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The Cottagers of Glenburnie
Chapter VI. Domestic Sketches.— Picture of Glenburnie.—View of a Scotch Cottage in the Last Century

EARLY on the following morning, Mr Stewart and Miss Mary met to consult together upon the means they should employ to render Mrs Mason's situation at the farmer's somewhat comfortable; and after some deliberation, resolved, that they would postpone all preparations for that purpose, till they had visited the place, and seen what the house afforded.

In the course of their conversation, Miss Mary expressed her surprise, that so good a couple as the Earl and Countess of Longlands should not have thought it an incumbent duty to make an ample provision for one, who had rendered them such important services.

You are mistaken,' said Mr Stewart, ' they were not deficient in gratitude; and, to my certain knowledge, intended to settle on her a very liberal independency. But my lord was still in the prime of life, and thought he had many years to live. He therefore delayed to do, what he imagined might at any time be accomplished : and after his death, his lady, who was always indolent, gave herself up to the indulgence of grief so as utterly to forget every duty; but of this you will have no hint from Mrs Mason: for hers is truly a good mind, and one that sees every thing in the best light. She knows not what I have endeavoured to do for her, with the present lord ; and she shall never know it, for it would only hurt her to be assured of his total want of liberality and gratitude.'

Mr Stewart was here interrupted by the unexpected entrance of his eldest daughter and her friend Mrs Flinders, whose animated looks bespoke the near prospect of some new scheme of pleasure. After a few preliminary remarks on the fineness of the season, etc., etc., Mrs Flinders gradually disclosed the purpose of her visit, which was no other than to obtain Mr Stewart's consent to his daughter's accompanying her to the Edinburgh races. Mr Stewart was on many accounts averse to the proposal; nor did Mrs Flinders's assurances of the great advantages to be derived to a young lady, from being seen in public, and introduced to all the people of fashion at the races, produce the least alteration in his sentiments. But he had not firmness to resist the torrent of entreaty : and after he had permitted a reluctant consent to be extorted from him, the remaining articles were easily adjusted: His daughter had no difficulty in obtaining from him the money she thought requisite for the purchase of new dresses; and her sister, ever willing to promote her gratification, promised to pack up, and send her, with other things, some handsome ornaments, that had been presented to her by a near relation, to whom she had paid attention in a fit of illness.

Elated with her victory, Bell seemed to tread on air; and after she got into the carriage, called out to her sister, that she should write her a full account of the race week. She bowed graciously to her father as the carriage drove off; but he appeared not to notice the salute. Pensive and dissatisfied, he returned to the house, and found Mary with Mrs Mason, giving her an account of all that had just passed. 'Well,' said he, addressing himself to Mrs Mason, ' you have heard of the new trouble that has been prepared for me by this giddy woman, to whom Bell has unfortunately attached herself? These races ! How unfit a scene for a young woman in my daughter's station; and under how unfit a conductor will she there appear ! I wish I had been more firm ; but 1 could not. O that she were not too headstrong to take advice, and too self-sufficient to think that she stands in need of an adviser. I am troubled about her intimacy with these Flinders more than I can express.'

'But, sir,' said Mrs Mason, ' have you not a right to dictate to your daughter what company she ought to keep? If you really think Mrs Flinders an improper associate, why do you permit her to go to her house?'

'Because,' replied Mr Stewart, ' I cannot bear to see my child unhappy. I have not courage to encounter sour looks, and all the murmurings of discontent. This girl, who is when in good humour so lively and engaging, treats every opposition to her will as an act of cruel tyranny; and I cannot bear being treated by the child I doat on as a tyrant.'

'Still, my dear sir,' said Mrs Mason, ' as Miss Stewart is not deficient in understanding, you might, I think, by a little firmness, teach her the propriety of submitting to your will.'

'Alas!' returned Mr Stewart, 'she always thinks herself in the right; and it is impossible, utterly impossible, to convince her, in any instance, that she is otherwise. Her mind got a wrong bias from the first, and I fear it is now too late to think of curing it. But I have myself to blame. Had she been brought up with the rest of my family, under the watchful eye of their dear mother, she would never have been thus forward and intractable; yet I know not how our other children escaped spoiling, for my wife was all tenderness and indulgence.'

