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Tales of the Scottish Peasantry
Jonathan Moudiwort

Chapter III.

Important discovery concerning the keeping of the Sabbath, and other matters, ending with a marriage.

To pursue our history systematically, it must be mentioned, that if the plain tea dishes had been set upon the table for the family repast at Feathercot, and it was afterwards discovered that Mr. Moudiwort was approaching, and likely to be present, the serving-maidens were drilled into the greatest possible despatch to get them removed, and their place occupied with the finest china which Mrs. Evergreen's cupboard could supply; and when, by dint of great exertion, everything had been got in proper order for the reception of so distinguished a guest, then would the good lady and her fair daughters wait with breathless attention till the step of Mr. Moudiwort was heard at the door, when all were up and ready to shake hands with him as he entered, and to give him the most cordial welcome; assuring him, at the same time, that they were so very happy to see him, and so very much honoured by his company.

The reader need scarcely be told, that upon these occasions he was uniformly invited to partake of their afternoon's repast, with many apologies for its "plainness," and the unfashionableness of their tea-equipage—the last of which, they assured him, they could have wished a thousand times more elegant for his sake. The whole, however, was, in general, concluded by Mrs. Evergreen, "hoping that he would excuse their homeliness, as they were just accustomed to regard him as one of the family" —whereat the Misses Evergreen would turn their bright eyes, in downcast thoughtfulness, upon the carpet, or fall to examining some figure in the table-cloth, with an air of the most interesting abstraction, and endeavouring the while to blush in the best manner they could.

After these young ladies had fully displayed their ingenuity, ability, and superior skill in the brewing and distributing of that most social beverage, tea, if it happened to be summer, and the evening a fine one, Mr. Moudiwort was invited to accompany them in a walk to the garden. This invitation he always accepted, giving his arm to one or both of the damsels as they went along, and endeavouring to admire, with all his might, those exotic plants and flowers, of which every fashionable Miss, who can command a few inches of ground, must have a reasonable collection, to ensure her being held up as a young lady of refined taste, and a devout worshipper of "the beauties of Nature." Sometimes, too, he would repose with them under the cool shade of the arbour—over which their own fair hands, with the help of those of old John Dibbletree, had, trained the honeysuckle and the Ayrshire roses—and listen to them reading about "cupids," and "darts," and "unquenchable flames," or other wonderful things from their favourite poets—responding with a sigh, as in duty bound, to those sighs which occasionally heaved their fair bosoms when they came to any passage which was particularly powerful or pathetic. But if it chanced to rain, or to blow hard, or to do anything else which would have rendered it disagreeable for young ladies to be abroad, then he would remain in "the parlour " with them and their lady-mother, and talk of religious matters, and lament over the profligacy of "the lower orders"—Mrs. Evergreen being a very pious woman; or she would converse learnedly for his entertainment upon the "upsettingness" and "dis-obedientness" of servants, together with the "hardness of the times" and the difficulty of making money as fast as respectable people would wish to make it. To vary and give relief to these grave and somewhat solemn matters, the piano was sometimes brought into requisition; and at such seasons, while Miss Adaline or Miss Arabella played and sung most divinely, Mr. Moudiwort would sit with his eyes, and occasionally with his mouth also, wide open, and stare at them in an attitude of the most ecstatic delight. True it was, indeed, that he sometimes made little misnomers in his efforts to praise their inimitable performances, and to seem skilled in musical technicalities; but then his grave counsel upon other subjects, and the wisdom and the riches which he was known to possess, were an abundant excuse for these trifling inaccuracies; and, what was more to the purpose, when he went wrong, the demure maidens were always ready to set him right again, and to make it appear that his mistakes were no mistakes at all. Finally, in the course of the winter season, Mr. Moudiwort's visits to Feathercot were very often terminated over a "bowl of toddy" with Mr. Evergreen; and, in the inspiration which it supplied, the probabilities of lowering "servants' wages" and raising the "price of grain" was frequently discussed in a manner which was both interesting and edifying. So interesting, indeed, were these discussions, that Mr. Moudiwort, who was said to have no particular dislike to a glass of toddy when it was supplied by a dear friend, often tarried till the night was far advanced.

