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Tales of the Scottish Peasantry
Disinterestedness


-------My desires
Run net before mine honour.

Winter's Tale.

"Well, then, to-morrow night," said George: "Fortune favours true lovers, they say. I shall have everything in readiness, and on love's wings we shall fly away together."

"What must be, must he," replied Miss Caroline, in a low tone of voice. She was about to say more, but her father, Mr. Hanson, at that moment entered the room.

She was somewhat disconcerted, but her father noticed it not. "Caroline," said he, "you had better retire: I have some important communications to make to Mr. George here, and it may be as well that we are alone." Caroline bowed, and blushingly withdrew.

She was scarcely gone, when Mr. Hanson abruptly began,— "I am sorry, my dear sir, that the intelligence I am about to communicate to you, and which it is my duty to do, is of rather m, startling nature. I have just received a letter from a friend of mine, stating that the house in Madeira, with which you are connected, has failed."

"Failed!" ejaculated the individual spoken to, apparently stunned by that single word; "failed, and my whole fortune gone !" then, after a short pause, in which he partially recovered himself, "Well, it can't be helped;" and with this last remark, upon which he laid a particular emphasis, he affected to set the matter at rest.

"But that is not all," rejoined Mr. Hanson. "My friend states that there are strong suspicions of fraudulent dealings— that the partners are in danger of being imprisoned—and that he writes thus early in the hope that he may be instrumental in enabling you to avoid a jail."

"A jail!—They have my all already; they may have me for the keeping sooner or later. Man was made to rot; and if it must be in a jail, there is no great use in raising objections." Here again he assumed an air of indifference.

"No, my friend," said the other, "you shall not go to prison if I can keep you from it. We may succeed in convincing the creditors of the firm that you at least are honest; and when we have satisfied any reasonable demands which they could have upon you, I will endeavour to establish you in business for yourself, if you will allow me to number myself among your friends. You are a young man, and you may realise a fortune ere the finger of age has set its seal upon your brow."

George's brow was knit. He listened to the proposal with marked impatience. Conflicting passions were at work in his bosom, and he seemed struggling against the impulse of his heart and his better self. But at last his countenance brightened. He accepted Mr. Hanson's offer, strove to express his gratitude, and declared that his life should be spent in endeavouring to prove that he was not altogether unworthy of such a friend.

On the afternoon of the same day, he received a letter from the managing partner of the firm. It was as follows:—"My dear sir,—In consequence of Mr. S. having failed, and the circumstance being known that he lately stood engaged with our house to a considerable extent, a report has got into circulation that the firm is also bankrupt. This report is utterly false, and I write thus early to set your mind at ease, lest it should have reached you," etc.

This letter completely changed the aspect of affairs. But notwithstanding the happy information which it conveyed, Mr. George continued thoughtful during the remainder of the day, rather avoiding than seeking company. He was late in going to bed, and rose early on the following morning. His first business, after dressing himself, was to obtain a short interview with Miss Caroline, the concluding words of which were— "Though I could have been unjust, I cannot be ungenerous. I shall never love another, but I dare not wait your reply—it would unman me. Farewell, dearest Caroline. Look sometimes at the picture, and do not altogether forget its original— farewell." After this abrupt interview, he took a formal leave of Mr. Hanson, and again thanking him for his intended generosity, set off for town—business, he said, calling him thither.