'True,' replied Mrs Mason, ' but her indulgence would be of a nature tending to foster the best affections of the heart, not the indulgence of the passions, which engenders pride and selfishness.'

'Your distinction is a just one,' said Mr Stewart, ' but unhappily her grandmother could not discriminate ; and after the death of my parents, Bell came home to us. I saw that she was too unmanageable for her mother's gentle spirit to control, and therefore urged sending her to a school, where a daughter of a friend was going; but there, alas ! instead of getting quit of her bad habits, she lost the good that counterbalanced them, and acquired such a love of dress, and so many foolish notions about gentility, as have utterly destroyed all relish for domestic happiness. Think of her flying off, as she has done, the very day that we expect her brothers home from school! Is it not heartless ?'

'So she will admit, when she is herself a mother,' replied Mrs Mason. The rest of her speech was lost; for from the bark of joy which the dogs began to send forth, Mr Stewart perceived that his sons were near at hand, and eagerly flew out to meet them. They were already folded in Mary's arms, and sprang to their father with all the alacrity of confiding love. Every care was now forgotten; without doors and within, above stairs and below, all was holiday at Go wan Brae. Mrs Mason, to whom the sight of a happy family afforded one of the highest gratifications, was no unmoved spectator of the joyful scene. She readily consented to postpone her departure till the following day, and prompted, by her cheerfulness, the amusements of the evening.

In order to gratify the boys, it was proposed that the whole party should accompany Mrs Mason to Glenburnie, on an Irish car, a vehicle well adapted to such excursions, and which was consequently a great favourite with the younger part of the family. Just as they finished an early dinner, the car was brought to the door. Robert, the eldest boy, begged leave to drive, to which, as the roads were good, and the horse steady, Mr Stewart made no objection. They were all seated in a moment; Mrs Mason and Mr Stewart on one side, and Mary and her two younger brothers on the other. Robert, vaulting into his proper station, seized the reins; and, after two gentle strokes with the whip, prevailed on old Gray to move forward, which he did very sagaciously, with less speed than caution, until they reached the turnpike road, where he mended his pace into a sober trot, which, in less than two hours, brought them to the road that turns into the Glen, or valley of Glenburnie.

They had not proceeded many paces before they were struck with admiration at the uncommon wildness of the scene which now opened to their view. The rocks which seemed to guard the entrance of the Glen were abrupt and savage, and approached so near each other, that one could suppose them to have been riven asunder to give a passage to the clear stream which flowed between them. As they advanced, the hills receded on either side, making room for meadows and corn fields, through which the rapid burn pursued its way in many a fantastic maze.

If the reader is a traveller he must know, and if he is a speculator in canals he must regret, that rivers have in general a trick of running out of the strait line. But however they may in this resemble the moral conduct of man, it is but doing justice to these favourite children cf nature, to observe, that, in all their wanderings, each stream follows the strict injunctions of its parent, and never for a moment loses its original character. That our burn had a character of its own, no one who saw its spirited career could possibly have denied. It did not, like the lazy and luxuriant streams, which glide through the fertile valleys of the south, turn and wind in listless apathy, as if it had no other object than the gratification of ennui or caprice. Alert, and impetuous, and persevering, it even from its infancy dashed onward, proud and resolute ; and no sooner met with a rebuff from the rocks on one side of the Glen, than it flew indignant to the other, frequently awaking the sleeping echoes by the noise of its wild career. Its complexion was untinged by the fat of the soil; for in truth the soil had no fat to throw away. But little as it owed to nature, and still less as it was indebted to cultivation, it had clothed itself in many shades of verdure. The hazel, the birch, and the mountain-ash, were not only scattered in profusion through the bottom, but in many places reached to the very tops of the hills. The meadows and corn-fields, indeed, seemed to have been encroachments made by stealth on the sylvan reign ; for none had their outlines marked with the mathematical precision, in which the modern improver so much delights. Not a straight line was to be seen in Glenbuinie. The very ploughs moved in curves; and, though much cannot be said of the richness of the crops, the ridges certainly waved with all the grace and pride of beauty.

