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Good Words 1860
Lady Somerville's Maidens

(Continued from page 237)

Yet another attack on Euphame's stillness and self-concentration. The pond of Ormeslaw was not safe, however treacherously smooth, and the chosen region of the lady's ducks, lily-white and gray, with dashing green feathers floating on its surface, when they were not standing on one leg on the margin, and the occasional resort in very hard winters of dainty, but spluttering, swish-swishing black water-hens. The old water-sources of the moat fed it, and it had under-ground connexion with the dam of a mill at a quarter of a mile's distance, and its depth varied seriously at different places, and at different times, so that the children of Ormeslaw were formally forbidden the fair, deluding mirror, or rippling sea. But, alas, alas, for the piquant flavour of forbidden fruit to those who have not had the proof of the pudding in the "preeing" of its final bitterness! Bairn after bairn of Ormeslaw was found guilty of transgressing this particular statute, and well whipped by the lady.

The girls would still stealthily wash their dolls' rags in this inexhaustible reservoir, and "shed" their hair in this glittering looking-glass, and the boys would dabble with their bare feet in its holes, fish for minnows and eels, steer their tiny boats in its bays, until some little tragedy should condemn it, some baby wight drowned, or half-drowned, haunt it for one generation at least.

Little Sandy of Ormeslaw was creeping under the thorn-bush on the further side from the house, and just over against one or two stepping-stones into the pond. Although it was harvest-time, many of the family were within call; but Sandy was unobserved, and got out to the nearest stepping-stone with his cutting from the inch-thick stem of one of the hour-tree branches in the wilderness in the orchard, scooped out the nearest thing in the world to the canoe of an ancient Briton, charred hollow out of a single log from the forests, and paddled upon the shady rivers and about the shaggy coasts of wild, savage Scotland. All at once Sandy, in his manoeuvres, lost his balance, slipped from his footing, and would have at once sunk in the false water, had not his "polomie," or "daidlie," of blue linen caught on the thorn, and held the poor lint-top as crazed Ophelia, but much against his will, suspended above "a weeping brook." For aught man can tell, Sandy's garment also might have resembled in form the hairy or leathern doublets of the aborigines; but, unfortunately, it was less strong in texture, and the yarn which the lady had sown, and grown, and bleached, and spun, excellent though it was as yarn, was worn thin by a whole summer's wear and wash, and was fast rending with the little fellow's dead weight, while the pond, so alluring at other times, was now in its true character, drumly and dark and cold, under his chin.

Sandy screamed lustily; but his position choked his voice, and a child's muffled cry, like the quack of one of the ducks, or the lying shepherd's "Wolf! wolf!" was not a sound to be regarded with particular attention at Ormeslaw.

But Mrs Euphame chanced to look out, (to the day of her death Euphame was thankful for that look,) and, without thinking of calling other assistance, came flying down the stairs, and out at the door. In one moment she was round the pond, in another she had her foot on the stone and her grasp upon Sandy; but as the touch severed the last fragment of the cloth, Euphame too swayed with the impetus, and the large stone rocked beneath her. She instinctively caught the boughs of the thorn in her free hand, disregarding the prickles, and she clung to the bush, since, burdened as she was, she could not recover her footing, and she knew, from the unsteadiness of the stone, that the water was at its deepest.

Euphame uttered a low, prevailing cry, "Help me with Sandy!" She believed herself near to drowning, but it was still borne in upon her that she was to save the child. It was to the child that she summoned aid in what had become her own extremity; she even prayed, in the order of words, "Lord, help the child and me!"

At that unwonted sign, all Ormeslaw sprang up in commotion; the lady ran from the brew-house, the maids from the wool-room, the men from the barn, the laird from his closet, Master George from his promenade ground in the orchard. It was marvellous how the single petition, sobbed rather than shrieked, could have echoed so widely. Certes Mrs Euphame's voice had weight and force in its most subdued compass. The rescue was immediate and complete; afterwards, the crowd could do nothing else than exclaim, and protest, and be grateful to Providence and Mrs Euphame, but for whom they would have arrived all too late for the wailing lint-top.