Upon one of these occasions, Mr. Evergreen's toddy must either have, been very good, or the charms and the music of the young ladies must have been uncommonly attractive, or perhaps it was only the conversation of their mother which was pious and interesting in no ordinary degree—our authorities do not warrant us to say exactly which^but it was Saturday night, and Mr. Moudiwort prolonged his stay till it was two o'clock on Sabbath morning; and when he went away he appeared to be so much "in the spirit," or, speaking more correctly, to have so much of the spirit in him, that he paid little attention to the things of this sublunary and perishing world; and, as the natural consequence of this exalted state of mind, stumbled frequently over small stones and other trifling obstructions which happened to be in his way. There was nothing wrong in all this—nothing which even a Methodist could reprove; and surely nobody will' venture to say so. Indeed, he might have sat in the house of so steady and so respectable a neighbour till the Sabbath sun on the following morning had enlightened the deepest recesses of the forest, and deserved nothing save the highest commendation for his conduct. Had he been a poor man, however, and sitting up in the alehouse and getting drunk, the case would have been widely different.

After his departure from Feathercot on this particular occasion, the shoes of the whole family were taken to the kitchen to be "cleaned," according to the established rules of the house, by the serving-maidens. There were also sundry glasses, tumblers, and dishes of other sorts, which required to be washed, together with several things besides, which could not be conveniently seen to till the gentle folks were on the point of going to bed. Formerly, however late or early the hour might be, all such matters had been regularly attended to—as. doubtless, they should be in every well ordered household. But on Sunday morning, when Mrs. Evergreen, after having lain a little too long in bed, entered the kitchen for the first time with a good set lecture upon the "carelessness of servants" and "the upsettingness, disobedientness, and wretchedness" of working people generally—a lecture which she had prepared for the especial benefit of those of her own household, exactly at her tongue's end, she was both thunderstruck and struck dumb by the sight which met her astonished eyes!

There!—in her own kitchen—were those very serving-maidens—for whose spiritual instruction she had laboured so zealously—and it half-past eight o'clock on the morning of the Sabbath day—the one busily engaged in "cleaning shoes," and the other washing glasses, dishes, tumblers, and the like ! The thing was unspeakably awful! and, after a becoming pause of horror, having first prayed audibly that the Lord might have mercy upon her own soul, and the souls of all she loved, she lifted up both her hands, and exclaimed, "What do I see! Can I believe my own eyes, when they show me my own servants, whose hearts I have so laboured to impress with a due sense of their undone state by nature, profaning the Lord's holy day, and incurring eternal wrath and torment by doing work on this blessed morning,, which any sensible and devout woman would have done last night; and which is only done now out of contempt to my orders, and the command of our Lord and Saviour!"

"No just that either," retorted one of the refractory handmaids. "It was twa o'clock this morning afore the things were brought to the kitchen, and, as we were baith perfectly worn out, I e'en said to Meg there, that we would gang to our bed, and clean the shoon and wash up the dishes when we raise ; for it was Sabbath morning at ony rate, and there could be little difference between doin' the wark wi' the licht o' the sun, and that o' a can'le."

This was, no doubt, a most preposterous idea, but it had got into the girl's head, and there was no getting it out again. Had her mistress been fully acquainted with the bearings of the case, and prepared to state that it was quite impossible for Sabbath morning to begin with working people, and more particularly with such of them as were servants in "gentle nouses," till they had gone to bed on the previous night, perhaps something like conviction might have followed. This important view of the matter, however, did not seem to strike her j or it is possible that she might be at the moment puzzled with the indistinct wording of the statute, which refers to the commencement and termination of the Sabbath. At all events, she could only tell her unmannerly handmaid, that " she would not keep an upsetting cutty, like her, about her house longer than the first term "—a promise which she kept to the letter— and then retired to condole with Mr. Evergreen and her daughters upon the "profligacy of the present age!"

