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Arthur Monteith
By Mrs. Blackford (now Lady Stoddart) (1857) - Chapter 1

IT was a bright and lovely morning when Arthur Monteith, as yet known only by the name of Mathieson, bade farewell to the scenes of his youth. Handsome, accomplished, and chosen at the age of seventeen as aid-de-camp, by so distinguished an officer as General Beaumont, fancy might perhaps have whispered to him, that in leaving Scotland for India, he was entering on a career of honourable ambition, and of future fame. But neither the animating features of the landscape, nor the warmth of youthful hope could, for many hours, dispel the sadness which dwelt upon his mind, in parting, perhaps for ever, from his dear friends at the farm-house of Lochmore, and at the elegant mansion of Glenlyn.

Arthur’s departure had rendered each of these places a scene of sorrow. At Loch-more, where Jane Mathieson, his supposed mother, and Annie, who believed herself to be his sister, both of them absorbed in grief for his loss, and both fondly cherishing the remembrance of his constant prudence and tenderness. At Glenlyn, was Mrs. Beaumont, and her visitors, William Mathieson, Jessie, Ailed, and Jamie, all in various degrees affected at losing the society of one whom they so justly esteemed. Mrs. Beaumont looked, with sickness of heart, to the prospect of a long separation from her beloved husband, the General; but this circumstance did not prevent her from sympathising deeply with the friends of our young hero. Jessie, Allen, and Jamie, felt as it was natural to feel for one whom they all regarded as a brother, though in fact he bore that relation only to the two former. But the most acute sufferer was William Mathieson, his preserver and almost more than parent While the carriage in which the General and Arthur were seated was receding rapidly from Glenlyn, William stood gazing unconsciously after it, as if stunned with the violence of his grief: Allen and Jamie were both drowned in tears at his side; and the sobs and moans of poor Jessie were heard, even at that distance, by them all.

“Father,” at last said Allen, “Arthur desired us to comfort Jessie. We must not, therefore, allow ourselves to add to her grief, by letting her see us in tears. I will go up to her first, and you and Jamie will, I hope, soon be able to follow me.”—“We must remember that we have mourners too at home,” said Jamie.—“I thank you, Allen, for recalling to my recollection that our duty does not allow us to waste time in tears.”

“Oh, what do I not owe that dear boy,” exclaimed William, “for having trained my son to think and act in the way he does? All that I have ever done for him, is tenfold paid.”

He pressed Jamie in his arms, saying, “Go home, my love, to your mother. Allen and I will go up to Mrs. Beaumont and Jessie. Tell my wife that as soon as we can leave them composed, we will return to her.”

“I cannot go, father, without seeing Jessie; I must, if possible, learn that she is better, before I return to my mother.”

“Well, well, then, Jamie, run up, but don’t stay long, as your mother requires you at home more than Jessie can do here.”

Mrs. Beaumont was almost in as great distress as poor Jessie; but in a little while she overcame, in some degree, her grief^ and entered into conversation with William. When he left her, she begged that he would allow Allen to remain with them that day. “And, indeed, my friend,” continued she, “you must spare him to us very often, or I do not know what will become of us. He shall not spend his time in idleness, I promise you; poor dear Arthur never did, but seemed to improve every day, all the years he has lived with us.”

William assured her that Allen should always be at her service, when not occupied at school. He then promised, at her request to bring his wife and Annie, to spend the next day with her, as it happened to be Sunday; and though upon ordinary occasions tnev never went out on that day, except to Church, he thought now that it would be good for them all to be together, at such a time of affliction. Great was Jane’s astonish-ment when this was communicated to her, for though she had often been invited to come to Glenlyn, her husband had uniformly made her find some excuse.

"It is not suitable, my dear Jane, for either a farmer or his wife to sit at the same table with their master and mistress; and neither is it proper for the father and the mother of their adopted niece to eat with their servants. I never will agree to either; and, therefore, though it is kindly .meant in the laird and his lady, to ask us to visit them, we are much better at home, and can see our dear Jessie more properly in our own cottage.”

Such had uniformly been William’s reasoning, and, therefore, Jane had some cause for surprise, when he told her he had settled that she should spend the next day at Glenlyn.