The Lady of Ormeslaw hugged her boy for half a minute, and the next bade him beg his Maker's pardon, and his father's and hers, for his contumacy, and let him come into her presence again that day if he dared! and whispered Mause to follow his retreating footsteps—half-penitent, half-petulant already— and change his wet clothes, and give him his warmest hose, and the sweetest slice of diet-cake in her cupboard; and then she took Euphame by the arm. "Mrs Euphame," she said, "I have not done you justice—let me speak. Mrs Euphame, you maun have a leal heart; you have saved, at your own risk, one of the bairns whom I trowed you slighted; you never counted the cost; you saw nought, you minded nought but Sandy. Three-fourths of the lasses that would have played at the ba' with them, and tossed them in the orchard, and kissed them till they were wrathful at their very fondness, would have flung up their hands, and screeched and thought on themsel's, and lost the wean. Mrs Euphame, you might have been my lad's mother, so little did you hesitate this day."

Euphame's gray eyes expressed her astonishment —"The bairn was in danger, Lady Ormeslaw; I was bound to deliver the bairn."

"Come in, Mrs Euphame, and. rest yourself in my chair, and take a sup of the Laird's hollands or claret, or of my elderflower or cowslip wine to keep off the cold. Ma, lass, ye maun receive something at my hands, ye maun suffer me to tend you—the poor laddie but to be banished for an example to the lave, and to save him from still deadlier falls; but you '11 permit me to do you a kindness this minute— you'll not send me quaking hand and foot back to the maut without a thought of relief to my bursting heart?''

And Euphame did endure the lady's offices—she trembled as she did so, not with cold and agitation, as the lady supposed, but because in the sweetness of her comely, goodly womanhood, and the nobility of her maidenly excellence, hardly a caressing look or touch had rested upon Euphame Napier, and she shrank from them now with shy, sensitive reserve, and they seemed to revive afresh the sense of her old bereavement.

Soon the temporary overflow of feeling subsided ; the lady of Ormeslaw was again the mistress, and Euphame the waiting-woman, but the lady would trust Euphame henceforth, would consider her, would cast upon her many of her quick, friendly glances, and sharp as the lady was, there was ever bounty in her familiar looks; and Euphame was moved by these tokens; they disturbed her, bewildered her, almost plagued her—but they served to stir her quiet, deep heart.


In the days of Euphame Napier, the tendency of social life was to strong revulsions, gross excess, giddy levity, extraordinary affectation; renunciation of the world, resignation of family ties, aspirations after a shepherd's simplicity, a recluse's solitude, a hermit's frugality, a martyr's pains. The literature of the day is not out of keeping with Euphame's early self-dedication to her foundress and foundation —there one for ever meets with fugitives from the ring, the mall, the parks, the opera, the playhouse, the auction, the game of ombre, to rural shades or French shores, to farm-houses with courts surrounded by high hawthorn hedges, or cottages embowered in woodbine, to the instruction and guidance of unworldly, learned, heavenly-minded country parsons or village priests. One reads how Rosalinda, a young lady of quality, when her Roman Catholic father intrenched on her religious liberty, and threatened her with a French match, fled from him in the disguise of a country girl, and took service in an English farmhouse, and how "the glorious motive for which she had resigned the splendid vanities of life gave an unspeakable alacrity to her mind, and filled it with that ineffable peace that springs from conscious virtue." "How," says she, "I have entirely put off the fine lady and all my court airs. I have almost forgot I am an earl's daughter, and should start at the sound of Lady Frances. Instead of that, I am plain Rosalinda without any other appellation, but what the gentle swains now and then give me, of a hand some lass, or a proper damsel; with which I am infinitely better pleased, than when I was angel or a goddess, and imperiously addressed in the strains of adoration. If ever I return to the modish world I must learn to dance again, having perfectly forgot to make my honours. I have made but one courtesy since I came here, and that was to a squire; who, because it was something low, and not finished in the twinkling of an eye, catched me by the hand, verily believing I was sinking to the ground in a fainting St. I am not turned Quaker; but I have laid aside all ceremony, and call everybody in the village by their Christian names, except my master and mistress and the parson of the parish; whom I cannot pass by without telling you, he is a man of exemplary piety, of universal charity, and a great blessing to this place." We are informed "my ladyship finds as great satisfaction in ranking a set of delft dishes on a freestone chimney-piece, as ever I had in disposing my fine china on an Indian cabinet." Nay, further, and to the purpose of the rueful difficulties of the present generation, Rosalinda lauds her peasant dress, "in which I am a thousand times more happy than I should be in borrowed finery, at the expense of some industrious trader's ruin, and that of his whole family." Mark, it was the trader who was ruined in those days—now it is very frequently both trader and employer.