To return to Mr. Moudiwort, he went on prospering exceedingly. By prudent management, as has been already said, he always contrived to save the wages of one or more of his farm-servants every year. More recently, but in the most honourable and upright manner, as was always the case with him, he had succeeded in nearly ruining several stupid individuals, who had "contracted " to reap his crops upon different years. By these means, however, he had got the work done at a cheap rate, which enabled him to effect a considerable saving in the matter of "harvesting." On every successive year his farm yielded him a better increase; and, in the midst of all this prosperity, it was believed that'a blessing rested upon the endeavours of so honourable and upright a man.

It was, indeed, true, that some individuals grumbled a little at what they called "his gripping disposition;" and said, that he did not stick to "grind the face of the poor," when an opportunity for so doing presented itself. But then- these individuals were "poor" themselves, and this was enough to set their testimony at nought in the estimation of all sensible men—it being well known, that such people must always have somebody or something upon which to indulge their propensity for evil speaking.

Others there were, of the same class, who did not scruple to call Mr. Moudiwort a hypocrite—asserting that, if he were really sincere in all his professions, he would not allow the "profane swearing" and "barefaced profligacy" which daily passed under his eye, among the people whom he employed. In their spleen they said farther, that " if he could get his work done for little money, he would have no objection to the devil being the doer thereof!" In all this, however, his good was only evil spoken of: fpr here again the more respectable and discerning part of his acquaintance believed him to be a perfect paragon of unobtrusive piety. "Mrs. Evergreen," they said, "had been blessed to do him good by her pious counsels, inasmuch as she had awakened him to a just sense of the way wherein he should walk; and it was only the meekness of a recently regenerated man which prevented him from rebuking others sharply for their wickedness."

Great, indeed, were the exertions which Mrs. Evergreen had made in his behalf, and great, too, the respect and attention which she had manifested toward him. Nay, it was even whispered among the well informed circles, that she would have been willing to give unto him one of her daughters, as a wife, that she might be continually beside him, to watch over, and strengthen, and lead him onward in the right path; and this consummation, so devoutly to be desired for the sake of all parties, really appeared to be approaching.

To go back a little for the beginning of this affair—a thing which should always be scrupulously attended to in matters of historic import—for a time Mr. Moudiwort's attentions and his affections seemed to be pretty equally divided between Miss Adaline and Miss Arabella; but by and by, as is quite natural in all such cases, he seemed to become more devoted to the former, who was the oldest of the two, and who, it was said by some.gossipping individuals, would have a better "portion" than her sister by at least two hundred pounds. But people who knew better averred, that though her looks were not quite so good as those of Arabella, it was on account of her "stronger common sense," "greater experience," and, above all, "her superior piety," that Mr. Moudiwort preferred and loved her more than he preferred and loved her sister.

As soon as this preference was fully ascertained, Arabella, like a discreet damsel, who knew exactly the part she was to act in every emergency, began to "veil her own exquisite charms," and to afford the devoted pair every facility for cultivating each other's affections. When they chanced to walk by the side of "the big drain"—whereinto Adaline had formerly fallen, and in which, but for the well-timed exertions of Mr. Moudiwort, she would have probably been drowned— Arabella would stay behind, to contemplate the minnows darting to and fro in the lazy stream, with so much interest and sentimentalism that the others frequently lost sight, of her, and then she would return home by a different road. If their steps were directed to the garden she would suddenly recollect that some of her plants or flowers required watering, and return to the house for the necessary utensils, where she would presently become so much engaged in some pressing domestic duty as entirely to forget that her company was expected elsewhere. On these occasions when her sister, at their return, chid her for her absence, she was frequently reduced to the necessity of pleading a great many excuses, such as her own forgetfulness—her anxiety to have things right in the house—the carelessness of the servants, and the like—the whole of which excuses were, in general, accepted with considerable reluctance, and only upon condition that she was never to forget herself again.