I thought you would be surprised, my dear, but circumstances alter every thing. Had we gone formerly to visit the lady, all the country would have been making their remarks upon our pride, and the laird’s folly in raising us beyond our proper station in life; but going at such a time as this, when every one must know that both the lady and we, her dependents, are suffering from the same cause, will only appear like good Christians endeavouring to comfort one another. In the lady, it will look as if she condescended to associate with us, to comfort us for the loss of our son; and in us, as if we went to the house only in the hope that through her we might strengthen our boy’s interest with the Colonel, and incline her to give us every information she receives of him.” Allen remained all the morning at Glenlyn, and with great difficulty Mrs. Beaumont prevailed on him to dine with her; but the moment the dinner was over, he said he was under the necessity of going a little way on the Linton road before he returned home, and therefore hoped she would excuse his leaving her directly. When he was gone, Jessie was so much worn out with her weeping and distress in the morning, that her aunt prevailed on her to lie down for an hour; and as soon as Mrs. Beaumont saw her safely in bed, she retired to her own dressing room, meaning to indulge in the grief she had so long struggled to restrain. She opened the door, and having fastened it, in order to avoid surprise, she advanced towards the table, but started on coming near it, for there lay a similar note to that in the beggar’s bag of pebbles.

She eagerly took it up, and after reading it, exclaimed aloud: “Now, indeed, he has kept his word with me, and I am richly rewarded for any kindness I have ever shown, either to Jessie or Arthur; but how strange it appears, that through them I should receive my beloved father’s pardon, after a lapse of so many years, without my ever having heard his name mentioned, and after having fully believed that he was no longer an inhabitant of this world. I can, however, doubt no longer; this is his handwriting and seal, and if any thing could have reconciled me to the parting from my Charles, the assurance of being pardoned and blessed by my still dear parent, was the only thing that could have made me willingly submit to the sacrifice. No wonder,” thought she, as she sat ruminating in her chair, “that Arthur’s manner and acquirements surprised us all so much. The pupil of Sir Alexander M’Donald, for five years, must have surpassed any other lads, either in this neighbourhood or any place else; and oh! what a comfort to me now, to reflect that Charles has the benefit of such a companion! For my sake, as well as that of his instructer, he will watch over my husband’s health and interest. Far different will be his affection from that which any other individual in his place could have shown; and whilst he has fife, he will be to us a son.”

In due time a packet arrived from the travellers to gladden the hearts of their anxious friends. It contained letters to all of them, though Allen’s was much more bulky than any of the others. To Jessie, Arthur sent a small miniature picture of himself; telling her, that as he had given Annie a keepsake before he left her, he now wished to do the same to her; and as he knew that she had a very handsome Bible already, lie had thought that his picture would please her better than any thing else. Jessie’s delight at receiving so acceptable a present, was unbounded; and indeed her pleasure was nearly equalled by that of all connected with the original, who were never tired of looking on a resemblance that seemed to bring their dear boy, so forcibly to their recollection.

The Colonel, (or as we must now call him, the General,) told Mrs. Beaumont, that every day reconciled him more and more to her choice of an aide-de-camp for him; and he only wished that she had been the person to choose the other officer who attended him in a similar capacity; for the young man to whom he found himself compelled by powerful reasons to give that situation, was very inferior to Arthur, both in appearance and acquirements.

“Monteith, however, (for that is his name, continued the General,) may turn out better than I at present expect. His father I never liked; but his mother, who was a distant relation of mine, was an excellent woman; and she was completely sacrificed in becoming the wife of such a man. She died some years ago, report says, of a broken heart, leaving this boy, and one girl, the only heirs to the large estate which her husband acquired by the forfeiture and death of his nephew, Hector Monteith. Poor Hector, whom you must recollect to have seen at your father’s a little while before our marriage, was unfortunately seized after the late rebellion, and executed at Carlisle!”

Mrs. Beaumont was delighted with the satisfaction expressed by her husband, at having Arthur with him, and told William what he had said, the first time he saw him. William started, on her naming Monteith, and turned to the window to conceal the agitation which such a piece of information naturally produced; but Mrs. Beaumont, having no suspicion of the cause, went on talking and relating all she recollected of the young man’s father, declaring that she could scarcely forgive the General for having any connexion with the son of so bad a man.

William was glad when he could with propriety take leave; for the agitation that this news produced, made him wish earnestly to enjoy a little quiet reflection before he determined on what course to pursue. After quitting Mrs. Beaumont, he walked for several hours in the glen, hesitating whether it would not be better for him at once to write to Arthur, and advise him to give up his commission and return directly to Lochmore, rather than allow him to become the associate of the son of Colonel Monteith; but at last it struck him that by so doing, he might produce the very evil he wished to avoid; for should the Colonel’s attention be drawn to Arthur, he would learn that the latter was the reputed son of William Mathieson, and this name would be enough to. give so artful a man a clue to the truth. Having therefore convinced himself that it would be more prudent for Arthur to continue under General Beaumont’s protection, he determined in his next letter to him to enforce mofe strongly than ever, the necessity of his saying nothing whatever on the subject of his birth, and to trust to Providence for the event.

