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Good Words 1860
Lady Somerville's Maidens


(continued from page 431)

These lodgers afforded copies for the Crichtons' absurdities. Rich neighbours, bethink you of your double, who is to revive your cast-off foibles with still more preposterous, still more disastrous conclusions, and bear with the old-fashioned good sense, the clear, pertinent humour of a few more quotations from the old essays which writers turn up for their own purposes, and men at large agree to call English classics and to leave to dust and decay. Mr. Homespun's daughters have gone on a Christmas visit to my Lady------and have returned much altered, having contracted a most infectious disease. "At dinner, after a long morning preparation, they appeared with heads of such is their behaviour less changed than their garb. Instead of joining in the good-humoured cheerfulness we used to have among us before, my two fine young ladies check every approach to mirth, by calling it vulgar. One of them chid their brother the other day for laughing, and told him it was monstrously ill-bred. In the evenings, when we were wont, if we had nothing else to do, to fall to blind-man's-buff, or cross-purposes, or sometimes to play at loo for cherry-stones, these two get a pack of cards to themselves, and sit down to play for any little money their visit has left them, at a game none of us know anything about. It seems, indeed, the dullest of all amusements, as it consists a parcel of phrases which they utter on all occasions as decisive ; French I believe, though I can scarcely find any of them in the dictionary, and am unable to put them upon paper ; but all of them mean something extremely fashionable, and are constantly supported by the authority of my Lady, or, the Countess, his Lordship, or Sir John."

"... But another doctrine they have learned is, that a father and a parson may preach as they please, but are to be followed only according to the inclination of their audience. Indeed, I could not help observing that my Lady------ never mentioned her absent Lord (who I understand is seldom of her parties), except sometimes to let them know how much she differed in opinion from him."

"This contempt of authority, and affectation of fashion has gone a step lower in my household. My gardener has tied his hair behind, and stolen my flour to powder it, ever since he saw Mr. Papillot; and yesterday, he gave me warning that he should leave me next term, if I did not take him into the house, and provide another hand for the work in the garden. I found a great hoyden, who washes my daughter's linens, sitting the other afternoon, dressed in one of their fly-caps, entertaining this same oaf of a gardener, and the wives of two of my farm-servants, with tea, forsooth; and when I chid her for it, she replied, that Mrs. Dimity, my Lady------'s gentlewoman, told her all the maids at------had tea, and saw company of an afternoon."

After breakfast, in the lodging-house in the High Street, there was a great ringing of bells, rat-tatting of ebony sticks and scuttling to answer them, loud talk, make-believe work, sometimes displeasure and recrimination, but more frequently right Epicurean laughter. Then the great business of dressing began. Oh! that dressing, that dressing. One has not the least ado in crediting the country vicar's daughters cooking the wash half the day over the fire, when here was the hairdresser daily—his time filled up till seven at night, and sometimes detained two hours in this single house. The crimping, the plaiting, the puffing, the frilling, the lacing, the knotting, besides the powdering and painting that followed;—it was a sobering thought, to consider that it took place,, on the least computation, once every twenty-four hours. One is impressed with the determination of the heroine, who would not appear in the comfortable undress of the silk sacque, or the gauze nightgown; it was so tedious a matter, that we find the shred of an apology for the justly-railed-at foreign fashion of receiving company during the process; it was so serious an interest, that we are a. little less astonished to hear that great Lady Mary did not look into her glass for eleven years, because it had no pleasant answer to convey to her.

After the dressing appeared the visitors, motley enough here, and still inextricably entangled with the Crichtons, whose work never interfered with their world, however their world might confuse and impair their work. The very thronged and extraordinary stage, where crashes, yells and howls, and shrill chatters, and screeches, and general havoc, were no nuisance or interruption,—the desultoriness, and above all, the half-tavern ease, when taverns were frequented by everybody, made the lodging-house a favourite haunt for the wags, the gay madams, the pretty fellows of the metropolis, when they were not, alas ! more wickedly engaged in their insane gambling, their gluttony and drunkenness, their riots and murders.