The road which winded along the foot of the hills, on the north side of the Glen, owed as little to art as any country road in the kingdom. It was very narrow, and much encumbered by loose stones, brought down from the hills above by the winter torrents.

Mrs Mason and Mary were so enchanted by the change of scenery, which was incessantly unfolding to their view, that they made 110 complaint of the slowness of their progress, nor did they much regret being obliged to stop a few minutes at a time, where they found so much to amuse and to delight them. But Mr Stewart had no patience at meeting with obstructions which, with a little pains, could have been so easily obviated; and, as he walked by the side of the car, expatiated upon the indolence of the people of the Glen, who, though they had no other road to the market, could contentedly go on from year to year, without making an effort to repair it. 'How little trouble would it cost,' said he, ' to throw the smaller of these loose stones into the these holes and ruts, and to remove the larger ones to the side, where they would form a fence between the road and the hill! There are enough of idle boys in the Glen to effect all this, by working at it for one hour a week during the summer. But then their fathers must unite in setting them to work; and there is not one in the Glen who would not sooner have his horses lamed, and his carts torn to pieces, than have his son employed in a work that would benefit his neighbours as much as himself!'

As he was speaking, they passed the door of one of these small farmers ; and immediately turning a sharp corner, began to descend a steep, which appeared so unsafe, that Mr Stewart made his boys alight, which they could do without inconvenience, and going to the head of the horse, took its guidance upon himself.

At the foot of this difficulty, the road again made a sudden turn, and discovered to them a misfortune which threatened to put a stop to their proceeding any further for the present evening. It was no other than the overturn of a cart of hay, occasioned by the breaking down of the bridge along which it had been passing. Happily for the poor horse that drew this ill-fated load, the harness by which he was attached to it was of so frail a nature, as to make little resistance, so that he and his rider escaped unhurt from the fall, notwithstanding its being one of considerable depth.

At first, indeed, neither boy nor horse were seen; but as Mr Stewart advanced to examine, whether by removing the hay, which partly covered the bridge, and partly hung suspended on the bushes, the road might still be passable, he heard a child's voice in the hollow, exclaiming, ' Come on, ye muckle brute! ye had as weel come on ! I'll gar ye ! I'll gar ye ! That's it! Ay, ye're a gude beast now.'

As the last words were uttered, a little fellow, of about ten years of age, was seen issuing from the hollow, and pulling after him with all his might a great long-backed clumsy animal of the horse species, though apparently of a very mulish temper.

'You have met with a sad accident,' said Mr Stewart; ' how did all this happen?*

'You may see hoo it happened, plain eneugh,' returned the boy; 'the brig brak, and the cart coup-pet'

'And did you and the horse coup likewise?' said Mr Stewart.

'Oa ye, we a' couppet thegither, for I was riding on his back?'

'And where is your father, and all the rest of the folk?'

'Whar sud they be but in the hayfield? Dinna ye ken that we're takin' in our hay? John Tamson's and Jamie Forster's was in a wook syne, but we're ay ahint the lave.'

All the party were greatly amused by the composure which the young peasant evinced under his misfortune, as well as by the shrewdness of his answers; and having learned from him that the hayfield was at no great distance, gave him some halfpence to hasten his speed, and promised to take care of his horse till he should return with assistance.

He soon appeared, followed by his father, and two other men, who came on, stepping at their usual pace. 'Why, farmer,' said Mr Stewart, 'you have trusted rather too long to this rotten plank, I think (pointing to where it had given way); ' if you remember the last time I passed this road, which was several months since, I then told you that the bridge was in danger, and showed you how easily it might be repaired?'

'It is a' true,' said the farmer, moving his bonnet; but I thought it would do weel eneugh. I spoke to Jamie Forster and John Tamson about it; but they said they would no fash themselves to mend a brig that was to serve a' the folk in the Glen.'