“He has been the peculiar care of Providence all his life, poor boy, (thought William,) and I trust he will not now be forsaken; perhaps it may be for some good purpose that his cousin is made his associate; and what appears, to a short-sighted mortal like me, to be an evil, may be intended as the means of bringing about his restoration to his rightful inheritance.”

William wrote the very next day to Arthur; and having done so, endeavoured to banish from his mind the recollection of a circumstance that had given him at first so much uneasiness. General Beaumont and his suite sailed for India, and for many months their friends heard nothing of them, as in those days the voyage was much more tedious than it is now. At last the joyful information arrived of their safety, which spread a ray of pleasure on every face around Glenlyn. Arthur, according to William’s particular request, wrote him a long account of all that had occurred to him during the voyage. Towards .the end of his letter, he mentioned Colin Monteith as follows:

“He is greatly to be pitied, poor fellow! for no one has ever taken the slightest trouble to give him instruction, on the subject of all others the most necessary for the happiness and good conduct of a human being. A little smattering of Greek and Latin, with abundance of frivolous acquirements, have occupied the whole of his time; and he fancies, that by ridiculing and holding up to contempt both religion itself, and those who profess to be followers of its laws, he shows his superior wit and understanding; whereas, in fact, he only exposes his own ignorance, and becomes an object of real pity to those he affects to despise. All this, however, is a profound secret to General Beaumont, as Monteith has sense enough to discover that his creed would not raise him in the opinion of our worthy commander, and therefore he never enters on such topics but when lie is sure the General is safely lodged in his hammock, or engaged at such a distance from him, that he runs no danger of being surprised.

“The intercourse I have had with this young man, has increased, if possible, my feeling of thankfulness and gratitude to Providence, for having placed me under the care of my dear and ever valued parents at Lochmore, who, from the earliest moment I can remember, taught me to depend on God alone for assistance and comfort, in every situation in which I could be placed; and convinced me that while I made nis laws the rule of my every thought and action, I need fear neither prosperity nor adversity. How much richer a man do I consider myself in possession of the hope they have taught me to rely on, than if they had given me, what poor Colin Monteith has the prospect, I understand, of inheriting, an estate somewhere in Scotland, of more than three thousand pounds a year!”

William shed tears of thankfulness, on reading those sentiments from the boy he had reared; and in the joy of his heart, thinking to make Mr. Brown a participator in his satisfaction, by letting him know how much his pupil valued the instructions which the worthy. clergyman (as William thought) had so greatly contributed to give him. He therefore put the letter in his pocket, and walking over in the evening to the Manse, read to him the above extract.

Mr. Brown sincerely congratulated him on the sentiments of his son; adding that it was only what he expected from Arthur’s whole conduct, ever since he had first known him. William, impelled by gratitude, let fall some expressions which showed that he thought the formation of Arthur’s mind, for the last five years of his stay at home, was principally owing to the care of Mr. Brown. The latter begged him to explain what he meant* and was much astonished to find himself looked upon as Arthur’s preceptor; nor was William less so, on discovering that the minister had never given the lad the slightest assistance in his studies, except occasionally examining him as to his progress in Latin ana Greek, and directing him in the choice of proper books to read for his improvement.

“It is very odd,” said William, at last; “and what he could mean by the conversation he had with me the evening before he left me, I do not at all understand; but he then told me, that he was not at liberty to say more than that he had had great advantages; I shall, therefore, never seek an explanation, either of him, or any one else, till he gives it to me of his own accord, which I am confident he will, as soon as he is at liberty to do so; and you will greatly oblige me, dear sir, if you will promise never to mention the conversation we have just had together; for Arthur might, with good reason, be offended at my betraying the confidence he had reposed in me.”

Mr. Brown promised secrecy, and kept his word, though The often reflected upon what William had communicated to him, and wondered at himself for having been so easily deceived into the belief of Arthur’s self-taught progress, considering the superiority of his acquirements.