Mr. Hanson was the representative of an ancient but decayed family. He was a man of generous and philanthropic disposition, but strongly imbued with aristocratic feeling. Caroline was the eldest of two daughters, and every way his favourite. She was a girl of elegant form and fascinating appearance; her education had been in a great measure received at home. To perception naturally quick, she had added varied and extensive reading, and possessed a fund of knowledge and a discrimination of character rarely to be found in one of her years. Mr. George was sprung from what, in the estimation of Mr. Hanson, was .a degenerate branch of the same family,—a branch which had supported itself for the last two generations by trade and commercial speculations, and between it and the original stem little intercourse had subsisted. Upon a heart actuated by the best intentions, and feelings which shrank from the meanness of double dealing, he had ingrafted some strange notions of his own about happiness. He considered it as a creation of the mind, rather than the creature of any particular station in society, and fancied that, with so much of Fortune's favours as would raise him above the fear of want, and place the necessaries and comforts of life within his reach, and a friend (he meant a wife) with whom to share these, and some other extras, such as his thoughts and affections, he could be perfectly happy. These ruminations naturally gave a sort of romantic turn to his thoughts, (perhaps there are few who have not, at one period or other of their lives, experienced something of a similar kind;) and this is the only excuse which can be offered for some of his actions. What appeared his greatest difficulty was the choosing of his friend. His limited fortune prevented him from looking very high, and he was deterred from descending very low from a knowledge of that want of general intelligence which was known to prevail there. He, however, determined to proceed cautiously, and when he had found one to his liking, to spare no effort to make her his own. He had been admitted as a visitor at Mr. Hanson's; and, availing himself of this privilege, had contrived to he oftener there during the last two years than either he or any of his family had been for at least half a century before.

On the day after his departure, Mr. Hanson chanced to pass a secluded spot in a woody hollow, where a little rivulet played over a ledge of rock, forming a miniature cascade, above which, in a recess of the rock, an arbour had been erected. This had been the favourite haunt of Caroline for some time past, and here, on the evening just alluded to, he was surprised to find her seated on the bench, and gazing intently on a miniature which she held in one hand, while she supported her head with the other; and as she sat thus, tears, which she could not suppress, at intervals flowed down her cheeks. She did not notice his approach, so that she was rather taken by surprise. The unwonted signs of sorrow visible in her countenance, naturally led her father to inquire what had caused her inquietude, and whose picture it was upon which she was gazing so intently. After recovering herself a little, "Sit down here, my dear father," said she, "and I will tell you all. I have nothing now to conceal. I may well be ashamed of some parts of my conduct, but it is perhaps as well that you should know it."

Here she proceeded to narrate to him that conversation, the end of which forms the beginning of this story; but as she only gave the leading particulars, it may be as well to introduce the reader to it as it really occurred.

It was after a walk to the very arbour in which the father and daughter now sat, during which mutual confessions and explanations had been made, that George and she were seated in a room by themselves. After a pause of some duration, "Well, you have confessed you love me," said George to his fair listener, "and that you would be happier with me than with any one else."

"Yes, I have confessed all that," was the reply of the playful girl, and in her tones, assumed levity, natural candour, and unwonted seriousness, seemed strangely blended.

"But your father—can we ever gain his consent?"

"Now that I think of it, I am afraid we never can," was Caroline's reply, and here all her former gaiety forsook her; "and were we to do anything without his knowledge, I fear he would disown me. Oh, this is the only thing I cannot bear to think of; and besides, were I to come to you with nothing, I would not be worth the taking."

"It is yourself, my love, not your fortune, that I wish to call my own. But do you recollect the account of my limited circumstances, and humble prospects, which I formerly gave you?"

"O yes, I recollect all that, and your candour, in this respect, only served to increase my esteem for you."

"And do you think you could submit to the economical way of living which it would be necessary to adopt? We should neither be able to keep nor to see much company, but you should have every moment of a lover's and a husband's time, which he could spare from his daily avocations. Could you bring yourself to conform to such a way of life?"

"O yes," was again the reply to these questions. "Let not that woman say she loves a man who cannot make her tastes —mode of living—all she is or can be—conform to his circumstances. Love is not selfish iu its demands, though men may sometimes think it so. And were it not that you would deem me forward, I would tell you that, for the last twelvemonth, I have been careful to learn, not only what pertains to the management of a house, but the doing of everything which is required to make it comfortable. And I am proud to say, that there is now nothing that a servant could be required to do, which I could not perform in her stead, if fortune should demand it of me."

