monsters, persisted in cherishing living plagues in the shape of a draft from the lap-dogs, the cats, the monkeys, the flying squirrels, the parrots, the Virginian nightingales, the jack-daws, the owls, the bullfinches, canaries, linnets, and white sparrows, with which the more sentimental spirits of that generation would surround themselves, to the destruction of the peace and comfort of their retainers,—his wonder would rise to utter amazement at the maintenance of such a hostile jumble, and the weary watching and slavery which it implied. The noise, the scrimmaging, the racing, the chasing, the routing, the repairing, the guarding in the lodging-house in the High Street! Well for Euphame that she had excellent nerves, and unsurpassed powers of self-concentration—the only living being who could sit there from morning till night—the sole individual who presented there a settled purpose and an earnest aim—unless, indeed, Mark, when he appeared for supper in the menagerie and wareroom, which fine ladies and foolish waiting-women called a parlour.  [We have picked up the plight of a tradesman's wife, indited by Lord Woodhouselee, in the later days of the Mirror:—''The profits of our business, once considerable, but now daily diminishing, are expended not only on coins, but on shells, lumps of different coloured stones, dried butterflies, old pictures, ragged books, and worm-eaten parchments. Our house, which it was once my highest pleasure to keep in order, it would be now equally vain to attempt cleansing as the ark of Noah. The children's bed is supplied by an Indian canoe; and the poor little creatures sleep three of them in a hammock slung Up to the roof between a stuffed crocodile and the skeleton of a calf with two heads. Even the commodities of our shop have been turned out to make room for trash and vermin. Kites, owls, and bats are perched upon the top of our shelves; and it was but yesterday that, putting my hand into a glass jar, that used to contain pickles, I laid hold of a large tarantula in place of a mangoe."]

Indeed, they were an extravagant, unsettled, disorderly family, these Crichtons. Their position might be a little in fault—that debateable position which employs all the energies to preserve its balance, which has not a broad enough basis for duties, although it affords quite a wide enough space for rights. What could be expected from Mrs Crichton, who kept a lodging-house, and her daughters, who were poor waiting-women, but fighting for a living and striving after rank? Again, how cruel to deny them their gentility, with their dishes of tea, their little privileges and comforts at which they grasped in the midst of their struggles! But, then, what becomes of the widow's mite? Was the widow an easy-going woman, not to say a giddy one, or was she very much in earnest?

Mrs Crichton was Katie grown old, with the ghost of Katie's beauty—not a faded ghost, rather a purple one, for Mrs Crichton painted pretty coarsely. Do not recoil, dear reader; many a more than moderately respectable woman painted in the reigns of the first Georges. The custom was so common, that there is a paper in the Spectator, ranging those who painted and those who preserved their original complexions into two races, and dubbing them the Picts and the British, and arguing without a particle of acrimony, or any but the most literal view of the subject, the the superiority of nature, and subjoining a humorous advertisement:—

"A young gentlewoman, of about nineteen years of age, (bred in the family of a person of quality lately deceased,) who paints the finest flesh colour, wants a place, and is to be heard of at the house of Mynheer Grotesque, a Dutch painter in Barbican.

"N.B.—She is also well skilled in the drapery part, and puts on hoods, and mixes ribands, so as to suit the colours of the face, with great art and success."

Corpulent, painted, with her gray hair powdered so as to cover its whiteness, and her bishop satin gown side and wide, and unconquerably careless, and from hand to mouth in her household economy was Mrs Crichton. She had denied herself nothing, save in the upholding of the porcelain mania. She denied other people nothing. She would have made sack whey of her last pennyworth of milk, chucked away her final farthing for early spinach or late asparagus, pledged her bigonet for a ruffle, and exchanged her entire furniture for a week's jollity. A worse guide for youth that looked to her for direction or owed her deference, could not be imagined. Yet Mrs Crichton had her fair points. She was very good-natured, she was always vaunting Euphame Napier's steadiness and retirement from the world; although she yawned, and dawdled, and stretched herself unceremoniously and in all directions, and built up her china and fed her animals every hour of the day, and owned she could not live without company. Nay, none of us could do that—only see that it be the highest company, spiritual company, or else poor tenants in tabernacles of clay, we must assuredly do without company one day. Mrs Crichton had also an unqualified respect and affection for her son Mark, though Mark was harsh, intolerant, deficient in outward respect and consideration for the mother who wasted his slender means as a lad, and if he did not forcibly prevent it, wasted his ampler means as a man. If Mrs Crichton had been attached to so rough but upright a support as Mark in her young days, would she have fared better? Hardly, in reality, or to the depths of her shallow nature. There is no want of a stay for the weak, such a stay as would serve all tempers, nor fail the most facile, the most volatile.