Here came the famous Kitty Hyde, first of a bevy of beauties, whose very names are picturesque in our ears,—Kitty Hyde, Dolly Walpole, Lady Bell Bentinck; the most famous, cheery and heartless of duchesses, ere she had basely lied, and joined to her blythe, bad presence, a gibbering ghost in the person of her rash and unhappy son, Henry Lord Drumlanrig; and here astounding Euphame's vision, even after Lady Morriston's story, tripped a blooming gentleman in velvet coat, rolled-up silk stockings, cravat and cocked hat, who was known to visit the newsrooms, and hang about the public meetings, for no other purpose than to gratify her own unscrupulous levity, and gather political scandal; a strange and unprofitable spy, whom Union Lockhart sent out—his own wife, Lady Effie, daughter of Lord Eglintoun and step-daughter of Mistress Susannah. To that arena unbanished, however checked by Mark Crichton's scowl, flocked the idle gentlemen, like young Master Ludovic, who found it a hard matter to learn the flute and study verses—another writing them, and managing the musical glasses, and who had no other resource when there was no hunt, no race, no cock-fight, no game lasting forty-eight hours amid shattered bottles, scattered guineas, guttered candles, and occasional sword clashes, and no certain prospect of a rebellion. And if the quality had their meetings, the Crichtons, ''sib" at a great distance to the old chancellor, moved among their betters; if the quality attended their auctions, so did the Crichtons, though they had more furniture than they could use, and far more than they could pay. They also had their walks on the Castle Hill, and the pier of Leith, and in the King's Park, or along the Duke's Walk; they too had their junketings, their suppers sometimes under the patronage of the reigning quality ; and proud women they were when it was so, though they lay in bed half the next day, racked with headaches and sick with vexation because some lord, or lady, or squire's daughter, had forgotten them, slighted them, discountenanced them.

Oh! it was a life of strain and whirl and vanity, and utter ignobleness and emptiness. No wonder Lady Loudon forsook it, and, retreating to a remote estate in the wild Highlands, planted trees and hedges till she was in her hundredth year; no wonder the Earl of Wintoun, who, poor man, was reckoned cracked in his own day, loved to descant on his happiness when he dwelt, unknown to his friends, with a blacksmith in France, whom he served as a bellows-blower and under-servant for the space of several years, and never once experienced the spleen or the vapoury, womanish complaints very catching among his brethren; no wonder Lady Mary forsook England, and watched bees and silkworms. No wonder, no wonder, though, woe's me! this marvel was rare, Lady Huntingdon quitted Vanity Fair and put her hand to Whitfield's plough. Good folks might well weep to think of the Christian profession null; many may still well weep to think of it, for the world is only more rational and more false-seeming—vanity of vanities is written on hundreds and thousands of its households.

And through all the turmoil and wear and tear, and flimsiness and glare and dust of the lodging-house in the High Street, sat one statuesque figure, save when Euphame Napier went abroad to see her customers, or tempted by a remembrance of the country air of Ormeslaw, trod with a gentle foot at some quiet hour as far as St. Leonard's, or waited upon my Lady Somerville, or was carried in after sermon to drink a dish of tea with Mrs. Jonet and good Mr. Drurie in the old nursery filled with new plants in Bristo Street. Imagine Euphame, composed, lofty, benign in her solitude in the crowd, stared at, spoken of, teazed, but neither tempted out of the tenor of her way nor tired of its consequences. It is granted that this was only probable of a girl endowed with strength of mind as well as simplicity and godliness, but treading on the heels of this concession, the reality itself is insisted upon. Poor, great Lady Mary, with her characteristic coolness and confidence, asserts, in her brilliant youth,—"Mr. Bickerstaff has very wrong notions of our sex. I can say there are some of us that despise charms of show, and all the pageantry of greatness perhaps with more ease than any of the philosophers. In condemning the world, they seem to take pains to condemn it; we despise it without taking pains to read lessons of morality to make us do it." Whether Lady Mary would in other circumstances have pointed her moral is very doubtful; she did philosophically endure lonely exile, she was a philosopher; but Euphame had a better portion. Euphame looked up into the blue sky and saw her home, her Lord, her Father there, and believed that she had a commission to work in the meantime—to work while it was day, and so she was never unemployed, uninterested, listless, discontented, weak, worthless ; and while she looked to the end, she did not despise the means. Work, needle-work, worsted work was not despised in Euphame's generation, or was only despised by the idle, gadding, dissipated pleasure-seekers. No one dreamt of its insufficiency as a resource to the modest female mind; the more virtuous and pious, and the wiser a maid or matron, the more she was addicted to tapestry and embroidery. Writers did not rail against it; they wrote to commend it heartily; and it is impossible to make it plain as a great refuge and absorbing pursuit in itself without quoting again from the half jesting, half serious, half gallant, half sarcastic, wholly kindly notice of an author unknown, in an advanced number of the well-beloved old Spectator.

''What a delightful entertainment must it be to the fair sex, whom their native modesty, and the tenderness of men towards them, exempts from public business, to pass their hours in imitating fruits and flowers, and transplanting all the beauties of nature into their own dress, or raising a new creation in their closets and apartments?

