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Good Words 1860
Lady Somerville's Maidens


(Continued from page 110)

V.

The stroke had fallen—a greater stroke to Euphame than the events of war, vicissitudes of politics, strategies, plots, and blunders, and literary enterprises, which march so brilliantly across the field of Anne's life. The old mother in the Trinity was gone from this world—and although Euphame was a girl of much promise, who had made a lively impression on her friends and acquaintances, who had fast friends for her years and portionless condition, she was nobody's darling now; she had no beloved figure for ever hovering in her mind's eye; she had struggled through that rebellion of yearning, bereaved affection—that chill of lonely orphanhood; she was strong, and fearless, and faithful again, but—accept it with merciful forbearance—that Euphame's heart was a little harder when the wound had cicatriced which had bled so profusely. It should not be so. Misfortune should soften, not steel; but it was the dangerous tendency of that composed, calm, unworldly spirit, when its living outlet was for ever closed, not to forget or forsake its Maker, not to abjure the heaven which had deprived it of its treasure on earth, but to draw off more and more from its fellows—to give warnings of undergoing a gradual ossification to the common joys and sorrows, troubles and cares of humanity; and even while it labours sedulously among them, in itself seems to stand apart from their sources. An excellent man or woman, but above ordinary wants and weaknesses—an insensibility about the individual—too superior for mortals in general—a little cold, a little high-minded, with all his or her meekness—a suspicion of superciliousness lurking beneath the brother's or sister's charity.

What flaw is it, in good men and women, which causes their very virtue to "lean" to error's "side?" —which conjures a failing and a stumbling-block out of their merits themselves? It is not so with angels, who are able to minister to the humblest son or daughter of salvation—who have much joy over one sinner who repenteth; and we thank God reverently it was not so seen in the pattern and perfection of all righteousness—the Son of God and man.

But Euphame was much esteemed in the Hospital, and in her seventeenth year she was as staid, and true, and kind, though not as tender a maiden, as had ever worn its laurels. In this her closing season, she was employed in many offices of trust and responsibility, notwithstanding Mrs Jonet had never been known to devolve any special duty or toil upon another. One honourable distinction awarded to Euphame was that, on the completion of a masterpiece of embroidery, while Katie Crichton was left in the hall to pick out and spoil still further her section of the work, Euphame was despatched, under the plaid, which fell so prettily over her head and shoulders compared with their ordinary garniture of cap and tippet, to display the performance to their foundress, Lady Somerville. Euphame had been seen and noticed by Lady Somerville frequently, and had gone occasionally to her house in the Queen's Close, but never by herself, or on an individual mission.

Euphame, in her grave way, liked the progress through the streets, and the ideas which were suggested to her. Up the clattering, dark, rugged Bow, safe, and only safe, in broad sunshine; crossing with a thrill before the high, black-browed house where the burgher's wife saw the gigantic woman join her comrades, heard the immeasurable laughter, watched the wildly-waving torches, and asked nest day, when she had recovered from her trance of terror, who lived in that mansion, and was answered, Major Weir. In Euphame's day, the black staff which "suffered" with its owner was still said to tap up and down the disused stairs, and attend as a porter at the closed doors, the wretched Grizel Weir's wheel to hum within the untenanted house, and unhallowed lights to light up its darkness. Euphame was not before her time— she was not very superstitious, but she was not incredulous; and Mrs Jonet as implicitly believed in "Satan's Kingdom Unmasked," as in "Peden's Prophecies."