Years, meantime rolled on, and many changes were taking place among our young friends. Allen had attended the university for three years, and was fast rising into manhood. His manners and conversation were nearly as polished and genteel as his brother’s had been, and his mind almost equally as well informed, though, in point of ability, he was certainly inferior. Old Robert still lived and clung to Allen with the same degree of attachment that he had formerly felt for Arthur. Yet he never forgot his first friend, and only prayed that he might be allowed to see him once more before he yielded up a life, which, through his means, had been rendered not only supportable, but even happy; and which, without his accidental introduction to the Ravine, would have probably fallen a sacrifice to cheerlessness and solitude. Mrs. Beaumont had regularly every month, from the time of the General s departure, found upon her table a note from her father, containing an assurance of his health and happiness, and often expressing strong approbation of her conduct towards Allen and Jessie, as well as of the retired life she led during her husband’s absence.

Those notes were always conveyed to her hand in a most mysterious manner, and, at first, excited her curiosity and watchfulness, to a most painful degree; but, at? last, on observing that in proportion as she gave way to these feelings, the notes were either discontinued, or came at greater distances of time, she determined to give up all idea of discovering what, if she succeeded, would evidently offend her father. From the time she took this judicious resolution, the notes became much more regular, and were written more cheerfully and kindly. The comforts she derived from knowing that her father was near enough to watch over her, and approve her conduct, tended greatly to reconcile her to the protracted absence of the General, who, in his last despatches, said, that he should yet be detained some years before he could honourably quit his command. He spoke in the highest possible terms of Arthur, who had just obtained a majority by the death of his superior officer.

“His conduct is beyond any praise I can bestow upon it,” wrote he; “brave, heroic, and fearless in action; he is at the same time, in society, the gentleman and the scholar; and in all situations into which he is thrown he is the devout and pious Christian, never allowing himself to be either bantered or laughed out of what he believes to be his duty to his Maker, or to his fellow men. I suspect he has had a great deal of annoyance from that foolish unprincipled lad, Colin Monteith, who, in spite of all the admonitions I can give, and all the restrictions I can impose upon him, will, I am afraid, both ruin his health and character beyond all power of recovery. I have written to his father, entreating him to allow Colin to return to England; but even the health of his only son has no weight, when put against the chance of gaining, through him, a few lacs of rupees, by way of prize-money. God knows, if he were to share in the division according to his merits, a nut-shell would easily hold all they entitle him to; but as his lank, and not his worth, will determine his proportion of the spoil, he will probably carry off much more than those who deserve ten times as much as he does.”

Arthur, in all his letters, mentioned the kindness and affection he met with from General Beaumont. Sometimes he spoke of Colin Monteith; but gradually his name became more rarely found in his letters; and even when it did appear, it was merely to say, that he went on much as he had ever done, and that he greatly doubted whether he would live to inherit the wealth his father appeared so anxious to heap up for him.

Jamie was now thought old enough to be associated with his father in the farm business, to which he applied as steadily and actively as could be wished; a great relief to William, who had now a very large property to manage, having been appointed by the General, before his departure, to overlook all the land that he had usually farmed himself but which was much too great a concern to be left upon Mrs. Beaumont’s hands. It had flourished almost beyond example under William’s management, and Mrs. Beaumont, in her letters to her husband, constantly did justice to the unremitting care and conscientious conduct of the honest farmer.

Jessie and Annie were by this time nearly seventeen, Jessie being said to be one year older than Annie, though, in fact, there was scarcely three months between their ages. Jessie had grown up tall and elegant in her person, with features perfectly regular and beautiful; her complexion was fear, with a profusion of bright glossy auburn hair; the expression of her countenance was rather singular, and no one could examine it carefully without discovering that her beauty was her least charm. Her understanding was strong, and highly cultivated; her temper even, and her disposition cheerful; above all, her principles and habits were so fixed in truth and purity, that they threw a lustre around all her actions, far beyond what is commonly seen in young women of her age. Devotedly attached to Mrs. Beaumont, she yet never forgot what she owed to her parents at Lochmore; and the day must have been stormy indeed that could have kept her from visiting her mother, now confined to her chair by a violent attack of rheumatism.

Annie was not near so tall as Jessie; her complexion was clear, though her hair was jet black; she had large hazel eyes, with long black lashes, and all her other features were handsome and interesting. The delicacy of her appearance often seriously alarmed Mrs. Beaumont for her health; and, as she advanced in years, this fear rather increased than diminished. Pious and virtuous, she was the comfort and solace of her parents’ lives, and on her Jessie’s whole confidence and love were fixed. True to the promise she had given in childhood, Jessie never thought of entering into amusement or enjoyment, without soliciting her father to permit Annie to share it with her; and, in return, Annie’s whole earthly happiness was centered in Jessie; for the affection she felt for her parents was so mixed up with attachment to her sister that to separate them, even in thought, was impossible.

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