Katie's sister Mysie was an older Katie,—not so bonny or beguiling, not so wilful, but not so open. There had been another sister, but she had vanished from the family roof, and her name was silent within its walls. It was a miserably easy matter, in those regardless, rapacious, corrupt times, to compass sin and ruin; but the story sped in very much the same circles of shame, anguish, and retribution. Mark was cognisant of Jean's fate; some portion of Mark's earnings fell to the ground mysteriously, and in return Mark owed to an "unfortunate" the additional sullenness which weighed upon him, the consummation which made of the grave morose boy, a gloomy, passionate man.

It was an evil crown to Mark Crichton's strong, dark manhood, that bitter droop of the lips and contraction of the brows, that helpless protest against the cup whose dregs he shook and stirred up, and excited into more noxious fumes. Ah! Mark knew nothing experimentally of dropping into the draught wood more potent than that of Moses, salt more efficacious than that of Elisha, the symbol of the cross the figure of another's effectual and victorious sufferings.

Euphame Napier was sorry for Mark Crichton now. She was not so pitiless as in the clear, hard days of her girlhood, when she differed from the old mother in the Trinity. She was not frightened at Mark as the others were; he did not repel her as he repelled the pleasure-loving Katie. Possibly Euphame rather admired, though she did not approve of Mark's gruff-ness as of his brawny arm, his resounding foot, his high head with its coal-black, tangled hair. The male character, in those women's imaginations, ran very much into two channels, that of the "sweet youth" and the "lovely swain," and that of the blunt Mr Burchell and Sir William Worthy; and if Olivia was so sadly taken with dissipated, vain, impudent, silly young Squire Thornhill, remember Sophia inclined from the first, and more disinterestedly, to plain Mr Burchell with his rude " fudge." Mark did not display, in word or manner, anything of the philanthropy of that benevolent man; but still it was the same temperament, and the same attraction, and the same powerful, auxiliary of pity—for Mark was evidently a man at war with the world, and even with his remarkable strength and endurance, worsted and bruised, though not yet beaten in the contest. And poor Mark's motto, for ever on his lips, was the sentence inscribed in the neighbourhood of the house of his master, Paul Romieu, the foreign clockmaker in the Bow, where the first watch made in Scotland was put together:

"He that tholes overcomes."

Think of that! Great for a stoic, small for a Christian, if, as in the case of Mark Crichton, when Euphame asked him what he would overcome, and for whom, he answered, with a short laugh, he knew not, unless crowns like Adie Napier's guilders; and when he had earned them, he could not tell what he would do with them. He would not found an hospital; perhaps he would gather metal and cast another statue of another debauched King Charles for another Parliament Square. Yet this stubborn, mistaken, unhappy man, as Euphame had penetration to discover, kept his old George Heriot's tokens jealously; stole at an idle moment into the grounds of the hospital, and lay moodily meditating under its trees; followed his master, Paul Romieu, armed with a cudgel, to defend him from the prejudices of the vulgar, every time he went abroad of nights; though Master Paul, the meekest of little, bright-eyed, vehement, entranced, loyal men, repudiated the attention as an old form of servitude, vexatious and humiliating, and not to be exacted from an apprentice of parts and breeding as stout as he was able. And to this savage Mark, and his squandered allowance, Mrs Crichton had recourse every few weeks, wringing her hands the one moment and clapping them the next.

There was a gulf between baulked Mark Crichton and Euphame, in the dignity of her settled purpose, in the serenity of her faith, in her uncorrupted fidelity and generous philanthropy, on friendly terms with the social crowd of her little world, because it was in the way of permitting her to serve its members. Still. Euphame and Mark bore decidedly greater resemblance to each other than to the rest of that household; they were in earnest, they were sober and industrious—only Mark's was a noble nature, filled with the ashes of this world, and Euphame had heavenly food, adulterated it might be, but still with its blessed heavenly element. The others were all but incorrigible.