There Euphame was scared a second time. A Highlander in his dusky tartan and nodding plumes brushed past her—a John Highlandman with keen eyes and unkempt locks; and not the uncouth goodwill and barbarous fidelity of their Highland Bawby in the cellar-like kitchen of Bristo Street—scarcely the broad daylight could reconcile Euphame to the clans. The city guard, enrolled for the peace and protection of the lieges, were notoriously fierce; and a Macdiar-mid or Macdonald, fresh from his awful haunts, from a Glen of Weeping, or Corrie of the Mist, who had placed a dead man's head on the board, and stuffed the mouth with bread and cheese; who had tortured an enemy by horrid hunger and thirst; who had marched down into the Lowlands in many a foray, his banner waving, his bagpipes playing in triumph, amidst the smoke of burning houses, the groans of wounded men, and the shrieks of abducted women—what was to be expected of him? Remember, it was in years to come that Lord Lovat's Highlanders marched into Edinburgh, surrounded a citizen's dwelling-house, and carried off, upon the warrant of their chief's instructions, by stages, to that "rock in the ocean," lone St Kilda, the raving, foaming daughter of Chiesly of Dalry, and wife of Lord Grange. Euphame Napier had some grounds for her palpitation, though she scolded herself immediately on the rational ground—"What would a wild John Highlandman want with a poor body like me? How could I provoke him?" And she might have spared a portion of her dread and aversion for the gallants, three deep, ruffling along the street; their laced coats, with the deep cuffs terminating in the knots of riband at their elbows, the knots of riband at their knees, the knots of riband at their sword-hilts, the knots of riband in their cocked hats—these knots of riband, and the fashion of them ; the powdered full-bottom wigs; the pale or flushed faces were imported from London; the serious, offended Presbyterians, their fellow-subjects, would have it that they commissioned, also quarterly, a catalogue of wicked oaths from London. But the gallants were customary nuisances; and Euphame, even unattended, by her quiet, pure, unflinching face, disarmed their ogling and swaggering, and almost induced some bold, but not shameless eyes to sink abashed.

Euphame was in the High Street—the pride of the old metropolis—passing rich in the black, stanchioned, grim Tolbooth; Edinburgh's beloved St Giles's, fresh from one of its many last touches, fair in shaft, arch, and keystone, where the clock from the Abbey of Lindores was now tolling the hour, where, in the Old Kirk above, Jenny Geddes arrested the astounded Dean, and in the vault below, the dust of Euphame's ancestors, the Napiers of the Wrichtishouse, mingled in loving communion with that of the Napiers of Merchiston; the cross and its unicorn, where Montrose and the Argyles met the same violent death, ascending to where the tall houses sent terraced pleasure-gardens down to the Nor Loch, on whose waters citizens boated on the summer evenings, and across whose ford fugitives fled red-handed,—all ending in the frowning Castle, with its grand hill.

Booths and stairs, water-carriers' barrels, and carters' bags of yellow sand, hucksters, caddies, chairs and their bearers, and fat sows trotting in and out below —signs and clothes-lines swinging from upper stories, and impeding the light above—Euphame needed more than modern dexterity to tread her way seathless. But here was a sight which meets living eyes—the George Heriot boys, with their governors, as they are to defile for centuries. Adie Napier was no longer among them. Adie's time was expired; and in the licence of his liberty, poor Adie had plunged headlong into reckless courses, and, without friends or money, had found himself enlisted as a soldier, almost before he had time to look about him and bethink himself, and come to a proper mind, and settle on a sober footing. And so it seemed that poor Adie's careful education had proved worse than useless, and that he had been very far from responding to the wise, liberal, large-hearted goldsmith's aim. Yonder where he stands in his ruff, with the jewel in his hand—would that it could have been a boy's heart, and that he could have so traced its mysterious workings, that he could have made all provision for its manifold wanderings, if such foresight had been within human ken. But here still was Mark Crichton among the foremost boys—the fifth or sixth form of the hospital—with broadening chest and towering head, and after the picture of Hardyknute, with "dark-brown cheek" and "dark-brown brow." Euphame had her old slight acquaintance with him, and her old impression of him —a diligent lad, and likely to be an indefatigable man, but of a somewhat hard and bitter consistence. Euphame did not consider that she herself was cold as well as spotless —"as snow on Rona's crest." Euphame had not the coveted faculty which we all want sorely—"To see oursel's as ithers see us."

