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The Cottagers of Glenburnie
Chapter XIII. The Force of Prejudice

IT appeared extraordinary to Mrs Mason that she should have been so long forgotten by her friends at Gowan Brae. Nearly a fortnight had now elapsed since Mr Stewart's last visit; and though he had been invited to the funeral he had neither come nor sent any apology for his absence, which appeared the more unaccountable from the circumstance of his having been seen that very day riding full speed on the road to the market town. Certain that neither Mr Stewart nor Mary could be actuated by caprice, she feared that some misfortune had befallen them; but though every day added to her anxiety she had no means of relieving it, all hands being now engaged in getting in the harvest, and she was too wise to torment herself by shaping the form of uncertain evils. She had indeed no leisure for such unprofitable work: every moment of her time being fully occupied in managing the business of the family, or in attendance on the invalids, who, though now recovering rapidly, were still so weak as to require her constant care.

The business of the family had never been so well conducted as since its mistress had been incapacited from attending to it By the effects of forethought, order, and regularity, the labour was so much diminished to the servant, that she willingly resigned herself to Mrs Mason's directions, and entered into all her plans. The girls, though at first refractory, and often inclined to rebel, were gradually brought to order; and finding that they had no one to make excuses for their disobedience, quietly performed their allotted tasks. They began to taste the pleasure of praise, and, encouraged by approbation, endeavoured to deserve it; so that, though their tempers had been too far spoiled to be brought at once into subjection, Mrs Mason hoped that by steadiness she should succeed in reforming them.

Mrs MacClarty, who was not so changed by sickness or so absorbed in grief, as to be indifferent to the world and its concerns, fretted at the length of her confinement, which was rendered doubly grievous to her from the hints she occasionally received of the new methods of management introduced by Mrs Mason, which she could on no account believe equal to her own. Her friend and benefactress became the object of her jealousy and aversion. The neighbours, with whom she had cultivated the greatest intimacy, encouraged this dislike; and on all their visits of condolence, expressed in feeling terms their sense of the sad change that had taken place in the appearance of the house, which they said was ' now sae uncoy they wad scarcely ken it for the same place.'

'Aye!' exclaimed the wife of auld John Smith, who happened to visit the widow the first evening she was able to sit up to tea, 4 aye, alake! its weel seen that whar there's new lairds there's new laws. But how can your woman and your bairns put up wi' a' this fashery?'

'1 kenna, truly,' replied the widow : but Mrs Mason has just sic a way wi' them, she gars them do ony thing she likes. Ye may think it is an eery thing to me to see my poor bairns submittin' that way to pleasure a stranger in a' her nonsense.'

'An eery thing, indeed !' said Mrs Smith ; ' gif ye had but seen how she gar'd your dochter Meg clean out the kirn ! outside and inside ! ye wad hae been wae for the poor lassie. I trow, said I, Meg, it wad ha' been lang before your mither had set you to sic a turn ? Aye, says she, we have new gaits now, and she looket up and leugh.'

'New gaits, I trow !' cried Sandy Johnstone's mother, who had just taken her place at the tea-table; 4 I ne'er ken'd gude come o' new gaits in a' my days. There was Tibby Bell at the head o' the Glen, she fell to cleaning her kirn ae day, and the very first kirning after her butter was burstet, and gude for naething. I'm sure it gangs to my heart to see your wark sae managed. It was but the day before yesterday that I came upon Madam as she was haddin' the strainer, as she called it, to Grizzy, desiring her a' the time she poured the milk, to beware of letting in ane o' the cow's hairs that were on her goon. Hoot! says I, cow's hairs are canny, they'll never choak ye.' 4 The fewer of them that are in the butter the better,' says she. 4 Twa or three hairs are better than the blink o' an ill ee,' says I. 'The best charm against witchcraft is cleanliness,' says she. 'I doubt it muckle,' says I, 4 auld ways are aye the best!'