"This is, methinks, the most proper way wherein a lady can show a fine genius, and I cannot forbear wishing that several writers of that sex had chosen to apply themselves rather to tapestry than to rhyme. Your pastoral poetesses may vent their fancy in rural landscapes, and place despairing shepherds under silken willows, or drown them in a stream of mohair. The heroic writers may work up battles as successfully, and inflame them with gold, or stain them with crimson. Even those who have only a turn to a song, or an epigram, may put many valuable stitches into a purse, and crowd a thousand graces into a pair of garters.

"If I may, without breach of good manners, imagine that any pretty creature is void of genius, and would perform her part herein but very awkwardly, I must nevertheless insist upon her working, if it be only to keep her out of harm's way.

"Another argument for busying good women in works of fancy is, because it takes them off from scandal, the usual attendant of tea-tables, and all other inactive scenes of life.

"A third reason that I shall mention, is the profit that is brought to the family where these pretty arts are encouraged. It is manifest that this way of life not only keeps fair ladies from running out into expenses, but is at the same time an actual improvement. How memorable would that matron be who should have it inscribed upon her monument, 'That she wrought out the whole Bible in tapestry, and died in a good old age, after having covered three hundred yards of wall in the mansion-house.'"

But Euphame had a generous object in view, and so she acquired the stern Spartan's beautiful reverence for the hoary head, and grew gentle even to jovial Mrs. Crichton, in the prospect of her becoming infirm and in want of a sanctuary. Try Euphame's armour,—Euphame's panacea, for that general sickening of a vague disease, for the fairy glitter of frivolity; try it more wisely than Euphame did. If she was in any respect starched or spasmodic, be not you starched or spasmodic, but be godly and be good in your generation, that your godliness may have thews and sinews, and may not prove a thin shadow or a pure phantom.

Look again at Euphame in her tall stature, her brown hair darker, her grey eyes deeper; these full placid lips, so distinguishing a feature in her face, slightly parted; constantly intent and busy in the universal relaxation and absence of discipline and design around her; saving money already after her little expenses and charities, to store beside her unfading diamond rose. An indefatigable servant of her master, she is not likely to be affected by this coarse, commonplace, paltry, selfish ambition. Alas ! alas ! that sitting thus, like Lucretia at her wheel among a rout of princes' trifling, luxurious wives, as she imprinted herself on Mark Criehton's imagination, other dangers should be hovering round her, other evil influences settling down upon her, the conventual atmosphere closing in! Much need had the wise man to teach the people knowledge, and search out and set in order proverbs; for the weary scholar must con many a hard lesson, and the sorrowful penitent lag back from a myriad of magniloquent devices, ere he can be content simply to love God and keep His commandments, to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with his God.

III.

The year wore on again to spring and summer, and the Crichtons were prominent in holidays to Mutrie's Hill and Boughton. Mrs. Crichton pressed Euphame to accompany them, from pure disinclination to witness "such bondage," and the girl might have yielded a point to breathe the fresh air, and try what sympathy would do, if it were only out of love to her neighbour ; but she was full of her own purposes, still tasking herself, bent more eagerly than ever on her mission and her labour, since she saw that its accomplishment was difficult and distant. Thus Mrs. Crichton was quite triumphant when, by Lady Somerville's command, who said she was losing the living roses in her cheeks, Euphame consented to go, for once in her life, across the moor, where the lively promenade of Princes Street runs now, to have cakes and cream at the bun-house of old Edinburgh;— cakes and cream Euphame thought; but Mrs. Crichton had made private provision for ducks and green pease, and little glasses of smuggled brandy. The Crichtons—Euphame counted for company, with Mark, pressed into their service as an escort; but Mrs. Crichton had her gossip, Mrs. Hughes, and Mysie had her friend Madge Haldane, with her side-looking, plausible, sycophantish brother, whom Mark could not abide; and Katie had picked up gay, idle Master Ludovie, of the noble house of Wintoun, who happened to be in town, and who did not disdain to form one in the waiting-woman Folly, so that it provided him with amusement; and at the last moment Lady Cauld-aeres' daughters fancied that they could undertake the walk, and consented to grace the company: so it was quite a cavalcade which started through the Port, to waken up the moor with their laughter, and frighten the bittern by their flutter and flash and fume.

