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Chapter XVII. - A Journey to the Great Loch.—Major Duncan is Champion for the Abilities of Women as against Scoffers

This morning at breakfast Ward asked Mrs. Peyton what she proposed to do, as the weather was fine.

“Anything you desire,” she replied; “pray, what should it be, Major Duncan?”

“I have been thinking of an arrangement which may suit you,” Mrs. Peyton; “which is, that I drive you round to the great loch in the pony-phaeton for the view; and that the young ladies and the rest might go there now and picnic on the island. Would that do?”

“Excellent! I have no doubt; but this may sacrifice your shooting.”    .

“Hardly a sacrifice,” he replied, gravely bowing like a courtier of Louis Quatorze. “So, that’s settled.”

“How, pray, young people, don’t hurry,” said Fred (as the girls started up to get ready); “the tackle and things must be sent on first to the loch.”

“Annie,” inquired Ward, “can Miss Clive go on foot?”

“Ask her.”

“Pray, Miss Clive,” he said, “can you walk well, as you can get a quiet pony, and the loch is some distance away?”

“Is the climbing very bad? for I had some practice in Savoy last year; but the heather may be too much.”

“Ha! Alpine climber! Miss Clive; then anything here, even the ptarmigan range, will be mere sauntering to you; and Annie is a don at walking, so you will both see Ardenmohr properly.”

Every one now prepared to go out; and the young ladies presently came equipped in plain looped-up dresses and stout shoes, with the heels in the proper place.

“Get me a stick, Fred, please,” Annie said; “and an alpenstock, or something, for Miss Clive.”

“Thank you,” Charley remarked, “a switch will do; I like to walk free, when practicable.”

And we started. Our gay party, fairly out on the moors, went away in liigh spirits; still, I felt doubtful if the rugged hollows and “stey braes” might not soon temper the gaiety of these merry girls: but no, they both continued walking fast and easily, and the first hill was crossed without rest; over the wide moors the pace was kept up, and the last steep climb unflinchingly faced.

I was amused at observing the distinct styles of progression of these light-footed maidens. Annie Peyton going over the ground with a firm, light-infantry step; while Miss Clive glided over heath and stones in an undulating sort of manner, very different, still quite as effective; and when, at last, we stood on the crest of the mountain overlooking the loch, neither of them showed signs of the sharp exercise except in slightly heightened colour.

“Bravo! well done! young ladies,” said Ward, as they now gladly enough rested on the soft moss on the peak of the hill commanding an eagle’s view of the scene. "Bravo! And how like ye the look of this Highland world?” But they were too breathless, or too much absorbed, to reply.

Below lay the great loch, spread out in sheen and shadow, surrounded by hills of every varied shape and colour; the bright greens and purple of the near slopes "broken here and there by the silvery grey and- dark clefts of the rocky steeps, while the far-off pale blue mountains blended with the sky. Great clouds sailed overhead, their passing shadows casting momentary gloom on hill and loch, the next minute to be flooded in the light of the sun.

“How beautiful! ” at last Annie Peyton said; “is it not grand, Charley?”

“Perfect,” said Miss Clive; “but so still and desolate.”

“No, not desolate; I could pass the long day here alone happily,—that is, if I were happy at the time,” she added, with a smile.    .

“And you, Miss Clive, would you find it very lonely on this hill-top?” I inquired.

“I can hardly say, Mr. Abbott: all places seem so nice when there is (what Annie makes provision for) sunshine in one’s own mind; but it would be trying to sit here alone in a pet. No sympathy from nature for that,—eh, Annie? Just a minute since that bay opposite was as black as ink; silver now: a vexatious lesson for sulk, if sulk cared for anything but itself. But enough of moralising: are these sheep?”

"Where,” Ward inquired.

“On the far slope at the end of the loch.”

“You have a hunter’s eye, Miss Clive; hut no wonder,—all in the blood, natural selection, evolution, and that kind of thing. Your father was a rare sportsman, and had, I hear, the quickest eye for spying a deer.”

We now proceeded downwards to the loch by a roundabout sort of route, and in half an hour or so came to the boat-house and embarked. A long and strong pull against the wind tried our muscles before we could reach the island, and with some difficulty the ladies were there landed high and dry amongst the rocks. Leaving them with Fred to explore the country, Ward and I rowed away to a bay about a mile off to catch trout for lunch; and, on returning with the spoil, we had quite a jolly luncheon party; and thereafter a ramble over the island, pebble-gathering, mooning, and moralising, in the easy freedom which is wont where friends are unfastidious and companionable.