"What could be your reasons for learning all this?" again inquired her enamoured listener.

"I believe I never made any strict search for my reasons. In truth, I rather wished to conceal them from myself. But I now suppose, some indistinct idea, that you would one day do as you have done, and that I might be called upon to perform a part in life quite difierent from that at present assigned me, must have been at the bottom of the whole."

"My angel!" exclaimed the enraptured lover, as he seized the hand of the fair speaker, and pressed it to his lips.

Love is a mysterious power : it often oversets the resolutions of the wisest heads as if in sport. But it is as capricious as it is powerful, and is itself liable to be overset by the merest trifle. Here the impropriety of the step she was about to take, and the grief which it would occasion her father, had been so forcibly presented to Caroline, that, for a time, she had almost determined to abandon those prospects of happiness which love so temptingly held out to her, and to follow what her heart told her was the path of duty. But the solicitations of her lover, the recollection that her sister was on the eve of returning home—-her education being completed—to supply her place, and the hope that, after all, her father might not take it so much to heart; these, backed by the strong current of her own affections, at length prevailed, and she consented to an elopement on the following evening.

Mr. Hanson listened patiently to his daughter's recital, and when she had concluded, he angrily put the question, "And why did you not run away with the fellow?"

"Have patience, dear father, and I will tell you all. I did not run away, because he would not take me with him. The last time I saw him, which was only for a few minutes, he told me of the kindness which you had lately shown him, and said that though he could have acted the part of a villain formerly, now that you had proved yourself a friend in what appeared the extremity of his fortune, he could not, for a moment, think of robbing you of what he was pleased to call your greatest treasure; and that, rather than be the cause of giving you the smallest uneasiness, he would forever forego his own prospects of happiness."

"And what did you say to all this?" again inquired the father, his passion gradually subsiding.

"Indeed, I was so struck with the nobleness of his sentiments, and the passionate earnestness with which he uttered them, that I could not say a word. And, besides, he did not give me time, for he hurried off* and left me to mourn his absence as I do now."

"What! is it possible that you really love him?" exclaimed Mr. Hanson, in a half bantering, half angry tone. But now it was evident that bis passion was working itself into a calm.

"O father! " said Caroline, "need I answer you that question after what I have already told you?"

The next morning Caroline was summoned to her father's apartment, when he inquired, in the most affectionate manner, "if she thought George Hanson really loved her, or if it were not rather her fortune to which he was partial, notwithstanding all his professions to the contrary."

"As to that, my dear father," said she, "I can have little doubt; for, setting aside the circumstance of my fortune being in your disposal, while he was here, a letter from the young and beautiful widow of the late Mr. Mowbray, whose fortune would more than double mine, even if I were to marry with your approbation, fell into my hands. It was addressed to him. Some irresistible impulse prompted toe to read it, and from the tenor of that letter, it was evident he needed only to make a proposal to be accepted."

Mr. Hanson, after a short pause, resumed, "I have been thinking' a good deal about the matter, and I believe I must write him an invitation to come and spend a few days more with us as soon as he can find it convenient." George Hanson was not long in returning, and the result was—what the reader has perhaps already anticipated,—a marriage.

All men's characters are mixed: there is something to be borne with, and something bad in the best, and there is often some brighter traits even in the worst, if we could only discover them. Accident, or a word elicited by some strong emotion, may sometimes bring the latent principles to light Thus Mr. George has often been heard to aver that he had never formed a proper estimate of his wife's character till he heard her say that for him she had been learning to be a servant; and upon these occasions she always remarked that she never believed there could be candour in a lover till he told her that he was not rich. Mr. Hanson, too, had his observation. He said, that had it not been for the circumstance of George's going away without his daughter after she was willing to run off with hira, he should have set him down for a scoundrel to the latest day of his life. To these remarks may be added another of a more general character: "Money should never be despised in matrimonial alliances; but those who marry exclusively for a fortune need not be disappointed if afterwards they should miss a friend."


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