'But you must now mend it for your own sake,' said Mr Stewart, ' even though a' the folk in the Glen should be the better for it.'

'Aye, sir,' said one of the men, ' that's spoken like yoursel'! gin every body would follow your example, there would be nothing in the world but peace and good neighbourhood. Only tell us what we are to do, and I'll work at your bidding till it be pitch dark.

'Well,' said Mr Stewart, ' bring down the planks that I saw lying in the barn-yard, and which, though you have been obliged to step over them every day since the stack they propped was taken in, have never been lifted. You know what I mean.'

'O yes, sir,' said the farmer, grinning, ' we ken what ye mean weel enough: and indeed I may ken, for I have fallen thrice ow're them since they lay there; and often said they sud be set by, but we couldna be fashed?

While the farmer, with one of the men, went up, taking the horse with them, for the planks in question, all that remained set to work, under Mr Stewart's directions, to remove the hay, and clear away the rubbish; Mrs Mason and Mary being the only idle spectators of the scene. In little more than half an hour, the planks were laid and covered with sod cut from the bank, and the bridge now only wanted a little gravel to make it as good as new. This addition, however, was not essential towards rendering it passable for the car, which was conveyed over it in safety ; but Mr Stewart foreseeing the consequences of its remaining in this unfinished state, urged the farmer to complete the job on the present evening, and at the same time promised to reimburse him for the expense. The only answer he could obtain was, ' Ay, ay, we'll do it in time, but I'se warrant it'll do weel eneugh.'

Our party then drove off, and at every turning of the road, expressed fresh admiration at the increasing beauty of the scene. Towards the top of the Glen, the hills seemed to meet, the rocks became more frequent and more prominent, sometimes standing naked and exposed, and sometimes peeping over the tops of the rowan-tree and weeping birch, which grew in great abundance on all the steepy banks. At length the village appeared in view. It consisted of about twenty or thirty thatched cottages, which, but for their chimneys, and the smoke that issued from them, might have passed for so many stables or hog sties, so little had they to distinguish them as the abodes of man. That one horse, at least, was the inhabitant of every dwelling, there was no room to doubt, as every door could not only boast its dunghill, but had a small cart stuck up on end directly before it; which cart, though often broken, and always dirty, seemed ostentatiously displayed as a proof of wealth.

In the middle of the village stood the kirk, an humble edifice, which meekly raised its head but a few degrees above the neighbouring houses. It was, however, graced by an ornament of peculiar beauty. Two fine old ash trees, which grew at the east end, spread their protecting arms over its lowly roof; and served all the uses of a steeple and a belfry; for on one of the loftiest of these branches was the bell suspended, which, on each returning Sabbath, 'Rang the blest summons to the house of God.'

On the other side of the church-yard stood the Manse, distinguished from the other houses in the village, by a sash window on each side of the door, and garret windows above, which showed that two floors were, or might be, inhabited: for in truth the house had such a sombre air, that Mrs Mason, in passing, concluded it to be deserted.

As the houses stood separate from each other at the distance of many yards, she had time to contemplate the scene; and was particularly struck with the numbers of children, which, as the car advanced, poured forth from every little cot, to look at the strangers and their uncommon vehicle. On asking for John MacClarty's, three or four of them started forward to offer themselves as guides; and running before the car, turned down a lane towards the river, on a road so deep with ruts, that, though they had not twenty yards to go, it was attended with some danger. Mrs Mason, who was shaken to pieces by the jolting, was very glad to alight; but her limbs were in such a tremor, that Mr Stewart's arm was scarcely sufficient to support her to the door.

It must be confessed, that the aspect of the dwelling, where she was to fix her residence, was by no means inviting. The walls were substantial; built, like the houses in the village, of stone and lime; but they were blackened by the mud which the cart-wheels had spattered from the ruts in winter; and on one side of the door completely covered from view by the contents of a great dunghill. On the other, and directly under the window, was a squashy pool, formed by the dirty water thrown from the house, and in it about twenty young ducks were at this time dabbling.