With respect to Miss Adaline, the reader will at once perceive, that necessary as the thing in a certain sense might be, it was a very trying situation for a young lady to he thus left with a young gentleman. In these cases, and in so far as the passing moment is concerned, there is nothing like having a third party always present. It sets the minds of the whole perfectly at ease. None of those explanations which are so painful to the feelings of young ladies can be even thought of in such society; and this of itself is a great safety, and a protection for the hearts of all concerned, besides being a wonderful promoter of cheerfulness, and good conversation, and all manner of clever sayings.

When left, as has been already hinted, with no other companion than Mr. Moudiwort, Miss Adaline felt sadly the want of this third party. On these occasions she frequently became very silent and very thoughtful, looking a good deal at the ground, and sighing at regular intervals : nor was it without some difficulty that Mr. Moudiwort could succeed in restoring her to her wonted animation. This was evidently a state of affairs which could not. last long; and, what was more, the young gentleman, it was believed, now felt inclined to bring it to a conclusion.

Now it so happened that upon a certain very fine day in the month of June they had taken a long walk together; and freed, as it would seem, from former embarrassments, the conversation had flowed on harmoniously. The young lady had declared that she had no patience with those creatures of her own sex whose hearts were wholly set upon finery and vanity, while they utterly forgot the more important concerns of their friends; and the young gentleman had spoken of a wish, which he had long entertained, to have a true and faithful friend, with whom he could commune upon all weighty matters, and who could assist him in the management of his domestic concerns. This, it must he allowed, was coming pretty near the question; but Mr. Moudiwort showed an inclination to come still nearer it, by begging the fair damsel, at the termination of their walk, to show him into a room where he might speak with her alone, upon a subject in which he was most deeply interested.

With this odd conduct of his in preferring to speak of important subjects in a room, rather than under the glorious canopy of heaven, history has nothing to do. It may, however, be surmised that his never-failing friend, Fortune, had some hand in the matter ; for had he entered upon the said subject in the open air, it is probable that all would have been settled beyond the possibility of a recall before any other object could come to divert' his attention. As it was, no sooner had Miss Evergreen, in an evident flutter, shown him into the parlour, so called, which chanced to be empty, than his eye fell upon "The Fiddlesticks Gazette," and more particularly upon the word markets. The temptation was irresistible: he saw at once that the prices of grain were rising, and he could not refrain from reading this department of the paper aloud; while his fair auditor sat down at the opposite side of the room, in a state of feeling bordering upon "tremulous anxiety," to await his pleasure respecting those important communications which she now confidently expected. Alas, for "the love of woman!" which, some one has told us, "is a fearful thing!" But we must not grow sentimental, nor fall to making lamentation when we should be narrating facts. The dignity of history must be maintained inviolate. But, as it is one of the duties of the historian to bring the moral of everything he records before the reader, we may be permitted to say in passing, that what follows was certainly intended to convey a very important moral to the whole race of young ladies who are accustomed to see young gentlemen, namely, that they should never venture to "expect" anything upon earth.

No sooner had Mr. Moudiwort read the "markets," than his eyes fell upon "A strange trick of Fortune," and then he read the following paragraph to himself—

"Some of our readers will, perhaps, recollect a Mr. Andrew Meggins, a native of this county, going out to the West Indies some ten or twelve years ago. The account of his death has just reached us; and we understand he has left money and property, to the amount of between four and five thousand pounds, to his fair nieces, the Misses Meggins, who are now inconsolable for the loss of so dear a relative!"