The High Street was much given over to traffic already; the gentle names of ancient proprietors were beginning to hover like ghosts over warerooms and public offices; but conspicuous then as now, outshining the tokens of prince and peer, proud prelate and luxurious ambassador, where the Netherbow and the High Street exchanged greetings, stood the house of Master John Knox, where the magistrates presented him with his private study, "built of daillis," where he addressed the moved crowd from the broad window, and where, like a man leal in every pulse, albeit stern, he fulfilled gallantly enough the half-effaced inscription still helping to indicate his tenement, "Lufe God above all, and ye neighbour as ye self." Euphame gazed at it lovingly; and, though she was not much given to such reflections, not because of her Presbyterianism, but because of the exceedingly still nature of the girl, she thought of Mar-jorie Bowes of Berwick, and Margaret Stewart of Ochiltree; and how he asked the one, whether she could aid him to bear his heavy burden, and she engaged that she would shift the weight from his broad shoulders to her slight back on an occasion—and Euphame counted her favoured that she was literally enabled to carry the fainting traveller's baggage for him in one day's weary trudge in the Low Countries— and Euphame did not "dream that there was any sorcery or witchcraft in the paction; or in the last suit he won, though the reformer rode, "with ane great court on ane trim gelding, nocht like ane prophet or ane auld decrepit priest, as he was, but like as he had been ane of the blood royal, with his bands of taffetie, feschnit with golden rings and precious stanes, .... and did sae allure that puir gentlewoman, that she could not live without him."

At last Euphame was in the Canongate, whose "lands" were still the pride and pleasure of all the families of degree and substance who had not migrated at the Union. At the head of the Canongate was the sign of the White Horse, whence, sixty years later, the tavern was kept by Lucky Boyd, and there issued from it, late on a hot Saturday night in August, the important note, which imparted such gratification to the conceited, enthusiastic receiver, "Mr Johnson sends his compliments to Mr Boswell, being just arrived at Boyd's;" and straight before Euphame lay the noble quadrangle and the towers of Holyrood, where John Knox rebuked Mary in vain—and the "sweet face," which all men had bidden "God save!" when she came home to her rough, tumultuous Scots, in the delicate bloom of her girlish widowhood, was all disfigured with wounded pride and angry vexation, and, alas! anything but honest conviction and brave repentance.

Within another stone's throw was the Queen's Close, which some dowager Margaret or Mary had honoured as a temporary residence, or where she had thought fit to drop the shackles of state and ceremony in visiting a chosen waiting-woman or an attached court adherent, and so had bequeathed the name of the locality, all the same as if she had planted her body and train within its limits. In Euphame Napier's memory the principal dwelling presiding over the range—a clumsy mass of building, not so romantic as the house in Bristo Street, and with but its rambling vastness, a mitre here, and a star there, and the Virgin's pot of lilies above all, unshattered by the professional spoilers of idols, to uphold its dignity— was occupied by Lady Somerville and her maiden sisters, Miss Peggy and Miss Clara Spottiswoode— their women, their boys, their dogs, popinjays, wardrobes, and paint-pots.

VI.

Euphame was greeted civilly by Lady Somerville's sober, punctilious waiting-woman, who was fully forty, wore a close curch or cap, with a plain band, tight skirts, keys at her girdle, and linen sleeves drawn over her ruffles; but while she sought Lady Somerville's cabinet to discover whether she was at liberty to receive her guest, she made Euphame be conducted through the gusty passages and deposited in the matted parlour where Miss Peggy and Miss Clara Spottiswoode, with the assistance of a young woman in a chintz gown and fly-cap, with a half-impudent, half -frightened expression, were playing their afternoon's game at ombre, sipping their little glasses of citron-waters, fanning themselves, tapping with their high-heeled shoes on the floor, languishing, as they had displayed their airs and graces to an admiring world thirty years before, hugging their barking dogs, and arranging their tray of images. It was clear that these ladies were of a different order from Lady Somerville; and, indeed, save by a disdainful glance round, and a loud ejaculation, "One of Lady Somerville's canaille," they did not deign to notice the panting, blushing girl, for Euphame was but a primitive, rustic lass, with all her rare qualities and her town breeding.

(To be continued.)


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