At the threshold of the door, room had been left for a paving-stone, but it had never been laid; and consequently the place became hollow, to the great advantage of the younger ducklings, who always found in it a plentiful supply of water, in which they could swim without danger. Happily Mr Stewart was provided with boots, so that he could take a firm step in it, while he lifted Mrs Mason, and set her down in safety within the threshold. But an unforeseen danger awaited her, for there the great whey pot had stood since morning, when the cheese had been made; and was at the present moment filled with chickens, who were busily picking at the bits of curd, which had hardened on the sides, and cruelly mocked their wishes. Over this Mr Stewart and Mrs Mason unfortunately stumbled. The pot was overturned, and chickens cackling with hideous din flew about in all the directions, some over their heads, others making their way by the hallan (or inner door) into the house.

The accident was attended with no further bad consequences, than a little hurt upon the shins : and all our party were now assembled in the kitchen ; but though they found the doors of the house open, they saw no appearance of any inhabitants. At length Mrs MacClarty came in, all out of breath, followed by her daughters, two big girls of eleven and thirteen years of age. She welcomed Mrs Mason and her friends with great kindness, and made many apologies for being in no better order to receive them ; but said that both her gude man and herself thought that her cousin would have stayed at Gowan Brae till after the fair, as they were too far off at Glenburnie to think of going to it: though it would, to be sure, be only natural for Mrs Mason to like to see all the grand sights that were to be seen there; for, to be sure, she would gang many places before she saw the like. Mrs Mason smiled, and assured her she would have more pleasure in looking at the fine view from her door than in all the sights at the fair.

'Ay, it's a bonny piece of corn to be sure,' returned Mrs MacClarty, with great simplicity; ' but then, what with the trees, and rocks, and wimplings o' the burn, we have nae room to make parks of ony size.'

'But were your trees, and rocks, and wimplings of the burn all removed,' said Mr Stewart, ' then your prospect would be worth the looking at, Mrs MacClarty : would it not?'

Though Mr Stewart's irony was lost upon the good woman, it produced a laugh among the young folks, which she, however, did not resent, but immediately fell to busying herself in sweeping in the hearth, and adding turf to the fire, in order to make the kettle boil for tea.

'I think,' said Miss Mary, i you might make your daughters save you that trouble ;' looking at the two girls, who stood all this time leaning against the wall.

'O poor things,' said their mother, ' they have no' been used to it; they have eneugh o' time for wark yet.'

'Depend upon it,' said Mrs Mason, ' young people can never begin too soon; your eldest daughter there will soon be as tall as yourself.'

'Indeed she's of a stately growth,' said Mrs MacClarty, pleased with the observation; ' and Jenny there is little ahint her ; but what are they but bairns yet for a' that! In time, I warrant, they'll do weel eneugh. Meg can milk a cow as weel as I can do, when she likes.'

'And does she not always like to do all she can?' said Mrs Mason.

'O, we manna complain,' returned the mother, ' she does weel eneugh.'

The gawky girl now began to rub the wall up and down with her dirty fingers; but, happily, the wall was of too dusky a hue to be easily stained. And here let us remark the advantages which our cottages in general possess over those of our southern neighbours ; theirs being so whitened up, that no one can have the comfort of laying a dirty hand upon them, without leaving the impression; an inconvenience which reduces people in that station, to the necessity of learning to stand upon their legs, without the assistance of their hands \ whereas in our country, custom has rendered the hands in standing at a door, or in going up or down a stair, no less necessary than the feet, as may be plainly seen in the finger marks which meet one's eye in all directions.

Some learned authors have indeed adduced this propensity, in support of the theory which teaches that mankind originally walked upon all fours, and that standing erect is an outrage on the laws of nature ; while others, willing to trace it to a more honourable source, contend, that as the propensity evidently prevails chiefly among those who are conscious of being able to transmit the colour of their hands to the objects on which they place them, it is decidedly an impulse of genius, and, in all probability, derived from our Pictish ancestors, whose passion for painting is well known to have been great and universal.

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