By this time, some of our readers may perhaps expect, that Mr. Moudiwort would now be prepared to proceed with the business which he seemed to have in hand, but this is only another instance of the vanity of all expectations, without exception. Mr. Moudiwort knew the Misses Meggins perfectly. Indeed, the youngest sister, who was the healthiest and the hest looking—the other heing deemed consumptive—had sometimes deigned to smile upon him most lovingly, in former years; and it is highly probable that her smiles would have kept pace with those of Fortune, had they been duly encouraged: but she was then only a dominie's daughter, and had "nothing to expect. Matters, however, were widely different now, and Mr. Moudiwort perhaps saw the difference; or it might be, that the mere circumstance of seeing her name in print fanned up the emhers of a former flame, and made it burn afresh. At all events, he seemed to think the thing deserving of some consideration; for, after having read the paragraph, and mused over its contents, in silence, for the space of a minute or so, instead of making any communication to Miss Evergreen, he all at once recollected that there was a breach in one of the fences, which he had neglected to have repaired that morning, and that, by this time, a number of his cattle would probably be among the corn ! With this recollection, he bade his "expectant fair one" a hurried "good day," and hastened off to look after his fences and other affairs at Fodderrigs.

After this, Mr. Moudiwort did occasionally return to Feathercot, and at times, too, he still looked lovingly in the face of Miss Evergreen ; but neither the fineness of the weather, nor those personal charms upon which she now bestowed a double share of her attention, nor her stronger common-sense, greater experience, or superior piety, could ever again tempt him to walk forth with her alone, or to solicit another private conference. If truth must be told, and, as we have already said, the dignity of history requires that it should be so—on the afternoon of the very day on which he left Feathercot to look after his "fences," some important business led Mr. Moudiwort to Aberdouf; and, as he was passing the door at any rate, and had heard that Miss Marjory Meggins had been complaining of late rather more than was her usual, he thought that he could do no less than step in and inquire after her health. What were his words, or the exact purport of the inquiries which he made upon this occasion, history saith not: but " true it is and of verity," that Miss Matilda Meggins, the younger sister, smiled upon him so graciously, and appeared to be so deeply interested in his welfare, that he could do no less than call again in a few days thereafter. This second call led to a third: many old associations, and subjects of mutual interest sprung up between them; and, to cut off all unnecessary prolixity, Mr. Moudiwort succeeded better than he had himself ventured to anticipate in renewing his former acquaintance with Miss Matilda Meggins, whose elder sister died in a few months after, leaving her the sole inheritor of the "four or five thousand!"

In what follows, let not a sneering and scandalising world endeavour to pry into the motives of Mr. Moudiwort; or impute to him any sinister or selfish purpose. The thing was brought about as naturally and as honourably as a thing could be. He went, out of pure benevolence, to inquire after a distressed person: he saw her sister, and saw, at the same time, that she had become an exceedingly amiable young lady. This made him wish for a renewal of their former acquaintance; and with the renewal of that acquaintance, came still farther discoveries of her charms, mentally and bodily. It is natural for man, when he sees anything very desirable, to wish to possess it: it is, moreover, not good for man to be alone: Mr. Moudiwort had perhaps felt the inconvenience of being so; and thus Miss Meggins and matrimony, somehow or other, began to connect themselves in his head.

After having devoted a reasonable period to that sort of preliminary intercourse called " courtship," and with a most becoming degree of "embarrassment," "diffidence," and so forth, he made out to tell her that he was "desperately in love with her!" He told her farther, according to the most approved and scientific manner, that "should she refuse to marry him within a few weeks, if he did not die of despair, he must either go and drown himself, or hang himself, or break his neck, or do something else to rid him of an existence which would be altogether unendurable without her smiles and her society!"

What romantic young lady could have long resisted such a declaration when made by such a promising young gentleman? Miss Meggins did not attempt to resist it, and in a very short time thereafter she. obligingly allowed herself to be "transmuted " into Mrs. Moudiwort.

This marriage, so fitting in all respects, seemed to give great satisfaction to everybody except Mrs. Evergreen, who sometimes whispered her fears for "the stability of Mr. Moudiwort's religious feelings," and "doubted if his fine young wife would do much to establish him should he waver." But not finding this sentiment properly responded to, she joined the rest of the world in commending the whole affair. The Misses Evergreen, and more particularly Miss Adaline, sometimes tossed their heads a little when they heard the bride's name mentioned, but that was neither here nor there. It was now as plain as truth or a travelling merchant could make it, that Mr. Moudiwort was fairly above the world—very far above it; and with this remark let us close the present chapter.

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