We learn how Anastasia informs Lord L-------of her retreat to a convent to free herself from his importunities, and the weakness of her own heart, and, in the sanctuary she had chosen, the time she had spent listening to him should be employed in praying for his reformation. How Melinda, having been struck by the aspect of a noble stranger at the play, and his interest in the tragedy of "Cato," becomes weary of the "noisy, tumultuous way of living "in her brother's house; how she found a Bible in the room where her sister's woman lay, studied it, and grew sick and wearied of the extravagances and disorders of her family, and the vice which assailed herself; how, since her fortune was lost in the South Sea, she hired a hackney coach, and "rode" to a woman in the city who had been her nurse, who concealed her till she was able to secure her the place of a chambermaid in the house of an East Indian merchant, where the regularity and peacefulness of the family were to her "as a new world."

When the novice was not thus disgusted with the state-pleasure and splendour, when, on the contrary, they allured her, the effect was quite as startling, and must have been most earnestly deprecated by all poor, homely, honest folks.

Lavinia writes in terror to Laurinda, that had she stayed much longer in London, she would have certainly left her wits there ; that even her serious retired temper could "find charms in a multitude," and her heart "be held captive in the circle of a blue garter." She exclaims, poor child, in amazement, and chagrin, and mortification, "that I who have been used to view the stars which glittered over my head in a clear night, should be dazzled with the lustre of an embroidered one! and yet, all this has befallen me. I was the other day making a visit to Cleomira, when the Duke of------'s chariot, with three laced footmen behind it, stopped at the door. I was at the window, and saw him alight. He is really a handsome man; but his charms were extremely increased by the pomp which surrounded him; the respectful awe with which his attendants approached him, heightened the majesty of his appearance. His legs were formed in exactest symmetry, by the magnificent clocks of his stockings. The deference which was paid him at his first coming into the room, taught me to look upon him as something above the race of mortals which I had been used to converse with. When I had time to consider his face, I found it received a much greater addition from a fair wig loaded with powder, than it could have done from artless ringlets of the most lovely hair. After he had sat a little, he asked Cleomira to go with him to his house to see a fine set of hangings which were just come over from the gobelins. She excused herself as being obliged to stay and entertain me; but he asked me to be of the party, and as soon as Cleomira's coach was ready, we all went together. But if I was charmed with the sparkling chariot and embroidered coat, I was enchanted with the house. The lofty roofs, the painted staircase, the gilded wainscoat, struck me with a pleasure I had never felt. However, it was an unquiet joy, and I longed to be at home, for I thought myself in a dangerous situation. As soon as Cleomira had set me down at my lodgings, I immediately set about packing up my things; and the very next morning, in the height of my ecstasy, left London, and all its pomp, behind me. But how are either my eyes or every object altered since I have been absent! The house used to appear a handsome ancient building, but now I find it only a. Gothic heap of stone. The ceilings are so low, that I am afraid of knocking my brains out. And the entry so narrow, that if I should meet anybody, I should certainly run back again, for fear of being squeezed against the wall in endeavouring to pass. I want to pull down the venerable pictures of my ancestors, because they were not painted in Italy. The bow windows terrify me, and must be changed into Venetian ones, for there is no bearing the light which strikes through so unfashionable a piece of architecture. The rosy daughters of the neighbouring; squires are become in my eyes awkward figures, and there is something so ungenteel and coarse in such an exuberance of health, that I cannot bear to look at them. The young men of the village appear-downright bumpkins; and I cannot perceive any beauty in the cheerful bloom of their countenances, or just proportion of their shape, through the melancholy disguise of unpowdered locks, plain broad-cloth apparel. If they talk to me, I am amazed how a man has the assurance to open his mouth who has not a. right to speak in the House of Peers, and can never comprehend how anything worth communicating can enter into a head which was never circled with a coronet. Sentences which are uttered by plain Cleon have no force; though perhaps the same words would have all the charms of eloquence if pronounced by an earl." ["Letters Moral and Entertaining." ]