'Weel done !' cried Mrs Smith. '1 trow ye gae her a screed o' yer mind ! But here comes Grizzy frae the market let us hear what she says to it.'

Grizzel advanced to her mistress, and with alacrity poured into her lap the money she had got for her cheese and butter; proudly at the same time observing that it was more by some shillings than they had ever got for the produce of one week before that lucky day.

'What say ye?' cried the wife of auld John Smith : are the markets sae muckle risen? That's gude news indeed !'

'I didna say that the markets were risen,' returned the maid; ' but we never got sae muckle for our butter nor our cheese by a penny i' the pound weight, as I got the day. A' the best folks in the town were striving for it. I could ha' sell'd twice as muckle at the same price.'

'Ye had need to be weel paid for it,' said Sandy Johnstone's mother, ' for I fear ye had but sma' quantity to sell.'

'We never had sae muckle in ae week before,' said Grizzy; 1 for ye see,' continued she, 1 the milk used aye to sour before it had stood half its time ; but noo the milk dishes are a' sae clean that it keeps sweet to the last!'

'And dinna ye think muckle o' the fash ?' said Mrs Smith.

'I thought muckle o't at first,' returned Grizzy ; ' but when I got into the way o't I fand it nae trouble at a'.'

'But hoo do you find time to get thro' sae muckle wark ?' said the widow Johnstone.

'I never,' answered Grizzy, ' got thro' my wark sae easy in my life;—for ye see Mrs Mason has just a set time for ilka turn; so that folk are never rinning in ane anither's gait; and everything is set by clean, ye see, so that it's just ready for use.'

'She maun hae an unco airt,' said Mrs MacClarty, ' to gar ye do sae muckle and think sae little o't. I'm sure ye ken hoo you used to grumble at being put to do far less. But 1 didna bribe ye \vi' halff-croon pieces, as she does.'

'It's no the half-crown she gae me, that gars me speak,' cried Grizzy; ' but I sal always say that she is a most discreet and civil person, ay, and ane that taks a pleesure in doing gude. I am sure, mistress, she has done mair gude to you than ye can ere repay, gif you were to live this hunder year.'

'I sal ne'er say that she hasna been very kind,' returned Mrs MacClarty ; ' but thank the Lord, a' body has shewn kindness as weel as her. It's no' lessening o' her to say that we hae other freends forby.'

'Freends !' repeated Grizzy; ' what hae a' your freends done for you in comparison wi' what she has done, and is e'now doin' for you ! Aye, just e'now, while I am speaking.—But I forget that she charged me no' to tell.'

'Isna' she gane to Gowan Brae?' said Mrs MacClarty ; 'what good can she do by that?'

'Aye,' cried Mrs Smith, ' what gude can the poor widow get by her gaen to visit amang the gentles! Didna I see her ride by upon the minister's black horse, behind the minister's man, and the minister himsel' ridin' by her side?'

'She's no' gane to Gowan Brae, tho',' returned Grizzy, ' nor the minister neither; I ken whaur they're gane to weel eneugh.'

'But what are they gane about?' asked Mrs MacClarty, alarmed ; ' is ony thing the matter wi' my puir Sandy? for my heart aye misgi'es me about his no' comin' to see me.'

Grizzy made no answer. The question was again repeated in an anxious and tremulous voice by her mistress, but still she remained silent.

'Alake !' cried Mrs Smith, ' I dread that the sough that gaed through o' his having deserted had some truth in't, tho' William Morison wadna let a word be said at the burial.'

'O woman ! for pity's sake speak,' said the widow; ' is na' my bairn already lost to me? Wharfore then will ye not tell me what has happened, seeing it canna' be waur than what has already befa'an me !'

'I promised no to tell,' said Grizzy; ' but since ye will ha' it, I maun let ye ken, that if Sandy be not doomed to death this very day, it will be through the exertions of Mrs Mason.'

'Doomed to death!' repeated the widow; 'my Sandy doomed to death ! my bairn, that was just the very pride o' my heart! Alake ! alake ! his poor father!'