The end of the expedition was scarcely worth the cost and fatigue to those who could not appreciate the broom, gorgeous even with half its glory over, and hanging in black pods, the swift flight of the lapwings, the golden motes in the sunbeams —though the air of the brown moor blew fresh to the inhabitants of the High Street, whose odours almost drove Dr. Johnson to regret his torn to Scotland on the very night of his arrival, only they might have had it any day with far less bustle. The cakes and cream, the ducks and peas, to those who fancied them, would have been appetizing at the half-way house; but Mrs. Crichton spilt the sauce on Mrs. Hughes' quilted petticoat, and Mrs. Hughes would not be appeased for the accident, and the milk was turned, and Mrs. Crichton had been too late in appointing the fresh batch of cakes, so that the mistress of the house had fired them in a hurry, and burnt one side black; and altogether, those who partook of the legitimate fare required to make the best of it, and overlook the fact, that the young ladies of Cauldacres sniffed scornfully at their dainties, and feeling more wearied and less entertained than they expected, immediately gave themselves airs, fanned themselves, threatened to swoon,—which would not have been so very wonderful after all, if the one "never walked on account of her corns," and the other "had not walked since she caught a sore throat in one of the cold evenings" of 1708 or 1709. It was more inexcusable that they would make audible remarks on their inferiors while they talked apart, and wore poor Mysie Crichton to distraction, trying to flatter them into better humour, until Madge Haldane and her brother, smooth and complacent as they were, grew affronted; and Katie would be giddy with Master Ludovic, and aggrieved Mark, whom she recommended with pretty impudence, which was impudence still, to look after Euphame Napier; for, quoth Katie, "Euphame is as much bound to her stool and her frame as Gipsy Jean Gordon to revenge the murder of her man, spending on it a lapful of gold which might have bought her a belted knight, let alane a Faa; and sure that will please you Mark, lad. More by token, you're a pair of kill-joys; you dinna ken how to behave at a pleasure-party. Gae wa' with you, and leave us to draw up with whom we will."

There was plenty of discomfort and worry, Euphame found, in the so-called pleasure-party. It ought not to have been if hearts had been true, and tempers sweet, and minds attuned to peace ; but so it was in the actual circumstances, and Euphame settled, that though her hospital was worth the dedication of her youth, this folly to Mutrie was not worth one summer's afternoon.

Veritably, Euphame and Mark Crichton were, here as elsewhere, linked by an invisible chain; and Euphame involuntarily refreshed herself with the consideration, that it was healthful for the strong man, shut up in the clockmaker's, poring over wheels and needles, and curious instruments, and mysterious calculations with the enthusiastic little Frenchman, as for herself from her tapestry, to be thus loitering among the cool springs and breezy heights of the moor, idle, if he were only unharassed for a few hours on a summer's clay. Would the frown on Mark Crichton's brow lighten ? Would the rigidity of his mouth soften? Euphame was curious, and she was willing that they should tarry among the heather.

"This is as manful as constructing the wee engines, and fixing the wire chains, Euphame," he said, with his sour melancholy.

But Euphame was not a melancholy woman; she went on her way inwardly rejoicing, and in the strength of her lofty morality, was accustomed to see every little attainment as bearing on a great whole, every infinitesimal effort as a partial development of the motive within her, and the might supplied to her. To Euphame, possessed of the genius of the heart, ''concentration and application," there was nothing common or unclean in any honest calling. "I would not slight the needles and the chains. Think how they stand instead of the sun, moon, and stars, for times and for seasons, for days and for years. A watchmaker who minds men of the flight of time, may be next to a preacher, Mark Crichton."

"At that rate, so may any man," responded Mark, scoffingly. "The road-maker, who divides his work by miles, the tailor who sorts his charges by suits, and, most of all, the hangman who draws the pin, and cuts short the last hour."

"'Deed may they," assented Euphame, without being at all disturbed in her opinion. "All trades may preach to those who like to listen; but, Mark Crichton, I would have them preach about life, not death; our reawakening and renewal in purity and joy, not our latter end. And I'm troubled about that office of hangman, because it seems to stop short now at the edge of the criminal's grave. What for should we appoint an executioner, and then hunt him with our scorn till he leaps from a crag, like the miserable gentleman in the King's Park ? If we made him in his horror, must we madden him in our loathing?"

''I cannot tell, mistress; I dare to say there are others as deserving of our execration; only we're time-serving, ye ken, and false."

"We're to grow better, Mark Crichton, in the likeness of the perfect man. Na, never shake your head, for that is to be an unbeliever, sir, and I would rather cut off my right hand than that you or any gallant man should sink into a cowardly unbeliever. Adie Napier is more hopeful. I hear of Adie at times, Adie is a scholar as well as a soldier, and when there has been word to Scotland, twice he has sent me a line, which has found me out, for as little as you think of truth and justice, Mark."

(To be continued.)


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