Have such foolish thoughts been peculiar to the reigns of Anne and the first Georges ? The answer is with every knot of girls.

However, we understand now many strangely cynical hints let out by gracious Mr Spectator, and the force of the worthy Vicar's dislike to Shakspeare, taste, and the musical glasses; and, weighing the extremes, we wonder if these simple, passionate, flighty folks—flighty in good and in evil—had ever stayed to attend to an apostle's voice, charging them to be moderate in all things. And. still, looking along the calendar, and coming to these two young women who* selected each other's companionship and counsel till death, and none besides, and who literally trod until a good old age the solid, bold principality of Wales, and left their names as mementoes of singular friendship and folly—we can the better see Euphame, with her diamond rose and her early vow, her heroism and her constancy, her absorption and isolation.


Visitors came to Ormeslaw when the harvest work was ended, and the hunter's moon looked down on the stacks in the yard, the sheaves in the barn, the groats in the kiln, on the ruddy apples and blue: plums in the orchard, and the dunning of the birken trees, whose roundels formed the portals of the gray house, visitors without and within more interesting to Euphame than she had dreamt of in her philosophy.

Euphame was in her working-gown, that "holland with the natural flowers," and "clean cambric cap," that she might watch in the bleaching-green while the lady's mays in the great kitchen set out the dinner for the working-men; the tankards of October from the "bow of maut;" the "guid cakes" from the firlot of the same—hard, crisp, and sweet, laid by in the ark ready for everyday use; the "scadded whey" from the "meikle pat;" the fat puddings, black, and white, and well spiced.

The country bleaching-greens, sites of great importance, in perpetual occupation, were pleasant spots throughout the land, and the tending of the house-mistress's yarn, her fancy work, in which she was for ever dabbling, was neither an irksome nor an unwelcome post in the long list of country duties. It was not so exciting as the watching of the bees from the woodbine bower, when they were expected to hive on the chamomile bed, or so social as the haymaking, and the shaking down, and gathering, and storing of the apples in the fruit-bin; but then it lasted all the year round except in the churlish winter; it was in high progress on the May gowans, and it was only concluded under the stiffening starch of the first frost. Many a young lass chewed the cud of sweet and bitter fancy at the bleaching-green, learnt her catechism and sung her songs there—and more confidences were interchanged than that between Peggy and Jenny. We are perhaps reminded of a sunny public green, near a cool fresh river, by a little rural Scotch town, in the pure dewy morning, with a blooming "winsome" lass spreading out her snowy linen, her fingers pinched by the sharp air, but her cheeks too red and her heart too light to mind the quick pang, and an athletic, bright-eyed young son of Anak striding through her mapped-out province, followed closely by his straightforward dog, committing sad havoc among her details, so that the master turns to bandy a genial jest on the mischief—the man was Robert Burns, and the woman Jean Armour, in the morning of their days and the morning of their acquaintance. Alas, for the stormy noon, and the early gloomy nightfall!

The private bleaching-greens were sometimes in dark Highland glens, sometimes on green Lowland haughs, sometimes by the borders of wild brown moors, but, more or less, they answered the pretty familiar description:—

"A flowrie howm between twa verdant braes,
Where lasses use to wash and spread their claes;
A trotting burnie wimpling through the ground,
Its channel pebbles shining smooth and round."