A kindly shower of tears came to the relief of the poor mother's heart, as she uttered the name of her husband; and as she was too much weakened by sickness to struggle against the violence of her emotions, they produced an hysterical affection, which alarmed those about her for her life. Her life was however in no danger. Soon after being put to bed she became quite composed ; and then so strongly insisted upon being informed of every particular relative to her son that Grizzy was compelled to give a faithful account of all she knew.

'Ye have thought,' said she,' that your seein' Sandy while you were in the fever was but a dream ; and Mrs Mason thinking it best that ye should continue in the delusion, has never contradickit ye. But it was nae dream ; your son was here the very day his father died ; and ye saw him, and faintet awa' in his arms.'

'Wharefore then did he leave me?' exclaimed the widow ; ' what for did he na stay to close his father's eyes, and to lay his father's head i' the grave, as becam' the duty o' a first-born son?'

'Alake !' returned the damsel, ' ye little ken how sair the struggle was ere he could be brought to part frae the lifeless corpse ! Had ye seen how he graspet the clay-cauld hand ! Had ye heard how he sobbet over it, and how he begget and prayed but for another moment to gaze on the altered face, it wad hae gane near to break your heart. I'm sure mine was sair for the poor lad. And then to see him dragget awa' as a prisoner by the sodgers ! O it was mair pitifu' than your heart can think !'

'The sogers !' repeated Mrs MacClarty, ' what had the vile loons to do wi' my bairn ! the cruel miscreants ! was there nane to rescue him out of their bluidy hands?'

'Na, na,' returned Grizzy; ' the minister gaed his word that he shou'dna be rescued. And, to say the truth, the sogers behaved wi' great discretion. They shewed nae signs of cruelty; but only said it would na be consistent wi' their duty to let their prisoner escape.'

'And what had my bairn done to be made a prisoner o'?' cried the widow.

'Why ye ken,' returned Grizzy, ' that Sandy was ay a wilfu' lad; so it's no to be wondered at that when he was ordered to stand this gait, and that gait, and had his hair tugget till it was ready to crack, and his neck made sair wi' standing ajee, he should tak it but unco ill. So he disobeyed orders; and then they lashed him, and his proud stamack cou'dna get o'er the disgrace; and than he ran aff, and hade himsel three days in the muirs. On the fourt day he cam' here; and then the sogers got haud o' him; and they took him awa' to be tried for a deserter. So ye see Mrs Mason then got the minister to apply to the captains and the coronels about him; but they said they had resolved to mak' an example o' him, and naething cou'd mak' them relent. So a' that the minister said, just gaed for naething; for they said, that by the law of court marshall he maun be shot. Weel, a' houp was at an end; when by chance Mrs Mason fand oot that the major of the regiment was the son of an auld freend o' hers, ane that she had kent and been kind to when he was a bairn ; and so she wrate a lang letter to him, and had an answer, and wrate another; and by his appointment, she and the minister are gane this very day to bear witness in Sandy's favour, and I wad fain houp they winna miss o' their errand.'

The suspense in which poor Mrs MacClarty was now involved, with respect to her son's destiny, appeared more insupportable than the most dreadful certainty. The stream of consolation that was poured upon her by her loquacious friends only seemed to add to her distress. She made no answer to their observations, but, with her eyes eagerly bent towards the door, she fearfully listened to the sound of every passing footstep. At length the approach of horses was distinctly heard. Her maid hastily ran to the door for intelligence; and the old women, whose curiosity was no less eager, as hastily followed. The poor mother's heart grew faint. Her head drooped upon her hands, and a sort of stupor came over her senses. She sat motionless and silent; nor did the entrance of the minister and Mrs Mason seem to be observed. Mrs Mason, who at a glance perceived that the sickness was the sickness of the mind, kindly took her hand, and bid her be of good cheer, for that if she would recover all her family would do well.