Early in the afternoon we left the island, and, as the wind was in our favour, we put up sail and made a spanking run downwards through the rough water which now rolled in white-crcsted waves, more than might please the timid or squeamish; but the spirited girls enjoyed it all, the occasional dash of spray over the boat seeming only to add to their mirth.

On coming to the anchorage we thought it best to move without delay, as the afternoon was becoming chilly, so we again crossed hill and valley; but by taking it leisurely, and avoiding short cuts and steep climbing, at last safely housed our charges, not greatly fatigued, still glad enough to be well rested. Mrs. Peyton and the Major had seen our speck of a sail far away on the loch, but so far that they did not wait.

At dinner Annie said “she felt as if she had earned rest and comfort, which made matters pleasant and satisfactory;” and Miss Clive drolly recounted her voyages and travels (as she called the day’s doings) to Mrs. Peyton; and to see these delicate-looking beauties in the evening, in gauzy dress and tiny-buckled slippers, one could hardly realise they were the hardy pedestrians of the morning.

“NTow, mother dear,” Miss Peyton said, “what might Madame De V , or the prim Misses II , have to remark about our rough rambles to-day, if we told them?”

“Most probably, that you were robust and unfeminine young persons.”

“Aye, aye, quite so; and, as likely as not, improvise reflective hints of flirting and philandering on a desert island. I fear we ought to have stayed in the house; ” and Annie laughed merrily. “What thinks Miss Clive, eh?”

“Miss Clive is of the same penitent opinion. We should have knitted in quiet at an upper window of the Lodge all day, and studied nature delicately. You are of that opinion, are you not, Major Duncan?”

“Certainly. I disapprove,” he said, “of all but quiet domesticity;—bad form, as Fred would say, these journeyings over rocks and in open boats, and dangerous besides.”

“Oh! this is capital! ” exclaimed Mrs. Peyton, “excellent!—your grave restriction of young women to their proper sphere.”

“Of course, Mrs. Peyton; and I should restrict your learned women also. What right had Lady Jane Grey, Madame De Stael, or Mrs. Somerville to have more knowledge than most men; and, worse still, not to be ashamed of it?”

Mrs. Peyton looked curiously amused at Major Duncan’s quaint manner of showing the question of feminine ability.

“And yet a deeper abyss,” he said impressively: “there are your heroines, maids of Orleans and Charlotte Cordays, braver even than men. True enough, there was a land of excuse for Miss Cor-day, for, in all boasting and blustering France, there was not one man with soul enough to sacrifice himself in the abolishing of a Robespierre or a Marat. They just talked and plotted; a young girl dared and did it. Shockingly forward in her, was it not?”

At this we all laughed freely, and Annie exclaimed, “Oh! Major Duncan, what a champion you would be for women’s rights and wrongs; but you do not really relish what is called a strong-minded woman, do you?”

“No, no, no; better a lackadaisical Dolly that bungles her seam and shrieks at seeing a beetle. But the real absurdity of the thing is, it is mostly the noodle and pragmatical kind of being that, forsooth, maunders about the weaker natures of women; these creatures ignoring the fact that so many women do write, work, and converse on a par with the best; while the censorious prigs can

often do neither, to say nothing of their inability to ride well to hounds, or deftly land a salmon as women will often do,—is it not so, Mrs. Peyton?” “Oh, dear! you become too flattering; besides, we never excel men in anything.”

“Often, and in many things, Mrs. Peyton. Why, you remember this morning admiring the wild picturesque look of the Highland cattle on the hill-side: who has painted them best? Hot an English man nor a Scotch man, but a French woman; and Eosa Bonheur, even Landseer acknowledged, had no equal in this. I might adduce plenty other eases in many phases of life.”

“There is one accepted truism, Aunty,” said Ward, “that no lady ean play whist. Suppose you and I challenge the Major and Annie?”

“Oh, yes; and help to remove his over-high estimate of us women.”

So whist it was, and still the Major held to his theories, declaring that Miss Peyton played like a regular clubbist; but I fear his judgment was far from unbiassed, as we may see by-and-by.

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