To Euphame, in her meditative, in-door life, the bleaching-green, coming in the way of duty, and involving careful regard to the treasures of the winter's wheels and the weaver's looms, the orderly foldings, the deft shakings and turnings right and left, the periodical watering from the primitive wooden scoop, which forbade her to suppose that she was wasting her time, was almost as agreeable an interlude, as the visit to a toy-shop to one of the frivolous fair ones who were gadding so wildly among the rackets of London. The Ormeslaw bleaching-green, among many advantages, had the disadvantage of lying along the highroad, only separated from it by a horn-beam hedge ; thus there was much risk to the bonnie hanks of thread and pieces of cloth from tramps and beggar wives, although they could scarcely provoke the cupidity of the magnificent foot-pads, in scarlet cloaks and gold lace, who, banded together in troops from fifteen to fifty, stopped mail after mail, and arrested whole quarter's supplies of Government money, cut a dash at Bath and Tunbridge, and even near at hand, Berwick and Stirling, caught some poor, poor little painted butterfly, whose mealy wings were horribly singed, and hung at last grinning, rattling skeletons in chains, like signal posts on the great roads. Still, of a moonless night, a regular guard was mustered and established, to give the alarm, on Ormeslaw bleaching-green; a woman or two, the old serving-man, a person in authority like his wife Mause, (my lady had been known to undertake it herself when Mause's spring and autumn coughs interfered,) and Euphame Napier had been proud to be appointed captain of the watch—and she only a young maiden; to sit in a great camlet cloak, looking at the stars shining out behind the passing clouds; to listen to the tales of her subordinates, and give them a strengthening verse when the silly wenches, or sillier man, frightened themselves with legends of brownies and elves, spirits and ghostly warnings, or the women started violently at the far-off bay of a wakeful watch-dog; to shiver at midnight, and rise jaded yet freshened, and proud that she had never once closed her eyes, at sunrise.

As Euphame sat one afternoon, presiding over the future napery—that delight of old Scotch and German households—she was not astonished when she heard a step on the other side of the leafy screen, walking in the direction of Setoun, and a youthful voice lilting, most harmoniously and blythely,

"My soger laddie is over the sea,
An' he will bring gold and money to me."

Yet something in the fearless, sweet, small compass of the voice aroused Euphame, and she looked eagerly at the first break in the barrier. Did her eyes deceive her? Could she shut them on the bleaching-green of Ormeslaw, in its russet dress, and under its mellow October air—that influence which brings such scents from the stubble and the heather, such spicy balm from the mint, such stimulating keenness from the bog-myrtle and the crushed juniper berry—and open them on the smoke and din, and the tall, black, jostling gables of the High Street of Edinburgh? It was Katie Crichton in life before her. Katie Crichton, in Euphame's afternoon dress, only a hundred times airier and jauntier. Scarlet top-knots, where Euphame wore primrose, glittering glass beads, and bugles all warped and twisted over her stomacher, lace round her peaked shoes, a solitaire at her side, and a Holland fan in one of her mittened hands, though there was no sultriness now, to warrant such an aid to zephyrs. This an apparition proper to a country road!

And Katie's roving eyes fell on Euphame immediately, and, with a gleeful laugh, Katie burst through the open space, and greeted her old friend without the smallest disturbance or hesitation.

"Eh! Euphame, Euphame Napier, wasting yourself with work as was your wont, in a gown no better than a cottar-man's daughter's, and you straight and blooming ! I would have kenned you among a thousand, lass ! Euphame, how are you faring? Do you mind the Hospital, and how cauld it was at nights, and the blue milk to the porridge, and the wersh barley-bread to sup and sleep upon, and all Mrs Jonet's glooms?"

"What has brought you here, Katie?" cried Euphame, still half-doubting her senses; "how are you all at home? How strange it is to see an auld-kenned face!"—sweet as well as strange in those days of rare and costly posts, and for friendless Euphame. Katie and she had little in common; they had not been the best of friends; they had parted under a cloud; but you would think less of Euphame if her heart did not warm to poor little Edinburgh Katie down at Ormeslaw.

(To be continued.)

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