'Is he to live?' said Mrs MacClarty, in a low and hollow voice, fixing her eyes on Mrs Mason's, as if expecting to read in them the doom of her son.

'Give thanks to God' returned the minister, ' your son lives; God and his judges have dealt mercifully with him and you.'

On hearing these blessed words, the poor agitated mother grasped Mrs Mason's hand, and burst into a flood of tears. The spectators were little less affected ; a considerable time elapsed before the silence that ensued was broken. At length, in faltering accents, the widow asked, whether she might hope to see her son again.'

'Is he no' to come hame,' said she, ' to fill his father's place, and to take possession o' his inheritance? If they have granted this, I will say that they have been mercifu' indeed, but if no—'

'Though they have not granted this,' returned the minister, ' still they have been merciful, aye most merciful. For your son's offences were aggravated, his life was in their hands, it was most justly forfeited, yet they took pity on him, and spared him, and are you not grateful for this? if you are not, I must tell you your ingratitude is sinful.'

Oh ! you kenna' what it is to hae a bairn ? returned Mrs MacClarty, in a doleful tone. 4 My poor Sandy ! I never had the heart to contradick him sin' he was born, and now to think what command he maun be under ! but I ken he'll ne'er submit to it, nor will I ever submit to it either. We have eneugh o' substance to buy him aff, and if we sell to the last rag, he shall never gang wi' these sogers; he never shall.'

'You speak weakly, and without consideration,' rejoined the minister. 4 Your duty, as a parent, is to teach your children to obey the laws of God and their country. By nourishing them in disobedience you have prepared their hearts to rebel against the one, and to disrespect the other. And now that you see what the consequence has been to this son, whom ungoverned self-will has brought to the very brink of destruction, instead of being convinced of your error you persist in it, and would glory in repeating it. Happily your son is wiser; he has profited by his misfortunes, and has no regret but for the conduct that led to them.'

'He was enticed to it,' cried Mrs MacClarty. ' He never wad have listed in his sober senses.'

'Who enticed him to disobey his father by going to the fair?' returned the minister. 'It is the first error that is the fatal cause of all that follows ; so true it is, that when we leave the path of duty but a single step, we may by that step be involved in a labyrinth from which there is no returning. Be thankful that your son has seen his error, and that he has repented of it, as becomes a Christian ; and let it be your business to confirm these sentiments, and to exhort him, by his future conduct, to retrieve the past; so shall the blessing of God attend him wherever it may be his destiny to go.'

'And where is he to go?' said Mrs MacClarty. ' To the East Indies,' returned the minister. ' Tomorrow he will be on his way for that fine country, from which he may yet return to gladden your heart.'

'Alake, my heart will never be gladdened mair!' said the poor widow, weeping as she spoke.

Mrs Mason was moved by her tears, though vexed by her folly; and therefore spoke to her only in the strain of consolation. But Mr Gourlay, incensed at the little gratitude she expressed for her son's deliverance, could not forbear reminding her of the predicament in which he so lately stood, and from which he had been rescued by Providence, through the agency of Mrs Mason. In conclusion, he exhorted her to be thankful to God for having given her such a friend.

'The Lord will bless her for what she has done !' cried Mrs MacClarty.

'The Lord has already blessed her,' returned the minister; ' for a heart filled with benevolence is the first of blessings. But,' continued he, ' she lias it still in her power to render you more essential service than any she has yet performed.'

'Say you sae?' cried Mrs MacClarty, eagerly.

'Yes,' returned Mr Gourlay; ' for if you will listen to her advice, she will instruct you in the art of governing your children's passions, and of teaching them to govern themselves; and thus, by the blessing of God, she may eventually be the means of rescuing them from a sentence of condemnation—more awful than the most awful that any human tribunal can pronounce.'

The widow felt too much respect for her pastor to dispute the truth of his observation, though she probably entered a silent protest against its obvious inference. She, however, thanked him for his kind intentions; and he immediately after took his leave.

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