MRS MASON having with difficulty at length prevailed on Mr Stewart to consent to her departure, and having heard from the Morisons that everything was ready for her reception, took the opportunity of the first fine day to set out on her return to Glenburnie.
It was a hard frost; but though the air in the shade was keen and piercing, its keenness was unfelt when in the kindly rays of the soul-enlivening sun. Mrs Mason, though she had not the eye of a painter, or connoisseur, enjoyed in perfection the pleasures of taste, in as far as they arise from feeling and observation; and as she considered all the beauties of nature as proofs of the divine beneficence, the contemplation of them always served to increase her confidence in the protection of the Almighty, of whose immediate presence they were to her a sacred pledge. To a person thus disposed, every change of season has some peculiar 189 charm, and every object appears placed in a point of view in which all that is lovely is seen to most advantage. She had no doubt that the air of cheerfulness which the bright sky diffused over the face of nature imparted a sensible delight to all the animal creation ; and saw with pleasure, as she passed through the farm of Gowan Brae, the out-lying cattle, roused from their cold beds, and dressing their shaggy sides, by rubbing them against the silver stems of the weeping birch, whose pendent branches shivered over the stream The little birds, who, during the late storms, seemed to have been annihilated, were now heard chirruping in every sheltered nook, or seen in flocks lightly flitting from field to field. As the day advanced, the plants on the sunny side of the road, glittering with dew drops, exhibited a fine contrast to the part that was still in shade, where every bushy brier and scrambling bramble were clothed in feathery frost-work.
'Yes,' said Mrs Mason, as she cast her eyes over the dazzling prospect, ' Yes, all the works of God are good and beautiful; all the designs of Providence must terminate in producing happiness and joy. The piercing cold of winter prepares the earth for the production of its summer fruits; and when the sorrows of life pierce the heart, is it not for the same benevolent purpose ? When they are never felt, how many are the noxious weeds that overrun the soil! Let me then be thankful for the wholesome correctives that have been sent in mercy. Neither winter nor poverty are without their days of sunshine, their moments of enjoyment. See that group of children upon the ice ! Heaven bless the merry elves ! how joyously they laugh, and sport, and scamper, little caring how keen the cold wind may blow, so that it brings them the pleasure of a slide.' Mrs Mason pursued the train of her reflections till she arrived at Morison's cottage, where she was received with a cordial welcome, to the comforts of ' a blazing ingle and a clean hearth-stane.' On examining her own apartment, she was delighted to find that everything was arranged to her wish, and far beyond her expectations; nor could she persuade herself that her room had not undergone some very material and expensive alteration. This striking improvement was, however, merely the result of a little labour and attention; but so great was the effect thus produced, that though the furniture was not nearly so costly as the furniture of her room at Mrs MacClarty's, it appeared in all respects superior.
Mrs Morison was highly gratified by the approbation bestowed upon her labours; and pointing to her two little girls, told Mrs Mason how much they had done to forward the work, and that they were proud to find her pleased with it. Mrs Mason thanked them, and presented each with a ribbon as an encouragement for good behaviour \ assuring them, at the same time, that they would through life find happiness the reward of usefulness.
'Alas!' said Mrs Morison, 'they must be obliged to work; poor things, they have nothing else to depend on.'
'And on what can they depend so well as on their own exertions?' replied Mrs Mason. ' Let them learn to excel in what they do, and look to the blessing of God upon their labours, and they may then pity the idle and the useless.'
'If you could but get my poor gudeman to think in that way,' said Peggy, ' your coming to us would, indeed, be a blessing to our family.'
'Fear not,' said Mrs Mason; ' as his health amends his spirits will return, and in the good providence of God he will find some useful opening for his industry. Who ever saw the righteous man forsaken, or the righteous man's children either, so long as they walk in their father's steps? But now I must give some directions to my two little handmaids, whose attendance I shall take, week about. I see they are willing, and they will soon be able to do all that I require.'
'I'll answer for their being willing,' cried their mother, looking fondly at the girls; 'but ye winna tak' it ill if they shouldna just fa' at ance into your ways.'
'If they are willing,' said Mrs Mason, ' they will soon learn to do everything in the best way possible. All I want of them is to save themselves trouble, by getting into the habit of minding what they have to do. Any one who is willing may soon become a useful servant, by attending to three simple rules.'
'To three rules!' cried Peggy, interrupting her; ' that's odd, indeed. But my gudeman maun hear this. ' Come, William, and hear Mrs Mason tell our lassies a' the duties of a servant.'
'I fear the kail will be cauld before she gets through them all,' said William, smiling; 'but I'm ready to listen to her, though it should.'
'Your patience won't be long tried, said Mrs Mason; ' for I have already told your girls, that, in order to make good servants, they have only to attend to three simple rules.'
'Well, what are they?' said the husband and wife, speaking both at once.
'They are,' returned Mrs Mason, ' To do everything in its proper time ; to keep everything to Us proper use; and to put everything in its proper place?
'Well said!' cried William; 'and as I live, these same rules will mak a weel-ordered house ! My lassies shall get them by heart, and repeat them ilka morning after they say their prayers.'