II.

Would you wish to see into the old lodging-house in the High Street, that you might learn how cracked and patched, and flaunting and meretricious mere idleness and folly may render themselves?

Euphame would be up and at her devotions, and in the half faded, half garish, wholly cumbered room, hours before the rest of the family were out of bed, unless Mark, whose heavy step disturbed the aristocratic lodgers, descending in the dark to his morning's work at the Romieus. Euphame would try to dust and dispose of tables, chairs, cabinets, and brittle ornaments, but long before night they would be besmutted, pulled about, littered, shattered worse than ever; the popinjay, whose neck Mark was always to twist, would scream and dab at her with his crooked beak, one or other of the little dogs would gnaw her slippers, the caddies in the street below would shout for orders, the water-carriers cry their refreshing streams; and at last such a night-capped, sluttish, soiled, drowsy face would look in at the door, as you have never seen, gentle reader, for Scotch women of 1860 do not indulge in the sloth, the untidiness, the impurities which passed "under the general name of a mob" a hundred and fifty years ago. They are not so seen by relatives, they are not so surprised by strangers, they do not need to apologise, "Truly, I am ashamed to be caught in this pickle; but my husband and I were sitting alone by ourselves, and I did not expect to see such good company." Russian ladies, they say, still appear in such toilettes, and Russian ladies alone. Sleeves tucked up to the elbow, neckerchief dragged away, gown drawn ever so far through the pocket holes for convenience, feet slip shod.

"Oh Euphanie Napier, how cauld it is! Child, how could you touch cold water? I'm afeared I'll be frosted, fingers and toes, before I can begin my meal. Throw a napkin over the Polly's cage, I cannot hear myself speak. O Euphame, who has cracked Corrydon's crook? Pug, pug, lie still till I get you a bite to stop your mouth. My mother and that spoilt gypsy, Katie, are well off; they breakfast a-bed,—and so down to the table covered with manchets, eggs, haddocks, steaks, burnt claret, ale, milk, as if it were my Lord Abruchil's appetite that was to be coaxed, and not the tastes of the Crichtons in their lodging-house."

The Crichtons professed and did make an attempt to obtain their bread much in the same way as Euphame, with the addition of the income derived from their lodgers. They executed worsted work for the upholsterers, bugle and bead work and braiding for the manteau-makers; they even employed those precious shapes in pastry and sweetmeats for the confectioners, and they waited on their lodgers. These lodgers naturally filled a conspicuous place in their life, and stood in a peculiar relation to them. Whether they were beautiful and witty Mrs Susannah, wedded long since to the elderly, widowed Earl of Eglintoun, (when did poets fare otherwise than by loss in their wooing?) or my Lady Cauldacres with her pining spinster daughters, or young Summerton in his honeymoon with the wife—whom he was already neglecting. Those lodgers mostly condescended to easy intimacy with the Crichtons— whether or not they corresponded with them afterwards under fancy names, and with passages in their letters writ in lemon juice—and found them very available, admiring, humble friends, who aped them enthusiastically, and would have toiled till they fainted for them—or their estate.

Thus we understand why the intrepid Countess of Nithsdale, in her perilous adventure at the last hour for her lord's safety, confided neither the secret nor its abetment to her friend the Duchess of Montrose, nor to any member of her noble kinswomen, but trusted implicitly to the adroitness and devotion of Mrs Mill, the keeper of her lodging-house, and of one Mrs Morgan, in the same degree; and it is "dear Mrs Catherine," whose name is used to smuggle out the first performer, and "dear Mrs Betty," who is honoured with incurring the penalty of high treason in the person of the second player, and the principal in the act— my lord himself, assuming for the nonce her part, sandy hair, painted cheeks, hood, and all, and effecting his escape under the well-managed disguise. So even the Queen of the Amazons loving Grizel Cochrane relied on her old English nurse, and not on brother or sister, in her bold device to reprieve her father.

(To he continued.)


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