William kept his word; and Mrs Mason, finding that she would be supported by the parents, did not despair of being truly useful to the children, by conveying to them the fruits of her experience. Mrs Morison was a neat orderly person, and liked to see her house and children what she called weel redd up; but her notions of what was necessary to comfort fell far short of Mrs Mason's. Neither had she been accustomed to that thorough-going cleanliness, which is rather the fruit of habitual attention than of periodical labour; and which, like the pure religion that permits not the accumulation of unrepented sins upon the conscience, makes holiday of ever)' day in the week. Mrs Morison was a stranger to the pride which scorns instruction. She did not refuse to adopt methods that were better than her own, merely because they were new; nor, though she loved her children as fondly and as dearly as any mother in the world, did she ever defend their faults. But as her children were early inspired with a desire to please, they did not often stand in need of correction; and stood more in awe of their father's frown than those who have been nurtured in self-will stand in awe of a severe beating.
Mrs Mason had not been many weeks a resident in the family till the peculiar neatness of William's cottage attracted the notice of the neighbours. The proud sneered at what they called the pride of the broken merchant; the idle wondered how folk could find time for sic useless wark; and the lazy, while they acknowledged that they would like to live in the same comfort, drew in their chairs to the fire, and said, they couldno be fashed.
The air of cheerfulness which was diffused around him had a happy effect upon William's spirits; but the severity of the winter was adverse to the recovery of his health. The rheumatism, which had settled in his left arm, had now rendered it entirely useless, and thus defeated all his schemes of getting into employment. The last sale of his effects had been so productive, that his creditors were paid seventeen shillings in the pound; but the remainder of what was due to them lay heavy on his heart; and, notwithstanding his efforts at resignation, the thoughts of what his wife and children must suffer from the pressure of poverty, drew from his bosom many a deep-drawn sigh.
The more Mrs Mason saw of William, the more deeply did she become interested in his situation; and as no sclicme occurred to her that was likely to improve it, she resolved to consult her good friend, the minister, whose mind she knew to be no less active than benevolent. An invitation to dine at the manse was, therefore, gladly accepted of; and scarcely had she taken her seat until the subject was introduced, and William's affairs became the topic of conversation. Miss Gourlay expressed great concern; but, recollecting that she had forgot to give directions for making sauce for the pudding, left the room in the middle of Mrs Mason's speech. Her uncle, though he listened with great attention, made no other reply, than by saying, that he should be better able to speak upon the subject after dinner; adding, with a smile, that ' he never talked well with a hungry stomach.'
The nice roast fowl and boiled beef and greens being at that moment placed upon the table, prevented all reply; but when the cloth was removed and grace said, and the glasses filled, Mr Gourlay, looking significantly after the sturdy lass who had attended, said, 'Well, madam, now the hurly-burly done, we may, without fear of interruption, enter on the business of poor Morison, whom I from my heart wish to serve. I have thought of a plan for him; which, if he has no objections to it, will keep him above want. What would you think of his becoming schoolmaster?'
'I should think well of it,' replied Mrs Mason, ' if nothing more were to be required of him than teaching writing, arithmetic, and reading English.'
'Nothing more shall be required of him,' replied Mr Gourlay. 'We have suffered enough from the pedantry of a blockhead, who piqued himself upon hie, hcec, hoc, and who, though he has no more pretensions to being a scholar than my horse, is as proud as he is stupid. Until he came into the office, the school of Glenburnie had always maintained a respectable character; and the instruction which our youth received at it was, so far as it went, solid and useful, But in the twelve years that it has been kept by Brown, it has, I verily believe, done more harm than good. It could not, indeed, be otherwise; for it was an everlasting scene of noise, riot, and confusion.'
'I should have thought, sir, that your authority would have been sufficient to introduce better regulations. Is not the parish school in some measure under your control?'
'No,' replied Mr Gourlay, ' control is, in this country, out of the question ; nor do I believe that, if it were permitted, it would answer any good purpose ; for who would embroil themselves, by opposing the pride and perverseness of an obstinate blockhead, unless when zeal was whetted by personal animosity? and under such malign influence, control would soon be converted into an engine of oppression.'
'But might not your advice, siró' Advice! Surely, my good madam, you must know too much of the world to imagine that a self-sufficient pedant will ever be advised. No pope of Rome, in the days of papal power, was ever more jealous of his title to infallibity, than the schoolmaster of Glenburnie. I once, and only once, endeavoured to persuade him how much he would abridge his own labour, and facilitate the improvement of his scholars, by adopting a regular method of teaching, and introducing certain rules into his school. But if I had attempted to take from him his bread, he could not have been more indignant, nor considered himself as more deeply injured. He never forgave me; and I really believe that the grudge he entertained against me was the primary motive of his leaving the kirk and running after these enthusiasts, among whom he has now commenced preaching.'
* * * *
The conversation was here interrupted by the entrance of one of Mr Gourlay's parishioners; a circumstance which affords a favourable opportunity of concluding the present chapter.